Events: “Give Yourself a Longer Shelf Life” at the Writers’ League & “Fangs vs. Fur” at Austin Public Library

Attention: Central Texans,

You’re invited to my last two public author events of 2010–one for authors and one for readers!

“Give Yourself a Longer Shelf Life: Marketing for the Long-Term” panel discussion at 7 p.m. Nov. 18 at BookPeople. Panelists: Cynthia Leitich Smith, Jay Ehret and Dana Lynn Smith. Jay is a book marketing expert, and Dana is a book marketing coach and author of The Savvy Book Marketer Guides. Sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas.

“Fangs vs. Fur” event will include Cynthia Leitich Smith 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 19 at the University Hills Branch (4721 Loyola Ln.) of the Austin Public Library. From the promotional copy:

In a literary battle between vampires and werewolves, who will be victorious? You be the judge!

Play Family Feud: Vampires vs. Werewolves. Sink your fangs or teeth into the sumptuous Blood Bar. Compete for prizes in the Costume Contest or go for the gusto in the Howling Contest, if you dare. Enjoy Twilight sock-puppet theater, vampire and werewolf anime films, a Vampire Knight and Hellsing manga and anime discussion, and so much more.

For more information, call 512.974.9940.

Event Report: Holler Loudly about Alien Invasion and Truth with a Capital T

What fun it was to join Bethany Hegedus and Brian Yansky in celebrating our new releases at BookPeople in Austin, Texas!

Bethany’s latest book is Truth with a Capital T (Delacorte, 2010)(ages 9-up), Brian’s is Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences (Candlewick, 2010)(ages 12-up), and mine is Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010)(ages 4-up).

Huge thanks to Mandy, Madeline, and everybody else who worked the event!

The menu consisted of turkey chili (homemade by Bethany), a variety of cheeses, mixed fruit, cookies, water, and both wine and root beer.

Take a look at these amazing cookies, homemade by Anne Bustard (thanks, Anne!), who also helped out at the refreshments table! Can you guess which cookie(s) goes with which book?

The one thing we had left over? Cheese! I still have cheese in my refrigerator. Do you like the Western-theme toothpicks?

And here’s a closer look at the cake–complete with our book covers in frosting! Thanks to Brian and his wife, author-illustrator Frances Yansky for coordinating the cake!

Here, you can see Anne with Katie Bayerl, who was in town visiting and also helped out at the refreshments table. What a gem!

Here’s my husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, getting the PowerPoint up and running for our presentations. Thanks, Greg!

We also had a terrific activity table. Austin SCBWI ARA Carmen Oliver helps young readers….

choose and affix their alien-inspired temporary tattoos!

I never got a full count–but the room was at standing room only, and I think there are only two copies of Holler Loudly left in the whole store. A lot of guests stocked up with all three books for their own reading and/or holiday gift-giving. Brian and Bethany were signing like the wind!

Writer-teacher Jerri Romine (pink & jeans) with Bethany (in black), Carmen (behind an adorable young reader), writer Donna Bowman Bratton (white & jeans), DDD authors April Lurie and Shana Burg, and Frances.

April (all in black) with YA librarian Michelle Beebower. Note: I’ll be joining Michelle’s crew at the “Fangs vs. Fur” event, starting at 5 p.m. Nov. 19 at the University Hills Branch of the Austin Public Library.

Thanks to everyone who joined us for the party! I hope y’all enjoy the books!

Later that evening, Greg and I returned to the store for the BookPeople 40th Anniversary Party!

Penguin Young Readers sales rep Jill Bailey with YA author Varian Johnson.

Austin SCBWI RA and author Debbie Gonzales with YA author Jennifer Ziegler.

Writer Amy Rose Capetta with Katie.

Happy anniversary, BookPeople! Here’s to 40 more years!

Cynsational Notes

Speaking of new books….

Last weekend, we attended a Writers’ League of Texas joint author event that featured P.J. “Tricia” Hoover, signing The Necropolis (Blooming Tree, 2010) and Jacqueline Kelly, signing the paperback edition of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Square Fish, 2011).

At this same event, K.A. “Kari” Holt showed off the paperback edition of Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel (Yearling, 2010).

Congratulations to Tricia, Jacqueline, and Kari on their new releases!

New Voice: Matthew Quick on Sorta Like a Rock Star

Matthew Quick is the first-time YA author of Sorta Like a Rock Star (Little, Brown, 2010). From the promotion copy:

Amber Appleton lives in a bus. Ever since her mom’s boyfriend kicked them out, Amber, her mom, and her totally loyal dog, Bobby Big Boy (aka Thrice B) have been camped out in the back of Hello Yellow (the school bus her mom drives).

But Amber, the self-proclaimed princess of hope and girl of unyielding optimism, refuses to sweat the bad stuff. Instead, she focuses on bettering the lives of her alcoholic mother and her quirky circle of friends: a glass-ceiling-breaking single mother raising a son diagnosed with autism; Father Chee and The Korean Divas for Christ (soul-singing ESL students); a nihilist octogenarian; a video-game-playing gang of outcasts; and a haiku-writing war vet.

But then a fatal tragedy threatens Amber’s optimism—and her way of life. Can Amber continue to be the princess of hope?

With his zany cast of characters and a heartwarming, inspiring story, debut YA author Matthew Quick builds a beautifully beaten-up world of laughs, loyalty, and hard-earned hope. This world is Amber’s stage, and Amber is, well…she’s sorta like a rock star.

In writing your story, did you find yourself concerned with how to best approach “edgy” behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

My protagonist, Amber Appleton, is pretty wholesome, as far as teenagers go. She doesn’t drink or do drugs. She isn’t sexually active. She has a personal relationship with her God. She’s also a free thinker, a nonconformist who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and a strong-willed independent young woman waving her optimistic worldview like a flag.

Yet, when Amber suffers a horrific tragedy, she sinks into a serious depression for a third of the book, during which she does some understandable but unlikable things, including cursing the people who are trying to save her. She also has very bleak thoughts and even challenges the point of life itself.

Amber asks a lot of philosophical questions about God, the meaning of life, the lot she is given, why good things happen to bad people, etc. These are questions not everyone is comfortable addressing, but Amber explores them honestly, oscillating between reverence and irreverence.

I knew that Amber’s intense personality was going to rankle some readers. She calls Jesus Christ “JC” and “sucka,” but her faith in him is sincere.

When Amber befriends a Vietnam Vet, she calls Jane Fonda a “bitch” and an “old-lady actress,” but it is in an effort to make a deeply wounded man feel supported. Amber also repetitively calls herself a “freak” and the “princess of hope.”

I worried that Amber might be too intense, too raw, too Amber. But I decided that allowing Amber to exist on the page exactly how she came to me creates an emotional vulnerability and honesty that I don’t always see in stories about young people.

Amber is just as weird, strange, flawed, child-like, endearing, and annoying as many of the teenagers I worked with when I was a high school English teacher. I decided that I didn’t want to gussy up her language or attitude for the page.

Part of the growing up process is being sanitized. We learn to suppress our questions, our quirks, our spunk, irreverence, etc.; we learn to fit in. For most kids, this is a simple process usually accomplished by the time they are at the end of high school. Other kids are different. But different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong or bad; sometimes different should be celebrated.

So the “edgy” risk I took was making Amber Appleton a complete weirdo with a good heart. I modeled her after some of my favorite former students who clung onto the ideals of their childhood a little more tightly than the rest.

Some readers have told me that they didn’t like Amber at first because they found her to be too immature and/or quirky, but then after so many pages they grew to love her and were devastated when the post-tragedy Amber gives up and ceases to be herself.

When I hear this, I consider it a victory for tolerance.

I realized that writing Amber’s story in first person, employing such an extremely quirky voice—Amber stocks a ridiculous hodgepodge of catchphrases—would test the curmudgeon’s tolerance. But I wanted to write a book that celebrated people who are different. There are many fantastic unconventional people in this world who will never be labeled “cool” or “hip” or even “appropriate,” but they can still play important beautiful roles in our lives if we let them.

Amber is a freak, a misfit. But if you tolerate her, I believe you will find she is well worth knowing. The best freaks usually are.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

When I was creating Amber’s voice I mostly listened for laughter—meaning, if I heard myself laugh, I kept the dialogue. I wanted her to be funny, first and foremost. Second, as mentioned above, I wanted her to be quirky. And, of course, ultimately, I wanted her to be likeable.

But as everyone has different tastes, senses of humor, and—let’s be honest—prejudices too, a writer can never hope to please everyone.

So who should we please?

Who can we please?

I’ve written a lot since I quit teaching in 2004—petty much continually for the last six years. I’ve completed eight novels and abandoned dozens. I’ve only sold three.

The two books I’ve published—The Silver Linings Playbook (FSG, 2008)(published for grown-ups) and Sorta Like a Rock Star—were by far the easiest to write. That’s not to say the writing process was without challenges. But I enjoyed writing those two far more than all of the other unpublished books.

You might be thinking I enjoyed writing the published books because they were ultimately recognized by the powers that be in NYC, but to be absolutely honest, I knew when I was writing that something special was going on—that these two books were the most authentically me.

During the MFA experience, I tried to hone a more literary academic voice that always ended up feeling fake to me. And while I am sure there are people who will say that my published work doesn’t work for them—no book works for every reader—the books I have published really work for me.

My wife—novelist, Alicia Bessette—author of Simply From Scratch (Dutton, 2010)—knows me better than anyone. She is always my first reader. After she has read my draft, I ask her this question first: Is this manuscript authentically me?

If she says yes, it usually means that the book is ready for my agent’s eyes.

Sorta Like a Rock Star is about a seventeen-year-old homeless young woman. I have never been homeless, nor have I ever been a young woman. But the people who know me best say that they can see me in the book. They don’t mean that Amber is a thinly veiled fictional depiction of me, but that she is an authentic product of my personality.

I laughed and cried all through the writing of Sorta Like a Rock Star. I wrote a book that I wanted to read. I believe Toni Morrison once said—and I am paraphrasing here, as I am not able to remember the exact wording of the quote that once hung in my classroom, back when I was teacher—If there’s an unwritten book you want to read, you must write it. That’s what I tried to do with my debut YA book.

[“If there is a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”]

Like Amber, I thought a lot about religious and philosophical questions when I was a teenager. I am sometimes irreverent and sometimes extremely reverent. I’ve always been a free thinker. I have a quirky sense of humor. I like befriending unlikely people. I like using language to exert my personal independence, even when I know people might think I am weird.

I am not Amber Appleton, but Amber Appleton is made from the stuff that I know and love. She is an authentic extension of me, and her voice reflects that.

I’m always telling young writers to write about the things they love, and that’s what I tried to do with this book.

So, in short, get out of your own way. Don’t self censor. Get to know yourself. Write a book you will love. Allow the voice to emerge from within. Don’t force it. Word.

Cynsational Notes

Visit Quest for Kindess, a blog by Alicia Bessette and Matthew Quick.

Donate Items for “Bridget Kicks Cancer: Season of Love and Hope” Auction

Bridget Zinn is a librarian and YA author who was diagnosed in 2009 with Stage IV colon cancer. Last year, a bunch of generous folks donated and bid on items in an online auction to raise money to help Bridget and Barrett with their medical expenses.

Bridget is still fighting, so this year there will be another auction, “Bridget Kicks Cancer: Season of Love and Hope.” Bidding will take place from Nov. 22 to Dec. 4.

Please consider donating an item or service by Nov. 19.

– To donate, go to to fill out and submit the Item Donation Form.

– If you have more than one item to donate fill out a separate form for each item.

– For each item you submit, send images to accompany the item listing–up to four images per item! Please email images to:

– Get your donations in by Nov. 19!

Items that have been popular and successful in previous auctions include:

– Author and writer services: critiques, help with social networking

– Autographed books

– Handcrafted jewelry or greeting cards

– Local services: wine tours, house rentals, consulting work

– Original Artwork: perhaps design an 8 x 10 -12 x 24 around the theme of “Season of Love” (paying homage to Bridget’s “Summer of Love”), offer to commission a piece of art, or donate an existing piece

– Gift items

The Auction:

– The auction will begin at 8 a.m. Nov. 22 and conclude at 7 p.m. Pacific / 9 p.m. Central Dec. 4.

– To bid on items, visit the auction site at and follow the instructions for bidding.

– Winners will be notified by Dec. and sent instructions for payment at that time.

– As soon as payment is received, donors will ship or otherwise provide the item won to the winning bidder. Since this is around the holidays, send items as soon as possible after notification that payment has been received.

Questions? Email!

Cynsational Readers Take Over and Interview Cynthia Leitich Smith

In 2010, I’m celebrating ten years as an author of children’s-YA literature. My first book was Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow, 2000) and my most recent release is Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010)–now available!

Of late, I’ve invited Cynsations readers to send in questions for me to answer. Here goes!

What was your first reading like? What are readings like for you now?

My first reading was magical! It was at the launch of Jingle Dancer at Toad Hall Children’s Bookstore in Austin. Sadly, the store is one of those great indies that’s no longer with us. But I can close my eyes and remember being there. It was an amazing place.

I’m a more confident public reader now, less stressed about hitting every note just right. I’ve read Holler Loudly at a couple of school visits and the Texas Book Festival, and it was a big hit.

I try to involve the kids as much as possible in the reading, to draw them into the story.

I much prefer indoor readings to outdoor ones. That said, I’ve read with sirens blaring, dust blowing, and part of the surface of my eye torn off. Ow!

It’s all part of the job. You deal with what may come, and it’s on with the show!

How did you break through the wonderful world of publishing?

I began writing youth fiction in my late twenties. I read voraciously—across formats, age levels and genres. I attended every writing conference I could and poured over the Children’s Writers Market Guide (Writer’s Digest, 1996) with a yellow highlighter.

For a couple of years, I had a process down. I’d send a manuscript, the rejection letter would come, and I would file it. It was a terrific method. I was comfortable with it and knew exactly how it worked.

Then, with Jingle Dancer, I ended up with nibbles from an editor on a regular submission (who eventually bought it) and two who’d read it at Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators regional conferences here in Texas.

Fortunately, at about the same time, I signed with agent, Ginger Knowlton, who expertly steered me to my editor at Lodestar (then Morrow, then HarperCollins) for the final sale.

My question to you is to describe your transition from writing picture books in the beginning (of course, Jingle Dancer is my favorite picture book) to your leap to young adult novels. Do you plan on staying with the YA audience or plan to go back and forth?

My new book, Holler Loudly, is an original southwestern tall tale picture book. So, as much as I love writing YA fiction, I’m still a proud and dedicated author for children, too.

My next two books will be a prose YA novel, Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2011), and my first YA graphic novel, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle (Candlewick, Aug. 2011). So, even within YA literature, I’m diving into a new format.

By the way, you may be interested in the Writing Across Formats series that’s running this year at Cynsations, featuring conversations with authors who successfully do just that.

When will you publish another story with Native American characters?

I’m thrilled about the forthcoming publication of “Mooning Over Broken Stars” in Girl Meets Boy, edited by Kelly Milner Halls (Chronicle, spring 2012). My story is a companion to one by distinguished Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac.

Has writing with your husband changed your individual writing style?

I don’t have an individual style so much as one for each manuscript. Certainly, my upcoming southwestern tall tale picture book is much different than my upcoming YA Gothic fantasy.

But I do adore writing with Greg Leitich Smith. Together, we’ve published a picture book, Santa Knows, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006) and a short story, “The Wrath of Dawn,” which appeared in Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, 2009, 2010).

I’m also thrilled about Greg’s upcoming novel, tentatively titled, The Chronal Engine: Ahead of Time (Clarion, 2012).

It’s a mystery-adventure time-travel story about three teens who use their reclusive grandfather’s time machine to travel back to the Age of Dinosaurs to rescue their kidnapped sister and solve a family mystery.

Could you tell me about Blessed and how it fits into your YA series?

Blessed is the latest book in a series that I began working on in late 2001/early 2002, when people were saying that only boys read books about monsters.

The novel crosses over the casts of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009, 2010) and picks up right where Tantalize leaves off.

I spent a few years building what is essentially a multi-creature verse—populated with a diversity of humans, demons, old-and-new school vampires, two kinds of angels, and a variety of shapeshifters—not only werewolves and werecats but also the ever-fascinating wereopossum, weredeer, and werearmadillo.

Tantalize came out in 2007, and in 2009, its companion Eternal became an early entry in the rising choir of angels in YA lit. The guardian angel Zachary, one of the most popular characters in the series, is a co-protagonist in Eternal and a major character in Blessed.

Big-picture, my inspiration was Abraham Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Each book in my series moves closer from our world to Bram’s. Though readers don’t have to be at all familiar with his classic to enjoy my novels, I’ve heard from teens that have run to read the novel Dracula—in part trying to predict where my storyline is going next.

Bram’s themes—like the “dark” foreigner (which used to mean “Eastern European”), invasion, plague and gender dominance—are still so much with us today, and my series tackles those to varying degrees.

For many readers, Blessed will simply be a steadily building race against a monster to save the world as we know it—a hopefully suspenseful, funny, romantic, touching, horrific story. Others may see beyond that. All of them are reading it right.

A couple of people asked which of my books/works is my favorite. My favorite book is always the one I’ve most recently finished. So, right now, Blessed is it.

I heard you say once that you have a mission statement that sums up your philosophy and plan for your blog, and I thought, I need one of those. Can you talk more about that? How do you approach all this?

Sure, the mission of Cynsations is to inspire, uplift, and inform. It’s a writer blog, and much of my content is geared to fellow writers, though I heartily welcome all children’s-YA literature enthusiasts.

Writers are also readers, and I love talking books with fellow book lovers. So, I routinely invite new and established authors and illustrators, editors, and youth literature scholars to share their thoughts. I encourage them to go deep, especially as related to the craft of writing.

Beyond that, I write at a professional level (as do many of my blog readers), so I provide interviews and guest posts featuring agents, publicists, and other publishing insiders as well as related links of interest from throughout the kidlitosphere.

I take an encouraging tone, root for my audience, and try to offer folks information and insights that will add something positive to their art, careers, and blog rolls.

What else? Cynsations is really focused on children’s-YA writing and publishing per se. When I touch on current events or larger societal concerns, I stay true to that lens. For example, with regard to bullying, especially as related to GLBTQ teens, it made the most sense for me to feature an “It’s Gets Better Video” by one of our own, Cheryl Rainfied, author of Scars (WestSide, 2010) and a guest post by C.J. Bott on Words – One Weapon We All Own, highlighting books that could be used as springboards for discussion.

It’s not a 100-percent focused approach. I occasionally will blog a peek at, say, my spring wildflowers or one of Greg’s culinary masterpieces. But that strategy helps me to choose content and may help build an audience because readers have some idea of what to expect.

And yet, as a reader myself, some of my favorite blogs take a more organic, varied, and personal voice. So, while what I do works for me, it’s definitely not the only way to go about it.

On a side note, I take comments only at Cynsations at LiveJournal and MySpace. I do want to hear from the readers at Blogger, and I periodically remind them that they can comment at the other locations. But each month, the Blogger interview pages and some others are added as core links to the children’s-YA literature resources section or writer resources section of the main website. As much work as my web designer/master does, she really can’t mock up another twenty-plus pages pages each month, and that seems especially unnecessary (not to mention cost prohibitive) after I’ve already taken time to code/format them.

If I had to do it again, I’d try to come up with a different, better solution. I fret that not offering a comment opportunity on every outlet may put off some readers. But that’s how it goes with hindsight. There’s so much about blogging and the kidlitosphere that I couldn’t foresee when I started in 2004. I hope that my readers will keep that in mind and realize I’m doing my best.

Could you offer some advice on framing a children’s and YA author brand online?

Ah, the “B” word. It’s something I’ve thought about–how to welcome, say, eight-year-old and eighteen-year-old readers to the same online destinations.

If you look at my various blogs and network customizations (to the extent such things are possible), you’ll see that they’re hopefully inviting but neither especially little-kid-ish or especially YA-ish.

My amazing web designer, Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys, took this to the next level with her re-envisioning of the official author site. Consider the regular pages versus YA pages. They flow, but each has a different feel.

This isn’t a question so much as a comment. Thank you for including a lot of posts by and about people of color and multicultural books.

Seeing “by and about,” I’m guessing you’re someone who follows the CCBC numbers on Children’s Books Published By and About People of Color.

Here’s my thought: some excellent writers and stories spring from groups that are underrepresented in the body of literature. I’m happy to highlight them.

I also understand that the success of such titles is largely dependent on word of mouth. For the most part, sales expectations for multicultural titles tend to be lower and marketing dollars tend to be allocated to mainstream books seen as having more commercial appeal.

If the success of a writer of color–focusing on art that reflects her community–is entirely dependent on traditional channels, she’ll likely have a short-lived career.

This is especially true if her work doesn’t have a strong curriculum connection. But even that coupled with, say, multiple starred reviews won’t generate sales if institutional buyers believe that (a) brown people don’t read or (b) kids only want to read about people who’re like themselves when it comes race/culture/religion/orientation/region, etc. And their belief is justified every time such a book that doesn’t circulate. So, I make some noise. I cheer! I highlight!

Beyond that, by embracing a diversity of representations in youth literature, I hopefully let all of my Cynsational readers know that people like them matter to me and in the world of books.

We’ve seen some backlash on the Web against authors who market heavily. You have a big online presence, but you’re often held up as a positive model. What do you think about all this?

Thank you. I don’t think of what I do as marketing. I think of it as participating in the conversation of books and the craft of writing and the publishing industry.

When I started out, I was writing primarily about Native characters and themes, and there were precious few support systems for voices along those lines. I decided to do something positive and showcase titles by and about American Indians on the Web—not just my own books but those by other authors, too.

Over time, I expanded that to include voices from other underrepresented groups. Meanwhile, didn’t those quality mid-listers deserve more attention? How about the risk takers, busting their brands? Look, graphic novels are on the rise! Oh, and I adore genre fiction!

Fact is, I love being a cheerleader. It’s inherent in my personality.

I’m less inclined to talk about myself. In fact, I’ve been known to take this too far.

After some years of being active on the Web, I began receiving emails from folks who’d regularly visited my main site for years and had no idea that I was also a children’s author. They were thrilled for me and very interested to learn more.

At that point, I decided that modesty was one thing and hiding in the shadows was another. Besides, I put a lot of love and caring into my books and wanted to share them with others—especially those who’d be excited about the whole thing.

And to be candid, I’m not a trust-fund baby. I make a living from my books/speaking/teaching, etc. Publishers won’t continue to sign up my work if it doesn’t sell because I’m too self-conscious to mention it exists.

So, I have made my author-ness more clear on my online outlets and included a more prominent professional biography. I also offer a short section in my weekly round-ups that highlights my own book updates and, every once in a great while, feature a whole post about some big breaking news in my writing life. Like, say, this tenth anniversary interview.

I find that these are the posts my readers respond to most enthusiastically, though I suspect that may be in part because they’re rare.

As for what other authors are doing, I can point to a lot of terrific models. Take a look at Mitali Perkins, Esme Raji Codell, Cynthea Liu, Laurie Halse Anderson… I could go on.

It’s key in encouraging youth to read that a number of authors connect with them and their champions online. For those interested in participating, everyone’s formula will be different. I would be less visible on the Web if I were a children’s author who didn’t also publish for teens.

However, I would especially encourage authors of color and/or authors of multicultural books in particular to do what you can to facilitate word of mouth. Please consider yourself welcome in the conversation. We value your insights and want to know more about what you do.

For, say, a writer with small kids and/or a full-time day job, just keeping her blog updated with her own major publishing news may be a small miracle. Maybe she doesn’t have the time or energy to even think about anyone else’s books or to craft a thoughtful essay.

As someone blessed with supportive publishers and readers, I’m not inclined to judge others in their approach—no matter if they’re sporadic in their efforts or especially assertive.

I will say, though, that I personally find it most effective to own that I’m an author but also respect those I connect with online and off as colleagues, friends, and fellow writers/readers rather than members of a target market per se. I’ve met many of the people I care about most through the kidlitosphere.

What advice do you have for fellow authors online?

I’m assuming this doesn’t apply to personal blogs that don’t reference one’s professional writing and authors who’d rather not have an official online presence.

First, ask yourself why you’re online at all and via what outlets/venues.

For example, I’m a trained journalist who loves to report good news. Blogging feeds that part of me. I’m also a writing teacher, a serious book lover, and someone who’s fascinated by the industry. I enjoy talking about the craft of writing, great reads, and the business of books. So, again, blogging is a good fit.

What, if anything, do you want to do? Why? What do you enjoy?

Finally, feel free to step away from the Internet. I do so periodically when I’m traveling or on an especially tight deadline. I just say I’m on hiatus, and that’s that.

What shouldn’t authors do?

So much is about personal style and comfort zones.

The main thing to keep in mind is that you are a public figure. It doesn’t really matter if your post or profile is marked private so long as it’s in any way evident that the person behind it is the one who wrote your books.

Editors and agents will check you out online, and so will parents, readers, and other industry professionals. It’s really easy to copy, paste and forward. Before you hit “publish,” keep that in mind.

How on earth are you doing all this Web stuff?

It’s not just me! Lisa Firke at Hit Those Keys is the designer and webmaster of the main site. My very cute husband and sometimes co-author Greg Leitich Smith writes most of the recommendations blurbs for the bibliographies.

