New Voice: Michael Northrop on Gentlemen

Michael Northrop is the first-time author of Gentlemen (Scholastic, 2009, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Micheal, Tommy, Mixer, and Bones aren’t just from the wrong side of the tracks—they’re from the wrong side of everything.

Except for Mr. Haberman, their remedial English teacher, no one at their high school takes them seriously. Haberman calls them “gentlemen,” but everyone else ignores them—or, in Bones’s case, is dead afraid of them.

When one of their close-knit group goes missing, the clues all seem to point in one direction: to Mr. Haberman.

Gritty, fast-paced, and brutally real, this debut takes an unflinching look at what binds friends together—and what can tear them apart.

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you’re debuting this year?

As a young reader, I was not a young reader, which is to say, I am dyslexic and didn’t start reading for myself until fairly late. The first things I read for fun were Dungeons & Dragons books, which I read a few pages at a time, figuring out how to create a half-elf magic user or browsing The Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast, 1977).


The first novel I remember reading for fun wasn’t too far afield from D&D: The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander (Henry Holt, 1999). That was probably around fifth grade.

At about that time, I was assigned Watership Down by Richard Adams (Scribner, 1996) in school, and that just blew me away. I was basically sold on reading at that point, but it was still hard work for me and I still stuck mostly to what was assigned.


Around seventh grade, people began passing around Robert Cormier and S.E. Hinton books. It was sort of done “under the desk,” as if the books were somehow forbidden. (I don’t think they were anything more than lightly frowned upon, but we preferred to think of them as contraband.) That made a very strong impression on me: Not just the books, which were amazing, but also the idea that reading could be dark and cool.


Sophomore year of high school, our teacher read us the poem “Hawk Roosting” by Ted Hughes. It is written from the perspective of a hawk (“my manners are tearing off heads”), and it basically confirmed all of those earlier suspicions: Reading could be dark and cool and
exciting. It also helped me realize that interesting stories could come from extremely unlikely places.

Those elements continued to be important to me all through high school. It’s an intense time, and I gravitated toward intense writing, becoming a more avid reader each year.

When I decided to write my first young adult novel, it was important to me to write something in that vein: intense, dark, and honest about what that age can be like.

I’d love to think that a reader might pass Gentlemen to a friend under the desk, even if it would probably be just fine above it.

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

I went to a small elementary school in a very small town, but the teachers were excellent. I was diagnosed as dyslexic in second grade, which is impressive (especially back then). I spent a year in special ed, and it made an enormous difference. In a larger school, I could easily have been tracked as a remedial student and just pushed along.

The narrator of Gentlemen isn’t me, but in a way, he’s the sort of teen I could have been. He’s fairly bright, but he’s been stuffed into remedial classes. No one expects much of him, and he has stopped expecting much of himself.

I’ve always been fascinated by that idea: that expectations can be self-fulfilling, whether they’re high or low, that the breaks you get early can snowball for the rest of your life. In my case, a good break in second grade helped me land in honors classes a few years later.

But it wasn’t inevitable: A few bad breaks could have had just as big an impact and led to a very different life. In that sense, writing Gentlemen felt very personal. It was a way of exploring lives like that, of portraying kids doing their best but still dragged along by those forces.

As for tapping into the teen mindset, I think it helped to set the book in a town and high school much like my own. My memories of being that age in that place are vivid and interconnected.

I was also an editor at Sports Illustrated Kids for over a decade and am very comfortable writing for specific reading levels. I think the real key is just being honest with yourself about what that age is like.

Yes, it’s intense, but it can also be awkward, ridiculous, and a dozen other things. You may not, just saying, have your act entirely together.

As a writer, you need to resist the temptation to idealize it on the one hand or to lecture or superimpose an adult sensibility on the other. [See Michael as a teen below.]

