Cynsations Winter Hiatus

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Many blessings of the season, Cynsational readers!

Effective immediately, this blog is on winter hiatus until sometime in early 2018. In the meantime, please find me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I’ll continue sharing bookish news about writing and illustrating books for young readers, the creative life, and publishing as an industry–along with some adventures of my own.

Thanks to everyone who was featured or contributed a guest article to Cynsations this fall. Most appreciated!

(If your post was turned in but has not yet gone live, our apologies for the delay. It’ll happen ASAP next year.)

Thanks also to interns Gayleen Rabakukk and Robin Galbraith and to reporters Carol Coven Grannick, Traci Sorell, Christopher Cheng, Melanie Fishbane, and Angela Cerrito. You are all wonderful people and talent writers. Color me your fan!

And of course thanks to all of you Cynsational readers for joining us, for supporting the world of children’s-YA literature and young readers and for signal boosting our efforts!

Happy Holidays & Happy New Year!

Personal Links:

Survivors: Tim Wynne-Jones on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children’s-YA Author

Learn more about Tim Wynne-Jones.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

In children’s-YA writing, maintaining an active publishing career is arguably an even bigger challenge than breaking into the field.

Reflecting on your personal journey (creatively, career-wise, and your writer’s heart), what bumps did you encounter and how have you managed to defy the odds to achieve continued success?

Yes, that first magical published book. And then the struggle to get the next one out – the terrible twos! Followed by all that jockeying in mid-career. When, exactly, is the career of writing ever easy?

And then – suddenly – you’re old. The question is: How old? Are you ever not six; are you ever not sixteen? Childhood is a renewable resource.

C. S. Lewis said something to the effect that you don’t leave childhood behind the way a train leaves a station. I guess the big problem with age is not so much from staying on track but running out of it.

Reflecting on your personal journey (creatively, career-wise, and your writer’s heart), what bumps did you encounter and how have you managed to defy the odds to achieve continued success?

There is an inevitably to walls. You’re going to hit one. Maybe a bunch. I don’t really believe in writer’s block; if you’ve got nothing to say, chances are that you won’t be able to say it and that’s probably a good thing.

So when I hit the wall, it wasn’t that I stopped writing; it’s just that nothing I wrote was any good. Two whole novels finished. Finished and… well, rubbish. Soundly rejected. And this was after many books — awards, even – some real success. I thought my innings were over. I’d had a good at-bat and I needed to let go.

Hey, I could teach. I do know some stuff. The letting go was critical — the best thing that could have happened, giving myself the time for the well to fill up. Giving myself the time to realize there were things I cared deeply about and needed to say.

That was eight or nine books ago.

Stephen Sondheim said something like this: I know how to write a perfect song and that’s the problem. There’s no arrogance to that statement; to my mind, it’s an admission of the reality that knowing how to do something well, knowing the craft, the tricks of the trade, does not guarantee you much. The deal is always being renegotiated. Your vows have to be renewed. It has to matter.

If you had it to do all over again, what—if anything—would you do differently and why?

On the republishing of his first novel, The Man Within (1929), Graham Greene was asked if he wanted to make any editorial changes, since they would have to typeset the book, again. He read it and, if I’m remembering rightly, wasn’t very impressed. Actually, I think he cringed but that might be me projecting. So it became for Greene a question of not changing a single word or rewriting the whole thing. He opted for the former, more honest decision.

I’d have to say much the same thing about my career. Could I have done a better job of it? I’m sure. But who knew it was actually going to be a career?

Every book was just that – one book, the only book I ever wanted to write, at that particular moment in time. So you live with the decisions you make. No regrets.

The one thing I’m sure about is that disappointment is as inevitable as rain and unless you want to live in an arid place, get used to it.

On a more practical note, I should probably be more of a self-promoter or hire someone to do it for me. But that wasn’t the norm when I came into publishing. I got used to publishers who actually went out and sold the book. The changing face of the industry has left me in the dust, to some extent. I’m not very sellable as an author, anymore; maybe when I get to be a hundred.

My big hope is that I’m still sellable as a writer.

The field and body of literature are always evolving. For you, what have been the stand-out changes in the world children’s-YA writing, literature and publishing? What do you think of them and why?

I’ve watched issues come and go: literacy, appropriateness of themes and language, diversity, etcetera. And each of these issues is important and worth contemplating and doing something about. And each of these issues is, finally, something other than writing


That is not meant to diminish the importance of these matters but only to mitigate the potential of such things to distract you from the job at hand: writing honestly about what you feel you must write about. Writing diligently and conscientiously.

Listen to what people have to say. Yes. Now, what is your role in Change if change is called for?

The politics of writing is not writing. It is important; we each must do what we feel we can do. Decry what must be decried. Celebrate what must be celebrated. Write what must be written.

It’s that latter thing that can trip you up. No one can tell you what must be written. That’s your job.

The amount of your involvement with the wider world of literature is a personal decision, but I think it’s important to ask yourself this: does this involvement inspire me to write or does it keep me from writing?

What advice would you give to your beginner self, if that version of you was a debut author this year?

Good luck, dear friend. Keep your dreams flush, you’re going to need them. Find a good and supportive writing community. I took way too long to do that. It only happened for me late in my career, when I came to Vermont College of Fine Arts, and it has meant the world to me.

As much as you hate the business of writing, just do it. Engage. Spending a morning, now and then, promoting your work or setting up gigs is work that needs to be done. And yes, I know you hate work, but do it, anyway. Just don’t confuse it with actually writing.

What do you wish for children’s-YA writers (and readers), looking to the future?

Good luck, dear friend. Mourn your losses, but not for too long; celebrate your successes, big or small as they may be.

On a northern lake, researching The Starlight Claim (Candlewick, 2020)

A single letter from a kid who wasn’t forced to write it by his teacher is worth twenty reviews.

Don’t read your reviews, even the good ones, but if you can’t stop yourself, don’t take them too seriously. Don’t be diminished by opinion; at the same time, don’t work too hard on that protective shell. After all, a writer must stay open.

When someone, in person, genuinely praises your work, try to let them do so without being too self-conscious. As much as we long for praise, it’s somehow mortifying to get it. Get over yourself!

Keep the faith: There is something books do that no other medium can, engaging the reader in an active role of finishing what you, as the writer, only began.

As a writer, what do you wish for yourself in the future?

I hope to keep writing, but I hope I’ll know when to stop. And this is a conundrum. I’ve been one of the fortunate ones who has made a career in this field, I love so much. Which means I never had a full-time job. Which means I have no pension. So I must continue to write in order to live.

But then I kind of think that was always true.

Cynsational Notes

The Survivors Interview Series offers in-depth reflections and earned wisdom from children’s-YA book authors who have successfully built long-term, actively-publishing careers.

New Voice: Kate Hart on After the Fall

By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Kate Hart’s YA novel, After the Fall, debuted in January 2017 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. From the promotional copy:

Kate Hart’s debut YA novel After the Fall is a wrenching, emotional read and an intense conversation starter about issues of sexual consent.

Seventeen-year-old Raychel is sleeping with two boys: her overachieving best friend Matt…and his slacker brother, Andrew. Raychel sneaks into Matt’s bed after nightmares, but nothing ever happens. He doesn’t even seem to realize she’s a girl, except when he decides she needs rescuing.

But Raychel doesn’t want to be his girl anyway. She just needs his support as she deals with the classmate who assaulted her, the constant threat of her family’s eviction, and the dream of college slipping quickly out of reach. Matt tries to help, but he doesn’t really get it… and he’d never understand why she’s fallen into a secret relationship with his brother.

The friendships are a precarious balance, and when tragedy strikes, everything falls apart. Raychel has to decide which pieces she can pick up – and which ones are worth putting back together. 

Publishers Weekly said After the Fall “has a lot going for it—well-defined and believable major and minor characters, in particular—as well as a lot going on. The book takes up consent, slut shaming, issues of class and (to a lesser extent) race, unrequited love, and competition between siblings—and then adds a tragic accident and the resulting guilt and fractures.”

I’m pleased to welcome Kate to Cynsations to talk more about After the Fall, what she is writing now, and her thoughts about working on a future project with her tribe, the Chickasaw Nation.

What was your initial inspiration for writing After the Fall?

I started writing After the Fall in 2010, when I had just trunked a paranormal manuscript and wasn’t sure where to go next. Someone online suggested the “I want” technique, so I sat down and made a simple list with “I want to write about…” at the top, followed by random topics that appealed to me.

After “hiking,” “the Ozarks,” and “keeping up with the boys” showed up, I wrote a random line about rock climbing that led to an entire scene, and six weeks later it was an entire book.

A lot has changed in the manuscript since then, and it took a lot more than six weeks to reach the book’s final form, but that scene stayed and the first line remained the same.

What has your author journey been like since publication in January of this year?

It’s been complicated, because my health took a downturn right around the book’s release (which also coincided with the week of the Inauguration), and an even worse downturn this fall.

I was lucky enough to attend several book festivals in the spring, and meeting readers has definitely been my favorite part of the experience, so being unable to travel for promo later in the year was really disappointing. But that’s life with a chronic illness, and hopefully I’ll be better prepared to manage those issues next time around.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing the text to life?

The assault that Raychel’s character experiences is loosely based on my own, so when the first version of the book went on submission in 2010, it was very difficult for me to separate criticism of her actions from criticism of my own teenage behavior.

Seven years later, it’s not fun to read reviews that victim blame or claim that I, as an author, have somehow made light of the issue, but the time it took to get the books on the shelves gave me a while to develop a thicker skin and draw a better distinction between myself and my work.

What delighted you the most about writing this book?

With author Maureen Goo

Setting is an important element to me, so it was fun to pull parts of my hometown into the story. People have some pretty strong preconceived notions about Arkansas, and it’s been lovely to get thanks from locals who are relieved to see our area portrayed realistically.

You’ve mentioned in an interview earlier this fall that you’re working on a book informed by your Chickasaw ancestors’ experience. Will it also be a young adult story?

This is a great question because I’ve been asking myself the same thing! It’s certainly written about teenagers, but while one of the point of views is first person from a seventeen-year-old girl, the other is a “bird’s eye view” third person that may be skewing more adult.

I keep worrying about it, but ultimately you have to let the book be written in the way that works best for the story. My hope is that the finished draft will at least be a crossover – and if not, that my agent and/or future editor can help me straighten it out!

Any plans to work with the Chickasaw Nation’s White Dog Press to publish books for children and teens?

For now, I plan to stick with the major YA publishers, but I’d love to take part in some kind of anthology or project through the Chickasaw Nation.

I recently read their larger Chickasaw Press’ release Wenonah’s Story as a reference for my work-in-progress and I’m so grateful that they’re preserving the stories of our ancestors for future generations.

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?

Find your group (but not your tribe, because Dear Internet, tribes are a totally different thing).

When I first started writing, I didn’t have any local writer friends, but thanks to sites like Absolute Write and the early days of Twitter, I ended up with an amazing support group of colleagues.

