Guest Post & Giveaway: Chris A. Bolton on Smash: Trial by Fire & Creating a Graphic Novel

By Chris A. Bolton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

How do you make a graphic novel?

Short answer: any way you can!

Much like eating a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, there’s no wrong way to do it (as long as it gets done). Unlike, say, screenwriting — where the format is extremely specific, and there are countless books explaining all the rules and guidelines — each comic creator uses whatever method works best for her, personally.

When my younger brother Kyle and I decided to make our long-gestating idea about a ten-year-old superhero named Smash into a real, live comic, we explored several possible methods for working together.

What seems to work best is for me to outline the plot in broad story beats so we’re both clear on what’s happening. For instance, here’s part of my outline for the second Smash book, which we’re working on now:

After a brief recap of Book One in a news report (being watched on ZEKE’S smartphone), we follow small-time crook ZEKE HUSTON to a midnight meeting at an abandoned Air Force base. DR. COBB — who built the machine that absorbed SMASH’S powers in Book One — waits with the suit he’s designed, one that uses electromagnetic bursts to propel the wearer at great speeds, like a bullet. ZEKE attempts to steal the suit by booby-trapping a gym bag supposedly full of money, but COBB’S gigantic henchman BRUTE unwittingly sets off the explosives too early. ZEKE hurriedly dons the BULLET armor and fights off BRUTE to (barely) make his escape. An injured DR. COBB promises they’ll get even.

Chris and Kyle Bolton, photo by Ocean Yamaha

photo by Ocean Yamaha

When I’ve finished the outline (for Book 2, it totals eight single-spaced pages), Kyle reads it over and gives feedback.

Sometimes he doesn’t like a plot element or the way a scene plays out. He might want to move a chase from a freeway to a dockside shipyard, for instance, or he might disagree with the way I’ve handled a plot twist.

Now we have to talk it out.

Our general rule is, if one of us has a problem with a scene, we bat around ideas on how to fix it or change it so it works better. The new version of the scene that comes out of these discussions is always, always better than what we started with.

Once we agree on the outline — usually after at least a few revisions — I get started writing the script, which is a breakdown of the action in each panel on every page, plus the dialogue.

When we first started putting Smash together, I favored taking an old-school Marvel Comics “plot first, script later” approach. In that instance, the writer jots down a big paragraph of all the action that occurs on the page (not unlike my outline excerpt above), then hands it to the artist to break down into panels, angles, and specific actions. When the artist hands back the finished comic page, the writer scripts the dialogue to fit what she’s been given. That certainly helps with problems like writing a long, passionate monologue for a panel so crammed full of action and detail that there’s only room for a two-word balloon.

However, in our case, Kyle wanted the panels to be broken down for him — and, frankly, I wanted to be able to help set the tone and pacing of the layout. What a comic panel contains, how big it is, even the number of panels per page are all important storytelling tools in the comic form.

So, after much searching around the internet, we settled on a script format that we liked, which looks something like this:

I use a specialized template in my Final Draft screenwriting software for ease (it does a great job of positioning all the dialogue and character names with just a single tap of the TAB key), although it would be easy enough to write this in Word.

I note the total number of panels for each comic page at the top of the script page, so Kyle has a general idea as he starts to read. Then I describe each panel, providing the dialogue, captions, and sound effects. Things don’t always work out the way I script them, of course. Sometimes Kyle calls me with a new idea, other times he might find he can’t fit all 15 panels onto a single page of comic book paper without reducing the characters to half a face and a couple of fingers.

Sometimes there just isn’t enough room for all the dialogue I wrote, or there isn’t as much need because Kyle’s expressive style gets the point across without any excess words. In that case, I’ll make alterations while I’m lettering (more on that in a bit).

Kyle draws by hand on a drafting table, using professional comic book paper from Blue Line Pro, which is 11″ by 17″ acid-free paper that has the borders of the finished comic page already printed on them in blue. The pages he draws come out much larger than the actual printed page of the comic, which allows him to draw in a more detailed fashion.

When it comes to drawing, Kyle doesn’t get all fancy with a Cintiq tablet or anything like that. He does it all by hand, old-school-style, on the drafting board he’s had since seventh grade, using a 0.5mm mechanical pencil with 2B lead and a Strathmore eraser.

For our first book, Smash: Trial by Fire, we wanted a sketchy quality to the art, so Kyle didn’t ink the pages. He just drew a darker line over his sketches with a harder-tipped pencil. However, he had to push down really hard to make the line dark enough to see and scan into the computer — which actually ended up causing some nerve damage to Kyle’s wrists. As a result, for future books he’s decided to ink his pencils using Micron pens of varying ink weights ranging from .02 to .08.

To start with, Kyle gets to work sketching from the script. Because he isn’t fond of doing thumbnail layouts, he starts with very light pencils. He sketches the outline of the characters and their action; they practically look like stick figures at this point. 

When he’s happy with the positions and the size of the panels, he starts filling in the rough sketches with details, adding bulk to the bodies and working on facial expressions.

Around this time Kyle will take a camera-phone picture of the page or a given panel and send it to me. I’ll look it over and give him feedback: “Wow, looks great!” or, “I can’t quite make out what that is” or, “Can we try a different angle?” Once we agree on the pencils, he starts inking.

The next step is lettering the pages, where we add all the dialogue and thought balloons and the caption boxes (like “Meanwhile…”). Kyle scans his finished pages and sends them to me. Our letterer, Christina Mackin, uses a program called Adobe InDesign to draw and position the balloons in the panels. We have two special fonts for the comic, both from Anime Ace 2.0 for dialogue, and Badaboom for sound effects. (These fonts are free to download for personal use, although our publisher, Candlewick Press, paid a licensing fee to use them for the printed book.)

Finally, the pages are colored using Adobe PhotoShop. The easiest method would be to pick a color and use the paintbucket feature to fill in a whole section, such as Smash’s glove or mask or goggles. However, because Kyle only sketched in the art with pencils instead of using solid ink lines for Trial by Fire, the lines were often rough or incomplete, which meant clicking on paintbucket could fill the entire panel with one color instead of just the gloves.

So Christina, who was also one of our colorists for the book, had to painstakingly color in every piece of the panel, much as you would the pages of a coloring book. She laid down the flats (a basic wash of all the colors) and then the pages were passed along to Sarah Barrie Fenton, who added shading, highlights, and visual effects. With the use of finished inks from here on out, the coloring should be much faster and easier for future books.

That’s our process! Thanks for reading! We invite you to pick up a copy of Smash: Trial by Fire and see for yourself how the process comes together in the final result.

Cynsational Notes & Giveaway
From Chris’s website: “Chris A. Bolton has written short fiction, stage plays, sketch comedy, and screenplays. He wrote and directed a web-series called Wage Slaves and had his first professional short story published in Portland Noir (Akashic Press, 2009). He…lives in Portland, Oregon.”

Check out other stops on the Smash: Trial by Fire blog tour.

Enter to win one of three copies of Smash: Trial by Fire by Chris A. Bolton, illustrated by Kyle Bolton (Candlewick, 2013). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

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Guest Post: Ellen Booraem on World Building: Undertaking an Underworld

By Ellen Booraem
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Texting the Underworld (Dial, 2013), my latest middle-grade fantasy, is set partly in South Boston, Massachusetts, and partly in (you guessed it) the Underworld.

Psychologically, Southie is an island, separated from the rest of the world by Fort Point Channel and Boston Harbor. It’s famed as a traditionally Irish bastion. Today, though, its public schools look like the United Nations.

If Southie can achieve diversity, surely the afterlife can follow suit?

Texting the Underworld is about a banshee—my lighthearted version of the Irish ancestral spirit who wails when a family member is on the way out. Ashling, a young banshee, visits 12-year-old Conor O’Neill to say that someone in his family is going to die, and he sets out to prevent the death.

I was in a solidly Celtic state of mind when I started the book. As I researched, though, it became obvious that the traditional Irish afterlife was not going to meet my needs. I wanted everyone to be reincarnated, and by most accounts the ancient Irish awarded new lives only to heroes. Anyway, stories of the Irish Otherworld make it sound so pleasant—blue skies, gentle breezes, music, feasting—that you can’t imagine anyone wanting to leave.

Most important, logic dictated that the afterlife would have to serve everybody, not just the Irish. And so, singing happy research songs to myself, I set out to build a multicultural hereafter.

I liked the Celtic idea of an “otherworld” that exists alongside ours, although my Irish characters call it “the Other Land” because it sounds better. The traditional Celtic Otherworld is accessible either by traveling to an island or delving underground. Most cultures do like their dead to be firmly underfoot, so I decided Conor and friends would first travel to an island, then make their way down a tunnel into a network of caverns. The non-Celts they meet call the place the Underworld.

I had several useful books on Celtic traditions and world beliefs, but I have to say Google was my friend. There’s a lovely list of “death deities” on Wikipedia—that’s where I found my favorite Underworld character: Nergal, the Babylonian Lord of the Dead who’s often depicted as half lion.

(I hasten to add that I use Wikipedia as a first stop in research but never the last. As an old journalist, I always shoot for three sources.)

The Egyptians contributed Anubis, although my version no longer weighs the souls of the dead for judgment. Charon came from the Greeks, except he’s a portal guard rather than a boatman, and Oya represents the Yoruba tradition. Another of my portal guards, the Cailleach, is named for a Scottish/Irish winter goddess but is heavily influenced by Dickens’s Ghost of Christmas Future, J.K. Rowling’s dementors, and every irritable old lady I’ve ever known. (I won’t name any of them, thanks for asking.)

Mara of the Latvians and Kisin of the Maya get a passing mention. I wish I’d been able to include the fact that Kisin’s name means “flatulence” because he smells so bad, but I’m trying to use him in another book so maybe it’s not too late.

The Lady who runs things is my own invention. So are her three ravens with the power of life and death, although black birds and the number three appear in a lot of death legends.

My most thrilling moment, however, was when I realized that this Other Land was going to be a bureaucracy rather than a place of judgment. It’s the Ellis Island of the afterlife, ushering the Dear Departed from death to rebirth, recording name, ancestry, and other essential facts as they go. I got to channel my past lives as an office-worker—usually in newsrooms, but an office is an office—with all the attendant irritation, fatigue, and camaraderie.

I probably was influenced here by a favorite book from my childhood, the undeservedly obscure The Daughters of the Stars by Mary Crary. Written by an American but published in England in 1939, it supposes that the natural world—stars, moon, sun, sea, rain, you name it—is a bureaucracy headed by petty aristocrats but run by a host of capable flunkies.

Fascinatingly for 1939, the real power is in the hands of women. The protagonists are young Perdita and her mother Astrella, the crisp, efficient Younger Daughter of the Stars and Luminary of Two Continents. It’s a great book—give it a try sometime.

As is often the case, I discovered in revision that some part of my brain had been cleverer than I realized, and the Underworld shared a theme with my depiction of South Boston. Conor’s grandfather, the all-Irish Grump, takes great pains to assure everyone that he’s fine with his old neighborhood’s modern diversity, including his grandson Conor having a Puerto Rican best friend. Then he, Conor, and Conor’s sister Glennie visit the Underworld, which he still expects to be entirely Irish. Ashling the banshee introduces them to Charon.

“Charon?” Grump burst out. “He’s a Greek myth, for cripes’ sake. First some African lady, now this. What the heck is going on around here?”

“One person’s myth is another’s religion,” Glennie said, prim under her raccoon-faced hat.

“If I want your opinion I’ll ask for it.” Grump leaned back against the wall to catch his breath.
Poor Grump. Sharing the neighborhood is one thing—a shared afterlife takes a bit of getting used to.

Cynsational Notes

Ellen Booraem’s Texting the Underworld, is a middle-grade fantasy about a scaredy-cat South Boston boy and a determined young banshee.

Her earlier middle-grade fantasies are Small Persons with Wings (Penguin/DBYR, 2011) and The Unnameables (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008).

She lives in coastal Maine with an artist, a dog, and a cat, one of whom is a practicing curmudgeon. She blogs at The Enchanted Inkpot.

Agents Interview: Holly McGhee, Elena Giovinazzo & Julie Just of Pippin Properties

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Welcome to Cynsations, Holly McGhee, Elena Giovinazzo and Julie Just of Pippin Properties!

From the agency website:

Since 1998, Pippin Properties, Inc. has been an integrated publishing and entertainment representation agency.

Located in New York City, it is a diverse agency dedicated to maximizing the creative and commercial potential of all its properties.

Pippin represents the works of these writers and artists to a wide range of publishing, animation, motion picture, television, and licensing companies.

Could you tell us about the history of Pippin Properties? How has the agency changed over time?

Holly McGhee: When I founded Pippin, in 1998, I had just left HarperCollins, where I was an executive editor and where I also had some good luck, because the first book I ever edited was Zeke Pippin by William Steig (HarperCollins, 1997)—that’s how I fell in love with words and pictures!

William Steig with Holly McGhee’s daughter Charlotte

I was excited for a chance to bring projects I could stand behind into the world. I felt so liberated (and still do) to act on my own instinct, and not be guided by an acquisitions committee. I believe that if a potential book means something to me, it will mean something to somebody else, too.

But as the years go by, Pippin has become an agency that not only represents books that we think matter, but careers that matter. Think of Kate DiCamillo, Kathi Appelt, Doreen Cronin, David Small, Peter H. Reynolds, Katherine Applegate, Alison McGhee, Jon Agee, Jandy Nelson, to name a few.

We embrace every artistic endeavor, from picture books to middle-grade novels, nonfiction, young adult, graphic, or adult projects. We don’t follow trends—we encourage our clients to follow their hearts. Our philosophy, the world owes you nothing, you owe the world your best work, hasn’t changed, but as an agency we have evolved to keep pace with our clients.

Special thanks to Sujean Rim for dressing up our mascot for his fifteenth birthday!

