God does a lot of willing in Tucker’s Ferry, West Virginia.
The Summer of Hammers and Angels is the story of an amazing summer in a girl’s life, a summer of surprises and challenges, of shocks and recovery, of discoveries and friendship, and of loneliness and community.
As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career?
Know that excuse? It’s the one that goes like this, “I’d (fill in the blank), but I don’t have any time.”
Whether we like to admit it or not, each of us makes time for the things that matter to us—family, friends, exercise, television, shopping, even house cleaning.
We all have time.
We simply choose to prioritize it in different ways.
I’m a working mom with two young boys, ages 11 and 8. I do not have a nanny or an au pair or a maid. The choices I make: involved in homework and reading at school, not involved in organizing parties or chaperoning trips, and I probably choose to clean less than the average mom…unless company is coming.
As for the working part, I am the Director of Market Research and Voice of Client for one of the world’s largest investment firms. I spend roughly 50 hours a week uncovering why people do the things they do, and how they think.
Oh, and I write.
I know a few things about busy. According to family legend, I was born with a day planner in one hand. And according to that day planner, seven months was plenty long enough to gestate, thank you very much! I had things to do, stuff to accomplish!
So out I came, feet first, ready to tackle the world. I was type A from the get go.
On that day planner this week, and for as long as I can remember, read, is always a to-do.
Robert C. O’Brien’s books spoke to me as a child, The Silver Crown (Atheneum, 1968), Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Atheneum, 1971), and Z for Zacariah (Atheneum, 1975), which is a gripping tale of a teen girl who may be the last survivor of a nuclear war. I recently reread Z for Zacariah, and it was just as compelling as I remembered!
John Christopher’s sci-fi Tripod Trilogy—The White Mountains (Simon and Schuster, 1967), The City of Gold and Lead (Simon and Schuster, 1968), and The Pool of Fire (Simon and Schuster, 1968), were three I read and reread (and bought again as an adult). I’d lay awake at night imagining looming silver alien machines pulling me up and capping me, then controlling my mind. Eek!
When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?
When friends and colleagues find out that I write, their eyebrows arch, the tone of their voice jumps two octaves and they say, “How do you find time for that?”
My answer is simple.
I get up earlier. I choose to sleep a little less so I can write. As the pop music begins to play, my alarm clock flashes 4:30. (Full disclosure. I usually hit snooze once.)
Our guest bedroom doubles as my writing “office”. I wish I had one of those perfect offices I see in other blogs, with lovely cork boards packed full of ideas. Instead, I shuffle into my guest room each morning yawning, snuggle into the blankets, fluff the pillows behind my back just so, pull my laptop off the night table, settle it on my lap and away I go. When I work, this is what I see.
I’d say about 90% of my writing is done in the dark.
For me, maybe because of the time and space and lighting of where I write, writing feels like an extension of a dream. Still drowsy and warm and flexible from the night, I can string together words and images without interference from anything “normal” around me. No TV, no music, just the tip-tap of my fingers on the keyboard, the occasional bird chirp from some other early riser, and the deep hum of the heater as it kicks on in the basement.
Now there are days (or weeks) when that alarm screams at me and I do not feel like getting up. My blankets could win an Academy Award some mornings. I think about how wonderful the fresh air from the cracked window feels on my face, I replay whatever dream was interrupted and I think, maybe I’ll skip writing today.
That is when day planner me takes over with a bullhorn and a cattle prod. I nudge myself awake with whatever motivational tactics are required for the day. The only way to get published is to write! Or I might think through my to-do’s—finish Chapter 15, rename that character, think of a better ending for Chapter 3. Sometimes I need to take the drill-sergeant approach: Get your lazy butt up and write!
I’d say I have a 95% success rate.
What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?
If you’re not already in the habit of writing, then find 10 or 15 minutes a day to start. Try to make it the same time every day. Not everyone is a morning person. Writing at the stroke of midnight might work better, or a few minutes over lunch (which I did for years).
I heard Eileen Spinelli say once that she stole minutes here and there for writing…in the line at the grocery store, at the doctor’s office with the kids, or waiting at a sports event for school. I thought…I can do that!
You can do that too. If you feel inspired to put words on paper, choose to write!
