VCFA Writers: Mandy Robbins Taylor on Voice

Mandy Robbins Taylor

By Mandy Robbins Taylor

A few years ago at a conference, I heard Erin Clarke, a Senior Editor at Knopf Books for Young Readers, reply to a question regarding voice.

“What is voice?” she ruminated. “Basically, voice is everything.”

Great. So I get to write a one-page blog post on “everything.” No wonder nobody else claimed this topic.

She’s right, though. Voice is everything. Every word on your page is told in your character’s unique voice, or your unique voice if you are writing nonfiction.

In writing, a voice ultimately is the embodiment of a character. Even if you are writing in third person, your narrator is a character.

The YA novel I’m currently working on, in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, is written in first person present tense. Choosing this point of view means each word must really and truly belong to my main character. Sure, she and I would say the same thing sometimes. But other times, not so much.

Uma Krishnaswami

While revising, my brilliant and talented VCFA advisor, Uma Krishnaswami has called me out a few times on my voice slipping into my character’s narration. For example, at one point my character describes an “omniscient smile.” In the margin, Uma commented something like “this sounds like you, not her.”

At first I was annoyed. Just because I’m a writer doesn’t mean the writerly word “omniscient” is so uniquely mine. But then I realized she was right—my character is a grieving seventeen year old on summer break, more interested in making varsity softball than writing “A” English papers. Words like “omniscient” are not just going to pop into her head while observing the smiles of people she’s just met.

Lately, Uma has just been oh-so-sweetly highlighting passages in blue when I slip out of voice. I’ve noticed this helps me to connect the dots and see when, where, and why I’m doing it. I enjoy academic writing, and most of my trouble spots simply sound too…fancy.

HarperCollins, 2005

As Fancy Nancy would say, “I’m inexplicably devastated” is a fancy way of saying “I don’t know why I’m so upset.” And it’s me, being a fancy, show-off, critical writer who likes to feel smart–not my girl, processing her emotions in her own mind.

But the good news is, when it comes down to it, after spending eighteen months of my life with her, I do know this girl. I know what she would say, and it isn’t (usually) hard to fix. Sometimes it just takes another pair of eyes and a gentle reminder that I’m way too impressed with myself.

But sometimes you may find you need to spend more time getting to know your character. Try freewriting conversations with her. Have him fill out an email survey. Make a character profile in your novel folder. Pretend to be her when you’re walking to the store, working out, talking to a salesgirl. Just never take a shortcut and assume one way is as good as another. It isn’t.

Voice is everything—and every single word on every single page matters.

Cynsational Notes

Fancy Nancy was written by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser.

Mandy Robbins Taylor will graduate from Vermont College of Fine Arts‘s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program in January 2012, though she would truly rather not. Ever.

She loves writing realistic young adult, funny fantasy middle grade, and goofy picture books. She occasionally teaches workshops for teen writers, passing on some of that hard-earned MFA knowledge and staying connected with her audience.

You can find her this October teaching the teen portion of the inter-generational Pacific Coast Childrens Writers Workshop.

Feel free to email her at MandyRobbins7@aol(dot)com with any questions about this post, her writing, or Vermont College of Fine Arts.

See also Romancing Reality in YA Fiction by Mandy Robbins Taylor from Pam Watts at Strong in the Broken Places. Peek: “…in your average, contemporary, realistic YA novel, why do the boys have to be so much better than real life teen boys? What are we telling our girls to expect?”

VCFA Writers: Lyn Miller-Lachmann on Creating Likable Characters

By Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Nobody liked my protagonist.

Well, not nobody. Editors didn’t like her. I had already cut her whining and made her helpful and friendly to her new stepfather in response to a harsh letter from an agent. But those changes didn’t make her any new editor friends.

As I began my second semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I decided to submit my initial chapters to the workshop to figure out why my now non-whiny and extraordinarily helpful teenager still wasn’t deemed “likeable.”

Interestingly, I found my answer not through discussion of my own manuscript, but through the discussion of someone else’s piece.

A mandatory part of VCFA residency is daily attendance at workshop. Residency workshops are round-table critiques of 20 pages of work — among 10 students, at different levels of the program — moderated by two faculty advisors. Each student receives a turn to have 20 pages of their manuscript critiqued by the group, for one-hour. For a writer with a work in progress, it doesn’t get any better than this.

The best thing about the workshops at VCFA is how much you learn by discussing the strengths and questions in each workshop submission — your peers’ as well as your own.

