Cynsational News

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Judge My Books by Tiffany Trent from Diversity in YA. Peek: “I was so proud of my publisher for going the extra mile to get it right. And yet people were saying that they got it wrong! Some even accused them of pandering to diversity pundits just to get more attention. That could not have been further from the truth.”

Considering Common Themes in Middle Grade Books by Joseph McGee from Project Mayhem. Peek: “While we should never resort to becoming didactic, it is important to understand what you are writing about.”

Why an Agent May Not Submit Widely by Mary Kole from Peek: “Sometimes, it’s true, an agent will only submit to a few editors because they don’t believe in the project 100 percent and they want to test the waters. That’s a tough pill to swallow.”

Self-Editing: Common Errors & Easy Fixes by Aaron Sikes from Elizabeth Spann Craig. Peek: “The first editor I worked with gave me a valuable lesson in tightening my prose, beginning with the elimination of the verb to be from my manuscript. This, like all rules regarding exclusion, should not be viewed as a hard and fast proscription.”

Everything You Need to Know to Be a Published Author from Mette Ivie Harrison. Note: Remarkably comprehensive quick hits on frequent issues/questions for beginning writers and new authors.

Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific by Mary Cronk Farrell (Abrams) from ALSC Blog. Peek: “The research for Pure Grit included a daunting amount of material. I wanted to tell a concise, powerful story about the 76 Army and Navy nurses captured by the Japanese, but also help readers come to know individual women.”

In the Cloud by Coe Booth from Write at Your Own Risk. Peek: “…recently, I made a big change and, so far, I’m really liking it. I switched from keeping a physical journal to using a digital one.”

On the Devaluation of Writers by Writers from literary agent Jill Corcoron. Peek: “Writers, I know there is a good marketing reason for capturing readers with our first ‘free’ book and then have them coming back for more, but now that the reading public can fill their e-readers with practically free ‘bestselling’ books, what is their incentive to pay you a fair price for your next book? And what is a fair price these days?” See also Devaluing Writers? by Heidi R. Kling, Author.
Books for National Eating Disorder Week 2014 from the Horn Book. Note: annotated bibliography.
Author Tip: If you are traditionally published, always be sure to list your publisher in your promotional information. Don’t make readers hunt for it.

Understanding Character Wounds: A List of Common Themes by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: “Emotional wounds are more than just painful memories. Inside each wound is a seed of doubt. Is this somehow my fault? Am I to blame? This doubt blossoms, eroding one’s self-worth.”

Webinar Three: Harold Underdown Presents: Finding the Right Fit: Researching the Right Agent, Editor, and/or Publishing House from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. March 27 from SCBWI Michigan. Registration closes at 2 p.m. EST March 26. Non-member cost $25.

Poet to Poet: Margarita Engle and Mariko Nagal from Poetry for Children. Peek: “In Dust of Eden (Albert Whitman), the story found its own form – there have been many beautifully written books about Japanese-American internment camps but I had to tell my own version of the story, Mina’s story. …the verse novel – gave a poetic space for her internal voice, her bewilderment, her anger and her sadness to come out in small snapshot-like moments. I can’t imagine this book told in any other way except for the form it’s in. “

Capstone Young Readers Launches YA Imprint: Offers Wide Range of Nonfiction and Fiction Titles from PR Web. Peek: “Capstone Young Readers, a leading publisher of children’s books and digital products and services, announced the launch of Switch Press, a new imprint dedicated to titles that appeal to the wide range of interests of the young adult audience today. Switch Press will include a broad selection of contemporary nonfiction and fiction book titles such as graphic novels, cookbooks, craft/how-to, narrative non-fiction, historical fiction, poetry, fantasy and other speculative fiction.”

YA Science Fiction & Fantasy Awards

Nebula Andrew Norton Nominees from the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America:

This Week at Cynsations

28 Days Later

28 Days Later is “a Black History Month celebration of emerging and established children’s book creators of color” from the Brown Bookshelf.

Thank you to Varian Johnson, Don Tate, Kelly Starling Lyons, Tameka Fryer Brown, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Gwendolyn Hooks, Crystal Allen, Paula Chase Hyman for an inspiring and informative campaign.

