Friday, January 24, 2014

Book Trailer: If It's Snowy and You Know It, Clap Your Paws! by Kim Norman & Liza Woodruff

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Where do writers get their ideas? Check out the story-behind-the-story book trailer for If It's Snowy and You Know It, Clap Your Paws! (Sterling, 2013). From the promotional copy:

Kim Norman and Liza Woodruff, the team behind the delightful Ten on the Sled, have created another irresistible winter-themed romp. 

This humorous variation on the classic song “If You're Happy and You Know It” introduces a group of adorable animals playing joyfully in the snow. They tumble on the tundra, catch snowflakes on their tongues, sculpt snowcritters, and make a frosty fort. But can they go with the flow when their wild adventure drifts in a surprising direction? 

Young readers will laugh and sing along!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Guest Post: Lee Edward Fodi on Maps, Menus & Myths: Three Techniques to Improve World Building

Griffin sleeping on a manuscript
By Lee Edward Fodi
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

“Writing fantasy is easy; you just make it all up.”

It’s something I hear all the time in my travels as an author and educator. I’m not sure if it’s meant as a slight about my chosen genre, but my response is always the same:

Writing fantasy is hard.


Because you have to make it all up.

As they say, the devil is in the details, and that’s where I think a lot of us stumble. In fact, I find that a lot of creators approach world building like they’re riverboat gamblers. They just go all-in without a lot of planning, hoping it will all just work out by the end.

It might. But I doubt it.

So, when it comes to world building, where to start? There are so many aspects to consider: language, fashion, transportation, geography . . . the list goes on. But I think the three below offer the most immediate (and fun) entry into a new world.


Drawing a map may seem obvious, but it has to be done right. It’s not just about mapping out where your characters go, but where they don’t go.

If you can figure out the boundaries of your world and force yourself to fill in all empty spaces with towns and landscape features, then you will begin to give your world some history.

Personally, when I invent a town, I invent a story to go with it, about how that name came to be. I’ve written stories for the towns such as Glum Puddle, Owl’s Hoot, and Hag’s Claw—places where none of my characters will ever go in my Kendra Kandlestar books.


Most readers want to read fantasy because they want to escape reality. And food is one thing everyone can relate to—so it seems to me that it’s an essential ingredient (pun intended!) for building a unique and imaginative environment.

The characters I have created for the Land of Een are all vegetarians, so this informs their way of life. They have a variety of foods: some quite pedestrian like carrot soup (Kendra’s favorite meal), and some that sound a bit more fun: fudgery pie, squibbles and pip, and glum pudding.

I don’t think it’s necessary to launch into an in-depth description of invented dishes (after all, you don’t want to slow down the story), but I do think that readers relish in these sort of details.

After all, you don’t need to look much further than Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans in Harry Potter for proof of that.


This is something that can really give a world weight. It’s about building history, culture, and symbolism. Essentially, it makes the world feel real. I write many legends and myths for my imagined worlds. The key here is that they usually don’t often make it word-for-word into my actual books (if at all). There are no prologues in my books (personally, I’m not sure how readers care about a myth until they understand how it connects to the protagonist). My own approach is to let the myths inform my characters along the way.

One great technique I use to help writers develop myths for their worlds is to ask them to design a crest, a flag, or coat of arms. This activity naturally prompts them to think about symbols and myths—once these things are in place, they have a platform on which to begin building a world.

In my own books, stars, braids, and owls all serve as important cultural touchstones for the characters.

Essentially, I think world building comes down to making up a series of “rules”—and then living by them. Taking the time to construct the logic of a world can take some time—but it ultimately makes the overall writing process flow more smoothly. And in the meantime, it’s just plain fun.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

In Memory: Ned Vizzini

Ned's website
Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Ned Vizzini, 32, Dies; Wrote Teenage Novels by Ned Yardley from The New York Times (Dec. 20, 2013). Peek: "Ned Vizzini, a precocious and highly praised writer of popular young-adult novels that often dealt with themes of teenage anxiety and depression — and still made readers laugh — died on Thursday in Brooklyn."

Ned Vizzini, author of 'It's Kind of a Funny Story,' commits suicide at 32 by Faith Karim from CNN. Peek: "In his books, Vizzini openly talked about his struggle with depression... Vizzini started writing for New York media at 15, and published his memoir, Teen Angst? Naaah at age 19. The young author won accolades for his book, It's Kind of a Funny Story, for its portrayal of teenage depression. His other novels included Be More Chill and The Other Normals."

Ned Vizzini dies at 32; author wrote openly about his depression by David Colker and Carolyn Kellogg from The LA Times. Peek: "'Everybody thinks that after you make it as an author, you're set for life,' he said in a 2006 interview with the Richmond (Va.) Times Dispatch. 'But I had plenty of concerns about what I was going to do with the rest of my life. And there's always pressure to do the next thing and to always be better.'"