It can be easier to absorb information when your “baby” is not on the block. Or, maybe someone else has achieved the effect you were struggling with and now you learn from that example. This is exactly what happened for me. My fellow workshop members and I grew to care about the angry and physically aggressive 10-year-old girl in another workshop member’s story for the following reasons:

  1. She didn’t whine, and she didn’t feel sorry for herself. (This I’d figured out before.)
  2. Behind her anger there was an emotional vulnerability that allowed readers to engage. My own protagonist saw herself as emotionally self-sufficient, and she was. But that much detachment and independence doesn’t give readers the opportunity to get involved and care. I needed to make her vulnerable.
  3. I learned that when other characters in the piece (characters who do appeal to readers) like and care about my main character, readers like and care about her more as well.

Initially, my novel was structured in such a way that readers didn’t see my main character interact with her friends. In other words, increasing the presence of people who liked her helped readers follow suit. All it took was adding friends who were funny and relatable to teen readers to like my character for her loyalty, sense of humor, and great ideas.

As they say, “Friends are people who know everything about you and like you anyway.”

Don’t hold anything back from your readers, and they just might find that your character feels like a friend.

Cynsational Notes

Lyn Miller-Lachmann is in her second semester in the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

She is the author of an adult novel, Dirt Cheap (Curbstone, 2006)(now back in print), and the award-winning YA/adult crossover Gringolandia (Curbstone/Northwestern University Press, 2009)(excerpt, trailer, teacher guide).

She also contributes reviews to the online Albany Times-Union, Readergirlz, and The Pirate Tree, a new blog about social justice and children’s literature.

If you have any questions about her post or the MFA program at Vermont College, you can contact her directly at

VCFA Writers: Peter Patrick Langella on Writing Your Way into a Routine

By Peter Patrick Langella

During my first 10-day residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I kept hearing the word “routine.” I knew they were talking to me. I was disorganized, and I needed to create a routine around my writing. I needed to figure out where and when I produced my best work, and hopefully that would lead to some consistency.

I started with mornings. I told myself that I would write first thing each morning at the kitchen table.

Strike One. Life got in the way.

I then tried late-nights, reverting back to my old college ways.

Strike Two. I’m not really a night person.

Next up were early evenings; a nice block of time before my wife got off work.

Strike Three. I had too much energy. I couldn’t focus most days.

My quest for a routine ended in a strike-out.

But then I realized there are no strike-outs when it comes to writing. There are no right or wrong times and places to write. Coming to terms with this was the solution to the problem.

The routine I found is more of a mindset than a time and place. I’m never going to be someone who writes at 7 a.m. each morning in the breakfast nook, and that’s okay. I’ve gained consistency through the realization that as long as I’m writing each day, it doesn’t matter for me.

A minimum of 1,000 new words per day. That’s my routine. It doesn’t matter if it happens at dawn in my kitchen, or at midnight on the moon, as long as I get to that 1,000. The words can be for my WIP, school essays, random tangents and exercises, or a letter to my grandmother. It doesn’t matter.

Finding my routine was just about figuring out exactly how I work, and now that I have, here’s to the future…

Cynsational Notes

Peter Patrick Langella, a former ice hockey player who happily traded body checks for spell-checks, is in his first semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts, working toward his MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. For questions or comments about his post or the program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, you can reach Peter at

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Rita Williams-Garcia by Rosemary Brosnan from The Horn Book. Peek: “As her editor, the smartest thing I can do is to leave Rita alone. Rita is not an author who should be directed to write x, y, or z: she writes what her muse dictates, and this is how every book has come about. I trust her completely. And I have been fortunate to work for publishers who trust me in this, too.”

Keep Reader’s Interest: Make Everything Matter More by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Note: a discussion of personal and public stakes.

Beverly Cleary at 95: A Talk With the Author Who Created Ramona Quimby by Rachael Brown from The Atlantic. Peek: “A neighborhood woman felt that I needed help and offered to come babysit the children. I would write while she looked after them. They would draw pictures and slide them under my door. It worked out nicely.”

Why You Should Own Your Own Domain Name by Maryann Yin from GalleyCat, referring to Mastering One’s Domain, and No, This is Not a Seinfeld Reference from Whatever. Source: Alice Pope’s SCBWI Market Blog.

New Literary Agent Kathleen Rushall (now of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency) by Kathy Temean from Writing and Illustrating. Note: Kathleen is open to “all genres of YA,” “unique, quirky picture books,” and “all genres of character-driven middle grade fiction,” including multicultural and boy-interest. See also an interview with Kathleen from Monica B.W. from Love YA (Kathleen is no longer at Waterside Productions.)

