Cynsational News

Author-Mentor Jennifer Ziegler

By Cynthia Leitich Smith,
Robin GalbraithGayleen Rabukukk
Kate Pentecost 

2018 Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Awards Chosen from Austin SCBWI. Peek:

“Congratulations to Aimee Thomas, who has won Austin SCBWI’s 2018 Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award

“Plus, our mentor Jennifer Ziegler has decided to expand her mentorship to include an Honor recipient, Amy Bearce.

“Aimee receives a year’s mentorship with Jennifer, including one full manuscript critique. Amy receives one full manuscript critique.”

Announcing the 2019 Writer Mentorship Program from Kansas-Missouri SCBWI. Peek:

“The 2019 writer mentorship focus is young adult. Our mentor is the wonderful author, Cynthia Leitich Smith. Application for the Ellen Dolan Mentorship for Writers is open to any current KS-MO SCBWI member not published in YA. 

“Applications are screened by a panel of judges, with five chosen to submit for blind review to the mentor. 

“The winner will work with the mentor for one year on a mutually agreed upon project.”


Recent & Upcoming LGBTQIAP + Books By Asian Authors by Kaitlin Mitchell from GayYA. Peek:

“To celebrate the great contributions Asian authors in the U.S. and beyond have made to LGBTQIAP+ YA literature, here’s a list of six current and two eagerly anticipated novels we recommend.”

A Closer Look at 2017 Latinx #OwnVoices Books by Madeline Tyner from Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Peek:

“The percentage of picture books with Latinx content and/or characters that are #OwnVoices is quite high. Out of 28 picture books about Latinxs, 25 of those (89.29%) are #OwnVoices. 

“Conversely, the percentage of fiction that is #OwnVoices is low: only 36 out of 156 (23.08%).”

On Owning It by Megan Schliesman from Reading While White. Peek:

“What are people so afraid of? What do they have to lose in listening openly to what critics have to offer them when it comes to representation of lives and experiences beyond their own? To admitting that they might have things to learn.”

7% is Not a Solution by Laura Jiménez from Book Toss. Peek:

“Instead of understanding #OwnVoices, they [editors, publishers] decided White authors should write random non-White, non-straight, disabled, non-neurotypical characters, as long as those characters are just like them. You know, ‘normal,’ which is White code for ‘White, like me.’”

Queer Christian Voices in YA Literature: A Scholar’s Account of #OwnVoices Positioning inthe 21st Century by Robert Bittner from Research on Diversity in Youth Literature. Peek:

“Queer theology itself is an intriguing and nuanced concept that I will explore in further detail, prior to a more indepth analysis of specific queer YA texts that incorporate elements of Christian rhetoric and religiously affiliated characters.”

Ausma Zehanat Khan on the Diversity of Ramadan from KitaabWorld. Peek:

“It’s important to realize that that ignorance is often deliberately cultivated and promoted by organizations that have a vested interest in portraying Muslims and Islam as a threat….which means we need to work harder than ever at countering it.”

Why Kayla, Not Eartha & Other Stuff I Think About by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. Note: Although the post is from October 2016, it is still pertinent to conversations about writing across identity elements. Peek:

“…the question of writing outside one’s lived knowledge and most immediate stakes with regard to protagonists (or, in the case of nonfiction, focal subjects) is a very personal one.

“Today I’m going to share a glimpse into my own, nuanced process for deciding who and what to write and why. Yes, of course your mileage may vary. It may evolve. Mine has evolved.”


Introducing Lee & Low’s New Line of Chapter Book Biographies from Lee & Low. Peek:

“…we’re excited to launch our ‘The Story Of’ series, a new line of chapter book biographies out now. These chapter books go beyond the common names to introduce readers to amazing leaders and heroes whose names you might not know but whose achievements have shaped our world.”

On Translation, Publishing & the State of U.S. Publishing: An Interview with Lyn Miller-Lachmann by J.L. Powers from The Pirate Tree. Peek:

“The trend in U.S. picture books to have the young person solve every problem often marginalizes or infantilizes elders when we need the energy and creativity of the young and the experience of elders to overcome the challenges that we face today.”

Everything You Wanted to Know About Book Sales (But Were Afraid to Ask) by Lincoln Michel from Electric Lit. Peek:

“Most authors do not make any money off of actual book sales because most books do not ‘earn out’ their ‘advance.’ 

