Friday, April 11, 2014

Event Report: Texas Library Association Annual Conference

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Wow! What fun I had at the Texas Library Association annual conference in San Antonio. Thank you, Texas librarians, publishers, authors, illustrators, exhibitors and teens for a wonderful event!

With fellow Candlewick YA author E.E. Charlton Trujillo
Author Nikki Loftin
Author-illustrator Don Tate
Author Donna Bowman Bratton & SCBWI Austin RA Samantha Clark
Author Joy Preble
YA Literature Goddess Teri Lesesne & author Laurie Halse Anderson
With Penguin sales rep Jill Bailey
Greg with author-librarian Debbie Leland
Greg models Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (June 2014)
Author K.A. Holt with E.E.
With Greg and children's-YA poetry guru Sylvia Vardell
With fellow author Elizabeth Bluemle
Author Phil Bildner
Bookseller Danny Woodfill with author-illustrator Mary Sullivan
With fellow author Varsha Bajaj
Greg with fellow author Sara Kocek
With author Greg Rodgers (Choctaw)
Author Liz Garton Scanlon
Author Varian Johnson
Texas Teens 4 Libraries
With Teri
Thank you, Candlewick Press!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Cynsational News

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Cover Reveal: Shattered by Mari Mancusi (Scorched #2)(Sourcebooks, 2014). From the promotional copy:

A fiery, action-packed installment in Mari Mancusi's heart-pounding Scorched trilogy

Trinity, Connor, and Caleb are trying to stay under the radar, holed up in an abandoned West Texas farmhouse. Their only problem is Emmy: a baby dragon that's growing like crazy. When Emmy is caught on tape and the video goes viral, they find themselves on the run again. Their only hope comes from an old map leading to a man who has come from the future to help them. But with the government hot on their heels and Caleb's growing addiction to spending time in the Nether world, will they be able to reach him in time? And will keeping Emmy safe end up being too high a price for Trinity to pay? 
See also Mari on Kids Don't Read Like They Used To (And That's a Good Thing). Peek: "These days, when a tween or teen finishes a book they enjoy, the first thing they do is Google the author or series title. They're looking for author websites with cool downloads, fan sites with forums they can chat on, videos on YouTube to watch, Facebook pages they can 'like,' and secret inside information about what's coming up next. In short, they're looking to become a part of the world in any way they can."

More News

Choosing Writing by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman from Emu's Debuts. Peek: "...here are the things that kept me tethered to the writing boat while the waves crashed on top of me."

How to Make a Killer Book Trailer (for No Money) by Amy Talkington from Adventures in YA Fiction. Peek: "They told me the best book trailers are short (a minute or less) and convey the tone of the book (versus the story). These were very useful words of wisdom." See also Do You Need a Social Media Platform? Agents Weigh In. 

Love Every Word by Jeanne Kisacky from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I am not thinking about word count, about cutting the work into a number of independently marketable parts, or about publishing rules/trends/standards. I am simply trying to make the work as long as it needs to be to tell the story. No more. No less."

I Am Not Accessible by Shannon Hale from Squeetus Blog. Peek: "A few years ago, I had a choice. I could 1. answer all my emails or 2. write more books. I chose books."

Q&A Simon & Schuster Editor Zareen Jaffery from Story and Chai. Peek: "Of the hundreds of submissions I receive, I only take on about ten new books each year, predominantly novels, and that number includes multiple works by the same writer or books by previously published writers. I signed two debut authors last year. (I edit about 20 original books a year.) What I’m getting at is that the competition to get published is fierce." Note: topics include the publication of books with Muslim characters and themes.

Writing Mental Illness: Stigma & Story by Erin E. Moulton from CBC Diversity. Peek: "I found that I had to cull from a variety of sources to make sure that I was creating an accurate, human and non-stereotypical portrayal of the Bipolar experience. I looked to both fiction and nonfiction for help on this subject."

This Week at Cynsations



More Personally

It's a short week at Cynsations as I'm at the Texas Library Association Conference in San Antonio and then off to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California. See details below! See also more Candlewick Author & Illustrator Public Events for April 2014.