Ned Vizzini dies at 32: Fans mourn It's Kind of a Funny Story writer by Eun Kyung Kim from Today. Peek: "'Ned was a preternatural talent — a brilliant, insightful writer and a dazzling storyteller who was one of the leading pioneers of YA literature as we know it,' Alessandra Balzer, co-publisher of HarperCollins' Balzer + Bray, said in a statement."

It's Kind of a Funny Story author Ned Vizzini dies at 32 by Hillary Busis from Entertainment Weekly.
"'What I would like young adults to take away from It’s Kind of a Funny Story is that if you’re feeling suicidal, call a hotline,' Vizzini said in an interview with Strength of Us, an online community developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, after the film version of Funny Story was released. 'Suicidal ideation really is a medical emergency and if more people knew to call the suicide hotline we’d have less suicides. One number, as related in the book, is 1-800-SUICIDE.'”

Note to Readers

My sympathies to Ned's family, friends, and colleagues.

If you would like to share links to other memorial posts, please do so in the comments. The roundup above features mainstream media, but I'm sure there are more personal reflections on the Web.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Making Deals with the Writing Gods by Nora Raleigh Baskin from Janni Lee Simner at Desert Dispatches. Peek: "I’m terrified I can never do it again. I will run out of ideas. I’ll be too old. My brain will rot. I won’t sell enough and no one will offer me a contract again. I’ll get such bad reviews no one will want to publish me again. It really was a fluke after all. I am fraud and fake and it’s just a matter of time before everyone figures it out."

How to Market a Book Series by Anna Staniszewski from Literary Rambles.Peek: "When the first book comes out, there’s a lot of excitement involved, but there’s also anxiety about finding an audience." See also The Overwhelmed Writers Two-Step Process for Staying Connected to Readers by Dan Blank from Writer Unboxed, How Do You Know Which Blogs To Tell About Your Book? by Lee Wind from The Official SCBWI Blog, and Fighting Blog Burnout: An Infographic from Jen Robinson's Book Page.

Writing/Critique Group Rules by Claudia Mills from Smack Dab in the Middle. Peek: "...we must be doing something right, or we wouldn’t still be together two decades later, with well over a hundred published books to our credit. So what are we doing right?"

Seeking New Challenges by Betty G. Birney from Janni Lee Simner on Desert Dispatches. Peek: "It wasn’t easy to switch to writing narrative fiction after writing in script format so long, but I finally sold a couple of picture books. Success–right? Wrong! After those two books, it was nine years before I sold another book."

What's the Story: Issues of Diversity and Children's Publishing in the U.K. by Laura Atkins from E-rea. Note: Laura is a former editor at Children's Book Press, Lee & Low, and Orchard. Much of what she says within applies to both the U.K. and U.S. markets (and includes input by me). See also Windows and Mirrors: Reading Diverse Children's Literature by Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen from Gazillion Voices, Top 10 Native American Books for Elementary School by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature and 2014 Kids of Color: Things are Looking Up by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal.

Cover Reveal: Evidence of Things Not Seen by Lindsey Lane from MacTeenBooks. Note: scheduled for fall 2014; learn more about Lindsey Lane.

Scene Transitions AKA "Meanwhile Back at the Ranch" by Dave King from Writer Unboxed. Peek: " do you manage these transitions subtly? Remember, your critical point doesn’t have to involve your protagonist tied to the railroad tracks. It could be anything that opens up new possibilities in the story – anything that will make your readers willing to wait to see how it turns out."

Everything I Know About Storytelling, I Learned from Soap Operas by Rosie Genova from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "Now you may snicker, perhaps even sneer, but hear me out. For starters, understand that my work is mass market fiction, as in 'mass appeal'—that’s the hope, anyway, of both my publisher and me. Good commercial fiction has to have mass appeal. And appealing to the masses is something that the soaps understand."

Writing Out of Sequence by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Note: Wrapping up the Feral trilogy, this method makes perfect sense to me. See also Begin in the Muggle World: Opening Scenes.

Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: Wilderness Navigation by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "For a slightly more technologically advanced society, compasses, astrolabes, sextants and other tools can be used." See also How to Build a Fictional World by Kate Messner from TEDEd.

Letting Go After Your First Manuscript Sale: A Cautionary Tale for Control Freaks from Donna Bowman Bratton. Peek: "While writing, the world on the page is mine, mine, mine! I am in control. Mwahahaha! Until I am not." See also Donna Bowman Bratton's Birthdayographies.

