Guest Post & Giveaway: Kathy Duval on Magic With a Bit of Serendipity

By Kathy Duval
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Stories ideas generally come to me in bits and pieces. Their arrival can be troublesome when I’m trying to concentrate on something else.

For example, when I’m watching a great movie and I don’t have any paper, and it’s too dark in the theater to write, anyway.

I lovingly collect the fragments I do manage to capture and am ecstatic when one sparks an idea for a story. Then I tune my antennae for other ideas to connect to it, so that writing can begin.

However, Take Me To Your BBQ (Hyperion, 2013) arrived fully formed. I was struggling with another project, wanting to put my head down and groan, when two lines popped into my head. “Yippee-ki-yi! Yippee-ki-yo! I think I see a UFO.”

This happened long before the movie “Cowboys and Aliens.” At that time, neither cowboys nor aliens occupied much of my cerebral territory. They’d simply appeared out of the blue— sort of like a UFO.

Kathy’s journal

I laughed at my silly idea and spent the afternoon writing the story of a farmer named Willy and his encounter with little barbeque-loving green men.

Then I forgot about it.

I believe I initially dismissed this story because it came so easily. And it was in rhyme. Picture books in rhyme don’t sell. You know that, right?

I’m reluctant to tell this story because it reinforces a stereotype. People who aren’t writers often have the idea that all picture books are written in a single afternoon.

When I ask kids in schools how long they think it took me to write The Three Bears’ Christmas (Holiday House), the answers range somewhere between five minutes and two hours.

When I tell them I wrote seven versions, and it took a year, they are shocked. Even grownups don’t know that shorter doesn’t equal easier, unless they try to write a picture book themselves.

However, I decided to tell this story, because I realized I actually had been working on this book for a very long time. Writers are urged to write what they know, but writing is also a bridge that connects us to what we don’t know.

I’d spent years writing to build my bridge, and in a moment of magic, I got a ride across in the fast lane.

Now here’s the bit of serendipity. Six months later, on Jan. 8, I re-discovered that quirky little story. It made me laugh again, so I decided to polish it for submission. Several weeks later, I watched Larry King interview residents of Stephenville, Texas (including a farmer) who had sighted a UFO.

On Jan. 8.

What a grand coincidence!

Can you pick out Kathy in her cowgirl outfit?

However, it was no coincidence when Disney-Hyperion chose Adam McCauley to illustrate Take Me To Your BBQ. His vision for this book was inspired.

A delight for a picture book writer is seeing what happens when “your story” becomes “our story.” After I cooked up this cowboy+alien+BBQ dish, the immensely talented Adam McCauley spiced it up and presented the plate with panache.

Pure magic.

Cynsational Giveaway 

Enter to win a copy of Take Me To Your BBQ by Kathy Duval, illustrated by Adam McCauley (Hyperion, 2013). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

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Event Report: There Was A Tall Texan Who Swallowed a Flea

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author Susie Kralovansky and illustrator Deborah Ousley Kadair recently launched There Was a Tall Texan Who Swallowed a Flea (Pelican, 2013) at BookPeople in Austin. Susie is a former children’s librarian, and that experience certainly paid off in her planning and hosting the event.

Featured elements included thematic food and costuming, a costume contest (with prizes), a story-behind-the-story presentation by the author, additional insights from the illustrator, an interactive reading (assisted by young fans) and a signing.

With debut author Susie before the event; learn more about her!
With my writing hero, Betty X Davis, who’s actively publishing children’s stories in her 90s.
Susie offers insights into the story behind the story.
Thematic costuming, including a contest with prizes, and refreshments added to the fun!
Illustrator Deborah steps to the podium to share her insights.
Susie confers with young fans so they can help act out her reading.
Each child acts out one story element and all chime in on repetitive language.
Readers line up to get their books signed! (That’s Austin illustrator Clint G. Young, taking photos!)
Susie and Deborah sign together!
Austin writer Shelli Cornelison models the new book!

If you’re a children’s-YA writer–especially if you’ve signed a publishing contract but your first book isn’t out yet–I highly recommend attending book launches.

It gives you an opportunity to support your fellow writers and illustrators, connect with the youth literature community, support bookstores, discover new books for enjoyment and study, and get ideas for your own future events. It can really help to see what other folks are doing, to gauge what might work for you and what you might do differently, depending on your specific book(s), personality and age market.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Cynsations reporter Christopher Cheng on the inclusion of Python, illustrated by Mark Jackson (Walker Books Australia), to the short list for the 2013 Eve Pownall Award for Information Books by the Children’s Book Council of Australia. See the complete shortlist.

More cheers to Chris on Australia’s Greatest Inventions and Innovations, also by Linsay Knight in conjunction with the Powerhouse Museum, being named to the Eve Pownall Notable Books 2013, also by the Children’s Book Council of Australia. See the complete list.

More News

“Rock Star” Agents and More about Schmagents by Jennifer Laughran from Jennifer Represents…. Peek: “Some of the very best agents in the world have zero social media outlets. That doesn’t make them ineffective or behind the times.”

