Guest Post: Carol Coven Grannick on “Into the Scary for the Sake of Joy”

By Carol Coven Grannick
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I’ve been musing about what project I will work on next. Of my numerous ideas, which will take me into the challenging and blissful intellectual, emotional, psychological environment that I’ve been in for more than two years with my middle grade novel in verse, now on submission through my agent?

While I’ve written and revised it many, many times without having the thought of whether or not it would ever be published hovering close to me, now that it’s with an agent, it’s pretty hard to keep it on a back burner.

Of course, not knowing whether or not it’s truly “finished” inhibits me some from beginning a big, new project. And I also tend to rock gently in the hammock the wonderful Norman Lear has described – one that exists in the space between “over” and “next.”

But I try to tell myself the truth – the whole truth – about what I’m going through. It’s best for me, and it’s the best way to communicate with readers of my posts.

And when I wonder with interest (not judgment) about what keeps me from moving forward with a new, intense project, I know that it’s partly because the experience is not just meaningful and joyful. 

It’s also scary.

Because the best of my work includes letting myself sink deeply into the inner life of my character, and her longings, pains, struggles, become my own. That feels wonderful…and also pretty uncomfortable at times.

And I don’t think that’s unusual for us writers. Because the writing I love – others’ writing – takes me to those profoundly intense (joyful and painful) places, too.

As I was musing, an SCBWI-Illinois colleague, Darcy Zoells, posted on our listserv about her new etsy shop – Perilous Places.

The name sent an electric shiver from my stomach to my brain and back down again. “Perilous Places” – what a wonderful, intriguing, serendipitous title for what I had on my mind!

I clicked on Darcy’s link and immediately saw this:

I fell in love, and in my mind, heard the words, “perilous places” as I stared at, and then purchased, the beautiful print. This piece captures the peril and the joy of taking risks, and I could afford to own it.

Because I felt such an instant kinship with this piece of Darcy’s work, I asked her if she’d answer some questions for this guest post about entering that wonderful and yet scary place.

I love her comfort with the process of creating without knowing exactly where she may be headed. Here’s some of what she told me about Morning, which is the actual title of the work above.

Darcy Zoells

The piece, Morning, that you’re referring to, is one of a series that I am working on in collaboration with Dutch composer Sebastian Huydts. These are illustrations for his CD, Delicias de Blancanieves, which is a series of what he calls “Spanish fairy tales for the piano.” Though the title translates to “Snow White’s Delight,” he has said that it’s not referring to any specific fairy tales, so I approached the music with a mind wide open to possibility. 

As an illustrator, I’m always telling a story. In this case, I had no text to start with, only the music, which is infused with Spanish character, so I started looking at visual motifs from Barcelona or Spain (architecture, tiles, fabric). 

I also watched Spanish films. The whole time I was sketching. I kept coming back to the imp and the girl with the wheel. 

There are so many opposites in this image and I guess that reflects a certain philosophy of balance. Life is delicate. There’s a sense of hope, but the figure is also on a precipice. 

I didn’t think of this at the time, but looking at it now, it seems to me that one character is dealing with internal struggles and the other with external challenges. 

I’m still not sure what my next project will be, and I’m not sure from where or when the moments of perilous experience for the sake of joy will come. It’s impossible to know, or to plan.

But Darcy’s work hanging above my desk, reminding me that I want it to be a perilous and joyful place, and that deep work does not allow one without the other.

Darcy’s words express another belief that accompanies the longing to be deeply involved in the intensity (comfortable and uncomfortable) of deep writing – a receptive mind and a comfort with the journey, knowing that it may be uncomfortable and joyful:

Although I have taken classes, I don’t have…art school training, so I don’t think I learned any rules. In many ways this has made my way more difficult and longer. However, sometimes when you don’t have a roadmap and you get lost, you find yourself in a more interesting place than you could have imagined in the beginning. 

So my journey toward the next project continues, into the scary for the sake of joy.

Cynsational Notes

Carol Coven Grannick has been a writer since before her fourth grade teacher told her she was one. Her poetry, essays, and articles have appeared in numerous print and online venues.

