Cynsational News, Giveaways & U.K. Reporter

Read a Cynsations interview with Angela.

That’ll be the Debut: YA debutantes Angela Cerrito, Sara Grant and Paula Rawsthorne by Candy Gourlay from Notes from the Slushpile. Peek: “Working with my editors has a been a dream. It’s exciting and overwhelming to suddenly have an experienced and amazing editorial team working with you to improve your novel.” Source: Cynsations U.K. Reporter Laura Atkins.

What to Expect Your First Few Years in Editorial by Alvina Ling from Blue Rose Girls. Peek: “You’ll be writing jacket copy, catalog copy, researching competitive titles, and reading a ton of submissions and giving your recommendation as to whether your manager should acquire or decline something.”

The Importance of Pants by Melissa Wyatt from And If I Come to Ledges. Peek: “…if you pull your camera in on something that doesn’t do something, that doesn’t move the story or inform character or build tension or portend or something, you risk losing the attention of the reader or even annoying them.”

11 Google+ Tips for Writers by Robert Lee Brewer from My Name Is Not Bob. Peek: “Facebook is still the most used social network and established blogs are still something that directs to and from various social networks. In the meantime, I’ve been banging around on the site and searching for tips on how to best use Google+.”

Project Mayhem: The Manic Minds of Middle Grade Writers: a new children’s-YA writer blog. Peek: “We are middle grade writers. We are what we write. We will write anytime, anywhere and for any reason. We write funny, beautiful, cool, creepy and memorable stories. We are kids and we always will be.”

The Myth of Having More Time Someday from Jody Hedlund. Peek: “When my schedule is full, I find that I need to budget my time better, work more diligently, and can usually get quite a bit done.” Source: Adventures in Children’s Publishing.

Reading Like a Writer by Carmela Martino from Mary Kole at Peek: “Ideally, you will read the book you are studying more than once. The first time is to simply enjoy the story. However, if you’re pressed for time, you can read for pleasure and analyze at the same time.”

Writing Room Revelations: Children’s/YA Authors John Dickinson, Philip Ardagh, Malorie Blackman and Teri Terry by Nicky Schmidt from Absolutely Vanilla. Peek: “It’s not witchcraft or alchemy, it’s putting in the hours (and having the luxury to be able to put in the hours because it’s my one and only job).” Source: Cynsations U.K. Reporter Laura Atkins.

Picture This! A Daily Guide to Picture Book Writing with Rob Sanders, Children’s Author. Note: “Rob Sanders is a writer who teaches and a teacher who writes. He has worked as a writer, educational consultant, editor, editorial manager, product manager, trainer, public speaker, and has served as a trainer and mentor to many writers. Rob currently writes with the 400+ kindergartners through fifth graders at Jackson Elementary School in Plant City, Florida. His first picture book, Cowboy Christmas, has been acquired by Golden Books/Random House and is slated for released in 2012.”

Was Giving Up Ever an Option? by Jen Daiker from Carolyn Kaufman at QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “I read On Writing by Stephen King, the book that changed it all. He gave me the option to call myself a writer. It was when you felt it. When you accomplished what a writer would.” Note: includes tips for getting started as a writer.

Cantastic Guest Author: Tim Wynne-Jones by Lindsey Carmichael from Ten Stories Up. Peek: “I’d sure like to figure out sixteen! It’s such an incredible time in one’s life, scary as hell and yet full of promise. If you could only convince yourself you were going to do half the things you dream of doing.” Comment for a chance to win a copy of Tim’s Blink & Caution (Candlewick, 2011) and check out all of Lindsey’s Cantastic Authorpalooza interviews.

Audrey Vernick on Debuting All Over Again from Jeannie Mobly at EMU Debuts. Note: Audrey talks about debuting as a middle-grade novelist after already establishing herself as a successful picture book writer.

Finding Margin by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “We would be smart to only commit 80% of our time and energy. Instead, we underestimate the demands on our life. We make promises and commit way more than 100% of our time and energy. Consequently, we have no margin left.”

How to Write Vivid Scenes by Chris Eboch from Write Like a Pro! A Free Online Writing Workshop. Peek: “Think in terms of a play: The curtain rises on people in a specific situation. The action unfolds as characters move and speak. The curtain falls, usually at a dramatic moment. Repeat as necessary until you’ve told the whole story.”

See also Best Articles this Week for Writers from Adventures in Children’s Publishing. Note: another round-up.

Cynsations New U.K. Children’s-YA Book Reporter

More on Laura Atkins

Laura Atkins is a children’s book specialist based in the south of England. A Senior Lecturer at the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature (NCRCL) at Roehampton University in London, she also offers freelance editorial services including manuscript critiquing, running writing workshops and editing children’s books for Nigerian publisher, Cassava Republic Press.

She worked for seven years in the children’s publishing industry in the United States (Children’s Book Press, Orchard Books and Lee & Low Books) before moving to the U.K.

Laura will be contributing news and interviews from the children’s-YA creative, literature and publishing community in the U.K.

