Book Trailer: Good News, Bad News by Jeff Mack

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Good News, Bad News by Jeff Mack (Chronicle, 2012)(activity kit).

From the promotional copy:

Good news, Rabbit and Mouse are going on a picnic. Bad news, it is starting to rain. Good news, Rabbit has an umbrella. Bad news, the stormy winds blow the umbrella (and Mouse!) into a tree.

So begins this clever story about two friends with very different dispositions. Using just four words, Jeff Mack has created a text with remarkable flair that is both funny and touching, and pairs perfectly with his energetic, and hilarious, illustrations.

Good news, this is a book kids will clamor to read again and again!

Cynsational Notes

“Flat-out hilarious” – Publishers Weekly, starred review

“An instructive and entertaining primer on the art of friendship and the complexity of joy” – Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Good news, this isn’t just a book about attitude, it also hits home the message about the importance of friendship. Bad news, there really isn’t any bad news about this delightful book” – Bookends, a Booklist Blog

Guest Post: Ned Vizzini on The Origins of The Other Normals

By Ned Vizzini
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Everyone loves an origin story, right? I certainly do, although I agree with my former roommate Marty Beckerman that Hollywood goes nuts telling the same ones over and over.

This is the origin story of a book, and as such it will involve a little-known tome, a lonely teen, and bitter disappointment. Here goes…

When I was 11, I got really into a pair of books. One was A Collection of Essays by George Orwell:

The other was the Al-Qadim: Arabian Adventures by Jeff Grubb:

Of these two writers, one is better known than the other — although I’m not sure if it’s for the right reasons. People know Orwell because Animal Farm and 1984 made him “the wintry conscience of a generation”, but his essay “Such, Such Were the Joys”, which opens A Collection of the Essays, is the centerpiece of his more personal work.

“Such, Such Were the Joys” is the original teen angst screed. Way before Weezer, Orwell opens up about his treatment at an English boarding school (“Crossgates,” a renamed Eton) and demolishes his fellow students, his teachers, and himself.

Through his honesty about his bed-wetting and poverty, he puts everyone in their place. For Orwell, who himself said that one of the #1 reasons to write is “to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood”, it must have been physically cathartic.

Al-Qadim, on the other hand, is a Dungeons & Dragons rulebook.

A lot of other writers (three, chiefly: Chabon, Eggers, Lethem) have written about how high and low culture should be measured by the same yardstick — especially in the realm of comic books — and I’m not going to rehash their arguments. (Besides, when it comes to the high/low culture debate, Chuck Klosterman has the last word, calling good taste “a subjunctive device used to create gaps in the intellectual class structure”.) Of course Jeff Grubb’s Al-Qadim is worthy of the same critical attention as Orwell’s “Such, Such Were the Joys.” It’s writing.

 And for me, Orwell and Grubb offered equally alluring fantasies.

Orwell was the fantasy of the put-upon kid turned writer. Al-Qadim was the fantasy of fantasy. It had charts and maps and great-looking creatures and rules and classes and races. You could lose yourself in there. And as I charged into adolescence, I needed to lose myself in something. Because here are the things I wasn’t good at in high school:

  1. Dancing
  2. Talking to girls
  3. Wearing clothes
  4. Not having dandruff
  5. Talking a small amount so that people would care about me
  6. Listening to music
  7. Having value

I wrote about this stuff in my first book Teen Angst? Naaah... — but one thing I never wrote about (until now) was that at the end of a confusing day at school, I could always open the Al-Qadim book and immerse myself in the charts of genies and scimitars and wizards. There was something seductive about that tabular data.

It also fascinated me in video games like “Dragon Warrior” and “Final Fantasy“. “Final Fantasy” was a particular bête noire of mine because I beat it and then went into school and told everyone I beat it — and then realized that it had just been a dream and I hadn’t beaten it at all!

I didn’t beat it until 15 years later:

Ned Beating Final Fantasy I for NES (3 of 3)

This tendency, to smother the trials of teenager-hood under a blanket of data, persists. When a 15-year-old plays “World of Warcraft”, that’s what he/she is doing.

When a 15-year-old excels at the swim team, that’s what he/she is doing — drowning out the world with the simple data-driven imperatives of breathe, move your arms, breathe.

 Data is what we use to make the world go away.

I always wanted to write about this — about a guy who wasn’t able to interact with the real world because he was too trapped in his data, and about how he finally managed to grow out of that. I wanted to make him a late bloomer, which I was, physically, and I wanted him to be unexpectedly ready for the world once it challenged him (because that’s how I wanted to be — and, maybe, how I was?). I wanted him to get revenge on the bullies and find a girlfriend and swing a sword — or a warhammer, because I thought those were cool. I wanted to marry “Such, Such Were the Joys” and Al-Qadim in an unholy ceremony presided over by jewel-like dice.

The result is The Other Normals (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 2012):

The Other Normals -- Cover

I hope you dig it!

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Libba Bray on the release of The Diviners (Little, Brown, 2012)! From the promotional copy:

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City–and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! 

Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult–also known as “The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.”

When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer–if he doesn’t catch her first.

See also Libba Bray’s 10 Favorite Horror Movies (with Libba commentary) and a video of Libba discussing The Diviners from Omnivoracious.

More News & Giveaways

Discovering What Delights: Reader Feedback by Elizabeth S. Craig from Mystery Writing Is Murder. Peek: “Sometimes it takes other people to point out something special.”

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Does Whatever a YA Writer Can by Emilia Plater from YA Highway. Peek: “As a YA writer, there’s something else that interests me about Spider-Man’s story, and that’s Uncle Ben’s ‘great power’ quote…”

Write Tighter, Write Smarter by Ash Krafton from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “…I’d learned to improve my craft one layer at a time.”

Barbara recommends

Celebrating Diversity in Jewish Books for Children by Barbara Bietz from CBC Diversity. Peek: “The Sydney Taylor Book Award honors books that are accessible to readers of all backgrounds, continuing the legacy and literary standards of the All-of-a-Kind Family series.”

The Clock is Ticking by Lisa Schroeder from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “…I want to sell it and have other people read it. If you have some underlying fear about all of that, and it’s keeping you from being productive with the writing, have a heart-to-heart with someone you trust about your fears and figure out what you need to do so you can make the writing a priority!”

Book Launch Parties for Reluctant Authors by Mitali Perkins from Mitali’s Fire Escape. Peek: “…there’s still no better way to invite people into your stories than to appear in person. You spread the word about the book through press coverage and social media, creating a ripple effect around each event.”

Think Before You Thank: Writers & Acknowledgments by Kate Messner from Kate’s Book Blog. Peek: “An acknowledgment in the back of a book is different from a quiet thank you note that arrives in a mailbox. It’s a very public thank you, and in some situations, it might not be comfortable for the person being thanked.”

A Most Unusual Father-Daughter (Cassandra Clare) Professional Pairing by David A. Kaplan from CNN. Peek: “I do think one great thing with Simon & Schuster is that over the years they’ve been open to ideas I’ve generated. Some have been enormously successful, and a lot have been ideas that I’ve sorted out by talking to my dad.” Source: April Henry.

Author Challenge: Writing Formal Poetry by Lesléa Newman from Figment. Peek: “Writing in form connects me to poets who wrote in form centuries ago. In
other words, if it’s good enough for William Shakespeare, it’s
certainly good enough for me!”

Interview: Varian Johnson on Being a Writer and a Dad
by Larissa Theule from Quirk and Quill. Peek: “A helpful tidbit for
writer-dads-to-be: babies don’t seem to care about little things like
showers or lunch or book deadlines.”

Social Media Basket by Stina Lindenblatt
from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “With the vast array of social media
sites available, how do you decide which ones are worthwhile? …here
are some tips to consider.”

Three Time Management Tips by Emily Marshall
from Author2Author. Peek: “Knowing rejection is part of the process
definitely slows me down. But I just have to keep telling myself that
it’s natural and part of the process.”

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of I’m Bored, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi & hand-drawn doodle is Joy in Arizona, the winners of three paperback copies of One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia are Jody in Florida, Margarite in Texas, and Todd in Washington, the winners of Come August, Come Freedom by Gigi Amateau are Heidi in Utah (did you enter? check your email!), and the winner of a signed copy of Lupe Ruiz-Flores’ bilingual picture
book, Alicia’s Fruity Drinks/Las aguas frescas de Alicia; a small “Hope”
note pad; a Charlotte Bronte journal; and a business card holder
has still not responded so a new winner may be picked soon!

Check out the 1920s giveaway by Janet S. Fox from Through the Wardrobe. Features “a long
necklace strand of 20’s-style ‘pearls’, plus a feathery, flappery headband” and advance reader copy of Sirens (Speak/Penguin, Nov. 2012). Deadline: midnight Sept. 30. Post features cover reveal and book trailer.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Loved visiting Librarian Kit & the teens at Cedar Park (TX) Public Library!
Danielle in a Mantle of Dracula T-shirt!
She painted the cover of Blessed and gave it to me!
I also swung by Diana Lopez‘s event at BookPeople!
Books by Mari Mancusi, Tera Lynn Childs & Sophie Jordan from Danny at The Book Spot.

Personal Links:

Cynsational Events

The Austin Teen Book Festival will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 29 at Palmer Events Center. The author slate is huge and awesome, featuring Neal Shusterman and Libba Bray as keynoters. Look for Greg Leitich Smith on the “Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads” panel.

Digital Symposium II: The Nuts and Bolts of Success will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 6 at St. Edward’s University, sponsored by Austin SCBWI. Peek: “…a hands-on technology workshop for illustrators and authors of all techie levels.”

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at 3 p.m. Oct. 6 at Freeport Library, a branch of the Brazoria County Library System.

Conversation with Kirsten Cappy of Curious City: An Event for Published Authors from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 7 at The
Writing Barn in Austin. “To RSVP, please send an email to with ‘Cappy Class’ as the subject line by Oct. 1.”