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

Coordinated by Kari

Monday, January 17: Kristen at Bookworming in the 21st Century (Character Interview: Quincie)

Tuesday, January 18: Kelsey at The Book Scout
(Guest Post: Connecting Eternal and Tantalize to Blessed)

Wednesday, January 19: Sandy at Pirate Penguin Reads (Review)

Thursday,
January 20: Maria at The Serpentine Library (Character Interview: Kieren)

Friday,
January 21: Stacy at Girls in the Stacks (Review)

Monday, January 24: Lisa at Badass Bookie (Guest Post: Secondary Characters)

Tuesday,
January 25: Stacy at Girls in the Stacks (Character Interview: Zachary)

Wednesday,
January 26: Kristen at Bookworming in the 21st Century (Review)

Thursday,
January 27: Kari at A Good Addiction (Ten YA Recommendations)

Friday,
January 28: Sandy at Pirate Penguin Reads (Character Interview: Bradley)

Cynsational Notes

Tour includes Blessed ARC & prize pack (pictured) giveaways! Lots of chances to win!

Special thanks to Kari and all of the host bloggers! I greatly appreciate your time, efforts, and enthusiasm!

Learn more about The Teen {Book} Scene.

Don’t miss the Blessed Live Author Tour Schedule (NY, NJ, Philly area, TX, etc.) and Grand Prize Giveaway from Cynsations.

Guest Post: Traci L. Jones on Writing the 1970’s

By Traci L. Jones

You can talk all you want to about the joys of growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. You could brag about the music and clothes, but while I agree that there were some definite advantages to being a young person in that time, I am here to make a case for the best decade for childhood being the 1970’s.

Naturally, since I’m an African American, my view of the 50’s and 60’s is skewed, what with all the Jim Crow laws and segregation and such, toward the negative.

The 70’s, however, that was a time where Black became beautiful, when the world was opening up for us. When our music and culture stopped being relegated to the chitlin’ circuit, and was brought from the backwaters into the spotlight.

It was in this light that I wrote my second book, Finding My Place (FSG, 2010). Set smack in the middle of the 70’s–1975–I tried to take a look at growing up in a way that is not often seen in popular culture.

Most often books where the main character is African American take place in one of three settings: during Slavery, Civil Rights, or in an urban city. But there are vast amounts of people who, like me, grew up in the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement, where the laws had changed, but the attitudes of those around us hadn’t always caught up.

We grew up with the burden not of creating laws to expand opportunity, but with the charge of taking best advantage of the opportunities presented to us.

The 70’s is chockfull of national events and societal changes that, while I was growing up I was seemingly oblivious to, but which nonetheless had an impact on the way I viewed life, others and myself.

Here are few of the things that took place, and how differently they were viewed by my culture.

Movements

The women’s movement wasn’t viewed within the African American culture as one might assume. While White women were marching and burning their bras, demanding to have a choice to work outside of the home for equal pay, African American women, who had worked outside of their homes for more than 100 years for awful pay, felt a disconnect with that philosophy.

I remember hear many of my mother’s friends express a wistful desire that they had the chance to stay at home and raise their kids, rather than leave each morning for work.

The Hippie Culture was dying down in the early part of the 70’s, but again, it was viewed different by the African American community.

After all, many of us had just marched and died for inclusion into many of the things and institutions that the hippie culture disdained. While my people often shared the hippies’ distrust of politicians and government, it was for historical rather than philosophical reasons.

Music

While disco reigned supreme in the mainstream, it was R&B with bands like Earth, Wind and Fire, The Commodores and The Jackson 5 that dominated in the African American culture. Often when thinking back to my childhood, there is a wonderful musical accompaniment along with the memories.

Movies and Television

With the 1970’s came a wave of Blaxplotation films, such as “Shaft,” “Blacula,” “Coffy,” “Buck and The Preacher,” and “Cleopatra Jones,” which showed Blacks in roles usually reserved for White actors.

