Guest Post: Eva Mozes Kor on Surviving the Angel of Death: The Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz

By Eva Mozes Kor

Fiction is the fruit of one’s imagination and can be fascinating. It can also serve to help people understand others better–to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Fiction writers often do research and include historical fact and context to their stories.

But there are several reasons why I think that when it comes to an historical event like the Holocaust, true stories should be the first resource.

First, although fiction writers often do extensive research for their books, they often take license with the truth to help the dramatic element of their story. That is okay, as long as readers know it is fiction. But fiction is not interchangeable with nonfiction for the purpose of learning the true facts, or as close to the facts as an author can get.

Even writers with the best intentions sometimes get their facts wrong when writing history. Writers often have to make assumptions about how a person would feel or what they would think in a given set of circumstances, but the reality could be quite different. Who better to provide that understanding than people who lived through the event?

The third reason is something particular to Holocaust survivors, which is that all too often we have not been allowed to speak for ourselves. For a long time, it seemed that there was an emphasis on the people who died, as if those of us who had survived did not count. Others, out of good intentions or bad, have tried to appoint themselves a spokesperson, though they were not there.

We, the survivors, should be shown respect for being living witnesses and be the first resource to learn the truth. For all these reasons, I believe that a survivor’s story should always be included in any Holocaust curriculum.

Why should teens study the Holocaust? Well, there are the obvious reasons that I think most people understand: that teens should learn this history, should learn the evil that comes from prejudice and hatred.

But with my book, I am trying to do more and give them a message of hope. Growing up can be very hard in and of itself, and kids and teens often have tremendous difficulties in their lives.

My message to my readers: to never, ever give up. They can survive and they can thrive. They can be anything they want to be.

I never dreamed that I would live to be a person who has met heads of state, who has spoken publicly in front of thousands of people–adults and children–nationally and internationally.

If I can survive Auschwitz, they can survive their own circumstances. If I can become somebody, they can become somebody. If I can forgive the Nazis and heal myself, they too can let go of hurt and become happy and healthy. I want to help them bring peace–into their own lives and into our world.

From the promotional copy:

Surviving the Angel of Death: The Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz by Eva Mozes Kor and Lisa Rojany Buccieri (Tanglewood, 2009).

Eva Mozes Kor was 10 years old when she arrived in Auschwitz. While her parents and two older sisters were taken to the gas chambers, she and her twin, Miriam, were herded into the care of the man known as the Angel of Death, Dr. Josef Mengele.

Mengele’s twins were granted the privileges of keeping their own clothes and hair, but they were also subjected to sadistic medical experiments and forced to fight daily for their own survival, as most of the twins died as a result of the experiments or from the disease and hunger pervasive in the camp.

In a narrative told with emotion and restraint, readers will learn of a child’s endurance and survival in the face of truly extraordinary evil. The book also includes an epilogue on Eva’s recovery from this experience and her remarkable decision to publicly forgive the Nazis.

Through her museum and her lectures, she has dedicated her life to giving testimony on the Holocaust, providing a message of hope for people who have suffered, and working toward goals of forgiveness, peace, and the elimination of hatred and prejudice in the world.

New Voice: Jane Kelley on Nature Girl

Jane Kelley is the first-time author of Nature Girl (Random House, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Eleven-year-old Megan is stuck in the wilds of Vermont for the summer with no TV, no Internet, no cell phone, and worst of all, no best friend.

So when Megan gets lost on the Appalachian Trail with only her little dog, Arp, for company, she decides she might as well hike all the way to Massachusetts where her best friend, Lucy, is spending her summer.

Life on the trail isn’t easy, and Megan faces everything from wild animals and raging rivers to tofu jerky and life without bathrooms.

Most of all, though, Megan gets to know herself—both who she’s been in the past and who she wants to be in the future—and the journey goes from a spur-of-the-moment lark to a quest to prove herself to Lucy, her family, and the world!

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

My character Megan leapt into life. It seemed like I always had a strong sense of her voice. In fact, this page from my notebook where I began writing the book in 2004 is almost the same as the first page of the published book! Wow! It really must have been magic!



But as any magician will tell you, that easy fluidity is deceptive. Even the simplest magic trick requires thought, planning, and years of practice.

The voice starts with an inspiration. Maybe it’s a sentence you are lucky enough to overhear. In my case, it was a situation. A city girl is forced to spend the summer in Vermont. (Which I thought of because we were city people spending the summer in Vermont.)

To that somewhat generic idea, I started adding details. I filled that notebook. The pages weren’t exactly character exercises, but they served the same purpose. I was following my character. Why was Megan there? Why hadn’t her friend come? Who was her family? Why did they drive her crazy? Why did she get lost in the woods?

I also listened to young people. At the time, I was lucky. I happened to be living with a 10-year-old girl—my daughter. From watching her and her friends, I learned what mattered to kids that age. And what I didn’t directly observe, I could ponder. How does it feel to be out of place? To be bad at everything? To be abandoned by your friend?

I must confess that Megan is more like me than like my daughter. My siblings will tell you that I was grumpy and whiny, particularly about hiking. And so, I guess you could say that I freed my inner child (who had the nickname “Griny Whumpus”). But those cranky remarks were just a starting place. My reasons for grumbling were not the same as Megan’s.

No character exists in a vacuum. The voice of a character is built by specificity of details. What foods does she like? What is in her bedroom? These details are best discovered as responses to situations. You don’t want a checklist, you want a person. And real people are a mess of contradictions.

The best way to find a character’s voice is to be patient. To let it build, bit by bit. Don’t be afraid to wait for the third idea or the fourth what if. When I write, I do try to be quiet enough to listen to my character speak. When it happens, it will feel like magic—even though you and I know it really isn’t.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

I used to hate revising. I always got defensive. After all, did anybody ever tell Lewis Carroll that his characters weren’t very sympathetic?

But after the second draft of Nature Girl, I realized that being asked to revise was a huge compliment. Someone had cared enough to read it. Someone had found enough promise in it to take the time to give me advice.