Interview with Beth Potter, Associate Editor, FSG Books for Young Readers by Elizabeth Fama from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “We believe very strongly in author relations and in supporting our authors throughout their careers.”

Zondervan, 2010

One Writer’s Process: Nikki Grimes by Bruce Black from Wordswimmer. Peek: “The quickest way to pull myself out of a dry spell is to read a good book. When I get excited about the wonderful work another author has created, I want to get back to trying to create wonderful work of my own.”

Editorial Director by Alvina Ling from Blue Rose Girls. An explanation of what her promotion at Little, Brown means on a day-to-day professional basis. Peek: “I’m tasked to help shape our fiction list in terms of balance of titles (literary vs commercial, MG vs YA, making sure the books we sign up don’t compete directly with each other in terms of subject matter, etc.”

Time to Punk Rock with Plot: Discovering Alternate Plot Types by Ingrid Sundberg from Peek: “…there is merit to Aristotle’s goal-oriented plot and many agents and editors are looking for that type of plot in a novel. However, one must be true to the story he or she is telling and be purposeful and honest in that telling.”

Connecting at Conferences by Chris Eboch from Write Like a Pro! Peek: “…think of networking as making friends.” See also part 2.

2011 Summer Blog Blast Tour Master Schedule by Colleen Mondor from Chasing Ray.

Do You Know of a Great, New YA Novel Set in the Pacific Northwest? April Henry writes an occasional book column for The Oregonian and is seeking suggestions for new releases to feature.

You Say Potato, Your Character Says Potahto by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: “I want to talk about the more conscious aspects of voice: story voice and how one’s voice can shift from book to book, and then creating characters’ voices, which you can have many of in any given story.”

Interview with R. Ramachandran, Singapore Book Council by Marjorie Coughlan from PaperTigers. Peek: “…because of its multicultural diversity, Singapore can serve as a market place for all books with an Asian focus. It can then also serve as a hub for the buying and selling  of international rights of books published in different countries in Asia.”

Editor Stacy Whitman of Tu Books, a Lee and Low Imprint, by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek: “…worldbuilding for a high fantasy setting in ancient China or Korea will require a lot of research even for an author who is Chinese or Korean–while they know their own culture, they might not know specific ways that people lived or what their bows were made out of or how peoples’ beliefs changed over a couple millennia”

A Guide to Potterisms: Wizardspeak in Translation by Ben Zimmer from National Public Radio. Peek: “On Harry Potter message boards, fans admit that they sometimes try out the incantations from the Harry Potter books in the hopes that they’ll work in real life.”

Cynsational Screening Room

5 Tips for Making a Really Cool YouTube Video to Promote Your Book by Dan Elish, author of The School for the Insanely Gifted (HarperCollins, 2011) from Chuck Sambuchino at Guide to Literary Agents. Note: includes giveaway to U.S./Canada readers. See Dan’s video below. Source: Phil Giunta.

Charlie Joe Jackson Supports Libraries. See also New Voice: Tommy Greenwald on Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading from Cynsations.

Kate Messner: Writing Real Revision from Stenhouse Publishers. Learn more about the book. Note: Kate will be at signing from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 16 at The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid; see information on how to order personalized signed copies of Kate’s books.


Enter to win an author-signed bookmark and copy of Bumped by Megan McCafferty (HarperTeen, 2011). To enter, comment on this post 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!

Last call! Enter to win one of two signed copies of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson (Wiley Publishing, 2011). To enter, comment on this post (click link and scroll to comment), mention “giveaway entry” 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 “Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Deadline: July 15. This giveaway is for U.S.-Canada readers. See also Deborah Halverson on Why Perfectly Nice People Make Perfect Bad Guys.

Around the Kidlitosphere:

More Personally

Highlights of the week included a visit from New York illustrator David Ostow. David is the co-creator of one of my all-time favorite YA novels, So Punk Rock (and Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother), written by his sister Micol Ostow (Flux, 2009). David is pictured here at Opal Divine’s Freehouse on 6th Street in Austin. See a new interview with Micol from A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy. See also David with a T. rex from GregLSBlog.

I also poured over the copyedits of the Diabolical manuscript. It’s now back to my editor at Candlewick, and I’m working on Smolder again.

Available next month.

What else? I signed onto Google Plus, though it’s still a mystery to me.

