Guest Post & Giveaway: Luke Reynolds on Redefining Success

By Luke Reynolds
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Over a decade ago, I worked as a wilderness guide in the stunning yet massively mosquito-ridden Adirondack Mountains as part of a program called La Vida—literally: The Life.

Two leaders would take groups of twelve high school students into the woods for two weeks—carrying all our food on our backs, foregoing showers, dental floss, deodorant, and hanging a Bear Bag each night to make sure that sharp-clawed friends didn’t sniff their way into our tents.

One of the mottos of the La Vida program—which every one of the ten trips I co-led burrowed into my brain—was this gem: Redefine success.

A group wants to reach the peak of Mt. Marcy, but one member is stung by a bee on his tongue while trying to poop into a hole and is so full of pain and embarrassment that reaching the peak will be impossible that day?

Redefine success. No longer is success reaching the peak. Success—for the group—becomes assuaging the dual pain/embarrassment of one member, and making it only partway up towards the peak.

Any number of fears—both psychological or physical—could come into play on those trips. Any number of injuries, surprises, thunderstorm arrivals, lost water filters, missing Bear Bags could occur. And the only response that allowed a group to keep going was this: Redefine success.

And I think, for us writers, such a motto can be incredibly helpful. So many of us thrive on a single vision of success: Contract. Get the offer from an editor who reads our work and raves so glowingly that the cell phone on which we hear the words vibrates with enthusiasm.

The dream of a contract is a beautiful one—and one worth fighting for with every ounce of strength, tenacity, sweat, and passion we possess. But the problem arises in our work as writers when we reach the foe that says, If you don’t get a contract this time out on submission, what’s the point?

When we start to work with less passion and enthusiasm, and we feel the act of creation pale beside the often difficult odds, something has gone awry.

Redefining success allows us to continue to focus on the work at hand rather than the result. We can begin to look at where we are on the writer’s journey, and craft a vision for success that empowers us into creation rather than grinds us into defeat if we don’t achieve the One version of success.

For example, say you’ve received only form rejections for your work thus far. You could redefine success so this is your new goal: Get a personal rejection note back.

Whoa! Wait a minute, man, that’s nuts. Make rejection my vision of success?!

Yes! Instead of forcing yourself to feel like you’re constantly being bitten on the tongue by a bee while simultaneously trying to poop into a hole—try redefining success. You go from bundles of form rejections to your First Personal Rejection.

That night: wine. (Good wine, too. You deserve it.)

But the next day, you redefine success yet again and it becomes, say, this: More personal rejections than form rejections. The ratio changing is my new success, baby!

Yes Home Slice! Yes! My New Success!

(So you tell yourself. When you tell yourself this, that Good Wine from last night is still hanging around this morning, so you go with it.)

And when you reach that redefinition, you create another. After all, creating is what you do. It’s what you love and what you’re good at and what makes your heart beat fast.

The more we redefine success for ourselves as writers, the more we allow ourselves to celebrate the small joys along this difficult journey of becoming stronger writers.

And all the while, we’re reminding ourselves to go back to the words, to the work, to the chairs in our studies and to the cafes we frequent. We remind ourselves that we’re not always failing; instead, we’re always growing.

After all, our character arcs as writers aren’t too dissimilar from those arcs our fictional protagonists travel: we’re all trying to find the stamina to keep going, day after day, in the face of great odds. Redefining success is one small ally in the fight to persist and become the writers our hearts suggest we are.

Luke’s notebooks (and cereal bowl)

Cynsational Notes

Luke Reynolds is the author of A Call to Creativity (Teachers College Press, 2012) and is co-editor of both Burned In (Teacher College Press, 2011, with Audrey Friedman) and Dedicated to the People of Darfur (Rutgers University Press, 2009, with his wife Jennifer Reynolds).

Luke is represented by the remarkably wise and kind Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. He has taught English in public schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and has also taught Composition at Northern Arizona University.

He and his wife, Jennifer, have one son, Tyler. They love family dancing to the oldies in their current home in York, England.

Cynsational Giveaway 

Enter below for a chance to win a signed copy of Keep Calm and Query On: Notes on Writing (and Living) with Hope by Luke Reynolds (Divertir, 2012). Author
sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada and U.K./Europe. Deadline: July 2.

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Guest Post: Janni Lee Simner on Love, Perfection & Books

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

“We love the things we love for what they are.”

That’s from Robert Frost‘s Hyla Brook.

Variations on the line had been bouncing around in my head for a while before my husband and fellow writer, Larry Hammer, reminded me where it came from.

I’d been thinking about Frost (without knowing it was Frost I was thinking about) because I’d been thinking about how once we reach a certain basic level of craft, writing is no longer about avoiding mistakes or carefully not doing anything wrong.

It’s about the things we do right.

No one ever loved a book, after all, simply for not making any mistakes, for all that there are (varied, individual) things that can throw each of us out of a story. But we don’t love a story just because we aren’t thrown out of it, either.

We love books for what they do, not for what they manage not to do. We love them for the thing or things that hit each of our particular story buttons, that reach out to bridge the gap between story and reader, that pull on us and make us want to or need to read on. A flawed book that does the things it does right, very right is far more powerful than an unflawed book that doesn’t.

None of my favorite books–the books I imprinted on as a child and teen, the books that have remained touchstones for me throughout my life–is perfect. I can see that clearly enough when I look at those books as a writer focused on craft–and that has never once stopped me from returning to those books, from treasuring them.

We don’t love books for the things they aren’t, but for the things they are.

But there’s more to it than that. The other day, in a stray moment when I thought I was thinking about my manuscript-in-progress, I found myself thinking instead: And the same thing is true for people.

