Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kathi Appelt on Writing for the Long Haul from Janni Lee Simner at Desert Dispatches. Peek: “…whenever I come face to face with the ancient goddess Story, I still feel small in her presence.”

Advice for Young Writers (With Some Help from Buffy) by E. Kristin Anderson from Write All the Words! Peek: “Why rush it when you can take your time, develop your craft over the course of several novels, and eventually figure out what you’re great at? I mean, you wouldn’t learn to bake one day and expect open a bakery within a month, would you?”

Writers Don’t Waste by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Diary of a Writer. Peek: “Sorry characters, I will think, and then put them through hell. Sometimes we have to put our characters through hell.”

Interview with Literary Agent Emily Keyes of L. Perkins Agency from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl. Peek: “I love a lot of types of middle grade. I wouldn’t say no to fantasy, but I’m leaning toward contemporary these days. Or science fiction.”

Can You Make a Living from Writing? by Chris Eboch from Project Mayhem. Peek: “…I can’t just write what I want, when I want. I have to find ways to make money, while also considering how best to advance my overall career and find time for the writing I love.”

Tips on Writing Multicultural Picture Books/Biographies by Don Tate
from writermorphosis. Peek: “There’s nothing wrong with a white author who chooses to write about a Black person, or on the topic of slavery or civil rights. However, no matter how liberal or open-minded an author may think they are, they still view the world through the lens of their own culture, experiences, privilege.”

Five Wrong-Headed Reasons for Not Writing Diverse Characters in Science Fiction by Karen Sandler from Rich In Color. Peek: “…you might come to the conclusion that only white people can write white people, only woman can write women characters, only children can write about children, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Which of course is nuts.”

Depression and Writing by Ginger Johnson from Quirk and Quill. Peek: “He administered an abstract-reasoning test to 115 undergraduates and found that even non-depressed students felt lousy after taking the test: ‘the anatomy of focus is inseparable from the anatomy of melancholy.'”

Playing Make-believe: World Building & World Crafting by Emma Dryden from Our Stories, Ourselves. Peek: “Whether fantasy or realism, crafting the worlds of our stories is really akin to setting up the worlds we created as children playing make-believe, only this time we’re responsible for creating worlds rich enough, believable enough, and inviting enough for readers to join us, to journey with us, to stay there with us.”

Searching for Our Jeremy Lin by Matt de la Pena from CBC Diversity. Peek: “What children’s books need is a Jeremy Lin moment–someone or something that shatters our traditional thinking of what can become a megahit in children’s books and turns everything we think we know on its head.”

Six Reasons Google+ Beats Facebook for Author Platform Building by Marcy Kennedy from Jane Friedman. Peek: “Why would you want to bother with a less popular site when you have a limited amount of time for social media?”

Finding Your Unique Author Voice…Like Everyone Else by J.J. Hensley from Mystery Writing Is Murder. Peek: “My voice is the sum of 38 years
of reading, working, talking, listening, watching television, and observing. Is that what people mean by finding that voice?”

Honesty Is My Policy: Publishing is Not “Neat” by Tara Lazar from Writing for Kids. Peek: “…these casual writers think having a published book would be ‘neat’. And it’s not neat. It’s hard work.”

High-Stakes Plotting by Elle Cosimano from The Greenhouse Literary Agency. Peek: “Heightening stakes is not about increasing the value of the physical things our characters want or stand to lose. It’s about tying those things to a deeper yearning – assigning each gain and loss a devastating or life-changing emotional impact.”

When Platform-Building Bites Back by Elizabeth S. Craig from Mystery Writing is Murder. Peek: “I used to blog every day until my schedule got so crazy that I cut back to four days a week.”

2013 Arthur Ellis Awards, Presented by the Crime Writers of Canada, from Bookshelves of Doom. The winner was Becoming Holmes: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His Final Case by Shane Peacock (Tundra, 2012). See also honor books.

700 Reader Project Mayhem Giveaway: “…prizes from agents Marietta Zacker (Nancy Gallt) and Stephen Fraser (Jennifer de Chiara Lit). …illustrator Kevan Atteberry will be critiquing one lucky illustrator’s online portfolio. Cynthia Leitich Smith and Stephen Messer have graciously donated
a 10-page critique to two lucky writers! Project Mayhem authors Paul Greci, Marissa Burt, Michael Winchell, Matt Rush, Michael Gettel-Gilmartin, Hilary Wagner, James Milhaley, Lee Wardlaw, Chris Eboch, and Dianne Salerni will all be giving critiques as well!”

