Cynsational News & Giveaways

National Book Award Finalist

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Six Key Points from the U.K. Study on Diversity in Publishing by Hannah Ehrlich from Lee & Low. Peek: “Diverse authors often felt that they were encouraged–or pushed–into the literary fiction genre. This means that authors of color are often at a commercial disadvantage, especially if they want to be full-time novelists.”

Recommended Children’s-YA Books and Related Resources for LGBTQ Youth by Lee Wind from I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? Peek: “…the handful of books I brought to illustrate the power of books to spark conversations and be those mirrors and doors were….”

Planning a Novel: Character Arc in a Nutshell by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: “Physical needs, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization are all part of what it is to be human.”

Finalists Unveiled for the National Book Awards from NPR. Note: see “Young People’s Literature.”

Nominees for the Forest of Reading Awards from the Ontario Library Association.

Writing the Cozy Mystery from Elizabeth S. Craig. Peek: “If you’re using guns, be accurate but move away from a lot of forensic detail…keeping it simple. In a cozy, the focus is on the puzzle itself.”

Put Your Setting to Work by C.C. Hunter from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: “…oftentimes the contrast between setting and character’s mood, or setting and character’s personality, can also be a useful tool.”

Audio Poetry by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children. Peek: “I’m presenting along with the lovely Rose Brock on ‘Through the Looking and Listening Glass: How Audiobooks Channel Culture and Impact Literacy.’ My focus? Poetry, of course! So, here’s the scoop for those of you who can’t be there!”

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways

Winners of signed ARCs of Brooke’s Not-So-Perfect Plan (Confidentially Yours, Book 1) and Vanessa’s Fashion Face-Off (Confidentially Yours, Book 2)(both HarperCollins, 2016) by Jo Whittemore were Cindy in Connecticut and Shannon in Florida.

More Personally

This week’s highlight was the Freedom Tour event, featuring author-illustrator Don Tate and authors Kelly Starling Lyons and Chris Barton, at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center in Austin.

Cake by Akiko White, celebrating Don’s book, Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree, 2015)

Authors, illustrators & librarians gather to celebrate!

Local elementary students acted out readers’ theaters of three of the books.

Looking for writing advice? My words are the Quote of the Week at The Little Crooked Cottage.

Reminder! Want to read something spooky? The electronic editions of Diabolical and Feral Curse (both Candlewick), are on sale this month for $1.99!

Another Reminder! I will be featured at the 20th Anniversary Texas Book Festival on Oct. 17 and Oct. 18 in Austin. I look forward to joining Ann Angel and Varian Johnson in discussing the anthology Things I’ll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves (Candlewick, 2015).

Personal Links

#MoreWomen Video 
$6,000: What It Costs to House a Homeless Family
What Mysteries Will the New X-Files Hold?
Freshmen Not Emotionally Ready for College
Goodbye “He” and “She” and Hello to “Ze”?
Diversity at New York Comic Con
Feeling Like an Old Geezer at the New Social Media Party 
Horn Book Review of Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here
Alaska Renames “Columbus Day” as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day)

New Voice & Giveaway: Laurie Wallmark on Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Laurie Wallmark is the first-author of Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the famous romantic poet, Lord Byron, develops her creativity through science and math. 

When she meets Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first mechanical computer, Ada understands the machine better than anyone else and writes the world’s first computer program in order to demonstrate its capabilities.

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?

Like everyone else, I did many, many revisions before I thought the manuscript ready to submit. In June 2013, I had a manuscript critique at the New Jersey SCBWI conference with Ginger Harris of the Liza Royce Agency. She and her partner, Liza Fleissig, both thought the manuscript showed promise and would be of interest to Marissa Moss of Creston Books.

1,000 lucky paper cranes

I did a revision for them, and then they sent it to Creston Books. Marissa like the story enough to send me a revise and resubmit letter—four times!

It was at this point that I began to lose hope. Would she ever think Ada’s story good enough to acquire?

Apparently she would, since at that point, Marissa offered a contract. But the revisions didn’t stop there. I did about ten more before she thought the text was ready to pass on to the illustrator, April Chu.

Of course, not all ten were major revisions, but every word had to be just right, since a picture book has so few of them.

The biggest thing I learned along the way is that no matter how good you think your manuscript is, it can always be made better. The second was a good editor is invaluable.

