Cynsational News & Giveaways

Things I Like About Being Traditionally Published by Lisa Schroeder from Lisa’s Little Corner of the Internet. Peek: “Having a sales team who works on my behalf to get my books in bookstores, and talks up my book to the necessary people so I don’t have to worry about distribution at all.” Notes: (a) watch for Lisa’s next YA release, The Day Before (Simon Pulse, June 2011) and her next children’s release, Sprinkles & Secrets (Aladdin, 2011); (b) scroll for related links from Chris Eboch and Janni Lee Simner.

Just What Does an Editor Do All Day? (Or Nibbled to Death by Ducks) by Stacy Whitman from Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire. Peek: “I like to joke that I get to read for a living, but the reality is that reading manuscript submissions is only a small part of my job, one that I constantly feel like I don’t have enough time to do. So here’s just a little window into the kinds of tasks I’ve been doing over the course of the last few weeks…”

Surrounded by Inspiration by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “…don’t overlook the world around you for new ideas–or just new twists and subplots for your writing.” See also Kristi on Marketing Block.

Cynsational Blogger Tip: respect speakers’ intellectual property (this includes sessions at writing workshops and conferences). Preparation for a new presentation takes time and energy. The speaker fee is negotiated with the idea that talks can be given again. Appropriating them can reduce that possibility or, at least, diminish the experience for future audiences.

What to Do If Your Agent Isn’t Feeling the Love by Jennifer Laughran from Jennifer Represents. Peek: “The fact of the matter is, no matter how sympatico a client and agent might be in terms of taste and and personality, there are bound to be some occasions where you don’t quite see eye-to-eye.”

From now until July 15, Cheerios® is searching for the next great new children’s book author. One Grand Prize Winner will receive a $5,000 cash prize and a possible publishing deal with Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing in addition to having his or her book featured inside Cheerios cereal boxes nationwide. From now until July 15, Cheerios invites aspiring authors to enter the contest by submitting an original story in either English or Spanish and suitable for children ages three to eight. Those who think they have the “write” stuff can visit for more information.

Oops! Or What to Do When You Mistakenly Publish a Blog Post by Greg Pincus from The Happy Accident. Peek: “Edit the mistakenly published post.”

Reading Like a Writer: What Is At Stake for Y-O-U? by Bethany Hegedus from Writer Friendly; Bookshelf Approved. Peek: “…what about us—as the writer and creator of these words and worlds? What is at stake for us?”

Informational Interviews by Alvina Ling from Blue Rose Girls. Tips for those looking to break into the publishing industry. Peek: “show up on time, and take the person’s lead as to when the meeting is over. It might be a good idea to ask the person how much time they have at the beginning of the interview.”

6 1/2 Thoughts on Marketing and Promotion by Donna Gephart from R.L. LaFevers at Shrinking Violet Promotion. Peek: “If contemplating marketing and promoting gives you hives, think about the process as connecting and giving.”

The Road to Publication: Beware the Public Diary by Mary Lindsey from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “Do not give tallies of the number of queries sent/rejected/accepted.”

Congratulations to Teaching Authors on their second anniversary! In celebration, they’re sharing a new poem from April Halprin Wayland and offering two critiques by a Teaching Author. Note: the giveaway is open to writers worldwide.

13 Reasons You Didn’t Get Followed Back by Laura Dugan from Al Twitter: The Unofficial Twitter Resource. Peek: “Spam accounts are notorious for not uploading a profile picture. If you still have that little white egg as your pic, change it today and we bet those potential followers who were a little leery of your account will start following you back.” Source: Jessica at BookEnds, LLC – A Literary Agency.

Enter the Illegal Photo Contest from author Bettina Restrepo. Readers ages 13 to 18 are invited to submit photo(s) that represent their reaction to the book Illegal (HarperCollins, 2011) to win a chance at monthly prizes and the Grand Prize of a Nook e-reader.

In a Similar Vein: Vampire Books by Heather Brewer from The Guardian. Peek: “Heather Brewer, author of The Chronicles of Vladimir Todd, explains the allure of writing about vampires and suggests some of her favourites.”

Comics Alums John J. Muth and Mo Willems Team Up for Children’s Book from Peek from John: “…there was this frog that kept showing up on my porch, for three nights straight! I still hadn’t said yes to Mo, and on the third night, this frog was on my porch, and I called him and said, ‘I think I have to do this project, because there’s this frog on my porch, and I think it’s a sign or something.’


The April Carnival of Literature by Carol H. Rasco from Rasco at RIF.

New Agent Alert: Kathleen Rushall of Waterside Productions from Chuck Sambuchino at Guide to Literary Agents Editor’s Blog. She is seeking picture books and “YA and MG fiction across the board (historical fiction, science fiction, mystery, humor, fantasy, romance, thriller, and horror)….”

The Role of Agents in Self-Publishing by Chris Eboch from Write Like a Pro! A Free Online Writing Workshop. Peek: “While some agents are still largely dismissing and ignoring the self-publishing trend, others are figuring out how they can work with self-publishing in their business.” Note: Chris is both self- and traditionally published.

On why traditional publishing is about more than a few weeks of chain bookstore distribution by Janni Lee Simner from Desert Dispatches. Peek: “I know what my editor has done for my books, and honestly, I don’t think I could afford to buy that level of editing, let alone the years of experience behind it. Certainly we’d be talking thousands, not hundreds of dollars to do so.”

Time Period Settings by Mary Kole from Peek: “The event or period really has to be central to the events of your own novel. In other words, there has to be a dang good reason for you to be setting your book in another time.” See also Mary on Avoid the Obvious in a Query.

Gay In YA: GLBT Characters & Pairings in YA Fiction: “a forum, blog, and fansite dedicated to everything gay in YA!”

