New Voice: Mary G. Thompson on Wuftoom

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Mary G. Thompson is the first-time author of Wuftoom (Clarion, 2012)(blog). From the promotional copy: 

Everyone thinks Evan is sick … everyone thinks science will find a cure.

But Evan knows he is not sick; he is transforming. Evan’s metamorphosis has him confined to his bed, constantly terrified, and completely alone. Alone, except for his visits from the Wuftoom, a wormlike creature that tells him he is becoming one of them.

Clinging to his humanity and desperate to help his overworked single mother, Evan makes a bargain with the Vitflies, the sworn enemies of the Wuftoom. But when the bargain becomes blackmail and the Vitflies prepare for war, whom can Evan trust? Is saving his humanity worth destroying an entire species and the only family he has left? 

Could you tell us the story of “the call” or “the email” when you found out that your book had sold? How did you react? How did you celebrate?

It’s kind of a funny story, bordering on totally and completely inappropriate. At the time, I was staying with my mom for a while in Eugene, Oregon; before heading to New York to start in The New School Writing for Children program.

We had decided to go down to Ashland for a couple days to see some plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. So this morning we were having breakfast around 10 a.m. when my agent called. I took the call outside, and acting totally calm, I came back in and told my mom that I had an offer.

Then, in what was truly an extreme expression of emotion for probably the two most reserved, WASPiest people in America, we clasped hands and bounced up and down in our seats over our eggs.

Needless to say, my spirits continued to rise un-WASPily high. I had to call or text everyone I knew and tell them the good news.

Now, this is where the inappropriate part comes in. Just a couple hours after that breakfast, we had tickets to go see “Ruined.’ This is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Lynn Nottage about rape in Africa. It’s a very serious, dramatic, emotional play highlighting the plight of women whose bodies and lives have been completely destroyed, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Except mine. I was smiling like a fool. I’m not sure if the old ladies sitting next to us noticed, but my mom did feel the need to explain my inexplicable reaction by telling these random strangers that I’d just had some good news.

So in conclusion, there are a theater’s worth of people somewhere in Oregon who probably think I’m a psychopath. But that’s okay. I’m happy I was able to share that really cool moment with my mom.

The book is dedicated to her, and not least because she’s let me stay with her more than once since I’ve become a supposedly self-supporting, responsible adult. And she’s always there to explain my weird behavior if I need it. “No, my daughter is not a psychopath!” Thanks, Mom!

As a horror writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your novel might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?

First, a word on genre. I don’t know whether most people would consider Wuftoom to be fantasy, horror, or science fiction.

It’s science fiction in the sense that there’s nothing in it that’s supposed to be “magic,” and it’s fantasy in that it’s probably unlikely to really happen (now don’t you feel better?).

But it’s about a kid who’s turning into a monster. Nobody wants that. In fact, it sounds pretty horrible. So for now, I think “horror” is a pretty good fit.

I like to joke that this book is about monsters vs. middle school.

How many of us, if they could have, would have chosen to go live underground with the monsters? Monsters may not be so horrible compared to bullies, social ostracism, and assorted other tween nightmares. That’s certainly the feeling I began this book with. Evan is a kid who was unpopular and unhappy when he was healthy, and at the beginning of the book, he’s got some crazy disease that’s turning him into a disgusting monster. There’s really nowhere to go for him but up.

The question is, how is he going to get there? Is he going to maintain his humanity, or is he going to give in and become everything the Wuftoom—or their enemies the Vitflys—want him to be?

The themes of the book definitely evolved through the drafts. I originally had much more of a straight horror theme in mind, with Evan getting something he wanted—the ability to travel into the bodies of other kids, which the Vitflys offer him—but at a terrible price.

While I was writing, though, I realized that it would be much more interesting for Evan to really grapple with his humanity and for the world of the Wuftoom to be more nuanced. Evan had to face real, difficult choices in a world where good and evil weren’t black and white.

Mary says the pig makes her write.

So the book began to be about Evan learning how to deal with the hand he’s been dealt, and how to make it through his transformation a stronger and happier person, regardless of whether he’s human or Wuftoom. He has to protect his mother, even though he’s not supposed to care about her any more, and at the same time, he has to protect and be accepted by the Wuftoom, who are his new family. But he also has the choice of siding with the Vitflys and getting revenge. And there are times when none of his choices seem like the right one, yet he has to make those choices.

