New Voices Interview: Trisha Leaver & Lindsay Currie on Creed

By Karen Rock
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

From the promotional copy of Creed by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie (Flux, 2014):

Three of us went in. 
Three of us came out. 
None even a shadow of who they once were.



When their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Dee, her boyfriend Luke, and Luke’s brother Mike, seek help in the nearby town of Purity Springs. 

But as they walk the vacant streets, the teens make some disturbing discoveries. 

The seemingly deserted homes each contain a sinister book with violent instructions on disciplining children. The graveyard is full of unmarked crosses. Worst of all, there’s no way to contact the outside world. 

When Purity Springs’ inhabitants suddenly appear, Dee, Luke, and Mike find themselves at the mercy of Elijah Hawkins, the town’s charismatic leader who has his own plans for the three of them. 

Their only hope for survival is Elijah’s enigmatic son, Joseph. And his game may be just as deadly as his father’s . . .

In less than thirty words, tell us about Creed.

Lindsay: Creed is a psychological horror about three teens in upstate New York who find themselves at the mercy of a deadly cult, and their struggle to survive.

The setting of Creed is unusual. Would you tell us about it and what’s behind its inspiration? Are there any real life places that you might compare it to?

Trisha: Creed…or at least the start of it was a nightmare for me. I was on route to a concert with my sister and two of my childhood friends. We hit a deer and totaled our car, forcing us off the road.

Needing help, we wondered into a nearby town only to find it empty, emergency sirens blaring in the background. People had been there…recently. The car doors were open, there was food cooking on the stove, there was even a fire smoldering in the fireplace. It was like the townsfolk had just upped and vanished. What I could see were shadows, the outlines of people dancing behind the buildings. But I couldn’t get them to interact with me, couldn’t get them to even acknowledge my presence.

That’s when I woke up, heart pounding and irritated that my subconscious had left me suspended in a dream with no clue who or what was after me.

So in essence…Creed was my way of finishing that nightmare.

Lindsay: The inspiration came from a very vivid nightmare that Trisha had. Of course she immediately called me and freaked me out which led us both to think the same thing: We have to write this story.

I grew up in the Midwest, so Purity Springs looks like about three dozen small farming communities I grew up around. You know the look – flat land, roads that stretch for miles surrounded by fields of corn or soy. Yeah, that’s Purity Springs to me.

Describe your research for this book.

Lindsay (black jacket over white print) & Trisha (in red) at their book launch.

Trisha: Ah…the Internet is both an informative and invasive space, one that provided us with the foundation we needed to create the characters in Creed.

Creed is essentially a cult book, so we had to do a fair amount of research into not only the hierarchical structure of different cults but the mentalities of their leaders and followers.

We poured over interviews with individuals who had left cults, public documents surrounding investigations into their abusive practices, and their child-rearing believes. The research was both fascinating and heart-breaking.

Lindsay: We did a great deal of research into cult mentalities for Creed. For one, to create a convincing group of people we had to figure out the leader, Elijah and how he would operate. In addition, one of our characters – Joseph – grew up inside the cult, which makes his headspace a little trickier to get into without a lot of digging around.

Which character in Creed intrigued you the most and why?

Trisha: Dee. Hands down, Dee. I am not a plotter, but I do create rather detailed character maps. Before I even put pen to paper, I map out the emotional stage of my main character— their past, their present, even their future dreams come into play.

When I choose my main character, I am purposefully picking the character who will struggle the most…who has the most to lose in that setting.

Dee is a foster kid with a history of abuse both in and out of the system. She has trust issues, has an entire history she refuses to speak of never mind relive.

Forcing her into this cult, connecting her abusive past to the current practices of the town, forcing her to place her trust in a stranger…all that goes against every instinct…every lesson life has taught her. That’s what makes her character so fascinating to me; the constant internal struggle that has her questioning her every decision.

Lindsay: For me, Joseph hands-down. Joseph is one of those characters who exists in the gray spaces between good and bad. Like the Doctor in Frankenstein (1818). He might do some unsavory things, but it’s tricky to label him one way or the other because his motives complicate things. He’s a product of his circumstances, and that isn’t a simple thing to toss into one category or another.

Creed is receiving rave reviews with a just a few polarized opinions about the religious aspects in the books. What role does religion play in the novel?

Trisha: I think by default, Creed is going to rub some people the wrong way. I mean it is nearly impossible to write a book about a cult without delving into the religious foundation of their existence. That said, I don’t think religion is at the heart of the story.

When I set out to co-author Creed, I was more interested in exploring the darkness that surrounds us every day, the evil that lurks within a chosen few and their dark past and tortured existences. The cult setting was truly just the avenue I used to explore the darker side of humanity.

Lindsay: Religion in the novel is always an interesting question because Creed truly isn’t intended to be a commentary on any particular religion or even organized religion in general. It plays a role because these cults do exist and have existed in different parts of the world for years and that’s what makes it so scary. If you take the religion out, it’s really just about what happens when a person in a position of power begins to believe they are omnipotent and abuses it.


Do you think a world like Purity Springs exists or could exist? Why? Are there aspects of our society that lend itself to the events in this book?

Trisha: Absolutely….if not the town, than the people. There is a line in the book that I think answers this question perfectly:

“My father told me not to be fooled, that the devil had two faces —one charming and meant to draw you in, the other full of sinful pride.” 

The seemingly innocuous people who we pass every day and never give them a second glance, the sweet neighbor next door who is living a double life…it is those people I tied to capture in Creed.

Lindsay: Ah, I might have accidentally answered this a little in the question above. But I’ll take this answer a slightly different route.

Yes, I see aspects of our society that lend themselves to the events in Creed. Every time you hear something terrible in the news about an authority figure – someone people trust and follow – it changes my perception of them and their private life whether I want it to or not.

This makes me think of Creed. Elijah Hawkins positions himself as taking care of others and protecting them, but once you begin peeling back his layers the truth is revealed and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something like this in real life.

Describe a place, person or event that terrified you as a child.

Trisha: “Carol Anne, go into the light.”

Yeah…so I still might have a slight aversion to closets.

Who am I kidding? I still can’t sleep with the closet door open.

Lindsay: Gladly. I was always terrified by my grandmother’s basement. It was one of those places that just reeked of scary things – it smelled like dirt, was dark twenty-four hours a day and had one of those giant coal-burning furnaces stuffed in the back of it. I always had the unsettling sensation that something bad happened in there…even as a small child.