My biggest advice to other writers is to be open to changes.

No, you don’t have to take every suggestion offered, but you need to seriously consider each one. Remember, this takes time.

As a nonfiction writer, what first inspired you to take on your topic? What about it fascinated you? Why did you want to offer more information about it to young readers?

Laurie Wallmark

I love STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and wanted to share this love with young readers—not just with geeks like me, but with all children, no matter how STEM-phobic they may be.

Many children say they hate STEM or worse, they’re bad at it. As a society, we need to turn this perception around. Children are growing up in a high-tech world and need to feel comfortable in it.

But the question for me was, how could I make STEM interesting and fun for children through my writing while avoiding the dreaded “issues” book?

I realized a picture book biography is an ideal medium to introduce STEM concepts and facts to young readers. Instead of only offering STEM content through dry, boring textbooks, teachers could use picture book biographies to immerse children in the subject matter. They could enjoy a story while learning STEM along the way. I think of this as guerilla teaching.

Once I decided I’d write a biography, I had to choose a person to profile. I’m drawn to writing about strong, under-appreciated women in STEM. I feel it’s important for all children, not just girls, to realize the many extraordinary contributions of women in STEM. Ada was the world’s first computer programmer, yet few people have heard of her. And she did this in the 1800s!

In addition to showcasing a woman in STEM, I wanted to portray a person who had faced challenges in her life. Ada suffered from an assortment of health problems. As a child, a case of measles left her blind and paralyzed. Her sight soon returned, but Ada was bedridden for three years.

Laurie in third grade.

Many children have challenges of their own to overcome. Seeing how Ada succeeded in spite of her lifelong health problems might help them realize they can too.

When people hear I’ve written a picture book about Ada Byron Lovelace, often their first question is “Who’s that?” It makes me sad to realize most people have never heard of such an important person in STEM. Is this because she was a woman?

Because of Ada’s accomplishments and her overcoming of obstacles, I knew I had to write about her in my first picture book biography.

Additionally, in a previous career, I was a programmer, and I now teach computer science. How could I not write about Ada Byron Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer? Without a doubt, I had to share her story.

Wall of gear shapes from book launch!

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two signed copies of Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark (Creston, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.

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Book Trailer: Keepers of the Labyrinth by Erin E. Moulton

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Keepers of the Labyrinth by Erin E. Moulton (Philomel, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Courage is tested, myths come to life, and long-held secrets are revealed.


Lilith Bennette runs at midnight. She scales walls in the dark and climbs without a harness. She hopes that if she follows exactly in the steps of her strong air force pilot mother, she’ll somehow figure out the mystery of her mother’s death—and the reason why her necklace of Greek symbols has been missing ever since.


So when Lil is invited to Crete for a Future Leaders International conference, the same conference her mom attended years ago, she jumps at the chance to find some answers. But things in Melios Manor are not what they seem. Lil finds herself ensnared in an adventure of mythological proportions that leads her and her friends through the very labyrinth in which the real Minotaur was imprisoned. And they’re not in there alone. What secrets does the labyrinth hold, and will they help Lil find the truth about her mother?


This book is perfect for older fans of Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the Heroes of Olympus–and anyone who wants to find out the true story behind the magic of the Greek gods.

Photographs of Pefki, Crete, Gr. and Milia Mountain Retreat (the location that inspired the idea of Melios Manor) by Erin Robinson.

New Voice & Giveaway: K.C. Maguire on Inside the Palisade

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

K.C. Maguire is the first-time author of Inside the Palisade (Lodestone, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Omega has grown up surrounded by women – literally.


Inside the palisade, women fall in love, marry and raise daughters, relying on an artificial insemination process known as the Procedure. But something goes horribly wrong.


One day, Omega comes face to face with a mythical monster – a man – within the society’s walls. Men had been eradicated long ago to protect women from the threat of violence. But this boy is not what Omega has been led to believe. And he needs her help.


She soon finds herself embroiled in a manhunt headed by a vigilante Protector, Commander Theta.


When she falls into Theta’s clutches, Omega realizes that there’s more to the banishment of men, and to her own past, than she’s ever known. Ultimately, she is forced to make a choice between betraying the lost boy and betraying her society, a decision complicated by the realization that she has more in common with him than she cares to admit, and the fact that she is developing feelings for him.

