Guest Post: Loretta Ellsworth on Memories & Unforgettable

By Loretta Ellsworth
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

When my book Unforgettable (Walker, 2011) was released in September, I hosted a giveaway on my blog. Readers had to write about their earliest memories.

It was fascinating reading them because they reflected a great deal about the readers and their childhood. I thought most of them would be from very memorable events – mine was when I was a flower girl in my aunt’s wedding – but I was surprised that many of them were very ordinary: watching a big brother come home on the school bus, picking strawberries, sitting on a father’s lap while he read the newspaper, the pattern of a linoleum floor or the diamond shape of a doorknob, riding in a crowded car with Italian relatives.

Not extraordinary days or events, but simple pleasures or observances from their childhoods.

Very nostalgic memories, which made me wonder: If we could hold onto our childhood memories forever, would we? Is the ability to forget just as important as the ability to remember?

Most of us would agree that not all memories are good, that there are some things we definitely want to forget. One reader’s earliest memory was of her father hitting her mother. Others remembered getting stitches or the pain of losing a family member. But they didn’t say they wished they didn’t remember those things. Perhaps bad memories serve a good purpose as well, if only to remind us that we survived childhood despite such obstacles.


Unforgettable explores many of those issues. Baxter has a perfect memory. In fact he’s unable to forget anything, including his father’s death when he was three years old.

Not only does he remember it, but he also experiences the pain of it just as fresh and sharp as when it happened.

When he and his mom, on the run from an ex-boyfriend with a serious grudge, move from California to Minnesota, Baxter reconnects with Halle, a girl he had a crush on in kindergarten.

At fifteen, those feelings are so real and strong to him still that it’s confusing when she doesn’t remember him at all.

The mixed blessing of Baxter’s memory and his determination to hide it reflect how I often felt in high school – I didn’t want to stand out from the pack and preferred to be invisible.

But for Baxter, things aren’t as simple as that. Hiding a photographic memory is difficult, and starting over isn’t easy, either.

Recently it was revealed that Katia Zatuliveter, the suspected Russian spy being tried in London, has a near photographic memory. She supposedly could read something once and memorize it. A former college classmate said that was how she kept ahead of the class.

Most of us won’t ever have to worry about being accused of having such a memory. But it’s an interesting issue, one worthy of discussion.

Our memories reflect who we are, but how much do we really want to remember? If there was a pill available to give us that kind of recall, would we take it?

New Cynsations Reporter: Angela Cerrito

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Angela Cerrito writes by night and is a pediatric physical therapist by day.

Her debut novel The End of the Line (Holiday House, 2011) was selected for VOYA’s Top of the Top Shelf 2011 and Top Shelf for Middle Grade Readers 2011.

She is the Assistant International Advisor for SCBWI and regularly attends the Frankfurt and Bologna Book Fairs.

When she’s not writing, Angela enjoys eating, climbing in caves and jumping off cliffs. She lives in Europe with her husband, two daughters, a big black cat, a little white dog and a talking parrot.

Angela will be covering the children’s-YA book scene in Europe and beyond for Cynsations. Read an interview with Angela.

New Voice: Kami Kinard on Writing Humor & The Boy Project

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kami Kinard is the first-time author of The Boy Project (Notes and Observations of Kara McAllister)(Scholastic, 2012). From the promotional copy:

For anyone who’s ever felt that boys were a different species….

Wildly creative seventh grader, Kara McAllister, just had her best idea yet. She’s going to take notes on all of the boys in her grade (and a few elsewhere) in order to answer a seemingly simple question: How can she get a boyfriend?

But Kara’s project turns out to be a lot more complicated than she imagined. Soon there are secrets, lies, and an embarrassing incident in the boy’s bathroom. Plus, Kara has to deal with mean girls, her slightly spacey BFF, and some surprising uses for duct tape. Still, if Kara’s research leads her to the right boy, everything may just be worth it…

Full of charts and graphs, heart and humor, this hilarious debut will resonate with tweens everywhere.

As a comedic writer, how do you decide what’s funny? What advice do you have for those interested in either writing comedies or books with a substantial amount of humor in them?

When I hear humor writers speak, they usually say that you can’t teach someone how to write humor, it just happens. Once upon a time, I could see their point. For me, humor writing did seem to come naturally.

But then I taught a novel revision class and one of my students was working on a humorous manuscript. I kept telling her places she needed to ramp up her humor. She asked me how I knew what to do. I said, “It comes naturally.”

Later I realized I had given her the lamest possible answer. I knew that as a teacher, I needed to bring a better answer to the next class. So I have given this question a lot of thought. Why does writing humor come naturally to me?

I think part of the answer is that I enjoy humor, so I’ve immersed myself in funny.

I love reading books that make me laugh! I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I laughed so hard when reading one of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney that I couldn’t speak for something like fifteen minutes. My husband kept asking me what was so funny, but I couldn’t even choke out an answer.

When I finally settled down enough to read the passage to him, he just looked at me (without laughing) and said, “This only proves that you have the sense of humor of a middle school boy.”

Well, that’s part of it! One reason I can decide what is funny is because I read a lot of funny books for children. And I laugh at them! If you want to write humor for children, you should too.

I also love funny T.V. shows. I’m a longtime fan of shows like “SNL” and British comedies like “Keeping up Appearances.” I used to struggle with insomnia, but now I put myself to sleep by listening to “M*A*S*H” on DVD. The voices of Potter, Radar, and Hawkeye sing me to sleep every single night. Sometimes I chuckle as I’m dozing off. (If you try this at home, avoid episodes where Houlihan gets angry. That voice will wake you back up in a hurry!)