Guest Post & Giveaway: Carolee Dean on a Brief History of Novels in Verse

By Carolee Dean
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

With authors like Ellen Hopkins, Sonya Sones, and Lisa Schroeder, there has been a virtual explosion of verse novels in the past decade, but do we really understand their place in literature?

Are verse novels a YA or middle-grade fad, a new art form, or something else? Are they even really poetry? Were there verse novels before Out of the Dust won the Newbery in 1998?

In truth, verse novels have quite a long history.

Looking back just a few years, we find that before Out of the Dust there was Soda Jerk by Cynthia Rylant in 1990 and Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff in 1993.

And if we go back just a litter further in time we find Homer (not Simpson), who lived around 850 B.C.E. – the presumed creator of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” two Greek epic poems. Two of the oldest surviving works of Western literature happen to be written in verse. There was a very good reason for this. When they were first created, these epics were not written down at all. The bard would travel from town to town reciting the stories from memory and using the structure of verse was, in part, a mnemonic strategy.

Going forward a few hundred years, we find two Latin narrative poems; “Metamorphoses” by Ovid (around 8 C.E.) and “The Aeneid” by Virgil (around 20 C.E.)

These four classics were all written in Dactylic Hexameter, a type of meter with six feet (or beats). A dactyl has one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables.

There are additional rules, but it gets complicated, and this form is rarely used in English because of the way our language stresses vowels and consonants.

A few hundred years later came “Beowulf,” written by an unknown Anglo-Saxon poet somewhere between the 8th and 11th centuries. It is an Old English heroic epic poem, written in alliterative long lines and it represents one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature. Alliteration was the mainstay of Old English poetry. Two syllables alliterate when they begin with the same consonant sound.

Sometimes we don’t recognize that these older works were written in verse because the poetry form is lost in the translation, but in “Beowulf,” Seamus Heaney (2000) tried to stay true to the original poetry form. Note his use of alliteration in this line:
“a balm in bed to the battle-scarred Swede.”

Written between 1308 C.E. and 1321 C.E., Dante’s “Divina Commedia” is considered not only the paramount work of Italian literature, but one of the greatest works of all time. Dante Alighieri is believed to have created the form called terza rima for this epic. Terza rima consists of a series of tercets, three line stanzas, with an interlocking rhyming structure of ABA, BCB, CDC, etc. Any number of stanzas may be used, but the sequence always ends with a rhyming couplet.

The following is an example of terza rima from Forget Me Not (Simon Pulse, October 2012), my new paranormal verse novel.

“My House” page 171

Back in my room I lie awake all night,
tossing, turning. Getting out of bed,
I look out the window at the sky,

say a silent prayer, and bang my head
against the glass. Hear my father’s voice
as he complains about the cost of bread,

ingratitude, why Mom can’t make a choice
to leave the couch. She’s stuck to it like glue.
I hear him threaten that he’ll use some force

to get her moving. Says he’ll show her who
is boss. I hear him stumble as he falls
into a chair, too drunk to follow through.

I sneak out of my room and down the hall.
Heading for the door, I hear him cry.
Hear him whisper even as he bawls.

If there really is a God then why
did Frankie have to be the one to die?

Although they aren’t novels, parts of some of Shakespeare‘s plays (i.e. “Julius Ceasar” and “Hamlet”) were written in blank verse – unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter consisting of ten syllables per line with a stress on every second syllable. Other plays like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” contain a significant amount of rhyme. Other examples of verse novels include Paradise Lost by John Milton, The Ring and the Book by Robert Browning, and Idylls of the King by Tennyson. Shorter narrative poems similar in length to short stories include Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”.

Returning to the questions posed at the beginning of this article, we find that verse novels are one of the oldest forms of literature. Many of our best known works, classics that have withstood the test of time, were written in verse. This is not always recognizable because the form is often lost in the translation. Like many modern verse novels, most of these structures had little to do with rhyme.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of this art form, mostly in YA and middle grade novels. Verse novels have been the recipients of coveted awards in recent years such as Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Newbery, 1998), Keesha’s House by Helen Frost (Printz Honor, 2004), Your Own Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill (Printz Honor, 2008), and Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (National Book Award, 2011).

The poetic merits of verse novels are not always obvious, especially those written in free verse. With this loose structure, some pose the question of whether or not the contents are true poetry. If the reader turns to any given page, the offering found there might not be apparent as a stand alone poem. It should be independent, true, but it is also part of a larger mosaic.

As Caroline Starr Rose, author of the middle grade verse novel May B. (Shwartz and Wade), likes to say, “Each poem is like a square in a patchwork quilt. It is complete, and yet at the same time part of a larger design.”

Visit Carolee Dean

When judging the value of an individual poem found within a verse novel, it might be interesting to think about it in terms of picking up a collection of one of the great poets and turning to any given page in the volume. Most of the time we read these fine wordsmiths in anthologies containing several poets, with only their finest and most well known works included.

