Cynsational News & Giveaways

A 2012 NBGS Selection

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Notable Books for a Global Society from the International Reading Association. Peek: “…a committee of the CL/R SIG (Children’s Literature and Reading Special
Interest Group) of the International Reading Association selects 25
outstanding trade books for enhancing student understanding of people
and cultures throughout the world. The committee reviews books
representing all genres intended for students K-12.”

How to Tackle Critique Notes by Carleen Brice from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “If, like me, you get a little light-headed at all the work you have to
do after you’ve received a critique letter and edits, these suggestions
might help.”

Crafting Multi-Layered Characters by Marissa Graff from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing. Peek: “So what exactly can we observe about memorable characters to
demystify why they work? It breaks down to the following five items…”

Graphic Novels for Emerging and Transitional Readers by Dianne White from ReaderKidZ.

First Sale: Expectations vs. Reality by 
Kristin Halbrook from YA Highway. Peek: “The successes I have now feel bigger, more earth shattering, I think, than they would have even two years ago. Expecting less means I have more room for joy when great things do happen.”

How Long Does a Publisher Have Rights to My Book? by Deborah Halverson from DearEditor.com. Peek: “When you sign a contract, does the publisher get the rights to that book for its whole copyright time?”

From the Scottish CBA Shortlist

2012 Scottish Children’s Book Awards Shortlist Announcement from ACHUKA. Peek: “…excellence in Scottish writing and illustration for children across
three age categories: Bookbug Readers (3-7 years), Younger Readers (8-11
years) and Older Readers (12-16 years). The total prize fund is £12,000, with the shortlisted authors and illustrators receiving £500 per book, and the three overall winners receiving £3,000 per book.”

Shana Burg’s New Novel Details Life in Malawi by Sharyn Vane from The Austin American-Statesman. Peek: “…Burg draws a rich portrait of Clare’s new home, from the quotidian details (spotty showers, gas-passing elephants) to the spare conditions at the school she attends. But the real uncharted territory is Clare’s psyche, which shakily begins to heal as she settles into life in Malawi.”

Author Insight: Social Media by S.F. Robertson at Wastepaper Prose. Insights from various YA authors.

Whatsthatbook.com: an online resource for those seeking a book but missing key details. Peek: “What is the name of that book where…? Are you looking for the title and author of a book?” Source: E. Kristin Anderson.

How and Why I Write Humor by Joanne Levy from Project Mayhem: The Manic Minds of Middle Grade Writers. Peek: “What makes me laugh most about this scene is Tamsin obviously moving the pointer. And she gets it wrong the first time, so has to adjust and start pulling the pointer the other way, still under the ruse that it’s the spirits moving it.”

Author Marketing: Engaging Your Audience by Erin E. Moulton from Literary Rambles. Peek: “How would I engage with my readers? Well, I thought about it and I came up with three simple steps that helped me and I hope they help you, too.” Note: also enter to win an ARC of Tracing Stars by Erin Moulton (Philomel, 2012) from Literary Rambles. Deadline: July 14.

Cynsational Giveaways

The winners of three signed ARCs of Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg (Delacorte, 2012) were Edi in Indiana, Pat in California and Carl in Arizona.

The winner of It’s Our Prom (So Deal With It) by Julie Anne Peters (Little, Brown, 2012) was Cherie in Illinois.

See also Luke Reynolds Interviews Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette from Literary Rambles and the 1rst Anniversary Luminous Summer Giveaway from Dawn Metcalf.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Giveaway: your choice of my Gothics!

It’s my pleasure to unveil the Walker Books (U.K.) cover for Diabolical, book four in the Tantalize series.

According to online retailers, it should be available as early as Aug. 2. The U.S./Canada release from Candlewick Press is already available. See more information and international giveaway.

Thank you to coordinator Carol Lynch Williams, my assistant Courtney Lowe, members of the WIFRY YA fantasy-paranormal workshop, the staff of The King’s English Bookshop and everyone else who made the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference in Salt Lake City last week such a success! See Greg’s photo report; mine is still forthcoming.

