Cynsational News & Giveaways

For those holiday vacationers who may have missed it, last week I posted my Cynsational Books of 2009. I’d like to highlight just a couple more: The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King (Flux, 2009) as well as The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series by Heather Brewer (Dutton, ongoing). Read a Cynsations interview with A.S.

Here’s the book trailer for The Dust of 100 Dogs:

Here’s the book trailer for Tenth Grade Bleeds (Dutton, 2009). Note: Heather is also highly recommended as a speaker. I had the pleasure of being on a panel with her in Westlake, Texas, last fall and was absolutely wowed by her savvy, smarts, and ability to connect with tweens.

This just in! Here’s the new book trailer for Eleventh Grade Burns (Dutton, Feb. 2010).

Likewise, here’s a quick recap of the interviews posted from Dec. 21 through the end of the month. Texas debut author Jill S. Alexander discussed story in country music; Jessica Blank wrote a guest post on adapting a novel into a screenplay; David L. Harrison talked about professional and artistic success, Michelle Markel shared her insights on taking writing risks, and debut author Penny Blubaugh reflected on early reading influences and her MFA.

New Releases

This Week’s New Releases from Blog. Highlights include books by Gordan Korman, Susanne Dunlap, Jordan Sonnenblick, Julie Ann Peters, Delia Ephron, Courtney Summers, Angela Johnson, Dia Reeves, Mari Mancusi, Jennifer R. Hubbard, Tim Bowlar, Lisa McMann, and Jacqueline Woodson.

Eighteen-year-old author Noni Carter talks about her novel, Good Fortune (Simon & Schuster, 2010). Note: Noni is a student at Harvard University.

Here’s a book trailer for Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder (Simon Pulse, 2010). Read a new interview with Lisa by Tabitha Olsen from Writer Musings. Peek: “Because I started with picture books, where you need to be succinct as possible, I do think it helped me with the verse. I seem to do well in getting to the heart of a scene and figuring out how to get the emotional truth with just the right choice of words.”

Here’s a book trailer for Captivate by Carrie Jones (Bloomsbury, 2010). Read a new interview with Carrie from Fantastic Book Review. Enter to win a copy of Captivate.

Welcome YA Rebels

Vloggers YA Rebels describe themselves as “seven young adult authors giving you the behind the scenes drama!” Notes: now posting regularly; video includes cameo by John Green.

More News & Giveaways

Cover Stories: Prada & Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard from Melissa Walker at readergirlz. Peek: “A few weeks later, they had a photo shoot, and they sent me the three best options–and they let me pick (my choice at left)! There were two styles of jeans and two types of red high heels. It was super exciting to be able to have some input at that point, and I’m grateful that the folks at Razorbill shared it with me.” See also Cover Stories: Far From You by Lisa Schroeder and Cover Stories: Shrinking Violet by Danielle Joseph.

Manuscript Blindness by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: “You have to look at the worth of your scenes in terms of the whole. Do they all belong? If they do belong, have you devoted the right amount of emphasis to each?” Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Top Ten Questions Dutton Editors Ask Themselves When Looking At A Manuscript from Kathy Temean at Writing and Illustrating: Sharing Information About Writing and Illustrating for Children. Peek: “Does the action of the story move at a good pace and hold our interest? Does tension build as the story moves forward?” Source: Janet Reid, Literary Agent.

10 Things I’ve Learned about the Writing Biz
by Charlene Teglia from Genreality. Peek: “Don’t discount your business abilities and leave that up to other people because you’re ‘just a writer’. You’re also an independent business person and uniquely gifted with the ability to come up with solid ideas.” Source: Elizabeth Scott.

Win an ARC of Everlasting by Angie Frazier (Scholastic, 2010) from Angie Frazier: Adventures of a YA Novelist. Deadline: midnight EST Jan. 8. Learn more about Everlasting.