Try reading two hundred pages of Robert Frost or William Butler Yeats at one sitting. Not everything they produced will seem as brilliant and inspiring as their “Greatest Works.” For that matter, read a random page of “Beowulf” or the “Divina Commedia.” The whole is more important than the sum of the parts, and a single page may not work as a stand-alone poem.

It is important to remember that a verse novel is both verse and a novel. We would never judge the merits of a novel by assessing the worth of one page at a time.

The bottom line is that whether a novel is written in verse or traditional prose, the most important question is whether or not it is a good story. That is, after all, the real reason why tales like “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” “Metamorphoses” and “The Aeneid” have survived the test of time.

Cynsational Notes

Carolee Dean is the author of Take Me There (Simon Pulse) the story of a boy who can’t read or write but dreams of becoming a poet. Her paranormal verse novel, Forget Me Not (Simon Pulse, October 2012) explores a girl facing her demons in a high school filled with ghosts.

Join Carolee on The Ghost Tour, starting Oct. 3. See also Carolee on The Making of a Book Trailer: Behind the Scenes and Can I Write If I Can’t Read? Famous Poets Who Overcame Reading Disabilities.

Enter to win a signed copy of Forget Me Not by Carolee Dean (Simon Pulse, October 2012). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America (U.S./Canada).

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Guest Post: Michelle Markel on Henri Rousseau & Rejection

Illustrated by Amanda Hall

By Michelle Markel
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Think of the worst rejection letter you’ve ever received, or perhaps the worst journal review. Add some ridicule. Multiply it by several years. That will give you an idea of how the art establishment treated Henri Rousseau.

It looks like he closed his eyes and painted with his feet.

If you want to have a good laugh this year, go see the paintings by Henri Rousseau.

The artist is the subject of my latest picture book biography, The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau (Eerdmans, 2012).

Rejection was only one of many obstacles Rousseau had to overcome on his creative journey. Yet he persevered, received the critical–if not financial–rewards he deserved, and became one of the most beloved painters in history. How did he manage? Could his experience offer lessons to struggling writers? Here are some suggestions:

1. Make the most of your time and resources. If you can’t take a class, teach yourself by emulating others, and by studying models.

Rousseau took up painting in middle age, while working as a toll collector in Paris. On his days off, he studied pictures at the Louvre. He learned anatomy by copying drawings in magazines and visiting the Natural History Museum and the Botanical Gardens.

Photo by Sara Arditti

2. Don’t be rattled by rejection.

Rousseau was unfazed by the critics, who scorned his work from the start. He pasted clippings of his reviews in a scrapbook, and continued to display his pictures at exhibitions, year after year.

3. Party on. Live a full life.

On a shoestring budget, Rousseau threw big parties for his friends and neighbors, where he staged plays he’d written and performed on his violin. He was inspired by his many excursions throughout the city.

4. Don’t underestimate the power of social networking.

Rousseau’s acquaintances included Pablo Picasso, Guillaume Apollinaire and other artists and intellectuals (faithfully depicted by Amanda Hall in our book). These members of the avant garde helped open the eyes of the critics to his talents.

5. Believe in your fabulous self and write wildly.

Illustrated by Amanda Hall

Rousseau developed his own dreamy surreal style. His jungle fantasies were flatter, bolder, and weirder than classical paintings of the day.

I can tell you from experience that these strategies help. A few years ago, job and family obligations, plus a long dry spell of rejection, threatened to crush my creative ego. I nurtured and indulged it by taking outings and getting support from other authors. I taught myself technique by reading all kinds of literature-not just children’s books- which emboldened me to take risks with my writing.

There were still crummy days when, in the words of Joyce Carol Oates, my soul felt thin as a playing card, but I hung in, and things got better.

Photo by Sara Arditti

If you’re having tough times, embrace the struggle. Many famous artists have soldiered on through the darkest hour, and so can you. Think of the young people who may read your story at a time when they need it the most. In the name of art, love and beauty, find a way to keep writing.

Cynsational Notes

Michelle Markel was born and raised in Los Angeles. She first dabbled in poetry and creative nonfiction while a student in a fifth grade gifted classroom. After pursuing degrees in French literature at U,S.C (BA) and U.C.L.A. (MA), she went on to study journalism (BA, California State University, Northridge) and worked as a free lance writer.

When her two daughters were young, Michelle started writing for children. She’s the author of both fiction and informational picture books, including Tyrannosaurus Math (A Cooperative Childrens Choice selection), Dreamer from the Village (A Notable Trade Book in Social Studies), and The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal. Her upcoming title is Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 (Balzer & Bray, 2013).

Michelle is an instructor in UCLA Extension’s Writers Program. She lives in West Hills, California, twenty miles west of the Pacific Ocean, where she often longs to be.

New Voice: Rebecca Maizel on Infinite Days

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Rebecca Maizel
is the first-time author of Infinite Days (St. Martin’s Press, 2010, 2013)(author blog & author facebook page). From the promotional copy:

“Throughout all my histories, I found no one I loved more than you…no one.”