Amy at A Simple Love of Reading says of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story: “…we get a much deeper understanding for Kieren’s feelings for Quincie, which I found utterly romantic. There’s also danger and lots of action that kept me on the edge of my seat…even though I already knew what was going to happen!”

Personal Links:

From Greg Leitich Smith

Cynsational Events

Jenny Moss will be signing at 2 p.m. July 16 at the Barnes & Noble Arboretum in Austin. Her latest book is Taking Off (Walker, 2011).

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!

New Tantalize Series Covers from Walker (U.K.)

Check out these new Tantalize series covers from Walker (U.K.)! This repackaged design approach was inspired by the cover of the upcoming graphic novel, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle (Candlewick, Walker, 2011).

Here’s a closer look:

More on Tantalize. More on the book from Walker.

More on Eternal. More on the book from Walker.
More on Blessed.

Cynsational Notes

A YA short story, Cat Calls by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2011), set in the Tantalize universe, is now available for free as an e-book for the Nook from Barnes & Noble, for the Kindle from Amazon, and at Books on Board. It’s an and “free” bestseller.

Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, the graphic novel illustrated by Ming Doyle, will be available from Walker in October. (The U.S. release will be in August.)

New Voices: Charlotte Bennardo and Natalie Zaman on Sirenz

See excerpt and reader guide.

Natalie Zaman and Charlotte Bennardo are the first-time authors of Sirenz (Flux, 2011). From the promotional copy:

Bickering frenemies Meg and Shar are doing some serious damage at a midnight sample sale when the fashionistas find themselves arguing over a pair of shoes-with fatal consequences. 

One innocent bystander later, the girls are suddenly at the mercy of Hades, Lord of the Underworld himself. To make them atone for what they’ve done, Hades forces the teens to become special-assignment Sirens, luring to the Underworld an individual whose unholy contract is up.

Finding that delicate balance between their fashion addiction and their new part-time job in the eternal hellfire biz turns out to be harder than Meg and Shar expected, especially when an entire pantheon of Greek deities decides to get involved. Then there’s the matter of the fine print in their own contracts…

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

We wrote a bajillion versions of Sirenz before it found its way into our editor Brian Farrey‘s hands (okay, maybe not that many—but we’re definitely talking double digits here!).

He liked what he saw, but had some changes in mind. This turned out to be nine pages of notes, mostly about the first five chapters which we would keep, but tweak. Then—wait for it—we had to rewrite the last three quarters of the book.

That was a little overwhelming at first, and after we got over the How. Are. We. Going. To. Do. This? We did it—and that new version landed us a contract.

Why Natalie is pink! Follow @Natalie_Zaman on Twitter!

After that, Sirenz went through three more rounds of revisions. We were always excited to get the notes, but then when we actually read them we were, like, Eek! But it always came down to “just do it.” Really.

It was interesting to see what we missed—typos and inconsistencies—with each pass—you think you’ve caught everything… um, no.

Two things that were extremely helpful for us:

First, having an editorial staff that was so supportive. We always felt comfortable asking questions and communicating.

The other thing is that we had each other. Rejection is more bearable, revision not so daunting, and success sweeter when you share it with someone. We realize that most books are not co-authored, but you can still have a writing buddy to team up with.

We learned quite a few things from this experience that:

  • Nothing is sacred—anything can be cut, whittled, changed, trashed…
  • As per above, just because it is cut out of the current manuscript, doesn’t mean that it’s been obliterated from the earth. We take great comfort in the fact that something we wrote that we really loved still exists somewhere, and so can potentially come out again in another form when the time is right.
  • It’s not a matter of if but when.
  • There is always at least one nugget of praise (also known as, you don’t need to change this) in every big steaming bowl of constructive criticism (also known as you really should consider changing this). And while the praise is nice—the criticism made both of us better writers.
  • There will always be something to fix—but there are also things that are just right. Recognize and be open to both—to making changes, and laughing at your own jokes (they are funny!).

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

Follow @charbennardo on Twitter.

Sitting at Char’s poolside, we had several brainstorming sessions as to who these two girls should be. We’re very, and obviously different; Char’s tall, blonde (gray doesn’t count), and an admittedly princessy type while Nat is a short, brunette (was brunette as of this writing—this statistic is subject to change without notice) and slightly gothy.

Yet under the surface, there are things we share. We have kids all around the same age. Writing is more than a passion. We’re funny chicks, and we live with cats.

This idea, that two people that are not alike (we’ve had many people ask, “You’re friends?”) but could still have a fulfilling, productive relationship—could be friends—passed into these characters.