On one level, I’d always known this. On another I hadn’t, or had forgotten, or needed to relearn it on that particular day in that particular way. People no more need to be perfect than stories do.

As writers who spend much of our time looking inward and so can become as critical of ourselves as our stories, this is worth remembering, too. I doubt many people hold their friends and loved ones dear simply because they never make mistakes. Lack of mistakes is not the place love comes from.

We love one another for the same reason we love stories: not for what we aren’t, but for what we are.

As I dig deep to put words on the page, I find that a comforting thought.

New Voice: Shelley Coriell on Welcome Caller, This Is Chloe

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Shelley Coriell is the first-time author of Welcome, Caller, This Is Chloe
(Amulet, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Chloe Camden has a big heart and an even bigger collection of vintage shoes. 

Life is good…until her best friend turns the entire school against her and her counselor axes her junior independent study project. 

Forced to take on a meaningful project in order to pass her Junior year, Chloe joins her school’s struggling radio station, where the other students don’t always appreciate her unique style. 

Ostracized by her former BFs and struggling with her beloved Grams’s mental deterioration, lonely Chloe ends up hosting a call-in show that gets the station much-needed publicity and, in the end, trouble. She also befriends radio techie and loner Duncan Moore, a quiet soul with a romantic heart. 

On and off the air, Chloe tackles love, loneliness, and painful life lessons as she gives her big heart to the radio station and the misfits who call it home.

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?

When I received “the call” from my agent in October of 2010 that Amulet Books/Abrams made an offer on my contemporary teen girl manuscript, Welcome Caller, This is Chloe, I was standing naked in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. Of course I didn’t have my phone on me at the time — no pockets — so I didn’t get the news until much later that night.

That week I was going to acquisitions at multiple houses, but instead of waiting anxiously on word from my agent, I spent that particular day celebrating my youngest daughter’s thirteenth birthday.

Back story: when each of my daughters makes her grand entree into the teen years, I take her on a special mom-and-daughter spa day designed specifically for her.

For my youngest, a nature-loving dancer, we journeyed a few hours south to Tucson where we went to a nature retreat and day spa on the edge of Saguaro National Park West. We spent the morning doing yoga in a pueblo-style casita, walking along desert nature trails, and sunning ourselves on a pueblo rooftop where we talked about dance shoes and boys and books.

After lunch I went for a full-body massage while my daughter headed to the sauna then to a cozy hammock with her book (Alyson Noel‘s Evermore). When we switched about an hour and half later, my daughter hugged me and said she loved this place, this day, and me.

With my wonderfully content daughter getting her first massage, I lingered in the sauna and took a meandering walk through the meditative labyrinth. Then I headed to the outdoor shower, a wonderfully earthy place with a stone floor and walls made of sun-bleached saguaro skeleton ribs.

As I stood naked in the shower enjoying the fall breeze and gift of motherhood, my phone rang in the nearby casita. I considered dashing through the desert to answer, as I figured it was my agent with deal or no-deal news. Either way, I knew the message would take me out of this very special moment with my daughter.

No brainer. This day was about her, not me. I chose to remain naked and blessedly unaware of my grand entree into the New York publishing world.

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?

When I started putting together my marketing plan more than a year before the May 2012 release of my YA debut — Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe — two principles guided me.

One: any promotions I do must be a good fit for my unique and limited resources of time, talent, and treasure.

Two: I will enjoy the process.

As a public relations specialist and non-profit executive for the past twenty years, I’ve learned to plan far in advance, be flexible, and ask for help. For example, when I learned the teen-aged cover model for my book and her family were incredibly enthusiastic about Chloe’s story, I invited her to join me at book signings across the country and with podcasts for my U.K. blog tour and Radio Chloe You Tube Channel.

I turned to published author friends for recommendations on everything from bookmark designers to what kind of pens to use to sign books.

On-line resources at SCBWI gave me great tips on how to put together a school visit, and members of my RWA loops talked me through setting up book signings.

I also unabashedly asked my publisher for help. The team at Amulet Books is book-savvy and crazy-creative, and they want to sell CHLOE just as much as me.

They set up the Chloe Hotline, a phone number my readers can call to get advice from “Chloe” (me), and when asked, they provided me with giveaway items for author presentations. Writing is a solitary pursuit, but publishing and promoting is a team effort.

In the simplest terms, a good promotions plan will help you sell books. But in my world, good promotions also elevate an author’s spirit and the industry.

Don’t you love reading tweets from authors who know how to have fun and engage readers on Twitter?

Don’t you come away on fire after hearing an author give a heartfelt talk that inspires and educates?

Promotions fueled by genuine enthusiasm and organic to you and your lifestyle work best.

From a practical standpoint, a good promotions plan will clearly identify your product (you and your book) and provide a detailed action plan with tasks of what you plan to do.

This action plan could also include assignments (who will do what), target dates, status notes, and budget considerations. I keep my promo plan on a simple Word doc. It’s about five pages, updated as needed, and organized into four categories: author information, book information, on-line promotions, and traditional promotions.

Your author information isn’t book specific. On a broad level, it identifies who you are and where you want to go with your career.

For the book info section, think of it as a one-page sales sheet you could hand to a bookseller.

The on-line and traditional promo sections detail specific tasks to grow sales and your career and are limited only by your time, budget, and creativity.

The four-part plan may include:

I. Author Information

  • Mission 
  • Vision 
  • Objectives 
  • Platform 
  • Bio (long and short) 
  • FAQ

II. Book Information

  • Title 
  • Name on Book 
  • Publisher 
  • ISBN 
  • Publishing Date 
  • Format/Specs 
  • One-paragraph synopsis 
  • One-liner 
  • Unique Selling Points 
  • Comps 
  • Target Audience 
  • Sales Channels

III. On-line Promotions

  • Author Website/Blog 
  • Group Websites/Blogs 
  • Social Networking Sites (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr, PinInterest) 
  • On-line Reader Forums (General sites such as Goodreads and genre-specific sites such as Young Adult Book Central) 
  • Bookseller Author Pages (your publisher, Amazon, Barnes &Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound, etc.) 
  • Blog Tour 
  • Electronic Collateral (book trailers, animated banners, etc.) 
  • Skype 
  • Out-of-the-Box Promo (This is where I list things like the Chloe hotline) 
  • Joint promotions

IV. Traditional Promotions

  • Media Kit: bio, author photo, book Info 
  • Book Endorsements 
  • Book Reviews 
  • Press Releases (hometown newspaper, alumni magazines, professional journals, local radio and TV stations) 
  • Book Signings 
  • Author Presentations 
  • Book Fairs, Festivals & Trade Shows 
  • Street Teams 
  • Book Clubs 
  • Author Collateral (bookmarks, postcards, signed-by author stickers, SWAG, etc.) 
  • Publisher Collateral 
  • Direct Mail 
  • Out-of-the-Box Promo 
  • Joint Promotions

My final bit of promo advice to authors: don’t get too bogged down with promo that you don’t have time to write the next book or feed your writer’s heart and head with new experiences and people.

Book Trailer: Cinder (Book One in the Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Cinder (Book One in the Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer (Feiwel & Friends, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction.

Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Guest Post & Giveaway: C.J. Omololu on Race, Love & Transcendence

Love, true love (1993).

 By C.J. Omololu
 for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I remember meeting my husband like it was yesterday.

I was an enthusiastic twenty-something on my first day at my new job in advertising for a San Francisco weekly newspaper. The building was filled with artsy, interesting people, and as I got the standard tour of my new offices, I saw a handsome black guy with teeny tiny dreadlocks standing at the end of a hallway talking to our production manager.

He had a wonderful smile with dimples that flashed as he spoke and an intriguing accent that was hard to place.

As we got closer, I saw that they were looking at something on his left hand – his new wedding ring. Yes, my future husband had gotten married a few days before. To someone else.

For the next few years, we were work friends – him settling into married life and me dating one guitar player after another. We both lived in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood, and I’d sometimes run into him and his wife at the market or at our local Cajun restaurant. We’d stop and talk for a few minutes before moving on, trading a little work gossip here and there.

Until I saw him out alone one night. I asked where his wife was and he told me that the marriage hadn’t worked out. I said I was sorry and my friends and I moved on, but I couldn’t help thinking about it.

Our offices were situated right on top of a popular local restaurant. Friday at 3 p.m. was the deadline for the next week’s publication. Promptly at 3:05 p.m. every Friday, the restaurant was packed with our entire staff, celebrating a job well done.

Family photo from a few years back.

Late one Friday, we found ourselves alone in the restaurant, long after
everyone else had scattered for the night.

On impulse, we decided to
walk all the way across the city– talking about our goals, our past
mistakes and pointing out our favorite places as we walked through the
different neighborhoods.

Several hours later, we were standing in front
of my apartment and I knew that I really didn’t want to say goodbye.

I was worried about starting a relationship with him because he’d just ended a marriage, so I did what every girl does in that situation and called my mom.

I’ll never forget her advice – “If you don’t, someone else will.”

Luckily, I took that advice and we’ve been together for over eighteen years.

In all of those years, I can count on one hand the number of times anyone has been blatantly racist to us. I do have to admit we had a few relatives who weren’t totally supportive in the beginning (if I never hear ‘it’s not fair to the kids’ again, it’ll be too soon), but everyone came around eventually.

Koda’s favorite food is edemame

Maybe we’re careful or maybe we just don’t pay attention, but I think
we’re just like every other family.

I don’t think of my husband as the
handsome black man who’s great with computers, I think of him as the guy
who forgot to write soccer practice down on the calendar and still
can’t find his phone.

 My boys aren’t beautiful biracial children (okay,
they are), but annoying teenagers who can’t remember how to pick up a
sock off the floor or put toilet paper on the roll.

I honestly didn’t think about it when I made the love interest in Transcendence (Walker, 2012) biracial – I just wrote the character that I thought my main character would be attracted to. It wasn’t until final edits that we realized that we hadn’t addressed ‘the race issue’ at all, and it was at that point I made a conscious decision not to.

While I think there is a definite need for books about race and prejudice and coming out, I think we also need books that have people of color or gay characters just because. The only way to normalize non-white or non-straight characters is to see them over and over in books, TV and movies, and it feels like we’re starting to see more of that every day.

I was thrilled when my publisher put Griffon on the cover and that my boys can now see someone who looks like them on a book. He’s there because he’s a gorgeous, smart, engaging character that girls fall in love with. Who also just happens to be brown.

Cynsational Giveaway

International giveaway! Enter to win a signed copy of Transcendence by C.J. Omololu (Walker, 2012). From the promotional copy:

When a visit to the Tower of London triggers an overwhelmingly real vision of a beheading that occurred centuries before, Cole Ryan fears she is losing her mind. 

A mysterious boy, Griffon Hall, comes to her aid, but the intensity of their immediate connection seems to open the floodgate of memories even wider.

As their feelings grow, Griffon reveals their common bond as members of the Akhet—an elite group of people who can remember past lives and use their collected wisdom for the good of the world. But not all Akhet are altruistic, and a rogue is after Cole to avenge their shared past. 

Now in extreme danger, Cole must piece together clues from many lifetimes. What she finds could ruin her chance at a future with Griffon, but risking his love may be the only way to save them both.

Full of danger, romance, and intrigue, Transcendence breathes new life into a perpetually fascinating question: What would you do with another life to live?

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Cynsational Notes

Visit C.J.’s blog.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Tanita is a featured author on the SBBT

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the Summer 2012 Blog Blast Tour from Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray. Really, it features amazing writers like Y.S. Lee, Cynthia Levinson, Rosemary Clement-Moore, and Robin LaFevers, among others, at blogs worth bookmarking!

Five Tips to Add Subtext to Your Story by Ollin Morales from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: “The beauty of subtext is that it makes human interaction fascinating; and, likewise, it’s what will make your story worth reading.”

Maurice Sendak Memorial by Monica Edinger from educating alice. Peek: “…Maurice Sendak was not only a seminal person in the world of books for children, but was one of the greatest American artists of the past 100 years.” See also Special Sendak Issue at Notes from the Horn Book.

Fierce Reads: a free YA anthology, available for download from Tor.

The Four Story Pillars by Amy Dearborn from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “Different types or genres of stories tend to emphasize different arms – for example, a romance or literary work often focuses on inner story, while a mystery or action-adventure usually emphasizes outer story.”

Worrying Isn’t Action by Mary Kole from Peek: “…use worry to amp up tension and raise stakes and definitely include it
as Interiority. But remember that you need to balance it well with
external conflict, or you risk your character…just sitting there.” See also Mary on Layers of Emotion.

Congratulations to Austin’s own Shelley Ann Jackson, who has been admitted to the picture book certificate semester within the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Trademark is Not a Verb: Guidelines from a Trademark Lawyer by Brad Frazer from Jane Friedman. Peek: “There is a feeling that one must somehow obtain permission, genuflect
or pay money or something when one uses a third-party trademark in a

100 Top Picture Books by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse #8 Production at School Library Journal. A countdown and conversation.

Writers Links: Editors & Publishers by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Children’s & YA Lit Resources. See also Writers Links: Agents. Note: editors and agents sometimes change employers. Please be sure to confirm their current whereabouts before sending any correspondence.

The No-Moping Zone by Keith Cronin from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “I submit that this is an unacceptable – and indefensible – waste of
time, which gets you no closer to achieving your goals. Plus, all that
teeth-gnashing is murder on your molars.”

Cynsational Giveaways

The winners of The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci (Roaring Brook, 2012) are Ayleyaell in California and Laura in Maryland.

This Week at Cynsations

Austin Scene

Last Saturday, Greg Leitich Smith spoke on speculative fiction at an Austin SCBWI meeting and then Don Tate launched It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw (Lee and Low, 2012).

Greg and Don model their books.
Emma J. Virjan, Lindsey Lane & Don.

See also Don’s photo report.

More Personally

Behold! Quincie P. Morris, named after one of my heroes from the Tantalize series! Perhaps, in this case, the P stands for puppy! Quincie is the newest member of a family of QPM fans in Mississippi who were kind enough to send in this photo. So adorable!

My character Quincie P. Morris is the protagonist in Tantalize and Blessed. She also is a major character in Diabolical and the graphic novel, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story.

Personal Links

From Greg Leitich Smith

Cynsational Events

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

Career Builder & Giveaway: Julie Anne Peters

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Julie Anne Peters is the author of 18 books for young adults and children, plus short stories in anthologies, and she looks forward to a new novel to be released in 2014.)

Her YA novel, Luna, was a National Book Award finalist, a Colorado Book Award winner, and an American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults.

Her other books include Define “Normal,” Keeping You a Secret, Between Mom and Jo, Rage: A Love Story, By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead, and She Loves You, She Loves You Not. Her newest YA novel is, It’s Our Prom (So Deal With It). Julie is published by Hyperion, Knopf, and Little, Brown.

Julie is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, PEN America, the Authors Guild, and the Colorado Authors’ League. She lives in Wheat Ridge, Colorado with her partner, Sherri Leggett. 

How have you grown as a writer? What skills have you seen improve over time? What did you do to reach new levels? What are areas that still flummox you?

I study the techniques of storytelling by reading a variety of writers in all genres of books.

Whimsy has only a stump for back legs but climbs like a pro.

Okay, that’s a lie. I don’t read fantasy. Enough of my critique group members write fantasy that I feel I do my part by critiquing their work.

I’ve subscribed to The Writer magazine from the day I decided to try my hand at writing. Their how-to articles have been extremely helpful, and reading about the journeys of other writers gives me inspiration to keep going.

With every new book, I challenge myself to incorporate a new storytelling method or technique. For example, I’d never used flashbacks, so they became a part of Regan’s childhood recollections in my YA novel, Luna. I’d been dying to try second-person point of view, so I did that in She Loves You, She Loves You Not… If written well, multiple narrators are always fun to read, so I gave that a shot in my newest novel, It’s Our Prom (So Deal With It).

My attempts may not always be successful or seamless (as reviewers are quick to point out), but if I wasn’t challenging myself, I’d burn out on writing very quickly. (I have a very short attention span.)

Have you ever made an affirmative decision to alter your creative focus? What inspired this decision? What were the challenges?

I didn’t want to write Keeping You a Secret. Megan Tingley, my editor at Little, Brown, was the one who said, “Julie, why don’t you write me a young adult lesbian love story?”

I said, “Are you crazy? Are you insane?” (You probably should never say this to your editor.)

All these fears burbled up inside me about writing a “gay” book. At the time I’d been working for ten years to establish myself as a children’s writer. I thought, If I do a book like this, I’ll be blacklisted by every teacher and librarian on the planet. My books will be banned. I’ll be labeled as a gay writer and expected to write more gay lit. There’s such a small niche market for LGBTQ books, I thought, how would I ever make a living with my writing? But my worst fear was that I’d get hate mail.

It took me a year to work through all my fears. They weren’t unfounded, but the response from readers who told me this book saved their lives made me wonder if writing for my community wasn’t what I was meant to do.

Sometimes you can be so dumb you need to be smacked upside the head by the hand of destiny.

Did you ever consider giving up? What happened? What kept you going?

Writing is hardest work I’ve ever done. It’s physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. I think about quitting all the time. But it never fails that when I’m at my lowest point, I’ll receive a letter from a reader who tells me that my books have changed her or his life and to never stop writing.

What do you want to say to established mid-list authors about staying in the game?

I want to show you a picture.

See all those medals and plaques and awards and framed starred reviews? (Okay, there’s only one framed starred review. But it was from Kirkus. Kirkus, baby.) I call this my Wall of Game.

Whenever I think I’m stalled out, or idling at a red stoplight on the Publication Highway, I take a look at all I’ve accomplished in my 20+ years as a midlist writer. I mean, hanging all this stuff on your dining room wall, how can you miss it?

I give myself a pat on the back, a nod of encouragement, and say, “If you rearrange all that clutter on the wall, I bet you could still find room for a Newbery Medal. Or two.”

Be your own best champion. Stay positive.

And those people who make millions with their books? They’re the ones who’re keeping your publishing company in the game so that editors can advocate for the books and authors they love.

Hopefully, that means you.

Cynsational Giveaway

U.S. & Canadian readers! Enter to win a copy of It’s Our Prom (So Deal With It) by Julie Anne Peters (Little, Brown, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Azure is secretly in love with her best friend, Radhika. Unfortunately, Azure’s other BFF (bisexual best friend), Luke, also has a secret crush on Radhika. 

When Azure is asked to plan an alternative prom at her high school, she jumps at the chance, not only because it’ll give her a chance to ask Radhika out, but also because she believes prom should be more inclusive.

Since Azure has no clue how to plan a prom, she enlists the help of Luke and Radhika. Everything that can go wrong does, including the PTSO eliminating all the events they find objectionable.

Will the watered down prom allure any students beyond the usual prommies to attend? Can the prom committee even raise enough money to put on an event? And, if so, who will Radhika choose to go with?

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Cynsational Notes

On Julie’s website, you can find links to the inspiration for her books, excerpts, and trailers.

The Career Builders series offers insights from children’s-YA authors who written and published books for a decade or more. The focus includes their approach to both the craft of writing and navigating the ever-changing business landscape of trade publishing.

Whimsy’s brother Toby is always getting in trouble.

Petey is a party animal.

New Voice: Anne Greenwood Brown on Lies Beneath

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Anne Greenwood Brown is the first-time author of Lies Beneath (Random House, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Calder White lives in the cold, clear waters of Lake Superior, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids. To survive, Calder and his sisters prey on humans, killing them to absorb their energy. But this summer the underwater clan targets Jason Hancock out of pure revenge.

They blame Hancock for their mother’s death and have been waiting a long time for him to return to his family’s homestead on the lake. Hancock has a fear of water, so to lure him in, Calder sets out to seduce Hancock’s daughter, Lily.

Easy enough—especially as Calder has lots of practice using his irresistible good looks and charm on ususpecting girls. 

Only this time Calder screws everything up: he falls for Lily—just as Lily starts to suspect that there’s more to the monsters-in-the-lake legends than she ever imagined. And just as his sisters are losing patience with him.

In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how to best approach “edgy” behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

I’ll take a stab at this and say there are two edgy topics in Lies Beneath.

First, nudity. Because my merpeople are morphing into human legs when they hit dry land, there are several instances where I had to deal with them being naked until they found or stole something to put on. I thought about having clothes morph in an out with their bodies, but it never felt right.

Ultimately, I decided that the merfolk are in many respects animals and animals don’t freak out about being unclothed, so why should they?

Second, the stalking and the murders. This is a big one that has caught some people by surprise (especially if they expected a retelling of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” (1989)).

Most people understand that this is an Evolution Story (in a very Darwinian sense). Calder White starts out creepy and disturbing, which brings me back to my earlier comment that he and his sisters are animals, or at the very least animalistic. I opted to treat them like the lion on National Geographic taking down the gazelle. They’re predators, and they stalk their prey just like any other animal would.

Calder evolves over the course of the novel, losing his animal tendencies and working toward what I consider to be the most profound and difficult capabilities of the human spirit: forgiveness and the ability to be self-sacrificing.

Was it the “right decision?” Yes. Absolutely. That was the story I wanted to tell.

What inspired you to choose the particular point of view featured in your novel? What considerations came into play? Did you try the story from a different point of view at some point? If so, what made you change your mind?

Sea cave research photo–used for reference in writing a scene.

I wrote Lies Beneath in the first person because the central conflict–Calder White’s struggle between family loyalties and loving his enemy–played out better when I let the reader inside his mind, experiencing that struggle with him.

The sequel, Deep Betrayal (spring 2013), is a continuation of the Lies Beneath story, but told from Lily Hancock’s perspective. Even though I had established her voice through dialogue in Lies Beneath, it was hard to get into her head after being in Calder’s for so long. There were a lot of false starts. Then when I finished Deep Betrayal and returned to Lies Beneath for the editing rounds, it was a little unnerving to be back in Calder’s head. (He can be such a mess sometimes.)

I’m working on Book 3 right now and, because of my internal need for symmetry in all things, I’m playing with alternating povs between Calder and Lily. It’s mental gymnastics, that’s for sure.

What I’ve found is that I need to write Calder’s story line all at once, then write Lily’s. Later, I’ll shuffle their chapters together, because going back and forth is making me feel a bit psychotic.

As a paranormal writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time paranormal reader? Did a particular book or books inspire you?

Cynsations Interview: Stephenie Meyer

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (Little Brown, 2005) was my “gateway” paranormal novel, and it led me to other paranormal YA series like Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic Press, 2009); Nightshade by Andrea Cremer (Philomel, 2010); and The Dark Divine by Bree Despain (Egmont, 2010). But, honestly, I had no intention of writing a paranormal novel.

People ask if I’ve always been a big mermaid fan. The truth is, I hadn’t really given them much thought before.

What happened was that I was writing an adult contemporary novel set on Lake Superior, and I kept waking up with my main character diving off the ferry boat into the lake.

If you know anything about Lake Superior, you know that that would be an incredibly stupid thing to do. Death wish stupid. I kept telling him, “No, no, no, you can’t do that,” but he kept diving.

Finally I said, “Fine.”

He dove, and he burst out with this fantastic fish tail.

I was like, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

I scrapped what I’d been writing, and wrote Lies Beneath instead. I didn’t have any preconceived notions about mermaids, so I felt free to be inventive.

Imagine my surprise when the latest Pirates of the Carribbean movies (“On Stranger Tides” (2011)) came out. Now they’re saying mermaids are the next vampire? I had absolutely no idea I was stepping into a trend. I just couldn’t get that ferry captain character to stop diving into the lake!

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?

Anne as a teen.

I went to my first writers conference in April 2010, and I signed up to do two agent pitch sessions. I pitched that adult Lake Superior novel I mentioned above to the first agent. She hated it.

Before I went to my next pitch session, they announced that the agent I planned to meet with was ill and had sent a colleague in her place. I almost decided not to do the pitch because Google told me the replacement agent only represented nonfiction.

Still, I figured it would be good practice, and maybe it would pay off just to make a contact in the publishing industry. So, I kept my appointment with Jacqueline Flynn of Joelle Delbourgo Associates.

Jacquie and I connected on a personal level first (our sons play hockey). When it came time to pitch my novel, I didn’t pitch the adult novel, but rather a middle grade project I’d been working on. She asked that I send it to her, which I did, expecting no response. She represented nonfiction after all!

Four months went by, and one of her boys pulled my middle grade manuscript out of her bag, read it, and told her she should sign me. She read it and agreed.

That novel didn’t sell, but by the time we realized it wasn’t going anywhere, Lies Beneath was ready to go and sold in a two-book deal in less than a week.

Another source of Anne’s inspiration. Photo by James Netz Photography.

My advice, be professional. If you’re invited to send something, send it. And don’t quit writing! Always have something new in the hopper.

Cynsational Notes

Find Anne at facebook and Twitter.

Guest Post & Giveaway: Shana Burg on Laugh with the Moon

By Shana Burg
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

The idea for Laugh with the Moon (Delacorte, 2012) came from an experience I had when I was in graduate school for public policy. I did some work for a professor at the Harvard Institute of International Development.

She said, “I need someone to go to Malawi, Africa and find out whether girls are getting the same access to learning materials such as pens, paper, and teachers as the boys.”

She explained that the government used to charge about three dollars a year for a primary (grades 1 to 8) school student to attend. As a result, a lot of families kept their daughters home to fetch water, clean the hut, and cook, while they sent their sons to school to get an education. Then in the early 1990s, the Government of Malawi began to phase in free primary education. Girls flooded the schools.

I spent months poring over reports about the Malawian education system. Then the week before I traveled, there was a front-page story in the New York Times saying that Lake Malawi was one of the most malaria-infested regions of the world. That night I swallowed my malaria prevention pill with an extra loud gulp.

Soon I found myself in the middle of the Malawian bush in a Land Rover next to Norman, my driver and translator, who quickly became a good friend. Each school day for three weeks, Norman and I traveled to different primary schools, where I spoke with hundreds of teachers, parents, students, and school administrators.

Learn more about Shana.

What I found was that no one—boys or girls—had very many learning materials at all.
At most schools, there were not enough classrooms, so students learned outside under the trees, and during the rains, they crowded into other classrooms or went home.

I visited many classes that had hundreds of students in a single room. Because there was hardly any paper, students learned to write with sticks in the dirt, or they made letters using the clay from termite hills.
Often there were no desks, so kids sat together on the floors.

And I’ll never forget the headmaster who wanted my address so that he could write to me, but he couldn’t find a piece of paper anywhere in his office to jot it down on.

As the years passed, I kept in touch with friends I made in Malawi. Norman, who was in his late thirties and had four young children, wrote and asked me to send a bottle of Tylenol, something he couldn’t afford. Soon after, he wrote to say he had Tuberculosis. A few weeks later, I found out he died. My friend Stella was in her twenties. Her husband wrote to tell me she got a bad headache and passed away the next day.

When I taught sixth-grade near Boston, I showed the students my slides
of Malawi. Year after year, they were riveted to learn about their peers
halfway across the world. And year after year, they were moved to act.
They sent books, soap, and medical supplies.

I let them know that they
could learn a lot from the kids in Malawi, so they got pen pals and
exchanged letters.

Once I’d finished writing my debut novel, A Thousand Never Evers (Delacorte, 2008), my editor at Random House, Michelle Poploff, asked, “What are you going to write about next?”

I truly couldn’t decide.

Then she said asked these magic questions: “What are you absolutely passionate about? What is it that keeps you up at night, that’s been with you for years, that you can’t let go?”

I knew there was only one answer. I would write a story about Malawi—about a girl from Boston who learns about joy from the people there, even though death and hardship are all around.

Cynsational Notes

Attention Central Texans! Shana Burg will launch Laugh with the Moon at 4 p.m. June 24 at BookPeople in Austin. See more information.

Cynsational Giveaway

Author-sponsored. Eligibility: international. Note: This is Cynsations’ first time using Rafflecopter. Please give it a try. It’s incredibly easy to use, many blogs are going this way for giveaways, and you only have to register once.

While we’re in this experimental phase, you also are welcome to enter by commenting on this post (to win a fourth copy of Laugh with the Moon, selected separately) and including an email address (formatted like:
cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address.
Or you can email Cynthia directly with “Laugh with the Moon” in the subject line. Thank you.

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Editor Interview: Christie Harkin of Fitzhenry & Whiteside

Meet editor Christie Harkin.

By Lena Coakley
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

This May, I had a chance to sit down with Christie Harkin, children’s book editor at Fitzhenry & Whiteside Publishers in Canada.

Christie has been an editor at Fitzhenry & Whiteside for the past four years. 

In her former life, she produced and hosted a local cable access TV show called “Bookmarks,” a book report show for kids.

Lena: Christie, some people would call children’s book editor a dream job. How did you get into this field?

Christie: By a very long route! I started off as an in-house tutor at a private school for ten years, thinking I wanted to be a teacher. Then I started teaching English as a second language. I loved helping kids write their essays. I was really good at that—editing their short stories, teaching them how to write. I eventually did teach high school English, but I found I didn’t like it as much as I hoped I would. For a while I home schooled my children, but as they got older, I knew I wanted something more.

I decided to upgrade my BA, and I ended up in Deirdre Baker’s fourth year seminar course in Canadian children’s literature at the University of Toronto. This was a turning point for me.

Deirdre brought in some amazing people from the Canadian children’s publishing industry to speak—authors, editors, you name it. Paul Yee came into the class, Jean Little, Hadley Dyer, Shelley Tanaka. It was phenomenal.

It was also through this class that I heard about the Ryerson Publishing program and through Ryerson I got an internship at Fitzhenry & Whiteside. Things moved very quickly at this point: In September, I started at university; in January, I started at Ryerson; in April, I started at Fitzhenry as in intern; and in July, I had a full-time job. I was very lucky.

Lena: I posted the fact that I was interviewing you on Twitter and Facebook and of course the question people most wanted to know was: What do you look for in a submission?

F&W launch party!

Christie: First of all, it’s not just me. If a manuscript has been accepted, you can be sure it has been looked at and considered by a whole group of people.

The first person who will see it is an intern who goes through the slush pile and weeds out a lot. I do take a first glance at everything, but she’s the one who reads the slush in depth.

Lena: How does she know what to look for?

Christie: Fitzhenry & Whiteside has a painfully explicit submission guideline on our website that submitting authors and illustrators really, really, really should take a look at.

On my blog I have a whole rant about how to follow a submission guideline—editors tend to get very uptight about this. It’s also a good idea to take a look at our catalogues to see what we’ve been publishing over the last few seasons.

Once our intern has weeded the slush pile, then it’s my turn to go through—but I don’t make all the decisions. If I like a manuscript, I will give it to Cathy Sandusky, our publisher. If she likes it, she’ll give it to the company president, Sharon Fitzhenry, and perhaps a few other people in the office. We might end up with a shortlist of twenty manuscripts we’re interested in. That twenty must be whittled down even further based on how a manuscript might fit into our list.

It’s important to us to publish great stories with great characters that also fit into the curriculum. Schools and libraries are our bread and butter. The trade market is important too, but it’s very small right now—it’s difficult to get books on the shelves—but there is still a great need for books in schools and libraries.

Submitting authors need to read widely and be familiar with the children’s market. Something literary, original, child friendly, education friendly and not pedantic—that’s hard to do but that’s what we are looking for.

Lena: And an illustration submission? What do you look for there?

Christie: My tastes in art are pretty eclectic. Can I be totally unhelpful and just say that “I know it when I see it?”

That’s usually what happens. I get a postcard in the mail and it hits me between the eyes – “This would be perfect for that story we just signed!” That’s what happened with Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli and Bye, Bye, Butterflies!

Lena: Have you ever published a first-time author out of the slush?

Christie: Tons of times! Lisa Dalrymple’s debut book is coming out in the fall with another publisher, but we signed her first for Skink on the Brink, a book that’s coming out with us in the spring, so I’m claiming her!

Lisa was very smart. She approached me at the Word on the Street festival and said, “I write picture books. What can I do for you? What do you need?”

I showed her my Tell Me More storybook line and said, “Well, you could try writing one of these.”

She said, “I’ve got something! I’ve got a book about a skink.” It turned out to be well-written and exactly what we were looking for.

We also publish quite a few first-time illustrators. Kiss Me! (I’m a Prince)!, which was up for a Blue Spruce award this year, was a first book for the author, Heather McLeod, and a first full book for the illustrator, Brooke Kerrrigan.

Skink on the Brink, which I mentioned, will be illustrated by a first-time illustrator, Suzanne Del Rizzo, who sent me a sample postcard.

I love getting books out of the slush—I really do. That’s where The Dewpoint Show by Barb Howard came from; that’s where Yellow Mini by Lori Weber came from; that’s where Brian Cretney’s book Tooter’s Stinky Wish came from. Discovering these books is one of my favourite things about the job.

Lena: So, once you’ve accepted the book, what is the editing process with you like?

Christie: Before I even sign a book, I will write up a detailed set of notes for the author so that he or she knows where I want to go with it. Any major changes that I foresee, I want to be sure the author is on board with before signing. It’s a good way to find out if this is an author and a project I can work with – and vise versa.

I do a substantive edit first with about two pages of notes and further notes to the author using “track changes.” As a rule, I try not to point out a problem without giving a solution. I want to give an author a few options. If they come up with something else that is better, fantastic! But I try not to leave somebody with a dead end.

Sometimes it will take an author two or three substantive revisions to get it right, which is absolutely fine. I encourage phone and Skype conversations. I’d rather an author call me on a Sunday afternoon in a panic than live with the panic until Monday. 

Lena: Really? I’m not sure my editor would say that!

More fun at the launch!

Christie: Well, let’s say, email me. There’s no point in an author or illustrator freaking out about something if it’s something that can be fixed with a two-sentence email.

Many of my authors have gotten phone calls from me at the ballpark or the hockey arena—that’s where I do quite a bit of editing.

I will also show our publisher, Cathy Sandusky, a manuscript a few times during its development both for her editing input and for her knowledge of curriculum, grade levels etc.—she’s a big part of the process.

Usually I work from home one day a week, and I spend that whole day—twelve hours—on one book because so much of my time in the office is taken up with other things. 

Lena: Other things? What else do you do besides editing and acquiring?

Christie: I write back cover copy, oversee design, do cover mock ups, create tip sheets, deal with contracts—negotiating them and settling some contract issues; I help art direct the picture books.

I also have two sales accounts, so I sell as well. I sell rights when I go to Bologna; I oversee my intern who submits to awards, which is a huge job for her. I do a lot of liaising with different departments like the marketing department.

Nonfiction is something we haven’t talked much about, but Cathy and I also oversee the stuff that needs to get done there, like getting permissions for photographs and writing indices and so on. Nonfiction is very time consuming.

 I’m awfully lucky. My last intern turned out to be a really good non fiction editor so she was a tremendous help. We really love our interns, and I’ve been very lucky with them. 

Lena: When I think of Fitzhenry and Whiteside I think mostly of realistic fiction or of historical fiction like Glory Wind by Valerie Sherrard, which was a multiple award winner for you. But the message many unpublished authors are getting these days is that fantasy is the hot genre that everyone wants. Why don’t you think that Fitzhenry has jumped on the bandwagon?

Christie: For one thing, we have a reputation for publishing excellent, literary realistic and historical novels. We don’t actively seek other genres out.

There is a whole different marketing scheme required for publishing fantasy, paranormal, and to some extent mystery novels. It requires a different set of marketing skills and resources. When you’re always marketing in a certain direction, doing something different requires a new approach.

We will and can do it, though, and Cheryl Rainfield’s Hunted is an example. The dystopian/paranormal aspect wasn’t the reason we picked it up, really. Cheryl is such a great writer and we were so happy to be able to bring her to Canada that we decided we were willing to do what we had to do for that book.

Lena: I think readers would love to get a better idea of your personal tastes. What are some of your favourites?

Christie: Would it seem like sucking up if I said yours? Witchlanders really was one of the best things I read last year. 

Lena: *smiles demurely*

Christie: Sometimes I read a book that’s so good, I get depressed that I didn’t get to publish it.

The last one I read like that was Catherine Austen’s All Good Children.

Some all-time favourites are Johnny Kellock Died Today by Hadley Dyer and The Gravesavers by Sheree Fitch.

Deirdre Baker introduced me to so many great books: Mistik Lake by Martha Brooks and the Rex Zero series by Tim Wynne-Jones.

I also absolutely loved Skim, the graphic novel by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, just to name a few.

Lena: This question is one that was suggested on Facebook: “I’d like to know how Fitzhenry & Whiteside plans to improve the abysmal state of Canadian publishing.” First of all, is it abysmal?

Christie: Oh my goodness, no! Canadian publishers are publishing incredible books and have been for a long, long time. The publishing industry is going through a sort of metamorphosis, perhaps.

Changes are afoot, to be sure. And Fitzhenry & Whiteside is sorting through all those changes just as everyone else is. But we know that the important part—enabling authors and illustrators to create great books that people will want to read and share—is at the centre of what we do.

We need to keep publishing Canadian authors, Canadian illustrators and Canadian stories—especially Canadian stories with international appeal. Canada is such a multicultural society. Nothing brings that home to me more than when I travel outside of Canada and look at what other people are publishing. Often I think: We can do that, too, because we have those voices.

For instance, Kari-Lynn Winters has written a book called Gift Days about a girl in Uganda that I think will appeal both to Canadians and to a broader audience.

The Stamp Collector by Jennifer Lanthier is another picture book I’m excited about. It’s about an imprisoned writer, and part of the proceeds will be going to PEN Canada. We can take that story to the world.

I love that Canadian publishing can be—and is—going in that direction. Our school system is looking for books that are outward looking.

 Stories that take place in Canada are very important to us—after all, we’ve got Hockey Girl; we’ve got The Dewpoint Show— but it’s also important to look outside and put a Canadian perspective on the world. That’s one thing I think we are doing.

Lena: What’s coming out at Fitz that you particularly want us to keep an eye out for?

Christie: Hockey Girl by Natalie Hyde is so much fun. It’s about a bet between a girls’ hockey team and a boys’ hockey team, and it deals in a humerous way with inequalities in the sports world.

Award-winning author Valerie Sherrard has a new free verse novel coming out—that’s my Wednesday work tomorrow. In nonfiction, Kari-Lynn Winters has a book about bees coming out—a hot topic. And Helaine Becker’s new teen novel How To Survive Absolutely Everything has just gone to the printers.

There are so many! I love my books. They’re all my babies.

Remember when you asked me earlier what I’m looking for?

I’m looking for a book that I feel that way about—like it’s my baby. If I accept a manuscript, I will be spending a lot of time with it. I have to know I’ll keep loving it throughout the whole process.

Cynsational Notes

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.