Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk

Friendship, Family & Food: Hena Khan & Karuna Riazi on Writing for Salaam Reads by Kiera Parrot from School Library Journal. Peek from Karuna Riazi: “Fantasy has always been my first love and has always been the primary genre I write within. It’s also what I grew up on—particularly the plethora of marvelous girl-power centered narratives that cropped up in the 90s: Ella Enchanted [by Gail Carson Levine (HarperCollins, 1997)], Diana Wynne Jones’s body of work.”

Choosing When to Chuck a Joke by Deborah Halverson from DearEditor. Peek: “Plot advancement is a crucial gauge for keep-it-or-chuck-it choices. Just don’t let good intentions regarding plot advancement take you on some joke-axing rampage that squelches your humor in service of brevity and focus.”

The Garden of Abdul Gasazi: A Personal Recollection by Tim Wynne-Jones from the Horn Book. Peek: “…[Chris] Van Allsburg was a primary influence in starting my own career as a children’s book author…It was the magic of the book’s art that did the trick. The shock of a lavish picture book in black and white.”

The Story in Nonfiction Picture Books by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing With a Broken Tusk. Peek: “Pay attention to what
Me…Jane  (by author-illustrator Patrick McDonnell (Little Brown, 2011)) doesn’t do. It doesn’t try to plunk everything one might know about this life into the small container of the picture book. Instead the story builds internally, in the small and comfortable world that the child Jane inhabits.” See also Uma on Citizenship, Culture and Community from the Lee & Low Blog.

Want to be Creative on Purpose? Schedule It by Carl Richards from The New York Times. Peek: “This notion to wait around in the rain until you get struck by lightning to make art (or anything) doesn’t mesh with my experience at all. What comes much closer is the famous Chuck Close quotation: ‘Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.'”

Outsiders Author S.E. Hinton Still Gold After 50 Years by Gwen Ihnat from A.V. Club. Peek: “I’ve always been an observer. There’s people who do things and people who watch, and I’m a watcher. I was very well aware of what was going on.”

Using Real-World Locations to Ground Your Story’s Setting by Sara Letourneau from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: “By learning how a real-world location ‘functions’ above and underground, as well as why it functions in this manner, we can ensure that our story’s depiction of that setting is not only realistic, but also factually accurate.”

Cinnamon Illustrator Explains How She Brought Neil Gaiman’s Story to Life by Nivea Serrao from
Entertainment Weekly. Peek from Divya Srinivasan: “This was my first time illustrating a book for someone else’s story. The books I’ve written and illustrated have been for much younger children, and so have a lot less text than Cinnamon’s longer story. Breaking up the text into pages was my first step.”

How to Write Dynamic Secondary Characters by HarperChildren’s editor Rosemary Brosnan from Epic Reads. Peek: “When you are writing, you will sometimes tend to focus solely on your main character, to the detriment of other characters in the book, which can make for flat secondary characters.” Note: Includes writing prompt aimed at creating believable, rounded secondary characters.

A Writer’s Worst Fear by William Kenower from Jane Friedman. Peek: “If you have ever shared even one thing you have written with another person, you are an author. The moment you surrender this thing you wrote in the supreme privacy of your imagination to the unknown of another person’s mind, your relationship to your writing changes.”

Caroline Carlson and The World’s Greatest Detective by Adi Rule from the VCFA Launchpad. Peek: “When I reach the end of reading a mystery story, I want to guess the true solution to the mystery only a page or two before it’s revealed, and I don’t want to feel cheated. As a writer, it’s impossible to ensure that every reader has this experience…”

Must-Visit American Writers Museum in Chicago by Esther Hershenhorn from Teaching Authors. Peek: “…this one-of-a-kind museum does so much more than engage and celebrate. It inspires and educates while honoring what all writers do. Writers across all genres, formats and publishing designs, from Cotton Mather to Dr. Seuss.”

How to Write With Feeling – Finding the Still Points of a Turning World by Addy Farmer from Notes from the Slushpile. Peek: “…writing for children is a remembrance of not just what happened but crucially how it felt when it happened. As adults we carry baggage…but as writers we should be able to rummage around and find the bit which takes you to a place or a person or event when you felt something….”

A Muslim YA Author on Belonging At A Tennessee Book Festival by Sheba Karim. Peek: “…I sometimes feel like I’m on and off a soapbox, reminding audiences of the dangerous divisiveness of Islamophobic rhetoric, explaining that Muslims are a diverse group of people who defy any stereotype.”

How to Prepare for a TED-style Author Talk by Deanna Cabinian from Writer unBoxed. Peek: “The talks I gravitated toward included some very personal stories so I knew I had to include some in my own talk. Make a quick list of all the possible story lines you can tell about yourself as a writer.”

How Real Books Have Trumped E-Books by Alex Preston from The Guardian. Peek: “…after reaching a peak in 2014, sales of e-readers and ebooks have slowed and hardback sales have surged. The latest figures from the Publishing Association showed ebook sales falling 17 percent in 2016, with an 8 percent rise in their physical counterparts. At the same time, publishers’ production values have soared…”

The Workout Writer: Perceived Weakness by Kathryn Magendie from Writer unBoxed. Peek: “There is a perceived weakness that keeps us from realizing our potential, when we don’t recognize that potential and falter in the face of what masks itself as failure.”

The Face in the Mirror by Zetta Elliott from her blog. Peek: “…privilege is bidirectional; you can’t unfairly advantage one individual without simultaneously disadvantaging someone else…children of color and the Indigenous child have only one mirror each; their mirrors diminish in size, corresponding with the limited number of books published about their group.”

On Seeing & Being Seen: The Difference Between Writing with Empathy & Writing with Love by Alicia Elliott from Room. Peek: “Empathy has its limits—and, contrary to what some may think, it is possible to both have empathy for a person and still hold inherited, unacknowledged racist views about them.”

Author Interview: Emily X.R. Pan by Shenwei from Reading (AS) (I)AN (AM)ERICA. Peek: “My grandmother lives in Beitou and she was such a huge inspiration for the story that I knew I wanted to draw from her neighborhood….All the (non-historical) steps that my characters take, I actually walked myself in effort to really capture the atmosphere.”

Rachel Bateman on Someone Else’s Summer by Tara Hackley from YA Interrobang. Peek: “I really thought about how grief works – sometimes it seem to completely consume you, like that’s all there is in your life. But other times it fades away, and before you know it, you’re having fun and enjoying life again for a moment.”

The People Shall Continue by Simon J. Ortiz Returns to Print by Hannah Ehrlich from the Lee &
Low Blog. Peek: “Told in the rhythms of traditional oral narrative, this powerful telling of the history of the Native/Indigenous peoples of North America recounts their story from Creation to the invasion and usurpation of Native lands.” Note: Cynsations host Cynthia Leitich Smith blurbs and supports this title wholeheartedly; see link for quote.

Why’s One-Click Sales Can Cost Authors Dear by Danuta Kean from The Guardian. Peek: “A week ago, buyers on, the U.S. site, began seeing heavily discounted secondhand copies of books sold by third-party sellers being presented as the default buying option, instead of new copies supplied to Amazon by publishers.” 

How the Redesigned Judy Blume Covers Avoid Nostalgia & Embrace Universal Adolescent Angst by Constance Grady from Vox. Peek from Debbie Ohi: “When Justin Chanda, my editor at S&S, invited me to audition to be the illustrator of the reissued books, I immediately said yes….I knew there was no guarantee that Judy would pick me as the illustrator, but even the chance to be rejected by the Judy Blume was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Gwenda Bond on Young Lois Lane by Nivea Serrao from Entertainment Weekly. Peek: “There’s probably more of me in Lois than any character I’ve written… My parents were both high school principals, which is not exactly like having an army general for a dad, but it will bring out your authority issues!”

Woman-owned and Independent: An Inside Look at Peachtree Publishers. Peek from publisher Margaret Quinlin: “I strongly believe that publishing is an important cultural endeavor and as such, diverse voices across the country committed to publishing books for all kinds of readers is critically important.”

The TBR Stack(s) The Fire Took by Tirzah Price from BookRiot. Peek: “Books will wait for you. That’s what I tell customers who always worry that they have too many unread books at home. Maybe that’s not always true, and if I could apologize to all of the unread books I lost, I would. I’d say, I’m sorry that the fire got to you before I did, but I’m still here.”

This is What Happens to Your Brain When You Read Poetry by Cody Delistraty from New York Magazine. Peek: “Their neurological responses, however, seemed to be unique to poetry: Scans taken during the study showed that listening to the poems activated parts of participants’ brains that, as other studies have shown, are not activated when listening to music or watching films.”

Childhood, Summers in China & The Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang from CBC Diversity. Peek: “The scene in Riddle where Mia flips through old photobooks of her mother’s childhood pictures is pretty much pulled from my own eagerness as a kid to know more about my own parents’ lives so very long ago. Their childhoods in 1960’s China always seemed like another world, one so very removed from my own growing-up years in the U.S.”

Sarah Ellis & Waiting for Sophie by Adi Rule from the VCFA Launchpad. Peek: “For me, time gallops. (Another birthday! Didn’t I just have one?) For children, time crawls. (How many sleeps?) So I asked myself what children have to wait for and I came up with the one human event that technology has not managed to speed up, waiting for the birth of a baby.”

Congratulations to SCBWI Crystal Kite Winners! See Cynsations interviews about a few of the winning books with Debbie Levy, Gwendolyn Hooks and Janet Fox.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Happy Friday! This is a MFA teacher week. I’m about halfway done with the fourth (of five) round of manuscript and critical writing packets from my Vermont College of Fine Arts students, and I look forward to attending the Austin SCBWI 2017 Writers & Illustrators Working Conference this weekend. I also lunched with author pals Kathi Appelt, Liz Garton Scanlon and April Lurie.

No word yet from my editor on the revision, and I’m in no hurry. After I finish my packets this weekend, my plan is to work on my summer residency lecture.

Reminder: the ebook edition of Feral Nights is on sale this month for $1.99; see book trailer.

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More Personally – Gayleen

Donna Jannell Bowman

I’m thrilled to be assisting fellow VCFA alum Donna Jannell Bowman as she teaches a six-week class at the Writing Barn on Picture Book Nonfiction beginning June 11.

I took an afternoon class on nonfiction PBs with Donna last fall and can’t wait to delve deeper into the subject with her. Thanks to Bethany Hegedus, creative director of the Writing Barn for giving me this opportunity!

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