I was lucky I had that change of heart because I had to revise Nature Girl six more times before I signed the contract with Random House.

My husband, my daughter, my agent Linda Pratt, and a potential editor all had complaints (I mean suggestions) about my book. I don’t have the space to list all their many points. I will just focus on one particular criticism. Everybody wanted to know: where were the helicopters?

My initial response was — there aren’t any. I didn’t want helicopters cluttering up my humorous and heartwarming story of how a girl finds herself by getting lost in the woods.

Besides, what did I know about helicopters? It had been a long time since I had seen the movie “Apocalypse Now” (1979). In retrospect, I probably didn’t want them because I didn’t think I could describe them properly.

But the helicopters would not go away. They hovered over the book, even though I continued to leave them off the page. I didn’t want to stick some in just to be realistic. After all, is it realistic for an 11-year-old girl to hike the Appalachian Trail? Can you tell that I was feeling a little defensive again?

Then I had a realization. Perhaps the helicopter lovers were trying to tell me something else. Maybe they didn’t just want whirring blades. Maybe they had a sense that something else was missing and just didn’t know how to say it.

I thought a little bit harder. Yes the helicopters would add a layer of reality. But they would also help sustain the tension while Megan is hiking. Because Megan didn’t want the helicopters to help her, they could make another much-needed obstacle to her journey. Would she be rescued before she reached her goal?

So I added a helicopter. But I made sure to put it in where its whirring blades could churn up Megan’s new-found confidence.

Then it came time for the next round of revisions. Sure enough, my editor Shana Corey said, shouldn’t there another helicopter?

No! I said. But I added in another one because Shana was right. As long as Megan’s journey continues, there should be helicopters.

In the end, I am extremely grateful for all the comments I got—even from the copy editor. Every single person sincerely wanted to help me make my book better. And every single comment helped me – once I learned how to listen.

Guest Post: Melissa Stewart on Every Word Counts: Crafting Nonfiction that Sings

By Melissa Stewart

All nonfiction manuscripts begin with a compelling topic and hours of diligent research. But when you finally sit down at the keyboard, don’t underestimate the power of language.

Whether you’re writing creative nonfiction or expository nonfiction, careful attention to style, tone, and word choice can transform a good nonfiction manuscript into a truly memorable piece.

We often hear how important “voice” is in fiction writing. It’s important in nonfiction writing, too.

Nonfiction voice has three basic components—point of view, style, and tone.

Most nonfiction for young readers is written in third person point of view, so it is style and tone that give nonfiction writing its voice. If you ignore the possibilities that these literary devices offer, your manuscripts will probably fall flat. But if you use them to their full advantage, your carefully crafted prose will delight as well as inform.

Style is the personality of the writing. Authors create it with deliberate choices in sentence structure and word choice. When I’m deciding what style to adopt for a manuscript, I think about the function of the piece and the expectations of the publisher.

Sometimes nonfiction writing should be straightforward and businesslike. But most of the time, a lively, more informal style is a better choice. Compare the two examples below. They convey almost the same information but employ very different styles.

From the Encarta Online Encyclopedia:

The outer auditory canal, which measures about 3 cm (about 1.25 in) in length, is a tubular passageway lined with delicate hairs and small glands that produce a wax-like secretion called cerumen. The canal leads from the pinna to a thin taut membrane called the eardrum or tympanic membrane, which is nearly round in shape and about 10 mm (0.4 in) wide. It is the vibration of the eardrum that sends sound waves deeper into the ear.

From Now Hear This! The Secrets of Ears and Hearing (Benchmark, 2009):

When you look at the opening to your ear canal, it’s hard to imagine what’s inside. That dark, little tunnel is about half as long as your pinky finger. At the far end, sound waves crash into your eardrum—a thin, skin-like membrane that separates your outer ear from your middle ear.

Soft, sensitive skin lines the surface of your ear canal. Just below the surface, dozens of small sacs called cerumen glands are constantly cranking out a fresh supply of icky earwax. The gummy goo oozes through tiny tubes and seeps into your ear canal through pit-like pores.

The encyclopedia entry is straightforward and informative, but most people wouldn’t want to read pages and pages of information written in this style. That’s okay, though, because that’s not how we use the encyclopedia. It’s a reference that is used to snatch small bits of knowledge and then move on.

Now Hear This! is much more fun to read. It’s also full of amazing facts that will fascinate young readers. The comparisons in the piece are relevant to the audience’s everyday experiences, and the text contains vivid, memorable images. This kind of engaging, conversational style will encourage kids to keep on reading.

Tone is how the writing makes your readers feel. Does it calm them down or rev them up? Does it make them feel joyous or sad, respectful or sassy?

Take a look at the two examples below. Can you identify some of the reasons their tones are so different?

From It’s Spit-acular!: The Secrets of Saliva (Benchmark, 2009):

Spit a little saliva into the palm of your hand. Now take a good long look. What do you see?

Spit is a clear, slippery liquid. It looks a lot like water, but it’s a little slimier, and it’s full of tiny bubbles. If you haven’t brushed your teeth lately, your spit might also contain tiny bits of food. Ew! Gross!

There’s a good reason spit looks like water. Water is its main ingredient. But spit also contains many other things. They help saliva do its job.

The slimy mucus in spit makes swallowing easier. Proteins in saliva start to break down food before it reaches your stomach. Spit also contains salts, gases, and all kinds of yucky germs. That’s something to think about the next time someone hits you with a spitball.

From When Rain Falls (Peachtree, 2008):

Inside clouds, water droplets budge and bump, crash and clump. The drops grow larger and larger, heavier and heavier until they fall to the earth.

When rain falls in a forest . . .
. . . scurrying squirrels suddenly stop. They pull their long, bushy tails over their heads like umbrellas.

A hawk puffs out its feathers to keep water out and warmth in. Chickadees stay warm and dry inside their tree hole homes.

