Saturday, October 19, 2013

Guest Post: Eddie Jones on Writing Vampires for the Christian Children's Book Market

By Eddie Jones
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In Skull Creek Stakeout (Zonderkidz, 2013), the story begins when a body is found on a golf course in Transylvania, North Carolina. The victim is discovered with fangs, bite marks on his neck, and a wooden stake driven through his heart. As a reporter for the Cool Ghoul Gazette, Nick’s editor asks him to solve the murder.

My friend Tim Shoemaker - author of Code of Silence and Back Before Dark - calls Skull Creek Stakeout “Scooby Doo meets Indiana Jones.”

Each book in the Caden Chronicles series involves one element of the supernatural. I want teens and their parents to discuss creepy things like ghosts, vampires, and zombies, but to do so from a Biblical perspective. We include study questions in the back of the book and scripture references that highlight dead things in the Bible.

For example, in the Skull Creek Stakeout, I explore the idea of gaining eternal life through drinking blood. Christ introduced this idea in the Upper Room when he said, “Drink my blood, eat my flesh.”

Today we call this communion. We drink grape juice and eat crackers but we are still celebrating the drinking of blood which, if you think about it, is a pretty weird thing to do in church.

But when Christ said that He meant we would have no part of Him unless we surrendered ourselves to Him. And that’s what vampirism is all about – the giving over of ourselves to another individual. Only with vampirism your soul is eternally damned to walk the earth with a craving that can never be satisfied.

So in the Skull Creek Stakeout I show how vampirism has perverted the abundant and eternal life Christ promised 2000 years ago.

Vampirism today is all about romance and sex. It’s about consuming one another. But that is exactly the opposite message of Christ. In Christ, we do not devour another person: we die to our wants and needs so that the other person may live.

Still there is a Christian principle at work in vampirism and that is our secret desire to be controlled by another. We like to say we are charge and act like we are in control, but deep down I believe every person wants to be cherished and protected and for that to happen they have to risk death. In love, we might call this risking a broken heart. I think that is part of the huge appeal of vampirism.

Throughout Skull Creek Stakeout Nick encounters people who are selfish and ruthless – individuals who have the mind of a vampire. Nick exposes their deeds of darkness but in doing so, he must descend into darkness. This too, alludes to the role of Christ and how He descends into the depths of hell to save those who are lost.

Skull Creek Stakeout is a fun, fast, and sometimes scary read that exposes the darkness to light. For Christians, that is one of our callings.

Cynsational Notes

Eddie Jones is the author of nine books, including last year’s first title in The Caden Chronicles series, Dead Man’s Hand, which made the 2013 INSPY Awards shortlist in the category of Literature for Young People, and Skull Creek Stakeout (the second book in The Caden Chronicles).

Friday, October 18, 2013

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Have Fun with Your Grown-up Game of Make Believe by Susan Beth Pfeffer from Adventures in YA Publishing.Peek: "You can take all the classes in the world to learn how to be better and you can absorb all the excellent advice in the world to learn how to be better and you can write write write until, with practice you become better, but there's no point in doing any of that if the very act of writing isn't fun."

Transformation Through Writing from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "If we are choosing well when we climb into a story idea, we are asking questions that still have urgency for us, not giving answers we’ve already found."

When Research Turns Up Nothing, and It's a Good Thing by Dianne Salerni from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "There’s no credible evidence for a historical King Arthur. In fact there’s a lot of evidence that weighs against him. Most notably: no historians from his time period mention him at all."

Agents vs. Editors by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "Before you think that I’m calling agents mercenary art-killers and editors starry-eyed idealists, though, here’s another layer of complexity: In the real world, it is very difficult for either party to get what it wants."

Listening with Our Pens: Narrative Humility for Writers by Sayantani DasGupta from Uma Krishnaswami at Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek: "Narrative Humility is not about gaining any sense of competence or mastery over our patients, or their stories. Rather, it is about paying attention to our own inner workings – our expectations, our prejudices, our own cadre of personal stories that impact how we react to the stories of others."

Processing Contradictory Advice on Query Writing from Shelli Cornelison. Peek: "When I was first trying to learn how to write a query letter, all that opposing advice freaked me out, to put it mildly."