This Week’s Cynsations Posts

Cynsational Screening Room

Plot Device by Seth Worley and Aharon Rabinowitz from Red Giant on Vimeo. Source: April Henry.

Plot Device from Red Giant on Vimeo.

Trailer for “Yesterday’s News” — A film based on the book, Front Page Face-Off by Jo Whittemore (Aladdin). This is the first feature film by Producer and Screenwriter Zoe Dahmen and award-winning Director Kelsey Hockmuller.” Read a guest post by Jo, Everybody’s Doing It: Writing from Life.

Celebrating Ten Years of SCBWI British Isles. Source: SCBWI British Isles Ning.

Children’s Literature Educator Sue Burgess interviews children’s author Melissa Stewart about her life as a writer. Read a guest post by Melissa, “Every Word Counts: Writing Nonfiction That Sings.”

App Trailer: Roxie’s Doors for iPad-lift the flap book with search and find.

More Personally

Greg and I were named prom king and queen! Photo courtesy of Bethany Hegedus.

Congratulations to Jennifer Ziegler on the successful launch of Sass & Serendipity (Delacorte, 2011) at BookPeople on Saturday. Jenny’s theme was a Keep Austen Weird Prom. See more pics!

Highlights of last week also included a writing day around my dining room table with Bethany Hegedus, Mark G. Mitchell, Debbie Gonzales, Greg Leitich Smith, Carmen Oliver, and K.A. Holt.

Thank you to everyone who attended my YALITCHAT on with Dawn Metcalf, Kim Baccellia and Jason Henderson in celebration of Halloween in July on Wednesday night via Twitter. Special thanks to YALITCHAT founder Georgia McBride.

Received author copies of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story!

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith from The Gatekeepers Post. Insights on Blessed, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, how to avoid being distracted, ebook technology, and promotion tips. Peek: “Don’t feel obligated to do anything that’s beyond your budget or makes you miserable. Usually, the best way to promote your book is to write the next one.”

Congratulations to YA author and fellow Austinite Varian Johnson on the birth of his adorable daughter Savannah.

Congratulations to Austin SCBWI critique coordinator Shelli Cornelison on signing with Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary, and congratulations to Karen on signing Shelli!

Personal Links:

From Greg Leitich Smith:

Last Call: Giveaways

Tantalize: Kieren’s Story by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Ming Doyle with cover art by Sam Weber (Candlewick, Aug, 2011) Giveaway from P.J. Hoover from Roots in Myth. Deadline: July 29. Peek: “Illustrated by Ming Doyle, Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Tantalize is reimagined as a graphic novel, seen through Kieren’s werewolf eyes.” Learn more about Tantalize: Kieren’s Story.

Enter to win an author-signed bookmark and copy of Bumped by Megan McCafferty (HarperTeen, 2011). To enter, comment on this post (click link) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email me directly with “Bumped” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Deadline: July 29. This giveaway is for international readers–everyone is eligible!

New Voice: Joseph Lunievicz on Open Wounds

Joseph Lunievicz is the first-time author of Open Wounds (WestSide, 2011). From the promotional copy:

Cid Wymann, a scrappy kid fighting to survive a harsh upbringing in Queens, New York, is almost a prisoner in his own home. His only escape is sneaking to Times Square to see Errol Flynn movies full of swordplay and duels. He’s determined to become a great fencer, but after his family disintegrates, Cid spends five years at an orphanage until his injured war-veteran cousin “Lefty” arrives from England to claim him.

Lefty teaches Cid about acting and stage combat, especially fencing, and introduces Cid to Nikolai Varvarinski, a brilliant drunken Russian fencing master who trains Cid. 

By 16, Cid learns to channel his aggression through the harsh discipline of the blade, eventually taking on enemies old and new as he perfects his skills.

Open Wounds is the page-turning story of a lost boy’s quest to become a man.

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

When I was eight my mother married a second time and we moved to a new town. The year before we moved I’d had a mean third grade teacher who had turned me off on reading.

I don’t know the details, but I know that because of my experience in third grade my mother was worried about how I would do in my fourth grade class. She really thought I wouldn’t read gain.

My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Gheller, turned out to be a wonderful woman who knew how to get boys interested in reading. She read The Cay by Theodore Taylor (Avon, 1969), to us out loud from beginning to end, and while she read to us, I fell in love with reading again.

I remember being terribly caught up in the adventure of the boy Phillip, his ship wreck with the man Timothy, and their cat on the island of Curacao. From that time on, I read just about anything but I was especially drawn to adventure stories.

In seventh grade my best friend introduced me to The Hobbit (Houghton Miffliln, 1937) and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R.Tolkien (Houghton MIfflin, 1965), and although it took me a while to persevere and read The Fellowship of the Ring from cover to cover, it gave me a lifetime interest in fantasy and science fiction that I carry with me today. That same friend was killed in a train accident the following year and reading became one of the ways I coped with his death.