What draws you to YA horror fiction?

Trisha: I was deathly afraid of the dark when I was a kid. I used to check under the bed every night and refused to sleep without the hall light. My older brother used to tease me, say it wasn’t the monsters under the bed that I should be worried about, rather the ones lurking in the closet.

We were stupid, bickering kids back then, but years later, with a lifetime of experiences behind me, I finally got what he meant. There are no paranormal creatures in my manuscripts. No fangs, no claws, no mist as I like to say. It’s not because I don’t love a good fanged monster, but because I believe the darkness that surrounds us every day is scarier.

Lindsay: Well, the easy answer is that I love to be scared!

Well, let me add a caveat to that…I love what I call “safe fear”. So, the fear you feel in the movie theater, or curled up on your couch, or in bed reading a scary book. That fear is fun and exhilarating and nothing like real fear if you actually perceive yourself to be in danger. That’s why I like YA horror fiction.

When writing YA horror fiction, are there any lines you won’t cross with this genre?

Trisha: Hmm…I don’t think there is a thread or plot point I would avoid exploring so long as it is true to the character and his/her struggle. I don’t add things for shock factor, but I am not one to pull my punches either

Lindsay: Any lines we won’t cross. Hmmm.

Well, Trisha and I would probably be hard-pressed to kill any animals in our books. We’re both big animal lovers. But everyone and everything else is fair game.

Tell us about your journey in writing this book. How is writing as a team different than writing solo?

Trisha: Writing is a lonely process. You spend days, months, sometimes years in your own head, dreaming up characters that nobody but you can hear.

Co-authoring takes some of the isolation away. There is another person who is as intimately connected to the characters as you, who hears their voices and knows their plight.

I wouldn’t say my “solo” writing process is different – I’m still drawing out character maps, still fleshing out back-stories and constantly trying to find ways to inflict more pain on my characters — but it is definitely a more secluded process. Equally fulfilling, just quieter.

Lindsay: And as for writing as a team – it’s very different, but works amazingly well for us. Trisha and I have very similar writing styles and tastes and therefore it’s an adventure to team up on a book. Is it challenging sometimes? Sure. But overall, it’s a phenomenal experience and hey – two sets of eyes is better than one!

What essential things have you learned about writing in the last year? What have you learned from each other?

Trisha: I have learned that plotting is a necessary evil. When I wrote Creed and The Secrets We Keep (FSG, 2015), I was a total panster. I had solid start and a general idea of where I wanted the book to end, but everything in the middle…the wide open space.

Now that I am writing proposals for option books, I learned to make friends with dreaded outline. I don’t like it – outlining scenes and chapters doesn’t jibe with my writing process – but I understand its necessity and plow my way through it.

As for what Lindsay has taught me…she taught me to let go. I’m the kind of person who will revise a book to death, obsessing over it. Without her, I’m not sure I’d ever let a manuscript leave my computer. I’d still be sitting her staring at a dozen finished projects, tweaking perfectly fine sentences. In a way, she gives me the confidence to hit the “send” button.

Lindsay: I’ve learned better dialogue from Trisha for sure. She’s really a master at authentic and effortless dialogue and that’s something I’ve always had to work on.

And essential things I’ve learned about writing…I’d have to say I’ve learned to write the book I want to write. Creed wasn’t the easy book to write because it’s a challenging sell. It pushes the limits of YA fiction with some of it’s themes and for that reason, I think if Trisha and I had backed down and written something a little “safer” our path might have been simpler. But I think writing the book we wanted to write and writing it our way is ultimately what made it a good book.

Can you tell us about any upcoming novels, together or separately?

Trisha: On the solo front – My YA contemporary, The Secrets We Keep, drops April 28 with FSG.

On the co-authored front, Sweet Madness, a YA Historical Horror about the Lizzie Borden murders, drops August of 2015 with Merit Press. Hardwired, a stand-alone YA thriller that navigates that blurry line between nature and nurture, drops fall of 2015 with Flux.

Cynsational Notes

Trisha Leaver graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in social work. She lives on Cape Cod with her husband, three kids and one rather irreverent black lab. She is a member of  SCBWI, the Horror Writers Association, and the YA Scream Queens. Find her at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Lindsay Currie graduated from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois; with an English Literature degree. She is a member of SCBWI, the Horror Writers Association and a contributor to the YA Scream Queens. Find her at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

More on Karen Rock

Karen Rock is
an award-winning YA and adult contemporary author. She holds a master’s
degree in English and worked as an ELA instructor before becoming a
full-time author. With her co-author, Joanne Rock, she’s penned the Camp Boyfriend series with Spencer Hill Press under the pseudonym J.K. Rock. She also writes contemporary romance for Harlequin Enterprises.

When
she’s not writing, Karen loves scouring estate sales for vintage books,
cooking her grandmother’s family recipes and hiking. She lives in the
Adirondack Mountain region with her husband, daughter, and two Cavalier
King cocker spaniels who have yet to understand the concept of “fetch”
though they know a lot about love.

Check out her website, her co-author website, her Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter @karenrock5. Then check out Camp Boyfriend.

New Voice: Matt Phelan on Druthers

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Matt Phelan is the first-time author of Druthers (Candlewick, 2014). From the promotional copy:

With warmth and humor, award-winning author-illustrator Matt Phelan follows a child as she leads her daddy on some rainy-day flights of fancy.


It’s raining and raining and raining, and Penelope is bored. “What would you do if you had your druthers?” asks her daddy. 

Well, if Penelope had her druthers, she’d go to the zoo. Or be a cowgirl. Or a pirate captain who sails to the island of dinosaurs, or flies away on a rocket to the moon. 

If Penelope had her druthers, she’d go off on amazing adventures — but then again, being stuck inside may not be so bad if your daddy is along for the ride!

Note: Druthers is Matt’s first picture book as the author and illustrator.

As a picture book writer, how did you learn your craft? What were your natural strengths? Greatest challenges?

The best thing you can do to learn the craft is to read as many picture books as you can. Try to identify what works and what doesn’t.

Read them Out Loud. If you have a kid on your lap all the better, but it isn’t necessary.

But do read them out loud anyway. It will help you understand the rhythm and page turn.

Having illustrated ten picture books before writing my own, I had a unique opportunity to study the craft of writing a picture book. I learned so much from the great writers I’ve collaborated with over the years.