Interview with New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith by Brittney Breakey from Author Turf. Peek: “I lived one summer in the North Dallas suburbs—with my great aunt while covering ‘high profile’ figures and high fashion for The Morning News. That area later became home to the character Miranda…”

Congratulations to fellow Austinite H. Scott Hamilton on the sale of his debut YA novel to Disney-Hyperion! See also Hamilton Beazley’s 2011 Agent Conference Experience from the Writers’ League of Texas.

Look for “The Last Bicycle” by Betty X Davis in the July/August issue of “Spider.”

A peek at the movies I saw last weekend:

Personal Links:

From Greg Leitich Smith:

In Memory: Deborah Brodie

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Obituary: Editor and Writing Instructor Deborah Brodie by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“Throughout her time in the children’s book industry she worked with such
acclaimed authors and illustrators as Patricia Reilly Giff, Tony Johnston, Seymour Chwast, Sarah Dessen, Mary Pope Osborne, and Jane Yolen.

“Among her many accomplishments at Viking, Brodie conceived and
edited the long-running (and still in-print) Cam Jansen series by David A. Adler, and during her tenure at Roaring Brook she launched the
careers of 21 debut authors and illustrators.”

See also Writing on a Unicycle: Making Time for What You Love in a Life Out of Balance by Deborah from her official website. Learn more about Deborah.

Diabolical U.K. Cover Reveal & Tantalize Series Giveaway

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

From Walker Books (U.K. edition)(available fall 2012)(online retailers listing Aug. 2):

Prepare for a hell of a ride as Cynthia Leitich Smith calls on
characters from her previous novels – and conjures up new ones – for a
climactic showdown.

Candlewick (U.S.) cover

When “slipped ” angel Zachary and his werewolf pal Kieren are summoned under suspicious circumstances to a mysterious New England boarding school, they quickly find themselves in a hellish lock-down with an intriguing assortment of secretive, hand-picked “students”.

Plagued by demon dogs, hallucinatory wall decor, a sadistic instructor and a legendary fire-breathing monster, will they somehow manage to escape? Or will the devil have his due?

Best-selling author
Cynthia Leitich Smith unites heroes from the previous three novels in the Tantalize series – including Zachary’s girl, Miranda, and Kieren’s love, Quincie – along with a fascinating cast of all-new characters for a suspenseful, action-packed clash between the forces of heaven and hell.

Cynsational Notes

“…this captivating story combines action, suspense, and romance with just the right touch of humor to keep it entertaining. A great finish to an original and satisfying series.” —School Library Journal

“It’s a considerable challenge for a series not to lose steam by the fourth book, but this one runs full force on the fires of hell and the sword power of heaven.” —The Horn Book

“A blend of romance, action and horror, this distinguishes itself from the crowd of paranormal teen fare with the employ of plenty of camp and a healthy dose of dry humor.” —Kirkus Reviews

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win your choice of books in the Tantalize series, including Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story and the U.S./North American edition of Diabolical. Author sponsored. Eligibility: international.

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Interview: Caldecott Illustrator Emily Arnold McCully

By Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Being an outsider can be a terrifying experience, but it’s something we’ve all felt at one time or another. 

In Ballerina Swan (Holiday House, 2012), Sophie the swan has a burning desire to become a ballerina, but is, of course, an outsider in the ballet studio. 

Written by famed ballerina Allegra Kent, Ballerina Swan is a clever twist on the idea that ballerinas desire to emulate swans.

This wonderful story about following your passions is complimented by illustrations filled with movement and emotion by Caldecott Medal winner Emily Arnold McCully.

As illustrators ourselves, we were thrilled to have the chance to ask Ms. Arnold McCully a few questions about the making of the book.

It is very common in children’s book publishing for an author and an illustrator to have no contact while the picture book is being created. We’re wondering in this case where the author has such expertise on the subject, did you interact with Allegra during the illustration phase of the book? Did she proof the sketches for accuracy? What other reference did you use?

I looked at photographs of New York City Ballet children’s classes and others but did not visit a class myself. I wanted to convey enthusiasm, dedication and intermediate skill in the pictures.

I did not consult Allegra, but was anxiously aware as I made sketches that she would have to approve them. She made a couple of suggestions and one adamant request for change (a leg position). To my relief and joy, she was generally very happy.

One fabulous photo I came across showed Pavlova and company dancers posing in a swannery in Britain—swans all around them.

