Guest Post: Jen Nadol on Oh No! Someone Used My Idea! & The Vision ARC Giveaway

By Jen Nadol

You’ve got a great story concept. The minute it comes to you, scenes start unfolding in your head, plot points filling in faster than you can remember them. You grab a piece of paper and jot down ideas before they slip away.

You start writing. Chapter after chapter. Some easier than others, but still with that exhilarating sense that this is a winner. A story that will sell. Something new. Fresh.

And then one day you’re walking through the bookstore or scrolling through Publishers Lunch and you see it: your concept, already on the shelves or listed in the latest deals.

Has this happened to you?

It’s happened to me. Twice.

My debut novel, The Mark (Bloomsbury, 2010), was finished and in production when I heard about not one, but two other YA books coming out within a few months of it with nearly the same concept.

Take a look at these descriptions:

The Mark: Cassie knows when someone is about to die. Not how or where, only when: today.

My Soul To Take by Rachel Vincent: She doesn’t see dead people, but she senses when someone near her is about to die.

Numbers by Rachel Ward: When Jem Marsh looks into a person’s eyes, she sees the date of their death.

Oh, no! I thought. My new, fresh, exciting idea has already been used!

It was an agonizing, terrifying, deflating moment.

What did I do? The only thing I could: after moping around for a while feeling rotten, I ignored those other books. I didn’t look them up again or follow their reviews or sales numbers. And I certainly didn’t read them.

Until now. Two years later I was finally un-chicken enough to take a peek.

Turns out I was right to avoid them. Not because they’re just like my book (fear #1) – they’re not.

But because of the doubt the few similarities would have planted in my head. That insidious, parasitic second-guessing that is a writer’s worst enemy: Should I change that character’s name? Have her live with an uncle instead of an aunt? Cut that line that sounds too much like one in another book?

Re-write this scene? Or what about this one? Make the narrator male? Or instead of a glow, maybe it should be something else…

You can see how that might be unproductive.

Fear #2 – that these books might influence my writing – was real. The Mark was beyond my ability to change, but I had a sequel to write, one that wouldn’t benefit from shaken confidence.

Writing is a leap of faith. It’s one thing to examine your characters and plot to make them as good and authentic as you can. But when you stop believing in yourself and your story and your characters and start changing them just to fit a mold or break one, you lose something essential to the process: your unique voice and point of view.

Writer Audre Lord said: There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.

Of course it would be better if no one ever came up with the same fabulous concept you did, but what are the chances of that? And yes, there is probably a saturation point for certain ideas. But if you don’t know of five or ten books already out there, that point probably isn’t close. Vampires have proven there’s ample room for variations on a theme.

So if it happens to you, I say believe in your story and write it anyway. Because even if your basic concept is the same, through your eyes and with your voice, it will still be unique.

At least, I’m banking on that for my WIP, a novel called The Box that was eighty percent drafted when I read about the new Jay Asher/Carolyn Mackler book The Future of Us.

The concept? Teens accidentally see a slice of their future.

The same as my new, exciting, fresh novel. Oh no.

As you might have guessed, I wrote it anyway.

Cynsational Notes

Enter to win an advanced reader copy of The Vision by Jen Nadol (Bloomsbury, September 2011). From the promotional copy:

Cassie Renfield knows the mark tells her when someone is going to die and that she can intervene and attempt to change fate. But she still doesn’t understand the consequences, especially whether saving one life dooms another.

With no family left to offer guidance, Cassie goes in search of others like her. But when she meets Demetria, a troubled girl who seems to have the same power, Cassie finds the truth isn’t at all what she expected. And then there’s her heady new romance with bad boy Zander. Dating him has much graver repercussions than Cassie could ever have imagined, forcing her to make choices that cut to the essence of who she is and what she believes.

The Vision is a riveting sequel to The Mark, offering readers a romance with big stakes and a new ethical dilemma with no easy answers.

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 email Cynthia directly with “The Mark” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada entries only. Deadline: midnight CST Sept. 6.

In Memory: Children’s Author Kezi Matthews

From the ALAN Newsletter:

Beverly ‘Kezi’ Matthews passed away on Nov. 16, 2010. After an early career in radio and television, both on and off the air, Beverly settled into a lengthy career of creating original artist dolls and then took up writing. Within a short time, she became an award winning novelist, writing three powerful novels–Scorpio’s Child (Cricket, 2001), Flying Lessons (Cricket, 2002), and John Riley’s Daughter (Cricket, 2000)–and a number of short stories for young people.”

See also Kezi is remembered by doll makers from around the world.

Guest Post: Lindsey Lane on From a Print Picture Book to an App & Giveaway of Snuggle Mountain App

By Lindsey Lane

The inspiration for the digital transformation of Snuggle Mountain (Clarion, 2003/PicPocket, 2011) from a hardcover picture book into an app happened when I found out the original picture book was going out of print.

As you can imagine, having a book go out of print is a sad day for an author. Especially for me. I love kids, and I love going into classrooms and libraries to read Snuggle Mountain to little ones. I love hearing them laugh, watching their eyes grow wide with worry about the two-headed giant and then, as I turn the page to the big reveal, hearing them exclaim, “Hey, it’s Mom and Dad!”

I’ll never forget this one little boy, sighing, when I finished reading and saying, “That was the best book ever.” I tell you, those little uncensored reviews are like chocolates for the spirit.

In December 2007, I heard that Clarion had decided to let Snuggle Mountain go out of stock (that’s sometimes the step before going out of print). I thought about getting the rights back then and finding a smaller publisher to print a softcover version, but I was about to start the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) and I wanted to focus on craft, not publishing.

At my second residency at VCFA in January 2009, Jean Gralley came to speak to the students and faculty about ebooks. Basically, Jean’s talk was about the gigantic possibilities of picture books in the digital format. In the discussion afterward, Jean acknowledged that some people are quite unhappy about ebooks because they think that ebooks and screens spell the death of picture books.

I remember Tim Wynne-Jones saying that people had the same fear of television killing theater. It didn’t happen.

Jean’s presentation didn’t spell doom to me. In fact, it kind of set my brain on fire.

I love the possibilities of interactive screens as a way for kids to explore words and images and ideas. Yes, I still love the lap and the print picture book and turning the pages. For me, it’s not an either/or situation. It’s both.

Our world is changing, and it now includes both paradigms: the page and the screen.

Sure enough, while I was immersing myself in the MFA program at VCFA, the digital world was rapidly expanding. The IPhone debuted in 2007. Likewise, the first ereader. Other smart phones flooded the market. Kindle and Nook arrived on the scene. In 2010, the iPad debuted and Amazon announced it was selling more ebooks than hardcover books.  

By the time I graduated from VCFA in July 2010, the world of books as we knew it was undergoing a sea of change. And the tsunami of apps was just beginning.

Remember that expression, “Is there an app for that?” Remember way back in 2010, when we’d ask that question, wondering if someone had designed a tool, an app, to, say, find a parking space, scan bar codes for price comparison or tell us what song was playing in an elevator? While all of these reading platforms were changing, there was another game changer: the app. Apple, in particular, was focused on this thing called an app. At first, most people were using apps as tools or games, but the app is a fundamentally multimedia experience and that is why it lent itself to picture books.

The difference between eBooks and apps is simple. eBooks are text heavy/image light. They are a cost-efficient way of making your book available on a multitude of eReading devices, from a variety of retailers, thanks to the ePub format. The app can be an in-depth reference guide, a great tool, a game. It can combine art and text, sound and movement. It is multifaceted, and the app market exploded when smart phones became the device to carry in your pocket.

Picture books can be eBooks, but they don’t, in my opinion, work very well because what you see on the screen of an eReader is one page. That’s fine for the text-only reading experience. But picture books, as we know, are a much different species. Illustrators use the entire two-page spread to tell a story. They play with the gutter. They think about the placement of words on the page. Every page, every spread, is a complete work of art.

Picture books don’t work very well on eReaders because you can only see one page, one half of an illustration. Apps are another story. Apps take the artwork on the two-page spread and fit it to the smartphone or tablet screen. Apps could at last do justice to the artwork in picture books.

Right after I graduated, I got busy getting the rights to Snuggle Mountain reverted to me.

Melissa Iwai

Thanks to you, Cyn, I went to Aimee Bissonette of Little Buffalo Law. She looked at my rights reversion clause in my contract with Clarion (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and helped me write the official reversion request letter.

Aimee was prepared to step in if there were any problems, but there weren’t. Clarion was most gracious, and the rights reverted to illustrator Melissa Iwai and me in January 2011.