I found and read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (A.C.McClurg, 1917) and read the whole John Carter of Mars series. I moved on to Conan by Robert E. Howard (Ace Books, 1967) then became a fan of The Stand by Stephen King (Doubleday, 1978) and Salem’s Lot (Doubleday, 1975), which both terrified and thrilled me.

I spread out my interests to mystery writers like John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee (Fawcett Publications, 1964 through 1984) series and historical novels from writers like Bernard Cornwell and Patrick O’Brian.

I was the kind of teenager who read all the time and everywhere. I carried a book in my backpack with me wherever I went and stayed up late reading into the night way best my bedtime, so caught up in stories that I couldn’t put them down. I still do that today.

The themes of adventure, loss, world building, swordplay, and the challenges of growing up all heavily influenced the development of my debut novel Open Wounds.

I have also always been fascinated by the first and second World Wars–two events that have shaped every aspect of our modern 2011 society. As I think back now, even The Cay was a story that took place during World War Two.

My natural father (who died when I was a teenager) was a paratrooper in the Second World War, and my great uncle was one of the first to see the concentration camps–something he never talked about. My uncle was in North Africa fighting Rommel, and my step-father and father-in-law were in the Korean War. Warfare surrounded me, in the stories I heard from my family and in the books that I read, whether they were fantasy, science fiction, or historical fiction.

My protagonist, Cid Wymann learns of the horrors of war through his cousin-guardian Winston Arnolf Leftingsham. “Lefty” is an English veteran from the first World War. He’s lost his left side, arm, leg, and eye, from artillery shelling and mustard gas. He is rotting from the inside out, and his smell is the smell of the trenches.

Cid’s view of the war is through the lens of film and Hollywood, and when he meets Lefty, his eyes are opened up to the reality of war’s aftermath. Lefty’s nightmares tell Cid about the horrors that he experienced, the death and the carnage.

I read to escape, and Cid sees movies, reads The New York Times, and reads books to escape his harsh childhood, the violence that is done to him, and the many losses that he undergoes. But even with these things there is adventure, great battles, heroic deeds, friendship, and love–all the things that my childhood and teenage readings were also filled with. This balance is what helps Cid to survive and what I hope I brought to my first novel Open Wounds.

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?

Photo by Casey Fatchett Photography.

I have a full-time job as the director of a small not-for-profit training institute and a part-time job as a yoga instructor in addition to writing. I have a nine-year-old son, and a wonderful, patient, partner who happens to be my wife, who also works part time in addition to the full time job of taking care of our son.

And we have two dogs. I just thought I’d add that in.

So how do I find the time to write? It isn’t easy, and it has changed over time. I’ve gone through three phases in my writing career, and I’m sure another one is on the way as my life changes and the needs of jobs and family also change.

The way I write has been greatly influenced by these patterns and habits in both good ways and bad.

These phases can be divided into two time periods: before my son was born (phase one) and after (phase two and three).

Phase One

Before my son was born I wrote mostly in the morning before work. I got more work done when I worked a job that started at 10 a.m. rather than 9 a.m., but doing HIV/AIDS work was emotionally exhausting and highly stressful so I didn’t have the energy when I got home to write. My brain was usually fried, so the evenings were very unproductive for me. I wrote between eight in the morning and nine. I averaged anywhere from twenty minutes to an a hour of writing each morning usually three-to-five mornings a week.

I am a morning person with more energy and focus in the a.m. so this worked well for me for years. I wrote four novels that way, about one every year or so.

I used a technique I learned from Telling Lies for Fun and Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block (Harper, 1994). Each morning I would edit what I wrote the day before and then write forward from there. I usually knew what was coming next but no more than that. Sometimes I had a larger plot point targeted, and sometimes I didn’t and was simply surprised by where I eventually ended up.

Every once in a while I’d do revisions at night, but it was rare. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was writing. I’d think about it while walking to work or on the subway, or on the treadmill at the gym or lifting weights.

You might say the characters, especially in my first draft, would be with me most of the time, in my peripheral vision. My wife has complained many times that I am married to my computer, but I think it’s more to my characters. It’s like living multiple lives one after the other and can be confusing at times.

Phase Two

After my son was born, I switched almost immediately to writing in the evening. I love being a father, but it is also exhausting. My normal writing time became taking-care-of-my-son time. He would usually go to bed around eight (though he has never liked to go to sleep), so I would finally get time to write around 10 p.m. I started writing late evenings between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m., usually an hour or so would be all I could keep my eyes open for. I wrote most of Open Wounds late in the evening like this.

Problems with anxiety (I have struggled with an anxiety disorder most of my life) led me to develop a daily yoga practice early in the morning. This also made it difficult to write any time but in the evening. The problem is, getting less and less sleep has made it harder and harder to write in the evening, when my energy levels are at their lowest anyway. Many evenings I fall asleep with my son when putting him to bed. It’s a joke around our house that when I put my son to bed I usually fall asleep before he does. He’s gotten a lot of extra reading time out of that.