Nonfiction: Book or Article? by Mary Kole from Peek: “I know all the ‘first-time rights’ and ‘all-rights’ lingo, but I’m wondering that, 1. does it apply because the mag article is different than the picture book story, and 2) in the one-in-billion chance that the agent wants to pursue my book, do I need to jump up and shout-wait!-a magazine might publish a different-but-same-topic article I wrote?”

Did I Just Double-Cross My Agent? by Taryn Fagerness from Peek: “Can I have an agent in both countries or should I sever ties with one?”

Light Up the Library One Year Later & Win a Light Up the Night Classroom Pack from Jean Reidy at a Totally Random Romp. Jean is celebrating the new library at Musana Children’s Home, which was funded by her 2011 Light Up the Library Auction. Take a peek at this new resource in Iganga, Uganda, and comment on her blog for a chance to win a Light Up the Night classroom pack. Deadline April 30.

Physical Attributes Entry: Cheeks by Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: “chubby, rosy, drawn, sunken, jowly, saggy…”

Five Ideas for Using Pinterest as an Author by Amanda Luedeke from Jane Friedman. Peek: “Tease your fans by creating a pinboard that showcases photos of people and locations that inspired your upcoming book.”

The Smallest Gesture. The Shortest Phrase. The Briefest Silence. Matter. from Jo Knowles. Peek: “I’ve been thinking a lot about how we change each other in small and big ways, just by being there.”

Author Insight: Reader’s Guilt from Wastepaper Prose. Peek: “Is there one book or series you feel bad about not reading?” Note: multiple authors chime in.

Yellow Bird: Editors + Writing Coaches: “We are a team of authors, editors, and writing coaches based in Austin, Texas. With over thirty years of combined freelance experience, we formed Yellow Bird to pool our expertise and offer a range of professional editorial services for writers of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books.” Don’t miss the 2013 First Chapter Contest: a chance to win a professional full manuscript critique (a $500 value). See also the Yellow Bird Editors facebook page.

What is a Natural Storyteller? by Lisa Cron from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “When we tell stories about things that have happened to us, it flows naturally. It’s not magic — it’s built into the architecture of the brain.”

Celebrate 30 Poets/30 Days from Greg Pincus at GottaBook.

Getting a Speed Upgrade from Mette Ivie Harrison. Peek: “…there is nothing wrong with writing slowly, but it seems like a lot of writers are aware that the reason they are writing slowly is that they keep thinking too much about their stroke. They are aware on a micro-level of all the elements that go into making each sentence. They think too much about voice, grammar, plot, character. They analyze their own words as they are writing them.”

Diversity 101: The Sidekick Syndrome by Andrea Davis Pinkney from CBC Diversity. Peek: “I’ll pose it in the way my kids put it to me ― in a question: ‘Why, in contemporary YA novels that feature groups of kids as friends, the black girl or boy is always a sidekick, secondary character, or nonentity?'” See also Diversity in Writing by Lynn Joseph from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing. Peek: “Please, dear writers of YA fiction, please consider coloring your characters without fear of criticism. Write them with the same conscientious mindset you give to creating any of your characters. Because writing authentically means doing so across the board, not just if you have a diverse character in mind.”

Operation Teen Book Drop is Coming! Are You Ready to #RocktheDrop? from readergirlz. Peek: “This year, in addition to rocking out and dropping our favorite YA titles in public spaces for lucky readers to discover, we’re also directing supporters of teen fiction everywhere to consider a book donation to 826NYC to help grow their library. On April 18th (that’s next Thursday!), readergirlz will be teaming with Figment, I Heart Daily, Soho Teen, and 826NYC to celebrate YA lit.”

IBBY Announces the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award Jury and Nominees from the International Board on Books for Young People. Peek: “USA: author Jacqueline Woodson; illustrator Bryan Collier.”

Canada News from Lena Coakley

The Canadian classic Boy Soup, written by Loris Lesynski and illustrated by Michael Martchenko, has been named
the featured title for the 2013 TD Grade One Book Giveaway. Each year,
the Canadian Children’s Book Centre selects one book to be given free of
charge to each of the over 500,000 grade one students in Canada. The
giveaway is sponsored by TD Bank.

The 2013 short list for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Awards has been announced. Winners will be named at Etobicoke’s North Kipling Junior Middle School in Etobicoke, Ontario at 1 p.m. May 23. Peek: “This year’s short list includes some of Canada’s best-known and award-winning children’s book authors and illustrators. The children’s picture book category showcases diverse illustration and story styles, ranging from elaborate fantasy worlds, rhyming wishes and dreams, to a story about doing the right thing. The YA/middle reader category challenges its readers with science-fiction tales and trials of families.”

