In Memory: Jean Craighead George

Jean’s latest book (Dutton, 2009)

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Children’s writer Jean Craighead George, 92, died on Tuesday. The author of more than 100 novels, she may be best remembered for her Newbery Award winning novel Julie of the Wolves (Harper & Row, 1972) and her Newbery Honor Book, My Side of the Mountain (Dutton, 1959).

From Jean’s website: “She attended Penn State University, graduating with a degree in Science
and Literature.

“In the 1940s, she was a reporter for The Washington Post
and a member of the White House Press Corps.

“After her children were born, she returned to her love of nature and brought owls, robins, mink, sea gulls, tarantulas – 173 wild animals into their home and backyard. These became characters in her books and, although always free to go, they would stay with the family until the sun changed their behavior and they migrated or went off to seek partners of their own kind.”

Jean Craighead George, Children’s Author, Dies at 92 by Margalit Fox from The New York Times. Peek:

“‘By the time I got to kindergarten,'” Ms. George told The Journal News of Westchester in 2003, “‘I was surprised to find out I was the only kid
with a turkey vulture.'” 

Cynsational Notes

Additional sources: Ginger Knowlton, Publishers Lunch. See more from Bookshelves of Doom, including information on two books to be published posthumously.

Video Interview with Jean Craighead George on her 90th birthday (July 2, 2009) by Rocco Staino from School Library Journal.

Guest Post: Laurisa White Reyes on What Once Upon a Time Means to Me

By Laurisa White Reyes
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Once Upon A Time in Montrose, California (est. 1966) is the oldest children’s bookshop in America.

I had the privilege of working there just out of high school back in – er, never mind.

Founder and then owner, Jane Humphrey, graciously hired me – a naïve, inexperienced 18-year-old – and put me to work alongside several more mature and much more knowledgeable women, each of whom became a mentor and friend to me over the year that I worked there.

Falling in Love with Books

What I remember most about Once Upon A Time is the smell of dried lavender that permeated the air. Jane picked it herself, tied swags of it in ribbons, and kept them in baskets and hung them from the rafters.

The shop itself was simply elegant, timeless and welcoming. Jane loved stocking the store with old-fashioned toys and crafts. And, of course, there were books.

Thousands of books! Jane selected every title with care. I came to know those books well.

I fell in love with Edward Gorey’s creepy little volumes with macabre sketches and oddly humorous anecdotes. I discovered The Tao of Pooh, The Story of Ferdinand, and The Giving Tree. I became acquainted with many (at the time) new authors such as Don and Audrey Wood, Cynthia Voigt, and Chris Van Allsburg.

I spent hours upon hours with these books, running my fingers across the rows of spines, dusting them with a feather duster, and carefully repairing small tears in their dusk jackets.

I listened to Jane and the other booksellers answer customers’ questions about this book or that book, and direct them to specific titles in hopes of finding just the right gift for that very special child. However, many of our adult customers bought the books for themselves, and my own collection of children’s literature grew into a cherished library.

I still have those books today and have read them countless times to my five children.

Finally, Jane made certain that every book and every customer was treated as if he or she might be the only one in the world. Every purchase was given a special bookmark and placed in a beautiful paper bag tied with a satin ribbon and a gold seal.

When you bought a book from Once Upon A Time, you took home a treasure.

On The Path To Publication

Visit Laurisa

What did working at Once Upon A Time do for me? Well, in essence it opened up a whole new world. I had always been an avid reader. That’s why I applied to work there in the first place. But working in that magical shop with those amazing women set me on a course from which I have never turned.

This year, 25 years after Once Upon A Time, my own middle grade novel, The Rock of Ivanore (Tanglewood, 2012), will finally be released. It is a story about magic, adventure, and courage. It is the kind of story I hope children and teens won’t want to put down.

When I started writing it six years ago, I recalled the times I would pull a book off the store shelf during the quiet hours at work, turn page after page, and get so engrossed in the story that I had to purchase it with my earnings and take it home with me. I remember the books that stuck with me long after I’d read the last page, the ones I dreamed about, the ones that made me wonder what would happen next.

That’s the kind of book I wanted to write, the kind of book that kids would want to share with their own kids someday.

How The Rock of Ivanore Came To Be

The first time I read a story to my own children was the night I brought my firstborn home from the hospital. I held that little baby girl in my rocking chair and read Hop On Pop by Dr. Seuss.

Reading to my kids has been a daily habit ever since. One night, ten years later, I was curled up in bed with my then eight-year-old son, Marc, preparing to read him his bedtime story. “No, don’t read to me,” he said. “Tell me a story instead.”