At that same time, a coalition of respected children’s trade book authors’ and illustrators started a blog called e is for book, focused on experiences developing their books for electronic media. (Thank you, Greg Pincus, for announcing their debut.) Their blog posts helped me understand the difference between eReaders and apps.

I was intrigued by success stories like the transition of Elizabeth Dulemba‘s picture book Lula’s Brew into an iPhone and iPad app.

One of the posts talked about PicPocket Books. I contacted Lynette Mattke of PicPocket and sent her one of the few remaining copies of Snuggle Mountain. She loved it. Melissa and I liked that PicPocket was dedicated to keeping the integrity of the book. Apps have the inherent temptation to become more of a game.

Lynette made the choice to remain true to the books she develops into apps. She told us up front that if we were more interested in games, then we should look elsewhere. Melissa and I talked later, and we agreed that PicPocket felt like a good fit. At the time, PicPocket had done about two dozen apps and Lynette had started MomswithApps, a collaborative group of family-friendly developers seeking to promote quality apps for kids and families.

We did explore other app developers. In fact, it was kind of crazy for a while because it seemed like every other day, there would be a new app developer popping up.

We went with PicPocket because, as I said to Melissa, we were just getting into this big e-stream, why not be with a boutique developer and figure it out as we go along? So that’s what we did.

We signed the contract in March. I immediately wrote little bits of dialogue for my protagonist, Emma, to say in addition to the text on the page. Meanwhile, Melissa was working her magic with the illustrations and getting them to fit the iPad and iPhone format. She also animated some of the art work (e.g. the wagging dog tail) and put little eyes in the bed covers to enhance her already brilliant design, which involved hiding the giants’ faces in the wrinkles and folds of the covers. 

In April, I had a Skype visit with the Lynette in which she basically showed me the Snuggle Mountain app on her computer. It was amazing.

Lindsey Lane

One word of caution: because apps are applications (read: software), you really need to check all the bells and whistles that your app offers. Software formatting errors are the digital version of typos. 

The good news is app updates are pretty normal, and they can fix your ‘typo’ with ease. 

We signed a contract in March, and the app was available for purchase in May. 

In the traditional publishing world, the standard advice is to try to sell your first print run in the first year your book is out. 

Having an app is different. You still need to do marketing every day, but you don’t have books taking up warehouse space so the pressure is a bit different. In a way, there’s more freedom.

Also the price point (Snuggle Mountain IPhone app is $1.99 and the IPad app is $2.99) is hugely different. I remember preparing for an airplane rides with my daughter when she was a toddler. I would stock up on little toys to keep her occupied on the plane. Now parents can tuck a few book apps on their smart phones or tablets for a trip. 

Learn more!

It’s kind of exciting, figuring out new ways to promote your book as an app. Currently, I am working on a trailer for the Snuggle Mountain app, tweaking my website to feature the app, and doing guest posts for blogs. 

I am also looking forward to taking this new format into schools and libraries. 

On Oct. 8, Austin SCBWI is presenting a symposium called Storytelling in the Digital Age and I’m thrilled to be one of the speakers.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three Snuggle Mountain apps (IPhone and IPad users only). 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 Cynthia directly with “Snuggle Mountain app” in the subject line. Author sponsored. Deadline: Sept. 26.

For extra entries (itemize efforts in your entry comment/email with relevant links):

  • Blog about this giveaway
  • Share the link to this post on facebook
  • Share the link to this post on Twitter
  • Share the link to this post on Google+ 
  • Like Lindsey’s Facebook author page

Limit 5 entries.

Guest Post: Gary Paulsen on Writing About Boys – Giveaway of Liar, Liar and Flat Broke

By Gary Paulsen

I write about boys because I am a boy. And I write humor because so much about being a boy is funny. Not at the time, of course, but usually looking back and almost always from the perspective of others.

I don’t remember thinking it was funny when I was 12 and kept tripping over my own feet, for example, but I laughed until I nearly peed myself watching my own son try to figure out the pull of gravity when puberty hit him.

I read once that comedy is tragedy plus time and also that memories are what you remember, not necessarily what happened. So it’s good for me to revisit my own adolescence and give it a funnier spin.

Kevin came to be a few years back when someone lied to me. I remember feeling disgusted and thinking, “That’s not even a good lie. And you’re not really selling it. You’ve got to be able to do better than that.”

And then I heard Kevin’s voice: “I’m the best liar you’ll ever meet.”

He’s not one of my usual characters—he’s glib and self-assured in an almost tragically misguided way. He can’t seem to pull it together but he doesn’t see that about himself.

I liked the idea that, all evidence to the contrary, this boy would act as if it was impossible for him to fail. Despite all the proof that keeps stacking up that he has no idea what he’s doing, he’s self-confident. Clueless, but relentless in his certainty.

I wrote Liar, Liar (Random House, 2011), and I thought I was done with Kevin’s story. But then Flat Broke (Random House, 2011) came along because I’d gotten a letter from someone who’d read Lawn Boy (Random House, 2007) and said he didn’t think it would be that easy to get filthy stinking rich as a 14-year-old.

And then Crush (coming May 2012) because someone asked me about Harris and Me (Harcourt, 1993) and the scene where I could not figure out how to talk to a girl I liked when I was a kid and I remembered the feeling of being tongue-tied, paralyzed with fear, even though I couldn’t stop thinking about her.

Sometimes I think I’d be happy to write a book a year about Kevin in between the other books I have in mind. Perpetually 14, perennially messing up, everlastingly optimistic.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win Liar, Liar and Flat Broke by Gary Paulsen (Random House, 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 “Paulsen” in the subject line. Publisher sponsored. Deadline: Sept. 16. U.S. readers eligible.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Guest Post: Author Gretchen McNeil and Agent Ginger Clark Get Up Close and Personal from YA Highway. Peek: “I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of exorcism and demonic possession, and by the fact that the Catholic Church is the only western religion with a codified exorcism ritual.

“Pope Benedict the XVI even issued an edict instructing all archdioceses around the world to send one priest to the Vatican for official exorcist training.” More on Gretchen and Ginger.

From the promotional copy:

Fifteen-year-old Bridget Liu just wants to be left alone: by her mom, but the cute son of a local police sergeant, and by the eerie voices she can suddenly and inexplicably hear. Unfortunately for Bridget, it turns out the voices are demons – and Bridget has the rare ability to banish them back to whatever hell they came from.

Terrified to tell people about her new power, Bridget confides in a local priest who enlists her help in increasingly dangerous cases of demonic possession. But just as she is starting to come to terms with her new power, Bridget receives a startling message from one of the demons. Now Bridget must unlock the secret to the demons’ plan before someone close to her winds up dead – or worse, the human vessel of a demon king.

See also Diversity is in the Eye of the Beholdor by Gretch from Diversity in YA Fiction, and check out the book trailer from HarperTeen.

More News

Magical Realism in YA: Writing the Familiar with a Fantastical Twist by Nova Ren Suma from WriteOnCon. Peek: “Some of the magic of magical realism is how well-threaded the impossible events of the story will be into an otherwise completely recognizable reality.”

Congratulations to Jeanette Larson, whose debut picture book, Hummingbirds: Fact and Folklore from the Americas (Charlesbridge) will represent Texas on the “Great Reads from Great Places” map distributed at the 2011 National Book Festival. Only one book is selected by each state to represent that state.” Source: Austin SCBWI.

YA Books with Boy Appeal: a bibliography of recommendations from Saundra Mitchell. Note: Saundra also discusses the larger societal context around boys and the presumption that they can’t root for girl heroes (and now consider the gender composition of, say, Congress).

Where Stories Come From by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: “…our richest, most authentic stories come out of our own traumas and heartbreaks. Not necessarily in a direct correlation—I was beaten as a child therefore I will write about child abuse. But rather the core emotional issues, the wounds and scars that have shaped us will also shape our stories.”

A Safer Way to Get Noticed by Jane Lebak from Blog. Peek: “Some people say breaking the rules will help you stand out, but it seems to me that with the rule-followers in the minority, there’s a safer way to get noticed.”

O How the Mighty Have Fallen: A Copyediting Homily in One Very Long Act by J. Anderson Coats from EMU’s Debuts. Peek: “…my inner history geek is fighting it out with my panicky writer geek, and I’m running words through the Oxford English Dictionary, trying very hard not to get sidetracked by the general awesomeness of the Oxford English Dictionary or write out etymologies in the margins.”

The Bridge Between Us: Connecting with Your Reader Through Theme by Teresa Harris from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “Theme should never be stated outright. It exists in subtext, lurking in the meanings of the words we choose, the things our characters say, their actions, even the silence on the page. Subtlety is key. Subtext should exist in an ethereal form. If the story is the body, the subtext is its soul.”

