Event Report: Blessed & Night School Launch Party

Thanks so much to everyone who celebrated the release of my latest novel, Blessed (Tantalize series), and Mari Mancusi‘s latest novel, Night School (Blood Coven series), last Saturday at BookPeople in Austin. Thanks also to everyone who tweeted, blogged, facebooked, talked up, or otherwise made noise about the event!

It’s vampire (me) versus slayer (Mari) as we leap into action, mugging for the cameras.

Vampire bartender Bethany Hegedus greets guests with a toothy smile. Note: Gene Brenek also helped with bartending/refreshment duties/set up.

The menu included cover art cake, raspberry lemon bars (courtesy of Amy Rose Capetta) as well as bat sugar cookies and heart sugar cookies (courtesy of Anne Bustard).

We offered “fairy blood,” “synthetic blood,” and “real blood” at the vampire bar! (Special thanks & kudos to Mandy at BookPeople–very creative!)

Here a closer look at the cover-cake, which Mari coordinated with H-E-B supermarket.

Check out these chocolate chip cookies (courtesy of Gene). A’ la Sanguini’s, the “predator” ones have bacon in them and the “prey” ones don’t.

Anne Bustard is famous for her sugar cookies! Aren’t these bats adorable?

College Station author Kathi Appelt chats with Mari.

San Antonio author Peni Griffin models the new books!

Austin authors Liz Garton Scanlon, Jennifer Ziegler (and Chris Barton in the background).

Kathi with Austin author Jessica Lee Anderson.

Jessica with author-illustrator Frances Yansky.

Austin SCBWI RA and author Debbie Gonzales with Austin author-illustrator Emma Virjan.

Here’s a peek at some of the giveaways, courtesy of Candlewick (Blessed) and Penguin (Night School). We awarded them to folks in the audience who asked a question.

Suddenly, the crowd poured in, and it was time to set down the camera.

Another crowd shot, before everyone settled in for the standing-room-only presentation.

The program consisted of our book trailers, followed by Mari and I interviewing each other and then taking questions from the audience. Note: a number of folks commented that they enjoyed this interactive format.

Finally, we signed books for about an hour and then visited with the readers kind enough to join us. It was an upbeat, jovial, spooky-fun time!

One last shot of author-slayer Mari! What a treat to share the stage with her!

Cynsational Notes

Miss the party? No worries! BookPeople has signed stock of both Blessed and Night School! Swing by the store or call 512.472.5050 to order.

Thank you to BookPeople, Candlewick Press and Penguin Young Readers for your support!

Thank you to Jen Bigheart, the Literary Lonestars & the whole Texas book blogger community! Note: I don’t dare try to list everyone for fear of accidentally leaving someone out, but please do know that you are hugely appreciated!

Blessed will be available from Walker Books Australia and New Zealand tomorrow! See details!

LAST CALL: enter to win the Blessed Grand Prize Giveaway from Cynsations. Deadline: Jan. 31.

Blessed Blog Tour: Interview with Bradley and Giveaway from Pirate Penguin Reads. Peek: “Cursed Internet. Deception was such a readily available snack in the early-to-mid twentieth century.” Giveaway deadline: Feb. 6.

Blessed Blog Tour: Secondary Characters & Giveaway by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Badass Bookie. Peek: “Secondary characters mirror individual qualities of the hero. Illuminate them. Secondary characters challenge the hero. Fuel their growth. Secondary characters comment on the main characters. They help tell the readers what we need to know.” Giveaway deadline: Feb. 4.

Blessed Blog Tour: Top Ten YA Recommendations & Giveaway by Cynthia Leitich Smith from A Good Addiction. Giveaway deadline: Feb. 6.

Cynsational Events

Blessed In-Person Author Tour Schedule in Central Texas and the Northeastern U.S.: sponsored by Candlewick Press. Are you in New York, New Jersey, or the Philly area? Come join me along the way!


Here are the book trailers for Night School:

and Blessed:

Guest Post: Katie Smith Milway on The Good Garden: How One Family Went From Hunger to Having Enough

By Katie Smith Milway

It’s been great to see my new book, The Good Garden: How One Family Went From Hunger to Having Enough, illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault (Kids Can, 2010), begin to inspire students and their families to think about how they can help the world achieve food security, starting with a national food drive they can join at www.thegoodgarden.org.

But a question I’m starting to be asked a lot is what inspired me? Why did I chose to write about a Honduran campesino girl named Maria Luz and her family, the Duartes, whose lives and livelihood – farming the land – were transformed by ideas from a simple village school teacher?

Well, here’s the back story:

Inadvertently, the book is the fruit of about 18 years of thought and labor! I researched the life of the teacher—his real name is Don Elías Sanchez—in 1992 just after the Earth Summit, for a biography-based story of healthy community development: The Human Farm: A Tale of Changing Lives & Changing Lands (Kumarian Press, 1994).

Then, in 2005, just as I was finishing up the manuscript for my last kid’s book, One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Difference, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes (Kids Can, 2008), The Human Farm came out in a Spanish edition, which I was ask to review.

As I reread paragraphs on Don Elías’ early life—when he was a rural school teacher and taught farm kids through building school gardens—something just clicked! I saw the setting for a great children’s story to communicate lessons of food security and how kids can play a role in addressing global hunger.

You see, in the summer of 1992, I spent time in Honduras living and working on Don Elías’ training farm alongside campesinos, and visiting former trainees – men and women – on their farms to see the fruits of their learning.

Elías was the Johnny Appleseed of sustainable farming in his country – a short, feisty, former campesino-turned teacher who had helped about 30,000 farming families —rural and urban—to food security. The starting point was always to plant a seed in campesino’s heads: the ideas that they could solve a lot of their problems using their innate resources: their heads, hands and hearts. They could make compost from garbage, work hard and shape the land into terraces that rains would not erode. Plant flowers that repelled insects.

I heard from campesinos, again, and again, that as they learned to nurture their land, and saw the results, they became more interested in nurturing their families and their communities – sending their kids to school, getting them vaccinated, investing in running water and sanitation and so forth.

There was a spiritual aspect, too – as farmers got into sync with Creation many grew reconnected to their faith community. Alleviating hunger and thirst is really a first step in alleviating poverty of the body and soul. It’s hard to strive for education, entrepreneurship or enlightenment if your belly is empty.

Don Elías had a credo: “ideas unshared have no value!” It’s a principle that one can apply to all of work and life.

Elías passed away in 2000, but I had the chance to revisit his training farm in Honduras in 2005 and spend time with his former partner, Candida, his protégé, Milton Flores, and several other characters from The Human Farm.

Incredibly, Elias’s terraces had held in the teeth of Hurricane Mitch – which wracked Honduras in 1998. Once again, I walked those original big, earthen steps.

This summer, we made a short documentary of one of the campesino families I profiled 18 years ago – the Vasquez family, a heartwarming father/daughter story of reviving poor land, as portrayed by the Duarte family in The Good Garden.