Phase Three

So… in this last six months I’ve gone back to early morning work for my fiction and evening work for my other writing and marketing (interviews, blog, essays). I write two-to-three days each week for 20-40 minutes at a time usually between the hours of 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. It’s what I’ve been able to carve out time-wise and makes for slow productivity, but it keeps me moving forward.

There have been three keys to making these kinds of schedules work. The first one is to make an appointment with myself to write and keep it. The second is to accept that I’ll get less sleep the night before I’m going to write. I’ll wake up at 5 a.m. and once six hits, there is a shower to take, clothes to put on, dogs to take out and feed, my son’s lunch to make for school, his breakfast to prepare, his clothes to put out, my son to wake up and feed (the dogs help with that), and my wife to help to get him out the door. Some mornings, if I’m lucky I can stay home an extra 30 minutes and write before I go into work. There are times when it’s good to be the boss.

The third key is to remember that even twenty minutes one day a week is enough time to write a novel–if you string enough twenty minute segments together over a longer period of time. Open Wounds took me seven years to write, but I wrote it over the first seven years of my son’s life when time was at a premium. A lot of those first years are still a bit hazy for me.

Only four times in my life have I had the chance to write full time. I was invited to write at four, two-week stays at Ragdale Foundation artists retreat in Lade Forest, Illinois; just outside of Chicago just before my son was born. It was a great chance to see if I could write every day and to see how much each day I could write. I found out that I could write about four hours in the morning and revise three-to-four hours in the afternoon after a good two-hour break for a run or the gym and lunch.

I did this pretty much every day for the 12 full days of writing that I had. I would write five-to-ten new pages each day and came out with 50 to 75 new pages of work from each visit.

But I also know it would be hard to continue like that. Writing retreats are very focused times without any distractions – just you and your room. I craved company in the evenings and in the afternoons towards the end of my stay like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t know if I could last a full month, but I sure would like to try.

What advice do I have? Set a time to write and write. Be realistic about your capabilities. If your expectations are unrealistic, you will fail in meeting your goals. Small goals allow for easier success, and each success you have helps you to increase your self-efficacy–your belief in your ability to do more. Don’t try to write eight hours a day for five days unless that’s your style and you have the time.

Remember, small amounts of time can work too. Work will take you longer to finish but… you will finish. When you only have twenty minutes to write, you’d be surprised how quickly you learn to focus and get typing.

Finally, remember that thinking time is also writing time, but sooner or later you have to sit down and type.

Cynsational Notes

Read an excerpt, check out the teacher’s guide, and visit Joseph’s author blog.

See also The Smell of Vinegar by Joseph Lunievicz from YA Bliss. Peek: “With so many details available to establish time and place in a historical novel it’s hard to figure out which ones to leave in, and which ones to leave out. Too many details quickly overburden the narrative with unnecessary detail. Too few leave you wondering where and when the characters exist – with the default being the present.”

Join Tonight’s Twitter Chat with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Kim Baccellia & Jason Henderson

The 2nd Annual Halloween in July will be at 8 p.m. CST, 9 p.m. EST tonight July 27 with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Kim Baccellia, and Jason Henderson from #yalitchat on Twitter.


Chat with us for spooky fun, giveaways and more!

Check out the book trailer for Earrings of Ixtumea by author Kim Baccellia (Virtual Tales):

Check out the book trailer for Alex Van Helsing by Jason Henderson (HarperCollins):

Check out the book trailer for Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick):

Guest Post: Elissa Brent Weissman on The Evolution of Nerd Camp

By Elissa Brent Weissman

I’m one of those writers who doesn’t like to talk about what I’m working on until I’ve finished it. When I’m writing a novel, that means I can go a year or more without revealing a single detail about what I’ve been doing all day, not even to my husband. It’s kind of like I’m in the CIA.

I’m not mysterious because the book I’m writing is so great I don’t want anyone to steal my idea. In fact, it’s the total opposite. Until I’m done, I don’t know if my idea is any good, or if the story I have in mind will be the one I wind up telling. And since discarded drafts are kind of like embarrassing old boyfriends (I can’t believe I dated that guy), I prefer to hold off on introducing my story to family and friends until I’m at least somewhat sure I’ve got a keeper.

The version of Nerd Camp (Simon & Schuster, 2011) I submitted to my editor is saved on my laptop as NerdCamp6.doc. Nerd Camp 6! That means there are five other Nerd Camps lined up on my hard drive in various stages of completion, plus numerous bits, pieces, and false starts under other names (SmartCamp.doc, SmartCamp2.doc…).

The problem, I think, was that I started with a setting rather than a character. A summer camp for smart kids is a great setting—and Nerd Camp is a great title, you have to admit—but a title and setting don’t drive a story. I needed a protagonist, I needed him to want something, and I needed the readers to want him to get it.

The obvious approach, I thought, would be to write about a reluctant camper: The cool kid is forced to go to “nerd camp,” but he ends up loving it.