It’s Spit-acular!: The Secrets of Saliva is intended for grades 3-5, and its goal is to get readers excited about learning. The tone is sassy, even irreverent.

When Rain Falls is for younger children. The soothing, comforting tone makes it appropriate for a bedtime story. But the lyricism will also engage children in a classroom setting. Like style, tone is created through deliberate decisions about sentence structure and word choice.

Word choice is a very big topic. In fact, it could be the subject of a whole separate post. Here are some basic guidelines for choosing words carefully as you craft nonfiction prose.

1. Strong, active verbs bring a piece of writing to life. They can make text more specific and more descriptive.

From Rain, Rain, Rain Forest by Brenda Z. Guiberson (Henry Holt, 2004):

Splitter, splat, splash! Rain gushes into the rain forest.
It soaks the moss, drizzles off dangling vines, and thrums
against slick waxy leaves.

2. Readers like surprises, such as playful and unexpected word choices. Don’t hesitate to use:

—Gross, icky, or silly words

—Big words, lo-o-o-o-o-ng words

—Internal rhyme

—Puns

A great example of unexpected word choices—ones that really make readers think—is An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle, 2006). Her main text is comprised of simple statements, such as “An egg is clever.” and “An egg is artistic.” and “An egg is giving.”

Most of us have never tough of an egg in these terms. But after reading the sidebars, which present specific examples to support the general statements, readers can’t help but have a whole new appreciation for eggs.

3. The anatomical structure of our ears combined with the physical laws of sound wave transmission combine forces to make certain combinations of sounds and syllables particularly pleasing to our ears. That’s why devices like alliteration, rhythm, and repetition can give a piece of writing a magical quality.

From Home at Last: A Song of Migration by April Pulley Sayre (Henry Holt, 1998):

Out at sea, grown-up salmon remember a smell.
It’s the smell of the stream where they were born.
They’ll swim two thousand miles. Hop up waterfalls.
Just to be … home at last.

4. Meaningful comparisons enrich text by associating something that is unfamiliar with something readers know well. Similes and metaphors are powerful because they can help a reader envision a place or understand a challenging concept with ease. David M. Schwartz does a fantastic job of employing kid-friendly comparisons in

If You Hopped Like a Frog (Scholastic, 1999):

If you swallowed like a snake . . .
you could gulp a hot dog thicker than a telephone pole.

If you scurried like a spider . . .
you could charge down an entire football field in just two seconds.

5. Appeal to the senses with descriptions of smells, sounds, tastes, etc. These kinds of concrete details can transport the reader to a faraway time or place. Smell has a strong connection to memory, and olfactory details can make readers feel like they are part of the scene you’re describing. Sound effects can add fun and energy to a piece.

From Army Ant Parade by April Pulley Sayre (Henry Holt, 2002):

Chew-chew-chew ant antbird calls. Shapes flit.
A grasshopper thumps onto a trunk.
Thwap, pip, pop. Insects leap up, jump up, fly up!
Scorpions scurry.
Frogs are hopping. Tarantulas are scurrying.
Ants are slithering away.
The army ants are waking. . .
And they’re coming right this way!

Now it’s time for you to start experimenting. Begin by asking yourself some questions:

Could you enrich a nonfiction piece you’re struggling with by reworking its style or tone?

Are there ways you could use verbs more effectively in your writing?

Would adding comparisons to a work-in-progress help readers see your topic more clearly?

As Newbery medalist Linda Sue Park likes to say, “just play.” Don’t be afraid to write a piece several different ways and then see which version works best. Take some risks. Try new things. You never know what might happen.

Cynsational Notes

This essay is adapted from a lecture Melissa Stewart gave to the students in the Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

Melissa Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 100 science books for children. After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology from Union College in Schenectady, New York; and a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University, Melissa worked as a children’s book editor for nine years before becoming a full-time writer in 2000. She has written everything from board books for preschoolers to magazine articles for adults.

When Melissa isn’t writing or exploring the natural world, she spends time speaking at schools, libraries, nature centers, and educator conferences. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Board of Advisors and a judge for the American Institute of Physics Children’s Science Writing Award.

New Voice: Swati Avasthi on Split

Swati Avasthi is the first-time author of Split (Knopf, 2010). From the promotional copy:

16-year-old Jace Witherspoon arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother Christian with a re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father’s fist), $3.84, and a secret. It is about what happens after. After you’ve said enough, after you’ve run, after you’ve made the split – how do you begin to live again?

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters?

Jace came to me over a period of years, really. His character emerged from a short story I wrote called “Swallow” (Water~Stone, Vol. 11), which was drafted in three points of view.

One of the point-of-view characters was a 35-year-old male teacher, who had made bad decisions in response to a painful divorce. I workshopped it with Sheila O’Connor, teacher extraordinaire, who told me that the male point of view wasn’t really necessary for that short story.

After some angst, I axed him from the story, but I couldn’t axe him from my head. So I gave him a new problem, Jace’s. That meant I needed to re-imagine his character with a different history and as much younger.

Jace’s situation was born out of my experience coordinating a domestic violence legal clinic. Once, while a woman was relaying a harrowing account of abuse to me while her two children looked on, I asked her if she wanted an intern to look after them. She told me no, they had witnessed the abuse. The compassion for those kids was perhaps the starting point for both Jace and Christian, because I wondered what it would be like to grow up with your primary role model as an abuser.

With situation and basic character in hand, I started to dig deeply into him. I ran a gazillion character exercises with him, so many that I developed a class called “Discovering Your Characters,” in which I teach many of the exercises I used to mine Jace.

One of my favorite exercises for discovering secondary characters is an adaption of one that poet Jim Moore gives his students. He suggests sitting down in the same place at the same time every day for a week and writing for 15 minutes on the following: create a scene or a moment between your protagonist and someone with whom your protagonist has an emotionally charged relationship. But you must keep the scene quiet, and it must have three objects that stay the same throughout the week.