Zeke Pippin

What types of clients do you represent—in terms of body of work, art vs. text, age levels, genres and more? Are you looking for a certain kind of book that says “Pippin” or for a widely diversified body of work from your client base?

Julie Just: I took a winding path here. As a teenager I loved The New Yorker (especially the covers of William Steig!), and I ended up there in my 20s; now I almost can’t believe I’m at the agency of Steig, Koren, Bliss, and Booth.

After years of editing fiction and nonfiction at magazines, I wanted more direct involvement with making things, or helping artists bring them into being, and that’s why I became an agent.

I lean toward the literary, which I would define as rich and interesting sentences and a strong point of view, offering something real and unique to the author. Most of my clients are YA or upper middle grade, but I have some picture book authors, too.

I especially love humor, romance, witty dialogue, adventure, mystery, and ghosts. I found many of these qualities in clients like Amy Butler Greenfield (Chantress) and Austin Aslan (coming in 2014: The Islands at the End of the World). I’m also interested in nonfiction, and think there’s such a big untapped audience out there for truly voice-y and/or unknown stories.

Elena Giovinazzo: I joined the agency in June of 2009 after trying my hand at a variety of facets of the publishing industry.

What I love the most about being at Pippin is that I really get to use the skills and knowledge I picked up along the way here in one place. We really do it all, marketing, publicity, sales, editorial, on a small and large scale, every day.

As my list of clients grows and continues to develop (I’m still pretty new at this!) I’m finding it to become increasingly varied. I seem to have a little bit of everything, and I love that.

I think what ties them together is that they were all projects I couldn’t say “no” to. That seems to be a really telling barometer. The process of taking on a new client can be an arduous one and so there’s got to be more than just a spark. It’s got to be full-on devotion.

Elena Giovinazzo modeling buttons for Flora & Ulysses

Holly McGhee: I abide by one rule when taking on clients—I have to fall in love with their work. That’s become the backbone of a pretty wide-ranging list—from Kate DiCamillo’s classic and beloved middle-grade novels to Harry Bliss’s “Peanuts-style” cherubs to Kathi Appelt’s literary masterpiece The Underneath to Jandy Nelson’s super-romantic The Sky Is Everywhere to David Small’s dark psycho-dramatic graphic Stitches to Peter H. Reynolds’ The Dot, Ish, and Sky Color creatrilogy.

In general, novels I love tend to be very literary and a bit on the darker side, and the same holds true for graphics.

In picture books, I usually start by looking at a character’s face—if I respond to the face, the rest often follows.

What makes Pippin Properties different from other literary agencies?

Julie Just: What I knew about Pippin before I came here in May was that it was the agency of Kate DiCamillo and William Steig and Jandy Nelson and David Small—it was associated in my mind, in other words, with really distinctive voices and talents.

From an agent’s point of view, it feels like a big deal to bring a client in. Certainly more than it would at some big honking midtown agency. I know that every client I bring to Pippin has to shine, and that he or she in turn will get the benefit of all of our expertise. It’s very much a team effort.

Holly McGhee: We follow our instincts, and once we are connected to an author or artist, we work as hard as they do to bring their very best work (no matter how many revisions) into the world of books, and if appropriate, the world of film, television, theatre, and merchandise. We won’t stop until the footprint of a property is as significant as possible.

I firmly believe: “Do what you love and the money will follow.”

On a different note, we are also an agency that remains committed to debuting new illustrators, artists who can draw and may not necessarily find their voice in words.

Based in New York City, we invite editors in on a regular basis, not only to review our illustrator portfolios, but also to connect and share perspectives on the publishing industry, what’s working in books and what’s not, and we discuss what the editors are looking for on an individual basis.

More often than not, wonderful matches with both authors and illustrators are made on the basis of these get-togethers, and they are not only intellectually stimulating but also tremendous fun.

The ability to meet in this way, with the very people who are making the acquisitions decisions, definitely sets us apart. We’ve recently moved to spacious new headquarters, in part to be able to host our get-togethers more comfortably.

Editors from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt visiting Pippin’s new office

Elena Giovinazzo: All those wonderful points that Holly and Julie made, plus I think we have a team approach that isn’t as prevalent at other agencies. While we each have our own clients and projects, there’s hardly anything that goes out that hasn’t found its way across at least two of our desks. So much of what we do is a collaboration.

When we were looking for new office space, we saw floor plans that had beautiful windowed offices, which were tempting, but we knew that if we were going to keep the collaborative feel that we now enjoy, having an open floor plan was vital (as well as a reading room!).

Julie Just settling in with a manuscript

Why should an unpublished but competitive writer consider querying Pippin?

Julie Just: All the clients we take on can be sure they will have our serious attention. There’s a significant time investment in each client and each project. We all love the editorial process and try to think globally, looking for places where voice or story could be stronger, so we can be sure of not just a sale but a strong one to the right house. The collective knowledge of editors and publishers at Pippin has astounded me; it’s a fantastic resource.

Elena Giovinazzo: Unpublished authors, query away!

Launching a debut author is so thrilling. There’s nothing like calling an author to tell them there’s an offer or sending a copy of their first contract or galley or marketing plan or foreign offer or . . . get the point? We’re always hoping to find brand-new talent—that’s the farm team!

Please do look at our guidelines before querying. We like a short synopsis and sample, and be sure to number the pages.

How about a more established author who, for whatever reasons, finds herself without representation?

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Elena Giovinazzo: We’re looking to hear from you, too. We understand, from experience, that agents and authors part ways for all sorts of reasons and that it does not at all mean that our own relationship would be doomed.

It’s often just a matter of finding the right match, which doesn’t always happen the first time around.

Holly McGhee: An established author should consider where they want to be in the future, too. Do they want to break new ground, redefine themselves? Do they want to take a close and realistic look at what has worked for them and what hasn’t? Are they willing to be honest? Are they willing to grow? Are they willing to give the world their best?

If so, they should talk to us! When we love the work, we have a very high success rate in “relaunches.”

Julie Just: Most agents seem to be biased toward sticking with what works, or what has worked in the past. And to some degree it’s understandable—this is a conservative time in publishing, relatively speaking. At Pippin the mood couldn’t be more different: we aren’t conservative, and we make our own rules. I can’t say it better than Holly did—it’s all a question of what the author or artist really wants to do next, and are we the right partner to help get them there?

There was a time when children’s-YA authors and illustrators debated the need for an agent at all. Do you think that time has passed? Why or why not? What considerations should be weighed?

Elena Giovinazzo: I do think that time has passed. The publishing landscape is changing so fast it can give you whiplash. You need someone on your side who knows the landscape when your editor moves houses, when houses merge, when a new technology comes onto the scene. Having an agent allows the client to focus on their work.

Julie Just: Especially in the field of digital rights, the risks and opportunities are more complex all the time. The question is, how much does managing the business side take away from actually creating the work? Especially on the back end—royalties, foreign and audio rights, etc—without an agent, would the author get the best deal and protections they could have? Was someone thinking big for them?

The happiest outcome for any client, of course, is to find an editor who is a great partner, creatively and financially. When we’re able to make the right match, we’re glad to step back and not be some kind of middleman, except when the client needs us to be.

Holly McGhee: Additionally, I often find that our very most successful clients need a gatekeeper—there can come a point when there’s nobody left who will tell an author to “shelve it” or that the author “can do better.” We are the keepers of the castle, the ones you can trust to tell you the truth about the work as we see it.

To what degree do you do career framing and consultation with your clients?

Elena Giovinazzo: Each client has different needs and are at different points in their careers and so it’s a really personalized strategic approach for each client. Are they a client who would benefit from having multiple publishing homes or just one? Can the author’s audience handle more than one book a year or would the author be cannibalizing their own sales? Are they working with the most inspiring editor? If sales are languishing, what can we do to give them a reboot?

I love to work with people who have their own career goals and dreams. Maybe they’re illustrating other people’s picture book texts right now but what they really want to do is a graphic—how are we going to get there, together? That sort of career framing can’t happen with an agency that works on a “per book” approach.

Julie Just: I try to think strategically for my clients all the time. When it comes to fiction, though, for example, I’m mainly thinking What kind of book does the author want to write? And, how’s it going? There are career considerations and then creative ones.

Or, sometimes it’s kind of a mix, as when an author has a certain genre down cold and has had some success, but wants to try stretching into a new field in hopes of breaking out better or differently. That’s an interesting moment for a writer or artist, when they need our support but need our candid feedback even more.

Holly McGhee: We spend a good share of our time managing careers. We do all we can to avoid having more than one book per season by any client on a list, and for our more prolific writers and artists, this can be a real challenge; if one book is late, the whole house of cards is vulnerable to collapse. We encourage our clients, and continually brainstorm with them to break out of any sort of box they may find themselves in.

What if Kathi Appelt had stayed in her comfortable category of rhyming picture books? We would never had met Grandma Moccasin or the Alligator King, two of the most intimidating characters of all time from her Newbery Honor-winning novel The Underneath?

What if Kate DiCamillo had remained the “Southern writer” she thought the world expected her to be? The tiny hero Despereaux would never have been born.

Be a maverick—lead, don’t follow.

Do you promote your client list? If so, how? Or do you think that the agency should be more behind the scenes? Why or why not?

Elena Giovinazzo: Absolutely—all the time! At lunches with editors and other industry types, on our website, on our Facebook page, Twitter page and my own personal social media pages as well.

Promoting our clients to the publishing industry is a huge part of our job. We like to think we’re our clients’ best champions. Besides their moms, of course.

As far as marketing and publicity for a given title, though, we do typically leave that in the very capable hands of the publishers, but we happily brainstorm and offer ideas and attend the publisher marketing meetings for our major titles.

Julie Just: We talk up our writers and our new books when we participate in panels and conferences, and generally ensure that our clients are on as many people’s radar as possible—we are always on the lookout for magazine and book review sections that do a good job with children’s and YA books.

My own background in magazines and newspapers—The New Yorker and The Times Book Review, and New York magazine—has been pretty helpful that way. When I’m excited about a new client, I love to send their work around.

Holly McGhee: We also work hand-in-hand with our film partners and our foreign-rights team. We meet with many foreign publishers, film producers, and digital start-ups as they come through New York. We don’t passively wait for deals to come through from our subagents—we want as many people in the world as possible to read our books and we do what it takes to make that happen!

What is your take on e-format books, with regard to the novel and picture book and fiction versus nonfiction respectively?

Holly McGhee: E-formats have been terrific for our young adult novelists, given that many teenagers read on e-devices of one sort or another.

 For picture books, we have been hoping for a remarkable format that would rival a physical book. So far our hopes have not been met. It’s been frustrating, to be honest.

Publishers fight hard for the electronic rights to our picture books, and more recently they are asking for version formats too, to be granted the right to make interactive electronic books.

Yet nobody is making or selling these versions successfully—the truth is that the more money a publisher spends on making a book akin to a “game” the less the consumer is willing to pay. If you can download fruit ninja for free, why pay for a book that allows you to open a few cupboards and see what’s inside? This area remains a fierce battleground.

Our philosophy has always been to grant a publisher all of the rights that they have proven they can successfully exploit—but we aren’t interested in granting rights that will remain unexercised.

Julie Just: I’m especially interested in the potential of e-formats for nonfiction: amazing stuff can be done with links to primary sources, video archives, music, maps, competing viewpoints, and on and on. Obviously this will be great for school projects and Common Core standards, but there should be a strong trade market as well. It’s a design challenge to enhance and not compete with the text, and a big cost challenge as well, but the potential is very exciting.

What is the culture of Pippin? The mood around the office, the food, the banter?

Julie Just: It’s a riot. When we have group office tasks to do, like, say, book shelving, we try to do them with wine and/or chocolate. We often have visitors in, whether clients, editors, or scouts, and we laugh a lot. And complain about our pets, or other people’s pets. We have a good time.

Elena Giovinazzo: Gosh—I can’t imagine a better workplace environment. For all that we do and get done in a day, which is a lot, we have a ton of fun.

How could we not? We’re working with people we love and on projects we love. I feel so lucky to work with Holly, Julie and the rest of the Pippin team. And luckily, like me, they also love a good plate of pasta with a nice glass of wine. Or two, or three . . .

There’s also, as I mentioned above, such a sense of camaraderie and collaboration. I know I can always ask someone to give something a quick read for me, or ask their opinion on a tricky negotiation point, or ask them if I have something in my teeth—ha ha.

Holly McGhee: It’s a generous, not-stuffy atmosphere—we always notice each other’s new clothes—that’s important. And we had fun admiring Elena’s wedding presents, which she had delivered to the office. Julie’s and my kids helped so much with our big move—we’re training them early.

Pippins before the move to West 40th Street

How have you responded to the recent years of economic challenges in publishing? How has that impacted the authors / illustrators you sign and the way you work with them? How about with regard to the picture book in particular?

Holly McGhee: Children’s publishing has absolutely undergone a “reality check.” In my opinion, there were far too many books being published for a good long time. “If you’re going to kill a tree,” I always tell my authors, “it should be for good reason.” I.E. you should be publishing a book that will make a difference in a reader’s life—sometimes by hooking a reader early, thereby helping them find new worlds and ideas through books. I am continually stunned by how my own thinking opens when reading books by our authors.

In Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, which is Kate DiCamillo’s new middle-grade novel, one of her characters says: “But always . . . you opened the door because you could not stop hoping that on the other side of it would be the face of someone you loved.”

That sentence has stuck with me for over year—how right she is and how hopeful she is and how much I love that thought. It’s books like hers that survive the storm, that are impervious to the economy—books that offer more than a story.

But regarding picture books in particular, there was a time in 2010 when it was difficult to place any kind of picture book—submitting a picture book was equivalent to throwing a snake in an editor’s lap.

So we took the long road . . . we held those submissions back until 2011, when the very same wonderful submission was welcomed once again.

On an anecdotal level, I had one picture book, by a debut author-artist, that was rejected in 2010 eight times over. But I still believed in this book with all my heart. So the author and I “shelved” it (though not happily or easily) while she worked on a new story.

By the time we were ready to submit the new story, it was 2011, which was a more hopeful year for picture books. We sent the new story out, and it found an enthusiastic home, with three bidders no less. We then sent our new editor the story that we’d shelved during the downturn. And she acquired that too—timing counts. Don’t rush and don’t give up.

What new directions do you anticipate for Pippin in the future?

Elena Giovinazzo: With our new office space, Julie having recently come on, and a really kick-butt team falling into place, I can’t help but feel like the sky is the limit. We’re all working on such a wide variety of projects. It’s so exciting. There’s so much room for growth in any direction imagined. There’s something interesting happening almost every single day. What more could we ask for!

Julie Just: Coming here from a career spent almost entirely at big companies, to me Pippin is a dream team. It’s a “boutique” agency, but seems huge in spirit and success—like Elena said, the sky is the limit.

Holly McGhee: We have established a wonderful and creative studio environment, designed to foster our clients’ creativity (and our own). We are fluid and flexible, and we’ll continue to grow our brand in an organic way—we strive to stand for excellence, and excellence knows no bounds.

New Voice & Giveaway: Sara Kocek on Promise Me Something

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Sara Kocek
is the first-time author of Promise Me Something
(Albert Whitman Teen/Open Road Media, 2013). From the promotional copy:

Reyna didn’t mean to become friends with Olive Barton . . .

But when Olive kept talking after the lunch bell, Reyna didn’t say no, and she didn’t stop Olive when she followed her into the parking lot after school either. 

Olive is blunt, headstrong, and unapologetically honest—nothing like Reyna’s other friends, or anyone Reyna’s ever met. But as Reyna begins to drift apart from her childhood clique, she finds herself growing closer to Olive.

Then Olive tells Reyna her secret, which changes everything. And as Reyna weighs her choices, she must find the courage to decide what 
really matters…before she loses Olive forever.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage?

In college, one of my professors divided all writers into two categories: diamond polishers and swamp drivers. Diamond polishers have to make each paragraph shine before they feel ready to move onto the next paragraph. Swamp drivers plow straight through their drafts and go back later to clean up the mess.

I confess to being a diamond polisher. I revise my work almost constantly as part of my drafting process. I write a paragraph. Then I revise it. Then I revise it again. Finally—when I don’t hate it—I write the next paragraph.

So by the time I reach the end of my first draft, my manuscripts are already fairly clean—at least on a sentence level.

This was all fine and dandy before I got a book deal.

When I received my editorial letter for Promise Me Something, I felt a rush of dread. Suddenly, for the first time, I was being asked to make revisions that spanned across the entire book.

It’s one thing to revise a clunky paragraph or a poorly written scene—I can handle that. I’m fine with revisions made in isolation. But my editor raised questions that were bigger than a single scene. She rightly pointed out inconsistencies through the book at large, including character motivation, pacing, and other fundamentals.

In short, she did all the things a good editor is supposed to do. And I quietly freaked out.

So I did what everyone recommended: I took a few days to let the feedback settle, and then I went back and read her letter again. Lo and behold, on the second read, it wasn’t nearly as overwhelming. In fact, the more I dived into the manuscript, the more manageable her suggestions seemed.

In the end, the process was incredibly instructive for me. Sure, I had to put on my swamp driver gloves and dig up a few pieces of the manuscript, making a bit of a mess along the way. But now I feel much better equipped to write—and revise—my next book.

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

Sara Kocek & Katie Bayerl

When I finished my MFA program in 2010, I knew I didn’t want to let go of the momentum I’d worked so hard to build. I finally had a finished manuscript, and people in my program were full of suggestions about who to query. So even though I was terrified, I took the plunge and sent out my first batch of queries to my five top-choice agents.

Amazingly, two of them wrote back within the same week! With rejections, that is. Fortunately, the other three requested the full manuscript.

Out of those three, two invited me to revise and resubmit. One—Sarah Burnes at the Gernert Company—said that she had some “concerns” about the manuscript but invited me to come “talk things through” in person.

At that point I still lived in NYC, so I jumped at the opportunity and scheduled an appointment.

This began a long journey of revising and drafting. You see, the manuscript that I queried about was not Promise Me Something. It was a different novel—a middle grade novel. And the problem with this middle grade novel was that it didn’t quite have an audience. It wobbled between middle grade and YA in a way that made it neither.

Sarah liked it, but she wanted to know if I had anything else—anything solidly YA. At that point, Promise Me Something was all of 50 pages, but I sent everything I had and she encouraged me to finish the book. So, for more than a year, I revised my middle grade novel and drafted Promise Me Something. And in the end, that was the one Sarah decided to represent.

Of course, along the way, there were many back and forth emails with Sarah’s assistant, Logan Garrison. In fact, Logan was the one who read my initial query and requested more pages. She was my champion from the very beginning. Through it all, I absolutely loved (and still love!) communicating with Logan. Her emails are like a cup of chamomile tea—they calm my jittery nerves and put me at ease. While my manuscript was on submission, she sent me updates every step of the way without me having to ask. (This was great because I’m super self-conscious about not wanting to pester people.) And when Promise Me Something eventually sold, Logan was there to share in my excitement and talk me through all my questions and concerns.

My advice for other writers seeking agents is simple—Find an agent whose communication style meshes well with your own. You don’t want to feel like you’re constantly bugging your agent or that you’re low on his or her priority list. And while you’d be lucky to nab a big-name agent, don’t discount newer agents who are just beginning to build their own lists—they have more time and headspace to dedicate to your career.

Most of all, look for an agent who is respectful and makes you feel important—because you are!

Don’t miss Sara Polsky’s tour stop tomorrow at The Writing Barn.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of Promise Me Something by Sara Kocek. Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Event Case Study: Kathy Duval & Take Me To Your BBQ

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

In August, Kathy Duval shared her new picture book, Take Me To Your BBQ, illustrated by Adam McCauley (Hyperion, 2013) with the storytime crowd at BookPeople in Austin. From the promotional copy:

Aliens have landed on Willy’s farm, and they’re not leaving without a square dance and a square meal.

So fire up that grill, pour on the barbecue sauce, and snatch up that fiddle. 

Adam McCauley’s out-of-this-world illustrations match Kathy Duval’s hoedown rhymes like ribs and taters! 

Get ready for some extraterrestrial, lip-smackin’ fun.

Kathy’s event was one of the best I’ve seen for presenting to young families and other children’s literature enthusiasts in a bookstore setting. It featured an interactive read-aloud, an original song, an easy-to-execute craft project, a Q&A and a signing.

Kathy began by greeting new arrivals. Note: if you are a local author/illustrator, try to arrive at a bookstore event 15-to-20 minutes early. It’s reassuring to a traveling author–even a popular one–that the audience is coming together, and, if need be, you can be available for any last minute, out-of-the-box support. (In the past, I’ve made last-minute runs to fetch napkins, pens, and aspirin.)

Austin authors Greg Leitich Smith, Cynthia Levinson, Susie Kralovansky, Cynthia Leitich Smith & Kathy

Cynthia and Susie chat informally with Kathy

YA author Cory Putnam Oakes visits with Kathy

Kathy leads an interactive tie-in song & reading of the book.

Kathy models a tin-foil hat–which ties into the story. Note: that’s Kathy’s husband/wing man in the background, beaming.

Readers make tin-foil hats of their own.

Soon everyone is modeling a tin-foil hat!

Hooray! Kathy signs my book.

What made the event so successful?

  • Local authors Donna Bowman Bratton & Lindsey Lane

    Kathy drew a number of her fans, including local authors who helped with word-of-mouth, to the bookstore. 

  • The book itself is fun, funny, and kid friendly. 
  • Bookpeople is an inherently great destination for children’s literature enthusiasts.
  • The event capitalized on a pre-existing crowd (the storytime regulars) at the bookstore. 
  • Kathy was a relaxed and entertaining speaker who offered original content (in the form of the tie-in song) and stories behind the story. 
  • The song and read-aloud were interactive, so young readers were fully engaged. 
  • The presentation was kept short and upbeat. 
  • The presentation segued into a craft that was easy-to-execute, fun, and a conversation starter. It also was inexpensive and readily portable for the author. 
  • Kathy brought a wing man–her husband–who took photos and offered both logistical and emotional support. Family and friends can be great for this role; just make sure you choose low-maintenance, reliable people who bring lots of positive energy.
  • Kathy is a charmer. 

See also Magic with a Bit of Serendipity: The Story Behind the Story of Take Me To Your BBQ and a video (below) by Vonna Carter from Kathy’s official launch party for the book at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston.

Guest Post: Bethany Hegedus on Barn Raising: Creating a Center to Study & Celebrate the Craft of Writing

By Bethany Hegedus
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Writing was my dream.


For 10+ years, I studied, took classes, attended SCBWI meetings, skimped and saved and sat behind reception desks in skyscraper Manhattan buildings.

When I wasn’t writing at the “day job,” I was squirreled away in various small Brooklyn hovels where I wrote and revised and revised and revised.

Once I got my masters from Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA), I hoped to teach fiction but I needed to publish first. Eventually, miraculously, just when I thought my work would never reach anyone outside my writing group, I did publish.

In 2009, my first novel, Between Us Baxters (WestSide Books, 2009) came out, and when it did, my second novel, Truth with a Capital T (Delacorte/Random House, 2010) was already under contract.

I had a decision to make. Continue to eek out a living writing on the side or make a big move and try to make a-go of it as an almost-full-time writer.

I searched my soul, and came back with a big, bold answer. I loved my friends, but the NYC pace was getting to me. I was tired, I was lonely and I wanted more psychic space for both me and for my work.

Poof! Three weeks later I was living in Austin, Texas, and had the good luck to land a job at The Writers’ League of Texas. It was the perfect training ground for what I do now as the owner and creative director of The Writing Barn. At the WLT, I interacted with fellow professionals, who gave back to the thriving literary community. And as office manager, I listened to the needs of the writers who joined the organization.

March 2014

Two years into working at the WLT, I sold my third book—this one a picture book, Grandfather Gandhi, illustrated by Evan Turk (Atheneum, 2014)—which I’d been slaving over since hearing Arun Gandhi speak in the days after 9/11.

What I didn’t know after signing the contract, was that another big poof! was right around the corner—marriage and marriage to a man who had business in his blood.

As we courted, I discovered I had a bit of business in my blood too, and the empty horse barn at the back of our 7.5 acres, went from being planned as my designated office space to what is now The Writing Barn, a retreat, event, and workshop space in South Austin.

Best-selling author Sara Zarr, who taught with us in April, said, “A writer I like, Frederick Buechner, says that a personal calling is ‘where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’ Most writers I know deeply hunger for a beautiful space and the quiet where they can connect with themselves, others, and their work. And I think Bethany must find her deep gladness in providing such a space.”

Sara Zarr signs The Writing Barn

Sara Zarr is not a sentimental writer, but what she wrote about the work we do at The Writing Barn, continues to get me all chocked up. The Writing Barn is my personal calling. (How Zarr knew that before I did, I’ll never know.)

It’s taken the sum total of those starving artist years and my WLT time supporting writers, my love for community, for books, and celebration and given it a home—a permanent place outside myself for it to live.

Seeing writers depart after classes and events, is a reminder to me to let our lives take us to places we never thought we’d go but maybe deep down hoped we could.
Sara Zarr went on to add, “The Barn and surrounding property are aesthetically beautiful, but it’s Bethany’s heart and skill and the wonderful Austin writing community that bring it all together.”

That’s another plus. People are looking for a reason to come to Austin, to visit BookPeople, attend the Texas Book Festival and the Austin Teen Book Festival and the many other literary events in town. The Barn wouldn’t be the Barn without this eclectic and artistic “keeping-it-weird” community.

The Cabin

This coming January, will be the second anniversary of us flinging open our Barn doors.

As wonderful as the first two years have been, 2014 is going to be incredible.

We are expanding our on-site lodging for personal and group retreats, and we’re increasing our Advanced Writer Workshop programming and hope to even host five-to-seven-day intensives.

Currently, The Writing Barn and Cabin on the same property are listed as vacation destinations with and we welcome those traveling to Austin for festivals and music events.

But as much as we love hosting visitors to Austin, The Writing Barn is devoted first and foremost to honoring the craft and careers of those who build books. And build them bravely.

Houston area author, Varsha Bajaj, jokingly calls us “the watering hole for Texas authors” and in the drought stricken Texas that is a compliment, indeed.

Upcoming Events at The Writing Barn

See full events schedule.

Guest Post: Helen Hemphill on Writing Scenes & Showing

Authors Linda Sue Park & Helen Hemphill

By Helen Hemphill
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

In my role as director of the Highlights Foundation’s Whole Novel Workshop, I read excerpts from lots of novels.

I read lots of telling, pages of narrative that tell the reader by filing in the background, describing the setting, and depicting what the narrator of the story thinks.

While some of this writing might include beautiful language and intriguing characters, pages and pages of telling just won’t hold the attention of a reader for very long.

For today’s teens, ‘tweens, and children, the “Once Upon a Time” approach can be a kind of big red flag for Been There, Heard That.

Great storytelling happens not in the telling but in the showing. But it feels so good to tell!

A few months ago I heard Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize award-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and his most recent novel Telegraph Avenue, say that he sometimes forgets and writes pages and pages of narrative. And that can be a good thing. It can help a writer understand the story and the characters.

What it cannot do, usually, is move the story along so that a reader will engage. The backbone of this kind of narrative writing is scene. Like a good screenplay, a novel must be constructed with scenes that build sequentially into something bigger and more meaningful.

What is a scene? In The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer by American essayist and National Book Award finalist Sandra Schofield, a scene is defined as “… the most vivid and immediate part of the story, the place where the reader is the most emotionally involved, the part that leaves the reader with images and a memory of the action.”

In a scene, something has to happen. There needs to be action, usually dialog, and emotion. Something needs to change for good, for evil, in frustration, in anger, in love.

In a good scene, characters will be pushed to do the next thing that will move the story forward, that will be the logical outcome of the actions, dialog, thoughts, and feelings of the scene.

When I teach, I’m asked if a scene takes place in one location. It can. But it can also be a scene full of action. Think about when Byron goes after Larry Dunn for stealing Byron’s gloves in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 or Bartholomew and Mr. Jelliby running down the street, revealing what they know about the lady in plum in The Peculiar.

In my own novel, Long Gone Daddy, the three main characters are in a station wagon on a road trip from Dallas to Las Vegas for 65 pages. I break up the monotony of the car trip with scenes that reveal plot points and show character emotion.

For example, in one scene the hitchhiker Warrior is told that the dead body of the protagonist’s grandfather is in the back of the station wagon. It’s a humorous moment on one level, and yet it also reveals Warrior’s laid-back grit, the religious zeal of the preacher father Paps, and the restlessness and angst of his protagonist son Harlan.

Another scene involves a religious discussion that quickly escalates into an anxiety attack for Harlan, again revealing both the emotional tie and distance between the generations.

I also use breaks from the station wagon as the travelers have a tire blow out, spend the night with friends, and stop for lunch.

The road trip is written in scenes, with narration used to move the reader through time and place. Here’s an example:

I waited for Paps to start up. About a million billboards and trailer parks went by. Paps flicked his thumb against his ear. Over and over and over. Eternity passed.

Finally, Paps spoke. “Warren, do you love your father?” he asked.

“Yes, I do,” Warrior said. “But it’s not about love or hate, man. It’s acceptance. I try to accept him as he is and hope he can do the same for me someday.”

Paps glanced over at Warrior. “You are wrong, Warren. It is very much about love. If you father accepts you are you are, you will be lost forever. You soul will be damned for eternity. He cannot give up on you. Not if he really loves you.”

Warrior leaned over to Paps. “Maybe my dad would do a lot better to love me unconditionally.” Warrior’s voice was real low, and I had to lean forward to hear him. “You know, you can’t bully someone into believing, Reverend.”

It might as well have been the tribulation. I sucked air into my lungs hard. Paps wasn’t going to let Warrior talk to him like that. He would just pull the car over and tell Warrior to get out, thank you very much.

But Paps drove on in silence for a full five minutes. “Well, do no give up on God,” he said finally. “Or on your father, either.” Paps glanced back in the rear-view mirror and stared at me.

Karyn Henley, Cynthia Leitich Smith & Helen Hemphill

Location isn’t necessarily what makes a scene. It’s the tension. A scene begins with characters thinking one thing; it ends with a revelation or a reversal that lets them know something else.

In this scene from Long Gone Daddy, the action starts out as a discussion of the hitchhiker Warrior’s relationship to his own father, but ends with Paps sending a message to Harlan to not give up on their relationship. While the action takes place entirely in the station wagon, the scene gives the reader an emotional insight into the characters and shows the reader what’s at stake.

A scene can be a page or an entire chapter, but the length isn’t what’s important. What is important is that the reader feels emotion with the characters, just as if he or she were standing in the room with them. The reader sees the action of the storytelling.

So the goal is not to be a story teller but a story shower. Write a chain of dramatic scenes that build to a climax, and you’ve got the beginnings of a novel. Narrative telling is the part that links the scenes together, hints at backstory and setting, and fills in gaps of time.

Helen’s office

Cynsational Notes

The paperback edition of Long Gone Daddy will be released in April 2014.

Helen says: “If you’re interested in knowing more about writing scenes, I’m lucky enough to be teaching a workshop, Building a Novel: Scene, Summary, and Sentence, with Newbery award-winning author Linda Sue Park (pictured above) at the Highlights Foundation from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3. We’ll be working in-depth on constructing dramatic scenes, adding narrative summary, and then revising from the sentence up. Alvina Ling, executive editor for Little Brown Books for Young Readers, will be joining us.”

Event Report: Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

In August, I had the honor of co-teaching a Highlights Full Novel Workshop in Honesdale, Pennsylvania.

Cabins in the woods at the Highlights Whole Novel Workshop.
Traveling with fellow Austin author & teaching assistant Bethany Hegedus (layover in Detroit).
I prepare to say brainy things about story structure, world-building and metaphor.
Faculty author Greg Leitich Smith speaks (and sings!) about voice.
Special guest literary agent Sarah LaPolla of Bradford Literary Agency & faculty author Nancy Werlin.
Teaching assistant & debut YA author Amy Rose Capetta & students chat with Kent Brown of Highlights.
Faculty literary agent Tina Wexler of ICM and Nancy.

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The S-Word by Kathi Appelt from The Pippin Insider. Peek: “One February morning, while sitting at my desk and wondering how in the world I was going to meet my June 1st deadline for my next manuscript, I received an email from Cynthia Leitich Smith. It had only a single sentence: ‘I think you should write something funny.’ She signed it with love.” See also Kathi on The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp from Indigo.

How Young Adult Literature Challenges Gender Norms by S.E. Smith from Thought Catalog. Peek: “…the people writing YA today are the people who were once furtively hiding from gym class in the library with their copies of The Mists of Avalon.” Source: CBC Diversity.

Writers’ Conferences: A Cheat Sheet by Sarah LaPolla from Glass Cases. Peek: “Meeting agents and editors is great, but the main reason to attend a conference is to learn.” See also Query, Sign, Submit by Sarah from I Write for Apples.

Five Traits of Published Writers by Megan Shepherd from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing. Peek: “My published author friends work nonstop. They get up at 5 a.m. or else stay awake until 5am. They write on Christmas, during lunch breaks, while at their children’s soccer games.”

Fiction Techniques for Nonfiction Writers by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “…while I was researching the nonfiction topic of Kentucky basketball, I was really looking for a certain type of information.”

Why “Middle-Aged White Women” Writers Need to Care about Diversity, Too by Peni Griffin from Idea Garage Sale. Peek: “The point being that, even if you and your protagonists are from the privileged categories of people, the diversity issues are there. It doesn’t harm your story or your chances in the market place to acknowledge them.” See also “White Publishing” by Daniel Nayeri from CBC Diversity and Multicultural Statistics from CCBlogC.

Cause-Related Marketing by Kay Kendall from Mystery Writing is Murder. Peek: “Simply put, you as an author know what charitable causes have resonance with you. Find one that also relates to something in your book. Then promote the fact that you will donate a part of your royalties to that worthy cause.”

Please Pants Responsibly: Paper Notebooks For the Win by E. Kristin Anderson from Write All the Words! Peek: “I have a different notebook for every novel I’ve finished (and even some that I haven’t). And when I get feedback on drafts, and do revisions, I can go and keep all of that information in the notebook, too.” See also Five Quotes to Plot Your Novel by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes.