The New School in New York City offers an MFA program in Writing for Children. Peek: “The creative writing graduate program is designed to be completed in two years of full-time study. All courses and most Writer’s Life Colloquium events are conveniently scheduled in the evening. At this time, part-time study is not an option, and, due to the integral nature of the curriculum, transfer credits are not accepted.”

Article Versus Book: Choosing the Right Idea from K.L. Going. Peek: “At first this idea seemed novel-worthy, but as I began to think about it, I wondered if it would really carry through for several hundred pages.” Note: an excerpt from Kelly’s book, Writing and Selling the YA Novel (Writers Digest, 2008).

So What If Your Book Doesn’t Sell? Or Sell Right Away? by Jennifer Laughran from Jennifer Represents. Peek: “A recent agency book was sold after 4 years of submission and 45+ editor rejections, and now has starred reviews and is going places. It happens, it really does.”

Children’s Literature Association Call for Papers: Philippine Children’s Literature from Tarie at Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind. Peek: “The International Committee of the Children’s Literature Association is planning a special country focus panel on the Philippines, to be presented at the 39th Children’s Literature Association Conference, to be held at Simmons College, Boston from June 14 to June 16. The committee invites paper proposals that focus on any aspect of Philippine children’s literature.”

Get Started Guide: Blogging for Writers from Jane Friedman. Peek: “You have to be patient. Are you willing to commit to blogging for more than a year?”

Two Signs of Overwriting and Why It’s a Problem by Mary Kole from Peek: “One of these images would’ve been fine. Two is pushing it. Three, and then all the extra cold imagery heaped on top? That’s too much.”

Should You Pitch (and Sign With) a New Agent? by Chuck Sambuchino from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Agents share contacts and resources. If your agent is the new girl at an agency with five people, those other four agents will help her (and you) with submissions. She’s new, but not alone.” Source: Kathy Temean at Writing and Illustrating.

Writing about Race in Speculative Fiction by Malinda Lo from Books, Food, Queer Stuff, Life. Peek: “I think that writers really cannot be beholden to political correctness. If a word fits, use it. That’s what words are for. Of course you have to be careful about which word to use, but you have to be careful about which word to use in every sentence.”

Absent Parents in Children’s Literature by Matthew MacNish from Project Mayhem: The Manic Minds of Middle Grade Writers. Peek: “I’m trying to think of a scenario in which normal, healthy, present parents could be a part of a YA or MG novel. I can’t think of a single one I’ve read myself. I think I may have to write one.”

Is It Dark in Here, Or Is It Just the YA? by Mindy McGinnis from Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire. Peek: “…when I first started my job as a YA librarian I was more than a little taken aback by what I could find in the pages of the books I was processing. Then I took a look at my patrons and began to understand.”

Reminder: KidLitCon Teams Up with RIF by Colleen Mondor from KidLitosphere Central. Donate today!

Anneographies: top blog for picture book biographies posts on the subject’s birthdays. Highest Recommendation.

Random Acts of Publicity Week by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “The 3rd Annual Random Acts of Publicity, September 6-8, 2011 is a week to celebrate your Friend’s book, or your favorite book, by doing a Random Act of Publicity: Blog, link, Like, review, or talk about the book . (BLLuRT it Out!) Daily posts here on Fiction Notes ( will offer tips, wisdom and prizes for your friend!” Twitter: Use #RAP2011 Note: Darcy will also be offering interviews with top children’s-YA literature publicists and giving away copies of The Book Trailer Manual.

Help Me Help a Library – Win Something and Be Awesome from Carrie Jones. A library in Cherryfield, Maine is $3000 short of its annual budget. Bestselling author (and all-around great human) Carries Jones will donate $1 to that library for each comment on the linked post, and by commenting (and other awareness-raising activities) you have a chance to win Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories, edited by Carrie and Megan Kelley Hall (HarperTeen, 2011) or After Obsession by Carrie and Steven E. Wedel (Bloomsbury).

Connecting with Your Reader Through Theme: Part II Theme and Character by Teresa Harris from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “Characters are a reader’s anchor in a story. They drive everything, including theme. If a reader does not connect with or feel for acharacter at all, a writer has lost the chance to connect with her reader.”

The Bent Agency is seeking an intern who specializes in children’s-YA literature, especially middle grade and YA. Peek: “If you’re a fan of books by M.T. Anderson, Mary E. Pearson, Nancy Farmer, Gennifer Choldenko, or Jack Gantos your tastes will likely be a good fit for ours. This internship is remote so you don’t need to live in NYC.” Source: Adventures in Children’s Publishing, which likewise features a terrific weekly roundup of kidlitosphere posts.

Book of the Year 2011 Winners from the Children’s Book Council of Australia. Note: list of winners and honor books at various age levels/formats.

Cynsational Giveaway

Celebrate the release of my first graphic novel by entering to win the Tantalize: Kieren’s Story Howling Great Giveaway!

The prize includes: author-autographed copy of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle; Barbecue Lovers Guide to Austin by Gloria Corral; “Living with Wolves” DVD from the Discovery Channel; adult-size costume bat wings; bat finger puppet; armadillo puppet; wolf finger puppet; bear finger puppet; opossum finger puppet; flashing cat key chain, armadillo egg candies; mini journal; Austin magnet; and audio edition of Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith, read by Kim Mai Guest (Listening Library/Random House)

    To enter, comment on this post (click link and scroll) 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 “Tantalize: Kieren’s Story” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Deadline: Sept. 6.

    For extra entries (itemize efforts in your entry comment/email with relevant links):

    Limit 8 entries. This giveaway is for international readers–everyone is eligible!

    In other news, the winner of Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri (Candlewick, 2011) is Beth from New Hampshire! Thanks to Greg and everyone who entered!

    Austin Scene

    Tom Angleberger presents Origami Yoda and Darth Paper Strikes Back at BookPeople.
    Tom models his end cap.
    Jill Alexander presents Paradise (Feiwel) at BookPeople.
    Delicious tie-in cookies!

    More Personally

    Wow! It’s the U.S. release week for my first graphic novel, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Candlewick). Back when I was a kid, my dad would load me up in the Oldsmobile time and time again to pick up comics at the local convenience store. Who would’ve guessed it would lead to this?

    Special thanks to Jessica Lee Anderson, Shelli Cornelison, Alison Dellenbaugh, Debbi Michiko Florence, Bethany Hegedus, K.A. Holt, P.J. Hoover, Uma Krishnaswami, Jeanette Larson, Mitali Perkins, Carmen Oliver, Jama Rattigan, Liz Garton Scanlon, Greg Leitich Smith, Don Tate, Audrey Vernick, and everyone at Candlewick Press for your support!

    Are you a Canadian reader? I’ve received word (thanks, Jessie!) that you can find the graphic novel at Chapters and no doubt other stores as well. Always remember that if a book you want isn’t on the shelves, a bookseller or librarian can order it for you! Just ask!

    Publishers Weekly says of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story: “…a face-paced, twisty, enjoyable ride and compelling characters who develop as the story unfolds. Kieran’s sidekicks, a were-armadillo and a were-possum, provide some welcome perspective on the hero’s obsession…”

    Guest Author Cynthia Leitich Smith: How to Tantalize as a Graphic Novel from The Other Side of the Story with Janice Hardy. Peek: “I opened the book again, and began translating the existing scenes in which he appeared into a script format, shifting the point of view. I had to think about pacing in a new way, clip much of the connective tissue, and trust the illustrator to fill in the setting as well as much of the emotion and mood.” Note: post includes excerpt of the prose novel and the corresponding graphic script.

    Reminder: I’m not currently accepting any manuscripts for blurb consideration. Thanks!

    Cynsations Weekly Posts

    Even More Personally

    Cheers to my former VCFA student (now alum) Marianna Baer, whose novel Frost (Balzar + Bray/HarperCollins, 2011), was among those President Obama purchased during his vacation at Martha’s Vineyard. The book was a gift for his elder daughter.

    Greg and I celebrated the graphic novel release by going to see “Fright Night” at the Alamo Drafthouse. We’re fans of the original and learning that Marti Noxon wrote the screenplay cinched it. The movie is played straight but still funny, violent, profane, and romantic. A real horror movie. The pacing is terrific, the update resonant, and the female characters infinity improved. Not for the squeamish or those only into emo vampires.

    Personal Links:

    From Greg Leitich Smith

    Illustrator Interview: Ming Doyle on Tantalize: Kieren’s Story

    Welcome, Ming! First, I must say how thrilled I was at the news that you were illustrating Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Candlewick, 2011). 

    Then came the sketches, and I was spinning. Now, with the final art in the finished book, I’m spinning over the moon. Thank you so much for bringing my characters to life!

    And my thanks right back at you, Cynthia!