We found ourselves slipping into the characters as we wrote, so the first person narrative evolved as the best means to bring out the character personalities (FYI—we tried writing Sirenz in third person—it just wasn’t the same. But it had to be tried, which illustrates an important lesson in writing. No effort is ever wasted. When something doesn’t work, it underscores when something else does.).

As for exercises, we found that reading aloud dialogue and scenes (actually the whole book) helpful—but we would read each other’s character (in character—we love role-playing!), so we could see any impediments to flow, dialogue, action, etc. And it’s always fun to slip into someone else’s Gucci’s; who wouldn’t want to be Hades?

Ah, the language of young people. We live it. Literally. Between us, we have every age covered from 11 to 19. You can pick up a lot of good material—embarrassing, funny, tender, and of course, the lingo—with kids in the house. It’s all there if you listen.

If you don’t have ready access to teens and tweens, try getting adopted by that family of 19 plus kids. Barring that, try being a mentor (Char mentored three robotics teams for our local high school).

Let’s face it, skulking in the mall might be a little risky—and don’t dress like you’re 15 ’cause that’s just creepy.

Besides all this, spending time with kids brings back memories. Some things are universal, like mean girls at school, or befriending someone you never thought you’d be friends with.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Cynsational Notes

Read Charlotte’s blog and Natalie’s blog.

International Giveaway: Bumped by Megan McCafferty

Enter to win an author-signed bookmark and copy of Bumped by Megan McCafferty (HarperTeen, 2011). From the promotional copy:

When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society. 

Girls sport fake baby bumps, and the school cafeteria stocks folic-acid-infused food.

Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and have never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. 

Up to now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend, Zen, who is way too short for the job.

Harmony has spent her whole life in Goodside, a religious community, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to convince Melody that pregging for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.

From New York Times bestselling author Megan McCafferty comes a strikingly original look at friendship, love, and sisterhood—in a future that is eerily believable. 

To enter, comment on this post 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. Good luck!

SCBWI Interview: Debbie Gonzales on Storytelling in the Digital Age: Embrace the Change

As Austin SCBWI regional advisor, you’re playing a pivotal role in launching Storytelling in the Digital Age: Embrace the Change, a symposium that will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 8 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. How did the idea for this event develop?

A few months ago, our chapter’s Illustrator Chair, Mark G. Mitchell, and illustrators C.G. “Clint” Young and Erik Kuntz presented the idea of gathering a few of Austin’s local digital art specialists to meet together with the intention of sharing ideas, techniques, and talent. The four of us met at a local restaurant, along with ARA Carmen Oliver, and brainstormed aspects of an event that would highlight topics such as digital illustration, e-book creation, developing e-promotional platforms, and the like.

What began as a dinner-time brainstorming session has now become a symposium featuring 15 creative professionals, each of which are enthusiastic about sharing their expertise. Whether the attendee is an illustrator or an author, a techie or a technophobe, a newbie to the craft or an old hand, everyone will benefit from the information being presented.

Actually, the word symposium is defined as a social gathering where there is a free exchange of ideas. That is exactly what I anticipate will happen during this event.

What topics will be highlighted?

Oh, goodness, where to start? A central focus will be on the creation of, the development, and the legalities involved in publication, distribution, and promotion of digital books and those who craft them. We’re going to feature discussions about social media, the developing an effective web presence, blogging and vlogging, creating promotional trailers, using YouTube as a teaching tool, app creation, and more. We’ll talk about how the roles of independent bookseller and the SCBWI in the digital age. There also will be illustrators giving hands-on demonstrations.

What will the program offer to illustrators?

So very much! Illustrators will learn about the latest in animation and artistic techniques using a variety of software. They’ll learn how to compose elaborate promotional projects in practical, simplistic, understandable, hands-on ways. And they will have the time and space to gather together to share ideas.

To writers?

E-published in conjunction with
Andrea Brown Literary, 2011

Along with the plethora of presentations focusing on book promotions, two of our presenters will be talking about their e-book publishing experience. Author Lindsey Lane will discuss the process of transforming her out-of-print picture book into an app, and author P.J. Hoover will discuss the publication of her new YA novel – first as an e-book, then as a print publication.

We will have two new app publishers – Deanna Roy of Casey Shay Press and Meridith Blank Taylor of Great Hills Publishing – who will discuss submission strategies and the process by which a book becomes an app.

Should beginners consider signing up? Or is this more of an advanced publishing-oriented program?

