Saturday, March 14, 2015

Guest Post: Michelle Ray on Falling for Hamlet Adapted as E! TV's "The Royals"

Little Brown, 2011; learn more!
By Michelle Ray
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Falling for Hamlet is going to be a TV show! They’re calling it 'The Royals,' and it’ll be on E!” my agent emailed me.

It seemed absolutely impossible. Growing up in Los Angeles, I have many friends in “The Business,” and screenplays and novels are optioned all the time. Usually that’s as far as it goes.

But for me, it was really happening.

My mind soon went to the contract. What had I asked for? I recalled a clause about not using my name or likeness for personal hygiene products because my friends and I had had a laugh over the possibilities. Michelle Ray toilet paper? Tampons? Toothpaste?

Anyhow, I hadn’t asked for much. I didn’t request script approval because I figured once it was a series and not a finite story like my book, I knew it would depart dramatically from my story.

And boy did it. I think. See, as of four days before the premiere, I’ve only seen commercials like everyone else. I guess I should have asked for a set visit or to be kept up to date, but maybe I’ll do so next time (I should be so lucky).

Follow @mraywriter
But here’s what I know about the show as it compares to my book:

1) There’s still an Ophelia. She still likes art.

2) There’s a Hamlet, but he’s called Liam. (I had been advised at one point to change the names of my characters, and had gone with Liam for a time. Great minds, I suppose.)

3) There is still a royal family.

4) The creators’ interest, like mine, seems to be what happens when you’re dating royalty or in the public eye constantly.

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5) That might be it.

Note: #5 doesn’t bother me much. I still consider myself very, very lucky and have enjoyed the heck out of the process from first contact with my LA agent, Eddie Gamarra, to watching the show premiere.

So what’s next for me? Another Shakespeare re-imagining!

Cynsational Notes

Mac/Beth follows Beth DeAngelo, the star of a hit teen TV show (think Disney or TeenNick) who wants to break free from the squeaky clean parts she’s had to take and move into adult roles in film.

After she and her boyfriend Garrett Mackenzie (they are “ship” named MacBeth) accidentally kill her close friend and costar Duncan King, they must navigate their rise to fame and their own guilt.

Learn more!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DC, announces its 38th Annual Nonfiction Award presentation to Steve Sheinkin at noon April 25 at Clyde’s Gallery Place Restaurant in Washington DC. The Guild’s Nonfiction Award celebrates a body of work that has “contributed significantly to the quality of nonfiction for children.”

The Award committee cited Sheinkin’s superb ability to find the heart of the story, to narrate nonfiction with passion, veracity and accuracy, and to engage young readers and provide them with a front row seat as witnesses to history.

According to Sheinkin, an early job writing history textbooks provided the inspiration for his career as a writer of nonfiction for young readers. “Only by doing this kind of [textbook] writing did I come to realize how much I love the process of finding and telling true stories.”

Sheinkin’s most recent book about soldiers of color during World War II is Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. His other acclaimed history books for middle-grade and young adult readers include Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon; The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery; and King George: What Was His Problem? The Whole Hilarious Story of the American Revolution.

More News

Author Elizabeth Fixmer on Religion, Spirituality & Cults by Ann Angel from The Pirate Tree. Peek: "I want kids to put themselves in Eva’s world and raise all of the questions the book engenders: Is this stuff real? Why do people follow cult leaders? Why don’t they just leave?"

Revising and Re-imaging Your Picture Book Webinar with Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson from Kids Books Revisions. Schedule: 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. EST April 29, May 6, May 13, May 20, May 27, and June 3. $225; $180 for SCBWI members or early bird registrations. Limited to 100 registrants.

Making Vs. Following Fate by Mary Kole from Peek: "...when there’s a 'Chosen One' plot on my desk, I suggest that the writer find some agency for the character and let them lead certain events, rather than spend the bulk of the plot being groomed by others to fulfill a prophecy."

A Comprehensive List of U.S. College- and University-Sponsored or -Hosted Children’s and Young Adult Literature Conferences, Festivals, and Symposia by Chris Barton from Bartography. Peek: "If I’ve missed any, or included some that no longer exist, won’t you please let me know in the comments section?"

Why Pelvic Pain is Absent from YA Fiction by Emma Di Bernardo from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "With one in seven women estimated suffering from chronic pelvic pain (CPP), there is certainly enough readership and audience to warrant characters or storylines with a focus on chronic pelvic pain[1]. It’s bizarre and disappointing that despite these statistics, there are distinctly zero characters with this condition."

