Friday, April 03, 2015

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Image by Don Tate (used with permission)
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Austin author Chris Barton and Austin illustrator Don Tate on the release of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans, 2015) From the promotional copy:

A unique biography of a remarkable Reconstruction figure...

John Roy Lynch spent most of his childhood as a slave in Mississippi, but all of that changed with the Emancipation Proclamation. Suddenly people like John Roy could have paying jobs and attend school. 

While many people in the South were unhappy with the social change, John Roy thrived in the new era. He was appointed to serve as justice of the peace and was eventually elected into the United States Congress.

This biography, with its informative backmatter and splendid illustrations, gives readers an in-depth look at the Reconstruction period through the life of one of the first African-American congressmen. 

See also The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch Educator Guide by Debbie Gonzales and Freedom Tour: A Children's Book Literature Tour Celebrating Inspiring Historical Figures and Their Journey to Freedom, both from Don Tate.

 

More News & Giveaways

Making Storytime & Curriculum Connections: 2015 Pura Belpre Winners from School Library Journal. Peek: "This year’s Pura Belpré winners and honor books provide the ideal opportunity to get to know these authors and illustrators better, look back at some of their previous children’s books, and use these distinguished titles in a library or classroom setting." See also The Rise in Latino Children's Literature by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse #8 Production.

Viva Yuyi: An Interview with Yuyi Morales by David Haldeman from Spark: The Online Magazine of Humanities Washington. Peek: "My books are a combination of my culture growing up, but also my entering a new culture as an immigrant and having to learn—to re-learn—everything so that I’d actually be able to survive in a new country."

The Importance of Grounding Characters in the Reader's World by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Emotional anchors (emotion-rich events that readers have experienced themselves) will ground your hero in the reader’s world. Here’s a few anchors to drop into your character’s experience that readers will recognize and relate to..."

The Importance of Girls' Stories: Nova Ren Suma on The Walls Around Us by Shelley Diaz from School Library Journal. Peek: "I’m not reading for someone I want to be friends with. I’m reading for someone who’s interesting and fascinating, and that’s often a difficult character—a 'bad character'." See also Gender Representation (By the Numbers) in Children's Films, Children's Literature & YA Literature by Roger Sutton from Read Roger.

Using Delete Key by Anne Bustard from Janet Fox. Peek: "What I have come to realize is, the DELETE key can be a writers’ best friend. Pressing it may, in fact, save your story." See also Anne on When It's Too Close to Home from Pub Crawl.

PRAESA of South Africa receives the 2015 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Peek: "Based in Cape Town, PRAESA (Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa) is an organisation that has worked to promote reading and literature for children and young people in South Africa since 1992."

Poet's Novel Turns Young Sports Lovers Into Book Lovers: An Interview with Writer & Literary Activist Kwame Alexander from PBS News Hour. Peek: "It didn’t come to mind that the mother was talking to her young black boy and saying, you know, you’re going to — if you’re angry, you’re going to end up like this. It was just, you know, a mother trying to tell her child that you need to have a little bit of joy in this world. You need to find a little bit of peace."

Talents & Skills Thesaurus Entry: Enhanced Sense of Smell by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "There are two parts to having a strong sense of smell: being able to detect scents, and being able to identify them."

Emotional Work by Donald Maass from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...there’s help for breaking emotional blocks. That help is one’s own characters. The method is to flip the usual dynamic of writing on its head. Instead of asking characters what they feel, instead get them to ask, in a sense, what you feel."

Celebrate Día

Cynsational Screening Room

Vlog: Austin SCBWI Regional Conference by Ariane Felix from A Writer's Life. Peek: "...resurgence of picture books." Note: Terrific glimpse into a typical conference day with insights from various friends and faculty (including me) on advice for first-timers!



Cynsational Giveaways
The winners of A Work of Art by Melody Maysonet (Merit, 2015) are Cathy in Florida, Rosie in Texas, and Lisa in Florida.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

I've been busy! I read and critiqued an incredibly ambitious and promising YA manuscript by one of my best friends. This week also brought copy edits for Violent Ends (Simon Pulse, September 2015). Peek:

"A novel with 17 authors (including me!), edited by Shaun David Hutchinson. The story centers on a 16-year-old school shooter named Kirby Matheson, with each chapter set before and after the shooting and told by characters who knew him, each trying to answer one question: Why?"

Rain Is Not My Indian Name
How lovely to see Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) on the bibliography #StoryGirls Run the World: Booklist Celebrating Diverse Girlhoods from The Dark Fantastic.

On a related note, I've been thinking about Debbie Reese and David Arnold's ongoing discussion about diversity in writing and publishing and the importance of including Native Americans in that conversation.

