Giveaway: Eighth Grade Is Making Me Sick by Jennifer L. Holm, illustrated by Elicia Castaldi

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Happy Halloween! Enter to win one of two signed copies of Eighth Grade Is Making Me Sick by Jennifer L. Holm, illustrated by Elicia Castaldi (Random House, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Ginny has big plans for eighth grade. She’s going to try out for cheerleading, join Virtual Vampire Vixens, and maybe even fall in love. 

But middle school is more of a roller-coaster ride than Ginny could have ever predicted. 

Filled with Post-its, journal entries, grocery lists, hand-drawn comic strips, report cards, IMs, notes, and more, Eighth Grade Is Making Me Sick is the sometimes poignant, often hilarious, always relatable look at a year in the life of one girl, told entirely through her stuff.

Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

Cynsational Notes

In Eighth Grade Is Making Me Sick, Ginnny’s book reading includes Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick/Walker Books, 2007, 2008)–see below–and Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2001). Gasp! Swoon!

Peeking at the cover of Eternal in the book.

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2012 Texas Book Festival Photo Report

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

This week’s highlight was the Texas Book Festival in Austin.

Bethany Hegedus hosted the Children’s-YA author/moderator party at The Writing Barn.
Stephanie Pellegrin, Cynthia Leitich Smith and Nikki Loftin. Photo by Bethany Hegedus.
Donna Bowman Bratton & Shelli Cornelison
Kelly Bennett, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Liz Mertz, Liz Garton Scanlon
E. Kristin Anderson
Cinda Williams Chima & Katie Bartow of Mundie Moms
Shelley Ann Jackson & Professor Sharon O’Neal of Texas State University

Vanessa Lee & Sean Petrie
Micheal Grant & Paolo Bacigalupi
Winifred Conkling & Greg Leitich Smith
Amy Rose Capetta & Salima Alikhan
Roasting marshmallows around the fire.
Greg with Gary Schmidt at Anita Silvey‘s presentation.
Greg was a featured author for Chronal Engine (Clarion, 2012).
Penguin sales rep Jill Bailey
Kelly Bennett in action
Phil Yates
Rebecca Stead & Margo Rabb
Chris Barton & Jennifer Ziegler
Kinky Friedman, Elaine Scott & Jo Whittemore

Back row: R. Gregory Christie, E. Kristin Anderson, Don Tate, Roger (Jo Whittemore’s husbanf), Liz Garton Scanlon; front row: Greg Leitich Smith, Jen Bigheart, K.A. Holt, Sean Petrie

Amy Rose Capetta & Samantha Clark
Rob Scotton & Dave Wilson (Nikki Loftin‘s husband)
Jenny Han
Andrea Cremer, Jennifer Ziegler, Shana Burg
Bethany Hegedus & Jon Sczieska
Roland Smith at The Driskill Hotel

And there are a few more photos to come!

Cynsational Notes

Texas Book Festival Photos by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog and Texas Book Festival Report by Don Tate. See also It’s a Wrap: Austin Comic Con 2012 by P.J. Hoover from Roots In Myth.

New Voice: Kimberly Sabatini on Touching the Surface

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kimberly Sabatini is the first-time author of Touching the Surface (Simon Pulse, 2012)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

Life-altering mistakes are meant to alter lives…

When Elliot dies for the third time, she knows this is her last shot. There are no fourth-timers in this afterlife, so one more chance is all she has to get things right. 

But before she can move on to her next life, Elliot will be forced to face her past and delve into the painful memories she’d rather keep buried. Memories of people she’s hurt, people she’s betrayed…and people she’s killed.

As she pieces together the mistakes of her past, Elliot must earn the forgiveness of her best friend and reveal the truth about herself to the two boys she loves…even if it means losing them both forever.

Who has been your most influential writing/art teacher or mentor and why?

I thought I would talk a little bit about my sixth grade teacher. I had a series of hardworking, caring English teachers over the course of my childhood. Seriously, they were all great, but I thought I would tell you about the one teacher I hated.

I was scared to death of Mrs. Mignault. At the time, I was convinced that she was Satan’s handmaiden. Perhaps this was just an unfortunate side effect of spending too many years in Catholic school. Or maybe it was because she was strict and grouchy most of the time. Or perhaps it was because I adored my fifth grade teacher more than I’d ever loved a teacher before.  I’m sure the truth is a jumble of all those things, but for the record, I was not optimistic about the sixth grade.