First-page Critiques

Chris Eboch is offering first-page critiques on her blog, Write Like a Pro! A Free Online Writing Workshop. Here are Chris’s instructions:

  • Post the opening of your novel, short story or picture book in the comments — up to 300 words. Everyone who posts will get a brief critique. That’s right, everyone!
  • One out of every five submissions will get a more thorough critique.
  • (That means the more people who play, the more critiques you’ll see. So bring your friends and spread the word!)
  • Visit Chris’s blog to see the first critique.
  • Scroll down to get the complete rules for submitting your first page.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Family by Micol Ostow (Egmont, 2011).

More Personally

For those who missed it, here’s the big news of the week from Tuesday’s issue of Publishers Marketplace:

“New York Times bestselling author of Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Smolder, to Deborah Wayshak at Candlewick Press, in a three-book deal, for publication in 2013, by Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown Ltd. (world English).” Yay!

Check out this book-spine poem by Christy Cochran, an Austin Independent School District librarian. Copyright 2011, reproduced with permission.

It reads:

Notes from the midnight driver
On the run
Magic steps
One false note
Dark fire

Isn’t that cool? Thanks, Christy! Support Texas librarians.

Liz Garton Scanlon launches Noodle & Lou, illustrated by Arthur Howard (Beach Lane, 2011) last weekend at BookPeople in Austin.

Personal Links of the Week:

Cynsational Events

Diversity in YA Fiction: Austin Tour Stop 7:30 p.m. May 9 at BookPeople. Featuring authors With authors Bethany Hegedus, Malinda Lo, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Cindy Pon, Dia Reeves, and Jo Whittemore, and moderated by Varian Johnson.

Chris Barton will be signing Can I See Your ID? True Stories of False Identities, illustrated by Paul Hoppe (Dial, 2011) at 7 p.m. May 14 at BookPeople in Austin. See discussion guide. See also Chris on Unbridled Silliness and Carefully Researched Truth-telling.

The First Annual BooksmART Festival will be from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 11 as part of Arts & Letters Live from the Dallas Museum of Art. Peek: “Come spend the day with authors, illustrators, musicians and actors, and enjoy talks, workshops, gallery tours, and entertainment, designed to appeal to every member of the family and every age group.” Featured children’s-YA book creators include Rick Riordan, Norton Juster, Laurie Halse Anderson, David Wiesner, Jerry Pinkney, Gene Luen Yang, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Duncan Tonatiuh, Antonio Sacre, Joe McDermott, Jan Bozarth, and Ann Marie Newman.

New Voice: Kate Hosford on Big Bouffant

Kate Hosford is the first-time author of Big Bouffant, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown (Carolrhoda, 2011). From the promotional copy:

Annabelle doesn’t want the same boring hairstyle that all the other girls have.

When she spies a picture of her grandma, she has the perfect idea: a big bouffant!

But how can she make her style stand up? And will her classmates really be impressed with her daring ’do?

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

I come from a long line of readers. I think my grandmother had to make a rule for my mother that she was only allowed to read at the dinner table one night per week, and I was like that as well. I even remember reading through a school fire drill when I was in elementary school.

I was always attracted to independent female characters like Pippi Longstocking, Madeline, Eloise, and Anne of Green Gables. All of these girls went their own way without worrying too much about what other people thought. I probably based my main character, Annabelle, on this type of girl.

As I grew older, I sought out stories about children in New York City, like Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (Harper & Row, 1964) and From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Atheneum, 1967). The idea of a child making her way through the city alone seemed so glamorous to me. I still feel that way when I reread those books.

So I guess it somehow makes sense that I ended up living in New York City, writing about an independent girl who wants a little more glamor in her classroom.

As a picture book writer, how did you learn your craft? What were your natural strengths? Greatest challenges?

[Kate at launch party for Big Bouffant at Books of Wonder in New York City; photo by Charlie Hosford.]

About ten years ago, I was working as an illustrator. I started writing picture books as a way to get more illustration work, but gradually discovered that I preferred the writing to the illustrating. This realization was very liberating, and I decided to focus all of my energy on becoming a writer.

In January, I received my M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. This was a total immersion experience, which allowed me to work on the craft of writing for two solid years. It also provided me with an amazing network of writers.

Now I am more confident about revision, and if I get stuck, I have a lot of people who can help me out.

Writing can be lonely, and building a writer’s community is one of the most important things that a writer can do, second only to parking oneself in a chair and writing.

I think my main strength is coming up with whimsical ideas. I already have more ideas for Annabelle, the star of Big Bouffant, so stay tuned.

Often stories will come to me in the form of a title, and I’ll write it down and then come up with the story later. In the case of Big Bouffant, I started with “bouffant,” which is already a fun word to say, and then my younger son started saying “big bouffant.” The phrase “all I really want is a big bouffant” came to me soon after, and I would walk around mumbling it to myself.

That’s one of the great things about New York, you can walk down the street talking to yourself, and no one will even notice!

However, I then spent the next four years writing versions of the story in prose. At that time, I somehow felt I had to avoid rhyme, when actually rhyme was exactly what I needed to bring the story to life. If I had listened to that initial voice in my head, I would have realized that the correct form for the story was already there.

During graduate school, I discovered that I loved writing poetry, especially poems with rhymed couplets. I really enjoyed creating poetry collections, where I could explore a theme thoroughly through a series of poems.

[Photo from the launch party for Big Bouffant at Books of Wonder in New York City; photo by Greta Mansour.]

One challenge I have is making sure that my picture books stories lend themselves to visual images. This may sound obvious, however it’s easy to be swept away by a story that is interesting but not so visual.

I once wrote an entire story about a little girl talking to a seed that wouldn’t grow…. It would take a very special illustrator to bring that one to life!

Stories that have too much dialogue are often problematic because the characters are just standing around talking to one another. I try to storyboard my stories to make sure that an illustrator would have enough visual images for an entire book.

Another challenge that I face is walking that fine line between providing enough textual clues to inspire an illustrator, but also enough breathing room so that she can be a creative collaborator.