So, did humor writing really come naturally to me, or had I just familiarized myself with the techniques by soaking up vast quantities of humor writing via books and television over the years?

You didn’t know there were actual techniques? Me either. But after failing my student, I ordered two books about writing humor: Comedy Writing Secrets by Mel Helitzer (Writer’s Digest Books, 2005) and How to Write Funny by John B. Kachuba (Writer’s Digest Books, 2001). Both are loaded with tips, strategies, and techniques for writing humor.

It turns out, I was using many of them when I wrote The Boy Project. I just didn’t know they were standard issue and that they came with names like “convention suspension” and “anecdotal reverse.” Anyone wanting to ramp up the humor in their writing should check out these books or others like them.

Other than immersing yourself in humor and reading up on the techniques, the biggest tip I have for humor writers is this: remember to surprise your audience. (In a good way, not in a jumping from a closet wearing a hockey mask way.) No one is going to laugh at your pranks if they know what is coming.

So as you write, look at your wording and the situations you present and ask yourself, can I surprise my audience by exaggerating this situation until it is larger than life?

Can I paint a picture with words that puts a funny image in their heads – a surprising one that they wouldn’t think of otherwise? If you can do this, you can write humor.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

Kami’s office.

I’m a writer who needs a quiet space. I don’t listen to music when I write, and I don’t get much done when there is a lot going on in my house. I do most of my writing during the school day when no one else is home.

When we moved four years ago I insisted on buying a house that had office space —space I wouldn’t have to share with anyone.

The home I left had a beautiful office with windows all along the wall, a built-in bookshelf, and French doors, but I had to share it with my husband, and even when he was working quietly, I found it distracting to have someone else in the room with me.

We moved to the coast and housing prices at that time were at an all-time high. So it wasn’t easy to find a house we could afford that had an extra room for an office!

When we looked at the house we are now living in, it didn’t have an office. What it did have was a small laundry room. I immediately saw office potential! It was a tiny room, but big enough for my computer desk, my antique writing desk, and my imagination.

We moved the washer and dryer elsewhere, put in a glass door so I could see the outside, and installed bookshelves on the wall over my computer. It is all I need and it is perfect.

Now I have my own little office where I am very productive. It works for me because the space is mine; there isn’t room for anyone else!

Hello, puppy!

Cynsational Notes

Check out Kami’s craft blog, Crafty Crafts!

Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award Winners (For Portrayals of “Individuals with Developmental Disabilities”)

Source: Tina Taylor Dyches, Ed.D.
Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award Chair
Brigham Young University
at Cynsations

The Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award was presented Jan. 19 at the Council for Exceptional Children’s Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities (DADD) international conference in Miami Beach, Florida.

The intermediate/young adult award was presented to Kathryn Erskine, author of Mockingbird (Philomel, 2010) and Beverley Brenna, author of Waiting for No One (Red Deer, 2011).

In the picture book category, the awards went to Rebecca Elliott, author/illustrator of Just Because (Lion, 2011), and Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete (authors) and Shane W. Evans (illustrator) for My Brother Charlie (Scholastic, 2010).

The Dolly Gray Award recognizes high quality fiction/biographical books for children, adolescents, and young adults that authentically portray individuals with developmental disabilities. Special Needs Project, a worldwide leader in the distribution of books related to disabilities, co-sponsors this award.

Fran Prezant, disability consultant, author, presenter, and Dolly Gray Award panelist notes, “Engaging books that feature people with disabilities as individuals with personalities, strengths and talents as part of the story line, have the exponential power to change attitudes and promote inclusion in education, jobs and community life. These are important, not only for young readers with and without disabilities, but for parents and teachers who read books to them and model societal attitudes through words and actions.

“This year, it is wonderful to see so many positive contributions to the literature choices compared to a decade ago when people with disabilities were rarely featured in positive ways if at all, in children’s books. The Dolly Gray Award has been a positive vehicle to call attention to this and authors and progressive publishers should be commended and encouraged to put more of these books into the hands of readers.”

New this year is the Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award Special Collection at the Harold B. Lee Library on the Brigham Young University campus in Provo, Utah. This collection will house all books considered for the award since its inception in 2000, and is likely to be the most complete collection of children’s books that include individuals with developmental disabilities. A list of all books eligible for the award, procedures, and submission guidelines are available on the DADD website.

Last Call: PEN Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship & Steven Kroll Award

Source: Pen America Center
at Cynsations

PEN American Center is accepting submissions until Feb. 1 for the $5,000 PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship, given annually to an author of children’s or young-adult fiction.

The Fellowship is designed to assist a writer at a crucial moment in his or her career to complete a book-length work-in-progress. Past recipients include Lucy Frank, Pat Schmatz, Carol Lynch Williams, Theresa Nelson, Diane Les Becquets, Graham McNamee, Lori Aurelia Williams, Franny Billingsley, Amanda Jenkins, and Barbara Shoup. See details, and learn more about Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

PEN American Center is also accepting submissions until Feb. 1 for the $5,000 PEN/Steven Kroll Award, established in memory of Steven Kroll to acknowledge the distinct literary contributions of picture book writers.

The annual award will be presented for the first time in 2012. It will acknowledge an American or U.S.-based writer for exceptional text illustrated in a picture book. See details.