Ultimately, it’s his choice whether he’s doomed as he would have certainly been in my original concept, or whether he’ll pull through a stronger person and, ultimately, be happy.

Does any of this parallel real world problems? Well, we’re all pulled in different directions by competing forces. There are always people who want us to change, or who want us to identify with a group and be loyal. Sometimes these people have our best interests at heart, and sometimes they don’t. All we can do is protect those we love and learn to decide who our true friends are.

Most of us get to stay physically human, but some of us, if we’re not careful, will let negative forces guide our lives. Is a monster defined by what it looks like or by how it acts? What does remorse count for? How can we best live with ourselves, and how can we find our place in the world?

These are universal themes that ended up in the final draft. Of course, there’s also the not-so-real-world theme of having fun with some gross monsters. I hope readers won’t let all these deep thoughts distract them from the “eeewww!” and “ick!”

Guest Post & Giveaway: Cecil Castellucci on Medusa, a Childhood Friend

Learn more.

By Cecil Castellucci
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I first met Medusa in a museum, probably the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where I grew up. My parents, avid culture fiends, would take us to museums and some of my earliest memories are of the Greek and Roman statues at the Met.

There, Perseus stood, naked, holding onto Medusa’s newly chopped off head. She looks sad and kind of mannish. I imagined that all the statues that crowded the hall were her final victims, and I worried that perhaps we were next.

I met her again, all over Italy when we went there for a visit at age seven. She was riveting. I could not look away from her. She captured my imagination.

Why was she so terrible to look upon?

I found that I could look upon her safely. To me, she always seemed beautiful, even with the snakes. She also looked as though she was steeped in a profound sadness. That she had been driven to fury by the very fact that no one could look upon her.

Medusa from the Vatican.

It was clear that something must have driven her to be so horrible. I imagined that perhaps her monstrous-ness sprang from something already crouched inside of her only to be brought out when she was cursed with snakes for hair.

My parents only told me the part of her story where if you looked on her you would turn to stone and how Perseus beheaded her. They didn’t tell me the whole myth. Not because they didn’t know her story, or maybe they didn’t, but most likely because they didn’t think that was the part that I wanted to know. But I longed to know the before, about who she was before the snakes tormented her.

I still didn’t know her whole story when I saw “The Clash of the Titans” (1981), but there she was again. Something terrible, something to be killed, something filled with fury.

I only know that I loved her in some way, and that I was the only girl in sixth grade with a spiral notebook that had an image of Perseus holding Medusa’s head. It was about then that my Father lent me his copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, and I got the whole story.

Oh, those ancient Greeks and the way they wove a tale. Dramatic. Exciting. Perilous. Tragic. Enlightening. Terrible. Wonderful.

But the one thing that was confirmed was that before Medusa was a monster, she was a girl. Perhaps a vain one. Perhaps a victim. Perhaps the focus of goddesses jealousy. There was a before and an after to Medusa, she was a complex character.

When I was writing the book, The Year of the Beasts, I was writing a story that sometimes couldn’t be explained in words. It is a hybrid book, alternating chapters of prose and comic book. It is two stories, the prose is of two sisters and the summer and the boys they like.

Cecil has coffee with her new bobblehead.

The comic book is of a Medusa, who just wants to be a girl again and her friends, a Centaur, Mermaid and Minotaur. I always knew that I wanted there to be a comic book element, and right from the moment that I started writing the book the image of Medusa kept coming up.

But at first, I wrote Medusa’s part of the story as prose and Tessa’s part as the comic book.

It wasn’t until a few stabs at the story that I realized that as a comic book writer it was much more interesting visually to see the snakes. I had already had them talking as characters, but to see them talking would pack more of an emotional punch.

The Year of the Beasts is not a retelling of Medusa. But the very root of the Medusa myth is there on all of the pages. And while she may be terrible to look upon, I think that I believe to this day, that deep down inside, even beasts have hearts.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two author-signed copies of The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci (Roaring Brook, 2012). 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 “The Year of the Beasts” in the subject line. Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada. Deadline: midnight June 11.

In Memory: Leo Dillon

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Leo Dillon 1933-2012 by Irene Gallo from Peek: “Illustration has lost another giant. Leo Dillon, husband and life-long
collaborator of Diane Dillon, passed away on May 26th. Together they
created a remarkable array children’s books and book covers.” Note: post includes samples of Leo’s art.