Beyond that, I work way ahead. Posts are typically formatted up to three months in advance. Right now, they’re pre-scheduled through mid February. That means that I’m less flexible and responsive to breaking conversations in the kidlitosphere, but it protects my writing time and ensures a steady flow of quality content.

I try to compensate for the timeliness issue via my weekly round-up.

What do you think about facebook fan/like pages?

My author page on facebook gives folks who want to talk about my books or writing or publishing a place where they can contact me on the network (without clogging my personal page/stream with business-related posts).

On a related note, a number of YA teachers and librarians have mentioned that they don’t feel comfortable sending teens to authors’ personal pages. I can imagine why, though I think the vast majority of my colleagues do a great job of staying young-reader friendly.

At the same time, it’s almost impossible to discourage readers from posting about my books to my personal page, and I’m not inclined to scold them. (“How dare you be excited about my books!” You see, it’s ridiculously cranky sounding.)

That said, I’m inclined to approve a friend request from any book lover. I tend to approve much, much more often than solicit, and I do sometimes point folks to my author page if it seems that their interest in me is on that front. I don’t send out friend requests with the intent that those folks will become a target market, and I’d never spam someone else’s wall with an announcement related to my books.

My author page is home to fair amount of discussion, not just about my books but the field more generally. I suspect that many, if not most, of those who hit “fan”/ “like” were showing their interest in reading, writing, or publishing, rather than in me as an individual author. In fact, I lose a few who don’t want to scroll through posts about books by other authors. I’m okay with that.

What’s the hardest thing for you about being an author?

Saying “no.” Over and over and over again. Well over 50 times a day, every day, I’m asked by someone–often someone with a personal relationship to me–to do something that will cost me time or money. Sometimes both. Upwards of half of my 300-plus emails a day are labeled something like “favor.” And of course requests come in person, too.

Even folks who commiserate about my need to say “no” may nevertheless assume that it shouldn’t be said to them. Especially those with a personal connection. But you have to be vigilant about protecting your writing or it simply won’t get done.

Fortunately, I’m blessed with a supportive writer husband and writer pals who understand, cheer me on, and don’t take it personally when I’m not available. I’ll make it to that lunch someday–maybe in June? And I really am looking forward to it!

I’m a 2012 debut author, and I’ve read Cynsations for years to find out what to do. But can you tell me anything I shouldn’t be doing.

I’ll hit two points quickly.

Don’t return to your hometown and open with, “Wow, I’m glad I made it out of here!” Every place has its charm and its dedicated book people. Embrace wherever you may be.

Don’t abandon your back list. I’m not saying you should always emphasize a book like you do during its launch season–assuming you’re a promotional/speaker-oriented author. But realize that you are that book’s primary ambassador for its life in print (and perhaps reprint).

Authors (and publishers) fare best with a strong back list behind them, and in any case, your sales figures will follow you into the future. Why quit when your book is still in the game?

Are picture books dead? Should I give up?

No, picture books are not dead. Great picture books are being published every season. Publishers are being more selective. They probably should’ve been more selective earlier.

At the same time, I believe in stepping up to be an advocate for the picture book. The recent New York Times article pointed to parents wanting to push their children to higher reading levels, and this rings true to my experience. For all the hand-wringing about edgy content, I far more often find myself chatting with moms and dads who feel their 10-year-olds should be reading my YA novels marketed to ages 14-up.

Part of it may be bragging rights, wanting the world to think that your child is smarter, more advanced. Part of it may be kids wanting to grow up sooner. The pressures of limited time for reading together. But we need to educate book buyers that age level isn’t just about vocabulary or “edgy” content. It’s also about which books speak most to which readers at what point in their development.

From an industry outsider’s perspective, it’s complicated. Picture books are published for toddlers, early elementary readers, and later elementary readers. Some may be a good fit for readers of all ages, including teens and adults.

The burden is on us to sort through and explain all that. Librarians are a godsend. Well versed booksellers are critical on so many levels, including the prosperity of the bookstore itself.

That said, I understand why you’re frustrated. Quality picture books still flow into the body of literature. But at the same time, fewer and fewer agents will sign picture book writers, fewer contracts are offered, and both advances and royalty checks shrinking. Then there’s the reduced allocation of shelf space in bookstores.

Do this: take your writing to the next level, break new ground, write something that kids will beg to hear, and be a smart business person. Do your industry homework, and keep up with what’s going on. Get your grrr on, and get back to work!

More personally, take care not to spend too much time cycling on bad news in the kidlitosphere. There’s a tendency to share outrage, to focus on the negative. Some of that is smart and healthy, to put matters in perspective and offer a thoughtful response. Some writers are heartened by that, and it inspires them to new heights as advocates and in their work.

However, if you’re an especially sensitive person—and many of us in the arts are—it may only serve to unnecessarily discourage you. Step away from the Internet.

When you look back on your last ten years as an author, what are the changes that stand out?

I sometimes refer to myself as a pre- and post-Potter author because I see the success of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic, 1997-2007) as being symbolic shorthand for many of those changes.

The biggest was a relative shift in focus from the school-library market (though it’s still absolutely critical) toward the bookstore market. A few more quick contrasts:

The year I was a debut author, I didn’t know of another one. Writers were grumbling that publishers didn’t seem interested in taking chances on anyone new. In 2010, so many first-time authors have been published that it’s a challenge to keep them all straight. I do my best to highlight debut voices on the blog and have found that a tremendous (albeit fun and rewarding) task.

Published authors were well-established grown-ups, the first timers typically between age 45 and 55. When I began working with my first editor in my late 20s/early 30s, I could count on one hand the people I knew of my generation. None of them lived in my city or state.

At the time, I knew of only five well-respected agents who took on children’s-YA authors. I’d guess more than five new youth lit agents have entered the field so far this year.

The conventional wisdom was that you didn’t need an agent, but it was nice to have one. Many houses were open to unsolicited submissions.

I remember the Publishers Weekly article announcing that there were now children’s authors with websites. It was a novelty. Also, a few editors expressed concern that authors were talking to each other on the Internet, and therefore could acquire independent knowledge about the business and strategize accordingly.

New authors traditionally debuted after a solo journey or shepherded by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. However, in the past few years, there’s been a huge boom in YA novels published by members of the Romance Writers of America.

Back then, those inclined to sneer directed their disdain at literary realistic contemporary fiction. Too overdone, too depressing, too brainy and adult and self-indulgent, they said. We were driving readers away.

Different things were being pronounced dead and for different reasons.

YA literature was dead. Teens read adult books.

Fantasy was dead. Kids didn’t read fantasy anymore. They were too sophisticated for that.

Multiculturalism was dead. We tried it, and it didn’t work.

The undead were dead. R.L. Stine‘s Goosebumps series (Scholastic) was so over (or might as well have been), and those were boy books.

The picture book was dead. The CD-Rom was going to put the picture book out of business.

We’re never lacking in a loud voice with a Nostradamus complex.

Fellow authors who came of age in the industry at about the same time likely had different experiences and perceptions. But those are memories that spring to my mind.

The one constant is change.

My best recommendation is to take care of yourself, your writer pals, and cultivate a sense of humor. Advocate for libraries, support bookstores, and stretch yourself in your art. Keep in mind that what you’re doing is magical. That magic comes from you.

Thank you for your interest and enthusiasm. Thanks for the thoughtful questions.

It’s been a fascinating decade in the world of books!

Cynsational Screening Room

Holler Loudly Book Trailer:

Eternal Book Trailer:

Tantalize Book Trailer:

Rain Is Not My Indian Name Book Trailer:

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Congratulations to Kristin O’Donnell Tubb on the release of Selling Hope (Feiwel & Friends, 2010)! From the promotional copy:

It’s May 1910, and Halley’s Comet is due to pass thru the Earth’s atmosphere. And thirteen-year-old Hope McDaniels and her father are due to pass through their hometown of Chicago with their ragtag vaudeville troupe.

Hope wants out of vaudeville, and longs for a “normal” life–or as normal as life can be without her mother, who died five years before.

Hope sees an opportunity: She invents “anti-comet” pills to sell to the working-class customers desperate for protection. Soon, she’s joined by a fellow troupe member, young Buster Keaton, and the two of them start to make good money.

And just when Hope thinks she has all the answers, she has to decide: What is family? Where is home?

Booklist calls Selling Hope, “a bouncy tale populated by a terrific cast of characters.”

More News & Giveaways

Chicken Big by Keith Graves (Chronicle, 2010) will be featured by Daniel Pinkwater on Saturday morning, Nov. 13 on NPR’s Weekend Edition!