Do yourself a favor and meet Betty X Davis in this interview by Meredith Davis from Austin SCBWI. At age 99, Betty is a founding member of the chapter, plays tennis once a week, and plays Scrabble against herself. She says, "it's always a close match."

Here's the Question of the Week (and from the major national media, no less): "Where the African-American Harry Potter or Mexican-American Katniss?" by Ashley Strickland from CNN. Note: I'm honored to be mentioned in such distinguished company. Peek: "Even though young adult literature is enjoying a golden age and authors are working to diversify their stories, lead characters of color or characters who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are still slow to appear in popular mainstream young adult fiction."

The other post lingering on my mind is Keith Cronin on How to Make Somebody Hate Reading from Writer Unboxed. As a teen, I enjoyed literary analysis and went on to get a concentration in English at The University of Kansas. However, as editor of my high school newspaper, I did choose to skip senior AP English in favor of an extra hour each day in the news room.

Reminder: E-volt is having a sale on Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) for $1.99 and Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith, $2.99--discount prices will hold through April! Listen to an audio sample of Feral Nights and read a sample of Eternal. Check out what I didn't plan about the Feral series from YA Series Insider.

Thanks to Debbie Reese for recommending my picture book Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) in her interview for How Children's Books Fuel Mascot Stereotypes by Aura Bogado from Color Lines.   

Cheers to Lee Bennett Hopkins, the Most Prolific Anthologist of Poetry for Children, as certified by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Kudos to Austin author-illustrator Jeff Crosby for his new website celebrating Rockabilly Goats Gruff (Holiday House, 2014)!

Personal Links:

Cynsational Events

Meet Cynthia Leitich Smith in the author signing area from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. April 9 at the Texas Library Association conference in San Antonio. Greg Leitich Smith will be signing at that same time and date in Booth 1443 (Book Festivals of Texas). See the complete author signing listings. See also conference signings by Texas authors.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith, along with Soman Chainani, Margaret Stohl, Laini Taylor, and moderator John Corey Whaley for "Young Adult Fantasy: The Real & the Unreal" (conversation 1095) in the Norris Theater at 4:30 p.m. (signing to follow) April 12 at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California.

Join Varian Johnson, Greg Leitich Smith and Jennifer Ziegler in celebrating their new middle grade novels at 2 p.m. June 14 at BookPeople in Austin.

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. See also Alison L. Randall on Choosing a Writing Conference.

Event Report: Liz Garton Scanlon's Launch for The Good-Pie Party

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Liz Garton Scanlon launched The Good-Pie Party, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (Arthur A. Levine, 2014) last weekend at BookPeople in Austin.

Liz did a PowerPoint presentation about her own experiences moving from home to home around the globe and then read the book, showing the illustrations on screen.

Liz greets guests in a dessert-themed dress with lemonade, pies and veggie snacks.
Pies donated by Royer's Pie Haven -- new in Austin (2900 B. Guadalupe).
Author Greg Leitich Smith and author-illustrator Emma Virjan
Liz chats with young readers and fellow Austin authors.
Authors Sam Bond and Cynthia Leitich Smith
Austin SCBWI founder Meredith Davis and Cyn
Liz signs her book for Greg.

Cynsational Notes 

From the promotional copy:

Posy, Megan, and Mae have always been the best of friends — but now Posy has to move away. 

Only their favorite activity can comfort the girls: baking pie! 

And when they realize they can host a good-pie party instead of a good-bye party, the sad situation becomes a sweet gathering for their entire community. 

The Good-Pie Party celebrates good friends, good memories, and the joy of the just-right good-byes.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

New Voice: Skila Brown on Caminar

Teacher's Guide
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Skila Brown is the first-time author of Caminar (Candlewick, 2014). From the promotional copy:


Set in 1981 Guatemala, a lyrical debut novel tells the powerful tale of a boy who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war.

Carlos knows that when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it is time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet — he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. 

The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck: Communist. 

Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her. . . . 

Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then? 

A novel in verse inspired by actual events during Guatemala’s civil war, Caminar is the moving story of a boy who loses nearly everything before discovering who he really is.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

a mountain in Guatemala, much like the one Carlos must climb
I think I’m like a lot of people in that I write best without interruptions, with a beautiful view, a clear head, a well-rested and well-fed brain, in a comfortable chair, and whenever the muse visits me.

But if I waited for all that to happen, I’d never finish a book. I’d frankly never even start one.

Most writers wear a lot of different hats, juggling a lot of different lives, especially when we’re new writers.

The biggest hat I wear is Mom. I have three kids who are home with me all day, every day, as we’re a homeschooling family. So the answer to this question is: I write whenever I can. And sometimes when I really can’t.

I take advantage of the waiting moments, like music lessons and swim practice, and I hide over in the corner with my notebook or laptop, writing, instead of socializing with other parents or playing games on my phone. I write early in the morning and sometimes late at night. I write after lunch, when I force the kids into an hour of quiet. I stay home and write instead of attending all kinds of events like parties and concerts and whatever else goes on around me.

First draft, written out of order & by hand
I believe firmly that no one is going to give me time and space to write. I have to take it. I also believe I have to keep that in check and constantly remind myself that I’m more than just a writer. That I need to step away from the notepad or computer and turn that part of me off for periods of time.

What works best for me is a few hours a week that are carved out for writing, and anything else is a bonus.

But there are a lot more bonus opportunities out there than we realize. I think about my novels while I’m driving, in the shower, cooking, and falling asleep. I work out a lot of issues during this time that frees me up in my official writing hours.

I also write best by hand. My first drafts are better when I jot them out by hand. It takes longer and that’s a good thing. I’m more careful with my words.

I like to write with pencil, in a variety of notebooks, journals, even scrap pieces of paper. I write out of order, which is frustrating at times, but seems to work best for so I’m trying to embrace it.

Figuring out our writing process is so important, isn’t it? And it takes a few years to really see how and what brings out our best writing.

As a historical fiction writer, what drew you first--character, concept, or historical period? In whichever case, how did you go about building your world and integrating it into the story? What were the special challenges? Where did you turn for inspiration or support?

I was first drawn into the period of time and the events that were happening in Guatemala around this time. I’d been reading and learning about Guatemala’s history, and specifically the way the United States impacted that, and it was all troubling to say the least.

I read about villages that were massacred and how a few people, some children, would escape such an event and what their escape would be like. I started to imagine the story of a child who survives. What he must do, how he might feel, where he might go.

During the time that I was writing I continued doing research, reading a lot of journals and interview excerpts from people who lived in the middle of this violence. I watched documentaries. I sought out the help of friends who are a part of this culture. I felt challenged to make sure what I was saying was as authentic and accurate as it could be. I was very much aware of the fact that I was an outsider to this time and place, and that I had an important task to tell the story and to tell it right.

Tim Wynne-Jones, Katherine & Shelley at VCFA
Shelley Tanaka, an editor, author and writing teacher, was inspirational to me in overcoming my angst about writing outside my culture.

She said to me that my worries about this would help me to be as diligent as I could to tell the story with respect and care.

I had the good fortune to be in a writing workshop in which Katherine Paterson was a guest speaker. Someone asked her, “You’ve written outside of your culture a lot. How do you come to terms with the fact that you’re an outsider, and that maybe you shouldn’t be writing about a culture that isn’t yours?”

Her answer was both humbling and reassuring because she made it clear that this is something she struggles with, too. I listened to her talk about this and realized the only hope for tackling this myself was to do it with humility. And that’s just what I’ve tried to do.

I recognize that it won’t be a perfect portrayal of what happened then and why. I see my own limitations as an outsider. But I also feel the story—the sadness and the hope—is an important one, and one that needs to be told.

At the end of the day, I hope I’ve done it in the most respectful manner I can.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Guest Post: Joseph Bruchac on "You Don't Look Indian."

