Cynsational News

Cynsations reporter Traci Sorell checks proofs of her debut picture book.

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

Author/Illustrator Insights

Kate DiCamillo: How She Became a Bestseller after 473 Rejection Letters by Linda Morris for The Sydney Morning Herald. Peek:

DiCamillo often makes a game of asking children to guess her number of knockbacks [rejections]. 

‘They start with five or 10. And then they will get really excited and say ’50’. And I’m like ‘nope, nope, nope’. Some kid will always say, ‘Well, why did you keep going’?’”

Nicola Yoon, Author of ‘The Sun Is Also a Star,’ on Her Writing and Publishing Journey by J.D. Myall from Writer’s Digest. Peek:

“Let your freak flag fly. Your odd, quirky, unique voice is what makes your story special. Be who you want, and be joyful.”

Interview with Author N. H. Senzai by Jacqueline Houtman from From the Mixed-up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek:

“As Americans, whether we consciously realize it or not, we have a particular connection with refugees; at one point of time, most of our families sought refuge in this country. They arrived from all around the world, fleeing war, persecution, famine or just hoping to find a better life for themselves and their children.”

PW KidsCast: A Conversation with Christopher Paul Curtis by John Sellers from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

Christopher Paul Curtis discusses his new novel, The Journey of Little Charlie (Scholastic, 2018), as well as his past Buxton novels and the effect that his Newbery Award and Honors have had on his career.”

Rocking Out with Celia Pérez by Julie Danielson from Kirkus. Peek:

“I’d tell you the first rule of punk, as laid out in Celia C. Pérez’s novel of the same name, but then I’d want you to read this entertaining book for yourself to find out.” 

Note: Congrats to Celia her 2018 Pura Belpré Honor Book!

Jason Reynolds on Serving Young Readers with Long Way Down by Trevor Noah from The Daily Show. (links to video) Peek:

Long Way Down author Jason Reynolds describes his path to becoming a prolific writer and makes the case for expanding the literary canon to reach more kids.”


A book to use in goal setting.

Culturally Responsive Approaches to Goal Setting with Students by Lindsay Barrett from Lee & Low Books. Peek:

“Engaging students in self-driven goal setting, planning and completion of action steps, and reflection are powerful practices for culturally responsive classrooms.”

In 2018, How Does Using Diverse Children’s Books Factor Into Conversations with Kids about Race? by Crystal Duan from The Riveter. Peek:

“A book doesn’t have to be conspicuously about race to allow conversation either, Gibney says. ‘You can get a book about ballerinas, and have a conversation about race that book, either because the book features people of color or because it doesn’t.'”

Resolutions, Role Models, Big Changes and News! by Lindsey McDivitt from A is for Aging, B is for Books. Peek:

“Those of you who read this A is for Aging blog on a regular basis realize this post is far more personal than most. I started this website and blog because I believe strongly that it’s important we show even young children strong role models of every age.”

Kweli: The Color of Children’s Literature Conference (for IPOC) will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 7 at the CUNY Graduate Center in midtown Manhattan, New York City. Peek:

“… keynote address by MacArthur ‘Genius’ Angela Johnson, and panels and workshops with award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors and illustrators Samira Ahmed, Julie Flett, Rita Williams-Garcia, Vashiti Harrison, Kazu Kibuishi, Javaka Steptoe and Nic Stone. …four separate tracks this year: a Publishing Track, a Novel Track, an Illustrated Books & Nonfiction Track and a new Intensives Track. Our panels and workshops will cover topics from the craft to the business of writing. Top editors, agents, and authors will discuss crucial steps to help launch a writer’s career and offer carefully considered manuscript critiques. Critiques will run concurrently with panels, and books will be available for sale and signing.”

What the Job of a Sensitivity Reader Is Really Like by Lila Shapiro from Vulture. Peek from Dhonielle Clayton:

“The fact is that sensitivity reading is a band-aid over a hemorrhaging problem in our industry. That’s what we should really be talking about — that’s what real censorship looks like. The systematic erasure and blockage of people of color from the publishing industry.” 

‘People of Color in Publishing’: Striving for More Industry Diversity by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“A particular focus of the committee is on reaching out to individuals of diverse backgrounds who are working to break into the business. ‘During our first meeting, we discussed where we’re from and how we got into publishing, and realized we all had nontraditional but similar stories.’”