SCBWI Work-In-Progress Awards from SCBWI. Peek: "The works submitted by winners and honorable mention recipients will be made available on a secure webpage and presented to a hand-selected group of editors for their consideration. Although this is not a guarantee of publication, the opportunity to have your work presented to acquiring editors, along with an SCBWI endorsement, is a unique opportunity." Deadline: March 31.

Interview: Jo Knowles on Read Between the Lines by Debbi Michiko Florence from DEBtatistic Reads. Peek: "What happened was, in thinking about how and why we give and get the finger, I also started thinking about the various stereotypes that exist in high school. The jock. The cheerleader. The bully. The dork. You get the picture. And I thought, what if I explored how each of these characters was more than their stereotype?"

The View From Under the Fantasy Umbrella by Kimberley Griffiths Little at From the Mixed-Up Files...of Middle Grade Authors. Peek: "...each book we describe as 'fantasy' actually fits within a sub-category under the Umbrella of Fantasy. Herewith are the definitions of all those genres and a book list with suggested titles to explore."

Writing a Personalized Query Letter by Ash Krafton from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "...once I started looking at agent profiles, I realized that I’d have to go back to the query and tweak it. I’d written the query for me. In actuality, I should have written it for the agent."

Agents: The Gateway to Author Engagement at Your Library and Beyond from New Leaf Literary Agency and Booklist. A free webinar at 1 p.m. CST. Peek: "Join Booklist and New Leaf Literary & Media agents for an hour-long, free webinar that will discuss the role of a literary agent, as well as describing how librarians, teachers, and booksellers can work directly with agents to forge relationships between authors and readers. Panelists will share examples of working with their YA authors, including Veronica Roth, Victoria Aveyard, Kody Keplinger, and Leigh Bardugo, and explain how they've connected with schools, libraries, and bookstores to coordinate events, panels, special mailings, social media interaction, and more."  

Tips When Writing Multiple Point of View Novels by Lisa Gail Green from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...when you have dual POVs, you have two internal arcs to plot and the decision of what scene is in whose point of view."

How to Self-Publish Children's Books Successfully by Darcy Pattison from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Projects that failed to find a home with a traditional publisher are finding a lucrative spot in the marketplace. My indie books have received starred reviews, national awards, been translated, been sold in the Smithsonian Museum stores, and are being read by kids every day. And that’s after only two years in business."

Interview: Rad American Women A-Z’s Kate Schatz by J.L. Powers from The Pirate Tree. Peek: "When it came down to it, we selected people who had great stories of adversity and triumph that would be relate-able to young people."

Guidelines for Evaluating and Selecting Native American Books for the Classroom by Debbie Reese from Proceed With Caution: Using Native American Folktales in Language Arts (Jan. 2007). Note: This resource also should be useful to writing teachers and students in selecting books to use as models for study.

"There Is Work To Be Done" - Walter Dean Myers by Sara Lissa Paulson from The Horn Book. Peek: "...reinstate the many book clubs that flourished in the 1970s, selling less-expensive printings of quality books at affordable prices. Today, instead of reprinting quality titles in hardcover, there is an urgent need for mass-printing and distributing quality books featuring the diverse world we live in and the diverse world we want to see flourish."

The Word on Dialogue by Stacey Lee from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "Let the action and context show you who is speaking. Dialogue tags can overwhelm a scene, and disrupt the flow of the narrative." Note: Bonus points for examples from "Star Wars."

Cynsational Screening Room

Women's History Month 2015 by Sian Gaetano from The Horn Book. Peek: "In these picture-book biographies perfect for Women’s History Month, young women blaze trails and battle bigotry. From baseball and art to environmentalism and education, these leaders and their triumphs are to be celebrated."

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways

The winners of the paperback edition of Feral Curse by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2015) were Alicia in Alabama and Jenna in Kentucky. The winners of Feral Pride by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2015) were Donna in Missouri, Kathi in New Jersey, and Aaron in Kansas. Note: Both books also are available in electronic editions.

The winners of signed copies of Towering by Alex Flinn (HarperTeen, 2013) were Gabby in Georgia and Susan in Virginia. The winners of Mirrored by Alex Flinn (HarperTeen, 2015) were Lisa in Kansas, Courntey in Louisianna, and Michelle in St. Louis.