I told my son a story about a young enchanter’s apprentice who couldn’t do magic right. Every time he tried to cast a spell, something went wrong. Night after night our story evolved. I’d ask Marc what he wanted to hear and weave his requests, be it dragons or swords or magic, into that night’s tale.

Eventually, I started writing some of it down. A year later, the first draft of The Rock of Ivanore was complete.

Sharing Favorite Stories with My Kids

Yesterday, my four-year-old son climbed into my lap with a stack of picture books in his arms. Among them were some of those books from all those years ago at Once Upon A Time. I pulled out The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. The dust cover is torn in several places, but the book plate I’d signed with my name was still in place.

As I began reading it to my son, my memory wandered back in time to the day I discovered it on the shelf at work. My heart warmed as I held it then and I was thrilled to have it.

Why? Because my mother had read that story to me when I was a child. And someday, many years from now, my son will hold his son in his lap and read The Little House to him.

That’s what books are all about. If, as an author, I can instill a love of stories strong enough to be passed down to the next generation, then I will have accomplished something worthwhile. And I have Jane Humphrey and Once Upon A Time to thank for it.

Cynsational Notes

Laurisa White Reyes is the author of The Rock of Ivanore (Tanglewood, 2012)(excerpt), book one in the new middle grade fantasy series The Celestine Chronicles, due out in May 2012.

Laurisa lives in Southern California with her husband and five children. Publishing her first novel is a life-long dream come true.

Visit Laurisa’s blog, A Thousand Wrongs. See all the stops on her blog tour.

From the promotional copy of The Rock of Ivanore:

Marcus Frye, enchanter’s apprentice, sets out to in search of the rock of Ivanore, but what is it and where will he find it? 

When his path crosses that of an Agoran half-breed named Jayson, their quests become one. Their journeys soon become a race to defend their homeland from enemy invasion. 

As Marcus learns the value of loyalty and self-sacrifice, he also discovers truths about himself he never dreamed possible.

Book Trailer: Goddess Interrupted by Aimée Carter

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

with Executive Editor Mary-Theresa Hussey of Harlequin Teen, editor of Goddess Interrupted by Aimée Carter, & Giveaway
from Jen Bigheart from I Read Banned Books. Peek: “I found out that Aimée was so young! Still in college! And that amazed and impressed me even more. And
once we started talking about aspects of the story and the structure and what her intentions were, I grew even more excited by her potential.”

Giveaway features “a copy of The Goddess Test, a copy of Goddess Interrupted, Goddess French tote bag, Goddess sunscreen, Goddess beach ball, and a $5 iTunes
gift card.” Deadline: midnight EST May 23.

New Voice: Elisa Ludwig on Pretty Crooked

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Elisa Ludwig is the first-time author of Pretty Crooked (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Willa’s secret plan seems all too simple: take from the rich kids at Valley Prep and give to the poor ones.

Yet Willa’s turn as Robin Hood at her ultra-exclusive high school is anything but. Bilking her “friends”—known to everyone as the Glitterati—without them suspecting a thing is far from easy. Learning how to pick pockets and break into lockers is as difficult as she’d thought it’d be. Delivering care packages to the scholarship girls, who are ostracized just for being from the “wrong” side of town, is way more fun than she’d expected.

The complication Willa didn’t expect, though, is Aidan Murphy, Valley Prep’s most notorious (and gorgeous) ace-degenerate. His mere existence is distracting Willa from what matters most to her: evening the social playing field between the haves and have-nots. There’s no time for crushes and flirting with boys, especially conceited and obnoxious trust-funders like Aidan.

But when the cops start investigating the string of thefts at Valley Prep and the Glitterati begin to seek revenge, could Aidan wind up being the person that Willa trusts most?

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you’re debuting this year?

I was a voracious reader and especially enjoyed anything quirky or a little suspenseful or scary.

Probably all of those books got mashed up somehow into a first person teen voice that I use in most of my writing, though of course it changes with the character.

I also, at one point, got really into Sweet Valley High (I remember sleeping over at my best friend’s house and we would lie on her matching twin beds and read one or two of those a night, and they were like candy.)

SVH is probably the most obvious influence on the world of Paradise Valley, which is very stratified and clear-cut and easy to digest. And, hopefully, fun.

How do you psyche yourself up to write, to keep writing, and to do the revision necessary to bring your manuscript to a competitive level? What, for you, are the special challenges in achieving this goal? What techniques have worked best and why?

