Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith,
Robin Galbraith, & Gayleen Rabukukk


Congratulations to winners and finalists of the Writers’ League of Texas Book Awards, including Austin authors Laura Creedle and Chris Barton, who won in the middle grade/young adult and picture book categories, respectively.

We recently spoke with Laura about the inspiration behind her debut novel, The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). She said:

“I had never written romance, so I went looking for romantic texts throughout history for inspiration.

“I found the Letters of Abelard and Heloise, and they floored me. So passionate and intelligent and nerdy (if you can call someone from the 13th century a nerd). I loved the letters so much, I decided they would quote each other sections of the letters. Lily are Abelard are not great at talking in real life, so I wanted their relationship to develop through text.

“I absolutely love a deep dive into research. I reread the letters over and over until I had whole sections memorized. 

“I’m ADHD and Dyslexic, and a lot of Lily’s experiences are my own. The novel really started with an unfortunate graduate school experience. I’d always wanted to learn to teach dyslexic students how to read and so I enrolled in a certified academic language therapist program. I loved the course work, but I couldn’t read the rubric, and ultimately I failed the class. I’m not good with abbreviations, different type faces, colored paper—the kind of stuff teachers don’t always think about. 

“I knew that a lot of neurodiverse people have this kind of experience in school. Hard enough when you’re an adult, but devastating when you are a kid.”

Look for more of our interview with Laura about her unique path to publication later this fall.

Congrats, Melanie!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray) is the winner of 2018 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award from ALAN. Finalists were:

Peek: “…the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit.”

See more information.

Congrats to all and a shout out to VCFA WCYA alum (and my former advisee) Melanie Crowder!


The Movement to Not Italicize Foreign Words by Lee Wind from SCBWI: The Blog. Peek: “…think about how you handle non-English words in your manuscript. Are you unnecessarily ‘othering’ the people who speak that language? It’s a practice worth taking another, more critical, look at.”

Publishing Mentorship Program Focuses on Representation by John Maher from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “‘It came out of some conversations that we were having here at Penguin Young Readers about how we could improve diversity by attracting more diverse talent and becoming a more inclusive company as a whole,’ said Joanna Cárdenas, an editor at the new Kokila imprint.”

‘Dire Statistics’ Show YA Fiction is Becoming Less Diverse, Warns Report by Alison Flood from The Guardian. Peek: “Study finds that fewer books for young adults by black and minority ethnic authors have been published in the U.K. since 2010, despite rise in #diversity initiatives….”

Interview: Traci Sorell.

11 Lessons I Learned From a Comic Book About Using Correct Pronouns by Melody Schreiber from Book Riot. Peek: “When should I open a group discussion encouraging people to mention their pronouns? Is it okay to ask what pronouns someone uses? What happens if you ever slip up?”

Picture Book Recommendations: First/Native Nations by Jillian Helse from Heise Reads & Recommends. Peek: “I am concerned about the number of teachers I see recommending books… that are problematic in their representations of First/Native Nations cultures… many educators just don’t know…To help with that, I decided to make a post compiling a few picture book recommendations…”

Educators Can Help Migrant Children Who Were Separated from Their Parents by Kara Yorio from School Library Journal. Peek: “For [migrant] kids who remain in America, educators and librarians will become some of the first adults charged with regaining their trust and helping repair the damage done by the separation and detention.”


Five Ways to Sell More Books for the Holidays by Penny Sansevieri from Jane Friedman. Peek: “I used to laugh at the ‘Christmas-in-July’ ads until I promoted my first holiday-related book. We actually started the promotion in July, and July turned out to be the perfect time.”

How to Create an Unforgettable Author Visit by Erika Liodice from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Even though you, the author, may be the main attraction, the experience isn’t really about you; it’s about them—the students, their parents, and the school’s faculty, staff, and event coordinators.”


New Children’s Book Award Celebrates Latino Talent from Arte Público Press. Peek: “…the inaugural Salinas de Alba Award for Latino Children’s Literature…seeks to address the need for more culturally relevant, bilingual reading materials for Hispanic children …The award will be given on an annual basis to one manuscript for a children’s picture book.” Manuscript deadline: Dec. 31, 2018.

Chronicle, Trustbridge to Launch Chinese Children’s Book Imprint by Calvin Reid from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “San Francisco publisher Chronicle Books is partnering with Trustbridge Global Media to launch Chronicle Bridge, a new imprint that will publish and distribute Chinese-language editions of selected Chronicle children’s books in China.”

The Rewards and Challenges of Self-Publishing Children’s Books: Q&A with Four Authors by Sangeeta Mehta from Jane Friedman. Peek: “As the traditional book publishing landscape becomes increasingly complex and competitive, more writers are considering independent paths. But given their audience, children’s book authors who self-publish face very different challenges from those who write for adults, especially in terms of design, production, and promotion.”

Newly Updated! Children’s-YA Agents on Twitter and Children’s-YA Editors on Twitter from Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

Foreshadow YA: A Serial YA Anthology, Published Digitally. Peek: “to offer a unique new online venue for young adult short stories, with a commitment to showcasing underrepresented voices, boosting emerging writers, and highlighting the beauty and power of YA fiction. Each month, for one full calendar year, we will publish a new issue featuring three stellar YA stories.”

Writing Craft

On Writing a Novel that People Call Political by Natalia Sylvester from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “As an immigrant and a Latina whose recent novel deals with family sacrifice, love, generational trauma, secrets, marriage, adolescence, borders, and immigration, I’m often told…the topic of immigration is very relevant right now….to me and millions like me, immigration is not a ‘topic’ but a lived experience.”

Twenty Years of Writing: The Stats by Caroline Starr Rose from Project Mayhem. Peek: “The writing life (and the publication process) is a long-road, long-view, long-term journey. There’s no other way to look at it.”

Words When There Are No Words by Donald Maass from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Human experience is more than the five senses….. It is grasping what cannot be held, seeing what is invisible, walking where there is no road, dwelling in spaces that don’t exist.”

Five Steps to Writing a Verse Novel by Jennifer Gennari from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “Writing in verse has all the challenges of a novel—plot, character, voice, setting—plus rhythm and lyrical language. And it has to make sense for your character….To get started, follow these five essential steps.”

Let Me Tell You by Cecilia Tan from Uncanny Magazine. Peek: “I have a beef with ‘show, don’t tell,’…The power to ‘show, not tell’ stemmed from the writing for an audience that shared so many assumptions with them that the audience would feel that those settings and stories were ‘universal.’”

Writing a Picture Book? Focus on Your Character’s Emotional Story – Advice from Jim Averbeck by Lee Wind from SCBWI. Peek: “…I discussed the emotional underpinning of the story with the book’s editor (@NealPorterBooks)…the resulting editorial direction made a book that is deeper and more poignant for it.”

Is Collaborative Writing on the Rise? And Making the Most of It by Heather Webb from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “…from a writer’s standpoint, collaboration carries quite a few pros and cons, so you choose to go down this road, it’s important to weigh all the factors.”

The Every-Novel-Is-Wildly-Different Guide to Revision by Julianna Baggot from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “…when someone asks me – and it’s a common question – how many drafts I usually write of a novel, I know they’ve likely never written a novel and definitely haven’t written two of them.”

Author/Illustrator Insights

Carmen Oliver & Don Tate in Conversation from the Highlights Foundation. Peek from Don: “There is no one path, there are many. We’re all headed to the same place–book publishing!–but each of us will take a slightly different road. Some roads will be more smooth….Others will take you down through the valley, up over mountains, through long patches of potholes. ”

Member Interview: Cate Berry from Austin SCBWI. Peek: “The best stories come from noticing what’s right in front of you. A recent sale of mine (not announced yet!) was born right out of my backyard…You just have to train your mind to pay attention. And always have a notebook handy.”

A Conservation with Dhonielle Clayton, “Belles” Author and 2018 Teen Live! Keynoter by Shelley Diaz from School Library Journal. Peek: “ My teenage journals and my obsessions with beauty and makeup were my inspiration for The Belles.”

Native YA: Four Native American Authors on Their Messages for Teens by Alia Jones from School Library Journal. Peek: “I’d advise educators to be aware of their own biases, even if they might be perceived as positive ones. I’ve been struck by the number of people who project a spiritual quality onto me, because they believe Indians are inherently more spiritual.”

Illustrating a Difficult Subject by Brian Lies from 24 Carrot Writing. Peek: “I didn’t set out to write a story about grief. Sometimes a story idea comes to you and won’t leave you alone. This was one of those ideas.”

What Is It About a Good Ghost Story That Fascinates Me So Much? By Nova Ren Suma from YA Interrrobang. Peek: “Writing into the unknown can be terrifying. But go on and distract me with a ghost story and that makes the fear tangible. It takes shape.”

Interview: Adib Khorram by Edi Campbell from CrazyQuiltEdi. Peek: “…a big part of it was remembering my own teenage years, trying to navigate high school and friendships while also managing my own depression.”


From Libraries to Laundromats: Learning in Non-Traditional Spaces in Detroit from Libraries Without Borders. Peek: “‘Wash & Learn,’ a summer learning program that creates pop-up library spaces…transforms laundromats into informal learning spaces where patrons can access high-quality early learning and literacy materials as they wait for their clothes to wash and dry.”

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Events

2018 Texas Book Festival Author Reveal Reception in Austin

Cynthia Leitich Smith will be speaking and/or signing books at the following fall events:

More Personally – Cynthia

Hello, children’s-YA writers, readers, and book lovers of all stripes! Welcome back to Cynsations! We have a terrific line up of posts already in the queue and look forward to sharing them with you. Today, I’m on my way home from LoonSong in Minnesota – more on that later.

Exciting news! My upcoming YA novel, Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick), will be released Oct. 9.

“Highly recommended!” says Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “There’s so much love and warmth and reality all through Hearts Unbroken. And so much hope! And some absolutely terrific ground-breaking moves!” Read the whole review.

“This insightful, complex take on a difficult topic…,” says Catherine Thureson in a review from The Foreword. “Even considering its seriousness, the novel is fun to read, with charming characters and a nicely balanced teen romance. Thought-provoking and engaging, Hearts Unbroken will leave its young adult audience with a great deal to consider.”

Booklist reflects: “In a time when #ownvoices stories are rising in popularity among YA readers, this brings an insightful story to the conversation…this is truly a thought-provoking and educational novel.”

Pre-orders are really important to the success of books. To show my appreciation to anyone supports my writing in that way, between now and Oct. 8, if you pre-order Hearts Unbroken from my independent bookstore, BookPeople, or from another bookseller and fill out this form, you’ll receive an autographed copy and a little swag, too!

Please also considering pre-ordering the paperback edition of Feral Pride (Book 3 in the Feral trilogy)(Candlewick, Oct. 2018). Thank you.

Thank you to Alia Jones, Joseph Bruchac, Dawn Quigley, Candlewick Press and everyone at ALA – New Orleans!

Giveaways! Are you a high school teacher, YA librarian or Native teen group leader? Check out this classroom-set ARC giveaway of Hearts Unbroken on Twitter! Are you a YA reader? Enter to win one of 10 hardcover copies of Hearts Unbroken from YA and Kids! Book Central.

2018 Summer Middle Grade & YA Book List by Naomi Bishop from the American Indian Library Association. Deeply honored to see Hearts Unbroken on this list.

Hardcover giveaway!

11 Diverse Rom-Com Novels That Need to Be Made Into Movies ASAP by Kerri Jarema from Bustle. How fun to see Hearts Unbroken on this list!

27 New Young Adult Books That Need to Be On Your Radar by Kerri Jarema from Bustle. PEEK: “…there is nothing more fun as a reader than making a seasonal TBR of all the books you are pumped to read in the coming months, but especially when there is so much to choose from… These books are the absolute must-reads.” Another Hearts Unbroken mention!

Cynthia Leitich Smith – Hearts Unbroken Unraveled from Travis Jonker from The Yarn at School Library Journal. A podcast interview.

Native America Calling: Writing for Young Adults: Listen to me, fellow author Dawn Quigley and editors Arthur A. Levine of Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic and Monica Perez of Charlesbridge discuss writing and publishing Native YA literature.

More Personally – Gayleen

I spent a large chunk of the summer sharing the joys of creative writing with elementary school students through the Austin Public Library Foundation’s Badgerdog writing program.

Working with these students – many of them avid middle grade readers – gave me laser focus and inspiration that jumpstarted my own writing, making for a very productive summer.

A note from one of my students that melted my heart!

In July, I became the Assistant Regional Advisor for our Austin SCBWI chapter.

More Personally- Robin

My summer book highlight was visiting Hooray for Books! in Alexandria, Virginia to get a stack of sports-themed middle grade novels signed by local authors  Laura ShovanJ.H. Diehl, and Hena Khan.

I can’t wait to give out these fantastic books at Halloween!

Laura Shovan, J.H. Diehl, and Hena Khan at Hooray for Books!

Personal Links- Cynthia

The Tyranny of the Exclamation Point
Inside the Cartoonists of Color Database
What Does an Indigenous Superhero Look Like?
Austin Central Library in Time Magazine’s World’s Greatest Places 2018

Personal Links- Gayleen

Alienation Proves Fertile State of Mind for Lauren Groff by Colleen Walsh from The Harvard Gazette. Peek: “Can you talk about your process and how you manage work and family? …until I see a male writer asked this question, I’m going to respectfully decline to answer it.​”

Personal Links- Robin

The Enduring Appeal of the ‘Fake Relationship’ in Rom-Com
10 Books to Read After Watching To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
If Goodreads Users Reviewed Your Life The Way They Reviewed Your Book