The real María Luz has grown up and become an important community development worker in her province, connecting farmers to fair credit. It was such a privilege to be able to tell “the rest of the story” in the film – and to underscore the “girl effect:” When you invest in girls in developing countries, you really do invest in a family and community.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Picture Book Marathon from Jean Reagan and Lora Koehler. Sign up by Jan. 30. Peek: “Basically this is a Nanowrimo for picture books. After all, we don’t want those novel-writers to have all the fun, right? In a month, we’ll each create 26 picture books.” See also story starters and the marathon blog. See also The Don Freeman Memorial Grant-In-Aid, established by SCBWI “to enable picture-book artists to further their understanding, training, and work in the picture-book genre” from Kathy Temean at Writing and Illustrating.

What I Really Want to Do Is Direct: a guest post by literary agent Rebecca Sherman from Blue Rose Girls. Peek: “I want to see a rarely used locale, time period or historical event shaping the story and the protagonist without dominating the text.”

Five Things I Wish I Knew Before I Queried by K.M. Walton from Some Things I Think. Peek: “I wish I didn’t compare my query journey to other writers. Yes, I know it’s human nature, but it’s also extremely unhealthy and seriously gets in the way of success.”

Pamela Paul Named Children’s Book Editor at the New York Times Book Review by Diane Roback from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Paul is a journalist and book critic, is the author of three nonfiction books, and is a columnist for the NYT’s Style section. She has also been book critic for the Economist, and she began her career at Scholastic, where she was an editor and managed a book club.”

Congratulations to Kerry Madden for signing with Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown, Ltd., and congratulations to Ginger for signing Kerry!

SCBWI Team Blog Pre-Conference Interview: Editors & Agents on Interacting with Them by Alice Pope from Alice Pope’s SCBWI Blog. Insights from editors Krista Marino (Delacorte), Francesco Sedita (Penguin), and Kate Sullivan (Little, Brown); and agents Kerry Sparks (Levine/Greenberg) and Mary Kole (Andrea Brown). From Krista: “Aggressive, abrasive behavior will turn me away from even the most promising manuscript.”

Teach with Picture Books: a blog from Keith Schoch. See also How to Teach a Novel.

Querying the Cliche by Jane Lebak from Query Tracker. Peek: “Remember that a cliché is a shortcut. And when you use one to describe your own work, you’re giving only a surface rendering of a story with depth. Work harder. Give it that depth.”

Wernick & Pratt: new literary agency founded by Marcia Wernick and Linda Pratt, both formerly of the Sheldon Fogelman Agency. Source: SCBWI Brazos Valley via Publishers Weekly. Peek: “…represent established and emerging authors and illustrators, whose work ranges from fiction to non-fiction, from very young picture books and novelty books, through early readers, middle grade and young adult novels.”

Taming That To-Do List by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: “If you are a published writer, a lot of those To Dos probably pertain to the business side of things. But here’s the kicker: you get to decide precisely which business things those entail.”

Every Author’s Two Audiences by Janet Kobobel Grant from Books & Such. Peek: “Authors often don’t know when they should communicate with their publisher. They don’t want to be pests, but this reluctance to communicate can cause serious repercussions.” Source: Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid.

Harold at Highlights

Harold Underdown will be working with the Highlights Foundation this year in two different workshops. From March 10 to March 13, at the Highlights Founders Workshop site near Honesdale, Pennsylvania, he will introduce proven techniques for self-editing and for revising. The goal is not so much to revise a manuscript (though participants will) but to increase their ability to revise on their own or by working with other writers! Harold will be joined by children’s book editor Eileen Robinson, who runs F1rst Pages. Harold and Eileen will be drawing on their experience working in-house as editors and running their Kid’s Book Revisions workshop to help writers to think like editors.

The workshop is limited to twelve writers: information and an application form can be found at the Highlights Foundation website. Or you may phone Jo Lloyd at 570.253.1192, or e-mail jo.lloyd@highlightsfoundation.org, to request an application.

Harold will also be teaching this summer at the Highlights Foundation’s 2011 Writer’s Workshop at Chautauqua, from July 16th to July 23. Scholarship applications are due Feb. 11.

Teen Read Week and Teen Tech Week: Tips and Resources for YALSA’s Initiatives

Congratulations to Megan Fink on the release of Teen Read Week and Teen Tech Week: Tips and Resources for YALSA’s Initiatives (YALSA, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Each year, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) sponsors two national literacy initiatives: Teen Read Week™, which encourages teens to read for fun and become regular library users, and Teen Tech Week™, which encourages teens to take advantage of the free technology available at libraries. Since 2003, YALSA’s award-winning quarterly journal, Young Adult Library Services has offered guidance for librarians planning Teen Read Week and Teen Tech Week events.

For the first time, YALSA has compiled the best YALS articles on teen reading and teen information literacy into one volume, Teen Read Week and Teen Tech Week: Tips and Resources for YALSA’s Initiatives, launching its new Best of YALS series. Editor Megan Fink, middle school librarian at the Charlotte Country Day School and a former Teen Read Week chair, selected articles to form a manual that will offer guidance to librarians planning their annual events, with advice on best practices, collection development, outreach and marketing, program ideas and more.

In addition, YA authors Walter Dean Myers and Cynthia Leitich Smith and Best Teen Read Week contest winners Elizabeth Kahn and Jennifer Velásquez contributed original content about the importance of these initiatives and how they support teens’ information needs, along with an introduction by YALSA past president Judy Nelson.
See more information.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Mr. Duck Means Business by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Jeff Mack (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster):

Hooray for the 2011 Sydney Taylor Book Award Winners! Note: “…honors new books for children and teens that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience.”

More Personally

Blessed is now available from Candlewick! Thanks to everyone who’s read, blogged, tweeted, facebooked or otherwise made noise about the novel! It means a lot to me.

Meanwhile, I continue to work on book four in the Tantalize series, which picks up several plot threads from Eternal and one from Blessed.

It’s terrific to be wholly immersed in new novel as the previous one is coming out. I only have so much time to indulge release jitters. As great as it is, being an author, it’s being a writer that keeps me grounded and happy.

I also received the exciting news from my editor that the graphic novel Eternal: Zachary’s Story is green-lighted to be sent onto illustrator Ming Doyle.

Highlights of the past week include a Writers’ League of Texas author event on “Inspiration: The First Glimmer of a Book Idea” at BookPeople in Austin. Here, Bethany Hegedus moderates a panel, featuring Jennifer Ziegler, Brian Yansky and Stephen Harrigan. The program was a kickoff to the 2011 Third Thursday series: Building a Book. See also the League’s YA A to Z Conference April 15 and April 16 in Austin.

Guest Post: Cynthia Leitich Smith from Libba Bray. Peek: “I fault Stephen King for my coulrophobia and treasure my tattered copy of V.C. Andrews’ Incest in the Attic series. I was a Whedonesque slayer in a former life.”

Book Giveaway and Teaching Author Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Carmela Martino from Teaching Authors: Six Children’s Authors Who Also Teach Writing. Peek: ” What I typically suggest to my students is to physically act out a scene. Literally step into the moment and movement(s). Or to perhaps sketch out a map of the town or bedroom, so that it’s easier for them to mentally move their cast around and describe that on the page.” Giveaway deadline: Feb. 2.

Quotable — Cynthia Leitich Smith by Lindsey Lane from The Meandering Lane. Peek: “…today is about Cyn’s favorite quote, the one that stokes her writer engine.”

Character Interviews with Quincie and Brad by Valorie from Truth Be Told.