The movement and gesture in your characters is wonderful—and a perfect complement to the subject matter of Ballerina Swan. As illustrators, we know how hard these elements can be to achieve. What methods do you employ to keep your illustrations fresh and lyrical?

Featured with permission.

The look of spontaneity, “freshness,” is the quality I care about most. To achieve it, I make rapid sketches and refine them by tracing. That way I can retain the lines I like without laboring over them. It’s a technique I learned as a nine-year-old from a venerable illustrator named Paul Brown, although he didn’t use tracing paper but rather plain bond.

I love to draw and arrived at my methods by practicing over the years—I have no academic training. 

You have spoken very passionately in interviews about the importance of artistic expression in the world and of dance being possibly the oldest and most instinctive of art forms. You obviously express yourself artistically in a visual way…do you also dance?

Meet Jeff & Shelley!

I read somewhere that passionate dance audiences have the feeling that they themselves are dancing, even if they are untrained. I feel that way, watching dancers and listening to music. I try to transmit the feeling in my drawings. But no, I don’t dance, except socially. I’ve always been an athlete.

There are intriguing illustration decisions throughout the book, and we wonder if there are any back stories to them that you’d like to share. For example, Sophie appears to be a Coscoroba swan, without the typical black mask that we visualize when we think of a swan. Was this a symbolic decision or perhaps done for simplicity’s sake?

Yes, I decided against the black mask because it made Sophie look too sophisticated—even calculating. I was a little nervous about accuracy (as with the dancers) but the editor assured me that this book is fiction and I could do whatever I wanted.

The pianist is quite a character—is she inspired by a real person?

The pianist is a necessary counter to the homogeneity of the children’s costumes and the general blandness of the room. There is no person who inspired her. 

Is the pigeon who watches Sophie from the windowsill a ballerina at heart, too?

The pigeon is a neighborhood busybody, come to see what has gotten Sophie into.

Used with permission.

We look forward to seeing your next project! What are you working on now?

I am working on some early readers for Holiday House—a pig who refuses to eat his mother’s green slop; ducklings washed down a drain and pursued by their mother. Also a picture book about Strongheart, the first movie star dog, who paved the way for Rin Tin Tin.

Soon to appear: two YA books: a biography of the muckraker Ida M. Tarbell and a fictionalized youth of Sacagawea’s son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau.

Cynsational Notes

Emily & Allegra

Emily Arnold McCully was born in Balesburg, Illinois and raised in Long Island, New York. At
a young age she decided to become a naturalist and inspired by her
hero, John Muir, kept notebooks of her writings and drawings. Her keen observation of the world around her no doubt helped her to become the award-winning illustrator that she is today.

Of the many prestigious awards she’s received are the Caldecott Medal for Mirette on the High-Wire (Putnam, 1992) and the Christopher Award for Picnic (HarperCollins, 2003).

Emily holds a bachelors degree from Brown University and a masters in art history from Columbia. She currently lives in New York City and Chatham, New York. Emily has two grown sons.

Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson are husband and wife author/illustrators who work both individually and collaboratively.

The couple’s love of dogs inspired them to write and illustrate their first collaborative picture book, Little Lions, Bull Baiters & Hunting Hounds: A History of Dog Breeds, recipient of a non-fiction research grant from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and winner of ForeWord Magazine’s 2008 Juvenile Nonfiction Book of the Year award.

Jeff’s Wiener Wolf was recently selected for the Texas Library Association’s 2 x 2 Reading List. The couple’s most recent joint project is Harness Horses, Bucking Broncos & Pit Ponies: A History of Horse Breeds. Jeff and Shelley live in Austin with their daughter Harper and three dogs.

In the video below, join Allegra inside the Holiday House library with her editors Grace Maccarone and Pam Glauber to discuss Allegra’s first picture book, Ballerina Swan.

New Voice: Sarvenaz Tash on The Mapmaker and the Ghost

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Sarvenaz Tash is the first-time author of The Mapmaker and the Ghost (Walker, April 2012). From the promotional copy:

Goldenrod Moram loves nothing better than a good quest. Intrepid, curious, and full of a well-honed sense of adventure, she decides to start her own exploring team fashioned after her idols, the explorers Lewis and Clark, and to map the forest right behind her home. 

