2016 SCBWI Bologna Art Director-Author Interview: Laurent Linn

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Laurent Linn, art director for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, began his career as a puppet designer/builder in Jim Henson’s Muppet Workshop, creating characters for various productions, including the “Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Muppet Treasure Island” films. 

With Henson for over a decade, he worked primarily on Sesame Street, becoming the creative director for the Sesame Street Muppets, winning an Emmy Award. 

Currently, at Simon & Schuster, Laurent art directs picture books, middle-grade, and teen novels, working with illustrators and authors such as Tomie dePaola, Patricia Polacco, Bryan Collier, E. B. Lewis, Raúl Colón, Debbie Ohi, and Taeeun Yoo

Laurent is on the board of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and is the artistic advisor for the annual original art exhibit at the Society of Illustrators in New York. 
 
He is also an author: His debut illustrated teen novel, Draw the Line (Simon & Schuster), comes out in May. You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and facebook.

Laurent, thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions about the world of illustration in children’s publishing, and about the SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery (BIG). 

As art director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, what is the importance of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair to you and other publishing professionals?

The Bologna Fair has so much to offer everyone, and for a publisher like us, it serves more than one role. It’s a fantastic event to see what books are being published in other countries that we may want to acquire rights for to publish here in the U.S.

Also, we share certain books that we are publishing in the hopes international publishers will want to acquire, too.

In addition, we’re always on the look-out to discover illustrators from other countries that we’re not yet aware of — there is so much talent on display there!

What makes an Illustration Gallery such as the BIG at the SCBWI booth in Bologna interesting to publishing professionals?

In the U.S. and around the world, children’s book publishers know that SCBWI members are serious about their careers. So it’s understood that the illustrators on display at the SCBWI booth are both knowledgeable and professional — something very important to us when we consider hiring an illustrator who is new to us.

When an art director or publisher views an illustration showcase such SCBWI’s BIG, is s/he looking primarily for illustrators for picture books, or are they also scouting talent for other illustration opportunities within the industry?

Speaking for myself, I always consider the strengths of each illustrator individually based on their work. For example, when I see someone whose strength is art that would be best suited for picture books, I may potentially keep them in mind for a future picture book. The same would be true of someone whose style is best for middle grade, etc.

Of course, many illustrators have different styles, which may be right for all types and genres of books, and I’d think about that as well.

Overall, I imagine that each art director and editor look for what he or she is publishing. Having said this, I do think the majority of art directors and editors at Bologna are looking at picture book illustration.

What makes an illustration stand out to you when you are serving as a judge for a showcase like BIG?

A few factors. Talent and skill as an artist is extremely important, of course. But I’m also looking for strong visual storytelling — children’s book illustration is all about a narrative. If a piece is more of a portrait or composed scene lacking story, that doesn’t show how an illustrator could visualize a key moment of a narrative.

Also, I’m always looking to see if an illustration has an emotional connection — readers need to be emotionally invested in a book’s characters.



I think many illustrators, when thinking of a career in children’s publishing, think primarily of illustrating picture books. Yet there seem to be more and more illustrated middle grade series, graphic novels are very popular, and your own illustrated young adult novel, Draw the Line, is scheduled for release in the summer of 2016. Do you see a trend in the industry towards more illustration in books for older readers?

It’s such an exciting time for illustration in children’s literature! Picture books are being published with art using all kinds of media and in varied styles. More and more middle grade uses interior black-and-white illustrations within the pages, for all ages from young to pre-teen. And more and more art is even being used YA (young adult) fiction.

As you mention, my own debut YA novel, Draw the Line, has illustrations — 90 pages of art, in fact! It’s not a graphic novel at all, but is a traditional text novel that also has illustrations in it.

In my book’s case, the art is “drawn by” the main character, Adrian, but is of course really drawn by me. It’s a way to tell the story on a visual level to enhance the storytelling in the text. My YA is unusual in the amount of art in it, but we’re seeing more boundaries being broken down.

We have talented authorillustrators like Brian Selznick to thank in many ways. His illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic, 2007) really broke ground.

And then, of course, there are true graphic novels for all ages. A graphic novel differs from an illustrated YA or middle grade in that the format is like a comic book: The entire story is told through art panels with speech balloons and narrative text boxes.

However, now we’re seeing hybrid books that are mixing up all preconceptions, so who knows what comes next?

I love the idea of the illustrations in Draw the Line being “drawn by” the character! I look forward to seeing it when it releases. How important do you think it is for an illustrator to be an author as well? 

Every creative person is unique — many illustrators have no interest in writing or are not good writers, and many are extremely talented writers with a passion for it.

If you look at the most successful top illustrators in children’s literature, you’ll find those that also write their books as well as those who only illustrate books written by others.

For me and my colleagues, whether an artist is also a writer or not has no bearing on if we will work with them or not.

What qualities do you think are important for an artist to have in order to be successful as an illustrator in the children’s publishing industry?

Certainly those creative elements I mention above: alent, a unique style and vision, good visual storytelling skills, and ability to bring an emotional connection to the art. But you must also be professional — children’s literature is a collaborative process.

In addition to being realistic and professional about deadlines, you have to keep in mind that art direction and editing are not personal judgments, but useful and necessary ways of communication.

Everyone in the process has her or his expertise, and we all want your book to be the best book possible. It’s a balance of creating a work of art yet being sure it sells and gets into the hands of readers who want and need it.

Another part of being a professional is making connections, getting your work out into the world to be seen, and being engaged in the children’s book world. For example, showing your art in the SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery!