In the 1970’s, Blacks on television went from being seen rarely, in guest appearances or as sidekicks to having entire shows populated with only Black actors, like “That’s My Mama,” “Sanford and Son,” “Good Times,” and “The Jeffersons.”

The 1970’s is a ripe decade to explore full of new chances, old conflicts, unprecedented growth and societal confusion. I tried to invoke some of the challenges, opportunities and atmosphere in my book Finding My Place. I hope readers can feel the 1970’s flavor.

Thanks for listening, and in the immortal words of Don Cornelius, host of “Soul Train,” here’s wishing you Love, Peace and SSSSSOOOOULLLL!

Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith Central Texas & Northeast U.S. Tour Schedule

Please join me on a stop of the Blessed (Candlewick, 2011) tour!

Events that are open to the public are indicated as such on the schedule below!

Also, note that YA authors Mari Mancusi and Daniel Nayeri will be joining me here and there along the way!

Saturday, 1/29/11

2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. BookPeople – launch party with Night School (Blood Coven) author Mari Mancusi (PUBLIC EVENT)

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 (prize entry) to anyone who dresses up as a vampire, shape shifter, vampire slayer, angel or faerie!

603 North Lamar, Austin, Texas

Sunday, 2/6/11

1 p.m. to 3 p.m. – Books of Wonder – reading/Q&A/signing to public with Another Pan author Daniel Nayeri (PUBLIC EVENT)

18 W. 18th St., New York, N.Y.

Monday, 2/7/11

10 a.m. to 11:34 a.m. Francis Lewis High School

6 p.m. Borders Bookstore – reading/signing (PUBLIC EVENT)

Borders Columbus Circle
10 Columbus Circle, New York, N.Y.

Tuesday, 2/8/11

4 p.m. to 5 p.m. New Brunswick Free Public Library – reading/Q&A/signing (PUBLIC EVENT)

6:20 p.m. to 9 p.m. Rutgers University — guest lecture, “Materials for Young Adults” — room 203

School of Communication and Information — 4 Huntington St., New Brunswick, N.J.

Wednesday, 2/9/11

10 a.m. NYPL Mulberry Branch – visit with schools

10 Jersey Street (Between Lafayette & Mulberry Streets) New York, N.Y.

8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. New School Creative Writing Graduate Class – guest lecture

66 West 12th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues

Thursday, 2/10/11

11:15 a.m. to 12 p.m. Brooklyn Public Library – Professional Development Day

Central Library, 10 Grand Army Plaza

4:00 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. Brooklyn Public Library – Will You Be My Paranormal Valentine Party (with teens)(PUBLIC EVENT)

Central Library, 10 Grand Army Plaza

Friday, 2/11/11

2:15 p.m. to 3 p.m. Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School Visit

Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin HS, LREI

272 Sixth Avenue, New York, N.Y.

7 p.m. The Voracious Reader – “Will You Be My Paranormal Valentine?” event with Another Pan author Daniel Nayeri (PUBLIC EVENT)

1997 Palmer Avenue, Larchmont, N.Y.

Saturday, 2/12/11

1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mercer County Library Event — West Windsor Branch (PUBLIC EVENT)

333 North Post Road, Princeton Junction, N.J.

6:30 p.m. Barnes & Noble, Cherry Hill, N.J. (Greater Philly area)(PUBLIC EVENT)

911 Haddonfield Road, Cherry Hill, N.J.

Not on the Tour? Attention Event Planners!

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.

Cynsational Notes

Enter to win the Blessed Grand Prize Giveaway at this post at Blogger or this post at LiveJournal!

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Diversity in YA Fiction: founded by YA authors Cindy Pon (Silver Phoenix, Fury of the Phoenix) and Malinda Lo (Ash, Huntress), Diversity in YA seeks to bring attention to MG and YA books featuring people of color and LGBT characters. Peek: “We envision DIYA as a positive, friendly gathering of readers and writers who want to see diversity in their fiction. Every week on our website we’ll be featuring books that include diversity, from realistic, contemporary novels to absorbing historicals and adventurous fantasy.”