I dismissed this idea without even writing a sentence. Not only was it too predictable, but it also wasn’t going to be any fun. If I wrote from the perspective of someone who didn’t want to be there, I’d be portraying the camp in a negative light for most of the book. I didn’t want to put readers in a position to laugh at the nerds; I wanted them to laugh with the nerds, even as they good-naturedly roll their eyes at just how nerdy they are.

Elissa Brent Weissman

I wanted my protagonist to love nerd camp, I realized. I wanted this book to celebrate smart camp in all its geeky glory!

But this raised a new writing dilemma: If my main character likes being at camp from the start, what’s the conflict?

In NerdCamp2.doc through NerdCamp4.doc, some brainy kids face various problems while they’re at a summer camp for academic enrichment. Homesickness, Nerd-Style! The camp is going to be shut down unless the campers use their smarts to save it! You name a summer camp tradition (practical jokes!), and I could give it a smart-kid slant (“Let’s introduce a non-native species to the lake!”), but still, nothing was quite right.

By NerdCamp5.doc, I’d figured it out. I couldn’t call a book Nerd Camp if it was just a regular summer camp story with a smart-kid slant. The fact that it’s a camp for smart kids had to be the story, and the fact that my character loves it had to be at the heart of the conflict.

And so I started writing about Gabe—sweet, endearing, intelligent Gabe—whose love of the Summer Center for Gifted Enrichment conflicts with his longing to be friends with his ultra-cool new stepbrother. I loved Gabe from the moment he took off his bifocals and put on his skeleton pajamas. By NerdCamp6.doc, I knew his story was going to be the one.

So after a year and half of secrecy, I lowered the required security clearance and showed the story to my husband, my agent, and my editor. I let out a huge sigh of relief when they all liked it.

And then, with their input, I began the revision process.

Cynsational Notes

Check out Camp Prep Games, Classroom Activities and Nerd Camp Gear.

Check out the trailer for Elissa’s previous book, The Trouble with Mark Hopper (Dutton).

Author Interview: K.L. Going on “Fat Kid Rules the World,” the Movie

Could you tell us about the movie based on your 2004 Prinz Honor Book, Fat Kid Rules the World (Putnam, 2003)? How did this come about?

It’s been a long journey, but from what I understand, that’s pretty common. The book had been continually under option since it first came out, but finally all of the pieces fit together.

I’ve got a great team working on the film, and I’m so happy about that. Whitewater Films and Whippany Park Productions are producing, and Matthew Lillard (“Scream,” “Scooby Doo”) is making his directorial debut. Jacob Wysocki (“Terri”), Matthew O’Leary (“Natural Selection”) and Billy Campbell (“The Killing,” “The 4400,” “The Rocketeer”) will star in the lead roles. Mike McCready of Pearl Jam has agreed to score the film. The movie is filming right now in Seattle!

To what extent were you involved in the production?

I didn’t make any content decisions, such as script choices or casting, but the people involved have been great about keeping me in the loop every step of the way.

What’s been the biggest surprise for you since the filming started?

I think the biggest and best surprise has been the casting. It’s amazing the way they’ve found actors who are exactly the way I pictured the characters. When I saw one of the first batches of photos from the set I nearly cried. It was just incredible to see scenes from the book depicted so realistically. And each of the lead actors is so talented! I feel truly blessed.

Have they made any changes from book to film?

Matthew Lillard, director

Yes. There are some changes. Curt’s name has been changed to Marcus, for example, and they’ve added two other characters who will play larger roles. But they’re sticking very true to the spirit of the book, and for that I’m glad.

How can fans of the book support the film?

The main thing people can do is go to the movie’s Facebook page and hit the “like” button. Then share the link on your own profile page. We’re really trying to get the word out about the film.

Since this is an independent film, the more people who get involved and show their support, the more likely we are to find a distributor who will put this film into theaters.

In addition to helping us out, if you visit the Facebook page, you’ll have a chance to see lots of great photos from the set, read the blogs of several crew members, and check out the awesome music that fans are posting on the page.

You can also follow me and the movie on Twitter: @KLGoing and @fatkidmovie. Thanks in advance, everyone!

You last visited Cynsations in December 2009 to talk about Writing and Selling the YA Novel (Writer’s Digest, 2009). Could you update us on your writing life since?

K.L. Going

Sure! I published one other novel around that same time, called King of the Screwups (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009).

This is the story of Liam, the drop-dead gorgeous son of a fashion model, who desperately wants to be a nerd. When he’s kicked out of his house and sent to live with his glam-rocking uncle who lives in a trailer park in upstate NY, he sees it as his opportunity to reinvent himself.

I’ve also sold several picture books, and the first one is due out next summer. It’s called Dog in Charge, and I’m lucky enough to have the fabulous Dan Santat as illustrator.

On Location

Matt O’Leary as Marcus (Curt), Lili Simmons as Isabel,
and Jacob Wysocki as Troy
Coty James, Matthew Lillard, and Matt O’Leary
Billy Campbell as Mr. Billings with Matthew Lillard

Cynsational Notes

Photo of K.L. by Joanna Bretstein.

On-location photos by Laurie Clark Photography.

Learn more about K.L. Going.

