Guest Post: Henry L. Herz on Dinner Guests

Illustrated by Abigail Larson (Pelican, 2015)

By Henry L. Herz
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

With the pending release of my debut picture book, Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes, I find myself thinking a lot about fantasy and mythological creatures.

And which fantasy characters would I like to have over for dinner.

Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes includes a hydra, which could be viewed as a multi-headed wingless dragon. And when I think dragons, I think Pern, Earthsea, and “Game of Thrones.”

So, my first guest would be Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons.

An excellent choice, no? She’s beautiful, brave, and compassionate. She’s been robbed of the throne, but she’s not whiny about it. She can eat raw horse heart without complaint, so my cooking is probably safe for her. But, her dragons would probably wreck my furniture, and formally introducing her to the other guests would mean we wouldn’t start eating until midnight.

Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes features a dwarf, and that’s just the right character to keep those pesky dragons in check. While Gimli is well-known, I have to go with “The Hobbit“’s Dáin II Ironfoot. He earned renown as a young dwarf by slaying the Orc chieftain Azog at the Battle of Azanulbizar.

Like his kindred, the Lord of the Iron Hills is tough and battle-hardened. But unlike some dwarves of Middle Earth, Dáin has wisdom. He knew that even though the goblins were defeated, it was not yet time for the dwarves to reoccupy their ancient home of Khazad-dûm.

After the Battle of Five Armies, he rules the Lonely Mountain with the good sense to keep on good terms with the Elves of Mirkwood and the Men of Dale. But, he’d probably drink all my ale.

Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes also features a witch, an ettin, sprites, a werewolf, and a minotaur. And since the witch in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is a false one, I will instead invite Jadis, Queen of Narnia, Châtelaine of Cair Paravel, and Empress of the Lone Islands.

What is it with the ladies and long names? You may recall her by the more convenient title of White Witch, played so deliciously by Tilda Swinton in the movie version of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” The seven-foot tall sorceress could teach a class on being cold and goal-oriented.

She uttered the Deplorable Word in order to vanquish her sister, even though that eradicated all life in the world of Charn. She subsequently sends Narnia into a deep freeze, although that skill could turn out quite handy keeping my ale chilled (at least until Dáin drinks it all).

Jadis is tall. She’s immensely strong. She’s petrifying. And I mean that both figuratively and literally. And Jadis has minotaurs, ettins, werewolves, sprites, and other assorted minions. But, she’d probably eat the Turkish Delight I prepared for dessert.

Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes briefly mentions an elf. The Lord of the Rings offers us many elves, but none more tragic than Fëanor

Here’s a guy born with a mithril spoon in his mouth. He’s immortal, his dad is High King of the Noldor elves, and Fëanor lives in Valinor, which is the primo real estate in Arda. He is the most gifted gemsmith to ever live. He crafted the palantíri, and he captured in the three infinitely valuable Silmarils the light of Laurelin and Telperion, the two trees that illuminate the world.

When Morgoth kills the two trees, Fëanor is told he can restore them by giving up the Silmarils. But his pride, anger, and hatred prevent him from doing so. Morgoth steals the Silmarils, and Fëanor convinces many Noldor to pursue Morgoth to Middle Earth, even killing on three separate occasions fellow elves that won’t do their bidding. Though Fëanor and countless elves die in the attempt, they fail to finally recover the Silmarils.

Hm. Upon further consideration, maybe I should just have some authors over for dinner.

Presenting at the Canyon Crest Academy Writers Conference

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Brian Yansky on the release of Utopia, Iowa (Candlewick, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Utopia, Iowa is about a small town where the supernatural meets the natural. There’s some murder and mystery and mayhem in this novel. Ghosts and other creatures and humans abound. 

Some funny moments. Some sad. 

At heart, it’s a story about a boy who wants to write for the movies and his struggle with leaving all he knows (family, friends, hometown) to pursue his dreams.

See also The Road to Utopia, Iowa Was Paved with Rejection by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Diary of a Writer. Peek: “How many rejections did Utopia, Iowa, get? I could probably ask my amazing agent for an exact number, but I’ll guess in the neighborhood of fifteen, including one from the publisher who ultimately accepted and published it (though not the same editor). And also–an important detail- the version she accepted was not that same version that had been rejected.”

More News & Giveaways

Confronting Grief with YA Literature: An Interview with Jason Reynolds by Brook Stephenson from The Gawker. Peek: “People always say time heals. Time doesn’t necessarily heal anything. It allows you to manage things. There are occasions where you feel the pain as if it just happened but you know that it’s a fleeting moment.”