I did this exercise for Christian, writing from his point of view. I learned so much about him with relatively little effort. I captured his voice, his brotherly affection, and his history in less than two hours (because I actually only did this five times…ooo, bad student). It’s a great exercise. I now run it with characters I’m struggling to to get an handle on.

As a teacher-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a teacher has been a blessing to your writing?

Let me start by saying I love this question. So often I hear the reverse – how teaching and writing are not compatible. But I find that being a writer and a teacher work in harmony for me. Writing feeds my teaching and vice-versa.

In my view, learning craft lessons, such as “show, don’t tell” or “opening with a promise for the reader” is not incredibly complicated. The concepts themselves are quite teachable and are not rocket science.

The wonderfully challenging part of writing is how to apply those lessons to your story. That is where the art of writing comes in. The application is different every time.

So, teaching grounds me continually in craft. It reminds me of what the reader needs and why. I think that if we know the “rules” of writing and know why they exist and what they give to the reader, then we can break them with intention and with success. We can devise new solutions to problems that every narrative faces. So teaching others, listening to students, and responding to their work grounds me.

And also, I love it that teaching requires that I stay current on new lit. I think, if left to my own devices, I would probably read and reread and reread. I’d be like a typical parent who only listens to 80s music because that’s the generation I grew up in. Teaching keeps me reading new and interesting material, which in turn, makes me write better.

Writing feeds my teaching because I bring the problems I’m struggling with to class. Not literally, mind you. I don’t mean that I say, “Hey, I can’t figure out whether I should use structure X or Y. Can you help me with that?”

Instead, I delve into the idea of structure with energy and with questions of my own. There’s an adage: don’t learn with your mouth open. I don’t believe in that. I think you must open your mouth and try something, hear how it sounds, and then you can see the strengths or the flaws.

Cynsational Notes

Check out Swati’s blog and book trailer (below).

Enter to Win Signed Copies of Eternal by Smith, The Wild One by Farley, and Chicken Dance by Sauer

Larissa’s World is giving away signed copies of:

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith;

The Wild One (Phantom Stallion #1) by Terri Farley;

and

Chicken Dance by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Dan Santat (signed by both)!

Deadline midnight EST today! See more information how to enter.

Cynsational Notes

From Larissa’s bio: “I’m a wife, mother of three, preschool teacher, writer, handbell choir director, Creative Memories Consultant…so, yeah, not much going on around here. I am also the 2010 Silent Auction Chairperson for the Florida Writers Association. If you would like to donate, please contact me.”

Check out Sterling Publishing Loves Chicken Dance; enter to win.

And for those who haven’t already seen it, the Eternal trailer by Shayne Leighton; enter to win.

Immortal: Love Stories with Bite (Various Language Editions)

I’m pleased to announce new and forthcoming editions of Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast, which includes my short story, “Haunted Love.” Language rights sold and the respective publishers to date include:

Russian: Eksmo Licence Limited;

Portuguese: Editora Planeta do Brasil;

Polish: Pravada | Prevodi;

Turkish: Pegasus Yayinlari;

French: Editions AdA Inc.

Cynsational Notes

The U.S./English language publisher is Ben Bella Books.

Thanks to Laís for sending these shots of the Portuguese language edition!

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Cover Stories: Forgive My Fins by Tara Lyn Childs from Melissa Walker. Peek: “I sent it immediately to my friends at Blue Willow Bookshop for their bookseller perspective and then sent on their suggestions with mine. The art department at Harper absolutely took those suggestions to heart. They were extremely committed to making the cover as perfect as possible and worked on every little detail.”

Secrets to Successful School Visits by Cynthia Lord from Donna Gephart at Wild About Words. Peek: “…tell the principal how wonderful the media specialist (or whoever organized the visit with you) has been to work with. It’s a nice way to affirm the hard work that went into bringing you to the school.”

Dealing with Flash Point, Difficult Topics by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. A discussion of how to approach hot-button topics, using The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt, 2008) as a case study.

Frances Yansky – Author Illustrator: new official site. Step into her parlor (for quotes about Frances from fellow Austinite children’s book folk), then swing by the library, and don’t miss the studio for a peek at her art work. Site designed and produced by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys.

Austin Avant-Grande Mentoring Program: “a network of successful kid-lit artists and writers offering support, providing guidance, and sharing expertise in a highly professional manner. AAMP amplifies a sense of community through a concentrated focus on craft.”

Rose Kent: new official author site. Meet Rose, learn about her books and author visits, and then chow down on some food for thought. Site designed and produced by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys. Note: Rose’s latest book, Rocky Road, is a middle-grade novel, available this month from Knopf.

Attention Gothic fantasy, horror, paranormal romance, and urban fantasy authors! Please swing by spookycyn and my related bibliography to make sure your blog/author site links are included. If not, please contact me with the URLs and where they should go.

From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors: “the group blog of middle-grade authors celebrating books for middle-grade readers. For anyone with a passion for children’s literature—teachers, librarians, parents, kids, writers, industry professionals— we offer regularly updated book lists organized by unique categories, author interviews, market news, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a children’s book from writing to publishing to promoting.” Learn about the authors behind the blog.

Once Upon a Baby Brother: Sarah Sullivan and the Source of Story: an author interview by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek: “As a storyteller, my coping mechanism is to transform an untenable situation into story and play around with it. I examine the situation from other people’s viewpoints to see if I can make some sense of it. In a very strange way, Lizzie’s story mirrors what was happening in my own life at the time that I wrote it.”

PR Notes: Book Publicity by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “For some time, I’ve been very interested in the ins and outs of marketing, public relations, social media, etc. I’ve thought about doing a separate website; instead, I’ve decided to write a PR Notes column on Wednesdays. I’d love to include your PR story in a guest post or I’d be glad to send you a Q&A.”

The 2010 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards by Roger Sutton from Read Roger. Picks include fiction honor book The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan, illustrated by Peter Sís (Scholastic); see the whole list.

