Cynsational News & Giveaways

Recommended for fans of Holes

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Canadian Read-Alikes That Appeal to Fans of Louis Sachar’s Holes
from CanLit for Little Canadians. Peek: “…these novels have the
twists, turns and laughs that have made Holes (by Louis Sachar) such a popular book.”

2012 Cybils Call for Judges from Anne Levy, Cybils Overlord. Deadline: Aug. 31. Note: hurry!

Writing Realistic Love Relationships by Carolyn Kaufman from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “A problem I see in some fiction is that there is no reason for the
characters to fall for each other or be in love—other than the fact that
they’re both excruciatingly hot, of course.”

Traditional Publishing: A Poor Exercise in Vanity
from YA Highway. Peek: “My editor and I went through four rounds of
edits. I’d call the process grueling, but it wasn’t, not exactly. She,
too, understood my vision in an intimate and precise way.”

The Publishing Process in GIF Form from Nathan Bransford. Note: required reading/viewing.

One Teen Story Launches New Magazine by Ron Charles from The Washington Post. Peek: “Designed for readers 14 and up, One Teen Story will publish nine issues a
year, once a month while school is in session ($18/year). Like its
older sibling, this new magazine won’t carry photographs or advertising,
but each year’s issues will have a cover designed by a single artist.” Source: Margo Rabb.

The Naked Truth: Librarians Stood By Maurice Sendak, No Stranger to Controversy
by Kathleen T. Horning from School Library Journal. Peek: “Just how
often was Mickey diapered in America’s libraries? And who started it?
How did others react to the practice?” Source: A Fuse #8 Production.

Seven Questions Over a Late-Night Breakfast with Christian Robinson
from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “I give a large
amount of credit to San Francisco for contributing to my happiness. I
currently live and work in the city. I love it.”

Author Insight: Trunk Novels
from Wastepaper Prose. Peek: “How many trunk novels do you have, and is
there one you’d like to revisit?” Note: Insights from Margo Lanagan,
Joy Preble, Greg Leitich Smith and more.

Staying Afloat in Tough Times by Kristi Holl
from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “I tried different things to see what
might work. The following year I wrote a story for an anthology, entered
several contests, did some short manuscripts for children’s magazines,
wrote some writers’ articles.”

When to Stop by Stephanie Pellegrin from Stephanie, A History. Peek: “I can’t work on it forever. Eventually I have to let it go. Whether or not I query with this book and whether or not it ever sells is a mute point. I’m done.”

Let’s Play: Is It Worth It? The Writer’s Conference Edition
from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing. Peek: “When I
received a postcard last week advertising an upcoming conference in my
area, these criteria helped me figure out whether I should attend or

Getting Students Reading, Keeping Them Reading
by Edith Campbell from CBC Diversity. Peek: “Students consistently
asked for mysteries with Black characters and I could produce none.”

Tantalize series, honored by TLA/YART

Congratulations YART/TLA Spirit of Texas Middle School Authors Andrea White, Veronica Goldbach, Jennifer Archer, Karen Blumenthal, Chris Barton, and Scott Westerfeld, and congratulations YART/TLA Spirit of Texas High School Authors Gail Giles, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Ashley Perez, C.C. Hunter, and Jennifer Ziegler! Note: Cynthia Leitich Smith (that’s me!) also is a SPOT High School Author, holding over from last spring (Thanks, Texas librarians!).

Dusting Ourselves Off After Set-Backs by Elizabeth S. Craig from Writing Mystery is Murder.  Peek: “…when
I picked up my daughter at horse camp a few weeks ago and saw that she
was completely covered from head to toe in red clay (which is what
passes for soil in many parts of the Deep South), I knew she’d been

How to Get a Job in Publishing, 2012 Edition by Cheryl Klein from Brooklyn Arden. Peek: “…you
can meet publishing people these days not just through long-established
methods like informational interviews and the publishing institutes,
but at writer’s conferences, if you can find an unpressured time to
talk, and in various forums online.”

Cynsations Author
Tip: If someone writes asking for a signed bookmark or bookplate, first
reply asking which of your books (s)he’s read. A fan will write back
cheerfully. Someone who’s just trying to snag your signature for
whatever nefarious reason probably won’t.

Who’s Story Is This Anyway? by Danyelle Leafty
from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “…how do you decide who the main
character will be and whose point of view you’ll frame the story

Writing Through a Rough Patch of Life by Tracy Hahn-Burkett
from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “…as an unpublished author, I have only
myself to satisfy. And I’d become my most negative and
impossible-to-please critic.”

Writing Resource: Writing Grief in Fiction by Denise Jaden from Angela Ackerman
at The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: “Grief alone is not enough to make a
novel. It’s the backdrop, sometimes the obstacle, but books must be
flavored with other emotions.”

Sitting Around and Talking by Mary Kole
from Peek: “You may have heard several writing teachers
saying that kitchens, dining rooms, living rooms, airplanes, and cars
are especially dangerous settings in fiction. Why? Because they limit
action to one of very few things.”

Interview with Author Shawn Stout & Editor Jill Santopolo of Philomel on the Penelope Crum series
from Quirk and Quill. Peek from Jill: “…even though this is a fun,
young series, Shawn also injects real depth into the conflicts Penelope
has with her family and her friends.” Note: enter to win one of four
ARCs of Penelope Crum; deadline: 8 p.m. PST Sept. 15.

Diverse Dystopias: A Book List
from Lee & Low Books. Peek: “For the purposes of this list, our
definition of diversity is: 1.) A book with a main character of color
(not just secondary characters), or 2.) A book written by an author of

Being Willing to Revise by Mette Ivie Harrison. Peek: “The main problem I see with writers who are nearly there and writers who
are already there is the people who are willing to make the big

Seven Essential Elements of Scene + Scene Structure Exercise by Martha Alderson from Jane Friedman. Peek: “Just as plot has many different layers, every scene has layers of functions, too.”‘

Cynsational Giveaways

The winners of sets of Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey and Leaving Fishers by Margaret Peterson Haddix (both Simon & Schuster) were Amanda in North Carolina, Kathy in Ohio, Colleen in New Jersey and Rebecca in California. The winner of Caught by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon & Schuster) was Ezequiel in Indiana.

The winner of a
signed hardback copy of Piper Reed, Forever Friend (2012), a signed
paperback copy of Piper Reed, Navy Brat (2011), and a signed paperback
copy of Piper Reed, Rodeo Star (2011), all by Kimberly Willis Holt
(Henry Holt)
was Trisha in Illinois.