Meet-the-Author Program: Leo Dillon from Peek: “In this five-minute mini-documentary, filmed in the New York home and studio of Leo and Diane Dillon, they talk about how they met at art school and collaborate on all their illustrations, share their thoughts on the message and imagery of Earth Mother, and detail the way in which they illustrate books to capture and reflect diverse cultures.” See also a comprehensive bibliography of Dillon’s work from

See also a tribute post from Muddy Colors: An Illustration Collective.

Guest Post: Shirley Smith Duke on Want to Write a Book? Try the Educational Market.

By Shirley Smith Duke
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

When you think of a children’s writer, trade books often come to mind. These royalty-generating books come with an advance and are published by traditional houses. Working with a big publisher is a terrific way to become an author, but there’s a counterpart to trade writing that fills libraries and schools with books alongside the better known trade books.

The educational market is a curriculum-driven sort of writing, open to new ideas and series. It allows writers to explore specific topics and write many books and covers both fiction and nonfiction.

The pros and cons in educational market writing may be the same things. Educational writing is mostly work-for-hire, which means you’ll get a flat fee with the publisher retaining all rights. The money comes fast, but there’s no income from royalties and no large advance.

Quick turnaround times mean the writing must be done right away. No time for writer’s block here! As a freelancer, you don’t control your schedule and can’t plan when you’ll be working.

This market is a great training ground, too. Word counts and writing to a specific reading level teach you how to write tight and choose the best words to convey information. It allows you to hone your research and writing skills, and often leads to better organization in your writing.

The books are useful for a school visit platform, and open the doors to school visits with their additional income, too.

So how do you get started in this market?

Look up the publishers and read their guidelines. Study the books they publish and their style and choose one that produces books you like.

Book packagers (they produce books for publishers) and educational publishers work with freelance writers, and they need to see that you can write. That means they want to see a cover letter expressing your interest in their company, a resume that includes writing credits, and writing samples.

Writing samples don’t have to be from a published work. Choose a topic and research it if it’s nonfiction. Then write a page or so on the topic or write a fiction sample that shows the range of your writing. Make sure it aligns with the Core Curriculum or state or national standards for that genre. Write the sample at a couple of different grade levels to show your ability to write to a specific reading level. If you send nonfiction, include your bibliography to show your research.

As with any kind of writing, staying with it is part of the way to success. With perseverance, you’ll be able to get involved with this kind of writing. There’s a satisfaction that comes from seeing your name on a book kids will be reading.

These resources to help you get started:

Cynsational Notes

Learn more about Shirley and visit her blog.

Book Trailer: Slide by Jill Hathaway

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Slide by Jill Hathaway (Balzer + Bray/HarperTeen). From the promotional copy:

Vee Bell is certain of one irrefutable truth—her sister’s friend Sophie didn’t kill herself. She was murdered.

Vee knows this because she was there. Everyone believes Vee is narcoleptic, but she doesn’t actually fall asleep during these episodes: When she passes out, she slides into somebody else’s mind and experiences the world through that person’s eyes. She’s slid into her sister as she cheated on a math test, into a teacher sneaking a drink before class. She learned the worst about a supposed “friend” when she slid into her during a school dance. 

But nothing could have prepared Vee for what happens one October night when she slides into the mind of someone holding a bloody knife, standing over Sophie’s slashed body.

Vee desperately wishes she could share her secret, but who would believe her? It sounds so crazy that she can’t bring herself to tell her best friend, Rollins, let alone the police. 

Even if she could confide in Rollins, he has been acting off lately, more distant, especially now that she’s been spending more time with Zane.

Enmeshed in a terrifying web of secrets, lies, and danger and with no one to turn to, Vee must find a way to unmask the killer before he or she strikes again.

Report from Bookaroo in India

By Christopher Cheng
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Last time I reported about networking and I mentioned Singapore and India. Here is what happened at Bookaroo in New Delhi last year:

My First Picture of India

I love India. If I had to use two words to describe my first impressions, they would be sensory explosion.

I arrived at New Delhi airport and was driven to my hotel, and all the while my brain was working in overdrive and I was thinking, “What is going on?”

Welcome at midnight

It was midnight for goodness sake and the roads were jam packed, and they drive so close to each other and they don’t use the marked lanes. Street lights I don’t remember, but there were so many car lights they weren’t needed. And the sounds! Honk! Honk! (plus a few toot toots from the wildly decorated tut-tuts!)

My Festival Appearance

It was like many other literary festivals I have spoken at. There was an outdoor bookshop, a green room, and enthusiastic audiences. But the children and parents that I was speaking to in India were wildly enthusiastic. They wanted to touch. They wanted to question.

They wanted more and more and more.

At Bookaroo

I presented a story reading session for my (then) new picture book Sounds Spooky under the overarching branches of a gorgeous tree (botanical name unknown) next to a solid stand of bamboo that provided a wonderful backdrop and sound barrier for my spooky storytelling session.

In an amphitheatre seating a few hundred, I presented a community story-creating session (one I used as a classroom teacher), gathering children from the audience, bringing them to the front of the stage and together creating an oral story. It was mid morning there (early for Indian time) so I started with about 20 people, but within minutes the amphitheatre was full and children were hollering to join our expanding story. After an hour, it was standing room only, and there were 20 children standing on stage (and hundreds more in the audience) who could recite the lines from the story we had created.

Next to a clay covered building I presented talks about my favourite subject – me and the life of a children’s author; about writing historical fiction texts; and about writing picture books. It was mostly outdoors under the warm and inviting Indian sun.

And like many festivals there were the author signings and the bookstore was alive with children, trying to locate the books. And the signing queues seemed to snake on forever.

The bookstore.

Like most festivals, I was asked to sign pieces of paper (okay), and books that I didn’t write (I declined), as well as the autograph book…but these autograph books were something special. They had the signatures of Indian cricketers too!

I have made it. I am up there on the same plane as international cricketers! (At one hotel, the lobby was vacated while I was signing the visitors book – there were a few Bollywood stars in that book).

My School & University Appearances

My school visits in India were some of the most wonderful and inspiring that I have ever been to. The schools were not elite wealthy schools but simpler schools with a passion for inspiring their students and empowering them to have a better future, schools where parents have sacrificed enormously. They were unlike any other school I have visited, and even writing this now, I pop out with goosebumps and I tingle.

These students were like super sponges. Not only had they researched as much as they could about me, some students created posters, others wrote biographies, and still others read my website so thoroughly that they could tell me about all of the animals that were with me while I was teaching at the zoo.

And the questions they asked. They were not intrusive or ones that could have been answered from reading my website. They were inquisitive and showed a real passion for finding out all there is to know about me and writing and being a ‘famous’ children’s author (in reality the fame doesn’t go past my street corner), with the most frequently asked question:“Mr. Cheng,” (so courteous and polite), “you write lots about Chinese people, so will you write about us?”

These children want their stories told to a wider audience, too. At every school visited, I was treated like a rock star. At each school entrance was a welcome sign – just for me – crafted by students, often with my picture downloaded from the internet. Morning and afternoon teas were in the Principal’s Office. I was presented with gifts that had been crafted by the students from their hand craft classes, a small glazed kiln-fired clay vase that now holds my pencils, a plaque that is now attached to our outdoor wall, a small bamboo lined mirror now on our sitting room wall, a note book for me to use crafted from recycled paper (the students were so thrilled to see that I write first drafts in note books) and much more. And in these offices, Mr. Cheng was asked if he would consider staying to teach at their school – they were serious.

I spoke in universities to students who were just as passionate and just as sponge-like as the school students but in conditions that (mostly) were very unlike our universities.

In one talk, not only was room filled inside (about ten seats wide and thirty rows deep), but there were students outside blocking the breezeway.

At university

The raised wooden podium wobbled and I had a handheld microphone (with a rather short chord) and the single speaker was tied to the window frame. The lights were sparse and there were no projection facilities. But these students too, they continued to ask, to question, wanting more.

India is a fascinating and a passionate country, and the students are passionate, too. They love hearing us speak, reading our books and they want more!

So if opportunity comes your way, grab it with both arms and go!

Cynsational Notes

More on Christopher

With more than 35 titles in traditional and digital formats, including picture books, non-fiction, historical fiction, a musical libretto and an animation storyline, Christopher Cheng is well experienced in Australian children’s literature.