The Road to Publishing: One Take on Working with Rock-star Editor Andrew Karre by Ashley Perez from Latin@s in Kidlit. Peek: "I’ve benefited from his ability to see subterranean connections that invited development as well as other missed opportunities. So even what might have been 'pain' in the process invariably felt crucial to the mission of making the book what it was meant to be." See also The Road to Publishing: a Q&A with Andrew Karre of Carolrhoda Lab.

Flying High (and Sometimes Low): The Transition to Full-time Author-Illustrator from Don Tate. Peek: "Anticipating layoffs, I went part-time. This allowed more time to focus on developing my dream. With less time in the newsroom, I could hone my speaking skills. I could develop a school visit program. I had more time to write." See Don's art, recently featured in "The New York Times", and learn more about him from SoulCiti.

Kate DiCamillo Named Next National Ambassador of Young People's Literature by Sue Corbett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "DiCamillo plans to promote the idea of community reading with her platform, 'Stories Connect Us.'"

After the Final No (Rejecting Rejection) by Bethany Hegedus from The Writing Barn. Peek: "We all wanted the text to be stellar. It needed to be universal and yet specific. It needed to capture Gandhi as a world leader but also as a human being, as a man who cared about his grandson and a grandson who was having trouble living up to the peacemaker’s name. This revision was my last chance." See also Meredith Davis on Rejecting Rejection.

What Do You Want from Your Writing in 2014 and Beyond? by Dan Holloway from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Why you write is always the key to what you want from your writing." See also 2013: A Learning Year: Managing Expectations by from Jessica Spotswood.

More Personally

Welcome back to Cynsations!

The post most on my mind this week: Battle of the Sexists (AKA Let the Self-Promotion Roll, Ladies) from Gwenda Bond. Note: she also recommends Authors, Self-Promotion & Doing It for Yourself from Saundra Mitchell at Making Stuff Up for a Living (and so do I).

I'm also still contemplating A Note on Historical Romance Sales from Courtney Milan, much of which applies to print trade publishing across the industry.

Cheers to P.J. Hoover on the paperback release of The Navel of the World (CBay, 2013) and to Nikki Loftin on the paperback release of The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy (Razorbill, 2014).

Congratulations to Akiko White, winner of the 2014 Tomi dePaola Award and to Sylvia Liu on the 2013 Lee & Low New Voices Award.

Hooray for Julie Berry and the other nominees for the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Awards, and kudos to Ann Angel for her role in the Janis Joplin stamp. Congratulations to the VCFA MFA in C&YA winter 2014 graduating class, the Magic Ifs

Cheers to Jo Whittemore on the six-book deal for her middle grade series with HarperCollins and to Varian Johnson on the sale of To Catch a Cheat to Arthur A. Levine Books and to Donna Bowman Bratton on the sale of En Garde! Abraham Lincoln's Dueling Words to Peachtree.

Congratulations to Greg Leitich Smith on the release of the audio edition of Chronal Engine (Audible, 2014). Listen to an excerpt. Look for Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn by Greg Leitich Smith (Roaring Brook) in the Macmillan Kids spring 2014 catalog.

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Meredith Davis from Austin SCBWI. Peek: "In law school, I was sued in a case that was covered by 'Playboy' magazine and ended up on the front page of the 'The New York Times.'" Note: It in no way involved me being naked.

What Do Children's-YA Authors (Including Me!) Wish For in 2014? from Ink & Angst. 

I missed y'all! Did you miss me? (Notice how I'm wearing more color?)
My most successful gift for Greg Leitich Smith; fans of "The Big Bang Theory" will understand.

Personal Links

  • My newest personal fandom is "Firefly."
    Harry Potter Cloaks: Quest for Invisibility Not All Fantasy
  • Real-life Hobbit House Built in Pennsylvania
  • Artist Grows Stunning Crystals on Classic Books
  • 2013 Children's Lit: The Year in Miscellania
  • How Reading Improves Brain Function
  • Writers and Their Typewriters
  • Triumph of the English Major
  • 12 Literary Themed Restaurants and Bars Across America
  • Public Libraries are Better Beloved than Congress, Baseball & Apple Pie, Say Americans  
  • Write a House is Giving Writers Free Homes in Detroit
  • Art of The University of Michigan Law Quad
  • Might I Suggest this Doll House for Your Stay in Paris?
  • An Engineer's Guide to Cats 2.0 
  • 5 Things Janni Lee Simner Loved About "Frozen"
  • "Sherlock" Mini Episode
  • 10 Pop-culture Robots That Shaped the Future 

  • Cynsational Events

    The 2014 Austin SCBWI Writers & Illustrators Working Conference will be held Feb. 8 to Feb. 9 at the Marriott South Austin. Keynote speakers: YA author Matt de la Peña and author-illustrator Kelly Murphy.

    Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held June 16 to June 21 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Keynote speaker: James Dashner; faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Learn about the WIFYR Fellowship Award.

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