Highlights of this week included two book launch parties, featuring Liz Garton Scanlon with Happy Birthday, Bunny! (Beach Lane, 2013) and Janet Fox with Sirens (Speak, 2012). Both events were hosted by BookPeople in Austin. The former featured a picture book. The latter featured a YA novel. Each modeled great ideas for authors/booksellers planning an in-store launch event.
“Zachary is hands-down the most gorgeous, popular and charmingly flawed of all of my characters. He has the best of intentions, always acts out of love, mostly for his girl, Miranda, and usually ends up in ever more trouble because of it. I can’t imagine a more entertaining date or devoted lover than the guardian angel Zachary.”
Peek from Jean’s Review:
“The twists that Cynthia laced the finale with will have readers on the edge of their seats. There are moments that are simply stunning that will leave readers’ mouths hanging open. The creepiness is sometimes difficult to bear but Cynthia’s writing style is so addictive that no matter what she
throws at you, you will continue to read on.”
I heard the real story of Greenhorn thirty years ago in Israel. The rabbi of my synagogue stood in the front of our tour bus as we approached Jerusalem and told us about a little boy who had lost his parents in the Holocaust, who wouldn’t speak when he came to live at the Brooklyn yeshiva where the rabbi was in the sixth grade, and who wouldn’t let a tin box out of his sight.
I knew as soon as the rabbi began talking that the story was important and that I wanted to write it, but what I didn’t know was how I could make the story mine.
I was childless, born in America after the Holocaust, and my grandparents and great-grandparents had left Eastern Europe in the 1890s, years before the Holocaust.
What did I know about what this little boy had gone through?
But my rabbi, a witness to the story, was preoccupied with leading his large congregation and couldn’t write the story. I had no idea where the little boy was forty years after the Holocaust, so I couldn’t ask him to write the story.
I knew if I didn’t write the story, it would be lost. I had to write it.
When the school principal came into my rabbi’s class to announce that the yeshiva would take in fifty boys, he introduced “Daniel,” a young boy who had no possessions, except for a small, tin box that he never let out of his sight.
The class later discovered that inside the box was a bar of soap. Daniel believed that the soap, manufactured by the Nazis, was made from the body fat of Jews murdered in the death camps.
And he believed that maybe, just maybe, that bar of soap contained his parents’ remains. He said he didn’t have anything else from his parents, not even a photograph.
It was, and sometimes still is, difficult for me to articulate why I thought the story was important, but as I began to write Greenhorn, through all the succeeding drafts of what became a middle grade novel based on the real story, I discovered more clearly what I was writing about.
The little boy, who wouldn’t speak when he came to America, who wouldn’t let the tin box out of his sight, made a friend in my rabbi. Later, the little boy agreed to live with his friend’s family. And in the actual scene that I described in the Afterword, the little boy, who had grown up to marry and have his own family, was finally able to bury the soap in the backyard of his house in Jerusalem.
I discovered through all those successive drafts that I was writing about family.
My grandparents’ cousins and their children who never left Eastern Europe died in the Holocaust. I am still childless. I have no children to discuss my cousins with, or even the Holocaust that wiped out not just them, but two thirds of Europe’s Jews.
I wrote my first children’s book Shlemiel Crooks because I wanted to recapture the family stories my father told me before he died. Through the publication of Shlemiel Crooks, I discovered that I could share my father’s stories with other children, even though I had none of my own.
Now, it’s the same with Greenhorn. Through the book, I can take part in discussions between children, parents, and teachers about the Holocaust. The publisher has even made free guides available for parents and teachers to facilitate discussions. So, although I don’t have my own children, I can share something I consider important with any child who reads Greenhorn.
Like the little boy who finally found his family, I have also found mine.
CHICAGO — Thousands of webcast viewers will join more than 1,300 onsite audience members for the 2013 announcement of the American Library Association (ALA) Youth Media Awards at 8 a.m. Pacific time on Jan. 28. The announcements are part of the ALA Midwinter Meeting, held from Jan. 25 to Jan. 29 at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.
The ALA Youth Media Awards honor children’s and young adult authors and illustrators, as well as producers of children’s audio and video materials. Known worldwide for the high quality they represent, the awards are selected under a cloak of secrecy by national judging committees composed of librarians and other children’s literature experts. Award selections serve as a guide for parents, educators, librarians and those interested in providing children and teens with the very best reading and viewing materials.
Those that are not able to join the webcast can still follow results in real-time by logging on to the ALA Youth Media Awards Facebook page, or via Twitter by following hashtag #ALAyma.
After the announcements, videos from winning authors will be available on the ALA Youth Media Awards YouTube Channel, and a press release announcing 2013 selections will be available on the ALA.org home page at 10 a.m. Pacific time.
For more information regarding the ALA Youth Media Awards, please visit www.ala.org/yma.
Shining the Spotlight: 2013 Honorees from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “…we are proud to announce the honorees for our sixth annual 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month celebration of emerging and established children’s book creators of color. As is tradition, a stand-out author or illustrator will be saluted each day during February.”
Amazon Children’s Publishing Names Two Imprints by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Two Lions will be home to picture books, chapter books and middle-grade fiction, and Skyscape will be devoted to titles for young adults, encompassing works from both established authors and new voices. Margery Cuyler is editorial manager for Two Lions, and Tim Ditlow is editorial manager for Skyscape.”
Cynsational Author Tip: Lift up! Lift up! Lift up your craft, your books, yourself as well as those around you and their efforts, too. Don’t fall victim to the temptation to dismiss, minimize, sneer or cast aside what is yours or what springs from someone else. Don’t push others down to raise yourself; rise on the strength of your own spirit and take others with you to new heights!
What’s Hindering You? by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “Are there things (activities, hobbies, interests, bad habits) that you need to dump if you’re going to make a successful journey as a writer in 2013?”
2013 Advanced Writing Workshop: Sara Zarr — Emotional Pacing from April 19 to April 21 at The Writing Barn in Austin. The weekend, a combination of lecture, exercises and workshop will address these questions: How do we get characters to grow and change in ways that make readers forget they’re reading a book, and instead draw them into inhabiting a world full of people as real as themselves? How do we take characters on the emotional part of their journey and not only the physical one? Application deadline: Feb. 7. From the Writing Barn’s operations manager Bethany Hegedus: “The goal of the Advanced Writer Weekend Workshop Season is for dedicated and productive writers to continue to study craft, read and analyze current books, have in-depth conversation, and to come away from the intensives with insights into works-in-progress and to renew and reinvigorate writing inspiration. Led by award-winning authors, editors, and agents, these application-only workshops with limited attendance will be on par with MFA-level programming.” See a report on the previous WB workshop, featuring agent Alexandra Penfold and check out the upcoming November workshop with Francisco X. Stork.
Last weekend’s highlight was YAK Fest
in Keller, Texas! Huge thanks to the dynamic planners, volunteers,
attendees, and everyone who contributed to making it such a success! See my event photo report from earlier this week!
This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence.
Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.
When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on.
There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.
His latest series, The Fury, is eagerly anticipated for its stateside arrival in 2013. His creative writing handbooks, Inspired Creative Writing and Writing Bestselling Children’s Books are a must read for writers.
But his creative reach stretches beyond the page and into publishing and film as the founder of Egg Box Publishing, an independent, non-profit imprint designed to publish and promote talented new writers and poets, and his the co-ownership of Fear Driven Films, a production company filming its first feature in 2011.
Your ground-breaking YA series Furnace and latest series, Fury, are terrifying in the best way. What do you enjoy the most about writing horror fiction? What is the real magic of horror?
Thanks! It’s great to know that they’re terrifying, as that’s the kind of story I set out to tell. I love horror. I always have, ever since I wrote my first book – The Little Monster Book – when I was six. That one wasn’t exactly scary, but it did show me what I wanted to be when I was older. I understood the power of horror.
You’ve hit the nail on the head there, describing horror as magic. Because it is. I honestly don’t think there’s a more magical genre out there. That magic comes from childhood. When you’re six years old and somebody tells you there’s a monster under the bed, you absolutely believe it with every fiber of your being. When you get older you learn to analyze things, you apply logic and science and common sense to them. And that takes away the magic.
Alexander with Wheezer
But horror lets us believe again. For the time that you’re reading a terrifying book or watching a scary movie, you completely and utterly believe that the horror is real. Horror opens up our imaginations, lets us be kids again, open to limitless possibilities.
For readers, it’s a wonderful feeling, because if anything is possible, then maybe you’re capable of believing the impossible of yourself too, suddenly you’re capable of achieving anything you put your mind to.
The other reason I love horror is that I don’t think you ever see heroism, humanity and hope like you do in a horror story. When things are at their worst, you really do see people at their best.
When things turn bad, people fight tooth and nail for everything they believe in. They fight for their family, for their friends, for their loved ones; they fight for what is right, and what is just. They fight because they know they must.
People sometimes accuse horror books of “corrupting” young minds, but I believe the opposite.
I believe that horror makes teenage readers aware of their own powers, their own strengths and abilities, their own priorities too. In the same way that fairy tales unconsciously bolster the confidence of young children, horror teaches teenagers that whatever challenges and obstacles they may meet in their teenage years – and there are many of them – they can overcome them.
It teaches them, without explicitly teaching them, that they have what it takes to survive.
It teaches them about friendship, too; the kind of friendship that keeps you standing shoulder to shoulder with someone even when the world is falling apart around you.
I honestly believe that horror makes better people of us, it makes heroes of us, even if that heroism is just facing up to our everyday lives. It gives us hope when things seem lost. It makes us human, and all the better for it.
Like Furnace, you’re trapped in an underground, nightmare of a jail with no hope of escape. However, unlike your novel, you’re allowed to bring books and movies. What three books and three movies would you bring? What three television shows would you watch?
Wow, great question! It’s a tough one too, though, because I don’t know if I could ever really narrow it down.
For the books, it would have to be something long and totally absorbing. Something I could get lost in.
I’d probably go for some good fantasy. Maybe Game of Thrones, or The Lord of the Rings, or The Wheel of Time (but only if I could have every volume, including the ones that haven’t been written yet, or is that cheating…?). They would certainly keep me going for a while!
Oh, and maybe my SAS survival guide (which I use for book research), as it might give me some clues on how to escape.
If you could raise the dead, who would you talk to and what would you ask?
Another great question, but just as hard to answer. There are so many cool dead people!
I’d love to talk to Ernest Hemingway, just because I think he would tell some incredible stories. Lovecraft, Stoker, Mary Shelley and Poe would be on the list too, but I’d worry that they wouldn’t be great dinner guests because they all seemed a little morose…
So yeah, Hemingway, and I’d ask him what his greatest adventure was.
What influences did you draw from in creating such menacing, gruesome, secondary characters and monsters? If you could enter one of these creatures in a battle against another author’s fictional fiend, who would you choose as your entrant and who would you like to see as its opponent?
But that’s one of the best parts of being a writer – part of your job is literally sitting down and reading books, watching movies and playing video games. You let all those images and atmospheres and characters and story lines mix around in your head and they metamorphose into something completely different and unique. That’s what I always tell people, anyway, when they ask why I’m playing video games in the middle of the afternoon…
As for the battle…
Well, I’d have to pick a Berserker, and I’d love to see one in action against something traditional and ancient, like Grendel, or the Balrog.
Wait, actually maybe a face-off between the Stranger in Execution (who is one of the most terrifying creatures I have ever created) and Pennywise the Clown. That would be epic!
There should totally be a television show where literary monsters try to kill each other.
What is the worst nightmare or fear you had as a child and did any of these frights find their way into your books?
Definitely! I always say that if you’re writing a scary book then write about something you’re scared of. That way the fear will be genuine, and will help fuel the story. Readers will sense that there is something real there, and they will respond to it.
Luckily for me I’m scared of everything! But especially being accused of a crime I didn’t commit, being buried alive, being chased by huge dogs, being beaten up. You can see why I decided to write about a terrifying prison! Many of these fears have existed from childhood. I vividly remember watching a friend get their ear chewed off by an Alsatian when I was about ten.
When I was very little (like six), my gran let me watch some really terrifying films, including “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” which filled me full of fears.
Oh, and when I was eleven I tried to spend the night in a haunted house so that I could write the scariest story ever written. I lasted seven minutes before running out puking – literally running and puking at the same time – because I was so scared.
It taught me an important lesson, though, because after that I knew the kind of writer I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be the kind of writer that just sat down and wrote. I wanted to be the kind that went out and experienced the world of the story, that tried to get inside the heads of my characters, that tried to make their lives real in my own.
I still do that, try to make the story real in as many ways as possible (though I don’t puke over myself quite as much these days).
The other thing it showed me is that you need to use your emotions in your work, as much as possible. It’s why everyone can be a writer, because everyone experiences life in a slightly different way. It’s what I tell students when I go into schools: that nobody has experienced life in the same way as you, nobody has experienced the same emotions as you, so nobody can ever tell the same stories as you.
My biggest fears now… Porcelain dolls and slugs. So there might be a very weird book coming along one of these days…
Mutated, disease-ravaged beings roam the pages of your novels. What would a mutant version of Alexander Gordon Smith be like? What modifications would you make for yourself?
What an awesome idea! People are always telling me that my laugh is deafening, and I do laugh a lot. My girlfriend often claims that I’ve made her ears ring by laughing.
So a mutant sonic boom laugh would be a cool power – so loud that it can demolish buildings and make heads explode! I could have a lot of fun with that…
From the apocalyptic world in your latest YA series, Fury, to the subterranean horror of an inescapable prison, Lockdown, in Furnace, your terrifying worlds boggle the imagination. How did you conceive of these unforgettable worlds and how does your world-building process work from inception to realization?
I’m a really, really impatient writer. As soon as I have an idea I want to sit down and write it. There’s no right or wrong way to write a book, everybody does it slightly differently.
But for me it feels more honest not to plan the story. I don’t want to know what’s going to happen in the story, because if I know then the characters will know, and then there will be a kind of safety net in the writing. They’ll always know that come hell or high water they’ll survive. That sense of security will be built into the book, invisible but unmissable. It strips away some of the tension.
Alex, in Furnace, is based on me as a teenager (I went off the rails, got into some trouble), he’s the version of me who didn’t get steered back on track, whose life got worse and worse and who ended up in Furnace. I was him, the same person, the ghost in his cell.
The only thing I knew when I started these books is that he was going to Furnace. Everything that happened after that we discovered together.
I know I’m straying from the question here, but it does tie in. I write very quickly. I call it writing at the speed of life because you’re almost at speed with the characters. You experience things at the same time they do, which means you have to react in a very instinctive, immediate way. You don’t always have time to think things through, so some of the decisions you make are wrong, but you have to live with them the same way you do in real life.
The only “world building” I really do is with the characters. I get to know them as well as I possibly can – every like, every dislike, every fear, every good and bad memory. They’re more real to me than my own friends and family. Once you know your characters as well as this, everything else is easy because you see it through their eyes.
So I saw Furnace Penitentiary at the same time as Alex, and just described what he was seeing. Likewise with the wheezers, the rats, the berserkers, Alfred Furnace – I just felt like I was seeing it all first hand. The story played out in front of me, the world built itself. All I had to do was keep up!
What advice would you give other writers of horror fiction or YA fiction in general?
Midge and Grub
There’s so many hints and tips I have learned along the way from amazing writers – way too many to list here. The one that has been most useful to me, though, is what I was talking about above.
Get to know your characters. You can start writing a book without plotting past the first line, but I don’t think you can write a good novel without knowing everything there is to know about at least your main character. Ask them questions, about everything. Make them write a diary, a journal, about their worst memories, their favorite people, their relationships with their parents and friends and enemies. Know them better than you know yourself and they’ll write most of the book for you.
But there’s only one really, really important piece of advice, and this one is essential. Never give up. It’s the most essential thing in life. It doesn’t matter what you want to do – writer, actor, musician, scientist, doctor, bank robber, anything. Human Beings are amazing, every single one of us. We are capable of doing absolutely anything with our lives, accomplishing any dream, I honestly believe that. The only thing that can stop us, the only thing that can keep us from achieving our goals, is if we stop trying.
If anyone tells you that you’re not good enough, or that you can’t do it, then ignore them. If that little voice in your head tries to convince you that you’re not special, then ignore it. You can do anything you want to do (even if you don’t know what that is yet). The only difference between people who live their dreams and those who don’t is that the ones who do just didn’t stop fighting for it.
If everyone gave up then we’d still be living in caves, and the world would be a very dull place. Everyone gets setbacks and rejections, just pick yourself up and try again. Never, ever give up.
If you had to chose, what writer would you consider your mentor? How has that writer inspired and influenced you?
Every book you read teaches you something, and every author has something to offer, even if it’s teaching you how not to write!
George Orwell has probably taught me the most about the actual craft of writing, because he’s an absolute master. I love his books, and Nineteen Eighty-Four will always be my favorite book.
But you know I think I’m going to pick Stephen King as a mentor, because it was his books that really inspired me to write, and which taught me the most about how to craft characters. He’s a master at creating realistic, believable, three dimensional people. It’s what he’s best at. Opening one of his books is like walking into a crowded room, because you’re actually there with those people. And when the horror starts, you have no choice but to see it through, because these guys are your friends, your neighbors. You’re right there with them whether you want to be or not. He’s a genius!
And his books still fill me with that sense of nervous excitement that I felt when I first discovered him when I was a teenager. It’s an incredible feeling, the knowledge that absolutely anything can happen, that you’re in for an incredible ride. You’re standing on the lip of a waterfall ready to jump. It’s why I started writing horror, because of that freedom, that incredible sense of limitless possibility.
What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
The Fury is my next book, and it comes out in the U.S. next July. I can’t wait! It’s two books over here in the U.K., but my U.S. publisher has actually put them both together into one huge behemoth of a book.
It’s a real monster. It tells the story of what would happen if one day, without warning, the whole world tries to kill you – your mum and dad, brothers and sisters, friends, teachers, neighbors, stranger in the street, they come after you and tear you to pieces. The weird thing is that as soon as they have, or as soon as you escape, they go back to their lives as if nothing has happened. They completely forget that you even existed. It’s about a group of teenage characters trying to work out what’s going on, and why the world has the Fury.
After that there should be a new series, another fast-paced, explosive, gory action/horror roller coaster ride which is tentatively called M.E.R.C. (you’re the first to hear about it)! I can’t say too much about it yet, as I haven’t quite finished the first book. But it’s wild!
And after that… Well, I’ll always write. I love it. It seriously is the best job in the world, and I’m so lucky to be able to do it. And remember, for the writers out there amongst you, just never give up!
In a quest to provide her eighth grade students with quality reading material,
English teacher Karen Rock read everything out there and couldn’t wait to add her voice to the conversation of books.
a debut YA series author, Karen is thrilled to pen stories that teens
can relate to. When she’s not busy reading and writing, Karen is
downloading live versions of favorite songs, watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” marathons, obsessing over reality TV contestants (Adam Lambert
you were robbed!), cooking her family’s delizioso Italian recipes, and
occasionally rescuing local wildlife from neighborhood cats.
lives in the Adirondack Mountain region with her husband, her very
appreciated beta-reader daughter and two King Charles Cavalier Cocker
Spaniels who have yet to understand the concept of “fetch,” though
they’ve managed to teach her the trick!
At the same time, representation of books by and about people of color, citizens of Native nations and those from the LGBT community are slim to statistically insignificant in the body of youth literature.
That’s a problem because it suggests to kids from those communities that people like them don’t belong in the world of books, because it suggests to everyone else that they don’t matter, and because we’re losing out on some amazing stories. It’s also discouraging to writers and artists who hail from those same backgrounds. It says to them that their artistic talents are not needed, possibly even that they’re not welcome.
All of us in the conversation of children’s-YA books are responsible for that reality.
We have to own it.
And here’s the harder part: we have to do something about it?
It’s personal to each of us and all of us. These are all our kids, these are the stories we’re producing and supporting and passing on. How are we doing? How can we do a better job?
Let’s take stock.
Move to your closest bookshelf. Start pulling relatively recent books by and/or about people from the underrepresented communities. How does that stack look? Should it be taller?
Could you share the titles in the comments to help raise awareness?
Is your stack looking a bit short? You don’t have (at least) five?
Hit your local bookstore or buy online. On a budget? Try the public library. If the books aren’t on the shelf, by all means, request them. Requests prove interest and audience.
Are you a children’s/YA book blogger or author blogger? Scroll through your posts—a few months of them. Do the books you feature include those with African-American protagonists? Those illustrated by Asian-American artists? Or is it a sea of white?