Cynsational Giveaways

This Week at Cynsations

 More Personally

It’s always fun to get a little national ink! The following PW article offers a terrific overview of the current landscape for marketing YA via social media and quotes me. Check it out:

Teenage Tweetland by Karen Springen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “YA authors and
publishers reach out to young readers where they live: online and on
their smartphones.”

And now for a peek at my latest adventures in the world of books:

Speaking at Cedar Park (TX) Public Library with Mari Mancusi, Emily McKay & Tracy Deebs
Here we are again!
Talking to YA readers after the panel
Greg Leitich Smith & BookPeople‘s Mandy Brooks celebrate Octopus Alone by Divya Srinivasan
Divya signs her new release

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. June 7 at Northeastern State University (Broken Arrow campus) for a discussion of the Tantalize series, the Feral series and the writing process. See more information.

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

Giveaway: Towering, Bewitching & Diva by Alex Flinn

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The following giveaways are all author sponsored and available to U.S. residents only.

Enter to win one of three signed hardcover copies of Towering by Alex Flinn (HarperTeen)(excerpt). From the promotional copy:

High in my tower I sit. I watch the birds fly below, the clouds float above, and the tall, green forest stretch to places I might never see.

Mama, who isn’t my mother, has kept me hidden away for many years. My only companions, besides Mama, are my books–great adventures, mysteries, and romances that I long to make my reality. But I know that no one will come to save me–my life is not a fairy tale after all.

Well, at least no one has come so far. Recently, my hair has started to grow rapidly and it’s now long enough to reach the bottom of the tower from my window. I’ve also had the strangest dreams of a beautiful, green-eyed man. 

When Mama isn’t around, I plan my escape, even if it’s just for a little while. There’s something–maybe someone–waiting for me out there and it won’t find me if I’m trapped here towering above it all.

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Enter to win one of three signed paperback copies of Bewitching by Alex Flinn (HarperTeen)(excerpt)(teacher’s guide). From the promotional copy:

Bewitching can be a beast. . .

Once, I put a curse on a beastly and arrogant high school boy. That one turned out all right. Others didn’t.

I go to a new school now—one where no one knows that I should have graduated long ago. I’m not still here because I’m stupid; I just don’t age.

You see, I’m immortal. And I pretty much know everything after hundreds of years —except for when to take my powers and butt out.

I want to help, but things just go awry in ways I could never predict. Like when I tried to free some children from a gingerbread house and ended up being hanged. 

After I came back from the dead (Immortal, remember?!), I tried to play matchmaker for a French prince and ended up banished from France forever. And that little mermaid I found in the Titanic lifeboat? I don’t even want to think about it.

Now, a girl named Emma needs me. I probably shouldn’t get involved, but her gorgeous stepsister is conniving to the core. I think I have just the thing to fix that girl and it isn’t an enchanted pumpkin. 

Although you never know what will happen when I start….

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Enter to win one of three signed paperback copies of Diva by Alex Flinn (HarperTeen)(excerpt)(reading guide). From the promotional copy:

Sometimes, the only one a girl can confide in is her blog!

Subject: Fresh Start

Listening to: “Medea” (the opera named for the mythological woman who killed her kids just to bug her ex-husband. …Reminds me of my mother.)

Feeling: Anticipation

Weight: 112 lbs.

For most people, the word “diva” means brilliant, talented, over-the-top and glamorous. I, OTOH, seemed to be trapped in the not-very-glamorous life of a cheerleader wannabe with serious ex-boyfriend issues and a permanent yo-yo diet. 

At least until the day I auditioned for Miami High School of the Arts and– got in! All I had to do was convince my mother, the cosmetics salesperson with mythically bad taste in clothes and men, that going downtown to hang with the music geeks was a good idea. I had to blackmail her to do it, but I’m here, a diva wannabe and not so sure I can cut it.

Now, what?

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More Cynsational Giveaways

Guest Post: Janni Lee Simner on Researching Fantastical Fiction

Janni in Iceland

By Janni Lee Simner
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

“Blood doesn’t taste coppery, you know.”

I don’t remember who said that to me, but I do remember my response, an indignant, “Of course it does!”

I knew well enough what blood tasted like. (Doesn’t everyone?)

Besides, I’d read enough descriptions of coppery-tasting blood through the years. That many writers couldn’t all be wrong.

My friend–I think it was a friend–was unconvinced. There was only one way to resolve the question. I dug through my pocket, found a particularly clean penny, and tasted it.

It turns out a penny tastes nothing like blood. Not because I was wrong about what blood tastes like, but because I was wrong about what copper tastes like.

