10th Anniversary Feature: Cynthia Leitich Smith

This interview is in response to questions from Cynsations readers in celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com.

Who or what has influenced your writing the most?

I read a novel almost every day. I read a stack of picture books at least once a week. Plus, I read nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, etc. That’s a cumulative influence.

More specifically, I can point to Linda Hogan and Joy Harjo on my Native writing, Annette Curtis Klause, Bram Stoker, and Joss Whedon on my Gothic YAs.

When I was a kid, I read most of the Newbery winners. Beyond that, memories of kitchen-table talk linger in my memory.

How do you get into the mood of writing? Like…do you just sit down and write, or do you have to do something special first?

I typically write rough drafts only between midnight and four a.m. I need to world to quiet, fade away, so that I can lose myself in the story.

Then I print, read the draft, throw it away, and delete the file. That initial plunge is just about getting to know the character, setting, story. It’s less intimidating because no one else will see it. The best parts will come back. As for the rest, I’m not interested in building on a weak foundation. I take what I’ve learned to inform the drafts that follow. Once the second or third (sometimes I have to repeat the process) “first” draft is down, though, I can work on it any time.

I tend to write in soothing rooms—the sun room, the reading room, the sleeping porch.

If I get stuck, I dance around in the dark to pop songs of the ’70s and ’80s. If nothing else, it entertains the cats.

Caveat: there’s no one right way to write.

What is the most difficult thing about the entire writing process, from initial idea to publication?

That moment when I’m printing the revised copy to send to my editor and the toner runs out. This always happens. I am a normally happy woman, but right then, I want very much to heave the printer out the window. Or at least the toner cartridge.

Beyond that, I’m not one to angst over process. Once the real “first” draft is down, I have full faith that the answers to any challenges in the novel are at least hinted at in the existing draft. A picture book is different, more like a puzzle. With those, I just keep trying. Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) went through more than 80 drafts.

How do you care for your muse?

I take extreme field trips.

For Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008), I walked the streets of Austin asking furry people if I could take their pictures as models for shape-shifter characters. Being proudly weird Austinites, they were all quite flattered.

I also went to open houses and picked up floor plans and chose where my characters would live (though I re-imagined the exterior facades and relocated the “inspiration” homes out of respect to the real-life residents). I confessed my ulterior motive to the real estate agents, who were quite gracious about the whole thing.

For Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), I went to Chicago and walked every street that my characters did and made notes of what it looked like through their eyes. The ink in my pen froze on Navy Pier.

I step into my world quite literally.

Why did you choose to write YA rather than adult, and what do you think is the main difference between the two these days?

I’d previously published books for children (another of which is in production).

Though the children’s and YA markets each have their own focus and personality, the two categories are part of the same “family” of writers, illustrators, publishers, and the folks who connect books to readers.

But even if that weren’t the case, I would elect to write for and about young adults—partly because they’re so dynamic, partly because theirs are the books I love to read, and partly because my inner teen is alive and growling. I value the audience and my colleagues.

What else? YA literature tends toward immediacy. It’s usually marked by its fine focus, quick pacing, and underlying optimism. It’s resonant without always having to take itself seriously.

All of that is works for me–a usually thinking, sensitive optimist with a sense of humor and the attention span of a gnat.

In an October 2008 interview, author Thomas Pendleton made a comment that resonated:

“The young adult audience is in this wonderful place between childhood when anything was possible and the world was full of mysteries, miracles, and monsters, and adulthood where many of the mysteries have been solved, many of the miracles have a price, and the monsters wear human faces.

“They really get the themes in fantastic fiction, even if it’s only subconsciously because they are close enough to look behind them and see the magic or look ahead and see the reality. Most adults lack that amazing perspective.”

What was your most favorite part of writing a novel with vampires and werewolves?

If only because she may devour me otherwise, I feel obligated to point out that Tantalize also features a werecat as well as a handful of shifters inspired by the Texas setting—a wereoppossum, a werearmadillo, and turkey werevultures. Eternal and the tie-in short stories expand the multi-creature verse even more with ghosts, angels, and additional shifters.

But absolutely the vamps and Wolves have a particular appeal. They’re old-school, classic monsters. They were screen stars in black-and-white movies. They both did “The Monster Mash.” You can find them in folklore and other stories from around the world. And they appear–together and separately–in a formidable list of books, recently including Superman and Batman versus Vampires and Werewolves (DC Comics).

My story came together when I had the idea of a writing murder mystery in which the central question was whether it was a werewolf or a vampire in wolf form who’s the murderer. I stumbled across it while I doing my homework. Stoker’s 1897 classic Dracula held the key.

I read that you started Tantalize in 2001. What took you so long? Eternal isn’t going to take that long, is it?

Yes, I started Tantalize after I finished Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002).

I’d always wanted to write a novel that drew on the vampire mythology as well as a novel set in a restaurant, so that intersection was a place to begin.

But between 2001 and when the novel sold in 2005, I had to learn how to write a more mainstream fantasy. I’d done only realistic contemporary fiction up until that time, much of it influenced by Native literary traditions.

Meanwhile, I also was working on various short stories and a couple of picture book manuscripts—Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006) and Holler Loudly (Dutton, 2010).

Each book takes as long as it takes, but you do tend to pick up some transferable skills along the way. Hopefully, I’m getting a little faster.

Eternal will be out in February 2009.

You refer to your YA work as “Gothic fantasy.” What is that exactly?

Deborah Noyes in the forward to Gothic: Ten Original Dark Tales (Candlewick, 2004)(author interview) writes: “…think of Gothic as a room within the larger house of horror. Its decor is distinctive. It insists on the burden of the past. It also gleefully turns our ideas of good and evil on end.”

Or more personally, my YA Gothics are horror novels involving monsters, some of whom are human beings. The books may include comedic and/or romantic elements, but they’re intrinsically horrific. Magic comes at a huge price, and I’m not promising a happy or even hopeful ending. You may get one, but you can’t count on it.

As a side note, I’ve written realistic YA fiction, too.

Why are there so few American Indian authors?

I suspect there are more than you think. If you are interested in supporting Native voices, please consider featuring the Native Youth Lit widget available from JacketFlap.

Of course it would be wonderful to have more (and more tribally diverse) representation. But the more pressing need is for teachers, librarians, and booksellers of all backgrounds to champion such voices as well as for Native professionals to excel in the publishing industry across the board.

How has publishing changed since you started in the business?

Horn Book editor Roger Sutton nailed it when he said in a 2007 interview: “The biggest change has been the rise of the retail market over the school and library.”

The commercial success of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (Scholastic) can’t explain all of that, but it certainly seems like an indicator.

Not long afterward, I had good friends—some of them well established mid-listers—whose publishing careers quickly evolved or slipped away.