 Cynsational Notes

Author Steven Kroll Dies at 69 by Rocco Staino from School Library Journal.

World Book Night

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

World Book Night will take place on April 23, 2012 across the U.S., U.K. and Ireland.

During World Book Night, 50,000 people, named as “book givers,” will each be giving away 20 books from a select list with a goal to have 1,000,000 people across the United States alone celebrating reading en masse. There will be adult books and young adult titles given away.

Sign up by Feb. 6 to apply to be a “book giver.” See the complete list of titles.

Update: the deadline to apply to be a volunteer book giver was originally Feb. 1 but has been extended to Feb. 6.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature have been announced.

In the Picture Book category, the winner was The House Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in China by Ed Young (Little, Brown), and the honor book was Hot Hot Roti for Dada-ji by F. Zia, illustrated by Ken Min (Lee & Low).

In the Children’s Literature category, the winner was The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang (Scholastic), and the honor book was Vanished by Sheela Chari (Hyperion).

In the Young Adult category, the winner was Orchards by Holly Thompson (Delacorte), and the honor book was Level Up by Gene Luen Yang (First Second).

For author insights, see New Voice: Sheela Chari on Vanished and Holly Thompson on the Perfect Setting and Orchards. 

More News & Giveaways

Poetry: A Messy Business from Sharon Darrow. Peek: “What would happen if the wind blew in and swooped up all our carefully ordered pages, tossed them to the ceiling, some even blowing away through the open window, and rearranged those left into a joyful chaos? How would we cope? What treasures might we find?”

The Promise of the Novel by Mary Kole from Peek: “If something reads contemporary realistic for enough pages to make me think that it’s a contemporary realistic novel, don’t toss dragons at me on page 25. My expectations have gelled. I am settling into your tale. I don’t want to suddenly discover that I’ll be reading high fantasy.”

Do You Need Social Media Interaction? by Angela Ackerman from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: “Running yourself ragged is not the solution. Quitting a platform you worked so hard to build is not the solution. Change is.” See also The Fine Art of Zipping It, or XYZ PDQ by Jennifer Laughran from Jennifer Represents.

Twenty Years Strong from The Brown Bookshelf: United in Story. Peek: “On Saturday, Feb. 4, Philadelphia’s African American Children’s Book Fair turns 20. It’s a milestone that means a lot to founder Vanesse Lloyd-Sgambati.”

Placing Too Much Importance on Passion from Jane Friedman. Peek: “As long as we do work that feels satisfying—that complements our personal values and strengths—we can all do just fine, especially if we have relationships that are also fulfilling and satisfying.”

Questions about Power in Stories and Storytelling by Mitali Perkins from Mitali’s Fire Escape. Two lists of questions to consider before/as you write.

Inspiration and Writing Anyway from Kate Messner. Peek: “Have you ever noticed that we don’t ask this question of people with too many other jobs?  I didn’t ask my mail carrier how she got inspired to deliver the mail today, nor do I ask my husband how he gets inspired to figure out the weather forecast.” See also Kate on The Fine Art of Faking It.

“Rotters” by Daniel Kraus, narrated by Kirby Heyborne (Listening Library) is the 2012 Odyssey Award winner. See Daniel Kraus on Why Do You Write Such Dark YA Fiction? from Cynsations. Peek: “It has already been called by one taste-maker as the most ‘adult’ book ever published as YA, and is certainly in the running for the darkest.”

2012 Amelia Bloomer Celebrates Feminist Perspective in Books for Young Readers from the American Library Association. See the complete annotated list. See Amelia Bloomer top 10 author Julie Chibbaro on Navigating The Past Through Real Stories.

Ghetto Cowboy,” by G. Neri and narrated by J.D. Jackson (Brilliance Audio) is a 2012 Odyssey honor book.  See G. Neri On The Trail to Ghetto Cowboy from Cynsations. Peek: “By getting boys interested in raising a horse rather than killing another human being, these cowboys gave the youth something positive: father figures, focus, and the ability to stand tall.”

Hungry for More About the Hunger Games? A Q&A with Amandla Stenberg (aka Rue) by Karen Springen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I had a little wreath of flowers in my pocket that I thought Rue might have. That was in my pocket as good luck, and also a special rock.”

When to Quit Querying and Self-Publish by Samantha Clark from Motivation for Writers. Peek: “Rejections to query letters could mean a number of things: the query isn’t strong enough, the writing isn’t good enough, the story isn’t interesting enough, the characters aren’t developed enough. Let’s face it, plenty of us have sent out queries for a book we thought was ready only to look at it later and think it wasn’t.”

Karen Schreck and Katherine Grace Bond interview Leah Hultenschmidt of Sourcebooks from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “The ‘we publish authors not books’ often comes down to career planning. When we sign an author, we want to work with her over a number of different books. We want to launch her (or relaunch her) and build her audience.”

Writing Easy Readers – Or How to Get Second Graders to Love You by Dotti Enderle from Trust Me…I’m a Writer. A few tips from the author of a dozen early reader chapter books.

2012 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers from the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). Note: special congrats to fellow Austinite Chris Barton on the inclusion of Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities, illustrated by Paul Hoppe (Dial, 2011)! See Chris on Unbridled Silliness and Carefully Researched Truth Telling.

Catching Your World on Paper by Danielle Leafty from Peek: “World building, in it’s most basic form, is the process by which an author takes the story as it is in his or her mind and carefully reconstructs it on the page.”

