Guest Post & Giveaway: Jill Santopolo on Following Your Heart or How Life Is Like A Find-Your-Own-Ending Novel

By Jill Santopolo
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

For the past year plus, I’ve been crafting two different teen romance novels with thirteen different endings for each one.

I say crafting and not just writing because a huge part of the creation of these books involved coming up with the structure of the story—where the book would fork so that the reader could make a decision guiding the plot this way or that, which choices would lead readers to a final ending, and which choices would allow a reader to loop around and be presented with different options or with another chance at the same option.

As I was crafting these novels, my own life had just forked romantically. It had forked professionally, too, with the chance to write two different book series at once while I was editing full time. And I realized I’d started to evaluate real life situations the same way I was evaluating plot points for the Follow Your Heart books.  

Is this a decision that will take me to an ending I like? Will other choices have to be made along the way to reach that ending? Is this a decision that I can loop back toward, or if I say no, will this option be gone forever?

I started thinking about life not simply as a journey I was on, but as a series of choices and consequences—a line of decisions that could potentially open some paths while closing off others.

And often times, like in the stories I was creating, certain decisions seemed incredibly clear, while at other times all available options seemed equally appealing or equally unpleasant, but still, one always felt a little more right than the others.

As someone who has worked for more than a decade in a job that combines business and creativity, I believe in data and analytics and metrics, but I also believe in instinct and gut and following your heart.

I believe there’s something inside all of us that resonates when a decision feels right.

And that’s something else I thought about a lot while I was writing these books—that feeling that comes after you make a decision when your whole being says, yes, that was the right choice.

While working on the Follow Your Heart books, I often thought of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” and the film “Sliding Doors” and the Choose Your Own Adventure books of my childhood.

People are intrigued with decisions, with what their lives would have looked like if they’d gone another way.

But what I also realized is that like the readers of my Follow Your Heart books, we don’t always know what’s coming next, we don’t know what our lives would have looked like if we’d taken the other path, missed the train—and we can’t flip a few pages ahead to find out.

We make the best decisions we can make at the time, we weigh the options, we follow our hearts—and we hope that the ending we find is one that, if not perfect, includes enough happiness for us to feel satisfied and say, yes, that was the right choice.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three signed copies of Follow Your Heart: Summer Love by Jill Santopolo (Puffin, 2014). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

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Happy Star Wars Day

Austin Comic Con 2011

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith for Cynsations

May the Fourth Be With You: It’s Star Wars Day by Bill Chappell from NPR. Peek: “Darth Vader walks the Earth today. And by that, we mean he’s walking all over the place — fans of the sci-fi franchise are celebrating Star Wars Day, or May 4 for the less geek-inclined.”

Celebrate Star Wars Day with Some Jedi Jams by Brian Truitt from USA Today. Peek: “So in honor of the fan holiday, here is the Jek Porkins Memorial Star Wars Day Playlist, a mix that even Jabba the Hutt would spin on his sail barge.”

May the Fourth Be With You: Seven Reasons to Get Excited About J.J. Abrams New Star Wars Movie from Peek: “The smartest thing producers did was to announce that the beloved trio of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) would be back for the first sequel, set 35 years after the events of Return Of the Jedi.” Note: Better gender representation isn’t one of them.

Celebrate Star Wars Day in the U.K. from Metro. Peek: “Simon Wilkie, who has built his own C-3PO costume, will be at Disney’s store on Oxford Street in London on Saturday, and Anthony Daniels, the man behind C-3PO, will be there from 12:30-2:30 signing autographs. Get there early to avoid disappointment.”

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Watch the Dorothy Must Die book trailer!

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

What’s Old Is New: Recent YA Books with Allusions to Classic Lit by Emily Moore from School Library Journal. Peek: “Dorothy gets her comeuppance. Young book addicts share their love for Harper Lee’s classic. And Robert Louis Stevensons’s thrilling novel is reimagined as a gothic romance.”

Writing So Children Can Temporarily Escape Harsh Realities by Alidis Vicente from Latin@s in Kidlit. Peek: “I’m sure to the dismay of many, when people ask why I write for Latino kids, my answer is simple. I don’t.”

Interview: Tamara Ellis Smith on the Road to Publication by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek: “…it helps me tremendously to take a big step back from the writing after a good few solid drafts and not write, but talk…a lot…about the story.”

It’s Complicated. (Wrong Answer.) by David Corbett from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Throwing words at a bad idea does not improve the quality of the idea, no matter how lovely the words.”

In the Past or Present by Tabitha Olson from Writer Musings. Peek: “To have a completely effective story told in present tense, the characters must be in the moment, not the author. That means that there should be no reflection or analyzing of what is currently happening. They need to figure things out as they go.”

Choosing a Point of View Character by Janice Hardy from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: “If you’re faced with a story idea and you aren’t sure what the best point of view to tell it from, try asking a few questions. These questions can also help if you have a novel that isn’t quite working and you’re not sure why.”

How Author G. Neri and Librarian Kimberly DeFusco Changed a Life by G. Neri, Kimberly DeFusco, and Raequon P. from School Library Journal. Peek: “He had made a conscious decision to not be ‘smart’ in middle school so he wouldn’t be bullied. He put on this tough-guy, joker persona and started goofing off in school. He did not want anyone to know he was a poet.”

National Book Award finalist Franny Billingsley is starting a new semester of private novel study and has room for new students. Peek: “Work on your middle grade/YA novel in an intellectually rigorous semester based on the low-residency MFA program model.” For more information, contact:

Too Good for Grownups: On the Art of Writing for Children by Anne Ursu from The Loft Literary Center. Peek: “…mostly, I write for kids because nobody loves a book like a kid loves a book. They need them, and you can tell that by the way they take them into their whole being, absorb them like the blob.”

In Praise of Revision from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: “Let me note, though, that I’m talking about revising, not polishing… That’s when you lovingly caress what’s already there, trimming, refining.”



Support The Great Greene Heist Challenge and The #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign.

See also:

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win Audio & Print Books from the Feral series by Cynthia Leitich Smith!

The winner of a signed copy of The Summer I Saved the World…In 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz (Wendy Lamb, 2014) was Samantha in Washington.

More Personally

Two characters sent me these cat cookies in celebration of my completing the Feral trilogy!

Great news! My latest novel, Feral Curse, is now available from Walker Australia and New Zealand. (It was released earlier this year in North America from Candlewick Press.)

To celebrate, I’m featuring an interview with the series audio actors and an audio + print book giveaway! Peek from actor Todd Haberkorn: “Sometimes, I have to do the narrator voice, two different females, three different males, and they all have accents all on one page!”

On the writing front, I turned in copy edits for my upcoming short story, “Cupid’s Beaux,” which will appear in Things I’ll Never Say: Short Stories About Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick, 2015). Note: “Cupid’s Beaux” is a Tantalize-Feral universe story, set in Austin and told from the point of view of the guardian angel Joshua. Note: Quincie fans should love it, too!

First Book Marketplace is now featuring three of my Native American titles: Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperChildren’s, 2001) and Indian Shoes (HarperChildren’s, 2002).

Click title links to purchase. Peek: “The First Book Marketplace is an online resource available exclusively to Title I schools and community-based programs serving children in need.”

Like many publishing folks, I’m thinking a lot this week about diversity in the industry and within the body of literature. Thank you to everyone who’s supporting diverse books and voices! Please remember to include books by Native authors in your collections and conversations. For recent titles, see Resources and Kid Lit About American Indians by Debbie Reese from School Library Journal.

Reminder: Don’t miss my post this week on The Perks & Perils of Author Panels. Be sure to check out the comments!

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Middle Grade Mayhem! Join Varian Johnson, Greg Leitich Smith and Jennifer Ziegler in celebrating their new novels at 2 p.m. June 14 at BookPeople in Austin.

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 (deadline Monday!). See also Alison L. Randall on Choosing a Writing Conference

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith in discussing Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) with the YA Reading Club at 11 a.m. June 28 at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Audio Actors Interview & Giveaway: Todd Haberkorn, Amy McFadden, Cristina Panfilio & Nick Podehl of the Feral Series

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Thank you for narrating the audio editions of the Feral series (Brilliance)(print and e-editions from Candlewick/Walker)! 

Could you tell us a bit about your background? How did you come to doing voice work for audio books?

Todd Haberkorn: I’m glad I made the cut and was able to work on this series!

Well, I started on stage at the age of 10 and worked professionally in that medium as well as in school for years. I transitioned into films and voice over during college where I majored in theatre. After working primarily in voice over in Texas for a handful of years, I transitioned to LA where I continue to do voice over as well as on camera work.

When I’m not behind the mic or on camera, I produce my own content for online audiences. Over the years, I’ve had the immense honor of working with some fantastic artists in a variety of entertainment settings that not only gave me wonderful friendships, but also taught me a great deal about my own craft.

I’ve always been of a mindset that diversifying in one’s profession is one of the keys to longevity in their industry. So, I put an audio book demo together and sought out various contacts I knew in the business and luckily, they didn’t cringe when they heard my demo and threw me in their studios!


Amy McFadden: I was a full-time teacher and part-time actress for a bunch of years, so I’ve always been a storyteller. I love hearing, reading and telling stories. There’s some basic emotional and psychological need that gets met when we’re involved in any narrative. I’m an addict.

When I decided to “retire” from teaching to act full-time, I decided that narration was the area I most wanted to work.

Some veteran narrators I knew from other acting jobs put in a good word for me at Brilliance, I auditioned, and (yay!) they hired me to narrate.

Cristina Panfilio: I got really lucky… I had been looking for work that allows me to still be an artist when I’m not acting and I happen to have a friend who has been a narrator for years and years. He got me hooked-up with Brilliance a few years ago, and I absolutely love it.

Nick Podehl: I graduated from Grand Valley State University with a Communications Major and Theatre Minor. I have been in stage productions since high school, but my love of acting out stories goes all the way back to epic LEGO tales with my brother as little kids.

My mom and grandparents are avid audio book listeners (since the time of tapes!) and they encouraged me to try. So I put together a demo and sent it in, and it’s been almost six years of amazing characters and awesome stories.

What do you love about it?

Todd Haberkorn: I love being able to add to the recipe of the literary journey crafted by the author. Obviously, their words are paramount, but I get a little, tiny bit of the landscape where I can come in and bring a different life to the text. I enjoy all the different worlds I get to explore with the novels I’ve worked on.


Amy McFadden: I love that I get to tell people stories who may not have time to read them. I hope that people can enjoy, escape, engage-whatever they want from a book.

Cristina Panfilio: I love that I still get to be an actor when I’m in the booth, but in a way that is extraordinarily different from being on the stage. I love the challenges and rewards of putting together a story in that way.

Nick Podehl: Aside from the fact that I get to read books for a living?

I love being able to tell a great story. Being able to give life and voice to so many different characters. I see pieces of myself in so many of the characters I get to portray. I just think that is so cool.

What are the challenges?

Todd Haberkorn: The concentration required to sustain such a long recording day. Most days, you try to get through 125 pages, which is a lot of content. Add to that that I stand when I narrate, plus, you’ve got so many voices in your head that you have to keep track of even on one page!

Sometimes, I have to do the narrator voice, two different females, three different males, and they all have accents all on one page! So it’s tough to keep it all fluid and natural so what I’m doing goes with what the author has written.

Amy McFadden: I can’t imagine writing a book-creating characters and interactions, threading theme and philosophy throughout–and then handing it to a stranger to interpret before it goes to an audience. I always research the authors first to try to “know” about them and think how they would read it. I always hope to capture how the author “hears” it.

Cristina Panfilio: The turnover can be pretty fast, so sometimes the prep requires long days of reading. And when I’m working on more than one book at a time, it can be a little overwhelming.

Also, when I’m working on a book that is part of a series that has already been recorded, I often have to try to match an existing interpretation of the characters; if I already have something in my head, it can be a big challenge to make that adjustment.

Nick Podehl: When I spend eight hours a day, five days a week reading, often the last thing I want to do when I get home is read more. So my personal reading has definitely suffered. Which is rough because there are so many great books out there that I really want to read!

Are there any special considerations in narrating for the YA audience?

Todd Haberkorn: I take every story as its own unique challenge, but I try to bring the same level of effort and imagination to the mic when I do it. Hopefully I’m successful in that. But each book, whether its a YA book or a romance novel for adults will dictate how I approach it – I just try to bring the same tool box.

Amy McFadden: Well…I always try really hard not to let any characters sound like they’re “sending an important message” to young adults. Teenagers are smart and savvy–they don’t need lectures. They need to get lost in stories, to watch characters struggle, succeed, or fail–and to make their own judgements. Plus, it’s such an insane time of life that sometimes YAs just need to be entertained.

I think that Feral Nights does all of that-and it’s funny in a sort of dry, very real way. Which sounds crazy given that one of the main characters is a wereopossom. Also, when we were discussing the characters and story, Nick (Podehl) and I kept referring to the Dillos as were-madillos. Which made us laugh. I think this was the book where Nick brought a light saber into the studio, too.

Apparently, Cynthia and her humor awakened our “inner children,” which didn’t get much of a break during this book. Fun!

Cristina Panfilio: Whenever I do theater for young audiences, I’m reminded how honest they are. If I’m lying, they’ll catch me…and they won’t try to hide it.

I think it’s the same for audiobooks. I try to be honest in my work always, but I think that younger audiences, perhaps, hold us the most accountable.

Nick Podehl: In my experience, YA books tend to have really fun characters. The challenge is finding a balance between making the character voices fun and interesting, but avoiding being too ridiculous.

YA fans love their books, and I want to make sure that I am doing their characters justice.

How did you connect with your character in the Feral series?

Todd Haberkorn: With this series, it appealed to me because I love the supernatural world to begin with. So what’s great about this series is that it takes a story we’re familiar with – or at least a genre we’re familiar with – in terms of an adventure and romance ride and takes it for a twist with the supernatural element.

So you get a bit of the familiar to make an audience comfortable and add some special spices of uniqueness to bring a different experience to the table. And anytime I get to be a hero with special gifts – c’mon…that’s a thrill.

In a werecats series, a Possum gets his due.

Amy McFadden: Oh, I pretty much adored Aimee from her first chapter. She’s slightly awkward (being a non-shifter and non-super-girlie-girl) but always all-in when it comes to Clyde. It’s tricky to find girls written like she is–she’s confused at many points throughout the book, but never turns into a gloppy mush brain about boys or when things get dangerous.

Thank you to Cynthia for writing her that way!

Cristina Panfilio: Werecat or not…I think Kayla is a good kid who’s trying to find her way in a really complicated world; love and school and friends, of course, but also really big stuff, like intolerance and faith and trust. I think that’s easy for anyone to relate to.

Nick Podehl: Feral Nights was such a unique take in a very prolific genre. I mean, how often do you find a wheelchair-bound werepossum!? That is awesome!

I loved the bravery and growth that Clyde showed throughout this story. He goes from dorky and seemingly weak to strong and more sure of himself without losing who he is inside.

I was kind of a late bloomer in life, not really sure of who I was until I got older and learned a few of life’s lessons. I also really appreciate his sarcasm and wit. Clyde made me laugh… a lot!

Todd, you’re from Arlington and received your B.F.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Did you recognize any of the Texas settings or cultural references in the books?

Todd Haberkorn: Totally! I spent a lot of years in Texas, and anytime I get to call upon that knowledge for a project – it’s groovy time.

I go back to Texas monthly to work with a few voice over and on camera clients I have, and this series just adds to the Texas goodness I get to experience all the time!

For all, how is it different, doing audio books versus other voice/acting work?

Todd Haberkorn: Audio books definitely take the most amount of focus and concentration. That’s not to say working on a video game or cartoon doesn’t take focus – but those sessions are typically much shorter and we don’t have to switch between five plus voices on the fly.

The focus is more bite-sized in those sessions. With audio books, you have to maintain the journey for hundreds of pages and make sure all the pieces fit!


Amy McFadden: The voice work I’ve done has all been for commercials, so the intent is to sell something. You have to be persuasive, but still sound like a real, sincere human being. It’s fun, too, but I think it’s really hard.

Narrating has definite challenges, but the goal is to engage a reader (listener) in a story, not to convince them to do or buy something.

Cristina Panfilio: In theater, the work is so immediate and fleeting. Each performance of the same play is different. We often have four weeks to run a show and learn from our audiences, and once a show closes…it’s gone.

With audiobooks, we have a bunch of chances in a short period of time to get it “right”. And once we’re all done with our work, we have this tangible thing to show for it. It’s permanent.

Nick Podehl: In most cases, with film or stage acting, I usually only got to play one character. With audio books, I get to play up to 200 different characters depending on the book. That is a lot to keep track of but it is so much fun!

Also, unlike stage acting, if I make a mistake while reading… oops!

Back up. Let’s take that again.

Hooray for editing! Audio book engineers are awesome.

What other “new releases” or upcoming performances should your fans know about?

Todd Haberkorn: Well, book wise, I’ve very excited about the recent release of the classic, Heroes, Gods, and Monsters of the Greek Myths from Graymalkin Media that I got to work on.

What a fantastic story about the myths we all think we know by heart…but this book refreshes your memory and makes history super fun.

Also, I have an upcoming live in concert DVD (“Live in Atlanta” where I play with the band, Eyeshine) as well as a studio album (“Can You Hear Me Now?” My first studio album) coming out! So if folks are into a bit of rock and know me from my voice over work – I hope they’ll like what’s coming!

Narrated by Cristina
Narrated by Nick

Amy McFadden: There are lots of books popping out! Hmmm…like I said,
I’m addicted to stories, but two that are jumping up and down in my
brain right now are The Immortal Circus (series) by A.R. Kahler, and a
pretty cool translation from Finland called As Red As Blood by Salla Simukka. Caveat: They’re not for super young readers.

Cristina Panfilio: I recently recorded This Star Won’t Go Out, which is a collection of journal entries and other writings from this really amazing girl, Esther Earl, who passed away from cancer a few years ago.

It’s a beautiful, quirky story with a lot of joy and love and humor.

Nick Podehl: Some titles to watch for coming soon Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach and The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel. Great YA books!

What do you do when you’re not acting?

Todd Haberkorn: Work on the next project or make the next project…primarily raised by the immigrant side of my family, I got my mom’s strong work ethic to live up to. So, I’ve gotta try to reach her level! But I also stay busy cause I feel so grateful for what I’ve been lucky enough to achieve and have big goals that I want to see come to life!

Narrated by Nick

Amy McFadden: Well, I work lots of crazy hours so…ummm…sleep. And read. And, you know, there are little forays into cleaning and laundry and bill-paying, and exercising…but really I just love to sleep and read.

Cristina Panfilio: Outside of work, I savor my home in Chicago with my very wonderful husband. We both travel a lot for work, so being at home can be kind of a treat. I spend a lot of time enjoying great food and music, running, visiting family and friends, and being outside.

Nick Podehl: I spend time hanging out with friends from church, playing tug with my crazy puppy Kana, or watching the crazy puppy chase Dreams the cat. But most often I am cooking with, watching movies with, and overall enjoying life with my beautiful wife Erin.

Cynsational Notes

Feral Curse is available as of today from Walker Australia and New Zealand! Note: the series is also published by Candlewick Press in North America and Walker Books in the U.K.

Todd Haberkorn works professionally in Los Angeles as an actor, director, producer, and writer. In the voice-over world, you can catch Todd’s voice in triple A video games such as World of Warcraft, Super Street Fighter IV, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and more. As well as animated properties such as Ever After High, Sgt. Frog, Fairy Tail, Soul Eater, and many others. As far as on camera is concerned, when he isn’t working on films, industrials, and television projects for other companies, Todd does work with his company Out of the Office Productions. This is one aspect of a long history of on camera work in narrative film, commercials, and shorts. When he isn’t fighting digital monsters in video games or trying to save the day on film, Todd travels the U.S. and internationally, making appearances at pop-culture conventions as a guest to meet fans and sign autographs. He is represented by The Horne Agency, William Morris Endeavor, and Idiom Modeling.

Amy McFadden has narrated close to 100 titles in many different genres. She is an Earphones award winner, and a finalist for a 2014 Audie Award in Literary Fiction. She has been acting all over Michigan on stage for the last 20 years and in commercials and film for the last 10. Amy is a founding member of Dog Story Theater in Grand Rapids, Michigan; where she currently lives, acts and laughs a lot.

Narrated by Cristina

Cristina Panfilio has narrated numerous titles with Brilliance Audio in young adult fiction, comedy, romance and suspense, and received an Amazing Audiobook nomination for The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina. As an actor, she makes her home in Chicago and works regionally with theaters such as Chicago Shakespeare, The Goodman, Northlight, American Players, Milwaukee Rep, Indiana Rep, and more.

Nick Podehl has been named a “Best Voice” by AudioFile magazine in 2010 and 2011. He has narrated many young adult, fantasy, and romance titles, several of which have won awards, and has appeared in a number of theatrical productions and independent films. Nick lives in Michigan with his cat Dreams, dog Kana, and beautiful wife Erin.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two paperback copies of Feral Nights, one of two hardcover copies of Feral Curse,  one CD and one mp3 CD of each title. Eligibility: North America. Publisher sponsored.

Enter to win a signed paperback copy of Feral Nights, a signed hardcover copy of Feral Curse or a set of 25 signed Feral Nights bookmarks (for YA librarians). Eligibility: International. Author sponsored.

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