A Diamond in the Slush: What Picture Book Editors Are Really Looking For by Melanie Hope Greenberg from SCBWI Metro NY News. Peek: “In developing a project, however, they [Alexandra Penfold of Simon & Schuster and Alisha Niehaus of Dial] recommend that authors keep looking for ways to broaden its appeal.” Source: Tammi Sauer.

Interview: Melissa de la Cruz by Little Willow at Bildungsroman. Peek: “The supernatural stories are easier. For The Ashleys and The Au Pairs, it was fun but I found it exhausting after awhile to keep up with all the trends and incorporate them in the book in a new way.” Read a Cynsations interview with Melissa.

Six Word Resolutions & Goals! A Book Giveaway! And a New Year’s Poem For You! by April Halprin Wayland from Teaching Author’s: Six Children’s Authors Who Also Teach Writing. Note: “April posted a follow-up to the contest we held last fall asking readers to post their goals for the new school year. Now it’s time for readers to report on how they did. Those who didn’t make their goals are invited to post a revised goal. And anyone who missed the original post is welcome to share a new writing resolution for 2010. One lucky participant will receive an autographed copy of April’s award-winning picture book, New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story, illustrated by Stephané Jorisch (Dial, 2009).”

How I Got My Agent by Anna Staniszewski. Peek: “Sometimes you have to be willing to put one project aside, as I did, and realize that it might not be the one that’s going to get you an agent/get you published/etc. That’s why you should never stop writing, because you never know which manuscript will grab someone’s attention.”

Congratulations to David Lubar on the release of Dead Guy Spy (Starscape, 2010), the second book in his Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series! Peek: “Nathan Abercrombie is getting used to his rotten life as a half-dead zombie. The good thing is he doesn’t feel any pain. The bad thing is his body can’t heal, so he has to be really careful not to break anything. But that’s hard to do when his wrestling-obsessed gym teacher, Mr. Lomux, matches him up with Rodney the bully, who’s looking for any excuse to break his bones. Then one day, Nathan is approached by the secret organization B.U.M.—aka the Bureau of Useful Misadventures—which offers him a cure in exchange for his help. Nathan jumps at the chance to become the world’s first zombie spy, but soon discovers that B.U.M. isn’t quite what it seems. Can Nathan trust them?” Read a Cynsations interview with David.

Melanie Kroupa to Join Marshall Cavendish by Lynn Andriani from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Kroupa will be joining Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books as an editor-at-large on Jan. 1, reporting to publisher Margery Cuyler. Kroupa will work for the publisher, which is located in Tarrytown, N.Y., from her office in Dedham, Mass.”

Mary Cole of Andrea Brown Literary Agency on Urban Fantasy by Parker Peevyhouse from The Spectacle. Peek: “Believe it or not, some of the most successful urban fantasy stories are also some of the funniest, and that has everything to do with voice. Without humor, personality and wit, ‘dark’ and ‘gritty’ will soon become ‘bleak’ and ‘grating.'”

Marvelous Marketer: Nathan Bransford (Literary Agent) by Shelli at Market My Words. Peek: “Traditionally it wasn’t really the agent’s job to promote books, but I think that may be changing somewhat with the times.”

Katherine Paterson Named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature from School Library Journal. Peek: “Katherine Paterson, a two-time Newbery medalist and two-time National Book Award-winner, replaces Jon Scieszka as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a two-year position created to raise national awareness of the importance of lifelong literacy and education.” Note: Yesterday, Candlewick Press announced the upcoming publication of an illustrated middle-grade novel from Katherine. The Flint Heart is a retelling of the story by the late British fantasy novelist Eden Phillpots, written by Katherine and her husband, John Paterson. It will be illustrated by John Rocco and is slated for publication in March 2012.

Channeling My Inner Boy by Mary Atkinson from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “I’d write scenes like these and wonder, where did that come from? Do those boys really live inside me? Who are they? What do these scenes say about me? Am I crude, nasty, and violent?”

The First Sentence or Three by Rosalyn Schanzer from INK: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: “In honor of finding some firsts in nonfiction, I thought I’d try to dig up a few books with great first sentences or first paragraphs; the kind that surprise you at first glance and pull you into a first-rate story right away.”