It’s easy to overwrite the text. Or sometimes the tendency is to underwrite, but then provide lots of art notes just in case the illustrator doesn’t “get” it. Finding that middle ground can be tricky, but it’s essential.

An evocative text allows the illustrations to sing, and when the interplay between words and images is right, a picture book really becomes more than the sum of its parts. That is one of the reasons why I find this genre so exciting.

Cynsational Notes

More photos from the launch party for Big Bouffant at Books of Wonder in New York City; photos by Greta Mansour.

New Voice: Bettina Restrepo on Illegal

Bettina Restrepo is the first-time author of Illegal (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, 2011).

Nora is on a desperate journey far away from home. When her father leaves their beloved Mexico in search of work, Nora stays behind. She fights to make sense of her loss while living in poverty—waiting for her father’s return and a better day.

When the letters and money stop coming, Nora decides that she and her mother must look for him in Texas.

After a frightening experience crossing the border, the two are all alone in a strange place.

Now, Nora must find the strength to survive while aching for small comforts: friends, a new school, and her precious quinceañera.

Bettina Restrepo’s gripping, deeply hopeful debut novel captures the challenges of one girl’s unique yet universal immigrant experience.

Could you tell us about your writing community–your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

My critique groups are the world to me. Originally when I began, Joyce Harlow invited me to sit at her dining room table on Sunday afternoons to drink tea and eat scones from delicate china plates.

We had several rotating players, but our main writers were Mary Ann Hellinghausen (Houston Community Newspapers) and Jenny Moss, author of Taking Off (Walker, 2011), Shadow (Scholastic, 2010), and Winnie’s War (Walker, 2009).

These women nurtured me through my newbie stories, the birth of my son, corrected my grammar, and helped me survive through the four billion drafts of Illegal. Sadly, we lost Joyce in October, but Jenny and Mary Ann are very much in my life now that I live in Dallas.

Here, I have a new group of writers who are taking care of me in a new way. Sally Lee, a nonfiction writer with about twenty books under her belt; Julie Richie, a freelance writer working on her MFA in creative writing from Lesley College in Boston; and Stephanie Ledyard, a graduate from Vermont College.

These amazing women put up with my antics at Einstein Brother’s Bagels twice a month. We are constantly learning from each other. It’s like I have my own personal cheering section, tissue provider, and laugh sessions all tied into one. It doesn’t matter if we are cheering for new grandchildren, a publishing contract or just telling silly stories, it all feeds into my writing life.

I must give kudos to my husband. He’s an engineer and not into books. But he’s mostly patient with me when I’m in a writing fervor. I forget to make dinner and forget to say things “out loud” (they sounded fine in my head). He pulls me into the real world for a break.

My son is quite the character, too. He thinks I know every story and must recite them upon demand. He keeps me reading all sorts of books, and he also pulls at me on days that I need with a good round of Wii.

As someone working with a publicist, how did you identify that person? Why did you decide to go with professional help? What steps are the two of you taking to raise awareness of your new release?

I knew that as a debut author of literary fiction – I wouldn’t get much attention. I am not Justin Bieber, but I’m thankful for his fast-selling biography that means more money is available for people like me to slip into the market.

But, knowing this, I knew I wanted to invest in myself and my work. And this takes an expert.

I asked my agent, Blair Hewes (Dunham Literary), and my editor, Katherine Tegen, for a short list of people I should work with.

In addition, I belong to an online support group of debut authors called The Elevensies.

A woman named Kirsten Cappy (at Curious City) hosted a chat. She’s actually a marketing person with great contacts in the school-library market. I really tuned into her ideas more than a publicist because I wasn’t just looking for ways to get featured in this magazine or that website. I wanted a way to promote the book over the long term.

Kirsten and I designed a photo contest for teenagers. Using Mitali Perkins’ idea of “multicultural books can be a window or a mirror,” teens can interpret the themes found in Illegal through photography.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

I’ve really been working the book blogging sites. These people are doing such a wonderful job connecting readers and highlighting new books. I think word of mouth, even via the Internet, is the most powerful tool.

But it’s important for me to be real with people. I don’t want to be some annoying salesperson looking for a quick hit like “here, review my book.” I want real connections.

It’s hard to read every blog every week, but I feel it’s important, that if they are doing their work, it must be honored. I try to comment when I have something good to say.

If I’m going to be in an area where the blogger lives or might be attending a conference, I want to meet them and give a hug.

I’m a hugger. I like personal connection, and a face speaks volumes to me.

But I have to tell you it takes a ton of time, and it never feels like enough. When it gets too cumbersome, I stop… but then I feel guilty. But by joining the class of 2k11, I have wonderful authors around me to cheer me on.

The one thing I am now hesitant to do is many bookstore visits. I love book people, and I want to talk with them. But these visits take a lot of time, and when you sit lonely at a table…. I want to interact. So, if I can interact with a small book group, or do a teen night – cool. Saturday afternoon story time, I would rather be playing with my family.

I’m just learning how to balance it all. I decide what I can control – and I do that with gusto.

The rest I will handle one step at a time.

Cynsational Notes

See the Educator’s Guide to Illegal.

Check out the Illegal Photo Contest. Peek: “…readers 13-18 to submit photo(s) that represent their reaction to the book Illegal…(HarperCollins, 2011) to win a chance at monthly prizes and the Grand Prize of a Nook e-reader.”

Guest Post: Toni Buzzeo on Get Out There—Virtually—and Connect!

By Toni Buzzeo

Cramped plane seats and heavy luggage needn’t be the author’s constant companion. Steep plane fares and airport pick-ups needn’t be the educator’s cost for a fabulous author visit either.

It’s a (brave) new world in the realm of author-student connections thanks to virtual options that have made connecting across long distances easier, less expensive, and still enriching for everyone involved.

It’s difficult to say whether we’ve advanced the technology that makes all of this possible because of our current tight economic times or whether the technology we needed serendipitously arrived on the scene just as the economy declined. Either way, no one is complaining!