The Meredith Davis Member-of-the-Year Award went to writer Shelli Cornelison, the winner of the portfolio contest was author-illustrator Jeff Crosby, and in a surprising turn of events, Greg and I received an award naming us the 2011 Ambassadors for the Austin Kid-Lit Community. We’re deeply honored.
On Being Thin Skinned by David Macinnis Gill from I Am Chikin, Hear Me Roar. Peek: “…thick-skinned people are not very good writers. They are bullet
proof to criticism, yes, but they also lack the insight and empathy
required to feel the emotions that should resonant throughout their
Character Entry: Clever by Angela Ackerman from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: “Resourcefulness marked by inventiveness or originality.” Note: bookmark this blog for brainstorming!
On Nostalgia: Which of You Is Which? by Tim Wynne-Jones from Write at Your Own Risk. Peek: “We are not immune to nostalgia but cannot–must not, I feel–project
onto our stories any sense of this hankering for a time that, frankly,
never was, except that wishing makes it so.”
Cynsational Blog Tour Tip: Turn in your texts and images well in advance, so the participating bloggers have plenty time to properly edit and format your posts.
Interview with Linda Sue Park by Marjorie Coughlan from PaperTigers.org. Peek: “The response of the students and teachers who have read the book has
been just remarkable. Dozens of schools and individuals have been
inspired by Salva’s story to raise money for Water for South Sudan.”
Making Your Writing Dreams a Reality by Kristy Lahoda from QueryTracker.net. Peek: “They (twin babies) came home at the beginning of October and while they slept 18 hours a day, I wrote. I had to be very conscientious about not getting distracted with other things that weren’t as important…”
2012 YA Writer-in-Residence Program at Miami-Dade Public Library System from Austin SCBWI. Peek: “We are seeking a dynamic and engaging young adult author who will
encourage local teens, 12-18, in the creative writing process. The three
month residency will run from September – November 2012 in Miami,
Seeking Money to Finance an Author School Visit? The SCBWI Amber Brown Grant is now open and accepting applications for 2012! Peek: “Two schools will be rewarded with an all-expense-paid visit by a well respected children’s author or illustrator. The chosen schools will also receive a $250 stipend to assist in creating this memorable event to celebrate reading, learning, and children’s literature and $250 worth of books by the visiting author. Additionally, one runner-up school will
be selected and rewarded with books valued at $250.00.”
Marshall Dawa on Adapting to Create Success from Adventures in YA and Children’s Publishing. Peek: “Nothing against hanging on, but sometimes we have to fall in order to soar. Learning when to do the former so as to experience the latter is tricky.”
Querying Your Unlikable Character by Jane Leback from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “Maybe it’s the character’s intelligence. Maybe he was abused as a child
and wanted to break out of the cycle but couldn’t figure out how.
Present those characteristics. Let us know the character is
On a Budget? How to Support Authors and Show Your Book Love from Megan Crewe. Peek: “Checking a book out from the library shows them that readers are
interested, which makes them more likely to pick up later books from the
same author. If your local library doesn’t already have the book you
want, you can usually submit a request that they add it to their
collection in person or on the library’s website.”
Cynsational Business Tip: Be discreet about any correspondence, revisions or other exchanges with a prospective editor or agent until a contract is finalized. Likewise, there’s no reason to go public about your submission history while you’re still shopping the manuscript, and it may work against you.
Writing a Strong Plot: Be Cruel to Your Characters by Chris Eboch from Write Like a Pro! A Free Online Writing Workshop. Peek: “You can create conflict by setting up situations which force a person to
confront their fears. If someone is afraid of heights, make them go
someplace high. If they’re afraid of taking responsibility, force them
to be in charge.”
Keep Calm and Carry On: Reflections on Bulldozing Writing Walls by Luke Reynolds from Hunger Mountain. Peek: “No matter how little you feel like it, no matter how futile it sometimes
seems, you must keep writing. You must continue to send out queries.
You must continue to make contact, believing that the words you write do
possess all the possible power and beauty in them to affect one life.”
A Glorious Year of E-booking by Arthur Slade from Arthur Slade: The YA Fantastical Fiction Guy. Peek: “Exactly a year ago, I began putting my out-of-print backlist up for sale
on various ebook vendors (Smashwords, Kindle, iBooks, B&N, Kobo…).” Arthur talks numbers and features nifty visual aids.
To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scrolll) 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 “Blessed giveaway” in the subject line. Author sponsored. Eligibility: international. Deadline: Feb. 27.