Is there something that you think every illustrator should know, that I haven’t asked?

This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to lose sight of: always be yourself! Don’t imitate others or create art that you may think art directors “want to see.” There certainly are artistic rules to follow, but within those parameters, find your own vision and dazzle us with it. Yes, use influences and inspirations in your work, but only as tools to enhance your singular style and vision.

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

New Voice & Giveaway: Paige Britt on The Lost Track of Time

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Paige Britt
is the first-time author of The Lost Track of Time, illustrated by Lee White
(Scholastic, 2015). From the promotional copy:


A magical fantasy, an allegorical cautionary tale, a feast of language, a celebration of creativity–this dazzling debut novel is poised to become a story for the ages.


Penelope is running out of time.


She dreams of being a writer, but how can she pursue her passion when her mother schedules every minute of her life? And how will she ever prove that writing is worthwhile if her mother keeps telling her to “get busy ” and “be more productive”?


Then one day, Penelope discovers a hole in her schedule–an entire day completely unplanned –and she mysteriously falls into it. 

What follows is a mesmerizing journey through the Realm of Possibility where Penelope sets out to find and free the Great Moodler, the one person who may have the answers she seeks. Along the way, she must face an army of Clockworkers, battle the evil Chronos, take a daring Flight of Fancy, and save herself from the grip of time.


Brimming with clever language and masterful wordplay, The Lost Track of Time is a high-stakes adventure that will take you to a place where nothing is impossible and every minute doesn’t count–people do.

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an “ah-ha!” moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

Jill Santopolo

I absolutely do have a most memorable workshop! It was actually one you gave in 2008 with Jill Santopolo, author and editor at Philomel Books. Even though it was over seven years ago, I’ve never forgotten it.

The workshop was organized by the Austin SCBWI and hosted by Debbie Gonzales, who was regional advisor at the time.

To register, you had to submit three pages of a work-in-progress. A few weeks before the event, everyone received a packet with copies of all the three-page submissions. Then during the workshop, you and Jill went through each submission and discussed it with the entire group.

You were both kind and encouraging, but also very honest. Jill told us that editors were looking for a reason to say “no” when they read a manuscript. Together you discussed each submission and pointed out the potential “no’s.” Meandering openings, overly long backstory, and hazy plot lines were the most common mistakes.

Even though what you had to say was tough, it was clear you were invested in everyone’s success. You wanted to turn those no’s into yes’s.

Here’s the funny thing. I didn’t even submit my three pages. I registered too late to be a part of the critique, but I went to the workshop anyway. And I’m so glad I did! After the workshop I went home, re-read my three pages, and guess what? They were meandering, “explain-y,” and vague. But because of your input, I could see it. And if I could see it, I could fix it.

Cynthia Leitich Smith & Debbie Gonzales

The Lost Track of Time opens with an alarm clock going off, “Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.” It’s 6 a.m. and even though it’s summer vacation, the main character, Penelope, has to get up and get busy. Right from the start, you know that the central conflict in the story is time.

I did that because of what I learned from you and Jill.

After I fixed my first chapter, I submitted it to two conferences and had sit-down conversations with agents at both. The first agent asked for thirty more pages and the second one, Marietta B. Zacker, signed me. There is absolutely no way that would have happened if I hadn’t gone to that workshop. I’ve always wanted to tell you and Jill how much you helped me!

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

From the beginning, I knew The Lost Track of Time was intimately connected to real-world issues. When I started writing it, I was working for an internet startup. I was constantly on the clock, from morning until night and over the weekends, trying to make the company a success. Everyone was fighting for more time—but no matter what we did, there was never enough. And what time we did have, had to be spent Constantly! Achieving! Results!

Not surprisingly, The Lost Track of Time is about a girl who likes to do nothing. Doing nothing seemed to me like a radical and counter-cultural act. I’m not talking about the nothing where you lie around flipping through TV channels because you’re too exhausted to engage in life.

I’m talking about moodling.

I learned about moodling from Brenda Ueland in her book, If You Want to Write. She writes:

“The imagination needs moodling–long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.” 

I agree. When you moodle, you’re quiet, still, and (horrors!) unproductive. You let your mind wander until it becomes calm and curious and open. It’s a space of quiet contemplation and intense creativity.

During this busy time in my life, I had no time for quiet contemplation. But when I discovered Brenda Ueland’s words, I suddenly felt I had permission to sit, stare out the window, and moodle. Not only did I have permission, it was imperative that I do so if I wanted to let my own ideas and stories to “develop and gently shine.”

Ueland’s encouragement that everyone moodle touched me so deeply that she inspired a character in my book. She’s the Great Moodler and Penelope fights the tyranny of Chronos and his Clockworkers to save her from banishment in the Realm of Possibility.

As Penelope faces each trial with both imagination and courage, she moves from being an insecure, apologetic daydreamer to a great moodler in her own right.

Paige Britt

Research shows a marked decline in U.S. children’s creativity, due to a lack of unstructured free time to play and, I would say, to moodle.

This is terrible news! Not just because creativity is wonderful and life-giving, but because it’s the best predictor we have of a child’s future success, not just in the realms of art and literature, but in the world of business, science, and technology, too.

I’m not sure if you can teach creativity, but I do think you can encourage it. And that’s what I wanted to do in The Lost Track of Time.

I wanted to hold up moodlers as heroes.

Not because they can wield a sword, but because they dare, like Penelope, to enter the Realm of Possibility—to live in the present, to be creative and contemplative, and to believe anything is possible.

Paige’s desk

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two signed copies of The Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt, illustrated by Lee White
(Scholastic, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligible territory: U.S. 

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Guest Post: Cory Putnam Oakes on The Seven Deadly Sins of Sequels

By Cory Putnam Oakes
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

When I sold my first middle grade novel, I was super excited when my publisher asked me if I would also write a sequel.

A sequel! Squee! 

Because two books were obviously twice as awesome as one book and now I’d get to spend more time writing in the world I had painstakingly constructed for Book #1.

I was ecstatic and I floated around on a cloud of overwhelming happiness—right up until the moment I sat down to write Book #2.

Then, panic set in.

The sequel, which had sounded so good in theory, was downright terrifying in actual fact. I had no idea where to start and I was sure I was going to totally screw it up.

I had never experienced a sequel as a writer before. My writer-self had nothing but a big giant blank to draw on in that area.

I realized, however, that I had experienced quite a few sequels as a reader. And my reader-self had some very definite opinions about sequels, so I decided to let my reader-self educate my writer-self on how to proceed.

Turns out, my reader-self had some useful things to say which really helped me during the (eventual) writing process.

So in the interest of helping other writers who currently find themselves (or may one day find themselves) staring down the barrel of a sequel, here are my Seven Deadly Sins of Sequels:

Deadly Sin #1: Skipping Stuff

Perhaps one of my biggest peeves when it comes to sequels is when major changes happen between Book #1 and Book #2 and we learn about those changes in a recap at the beginning of Book #2 instead of actually seeing them happen.

If you’re going to kill off a character, end a major relationship, have somebody move away, or basically put any character in a fundamentally different position than the one they were in at the end of Book #1, don’t do it in a recap! That’s cheating.

Your reader is picking up Book #2 because they loved the story and the characters from Book #1—don’t bamboozle us by letting major things happen behind our backs! We will feel like we missed a step. (Which, in fact, we did!)

Deadly Sin #2: Jumping the Tracks

No one likes a plot they can see coming a mile away, but it’s also no fun to feel like the story-train you climbed aboard in Book #1 has literally jumped off of its tracks in Book #2 and is headed in a new direction, one for which you didn’t buy a ticket.

That doesn’t mean that the plot of Book #2 should be yawningly predictable for the sake of comfort, but there should be some hint of what is coming next built into Book #1 so your reader doesn’t feel completely blind-sided.

(Note: don’t panic if you’ve already completed Book #1 and you don’t think you did this—go back and read Book #1 again. I promise you planted more seeds than you remember.)

Deadly Sin #3: Book 1? Was There a Book #1?

You don’t want Book #2 to only make sense to people who were really, really paying attention to Book #1. But on the flip side, your sequel should not be a complete stand alone: Don’t act like Book #1 never happened. If, for example, your main character overcame a major obstacle in Book #1, it’s weird if that obstacle, and his/her struggle, is never referred to in Book #2.

You don’t have to go overboard reminiscing and info-dumping about all the stuff that happened in Book #1 (“Hey guys! Remember that time that we . . . “), but Book #1 is now part of the mythos, the shared understanding, of both books. It’s a common language between you and your reader. Use it as such. Make sure that you are building up your characters in Book #2 on top of a foundation that you constructed in Book #1.

Deadly Sin #4: When Book #2 is Basically Just Book #1 On Steroids

EXAMPLE:

In Book #1, the main character learns how to deal with a bully.

In Book #2, the main character learns how to deal with an even bigger, nastier, scarier bully.

No. Your main character has already fought this battle. They need a new battle for Book #2 or we’re just watching them go on the exact same journey they’ve already taken. Even if we really, really enjoyed the journey the first time around, we don’t want to see it again.

The question your sequel audience is asking is: Where does this character go from here? Not: Can they do it again even though it’s slightly harder this time?

Deadly Sin #5: When Book #2 Is Nothing But a Bridge to Book #3

This is a well-documented problem, specific to trilogies, when an author sacrifices Book #2 in order to set up the amazing, wonderful, mind-blowing idea they have for Book #3.

Okay, fine, I’ll use a specific example here: “The Empire Strikes Back.” I love “Star Wars,” I do. But even I’m forced to admit that Empire was really just a big set-up for “Return of the Jedi.” We can excuse this because of all the battles with Imperial Walkers and people cutting open tauntauns, being frozen in carbonite, and almost getting eaten by meteor-caves-that-are-really-giant-monsters. “Star Wars” can get away with this. But you and I can’t.

We need to move our plots along because people are not going to be as forgiving about our books as they are about “Star Wars” because, well, our books are not “Star Wars.”

Trilogies are tough because in a three book series, Book #1 is going to be the beginning, Book #2 the middle, and Book #3 the end. The tricky part is that each individual book in the series (including Book #2) also needs a beginning, middle, and an end of their very own.

How can you tell if you’re sacrificing Book #2? If the only stuff that happens in Book #2 is bad and there is no resolution to any of it, this is big, red, flashing warning sign. If Book #2 is when everything breaks, and Book #3 is where everything is fixed, this means you’re stopping your characters in mid-arc in Book #2. This is very unsatisfying.

Don’t get me wrong: You can leave your characters in dire straits at the end of Book #2. But make sure they accomplished something while getting there. There needs to be some kind of resolution to Book #2 problems—in Book #2.

Deadly Sin #6: Major Reveals That Should Have Happened Earlier

You know when you’ve been friends with somebody for years and then you learn a very important thing about them that you can’t believe you didn’t know? It feels rotten, right? Like maybe you never really knew them like you thought you did, or that maybe you’re a bad friend for not realizing this very important thing sooner?

Don’t make your reader feel like that. I’m not saying you can’t reveal new, surprising, very important things about your characters in Book #2—you can, and you should. But there needs to be a very good reason why we didn’t hear about this very important thing in Book #1. Don’t make your reader feel like a bad friend.

Deadly Sin #7: When Characters Morph Into Strangers

As readers, we fall in love with characters. Sometimes to unreasonable degrees. We will tolerate (and even encourage) them when they change and grow in reaction to things that happen to them, but we will not accept them drifting away from their core, defining characteristics.

Nobody would be okay with it if Indiana Jones suddenly decided to just “get over” his fear of snakes and adopted one as a pet. Nobody would be on board with Harry Potter dropping out of Gryffindor, joining Slytherin, and giving Ron Weasley wedgies in the hallway. It’s just not them.

Your characters need to grow and change in Book #2. But they need to stay themselves. Don’t mess with the core of who they are, or you risk the wrath of your readers who love them.

So those are the sins that I tried to avoid while writing my sequel. What did I miss? What else can we add to this list, to help guide the future sequel-writers of the world on their perilous journey?

Note: As you add to this list, please speak generally, as opposed to using specific books and authors as negative examples. Everyone who has ever tackled a sequel deserves a hug, a high-five, and at least a gallon of chocolate ice cream—not criticism. Let’s keep it positive, encouraging, and helpful!

Cynsational Notes

Cory Putnam Oakes is a writer living in Austin, Texas. Dinosaur Boy Saves Mars, the sequel that inspired this post, came out in February, 2016 from Sourcebooks.

She is also the author of Dinosaur Boy (Sourcebooks, 2015); The Veil (Octane Press, 2011); and Witchtown (coming from Houghton Mifflin, 2017).

She wishes it to be known that she feels really, really badly about disparaging “The Empire Strikes Back” in the above post. But she is certain that her overwhelming love for “Star Wars” in general will excuse this teeny, tiny bit of loving criticism.

Cynthia Leitich Smith agrees with Cory about the perils of “bridge” books in trilogies, but nevertheless believes that “The Empire Strikes Back” is the best of the “Star Wars” movies. Cynthia also selected “The Karate Kid II” to illustrate Cory’s fourth point, even though it’s her favorite of that series, too. She apparently feels conflicted about the whole dynamic.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

American Indian Youth Literature Awards & Honor Books (click to enlarge)

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Avoid Melodrama by Writing Deeper by Martina Boone from Adventures in YA Writing. Peek: “Experts tell us there are really only twelve universal emotions: interest, surprise, excitement, joy, love, sadness, fear, shame, guilt, contempt, pride, and anger.”

Tim Tingle on House of Purple Cedar Winning the AILA YA Literature Award from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “…I will walk the road of goodness, wave the light of forgiveness, and smile warm jokes along the way, as so many of my Choctaw kinfolks did.” See also More Coverage of the AILA Awards from AICL and 10 Books About Residential Schools to Read with Your Kids by Chantelle Bellrichard from CBC Radio Canada.

Disability in Kidlit and the Changing Landscape of Disabilities in Books: An Interview With Corinne Duyvis by Alex Townsend from The Mary Sue. Peek: “Most authors genuinely try, which means they’ll do research and want to treat their character with the utmost respect; that leads to a lot of good. At the same time, most authors aren’t disabled themselves, and don’t have a lot of pre-existing knowledge on disability tropes or the specific disability they’re portraying, so they’re starting from square one; that leads to a lot of missteps.”

Too Late to Start Writing? by Keith Cronin from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Don’t use age as an excuse – either for doing nothing, or to complain about how you no longer have a chance.”

Reality Scoop: Promoting Mental Wellness with YA Literature by Kimberli Buckley from YALSA Hub. Peek: “…teen depression can affect a teen regardless of gender, social background, income level, race, or school or other achievements, though teenage girls report suffering from depression more often than teenage boys.”

Secrets, Lies, Mistakes & Wounds: Creating Engaging Characters by Martina Boone from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: “They may not want people to see them the way that they see themselves, and so–consciously or without being aware of it at all–they may lie to themselves and others about who they really are and what they are really like.” See also Writing Memorable Characters via “Finding Nemo” by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers.

The Writer, The Reader & Mirror Neurons by Sarah Johnson from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “Our neurons fire in the same location in our brain when we move and when we observe the same movement by someone else.”

Author Interview: Cynthia Levinson on Hilary Clinton: Do All the Good You Can by Chelsea Langford from Kirkus Reviews. Peek: “Levinson understands that most kids love reading about other kids, ‘even if that subject is a grownup,’ and that making Hillary known to readers as a child first is a natural way to show how Hillary became the person she is today.”

Favorite Picture Book Revision Tips by Elizabeth Bluemle from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I invited my writer friends and colleagues to share their favorite picture-book tips for new and young writers. Here’s what they said….”

28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children’s Literature

See also Celebrating Black History Month with Poetry by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children and Celebrate Black History Month with Five Collections from Lee & Low.

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win from Marion Dane Bauer.

More Personally

NAACP Image Awards acceptance speech by Kekla Magoon.

Congratulations to 2016 NAACP Image Award winners Kekla Magoon and Ilyashah Shabazz (X: A Novel (Candlewick)) and Carole Boston Weatherford and Jamey Christoph (Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America (Albert Whitman))!

Personal Links

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Author Interview: Martine Leavitt on Calvin

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

From Macmillan: “Martine Leavitt has written several award-winning novels for young adults, including My Book of Life by Angel (FSG, 2012), which garnered five starred reviews and was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist; Keturah and Lord Death (Boyds Mills, 2012), a finalist for the National Book Award; and Heck Superhero (Boyds Mills, 2014), a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. She lives in Alberta, Canada.”

Congratulations on the release of Calvin (FSG, 2015)! Could you tell us about the book?

Thank you, Cynthia! It is the story of a seventeen-year-old boy who has a schizophrenic episode in school. He can hear the voice of a tiger named Hobbes.

He decides that Bill Watterson could cure him of his mental illness if he would draw one more comic strip, Calvin healthy and without Hobbes. He gets it into his head that he can make Watterson draw this comic if he goes on a pilgrimage to show his true intent and devotion.

He decides to walk across Lake Erie in winter – a deadly thing to attempt.

Why did you write Calvin?

A single neuron in the back of my brain pulsed with sadness for many years, perhaps all my conscious life, because there is such a thing as mental illness. Then one day it touched me, a form of mental unwellness, and it touched my family. Now I was sorry for myself as well as those who suffered with worse than me. Self-pity, sadly, has always been a motivating factor in my life.

Anyway, that single neuron pulsed away even more persistently, hoping for something, the way we send radio waves into space hoping to contact life on other planets.

One day as I was rereading my Calvin and Hobbes collection, it occurred to a single neuron in the front of my brain that Calvin, in the wrong hands, could be thought of as a maladaptive daydreamer, or as schizophrenic. That neuron in the front of my brain made instant contact with the lonely neuron in the back of my brain, and it was like Adam touching the finger of God in the Sistine Chapel.

Okay, it wasn’t that grand, but you get the idea. A sort of electronic storm was fired up between the two neurons, and they went on like that in their little electronic way for a while. Not enough to make a book quite yet, but something was happening.

And then I read online about a man named Dave Voelker who walked across frozen Lake Erie (to a place near Cleveland, where Watterson was once reported to live – coincidence? I think not), and I suddenly had a story wishing to be told. And that is why I wrote Calvin.

This is your tenth book. Does it get easier?

You would think, wouldn’t you. But in fact, no. Every book is a new adventure in insecurity and inadequacy. Every book asks something of you that no other book has asked.

New Voice: Melissa Gorzelanczyk on Arrows

On Twitter? Follow @MelissaGorzela.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Melissa Gorzelanczyk is the first-time author of Arrows (Delacorte, 2016). From the promotional copy:

People don’t understand love.


If they did, they’d get why dance prodigy Karma Clark just can’t say goodbye to her boyfriend, Danny. 

No matter what he says or does or how he hurts her, she can’t stay angry with him . . . and can’t stop loving him. But there’s a reason why Karma is helpless to break things off: she’s been shot with a love arrow.


Aaryn, son of Cupid, was supposed to shoot both Karma and Danny but found out too late that the other arrow in his pack was useless. 

And with that, Karma’s life changed forever. One pregnancy confirmed. One ballet scholarship lost. And dream after dream tossed to the wind.


A clueless Karma doesn’t know that her toxic relationship is Aaryn’s fault . . . but he’s going to get a chance to make things right. He’s here to convince Danny to man up and be there for Karma.


But what if this god from Mount Olympus finds himself falling in love with a beautiful dancer from Wisconsin who can never love him in return?

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 Melissa on Facebook.

Revising post-contract is a lot different than pre-contract.

The best part about post-contract revision is you have a clear path set by someone you (hopefully) trust. Your editor!

When my edit letters come in, I like to allow the feedback sit for a day or two before diving into the changes. That feels long enough to let any emotions attached to what she is telling me disappear.

 I wouldn’t recommend writing from a place of feeling wounded or defensive. You need to be open.

Once I’m open to the critique, I go through her letter and write a list of all the problems in my manuscript.

After that, I brainstorm possible solutions, making sure my favorites work on a big picture level. The process breaks down to finding solutions within all of my story elements—plot, setting, character, theme—and then onto chapter/scene/sentence level from there.

One thing to remember when revising post-contract is that your book will actually be out in the world someday. While this seems obvious, it’s easy to forget when you’re focused on the work at hand. Mainly, you want your editor to continue liking your book, right? Do not forget that now, in revision, you should also fix the things that don’t ring true to who you are.

Because people are (for reals) going to be reading your book in the near future! Make sure you feel proud and certain about the changes you are making.

Pre-contract is much harder, especially if you don’t have a critique partner you trust. The key is to find at least one.

Trade samples of each other’s work, and see if you like what the other person is saying to help make your story better. See if they work on the same turnaround as you. See if you feel comfortable being yourself when you email back and forth.

Melissa’s office

My second piece of advice is to trust your story and your gut. Long ago, a valued beta reader of mine suggested that I consider taking the teen pregnancy aspect out of my YA novel Arrows. I decided not to, and that ended up helping my book sell to Delacorte. In fact, my book was pitched as “MTVs ‘Teen Mom’ meets Greek mythology.”

I’m not saying the beta reader was wrong. Maybe my book would sell a million more copies without the teen pregnancy plotline. Who knows. I’m just saying you don’t have to revise according to every comment, especially pre-contract.

Before sending your manuscript to beta readers, I suggest doing at least a couple revisions on your own. One of my favorite revising methods is a modified version of Susan Dennard’s revision method (just scroll down). Take her ideas and adapt them to fit your style.

For me, a simplified approach works best. My plan always starts with printing my manuscript and reading it in one sitting. I might make notes in the margins, or I might not. Then, like Dennard, I paperclip my chapters together and figure out what is or isn’t working with the plot, characters and setting.

This takes time! And this isn’t the place for line edits! Because believe me, for those first revision passes, your deleted scenes file may end up as long as your manuscript. That is okay.

Shed no tears.

This is how all books are made.

“The only kind of writing is rewriting.”
Ernest Hemingway

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

Promoting my debut has been both exhausting and interesting. I’m still a few weeks from publication date (I’m writing this on 1/4/16), but I truly feel I’ve done all I can leading up to this point.

I try to remember that promoting a book is a slow burn, kind of like the publishing process as a whole. It doesn’t happen all at once.

The things I’m doing pre-publication are the things I’ll be doing all of next year.

Promotion starts by figuring out two things:

1. How much time you can devote to promotion.

2. How much money you can/want to spend.

I think every author should plan to spend some time and some money on their promotion, but no one really knows the magic combo. Personally, I devote half of my work day to promotion, as well as some nights and weekends, which I started doing when my book was about four months from publication.

Up to that point, I was working on promotion as things came up. There wasn’t a set schedule or plan. So I guess you could say that about four months to publication, I panicked, created a master spreadsheet and worked really hard to meet my goals.

As far as money, my guess is that I’ll have spent about $1,500 to $3,000 on promotion by the end of 2016. This estimate includes postage (budget more than you think you need), thank you cards, thank you gifts, bookmarks, buttons, postcards, my book trailer, conferences and my launch party. All of this is tax deductible.

I have no idea if this is high or low as far as a marketing investment, but as a debut, when deciding where to spend money, it made sense to go “all in.”

I’m curious how I’ll feel at the end of 2016. My advice is do what feels right for you.

Melissa’s office

If you’re wondering where to start with promotion, I’d highly recommend joining a debut author group. I’m a member of the Sweet Sixteens and the Class of 2k16.

Being able to ask fellow debuts questions has saved so much time in random Google searches/panicking. Plus it’s a safe place to share failures and successes, and well, meet people who “get it.” My author family is a whole new awesome kind of family.

Another thing you can do is study what successful authors are doing. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Add your personality and style to their ideas. For instance, if they are on Goodreads, you probably want to be there, too. If they are doing giveaways on Twitter, why not try one?

For your own sanity, stay organized. Write all of your ideas on a spreadsheet and add deadline dates so that you don’t feel completely overwhelmed.

Work on your promotion in bite-sized pieces. One blog post at a time. One bookmark order at a time. One Tweet at a time.

In my opinion, being a debut is a good time to say “yes”. Try all the blog articles you can. Answer every interview you can.

Yes, you want to make a book trailer? Figure out how to do that. Yes, create a professional website and blog, Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. Yes, send a monthly newsletter (I use MailChimp). 

Yes, you can do this!


Cynsational Notes

Melissa recommends: Ten Things Nobody Tells You about Being a Debut Novelist by Tim Federle.

https://thesweetsixteens.wordpress.com/

2016 SCBWI Bologna Author-Illustrator Interview: Doug Cushman

Doug Cushman

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Since 1978, Doug Cushman has illustrated over 130 children’s books, 30 or so of which he wrote as well. 

Among his many honors, he has gained a place on the New York Times Children’s Best Sellers list and on the 2003 Children’s Literature Choice list.

The first book of his popular beginning reader series featuring Aunt Eater (HarperCollins, 1987) was a Reading Rainbow Book. 

He has received a National Cartoonist’s Society Reuben Award for Book Illustration, the 2004 Christopher Award for his book illustrations, a 2007 and 2010 Maryland Blue Crab Award and the 2009 California Young Readers Medal.

He illustrated the best-selling “Can’t Do” series, including What Dads Can’t Do (2000) and What Moms Can’t Do (2001) for Simon and Schuster. 


His recent titles include Pumpkin Time! by Erzsi Deak (Sourcebooks, 2014), Halloween Good Night (Square Fish, 2015) and Christmas Eve Good Night (Henry Holt, 2011), which received a starred review from Kirkus. His first book of original poems, Pigmares (Charlesbridge, 2012), was published in 2012. 

He has displayed his original art in France, Romania and the USA, including the prestigious Original Art, the annual children’s book art show at the Society of Illustrators in New York City. 

He is fan of mystery novels and plays slide guitar horribly. He enjoys cooking, traveling, eating and absorbing French culture and good wine—even designing wine labels for a Burgundy wine maker—in his new home in St. Malo on the Brittany coast in France.

Welcome Doug! Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about illustration and the SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery (BIG) at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.



You have had a long career in the children’s publishing industry, illustrating both your own stories, as well as the stories of other writers. Do you have a favorite medium for illustrating children’s books?

I love watercolor with pen and ink. There is so much expression one can have using ink line with the occasional “happy accidents” in watercolor. Pretty much all my books have been rendered in those two mediums.

It was more controlled in the beginning, but I’m trying to loosen up now. For a couple books I did everything: writing, watercolor illustration and hand-lettering the display type and entire text including the copyright. I even simulated aged, yellowing, lined notepad paper with watercolor, hand drawing each blue line on every page of the book.

My philosophy is: do whatever it takes to make the book work.

Has that changed over the years?

Moving to Paris loosened me up a bit. A few years ago, I rendered three books in acrylic, something I’d wanted to do. I love the bright colors and thick brushstrokes. I even added some collaged elements as well.

But, for me, the medium I use depends on the story. The technique I use to illustrate a book must complement the heart and soul of the story. An illustrator should never force his style on a text.

I’ve discovered digital painting recently. There’s a lot one can do with it. I’m having a grand time playing with my Wacom tablet, but I believe my training as a traditional artist has held me in good stead. Knowing the craft of drawing and painting has always helped me out with a multitude of problems! Yet, the story always dictates how I approach the way I draw my pictures.

So it varies from project to project. What influences your choice of style and medium for a given project?

Rackham
Shepard

The story is always the first thing that defines my approach to a project, even when I’m the author. An illustrator must read what’s between the lines as well as what’s on the page. The author is telling a certain story, the illustrations must work in harmony with the text.

A good example is The Wind In the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908). The master draftsman Arthur Rackham illustrated one (1940) edition.

He’s a brilliant illustrator, one of my favorites. But his style was so wrong for the atmospheric and slightly goofy story (Toad driving a car!). He was perfect for Grimm but not for the animal denizens living along side an easy, flowing river. E.H. Shepard’s illustrations are spot on.

What qualities do you think are important for an artist to have in order to be successful as children’s book illustrator?

Patience! Flexibility and a thick skin are paramount as well. This is a tough business. So many books are being published every year. But there’s always room for someone with a different voice, a unique way to look at the world.

Be aware of the trends but never be a slave to them. Follow what interests you. It may take longer but in the long run your work will be more sincere and that will catch the attention of editors and art directors. Honesty always shines through.

As writers, we talk a lot about voice, both the voice of the character, as well as our own authorial voice. Do illustrators have a voice as well? What about individual projects, or even characters?

Absolutely, illustrators have a voice. Like writers, it’s the way we see life.

In my case, I see the silliness, the zaniness in the world and through my characters, both human and animal. I’ve been told that one of the qualities people like about my work is the expression on my characters.

That’s part of my voice, my way of interpreting a text and the world in general, that internal struggle, waiting to get out. It’s like being an actor; artists must get inside the skin of the characters they’re illustrating, feeling what they feel. But, as I said earlier, the voice of the illustrator shouldn’t interfere with the voice of the author. They need to play off of each other, work in tandem together.

As a judge for the BIG, what makes an illustration stand out to you?

The BIG is a show of illustration, not just an exhibition of pretty pictures. I’m looking for art that is not only drawn and painted well, wonderfully composed and executed, but also tells a story.

I confess that much of what I see in the grand Bologna Book Fair judged art shows are marvelous paintings but they don’t tell any stories. We’re talking about book illustration here, art that serves a purpose. In many ways it’s harder and a much higher calling than easel painting.

I want to see something that dives deep into a story and tells me something in a way I haven’t seen or thought of before.

Why do you think participation in illustration showcases such as BIG is important for illustrators?

Exposure is one factor. Getting noticed. Working for a specific purpose is important as well. I’ve submitted illustrations to many judged shows with very specific criteria; size restrictions, medium, subject matter, etc. I haven’t always been accepted, but in the process of working on these pieces, I’ve learned something and expanded my working methods.

In almost every, case these pieces have always been the most popular and the most “Wow!” paintings in my portfolio. Picasso said a studio should be a laboratory.

I think shows like BIG can be a way to experiment with new ideas and techniques. Who knows? You may stumble across a way of working that may change your artistic career.

You have been to the Bologna fair on several occasions. How has your experience of the fair changed over the years?

I’m not sure that my experience has changed that much. But that’s not to say I’m bored!

It’s always exciting to see what’s being published around the world. I expect to see new things and I’m rarely disappointed. Of course digital publishing has grown since I started going to the book fair so it’s much more influential.

Through the years I’ve met more editors, art directors and illustrators so I know more people and it’s always fun to renew old friendships. And, of course there are the restaurants that I go to on a regular basis.

Over the years I’ve become friends with one of the owners. Now, that’s really exciting!

What are your “must-do’s” when you are there?

It can be overwhelming for a first timer. My suggestion is to wander around and “absorb” what you see, not seeking out anything specific. Take notes, jot down what strikes you.

If you open yourself to everything, you’re guaranteed to see something you would have missed if you were focused on a certain goal. I love wandering the “foreign” stands (foreign to this American, at least). There is so much creativity happening all over the world. I confess, working mainly in the American market, it’s easy to become too provincial in my thinking.

Any first time fair attendee should see as many books in as many stands that are not her market. It’s a real inspiration.

Also, as a “must-do”, I try to make a trip to Florence, only 40 minutes away by train. It’s every artist’s heritage, birthplace of who we are. It’s a lovely town chockablock with history and art (with some nice markets and restaurants!) It’s well worth a day off from the fair or staying the extra day.

Celebrating the 25th Anniversary!

Will you be in Bologna in April?

Definitely plan to go. I missed it last year and feel the need to return.

Will you be participating in the ever-popular Dueling Illustrators event at the SCBWI booth?

Yes and it’s always great fun. In past years I was teamed up with Paul O. Zelinsky, which is always a great thrill, and honor.

Thank you Doug! I look forward to seeing you in Bologna in April.

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the Regional Advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends. Twitter: @fictionforge

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

Cover Reveal & Author Snapshot: The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone by Lisa Doan

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the cover for The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone by Lisa Doan (Sky Pony, 2017). From the promotional copy:

A funny middle grade mystery adventure complete with an unconventional knight, a science experiment gone awry, a giant spider, and a boy to save the day!

Twelve-year-old Henry Hewitt has been living by his wits on the streets of London, dodging his parents, who are determined to sell him as an apprentice. 

Searching for a way out of the city, Henry lands a position in Hampshire as an assistant to Sir Richard Blackstone, an aristocratic scientist who performs unorthodox experiments in his country manor. 

The manor house is comfortable, and the cook is delighted to feed Henry as much as he can eat. Sir Richard is also kind, and Henry knows he has finally found a place where he belongs.


But everything changes when one of Sir Richard’s experiments accidentally transforms a normal-sized tarantula into a colossal beast that escapes and roams the neighborhood. 

After a man goes missing and Sir Richard is accused of witchcraft, it is left to young Henry to find an antidote for the oversize arachnid. Things are not as they seem, and in saving Sir Richard from the gallows, Henry also unravels a mystery about his own identity.

Congratulations on your upcoming release! What do you think of your new cover?

I love it! Huge thanks to Sky Pony and my editor, Adrienne Szpyrka, for capturing the humor of the book while at the same time working in two prominent elements – the giant tarantula and a journal detailing a trip to South America.

The tarantula is Henry Hewitt’s problem and the journal is the key to figuring out what to do about it, which he must do to save his friend and protector, Sir Richard Blackstone.

More specifically, how does the art evoke the nuances of your book?

We wanted the journal to feel Old World, hence the faded brown, as this story takes place in the late 1700’s English countryside.

Sky Pony’s designers had the genius idea of having the tarantula holding the journal to tie it all together. The red and yellow lettering really pop and signal the lighthearted tone.

I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

Isn’t it every middle-grade writer’s dream to have a cover with a tarantula on it?

I know it has always been one of mine!

Cynsational Notes

Lisa Doan has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is the author of the award-winning series The Berenson Schemes (Lerner).

Operating under the idea that life is short, her occupations have included: master scuba diving instructor; New York City headhunter; owner-chef of a restaurant in the Caribbean; television show set medic; and deputy prothonotary of a county court. She currently works in social services and lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Don Tate & Phoebe Wahl Win Ezra Jack Keats Book Award

By The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation
from Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, in partnership with the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at The University of Southern Mississippi, announced the winners of the 30th annual Ezra Jack Keats Book Award.

Each year, a new writer and new illustrator are celebrated. The 2016 award ceremony will be held April 7 during the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. The winners receive a gold medallion as well as an honorarium of $1,000.

“We are proud to present the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award to the best new talents in children’s illustrated literature each year. These are writers and illustrators whose books reflect the spirit of Keats, and at the same time, are refreshingly original,” said Deborah Pope, Executive Director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. “This year is Ezra’s 100th birthday! So we are especially delighted to celebrate him by honoring those whose books, like his, are wonderful to read and look at and reflect our multicultural world.”

“The Keats Archives at the de Grummond Children’s Collection is a happy reminder of the joy that Ezra’s books have brought to readers and the impact they have had on children’s book makers.

“Once again, we see that influence in the work of this year’s EJK Book Award winners. We are confident that they’ll join the long list of illustrious past winners whose books continue to delight and make a difference,” said Ellen Ruffin, Curator of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection.

Lois Lowry, two-time winner of the Newbery Award for Number the Stars (1990) and The Giver (1994), will present this year’s Ezra Jack Keats Book Awards. Michael Cart, columnist/reviewer for Booklist and a leading expert on young adult literature, will deliver the Keats Lecture.

The 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award winner for new writer is:

Don Tate for Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree)

In the South before the Civil War, it was illegal to teach slaves to read, but George Moses Horton loved words too much to be stopped. He taught himself to read as a child and grew up to be a published poet, while still a slave.

Writing about slavery for young readers is challenging but important, and Don Tate succeeds brilliantly, in an engaging, age-appropriate and true narrative.

Tate said, “Three years ago, I won an Ezra Jack Keats honor award, one of the proudest moments of my career. I never imagined being considered again… this time [for] the top award. There has always been a special place in my heart for Ezra Jack Keats. When he chose to picture brown children in his books, he chose to acknowledge me. I wasn’t invisible to him.

“As a creator of color in a field that sorely lacks diversity, it can be easy to sometimes feel unseen. This award serves as a reminder to me that I am not invisible and that my work matters.”

The 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award winner for new illustrator is:

Phoebe Wahl for Sonya’s Chickens (Tundra)

Sonya’s dad presents her with three baby chicks to care for, and she does her job well, providing food, shelter and lots of love as they grow into hens. Then one night, Sonya discovers that one of her hens is missing! But as her father explains, the fox stole the hen because he loved his kits and needed to feed them.

The circle of life is gently and exquisitely depicted in Wahl’s rich and colorful watercolor and collage illustrations of a multicultural family’s life on a farm.

Wahl said, “Keats’ work stands out as some of the most impactful of my childhood. I can directly trace the roots of my obsession with pattern, color and my use of collage to my affinity with the lacy baby blanket in Peter’s Chair. Keats inspired me to create stories that are quiet and gentle, yet honor the rich inner lives of children and all of the complexity that allows.

“I am humbled to be associated with Keats’ legacy in being presented with this award, and I am so grateful to the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and the children’s literature community for this show of support and encouragement.”

The 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award honor winners are:

2016 New Writer Honors

Julia Sarcone-Roach for The Bear Ate Your Sandwich, also illustrated by Sarcone-Roach (Knopf)

Megan Dowd Lambert for A Crow of His Own, illustrated by David Hyde Costello (Charlesbridge)

2016 New Illustrator Honors

Ryan T. Higgins for Mother Bruce, also written by Higgins (Hyperion)

Rowboat Watkins for Rude Cakes, also written by Watkins (Chronicle)

The Ezra Jack Keats Book Award Criteria

To be eligible for the 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, the author and/or illustrator will have no more than three children’s picture books published prior to the year under consideration.