Seven Core Values to Celebrate During Black History Month by Veronica Schneider from Lee & Low. Peek: “we like to not only highlight African Americans who have made a difference, but also explore the diverse experiences of black culture throughout history, from the struggle for freedom in the South and the fight for civil rights to the lively rhythms of New Orleans jazz and the cultural explosion of the Harlem Renaissance.”

Simple Promotional Tip: Call Your Book by Its Name by Sharon Bially from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Time and again I’ve seen even the most experienced authors make what I consider to be a big publicity faux pas. It happens at readings, on conference panels and in casual conversation.It can be summed up with these two simple words. ‘My book.'”

Congratulations to Isabel Quintero (for older readers) and Duncan Tonatiuh (for younger readers), winners of the 2015 Tomás Rivera Award from Latinas for Latino Lit. Peek: “Established in 1995, the award honors authors and illustrators who create literature that depicts the Mexican America experience.”

Official SCBWI Conference Blog from SCBWI. Note: next best thing to attending the annual winter conference in New York.

Dear Writers and Editors: Some Cautions About Selecting Beta Readers by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “Speaking to a tour guide at a museum is not enough. They are not the person with the authority to work with you. Obviously they’re interested in education but there’s an important distinction in what they do, and what a tribe’s research board does.”

Thematic Book List: Extreme Weather from The Miss Rumphius Effect. Peek: “…a list of books that focuses on storms and other conditions caused by extreme weather conditions.”

Creating Fascination with a Character by Sarah Callender from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Not knowing how we are supposed to feel about a real person, in real life, is not comfortable. But in fiction? It is delicious.”

Four Research Hacks for Writing Thrillers by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: “One of the most common questions I’m asked as an author is, “How can you write thrillers if you’ve never served in the military/emergency services/spy agencies/etc.?”

Perspectives of Diversity in Book Reviews, Part 1: “Scarcely Plausible” by Malinda Lo from Diversity in YA. Peek: “In a novel, the writer’s goal is to cause the reader to lose themselves in the story, so anything that knocks the reader out of the story’s world may appear to be a flaw. When a diverse cast is criticized as ‘contrived,’ though, it’s a bit more complicated.”

2015 Erza Jack Keats Book Award: winners Chieri Uegaki (new writer) and Chris Haughton (new illustrator). See honorees.

Cynsational Giveaway

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Super busy week! I finished my speech on Crafting Diverse Books for Young Readers for tomorrow’s Austin SCBWI meeting and critiqued ten partial manuscripts for our chapter’s upcoming regional conference. See event details below. What’s more, I’m grading my VCFA MFA students’ first round of packets. Whew!

This week a sun-shiny beauty appeared in my back yard.

Thank you to readergirlz for the shout out about the upcoming release of Feral Pride (Candlewick, Feb. 24, 2015)!

The Horn Book says of Things I’ll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick, 2015): “Cynthia Leitich Smith takes a characteristically paranormal approach in ‘Cupid’s Beaux’: “slipped” angel Joshua must decide whether it’s ethical to conceal his celestial identity and woo human Jamal…. The assortment of approaches offers plenty of surprises, and the collection can be read in one sitting without becoming repetitive.”

Link of the Week: How Authors Get Paid from Mette Ivie Harrison. Peek: “This all sounds perfectly obvious, right? But a lot of people I talk to think that authors get paid a lot more than they actually get paid. This is partly because of a wide variety of misconceptions, such as….”

Now available! More coverage to come!

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Cynthia will speak on “Crafting Diverse Books for Young Readers” 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.

Releases Feb. 24, 2015

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

Join Cynthia from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. at Saratoga Springs Public Library for a celebration in conjunction with Saratoga Reads! at Saratoga Springs, New York. Note: Cynthia will be presenting Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002)(all published by HarperColllins).

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 May 2 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.

Book Trailer: Dreaming In Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Dreaming In Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices, edited by Lisa Charleyboy (Tsilhqot’in) and Mary Beth Leatherdale (Annick Press, 2014). From the promotional copy:

A powerful and visually stunning anthology from some of the most groundbreaking Native artists working in North America today.

Truly universal in its themes, Dreaming In Indian will shatter commonly held stereotypes and challenge readers to rethink their own place in the world. Divided into four sections, ‘Roots,’ ‘Battles,’ ‘Medicines,’ and ‘Dreamcatchers,’ this book offers readers a unique insight into a community often misunderstood and misrepresented by the mainstream media.

Emerging and established Native artists, including acclaimed author Joseph Boyden, renowned visual artist Bunky Echo Hawk, and stand-up comedian Ryan McMahon, contribute thoughtful and heartfelt pieces on their experiences growing up Indigenous, expressing them through such mediums as art, food, the written word, sport, dance, and fashion. Renowned chef Aaron Bear Robe, for example, explains how he introduces restaurant customers to his culture by reinventing traditional dishes. And in a dramatic photo spread, model Ashley Callingbull and photographer Thosh Collins reappropriate the trend of wearing ‘Native’ clothing.