Ten Things to Do After Receiving a Revision Letter or Critique by P.J. Hoover from Roots in Myth. See also Paying It Forward with Partials: P.J., Elana Johnson, Shannon Messenger, Lisa and Laura Roecker, and Sarah Wylie all are giving away 25-page critiques. Deadline: Nov. 15.

The Care and Feeding of Your Author: Tips for a Successful Classroom Visit by Bobbie Pyron from From The Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors. Peek: “To ensure the kids and the author get the most of their time together, there are some things you, as a teacher or librarian, can do to maximize the event.”

Acquiring an Agent After Self-Publishing by Jane Lebak from QueryTracker. Peek: “Writing that moves people to tears and earns unasked-for praise will inevitably attract an agent’s attention. If you’ve got that kind of talent, surely you have more than one book in you. You can then leverage your self-publishing success in order to show an agent that your work has wider appeal.”

Getting Story Ideas by Verla Kay from Verla Kay’s Blog. Peek: “Are you stumped for a story idea? Don’t have a clue what to write about? Try asking yourself some of these questions…”

Cover Stories: Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales from Melissa Walker. Peek: “This happens regularly in publishing, that a cover designer will approach one of his colleagues and be like, ‘Hey, you have great hair/hands/legs/whatever. Will you model for this cover?’ No one has ever asked me to do this, but I am holding out hope.”

YA Outside the Lines: “authors of young adult fiction pushing boundaries and writing from the heart.” Contributors to this new team blog include: Jan Blazanin; Cheryl Renee Herbsman; Stephanie Kuehnert; April Henry; Julie Chibbaro; R.A. Nelson; Rosemary Clement-Moore; Lauren Strasnick; J. O’Connell; Trish Doller; Barbara Caridad Ferrer; Danielle Joseph; Sarah Porter; Tara Kelly; Holly Cupala; Jennifer Echols; Wendy Delsol; and Lauren Bjorkman.

Cheers to the 2010 Writers League of Texas Book Award finalists in children’s literature: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose (FSG, 2009); The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (Henry Holt, 2009); and All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane, 2009)! The 2011 contest is now accepting entries of books published in 2010; see contest details. Read a Cynsations interview with Jacqueline and a Cynsations guest post by Liz on the ALA Conference and the Caldecott. Note: congratulations to Liz on the release of the Korean language edition of All The World!

Nathan Bransford, formerly of Curtis Brown, Ltd., is no longer a literary agent. However his writing/publishing blog and forums will remain active. Peek: “I am leaving the world of publishing to work at the tech news/review site CNET, where I will be helping to coordinate social media strategy.”

The Monstrumologist Giveaway from The Compulsive Reader. Peek: “I love a nice, creepy story, no matter what time of the year, and right now I’m digging Rick Yancey‘s The Monstrumologist (Simon & Schuster, 2009). (And hey, it was a Printz Honor Book, you know, if you’re into knowing those types of things.) And so, I’m going to be giving away a copy of each The Monstrumologist and the next book, The Curse of the Wendigo (Simon & Schuster, 2010)…” Deadline: Nov. 23.

Is Contemporary YA a Tough Market? by Mary Kole from Peek: “So what can writers of contemporary realism do in order to make their books more saleable? Well, romance is a huge hook.” See also Mary on Is Waiting a Bad Sign?

Online Persona Workshop Week 6: Creating Content by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: “So. Content. It’s the core of your online presence. It’s not only how you communicate who you are, but it makes you relevant to others.”

How Picture Books Play a Role in a Child’s Development by Lori Calabrese from Children’s Book Review. Lori counts down 10 reasons why picture books are important.

Beyond Boundaries Interview with Joseph Bruchac from ReaderKidZ. Peek: “Sometimes, people I’ve met inspire me to tell a story–one that is little known, like that of the code talkers. Or it may be a story that has been poorly told or left out the American Indian point of view.”

YA Books about Bullying, Including Trailers compiled by Naomi Bates from YA Books and More.

The Fear Whisperer by Rosemary from Genreality. Peek: “The Fear Whisperer is especially vocal in the middle of a novel, when the going gets tough.” Source: Elizabeth Scott.

Top Ten Promotional Activities by Leah Cypress from 2010: A Book Odyssey. This cooperative debut author group ranks what has worked best for them. Peek: “A website is your business card; you’ve got to have one.”

Notes from the Horn Book: News about Good Books for Children and Teens (November 2010). Peek: “five questions for Lincoln Peirce, comic novels, poetic picture books, big kids’ nonfiction, must-have holiday books.” Source: Out of the Box.

Interview with Betsy Bird by Sheela Chari from From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. Peek: “…the book that made a difference in your life when you were ten that will always trump the new fabulous middle grade novel that’s winning the awards today. Our sense of nostalgia (for lack of a better word) is strong.”

In the News This Week by Alice Pope from Alice’s Pope’s SCBWI Blog. More to know! Note: cheers to fellow Austinite Chris Barton, whose Shark vs. Train, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Little, Brown, 2010) was named a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2010.

Vermont Novel Writing Retreat

2011 Novel Writing Retreat for Middle Grade & Young Adult Writers from the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. From the retreat information:

The Vermont Retreat, scheduled for March 18 to March 20, is limited to 25 serious writers of middle-grade or young adult fiction. Each participant will choose between a critique track or a writing track. Critique track includes informal small critique groups where participants read and critique other members’ work.

Critique track participants will receive a one-on-one critique with either two-time Canadian Governor General’s Award Winner Tim Wynne-Jones or ALA Michael Printz Honor author K.L. Going. The writing track will give participants the stimulation of lectures, chunks of time to use for writing, and the opportunity to network. All participants are welcome to take part in scheduled sessions with the three presenters. Evenings will include a Q&A session and an open mike session.

For an additional cost, 13 participants from either track can put their first chapters (up to 10 pages) under the editorial microscope and have a critique with Julie Strauss-Gabel, associate publisher of Dutton Children’s Books. These critique slots are filled in the order applications are received. Please don’t hesitate if you’re interested.

The fee includes accommodations (double occupancy) in the dorms at Vermont College for Friday and Saturday nights. Meals from Friday dinner through Sunday lunch will be prepared by the New England Culinary Institute.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of Love Drugged by James Klise (Flux, 2010).

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) and type “Love Drugged” in the subject line. Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just message me with the title in the header or comment on this round-up. I’ll write you for contact information, if you win. Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 30. U.S. entries only; sponsored by the author.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Janis Joplin, Rise Up Singing by Ann Angel (Amulet, 2010). Read a related Cynsations guest post by Ann.

This week YA Rebels are talking about the Seven Deadly Sins of Writing. Here’s Victoria Schwab on Envy:

Kathi Appelt interviews Kimberly Willis Holt about her three 2010 releases–The Water Seeker, The Adventures of Granny Clearwater and Little Critter, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith, and Piper Reed: Campfire Girl, illustrated by Christine Davenier (all Henry Holt).

Check out the trailer for the audio production of White Cat by Holly Black (Listening Library, 2010).

Two Chances to Win a Blessed ARC

Win an ARC of Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2011) from Jama Rattigan from Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup. Deadline: Nov. 21. See details. Peek: “Sounds tantalizing, no? If you’re seriously salivating over the prospect of more amped-up vamps, generous servings of diabolically delicious suspense, romance, wit and gothic gore presented in a contemporary setting, enter this giveaway post haste!”

Win an ARC of Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2011) from Steven R. McEvoy from Book Reviews and More. Deadline: Dec. 1. See details. Peek: “This much anticipated book ties the stories from Tantalize and Eternal together in a wonderful new story.”

Look for the ad for Blessed (Jan. 25, 2011) in the back of the Candlewick Press catalog! See also pages 24 to 25 for more details on the book. On the bottom, right-hand corner of page 25 you can “snap a sneak peek!” “To the first seven chapters of Blessed, you can snap a displayed tag with your smart phone.” Note: an URL for the app is included. See also the media kit for Blessed (PDF).

More Personally

My latest book, Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010)(ages 4-up), is now available!

Check out the photo of these newly arrived author copies–six years in the making!

Central Texans, please join me and pals Bethany Hegedus and Brian Yansky at 2 p.m. Sunday at BookPeople to celebrate our new releases! See details below.

Women Writers of Color: Cynthia Leitich Smith: an interview by Miss Attitude at Color Online. Peek: “Write every-kids and make people a little uncomfortable, but never forget to honor the hero in you.”

Holler Loudly: a field test report from BookMoot. Peek: “…at the climax of the story, as Holler booms out a command to the tornado about to swoop through the town, the children were reading together, with expression (loudly.) Several of them covered their own ears as they read.”

Tasha at Vampire Sisters recommends Eternal (Candlewick, 2009, 2010)! Note: Vampire Sisters is dedicated to the love of all things vampire!

Indian Shoes – Cynthia Leitich Smith: a review by Steven R. McEvoy from Book Reviews and More. Peek: “From stories about pants not being delivered with a tux for a wedding, to a Christmas menagerie, these stories will be fun to read as a family again and again.”

Kalamazoo Youth Literature Seminar 2010 – Cynthia Leitich Smith and Gillian Engberg by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “I think it was in 2002 that I met Cynthia at an NCTE Convention in Atlanta. In Kalamazoo, I was engrossed by her presentation. I tried to take notes, but was so taken with the remarks, that I don’t have much on my notepaper!”

See also my event report on Kalamazoo, Michigan. I’d like to add thanks to Marge Kars at Bronson Hospital, who coordinated my visit to the Juvenile Home, Diane Eberts at Kalamazoo Public Schools, and Stewart Fritz in Teen Services at the library!

Cynsational Events

Authors Bethany Hegedus, Brian Yansky and Cynthia Leitich Smith will celebrate their latest books at 2 p.m. Nov. 14 at BookPeople in Austin, Texas. This joint author party will feature refreshments, alien tattoos, readings, a Q&A, and signing. Bethany’s new release is Truth with a Capital T (Delacorte, 2010)(ages 9-up), Cynthia’s latest release is Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010)(ages 4-up), and Brian’s latest release is Alien Invasions and Other Inconveniences (Candlewick, 2010)(ages 12-up). Check out this interview with Brian by Kristen and enter to win a copy of his new novel at Bookworming in the 21rst Century. See also an Interview with Bethany on Truth with a Capital T by Sarah Sullivan from Through the Tollbooth, and don’t miss part 2.

2010 Library Jubilee will be from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Nov. 16 at ESC Region 12 in Waco, Texas. Note: I look forward to giving the keynote presentation.

“Give Yourself a Longer Shelf Life: Marketing for the Long-Term” panel discussion at 7 p.m. Nov. 18 at BookPeople. Panelists: Cynthia Leitich Smith, Jay Ehret and Dana Lynn Smith. Jay is a book marketing expert, and Dana is a book marketing coach and author of The Savvy Book Marketer Guides. Sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas.

“Fangs vs. Fur” event will include Cynthia Leitich Smith Nov. 19 at the University Hills Branch of the Austin Public Library.

Illustrator Interview: Barry Gott on Holler Loudly

Welcome, Barry Gott! And happy publication date for our picture book, Holler Loudly (Dutton, 2010)!

Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I grew up in Cleveland and worked at American Greetings for a few years after college. My job was writing and drawing the funny cards, until a visit from the Downsizing Fairy in 2002.

Thankfully, I had already begun illustrating children’s books, and the transition to working from home was easy, despite now having to provide my own tech support and empty my own wastebasket. For the last nine years, I’ve holed up in my attic studio writing and drawing fun things, and I haven’t had to go to a single meeting.

Thanks for the terrific job you did on the illustrations to Holler Loudly! How did you come to connect with the project?

Oh, the usual, I got an email from my agent with this great offer to illustrate a book.

As soon as I read it, I knew I was in! I thought it was going to be the most fun illustrating a book I’ve ever had, and I was right.

What approach did you decide to take initially to illustrating Holler’s story?

I used to do rough sketches on paper, but this was one of the first books I sketched out completely on the computer. I wanted the freedom to experiment as I went along–to move things around, squish and stretch things, make parts bigger and smaller, switch back and forth between ideas to compare them, and so on.

Did you do any research?

I looked at a lot of old 1930’s photos online, of small western main streets and homesteads, and clothing. It only occurred to me much later that there was nothing in the story that required that it be set in the past, that’s just what I immediately pictured when I read the manuscript for the first time.

How did you develop the characters?

I worked the most on Holler himself, lots of sketches of mouths. It was tricky getting his yelling mouth to not cover his whole face, yet still be exaggerated and larger than life. His parents are just how I pictured them from the outset.

My favorite little detail was giving them a little gray hair between when Holler was born and when the story takes place. Parenting a Loudly baby would certainly take its toll.

I love what you did with the sassy tornado! How did it come into focus?

When I first sketched the tornado I just scribbled wildly, then used the eraser to shape it and draw its face. It was originally intended to just be a quick rough, but I loved the looseness and wildness of it, and knew I wanted the same in the finished art. I used the same technique in the finished art, with lots of colors and layers, playing around with the opacity until I liked it.

Could you tell us about the process of adding layers through the art?

When I create art on the computer, I take layers to absurd lengths. Every face, eye, neck, shirt, arm, hand, pants, etc. is on its own layer. Hundreds and hundreds of layers. It enables me to paint fast within each shape, and change things around in the finished art if I need to, but it also creates huge files which sometimes choke my poor old computer.

What was your revision process?

A lot of picking, thinking, going back, picking some more, moving, adjusting bits of color, thinking some more, putting it away, coming back, picking, etcetera. Much of it just looked like me, frowning thoughtfully at the screen.

Looking back, what about the process stands out most in your memory?

Getting more and more excited as the details of the finished paintings started coming together and lining up wonderfully with what I had seen in my mind. That doesn’t always happen.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Dinosaurs. Lots of ’em. The series of Dino-Sports books written by Lisa Wheeler continued in spring with Dino-Baseball (Carolrhoda, 2010), and I recently finished the next title, Dino-Basketball. I’m enjoying a little break before diving into Dino-Football.

Also coming out in February 2011 is Dizzy Dinosaurs: Silly Dino Poems (HarperCollins, 2011), a collection of poems edited by Lee Bennet Hopkins.

I should have sneaked a dinosaur into Holler Loudly just to keep the trend alive.

Interview: Shannon Morgan on the Holler Loudly Teacher Guides

Shannon Morgan writes novels and plays for young people, and short stories for all ages. She also writes grant proposals, blog posts, and tweets.

When not updating the world on her devotion to ABBA and key lime pie, she loves to read, run, and travel.

Shannon lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband Dave.

Thank you for creating such a tremendous teacher guide for my picture book, Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, Nov. 11, 2010). What first attracted you to the project?

Your tweet! When you said you needed someone with experience in both study guides and state standards, I thought, “Hey, I have that!” so I replied.

But then I got a peek at the text and illustrations of Holler Loudly and fell in love. I could picture teachers reading it aloud to their students and wanting to tie in the story to classwork.

Plus, at that time, I was the only person I knew who’d landed a job through Twitter, so, you know…I felt pretty cool.

How did you go about framing the guide?

Holler Loudly has a target audience of children in pre-kindergarten through second grade, so I made four guides (pre-K, kindergarten, grade 1, and grade 2)(all PDFs).

Within each guide, I framed sections based on content areas: English Language Arts (ELA), mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, and drama.

Within each section, I wrote two to six activities, with emphasis on ELA, science, and math. On average, the guides have 25 activities each.

At the back of the guides, I listed each activity’s related content standards by state or territory. Since Holler Loudly is a picture book, I inserted art clips throughout the guides, and some of the activities focus on the art.

What were the challenges?

The biggest challenges fell under graphic art skills, time management, and hide-and-seek standards.

Graphics skillz: I do not haz them.

My husband Dave has loads of great software at work and can turn a photo of a monkey into a 3-D rendering of the Eiffel Tower. I have my laptop’s default picture manager and can turn a color photo of something into a black and white photo of the same something (see author photo above).

But for the Holler Loudly guides, I wanted to isolate several images from Barry’s great illustrations. So I cried for help, and Dave took pity on me. He pointed me to GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), a free software program that provides many of the same tools as, say, PhotoShop. Since I only needed its Select and Eraser tools to clip the art, the learning curve was mild. (Thanks, Dave!)

Time Management: I had four and a half months to complete the guides. I broke it down like this: two weeks to choose exemplar standards to write to; two months to write the activities; one month to design the guides, clip art, and insert text and art; and one month to look up the standards for the activities. I further broke each stage into bits and scheduled on my trusty Google calendar (I may have enjoyed that step too much).

At first, everything went swimmingly. I downloaded standards from four states and got a feel for their content. Then I wrote the activities based on those general standards. Then I used MS Publisher to create the guides and GIMP to clip the art. I placed the text and the art and submitted the draft guides. No problem! Totally on schedule!

Then I started to look up the standards.

Wow: tedious! And there was no way to speed the process without making the standards references really vague. It just took time. I don’t think I saw Dave at all in July. And I developed some awesome knots in my shoulders. And my eyeballs bled a little.

But I was too proud to ask for an extension! In the end, I got everything done (and reintroduced myself to Dave and got a massage and bandaged my eyes). In the future, though, I’ll allow more time to link the standards!

Hide-and-seek standards: I gathered content standards online, from each state’s education department site. The trick was figuring out which standard to use when it wasn’t where I expected it to be. For example, a tornado plays a big part in Holler Loudly, so I included a tornado fact page that encourages teachers to discuss severe weather procedures with students. A few states included those procedures among the other weather-related standards under science; most put them under health.

I also was surprised at how few states have early elementary standards for the science of sound–fewer than 20%, I’d say. The really sneaky standards, though, were art/music/drama. In some cases, they were buried in ELA. In others, I had to get creative and link the arts activities to the closest workable standards, e.g.: mathematical pattern standards for pattern-based music activities.

What did you enjoy most about the experience?

One of the great things about Holler Loudly is how many subject areas the story naturally touches.

The vivid language and illustrations made the ELA, reading, and art activities a cinch. The story’s sound, weather, and animal elements practically wrote the science by themselves. The story’s strong sense of place and community tied in well to social studies. The story even features a barbershop quartet, offering a good link to music.

These connections made it really fun to brainstorm activities. And to imagine a room full of six-year-olds writing their own tall tale–I hope they email you some of their tales, Cynthia!

What background/expertise do you bring to writing teacher guides?

I wrote standardized test questions for Harcourt Assessment (now Pearson) for several years. Each project was based on the education content standards for a given state, so I became familiar with how states organize their standards as well as the kinds of questions valued for testing: those that go beyond knowledge or comprehension and ask students to apply, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate information.

In my current day job at a children’s theatre (see below), I gather evaluation data from local teachers, including their thoughts on the theatre’s study guides. Though the theatre usually hires a former teacher produce their study guides, I have stepped in to make a few on short notice, e.g., when a slated production changed on short notice.

Is this something that you’re interested in doing for other authors, and if so, how can they get in touch with you?

Yes, I’d love to create guides for other authors. I offer guides customized by grade level, subject area, number of activities, and the number of states with standards cited. Price depends on those factors, as well as the inclusion of artwork.

Authors: I encourage you to check out the Holler Loudly guides as examples. If you’re interested in something similar, or would like more information, please email me: nomadshan (at) gmail (dot) com.

You’re also a children’s-YA writer! Could you tell us about your writing?

Right now, I’m working on a middle-grade fantasy called Briar-Bound:

Twelve-year-old Jack Sweet lives in the Meadow, where two things are certain: the great Arbor oak that sustains the village will regenerate every seven days, and a different Tale plays in the northern lights over the surrounding Briar-bound Forest every night.

Then, one late-autumn evening, the aurora and its Tale disappear abruptly. The next morning, the Arbor fails to grow back.

With a harsh winter bearing down, Jack sets out to find the Scrivener, the author of the Tales and the one person who might reverse the enchantment on the Briars that stand between the Meadow and survival.

I’m lucky to be represented by Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary.

Other works in progress include YA historicals about an undertaker’s daughter who turns to her father’s clients for answers about her dead mother, a furry boy sold by his grandmother to a Depression-era traveling carnival where he’s billed as the Dog Boy, and a Jewish girl in 18th-century Prague who hides her heritage to get work building the costumes for Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” premiere.

What first drew you to books for young readers?

The first novel-length project I wrote happened to have a teen protagonist. He was the right age for the story I wanted to tell, so when I finished it, I found I’d written a YA book. Which was strange to me because my pleasure reading tends toward adult novels: historical fiction like Tracy Chevalier‘s Girl with a Pearl Earring (Dutton, 2000) and Sharon Kay Penman‘s Here Be Dragons (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1985), character-driven fantasy like George R R Martin‘s A Game of Thrones (Voyager Books and Bantam Spectra, 1996), or anything by Stephen King.

My reference points for children’s/YA literature were 60s-era Roald Dahl and 80s-era Judy Blume. Which are still awesome! But I needed to familiarize myself with the current market.

What I found has hooked me as a reader and writer. Some of my favorites have been Kristin Cashore‘s Graceling (Harcourt, 2008), Carrie Ryan‘s The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Random House, 2009), Suzanne Collins‘s The Hunger Games (Scholastic, 2008), and Markus Zusak‘s The Book Thief (Picador and Knopf, 2005).

Tell us about your blog, daily pie! What is its focus?

Focus. You know, my high school band director gave me an All-State Band pin for graduation because she thought if I’d stuck with one instrument instead of dallying with four, I’d’ve made the cut.

Well, I still have too many interests to choose just one! But I knew I had to wrangle my blog into something readers could count on for certain information.

So…remember when every diner still made its own pie and offered daily specials? At daily pie, I have set topics for Monday through Friday: writing (techniques, articles, my progress), books (new and not-new), fitness and health (running, hiking, swimming), travel (plans, tips), and food (new finds, and lots of photos of Dave’s crazy-good meals).

About once a year, I evaluate the topics and make changes to keep the pie selection fresh.

Why is blogging important to you?

Blogs are great for connecting with other people. I’m an introvert; parties and crowds wear me out! But I still have things to say, and I want to do more than just whisper them into the wind.
Blogging allows me to reach out to folks in a way that suits my personality.

I do try to offer readers value; it’s really rewarding to read a comment from someone who has shared an experience or found one of my posts helpful. I recently joined a blog chain of kidlit writers, and it’s been a lot of fun to see how our approaches to writing compare and contrast.

So far, as a reader, what are your two favorite children’s-YA books of 2010 and why?

Okay, this is going to sound cheeky, but at the intersection of “books released in 2010” and “books I’ve read,” the two I enjoyed most were written by my agency mates Jacqueline West and Shaun David Hutchinson.

Jacqueline’s The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows (Dial, 2010) is a fantasy for middle-grade readers about a girl who discovers that the strange paintings in her new house hold dark secrets about its history. It’s great for anyone who’s enjoyed the children’s works of Neil Gaiman or Roald Dahl and is a wonderful read-aloud.

Shaun’s The Deathday Letter (Simon Pulse, 2010) is a YA fantasy about Ollie, who lives in a world where everyone gets a Deathday Letter 24 hours before they die. When Ollie gets his at sixteen, there are a lot of things he wants to accomplish in the few hours he has left.

This one’s a great portrait of a teen boy and his friendships, and the funniest book about impending death I’ve ever read.

What’s your favorite children’s-YA book of all time and why?

I love Laura Ingalls Wilder‘s Farmer Boy, illustrated by Garth Williams (Harper & Brothers, 1933). It makes me want to live on a 19th-Century farm in upstate New York and get up before dawn to milk ornery cows and trudge to school through the snow. The descriptions of the meals at Almanzo’s house don’t hurt, either! I actually blogged a few of the menus. Homemade apple turnovers in his lunch pail? Totally worth the pre-dawn chores and hip-deep snow!

What do you do outside of the world of books?

I’m the Grants Coordinator at The Magik Theatre, a professional children’s theatre in San Antonio, Texas. A such, I maintain the relationships Magik has with its existing funders by writing new proposals (usually annual), compiling evaluation data, writing grant evaluation reports, and maintaining the digital and hard-copy grant files.

Outside of work, I run (I have a sub-two-hour goal for San Antonio’s Rock’n’Roll Half-Marathon in November), and I love to travel (possible destinations in the next year include Mexico, Czech Republic, and New Zealand).

I’m also on a continual quest for a great slice of pie (hence the running).

Cynsational Notes

If you have an interest in Holler Loudly, picture books, tall tales, or hiring Shannon yourself, don’t miss this opportunity to check out the teacher guides she wrote: pre-K, kindergarten, grade 1, and grade 2 (all PDFs). I give her my highest recommendation!

Check out the Holler Loudly book trailer, produced by P.J. “Tricia” Hoover and featuring the voice of Tim Crow.

Guest Post: Lisa Rowe Fraustino on The Benefits of Keeping Your Day Job

By Lisa Rowe Fraustino

A few years ago at one of those literary festivals where admiring throngs line up to get autographs from the Very Famous, a couple of us throngless, not-very-famous authors got into a conversation. I noted how some people publish so much, they seem to compete with themselves.

A friend’s comment surprised me. She said, “You don’t know how lucky you are.”

I hardly felt lucky. I couldn’t afford to quit my day job and write full time. I spent more hours writing on student papers than writing my own fiction, and I had to devote some of my creative time to scholarly essays.

Besides that, I had increasing difficulty getting manuscripts published because my stuff wasn’t commercial enough. By then, I’d collected so many glowing rejections, I could get the Nobel Prize in Unpublished Literature.

“Why am I so lucky, exactly?” I asked my friend.

I thought she might say it’s really fun to teach children’s and adolescent literature to college students (which it is), or that it’s flippin’ awesome to get paid for thinking deeply about your favorite books and ideas (definitely true), or that nothing helps a writer understand craft better than teaching creative writing workshops (possibly true).

No. She said, “You have health insurance. You know you can pay your mortgage every month. You don’t sit down to write every day knowing that you must sell your work. You can do whatever projects you want. If they don’t get published, at least you pleased yourself. Some of us have to keep producing whatever books we can that will keep the advances coming.”

“Oh…,” I said. “Thanks!”

Suddenly I had a new perspective on my life as a teaching writer.

The Hole in the Wall (Milkweed, 2010)(excerpt) may never have been published if I had to depend on selling it to buy health insurance.

I began jotting the early ideas in graduate school, and for twenty years, I have returned to the story off and on, always getting back to it between other projects because I cared about my characters and themes too much to let them go.

As I worked with editor Ben Barnhart on several more revisions, I didn’t realize that Milkweed had The Hole in the Wall in mind for their prize—they only told me after the final draft. What a fabulous reward at the end of all that writing and waiting!

Nowadays I remind myself how lucky I am whenever I get frustrated about not having enough time to write and keep up with the social networks…or when I get another rejection.

I don’t write just for myself; I do want to reach readers. Yet in those precious hours devoted to writing, it is indeed a gift to be able to work on stories just because I believe in them.

Cynsational Notes

Visit Lisa’s web page to read “10 Tips on Making Time to Write When You Have Another Career.” Other class sessions can be found at

“Seb Daniels is growing up in a despoiled landscape going haywire in a specifically twenty-first-century way. Lisa Rowe Fraustino is masterful in this tale of surreal survival.”

Richard Peck, Newbery Medal-winning author of A Year Down Yonder, on The Hole in the Wall

New Voice: Beth Fehlbaum on Hope in Patience

Beth Fehlbaum is the first-time author of Hope in Patience (WestSide Books, October 25, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Fifteen-year-old Ashley Asher has spent half of her life living in fear. Her stepfather has been sexually abusing her for years, but her mother doesn’t believe her.

After his latest assault lands her in the emergency room, Child Protective Services finally removes Ashley from her home and sends her to live with the father she barely remembers and his new family.

Her new life in Patience, Texas, is much better. She’s in therapy to deal with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and is trying to make her way in a new high school. She’s getting used to living with her father, stepmother, and stepbrother, and she’s made new friends in the summer course taught by her stepmother, Bev. She even joins the track team at the urging of her new friend, Z. Z.

But Ashley is so traumatized by her past that she sometimes scratches herself until she bleeds and sleeps in her armoire, even though she knows she’s safe now. Worse, when her stepfather is finally put on trial for hurting her, she learns that truth and justice don’t always go together.

Will Ashley adjust to a better life? Will she trust enough to date Josh, the cute guy on her track team who likes her? YA readers will be caught up in the heart-pounding story of a damaged girl trying to heal herself and get on with the rest of her life.

How do you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

Hope in Patience is the story of fifteen-year-old Ashley Nicole Asher, who is removed from her mother’s home after being sexually abused by her stepfather from age eight.

Ashley is placed with her biological father, David, who lives with his wife and son in the little East Texas town of Patience. I approached the research process by outlining the the events and character development I wanted to use to move the story forward.

Ashley’s experience is, of course, the foundation of the story. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and it was by going through therapy and recovery that I began writing short stories and poems–sort of a way of processing my own grief, disbelief, and outrage at what had happened in my life.

A couple years into therapy, my therapist suggested that I try writing a novel. It took me about four months of continually getting pulled back into my own head and writing, “Why, why, why?”—basically spinning in circles– before I decided to try imagining the experience of recovery through the eyes of a teenage girl who starts her life over in a new family with the father she never knew. From that point, Ashley’s story grew and became much less about the abuse than about hope and the strength that friends and family can provide.

A roadblock I ran into was fear: Ashley’s story is fiction, but I was inspired in many ways by my having Post-traumatic Stress Disorder because of some very intense experiences. Drawing on that history was draining, and after writing scenes that forced me to do that, I had to leave the story alone for a few days to a week in order to let those feelings to calm down again. Then I could go back and read what I had written more objectively.

As far as research beyond my own experiences as a survivor and participant in therapy, I double-checked aspects of the therapist-patient relationship I was unsure of. I’m not a teenager, so when I wasn’t sure about a scene, for example, between Ashley and her therapist, Dr. Matt, I’d talk it over with my own therapist in order to see if the way I had written it was really the way a psychologist would talk to a teen girl.

Another area of research was what it’s like to be a gay teen whose parents are non-accepting of it. One of Ashley’s friends is K.C., a newcomer to Patience who is struggling with her sexuality.

I talked to one of my former students. She gave me a lot of insight into what it was like for her to begin to embrace who she is while in high school, especially in a small town.

Other elements of the story that required research were the Family unit in Human Ecology class. I really like that course name—Human Ecology—instead of Family and Consumer Sciences. I drew on several online Family and Consumer Science lesson plans to construct the lessons that the Human Ecology teacher, Ms. Manos, uses.

For Ashley’s American history class, her teacher, Coach Griffin, is a World War II enthusiast—and I used an actual history book and a couple of other books about the war to make his lessons authentic, as well as viewing WWII propaganda films on YouTube.

While Coach Griffin was teaching about WWII from his perspective, Ashley’s stepmom, Bev, who is an English teacher, was leading a study of the WWII memoir, Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston (Houghton Mifflin, 2002).

I was inspired to include Dwight Okita’s poem, “In Response to Executive Order 1066” (Greenfield Review Press,1982)—a poem he wrote about his own mother’s experience of being a Japanese American girl who was sent to an internment camp with her family during WWII. I wrote to Dwight for permission to include the poem in the text, and he graciously allowed me to do so.

One “coup” was getting permission from the Densho: The Japanese-American Legacy Project, to paraphrase the video segment of Dennis Bambauer, who was American born and only six years old when he, an orphan, was sent to an internment camp, because the U.S. Government was afraid he was helping the Japanese military.

Another “coup” was when one of my idols, a Texas singer-songwriter, Tom Russell, gave me permission to use a line or two of lyrics from one of my favorite songs of his, “It Goes Away” (2006). Those lyrics gave me a lot of comfort during the worst episodes of my recovery from childhood sexual abuse, and I am grateful that Mr. Russell allowed me to include them to give Ashley comfort, too.

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

I’m lucky because I get to draw on both those identities to write Ashley’s story. Ashley’s stepmom, Beverly, is an English teacher at Patience High School. My friends who read Hope in Patience say, “Should I call you Bev or Beth?” then they laugh. It’s true, Bev Asher and I are very similar personalities, although she’s braver than I am about face-to-face confrontation.

I’m in my twelfth year of teaching. For the first seven years, I taught seventh and eighth grade; now I teach fifth grade Language Arts in a bilingual education program in East Texas.

My degree is in English/Secondary Education, and I have always written a lot of my own teaching units, especially cross-curricular units, so it was easy for me to create a unit that combined Farewell to Manzanar in Bev’s English class and Coach Griffin’s World War II study.

I gathered the Human Ecology class resources and used a lesson plan book to sketch out the timeline for all three classes, making sure the events in the classes wove through the plot as seamlessly as possible. If I had not had the extensive experience in planning out six weeks of learning at a time, I think it would have been a lot more difficult for me.

Also, the “drill and kill” workbook that Bev is forced to use to prep the kids for the state standardized test is all-too-familiar to me, and I’m sure it will be the same for other teachers who read Hope in Patience.

I had fun with the relationship between Marvella, the school secretary, and Mr. Walden, the principal. Marvella torments Mr. Walden by hiding his Blackberry and calling in anonymous tips to the local newspaper when Mr. Walden is being especially obnoxious.

As far as day-to-day life as a teacher and author, my school family is very supportive of my work as a writer.

Hope in Patience is not a book for fifth graders, and even though my students usually become aware that I’m an author and ask if we can read my book in class, my answer is always, “No!” The content is not for “tweens.”

This works out to my advantage, actually, because it helps me keep those two parts of my life separate. I find it hard to write books during the school year since I am absolutely “done” when I get home at the end of the day, and weekends are for recuperating—so I work full-time writing my current novel—Truth in Patience, a continuation of Ashley’s story—during the summer.

Having summers off and holiday weeks during the year is a big help to teachers who are also authors.