  • Peek: Peek from Brad (on what he looks forward to in the future): “Flying cars! I’ve been promised flying cars for decades, and where are they? Beyond that, I look forward to the day when Quincie accepts the inevitable and agrees to join me in our eternal life together.”
  • Peek from Quincie: “f some smooth-talking, older guy starts plying you with liquor, flattering you, and trying to impress you when you’re most vulnerable because of, say, your parents divorce or a death in the family or a falling out with your best friend, run the hell away from the jerk. Now, fast, go!”

Blessed Character Interview with Zachary & Giveaway from Girls in the Stacks. Peek: “I missed the amazing, self-proclaimed quirky weirdness of Austin.”

Blessed Reviews

Greg and I celebrated release day at Amy’s Ice Creams in Austin; see photo of our server.

Blessed: A Delicious and Deadly Treat by Norah Piehl from BookPage. Peek: “…smart, sexy…her homage to Stoker’s classic novel is most apparent, as she uses the book’s characters for inspiration, its plot for structure and its themes for a rich background that will lead many readers to (re)discover the original Dracula even as they enjoy this darkly humorous send-up.”

Blessed Review by Kristen from Bookworming in the 21rst Century. Peek: “For a book nearing 500 pages long, the story flew by fast, filled with action and emotional turmoil. I absolutely loved this book and hope there will be more.”

Blessed Review from BookChic. Peek: “I love this trilogy of books and how, in this one, Smith merged the casts from the previous two books, Tantalize and Eternal. She did a wonderful job doing it and it felt right. I really enjoyed revisiting these characters and I fell into a rhythm even though it’s been a long time since reading both (though less time from Eternal but Blessed is mostly from Quincie’s perspective from Tantalize).”

Blessed Review by Jillian Van Leer from Young Adult Book Central. Peek: “I really enjoyed all the action, the love, the betrayal, everything! If you have read the first two books in this series (and even if you haven’t!) go out and get this book!”

Blessed Giveaways

Enter to win the Blessed Grand Prize Giveaway from Cynsations. Deadline: Jan. 31.

Blessed Blog Tour & ARC/Prize Package Giveaways by Kari from The Teen {Book} Scene. See individual sites on this online tour for specific prize entry information.

Blessed Online Countdown Event by Valorie from Truth Be Told. Valorie is posting reviews, book trailers, teaser excerpts, giveaways, and author-and-character interviews. Giveaway deadline: 11 p.m. PST Jan. 24. See details.

See also the Teaching Authors Giveaway. Deadline: Feb. 2.

Blessed Launch Party

Joint Launch Party: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) and Night School by Mari Mancusi (Berkley) book party and signing at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 at BookPeople in Austin. Event will include author talks, Q&A, refreshments and signing. Wear red and black if you’re on the side of Evil or blue and black if you’re on the side of Good. Bonus points (and possible prize) to anyone who dresses up as a vampire, shape shifter, vampire slayer, angel or faerie!

The winner of an autographed copy of Night School was Kaya in Oregon.

More Cynsational Events

Blessed In-Person Author Tour Schedule in Central Texas and the Northeastern U.S.: sponsored by Candlewick Press. Are you in Austin, New York, New Jersey, or the Philly area? Come join me along the way!

12th Annual Southwest Florida Reading Festival will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 19 in Fort Myers, Florida. Note: speakers include Cynthia Leitich Smith.

SCBWI-Wisconsin Novel Revision Workshop with author Cynthia Leitich Smith from March 25 to March 27. Note: “Registration is limited to 25 persons.”


Blessed celebratory ice cream–Darth chocolate with hot chocolate sauce and pecans.

Guest Post: Renée Watson on Writing About Serious Topics in Children’s Books

By Renée Watson

Stand up if you like to play outside with your friends.

Stand up if you’ve ever lost something.

Stand up if you’ve ever been to a funeral.

Stand up if you like to cook with your mom or dad.

Stand up if you have ever moved.

Stand up if you like to listen to music.

Stand up if you are proud of where you are from.

This is the activity I do when I start off my author visits for A Place Where Hurricanes Happen, illustrated by Shadra Strickland (Random House, 2010). Before I share the book, I give an opportunity for students to see how they have something in common with the characters, even if they haven’t personally experienced a natural disaster.

People often describe A Place Where Hurricanes Happen as a book about hurricane Katrina. While the book certainly delves into the tragedy of Katrina, and is first and foremost for New Orleans, it is also about celebrating friendship and community and it shows children ways to cope with change and loss.

It is also for children everywhere. Even if children haven’t experienced a natural disaster, many young people have lost a grandparent, or had to move and start a new school. Most children enjoy playing with their friends or cooking with a parent. These stories are universal and children from all walks of life can relate to them.

It is important to me to create books that touch children on many levels and to have a balance of the good and the bad—because, in life, things are usually a combination of both at the very same time.

My advice to writers who desire to tackle social issues in children’s books is to first read everything you can that is similar to what you want to write. What other books tackle social issues? Read the book the first time for pleasure, then a second time to study it and analyze what the writer is doing that makes the story work.

Then, I tell writers to practice writing about the characters, not about the incident. In A Place Where Hurricanes Happen, children are drawn to Keesha who can’t wait to eat the home-cooked meal she made with her mother; they can’t believe how many teddy bears she has in her collection. They laugh at Tommy when he complains about his snoring brother. They understand Michael’s pride when he brags about being the oldest and all the things he gets to do that his younger sister can’t. And they relate to Adrienne who is the leader of group, always looking out for her friends.

Writing about serious topics doesn’t change the basic rule—make the characters interesting and believable. When you, as the writer, have developed a strong character with a storyline, the tendency to be too preachy fades because your character takes center stage and the social issue becomes secondary.

Following this principal will also deepen your story and help children see that even though horrific things happen, there can still be hope and rebuilding. It shows children that one incident doesn’t have to define them forever.

Cynsational Notes

From the promotional copy of What Momma Left Me:

How is it that unsavory raw ingredients come together to form a delicious cake? What is it about life that when you take all the hard stuff and rough stuff and add in a lot of love, you still just might have a wonderful life?

For Serenity, these questions rise up early when her father kills her mother, and leaves her and her brother Danny to live with their kind but strict grandparents. Despite the difficulties of a new school, a new church, and a new neighborhood, Serenity gains strength from the family around her, the new friends she finds, and her own careful optimism.

Debut author Renée Watson‘s talent shines in this powerful and ultimately uplifting novel.

Author Bio

Renée Watson is the author of the children’s picture book, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen (Random House, 2010), which was featured on “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.” [See inspiring video of Renee on TV.]

Her middle grade novel, What Momma Left Me (Bloomsbury, 2010) debuted as the New Voice for 2010 in middle grade fiction by The Independent Children’s Booksellers Association.

Renée performed her one woman show, “Roses are Red, Women are Blue,” at New York City’s Lincoln Center at a showcase for emerging artists. Her poetry and articles have been published in Rethinking Schools, Theatre of the Mind and With Hearts Ablaze.

When Renée is not writing and performing, she is teaching. Renée has worked in public schools and community organizations as an artist in residence for several years, teaching poetry, fiction, and theater in Oregon, Louisiana, and New York City. She also facilitates professional development workshops for teachers and artists.

