As a professor of Latino/a and Latin American literature, it was my pleasure to introduce writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pablo Neruda not only to college students, but to children, who I found understood the concept of magical realism better than most adults!
During this period of intense productivity and publication, I wrote a story that had a very special place in my heart and mind.
What happens when the biographer becomes an autobiographer? I found out when I created the character of Marisol McDonald, a biracial girl, who, like me, often confounds those who think of race and culture in uncomplicated terms. I knew from experience what happens to children who don’t fit into any one box, and I was determined to see that Marisol’s story was told, for my sake, my daughters’ sake and for the millions of children who are proud of the multiplicity of their identities.
The story was “easy” to write—it flowed with all the humor and mischievousness of my own children, growing up in a close community of cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends, in a place where conversations (and lives) skated across languages and borders. We spoke Spanish, English, and sometimes—both.
I’ll never forget when my swimming teacher asked if I spoke “Peruish” or when my cousin’s new girlfriend informed me that I must be one of the “dark ones” in the family.
Monica and her daughters
The list goes on and on, and I see certain experiences being repeated with my own daughters. When my daughter Isabella was little and out and about alone with my Scandinavian-American husband, he would be asked questions such as, “Is your wife foreign?”
In the hospital where Isabella was born in eastern Tennessee, the nurses happily informed me that they had nicknamed my daughter “the little Eskimo.”
I wondered about the source of that particular nickname until the day the women mopping my hospital room floor approached me to tell me how beautiful my daughter was.
“Thank you!” I replied, in complete agreement.
She and I talked for a long time about our children, and I found out that she was . . . Native Alaskan.
Like me, she had married a European-American and our daughters were true mestizas. She, I, and my daughter Isabella had something else in common—none of us fit into neat ethnic boxes.
Through the process of writing and reflecting, I realized that Marisol’s story wasn’t just about race, or even culture, but it was about being a nonconformist—a spirit that was driven by different weather patterns, desires, and a unique view of the world.
Thus, my manuscript, “Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match” was completed and much to my disappointment, it did not find a home. Having published over eleven picture books with small, medium, and large publishers, why was this manuscript the most challenging to place?
Monica writing at her kitchen table
Considering the paucity of books representing the biracial experience, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was.
It is my firmly held belief that writers must become good friends with rejection, and I experienced it with this manuscript.
Apparently one can write an “edgy” picture book, and in my case, the edge came from attempts to write honestly about teasing, skin color, language, and insecurity.
Kekla Magoon on Truth, Inspiration, and Camo Girl from Cynsations. Peek: “The story’s themes of friendship, loyalty, fitting in, and self-acceptance all rested very close to my heart, but when people asked why I wrote the book, I found myself hemming and hawing.”
Co-authors Interview: Walter Dean Myers & Ross Workman on Kick from Cynsations. Peek: “I…saw, first hand, that the experience of writing increases the ability to write. Ross wrote much more convincingly at the end of this project than he did at the onset. I believe that structure helps in the writing process and working with Ross on Kick served to reaffirm this in my mind.”
The 2012 ALA Youth Media Awards are currently being announced live. Look for more Cynsations coverage of children’s-YA book award winners, honor books, finalists and lists in the days to come.
Patrick McDonnell Wins 2012 Charlotte Zolotow Award from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Me … Jane written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell (Little, Brown, 2011) is the fifteenth annual winner of the Charlotte Zolotow Award for outstanding writing in a picture book. The award is given by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, a library of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and will be presented on March 3 in Madison.
It’s 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They’ve been best friends almost as long—up until last November when everything changed. Things have been awkward ever since, but when Josh’s family gets an America Online CD-ROM in the mail, his mom makes him bring it over so Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they’re automatically logged onto Facebook…
But Facebook hasn’t been invented yet.
Josh and Emma are looking at their profiles fifteen years in the future. Their spouses, careers, homes, and status updates—it’s all there. But it’s not what they expected. And every time they refresh their pages, their futures change. As they grapple with the ups and downs of what their lives hold, they’re forced to confront what they’re doing right—and wrong—in the present.
Attention, Texans! Jay and Carolyn will appear today (Jan. 22) at 2 p.m. at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston and at 7 p.m. tomorrow (Jan. 23) at BookPeople in Austin.
Nominations for The Children’s Book Council “2012 Teen Choice Book of the Year” are being accepted on Teenreads.com 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.
2012 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: “…goes to Jack Gantos for Dead End in Norvelt, published by Farrar Straus Giroux. The award, created by Scott O’Dell and Zena Sutherland in 1982 and now administered by Elizabeth Hall, carries with it a prize of $5000, and goes to the author of a distinguished work of historical fiction for young people, published by a U.S. publisher; and set in South, Central, or North America.” See more awards news below.