Margaret Bechard: new official author site. Learn about Margaret and her books, read her journal, and find out about her teaching. Peek: “Writing is hard and frustrating and sometimes I just want to be a barista at Starbucks. But then there are those moments where everything comes together, when my fingers are typing just a little bit faster than my brain is working, and then I know why I always wanted to do this.”

Selling Yourself by Parker Peevyhouse from The Spectacle. Peek: “Is all this talk about post-its and Halloween drowning out the carefully crafted noise of a well-written story?” See also What It Means to Say “Brand Me” by Colleen Mondor from Chasing Ray, which springs from Maureen Johnson‘s Anti-branding Manifesto.

Critiques: Guidelines and Tips by Donna Bowman Bratton from Simply Donna. Peek: “As a critique group member, you will at times be a partner, a therapist, a sounding board, an impartial reader, an editor, and a cheerleader.”

Golden Kite, Golden Dreams: The SCBWI Awards from Austin SCBWI. Peek: “Curated by David Diaz, this exhibit features artwork from some of the most prestigious, influential and talented artists, many of who are also Caldecott Award Winners. Ranging from ink, pencil, acrylic, gouache, and watercolors to paper cutting, this exhibit displays works from fifty artists with seventy-five pieces of artwork. This exhibition highlights the variety, diversity and high standards that the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) sets for Golden Kite Awards recognition. Exhibit is running from July 8th to October 1st in the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature.”

Checking in with Dan Santat by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “Honestly, the solution to this spread could have probably been resolved in maybe three or four images, but I felt that taking the time to show the girl’s every nuance in planning and preparation added a bit of charm to her personality. (This is really the only thing you know about her. You don’t even know her name!)”

Excerpts of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Children’s Book Publishing (3rd and latest edition) are being tweeted by author Harold Underdown (@HUnderdown), beginning June 8. See hash tag: #cigpcb

The Elephant in the Room by Elizabeth Bluemle from PW Shelf Talker. Peek: “What I’d like to do is open the conversation by offering some positive, creative steps we can all take to make the world of children’s books—behind the scenes, in addition to between the covers—catch up to the amazing, diverse, infinitely rich world those books are meant to reflect and celebrate.” Note: features original, tie-in art by Kevan Atteberry, Addie Boswell, Jerry Craft, Katie Davis, Nancy Devard, Elizabeth O. Dulemba, Laura Freeman, Erin Eitter Kono, Grace Lin, Nicole Tadgell, and Sharon Vargo. See also Is My Character Black Enough? from Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire.

2010 Américas Award Winners are Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez (Knopf, 2009) and What Can You Do with a Paleta? / ¿Qué puedes hacer con una paleta? by Carmen Tafolla, illustrated by Magaly Morales (Tricycle Press, 2009). Honorable mentions: Gringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Curbstone, 2009); I Know the River Loves Me / Yo sé que el río me ama by Maya Christina González (Children’s Book Press, 2009); and My Papa Diego and Me: Memories of My Father and His Art / Mi papa Diego y yo: Recuerdos de mi padre y su arte by Guadalupe Rivera Marín and Diego Rivera (Children’s Book Press, 2009). Source: papertigers.

Dystopian and the Apocalypse: What’s the Difference? by Kaitlin Ward from YA Highway. Peek: “These terms sometimes have that same confusion factor (for me, at least) as ‘urban fantasy’ vs. ‘paranormal romance.’ So much potential for overlap, but really, they are their own unique snowflakes.” Note: includes model books for reference.

The Thrill of Harry Potter Rides On by Neil Genzlinger from The New York Times. Peek: “…rides aren’t really the point; workmanship is. This attraction was made for the kind of people who have more or less memorized Ms. Rowling’s books, and it shows in all sorts of details. The weathering of the stone to make it look indefinably old. The way the snow sits on the rooftops, just on the verge of melting.” Note: don’t miss the video.

Hunger Mountain

Young Adult and Children’s Literature, edited by Bethany Hegedus and Kekla Magoon from the spring 2010 issue of Hunger Mountain: the VCFA Journal of the Arts. Highlights include:

Helping Inmates Find Their Truth: Using Writing Prompts to Explore Personal Journeys by Jo Knowles. Peek: “As the women became more comfortable sharing things with me, emotions ran high. I don’t think there was ever a meeting without tears. The women were writing from hard places. Angry, hurt places. Having no training in this area, I was often at a loss for how to respond.”

Teens Do Judge a Book by Its Cover by Mitali Perkins. Peek: “I was in my upper teens when I realized that the protagonists in the books I loved were all of European descent. It was embarrassing; I felt like I was denying my culture. Was I a white-girl wannabe?” See also My Speech and Slideshow at BookExpo America Children’s Breakfast 2010 from Mitali’s Fire Escape.

Reflected Faces by Tanita S. Davis. Peek: “This omission allows the insidious message of “you brown children don’t matter” to become louder and more commonplace from a source that should be celebrating their potential. Avoidance of the faces of minority readers trumpets the message, “We own this. Literature is ours. It is not a Brown thing. It is not your thing.”

Organically Grown Thrillers by April Lurie. Peek: “When I was fourteen years old, David Berkowitz, aka Son of Sam, was shooting and killing blond, blue-eyed girls in my Brooklyn neighborhood. Needless to say, this was a bit unsettling, especially since I was a Scandinavian girl living among a majority of Italians.”

Note: these are just a few of the many features in the latest issue of Hunger Mountain. You’ll also want to check out poetry by Naomi Shihab Nye and E. Kristin Anderson, articles by Chris Barton and Jeannine Atkins, the industry scoop from Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford, fiction by authors Holly Cupala and Jessica Lee Anderson, and much more!

Reminder: the deadline for the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing is June 30. Peek: “One overall first place winner receives $1,000 and publication! Three runners-up receive $100 each.” This year’s judge is Holly Black.