The discipline and the “psyching up” didn’t come naturally to me—I had to develop them over a matter of years. I just finally realized that these darn things don’t write themselves, and that if I was serious about this as a career then I simply had to accept the fact that I need to put in the time.

Elisa’s work space.

I genuinely love revising, so often the first draft is the hardest part. I could revise infinitely! My instincts are getting a little bit better about what brings a manuscript to a “competitive level,” but I’m still learning so much from my fabulous agent and editor.

For me, the biggest challenge of professional author-hood is my day job, which is freelance writing, which means that I log a lot of time in front of the screen. Sometimes, I feel like I’m overusing those muscles.

To balance it all, I often work on my novels on a laptop in a separate space, away from my office desk. I also try to set small definable goals every day, as it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of a manuscript when I might only have a free hour or two to work on it.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2012, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

I guess publishing in general seemed inevitable in that I was committed to try until it happened!

Did I know it would be 2012? No.

Elisa, the summer before college.

My journey really began as an undergraduate, which is when I first got the nutty idea that I wanted to be a writer as a real life, paying job. I studied with some wonderful teachers in college and graduate school, who encouraged me just enough along the way to keep me believing. Then I got a job and I was busy establishing myself as an adult (i.e., paying the bills), and I put it aside.

In 2004, I applied for some residencies and took a couple of months off to focus on fiction again. Once I made that investment and spent time with artists who took themselves seriously, I realized this was still my dream.

The next big milestone was when I took a summer class with Julia Glass, and she suggested I think about YA fiction. That was the best advice I ever got, and I found my agent about a year and a half after that.

There have been lots of ups and downs, and it wasn’t easy, but at a certain point I knew I was close enough in terms of the work I’d put in, and that luck was the thing that would usher me past the final threshold. So I just held out for the luck! 

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

I’m not gonna lie: I work a lot of weekends and nights. I always worked full time, and I will continue to do so. I do work from home for my day job, though, so that saves some time in terms of commuting, and I also have flexibility in terms of hours. I often get up early (6 a.m.) and get some fiction writing in before the other deadlines beckon.

Now that someone is waiting for my manuscript on the other end, it certainly helps move things along. So that’s my advice: Treat it like it’s a job. Take it seriously. Set deadlines and meet them. Someone is waiting for your book—whether they know it yet or not!—and only you can write it.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

I’m definitely making this up as I go along, though practically every idea I had came from the proud tradition of kid lit authors who’ve gone before me. Online, I’m tweeting, blogging (more on group blogs than on my own), Facebooking, Google Plustificating and generally trying build relationships.

The Apocalypsies has been an outrageously amazing resource—not only for tons of ideas about promotion and networking, but also as a truly supportive atmosphere with lovely, lovely people who really do care about one another. I feel so lucky to now be part of this group and I’ve made some wonderful friends.

In real life, I’m trying to get to know local authors better and attend some events, book signings and conferences, making as much swag as my budget allows and talking my book up. I’m also hooking up with some schools, libraries and bookstores to set up events.

I realized early on that it can get overwhelming, so I’m trying to focus on the parts I like most—making my trailer, for instance, was a blast. I’m sort of shy naturally, so promotion doesn’t come easily, but I am actually enjoying the whole journey from a creative standpoint.

For instance, I was excited to come up with the idea for a purse hanger key chain that says “Hang on to Your Purse” over the Pretty Crooked cover image. It’s also just very neat to wake up and see that every day it ramps up a bit more—more requests, more mentions online, new firsts, etc.

Before I was published, I really didn’t participate in the writing community, so I’m definitely trying to make up for lost time. My advice to others is to plug in to the network early and not wait until you have a book deal and focus on what’s fun about the process. 

Cynsational Notes

Find Elisa at The Nightstand, Sleuths, Spies and Alibis, and Pots & Pens.

Interview: Carol Lynch Williams on the Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers Conference

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Carol Lynch Williams is the author of more than 20 books for children and young adults. She has an MFA from Vermont College in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She is the proud mom of five daughters. Her newest novel, Waiting (Simon & Schuster, 2012), was released on May 1.

The videos featured below offer glimpses of past years at the Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers Conference (WIFYR). 

What is the Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers Conference?

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers–now in its 13th year–is a week-long conference held in Sandy, Utah. It’s an intense program for anyone who is seriously interested in publishing books for children and teens. If you really want to publish, there will be people here who will be able to help you get the best work possible in the time allotted.

Many find this conference to be a life-changing experience as far as their career as writers or illustrators with 20 hours of morning classes and afternoon classes on craft to make better writers.