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 email Cynthia directly with “Camping Trip” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: North America (U.S./Canada). Deadline: midnight CST Feb. 20.
To enter, comment on this post (click 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 “One Cool Friend” in the subject line.
Author-sponsored. Eligibility: North America (U.S./Canada). Deadline: midnight CST Feb. 20. See also One Cool Friend Before Breakfast from Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Note: in-depth post features early sketches.
To enter, comment on this post (click 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 “Alex Flinn Giveaway” in the subject line. Deadline: Feb. 20. Author sponsored. U.S. entries only.
Last call! Enter to win one of two copies of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton, 2012). To enter, comment on this post (click 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 “The Fault in Our Stars” in the subject line. Publisher-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST Feb. 20.
The Cynsational winners of the Diabolical by Cynthia Leitich Smith giveaway were Sarah in Iowa (grand prize), Darrella in Texas, Mahek in Surrey (England), Yamile in Utah, Sheela in New York, Aiwah in Australia, and Donna in Missouri.
Please also note that you can always find signed stock of my books at BookPeople!
Girls in the Stacks says of Diabolical: “The story unraveled with many surprises and twists, and kept me
guessing and entertained. The memos, news articles and phone
transcripts interspersed between chapters gave the reader hidden
insights to the story – sometimes humorous, sometimes chilling.”
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.
Just as I was finishing my first novel, What Can’t Wait (2011), I came across a news feature on a controversial gang fight in Houston and two teens who were involved: a white girl and a Salvadoran-American boy. I began to follow the story, and the idea for The Knife and the Butterfly started brewing.
As weeks and months passed, the boy fell out of the news while the girl remained at the center of media coverage. There were some good reasons for this uneven attention (I won’t go into too much detail to spare you from spoilers), but in my gut I had the feeling that the white girl’s story was told again and again to her advantage even as the brown boy had been forgotten.
I couldn’t stop thinking about that young man—about what I knew of him from the papers and about all that I didn’t know about him. I wondered what stories he would tell if there were someone to listen to him. I wondered who he was besides another kid in a gang. And I started imagining Azael, the protagonist in The Knife and the Butterfly.
At first, I felt limited in my writing to what actually had happened. If The Knife and the Butterfly was inspired by an actual event, I reasoned, didn’t I need to stick to the facts?
But pretty quickly I realized two things about my project:
(1) I had to ditch some of the facts to accomplish what I wanted with the novel.
(2) I didn’t just want to write Azael’s story; I wanted to rewrite the rules of his world.
Here’s what I mean by rewriting the rules of a world. For the boy who inspired Azael’s character, bad choices and tough breaks landed him in irreversible trouble. But what if I could give my character a chance—not to change what happened in the fight—but to change what happened after?
If Azael could change some part of the outcome of that terrible afternoon, could he change himself in the process?
Many of my decisions in writing the novel were made as I worked out the consequences of this proposition.
I had to ask myself how this sort of second chance would manifest itself in Azael’s world. Where would he be, what would it cost him, how would it look, and what would he discover along the way? And who else might he change?
Starting with a real event helped me ground The Knife and the Butterfly firmly in the everyday world of my characters. Intervening—even just a little—in the rules of that world gave my characters a chance to decide on the ending of their story.
I had the dream again. The one where I’m running. I don’t know what from or where to, but I’m scared, terrified really.
Austin Parker is never going to see his eighteenth birthday. At the rate he’s going, he probably won’t even see the end of the year. But in the short time he has left there’s one thing he can do: He can try to help the people he loves live—even though he never will.
It’s probably hopeless.
But he has to try.
Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?
Pre-contract revision was rigorous. I’d written the novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). For those of you who aren’t familiar with NaNoWriMo, it’s a nationwide event in which writers challenge themselves to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November (yes, writers are masochists and a bit mad).
Needless to say, a 50,000 word novel written in thirty days leaves a lot to be desired. Sometimes it just needs to be scrapped. I happened to like my story, so I decided to get to work on revisions. I revised a couple of times, sent out queries, and though I was getting requests for partials and fulls, no one was taking. Back to the drawing board.
I had some people read it, writers, readers, people in the business, so I could get some feedback. After that, I did a major revision. I kept tweaking until I thought I could tweak no more.
