Friday, October 10, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

YA Supernatural Baddies by Cynthia K. Ritter from The Horn Book. Peek: "Looking for a book to send a chill down your spine? These four new novels involving creepy paranormal characters are perfect for the occasion."

Cynsational Insight

Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen (Candlewick, 2014), recommended at the above link by The Horn Book, is my new favorite book of all time! Not because the hero's name is Cyn, but, yes, that is a bonus.

From the promotional copy:

When Cynthia Rothschild's best friend, Annie, falls head over heels for the new high school librarian, Cyn can totally understand why — he's really young and ridiculously hot and apparently thinks Annie would make an excellent library monitor.

But almost immediately, Cyn starts to sense that something about Mr. Gabriel isn't quite right. Maybe it's the creepy look in the librarian's (literally) mesmerizing eyes, or the weird feeling Cyn gets whenever she's around him, or the blood and horns and giant bat-like wings that appear when he thinks no one is looking. Before long, Cyn realizes that Mr. Gabriel is, in fact ... a demon.

Now, in addition to saving her beloved school musical (Sweeney Todd!) from technical disaster and avoiding making a complete fool out of herself with her own hopeless crush (who happens to be the only other person who knows the truth about Mr. Gabriel), Cyn has to save her best friend from the attractive-yet-very-very-bad clutches of the evil librarian, who has not only bewitched Annie but seems to be slowly sucking the life force out of the entire student body!

The Horn Book says, "Fans of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize series or Larbalestier and Brennan’s Team Human will enjoy this blend of supernatural action, school story, romance, and dark comedy."

More News & Giveaways

Everything You Should Think About Before You Apply to a MFA Program by Elizabeth McCracken from Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Peek: "Don’t apply to safety schools. Don’t apply to any school you know you don’t want to go to. You shouldn’t settle for something you think is just okay in any aspect of your writing life."

There Is Nothing Wrong with Writing Nonfiction Books for Children by Liz B from A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy. Peek: "There is nothing wrong, and actually much right, with writing age-appropriate nonfiction books for children and teens. When and how subject matter is introduced and discussed is, well, the reason fifth graders aren't sent to university classes (unless they're Doogie Howser, of course.)" See also Clearing the Brush by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book.

Thoughts About Bordered and Borderless Girls by Samantha Marby from YA Highway. Peek: " my mind, Hispanic kids spoke Spanish. At their homes, there were statues of the Virgin Mary on the mantels. Their mothers made their own salsa and carried it in a porcelain mug when they went out to eat because what the restaurants served wasn’t hot enough. Those kids weren’t like me. But they were like my grandmother."

Is Aging the Problem? Or Ageism? by Lindsey McDivett from A Is for Aging. Peek: "Researcher Sheree Kwong See observes the seeds of ageism being planted in children as young as toddlers, and recommends that advocacy start early."

Interview with Lin Oliver on SCBWI's Emerging Voices Award from Lee and Low. Peek: "We all acknowledge the need to support aspiring authors of color, but their eventual success will be determined by the marketplace. It is crucial that the these books prove to be not only artistic and social successes, but also commercially viable."

Print Books Outsold E-Books in First Half of 2014 by Claire Fallon from The Huffington Post. Peek: "...not only did overall print book sales, at 67 percent of the market, outpace ebook sales, both hardcovers and paperbacks individually outsold ebooks."

Off the Literary Reservation: Young Adult Fiction Is Giving Native Americans Their Own Voice by Catherine Addington from The American Conservative. Peek: "In the American imagination, the Native population is confined not just to physical reservations but to the historical reservation of the past."

Five Ingredients for Writing Horror by Robert Lettrick from Project Mayhem. Peek: "...we are hardwired to protect ourselves and fear is a big part of self-preservation." Note: includes giveaway.

The 2014 GG Short List from Canada Council for the Arts. Peek: "'This year’s list of finalists contains powerful novels and poems, imaginative children’s books, skillful translations, entrancing dramas and enlightening non-fiction,' said Canada Council Director and CEO, Simon Brault. 'They are all meaningful books in which we can, as readers and Canadians, lose ourselves and find ourselves.'"

Pre-writing: Discovering Your Character's Secrets by Robin LaFevers from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Pre-writing is all about backstory, which informs the characters and story taking place just as surely as the contours of the earth’s crust influences its landscape."