Giveaways

Reality Boy by A.S. King (Little, Brown, 2013) from Adventures in YA Publishing.

National Book Award Finalists 
  This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Audio: Greg Leitich Smith on the Peshtigo School novels
Hey, San Diego! I'm winging your way next week. Check out the full scoop below, and plan to come see me Monday evening at the central library!

Thank you librarian Julie Salvato and everyone at Lampasas ISD for yesterday's school visit at Lampasas (TX) High School! Pics to come!

Personal Links
Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will offer several presentations the week of Oct. 20 in conjunction with Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000) being the featured title for children as part of the 2013 One Book, One San Diego campaign, sponsored by KBPS. Kickoff event: 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 21 at Central Public Library-San Diego (9th floor)(330 Park Boulevard, San Diego).

Cynthia Leitich Smith joins featured authors at the Texas Book Festival Oct. 26 and Oct. 27 at the State Capitol Building in Austin. She will speak at the "Girl Power(s)" session with Kami Garcia and Jessica Khoury from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 26 in Capitol Extension Room E2.014, with a book signing immediately following.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at the Illumine Award Nov. 8 at the downtown Hilton in Austin, Texas.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at the Kidlitosphere Conference Nov.  9 in Austin, Texas.

Cynthia Leitich Smith (Feral Nights) and P.J. Hoover (Solstice) will sign their new releases from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Barnes & Noble in Round Rock, Texas.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will speak at the Florida Association for Media in Education Conference Nov. 20 to Nov. 22 in Orlando.

The Craft & Business of Writing: Everything You wanted to Know About Writing, a fundraiser featuring C.C. Hunter, Miranda James and Lori Wilde for the Montgomery County Book Festival, on Nov. 16 at Lone Star College Montgomery Campus in Houston. Fee: $100. Registration deadline: Nov. 10. See more information. Register here.

See more information!

In Memory: Sonia Lynn Sadler

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Remembering Illustrator Sonia Lynn Sadler from Lee & Low. Peek: "We are sad to share the news that illustrator Sonia Lynn Sadler has passed away. Sadler is the illustrator of, among other titles, Seeds of Change, for which she won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in 2011."

Remembering Artist Sonia Lynn Sadler from Just Us Books. Peek: "Just Us Books remembers Sonia Lynn Sadler, who passed on September 14, 2013, after a battle with cancer."

The Passing of Artist Sonia Lynn Sadler from Black Art in America. Peek:
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in memory of Sonia Lynn Sadler to: 
The Weill Cornell Medical College Lung Cancer Research Fund
Hematology/Oncology
Weill Cornell Medical College
1305 York Ave Room 740
New York, NY 10021

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

New Voice: Caroline Carlson on The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Caroline Carlson is The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot (HarperCollins, 2013). From the promotional copy:

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword. 

There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.

But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas.

Magic Marks the Spot is the first installment in the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy. Books 2 and 3 are forthcoming in 2014 and 2015.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

I am sort of embarrassed to admit this to the internet at large, but before I wrote Magic Marks the Spot, I was not much of a reviser. In fact, I had never gone through a thorough, large-scale novel revision from start to finish.

For me, revising meant line editing—choosing the perfect words and sounds, and making sure each sentence read smoothly. If a manuscript had large-scale problems (and what early draft doesn’t?), I’d either try to rewrite the whole book from scratch or, more likely, I’d stuff it in a drawer and move on to something new. Something fresh. Something that would be absolutely perfect the first time out, so I’d never have to do any actual revision.

Revision meant hard work; it meant looking at my writing and acknowledging that it could be better, and I wasn’t particularly excited about acknowledging anything of the sort.

I wrote the first draft of Magic Marks the Spot during my final semester in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Since I wanted to complete an entire draft during those last five months of the program, I didn’t stop to revise too frequently, and when I reached the end, I knew I had a story that was worth pursuing. There was no way I was going to abandon this one in a drawer.

And besides, it wasn’t too messy, was it? Asking for other writers’ feedback wouldn’t be like dropping a goldfish into a pool full of hungry sharks—or, at least, I desperately hoped it wouldn’t be like that. So I sent my manuscript off to a wonderful group of writer friends and asked them what I could do to improve the story before I submitted it to agents.