I was so sure I already knew that I’d never actually done my research.

Some people think that research is limited to realistic novels, because fantasy writers are “just making stuff up.” Writing magic isn’t as simple as making things up, of course, and how to write magic well could be the subject of a post of its own.

But fantasy stories aren’t just about magic. The most fantastical stories are filled with countless realistic details that require research.

In a way, contemporary fiction writers are at an advantage. They live in the world they’re writing in and so already know many of its details. Most of us don’t have to look up how to turn on a stove and put dinner in the oven, after all, but building a fire and cooking over the flames–that might require research. (That research will tell you that open flames often aren’t as good for cooking as the hot coals that follow them are.)

Things I researched for my magical, post-apocalyptic Bones of Faerie trilogy (Bones of Faerie, Faerie Winter and Faerie After) include Missouri plants and trees, styles of hunting bows, how many people a woodchuck feeds, how to set a broken leg, how to make rope, how to card wool, wolf behavior, radiation poisoning … the list goes on and on.

Even though I’d lived in St. Louis for eight years, I also returned to the city to remind myself of its (pre-apocalyptic) geography and to retrace the routes my characters would follow. (See photos from that trip.)

I went hiking and took notes about the local vegetation, too, because field guides can tell you what plants are present, but not which vines most often overgrow the trail or how the sun slants through the trees.

Once I was home, I kept in touch with St. Louis friends, emailing them questions about the colors of autumn leaves and when winter really began. And before each book of the trilogy went to copyediting, I checked and rechecked the phases of the moon, making sure the moonrise and moonset happened at the right times and that my characters weren’t trekking by moonlight that wasn’t there.

I did even more research for Thief Eyes, my standalone fantasy novel set in Iceland, because I hadn’t spent eight years living there. I took two trips to Iceland, one to find the story and one to work out all the details. I also made a separate trip to Seaworld San Diego to meet an arctic fox up close. (See trip reports and photos from my second Iceland trip and video from my arctic fox encounter.)

I didn’t have to do much moon research for that book, but I did need to know that the sun barely sets in summer. I needed to know what it felt like, to wake up in the middle of the night with the sun cheerfully shining through your window, too.

Janni’s research assistant, the arctic fox

Would my readers have noticed if I let the wrong trees grow in post-apocalyptic St. Louis or if I misrepresented the feel of an arctic fox’s fur? Those who know about those details would have. Maybe that’s only a handful of readers, but each missed detail is a chance to throw a few more readers out of the story–while each detail I get right is a chance to win more readers over.


As fantasy writers we ask a lot of our readers. We ask them to suspend disbelief and accept impossible things, at least for the duration of the story. If I get the details of how to build a cooking fire wrong, those readers who’ve built cooking fires will trust me a little bit less.

If I’m clearly making up even the true things, why should they take my word about the untrue ones?

Missouri forest

It’s in part because I’m a fantasy writer that I want the glow of the coals and the sting of smoke in the eyes and yes, even the taste of blood, to feel real and true.

If these things feel real, it increases the chances that when I go on to say things like “Ever since the War with Faerie destroyed the world …” that will feel real and true, too–real enough that readers will nod their agreement, real enough that they’ll want to read on.

Author Interview & Giveaway: Michaela MacColl on Nobody’s Secret

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Michaela MacColl‘s latest book is Nobody’s Secret (Chronicle, 2013)(discussion guide). From the promotional copy:

One day, fifteen-year-old Emily Dickinson meets a mysterious, handsome young man. Surprisingly, he doesn’t seem to know who she or her family is. And even more surprisingly, he playfully refuses to divulge his name.

Emily enjoys her secret flirtation with Mr. “Nobody” until he turns up dead in her family’s pond. She’s stricken with guilt. 

Only Emily can discover who this enigmatic stranger was before he’s condemned to be buried in an anonymous grave. Her investigation takes her deep into town secrets, blossoming romance, and deadly danger.

Exquisitely written and meticulously researched, this novel celebrates Emily Dickinson’s intellect and spunk in a page-turner of a book that will excite fans of mystery, romance, and poetry alike. 

On your website, you describe your work as “modern historical fiction.” What does that mean?

I write stories about people who are long dead (they can’t complain about anything I have them do in my stories!). The times they lived in can seem alien and impenetrable to young readers.

My goal is to write about my characters (fictional and nonfictional) in a way that feels fresh. I don’t mean that I have my characters do things that are anachronistic to the period – Emily Dickinson is not going to join the Pony Express or run for president. Rather I want the stories to feel modern enough to my readers that they are willing to get sucked into the past for a little while.