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of a signed copy of The Camelot Code by Mari Mancusi was Karin in Oklahoma.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Exciting news! I'm honored to be a contributor to the recently announced Violent Ends anthology, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse).

Highlights of the week also included watching fellow Austin children's-YA author Chris Barton on "Mysteries at the Museum" on The Travel Channel! Way to go, Chris!

Reminder: my e-edition of Blessed (Candlewick) is on sale this month for only $1.99. A perfect Halloween read--check it out!

Personal Link

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Giveaway: Uncovered (An Autumn Covarrubias Mystery) by S.X. Bradley

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win one of three signed paperback copies of Uncovered (An Autumn Covarrubias Mystery) by S.X. Bradley (Evernight, 2014). Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.

From the promotional copy:

Last year sixteen-year-old Autumn solved her sister’s murder. This year, she is part of a high school forensic dream team that assists the police when teens are kidnapped. 

When it’s discovered the kidnappings are part of a secret online survivor game, the police and team focus on the game maker-the man behind the game. 

The focus of the investigation shifts when Autumn is singled out and becomes the target of the Game Maker’s sick game. 

 Through encrypted messages hidden in steganographs, Autumn must discover who the last kidnapping victim is if she hopes to save him in time.

S.X. writes: "As a Mexican-American writer, I've very proud to continue Autumn's story. She's a smart, driven Hispanic teen that wants to make her own path in life. My hope is that young Latinas will draw inspiration from Autumn."

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Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Guest Post & Giveaway: Mary Losure on Aloft on a Broomstick: Making the Leap from Nonfiction to Fiction

By Mary Losure
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Years ago, when I was wheeling my groceries out to the car at sunset, I looked up and imagined witches silhouetted against the pink and gold sky.

The moment grew into my first novel, the story of two young witches on a journey to the human world.

Please don’t ask me how many drafts it took.

I was a journalist when I began, and I knew I could write nonfiction. I wasn’t so sure about fiction. Years and more years went by until at last my witches found a wonderful editor, Julie Amper of Holiday House. With her guidance, Backwards Moon (Holiday House, 2014) took flight.

I’m thrilled! Fiction is fun, like flying your very own broomstick, and I loved imagining a world where the fate of all of Witchkind hung in the balance. And besides, an author’s novels get to live together, in a cozy, easily findable group in the library or bookstore. They aren’t banished to literary gulags like Folklore or Juvenile Biography and arranged by subject the way my nonfiction books (The Fairy Ring (Candlewick, 2012) and Wild Boy (Candlewick, 2013)) are.

Still, I love writing nonfiction. And I wish more children’s book authors would give it a try.

I think it’s a kind of mental food (call it vegetables, if you like. Fruit. Whole wheat bread…) that’s good for the writer’s brain. And it can teach you things about the craft of both kinds of writing.

Just as fiction does, a work of nonfiction can have suspense, rising action, a climax, and an ending inherent in the beginning: a narrative arc just like a novel’s. But you have to recognize that arc in the material you have—you can’t make it up. And I think that teaches you to think more deeply about what a plot is, and about the many possibilities that are open to you as a writer.

Often, a nonfiction plot doesn’t tie itself up nicely. The real boy who is the hero of Wild Boy never learns to talk, never escapes back into the wild to live happily ever after.

In fiction, you could make that happen. But would that necessarily be the best possible plot?

They say the first requirement for being a writer is to read—and the detective work of digging a story from historical records requires you to read very widely, following clues from one book to the next.

Often, you’ll find yourself reading books (not to mention letters, papers, and diaries) you never would otherwise, finding astonishing bits of life that you could never have made up. All this is food for the writer’s brain.

One more thing about nonfiction–it’s in great demand right now. Agents are hungry for innovative, creative-but-still-true narrative nonfiction.

I know my agent was looking for new kinds of nonfiction; that’s how he came to represent my work, and how my entire writing life turned around.

Now I’m thrilled to be published in both genres, and plan to keep writing in both.

I just need to finish reading this stack of books, grab my broomstick, and go.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three ARCs of Backwards Moon by Mary Losure (Holiday House). Peek:

Two young witches, Bracken and Nettle, venture outside their mountain valley and find a world that’s always been hidden from them–our world.
An unabashed fantasy for magic-loving children ages 7-10. 

Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Interview: Betsy Bird & Julie Danielson on Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations on the release of Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature (Candlewick, 2014)! What was the initial inspiration for the book?