Discussion and Activity Guides: an interview with Debbie Gonzales from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “…any way we can make our books appealing to gatekeepers – teachers, booksellers, librarians, parents – the better. Guides demonstrate the academic soundness of your book to the educator. They show gatekeepers that you’ve taken their needs to heart and want to help make their lives a little easier.”

A Book Rejected 23 Times? What Impact Could It Have? Check out this video featuring Mitali Perkins from the Highlights Foundation. Learn about Mitali‘s upcoming workshop, Creating an Authentic Cultural Voice, with Donna Jo Napoli and special guests Kathryn Eskine and Alvina Ling, which will take place April 26 to April 29. Peek: “Through impeccable research, imagination, empathy, and experience, a true cultural voice can be achieved.” See also upcoming Highlights Workshops on Nature Writing and Science Writing.

List of Selected Illustrators for the Illustrators Exhibition 2012 at Bologna Children’s Book Fair. See also Selected Images.

Genre Display Signing for Libraries by Naomi Bates from YA Books and More. Don’t miss part two.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine) by Jonathan Maberry from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “…four separate aspects to the genre. They are pre-Apocalyptic, Apocalyptic, Post-Apocalyptic and Dystopian. Over the last six years I’ve written variations of all four. And I’m a happy guy. I don’t shovel down anti-depressants and writing this stuff isn’t a cry for help.”

Editorial Palavering: Martha Mihalick, Editor at Greenwillow/HarperColllins by Cheryl Klein from Brooklyn Arden. Peek: “…I’m very attracted to stories that involve significant–often heartwrenching–choices for the characters. And ones with strong friendship or sibling themes.” Check out Cheryl’s book, Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising & Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults.

When Dad Came Back by Gary Soto (University Press of New England) at facebook. Note: Gary’s first e-only book for young adults. See Jo Ellen Misakian Interviews Author Gary Soto on His New Books, Writing and the Gary Soto Museum.

12 x 12 in 2012: Picture Book Writing Challenge from Julie Hedlund: Write Up My Life.  Peek: “Twelve complete picture book drafts. Twelve months.  2012.  Are you with me?” Sign-up deadline: Jan. 29.

Getting the Glory: A Note about Awards by Kathi Appelt from Write at Your Own Risk. Peek: “What I I think is that we’re all in search of glory. But let me just say that glory comes in many sizes.  Some days it ends with a small ‘be,’ and that’s enough.  When I say ‘glory be’ out loud it reminds me of the joy and wonder that I experience at the end of a well-formed sentence—both my own and others.” See also Musings About Awards by Teri Lesesne from professornana.

See also Our Favorite Articles and Blog Posts from Adventures in YA and Children’s Publishing.

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win a Diabolical giveaway! The grand prize includes:

Note: Tantalize series logos designed by Gene Brenek; see the whole selection at Sanguini’s at CafePress.

Runner-Up Prizes

  • one of two signed hardcover copies of Tantalize
  • one of two signed hardcover copies of Eternal
  • one of two signed hardcover copies of Blessed

To enter, comment on this post (click the previous 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 Cynthia directly with “Diabolical giveaway” in the subject line.  Everyone will be entered for every prize unless otherwise specified. If you have, say, an earlier book in the series and don’t want another copy, please just say so! (In the alternative, you could plan to gift one to a friend or a local school/public library.) Author-sponsored. Eligibility: international. Deadline: Feb. 8.

Looking for another chance to win? Check out this Diabolical Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith & Giveaway by Jen Bigheart from I Read Banned Books.

Grand Prize! Enter for a chance to win:

A runner-up will receive signed copy of Love? Maybe. And sweet treats.

To enter, comment on this post (click the previous link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with “Love? Maybe.” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: North America (U.S./Canada). Deadline: midnight CST Jan. 31.

Plus three $15 iTunes Gift Cards!

Enter to win an author-signed Tantalize: Kieren’s Story postcard, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story bookmark or Diabolical bookmark! Up to 20 total! Plus, the occasional Tantalize series button or bat stickers or nifty surprise! And three lucky winners will receive a $15 iTunes gift card!

Teachers, librarians and book clubs also may enter to win one of five sets of 10 Tantalize: Kieren’s Story bookmarks or one of three sets of five Diabolical bookmarks!

Please indicate your related affiliation in your entry. I.e., Suzy Q, school librarian, Austin Independent School District. To enter, comment on this post (click the previous link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with “Tantalize Series Bling” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: international. Deadline: midnight CST Feb. 1.

More Giveaways

Last call! Enter to win an ARC of Article 5 by Kristen Simmons (Tor, 2012) and The Pledge by Kimberly Derting (Margaret K. McElderry, 2011) from Tabitha at Writer Musings. Winner will be announced Jan. 28. Note: learn more about Article 5 and The Pledge.

Last call! Interview with Caroline Starr Rose and May B. Giveaway by Literary Rambles. Peek: “…I learned from that disastrous manuscript that regardless of the history, the story had to belong to the character; I couldn’t beat historical facts into my readers’ heads. I went into May B. trusting that if I kept my protagonist’s perspective and understanding of her world, enough history would organically seep in.” Deadline: midnight, Jan. 28.

Reminder: Jean Reidy is celebrating cabin-fever creativity and the release of her latest picture book Too Princessy!, illustrated by Geneviève Leloup (Bloomsbury, 2012) by hosting a Boredom Buster Blog – chock full of rainy day ideas from parents, teachers, caregivers, babysitters, writers and other folks like you. Send in your favorite ideas and be entered to win one of five prizes, including a $100 bookseller gift card and autographed books. The drawing will be Feb. 29.