Micro-level Revision by Paul Greci from Project Mayhem: From the Manic Minds of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: “I read it out loud—multiple times. If my characters are making faces or moving in other ways while they speak I act these things out to see how they look and how they feel.”
From Sketch to Final Art: I’m Bored by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Pixel Shavings. Peek: “They loved the monster hat on the girl. We decided to make the girl’s mouth look more interesting; Justin and Laurent suggested making it look a bit more like the monster’s, maybe echoing the shape.”
YA Market Ripe for Digital by Caroline Horn from The Bookseller. Peek: “While children’s e-book sales saw a marked rise during the Christmas period, they remain a “very small” part of the overall children’s market, said Simon & Schuster Children’s publisher Ingrid Selberg. Selberg pointed to the young adult market as the obvious digital growth area in 2012.” Note: U.K. market. Source: ACHOCKABLOG.
Weaving in Symbolism by Stina Lindblatt from Seeing Creative. Peek: “For example, if the scene takes place in a room with green walls, you won’t be thinking that the director wanted to reveal the subtext of life. But you can guarantee someone behind the scenes purposely picked that color because of what it symbolized and not because it was her favorite color.”
Poetry Friday Roundups from Kidlitosphere Central. Peek: “Each week, a blogger is tasked with rounding up the Poetry Friday posts around the blogosphere. Here are links to the bloggers who will be taking on that task in the weeks ahead, as well as links to past round-up posts.”
Three Ways to Handle Time in a Novel by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “Setting details are a great way to make these time periods clear: is the sun or the moon rising? Are there Christmas ornaments on the street lights or are the daffodils just peeking out of the soil?”
Writing Q&A: Using the Insanity Defense in Your Story by Leslie Budewitz from QueryTracker.net. Peek: “The underlying premise is that a person cannot be held responsible for criminal behavior if mental illness prevented him from understanding that his actions were wrong. This inquiry focuses on the defendant’s mental status at the time of the crime.”
Author-Illustrator Interview: Joyce Wan by Tarie from Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind. Peek: “I work mostly in the digital medium so I’m usually on my computer. I’ll use my light table for the concept stages of developing a book and for creating book dummies. Hanging on the wall behind my desk is my inspiration board where I pin up printouts of stuff I’m working on, postcards, photographs, quotes, scraps of paper, fabric – anything I find that resonates with me. I think it’s really important to create a space for yourself that nurtures your creative spirit.”
Submit a Photo of Yourself with a Dinosaur to Greg Leitich Smith to take part in his series of blog posts featuring children’s-YA authors, illustrators, and other members of the community (booksellers, teachers, publicists, etc.) with dinosaurs to promote your books or other bookish pursuits and in celebration of Greg’s upcoming release, Chronal Engine (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). Note: it doesn’t have to be an actual, living dinosaur…because that would be challenging. See examples.
New Covers and Black Heart Excerpt from Holly Black. Peek: “This has proven to be a tricky series to find the right jackets for, and I am really excited by this new direction. It was described to me as the sort of cover that might go on a very modern edition of The Great Gatsby, and I think that’s a fantastic way of looking at them.”
Cynsational Author Tip: create an author vitae, listing your books and other published writing, publishers, awards and honors, significant speaking engagements, teaching experience, judging experience, professional affiliations, and education. Keep it updated.
Skype! Skype! Skype! An Interview with Laurel Snyder by Greg Pincus from The Happy Accident. Peek: “…last year when I saw author Laurel Snyder announce that she was going to do 100 Skype visits in 100 days along with her book launch, I thought it was a fantastic, if exhausting sounding, idea. Now that the visits are over, I asked Laurel a few questions about the experience – the logistics, what she learned, how it did (or didn’t) help her and her book.”
Diversity Matters: A Q&A with Debut Author Ellie Daines from Tracy tall tales & short stories. Peek: “With literature, sometimes a book is presented in the media as being say, a Muslim story or an African story, when essentially it’s a universal story which we can all relate to it, no matter what race or social background we come from.”
The Value Rubric: Do Book Bloggers Really Matter? by Beth Kephart from Publishing Perspectives. Peek: “Book blogging takes time. And while some bloggers have certainly found ways to monetize their efforts (a move that is not without its own complex controversies), a substantial number of the bloggers are still doing what they do for the simple love of books, and for the chance to turn someone’s head toward a story they have loved.”
All the World Loves Marla Frazee from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “Marla…sees illustrative work as, partly, a type of ‘product’ – involving decisions with regards front cover design, font, layout, size, and format. These aspects have a commercial component inherent in the illustrator’s work: they implicate the book’s marketing possibilities, and where the book may be placed on the bookstore’s shelf.” Note: with regard to Marla’s recent stint as illustrator-in-residence at Vermont College of Fine Arts program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.