On the upside, we now have an extraordinary number of new voices, some of them very young. In contrast, when I first began working with my Harper editor in my late twenties/early thirties, I only knew of a couple of authors near my age. The vast majority were at least 15 years older.

It’s good and bad. We have fresh energy, and reading itself has a higher, more positive profile. But many quiet books, multicultural books, historicals—the kind of books that need time to build an audience…those without a shiny new name or publisher push…those that have traditionally relied on word of mouth… Books like that face additional challenges.

Beyond that, the idea of “branding” was largely foreign (at least to me and several colleagues I’ve spoken with on the topic).

I understand that readers who love an author’s work often want more of the same. But I obviously wasn’t writing Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000) with the idea that it would set up my audience for Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008), and I would’ve considered such a dynamic a creative straight jacket.

At the time, it was widely held that most authors would seek to stretch our craft with different kinds of stories, and, as a pleasant side effect, that would offer us more room to maneuver in the market.

Finally, we’re now seeing authors from historically underrepresented racial/ethnic communities in the body of literature writing about whatever we please. The fact that someone is, say, African-American doesn’t necessarily mean that, over the course of their career, all or even most of their protagonists will be.

In addition, culturally-grounded stories from such voices are increasingly appreciated not only for their teach-ability but also for their literary merit. For example, ten years ago, Christopher Paul Curtis, Linda Sue Park, and Cynthia Kadohata had not (yet) won a Newbery award. How diverse was the list of winners in 1998? Significantly less so than it is today.

How has the kidlitoshere changed specifically?

The biggest change is that there is one.

Back in the day, it wasn’t hard to have a Web page listing children’s-YA author websites, by which I mean all of them. During my apprenticeship, I was a member one of the first published-author listservs–invited by a mentor–and met my agent that way. What became Cynsations was a monthly text email newsletter.

How did you build such a powerful author platform?

I never heard the words “author platform” before this year. I was just sharing information and, hopefully, offering encouragement.

Early on, my career goal had been to be a journalist. I majored in news/editorial and public relationship at the William Allen White School at The University of Kansas. When my University of Michigan Law School classmates were in the midst of their all-important post 2L summer clerkships, I was working as a reporting intern for The Detroit Legal News and Dallas Morning News.

Cynsations and the main website allow me to feed that part of myself while focusing on positive news. When I got started, the situation in publishing was much like it is now–layoffs, buyouts, canceled contracts, low author morale.

Sometimes it’s good to light a candle. Sometimes it’s good to light a bonfire.

How have you grown as a writer?

I’ve gained more faith in my creative side and built up my analytical one.

It helps that I don’t limit myself to books that I initially thought of as “my kind of thing.” By reading broadly, my tastes and knowledge base have expanded.

Teaching has been a blessing because it’s forced me to explain what I had been doing largely by instinct. That process of articulation deepens my own understanding of the skill set.

That said, I’m very much a work in progress.

Which writers’ work do you love?

I love the writing of many, many, many authors.

Two headliners that deserve even more attention are E. Lockhart and Tracie Vaughn Zimmer.

What kinds of books do you wish there were more of?

Provided they were well written…

Comedies, especially those with diverse casts. Fantasies with diverse casts. Westerns. Stories wherein the faith of the protagonist is central to his or her world view. Stories set in the U. S. central and mountain time zones. Stories rooted in the so-called “working class” AKA “lower middle class,” socio-economically speaking.

As a reader, what are your “heart” books, the ones you need to return to again and again?

On the picture book front, Chance by Dian Curtis Regan, illustrated by Dee Huxley (Philomel, 2003) and The Moon Came Down on Milk Street by Jean Gralley (Henry Holt, 2004)(author-illustrator interview).

My novels are The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton Mifflin, 1958) and, more recently, Marley’s Ghost by David Levithan, illustrated by Brian Selznick (Dial, 2005).

What upcoming releases do you look forward to?

It probably makes the most sense to highlight…

I’ve already read and adored So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother) by Micol Ostow (Flux, 2009) and The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams (St. Martin’s Press, 2009). Both break new ground in YA literature.

Coming up, I look forward to Need by Carrie Jones (Bloomsbury, Dec. 2008) Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston (Harper, Dec. 2008), Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner (Random House, Jan. 2009), Fly Girl by Sherri L. Smith (Putnam, Jan. 2009), and Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell (Delacorte, Feb. 2009), among others.

On the Austin front, I’m happy to highlight Jessica Lee Anderson‘s Border Crossing (Milkweed, fall 2009) and Chris Barton‘s debut picture book, The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors (Charlesbridge, July 2009)–wait until you see the art! In addition, P. J. Hoover‘s latest installment in The Forgotten Worlds trilogy, The Navel of the World, will be released by Blooming Tree in October.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Ah, this is one of my frequent questions turned around on me. With the caveat that giving advice is always a little perilous…

Focus on craft. Take the long view (and a class on public speaking). Contribute to the community. Give yourself some credit. Push through your fear. Resist the temptation to compare. Stay out of flame wars. Forgive each other and yourselves. Celebrate each step, no matter how small. Stay positive but real. Encourage your peers, respect your audience, and honor the champions who connect books to young readers. Write. Read. Enjoy living your dream.

And when necessary, step away from the Internet.

What advice do you have for writing teachers?

Keep in mind that beginning writers are beginning writers. Yes, core talent is a factor, but so is determination, a positive attitude, environment, resources, and practice. Odds are, your student will get better–especially if both of you are doing your jobs.

I would extend the same thought to authors/editors who’re critiquing for a writers’ workshop or conference. It’s too easy to glance at either a beginning writer or a manuscript at an early stage and jump to conclusions about the potential of that writer in the whole.

Incidentally, one of the most useful things I ever did was read, back-to-back, all of Paula Danziger‘s books in the order they were published. She was always a great writer, but I could really see how her craft developed over time.

Writing for publication puts one at the mercy of many uncontrollable forces. But we can all strive to make our next manuscript better than the one that came before.

What writing project(s) are you currently working on?

At the moment, I’m all about Blessed, a prose novel which will crossover the casts of Tantalize and Eternal. I’m also working on the graphic novel adaptation of Tantalize.

In addition to Eternal, my immediately forthcoming works are two short stories–“Cat Calls,” to appear in Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009) and “The Wrath of Dawn,” co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith, to appear in Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little Brown, 2009).

Is there anything you’d like to tell your website visitors?

Thank you to everyone who’s visited the site, passed on the URL www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, and shared your thoughts. Thanks for your enthusiasm and for all you do–online and off–for each other and young readers! Happy new year!

Cynsational Books of 2008

Congratulations to all of the authors and illustrators of our 2008 children’s-YA reading list, defined broadly!

And thank you to everyone who discussed and debated and cheered and championed this year’s books!

Just for fun, I’d like to share a few of my favorites.