Another facet of this is that the world has not changed as much as we think it has. Emily Dickinson called housework “pestilence”. Princess Victoria rated every party she went to by how late she got to stay up. Beryl Markham happily rushed into danger to save a beloved pet. Some motivations are universal.

What about other times and places calls to the storyteller in you?

Nobody’s Secret is the first in a series of literary mysteries. This one is a murder mystery with Emily Dickinson inspired by a poem. The next one (tentatively titled “Always Emily”) is about the Bronte Sisters and draws heavily on their beloved moors and the terrific themes in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. You can’t write about historical figures without learning about their times and where they lived. So for now, I’m attracted to the life and times of wonderful female writers.

Aside from this series, I have a family story I would love to tell set in the 1870s that begins in Shanghai and ends in rural upstate New York. Stay tuned – I’ll write it eventually. Here’s a hint as to what it’s about (this is a barn in Baldwinsville, NY c. 1880)

Could you tell us a bit about your path to publication–any leaps and/or stumbles along the way? 

My path was fairly standard – long and painful! I began writing when my kids were 3 and 5. When my first novel was published, they were 12 and 14.

Of course I wasn’t writing full time. I was researching and trying to learn the craft. I took classes with the amazing Patricia Reilly Giff. A recommendation from her got me to my agent, George Nicholson of Sterling Lord Literistic (but not for the first book I sent him – he still hates that one!) for the book that became Promise the Night. We shopped the book around for two years with no luck.

At the same time I started writing the novel about Queen Victoria that became Prisoners in the Palace. That book clicked and a major revision of Promise the Night convinced Chronicle to take them both on.

I know I’ve been lucky. But I was also completely stubborn and refused to give up. There was one truly awful weekend when one publisher loved the book and was going to offer a contract after the weekend. But by Monday they had talked to their British arm and decided against it.

I had to admit I took to my bed for a day or two. But Chronicle was the right publisher for it, and I’m so happy that Prisoners ended up there.

Congratulations on the release of Nobody’s Secret (Chronicle, 2013)! What was your initial inspiration for this story?

I love historical mysteries. I inhaled the Brother Cadfael mysteries as a kid. So I was looking for a project like that, with a strong female character who had instant name recognition. But also someone who was a challenge – I didn’t want to compete with all the excellent books about Elizabeth I for example!

It was also intriguing to thing about writing about a writer. Not only do you have the biographical information about the person, you also have their body of work. I have three books of poetry on my shelves, John Donne, Shel Silverstein and Emily. Emily it was!


What were the ah-ha moments and challenges of bringing it to life? 

I needed to figure out what would make Emily a good detective. She had some obvious ones – she’s well connected in town so she has access to everyone. She clearly is observant – just look at the almost naturalistic elements in her poems.

But when I found she was a botanist, then I had my ah ha moment. I found that her favorite flower, an Indian Pipe, is actually hard to find. So the a clue with Indian pipes became a “CSI”-type clue that lead to a crime scene.

It’s also the perfect flower for her – it’s not a flower at all. It’s a fungus that grows on decomposing matter. No chlorophyll at all. Quirky and beautiful (to the initiated) – just like Emily!

For you, what competes most with writing–a day job, family responsibilities, both? How do you find balance or at least type while lopsided?

There’s always so much to do. My teenaged daughters seem to need me more now than when they were younger – and their demands require more. Now they need me to listen hard, not ask too much and help them without alienating them. It was much easier when all they wanted was mac and cheese!

And of course there’s always laundry, grocery shopping, housekeeping (pestilence!) and my longstanding volunteer commitment with the United Nations, the local historical society and the community garden.

Writing is hard, and its easy to find reasons not to do it. But deadlines are my friend and they keep me to task.

Oh, and did I mention that I have three enormous cats who all insist on their fair share of my attention too?

Prince who is not valiant in the least.
Jasmine – the grouchy matriarch of the clan with the softest white belly
Momo (who has excellent tastes in books)

Cynsational Notes

Want to know more about Michaela and Nobody’s Secret? Catch up with her tomorrow at Cracking the Cover.

Michaela MacColl studied multi-disciplinary history at Vassar College and Yale University, which turns out to be the perfect degree for writing historical fiction. She lives with her husband, two daughters, and three extremely large cats in Connecticut.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win Nobody’s Secret by Michaela MacColl (Chronicle, 2013). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

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Book Trailer: Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo (Candlewick, 2013). From the promotional copy:

Angie is broken — by her can’t-be-bothered mother, by her high-school tormenters, and by being the only one who thinks her varsity-athlete-turned-war-hero sister is still alive. 

Hiding under a mountain of junk food hasn’t kept the pain (or the shouts of “crazy mad cow!”) away. 

Having failed to kill herself — in front of a gym full of kids — she’s back at high school just trying to make it through each day. That is, until the arrival of KC Romance, the kind of girl who doesn’t exist in Dryfalls, Ohio. A girl who is one hundred and ninety-nine percent wow! A girl who never sees her as Fat Angie, and who knows too well that the package doesn’t always match what’s inside. 

With an offbeat sensibility, mean girls to rival a horror classic, and characters both outrageous and touching, this darkly comic anti-romantic romance will appeal to anyone who likes entertaining and meaningful fiction.

Her sister was captured in Iraq, she’s the resident laughingstock at school, and her therapist tells her to count instead of eat. Can a daring new girl in her life really change anything?

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author Interview: Tim Tingle on How I Became a Ghost from The Edmond Sun. Peek: “My great-great-grandfather…was 10…when his family began the long walk (The Trail of Tears) to what is now Oklahoma. I wanted to write a book based on these family memories that a young reader would enjoy, with humor and discovery, with snow monsters and shape-shifting panthers.”

Author Insight: The Write Mood from Wastepaper Prose. Peek: “Sometimes the simple act of writing becomes challenging. How do you make yourself write when you aren’t in the mood? Do you ever reward yourself at milestones?”

African Youth Literature: What Visibility in the International Market? by Mariette Robbes from PaperTigers. Peek: “While catering for their local readership, publishers in Africa also wish to be known internationally and to have business with publishers from others countries.”

Seven Questions for Literary Agent Gemma Cooper from Middle Grade Ninja. Peek: “If you expect publishing to be in its own weird timezone, then you won’t be as surprised when it goes through stages of being crazy-manic and then deathly quiet. Be patient and go with it.”

The Cabinet of Curiosities: short fictions for the young and mischievous. Highly recommended.

New Voices Award from Lee & Low. Peek: “…award-winning publisher of children’s books, is pleased to announce the fourteenth annual New Voices Award. The Award will be given for a children’s picture book manuscript by a writer of color. The Award winner receives a cash prize of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash prize of $500.”

The Core of the Verse Novel from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: “Because experimenting with new methods and styles is the best way to stay fresh in the midst of a long career?”

Tips for Tackling BEA from Wastepaper Prose. Peek: “…we know a lot of you are headed to NYC to attend. We’ve thought back on past experience and each of us has come up with some last minute tips that could help if you prepare and have an enjoyable show.”

Diversity on the Page, Behind the Pencil and in the Office by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “In doing research for books, he (illustrator London Ladd) recommended that creators develop a relationship with others so that they can understand them better. ‘It would enhance your work,’ he said.”

Kidlit Cares for Oklahoma from Kate Messner. Peek: “…because Oklahoma needs help right now, given the magnitude of damage from this week’s EF5 tornado. Please consider making a donation to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Effort now. If you donate at least $10, I’ll enter you in a drawing to win a signed book.”

Parragon Publishing India Unpacks High School Horror Fantasies from All About Book Publishing. Peek: “Parragon is one of the largest visual book publishers operating out of 35 countries worldwide. The company has tied up with the best printing facilities in the world and its books are printed in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Europe, USA and other locations.”

Pack(ag)ing It Up from Gwenda Bond. Peek: “No one I know who’s done this kind of work has any illusions about the downsides going into it. Though I have heard horror stories about people it has worked out pretty awfully for or who were made to expect things that didn’t materialize. But I will also say that not everything I’ve heard is a horror story.”

Interview with Award-winning Author Don Tate by Brittney Breakey from Author Turf. Peek: “Speaking earns decent income and allows for promoting my books. But it also steals valuable time away from book making.”

Is Our Culture Becoming Too Critical and Open? from Jody Hedlund. Peek: “…we’re seeing an increase in readers sharing their thoughts about books more publicly (instead of privately or in the confines of book groups). And hence with the increased openness, we’re also seeing more negativity (as well as positivity).” See also an Open Love Note to Debut Authors about Hurtful Online Reviews.

Turning Story Opening Don’ts Into Dos by Angela Ackerman from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: “If you want to start with action, you’re probably a plot type person. Go ahead! You do need to show your main character in an interesting situation (notice I didn’t say dangerous, just interesting) where their own personality shines through.”