Yes, yes…of course beginners should consider signing up, as well as the advanced professional. Because of the wide spectrum of topics offered, both the newbie and the pro will glean something of value from the symposium.

For instance, if someone is confused about the value of Twitter, there will be someone there who will touch on the topic. Or if someone is weighing the pros and cons of e-publishing, our presenters can shed an experienced light on their decision. Clever techniques for book trailer creation will be covered. Strategies to get one’s work noticed through utilization social media will be hot topics.

Is there a craft element?

Yes. Not only will attendees witness what can be done digitally, they will learn how to do it. This event is all about craft, though not in the typical way we’re used to thinking about it.

Instead of considering the development of plot, character, or premise, we’ll be dabbling in the unlimited potentiality of the pixel.

In new and/or rapidly developing areas, how did you identify qualified speakers?

We are so lucky to be surrounded by excellence here in Austin. First of all, Erik Kuntz, Clint Young, and Mark G. Mitchell capitalized on their creative relationships with the Inklings, a group of highly accomplished illustrators who share their time and talents monthly.

Through their connections we were able to enlist Amanda Williams, the creator of the wildly popular IPad app, Spider; illustrators Joel Hickerson and Bear James; Marsha Riti, Lalena Fisher, and Shelly Ann Jackson – also known as The Girllustrators; social media expert Nick Alter, and Ezra Weinstein founder of InteractBooks.

Being that the development of a strong web presence is critical to one’s book-selling success, it seemed natural to develop the business component of the event. Erik leads the way by demonstrating how to create and maintain one’s web persona. Marketing expert, Zack Gonzales, will teach us how to use new software called xtranormal to create digital promotional trailers. Author P.J. Hoover will demonstrate the nuts and bolts of creating professional digital projects.

Located at 6th & Lamar in Austin.

Finally, we want to know how folks at BookPeople, Austin’s flagship independent bookstore, and SCBWI view their roles in the digital publishing world. So, BookKids marketing director Mandy Brooks, BookKids buyer Meghan Goel and SCBWI national executive director Lin Oliver were invited to participate.

Lin will be speaking to us via Skype, which seems quite suiting, don’t you think?

The cost of the event ($75 for members/$100 for non-members) is a bargain. Why was it important to you to keep costs low?

Keeping the cost affordable makes it more inclusive. There will be such an outpouring of inspiration and sharing of ideas that anyone involved in the world children’s literature will benefit, and we will delight hosting them!

Cynsational Notes

Debbie Gonzales has enjoyed a long and fabulous career in education serving as a classroom teacher, a school administrator, an educational consultant, a curriculum designer, and a writing workshop instructor with Austin’s Badgerdog Literary Publishing.

She’s currently working as an adjunct faculty member at St. Edward’s University. Debbie earned an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults and has published a series of early-readers with New Zealand’s Gilt Edge Publishing.

She’s a contributor for ReaderKidZ, a website committed to fostering a love of reading for kids ages K-5, and hosts Simple Saturday, a website celebrating reading, writing and simplistic family fun.

New Voice: Karyn Henley on Breath of Angel

A map of Melaia’s World.

Karyn Henley is the first-time author of Breath of Angel (WaterBrook/Random House, 2011)(teacher guide (PDF)). From the promotional copy:

“The stranger’s cloak fell back, and with it, a long, white blood-stained wing.”

Melaia, a young priestess, witnesses the gruesome murder of an emaciated stranger in the temple courtyard. Just after she discovers wings on the stranger, the murderer enters the temple, and what Melaia has known only through song and story suddenly takes on flesh. Angels and shape-shifters were myths and stories . . . until now.

Melaia finds herself in the middle of a blood feud between two immortal brothers who destroyed the stairway to heaven, stranding angels in the earthly realm. 

When the feud turns violent and Melaia becomes a target, she finds refuge with a band of wandering angels attempting to restore the stairway. But the restoration is impossible without the repayment of an ancient debt, the “breath of angel, blood of man,” a payment that involves Melaia’s heart, soul, and destiny.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2011, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

Debuting in 2011 was a surprise, but a long-awaited one. In 2002, the first semester of my MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I began what became my debut novel.

I was already published (for young children and teachers), but had never tried to write a novel. This one became my MFA creative thesis, completed for graduation in 2004. I began submitting the manuscript to publishers and agents right away, but rejection notes and feedback from my critique group told me the manuscript needed work.

Now I see that I needed to learn more about crafting scenes, specifically how to “turn” a scene, creating a twist or reveal while maintaining the momentum of the story. I also needed to learn how to deal with backstory – which, as I learned, is crucial in creating those turns, twists, and reveals.