    Telling Kieren’s tale has been the largest project of my career to date, and it was an adventure I embarked upon with suitcases full of enthusiasm and a true sense of exploration.

    So much about your story was new to me, from the assorted werecreatures to the setting itself, that it was a pleasure to explore the thrilling new terrain by drawing my way through it!

    I wonder, what were you like as a teenager? Shy, outgoing, already an artist? Maybe a shape-shifter of some kind?

    Ha, I’d like to say I was a member of an elite mutant task force who fought for justice and equality! But alas and not uncommonly, my adolescent years were fairly miserable. I was a boisterous and creative child, but by the time middle school rolled around, I was more interested in visiting libraries and museums than daydreaming about teen idols or trips to the mall, habits which didn’t necessarily endear me to my classmates or elicit their understanding.

    More damningly, I was also a gigantic pop culture nerd from practically the moment I gained consciousness. I would plead with my parents to allow me to watch one episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” each weeknight in return for completing my homework in a timely manner, and when I spent my junior year of high school studying abroad in Beijing, I attempted to read The Lord of the Rings in Chinese. That is how nerdy we’re talking.

    Interestingly enough, however, I am now leading the exact life that I think my teenage self would have killed for. I’ve got a huge collection of comic books and action figures as well as a network of similarly nerdy friends and colleagues, and I get to support myself by playing make believe and drawing all day. So really, I can’t complain!

    When did you decide to pursue art professionally? Was it something you always knew that you wanted to do, or was there an ah-ha! moment that you’d like to share with us?

    I pretty much knew I wanted to be an artist the moment my teachers broke out the finger paints in kindergarten. I was just lucky enough to have a family that supported me in my somewhat offbeat interest while still instilling in me the work ethic and sense of personal responsibility necessary to make a vocation out of my passion. I couldn’t be more grateful for that combination of boundless encouragement and disciplined structure.

    How did you prepare yourself for this career?

    After spending most of my free time drawing nearly incessantly all throughout high school, my college advisers and parents eventually pointed me in the direction of several art colleges as well as universities with art-focused majors. I decided to attend Cornell University, graduating with a dual concentration BFA in painting and drawing.

    What attracted me so strongly to Cornell as a place of study was its vast array of colleges, majors, research resources, and reference materials. In addition to taking life drawing and lithography classes, I was also able to study art history, Mandarin Chinese, the history of space exploration, noir films, anthropology, Greek vase painting, Beowulf, and all manner of other subjects.

    I had access to an incredible wealth of multi-discipline knowledge that I’m sure greatly enriched my studies beyond what I would have learned if I’d only focused on color wheels and perspective points.

    Could you fill us in on your career prior to Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, highlighting as you see fit?

    After graduating from art school, I fairly quickly and quite luckily fell into a number of opportunities in the comic book industry.

    I began redesigning traditional superhero outfits for a site called Project: Rooftop with my friends, which lead into being asked to supply the art for various anthologies such as Popgun, Outlaw Territory, and Comic Book Tattoo, published by Image.

    That work led to slightly larger jobs such as a chapter in the graphic novelization of the movie Jennifer’s Body by BOOM! and a short story in Marvel’s Girl Comics.

    How did you connect with my manuscript?

    I was immediately intrigued and excited by the “movie script” style of your manuscript, on a purely technical standpoint.

    By reading the “stage directions,” there was a lot of room for me to flesh out actions in my head and decide how to arrange each page, instead of being bound by the more standard comic book script format of drawing the actions as they are described panel by panel.

    I really appreciated the opportunity to interpret the action at my own pace, and I think that the fact that I essentially got to have a hand in helping to “stage direct” the comic allowed me to feel a lot closer to the material.

    What attracted you to the project?

    Kieren’s an incredibly sympathetic narrator, and I liked the sound of him so much that I was eager for the chance to take a crack at the look of him, as well.

    Beyond the superficial of being a tall, dark, supernatural teen, he’s rather introspective, and a bit of a natural detective. He seems to take a lot of things to heart, so he almost can’t help but mull over murders, motives, and quirks.

    As a big Sherlock Holmes fan, I was quite drawn to the mysterious aspects of the story and had a lot of fun discovering clues and noticing patterns along with Kieren.

    The other quality that really struck me about this graphic novelization in particular was that the point of view followed Kieren at all. The prose book is told from Quincie’s perspective, and I think it’s a bit more common to see these sorts of stories from the heroine’s eyes.

    Taking a look at the same world with a different character in a different medium is a very unique approach that helps paint an elegantly realized big picture.

    Could you briefly describe the various steps involved in translating most of the text (other than the dialogue) to art?

    After reading the script through once to get a feel for the major story beats, I then went back and reread it with an eye for pacing, marking off where I thought each page should start and begin.

    Making sure I had the exact right number of pages for publication was a little tricky, but once that was all figured out, I dived right in to digitally thumb-nailing the entire graphic novel, composing panels and distributing text and dialogue so I could see how the finished product might look.

    I submitted the sketch dummy to Candlewick, and after hearing back with comments and revisions, I was free to start inking!

    I printed out my thumbnail sketches very lightly onto pages of 11×14” Bristol board, then inked the final artwork right over my original layouts, which were drawn on the computer. A fairly multimedia heavy process, but I think it all worked out in the end!

    Tantalize: Kieren’s Story. 
    Text copyright © 2011 by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Ming Doyle.
    Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, Mass.

    Each character has a dual nature–or should I say a supernatural duality? How did you go about building them in “monster” form in particular?

    Quincie’s monster form is thrust upon her, so when I drew her as a vampire, particularly in the first moments we see her, I tried to convey a bedraggled, heavy, almost soul sickness to her. She quickly picks up, after that, but she’s starving almost the entire time she’s a vampire in the story, so I made her a bit more drawn around the eyes and mouth.

    Brad’s so slick and subtly scary that I didn’t make his vampire form all that much different from his “human” form. I just drew him more sleekly whenever he was playing the role of the gentleman monster, making his eyes a bit brighter, his mouth a bit larger. Little things that I hope give an impression of suspicious perfection.

    Kieren, I had the most fun with. He makes the most dramatic transformation into a Teen Wolf, though he never goes full werewolf. Figuring out where to draw the line so that he read as someone who hadn’t transformed all the way yet but was definitely a bit more monstrous than we’d perhaps been expecting was tremendously fun.

    I love so much about your art, but especially how well you convey emotion through body language and facial expression. Do you act out scenes? Make faces in a mirror?

    Thank you! I absolutely pantomime a lot of moments when I need to figure out how the capture an emotion, and I’m not shy about asking family, friends, or even visitors to hold their hands a certain way or slump a bit and hunch their shoulders.

    But I do most of my observation in everyday life, just walking around and watching people. I try to store a lot of mundane moments in my head so I can refer back to them when I need set a certain aspect of life down onto a page.

    What advice do you have for other artists interested in illustrating graphic-format books?

    Read as many comics as you can get your hands and watch classic, black-and-white films to learn how to frame shots effectively and dramatically. Take life drawing classes, study anatomy.

    Always be taking in as much reference material as possible so you have a lot to cull from when it comes to building your own personal aesthetic.

    What graphic-format books by other illustrators do you recommend for study?

    Cornerstone texts for aspiring comic book artists are Comics & Sequential Art by Will Eisner (Norton, 2008), How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema (Fireside, 1984), and Understanding Comics (Harper, 1994), Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology are Revolutionizing an Art Form (Harper, 2000), and Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels (Harper, 2006), all by Scott McCloud.

    In terms of seeing some masters at work, David Mazuchelli’s work on Batman: Year One, Mike Mignola’s on the Hellboy series, and anything drawn by Darwyn Cooke, Frank Quitely, or Paul Pope are more than worth picking up.

    What can your fans look forward to next?

    Next up on my plate is illustrating the graphic novel adaptation of Eternal, the sequel to Tantalize! You can also always check my website to see what I’m up to these days.

    Cynsational Notes

    This illustrator interview is the last of week-long series of posts, celebrating the release of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Candlewick, 2011) after which we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming.

    Ming will be signing Tantalize: Kieren’s Story at 2 p.m. Oct. 2 at Brookline Booksmith (279 Harvard Street) in Brookline, Massachusetts. Guests are invited to participate in a vampire/werewolf costume contest. See another interior illustration from the graphic novel from her blog.

    Enter to win the Tantalize: Kieren’s Story Howling Giveaway, featuring an author-signed copy of the graphic novel, myriad of shifter-inspired puppets, adult-size costume bat wings, more books, DVD, and much more!