One of Renée’s passions is using the arts to help youth cope with trauma. She has facilitated poetry and theatre workshops with young girls coping with sexual and physical abuse, children who have witnessed violence, children coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and children who relocated to New York City after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Renée graduated from The New School, where she earned a degree in Creative Writing and a certificate in Drama Therapy. Renée currently lives in New York City.

Check out the book trailer for A Place Where Hurricanes Happen:

New Voice: Denise Jaden on Losing Faith

Denise Jaden is the first time author of Losing Faith (Simon Pulse, 2010). From the promotional copy:

A terrible secret. A terrible fate.

When Brie’s sister, Faith, dies suddenly, Brie’s world falls apart. As she goes through the bizarre and devastating process of mourning the sister she never understood and barely even liked, everything in her life seems to spiral farther and farther off course. Her parents are a mess, her friends don’t know how to treat her, and her perfect boyfriend suddenly seems anything but.

As Brie settles into her new normal, she encounters more questions than closure: Certain facts about the way Faith died just don’t line up. Brie soon uncovers a dark and twisted secret about Faith’s final night…a secret that puts her own life in danger.

Read an excerpt (PDF). Check out Denise’s blog and LJ.

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

I began writing before I really knew anything about the technicalities of writing a book. If someone had told me that I should outline my whole novel back then, I probably would have thought they were crazy. “How can I write an outline?” I would have said. “I don’t know what the characters are going to do until they do it!”

Well, all that’s all changed. If you follow me on Twitter (@denisejaden) or me on Facebook, you may have caught wind of my recent 33k outlines. Yes, that’s 33 thousand words. For an outline.

To be honest, though, I’m still very much a plot-challenged writer. I learn better from experience than I do from textbooks, and so it’s very difficult for me to work under any kind of formula or structure.

Instead, I treat my outlines a little like a first draft. The differences being that I think of it as an outline and not anything I would ever expect anyone to read and enjoy, and it’s written in third person point of view, whereas my novels are usually in first.

This isn’t to say I start with a completely blank page and empty mind. I usually come up with an idea based on a character that I can already see in my head. I try to put that idea into a logline or very short blurb that has some hook to it. This logline doesn’t always end up as something formalized that I write down, but if I feel it’s hooky enough (and I usually send it off to my critique partner as well, to make sure she feels it’s hooky enough), I’ll try to come up with plot ideas that will enhance and show that hook.

Part of my reason for writing such long first-drafty outlines is that it takes me that many words to get to know my characters. Once I know my characters, I can tell if some plot points feel off for them, and I don’t have to wait until later drafts to realize this.

The reason I write my outlines in third person point of view, even if I know I will write the manuscript in first person, is because I always have my critique partner read and critique my outlines. In a full draft of a book, a writer has to take time to be careful with every word and give her reader a real sense of her character for the reader in chapter one, but in my outline I am still learning who my characters are, so I try to spell my revelations out for my critique partner in short form as they come to me, and I always try to think of creative ways to show these traits once the writing of the actual first draft comes along.

Now, I am still plot challenged, so anyone who feels some kinship there, all I can recommend is finding a critique partner who is strong on plot. My main critique partner has really helped me think outside of my own little box of ideas and make my plot arcs complete and more engaging.

I’ve written a novel during NaNoWriMo for the last three years, and I don’t think I would be capable of doing that without a thorough outline. But while I love outlining, I think the reason I love it so much is because it helps me develop my characters, helps me organize my thoughts on paper enough to get some feedback, and kills my fear over trying things to see if they’ll work. I recommend outlining for anyone at any stage of their writing career.

At one time, I saw it as something structured and confining. Now I see nothing but freedom in it.

How did you go about connecting with your agent? What was your search process like? Who did you decide to sign with? What about that person and/or agency seemed like the best fit for you? What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?

My agent is everything I could ask for or want in an agent, but the process of finding her was anything but easy!

During my very first year of writing, I began to query, without success, of course. But I learned a lot along the way.

In my early querying days, I sent my precious manuscript off to a single agent, often by snail mail because that’s how many of them were receiving queries at the time, and then wait, biting my nails and checking my mailbox incessantly.

Through critique friends I made on Critique Circle and after attending a couple of writing conferences, I started to understand that there is a better way.

One major blessing in my life is that I have one critique partner who loves to write and critique query letters. I know, crazy, right? She has helped me so much in getting multiple queries for multiple manuscripts ready over the years.

At the conferences I attended, I was able to sit down face to face with editors and agents, as well as other more experienced writers. The best part about this was that I could finally see the professionals in this business as human. I realized they were not sitting in their offices back in New York with an evil grin just waiting to stamp my query with their big REJECTED stamp. They wanted to like my work. They just couldn’t quite yet.

So I continued to improve my manuscripts, my queries, and learned to query widely. For me, this meant sending out batches of about five to six queries at a time, and each time a rejection rolled in, replacing it with another attempt. If I received five or more rejections without a request to see at least a partial manuscript, I took another serious look at my query. If I had a few partial rejections in a row, I took a closer look at my manuscript again.

At this point, I began to understand the meaning of the phrase “the right match,” but honestly, I didn’t understand it fully until after the process of submitting to editors much later in the game.

One other thing that made the query process a little less painful was that I started writing and submitting short stories during this season of my writing life. Not only did I find some small success there to bolster me back up from endless rejections, but also, because I was submitting multiple manuscripts widely, plus short stories, I think I became very close to immune to rejection. I had rejections pouring in almost every week, and I got to the point where I just said, “Huh, guess it’s not for them,” to myself, and shimmied that rejection over to my rejection file (and yes, I have kept all of my rejections, which could easily wallpaper a room).

Imagine my surprise (read: elation) when my answering machine spouted a message from a well-known and respected agent who loved my full manuscript and wanted to talk about representation! I later spoke with her on the phone, and as awesome as it all was, I remembered what I’d read from other writers who had gone before me. I quickly shot off an email to other agents who were reading my novel and informed them of my offer.

I was sure, completely positive, that I would sign with that agent who phoned and offered to represent me. I mean, after five or so years of querying and getting rejected, take the offer, right? But my critique partner talked me down, kept me sane, and I waited until other agents came back with their responses.

And some of them were positive! Wow, could life get any better?

After a long week of weighing pros and cons (not that there were many cons to the whole situation) I decided to sign with one of the later agents to offer, Michelle Humphrey.

At the time, she worked out of the Sterling Lord offices as an assistant agent. She had not made any sales of her own, and she was not the most widely known or experienced of my choices, however I did get a very good feeling when talking to her. I loved her eagerness, and while I felt that some other agents I had spoken to were somewhat tired and weary from the publishing business, Michelle was still full of zeal and hope. Besides that, she had looked up the blurbs for my other books on my website and loved those concepts as well.

I think the important thing is that an agent really gets your writing and jives with your outlook on submissions, no matter which agency they work with. (Michelle has just recently settled in at ICM Talent and is open to queries there.)

I know those who are looking for an agent have likely had moments (or years) where they don’t think it will ever happen for them. I certainly have been there.

My advice is to keep plugging away and get as good as you can at the manuscript writing and at the query writing. Keep submitting, and try not to take the rejections personally. It is possible to go from multiple, multiple, rejections to more than one offer overnight.

The Perfect Match will show up when you very least expect it!

Cynsational Notes

Check out this video featuring Denise from Simon & Schuster:

Check out the book trailer for Losing Faith:

Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith is Now Available

I’m thrilled to announce that Blessed is now available from Candlewick Press!

Check out the latest coverage:

Blessed: In Which I Interview Cynthia Leitich Smith by Joy Preble from Joy’s Novel Idea. Peek: “I’ve created a vampire society with its own history, political structure, and system of laws as well as, say, architectural predispositions. The undead, for example, are big fans of the Arts and Crafts movement.”

In Stores this Week (With Interviews and Giveaways) from Adventures in Children’s Publishing. Peek: “I wrote the proposal for my editor in March 2008…at the Arizona Biltmore. The place opened in 1929. It’s swanky, designed in the Craftsman tradition (think: Frank Lloyd Wright). Irving Berlin penned ‘White Christmas’ by the pool. Marilyn Monroe referred to that same pool as her favorite. …I grabbed a chair around that pool, then, later, another around the fire pit, and brainstormed.”

Read an excerpt of Blessed from Teenreads.com.

Look for the Blessed ads today in Publishers Weekly online and in the Baker & Taylor’s CATS Meow: Library Newsletter for Children’s and Teen Services for January 2011!

Latest Buzz

“Quincie is a capable, independent and appealing heroine who has matured considerably since her debut in ‘Tantalize.’ Smith plans one more book in the series; ‘Blessed’ raises expectations for a complex (and thrilling) conclusion.”

In ‘Blessed,’ Neophyte Vampire Battles the Forces of the Undead
by Sharyn Vane from The Austin American-Statesman.

“I found this book intriguing and fun. The characters are well developed, and the plot is a definite attention keeper. This book is more for teens and up, and I’d rate it a 9.5 on a 10 scale.”

Brianna, age 15, from Genrefluent’s Bistro Book Club: Teens Talk About Books

“I give Blessed an overall rating of 5 stars [out of 5]. If you love this series, you will be floored at how good this book turned out.”

Valorie from Truth Be Told

Mega Giveaways

Enter to win the Blessed Grand Prize Giveaway from Cynsations. Deadline: Jan. 31.

Blessed Blog Tour & ARC/Prize Package Giveaways by Kari from The Teen {Book} Scene. See individual sites on this online tour for specific prize entry information.

Blessed Online Countdown Event by Valorie from Truth Be Told. Valorie is posting reviews, book trailers, teaser excerpts, giveaways, and author-and-character interviews. Giveaway deadline: 11 p.m. PST Jan. 24. See details.

Blessed Tour

Blessed Central Texas and Northeast U.S. Tour from Candlewick Press. Note: YA authors Mari Mancusi and Daniel Nayeri will be joining Cynthia here and there along the way!

Cynsational Notes

This post features a sampling of the latest buzz surrounding Blessed. I’ll highlight more links as part of my weekly round-ups. Thanks to everyone who’s reading and discussing the novel!

I greatly appreciate y’all indulging today’s celebration. I’ll return to highlighting other authors, their books, and news of the publishing world, starting again tomorrow!

New Voice: Margie Gelbwasser on Inconvenient

Margie Gelbwasser is the first-time author of Inconvenient (Flux, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Welcome to Glenfair, New Jersey’s Little Moscow, where fifteen-year-old Alyssa Bondar lives with her Russian-born, Jewish parents. In their culture, drinking is as traditional as blinchiki and piroshki. So when her mom starts having bad days, it seems like Alyssa’s the only one who notices-or cares.

Alyssa would love to focus on regular stuff like her first kiss with Keith, her cute running partner-or simply come home without dread of what she might find.

But someone has to clean up her mom’s mess. Her dad is steeped in work, the evening news, and denial. Her best friend Lana is busy-shamelessly vying for a place with the popular crowd who ridicule their Russian heritage.

It’s up to Alyssa to save her mom-and her family. But who will be there to catch Alyssa when her mom’s next fall off the wagon drags her down, too?

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an “ah-ha!” moment in your craft? What, and how did it help you?

I have a hard time picking one because there are two distinct workshops—both in high school—that played into “ah-ha!” moments, and they served their purpose in different ways.

The first one happened when I was a sophomore. New Jersey has this festival called The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival that brings in students from all over the United States for the high school day of this event. There, students take workshops with established writers and are encouraged to share their work as well. This experience was amazing.

At fifteen, I dabbled in short stories but mainly worked on poetry (in true teenage angst style). To sit in a tent with other writers and be treated by the moderator as a real writer, not some kid who has a cute little dream was inspiring.

That day was all about seeing the writing world as we imagine it should be: walking among brooks and nature and stone bridges, writing in Emersonian fashion, just us and the world around us. Seeing so many people who wrote for a living and realizing they were just people, not larger than life icons, made me see my dream was possible too.

A year after the poetry festival, late into my junior year, life started to get crazy. I was getting stressed out with SATs, college applications, AP classes. There was a boy and a misunderstanding, and I lost my closest friends and the boy, who was one of my best friends at the time. I was in the mid stages of an eating disorder that everyone, including me, thought was just really good dieting, willpower, and strength, and I became really sad (years later, I would realize this was my first bout with depression). I went to classes in a haze, tried not to cry, avoided my old lunch spot that was now filled with ex-friends, and waited for summer vacation—when the avoidance game would be much easier.

Then my guidance counselor told me about this writing program for high school students in Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. Writing! In a town over three hours away, away from everything Jersey! I sent in my application, got in, and “Summer in Pennsylvania” became my new survival mantra.

We wrote and workshopped daily, listened to professional writers, and spent time with others who were like us. Whether a hobby or more, everyone’s experiences inspired me. I wrote about what I went through that year, cloaked in fiction. Not until I was done did I realize some of the stories were about me. I was changed when I returned home, but the days still stretched.

When school started in September, it was easy to get dragged under surf again. I thought of summer, called the new friends I met, and wrote, wrote, wrote.

When all else failed, the writing saved me. And that’s the first time, I saw it as something more than career path or hobby. I saw it as a lifeline.

As someone who’s the primary caregiver of children, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same? [Photo of Margie by Samuel Peltz.]

I’m currently working on my second YA novel due in November. I plan to finish in the next two weeks and give the first draft to my primary readers for critique so I can revise before handing it in to my editor.

To be honest, I’m a little freaked about the whole process.

“Why?” asked a friend. “Just remember how you revised Inconvenient.”

Good point. Only problem? That whole time period is a huge blur to me.

I finished first revisions at eight months pregnant and got my agent shortly thereafter. By the time I got my agent’s revision letter, I had a newborn. Those first months were a haze. I spent my days and nights nursing, walking around with my infant who wouldn’t sleep in his crib, nursing while walking around, eating if I remembered, and watching DVR’d episodes of “The O.C.” and “Gilmore Girls” that I missed the first time they were on.

I also revised. Can’t tell you how. I remember cradling my infant son with one arm and typing on my laptop with the other but can’t recall a scene. Obviously, I finished and all worked out.

But to use any technique from back then? Nope, won’t happen. And, ironically, as he grew older, I had less time to write.

He’s now three and doesn’t nap so I don’t have blocks of time where I can sit and pound out pages. But, he’s okay with staying with a sitter, so I get one once a week and use the time to do writing-related things. He’s also in school three mornings a week, which helps immensely.

I also started utilizing my nights better. Yes, what I really want to do after a day of cleaning and chasing and playing with my three-year-old, is to regroup and veg on the couch and watch “Degrassi” and “90210,” but I make myself write for at least an hour instead (full disclosure: sometimes I given in to the veg option). I also bribe my hubby for weekend writing time. I make a great baked ziti so I figure we’re even.

There’s no magic formula for writing with kids, but it is a learning process. It’s finding the time when you can. It’s prioritizing. It’s sneaking in a page while your toddler is watching “Calliou” or carrying a notepad to jot down ideas while he plays in the sandbox.

And it’s also just giving yourself a break, letting yourself make up the writing time another day, and allowing yourself to enjoy the time you have with your child because you can’t DVR it.

Cynsational Notes

Inconvenient has been named a 2011 Notable Book for Teens by the Sydney Taylor Book Award program. Check out the Inconvenient facebook page and read the first two chapters.

Cynsational News & Blessed/Night School Giveaways

L.K. Madigan’s Feast of Awesome Giveaway by Cindy Pon from the 2009 Debutantes. Peek: “How can we best express our love and support for Lisa during this time? Through the celebration of her books. only a fellow writer can know the angst and turmoil associated with creating stories–because we put so much of ourselves in them. Won’t you help us in spreading L.K. Madigan Book Love?”

ALA Youth Media Awards: Which Publishers Are Celebrating? by Elizabeth Bluemle from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I’ll start with a summary, and then post the full list below….”

The Agent’s Role in Today’s Digital Book World by Mary Kole, Literary Agent, Andrea Brown Literary Agency from Digital Book World. Peek: “as publishers embrace different content delivery systems and processes, agents will take on more packaging responsibilities: editorial work, marketing consultation, design, etc. Whether we’re presenting a book to editors or an app proposal to a digital publisher, we will have had a more active hand in its reaching ‘market ready’ status.”

How to Create a Podcast: Ready to Step Out of Your Blogging Comfort Zone? by Joanna Penn from The Creative Pen. Peek: “You can use BlogTalkRadio or other free hosted solutions but I don’t think the quality is very good and iTunes is a great stand-alone market so it’s worth having your own feed.”

What’s Going on With Borders? by Carolyn Kellogg from Jacket Copy from the L.A. Times. Peek: “Barnes & Noble, if buffeted by Amazon’s success, has remained afloat; Borders has been taking on water.” Note: a clear, succinct update on the status of the Borders chain.

Native authored-books on the 2011 Notable Children’s Books list by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Special congrats to fellow Texas author Tim Tingle on the recognition for Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness to Light (Cinco Puntos, 2010).

Should I Mention My Blog in My Query? by Carolyn Kaufman from QueryTracker.net. Peek: “…if you have a huge blog on, say, mountain climbing, but your book has nothing to do with mountain climbing, you don’t have the built-in audience an agent or editor is looking for, and mentioning your blog will look like a non sequitur.”

Authors on the Internet: Facing Up To Facebook by Tami Lewis Brown from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “This week in the Tollbooth we’ll look at Facebook and authors. We’ll see who’s doing what, check out some innovative sites for readers and writers, and look out for pitfalls.”

Celebrating Rejection by Danyelle from QueryTracker.net. Peek: “…why celebrate something that can be so painful? Something that we sometimes even come to believe for a time? Because rejection is proof that you’re not just existing–you’re living.”

2011 Rainbow Project List Announced by the ALA Rainbow Project: Recommended GLBTQ Books for Young Readers. Peek: “…these titles reflect signifigant gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans-gendered/queer-questioning (GLBTQ) experience for young people from birth to age 18.” Note: special cheer’s to Austin’s own April Lurie, author of The Less-Dead (Delacorte, 2010). Read a Cynsations interview with April.

SCBWI Team Blog Pre-Conference Interview: Advice on Critiques from Editors and Agents by Alice Pope from Alice Pope’s SCBWI Children’s Market Blog. Q&A with editors Krista Marino (Delacorte), Franceso Sedita (Penguin) and Jennifer Rees (Scholastic) and agents Kerry Sparks (Levine/Greenberg) and Mary Kole (Andrea Brown). Peek from Krista: “Always keep in mind that editors and agents want to work with writers who are open to suggestions, not writers who think their work is already done. Act appropriately.”

SCBWI Team Blog Pre-Conference Interview: Jennifer Besser, Publisher of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of the Penguin Young Readers Group, by Lee Wind from I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? Peek: “Having an agent is very important, and has been for some time now. Of the deals I made in 2010, at least 95% of them were agented, and most years it’s 100%.”

Hardiness by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid: A Medicine Chest of Hope. Peek: “I know for a fact that when I focus on the finish line–the day I can say the book is done–that it feels overwhelming.”

David Lubar’s Travel Challenge: “I have nine school visits scheduled during January, February, and March. I also have a frightening ability to attract terrible weather. (Some schools in rural areas book me in the spring because they need the rain.)” Root for David, and/or commit to donate (be it 10 cents or a dollar) to the charity of your choice each time he foils his bad travel karma! Go, David!

A Video Conversation with Rita Williams-Garcia by Uma Krishaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk. Rita talks about the origins of One Crazy Summer (HarperCollins, 2010). See also the 2011 National African American Read-In from Kyra at Black Threads in Kidlit.

A Crisis of Self-Confidence by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: “Sometimes frustration is a good thing — it spurns you on when you might otherwise quit — but I find that the specific frustration of not being published yet has one common cure: stop submitting and start nursing the writing.”

Writing a Young Narrator by Erik Raschke from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “I really focused on the framework in which teens communicated with one another and less on what was actually being said. Once I had written the situation, i.e. boys getting ready to fight, boys talking about sexy movie stars, I could cut out the modern language and replace it with how I used to speak when I was a budding teen (which was roughly the same time The Book of Samuel (St. Martin’s, 2009) takes place).”

Congratulations to Jenny Moss on the release of Taking Off (Walker, 2010)! From the promotional copy: “Annie Porter, a high school senior who wants to be a poet and is caught up in a romantic triangle, meets Christa McAuliffe before the space shuttle Challenger accident.” School Library Journal says, “The novel paints a lovely portrait of a smart, strong, friendly McAuliffe. In fact, the author’s background as a NASA engineer makes all of the scenes based at Johnson or Kennedy Space Center grounded and intriguing. Moss’s descriptive language is almost poetic.” Purchase from the author’s home indie, Blue Willow Bookshop.

Taming Time: Practical Tips to Increase Writing Productivity by Sarah Sundin from Novel Journey. Peek: “‘I am a professional. I am a professional.’ Repeat this until you believe it. Now, act like it. Keep office hours. Even if you only have one hour a day to write, use it well.”

2011 Spotlight Authors and Illustrators from 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children’s Literature. Peek: “To celebrate children’s authors and illustrators of color, during the twenty-eight days of Black History Month we’ll profile a different artist. Vanguard artists are those who have paved the way for newer authors and illustrators, all others are considered ‘under the radar.'” Tune into The Brown Bookshelf: United in Story every day in February to learn more about voices and visions from the African-American children’s-YA book community. Highest recommendation.


From Madeline at CBAY: Until Jan. 31, “we will accept unsolicited manuscript submissions for only fantasy and science fiction picture books. These will be for traditional 32-page picture books for ages 2-5.

“…the picture book must either be a fantasy (fairy tales, dragons, fairies, etc.) or a sciene-fiction (time travel, space, under the ocean, steampunk, etc.) tale. We will not consider any other type of picture book. However, we will look at number or alphabet books with a fantasy or science fiction theme. Finally, we will not consider manuscripts written for older children at this time. This is a call for fantasy and science fiction picture books, exclusively.” See more information.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Tyrannosaurus Math by Michelle Markel (Tricycle/Random House, 2009)(author interview). Note: this week, Michelle is hosting a series of interviews on book trailers; see A Librarian’s Viewpoint and interviews with Tom Lichtenheld, Tina Nichols Coury, and Mary Ann Fraser.

A video interview with Janet Fox about Faithful (Speak, 2010) by Kathi Appelt:

A video interview with librarian Nancy Pearl from Author Magazine. Source: Kirby Larson.

Congratulations to fellow Austinite and YA author Ruth Pennebaker on the release of her first adult novel, Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakthrough (Berkley Trade, 2011).

More Personally

Blessed will be released on Tuesday, and so this post is bursting with countdown interviews, guest posts, upcoming events, and giveaways! Thank you so much to the bloggers and event planners! I’m honored by your interest, enthusiasm, and efforts. Most appreciated!

I’m also still on deadline for book four in the Tantalize series, which will continue to feature characters from the previous books but is more of a sequel to events in Eternal.

However, I did manage to peek out of the house for a couple of writing community events this week! So, here’s my full report!

Tantalize was named a Top Ten pick on the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) list of 2011 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults in the “What’s Cooking?” category (“tasty reads to fill your belly and warm your soul.”).

Previous honors for Tantalize include:

  • Borders Original Voices Nominee, March 2007
  • Featured title, 2007 National Book Festival
  • 2007-2008 Tayshas List
  • Chapters (Canada) Junior Advisory Board (JAB) pick
  • Featured title, 2007 Texas Book Festival
  • Featured title, 2007 Kansas Book Festival

Mundie Moms says of Eternal: “…it’s a story about deception, redemption, love, danger, and hope. It’s a story that both fans of Dracula and paranormal characters will enjoy reading.” Read the whole review.

This week, BookPeople in Austin is celebrating the ALA award winners.

Jessica Lee Anderson gave an inspiring, musical, insightful presentation at the first Austin SCBWI meeting of the year. Here she is with fellow author Betty X Davis.

ARA Carmen Oliver, author-illustrator Emma Virjan and authors Shana Burg and Jennifer Ziegler.

K.A. Holt, author of Brains for Lunch: A Zombie Novel in Haiku?! (Roaring Brook, 2010), models her latest zombie accessory.

Afterward, about 20 of us ended up next door at the Shoal Creek Saloon. Here’s Greg, next to newcomer Sara Pennypacker, across from Bethany Hegedus, Sara Kocek (the newest face at the Writers’ League of Texas), and Margo Rabb.

Link of the Week: check out Libba Bray’s latest cover from Professor Nana.

Blessed Grand Prize Giveaway

Enter to win the Blessed grand prize giveaway from Cynsations! The prize package includes: final hardcover of Blessed (Candlewick, 2011); magnetic Sanguini’s menu wipe board with pen that reads, “Stop in for a late-night bite;” Sanguini’s magnet; laminated poster from the movie “Dracula,” (1931); dragon finger puppet; wolf finger puppet; plush bat stuffed toy; Tantalize postcards; series tie-in buttons; angel wing charm; and Dracula by Bram Stoker, illustrated by Anne Yvonne Gilbert, retold by Nicky Raven (Templar/Candlewick, 2010)(view an inside spread).

To enter, leave a comment at this post at Blogger or this post at LiveJournal! For an extra entry(s): Post, share, tweet, whatever works: (a) this giveaway and/or (b) the Blessed book trailer and/or a Blessed countdown widget; and include the URL in your comment! Also, make sure to include contact information in case you win. Author-publisher sponsored. U.S./Canada entries only. Deadline: Jan. 31.

The Teen {Book} Scene Blog Tour: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Blessed Blog Tour & ARC/Prize Package Giveaways by Kari from The Teen {Book} Scene (enter at the links below for more chances to win–multiple prizes available!):

  • an interview with Quincie from Bookworming in the 21rst Century; peek: “Blessed proved to be a thrilling continuation of the series by highlighting Quincie’s dire situation and her transformation as not only a neophyte but as a stronger, more assertive young woman. ”
  • my guest post, Bringing Together the Casts of Tantalize and Eternal from The Book Scout; peek: “In Blessed, heroes from Eternal may be found in Sanguini’s, the vampire-themed restaurant in Tantalize. Likewise, Quincie steps fully, for the first time, into the underworld.
  • Blessed review from Pirate Penguin Reads; peek: “Blessed proved to be a thrilling continuation of the series by highlighting Quincie’s dire situation and her transformation as not only a neophyte but as a stronger, more assertive young woman.”
  • an interview with Kieren from The Serpentine Library; peek: “or as long as I could recall, I found it boring when she talked about new recipes and napkins. I was polite, but…Then one day, I found every word she said fascinating. Quince herself, fascinating. The way her lips moved… She could talk about napkins forever, and I’d be thrilled to hear it.”
  • author interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith from Mundie Moms; peek: “Don’t ever let fear stop your art—especially if you’re writing horror.”

Truth Be Told Blessed Countdown & Giveaways

Blessed Online Countdown Event by Valorie from Truth Be Told. Valorie will be posting reviews, book trailers, teaser excerpts, and fun author-and-character interviews. She’s giving away two bookplate-autographed copies of Blessed, each with a Magnetic Sanguini’s menu wipe board and pen (see photo above). She’s also giving away one board to (a) a random commenter and another to (b) “a person who helps promote the release of the book, randomly chosen based on tweets, adding it to goodreads, and blogging. It will go to someone who didn’t win the hardcover.” Giveaway deadline: 11 p.m. PST Jan. 24. See details.

Embracing My Spooky Side: a guest post by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Peek: “I had no interest in violent, slasher flicks, though I enjoyed more atmospheric films (with plots) like “Poltergeist” (1982) and “The Witches of Eastwick” (1987). The latter-featuring Jack Nicholson as the devil-especially appealed to me because of its female-empowerment reversal at the end.”

In Valorie’s review of Tantalize, she says: “The last few chapters of Tantalize were my favorite. This is where you see Quincie show who she really is. These last few chapters are also packed with suspense and action, much of which is unexpected.”

Blessed Launch Party

Joint Launch Party: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) and Night School by Mari Mancusi (Berkley) book party and signing at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 at BookPeople in Austin. Event will include author talks, Q&A, refreshments and signing. Wear red and black if you’re on the side of Evil or blue and black if you’re on the side of Good. Bonus points (and possible prize) to anyone who dresses up as a vampire, shape shifter, vampire slayer, angel or faerie!