The winner of a print copy of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi was Diana in Utah.

Check your email! I’m still seeking shipping information from the winners of Torn by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon & Schuster), a Let’s Go Rambling Kit, celebrating One Day I Went Rambling by Kelly Bennett (Bright Sky Press, 2012), and a signed paperback edition of Flutter (Puffin, 2012) and a signed ARC of Tracing Stars (Philomel, 2012), both by Erin E. Moulton.

This Week at Cynsations

Austin Scene

This week’s highlight was the launch party for debut author Nikki Loftin‘s Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy (Razorbill, 2012) at BookPeople in Austin (review & chance to win from Jen Bigheart at I Read Banned Books). A huge crowd turned out to celebrate!

Greg Leitich Smith and Nikki Loftin
Sinister Sweets
More Sinister Sweets (donuts topped by icing & candy sprinkles anyone?)
Salima Alikhan & Bethany Hegedus
Lindsey Scheibe & Tim Crow
Lynne Kelly & Vanessa Lee
Chris Barton & Jennifer Ziegler
Jo Whittemore & Brian Anderson
Writing Barn reception — not so sinister, just as sweet!
What a gorgeous buffet!

See also Dear Teen Me from Author Nikki Loftin.

More Personally

Hey, Cynsational readers! Did you catch my post this week on coping strategies for author events? Don’t miss the comments with additional tips from various Cynsational readers (who’re authors themselves) at LiveJournal. Thanks to all of them for sharing their thoughts!

also hold off on blurb requests until I say otherwise–I’m feeling a
bit inundated at the moment. And on a semi-related note, I’m taking the
holiday weekend off. Cynsations will resume posting on Tuesday of next
week. Go out into the world. Rejoice. Dance. Play.

for fun, I present a recent celebration dinner at Casa Leitich
Smith–chicken-and-lobster in a pot, steamed broccoli and purple
faux-tatoes (cauliflower masquerading as mashed potatoes).

P.S. marvel at the awesome-ness of Nikki Loftin‘s shoes–they’re practically candy coated!

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Liz Garton Scanlon will launch Think Big (Bloomsbury, 2012) at noon Sept. 1 at BookPeople in Austin. See more information. Note: Liz also is teaching “Poetry License: Using Poetic Devices in Your Poetry, Prose and Everyday Writing” from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 15 via The Writers’ League of Texas.

Check out the new “It’s Complicated Conversation,” focusing on book covers, starting next Monday, Sept. 3, at CBC Diversity. Participants include YA author Coe Booth, Simon & Schuster art director Laurent Linn, senior VP & director of sales at Penguin Felicia Frazier, agent Joseph Monti of Barry Goldblatt Literary, and independent bookseller Elizabeth Bluemle, owner of The Flying Pig Bookstore.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will be part of the mass reading of “Buried Treasure” at 2 p.m. at the O. Henry 150th Birthday Crawl Sept. 15 at the O. Henry Museum in Austin, Texas.

Join Newbery Honor author Marion Dane Bauer
for a free live teleconference at 7 p.m. EST Sept. 19. She will also be
offering a free live webinar on “Point of View in Fiction” at 7 p.m.
EST Sept. 26. See more information.

Book Trailer & Giveaway: Just Flirt by Laura Bowers

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Just Flirt by Laura Bowers (FSG, 2012). From the promotional copy:

It’s summer, sweet summer!

Self-proclaimed Superflirt Dee Barton can’t wait to spend the summer months practicing her Nine Rules of Flirting on all the cute guys who come to stay at her family’s campground. 

Why not? Flirting is fun and makes everyone involved feel good—which is pretty much the exact opposite of her relationship with her toxic ex-boyfriend, Blaine.

Sabrina Owens’s summer plans include keeping her over-the-top karaoke DJ mother in check, maintaining her own status as the queen of the popular crowd, and being the perfect girlfriend to Blaine.

Each girl sees the other as the enemy. But when a secret blog embroils them in a frivolous lawsuit, they must team up and embark on a risky, flirt-filled plot to set things right again.

Laura Bowers’s new novel is a heartfelt and hilarious story of friendship, family…and flirting!

See also an interview with Laura by P.J. Hoover from Roots in Myth.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three signed copies of Just Flirt (FSG, 2012) or a copy of Beauty Shop for Rent (Harcourt, 2007), both by Laura Bowers. Eligibility: international. Deadline: Sept. 10.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Career Builder: Phyllis Root

Phyllis with her daughter’s retired sled dog Cirrus

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Phyllis Root on Phyllis Root:

I was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and now live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where I’ve been for the last thirty-seven years. I’ve been writing for children for thirty-two years and have published over forty books, including picture books, middle grade novels, and non-fiction.

Big Momma Makes the World, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (Candlewick, 2002) won the Boston Globe Horn Book Award, and Aunt Nancy and Old Man Trouble, illustrated by David Parkins won a Minnesota book award.

Big Belching Bog, illustrated by Betsy Bowen (University of Minnesota Press, 2010) and Scrawny Cat, illustrated by Allison Friend (Candlewick, 2011) are my most recent books.

I have taught in the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and now teach in the Hamline University MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. I have two grown daughters and two cats, and when I’m not writing or sailing or canoeing or hiking I love to work in my garden or look for wildflowers.

How do you define success?

Spike and Catalina help Phyllis write.

A successful day is one in which I write.

When I first started writing and sending manuscripts out, I thought if I sold a story I would feel like a successful writer. Then I thought if I sold a book I would feel like a writer. Then I thought, perhaps, if a book won a prize I would feel successful.

All those things have happened over
the years, and all have been wonderful, but the real success for me is putting butt in chair and writing the words I want to write, no matter how awful they may be. And if, in writing, I stumble onto a story that just might work well, whether or not it ever sees the publishing light of day, I am ecstatic.

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

One decision I made was to try writing a middle grade novel after many years of writing picture books. I wanted to try something different, which is, I think, a very good idea for writers; otherwise, I think it might be easy to end up plagiarizing myself.

Boyds Mills, 2010

Luckily, I had a story that really wanted to be written, about a young girl who worries about everything, her scientist parents, a very earnest great-uncle she is
sent to live with, and a flamboyant pirate lady who moves in next door.

The biggest challenge was to discover the arc of the story and what my main character, Lilly, really wanted as her heart’s desire. I would work on the story, put it away for long stretches of time, and then take it out and work on it again.