The actual video chatting, via Skype (most popular) or other software (you’ll find a list here), is relatively simple, requiring a computer and video camera on each end as well as a data projector to project the screen image at the school or library, unless the audience of students is small enough to gather around a single computer monitor.

How do authors make their willingness to visit virtually known? Many include this information on their website speaker pages. Additionally the Skype and Author Network includes a round-up of hundreds of virtually-visiting authors.

While some authors offer brief ten-to-fifteen minute “taster” sessions for free, most charge for a longer visit, many visits falling in the range of $200-300 for an hour. Some authors will offer a 30-minute session for half of their regular fee (and you may find this is plenty of time for a group of kindergarten or first graders).

Contacts are made just as they would be for an in-person visit, generally by e-mail unless the author makes his/her phone number available at the website. Without travel planning, there’s generally a good deal more flexibility in an author’s schedule when visiting virtually, which is good news for all.

Nevertheless, advance planning still results in the very best visit, as teachers and librarians will need time to read the author’s work with students, create curriculum connections (in schools), prepare questions, and, if possible, host a book sale and signing.

Book sales can be planned in many ways, but the easiest is for the host to supply students with a pre-order form for the books, collect money, and obtain the books just as for an in-person visit (from a local bookseller, the publisher, a jobber, or the author).

If the author is supplying the books, he/she will sign them before mailing them. If not, signed bookplates are the easiest solution to closing the distance.

Plan to practice connecting online a week or two in advance of the visit to iron out any technical difficulties.

Schools may find that they have to make provisions for lifting a block on the VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) software such as Skype, which should be done in advance of this practice session.

Virtual visits can unfold in many different ways, but will usually begin with a brief presentation by the author, followed either by slides via desktop sharing or questions and answers between children and the author or, often, a combination of the two.

When engaging in questions and answers, student should approach the microphone or an adult near the microphone should deliver the question.

If the group will be very large, it may be advantageous for the author to have the questions in advance and simply read them aloud to the audience before responding.

To improve the feeling of personal connection over virtual space, the author should always know the name of the questioning student.

Do virtual visits provide the same level of intimacy that in-person author visits do?

Not quite.

But, do they close the gap that time, distance, and cost put between authors and many children?

Absolutely! 2011 may be the year to give them a try.

Cynsational Notes

Toni Buzzeo writes from Buxton, Maine and Sarasota, Florida.

Her twelfth picture book, No T. Rex in the Library (McElderry, 2010), optioned in paperback and audio by Scholastic, was recently one of five titles selected for the Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories program and was included in 1.55 million Cheerios boxes.

Her popular Adventure Annie character also danced into a new volume, Adventure Annie Goes to Kindergarten (Dial, 2010).

In the video below, take a peek into Toni’s brand new writing cottage and then visit her web site at

Guest Post: Chris Barton on Unbridled Silliness & Carefully Researched Truth-telling

By Chris Barton

It’s the oldest trick in the book business: Follow up a bestselling picture book about a goofy battle between a shark and a train with a YA nonfiction collection of ten profiles — all told in second person — of mostly obscure historical figures who pretended to be someone they weren’t.

The thing is, neither Shark Vs. Train (Little, Brown, 2010) nor Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities, illustrated by Paul Hoppe (Dial, 2011) is an aberration.

They’re both pretty indicative of the sorts of writing I like to do — unbridled silliness on one hand and carefully researched truth-telling on the other. And both lend themselves to school-visit presentations that I personally find to be a whole lot of fun — roaring GRRRRR! and CHUGRRR-CHUG! for the former, and for the latter recounting the story of how 16-year-old New Yorker Keron Thomas (nearly) got away with impersonating an A train motorman for three hours.

As with my first book, The Day-Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge, 2009)– which originated with the obituary of inventor Bob Switzer — Can I See Your I.D.? had its genesis in something I read in The New York Times many years before I actually started writing.

In May 1993, I had just left New York after a semester there interning at Rolling Stone and Sassy magazines. I was slow to give up my habit of reading the Times, though, and my frequent use of the subway that spring meant that the headline “Subway Caper Fueled by Passion for Trains” was sure to grab my attention.

More than a dozen years later, Keron Thomas’ story was still lodged in my memory.

At some point along the way, I had written myself a note that maybe I would like to write something about John Howard Griffin, the white author who darkened his skin for a hellish tour of the American South documented in his book Black Like Me (1961).

Then I read in Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hilter’s Shadow (Houghton Mifflin, 2010) about Solomon Perel, a teenage German Jew who spent World War II under a fake name at a school for the budding Nazi elite.

Thomas, Griffin, and Perel had each, for his own reason, pretended to be someone he wasn’t, and that theme seemed like one I could have a heck of a good time exploring.

Frank Abagnale — the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio in “Catch Me If You Can” (2002)– came immediately to mind. So did Riley Weston, who a few years earlier had passed herself off as a 19-year-old (she was 32) to write for the TV show “Felicity” (1998-2002).

Other candidates quickly presented themselves: a surgery-performing high school dropout, a female Civil War soldier, the Klansman-turned-“Cherokee” author of The Education of Little Tree (Delacorte, 1976), a poor British woman who convinced members of the upper class that she was a kidnapped Asian princess, and a female slave from Georgia disguised as a white master for her escape.

I considered including male-impersonating musician Billy Tipton, but explaining in a book for young readers how “he” fooled his many wives was a challenge I just wasn’t up for.

Identity. That’s what this book is about, and it’s a theme that a YA audience, especially, can relate to. They’re at a point in their lives when “Who am I?” is neither an idle nor an uncommon question.

What I hoped would emerge from my research and my telling of these ten stories was an understanding — by both me and my readers — of the reasons a person would assume a false identity, the specifics involved in pulling off such fakery, and the psychic toll taken by that kind of deception.