I remember the English class where Mrs. Mignault had written a poem on the black board. With her thin lips pressed tightly together, she made us copy it down and commit it to memory—groan.

The poem was “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, May 1915. Mrs. Mignault began to recite the words. She walked us through each line. And we were quiet. We were listening.

 Instead of yelling at us, she was talking to us. It was the moment I realized she had poetry in her soul. The subject and the words moved her—she felt them deeply. It was about war and loss, and I could picture it all so clearly.

From that moment on, I never looked at her or poetry the same way again. She taught me that words had the power to transform people. I never told anyone what a life-changing experience I had that day in sixth grade. They would have laughed at me. Even so, I’m sorry I kept it a secret. I wish she would have known—that from that day on—a piece of me loved her.

John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.
Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, May 1915

Perhaps Mrs. Mignault is watching me. Maybe she’ll see the day that I hold my book in my hands. And if I’m lucky, she’ll know that I’ve taken her torch and I hold it high.

As someone who’s the primary caregiver of children, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

I’m a mom of three boys ages eleven, nine and seven. They were six,
four and two when I started to write Touching the Surface. My dad had
passed away when I was pregnant with my youngest son. 

Right around that time, a lot of things were pointing me in the direction of writing. A friend took me to an author luncheon, I needed to have an outlet for my feelings about my dad and quite honestly, I was inundated with motherhood. I needed something that belonged to me.

So when I got up the courage to join the SCBWI, I noticed there was a local conference coming up and it was practically in my hometown.

The only problem–it was on my youngest son’s second birthday.

I always believe that my dad must have been pushing me from behind, telling me to go. But I fought it, even though it felt so right. It took awhile to digest the fact that my husband “misses” lots of birthdays when he’s at work. There was a lot of “mommy guilt” before I figured out that being gone for the day didn’t mean I was going to miss the celebration. So—I went. And I’m so glad I did.

Inspired by the conference, particularly Laurie Halse Anderson and K.L. Going, I signed up for an intimate workshop and critique with Kelly (K.L. Going.) I went home and I started to write Touching the Surface so that I would have something for her to look at.

Making that time for myself never scarred my kids, it’s allowed them to see me have passion and determination. They witnessed a dream in the making. I think that’s one of the greatest gifts I could give to them.

As a primary caregiver, I also recommend putting things in perspective. Stop being so hard on yourself.

My code word is flexibility. I’ve stopped beating myself up about my inability to keep a writing schedule or even having enough butt-in-chair time. I write in my head while I’m at the playground. I develop characters while I’m counting Box Tops, and I listen to audio books while I do the laundry or take a shower.

I don’t apologize when I have a week when the kids are sick or obligations have to get done. I also don’t beg forgiveness for the times when I rent a movie or I when I tell the kids that it is not my job to entertain them—they’re kids—they need to use their imagination and play.

My last piece of advice is to stock up. One day, several years ago, my boys came and told me that they had no clean socks to wear to school. I did what every short-for-time, over-worked forgot to do the laundry, aspiring author does…I made them wear my small, stretchy socks instead.

Problem solved—until my oldest boy reminded me, that he was also down to his last pair of underwear. It was firmly suggested that I do some laundry—very quickly—because he had no intentions of wearing my underwear to school the next day.

I got it done. But now we have a supply of underwear and socks that could take us through the apocalypse. Totally, not a bad thing.

New Voice & Giveaway: L.B. Schulman on League of Strays

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

L.B. Schulman is the first-time author of

League of Strays (Abrams/Amulet, 2012)(excerpt). From the promotional copy:

This suspenseful debut follows a group of teenage misfits in their delicious quest for revenge on those who have wronged them at their high school.

When a mysterious note appears in Charlotte’s mailbox inviting her to join the League of Strays, she’s hopeful it will lead to making friends. What she discovers is a motley crew of loners and an alluring, manipulative ringleader named Kade. 

Kade convinces the group that they need one another both for friendship and to get back at the classmates and teachers who have betrayed them. 

But Kade has a bigger agenda. In addition to vandalizing their school and causing fights between other students, Kade’s real intention is a dangerous plot that will threaten lives and force Charlotte to choose between her loyalty to the League and her own conscience. 