Peek: “It takes more than a stellar book to make an impact in today’s publishing climate. Media promotion (through websites, blogs, social media, social cataloging, Skype, and podcasts) is integral to successfully launching a children’s book and a writing career!
“For those just starting out, learn about website design and innovative, painless marketing techniques. For those ready to take self-promotion to the next level, receive guidance in gaining an audience, establishing a brand, and developing a book launch that gets noticed.
“All participants will learn about integrating technology into school visits, how to establish guidelines with publishers for promotion, and opportunities for social networking beyond Facebook.”
Bobbie Combs, co-creator of We Love Children’s Books, says: “Gone are the days when authors and illustrators would ask ‘Do I need a website?’ Now it’s unthinkable that a professional would not have a website (or a blogsite, Facebook page, or other web presence.) It’s not enough, though, to create your site and just let it be. We’ll discuss updating your site (how often?) to keep it relevant, marketing your site to connect you with the larger children’s book community on the web and give you tips for analyzing your site traffic, maximizing the ‘reach’ of your site and making your site content sparkle.”
sweet treats to share with friends, including candy heart-shaped balloons, Conversation Hearts candies, Ring Pops and much more…
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.
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.
If you include in your comment a thought on the video at that link, you’ll receive two extra entries! Publisher-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST Jan. 23.
Last call! Enter to win an ARC of Touched by Cyn Balog (Delacorte, Aug. 14, 2012) from The B-log Blog. Peek: “Nick Cross always listens to the voice in his head. Because if he doesn’t? Things can go really, really wrong. Like the day he decided to go off script and saved a girl from being run over…and let another one drown. Trying to change the future doesn’t work. But this summer at the Jersey Shore, something’s about to happen that Nick never could have predicted. He meets a girl named Taryn and finds out about the Book of Touch. Now the path that he thought he was on begins to shift…and there’s no way to stop things from happening. Or is there? In a life where there are no surprises, nothing has prepared Nick for what he’s about to discover–or the choice he will be forced to make…” Deadline: midnight EST Jan. 20.
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.
Interview with Barney Saltzberg & Book Giveaway by April Halprin Wayland from Teaching Authors. Peek: “In my school visits I talk about a dog of ours who was accidentally locked in my studio. She attempted to climb out the window and stepped all over an illustration I had finished. I thought the artwork was ruined. After careful reflection, I found I could turn each paw print into a cloud.” Enter to win Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg (Workman, 2010) from Teaching Authors. Deadline: 11 p.m. CST Jan. 25.
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 has been quiet, filled with writing as I close in on the end-of-the-month deadline for Smolder. With that in mind, please hold off on any non-critical questions, pitches or event correspondence until February–thanks!
What else? Because “Joyful Noise” wasn’t at the Alamo Drafthouse Austin, my husband Greg and I made the hike to the the pricy but plush iPic Theaters at the The Domain. (I had to see it–my whole Dolly Parton fan-girl thing!) I had shrimp, mozzarella & complimentary popcorn, seated in an extended recliner with a pillow and blanket.
Great service, and yes, I kept thinking that Marie Antoinette would consider the whole experience wildly indulgent. Really.
As for the movie, great for families with older kids, extraordinarily wholesome, the mildly “edgy” parts somehow made it seem more so. I loved it.
Book Chic says of Diabolical: “Overall, just a fabulous book with an action-filled plotline and an amazing climax with some sweet romance as well. I cannot wait for the next book in the series!”
Mingey House Blog says of Diabolical: “You don’t have to read all the other books to understand it or love the book; in general it was just fantastic! Most of the things you might not understand she explains in good detail that’s not too long. It is also a decent length, and the way it is put together is just perfect.”
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!
May is helping out on a neighbor’s homestead—just until Christmas, her pa promises. But when a terrible turn of events leaves her all alone, she must try to find food and fuel—and courage—to make it through the approaching winter.
This gorgeous novel in verse by Caroline Starr Rose will transport you to the Kansas prairie—to the endless grassland, and to the suffocating closeness of the sod house where May is stranded.
May’s eloquent yet straightforward voice, and her bravery, determination, and willingness to risk it all will capture your heart.
What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you’re debuting this year?
(One summer I took home two grocery bags full of L.M.M. books on loan from a friend. I can proudly claim to have read every single book she’s written — journals and all).
The books I read became a huge part of my world. I played Nancy Drew with friends, clomping around in too-big high heels and collecting “clues” for a mystery I was sure would unfold if I just studied my surroundings carefully enough. I made maps of Lloyd Alexander‘s Prydain, one for each book in his chronicles, and, with a friend, journeyed through this mysterious land.