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

Because I’ve moved around a lot for my day job in recent years, it’s been a challenge to find a writing community that works for me. Lately, one of the most important sources of support and inspiration has been the amazing VCFA community. I’ve managed to find a network of friends, colleagues, and beta readers who are always there for questions, comments, reads, and general support.

I’m predominantly a YA writer, so I’ve also found writing groups through the regional branches of SCBWI in cities where I’ve lived. I have two amazing groups of writing friends in Houston, TX, one of which is an SCBWI critique group that meets weekly and provides as much friendship and support as thoughtful critiquing. It’s a wonderful mixture of picture book, middle grade, and young adult writers who experiment with different genres and are always willing to read something new. The other is a marketing support group where we experiment with different approaches to cross-promotions of our work whether traditionally, independently, or self-published.

HarperTeen, 2016

As I’m currently living in Ohio, I’ve also been lucky enough to find some wonderful writing friends in the Midwest. North East Ohio is a great place for YA writers many of whom are extremely generous with their time and thoughts. Particular shout-outs here to Cinda Williams Chima and Rebecca Barnhouse!

It’s always a blessing to find new people who “get” your work and your process, and it’s wonderful when you can develop a shorthand way of critiquing with people who are familiar enough with your writing tics to be able to go for the jugular (in a good way) and shake you out of bad habits without pulling their punches. Sometimes people who try to be too kind are not actually doing you a favor. A strong critique partner will be prepared to tell you honestly what you’re doing wrong.

Professional support, friendship, and critiquing are one of the best ways to “pay it forward” in a field like fiction-writing that can feel incredibly isolating and emotional from time to time. Everyone has their good days and their bad days, and it’s important to be available to others and share around the goodwill on your own good days, because someone else is always sure to need to feel the love!

As a science fiction writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time sci-fi reader?

Other than “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” and “Doctor Who” (the original series as well as the reboot), I wasn’t a huge sci-fi fan growing up. I certainly didn’t read sci-fi books. That felt like the dominion of the “male” complement in my family.

It was when I started writing that I became attracted to the genre and began to read anything I could get my hands on both in the YA and adult sci-fi areas. I spent several years reading everything from the more “classic” canon (Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Heinlein, Bradbury, Willis, etc) to some of the more recent writers (Nalo Hopkinson, N.K. Jemison, Ann Aguirre, Karen Lord, John Scalzi).

Margaret Atwood has also written some amazing dystopias in recent years, not to mention her classic The Handmaid’s Tale (McClelland and Stewart, 1985). While many agents and editors talk about the death of the YA dystopian craze since the Hunger Games and Divergent frenzy seems to be playing out, I still feel that dystopian narratives have a lot to tell us.

Emily St. John Mandel’s recent take on a dystopic future after a plague has killed off most of the earth’s population (Station Eleven) is a powerful contemporary musing on the nature of humanity, using a dystopian society in new and unexpected ways to achieve that end.

One of the things I like best about sci-fi is that it’s one of the most effective ways to ask foundational “what if” questions about human nature. Sci-fi writers can pick an element of our world and change it to ask “what would happen if [fill in the blank].”

For example, what would happen if …

a) society was divided into factions based on personality types?

b) criminals were released into the public with their skin stained different colors to denote their crimes?

c) technology became so advanced that we could no longer tell humans apart from androids?

d) the earth become so polluted or over-populated that humans needed to find a new home?

* Bonus points for naming at least one book/story that matches each of these descriptions. Suggested answers below.

The sky is not even a limit with sci-fi. Not only are these kinds of stories fun and engaging (if written well), but they also raise issues about who we are at the most fundamental level.

Taking as an example the popular conceit of humans colonizing another planet, not only can this narrative device play a “what if” role about the future, but it also may give us insights about the past.

What have humans actually done in the past when expanding their territories on earth and encroaching on lands inhabited by others, human and/or non-human?

Ray Bradbury plays this idea out on many levels in The Martian Chronicles, where the colonization of Mars and the Martian-human relationships can stand in for a variety of events that have already taken place within the confines of our own planet.

In my debut sci-fi novel for YA readers, Inside the Palisade, I pose the question: What would happen if men had been banned from society and women reproduced through an artificial insemination procedure using stored genetic material?

K.C. named Omega/Meg after her daughter (shown at the writing desk).