This Week’s Cynsations Posts

Austin Scene

Photo courtesy of Jeanette Larson.

Highlights of the week included Carolyn Mackler and Jay Asher event Monday night at BookPeople in Austin. They gave a terrific joint presentation on their new release, The Future of Us (Razorbill, 2011), and are highly recommended as speakers.

More Personally

Look for Diabolical at The Book Spot in Round Rock, Texas.

Diabolical is now available from Candlewick Press! Check out the giveaway (above) as well as buzz and upcoming events (below). Any efforts to help spread the word will be hugely appreciated.

Congratulations to the winners and honorees of the 2012 ALA Youth Media Awards. I was especially excited to see Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories, edited by Carrie Jones and Megan Kelley Hall (HarperCollins, 2011) on the 2012 Rainbow List. The book includes my essay, “Isolation.” Note: awards coverage is ongoing and will continue next week.

Are you a fan of school libraries? Are you based in the U.S.? Please consider signing this White House petition to help ensure every child in America has access to an effective school library program. Please also share this link with fellow enthusiasts. Thank you!

Welcome Cynthia Leitich Smith and Diabolical from Joy Preble at Joy’s Novel Idea. Note: an in-depth interview about creating a diversity of work, writing as a career, balance (or lack thereof), a typical day, a double-author marriage, and more! Peek: “Be especially sure to read outside of your comfort zone. Creating art is all about thriving, innovating amidst uncertainly and chaos; reading books that challenge you is a smart way to steel yourself.”

Diabolical Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith & Giveaway by Jen Bigheart from I Read Banned Books. Note: reflections on the Tantalize series, settings, and my favorite “devils.” Peek: “…more imagination went into developing the Penultimate, which is located outside the Pearly Gates. It basically functions as a receiving/reunion area and lobby lounge with temporary housing and business offices of the angels.”

Nominations for The Children’s Book Council “2012 Teen Choice Book of the Year” are being accepted on until Feb. 15. Readers are being asked to list up to five of their favorite books of 2011; the five titles that receive the most votes will become finalists to be entered in a second round of voting. From there, teens will vote again to determine the ultimate winner — the 2012 Teen Choice Book of the Year. Note: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick/Walker) is a nominee! If you liked the novel, please consider voting for it–along with your other four picks–to reach the finals. See the full list of nominated books. (Remember, write-in titles are still being accepted.) Vote for your favorite books here! Voting eligibility: international. Anyone between the ages of 12 and 18 can vote. Deadline for voting in the nominating round: Feb. 15.

Into the Mystic says of Blessed: “This is my favorite book in this series so far!  I loved the way she brought the characters from the 2 books together and then blended that world so seamlessly with Bram Stoker!  It was a stroke of brilliance!”

Into the Mystic says of Diabolical: “Holy hot trips to Hell!!!  This book was great!  This story was very original, very fast-paced, very engaging and very witty!”

Jen Bigheart at I Read Banned Books says of Diabolical: “He {Zachary} tries his best to follow the rules, but when the ish hits the fan at the boarding school, he follows his own heart. A fast paced paranormal full of magic, mystery, and mayhem!”

Two Writing Teachers says of Diabolical: “It’s a fictitious world, and yet I found myself lost in the story. She made me care about the characters. She made me believe in the evil and trust good would triumph in the end. Her craft is tight and I found myself rereading to see how she could pack so much power in just a few words.”

Midnight Reads says of of Diabolical: “There are some excellent twists in the plot and fab new characters, especially Vesper and Nigel, and the relationships between Miranda and Zachary and Quincie and Kieren are as sweet as ever. The final battle in the story is nail-biting and more than one characters life is on the line which makes for an exciting ending.”

Personal Links:

From Greg Leitich Smith:

RE Greg Leitich Smith:

Cynsational Events

My Vicious Valentine: Spine-tingling YA Author Panel, featuring Jordan Dane, P.J. “Tricia” Hoover, Mari Mancusi, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and L.A. Weatherly—moderated by Sean Petrie–will take place at 7 p.m. Feb. 10 at BookPeople in Austin. Join us when six top YA authors dish on the devilish, gab about ghosts, and soar with the angels in this panel celebrating spine-tingling stories, supernatural creatures, and perhaps scariest of all, true love.

See Cynthia’s upcoming events in Albuquerque, Tucson, Sandy (Utah), Southampton (New York), and Montpelier (Vermont).

Mark your calendars for Alex Flinn’s Upcoming Tour.  She’ll be appearing at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville on Feb. 14, at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston Feb. 15, and at Barnes & Noble in Round Rock (Texas) Feb. 16.

Note: Due to volume, I can’t feature the author/illustrator events of all of my Cynsational readers, but if you’re Austin bound for an appearance here, let me know, and I’ll try to work in a shout out or two. Thanks!

Guest Post: Jessica Lee Anderson on the Creative Skin We’re In

Learn more about Jessica.

By Jessica Lee Anderson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

One of my favorite quotes comes from Katherine Paterson, author of the Newbery-winning novel Bridge to Terebithia (HarperCollins):

“I have often noted that it takes the thinnest skin in the world to be a writer, it takes the thickest to seek out publication. But both are needed—the extreme sensitivity and the hippo hide against criticism.”