The Longstockings: a new site from Coe Booth, Daphne Grab, Lisa Greenwald, Jenny Han, Caroline Hickey, and Siobhan Vivian. Don’t miss 12 Months of Workshop: an opportunity to submit 25 pages of your work in progress to be workshopped by the Longstockings. Peek: “that writer will receive a document compiling the helpful notes, suggestions and (surely) lots of praise from The Longstockings!” Note: this contest will be held every month of this year.

Successful Queries: Agent Ted Malawer and ‘My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters’ from Chuck Sambuchino at Guide to Literary Agent’s Editor’s Blog. Peek: “Sydney’s largest paragraph sets up the plot, the conflict, and introduces some exciting potential love interests and misadventures that I was excited to read about.”

MG/YA SFF Virtual Conference by Tiffany Trent from Eudaimonium: Finding the Gold. Peek: “So, I want to try an experiment. I’m planning on holding a one-day virtual conference sometime in late March or April. I want this to be a truly useful conference to writers and aficionados of MG/YA SFF. Many of us see the same panels over and over again at conferences, making us feel like we’ve wasted time and money. How might we do it differently? What panels would you like to see that you haven’t seen?”

Featured Sweetheart: Cailin O’Connor by P.J. Hoover from The Texas Sweethearts. Peek: “You may recognize Cailin as the genius behind the Bridget Zinn auctions in the past year.”

Revision by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: “…there’s a time during revision where you have to be more analytical. The story is in place and the characters are real, and your manuscript feels like all the elements are fitting together. To get to this evolutionary moment in the manuscript, you had to depend on your creative side: instinct and imagination and inspiration. But now you need the analytical side that evaluates.” Note: Brian shares a scene-by-scene list of questions to consider for revision. Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Comment Challenge 2010 from MotherReader. Peek: “Since it is said that it takes twenty-one days to form a new habit, we’re going to run the Comment Challenge for the next three weeks — starting Friday, Jan. 8, and running through Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010. The goal is to comment on at least five kidlitosphere blogs a day.”

Author Interview: Natalie Standiford on How To Say Goodbye in Robot (Scholastic, 2009) from Peek: “Once a real story starts to gel, I write a loose plot outline. Some books have complicated plots and require a more detailed outline. I always end up changing things as I write anyway. But I like to know what’s going to happen so I can keep the story focused and sharpen every detail into an arrow that points toward the end.”

Congratulations to fellow Austinites Lila and Rick Guzman on the release of Lorenzo and the Pirate (Blooming Tree, 2010)! Peek: “The fourth book in the Lorenzo series, it is set on the high seas in 1779 and tells the story of Spanish participation in the American Revolution.” Source: Writers’ League of Texas. Read a Cynsations interview with Lila.

Is Your ‘But’ Too Big? by John Gibbs from An Englishman in New Jersey. Peek: “Be wary of such people. Many of them carry a virus, Excusitis, a mental affliction which can kill writing dreams by causing the person suffering from it to doubt themselves and their ability. Symptoms include excessive use of the phrases like ‘I wanted to be a writer, but…’, ‘I’ve always thought I had a book in me, but…’, ‘I love writing, but…'”

Matt Phelan is the winner of the 2010 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction for The Storm in the Barn (Candlewick, 2009). Source: Read Roger.

Congratulations to Sharon Draper, E.B. Lewis, Tanita S. Davis, Kekla Magoon, and the other nominees for the 41rst NAACP Image Awards in “Outstanding Literary Work – Children” and “Outstanding Literary Work – Youth/Teens!”

Writing Links from Cynthia Leitich Smith Children’s-YA Literature Resources features lots to know about agents, book design & art direction, editors & publishers, education, illustration, promotion, publishing, and writing. See also Inspiration in Writing Children’s & YA Books and Perspiration: Self Study.

R.J. Anderson talks about Rebel, the sequel to Knife (Orchard UK)(titled Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter in the U.S. from HarperCollins). Source: The Enchanted Inkpot. Read a Cynsations interview with R.J.

Kidlitosphere Diversity Discussion

PaperTigers Reading the World Challenge 2010. Peek: “Choose one book from/about/by or illustrated by someone from each of the seven continents – that’s: Africa; Antarctica; Asia; Australasia; Europe; North America; South America. Have the books read aloud to you or read them yourself; share them as part of a book-group or in class. Combine your choices with other reading challenges. The books can be picture-books, poetry, fiction, non-fiction…the choice is yours.”

Reflecting on the Great Mosaic of Humankind by Jane Kurtz at The Power of One Writer. Peek: “I tend to be disappointed with consumers more than editors because I’ve seen what it’s like to have authors, editors, illustrators, art designers, sales reps, and others on the publishing team pour their hearts into a book that only sits in a warehouse because people–by and large–weren’t adventuresome enough (or openhearted enough) in their reading tastes.”

Demand Diversity in Publishing by Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray. Peek: “Think about balance in your reviewing–think about books for kids with black skin or brown, kids who attend a Mosque or Synagogue, kids who go to school on a reservation or Native village in Alaska or that had grandparents from Asia or the Middle East or India or Kenya or Haiti or Cuba. Think about everyone else as much as you think about yourself.”

Kids of Color in Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy–a look back at the 98 books nominated for the Cybils from Charlotte’s Library: Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Children and Teenagers. Peek: “Here are the kids of color I found, the ones who got enough page-time to be memorable.”

More Personally

My holiday highlights included reading Nightshade by debut author Andrea Cremer (Philomel, Oct. 2010). It was my great pleasure to send in a blurb for the novel, which you can read here.

Look for a screen shot and recommendation of my picture books bibliography from Cynthia Leitich Smith Children’s & Young Adult Literature Resources in “Web Monthly: Picture This–Websites About Picture Books” by Greg Byerly on pg. 35 of the January 2010 issue of School Library Monthly (formerly School Library Media Activities Monthly.

Craft, Career & Cheer: Melissa Walker

Learn about Melissa Walker.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I write in the bay window of my garden-floor brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. We don’t get much light on at this low level, but what light does come in dapples my overstuffed pink flowered chair each morning through early afternoon. I sit right in the middle of it so I can create.

My schedule is steady when I’m on a book deadline (like I am now!). I usually start the day with yoga or a gym class or a walk outside to get iced coffee (cream and sugar, please). After I’ve had a little interaction with the world, I sit down in my chair and begin.

In this sunlit seat, with stillness all around me, I can lose myself in a character’s thoughts. There’s some noise from the street—people walking to the nearby park, children’s laughter, an overheard snippet of cell phone conversation, the rattle of glass as someone comes to collect the cans from my recycling bin—but mostly I’m alone with my fiction. The ambient noise may even help things, and it has entered my writing on more than one occasion.

For example, there was a day when a package arrived at my door. I had to stop writing to sign for it. I had been in the middle of writing a long phone dialogue scene, and I couldn’t figure out how the character would get off the phone when the emotional pitch of the conversation was so high. Then the doorbell flusters her in the middle of it all. A perfect exit strategy.

I don’t let my butt leave the chair until I have 1000 words written. They don’t have to be good words, but they have to exist on the page. Sometimes I get hungry, but that just spurs me on. I try to be done by 2 p.m., and usually that works just fine.

Then I have a lunch break, often set to “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and move into magazine writing or work for (a daily newsletter for teenagers which I run with co-founder Anne Ichikawa). Those are the other hats I wear in this creative life.

The timing works for me because once I have my fiction work done, the rest feels like cake. In my non-fiction writing, I don’t have to call on so much of myself, I don’t have to plunge into emotions or imagine reactions of characters whose motivations are different from my own.

So the hard work is done each day by early afternoon (ideally), and then I sit down in the chair again, this time with the phone at my side in case I have to conduct interviews or talk to my editor. My very posture is different when I work on magazine writing—I sit more upright, ready for action and very much in the present, not as sunken into another world.