I made a visual map by cutting out paper and pasting it on a large poster board, which is how I discovered how deceptive the Shipwreck Islands could be. I wrote endless scenes to discover who my characters really were, which is how I learned that Great-uncle Earnest, town librarian of Mundelaine, really wanted to be a pirate. In other words, I followed my usual messy route from idea to story.

Through it all, the characters themselves kept me going—I loved them so much that I wanted to get their story down on paper.

Did you ever consider giving up?

I still do consider giving up now and again, but I do so less and less, even as the market seems to get tougher and tougher. I’m keenly aware of the practical drawbacks of writing as an occupation—no pension, no insurance, no sick pay, sometimes no pay at all.

But I have a very understanding boss (me), I know terrific fellow writers,
and I get to spend time mucking around with words and stories. I feel very very lucky (to misquote Paul Simon) to be still writing after all these years.

What advice do I have for the debut authors of 2012?

First of all, congratulations! You’ve created a book and sent it out into the world. There’s no telling who will read it or how it might change someone’s life, including you own.

You are courageous and persistent and you are, I hope, doing what you love. So my advice is to remember that you are writing because you love writing. Don’t be
distracted by the siren call of markets and “what’s hot” and how you could make a lot of money writing something you really might not want to write.

Write the stories only you can tell, the ones that won’t let you be. Write for the love of writing. And when you sell the next book, and the next, and the next, the advice is the same.

are a writer. Write.

The Writer vs. The World
By Phillis Root

My mechanic tells me cars don’t really go
clinkety clankety bing bang pop,
that chocolate marshmallow fudge delight
will not fix everything.
(My dentist concurs.)

My naturalist friend says
ducks who get stuck in the muck
get eaten, or die, no matter how many
other helpful animals gather round.
Somewhere among them would be a fox,
a feral cat, a snapping turtle
looking for an opportunistic meal.

My doctor warms me of all the diseases
a cow’s kiss might contain,
and my more cautious friends say that
if I hear a knock, knock on the door,
it’s best not to answer,
even if I ask, “Who’s there?”
You can’t trust anyone these days
to be who they say they are.

My mechanic and contractor both agree
that car parts don’t make good building material,
and my veterinarian claims she’s never heard
a dog say meow, and knows she never will.

I am glad for them all. Without them,
my car would not run,
my teeth fall out.
Turtles might starve.
My cats and I might perish
from some common ailment,
my house collapse around me
at the first knock, knock at the door.

Lucky for me I can always build a new one
out of crazy hope and air.

Cynsational Notes

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.

Check out the book trailer for Scrawny Cat, by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Allison Friend (Candlewick, 2011):

A Love Note (& Battle Strategies) for Author-Speakers

If you’re hosting, carefully label your refreshments.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

As a children’s-YA author, I’m also a public speaker—a workshop leader, a keynoter, and a frequent panelist.

Despite the fact that I, at age 17, literally ran for the ladies restroom rather than deliver an oral report in AP European History, I’ve become comfortable standing in front of anywhere from one to 800 people and sharing my thoughts. A community college speech class helped me overcome my shyness, and years of experience have helped me hone a style that combines humor with substance, using an uplifting spin.

I prepare. I practice. I come in strong with my tech ready and my comments well timed.

But every few years, for one reason or another, the magic is fumbled.

Here are a few examples, plus my related strategies and advice:

Take a Drink of Water

Fancier than usual, but lemon can help.

I completely blanked while giving a speech at the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English.

It was not long after my father had suddenly died, and afterward, I would be continuing to my childhood home for the first time since the funeral.

That realization hit as I was speaking, and my next words literally vanished from my mind. I couldn’t even relocate them on the notes in front of me.

What I did in the moment was pause to pour myself a drink of water, sip, and then resume talking.

A friend in the audience assured me that what seemed like slow, loudly ticking moments transpired in a few seconds and seemed completely natural.

Punt Plan A

Laptop died on this day; bought & booted a new one in time.

At one school visit, it took half of my allocated speaking time to get the students seated and my presentation introduced.

In an effort to stick to my much-rehearsed Power Point presentation, I nearly ran out of time to address my new release at all.

Plus, I was rushing too fast to establish a rapport with my audience.

Would beating myself up over it help?

Not really.

When the second group came in, I started my presentation with a much later slide and got to the question-and-answer part of the presentation with fifteen minutes to spare. The kids asked about what interested them, and being more relaxed, I was able to better connect and provide an overall experience that was more satisfying for everyone.

Make Your Microphone Time Count

Read other authors’ books & toss a softball Q to a debut author.

Once in a great while, a co-panelist will monopolize the microphone or say something passive-aggressive to minimize the work of the other featured authors.

It’s the job of the moderator to step in at this point, but that doesn’t always happen, especially if the troublemaker is a big name.

Don’t panic at your lack of participation or allow yourself to get drawn into an unprofessional squabble.

(I’m not saying to avoid lively debate, if it’s appropriate, but there’s a difference between that and lowering your professional standards of behavior.)

Sooner or later, you will get a chance at the microphone, if only for the last roundup of answers before the panel signs off. Be ready. Take some time—in advance of the session—to ask yourself what one or two points you most want to emphasize. Focus on those, be gracious, and cut your losses.

You can always say something to the effect of: “If anyone has additional questions, I’d be happy to answer them at the signing.” (The signing almost always immediately follows, and you might generate more interest that way.)

Pull Up a Chair

Low audience turnout? First, don’t take it personally. There are a ton of factors that go into attendance at an author event. If you’ve made a good faith effort to spread the word, that’s all you can do. It’s especially tough in a city where you don’t have personal ties and aren’t plugged into local media scene. Your biggest fan could live across the street and still have no idea you’re right there in the neighborhood.

It’s the quality of the audience that matters.

One of the best models I’ve seen for dealing with low turnout was an author
who’d recently—as in a week or two before—received a major award and was literally glowing, his career was so hot.

Maybe it was the
weather (Austinites panic at rain, or at least our
forecasters do). But I was one of only a handful of people who came to his bookstore event.

Rather than bemoan the small crowd, he opened by thanking the independent booksellers and talking about how important they are. Then he pulled up a chair and began visiting the group—still talking about writing and the book—but in an informal way that made us feel like we’d scored the best seats in town. And we had.

I’ve since adopted that strategy on the couple of occasions it’s arisen in my own travels.

At one very new festival, I was scheduled to give several presentations in a day, and while my other talks drew lovely crowds, the first was slotted early in the morning in a remote building on campus.