In short, I had a lot of learning to do. I attended writing seminars, read craft books, and listened to the published writers in my critique group. The journey from start to finding an agent took seven years. It took my agent another year to find a publisher. Then it was another year to publication. So all in all, nine years.

How did I keep the faith? The encouragement of my critique group was crucial, as was the knowledge that my MFA mentors believed in me. But the other factor was that I felt like I was making progress, even if it was turtle-slow. I came to understand that most of the life of a writer is spent in the process of writing, not with the end product. So I sink into the process and truly enjoy it, very grateful for the privilege of writing.

As someone with a MFA in Writing for Children (and Young Adults), how did your education help you advance in your craft? What advice do you have for other MFA students/graduates in making the transition between school and publishing as a business?

Karyn makes her home in Nashville.

My education challenged me to stretch. The MFA program also provided a link with critique partners and a supportive community who happily cheered me on.

I would never have written a novel if my first adviser at the MFA program hadn’t challenged me to move out of my comfort zone. I entered the program to learn how to better write picture books. But when my adviser asked me what I was afraid of, I realized I was afraid to write a novel. Novels are marathons as opposed to short sprints, and I didn’t believe I could go the distance and reach the finish line. But I knew that my fear of failure meant I had to do what I was afraid of.

As for the transition into publishing, I learned one size doesn’t fit all. It’s not helpful to measure my career by other writers’ careers. Some of my class published as soon as they graduated. Others are still working on their manuscripts, still submitting, still looking for agents and publishers.

It’s sometimes hard to cheer the successes of others when you’re wondering why you’re not there yet, waiting for your time to come.

The reality is, both success and failure have their own difficulties. Being published doesn’t solve your problems. It just gives you new ones.

That’s where the community of fellow writers is so important. Published or unpublished, we all need each other, and it’s a joy to share the process with a community of writing-focused friends.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Giveaway: First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci (Scholastic Canada, November 2011) from Steven R. McEvoy from Book Reviews and More. Deadline: Aug. 1. Note: North America/U.K. readers are eligible; see link for more details.

Barbara Lalicki on Breaking Into Children’s Books from The Gatekeepers Post. Barbara is a senior vice president and editorial director at HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Finding Your Wild and Precious Voice by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: “…some writers do need to go in search of their true voice; others may only need to excavate or re-discover theirs. I suspect this may be especially true when writing stories for kids—we have to be able to reconnect with our child’s voice.”

Roundup of Children’s Literacy and Reading News by Carol H. Rasco from Rasco from RIF. Includes reading-related events, research, early childhood education and suggestions for growing book worms.

Writing Craft: Tension on the Page or Mico-Tension by Sarah Blake Johnson from Through the Tollbooth. Six techniques to keep readers turning pages.

Interview with Agent Barry Goldblatt from Alice Pope’s SCBWI Children’s Market Blog. Peek: “…children’s publishing over the last ten years has gotten bigger and for the most part better, and it’s meant there are more terrific writers to discover, and more great books to sell and champion!”

What’s in a Name? (When Should You Use a Pseudonym?) by literary agent Miriam Kriss from Chuck Sambuchino from Guide to Literary Agents. Peek: “…what aspiring authors don’t tend to give a lot of thought to is whether they want it to be their real name on that cover and if not who it should be instead.”

 Karen Sander‘s Tankborn (Tu Books, 2011)

Thoughts on Post-Apocalyptic World Building from Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire. Peek: “If you include newspaper clippings/stories as metatext to support the main narrative, make sure that it actually sounds like a news clipping.” Note: Stacy is the editor at Tu Books/Lee & Low.

Inkpop: Creative Writing Community for Teens from HarperCollins. Note: read, write, connect!

The Power of “I Can” by Danyelle Leafty from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “…the thing to remember is that you have those rejections because you’re doing something to attain your dream. People who don’t get rejected, haven’t really tried.”

VCFA Guest Post: Props for Emotion: The Objective Correlative Unveiled by C.M. McCarthy from Mary Kole at Peek: “As it turns out, the objective correlative is neither a Disney antagonist’s prop nor a phrase created to make fledgling writers feel like fools.”

An Illustration from Rough Sketch to Final Painting by Tom Shefelman from Inside Shefelman Books. Peek: “Here you can see that I changed the perspective angle and brought the farm wagon more into the picture.”