And then there was Laura Ingalls Wilder. My dad started the series with me as a little girl. I began to call my mother “Ma” (really!) and started talking about Laura as if she were someone I knew personally. As my reading progressed, I’d stay one chapter ahead of my dad.
When I discovered Laura’s dog, Jack, was going to die, I didn’t want to continue. Somehow hearing that chapter read aloud was too painful to imagine. When my father wanted to read, I’d give an excuse until gradually he no longer offered. I finished the series on my own when I was a little older. My childhood babysitter, also a huge Laura fan, would also read those later books to me.
As an adult I told my dad why we’d stopped reading the Little House series. Since then I’ve used the phrase “when Jack died” with him to describe those childhood instances that, now with my own children, I’ll notice but not fully understand — those times when my boys might say or do something that feels out of character and where I realize, if I think through their motivations, hopes, and fears, I might uncover what’s really going on in their worlds.
As a historical fiction writer, what drew you first–character, concept, or time period? In whichever case, how did you go about building your world and integrating it into the story? What were the special challenges? Where did you turn for inspiration or support?
Historical period, most definitely. I knew I wanted to write about the frontier and my own strong pioneer girl (thanks again to Laura Ingalls) and trusted a character would emerge as I studied.
My first attempt at writing had been historical fiction, and I learned from that disastrous manuscript that, regardless of the history, the story had to belong to the character, and 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.
I poked around with some scenes I thought the story needed but quickly found the writing wasn’t right. I wasn’t close enough to the character. I wasn’t telling the story as honestly as I could.
Continuing with my research, I picked up Elizabeth’s Hamsten’s Read This Only to Yourself: The Private Writings of Midwestern Women, 1880-1910 (Indiana University Press, 1982). Reading these women’s first-hand accounts was like finding a magic formula; their stark, terse, matter-of-fact way of sharing their lives showed me May’s voice. I began writing again, this time in verse, and the story fell into place.
Beyond Hamsten’s book, there are several things that influenced the storyline: my curiosity about children with learning disabilities and how they might be schooled in an era before our own, my interest in survival stories like Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet (Bradbury, 1987), and the challenge in trying to write about solitude (like the prison scenes in my favorite-book-of-all-time, The Count of Monte Cristo (1844-1845)).
One special challenge was locating where May’s sod house stood. There’s a reference in the story to Tom Sawyer, so the book had to take place in 1876 or later.
I wanted her in a part of western Kansas that wasn’t very developed and was semi-close to a railroad. It was also necessary to have wolves around.
The first place I located May was outside of Dodge City, where she would have been smack dab in the middle of the Chisolm Cattle Trail — not exactly the solitude I was looking for (I also wasn’t interested in telling the sort of rowdy cowboy story that Dodge City brings to mind). The story couldn’t take place much beyond 1880 because in order to have wolves, buffalo still needed to be prevalent; by 1880, these animals were widely wiped out.
Gove County, Kansas became a good location: the railroad (and therefore surrounding communities) was still relatively new but old enough to have been there before 1880; the short-grass country of western Kansas supported sod houses; and wolves, while not spotted everyday, would have still roamed in packs at this time.
sweet treats to share with friends, including candy heart-shaped balloons, Conversation Hearts candies, Ring Pops and much more…
A runner-up will receive signed copy of Love? Maybe. And sweet treats.
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 “Love? Maybe.” in the subject line. (If you’re on LiveJournal, I’m also taking entries via comment at the Cynsations LJ.)
Author-sponsored. Eligibility: North America (U.S./Canada). Deadline: midnight CST Jan. 31.
Just because Piper’s birthday is on Valentine’s Day does not mean she’s a romantic. In fact, after watching her father and then her stepfather leave, she’s pretty sure she doesn’t believe in love at all.
Then her friends concoct a plan to find them all Valentine’s dates, and somehow Piper finds herself with the most popular guy in school. But true love never follows a plan, and a string of heartfelt gifts from a secret admirer has Piper wondering if she might be with the wrong guy.
In this heartwarming romance, true love is more than a maybe – and it might be closer than you think.
A confection of a novel, combining big city sophistication with small town charm.
When her mother moves them from the city to a small town to open up a cupcake bakery, Penny’s life isn’t what she expected. Her father has stayed behind, and Mom isn’t talking about what the future holds for their family. And then there’s Charity, the girl who plays mean pranks almost daily.
There are also bright spots in Hog’s Hollow—like Tally, an expert in Rock Paper Scissors, and Marcus, the boy who is always running on the beach. But just when it looks as though Penny is settling in, her parents ask her to make a choice that will turn everything upside down again.
A sweet novel about love, creativity, and accepting life’s unexpected turns.