How did you come to be involved in the conference?

Almost 15 years ago, a good friend of mine, Dr. Chris Crowe (Mississippi, 1955 (Dial, 2002) and Getting Away with Murder (Dial, 2003)) asked me, “If you could attend the very best writing conference, what would it be like?”

That day was the beginning of Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers. We brainstormed for hours and came up with what we thought would be the absolute best conference that a writer would want to attend.

The conference continues to change–we’re always looking for ways to make the event more successful for attendees. But one thing that has never changed is that we’ve always had amazing faculty, speakers, editors, and agents.

What can participants expect from the workshops?

If you are signed up to come for a full day, you can expect to be in a small classroom setting with less than 15 like-minded writers. The 20 morning hours are devoted to workshopping your groups’ manuscripts. Your class will be visited by editors and agents. You learn from published writers and illustrators, and you’ll have an incredible time.

Afternoon classes are devoted to learning the craft of writing and illustrating. A variety of teachers talk about what they have learned. There is a Thursday evening keynote presentation (this year we have Trent ReedyWords in the Dust (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 2011)), and there’s a plenary each day where either the agent or editors speak. Several participants have gotten their start or have sold books or have found their agents at this conference. 

What highlights of past conferences come to mind?

Well, of course the final song on the last day! 

Do you have any success stories to share?

There are so many. I’ll focus on only one. Matthew J. Kirby, author of Icefall (Scholastic, 2011) found his agent at WIFYR. Only days ago, he won the Edgar Award for that book! 

Could you tell us about the facilities, dining, setting, etc.?

Every faculty member that comes to the conference has the goal of helping the individuals in their class to become the best writer or illustrator possible. In all these years, we’ve never had even one faculty member who was not completely devoted to that goal. Our writers and illustrators are award-winning (Caldecott winners, Newbery winners, National Book Awards, Edgar winners– just to name a few). They are smart and caring.

A couple of years back we moved WIFYR from Brighan Young University to a private school, The Waterford School, in Sandy, Utah. Now we have large airy classrooms with lots of natural light and there’s a beautiful auditorium. There’s plenty of parking and lovely settings all around campus. In addition, there are several places to eat not far from Waterford. If you’re interested in hiking (assuming you’re not too exhausted from working so hard), you’ll find an array of options.

What is the cost? Is financial aid available? 

Morning classes are $495.00 (this includes the afternoon sessions). The illustrating class is $297.00 (a three-day week), and afternoon sessions are $120.00. We’re working with the Best Western CottonTree Inn (in Sandy, Utah) as far as hotel accommodations go. And this year there is a $1000.00 grand prize for qualified full-time attendees. We do not offer other financial aid.

Carol’s new release

What do you love about the conference?

I love the opportunity of spending time thinking about my writing, talking about books and getting to know new writers. I love the camaraderie of faculty and students, and how devoted the faculty is to helping people succeed. It’s a wonderful week.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (June 18 to June 22, 2012) is for that person who really wants to succeed. You will leave the conference excited and ready to work hard. If you’re in the right frame of mind, every class, every day will benefit you.

Cynsational Notes

Conference faculty include literary agent John M. Cusick, editors Ruth Katcher and Alexandra Penfold, and authors Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith.

Hunger Mountain Call for Submissions: Celebrating Sendak

By Bethany Hegedus 
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

One of children’s literature’s finest and most outspoken figures, Maurice Sendak, has died at the age of 83.

To celebrate his life and his life’s work, Hunger Mountain: A VCFA Journal of the Arts is asking illustrators, authors, editors, agents, parents, young readers, teachers and librarians to contribute to “Celebrating Sendak.”

Please submit anywhere between 50-300 words on any of the topics listed below to be considered for this special feature. Submissions must be received by May 20, with the piece to be published in the Children’s Literature section of Hunger Mountain in our upcoming Landscape of Literature issue.

As there will be many contributors chosen, in lieu of payment links to contributor websites/blogs will be included in the byline.

  • Impact of Maurice Sendak’s work on your own 
  • How Maurice Sendak changed your childhood 
  • Why Maurice Sendak’s work is still read 
  • Favorite Maurice Sendak book and why 
  • Favorite child reaction to a Maurice Sendak work

For this special special feature only, submissions may be sent to Bethany Hegedus, CYA Editor of Hunger Mountain, at bahegedus at Please title the email: Celebrating Sendak.

Cynsational Notes

In Memory: Maurice Sendak from Cynsations.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Read the first two chapters of The Princess of Iowa by M. Molly Backes (Candlewick, 2012) online for free.

Tips and Tools for the Agent Hunt from Donna Bowman Bratton. Includes information on researching agents, where to find them, and how to field “the call.”

Character Connection by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “One of the most common reasons for rejecting a manuscript is when the agent or editor can’t connect with the main character.”

TOC Bologna: Digital Kids’ Publishers Try to Chart the Growth Ahead by John A. Sellers from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The questions were many, and the answers…perhaps fewer. Integrity of e-products, especially those intended for children, was a recurring theme…as was the array of digital options available to publishers, each with their advantages and disadvantages in terms of development costs, pricing, competition, and more.” Source: Joy Preble.

Independent Booksellers Nimbly Stay Afloat by Cynthia Morris from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Not even the most savvy webinar can compete with the buzz of a live
event. There’s nothing like rubbing elbows with other bibliophiles.”

How to Submit a Package Wherein Illustrations are Kit-and-Caboodle with the Text by Deborah Halverson from Peek: “… in your case, the project is all-or-nothing, so here’s how to do it right.”

Manuscript Blindness by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Diary of a Writer. Peek: “How can you cut them or even radically change them? They’re yours. It would be betrayal.”

First Nation Communities Read 2012-2013 Nominees Announced from Helen Kubiw at CanLit for Little Canadians. Peek: “Initiated in 2003, the First Nation Communities Read program has as its mandate the promotion of family literacy, intergenerational storytelling, and intergenerational information sharing, of texts with First Nation, Métis, or Inuit content, and involving the participation (writing, illustration, etc.) of a First Nation, Métis, or Inuit creator.”

How to Make a Series Bible by Michelle Schusterman from YA Highway. Peek: “…a document (or several documents) containing everything from character descriptions and class schedules to timelines and setting details. It takes some time to put together, but it’s worth it when you don’t have to go flipping through pages trying to remember whether the best friend lives on Walton or Walden Street.”

It’s Okay to Leave Stuff Out. In Fact, It’s Better. from Jane Friedman. Peek: “I was too young to know it at the time, but the stuff I was writing was really prep work…” See also Jane on Distinguishing Between Straight-up Advice and Paradigm Shift.

Dare to Suck by Keith Cronin from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “I’m going to show you an approach that just might help you overcome those mosquito-biting, brick-walling, quick-sandy (hey, it might be a word) speed bumps from hell.”

What Can Stop Your Career from Ever Starting by Emily Latham from Jane Friedman. Peek: “We are constantly searching to define the unknown. Not many people are complacent with not knowing.”

The Hunger Mountain Auction include manuscript critiques by agents Ammi-Joan Paquette (three chapters, bid one and two), Holly McGhee (picture book), Elena Mechlin (100 pages of YA novel), Tricia Lawrence (YA novel), Joan Slattery (25 pages of YA novel) as well as a picture book critique by author Liz Garton Scanlon, children’s book marketing consultation from Curious City, and five-night writing retreat at the Writing Barn in south Austin.

Recommended to talk about bullying.

Thoughts on Books, Bullying and Standing Up by Ann Angel from The Pirate Tree. Peek: “The students and I discussed how frightening it is to be bullied and how it makes them feel. They had a lot to say on the subject of bullying and being kept down and wrote so many comments I couldn’t post them all in one column so I’m posting more today.”

How Much Should We Take Readers Into Account When We Write? by Elizabeth S. Craig from Writing Mystery is Murder. Peek: “You’ve got to know your target demographic. You need to know what your readers like.”

Macmillan Prize Incorporates Digital by Charlotte Williams from The Bookseller. Peek: “The Macmillan Prize (U.K.), which rewards illustration, has introduced a digital category for the first time…The prize now has two separate categories, one for a physical picture book, and one rewarding a storyboard for an enhanced e-book.” Source: Achocka Blog.

Congratulations to Mary Kole, formerly of Andrea Brown Literary, on her new position as Senior Literary Manager and the head of Picture Books, Middle Grade, and Young Adult at Movable Type Management. See more information.

Eight Ways to Get More Out of Your Facebook Fan Page Today by Raag Vamdatt from ProBlogger. Peek: “The new fan pages don’t allow you to use many of the tactics that you might be used to. However, these changes do open up many new possibilities as well.”

Great Cause

Support the Distribution of “Fat Kid Rules the World,” a Narrative Film Project in Los Angeles at Kickstarter. “Mainstream Hollywood doesn’t know how to make money on a movie like this, they don’t believe that there is an audience, and we mean to prove them wrong.” Notes: (a) based on the Printz honor book of the same name by K.L. Going, (b) video contains strong language.

Cynsational Giveaways

Joanne on Details in Writing

Last call! Enter for a chance to win a picture book critique or first-chapter critique for a middle grade novel (ages 8 to 12) by Joanne Rocklin, emphasizing “sparkly details.”

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 “Joanne Rocklin critique” in the subject line. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada. Deadline: 11:59 CST May 14. Note: please indicate if you’re entering for a critique/book or both.

And enter to win one of three copies of The Fives Lives of Our Cat Zook by Joanne Rocklin (Abrams, 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 “The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook” in the subject line. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada. Deadline: 11:59 CST May 14. Note: please indicate if you’re entering for a critique/book or both.

Last call! Librarians, enter to win one of three sets of five signed Diabolical bookmarks and a Tantalize series button! Please indicate your affiliation (the specific school(s), public library/system) in your entry. 

Last call! YA readers! I’m also happy to send up to five individual signed bookmarks!

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 “Diabolical” in the subject line. (If you’re on LiveJournal, I’m also taking entries via comment at the Cynsations LJ.)
Author-sponsored. Eligibility: international. Deadline: midnight CST May 14.

New Editor Critique Giveaway! Enter for a chance to win one of five first-page critiques from
Penguin editor Steve Meltzer. Picture books through YA. Fiction or
nonfiction. Eligibility: international.

Steve Meltzer has been in publishing industry for over 25 years and has
served in a variety of positions and has been on many committees. He is the editor of many books for young readers, including John Madden’s Heroes of Football: The Story of America’s Game; the Sydney Taylor award-winning, Hanukkah at Valley Forge by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Greg Harlin; the Every Cowgirl series by Rebecca Janni, illustrated by Lynne AvrilThe Worst of Friends by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain, illustrated by Larry Day (an SLJ Best Book of the Year); Useful Fools by C.A. Schmidt (a Booklist Best Book of the Year) and The Boy with Pink Hair by Perez Hilton, illustrated by Jen Hill. His series include Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol and the Dutton Winnie-the-Pooh books. Steve also is an adjunct instructor at New York University.

To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll) and/or ask Tina Nichols Coury a question. Deadline: May 15.

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 winner of The Veil by Cory Putnam Oakes Prize Package was Mera in Maryland.

This Week at Cynsations 

More Personally

Congratulations to P.J. Hoover on her two-book deal with Tor and to E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally on Dear Teen Me (Zest, 2012) being chosen as a Junior Library Guild selection.

Here’s a peek into this week in my writing life…

Copy edits on book one of the YA fantasy series launching in winter 2013.

Betty X. Davis, Bethany Hegedus, Sara Pennypacker, Vanessa Lee and Debbie Gonzales celebrate Sarah’s new release, Summer of the Gypsy Moths (Balzer + Bray, 2012) at BookPeople.

Liz Garton Scanlon (standing, students pictured) hosted me, Greg, Jeff Crosby, Lindsey Lane
plus Mari Mancusi and P.J. Hoover at Austin Community College.
Greg, me, Jennifer Ziegler & Jordan Sonnenblick at Threadgill’s. Photo by Chris Barton.

Chris and Jordan post the flight of the Congress Avenue bats! Photo by Jenny.

Personal Links:

From Greg Leitich Smith:

Dinosaur Thunder by Marion Dane Bauer

About Greg Leitich Smith:

Re: Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Blake Henry (Clarion, 2012): “[T]his is exactly the book young dino fans would write themselves, crammed with sandbox-style action and positively packed with words like Nanotyrannus and Parasaurolophus. Great back matter clarifies fact from speculation, while Henry’s manga-inspired illustrations provide a good sense of the monsters’ scary scale.” – Booklist

Cynsational Events

Salima Alikhan speaks on “Writerly Despair: How to Be Inspired, Rather than Crippled, by Criticism” at 10 a.m. May 12 at BookPeople in conjunction with Austin SCBWI.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will appear at A Festival of Authors, in celebration of 100 Years of School Libraries in Austin, which will take place from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. May 12 at Reagan High School in Northeast Austin.

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?

Interview & Editor Critique Giveaway: Author Tina Nichols Coury & Editor Steve Meltzer on Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Tina: What was the initial inspiration for Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose: Growing Up On Mount Rushmore by Tina Nichols Coury, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport (Dial, 2012)?

Little did I know that homework, a funeral and a famous stained glass window would begin a journey towards publication that would last almost eighteen years.

Here’s how it happened.

In the mid-nineties, I attended a funeral for an elderly neighbor at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, a very old cemetery in Los Angeles, renowned both as the resting place of movie stars and the home to many fabulous pieces of art.

I had planned to bury myself at the local library after the service to search for an idea for a project I needed to do for a children’s writing class I was taking. But I had never seen the stained glass window of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” that Forest Lawn is famous for, so I decided to take a quick hike up to the Grand Mausoleum to see it before I left.

In the Court of Honor, the stained glass window took up one whole side of the mausoleum. Along with the select group of the rich and famous who were spending eternity under the window, I discovered something surprising: a small relief of Mount Rushmore tucked away on a lower corner of the wall. The names of Gutzon and Mary Borglum were etched below.

What was Mount Rushmore doing there with The Last Supper, and who were the Borglums? I knew immediately that I had found a subject for my class project.

Later, at the library, I found the research about the sculptor Gutzon Borglum and the construction of Mount Rushmore fascinating. And in all the stories of the creation of the monument, one interesting fact came up again and again: the sculptor’s son, Lincoln, had been with his father every step of the way.

Lincoln Borglum as a boy

I brought two different book ideas into class the following week. One was the building of Mount Rushmore; the other was the story of the sculptor’s son. The feedback from my instructor and my classmates was unanimous. Everyone felt I should concentrate my efforts on writing about the son, Lincoln Borglum.

Tina: What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

Tina’s doberman Honey and her pal Ginger

I am a trained artist, and writing for children was a new skill to learn. For ten years, I took classes and joined critique groups and worked on this story. At one point I put the manuscript in a drawer for two years.

Then at my local SCBWI Writer’s Day in 2005, editor Mark McVeigh of Dutton (now an agent), who had critiqued my manuscript, asked to acquire it.

Then for the next seven years the book went through two editors, three release push-backs and a house reorganization that moved the book from Dutton to Dial.

It took fourteen years to build Mount Rushmore.

 It took over seventeen years from that day in my children’s writing class to have a published book in my hand!

Tina: Dutton first acquired your manuscript in fall 2005. You were half way through the editing process when your first editor left Dutton back in early 2008. Then the manuscript was assigned to Steve Meltzer. What was your first impression of Steve?

My first impression was relief. I had heard horror stories about orphan picture books going to editors who only worked in YA. Steve was a senior editor and had worked in publishing for years. He wrote me a friendly email saying he looked forward to working together. I asked him to be interviewed for my blog and he agreed. I immediately loved him for that.

Steve: You hadn’t acquired Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose. But you were assigned it after the original editor left the house. What was you first impression of the manuscript and of Tina?

I love nonfiction. I feel that I am a very lucky to make a living reading history. So when my publisher offered me the chance to take on this project, I was thrilled.

I thought that the story of a boy who finishes his father’s dream in creating a sculpture from a mountain was operatic.

Tina’s manuscript was incredibly good. It was a rare example of the editor not having to do much editing. I think Tina was a little surprised when she read my short editorial letter.

Inside Mount Rushmore Studio

Steve: How did you and/or the art director come to match Tina’s text with Sally’s art?

The credit for that goes to the book’s original editor, Mark McVeigh and art director, Sara Reynolds. All I can say is it was a wise choice. I joined the project after Sally had been signed up. It was a real treat to be able to work with her since she is very selective about projects. Sally used a style that had a ’60s nostalgic feel but with very modern updates. Very folksy, which truly matched the text.

Tina: The book release date was pushed back one than once. What did you do to promote your under-contract but still unpublished book during that time?

I fell into blogging early in 2007 and my blog, Tales From the Rushmore Kid, gave me a platform for my unpublished book and a voice in the children’s writer’s community. I work hard to get interesting content from agents, editors and authors. Many have given me interviews, including Susan Patron, Sherman Alexie and Neil Gaiman.

In 2008, my husband, legendary record executive Al Coury (pictured below), received a lifetime achievement award from a heritage foundation in D.C. I didn’t like the video production company they were using for the honorees, so my control-freak self decided to learn how to make one. It was a big hit at the event, and the confidence I gained led me to a produce a new cyber promotional tool, the book trailer.

In 2010, I wrote an article for Children’s Writers and Illustrator’s Market on “Book Promotion: From Blog Tours to Book Trailers.”

Also in 2010, I applied for and was accepted on the faculty of the SCBWI Summer Conference. That was a dream-come-true for me.

Tina: What advice would you give fellow writers on how to get published?

If you haven’t done so, join the SCBWI. Everything you need to get published is in this organization. Presentations on craft, critiques and workshops will hone your manuscripts. The focus is always on the quality of the manuscript. Many editors and agents critique for SCBWI events, and it is a great way to get your manuscript noticed.

Tina is the youngest child.

Today you need a body of work to get an agent and agents are the new readers, so make sure your manuscripts are perfect before submitting to one.

Start blogging and commenting on kidlit blogs. There is tons of information out there, and it’s a wonderful community.

Think twice before you self publish, though it is cheap and tempting. At one stage, I thought about doing it, but I am glad I took the traditional route. It is easy to lose all perspective on one’s manuscript. It was a difficult journey to publication but it has been a collaborative one.

I had the creative force of two editors, art directors, designers, an illustrator, two copy editors, a publicist, and a marketing and sales staff. I can’t imagine what the book would have been like if only I wore all those hats.

Tina: What advice would you give mid-list authors on promoting their books?

Authors can do an amazing amount. Do one hour each day of cyber
marketing. Besides Facebook and Twitter, it is important to blog.
Blogging brings up your Google numbers. Do an Anniversary Blog Tour of
your book. Research a new audience for your tour.

a new release that relies on book launches, signings and hype, backlist
books need to tap into a whole new audience, and the web is full of
opportunities. Surf the web for blogs that feature festivals, reviewers
or producers of your “hook.” All books have a hook, whether it is
apples, cowboys or teen romance.

Do a book trailer and
kick off your tour with it. Book trailers are fairly new and most
backlist books don’t have them. If you do have one, there is no law
not to have another. The more cyber information out there, the better
for your book.

Tina with illustrator Yuki Yoshino and authors Greg Trine and Lin Oliver.

Steve: What suggestions do you have for mid-list authors interested in working on their own and with their publisher to best promote their book(s)?

Go anywhere and everywhere to promote your book. Be it a library, classroom, bookstore, online…anywhere. Make something fun for giveaways so that people will remember you. Write articles for any magazine, newspaper or blog to promote your work. Do it all for free, in the end it will pay off.

Tina: Name one thing you learned from Steve.

Lots about writing and revising, of course, but the thing I most appreciate was learning that being friends with my editor is just as important as being colleagues.

Bleeding over revisions and dealing with the publication pushbacks was so much easier to handle with my buddy, not just my editor, to hold my hand.

Steve: Name one thing you learned from Tina.

Al presents John Lennon with a gold record.

Besides an incredible Paul McCartney story?

Seriously, the one word I would use to describe Tina is “generous”. She is generous as a writer since she always gives her best and is a great researcher. She is generous as a blogger since she is wonderful in promoting other people’s work. She is generous as a promoter always giving time to help her publisher.

However, she is incredibly generous as a friend; even offering to take on mom responsibilities when it looked like my daughter was going to take an internship in LA. Luckily, she dodged that bullet.

She is just great and has a bright writing future ahead of her.

Editor Critique Giveaway

Enter for a chance to win one of five first-page critiques from Penguin editor Steve Meltzer. Picture books through YA. Fiction or nonfiction. Eligibility: international.

To enter, comment on this post and/or ask Tina Nichols Coury a question. Deadline: May 15.

Blog Tour

Cynsational Notes

Tina Nichols Coury is an author, award-winning multi-media artist, blogger, vlogger, producer of book trailers and all around Renaissance woman. In character as “The Rushmore Kid”, she visits schools across the United States to present her popular “Why I Love America” program.

Tina currently lives and works on the beach in Oxnard, California with her husband Al, their Doberman, Honey, and the Keyboard Kitties, Toulouse and Monet. Don’t miss her blog, Tales from the Rushmore Kid.

Steve Meltzer has been in publishing industry for over 25 years and has served in a variety of positions and has been on many committees.

Steve is the editor of many books for young readers, including John Madden’s Heroes of Football: The Story of America’s Game; the Sydney Taylor award-winning, Hanukkah at Valley Forge by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Greg Harlin; the Every Cowgirl series by Rebecca Janni, illustrated by Lynne AvrilThe Worst of Friends by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain, illustrated by Larry Day (an SLJ Best Book of the Year); Useful Fools by C.A. Schmidt (a Booklist Best Book of the Year) and The Boy with Pink Hair by Perez Hilton, illustrated by Jen Hill. His series include Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol and the Dutton Winnie-the-Pooh books.

Steve also is an adjunct instructor at New York University.