Note: if you haven’t already, please visit the campaign, pick a least one book to check out or purchase and pass on the link(s) in whatever way makes sense for you.

See also:

More Personally

I’m deeply honored to see three of my titles, Jingle Dancer, Indian Shoes and Rain Is Not My Indian Name (all HarperChildren’s) featured among Top 100 Books by Indigenous Masters from School Library Journal, compiled by Susan Hanks, Debbie Reese, Teresa Runnels, and Tim Tingle for the 2012 Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums in Tulsa.

Thank you, Web Middle School in Austin for the great school visit last Friday!
Thanks to BookPeople for featuring Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) in such great company!
Congrats again from me to Nikki Loftin on the release of Nightingale’s Nest (Razorbill, 2014)!
On a related note, behold my geektastic Wonder Woman glassware (and Japanese scarf) from Nikki!

Hey, e-book readers! You can snag free copies of two of my short stories, “Haunted Love” and “Cat Calls,” from E-volt & a copy of Tantalize (Book 1 in the Tantalize series) for only $1.99 through 2/28. Expires midnight EST 2/28/14. Visit this link to download!

Note: the short stories are set in the Tantalize & Feral series universe (and all are from Candlewick Press)! The shorts introduce new characters, except for Granny Z, the fortuneteller who appears in “Cat Calls” and my newest release, Feral Curse.

On a related note, giveaway winners of Feral Nights were Sandra in Texas, Karis in Ontario, and Linda in Illinois. Giveaway winners of Feral Curse were Victoria in Ohio, Jennifer in Wyoming and one more–if you entered, check your email In box!

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held June 16 to June 21 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Keynote speaker: James Dashner; faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Learn about the WIFYR Fellowship Award. See also Alison L. Randall on Choosing a Writing Conference.

Guest Post: Todd Strasser on Water Seeks Its Own Level: Finding the Right Agent

By Todd Strasser
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

A number of years ago Twentieth Century Fox went into production on a script based on my novel, How I Created My Perfect Prom Date (Simon Pulse).

This, as I’m sure you can imagine, was pretty exciting stuff, and, I imagined hopefully, possibly even an opportunity to improve my visibility among the Hollywood decision makers of the day.

My agent at that time was a nice enough fellow, but he worked at a small agency, which, though well-regarded, was not known in the movie world as a heavy hitter.

After speaking to a number of book editors and other contacts, I got the names of two prominent agents at top tier agencies, the sort whose agents movie stars often thanked when receiving Oscars.

I contacted both, explaining that I had written a number of other novels, and asking if they would be interested in seeing them. One said yes, the other never replied.

Filled with aspiration I packed a box with the novels I thought had the most movie potential and shipped them off to the agent who’d said yes.

After hearing nothing for a month I sent the agent an e-mail asking if he’d had an opportunity to read my books. He didn’t answer. A few weeks later I tried again, and again, received no answer.

 Once a few more weeks had passed, I tried calling and got his secretary who promised she’d give him the message.

Days passed, but he never called back.

Meanwhile the movie, now called “Drive Me Crazy,” had been fast-tracked, and it wasn’t long before the premiere (my kids got to meet Britney Spears when she still wore underwear) – followed by tepid reviews … and a disastrous box office.

A week later my box of books arrived in the mail without a note. It was difficult to discern whether it had even been opened.

This was not the first time I’d reached high for an agent. In New York, I’d had connections at the biggest agencies, and, at various times had been briefly represented by some of the top literary agents for specific – usually adult — projects.

But, as I said, these were short sojourns, usually ending when the project didn’t sell.

On the other hand, my longest and most successful agent relationships — each lasting a more than a decade — were with agents who, like myself, were consistent and reliable performers. They might not have been at the top of their fields, but then, to be honest, neither was I.

These days, being in the fifth decade of my writing career, I’m quite glad to have a young agent who’s very comfortable and familiar with what’s going on in the business. When we got together six years ago, he was less established than he is now, and hungry.

Together we’ve made good progress. My advances are larger, and he’s expanded his stable of authors to include some who are quite well known.

