Author Interview & Giveaway: T.A. Barron on Writing & the Atlantis Saga

By Greg Leitich Smith
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

T.A. Barron grew up in Colorado ranch country and traveled widely as a Rhodes Scholar. He is the winner of the 2011 de Grummond Medallion for “lifetime contribution to the field of children’s and young adult literature” and many other awards.

T. A. Barron is the author of more than 25 highly acclaimed books, many of which are international bestsellers.

They include The Lost Years of Merlin (now being developed into a feature film), The Great Tree of Avalon (a New York Times bestselling series), The Ancient One (the tale of a brave girl and a magical tree), and The Hero’s Trail (nonfiction stories of courageous kids).

Though he’d dreamed as a young man of becoming a writer, he couldn’t find anyone to publish his first novel. He joined a business, eventually became president, then decided to try again.

So in 1990, he surprised his business partners by moving back to Colorado to become a writer and conservationist.

His novel Atlantis Rising (Philomel, 2014) was released in paperback last week.

What is your writing process like? Do you outline or just dive in?

Essentially, I write all the time, even when I’m traveling, going for a hike with my kids, baking, etc.

The creative process isn’t limited to the hours I spend in my writing chair in the attic of our house in Colorado. It happens on many levels when I’m immersed in a project.

I always write the first draft with a blue felt pen and a pad of paper, because that is a good creative chemistry for me. And I do lots of rewrites – as many as it takes to get it right!

Like a good stew, novels get better when you boil them down and integrate all the ingredients. Most of my novels take six or seven full rewrites and two years to finish.

What inspired the Atlantis series?

Learn more.

The legend of Atlantis has always intrigued me. No word evokes more of a feeling of tragedy than the word “Atlantis.”

The tale of Atlantis is such a beautiful story, and for the 2000 years since Plato first wrote about it, people have wondered and dreamed about it.

But one thing that has never changed is that the island of Atlantis was utterly destroyed.

I started to wonder, though, about something else—how Atlantis began.

How did a place that rose to such a level of near perfection get destroyed by the flaws and weaknesses of its people?

Ultimately, how did that happen?

This big unknown question is what got me to write Atlantis Rising. I wanted to add a new thread to the tapestry of myth about Atlantis—how it all began, the secrets of its origins.

How did research for Atlantis compare with research for Merlin?

Good fantasy must be true.

I know that sounds contradictory, but I’m talking about truth on the deeper emotional and spiritual levels, not just on the factual level. Part of that authenticity is doing research.

Learn more.

For my Merlin Saga, I spent a whole year reading everything I could possibly find about the wizard Merlin – just to get a hint of his true character and voice.

Then came the fun of imagining that character as a young man – and even more basic, as a half-drowned boy who washed ashore with no memory at all.

For Atlantis, I did the same thing to understand the various interpretations of the Atlantean myth (and there are lots of them).

Then I began to re-imagine that myth, especially how it all began – what was at stake, who were the heroes and sources of evil, and what sacrifices and struggles happened to give birth to Atlantis.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Here are the essentials: Notice the world around you. Live your life and follow your dreams. Practice writing as often as you can. And importantly, don’t take rejection letters to heart!

Everyone gets them, even established writers. (My first novel got a great reception – 32 rejection letters and no interest whatsoever from any publishers.)

Rejections hurt, but they are just part of life.

The most important thing to remember is this: If you have something to say, and refuse to give up, you absolutely will find a way to say it and share it with others.

T.A. Barron’s Writing Room — Inside & Outside

Cynsational Notes & Screening Room

In 2000, T.A. Barron founded a national award to honor outstanding
young people who help their communities or the environment: the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which honors 25 highly diverse, public-spirited kids each year. He recently produced a documentary film,
“Dream Big,” profiling seven winners of the Barron Prize.

When not writing or speaking, T. A. Barron serves on many boards including Princeton University, where he helped to create the Princeton Environmental Institute, and The Wilderness Society, which recently honored him with its highest award for conservation
work. His favorite pastime is hiking, camping, or skiing in Colorado with his family.

A native of Chicago, interviewer Greg Leitich Smith now lives in Austin, Texas. His middle grade/tween novels include: the Parents’
Choice Gold Award-winning and Junior Library Guild Selection, Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo (Little Brown/IntoPrint); its companion Tofu and T.rex (Little Brown/IntoPrint); the Junior Library Guild Selection Chronal Engine (Clarion); and Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook). He holds degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois and the University of Texas, and a degree in law from the University of Michigan. Find him @GLeitichSmith and  GregLSBlog.

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New Voice: Joshua David Bellin on Survival Colony 9

Curriculum Guide & Excerpt

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Joshua David Bellin is the first time author of Survival Colony 9 (McElderry, 2014). From the promotional copy:

In a future world of dust and ruin, fourteen-year-old Querry Genn struggles to recover the lost memory that might save the human race. 

Querry is a member of Survival Colony Nine, one of the small, roving groups of people who outlived the wars and environmental catastrophes that destroyed the old world. 

The commander of Survival Colony Nine is his father, Laman Genn, who runs the camp with an iron will. He has to–because heat, dust, and starvation aren’t the only threats in this ruined world.

There are also the Skaldi.

Monsters with the ability to infect and mimic human hosts, the Skaldi appeared on the planet shortly after the wars of destruction. No one knows where they came from or what they are. But if they’re not stopped, it might mean the end of humanity.

Six months ago, Querry had an encounter with the Skaldi–and now he can’t remember anything that happened before then. If he can recall his past, he might be able to find the key to defeat the Skaldi.

If he can’t, he’s their next victim.

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters? Your antagonist?

Joshua’s blog is YA Guy.