Only one person showed up.

But she was a jingle dancer, and my first book was Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000). We had such a nice visit. When I look back fondly on that weekend, hers is the face I remember.

Don’t Feed the Trolls

I’ve only been heckled a couple of times, and in both cases, the root of it was the heckler’s assumptions about my intent in writing this or that aspect of one of my novels.

In both cases, they were wildly off-base. When I explained, one immediately realized, laughed at and apologized for her mistake. The other dug in more deeply and took an even more sneering tone.

If you’re asked a leading question, give an honest answer. If you’re stumped as to where to go from there, try “I appreciate your sharing your insights” or “I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree” and then keep moving forward. The rest of the audience will appreciate it.

Play Ball

More about my latest release. U.S. Cover.

Event planners occasionally misstep. They choose a venue that has you staring into direct sunlight or shielding your eyes against blowing dust. The tech goes wonky, or the book order falls through.

So what? Really, in the course of your career, how important is this particular challenge?

And that’s what it is—a challenge. So rise to it.

If it’s logistically plausible, ask to arrange the chairs (or whatever) so your eyes won’t water. But don’t hijack the event. You’re the guest, not the host, and The Powers That Be may have their own reasons and limitations to contend with.

Safest bets: Bring your own laptop and projector as backup. Or simply do the best you can with what you’re dealt.


Say thank you, no matter what. The vast majority of children’s-YA book event planners are volunteers and among the most formidable champions of your field.

They are sweethearts. They are awesome. They’re doing the best they can with what they have, and—just like you—they’re allowed to have a bad day.

The Big Picture

I could offer more examples and solutions, but I think you get the general idea.

Follow me at Twitter & Facebook.
  • Be prepared.
  • Be gracious.
  • Take a team approach.
  • Follow your host’s/moderator’s lead.
  • Do your best.
  • Don’t beat yourself up.
  • Forgive easily.
  • Find the fun. 
  • Laugh and smile.
  • Keep moving forward.
  • Say “thank you!” 
  • Learn from your mistakes.
  • Try to do even better next time.

You’re living the dream. This is part of it.


Cynsational Notes

New from Walker Books in the U.K.

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed, Diabolical and Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Candlewick). Her award-winning books for younger children include Jingle Dancer, Indian Shoes, Rain Is Not My Indian Name–for which she was named a Writer of the Year by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers–(all HarperCollins) and Holler Loudly (Dutton). She looks forward to the 2013 release of Eternal: Zachary’s Story and Feral Nights (Book One in the Feral series)(Candlewick). Cynthia’s books also have been published in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, France, Poland, and Turkey.

Her website at was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer’s Digest and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog at was listed as among the top two read by the children’s/YA publishing community in the SCBWI “To Market” column. A former member of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA faculty in Writing for Children and Young Adults, Cynthia has lived in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Illinois, and she now calls Austin, Texas home.

Career Builder & Giveaway: Pat Mora

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Pat Mora savors writing, presenting, and also promoting creativity, inclusivity and bookjoy.

Her new picture book, The Beautiful Lady: Our Lady of Guadalupe (Random House), will be published December 2012.

Among her award-winning books for young people are Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems About Love (Knopf); her haiku collection Yum! ¡MmMm! ¡Qué rico! (Lee & Low) that won the Américas Award and was an ALA Notable; and Doña Flor: A Tall Tale about a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart (Random House), an ALA Notable that received a Pura Belpré Author Honor Award and a Golden Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators.

A literacy advocate excited about sharing what she calls “bookjoy,” Pat founded the family literacy initiative, El día de los niños / El día de los libros, Children’s Day / Book Day (“Día”), now housed at the American Library Association. The year-long commitment to linking all children to books, languages and cultures culminates in celebrations across the country. April 2013 will be Día’s 17th Anniversary. Pat’s Book Fiesta! (HarperCollins) captures the Día spirit.

Pat received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Texas at El Paso, Honorary Doctorates from North Carolina State University and SUNY Buffalo, Honorary Membership in the American Library Association, and a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship to write in Umbria, Italy in 2003. She was a recipient and judge of a Poetry Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a recipient and advisor of the Kellogg National Leadership Fellowships.

A former teacher, university administrator, museum director, and
consultant, Pat is a popular national speaker at conferences, campuses,
libraries and schools. The mother of three adult children, she’s married to anthropology professor Vern Scarborough and lives in Santa Fe.

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

When my three children were little, I fell in love with picture books.
I’d always been a reader but don’t have clear memories of picture books
until I sat with my sweeties next to me, and we savored books together.

Like many adults, I thought, “Writing these doesn’t seem that hard.” 

When I submitted manuscripts in the ’70s, though, the rejections zipped back. I became discouraged and began writing poetry for adults that began to be published.

After Borders (Arte Publico), my second book of adult poetry was published; some friends encouraged me to try children’s books again since I now had the beginning of a publishing record.

I did, and eventually the great day came when I received my first trade book acceptance for Tomás and the Library Lady (Knopf, 1997). Due to illustrator problems, I waited eight years for the book’s publication in 1997. Tomás was my first contract but not my first published book.

I’ve now published over thirty children’s trade books and have others in press.

Moral of the story? Have friends who believe in you and your work and be persistent.

I joke that “Rejection” is my middle name. Rejections always sting, since we love our work and need to, or we’d quit. When we’re lucky enough to love what we do, we dust ourselves off, and trudge—or some days skip—on.

How do you define success?

What a challenging question. I strive to reach my goals and to develop my talents on life’s journey. I tend to write my goals annually and review them during the year.

A balanced life with time devoted to spirit, mind and body has become more and more important to me. A spiritual life and time for family and friends are at the top of my list.

I’m mom before I’m a writer though I feel inordinately blessed to write, be published, and to speak with audiences of all ages. I can’t really control my income or awards, but I can create a life that nourishes me and others—I hope.

Where do you want to go from here? What are your short- and long-term goals? Your strategies for achieving them?

I enjoy writing for children, teens and adults. I hope to continue to write for each of these age groups.

I tell audiences that I have a list in my computer of the books I hope to write. The order changes and occasionally, such as with The Beautiful Lady: Our Lady of Guadalupe, due out December 2012, I dive into a manuscript thanks to someone’s suggestion.

Actually, at least four of my books were suggested by librarians. As a writer, I long not to repeat myself, but to steadily raise the bar and set new challenges for myself.

My three advocacy zings remain creativity, inclusivity and sharing bookjoy.