I’ve gotten so attached to my chair that even though we plan to get a new couch soon that absolutely will not go with this upholstery, I can’t get rid of it. One day I may move into a bigger apartment and hide it in a guest room, but this seat will always be part of my writing.

Why is your agent the right agent for you?

When I got an offer on my first idea for a novel, Violet on the Runway (Berkley Trade, 2007), I was without an agent. I had contacted an editor directly, told her about my idea, submitted two sample chapters along with many published magazine clips, and been offered a deal.

It was a whirlwind fairy tale, but I knew that before signing, I wanted to find an agent—someone to guide me through this new part of publishing.

I talked to friends, who recommended people they’d worked with and liked, and I ended up whittling my choices down to three. There was one newcomer who was very Hungry, one Power Player who talked like Ari Gold from “Entourage,” and one Doug Stewart of Sterling Lord Literistic.

Doug met me for a drink at a local bar (we live in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn) and brought me two young adult novels he’d represented. He told me in very thoughtful terms what he liked about my submission and why he thought we’d work well together. It was all very calm (unlike my interactions with the Power Player and the Hungry one).

The books he gave me were both wonderful—really well written. That made me feel like Doug knew quality material and represented the best authors he could find. It also made me feel flattered that he thought my writing was in the league of these other authors he represented.

After I signed with Doug, the Violet deal turned into three books, and the money went up significantly (it had started very low). I was instantly happy I’d decided to get an agent. Phew!

He also knew how to hold onto foreign rights, which earned me more than my advance in the case of Violet (it has sold in France and Russia), and also dramatic rights (it has been optioned for television). In the initial contract I was offered, none of those rights remained with me. It takes a good agent to negotiate those parts!

All through my book-publishing life, which spans three years now, Doug has been there to hold my hand and be the bad guy if I need him to (with late checks or publicity snafus or other incidents that fall into the category of “things I want to fix but don’t want to handle!”).

He’s also been the good guy. He’s been there to advise me on new book ideas, how to build myself as an author who’s here to stick around for more than her first book, how to figure out when less is really more with an editor or contract. Doug is responsive to my every question, and though I try not to bug him with things, I have a feeling he’d be infinitely bug-able just because he’s so accessible and open to my queries and musings about the publishing world.

Not to get all self-help-y, but in the end, Doug Stewart is the right agent for me because he believes I have talent and he believes I’m a valuable part of the YA book scene. And when he believes it, publishers believe it, too. And maybe, just maybe, I can believe it.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next book will be out in early 2011! It’s called Small Town Sinners (Bloomsbury), and it’s the story of Lacey, 16, who’s grown up in a Christian community and always wanted to star in her church’s Hell House, a haunted house of sin. But when a childhood friend reappears, she begins to question her faith and all she’s been taught.

Cynsational Notes

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children’s-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.

New Voice: Beth Ann Bauman on Rosie and Skate

Beth Ann Bauman is the author of the short story collection Beautiful Girls (MacAdam/Cage, 2003) and a young-adult novel Rosie and Skate (Wendy Lamb/Random House, 2009), which Booklist named a 2009 Top 10 First Novel for Youth. From the promotional copy:

It’s off-season at the Jersey shore, when the boardwalk belongs to the locals. Rosie is 15, and her sister Skate is 16. Their dad, an amiable drunk, is spending a few weeks in jail while their cousin Angie looks after them in their falling-down Victorian on the beach.

Skate and her boyfriend Perry are madly in love, inseparable–until now, when Perry goes off to Rutgers. Rosie is shyer than Skate, but she’s drawn to Nick, a boy in their Alateen group.

What happens to Rosie and Skate in a few tumultuous weeks is deftly shaded, complex, and true. Readers will be caught up in each girl’s shifting feelings as the story plays out within the embrace of their warmhearted community.

Are you a plotter or a plunger? Do you outline first, write to explore first, or engage some combination of the two? Then where do you go from there? What about this approach appeals to you? What advice do you have for beginning writers struggling with plot?