I’m not telling the whole histories of these subjects, but rather key episodes in their lives that are supported by various forms of documentation. To more vividly bring these ten people to life, Can I See Your I.D.? relates their episodes in second person:

“If there had been trains on the island of Trinidad, where you lived until you were twelve, you might have gotten your thing for them out of your system by now. But there weren’t, and you didn’t, and that’s why you’re here at the 207th street subway station carrying a bag of motorman’s tools and signing someone else’s name.”

When I first got the idea to use second person for an entire nonfiction book, my reaction was a mix of “Oh, but I couldn’t” and “Oh, but I must.” Obviously, “must” won out, and I do think that this narrative approach allowed me to more closely understand what these people experienced, and to see how they must have been perceived by the people around them.

The trickiest profile to write in second person was that of Forrest Carter, the Little Tree author, who had died 12 years before the “key episode” I wanted to capture. For him, I ended up going with what I call “second person posthumous,” which was so much fun that I’m tempted to do a whole book that way.

But maybe just a picture book.

Cynsational Notes

Can I See Your I.D.? Discussion Guide (and a few plot spoilers) from Chris Barton.

Guest Blogger Chris Barton: Wholly Embracing Reluctant Readers from Carol H. Rasco at Rasco from RIF. Peek: “I never received anything less than total support from Dial for my use of second person. Nor did I ever catch a whiff of anything other than respect for the audience we had in mind.”

In the recently filmed videos below, Kathi Appelt interviews Chris about his work. See Kathi’s YouTube channel.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win Blessed (Candlewick, 2011), an ARC of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, and more from Jen Bigheart at I Read Banned Books. U.S. only; ages 13-up. Deadline: midnight CST, April 25.

Check out the Blessed Readers’ Guide.

Check out the previous books in the series, Tantalize and Eternal.

Shop the Sanguini’s Store at Cafe Press; images designed by Gene Brenek.

More News & Giveaways

Top Board Books for the Youngest Readers by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “Each of the books are written or illustrated by a Native author or illustrator, and in some way, they are ‘tribally specific.'”

Debut Novel Expectations by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: “Middle grade novels in particular, rarely come out of the gate with the same big splash potential that YA novels can engender.”

IBBY Asian Newsletter (PDF) from The International Board on Books for Young People.

New Agent Alert: Judith Engracia of Liza Dawson Associates from Chuck Sambuchino at Guide to Literary Agents. Seeking: “literary fiction, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, thrillers, mysteries, YA, and middle grade.”

The Whole Novel Retreat, presented by the 9th Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Workshop, will take place Oct. 7 to Oct. 9 in Santa Cruz, California. Faculty include agent Joan Slattery of Pippin Properties and Susan Van Metre, senior VP and publisher at Abrams/Amulet and an MFA instructor in Writing for Children at The New School in New York. Application deadline: May 15 (later applications will be accepted until June 25 or until the workshop is filled).

Interview with R.L. La Fevers by Jen Wrote This from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: “I approach the merging of history and fiction with the idea that my first job is to tell a great story; the history must serve the story, not the other way around.”

A Book By Any Cover by Deborah Heiligman from I.N.K. Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Note: check out the hardcover (grown-up appeal) and paperback covers (kid appeal) for her Passover and Easter books.

How Authors Get Paid from Cinda Williams Chima. Peek: “The fun begins when I discuss royalties. Royalties are monies authors get for each book sold. I say to the students, ‘Let’s say you buy a hardcover book for $18. How much of that do you think the author gets?'”

Congratulations to Tim Crow, winner of the Joan Lowery Nixon Award at this spring’s Houston SCBWI conference. Manuscripts are nominated by conference faculty and then a winner is chosen to work on his writing for a year with author Kathi Appelt, in memory of Joan’s tradition of mentoring.

Underdogs in YA by Michael Northrop from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “There may be no other type of writing where the underdog is more common and more important, because in one way or another, almost every main character in YA is one.”

More Giveaways

Enter to win an author-autographed copy of Noodle & Lou by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Arthur Howard (Beach Lane, 2011)! To enter the giveaway, comment here or email me (scroll and click envelope) and type “Noodle and Lou” in the subject line. Deadline: midnight CST April 22. Note: Author sponsored; U.S.-Canadian entries only.

Note: Liz Garton Scanlon will be signing Noodle & Lou, illustrated by Arthur Howard (Beach Lane, 2011) at noon April 23 at BookPeople in Austin. See curriculum guide.

Check out Liz’s Story as Author-in-Residence at ReaderKidZ. Peek: “One time I actually took in a rooster but that lasted just one night.”

See also Inside the Writer’s Studio with Liz Garton Scanlon by Bethany Hegedus from Writer Friendly, Bookshelf Approved. Peek: “A student asked me recently if I’d lose my job if I didn’t come up with any more good ideas. I laughed at the time, but really, that’s the secret fear in all of our hearts, isn’t it?”

Deena in Rochester, New York; is the winner an autographed copy of Odd Girl In by Jo Whittemore (Aladdin, 2011). See also Odd Girl In: a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog. Peek: “Alex and her brothers are hilarious and genuine as they navigate their way through the CHAMPS program and their sibling rivalries, and come to a greater appreciation of each other and their family.”

Poetry, Prizes and a PURRfect 6-1/2 List from Author Lee Wardlaw from Donna Gephart at Wild About Words. Note: includes giveaway of Lee’s Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (Henry Holt, 2011) and a catnip mouse.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the video for Rotters by Daniel Kraus (Delacorte, 2011). See excerpt.

More Personally

After numerous events, I’m spending the next month deep in the revision cave, working on book 4 in the Tantalize series. Please hold off on any non-critical correspondence until I flash the green light. (By “critical,” I mean you’re drowning, bleeding or on fire.)

I’ve already posted my photo report from the Texas Library Association annual conference and the YA A to Z conference, sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas. But here’s a couple more fun pics from the festivities!

Joy Preble at Moonshine Restaurant Patio Bar & Grill.

Margo Rabb, Varian Johnson and Mandy Robbins Taylor at the Hyatt Regency.

Thanks again to everyone involved with both conferences! See also Greg’s report!

Happy Easter and a belated happy Passover to those who celebrate, and many blessings to everyone!

Cynsational Events

Chris Barton will be signing Can I See Your ID? True Stories of False Identities, illustrated by Paul Hoppe (Dial, 2011) at 7 p.m. May 14 at BookPeople in Austin. See discussion guide.

Diversity in YA Fiction: Austin Tour Stop 7:30 p.m. May 9 at BookPeople. Featuring authors With authors Bethany Hegedus, Malinda Lo, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Cindy Pon, Dia Reeves, and Jo Whittemore, and moderated by Varian Johnson.

New Voice: Emily Howse on Zitface

Emily Howse is the first-time author of Zitface (Marshall Cavendish, 2011). From the promotional copy:

Thirteen-year-old Olivia Hughes knows what she wants to do with her life—be an actress. And she’s already on her way. She just landed a national ad campaign that should get her noticed.

But then her luck runs out. A little pimple turns into a full-blown case of acne, with serious side effects for her career, relationships, and budding romance with J.W., the new guy at school.

Now all Olivia wants to do is hide, but she can’t. She goes from being the girl at school everyone wants to be…to Zitface, a girl who is teased, dumped, and even fired.

What do you do when you’ve lost control of everything in your life? Olivia has to find out the hard way. And maybe, what she finds isn’t so bad after all.

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

Discovering my book’s characters was much easier than I’d anticipated. During previous book writing attempts, I compiled pages and pages of character traits, for every character.

Not one to embrace change, I dutifully began this same process before writing Zitface. Then I realized I didn’t need to. I related to most characters either from first-hand experience, or experience in knowing people like them. This happy revelation saved me from serious writer’s cramp…and countless hours of jotting down everyone’s likes, dislikes, favorite food, astrological sign, you name it.

Here’s what I knew, when contemplating the characters, to be true:

Olivia Hughes (13-year-old protagonist): Olivia, a likeable eighth-grader and TV commercial actress, seems to have it all. You know someone’s going down when you hear that phrase! Her world goes awry when she develops serious acne: her friendships suffer, her family’s conflicted, her career’s in jeopardy, and her romance with a studly classmate tanks.

My tween life wasn’t quite that dramatic, but I encountered similar experiences. I too was a child actress, for awhile. I was popular at my tiny Catholic elementary school in L.A.—then sunk to the bottom of the social eco-chain when my family moved to Dallas.

That geographic upheaval triggered family strife: I blamed my mom for decamping us to Texas, and hated that my dad remained mostly in L.A. (not unlike Olivia’s dad, who hightails it to Albuquerque, post-divorce). My sweet dad doesn’t resemble Olivia’s controlling father, but I’ve dated my share of sports-obsessed workaholics. As for acne: I didn’t break out during adolescence, but did big-time in my twenties (which also didn’t help my love life). Adult acne still occasionally plagues me, but it doesn’t own me—a realization Olivia comes to, as well.

Wendy Dahl (Olivia’s sometimes antagonistic friend): Wendy can’t keep quiet. Unfortunately, I suffer from that same syndrome. Over time, I’ve realized that not everyone’s interested in my take on things, so I’ve amended (somewhat) my mouthiness. Wendy isn’t there yet. She has things to say and says them, with mostly good intentions. Some characters don’t appreciate Wendy’s ego or opinion, but I can’t help rooting for her.

I consider Wendy misunderstood…which is exactly how I felt as a teen, when I shared what I considered my sparkling wit with friends and got reamed for being snarky. Unlike Wendy, I wasn’t a blonde cheerleader—I was a drill team member with a bad perm. But I get Wendy’s need to exude confidence, especially when she isn’t feeling it. Doesn’t every teen sometimes try to act cooler than they are? Wendy just does it more.

Theo Winters (O’s friend—and potential boyfriend): Theo is kinder and wiser than most people in the book, because he’s dealt with adversity and it’s made him a softer—not harder—person. Theo has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and managing a chronic disease makes him keenly aware of life’s uncertainties. Yet he appreciates life’s joys. Theo accepts his condition, experiences joy, and doesn’t shy away from his reality.

I respect this about Theo because I also have rheumatoid arthritis (though I wasn’t diagnosed until my mid-thirties). I generally accept having a condition and manage it well, but uncertainty occasionally breeds fear. RA runs an unpredictable course…it comes and goes, so it’s impossible to know exactly what’s coming next. A lot like life!

Regarding other Zitface characters, I related to them on different levels: Olivia’s aunt’s job-hopping (check!), her mom’s resistance to dating (check!), best friend Jenna’s occasional judgmental-ness (double-check!). Freud once said that, in our dreams, we are every person.

Okay, so Freud may now be considered a bit of a quack, but I think there’s a part of us—and sometimes a lot—in every character we create. Which makes writing about them all the more meaningful.

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an “ah-ha!” moment in your craft?

At an annual SCBWI conference in the 1990s, I saw Judy Blume and Paula Danziger play jacks in a hotel hallway. It was between breakout sessions, and most presenters/participants were snacking and schmoozing in the grand ballroom.

But Judy and Paula were sitting in an adjacent hall—cross-legged on the carpet—playing jacks with child-like enthusiasm. It struck me that I couldn’t imagine witnessing two prominent speakers doing this at any other type of conference.

Their gleeful focus on the game represented, to me, why we were all gathered there: because, as children’s writers, we all revel and exist, somewhat, in a youthful state. Our inner child enables us to create kidlit, and it comes alive when we do.

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?

I love questions that allow me to kvetch! Being the primary caregiver of a young child has been the greatest boon—and bane—to my writing.