Jennifer Ziegler’s Keep Austen Weird Prom Celebrated Sass & Serendipity

Austin YA literature lovers celebrated the release of Sass & Serendipity (Delacorte) by local author Jennifer Ziegler July 23 at BookPeople. The theme was a Keep Austen Weird Prom in honor of the prom in the story and Jenny’s inspiration author, Jane Austen.

Jennifer at BookPeople in Austin
Author Julie Lake & author-illustrator Mark G. Mitchell
Author K.A. Holt, author of Brains for Lunch, zombie-style
Apocalypsies author Heather Anastasiu in purple and blue
EMU Debut author Cynthia Levinson, Jennifer & author Chris Barton
Jennifer with Austin SCBWI ARA Carmen Oliver & author Greg Leitich Smith
Authors Jo Whittemore & Bethany Hegedus

VCFA Writers: Liz Gallagher on Character = Plot

By Liz Gallagher

As I’m writing this, it’s days before my second novel, My Not-So-Still Life is published. Without the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, I don’t think I’d have ever written a book.

The lectures, workshops and—maybe most of all—casual conversations over giant cookies in the cafeteria gave me the opportunity to be obsessed with the craft of writing. I, and my classmates and the faculty, dedicated ourselves to really trying to figure out what makes a good book a good book.

I graduated from VCFA in January of 2006. Five and a half years later, there’s one casual conversation I find myself gravitating toward again and again.

I used to worry that, even though I was pretty good with characters, I’d never be able to finish an actual novel because I was terrible with plot. I had an idea that a plot was this thing conjured up out of thin air, a story where before there was nothing.

I thought plots came to be via magic.

By Alison McGhee (Feiwel, 2009)

Alison McGhee was on faculty, and she said, “Plot is nothing but character.”

Plot is nothing but character. Okay! With just that one small conversation, I realized that if I have a strong character and that character has desires and does something (anything!) other than sit on their bed all day, I have a plot. No hocus pocus required.

I don’t go to Montpelier every six months now, and I don’t get to be surrounded on all sides by people who love talking about craft, but I do have those two years to draw on.

At VCFA I gathered enough inspiration and insight to keep me writing and writing and writing. That’s what I do now.

Making a story come together usually still feels like magic. Except, now, I know how to access that magic. I just have to think back to Vermont.

Cynsational Notes

Liz Gallagher is the author of two YA novels, My Not-So-Still Life (Wendy Lamb Books, 2011) and The Opposite of Invisible (Wendy Lamb Books, 2008).

Both books are set in Seattle, which Liz happily calls her adopted home.

Visit her online or contact her at for questions about this post or Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Unworthy Heroes by Sarwat Chadda from Diversity in YA Fiction. Peek: “I mean a cast of thousands and heroes who bleed and swear and come back for more. The big, bold old-fashioned Boys Own adventures but ones where the heroes aren’t the blond, blue-eyed, defenders of civilization fighting against the bearded, turbaned fanatical hordes.”

Four Elements of a Great Book Signing by Corrie Garrett from Pimp My Novel. Peek: “…let’s say you’ve done your promotion and your marketing and you’ve managed to gather a respectable crowd at your local Barnes and Noble. What do you do with them?” Source: Jon Gibbs from An Englishman in New Jersey.

Bookbird: a Journal of International Children’s Literature from the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). See also Co-Editors Interview: Cathy Kurkjian & Sylvia Vardell on Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature from Cynsations.

Certificate in Children’s Book Illustration from Hollins University. Peek: “The goal of this program is to help artists develop a personal vision and style for tomorrow’s picture book market. The courses will provide an opportunity for intensive exploration and improvement of students’ art skills and knowledge of picture book fundamentals, while being informed by an in-depth study of both past and contemporary picture book illustrators.”

YA Writing Workshop with Margo Rabb will be Sept. 13 to Oct. 18 at Austin Bat Cave in Austin, Texas. Peek: “The term ‘young adult’ encompasses a wide range of fiction. This class will discuss what makes a novel or a short story ‘young adult,’ and the complexities of the genre. Each class will focus on aspects of the craft of fiction, including character, plot, voice, and dialogue while paying particular attention to the revision process. In addition, the following topics will be discussed: finding time to write, making a life as a writer, and the business of publication, from finding an agent to submitting work to magazines and publishing houses. Class is limited to ten students.”

Submission Tracking Chart by Tabitha from Writer Musings. Peek: “I knew exactly what I’d sent out and when I could expect a response. I created a header for all of this information, then created subsections for material that had been requested, rejected, was still out, and who I had left to query.”

Author Interview Tricia Springstubb and Giveaway from Carmen Oliver from Following My Dreams One Word at a Time. Peek: “Fox Street began with a real incident here on Cleveland’s west side. Some developers, with the support of the mayor, made a bid to buy a small, blue collar neighborhood and replaced it with high-end condos and retail. This neighborhood was on the edge of a glorious metropark. To the surprise of the developers but no one else, the residents fought back.” Giveaway deadline: July 29.

