Friday, November 04, 2016

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

John Herrington's Mission to Space (Chickasaw Press): a recommendation by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "Herrington is an astronaut. He was on space shuttle Endeavor, in 2002. Mission to Space begins with his childhood, playing with rockets, and ends with Endeavor's safe return to Earth."

Power Your Fiction: Using Weather to Create Mood, Not Cliches by Angela Ackerman from Writers in the Storm. Peek: "...weather is important to us as people. We interact with it each day. It affects us in many subtle ways."

Getting Around First-Person Point of View Limitations by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "The biggest plot-related problem with first person POV is that your protagonist has to be around for everything. Dagnabit!" Note: Use eavesdropping with caution as it's an easy way to earn information and, thus, diminishes its value.

Understanding Inner Conflict by Michael Hauge from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "... you give them compelling desires that will force them to let go of their protective identities. Then, as they pursue those goals, they will come to realize the truth of who they are underneath their masks."

A New Direction for BookExpo America by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "...the focus will be on drawing more book buyers, including booksellers, librarians, and buyers from a range of specialty retailers. Through a more rigorous application process, Reed will limit the numbers of bloggers, independent authors, and consultants."

Once Upon a Time With Liz Garton Scanlon from American Lifestyle. Peek: "...her inspiration for writing children’s books, the process for creating her award-winning book All the World, and why gratitude and hope are central themes for her."

We Need Diverse Books Announces Partnership with Madcap Retreats to Run Diversity-Themed Author Retreats from WNDB. Peek: "The partnership will present two affordable, workshop-based retreats for 2017. Writing Cross-Culturally will focus on how one can diversify their writing and learn to write cross-culturally responsibly, while the Diverse Aspiring Authors retreat will give authors from marginalized backgrounds craft workshops, industry 101 information, and ways to navigate the roadblocks of the current publishing climate." See also On "Who Can Tell My Story" by Martha Parravano from The Horn Book.

When Your Agent Says "No" by Hilary Wagnor from Project Mayhem. Peek: "...a great agent is going to tell you when your work isn't up to par and should not be sent off to editors. If your agent truly respects you, they're going to tell you the truth no matter what."

For Whom The Book Is Written: Addressing Intended Audience in YA Novels about Mental Illness by Katherine Locke from School Library Journal. Peek: "Weight and numbers are a way for outsiders/non-sufferers to understand the severity of the disease and they’re more tangible than the incongruous and seemingly irrational thoughts of an anorexic person."

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

Great news! Author Marth Brockenbrough joins the VCFA WCYA faculty at this upcoming winter residency in Montpelier. Huzzah! In more terrific news, faculty chair Alan Cumyn has won the the Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People. Peek: "In awarding the prize, the jury said Cumyn’s work “brilliantly exceeding the standards of fiction for the young, Cumyn’s novels for teenagers and children alike show a sure-handed mix of humour, poetry and melancholy, and an abiding commitment to a young person’s viewpoint."

Austin SCBWI & Writers' League of Texas Diversity Book Event at Texas Book Festival

Moderating & Signing Nov. 5
 
It's Texas Book Festival week! Please join me (the moderator) and "Supernatural Storytellers" Robert Beatty, Janet Fox & D.J. MacHale 12:30 11/5 E1.026 Capitol Extension in Austin.

See that nifty "Hey Texans" banner? I'll be part of the Texas author diversity signing event with Chris Barton and Natalie Sylvester, sponsored by The Writers' League of Texas and Austin SCBWI, at the Writers' League Booth. Note: Book giveaway while supplies last! See an interview with all three of us. Peek from me:

"I love that when it came to connecting books to readers through community, the Texas Book Festival was the ground breaker. The leader. I feel about it the way a lot of Texans felt when—in a journey spanning from the dawn of time to humanity’s trek in the stars—the first word spoken from outer space was 'Houston'."

Tweeps! Join me Thurs., from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. central Nov. 17 for "Indigenous Voices in Middle Grade Novels," a #mglitchat on Twitter, featuring Lee Francis, Debbie Reese, Traci Sorell, and Tim Tingle.