How can we cultivate the perfect skin as creative souls, the right balance of thin and thick? The thin skin to produce outstanding, unique manuscripts, and the thick skin to endure the seemingly endless waiting as well as rejection and criticism?

As Signe, a character in Kathi Appelt’s novel Keeper (Atheneum), would say, “This is a question for the universe.”

I wish I had the answer. In the ten years I’ve been writing professionally, I’ve had hippo hide moments and laughed in the face of rejection. I’ve had other moments when I practically needed stitches to sew the pieces of me together, moments when the disappointments of writing added to the mounting stresses I faced in other aspects of my life.

No, I don’t have the answer, but these ups and downs have provided some insights.

Insight #1: Avoid Harmful Exposure

Excerpt of Calli (Milkweed, 2011)

Our skin is an incredible sensory organ that holds things in place and protects us from losing water while preventing bacteria from entering at the same time. It requires care, and this is especially true for our “creative skin”.

Like wearing oven mitts when taking a hot casserole out of the oven or slathering on sunscreen, we must do what we can to avoid painful burns.

When you’re feeling especially vulnerable, try to surround yourself with people who encourage rather than those who trivialize or antagonize. Also, we need to be reminded that while writing is important, it isn’t the sum of who we are.

Examine the things that work for you and the things that don’t. Depending on where you’re at, will obsessing over book deals or reading into rejections replenish your creativity or scar it?

What about book reviews—can a few glowing comments extinguish the scorch of the negative? Will haunting book rankings or other statistics inspire or intimidate? Modify accordingly and reexamine as needed.

Many great minds have suffered greatly given the polarity of this field—don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you need it.

Insight #2: Skin Care Regimen

Regardless of skin types, any good, basic skin care regiment consists of cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing. If you’re not already in the habit, rinse away dirt, doubt, grime, and insecurity. Scrub away the clogging effects of distractions—television, the Internet, and anything else that blocks you from doing the work that you were called to do. Care for your creative skin by hydrating yourself with projects you enjoy working on or by reading, taking classes, attending conferences, etc.

Insight #3: Strengthening from the Inside Out

Discussion Guide

Topical techniques are important, but to truly have healthy, resilient skin (both physical and creative), it must be nurtured from the inside out. Exercise, good nutrition, adequate sleep, and relaxation all help to reactivate our skin’s innate ability to repair itself.

Okay, okay, I know I’m taking this skin thing way too far, but as I advance into my next decade of writing, and as this market continues to change and challenge, these insights are crucial to my well being and perhaps yours, too.

Highs and lows, thin and thick—it is all a part of this crazy business.

In closing, Katherine Paterson also said, “It takes courage to lay your insides out for people to examine and sneer over. But that’s the only way to give what is your unique gift to the world.”

Be courageous, give your gifts, and don’t forget to treat your creative skin well in the process.

Cynsational Notes

Jessica is a founding member of the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels.

Check out this video of her talking about patience and online distractions.

Interview: Greg & Cynthia Leitich Smith on Diabolical

Candlewick & Walker Aus. NZ

By Greg Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations on the release of Diabolical – book 4 in the Tantalize series! How did this novel come to be?

Thank you! The original idea behind the Tantalize series was that Bram Stoker’s classic horror novel Dracula is loosely based on truth. Each of my first four books in the series is contemporary but moves closer to that source material. Quickly…

In book 1, Tantalize, we meet a many-times great niece of one of Van Helsing’s original vampire hunters.

In book 2, Eternal, we learn of the Mantle of Dracul, or the present-day vampire royalty.

In book 3, Blessed, we solve a present-day mystery using clues from Stoker’s novel. A literary mystery, if you will, but you don’t have to have read Dracula for it to make sense.

Here, in book 4, Diabolical, we journey a modern update of the Scholomance, where the Count learned his wicked ways. Though the books can be enjoyed separately, this novel puts a cap on this super arc.

More globally, the series is set in a multi-creature-verse, featuring guardian angels and archangels, ghosts, vampires, demons, hell hounds, dragons and a myriad of shape-shifters, including a new one—the wereotter. The series has strong male and female leads and a diverse cast, defined broadly.

Don’t you just adore otters?!

What I loved most about Diabolical was bringing back all four of the protagonists–Quincie, Kieren, Zachary, and Miranda–in one blockbuster storyline! It’s also the most suspenseful, creepy, funny, and romantic of the books to date!

If you get scared easily, read it with the lights on or just read Miranda’s point of view. She’s writing from the Penultimate outside heaven. Trust me, you’ll feel safer there than at the school.

So, this latest novel, like the others in the series, owes a debt to Bram Stoker‘s Dracula. The setting, in particular, is based on the “Scholomance,” referenced by Van Helsing. Can you tell us a bit about the Scholomance (both Bram’s and yours)?

Here are Stoker’s pertinent quotes:

“The Draculas were, says Arminius, a great and noble race, though now and again were scions who were held by the coevals to have had dealings with the Evil One. They learned his secrets in the Scholomance, amongst the mountains over Lake Hermanstadt, where the devil claims the tenth scholar as his due.”

“He dared even to attend the Scholomance, and there was no branch of knowledge of his time that he did not essay.”

On one hand, it’s not a lot of information.

On the other, it’s a treasure trove.

I decided to make my Scholomance a junior feeder school to the original. I set in Vermont and then set my mind to the architecture. In Eternal and Blessed, I’d featured a castle based on Castle Bram, and I didn’t want to revisit the old school European style.