Having been in this business a long time, and having had some super-hot, as well as some comfortably warm, agents, I’ve come to believe that having a “big” agent isn’t always the best way to go, especially if that agent has a lot of “bigger” clients than you.

As the old saying goes, “water seeks its own level,” and you may find that in the long run the agent who’s best for you is the one who takes the time to answer your e-mails, return your calls, and, most importantly, thinks of you as a valuable client.

New Voice: Peggy Eddleman on Sky Jumpers

Educator Guide

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Peggy Eddleman is the first-time author of Sky Jumpers (Random House, 2013). From the promotional copy:

Twelve-year-old Hope lives in White Rock, a town of inventors struggling to recover from the green bombs of World War III. 

But Hope is terrible at inventing and would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb’s Breath—the deadly band of compressed air that covers the crater left by the bombs—than fail at yet another invention. 

When bandits discover that White Rock has priceless antibiotics, they invade. With a two-day deadline to finish making this year’s batch and no ingredients to make more, the town is left to choose whether to hand over the medicine and die from the disease that’s run rampant since the bombs, or die fighting the bandits now. Help lies in a neighboring town, but the bandits count everyone fourteen and older each hour. 

Hope and her friends Aaren and Brock might be the only ones who can escape to make the dangerous trek through the Bomb’s Breath and over the snow-covered mountain. 

For once, inventing isn’t the answer, but the daring and recklessness that usually get Hope into trouble might just save them all.

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

Peggy Eddleman

If anyone ever is in need of a group of supportive people who know what they are going through, it’s writers!

This is not a profession to be tackled alone. You need people who will celebrate your triumphs with you, commiserate with you on the frustrations, and share their knowledge and opinions on the million and one things you’ll have questions about along the way.

The people you surround yourselves with make all the difference in the world, and there are a lot of places to find them.

I met my writing group— the people I got together with once a week with to do critiques for over four years— in a writing class.

The things I learned about writing from this group was invaluable. There is no way I could’ve gotten my writing to a publishable point in the time frame I did without their help.

With as much as my writing group helped my writing, a different group helps me emotionally. They’re all writers who I met through blogging, then later found out most of them live in my state. We get together for writing retreats twice a year, and we have a Facebook group where we can share all the writing woes and wins and worries that we aren’t willing to shout out to the world.

Other groups have helped tons with the nitty-gritty business side, and figuring out how to be an author. If you write kidlit, every year a group forms of the authors debuting nationally.

For me, it was a very amazing group called The Lucky 13s. I can’t even begin to tell how helpful they’ve been. If you’re ever in the position to join one of these groups, do it! You’ll be so glad you did.

I was also fortunate enough to join the lovely folks at The League of Extraordinary Writers, and a group in my state of nationally published writers called Rock Canyon. In both of these, I’ve gotten valuable advice, camaraderie, and opportunities from people who have been in the business longer than I have. At every stage of your writing career, from when you’re just starting to having dozens of books out, you’ll get chances to join groups.

Critiquers Jessie Humphries (left), Erin Summerill (right)

Check them out! Give them a chance. With some of them, you and they will be a great fit.

My inner circle– the people I go to the most– consists of four people. One I was already friends with before either of us became writers. (When I decided I wanted to pursue this, I needed a buddy and went to her– and found out she had been closet writing.) One I met at a writer’s conference. One I served in the PTA with at our kids’ school. And one was an author I had listened to at conferences, started following her online, realized she’s brilliant, and then found out we live in the same city.

The thing is, there are writers everywhere, and your chances to meet ones you get along with swimmingly can happen in a million different places. All it takes is a little opening up to them, and you may have found someone (or a group of someones) that are exactly what you need, and you may be exactly what they need.

I know that no matter how crazy / confusing / exciting / frustrating / tough things get, there’s someone in one of my support groups I can go to. And that’s invaluable.

Peggy (center, middle) with the Writing Group of Joy and Awesomeness (yes, that’s actually their name)

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

I first met my agent—Sara Crowe—at a writer’s conference, before I was ready to query. I heard her speak in workshops and on panels, so I got a good sense of who she was and guessed that our personalities would work well together. I was thrilled that she was the one that I had signed up to pitch to.

But the pitch itself? That was another thing altogether. It was the first time I had ever pitched, and I was a bundle of nerves. I rushed through my pitch (speaking fast when I’m nervous is my specialty), forgetting half of what I was going to say, and somehow didn’t think to have any questions for her.

Three minutes later, I walked out of the pitch room with seven of our minutes unused. But, she had asked to see my full!

Sara and Peggy

(Which kind of helped to temper the fact that I totally flubbed my pitch. And also goes to show that you probably shouldn’t be so nervous when going in to pitch, because agents are nice. And they’re normal people. And they assume you are normal—extremely nervous, yes—but normal. And they base their requests on the book itself, and it’s okay if the meeting doesn’t go as gloriously as you had hoped.)

I wasn’t about to put all my eggs in one basket, though. I knew enough about the querying process to know that one agent showing some interest didn’t mean I had made it. My manuscript was finished and revised at that point, but I worked on it and my query letter for another four months, making both of them as perfect as I could possibly make them, because I was afraid to lose a chance with the agent who might be perfect for me if it wasn’t.

I researched agents like crazy. I made lists of all the agents I thought I’d work well with and that I thought would be interested in my book, and came up with my top agents. Then I started querying. I didn’t actually send Sara my manuscript until I had other agent interest.

In the end, I had a choice to make as far as which agent to choose, and I went with Sara.

In all honesty, even if I hadn’t met her in person beforehand, I still would’ve chosen her based on the phone calls alone. But I’ll also say that there is nothing like meeting an agent in person before you sign with them!

Coming up with that list of top agents isn’t easy, and if you sign with an agent who looks good on paper but is the completely wrong agent in reality, you lose so much time and gain so much stress.

That’s one of the huge benefits of going to writer’s conferences. Meeting those agents— even if it’s a few years before you query— really helps you to learn if they’re someone you want to work with, and if you want them to be on your “Query someday” list.

Free E-Copies of “Haunted Love” & “Cat Calls” — Tantalize for Only $1.99

Free! Consider it a gift!

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Hey, e-book readers!

You can snag free copies of two of my short stories, “Haunted Love” and “Cat Calls,” from E-volt & a copy of Tantalize (Book 1 in the Tantalize series) for only $1.99 through 2/28.

Visit this link to download! Expires midnight EST 2/28/14.

Note: the short stories are set in the Tantalize & Feral series universe (and all are from Candlewick Press)! The shorts introduce new characters, except for Granny Z, the fortuneteller who also appears in my latest release, Feral Curse.

The book that started it all!

Cynsational Notes

Into audio books? Check out sample of Feral Curse and Feral Nights (Brilliance) from Ambling Books.

Guest Post: Sherry Shahan on Skin and Bones

By Sherry Shahan
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Years ago I wrote a quirky short story about teens in an Eating Disorders Unit of a metropolitan hospital.

Sort of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” meets “Love Story.” Then titled “Iris and Jim,” it sold to a major literary journal. Later, a London publisher included “Iris and Jim” in their YA anthology, and after that it appeared in their Best Of collection.

In total “Iris and Jim” has appeared eight times worldwide.

My agent kept encouraging me to expand “Iris and Jim” (now titled Skin and Bones (Albert Whitman, 2014)) into a novel.

I spent months weighing the pros and cons of such an undertaking.


  • The short story would serve as an outline since the basic story arc was in place.
  • Each character already had a distinctive voice.
  • The hospital setting was firmly fixed in my vision.
  • The subject matter had proven itself to be of interest to readers.
  • Proven ground is attractive to editors and publishers, as long as the topic is approached in a fresh way.


  • The story would require an additional 60,000 words.
  • I would have to create a cast of new characters.
  • Every character would require a convincing backstory.
  • I would need compelling subplots.
  • Every scene would require richer subtext.

Sherry’s Office

During the first draft I encountered a number of unexpected obstacles.

For instance, how could I keep up the idiosyncratic tone without the narrator sounding flippant?

Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, compulsive over-eating, etc.) are serious, and in too many instances, life-threatening. It took several drafts before the tone felt balanced.

More than one anorexic in my story figures out how to beat the health care system. After all, they’re experts at manipulating family, friends, and each other, as well their environment.