She began writing for children in 1999, and her poetry and fiction have appeared in Highlights for Children, Ladybug, Cricket and Hunger Mountain. Her picture book manuscripts have won several awards, and her middle grade novel in verse manuscript, “Reeni’s Turn,” was named a finalist in the 2014 Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children’s Writing at Hunger Mountain.

Drawing from her skills and experience as a clinical social worker and consultant/educator, Carol also writes extensively about the psychological and emotional aspects of the writing journey, and the essential skills for creating and maintaining emotional resilience. Her column, “The Flourishing Writer,” is archived in the Illinois SCBWI Prairie Wind.

Carol lives with her husband in Chicagoland and treasures her family, friends, and works at an extraordinary early childhood center.

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

Whoosh! Race and all Students from Chris Barton at Bartography. Peek: “I don’t think she expected your book to have a ‘racial element’ and when she got to the line:’where only five years earlier, African American students hadn’t even been allowed,’ she made a quick decision to change it even though it makes no sense.” See also: Chris’ List of College-Sponsored Children’s Literature Conferences in the U.S.

We Need Diverse Books Announces the Opening of Applications for the 2017 Internship Grants. Peek: “Five $2500 grants are available to diverse publishing and literary agency interns. New this year, WNDB will include a metro stipend to each intern….An internship is an important gateway into positions at publishing houses and agencies, but the expense of living in New York City can be a barrier to many well qualified candidates.” See also, Free Diverse Picture Books For Elementary Schools: WNDB is giving away 30 sets of diverse picture books to elementary school libraries. Application deadline: March 15.

Latinxs and the MFA: A Chat with Emerging Author Yamile Saied Mendez from Latinxs in Kid Lit Peek: “I wrote or read during halftime at soccer matches or long dance competitions. I did ‘character studies’ during carpool (15 year-old boys will say the funniest things when they believe the driver can’t hear them). I learned to let go of things I couldn’t control, like the sea of Legos in the playroom. These habits prepared me for the writing life after the MFA. Nowadays, although I don’t have an advisor waiting for my packet, I have an agent waiting for my revision.”

Interview: Eric Velasquez by Jerry Craft for 28 Days Later from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “Fear is a construct. It’s just a hurdle to leap over, and I chose to do it. What artists have to realize is if you do something good once, it’s not a lucky shot. If you did it once, you can do it again.”

Sesame Street Writers Room: A Fellowship Program for Diverse Talent in Children’s Media. Peek: “Emerging storytellers who are selected to join the Writers’ Room fellowship will receive hands-on writing experience guided by Sesame Street veterans and other media industry leaders. Applications will be accepted from March 1 to March 31, 2017.”

I Spoke to the Woman Behind the Viral #DisabledAndCute Hashtag About Intersectionality by Alaina Leary. Peek: “#DisabledAndCute reminds us that mainstream depictions of disability are limited; disabilities aren’t always easily identifiable.”

SCBWI-Illinois Launches Diverse New Member Pathway, intended to increase diversity among children’s book creators and among members of SCBWI. One winner will receive a year’s free membership in SCBWI and be guided by author Crystal Chan. See also, the SCBWI Amber Brown Grant for schools that need funding help for author visits.

Voicing Black Lives by Edi from Crazy QuiltEdi. Peek: “As society focuses more on the contributions of young people, we continue to get biographies of jazz musicians and civil rights leaders rather than Hydeia Broadbent, Kya Allums, Samuel Sinyangwe and Trayvon Martin. Writing stories gives validation to their efforts, their causes and their identities. Imagine a teen in Chicago reading a book that walks a teen through the murder of Trayvon Martin and how that became the birth of a movement.”

The Small World of Small Publishing: An Interview with SoHo Press by Joy Preble from Brazos Bookstore on Soho Teen. Peek: “And there are other authors who know that being at a smaller place with lots of passion and creativity and energy is what they want. We love debuts at Soho. And we’re well positioned to create a lot of noise around a new author.”

After a Night at the Library, Stuffed Animals Help Kids Read by Robert Jimison for CNN. Peek: Actual loveys of young children are left them at the library for a “sleepover.” Photos are taken of them choosing books and reading together. “When kids pick them up the next day, they can see how much fun their little friends had with books — and the hope is that it will encourage more children to explore reading.” Bonus involvement idea: Use teenage volunteers to take the pictures.

“These Books Can Help” Reading to Kids About Immigration and Refugees by Jen Gann from The Cut.  Peek: From Bank Street Book Store’s Facebook page: “Don’t be at a loss for words when explaining to children that the heart and soul of America is to welcome others to our country who need a safe place to make a home.” See also: Refugees Welcome Here: Resources and Booklist from Out of the Box at the Horn Book.

Recommended! Jordan Wheeler’s Just A Walk by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “….I love to recommend books by Native writers and illustrators because teachers can use that all powerful two-letter-word, is, when they read this book to kids. That tiny word brings us out of the long ago past and into the present day.”

Overcoming Bias: Authors and Editors Discuss Sensitivity Readers by Matia Burnett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “(Justina) Ireland compared navigating one such landmine using a stick to writing a narrative that speaks from outside an author’s own lived experience. In both cases, sometimes having a little guidance from an expert is necessary to help ‘see what [the author] didn’t or couldn’t see.’ That’s where sensitivity readers come in.” See also: Experts or Censors: The Debate Over Sensitivity Readers by Lynn Neary at NPR’s Morning Edition and What A Sensitivity Reader Is and Isn’t and How to Hire One by Natalia Sylvester from Writer Unboxed.

Introducing One Stop for Writers New World Building Tool by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers Peek: “Imagine a set of surveys that can be customized and will work for all genres so you can easily bring together the important details for your world.” See also Janet Fox on New, Recommended Craft Books for Writers.

Deadline for Katherine Patterson Prize Extended to March 8. Cynthia Leitich Smith will be judging the contest sponsored by Hunger Mountain, the Vermont College of Fine Arts Journal for the Arts.

This Week at Cynsations

Congratulations to Lance and Randy, winners of the Rock and Roll Highway Giveaway!

More Personally – Cynthia

Career Strategies panel with Shelley Ann Jackson, Chris Barton, Jennifer Ziegler & moderator P.J. Hoover
Authors Include Cynthia Leitich Smith

Thank you to Austin SCBWI for the opportunity to speak on the faculty of Marketing Boot Camp last weekend at Round Rock (TX) Public Library. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Levinson. The sold-out workshop focused on booking author events, public speaking, promotional campaigns and career building. Participants also more informally shared insights and tips in breakout groups.

On the creative front, I finished keying changes after trimming 15,000 words from my YA novel in progress as well as brainstorming eleven new plot points to be integrated into the story. Thanks to Cory Putnam Oakes for her support and brainstorming assistance.

See also What Children’s Authors & Illustrators Wrote & Drew When They Were Young from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “In Our Story Begins, a book due out from Atheneum this July, a number of children’s book creators recall their youthful creative efforts. Their entries were collected and edited by author Elissa Brent Weissman, and we present a selection of them here. Some of the essays have been condensed slightly from the original.”

Let’s donate & #Read4Refugees

See also a new teacher’s guide for Shame the Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall from Lee & Low.

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will be a keynote speaker for the 33rd Annual Virginia Hamilton Conference on April 6 and April 7 at Kent State University in Ohio. In addition, she will deliver the keynote address at The Color of Children’s Literature Conference from Kweli Literary Journal on April 8 at the New York Times Conference Center in Manhattan.

Personal Links

More Personally – Gayleen

Anne Bustard and Gayleen

The Austin SCBWI Marketing Boot Camp was fantastic! I’ve had a good writing week, digging into a project that had been “resting” for many months. It’s now much easier to cut off the deadwood, pull out the weeds and get busy growing my story.

Personal Links

Book Trailer: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Check out the new book trailer for Allegedly (HarperCollins, 2017) by Tiffany D. Jackson. From the promotional copy:

Orange Is the New Black meets Walter Dean Myer’s Monster (HarperCollins, 1999) in this gritty, twisty, and haunting debut by Tiffany D. Jackson about a girl convicted of murder seeking the truth while surviving life in a group home.

Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: a white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it?

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary’s fate now lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But does anyone know the real Mary?

Cynsational Notes

Tiffany D. Jackson is a TV professional by day, novelist by night, awkward black girl 24/7. She received her bachelor of arts in film from Howard University and her master of arts in media studies from the New School. A Brooklyn native, she is a lover of naps, cookie dough, and beaches, currently residing in the borough she loves with her adorable Chihuahua, Oscar, most likely multitasking. Allegedly is her debut novel.

Guest Post: Carole Lindstrom on Writing on Two Continents

By Carole Lindstrom
for Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations

I recently returned to live in the Washington D.C. area after a three-year stint living in Durban, South Africa.

Why Durban, you ask? Most people do. That is definitely a story I will be writing one day – so you’ll have to stay tuned for that one.

My first picture book, Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle, illustrated by Kimberly McKay (Pemmican Publications, 2013), was published three months after I moved to Durban.

Don’t get me wrong – I was thrilled to have this be my first published book, since it is based on my Metis culture.

But traditional promotion proved difficult.

I talked to editors, agents and many authors prior to our move, to get their thoughts on living abroad while publishing in the United States. The majority of them said it was not a big deal because of the internet. While I do believe the internet and emails have certainly made it easier, that didn’t help when it came to meeting and greeting readers.

I wasn’t able to share Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle with children in South Africa as it was very difficult for them to obtain the book there. So the usual routine of contacting local schools and libraries wouldn’t work.

I had to be creative and I had to reach out. As most of you know, the writing community is an amazing group of people who are only too glad to help. And they didn’t disappoint. They took the time to Skype with me to offer their guidance and wisdom. That’s how great they are!

Nancy Viau and Kathy Erskine gave me great insight about Skype school visits. I would have really felt lost without them.

They were helpful in terms of how the Skype visit should go, how long it should last and what I should discuss.

They also suggested I offer a free 30-minute Skype visit and if they wanted longer, then I would charge a fee.

Before long, I was talking to fifth graders in Mexico about dancing and fiddling.

Illustration by Kimberly McKay

I made a point of staying connected to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators while living in South Africa. Luckily, they have a Cape Town chapter.

I also journeyed back to the states for the New Jersey SCBWI conference, which is one of my favorites. I met so many friends there prior to my move and I wanted to keep that connection, so I made a point to come back every year. I think I even got a prize for traveling the farthest! The prize is really why I did it, shhhhh – don’t tell.

But the thing that really sustained me was social media. Seeing my writer and illustrator friends every day on Facebook helped me stay connected and feel a part of the writing community even though I was 10,000 miles away.

I also had a critique partner that I met through SCBWI, Kenda Henthorn, who really was a lifeline for me while living there. She read a lot of my manuscripts and just helped lift me up on days when writing felt overwhelming and I didn’t feel worthy of my craft. I would have really felt lonely without her. I can’t say enough about the SCBWI and what it has done for me.

In addition, I taught writing classes at bookstores and coffee shops in Durban. Teaching informed my own writing and also helped me learn more about the local culture first hand from my students.

Again, here are quick tips for writing and marketing internationally:

  • Seek advice from established authors in target countries.
  • Offer online author events to schools, libraries, writing groups.
  • Maintain local ties through SCBWI international and its local chapters.
  • Stay connected in craft through online critique exchanges.
  • Teach writing classes in local venues.

Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

I’m happy to be living back in the D.C. area again – and doing school visits across town, instead of across the ocean.

Although, I do miss South Africa and the monkeys that frolicked in my yard, I have so many stories and kernels of stories yet to take root that South Africa will always be with me and I get the fun part of bringing it to my readers.

Cynsational Notes

Carole Lindstrom is Metis/Ojibwe and is tribally enrolled with the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Inspiration for Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle came from her grandfather, a fiddler who could play a mean jig.

Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children’s Literature highly recommended Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle, praising its contemporary setting and inclusion of Metis culture. “I was swept into the story and curious to know more about the Red River Jig.”

Alison Schroeder of University of Manitoba’s CM magazine also recommended the book. “This book teaches kids that they don’t need to follow what they are told they should be interested in or good at based on gender, but that they should pursue what they are passionate about.”