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

When I wrote League of Strays, I never thought of it as “edgy,” but as it turned out, it’s definitely being perceived that way. I know there are some readers who’ve been scared off by the subject matter of revenge and bullying.

I didn’t think of it as edgy as I was writing it because I wrote the story through Charlotte’s point of view, who starts out rather naïve and innocent for her age. I viewed what was happening through her eyes, even justifying the other characters behaviors as she would.

In the end, I think this was the right way to write the book. It’s powerful, and it’s scary at times, but I think it’s a better book for the undiluted strength of its message.

As someone who’s the primary caregiver of children, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

It’s a very hard balance to strike, and I am still learning how to do it. With a fall release date, summer was the prime planning time, and also happened to be the time when the kids are around the most. Not so easy.

In fact, as my book got closer to publication, I have had to apply some rules for myself. Having the laptop so accessible was a real problem as I found myself constantly checking email.

So I made a rule that I couldn’t look at my laptop after 6 p.m., except for 15 minutes at 9 p.m. This has made my family much happier and has lowered my stress level, too.

Another rule is that every day, I must write an hour minimum, no matter what else calls to me, from promotion to laundry. Usually, that hour stretches longer.

I also email a writing friend every day, letting her know whether or not I’ve reached my hour goal. She does the same. This holds us accountable.

“What writers do when we should be writing.” –L.B.S.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a bookplate-signed copy of League of Strays by L.B. Schulman (Abrams/Amulet, 2012). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: international.

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Book Trailer: Fracture by Megan Miranda

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Fracture by Megan Miranda (Bloomsbury/Walker, 2012). From the promotional copy: 

Eleven minutes passed before Delaney Maxwell was pulled from the icy waters of a Maine lake by her best friend Decker Phillips. 

By then her heart had stopped beating. Her brain had stopped working. She was dead. And yet she somehow defied medical precedent to come back seemingly fine-despite the scans that showed significant brain damage.

Everyone wants Delaney to be all right, but she knows she’s far from normal. Pulled by strange sensations she can’t control or explain, Delaney finds herself drawn to the dying. 

Is her altered brain now predicting death, or causing it?

Then Delaney meets Troy Varga, who recently emerged from a coma with similar abilities. 

At first she’s reassured to find someone who understands the strangeness of her new existence, but Delaney soon discovers that
Troy’s motives aren’t quite what she thought. 

Is their gift a miracle, a freak of nature-or something much more frightening?

…a fascinating and heart-rending story about love and friendship and the fine line between life and death.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Austin Writer Jacqueline Kelly Revisits the ‘Willows’ by Jeff Salamon from The New York Times. Peek: “As Ms. Kelly began writing ‘Return to the Willows,’ she found one of the
characters taking over the story — specifically, the one who represents
the sort of disregard for convention that Grahame feared but
schoolchildren adore.”

Interview with Editor Heather Alexander of Dial by Jenny Martin from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “A lot of times, there is an instant gut reaction when reading submissions.  But once I know I like something or don’t, I focus in on the concrete reasons why.”

Are You a Marathon Writer? by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “I am saddened by the talented writers who quit easily. I am even more often encouraged by the medium-talented writers who hang in there and get published.”

Jillian Medoff: From Flattened to Fabulous by Sarah Pinneo from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “‘And it flopped,’ Medoff told me. ‘It had great reviews… and lousy sales.'”

The Mortal Review: Cassandra Clare on Diversity
from Peek: “When I did a signing in Mexico City,
dozens of girls came up and asked me whether I would include a Hispanic
female character soon and I was happy to be able to say that yes, as my
next series is set in Los Angeles one of the major female protagonists
is Mexican, and they were so happy — it made me feel sad to see how
starved they were for representation in the fantasy adventure books they

PaperTigers 10th Anniversary: Uma Krishnaswami’s Top 10 and a Quick Chat from PaperTigers Blog. Peek: “I started out by thinking of the face-off we see so often between human sprawl and green, growing things.”

Three Steps for Using Prompts to Write Better and Get Published from Jane Friedman. Peek: “Through a simple three-step process, I built up my writing stamina and
got tangible results just by doing writing exercises, and you can do it

A (Revised) Plot Checklist by editor Cheryl Klein from Brooklyn Arden.