Quick caveats: (a) I haven’t read every 2008 book published, though I did read 500+; (b) to varying degrees, I know or have met some (but not most) of the creators below–if I cut everyone I knew, potential picks would be significantly reduced in number;* (c) I will continue to read and feature 2008 titles in 2009 and beyond; (d) these are highlights, not predictions, not an all-inclusive list of my favorites.

Beyond that, I made an effort to sidestep bestsellers as well as previous ALA and NBA honorees, though one or two may have sneaked in.

Yes, I love Kathi Appelt‘s The Underneath (Atheneum)(author interview) and E. Lockhart‘s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks (Hyperion), as well as Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young (Little, Brown)(author-illustrator interview), among others! But such books already get a lot of attention, and I’m hopeful that you’ll find at least one read in the list below that’s new to you.

Here we go:

Picture Books

Bats at the Library by Brian Lies (Houghton Mifflin); see Bats at the Beach, also by Brian Lies (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

That Book Woman by Heather Henson, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum)

Lincoln Shot: A President’s Life Remembered by Barry Denenberg, illustrated by Christopher Bing (Feiwel & Friends)

Our White House: Looking Out, Looking In by the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance (Candlewick)

The Raucous Royals: Test Your Royal Wits: Crack Codes, Solve Mysteries, and Deduce which Royal Rumors are True. by Carlyn Beccia (Houghton Mifflin)(author-illustrator interview)

Middle Grade

The Floating Circus by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer (Bloomsbury)(author interview)

Shifty by Lynn E. Hazen (Tricycle)

A Thousand Never Evers by Shana Burg (Delacorte)(author interview)


the dead and the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Harcourt)(author interview); see Life As We Knew It, also by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Harcourt, 2006)

Do the Math #2: The Writing on the Wall by Wendy Lichtman (Greenwillow); see Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra, also by Wendy Lichtman (Greenwillow, 2007)

The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas (FSG)

Young Adult

I Know It’s Over
by C. K. Kelly Martin (Random House)(author interview)

Living Dead Girl
by Elizabeth Scott (Simon Pulse)

The Adoration of Jenna Fox
by Mary E. Pearson (Holt)(author interview)


Bliss by Lauren Myracle (Abrams)

Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr (HarperCollins); see Wicked Lovely, also by Melissa Marr (HarperCollins, 2007)

Night Road by A. M. Jenkins (HarperCollins)(author interview)


The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins); see The Birchbark House (Hyperion, 1999) and The Game of Silence (HarperCollins, 2005), also by Louise Erdrich


Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Boyds Mills/Wordsong)

For Avid & Reluctant Readers

How To Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier (Bloomsbury)(author interview)

The Compound by S. A. Bodeen (Feiwel & Friends)(author interview)

Dead Girl Walking by Linda Joy Singleton (Flux)(author interview)

by Christopher Golden (MTV)(author interview)

New Voices

Varian Johnson (My Life as a Rhombus (Flux))(author interview)

Maggie Stiefvater
(Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception (Flux))(author interview)

Zu Vincent
(The Lucky Place (Front Street))(author interview)

*That said, I exempted my former VCFA advisees as well as my editor Deborah Noyes, author of The Ghosts of Kerfol (Candlewick) and Encyclopedia of the End (Houghton Mifllin)(interview) due to the nature of our particular relationships; however, I am–as ever–wowed by them and their books. Note: I’ll add advisees to the mix on their second or third books out.

Cynsational Notes

In 2008, my novel Tantalize was released on audio by Listening Library and in paperback by Candlewick and Walker U.K.

In addition, my short story, “Haunted Love,” was published in Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P. C. Cast (BenBella). Contributors were: P. C. Cast, L. J. Smith, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Kristin Cast, Rachel Caine (author interview), Tanith Lee, Nancy Holder, Richelle Mead, and Claudia Gray.

10th Anniversary Feature: P. J. Hoover

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked some first-time authors the following question:

As a debut author, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here’s the latest reply, this one from author P.J. Hoover:

How fun to talk about craft, the writing life, and publishing. Three important aspects of being an author!

Regarding craft, wait as much time between revisions as possible. Just close the document. Resist that urge to open it and read your wonderful opening page just one more time. Seriously. Resist it.

Do anything else you can think of. Draft another story. Read a book. Mop the floor. Clean the toilets. (Note: a manuscript and a toilet are not the same. Do not wait as long as possible between cleaning the toilet.)

The fact is this: the longer you wait, the more fresh the manuscript will appear, the more objective you will be, and the better a writer you will become.

If you can, wait a year. If you start to wear the polyurethane off your floor, at least give it a month. Okay, maybe a couple weeks. Just get away from it for some amount of time measurable on something besides a wall clock.

As for the writing life, treat yourself as a professional. Go get those publicity photos taken. Have a website designed. Print up some real business cards. The more professionally you treat yourself, the more professionally others will treat you.

Think of your writing life as your own personal business with you in charge. How do you want people to view your business? What kind of businesses do you support? The one where the manager is rude, the fries are burned, and the counter is covered in ketchup? Or the one where you’re given a full refund, no questions asked, and told to have a nice day.

Give people a reason to support your business.

For publishing, keep in mind no one’s story will be the same. Everyone who reaches publication will have done so differently. Each writer has ups and downs, successes and failures, good days and bad days. I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone’s in the world. And as such, I wouldn’t trade my publishing career with anyone else, either. Because everything goes hand in hand. Writing and life. Life and writing.

So stop comparing yourself to others, and start creating your own future.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win one of four ARCs of Dead Is a State of Mind by Marlene Perez (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Jan. 2009)(author interview).

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST Dec. 31! OR, if you’re on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Dec. 31! But DON’T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I’ll contact you for it if you win. Please also type “Dead Is a State of Mind” in the subject line. Note: one copy will go to a teacher, librarian, or university professor of YA literature; two copies will go to any Cynsational readers, and two copies will go to members of Tantalize Fans Unite! at MySpace. Please indicate your entry status (if you qualify in more than one category, you get a separate entry for each).

More News

Congratulations to Lisa Schroeder on the release of Far From You (Simon Pulse, Dec. 2008)! Here’s a peek at the promotional copy: “Do you believe in angels? Far From You is a story of love and loss, and reminds us what’s really important in life. Fans of I Heart You, You Haunt Me are sure to enjoy this novel-in-verse featuring 16-year-old Alice, a singer/songwriter who’s had her share of hard times, and unfortunately, has more to come. What will pull her through? Her music? The love of her boyfriend, Blaze? Or perhaps, an angel, here on earth?” Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Teen Fiction Cafe is now available via LJ syndication.

Macmillan Announces Formation of a Children’s Publishing Group: Dan Farley Named President; Simon Boughton and Jean Feiwel Apponited Senior Vice President and Publishing Directors of Macmillan Children’s Publishing. Source: A Fuse #8 Production.