That’s a great question, because my protagonist spends the entire novel trying to discover and get to know himself!

Querry Genn, the fourteen-year-old narrator of Survival Colony 9, suffers from traumatic memory loss brought on by an accident six months before the action of the book begins. He can’t remember the accident, and he can’t remember anything that happened before it.

This condition presented me with the opportunity to explore Querry’s past as he himself discovers it—to follow along with him as he slowly, painfully fits the pieces together.

When I was drafting, I produced a number of possible pasts for Querry, testing them out until I found the one I liked the most.

Of those that didn’t make the cut, I discarded the majority during the revision process—but others I retained as false leads that Querry himself ultimately discovers to be untrue. So readers are in some ways in Querry’s position, learning along with him what’s real and what isn’t—but just like him, they may jump to conclusions that aren’t borne out by later revelations.

Given my narrator’s amnesia, I was able to pursue a somewhat similar process with the other characters. Querry doesn’t remember anyone else either, so he has to reconstruct who they are and how they fit into his life. So with almost all of the secondary characters—Querry’s father, Laman Genn; Korah, the teenage girl he has a crush on; Yov, the teenage boy who torments him due to his disability—I had the opportunity to develop them in two not always congruent ways: who they actually are, and who Querry thinks they are. My hope is that readers will be drawn into the mystery of not always knowing who or what they can trust.

And that leads me to my antagonists, creatures I call the Skaldi. These monsters have the ability to consume and mimic human prey—which means you can’t be sure who’s human and who’s Skaldi in disguise. Taking all these factors together, I think readers will find the characters in Survival Colony 9 convincingly complex, mysterious, and full of surprises!

Josh Bellin and Big Green, White Cloud MI, age 11

As a science fiction writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your novel might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?

I knew from the start that Survival Colony 9 was going to speak to environmental issues. The world of the novel is a hostile desert, and that setting was one of the first things I envisioned.

When I started writing, the category of “cli-fi”—fiction having to do with climate change—hadn’t yet been coined, but it turns out that’s exactly what I was writing!

I will say, however, that it took a number of drafts before I was satisfied with how my novel spoke to contemporary events/issues. In early drafts, the environmental subtext was much more explicit: I devoted a whole chapter to one character explaining to Querry the history of their world, which meant, essentially, a huge truckload of exposition disguised as dialogue. It was too much, not only in terms of length but in the tone, which seemed far too didactic.

So I scaled way back, letting the scene speak for itself. It’s a desert world. Food and water are scarce. Violent, unpredictable storms pound the landscape.

If that image doesn’t speak to readers, no amount of exposition will.

I think this is an important point for science fiction writers, because science fiction is so topical it’s easy for it to become preachy.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), which some people consider one of the earliest sci-fi novels, raised all kinds of fascinating questions about the nature of life and the power of science—but it didn’t preach to its readers, didn’t tell them what to believe.

Yet when a much older and sadder Shelley revised her novel in 1831, she turned it into a long, boring sermon on the excesses of scientific experimentation. That’s why I never teach the 1831 edition, even though it’s customary to consider the most recent edition the most representative of the author’s vision.

I think Shelley violated her own best instincts as a fiction writer in 1831, and she produced a much inferior novel as a result.

I’m proud of the fact that I’m an environmentalist. I love the natural world, and I work hard—both as a father and as an activist—to instill that love in others.

But as a fiction writer, I’m not going to hit readers over the head with my beliefs. The role of fiction is to stimulate the imagination, not to proselytize or recruit. Having presented the best imaginary world I can, it’s up to readers to do with that world what they will.

Event Report: Lindsey Lane & Evidence of Things Not Seen

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author Lindsey Lane launched her debut novel Evidence of Things Not Seen (FGS, 2014) last weekend at BookPeople.

Group hug — Lindsey with Gene Brenek & Carmen Oliver.
Debbie Gonzales & Shana Burg chat at the refreshments table.
In the photo booth!
With Anne Bustard, a soon-to-debut novelist herself!
Teen actors prepare for the readers theater.
Ready to perform — each reading a different voice included in the book; courtesy of Sam Bond Photography.
Lindsey’s daughter is among the actors; courtesy of Sam Bond Photography.
Greg Leitich Smith and Ruth Pennebaker
Salima Alikhan, Vanessa Lee & Sean Petrie
E. Kristin Anderson & Kayla Olson
Cynthia Levinson & K.A. Holt
Liz Garton Scanlon, April Lurie & Frances Hill Yansky
Tim Crow, Kathi Appelt, Greg & Brian Yansky
Photo of Lindsey courtesy of Sam Bond Photography.

Cynsational News & Giveaway

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Promote Your Novel With a Two-Minute Version of the Story by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: “It’s easy to do. It’s kind of fun. It’s basically free.”

Drowning in the Well by Laura Ruby from The Storyteller’s Inkpot. Peek: “If this sounds like depression, it was a very specific sort of fiction-centered depression. What good is a story when the people around you are suffering? Shut up and make them something to eat! I had forgotten how nourishing stories could be.”

On the Quilting of One-Liners (and Second Coming of Once-Dead Darlings) by Julianna Baggott from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “The bins are also important because they remind me that I don’t just have a bunch of blank pages to fill. I have something to fill them with. I don’t have to create from nothing.”

The Villain’s Big Reveal by Mary Kole from Peek: “Not only will this give your readers more to latch on to, it will give your hero more to work with when it comes time to face their foe.”

Four Tips for Writing About Unfamiliar Character Issues from Elizabeth Spann Craig. Peek: “The folks who live with these issues deserve accuracy, respect, and empathy. It’s our job to get it right.”