Always Write Terrible First Drafts by Carolyn Kaufman from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “…if you always consider your first draft terrible, you’re not going to be offended when others point out weak areas.”

Guessing and Misunderstandings in Plot by Mary Kole from Peek: “Plots that have a guess or a misconception at the heart of them are very
difficult to pull off because there is not a lot for your reader to
hook into and believe in.”

Books of Wonder (a children’s bookstore) in NYC Needs to Raise $100,000 to Survive by Maryann Yin from GalleyCat. Peek: “As of this writing, they have received more than $20,000 in contributions. The campaign will last for 30 more days.” Donate and help spread the word.

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Native American Month 2012 by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “…suggestions on how you might get your library ready for parents,
teachers and students who come into your library looking for materials
on American Indians.”

Mary’s Magic: video interviews with author-illustrator Mary Sullivan about her upcoming picture book, Ball (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), by Mark G. Mitchell from How to Be a Children’s Book Illustrator. Peek: “Based on the ball-chasing dog Mary never had, Ball uses only one word, repeatedly to tell of a dog who dreams of chasing a certain red ball.”

Katherine Catmull on the Writer and the Storyteller from Adventures in YA and Children’s Publishing. Peek: “…some of us face drafting like a small child faces a doctor with a syringe. Nothing worse could happen. I will do dishes, I will exercise, I will fall asleep at my desk, even, before I will draft.”

Being a Writer Means Being a Child Forever by Sue LaNeve from Quirk and Quill. Peek: “Without consciously trying, ideas began to emerge about the era in which
I’d set my lovely story. Did this setting detail exist in that year?
Was that song released before or after this story event?”

Looking for more publishing links? Try QueryTracker.netBlog.

Cynsational Giveaways

Winners for last week’s giveaways have been contacted. If you won but haven’t responded, please do so this weekend.

This Week at Cynsations

Tweens Read Book Festival

I accompanied Greg Leitich Smith to Tweens Read Book Festival in Pasadena, Texas last Saturday. Greg was a featured author speaker. Kudos to the Blue Willow Bookshop booksellers and the whole (teacher-librarian packed) volunteer team for an amazing event! See Greg’s coverage.

Trent Reedy & Greg Leitich Smith
Chronal Engine cupcake
Editor Virginia Duncan & Stefan Bachmann
Authors assemble on stage
Greg Leitich Smith on a panel
Shana Burg, Claire Legrand, Diana Lopez & Lisa Schroeder
Augusta Scattergood, Deron R. Hicks, Lynne Kelly & W.H. Beck
Shannon Messenger & Lisa Schroeder
Keynoter Heather Brewer
Greg with me at Tweens Read; photo by Shana Burg.

More Personally

This week’s highlights included the launch party for Return to the Willows by Jacqueline Kelly, illustrated by Clint G. Young (Henry Holt, 2012)(see cover above).

Jackie & Clint spoke to a standing-room-only crowd.
Lovely live music at the opening reception.

An Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith from Montgomery County (Texas) Book Festival (Feb. 2, 2013). Peek: “I floated across cliques and…read superhero comics and saw ‘Star Wars’ (the original, now subtitled “A New Hope”) over 300 times at the movie theater.”

Even More Personally

Jurassic Bark

While in Houston, Greg and I visited The Houston Museum of Natural Science. I enjoyed the whole new Hall of Paleontology but especially enjoyed The Jurassic Bark Exhibit.

I’m also excited about the spooky season!
Happy Halloween!

Personal Links

From Greg Leitich Smith

Cynsational Events

Look for Greg Leitich Smith at the Texas Book Festival Oct. 27 and Oct. 28 at the state capitol building in Austin. See also Texas Book Festival 2012 Youth Literature Programming.

Congratulations to Melanie Chrismer on the release of Chachalaca Chiquita, illustrated by David Harrington (Pelican, 2012)! Houston readers, look for her from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 27 at River Oaks Bookstore, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 3 at Barnes & Noble — River Oaks Center, and from 10 a.m. to noon Nov. 10 at Barnes & Noble Town & County.

The Writing Barn (Austin) Presents 2013 Advanced Writing Workshops, featuring editor Alexandra Penfolds (January), YA author Sara Zarr (April), and Francisco X. Stork (November).  See details.