Castle Bran

I went modern instead, taking my inspiration from Mies Van der Rohe.

Jeff Crosby’s original art depiction in the book trailer (created by Shayne Leighton) is dead on to my vision.

It’s a seriously scary place, focusing heavily on the demonic. But with terrific furniture, fluffy towels, a well-stocked kitchenette and a first-class gym.

This is the first book I’ve ever written that literally gave me nightmares, but it was also, by far, the most fun. The fiercer the challenge, the more the heroes must find in themselves to combat it. Ditto the author.

The first book in the series, Tantalize, came out in 2007. Your first novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name, was published in 2001. Has how your approach to writing a novel changed since then?

Notice the (((cough))) gap between my debut and sophomore novel, though I did publish a couple of other books for younger readers (Indian Shoes and Santa Knows) as well as some short stories in between, including one for young adults.

Harper/Listening Library

With Rain Is Not My Indian Name, I dived in without a plan and wrote until I found a character and then wrote until I found her story. I spent about six additional, completely unnecessary extra months on it, gathering courage but mostly spinning. That said, it was a great learning experience.

With Tantalize, I had to learn how to write a fantasy first. In fantasy, you have to do everything you would in realistic fiction, and then you need a fantastical element (or several) that is necessary and speaks to both the internal and external arcs of the story.

Among other things, that meant quality time on creature creation and other aspects of world building. I needed to think hard about the metaphors in play and the histories and connotations of the mythologies behind them.

For the first two books in the series, Tantalize and Eternal, I used my traditional method—writing the entire story with a beginning, middle, and end, and then printing it, reading it, tossing it and deleting the file.

It’s a comforting strategy, one that takes a lot of pressure off (nobody but me was going to read it anyway) and offers the opportunity to get to know the characters and their world. You don’t commit to a working manuscript based on that first effort. (It would be a very shaky foundation.) Instead, you start over fresh, armed with lessons learned from the intensive pre-writing.

Once I hit Blessed, and then Diabolical, I’d already done the pre-writing for the characters and world in the previous books, so I was able to move with more of a sense of direction. At my brilliant editor’s encouragement, I do more outlining than I used to, but only in the roughest sense of the word. First, I craft a document that reads like catalog copy and then I begin expanding it from there.

Diabolical, like other novels in the series, is told from multiple points-of-view. What was it like working on the voices of each of the characters?

I’d written Zachary and Miranda’s first-person voices before in Eternal and Kieren’s in the graphic novel, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle.

Hers was the easiest to differentiate, but the boys are both sort of men of action. They’re both in love. They both have a sense of humor. And they’re both solid, stand-up dudes. So I had to really focus on the subtleties of their personalities.

Kieren is the most intelligent of all of my characters. Zachary tends to be the hardest on himself. I was tweaking language up until the final pass pages.

This novel is set outside Montpelier, Vermont. Why?

I love Vermont. I love everyone I’ve ever met there. It’s just magical to me.

Although based in Austin, I’m on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts low-residency program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and I wanted to nod to that inspiring New England setting. In Diabolical, the gorgeous winter landscape is juxtaposed against a hellishly hot invading institution; Vermont is the sweet earth that we’re fighting to get home to.

One of the new heroes, Evelyn, is a Vermonter. She’s also the brightest spirit.

Beyond that, I’ve made an effort in this series to vary the stages, and winter in Vermont was a strong contrast to the central Texas and Midwestern road-trip settings of the previous novels.

Your web site and your blog have received many honors from both writing and library organizations. What advice would you give to authors (both novices and veterans) on establishing/maintaining a web presence?

With the caveat, that it’s your party and you should rock it the way that pleases you…

Your creative work should come first. Beyond that, think about your goals, your time constraints, and what you enjoy doing.

I recommend going big picture rather than building your online identity too tightly around any one book. Hopefully, you’ll have a body of work, an overarching image to convey.

But whatever you do, keep it current. Fret less about the frequency of your minor, chatty updates, more about making sure your latest release is featured with all its cover art and relevant details.

Weave the Web in accordance with your vision. Try not to get too tangled up in it. There’s always a controversy of the day, many of them off-topic. If it’s a subject of pertinence and passion, dive in. But try not to get sucked down every rabbit hole, especially if you don’t have all the facts first.

And remember that young readers, fellow writers, event planners, gatekeepers, and other publishing professionals will use the Web to get to know you. Be the authentic you, with your best foot forward.

You’ve recently started using a treadmill desk. Did that take long to get used to? Do you find any difference in creative flow?

Inspired by Tracy Abell.

Not at all! I found myself quickly comfortable with simultaneously writing and walking, though reaching for a glass of water requires bracing myself and real concentration. 

I find that I’m much more focused and deliberate in my language.

More blood to the brain, I suppose.

What else is new?

I’m not a big TV person, but I have found a couple of new shows that I really like.

On the recommendation of my friend, author P.J. Hoover, I’ve begun watching “The Big Bang Theory”. Turns out that I’m sufficiently geeky for even the more obscure jokes to resonate.

I’ve also become addicted to “Supernatural,” on the urging of several of my YA readers. It’s hugely entertaining and occasionally scary enough that I have to watch a lighter show afterward before going to sleep. I love that it’s set all over the country, that Sam and Dean are from Lawrence, Kansas; where I went to college, and the cute guy factor is enormous. I also appreciate that so many speculative fiction TV alumni are cast in guest roles. Of late I’ve spotted Amber Benson (who played Tara Maclay on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) and Mitch Pileggi (who played Walter Skinner on “The X-Files”).