Whether addressing the effects of residential schools, calling out bullies through personal manifestos, or simply citing hopes for the future, Dreaming In Indian refuses to shy away from difficult topics. Insightful, thought-provoking, and beautifully honest, this book will to appeal to young adult readers. An innovative and captivating design enhances each contribution and makes for a truly unique reading experience.

Guest Post & Critique Giveaway: Heather Demetrios on Becoming the Designated Typist

By Heather Demetrios
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations
For some people, starting a new novel is like that scene in “The Sound Of Music,” where Maria’s tra-la-la-ing on a mountaintop, arms spread out, spinning in delirious joy.

If you’re like me, though, that blank white page isn’t cause for bursting into song.

Bursting into tears, yes. The endless possibilities are overwhelming, so many possible plots and characters to choose from—and what about voice, structure, tense and…and…and…

In order to banish the insanity and keep your freak-outs at bay, it can be tempting to hurry up and create a nice, tidy plot that you can stick characters into, much like those Velcro and felt landscapes in preschool classrooms. That’s certainly a way to go about it. And it just might work for some people.

However, I suspect that the difference between a great novel and a good novel may lie in how much freedom we give our characters.

All the fancy plot twists in the world won’t mean a thing if your reader doesn’t care about your protagonist. The best way to get them to care is to create a character who inhabits her world in such a way that the experiences she has (i.e. plot) are true reflections of her inner journey and her nature. This is how you avoid the pitfalls of the contrived plot, the unearned ending, the story that just won’t sing. So how do we do this?

First, we need to listen to our characters. This is impossible when we’re yammering on about what we want their story to be. Doesn’t your character have a say in what happens in her life?

Heather Demetrios

While I believe it’s necessary to have some general idea of where you’re going with a story before you begin, the key is to be willing to throw that whole plot out the window if you have to.

Focus on your character, allowing the plot to come from her.

Put her in a situation—then see what she does.

Maybe you want her to kill someone but she shows an unexpected reluctance to go through with the deed. See how that reluctance plays out. Get to know your character so that you can get in her skin.

You can do this by:

  • creating playlists,
  • interviewing her,
  • daydreaming about her life,
  • journaling in her first-person POV about other characters and events in the story,
  • writing scenes from the POV of other characters so that you can secretly watch her and see what she does.

These are just a few ways you can get out of your head and into the heart of your story. Chances are, you’ll come up with unexpected ideas that are specific to your character and her story, not the regurgitated plot lines of other YA books.

Something else might happen, too. Something magical.

You might feel as if you aren’t writing the story anymore, as if you are simply a conduit. If you’ve ever started writing and it suddenly morphed in amazing, unexpected ways, my guess is that this was a moment in which you—conscious of it or not—handed over the reigns to your character becoming, as Anne Lamott says in Bird By Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life, “the designated typist.”

When we become the designated typist, we let go of our need to control our novel and create space for organic work that radiates the kind of honesty that draws readers in and makes them fall in love with the characters and plot of your story.

So put the outline away, take a breath, and see what happens.

The result may just make you break into song: the page is alive, with the sound of…

You get it.

Cynsational Notes

When she’s not traipsing around the world or spending time in imaginary places, Heather Demetrios lives with her husband in New York City.

Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls the East Coast home. Heather has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award for her debut novel, Something Real (Henry Holt, 2014).

Her other novels include Exquisite Captive (Balzer + Bray, 2014), the first in the Dark Caravan Cycle fantasy series, and I’ll Meet You There (Henry Holt, 2015). She is the founder of Live Your What, an organization dedicated to fostering passion in people of all ages and creating writing opportunities for underserved youth. Find her on Twitter @HDemetrios.

Writespace Writing Center 

Heather will be teaching up to six intermediate and advanced students during six sessions from March 11 to April 15 at Writespace in Houston. Note: Writers arrange their own most convenient classroom times and meetings with instructor. About the class:

Feb. 3, 2015 release date!

“Sometimes it feels like a story isn’t working. The voice might feel off, or the plot seems contrived. Perhaps scenes are reading dull or your main character feels paper-thin. You might have a brand new idea that you can’t seem to get off the ground because every plot point you think of feels like a cliché.

“When a book isn’t working or a new project feels stunted, we’ve often lost sight of our work’s protagonist and secondary characters. Rather than listening to what our characters want and need, we have imposed a pre-conceived notion of what we think the book is supposed to be.

“Regardless of whether you tend to write from a plot or character standpoint, being able to tune into your characters in order to find the truth of your novel is a useful skill for any writer.