    YA Novel Tantalize: Adapted to Graphic Novel from New POV by Zack Smith from Newsarama. An Interview with author Cynthia Leitich Smith and illustrator Ming Doyle. Peek from Ming: “…one of the things I liked most of Tantalize on my first read through was how much it reminded me of a Holmesian adventure, with a healthy and intriguing dose of the mythical and bizarre thrown in for good measure.”

    Agent Ginger Knowlton Interviews Author Cynthia Leitich Smith

    Ginger Knowlton represents authors and illustrators of children’s-YA books in all genres, as well as a few adult book authors.

    Her list includes Newbery Medalists, Newbery Honor and Printz Honor winners, Edgar and Lambda winners, a Sibert and Orbis Pictus winner, New York Times bestsellers, and a host of other delightful and talented clients.

    Ginger started working at Curtis Brown in 1986 as an assistant to Marilyn Marlow, one of the first literary agents to specialize in children’s books in the 1960s. Working for Marilyn was a rite of passage, affectionately referred to as Curtis Brown’s “Boot Camp.”

    Before joining the company, Ginger worked in the field of early childhood education in Sacramento and Mendocino, California.

    She has served on the Board of Directors of the Association of Authors’ Representatives and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Library in her hometown in Westchester County.

    Ginger says one of her favorite memories is of her first phone conversation with Cynthia Leitich Smith in 1998 about picture book manuscripts that sing—in particular, “Jenna, Jingle Dancer” (which became Cynthia’s first book, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow, 2000)).

    Cynthia dedicated her latest book and first graphic novel, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle (Candlewick, 2011), to Ginger.

    GK: As a young reader, what was your history with comics? 

    CLS: When I was growing up, my dad worked six days a week, often until 9 p.m. When I was little, that was before or about at my bedtime. So, our father-daughter moments were spent mostly only Sundays, while he also was juggling the rest of family and many to-dos.

    Every now and then, he’d load me up in the Oldsmobile and drive us to the local convenience shop where I’d pick up superhero, science fiction, and the rare horror comics.

    Coupled with trips with Mom to the public library, these jaunts provided the picture- and graphic-format books that laid the foundation for a lifetime of reading and, ultimately, writing.

    GK: What about Wonder Woman in particular appealed to you? 

    CLS: Wonder Woman is the perhaps the most iconic female superhero and proudly so. In the DC Comics Universe, she has a place right next to Superman and Batman.

    Though her uniform has never made much sense (at least from a combat perspective), Wonder Woman is both physically and intellectually strong. She’s magically blessed by the goddesses, but has also worked hard to train and educate herself.

    Diana is more about action than reaction. She was born a princess but left behind that life of privilege and comfort to help others. Yet she’s still loyal to her fellow Amazons.

    When I was a young reader, most depictions of women showed them as victims or trophies, largely defined by traditional gender expectations and the men in their lives.

    In contrast, Wonder Woman had always been a major hero in her own right, and she regularly emphasized that girls and women could stand tall in their own red boots.

    GK: Could you tell us about your comic reading in law school? 

    CLS: I graduated from The University of Michigan Law School and had a wonderful experience there, but the language of the law can be ponderous at times.

    I occasionally took refuge from case law (and its culture) at a local comic book shop in Ann Arbor. It was during this time that I returned to comics after a break in college.

    GK: What can you tell us about Kieren Morales, the hero of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle (Candlewick, 2011)?

    CLS: Kieren is the firstborn child of a werewolf mom and human dad.

    His mother, Meara Morales, first came to the States from Ireland for college, and his father, Roberto Morales, is from a family that’s lived in Texas under all six flags.

    The Moraleses also have a five-year-old daughter, Meghan, who’s very close to her big brother.

    The family is firmly middle class, with Mom working as a wedding planner and Dad as a university professor of engineering. They make their home in a relatively new McMansion in the Fairview neighborhood of near south Austin, Texas.

    It’s traditional for urban Wolves to join a pack when they come of age, and the typical way in is either brains or brawn. Because of his mixed heritage, Kieren isn’t as strong or fast as a full Wolf, though he’s much more formidable on both counts than a human. So, his plan is to enter a pack as a scholar, specializing in Wolf history and lore. Kieren is one smart puppy.

    More personally, because he knows he’ll be leaving soon, Kieren has held off from acting on his growing romantic feelings for his best friend, Quincie Morris.

    GK: Why did you decide to retell the Tantalize prose novel in graphic format and from a different (Kieren’s) point of view?

    CLS: The very first draft of the prose novel had been from Kieren’s point of view. I switched to Quincie’s in large part because I was intimidated by the idea of writing a novel from a male perspective.

    However, in the years since, I’ve had the opportunity to write from a boy’s point of view in short stories and as an alternating voice in prose novels. That built my confidence.

    Also, I wanted to offer something new to my readers—new scenes, a new perspective. Tantalize: Kieren’s Story is more of a companion than a straight-up adaptation.

    Beyond that, as I got to know Kieren and more fully developed my fantasy construct, it became clear that he had a compelling story of his own to tell.

    As a human-werewolf hybrid, Kieren’s position in mainstream society is precarious. In my universe, shape-shifters are naturally born, not supernatural. They can trace their origins back to the Ice Age. Nevertheless, they’re the targets of prejudice and discrimination. Their legal rights are unclear.

    In Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, our hero is being framed for murder by the true killer. That would be bad news for anyone, but it’s doubly bad if you’re a young werewolf. Not only his freedom, but the secret of his family’s dual heritage is on the line.

    GK: How was the process different between writing the novel and the graphic novel?

    CLS: From the prose novel, I already knew my characters, setting, and had a fairly solid idea of what Kieren had been doing when he was off-screen.

    So, my focus was translating the prose scenes to graphic format—taking out the connective tissue and description that would be provided in the art—and adding in Kieren’s perspective on existing and previously untold events.

    GK: Are the characters represented visually as you saw them in your head when writing the books? If not, how are they different?

    CLS: They’re better—the facial expressions, the body language. Illustrator Ming Doyle is a genius. I love that Quincie looks like a real girl. The multicultural nature of the cast is also clearer visually than in the text alone.

    GK: What can your readers expect to see from you next?

    Adaptation in progress!

    CLS: I look forward to the release of Diabolical, the fourth prose novel in the Tantalize series, which will be out in January 2012.

    Diabolical is partly set in Austin but mostly takes place in Vermont. It draws inspiration from unresolved events at the end of Eternal, shines a light on all four of the previous protagonists (Zachary, Miranda, Quincie and Kieren), and introduces several new characters and creatures.

    Diabolical is by far the most action-packed of the prose quartet to date but also possesses the horror, romance, and humor of the previous titles.

    In its final execution, it’s not that scary (depending on your level of sensitivity), but it is a mind bender and literally gave me nightmares early in the drafting process.

    An Eternal graphic novel is also in the works. I’ve seen the early sketches, and as much as I love Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, I think this second graphic will be even better.

    Beyond that, I’ve written an essay, “Isolation,” which will appear in Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories, edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carries Jones (HarperCollins, 2011).

    On the fiction front, I’m excited that my YA short story, “Mooning Over Broken Stars” will appear in an anthology, Girl Meets Boy, edited by Kelly Milner Halls (Chronicle, 2012). It’s a companion to a short by acclaimed Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac and features Native American characters.

    Cynsational Notes

    Audio excerpt from Listening Library.

    This interview is one of a week-long series of posts, celebrating the release of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Candlewick, 2011) after which we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming.

    Agent Interview with Ginger Knowlton from K.L. Going. Peek: “Smart, funny, and engaging letters catch my eye. It’s best to include at least a first page of a longer manuscript with your query, and an entire picture book if that’s what you write. Let me see what you want me to sell.”

    Enter to win the Tantalize: Kieren’s Story Howling Giveaway, featuring an author-signed copy of the graphic novel, myriad of shifter-inspired puppets, adult-size costume bat wings, more books, DVD, and much more!

    Guest Author Cynthia Leitich Smith: How to Tantalize as a Graphic Novel from The Other Side of the Story with Janice Hardy. Peek: “I opened the book again, and began translating the existing scenes in which he appeared into a script format, shifting the point of view.” Note: post includes excerpt of the prose novel and the corresponding graphic script.

    Teens are now invited to vote for YALSA’s Teens Top Ten List! Vote here, and see the annotated list. Note: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2011) is among the 25 titles nominated for YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten! The novel picks up at the very scene where Tantalize leaves off.

    Cynsational Screening Room

    Kieren tracks vampire chef Brad to the 4th St. Warehouse District.

    Howling Giveaway Celebrates Tantalize: Kieren’s Story

    Tantalize: Kieren’s Story is now available from Candlewick Press in the United States and Canada! It will be published Oct. 1 by Walker Australia and New Zealand and Oct. 6 by Walker Books in the U.K. Watch Cynsations for additional announcements.