1) Creativity: I strive to encourage others to develop their creative talents, which is why I wrote Zing: Seven Creativity Practices for Educators and Students (Corwin, 2010).

2) Inclusivity: I’ve written and spoken for years about our national cultural and linguistic wealth. I strive to excite my colleagues in publishing at all levels about the talents, the rich plurality, not yet a part of our publishing community. Each culture that’s part of our country has wonderful stories and voices to share. I long to hear and read those voices and want them for our nation’s children and families.

3) Bookjoy: Perhaps because I’m bilingual and of Mexican descent, early in my journey as a children’s book author, I became aware of the literacy challenges we face in this country.

One strategy for fostering bookjoy has been the family literacy initiative, El día de los niños / El día de los libros, Children’s Day / Book Day (“Día”), now housed at the American Library Association.

Working with wonderful librarians and educators, I founded the year-long commitment to link all children to books, languages and cultures that culminates in April celebrations across the country. Día is celebrating its 17th Anniversary in April, 2013.

Would you describe your career as a hike up a mountain, a winding road, a path of hills and valleys or hop-scotching from rock to rock across the rapids? Why?

I smile at the question. Born January 19, I’m a Capricorn, though at the end of that astrological sign, an earth sign symbolized by the goat. In the ancient world, it was described as a goat-fish.

Often when my husband Vern and I sit on our back deck and look at the Santa Fe hills ( a view that I describe as a gift from the universe), I look at a small tree in the distance, half-way up the hill. I point and say, “There she goes, climbing the hill,” and indeed, my publishing experience for all its joy does feel like a climb with plenty of obstacles.

On the other hand, I love the fish part of the ancient story and my delight in diving into deep waters in some of my writing. I feel mighty fortunate to have the time and opportunity to journey there.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a set of Pat’s books, plus a Día brochure from Random House. Eligibility: U.S.

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Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Suzanne Selfors on the release of The Sweetest Spell (Walker, 2012)! From the promotional copy:

Emmeline Thistle, a dirt-scratcher’s daughter, has escaped death twice-first, on the night she was born, and second, on the day her entire village was swept away by flood. Left with nothing and no one, Emmeline discovers her rare and mysterious ability-she can churn milk into chocolate, a delicacy more precious than gold.Suddenly, the most unwanted girl in Anglund finds herself desired by all.

But Emmeline only wants one-Owen Oak, a dairyman’s son, whose slow smiles and lingering glances once tempted her to believe she might someday be loved for herself.

But others will stop at nothing to use her gift for their own gains-no matter what the cost to Emmeline. Magic and romance entwine in this fantastical world where true love and chocolate conquer all.

More News & Giveaways

Very Pinteresting: The Hot Social Network is Taking Educators by Storm by Kate Messner from The Digital Shift at School Library Journal. Peek: “Pinterest bills itself as a virtual pinboard that helps users ‘organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.’ Although still in beta phase, the site has grown astronomically—faster than even Facebook and Twitter—reaching 10 million visitors each month.”

Picture Book Titles to Avoid by Mary Kole from Peek: “If I get a sense that your book is going to be didactic from the title, I
will be that much less excited to read it, and so will your audience.”

Is a Blog Tour Worth the Trouble? from Peek: “Blog tours harness the power of social media, spreading news of your
book almost instantly to countless people through the virtual ripple
effect of retweets and shares.”

Advice to New Writers: Green Triangles Should be Both Triangular and Green from Kristin Cashore. Peek: “People will confuse their expectations with your intentions and with the quality of your work. This will happen. So you need to keep hold of what your own expectations/goals were”

Questions to Ask Yourself about Your Manuscript in Progress by Carol Lynch Williams from Throwing Up Words. Peek: “What would happen if you set the book elsewhere?”

Debbie Dahl Edwardson’s Whale Snow: a recommendation by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “By the end of the story, we know why Amiqqaq is named Amiqqaq, we know a
little about how his family prepares whale meat, and Amiqqaq’s mom has
taught him about the ‘spirit of the whale.'”

Social Media Suicide by M.J. Rose from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “While a presence on social media outlets can be valuable it can’t–except in unusual cases–take the place of strong publisher support.”

Five Reasons Your Opening Scene is Like a Blind Date by Marissa from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing. Peek: “First impressions do matter.”

Not Who You Think They Are: A Character-Building Exercise by Emilia Plater from YA Highway. Peek: “… who me is can change, literally from minute to minute.”

YA Authors Narrate ‘Every Day’ by David Levithan: video from Entertainment Weekly. Peek: “…is told from the point of view of a teen named A who wakes up in a different body every morning. While Every Day
has an out-there and fun paranormal twist, it’s every bit as relatable,
wise, and believable as the best realistic teen fiction.”

Zoraida Cordova on Breaking the Rules
from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing. Peek: “In my
unprofessional opinion, ‘write what you know’ should be applied to the
internal workings of our characters.”

Author Insight: First Time All Over Again by S.F. Robertson from Wastepaper Prose. Peek: “What book do you wish you could read again for the first time?” Note: insights from various YA authors.

Tu Books: Why Target an Author’s Race in an Award? by Mitali Perkins from Mitali’s Fire Escape. Peek: “Just wondering why you decided to focus the award on ‘writers of color’ rather than ‘main characters of color’?”

Poem Depot: A Poetry Commotion is primarily devoted to poetry in all its forms and facets: old and new, sense and nonsense, graphic and laughic, courtesy of Douglas Florian.

The Practice of Writing by John Vorhaus from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Writing isn’t easy, but it really isn’t hard. You put a word on the
page, then another and another (and another and another) and soon you
have some words on the page.”

The Truth About a Writing Life by Donna Gephart from Wild About Words. Peek: “…even though I’ve published three novels and been writing professionally for over twenty years, I have no idea how to write this novel.”

Literary Agent Spotlight: Kendra Marcus from Literary Rambles. Seeking picture books, middle grade, and YA–fiction and nonfiction. Likes humor, Latino/Hispanic characters, and “unusual nonfiction.”

American Indians In Children’s Literature is now on Pinterest! Learn more about great books.

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of signed copies of Jo Whittemore’s books, Front Page Face-Off
(2010), Odd Girl In (2011) and D Is for Drama (2012)(all
was Deena in New York.

The winner of Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom (Book One of the Heroes in Training
series) by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams (Aladdin, 2012)
was Jayne in Florida.

A free substantive edit of one manuscript from Deadline: midnight Aug. 28.

See also Annette Simon on Robot Zombie Frankenstein & Giveaway from Jama’s Alphabet Soup.

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Screening Room

Digital Symposium II: The Nuts and Bolts of Success: hosted by Austin SCBWI, this conference is scheduled for Oct. 6 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. Check out the promotional video.

More Personally

Last week’s highlight was teaching a YA writing workshop at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers’ Conference.

Eternal, Blessed & Diabolical at the VCFA bookstore.
Tim & Leda in front of College Hall.
Magnificent YA writers in workshop.
More magnificent YA writers in workshop.
Former advisee, VCFA grad & rising star Erin at Main Street Grill.
Walker Books (U.K.) cover

A Diabolical Chat: a Q&A interview about my latest release at Undercover Blog. Peek: “The arguably creepiest element, though, is a pop-art reproduction (think: Andy Warhol) of an image from the actual Codex Gigas, originally created by a monk who’d sold his soul to the devil. A framed copy hangs in practically every room of the school and the devilish figure depicted seems almost as if it’s watching…because it is.” Note: post includes excerpt from the novel.

Congratulations to Austin’s own Nikki Loftin on the release of The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy (Razorbill, 2012)!

Cheers also to Liz Garton Scanlon, the Austin Public Library Illumine Honoree in Children’s Literature! Speaking of Austinites, check out August news from the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels.

Personal Links

From Greg Leitich Smith

Cynsational Events

Join Newbery Honor author Marion Dane Bauer for a free live teleconference at 7 p.m. EST Sept. 19. She will also be offering a free live webinar on “Point of View in Fiction” at 7 p.m. EST Sept. 26. See more information.

The Austin Teen Book Festival is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at Palmer Events Center. Keynoters: Neal Shusterman and Libba Bray. Note: Greg Leitich Smith is moderating the “Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads” panel.

New Voice: Gina Rosati on Auracle

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Gina Rosati is the first-time author of Auracle (Roaring Brook, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Sixteen-year-old Anna Rogan has a secret she’s only shared with her best friend, Rei; she can astrally project out of her body, allowing her spirit to explore the world and the far reaches of the universe.

When there’s a fatal accident and her classmate Taylor takes over Anna’s body, what was an exhilarating distraction from her repressive home life threatens to become a permanent state. 

Faced with a future trapped in another dimension, Anna turns to Rei for help.

Now the two of them must find a way to get Anna back into her body and stop Taylor from accusing an innocent friend of murder. Together Anna and Rei form a plan but it doesn’t take into account the deeper feelings that are beginning to grow between them. 

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

I’ve read dozens of amazing, insightful writing resource books, but the one that stands out and really made a difference to me is Story Engineering by Larry Brooks (Writer’s Digest, 2011).

I wrote Auracle by the seat of my pants, and when I look back on all the suggestions made by my agent and editor, if I had known the information presented in Story Engineering, my first draft would have been cleaner, I could have saved myself a lot of editing time and the publication process would have gone much faster.

The main idea behind Story Engineering is the need to outline, or at the very least, to know your beginning, your end, and your major plot points. He breaks the process of writing a novel down into six core competencies (concept, character, theme, story structure, scene execution and writing voice), and thoroughly describes them in plain English using short examples to illustrate his points.

It’s a no-nonsense guide to writing from someone who has written and had several novels published within the conventional publishing system. It’s definitely the best $17.99 investment I’ve made in my writing.

As a librarian-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a librarian has been a blessing to your writing?

Photo courtesy of Marc Nozell.

I’m not a librarian, but I’ve volunteered one day a week in a middle school library for the past six years, and that has had a major impact on my writing life.

Years ago, when I worked for a Burger King regional office, we were required to work in a restaurant for a few days so we could appreciate things like why we shouldn’t call the restaurant during lunch rush, the pain of burning fry oil splashing on our arm and understand what was important (the customer!).

It’s the same thing for me working in a library…

I’ve learned to appreciate that there’s no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to the teenage reader. I’ve learned to appreciate the role of a librarian, the limited resources they have to work with and the uncomfortable spots they find themselves in when a book is challenged.

I’ve even learned to appreciate the basic nuts and bolts of book layout – that publishers should never use black paper inside the cover because that’s where we stamp the books and they should always leave a blank space for the Date Due slip to be glued.

In return for a few hours a week spent checking books in and out, processing new books, and re-shelving returns, I get to study the elusive middle grade reader in their natural habitat, see which books they get really excited about (and which books are returned with a bookmark stuck at the halfway point) and gain all kinds of insight from my wonderful librarian friends about the world of middle grade and young adult lit.

One of the biggest thrills I get is when my librarian hands me the current VOYA or School Library Journal and asks what books I recommend she buys for the library. Volunteering in a school library brings the reason I write YA full circle for me.

Cynsational Notes

Find Gina at Twitter, Facebook, and Good Reads. She’s a member of the Apocalypsies and the Class of 2k12. See also Gina’s blog.

Guest Post & Giveaway: Mette Ivie Harrison on How to Find Time to Write

By Mette Ivie Harrison
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I have five children, ages 9 to 18, four of them teenagers.

One daughter takes lessons for three instruments, is in school plays and two competitive choirs, graduated in three years from high school and took five AP classes. Another daughter is in robotics competitions, takes AP classes at four different high schools, and is on swim team. My youngest daughter wants to be an actress and has asked me to write, direct and perform in neighborhood plays with her each summer. One son is into Science Olympiad, scouts, and cooking. My youngest son has karate four days a week, as well as all the regular homework, church activities, and scouts.

I sold my first novel when I had four kids under the age of 6 and babysat two other preschoolers five days a week.

Now, six novels later, I am a competitive triathlete in my spare time. I am currently ranked #41 in the nation in my age group (40-44). I race one Ironman a year, which takes about 20 hours of training a week. I also race more than a dozen Olympic distance races, which takes more like 12 hours a week. I train my husband, kids, and friends. I do races with them, as well.

I am a busy person, but I still get in three-to-four hours of writing every day.

How do I do it? Here are some of my secrets:

Everyone has the same 24 hours a day

  • If you want to add writing (or more writing) to your current schedule, the first simple principle is that you will have to make room by taking something else out.
  • No one is going to make writing time for you. You will have to wrest it away from other commitments, and it will not be painless.
  • If you have nothing you can give up, you will not find time to write.

What should you give up?

  • Cleaning is on the top of my list.

Close doors of your children’s rooms or any rooms you need to.

Look, see how simple it is.

then closed.

Much cleaner.

Other things you can give up:

  • Television
  • Dates to the movies. Stay home instead and have quiet time together when you can write with a babysitter upstairs.
  • Newspaper reading
  • Sleep (Lots of writers write into the wee hours. Others wake up at dawn. I was always one of the ones who woke up at 5 a.m. when my kids were small, to fit in a few more hours).
  • Shopping (Hey, it saves money, too!)
  • Answering the telephone
  • Lunches with friends
  • Saying “yes” to everyone who asks you to help them with a good cause. PTA/church/political action committees included.

Multitasking can be your friend.

  • Do two things at the same time (sewing and going to church, talking to friends and making dinner).
  • Or do three things at the same time.
  • Plan out novels while you drive.
  • Read and make notes on good writing.
  • Write dialog while you listen to other people talk.
  • Use your friends as models for your characters.

Do writing in quick bursts.

  • If you have ten minutes to write, take your laptop or a notebook with you everywhere. Use those lost ten minutes.
  • Write while waiting in a doctor’s office.
  • Write while waiting in line.
  • Write in the ten minutes before bed, or just after you get up. 

Make writing a priority.

  • It doesn’t have to be your top priority, but it needs to be somewhere in the top five.
  • Don’t let things lower on the priority list bump your writing out of whack. For instance, kids leaving homework or lunch at home is not more important than your writing time.
  • Pay yourself to write and use that money to fund preschool or babysitting time. 

Keep your writing space sacred.

  • If you have a writing space and it’s important to you to keep quiet, make some rules about when kids or spouses can come into that space.
  • Protect that space with your own attitudes. Don’t constantly invite others into it. Don’t give yourself excuses not to write. Go into that space, and get it done.
  • I can write upstairs in chaos for certain things, but for others I need absolute concentration, especially when I get an editorial letter.

Keep kids involved in your success.

  • Try rewarding your children for giving you writing time.
  • Include your children in celebrations when you finish a novel or sell one.
  • If you’re writing for children, use your kids as readers. Pay them if necessary, but only if they give you useful feedback.

Cut off your Internet.

  • Some writers will program computers to cut off internet use for a certain period, to encourage them to keep working.
  • For me, I find I set myself a goal of 500 words, then let myself go onto the web for 10 minutes as a reward. It can keep me going for hours.

Set yourself a writing goal every day.

  • If you are currently writing 1,000 words a day, try to double it.
  • Make it a competition on-line with friends. #wordwar is a twitter hashtag. You can join others and try to win.
  • Don’t let yourself go to bed without meeting your goal. You will lose sleep at first, but will become more efficient in the long term.

Keep good people in your life.

  • You’ve heard people say “don’t feed the troll?” I think people who are bad for you will naturally leave your life if you just stop feeding them your energy.
  • On the other hand, good people will stay in your life if you feed them your energy instead.
  • Good people in your life will make it better, richer.
  • Believe me, you don’t need the bad people just for research.

Plan time to relax.

Deal with your anxieties about writing.

  • Every writer I’ve met is afraid of reviews, of rejection by agents and editors. Writing is hard work, and criticism is even harder.
  • Find ways to deal with your anxieties. If I get an editorial letter, I let myself rant for a while. Then I dig back in and tell myself I only change things I want to change.
  • I lie to myself when working on a first draft. I tell myself it’s just for me, that no one will ever read it. Even if it’s under contract, I tell myself that I might write something else instead.
  • Think about writing as a skill rather than a gift.

Figure out what your routine is and stick with it.

Remember, your way is not my way. But do it your way and do it now!

Cynsational Notes

From Indiebound: “Mette Ivie Harrison is the author of The Princess and the Hound (Eos, 2007) and several other novels for young adults. She has a Ph.D. in German literature from Princeton University. She lives with her family in Utah.”

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Career Builder: Frieda Wishinsky

By Lena Coakley
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Canadian author Frieda Wishinsky has written many acclaimed books for children including Please Louise, illustrated by Marie Louise Gay (Groundwood Books, 2007), which won the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, and Explorers Who Made It…Or Died Trying (Scholastic Canada, 2011), currently nominated for both the Hackmatack and Red Cedar children’s choice awards.

She grew up in New York City, but now lives in Toronto, Canada.

What memories of your debut author experience stand out? If you could offer advice to the new voice you once were, what would you say?

I met my first editor at lunch at an SCBWI New York conference many years ago when it was held at Bank Street. We happened to stand near each other while choosing food in the long line at the cafeteria. I liked her immediately. She was (and is) kind, smart and encouraging.

We talked about writing, life, etc., and it was only at the end of lunch that I asked, “Could I send you a manuscript?”

“Sure,” she said.

So I did.

After she rejected (graciously and supportively) seven manuscripts over the next two years, she finally called me about my eighth submission. “We’d like to publish your book,” she said. It was a magic moment. There’s nothing like that first yes.

That book, Oonga Boonga (Little Brown, 1990; Scholastic Canada, 1998; Dutton, 1999), is still in print after over 20 years. And the editor and I are still friends after all those years, too. A friend and a book. There’s nothing better than that.

To the young me I’d say: “Cherish words of encouragement, stay true to your voice, listen to wise suggestions for revision, only send in your best work, and never give up.”

Would you describe your career as a hike up a mountain, a winding road, a path of hills and valleys or hop-scotching from rock to rock across the rapids? Why?

My career is a winding road. I’ve meandered to different genres, followed my interests, taken a new fork in the road, and ventured into new themes. A fellow writer once suggested I stick to one genre. She said it’s important to “brand” yourself. “If you’re all over the map and writing in different areas, it’s not good for your career,” she insisted.

Maybe she was right. I don’t know. What I do know is that part of the joy of writing for me is finding the story or idea that I’m excited about and pursuing it. I’m always amazed at what intrigues me or what draws me in to learn more and then write about it.

I’ve written about such diverse subjects as Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park, in The Man Who Made Parks, illustrated by Song Nan Zhang (Tundra, 1999) because I’ve loved Central Park since I was a kid and it’s still one of my favorite places on earth.

I’ve written about explorers whose daring and persistence astound me like Exporers Who Made It…Or Died Trying (Scholastic Canada, 2011) because I would never have ventured into the unknown like they did, and I am fascinated about their personalities and times, and have often wondered what made them take such enormous risks.

Co-writing with the author Elizabeth McLeod, I’ve written about food in Everything but the Kitchen Sink, illustrated by Travis King (Scholastic, 2008) because I love food and its history.

I actually stick food into many of my books. I added hot chocolate into my biography of Einstein, What’s the Matter With Albert?, illustrated by Jacques Lamontagne (Maple Tree, 2002). I have no idea if Einstein ever drank hot chocolate or even liked it, but since this book had a fiction element I figured, why not assume that he did? And the book’s main character, Billy Whitestone, loves hot chocolate. I imagined him drinking hot chocolate with Einstein while interviewing him for a school newspaper. (I know I would have loved doing just that!)

I’ve written about bullies and friendship, often with a humorous angle in picture books, like You’re Mean Lily Jean, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (Scholastic Canada, 2009; Albert Whitman, 2011), but I’ve written about bullies in both chapter books and novels as well.

Writing about them has helped me cope with them when they show up (and they always do). And friendships and humor have helped me deal with life through good times and bad.

Writing across genres has given me joy. It’s made writing a path full of surprises. It’s given me a sense of freedom to choose what I like to explore. It’s allowed me to dive into subjects that intrigue me. I think that makes my writing stronger because I write out of a passionate interest in a theme, subject or emotion.

So what do I do when I’m rejected? I try to be patient and not get too discouraged. (Not easy.) But after moaning and groaning I usually drag myself up, dust myself off, and follow the next bend in the road. Most of all, I try to always love the journey. In the end, it’s the best part of writing. That and the people you meet along the way.

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 at times?

I’ve learned that you can’t write to trends; it won’t work. You have to write about what interests you. Readers can tell if the writing isn’t authentic, if the theme doesn’t engage you—if it’s not your “voice.” An author’s voice is what keeps me reading a book.

And sometimes you have to stop writing and let yourself goof off. Sometimes the best writing comes out of taking time off from writing. You’re still writing but not consciously. That’s when some of the magic happens. When you let go.

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

Network. Keep your name out there with presentations and social media. But most of all, if you still love writing, keep writing. There’s so little we really can control except our words. And if they’re good, I believe they will find an audience.

Cynsational Notes

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.

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.

Witchlanders, her debut novel, was called “a stunning teen debut” by Kirkus Reviews and was the winner of the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for the Americas region. She is now a full-time writer living in Toronto.

New Voice: Heather Anastasiu on Glitch

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Heather Anastasiu is the first-time author of Glitch (St. Martin’s, 2012)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

Zoe lives in a world free of pain and war. Like all members of the Community, a small implanted chip protects her from the destructive emotions that destroyed the Old World. Until her hardware starts to glitch.

Zoe begins to develop her own thoughts and feelings, but nothing could be more dangerous in a place where malfunctions can get you killed. And she has another secret she must conceal at all costs: her glitches have given her uncontrollable telekinetic powers.

As she struggles to keep her burgeoning powers hidden, she finds other glitchers with abilities like hers, and together they plot to escape. But the more she learns about beauty, joy, and love, the more Zoe has to lose if they fail. With danger lurking around every corner, she’ll have to decide just how much she’s willing to risk to be free. 

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

Facing resistance to getting words on the page is definitely something I’ve fought with. I’ve come up with an arsenal of tools that can usually get me past the paralysis so that I can get working each day.

My most basic tool is setting a daily word count and sticking to it. No. Matter. What. The actual amount varies depending on what kind of deadlines I’m facing, but it’s usually somewhere from 1,000 to 2,000 words a day, and I try not to let up for even a single day.

When approaching a new scene, I’ll do a brief sketch of the goal, conflict, and end point, then I make myself start writing. Even if it feels stunted and wonky, I just keep going.

Most often the writing will start loosening up as I get into a scene. Some days it doesn’t, but that’s okay too. Words are still getting down on the page and the story is moving forward.

When I’m on a tight deadline, I’ll meet my word count in the morning, then do an editing session in the evening. Editing as I go is something that’s become necessary to avoid tons of wasted pages. It helps me stop and think through the plot as I go. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s wasted pages.

Then again, my last book had to be completely rewritten from scratch, so I’m trying to be more zen about embracing the process, even if it means tossing out whole drafts! Each step gets me closer to a book on the shelves that I can be proud of.

While getting words on the page is the first and foremost challenge, finding the inspiration to keep the writing and the characters fresh is also something I’m constantly aware of.

On Sara Zarr’s podcasts, she talks about the need to keep the well of creativity full and finding ways to refill it when you feel depleted. When I’m feeling creatively exhausted, I try to go back to the basics. Spending time surrounded by the beauty of the natural world is something I find very fulfilling. Because of a chronic illness I have, I can’t go hiking like I used to, so instead I go for long drives.

When I lived in Texas I couldn’t count the number of hours my husband and I spent driving around the central Texas Hill Country. I love that moment of getting to the top of a hill and seeing the incredible vista spread out below, with hills sloping into one another as far as you can see into the distance.

Another regular source of inspiration is Natalie Goldberg’s books, especially Writing Down the Bones (Shambahala,1986). She approaches writing practice as a means of getting to know one’s own mind and as a way to be fully present in the moment. That’s what I want both for my writing and for my life in general—to be fully present.

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

As I was coming up with some of the gadgets for the world of Glitch, I was definitely thinking about how the increasing role of technology in our lives affects the way we interact with one another.

Community garden outside Heather’s window.

In general, I think that the things that make life feel meaningful will continue to be a constant, no matter how technology affects the ways and means of communication. There is no substitute for the physical and emotional intimacy of relationships with the people around you. The impulse to love and make love is the best of what makes us human.

In Glitch, true to dystopian form, those in power attempt to regulate, control, and dampen individuality and the emotions which create those important human connections. For me, a main theme in the book is about the way human nature fights back and evolves to conquer even the most invasive means of control.

Even without a dystopian setting, though, it’s easy to fall into certain patterns of living that are drone-like. Commute back and forth to work, come home with only enough energy to watch TV, fall into bed, then wake up the next day and do it all over again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Busyness eclipses everything, and days or decades can pass half asleep.

It reminds me of that quote from Thoreau about why he went into the wilderness:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately […] and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” 

Waking up from a life spent as an unthinking drone is the central metaphor in Glitch, and one that I continue to find very personal. In writing the novel, I was excited to explore what it would be like to watch a person wake up from a lifetime of emotionless monotony and discover the world around her.

I think that sense of passionate discovery is also a good parallel to what it’s like to be a teenager. Suddenly everything seems brighter and more intense, and you get to start deciding what kind of person you want to be in the world.