Betsy: Well, back in the day (I think it was about 2009 or so) I noticed that there were a great many really top notch children’s literature bloggers out there that had sites that were unique and interesting.

Two of them in particular caught my fancy.

There was Peter Sieruta, who ran a historical children’s lit blog called Collecting Children’s Books, and there was Jules Danielson, who with another person was running the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast illustration blog.

I don’t think anyone would have read those blogs alongside my own and thought we necessarily had similar voices, but that didn’t stop me from reaching out to them and saying, “Hey! Let’s write a book!”

Of course I had no idea what kind of book to propose. So we put our heads together and came up with the notion of writing about the true and often little known stories behind children’s books.

It was just our great good fortune that we ended up with Liz Bicknell at Candlewick as our editor. She took one look at our behemoth of a manuscript (every time I tell this story it gets bigger, but I swear it was around 700 pages) and said that the first thing we needed to do was cut it down and the second was to rally round a theme.

 After some discussion we realized that one point that kept coming up time and again in our manuscript was the fact that people have this view of children’s literature that it’s some cute little fluffy bunny, sunshine and daisies world where all authors and illustrators skip through meadows with a childlike sensibility. The truth is far more interesting, so we took that interesting truth and made a book out of it.

Why mischief?

See notes for copyright information.
Jules: As Betsy said, we wanted to debunk the romanticized notion of children’s literature that is so prevalent today (with, say, the Average Person on the Street).

There’s also some condescension that occurs too (“oh, it’s just kiddie lit,” as if it’s not worth anyone’s time to discuss or study), and we do address that in our book as well.

So, taking a look at acts of mischief can go a long way in showing that these are books written by adults, who don’t necessarily live infantile lives.

One illustrator with whom we spoke said that when she tells people she illustrates children’s literature for a living, she gets the sense that a lot of people expect her to act like a well-behaved child herself. And that’s an unfortunate thing.

As for the word itself, the sub-title of our book comes from a lecture that Patricia Lee Gauch once gave at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in 2011. It was called “Picture Books as an Act of Mischief,” and it’s a wonderful lecture. (It can be read here.) We secured her permission (and the Carle’s permission) to use it for our book.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

Betsy: Jules may have to correct me on this but as I remember it we first came together as authors in 2009. We tapped my agent, the amazing Stephen Barbara, and he hooked us up with Candlewick and Liz. Then for the next three years we worked on it together. 2010 and 2011 weren’t particularly significant. There was a lot of running to libraries, consolidating ideas, and editing one another.

In 2012, however, things took a significant turn. By this point we’d submitted the manuscript to Liz and been told to cut it down. We were in the midst of doing that when I received a phone call from Jules on the evening of May 26th. She said she’d been on Facebook and saw that Peter’s brother John had written via Peter’s account that Peter had died the night before.

Honestly, I had a hard time understanding what Jules meant by that. Neither of us had ever met Peter in person but we were fairly certain it would happen someday. His “voice” online was so clear and distinctive that there was no confusing it with anyone else. The idea that it was now gone . . . well, it was inconceivable.

 By this point Peter had turned in all his writing and we were just culling things down, but now Jules and I found ourselves in the odd position of having to edit the manuscript for the first time without Peter’s guidance, wit, and humor.

We did so, happy at least that the book would carry on his voice in some form. In 2013 we spent the better part of the year making absolutely 100 percent sure that our sources were dead on and that we had permission for everything in this book. It was hard work, the hardest I think it’s safe to say we’ve ever done on a piece of writing, but in the end it was worth it. Voila. Wild Things.

What were the biggest challenges and triumphs in bringing the book to life?

Betsy: Peter’s death was the biggest challenge, no question.

How do you cut a chunk of the book that he loved without getting his permission to do so? It was some comfort that we got to put some of his stories onto our book’s blog, but it still wasn’t quite the same.

See notes for copyright information.
That was a challenge and so was getting the permissions for the book. I guess you could say that the permissions were both the biggest challenges and the biggest triumphs.

 Every time we got a permission to use something, whether it was a photo or a quotation, we felt like breaking out the champagne.

Jules: What Betsy said! Peter’s death really threw us for a loop, and it’s a really bittersweet time now, since the book is finally out and we’re excited – yet he was really pumped for this day to happen, and he’s not here for it. It’s not the same without him.

Our only consolation is that his voice lives on in this book.