When I revise, I always keep the old copy. I organize them by giving them numbers like computer programs, 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 and so forth. When I felt I could not change another word or punctuation mark, and had read the book so many times I knew it by heart (and never wanted to look at it again), I was at Mending Fences 13.0. (“Mending Fences” is the original title of the book— even the name got revised. The title is now “Never Eighteen;” I can thank my dad for that.)
I queried it out again, still no takers. Just about to give up and do some more revisions, when a friend gave me the name of yet another agent. I thought, what the heck, one more rejection before I make more changes. Well, the agent loved it. I almost didn’t believe her, rejection being all I’d ever known.
Of course, she wanted a few changes made.
I had to cut out two whole sections of the book. One didn’t hurt my feelings much, but the other had a surprise plot twist that would have had readers gasping!
Not anymore. She told me, cut the character or cut the scene.
I cut the scene. The character is still intact, though his major scene is very different now.
She was right though. Her vision made the book more believable. It works. When I was done with my agent’s revisions, I was at Mending Fences 15.0.
Megan’s manuscript (various versions).
She sold my novel in two weeks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. So, after all the laborious rewrites–pre-contract, post-contract–nothing was that bad.
For example, line edits seemed like a cakewalk compared to what I’d already endured. After I turned those in, my editor came back with just a couple more notes, nothing painful, just a few adjustments here and there.
She actually thanked me for sending her such a “clean” manuscript.
Copy edits came next. Those are a pain. First of all, I had no idea how to read copy edit symbols, and your eyes get all wonky after looking at them for hours at a time. Still, once you get the symbols down, it’s pretty easy. Secondly, I had no idea how to do copy edits and started out by doing them all wrong. Luckily, when I found out how do to them right, I wasn’t too far into it.
Next came the first pass pages, which I decided to dole out to two other willing readers in order to catch all the small stuff that wasn’t caught before. Luckily, there were only a few.
After fifteen versions of Mending Fences and three of Never Eighteen, as far as I know, I’m done (crossing fingers, rubbing rabbit’s foot, and keeping four-leaf clover in pocket).
I guess in my case, I worked hard to make my novel as tidy as possible before it sold, which made the work post-contract much easier and nearly stress free.
As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?
Finding Austin’s voice definitely did not come magically.
In my first round of queries to agents, most of them said they couldn’t connect with his voice. He sounded too old, too smart, too feminine. Many of the revisions I did were based on those comments. I had to keep a few things in mind while writing Austin. 1) He’s a guy, and I’m a girl. 2) He’s a teenager 3) He has a horrible disease.
Let’s start with number one. Part of my problem in writing Austin was that as he is a guy, I had to take away some of the descriptive words I would use had I been writing a female protagonist. Boys don’t describe things in depth. They make their point in the simplest way possible.
One particular scene I distinctly remember having to change was about shoes. Green high tops to be exact. In the original version, Austin blabs on and on about how he loved the green high-top Converse shoes his mom bought him before the school year started. The end result? “. . . It held the new pair of green Converse high tops my mom bought me before the school year started. Cool shoes.” Droning on and on about the shoes to “Cool shoes.” Big difference.
Concerning teen talk, when I found myself struggling I would go to my daughters, now 14 and 13. I’ve asked them loads of questions about slang. “What do kids call making out?” “What do you call nerds these days?” Things like that.
My oldest daughter was reading from one of my novels, and she started laughing. I asked her what was so funny, hoping she was laughing at the right spots. She wasn’t.
She said, “Handsome? No one says handsome.”
I should have known this because I can’t remember ever using the word handsome when I was a teen, or maybe ever. So, I picked her brain. We had tons of words to describe good looking guys when I was a teen—fox, booty, just to name a couple. Not so much these days.
We ended up with “hot.”
I also listened to my oldest daughter talk to her friends. It’s a little different with girls. They laugh. They have tons of inside jokes. They can say one random word, and they’ll all start cracking up. Most importantly, they can talk without saying a word. One look can convey a ton.
Boys in particular use few words. So I used facial expression and body language with Austin—shrugging, the rolling of eyes, a tender gesture, sighing, smirking—to communicate with his friends and family.
Since Austin has cancer in the novel, I wanted him to be wise beyond his seventeen years, but, he still had to act and talk like a regular teen. This was maybe the hardest part for me, especially where dialogue was concerned. I almost felt like I was dumbing him down, and it made me mad.