Those were some of Rhode’s last words to me. The last time he would pronounce his love. The last time I would see his face.

It was the first time in 592 years I could take a breath. Lay in the sun. Taste.

Rhode sacrificed himself so I, Lenah Beaudonte, could be human again. So I could stop the blood lust.

I never expected to fall in love with someone else that wasn’t Rhode.

But Justin was…daring. Exciting. More beautiful than I could dream.

I never expected to be sixteen again…then again, I never expected my past to come back and haunt me…

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

Rebecca at work!

The biggest learning curve? I didn’t realize how tactile I was; I actually need a pen and paper. Once I was contracted, I became super aware of every choice I was making and every word on the page.

When I knew that people were paying me for writing and it was no longer some pipe dream from behind the bar, I was super aware of my process of revision (I was a bartender for 11 years).

At that point, I had to identify and find my process. Other people were involved, giving me notes — people that had literally read thousands of books. That pressure was very hard to take, so I paid attention to what I was putting on the page, and how I was choosing to do it.

My process goes something like this: I type as much as I can, usually get blocked, hand write, input those handwritten pages into the computer, and then start printing — and repeat. I have to see my work on the printed page instead of on the computer.

Something about those infinite number of computer pages usually blocks me about half way into the second act. So when I print, I am able to see on the page what my book will look like.

I always knew that I needed to see my work on the page in front of me, I was just never aware of the repetition of my process. I hope other people do this and I don’t sound loony tunes. I also read aloud when things sound clunky. I should probably be reading this interview aloud.

Another aspect of my revising process is where I start my novel. Usually what I think is my beginning chapter, usually isn’t. It usually ends up being what I needed to write to get into the book. The faux opening expresses the voice of the book, but as I revise and think of the world I am setting up, I usually find a better way to open. Sometimes I need help.

For example: When penning the opening of Stolen Nights (St. Martin’s, 2013), I was 100% stuck on Lenah waking up from surviving the ritual in a hospital. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t imagine opening in a different way. That is, until my editor said to me that she wanted the problem/conflict on the first page. I don’t think she’ll mind me sharing this note because I think it’s an important editorial note.

A lot of writers struggle with the dilemma of where to begin. How do you balance world building, reveal of character/setting, and try to get the plot going?

It’s important to hook readers, especially young readers, and this note really tested my revising skills. I had to balance the two audiences of Stolen Nights, the readers who had read the first book in the series and the readers who had not.

I had to introduce Lovers Bay and Wickham Boarding School, all while establishing very quickly that this story was a fantasy, a low fantasy where the magical world is hidden from the realistic every day world.

I didn’t make it to page 1, but I did make it to the first half of page 2 and I’m quite proud of it. I’m not sure I could have found that beginning on my own. It’s important to trust your “trusted readers” (that’s why we call them that, after all) and to listen if someone thinks your opening isn’t working. Trust the process. Write the bad opening without knowing it then revise. Your characters will thank you for putting them in the wrong place at the right time in your manuscript.

As a historical fiction writer, what drew you first-character, concept, or historical period? In whichever case, how did you go about building your world and integrating it into the story? What were the special challenges? Where did you turn for inspiration or support?

Photo of Rebecca by Olivia Wilcox

When I first started writing Infinite Days, I was fascinated by the concept of accountability. I say this now, in hindsight, because I don’t think I was very conscious of this at the time. I think what happened artistically is that I heard a voice in my head and knew I had to write her.

Lenah came to me very viscerally and I knew immediately that she was old, very old, but I saw her in my head as very young physically. I reconciled these two things by making her a vampire.

I don’t think I thought very much about it except that she had a very big guilt issue. She had a big problem. She was old, she was angry, and she was tired of craving blood. She wanted to come back to the land of the living, she wanted to be human.

That was always my intention when writing Lenah. She wanted to come back to the light. But can you when you’ve been a murderous vampire for 592 years?

592 years gets to the answer of your question.

If Lenah has lived for hundreds of years but was a vampire, only certain aspects of history would matter to her. For instance, the older my vampires get, the more they can withstand the sun. Yet, the older they get, the more their minds begin to wane. Lenah, by the time she is 300, is really losing her mind. Being alive for too long is beginning to eat away at her mind.

Georgie on Rebecca’s desk

So I had to choose what would be important? Lenah is 592 years old and when she is made a vampire it is 1417. The plot of Infinite Days is modern day! That’s a long time! So I decided to keep the most important moments in history directly connected to Lenah’s internal, emotional arc.

Yes, the French Revolution is critical in the history of humanity but Lenah is living in England at that time. I didn’t include what didn’t affect her within the active moments of the story. I also only included what would stand out juxtaposed to modern day, as this book straddles Lenah’s history and present day.

For example, in 1850 Lenah meets Vicken, one of the main characters of Infinite Days and Stolen Nights. But it’s1850 Scotland. There are no cars, something Lenah comments on in the opening of Infinite Days. Everything in the modern day is so loud. So I chose Girvan, Scotland.