    Celebrate by entering to win the Tantalize: Kieren’s Story Howling Great Giveaway!

    The prize includes:

      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 “Tantalize: Kieren’s Story” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Deadline: Sept. 6.

      For extra entries (itemize efforts in your entry comment/email with relevant links):

      Limit 8 entries. This giveaway is for international readers–everyone is eligible!

      Closer look at the wolf finger puppet, cat key chain, Austin magnet & wipe board.
      Closer peek at the books & DVD.
      Hello, finger puppets!
      Howdy, Mr. Armadillo!
      Here’s another angle on the whole shebang!

      About the Novel

      Tantalize: Kieren’s Story by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Ming Doyle (Candlewick, 2011). From the promotional copy:

      Tantalize as you’ve never seen it before —from a Wolf’s-eye view!

      As a hybrid werewolf, Kieren is destined to join an urban Wolf pack and learn to master his shift. Soon, he’ll leave everything behind home, school, his family, and Quincie, his human best friend…who’s beginning to be a whole lot more than a friend.

      For years, Kieren has managed to keep his desires—and his Wolf—at bay. But when the chef at Quincie’s family restaurant is brutally murdered, Kieren resolves to be there for her, even if it means being framed and even if it means watching Quincie’s beloved restaurant morph into a vampire lair.

      But when the new chef begins wooing Quincie, how long can Kieren control his claws? How long can he protect her—and himself?

      In an elegant graphic edition featuring cinematic sequential art by debut artist Ming Doyle and a lush, romantic cover by Sam Weber, best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith re-envisions her delicious dark fantasy through Wolfish eyes.

      about the author

      Cynthia Leitich Smith is the acclaimed author of the prose novel Tantalize, as well as Eternal, a New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller, and Blessed, all set in the same fictional universe. She says of Tantalize Kieren’s Story: “An unjust accusation. A true love in peril. It’s enough to make you howl.” A member of the Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty in writing for children and young adults, she lives in Austin, Texas.

      about the illustrator

      Ming Doyle was born in Boston to an Irish-American sailor and a Chinese-Canadian librarian. She earned her BFA from Cornell University with a dual concentration in painting and drawing. She has since depicted the exploit of zombie superheroes, demonic cheerleaders, vengeful cowboys, and dapper mutants. Tantalize is her first full-length graphic novel—and marks her first encounter with a wereopossum.

      Cynsational Notes

      This Howling Great Giveaway is the second in a week-long series of posts, celebrating the release of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Candlewick, 2011) after which we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming.

      Teens are now invited to vote for YALSA’s Teens Top Ten List! Vote here, and see the annotated list. Note: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2011) is among the 25 titles nominated for YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten!

      Click for audio excerpt.

      Monsters & Metaphors: The Heart of Horror Writing

      By Cynthia Leitich Smith
      (Spoiler Warning)

      The year was 2000. With the release of Jingle Dancer (Morrow), I had a toehold as a new author of realistic contemporary Native American fiction for young readers.

      I loved telling stories with Indian heroes, and I’ve continued to write them, along with realistic fiction more broadly. But speculative fiction was calling to me.

      The working title of one of my works in progress was “Brad, The Impaler,” a funny, spooky fantasy for young adults.

      Back then, paranormal themes were wildly under-published for teens. But as a YA reader, I’d read Stephen King and Dean Koontz and, yes, V.C. Andrews. I’d devoured what horror comics I could find. I adored “Tales from the Crypt” on the small screen, “Lost Boys” on the big screen, and, later, organized my life around “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.”

      I could perceive the vacuum in the market, and most importantly, I had a passion for it. I also understood and appreciated the layers of story and meaning that lurked beneath the fur and fangs. I considered it an honor to have the opportunity to write the kind of book that I loved to read as a teen.

      Because, from the start, I was interested in including vampire mythology, I began by examining what had come before, going back to the classics and then the oral stories from around the world that had preceded them. I wanted to nod thoughtfully to the master authors and offer a fresh twist on the tradition—one that would justify my revisiting it and make a real contribution to the conversation of books over time.

      I became fascinated by Dracula—the quintessential “vampire” novel by Irish author Bram Stoker. Published in 1897, it’s never been out of print.

      Living in Austin, I was fascinated that Bram had crafted a Texan, Quincey P. Morris, as one of Dr. Abraham Van Helsing’s original vampire hunters and, in his namesake, nodded to the future of his fictional world.

      That became the future I ultimately decided to build on, introducing a many-times-great-niece, the namesake of Bram’s gallant Texan.

      What utterly captured me was the relevance of Bram’s themes to present day. Granted, I don’t write to a theme but rather begin with characters and a vague plot idea or central question. Still, along the way, I’ve kept his touchstone topics at the back of my mind and let my heroes (and villains) lead me.

      Like any author, I was also influenced by my own predispositions—to the extent that I often didn’t notice it except in retrospect. With that in mind, let’s discuss…


      In studying Dracula, it caught my eye that the count could take the form of a wolf, and I decided it would be interesting to write a murder mystery in which the central question was whether the murderer was a vampire in wolf form or a werewolf. That brought shape-shifters into my world.

      French edition

      Bram’s “dark other” was the Eastern European—cast as the demonic undead. Mine was those shape-changers who served as stand-ins for the immigrant or the “other” among us, mirroring real-life prejudices that persist to present day.

      In my fictional world, shape-shifters are naturally born—not magical, not monstrous. They descend from a strand closely related to homo sapiens in the story of evolution.

      They tend to live in hiding, passing for human, or in restricted communities. They face serious discrimination in the job market, with regard to medical care and in the criminal justice system. In nations around the world, it’s not clear whether they’re considered citizens with the varying rights and protections that guarantees.

      These dynamics are explored with regard to the integrated murder mysteries and, say, how carefully Kieren Morales’s inter-species family must guard the secret of its mixed heritage to survive and prosper in a human-dominated world.


      So, how did I handle otherness? Diversity—defined broadly—is well integrated into the series.

      Polish edition

      The most obvious manifestation is that the stories are set in a multi-creature verse that features two kinds of vampires, two kinds of angels, a myriad of shifters (wereopossum anyone?), ghosts, demons, faerie, pesky humans, and more.

      Of the four protagonists to date, one is Mexican-Irish American (and the son of an Irish immigrant, who’s also a major character) and another is Asian-Scottish American. Reoccurring main fantastical characters include a black angel, a Japanese-American werecat, and a gay vampire. Meanwhile, the human cast members also reflect a range of real-life cultural communities with regard to race, religion, ethnicity, orientation, socio-economics and more.

      While the stories are staged in the southwestern, Midwestern, and northeastern U.S., it’s made clear that there’s an international backdrop and my French vampires are among fan favorites. Along these lines, the Wolf pack in Blessed includes folks who hail from and speak languages that originated from around the globe.

      That said, these choices rose naturally. I consistently write diverse casts, no matter whether “difference” or “insider/outsider” themes are specifically relevant to the story and its preceding literary tradition or not.

      However, pushing back against the standard use of black as the color of evil, it’s clearly and repeatedly articulated in the texts that blue and black are the colors of heaven. That choice was made with thought and purpose.


      After deciding to include werewolves in my world, I began researching shape-shifters in the body of literature and stories from around the world. What I found was that it was often the predator who most challenged humans with regard to food and territory that was cast in the role of the monster and, consequently, hunted to (near) extinction. Consider the wolf in Europe, the big cats of Asia.

      That didn’t seem especially eco-friendly, so again, I made the decision that my shifters would be people (not monsters) who could simply do more than homo sapiens. They could take animal form. Enter canis dirus sapiens, werewolves who could trace their heritage to an Ice Age ancestor.

      If there were Wolves, I reasoned, why wouldn’t there be other kinds of shifters? And so there are. I’m especially fond of the werearmadillo Travis from Tantalize and the werebear Brenek from Eternal.

      The Role of Faith

      For Bram, a central question was the role of Christianity/Catholicism, which makes sense for someone of his time and place. For that matter, if you look at modern monster stories, it’s usually these religious traditions that are specifically framed as humanity’s only hope against the demonic.

      In nodding to Bram, it made sense that I would integrate this question into my world and cast. Kieren Morales is a Catholic. So is Father Ramos, the priest who aids the guardian angel Zachary. However, it’s also made clear that non-Christian religious symbols likewise have power to repel supernatural evil, and heroic characters include not only Christians but folks of other faiths (or none) as well. For example, the mentor character (and high school English teacher) Mrs. Levy is Jewish.