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways

The winners of Period 8 by Chris Crutcher and Dead Girl Moon by Charlie Price were Laurissa and Lara.The winners of The Great Voyages of Zheng He by Demi were Joy in California, Deena in New York, and Cathy in Massachusetts, and the winners of Wild Boy: The Real Life Savage of Aveyron by Mary Losure were Alice in Hawaii, Caroline in New Mexico, and Victoria in Ohio.

See also: Giveaway of three sets of Spy Mice books (The Black Paw, For Your Paws Only and Goldwhiskers) by Heather Vogel Frederick. See more information.

Don’t miss Light Up the Library One Year Later & Win a Light Up the Night Classroom Pack.

More Personally

Dan Evans models the cover of Diabolical he designed for Walker Books at Waterstones in the U.K.

On Tuesday, I finished my revision of Feral Curse (Book 2 in the Feral series) for my Candlewick editor. I’m currently basking the happy-done feeling and working hard to catch up on everything else!

Breaking news! Audible, Inc. has bought the audio rights to Feral Nights (Book 1 in the Feral series)!

Even More Personally

Last weekend, I ran the Statesman Capitol 10K, my first 10k (at the starting line with “Night Wing”)!
With Greg Leitich Smith at the starting line — we’re practically color coordinated. See his report on the race!
With Scooby & Shaggy — have I mentioned lately how much I love Austin?
Running for the Capitol building. Note Superman, pushing a baby carriage.
I’m running behind this 90-year-old gentleman. No excuses! Live large & forever!

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

By Tom Shefelman from I, Vivali 

Authors/Speakers at TLA 2013 from April 24 to April 27 in Fort Worth from the Texas Library Association. Look for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s signing and Spirit of Texas High School author panel. See also the Itsy Bitsy Gallery to “take a chance on art at the TLA 2013 raffle” to benefit the Texas Library Disaster Relief Fund. Note: featuring an original illustration by Tom Shefelman from I, Vivali by Janice Shefelman (Eerdman’s).

YA lit readers! Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at 6:30 p.m. May 25 at Round Rock Public Library.

Join Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith at 11 a.m. June 11 at Lampasas (TX) Public Library.

Join authors Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Nancy Werlin and ICM Partners literary agent Tina Wexler at a Whole Novel Workshop
from Aug. 4 to Aug. 10, sponsored by the Highlights Foundation. Peek:
“Our aim is to focus on a specific work in progress, moving a novel to
the next level in preparation for submission to agents or publishers.
Focused attention in an intimate setting makes this mentorship program
one that guarantees significant progress.” Special guests: Curtis Brown
agent Sarah LaPolla, authors Bethany Hegedus and Amy Rose Capetta.

Register at!

The Metaphoric Matrix: Kate DiCamillo

By Elizabeth White
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

What is a metaphoric matrix? 

A metaphoric matrix is a newly-coined term used to describe a novel-length metaphor that supports and catalyzes a character’s growth. 

In this series, we will be exploring how authors discover and craft metaphoric matrices in their novels.

Examples of metaphoric matrices include the tree that Melinda draws and visits in Laurie Halse Anderson‘s Speak and the tiger that Rob frees in Kate DiCamillo‘s The Tiger Rising

Below, I interview Kate about how she discovered and stayed true to the metaphoric matrix of the tiger.

From the promotional copy of The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick, 2001):

Walking through the misty Florida woods one morning, twelve-year-old Rob Horton is stunned to encounter a tiger–a real-life, very large tiger–pacing back and forth in a cage. What’s more, on the same extraordinary day, he meets Sistine Bailey, a girl who shows her feelings as readily as Rob hides his. As they learn to trust each other, and ultimately, to be friends, Rob and Sistine prove that some things–like memories, and heartache, and tigers–can’t be locked up forever.

Spoiler Alert: this interview references some character and plot points from Kate’s books.

In online interviews, you share that in writing The Tiger Rising, the character Rob came to you before the idea of the tiger. At what point during the writing process did you realize that Rob’s release of the tiger was connected with his need to release himself to grief?

Yes. Rob came first. He was actually a secondary character in a short story I wrote called “The Kentucky Star.” I finished the story and Rob kind of haunted me, but I didn’t know what he wanted until my mother called one day and told me that a tiger had escaped from a zoo in Florida. And then I knew that was what Rob was waiting for, that tiger.

I didn’t ever connect the release of the tiger with the release of his grief until way after the book was done. Isn’t that shameful? I never know exactly what I’m doing. I just knew that Rob had to let the tiger go.

Wow. Were you just sitting there thinking about the story and thought, “Oh, yeah,” or did someone point it out to you?

Almost always, these things have been pointed out to me by others. Usually teachers or librarians. Sometimes critics. And sometimes (oh, most lovely of all) by a child.
I don’t know who led me to to make those after-the-fact connections with tiger, but I can bet you it wasn’t me.

What was one of your favorite or most surprising moments as you were writing about the tiger?

Visit Kate DiCamillo

I hated seeing that tiger in the cage. I hated writing about him in the cage. It drove me nuts. So the relief of Rob releasing him . . . that was profound for me, too.

The tiger is tied metaphorically with birds, creatures that do, literally, rise, such as Willie May’s parakeet Cricket and the bird Rob’s father shot. Did you see this wonderful connection and then foster it, or did it come to you as a surprise?

I could see these things (the bird Rob’s father shot, Cricket, the tiger) out of the corner of my eye. They were, I realized, a constellation. I didn’t look at their connection too closely (for fear I would mess things up), but I knew that they were linked, glowing.

This inspires me. It’s a relief to think that I don’t have to “figure everything out.” Perhaps the more we relax, the better we can tell our stories.

Yep, I think it’s a mistake to talk about things too much or analyze them too much (at least when it comes to writing stories. At least when it comes to me writing stories).

The story is always smarter than I am.

Did you use charts, sticky notes, lists, or any other methods to help you keep track of the many moments in the story when the tiger works its silent magic, or how else did you manage to catch and keep alive the metaphorical magic?

If there is any metaphorical magic that is kept alive, it is done through sheer ignorance. How’s that for a helpful answer? I was aware (as with Cricket, the tiger, Rob’s bird) of constellations out of the corner of my eye. But I never turned and looked at all those metaphors directly for fear that I would take a misstep. I could feel them and that was enough. Does that make sense?

From Kate’s office

Yes, that makes sense. I have referred to Rob’s tiger in writing as a “novel-length metaphor,” but I’m not sure whether the term “metaphor” even applies, because the tiger is a he–and he is alive and big and breathing. At the same time, the tiger doesn’t seem like a “character,” either, since his emotions aren’t, and needn’t be, explored. As you wrote about the tiger, did it feel like you were writing a metaphor, a character, or something else entirely?

I like this question a lot because I was very certain as I was writing that the tiger was a flesh-and-blood tiger. And that he needed to remain so.

You’re right. He’s not a character. But he does function as a metaphor.

This is something (again) that happens out of the corner of the eye, his metaphor-ness. The reader feels it. The writer felt it. But the tiger stays a tiger.

Winn-Dixie seems “human” in many ways. As you wrote him, did he seem more like a character than the tiger did?

Winn-Dixie is definitely a character. I have known many dogs, but I have never known a tiger. I think it is impossible to know a tiger. That darkness, that mystery, that unknowability of something wild keeps us at a distance.

Has there ever been a time when you have connected so deeply with an animal, an object, or an activity that the relationship has galvanized you and provided transformational experiences, such as Rob’s experiences? 

Writing, telling stories, has galvanized me and provided transformational experiences. Each and every time I work to tell a story, I am changed, transformed.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about the tiger or about how aspiring writers can become attuned to and proficient with metaphor?

Well, obviously I can’t shed much insight into becoming attuned to metaphor since it so often happens behind my own back as I write. I would like to say something else about Rob, though.

Rob has that terrible rash on his legs. I wrote that book and re-wrote and re-wrote it and re-wrote it and Rob’s rash was always present, always front and center. And it wasn’t until after the book was done, that I remembered my own eczema, how it bedeviled me as a kid (not that I had forgotten the eczema, only that I hadn’t connected it with Rob’s eczema). I didn’t know what I was writing about, but I was writing about my heart.

So what I want to say is that I think it’s okay not to know.

The metaphors and the meaning will rise up naturally if you work to write your heart.

Have you always been able to listen to your heart, or do you ever do any conscious work to reconnect?

Oh, I am a big old mess, me. And if I am able to listen to my heart, it is only by listening to the story. This, in turn, (the writing, the working to tell the story) seems to push my heart open more.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers as to how to reconnect, so that we write our hearts?

Advice: Look at the world and work to love it.

Cynsational Notes

Elizabeth White is currently at work on a young adult novel about a teen artist who discovers her own voice. She is a student at Vermont College of Fine Arts and has an M.F.A. in Poetry from Texas State University.

Her poems have been published online and in small journals, as well as in two handmade poetry collections illustrated with her woodblock print drawings.

Career Builder: Valerie Sherrard

Follow Valerie on Twitter

By Lena Coakley
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Valerie Sherrard was born on May 16, 1957 in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Her dad was in the Air Force and so the family moved on a regular basis.

One posting was to Lahr, West Germany, where Valerie’s grade six English teacher, Alf Lower, encouraged her writing and told her she could become an author.

Although nearly three decades would pass before she began to pursue writing seriously, Valerie never forgot her teacher’s words.

(Sherrard later located her former teacher and dedicated a book to him. They remained in touch until 2007, when Lower passed away.)

Sherrard has made her home in NB since 1980. A personal tragedy led Valerie made the decision to become a foster parent. Over the years, she fostered close to 70 teens for various lengths of time. Sherrard also worked for twelve years as the Executive Director of a group home for adolescents.

It was natural, in light of those experiences, that when she began to write in earnest, Valerie chose to write for young people.

Valerie eventually gave up fostering and her work at the group home, but she still enjoys writing for teens and children. In 2008, she expanded her work to include picture books and junior novels and she enjoys the new challenges of writing for those age groups.

Valerie’s husband, Brent, is also a published young adult author (and a carpenter). Brent and Valerie live in a converted funeral home with their four bossy cats: Lilly, Thragg, Tootie and Cody.

How do you define success?

That sounds like a simple question at first. It isn’t. Success is so many things on so many levels.

On a personal level – do you try to do the right thing? Do you have a positive outlook? Are you loyal, truthful … are you kind? Personal success in my books is mostly about what kind of person you are – it hasn’t got anything to do with fame and fortune, which is so often considered a measuring stick of sorts. (And seriously – how do famous people stand the loss of privacy? It must be horrible!)

On a professional level – not a lot of writers are earning a decent living from their work. I would define professional success as being able to do what you love for a living – and actually live on it!

Anyone who truly enjoys their work – not matter what they do – is blessed.

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

Definitely. When I began writing, it was entirely for teens. They tell you to write what you know – and that’s excellent advice. It was natural for me to write for that age group, and I enjoy it a lot.

But after a while, I got worried that the books would all start to sound like each other. Even with different characters and voices, when you write exclusively for one age group, that’s a very real danger.

And, I’d had this picture book text rattling around in my head for a while – the story of a boy who believes there are invisible creatures around him. I called it, “There’s a COW Under My Bed!” and I was thrilled when it was published and immediately shortlisted for a couple of awards.

It was exciting to have a book out for young children, and I soon discovered that doing presentations to that age group was a hoot! They can be hilarious! (Recently, I visited an Ontario school and after the teacher had introduced me and told the students I had come all the way from New Brunswick, one little fellow hollered out, “Welcome to Canada!” So sweet!)

After that, I made up my mind to expand again – into the middle grade market. The voices of the characters in my first two middle grade novels were more literary in style than my teen work had been, and because they did well, I was encouraged to keep challenging myself and trying other new things. Not long after that, I took apart a young adult novel I’d written and rewrote it in free verse.

The confidence to try new things sometimes comes from the success of previous publications. On the other hand, there are times when that incentive is because of the lack of success of earlier novels.

Whatever the reason, it’s good to try new things, expand the ways and places your artistic voice can reach.

Did you ever consider giving up? What happened? What kept you going?

Sure. I don’t know many writers who haven’t thought, however briefly, about giving up. Mostly, it’s about money. You wait six months or, with some publishers, a year, to see a royalty check, and then it finally arrives (usually a month or more behind schedule) and you sit and stare at it and you can’t quite believe how small those numbers are.

I mean, you work so hard – you spend months and years on each book you produce and sometimes the financial return is nothing short of dismal. It’s hard not to become discouraged.

With Marsha Skrypuch & illustrator Wendy Whittingham

We all have books we feel will do well that go nowhere (and books we doubt will do much that prove us wrong – those are much nicer surprises). Most of us could be doing a lot of other things that would be more rewarding financially. So, it’s natural that there are thoughts of quitting.

Then you start looking at the plus column.

You love what you do. You can work at home. You love what you do. You can work in a nightie and slippers. You love what you do. You work whatever hours you prefer. You love what you do.

So, yes, it starts and ends with love, and when you look everything over, you don’t honestly want to do anything else.

It’s always a relief when you get to that place of, heck no, I’m not giving up. In my case, I’m fortunate to have a husband who works outside the house (he’s also a writer) so that gives me a certain freedom of choice that some writers might not have. I’m thankful for that, and for his constant encouragement for me to keep writing full time.

Do you have any regrets? Is there anything you should have done differently? What and why?

I didn’t get serious about writing until I was in my early 40s and there are times I wish I’d begun long before then. On the other hand, I realize that my writing is impacted by my life experiences so who knows what I would have produced if I’d started before I did.

Another occasional regret is that I don’t have an agent. I’m more than ready at this point in my career to let someone else manage my work – so that’s a search I will soon begin in earnest.

Cynsational Notes

More on Witchlanders

Lena Coakley was born in Milford,
Connecticut and grew up on Long Island. In high school, creative writing
was the only class she ever failed (nothing was ever good enough to
hand in!), but, undeterred, she went on to study writing at Sarah Lawrence College.

She became interested in young adult literature when she moved to Toronto, Canada, and began working for CANSCAIP, the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers, where she eventually became the Administrative Director. She is now a full-time writer living in Toronto.

Witchlanders, her debut novel, was called “a stunning teen debut” by Kirkus Reviews. It is a Junior Library Guild selection and an ABC new voices selection.

See also New Voice: Lena Coakley on Witchlanders from Cynsations.

Help Fund Modo: Ember’s End, a Graphic Novel Inspired by the Hunchback Assignments

By Greg Leitich Smith
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Arthur Slade, all-around nice guy and author of the bestselling Hunchback Assignments series, is in the midst of a crowd-funding project to produce a standalone, steampunk-infused graphic novel set in the Wild West called Modo: Ember’s End.

“This will be a coveted collector’s item: 72 full-colour pages of graphic novel goodness, wrapped in hardcover (so you can take it on the stagecoach with you). It’s a stand-alone story: the further adventures of Modo, star of The Hunchback Assignments novels. He’s been trained by the British to be a secret agent and is a hunchback with a special ability: he can change his shape to look like other people.”

In return for pitching in, you could receive–depending on your price point–signed copies, T-shirts, original art, and/or Skype visits.

Arthur on How to Put the “Steam” in Steampunk

Here’s what the funds are going toward:

“We’re looking for enough greenbacks to print a full-colour collector’s edition of Ember’s End. (It’s gonna look real purrrty.) The artist and author will also be paid for their work. More importantly, we have several awesome stretch rewards in mind should we surpass our funding goal. Will it be buttons? T-shirts? Airships for everyone? Stay tuned.”

As of this posting, Arthur and illustrator Christopher Steininger have forty-one hours to raise the remaining $1,020 necessary to meet their goal. What you’ll receive in return should–IMHO–more than compensate for your donation. For $25, for example, you’ll get a signed, hardcover copy of the graphic novel–shipping included. That’s about what you’d pay in a bookstore.

Here’s the link to the Indiegogo Ember’s End page.

Check out the trailer:

Cover Reveal: Scorched by Mari Mancusi

More about Scorched

By Mari Mancusi
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

It all started with one of those Scholastic Book Club flyers, being passed around my elementary school.

As I scanned the pages my eyes fell to one particular book and I found I couldn’t look away. The cover depicted a mighty dragon, filling up almost the entire page—claws outstretched, teeth bared, fire blasting from its throat. At the bottom, there stood a girl, wielding a mighty sword, determined and unafraid as she took on a creature ten times her size.

The book was Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown. And the cover is still one of my favorites—even today. (As is the book itself!) In fact, I reread the paperback so many times it eventually fell apart. But my love for dragons has lasted forever.

Now I have my own dragon book. Set in our world—in our time—with one last dragon egg, unearthed from a melting glacier and ready to hatch.

But will this dragon have the power to save our world? Or will its very existence serve to tear us apart?


Visit Mari Mancusi

They came at noon, black shadows dancing across the sky, drowning out the sun. Their cries echoed through chambers and courtyards. Their fire blazed down narrow streets.

Some dropped to their knees in prayer. Others tried to flee. But in the end, they all fell down—-ashes choking their lungs, flames singeing their flesh.

There was no place to run. No place to hide.

They would find you.

And when they did…you would surely burn.

—The Scorch
by Julian Bachman, year 54 PS

Cynsational Notes

Enter to win one of five advanced reader copies of Scorched at Deadline: May 5.

See also Kids Don’t Read Like They Used To…And That’s a Good Thing by Mari Mancusi from Cynsations. Peek: “They’re looking for author websites with cool downloads, fan sites with forums they can chat on, videos on YouTube to watch, Facebook pages they can “like,” and secret inside information about what’s coming up next.
In short, they’re looking to become a part of the world in any way they can.”

New Voice: Elisabeth Dahl on Genie Wishes

Discussion Guide

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Elisabeth Dahl is the first-time author-illustrator of Genie Wishes (Amulet, 2013). From the promotional copy:

This sweet, funny novel follows fifth-grader Genie Kunkle through a tumultuous year. 

From the first day of school, Genie knows there will be good, bad, and in-between. 

The good? She’s in homeroom with her best friend, Sarah. 

The bad? Sarah’s friend from camp, Blair, is a new student at their school, and is itching to take Genie’s place as Sarah’s BFF. 

The in-between? Genie is excited to be elected to write her class’s blog, where she’s tasked with tracking the wishes and dreams of her class. But expressing her opinion in public can be scary—especially when her opinion might make the rest of her class upset.

Elisabeth Dahl authentically captures the ups and downs of a tween girl’s life, and the dramas—both little and big—that fill the scary transition between childhood and adolescence.

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

I work as an editor and copyeditor myself, so I’ve always believed in the revision process. It’s as difficult to significantly revise your own work as it is to cut your own hair–try as you might, it’s hard to get the proper amount of distance and perspective.

Get to know Elisabeth Dahl.

While I’d revised Genie Wishes with critique partners in the pre-query-letter months, the story didn’t get a major reshaping until I started working with an agent.

Originally, I’d envisioned this as a series, and I’d written the first two books. My then-agent (the wonderful Marissa Walsh, who has since left the agenting business) explained that publishers were often reluctant to buy a series by a debut author, and that made sense. So I combined the first two books into one, reshaping significantly as I went.

I also changed the timeline of the book to run for an entire school year rather than just a spring semester.

Then the book went on submission. Editor Maggie Lehrman at Abrams was interested but not quite ready to buy the manuscript. Marissa arranged a phone call for me with Maggie, who explained her thoughts about the manuscript, such as why she didn’t think a certain subplot was working. Over the next couple of months, I revised further. Marissa sent the book back to Maggie. And then Maggie made an offer.

By the time the book was under contract, a lot of the revision Maggie wanted to see had already happened. It was sort of like that phone call had been my first edit letter. So the real first set of notes that Maggie sent was relatively short.

When I started this process, I was a strong writer at the sentence level, and I had a good sense of character and voice. What I needed was help with story development and shaping, and Marissa and Maggie provided that in spades. The revision process could have been rough had I not had such kind, intelligent, patient advisers.

As an author-illustrator, you come to children’s books with a double barrel of talent. Could you describe your apprenticeship in each area, and how well (or not) your inner writer and artist play together? What advice do you have for other interested in succeeding on this front?

Lulu with pass pages; she’s a character & appears in the art

Within the first day–probably the first hour, even–of writing Genie Wishes, I was doing a line drawing to go with the text. I’m not a professional illustrator, but words and images have always been tightly bound together for me.

The drawings made the project feel whole and lively right from the start, and I reasoned that if they had that effect on me, they’d probably have that same effect on readers. I liked that the person creating the character was also creating that character’s images.

For me, it wasn’t about whether the drawings were good or bad, really; it was about whether they added another dimension to the character’s voice and story.

(More generally, I love it when stories have any kind of visual component. As a child reader, I was always captivated by images and would dreamily dwell on them when I needed a break from reading. I wish more adult fiction had illustrations, actually.)

I worried that perhaps a publisher would want the story without the illustrations, but fortunately Maggie and Abrams came along. She didn’t just like the line drawings; she asked for more.

The finished book has fifty of them scattered throughout, everything from a drawing of Genie’s favorite flats to a drawing of Genie’s brother, Ian, in the eagle costume he has to wear for work.

Anyone else interested in succeeding on this front should give it a try!

The worst they can say is “no,” right?

Cynsational News & Giveaways

More on In Honor (Simon & Schuster)

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Cover Stories: In Honor by Jessi Kirby (Simon & Schuster, 2012) from Melissa Walker. Peek: “The art department actually went back in and put a set of dog tags dangling from Honor’s hand, which I thought was subtle and just perfect.”

Respecting Your Process by Therese Walsh from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “I’m a pantser by nature, but after the protracted process with my first book–the complete rewrite, the significant revisions on top of that–I developed a serious case of plotter envy.”

Cynsational Author Tip: List the name of your publishing company on any book marketing materials, online or off. If the imprint isn’t well known, list it along with the name of the main line. Notes: (1) This is important for credibility, marketing-event support and customer orders. (2) Bloggers, this is also useful information for your readers. (3) Ideally, you should list title, author, illustrator (if applicable), publishing house, and year of publication.

Goodreads Pledges to Remain “Independent Entity” by Lisa Campbell from The Bookseller. Peek: “Book recommendation website Goodreads has pledged to remain an ‘independent entity’, after the social media website agreed to its sale to on Thursday (28th March) ahead of the long Easter weekend.”

The Rich in Color Blog: a new blog “dedicated to reading, reviewing, talking about, and otherwise promoting young adult fiction starring people of color or written by people of color.”

Physical Attributes Entry: Faces by Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: “One way to balance the showing and telling of physical description is to showcase a few details that really help ‘tell the story’ about who your character is and what they’ve been through up to this point.” See also Becca on Communication Breakdown in Dialogue.

Two Boys Kissing (Random House)

A New Way for Gay Characters in YA by Jen Doll from The Atlantic Wire. Peek: “In these new books, being gay or bi or lesbian or transgendered is wrapped up in conversations of identity that often transcend sexuality, and ask what happens beyond acknowledgment, coming out, and even generalized acceptance of one’s choices.”

Cart Before the Horse in Queries by Mary Kole from Peek: “When you look at the sheer number of things that get published every year, a much smaller percentage goes on to merchandising opportunities, movie options, video game licenses, and all of the other things that some aspiring writers dream about.”

Cloud Storage for Writers: Comparison & Caveats by Carolyn Kaufman from Peek: “…most writers back up their writing in some way—some keep a copy of things on a flash drive, for example, while others regularly email their manuscripts to themselves. But these days there’s an additional alternative called cloud storage, which refers to online file storage.”

Back to the Beginning; Ways to Begin a Story by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog. Peek: “Elmore Leonard says he begins with dialogue. He needs to hear his characters talking. Then he kills off the ones who don’t have interesting things to say.”

Author Insight: Branching Out Vs. Branding from Wastepaper Prose. Peek: “How big a role do feel being a diverse writer plays in an author staying in the publishing industry given the uncertain climate? Do you feel pressured to branch out?” Note: 13 authors chime in.

The Holocaust: Rescue and Resistance by Rachel Kamin from School Library Journal. Peek: “…these stories of resistance, rescue, courage, ingenuity, and survival are a beacon of light amid the dark horrors of the Holocaust. They inspire today’s readers to live by Helmuth Hubener’s words in The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti: ‘I don’t want to remember a time I could have done something but didn’t.'”

Industry Q&A with HarperCollins Editor Rosemary Brosnan by Caroline Sun from CBC Diversity. Peek: “I’ve seen strong efforts to sell diverse books that are sometimes met with low sales—and I’m thinking of Spanish-language and bilingual books in particular. It’s likely that publishers don’t quite know how to reach the market. But perhaps people who want publishers to publish more diverse books should make a commitment to buy the books.”

Winners of the Bangkok Book Award by Tarie Sabido from Asia on the Heart, World on the Mind. Peek: “To celebrate Bangkok, Thailand being the 2013 UNESCO World Book Capital, some international schools organized the Bangkok Book Awards.”

Exploring the New Adult Genre: A Q&A with Angela James (Executive Editor at Carina Press) and Margo Lipschultz (Editor at Harlequin HQN) from Harlequin. Peek: “…a genre that fills the gap between YA and contemporary romance. NA stories revolve around college- or just-post-college-age characters (18-25ish), characters that are experiencing some kind of monumental first—first love, first time away from home or first real job, first sense of adult responsibility.”

Advice for Writers at Different Stages of the Journey by C.J. Skuse from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing. Peek: “…you
probably will get huffy at first when someone takes their red pen and puts multiple stab wounds through your masterpiece. But I’m telling you, it will be so much better once it’s gone through the process.”

National Poetry Month: Krissi Dallas: Torturing Confessions Out of Poetry from E.K. Anderson at Write All the Words! Peek: “I was going to make Poetry my best friend and, by extension, the most popular kid in my classes. Here’s how I did it….”

An Interview with National Book Award Winner, Inkie Will Alexander by Nancy Holder from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: “I get to feel like an author rather than someone indulging in a goblin-haunted hobby. This is a tremendous relief.”

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways

Christina in Dollard-des-Ormeaux is the winner of Unraveled by S.X. Bradley.

Tiffany in Georgia is the winner of Greenhorn by Anna Olswanger.

See also Giveaway: A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty from Jen Bigheart at I Read Banned Books.

More Personally

Hooray! I’m closing in on my revision of Feral Curse (Book 2 in the Feral series) for my brilliant Candlewick editor. This weekend, you can think of me, making notes as Greg Leitich Smith reads it aloud in our parlor.

At this stage of the process, I’ve re-read the story silently so many times that hearing it more slowly, in someone else’s voice is the only way to get a global view and catch typos my eye would otherwise glaze over. I have more keying in to do first, but I’m happy about my progress.

Through this revision, I’ve clarified the fantasy element, heightened the presence of an echo antagonist, built up a personality dynamic in one of the co-protagonists, and planted heartier seeds for book 3. I’ve also added more texture, sensory details, and a few brushstrokes of setting.

VCFA reception with Varian Johnson, Sean Petrie, Meredith Davis, Mary Welz, Bethany Hegedus, M.T. Anderson, April Lurie, Debbie Dunn & more. Photo courtesy of The Writing Barn.
At the VCFA reception with author-alum Varian Johnson. Photo courtesy of The Writing Barn.
With Catey Gonzales at the VCFA Novel Writing Retreat!
Tulips for Easter on my kitchen island
Visit Greg online!

Personal Links

From Greg Leitich Smith

Cynsational Events

Authors/Speakers at TLA 2013 from April 24 to April 27 in Fort Worth from the Texas Library Association. Look for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s signing and Spirit of Texas High School author panel. See also the Itsy Bitsy Gallery to “take a chance on art at the TLA 2013 raffle” to benefit the Texas Library Disaster Relief Fund. Note: featuring an original illustration by Tom Shefelman from I, Vivali by Janice Shefelman (Eerdman’s).

YA lit readers! Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at 6:30 p.m. May 25 at Round Rock Public Library.

Join Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith at 11 a.m. June 11 at Lampasas (TX) Public Library.

Join authors Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Nancy Werlin and ICM Partners literary agent Tina Wexler at a Whole Novel Workshop
from Aug. 4 to Aug. 10, sponsored by the Highlights Foundation. Peek:
“Our aim is to focus on a specific work in progress, moving a novel to
the next level in preparation for submission to agents or publishers.
Focused attention in an intimate setting makes this mentorship program
one that guarantees significant progress.” Special guests: Curtis Brown
agent Sarah LaPolla, authors Bethany Hegedus and Amy Rose Capetta.

Book Trailer: Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever — or Snack Time?

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever — Or Snack Time? by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Michael Slack (Harcourt, 2013). From the promotional copy:

In the deep ocean, tiny Nugget and big, toothy Fang get along swimmingly—until Nugget’s first day of minnow school. There Nugget learns that minnows are supposed to be afraid of sharks! 

To regain Nugget’s trust, Fang takes desperate (and hilarious) measures. But it’s not until his big sharp teeth save the entire school that minnows learn this shark is no foe. 

Fantastically stylized artwork adds even more humor to this undersea story of unlikely friendship.