In this all-female society men have been demonized (literally referred to as “demen”) as the cause of a great apocalypse that has brought humanity to the brink of extinction. Teen protagonist (Omega/Meg) comes across a young man who has been hidden within the walls of the city, and he isn’t what she expected. She is forced to question everything she’s been told about the differences between men and women and ultimately learns the truth about why the men were blamed for everything that went wrong.

The men here stand in for the “other.” Because Caucasian men are typically not thought of as an oppressed group in a western society, the set-up is a non-threatening lens through which to confront issues of “difference.” The device can invite readers to think about oppression or victimization of others hopefully without the narrative seeming overly preachy or judgmental. It takes a weird situation that would likely never happen in real life (my “what if”), and use it to encourage readers to think about why we dislike or fear people who are different, why we sometimes think of others as “less than” ourselves.

Good sci-fi gives us the opportunity to turn a real world problem on its head, or at least look at it through a new prism, so we can encourage readers to think about it from a new perspective while telling an engaging and unusual tale in the process. I love all genres and am a very eclectic reader, but I have a special place in my heart for sci-fi because of the amazing perspectives it can bring to us all.

* (a) Divergent by Veronica Roth; (b) When She Woke by Hillary Jordan; (c) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick; (d) The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.

Writer cats on the job, so to speak.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three signed copies of Inside the Palisade by K.C. Maguire (Lodestone, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: international.

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Guest Post: Jesse Gainer on Submissions for Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award

By Jesse Gainer, Director
Tomás Rivera Children’s Book Award
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

The Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, established in 1995, recognizes and honors authors and illustrators who create quality children’s literature that authentically depicts the Mexican American experience in the United States.

We recently celebrated our 20th anniversary and were written up in an article published by NBC Latino.

We are currently seeking submissions to be considered for the 2016 award in two categories:

2015 Winner

Works for Younger Children

These are books appropriate for children from birth to 12 years old [or Infant to 5th grade]

Works for Older Children

These are books appropriate for children ranging from 13 years old to 18 years old [or 6th grade to 12th grade]

All submissions for 2016 must have a publication date of 2015 to be considered. Our submission deadline is December 1st.

To submit a book for considerations please send four copies of the book to:

2015 Winner

Jesse Gainer, Director
Tomás Rivera Children’s Book Award
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, TX 78666

If you have a suggestion for a book that you believe would be a good submission, but you can’t send four copies, please email Jesse Gainer (jg51@txstate.edu) with the title, publisher, and ISBN of the book (and/or contact him with any questions). See more information about the award.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Shadra Strickland and Sally Derby Discuss Their New Book & Diversity in Publishing from Lee & Low. Peek: “I know many people think no one should write outside their own culture. But I think I have the right to write any way I want about anything I want. After I’ve written it, if I didn’t get the voice ‘right,’ people are free to say so and explain what is lacking or wrong.”

Characters Who Surprise by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: “Make a Buffy a vampire slayer instead of the heroic warrior or make a detective have some personality trait that seems like it would make it hard for them to do the job but, in fact, also helps them to do it. For example, Monk.”

Seven Jewish Authors Get Personal About Anti-Semitism from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Here’s the question I asked these seven authors: How have you seen anti-Semitism expressed, either in the media, on the internet, or in your personal lives? And this is how they answered.”

Three Agents on How Soon Is Too Soon to Query? from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: “…most agents and editors are looking to clear desks in time for the New Year rather than take on more. So, it’s to an author’s interests to take the time to revise rather than rush.”

Why Book PR Needs Lead Time & Lots of It by Sharon Bially from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “I know it sounds counterintuitive: at long last a book has hit the market, it’s time to tell the world! But in fact, this is a far cry from how things work on the back end.”

Who Knows More About Story: Writers or the Pentagon? by Lisa Cron from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Story as a way to maintain dominance over the world? How could a technology that’s as old as our brain do that?”

Cynsational Giveaways

This Week at Cynsations

 

More Personally

My glorious house guest of the week, Kekla Magoon!
I’m celebrating the spooky season, from head to toes!

Congratulations to Nova Ren Suma on joining the the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults at VCFA!

Congratulations to Mitali Perkins on the news that her book, Rickshaw Girl, is being made into a movie!

Reminder! Want to read something spooky? The electronic editions of Diabolical and Feral Curse (both Candlewick), are on sale this month for $1.99!