Celebrating 20 Years! 20 Years of Increasing Awareness & Visibility of Issues in Indian Country from Udall Foundation. Peek:

“It has been 20 years since [Cherokee children’s author and Cynsations reporter] Traci McCellan-Sorell was selected to be a part of the first cohort of the Udall Foundation’s Native American Congressional Internship Program in Washington, D.C.”

See also Helen Wang on translation.

Translated YA of 2017: A Year-End Roundup of the Latest Titles by Jenny Zbrizher from YALSA’s The Hub. Peek:

“Help your teens expand their personal borders by checking out the titles below.”

See also Zetta Elliot’s 2017 MG & YA Titles by African Americans.

Writing Craft

What Does Your Protagonist Want Before the Story Starts? by Lisa Cron from Writers Helping Writers. Peek:

“All protagonists enter the story already wanting something very badly. With that in mind, here are four questions to ask to be sure that your protagonist has a driving need that’s capable of steering your novel from start to finish:”

Harnessing the Kinetic Energy of Writing, and What Happens if You Don’t by Heather Webb from Writer Unboxed. Peek:

“As creators, we have kinetic energy while writing, and kinetic energy while we aren’t, but it’s what you do with that energy that helps you be the best (and healthiest!) writer you can be.”

Stripping Down My Prose: Risking the Removal of Adjectives by Margaret McNellis from Writers Helping Writers. Peek:

“I expected that removing all the adjectives and adverbs from my text would tighten my writing, but I didn’t think about how it would make it more active and exciting.”

Neal Shusterman on World Building by Amanda Nelson from Book Riot. Peek:

“As hard as it was, I stopped trying to build worlds and learned how to build characters and relationships and stories. And I discovered that I loved it. I loved getting into people’s heads as much as I enjoyed wild fantasy.”

I Entered VCFA’s MFA Program Because I Had a Lot to Learn As a Fiction Writer by Kim Purcell from YA Interrobang. Peek:

“But the truth is, I had a lot to learn as a fiction writer. My former background and training was as a journalist, so I wasn’t using all the tools of fiction that I could have been using. Honestly, I didn’t even know about them.”


Pitching For Introverts by Hilda Eunice Burgos from Project Mayhem. Peek:

“Those of you who are also introverts may find the following networking tips (tweaked to apply to pitches) helpful.”

Lessons Learned from a Year of 101 Rejections by Natalie D-Napoleon from Writer’s Digest. Peek:

“Orenstein opened my eyes to one impressive fact—that women submit their work less than men. …When white men’s work is rejected, they don’t take it as a measure of the worth of their work—they decide it simply needs to find the right home elsewhere.” 

We’re All in This Together by Shutta Crum from The Mitten. Peek:

“Below is a short list of easy things to lend a hand to our fellow writer or illustrator. What you do just might be the break a colleague needs.”

Owning Your Writing Career in 2018 by Sacha Black from Writers Helping Writers. Peek:

“If you want to make 2018 the year you finally stick to your writing goals, then be clear what you want from the outset. Give yourself slippage time, study hard, try new things, get out of your comfort zone, and get yourself an accountability partner for support and the occasional nudge.”

Sexual Harrassment in the Children’s Book Industry: Survey Results by Anne Ursu from Medium. Peek:

“Again and again in this survey, I found women who left jobs, avoided conferences, avoided networking opportunities, stopped writing, stopped illustrating, either because they couldn’t bear seeing their harasser again, or because they were afraid something like that could happen again.”

See Change Starts Now: Stand Against Harassment in the YA/Kidlit Community from Gwenda Bond. Peek: “I’d…like to send the letter below to YA and kidlit specific festivals and organizations and to the heads of publishing houses with as many names attached to it as possible. If you would like to sign on….” See also The SCBWI Anti-Harassment Policy and Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.

Game of Thrones Author George R.R. Martin Is Funding a Scholarship For Aspiring Fantasy Authors by Kristian Wilson from Bustle. Peek:

George R.R. Martin is funding a scholarship for science-fiction and fantasy writers at the Clarion West Writers Workshop. The ‘Worldbuilder’ scholarship will cover the cost of one six-week workshop course for one student each year and will take into account a student’s talent and financial need.”

Kwame Alexander Will Start His Own Imprint. The Name? Versify. Get It? by Alexandra Alter from The New York Times. Peek:

Mr. Alexander said he’s especially interested in books that incorporate poetry, as well as works in translation. ‘Verse is a really great way to tell emotionally heavy stories,’ he said.”

Penguin Young Readers Announces Imprint for Diverse Books by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“Diversity will be addressed across a broad spectrum of human experiences, she noted. To that end, Kokila books will not just be written through the lens of race or ethnicity, but also sexuality, religion, ability, and other markers.”

A Publicity Course for Published and Published Authors and Illustrators from Debbie Gonzales. Note: faculty includes Blue Slip Media’s Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy, The Booking Biz’s Carmen Oliver, author Carrie Pearson and author Jo Whittemore. Peek:

Path to Promotion is an online collaborative program designed to share promotional information and techniques, to guide in the publicity  preparation process, and to clarity steps required to create an affordable marketing platform that is personal, authentic, and professionally sound. We’ll be exploring topics such as podcasting, the school/library market, creating a digital footprint, and others. At the end of the course, participants will receive a Path to Promotion Publicity Planner packed with graphics and guides to assist in their quest to make a splash in the world.”

See also Deb Gonzales on Book Promotion Class from Janet Fox.

Cynsational Screening Room

Spooky-romantic news! This month only, you can read my most popular YA love story, Eternal, for only $1.99 by signing up for Candlewick Press’s E-Volt Books newsletter. Eternal is technically Book 2 in the Tantalize series, but you can begin with either of the first two books. The casts crossover in Book 3 (Blessed), which then moves forward through the timeline.

“…witty, dark love story of death and redemption…Miranda and Zachary are complex, sympathetic characters, and their hopeful ending is well earned.” — Booklist

“The confessional style, alternating between Miranda and Zachary’s points of view, is intriguing as a diary—readers should be hooked by this fully formed world, up through the action-packed finale.” — Publishers Weekly


This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Happy 2018, and welcome back to Cynsations! I’m so excited. It’s going to be a huge year.

Welcome and congratulations to new intern Kate Pentecost, who just sold her debut YA novel, Elysium Girls (Hyperion, winter 2020)! Kate is represented by Sara Crowe at Pippin Properties.

Welcome back to interns Gayleen Rabakukk and Robin Galbraith as well as to Cynsations reporters Carol Coven Grannick, Traci Sorell, Christopher Cheng, Melanie J. Fishbane, and Angela Cerrito! I’m so thrilled to be sharing the posts you’re working on.

Here’s a shout out to Traci on the sale of her second picture book, At the Mountain’s Base, to Penguin’s new Kokila imprint! The book will be illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre.

Kudos to the winners and honorees of the American Library Association Youth Media Awards!

I was thrilled to see that my long-time friend (and VCFA faculty colleague) Uma Krishnaswami won the Asian Pacific Literature Award (Children’s category) for Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh (Tu). See Author Interview: Uma Krishnaswami on the Creative Life, Teaching Writing & Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh by Gayleeen Rabakukk from Cynsations.

Way to go, Uma! I know that this was a heart book, one long in the making. Congrats, too, to her fellow APALA winners and honorees!

Bravo to those fantastic authors and illustrators recognized by the American Indian Youth Literature Award, given by the American Indian Library Association. I also would like to underscore what Debbie Reese points out, that many of the best books in this category are coming from small presses.

Cheers to Mary Beth Leatherdale and Lisa Charleyboy, finalists for the YALSA Award for Excellent in Nonfiction for Young Adults for #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women (Annick). The book also made the Top 10 Amelia Bloomer List for Feminist Fiction.

Speaking of the ALA, huge congratulations to Debbie Reese!

From the media release:

“Debbie Reese will deliver the 2019 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture. Dr. Reese is a longtime advocate for Native representation and is a former teacher and university professor. She earned her PhD in Education from the University of Illinois, where she also helped establish the Native American House and American Indian Studies program. 

“Dr. Reese also holds an M.Ed degree in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University. She is tribally enrolled at Nambe Owingeh Pueblo in New Mexico.”

I cannot emphasize enough how meaningful it is that Debbie’s leadership, scholarship and activism are being formally recognized in this way. I look forward to her lecture.

Congratulations also to Jacqueline Woodson, winner of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, which “honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.” Note: Separate from Jackie, who is awesome, I support the movement toward changing the name of the award.

One more shout out–this one to pal Tanya Lee Stone whose Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time (Wendy Lamb) was named to the Top 10 Amelia Bloomer List.

Meanwhile, a critical conversation about sexual harrassment in children’s-YA publishing–and, for that matter, throughout society–has been taking place (see links above).

To those who have been victimized, please accept my solidarity and support. To those who’re having tough conversations and taking proactive steps for corrrective change, thank you for your ongoing efforts.

As for me, the breaking news from Candlewick is that the publication date for my upcoming YA novel, Hearts Unbroken, has been moved up to November and the paperback edition of Feral Pride will release in October! More on all that in the months to come!

VCFA & TCTELA photos @cynthialeitichsmith on Instagram.

What else? In January, I returned to Vermont College of Fine Arts to teach the winter residency in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

It was my great pleasure to lead a workshop with fellow faculty member William Alexander and get to know both visiting writer Elana K. Arnold and visiting author-illustrator Ashley Wolff.

Congratulations to the Trope Busters, our winter 2018 graduates!

The following weekend, I had the honor of delivering a luncheon interview keynote with fellow author Kathi Appelt at the Texas Council of Teachers of Language Arts conference in Galveston. My deepest thanks to TCTELA, Kathi and Cynsations intern Gayleen Rabakukk, who accompanied me on the journey.

Beyond that, I’m celebrating 20 years as a client of Ginger Knowlton, executive vice president at Curtis Brown Ltd. From day one, she’s been an unflaggingly wise, enthusiastic and supportive guide on this tremendous journey of writing for young readers.

With the help of interns Gayleen and Robin, I’m pleased to report that we have almost completely updated my official author site, including its vast children’s-YA literature and writing resources.

I’m also looking forward to LoonSong: A Writer’s Retreat from Sept. 6 to Sept. 10 at Elbow Lake Lodge in Minnesota. Join me, fellow authors Nikki Grimes, Susan Cooper, Bruce Coville, Marion Dane Bauer, Jane Buchanan, Sarah Aronson, Debby Dahl Edwardson, Jenny Meyerhoff, agent Michael Stearns, and an editor TBA. Peek:

“Imagine campfires on the beach, pontoon cruises with some of your favorite writers, casual meet-ups with a noted editor and agent in a setting so beautiful it will take your breath away.”

Link of the Month: 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children’s Literature from the Brown Bookshelf. Peek from Kheryn Callender:

“There need to be more people of color working in publishing, applying for internships and assistant positions, to help acquire stories that might not otherwise be acquired. Just this past weekend, I and another editor realized that, in all of the kidlit publishing industry in the United States, there are only eight black acquiring editors, myself included. This is horrible, and needs to change—but it can only change with your help!”

New Voice Interview & Giveaway: Kerri Kokias on Snow Sisters!

By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

In addition to covering publishing news pertaining to Native creators for Cynsations, I am excited to shine a spotlight on fellow Epic Eighteen authors and illustrators, all of whom have a debut picture book coming out in 2018.

One of the first releases from our group is Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Teagan White (Knopf, 2018).

From the promotional copy:

Just like snowflakes, no two sisters are alike, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work together to make the perfect snow day! 

When snowflakes fall, two sisters react very differently. One is excited and the other is wary. The first sister spends the morning outdoors, playing until she’s all tuckered out. Meanwhile, the second sister stays indoors, becoming ever more curious about the drifts outside. 

Soon, they switch places, and spend the second half of the day retracing each other’s footsteps. But each sister puts her own unique spin on activities like sledding, baking and building.
Since winter has descended upon most of the nation, I thought it would be the perfect story to start off this series.

Upon reading Kerri’s book, I noticed how the marriage of her text and Teagan’s art come together seamlessly. 

And although my sister and I both loved to play in the snow as kids, I appreciated how the book shows the differences between the way they interact with snow, the winter scene and, more generally, navigate the world. I related to that so much, yet it’s not an experience I’ve seen so well featured in a picture book.

Kerri, what was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Kerri at Snow Sisters! book launch
Snow Sisters! was initially inspired by its structure. 
I wanted to write a story as a reverso poem, meaning featuring mirrored language.

I played around with several different story ideas over a long period of time before landing on this particular story. 

The text for Snow Sisters! builds up to the middle of the story and then repeats itself backwards for the second half of the piece.

The two sisters’ stories are told parallel to each other with the first sister’s story unfolding on the left panel of each spread and the second sister’s story unfolding on the right. 

The sisters’ stories themselves are also in reverse language of each other. Using this structure where the same words are used in opposing ways seemed to suit the story of two sisters who are different and yet connected.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in writing this story?

Because of its unique structure, described above, writing Snow Sisters! was very much a logic puzzle. Any minor change I made affected other parts of the book. 

Kerri’s Post-it Note work board

Because of this I pretty much wrote this story on Post-it Notes. I laid them out on a tri-fold board so I could see the whole story at once and easily reposition or change text. Each spread started with a column of Post-it Notes for the text on the left panel and a column of post-it notes for the text on the right panel. 

Aside from wrestling with word order, I had to figure out how to develop character and plot within this mirrored structure. 
I spent a lot of time playing around with specific word choice and ways that the words could have different meanings for each sister. 
My favorite picture books are ones where the text and illustrations work together to tell the complete story; where they each bring something to the book that the other does not. 
So, it was natural for me to envision how the illustrations could work with this structure. 
As an author, I needed to figure out the story, but I didn’t need to be limited by the text spelling it all out. So yes, my manuscript has a lot of illustration notes. Not art direction, more like stage notes. 
I added columns of post-it notes indicating parts of the plot and character development that could be portrayed in the illustrations.

Once I had editorial interest, my editor, Katherine Harrison, also helped me draw out ways each sister’s action could build off the other’s to help them connect during the parts of the story where they are apart. More columns of Post-it Notes!

Seriously, I probably should have dedicated this book to 3M.

An important takeaway for me was that in some ways, this very limiting structure also had a way of freeing up my creativity by narrowing my focus.

What did Teagan White’s art bring to your text?

Teagan White’s art brought my text to life! Without the illustrations, there would be no story. 

The text for Snow Sisters! is very sparse, 58 words total, all repeated at least once. I gave my editor the manuscript and Teagan worked her magic and returned a book. 
I suspect there were more people involved, and perhaps in addition to magic, Teagan also used her talent and training and put in a good deal of time. But for someone like me who thinks visually, but has no ability to represent her ideas physically, it’s all magic! Just look! 
Here is a spread of the manuscript I turned in….
 and the finished spread. Magic! 
Cynsations Notes

I agree with Kerri’s assessment and loved Teagan’s magic in creating the art for this book. Check it out where you buy books or request it from your local library.

Kerri Kokias [Ko-KAI-us] credits most of her story ideas to her “fly on the wall” personality. 
This means she’s both a keen observer of social interactions and a nosey eavesdropper. She lives in Seattle with her family.

Learn more about Kerri on her website. Or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

Learn more about Teagan White and her children’s illustrations on her website. Or connect with her on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Enter below for a chance to win a copy of Snow Sisters! in a giveaway.

Traci Sorell covers picture books as well as children’s-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators for Cynsations. She is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Her first nonfiction picture book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga will be published by Charlesbridge on Sept. 4, 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 represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Literary Agency.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

No purchase necessary. Enter between 12:00 AM Eastern Time on Feb. 15, 2018 and 12:00 AM on Mar. 1, 2018.  Open to residents of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia who are 13 and older. Winners will be selected at random on or about Mar. 1, 2018. Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Void where prohibited or restricted by law.

Author & Editor Interview: Jessica Lee Anderson, Madeline Smoot on Uncertain Summer

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I’ve always had a fascination with Bigfoot; the idea that an ape/human creature could be secretly living in the woods both intrigued and terrified me as a child.

So when I got the opportunity to chat with the author and editor of Uncertain Summer by Jessica Lee Anderson (CBAY, 2017), I couldn’t pass it up. First, the promotional copy:

For decades something has lurked in the swampy lakes of East Texas. Could it be the elusive Bigfoot?

Everdil Jackson thinks so. Her whole life she’s grown up listening to the stories of the Bigfoot sightings around Uncertain, Texas. 

When a TV show offers a million dollars to the person that can provide conclusive proof of Bigfoot, Everdil, her brother, and two friends form a team to snap a picture of the beast. 

With any luck, they’ll prove the impossible and win the money Everdil’s family badly needs. But tracking a monster, especially one nobody’s been able to catch, proves trickier than Everdil expected. 

With each new adventure, Everdil seems to create more problems with her friends and family than she solves. In the end, she has to hope that her brave, foolish actions will ultimately make things right with everyone, including Bigfoot.

Jessica – author

Patterson-Gimlin Sasquatch image and Jessica’s dog, JoJo 

Jessica, what first sparked the idea for this book?

I’ve always been intrigued by cryptid tales, and it was after watching the Patterson-Gimlin film that I looked over and felt like Bigfoot was lurking in my living room.

It was just my old terrier, JoJo, staring at me—she resembles a mini-Sasquatch.

The experience fired up my imagination and I knew I wanted to write story featuring Bigfoot with a twist of course.

(As an aside, the Patterson-Gimlin film is now over 50 years old, and folks are still debating if it is real Bigfoot footage or not!)

Have you had a Bigfoot encounter?

I can now say that I’ve eaten Bigfoot!

The amazingly-talented Akiko White created a Bigfoot cake for the book release party.

Baby Bigfoot created by Akiko White
(see creation video at the bottom of this post)

I did spend some time out in Uncertain, Texas and searched for Bigfoot while hiking and exploring the area. I smelled some skunk-like odors in the air that made me think that there was certainly the possibility that Bigfoot was lurking around a woodsy corner.

Scenes from Uncertain, Texas

How do you navigate that fine line between spooky fun and too scary?

This seemed to come naturally for me because I tend to get spooked easily when it comes to scary books and movies. My imagination seems to run overtime (even while I’m sleeping)!

After writing the first draft, I layered in extra adventure and upped the stakes as well as the spooky fun aspects of the story. I enjoy writing, and I love the revision process…most of the time.

Do you have any writing tips to offer?

Gayleen & Jessica at Texas Library Association conference

My path from idea to publication took about seven years.

If I were to go through the whole process again, I would sit down and create a detailed outline that would offer direction yet still leave much room for creativity during the actual writing process. The story lacked much shape in the earlier drafts.

So, advice? I would say find a process that helps you as a writer to be the most efficient, and spend the time getting your manuscript in the best shape possible.

Keep fighting for your story even if there are some bumps along the path! I’m so glad I didn’t give up on this book.

I noticed you’ve done a lot of travel and school visits to promote this book. How do you balance promotion/writing/being a mom?

My background is in education, and before my full-time writing days and being a stay-at-home mom, I was a teacher. I love spending time in the classroom and in various libraries to get kids fired up about reading and writing!

It feels like such a gift to be able to travel around Texas as well as out of state to inspire and be inspired! When booking various events, I try to be as mindful of writing deadlines as possible as well as various happenings with my daughter, though life certainly happens.

I’ve learned to write on the go as much as possible, and I’ve gotten much better about asking for help when needed. I’m grateful for such caring family and friends as well as my understanding daughter!
Madeline Smoot – editor/publisher

Jessica (left) and Madeline at  BookPeople
for the launch of Uncertain Summer.

What appealed to you about this story?

There are so many wonderful aspects to Uncertain Summer.

I loved the adventure and mystery surrounding the cryptid. I liked how the characters were relatable.

I thought Jessica had crafted a dynamic book that would appeal to a large number of kids for various reasons.

Could you tell us a little about CBAY and how your acquisition process works?

Like most publishers, we are initially approached by authors or agents with a query.

In an effort to avoid becoming overwhelmed, CBAY is rarely open to unsolicited submissions. However, if authors have met me at a workshop, conference, SCBWI meeting, etc or if they are referred to me by a CBAY author or some other professional acquaintance, I am willing to consider their query.

If the query looks promising, I’ll request the full manuscript. From there I consider each season’s list and any holes I may have, and I will also look at the financial side for each potential title. 
If it is a book I wouldn’t mind reading at least eight times, and if the numbers work out, I’ll then make an offer and hopefully acquire it.

This is exactly how it worked for Uncertain Summer. Jessica is a veteran author, and her book was in excellent shape.

However, I primarily work with debut authors, and often their books needs some revising before I’ll make an offer. I generally only make an offer on books that are ready (or very close to ready) for the market.

Uncertain Summer interior illustration by Jeff Crosby, used with permission.

Uncertain Summer has lovely interior illustrations that enhance the story, something we don’t always see in MG books. How do you decide if you’re going to include additional illustrations? Is this something you see as a developing trend in MG?

Younger middle grade often has some illustrations, and I personally have always been a fan of illustrations used in the chapter headers. A famous example of this would be all of the small spot illustrations at the beginning of each Harry Potter chapter.

I am more likely to have interior illustrations if I have hired an illustrator to produce the cover artwork than if I used stock illustrations for the cover.

Illustration by Jeff Crosby, used with permission.

How do you select an illustrator?

I rely more on stock images rather than illustrators for many of our projects, but I do enjoy getting to work with an illustrator when the project calls for it.

Every illustrator I have ever worked with is one that was referred to me by a trusted source. In each case I had a vague stylistic idea of what I wanted the book to convey, and then I hired the illustrator with a similar aesthetic.

What else do you have out/coming up?

In the spring we have our “Princess” season with two middle grade novels and one YA anthology where all the books feature a princess.

Once Upon a Princess by Christine Marciniak debuts in April and revolves around a princess forced into hiding with her family when their country experiences a revolution. 

The second book, Royal Trouble: The Sinister Regent by Hope Erica Schultz follows a princess and her royal cousins and friends as they try to thwart a plot against their respective crowns. 
Finally, Perilous Princesses is a 10-story anthology with contributions by various authors where the princesses aren’t in danger—they are the danger. Includes stories by Susan Bianculli, Lori Bond, Alison Ching, Steve DuBois, Jeanne Kramer-Smyth, Ameria Lewis, Christine Marciniak, Kath Boyd Marsh, Hope Erica Schultz, and Madeline Smoot.

Cynsational Notes

Jessica Lee Anderson is the author of Trudy (Milkweed, 2005), winner of the 2005 Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature, Border Crossing (Milkweed, 2009), a Quick Picks Nomination and Cynsational Book of 2009, as well as Calli (Milkweed Editions 2011),  a 2013 Rainbow List Final Nomination and 2011 YALSA’s Readers’ Choice Booklist Nomination.

She’s published multiple chapter books for Rourke Educational Media including Brownies with Benjamin Franklin, Case of Foul Play on a School Day, and Runaway Robot.

She’s published also fiction and nonfiction with Heinemann, Pearson, Seedling Publications, Six Red Marbles, and a variety of magazines including Highlights for Children.

Jessica graduated from Hollins University with a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature and previously instructed at the Institute of Children’s Literature and St. Edward’s University.

She is a member of The Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels and hopes to be more sweetheart than scoundrel.

She lives near Austin, Texas with her husband, daughter, and two crazy dogs.

Madeline Smoot is the publisher of CBAY Books and former Editorial Director for Children’s Books of Blooming Tree Press. She blogs about writing at Buried in the Slush Pile and is the author of several writing guides, including Story Slices: How to Make Story Plotting a Piece of Cake. 

Madeline lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband, son, a cat, a dog, and more books than should fit in any normal person’s house.

See the Baby Bigfoot Cake by Akiko White

Survivors: Daniel Kraus on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing YA Author

Learn more about Daniel Kraus.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

In 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?

The the only bumps of note have revolved around me figuring out what kind of life I wanted to live inside of publishing.

It only took me one book to realize that I’m not someone who’s going to make a second career of attending conferences and schools, and doing every single blog interview on offer, and so forth.

I’ve seen friends go down that route and be swallowed by it, good writers who hammer and hammer away at so-called promotional opportunities when they could be writing a second or third book.

That’s where I’m comfortable: at the desk. You might consider me prolific, but I see myself as someone who decided where to focus his energies and has kept to that.

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

Learn more.

There are two minor compromises I made with my first book that still irk me. One was a structural thing and one was a single sentence that I didn’t think needed to be there. They hardly ruin the book, but to this day, they bother me. And so I don’t do that anymore.

I’m entirely open to editorial suggestion, but I’ll never agree to something I don’t believe in. It’s not worth it if it’s still going to still be depressing to me when I’m old.

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?

There have been the obvious demographic shifts that, while still small, have been encouraging to see. Beyond that, I don’t see a lot of change.

The best-seller list is still a mixture of great books and middling junk food. The most daring books still rarely get noticed. The pervading opinions that YA lit has to offer a positive message or avoid immorality are still boringly in place.

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

Learn more.

I probably did some large-group events where there were only white authors. I wouldn’t do that today.

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

A lot of lip-service kudos are given to books and characters that occupy moral gray areas, but I still feel like a lot of adults who read YA (not the kids, mind you) can’t really take it when it gets hot in that particular kitchen. Their what-about-the-children alarms go off.

That’s not a great environment for innovation or expression, and certainly not transgression.

In an area of publishing that likes to think of itself as open-minded, it often feels fairly closed-minded in this regard. This kind of hesitancy, however, does present prime opportunities for small presses and self-publishing, and so I expect those two areas of the lit world to continue to thrive and become even more important.

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

Now available! Learn more.

Time. I need much more of it. I have a dozen projects I want to write and the fact that I won’t get to them all before I die — yes, I’m thinking about death — has really started to hit home.

I also want to help writers who are talented but maybe not well known for a variety of reasons, maybe because of where they come from or what they choose to write about.

This kind of assistance is largely done quietly, behind the scenes, and is almost always more gratifying than publishing a book myself.

Cynsational Notes

Why Do You Write Such Dark YA Fiction? by Daniel Kraus from Cynsations. Peek: “Sure, you’ll lose readers who find your story irredeemably smutty/horrific/ludicrous, but those readers who have been searching for someone who writes as if possessed will recognize you instantly as one who fears nothing but mediocrity.” See also New Voice Daniel Kraus on The Monster Variations.

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.

Cynsations Intern: Kate Pentecost

Learn more about Kate Pentecost.

By Kate Petecost
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

“So, wait, you’ve been doing this for how long?” People often ask when I tell them how long I’ve been writing.

“Since the fourth grade,” is the answer. That was the grade in which I learned that I wanted to be a writer—specifically a writer for children.

I learned then that there was nothing that felt better to me than being around children’s books. Discussing them, holding them, reading them, and, most of all, writing them. I wrote my first book when I was 12 and began submitting it when I was 13.

My first rejection letter (a physical one! back when we were still in the snail mail days) came from Scholastic Press.

I framed it, because it meant that I was officially On My Way to becoming a published author. The book itself was about a mercenary who slew monsters and who helped a princess return to her rightful throne—after falling in love with her, of course. (It was pretty derivative, but hey! I was twelve!)

I did not get published at twelve (thank God!) but I did learn that a book can be written and, moreover, that I can write one. I learned that all I wanted was to learn how to tell—really tell—the stories that were in my mind. So I focused my life toward learning how to be a writer.

The path, as it turned out, was filled with both beauty and tragedy that would shape my writing forever. The tragedy, however, is another story for another time, and one that I do hope to address here at Cynsations, so I’ll focus on the beauty for now.

I went to the University of Houston, where I focused on Creative Writing, of course.

I remember being the only one in the program who wanted to write for children—something that seemed to confuse my peers and professors at times. Most of my peers were working on short stories geared toward adults, and writing short stories is an entirely different beast, indeed. But alongside them, I learned invaluable things about style and method. Also about art.

My illustration flourished, and I’m finally fairly happy with it.

Houston is where I became accustomed to hurricanes and floods and unending summers, where I learned what “genderqueer” meant, and that it applied to me.

It is where I made most of my lasting friendships. It’s where I tried drag for the first time, and learned that I make a pretty good Freddie Mercury and a pretty good John Waters (shown here with my best friend, Austin drag queen, Honey St. Clair.)

It’s also where I met my husband, who is the best person in the entire world, and without whom I don’t know where I’d be.

From there, I applied to my dream school, Vermont College of Fine Arts, one of the only places that has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

When I got in, I actually screamed—something I’d never usually do. It was an amazing, incredibly worthwhile experience that helped inform my writing and my character in more ways than I can describe.

Kate (right) with classmate Autumn Krause, who recently signed her first deal with HarperTeen!

VCFA was, for me, the first place I felt as though I was where I needed to be, the first place I felt like I could completely and utterly be myself and celebrate the art I love so much with like-minded people. It is, in a word, perfection.

Since then, I’ve worked in many different aspects of writing, literature, and education.

Selling books at the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan. Trying to keep banned and challenged books on the shelf with the National Coalition Against Censorship. Editing and Performing for a regional publisher in Texas.

And, of course, my day job, teaching American and British Literature at a Title 1 high school in Houston. (Where I get art like this on tests about the Romantic Poets.)

I am now represented by my dream agent, Sara Crowe of Pippin Properties, and am doing my best to balance work and life and love and writing.

Ultimately, however, I have learned that there is nothing better and more rewarding than writing for children. It is what has saved me, and I sincerely hope that I can help others who needed it as much as I did.

Cynsational Notes

Kate has sold the YA manuscript that will become her debut novel, Elysium Girls, to Hyperion for publication in winter 2020.