Guest Post: Beck McDowell on The Blinking Cursor

By Beck McDowell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

“Why do you write?” a boy asked me from the back row during a school visit recently. His tone indicated that he, personally, would rather be beaten about the head with a USB cord and, clearly, I had some sort of mental deficiency for choosing writing as a career.

My answer was instinctive. “Because this book,” I said, holding up a copy of This Is Not a Drill (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2012), “was once a blank page. It began as a blinking cursor.”

I’m still in awe of the magic of the creative process.

To start with nothing and create a book or song or poem or dance. It’s like that great line in “Shakespeare in Love” – “It’s a mystery.” Even those of us who write aren’t really sure how it happens.

Yes, there are important steps you can take to prepare yourself for the task. I wrote for high school and college newspapers, majored in English and minored in journalism, was a book addict all my life, read about 30 books on the craft of writing, studied online bloggers’ advice about agents and query letters, and spent years helping my students find good books.

But the truth is: when you finally commit to “Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keys,” all you really have is faith and hope – faith in yourself to harness that idea swirling in your brain. And hope that there will be people who want to read it.

Has it happened to you? The germ of an idea appears – like a gift from the universe – and you know in your heart it bears your name. It lights on your shoulder, fragile and tentative, but persistent – circling back around to land again when you shrug it off. Reappearing each time you look away. Demanding that you admire its colors and examine its unique markings.

The idea tugs at your subconscious while you’re eating breakfast, whispers in your ear when you’re watching TV, leaves you wondering where you were going when driving your car.

Make no mistake – that nugget will ultimately require many hours of polishing before it shines. I spent months poring over multiple drafts of each page before submitting This Is Not a Drill.

Beck says: I don’t use curtains or blinds ’cause I love the “green” canvas for my brain to paint on. I also love cute notebooks for fleshing out details and using a “real” thesaurus. The glass penguin was a gift from my sister right after I signed with Penguin.

Dylan Thomas wrote 200 drafts of his poem “Fern Hill,” but I’m convinced he began with “prince of the apple towns” – an image that came to him unexpectedly from a source he couldn’t name, one that wouldn’t let him go until he recreated his childhood on paper.

The idea for This Is Not a Drill called to me, even in my sleep. I never consciously worried about violence entering my classroom, but I dreamed about it on several occasions. Some parts of the story that came to me surprised me – that it took place in a first grade classroom, for example; I’d taught middle and high school for years.

And then there were deep truths I expected all along – that teens find they have more strength and wisdom than they know when they’re required to step up in a crisis.

Is there an image that won’t let you go? An idea that floats through your thoughts on tissue-bright wings, waiting for you to follow it?

Embrace the magic. Turn that blinking cursor into a sentence, then a paragraph, then a page and a chapter. Take it one step at a time, but begin today. You’ve been chosen to tell this story. It’s your destiny. It’s magic. “It’s a mystery.”

Cynsational Notes

Join Beck on the rest of her blog tour: Oct. 26 at A Life Bound by Books; Oct. 29 at The Story Siren; Oct. 30 at YA Bliss; Oct. 31 at Buzz Words Books; Nov. 1 at YA Love Blog; Nov. 2 at Icey Books; Nov. 5 at Nerdy Book Club; Nov. 6 at The Naughty Book Kitties; Nov. 7 at The Compulsive Reader; Nov. 8 at Teach Mentor Texts; Nov. 9 at Confessions of a Bookaholic; Nov. 12 at Katie’s Book Blog; Nov 13 at Alluring Reads, Nov. 14 at Page Turners Blog; and Nov. 15 at My Best Friends are Books.

Career Builder & Giveaway: Janet Lee Carey

photo of Janet Lee Carey by Heidi Pettit

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Janet Lee Carey was raised in the redwood forests of California. In the whispering forest, she dreamed of becoming a writer.

She is the award-winning author of eight young adult novels including Dragonswood (Dial Books, 2012) which received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal. School Library Journal calls her work, “fantasy at its best–original, beautiful, amazing, and deeply moving.”

Janet’s other books include Stealing Death (Egmont USA, 2009),
The Dragons of Noor (Egmont USA, 2010), Dragon’s Keep (Harcourt, 2007), The Beast of Noor (Atheneum, 2006), and
Wenny Has Wings (Atheneum, 2002).