I wanted somewhere on the coast so I contacted the Girvan, Scotland library and spoke to a historian over e-mail for several months. I think he was a bit surprised to be working on a young adult Gothic fantasy, but he was endlessly helpful.

I don’t think you can be afraid to ask for help. I think it’s crucial to ask because even if you are writing fantasy, it has to be believable. Here are some moments in history/technological innovations, etc, that I really had to consider when writing Infinite Days and Stolen Nights.

  • Candlelight and the transition to electricity
  • Telephones (my vampires don’t use them or acknowledge them)
  • 18th century France
  • 19th century Scotland
  • Victorian England
  • Daguerreotypes
  • Orchards in the middle ages in England 
  • Clothing from 1400-2010 
  • The Order of the Garter/Richard the III 
  • The Black Plague 
  • Taverns in Girvan Scotland 
  • Bar songs of Scotland in 1850

You get the idea. I had to build an entire back story for Lenah and her coven. There are about 50 more items on this list, but this is a good place to start.

Guest Post & Giveaway: Sean Beaudoin (or Rather Norm) on The Infects

By Sean Beaudoin
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Hi, I’m Norm. I’m a character in the book The Infects (Candlewick, 2012).

Yeah, don’t bother searching for me in the index, since no one bothered to actually give me a name on the page.

Which is total discrimination. Mostly because I’m a zombie. That’s right, a slavering, shambling, flesh-gorging revenant.

I spend a majority of the book sort of drooling in the background, following the main characters around and watching them soak up all the glory.

No one ever wants to know what’s going on with ol’ Norm. No one wants to ask me how I feel, or if I’m hungry, or if I’m cold. Man, it would be nice, even once, if someone said, “Hey Norm, you want a blanket?” or “Hey, Norm, it looks like your jaw is sort of falling off its hinges. Want me to re-adjust that for you?”

No, of course not. That would be too much to ask.

But I don’t want to just sit on my rotting butt and complain.

Listen, fine, it’s a reasonably amusing book, and half the reason I kept shuffling along was because I wanted to see what happened at the end. I guess it was cool to be invited at all, you know? But I’m just stuck with the feeling it could have been so much cooler.

Like, why didn’t I get to fire the shotgun? Why didn’t I get to have a love scene? I’m totally capable of loving! Go ahead and hand me a puppy. No, I’m serious. Or a kitten. I’ll totally show you how loving I can…oh, never mind.

The truth is, I guess I deserved what I got. I was working my usual shift over at Danny’s Record Hut when this cute little Goth girl came in. She was sort of groaning and her eyes were unfocused and deep down I knew what she was, but I was sort of hoping she was following me around the aisles because she thought I looked really great in my new hoodie. You know, like maybe she wanted to get a milkshake and talk for a while and then we’d go to a Black Keys show together?

Visit Sean online.

But no. She didn’t want any of those things. She just opened that cute little Goth mouth and took a chunk out of ol’ Norm’s wrist.


And here’s how colossally dumb I am–even when she was standing there, blood dripping from her lips down onto her skinny jeans, I was thinking “No problem. So what if we got off to a bad start? There’s still got to be a way to work this whole thing out.”

Duh. Suddenly I got a really bad headache. Things turned all grey and there was a buzzing in my ears and I started to sweat.

I closed my eyes and next thing you know I’m frothing and moaning like the rest of them, chasing some chubby little sweat suit full of lunch across a playground.

How did I even get there? And why was my hair such a total mess? Well, I won’t bore you with how that all ended.

Bottom line, here’s the thing. This zombie deal? I’m not all that into it. The moaning. The menacing. The dragging my back foot around behind me with my arms out like I’m carrying wet towels. It’s all such a cliché. A caricature. I mean, who says zombies don’t ride Vespas? Or take taxis? Or get invited to fern parties with great appetizers and delicate wines and have smart, sophisticated conversations about poetry and Eastern European politics?

No one, that’s who. Except the moron who wrote The Infects.
You know what you should totally do to get him back for me? Instead of the six (6) copies of the book you were planning to buy, only get two. That’ll show him for not at least letting me attack some tourists at the mall!

Norm out.

Sean’s cigar-box guitar

Cynsational Notes

Find Sean at Facebook and Twitter.

Cynsational Notes

Look for Sean at Letters Inside Out on Sept. 25, The Word Nerds on Sept. 26, Books Make Great Lovers on Sept. 27, The Book Monsters on Sept. 28, Once Upon a Bookcase on Oct. 3, 365 Days of Reading on Oct. 4, A Room With Books on Oct. 5, Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf on Oct. 9, The Book Muncher on Oct. 10, and Book Labyrinth on Oct. 12.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three copies of The Infects by Sean Beaudoin (Candlewick, 2012). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America (U.S./Canada).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Trailer: Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino (Knopf, 2012). From the promotional copy:

One day, a boy and a robot meet in the woods. They play. They have fun.

But when Bot gets switched off, Boy thinks he’s sick. The usual remedies—applesauce, reading a story—don’t help, so Boy tucks the sick Bot in, then falls asleep.

Bot is worried when he powers on and finds his friend powered off. He takes Boy home with him and tries all his remedies: oil, reading an instruction manual. Nothing revives the malfunctioning Boy! Can the Inventor help fix him?

Using the perfect blend of sweetness and humor, this story of an adorable duo will win the hearts of the very youngest readers.

Guest Post: Mike Mullin on Writing on the Run (Actually, I Usually Walk)

By Mike Mullin
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I’m a nomadic writer. I figure I put over 400 miles on my boots while writing my second novel, Ashen Winter (Tanglewood, 2012).

A blogger once asked me, “Where do you write?”

“At my laptop,” I answered, somewhat flippantly.

But flippant or not, it’s true. I will gladly plop down wherever I happen to be and try to write.

My normal routine is this: I sit down at home in the morning and try to write 500 words. If I get my first 500 words, I reward myself with a walk—usually to the library eight blocks from my house. Here it is:

Gorgeous, no? And you haven’t seen the best part yet. Inside, they have hundreds of tables that seem custom-designed for nomadic writers. They even have little laptop plugs built into the reading lamps. Check it out:

I sit at one of these lovely tables and try to write another 500 words.

If I reach that goal, I get coffee—or, if it’s gotten late, lunch. One of the best coffee shops in town is six blocks from the library.

Much of Ashen Winter was written there. (Yes, Mr. Scalzi, real writers do work in coffee shops, whatever your opinion of the practice. You enjoy your quiet room at home; I’ll enjoy the pleasant hubbub at Mo’Joes. Okay? Good.) This pattern of walk a bit, write a bit may go on all day, until—on a good day—I’ve written 2,500 or more words.

I think of the walks as lubrication for my brain. (Yes, I know alcohol is the traditional brain lubricant, but alcohol just makes me sillier than normal, not more productive or creative. And does the world really need another alcoholic writer? I think not.) Very often, when I arrive at my physical destination, I’ve arrived at a mental destination, too, and know exactly what to write next.

Sometimes the inspiration is more direct. My walk to the library takes me under this tree at the President Benjamin Harrison Home:

You see how it overhangs the sidewalk? Here’s a close-up of the relevant branch:

This got me to thinking: If that were a real fence, I could easily cross it by climbing along that limb. (Thinking about ways to break into places is an old hobby. As a teen I wandered the streets of Broad Ripple in the middle of the night, breaking into schools, warehouses, and abandoned buildings, usually by climbing a downspout or nearby tree to reach the roof or an open window).

Occasionally I took friends along, but only if they’d agree to my rules:

New Voice: Mike Mullin on Ashfall

1) you can’t vandalize anything,

2) you can’t steal anything, and

3) you never break into anyplace that might be occupied.

The joy of it was getting in—not anything I did once inside.)

Anyway, that train of thought switched onto another track—if there were four feet of snow on the ground, as in Ashen Winter, that branch would enable a clever teen named, say, Alex, to exit from a beaten path without leaving any tracks. Thus, chapters 19 and 20 of Ashen Winter were conceived.

So that’s a bit more than you probably ever wanted to know about my writing process.

What about you? Are you a nomadic writer or a sedentary one? Do you love or despise coffee-shop writers?

Let me know in the comments, please.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to P.J. Hoover on the gorgeous cover for Solstice (Tor, June 2013). From the promotional copy:

Piper’s world is dying. Each day brings hotter temperatures and heat bubbles that threaten to destroy the earth. Amid this global heating crisis, Piper lives under the oppressive rule of her mother, who suffocates her even more than the weather does. Everything changes on her eighteenth birthday, when her mother is called away on a mysterious errand and Piper seizes her first opportunity for freedom.

Piper discovers a universe she never knew existed—a sphere of gods and monsters—and realizes that her world is not the only one in crisis. While gods battle for control of the Underworld, Piper’s life spirals out of control as she struggles to find the answer to the secret that has been kept from her since birth.

An imaginative melding of mythology and dystopia, Solstice is the first YA novel by talented newcomer P. J. Hoover.

More News & Giveaways

Five Questions for Louise Erdrich by Martha V. Parravano from The Horn Book. Peek: “The migration across Minnesota into the Dakotas, and the warmth of family life, is something that these books have in common with the Little House series. I am happy that they are being read together, as the Native experience of early western settlement is so often missing in middle-grade history classes.”

RIF Releases Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Multicultural Book Collection from Mitali Perkins at Mitali’s Fire Escape. Peek: “This year’s collection will be accompanied by a set of free downloadable activities for parents and educators to engage children in literacy
development, based on the Common Core Standards adopted by 45 states in the nation (U.S.).”

Character Trait Description: Just by Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse.  Peek: “…believing in or pursuing what is morally right or good.”

Live and In Person by Jennifer R. Hubbard from writerjenn. Peek: “Multi-author events have come to be my favorite. In fact, at the launch
party for my second book–which was technically a solo event–I invited
any authors who were able to attend to display and sign their books,
too.” Note: inspired by A Love Note (& Battle Strategies for Author-Speakers).

Online Writing Resources by Danyelle Leafty from Querytracker.netBlog. Peek: “…even though I have a hard time sitting down with writing books, I have a
few online resources that I would have a hard time doing without.”  Note: Thanks for the shout out to Cynsations!

The Elusive Work-Life Balance by Alvina Ling from Blue Rose Girls. Peek: “I think I’m better at drawing lines now–in fact, when an agent asked if
an author could deliver a manuscript the day before my wedding, I told
him ‘that’s fine, but I won’t be editing it!’ and life went on (and
instead the author delivered early and I edited it two weeks before my

National Hispanic Heritage Month and Dia by Jeanette Larson from ALSC Blog. Peek: “We often focus a lot of attention on picture books for use with preschool children but I recently read two books by Alma Flor Ada that would be great to share with older children….”

Author Insight: Pieces of Publishing from Wastepaper Prose. Insights from various authors, including Greg Leitich Smith. Peek: “What’s the one thing you’d like the world to know about publishing?”

Networking Can Give You an Edge by Talia Vance from Adventures in YA and Children’s Publishing. Peek: “…someone tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned around to come face to face with none other than (Flux editor) Brian Farrey. I nearly fell over.”

The Art of the Complete Rewrite by Jane Lebak from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “Your novel deserves better than that. Give it a level foundation. Start with a blank document.”

Giving Yourself Permission by Kirsten Hubbard from YA Highway. Peek: “Truly, in an industry like this, it’s so, so important to be kind to yourself. That means giving yourself permission to struggle, to mourn, to take your time, to lean on others, and much more.

My Secret Marketing Weapon and Some Other Marketing Tips from Kimberly Sabatini. Peek: “I thought about auditioning. It would have been a fabulous opportunity. I
also realized it would likely cause my premature death.”

Malinda Lo on the Making of a Book Trailer for Adaptation from Shelf Elf. Peek: “I thought it would not only look gorgeous on film, it would look creepy, and I wanted to make sure the book’s creepy vibe came through.”

Talkin’ About Bessie by Nikki Grimes from The Poetry Zone. Peek: “Some books are harder to birth than others, and Bessie was a book-baby in breach.”

Kathy Dawson Gets Imprint at Penguin by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: ‘Dawson emphasizes that offerings from Kathy Dawson Books will span – and even bend – genres. “I tend to do genre books for non-genre readers,’ she says.”

Query Roundup: An Agent’s Responses and What They Mean by Suzie Townsend from Confessions. Peek: “…if you have a book that could be called “not commercial” you have an
uphill road in front of you. Not only do you have to write an awesome
query, but this is where comp titles are going to be so important.” Source: QueryTracker.netBlog.

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of  a signed copy of Lupe Ruiz-Flores’ bilingual picture
book, Alicia’s Fruity Drinks/Las aguas frescas de Alicia; a small “Hope”
note pad; a Charlotte Bronte journal; and a business card holder (PB)
has been contacted–check your email!

The winner of three picture books (and one F&G) by Pat Mora is Whitney in Louisiana, the winners of My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt are Alyson in Alberta, Kathy in Ohio, Jess in Washington, D.C., and Ginger in New Hampshire, and the winner of Never Enough by Denise Jaden is Candace in Virginia.

Don’t miss the Great Library Giveaway of 2012 at From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors. Nomination deadline: 11:59 p.m. PST Oct.16.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Guess what! As of last Wednesday, I’ve been tweeting @CynLeitichSmith
for three years, and it’s possibly my favorite form of social
networking, though it would serve me less well if it weren’t augmented
by Cynsations. As for my “real space” activities:

Authors Margaret Peterson Haddix & Lisa McMann visit BookPeople in Austin.
Last weekend, I participated in a multi-author reading at the O. Henry Museum.
Participants include authors Lori Aurelia Williams and Ruth Pennebaker.
Texas Book Festival’s Clay Smith and author Sarah Bird.
O.Henry’s fedora
Was he a chess player? Don’t know, but these kids were having fun.
Music was a highlight of the festivities.

 Even More Personally

My go-to Chinese restaurant has closed. Fortunately, there’s another location.
Flying monkeys scare me. What scares you?

Personal Links

Mari Mancusi on reinforcing reading

About Greg Leitich Smith

Fiction Books at Their Best by Holly E. Newton from Meridian Magazine. Peek: “Chronal Engine, by Greg Leitich Smith, and sprinkled with illustrated drawings by Blake Henry, is an exciting adventure…”

Cynsational Events

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at 11 a.m. Sept. 22 at Cedar Park Public Library and at 3 p.m. Oct. 6 at Freeport Library, a branch of the Brazoria County Library System.

Conversation with Kirsten Cappy of Curious City: An Event for Published Authors from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 7 at The Writing Barn in Austin. “To RSVP, please send an email to with ‘Cappy Class’ as the subject line by Oct. 1.”