When non-Indian children's-YA writers mention to me that their work in progress includes Native characters or content, my natural first question is to ask about their related conversations with citizens of the specific Nation(s) that's being reflected.

The majority of the time, it hasn't occurred to them to seek out those voices. (But they're reaching out to me, which is a start. Even if it's not my tribe that's the focus, I can often point them in the right directions).

To those non-Indian children's-YA writers approaching Native content, please set aside any preconceptions. You may need to unlearn what you think you know. Take a breath, put on your snazzy author hat, and invite Native people into the research process for crafting your story.

What an opportunity! We're talking living primary sources here. Not long-dead peoples who can be accessed only through the pages of books written by outsiders.

Celebrating Texas bluebonnets!
Successful research is key to successful writing. It's best practice to respectfully seek out primary sources, listening carefully, thoughtfully contemplating their insights.

Of course you shouldn't expect or take for granted that anyone will be a fit to assist you. However, initiating a request is probably your best bet to achieving that match.

See more of my thoughts on writing across identity markers and Reading Lives: Debbie Reese: a podcast interview from BookRiot.

Congratulations to my pal and fellow University of Michigan Law School '94 graduate Nicole Burnham on Slow Tango with a Prince (a romance for grown-ups) being named a RITA finalist!

Link of the Week: Irish Town Builds Memorial to Thank Choctaw Who Helped During Famine by Frances Mulraney from Irish Central.

P.S. If you missed Ariane Felix's Austin SCBWI conference video above, check it out! You'll see tons of my friends (and even get a glimpse of me)!

Personal Links

Weekend Activity!

Cynsational Events

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).

Join Cynthia and representatives from We Need Diverse Books from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. May 12 at BookPeople in Austin.

Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

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.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will appear Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

See more info & RSVP!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

New Voice: Cindy L. Rodriguez on When Reason Breaks

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Cindy L. Rodriguez is the first-time author of When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury, 2015). From the promotional copy:

A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. 

Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. 

Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.

In an emotionally taut novel with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls grappling with demons beyond their control.

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

Writing with assistant Ozzie
My manuscript went through tons of pre-contract revisions. I first revised based on my agent’s feedback prior to going on submission to editors. The rejections with notes were helpful because we saw trends and knew those aspects needed to be fixed.

Around the same time, the editor who would eventually buy my novel wanted revisions before she’d take it to her team. She sent general notes and line-edited the first 40 pages, so I could really understand both the global and line-level changes she wanted.

These included scaling back the adult character, Ms. Diaz, further developing some of the secondary characters, and working on making the two main teen characters distinct and the diary entries and letters indistinct, meaning they had to read as if they could have been written by either girl.

This version was the one that ended with a contract.

But, as we all know, revising doesn’t end there. After the contract, I received a four-page, business-style editorial letter with further revisions needed.

This part of the process involved some back-and-forth through emails, and the draft traveled between me and my editor a few times—to get certain scenes just right—before it was approved for the next step, which was copy editing.

Throughout all this, I sometimes felt frustrated—I’m not going to lie—because it’s a long, emotionally draining process.

So, when the manuscript was sent back again and again with more notes, I’d sometimes wonder if I’d ever get it right.

In hindsight, though, all of the changes my editor requested were spot on and helped to shape the story into its best possible version. Nothing she proposed didn’t sit right with me.

Some authors have had the opposite experience, so I was lucky that way.

I’ve learned that revision is a hugely important and necessary part of the process, so my advice to other writers is to listen, be open to the suggestions, and be willing to make major changes if it means creating a better story.

near the Emily Dickinson House/Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts
As a teacher-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a teacher has been a blessing to your writing?

What about being a teacher hasn’t been a blessing?

My students have influenced me in countless ways as both a person and writer. In general, though, being a teacher means I have direct access to today’s young people. I get to see how they dress and talk and what they talk about. I witness teen life first hand instead of having to eavesdrop on conversations at the mall or watch countless YouTube videos.

Some things haven’t changed since my teen years, like the emotions and confusion that are part of coming of age, but of course, many things have changed. I’m lucky that I get to interact with young people every day and learn about their lives.

They often say something, and I tell them, “That’s going to end up in a book one day.”

They just laugh and tell me I’d better spell their name right!

Cynsational Screening Room

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

New Voice: Trina St. Jean on Blank

Read an excerpt.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Trina St. Jean is the first-time author of Blank (Orca, 2015). From the promotional copy:

All Jessica knows is what the Man and Woman in the hospital room tell her:

She’s fifteen.