Flipping the Switch from Introvert to Extrovert by Deborah Halverson from R.L. LaFevers at Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: “Figuring that anything I did in a future career would require me to step out of those shadows I so enjoyed, I very consciously set about making myself comfortable with activities that extroverts take for granted.”

It’s Time to Get on Google+ by Kate Fall from Author2Author. Peek: “Google Plus is more social than Twitter and more businesslike than Facebook.” See also No, You Don’t Have to Join Google+ by Greg Pincus from The Happy Accident. Peek: “Finding a network or networks that work with what you want to accomplish and what makes you comfortable takes the stress out of the equation….” Note: Cynthia Leitich Smith at Google Plus.

Cynsational Author Tip: Include your publisher names, publication dates, and ISBNs for each of your books on your official website.

Be Book Smart: “If you shop at Macy’s and give $3 to provide a book for a child, Macy’s will donate your $3 to Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) to help reach their goal of giving 1 million books to kids. You’ll also be eligible for $10 off a $50 purchase.” Enter to win a $500 Macy’s Gift Card from RIF.

Celebrate the publication of YA zombie comedy Bad Taste in Boys (Delacorte, 2011) with author Carrie Harris and benefit the kids of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital with Night of the Giving Dead! Bid on over 80 items, including signed books, ARCs, and author/agent critiques. Participants can enter to win one of two grand prizes: a Kindle or a six-month writing mentorship with the author. Deadline: midnight EST, July 27.

Interview with Tu Editor Stacy Whitman from the Happy Nappy Bookseller. Peek: “I try to address both encouraging authors of color to write fantasy/SF (or submit those manuscripts they might have put aside thinking there was no market for a POC main character in fantasy) and encouraging white writers to diversify their writing in a way that doesn’t appropriate from other cultures.”

Anna Staniszewski: newly redesigned official author site. Note: Anna’s upcoming book is My Very Un-Fairy Tale Life (Sourcebooks, Nov. 1, 2011).

The Case for Comic Books by Mindy Lucas from The Kansas City Star. Peek: “Students in Whitted’s class pore over and deconstruct the books in as serious an academic manner as one would analyze Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment or Joyce’s Ulysses (both of which, by the way, have been turned into graphic novels).”

One Simple Way to Sharpen Your Pitch by Zachary Petit from Writer’s Digest. Peek: “I like to apply the MacDonald Rule to all of my pitches and loglines. In other words, even though it’s only a few lines, a pitch should explain who is trying to do what and why.” Source: Lupe Ruiz-Flores.

By Lupe Ruiz-Flores (Arte Público, 2010)

Congratulations to the 2011 SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant Winners! Special cheers to Texans Lupe Ruiz-Flores and Shannon Morgan. Note: Shannon is the creator of my marvelous teacher guides for Holler Loudly, illustrate by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010)

Cantastic Guest Author: Yolanda Ridge from Lindsey Carmichael at Ten Stories Up. Peek: “I’m not sure this is unique to being a debut author in Canada, with all publishers cutting back on marketing, but it is hard because the book buying population is small.  I feel fortunate that my publisher sells in the United States and does some marketing, but there is still a lot of responsibility left to the author in terms of social media and publicity.”

Dealing with Criticism by Icy Sedgwick from Fuel Your Writing. Peek: “I dislike the distinction drawn between constructive and deconstructive criticism – whichever way you slice it, it’s still criticism. I prefer the word “feedback”. Source: QueryTracker.netBlog.

A Writer’s Dilemma: Meditating Versus Participating in the Moment by Heather Anastasiu. Peek: “…part of being a writer is constantly writing, even in your head.”

The Business Side of Writing: a chat with Sue Ford from the Institute of Children’s Literature. See also Patching Picture Book Problems by Jan Fields, also from ICL. Note: these links are  recommended to beginners.

Cynsational Giveaways

Tantalize: Kieren’s Story by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Ming Doyle with cover art by Sam Weber (Candlewick, Aug, 2011) Giveaway from P.J. Hoover from Roots in Myth. Deadline: July 29. Peek: “Illustrated by Ming Doyle, Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Tantalize is reimagined as a graphic novel, seen through Kieren’s werewolf eyes.” Learn more about Tantalize: Kieren’s Story.

The winner of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson (Wiley Publishing, 2011) is Beth in New Hampshire. See also Deborah on Serving Up Subtext from Alice Pope’s SCBWI Market Blog and Melodrama Isn’t a Four-Letter Word from QueryTracker.netBlog.

Enter to win an author-signed bookmark and copy of Bumped by Megan McCafferty (HarperTeen, 2011). To enter, comment on this post (click link) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email me directly with “Bumped” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Deadline: July 29. This giveaway is for international readers–everyone is eligible!

Cynsational Screening Room

Walter Dean Myers and Chris Myers on We Are America: A Tribute from the Heart from HarperKids. Peek from Walter: “I wanted to put myself out there and make a statement and say, you know, I love this country.” Source: Shadra Strickland on Living the Dream.