Another Reminder! I will be featured at the 20th Anniversary Texas Book Festival on Oct. 17 and Oct. 18 in Austin. I look forward to joining Ann Angel and Varian Johnson in discussing the anthology Things I’ll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves (Candlewick, 2015).

Personal Links

Princess Leia’s “Slave Bikini” Sold for $96,000 at Auction
10 New Books by Established Latino Authors (Joy Castro!) 

Book Trailer: Uh-Oh! by Shutta Crum, illustrated by Patrice Barton

From the team behind Mine! (Knopf, 2011)

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Uh-Oh! by Shutta Crum, illustrated by Patrice Barton (Knopf, 2015). From the promotional copy:

A charming summer story that’s just right for toddlers, from the team behind the critically acclaimed picture book “Mine.”


What does a toddler say when she drops her sunglasses in the sand? “Uh-Oh.”


What does she say when a seagull lands on her sandcastle? “Uh-Oh.”


What does she say when she finds a crab in her pail? “Uh-Oh.”


And what does she say when a BIG wave is coming? That’s the biggest “Uh-Oh” of all.


This nearly wordless story of toddler adventure perfectly captures the dynamics between the youngest friends and the sheer pleasure of that favorite toddler word: Uh-Oh.

Guest Interview: Mina Witteman on Talking Books, Ghosts, Writing & Teaching

By Angela Cerrito
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Mina Witteman is a published author, writing in Dutch and English. She has four adventurous middle grade novels, over 40 short stories, and a Little Golden Book out in the Netherlands.

The first volume of a middle grade series, Boreas and the Seven Seas, came out in June 2015. The second book is scheduled for early spring 2016.

Mina is the Regional Advisor for SCBWI The Netherlands and Chairman of the Working Group Children’s Books of the Dutch Authors Guild.

In addition, Mina is an accredited teacher creative writing and teaches writing to children and adults. She is a university-trained freelance editor and a mentor to budding writers.

For her English works, she is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter @MinaWitteman.

You have two books released recently, Mia’s Nest, a Little Golden Book, and Boreas and the Seven Seas (Boreas en de zeven zeeën), about the adventures of twelve-year-old Boreas as he sails around the world. Let’s start with Mia’s Nest. What was the inspiration for this book?

Actually, the inspiration came from the illustrator, Angela Pelaez Vargas who was inspired to create illustrations based on her young daughter’s constantly tangled hair.

When she showed me the illustrations and mentioned that she was trying to work them into a story, I fell in love with both the illustrations and the story, also because my son’s nickname through primary school, which was Bird’s Nest, because of his abundant curly hair. I wrote the story and Angela added and changed some of the illustrations.

We were thrilled when the Dutch publisher Rubinstein decided to publish it as a Little Golden Book.


The title character’s name is very similar to yours. Is this picture book semi-autobiographical? 

No, it was inspired by Angela’s daughter and my son’s nickname, although I still vividly remember my mother trying to untangle my hair when I was young.

Now onto Boreas and the Seven Seas: newly released this is the first book in a series. What inspired you to write about Boreas?

My dad was a sailing aficionado, and my entire childhood stood in the sign of sailing. He taught me to sail before I could ride a bike, which says something, for in the Netherlands, most children are born with a bike attached to them.

We had a small boat near our home and my father took me and my siblings out on the water nearly every day.

What I liked, and what I still like, most about sailing is the wind in my face, the way it can clear your mind and give you a feeling of ultimate freedom.

My mother used to call me “Wind Child,” and when I wasn’t sailing, I would try to recreate the feeling. On windy days, she knew if she couldn’t find me, to look on the roof. I would crawl out of the window in my bedroom and onto the roof and stand with the wind in my face.

So you love to sail and Boreas goes on a sailing adventure. Is this book semi-autobiographical?

The book itself is not, however there are a few adventures at sea that I have experienced, like getting caught in a storm. Also the impressions and sights, like Sark, a small beautiful island where Boreas ends up. I’ve been to these places and seen the sights and that helps a great deal in writing about them.

It feels good that Boreas and the Seven Seas receives raving reviews – the Dutch Libraries even made it Summer Reading Tip – and reviewers are unanimously praising the fact that reading the book is like you are actually experiencing what Boreas is experiencing and that you can feel the wind in your hair.

Without giving away any spoilers, what is the most unexpected adventure for Boreas in the book?