“Traditionally published authors are paid money up front, before a book is released. This ‘advance’ is money given up front to the author out of future royalties…”

Agent Looking for Clients: Amy Stern, Sheldon Fogelman Agency from Kathy Temean. Peek:

“Topics I love to read about? Summer camps, boarding schools, reality television, kids who are in some way extraordinary, puzzles, puns. I really love stories that involve close family relationships that both enhance and complicate the protagonists’ lives.”

How to Make the Leap from Self-Publishing to Traditional Publishing from Nathan Bransford. Peek:

“But what if you self-publish first but still want the cachet that comes along with having a traditional publisher? What if you struck out with literary agents but hope your next book catches their eye?”

Writing Craft

The Key to Finishing a Novel by Brian Yansky from Diary of a Writer. Peek:

“The key to finishing a novel is not thinking about finishing a novel while you’re writing your first draft. Think about your story and characters in scenes that keep building toward an ending. You may, at first, only see this as a vague destination in the distance. That’s fine.”

Finding Rhythm in Your Prose by Nancy Johnson from Writer Unboxed. Peek:

“The words we string together and the way they bend into each other to make sentences reveal patterns and convey meaning. “

“Relatable” by Marisa de los Santos from Writer Unboxed. Peek:

“But as a writer, I find myself wanting to make a case for messiness, for inconsistency and surprise, for complexity and weirdness, for flaws and tics and obsessions, even for thoughtlessness, self-centeredness, pettiness, spite.”

Writing From the Yin: How to Make Art When You Have No Energy from Skylar Ryan-Grant. Peek:

“I suggest finding the most fundamental aspects of your self-care and try viewing them as keystones to your creative practice.”

#YouToo? 11 Tips for Writing Your #MeToo Stories by Leigh Anne Jasheway from Writer’s Digest. Peek:

“But trying to put words to our own #MeToo stories can leave us at a loss. We’ve been silent for so long. We may doubt ourselves or fear what others may think of us if we share our truths.”

How to Edit a Novel Without Feeling Overwhelmed by Janice Hardy from Fiction University. Peek:

“‘Edit’ and ‘revise’ are often used interchangeably, but they’re really two different things. Editing focuses on the text and making it better, while revision focuses on the story itself.”

Your Novel’s Soundtrack by Grace Wynter from Writer Unboxed. Peek:

“I’ve created writing soundtracks before, but they’d been general ‘writing motivation’… This time I used the soundtracks as tools to break my writer’s block. In the process, I discovered new layers to my story. Even if you’re a diehard ‘silence writer’ creating soundtracks might help if you’re experiencing writer’s block.”

Use Theme to Determine Subplots, Supporting Characters, and Tension by Amanda Rawson Hill from Writers Helping Writers. Peek:

“… Theme Statement— the truth the main character realizes during or just before the emotional climax….Let’s look at ‘Hamilton‘ as an example of how the supporting cast interacts with the theme topic (legacy) in different ways.”

The Reason to Build a Box by Donald Maass from Writer Unboxed. Peek:

“In workshops, I find that deeply developing only one aspect of a story can be the catalyzing agent in the necessary chemical reaction. Sometimes it is delving into backstory and finding the single episode that shaped a protagonist into the character whom we meet on page one.”

Author/Illustrator Insights

The Writer’s Page: The Un-Hero’s Journey by Kekla Magoon from The Horn Book. Peek:

“The youngsters in the front row slid out of their chairs, as one, and came toward me…They reached out their index fingers and began touching my skin…’You are black. You look like us…'”

Interview: Kathi Appelt by Jarrett Lerner from MG Book Village. Peek:

“Place has the ability to organize the story in that it gives us a landscape for specific sounds, obstacles, animal and human populations… 

“Place a character in a fully realized place, and it gives you an immediate way to enter into what and how the characters will respond.”

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Carole Lindstrom from M is for Movement. Peek:

“Opening upmainstream trade publishing to contemporary Indigenous fiction has been tough… For some years, I couldn’t connect a Native-centered book manuscript to an editor, even though my other stories were selling well.”

“But big picture…? Persistence, shifting demographics, expanded alliances and heightened activism is slowly paying off for all of us.”

Q&A with Guadalupe Garcia McCall from Deborah Kalb. Peek:

“I went to the Library of Congress online database and read newspapers of the time, printing out headline and after headline, because they were pieces of the puzzle for me. These headlines beefed up my plot, twisted it and shaped it…”

Interview with Mark Oshiro, Author of Anger is a Gift by Priya Shridhar from Book Riot. Peek:

“The plot for Anger [Anger is a Gift (Tor Teen, 2018)] was inspired by an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (specifically “Seeing Red”), which I was reviewing for Mark Watches. I wrote a scene as a sort of free-writing experience to deal with my reaction to that episode.” 