VLog: Seven Books You Should Definitely Read in 2009 (Including Mine) from Saundra Mitchell (below). Note: Saundra is the author of Shadowed Summer (Delacorte, Feb. 2009).

Seven Books You Should Definitely Read in 2009 (Including Mine)

Your Identity, for the Internet from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: “Your website, in the very lucky event that an editor decides to look you up, should tell the editor more about who you are as a person– your other pursuits, anything that makes you particularly well suited to write for kids, your sense of humor, that sort of thing.”

Fifth Annual Novel Writing Retreat at Vermont College of Fine Arts will be March 27 to March 29, 2009. Featuring: author Kathi Appelt; author Elise Broach; and editor Cheryl Klein of Scholastic. Includes: lectures; organized workshops; writing exercises; one-on-one critiques with one of the guest authors; one-on-one critique with guest editor (extra fee); open mike; discussions; room and board. Cost: $450. Registration begins Dec. 1.

2008 Top 10 Books from Linda Joy Singleton. Peek: “I notice that my favorite books tend to be both midgrade and YA, mostly fantasy and mysteries.” Read a Cynsations interview with Linda Joy Singleton. See also 2008 in Review (Haiku) from Emily Reads.

Interview with Carrie Jones, author of Need (Bloomsbury, Dec. 2008) from Jeri Smith-Ready. Peek: “I think fear works both ways. You know how at slumber parties everyone would freak themselves out because they heard noises in the kitchen or outside? I was always the kid who grabbed a weapon, made the other kids form a line behind me and investigated.” Read a Cynsations interview with Carrie. Note: congratulations to Carrie on her new release!

Don Tate Stuff: a great store for images for digital scrapbooking from illustrator Don Tate. Read a Cynsations interview with Don.

Kids Books: The Best Gifts for Grown-Ups: recommendations from Emily at BookKids Recommends. See also Favorite New Books for December.

Looking for New Writers? Arizona Wants to Catch Your Eye from GalleyCat. Peek: “‘Look Book,’ an anthology of fiction, nonfiction and poetry from 26 writers who’d completed the two-year program. Epstein, who also orchestrated the book’s production, says she sent copies to more than 80 agents earlier this month, and some of the writers have already gotten their first contact.” Note: not an MFA in writing for young readers, but included as part of the “larger” discussion about graduate programs.

So How Do You Know When You Suck (Or Just Haven’t Made It) by Allison Winn Scotch from Ask Allison. Peek: “Obviously, writing is a subjective thing, and what is good to one person will certainly suck for another (just read any author’s reviews and you’ll see a wide range), but on the whole (and yes, there are exceptions, where universally, everyone says, how the hell did that get published), most published writers have a certain something that appeals.” Note: a candid, give-and-take (with no clear answers) on a question heard a lot from folks in their apprenticeships.

The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier (Knopf, 2008): a recommendation from Greg Leitich Smith. Peek: “In this elegant first novel, Neumeier presents an atmospheric world of intrigue and treachery.”

Austin illustrator Clint Young and author Deborah Noyes are now at JacketFlap. Peek at Clint’s bio: “Born 1971 in Dallas, Texas, but now call Austin Home. I spent several years in the San Francisco Bay area as a senior artist for LucasArts/Lucasfilm. Currently I have found a home as a concept artist for Bioware, Austin.” See also a Cynsations interview with Deborah.

Archived Video of the 2008 Charlotte Zolotow Lecture featuring Judy Blume is now available from CCBC. Read a Cynsations interview with Judy.

Eco-Reading: Selected Books for Children and Teens about Our Earth and the Environment compiled by Tessa Michaelson and Megan Schliesman from CCBC. Peek:”highlights books for children and teens that enhance appreciation for nature and the earth, increase understanding of environmental challenges, and inspire action for change.”

Five Questions for Kevin Henkes from Notes from the Horn Book. Peek: “My then-editor, Susan Hirschman, wisely said something like, ‘I don’t think this is good enough for you. Anyone would publish it and it would do very, very well. But in the long run, I don’t think you’d be happy.’ I keep those words as a guiding principle.”

More Personally

Exclusive Q & A with Author Cynthia Leitich Smith from Teen Book Blog: maintained by the Palatine Public Library District as an online extension of services to young adult patrons. Peek: “I popped corn for a movie theater back during the 1980s blockbusters. Lines would wrap around the theater. One night someone broke in with a gun and stole our copy of ‘Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom.’ That job was my inspiration for my short story, ‘Haunted Love’ in Immortal Love Stories with Bite, edited by P. C. Cast.”

I’m going to take a few days of hiatus and will be back Dec. 29! Happy Holidays! Here’s a little cheer from my wintery kitty. Meet Blizzard!


Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will be speaking on “First Drafts” at the February monthly meeting of the Writers’ League of Texas at 7:30 Feb. 19 at the League office in Austin (611 S. Congress Avenue).

Due to a technical difficulty, Cynthia’s discussion of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008), Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), and related forthcoming books on the teen grid of Teen Second at Second Life has been rescheduled for 3 p.m. Feb. 24. See more information.

Cynthia will be speaking on “Writing and Illustrating Native American Children’s Literature” (with S. D. Nelson) and “Monsters and Magic: Writing Gothic Fantasy Novels for Teenagers” on March 15 at the Tucson Festival of Books.

Cynthia will visit the YA book club at the Cedar Park (Texas) Public Library at 11 a.m. May 30.

10th Anniversary Feature: Lindsey Lane

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked some established authors–folks I’d featured early on–the following question:

Over the past decade, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing/artistic life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here’s the latest reply, this one from Lindsey Lane:

About publishing

Try very, very, very hard not to take the rejection personally. And keep putting yourself out there. Those darn publishers still don’t make house calls.

About the writing and artistic life

More and more, with the whole world is streamed into your office and on to your lap, writing can be a no-contact pajama sport so that you never have to go out of your house. Don’t let it happen.

Drag yourself into the shower, put on some clothes and go out. Hear other authors read. Go to the library or bookstore. Touch books. No, caress them. They get lonely.

Also, not everything is on the Web. You will learn a lot just by picking up a book. And not just the original material. Go to the library and read the secondary material about the genre you are working in. It sparks ideas. Those books like to be caressed too.

About my craft

I think the most important thing I’ve learned about my craft was something I read in a blog of Jane Yolen‘s several years ago. I can’t quote it exactly but she said something like, Each manuscript has its own voice, and the writer’s job is to find the voice in each work.

This was very liberating for me because I had always thought that a writer had one voice and you went around looking for it your entire life and then somehow, you were successful once you found it.

I know that sounds incredibly naive and stupid but well, these are the misconceptions we have as writers…

Anyway, since I read that bit of wisdom, I feel so much freer as a writer to explore each manuscript and ask myself, “what am I trying to say?”–“what are the characters trying to say?”, and let the voice of the piece come out naturally.

Read a Cynsations interview with Lindsey.

10th Anniversary Feature: Zu Vincent

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked some first-time authors the following question:

As a debut author, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here’s the latest reply, this one from author Zu Vincent:

A novel weaves its own brand of magic in connecting with readers. That’s what has hit home to me since The Lucky Place (Front Street, 2008) was launched.

I’ve published in other areas so I was totally surprised by this gift. Readers really do express a deeper appreciation when a writer produces a novel; at least they have to me.

I think this comes with the investment of time and emotion we put into books. I know I invest more heavily when reading a novel. It’s like taking a journey with a total stranger who, through harrowing circumstances, ends up being your close friend.

Now I’m on the other side of this process, and it’s amazing. Readers are expressing how they felt on their journey with my words. How gratifying is that?

When you’re writing a book the responsibility is to yourself. To open your soul and find whatever truth is there to tell. After it’s out in the world, you realize just how important that honesty is for readers. That’s when the consequences take hold. It’s not just about you now.

Readers will catch you out if you haven’t done your best. Not that you have to be the best in the world, just the best you can be. It makes the next book all the more exciting to write. And all the more challenging.

You have to take yourself seriously, but then again, you can’t take yourself too seriously, either.

10th Anniversary Feature: N. A. Nelson

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked some first-time authors the following question:

As a debut author, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here’s the latest reply, this one from author N. A. Nelson:

The most important lesson I learned about my craft came during my revision process. I didn’t know what type of a reviser I was—meaning “Did I need specific comments or general?”

My editor at the time said something to the affect of, “It’s always interesting working with a new author because you have to figure out how to get through to them in a way they can relate to and be motivated by.”

Through trial and error (and tears), I learned I’m a: Give me the specifics type of reviser; tell me what page (and sometimes even what paragraph) I need to add something to because “develop this character more” is not something (at that point anyway) I knew what to do with.

The most important lessons I learned about the writing life were that I needed to continue to have fun—to continue to play, to continue to allow myself to make mistakes.

Just because my first book got published didn’t mean I was supposed to know everything and get it right the first time. To expect that from myself was self-imposed torture. I had to realize that there is no magic formula to writing; there’s only what works for me on this book, on this day, at this time.

The most important lessons I learned about publishing was not to compare myself and my book to others. As hard as it is in this numbers driven world—I learned not to get caught up in: the blog hits, the website hits, the Amazon ranking, the Goodreads ranking, the Barnes & Noble ranking, the Worldcat numbers, aaaaaaaah!

It was an insane roller-coaster of “Yay, I’m third in Central/South America Books on Amazon,” to “Ugh, someone just gave me three out of five stars on Goodreads.”

Get involved, be involved, but don’t let the numbers define you. I’m doing the best I can to get Bringing the Boy Home (HarperCollins, 2008) out there and the rest of it is just stuff I need to let happen and not judge myself—poorly or glorily (no, that’s not a real word)—by.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win one of four ARCs of Dead Is a State of Mind by Marlene Perez (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Jan. 2009)(author interview). From the promotional copy:

Welcome to Nightshade, California—a small town full of secrets. It’s home to the psychic Giordano sisters, who have a way of getting mixed up in mysteries. During their investigations, they run across everything from pom-pom-shaking vampires to shape-shifting boyfriends to a clue-spewing jukebox. With their psychic powers and some sisterly support, they can crack any case!

There’s a gorgeous new guy at Nightshade High: Duke Sherrad, a fortune-teller claiming to have descended from Gypsies. Even though she’s psychic herself, Daisy is skeptical of Duke’s powers. But when a teacher who was the subject of one of his predictions ends up dead, she begins to wonder if Duke is the real deal after all. Maybe if Daisy can track down the teacher’s killer, she can find out the truth.

The only trouble is, all signs point to the murderer being of the furry persuasion. Is Daisy any match for a werewolf? Maybe she is . . . in more ways than she bargained for!

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST Dec. 31! OR, if you’re on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Dec. 31! But DON’T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I’ll contact you for it if you win. Please also type “Dead Is a State of Mind” in the subject line. Note: one copy will go to a teacher, librarian, or university professor of YA literature; two copies will go to any Cynsational readers, and two copies will go to members of Tantalize Fans Unite! at MySpace. Please indicate your entry status (if you qualify in more than one category, you get a separate entry for each).

In other news, the winner of Through the Wardrobe: Your Favorite Authors on C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia edited by Herbie Brennan (BenBella, 2008)(PDF excerpt) was Valerie in Indiana! Read an interview with Herbie.

More News

Santa is Nonfiction by Anna M. Lewis from INK: Interesting Non-Fiction for Kids.

See below for an archived online radio interview with P. J. Hoover on The Emerald Tablet (CBAY/Blooming Tree, 2008) from Book Bites for Kids. See also an interview with P. J. from The First Book.

Playing Against Hype: Buzz verses hype — Stephen King promotes Andre Dubus III’s The Garden of Last Days from EW.com. Peek: “Good buzz goes from mouth to ear to blog to text message and back to mouth and…well, you get it.” Source: April Henry.

To Cloth or Not to Cloth? (Or, The Age-Old Paperback Original Conundrum) from Editorial Ass. Note: great, illuminating post, though I wonder what differences there are in the youth lit market. I suspect our children’s-YA librarian buyers, for example, are much more fiction friendly than their adult-market counterparts.

A video review of The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (Holt, 2008) from Mrs. Magoo Reads.

Balancing, Juggling, Maintaining: on balancing a writing life and full-time job by Sara Ryan. Peek: “I am constantly aware that my friends who don’t have day jobs are publishing more frequently. I am constantly worried that I’m not fast enough, that people will forget me between books, that I’m not getting enough done. But. I try to remember: I care about both careers. My work as a librarian is rewarding, too. And publishing is not a race.” Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

Online Social Networking: Safety Tips for Parents from Austin Public Library. Peek: “Remind them not to post anything that could embarrass them later or expose them to danger. Although OSNs are public, teens sometimes think that adults can’t see what they post. Tell them that they shouldn’t post photos or info they wouldn’t want adults to see.”

Author defends book pulled from middle schools in Round Rock district: TTYL is cautionary tale for young people, she says by Bob Banta from The Austin American-Statesman. Read a Cynsations interview with Lauren Myracle on ttyl and ttfn.

Introducing…Vanessa Ziff! by Sarah Aronson at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “I went for the scary advisor (Um, we shan’t name names.) Not that I had a death wish (some might have thought otherwise.) It’s that somewhere inside, per usual, I needed the ‘Advanced Placement’ course, the one that would kick the living crap out of me and make me feel…humbled.” Note: part of a series celebrating pre-published writers.

Introducing Cindy Faughnan! by Sarah Aronson at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “Find a writing buddy or two or three to check in with. It helps keep you honest, and if you’re lucky the buddy can give you great feedback. Plus it gives you someone to talk to who understands what you’re going through or what it means to wait six months for a response or that you’re excited about a ‘nice’ rejection.” Note: the last of a series celebrating pre-published writers.

Check out the Adios to All the Drama by Diana Rodriguez Wallach (Kensington, 2008) Book Trailer. And hurry! Today you can enter to win an ARC of the book by leaving a comment (via blogger or Diana’s MySpace blog). Plus, you can enter the Adios to All the Drama Text Msg Contest for a chance to win a complete Mariana Box Set. Reminder: deadline for both is 5 p.m. EST today!

Attention: YA Horror, Paranormal (and Otherwise Creepy) Authors and Publishers: promote your books by sending giveaways to Phoenix Comicon. The event will be Jan. 25 to Jan. 27 at the Mesa Civic Center, with a preview night featuring Zombie Walk and Zombie Beauty Pageant on Jan. 24. Last year Phoenix Comicon boasted more than 5000 attendees, including many in the YA and middle readers demographic. Email sponsors@phoenixcomicon.com, and check out www.phoenixcomicon.com to find out more about the guest list, events, how to coordinate giveaways, and more.

Enter to win one of many super cute writer items (T-shirt, mug, button, etc.) from the Pickled Pixel Toe. Deadline: midnight tonight (Arizona time). See more information.

Author Michael Grant on Gone (HarperCollins, 2008).

Teen Writing Contest: Gotham Writers’ Workshop “has teamed with Sonya Sones and Simon & Schuster publishing for a truly original writing competition – The What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know Writing Contest.” Peek: “Sonya Sones will read the entries, and the author of her favorite entry will win a free six-week online writing class from Gotham Writers’ Workshop and Teen Ink! Sonya will even post the winning entry on her website! Ten runners-up will receive a year’s subscription to Teen Ink. The winner and the ten runners-up will also receive a personalized copy of What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know signed by the author.” See details and official rules.

On Voice by dawtheminstrel at Kidlit Central News. Peek: “Voice is a factor of point of view. It’s created by what the POV character notices, the words in which he or she conveys it, and how he or she reacts.” Note: “Kidlit Central News brings you the hottest children’s publishing news, reviews, entertainment and more—by and about those involved with children’s literature in and around the Central U.S. Featured states include: Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.”

Mandy Hubbard – YA Author: new official site. Mandy is the author of Prada & Prejudice (Razorbill, June 2009). Peek: “Mandy Hubbard grew up on a dairy farm outside Seattle, where she refused to wear high heels until homecoming—and hated them so much she didn’t wear another pair for five years. A cowgirl at heart, she enjoys riding horses and quads and singing horribly to the latest country tune. She’s currently living happily ever after with her husband (who, sadly, is not a Duke) and her daughter (who is most definitely a princess). Prada and Prejudice is her first novel.”

Author/Illustrator Promotion Tip: be sure to include your publisher’s name and book ISBNs on your websites!

From Publishers Lunch: “Jo Whittemore‘s Ink Slingers, a peek at the behind-the-scenes world of the eighth-grade newspaper, to Alyson Heller at Aladdin, for publication in Summer 2010, by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.” Congratulations, Jo, Alyson, and Jennifer! Wonderful news! Read a Cynsations interviews with Jo and Jennifer.

Change Has Come, a picture book by Kadir Nelson: an interview with the illustrator by Don Tate from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “It was created very spontaneously with black and white sketches and drawings that celebrate our great American achievement. It is punctuated with quotes from Obama’s speeches from the last four years.” See more of Don’s thoughts on the interview.

“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas Aboard the ‘Black Sark'” a celebration of A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas by Phil Yates from Mark G. Mitchell at How to Be a Children’s Book Illustrator. Peek: “His artwork was modern, moody, had an edgy quality to it that was appealing. Similar to Lane Smith, I think. Lots of clutter, but I mean that in a postive way. Detail upon detail. He could also handle crowds of pirates in one picture, which, when you look at the illustrations, you can see this was necessary.” Read Cynsations interviews with Phil and Mark.

Fran Cannon Slayton: official site of the debut author of When the Whistle Blows (Philomel, June 2009). Peek: “Fran became a stay-at-home mom (‘the best job ever’), author, and part-time singer/trumpet player in a rock and roll cover band.”

Fade by Lisa McMann (Simon & Schuster, Feb. 2009) ARC Giveaway sponsored by Elizabeth Scott. See details. Deadline: today!

Process and Product – 3 by Liz Garton Scanlon at Liz In Ink. Peek: “Honestly, if my process grew stagnant I would never sell a thing and, plus, I’d pull all my hair out. Which would hurt, since it’s already so curly and tangly anyway.” Read a Cynsations interview with Liz.

Official Rules for the Touch Series Book Launch Contest from Laurie Faria Stolarz. Peek: “In celebration of the release of Deadly Little Secret (Hyperion, Dec. 23, 2008), I’m launching a very exciting contest.” Note: “The winner of the contest will have a minor character in Deadly Little Lies, the second book in the Touch series, named after him or her.” Runner-up prizes are also awesome. Deadline: March 1, 2009. See details.

HarperStudio and Borders: No Returns from Nathan Bransford’s Blog. Peek: “HarperStudio and Borders have reached an agreement on a framework for ending returns. In exchange for a discount ranging from 58-63%, Borders will buy HarperStudio books on a nonreturnable basis.”

Check out the December Carnival of Children’s Literature at Jen Robinson’s Book Page.

Far From You Release Celebration and Contest from Lisa Schroeder. Peek: “Copy and paste this entire blog entry into your blog between now and Dec. 21, then come back to Lisa’s blog at either LiveJournal or Myspace and leave a comment with the link to your blog and you will get two enteries to win a number of prizes.” See details. Learn more about Lisa’s upcoming novel, Far From You (Simon Pulse, Dec. 2008). Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Chris Barton: official author website (peek below). Chris is the debut author of The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, illustrated by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge, July 2009). You can also find him online at Bartography.

Fear and Publishing by Carrie Jones from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “We want to make the best books we possibly can make. What’s happening in the publishing world shouldn’t change that.” Note: bonus points for “Buffy” and “Scooby” references. Read a Cynsations interview with Carrie.

Picture Books for Navidad by René Colato Laínez from La Bloga. See also Interview with Author-Illustrator Xavier Garza by René Colato Laínez from La Bloga. Peek: “I didn’t even know that Santa Claus had a Mexican cousin till the day when I was with my father at the grocery store in my hometown of Rio Grande City.”

Greg Leitich Smith at GregLS Blog recommends: (1) Antsy Does Time by Neal Shusterman (Dutton 2008). Peek: “an utterly engaging narrator (and narrative voice)” (2) The Unnameables by Ellen Booraem (Harcourt 2008). Peek: “a fascinating, well-drawn world with a compelling and likeable protagonist and intriguing conflicts.” (3) The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman (Greenwillow, 2008). Peek: “imaginative and fun, the puzzles and stunts creative and thought-provoking.” (4) Gone by Michael Grant (HarperTeen 2008). Peek: “Part ‘Heroes,’ part Lord of the Flies” (5) Squashed by Joan Bauer (Putnam 2001). Peek: “a funny, heartwarming story about family, love, friendship, finding out who you are, and giant vegetables.”

readertotz: “a unique board book blog that aims to raise awareness of the infant-toddler book as a significant format of children’s literature” from authors Joan Holub and Lorie Ann Grover. Note: “will feature weekly blog posts that highlight the best contributions in the infant-toddler book arena and recommend monthly community service projects appropriate for families with young children to enjoy. Also included each month: an age-appropriate play list and a recommended book for the older sibling.”

The Bright and Inviting Website of L.K. Madigan: official site of the author of Flash Burnout (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009). Peek: “My road to publication has been filled with potholes and bumps, steep uphill trudges and deep downhill slides, laughter, tears, and always, the sound of friends and family cheering me on. I feel very lucky.”

Marlane Kennedy: new official site from the author of Me and the Pumpkin Queen (2007) and the forthcoming Dogs Days of Charlotte Hayes (2009), both from HarperCollins. Peek: “As a teenager I was a good student (well, in English, at least, math was another story). I played the clarinet in marching band and was a cheerleader—though not a typical one. I was shy and kind of quiet.” Aspiring writers should take her notes on writing to heart. Site design by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys.

Contest: Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott from Reviewer X. Deadline: Dec. 21. Celebrate Girl Week! Peek: “Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism.”

More Personally

An Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith
by Robyn at Once Upon a Romance. Peek: “I was a switchboard operator for a bank, a cashier at a gas station, a marketing intern for Hallmark Cards, a summer clerk for a 10th Circuit appellate judge, a summer clerk for a legal aid office in Hawaii, a reporting intern for the Dallas Morning News, and a tutor in English composition for college freshmen from migrant farm families.” See also last month’s interview with Dotti Enderle.

Recommended Native Literature for Youth Reading Circles from American Experience: “We Shall Remain” (April 2009) on PBS. Note: I’m honored that two of my books–Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) and Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying Hwa-Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000)–appear on this list of recommended reads. Source: American Indians in Children’s Literature. Reminder: Rain Is Not My Indian Name is now available for unabridged audio download from Listening Library.

A Great Time to Support Local Authors by Emily at BookKids Recommends. Peek: “Austin is rife with local authors! Buying local is a great way to put money back into your community, and it works with literature, too! Below are some of my very favorite local author titles for holiday gift-giving. (Psssst – most of these are available in signed editions!)” See also: More Local Authors: Picture Books: also from Emily. Peek: “From sleep-walking penguins to pirate Santas, Austin’s authors cover it all.” Emily says of Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006): “Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith are a force to be reckoned with, especially when it comes to believing in Santa.” And she says of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008): “…a great book for Austinite teens and lovers of dark fantasy.” Shop BookPeople!

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: thoughts from Professor Nana AKA Dr. Teri Lesesne. Peek: “Smith weaves lore from Draculian legend and story along with some other familiar cultural and literary references. Astute readers will delight in finding references to James Howe‘s Bunnicula [1979] and others ranging from Johnny Cash to Joss Whedon and C. S. Lewis…” Note: I am absurdly pleased that Teri appreciated my lit-and-pop-culture geekdom.

Thanks to Bob at Doogle Books for linking to my site!

Thanks to Kimberly Pauley for giving Cynsations an I Heart Your Blog Award! Peek: “I learn something every time I visit her blog.” I’ve won this award before, so I’ll just refer back to my previously highlighted list. Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

Reminder: Submitting a children’s/YA book to Cynsations? Please don’t write a “pitch” letter (per the instructions on my site) as I can’t respond individually to thousands of these a year. Instead, see the submissions guidelines to decide whether your book is a fit. Good luck!

Even More Personally

I’m giving books for the holidays! They include How Not To Be Popular by Jennifer Ziegler (Delacorte, 2008), The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine by April Lurie (Delacorte, 2008), Backwater by Joan Bauer (Putnam, 1999), and Bubba and Beau Go Night-Night by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Arthur Howard (Harcourt, 2003). In addition to BookPeople, I’m also shopping at The Literacy Site!

I’m also happy to report that Greg cut my hair, so I no longer look like a dark-haired yeti! And I have reclaimed my very cute brown knit hat, which reads “Life is Good,” from Threadgill’s South!

Hooray for the film adaptation of The Tale of Despereaux! Learn about author Kate DiCamillo.


Take a Chance on Art: purchase one or more $5 raffle tickets to enter to win illustrator Don Tate‘s painting “Duke Ellington,” and support the Texas Library Association Disaster Relief Fund. Note: it’s especially important this year in light of devastation caused by Hurricane Ike. To learn more, read interviews with TLA librarian Jeanette Larson and illustrator Don Tate.

Fifth Annual Novel Writing Retreat at Vermont College of Fine Arts will be March 27 to March 29, 2009. Featuring: author Kathi Appelt; author Elise Broach; and editor Cheryl Klein of Scholastic. Includes: lectures; organized workshops; writing exercises; one-on-one critiques with one of the guest authors; one-on-one critique with guest editor (extra fee); open mike; discussions; room and board. Cost: $450. Registration begins Dec. 1. For more information, contact Sarah Aronson.

Novel Secrets: A Novel Retreat in 3 Acts: “Have you always wanted to write a young adult or middle grade novel for children, but have not carved out the time to get it done? Do you have a draft of a novel written, but are looking for ideas and strategies to revise and strengthen it? Would you like the chance to meet with an editor or an agent to pitch your novel and gain critical feedback about this novel in particular and the fiction market, in general? All of this is possible if you attend…” Features authors Elaine Marie Alphin, Darcy Pattison, editor Jill Santopolo, and agent Stephen Barbara. See more information.

Author Interview: Anita Silvey on I’ll Pass for Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War

Anita Silvey on Anita Silvey: “In a unique career, Anita Silvey has spent half of her time as a reviewer and editor of The Horn Book Magazine and half of her time in publishing (publisher of children’s books at Houghton Mifflin). Currently, she is teaching and writing full time.”

Could you briefly update us on your back-list titles, highlighting as you see fit?

Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators (Houghton, 2002); 100 Best Books for Children (Houghton 2004); 500 Great Books for Teens (Houghton 2006).

Congratulations on the release of I’ll Pass for Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War (Clarion, 2008)! Could you tell us about the book?

In this photo-essay for fourth through six grades, I explore the stories of the thousand women soldiers who fought on both sides in the Civil War. Disguising themselves as men, they became active participants of all the Civil War battles.

The book tells how they pulled off their disguises and what life was like for them during the Civil War and afterward.

What was your initial inspiration for exploring the topic?

I’m an arm-chair Civil War buff and picked up De Anne Blayton’s and Lauren M. Cook’s They Fought Like Demons (Louisiana State University Press, 2002), the most thorough academic study of women soldiers in the Civil War.

It occurred to me that if I could find a story line, this would make ideal material for young readers.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

Ah, a long time line. I’m a pokey puppy when it comes to writing, usually only 200-300 good words a day.

It was six years from the time I first talked to my editor Dinah Stevenson to publication of the book. We went through at least four major revisions. I had to get permission for 65 photographs and drawings that I wanted to use. Fortunately, one of my strengths is persistence.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

We know so little about each of these women, individually. So I needed to find a way to tell about their experience, using snippets from each of their lives.

Research was wonderful, but with any project of this duration there are always the dark moments. Three and a half years into the book I was just about to write Dinah and tell her I would send back the advance. And then, it occurred to me how I needed to organize each chapter.

Three weeks later I sent her the draft that she accepted.

As Avi once said about writing, you keep working and working, and it isn’t right. And then when it is, they take it away from you!

What was your greatest research coup?

I wanted to write about what these woman soldiers actually saw in battle.

After I had done enough research, I traveled to Antietam area for a week and traced where all of them had stood and fought during the battle.

Some of their personal comments stood in contrast to official records, but eventually I pulled everything together and all the pieces fit. I felt like Superwoman!

Nothing beats research, one of the great reasons to write nonfiction.

What advice do you have for writers with an interest in children’s nonfiction?

Make sure you choose a topic that can hold your attention from two-to-five years.

In my experience, all nonfiction books tend to take a half year to three years longer than I think they will.

What else do you do in the world of children’s literature?

I teach courses in Book Publishing at Simmons College, Author Studies at St. Michael’s College during the summer, and lecture throughout the country.

How has teaching informed your own writing?

All of my writing, to some degree, is based on teaching – conveying information about a subject. As I do in the classroom, I work for clear organization and direction. I also try to “light fires” in the minds of my students and readers.

So far, as an reader, what are your favorite children’s-YA books of 2008?

I love Kathi Appelt‘s The Underneath (Atheneum, 2008)(author interview), Laura Vaccaro Seeger‘s One Boy (Roaring Brook, 2008), M.T. Anderson‘s The Astonishing Life Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation Volume II: The Kingdom of the Waves (Candlewick, 2008), Lane Smith‘s Madam President (Hyperion, 2008), Kadir Nelson‘s We Are the Ship, Marion Bataille’s ABC3D, Tanya Lee Stone‘s Sandy’s Circus (Viking, 2008). The list goes on and on.

What, if anything, do you wish you could change about publishing (as a business) and why?

I think children’s book publishing works best when you have a lot of mid- or small-sized houses, thereby giving writers a choice of houses who hold different visions of children’s books.

The fact that 85% of the titles now come from the big five houses (Harper, Scholastic, Random, Putnam, and Simon) means fewer possibilities for really talented people.

England, by the way, went through a similar phase about fifteen years ago, and then as the large houses failed, dozens of small ones mushroomed up.

We have been going through some of this change here; but we simply need more options, in terms of publishers.

You’ve had such a distinguished career in youth literature! Could you share with us a favorite memory?

I have a lifetime of memories, all of them precious. Certainly many of the favorites come with time shared with some of the great authors and illustrators no longer with us–Robert McCloskey, P. L. Travers, H. A. and Margret Rey, Rumer Godden, Ezra Jack Keats, Elizabeth George Speare, Scott O’Dell, and James Marshall. Again, the list could go on and on.

I love the people who write and illustrate children’s books; they do the most incredible thing in the world as they try to craft something that matters for children.

What do you do outside the world of reading, writing, and publishing?

I have two large Bernese Mountain Dogs, and we take long walks every day. As I age, I find the simple pleasures of life — lunch or coffee with a friend, playing with my great niece, walking my dogs – provide me with the greatest joys.

Wow, you’re busy! How do you balance it all?

I tend to have periods of great productivity, followed by times of sloth. In the latter, I remind myself that creativity happens in the empty place.

What can your readers look forward to next?

An amazing book called Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, coming out from Roaring Brook in the fall of 2009. For it, I have interviewed leaders in a variety of professions – Andrew Wyeth, Pete Seeger, Kirk Douglas, Steve Forbes, Donna E. Shalala – about a children’s book that had a profound impact on them. It has been incredible pulling these testimonies together.

10th Anniversary Feature: Monica Roe

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked some first-time authors the following question:

As a debut author, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here’s the latest reply, this one from author Monica Roe:

As I continue to grow as a writer, I have found it has become both the most rewarding–and also the most challenging and intimidating–area of my life.

This realization has been something of a surprise to me, as there are other aspects of what I do that I would have expected to hold that distinction.

Besides being a newly published author, I am a physical therapist by profession. I work primarily out of Nome, Alaska, but my responsibilities also include providing services to fifteen Native bush villages across the Seward Peninsula (as well as two islands off the eastern coast of Russia).

My job takes me on weekly flights in tiny bush planes through all types of arctic Alaskan weather. I sleep in village clinics that sometimes have no running water, clamor through snowdrifts in sub-zero temperatures to treat patients in their homes, and occasionally encounter foods ranging from raw whale blubber to dried seal meat.

In comparing the two sides of my professional life, however, I can honestly say that I find writing to be the more challenging endeavor. Perhaps it’s the unique mix of complete freedom coupled with absolute accountability. Nobody can force me to sit down and write—it’s a conscious choice that I have to make every single time I want it to happen.

Whenever I sit down in front of a blank computer screen, I feel that same strange mix of excitement and fear. Will today be the day I write something I’m truly proud of? Do I have anything worthwhile to say? Will I ever write another book worth publishing?

Unlike a structured job with specific daily expectations, writing can be far too easy to put off, especially on the days when the words and ideas just aren’t flowing the way you’d like them to. Okay, you think, maybe I’ll just wait a few days for inspiration to strike. Maybe tomorrow will be a better day to try again.

I’ve fallen into that trap before, and suddenly three months have gone by and I’ve effectively scared myself out of writing anything at all.

For me, it takes a huge amount of discipline coupled with a fair amount of courage to actually sit down and face that blank screen on a regular basis—more than it takes for me to get on a bush plane or swallow a piece of whale blubber.

I struggled with that before I was ever published, and I haven’t found it any easier now that I have been.

That said, however, writing is still the most rewarding job in the world. You are accountable for everything you do or don’t put into it, but the possibilities are truly endless.

You have the potential to say something to a significant number of people and you can effectively shape and create your own world, your own reality.

Whether or not it includes whale blubber is up to you.

Read a Cynsations interview with Monica.