Cynsational Screening Room

Bethany Hegedus reads Between Us Baxters (WestSide, 2009) in this video by Kathi Appelt, shot in College Station, Texas. See Kathi’s report on the event.

Check out the book trailer for Susan Beth Pfeffer‘s post-apocalypse trilogy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Celebrating Ming Doyle

Rumor has it that the delightful folks at Candlewick are starting to talk about the spring 2011 list, which is a big list for me because it’ll include both Blessed and Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, a graphic novel, illustrated by Ming Doyle. This strikes me as another call to celebrate the awesomeness of Ming, so here’s a Lois & Clark video snapshot from her LJ.

On a related note, Ming now has a journal of her art available for purchase. Note: this would be a lovely gift to give one’s wife for her anniversary. This is a hint to my husband.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a paperback copy of Swim the Fly by Don Calame (Candlewick, 2010)! Read an excerpt or sample chapter (PDF). Check out this author interview (PDF).

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Swim the Fly” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message or comment me with the name in the header/post; I’ll write you for contact information, if you win). Deadline: June 30. Sponsored by Candlewick Press; U.S. entries only.

More Personally

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci is being released in paperback this month by Little, Brown. The anthology includes “The Wrath of Dawn” by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith.

Thanks to Shveta for hosting my latest interview–Dancing and jingling and tantalizing: Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith–at A desi faerie spins stories of stars, jasmine in her hair…. I talk about the inspirations for Tantalize, Eternal, and even Cynsations as well as what I’ve learned from teaching, a few recommended multicultural novels, what I’d like to see more of in children’s-YA books, my upcoming releases, and fictional role models.

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith: Author of Eternal by J.E. from Fresh Dawgs’ Book Blog. Peek: “My reading tastes have expanded over the years. When I was in high school, I enjoyed spooky stories, and I still do. But I also love great creative nonfiction, historical novels, novels in verse, and many more genres and formats. Writing has made me appreciate more what I can learn from embracing a wide variety of books.”

Why Do You Read Cynsations? Please answer this question at the poll in the sidebar of Cynsations at Blogger.

Reminder: any ARC/book blurb queries should be emailed to me by editors/agents, not from authors directly. Please also note that I have been swamped of late with such requests, so it’s not an ideal time. Thanks!

Austin Area Events

“The Metaphor: So Much More Than a Simple Comparison,” a lecture by Varian Johnson at 11 a.m. June 12 at BookPeople.

Picture Perfect! A Spit-Polish Workshop at St. Edwards University, featuring famed Lisa Wheeler as Keynote Speaker is scheduled for Oct. 9 and sponsored by Austin SCBWI. Faculty also will include Sarah Sullivan, Stephanie Greene, Don Tate, and Laura Jennings. See more information (PDF).

Guest Post: J.T. Dutton on The Problem of Sex in Young Adult Novels

By J.T. Dutton

“Fifteen-year-old boys like sex,” a member of my graduate committee said one day, a few weeks before I was to defend my thesis.

We had been discussing what a visiting writer to our school had dubbed the absence of a socio-sexual agenda in the draft of my manuscript.

I had it in mind that my main character, Scotty Douglas, wasn’t interested in girls. I claimed he was a lot like Huckleberry Finn, on an adventure that didn’t include the pursuit of women.

But my advisor honed in on a flaw in my thinking: real, believable, fifteen-year-old boys aren’t particularly aesthetic, and if you squeezed Huck into a modern frame of reference, he’d seem pretty weird.

Nearly all heroes and heroines of contemporary novels, his argument ran, are either running towards or away from the allure of sex.

In order to solve the problem of the socio-sexual agenda in Freaked (HarperTeen, 2009), I created the character of Linda Loveletter, Scotty’s oversexed, overexposed Playboy Bunny mother. Her razzle-dazzle made the novel go, drove the conflict, fired the plot and probably motivated more teen males to care about Scotty than might have otherwise.

Why? Because snickering is part of being a teen boy, I guess; and Scotty’s dilemma, seen humorously, made him appear more vulnerable and interesting.

In “chick lit” or girl YA fiction, sex can be a critical poser. Some YA novels for teen girls alter the playing field so much that boy/girl love is elevated to fantastic and unrealistic forms in order to elude the messiness and potentially risky territory of sexual encounters. (It’s okay if a girl pursues love, but she doesn’t have the same right to smirk and conquer—at least literarily—as a boy does). I’m not sure why.

I believe that authors of teen romances are as attuned to the socio-sexual agenda as writers of edgy or realist YA fiction. They just come at the problem from a different, safer-feeling angle. They have discovered a way to keep the tale “clean” and still move their target audience.

Handsome athletes kiss shy but spunky library lurkers. Vampires sparkle and free reclusive heroines from puddles of loneliness. The aching on the part of girls to participate emotionally in this kind of story is real and driven by the same yearning and desire that makes Linda Loveletter win the hearts (or hormones) of boys.

If there is a problem with taking the clean approach, I think it is that it oversells the “happily ever after,” a romantic ideal that breaches the boundaries of realism.

When “happily ever after” fails, what should come next?

The personal growth the average young woman experiences when she walks the tightrope between sex and love is a beautiful thing, a tale worth telling, and telling, and telling again, even with respect to its mishaps. The goal for writers of these stories should be empathy and honesty for adolescent girls.

Not long after I finished Freaked, I started Stranded (HarperTeen, June 2010). The plot of the novel resolves around the discovery of an abandoned infant in a cornfield, the ultimate, most complicated outcome of teen romance gone wrong.

My goal was to make readers remember what it meant to be fifteen, to be facing a dragon, and feeling the whole world, to express that no one’s story ends after one mistake.

Cynsational Notes

Check out the book trailer for Freaked:

and the author interview:

Check out the book trailer for Stranded:

and the author interview:

SCBWI Florida Conference & Disney World


Thank you to regional advisor Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld, ARA Michelle Delisle, and everyone at last weekend’s SCBWI Florida conference at the Coronda Springs Resort at Walt Disney World. It was an honor to visit with y’all, and I had a lovely time.