Check out the We Need Diverse Books Auction!



Personal Links


Join me Saturday, Nov. 12
Honored to join the SCBWI winter conference faculty!
Honored to join the SCBWI winter conference faculty!

Thursday, November 03, 2016

New Voice: Tracy Edward Wymer on Soar

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Tracy Edward Wymer on Soar (Aladdin, 2016). From the promotional copy:

Seventh grader Eddie is determined to honor his father’s legacy and win the school science fair in this fun and quirky debut novel.

Eddie learned everything there is to know about birding from his dad, including the legend of the Golden Eagle, which Dad claimed he saw once down near Miss Dorothy’s pond. 

According to his dad, the Golden Eagle had wings wider than a creek and talons the size of bulldozer claws. But when Eddie was in sixth grade, Dad “flew away” for good, leaving Eddie on his own to await the return of the elusive raptor.

Now Eddie is starting seventh grade and trying to impress Gabriella, the new girl in town. The annual seventh grade Science Symposium (which Dad famously won) is looming, and Eddie is determined to claim the blue ribbon for himself. 

With Mr. Dover, the science teacher who was Dad’s birding rival, seemingly against him, and with Mouton, the class bully, making his life miserable on all fronts, Eddie is determined to overcome everything and live up to Dad’s memory. Can Eddie soar and make his dream take flight?

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an "ah-ha!" moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

Linda Sue Park
Three words. Linda. Sue. Park. I took her writing workshop at the SCBWI-Los Angeles Summer Conference two years in a row. Back then, the workshop was embedded in the other four conference days. The workshop was one hour a day for four days.

Linda taught us how to focus on scenes instead of chapters or plot points. She told us about the “magic camera” that follows the main character everywhere in the story. If that camera stops, then your reader “stops” too. She talked about narration versus dialogue, and how to measure those in your manuscript, while finding the proper balance.

I think you get the picture here. Linda Sue Park is a master storyteller. I learned a lot of deeper level writing techniques from her.

I’d say to anyone looking for a community of writers, SCBWI provides a wealth of opportunity. Not only do the conferences offer sound advice and suggestions to writers and illustrators about the craft and business of publishing, but there is also great potential to meet writers who will become your friends, mentors, and critique partners.

As a teacher-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a teacher has been a blessing to your writing?

Tracy Edward Wymer
I have been an educator for 15 years, at the same school. I have experience teaching elementary and middle school students. Now I’m an assistant principal.

I love my job. I love being around young people who are learning at breakneck speeds. I especially love being surrounded with their enthusiasm for reading.

Ages 8-12 are the golden years of reading, and it’s no coincidence that I ended up writing stories for that age group.

I began reading a lot around the same age, and authors like Roald Dahl have a special place in my heart, and I’m sure many other adult readers feel the same way. The best part of being an educator is being at the center of book-loving teachers, librarians, and students all the time.

My years of teaching led me to read all kinds of authors. I quickly fell in love with authors like Jerry Spinelli, Lois Lowry, and Gary Schmidt. My literary tastes have always sided with realistic fiction, and I’m lucky to have found these authors early on in my writing journey. I still prefer realistic fiction, and there are always new voices hitting the scene.

This year, I’m lucky to be one of those voices.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Guest Post: Becca Puglisi on Setting as a Characterization Tool

By Becca Puglisi
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In storytelling, our number one job is to make readers care. We want to ensure that our fiction captivates them on many levels and that our characters seem like living, breathing people who continue to exist in readers’ minds long after the book closes.

So how do we do this?

Well, it may not seem like the obvious choice, but the setting can be one of the best tools through which to organically reveal truths about your characters.

Here are two quick tips on how to use the setting to characterize your cast for readers:

Choose Emotionally Relevant Locations

As the gods of our own little universes, we have the power to choose literally everything. But when it comes to the setting, the decision is often a halfhearted one—since the setting is just a backdrop, right? Wrong.

Ordering Information
Every character has a history of blissful interludes, toxic run-ins, embarrassing moments, and traumatic episodes. And long after these formative events have been forgotten or buried, their settings will continue to hold significance for the characters involved.