“In this six-week workshop, we’ll look at how to plot or revise your YA novel through exercises that will help you get out of your head and into the heart of your work. In addition to weekly writing exercises and submissions of your work for critique, we’ll consider new ways to access your character, such as through taking field trips with him or her, by creating music playlists, and other unique methods. Along the way, we’ll look at how this shift affects all elements of our work including voice, dialogue, structure, theme and—of course—plot.

“This course is designed for intermediate to advanced writers working in any genre within YA. If you’re looking for a challenging, dynamic workshop that will take your writing to the next level, this workshop is for you.

“Please be prepared to spend at least three hours a week on short reading assignments, your own writing, and online discussion. You will be asked to turn in two 10-page submissions of your novel for critique and to read two YA novels to enhance our discussion (if you’d like to get a head-start, please read the novels The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic, 2011) and The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (Speak, 2011).

“Together, we’ll create a supportive community through reading one another’s work, discussing the assigned reading, and sharing insights garnered from our exercises. Expect lively discussions and lots of fun!”

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a five-to-ten page critique of your English-language young adult manuscript by Heather. Eligibility: international.

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In Memory: George M. Nicholson

Acquired Rights from Harper.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

George McHugh Nicholson, 1937-1950 by Shannon Maughan from The Horn Book. Peek: “Esteemed literary agent and innovative publishing executive George Nicholson…died February 3 in New York City.”

Remembering George McHugh Nicholson from Children’s Book Council. Peek:

“Soon after Nicholson moved to New York City in 1959, he took on a position with friend Albert Leventhal, president of Artists and Writers Guild, which published Golden Books. The position provided a valuable overview of publishing, from layout and design to manufacturing. Nicholson went on to work for the president of Dell Publishing, where he championed paperbacks of literary quality.”

Literary agent George Nicholson died on February 3. He was 77. from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “Many people credit Nicholson with inventing paperback publishing for children, when he founded Delacorte Press and Yearling Books and acquired Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little from Harper for $37,500, “which in 1966 was all the money in the world,” Nicholson told Leonard S. Marcus for an article in the Horn Book.”

Giveaway: Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win a signed advanced reader copy of Kissing in America by Margo Rabb (HarperCollins, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Acclaimed writer Margo Rabb’s Kissing in America is “a wonderful novel about friendship, love, travel, life, hope, poetry, intelligence, and the inner lives of girls,” raves internationally bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love).

In the two years since her father died, sixteen-year-old Eva has found comfort in reading romance novels—118 of them, to be exact—to dull the pain of her loss that’s still so present. 

Her romantic fantasies become a reality when she meets Will, who understands Eva’s grief. Unfortunately, after Eva falls head over heels for him, he picks up and moves to California without any warning. Not wanting to lose the only person who has been able to pull her out of sadness—and, perhaps, her shot at real love—Eva and her best friend, Annie, concoct a plan to travel to the West Coast to see Will again. 

As they road trip across America, Eva and Annie confront the complex truth about love.

In this honest and emotional journey that National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr calls “gorgeous, funny, and joyous,” readers will experience the highs of infatuation and the lows of heartache as Eva contends with love in all its forms.

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Cynsational News & Giveaways

Courtney with agent John Cusick at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Courtney Alameda on the release of her debut novel, Shutter (Feiwell and Friends, 2015)(excerpt)! From the promotional copy:

Micheline Helsing is a tetrachromat—a girl who sees the auras of the undead in a prismatic spectrum.

As one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing lineage, she has trained since childhood to destroy monsters both corporeal and spiritual: the corporeal undead go down by the bullet, the spiritual undead by the lens.

With an analog SLR camera as her best weapon, Micheline exorcises ghosts by capturing their spiritual energy on film. She’s aided by her crew: Oliver, a techno-whiz and the boy who developed her camera’s technology; Jude, who can predict death; and Ryder, the boy Micheline has known and loved forever.

When a routine ghost hunt goes awry, Micheline and the boys are infected with a curse known as a soulchain. As the ghostly chains spread through their bodies, Micheline learns that if she doesn’t exorcise her entity in seven days or less, she and her friends will die.

Now pursued as a renegade agent by her monster-hunting father, Leonard Helsing, she must track and destroy an entity more powerful than anything she’s faced before . . . or die trying.

Lock, stock, and lens, she’s in for one hell of a week.

More News & Giveaways

Author Interview: Trent Reedy on Burning Nation by Chris Barton from Bartography. Peek: “I’ve written Divided We Fall and Burning Nation (both Scholastic) to show what happens when the bitterness over that [partisan] divide is carried out to its most disastrous potential.”