By Joseph Bruchac
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

You don’t look like an Indian.

Ever heard anyone say that? It’s a safe bet that you have if you’re a contemporary Native American. Or, as my friends in Canada put it, a member of a First Nation.

And those were the exact words that I heard this past Saturday. Standing in front of a group of fifty sixth and seventh graders at Henry Hudson Middle School (And no, I shall not go into a rant about its namesake right now) in the Bronx.

I’d just finished doing my presentation to that very polite audience. Great kids. The very fact that they were here spending a sunny Saturday morning in school spoke volumes about their motivation. I’d been introduced as an American Indian author.

And as I told a story and then talked a little about my two YA novels—Wolf Mark (Lee & Low, 2011) and Killer of Enemies (Lee & Low/Tu, 2013)--which had just been given to each of those young men and women, they’d listened attentively.

“So,” I said, “any questions?”

And that was when, in the second row, the young woman wearing a scarf had raised her hand and made that comment. “You don’t look like an Indian.”

Okay, time to explain--for anyone reading this who is not of aboriginal American ancestry—just why those six words went off in my brain like a shot from a starter’s pistol.

Native people have had to deal for decades with stereotyping. Thanks to mass media, it seems as if every non-Native person from the 19th century to today has an idea of what a "real" Indian looks like.

It’s an image involving feathers, beads, tipis, bows and arrows, hunting buffalo on horseback, long black hair and a deeply tanned skin. Lacking those accouterments may result in one’s authenticity being questioned. Or lead to the question which frequently follows such an observation: “How much Indian blood do you have?”

(Alas, I had not brought along the dipstick I sometimes have thrust into my belt which enables me to respond to that latter query by pulling said dipstick out and saying “I seem to be down by a quart.”)

My friend Drew Hayden Taylor, Canada’s most prolific (and one of its funniest) indigenous writers has responded to such comments in a highly readable collection of essay series entitled Advenures of a Blue-Eyed Ojibwa, Funny You Don't Look Like One (Theytus, 1999-2004).

My sister Marge, currently heading the Native Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, has a routine that she used to do when she made school visits. She’d arrive in her everyday clothing with a large trunk.

“Do I look like an Indian?” she’d ask.

And the answer (despite her tanned face and long black hair), was usually “No.” Then she would reach into the trunk and pull out a necklace and put it on. “How about now?”

Following which she would extract more items of her regalia until she was finally clothed as a Native woman might be when going to a powwow, or enacting a past era. “And now?” she’d ask. And when the reply was “Yes, you look like an Indian,” she would ask them, “What was I before I was dressed this way?”

Any question, even one that seems to come from a place informed by misinformation, can provide a teachable moment.

So my reply to that young woman was careful and measured. I pointed out that Native Americans today often dress and look like other Americans of various ancestries. I talked about the cultural differences from one Native nation to another. I mentioned the fact that many of us are of mixed ancestry but are accepted by our tribal nations and identify ourselves first and foremost as members of that nation. Nationhood, in fact, is an important part of being Native, knowing our Native languages, practicing and honoring our cultures.

As I talked the image came to me of one of my favorite paintings. "Done" by Rick Hill, the Tuscarora artist and educator, I first saw it thirty years ago in the Akwesasne Cultural Center. It showed an Iroquois man from around the 17th century. Dressed in full regalia, his face was traditionally painted, his hair cut in the classic Mohawk roach. His yellow hair. The title was “The First Blonde-Haired Mohawk.”

“You can’t judge a person by their looks,” I said. “How a person appears on the outside doesn’t tell you what is in that person’s mind and heart.”

At that point one of the teachers sitting in the back chipped in. “People think I’m black,” she said. “But I belong to the Cherokee Nation. I’m listed with the tribe.”

Which led to a discussion of just how many African slaves who found their way to freedom in the American South were taken in by various Native nations, adopted, married in and lived out their lives as American Indians. Look at almost any African American whose ancestry on this continent goes back to the time of slavery and you’ll find there are American Indians in that person’s family tree. Strong roots woven together.