Interview with Author of Tiny Infinities, J.H. Diehl by Stacy Barnett Mozer from Sporty Girl Books. Peek:

“…try to integrate the sport – how it’s played, its rules, regulations, necessary equipment – with the plot’s twists and turns, your character’s goals, the themes you’re exploring and the questions the book raises.”

Excuse Me, Sir? Did You Forget Something? from Jacqueline Davies. Peek:

“Women illustrators (and particularly illustrators who are women of color) have a hard time getting noticed at all, let alone walking away with the big awards. Getting noticed matters in this business.

“A thought occurred to me: It would be interesting to see how the male/female imbalance might play out in this one two-hour session. I started jotting down every name that the lecturer mentioned.”


Dealing with Book Promotion Fatigue by Jael McHenry from Writer Unboxed. Peek:

 “I wouldn’t recommend throwing your hands up in the air, say, two or three weeks before a book launch, since that’s a uniquely important time to promote, but otherwise? Take some time.”

What to Look for in a Book Publicist — Plus Tips for Going It Alone by Tanya Hall from Jane Friedman’s blog. Peek:

”Hiring a publicist is expensive. If funds prohibit engaging a publicist to support your book launch, it’s better to try it on your own than to do nothing at all—as long as you approach it strategically. Here are some tips to increase your likelihood of scoring powerful publicity.”

How to Perform (Not Just Read) Your Work in Front of Audiences by Natalia Sylvester from Writer Unboxed. Peek:

“One trick I’ve learned is to listen to audiobooks. Many are narrated by classically trained actors, and hearing how they use inflections, pauses, and variations in their voices to capture the richness on the page is an inspiring lesson in performance.”


Congratulations to Cynthia Levinson! She is the winner the 2018 Crystal Kite Award for the Texas/ Oklahoma region for The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Atheneum, 2017).

Congratulations to Billy-Ray Belcourt and Aviaq Johnston for winning the 2018 Indigenous Voices Awards!

Book Donations

Books for Readers Program Now Accepting Donations from SCBWI. Peek:

“SCBWI Books For Readers will accept books from June 1 to July 9, 2018…We will collect new fiction and non-fiction hard cover and paperback titles for children and teens (ages 0-17) including board books, early readers, picture books, chapter books, middle grade, YA, and graphic novels…published in the last 1-2 years.”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Ah, summer! My teacher hat is firmly on, and I’m finishing the last round of packets for my students in the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Will you be at the American Library Association Conference in New Orleans later this month?

If so, come to the Native YA Today panel and then be sure to stop by my signing at noon that same day (Saturday, June 23rd) at the Candlewick Press booth. Meanwhile, learn more about my fellow panelists, Eric Gansworth, Dawn Quigley, Joseph Bruchac and Alia Jones! See also An Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Carole Lindstrom from M is for Movement.

In other news, children’s poet Lee Bennett Hopkins has a new official website and the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program has a new blog!

More Personally – Robin

I love the Read Local! program that fellow Maryland writer Veronica Bartles has created for my SCBWI region. Check out the link if you want to find fabulous reads from Maryland, Delaware, or West Virginian authors or if you just want to see how to create a read local program in your own region.

More Personally – Gayleen

Congratulations to Texas students Adam Kesselman and Baxter Lowrimore, who received National Honor Awards in the Letters About Literature National Writing Contest from the Library of Congress! The program asks readers in fourth to 12th grade to submit letters to an author (living or deceased) about how his or her work affected their lives. In the spring, state centers for the book promote the contest and select state winners who advance to the national competition.

I served on a final-round judging team for fourth-sixth graders with the Texas Center for the Book. Reading those letters touches my heart and is a vivid reminder of the impact books can have on young lives.

Adam’s letter to Tim Howard about The Keeper: A Life of Saving Goals and Achieving Them (HarperCollins, 2014) stuck with me. I’m guessing this sports memoir wasn’t an assigned book, yet it inspired Adam to write a moving letter about how the book inspired him: perfectly illustrating the possibilities when young readers choose titles that speak directly to them.

Guidelines for the next Letters about Literature contest will be posted in September. In the meantime, if you’re looking for inspiration to finish your work in progress, check out Journeys: Young Readers’ Letters to Authors Who Changed Their Lives, edited by Catherine Gourley (Candlewick, 2017).

See the video of Adam reading his letter: