Cynsational Vacation

Writers’ League of Texas Agents & Editors Con

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Effectively immediately, Cynsations is on hiatus until September!

In the meantime, keep up with my news, writing tips and resources as well as conversations and goings on of the children’s-YA book world at Twitter (@CynLeitichSmith) and my Facebook author page.

You also can follow my Facebook personal page. No worries, it’s not too personal–largely my musings on daily life and pop culture stuff (though bookish thoughts sneak in sometimes).

Recent topics include:

  • the average woman spends $15,000 over the course of a lifetime on cosmetics
  • the TV show “Once Upon a Time”
  • Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing” movie
  • which regions routinely serve sweet vs. regular tea in restaurants
  • my seamstress’s refusal to hem a pair of my pants because “the pattern is too striking to cut”

In addition, you’re still invited to pitch ideas for
guest posts, new voice interviews, guest interviews, book trailer
reveals, giveaways, etc. to run in the fall. Contact me directly with details. 

So, go on! Have fun! Read, write, play! Enjoy summer!

P.S. Interested in creating graphic novels? Register to participate in this Austin SCBWI Graphic Novel Workshop, scheduled for Oct. 5 at St. Edward’s University!

P.P.S. The winners of How (Not) to Find a Boyfriend by Allyson Valentine (Philomel, 2013) were Rebecca and Hania. Read a Cynsations interview with Allyson.

Sunset in Galveston, Texas

Guest Post: Christopher Cheng on the Asian Festival of Children’s Content

Singtel Picture Book Award judges (Christopher is the tallest)

By Christopher Cheng
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

The end of May is the time to be in Singapore for any writer or illustrator of children’s books.

Why? Because the weather is hot, dry and summery (with just the possibility of a brief shower), there is glorious food to be sampled (especially in the open air food malls), great shopping to be undertaken and even more importantly the end of May is the time when the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) is up and running.

Hosted by the National Book Development Board of Singapore (NBDB), AFCC is a conference for those book creators who are just starting out as well as for those who are well established in the genre. The Asia Pacific region is a huge and growing region for quality English language children’s books so it is vital to know what is happening with books and publishing in this part of the world.

This year, 2013 was the fourth year that it has been in this amalgamated format; it was previously separate festivals for book creators and for multimedia. Two other components of the conference are one day for parents and another for teachers with content geared towards that target audience.

Like all new great festivals AFCC is growing and evolving. New tracks within the conference and seminars have been added and there has been increased exposure to multimedia and social networking. Presentations on style, craft, content as well as a day of workshops are core components of the festival as well. The seminars offer specialised sessions that focus on specific aspects of the literary community, this year including sessions on young adult literature, translation of children’s books, blogging and book reviewing.

But it isn’t only the traditionally published book. There is a large multimedia and transmedia strand to the festival with workshops and seminars and demonstrations as well.

panel on humor in picture books

But the Writers and Illustrators Conference, which runs over two days, is of primary importance with sessions that include writing narrative nonfiction, picture book art, writing series books, social media for authors and illustrators, marketing books, selling rights and, of major importance, publishing and distribution in Asia.

With English being a second language in the region, but of major importance all over the region, sessions on bilingual publishing and translation are integral to this festival. Indicative of the importance of English it the region the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), an inter-regional government political and economic organisation promoting peace and security which comprises ten nations within the region and their dialogue partners has the official working language, English.

For creators of children’s books, Asia is a huge market. The region has hundreds of millions English speakers – more than the first-language English speaking world. Many of the countries in this region require students to study English, so the publishers and the education systems here are on the lookout for the creators of the books that will fulfill that requirement. Many of the publishers are acquiring titles by international publishers.

In fact, there are more English speakers in the Asia region than the rest of the world — it is a major language in China and India. And where once children were only reading the English text for school requirements, there are now more and more children being exposed to reading for the enjoyment of it.

lecture display

Two major competitions are open to folks around the world. Held in alternate years the AFCC runs the Scholastic Asian Book Award for an unpublished story inspired by Asia (entries close Oct. 31) and also the Singtel Asian Picture Book Award, for an outstanding unpublished picture book with a distinctly Asian theme. Both awards carry prize money of $10,000 each. This year the picture book award went to works from Mongolia and Singapore with Debra Chong (Singapore) receiving the manuscript award for If I Were (who didn’t have to travel far) and the illustration prize awarded to the BaaSanSuren Bolormaa for the work called Old City (a much further trip). As one of the judges for the Picture Book Award, I know the work it took to decide the winners.

There is the opportunity for illustrators to showcase recently published work in the Book Illustrators Gallery (BIG). BIG aims to showcase the work illustrators and artists, across genres and borders, to promote them to a wider audience. Work is submitted in the first months of the year, juried, and then requested art is sent for display.

A new addition to the AFCC programme has been the country of focus, and 2013 saw Malaysia sharing their books. India, with their many hundreds of publishers and huge reading population, will be the country of focus for 2014.

SCBWI is a sponsor of AFCC and so two popular session that feature in many SCBWI conferences around the world are also incorporated – First Pages (for authors) and First Look (for illustrators). A number of the Asian SCBWI regional advisors attend present at AFCC and in future years it is hoped that there will be enough SCBWI members attending AFCC to also have a SCBWI delegates meeting. An invitation only industry dinner is also part of the programme.

AFCC is also a publisher and this year a number of titles were published and launched at the festival including multilingual books, a collection of keynote speeches from previous AFCC’s and fist picture book, and my latest title – Water which is already being translated into a number of languages.

Of course the question that all children’s book creators – authors, illustrators and publishers – will be asking is will they publish my work in Asia? And the answer is yes. There are publishers based in the Asia region who will publish books by non-residents.

Yes, it is still difficult, like it is in most countries. Like nearly all publishers the Asian publishers publish works from residents but they also want to publish the best work for their readers so there are a number of publishers who request manuscripts. They also buy the rights to republish books that originate elsewhere. Additionally some of the Asian based children’s magazines are actively seeking writers and illustrators for their works. Many of these publishers attend AFCC.

National Library Singapore

For the next three years, the AFCC will be anchored at the National Library using the wonderful facilities within the building and also the undercover forecourt for the bookstall, stage, and for the publishers displays and rights markets. It is envisaged that the AFCC will be the equivalent of Bologna with rights being sold. Already planning is underway for the 2014 AFCC. As in previous years, SCBWI members receive a discount on registration.

So plan for 2014 now. Take a trip to Singapore and attend the Asian Festival of Children’s Content. The dates are 31st May to 4th June. Watch the website for details of the programme. And as well as a most excellent conference there is also lots to see, the wonderful food and great shopping!

More posts on the Asian Festival of Children’s Content and also the Kids Lit festival I attended in Manila straight after AFCC can be found at the following posts:

AFCC Day 1
AFCC Day 2
AFCC Day 3
Little Lit Fest Day 1
Little Lit Fest Day 2

See also more on book water.

Cynsational Notes

Christopher Cheng
is the award winning author of print and digital children’s books in
many genres. He is the Asia Pacific reporter for Cynsations, a board
member for the Asian festival of Children’s Content and he is co-chair of the International Advisory Board for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Cynsational Screening Room

Candy Gourlay’s video of the 2013 Asian Festival of Children’s Content from PaperTigers Blog.


Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Six Tips for Bursting Through a Creative Block by Katie Sise from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing. Peek: “The next time you find yourself procrastinating, tell yourself you’ll work on the task you’ve been avoiding for just ten minutes.”

Balancing Solitude and Social Life by Rosie Genova from QueryTracker. Peek: “Writing is a solitary art, but we are social animals. We have spouses, partners, parents, and children, and those relationships can sometimes be at odds with our work.”

You Will Surprise Yourself: How Setting Writing Goals Can Expand Your Abilities by Rebecca Leach from the Office of Letters and Light. Peek: “Even if you’d rather not talk to anyone quite yet, you can still sit and write while surrounded by people who have the same crazy deadline and goal as you.” See also You Love Who You Love: a Pride Week Post by Rebecca from E. Kristin Anderson at Write All the Words!

Interview: Melissa Coats with Brilliance Audio from Wastepaper Prose. Peek: ” I don’t feel that audiobooks appeal only to a specific subset of young readers. In my experience, the appeal of audiobooks is more about exposure, than a specific type of young listener.”

Seven Agents Talk about the Most Common Submissions Mistakes by Jan from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing. From Sarah Davies: “We see a lot of waffle sometimes! Writers telling us they are pretty hopeless and have no track record; or telling us they are wonderful and we’d be fools to pass them by. And then we have the ones who tell us at great length about their families and children and husbands, whom they love dearly.” See also Raising Questions with Your First Line by Emma Trevayne from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing.

Introducing Fantasy Elements by Mary Kole from Peek: “The missing piece is often what happens immediately after the introduction of the paranormal element. That’s what actually teaches us about what kind of world you’re creating.”

Author Interview: Tara Sullivan on Golden Boy by Janet S. Fox from Through the Wardrobe. Peek: “Sadly, though Golden Boy is…based on reality. …I came across a news story that told about the kidnapping, mutilation, and murder of African albinos for use as good luck talismans, I was horrified, and struck by the topic on multiple levels.”

Five Things I’ve Learned About Doing School Visits by Janet Wong from School Visit Experts. Peek: “A significant number of my school visits are ‘repeat business’–usually 5 or 6 years after my first visit, once the kids I met during my first visit have graduated.” See also Author Photos by Elizabeth S. Craig from Mystery Writing is Murder.

Bid to Win 10-Page Critique & 10-Minute Phone Consultation with Literary Agent Anna Olswanger from Wildlife Freedom Auction to benefit The Born Free Foundation (an international wildlife charity that works throughout the world to stop individual wild animal suffering). Peek: “Anna Olswanger has been an agent with Liza Dawson Associates in New York for eight years. She focuses on adult nonfiction, children’s picture books (art and text) and historical mysteries (adult).” Deadline: June 29.

Timelines: Plotting by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “Obviously, a time line lays out the time period of your novel. Does it take place in 24 hours or does it span 24 years? Within that time span, you’ll want to slot events, reactions, and characters.”

What Rivers and Jackhammers Have in Common with the Writing Process from Robin LaFevers.Peek: “I’ve heard it said that you can never cross the same river twice, which I take to essentially mean that the fluid nature of water and the ever-changing flotsam and jetsam that is floating in a river at any given time changes constantly so therefore a new river is created every few seconds. I find this true for writing.”

Writing for the Long Haul by Sherwood Smith from Janni Lee Simner at Desert Dispatches. Peek: “My feeling is that the author in ‘midcareer’ (and I firmly believe that many of us will consider ourselves to be in midcareer until they find us face down at our desk, our lifeless, withered hands loose on the keyboard) must sometimes work to keep inspiration alive. It will probably be a different type of inspiration that moved us to write than when we were young. And that’s okay.”

Why It’s So Hard to Go from Last to First Draft by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Diary of a Writer. Peek: “…a day or week or whatever later you start the next novel. And it’s a bloody mess. Did you ever really know how to write a novel?”

Divya Srinivasan and the Introverted Octopus by Julie Danielson from Kirkus Reviews. Peek: “As I learned about octopuses and their behavior (solitary, curious, observant, quick to hide when discovered), I imagined a character that I could relate to in many ways. For instance, I can be pretty self-conscious around others sometimes, but when I’m alone I feel free to be myself without worry. And though I enjoy being
social, I equally need a lot of time alone.”

Colorado Librarians Announce Bell Picture Book Award Program by Karyn M. Peterson from School Library Journal. Peek: “‘…my hope that publishers see how their books are used by libraries and children to foster literacy—and that they continue to offer talented writers and illustrators a platform for sharing their wonderful ideas.'”

A Short History of Gay YA Lit by Nora Olsen from Write All the Words! Peek: “I’m going to take you on a whirlwind tour of a few notable moments in queer YA history!”

As Demographics Shift, Children’s Literature Stays Stubbornly White from National Public Radio. See also June 2013 Census: Numbers We Know from CBC Diversity.

Fighting the Summer Slow-Down with a Fast Draft by Ash Krafton from Peek: “Sandy organized a team of writers who wanted to get the work done but, perhaps, like me, didn’t trust themselves enough to do it alone. The plan involved setting a week aside for the Fast Draft, to write in sprints of 20 to 30 minutes throughout the day, to communicate our goals and progress on Twitter, and to cheer each other on.”

Making a Book Trailer

Making a Book Trailer by Annemarie O’Brien from Quirk and Quill. Peek: “For a little over a minute of run time, the book trailer for Lara’s Gift took months of my attention from start to finish.”

Celebrate Summer Reading

The Seattle Public Library launched the 2013 Summer Reading Program by setting a new world record for the longest book domino chain!” Filmed by Playfish Media.

Support Morganville

Morganville: The Series: a Kickstarter campaign to finance a high-quality web TV series based on the international bestselling Morganville Vampires novels by Rachel Caine. Peek: “Writer/Producer Rachel Caine is a proven quantity–40 novels published, multiple bestsellers, and she’s on board to write the entire first season of episodes. (The first two are already done.)”

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two copies of How (Not) to Find a Boyfriend by Allyson Valentine (Philomel, 2013) from Cynsations. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Enter here.

See also New YA Releases & Two Giveaways from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Congratulations to P.J. Hoover on the release of Solstice (Tor, 2013)!
Celebrating Solstice with children’s author Shana Burg
Congratulations to programming director (& YA author) Jennifer Ziegler on the success of last weekend’s 2013 Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference in Austin!
At the Writers’ League conference with author Nikki Loftin and literary agent Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary
Children’s author Donna Bowman Bratton celebrating the release of Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson (Delacorte)

Learn about Sarah Prineas

Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Cynthia Leitich Smith by Brittney Breakey from Author Turf. Peek (on the song that describes my work ethic): “‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ by Kelly Clarkson.”

Cheers to my one-time VCFA MFA advisee Rebecca Van Slyke on the sale of Lexie The Word Wrangler “at auction, in a two-book deal, to Nancy Paulsen at Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin)…”! Source: Publishers Marketplace.

Congratulations to fellow Austinite Donna Bowman Bratton on the sale of her first book, Step Right Up: The Story of Beautiful Jim Key, to Lee & Low! From Publishers Marketplace: “…the biography of a former slave and self-taught veterinarian who, armed only with patience and kindness, taught a horse to spell, write, and do math, and together they became powerful advocates for the emerging animal humane movement…”

Thanks to Donna Gephart for including Cynsations among her recommended Great Resources for Writers! I’m honored to have my blog featured in such terrific company!

Huge thanks to Sarah Prineas for her assistance in updating the state awards section of Children’s & YA Lit Resources! Expect a full site update by summer’s end, courtesy of my new webmaster, Erik Kuntz of Square Bear Studio.

Tune in this weekend for a report on the Asian Festival of Children’s Content from Cynsations reporter Christopher Cheng, and then Cynsations will go on summer hiatus in July-August. During that time, you are still welcome to pitch and send ideas for guest posts, new voice interviews, guest interviews, book trailer reveals, giveaways, etc. to run in the fall. Contact me directly with details.

Personal Links

Actual Teen, Adult Teen
Cover Reveal: The Woken Gods by Gwenda Bond
Tiny Shells, Each with a Wilderness Inside 
Writers League of Texas Love
How Summer Reading Programs Can Help Your Child with Special Needs 

New Voice: J.K. Rock on Camp Boyfriend

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

J.K. Rock is the YA writing partnership of sister-in-laws Joanne and Karen Rock and the talent behind the Camp Boyfriend series (Spencer Hill, 2013)(discussion guide)(educational resources)(pre-sale). From the promotional copy:

They said it couldn’t be done, but geeky sophomore Lauren Carlson transformed herself into a popular girl after moving to a new school half-way across the country. Amazing what losing your braces and going out for cheerleading will do. 

Only trouble is, the popular crowd is wearing on Lauren’s nerves and she can’t wait to return to summer camp where she’s valued for her brain instead of her handsprings. She misses her old friends and most of all, her long time camp-only boyfriend, Seth. 

This year she intends to upgrade their relationship to year-round status once she’s broken up with her new, jock boyfriend, Matt. He doesn’t begin to know the real her, a girl fascinated by the night sky who dreams of discovering new planets and galaxies.

But Matt isn’t giving her up without a fight. As he makes his case to stay together, Lauren begins to realize his feelings run deeper than she ever would have guessed. What if the guy she thought she was meant to be with forever isn’t really The One? 

Returning to Camp Juniper Point was supposed to ground her uprooted life, but she’s more adrift than ever. Everything feels different and soon Lauren’s friends are turning on her and both guys question what she really wants. 

As summer tensions escalate, Lauren wonders if she’s changed more than she thought. Will her first big discovery be herself?

What is it like, to be a debut author (or illustrator or author-illustrator) in 2013? What do you love about it? What are the challenges? What came as the biggest surprise? In each case, why?

K: Being a debut author is a hold-on-tight, don’t-let-go, thrill-of-your-life ride. I love the sense of accomplishment in seeing my imagination made real–an actual book that others can read and hopefully love. There’s no greater feeling.

The strong sense of community and support from fellow authors, bloggers, reviewers and the fans of our series prequel novella, Camp Kiss, isn’t as much a surprise as it is a revelation.

Writing can sometimes feel isolating. Yet once I began attending workshops, conferences, and interacting on social media, I realized that the world is brimming with amazing, talented people, including, most importantly, my incredible co-author and sister-in-law, Joanne.

J: I feel very fortunate to have sold a project with a dear friend who happens to be tremendously creative and talented. Sharing the workload with such a smart, inspiring person has been a non-stop joy. That alone makes my 2013 YA debut much different from books I’ve sold in the past under my own name.

But another key difference to debuting in 2013 is the vast access to readers through social media. The social media aspect of our promotion has been really rewarding for the instant, easy communication with readers. On the other hand, setting up all new homes for J.K. Rock online has been a challenge! We wanted to be everywhere that readers are, and that’s a tall order today.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

Joanne with Duchess

J: Lauren’s voice came to us in stages.

We had one vision of her early on in the creative process, but it shifted and focused more as we wrote so that we had a clearer idea of her at the end of the book, which meant we had to go back for some tightening in the revision stage but we’re very happy with her voice.

One reason that she was a challenging voice to find is her dual nature. She experienced a real shift in perceptions and life experiences when she moved from New York to Texas and started to make new friends and find new interests.

Lauren is actually searching hard for her voice in Camp Boyfriend, and we wanted to make that search feel authentic.

K: As an eighth grade teacher and maintaining close friendships with my former students as they’ve grown up, has helped me to hear lots of young adult voices.

What I’ve learned is that each is distinct and there is no one-size-fits-all YA voice. Each teenager sounds the way he or she does because of their unique experiences and personalities.

When it came to writing Lauren, we let her life guide us in how she would sound without worrying about whether it fit a certain expectation. That isn’t the reality I know in working with young adults.

Karen with her writing staff

My advice to YA authors is to find every opportunity to interact with teenagers in authentic ways, and, most importantly, to listen. They have so much to say that we need to hear. Let them do the talking so that your mind can take notes.

New Voice & Giveaway: Allyson Valentine on How (Not) to Find a Boyfriend

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Allyson Valentine is the first-time author of How (Not) to Find a Boyfriend (Philomel, 2013). From the promotional copy:

Sophomore Nora Fulbright is the most talented and popular new cheerleader on the Riverbend High cheer squad. 

Never mind that she used to be queen of the nerds—a chess prodigy who answered every question first, aced every test and repelled friends at every turn—because this year, Nora is determined to fully transition from social pupa to full blown butterfly, even if it means dumbing down her entire schedule. 

But when funny, sweet and very cute Adam moves to town and steals Nora’s heart with his untra-smarts and illegally cute dimple, Nora has a problem. How can she prove to him that she’s not a complete airhead? 

Nora devises a seemingly simple plan to barter her way into Adam’s classes that involves her classmates, friends—and her older brother Phil’s award-winning AP history paper. But soon, Nora can barely keep track of her trades, and struggles to stay in control of her image.

In the end, the only thing that can save Nora is a chess tournament—that she has to compete in wearing her cheerleading uniform. Can she prove to everyone that she can be both a butterfly and a nerd? 

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

Allyson writes wherever she can.

It was the spring of 2012 during the final round of revisions for How (Not) to Find a Boyfriend that we received my husband’s diagnosis.

Evan, love of my life, has Frontotemporal dementia, a brain disease that is steadily turning him into a giant toddler before it succeeds in taking him away from us altogether.

It was the first time I slipped a writing deadline. Sit in the chair? Focus on writing? How?

For the first few weeks following Evan’s diagnosis, I walked around in pajamas, zombie-like. The kids missed school. Each day, at breakfast, we took turns being the first to cry. My days were spent finding doctors for Evan. Sorting out insurance. Figuring out social security since Evan, who had been unemployed for six months, would never work again.

The greatest part of each day was spent applying emotional Crazy Glue to my kids and my husband in an effort to keep it all together. How was I ever going to have the time and emotional energy to complete my revisions?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, father of the practice called Mindfulness Meditation, wrote a book called Full Catastrophe Living.

The title of the book comes from the film “Zorba the Greek” when Zorba explains the life he is living:

“Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe.”

The premise of Kabat-Zinn’s work is that we all live “the full catastrophe,” and a meditation practice better enables us to deal with the inevitable crap that is flung our way.

The only way for me to complete my revisions was to practice Full Catastrophe Writing. I forced myself to put aside my grief, sit down and go to the page.

And a wonderful thing happened. In returning to my work I found an escape from the catastrophic events that had become part of everyday life. Writing slowed my breath. It made me laugh. It gave me hope. Writing became my meditation.

As the fog has begun to lift, life has become busier than ever. I am faced with the same conundrum that faces all writers with over-committed lives. How do we find time to write?

I follow some basic rules:

Arthur helps Allyson write

1. Expand the definition of “writing time.” I keep chalk in my car and when I’m stopped at a light, or waiting for a kid to emerge from school, I jot notes on my dashboard. Messy, but highly effective.

I give myself credit for these tiny bursts of creativity, no matter how short they are. These days, even time spent walking my dogs in the woods, or washing dishes, or folding laundry counts as writing time if I use that time to think about my work, because that thinking eventually translates into words on the page.

2. Schedule your writing time as though it were an appointment. My Day Planner is not just littered with notes about who needs to be where, when. Interspersed in and among the other ‘to-do’ items are the words ‘writing time.’ If I do not schedule time to write, I do not write.

3. Set yourself up for success. I know writers who strive for a certain word count each week, or a specific number of scenes. I’ve tried that, and when I come up short I feel bad about myself.

Now, success for me is that I showed up when I said I would, regardless what I accomplish in that time. And if all hell breaks loose and my writing time is subsumed by the needs of my family? I am gentle with myself. The missed writing time was hard enough to take, I don’t deserve to be beaten up about it, too.

4. Allow reading to qualify as writing time. I read like a writer, always looking for ways to improve my craft. In fact, reading is a necessary part of my development as a writer. I give myself a gold star for writing whenever I’ve had time to hunker down with a good book.

Allyson and Kado

5. Get over the need for a harmonic convergence of light, space, and creative energy. Once, I needed to have quiet in order to write. I needed to burn a candle. I had to be totally present to get into my writing head. Those days are gone.

At this very moment my fourteen-year-old son is perfecting his backward slide down the banister. My dog is trying to get into my lap. My husband is wandering around the room muttering something about “Star Trek.” And here comes dog number two. If I waited for the time and ambiance to be perfect, I would never write.

A final rule I live by is this: be patient. All too soon my kids will be out of the house. My husband, sadly, will be gone. I suspect I’ll also be down a pet or two.

The quantity and ferocity of day-to-day catastrophes will lighten—good lord willing and the creek don’t rise, as my dad always says. And when that time comes, I will look back at the life I am living now and marvel that I got anything done.

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

A friend once said to me, “You seem like one of those people who good things happen to.” Obviously not all the time. But I do feel incredibly blessed when hardships are book-ended with miracles.

My publishing story is one of those “no way!” tales.

Way. I did not find my editor, my editor found me.

I attended our annual Western Washington retreat, Writing on the Water, where sixty or so other writers and I attended fabulous workshops offered by two marvelous editors.

At a workshop on voice led by Penguin editor Jill Santopolo, we were asked to write in the voice of a homeless kid, a prep school kid or a cheerleader. The idea was that the voice should be recognizable without ever mentioning anything about being homeless, in prep school or leading cheers.

I chose to go the cheerleader route, writing a scene in which a cheerleader was stuck feeding breakfast to her much younger step-brother. When Jill solicited for volunteers to read their work aloud, I raised my hand. The piece I’d written was pretty funny if I do say so myself. And I really liked the character of both the cheerleader and her brother.

As I left the classroom, Jill stopped me. “You should really do something with that cheerleader character.”

Like what. Write a cheerleader novel?

Hah! I tried out for the cheerleading squad at my junior high and didn’t get selected. Not that I harbor a grudge or anything, but there was no way I would ever write a book with a cheerleader protagonist. Unless she got a terrible disease or something.

When I’d returned home from the retreat I received a phone call from Jill. “It’s such a crazy coincidence,” she said, “but Michael Green [President and Publisher at Philomel] was just in my office where he shared a concept for a cheerleader novel. He wanted to know if I knew anyone who could write a great cheerleader voice. What do you think?”

What did I think? “I’m in!” Seriously? It was like having the hottest guy at school call and ask me to the prom. Or at least it was what I imagine that would have been like.

Jill and her amazing assistant Julia Johnston shared with me a basic outline. I loved it. I created the characters and the subplots, and wove together a story I’m really happy with. And—spoiler alert—the cheerleader protagonist doesn’t get a disease.

The plot thickens. Jill’s assistant Julia, with whom I did most of my revising, left Penguin when we were in the final stages of revision. Every writer’s nightmare, right?

Thankfully Jill was fully on board, totally supportive, and looks at us! We have a book! As for what became of Julia, she joined ICM as assistant to Heather Schroder, a truly delightful (and crazy smart) agent. Julia introduced me to Heather, and we’re working together on my next book.

Miracles do happen!

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two copies of How (Not) to Find a Boyfriend by Allyson Valentine (Philomel, 2013) from Cynsations. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Guest Post: Cordelia Allen Jensen on Putting My Critical Voice Down for a Nap: How I Juggle Motherhood & Writing

Photo of Cordelia by Amy Rose Capetta

By Cordelia Allen Jensen
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I am a mother and a writer and, for two years, I was a student. I went back to Vermont College of Fine Arts to get my MFA when my twins were four. Every time I left for residency, I felt horrible. But, after a few days, I would let my guilt go and focus on school.

As painful as it was, I believe I am now able to juggle motherhood with a writing career because I learned during these residencies how to quiet my Critical Voice and stay present.

Some days, are about compartmentalization. I drop the kids off at their first grade classrooms, kiss them on their cute little cheeks, and then trot off to exercise or do some errands before sitting down to write. Before I start I take a deep breath and, just like I did in residencies, I let my guilt go.

I do this by coaxing my Critical Voice down for a nap: I sing her a lullaby called “don’t worry about the laundry, now it’s time to write.” Then, I ask myself to be present with my work. To be present with that character in that moment. (In, really, the very same way I will be present with the kids later that afternoon, playing a game of Hedbandz or Scattergories.)

As a student, I learned I didn’t I have a choice of when to be creative. I learned to do what I can when I can. And so now, when that sneaky Critical Voice pops up from her nap with a new tactic (this time to say: what you’re writing isn’t good enough), I toss her her her blankie and remind her about something called revision.

Some days, compartmentalization is impossible. On those days, I mix things up. Here is my strategy for working alongside children:

Have “Shared Creative Time”

Give them a huge white piece of paper and ask them to draw their story setting while you draw yours. Or teach them about Story Mountains and have them fill one out while you write. Draw sketches for them and see if they can write a poem from your sketch. Or vice versa. Make character playlists together on iTunes.

If you have a small baby, you might get most of your writing done while the baby sleeps.

But, if you are lucky enough to be hit with inspiration while the baby’s awake, you could free-write while the baby nurses or tell your story out loud to your baby as she plays.

Grant Permanent Access to Creative Materials 

Tate playing Hedbanz

I have a lot of flat surfaces and art supplies set up in stations on the first floor of my house. That way, when anyone is feeling creative, there’s a place to make magic happen. When kids are younger or if you have the kinds of kids that don’t love writing and drawing, setting up building or dress-up stations would work just as well.

And although that pesky Critical Voice might tell you that sounds like double the mess, chuck her a cereal bar and tell her that messes can wait, but creative play is the thing of life.

Some days I am a better mom. Some days I am a better writer. Some days I am only good at predicting who will get the final rose on “The Bachelor.” But, every night, before a new day begins, I try to give a bottle, draw a bath, and lay my Critical Voice down to bed. In hopes that, tomorrow, she might, feeling a little more grown up, need a little less attention.

The Big Book of Poems

Photo of Lily by Laura Gill

By Lily, age 7

My mom
sitting on
the couch
in her studio writing
a big book
of poems.

Me sitting
beside her.

I’m watching her
deeply thinking
in her book.

We will always
be friends.

Cynsational Notes

Cordelia Allen Jensen graduated with a MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. Cordelia’s debut YA novel in verse, Skyscraping, is forthcoming from Philomel/Penguin in early 2015. Cordelia was Poet Laureate of Perry County in 2006 and 2007. She is a Writer-In-Residence at The Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia where she teaches creative writing classes for kids and teens. She’s also represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc. and thanks Laura Sibson for her help in editing this post.

From the Left: Cordelia, Lori Steel, Nicole Valentine, Shelby Rosiak. Photo by Laura Sibson, also a Writer Mama.

Guest Post: Candice Ransom on The Best-Laid Marketing Plans…

By Candice Ransom
Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

It couldn’t happen two years in a row. But it did.

I begin promoting my books about six months ahead of publication date—setting up signings, etc.

My book Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World was released April 2012. My plan was ready to launch November 2011. The marketing strategy for my mid-grade novel, Rebel McKenzie, out June 2012, was in place by January.

But in November 2011, my husband had an emergency quadruple bypass. In January 2012, he had lung surgery, followed by a second lung surgery. Normal life was replaced with weeks in the hospital, wound care, medications, rehabilitation, labs, and appointments. I managed to fire off part of my marketing plans.

Most events fizzled: poor turnout for signings due to Obama stumping/errant derechoes/118 degree temps and other acts of God. By the end of 2012, my husband was better and I was planning the June 2013 launch of Iva Honeysuckle Meets Her Match.

And then the news came.

My sister’s husband—like a brother to me—was terminally ill. My sister was battling cancer. I began spending at least one day a week driving to Richmond to help. By February, I became seriously ill myself. As winter gave way to spring, the June release date pressed closer, adding to my stress.

I worried my husband’s surgeries cost me sales for the first Iva book. Iva Honeysuckle was meant to be a series, but the figures didn’t “track.” I’d hoped to pull off a miracle with the second Iva, but it won’t happen. I dread another summer of disastrous events. I dread letting my publisher down.

I read about kids’ books with astronomical sales and wonder how the authors managed it. Maybe the publisher got behind their books. Maybe not. Writers can use their own marketing muscle these days.

My Facebook feed seems to be an endless stream of book parties, blog tours, giveaways (“Be my 10,000th Twitter follower and win a book!”). Social media clearly boosts sales—writers are more accessible to their readers. I keep a blog, Under the Honeysuckle Vine, and a Facebook page but no Twitter. I don’t own an iPad or a smart phone. My work is done on my computer. Do I really want to update accounts while sitting at a loved one’s bedside?

How do we handle a book launch when a crisis drops on us like Dorothy’s house? By setting priorities. People need us first. When we are caring for sick children or spouses or parents, we must be good to ourselves or we will be no good to them.

My computer is on from 6:30 a.m. until 8:00 p.m., enough time to be connected to the world. I take frequent walks—no headphones, just birdsong. On weekends, my husband and I drive down back roads. I snap photos of old houses. It’s how I recharge my batteries and lessen stress.

The biggest thing I did was to let go of the notion that one person—me—can make or break the sales of a book.

Iva Honeysuckle Meets Her Match will come out around the time someone important to me will be released from this earth. I remind myself Iva is a book. There will be others.

I’ll do the best I can for Iva, already working on a plan for late summer.

An image from Candice’s back-road travels
Another image from Candice’s back-road travels

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Solstice by P.J. Hoover (Tor, 2013)(excerpt)(extras). From the promotional copy:

Piper’s world is dying. Each day brings hotter temperatures and heat bubbles that threaten to destroy the earth. Amid this global heating crisis, Piper lives under the oppressive rule of her mother, who suffocates her even more than the weather does. 

Everything changes on her eighteenth birthday, when her mother is called away on a mysterious errand and Piper seizes her first opportunity for freedom.

Piper discovers a universe she never knew existed—a sphere of gods and monsters—and realizes that her world is not the only one in crisis. While gods battle for control of the Underworld, Piper’s life spirals out of control as she struggles to find the answer to the secret that has been kept from her since birth.

Check out P.J.’s 42-book giveaway, blog tour, and in-person tour!

More News

The Heroic Journey Every Writer Has to Face by Martina from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing. Peek: “Something stirs inside us, an elusive wisp of an idea scented with adventure. It begins to rise and pull us with it, beckoning us to come along, to put our own spin on the wheel of inspiration.”

Write Your Opening in a Way That Lets Readers Know Their Effort Will Be Rewarded by Charlie Price from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing. Peek: “Since a story’s opening is usually the deal-maker or deal-breaker, I didn’t want to start with a lengthy description of setting or character. That kind of opening can foretell an overall pacing too leisurely for most current reading preferences.”

A Peek at Yuyi Morales’ Drawing Table by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “Here is an image of a page in which I kept reworking the text — and also images of some of my early thumbnails. The more I draw, the more I go to very small studies of my characters — tiny sometimes!”

Writing for the Long Haul by Mette Ivie Harrison from Janni Lee Simner at Desert Dispatches. Peek: “I couldn’t control how many faster athletes were there, and therefore I couldn’t control my placement overall. But what I could control was my own race. I could control how well I trained, how well I ate, and how much I rested the week before a race.”

When Every Culture is a Foreign Culture: Writing on the Autism Spectrum by Lyn Miller-Lachmann from Rich in Color. Peek: “With Gringolandia already in production, I questioned my ability to write fiction—which requires so much in terms of portraying emotion and social relationships, conveying the meaning of language and gesture, and forging connections with readers. These are all the things I struggle with in daily life.”

Out There: The Wrong Goal of Self-Publishing by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “Out there. I just want it out there. What does that even mean?”

Hunger Mountain: the VCFA Journal of the Arts is accepting submissions of children’s-YA poems, fiction and creative nonfiction as well as related craft essays.

School Visits 101 by Caroline Starr Rose from Project Mayhem. Peek: “Teachers are especially interested in having their students hear from a real, live author that writing is not a one-time event but a slow unfolding that requires multiple drafts, feedback, revision and editing, and lots of hard work.”

Interview with Nancy Garden from ALSC Blog. Peek: “LGBTQ characters in books are more acceptable to readers–and therefore to book buyers–than ever before. But that is not to say that this largely financial consideration is the only motive for wider acceptance!”

Discovering Our Writerly DNA by Robin LaFevers from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “As many writers quickly learn, once we become a writer it can be much more difficult to simply read for pleasure. I am too aware of the craft, too attuned to what makes a book ‘work’, too well-acquainted with my own internal editor, to fully lose myself in a book.”

Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased in Eighteen Years? from Lee & Low Books. Peek: “Surprisingly, the needle has not moved. Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, children’s book publishing has not kept pace. We asked academics, authors, librarians, educators, and reviewers if they could put their fingers on the reason why the number of diverse books has not increased.” See also an Interview with Janine MacBeth on multicultural self-publishing from Alison Goldberg, FirstBook.Org’s Commitment to Increase Diversity in Children’s Books from, A Very Good Question by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Partly via Bookshelves of Doom (and because we read many of the same blogs).

Cynsational Author Tip: don’t do teaser tweets, wherein the reader has to click a link to find out what you’re trying to communicate. Most won’t bother. Some will be annoyed. Instead, go ahead and give the pertinent facts, offering the link for supplemental information. You’ll effectively communicate what you want to say to more followers.

Ten-Power: A Disorganized Novelist’s Approach: A Craft Talk with Uma Krishnaswami from The Writing Barn. Peek: “When I got back to the work after a couple of days away from it, I found I could examine it as if through one of those 10-power lenses that turn flowers into miniature alien universes. I could see the landscape of it as if under magnification, and the characters at work against its field.”

So You Want to Be a Teen Author? Published Teenage Authors Tell It Like It Is. By E. Kristin Anderson from Write All the Words! Peek: “…why listen to me? I mean, I’m 30! Totally old! What do I know? So, I got this crazy Idea that I’d take to the streets (or the intertubes) and find out what real teen authors (and former teen authors) had to say about their experiences.”

Tips on Writing a Synopsis by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: “The synopsis is always written in third person, present tense, even if your book is in first person, past tense. The exception is when you reveal backstory necessary to the synopsis. Then you write it in simple past tense.”

Five Things I’ve Learned About Doing School Visits by Kim Norman from Peek: “Even if the child posing a question has long, curly locks and a pink hair bow, I never assume gender.”

Using a Critique Checklist by Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: “Now, when I’m hearing a piece that’s so good I can’t pick out any problems, I consult my checklist. Many times, I’m able to identify a weak area from among these possibilities…” See also Critique Connection by Mary Kole from

Congratulations to Tim Tingle and his fellow Native authors of books in the PathFinders hi/lo series. From the publisher: “All of the titles have a slightly larger print, quickly developed fictional plots and characters that are Native and very engaging.”

Writing Traumatized Characters by Sarah Fine from YA Highway. Peek: “Traumatic memories get encoded differently than ordinary memories and ‘behave’ differently, too.”

When an Agent Wants a Second Opinion by Deborah Halverson from Peek: “Representation is a huge commitment, and a second opinion from colleagues who know their personal tastes as well as the state of the market is as important to them as critique partners are to writers.”

Where Teens Go Instead of Facebook (and Why You Should, Too) by Becky Worley from Yahoo! News. Peek: “Twitter saw a doubling of teen users last year.” Note: Find me @CynLeitichSmith.

2013 Carnegie and Kate Greenway Medals Announced by Katie Bircher from The Horn Book. Peek: “…the U.K.’s Newbery and Caldecott equivalents — were announced yesterday. The awards are presented annually by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.” Note: congratulations to Sally Gardner and Levi Pinfold.

Auction of Children’s Book Illustrations to Save the Library: “The backstory: The Neighborhood School (P.S. 363), a diverse public school in N.Y.C.’s East Village, lost funding for its school library thanks to a perfect storm of budget cuts. Lovely children’s book artists, writers and publishers have stepped up to help us save the library and the job of its awesome librarian, Cheryl Wolf.” Source: A Fuse #8 Production.

Cynsational Giveaways

Million Visitors Blog Celebration & 22-Books Giveaway by Martina from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing. Winners will be announced June 22. Books include Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith and two of Cyn’s picks–a YA novel by Annette Curtis Klause and a writing craft book by Marion Dane Bauer. Deadline: 6 p.m. June 21. Eligibility: North America.

See also New YA Lit Releases and Three Giveaways from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing and Cover Reveal & Giveaway: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy from Mundie Moms. Learn more about North Texas soon-to-debut YA author Julie Murphy!

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

With Greg Leitich Smith at “Man of Steel” at Alamo Drafthouse in Austin.
Also by Ann Angel

Exciting news! From Publishers Weekly:

Hilary Van Dusen at Candlewick Press has acquired Ann Angel‘s Things I’ll Never Say: Short Stories About Our Secret Selves, a YA anthology about the perils of keeping and breaking secrets. Contributing authors include Varian Johnson, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Chris Lynch, Ellen Wittlinger, and others. The book is scheduled to publish in spring 2015; Tracey Adams at Adams Literary did the deal for world rights.” 

Note: contributors also include Louise Hawes, Mary Ann Rodman Downing, Ron Koertge, Jessica Powers, Meg Kearney and U.K. writers Katy Moran and Zoe Marriott.

Interested in writing graphic novels? Take my class at Graphic Novel Workshop 2013 on Oct. 5 at St. Edward’s University, sponsored by Austin SCBWI. Note: speakers also include Calista Brill, senior editor at First Second Books, and graphic novelist Dave Roman.

Congratulations to my brother-in-law, Keith A. Leitich, on the release of The History of Myanmar, co-authored by William J. Topich (Greenwood). Note: a nonfiction title for grown-ups.

Personal Links

Guest Post: Karen Rock on Treadmill Desks: Walking, Not Racing, to Your Next Deadline

By Karen Rock
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

For many writers, the only thing moving as we work are our fingers across a keyboard.

Not so for authors Janet Oberholtzer, Arthur Slade, Samantha Clark, Lisa Dalrymple and our own Cynthia Leitich Smith. They’re the proud owners of treadmill desks, a growing trend that combines work and fitness. Treadmill desks are traditional treadmills outfitted with boards used to support laptops or computers. This ingenious device is the ultimate multitasking tool.

Writing while walking is a great way to meet your deadlines as well as your fitness goals.

Janet on the go!

Janet Oberholltzer is an inspiration to writers and fans alike. After a horrific accident that shattered her legs and pelvis, and nearly her life, Janet refused to give up her passion for running.

She’s the author of an acclaimed memoir, Because I Can (Rhizome Publishing), a highly sought-after motivational speaker and the proud owner of a treadmill desk.

She said, “Our bodies are meant to move, and walking is one of the best ways of moving. But writing requires me to be on a computer which usually meant sitting most of the day…until a treadmill desk came to my rescue. Now I find walking while working a few hours a day is an excellent alternative to sitting all day.”

Janet sees great benefits to owning a treadmill desk. She adds, “I like being productive and this is the ultimate in multi-tasking. Plus, I’m doing something for my overall health and that’s priceless.”

Acclaimed novelist Arthur Slade, refers to himself as a ‘Treadhead Geek’ and talks to friends and strangers for hours about the benefits of ‘Treadheading’.

Arthur writes on the move.

Slade was drawn to the idea of a treadmill desk when he discovered he’d reached middle age.

“Oh, and the weight gain that came with middle age,” he said. “Who invented middle age, anyway?

“I had read an article in Nutrition Action about a doctor at the Mayo Clinic (James Levine) who had designed his own treadmill and suggested that humans were meant to walk all day…not to sit. The idea of exercising and working at the same time was perfect for me–two birds with one treadmill, as they say.”

He didn’t buy the traditional treadmill desks available in fitness stores. Instead, his ingenuity took over and, in 2009, he paid a visit to Canadian Tire. “It’s kind of like Target, but with more tires and hockey equipment,” Arthur explained. “A very Canadian place to shop. I purchased a…treadmill, took apart the top of it and built a wooden desk on top. The desk has somehow held together for four years.”

As a result, Arthur lost twenty pounds in the first six months and has kept it off since. Additionally, he’s written five novels, a graphic novel series and several articles. His latest work, Island of Doom, concludes his critically acclaimed hit series, The Hunchback Assignments (Random House).

Professional editor, regional advisor for the Austin chapter of SCBWI, and children’s-YA novelist Samantha Clark also built her own treadmill desk using wooden planks and her existing treadmill.

Amy Rose Capetta & Samantha Clark (in royal blue)

She’d been inspired by pictures of other authors and wanted to see if it’d work before committing to buying a fitness desk. The transition from writing at a stationary desk to a mobile one was fairly easy for Samantha.

“Well, I must admit, I had lots of practice,” she said. “I used to walk an hour to my former day job and would read books along the way — much to the annoyance of other people, but I didn’t bump into anyone.

“So writing on the treadmill wasn’t that much different from reading, especially as I started with the Kindle Fire. When I moved to the laptop, it became easier because I didn’t have to hold anything. The important thing, however, is choosing the right speed so you can type comfortably. And getting good shoes so your feet don’t get tired too quickly.”

For Samantha, the optimal speed to write and walk is about two to two and a half MPH. She enjoys the experience, but cautions that it isn’t for everyone. “One of my friends tried it and hasn’t been able to make it work. If it’s not your thing, I recommend using treadmill time to read — which is also so important for writing — or, if you prefer free hands, listen to audio books.”

Her faithful pet, however, seems fascinated to simply watch her owner’s new work habits. “Although my dog seems very confused as to why I keep talking to myself while I’m on the treadmill,” said Samantha, “I can’t tell if she likes my story, but I think she does.” (Learn more about Samantha on her motivating blog for writers.)

Lisa walks along with her characters’ journey.

Picture book author Lisa Dalrymple also has witnesses while writing on her self-built treadmill desk.

She said, “Being mobile while working tends to entice me to do a little happy dance when I’m particularly pleased with the way something has turned out.

“I am not someone who can walk – never mind dance – and chew gum at the same time. I hate to think of the number of times I’ve happy-danced myself right off the back of the machine. And, with my desk set up in front of the large bank of windows in our attic, I can only imagine how many passers-by have witnessed my elegant dance-flail-disappear-off-the-back-of-the-treadmill.”

Despite raising a few neighbors’ eyebrows, Lisa lauds the benefits of walking and writing. “It’s such an easy way to get both the blood and the ideas flowing. Also, if nothing else, when you have one of those days where you feel like you got nothing done, you can at least feel that you accomplished something while you were doing nothing.”

Lisa has produced a great deal on her treadmill desk, and her latest picture book, Skink on the Brink (Fitzhenry & Whiteside), is now available.

Cyn’s industrial shelving desk (with wheels)

Cynthia Leitich Smith asked for a treadmill desk as a present in December 2012. “New Year’s Eve is my birthday,” she said. “That adds another layer to the pressure to reflect and renew.

“One challenge of the writers’ life is that our call to action is: ‘Butt in chair.’ That skews seriously sedentary. I’d been inspired by Arthur’s experience and decided to give a treadmill desk a try.”

Cynthia already had a treadmill, and her desk was made out of industrial shelving with wheels on the legs. That allows her to roll the desk out of the way when she wants to use the treadmill more vigorously.

“I find that it’s easier to concentrate on the screen, to lose myself in the story,” she said. “But you can’t pause to mull over a scene without falling off. That said, I’ve yet to injure myself, and my health has definitely improved over time.”

She adds that her forward motion helps with action scenes in the Feral series (Candlewick/Walker Books). “The werecats are moving. I’m moving. One of the biggest challenges for writers is to get out of our own way, to not over-think or edit out our own voices. The treadmill desk lends itself to writing fast, contemplating later.”

Treadmill desks can range in cost from approximately seven hundred dollars to three thousand dollars. They’re available in many sporting goods and retail stores as well as with online vendors.

If you want try out this growing trend, then get moving. It’s as easy as picking up a phone. Best of luck as you walk your way to your next bestseller!

More recently, Cyn’s treadmill desk also serves as a perch for some of her fashion and fitness accessories.

Cynsational Notes

The Power of Walking by Susan Orlean from The New Yorker. Peek: “I am writing this while walking on a treadmill. And now you know the biggest problem with working at a treadmill desk: the compulsion to announce constantly that you are working at a treadmill desk.”

About Karen

More on Karen Rock

In a quest to provide her eighth grade students with quality reading material, English teacher Karen Rock read everything out there and couldn’t wait to add her voice to the conversation of books.

Now a debut YA series author, Karen is thrilled to pen stories that teens can relate to. When she’s not busy reading and writing, Karen is downloading live versions of favorite songs, watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” marathons, obsessing over reality TV contestants (Adam Lambert you were robbed!), cooking her family’s delizioso Italian recipes, and
occasionally rescuing local wildlife from neighborhood cats.

She lives in the Adirondack Mountain region with her husband, her very appreciated beta-reader daughter and two King Charles Cavalier Cocker Spaniels who have yet to understand the concept of “fetch,” though
they’ve managed to teach her the trick!

Check out her website, her co-author website, her Facebook page, and follow her on twitter @karenrock5. Then learn all about Camp Boyfriend (Spencer Hill).

Interview: Melissa Iwai and Anne Rockwell on Truck Stop

By Melissa Iwai and Anne Rockwell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Melissa Iwai and Anne Rockwell interview each other about their new release, Truck Stop, written by Anne and illustrated by Melissa (Viking, 2013). From the promotional copy:

Early each morning, before the sun is even up, the truck stop opens for breakfast, and the trucks start pulling in. Eighteen wheeler, milk tank, moving van, and flatbed! 

Their drivers order eggs and bacon, pancakes with syrup, and a blueberry muffin. 

For the boy who helps his parents at the counter, there is nothing better than seeing all the trucks roll in.

Melissa: Anne, it was very exciting to read your manuscript for Truck Stop (Viking, 2013) when it was first presented to me. My family and I have long been a big fan of your books, and I was so thrilled to be chosen to illustrate one of your stories! You’ve been so prolific and written so many wonderful stories throughout the years.

You’ve written books for early readers, such as Boats (Puffin, 1993), At the Supermarket (Henry Holt, 2010), First Day of School (HarperCollins, 2011). Also stories relating to history, mythology, and science. . . .

I wonder—what keeps you curious about the world and inspires you to write?

Photo of Anne by Oliver Rockwell, copyright 2013.

Anne: I think that for some reason I remain as curious as I was as a child about how our world works, whether it’s the stories we tell of people and events that live on from our past, or the endless fascination of the patterns to be found in nature, or simply the everyday (which for young children, a new world).

I can’t think of any child who divides the world into “fiction” vs “nonfiction” but adults do, which is sad, because children bring a joy and beauty to everything they learn, and no matter what we think, young children enjoy learning.

Sullivan Wong Rockwell reading his first book not yet knowing that his NaiNai (Mandarin Chinese for “paternal grandmother”) wrote and illustrated it many years ago for another little boy who grew up to be Sullivan’s BaBa. Photo by Oliver Rockwell, copyright 2013.

Melissa: Where do you get your voice?

Anne: I’m afraid I don’t get it. It owns me; it gets me, and I’m lucky when it comes my way. I’ve learned ways to summon it.

I find that it seeks me out when I’m in a foreign country. Fortunately I love to travel, and the voice seems to find me more readily when speaking, and sort of functioning in a foreign language.

A few years ago I was alone for an extended sketching visit to the south of France. Café au lait and fresh baked bread goes well with the song of pinball machines, I find, and ancient Roman ruins.

My sketchbook seems to want to turn into a journal—no, I mean a picture book. A picture book comes, and the language is that of my childhood. I wish I could summon that voice, but it has a mind of its own.

Melissa: Do you remember what the seed was for the story of Truck Stop?

Anne: Not specifically but it goes back to the same place, that I love to travel. I’m fascinated by the places we claim as our own when we’re on the road. My son and his family, including my littlest grandson, live in China, so I’ve been there twice for extended stays. Even in a village unchanged from the Ming Dynasty (14th through 17th century) at the base of the Great Wall, travelers may reach out in friendship. I guess I’m just fascinated by food culture around the world.

And Melissa, you’re a foodie, as we can see from your blog, The Hungry Artist, and your picture book Soup Day (Henry Holt, 2010). I guess that assured you having the right emotional take on Truck Stop.

Melissa: Thanks, Anne. I do love that in the story, each trucker has his/her own particular truck as well as a particular breakfast dish. It was so fun to create the diner scenes and their breakfasts. I wanted to communicate the camaraderie and sense of community between the characters. They have a connection with the narrator and his family, and breakfast brings them together.

Anne, did you have any people in mind when you created the characters for Truck Stop?

Anne: No, they chose me. I’m sure, however, that they were lurking in my memory.

Melissa: By the way, where do you write?

Anne: On my laptop in my living room, before the sun is up, just like the truckers whose days begin at dawn.

Melissa: These days, at least to me, it seems harder and harder to sell picture book manuscripts. What advice you have for aspiring picture book authors?

Anne: None, really. There’s a lot of chatter regarding budget cuts and picture books are expensive to produce, whether e-books, and warehouses full of unsold celebrity books. It’s discouraging, but I guess all you can ask for is patience, and don’t let discouragement stop you from working on things you love. Change is often painful, and our market is certainly changing!

Melissa, your work manages to be so powerfully designed, bright colored, and your people manage to be both eternal and also newborn. I’d love to know more about how you work.

Melissa: I knew I wanted to use collage for the illustrations of Truck Stop. I like painting, but I feel that collage forces me to keep the shapes simpler and that’s what I wanted. So the artwork is a sort of combination of both. Parts of it are painted (the skies and a lot of the paper used in the collages). But I glued everything together to make a whole, much like a collage.

Then I scanned the finished collage into the computer and made adjustments, added things, and cleaned up the images in Photoshop.

If you look closely, you can see the same textures which I colored in Photoshop and placed in Priscilla and Maisie’s hair:

I also wanted to incorporate white space into my artwork to give it some lightness. The structure of having each truck driver introduced along with their breakfast item lent itself well to that approach.

Anne: Your artwork is so fresh, yet I know there’s a lot of technical know-how there. I was fascinated by your saying the wheels on all the little endsheet trucks were added by your computer. Could you expand on that?

Melissa: Sure. I made all the vehicles individually by gluing pieces of paper together. Except the wheels:

It’s difficult to cut 20 or so wheels the same size neatly. I would paint a swatch of black by hand, scan that in, and then put it into a shape of a wheel that I made in the computer. That way, the wheels are uniform, but the texture is varied. I think it is cleaner and less distracting this way. The final endpaper with text and wheels:

Anne: My own take is completely different as you can see from my workplace on the most recent book I illustrated, At the Supermarket (Henry Holt, 2010). It’s a redo from a title I’d written and my husband illustrated, in three colors! My granddaughter, Julianna Brion, helped me with the coloring in this new edition. She’s amazing!

Not a computer in sight, as you can see! I do all my writing on the computer however, and find word processing a wonderful tool. You can revise and revise some more (as I do) without filling wastebaskets.

Melissa: Yes, you’ve illustrated many of your books. How do you decide which ones you will illustrate and which ones will be illustrated by someone else?

Anne: When it comes to the biographies, I write them knowing they will be illustrated by someone else.

My own style is right for young children, but I feel that something else is needed for books whose story is for older children.

It’s difficult for such picture books to reach their audience, since too many teachers and parents don’t want to see their child absorbed in a book that’s easy to read, which is sad.

For instance, I love the pictures R. Gregory Christie did for Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth (Knopf, 2000).

I find it’s very important when I’m writing a picture book that I’m not illustrating, that I know each passage is visual. So I set up a word document, and number the pages. I don’t make a dummy from there, but I need to know it’s possible.

A picture book is more like a poem, a work in a tight format. That determines its structure. Some illustrators get this, while others don’t. It’s a scary process!

Melissa Iwai

I feel comfortable spiritually when illustrating for the very young, but it has become more and more difficult. I’ve had a number of health problems which I’ve snapped back from well, but taking on a picture book is just more of a commitment than I can make.

That’s why I was so thrilled when I saw what you’d done in Truck Stop and hope we can do more! I hope you’ll take it in the spirit meant when I say the pictures look like what I would have done.

Melissa: Of course! I’m so happy you feel that way. When I illustrate other people’s stories, I always wonder what they think with of end result. Usually I don’t meet them—if at all – until all the work is handed in and the book is printed.

I would love to work with you again, and this time, it would be a process of collaboration from the beginning!

Cynsational Notes

Anne Rockwell began writing and illustrating children’s books in the 1950s and is well known and loved by generations of children. Her work has won many awards and accolades. She lives in Connecticut.

Melissa Iwai has illustrated over twenty picture books, and has both written and illustrated Soup Day. A California native, Melissa now lives in Brooklyn, not far from the Brooklyn Bridge, with her husband and son.