My greatest strength I suppose is that, as an illustrator, I know intuitively when I can let the pictures tell the story. The great challenge is to also work in the words so they do what they need to do to make the book a success. It’s a delicate balance and I’m honestly not sure if it is easier doing both parts or not.

As an author-illustrator, you come to children’s books with a double barrel of talent. Could you describe your apprenticeship in each area, and how well (or not) your inner writer and artist play together? What advice do you have for other interested in succeeding on this front?

I think my inner artist and inner writer get along swimmingly. I tend to see my stories first as images, but I write before I really start drawing.

In the case of my graphic novels, that medium allows me to tell much of my story through the images. But before I drew those images, I had written a detailed manuscript describing everything you see. I always write first for my graphic novels. I write in images and then the illustrator side makes those images.

Although I drew my whole life, I worked professionally as a copywriter and screenwriter before my first illustration job. I then concentrated on being an illustrator for five or six years.

During that time I was also playing around with the stories that would become The Storm in the Barn (Candlewick, 2009) and Druthers, so I think I always knew I would eventually write books as well as illustrate them.

As far as advice for author/illustrators, I would say that you must always remember that a picture book (or graphic novel for that matter) is a combination of words and images. You might have a wordless book, but there will still be a Story that you can tell with words. Find the balance, pay attention to the rhythm, and throw yourself into it.

Also (and this goes for anyone), don’t chase trends. If the book you want to write is a “quiet” book, don’t be discouraged because people say the market only wants “edgy” books.

Nobody in publishing knows what they want until they see it, really. You have to write or draw the book that you feel deep in your heart, gut, and soul. It’s the only chance for it to be good.

Outside Matt’s Studio
Inside Matt’s Studio

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Cover Reveal! Ink and Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani (Tu, 2015) from Lee and Low. Peek:


Claire Takata has never known much about her father, who passed away ten years ago. But on the anniversary of his death, she finds a letter from her deceased father to her stepfather. Before now, Claire never had a reason to believe they even knew each other.


Struggling to understand why her parents kept this surprising history hidden, Claire combs through anything that might give her information about her father . . . until she discovers that he was a member of the yakuza, a Japanese organized crime syndicate. The discovery opens a door that should have been left closed.


The race to outrun her father’s legacy reveals secrets of his past that cast ominous shadows, threatening Claire, her friends and family, her newfound love, and ultimately her life. Winner of Tu Books’ New Visions Award, Ink and Ashes is a fascinating debut novel packed with romance, intrigue, and heart-stopping action.

More News & Giveaways

Tone: Is Your Romance Sensual or Intellectual? by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “The question is, of course, what tone do I want for my story? That’s what a writer does as they read great stories from other writers: you think about what they are doing that is working so well, and how to translate that into your own stories.”

Five Writing Lessons from a Vocal Coach by Kathryn Craft from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “A question is like a vacuum that pulls the reader in. So rather than stuffing your story with events that may or may not add up to a cohesive whole, think about creating the questions that your story will fill.”

Interview with Author-Agent Tanya McKinnon by Wendy Lamb from CBC Diversity. Peek: “As an African-American agent with a diverse client list in both children’s and adult books, I am always on the lookout for books that push the envelope of human understanding. Books that honor our multicultural world, regardless of who writes them, are my passion.”

Tinkering Vs. Progress by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: “What do I recommend to writers who are getting caught up in their early pages at the expense of finishing a draft? Write a long outline where you detail what you plan to do in each additional chapter.”

Are Writers Ahead of the Curve in Integrating Work and Life? by Gail Gauthier from Original Content. Peek: “I’m going to mention writers here, who are always working, if for no other reason than that they are constantly taking in information that can become a new idea.”

Overcome Your Manuscript Doubts By Asking Why by Jennie Nash from Angela Ackerman at Writers Helping Writers. Peek: “I actually believe that not knowing the answer to why is one of things that holds a lot of writers back. They know they like to write, they know they’re good at it, they know they have a story to tell, but they don’t know why it matters to them, or what, exactly, it means to them.”

The Battle Between Manipulation and Believability by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker. Peek: “…always ask yourself: ‘Have I given enough set up to the story so my readers are able to believe this event can happen this way?'”

Facebook for Authors: Getting Started Guide from Jane Friedman. Peek: “Facebook is not a replacement for an author website, even if your publisher says it is.” See also Survey Results: What Agents, Editors and Art Directors Look for Online by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl.

Considering the Young Adult Memoir by Megan Schliesman from CCBlogC. Peek: “…one of the challenges, when taking on a project like this from an editorial perspective, is trying to balance the teen’s voice with the adult collaborator’s (when there is a collaborator).”

Bibliotherapy for Teens: An Expanded Booklist by Ashleigh Williams from School Library Journal. Note: Kudos to Erin E. Moulton. See also Nine YA Novels with Protagonists Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing from Disability in Kidlit via We Need Diverse Books.

How to Become a Writer by Lisa Cron from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “…who ever finds time laying around unused? Especially since all that great ‘time saving’ technology they’ve been gleefully producing at warp speed has morphed into the biggest time suck ever.”

The Answer to Implicit Racism Might Be In Children’s Literature by Noah Berlatsky from Pacific Standard. Peek: “…white anxieties are important, precisely because they contribute to these systemic racist outcomes. White teachers who are anxious about appearing racist may be afraid to give students of color critical feedback, setting them up for failure.”

Dealing with Pacing Problems by Jake Kerr from Adventures in YA Writing. Peek: “While pacing itself is not right or wrong, its execution can be. Parts of a novel (or even the whole thing) can be paced too fast or too slow. Let’s look at some common problems….”

The Things We Carry by Robin LaFevers from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “The often unseen and unacknowledged things we carry in our invisible backpacks not only color our interactions with the world around us, but can often predict the outcome of a journey before we’ve even begun.”

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of a signed ARC of Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin was Charlotte in Rhode Island.

See also Giveaway: Grandfather Gandhi, by Arun Gandhi with Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk from Carmen Oliver at ReaderKidZ.

Cynsational Screening Room

My most heartfelt thanks to everyone who supported the We Need Diverse Books campaign! See also Alexie, Woodson Among the Speakers at BookCon 2015 from ABC News.


Wherein my Very Merry Publisher Rocks Out, Candlewick Style!


 

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Vote for Feral Curse!