I like this question. I’m both a plotter and a plunger. For me, writing is a marriage between the two and a delicate balancing act. Too much plotting, too much authorial control, and a certain lifelessness creeps in. Not enough plotting results in a wayward, unfocused piece.

It’s important to remember that when you’re telling a story you’re telling a specific story, you’re not giving all the pieces of a life. You’re sending your character(s) on a specific journey, fraught with trouble, that will alter them in some significant way. But how to send your character on that journey, how to work their specific conflict(s), is tricky business, especially in the long form of a novel.

I came to novel writing after having written a short-story collection, so the long form was pretty intimidating to me. What I did was to learn three-act structure, a playwriting technique. I find it really helpful because it gives me a way to see the larger story, and it gives destinations along the journey that work the conflict.

For example, at plot point one the plot thickens. This may sound a bit formulaic, but honestly, if done well, the reader isn’t paying attention to the structure; she’s simply engaged in the story and turning pages to find out what happens next.

But I don’t start with this. In the very beginning stages, I plunge. I explore my characters. I write, not knowing where I’m going, in order to generate some good, organic material.

After I get a sense of the story, which takes a while, I start to use three-act structure. I also teach fiction writing and encourage my student novelists to use it because they often bring in chapters with good writing, interesting characters, etc., but there’s no shape to any of it; it’s a piling on of more and more information.

Three-act structure is a good tool, especially for the beginning novelist, because it forces the writer to think about the specific story he/she is telling. I tell my students they don’t have to follow it exactly, that they can tweak it to suit their needs.

The bottom line, though, is fiction needs a structure, because a novel without a plot is like a mammal without a backbone.

How did you go about identifying your editor? Did you meet him/her at a conference? Did you read an interview with him/her? Were you impressed by books he/she has edited?

I have a nice story. I met my editor Wendy Lamb after my story collection Beautiful Girls (MacAdam/Cage, 2003) was published. I’d contacted her through a mutual friend to see if she used writers for hire. I had a miserable idea that I could write books based on someone else’s ideas.

Luckily, Wendy doesn’t use writers for hire, but she read my collection, which has a few teenage stories, and encouraged me to write my own young-adult novel.

What was so nice was that she mentored me in the genre, gave me books to read, and spent time talking with me. Very generous.

Slowly, I started my novel journey, and it was exciting and gratifying when, a few years later, my agent sent Wendy half the manuscript and she read it right away and made an offer. And what a good kick in the butt to have a contract and a firm deadline (okay, it wasn’t all that firm, but I treated it pretty firmly).

I’m happy to be published by Wendy, and I admire her books. On her list, some of my favorites include the delightfully quirky and touching When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (2009), the harrowing and poignant How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (2004), and the heartbreaking Would You by Marthe Jocelyn (2008).

Cynsational Notes

Beth Ann Bauman’s awards include a Pushcart Prize nomination and fellowships from the Jerome Foundation and New York Foundation for the Arts. She teaches fiction writing at the NYU School of Continuing & Professional Studies, the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in NYC, and online at UCLA Extension. She’s lived in New York City for over 15 years, but is still a Jersey girl at heart.

The New Voices Series is a celebration of debut authors of 2009. First-timers may also be featured in more traditional author interviews over the course of the year.

Craft, Career & Cheer: Claudia Guadalupe Martinez

Learn about Claudia Guadalupe Martinez.

Could you describe the your experience working with an editor?

I’ve only written one book, but I couldn’t have asked for a better experience—I may have to light a candle when I submit my next book in hopes that my next experience is this positive. I tell people that working with my editor was like getting a free MFA. I learned so much simply by diving in.

Because it is a small press [Cinco Puntos], I also get full service! My editor has been right alongside me, working hard to get the book buzz and recognition.

We’ve managed to collect a handful of honors including: the 2009 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People, Américas Award Commended Title, and the Texas Institute of Letters Best Young Adult Book Award.