More Personally
Cheers to the Austin SCBWI Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Award Finalists!
Congratulations to We Need Diverse Books, Library Journal Movers & Shakers 2015!

Meet Cynthia Leitich Smith from WordMothers. Peek: "I hope to continue writing diverse protagonists and girl empowerment themes. I seek to lift up, to nurture and lead. The work of my students and mentees is absolutely precious to me. Cultivating community is key."

With Andrea Rogers at Austin SCBWI's Regional Conference.
Reminder! San Antonio Readers! Cynthia will sign the Feral series at 1 p.m. at Costo on March 14 in Selma, Texas. 

Check out Truth, Lies & Secrets by Katie Bircher from the Horn Book, which includes a review of Things I'll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick, 2015). Peek: "Cynthia Leitich Smith takes a characteristically paranormal approach in 'Cupid’s Beaux': 'slipped' angel Joshua must decide whether it’s ethical to conceal his celestial identity and woo human Jamal."

Links of the Week: Listening Harder from Shelli Cornelison and New Website for Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers; see also Native Youth Literacy Project.

Personal Links

Honest Trailers: Cinderella

Cynsational Events

Reminder! San Antonio Readers! Cynthia will sign the Feral series at 1 p.m. at Costo on March 14 in Selma, Texas.

Now Available
Cynthia will appear from April 14 to April 17 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin.

Join Cynthia from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. May 2 at Saratoga Springs Public Library for a celebration in conjunction with Saratoga Reads! at Saratoga Springs, New York. Note: Cynthia will be presenting Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002)(all published by HarperColllins).

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 May 2 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from June 25 to June 30 on a We Need Diverse Books panel at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Guest Post & Giveaway: Ilsa J. Bick on Takeaways from Egmont USA's Last List

Ilsa vs. The White Rabbit (Not Part of the Dream)
By Ilsa J. Bick
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I had this weird dream last night.

I’m in an office of some sort and there are all these old Star Trek books lying around that someone’s packing away.

Thing is, I know they’re not my Trek books because Spock’s on every cover, and I never wrote a Spock-centered book or story.

Yet I was positive I’d written every single one.

So, as these books are being sealed into boxes, someone—I don’t know who—says to me, “No, you can’t have any. We’re getting rid of these.”

Then I woke myself up and couldn’t get back to sleep. So now I’m here, caffeinating and writing this all down for you.

Now, you don’t need to be a navel-gazing shrink to get the gist.

First off, Nimoy’s death was big news. For a lot of people, his passing marked the end of an era.

I will be honest; I wasn’t devastated. I was sad and his death made me feel very old. You can’t imagine the number of kids these days that have no idea when it comes to Spock or Kirk. But Spock wasn’t the character I really fixated on, and so while I enjoyed the triumvirate of Kirk-Spock-McCoy . . . I haven’t been in deep mourning.

When Shatner goes, that’ll be a different story, I suspect.

Then, too, I’ve been cleaning out my kids’ rooms, purging toys, stuffed animals, books, comics, clothes . . . all that junk your kids leave behind for you to deal with when they move out. I’ve made more trips to Goodwill than you can imagine, and that was only for one kid’s room. The other still remains—and then there’s the horror show of their bathroom.

(A true story: the eldest comes home from grad school for a visit. Spills hair wax gunk all over the inside of her vanity cabinet. Doesn’t tell me. Skips town. Fast forward a half year, and I open the vanity to discover the moral equivalent of the La Brea tar pits, only now not only is this stuff permanently bonded to the vanity, so are bars of soap, a hair dryer, a couple combs. A razor. I still can’t quite decide if this last was the kid worrying I might kill her, or dropping a hint.)

So packing up stuff in the dream makes sense, too, because that’s what I’ve been doing.

But I also recognize that this is about me and writing and Egmont USA’s packing up and closing its doors. I didn’t know this, but when you close up an office, you purge everything: books, furniture, fixtures, the whole shebang everything. Nothing that you were or had can remain behind. You got to empty that place out and make like you were never there.

(Say, if I were a shrink, I might point out the interesting parallels here between what Egmont’s doing and my sudden need to clean the kids’ rooms.)

It doesn’t take a genius—or navel-gazing shrink—to put together that I am feeling the impact of an end of an era. By now, everyone knows that Egmont Last Listers’ story ends happily. We’ve got a new home, and I meant every single thing I said in my PW interview about that.