I’m not caught up to current time on either series, but instead watching back-to-back episodes. “Bones” is my only can’t-miss, first-run show.

In terms of recent reading, I finally got a chance to sit down with The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic) and thought it was excellent, the hype well deserved, the intensity riveting, the themes timely, and the resolution of the love triangle a real victory for carbohydrates.

What do you have coming out next?

Get to know the Leitich Smith kitties!

I look forward to the release of Eternal: Zachary’s Story, a graphic novel currently being illustrated by Ming Doyle and Smolder, which is set in the Tantalize universe, but begins a new storyline and features new protagonists.

Smolder is due to my editor at the end of this month, so this weekend you and I (by which I mean Greg and I) will be reading it aloud for a copy-edit, assisted by the cats, in the parlor. Should prove interesting!

Cynsational Notes & Giveaways

Welcome Cynthia Leitich Smith and Diabolical from Joy Preble at Joy’s Novel Idea. Note: an in-depth interview about creating a diversity of work, writing as a career, balance (or lack thereof), a typical day, a double-author marriage, and more! Peek: “Be especially sure to read outside of your comfort zone. Creating art is all about thriving, innovating amidst uncertainly and chaos; reading books that challenge you is a smart way to steel yourself.”

Enter to win the Diabolical Mega Package Giveaway! Author sponsored. Eligibility: international. Deadline: Feb. 8. Featuring seven signed books, wolf & otter & bat puppets, Codex Gigas necklace, angel tokens, angel mug, angel/dragon T-shirt & much more. See details.

You can also enter the Tantalize bling and iTunes gift card giveaway. Author sponsored. Eligibility: international. Deadline: Feb. 1. Featuring buttons, bookmarks & postcards. See details.

Thanks for celebrating the release of Diabolical! Tomorrow, we’ll return to regular programming.

About Greg

Greg Leitich Smith writes picture books, short stories, and novels.

His next novel, Chronal Engine, will be released March 24 by Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). It’s a mystery-adventure time-travel story about three teens who use their reclusive grandfather’s time machine to travel back to the Age of Dinosaurs to rescue their kidnapped sister and solve a family mystery.

Cynthia and Greg’s latest joint endeavor is “The Wrath of Dawn,” which appears in Geektastic: Stories by the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown).

Friend Greg at facebook. Visit GregLSBlog.

Release Day & Giveaway: Diabolical by Cynthia Leitich Smith

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Click to enlarge!

Enter to win a Diabolical giveaway! The grand prize includes:

In honor of the character Kieren.

Plus, sent separately…

I HEART My Guardian Angel mug; and…

I HEART My Guardian Angel T-shirt (winner’s choice of sizes and styles; available in white, light blue, light yellow and pink); or

dragon predator-and-prey shirt (winner’s choice of sizes; choice of white, light blue, gray).

Note: Tantalize series logos designed by Gene Brenek; see the whole selection at Sanguini’s at CafePress.

Runner-Up Prizes

  • one of two signed hardcover copies of Tantalize
  • one of two signed hardcover copies of Eternal
  • one of two signed hardcover copies of Blessed

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 “Diabolical giveaway” in the subject line.

Everyone will be entered for every prize unless otherwise specified. If you have, say, an earlier book in the series and don’t want another copy, please just say so! (In the alternative, you could plan to gift one to a friend or a local school/public library.)

Author-sponsored. This giveaway is for international readers–everyone is eligible!

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

In honor of a new character, Evie.

Limit 8 entries. Deadline: Feb. 8.

About Diabolical

Diabolical by Cynthia Leitich Smith is now available from Candlewick Press in North America, and it will be published Feb. 1 by Walker Australia and New Zealand. From the promotional copy:

When “slipped” angel Zachary and his werewolf pal, Kieren, are summoned under suspicious circumstances to a mysterious New England boarding school, they quickly find themselves in a hellish lockdown with an intriguing assortment of secretive, hand-picked “students.”

Plagued by demon dogs, hallucinatory wall decor, a sadistic instructor, and a legendary fire-breathing monster, will they somehow manage to escape? Or will the devil have his due?

Best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith unites heroes from the previous three novels in the Tantalize series — including Zachary’s girl, Miranda, and Kieren’s love, Quincie — along with a fascinating cast of all-new characters for a suspenseful, action-packed clash between the forces of heaven and hell.

Cynsational Notes

Look for this title in hardcover and e-format. E-book: 978-0-7636-5963-9.

Kirkus Reviews cheers: “A smart, playful series… A blend of romance, action and horror, this distinguishes itself from the crowd of paranormal teen fare with the employ of plenty of camp and a healthy dose of dry humor.”

The Horn Book raves: “…this one runs full force on the fires of hell and the sword power of heaven.”

My Vicious Valentine: Spine-tingling YA Author Panel, featuring Jordan Dane, P.J. “Tricia” Hoover, Mari Mancusi, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and L.A. Weatherly—moderated by Sean Petrie–will take place at 7 p.m. Feb. 10 at BookPeople in Austin. Join us when six top YA authors dish on the devilish, gab about ghosts, and soar with the angels in this panel celebrating spine-tingling stories, supernatural creatures, and perhaps scariest of all, true love.

See Cynthia’s upcoming events in Albuquerque, Tucson, Sandy (Utah), Southampton (New York), and Montpelier (Vermont).