Teacher/Librarian Conferences: How to Make Positive Connections from Ashley Perez. Peek: “Authors, you are at a conference to increase your visibility and to connect with the readers who will put your books into the hands of more readers.”

Sarah Harrison Smith, the new New York Times Book Review Editor, from Educating Alice. Peek: “Sarah is continuing the weekly online picture book reviews begun by her predecessor Pamela Paul, and paying close attention to titles from publishers small and large, near and far.”

The Class of 2K14: Fiction Addiction: “20 authors debuting in middle grade and young adult fiction in 2014.”

Top Four Lessons from Semester One of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults by Marissa Graff from Angela Ackerman at The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: “We rarely give ourselves permission to play. At my advisor’s suggestion, I explored short stories as my out-of-the-box writing experiment during my first semester.”

Uma Krishnaswami on Writing for the Long Haul from Janni Lee Simner from Desert Dispatches. Peek: “Early book contracts tend to give a writer hope, but they can also be, like the peacock’s tail, part illusion. When the folk tale market began to thin, and I was no closer to finishing my first novel, I was left questioning the whole endeavor.”

A Is for Aging, B Is for Books from Lindsey McDivitt: “a blog about positive images of aging in children’s literature.” See also Disability in Kidlit: “reviews, guest posts and discussions about portrayals of disabilities in MG/YA fiction.”

Writing Physical Attributes: Stocky by Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: “Stocky bodies tend to be short and round, rather than angular. People with these body types are often quite strong due to their higher percentage of muscle mass.”

Being Responsible for Your Own Writing Career by Jenna Black from Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing. Peek: “When I finally came to accept that I could work harder, and that working harder might actually be the key to getting published, everything changed for me.”

Trendwatch 2013: A Mid-year Assessment by Elizabeth Bird from a Fuse #8 Production. Peek: “Contemporary Jewish characters where their religion is not the point.”

Book Publishing’s Big Gamble by Boris Kachka from The New York Times. On the Penguin-Random House Merger, peek: “There is, for one, the persistent gripe of writers and agents: companies either forbid (as at Penguin) or restrict (at Random House) their constituent imprints from bidding against one another for a manuscript. That means not only lower advances, but also fewer options for writers to get the kind of painstaking attention — from editors, marketers and publicists — that it takes to turn their manuscripts into something valuable.” See also Baker & Taylor Owner Buys Bookmasters by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly.

Children’s Books in Iran: A Chat with Ali Seidabadi by Mitali Perkins from Mitali’s Fire Escape. Peek: “…many recent books by American authors are translated and published in Iran. I have read numerous works written by today’s American writers. For example, last year I read two books by Brian Selznick, and you might find it interesting to know that his Hugo won a golden Flying Turtle award in Iran.” See also Mitali on Children’s Books for and about Syrian children.

Making Your Writing the Best It Can Be: Top Tips by Children’s Book Editors from The Guardian. Peek: “People always say that a story must have a beginning, a middle and an end. If that is true then by far the most important part is the end.”

Understanding & Manipulating Time to Strengthen Your Novel by Meredith Davis from The Writing Barn. Peek: “When you give time markers, they don’t have to be a day, date, or time. The marker could be a holiday, a season, a school year, or some other specified event. What’s important is that it is intrinsically tied to your storyline.”

Recommended Trans Title

Trans Titles for Young Adults by Tayla Sokoll from Linda Braun at Young Adult Library Service. Note: a bibliography of recommended reads.

How to Write a Satisfying Ending by Jane LeBack from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: “Your main character’s chief flaws have to be highlighted and overcome in the climax. Moreover, the thing your main character has desired most from the beginning of the book must be brought to bear on the final resolution.”

Children’s Picture Books Retain Stubborn Stereotypes by Tom Jacobs from Pacific Standard. Peek: “A new survey of children’s picture books finds gender stereotypes—nurturing mothers, breadwinning fathers—remain stubbornly persistent.” Via Jen Robinson.

First Readers vs. Manuscript Critique by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “When you finish your draft, do you look for a manuscript critique or a first reader? They are different and serve different purposes.”

Graphic Novels: What Are They and Why Should I Care? from Austin SCBWI. Note: Delve into the world of graphic novels on Oct. 5 with a Graphic Novel Workshop, featuring author/illustrator Dave Roman, author Cynthia Leitich Smith and First Second Books Senior Editor Calista Brill; sponsored by Austin SCBWI.

Character and Series Backstory and the Traditional Mystery by Elizabeth S. Craig from Mystery Writing is Murder. Peek: “Many readers won’t put their finger on exactly what it was that made the story boring, but they’ll put it aside. No one really enjoys an expository dump of information—they just want an engaging story.”

Banned Books Month: Dori Hillstestad Butler on How Censorship Changed Her from E. Kristin Anderson from Write All the Words! Peek: “…I never expected to face such a public challenge. I never expected to make ALA’s list of most challenged books. I never expected strangers to see a 3-minute segment on ‘Fox and Friends’ and think they know all about me and my motivation for writing such ‘trash.'”

In Defense of Quiet Picture Books (Or Still Waters Run Deep) by Marsha Diane Arnold
from The Picture Book Academy Blogettes. Peek: “Having recently sold a
quiet picture book text, I pondered what made it different from my other
rejected quiet stories. I came up with a list describing what the best
quiet books do and what picture book writers should aim for.”

From The SCBWI

“The SCBWI congratulates Edie Parsons of Athens, Georgia, as the winner of the first annual Karen and Philip Cushman Late Bloomer Award for authors over the age of 50 who have not been traditionally published in the children’s literature field. Edie has written several children’s books and won the award for ‘Mercury Sea,’ a middle grade fantasy novel about the poetry of historical alchemy.

“The grant was established by Newbery Award winner and Newbery Honor Book recipient Karen Cushman and her husband, Philip Cushman, in conjunction with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Karen published her first children’s book, The Midwife’s Apprentice (Clarion)(winner of the 1996 Newbery Medal), at the age of 53 and has gone on to become one of the field’s most acclaimed novelists.”

This Summer at Cynsations

More Personally

Hello, big bird!

Embracing my inner butterfly!
Rocking the Austin skyline before “A Chorus Line” at the Long Center.

Cynthia Leitich Smith on Staying Sane, Good Vibes and Author Platforms from Deborah Lytton at Adventures in Writing. Peek: “Pay attention but don’t obsess. If you’re losing followers in droves, you might want to take a look at your recent content and ask why. If you’re not building steadily, you may want to amp things up a bit.”

Congratulations to Anne Bustard on signing with Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt, and congratulations to Emily on signing Anne!

Congratulations to Amy Goldman Koss on receiving the 2013 PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship! Peek: “…provides a writer with a measure of financial sustenance in order to make possible an extended period of time to complete a book-length work-in-progress. The fellowship is supported by an endowment fund established by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and confers a prize of $5,000 on the honoree.”

Anna Boll Is Now Available for Hire to Write Curriculum Guides for Books from Creative Chaos. Peek: “When you provide teachers with a Teacher/Reader Guide, they are more likely to buy a class or reading group set of your book to go with it.”

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