What do you love most about being an author? Why?

I love–love–visiting schools and libraries because I get to talk to kids. It’s wonderful to hear their questions and opinions, and to see my work through their eyes. Kids are so honest and in awe of books, and many of them want to write books, too. They make me feel like a rock star, and I’m not a rock star.

I also really enjoy festivals and opportunities to meet other authors. Most of the time I feel like I’m still a kid, too, and I love getting books signed. I was at ALA this summer signing books for about half an hour, and the highlight of that experience was being within three feet of Judy Blume.

In your own words, could you tell us about your latest book?

In The Smell of Old Lady Perfume (Cinco Puntos, 2008), Chela, an eleven year old growing up in El Paso, Texas; worries about typical things like popularity and grades. Sixth grade is a big deal because it’s her first year out of bilingual education, and she gets to be in the class that everyone else looks up to. Then her father gets sick, and her best friend dumps her. That changes all her plans.

In the story, the smell of old lady perfume is the smell of bad things. When something bad happens, like her father getting sick, Chela’s relatives show up, followed by that smell! It’s realistic fiction but melodic and very different from my next book.

My next book is set in Chicago, and has a bit of magic….

Cynsational Notes

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children’s-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter the Morris/Nonfiction Book Trailer Contest from Keene Teen Readers & Gamers Weblog. Peek: “Teens ages 13-18 can make a 1-3 minute book trailer for any of the nominated books (or if they’d like, all of the nominees in one trailer), upload them to YouTube using the tags ‘yalsamorris’ or ‘yalsanf,’ and they can win a box of books and a $100 gift certificate to a major bookstore.”

What Does It Mean That I’m in My Second Printing? by Moonrat at Editorial Ass. Peek: “Some of the box stores like Walmart or Costco come in with last-minute very large orders, and your publisher may have already printed without enough run-off to accommodate these large orders.”

The Bloom Award Winners Announced by Blooming Tree Publisher Miriam Hees: 1st Place: Laurie Wallmark for Sisterly Mystery; Honor Book Winner: Linda Hurst & Linda Lee for The Seeing Eye Detectives. Read a Cynsations interview with Miriam.

Real Fiction by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: “‘But that really happened,’ the writer says. ‘That’s exactly the way it really happened.’ He’s saying this in response to criticism from his critique group that the scene doesn’t seem real.” Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Congratulations to Erik (The Boy Mouse) on the redesign and relaunch of his website for Two Bad Mice Design: Illustration, Comics, Design, Teaching. Erik is active in Austin SCBWI, and his website design clients include Greg Leitich Smith.

Intensive Picture Book Basics Workshop: a six-lesson email course, taught by children’s author Anastasia Suen. Peek: “Learn the basic elements of a picture book story (hook, theme, arc, beats, story-boarding, and read aloud) as you study five picture books per lesson to see how they use the Big Picture writing traits of ideas, organization and voice.” Your choice of dates: Jan. 6 to Feb. 24, Feb 3. to March 24, or March 3 to April 21. See also Anastasia’s information and schedule for Children’s Chapter Book Basics.

Eight Tips for Writing Comedy by Anna Staniszewski. Peek: “If one character says, ‘The world is ending!’ and another character says, “No it isn’t,” the scene doesn’t leave you many places to go. Chances are it’s going to wind up being an argument, which can get boring really fast. But if the second character’s response is, ‘I knew the chicken people would finally come!’ – well, that gives you more to work with, doesn’t it?”

Setting, Keeping, and Achieving Your Writing Goals in the New Year by Carolyn Kaufman frm Peek: “I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. You know why? Because they’re good intentions you half-plan to break anyhow. I do, however, believe in setting achievable goals all year long, and in this post I’m going to teach you some tricks to help you keep and achieve your goals for 2010.”

Author Spotlight & Giveaway: Becky Levine on The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide (Writer’s Digest) by Sherrie Petersen from Write About Now. Peek: “If you’re the ‘third’ person in the group–not the author being critiqued and not the critiquer reading their comments, keep an eye and ear open, too. You can be the one to translate/speak the author’s concerns to the critiquer.” Note: by leaving a comment, you can enter to win a copy of Becky’s book, which will be given away next Wednesday.