Yet I worried about Skin and Bones becoming a how-to manual for those still in the throes of the disorder.

On the other hand, I knew I had to include information about the potentially grave consequences associated with the illness. But I didn’t want to sound didactic. Sometimes I sprinkled facts into farcical scenes. Other times statistics emerged in dialogue between ranting patients. Either way, disseminating information felt more organic when slipped in sideways, and never straight on.

Sherry in High School

After the editorial issues had been resolved, it was time to solicit opinions from the outside world.

Comments so far have reinforced my decision to expand my story into novel:

“Male eating disorders are on the rise…Skin and Bones is an open and honest story that addresses a topic much ignored.” —Sharon M. Glynn, Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness.

“Reading this book was like going back into that hell—it was that real!” —A grateful, recovering compulsive-eater (Anonymous). 

People have been asking why I chose to explore this issue in the first place. The answer is simple: the media gives attention to accidents resulting from teens drinking and driving, drug abuse, shootings, suicide, etc.

Yet anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents and has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

They also express curiosity because the main character is a teen guy. Most people don’t think of males as being afflicted with this illness. Yet eating disorders currently affect approximately 25 million Americans, of whom 25 percent are males.

Sherry today!

Cynsational Notes

Sherry Shahan has a wide range of children’s books to her credit, including Alaskan-based adventures Ice Island and Frozen Stiff (both Random House). She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches a writing course for UCLA Extension.

See also How Anorexia Is Striking What Many Consider to be an Unlikely Group: Boys and Young Men by Lia Steakley from SCOPE, published by Stanford Medicine. Peek: “… anorexia is generally more advanced among boys by the time they seek treatment.”

New Voice: Gayle Rosengren on What the Moon Said

Discussion Questions

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Gayle Rosengren is the first-time author of What the Moon Said (Putnam, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Thanks to her superstitious mother, Esther knows some tricks for avoiding bad luck: toss salt over your left shoulder, never button your shirt crooked, and avoid black cats. 

But even luck can’t keep her family safe from the Great Depression. When Pa loses his job, Esther’s family leaves their comfy Chicago life behind for a farm in Wisconsin.

Living on a farm comes with lots of hard work, but that means there are plenty of opportunities for Esther to show her mother how helpful she can be. She loves all of the farm animals (except the mean geese) and even better makes a fast friend in lively Bethany. 

But then Ma sees a sign that Esther just knows is wrong. 

If believing a superstition makes you miserable, how can that be good luck?

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

Gayle’s mom, age 11, at Lake Michigan

Since my story was inspired by events in my mother’s childhood, my research quite naturally began with her.

Over the years she had told me about moving between Chicago and farms in Wisconsin several times; attending a two-room schoolhouse there after attending a large elementary school in the city; and how she came home from school in Wisconsin one day to find her mother burning her doll and cradle because she said my mother was “too old for dolls.”

These memories were enough to spark my imagination. From these seeds grew the novel, What the Moon Said. From them I created a fictional story around the character I imagined my mother to be as a child.

Although personal events were vividly remembered, I soon learned that my mother’s recall for background details was fuzzy and not nearly as trustworthy.

There were many occasions when I asked her, “Are you sure?” about this or that historical detail and she would get a vague look on her face before nodding and saying, “Pretty sure.”

Needless to say, this didn’t instill a lot of confidence, so this was the point at which I moved on to more reliable sources–books, newspapers, and everything I could find on the Internet that could provide me facts–about crops and planting seasons in southern Wisconsin, about banks foreclosing on farms, about clothing styles, hair styles, the price of a stamp, the films being shown in the movie theaters, the shows being listened to on the radio and, by the way, were those radios operated by electricity or batteries? I was dealing with an unreliable narrator in the truest sense of the label, so I backed up and reevaluated everything I had already written with this in mind.

My favorite example of fact-checking is a scene in the book in which I originally had the two teachers at the country school sending home a candy cane with each student on the last day of school before Christmas. It suddenly occurred to me that possibly I should have the candy canes wrapped in waxed paper because probably they didn’t have cellophane yet.

I asked Mom and she said something to the effect that of course they had to have been wrapped; it wouldn’t have been “sanitary” if they weren’t.

Get to know Gayle Rosengren.

I sighed and returned to my computer for some research on candy canes, only to discover that they weren’t even available until the 1950’s(!),making the cellophane issue moot and the need to change the treat vital. Gingerbread men were the result.

Such a little thing on one level, yet how embarrassing it would have been if I hadn’t caught the error. This near miss sent me back to review my manuscript from a whole new perspective in which nothing was assumed, everything was checked and double-checked.

My takeaway from this experience?

Writing fiction is challenging and comes with great responsibility, especially when one is writing for children, but I humbly suggest that writing historical fiction adds a whole extra layer of challenge and responsibility.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

Promoting my book has been an overwhelming, often mind-boggling experience fraught with more challenges and time-sucks and information overloads than one who hasn’t experienced it themselves can possibly imagine.

I’ve been very fortunate. I stumbled onto to two wonderful debut groups for children’s writers–Class of 2K14 and OneFourKidLit.

Both have been incredibly generous sources of support, encouragement and helpful input that has guided me through a dizzying whirl of information and around many potential pitfalls.

The sharing of experiences–good and bad–has been invaluable. From editorial letters, title changes, and pub date changes to the nail-biting wait for reviews, the knowledge that I am not the only incredibly excited and completely terrified new author is reassuring to an inexpressible degree. The shared promoting of our books on the groups’ websites and on social media like Twitter and Facebook is one more invaluable “plus”.

The sad fact of today’s publishing industry is that publishing houses do less and less to support new authors, which means the authors have to do more and more themselves to fill the gap and get their books noticed.

The phrase “with a little help from my friends” should be every debut writer’s mantra. Help in getting the word out about a new book can’t come from too many places. It isn’t just limited to awesome debut author groups. Each writer needs to reach out to their colleagues in SCBWI, to kid lit-lovers at online blogs, to librarians, booksellers, friends and family.

Gayle’s desk

Some of the promoting can be creative and even fun. A lot of it can be tedious. All of it takes time. And this is where my advice to other new authors comes in.

Marketing a book can gobble up as much time as we’re willing to give it. The most important thing (and I admit I’m still struggling with this myself) is to establish some kind of balance between the time you give to it and the time you “protect” for your creative writing.

Set aside an hour at the end of each day for book promotion, or one day each week, or whatever works best for you.

Just beware of the marketing monster’s seductive powers and be armed with a schedule that shields a regular block of writing time. And this leads directly to my final mantra for authors: “I am a writer first and a marketer second.”

Gayle’s assistant Fiona

Event Report: Nikki Loftin’s Launch for Nightingale’s Nest

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Weekend highlights included Nikki Loftin‘s launch party for Nightingale’s Nest (Razorbill, 2014) at BookPeople in Austin, followed by a reception at The Writing Barn.

Greg Leitich Smith, Nikki & me
Celebratory cake for Nightingale’s Nest
Lindsey Lane & Nikki
Sean Petrie & me
Bethany Hegedus & Greg
Kayla Olson & Shelli Cornelison
Samantha Clark, Sara Kocek, Bethany & special guest book model
Carmen Oliver & Brian Anderson
H. Scott Beazley & Greg
Shana Burg, Chris Barton & Jennifer Ziegler
Lindsey Schiebe leads the nest-building activity
Jenny & Meredith Davis
Maria Cari Soto, Jenny Moss, Stephanie Pellegrin, Bethany & Salima Alikhan
Jen Bigheart & Greg
Greg & me
Cyn, Julie Lake & Mark G. Mitchell
Katherine Catmull & me
Shelli & Donna Bowman Bratton
Frances Yansky, Donna & Brian Yansky
Samantha, H. Scott & Frances

Video: Gugor Interviews Robert Paul Weston about The Creature Department

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out this video interview with Robert Paul Weston about The Creature Department (Razorbill, 2013) by Gugor from Penguin Young Readers. From the promotional copy:

It’s a tentacled, inventive, gooey, world in there. . . .

Elliot Von Doppler and his friend Leslie think nothing ever happens in Bickleburgh, except inside the gleaming headquarters of DENKi-3000—the world’s eighth-largest electronics factory.

Beneath the glass towers and glittering skywalks, there’s a rambling old mansion from which all the company’s amazing inventions spring forth. And no one except Uncle Archie knows what’s behind the second-to-last door at the end of the hall.

Until Elliot and Leslie are invited to take a glimpse inside.

They find stooped, troll-like creatures with jutting jaws and broken teeth. Tiny winged things that sparkle as they fly. And huge, hulking, hairy nonhumans (with horns). It is unlike anything they’ve ever seen.

But when Chuck Brickweather threatens to shut down the DENKi-3000 factory if a new product isn’t presented soon, the creatures know they are in danger. And when Uncle Archie vanishes, it’s up to Elliot, Leslie, and every one of the unusual, er, “employees” to create an invention so astonishing it will save the Creature Department.

Book Trailer & Author Video: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson (Penguin, 2014) From the promotional copy:

For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Beyond Bollywood: South Asian American Middle Grade Fiction from From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. Peek: “Our stories are funny, tragic, brave, silly, and, most importantly, varied.” See also Diversity in YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults by Malinda Lo from Diversity in YA.

A Valentine from the Teacher by Louise Hawes from Write at Your Own Risk. Peek: “Thank you for your grace under
fire, your courage, your resilience, your can do/won’t surrender attitude; for teaching me so much about starting over unafraid.”

First Line of Defense: Cancelled Contracts, Multiple Submissions & No Deal by agent Brandi Bowles from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “The truth is, outside of career guidance, editorial work, writing advice, matchmaking, and selling, agents are the only people that can protect you when the publishing process goes awry. And it happens more than you might think.” See also Songs on Surviving the Midlist by Gretchen McNeil from Jan O’Hara and Plan B. or What to Do When Things Go Wrong by Allison Winn Scotch from Writer Unboxed.

Using Emotional Discharge to Power Up Your Story by M.J. Bush from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: “What happens if we don’t give our characters time to recover after a high-tension scene? They take out the fear or anger on the next person who makes the slightest mistake.”

Three Reasons Most Writers Give Up & Three Reasons Why You Shouldn’t from Angela Scott. Peek: “If I don’t go for it, and push fear aside, then I will never know if I could have reached my dream. You won’t either.” Source: Lee Wind at the Official SCBWI Blog.

YA Finalists for the L.A. Times Book Prize are: Elizabeth Knox for Mortal Fire (Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Rainbow Rowell for Fangirl (St. Martin’s Griffin); Joyce Sidman for What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt); Jonathan Stroud for Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase (Hyperion); Gene Luen Yang for Boxers & Saints (First Second).

Truth is Not Dot-to-Dot by Cynthia Levinson from The Writing Barn. Peek: “…it struck me that ten-year-old readers would not want to feel as if they were stuck inside a city council chamber, listening to middle-aged white guys bicker about municipal politics.”

Anatomy of Nonfiction Writing True Stories for Children by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas: a recommendation by Harold Underdown from The Purple Crayon. Peek: “…the chapter on interviewing is worth the price of the book by itself.”  See more information.

Writing on the Road by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “I was able to write a whole chapter on the way there and half a chapter on the way home. That was about 4,200 new words of a rough draft.”

The Space Between Discipline and Freedom from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: “…discipline is the gift that lies at the center of every writer’s success. It provides the platform beneath our feet, the place to stand while we catch hold of inspiration.”

Putting Pieces of Your Real Life Into Your Fiction by Ilsa J. Bick from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: “…I began to wonder—and this is the shrinkly self-conscious part of me coming out—what might happen if you put too much of your real life into a book? What would happen to the characters?”

2014 Ezra Jack Keats Book Awards:
New Writer: Ame Dyckman for Tea Party Rules (Viking);
New Illustrator: Christian Robinson for Rain! (Houghton Mifflin); see also Honor Books and more information.

An Interview with Yoshio Kobayashi of Shueisha English Edition by Wendy Uchimura from SCBWI Japan Translation Group. Peek: “We check it with the original text in Japanese and point out to the translator errors and misunderstandings. Then our American editor will revise it as a reader-friendly text. But we don’t stop there.”

Hiring an Editor by Andrew Karre from Carolrhoda Lab. Peek: “Allow me to say this plainly: When an author chooses, hires, and pays an editor, the author is creating incentives that are meaningfully different than the ones present in a ‘traditional’ publishing deal.”

Writer vs. Author Smackdown by Rachel M. Wilson from Quirk and Quill. Peek: “The writer in me wants to tackle the author and shut her in a dark room free of distractions till she passes out from lack of Twitter.”

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win one of three copies of Feral Curse or one of three paperback copies of Feral Nights (both by Cynthia Leitich Smith and published by Candlewick). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

In honor of Black History Month, Lee & Low is giving away two copies of Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today’s Youth, personally signed by Rosa Parks at facebook. Deadline: Feb. 26. Eligibility: U.S. only.

Enter to win signed copies of Nightingale’s Nest and The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin (Razorbill) from The Book Cellar.

28 Days Later

28 Days Later is “a Black History Month celebration of emerging and established children’s book creators of color” from the Brown Bookshelf.

See 10 African American Authors to Know from Diversity in YA.

See also 10 New Children’s & Teen Books for Black History Month.

More Personally

In response to multiple queries about crafting Native American characters, I put together Writing, Tonto and The Wise-Cracking Minority Sidekick Who Is First to Die. Fair warning: it’s long, and probably best suited to the MFA crowd. But those struggling with writing diversity may find it food for thought. See On Diversity and Story by Sangu Mandanna from Author All Sorts and The Good and Bad of Writing Advice by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk.

Don’t miss The Page 69 Test: Feral Curse. Peek: “If I were making a movie trailer, I don’t know that this is one of the scenes I’d highlight, but it does offer a sense of how, from a contemporary teen perspective, fantasy and reality collide.”

My character cheat sheet for the alternating points of view in Feral Nights.

Regular Cynsations readers know that Feral Curse is newly available in hardcover and on audio, and Feral Nights is now available not only in hardcover but also in paperback and on audio. In addition, both are available as e-books. Candlewick Press e-books are available through Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble and the Sony Reader Store. They’re also carried in many libraries via OverDrive and in many independent bookstores via the American Bookseller Association and Kobo.

Photo by Sam Bond Photography

From 2014 Conference Craft & Professionalism (Austin SCBWI): “….finalists for the inaugural Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award. Chosen by the conference critique faculty, the finalists were: Jayme Allen, Miranda Koerner, Laney Neilsen, Carmen Oliver, Melinda Payne, Gayleen Rabakkuk, Ramona Siddoway and Charles Trevino. The winner will be chosen by New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith and announced on this website soon.” Note: Cheers to all the finalists!

Shana Burg, Claire Legrand, Diana Lopez & Lisa Schroeder

Congratulations to fellow Texas author Diana Lopez, whose novel Choke (Scholastic), is being made into a Lifetime Telefilm, “The Choking Game,” starring Freya Tingley & Peri Gilpin.

Congratulations to former (and hopefully returning) Austinite Lisa Kay Parker for being chosen as one of 12 novelists from more than 300
applicants “to take part in Novel Fair 2014, an annual event taking place on February 22nd and organised by the Irish Writers’ Centre.”

A peek into my Valentine’s Day weekend!
Sunday brunch, family style, at Crave — new in Austin. (Photo used with permission.)

Tantalize-Feral series fans know I’m a foodie (restaurant settings FTW!). I had the pleasure of visiting Crave twice last weekend. For me, the hook was sushi + American. The ambiance is terrific — upscale but accessible — and I love the design trend of pattern through shadow.

For Valentine’s Day dinner, I had sashimi and pulled chicken and avocado egg rolls as appetizers, followed by filet mignon for dinner and miniature blueberry cheesecake for dessert.

I returned Sunday for the reasonably priced brunch and liked it just as well. It’s a chain–also located in Minnesota, Florida, Nebraska and Ohio–but you’d never know it from the personal service.

Another recent brunch win: Olivia’s on South Lamar. Very crispy bacon. Make a reservation.

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held June 16 to June 21 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Keynote speaker: James Dashner; faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Learn about the WIFYR Fellowship Award. See also Alison L. Randall on Choosing a Writing Conference.
Visit the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels!