Happy New Year & Birthday Reflections

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

As a (one-time) New Year’s Eve baby, I hereby (finally) declare myself a grown-up lady.

And I figured out something this year about youth.

You don’t lose it. You trade it — for courage, confidence, clarity, earned skills, deeper love, greater faith, grace, forgiveness and a better sense of humor about yourself and your world.

You trade it for the you that you were always meant to be, and all things considered, that’s not a bad deal.

Happy New Year!

Cynsational Holiday, News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the cover of Camp Boyfriend by Cynsations YA reporter Karen Rock (under her partnership writing name J.K. Rock)(Spencer Hill, 2013).

Nine Tips for Finishing That Novel from Anna Staniszewski. Peek: “If you’ve never written ‘The End’ before, it can feel like a daunting task. And if you’ve done it once, you might start to doubt that you’ll be able to do it again. But you can! Here’s how…”

When Your Schedule Changes and Writing Suffers by Kaitlin Ward from YA Highway. Peek: “I felt like my writing time had been cut to nothing. It was very frustrating to me to have my whole day spoken for, to not be able to take a moment when I felt inspired to go write what I wanted.”

A Promotional Strategy for Overwhelmed Introverts by Robin LaFevers from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “I know that many quiet people have amazing stories to tell, their very quietness contributing to their heightened sense of observation, or their rich inner life feeding their understanding of human nature or providing fertile ground for some really dramatic stories—stories that may be exactly the sort I am starving for.”

Physical Attributes Entry: Noses by Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: “When someone is feeling defensive, smug, or proud, the nose will lift, along with the head, shoulders, and overall bearing.”

Stage 2: Committing to Change by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “Before you plan the necessary steps to succeed in making permanent changes as a writer, you’ll want to take time to experiment in small ways. See what you like and don’t like. See what works for you–and what doesn’t.”

A Good Time to Be a Quentin Blake Fan by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “If you’re a fan of Blake’s work, there were at least (heaven knows there may be more I’ve missed this year) three book releases in 2012 that will make you happy, and I’m here today to share art from them.”

Featuring Katherine Catmull and Summer and Bird by P.J. Hoover from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: “…even the modest and excellent changes that my agent suggested were a bit of a shock; my edit letter, which was far more extensive, almost made pass out.”

Across the Digital Divide by Seanan McGuire from Rose-Owls and Pumpkins Girls. Peek: “This doesn’t change the part where, every time a discussion of ebooks turns, seemingly inevitably, to ‘Print is dead, traditional publishing is dead, all smart authors should be bailing to the brave new electronic frontier,’ what I hear, however unintentionally, is ‘Poor people don’t deserve to read.'” Source: Gwenda Bond. See also National Federation of the Blind to Protest to Amazon, Denouncing School Kindle Use as Discriminatory to Blind Students by Sarah Bayliss from School Library Journal. Source: April Henry.

Diversity 101: An Introduction by Cheryl Klein from CBC Diversity. Peek: “… the Diversity Committee is proud to be launching a ‘Diversity 101’ series, where we’ve asked a variety of thinkers to write blog posts here regarding some of these common shibboleths, questions, and issues. These posts will absolutely not be “Do Not Write This” lists, as a talented, smart, and sensitive writer can make almost any character or cliché feel complicated and human, fresh and true.”

Thoughts on my authorial debut: An overwhelming, angry, relieving, exciting, worried, happy, happy, happy year. from Don Tate. Peek: “With my next authored book, I’ll allow my schedule to slow down during the few weeks leading up to publication day. Book birthdays are supposed to be fun!”

Alternating Point of View and Alternating Tense in Nonfiction Picture Books
from Donna Bowman Bratton. Peek: “Picture books are most often told
with a very simplistic approach; single point of view character; single
story line; consistent tense. But, there are exceptions.” See also Two Top-Ten Picks of Chinese-themed Australian Books by Christopher Cheng from PaperTigers.

RE: I Don’t Want to Bug My Agent, But…by Deborah Halverson from DearEditor.com. Peek: “Should I talk to my agent about this
before she starts negotiating? Just bring up one or two of these issues
now? Or wait and see what she and the editor come up with first and then
get into it?”

Author Insight: Social Issues from Wastepaper Prose. Peek: “When writing a book do you include nods to real life problems or social issues or do they emerge organically?”

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of Baby Penguins Everywhere! by Melissa Guion (Philomel, 2012) was Cathy in Massachusetts.

The winner of Janie Face to Face by Caroline B. Cooney (Random House, 2012) was Rebecca in California.

The winner of a one-page synopsis consult, plus a copy of Linda Joy Singleton’s synopsis template (usually only available at conferences) was Jeni, and the winner of Buried: A Goth Girl Mystery by Linda Joy Singleton (Flux) was Alicia in Alabama.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Something happened so quietly that I almost missed it completely. Here at Cynsations, I shared my 3,000th post. It almost doesn’t seem possible. My deepest thanks to the interviewees, contributors and readers who have made the success of this blog possible. I appreciate you all.

Great news! Girl Meets Boy: Because There Are Two Sides to Every Story, edited by Kelly Milner Halls (Roaring Brook, 2012) was named a Best Teen Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews. The anthology includes “Mooning Over Broken Stars” by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

More great news! Starting this week Candlewick Press ebooks (including the Tantalize series by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Candlewick’s picture books) are available at the Apple iBookstore for iPhone, iPad and other devices.

This week’s highlight included the Trail of Lights 5K at Zilker Park in Austin.

The display is walkable and family friendly.
Cynthia Leitich Smith, Erik Kuntz, Gene Brenek
Erik, Gene, Maggie, Cyn & Melinda
The Zilker Tree
The Zilker tree from the inside, looking up.

Merry happy everything! Cynsations will be taking a holiday hiatus until Jan. 2, 2013!

My Christmas tree

Congratulations to Donna Gephart on the sale of Death By Toilet Paper to Delacorte/Random House!

Personal Links

RE Greg Leitich Smith

Guest Post: Christopher Cheng on Christmas-Themed Books from Australia

By Christopher Cheng
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I love Christmas and the sharing of gifts and the festivities that accompany this time of year. And for us in the southern hemisphere it is often hot and dry — a theme that is often picked up in some of the very specific Christmas titles that are published here in Australia.

So the following are some (mostly picture books) of the Christmas themed titles that were published by Australian authors and illustrators and some are very, very noticeably Australian in their content.

Queen Victoria’s Christmas
Jackie French & Bruce Whatley
Angus & Robertson

One of my favourite Christmas themed titles would have to be this lovely picture book created by the masterful team who created Diary of a Wombat.

“What is the mystery in the palace?” declare the royal dogs — the narrators in this title. Something strange is happening at the palace and the dogs can′t work it out. They can smell spicy cakes and fruit mince pies being prepared in the royal kitchen. The royal family are doing strange things with paper and outside there are strange cries (singing). Mysterious parcels are arriving and then, very strangely, a green tree is brought to the palace and placed in the royal study. Then the doors are shut and the dogs, along with most other palace residents, are shut out until the next morning when the queen rings a bell and the door is opened to reveal a spectacular surprise.

Here is the story of the first time Christmas as celebrated with the traditions that we are now accustomed to — Christmas cards, paper hats, big puddings, cake and the glorious decorated Christmas trees.

The Down-Under 12 Days of Christmas
Michael Salmon
Ford St.

This is a very Australian 12 days of Christmas featuring Santa and Australia’s iconic animals. With surfing sharks, skiing snakes, dancing dingoes, leaping lizards and a heap more — including a kookaburra up a gum tree — this classic Christmas rhyme has a very Australian feel.

Santa’s Secret
Mike Dumbleton & Tom Jellett
Random House Australia

So what does Santa get up to after all the presents have been delivered on Christmas Night? First he sleeps all Christmas Day and then…

when he wakes the time is right
For Santa’s secret winter flight.

And of course that winter flight with his reindeer and the sleigh takes him to sun drenched and hot Australia. Here he has an old beach shack with a place to hide the reindeer. And now he can open his very last present and join in a great Aussie summer tradition! An adorable Christmas picture book with a cheeky Australian twist.

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Star
P. Crumble & Louis Shea
Scholastic Australia

An old lady once swallowed a fly but now there is
… an old lady who swallowed a star.
I don’t know why she swallowed that star
Now that’s bizarre!

This old lady has a rather large appetite and swallows so many things to do with Christmas … a stocking, an elf, the fairy lights and a whole lot more! But what will she swallow last to make her pop?

There will be much chanting of this rhyme around the Christmas tree this year!

The Twelve Days of Aussie Christmas
Colin Buchanan & Glen Singleton
Scholastic Australia

Once again a wonderful array of Australian characters like jackaroos, dingoes, cheeky chooks (chickens), a sweaty swagman as well as very Australian icons like snags (sausages) and meat trays are the stars in this rendition of the 12 days of Christmas. Of course Santa is part of the countdown and he is surfing! There are heaps of things to find in the whimsical illustrations and this book also comes with a CD for a bonus singalong at the Christmas table!

For very young readers moving on from picture books comes a new title in the Hey Jack series:

The Lost Reindeer
Sally Rippin
Hardie Grant Egmont

There’s one more sleep till Christmas. Jack can’t wait to give his best friend Billie her Christmas present that he made all by himself! But when Billie gives Jack a present all of a sudden he is embarrassed by his home made present and wishes he could give her a better one. Now Jack and Billie are off to Carols by Candlelight and Jack is wearing his reindeer antlers that make everyone laugh.

Enjoy this festive time … and need a gift … books are just perfect!

New Voice & Giveaway: Barbara Elizabeth Walsh on The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans

Check out the teacher’s guide and the discussion/activity guide.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Barbara Elizabeth Walsh is the first-time author of The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans, illustrated by Layne Johnson (Calkins Creek, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Moina Belle Michael, a schoolteacher from Georgia, successfully established the Flanders Field Memorial Poppy as a universal symbol of tribute and support for veterans and their families during World War I and II. 

Known as the Poppy Lady, Michael dedicated her life to servicemen and women.

As a nonfiction writer, what first inspired you to take on your topic? What about it fascinated you? Why did you want to offer more information about it to young readers?

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was first inspired to write about Moina Belle Michael when I was ten years old and found a postcard in my dad’s box of World War II memories. It was addressed to my mom and signed, “Pat’s Poppy Lady.”

My dad met Moina during World War II. He and three hundred other soldiers-in-training were studying radio communication at the University of Georgia and living in the Georgian Hotel.

BEW’s dad in Moina’s poppy garden

Moina lived on a floor above them. Every day she would place fresh field flowers throughout the lobby and on each floor–a wonderful morale booster for my dad and his soldier buddies. She had a smile for everyone and would stop and chat, especially if someone seemed troubled.

On the day my dad found out that his two brothers were missing in action, Moina was there for him. For hours they sat and talked on a sofa in the hotel lobby. My dad said that if it hadn’t been for her kindness he wouldn’t have made it through that terrible time.

When I took my first writing course and had to pick a nonfiction topic my dad asked me to write about Moina. He worried that people had forgotten who she was and all she’d done for soldiers and their families.

And yet, after sixty years, my dad still remembered. Her small act of kindness had meant that much to him. I could see it in his eyes and hear it in the tone of his voice.

For that reason, I started on a journey learning all I could about Moina. And what I found impressed me.

At a time when women’s rights and opportunities were limited, Moina had made a difference. She was strong and purpose filled. And the motto she lived by–“Whatsoever your hands find to do, do it with all your might”–opened up endless possibilities for her.

I was positively inspired. I hope young readers will feel the same.

Book launch!

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

Writing Moina’s story was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle–one puzzle piece at a time.

Listen to an audio interview with Barbara.

I first searched the Internet for a personal connection. A woman living on the farmland where Moina grew up had heard of a book that Moina had written, but she had no other information.

Next I went to my local library. The head librarian had not heard of Moina but was interested in her story. We searched the library catalogue and found a 1941 autobiography, but no other books.

When Moina’s autobiography from Alibris arrived I felt like I’d struck gold. It held a treasure trove of experiences and turning points that helped mold and shape Moina’s character. I read the book over and again, marking so many passages with sticky notes that it soon resembled a porcupine.

But after outlining Moina’s story and going online to fact check my information, I ran into a problem. All the online resources drew their information from the same source–Moina’s autobiography.

I contacted the Poppy Chairmen of the American Legion Auxiliary and The Veterans of Foreign Wars. They provided me with the resources they used to teach the public about the poppy, but had little information about Moina.

It wasn’t until countless emails and phone calls later that I finally made a breakthrough. The woman who had nominated Moina as a Georgia Woman of Achievement in 1999 had met Moina’s two great-nieces at the induction ceremony. She shared their contact information with me.

Elinor and Lucia lived next door to one another in Georgia. Before contacting them I felt nervous and excited–all at the same time. What if they didn’t want someone delving into their family history? And how would they feel about a first-time author tackling the story of their great-aunt?

Sammie the Sea Dog

But I was pleasantly surprised. It was Elinor’s birthday, and she said my interest in her great-aunt was a birthday present. A house fire had destroyed much of the family’s paper-based records, but many of Moina’s personal belongings had been donated to various organizations for safekeeping.

Elinor, along with Lucia, offered to join me on my fact-finding journey. On our search for primary sources we combed through archives, museums, historical societies, and places where Moina lived and worked.

Once Carolyn Yoder accepted my manuscript and approved the text, my research took on a new direction. Before Layne Johnson created his beautiful artwork we combined our collected reference materials and images and made a file for each scene, ensuring historical accuracy.

Over the eight years it took to write and revise the book, Elinor and Lucia were my expert readers. I was especially grateful for their enthusiasm and support.

When I mentioned this to my dad he wasn’t surprised. It made perfect sense to him that Moina’s type of kindness would pass from one generation to the next.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans by Barbara Elizabeth Wash, illustrated by Layne Johnson (Calkins Creek, 2012). Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

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Guest Post: Kate Hosford on Infinity and Gabi and Me: Creating a Picture Book with a Friend

By Kate Hosford
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I met Gabi Swiatkowska eleven years ago in an illustrator’s group focused on picture books. The first time I saw her artwork, it literally took my breath away.

Gabi has a wild imagination and drawing skills that allow her to render exactly what she sees in her head.

As the years went on, Gabi and I became friends, and I began to spend more time writing and less time illustrating. My interest in picture books continued, however, and I hoped that eventually I would be able to break into that market as a writer.

When my own boys were about four and six, we would talk about infinity at home. I searched for picture books on this topic, but they didn’t seem to exist. That’s when I knew I had to try writing a picture book on this topic myself.

Just to be sure that I wasn’t basing the infinity interest level on a focus group of two, I also visited the classrooms of children from kindergarten through second grade to see what they had to say about this concept. Here are a few of their thoughts:

“Infinity is a number that is supposed to be the last number but it isn’t really the last number because numbers go on and on.”

“Infinity is a place where you can’t stop counting.”

“If you start counting to infinity, you will die and you will still be counting.”

Gabi and Kate at the Eiffel Tower

“Every other number has a pair, like one has negative one, and two has negative two, but with infinity, infinity and negative infinity are the same thing.”

“Infinity is when you ask what is outside of a galaxy, and then outside of that, and on and on.”

After talking to children, I had no doubt that a book about infinity would find a receptive audience. I thought it would be helpful to refer to these quotes if potential publishers doubted whether the topic was age-appropriate.

I also tried to strengthen my case by collecting quotations from teachers and librarians who encouraged me to explore this subject.

Back in my writing studio, I tried rhyming versions of the story and many different prose versions. All the while, I was picturing illustrations in my head by Gabi.

When I finally got an acceptable version of the story together, I sent it off to her, asking if she would be interested in illustrating the manuscript. Not long after, I received a beautiful dummy in the mail. Here are the first two spreads:

It was thrilling to see these ideas about infinity in sketch form. Gabi had captured the contradictory jumble of emotions that infinity inspires. The main character, Uma, is fearful, overwhelmed, skeptical, pensive, and eventually thrilled when she is able to find her own definition of infinity.

When I look at the final art for the book, I wouldn’t change thing. Here is how Gabi ended up rendering the two sketches above:

Gabi and I hope that Infinity and Me will broaden the way that children think about infinity, not only as a mathematical concept, but as a philosophical concept as well. If something unfathomably big exists, what does that say about us and our place in the universe? Hopefully, the book will provoke conversations about what infinity is, how it makes us feel, and how each of us can find our own way to imagine the concept. If you would like to share your personal infinity vision, write me.

I am also pleased to share the infinity curriculum that I’ve developed, which is downloadable from my website. I hope that parents, teachers, and other educators will find the curriculum useful.

If you end up doing any of the activities, please let write to me and let me know which ones you enjoyed. I look forward to hearing from you!

New Voice: J.A. Souders on Renegade

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

J.A. Souders is the first-time author of Renegade (Tor, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Since the age of three, sixteen-year-old Evelyn Winters has trained to be Daughter of the People in the underwater utopia known as Elysium. Selected from hundreds of children for her ideal genes, all her life she’s believed that everything is perfect. 

Her world. Her people. The Law.

But when Gavin Hunter, a Surface Dweller, accidentally stumbles into Elysium’s secluded little world, Evelyn comes to a startling realization: Everything she knows is a lie.

Her memories have been altered.

Her mind and body aren’t under her own control.

And the person she knows as Mother is a monster.

Together with Gavin she plans her escape, only to learn that her own mind is a ticking time bomb…and Mother has one last secret that will destroy them all.

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

There was a workshop about a year ago at the Florida SCBWI mid-year conference, it talked about how it was important to see through your character’s lens–how they saw their world through their circumstances.

They went on to explain that no matter how similar a character is to another, they’re circumstances will always be different and that difference is what flavors how they see the world.

It was a real eye-opener, especially since I was having so much difficulty connecting with my main character. I immediately went home and thought about how she (and all the other characters) would see the world given their circumstances. It really helped me connect with all of them and I’m certain they’re better characters for it.

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

I was originally attracted to science fiction because like fantasy almost anything is possible, but, unlike fantasy, there has to be a basis in fact. And it excited me to see things that were only possible in science fiction become science fact.

 I loved thinking up something that doesn’t exist than using today’s technology or research to see how that would be possible in any given time period and then putting my own spin on it.

I have been a long-time science fiction reader. I just didn’t know it. The books I read always had some kind of science fiction base to them, but weren’t really “shelved” as science fiction. I just thought I was reading romance or young adult or a classic without an emphasis on any genre.

The classic dystopian writers from the past were a huge inspiration. Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (Ballantine Books, 1953). Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Chatto & Windus 1931), 1984 by George Orwell (Secker and Warburg, 1949), and, of course, Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2008).

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

I thought promoting would be the hardest part of my launch, but I have to say honestly it doesn’t seem as hard as I thought it would be. Most of my marketing is online. I’m completely addicted to Twitter, so it doesn’t feel at all like marketing and Facebook has been a great tool as well.

And I got some great SWAG, the normal stuff like bookmarks and buttons, and special like the emergency evac packs. 

My biggest issue was what to do when, but Lisa Schroeder has a great timeline/checklist that I check all the time to see what I should be doing and when. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude.

My support system has been and always will be my husband, first and foremost, and my lovely critique partners, Liz Czukas and Larissa Hardesty.

I think the best piece of advice I can tell anyone is to pick marketing things that are easy and fun for you and do those.

Everyone will notice when you don’t enjoy what you’re doing and it’ll have the opposite effect than what you want. But if you genuinely enjoy it, you won’t dread doing it and everyone will see how much fun you’re having doing it.

J.A.’s parrotlet, who is her “teeny, tiny muse.”

Guest Post: Mika Ashley-Hollinger on Character & Setting in Mystery

By Mika Ashley-Hollinger
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

To keep mystery and suspense throughout your story, up until the very last page, you need to engage the imagination of the reader at all times.

In my debut young adult novel Precious Bones (Delacorte, 2012), I tried to create suspense and mystery by using my young protagonist’s self doubts and the unique environment of a swamp.

I also created characters that bordered on the edge of being bigger than life. Their personalities were bold and outright, but there was also something hidden, good or bad, just underneath the surface. Some characters had contradicting traits and actions that left an air of mystery around them.

Hopefully, readers were often times left with the question; is this person a good guy or a bad guy, is he capable or not capable?

There were numerous times when the young protagonist’s perspective became clouded over with suspension. She allowed small worms of doubt to wiggle around in her mind. Sometimes stories and legends she had heard her entire life became entangled with her present day interactions.

Character traits also came into play. Was someone with a large, slow moving body capable of solving a serious murder? Was an old woman that lived in the swamp, an evil witch or just a lonely old lady? She even allowed doubts to creep in about her own beloved Daddy–was he just a harmless rascal or a man capable of doing unimaginable bad things?

Of course, the environment where the story takes place, a Florida swamp, is in it self, mysterious as well as frightening. I wanted to pay homage to the swamp for the magnificent, nourishing, ever changing place it is, and at the same time make use of it’s potential for danger. Some characters viewed it as a gentle gift from God, where animals came to raise their young, to others it was a dark murky place where secrets could be hid under a thick layer of muck.

The use of contradicting scenes and events is a sure way of bringing suspense to a story. Also creating a sense of doubt about a characters true nature results in page-turning events.

The reader wants to know, what’s this guy up to next? I let the reader’s imagination come to it’s own conclusions, before the real truth was revealed. I tried to make good use of the element of surprise.

Feeding time in the valley…
Mika’s husband and two of their granddaughters, overlooking the North Shore of Kaua’i.

New Voice: Mike Jung on Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Mike Jung is the first-time author of
Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities
(Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2012) and also is a contributor to
Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves, edited by E. Kristen Anderson and Miranda Kenneally (Zest Books, 2012) and
the forthcoming Break These Rules! edited by Luke Reynolds (Chicago Review Press,

From the promotional copy of Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities:

Vincent Wu is Captain Stupendous’s No. 1 Fan, but even he has to admit that Captain Stupendous has been a little off lately.

During Professor Mayhem’s latest attack, Captain Stupendous barely made it out alive – although he did manage to save Vincent from a giant monster robot. It’s Vincent’s dream come true… until he finds out Captain Stupendous’s secret identity: It’s Polly Winnicott-Lee, the girl Vincent happens to have a crush on.

Captain Stupendous’s powers were recently transferred to Polly in a fluke accident, and so while she has all of his super strength and super speed, she doesn’t know how to use them, and she definitely doesn’t know all the strengths and weaknesses of his many nemeses.

But Vincent and his friends are just the right fan club to train up their favorite superhero before he (she?) has to face Professor Mayhem again. And if they make it through this battle for the safety of Copperplate City, Vincent might just get up the courage to ask Polly on a date.

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

By Mike Jung, used with permission

I was a voracious young reader, absolutely voracious. The years between ages 9 and 11 were, in terms of reading, absolutely the most satisfying years of my life, even though it was also a time of change and transition – my family moved from California to New Jersey just before my ninth birthday, and I terribly missed my friends and family on the west coast.

We actually left our dog there with my grandparents, which felt like the cruelest blow of all.

However, I acquired a bit of a reputation at our new local library for being a big reader, and I positively basked in the cooing approval of the librarians there each week as I walked out with my customary, teetering stack of books.

Those were also the years in which we went back to California for the entire summer, and among the many pleasures of that experience was the fact that my cousins Cathy, Grace, and Peter gave me carte blanche to plunder their bookshelves.

When I was eleven, about a quarter of the way through the school year, I was moved up from the sixth grade to the seventh grade, which turned out to be a very bad thing for me. I struggled terribly, failed to adjust to my new social surroundings, and saw my academic performance drop below a high-achieving level for the first time in my life.

And the nature of reading changed for me – reading functioned as more of an escape from reality than it ever had before, and it was often with a kind of frenzied desperation that I immersed myself as deeply as possible in the stories I read. I didn’t limit myself solely to novels – I also read comic books, magazines, our family’s World Book Encyclopedia, and a lot of nonfiction – but novels were always the first option, and science fiction and fantasy eventually became my flavor of choice.

The clearest and strongest influence those years had on Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities is the main character, Vincent. Vincent’s an outsider, and he has some challenges with regard to low self-opinion, and he’s not a thinly disguised version of my childhood self – in some ways he’s very, very different from the boy I was – but the emotional truths he deals with are familiar to me and I suspect those emotional truths will be a recurring theme in my work.

How did you go about identifying your editor? Did you meet him/her at a conference? Did you read an interview with him/her? Were you impressed by books he/she has edited? 

Mike & Arthur at SCBWI Nationals in L.A. 2010

I first saw the name “Arthur Levine” on Lisa Yee’s blog, and I believe the first photo I ever saw of Arthur was him and Lisa balancing books on their heads. Something completely goofy and lacking in self-importance, in other words.

I thought how great it was that people in this industry didn’t take themselves too seriously, and if a funny author like Lisa Yee could find a like-minded editor, why couldn’t I?

It wasn’t long before I learned Arthur was the co-editor of the Harry Potter series, but while that knowledge definitely impacted my mental image of him, it didn’t supersede my original impression of him as Lisa Yee’s editor and a guy with an obvious sense of humor.

As I continued researching the industry, I heard more and more about what a nice guy Arthur was. I also realized just how staggeringly high the overall desire to work with him was – there was clearly no end to the number of aspiring (and accomplished) authors who, like me, had Arthur in the top spot on their “Editors I Want to Work With” lists. I wasn’t even agented at the time, so I put my head down and focused on the daily grind of writing my manuscript.

I finally started my current borderline codependent relationship with Facebook in 2009, and after friending Lisa (who I had a remote-but-pleasant online acquaintanceship with by that point), I started commenting on her status updates, as great teeming masses of other people were already doing.

This went on for a year or so, and imagine my surprise when in early 2010 I got a friend request from one Arthur A. Levine! Apparently he’d seen a variety of my comments on Lisa’s posts, thought they were funny, and wanted to get acquainted.

So I had my introduction to Arthur, long before I felt even remotely ready to submit to him. We got to know each other a little bit, in that halting and limited Facebookish way, and I was striving mightily to maintain boundaries and not virtually hurl my manuscript in his face when he sent me a non-Facebook email and requested it! I sent it, despite my still-unagented state.

Mike & Joan at the EMLA retreat 2012

Shortly thereafter I registered for the 2010 SCBWI Summer Conference, realized Arthur was teaching an intensive class, and dreamily contemplated the mysterious workings of the universe as I signed up for it.

I was nervous about meeting Arthur, but not nearly as nervous as I would have been if we hadn’t already established an embryonic relationship online. I mustered up the nerve to suggest we get a cup of coffee and chat, which we did. He was every bit as kind, funny, and engaging as I’d been told, and we hit it off in a way that’s actually very rare for me.

The day after the conference I got an unexpected call from my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, and the rest, as they say, is history.

My respect and admiration for his editorial skills are stratospherically high, of course, but my fondness for him as a person and a friend are equally high. Working with Arthur has easily been the most enjoyable and fulfilling experience of my professional life.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Find out Allen’s fictional dream date.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author Insight: Fictional Matchmaking
from Wastepaper Prose. Peek: “If your character was best friends or in a
romantic relationship with a character from another book, who would it

Stonecoast MFA from Megan Frazer Blakemore. Peek: “If you are considering an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, there is a new option opening up. The Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing will be offering coursework in writing for children and young adults as part of their Popular Fiction Focus. What is unique about this program is that it is fully integrated into the larger program. As a writer, you would be part of the Popular Fiction group, which means not only would you have access to faculty who specialize in writing for youth, but also top writers in several genres including fantasy, science fiction, and romance.”

Next Steps and Considerations by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: “The lessons and realizations (and then the energy and courage to use those insights when you’re back at the page) are up to you.”

Three Things Which Are Not Signs You Should Give Up on Your Messy Draft by Leila Austin from YA Highway.  Peek: “It might have been that
you didn’t get much sleep the night before, your computer started playing up, some neighbour was busy doing angry things to their hedge with a chainsaw, you weren’t quite caffeinated enough, you got interrupted six times by cats and small children and someone trying to sell you life insurance….” See also The Secret to Writing an Awesome Synopses Is…by Stephanie Kuehn from YA Highway.

The Perfection Myth by Laurel Garver from Laurel’s Leaves. Peek: “…perfectionism promises freedom from fear while creating more anxiety.” Source: Jennifer R. Hubbard. See also Stage 1 of Change: Making Up Your Mind by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid.

L.B. Schulman on Writing for the Long Haul from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing. Peek: “…writing has a lot in common with marriage. After the intensity of a
relationship wears off, it can be challenging to maintain interest. It
begins to take work.”

Fictional Point of View Characters to Introduce a True Story from Donna Bowman Bratton. Peek: “There are a number of reasons why authors choose to add a fictional
character to an otherwise true story. Sometimes, it’s because of a lack
of available research sources. Sometimes, it’s just a creative
storytelling decision.”

A Humble Demand: More Nonfiction Book Trailers Please by Travis Jonker from School Library Journal. Peek: “It seems nonfiction gets almost completely overlooked in the book trailer department. This needs to change.”

Getting a Traditional Book Deal After Self-Publishing by Judy Mandel from Jane Friedman. Peek: “I had sold about 2,000 print books and a few hundred e-books on Amazon.
It’s very hard to say which marketing tactic worked best, but all
combined produced this modest success.”

Wouldn’t You Like to Know…Libba Bray? from VOYA. Peek: “We’re bombarded with so much image and messaging in everything from politics to product branding that I think it would be good to learn how not to take this sort of messaging at face value, but to be able to decode and deconstruct it, to suss out the insidious reinforcing of gender and racial stereotypes, the beauty myth, consumerism, nationalism, etc. in order to make more conscious, informed choices and challenge that status quo.”

It Matters If You’re Black or White: The Racism of YA Book Covers by Annie Schutte from YALSA’s The Hub. Peek: “The first step toward change is awareness, and so below I’ve tried to
pull together a collection of examples of these forms of subtle and
not-so-subtle racism.” Note: don’t miss the excellent conversation in the comments.

Should You Always Show-Don’t-Tell? by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “But [Sara] Pennypacker says she didn’t write it humorous. Rather, the reader wrote it funny. What does she mean?”

Goals for 2013 by Varian Johnson from Quirk and Quill. Peek: “Now that 2012 is coming to a close, it’s time to come up with more
goals. And as I do every year around this time, I look back on the year
and use that as a way to gauge the future.”

Charlesbridge Editor Yolanda Scott: the Pre-NY13SCBWI Interview by Lee Wind from I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read. Peek: “…the term ‘mid-list’ gets thrown around a lot…for the sake of this question, let’s say it refers to published authors that are neither household names nor people at the onset of their career. And there are a whole lot of people like that, so it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle at any publishing house…”

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of Skinny by Donna Cooner (Scholastic, 2012) is Mary in Massachusetts.

The winners of three
packages of five new and award-winning titles from Groundwood Books, to
include Climate Change and Nobody Knows by Shelley Tanaka; Guacamole:
Un poema para cocinar / A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta; Broken Memory:
A Novel of Rwanda by Elisabeth Combres (translated by Shelley Tanaka);
and My Name Is Parvana by Deborah Ellis
were Selena in Wisconsin, Heather in Ontario, and Joan in Rhode Island.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out “It Gets Better: Write Your Own Future” from Hachette Books (Little, Brown); source: Blue Rose Girls.

More Personally

Many blessings to all of my friends and Cynsational readers celebrating Hanukkah!

It’s a quiet week here at Casa Leitich Smith and boils down to: Deadline. Shopping. Friends.

Oh, and I’m looking forward to the Austin Trail of Lights 5K Run on Saturday night!

What are Gate Crashing authors asking for this holiday season? by Pamela K. Witte from Ink & Angst.

Personal Links

Paying It Forward

By 2012 debut author Lynne Kelly

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kathi Appelt, Franny Billingsley, Kimberly Willis Holt, Jane Kurtz, Dian Curtis Regan

To you, these names should represent some of the brightest, most respected talents in youth literature.

To me, they—among others—signify those established authors who made an effort to reach out to me as a young, beginning writer. They offered encouragement or advice or comfort or friendship—or all of the above.

And yes, I’m still starstruck by them all.

I’ve never been an active member of another arts community, so I don’t know whether this is unusual or the status quo. But I do know it had a powerful impact on my art, career and life for the better.

I can never repay them for their gifts, but I do what I can to pay it forward.
And I hope I’d do that even if there were no pending debt. To those of you who, like me, have been traveling this path for a while, I strongly encourage you to do the same.

Here are 10 ways to nurture new voices:

1) Say hello and offer encouragement at your local SCBWI, RWA or other writer organization meetings.

2) Speak to and teach beginners about writing via private and/or public workshops and meetings.

3) Meet with newcomers, one-on-one, for a cup of iced tea and to answer their questions.

By 2012 debut author Gwenda Bond

4) Send an occasional encouraging card or email.

5) Celebrate when someone signs with an agent or lands his/her first contract. Send cards, flowers, share their announcement on facebook – whatever’s appropriate to the relationship.

6) Upon request, be willing to read in-production manuscripts and, if they’re a fit, offer blurbs.

7) Attend debut and new voice author launch parties and other promotional events.

8) Raise awareness of debut books via your blog, social networks, and perhaps even speaking engagements. (I often include cover art from various first-timers’ new releases in my event presentations.)

9) Purchase and distribute debut books to your own book-loving contacts with a personal notes of recommendation.

10) Offer a sympathetic ear if expectations are dashed or must simply be readjusted from time to time.

The debut authors of 2011 and 2012 are still, in many ways, finding their feet. They new voices of 2013 are perched on the horizon. Let’s think more about how we can show all of them some love.

What suggestions would you like to add?