I was sort of hoping that all my writer friends would say everything in the story was absolutely brilliant, and that any revision would be a blemish on a work of greatness—but, because my friends are smart writers and honest people, they didn’t say any such thing. They pointed out the places where they were confused and the characters they wanted to know more about.

Caroline's bulletin board with bookmarks & cards
My advisor at VCFA, Martine Leavitt, had also sent me revision notes during our semester together. As I read over all of these comments, I realized that the hungry sharks were not in residence. Instead, I’d been given the gift of thoughtful feedback that was actually going to make my book stronger.

For the first time ever, I was excited to revise, because I could see that revision didn’t have to make me feel bad about my existing story; it could make me feel hopeful about how that story could grow in the future.

I spent a couple of months revising my draft with this first round of feedback in hand. I addressed most of my friends’ comments, but there were several good suggestions that I simply didn’t know how to tackle. Even though I knew I needed to make those changes to my book, I didn’t have any idea where to begin.

I eventually submitted the manuscript to agents when it was as strong as I could possibly make it on my own, though I knew by then that it could still be stronger.

My first letter from my editor was six single-spaced pages long—long enough to induce panic in a few other writers who caught a glimpse of it later. But I loved every word of it (really!) because it showed me that my editor could see my book’s potential; she looked at the manuscript in front of her and saw what it could become with some hard work. And she asked questions that helped me to see the entire book in a clearer light.

Once I’d spent a few weeks considering my editor’s notes, I realized that I was actually capable of making those impossible-sounding changes my friends had suggested earlier—but I’d have to be willing to revise more deeply than I’d ever attempted to before.

To revise for my editor, I printed out my manuscript and marked it up with a red pen, noting all the large and small changes I wanted to make. I drew big red Xs across entire scenes.

Then I opened a new, blank document on my computer and began to retype the book, transcribing the printed manuscript and diverging from it whenever it seemed necessary.

Drafts of Magic Marks the Spot and its sequel.
A lot of people I talk to are slightly horrified by my revision strategy—retyping a 300-page novel is not exactly a small proposition—but for me, it’s the easiest way to make big changes to a story. If I’m confined by the words in the existing document, I won’t feel free to make sweeping changes; the existing words will affect the new words I come up with.

If I don’t have anything in front of me except blank whiteness, though, I can write entirely new scenes that don’t automatically inherit the problems of earlier drafts. And I always have my printed manuscript to fall back on if I decide that I don’t want to make a sweeping change after all. As I retyped Magic Marks the Spot, I ended up rewriting about a third of it from scratch.

After that, I did a round of line edits for my editor, though those changes were small enough that I didn’t need to retype the entire manuscript again.

So, yes, revision does mean hard work. But it also means looking at the result of that hard work and realizing that the story on the page finally matches the story in your head, or at least it comes close. There’s not much that beats the feeling of finally nailing a scene you’ve been writing and rewriting for months. The prospect of revising a manuscript still intimidates me because I know exactly how much work it will require, but I also look forward to revision because I know it will bring my book much closer to being the story I wanted to tell in the first place.

As someone with a MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, how did your education help you advance in your craft? What advice do you have for other MFA students/graduates in making the transition between school and publishing as a business?

It’s no exaggeration to say that attending Vermont College of Fine Arts was the best thing I’ve done for my writing. It’s not that I think an MFA is a prerequisite for publication—it certainly isn’t, and it shouldn’t be. But for the right person in the program that’s right for her, an MFA can be life-changing. And (I know this is going to sound crazy) it can even be a little bit practical.

Marked page from a very early draft of Magic Marks the Spot.
I learned a lot about the craft of writing during my time at VCFA, of course, and I could write a whole new blog post about the ways in which my writing grew stronger over my two years at Vermont. But what I really want to talk about are the skills I gained during those years that have continued to serve me well as a working writer.

First of all, I learned discipline. I learned how to sit down at my desk every day and write, even if I wasn’t feeling inspired. I had an almost-full-time day job, but I still had to meet my writing deadlines. Those deadlines taught me that I was capable of making writing a priority in my life, and that the work I produced during those times when I felt uninspired was actually pretty good.