I’m honored to report that my agent, Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown, Ltd., has sold my upcoming YA contemporary realistic novel, How to End a Date, to Deborah Noyes at Candlewick Press for publication in fall 2016. Note: Deborah edited all the novels in the TantalizeFeral universe. She also is an enormously talented photographer and author in her own right.

I’m also thrilled to announce that I will be returning to the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts, effective January 2015.

Check out Feral Pride and other titles coming from E-volt in 2015!

Reminder! Did you enjoy Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014)? If so, please consider casting a vote for it (and other favorites) on the long list for the Teen Choice Book of the Year Award! Thanks! See also Feral Curse on the list of American Indians In Children’s Literature’s Best Books of 2014 — such great company! Be sure to check out all the recommended books!

At the Austin SCBWI Holiday Party with Greg Leitich Smith; photo by Sam Bond.
Donna Janell Bowman wins the dessert contest with “Book Worms.”
RA Samantha Clark serves up green eggs and ham at a great fete!

Personal Links

AICL Recommended!

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak at the American Library Association MidWinter Convention in Chicago from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3.

Pre-order Now!

Cynthia will speak on “Writing Across Identity Markers” at 10 a.m. Feb. 14 at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at BookPeople in Austin.

The SCBWI Austin 2015 Writers and Illustrators Working Conference
will take place March 7 and March 8 at Marriott Austin South. Note:
Cynthia will be moderating a panel and offering both
critiques and consultations.

Cynthia will appear from April 14 to April 17 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin.

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from June 25 to June 30 on a We Need Diverse Books panel at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SLXJ2G3

Guest Post & Giveaway: Dianne White on Doing the Work & Not Giving Up

By Dianne White
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I haven’t always been a writer – at least not in the way I assume my friends who write must have been as children growing up.

I never wrote stories I couldn’t wait to share with my parents and teachers; I was not the kid who stapled lined pages together to write and illustrate my own books; I never kept a journal, and I’m not one of those people with rich imaginations able to tell grand stories at the drop of a hat.

I’m not at all like many writers I admire who are either far more gifted than me or simply have a voice and heart that seems to easily capture on paper that intangible something that makes a reader fall in love with a book.

So, how did I end up with a debut picture book published by my dream editor and illustrated by a Caldecott artist? Serendipity and something more.


Blue on Blue (Beach Lane, 2014) is one of those once-in-a-lifetime books. It was quickly written and sold to the first editor who saw it. This does not usually happen! Nor has it happened with any other manuscript I’ve written over more years that I care to mention. But the happy journey of Blue on Blue’s publication points to the few things that I, and every pre-published or published children’s writer, have the power to control: Do the work and don’t give up.

an author in the making

Do the work – put in your 10,000 – or less, or more – hours of practice. However many hours it takes you is really all that matters. So don’t compare. Ask any published author and they’ll tell you that each book is its own puzzle. What sometimes looks easy to the outsider is never exactly as it seems. But practice and study and an attitude that understands there’s always room for growth will never disappoint.

As a primary grade teacher who earned a credential in the late 80’s during the height of core lit and thematic units, I had only just begun to understand the power, width, and breadth of the picture book genre. I fell in love and wanted to write such books.

But like most things, wanting to do something and learning to do it well don’t always go hand in hand. The work must be so grounded in passion that you’re willing to do what it takes to get you there. Writing is hard, and publishing is a business, after all. Writing is also art, so go in expecting to face rejection – lots of it – with the knowledge that it will never be as easy as it looks.

Okay. Sure. There will be people who will reach their publishing goals faster than you. But, in the end, we reach our goals our own way, and if it takes you longer than you think it should, then do yourself a favor and embrace the journey. Because, honestly, that’s one of the very best things about the children’s book community – the awesome, and very supportive people you’ll meet along the way. Be sure to take time to appreciate that goodness and the many terrific people rooting for you.

Don’t give up – this is where your level of passion comes into play. Writing for kids is an honor and a gift. Treasure it and understand that it is your passion that will keep you plugging away, rethinking, and revising.

When Blue on Blue debuted on Dec, 9, it was almost six years from acquisition to publication. In every single way, it’s been worth the wait. It’s a book I’m deeply proud of, most especially because it reflects the vision of a group of dedicated picture book lovers– editor Allyn Johnston, illustrator Beth Krommes, and art director Lauren Rille.

Picture books exist because of this community of artists, all of who contribute something wonderful and unique to the projects they’re involved in.

I continue to work on new picture book ideas, but I’m enjoying this time of “firsts.” It’s been a long but worthwhile journey and I can’t wait to see what new experiences and wonderful things lie just around the corner.

Cynsational Notes

Dianne White has lived and traveled around the world and now calls Arizona home. She holds an elementary bilingual teaching credential and a master’s in Language and Literacy. In 2007, she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

After teaching students of all ages for 25 years, she now writes full-time. Her first picture book, Blue on Blue, illustrated by 2009 Caldecott winner, Beth Krommes, is published by Beach Lane Books.

Illustration by Beth Krommes; learn more about Blue on Blue!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Guest Post: Jean Reidy on Choosing a Writer’s Workshop

Cynthia Leitich Smith & Jean Reidy at The Writing Barn

By Jean Reidy
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I’ve been tackling a new genre – the middle grade novel. And after hammering out the latest draft of a novel-in-progress and getting solid feedback, I was excited to put the “work” into a workshop.

So, I kept an eye out for just the right opportunity.

On a message board, I saw mention of The Full-Novel Workshop at The Writing Barn in Austin, Texas, and amazingly, the week of the workshop was completely open on my calendar.

It was like the stars had aligned and I’d gotten the approval of the universe…not to mention explosive enthusiasm from family, writer friends and my agent.

As it turned out, the workshop hit me just right – at the right place in my career, in my novel process and in my life. I struck gold. But not entirely by accident.

A writing workshop can be a serious commitment – travel expenses, workshop fees, time away from “real life.” There are many to choose from – across every genre and for every stage of your writing. So how do you pick? It takes a little soul-searching, a little researching, and a leap.

Know What You Need

My work-in-progress had been through a round of critiques and revision. My agent had read the first 50 pages. Her response? “Love it. Finish it.”

But I struggled with story structure. I needed a workshop that provided not only critique and revision time but also instruction that would put new tools in my novel-writing toolbox.

A workshop should meet you where you are in your writing process and match your experience. If you’re new to writing, look for workshops that focus on the nuts and bolts of your genre. If you’re farther along or befuddled by feedback you’ve received, you may need to revisit the art of story again, from a fresh perspective. If you’re published, consider a master class designed to take your writing to the next level.

Often writers seek out workshops where they’ll have opportunities to pitch to agents and editors. But if your manuscript isn’t ready, you won’t be doing yourself any favors.

Questions to Consider

  • Do you need instruction? Critique? Time to write or revise? Time to relax and refresh? Or all of the above?
  • Are you wanting to focus on specific techniques like outlining, plotting, revising?
  • Are you hoping to get a first draft down or tackle a revision?
  • Do you want to be paired with a mentor? And, if so, what do you hope to gain from that?
  • Finally, how much time do you need to accomplish your goals and how much time can you commit?

Know What You’re Getting (and at What Price!)

Student Meredith Davis & faculty Kathi Appelt

One word – research! Faculty? Facility?

Food? Almost any answer can be found with some investigating. The Writing Barn publishes detailed workshop schedules, faculty bios and facility photos on their website. I knew how my week would look – ample time for revision, instructional programming, mentor meetings, visiting author evenings, social time, plus a trip to BookPeople – before I committed.

But I went farther. I scoured faculty online interviews. I read their books. I searched forums and message boards for reviews of workshops they’d taught. And I asked trusted pros in the industry.

My conclusion? The Writing Barn faculty were teaching experts.

If a workshop you’re considering includes a critique, pay attention to who will be providing your feedback. It may come from a peer participant, an author, an editor or an agent.

My workshop included a full-novel critique from an award-winning author and one-on-one discussion time with her. Score! Plus, the low teacher/student ratio throughout the week offered me a more personal experience all around.

Chatting informally at The Writing Barn

Consider the workshop location and travel options. While remote locales may appeal to your creative wanderlust, a “planes, trains and automobiles” journey to and from a venue can completely curtail your positive experience.

And don’t forget to check out accommodations. My creativity thrives in cozy settings and the “Caldecott Room” at The Writing Barn was just the ticket.

Are you an introvert? Find a workshop that provides private space for recharging and common spaces for spontaneous sharing and socializing.

Ah yes, that spontaneous sharing might end up being the most valuable part of your workshop experience. While sitting on a front porch over a glass of wine discussing a main character’s “controlling beliefs” – you just may unlock the secret of your story, clear the path for a successful revision and make lifelong friends. I know I certainly did.

Author Shana Burg teaches at The Writing Barn

Cynsational Notes

Rita Williams-Garcia taught the Full Novel Workshop

Upcoming programs/faculty at The Writing Barn include:

Jan. 8 to Jan. 11: Authors Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

March 26 to March 29: Memoir event, with Theo Pauline Nestor

April 30 to May 2: Picture book event with author-librarian Betsy Bird, editor Neal Porter, and literary agent Alexandra Penfold

Check The Writing Barn website for additions!

Guest Post & Giveaway: Bruce Hale on Is There a Book Idea in Your Childhood?

By Bruce Hale
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Tell the truth, did you ever want to be a secret agent?

To experience the glamour, the danger, the mad spy skills?

I sure did, and from that childhood desire to be James Bond sprang my newest Disney-Hyperion series for tweens, School for S.P.I.E.S.

(Of course, that desire also led me to apply for a job with the CIA after college, but if I told you about that, I’d have to — well, you know.)

The deep, true passions of childhood can be a tremendous springboard for stories, as well as a way of reaching for what’s true in you as a writer. And by telling you how my own passions inspired this series, I hope to give you some ideas on mining your own childhood enthusiasms.

I was a child spy

Growing up in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I swam in a Cold War sea of spies and espionage. TV boasted “Get Smart,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” and “The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.” X-ray glasses and toys like Six-Finger (a finger-shaped gun — don’t ask) abounded. And the movies were full of “Bond, James Bond.”

I loved it all. My friend Billy and I played spies up and down the block, snooping into our neighbors’ doings and generally causing trouble. That love of spies continued up into middle school, when I discovered girls and lost interest in spies.
Or so I thought.

In truth, the spy gene just went dormant for a while.

Many years later, after I’d written the Chet Gecko Mysteries series (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), I was casting about for my next project, when inspiration met preparation. And School for S.P.I.E.S. was born.

Yogic inspiration

Practicing tree skills with Billy

What’s the strangest place you can think of for inspiration to strike? A Laundromat? A bathroom? A disco?

Mine came during yoga class.

I arrived expecting your stereotypical yoga teacher. You know — beatific expression, serene energy, gentle style.

Instead, we got a big-hearted yet fierce little Korean woman — part drill sergeant, part slave driver. “You, flex your feet! You, straight your legs!” she snapped.

Half the class was mystified, the other half terrified.

I, however, knew a character for a book when I saw one.

Fast-forward to the end of my Chet Gecko series. I was beginning to mine ideas for the next project, using Ray Bradbury’s technique of creating a list of titles based on childhood memories. I also listed my early loves, like spies, monsters, and Daniel Boone.

In reviewing those lists, something clicked when it came to spies. I added in my old yoga teacher (now the spy school director), threw in a pinch of Oliver Twist, and the series concept sprang to life.

Granted, it took over thirteen drafts and a lot of work, but that childhood love of spies birthed a book, then a series.

Did it also, you wonder, lead to a job with the CIA?

Truth is, when they told me to get an advanced economics degree because all they needed were economic analysts, I thought, Maybe I’ll investigate that childhood dream of becoming a children’s author after all.

Cynsational Notes

Bruce Hale has written and illustrated over 30 books for young readers, including the award-winning Chet Gecko Mysteries, Clark the Shark (HarperCollins), and Snoring Beauty (Harcourt), one of Oprah’s Recommended Reads for Kids. His School For S.P.I.E.S. series began with Playing With Fire, and continues with Thicker Than Water.

Cynsational Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

New Voice: Miriam Busch on Lion, Lion

Miriam and Lucy

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Miriam Busch is the first-time author of
Lion, Lion, illustrated by Larry Day (Balzer & Bray, 2014). From the promotional copy:

A little boy is looking for Lion.


Lion is looking for lunch.


And so our story begins. But look closely . . . in this tale, nothing is quite as it seems!