Thanks to a bison bull in a rage one Very Bad Day on the family ranch, she was in a coma for weeks.

The Man and Woman are her parents.

The rest of her life is a long blank that her damaged mind refuses to fill in for her. The doctors say that brain injury is to blame for the explosive temper she can’t control. What scares her most is the coldness she feels towards though she’s supposed to care about, including the Girl staring back at her from the mirror.

When the doctors say they can’t do anything more for her, it’s time for her to go home and rebuild her shattered life. But no matter how hard she tries, she can’t be the old Jessica that everyone misses so much. And the memories of who she used to be, and what exactly happened on that Very Bad Day, stay stubbornly hidden in the shadows of her mind. Everything she does ends in disaster: returning to school, trying to reconnect with friends, struggling to fit into a world where she no longer belongs.

Just when Jessica is losing hope that things will ever be normal, a new friend offers an alternative to staying in her old life. 

Jessica must confront the reality of what it means to truly leave the past behind.

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

Before I describe the long (years!) process of revision I went through with my YA novel Blank, I should tell you a little about the approach I took when writing it.

One word sumps it up: random.

Really, really, as-random-as-you-can-get random.

Essentially, I wrote little snippets of scenes, in no particular order, whenever they came to me, with no thought to plot development or story arcs or any kind of structure.

A few years later, when I had hundreds of pages of these snapshots, I entered into an exhausting, extended wrestling match in which I tried to force those scenes into some kind of logical order.

During this wrestling match, which I often felt I was losing, I berated myself: why, why, why had I done this to myself? Once I had it in an order that made sense, I spent another stretch of years trying to make the prose tighter, develop characters more fully and tweak subplots.

I should mention, though, that there were many distractions during this process. Specifically, two cute little distractions with diapers and chubby cheeks.

Some strategies I used for revision had me feeling a bit like Russell Crowe’s character in the movie "A Beautiful Mind." One spring break from my day teaching job, I sent my daughters (now well out of diapers) to visit Grandma and Grandpa’s farm and I covered the living room wall in sticky notes representing scenes, playing around with the plot. I created giant mind maps using a wonderful free program, called MindNode, to visualize the connections between themes and characters and symbols. I’m also a huge fan of Scrivener, a writing software made for Macs with a nice cork board you can move scene cards around on.

Once I had the novel structure down, I hid myself away in my bedroom, door locked, and read the manuscript aloud and recorded myself. Then I hid away again and played it back, pausing and replaying and fixing more things. On the next round, I printed the manuscript off in a different font to trick my mind into seeing it with “fresh” eyes and read through it again, and then again.

All of these things eventually got me to the place where I felt Blank was the best I could make it.

As long and arduous as revision was, I learned a lot about writing, about structure, about polishing and cutting and getting to the heart of a character. And maybe the biggest lesson of all: For my next novel, I will avoid the random approach to novel writing, taking the time to think at least a little about the “big picture.” Hopefully this will shave a few years off the process.

Once the novel was accepted, I used my editor’s comments to do one overall revision, with some plot changes and enhancement to character motivation, then several revisions for smaller details like language choice and dealing with inconsistencies.

I remember the moment on my final go through, while gazing out at the water on vacation on a houseboat, when it hit me that people were actually going to read this thing I had been obsessing over all these years (or hopefully, at least).

Photo of Trina by Eileen Abad
Panic set in. I think I could have gone on editing forever, but luckily, I had a deadline to put a stop to my fanaticism.

How did I feel during the stages of revision?

There were times when I was extremely frustrated, especially when nailing down the plot. I am an indecisive person – I can change my mind several times just picking yogurt at the grocery store – so the limitless number of choices when writing can be overwhelming.

I went for long, brooding walks. I talked to myself. I scribbled endless notes on scraps of paper, and talked through ideas with my husband and my daughters.

During other parts of editing, I felt more exhilarated, especially when polishing the language. There were fewer decisions to make, but it was easy to see the immediate result of changes.

Overall, the journey of novel revision was challenging beyond anything I could have imagined but also extremely rewarding and satisfying. I survived the wrestling match, and developed some muscles and better techniques that should help me now that I am back in the ring working on book number two.

I've recently created a new home office space for myself, with folding screens that I am using as giant bulletin boards for my mind maps and sticky notes.

Trina's writing space
As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you deal with the pervasiveness of rapidly changing technologies? Did you worry about dating your manuscript? Did you worry about it seeming inauthentic if you didn't address these factors? Why or why not?

When I started Blank, there was no such thing as texting. Cell phones were around, of course, but they were more of a tool for working adults rather than a teen must-have/extension of self, and social media was only just beginning to pop up.