Deepening Character: a Conversation with Cliff McNish from Notes from the Slushpile. Peek: “We’re prepared to forgive even villains a great deal if they make us laugh. It works doubly so for our heroes. Keep them seeing the amusing side no matter what happens.”

Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Awards

By Lena Coakley

The 2013 winners for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Awards were announced on Thursday at North Kipling Junior Middle School in Etobicoke, Ontario, where students gathered for a celebratory presentation.

Winner of the Children’s Picture Book Award Category: A Hen for Izzy Pippik by Aubrey Davis, illustrated by Marie Lafrance (Kids Can Press).

Winner of the Young Adult / Middle Reader Award Category: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen (Tundra Books).

Aubrey Davis, Marie Lafrance and Susin Nielsen are all first-time winners of this award.

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of Ball by Mary Sullivan was Joy in Manitoba, and the winner of Nothing But Blue, Me, Penelope and Country Girl, City Girl, all by Lisa Jahn-Clough was Deena in New York.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

This has been one of my favorite work weeks ever!

I had an opportunity to review copy-edits on Feral Curse (Book 2 in the Feral series) from Candlewick Press and Walker Books (writer in action). And I had the opportunity to celebrate Austin debut YA author Lindsey Schiebe (reader in action) and connect in person with two amazing groups of teens and the librarians who lead them to reading success (author in action)!

Members of the Wolves Cedar Park High School Reading Group arrive in style at the Barnes & Noble Arboretum in Austin.
Reviewing the set-up with librarian Chris Kay (see her photo report on the event!)
Chatting with Cedar Park readers about reading and writing
Answering questions about the writing life
Wow! I was presented with a gorgeous plaque! What a thrill!
Posing with the top readers at Cedar Park High.
Dinner with blogger JennRenee, Greg Leitich Smith and public librarian Jane Dance at Louisiana Longhorn Cafe (we had fried and grilled alligator as an appetizer) in historic downtown Round Rock.
Chatting with the Round Rock Public Library Teen Book Club
Posing with the Round Rock Public Library Teen Book Club.
Bethany Hegedus, me, Jo Whittemore, Nikki Loftin & Cory Putnam Oakes at Lindsey Scheibe‘s launch for Riptide!

Cynthia Leitich Smith on Writing for the Long Haul from Janni Lee Simner from Desert Dispatches. Peek: “I have a respectful patience for the inner artist but always hold her accountable.” Learn more about Janni’s Writing for the Long Haul blog series.

Congratulations to Greg Leitich Smith on the upcoming re-release of the Peshtigo School books (Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo & Tofu and T. Rex (originally published by Little, Brown) from IntoPrint Publishing, LLC! See more information.

Congratulations to Lindsey Lane on the sale of “Particles” to FSG! From Publishers Marketplace: “exploring themes of loneliness and interconnectedness from multiple viewpoints, set in or around a remote pull-out on a rural Texas highway where a particle-physics-obsessed teenage science genius disappeared…”

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith, Tracy Wolff, Mari Mancusi, and Emily McKay at 1 p.m. May 25 at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

New Voice & Giveaway: Laurie Boyle Crompton on Blaze (or Love in the Time of Supervillains)

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Laurie Boyle Crompton is the first-time author of Blaze (or Love in the Time of Supervillains) (Sourcebooks, 2013) and looks forward to the release of
Adrenaline (FSG/Macmillian, 2014) and
The Real Prom Queens of Westfield High (Sourcebooks, 2014).

From the promotional copy of Blaze (or Love in the Time of Supervillains):

When comic-obsessed Blaze stands up to her evil ex, he posts a racy picture of her online and a battle of epic proportions ensues. 

Before she knows it, Zap! Thwack! Pow! Blaze becomes the target of intense bullying. 

She must learn to channel her inner-superhero if she hopes to gain the ultimate victory; rescuing herself.

Read an excerpt of Blaze.

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

As a debut author I’m in a unique (and extremely blessed!) position of having three books under contract with two different publishers so I have pressing deadlines all over the place.

Publisher deadlines are very effective motivators, but I still need to set my own deadlines along the way. Breaking a huge revision project into stages such as, “By Friday I will finish compiling research,” or “I have two weeks to do a final manuscript read-through,” makes things much more manageable.

It works well that I’ve always been able to convince myself that my own deadlines are ‘real’ which is probably helped by the fact that I’m a little bit gullible.

When I find motivation lagging I try to tune in to the inspiration that drove me to write the story in the first place. That initial spark is something that should continue to burn throughout the process.

I also try not to think about the book going public. When you write edgy YA, imagining your mother or grandmother reading your work can tend to stifle creativity. Of course, this game of pretending nobody will ever read the book grows harder as the process draws closer to publication day.