Janet links each new book with a charitable organization empowering readers to reach out and make a difference. She tours the U.S. and abroad, presenting at schools, book festivals and conferences for writers, teachers, and librarians. 

How do you define success?

I wrote for many years before my first book came out, so for a long time, writing success meant one thing—publication. Hooray!

“Wenny Has Wings”

After my books launched I began to measure success through sales, reviews, awards and movie deals (like the “Wenny Has Wings” movie (Sony Japan, 2008).

Now I define success in terms of personal and community connection. Personal success can mean a good writing day when I make some deep connection with the story and something magical happens on the page, or it can be the moment when I hear back from a reader whose life was touched by one of my books—a truly beautiful and humbling experience.

I also define success is in terms of community connection. It’s wonderful to be a part of the children’s/ YA book community these days. We have great organizations like the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, and blogs like Cynsations that support and connect the children’s/YA community.

If I’m feeling out of touch with the book world all I have to do is read articles and interviews on blogs like Cynsations to feel connected again.

In 2007, I was lucky enough join three amazing authors and serve as a founding diva for the groundbreaking group readergirlz.

Photo of readergirlz by Heidi Pettit

Here are the founding divas at my Dragonswood Masquerade party. Left to right Justina Chen, moi, Dia Calhoun, Lorie Ann Grover.

Finally, for the past two years, I’ve been speaking out for the book world by spreading the word about the importance of libraries on my blog Library Lions. We interview youth librarians twice a month and roar for the outstanding programs in schools and public libraries across the U.S.

Librarians and libraries play such an essential role in the book world. They deserve a mighty roar!

Do you have a publishing strategy? If so, how has it worked and/or changed over time? If not, why not? And how has that worked for you?

I have to start with loving what I do and putting energy in every part of the process to write the best book I possibly can. When it’s time to launch a new title, I curl up in a chair and brainstorm in my journal. The key thing I’m searching for is connection.

Is there a charity that connects to the story theme?

I usually donate to a charity to celebrate each new tale and link the charity to the Giving Back page (see top nav bar) on my website. The page is designed for readers who want to reach out when they’ve finished the book.

For Stealing Death, which takes place in a drought-ridden country, I connected with Water for People and helped spread the word and raise funds for clean drinking water in Africa.

For Dragonswood I brainstormed in my journal again and kept coming up with the word “refuge.” Dragonswood is a refuge set aside to protect the dragons and the fey folk from extinction. This led to seeking out and finding Defenders of Wildlife. We adopted a snowy owl and an arctic fox in celebration of the book launch.

My publishing strategies have definitely changed over the years. I used to read marketing books with long “to do” lists and get a splitting headache over the hundreds of ways I was told to promote the book. (Um . . . when am I supposed to have time to write?) There are even more ways to promote books now.

My advice to new writers is to pick promotion you enjoy and build on that. If you’re a school visit person, go for that. If you love to travel, bring your book with you and get to know the booksellers on your trips. Highlight them and their stores on Twitter, Facebook or your blog as you visit them.

Here’s a peek into all the things I do when a new book is about to hit the stands. First, I work alongside my publisher to get the word out. I’ve already picked a charity by that point and posted it to the website. I connect with some great blog tours like Kari Olson’s The Teen Book Scene, and do interviews and book giveaways.

This year we made our first book trailer for Dragonswood, a real family enterprise. I sing in background and my husband plays the Turkish saz.

Next I throw a whopping great party and invite everyone I know to celebrate with me. Here’s a party photo from the Dragonswood Masquerade Party.

photo from Dragonswood Masquerade Party by Heidi Pettit

Along with the blog tours, I do school visits and present at children’s literature festivals and writing conferences throughout the year.

(Okay take a breath. Ah….)

After I’ve done all that, I have to let go of the outcome. Ultimately I have no control over how my book will be received.

The best antidote to the hubris of a great review is – work on the next book.

The best antidote to the sting of a bad review is – work on the next book.

It’s time to listen to the whispers that wake me up at night. Once I welcome new characters into my head, there’s no stopping the chatter. They talk to me when I’m showering or shopping. Sometimes I’m so absorbed in a new story idea I leave my shopping cart in one part of the store and fill someone else’s cart (oops!). I brainstorm, plot and plan and pretty soon I’m too absorbed in the process of birthing a new novel to look back.

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?

Being a writer means growing all the time. I have some of that green slimy stuff (what is it called, quick-grow?) in my garage to urge plants on. Writing is like guzzling that stuff. Every new book requires research (I learned more facts about witch trials and grizzly medieval torture methods for Dragonswood than I ever wanted to know).

Every new book also demands a sharper skill set. Just when I’ve mastered some aspect of the craft, I see the next mastery level lurking in the shadows, luring me onward.

Right now I’m working on smoother transitions. Leaping to the next thing less like a kangaroo and more like a ballerina.

Another challenge is to more deftly weave description and background info into action and dialogue to break up narrative chunks which gum up the story.

Writing is word weaving and the masters bring all the threads together in beautiful, rich story patterns. I plan to get better at that.

I’ve learned to trust the work to tell me what my next challenge will be, but I also rely on what I gather from my resources. First and foremost, I learn from fellow authors as I read their brilliant books. Writers read a little differently. We can’t help but notice how another author tackles a sticky plot point, reveals the finer emotional gradations of a character, writes a riveting scene or describes an outdoor setting so sumptuously you smell the tangy air.

There are a few authors like Ursula K. Le Guin that I read again and again. Lately, I’ve also been reading a lot of Juliet Marillier’s historical fantasy novels.

C.S. Lewis talks about the joys of reading a book the second or third time when you’re no longer turning pages just to find out what happens next, but to be in that world on the adventure again with the characters you’ve grown to love. The second or third read also allows me to flag pages with Post-it notes when I want to take special note of the writer’s exquisite storytelling.

What advice do you have for the debut authors of 2012-13?

Janet, age 4

First of all congratulations! Cherish the fact that your hard work
has paid off and readers all over the country, perhaps all over the
world, are reading your beautiful book!

You’re likely going crazy with
promotion for your launch and doing all you can to get the word out for
your book.

When the long launch is over, my advice is to
let the next story whisper to you (if it isn’t driving you mad already)
and get back to writing. If you’re stalled out, play a little.

The creative process is wonderful and mysterious and life giving. Fiction is a faith walk. As you journey into your next book and your next, fellow writer, walk well.

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.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed hardcover copy of Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey (Dial Books, 2012) and a bookmark! Eligibility: U.S. From the promotional copy:

In a dark time when girls with powers are called witches, Tess escapes the witch hunter and hides with a mysterious huntsman until magical voices draw her deeper into Dragonswood where she learns the secret of her birth. 

Caught between love and loyalty, Tess chooses the
hardest path of all, her own.

“A fairy tale for those who have given up on believing in them, but still yearn for happily ever after.”

–Kirkus Reviews, starred review

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Guest Post: Karen Leggett Abouraya on Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books

By Karen Leggett Abouraya
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Dial, 2012

Co-author/artist Susan L. Roth and I first connected as members of the Children’s Book Guild, a warm and wonderful gathering of authors, illustrators and other book lovers.

When Susan traveled to Egypt in 2009, I insisted she visit the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, built in the spirit of the ancient Library in Alexandria. With a raised eyebrow and a skeptical husband, she agreed. I learned in an email that Susan was awed by the architecture and sheer drama of the library:

But Susan also made her own connection with the children’s librarian, Shaymaa Saad,
who would become the narrator of our story.

Now she blogs on our site, expressing the hope that became real for those moments in Alexandria, that “if we try to raise our children on crossing the bridge and interacting with the other, many misunderstandings will be cleared to all our benefit.”

Our Hands connections have been serendipitous, exhilarating, goose-bumpy – and available to anyone with a tinge of curiosity. When I needed high quality photos of the library in a hurry, I wrote to a generic email address on the Library’s Facebook page and crossed my fingers.

No problem, responded Kholoud Said, and the photos were mine.

Another generic email to the British Library, seeking permission to post images of the ancient Duanhong scrolls – so similar to the ancient Egyptian ones – on our website (

Victoria Swift emailed her permission, and now I’ll look her up the next time I am able to travel to London.

Soon (well, not so soon really…) with advance copies were in our hands, we learned that library director Ismail Serageldin was speaking in Washington. Did he have time to squeeze in a coffee?


And did he really have a suit like the one Susan snipped for him out of gray papers?

“Well, actually…pretty close.” He laughed.