What Rejections Can Tell You by Chris Eboch from Project Mayhem. Peek: “If you have a strong idea and a well-written query letter, you may get a request for a partial manuscript. That’s a great sign that your topic is marketable.”

Why the Opening of If I Stay by Gayle Forman Works from Deborah Halverson at Dear Editor. Peek: “Forman intrigues by triggering and stoking anticipation. Her chapter header is “7:09 a.m.”, setting up the expectation that a big thing will happen any minute.”

IBBY Honors Inclusion of all Voices in Books From Around the World by Terry Farish from The Pirate Tree. Peek: “IBBY introduced their 2014 Honour List, a biennial selection of outstanding, recently published books honouring writers, illustrators and translators from around the world. The books were honored with this passionate Mexican celebration of trumpets and gorgeous illustration in this slide show…”

It May Be Perfectly Normal, But It’s Also Frequently Banned by Rebecca Hersher from NPR. Peek: “Now in its fourth edition, the book has sold more than a million copies. Harris asks experts like pediatricians, biologists and even lawyers to fact-check each edition, to make sure updates to AIDS prevention information or birth control laws are accurate.”

Sensory Fiction by Felix from MAS 565: Science Fiction to Science Fabrication. Peek: “By using a combination of networked sensors and actuators, the Sensory Fiction author is provided with new means of conveying plot, mood, and emotion while still allowing space for the reader’s imagination.” Source: The Official SCBWI Blog.

Mental Illness Booklist for Teens by Pam from Strong in the Broken Places. Categories include: depression, bi-polar, self-harm, eating disorders, PTSD, disassociation, borderline personality disorder, OCD, anxiety, agoraphobia, and schizophrenia/paranoia.

The Advantages of Author Portraits by Simone Collins from Jane Friedman. Peek: “Having a portrait drawn from informal personal photos or selfies can save a significant amount of money. Some of the most popular portrait styles on ArtCorgi hover around $25–$45, making them far less expensive then traditional photo shoots with professional photographers.”

The Dreaded Rewrite by Isaiah Campbell from Project Mayhem. Peek: “My stomach burrowed its way through my body and into the car seat. ‘But that’s the whole book!’ I said. ‘If he doesn’t want my book, maybe I don’t want him.'” Notes: (1) Isaiah lives in New Mexico, but was “born and bred” in Texas; (2) post includes giveaway. See also You Should Always Carry a Notebook by Dawn Lairamore from Project Mayhem.

James Dawson: “There Are Too Many White Faces in Kids’ Books” by Alison Flood from The Guardian. Peek “‘In an ideal world, every title released would reflect a diverse world,’ said Dawson. ‘This doesn’t mean there should be a gay character in every book, but if every character in a title is white, straight, able-bodied and wealthy, that book is not reflecting the real world. Is this insidiously suggesting an ideal?'” See also Why Gay Characters Matter by Kristin Pekoll (Assistant Director, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom) from The Huffington Post.

Reservation Sunsets and Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot by Eric Gansworth from PEN America. Peek: “The small town culture of (Salem’s Lot, ethnicity aside, was nearly parallel to the reservation’s. A nosey writer like Ben wouldn’t be tolerated, but the reservation would have held a bounty of opportunities for an industrious vampire like Barlow. Some folks disappeared for days on end without raising anyone’s eyebrows, and a few roads were home to only one or two houses…)”

Cover Reveal: Rose Eagle by Joseph Bruchac from Lee & Low. Peek: “Set to be released next month, Joseph Bruchac has written an e-novella that’s a prequel to Killer of Enemies (Tu, 2013), titled Rose Eagle.”

Cynsational Giveaway

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Screening Room

Summer reading PSA with animated art by Don Tate.

More Personally

Author-illustrator Divya Srinivasan at the launch for Little Owl’s Day (Viking, 2014) at BookPeople.
Young reader-artists enjoy coloring tie-in pages to Little Owl’s Day.

Congratulations to Katie Bagley for signing with literary agent Sara Crowe and to Sara for signing Katie! Here’s to many books to come!

K.A. Holt with fellow author E. Kristin Anderson

Kudos to children’s author K.A. Holt for her graceful handing of this CBS This Morning interview about having been questioned for letting her son play outdoors by himself. Note: I spent much of my childhood playing outside without constant round-the-clock supervision, which–among other things–was key to the development of my imagination.

Link of the Week: Touch the Hearts of Your Readers: Entangle Their Emotions by Tom Bentley from Writer Unboxed.

For educators, The Kid-friendly, Kid-maintainable Classroom Library by Nicole Hewes from The Horn Book.

See also 2014 Children’s-YA Books by Austinites and 2015 Children’s-YA Books by Austinites from Greg Leitich Smith.

Note: Visit Cynsations tomorrow for full coverage of Lindsey Lane‘s launch at BookPeople!

Personal Screening Room

Remarkable animated fan art trailer (by Stephen Byrne) for all of you “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” fans out there!

This one’s for all of you heading to YALSA’s YA Literary Symposium this fall or the Texas Library Association conference this spring. Or who just love gorgeous photography and/or Austin!

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Greg Leitich Smith will speak and sign at Tweens Read Sept. 27 at South Houston High School in Pasadena, Texas.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel “Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?” from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA’s YA Literature Symposium in Austin.

Guest Interview: Author Dori Hillestad Butler & Illustrator Aurore Damant on The Haunted Library


By Dori Hillestad Butler
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

When I tell strangers I’m a children’s book author, the first thing they often want to know is whether I am published.

The second thing they want to know is who is my illustrator? Where did I find someone to illustrate my books? How does that whole thing work?

The average person (i.e. someone who is not in children’s publishing) doesn’t realize that authors rarely have any say in who illustrates our books.

Most of us (with the exception of those who are both authors and illustrators) don’t know our illustrators or have any contact with them whatsoever. It’s up to the publisher to find and work with the illustrator.

Again, people are often surprised to hear this. “You mean you don’t tell the illustrator what to draw?”


Well…I do usually have a few notes to the illustrator for my Haunted Library (Grosset & Dunlap) manuscripts, but that’s because this is a chapter book mystery series and there are clues to solving the mystery in the illustrations.

Clues that never appear in the text. So I have tell my editor, art director, and illustrator what those clues are.

But I don’t say anything else about the art. I don’t tell anyone which scenes I’d like to see illustrated (not unless it’s a scene with an illustrated clue), and I don’t tell anyone what any of the characters or the town should look like. That’s not my job.

And that’s actually okay with me. I think it’s in an author’s best interest to leave as much to the illustrator as possible.

They almost always come up with things I wouldn’t have thought of on my own, and it’s always a nice surprise to see the art in my books for the first time.

I am especially happy with the work Aurore Damant has done on my Haunted Library series. It makes me very curious about her.

Who is the person who draws my ghost world even better than I see it in my own head?

So I decided to interview her for Cynsations and try and get to know her a little bit.

Dori: Hi, Aurore! Thanks for letting me interview you. Let’s start with where do you live?


Aurore: I live in Paris, France, not far from Montmartre.

Dori: Wow! Okay, truth be told I did actually know that already. But it’s about the only thing I did know about you before this interview. And the fact that you live in Paris just adds to the mystique.

So, are you married? Do you have kids?

Aurore: Julien and I are together for 10 years and married since 2012. We don’t have kids!

Dori: How about pets? For our bios, you drew me with a dog on my shirt and you drew yourself with a cat on your shirt. I assume that wasn’t coincidental?

Aurore: When our editor asked me to do your portrait, I found several pictures of you with a big black dog, and I assumed you were a dog person!

I’m totally a cat person. My cat’s named Lois, she’s 3, and she’s the most mischievous cat ever.

Dori: Good guess! I am totally a dog person! But I like cats, too. I’ve been owned by three cats over the years. What do you like to do in your spare time?

Aurore: Hang out with my friends, play with my cat, go to the movies, have drinks, walk around Paris, shop, watch TV series, travel if I can… Pretty basic stuff.

But actually, I draw all the time… if I’m working on an interesting project, I don’t mind drawing at night or during the weekend. I’m such a nerd.

Dori: Ha! Me too! What is your illustration background?

Aurore: I started in animation, I studied at Gobelins which is a famous art school that specializes in animation, based in Paris. I developed several TV series.

Five or six years ago I had some opportunities to do some freelance illustration work, and I enjoyed it very much. People trust me and give me carte blanche most of the time, which is awesome.

Now I do as much illustration as animation, and I love them both!

Dori: That’s very cool! And that explains the animated look (which I love, by the way) to the books. Can you say a little bit about your illustration process?

Aurore: Everything starts in my head. Generally, I have a clear vision of the character or the composition I want to do. I don’t need to make a lot of tries before I find the right design, it comes on the spot. But I also use a lot of references, like old cartoons and old children books (Little Golden Books are the best).

When I’m happy with the rough design, I have to choose the style of the illustration. Black outline, color outline, no outline at all… same with the backgrounds. I have to find a good balance.

I work digitally on a Cintiq, which is a large screen plugged in to my computer, and I can draw directly on it, which is a real time saver and gives me a lot of freedom to explore various looks for my illustrations.

Dori: I didn’t give you a lot of physical description for most of the characters in the Haunted Library. How did you decide what they should look like?

Aurore: For Claire, I tried to fit her personality in the story. She had to look thorough, yet sweet. One of my references was “Coraline” from the stop motion film by Henry Selick.

For Kaz and the other ghosts, it was easier in a way since I never had the opportunity to draw any ghost before. So I could take a fresh start!

The only thing I hesitate is to give them a human appearance or make them with simple shapes like Casper. But I thought it would be easier to relate to them if they look humans. Then I had enough info in the story about their personalities to find a design that matches.

Dori: You absolutely did the right thing giving the ghosts a human form. That was what I had in mind. How long does it take you to illustrate a Haunted Library book?

Aurore: About five days for the roughs of the 30 illustrations, then two-to-three weeks for the final black and white illustrations. And two days for the cover.

Dori: Interesting! 

So it takes you about the same amount of time to do the art as it takes me to plan and write the first draft of one of these books. 

It takes me about a week to plan out the story and write the outline and then I like to have a month to write the draft: two weeks to write the draft and two weeks to revise it before I sent it in.

Here’s a random question. I’m liking you more and more with every question I ask, so I’d like to know if you and I could ever meet in person and hang out for an afternoon, what would we do together?

Aurore: We would go in a cozy cafe to enjoy a big piece of pie and homemade hot chocolate, and talk about our jobs and our life in general. Then we would go check out some old houses with great history, hopefully one of them would be haunted…

Dori: Wow! That is exactly what I would like to do with you! Maybe one day we can do that? Or should I say two days…once in Paris and once in Seattle!

One last question: If the series continues, what would you like to see happen? What kind of ghostly mystery should Kaz and Claire solve? Is there anything in particular you’d like to illustrate?

Aurore: I never really thought about that!

But I guess I would love to see them go in some spooky or weird places like an old fun fair, an abandoned house or a natural history museum. Or maybe have them solving a case during Halloween or Christmas, that would be fun!

Dori: Hmm…that would be fun! Especially the natural history museum! Well, we’ll see.

Thanks for letting me interview you. It’s nice to get to know you.

Guest Post: Irene Latham on Author Infidelity: When One Genre Isn’t Enough

By Irene Latham
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

When I sold my first novel for children, I was advised to commit myself fully–to set aside my fledgling poetry for adults writing, and focus 100% on fiction writing.

Since I’d previously published only one volume of poems – with a small press – I could see the wisdom in the advice.

My heart, however, did not.

Poems popped up everywhere, as they are wont to do, and I, being a lifelong wordcatcher, could not set down my net. I developed a habit of prose in the mornings and poetry at night.

My second book of poems was released around the same time I sold my second novel. I embraced the image of myself as “poet and novelist,” and found comfort in Walt Whitman‘s words, “(I am large. I contain multitudes.)” I relished having not just one love, but two.

And then everything changed. Two loves became three.

It happened when I attended an SCBWI-sponsored Poetry Retreat with Rebecca Kai Dotlich, where I learned that children’s poetry is not all Shel Silverstein, wonderful as his voice is; I didn’t have to be funny when what I like to write is beautiful.

That weekend I dived head-long into a collection of ocean poems. My fingers were at full tide for weeks. I wrote poem after poem. All of them for kids.

When I informed my agent, Rosemary Stimola, who originally signed me as a fiction writer and claims no expertise in the field of poetry, she replied, simply, “the world needs good poetry.”

And off we went, searching for an editor.

The first three collections we subbed didn’t find a publishing home – and rightly so. It’s one thing to write good poems, and another entirely to write a collection that hangs together, has a beginning, middle and end, and holds some appeal for the picture book audience.

Other things I’ve struggled with include avoiding themes that pervade my poetry for adults: romantic love, loss, longing. Tamping down the Wise Woman voice and approaching topics with a sense of wonder and fun and discovery. Flexing and stretching with rhyme as a poetic technique – one I use very little in my adult poetry. Using metaphor and similes that refer to a child’s world (chocolate milk) instead of the adult world (morning coffee). I’m still learning.

Meanwhile, I’ve done my best to be attentive to those other loves. Some days it feels like too much – like I’m bubblegum run out of its stretch. Some days I can’t blow a bubble to save my life.

I’ve learned to assign months for one or the other genre – for instance, this month is a prose month.

Some days other writing sneaks in – and that’s okay. Being unfaithful requires both discipline, and the relaxation of boundaries. You have to be forgiving of yourself, open to what the universe is presenting you at that moment. Know that this means ready-to-sub manuscripts may come at a slower pace – and that’s okay.

It helps to think of each genre as a relationship. Each of the sister-wives needs love and reassurance and affection. Each requires practice and patience. Trust that your heart is big enough for all of it – and more.

This month, as I deliver to the world my first book of poems for children, Dear Wandering Wildebeest: And Other Poems from the Water Hole, with illustrations by Anna Wadham (Millbrook), I’m at peace with my writing heart’s infidelity.

I like to think of it not as a problem, but a strength. It’s like being multilingual – and how marketable is that in today’s world?

Ultimately it creates a writing life filled with movement and adventure.

I can’t wait to see where the current takes me next.

Cynsational Notes

Irene Latham is a poet and novelist from Birmingham, Alabama. The award-winning author of three volumes of poetry for adults and two novels for children Leaving Gee’s Bend (Putnam) and Don’t Feed the Boy (Roaring Brook), she has yet to meet a genre she didn’t like.

Her debut book of poems for children Dear Wandering Wildebeest (Millbrook) has earned starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal and was inspired by photographs taken by Greg du Toit, who submerged himself in a Kenyan water hole in order to best capture the animals drinking.

Two more poetry books for kids Fresh Delicious: Poems from the Farmer’s Market and Summer in Antarctica will be released in 2016.

Guest Post & Giveaway: Mari Mancusi on When the Problem Is The Market, Not the Manuscript

By Mari Mancusi
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Ten years ago, when I began my publishing journey, I was under the assumption that if you wrote it (and it was good) it would sell.

Sell to a New York publisher.

Be stocked at Barnes and Noble and (sniff!) Borders.

Be discovered by readers.

Happily ever after, the end.

And it certainly seemed that way when my tween YA time travel novel, The Camelot Code, sold to Dutton/Penguin at auction in 2007. It was a sweet two-book deal and the editor was very excited about the project.

The gist was this: a teen King Arthur ends up in our world, Googles himself and finds out his true destiny, then decides he’d rather play football than pull the sword from the stone. And it’s up to our intrepid 21st century heroine, Sophie, to get him back in time before history is changed forever.

All was going well, until through a series of events, a change was made. The editor asked if I would do the second book in the contract first—as it seemed more “timely” – (and, of course, a time travel novel is supposedly timeless).

So I did—writing Gamer Girl instead. And when that was finished I went back to my precious Camelot Code, excited to finally finish it and get it out there at last.

But at that point, a year and a half after the original deal was made, the YA market had changed. Publishers had realized there were profits to be made on the so-called crossover audience (i.e. the adult readers) and YA started growing up—growing edgier and darker and deeper. And when my editor read my version of The Camelot Code, she realized she could not publish this book as it was and asked for a major revision.

To make matters worse, as I was revising, my editor moved houses. Then Dutton was reorganized into a boutique imprint that put out only a few titles a year. Many of the current authors were sent to Dial to finish out their contracts.

Me and my ill-fitting book, however, were dumped.

“No problem!” I said at the time. “I’ll just sell it to someone else!” Certainly a novel that sold at auction the first time would have some takers the second time around.

But I was wrong. No one wanted it. Everyone said, “It’s not middle grade, it’s not young adult. We don’t have a place for this book in our line.”

With Cory Putnam Oakes & Christina Soontornvat at Lindsey Lane‘s launch.

I refused to give up at first—scouring the Internet for YA publishers I might not have heard of and forwarding their names to my agent. To her credit, she was intrepid, sending out manuscript after manuscript, long after I’m sure she gave up on the book.

But the rejections still came in. Each one a knife, twisting in my gut. The worst part, I think, was that I knew it was a good book.

The problem was the market. No one was buying light, funny, tween. They wanted the next Hunger Games. And I was not going to sell this book by sheer force of will.

I felt like a failure. I felt like I’d wasted years of my life. I lost faith in the publishing world and I felt adrift in my career. If a book I felt so strongly about couldn’t sell, what made me think I could ever master this publishing thing? Yes, in the meantime, I was selling other books to other publishers, but The Camelot Code remained a big Excalibur in my side.

Then one day my husband took me aside. He brushed away my tears and reminded me of all the good The Camelot Code had brought me. The original advance money had allowed me to move to New York City, a lifelong dream, and the place I met him.

When the manuscript was rejected by my editor and I realized I wasn’t getting paid, I ended up moving in with him to save money, bringing us closer than ever.

And eventually, out of this cursed book, came the most precious blessing of all. My three-year-old daughter Avalon. Imagine—an entire human being—on this planet—all because of a publishing deal gone south. Of course I had to give her an Arthurian-inspired name, right?

Publishing can be a brutal industry. But roses can still grow in the cracks in the pavement. And it’s important for authors to look at the big picture. To remember that sometimes it’s just timing or trends or an editor having a bad day—not a reflection of the quality of your book.

Sometimes good books just don’t fit the mold.

And we can’t let that break us or cause us to lose faith in our work and ourselves.

Now, seven years after the original sale, I’ve decided to self publish The Camelot Code. To make it available to readers for the very first time. And who knows, maybe New York is right—maybe there’s no market for this tween book and I won’t sell a single copy.

But maybe they’re wrong. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to find out. That, in and of itself, feels like a bit of a happy ending.

Deanna Roy, Mari & Sam Bond chat Alternative Publishing Options with Austin SCBWI.

About The Camelot Code

The Camelot Code is available in print or digital formats on all
major platforms, including Overdrive for libraries and Ingram. It is
age-appropriate for 10+.

To purchase, see paperback at Amazon,
paperback at Barnes and Noble,
Nook, Kobo, iTunes, and Overdrive

All fourteen-year-old gamer girl Sophie Sawyer wants to do is defeat Morgan Le Fay in her favorite Arthurian videogame. She has no idea the secret code sent via text message is actually a magical spell that will send her back in time to meet up with a real life King Arthur instead.

Of course Arthur’s not king yet–he hasn’t pulled the sword from the stone–and he has no idea of his illustrious destiny.

And when a twist of fate sends him forward in time–to modern day high school–history is suddenly in jeopardy.

Even more so when Arthur Googles himself and realizes what lies in store for him if he returns to his own time–and decides he’d rather try out for the football team instead.

Now Sophie and her best friend Stuart find themselves in a race against time–forced to use their 21st century wits to keep history on track, battle a real-life version of their favorite videogame villain, and get the once and future king back where he belongs. Or the world, as they know it, may no longer exist.

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Guest Post: Barbara Bottner on Miss Brooks’ Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome)

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By Barbara Bottner
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I am very opinionated, as a reader, a writer, writing teacher and coach.

I am also righteous, and stubborn about my opinions to the point of intolerance.

This attitude is what made me write Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t.), illustrated by Michael Emberley (Knopf).
I like to use my own childish nature as a resource for picture books because it is always authentic and it is a good source for stories and always offers conflict.

In the first Miss Brooks book, Missy refuses to be seduced into reading by her over-zealous, inspired librarian, Miss Brooks. This is a parallel to me in my book club. I tend to be disappointed in many novels–good, award-winning novels.

While I long to leave my own writing and daily life behind, I need the work to offer an intense experience.

Make me love you or I will walk away and never turn back.

On the other hand, when I love a book, I love it like a girl loves her first boyfriend, her tutu, her grandmother. I will love it and reread it forever.

When I thought of writing a sequel to Miss Brooks, I knew I had to up the action. Thus, I decided that the still opinionated Missy would have to face an even more difficult challenge than liking stories. She, herself, would need to come up with one and it would have to be a doozy at that. She would have to stay in character of course, but in the creative arena, she could use her own imagination.

Learn more!

Thus, the school temporarily loses electricity due to a storm, and the clever Miss Brooks now can justifiably ask the children to invent their own tales.

I am lucky that Nancy Siscoe, my editor at Knopf, doesn’t shy away from Missy’s over-the top idea of a neighbor who keeps all kinds of animals in her basement, including a snake, and that in the end, Missy decides she is “dead, dead, dead” (then changes her mind).

I like darkness in tales, even for young readers. Do they never wish a younger sibling or cousin would be “dead, dead, dead’?’ I believe that kids live at a very deep emotional level. If I were five, I would be tired of rhymes and adventures as a steady diet. I would want the occasional “off with their heads” moments.

I also love the story within the story–it offers another level of fantasy, while keeping the real life problems in the foreground.

Missy needs to face down a bully. She needs a tale to embolden herself, but one that will also put her nemesis, Billy Toomey, in his place. Stories about kittens won’t do.

I try to use heightened issues for picture books in honor of my readers. We humans are a complicated, difficult tribe. I consider it my duty to reflect that in my books.

Never underestimate the power of a good story, or the complicated nature of even a very young child.