For instance, let’s say that after being out of the romance game for a while, your heroine has agreed to go on a first date, and you need to decide on a setting.

Instead of falling back on a generic location for this scene, brainstorm some possibilities that hold significance for the character. Maybe her date has asked to meet at the same café where her fiancé once dumped her. Or in the park where she was mugged. Or at the bar where the guy she’s been in love with since tenth grade works as a bouncer.

Any of these settings can work because they’re already emotionally charged for the protagonist.

A first date can be difficult in and of itself; experiencing it in one of these places is going to heighten the character’s emotions and bring back old memories when she’d rather avoid them, ensuring that she won’t be at her best. When it comes to the important scenes in your story, complicate matters for your protagonist and tap into his or her emotions by choosing settings with personal significance.

Get Personal with the Details

Showing rather than telling is the most powerful means of providing insight into the personality of your protagonist and other cast members. Rather than explaining your characters through boring chunks of narrative, hone in on the personal details within a given setting that will tell readers about the people inhabiting it:

I surveyed Rossa’s spotless kitchen. Dishes in their racks—sparkling. Wooden counters—scrubbed to a stone-like smoothness. Rossa herself—hair perfectly arranged, clothes crisp even at this hour, the frivolous fall of lace at her throat. I crossed my arms and couldn’t help wondering, again, how she and Dad could be meant for each other.

Ordering Information
Here we have a scene that says loads about its owner. Rossa is meticulous when it comes to tidiness—both for her home and herself. You get the feeling that she values propriety and appearances. And we learn something about the narrator, too: she isn’t so concerned with all of that. She disdains it, in fact, and doesn’t seem to like her Dad’s love interest very much. All of this we’re able to infer from the simple description of a kitchen.

Personal spaces can be quite telling. Make them do more than simply set the scene by zooming in on those details that reveal something about your characters. And for those vital scenes in your story, put your cast members on edge by thoughtfully choosing the settings—ones that add an emotional component or will up the stakes. Resist the temptation to settle for a generic setting and start putting your locations to work for you and your characters.

Cynsational Notes

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her latest publications are all about settings: The Rural and Urban Setting Thesauruses showcase over 200 different possible story locations, highlighting their associated sights, sounds, textures, tastes, and smells so authors can effectively describe them for readers.

Becca is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find her online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

In Memory: Natalie Babbitt

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

“Don't be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don't have to live forever, you just have to live.”
--Tuck Everlasting


'Tuck Everlasting' Author Natalie Babbitt, Of Hamden, Dies At Age 84 by the Associated Press from The Hartford Courant. Peek: "Babbitt's literary career started in 1966, when she illustrated a children's book written by her husband and was encouraged by its editor to continue writing and illustrating children's books herself."

Obituary: Natalie Babbitt by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "The subject matter—is living forever a good thing? —was somewhat controversial when the book [Tuck Everlasting] was published in 1975, especially in schools, but strong word-of-mouth and support from educators and librarians helped it grow into an enduring favorite."

Natalie Babbitt, 1932-2016 from the Horn Book. Peek: "Natalie Babbitt was also a great friend of the Horn Book; see below just a sampling of her contributions to the magazine over the years, plus a few reviews and appreciations."

Tuck Everlasting author Natalie Babbitt dies at 84 from The Guardian. Peek: "The 1975 novel, which has sold over 3.5m copies...has been adapted into two movies and a Broadway play..she was a National Book Award finalist for The Devil’s Storybook in 1975."

Cynsational Notes

She received many honored including a Newbery Honor for Knee-Knock Rise (FSG, 1971) and the inaugural E.B. White Award in 2013.

New Voice: Jenn Bishop on The Distance to Home

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Jenn Bishop is the first-time author of The Distance To Home (Knopf, 2016). From the promotional copy:

Last summer, Quinnen was the star pitcher of her baseball team, the Panthers. They were headed for the championship, and her loudest supporter at every game was her best friend and older sister, Haley.

This summer, everything is different. Haley’s death, at the end of last summer, has left Quinnen and her parents reeling. Without Haley in the stands, Quinnen doesn’t want to play baseball. It seems like nothing can fill the Haley-sized hole in her world. 

The one glimmer of happiness comes from the Bandits, the local minor-league baseball team. For the first time, Quinnen and her family are hosting one of the players for the season. Without Haley, Quinnen’s not sure it will be any fun, but soon she befriends a few players. 

With their help, can she make peace with the past and return to the pitcher’s mound?

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an "ah-ha!" moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

After querying two projects and having plenty of full requests but no offers, I felt stuck in that place I'm sure many other writers have found themselves in. You're so close, but still not there yet.

There's something holding you back, but no one has been able to articulate it. And since you're the writer, you don't have the capacity to objectively evaluate your own finished product. Of course the story works for you; you wrote it!


It was at this point in my writer's journey—after feeling frustrated with being so close and still not there yet, that I applied to Vermont College of Fine Art's MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

The ah-ha moment for me came during the first residency, and was followed by many ah-ha moments in the subsequent ones.

Coming in 2017
In workshop, each time we met, two writers had their work critiqued by the group. You might think my ah-ha moment came during my own critique, but as I remember, it came from looking closely at the work of my peers.

Suddenly, it started to click—what all those agents had been trying to tell me, but which I had failed to see. I wasn't letting the reader along on the journey with the character, not entirely.

You see, on the surface there was nothing wrong with my writing. Like so many English lit majors, I knew how to write at the sentence level. But what I didn't know—what I was only just beginning to learn—was how to tell a story. Maybe still that language is not perfectly precise.

What I was failing to do was let the reader in on the journey of the story. I was trapping the reader outside of it; it wasn't a lived, breathed experience for them.

I could see this difference as I read my peers' work. Some of us were still in the same stage as me; perfectly suitable writing, but not a lived experience. And others, with interiority and voice, had allowed the reader to become an active participant in the story.

Later in the program, Rebecca Stead came as a visiting writer and lectured on this participant quality. She spoke of how writing is providing the 2+2 of the equation, and letting the reader put that together to make four.

Like so many beginning writers, I was always writing out the full equation. Not letting the reader to inhabit the story and do the work.

This revelation was one that shook the big picture. It didn't allow for an easy or quick fix. What it meant was that I had to start all over in my thinking of how to tell a story, what to share with the reader and how.

Like so many things in writing, it was just the beginning.

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?

Coming from a librarian background, I tend to have the long haul in mind. The truth is most books will have longer shelf lives in libraries than they ever will in a bookstore. Who wouldn't want their book to be serendipitously discovered by a teen three, five, ten years after it was published?

As a teen librarian, I assessed the teen fiction collection annually, having to—gulp—discard the books that were no longer circulating to make room for new books.

In truth, some books don't have a long shelf life because they are so technology-obsessed that they date themselves within a few years.

As a middle grade writer, I have it a little easier than YA authors, with technology being not quite as big a part of a ten-year-old's life. That said, there are certain technologies that don't seem to be going away, and it's not in my interest to avoid anything my characters would be using in real life.

In The Distance To Home, text messaging plays a key role in the plot. While I'm a little wary of using branded applications, like Facebook and Twitter, whose purposes and uses have evolved quite a bit in the past five years, it's important at the end of the day to be true to your reader's world.

Anytime you avoid their reality, you risk the chance of a reader feeling jolted out of the story by something that feels inaccurate or false.

This revision kitty always rests on freshly printed manuscripts.


Monday, October 31, 2016

Cynsations Intern: Gayleen Rabakukk on Unique & Creative State Book Awards Programs

KS William Allen White Award winner Chris Grabenstein with 6-8 graders
By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In updating the Awards for Children’s and YA Literature By State for Cynthia Leitich Smith’s author website, I discovered several programs and librarians taking unique or creative approaches to build interest in the books.

Here’s a closer look at a few of those programs:

Emporia State University hosts a Read-In and Sleepover for students to meet the winners of the William Allen White Award (named in honor of the Kansas newspaper editor whose autobiography won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947.)

About 80 students meet the winning authors, play board games and go swimming in the campus pool. Sleeping bags are spread out on the floor of the rec center where there’s a lights-out-at-10-p.m. policy, but with so many avid readers in attendance, there’s sure to be lots of flashlights under the covers.

On Saturday morning, about 500 students attend the Celebration that includes art activities provided by the Emporia Arts Council, skits from ESU theater students, and a school spirit competition. A ceremonial presentation of the William Allen White Book Award by student representatives follows.

KS William Allen White Award winner Sharon Creech with 3-5 graders
State budget cuts in recent years have made it impossible for some schools to attend the ceremony. Kappa Delta Pi (ESU’s student honor society) is putting together a travel grant program to make it possible for more schools to attend.

Georgia Children’s Book Awards hosts a two-day conference aimed at showing teachers and librarians ways the books can be used in the curriculum, along with presentations by authors and illustrators. For those who can’t make the conference, an outline of curriculum ideas.

The conference also includes the final round of the Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl. In 1986, library media specialist Helen Ruffin developed a competitive game format to question students about content of the nominees. She envisioned teams of students from different schools competing to test their knowledge. The competition grew and renamed in her honor following her retirement.

In 2004, a committee composed of Georgia Association of Educators and Georgia Library Media Association members set out to take the program statewide. Today, more than 600 schools across the state compete in regional, then division competitions before the finals are held at the conference.

Competition is also a reading incentive in Hawaii’s Children’s Choice Book Award, the Nene (in honor of Hawaii’s state bird.) Students compete in Kahoot! games or Nene Jeopardy. (Kahoot is a free game-based learning platform for creating a collection of questions on a specific topic. Learn more about it here.)

Pearl Harbor Elementary Librarian Denise Sumida started using "Jeopardy" games with her library classes in 2005 to build excitement about the nominees. She is also a Nene committee member.

She said, “Starting in 2008, I began video conferences with other schools as a way to promote the books, connect with other libraries/students, and to advocate for the Nene Award program.”

Games played in October, November and December are based on the winning book, while January, February and March games focus on the nominees.

Nene Awards, honoring students for Kahoots, digital & poster contests
Video conferencing allows schools to compete against one another without leaving the classroom, easing scheduling issues and eliminating travel costs.

“In general, students love to see themselves on camera and Google Hangouts allows us to view the broadcasts on YouTube,” Sumida added. “The Nene nominees are usually really popular at my school and the extra incentive of participating in a video conference encourages the students to read from the list.”

She’s seen an increase in reading participation since introducing the video conferencing with other schools. Last year, they began using Kahoot to focus on individual student knowledge of the Nene winner and the top three scorers were recognized at the Nene Ceremony.

Sumida advises other librarians thinking about introducing games to start small. She said:

  • "I did video conferences with other Nene Committee librarians’ schools first. Only two schools connecting at a time.
  • "If time permits, test out 'Jeopardy'/Kahoot questions on your students to make sure they are clear and developmentally appropriate.
  • "Test video conference connections ahead of time. This seems simple, but if the video conference time is 30 minutes and it takes 15 minutes to connect, that’s only 15 minutes of playing time. With updates to computers, software, and cameras, it’s best to test it out without the students there waiting and getting frustrated."

In addition to the games, the Nene award also features an art contests for an animated film or a comic strip related to the winning book.

Rolla, Kansas students celebrating the White Awards at Emporia State University
What does your school or library do to get students excited about the book awards in your state?

We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Cynsational Notes

Gayleen Rabakukk holds a master of fine arts in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She co-moderates the middle grade book club for Austin SCBWI and loves making discoveries – both on and off the page.

Always eager to track down a story, she has worked as a newspaper reporter, editor and freelance writer. Gayleen is married and has two caring and outspoken daughters. Their Austin, Texas home is filled with books and rescue dogs. You can find her online at  or on Twitter @gayleenrabakukk

Congratulations to Gayleen on recently signing with Andrea Cascardi at Transatlantic Agency!
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