To celebrate the launch of our book, we connected fourth and fifth graders in Alexandria, Virginia (Burgundy Farm Country Day School) and Alexandria, Egypt. They discovered they all like pizza and computer games, but they also learned that for all the wondrous opportunities afforded by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, it was the American children who have multiple, free public libraries close to their homes.

We are in fact, in the midst of National Friends of Libraries Week, sponsored by the ALA division United for Libraries. The two Friends groups honored with awards for innovative activities to support their libraries will be receiving signed copies of Hands Around the Library. and Friends of the Takoma Park Library in Maryland will be hosting a Hands Around the Library event on Oct. 24.

Do you know of a cool library project, in the U.S. or beyond? Let us know about it at

The words of Andrew Carnegie still ring true: “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.”

New Voice: Colleen Clayton on What Happens Next

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Colleen Clayton is the first-time author of What Happens Next (Poppy/Little, Brown, 2012). From the promotional copy:

How can you talk about something you can’t remember? 

Before the ski trip, sixteen-year-old Cassidy “Sid” Murphy was a cheerleader, a straight-A student, and a member of a solid trio of best friends. When she ends up on a ski lift next to handsome local college boy, Dax Windsor, she’s thrilled; but Dax takes everything from Sid – including a lock of her perfect red curls – and she can’t remember any of it. 

Back home and alienated by her friends, Sid drops her college prep classes and takes up residence in the A/V room with only Corey “The Living Stoner” Livingston for company. But as she gets to know Corey (slacker, baker, total dreamboat), Sid finds someone who truly makes her happy. Now, if she can just shake the nightmares and those few extra pounds, everything will be perfect… or so she thinks 

Humorous and thoughtful, Colleen Clayton’s stunning debut is a moving exploration of one girl’s triumph over tragedy. 

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

Colleen chair surfing.

I was born with cataracts so I wore extremely thick bifocals as a kid and pre-teen. Needless to say, I struggled socially.

As many bullied kids are wont to do, I turned to books for escape. It’s just so much easier to immerse yourself in another world than face the one you’re stuck in. A book can’t wound you in the way that real live people can wound you. and, if a book does hurt you, most of the time, it’s because you have invited it to do so.

As readers, we rejoice in injury because that sort of pain shapes us
and reveals our humanity. The first book that ever wounded me, that made
me cry hysterically, was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1885). I was in about fifth or sixth grade and I’ll never forget it.

Huck says (about Jim): “He would always call me honey and pet me and do
everything he could for me,” I just burst into tears. I remember
shoving the book in my mother’s face while she was doing dishes, and
sobbing, saying “read this page!” I wanted her to feel what I was

But even though it made me cry, that book, and
other books that I tended to really enjoy as a young reader, all had a
deep sense of irony and wit about them and were rich with clever

I like to think that my debut contains these qualities as well, an ability to wound readers and reveal their humanity while, at the same time, eliciting sidelong smiles from them.

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

Colleen in middle school.

Eh, boy. First of all, I’m really hoping that, ten or twenty years from now, my book has new readers.

Secondly, I’m hoping that these new readers will overlook my references to “ye ole Facebook” as well as what will likely be very antiquated cell phones. I hope that they overlook the security alarms, blog sites, TV show and home shopping references in the way that readers of my generation overlooked Judy Blume’s elaborate sanitary napkin belts and 12-step pregnancy test kits.

Of course you want to stay as current as possible while you’re drafting a contemporary story, but there comes a point, especially after a manuscript has been been bought and published, when a writer just has to say: “It is what it is” and let it go.

When I first started my manuscript, cellphones were not simultaneously capable of storing and playing music. I had to change that over the years-long drafting process.

Even during the copy edit phase last fall, I was changing things about the cellphones to keep up with new developments. Also, between the “last chance pass pages” and the point of debut, Facebook has changed its format, so one of my witty little techno-references is officially outdated and the book just hit the shelves.

Like I said, there comes a point when you just have to say: “It is what it is” and hope that your story is not terribly bogged down with pop-culture or technological references as to hinder the narrative over the long-haul.

At the end of the day, it’s about the story, characters, and the quality of writing. A good book will hold up over time and in the face of an advancing world.

Colleen perched on a stereo.

Cynsational Notes

Follow Colleen at Twitter.