He conducts workshops and residences for children and adults and holds an M.A. in Children’s Literature. He is a board member for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content and on the International Advisory Board and co-regional advisor (Australia and New Zealand) for the SCBWI.

A recipient of the SCBWI Member of the Year and the Lady Cutler Award for services to children’s literature, Chris is a devoted advocate of children’s literature, speaking at festivals worldwide.

Christopher will be covering the children’s-YA book scene in Australia, New Zealand and across Asia for Cynsations. Read an interview with Christopher. Read more about Christopher’s time in India at his blog.

Author Speaking Opportunities in the Asia Pacific Region

By Christopher Cheng
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

This is a note about networking and contacts. 

They are vital.

I have always loved exploring new countries and recently my life as a full time children’s author (my first title was published in 1990) has dramatically increased these opportunities.

In late 2011, I had the privilege of speaking at Bookaroo – a children’s literature festival in New Delhi, India. I love traveling the world, but India was not a country on my radar.

How did I get offered a speaking gig at Bookaroo?

It all came about because, in 2010, I was presenting at another international children’s festival in Singapore – the Asian Festival of Children’s Content. After I had finished my first day of speaking in Singapore, the Bookaroo organisers asked me to present at their upcoming festival.

As I had already accepted another festival for the same time, my fourth for the year, I had to decline but that was immediately followed with “Would you speak next year?” and so in November 2011, I landed in India.

It’s a long way to travel from Australia to New Delhi for a three-day festival so thankfully my trip was extended when the Australian Government sponsored my visit under the visiting artists programme, taking me on a tour through more Indian cities visiting school and universities.

Why all this preamble? Because it’s all about networking and getting involved and advertising you!

Christopher speaking in Singapore

We authors and illustrators can lead very sheltered lives, barely encountering another human – except maybe our children and spouses – in our daily activities as we produce our works, but we shouldn’t. We need to belong and we need to get out there. In the past 12 months, I have spoken at festivals in India, Singapore, Hong Kong, USA, the Philippines. How come?

Since becoming a full-time children’s author I have learned that for me this job is not only about writing for kids – which is the best job in the world and what I love to do – but it’s also about networking and developing contacts.

As part of my networking, I write articles for journals and blogs and newspapers, and mentor, consult, and promote. I have been a judge and an assessor on writing awards and established international children’s book awards.

Edited by Christopher

I was, for a number of years, a National Ambassador for Literacy Week (a federal government programme), and this year I am one of 18 National Ambassadors for our National Year of Reading. For me it’s all part of the ‘job’ of being a children’s author.

It’s never too early to start developing a list of contacts. I have been published for more than 20 years, and over that time I have gathered a list of industry professionals, bloggers, writers, editors, journal publishers, newspaper columnists and more.

Right from the start I maintained a contact list, grabbing contact details from the magazine and newspaper journalists. It’s a bit like detective work, growing the list. And of course there is social media too – blogs, and Facebook and Twitter. It’s all part of gathering those contacts, networking and getting connected!

Which leads me to why I was presenting in Singapore.

Most of my recent appearances came about because I received an email early in 2010 asking me to advertise a new festival in Singapore. The organisers knew that I had a solid network of contacts in the Australian children’s literature scene and of course my SCBWI membership. They had also investigated my website and found out what I can do and so a request for promotion assistance ended up becoming a speaking invitation as well.

(Which is another lesson – make sure you have a website and that the website sells you!).

With Warren Buckleitner – Children’s Technology Review

Five months after the inquiry about broadcasting the festival news, I was presenting in Singapore, and sitting in the audience were the organisers of other Asian literary festivals – and not just children’s festivals either.

Enlightened festival organisers engage speakers with a children’s literature focus as well as adult literature. My presentation was also an advertisement – for me – and it lead to appearing elsewhere around the region.

There are festivals exploding all over the Asia Pacific region with a children’s literature component. Many people don’t realise that there is a huge English speaking population that is located not in the Americas or Europe but here in the Asia Pacific region. Children are learning English at school, and they are hungry for English books to read, and they love to hear us speak.

So from that one email enquiry early in 2010, I was able to spread the word about a new festival, encourage other creators to attend, and have myself be contracted to speak at a number of other international literary festivals.

And remember too that speaking contracts are also really important.

So get your lists started. Read journals and blogs and e-zines. And then start sharing, and you never know where that might find you.

Cynsational Notes

More on Christopher

more than 35 titles in traditional and digital formats, including
picture books, non-fiction, historical fiction, a musical libretto and
an animation storyline, Christopher Cheng is well experienced in Australian children’s literature.

conducts workshops and residences for children and adults and holds an
M.A. in Children’s Literature. He is a board member for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content and on the International Advisory Board and co-regional advisor (Australia and New Zealand) for the SCBWI.

recipient of the SCBWI Member of the Year and the Lady Cutler Award for
services to children’s literature, Chris is a devoted advocate of
children’s literature, speaking at festivals worldwide.

Christopher will be covering the children’s-YA book scene in Australia, New Zealand and across Asia for Cynsations. Read an interview with Christopher. Find out about his appearances and more at Christopher Cheng’s Blog.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Stefanie discusses Confetti Girl as a model.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Join in “It’s Complicated,” a conversation about diversity, authenticity and representation at CBC Diversity. See:

  • It’s Complicated! an introduction by Roaring Brook editor Nancy Mercado. Peek: “To begin diving into some of these questions, we’ve asked an author, an agent, an editor, and a children’s literature advocate/reviewer to weigh in on an aspect of diversity in publishing that is meaningful to them.”
  • A Prayer to the Silent by author Cynthia Leitich Smith. Peek: “You who care so much that you’re immobilized, silenced, I’m asking you to make yourselves heard.”
  • Feeding the Demand by literary agent Stefanie Sanchez Von Borstel. Peek: “I’ve found it’s important to show publishers there is a demand, and in turn help them feel confident to publish even more diverse voices.”
  • Writing Outside Your Perspective by Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein. Peek: “…as a person who thinks a lot about diversity issues, I would at that point pause a moment and ask myself: Did the voice sound believable to me as that of a Mexican-American teenager, given the character and the world the author created around him? (Here I have to acknowledge that I myself am a white woman, and keep an eye on my own privileges, biases, and knowledge/lack thereof.)
  • It’s Even More Complicated Than Most People Know by Debbie Reese of American Indians of Children’s Literature. Peek: “Most people don’t know anything at all about tribal sovereignty and what it means.”

More News & Giveaways

Uncovering YA Covers 2011 from Kate Hart. A look at color distribution and minority representation on the covers of young adult novels. Note: 90% featured a white character. 1.2% featured a black character. Peek: “Of the groups represented enough to show up in a pie slice, black characters/models are not only fewest in number, they’re barely even on their own covers.”

When Life Throws You Rotten Eggs…Make Lemonade by Sarah Davies from Greenhouse Literary. Peek: “I’ve known agents who so hate imparting bad news that they just don’t
return phone calls; they disengage. It’s like the boyfriend or
girlfriend who doesn’t return messages, hoping their partner will get so
frustrated that they’ll initiate the break-up for them.”

Five Plot Fixes for Peace Makers by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “I am really a nice person and I want my characters to be treated well. No more.”

Author Chat: A Special Aloha from Margo Sorenson by Jama Rattigan from Jama’s Alphabet Soup. Peek: “Truly, moving back to the Mainland was a culture shock in so many ways, and, especially as a teacher, I wished that my California students would be able to understand how the aloha spirit worked, as it did in Hawai’i.”

Nurturing Your Inner Nerd by Dom Testa from P.J. Hoover at Roots in Myth. Post includes giveaway of Dom’s novel, The Comet’s Curse: A Galahad Book (Tor, 2011). Eligibility: North America. Deadline: 12:01 a.m. June 2.

Don’t Think Too Much: You’ll Create a Problem That Wasn’t Even There by Julie Musil from Adventures in YA and Children’s Publishing. Peek: “I read about noun/verb placement, misplaced modifiers, and comma usage, and began to over-analyze my work. I found myself worrying less about a good story, and worrying more about mechanics.”

Think Like an Author by Danyelle Leafty from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “An author is someone who goes in and gets the job done.”

Traditional vs. Self-publishing is a False Dichotomy
from Nathan Bransford. Peek: “We’re all writers trying to figure out
the best way to get our books to readers. We’re all on the same team.”

Confusion Is Not the Same as Mystery by Mary Kole from Peek: “…if you give us no grounding information at the beginning–if it’s all action and no context–you run the risk of confusing your reader with not enough information.” See also Sounds Great, No Substance.

It’s Raining Cupcakes Birthday Party by Lisa Schroeder from Lisa’s Little Corner of the Internet. Peek: “Check out all of these adorable pictures, which I was told I could share on my blog. So impressed with all of the details that went into the decorations and everything!”

This is Your Guarantee of Failure. Proceed Anyway. from Danielle LaPorte. Peek: “There will be many, many things that you’ll wish you had said — fiercely loving and bravely tender things, righteously justice-rendering things that could change everything — but instead, you’ll fail to rise in the way you wanted to.” Source: Ruth McNally Barshaw.

Fact and Fiction: One Author Sharing Story by Bethany Hegedus from ALSC Blog. Peek: “There is an adage in writing—write what you know.  I do that. But I also write what I don’t know. Fiction for me takes a little bit of facts—some from my own life—and mixes it with a whole lot of what ifs and what thens.”

How Much Interaction Should an Author Have With Readers? from Jody Hedlund. Peek: “a few days later she said, ‘Mom, I haven’t heard back from that author yet. Do you think she’ll write back to me?” Source: Stina Lindenblatt from Seeing Creative.

Pace Yourself! The Art of Pacing a  Novel from Elissa Cruz. Peek: “A story with lots of action that’s sparse on details is going to be
fast-paced.  A story that weaves you through setting and details and
inner monologues but where the characters don’t do much is going to be

Trailer Talk: While He Was Away and The Summer of No Regrets by Katherine Grace Bond from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “If I was using Karen’s trailer as a primer on trailers for my novel-writing students, this is what I’d probably tell them….”

Cynsational Giveaways

Learn more!

Enter to win a signed copy of Brendan Buckley’s Sixth-Grade Experiment by Sundee T. Frazier (Delacorte, 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 you can email Cynthia directly with “Brendan Buckley” in the subject line.
Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada. Deadline: midnight May 28.

Read an author interview about the book with Sundee.

The winner of a signed copy of Eye of the Sword by Karyn Henley (Book 2 of the Angelaeon Circle)(WaterBrook, 2012) was Betsy in Ohio.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

The first official day of summer may be June 20, but it feels as if it’s already here. Schools are concluding their spring semesters. Austin feels a bit empty with the U.T. students gone. On the upside, the waits are sure a lot shorter at local restaurants, and a sushi joint has just opened in my neighborhood.

Meanwhile, I plan to feature a bounty of ideas for summer reading, including more book trailer posts. If you’re a regular Cynsations reader and I haven’t previously highlighted your 2011-spring 2012 book, zip me a link to your trailer and maybe you’ll see it here in the days to come.

What else? If you haven’t already, please join in this week’s CBC Diversity conversation. Don’t miss my post, A Prayer to the Silent.

Wow! A letter from Dolly!

Yee haw! My 2010 picture book, Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton) has once again been selected for inclusion in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

This literacy program serves children from birth through preschool.
See Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library on facebook and find out how you can help.
Follow Imagination Library on Twitter.

See also a Pre-K teacher guide for Holler Loudly, created by Shannon Morgan (guides for kindergarten, grade 1 and grade 2 are likewise available (PDFs)).

Personal Links:

Swag shop!

From Greg Leitich Smith:

Cynsational Events

Central Texans! Mark your calendars for June 9 at BookPeople! Greg Leitich Smith will speak on “Writing Speculative Fiction” at 10 a.m. and Don Tate will host a book launch and signing of It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw (Lee & Low, 2012) at noon.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will appear June 30 at Bastop Public Library in Bastrop, Texas.

Interested in taking a class with Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith this summer?

New Voice: Jennifer Shaw Wolf on Breaking Beautiful

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Jennifer Shaw Wolf is the first-time author of Breaking Beautiful (Walker, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Allie lost everything the night her boyfriend, Trip, died in a horrible car accident—including her memory of the event. 

As their small town mourns his death, Allie is afraid to remember because doing so means delving into what she’s kept hidden for so long: the horrible reality of their abusive relationship.

When the police reopen the investigation, it casts suspicion on Allie and her best friend, Blake, especially as their budding romance raises eyebrows around town. Allie knows she must tell the truth. Can she reach deep enough to remember that night so she can finally break free? 

Debut writer Jennifer Shaw Wolf takes readers on an emotional ride through the murky waters of love, shame, and, ultimately, forgiveness.

What is it like, to be a debut author in 2012? What do you love about it? What are the challenges? What came as the biggest surprise? In each case, why?

I love finally being a “real” author and knowing I have a book coming out. I love that I have something concrete to show for the hours I spend hunched over a computer. I love that I can share my story with the world (although that part still kind of freaks me out.)

I love that my kids can look at me and know that their mom worked hard and accomplished her dreams. My family has been my greatest support from the beginning, so my kids know how much time I spent trying to get where I am. It’s important to me that they understand, dreams are possible, but it still takes a lot of work.

One of my favorite things about being a debut author has been the people I’ve met. This is a tough business, but the people in it are incredible. I love my agent and my editor I appreciate all that they have done to teach me about this business and make the road as smooth as possible. I love meeting with my my critique group and my SCBWI groups. I love the people I’ve met through my literary agency. It’s therapeutic to spend time with people who share your brand of craziness and understand what it is to have voices in your head.

I’m also grateful for my Class of 2k12 Group and my Apocalypsies group. Unless you’ve been through this process you don’t know how hard it is. The best advice I could give a new author is to find a marketing/emotional support group like they are. They get it when I have a deadline and my creative brain seems to be running on empty. They get the stress of constant marketing, bad reviews, and the “what if’s” of a business that’s constantly changing. They get it when the dream I’ve worked so hard for also makes me want to rip my hair out.

The hardest and the most surprising thing for me has been the amount of time it takes to do this job. Being an author means keeping up with edits on Breaking Beautiful, networking, blogging, and marketing. In the middle of all of this, I need to (and really want to) keep writing new stories.

Besides all that, I still have four kids, a house, and a husband. I wasn’t prepared for a job that could literally take up all of my time and brain power.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it, and I wouldn’t trade where I am, I just didn’t realize the time commitment that’s involved in writing, revising, and marketing a book.

Jennifer on horseback

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?

One of my writing teachers, Ann Gonzales, told me that as you write you circle your character. As you get deeper into your story, or as you revise, you get closer to that person.

I really felt that when I wrote Allie. She was definitely more closed in than the other characters I’ve written. I found myself too often, writing what happened to her, instead of writing what she was feeling. I didn’t write character exercises or journals for Allie, although I see the value it that kind of exercise.

Instead, I wrote and wrote and wrote and then went back and revised. With each revision, I got closer to getting inside her head. By the time I submitted my manuscript to agents, I felt like I knew Allie pretty well. However, one of the first comments that my editor put on my edit letter was something like, “We need to get into Allie’s head more,” so I revised again.

Jennifer’s revision in action

As a writer, I have a tendency to shy away from bad introspection. Maybe I’m trying to rescue my character emotionally, by not having him or her dwell on the bad things in life. Maybe I want to keep the story moving. But, I’ve learned, when bad things happen to your characters (and they will and should) you need to make sure those bad things have some effect on the way they think. You need to let them feel and express those emotions, or they come out like a cardboard character.

As far as finding a teen voice, there are a couple of things that helped me. First, I have two teens at home and we constantly have their friends in our home so I know how they talk to each other. Second, I majored in broadcasting and I had to learn to write news copy conversationally.

One of the problems with voice and especially teen voice that I see a lot in my friends who are writing YA is that they write too formally.

Jennifer as a teen

I think formal writing has been drilled into us through a thousand essays and research papers in high school and college. When I help my son with his high school papers I’m constantly telling him that he doesn’t need to write in circles, just get to the point and say what you’re saying clearly. His argument is that writing clearly makes it sound too simple. Maybe when you’re doing a research paper you need to sound intelligent, but when you’re telling a story, you need to be clear.

I’m not saying that young adult books need to be simplified or dumbed down. Young adults are absolutely intelligent consumers of literature and there are many beautiful examples of prose in books for teens. But the story needs to be in a teen voice, with teen issues and it needs to be clear.

You aren’t trying to showcase your knowledge. You’re trying to show the world through the point of view of a teen.

Cynsational Notes

Jennifer Shaw Wolf‘s hobbies include reading, video production, skiing, and running. She grew up in the tiny town of Wilford, Idaho where she milked cows, rode horses, went bridge jumping, and dragged main street. In college, she was a DJ for a small campus radio station and graduated with a degree in Broadcast Communications. She lives amid the peaceful forests of Lacey, Washington.