Nonetheless, this has been a very hard year, and I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple of months
coming to terms with how successfully—or not—I’ve navigated that, from my very first inklings that something serious was going down with Egmont USA and through my denial, my paralysis in terms of my writing, and all that.

(To be honest, I’m kind of sick of my unconscious and all this navel-gazing. When I was actively in practice, I remember complaining to my husband that I wished I could just react the way everyone else does without having to think through what it all means and how I’m really feeling, what’s really driving me. I mean, honestly, I’m as entitled to a good hissy fit as the next person.)

The problem is that old habits die hard. I’m talking navel-gazing now. This ages me, but it’s something that shrinks of a certain era did an awful lot. This was when psychoanalysis was in its hey-day. If you wanted to walk in Freud’s mocs, you had to be analyzed yourself.

 (This is, I’m sure, still the case today.)

For a little over three years, I spent fifty minutes, four times a week, staring at my analyst’s acoustical tile, listening to footsteps cross back and forth from the kitchen above, smelling whatever luscious meal my analyst would have later, saying the first thing that came to my mind, the whole nine yards.

I never finished the training for a variety of reasons, though the most pressing was I really wanted to buy a house and there was no way that would happen so long as I was funding my analyst’s vacations. So my analyst and I parted ways. She’s since died, but that woman taught me two invaluable and very simple lessons that, most of the time, I practice.

First off: pay attention to that prickle of uneasiness because it will save you from being eaten alive.

Second: Change is hard. Change makes people anxious, and it is the huge, hulking elephant of their anxiety that frequently keeps people from making changes they ought to. Instead, people substitute other emotions that help them feel more powerful and less helpless. For example, many people handle anxiety by getting angry, striking out, engaging in a whirlwind of activity and only circling around but never truly addressing the source of their distress.

To say that I’ve been incredibly anxious over the past year is an understatement. I have written elsewhere about everything that went down, from my first suspicions that something was up with Egmont USA to its dissolution and now our collective reprieve, and I won’t bore you with all that here. Suffice to say, though, that I never addressed my anxiety directly. For a girl who sees her analyst every day whenever she looks in the mirror, I did my best not to engage that part of me. I simply reacted with a lot of activity that, in the end, didn’t do me a ton of good.

So now The Dickens Mirror (Egmont, 2015) is out in the wild, effectively bringing The Dark Passages series to a close.

(Although a fan of the series and I got started on Twitter with the idea of spin-offs . . . like how cool would it be to actually write Tony’s book instead of only alluding to it. Or Rima’s? How about Bode’s, going along with him for the ride as he crawls through those black echoes in Vietnam? Yeah, I know: way cool.)

Carolrhoda, 2014
All my books are now with Lerner, and I am hugely relieved and happy to rejoin the Carolrhoda Lab family.

That means it’s time to take a breath, step back, and take stock of what I’ve learned in the interim. I don’t mean about what I did last year that didn’t help me. I’m talking about what I’ve learned in the past few months, ever since that phone call in late January when I learned that Egmont was kaput.

Well, here’s a biggie: no girl is an island. I know that’s clichéd. Doesn’t make it any less true.

You would’ve thought that someone who wrote in her acknowledgements that bringing a book into the world demands a village would have gotten this through her thick head. But I didn’t.

Another Last Lister, Matt Myklusch, and I chatted about this recently—this notion of writer and community—and he and I pretty much feel the same way. We’re hermits, or we’ve been that way.

I think that most writers are. In a way, you have to be because what are you really doing all day long? Right: you’re sitting in a room, by yourself, and writing about four walls.

(Okay, you can throw in a window or two. Plants. Maybe a couple cats.)

Yes, you take yourself away in your mind; you populate that room with characters. But at the end of the day, you are still talking about a relatively limited orbit, moving through a physical space about ten to twelve feet square, though that doesn’t take into account bathroom breaks, tea breaks, and the cats’ insistence that you open the damn can already. I leave the house every day to go to the gym and run an errand or two, if needed. But that’s it.

The thing is, I’ve never complained. I like being alone. I need the solitude. In fact, too much social media-ing around—checking the huge self-advertisement billboards that are Facebook and Twitter, for example—is liable to drive me a little crazy because I then sit there and wonder why the hell I’m not having as wonderful a time or as tenth as successful as this author or that.

There’s plenty of good research to suggest that too much of that isn’t good for folks either. Just think of that last sequence in “The Social Network,” where the Zuckerberg character is fruitlessly refreshing and refreshing and refreshing . . .