And, yes, permissions can be the devil, so each one we tracked down and nailed (from image permissions to text permissions) was, as Betsy said, a little triumph.

Who is your intended audience?

Betsy: That was a question we had right from the start. To what extent do you specialize?

When our book was still in its monolith state, we had a lot of stories that were hugely interesting to us, but might not catch the eye of someone who wasn’t already into children’s literature.

So when we honed things down, we realized that we’d have to narrow our focus a bit. That tale about the true story behind the Newbery Award winning book Onion John (Crowell, 1959) might be awesome, but how many people have ever heard of Onion John (or care to)?

 In the end we hope that this book will appeal not only to people who already work with children’s books in some fashion but also to those adults that have fond memories of the books of their youth and might be curious about some of their back stories.

 Judging from the current trend of children’s book biopics ("Saving Mr. Banks," the upcoming Shel Silverstein picture, the upcoming C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien feature, etc.), there’s a definite interest.

What did you learn about writing nonfiction?

Betsy: Source everything from the start so that you don’t have to go back over your work a million times just to make sure you got things right.

Learn how to make Source Notes. Keep your Bibliography in order. And definitely be flexible.

Third circle of hell, illustrated by Stradanus.
If the estate of a great big author or illustrator decides that the only way you can include a piece of information is to pay them untold gobs of money, have back up material to replace the stuff you’re not allowed to use.

Oh. And photos permissions belong in a circle of Dante’s Inferno that few people should ever have to visit.

Jules: Yes, keeping notes of each and every little thing cannot be emphasized enough. Also, be clear on what you are expected to do and what your publisher will do.

Candlewick was great to work with, but since this was my first nonfiction book (well, it was my first book), I admit to some naïveté over the amount of work involved regarding permissions.

I thought, for instance, that surely some intern at the publisher’s camp would handle, say, image permissions for us! Nope, you as the author handle all of that yourself. This is fine, but be prepared.

I’d also add: Be willing to let go of that really great quote you wanted in the book but can’t quite afford (I have a Madonna story along those lines … oh, Madge), because it’s outrageously expensive, and embrace paraphrasing.

What advice do you have for fellow nonfiction writers?

Jules: I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but my first piece of advice would be, once again, to keep copious, seriously nerdy and detail-oriented notes about each and every source and where you got it, and become one with the notation of page numbers.

Also, I should say: It was a joy to write with Betsy and Peter, so my advice would be much different if I had done it alone. I had them to lean on; I had them to turn to with questions or teeth-gnashing or advice. We probably went a long time without saying word one to our wonderful editor, because we had each other. I feel like they made me a better writer.

Visit Wild Things!
How did your tie-in website come to be?

Jules: There were many stories we wanted to share that were cut from our book. We turned in, as Betsy noted, a manuscript that was much longer than what was required. I think we cut about a third of the book.

We also had to re-organize and re-structure the book, and after that happened, many stories no longer fit. We thought sharing them at a site would be a fun thing.

It’s a lot like, as Betsy puts it, the Director’s Cut version of the book.

Would you like to admit to any mischief of your own?

Betsy: Golly. What kind would you prefer?

I can definitely say that I’ve been a bit mischievous in my promotion for this book. You see, there were certain stories out there that we knew and just couldn’t use because the perpetrators (so to speak) were still alive and kicking and probably wouldn’t appreciate us bandying about their names.

Still, I’ve slipped references to these stories into some of our blog posts. For those in the know, when I say “the dead cat story” they know exactly what I’m referring to. Or when we mention “the most infamous Caldecott speech of all time” (the one that more librarians claim to have witnessed than could have actually fit in the banquet hall), you’ll see some surreptitious nods. Or the story that involved someone punching someone else out.

I can’t use it. I can’t even allude to who might have been involved or where it might have taken place.

But buy me a drink some time and I might easily spill all.

Jules: Most people don’t know about the great Pooh Bear Heist of ’99. … Nah, I’m too guileless, and I’d get caught.

Instead, I’m going to answer for Peter – in a way. Peter pulled off many an April Fool’s joke at his site, Collecting Children’s Books, and they were so much fun.

Here’s one bit of mischief, probably my favorite.

I think he really got some people goin’ for a while there.

Cynsational Notes

Betsy Bird is the youth materials collections specialist for the New York Public Library and the author of Giant Dance Party, illustrated by Brandon Dorman (HarperCollins, 2013). She has also written a nonfiction text for library students, called Children’s Literature Gems: Choosing and Using Them in Your Library Career (ALA, 2009). In addition to writing for The Horn Book, she is the creator of the blog A Fuse #8 Production. Betsy was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and now lives with her family in New York City.

Julie Danielson is a regular contributor to Kirkus Reviews and BookPage and has also written for The Horn Book. At her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, she has featured and/or interviewed hundreds of picture-book creators. Julie, who lives with her family in Tennessee, also teaches picture books as a Lecturer for the School of Information Sciences’ graduate program at the University of Tennessee, where she got her library degree in 2002.

Wild Things!. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by David Roberts. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Guest Book Recommendation: Chris Barton on How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying

By Chris Barton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

As a reader, I’ve lately accumulated a large pile of books I’ve read only halfway. Getting all the way through a single book lately has been challenging.

But when I heard comedian and TV writer Carol Leifer ("Seinfeld," "Modern Family") on a podcast several weeks ago talking about the attitudes toward professionalism and creativity that have come in handy during her four-decades-and-counting career, those reflections sounded to me like they could have come from an experienced, successful children’s/YA author.

And when Leifer mentioned her new book, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying: Lessons From a Life in Comedy, I suspected it was one I should read.

I’ve now read it twice. Let me tell you: Its applicability to the kid lit career that I and so many of my friends have chosen far exceeds my expectations. Plus, it’s really funny. You should read it.

Seriously -- whatever your professional or creative path, this entire book is worth your time. But in case your not-yet-finished reading pile resembles mine, I’d like to share some of the especially resonant parts of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying:

Chris Barton, Jennifer Ziegler & Cynthia Leitich Smith
1. “What is the topic for which the discussion never ends? The subject that could keep a conversation going on a train from New York to Florida, if you met a stranger interested in the same thing? The answer is a good indicator of what career to aim for.”

I’ve found this to be true for me for children’s writing in general -- I confess that I get disappointed by any social gathering that doesn’t provide an opportunity for discussing books for young readers -- but also for specific story ideas or research topics.

Writing a book can take a long time, and when setting out on that journey it’s best to be paired with a subject that you never grow tired of discussing.

2. “[W]hatever job you’re in or aspire to get, you’ll never go wrong sharing your genuine enthusiasm with those involved and keeping tabs with folks you meet as you pursue your goals."

This is especially true in an industry where folks move around so much. Editors, publicity and marketing folks, and librarians with whom you connect often land elsewhere not long after you’ve made that connection.

Even if that connection involved an opportunity that fell through, you made an impression, and you’ve now got memorable ties to where they currently work as well as to where they used to be. Cultivate those ties. Make the most of them.

3. “As a writer, I find that connecting to my body via exercise has become the essential counterpart to spending so much time inside my brain.”

And, I might add, to spending so much time in front of a screen. As I try to always tell kids when I visit schools, I do much of my best creative thinking while exercising.

I’m tempted to say that I’d type this post while walking or running if only I could figure out how, but that’s not true. I cherish the time I get to think about the right words without having any possibility of writing them up at that particular moment. If they’re truly the right words, they’ll still be in my brain by the time I get back home.

I could go on and on about Carol Leifer’s new book, but she’d probably like me to leave you wanting (to buy) more, and I’ve got my own books to write.

So I’ll leave you with just one more lesson from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying -- one I aim to keep in mind the next time I review an editor’s changes (and every time after that):

4. In the making of "Seinfeld," she says of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David's final passes on the scripts, “I pored over their drafts, studying which parts of my script they kept, what they threw out, and what they altered. ...Whenever your ideas don’t rise to the top, or if they get changed along the way, it’s important to understand why.”

Cynsational Notes

Chris Barton is the author of the picture books Shark Vs. Train (Little, Brown, 2010)(a New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller) and The Day-Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge, 2009)(winner, American Library Association Sibert Honor), as well as the young adult nonfiction thriller Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities (Dial, 2011).

His 2014 publications include picture book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet (powerHouse) and his YA fiction debut as a contributor to the collection One Death, Nine Stories (Candlewick), and 2015 will bring picture book biographies The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdman's) and Pioneers & Pirouettes: The Story of the First American Nutcracker (Millbrook).

Chris and his wife, children's-YA novelist Jennifer Ziegler (Revenge of the Flower Girls (Scholastic, 2014)), live in Austin, Texas, with their family.
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