We Need Diverse Books Announces Incorporation as a Non-Profit & Inaugural Advisory Board

See FAQ!

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Grassroots organization files for incorporation as a non-profit organization in the state of Pennsylvania, and welcomes its first advisory board members, authors Grace Lin, Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Peña, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Cindy Pon

New York City, NY: More than just a hashtag, We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature.

We Need Diverse Books is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality. Its mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.

In order to accomplish its mission, We Need Diverse Books reaches out to individuals and groups involved in many levels of children’s publishing—including but not limited to publishers, authors, distributors, booksellers, librarians, educators, parents, and students.

“Incorporating will give us the legitimacy and standing we need to move forward with our mission,” says Lamar Giles, VP of Communications. “We have many exciting projects in the works.”

In addition to a Diversity Festival planned for 2016, We Need Diverse Books plans to initiate a grant program to support diverse authors, bring Diversity into the Classroom with collaborations with First Book and the National Education Association, and develop a “diversity toolkit” for librarians and booksellers.

Ellen Oh

Inaugural advisory board members includes Grace Lin, Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Peña, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Cindy Pon.

“Each of these members has a history of advocating for diverse books, and is a pioneer in the field of children’s literature. They will not only increase our visibility as an organization, but light the way going forward,” said Ellen Oh, President of We Need Diverse Books.

On the heels of its enormously successful panel at the inaugural Book Con, the We Need Diverse Books team has been invited by the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA) to present the first ever diverse author signing and reception, and present panels at the Baltimore Book Festival, National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the American Library Association (ALA), and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), among others.

Cynsational Notes

New Board Member — Cynthia Leitich Smith

Diversity Movement Gains Visibility at ALA Annual by Wendy Stephens from School Library Journal. Peek: “If you ran into a youth services librarian at the American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Las Vegas (June 26-July1), odds were good that they were sporting a colorful ‘We Need Diverse Books’ button. That recent campaign harnessed the collective power of social media to highlight the need for more resources depicting a range of cultures and experiences.”

We Need Diverse Books to Launch a Diversity in the Classroom Initiative from Children’s Book Council. Peek: “Every month, students will explore a diverse author’s book. These readers will then be treated to a visit from the author (in-person or through Skype) to have a discussion.”

In Public Schools, White Students Are No Longer the Majority by Janell Ross and Peter Bell from The Atlantic. Peek: “U.S. classrooms will enter a new era this fall—one in which black, Hispanic, and Asian students form the majority.”

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

2014 Longlist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature from the National Book Foundation:

See also Gail Giles on Writing Across Mental Abilities.

More News

Asking an Editor: Hooking a Reader Early by Stacy Whitman from Lee & Low. Peek: “How do you get your writing to have that “zing” that captivates from the very beginning?” See also Stacy on Nailing the Story.

Intersectionality and Disability by Corrine Duyvis from Disability in Kid Lit. Peek: “Why is it that diversity in young adult, middle grade, and children’s literature is often represented as an either/or, without intersectionality? Characters can either be autistic or gay, for example, or a wheelchair user or Black, but rarely both.”

No Name by Tim Tingle (Seventh Generation, 2014): a recommendation by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “Choose your framework for sharing it: It is a basketball story; it is a realistic story of alcoholism; it is a story about the Choctaw people.”

When It Comes to Creativity, Are Two Heads Better Than One? from NPR Books. Peek: “‘We think of Martin Luther King and Sigmund Freud and Warren Buffett and Steve Jobs as these great solo creators, but in fact, if you look into the details of their life, they are enmeshed in relationships all the way through.'”

Not Enough Willpower to Meet Your Goals? Make Mini-Habits. By Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “For me, feeling overwhelmed and getting started has always been the hardest part. Having mini goals in order to create habits is so easy.”

Writers–Be Careful How You Sit from Elizabeth Spann Craig. Peek: “We thought we had the kinds of jobs where injuries might be limited to paper cuts or possibly dropping a laptop on our foot.”

What Nobody Tells You About Publishing Deadlines by Cavan Scott from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Peek: “…deadlines can shift when you least expect it, which can have a house of cards effect.”

Blasting the Canon: Teach Stories that Speak to Young Readers by Randy Ribay from The Horn Book. Peek: “Great books are published every year, whether or not they end up on some school’s curriculum or a bestseller list.”

Four Tools for the Writing Parent by Joanna Roddy from Project Mayhem. Peek: “Here are four tools that have helped to ground me and other writers I know in the midst of a life that sometimes feels like it’s been reduced to tantrums, skipped naps, and bleary-eyed late night feedings.”

Giving Up The Giver to Hollywood: A Q&A Interview with Lois Lowry by Jessica Gross from The New York Times. Peek: “…in the book she’s 12, and in the movie she’s 16. I advised them that some of the costumes were too sexy. And so the hem was dropped a little bit.”

Middle Grade & YA: Where to Draw the Line? by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “We ask booksellers across the country to weigh in.”

Five Important Ways to Use Symbolism in Your Stories by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: “How do we come up with the right symbols in the first place? What should they be symbolic of? And how do we incorporate them into our stories without making them so obvious we lose all their symbolic value?”

Marketing Tips for Authors and Agents by Elisabeth Weed from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “I’ve come to peace with the fact that there are many facets of the business which I can not control but that there’s power and autonomy in focusing on the things that we can.”

On Giving Feedback by Peter Biello from Burlington Writer’s Workshop. Peek: “I want to focus our attention today on one of the thorniest circumstances, and of course the one with which I have a great deal of experience, and that’s the process of giving feedback to a writer who is working on an early or late draft of an unpublished piece.”

Evil, Insane, Envious and Ethical: The Four Types of Villain by K.M. Weiland from Fiction Notes. Peek: “They’re not simple black-and-white caricatures trying to lure puppies to the dark side by promising cookies. They’re real people. They might be our neighbors. Gasp! They might even be us!”

How to Hook a Literary Agent: 16 Agents Share What Gets Them Reading by Jan Lewis from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: “Want to get a literary agent? Tired of getting rejected?”

Soho Teen, June 2015

Diversity 101: Gay in YA by Adam Silvera from CBC Diversity. Peek: “…if you’re not gay but want to write characters who are, don’t simply turn to current gay culture to craft your character. Common mistakes include gay guys being automatically interested in fashion and Lady Gaga, and lesbian girls competing in sports or fighting all the time.”

How to Publicize Your Children’s Book by Paula Yoo from Lee & Low. Peek: “To my shock, this “out of the box” creative publicity idea not only worked… but it went viral.”

Rejection Stamina: How Much Can You Take? by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “She (Meg Cabot) points to her own experience with rejection, and I challenge you to read this without fainting…”

The Surprising Importance of Doing Nothing by Robin LaFevers from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “…in a world where output, production, and speed are the gold standard, it’s important to remind ourselves that fast doesn’t always mean better. For some people, speed gets in the way of producing their richest, deepest, most creative work.”

Picture Book Month Promotion Kit — get ready for November!

Courage and Confidence by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “Sometimes I think we spend too much time analyzing our fears as a way to bolster our courage. Maybe–just maybe–the problem would take care of itself if we planted our seats in our seats and worked harder.”

Tales of Reconciliation Rooted in Judaism by Janni Lee Simner from Arizona Jewish Post.

(Scholastic, 2014)

Join author Sharon G. Flake in Telling the World #IAMUNSTOPPABLE from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “On Sept. 30, my new novel, Unstoppable Octobia May, will hit bookstores nationwide. On that day I would love you and/or the young people you influence to join me in shouting out to the world that they too are unstoppable by holding up the following sign, words, image: I AM UNSTOPPABLE #UNSTOPPABLEOCTOBIAMAY.”

Why Does the Opening of John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars Work? by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: “It’s the right time to enter her life even though the action isn’t bold. John Green then startles readers with first lines that defy expectations…”

Transparency is Paramount: Consider the Source by Tanya Lee Stone from School Library Journal. Peek: “…the problem arises when I feel duped or manipulated into thinking I am reading nonfiction and discovering I am not—or worse, not being able to determine whether anything was made up, save writing to the author.”

A Conversation with Norwegian Author-Illustrator Stien Hole by Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “I am a collector of bits and pieces that I move around and try to put together. That is what I do for a living. Like in a theater, I have a huge prop stock.” Note: click the link if only to be mesmerized by Hole’s art work–gorgeous and fascinating.

Cynsational Screening Room

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Lunch with Sarah Enni of YA Highway and First Draft at Tacos & Tequila.

My most heartfelt and enthusiastic congratulations to my former Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers advanced novel workshop student Yamile Saied Mendez on her admission to the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program!

Congratulations to Greg Leitich Smith and my many other friends who were selected as 2014 Featured Authors at the Texas Book Festival! Kudos also to Greg on his characters from Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook, 2014) making the 2013-2014 Yearbook Superlatives from The Horn Book. Guys Lit Wire says of the novel, “This is a cool book about friendship, about overcoming obstacles and about being open to different possibilities. The laid back first person viewpoint makes it accessible to a wide variety of readers.”

Check out the cover for Things I’ll Never Say: Stories of Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick/Brilliance, 2015), which will include my short story, “Cupid’s Beaux,” which is set in the TantalizeFeral universe and told from the point of view of the guardian angel Joshua.

From the promotional copy:

Fifteen top young-adult authors let us in on provocative secrets in a fascinating collection that will have readers talking.

A baby no one knows about. A dangerous hidden identity. Off-limits hookups. A parent whose problems your friends won’t understand. Everyone keeps secrets—from themselves, from their families, from their friends—and secrets have a habit of shaping the lives around them. 

Acclaimed author Ann Angel brings together some of today’s most gifted YA authors to explore, in a variety of genres, the nature of secrets: Do they make you stronger or weaker? Do they alter your world when revealed? Do they divide your life into what you’ll tell and what you won’t? The one thing these diverse stories share is a glimpse into the secret self we all keep hidden.

With stories by Ann Angel; Kerry Cohen; Louise Hawes; Varian Johnson; erica l. kaufman; Ron Koertge; E. M. Kokie; Chris Lynch; Kekla Magoon; Zoë Marriott; Katy Moran; J. L. Powers; Mary Ann Rodman; Cynthia Leitich Smith; and Ellen Wittlinger.

My fun link of the week: Kidlit Mashups (AKA Merged Children’s Book Sequels).

The smartest one: Why You Don’t Need to Rush Your Writing by Meg Rosoff from Writer Unboxed.

And the one that makes me dream: 20 Writing Residency You Should Apply for This Year.

Personal Links

Marsha Riti, Bethany Hegedus, C.S.Jennings & Amy Farrier at Austin SCBWI

Cynsational Events

P.J. Hoover will speak and sign Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life at 2 p.m. Sept. 20 at The Book Spot.

Divya Srinivasan will speak and sign Little Owl’s Day at 3 p.m. Sept. 20 at BookPeople in Austin.

Lindsey Lane will speak and sign Evidence of Things Not Seen at 2 p.m. Sept. 21 at BookPeople in Austin.

Greg Leitich Smith will speak and sign at Tweens Read Sept. 27 at South Houston High School in Pasadena, Texas.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel “Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?” from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA’s YA Literature Symposium in Austin.