On the upside, becoming a mom (I adopted a baby girl from Kazakhstan in 2005) rebooted my urge to write. The urge had waned due to my dwindling belief that I’d ever publish a children’s book. I’d written the first draft (of many) of Zitface back in 2003. My literary agent sent the manuscript to publishers…and I received rejection letters.

After this happened many times, I abandoned writing and focused on motherhood. I decided to adopt as a single mom—and began dating my now-husband in the process.

When I wasn’t exhausted from chasing after an indefatigable toddler, I reminisced about writing. I loved being a mother, but I missed being a writer. I didn’t want to close the door on this integral part of myself. Plus, I wanted to make my daughter proud, to show her how to reach for her dreams. Not that she cared at the time. All she wanted was the television remote control, so she could chew on it.

During the early toddler phase (which seemed to last way longer than it actually did), I didn’t have the time, energy or drive to write. I gave myself a one-year writing moratorium, but kept a story-brainstorming notebook. When creativity struck, putting my ideas on paper helped me feel proactive.

As my daughter got older, I got craftier about writing. Employed as a high school counselor, I sneaked in some writing at work. A key writing survival strategy!

I staunchly defend the ethics of doing this, because I only wrote when I had downtime (who really toils every minute of every eight-hour workday?).

Unfortunately, you can only get so far writing during brief work breaks. When no students came to my office in crisis, I could produce two or three pages in a day. But it wasn’t high-quality writing. Jotting words down five minutes here, ten minutes there—and hoping your boss doesn’t discover you’re not actually working—isn’t conducive to exemplary prose.

But, at the time, it was my best option. Some people happily write at night, God bless them. When I was single, I did so as well…because I wasn’t exhausted! Only once I had a kid, my brain and body pooped out by 6 p.m. Weekend days—another great time to write, if no high-energy kid keeps jumping on your lap—occasionally proved fruitful. But more often I spent them doing mom duty at the park, birthday parties, soccer games, etc.

After two years, I quit my job and wrote at home while my daughter attended preschool. It provided me ample writing time, but it wasn’t an easy decision. It meant financial hardship and numerous budgeting discussions with my fiscally-minded husband.

Months later, Zitface was purchased by Marshall Cavendish. A lucky break.

I spent much of 2008-2010 honing the manuscript (I had no idea how involved book editing is!). But I’m not complaining. I am, in fact, working on a sequel…and seeking a part-time job. It’s time. Especially since my husband’s been a great sport about my not bringing in a regular paycheck these past few years.

For stay-at-home folks with school-age kids, writing time is obvious: do as much as possible while the kids are in school because trying to accomplish anything once they’re home is iffy, at best.

I write most days and try to start first thing in the morning, so I don’t get distracted by other tasks. Some days I don’t make it to the grocery store, and that’s okay.

I’d rather spend an hour writing than cruising the vegetable aisle. I wish I could report writing faithfully from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 pm, but that would be false. I don’t always write at the same time, or even for the same amount of time. But I devote some time to writing/editing/research most days. I’m convinced that writing—like exercise—must be habitual to be effective, so it’s better to write a little bit every day than force it in three-times-weekly chunks.

Here’s a summertime suggestion: when kiddos are out of school and the days are long: join the local Y! I had an editing deadline this past summer, and I met it by going to the gym every weekday, for two hours. Nope, I wasn’t obsessively crunching my abs or doing downward dog. I dropped my daughter off in the kid-care room, then sat down at a nearby table with my laptop and edited my heart out. Members could leave children in the designated play area for two hours (but had to remain on the premises), so I edited for ninety minutes and worked out for thirty. I did this for several weeks—and I got the editing job done.

For parents with day jobs, however, finding time to write is tricky. You have to carefully consider your schedule, identifying every possible writing opportunity.

Does your kid love long baths? Write while they’re turning prune-y in the tub. Write while your spouse cooks dinner. Write when your kids are parked in front of the TV (any parent who says they never utilize this tactic is probably lying). Write as they play in the yard. Writing on the fly isn’t ideal, but it’s doable.

And for more concentrated time, there are plenty of places your child can go have fun on the weekend: a play place, art class, sport camp, etc. This usually requires parting with money, but if you can afford it and get sufficient free time in exchange, it’s worthwhile.

And if you have multiple kids and can’t afford farming them out to various activities? Send them to their grandparents (or anyone who will take them)!

Last, but not least: forging a writing career sometimes requires—ironically—putting writing on the back-burner. Since Zitface came out April 1, I’ve temporarily traded writing for book marketing. Initially, I ambitiously presumed I could plug my debut novel and simultaneously write a sequel. I was deluding myself.

Some people excel at multitasking, but I’m not one of them. So for the next two months, I’m concentrating on promoting my work.

Author Interview: Jerry Spinelli

From Random House: “Jerry Spinelli is the author of more than a dozen books for young readers, including Maniac Magee (Little Brown, 1990), winner of the Newbery Medal; Wringer, a Newbery Honor Book; and Stargirl (Knopf, 2000) a New York Times bestseller and an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults.”

Could you briefly update us on your back list, highlighting as you see fit?

Today I Will: A Year of Quotes, Notes, and Promises to Myself (Knopf, 2009) is the first title co-authored by my wife, Eileen Spinelli, and me.

It’s nonfiction, a kind of literary daily devotional. One page per calendar date. Each page begins with a quote from a children’s book, followed by commentary and resolution: “Today I will…”

My most recent novel is Smiles To Go (HarperCollins, 2008). Three main ingredients: high school kids, time, love.

Congratulations on the release of I Can Be Anything, illustrated by Jimmy Liao (Little Brown, 2010)! What was your initial inspiration for the book?

It was just a little poem I wrote maybe 15-20 years ago.

At the time it was actually a lament for the lost, original multi-taskers we are as kids–milkweed-blowers, railroad car-counters, mixing bowl lickers–“occupations” we pursue with all the focus and passion of any CEO.

Then we grow up, specialize narrowly into accountants and plumbers and clerks.

Something sad about that.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

Eileen writes and sends poems to folks on holidays. A couple of times editors have suggested turning a poem into a picture book. With that in mind, she encouraged me to show the poem around. It was with one publisher for several years, then landed with Alvina Ling at Little, Brown. She re-cast it somewhat, essentially changing it from a wistful remembrance to a celebration. And then added the wonderful illustrator Jimmy Liao.

What did Jimmy’s art bring to your text?

Jimmy’s art gives it life. Jimmy’s art abducts the eye and carries it along with his vision of the words. His art is the words celebrated.

Would you please tell us about the Stargirl Societies?

We first heard of a group calling themselves the Stargirl Society from a teacher in Kent, Ohio–Kathy Frazier. Intrigued, we went to Kent to see for ourselves. We found middle and high school students using my novel Stargirl (Knopf, 2000) as their guide.

They met and did Stargirl-like things: dropping loose change on sidewalks, slipping anonymous compliments into fellow students’ lockers, etc. Local women of accomplishment came to speak to them. Their sub-groups were called “constellations.” At year’s end they held an Inner Beauty Pageant.

Since then similar Stargirl Societies have multiplied around the country and the world.

Could you tell us about your writing life? What is your typical writing day like?

Before 1989, I wrote, as one author has put it, “in the cracks.” I had a 9-to-5 job, so I did my writing on my lunch hours, after dinner, on weekends–when I wasn’t helping Eileen deal with our six kids. If I waited for the right time–when the kids were grown (ha! they’ve been succeeded by 19 grandkids), when time was plentiful, when…when–I’d still be waiting.

In 1989, I took a deep breath and quit that 9-to-5 job and went to writing full-time.

I used to write on the dining room table, the bed, wherever. Now I climb the stairs after breakfast and go to “work” in my office, in what in another house might be a guest room. (Even with the kids gone, we always inhabit a house with at least three bedrooms, so two can become our offices.)

My main writing time is in the morning. Afternoons are for errands. Evenings, I may or may not write.

I begin each morning by reading aloud to myself the previous day’s work. Hearing it can help problems stand out. When I finish a chapter, Eileen reads it. I’ll either rework it or move on according to her assessment. She is, in effect, my first editor.

Your first book was published in 1982. How has children’s-YA book publishing changed since that time?

I’m a poor historian of my own field. Unlike some of my fellow storytellers, I’m not much into the business and teaching aspects of what I do.

In the beginning I was so naive that when I saw a review listing my first published book, Space Station Seventh Grade (Little, Brown, 1982) as “YA,” I called my editor and asked her what it meant–and what was meant by the little black star that came with the review.

I do recall that after having several titles published, my proposal for another was turned down because, I was told, my YA well had run dry. This was shortly before Maniac Magee won the Newbery Medal.

I might add that, frankly, I’ve never really been sure what exactly YA means, what are its parameters. I’m often asked, “What age group do you write for?” I don’t write for any “age group.” I understand that publishers and booksellers must pay attention to such things, but I take my cue not so much from a projected readership as from the story itself.

When a story idea visits me, I, so to speak, take it out to lunch. I talk to it. Ask it questions. “What do you mean?” “Where did you come from?” “What’s the best way to tell you?”

The answers to those questions are what guide me.

How have you changed as an author? As a writer?

Space Station Seventh Grade (1982) was my first published book–and the fifth that I had written. The first four provoked enough rejection slips to paper our house. In those days, I think I tried to be perfect. I remember once taking a month to craft a single metaphor.

Somewhere along the line I must have discovered that writing isn’t mathematics. It’s not marching, it’s dancing. The faster I wrote the better I got.

You received a Newbery Award for Maniac Magee (Little, Brown, 1990) and a Newbery Honor for Wringer (HarperTeen, 1997). Could you share any memories of those experiences?

The Maniac Magee call woke us up in the middle of the night. We didn’t get back to bed till 6 a.m., and then only for a half-hour. The phone rang constantly. The living room smelled like a funeral parlor from all the flowers. No TV for me, as the Gulf War had just begun and was monopolizing the morning shows.

“Maniac Magee” became an answer on “Jeopardy.”

The South African government ordered and distributed copies in their efforts to transition away from apartheid.

Individual readers and organizations launched runs and other projects in support of the homeless.

A letter told me of a classroom in Georgia voting to forgo lunch so the teacher could continue reading the book aloud to them.

What does having received such a high level of recognition mean to you now?


Sometimes you put on a writing-teacher hat. Could you tell us more about that?

I didn’t have the sense to attend writers conferences when I was struggling to get published.

These days I often find myself on the faculty of the week-long summer Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop at Chautauqua in Chautauqua, NY. It’s the best one I know.

The faculty, editors and authors, even sit and eat all meals with conferees, not each other. Aspiring writers get more than information; they get a hug and a rejuvenated spirit.

As a reader, so far, what are your favorite children’s-YA books of 2010-2011 and why?

Uh-oh. As I said, I’m primarily a storyteller–and grandfather and berry picker and train rider–but not much of a reader, at least not of “children’s books,” except for those of my favorite writer, Eileen Spinelli.

I guess for my recreational reading, I find the need to get out of my own arena, to play in another sandbox. So, sorry on that one.

(And if you want to know my favorite book of Eileen’s, it’s her masterpiece When You Are Happy, illustrated Geraldo Valerio (Simon & Schuster, 2006).)

What can your fans look forward to next?

Hokey Pokey, a novel depicting childhood as more of a place than a time, in which Childhood itself might be said to be the main character. Knopf/Random House will publish it in 2012.

Jake and Lily, a novel about brother-sister twins born on the California Zephyr as it sped through the Moffat Tunnel in Colorado, to be published by HarperCollins in 2012.

Third Grade Angels, a prequel to Fourth Grade Rats (Scholastic, 1991).

Cynsational Notes

Eileen and Jerry Spinelli Classroom Cast from Random House.