This task is complicated, however, by a series of unique events—a chance encounter with a mysterious old lady has her searching for a legendary blue rose. 

Another encounter lands her in the middle of a ragtag gang of brilliant troublemakers. 

And when she stumbles upon none other than the ghost of Meriwether Lewis himself, Goldenrod knows this will be anything but an ordinary summer . . . or an ordinary quest. 

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

I read a lot as a child. I was extremely shy; embarrassed by my weird name; embarrassed by the feta cheese sandwiches my mom gave me for my paper bag lunches (which were delicious, obviously, but what eight-year-old is eating feta sandwiches in the elementary school cafeteria?); like most kids, wanting desperately to fit in but also knowing that I probably never would.

I turned to books. When I was reading, it didn’t matter what I looked like or that I felt too paralyzed by shyness to speak. I was going on a journey; I was meeting some of the most interesting, funniest, bravest people I’d ever met. Matilda and Harriet, Ramona and Beezus, Turtle Wexler, Meg Murry and Mary Ann Spier.

The result is that my head was in a book about 70% of my waking life and I knew I wanted to be a writer by the time I was seven. The other result is that my social skills took a lot longer to cultivate than most kids but, still, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

The way books had a profound effect on me as a kid heavily influenced my decision to write children’s books. I’ve loved many, many books I’ve read as an adult, but I think very few things I’ve come across as an older reader has stuck with me the way those Roald Dahl and Beverly Cleary and Ellen Raskin books did. Their characters were my first friends and the adventures they had along the way, somehow, became a part of my experience too.

The Mapmaker and the Ghost took a few years from conception to final draft, and a lot of plot points and characters changed in that time. But the core reason I was writing it did not: I wanted to write a book that I would have loved as a child. I wanted to think that someone like Roald Dahl would read this book and laugh. I wanted to create characters that would take readers on an adventure that would become a part of them, too. 

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

The Mapmaker and the Ghost is not a straight-out fantasy. In some ways, it’s a contemporary story dotted with fantastical elements. I think magical realism is probably the best genre it would fit into.

I always knew that I’d want the book to straddle the line between reality and a fairy tale-like essence. It started out having no concrete fantastical elements though, just the suggestions of them. In my head, I wanted it to seem like it could be a real adventure, but with the possibility of magical things lurking just beneath the surface.

Which means that, up until one of the latest drafts, there was no ghost in The Mapmaker and the Ghost at all!

Eventually, though, I realized that the story was really lacking in something and once the ghost’s character popped into my head, I knew that he was it. It meant I had to change my initial idea of the lurking fantasy and bring at least parts of it to the surface.

But the result is that the story is better, richer and funnier. And I do think that my initial concept still resonates. Perhaps just a little less subtly (in other words, it might come across to someone other than me!)

Cynsational Notes

Sarvenaz Tash was born in Tehran, Iran and grew up on Long Island, N.Y. She received her BFA in Film and Television from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. This means she got to spend most of college running around and making movies (it was a lot of fun). She has dabbled in all sorts of writing including screenwriting, copywriting, and professional tweeting. Sarvenaz currently lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. where all the streets are laid out in a delightfully simple grid system.


THE MAPMAKER AND THE GHOST by Sarvenaz Tash (Official Trailer) from Sarvenaz Tash on Vimeo.

New Voice: Tracy Bilen on What She Left Behind

Discussion questions

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Tracy Bilen is the first-time author of What She Left Behind (Simon Pulse, 2012). From the promotional copy:

“Don’t even think of leaving…I will find you,” he whispered. “Guaranteed.”

Sara and her mom have a plan to finally escape Sara’s abusive father. But when her mom doesn’t show up as expected, Sara’s terrified. Her father says that she’s on a business trip, but Sara knows he’s lying. Her mom is missing—and her dad had something to do with it.

Each day that passes, Sara’s more on edge. Her friends know that something’s wrong, but she won’t endanger anyone else with her secret. And with her dad growing increasingly violent, Sara must figure out what happened to her mom before it’s too late…for them both.

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an “ah-ha!” moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

My “ah-ha” moment came after I had finished writing my first (unpublished) novel and had a professional critique. The person doing the critique pointed out that my protagonist needed a story goal – something that she was working toward during every chapter.

Oh. Right. That.

Such a simple concept, but one that forever changed my novel writing! 

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?

From the outside, it can seem like being offered a publishing contract is a bit like winning the lotto. But the more involved I got in the writing community, the more this seemed attainable.

Taking novel writing courses taught me how to structure a novel. Joining SCBWI and RWA and attending conferences introduced me to manuscript critiques, led me to form a critique group, and taught me a lot about how to find an agent.

Entering contests gave me feedback and led to my winning a year-long mentorship with Michigan writer Shutta Crum.

When I finished my mentorship with Shutta, I knew I was ready to look for an agent, but I also knew that finding an agent wouldn’t necessarily mean that I’d actually sell my novel.

So I was cautiously optimistic when we went out on submission, yet confident that I’d done all I could to make this work. And I knew that if it didn’t work out this time, I would write another book and I’d try it again.

But it did work! The bottom line is that if you really want to publish your book and you’re willing to work hard and listen to criticism, it’s not as unattainable as it seems. That said, I’m still a bit surprised that I’m debuting at all, never mind in 2012!

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?

Learn more about Tracy.

I found that making a low but daily word count goal for myself really helped a lot, especially because I kept track of my progress in a notebook. In this way I forced myself to work on my writing even when I was tired from a long day at work because I knew that making my goal wouldn’t take very long. And of course, most days I was able to surpass my goal.

My advice for when it’s time to do publicity for your book is this: every day make yourself do “one” of whatever it is that you need to get done: answer one set of blog questions, contact one media source or bookseller, sign one set of bookmarks.

Otherwise it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and panicked about both your jobs!

How did you go about connecting with your agent? What was your search process like? Who did you decide to sign with? What about that person and/or agency seemed like the best fit for you? What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?

I started by using QueryTracker.net where I researched agents and then kept track of my responses (I love the smiley face sun glass guy icon you use to mark positive responses!).

In the midst of this process I met the person who would become my agent (Kevan Lyon) at a local RWA (Romance Writers of America) meeting. She seemed both easy to talk to and very knowledgeable. I queried her after the meeting which led to her offering me representation.

What stood out about Kevan was that when I talked to her about my manuscript, she had clear and well thought-out ideas for revisions and she also had a good sense of the YA market and where my novel could fit in it. I could feel she was a good match, and I haven’t been disappointed!

When talking to a prospective agent, don’t forget to listen to your gut!

Book Trailer: Oldsoul by Dan Haring

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the trailer for Oldsoul by Dan Haring (Pendrell, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Jason Gouvas doesn’t want to believe he has special abilities or that he’s an Oldsoul– a vessel for the souls of people who have passed away, but the dead girl in his mind can be very persuasive.

Her name is Erin, and through her Jason is able to access the knowledge and skills of the souls within him. And with a group of power-hungry immortals bent on destroying the Oldsouls and overthrowing humanity, he’s going to need them all. 

Book Trailer: Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally (Sourcebooks, 2011). From the promotional copy:

What girl doesn’t want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn’t just surrounded by hot guys, though-she leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. 

They all see her as one of the guys and that’s just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university.

But everything she’s ever worked for is threatened when Ty Green moves to her school. Not only is he an amazing QB, but he’s also amazingly hot. And for the first time, Jordan’s feeling vulnerable. 

Can she keep her head in the game while her heart’s on the line?

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Former Debut: Janet S. Fox from the Class of 2k10 by P.J. Hoover from Roots in Myth. Peek: “…we’re not in competition – there will, always and forever, be room for another book.”

Summer Reading for Writers by Megan Frazer from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “A case could be made that [Robert] Cormier started the current trend of YA literature. He was one of the first to write specifically for teens and many of us who came of age reading his books are now writers ourselves.”

Your Mileage May Vary by Jennifer R. Hubbard from Jennifer M. Eaton. Peek: “Someone may press a map into my hand and urge me to follow the route marked on it. But if the destination is not where I want to go, why on earth would I follow that map?”

Myths About Villains by Angela Ackerman from QueryTracker.net Blog. Peek: “…how do we
create a three dimensional, credible villain?”

Le Guin’s Hypothesis by Ursula K. Le Guin from Book View Cafe. Peek: “Is literature the serious stuff you have to read in college, and after that you read for pleasure, which is guilty?” Source: Gwenda Bond.

What to Do with a Bad Review? by Stacey Barney from CBC Diversity. Peek: “I had several categories of reactions to the language used to discount not only the book, but also the appearance of a character of color….”

Pride Week: Bigger than Coming Out by Tom Ryan from E. Kristin Anderson from The Hate-Mongering Tart. Peek: “Sexual identity and the politics of coming out are far from the only important thing in a gay teenager’s life.” See also Lesléa Newman: Honoring Matthew Shepard, also from E.

Heroes, Role Models, Inspirations and Interesting People by Chris Barton from Bartography. Peek: “Does the current generation of children have heroes? If they do, are they heroes of the sort that we would have recognized a generation or two ago?”

The Kids’ (Books) are Alright, Says the AAP’s Monthly Stat Shot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “…children’s book sales up 46.6% over the same period in 2011 – an
especially impressive figure given the lag in adult sales, down 11.6% at
the houses that report numbers to the AAP.”

Best Reads from the Philippines at the 3rd Asian Festival of Children’s Content by Tarie Sabido from PaperTigers. See also Watch Out for New Young Adult Literature from the Philippines and Filipino Readers Make It Social, also by Tarie.

Digital Children’s Publishing: Embrace Change or Get Left Behind by Todd Tuell from School Library Journal. Peek: “…with active fiction, authors can communicate how they want to use tools that enhance the storytelling capabilities of digital media.”

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of a set of three author-signed children’s books, written by Jane KohuthDuck Sock Hop, illustrated by Jane Porter (Dial, 2012); Estie the Mensch, illustrated by Roseanne Litzinger (Random House, 2011); and Ducks Go Vroom, illustrated by Viviana Garofoli (Random House, 2011) was Laurisa in California.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Jenna in Singapore? Check out this table shot of Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) on sale at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, courtesy of Tarie.

Congratulations to fellow Austinite Cory Putnam Oakes on signings with Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown Ltd. in New York, and congratulations to Sarah on signing Cory! I’m so thrilled to have an agency sister in Austin!

Personal Link:

Cynsational Events

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

New Voice: Hilary Weisman Graham on Reunited

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations  

Hilary Weisman Graham is the first-time author of Reunited

(Simon & Schuster, 2012)(blog). From the promotional copy:

1 concert. 2000 miles. 3 ex-best friends.

Alice, Summer, and Tiernan used to be best friends—as well as the self-proclaimed biggest fans of the band Level3. But when the band broke up, so did their friendship. Now, four years later, they’ve just graduated from high school. 

When Level3 announces a one-time reunion show in Texas, Alice impulsively buys tickets and invites her two former friends along for the trip. 

Reluctant at first, both girls agree to go, each with her own ulterior motive. But old resentments and other roadblocks—from unintended detours to lost concert tickets—keep getting in the girls’ way. 

Will their friendship get an encore, or is the show really over?

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an “ah-ha!” moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

My “ah-ha” moment happened on live television. Well, it wasn’t actually on air, but it did occur while I was a cast member of a reality TV show.

During the summer of 2007, I was selected to be a contestant on the Mark Burnett/Steven Spielberg-produced “On the Lot,” which, if you never caught it, was like “American Idol” for filmmakers, and aired on Fox for only one season.

The goal of the show was to find “America’s next great director,” and I’d been handpicked out of a pool of 12,000 applicants.

Up until that point, I’d spent my career as a filmmaker and TV producer, but writing had always been a big part of my job. Even in my free time, I found myself participating in poetry slams, or composing humorous essays to share with my friends. But up until the reality show, I considered myself a “filmmaker who wrote,” as opposed to a Writer.

Visit Hilary’s website.

And then I found myself in Los Angeles, competing head-to-head with seventeen other talented filmmakers from around the globe—literally living and breathing filmmaking for two straight months—when it suddenly became very clear to me that it was the writing part that I’d always most enjoyed (and was best at), only I’d never realized it before.

At the time, it felt like an epiphany. Though once I began looking back on my past, it seems almost laughable that it took me until the ripe old age of 37 to figure out that writing was my calling, since the signs had been there all along.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

The most important advice I could ever give to aspiring writers is: revise, revise, revise!

The first version hardly ever works. On paper, or in life.

Think about the first version of the adult you. Got a mental picture of it?

Just like you were not a suave seductress, tossing out insightful yet witty bon mots about the latest John Updike novel while simultaneously sweating in your jelly shoes at the seventh grade dance, the first draft of your fiction is also not quite ready for the grown-up world.

But we all gotta start somewhere.

In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, the wonderful Anne Lamott urges writers to write crappy first drafts. This advice is important, if not inevitable.

But the thing I find that most often holds new writers back from this process is that they’re too proud about the toil it took to make this thing they created to notice its flaws.

Do You Know How Hard They Worked on This?

Waah.

Well, guess what, people? That hard work you did is just the beginning!

Because if you’re truly doing service to your story, your prose, and your characters, the bottom line is that it’s going to take several passes to get it just right. And yes, it’s a ton of work, but each time you refine it, you discover new ways to make your story even better, until finally, it’s (almost) exactly as you envisioned it. But never completely.

Revising is dependent on your capacity for detachment, so if you’re having trouble looking at your own work objectively, remember it’s a practice and you need to give it time.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is walk away from what you’re writing for a day or two (or a month) so that you’re able to look at it with fresh, unbiased eyes.

Because I’m comfortable with the revision process, the revising I did that was based on my editor’s notes versus the revising I did on my own felt about the same.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I write five days a week, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. while my son is at school. Sometimes, if I’m on a tight deadline, I’ll write at night and on weekends, too. And I’m fortunate enough to have my very own home office, complete with an elliptical machine for whenever I need to get those endorphins flowing.

Hilary says: “In Reunited, the girls road-trip cross-country in a pea-green 1976 VW
camper bus, affectionately known as the Pea-Pod. In reality, my husband
and I own this orange 1977 VW van.”

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you deal with the pervasiveness of rapidly changing technologies? Did you worry about dating your manuscript? Did you worry about it seeming inauthentic if you didn’t address these factors? Why or why not?

One of my agent’s only notes on my latest book proposal was to take out all of the pop culture references (or at least reduce them greatly) so that the book wouldn’t feel dated.

Personally, I feel it’s really important to ground my characters in our present world by acknowledging the people and things that are prevalent in today’s culture. And in all likelihood, Usher, Starbucks, and Facebook will still be around five years from now.

But I also get his point. There’s a fine line between throwing in a pop culture reference in a name-droppy way, or as background, versus using it for what it represents about our present-day society in the larger picture.

As a reader, when I come across references to pop-culture stuff I don’t get (like in The Catcher in the Rye, for example) it’s pretty easy to intuit what these things are meant to signify, even if I’m not personally familiar with them.

Hilary says: “Senior year in high school, my friends and I had an F. Scoot Fitzgerald
theme party at my friend Nancy’s house which included wearing ‘period
garb” as well as some competitive croquet-playing. In case you can’t
tell, I’m the one on the right.”

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?

As a first-time author, perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned from my fellow novelists is that in today’s world, writing is only half the job. Between publishers tightening their budgets and readers who log onto Google searching for “bonus content” the second they finish a book, writers of all genres—and YA in particular—are embracing the internet not just as a promotional tool, but as a way to supplement the reading experience.

So, once I’d turned in my chapters, instead of kicking back and celebrating, I launched into my next job—building Reunited’s online universe.

Visit Level3

After I’d redesigned my website and set up the obligatory Twitter account, Facebook page, YouTube channel, and blog (sigh) it was time for the fun stuff, like shooting Reunited’s book trailer, or going into the studio to produce two songs for the book’s fictional band, Level3.

And everyone knows you can’t have a rock band without a website. So, a few mouse clicks later, www.Level3theband.com was born, the piece du résistance in Reunited’s meta-world. There, fans can read blog posts written by the band members, watch behind-the-scenes footage and music videos, and even download Level3’s songs for free.

Sometimes, all the additional work it takes to do this “other stuff” feels draining, but most of the time, I really do enjoy this part of it. The actual writing may have ended months ago, but thanks to Reunited’s online presence, the story is still very much alive.

Cynsational Notes

Check out Hilary’s blog. Find her at facebook, Goodreads, YouTube and Twitter.