The writer’s worst enemy in the late stages is a little thing called perfectionism. The final read-through can be brutal since it’s the last time for making changes. It’s difficult to let go and release your book into the world, but there comes a point where you just need to decide on the word you have changed back and forth with each draft and accept the fact that you won’t be able to tinker with this story anymore. Then the best thing is to turn focus to the next project.

How did you go about connecting with your agent? What was your search process like? Who did you decide to sign with? What about that person and/or agency seemed like the best fit for you? What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?

I love talking about my wonderful agent! The day I signed with Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency was the day things turned around for my writing career.

Mind you, I still had a long path before getting that first publisher yes (and six months later the second one!). But I’m constantly telling writers they need the right agent, not necessarily the right now agent.

My path to publication had many twists and turns, and I know that feeling of wanting to get your polished manuscript in front of editors, like, now! But as tempting as it can be to jump on that first agent offer, be sure you listen to your gut before signing on the dotted line.

I learned this lesson the hard way. After working on my craft for a number of years I got my first offer from a reputable children’s agent and I was thrilled. Finally, here was someone who would get my book in front of editors! I was on my way! But on my way to where? It turns out I was in for three years of heartbreak and insecurity.

That agent happens to be great for some people and we split on the best of terms, but looking back it should’ve happened much sooner. I do not in any way blame that first wrong agent for those early manuscripts not selling, no agent sells every manuscript they take out on submission. But there were many signs along the way that we were not a good fit.

We parted ways. Within two months I had an offer from a new agent at an established agency on Blaze (then titled “Fangirl”). She seemed very nice and said all the right things, but I didn’t quite feel that love that I’d heard other authors talk about. I let the offering agent know that I had a few other partials out and here is the other piece of advice I try to tell any writer who will listen: in addition to contacting those agents with partials, I also wrote to all those with queries who I hadn’t heard back from, letting them know of the offer.

This actually turned into a few full requests, including one from my absolute top choice; Ammi-Joan Paquette. It turned out, she hadn’t received my original query but she was intrigued by my book and asked to see more. As things progressed towards her offer of representation, I came to understand that agent love that other writers talk about. And I certainly feel it still.

So authors, when you get an offer take the time to contact those agents you’ve queried! At the worst it will save busy agents time reading a query for a book that’s already spoken for. And at best, well, you just never know.

Cynsational Notes

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Guest Author Interview: Eric A. Kimmel on Marketing Manuscripts to Publishers

By Laini Bostian
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Librarian Laini Bostian blogs at The Made Up Librarian. Today she talks to Eric A. Kimmel about authors marketing their manuscripts to publishers.  

Learn more about Eric from Scholastic.

Eric: About writing and marketing, it’s never one or the other. Professional writers do look to the market. They have to. There are always compromises and adjustments to be made during the composition process and during the revision and editing processes.

The key is how does the author feel about making the changes. If you go too far and say “yes” too often, you may come to a point where it’s no longer your book.

Also, some editors will tell you upfront that they may not be the one to handle a particular manuscript. It isn’t doing anything for them, or the changes they’d suggest would turn it into an entirely different story. Sometimes the writer can go along with that. Sometimes we can’t.

I’ll give you a recent example that just happened with the manuscript I’m sending out. I originally conceived it as YA. Several of the editors who’ve responded so far made the point that it didn’t feel like a YA. It felt more like middle grade.

My agent Jennifer Laughran called to talk to me about it. The editors may be right, she said. YA is edgier. The characters are older. There’s more sex and drama. My main character is finishing middle school. You might call the story YA, but it’s definitely on the younger edge of the spectrum.

It’s borderline between age markets, and as Jenn pointed out, “The border is where you don’t want to be.”

Editors can’t fit it into a specific genre. They can’t predict its audience or what it will do.

That can be the kiss of death these days.

What Jenn suggested is marketing, not literary advice: Take it down a couple of years. Forget YA and go for middle grade. It would be easy. The changes would be mostly cosmetic.

She also pointed out that the YA genre is glutted right now. It’s been so successful that everyone’s writing YA. Meanwhile, there’s a definite shortage of middle grade fiction.

So guess what I’ve been doing this past week? It’s a change I can live with. I see the point. It actually suits the characters, the story, and me more.

Are these revisions marketing decisions? You bet! Are they artistic ones? Definitely yes, because I feel comfortable with them and actually think the manuscript is better for my having made them.

Laini: So, if this work does not sell, will you be upset? What should young writers do? What would you say to them?