Children will delight in this classic picture book with a mischievous twist.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

In 2008, shortly after we met, Larry Day asked me to build a story around a character he had drawn: Rusty, a rotund, red-haired boy-king kicking at a puddle.

I wasn’t sure I could do that – after all, this wasn’t my character. (And I was working on a novel. FYI, I’m always working on a novel.) But I tried.

Larry drew. I revised. Larry redrew. There were lions. And chases. The lion Larry had named Philbert was my favorite character– but I was unsure about Rusty himself.

Still, we sent it out. After a couple of rejections, I revised again. Still, something felt off. We revised over and over. Finally, we thought it was ready. Editors unanimously disagreed with us.

At this point, we had been re-re-re-revising for about four years. I did not understand Rusty’s character. I had no idea how to write a picture book. (To be fair, I didn’t know how to write that novel, either.) Rusty’s “story” was still thin — just a beautifully drawn running gag. I felt awful, I especially missed Philbert, but we scrapped it.

A couple of months later, Larry and I met for breakfast at a diner. I guess enough time had gone by, or the “giving up” had released the pressure. (Or maybe it was the coffee?)

Read sample!

I doodled on a napkin. What if: Philbert stayed? And we set it on Lake Naivasha, Kenya, where I had once heard Luo children sing in the middle of this beautiful land where rogue hippos could chase you up a tree? The kid’s from there, too, right? And what if he’s not a king, but just this clever boy who knows how to outsmart a Philbert?

In my (still-working-on-it) novel, characters speak at cross-purposes and misunderstand each other, sometimes deliberately. Characters speak at cross-purposes all the time. Why not in a picture book?

Why not have the word “lion” have two meanings?

We borrowed the first three lines from Rusty and boom: Lion, Lion rushed onto that napkin.

Within a week, Larry had a dummy ready to go. This time, it felt totally right.

We submitted it. One editor loved it, but had just purchased something similar. Another editor loved it, but Acquisitions said no.

Before Alessandra Balzer made an offer, she asked if we were willing to try an urban setting and different animals. We were four-and-a-half years in. By that time, we weren’t worried about changes. As long as the main character and the heart of the story remained, why not?

We played with what “urban” meant: Nairobi? Bilbao? Caracas? And finally settled on a Providence RI/ Brooklyn, NY/ Istanbul-behind-Topkapi-Palace feel.

Miriam and Larry at a school visit

We cycled through a whole lot of different animals, and with each change came research: fantasy or not, the animals’ foods still must be correct. And the lion still needs to be aggravated in a way that best serves the story.

The biggest change (and the one I was most resistant to) involved simplifying a particularly dear-to-me emotional throughline. I tried what Alessandra suggested through gritted teeth.

I wrote and rewrote. I was alternately angry and despairing. I wrote terrible versions. Alessandra was patient. I tried again. I honestly don’t know how many revisions we went through, but I do remember the “Yay! Done!” email.

Pretty spectacular, but unreal—I’m still half-waiting for the call to tell me to rework it. Lion, Lion, this picture book with ninety-seven words, took six years.

My advice on revision? None of this is new, and all of it’s worked for me: Listen to your little voice that says something isn’t working. When readers you respect suggest a change, try it, even if your jaw aches from gritting your teeth. Put the manuscript away for as long as you can, so you can re-see it. Take a walk. If a part or a character or a storyline isn’t serving the story, take it out, even if it’s the finest writing ever. Be willing to scrap everything but the heartbeat. Rebuild from there. Play.

As a picture book writer, you have succeeded in a particularly tough market. What advice do you have for others, hoping to do the same?

Honestly? I know it’s been said before, but read read read.

Linda Sue Park gave this lecture where she said (I’m paraphrasing): if you want to write novels, read a hundred novels before you start. If you want to write picture books, read a thousand picture books.

You read and you read and you read, and you get a sense of rhythm, of pacing. Read to absorb the craft. Notice.

Notice how the visuals tell a part of the story you cannot, how the main character manages the problem, how the author trusts the reader to fill in the blanks with imagination and inference.

The thing is, so much in this business is serendipity – and there are books I love so much which don’t get the popular attention I think they deserve – and we have no control over this.

Miriam and Larry

Jane Resh Thomas says (and again, I’m paraphrasing), “Do your work. It’s absolutely the only thing over which you have any control.”

Do your work. Quell your impatience.

Be willing to revise a million times.

Consider, really consider, every criticism. Give yourself time.

Don’t be so enamored with your own words that you lose sight of the heartbeat of the story.

Know your characters deeply and well.

Also, full disclosure: Falling in love with your illustrator isn’t the worst thing that can happen.

Larry and I married while he was finishing the final art for the book.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Why Picture Books Are Important by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Picture Book Month. Peek: “I’ve been so enjoying reading the ‘Why Picture Books Are Important’ essays by children’s book authors and illustrators this past month as well as Marcie Colleen’s Curriculum Connections at the end of every post…” Note: Wrap-up post for the celebration.

The Melodrama Dilemma by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: “…tension isn’t created with a lot of over-the-top adjectives.”

Five Things I’ve Learned After Marketing My Young Adult Debut by Heather Marie from Latinos in Kidlit. Peek: “Being a writer means your job is never done and that is absolutely true. There will always be something you have to do, whether that’s your next manuscript, an interview, an event, etc. I’m excited for these things. I love it! But I always, always forget to take care of myself first.”

A Dozen Things Debut Authors Have Taught Me by literary agent Erin Murphy from the Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University. Peek: “The people on your publishing team want you to succeed! They have invested in you because they think you’ve got what it takes over the long haul, so get the information you need to settle in for that long haul. Because, in case I didn’t say it clearly: It’s a long haul.”

Are There Any Original Stories Left? by Kathy Yardly from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “The better question is: why are these genres, tropes and archetypes still popular?” See also Plotting the Non-Plot-Driven Novel by Donald Maass.

Kitten Envy by Katie Bircher from The Horn Book. Note: roundup of recent kitten-centric books.

Beyond the Basic Questions for the Agent Call by Martina Boone from QueryTrackerBlog. Peek: “…there’s a great deal to working with an agent beyond the initial submission, and listening to author friends and meeting other authors since I embarked on the publication process, I have discovered that managing expectations for all concerned would have been much easier with additional information up front.” See also Remembering the Query Daze – A Writer Looks Back with Gratitude from Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Note: Lynda offers a critique giveaway.

Checklist for a Successful Skype Visit with an Author by Mary Amato from ALSC Blog. Peek: “…there are some tips and tricks that can help make the entire experience run smoothly and enjoyably. From the author’s point of view, here’s what you can do to be a great Skype partner…”

Irish Book Awards

Junior Winner: Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton; see also honor books.

Senior Winner: Moon Boy: The Blunder Years by Chris O’Dowd and Nick Vincent Murphy; see honor books.

See also the 2015 Morris Debut Finalists and 2015 Excellence in Nonfiction Finalists from YALSA

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of a signed copy of Writing New Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson was Lisa in California.

The winner of a signed copy of Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith was Josephine in Florida.

See also ReaderKidZ December Extravaganza Giveaway!

Cynsational Screening Room

Raise your voice for YA author e.E. Charlton-Trujillo and Fat Angie (Candlewick Press).

If you’re a regular Cynsations reader, you know I’m on the advisory
board of #WeNeedDiverseBooks and that we’re in the midst of a
fundraising campaign. There is still time to donate and signal boost.
Thanks so much to all who’ve participated! See also: Interested in Helping #WeNeedDiverseBooks? Note: the video below has been edited to include baby pictures of the authors-illustrators!

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Congratulations to E. Kristin Anderson on the release of A Jab of Deep Urgency!

With Austin author Lindsey Lane at the Turkey Trot, benefiting Caritas Austin.

The Horn Book says of Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2015), “Since this Feral trilogy–ender also wraps up its companion series
Tantalize, several major characters from those books appear here, but
Clyde, Aimee, Yoshi, and Kayla ably carry this series right up to its
bittersweet conclusion. Kayla’s full acceptance of her animal self, and
the courage she gains in that acceptance, is particularly compelling.
With its sharp humor and fully realized characters, this urban fantasy
will leave readers hoping for another series from Smith—and soon.” See the Feral series trailer!

Vote for Feral Curse!

Did you enjoy Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014)? If so, please consider casting a vote for it (and other favorites) on the long list for the Teen Choice Book of the Year Award! Thanks!

See a thumbs-up review of Feral Curse by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Note: review includes some spoilers.

Congratulations to Austin SCBWI Diversity Scholarship winner Linda Boyden! We look forward to seeing you at the Austin regional conference!

Congratulations to author and We Need Diverse Books president Ellen Oh for being named one of Publishers Weekly Notable Publishing People of 2014!

Personal Link of the Week: Anne Ursu on Children’s Literature, Body Image, Eating Disorders and the Word “Fat” from Terrible Trivium. Peek: “This self-flagellation ritual, the ‘I’m fat’ kabuki, the ceremonial public confession of sin—passed on from woman to woman, mother to daughter, friend-to-friend, forever and ever—shaming themselves, yes, and teaching everyone around them they should be ashamed, too.”

See also Diverse Books for the Holidays and Holiday Gift Guide to New LGBTQ Kids’ Books.

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak at the American Library Association MidWinter Convention in Chicago from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3. Details TBA.

Pre-order Now!

Cynthia will speak on “Writing Across Identity Markers” at 10 a.m. Feb. 14 at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at BookPeople in Austin.

The SCBWI Austin 2015 Writers and Illustrators Working Conference
will take place March 7 and March 8 at Marriott Austin South. Note:
Cynthia will be moderating a panel and offering both
critiques and consultations.

Cynthia will appear from April 14 to April 17 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin.

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from June 25 to June 30 on a We Need Diverse Books panel at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SLXJ2G3

New Voices: Kirsten Lopresti on Bright Coin Moon

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kirsten Lopresti
is the first-time author of Bright Coin Moon (Sky Pony Press, 2014)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

Seventeen-year-old Lindsey Allen is an A-student who has her heart set on becoming an astronomer. But first she must break away from her mother, an eccentric failed beauty queen who has set up a phony psychic reading shop in their Oregon garage.


Lindsey is biding time until she graduates high school, reading tarot cards for the neighbors in her mother’s shop and recording the phases of the moon in her Moon Sign notebook. Her life changes when her mother, Debbie, decides they should move to California to become Hollywood psychics to the stars. 

As they pull out of the driveway, Lindsey looks up at the silver morning moon. It’s a bright coin moon, which means only one thing: what you leave behind today will rise up tomorrow.


When mother and daughter arrive in Los Angeles with new identities, they move into a leaky, run-down building and spend their nights stalking restaurants and movie premieres to catch that one celebrity they hope will be their ticket. 

When it seems they will never make it in LA, Lindsey is assigned a new mentor through her school. Joan is a lonely, wealthy widow who can’t get past the death of her husband, Saul. Debbie is convinced they’ve hit the jackpot, and plans for a future séance commence.

As Lindsey grows closer to Joan, guilt over the scam consumes her, and she must make the ultimate decision. But can she really betray her mother?

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I prefer to write in the morning. If I have to, I can write at almost any time, provided I have enough caffeine, but it’s harder for me to get started and I’m much more likely to get distracted by other things. I think it’s true that you can train yourself to work best at certain times. I’m used to writing in the morning now, but when my daughters were babies, I used to write in the afternoon while they napped, and that worked well, too.

I have a small office in my home where I generally write. I’m always changing it around, so it’s been several colors, the latest of which is a dull, medium blue. I have two large bookshelves inside it, a reclining chair, and an old craftsman style desk that I bought off someone on Craigslist, after he told me it brought him good luck.

I also have one of those see-through bird feeders on the window. I like to stare at it when I’m stuck or procrastinating and see who shows up. There’s a woodpecker that frequents the feeder, and a bunch of bright yellow finches.

Once in a while, a squirrel will dive bomb it from the roof, and that’s always amusing to see.

Sometimes, if it’s a nice day, I’ll take my laptop outside and sit out on the screened porch. We have a bunch of big, old trees in the back yard, so it’s cool and shaded even in the summer.

We also have a pet rabbit who lives out there. He’ll hop around my feet while I work or jump up on the chair beside me to see what I’m doing. At one point, he hopped into my novel. One of the characters in Bright Coin Moon, a rich widow named Joan, also owns a rabbit.

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

I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve always had a good amount of support for my writing. My husband was very helpful the entire time I was writing Bright Coin Moon, and my parents always encouraged me to pursue my interests growing up.

I’ve also been a member of a writing group for several years. The group is made up of some of my fellow graduates of the George Mason University MFA program, and we meet pretty much every month.

We exchange work, and we attend events together, and we celebrate each other’s successes by going out for drinks or dinner. There are four of us who have been with the group since the start, and others who have moved in and out.

In the beginning, we were pretty formal. We made a schedule, and when your date came up, you had to come up with something to turn in, but as time went on, we loosened up. If someone has something to share, that person can certainly bring it in, but if not, the meeting will still go on. We’ll talk about books we’ve read or whatever trouble we’re facing with our manuscripts, or just about writing in general. If there is an event like Fall for the Book, which is a week-long festival put on by our Alma Mater, we will revolve around that for awhile, e-mailing each other and meeting up here and there on campus for various events.

I’ve found that the group is invaluable. Not just for feedback, but also to chat with about writing. Other writers just get you in a way that other people don’t. If you tell a normal, sane person you are down one day because several magazines rejected a story you wrote, the sane person might say, “You know, my cousin might know someone who can get you an office job.”

But another writer will say, “I’m going through that right now, too,” or she’ll tell you to try a new ending or something like that. Of course, I’m lucky that I still live fairly close to the school I attended, so I have this opportunity to stay in touch that I might not have had.

If you are looking for a critique group and are a YA or children’s writer, I highly recommend joining SCBWI. They have local chapters with events where you can meet other writers, and there are always sign-up sheets going around at meetings to help you find a group.

Giveaway: Four Middle Grade Novels by Greg Leitich Smith & Pterodactyl Puppet

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win a set of four signed copies of middle grade novels by Greg Leitich Smith and a pterodactyl puppet!

Today he makes his home in Austin, but Greg grew up on the north side of Chicago.

He is of German and Japanese heritage, and many of his characters are similarly mixed-race.

Greg holds degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Texas at Austin. In addition, he holds a degree in law from The University of Michigan Law School, Ann Arbor. His interest in science and law has influenced his writing.

Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook)

Beach culture and UFOs collide in this lighthearted adventure story about an alien encounter at an aging Cocoa Beach motel.

Twelve-year-old Aidan lives and works at his parents’ motel on the Space Coast in Florida, so he’s seen a lot of weird stuff. Even his best friend, Louis, is a little bit crazy—he’s obsessed with UFOs and swears he saw one two years ago. But things at the Mercury Inn are about to get a whole lot weirder.

When an actual unidentified flying object suddenly appears in the sky over the motel, Aidan begins to realize that some of the residents of the Mercury Inn may be much more unusual than he thought. And Louis might not be so crazy after all.

Filled with quirky characters and atmosphere, this beachy alien caper, like the aging motel where it takes place, is anything but ordinary.

“In this gleefully absurd tale, Smith (Chronal Engine) unfurls a series of alien-inspired hijinks at a space-themed motel on Florida’s Space Coast…Arnold’s skillfully drafted spot cartoons give this offbeat story a lively layout and match Smith’s light and breezy tone, grounded by the occasional serious moment. The result is an engaging, humorous look at humans learning that they’re not alone in the universe.” –Publishers Weekly

Chronal Engine (Clarion)

Activity Kit

When Max, Emma, and Kyle are sent to live with their reclusive grandfather for the summer, they’re dismayed to learn he thinks there’s a time machine in the basement.

But when Grandpa Pierson predicts the exact time of his own heart attack, and when Emma is kidnapped by what can only be a time traveler, they realize he was telling the truth about the Chronal Engine. And if they want their sister back, they’ll have to do it themselves.

So Max and Kyle, together with their new friend Petra, pack up their grandpa’s VW and follow Emma and the kidnapper back in time, to Late Cretaceous Texas, where the sauropods and tyrannosaurs roam. Can the trio find Emma and survive the hazards of the Age of Dinosaurs, or are they, too, destined to become part of the fossil record?

“[T]his is exactly the book young dino fans would write themselves, crammed with sandbox-style action and positively packed with words like Nanotyrannus and Parasaurolophus. Great back matter clarifies fact from speculation, while Henry’s manga-inspired illustrations provide a good sense of the monsters’ scary scale.” – Booklist

Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo (IntoPrint, originally Little, Brown)

Elias, Shohei, and Honoria have always been a trio united against That Which Is The Peshtigo School. But suddenly it seems that understanding and sticking up for a best friend isn’t as easy as it used to be.

Elias, reluctant science fair participant, finds himself defying the authority of Mr. Ethan Eden, teacher king of chem lab.

Shohei, all-around slacker, is approaching a showdown with his adoptive parents, who have decided that he needs to start “hearing” his ancestors.

And Honoria, legal counsel extraordinaire, discovers that telling a best friend you like him, without actually telling him, is a lot harder than battling Goliath Reed or getting a piranha to become vegetarian.

What three best friends find out about the Land of the Rising Sun, Pygocentrus nattereri, and Galileo’s choice, among other things, makes for a hilarious and intelligent read filled with wit, wisdom, and a little bit of science.

“Smith’s sparkling debut offers three seventh grade narrators, each of them precocious, intelligent, and wickedly funny…Readers will identify with these smart characters and enjoy the vicarious attendance at their idiosyncratic school.” -Publishers Weekly

  • Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner 2003
  • Writers’ League of Texas Teddy Award, 2004
  • A Junior Library Guild Selection
  • An ALA Popular Paperback for Young Adult Readers, 2006 

Tofu and T. rex (IntoPrint, originally Little, Brown)

Vegan Frederika Murchison-Kowalski returns to the Peshtigo School after a brief “hiatus.”

But she then discovers that she has to live with her grandfather, who just happens to own a butcher shop and sausage deli.

Not only that, Freddie’s cousin, Hans-Peter, is a diehard carnivore but needs Freddie’s insider knowledge to get accepted into the Peshtigo School himself.

Throw in a flaming dinosaur, a recipe for vegan kielbasa, and an accidental amputation, and this battle of generations, wills, and diets will have readers laughing out loud.

“This book will make kids laugh out loud.” –School Library Journal

“Tofu and T. rex captures the quirky eccentricities of small private schools, especially in the way they seem to foster and nurture quirky and eccentric (and highly intelligent if quixotic) personalities. This book is a fun read and a fitting continuance of the earlier work, Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo.” –Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy

  • Finalist, Texas State Reading Association Golden Spur Award
  • Finalist, Writers’ League of Texas Book Award

a Rafflecopter giveaway