Jessie, the main character, struggles desperately to put together the puzzle of who she was before a brain injury and memory loss. In my first draft, she studied photo albums, read her old journal and checked her email from time to time in search of clues of her past.

During revision process, I knew I had to add texting and social media and all the other ways a teenager now would go about tracing her past and reconnecting with her life. Including the technology ended up bringing some fun and meaningful elements to the story, too, which was a nice surprise.

Without the changes, for example, I wouldn’t have created The Hedgegod, a wise creature Jessie follows on Twitter who dispels quills and inspiring quotes. He's based on my daughters' real pet hedgehog, Velcro, who we all think is pretty wise himself.

Velcro
In the very near future, I know facebook might be passé (some argue it already is) and teens will be onto something completely different. Having it play a key role in Blank may date the novel, but it’s so prevalent it couldn’t be ignored.

Even further down the road, when my grandchildren read Blank, it’ll seem completely old-fashioned. Texting? What’s that? By then, teens might have implanted devices that allow them to share even a smell or thought with others.

Cynsational Notes

Like Trina St. Jean on Facebook, and follow @thehedgedog on Twitter. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Video: A School Visit with Author G. Neri

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

G. Neri is the Coretta Scott King honor-winning author of Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty (Lee & Low) and the recipient of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award for his free-verse novella, Chess Rumble (Lee & Low).

His novels include Knockout Games (Carolrhoda Lab), Surf Mules (Putnam) and the Horace Mann Upstander Award-winning, Ghetto Cowboy (Candlewick). His latest is the free-verse picture book bio, Hello, I'm Johnny Cash (Candlewick).

Prior to becoming a writer, Neri was a filmmaker, an animator/illustrator, a digital media producer, and a founding member of The Truth anti-smoking campaign. Neri currently writes full-time and lives on the Gulf Coast of Florida with his wife and daughter.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Guest Post & Giveaway: Deborah Lytton on What's True to You

By Deborah Lytton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

My new contemporary YA, Silence (Shadow Mountain, 2015), is a story about a fifteen year old girl who has an accident that changes her life forever. The only person she can relate to is a boy who has his own tragic past. Out of tragedy comes true love.

I spent years writing Silence, and the experience taught me several important lessons about being an author. It took me draft after draft (and many working titles) to find a way to tell the story. I think my agent has lost count of the number of drafts of Silence she read. I even set the manuscript aside and wrote novels in between. But I kept coming back because the characters stayed with me.

The lesson I learned from this is to tell the story in my heart. So now if a manuscript of mine isn’t working, I try approaching it from another direction, turning it sideways or upside down, telling it in reverse order or through a secondary character’s point of view. But no matter what, I know the key is to trust my inner voice.

Silence is my second published book, but not my second novel. I wrote several novels before my first book was published and several novels before Silence was published.

When each one of those other novels didn’t sell, I was really discouraged. I think anyone who has ever gone through the submission and rejection process can relate.

But I learned to turn the sting of rejection into a spark of inspiration through perspective. In focusing on writing rather than selling a manuscript, I recaptured writing simply for the love of writing.

When I wrote my first published book Jane In Bloom, I didn’t know if anyone would publish a book about a forgotten sister, but I needed to tell her story.

With Silence, I once again found myself writing a book I wasn’t sure anyone would publish. But I wrote it anyway. That focus helped me lose myself in the story and simply write.

Finally, writing Silence taught me to stay true to myself.

I had a vision of what kind of story I wanted to tell—a romance with clean content so my own daughters could read it. The characters would attend church, and they would volunteer to help others in need.

I knew there was a chance no one would want to publish a young adult book like this. But I also knew that I needed to be authentic and true to my vision. So I wrote the book the way I needed to write it. I didn’t hold back details because I thought someone might not like them.

Instead, I poured my whole self into the book. And my story did find a home after all, with Shadow Mountain.

So whatever you want to write, make sure it stays true to you. Don’t worry about editors and reviewers. Don’t hold back from storylines or characters because they might cause your book to be passed on by editors or because the book might be controversial when it is published. Just write the best book you can write because only you can write it.

I know that book will find a home.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of Silence by Deborah Lytton (Shadow Mountain, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America. From the promotional copy:

Stella is a vivacious teen with a deep yearning to become an accomplished Broadway musical star. Her dreams are shattered when a freak accident renders her deaf. 

Struggling mightily to communicate in a world of total silence, she meets Hayden who has such a pronounced stutter she can easily read his lips because he speaks so slowly. 

Communication leads to connection and an unexpected romance as they learn from each other and discover their own ways to overcome setbacks, find renewed purpose and recognize their true voice.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway
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