Mina sailing with her sister

Early on in the novel, the family is sailing through the night passing the English Channel and they crash into a wooden raft occupied by a young boy from Sudan. The boy is a refugee stranded in France trying desperately to get to the U.K. He is thrown from the raft but can’t swim.

Without thinking, Boreas jumps in the water and saves him. This is a turning point for Boreas and his understanding about his privileged situation compared to other children.

You write in both Dutch and English. What are the advantages of being so versatile?

I’m able to work on two projects, a Dutch and an English project, at the same time because I use different parts of my brain. Actually, I think having a more limited vocabulary in English than a native speaker is an advantage because it forces me to focus on the core of the story and prevents me from fluffing up the text.

You’ve mentioned on your blog your love of music, math and architecture. Do you incorporate this into your writing?

As a science girl, coming from a technically-minded family, structuring and building is infused into my life and thinking. I’m hooked on rule-based systems like math and computers. Architecture is incorporated in the way I set up a novel, and even when I teach – I’m also a teacher creative writing – I often use the design of a building as a metaphor for stories and the way you can set them up.

I always start a new story making an outline like an architect, with a sturdy foundation, a skeleton of strong walls and then fill those structures in with more details. The math comes in when it comes to balancing word count, chapters. I love Scrivener for this.

My fondness for math and science is often reflected in my characters who tend to be logical and mathematical in their thinking. In a YA novel I’m working on now, one of my protagonists is a science geek.

The same goes for music. There is always music somewhere in my books to provoke a certain reaction or emotion.

Not yet reviewed by Cynsations.

Some of your earlier novels, middle grade adventures, were written in Dutch and featured North American locations in the U.S. and Canada. What inspired these settings?

I’ve always been very interested in myths, legends, and stories, especially Native American stories. When I visited the U.S. and Canada, I learned so much more about the Native cultures. But when I returned to the Netherlands and looked in the Dutch libraries, I could only find stereotypical cowboy-and-Indian stories.

We needed to do better, I thought, otherwise, our children would grow up with a misrepresentation of entire cultures.

In addition to writing, you are also a writing instructor. Tell me about your experiences teaching writing to both to young writers and adults.

I enjoy giving children insight into how a story is built. It makes reading so much more fun. The biggest reward is encountering the student who says, “I don’t like reading. I don’t like writing. I don’t want to do this.” When this student “gets it” and starts writing, I couldn’t be happier.

When teaching adults, I like to give people the opportunity to hone their storytelling craft. I love helping people get their dreams realized and a few of my students are really close to being published now. I’m also mentoring someone who just signed his first contract, which is very exciting.

You are a fan of Writing Maps. How have you used these tools in your writing and teaching?

There are so many writing maps, there is really one for everyone. I randomly pick one each morning to get started writing. I typically use it as an exercise.

In a few instances, the result of the exercises end up in my novels, like little snippets I wrote with prompts from the Writing by the Sea map that ended up in Boreas and the Seven Seas.

As someone who loves to travel, what has been your favorite places to visit?

Mina at Tsé Bit’Aí

I love the empty vastness of Navajo Nation (located in the four corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah in the U.S.), especially Canyon de Chelly. To me, it is more impressive than the Grand Canyon. I love that you can walk or even drive for hours without anyone around, you can feel how the stories came to be, how they were inspired by the landscape and life.

There is this vast dessert with a cathedral like –or ship like- rock coming out of the earth. It’s often called “Shiprock,” but the Navajo named it “Tsé Bit’Aí” or “the Rock with Wings,” and it’s said to be the petrified remains of the bird that brought the Navajo people to safety.

Where is somewhere that you haven’t traveled to but would like to go?

New Zealand is at the top of my list. Also, I think it would be great to be on the international time line. It would be magical to be able to jump over the line and move through time.

Your first book, Dee Dee’s Revenge was set in a city much like your hometown of Vught. Do you plan to set more novels there?

No. This was my debut and that was me coming to terms with growing up in the southern part of the Netherlands, where life is easy going compared to Amsterdam, but also very small-town-ish and judgmental. Deedee’s Revenge was also a way for me to get even with my older brother.

My brother once locked me in a concrete sewage pipe on an assault course in a military restricted area. I couldn’t tell my parents what he’d done, because by doing so I would have to admit that I went into the restricted area, too. The book was my revenge.

So, it’s your first book that was semi-autobiographical! Tell us about your writing routine. Is it the same every day?

I meditate early in the morning. Then I make time for all of the business things related to my volunteer work for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and the Dutch Authors Guild. Next I do a writing prompt and then I write or revise.

Since I’m also a freelance editor I understand the importance of and the process of revision and I commit a lot of time to revising my stories.

I heard that you’re working on a YA novel that is a ghost story. Did that involve a lot of research?

I didn’t have to do research because I see ghosts. They come to me.

For example, I was part of the SCBWI Nevada mentor program. Our group of mentors and mentees spent four days at a cultural center in an old mining town that was claimed to be haunted. I’ve learned that when people think a place is haunted, it usually isn’t.

However, in this case I was in the kitchen and I felt the strong presence of a refined young man just over my shoulder. I was assigned to sleep in room number 16, which was reported to be haunted with a very nasty ghost. But all the while I was there, I felt the presence of this other ghost instead. I believe his presence with me for those four days kept the other ghost away.

That is fascinating. Tell us more about the SCBWI mentorship program.

I was already published in the Netherlands and teaching writing when I entered, but many mentees are not. Mentor programs are amazing perks for SCBWI members, who want to move forward.

The program teaches mentees to take the profession of writing seriously. It pushes them from having a hobby to having a career. I think writing, especially writing for children, should be done well.

Children’s book stories are so important and they absolutely must be crafted well. A mentor program can help aspiring writers to take their craft to the next level. We are in the process of starting a program for SCBWI members in Europe.

Cynsational Notes

Angela Cerrito writes by night and is a pediatric therapist by day. Her debut novel,  The End of the Line (Holiday House, 2011), was named to VOYA’s top of the top shelf, a YALSA quick pick and a Winchester Fiction Honor Book.

More on Angela Cerrito

Her forthcoming novel The Safest Lie (Holiday House, Fall 2015) is based on her research in Warsaw Poland including interviewing Irena Sendler, a mastermind spy and member of the Polish resistance, who helped over 2,500 children escape the Warsaw ghetto.

Angela volunteers as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and is the co-organizer of SCBWI events at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

Angela contributes news and interviews from the children’s-YA creative, literature and publishing community in Europe and beyond.

Guest Post & Giveaway: Meg Wiviott on Telling the Toughest Stories & Paper Hearts

Interview with Meg Wiviott.

By Meg Wiviott
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

History is filled with horrible, frightening events. Still, history needs to be taught. Finding a gentle way to tell a tragic, truthful story is something for which I seem to have a knack.

Kristallnacht, Auschwitz, and death marches are not the usual stuff of books for young readers. Finding an age appropriate manner to tell the story is a trick.

Honesty is the only way to tell any story, but especially an historical one. A writer must be respectful of the history and the characters. This requires that the writer not impose her twenty-first century sensibilities on a different time. I always start with truth. I do not dilute it. I do not dumb it down. But how is that done for young readers not yet ready to face some historic horrors? I have found that giving the reader space, distance, room to digest the truth works best.

For Benno and the Night of Broken Glass (Kar-Ben, 2010), I used a cat. Benno is a child-like, innocent, unbiased observer. He gives readers the emotional space to witness history from a safe place, allowing readers to take in what they can.

In Paper Hearts (McElderry, 2015), verse gave me that same emotional space. Poetry is all about metaphor. The use of white space, illusions, and elisions allow a writer to be honest without being blunt. The poetry allows a reader to take in only what he or she is capable of understanding. On subsequent readings, the reader should be able to take in more.

Both techniques allow for a gentle way of telling a horrendous truth. Simply because a story is terrible and filled with hatred, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be told. In fact, it probably mean it needs to be told.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two signed copies of Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott (McElderry, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: one U.S. only, one international. From the promotional copy:

Amid the brutality of Auschwitz during the Holocaust, a forbidden gift helps two teenage girls find hope, friendship, and the will to live in this novel in verse that’s based on a true story.


An act of defiance.


A statement of hope.


A crime punishable by death.


Making a birthday card in Auschwitz was all of those things. But that is what Zlatka did, in 1944, for her best friend, Fania. She stole and bartered for paper and scissors, secretly creating an origami heart. Then she passed it to every girl at the work tables to sign with their hopes and wishes for happiness, for love, and most of all—for freedom.

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