Friday faculty included author Lisa McCourt and Frances Gilbert of Sterling Publishing, teaching the picture book intensive; author Kathleen Duey, Stephanie Owens Lurie of Disney-Hyperion, and Alvina Ling of Little, Brown, teaching the novel intensive; illustrator-author Linda Shute and illustrator-author Pat Cummings, teaching the illustrator’s intensive; author Tammi Sauer, illustrator Dan Santat, and Frances Gilbert, Vice President and Editorial Director of children’s publishing at Sterling Publishing, teaching the picture book track.

Saturday faculty included Tammi, Dan and Frances, teaching the picture book track; Kathleen and Alvina, teaching the middle grade track; author Danielle Joseph and Brian Farrey, Editor, Flux, teaching the YA track, author Terri Farley and Stephanie Owens Lurie, Editorial Director, Disney – Hyperion, teaching the series track, as well as me, author-social media consultant Greg Pincus and Ed Masessa, author and Senior Manager Product Development, Scholastic Book Fairs, teaching the marketing track.

Note: there were a couple of last minute cancellations, but I’m not sure I have the whole list, so that’s the official roster, according to the website. I do know, however, that Alexandra Cooper, Senior Editor at Simon & Schuster, signed on at the last minute, much to everyone’s delight.

What an adventure! My husband and sometimes co-author Greg Leitich Smith accompanied me on this trip. On Friday, we took the Delta red eye from Austin to Atlanta, which was no problem, and then embarked on a twice-delayed, fairly scary second flight from Atlanta to Orlando. The gory details are available from Greg.

I wasn’t among those who screamed, though I did hold tight to my very cute husband’s hand. What stands out most in my memory is that while the adult passengers were freaking out, the two young boys–brothers, one about age 16 and the other about age 9–sitting in front of us were having a blast, leaning over to peer out the window and thrilled by the idea that we might have lost a wing or something. I’m very sure that moment will spring to mind the next time I hear someone objecting to a scary book because we have to “protect the children.”

Once on the ground, though, Greg and I were welcomed into in the cheerful and comforting hands of SCBWI Florida. Curtis Sponsler picked us up at the Orlando airport and had already heard tales of the flight before he connected with us.

Curtis was friendly, funny, and a wonderful storyteller. The perfect person to usher us from a bumpy experience to a great one.

We had dinner that evening at the Pepper Market at the hotel. It was so exciting to see old friends, meet new ones, and chat in person with folks I knew only on the ‘net.

Highlights included meeting one of my favorite authors, Dorian Cirrone (rhymes with “minestrone”)(author interview) and beloved author, teacher, workshop leader Joyce Sweeney. Joyce is the Jedi master of the Florida writing community.

After dinner, I met with marketing track co-presenters Greg Pincus and Ed Masessa. The next day, we offered both joint and individual sessions. My areas of focus included balancing aspects of marketing (publicity, events, blogging) and marketing as a whole against your creative and personal life. Ed offered the inside scoop from a publisher’s (Scholastic’s) point of view, and Greg provided both illuminating anecdotes and big-picture insights into online marketing.

It strikes me that a lot of writing groups could benefit from Greg’s overview of how to raise brand awareness on the Web generally and via social networks specifically. If this rings true to you, please consider him highly recommended as a speaker. See more of Greg’s thoughts.

Here’s Alexandra from S & S. I had the honor of speaking with her in February at the Houston SCBWI conference, and the famed Disney princesses have nothing on this editor. She absolutely sparkles.

Here’s Joyce again (in white) with fellow author Marjetta Geerling (in black). Cynsations readers may recall that I last saw Marjetta in April at the Greater Houston Teen Book Convention. Read a Cynsations interview with Marjetta.

Alvina of Little, Brown awaits authors for critique with SCBWI gold forms in hand.

(This was my first “gold forms” experience).

Alvina is a rock-star editor, whose many fantabulous books include one of my all-time faves, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Newbery Honor author Grace Lin (2009), and more personally, Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci‘s Geektastic (2009, 2010), which features “The Wrath of Dawn” by me and Greg and is coming out this month in paperback. Yay!

After the conference, we continued to dinner at the Maya Grill, which is the hotel’s upscale restaurant. Here’s a quick, final wave to Adrienne Sylver, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Danielle Joseph, Sue LaNeve, Mindy Alyse, Anna Khaki, and Alex Flinn (who showed me the alligator in the hotel lagoon)! Sorry I can’t list everyone who was there!

Thanks again to Linda and the whole gang at SCBWI Florida!

Greg and I decided to spend two more days at the Coronado Spring Resort and partake of the Land of the Mouse. On Sunday morning, we had breakfast at the Grand Floridian Café.

Because we’d visited the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom parks on previous visits, we decided to first concentrate on Epcot, specifically the World Showcase. It’s all a little surreal, but you can learn a bit about the various featured nations.

I loved the various 360-film tours of the featured countries, especially France and Canada, and the water ride in Mexico. Also, my inner Austinite was pleased to catch of glimpse of locals Lance Armstrong and Willie Nelson in the United States presentation.

We split a lunch at the Nine Dragons Restaurant in the China Pavilion.

And had one of the best meals of the trip at Teppan Edo in Japan, where we sat with a charming couple from Mississippi who were celebrating over 40 years of marriage.

I also enjoyed the koi in Japan.

I saw animals everywhere…ducks (and ducklings!), bunnies, deer, gators–some “officially” Disney affiliated but others not.

The concierge at the Coronado told us that all of Disney is a nature preserve, and that occasionally, a guest becomes traumatized when, say, a gator eats a bunny (“We don’t feed the gators, so they have to find their own food.”). It struck me that you don’t see a whole lot of carnivore success stories in Disney animated features. Threats, yes. Successes, not so much.

Wherever we went, music filled the air. Imagine my surprise in the U.K. when we came around to discover that the Beatles music coming from the pavilion was a live tribute band.

And at each turn adorable little girls were decked out as Snow White, Cinderella, and various miscellaneous princesses that defied my ability to identify. I mean, full-blown professional hair, make-up, and costuming. (Okay, part of me wishes that they wanted to be senators or presidents or at least queens, but the cute factor was enormous).

At first, I was perplexed. Were parents really putting together these Broadway-worthy ensembles each morning in hotel rooms all around the park? When had the burdens and blessings of motherhood automatically begun to include hair styling? But eventually, I passed by a Disney salon/boutique where transformations abounded.

Who needs a fairy godmother?

Having indulged in an 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Epcot experience the previous day, we decided to take it easy on Tuesday and hopped a bus for Downtown Disney, which is basically a restaurant-shopping-entertainment district (no rides, but no park fee either).

We had lunch at T-Rex: A Prehistorical Family Dining Adventure, which was tasty, prehistoric fun, though I have no idea how this poor ice age fellow (above) found himself lost millions of years from the Ice Age. That said, I felt a kinship to him. After all, the shifters in Tantalize and Eternal are descended from cousins who trace their earliest ancestors to his same era.

Our table was located next to an aquarium showcases the various breeds of fish depicted in “Finding Nemo.”

Speaking of movies, we decided to escape the Florida humidity that afternoon by hitting the theater to watch “Shrek: Forever After,” which we both liked a lot. Think: Shrek meets “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Here’s a peek at our dessert from Fulton’s Crab House (nope, we didn’t come close to finishing it). And that was basically it! The flight home was blessedly uneventful. For more insights on the weekend’s festivities, check out Greg Leitich Smith’s Florida SCBWI report.

When will we return to Orlando? Soon, I hope! The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens at Universal Studios in a couple of weeks!

Interview: Cristina Brandao on Book Club at facebook

Join Book Club at facebook, 8,300+ members strong.

Could you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

Well, let’s see, I’m 24 years old, and I live just north of Toronto (Canada). I am a student, but I work as well, which leaves a lot of room to read and not a lot of time for much else.

How do you come to fall in love with books?

I used to love reading when I was younger. I used to read so much that everywhere I went I had a book with me. I owned every single Baby-sitter’s Club, Baby-sitter’s Little Sister and Fear Street Saga that there was. (Actually I still have the Fear Street Sagas.)

But back then, if people found out you liked to read they made fun of you or other such childish nonsense. So I stopped reading.

Then last year there was all this hype around a certain quartet of novels, and I was convinced that nothing out there was that good. So to prove everyone wrong I went and read them and instead of me showing them that they were wrong, it turned out that I was actually impressed with what I read.

I now continue to read any and all books that look good (yes, I judge a book by its cover), which seems to have a tendency to be paranormal in nature. It is through these books that I am able to find characters I can relate to. Characters that have the same or similar ups and downs and know about love, loss and happiness. That is what keeps me in love with books. They are my friends, my escape.

When and why did you start Book Club?

I started Book Club in the beginning of June 2009 because I kept reading all these great books, and I was completely frustrated on account of the fact that none of my friends read and I had no one to talk to about them.

What is its mission?

Book Club doesn’t really have a mission, but its goal is to bring book readers together to discuss the books they are reading.

What are its activities?

Activities? Like what Book Club does?

Book Club brings avid book readers together to discuss the books they are reading as well as to help promote new releases. The Photo Albums have images of book covers of suggestions I’ve made to the people who are avid users of my page. All of the books I’ve read have my own persona description under them.

The Discussion Board is filled different topics of different books people are reading that they’d like to discuss while the main wall has posts of what people are currently reading which make up the Top Ten (posted weekly).

There are notes that have authors’ official websites and twitter accounts so that fans may follow their work and the Events tab is filled with different book releases. You can also find some of the best of 2009 in the Notes tab.

Who are its members?

The members of Book Club consist of users of facebook who read books.

Why is facebook a good fit for the group?

Facebook is not the greatest fit for my original idea of an online book club, but it works. If was more computer savvy, I would try to create a site for it in my original image.

How can authors work with/support the group?

Authors can work with/ support Book Club by “becoming a fan” or “liking” my Book Club page as well as letting me know when their next novel will be released, any tour dates, and any new information regarding their work. I try to keep up with it, but sometimes I can’t be efficient enough.

What else do you do in book world?

I realized a few months ago that I’d like to get into book promotions and maybe eventually publishing, but I have a long way to go before I publish anything. I am, however, quite efficient at promotions.

I usually do not support promotions if they are done with the authors’ publishing company or whoever it is, but I have done contests and giveaways with any author who is interested. All they have to do is contact me, and we’ll work something out.

I also have a monthly newsletter that has: Book Club’s Book of the Month, new book releases, appearances, the Free Book of the Month, with upcoming Bookworm of the Month and Guess Review.

Do you imagine yourself as still a part of the wider conversation of books in five years? Ten? If so, in what way?

Of course I do! I would love to create a place where one half of the location is a bookstore and the other half is a place where you can read your books, talk about them and come to well organized events and signings.

I’d love to be able to host and organize a yearly event/gala/convention/book fair here in Toronto where loads of authors would be able to converse and get to know their fans.

I have high hopes and big dreams that all have books in them.

What are a couple of your favorite recent reads and why?

I don’t really have any favorite recent reads, but here is a few on my up-and-coming-to-read list:

Hearts at Stake
by Alyxandra Harvey

Georgina Kincaid Series by Richelle Mead

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith


Women of the Otherwold
Series by Kelley Armstrong

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I just want to say thanks to all the people who “became a fan” or who “likes” Book Club. Without you I wouldn’t have the confidence to do what I do.

Also a big/huge/enormous thank you to all the authors who have supported me from the beginning, and who continue to support me, specifically Nancy Holder with much thanks to Cynthia Leitich Smith. I appreciate everything you do. Thanks so much!

Authors can contact me any time if they need anything.