I’m also kind of a shy person. I know; most people who meet me don’t think that at all. Three words: practice, practice, practice. Being a shrink has the side-benefit of teaching you how to be silent with other people while asking the right questions that get them talking.

When I was attached to a publishing house and its marketing purse, being reclusive wasn’t much of a problem. Sure, I shouldered a chunk of the marketing burden by doing blogs, maintaining a social media presence and all that.

 (I know that other writers complain about that. But let’s get real. With so many houses feeling the squeeze and struggling to turn a profit—hello, mine folded?—they simply don’t have the resources to mount huge campaigns for everyone the way they might have in the past, and even then they were selective. Since I’ve known no other way, doing my share of the marketing is normal and no big deal.)

That is, when I had a house. When my novel wasn’t effectively coming out DOA.

Which is where what I’ve learned has come into play.

I said in another post that reaching out to bloggers for help feels weird, but not because I don’t like bloggers. I hate begging. It’s a humbling experience, and while it’s not the same at all, I can appreciate how humiliating it must be for a person who’s previously been able to take care of himself to be reduced to handouts, to going to other people and asking for help.

For me, asking for help is very hard. It’s not just about being shy. My parents drilled self-reliance into me from a very early age. To do any less is to fail in some way. So I’ve had to wade through a lot of feelings of personal failure—that I am somehow responsible for this, even though I had zero-zip-nada control over the situation.

My parents also taught me never to toot my own horn. That didn’t mean they didn’t want me to be competitive—they did—but if I did succeed, I should be quiet about it, not draw attention to myself. I shouldn’t become a target. I think I understand my parents’ history enough to know where that’s coming from, and I won’t bore you with that. But keeping a low profile while also being very driven has been my modus vivendi for my entire life.

So you can imagine how uncomfortable it is for me, this shy yet driven person, to suddenly be thrust into a lot of lookit-lookit-lookit me. Because that is, really, what marketing is all about.

Shakespeare wrote, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”

I’m not sure if that means misery loves company . . . but if it weren’t for us Last Listers banding together in our collective moment of need, no one would have heard of us, or our books.

As a group, we’ve become a community that may or may not stick together when this is all said and done, I don’t know.

On the other hand , I know that I’ve made “friends” I can count on to try and help because we’ve all been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.

I have also learned that marketing is really, really hard work. I already understood that because I once had to write and/or do thirty-five—yes, you read that correctly; thirty-five—blogs and interviews in only a few weeks’ time. You don’t have a lot of time or energy left over to do other, really important things like write.

I also tend to be a bit of a pit bull when it comes to tasks. Others would use the word "obsessive." "Maniacal" also works. It’s just that I have a tough time not doing everything and this instant. Which means that even if I budget time for blogs or marketing, knowing I have to do either tends to weigh on and preoccupy me. Usually, I just break down and do the darned work already.

Yet that’s not necessarily a good strategy if you are truly going it alone as I kind of am at the moment. True, I do not have to worry about distribution.

But any marketing push will have to come from me, those bloggers who’ve been gracious enough to host me, and my fellow Last Listers’ willingness to lend a hand.

My hat’s off to self-published people who actually succeed (notice I said "succeed") because I don’t know how you do it. I know a lot of the more successful ones hire this stuff out and/or rejoin/enter traditional publishing because trying to shoulder everything is simply too exhausting.

Either way, learning how to do this well is something I must do because you never know if I’ll have to straddle this line again.

My parents, God bless them . . . they were wrong (or maybe I just misheard; this has been known to happen). But I’ve needed to unlearn some bad behaviors. So here is what I would say to myself if I were in their shoes; these are my takeaways.

Yes, Ilsa, be self-reliant but understand that it is okay to ask for help. Not only will people frequently surprise you with how willing they are to do so, you become more approachable as a person.

(Think of your fan’s reaction when you respond to an email, or a Facebook post. Think of the courage it took for your fan to press SEND.)

Yes, Ilsa, be humble. Success is fleeting and so is fame, and life turns on a dime.

Yet it’s okay to share good news. Just remember that nothing wears out a welcome faster than too much me-me-me. That is hard in this age where every social media platform can become and frequently is a billboard.

But, Ilsa, remember: do not ignore warning signs. If you’re uneasy, don’t get anxious. Get active. Suck it up and deal, but also recognize what’s out of your control and try not to obsess.

Just do the best you can. If there’s something you can’t do well—marketing, per se—then learn. Don’t get crazy and fall into despair. 

Get competent.

Most importantly . . . 

Kid, do remember that you are not operating in a vacuum. Spending a lot of time alone is not the same as being alone. There is a community out there, happy to make your acquaintance.

You only have to be brave enough to try.

Sneak Peek
Cynsational Notes

Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, film scholar, surgeon wannabe, former Air Force major, and now an award-winning author of dozens of short stories and novels, including her critically acclaimed Ashes Trilogy, Draw the Dark, Drowning Instinct, and The Sin-Eater’s Confession.

White Space, the first volume of her Dark Passages horror/fantasy duology, is currently long-listed for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a YA Novel. The sequel, The Dickens Mirror, hit shelves on March 10.

Ilsa lives with her long-suffering husband and other furry creatures near a Hebrew cemetery in rural Wisconsin. One thing she loves about the neighbors: they’re very quiet and only come around for sugar once in a blue moon.

Drop by her website for her Sunday's cake and Friday’s cocktail recipes as well as other assorted maunderings; or find her on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter (@ilsajbick), or Instagram (@ilsajbick).

See also Ilsa J. Bick and Community by Matt Myklusch from The Other Side of the Story Podcast.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win The Dickens Mirror by Ilsa J. Bick (Egmont, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: International.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Guest Post & Giveaway: Tricia Springstubb on Islandia

By Tricia Springstubb
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

For years I’ve visited a small, Lake Erie island, a short ferry’s ride from the mainland. I go there in the summer or early autumn, when the water is still warm and the light golden.

Along with the other tourists, I walk the shore, drink the bad local wine, sigh over the sunsets.

Come the first hint of winter, though, I’m out of there, back to what the locals condescendingly call “the other side”.

But for years, every time I’d boarded the ferry, I wondered how it would be to stay on after the population shrinks to less than two hundred, tough-as-nails residents.

I’d picture myself hunkering down in a cabin, reading and writing and feeding the wood stove, while outside the wind whipped and the waves crashed.

In my imagination I’d venture out to the island store, or the Sunday potluck at the VFW, where I’d trade news with my likewise sturdy, self-sufficient neighbors.

Oh, for that pure, that elemental life!

Or wait. Maybe I’d sit in my cabin besieged by pangs of loneliness. Maybe I’d feel trapped like a rat. Maybe the thought of walking into that VFW and seeing those same twenty faces would make me go stark, raving berserk.


An island is the perfect setting for a wishy-washy writer like me. I tend to avoid conflict, a useful trait in real life, but fatal in fiction.

Setting my story on an island forced me to deal, because there was nowhere for my characters to flee, no way to avoid action.

To up the stakes, I made my island, Moonpenny, smaller than the one I knew, and pushed it farther out into the great lake. I made the ferries quit running earlier in the year.

I made it more remote, but kept that mainland, with all it promised, tantalizingly in sight.

Islands! Writers have long recognized what fertile settings they are. Part of my fun was paying tribute to classics-- Anne of Green Gables, Kidnapped, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Misty of Chincoteague.

An island is a place apart, made for mystery, romance, testing of mettle. It’s a place that can feel cozy and secure, or wild and dangerous.

Moonpenny wasn’t easy to write. In truth, it was torture--but that’s a different post.

During all the wild-eyed, insomniac months (okay, years) I drafted and revised, only one thing remained constant: my setting. I felt the limestone under my feet, the lake air in my lungs. I stood on the edge of the swim hole in the old abandoned quarry, shivering at how deep and cold it was, and I lay in bed in a little house on the back shore, listening to the moan of the thawing lake.

That sense of place drew me back into the work again and again. I got to live on that island after all, and to see it from every point of view. I came to simultaneously love it and feel its limitations, the way all children, no matter where they grow up, feel about home.

After I’d finished the book, it was strange to go back and visit the real island. I kept seeing my characters--Flor and Sylvie, Joe and Jasper--from the corner of my eye, kept expecting them to appear on the beach or the lip of the quarry. I caught their voices, rising on the updrafts along with the seagulls.

This time, when I boarded the ferry back to the other side, part of me stayed behind.

Cynsational Notes

Moonpenny Island (HarperCollins, 2015) is a Junior Library Guild selection and has received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly. Tricia is also the author of Cody and the Fountain of Happiness, the first book in a new chapter book series (Candlewick, April 2015).