Subplot Basics by Sarah Aronson from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “It comes from one of two places. It is made of either your main character’s secondary wants—a plot layer or a secondary character’s primary wants.” See also Sarah on Everything Else I Know About Subplots.

Mad Scientist’s Son: Rule-breaking by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: “You aren’t supposed to do that. I can remember an instructor I worked with at Vermont College telling me that it was a bad idea when I did it in a manuscript I wrote over ten years ago. She was right then.”

Giveaway: Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. by Medeia Sharif (Flux, 2011), Plus Three Packages of Godiva chocolate and signed bookmarks from Sharifwrites. Deadline: July 15. Note: U.S. readers are eligible; see link for details.

Kristen Lamb on Scene Antagonists and Big Boss Troublemakers from Adventures in Children’s Publishing. Peek: “When helping writers plot, I often suggest that they write their ending first. Many look at me like I just asked them to reverse the earth’s orbit around the sun. Why?” Note: includes a discussion of types of antagonists.

Perspiration: Professional Critiques from Children’s & YA Lit Resources. Note: a listing of private teachers and writing coaches.

The Writing Life: Letting Go, Moving On by Deborah J. Ross from Book View Cafe. Peek: “Part of a writer’s maturation process is accepting that sometimes you hit the mark and sometimes you don’t. You do the best you can with each story, reaching to make each one better.” See also “Come On, Baby, Let’s Start New” — On Getting Back Together with a Manuscript from The Intern. Source: Elizabeth Scott.

Giveaway Reminder

Enter to win one of two signed copies of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson (Wiley Publishing, 2011).

To enter, comment on this post (click link and scroll to comment), mention “giveaway entry” 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 “Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies” in the subject line. Author-sponsored.

Deadline: July 15. This giveaway is for U.S.-Canada readers.

See also Deborah Halverson on Why Perfectly Nice People Make Perfect Bad Guys.

Cynsational Screening Room

Men Running on Tanks and the Truth About Book Editors: YA author John Green on working with editor Julie Strauss-Gabel of Dutton/Penguin. Source: Adventures in Children’s Publishing, which offers several more awesome links regarding craft, critiquing, inspiration, self-editing, the market, social media and more.

Christopher Paolini Delivers the Inheritance Manuscript from Random Books.

Check out the book trailer for Race the Wild Wind: A Story of the Sable Island Horses by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Layne Johnson (Bloomsbury/Walker, 2011).

Check out the book trailer for Traffic Pups by Michelle Meadows, illustrated by Dan Andreasen (Simon & Schuster, 2011).

Check out the book trailer for Beyond Lucky by Sarah Aronson (Dial, 2011). See also an interview with Sarah about the book from Uma Krishnaswami at Writing with a Broken Tusk. Don’t miss part two.

Check out the book trailer for Into the Trap by Craig Moodie (Roaring Brook, 2011). See recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog.

Jeff Crosby’s Wiener Wolf Launch Party

 ” will be here handing out information on how you can adopt a darling dachshund yourself – and will be bringing one of those wiener dogs for us to meet!

Jeff Crosby launched Weiner Wolf (Hyperion, 2011) July 2 at BookPeople in Austin.
The event featured hot dogs from Frank.
Granny cupcakes.
Wolf cupcakes.
Granny (AKA Shelley Ann Jackson) with Lindsey Lane and wiener dog.
More Personally
Mary Kole
Happy belated Independence Day to those of you who celebrate it!
I must admit to working on the holiday, however, I did take time the previous weekend to attend Jeff Crosby‘s terrific launch party for Wiener Wolf (Hyperion, 2011) at BookPeople (see above) and to enjoy barbecue at County Line on the Lake.
In addition, Mary Kole of and Andrea Brown Literary stopped by for a chat. (Love the hat.)
On the author front, I zipped off my notes on the initial sketches of the Eternal graphic novel, illustrated by Ming Doyle, and poured through the copy-edited manuscript of Diabolical, which is the fourth book in the Tantalize series and will be out in January.

I also had the honor of judging the 2011 Prize for Young Writers at Hunger Mountain. Congratulations to the winners, honorees, and finalists! Keep writing!

Personal Links:
Tweet of the Week: @varianjohnson Introducing Savannah Parker Johnson. Born 7/6/2011

Latest read: Water Balloon by Audrey Vernick (Clarion, September 2011).
Cynsational Events
Jenny Moss will be signing at 2 p.m. July 16 at the Barnes & Noble Arboretum in Austin. Her latest book is Taking Off (Walker, 2011).
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!

See y’all there!