Guest Post: The Walking Writer by Jennifer R. Hubbard

Redwood Trail

By Jennifer R. Hubbard
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I don’t know how strong a trend this is, but in the past couple of years I’ve heard of several writers setting up “treadmill desks.”

As I understand it, this consists of a treadmill (set on very slow speed!) and a shelf with a computer. The writer walks while working. It’s supposed to be healthier than sitting at a desk for hour after hour.

I love walking and I love writing, but I’m not sure I could do both at once—or at least, that I could compose on a keyboard while walking. (I write while walking all the time, as I’ll explain later.)

Treadmills make me dizzy. And even though the treadmill in this case would be set to a low speed, my writing sometimes requires moments of absolute stillness for an idea to work its way from my brain to my fingertips.

But for writers who can work this way, it sounds like a great idea. I’m all for movement, however it’s achieved. Writing can be a very sedentary profession. We need to get our blood flowing, our muscles working.

I walk or hike daily. This serves a few purposes, beyond the basic need of exercise. It serves a few writing-related purposes, in fact.

(I also use a stationary bike, but I find I can’t think writerly thoughts while doing that, so I read or watch TV instead.)

Walking enables me to take a break from the writing desk. Sometimes I need to stop engaging my conscious mind with the story at hand, and let the subconscious work. I get fresh air and exercise and mental rest.

But other times, as I walk, my mind will keep working on the story. New scenes and bits of dialogue will come unbidden as I walk. This is how I first learned to tell stories: they unreeled in my head while I went about the daily business of living. A good long walk, with nothing else required of me, allows my mind the freedom and focus to compose.

Hiking vacations also take me to interesting new places, some of which end up in stories.

The waterfall in Try Not to Breathe (Viking, 2012) was inspired by years of hiking trips, many of which included visits to waterfalls. (In fact, as my husband plans our vacation hikes, he knows that anything featuring a waterfall will get an automatic “yes” from me.)

Myrtle Falls

The river in The Secret Year (Viking, 2010) was a composite of several rivers and creeks that I’ve lived (and walked) near. The feel of moss, the scent of pine needles, the crunch of fallen leaves, the glint of mica in the sun: all of these have found their way from my hikes into my stories.

Panhandle Bridge

Writers put a lot of stock in the “butt in chair, fingers on keyboard” moments, as well we should. But sometimes it’s useful to stand up at, or even step away from, the desk.

Trail to Burroughs

CBC Diversity: “It’s Complicated” – Join the Discussion

Join the conversation!

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Dear Cynsational Readers:

Please consider yourself encouraged to join in on the conversation at “It’s Complicated!”, a Blog Dialogue, hosted by CBC Diversity.

Peek: “…a blog dialogue addressing a topic that has frequently arisen at the Diversity table — the concept of responsibility and authenticity when writing about diverse characters and how authors, editors, and agents can choose/write stories that reflect the diverse nature of our society. “

Raise your awareness and sound off. Your voices matter.


Introduction & Welcome by CBC Diversity Chair Nancy Mercado, Editor at Roaring Brook. Peek:

“…we think it’s possible and necessary to have a respectful and open forum where we are able to chat about some of the challenges that we face, as well as the opportunities that exist when we come together as a community.”


Read my post & comment.

A Prayer to the Silent by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Peek:

“If you live in the world, you’re in this conversation—and, yes, staying quiet is a statement, too. What that silence means may vary from writer to writer, but for far too many, it’s a product of fear.

“You, the fearfully silent, I’m talking to you. Have you ever thought ‘I’ll mess up’ or ‘they’ll reject me,’ and then set aside a story or character or plot line?”


Agent Stefanie Von Borstel, Full Circle Literary, LLC. Peek: “Stefanie von Borstel is co-founder of Full Circle Literary. Prior to agenting, she worked in various editorial and marketing positions with Penguin and Harcourt…. Stefanie represents children’s books from baby to teen.” Clients include include Monica Brown, Jennifer Ward, Toni Buzzeo, Rafael Lopez, Carmen Tafolla, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, Diana Lopez, Malin Alegria, among others.”


Executive Editor Cheryl Klein, Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. Peek: “After attending the Denver Publishing Institute, I moved to New York City and was lucky enough to land my dream job as Arthur Levine’s editorial assistant in the Arthur A. Levine imprint of Scholastic. I’m now the executive editor in the AALB imprint, and it’s still my dream job, working with a terrific, diverse, and very talented group of authors and illustrators on an equally terrific and diverse array of projects. I also served as the continuity editor on the last two Harry Potter books.” See books Cheryl has edited.


Advocate/Reviewer Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “I am tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico. I’m from the Upper Village (Yates family)…. I’m a founding member of the Native American House and American Indian Studies program at the University of Illinois. I’m on the Literature Advisory Board for Reading is Fundamental and the Advisory Board for Reach Out and Read American Indian/Alaska Native.”

Book Trailer: The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker (Usborne, 2012). From the promotional copy: 

It’s been 3 years, 1 month, 1 week and 6 days since Sherry has seen
daylight. When things went wrong up above, she was sealed off from the
world in a bunker with her family. But when they run out of food, Sherry
and her dad must venture outside. 

There they find devastation,
desolation…and the Weepers: savage mutant killers. 

When her dad is
snatched, Sherry joins forces with gorgeous but troubled Joshua – an
Avenger, determined to destroy the Weepers. But can Sherry keep her
family and Joshua safe, when his desire for vengeance threatens them

New Voice: Barry Wolverton on Neversink

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Barry Wolverton is the first-time author of Neversink (Walden Pond, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Along the Arctic Circle lies a small island called Neversink, whose jagged cliffs and ice-gouged rocks are home to a colony of odd-looking seabirds called auks, including one Lockley J. Puffin. 

With their oceanfront views and plentiful supply of fish, the auks have few concerns – few, save for Lockley’s two best friends, Egbert and Ruby, a know-it-all walrus and a sharp-tongued hummingbird.

But all of this is about to change. Rozbell, the newly crowned king of Owl Parliament, is dealing with a famine on the mainland of Tytonia – and he has long had his scheming eyes on the small colony to the north. 

Now, Neversink’s independence hangs in the balance. An insurgence of owls will inevitably destroy life as the auks know it – unless Lockley can do something about it. 

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?

I signed with my agent in the summer of 2006, and we didn’t sell the book until April 2010. So while I had my coping-with-rejection routine down pat, I was completely unprepared for success.

2006 was also the year my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and given three-to-six months to live. It was because of my mom that I was always put to bed with a story when I was a child, and grew up in a house full of books, even though she almost never had time to sit down to read for pleasure.

Needless to say, when she was diagnosed, I never thought she’d live long enough to see me sell a book. But being the indomitable person that she was, she kept fighting and defying her doctor’s expectations, which made it that much more frustrating when I kept coming up short with Neversink.

Barry’s office

When Walden Pond Press decided to take the book to acquisitions, all I needed was a two-page synopsis to go with a revised first act I had written for them.

Unfortunately, writing a good synopsis proved so painful that I missed the deadline for the March 2010 meeting where Neversink was supposed to be on the agenda. I had no idea what that meant — whether it would be another week or month or quarter before I had my shot.

But on April 9, 2010, which was Good Friday, I was about to get in the car and drive to my parents’ house for Easter. I compulsively checked my email before leaving, even though I knew my agent was on vacation.

But there it was. An email from her, from New Zealand, saying we’d sold Neversink. So I celebrated by getting to tell my mom the good news in person.

She also got to show off the Publishers Weekly announcement a couple of months later, which made her very proud. She wanted so badly to hang on until the book came out, but she didn’t quite make it.

What was the one craft resource book that helped you most during your apprenticeship? Why? How would you book-talk it to another beginning writer in need of help?

Story by Robert McKee (It Books, 1997). I am a formerly aspiring/currently failed screenwriter, and though this book is focused on screenwriting, McKee’s dissection of story and structure, down to individual scenes and story “beats,” helped me enormously as a fiction writer. Also, I had tried in my 20s to write an adult novel and never finished.

Writing several screenplays, which are much more compact and formulaic that the typical novel, gave me confidence that I could finish something and also helped me learn to use description and dialogue more evocatively.

As a fantasy writer, how did you go about building your world?

My world came together through different small landmasses bumping into each other. There was my visit to the Baltimore aquarium’s auk exhibit where I got to see these amazing birds in action and wonder why penguins got all the love. There was my fascination with animal collective nouns, like a “parliament” of owls and a “colony” of puffins, which suggested a political allegory waiting to be told. And the natural habitat of Atlantic auks (Iceland and Great Britain, among others) played right into my love of Brit lit, sagas, and Northern Europe’s folklore.

But as a foundation, I’ve always preferred animal stories set in the creatures’ natural environment, whether the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (Penguin Classics, 1990) or Pixar’s “Finding Nemo.”

So most everything about my two main settings is based on field guide research and is true to the needs of the species that inhabit them: Tytonia, the woodsy domain of the governing owls, and the rugged, wintry sea-cliffs of Neversink. Both islands, but worlds apart in ways.

And the conflict is rooted in the idea that creatures are adapted to certain habitats, food supplies, and behavior cycles, and there are serious consequences if this interdependence is jeopardized.

Also, though my animals talk, I don’t consider them strictly anthropomorphic. The protagonist, Lockley Puffin, is characterized by his being a puffin; he conducts himself in a way I would expect to discover if we could really speak the auks’ language.

That’s not to say my book is as naturalistic as something like Watership Down by Richard Adams (Avon Books, 1975). To me the puffin looks like a creature Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear would have invented if it didn’t already exist. Same with the walrus or an owl so small it’s basically a head on legs. I felt like the wonderful weirdness of the animal world gave me license to have some fun with the conventions of the animal fantasy, and to venture into the absurd and improbable, like my faction of Owls Wearing Hats.

Why would owls wear hats? You’ll have to read the book to find out, but it makes perfect sense to me.

Barry’s pal Charlie

Giveaway: Brendan Buckley’s Sixth-Grade Experiment

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win a signed copy of Brendan Buckley’s Sixth-Grade Experiment by Sundee T. Frazier (Delacorte, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Brendan Buckley is headed to middle school, and he has lots of big questions. Will he be able to keep his green anole, Einstein, alive? Why won’t new-girl Morgan Belcher leave him alone? And what will he propose for the national science competition his class is entering?

When his alternative energy idea gets him paired with Morgan, Brendan is more than a little skeptical. But their partnership clicks and they embark on a methane-producing experiment involving bottles, balloons, and the freshest cow manure they can find.

As Brendan spends more time on the experiment, his big questions get even bigger. He misses hanging out with Khalfani, his best friend and Tae Kwon Do sparring partner. 

Will they remain best friends? And Brendan and his police detective father aren’t exactly seeing eye-to-eye. Does Dad think he’s a science-nerd wimp? Can Brendan prove to him that his scientific pursuits really could be world-changing?

Readers will welcome the return of the popular and appealing Brendan Buckley as he encounters the trials and tribulations of middle school and struggles to forge his own identity within his family. 

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 “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.

Cynsational Notes

Karyn on Backstory

Last call! Enter to win a signed copy of Eye of the Sword by Karyn Henley (Book 2 of the Angelaeon Circle)(WaterBrook, 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 “Eye of the Sword,”in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST May 21.

Holler Loudly by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Barry Gott is a Two-Time Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Selection

Wow! A letter from Dolly!

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Yippee Ti Yi Yo!

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)).

Congratulations to fellow Austinite Divya Srinivasan whose debut picture book Little Owl’s Night (Viking, 2011) was also selected this year for the Imagination Library program!

More Personally

As regular Cynsations readers know, I’m a huge, long-time fan of Dolly’s acting, music, and literacy advocacy. For me, one of last fall’s highlights was seeing her perform live in Cedar Park, Texas.

The Forest of Reading Winners

By Lena Coakley
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

This week, the largest children’s literary event in Canada, the Forest of Reading, Festival of Trees, returned for two days of award ceremonies, workshops, author signings, and other exciting activities that celebrate the shared experience of reading. The highlight of the festivities was the announcement of the Canadian children’s books chosen for the Forest of Reading Awards.

Child readers from participating schools across the province of Ontario chose the winning books. The awards in each age category are named for a different Canadian tree. And the winners are:

The Blue Spruce Award (grades K-2)

Giraffe and Bird by Rebecca Bender (Dancing Cat Books)

The Silver Birch Fiction Award (grades 4-6)

Undergrounders by David Skuy (Scholastic Canada)

The Silver Birch Non-Fiction Award (grades 4-6)

Don’t Touch That Toad & Other Strange Things Adults Tell You by Catherine Rondina and Kevin Sylvester (Kids Can Press)

The Silver Birch Express Award (grades 3-4)

When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew by Jan Andrews, illustrated by Dušan Petričić (Groundwood Books)

The Red Maple Fiction Award (grades 7-8)

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel (HarperCollins Publishers)

The White Pine Fiction Award (young adult)

The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong (Doubleday Canada)

The Blue Spruce Award

The White Pine Non-Fiction Award (young adult)

The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

Le Prix Tamarac (grade 4-6; French-language)

Secrets de Famille by Sylvie Marcoux (Éditions du Phoenix)

Le Prix Tamarac Express (grades 4-6; French-language)

Les Dragouilles: Les Rouges de Tokyo by Karine Gottot and Maxim Cyr (Éditions Michel Quintin)

Cynsational Notes

Slideshow: Festival of Trees draws thousands of kids to Toronto’s Harbourfront from Quill & Quire.

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

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

Witchlanders, her debut novel, was called “a stunning teen debut” by Kirkus Reviews. It is a Junior Library Guild selection and an ABC new voices selection.

See also New Voice: Lena Coakley on Witchlanders and Author Lena Coakley Interviews Editor Hadley Dyer of HarperCollins Canada, both from Cynsations.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Check out a trailer by Naomi Bates.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The B.C. Book Prizes Announced from CanLit for Little Canadians. The Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature went to Dust Lands: Blood Red Road by Moira Young (Doubleday Canada) and the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize went to When I Was Small by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Simply Read).

Revise/Resubmit Requests by Jane Lebak from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “Receiving one of these is a positive sign: it means the agent thought your manuscript had enough promise not to reject it outright, but it still has quite a distance to go before the agent feels it’s publishable.”

Going Deeper: A Process Rather Than a Technique by R.L. LaFevers from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Going deeper involves exposing oneself, but by degrees rather than all at once. A sense of peeling back a little skin, one layer at a time, seeing how much it stings, acclimating, then doing the whole thing over
again and revealing a little more.”

The Pendulum Swings Back by Mary Kole from Kidlit Apps. Peek: “The pendulum that swung hard toward digital anxiety is heading the other way now, toward a more natural balance.”

Where Genius Is: Maurice Sendak and Ursula Nordstrom by Karen MacPherson from the Evansville Courier-Press. Peek: “Theirs was a uniquely creative and close relationship that revolutionized the world of children’s literature.” Via Gwenda Bond.

The 2012 Golden Baobab Prize: Inspiring African Children’s and Young Adult Literature from Tarie at Into the Wardrobe. A literary award for African stories. Deadline: midnight GMT June 24.

The Fragile Stage by Coe Booth from Write at Your Own Risk. Peek: “We’re still trying to figure out where we’re going, if our choices will make sense on the page, and if anyone will even want to read these novels when they’re finished. I call this the ‘fragile stage.'” See also Uma Krishnaswami on Training Your Inner Critic from Writing with a Broken Tusk.

My Story Book Club from Lamba Literary: Creating Excellence in LGBT Literature Since 1989. “Each month, we will introduce a LGBT work geared towards young adults with compelling discussions, polls, play lists, author commentary and trivia each week led by a guest youth moderator. At the end of the month, the author will participate in an hour-long Q&A with readers.” Source: Lee Wind, see related video interview with Monica Carter, who is founding the program for Lambda Literary Foundation, on Lee’s Blog, I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?

Writing and Parenting by Stephanie Burgis from Smack Dab in the Middle. Peek: “I think the years of MG fiction are the years when many kids first start really noticing the ways their moms are failing to live up to that cultural standard. …my friends and I were vocal in those years whenever we noticed our moms’ failures. Well. Now I’m a mom, and guess what?”

Literary Agent Mary Kole Seeks Interns from Peek: “Now, I can’t offer you an agency slot or guarantee you a job, but interning for an agency or publisher is the #1 thing you can do if you’re curious about publishing, agenting, writing, or the children’s book world.”

Congratulations to Cynsations Asia/Australia/NZ reporter Christopher Chen on winning the Aurealis Award for Best Picture Book in recognition of Sounds Spooky, illustrated by Sarah Davis (Random House Australia)! The winners were announced at a gala May 12 at North Sydney’s Independent Theatre. See more information about the award, including more children’s-YA winners, and photos and insights from Christopher.

Three Questions for Literary Agent Erin Murphy from Peter Adam Salomon, Keyboard and Camera. Peek: “Most of us…just kind of stumbled into this because of our love of books, and lo, here we are, literary agents! So let yourself love

Writer’s Cramp: In the E-Reader Era, A Book a Year is Slacking by Julie Bosman from The New York Times. Peek: “Authors are now pulling the literary equivalent of a double shift, churning out short stories, novellas or even an extra full-length book
each year.” Source: Leda Schubert.

Write Now! Overcoming Writer’s Bock by Chris Eboch from Write Like a Pro. Peek: “Even successful and prolific writers struggle with writer’s block. They have just figured out how to get past it more quickly.

Cynsational Giveaways

Karyn on Backstory

New YA Book Giveaway! Enter to win a signed copy of Eye of the Sword by Karyn Henley
(Book 2 of the Angelaeon Circle)(WaterBrook, 2012).

To enter, comment
on this post (click previous link and scroll) and include an email
(formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an
email address. Please specify if you already own one of the books and
are looking to win the other. Or email Cynthia directly with “Eye of the Sword,”in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST May 21.

The winners of five first-page critiques from Penguin editor Steve Meltzer (in celebration of Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose by Tina Nichols Coury) were Cathy, Joanna, Kell, Rosie, and Sue.

The winners of The Fives Lives of Our Cat Zook by Joanne Rocklin (Abrams, 2012) were Jen in Ohio and Tracy in California, and the winner of a critique by Joanne was Robin in California.

The winners of Diabolical bookmarks were Elaine in Georgia, Jenea in Tennessee, Lisa in Ontario (Canada), Missy in Texas, Patti in North Dakota, Selena in Wisconsin, Susan in Virginia, Tal in Jerusalem (Israel), Tracy in California, Victoria in Ohio, and Vivien in Kansas.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

KyuWon Min, 3rd Grade; see more.

This week’s highlight was receiving student art in celebration of Holler Loudly winning the St. Mary’s International School Book Award from Tokyo!

My focus was preparation for teaching summer workshops and making progress on my new manuscript, which will be the second book in the series to launch next winter.

Frequent readers may also notice a new “translate” and recent “popular posts” feature in the Cynsations sidebar.

I’m also watching the BBC’s “Sherlock” on Sunday nights and enjoyed the “Glee: The 3D Concert Movie” on DVD (the second half of this season’s “Glee” has been great, too).

Personal Links

From Greg Leitich Smith

Cynsational Events

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?

Art Celebrates St. Mary’s Book Award Winner Holler Loudly

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Yee haw! Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010) has received
the 12 annual St. Mary’s Book Award from St. Mary’s International School in Tokyo.

In her letter, elementary school librarian Tammy Hays said, “This is a boy’s school and Holler’s antics really hit home with many of our students, especially those boys who never seem to use their ‘quiet’ voices.”

Featured below is wonderful art, inspired by the book, courtesy of St. Mary’s students:

Kenshiro H.
Readiness Program, kindergarten
Ren I., 1st Grade
Wayne H.,
2nd Grade
KyuWon Min, 3rd Grade

Cynsational Notes

I’m completely wowed by the students’ artistic efforts and enthusiasm! Thanks to everyone at St. Mary’s! It’s a thrill to think of Holler visiting with y’all in Tokyo. See related interviews and Holler Loudly teacher guides for Pre-K, kindergarten, grade 1, and grade 2 by Shannon Morgan.