Kelley's Island Gallery

 Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two signed copies of Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb (HarperCollins, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

In Memory: Mal Peet

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

British Young Adult Author Mal Peet Dies at 67 from the Associated Press. Peek:

Peet wrote young-adult novels, as well as educational children's books co-authored with his wife Elspeth Graham. He won the 2005 Carnegie Medal for Tamar, a historical novel set during World War II.
Mal Peet, Writer, Dies Aged 67 by Martin Chilton from The Telegraph. Peek:

Peet grew up in a council estate in North Walsham, Norfolk, in a family that he describes as "emotionally impaired". He said that he managed to survive living in a "very, very dull town by virtue of playing lots of football, riding his bike and getting books out of the local library.

Mal Peet: Exmouth children's author dies aged 67 from BBC News. Peek:

They "starved for four years" and ended up working for educational publishers, he said. "I wouldn't say we prospered, but we paid the mortgage and ate."

Eventually, in his 50s, Peet decided to write his first full-length novel.

Keeper, which took football to the South American rainforest, won a Nestle Children's Book Award.

Mal Peet, award-winning children's author, dies aged 67 from The Guardian. Peek:

Peet, winner of the Carnegie medal and the Guardian children’s fiction prize, discovered he was terminally ill at Christmas.

His agent Peter Cox described him as “a writer’s writer”. He said: “Mal was universally adored and admired by other writers. His talent was as prodigious as his warm, wide-open heart. I have lost a dear friend, and we have all lost an author of exceptional genius. His best and most exciting years were still ahead: his premature death is utterly tragic.”

Mal Peet, a great writer and a great friend by Meg Rosoff from The Guardian. Peek:

When Mal phoned to tell me he had cancer, I rebuked him sternly. “For Christ’s sake,” I said, “I have a long list of people I’d quite like to drop dead. You’re nowhere on it.”

“I know, darling,” he said. “I’m not on my list either.”

Mal Peet: Whimsical Alchemist by Tim Wynne-Jones from The Horn Book. Peek:

Mal Peet’s first novel was published when he was fifty-six; his last this past fall, just over a decade later. A late bloomer, you might say, and what a vivid, abundant, effulgent bloom it was.

Remembering Mal Peet's Work from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek:

Soccer and "dream-like"? Would those two thoughts not seem to be at odds? But Mal Peet had me riveted with his quick wit and keen eye and deft story turns.

Monday, March 09, 2015

2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Author & Diversity Advocate Marieke Nijkamp

By Mina Witteman
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Marieke Nijkamp is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, and diversity advocate.

She holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies, and wants to grow up to be a queer time traveler.

In the midnight hours of the day, Marieke writes stories full of hope and heartbreak.

She is proud to be the founder of DiversifYA and VP for We Need Diverse Books™. (But all views are her own.)

Find her on Twitter @mariekeyn.

She was interviewed by Mina Witteman for the SCBWI Europolitan Conference.

Could you tell us a little more about We Need Diverse Books?

We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. We Need Diverse Books is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality.

We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.

Our mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.

In order to accomplish our mission, we reach out to individuals and groups involved in many levels of children’s publishing—including (but not limited to) agents, publishers, authors, distributors, booksellers, librarians, educators, parents, and students."

That is straight from our mission statement, but I feel it sums up who we are and what we do.

WNDB is an organization that works toward making children's literature and children's publishing more inclusive, through several programs.

We have our Walter Award, which recognizes the best diverse YA.

We have Walter Grants, to aid up-and-coming diverse writers.

We are creating a program to support publishing interns from marginalized backgrounds.

We also have our WNDB in the Classroom project, which brings diverse books and diverse authors to disadvantaged schools.

And honestly, I could go on.

We have many projects in the works and we are continuously looking for ways to promote and amplify diversity. And that's what WNDB is too: a team of very, very passionate people, working hard to make change happen.

How has your experience and background prepared you to be effective with this diversity initiative?

As a queer, disabled person, diversity has always been foremost on my mind.

I have used a wheelchair and have been completely ignored. I have used a cane and have been stared at, laughed at, shouted at. I have been told that my love is a sin. I have been excluded. I have felt invisible. I have worked with LGBTQ teens who felt alone and scared and as if the world wasn't for them. And far, far too often the rest of the world only reinforced that image.

So I know firsthand what discrimination and marginalization feels like. I know all about that anger and frustration and heartbreak and fear. And it's those experiences that fuel me when working toward better representation, because I know we can do better and should do better. We owe it to ourselves and to each other, because when we work with each other instead of against each other, we can move mountains.