Watching their publishing journeys taught me so much, and I went into my own career well-informed because of their generosity and advice.

Any last thoughts on Native/First Nations writers for young people?

I am beyond excited for the books coming soon from Rebecca Roanhorse. Her debut novel Trail of Lightning is for adults, but she also has a middle grade called Race to the Sun coming from Rick Riordan’s new imprint, plus several short pieces in various anthologies.

I’m also a fan of Tim Tingle’s House of Purple Cedar, which takes place in Skullyville, a Choctaw town in Oklahoma where many of my relatives lived.

Cynsational Notes

After studying Spanish and history at a small liberal arts school, Kate Hart taught young people their ABCs, wrote grants for grownups with disabilities, and now builds treehouses for people of all ages.

Her debut YA novel, After the Fall, was published January 2017 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux; she’s also a contributor to the 2018 anthologies Toil and Trouble and Hope Nation.

A former contributor to YA Highway, she currently hosts the Badass Ladies You Should Know series, and sells woodworking and inappropriate embroidery at The Badasserie. Kate is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation with Choctaw heritage and lives with her family in Northwest Arkansas.

Traci Sorell joins the Cynsations team as a reporter covering children’s-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators.

Traci writes fiction and nonfiction for children featuring contemporary characters and compelling biographies for the trade and educational markets. She has been an active member of SCBWI since August 2013.

In April 2016, Charlesbridge acquired her first nonfiction picture book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, from the slush pile. It will be published on September 18, 2018. The story features a panorama of modern-day Cherokee cultural practices and experiences, presented through the four seasons. It conveys a universal spirit of gratitude common in many cultures.

Traci is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She grew up in northeastern Oklahoma, where her tribe is located. She is a first-generation college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Native American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

She also has a Master’s degree in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and a law degree from the University of Wisconsin. Previously, she taught at the University of North Dakota School of Law and the University of New Mexico.

She also worked as an attorney assisting tribal courts nationwide, advocated for national Native American health care, and directed a national nonprofit serving American Indian and Alaska Native elders. She now lives in the Kansas City area and is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Literary Agency. Follow Traci on Twitter and Instagram @tracisorell.

Canadian Children’s-YA Literature Awards

By Melanie J. Fishbane
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

This fall a number of awards were given out to the best of Canadian children and young adult books.

Here’s the rundown of who won, the shortlist and more.

The 2017 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Awards

Every November, in a gala event at The Carlu in downtown Toronto, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC), in partnership with TD Bank and other donors, gives out $145,000 in prizes to the best in Canadian children’s writing and illustration.

A similar award ceremony occurs in Montreal, Quebec distributing French language awards.

English Awards:

TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award ($30,000) Winner:

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk by Jan Thornhill (Groundwood Books, 2016)

Finalists ($2,500):

Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award ($20,000) (Sponsored by A Charles Baillie):

The Snow Knows by Jennifer McGrath, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon (Nimbus Publishing)

Normal Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction ($10,000) (Sponsored by the Fleck Family Foundation):

Canada Year by Year by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Sydney Smith (Kids Can Press)

Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People ($5,000) (Sponsored by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Bilson Endowment Fund):

Blackthorn Key, Book 2: The Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands (Aladdin)

John Spray Mystery Award ($5000) (Sponsored by John Spray):

Shooter by Caroline Pignat (Razorbill Canada)

Amy Mathers Teen Book Award ($5000) (Sponsored by Sylvan Learning):

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston (Dutton Books)

See the full list of finalists and comments from the jurors.

French Awards

Prix TD de littérature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse ($30,000):

Même pas vrai by Larry Trembly, illustrated by Guillaume Perreualt (Éditions de la Bagnole)

Prix Harry Black d l’album jeunesse ($5000) (first time awarded):

Au-delà de la forêt by Nadine Robert and illustrated by Gérard DuBois (Comme des géants)

Governor General’s Awards

Every fall the Canada Council for the Arts gives the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Awards, which recognizes the best in Canadian English and French books.

Winner Young People’s Literature – Text (English):

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Demaline (Dancing Cat Books)

Shortlist Young People’s Literature – Text (English)

Winner Young People’s Literature – Illustrated Books (English):

When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Fleet (Highwater Press)

Shortlist Young People’s Literature – Illustrated Books (English):

Winner Young People’s Literature Text (French):

L’Importance de Mathilde Poisson by Véronique Drouin (Bayard Canada)

Shortlist Young People’s Literature Text (French):

Winner Young People’s Illustrated Book (French):

Azadah by Jacques Goldstyn (Les Éditions de la Pastèque)

Shortlist Young People’s Illustrated Book (French):

Cynsational Notes

Cynsations reporter Melanie J. Fishbane covers children’s-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news originating in Canada.
Photo by Ayelet Tsabari

Melanie holds an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an M.A. in History from Concordia University.

With over seventeen years’ experience in children’s publishing, she lectures internationally on children’s literature. A freelance writer and social media consultant, her work can be found in magazines, such as The Quill & Quire
Melanie also loves writing essays and her first one, “My Pen Shall Heal, Not Hurt”: Writing as Therapy in L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside and The Blythes Are Quoted,” is included in L.M. Montgomery’s Rainbow Valleys: The Ontario Years 1911-1942 (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015). And, her short story, “The New Girl,” was published in the Zoetic NonBinary Review. 
Her first YA novel, Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery, was published by Penguin Teen in 2017.
The novel was featured on the Huffington Post’s Summer Reading List, a top pick for the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading Kids Summer Reading pick and winner of Hamilton Public Library’s Next Top Novel.
Melanie lives in Toronto with her partner and their very entertaining cat, Merlin.