Shining a Light: Announcing the Honorees for the 2015 28 Days Later Campaign: A Black History Month Celebration of Children’s Literature from The Brown Bookshelf.

You Can’t Take Blurbs with You from Jennifer Represents. Peek: “I’ve spoken to hundreds of readers, booksellers, librarians and others, and the fact is, the vast majority of the time, the blurb is not the deciding factor about whether or not they spend time and money on a given book. It’s just not.”

Author Interview: Pat Mora on Día, Children’s Day Book Day by Amy Koester from ALSC Blog. Peek: “Spanish is the second most spoken language across our country; there are many others, of course. If we are committed to exciting all our children about bookjoy, we need to meet them where they are, as the saying goes.”

Deadlines and the Muse by Juliet Marillier from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Fortunately, the final section of a novel tends to be the easiest to write. You know the characters inside out; you know how each of them will act and react, what they will and won’t say; you know how the threads of your story will come together to make that satisfying conclusion.”

What The Incredibly Hulk Can Teach Us About Emotion in Fiction by Ron Estrada from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Most characters don’t wear their emotions on their quickly torn sleeves the way Bruce Banner does, and if they did, the resulting story would be pretty exhausting. Too much reaction dulls the impact when something genuinely serious transpires. Yet you do need to show how your character feels.”

Dealing with the Publishing Blues by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker. Peek: “Try writing something for yourself that no one will see. Experiment with a style you’ve always wanted to try or experiment with a new genre. If you’re on deadline, try writing a short story (or if you’re a fast writer, a novella). Have fun! But most of all, don’t set any expectations on yourself. Just let the passion you used to have for writing poke through.”

Classroom Connections: Diverse Verse by Sylvia Vardell from Booklist Online. Peek: “Following is a list of novels, biographies, and memoirs in verse, published within the last five years, that reflect diverse experiences, cultures, and characters.”

How Do I Respond to An Agent’s Status Query? by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: “The volume of emails that an agent gets in a day is large, and I’d err on the side of not adding to it unnecessarily.”

Make Your First Page Mind Blowing, Please by Hilary Wagner from Middle Grade Mayhem. Peek: “It may be the manuscript that agent of your dreams has been searching for all year, but she’ll never know it because she couldn’t get past the first boring formulaic mundane page of it and you just received a rejection email from her, faster than you could nuke your leftover pizza in the microwave.”

What Exactly is Translation? by Yumiko Sakuma, translated by Deborah Iwabuchi from The Society of Writers, Editors and Translators. Peek: “…the translator must understand the style of the author, the mood, the characters, the setting, the subtle allusions, and the core of the plot.”” Peek: Follows an introduction to the article by Deborah.

Take Yourself Seriously (As a Writer) by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “You’re creative–true. But you’re still in business if you want to make income from your writing. And often it is poor business attitudes that keep others from taking you seriously. Do an attitude check with the list below. Are you harboring these unhelpful attitudes?”

Why I Write for Teens by Carolee Dean from SouthWest Writers. Peek: “Teen stories are compelling because teens stand at a crossroads where childhood intersects with paths of infinite possibility, yet, as we all know, once you start down one of those paths, its not so easy to change your course.”

Interview with Morris Award Finalist Isabel Quintero by Lynn Miller-Lachmann from The Pirate Tree. Peek: “As sexual as American culture pretends to be—I mean we see it everywhere: in advertising, television, movies, even in cartoons—we only see sexuality or sexual behavior as acceptable through a heterosexual male perspective, and I would go further and say that we only see sex exist as a heterosexual male fantasy.” See also 24 MG-YA Novels by Latinos in 2015 from Latin@s in Kid Lit.

2014 LGBT YA Lit by the Numbers by Malinda Lo from Diversity in YA. Peek: “What started out for me as a geeky way to see where my own YA novels fit into the broader YA market has become an ongoing research project that has nothing to do with my books, and a lot more to do with analyzing and interrogating the way mainstream publishing produces stories about LGBT teens.” See also the 2015 Rainbow List: GLBTQ Books for Teens from the The Rainbow Project, a joint project of the ALA Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT) and Social Responsibilities Round Table (SSRT) of the American Library Association.

Is Your Character a Stargazer or a Naval-Gazer?
from Christine Kohler. Peek: “Does your protagonist observe the world around him using his five senses? Or does she mutter inwardly to herself, totally self-absorbed?”

Can Better Understanding of Adolescent Psychology Help Us Craft Better Fiction? by Lee Wind from SCBWI Blog. Peek: “Teens often look to fiction for insights they might use in their real lives. So it may follow that in creating fiction, we can get insights into the characters we create by exploring real-world insights.”

A Rose By Any Other Name Could Be…a Heather by Mary Ann Rodman from Teaching Authors. Peek: “I do not know how E.B. White decided on Charlotte and Wilbur, but can you imagine them named anything else? A book called Barbara’s Web? A pig named Bob?”

What Makes a Good Math Storybook? by Audrey Quinlan from The Horn Book. Peek: “Students predict the capacity of each mitten by guessing how many marbles or beans will be needed to fill each one. A variety of mittens brought in by students could also be used for introducing relative size.”

Jill Santopolo and Follow Your Heart: Love on the Lifts by Lisa Doan from The Launch Pad. Peek: “There are more than 7 billion people in the world. So if you go on a date with someone who makes you feel bad or smells funny or spends the entire time talking about his ex-girlfriend, that’s okay. You can always try again tomorrow (or the next day or the day after that).”

10 Editorial Steps from the Agent “Call” to the Final Book by Angela Ackerman from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: “When we’re starting out as writers, we rarely look beyond the process of getting an agent. That hurdle on its own seems so huge, but truly, it’s just the beginning of the editorial journey our books will take.”

Searching for an Agent with QueryTracker by Robert Lettrick from Project Mayhem. Peek: “What is Querytracker? In my opinion, it’s the premier website for researching literary agents and familiarizing yourself with their personal tastes and quirks. It also makes for a wonderful base-camp during the query process.”

My Work Is Giving My Nighmares from Deborah Halverson at Peek: “…the story itself is giving me anxiety and causing unsettling dreams. I don’t want to spend the next several months having nightmares.”

28 Days Later

Learn more about emerging and established children’s book creators of color via the eighth annual 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month celebration!

Each day during February, The Brown Bookshelf will showcase an outstanding author or illustrator. Thank you, Don Tate, Kelly Starling Lyons, Tameka Fryer Brown, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Gwendolyn Hooks, Crystal Allen, Varian Johnson, Paula Chase-Hyman!

Congratulations to Brown Bookshelf co-founder Varian Johnson on The Great Greene Heiste (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 2014) being named a 2015 Notable Children’s Book by the Association of Library Service to Children! See the whole list.

Cynsational Screening Room

Cynsational Giveaways

See also a giveaway of seven signed copies of We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson (Peachtree) at Goodreads.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Welcome back to Cynsations!

What a busy hiatus it’s been! I wrote a short story for Shaun Hutchinson‘s Violent Ends anthology (Simon Pulse), taught the VCFA winter residency, and then it was off to Chicago for The ALSC Day of Diversity at ALA Midwinter.

Now, I’m polishing a speech for this month’s Austin SCBWI meeting (details below), to be followed by critiquing manuscripts for our regional conference, and after that, my full attention will turn to my MFA students’ first packets.

Then what? Well, I’m also supposed to be foremost an author of books. At least in theory, right?

So, I’ll launch Feral Pride (Candlewick, Feb. 2015)–the final novel in the TantalizeFeral verse–and the paperback edition of Feral Curse (Candlewick, Feb. 2015) and then dive into my next YA manuscript in a big way.

Repeat after me: Living the Dream. Living the Dream!

Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children’s Literature says of Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2015):

“The parts of the story where characters shift or are talking about clothes? Well, I find those parts exquisite and they make me wish I could see all of this on a movie screen. And the parts where characters from the Tantalize series join the characters in the Pride series? Well done!”

Note: Debbie also analyzes how the metaphors in Feral Pride relate to our real world.

Publishers Weekly says of Things I’ll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick, 2015):

“Rather than providing tidy solutions to the characters’ dilemmas, the stories focus on the feelings of entrapment and anxiety that go along with living a lie.” Booklist says: “The balance and diversity that Angel has achieved here is marvelous, and nearly any teen who picks this up will find a bit of herself or himself—or at least a friend—inside these pages. A collection to treasure and share widely.”

 K.T. Horning of CCBC & Debbie Reese of AICL!

Note: The short story “Cupid’s Beaux” by Cynthia Leitich Smith features the characters Joshua and Quincie from the TantalizeFeral universe.

Hugs to those whose careers have been adversely affected by the closing of Egmont USA. See also An Open Letter to Egmont USA Authors from a Former Publishing Orphan from Sarah J. Schmitt. Note: Egmont USA books, including the spring 2015 list, are  available! Please show those authors your support!

Congratulations to Austin’s own Carmen Oliver on the sale of her first book, The Favio Chavez Story, to Eerdmans! See Stepping Over the Threshold: The First Children’s Book Contract by Carmen Oliver from Donna Janell Bowman.

Congratulations to Austin SCBWI RA Samantha Clark on signing with literary agent Rachel Orr of Prospect Agency, and congratulations to Rachel on signing Sam!

Congratulations to (former) WIFYR and (current) VCFA student Yamile Saied Mendez on being selected among the 2015 New Visions Finalists by Lee & Low!

Thank you ALSC, Candlewick Press & We Need Diverse Books for a great Day of Diversity in Chicago!

See ALA Midwinter Day of Diversity Recap & Reflections by Jason Low of Lee & Low. Peek: “Author Cynthia Letich Smith’s talk created a sense of urgency for me and humanized what is truly at stake. Readers of middle grade and YA novels age out every four years. How many kids have we lost already to adulthood?” Note: post provides links to the other great recaps.

My Links of the Week are:

More Cynsational Links

Jane Kurtz revises her speech (old-school style) at VCFA.

Cynsational Events

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.

Join Cynthia from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. at Saratoga Springs Public Library for a celebration in conjunction with Saratoga Reads! at Saratoga Springs, New York. Note: Cynthia will be presenting Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002)(all published by HarperColllins).

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 May 2 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.

Cynsational Awards

2014 Cynsational Book of the Year!

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The height of awards season is upon us!

I watched the ALA Youth Media Awards via live stream while escorting a plumber around my master bath. He was amused that I could barely tear myself away long enough to wave at the shower.

He observed, “So, for you, this is like the Oscars!”

Yes, yes, it is.

I’m genuinely thrilled for all the winners and honorees! Shout outs below are directed at former workshop students, VCFA family, personal friends, critique pals, and author pals whose journeys and/or inspiration have significantly intersected with mine.

Children’s-YA Book Awards

Congratulations to Jenny Offill, winner of the eighteenth annual Charlotte Zolotow Award for Picture Book Writing from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at The University of Wisconsin, Madison. See honor and commended books.

IRA Notable Book for a Global Society

Congratulations to winners of Notable Books for a Global Society from the International Reading Association! Shout outs to Skila Brown, Bethany Hegedus, Susan Kuklin, J. Patrick Lewis, Kekla Magoon, Duncan Tonatiuth, Tim Tingle, Dana Walrath, Jacqueline Woodson and Paula Yoo.

Congratulations to Candace Fleming, winner of the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award from Nonfiction! Shout out to honor winner Duncan Tonatiuth.

Congratulations to Anne M. Martin, winner of the NCTE Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction! Shout out to honor winners Marla Frazee and Deborah Wiles.

to the ALA Youth Media Award Winners and Honorees! Too many friends to
, but a quick shout out to fellow VCFA faculty member Kekla Magoon and VCFA alumni Jandy Nelson and Julie Berry.

See also 2015 Popular Paperbacks from YALSA and 2015 Best YA Fiction from YALSA.  On the latter, shout outs to Michelle Knudsen, Gail Giles, Kekla Magoon, Jandy Nelson, Laurie Halse Anderson, Mary E. Pearson, Robin LaFevers, Deborah Wiles, and Emily Lockhart.

For post-game, try: Wednesday Morning Quarterbacking: The Post-Game Edition by Robin Smith from The Horn Book; Poetry = Newbery by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children.

More Awards

Congratulations to Andrea J. Loney, winner of the Lee & Low New Voices Award and to Kara Stewart, the Honor Winner!
Peek: “A first-time author and member of the Sappony tribe, Stewart is
an Elementary School Literacy Coach and serves on the North Carolina
State Advisory Council on Indian Education. She believes that it is
vital for Native people to be reflected in an accurate, contemporary,
and non-stereotypical way, and she wrote this story to honor her Sappony
family, their resilience, and determination to keep their heritage
alive. Stewart will receive a prize of $500.” See also In the Spotlight: Kara Stewart from Prissy World.

Congratulations to Heidi Kim and Adria Quinones, winners of the 2014 On-the-Verge Emerging Voices Award from SCBWI!

Congratulations to 2015 Thurber House Children’s Writer-in-Residence Crystal Allen!

Congratulations to K.T. Horning, winner of the 2015 ALSC Distinguished Service Award!

In Memory: Bonnie Christensen

Bonnie Christensen

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Farewell to Bonnie Christensen by Elizabeth Bluemle from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“She radiated loveliness, both personally and in her work. She was a gifted and creative artist, author, illustrator, and print maker, active both locally and overseas in exhibitions and galleries.”

Celebrated Authors and Illustrator Bonnie Christensen Dies at Age 63 by Mahnaz Dar from School Library Journal. Peek:

“‘Bonnie was an extraordinary human being, full of laughter, wit, and playfulness,’ recounts [author Leda] Schubert. ‘To create one realistic illustration, she made borscht and threw it hither and yon, taking photos as she did so. Borscht stains pretty much anything it touches, so I’m sorry I didn’t get to see her kitchen afterwards.’” See also The Princess of Borscht (Roaring Brook, 2011).

Bonnie Christensen (1951-2015) from Seven Days. Peek:

“Of her more than 20 titles, the most acclaimed was Woodie Guthrie: Poet of the People (Alfred A. Knopf), whose images Booklist described as ‘sinewy and emotionally compelling.’ It won the Horn Book – Boston Globe Honor Award and was named a Publishers Weekly’s Best Book of 2001 and a New York Times Notable Book.”

Henry Holt, April 21, 2015

More Personally

Though we just missed teaching together there, Bonnie and I are both counted among members of the Vermont College of Fine Arts family.

She died in the midst of our winter 2015 residency and, consequently, we mourned her passing and celebrated her life and legacy with stories and the music of Elvis Presley. She is dearly missed.

My sympathies to her family, friends, colleagues, students and young readers.

I first connected with Bonnie through an anthology, In My Grandmother’s House: Award-Winning Authors Tell Stories About Their Grandmothers (HarperCollins, 2005). She illustrated the book with drawings from photographs of the featured grandmothers, including my own Grandma Dorothy.

The emotional power of Bonnie’s work far exceeded that of the inspirational photo and captures my grandmother at her spirited best. Bonnie gave the illustration to me, and it’s one of my most precious personal touchstones.

Grandma Dorothy — Thank you, Bonnie!

Guest Post & Giveaway: Cory Putnam Oakes on The Ten Commandments of the Productive and Sane Writer

By Cory Putnam Oakes
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

As much as we would like to commit our entire lives to writing, most of us live in the real world. We can’t afford to spend our time at Walden Pond or in a permanent, never-ending, writer’s retreat.

We fit in writing amongst our day jobs, our kids, our other commitments, and our daily lives.

This past year, I was blessed with a large amount of writing work. I was doing revisions and copy edits for Dinosaur Boy (2015), writing Dinosaur Boy Saves Mars (2016)(both Sourcebooks), and working on another project with my agent.

It was a crazy year, especially when you throw my two small kiddos into the mix.

I’m not saying that I managed to juggle everything perfectly. In fact, there were days and weeks there when I failed utterly. But I learned from the experience. And I ended up making ten promises to myself – commandments, if you will, for my future self – in the hopes that they will help me to stay sane and still produce work that I am proud of:

Cory Putnam Oakes

1. I will respect my writing time and hold it as sacred. It’s valuable and it’s worth defending and anybody who thinks otherwise just doesn’t get it and isn’t worthy of my attention.

2. I will recognize that despite my best efforts, there are days when writing Just. Isn’t. Happening. I will honor those days, and spend my time doing the Necessary Non-Writing Things, such as “Naming That Character in Chapter 4” or “Researching Chapter 9.”

3. I will recognize that there are days when even Necessary Non-Writing Things are too much. And on those days, I will reorganize my closet. Or bake things. Or binge watch “The Bachelor.” Or do whatever else I need to do in order to regroup and recharge. I will take care of myself and I will not apologize for it.

4. I will hit my deadlines. Each and every time. Because I am a professional and that’s what professionals do.

5. I will plan for chaos. If I know it will take me ten days to do something, I will budget twelve. Because Things happen.

And the most likely time for Things to happen is right before a deadline. It’s like a main law of the universe.

6. I will be supportive of my fellow writers. I will root for them, laugh with them, cry with them, and commiserate with them. Because they are my people and they do the same for me.

Discussion & Activity Guide

7. I will not compare myself to other authors, my books to anybody else’s books, or my career to anybody else’s career. My journey is my own and I will respect it as such.

8. I will read. At least two books in my genre every month.

9. I will not sacrifice, in the name of “time management,” the thing that makes all the other things in my life possible. (We all have something, without which, the whole dang opry falls apart. For me, it’s my time spent on the treadmill. Whenever I have sacrificed this, in the name of “not having enough time” I have bitterly regretted it. I will make time for the things that matter.)

10. I will respect my own creative process and not pay undo attention to lists like this (which are, after all, written by other people about what works for them). I will do what works for me and it will be awesome.

If anyone has any further commandments to add to this list, I’m all ears! Who says we have to stop at ten, anyway? That’s like totally already been done.

Cynsational Notes

Cory is a former lawyer, a former Californian, and a current Mexican food enthusiast. When she’s not writing, Cory enjoys running, cooking, and hanging out with her husband and their two kiddos.

Cynsational Giveaway

A Junior Library Guild selection

Enter to win a signed, personalized (upon specification) copy of Dinosaur Boy by Cory Putnam Oakes (Sourcebooks, 2015) and furry prehistoric friend. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

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