Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith,
Robin GalbraithGayleen Rabukukk, and Stephani Eaton

Author/Illustrator Insights

YA Novelist Inspired By Teenage Years of Lucy Maud Montgomery  by Nancy Wigston from The Canadian Jewish News. Peek:

“Part of writing YA is considering your audience and how they can relate to your character and their experience. This becomes a deeper challenge when it is historical fiction because you need to somehow show younger readers how similar things actually are – just the medium is different.”

Miracles by Kekla Magoon from Nerdy Book Club. Peek:

“…the sort of magic one person can wield on another, the powerful kind of influence borne of admiration and authority. The…magic that inspiring teachers and mentors often wield over students, knowingly or not.”

The Darkdeep, by Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs from Wild Things. Peek:

“Brendan is plot-driven and known for awesome twists in his novels; Ally tends to start novels with the characters and has incredible emotional resonance in her writing. We knew working together…would also challenge us and make us think about writing in different ways.”

In Conversation: M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“…I had written a book about Soviet Leningrad. You had defected from Soviet Leningrad. I wrote you a fan letter praising Breaking Stalin’s Nose, your Newbery Honor-winning book about Stalin’s Great Terror. I couldn’t believe that you had managed to write a middle grade novel about that terrifying period…”

Anna-Marie McLemore, Author of Blanca & Roja, on Being a Bit of a Writer Cliché from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: “There’s a scene in which Roja has debilitating menstrual cramps and the start of a brutal period. Writing that scene, I felt a little like I was ripping my own body open and showing readers, This is what so many of us live with.”

Publishing & Marketing

Are Writing Conferences Worth It? By Kim Ventrella from Middle Grade Minded. Peek:

“Will I get an agent or sell a book at a conference? Maybe, but probably not. You are there to learn and make connections. Be open, ask questions and don’t be afraid to talk to the industry professionals attending the conference. They are regular people just like you.”

Seven Questions For: Literary Agent Quressa Robinson by Rob Kent from Middle Grade Ninja. Peek:

“I also would love to see more MG in all genres (except mystery). I’d especially love to see some witch-school action or an epic fantasy with strong series potential.”

Episode 28! Money, by Meg Medina from Kidlit Women*. Peek:

“Before you offer up what your fee is to visit a school, ask plainly what the school or panel organizers have paid presenters in the past. It is a fair question, no matter how squeamish it makes you.”

Writing Craft

Picture Book Structure by Mary Kole from Kid Lit. Peek:

“There are quite a few ways to think about picture book structure. Here, I’m going to present a looser ‘Problem and Solution’ structure…”

How to Process and Filter Feedback by Annie Neugebauer from Writer Unboxed. Peek:

“Like most big tasks, breaking the feedback process down into stages will make it much less daunting and more manageable.”

Five Writing Tips: Barbara Kingsolver by Barbara Kingsolver from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“It doesn’t matter how many books I’ve published, starting the next one always feels as daunting as the first. A day comes when I just have to make a deal with myself: write something anyway, even if it’s awful.”

Six Tips for Procrastinators to Finish the Book Already by Julie Glover from Writers in the Storm. Peek:

“Many a procrastinating writer has fallen into the black hole of the Internet…lest you think we are a new generation in terms of gadgets competing for our attention, author Virginia Woolf wrote… ‘Such a good morning’s writing I’d planned, and wasted the cream of my brain on the telephone.’”

How to Nail the First Three Pages by Lisa Cron from Writers Helping Writers. Peek:

“…writers often think that what pulls readers in is that perfectly written first sentence. The one that proves you’re a wordsmith. Because, of course, being a ‘wordsmith’ is what defines you as a writer. No, no, no.”

Five Stops on Your MC’s Inner Journey by Dorian Cirrone from Fiction University. Peek:

“I noticed the how-to books talking about things like wounds, inner journeys, and transformations…As a type of shorthand for myself, I chose five aspects of the journey all beginning with the letter L, which made it easier for me to chart my MC’s transformation.”

The Benefits of Fan Fiction by Jo Eberhardt from Writer Unboxed. Peek:

“Fan fiction can be a way to focus on improving your skills in one area, without having to focus on all the other areas as well.”

How to Research Your Writing to Ensure Technical Accuracy by Dan Koboldt from Jane Friedman’s Blog. Peek:

“Space explosions are another trope with no basis in real-world science. Space is a vacuum, so spaceships (and death stars) don’t explode in massive fireballs (fire requires oxygen).”

Bookstores & Libraries

Why Buying Books Will Not Save Our Beloved Bookstores by Erin Bartnett from Electric Lit. Peek:

“One thing we can ask for: tax breaks for local businesses. As Beach suggests, there are not many incentives for landlords to keep rents reasonable for locally-owned businesses with low profit margins, especially in a city that continues to live up to its impossibly expensive mystique.”

Why Graphic Novels Belong In All Of Our Libraries by Pernille Ripp from her blog. Peek:

“Because you see when we tell kids that a book is too easy we are dismissing their entire reading journey. We are dismissing who they are as readers and just how much work it may have been to get there.”


Seven Children’s Books That Transcend Hispanic Heritage Month by Elisa Garcia from Lee & Low Books. Peek:

“While it is great that these days are solely dedicated to celebrating and highlighting Hispanic heritage, in public libraries part of our mission is to ensure that our collections reflect the diversity of our users and that culture and diversity are celebrated year round!”

Bilingual Border Kids: The Dilemma of Translating Summer of the Mariposas into Spanish by David Bowles from Latinxs in Kid Lit Peek:

“It amazes me to no end that writers can do odd and/or regional dialogues all the time in English, but a similar attempt in Spanish elicits disapproving frowns.”

Ten Positive Things About Aging We Need to Show Kids in Books by Lindsey McDivitt from Nerdy Book Club. Peek:

“In a body of important research at Yale University, Becca Levy Ph.D. ‘…has found that people who internalize positive-age stereotypes lived up to 7.5 years longer than those with negative-age stereotypes.’”

6 Kidlit Books Starring Sensitive Boys by Alice Nuttall from Book Riot. Peek:

“For every Harry Potter (scrawny build and glasses aside, he’s a jock who’s never walked away from a punch-up)…there are boy characters out there who prefer mediation to conflict, whose interests and hobbies aren’t traditionally masculine-coded, and who take the role of supporter or nurturer in their group.”

A New Study Suggests That Female SuperHeroes Give Girls Confidence In Their Real Lives by Anna Sheffer from Hello Giggles. Peek:

“…58% of girls even said that seeing female heroes made them feel like they could accomplish anything. The empowering effect of seeing strong women onscreen was especially pronounced among girls of color.”

Creating An Inclusive Library: LGBTQ+ Teens Share Their Recommendations by Tirzah Price from Book Riot. Peek:

“…while YA publishing is far more inclusive now than fifteen years ago, access to these books is still a very big issue. Teens don’t just need these books to be written, they need them to be talked about, promoted, made available to them in schools and libraries.”

David Levithan on His Sequel “Someday” and the Importance of Queer YA by Judith Utz from Teen Vogue. Peek:

“This particular sequel is very much grounded in the idea of finding a community versus finding oneself… Levithan says that this lack of communal name for the body jumpers is necessary and can definitely be linked to the queer experience, a common thread in his books.”

My Response to “Can You Recommend a Book About Columbus?” by Dr. Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek:

“Columbus did not ‘discover’ America. That’s an easy error to spot. With that in mind, I’m trying to come up with a critical literacy lesson that teachers can do to help their students develop the skills to read critically. Here’s what I’ve roughed out so far…”

Give Me Your Aggressive Girls by Julie Daly from YA Interrobang. Peek:

“Girls in contemporary worlds have to play nice, be quiet, be small, be compliant…especially…if the girl isn’t straight, cis, and white. When a girl breaks that mold and sharpens her tongue and holds up her fist, she’s deemed unlikable and, often, the book is as well.”


Congratulations to the finalists for the 2019 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books in the Children’s Science Picture Book category. Peek: “The Prize celebrates outstanding science writing and illustration for children and young adults and is meant to encourage the writing and publishing of high-quality science books for all ages.” Special kudos to Cynsational authors Jane Kurtz and Kate Messner! See also Finalists for the Hands-On Science Book Awards and Finalists for the Middle Grades Science Book Awards.

Congratulations to Dawn Quigley for winning a Young Adult Fiction Gold Moonbeam Award for Apple in the Middle (North Dakota State University Press, 2018)! Congratulations to all the other winners of the 2018 Moonbeam Awards!

Congratulations to Cherie Dimaline for winning the 2018 Sunburst Young Adult Award for The Marrow Thieves (Dancing Cat Books, 2017)!

This Week at Cynsations

Author Lois Lowry and actor Jeff Bridges

More Personally – Cynthia

Thank you to everyone who signal-boosted and otherwise supported last week’s release of my new novel, Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018).

“This is a fantastic novel that provides romance and laughs, but will also give readers plenty to think about.” —Rich in Color

“Hearts Unbroken is just consuming. I didn’t want to put it down until I finished it. There are such rich, realistic characters, and Louise is just brilliant.”  —children’s librarian Rosemary Kiladitis from Mom Read It (Hearts Unbroken is Strong, Smart #Ownvoices YA)

 Recent professional highlights included author speed-dating at the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association conference in Denver. Fellow authors at the event included Austin’s own Mari Mancusi (The Camelot Code (Hyperion)) and Candewick’s Lindsey Eager (The BigFoot Files). Thank you to Candlewick Press and MPIBA!

I also enjoyed a #MGLitChat about Native middle grade books on Twitter. See a transcript. Thanks, Mike Hays!

This week, my primary day-to-day focus has been on critiquing manuscripts and preparing two talks for the upcoming Kansas/Missouri SCBWI Middle of the Map conference.  But today, I’m going to take a break from writing fiction and speeches to go see “The Hate U Give” with fellow Austin author Nikki Loftin. Join Nikki and Kat Shepherd for A Spooky Story Celebration at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 20 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: “Writing workshop and activities geared toward families and kids ages 8-12 to celebrate all things spooky!

Three on a YA Theme: Must-Read YA Books by Native Authors from Tirzah Price at Book Riot.

More Personally – Gayleen

Thanks to Rebekah Manley for snapping this photo!

Along with C.S. Jennings, illustrator coordinator, and Samantha M. Clark, Regional Advisor, I was excited to share details of all the benefits that come with membership at our Austin SCBWI meeting last Saturday. (Have you updated your SCBWI profile lately? Or added your book covers? If not, you’re missing out on promo opportunities that you’ve already paid for!)

More Personally – Stephani

This week I got my dose of storytelling inspiration not from a book, or the internet, or a book signing (all things I love), but from a concert. My husband and I took my in-laws to see Billy Joel at Wake Forest University.

Photo Credit: Mike Shaw

While I’ve known and loved his music for most of my life, I appreciated it in a different way this week. Even though it’s “still rock and roll,” it was his ability to tell a story through song that captivated me. Think about the dialog and sensory details from “Piano Man” or the vivid yet stark imagery from “Allentown.” The characters and settings he creates in “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” evoke a whole range emotions.

Maybe the next time I get writer’s block I’ll switch on some Billy Joel.

More Personally – Robin


With everything going on in the country and world, I decided I needed a new hairstyle that would remind me to be brave and fight for what I believe in.

This week as I’ve been planning out my YA novel, so I can draft it as a NaNoWriMo in November, I look in the mirror whenever I need a reminder to be bold and write the novel I know I need to write.

Personal Links – Cynthia

Author-illustrator Debbie Ohi’s Print-Ready Bonus Goodies

Personal Links – Gayleen

Cupid Shuffle

Letters About Literature

Personal Links – Robin

Trump Signs Actually Good Bill to Clean Up Ocean Garbage

A Guide to the Best Audiobook Service Options

Kid Lit Activism Continues with Focus on Nov. 6

Personal Links- Stephani

What Are We Teaching Boys When We Discourage Them From Reading Books About Girls

Resources, Events, and Podcasts for National Day on Writing, Oct. 20