Last call! Comment here for a chance to win an autographed copy of Night School! Deadline: Jan. 21.

More Cynsational Events

Blessed In-Person Author Tour Schedule in Central Texas and the Northeastern U.S.: sponsored by Candlewick Press. Are you in Austin, New York, New Jersey, or the Philly area? Come join me along the way!

12th Annual Southwest Florida Reading Festival will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 19 in Fort Myers, Florida. Note: speakers include Cynthia Leitich Smith.

SCBWI-Wisconsin Novel Revision Workshop with author Cynthia Leitich Smith from March 25 to March 27. Note: “Registration is limited to 25 persons.”

Book Now for 2011-2012

It’s two YA authors for the price of one! Book now for the 2011-2012 school year and beyond!

“From Classics to Contemporary:” a joint presentation offered by Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of the Tantalize series (inspired by Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)) and Jennifer Ziegler, author of Sass & Serendipity (inspired by Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811)).

The authors will discuss how they were inspired by these classics, why Stoker and Austen’s themes are still relevant to teens/YAs today, the ongoing conversation of books over the generations, and much more.

Contact Dayton Bookings for more information and to schedule.

Guest Post: Jeanette Ingold on Writing Historical Fiction—A Roadmap to Traveling Time

By Jeanette Ingold

Not all wishes come true. I’m never going to sing on pitch or get another go at being eighteen.

However, writing historical fiction brings me pretty close to traveling across time. As impossible wishes go, one for three’s not bad.

Actually, what I really enjoy is working a story from both ends—taking a contemporary story and going backward to find its roots, while simultaneously beginning with the past and asking the What if? question on the slant. What might have happened?

Answering that is a research project. I have to know what did happen in the past and find ways to put it on paper, building it into plot, character, and setting. It’s work that’s fun, and the hardest part can be knowing when to quit.

I don’t always—-I’ve got boxes full of stuff I may never use—-but I have figured out a few approaches to efficiently get what I need for the current book and perhaps for another down the line.

Here’s what I tell myself.

1) Go after voices.

I read all the first-hand accounts I can find—journals, old letters and postcards, memoirs. I want individual stories, and I need to hear how they’re told. The sound of a particular time and the way people talked. I look for expressions and twists of syntax that can give an authentic flavor to dialog.

2) Stay open to surprises.

I was at a National Archives regional depository reading New Deal materials I needed for Hitch (Harcourt, 2005) when a wonderful archivist offered to show me around.

I saw long shelves of files from the Exclusion Era, when legal immigration of Chinese laborers was virtually shut down and an underground of assumed identities flourished. I had my next book, Paper Daughter (Harcourt, 2010).

2) Read the newspapers.

The local papers that my characters would have read provide details, attitudes, prejudices, and concerns. And they put me in the middle of things, where I can see events only as far as my characters would have seen them.

One of the first things I learned researching The Big Burn (Graphia, 2003) was that close to a hundred people died when wildfires blew up in August 1910. The edition of the Wallace, Idaho, newspaper published that week told me that for the residents there, then, the reality wasn’t a hundred dead. It was four hundred men missing.

3) Look for core truths.

Studying the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, I read many accounts of the where’s and why’s that led young guys to sign up. The details varied widely, but the truth behind many was that the $25 sent home from a $30 monthly paycheck made the difference between younger siblings going hungry and being fed.

4) Talk to those who know.

I seek out people with firsthand or family experience living the events of my characters’ lives. And I’m always grateful that once people come to trust that I’ll do my best to tell their stories honestly and with respect, most are incredibly generous in sharing what they know.

5) Close the laptop, get off the bed, grab the camera and notepad, and hit the road.

I’m not dissing the Internet or pretending I don’t like having a job that lets me stay in my PJs well into the morning. But I’ve found that a computer screen is no substitute for walking the land my characters would have walked, or for standing in the space where their real counterparts once stood.

Being there takes me beyond the visual and lets me experience the sensory details that would have been constants over the years.

And occasionally, when I’m really, really lucky, I get that writer’s bonus of feeling that I’m living for a few moments in another time, when I might actually see one of my characters come walking toward me.

Cynsational Notes

The Write Question with Jeanette Ingold: an audio interview from Montana Public Radio.

From the author bio: “Ingold was born in New York to a family of Texans and grew up knowing both Dallas and Long Island, where she was raised. She and her husband, Kurt, lived in Delaware, Kansas, Texas, and Washington State before settling in Montana to raise their two children.” Paper Daughter is her seventh novel.

In this video, Kathi Appelt interviews Jeanette:

Guest Post: Frank Asch on The Daily Comet: Boy Saves Earth from Giant Octopus!

By Frank Asch

I’ve always loved tabloids.

They caught my eye in the checkout line at the grocery store. There they were, right next to the chewing gum and chocolate bars.

Mind candy.

I was never addicted. But sometimes I would take one home to finish a particularly outrageous story. They were always the same. Always sublimely ridiculous.

Who writes this stuff? I wondered. What imaginations they have!

I loved the far out quality of the ideas they came up with.

These guys are geniuses, I thought.

Then one day in a grocery store checkout I started chatting with the woman ahead of me in line. She didn’t say it in so many words, but I got the definite feeling that she actually believed the far-out stories that were so totally and obviously unbelievable to me.

Incredible, I thought. Some people actually believe this stuff! I guess it just showed my naiveté.

We definitely live in an upside-down world where truth is up for grabs, and fantasy and facts commingle in the corporate-media soup that gets served up to us daily.

It was just too juicy a topic not to write about, especially for kids who have such a deep and primal love of fantasy. And at the same time are often such staunch realists. I find it hard to believe no one beat me to it.

I was also excited by the graphic possibilities. Tabloids have a unique look. They are a visual world unto themselves.

The earlier versions of The Daily Comet: Boy Saves Earth from Giant Octopus! illustrated by Devin Asch (Kids Can, 2010) were even more tabloid like in their appearance.

This is the third story of mine that my son, Devin, has illustrated. He uses Photoshop and Painter on a mac. We started out working as a team many years ago when he was a teenager (he’s 31 now).

At first, when I was just learning to use the computer as an illustrating tool, his help was mostly technical. Some of what we did started out as pen and ink and was scanned into the computer. Now he does everything digitally from scratch.

I used to write the story and provided the concept and “look” for the illustrations. Now I just write the story and he does the rest. The look of the book, from layout to finishing touches all comes from him. So, I can just sit back and write another story.

Cynsational Notes

From Kids Can: Frank Asch was born and raised in rural New Jersey. His earliest interests were in science, specifically physics and astronomy, yet by the time he entered college he was determined to pursue a career in the Arts. Even before graduating from The Cooper Union with a degree in Fine Art, he published his first children’s book, George’s Store (McGraw-Hill) in 1968. Since then he has written over 70 children’s books. He has traveled widely, married and raised a son who has also pursued writing and illustrating as a career. Frank currently divides his time between Vermont and Hawaii.

In the video below, Frank reads Barnyard Lullaby (Aladdin, 2001). From the promotional copy: “It’s bedtime and the barnyard animals are singing their babies to sleep. The farmer hears their song quite differently, however. How will he ever get to sleep?”