I learned that once you show up at your computer and type the first word on the page, you are basically 95% of the way there.

I also learned a lot about receiving and responding to feedback. Remember that six-page letter my editor sent me in response to Magic Marks the Spot? It didn’t shake my confidence because I had received 20 similar letters from my advisors over the course of my MFA program. (And several of those 20 letters were much longer than six pages.)

At school, I got familiar with my emotional responses whenever an editorial letter arrived: first I’d freak out a little bit, then I’d give myself a few days to process the letter, and then I’d figure out how to move forward in response to the feedback I’d gotten.

Caroline's writing space
During my time at VCFA, the “freakout” period got a lot shorter, and I’m now reasonably sure that nothing in an editorial letter will cause me to keel over and die on the spot.

I learned to trust myself as a writer. Although I’m pretty much guaranteed to make mistakes, I know now that I’m capable of fixing them, too. I learned that sometimes, you work really hard on a piece of writing only to have someone tell you that you need to start over.

And I know that when that happens to me again, I’ll be able to handle it because I’ve handled it before. I mean, it still won’t be fun, but at least I’ll know how much ice cream to buy to soothe my spirit. (Lots.)

The most important thing I learned is that the writing life is a thousand times more enjoyable with good friends by your side. The small world of children’s literature is full of some of the kindest, most generous people I’ve met, and I’m so glad we’re all in this together.

Caroline's graduating class at VCFA, the League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Guest Interview: Kerri Majors on This is Not a Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World

By Shelli Cornelison
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Kerri Majors is the author of This is Not a Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World (Writer’s Digest, 2013).

Publishers Weekly called TINAWM “Candid, honest advice and reflection from a writer who’s been there,” and Kirkus Reviews described TINAWM as “An upbeat and honest guide for teens already considering writing careers.”

Majors is also the founder and editor of YARN (YAReview.Net), an award-winning literary journal of YA writing, and her short fiction and essays have been featured in publications across the United States. She earned her MFA from Columbia and now lives in Massachusetts with her husband and daughter.

If This is Not a Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World had been written by someone else and placed in the hands of sixteen-year-old Kerri Majors, what section would mean the most to her?

I suspect Young Kerri would have been most entranced by the chapters on publication, “Published Writing is a Team Effort” and “Getting Published—Big and Small Time.” But that’s because Young Kerri was—for a long time—under the mistaken impression that publication was going to happen fast and solve all her life’s problems.

The good news is that, having read and probably liked those two chapters, Young Kerri probably also would have read the rest of the book and learned a thing or two about how long the writing life really is.

And even if she didn’t believe it would take her that long, ten years later with no publications to her name, she’d go back to the book and read it again, and find the deeper meanings waiting there for her.

Is there anything in TINAWM that would make sixteen-year-old Kerri roll her eyes, and if so, why?

Celebrating with cake at the release party!
As I just implied, Young Kerri probably would roll her eyes at the idea that it was going to take her that long to publish, because she was full of confidence and optimism.

I was never a glass-is-half-empty kind of person. I actually wrote a blog about that for Polyphony HS this summer. But I think my boundless (and mostly groundless!) optimism also helped me stay a writer for as long as I did—I always believed (believe!) that new and unexpected rewards wait around the corner.

The thing is, I now know that there are many more writing “rewards” than publication.

Did founding YARN and your work there have any influence on your decision to write TINAWM?

Without YARN, there would be no TINAWM. It was only after we won an award from the National Book Foundation that I got to thinking about myself as more than just an aspiring, thwarted fiction writer. I started thinking more about what writing had meant in my life in a bigger sense: I’d been a teacher of writing, an editor, as well as a writer of fiction and non-fiction.

I was also so impressed by the YA writing community, which is full of readers and writers of all ages who really support each other and the teenagers who read but also bravely write in the genre.

Because of YARN, I started to want to talk directly to those young writers, to share with them things that I’d learned about writing in the many years I’d been trying to be a writer—just like them.



You also teach writing workshops and classes. Do you have any advice for young writers on getting the most out of a class or from a teacher/mentor?