Eric: I’d be disappointed, but it’s happened before. There’s nothing you can do about it. On to the next.

However, that doesn’t mean you give up. Set the manuscript aside. Maybe you can do something with it later. Times change, so a manuscript no one wants today may become a hot item in a couple of years.

The advantage I have over young writers is I know the drill. A similar rejection could be devastating for a beginner. But again, so what? Will you quit and never write anything again?

Guess what? Nobody cares. Real writers suck it up and start something else. The ones that are only in it for a payoff will find something else to do.

What should young writers do? Write! They think they’re going to get rich? That editors owe them something because they scribbled out a manuscript? That they don’t have to revise?

Well, they’ll learn, and they’ll be better writers for it. And if they decide to spend their time doing something else, what of it? I guarantee there will be no shortage of writers or good books.

New Voice: Polly Holyoke on The Neptune Project

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Polly Holyoke is the first-time author of The Neptune Project (Hyperion, 2013). From the promotional copy:

With her weak eyes and useless lungs that often leave her gasping for air, Nere feels more at home swimming with the dolphins her mother studies than she does hanging out with her classmates. 

Nere has never understood why she is so much more comfortable and confident in the water than on land until the day she learns the shocking truth—she is one of a group of kids who have been genetically altered to survive in the ocean. These products of the “Neptune Project” are supposed to build a better future under the waves, safe from the terrible famines and wars and that rock the surface world.

But there some big challenges ahead of her: noone ever asked Nere if she wanted to be part of a science experiment; the other Neptune kids aren’t exactly the friendliest bunch, and in order to reach the safe haven of the new Neptune colony, Nere and her fellow mutates must swim across hundreds of miles of dangerous ocean, relying on their wits, their loyal dolphins and one another to evade terrifying undersea creatures and a government that will stop at nothing to capture the Neptune kids … dead or alive.

Fierce battle and daring escapes abound as Nere and her friend race to safety in this action-packed marine adventure.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I’ve been writing professionally for over twenty years now, and I do like to write in my little office (usually supervised by two lazy cats), but I can make myself write anywhere.

Ellie and Luna

I’m also a big believer in the “bio-rhythms” of writing. Different people definitely have different times of day when they are most productive. Between 8 and 11 o’clock in the morning is my magic time when the words and phrases flow easily. Noon to two or so is a barren, frustrating desert, and then my creativity starts flowing again around three in the afternoon, just when I have to pick up my kids from school.

I knew a successful romance writer whose most productive time was literally from midnight to four or five in the morning. She lived a completely nocturnal lifestyle when she was on deadline, but luckily she was single and could cater to the whims of her personal bio-rhythms!

Most of us have jobs and family obligations which keep us from writing at our most productive time. But if you want to be a professional writer, you have to protect that time as best you can.

Sometimes you get stuck having to produce at a time of day when those creative juices don’t flow as easily, but if you’re a pro, you still put yourself in front of your computer at home, in the car, at the office cafeteria, or at your kid’s school gym between games and make the words come or, at the very least, get some useful revising done.

As a science fiction writer, how did you go about building your world?

The Neptune Project takes place almost entirely in the sea, and one of my favorite compliments from a teen reader was, “I had no idea all that cool stuff was down there.”

There is lots of “cool stuff” in the ocean, and I went to great lengths to build an undersea world so vivid that my readers could see it, hear it, feel it, and taste it.

Fortunately, I’ve been a scuba diver for many years, and I was able to describe from personal experience the light and the visibility and the currents one often encounters beneath the waves. I went to the websites of dive companies which operate in waters I didn’t know, like the Vancouver Island area, and I studied their photos and read comments from their guests to collect more visceral details to convey what it’s like swimming around in such cold, dark waters.

Even though the entire premise of humans breathing water may seem preposterous to some, I wanted to make it seem as believable as possible. I had to do a ton of research and found out that what we can already do in terms of genetic engineering is both amazing and frightening.

We truly are on the brink of being able to create custom-designed children and genetically-enhanced super soldiers. Creating humans who can breathe in the sea isn’t preposterous at all.

Finally, I tried to tap into my own teen years and imagine what it would be like if I were fourteen and suddenly was forced to live in the ocean. What would I notice, what would astound me, and what would I miss from my life on land?

Effective world-building often comes back to the simplest details.

In one of my favorite scenes, my characters float in a circle eating their lunch of raw fish and kelp while they talk about the food from home that they miss, like ice cream and freshly-baked bread. I hope in that moment, my teen readers do realize how hard it is for my characters to have to live in this strange new undersea world for the rest of their lives.