      Gender & Assault

      U.S. edition

      Stoker’s character Mina Harker is a modern woman of her time. She’s the one who organizes the information, comforts the men after her own best friend is killed and can work that newfangled device, the typewriter. Mina helps Dr. Van Helsing track the count, drawing on a psychic link. However, as she’s been reinvented by storytellers over the generations, Mina has become weaker over time, eventually finding the monster nearly irresistible even as his predation creeps ever closer to home. 

      In Tantalize, Quincie is emotionally vulnerable due to the murder of chef Vaggio, who’s like a grandfather to her, and the fact that her best friend Kieren is both the prime suspect in the murder and about to leave her forever to join a Wolf pack.

      She’s flattered by the attentions of Brad, who’s older and more sophisticated. He introduces her to wine, which is spiked with his cursed blood, and later also with some unspecific drug that alters her emotional responses, makes her unstable, and ultimately renders her unconscious.

      When she recovers her senses, Quincie discovers that she’s been drugged, kidnapped, locked in a basement, and that Brad has repeatedly bitten her in a scenario she would’ve found objectionable, if she’d been in full control of senses. This date-rape construct is perhaps the most transparent metaphor in the series. It’s also so often part-and-parcel of vampire-mythology stories (without being framed as a negative experience) that many of us don’t question it.

      Once I realized that this was where my story was going, I made an effort to address that traditional romanticization and deal with what had happened (or at least its aftermath) in a victim/survivor-empowering way. When I returned to the character Quincie in Blessed, I wrote her with an awareness of what she’d been through and how she would begin to come to terms with it.

      Because of the role of angels in the story, I also looked at date rape through the lens of religion.

      Big picture, Blessed isn’t a classic survivor story. It’s more of an occasionally humorous, occasionally romantic and touching rescue-the-boy, kill-the-monster, save-the-world story.

      I was careful not to make the execution heavy-handed, instead letting Quincie define herself and her path on her own terms. But ultimately, the novel asks: Does God blame survivors of sexual assault (viewed metaphorically through the vampire’s non-consensual bite)? Does having been victimized make someone the same kind of monster as her attacker? Is she to blame for what’s happened to her? Should she be punished? And, ultimately, does God bless such victims or are they damned?

      YA Readers

      Newly repackaged U.K. edition.

      Back in 2000, I didn’t know how these themes would rise up in the super arc over the first prose four books. I’d started with a mythological tradition that led me to the characters Quincie Morris and Kieren Morales (who was called “Killian” back then). From there, those heroes and their antagonist, Brad, took over, and to a large extent, I’ve been pounding the keyboard, just praying I can keep up, ever since.

      But in any story–especially those about good versus evil–there’s a moral center and worldview that typically springs from the author’s sensibility whether we realize it at the time or not.

      Upon reflection, I’ve learned a lot about myself in writing this ongoing series, and certainly, a number of other grown-ups have chimed in with their own insights about the books over the years.

      For example, I’ve been asked countless times if my feminist slant was a response to the upswing in YA paranormal romance novels. The answer is: No, it pre-dated that trend by some years (and, by the way, many of those books do feature strong, smart and/or otherwise fascinating girls).

      Were the shifters initially inspired by American Indian Nations? Perhaps without my even realizing it at the time? I’ve chewed on that. But no, they were a nod to immigrant groups, though of course Native people have been historically (and too often still today are) cast as the “dark” other and targeted by bigotry. So I can see why the conversation would go there.

      However, if YA readers want to make those connections themselves, they’re not wrong. On a case by case basis, their reading experiences trump my process and intentions (or lack thereof). They should–and do–bring to the books whatever they carry with them and take away what they will.

      I’m occasionally asked about those teen readers. Assuming these more serious themes are integrated into the character journeys and world building, assuming that they may be gleaned via metaphor, do YA readers get these layers of meaning?

      U.K. edition

      During this, my fifth year of serving as the series’ ambassador in the world, I’d say yes and no. It depends completely on the individual reader. For some, the Tantalize series is a straight-up Gothic fantasy with some humor and strong elements of suspense and romance. They don’t absorb or long for more, and that’s absolutely fine. Story comes first, last, and always.

      Certain young readers do notice subtle choices. Only a handful have mentioned to me that blue and black are specified as the colors of heaven, but it’s probably not a coincidence that all of them were African-American/Canadian.

      They also notice omissions. One girl wrote to ask me why my main characters included gay men but no women or girls, and I was happy to be able to tell her that she could look for a lesbian teen character in Diabolical (Candlewick, Jan. 2012). (She was even more excited when I said the girl would be a shapeshifter and a hero.)

      The letters I’ll always remember most, though, have come from girls in crisis. To date, several (nine) have written me about relationships that they found analogous to the dynamic between Quincie and Brad—relationships that involved stalking or manipulation. In more than one case, the teen mentioned physical abuse. A couple made it clear that my books had inspired them to reconsider their choices.

      One girl wrote once to say she was furious at Quincie’s decision to stand alone at the end of Tantalize. If a boy wanted you, she reasoned, no matter how horrible he might be, that was still better than being alone. Later, she emailed me again—this time to apologize for her angry words, to inform me that a boyfriend hadn’t been treating her well (so I’d hit a nerve), and to assure me that they were no longer together.

      I’ve also heard from more than one date-rape survivor, who said that reading Blessed had been a healing experience.

      Monsters & Metaphors

      Because Quincie loves olives, so do I.

      Don’t misunderstand. I’m heartened (and, in some cases, relieved) that my books spoke to these young readers on a personal level. But these girls were the heroes of their own lives.

      I told deeply felt, hopefully fun and intriguing stories. They decided what challenged or resonated with them and moved forward from there.

      I mention their reactions because there’s a huge tendency to underestimate teens and how intensely they take in a story. Or at least some stories. And in fairness, I’ve heard from teens whose sophistication as readers outpaces that of many adults, including some who consider themselves well read.

      I’m a writer of both realistic and fantastical fiction. Perhaps that makes me especially appreciative of the fact that the two aren’t so different. Both mirror our so-called real world, one straight on and another at a slant.

      It’s 2011. Eternal was a New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller. Last spring, Blessed was released by Candlewick in the U.S. as well as by Walker Australia and New Zealand. It will be out from Walker (U.K) in October. Candlewick is also poised to publish my first graphic novel, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, illustrated by the brilliant Ming Doyle, and set in Austin, Texas, where I make my home.

      Occasionally, I’ll be walking down the sidewalk and catch a glimpse of fang. Austin is gloriously weird that way. No wonder I find the borders between reality and fantasy so intriguingly blurry.

      So be careful out there, dear readers, and carry a big book—if only for self-defense.

      Cynsational Notes

      This is the first in a week-long series of posts, celebrating the release of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Candlewick, 2011) after which we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming.

      Teens are now invited to vote for YALSA’s Teens Top Ten List! Vote here, and see the annotated list. Note: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2011) is among the 25 titles nominated for YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten!

      Shop Sanguini’s.

      Cynsational News & Giveaways

      Cover Reveal! Congratulations to anthologist Kelly Milner Halls on this intriguing and evocative cover from Girl Meets Boy (Chronicle, Jan. 2012)!

      The anthology will include short stories by:

      Note: My story, “Mooning Over Broken Stars” is a companion to Joe’s. I look forward to the release and am honored to have my writing featured in such distinguished company.

      More News & Giveaways

      What Makes a Successful Book Event? by Janet Fox from Through the Wardrobe. Peek: “Create a Q&A flyer for Composemother/daughter, or father/son, book clubs to get discussions started.”

      Interview with Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary Agency by Becky Levine from Moving Forward on the Writing Path. Peek: “I look for talent. My second requirement is a good attitude. I don’t have a minute to waste, so complaining and pity parties are lost on me. I just want to keep moving forward, and I want authors who can pick themselves up, shake off the dust, and get back in the game.”

      Name Mistakes in Queries by Mary Kole from Peek: “I’m not going to reject you outright for misspelling my name. My name is an uncommon spelling of a more common last name. In fact, it’s that way intentionally and I like it.”

      Guest Post: Fictionalizing History by Australian author Goldie Alexander for The Book Chook. Peek: “Readers might like to track Ahmed’s journey on a map of Australia. They can delve into how our first people behaved when they came across these explorers, suggest reasons, and their appearance was back then. They can research contemporary Uluru, both as an icon and tourist attraction.”

      Quirks & Foibles by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: “Quirks and foibles are often a chink in our armor, an indicator at how hard won our mastery of some skill or behavior really is. They are a physical manifestation of our deepest level conflicts.”

      Is Your Book Ready for School? by Natalie Dias Lorenzi from EMU’s Debuts. Peek: “I guarantee that your book has ties to the curriculum, even if you don’t write historical fiction or books about kid scientists.”