Congratulations to Jo Knowles on the release of Pearl (Henry Holt, 2011). See the book trailer. See also a snapshot interview with Jo from Angelina C. Hansen and comment for a chance to win a copy of Pearl. Deadline: July 27. For a more in-depth interview with Jo, check out this Q&A with Kate Messner about revision.

Congratulations to Melissa Walker on the release of Small Town Sinners (Bloomsbury, 2011)(excerpt). See the book trailer. See also an interview with Melissa by Lucienne Diver from Authorial, Agently, and Personal Ramblings.

Last weekend, I saw “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2” at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. See the review by Kazia Berkley-Cramer from Out of the Box: an exclusive look at what comes into the Horn Book offices. Check out this video from the set in which the cast and crew says goodbye to the actors.

More Personally

A more recent incarnation of the downtown Ann Arbor store.

When I think of Borders, it’s the original store in Ann Arbor. My Borders had crooked stairs and books piled in the middle of aisles, and it smelled like a bookstore. I’m sad for the booksellers who’re losing jobs and readers who no longer have any bookstore within comfortable driving distance. My thanks to everyone at Borders for their service to the children’s-YA book community. Note: I’m a 1994 graduate of The University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor.

On a brighter note, congratulations to the summer 2011 graduates of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults!

I’m making an effort to read more children’s-YA book writing/publishing blogs that originate outside the U.S. and are more focused on other markets. Please feel free to suggest.

I’m also pleased of news of solid sales of Eternal in Poland. Thank you to my Polish readers!

Interview de Cynthia Leitich Smith, auteur de Sanguine from Loraah Books. Peek: “Quand j’étais adolescente j’ai travaillé en tant que serveuse, et j’ai toujours pensé que les restaurants faisaient de fantastiques scènes de drame. Vous avez un décor, des menus et de la musique thématiques.” Note: for French-language readers.

Personal Links:

From Greg Leitich Smith:

Cynsational Events

Keep Austen Weird Prom! Jennifer Ziegler is hosting a launch party for Sass & Serendipity (Delacorte, 2011) at 2 p.m. July 23 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: “This modern YA retelling of Sense & Sensibility is a perfect jumping off point for a teenager’s first taste of Jane Austen, but adults well-versed in the world of Austen will love it too! We’ll be doing this book release party prom-style; wear your fanciest duds and get ready to make all your dreams come true. Jennifer will be interviewed by her real-life sister (fingers crossed for some embarrassing stories), plus there will be contests & prizes and yummy refreshments.”

The 2nd Annual Halloween in July will be at 8 p.m. CST, 9 p.m. EST July 27 with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Kim Baccellia and Dawn Metcalf from #yalitchat on Twitter. Follow: @cynleitichsmith @ixtumea @DawnMetcalf. Chat with us for spooky fun, giveaways and more!

Southwest Texas Fall SCBWI Conference is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sept. 17 in San Antonio. Faculty includes: Andrea Welch, editor from Beach Lane Press (Simon & Schuster); Elena Mechlin, agent from Pippin Agency; Kristin Daly Rens, editor from Balzer and Bray (HarperCollins); author Diane Gonzales Bertrand; Kim Murray, online media specialist with Piccolo Media; and Richard Johnson of InteractBooks. Note: the early bird registration deadline has been extended to July 23.

VCFA Writers: C. M. McCarthy on A Writer’s Community

C. M. McCarthy

By C. M. McCarthy

Picture a dartboard. Red, green and black with silver inlays drawing concentric circles. Do you have it? Okay, hold onto it.

As a recent graduate of the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I’m often asked if I’m experiencing withdrawal from school, and while I do miss the monthly work packets as well as the “I’m not publishing because I’m studying” excuse, I can honestly say that I have not felt a loss.

Even though I was only in Montpelier for five 10-day residencies, I haven’t stepped outside the VCFA writing community since I enrolled.

Instead, I’ve felt as though I’m smack in the center of a dartboard with friends all around: The outer circle is the network of writers, agents, editors and publishers of all genres, who come out of the woodwork to mingle around the VCFA table at writing conferences all over the country.

The second circle is the school body, the 100+ writers and advisors who keep in contact over the fabulous online forum. Anytime I have a question about writing, I find dozens of peers waiting to answer it.

The innermost circle is made up of my graduating class. This small group of writers stood by my side through the program, and we now encourage each other via emails, lunch dates and phone calls as we all embark on publishing adventures (Go Bat Poets!).

I do miss VCFA, but only on the surface. Inside, I’m still at the center of a vast and supportive creative community built around the love of writing.

C. M. with faculty member Shelley Tanaka

Cynsational Notes

C. M. with alum Sean Petrie and student Amy Rose Capetta

C. M. McCarthy writes fiction for all ages as well as poetry and screenplays.

She earned a BA in Creative Writing from Ohio University, a grad certificate in screenwriting from UCLA and a MFA in Writing For Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts (Class of January 2011).

If you have any questions or comments about her post or Vermont College, you can contact Cori at