SCBWI Books for Readers Increases Book Access

Omar Bah, director of the Refugee Dream Center
with Lin Oliver, SCBWI executive director

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Back in April I interviewed Lin Oliver, executive director of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators about the organization’s new initiative: Books for Readers.

“In the U.S., many low-income communities have as few as 1 book per 300 children. We as an organization would like to help change this,” she said. “With our initiative, we can advance our organization’s mission as children’s book creators and literacy advocates, and help increase access to books for kids in desperate need of them. It’s a natural fit!”

Recently, the two organizations selected by a sub-committee of the SCBWI Board of Advisors received the first donation of new books: the Refugee Dream Center in Providence, Rhode Island and the Kinship House in Portland, Oregon.

At both celebrations, authors and illustrators took part in demonstrations, storytimes, crafts, refreshments and book distribution. Books were donated for each organization’s lending library and one book was given to every child to take home. 
“We hope that by giving books to these children we can help build their dreams,” Lin said. “Every child deserves books and dreams!”

Illustrator Jannie Ho assists at the illustration station.

The Refugee Dream Center is a post-resettlement refugee agency. It offers referrals, social level
assistance, and skills development such as English language education for adults, health promotion and cultural orientation, youth mentoring, and case management.

In addition, the Refugee Dream Center is a strong advocacy agency for the rights of refugees.

Books received by the Refugee Dream Center will outfit a classroom library for its ESL program and promote the center’s goal to help refugees work towards self-sufficiency and integration.

In addition, each child in attendance got their own book to take home.

“Unlike most book-to-reader relationships, these books will be the first books that our children will read in their new language, that will assist them with their English mastery, and that will help them become part of their new culture—and feel part of it, too!” said Kara Skaling, Program Coordinator of the Refugee Dream Center.

The Kinship House provides outpatient mental health services to foster and adopted children and their families. The books gave a boost to Kinship’s lending library and became the first books to keep for many of the children they serve.

“Many of our children have lived lives most of us can’t imagine. These books will bring light, restore a piece of their childhood, and offer them the joy many families take for granted!” said Melissa Smith-Hohnstein, LCSW and Clinical Director of Kinship House.

SCBWI members and staff gathered to celebrate the Books for Readers donation to the Refugee Dream Center.

The Books for Readers celebration also included dinner.

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith,
Gayleen Rabakukk & Robin Galbraith
for Cynsations

Author Insights

Best Books of 2017: Ibi Zoboi by Alex Heimbach from Kirkus Reviews. Peek:

“When Ibi Zoboi’s family moved from Haiti to Bushwick, Brooklyn, they found that the change wasn’t as positive as they’d hoped. ‘Sometimes if we’re trying to leave somewhere broken, we’re moving into somewhere that’s even more broken,’ Zoboi says.” 

Bestseller Angie Thomas on Writing, Bestsellerdom, and Diversity in Publishing from Nathan Bransford. Peek:

“For a long time there was this myth in publishing that black kids don’t read, and THUG (The Hate You Give, HarperCollins, 2017) along with other great books has proven that to be a lie. Black kids will read if you give them something they connect with, and other kids will even read about them.”

Getting at the Truth with Chris Harris by Julie Danielson from Kirkus Reviews. Peek:

“Before Lane signed on, I’d had this idea that the writer and the illustrator could have an antagonistic relationship throughout the book. But Lane was the one who really seized on that idea, almost as if he’d been waiting for an excuse to say, ‘Sure Chris, yeah, let’s pretend we don’t like each other!’”

Traveling Through Time, Facing the Past: An Interview with YA Author Katherine Locke by Lyn Miller-Lachmann from The Pirate Tree. Peek:

“By adding magic and fantasy, and using that as a lens, almost like using eclipse glasses to look at a solar eclipse without hurting oneself, I hope to make tough, complicated parts of history more accessible for today’s teenagers.”


Two New Middle Grade Novels Explore Racism, Past and Present by Kiera Parrott from School Library Journal. Peek:

“Systemic racism in American history and its ongoing effects are explored thoughtfully through the lens of tween characters” in The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson, (Arthur A. Levine, March 2018) and Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz with Renée Watson (Farrar, Straus, Giroux Jan. 2018).

Best Queer Books of 2017 by Danika Ellis from Book Riot. Peek:

“Luckily, the Book Riot community reads a ton of LGBTQ+ lit, so this post is to gather up our favourite queer books published in 2017, all in one place.”

Loving Locks with Sharee Miller by Julie Danielson from Kirkus Reviews. Peek:

“I wished these images [of natural hair] were around when I was younger, and I wanted to take this celebration of natural hair and put it into a story for little girls out there that were struggling with loving their hair, like I had as a child.”

7 Intersectional Fairy Tale Retellings by Aimee Miles from Book Riot. Peek:

“In 2017, we’re riding the fourth wave of feminism in all its commercialized glory. It’s about time to highlight some third wave-influenced intersectional fairy tales now that the third wave feminists are all grown-up.”

Happy Hanukkah from The Horn Book! by Shoshana Flax from The Horn Book. Peek:

“If you’re looking for latke literature, there’s no shortage, from board books introducing the basics of Hanukkah to more complex stories. Here are some recent picture-book additions to the Hanukkanon.”

See also the newly redesigned and improved We Need Diverse Books website.

Writing Craft

Based On a True Story: 4 Advantages to Fictionalizing the Truth by Jess Zafarris from Writer’s Digest. Peek:

“My decision to write a novel versus a memoir was based on four advantages I saw in fiction over truth:”

Dying to Know, Afraid to Find Out: Building Tension in Fiction by Lynne Griffin from Writer Unboxed. Peek:

“It’s at the micro level, with careful word choice and thoughtful sentence construction, that writers create interesting friction—and fiction.”

How Important Is the First Draft to Your Novel by Sandra Scofield from Lit Hub. Peek:

“However much you think you know your story, however much you love it, allow yourself the freedom of discovery. Think of yourself as solving a mystery. What if? Why?  Be wary of judging your work too soon.”

How to Set (and Achieve) Your Creative Goals by Dan Blank from We Grow Media. Peek:

“Stop trying to do more, and instead, focus your energy and time on what matters most. This is a mindset shift that states ‘doing more’ is not the badge of honor; doing only what matters most is.”

Why Write? from Carrie Jones. Peek: 

“When you craft stories to express what you see and you experience in the world …you are taking a massive amount of observation and imagination and creating something with meaning… it’s a meaning that should resonate not just with you but with the rest of humanity.” See also, Write. Submit. Support for Novelists from The Writing Barn. 


Teacher, Teacher! Where’s Your Resource Guide by Charlotte Bennardo from Smack Dab in the Middle. Peek:

“You might have a great book, but it got passed over and you didn’t even know it. What teachers probably chose is another good book–that has a great Educator’s Resource Guide.”

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Emily Van Beek by Robert Kent from Middle Grade Ninja. Peek:

“I’m dying to find a funny young adult or middle-grade novel. Comedic writing is a challenge to pull-off and a rare find. I’d be on cloud nine to receive a manuscript big on laughs while also serving up a story full of heart.”

The Power of a Writing Group for Publishing Success by Sharon Bially from Writer Unboxed. Peek:

“Approach your writer’s group with the same level of commitment you’d give to any other serious, long-term endeavor such as grad school, or a job.”

A Book Launch Plan for First-Time Authors Without an Online Presence by Jane Friedman from her blog. Peek:

“While it’s not easy to launch a book without any kind of online presence, many first-time authors are in exactly that position…I recommend authors who are starting from ‘online zero’ to look at their strengths and opportunities that exist outside of their own newly started (or nonexistent) website, blog, or social media.”

This Week at Cynsations

Successful culinary experiment: Edamame pasta!

Ah, it’s been the quietest and most productive of weeks.

Teacher Cyn took center stage. I graded my final round of packets from my VCFA WYC MFA students and wrote their final semester evaluations. Now, I’m critiquing intern, mentee and WriteOnCon manuscripts.

Teaching one-on-one is heartening. Intellectually and emotionally challenging. And poring insights and enthusiasm into the upcoming writers is one way that I can both pay back my own teachers and honor my commitment to talented individuals and the community.

Next, I’ll work on updating the resource bibliographies on my author site. It’s not splashy stuff, but rather the day-to-day work that makes all that–the residencies, books and author events possible.

I’m reminded that living my dream is a priviledge, a joy, but it’s also a job and that’s okay. It’s real.

Links of the Week: Nova Ren Suma and Emily X.R. Pan Launch a Platform for YA Short Stories by Shelley Diaz from School Library Journal and 13-Year-Old Anishaabe Water Advocate Autumn Peltier to Speak at United Nations by Rhiannon Johnson from CBC – Radio Canada.

See also Seeking Social Justice by Edi Campbell from CrazyQuiltEdi. Peek:

“It’s about numbers more so than attitudes, opportunities or equity. It may or may not consider injustice throughout the system that includes bookstores, publishers, reviewers, educators and librarians. Using ‘diversity’, rather than ‘decolonization’ as a call has led to the sales and marketing of representation rather than the systematic changes that are long overdue.”

More Personally – Gayleen

Tim and Gayleen

I took a break from novel revision last weekend to attend the Austin SCBWI holiday potluck, hosted by Samantha Clark. I had a great time chatting with Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement winner author Tim Tingle.

Personal Links – Robin

New Voice: Lisa Bunker on Felix Yz

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Lisa Bunker is the debut author of Felix Yz (Viking, 2017). From the promotional copy:

“If it wasn’t for the fused-with-Zyx thing, I suppose I would just be normal—whatever that means.”

When Felix Yz was three years old, a hyperintelligent fourth-dimensional being became fused inside him after one of his father’s science experiments went terribly wrong. 

The creature is friendly, but Felix—now thirteen—won’t be able to grow to adulthood while they’re still melded together. 

So a risky Procedure is planned to separate them . . . but it may end up killing them both instead.

This book is Felix’s secret blog, a chronicle of the days leading up to the Procedure. Some days it’s business as usual—time with his close-knit family, run-ins with a bully at school, anxiety about his crush. But life becomes more out of the ordinary with the arrival of an Estonian chess Grandmaster, the revelation of family secrets, and a train-hopping journey. 

When it all might be over in a few days, what matters most?

Told in an unforgettable voice full of heart and humor, Felix Yz is a groundbreaking story about how we are all separate, but all connected too.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

It might sound a touch dramatic, but it’s true: when I was a child, stories saved my life. I was a quiet, shy, word-geeky kid carrying the secret burden of an unexpressed gender identity, and I found refuge and solace and strength in the books I loved.

Those books also showed me my purpose in life, which is, I believe, to pay it forward by creating as many more such stories as I can—particularly stories that offer refuge and solace and strength to other young LGBTQ+ humans who are just beginning to figure out who they are, and maybe feeling alone in that.

Gender-neutral pronouns Lisa used in Felix Yz.

Please describe your pre-publication craft apprenticeship. How did you take your writing from a beginner level to publishable?

Whatever else I was doing, I also just kept on writing. I wrote pastiches of stories I loved. I started dozens of stories and novels I never finished. I filled notebooks with character sketches and plot outlines and drafts of scenes.

And, I paid attention to how the makers of stories that touched me managed to do that. Not just books: TV and movies and theater too.

I still do. Whatever story I’m taking in, part of me is just enjoying it, feeling all the feels, and another part is like, oh, see how they used foreshadowing there. Effective story-craft give me no end of geeky glee.

What was the funniest moment of your publishing journey?

Not so much funny ha-ha as funny heart-warming coincidence.

My partner and I had planned to spend a few days in New York City just before Christmas, so we arranged to meet our agent, Bri Johnson (she represented both of us at the time), for a get-to-know-you lunch.

A few minutes before our scheduled meeting, Bri got the email from Viking with a pre-empt offer for Felix Yz, my first book. So as the last thing before her holiday break, Bri got to tell an author in person about an offer, which she said she had never gotten to do before. And of course it was my big break, so it was a magical day all around.

Lisa giving a reading of Felix Yz.

How are you approaching the journey from writer to author in terms of your self-image, marketing and promotion, moving forward with your literary art?

I actually really enjoy the business-y half of authorship. I’m an organized person and a hard worker, and I understand and accept that the creation of an author persona and platform is a valuable part of the work.

Especially since, as a transgender person, I feel a sense of mission around authorship. I feel called upon to put myself out in the world.

There are so many people who have never met a trans person, and there are many more with only glancing familiarity.

I want to meet as many of these folks as I can and offer myself to them as a memorable, positive example of a human person just like them who is navigating life with a trans identity. (See Lisa’s article, Writing While Trans, a conversation with Alex Myers from the Huffington Post.)

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?

No matter what, just keep writing.

Cynsations Notes

Kirkus Reviews gave Felix Yz a starred review, “Above all, it’s about Felix’s voice: acutely perceptive, disarmingly witty, devastatingly honest, and utterly captivating. Joyful, heartbreaking, completely bonkers, and exuberantly alive.”

Felix Yz also earned a star in Publishers Weekly, “Set against a countdown to the unknown, Felix’s story is a love letter to anyone who feels out of place and a testament to the beauty of being ‘different.'”

Lisa Bunker has written stories all her life. Before setting up shop as a full-time author and trans activist she had a 30-year career in non-commercial broadcasting, most recently as Program Director of the community radio station in Portland, Maine.

Besides Maine she has made homes in New Mexico, southern California, Seattle, and the Florida panhandle. She currently lives in Exeter, New Hampshire with her partner.

She has two grown children. When not writing she reads, plays piano, knits, takes long walks, does yoga, and studies languages. She is not as good at chess as she would like to be, but still plays anyway.

Her next novel, Zenobia July, about a teenage trans girl with a troubled past who solves cyber-crimes, will be published by Viking in Spring 2019.

Guest Post: Lyn Miller-Lachmann on Literature in Translation as Empowering Own Voices

By Lyn Miller-Lachmann
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Before becoming a translator, I wrote historical fiction set in part in Chile, a country I knew from working with exiles who had fled the Pinochet dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s as well as with musicians inside the country who were working underground to restore democracy.

In addition to my knowledge gained from personal relationships and spending time in Chile, I read works of fiction and nonfiction by Chilean authors, in the original language and in translation. 
These books were the original Own Voices, and translators were the people who made these voices available to those who didn’t speak or read Spanish.

My award-winning novel Gringolandia (Curbstone Press, 2009) portrayed one of many refugee stories, past and present. 

Eighteen months ago, Claudia Bedrick at Enchanted Lion gave me the opportunity to translate a book about a refugee family in Portugal fleeing a brutal dictatorship that ruled from 1926 to 1974. This family left in the mid 1960s in search of a place “where all children go to school” and ended up in Communist Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Prague Spring. 
Henriqueta Cristina
Growing up in a small town in the interior of Portugal, Henriqueta Cristina and her family were close friends with a family that was forced to flee, and their experience became the core of her debut picture book text Com 3 Novelos (O Mundo Dá Muitas Voltas), illustrated by Yara Kono (Planeta Tangerina, 2015). 
I translated that title to Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World)(Enchanted Lion Books, 2017).

And change the world it does!

Not finding the freedom they seek in their new home, the young narrator and her mother set about creating beauty and bringing change to their corner of the world. 

At a time when so many countries are closing their borders to families seeking safety and freedom, Three Balls of Wool shows how refugees and immigrants can enrich their new homes. They bring knowledge, skills, creativity, vibrant cultures, new ways of doing things.
Photos of the Portuguese and French editions from an exhibit 
featuring illustrator Yara Kono at a public library 
in Vila Franca de Xira, a town outside Lisbon, Portugal.
Own Voices books are authentic stories, mirrors for those who share the backgrounds and experiences, and windows for those who do not. And right now, we need authentic window books more than ever, to develop the capacity for empathy and understanding.

Through the efforts of We Need Diverse Books, Teaching for Change, and others, we are seeing more books about and by people of color, and those books are making their way into schools and onto bestseller lists.

I believe that international books in translation are the next front line in terms of diversity and Own Voices.

In times of crisis, people look to examples from the past and from other countries to offer guidance.

Set during the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal, and under Communism in Eastern Europe, Three Balls of Wool offers these examples, in an authentic and age-appropriate way. 

Here are some questions to think about and discuss with young readers:

  • What is it like to live without freedom? Why do people take risks to have freedom? 
  • What can we learn from others forced to make the choice between staying in a bad situation or moving to places unknown where they may or may not be welcome? 
  • How would you welcome someone from a different land, from a different culture, who speaks a different language? 
  • How do people fit into their new home while staying true to who they are and where they come from? 
  • How do immigrants contribute to making their new homes a better place to live?

The fact that Three Balls of Wool has been translated from another language into English offers additional educational opportunities. Students in foreign language classes, from the earliest grades on, can discuss and understand the advantages of knowing another language. Students who are bilingual can try their hand at translating a poem or a story from one language into another.

Who knows? This may turn into a valuable career one day!

When I became fluent in Spanish, and then Portuguese, it was like having a key to unlock a hidden room. Knowing these languages has allowed me to read and listen to authentic voices and to bring them to readers in English who don’t know these languages.

I hope that my translations will encourage you to explore other countries, to learn from the diverse people who live there, and to welcome their stories into your homes and classrooms.

Cynsations Notes
Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the author of Gringolandia (Curbstone Press, 2009), Rogue (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013) and Surviving Santiago (Running Press, 2015). 
She also translates picture books, novels for children and teens and scholarly articles in the social sciences from Portuguese and Spanish into English. 
Lyn has an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and an M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin. 
She is the former editor of MultiCultural Review, and has taught English, social studies, and Jewish studies. (See Lyn’s Cynsations interview about editing MultiCultural Review.)
She is the assistant host of Vientos del Pueblo, a bilingual radio show featuring Latin American and Spanish music, poetry, and history. 
She grew up in Houston and currently lives in New York City with her family.

Guest Post: Janni Lee Simner on Setbacks & The Writing Journey

By Janni Lee Simner
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

In writing, as in many professions, there’s a lot of emphasis on getting that one big break.

This is the story we tell about writers: that we slave away for months or years or decades and then—at last!—that first story or first novel sells. Our career is launched, and we ride off into the sunset, where we happily keep writing and selling our work forever.

That’s a good story. There’s a reason we’re drawn to it. And very rarely, it does happen that way.

Yet for every J.K. Rowling, whose first break is the break that sets the course for a lifetime’s career, there are thousands of working writers whose stories are far more complicated than that—and that’s okay.

It’s more than okay. It’s normal.

I ran a blog series called Writing for the Long Haul where I asked writers who’ve been publishing professionally for a decade or longer—often much longer—to talk about their careers and their writing lives. Those careers looked different in a lot of ways, and seeing the many shapes a writing life can take was illuminating all by itself.

But the one thing that really struck me was this: nearly every writer who wrote for the series had experienced setbacks along the way—generally setbacks after their first sale—and had continued writing anyway.

As I edited posts for the series, I realized that when we see a writer whose career seems to have been propelled by their first big break, without any stumbling blocks once that first book hits the shelves, we’re often seeing a writer early in his or her career, well before the ten year mark.

It’s relatively easy for a career to look like it’s on a straightforward upward success trajectory over the short haul. Over the long haul, with occasional exceptions, things get more complicated.

The terrain grows more uneven, and the ups and downs kick in.

Reading Cynsations’ new Survivors series, I see a similar pattern: our field changes, as writing survivor after writing survivor makes clear, and so our careers change, too.

“I have had many ups and downs in this unexpected journey into writing,” G. Neri says, while Alex Flinn talks about how what publishers are looking for—and what they promote—can change dramatically over time.

When I sold my first short story in the early 1990s, I thought that was it: I’d broken in, and this writing thing was going to be easy now. Then my second story got rejected, repeatedly, and I spent a couple years writing many more stories before I sold one again.

Then, when I sold my first three books, the middle grade Phantom Rider trilogy, I thought I’d really broken in. Instead my next several books and book proposals were rejected, too, and I waited nearly a decade to sell my next novel, Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer.

Those years were active and important for me creatively, and I became a much better writer during them, but professionally, they were pretty silent.

To an outsider, my career might have looked like it was over.

A few years after that I shifted to dark YA fantasy as author of the Bones of Faerie trilogy, and I’ve also recently started sharing nonfiction writing insights as author of the Writing Life series of chapbooks.

One of the books in that series, Doing What You Love: Practical Strategies for Living a Creative Life, is just out in paperback.

I expect I’ll keep rebooting my career and reinventing myself, if I keep writing at all.

At first I thought setbacks meant that I had failed. Now I know they mean I’ve been writing long enough to have setbacks—long enough to have a career that’s as complicated as it is individual.

Writers don’t talk about setbacks much, at least not in public, and because of this, we sometimes feel like our struggles are ours alone.

But working on the Writing for the Long Haul series, as well as countless one-on-one offline conversations with writers I admire, has taught me that’s not true.

Reading writing blogs and skimming social media, we hear one story. More quietly, offline, we hear another.

A bad year, or five, or ten, is not failure. It’s just a bad year or five or ten.

I believe now that there is no one big break, and there is no one big chance. Instead there are many chances over the course of our careers. Some work out the way we hope. Others don’t. That’s okay.

A writing career isn’t about any one moment. It’s about the winding and heartbreaking and glorious and ever-ongoing journey of building a writing life.

Excerpted/adapted from Doing What You Love: Practical Strategies for Living a Creative Life.

Survivors: Monica Brown on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children’s Author

Learn more about Monica Brown.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

In children’s-YA writing, maintaining an active publishing career is arguably an even bigger challenge than breaking into the field.

Reflecting on your personal journey (creatively, career-wise, and your writer’s heart), what bumps did you encounter and how have you managed to defy the odds to achieve continued success?

I think the bumps I’ve encountered have come both from within and without. The publishing industry is constantly in flux and there are so many things that have to happen to bring a book into the world.

I’ve had difficulty getting certain manuscripts published, but I’ve been stubborn enough (and had enough self-belief) not to give up, to wait for the connection, to seek out, with the help of my agent, Stefanie Von Borstel, visionary editors and publishers, like Adriana Dominguez, Nikki Garcia, Alvina Ling, Jason Low, Louise May, and Reka Simonsen.

One of the biggest challenges as a writer is knowing when to hold tight to your vision and when to allow others to help you shape a story. A great editor will make your writing better, but there are some situations when you need to stand firm.

When I’ve made editorial changes I haven’t felt good about (which has been rare) I have indeed regretted it. Conversely, when I have stuck to my vision, my perseverance has paid off.

Now available from NorthSouth, 2017!

Another challenge has been managing not the writing, but everything else. Few people realize how much non-writing work goes into a successful writing career.

I’ve made sacrifices of sleep, family time, and balance to accomplish what I have as a writer and professor.

Writing is a creative process that, if we are so lucky, yields delight—stories, art, inspiration, connection, change, celebration, affirmation—of our young readers and in our own lives.

Publishing is also business, that requires negotiation, compromise, marketing, social media, appearances, interviews, tweets, taxes, Facebook posts, website updates, talks, school visits, conferences, and book festivals.

 There are many delights in the latter list—like connection with readers and comraderie with other writers—but one thing is sure, while you are doing the latter, you won’t be doing the former—the actual writing and researching.

And then there’s the whole world—I am a teacher and an activist and a mom and a partner and a sister and a tía and a friend. Try to enjoy it!

If you had it to do all over again, what—if anything—would you do differently and why?

The only thing I would do differently is take better care of the body my brain is housed in.

I feel like I’ve put my heart, soul, and time into my craft and making sure my books get into the hands of children, so I have no professional regrets.

The field and body of literature are always evolving. For you, what have been the stand-out changes in the world children’s-YA writing, literature and publishing? What do you think of them and why?

This is an impossible question, because it does seem that, in terms of diversity in children’s literature, we take one step forward and two steps back.

I feel part of some positive changes in children’s publishing, by introducing my mixed-race, multicultural protagonists—Marisol McDonald of Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/no combinaMariso McDonald and the Clash Bash/y el fiest sin igual, and Marisol McDonald and the Monster/el monstruo (all Children’s Book Press); and my beloved Lola Levine, the star of my chapter book series depicted a multiracial girl with a mixed religious background from Little, Brown, edited by Nikki Garcia.

Not only did Angela Dominguez and I publish one of the first Latina-authored and edited chapter book series, but in books like Lola Levine and the Vacation Dream (Little, Brown, 2017), we have an exploration, in a chapter book, about Indigenous identity in the Americas and colonization. That feels slightly revolutionary and was an amazing experience to write.

In this series in particular I feel like I’ve been able to create a world not unlike my own—politically aware, whole multicultural families, children that aren’t described in fractions, and strong, ambitious, athletic girls who are allowed to be, well, loud! And live out loud.

I’ve also, through my biographies, been able to share models of activism and art and music and the creative process. I’ve been luckily able to work with presses like Lee and Low and Children’s Book Press and Arté Público, alongside presses like HarperCollins, North South, and Little, Brown & Co. And I’ve noticed that in publishing, big, small, or medium, it’s the people who shape the vision.

For this reason, we need to make sure that the doors to publishing are open to all—not just the writers, but the editors and marketing and publicity folks too.

What advice would you give to your beginner self, if that version of you was a debut author this year?

Sleep and exercise more, worry less. Becoming a published author is really, really, hard. It’s supposed to be. There aren’t really any short cuts—read, write, revise, repeat.

Network, join SCBWI, and find mentors. Find your people in publishing. They are there, and this is especially important for writers of color. You can come find me. I sought out advocates like Cynthia Leitich Smith for early support of my books.

And if the idea of finding a mentor is intimidating, just make friends. I don’t know what I would have done as a young writer without Malín Alegría, René Colato Láinez, Reyna Grande, Rafael Lopez, John Parra, and also Adriana Dominguez and Stefanie Von Borstel and Meg Medina to name only a few.

I’m mentioning these names because we’ve all known each other almost from our very first books around a decade ago, and that is something.

 If we can do it, you can too!

What do you wish for children’s-YA writers (and readers), looking to the future?

Success, satisfaction, and art that is in service of a more socially just world.

 Art that makes children’s hearts sing, or gives them an escape from pain. Art that gives them glimpses into a future and helps them choose and imagine their lives.

That’s what books did for me as a teenager.

As a writer, what do you wish for yourself in the future?

Hmmmm. This is a fun one for me. I want to keep telling and writing stories and I’d like to spend more time by the ocean while writing them. I want to become a better writer and finally write what I am scared of, which is project for an adult audience.

 And though I’m only 48, I’m going to go ahead and say that I’d like to live long enough to read my stories to the next generation, and hopefully, my future grandchildren.

My daughters will cringe when they read this.

Cynsational Notes

The Survivors Interview Series offers in-depth reflections and earned wisdom from children’s-YA book authors who have successfully built long-term, actively-publishing careers.