New Voice: Jennifer H. Lyne on Catch Rider

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Jennifer H. Lyne is the first-time author of Catch Rider (Clarion, 2013). From the promotional copy:

Sidney Criser, 14, pursues her dream of becoming a catch rider–a show rider who can ride anything–despite her poor background and ferocious competition from more privileged girls. 

Set in Virginia, Catch Rider is an authentic behind the scenes portrayal of a show barn and the elite, demanding world of equitation.

Catch Rider is not a horse book; it’s a book about horse people. It’s about facing adversity, feeling lonely and out of place, and never giving up.

Could you tell us the story of “the call” or “the email” when you found out that your book had sold? How did you react? How did you celebrate?

When my agent, Alice Martell, called me to tell me that Clarion had made an an offer for Catch Rider, my four year old was having a play date with a friend and we were all in my living room.

I started talking to Alice, and my son demanded my attention, so I went into my closet and closed the door. Alice talks quickly, and I was trying to absorb it. She said “You’re very lucky, Clarion has made an offer, and the best part is that the publisher herself wants to be your editor.”

Jennifer’s work space at home

I was silent, trying to understand, while my four year old pounded on the door.

She said, “Jennifer, I hope you know how great this is! You should be really excited!” or something to that effect, and I said, “Alice, I’m standing in my closet.”

My friend, writer and English teacher Mary Whittemore was the other parent with me that afternoon, and I was so happy that she was, because as a writer and a teacher, she knew what it meant.

I didn’t
have to say a word. I didn’t celebrate – I was just so relieved. And then I thought – oh no, now I have to write the rest of the book.

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?

This is a very important question, perhaps the most important thing anyone can ask who is trying to write. So many things can be fixed along the way: style, grammar, structure, point of view even…but
the most important thing is voice.

I did not sit down and have it pour out of me; I struggled a lot. The first thing I did was to write a diary entry by Sid, my protagonist. I wrote something that no one would ever see – as though she was writing something no one would ever see. It became apparent that who I thought she was, and who she actually was, were two different people.

Her diary entry was more visceral. She put on an act as being the toughest meanest kid around, but there was more to it. Both sides of her were real, and they were inextricable.

Even after that writing exercise, I tried to write Catch Rider in the third person. I sold the book with 50-60 pages written in the third person (I did have an extensive outline, with all the dialogue from the book written out).

On the train up to Vermont Studio Center to finish the book, I felt totally uninspired, like something was wrong. I called a good friend, writer Chandler Burr, and told him. He said “Send me a page in first person, a page in second, and a page in third.”

I wrote the first and knew immediately that it was right. I started writing it in second, but a few sentences in, I stopped. And I already had it in third person. So I sent it to him, he agreed that I should do first (I just needed his validation).

Jennifer also writes in her building’s conference/storage area

So I emailed the publisher, Dinah Stevenson, and asked if I could change it. She said something like “Whatever feels right,” which was great. (All of this is on Amtrak, the computer wobbling around, losing Wifi, etc).

I called or emailed my agent who made sure I had asked Dinah. And then I did it – I wrote about 150 pages in two weeks at Vermont Studio
Center, because I had a contract, and I had to.

You do what you have to do. I always tell people to create pressure and limitations – it helps you focus and make decisions.

To me, much of writing is about
making decisions quickly and not fretting over them.

Where else does Jennifer write? The subway!

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Learn more & watch trailer

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author Malorie Blackman appointed Britain’s first black Children’s Laureate by Nick Clark from The Independent. Peek: “‘As a teenager I read all these books but never read one that featured a black child like me,’ the bestselling author says.” See also UK’s first black children’s laureate: new history curriculum could alienate pupils by Susanna Rustin from The Guardian. Note: learn more about Marlorie at her official author site.

Where’s the Fun? by Stina Lindenblatt from Peek: “With everything that is expected of us, it’s often hard to remember why we started writing in the first place. The remedy? Step away from your desk, and go out and have some fun!”

Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story by Donald Uluadluak: a recommendation by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “You can probably find words similar to that in most dog-training books but Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story delivers its instructions in a specific context. That context is an Inuit way of life.”

BEA 2013: Strong Season Ahead for Children’s Publishers by John A. Sellers, Diane Roback, Carolyn Juris, and Matia Burnett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “‘I’m just ecstatic about the children’s books I’ve seen,’ said René Kirkpatrick, owner of…Eagle Harbor Book Co., in Bainbridge Island, Wash., and a longtime children’s bookseller. ‘It looks like a great fall season. There’s a trend toward more realistic books, and I’m thrilled about how much good middle-grade there is—it’s been so hard to find.'”

The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar by Emma Coats from io9. Peek: “Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.” Source: Brian Yansky.

Why Morning Writing Isn’t Such a Bad Thing by Varian Johnson
from Quirk and Quill. Peek: “When I know I only have 1.5 hours to write, I want to make it as productive as possible. Facebook and Twitter become less of a liability.”

Agent’s Notebook: Emily Mitchell, Wernick & Pratt from The Whole Megillah. Peek: “I love working with people who have found the magical balance between commitment to their art and openness to collaboration: you really need both to make a life and a living in children’s publishing.” See also What is YA? by literary agent Marietta B. Zacher from Joanna Volpe at Pub(lishing) Crawl.

The Denise McCoy Legacy Award: “…honors the author of the previous year’s most humorous children’s book as selected by the committee. This event, as well as funds raised through the event, is used to expand children’s literacy programs in our area and the Denise McCoy Scholarship Fund.” Source: Fuse8; see more links of interest.

Should You Use Real-Life Tragedies in Your Writing? by Rosie Genova from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: “After exchanging cards, she praised my book’s cover art; in the next breath, she asked if I had addressed the hurricane in my story. Could anyone look at that Ferris wheel, she asked, and not think about the image of the wrecked roller coaster?”

My Charlie Brown/Snoopy Theory of Artistic Success by Brent Hartinger from Brent’s Brain. Peek: “Charlie Brown and Snoopy aren’t just character-opposites; they’re thematic opposites.”

Cover Art: Myths Debunked and Stories Revealed…with some help from authors & industry pros! by E. Kristin Anderson from Write All the Words! Peek: “Most authors might get to give feedback, or give suggestions, but it’s ultimately up to the publisher what goes on the cover of your book. And I try to explain why that’s a good thing.”

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of a signed copy of Blaze (or Love in the Time of Supervillains) by Laurie Boyle Crompton was Katrina.

Enter to win signed copies of Laugh with the Moon and A Thousand Never Evers, both by Shana Burg (Delacorte), as well as a Skype coffee/lemonade date with Shana. Laugh with the Moon releases in paperback June 11. See also Writing for the Teen and Tween Markets, a class taught by Shana, for five Wednesdays in July and early August at The Writing Barn.

Reminder: 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!”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Brace yourselves for a break! Cynsations will be on a summer hiatus in July-August, which are traditionally the blog’s lowest traffic months.

The May edition of Bay Views, the review journal of The Association of Children’s Librarians of Northern California says of Feral Nights (Candlewick/Walker Books U.K. & Walker Books Australia and New Zealand, 2013): “The world building of were-creatures and other supernatural beings in this urban fantasy is so strong, readers will be seeing shapeshifters all around them. Descriptions of the ‘normal’ above-ground versus the unsavory underground our heroes get caught in parallels nicely with the reality of different worlds existing next to us but invisible to us.”

Gate Crashers Ask: Why SCBWI 2013? from Ink & Angst. 

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.

See Cynthia 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: agent Sarah LaPolla as well as authors Bethany Hegedus and Amy Rose Capetta.  

New Voice: Betsy Bird on Giant Dance Party

Lesson plan &

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Betsy Bird is the first-time author of Giant Dance Party, illustrated by Brandon Dorman (Greenwillow, 2013)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

Giants can’t dance!

Can they?

When Lexy takes on the task of teaching a gaggle of giants to dance, well, you can expect one giant dance party. 

Of course it doesn’t start out that way. But as Lexy and her giants prove . . . where there is a will, there is a way.

Where there is imagination, there is a way. Where there is perseverance, there is a way. Where there is friendship, there is a way!

Absolutely anyone can dance.

And everyone in this book does!​

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

I think now is a particularly fascinating time to debut a book for kids. As a reviewer I’ve watched the debuts roll in each and every season. Some folks are immediately plucked from the mass and remembered decades after the initial printing. But a great swath of titles just sorta sink into the morass.

That said, that’s not really a debut author’s immediate concern. Longevity would be nice but immediacy takes precedent. You need sales now now now! It may be nice to think of your book as the great lost gem of literature, but it’s small potatoes when compared to the thought that your baby might end up pulped if you don’t do a good enough job of promoting it.

So what I both love and hate about our era is that it’s all on the creators to a certain extent. Unless you are a celebrity of one sort or another, promoting your little book rests wholly on your own shoulders. If you’ve ample time to spare, you can actually whip up some pretty cool ideas.

Folks like Jarrett Krosoczka or Dan Santat kill with their book trailers and videos. Amy Krouse Rosenthal brings self-promotion to another level entirely.

The trick then is how to distinguish yourself from the pack and, at the same time, not lose your sanity. A lot of folks have daytime jobs and haven’t the man hours to go whole hog on talking up their latest, but everyone has a little time in a day. There are a million things you can do.

Coming into it, I had been watching debut artists go at it for years. Clever promotional ideas at book signings have caught my eye, including the lemonade stand conjured up for The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009) and the mix-CDs handed out at book signings for the wonderful The Order of Odd-Fish by James Kennedy (Random House, 2008).

But there’s a world of difference between watching someone do something clever and coming up with your own schtick. Fortunately my book had a lot to give. There are giants that are big and blue and furry. And there is dancing. Right there you’ve something you can build on.

The biggest surprise? Pinterest.

I understood that I should create my own Teacher’s Guides (I have the background). I was even able to come up with a way of adapting my book to the Common Core. But Pinterest?

early sketch by Brandon

In spite of the cords and wires that seem to emanate from my skull, I’m actually not an early adopter. I’ve never taken an Instagram photo. I have no Tumblr. And until recently Pinterest was just a wild racy wilderness.

But what better way to draw attention to a book than to create a page for it there?

So it is that I’ve pinned every dance related or giant related picture book on there that I can think of. I’ve pinned great dances I’ve seen on YouTube (Harlem Shakes need not apply) and even clips of Betsey Bird, the infamous Muppet creation that was the #1 Google hit for my name for years. Never would I have suspected that putting out a book in the 21st century required creating something along these lines.

I think in the end that what I love about being a debut author is also what I find the most challenging. It’s taking these rough media tools and seeing what might work for my book.

Whether it’s producing a YouTube video series of wacky dances or simply creating an Author page on, there’s no magic recipe for making your book ubiquitous and memorable.

You’re just throwing as many darts as you can get your hands on at an enormous board and hope to high heaven that something, somewhere sticks.

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

Oh, it’s much worse than that. I haven’t just gone from being a librarian to an author. I’ve gone from being a blogger/reviewer librarian to an author. From merely commenting on content to creating it. From gatekeeper to provider.

 Do you believe that it’s possible to have too much information at your fingertips?

Librarians are both blessed and cursed with a vast knowledge of topics in the field. So anytime I find myself with a good picture book idea, I immediately try to figure out if it’s been done before.

Now there is no go-to search engine for every English language picture book produced in the last 100 years. Most of what’s come out has already long since been forgotten. But what about those books that came out since the birth of the internet? What happens when it turns out that your book has elements similar to their own?

So a librarian-author has the potential to psych themselves out, researching endlessly, never really knowing for certain if their book has been “done” before. Fortunately, I’ve a pretty good memory for the last 10 years’ worth of books, so my research doesn’t need to accelerate to the next level. At a certain point you just need to let go.

Far more useful to me are the gifts that have been given to me as a children’s librarian that has worked with kids for years. Do enough storytimes and you develop an ear for cadence. For rhythm and language. You see what subjects do and do not work. You figure out how much to say, and where to scale back.

In the case of Giant Dance Party I wanted the words to be bouncy without having to rhyme (woe betide the ill-rhymed picture book). I wanted something you could read aloud to kids while also engaging them along the way. And most importantly I wanted that rare book that a kid actually enjoys and that an adult wouldn’t mind reading over and over again. Readability. That was my goal.

Now the thing they don’t tell you when you write a picture book, though I’m sure most folks suspect it, is that you fare better if you know how to present. This is not to say that there aren’t amazing and fantastic authors of picture books out there that are introverted shrinking violets (and for them I recommend the archives at Shrinking Violet Promotions).

But if my time as a children’s librarian bestowed upon me any particular gift, it was the gift of presentation. I know how to keep a small child’s interest. Small children, for the record, are a tough crowd. If you’re boring, they will speak with their feet if you’re lucky, and loud skull-penetrating shrieks if you’re not. It took years of preschool storytimes, toddler times, and even baby lapsits to understand what a person has to do to sell a book.

Happily, I am now in a place where I could read my book to anyone between the ages of 3-8 and give them a heckuva show. That is a blessing, absolutely.

As of right now the librarian me and the author me work in tandem. We haven’t had any real conflicts. There may come a day where one has to make way for the other.

After all, as a full time Materials Specialist I have to use my Annual Leave whenever I want to take off for book promotion. But some of our greatest authors today remain librarians even as they write great titles for children (Newbery Award winner Laura Amy Schlitz comes to mind).

 I think I’ll be able to keep up this duality for years. That’s the goal anyway.

Cynsational Notes

How To Create a Giant Dance Party with Betsy Bird from The Page Turn. Peek: “Ms. Bird, a seasoned librarian who has put on many a storytime event, has kindly shared with us some great ideas for hosting a dance party in your library, classroom, or store that will get everyone moving and grooving.”

Guest Post: Peni R. Griffin on Delayed Gratification & Sullivan, That Summer

By Peni R. Griffin
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I am a patient woman. Delayed gratification a specialty.

My “most recent” book is Sullivan, That Summer. I have a backup of it on floppy disk.

You heard me. Floppy disk. The most recent draft listed on the label is 5/2001. The earliest is 9/26/96.

Sullivan was a book written more or less against my will, under the coercion of my subconscious. This was at the height of “The X-Files” fandom and my crush on Dana Scully (on Scully, not on Gillian Anderson, though I will happily watch GA act any time I get a chance); and during the prehistory of LGBTQ YA literature.

Oh, sure Nancy Garden‘s Annie on my Mind had been out for more than ten years, M.E. Kerr’s Deliver Us from Evie had been out for two years, and this was about the time that the English translation of Lutz Van Dijk’s Damned Strong Love got a lot of buzz.

I read them. And I liked them all right, mostly. But they were so dang serious.

What I wanted, and what I was convinced the world needed, was romances whose protagonists happened to be of the same gender. David Levithan‘s Boy Meets Boy, you may recall, didn’t come out and prove me right till 2003.

But I don’t write romance. And my
LGBT cred is questionable, since I’ve been married to a man since 1987. 

So I didn’t know how to write the book I was convinced the market needed and I certainly didn’t know how to market it and Sullivan probably wasn’t going to wind up being that book anyway.

So I tried not to write it. I’d try to write other things and wind up writing fan fiction that answered the burning question: “What if ‘The X-Files’ had been a Victorian triple-decker novel?” instead and finally I told my brain: “Fine, write the sucker. Let’s get this over with.”

So I did, and it didn’t suck, and having written it, I might as well try to get paid for it. My original query pitch line for it was “A lesbian novel in which nobody dies,” that’s how dire the situation was in this particular niche at that time.

And nobody wanted it, except one agent I had for a little while who wasn’t interested in anything else I had to sell and only wanted to sell Sullivan in foreign markets.

Maybe it was a mistake, maybe it wasn’t, we parted and I lost the only other person (apart from the YA librarian and her partner who vetted it for me once; they loved it) who ever mustered any enthusiasm for Cherry and her fangirl summer.

But I kept sending it out, and polishing it, considering changing the protagonist’s name (Cherry? Seriously? But it’s her name and I never could come up with another), and sending it out again, because that is how you sell books.

But I had to send it to smaller and smaller publishers, as time passed, as the market caught up to and passed me, and the whole thing started to seem quainter and less necessary.

Because it’s not edgy and it’s not brilliant and it’s not revolutionary; it’s just this nice little story about meeting your idols and fans and growing up, which includes coming out because the people at the core of the story are lesbians, and this ground has all been broken by now.

So why didn’t I stop?

Armadillocon 2009

Because every time I read through it again, and put another polish on it, and thought about the premise (which is more an adolescent fan fantasy than a premise), and struggled yet again to synopsize the dang thing, and updated the tech in it, I liked it all over again.

The books I give up on are the books that, though they were all right when I wrote them, didn’t grow up with me. Making them over into a book that’s worth my while now, given who I am and where I am and where the market is, would not be worth the effort.

I never had to rework Sullivan, just tweak it here and there, and I would always think: “Yeah, this doesn’t suck. This is okay. This is even in places pretty good.”

If that sounds like a lukewarm basis for perseverance, it’s only because you haven’t heard how I sound when I’m reading something of mine that I don’t like any more. From me, reading my own stuff, that’s a rave.

Whatever internal pressure generated this book kept it going for a long, long time. So long that it outlived my original determination to publish it in a mainstream house rather than in a niche market, because how many of the people who need to read normalizing books with homosexual characters have access to niche markets or would dare to seek them out?

Queer Teen Press is so small, and so new, and its way of doing business so unlike what I’m used to, that the book’s been out for almost two months and it still doesn’t feel real to me.

With Smug, the dragon

I didn’t get an advance, but the royalty rate is favorable, plus there’s an “if we go belly-up the rights revert” clause which every contract should have, and whatever else happens, Sullivan is a book now. Finally.

Where there’s a book, there’s potential for the Big Connection. For the reader who stumbles on it, reads it, and has some thought that I couldn’t think, that she couldn’t have thought without me.

If that happens, I probably won’t know about it. But if it happens, it will be worth the 17 years of gestation, and that will remain true whether I know about it or not.

I got my first royalty statement last week. Because of when the book was released during the quarter, it’s really only sales during the first month. Five, and I know of two people who’ve bought it since then, so woot, I’ve earned about $10 on it so far. I may yet cover the postage and materials I spent, back when submissions were paper copies sent inside self-addressed stamped boxes inside big padded envelopes.

Like I said, I’m a patient woman.

“New uses for old technologies”

Cynsational Notes

From Author-Illustrator Source: Peni has been “writing professionally since 1986 and has 12 books with major publishers, as well as numerous short publications. Her first short story was published in 1986, her first book came out in 1990.” Her children’s-YA novels include 11,000 Years Lost (Amulet), The Music Thief (Henry Holt), and The Ghost Sitter (Dutton).

New Voice: Melanie Crowder on Parched

Teachers’ Guide (PDF)

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Melanie Crowder is the first-time author of Parched (Harcourt, 2013) From the promotional copy:

A mesmerizing debut about a girl, a boy, and a dog struggling to survive in a parched and barren land.

Sarel is a girl with secrets. She knows which tree roots reach down deep to pools of precious water. But now she must learn how to keep herself and her dogs alive. 

Nandi is the leader of those dogs. She knows they can’t last long without water—and she knows, too, that a boy is coming; a boy with the water song inside him.

Musa is that boy. His talent for finding water got him kidnapped by brutal men, yet he’s escaped, running away across the thirsty land that nearly claims his life.

 And so Sarel, Musa, and the dogs come together in what might be their last hope of survival.

Could you tell us about your writing community-your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

I made a couple of good decisions that have resulted in a wonderful writing community that supports and challenges me.

VCFA MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults

The first good decision I made was to pursue an MFA at Vermont College. The rigor of the program and the atmosphere of the school gifted me with true friends and very intelligent, insightful critique partners. I absolutely rely on their feedback.

The second good decision I made was signing with Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary Agency. This agency is not only excellent at the business of selling books, but they have also fostered a community among their authors.

While my VCFA friends are scattered around the country, my agency represents several authors in Colorado. There are so many strange and exciting and daunting aspects of the debut process—it has been really wonderful to be able to turn to some experienced (and kind) authors for advice.

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?

I’m not going to sugarcoat it—this is hard!

The thing is, some writing tasks require every ounce of creative energy I have—like revising to meet my editor’s requests or drafting a new scene. But other tasks, such as making a marketing timeline or connecting with bloggers and teachers online or sketching plants for a field guide for students, take a lot less from me.

So I get up every morning before work to write for an hour. And I block out big chunks of time for writing and revising on weekends and holidays when my mind is clear and my creative energy is high. I can’t think of a single vacation I’ve taken in the last three years where I didn’t bring my manuscript with me!

Also, I am writing in some fashion every night after the day job is done, sending a few emails or adding new content to my website.

The best advice I have for other writers doing the same is to be kind to yourself. You can’t do everything, and if you try, chances are you won’t do anything well.

Set manageable goals for yourself. And celebrate them. Celebrating the little things—that’s a lesson I learned from you, Cynthia, so thank you!

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?

The wonderful thing is, my editor found me.

Melanie’s writing buddy

When I was in my third semester at Vermont College (and supposed to be
writing my critical thesis) this image of a girl and her dogs all alone
in a desolate landscape wouldn’t leave me. So I began to draft what
would eventually become Parched, my debut novel, a few scenes at a

By the end of the semester, when the time came to submit a few chapters for the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt prize for middle grade literature, I shoved all my doubts and insecurities to the back of my mind and sent in what I had.

I was thrilled when my manuscript was chosen and sent to HMH—a real editor at a fabulous house would be reading an excerpt of my story!

But the really great part was still to come. The editor who wanted to work with me, the editor who eventually acquired Parched, wholeheartedly embraced the risks I was taking with this story, and her support and guidance made the novel even better.

Yes, I am well aware of how very fortunate I am!

Authors for Catherine’s Dream Honor Sandy Hook Victim with Online Auction

Via Bobbie Pyron
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Visit Authors for Catherine’s Dream.

More than thirty authors—many of them award winning and New York Times best selling authors—have come together to honor Catherine Violet Hubbard, a little girl with a big dream: to provide a sanctuary for homeless animals. Tragically, that dream was cut short when Catherine was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Since then, Catherine’s parents and The Animal Center in Newtown have set up a fund to raise money for the Catherine Violet Hubbard Sanctuary. People from around the country have donated to make this little girl’s dream come true.

After reading about Catherine’s dream, author Bobbie Pyron decided to help raise money for Catherine’s sanctuary. “I just wanted something good to come out of this heartbreaking tragedy.” She contacted other authors, most of whom write for children, and asked if they would donate a signed copy of their book to be auctioned online as a fundraiser for Catherine’s sanctuary.

“I was overwhelmed and humbled by the enthusiastic response! Many of these authors are Newbery Award winners, National Book Award recipients, and New York Times best selling authors,” Bobbie says. “Everyone was deeply touched by Catherine’s dream and wanted to be a part of helping her dream come true.”

Bobbie will be posting signed copies of books that can be bid on, starting June 3. The auction will end June 16. “Bids can be submitted on all the books until midnight on the 16th,” she explains. The signed books will be posted on her website at as well as details on how the auction works.

Some of the signed books to be auctioned include Sarah, Plain and Tall (Newbery winner), Moon Over Manifest (Newbery winner), Divergent (NYT best seller), and books by Newbery award winners Sharon Creech, Cynthia Lord and Ann M. Martin.

“I love collecting books I’ve had signed by the author,” Bobbie says. “But these books would also make great gifts for the book lover in your life or donations to your local school or public library.”

New Voice: Nancy J. Cavanaugh on This Journal Belongs to Ratchet

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Nancy J. Cavanaugh is the first-time author of
This Journal Belongs to Ratchet (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, 2013). From the promotional copy:

Eleven-year-old Ratchet determines to make a friend, save a park, and find her own definition of normal. She tells her story through the assignments in her homeschool language arts journal.

Living in a world of spark plugs, pistons, and crankshafts, Ratchet spends her days fixing cars with her dad in the garage – not exactly normal for a girl. 

Even with the odds stacked against her, Ratchet endeavors to change her life and realizes her skill as a mechanic might just be the path to her first friend. But in the process, she alienates her father and discovers a secret she wishes she never knew. 

She finds a way to, not only accept the truth she discovers, but also accept herself and her dad in a whole new way.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2013, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

My journey to publication was a long one. It began in 1994. Though that was an extremely long time for me to wait for my first book contract, looking back I can see how important those years were.

In those years, I had the good fortune of meeting so many wonderful writers, who not only shared their knowledge and expertise, but they also shared their friendship. My writing friends have become some of the most important people in my life. Sharing our struggles and successes as writers connects us in such a unique way, and as we embrace our writing ups and downs, we also share the ups and downs in our personal lives too.

So, though the journey to publication has been a long one for me, I am thankful for those many years filled with friendships that will last a lifetime.

The years I spent traveling my path to publication were also important because I have had the benefit of learning my craft well. As a former teacher, I love learning, and being a writer lends itself to continual learning. Joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, attending conferences and workshops, reading books about craft, working with writing coaches, and being a part of critique groups taught me how to be the writer I am today. I needed that education in writing in order to develop my talent as a writer into something that was marketable.

Over the years I have also had time to gain a good understanding of how the business of publishing works. That has helped me to have the confidence I need now to know how to best use my opportunity as a debut author.

So am I surprised that 2013 is my lucky debut year? If someone had told me that way back in 1994, yes, I would have been surprised. Am I surprised today? No. I am actually thankful for all those years for the reasons I have just explained.

My life motto has become, “slow and steady finishes the race.” That is how I kept the faith for so many years. I kept plodding along, not worrying about those who raced ahead of me, the ones whose path to publication was much shorter than mine. I kept adding to my knowledge and experience, always believing that one day it would be my turn.

So 2013 seems like exactly the right time, the perfect time actually, for me to be a debut author.

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

One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve been given over the years is, “If you want to be a writer, you have to read, read, read.”

Being a librarian means that, I can be doing my “job” and studying to be a better writer, at the same time. Reading good books, great books, and even some books I think aren’t so great, has helped me know what to do and what not to do as a writer. I learn best when someone shows me an example. Every time I read a book, it is an example of how a story’s plot works or how conflict gives a story more tension or how important setting is to the overall story.

 While I read, I make note of these things in my mind and try to apply them to my own writing.

So as I read and preview books for my library students, I learn to be a better writer; but I also learn something else. When I recommend books to students, I observe what books become the students’ most favorite. I see the variety of interests among young people and that helps me as a writer. It helps me know what kind of books and what type of subjects students want to read about.

Another part of my job as a librarian is to read aloud to my students. This helps me as a writer, too. Reading books aloud gives me yet another experience with “story.” I not only see and comprehend the story, but I say it and hear it too. It allows me to interact with a book on an even deeper level.

I also have the privilege of reading and hearing some of the same stories over and over again, year after year. To some that may sound boring, but to me, especially as a writer, it solidifies in my mind and imagination just what makes that story so great. It’s only after multiple readings of the same book that a reader really begins to appreciate the layers that make up that story.

In addition, I also have the opportunity to observe the students’ reaction and enjoyment to the stories I read. This helps me as a writer by giving me an idea of what I need to do in order to write something that will elicit that same kind of positive reaction.

Just as being a librarian enhances my life as a writer, being a writer also makes me a better librarian. I am able to share my experience as an author with my students, and this experience adds to their enthusiasm about reading and writing.

I also of course encourage them to discover things about the authors and illustrators behind the books they are reading, which enriches their reading experience as well.

For me each job is a blessing to the other, and both jobs are a blessing to me.