When I finished, that young woman had a smile on her face. Other eager hands were being raised. And I spent another half hour answering questions before moving on to signing everyone’s books. It was a great session. As I shook the hands of the students many of them asked if I’d be coming back again next year, including the young women who made that initial comment.

“I very much enjoyed all that you shared with us,” she said, adjusting her sari back over her shoulder as she spoke. “It was very interesting.”

Nice job, Bruchac. Well done. Right? Ah. . .

Rerun that comment. Consider the context. I was on the train halfway to Albany when it hit me like a dope slap.

A third of the young men and women in the class I’d just visited were typical of the demographic shift that is taking place in the American population. They were from South Asia. And that was why there was a mischievous twinkle in that young woman’s eye when she made that initial remark.

Dang you, Critoforo Colombo!

Yet another misunderstanding stemming from the Genoan navigator’s assumption that the girth of the earth was half its actual size. And that his first landfall in the Bahamas was the East Indies. What was then called India. And thus our many nations ended up being labeled as “Indians.”

That mistaken (some would say misbegotten) arrival of old Chris’s has caused a lot of confusion over the years. Which brings to mind a joke that I believe I first heard from Charlie Hill, the Oneida comedian. “It could have been worse. Columbus could have thought he’d arrived in Turkey.

Getting back to Henry Hudson Junior High and the remark that started this whole text. I really should have guessed the actual gist of her observation. After all, in the last decade I’d heard more and more often from Indian Americans, asking me what the deal was about indigenous Americans referring to themselves as Indians.

“Don’t you have any pride in your own culture?” a young man from Orissa asked me in an e-mail two years ago. The thing is, as I explained it to him, that the word “Indian” has been part of the common parlance for so long that it’s been accepted by Native Americans. “Indian” is written into the American Constitution and found in the language of all the treaties and the legal dealings with our various tribal nations.

And it is not just in the past. The most widely distributed Native American publication is called "Indian Country News." When the new museum reflecting the cultures or the indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere was created on the National Mall in Washington D.C. it was designated as the National Museum of the American Indian—a name chosen with the input of countless tribal advisers.

Should we prefer, nay, insist upon the term “Native American?” Consider the fact that it could (and once did) refer to anyone born in the United States. In fact there was a "Native American" movement a century ago or so that emphasized the legitimacy of "Native Americans" of white English and Northern European and demonized immigrants.

Plus, as with “American Indian,” the accepted etymology of “American” stems from the moniker of that other Italian dude, old Amerigo Vespucci. (The “feminized Latin version of his first name”—or so sayeth Wikipedia.)

(There are other theories, I must hasten to add. Such as that the name ‘Indian” came from an observation made by Columbus that the native people he encountered were living in such a state of blessedness that they were people who were In Deo, living “in God.” And that “America” stems from the supposedly native word—some say Carib—of Amerikkua, meaning something like “the Land of the Winds.” There used to be a publication named "AMERIKKUA".)

National Museum of the American Indian
Canada, as I mentioned at the start, officially avoids both the “American Indian” and the “Native American” label. Our neighbors to the North go with First Nations, Aboriginal Nations, and so on. Though an awful lot of my First Nations friends seem comfortable with calling themselves Indian when they’re with a group of other Native people. (The name “Canada,” by the way, does come from a Native word. “Kenata” means “village” in one of the Iroquoian dialects of the St. Lawrence region.”)

What I usually suggest is to let folks tell you what they prefer in terms of the term that refers to their indigenous identity. Start first with one’s individual tribal nation before moving on to one of those blanket designations draped around the unwitting shoulders of all our nations. (Go back before going back to the blanket? Never mind.)

Anyhow, yet again, I have been reminded that there are there are so many ways one can be wrong about being right. And thus I must end this rambling discourse with the simple admission that insofar as resembling someone from the great subcontinent goes, my seventh grade friend was indeed correct when she said:

“You don’t look like an Indian.”

Cynsational Notes

Joe originally published this essay to his facebook page. It is reproduced here with permission.

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