Show up. And I mean that in the Jillian Michaels’ boot-camp pro-trainer sense of the word.

For workshops: Show up physically, of course, but also bring your best self to every workshop, because you’ll get back as good as you give.

If you provide thoughtful, well-reasoned comments and suggestions to your peers that respect the work they are trying to do, they will return the favor in kind. (By the same token, if you offer dismissive remarks, expect the same to boomerang back to you.)

For mentors: I would add that the squeaky wheel really does get the oil (and I’m answering this part of the question more as a former professor and editor than as a former student). Don’t be annoying and show up every five minutes at office hours, or email all the time…

But keeping up with your mentors over time (like an email every year or two that also asks how they are doing), can really help you keep those relationships alive. You never know when someone is going to need an assistant, or have a friend who needs one . . . .Or when they might be working on the editing side of a major magazine or literary journal, needing some talented help.

This relationship can also flip: Two former students of mine are now actually managing my own PR for this book.

Showing up will also help you with mentors in the short term: The students I’ve had who regularly come to office hours and engage me on topics other than their own writing are the ones I remember the most fondly, whose intelligence and worldliness I think the most highly of.

If you could appear on any television show to promote TINAWM, which one would it be, and why?

Oh, "The Oprah Winfrey Show," 100%! I mention it throughout TINAWM, because it was always my fantasy appearance (I couldn’t believe Jonathan Franzen’s hubris in refusing her the first time around!). She is such a smart lady and a smart reader, not to mention a career-making talk-show host. Plus, she does so much charitable good in the world.

To be noticed by her is a major compliment, and since she has such incredible reach, it would help TINAWM fall into as many young writers’ hands as possible.

Since her network show is gone, I’d settle for her cable show (this said with a wink).

Cynsational Notes

Shelli Cornelison (@Shelltex) writes for children and young adults from some of Austin’s most comfortable coffee shops. Her young adult short stories have appeared in Sucker Literary and YARN.

She is also the author of the eBook, The Grouch Couch, available soon from the Vivlio story app for iPad. She’s an active member of the Austin SCBWI chapter and The Writer’s League of Texas.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Trailer: When the Butterflies Came by Kimberley Griffiths Little

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for When the Butterflies Came by Kimberley Griffiths Little (Scholastic, 2013). From the promotional copy:

"The first butterfly comes the day after the funeral..."

Everybody thinks Tara Doucet has the perfect life. But Tara's life is anything but perfect: Her dear Grammy Claire has just passed away, her mom is depressed and distant, and she and her sister, Riley, can't agree on anything.

But when mysterious and dazzling butterflies begin to follow her around after Grammy Claire's funeral, Tara knows in her heart that her grandmother has left her one final mystery to solve.

Tara finds a stack of keys and detailed letters from Grammy Claire. Note by note, Tara learns unexpected truths about her grandmother's life. As the letters grow more ominous and the clues harder to decipher, Tara realizes that the secrets she must uncover could lead to grave danger.

And when Tara and Riley are swept away to the beautiful islands of Chuuk to hear their grandmother's will, Tara discovers the most shocking truth of all, one that will change her life forever. Kimberley Griffiths Little weaves a magical, breathtaking mystery full of loss and love, family and faith.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Book Trailer: Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin (Little, Brown, 2013). From the promotional copy:

Teen rocker Ritchie Sudden is pretty sure his life has just jumped the shark. Except he hates being called a teen, his band doesn't play rock, and "jumping the shark" is yet another dumb clich├ę. 

Part of Ritchie wants to drop everything and walk away. Especially the part that's serving ninety days in a juvenile detention center.

Telling the story of the year leading up to his arrest, Ritchie grabs readers by the throat before (politely) inviting them along for the (max-speed) ride. 

A battle of the bands looms. Dad split about five minutes before Mom's girlfriend moved in. There's the matter of trying to score with the dangerously hot Ravenna Woods while avoiding the dangerously huge Spence Proffer--not to mention just trying to forget what his sister, Beth, said the week before she died.

This latest offering from acclaimed author Sean Beaudoin is alternately raw, razor-sharp, and genuinely hilarious.

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