Cindy and Malinda will be on tour to at least four cities in 2011. Authors who’ll join them along the way include:

See also Author Bios and Tour Locations pages. Join the mailing list for a final list of locations and more (no more than two emails per month).

More News & Giveaways

Inside the Writer’s Studio with Carrie Jones, author of Entice by Bethany Hegedus from Writer Friendly; Bookshelf Approved. Peek: “I want people to be kind to each other, to look past appearance and labels and just love each other. I know! I know! I’m such a hippie throw-back for a police dispatcher, but I mean it.”

Cool Down Time: Handling Criticism Effectively by Mary Lindsey from QueryTracker.net. Peek: “Rushing into revisions or reacting immediately when you feel defensive will not only make your revisions less effective, it will potentially alienate you from the very people trying to help you become a better writer.”

Two $500 Scholarships for Mystery Writers, given by the annual Helen McCloy/MWA Scholarship program, from April Henry. Deadline: Feb. 28.

Erzsi Deàk Launches HEN & INK – A New Literary Studio and Transmedia Company from Austin SCBWI. Peek: “With a growing list of prize-winning clients and new voices from around the world, president and founder of Hen & Ink, Erzsi Deàk, meets often with publishers in the U.S. and U.K. and aggressively markets domestic and foreign rights.” Note: post includes submission guidelines and manuscript areas of interest.

How Many Picture Books Should I Query? by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: “I tell my picture book writer clients — and these are clients…people who’ve already cleared the ‘hurdle’ — that one out of every ten of their picture book ideas/manuscripts is going to be saleable.”

Lost in Translation, or using symbols when writing multicultural fantasy by Grace Lin from The Enchanted Ink Pot. Peek: “Making assumptions is particularly treacherous when writing multicultural fantasy. An author wants to make fantasy feel authentic to the culture they are nodding to, yet still build a world that takes a reader away from reality.”

What Happened to Your Book Today: A Poem for After the ALA Awards? by Kate Messner. Peek: “Your book may not have won an award today…but some other pretty amazing things happened.”

Deepening Your Characters Needs by Stina Lindenblatt from Query Tracker. Peek: “…the pyramid is divided into five levels. The needs on the bottom level (physiological) have to be satisfied before you can worry about those in the next level (safety and security). Same deal with the third level (love and belonging). The needs in the first two levels have to be dealt with first. This idea continues all the way to the top of the pyramid, to self-actualization.” See also Personality: Creating Real Characters by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes.

Children’s Literature Guide: Elizabeth Kennedy, About.com from Children’s Books and Reviews. Peek: “…the illustrations in a picture book should both complement and extend the written story so the effectiveness and artistic value of the illustrations are part of the criteria I use for picture books. When it comes to fiction for older kids, ‘voice’ becomes particularly important.”

Passionate About Picture Books? from Bethany Hegedus from Hunger Mountain, a VCFA Journal of the Arts. Peek: “For the winter 2011 issue, I am compiling a list of quotes from authors, illustrators, agents, educators and parents to be included in a piece dedicated to the ongoing art and craft of the picture book.”

Free Books Aren’t Free by Saundra Mitchell from Making Up Stuff for a Living. Peek: “I don’t blame my publisher. There’s weak demand for my books, according to my sales figures. Meanwhile, 800 copies of my book (worth about $1200 toward my advance, if everyone paid for a copy) are being downloaded a week.” Note: Saundra’s Shadowed Summer (Delacorte, 2009) is highly recommended. Honors include: 2009 Junior Library Guild Selection, 2009 ALAN Pick, 2010 Edgar Nominee (Best YA Mystery), 2010 Society of Midland Authors Book Award (Best Children’s), 2010 VOYA Summer Reading List. Please vote for more books by Saundra by buying/ordering it or checking it out of your local library. Learn about her upcoming release, The Vespertine (Harcourt, 2011).

Where Do Ideas Come From? by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: “I like to say I get them in a little store out in West Texas somewhere near Marfa.” Note: Brian’s Blog is smart, wry, and conversational. Highly recommended.

Applying the Women-in-Movies Test to Race-in-Stories by Mitali Perkins from Mitali’s Fire Escape. Note: give both a try. Consider the books you write, the books you read.

More Personally

An Open Love Letter to Debut Authors About Hurtful Online Reviews by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. See also Writers and Depression by Nancy Etchemendy from the Horror Writers Association. Note: I’m re-running both of these links periodically.

Whether you’re someone who prays or sends good thoughts, please send them to L.K. Madigan and her family.

Booklist says of Blessed: “Sure, the vampires, werewolves, and angels provide the lure, but Smith’s obvious affection for her characters makes this more…. Pretty lengthy, but if this is your cup of tea, you’ll relish it.”

I was jazzed to see a Blessed poster at the Candlewick booth in Mary Kole’s ALA Midwinter Report at Kidlit.com.

Reminder: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith ARC giveaway by P.J. “Tricia” Hoover from Roots in Myth. Note: extra ARC added to giveaway! Two copies available! Deadline: tonight! – midnight Jan. 14.

Local Link of the Week: Donating Books to the Austin Children’s Shelter by Stephanie from Stephanie, A History.

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.

Truth Be Told Blessed Countdown & Giveaway

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. 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.

See Teaser Tuesday (features two short excerpts from Tantalize) and an Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith (features, short, romantic excerpt from Blessed) from Valorie from Truth Be Told. Peek: “Both of the previous novels end with calls to action, either express or implied. Loose ends, if you will, that I wanted to more fully address, and I felt that both of those characters [Quincie and Zachary] deserved the chance to reach their full potential.”

Cynsational Events

Jessica Lee Anderson will speak on seven things she’s learned through her publishing journey…using songs at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at 11 a.m. Jan. 15 at BookPeople in Austin. Read an interview with Jessica and P.J. Hoover.

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!

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

Note: Mari will be signing all the Blood Coven books at the Pflugerville, Texas HEB (1434 Wells Branch Pkwy) from noon to 2 p.m. Jan. 15. She’ll also be giving away bookmarks.

Passionate about Picture Books? Share Your Thoughts with Hunger Mountain

From Bethany Hegedus at Hunger Mountain

The state of the picture book, its viability, market share, etc. was much discussed last year. See The New York Times (skip ad) and Publishers Weekly articles.

Now, Hunger Mountain, the VCFA Journal of the Arts, wishes to be a part of the conversation.

For the winter 2011 issue, I am compiling a list of quotes from authors, illustrators, agents, educators and parents to be included in a piece dedicated to the ongoing art and craft of the picture book. In 250 words (or fewer), contributors will be asked to focus one of the following:

  • what the picture book means to them;
  • why it is his/her chosen art form (whether artist or illustrator);
  • why they work behind the scenes on bringing picture books to life;
  • favorite memory of a book (could be one created by the author, illustrator, agent, editor or one read to as a child or read from to children);
  • the evolution of the picture book–where one sees the industry going;
  • why picture books are needed;
  • the changing appeal of the picture book, nonfiction, or otherwise;
  • the magic of art and text.

As the quotes will be short but numerous, Hunger Mountain, is not able to pay for the quote contribution. However, a link to a blog, website, as well as the contributor’s name will be included.

If able to contribute, please send (bahegedus at gmail dot com) your 250-word (or shorter) quote by Jan. 25.

The piece will run on the children’s and YA page at Hunger Mountain in mid-February.

Guest Post: Cyn Balog on Creating Fantasy Characters

By Cyn Balog

As an author of paranormal romance, I’ve introduced my share of otherworldly characters.

I based the fairies in Fairy Tale (Delacorte, 2009) partly on existing classical folklore and mythology, bending the rules and the lore when appropriate for my story.

But with the Sandmen in Sleepless (Delacorte, 2010), I had more creative leeway. Very little classical lore exists about Sandman, so I had more freedom to create the Sandmen I wanted to create. After all, this is fiction. You are only limited by the depths of your imagination.

However, you can’t let the freedom go to your head. Good fantasy is always built on a foundation of human experience and emotion. It is that which will make your reader identify with your story.

Therefore, while your creatures may be otherworldly, they must possess some human traits which will make your reader warm up to them. Maybe your character doesn’t speak; maybe it doesn’t even look human, but something about it must be human. For example, even if your main character is a gelatinous glob of goo, maybe it can quiver in fear every time a certain individual is near.

A common mistake among beginners in writing fantasy is the tendency to fill page after page with wild happenings, crazy critters, out-there worlds that are so very different from our own, the reader feels disengaged. They write a plot-driven quest fantasy where it’s just one obstacle after another until the quest is fulfilled. Things just happen to the characters; very little do the characters determine what happens.

This is because the writer has not fully fleshed out the characters. Good fantasy is equally plot and character driven. In any novel, your characters make things happen and create conflict because of who they are.

Unfortunately, with fantasy, it’s so easy to rely on archetypes, just because all those fairy tales of our youth seem to take place in fantasy worlds. It seems only natural to have clichés.

Real characters are not fully good or fully evil. It’s fine to rely on archetypes as a start for building your characters, but can you turn them on their heads?

In Fairy Tale, I made the fairy the star football player. I’d read a dozen tales about a girl finding out she was a fairy princess, and I thought it would be interesting (and way more fun) to have the macho guy learn that he was the fairy. Imagine him trying to explain that to his friends around the locker room!

Unexpected quirks in your characters can help to keep your fantasy fresh and entertaining. Creating a character in fantasy is not unlike creating a character for a realistic novel—as with all characters, you add in weaknesses and fears, goals and motivations, and a back story. All these things will make the people in your story–as well as the creatures–come alive.

Cynsational Notes

Cyn Balog is the author of the young adult paranormal novels Fairy Tale and Sleepless. She lives outside Allentown, Pennsylvania with her husband and daughters. Visit her online at www.cynbalog.com.

Look for Cyn’s next book, Starstruck (Delacorte) in July. Peek:

When Gwendolyn “Dough” Reilly’s boyfriend and best friend Wish moves away in seventh grade, the only consolation she can find is in her family bakery’s donuts.

Now, it’s sophomore year, and Wish is coming back. But in only three years, they’ve both changed—drastically. he’s seriously overweight, and suddenly Wish is the most popular guy in school, and girls everywhere want him.

Dough has doubts that appearances don’t matter and that Wish can love her as she is, so she launches into a plan designed to keep them together.

That is, until she discovers that Wish’s gorgeous looks and charm might not be all they appear to be.

Blessed Grand Prize Giveaway, Truth Be Told Countdown Event & More


Enter to win the Blessed grand prize giveaway from Cynsations!

Blessed is the third and latest installment in the Tantalize series, to be released by Candlewick on Jan. 25, 2011. This YA novel is a contemporary romantic thriller that offers a nod and a wink to Bram Stoker‘s classic Dracula (1897). Note: Sanguini’s is the fictional vampire-themed restaurant featured in the series.

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” (see close-up at side);

-Sanguini’s magnet;

-Laminated poster from “Dracula,” starring Bela Lugosi (1931);

-Dragon finger puppet;

-Wolf finger puppet;

-Plush bat stuffed toy;

-Tantalize postcards;

-Series tie-in buttons;

-Angel wing charm;

Dracula by Bram Stoker, illustrated by Anne Yvonne Gilbert, retold by Nicky Raven (Templar/Candlewick, 2010)(view an inside spread)(see also close-up at side).

To enter, leave a comment at this post! 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.

Here’s the trailer for those that missed it yesterday:

Blessed News & More Giveaways

Sanguini’s logo by Gene Brenek; shop Sanguini’s.

Reminder: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith ARC giveaway by P.J. “Tricia” Hoover from Roots in Myth. Deadline: midnight Jan. 14.

Reminder: Cat Calls E-Book by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2010) is now available for free to Kindle users. See details. Note: Cat Calls is set in the Tantalize series universe.

Blessed Countdown at Truth Be Told


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.

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.

See also Teaser Tuesday by Valorie from Truth Be Told. Note: features two short excerpts from Tantalize.

Blessed In-Person Author Events

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 fairy!

The Official Blessed In-Person Author Tour will take place in early February and include events in NY, NJ, and the Philly area. Stay tuned to Cynsations for details!

Official Book Trailer: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Wowza! Check out this spooky-terrific book trailer for my upcoming YA Gothic fantasy, Blessed–releasing Jan. 25!

Cynsational readers: feel free to share/post/tweet this link and/or re-post the trailer itself on your own sites/blogs!

Then let me know–with the URL(s), if applicable–for extra chances to win the Blessed Grand Prize Giveaway! Giveaway details and photo to be posted tomorrow! (It’s awesome–trust me!)

Or you can just comment here for a chance to win!

Cynsational Notes

Trailer produced in conjunction with Candlewick Press by Curtis Sponsler, Creative Director and Owner of AniMill. Thanks, Candlewick and Curtis!

See the Blessed media kit (PDF) for author interview and more!

New Voice: Gary Golio on Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix

Gary Golio is the first-time author of Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (Clarion, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Jimi Hendrix was many things: a superstar, a rebel, a hero, an innovator. But first, he was a boy named Jimmy who loved to draw and paint and listen to records.

A boy who played air guitar with a broomstick and longed for a real guitar of his own.

A boy who asked himself a question: Could someone paint pictures with sound?

This a story of a talented child who learns to see, hear, and interpret the world around him in his own unique way. It is also a story of a determined kid with a vision, who worked hard to become a devoted and masterful artist.

Jimi Hendrix–a groundbreaking performer whose music shook the very foundations of rock ‘n’ roll.

Looking back, were you surprised to debut in 2010, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

Sometime around 2002, I first came upon Wendie Old’s picture book To Fly (Clarion, 2002). It was 48 pages, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker (an artist I greatly admire), and a beautiful meld of story and image.

Out of work at that time, I was playing a good deal of electric guitar—a passion of mine—and began delving deeply into the blues. Wherever I looked, it seemed, there was Jimi Hendrix, so I began reading the classic tome on his life, Electric Gypsy (1995).

Reading through the eyes of my talented wife (children’s book author Susanna Reich), I was moved by the tender details of Jimi’s childhood, and began to imagine a story for kids that was both inspiring and child-friendly.

In secret, sitting at my desk in our library (shared with Susanna), I began writing what I thought was a picture book text—which eventually topped out at 6,000 words.

When Susanna found out what I was doing, she raised her eyebrows and most likely questioned my sanity: Jimi Hendrix…for kids? 6,000 words?

No matter. It was now 2003, but I held tightly to my naïve vision of a 48-page picture book (like Wendie Old’s), which would be marketed to “older kids.” In truth, I had little idea of what I was doing, though there is often a saving grace in that.

I showed it to an agent, who told me it was well-written, but clearly not a picture book text. So I revised it—down to 3,500 words—and insisted on cutting it no further. At this point, I was given the name of an editor with an interest in rock and roll, and sent it off.

Her assistant editor contacted me (the head editor was on maternity leave), and expressed interest herself, asking for another revision—done over the course of six to eight months—to bring the text down below 2,000 words.

I was happy, she was happy, and her boss (now returned from maternity leave) was happy…but—long story short—over the course of several editorial committee meetings, the publisher and his marketing person nixed the idea altogether: How would they ever sell Jimi Hendrix in Ohio?

Dispirited and angry (it was now 2004), I began working on another picture book text—this time, about the young Bob Dylan (Little, Brown – May ’11)—and found my present agent.

He believed in my vision for both books (he’s an avid Dylanophile) and began sending out the Hendrix manuscript to picture book editors. We had so many different responses—from “you can’t do a picture book on Jimi Hendrix!” to “we’d prefer a more conventional biography,” to “we like it, but….” So many buts.

But I persisted—buoyed by my agent’s constant reassurance—and eventually landed my present editor, the incredible Lynne Polvino of Clarion, bassist in a punk band and Vision Shaper Supreme.

With Lynne’s help, we focused the story more tightly on “this boy who loves sound and color,” and revised the manuscript once again—several times, in fact—until we were both satisfied with it. On Lynne’s first pitch to her boss, the book finally sold to Clarion (Wendie Old’s publisher!) in June of 2006.

But the story doesn’t end there. Illustrator Javaka Steptoe—applying his own vision to the task—began visiting Seattle, working with elementary kids in the city schools, and devising a process—carved, collaged, painted and silkscreened images on recycled plywood from Jimi’s hometown—to create his masterful spreads for the book.

Three years later (in September 2009), he turned in the finished work to oohs and aahs from the Clarion staff and my agent (I’d still not seen anything).

With the revising and proofreading now complete, there followed galleys, color proofs, F&G’s, and an eventual paper-on-board hard copy in Spring 2010.

In October, the book hit the stores, eight years from the time I first laid eyes on Wendie’s To Fly.

How did I keep the faith? Notably, Jimi (appearing as an impeccably-dressed, large-bodied American Indian, with ponytail) visited me in a dream, pointing to a “shining city” in my parents’ backyard, the night before the first editor wrote me of her interest in the story.

But most importantly, it was the ongoing support of both my wife and my agent that saw me through. There was a lot of hand-holding (literal and metaphoric), a lot of hoping and strategizing along the way, and a good deal of misery despite my deep belief in “the project.”

But now we’re here, with great response to the book, excellent reviews, an NPR interview, and a few more raised eyebrows (which are to be expected). It’s been a great ride, and I doubt seriously if I’ll ever write a 6,000-word picture book text ever again!

As someone with a full-time day job, 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?

I’m a clinical social worker and psychotherapist (three and a half days a week), specializing in the area of addiction with both teens and adults. Most of the kids I see are 14-15—the age that Jimi is in my book—and I love their humor, idealism, and spunk.

The stories I hear are often sad, and involve physical and emotional abuse, sexual molestation, grief or trauma, and missing or estranged family members.

So I imagine many of these kids to be much like Jimi, with talents and dreams that need to be nurtured by reading good picture books at an early age. Or at least that is my hope. And when I come home from “the job,” it can take time to transition to my “writing life,” even though the process of writing is itself both healing and energizing.

As a longtime visual artist who has also worked with adult artists as a therapist, I encourage people to be human rather than superhuman. Many of us do something (for money) in addition to writing for kids, and we are not machines.

What you write is who you are, and we have to take time to acknowledge whatever it is we’re going through at any given time. That said, the value of a good walk, an inspiring telephone call or email conversation with a friend/spouse or fellow artist/writer, and a delicious piece of cake, should never be underestimated.

If we want to get fresh feeling and ideas into our work, we must treat ourselves well, be kind and forgiving, and make use of bold—and even seemingly naïve—ideas and inspiration when they surface.

We are receivers, after all, listening to the muses and everything around us, just as Jimi did when he stepped out onto the porch of his boarding house so many years ago.

We’re all children—at every age.

Cynsational Notes

Gary Golio is a fine artist and a clinical social worker/psychotherapist who works with children and teens, specializing in the area of addiction. Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow is his first book. He lives in Ossining, New York.

Javaka Steptoe won a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award for Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow.