New Voice: Nicole McInnes on Brianna on the Brink

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Nicole McInnes

is the first-time author of Brianna on the Brink
(Holiday House, 2013)(excerpt). From the promotional copy:

Sixteen-year-old Brianna Taylor finds herself lost, alone and with a major surprise in store after a one-night-stand. 

Just when she’s got nowhere left to turn, help arrives from the one person who is closest to her big mistake, but accepting that help will leave Brianna forced to choose between clinging to the ledge of fear and abandonment – or jumping into the unknown where a second chance at hope might just be waiting.

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

Since my novel deals with the consequences of a teen girl’s reckless one-night stand, I definitely felt the need to set the bar to “edgy” and then to vault over that bar. I knew I wasn’t writing for a middle grade audience, but I wasn’t quite writing for adults, either. So, there was this balancing act of approaching the subject of sex in a realistic but not gratuitous way.

Ultimately, I decided that the way to do this was to just be as straightforward as possible about the thoughts, feelings, reactions and plans (or lack thereof) that so often surround teen sexuality. For me, this was the right way to go, and reader reactions seem to indicate that these elements come across as realistic and not just there for shock value.

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?

Promotion has been a fun, if somewhat daunting, process for my debut novel. There’s a bit of a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” mentality that I think many debut authors have, and this is fine. How else is one supposed to figure out what does and doesn’t work?

For Brianna on the Brink, I’ve been focusing my efforts on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest and my own website. The ideas come either from the mother wit or from researching like mad.

Cynsations has actually been a great resource for me this year. I try to keep promotion from feeling like a chore by treating it as a kind of play. It’s my time to interact with other readers and writers, and to find out what books are being talked about at any given moment.

My advice to other debut authors is twofold: First, put your promotional energy toward things that come naturally and that you find enjoyable. Second, push the envelope and your comfort zone a little, even if a particular avenue seems daunting. Afraid of Twitter? Try it for a while! Give it a chance, and see what fun it can be.

For the record, I was one of those “I just don’t get it” people when it came to Twitter. I just didn’t see the point. Now, it’s my favorite way to interact online.

Cynsational Notes

Nicole says: “Here is a picture of Hermie the Magnificent, AKA Hermie the Fierce (as if – she might drown an unsuspecting burglar in enthusiastic drool, but that would be the extent of her ferocity). She is the president (and sole member) of the Official Nicole McInnes Adoration Club. Every author should be so lucky.”

El día de los niños, El día de los libros/Children’s Day, Book Day

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith,
Día Author Ambassador,
for Cynsations

El día de los niños, El día de los libros/Children’s Day, Book Day
is April 30 and every day of the year.

Find ideas from bookjoy!

Día means “day” in Spanish. In 1996, author Pat Mora learned about the Mexican tradition of celebrating April 30 as El día del niño, the day of the child.

Pat thought, “We have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Yes! We need kids’ day too, but I want to connect all children with bookjoy, the pleasure of reading.”

Pat was
enthusiastically assisted to start this community-based, family literacy initiative by REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking. El día de los niños, El día de los libros/Children’s Day, Book Day, now known as Día, is a daily commitment to link all children to books, languages and cultures, day by day, día por día.

Día is now housed at the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association. Every year, across the country, libraries, schools, and community organizations, etc. plan culminating book fiestas creating April Día celebrations that unite communities. Join us!

Cynsational Notes

Attn Authors & Illustrators: become a Día ambassador and add a badge to your blog/website.

By Jeanette Larson for ALSC, learn more.

Check out the Día FAQ, articles and interviews, song, advocates and history. Don’t miss this archive of Día ideas. Peek: “Is Día only for Latinos? No, planners of Día events translate the words ‘Children’s Day/Book Day’ into the home languages in their community. As the librarians at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library say, “DÍA = Diversity in Action.”

Over at ALSC, find a Día program in your area, register a 2013 program, and download a Día family toolkit, download and print this free poster to publicize an event in your community. Or you can purchase a Many Children, Many Cultures, Many Books! poster and bookmarks.

See also the Día: Diversity in Action Book List and Book List Addendum (PDFs).

The Estela and Raúl Mora Award was established in 2000 by author Pat Mora and her family to honor their parents and to motivate libraries to celebrate Día. See information about the award, a list of previous winners, and award guidelines.

New Voice: Joe Lawlor on Bully.com

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Joe Lawlor is the first-time author of Bully.com (Eerdmans, 2013). From the promotional copy:


Jun never wanted to be a detective. He’s a shy kid, better at interfacing with PCs than people. 

But his world turns upside down when the principal accuses him of posting pictures on the school’s website that expose the eating disorder of one of his classmates. 

To prove his innocence, Jun has seven days to track down the true cyber bully.

Jun’s investigation will bring him face-to face with computer hackers, a jealous boyfriend, and more than one student who has been a victim of bullying. 

He discovers along the way that everyone’s story is more complicated than it seems — and that the people he meets have more in common than they think.



How do you psyche yourself up to write, to keep writing, and to do the revision necessary to bring your manuscript to a competitive level?

I wake up every weekday morning at five, take a shower, and then write for at least one hour. This has been my habit for nearly ten years. Sounds torturous, I know, but I’m a morning person and my brain is at its creative best before the pressures of the day intrude.

I have tried to psyche myself up for additional writing throughout the day, but much like planned trips to the gym, these good intentions often get rescheduled, bumped, or more likely, canceled. The 5 a.m. writing time is sacred. It is not a conscious choice; it is merely a part of my daily routine.

I would not go to bed without brushing my teeth and I would not wake up without writing for at least an hour.

An hour is not really enough, and yet I have found that the cumulative effect of writing every morning yields better results than waiting for that miraculous day when I have an extended block of free time. To be fair, on the weekends, I do write for several hours. Often, I look up from my screen to discover that it’s lunch time and I’m still in my pajamas.

However, I strongly believe that it is the rigidness of my weekday writing that allows me to indulge on the weekends. Monday through Friday is my bread and butter. Weekends are dessert.

What, for you, are the special challenges in achieving this goal? What techniques have worked best and why?

Two challenges encroach on successful writing sessions. First, I’m
less of a writer and more of a rewriter. Beautiful, electric, engaging
prose does not flow freely from my brain. It’s a long, labored process
of rewriting, reshaping, re-everything.

First drafts are messy and
often incoherent. And yet, I continue to plow ahead because each
morning I give myself permission to write badly.

After a
disappointing writing session, I am often reminded of the Tim Burton
movie, Ed Wood. Mr. Wood is widely considered the worst movie director
of all time. In one scene, he is speaking on the phone with Mr. Feldman
at Warner Brothers studios. Ed Wood says, “So – we gonna be working
together [pauses to listen] Really? Worst movie you ever saw. Well, my
next one will be better.”

It’s probably not a good idea to
derive inspiration from the infamous director of Plan 9 from Outer
Space, and yet, this quote shows Mr. Wood’s relentlessly optimistic
belief in the creative process. This is my mantra as well. Every
morning, when I stare down at prose that feels flat or derivative or
simply uninspired, I tell myself, that tomorrow will be better. And
usually it is.

Sam

The second major challenge is my 18-month-old son, Sam. Like his father, Sam is an early riser. Not that I don’t cherish every moment with my beautiful son, but the mornings are mine, mine, mine! At least, they used to be.

Now I must share my writing time with my son. When I should be creating, I find myself cradling. When I should be composing prose, I find myself singing silly songs.

These days, when I sit in front of my computer, I have no idea how much time I will have before I hear his waking wails.

Because of this, I am an efficient solider in the mornings. No time for dozing on my palm. No time for gazing out the window, searching for inspiration. I get right to work, feeling blessed for every extra minute Sam allows.

As a teacher-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a teacher has been a blessing to your writing? 

 I have worked as a sixth grade Language Arts teacher for over ten years and I’m proud to say I love the job. Sixth graders are energetic, silly, and sharper than one might expect.

The job also allows me an opportunity to spy on my target audience. I am the constant observer, making mental notes about dialogue, mannerisms, clothing, and actions.

To say that my job is a well of inspiration is not accurate. It’s more like Old Faithful, gushing with ideas on a regular and repeating basis.
Just under a hundred kids pass through my classroom daily and they’re all toting independent reading books. This provides me with a window into what’s popular with my target age group without ever having to step inside a bookstore.

Often, while I’m winding my way around the desks, I’ll stop to browse a book lying beside a student’s elbow. Each new class brings a fresh set of books to explore. It’s like a library that rotates inventory every 42 minutes! And you should hear the recommendations.

My students are often bursting with enthusiastic praise.
Sample conversation:

Student: Mr. Lawlor, you have to read this. It’s the best book I ever read.

Me: You said that last week about another book.

Student: Yes, but this time I really, really mean it.

Me: (examining the cover) More post-apocalyptic fiction?

Student: But there’s no vampires this time. You’re gonna love it!

As illustrated above, the current trend for kids is end-of-the-world fiction. However, the important thing to remember is that at this age level, emotions are heightened. I see this happen daily in the hallways and the cafeteria. A nasty text from a friend is the end of the world for a thirteen-year-old. The real challenge as an author is to accurately recreate those feelings on the page. Only when I pluck the correct emotional strings, do the characters truly resonate with this age group.

My best advice for aspiring authors is to hang around kids. Drink in their insecurities, their energy, and their silly sense of humor. More often than not, you’ll walk away with a great deal of new ideas and a big, goofy grin on your face.

Finally, don’t underestimate your audience. Kids today are surrounded by stories, whether they encounter them through video games, TV shows, graphic novels, web series, or on their e-readers. They may not be able to accurately name the stages of a plot map, but they know a good story when they read one. They can grasp sophisticated plotlines and grapple with complex character emotions.

Often when I write, I ask myself—is this idea too advanced for my audience? Once I picture the kids I teach, and the books they love, I realize the answer is no. They can handle the tough stuff. They like it. They gravitate toward it. Kids would rather stretch to understand a new concept than read a book that talks down to them.

Overall, kids are a surprisingly sharp audience that appreciates a well-told story just as much as the adults who write them.