      Harold Underdown Recommends Writing It Write! How Successful Children’s Authors Revise and Sell Their Stories by Sandy Asher from The Purple Crayon. Peek: “In 400 large-format pages, Sandy Asher follows four picture books, seven magazine stories, three books for ‘younger readers’ (easy readers, one nonfiction, and a chapter book), and seven books for ‘older readers’ (middle-grade and YA novels) from an early stage to their last, published form.” Note: I respectfully disagree with Harold’s quibble that the YA category always starts at age 12. Over the past few years, the ‘tween (or young YA) category has come into its own, featuring many books that historically would’ve been published as classic (or 12+) YA.

      Author-illustrator & Graphic Novelist Youme Landowne: Creating a Safe Place to Talk About Hard Things by J.L. Powers from The Pirate Tree: Social Justice and Children’s Literature. Peek: “My big question for the world is, ‘How much power do we have and how much power can we share?’ For children especially, they have a lot of power, and they’re often very vulnerable, so I often think about the bravery of children.”

      ALAN Foundation Research Grants from Teri Lesesne at The Goddess of YA Literature. Peek: “Members of ALAN may apply to the ALAN Foundation for funding (up to $1,500) for research in young adult literature. Proposals are reviewed by the five most recent presidents of ALAN. Awards are made annually in the Fall and are announced at the ALAN breakfast during the NCTE convention in November. The application deadline each year is Sept. 15.”

      What’s Your Vision? by Sharon Bially from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Clearly, Blume didn’t just have just a story or two in mind, or a simple urge to spend days tweaking words and characters and figuring out how to parlay this into a publishing deal.  She had a strong interest in a particular set of conflicts and issues relevant to a particular group.  With a degree in education, she clearly cared (and still cares) about the people in it, too.” Source: Phil Giunta.

      Creative Procrastination by Coe Booth from Write at Your Own Risk: The Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults faculty blog. Peek: “When it comes to writing, I’m usually the jump-in-with-both-feet type. But this time around, for some reason, I’ve been spending a lot of time dipping my toes in the water first.” Learn more about Write at Your Own Risk.

      Revision Requests by Jennifer R. Hubbard from writerjenn. Peek: “The revision is likely to need work on more than just the specific examples mentioned in the request letter. The agent/editor is probably looking for a true “re-envisioning,” a multi-layered improvement.”

      You’re Already Invited: Connecting to the Lit Community Online by Saundra Mitchell from WriteOnCon. Peek: “One of the easiest (and most fun!) ways to start tweeting is to read other people’s news, and congratulate them. Celebrating other people’s news is happymaking, and it gives you a chance to learn what other people are up to.” See also WriteOnCon 2011: Picture Books from Tammi Sauer.

      New Voices Award from Lee & Low Books. Peek: “The Award will be given for a children’s picture book manuscript by a writer of color. The Award winner receives a cash grant of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash grant of $500.” Deadline: Sept. 30.

      KidLit Con Teams Up with RIF Because It’s the Right Thing to Do by Colleen Mondor from Chasing Ray. Peek: “…at the end of the day the best thing about who we are is that we believe in the power of words and RIF is all about spreading that power as far and wide as possible. RIF does nothing less than change the world – that’s its very mission – and if you don’t think that’s the most worthy thing any of us can be part of then you really are not the kind of book lover I know you to be.”

      Beyond Lucky Auction for GrassRoot Soccer from author Sarah Aronson. Items available for bid include: signed children’s books; a one-week writing retreat in Cape May, New Jersey; a conversation with literary agent Sarah Davies; a critique from executive editor Liz Waniewski of Dial; a non-fiction critique from Tanya Lee Stone, a full-novel critique from Sarah Aronson; nifty accessories and more!

      Independent Bookstores Add New Chapter by Neely Tucker from The Washington Post. Peek: “The small, independently owned bookstore is staging a modest rebirth in the midst of a bone-killing economy and the exponential growth of online retailers and e-books.”

      Cynsations New Canada Children’s-YA Book Reporter

      More on Lena Coakley.

      Lena Coakley was born in Milford, Connecticut and grew up on Long Island. In high school, creative writing was the only class she ever failed (nothing was ever good enough to hand in!), but, undeterred, she went on to study writing at Sarah Lawrence College.

      She became interested in young adult literature when she moved to Toronto, Canada, and began working for CANSCAIP, the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers, where she eventually became the Administrative Director. She is now a full-time writer living in Toronto. Witchlanders is her debut novel.

      Lena contributes news and interviews from the children’s-YA creative, literature and publishing community in Canada.

      This Week’s Cynsations Posts

      Cynsational Giveaways

      Enter to win a signed copy of Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri (Candlewick, 2011)! To enter, comment at this link or email me and type “Ghetto Cowboy” in the subject line. Extra entry if you share your best close encounter with a horse or a true life event that inspired you to write about it. Author sponsored; U.S./Canada entries only. Deadline: midnight CST Aug. 22.

      After Obsession (by Carrie Jones and Steve Wedel) Interview and ARC Giveaway from Gayleen at Playing with Words. Peek from Steve: “For me, the best part was not really knowing what would happen next. I never knew what Carrie would do in her chapter, so getting that e-mail attachment was like a Christmas gift every other day. Then we got to where we’d try to leave a big and bigger cliffhanger for the other one.”

      Check out the June/July Debut Author Giveaway, celebrating books by the Elevensies from Anna Staniszewski.

      Cynsational Screening Room

      Teens are now invited to vote for YALSA’s Teens Top Ten List!

      Vote here, and see the annotated list.

      From YALSA: “Teens’ Top Ten is a ‘teen choice’ list, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year! Nominators are members of teen book groups in sixteen school and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted on Support Teen Literature Day during National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year. Readers ages twelve to eighteen will vote online between Aug. 22 and Sept. 16; the winners will be announced during Teen Read Week.”

      Note: I’m that my novel Blessed (Candlewick, 2011) is among the 25 titles nominated for YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten; see book trailer below.

      Sara Zarr talks about pacing in contemporary realistic young adult fiction from WriteOnCon.

      Sambat Trust seeks to build children’s libraries in the Philippines. Source: Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind.

      More Personally

      This week at the Leitich Smith home has been all about pass pages. I’m reviewing pages for Diabolical (Candlewick, Jan. 2012), and my very cute husband Greg is reviewing pass pages for Chronal Engine (Clarion, March 2012)(shown below).

      Chronal Engine is about three kids who take their grandfather’s time machine back to the age of the dinosaurs to rescue their sister and solve a family mystery. It’ll include fantastic interior illustrations that we first saw when these pages arrived–very exciting!

      Speaking of Greg, you can find him at GregLSBlog, where he recommends children’s-YA books, discuss his own writing life, and features writers and illustrators and dinosaurs. His birthday is this week! Why don’t you surf over and wish him a happy one?

      Holler Loudly is a finalist for the Writers’ League of Texas children’s-YA book award! See the link for information about the award, the full list of finalists, Holler Loudly teacher guides & more.

      Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith, read by Kim Mai Guest is now available on audio from Listening Library/Random House! See link for audio excerpt.

      I look forward to the release of my essay, “Isolation,” which will appear in Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories, edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones (HarperCollins, 2011). “Seventeen” magazine says: “You know someone (or are someone) who’s ever been involved in any type of bullying incident. There’s something in it for everyone, on all sides of the spectrum. You’ll love it even more if you can find a story that inspires you to help someone else.”

      Thanks to author-illustrator Deirdra Eden Coppel for recognizing Cynsations with a Best Books Blog Award! I’m honored. Deirdra offers interviews with authors, agents, editors and other literary professionals. Her recent posts include Interview with Marketing Expert Catherine Balkin. Peek: “I know many people don’t like to list their honorariums, but it helps the teachers and librarians a lot to know this kind of information even before they contact you for a variety of reasons (the librarian might be writing a grant, for example, or a teacher may need to let the PTA know how much they need to raise).”

      Personal Links:

      From Greg Leitich Smith:

      Cynsational Events

      Attention, Houstonians! Please join Cynthia Leitich Smith for a discussion and signing of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Candlewick, 2011) at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston.

      Note: “This event is free and open to the public. In order to go through the signing line and meet Cynthia Leitich Smith for book personalization, you must purchase Tantalize: Kieren’s Story from Blue Willow Bookshop. A limited number of autographed copies of Cynthia’s books will be available for purchase after the event. If you cannot attend the event, but would like a personalized copy of her book, please call Blue Willow before the event at 281.497.8675.”

      Find Cyn: Author Site; Blogger; Facebook; Google Plus, JacketFlap; LiveJournal; Twitter; YouTube.