Enter to win one of 5 copies of Evil? by Timothy Carter (Flux, 2009) from Young Adult (& Kids) Book Central.

The Power of One Writer Of Orangutans, Butterflies and an American Girl: a new blog from author Jane Kurtz on her year as the author of books for the American Girl Doll of the Year 2010, which will be announced Jan. 1. Peek: “it seems information about the new doll (and…ahem…my books) is leaking pretty fast, now.” Note: you can also follow Jane at Twitter.

Congratulations to the 2009 Cybils finalists! The titles I nominated that made their respective lists were: All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane, 2009) in fiction picture books; The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tony Persiani (Little, Brown, 2009) in nonfiction picture/information books; and Creepy Crawly Crime (Joey Fly: Private Eye) by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Neil Numberman (Henry Holt, 2009) in graphic novels.

Congratulations to Liz Gallagher, the new readergirlz Host Diva! Read a Cynsations interview with Liz. Note: readergirlz will be chatting with E. Lockhart at 6 p.m. PST 9 p.m. EST Jan. 20 at the readergirlz blog.

2010: Plan for a Bumper Crop by Kristi Holl at Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “What can we do to increase our chances next year of surviving and thriving during the current economic situation?”

Authorial Intrusion – Writing Advice in 5 Words or Less – 2009 from L.K. Madigan at Drenched in Words. Peek: “It was my pleasure to host the Debs on Authorial Intrusion this year. I’ve collected their bits of pithy wisdom in one post for your convenience, and I can assure you that overall … they really do not want you to give up!”

Everbody’s Free by Jackson Pearce. In the video below, “28 YA Authors give you advice on writing, publishing, and everything in between.” See the author/book list from Tracy at tall tales & short stories.

More Personally

Holiday highlights included receiving a hot-off-the-presses paperback copy of Eternal (Candlewick, Feb. 2010) from Jennifer Yoon.

Which was especially inspirational since I spent most of the holiday working on my revision of Blessed (Candlewick, Feb. 2011), though I did take off Christmas Eve at about noon and almost all of Christmas Day.

Greg and I had Christmas Eve dinner with Frances and Brian Yansky‘s family. They gave me these two spooky-terrific books: Ghosthunting Texas by April Slaughter (Clerisy Press, 2009) and Haunted Texas: A Travel Guide by Scott Williams (Globe Pequot, 2007).

Greg made Christmas dinner at home–chicken parmigiana with whole wheat spaghetti and broccoli in cheese sauce.

He also gave me a few of my favorite things. I’m a devoted fan of “Monk” and “Fraiser.” Author Lee Goldberg‘s “Monk” tie-in novels are terrific; I always read them on the plane on the way to the VCFA residencies.

Here’s Greg, operating on last year’s candles so that we can reach the wicks.

And finally, here’s a piece of home. One of my cousins sent me a Christmas ornament made from a burnt out bulb from the Kansas City Plaza Lights.

Cynsational Updates & Guidelines

The winners of signed copies of Watersmeet by Ellen Jensen Abbott (Marshall Cavendish, 2009) were Alison in Texas, Sherrah in Missouri, and Jeni in Indiana.

The winners of signed copies of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith (Little, Brown, 2005, 2006) were Jennifer in Wyoming, Beth, and ReadingJunky.

The winners of The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein by Libby Schmais (Delacorte, 2009) were Jen in Massachusetts, Deena in New York, and Maria in Massachusetts.

Authors, illustrators, and publicists are welcome to send review copies (not e-copies) of books for interview consideration. Please do not write to “pitch” the book/subject, to confirm receipt, to ask if you can schedule an interview, or to follow-up on the posting date. I’ll contact you, if I’m interested, with the appropriate information on my own schedule. Please note that this also applies to contacts that I have met personally.