What do you see as the most challenging aspect of bringing diversity into children’s literature?

Aside from institutionalized (and often internalized!) -isms, one of the most challenging aspects is the other side of that feeling that the world isn't for us: the mindset that books (or any form of stories or art) about marginalized people are only for marginalized people.

Not just for wizards!
Not just for Hobbits!
It stems from the believe that white, straight, non-disabled, middle class is somehow the neutral and relatable to all, whereas "other" characters are only relatable to those readers who share their experiences.

This, of course, means Harry Potter is only of interest to wizards and witches, and The Lord of the Rings finds its audience among the vast populations of Hobbits.

I guess you can see how blatantly absurd it is.

The white, straight, non-disabled, middle class character is no more a neutral character than any. But unlike other characters, the difference is that this particular character has been normalized to the point of becoming the standard. And all of us who do not fit that standard do feel excluded, but are told that feeling is invalid. After all, it's a neutral.

Or, we are taught that this neutral is somehow the character we ought to aspire to (relate to), which often includes the implicit or explicit belief that being other than is somehow lesser than.

It's a highly problematic narrative. It's why for so many disabled characters, the happily ever after involves being healed and becoming "normal" (or why their stories are being told through the point of view of non-disabled characters altogether). It's why so many queer romances end in tragedy, while the straight romances don't. It's why too often, non-white characters are sidekicks (or villains!) not heroes.

Before becoming involved in We Need Diverse Books, you created the website DiversifYA. What prompted you and how can writers and illustrators use DiversifYA?

I created DiversifYA as a way to showcase the many different experiences around us, inside and outside our own communities. I wanted the interviews to show just how rich and varied our experiences are, but also how many of the struggles we face are inherently the same. I wanted to focus on those countless combinations of sameness and difference.

As a result, I think DiversifYA has turned into a great database of experiences. It is by no means a substitute for good research, but it is a starting point for anyone who would like to know more about the world around them.

You write for young adults and middle grade readers, both dark contemporary and epic fantasy. In what specific way has diversity shaped your writing?

In every way, and then some. Growing up, I read many hundreds of books per year, but I rarely saw myself represented in the stories I read. And in those few instances when I did, those reflections were anything but good. The "me"s I read about were only ever lessons for the main characters.

Marginalized characters were stereotypes, caricatures, or comic relief.

It left me a very lonely reader and a very determined writer.

From the very first story I wrote, writing has always been a way for me to explore the world and to create all those stories I couldn't find. So my stories are populated with characters who were other than the neutral norm but still very much my normal.

Among the four point-of-view characters of my upcoming debut This Is Where It Ends (Sourcebooks Fire, 2016), there are two queer girls, one of them Latina (and her brother is one of the other main characters).

The story I am working on next has genderqueer characters, disabled characters, all as a matter of course--because they reflect the world I live in.

What can we, writers and illustrators of children’s books, do to foster diversity in our work?

  • Think about the world you want in your stories. Who do you want to reflect? How inclusive do you want to be? What assumptions lie at the basis of your story, your world, your characters? What do the choices you make tell your intended audience?
  • Research, research, research. Whether you are part of the marginalized group you write about, but especially when you're not, research, research, research. Be aware of the tropes. Be aware of the triggers. Talk to people with the same experience, don't just talk about the experiences.
  • Listen and learn. I don't believe the books we write exist in a vacuum. We can't represent marginalized experiences without being aware of a long history of privilege and oppression, and we all have our internalized prejudices. 
  • We are probably going to screw up. I know I have in the past. I know I will in the future. If you end up making mistakes, make them gracefully. Listen to the people who point out what you did wrong and learn from that. It's the only way we can improve, after all.

Cynsational Notes

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp is told from the perspective of four teens in a high school held hostage who all have their own reasons to fear the boy with the gun. It's forthcoming from Sourcebooks.

Mina Witteman is a published author, writing in Dutch and English. She has three adventurous middle grade novels, over 40 short stories, and a Little Golden Book out in The Netherlands.

The first volume of a three-book middle grade series, Boreas and the Seven Seas, is scheduled to come out in April 2015. She is the Regional Advisor for The Netherlands and Chairman of the Working Group Children’s Books of the Dutch Authors Guild.

In addition to writing, Mina teaches creative writing. She is a freelance editor and a mentor to budding writers. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter @MinaWitteman.

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