I just had to find balance. Balance between teenage Austin and dying Austin. While I did “dumb him down” in his regular interactions with his friends, I kept that wisdom in his internalizations and his connections with the people he wanted to help on his journey.
One other thing I do to make sure the voice is right, is when I revise, I print out the story and read it aloud. It’s amazing how much easier it is to catch things this way, then just sitting at a computer reading to yourself.
Finding a characters voice sometimes comes naturally. With Austin, the fact that he was a boy, a teen, dying, and contemporary made it difficult, but in the end, I think he turned into your average teen with a view on life he could only have because of his disease.
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 “Blessed giveaway” in the subject line.
If you already have a copy of Blessed, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story or Diabolical, and want to be considered for a different prize, just say so!
Author-sponsored. This giveaway is for international readers–everyone is eligible! Deadline: Feb. 27.
For extra entries (itemize efforts in your entry comment/email with relevant links):
Blog, tweet (hashtag: #blessed), facebook or Google+ this giveaway
Quincie Morris, teen restaurateur and neophyte vampire, is in the fight of her life — or undeath.Even as she adjusts to her new appetites, she must clear her best friend and true love — the hybrid-werewolf Kieren — of murder charges; thwart the apocalyptic ambitions of Bradley Sanguini, the seductive vampire-chef who “blessed” her; and keep her dead parents’ restaurant up and running.
She hires a more homespun chef and adds the preternaturally beautiful Zachary to her wait staff. But with hundreds of new vampires on the rise and Bradley off assuming the powers of Dracula Prime, Zachary soon reveals his true nature — and his flaming sword — and they hit the road to staunch the bloodshed before it’s too late.
Even if they save the world, will there be time left to salvage Quincie’s soul?
The Horn Book raves: “A hearty meal for the thinking vampire reader.”
Kirkus Reviews cheers: “Wild and ultimately fascinating”…”..the pages fairly smolder in describing their [Quincie and Kieren] attraction to one another.”
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.
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.
See Cynthia’s upcoming events in Albuquerque, Tucson, Sandy (Utah), Bastrop (Texas), Southampton (New York), and Montpelier (Vermont).
According to Jane, “In these difficult book times, well-reviewed and honored authors often find themselves stalled in their writing lives and find they are having trouble selling new work. In our attention to up-and-coming authors, we, the reading public, often ignore these mid-list writers who struggle to remain true to their personal vision and craft. This grant is to say: SCBWI honors you, we recognize you, we are paying attention to your work.”
The grant is awarded by nomination only, and the winners and honorees are chosen by Jane Yolen herself. Nominations for the 2013 Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant will begin June 1, 2012; and close Nov. 1, 2012. Winners will be announced at the Winter Conference in New York City and featured on the SCBWI website, in The Bulletin, and on the SCBWI blog. Only current SCBWI members are eligible. Any SCBWI member can nominate another member who they believe deserves the award.
About Jane Yolen
Jane is one of the world’s most successful children’s book writers, with over 300 books, numerous awards, six honorary degrees and fans across the globe. She currently sits on the board of Advisors of SCBWI.
According to SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver, “Jane Yolen sets the highest standard for our industry, not only in the meaningful body of work she has created, but also in her support of fellow authors and artists. The creation of this grant is a fitting tribute to one of our most talented writers and cherished friends.”
The SCBWI is a 501(c)(3) non-profit with a mission to foster public appreciation of children’s books and to support the vibrant community of people who create and promote them: writers, illustrators, editors, publishers, agents, librarians, educators, booksellers and others involved with literature for young people.
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 “Camping Trip” in the subject line.
Author-sponsored. Eligibility: North America (U.S./Canada). Deadline: midnight CST Feb. 20.
Caldecott medalist Mordicai Gerstein captures the majestic redwoods of Yosemite in this little-known but important story from our nation’s history.
In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt joined naturalist John Muir on a trip to Yosemite. Camping by themselves in the uncharted woods, the two men saw sights and held discussions that would ultimately lead to the establishment of our National Parks.
In a starred review, School Library Journal says: “In interpreting and recording both personal relationships and the historical impact of the meeting, this offering makes a little-known bit of history accessible for younger readers, and encourages further research.”
Kirkus Reviews raves, “Gerstein’s depiction of the exuberant president riding off with Muir is enchantingly comical and liberating.”