In Memory: Patricia Hermes


By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Author Patricia Hermes died July 11, while Cynsations was on hiatus. She was 82.

After writing articles for national parenting magazines and an Op-Ed piece for The New York Times, a literary agent approached Hermes about writing for children.

“Hermes promptly wrote What If They Knew (Harcourt, 1980), a middle grade novel about a girl with epilepsy—something she had suffered from in childhood—starting at a new school. Thus began her career as a children’s book author,” wrote Shannon Maughan in an obituary for Publishers Weekly

Hermes went on to write more than 50 other books, ranging from picture books through young adult. She often addressed “serious subjects, including death, incest, war, famine and slavery” reported Anita Gates for the New York Times.

In 2000, she began writing diary-style historical fiction titles for Scholastic’s My America series before shifting gears to contemporary realism for the Emma Dilemma chapter book series published by Marshall Cavendish.

In 2010, Hermes did an interview with a Connecticut television and talked about how she was drawn to writing for children and her favorite series, Emma Dilemma. “It’s my favorite because there’s a lot of mischief going on, and Emma, even though she tries really hard to be a good kid, she gets into a lot of messes, which is what happened to me when I was little.”

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith,
Robin Galbraith, Stephani EatonGayleen Rabukukk
for Cynsations

Author/Illustrator Insights

Interview with Ibi Zoboi from Goodreads. Peek: “Elizabeth Bennet was the hero and love interest I didn’t know I needed. I wanted to update her so she could be relatable to teens. So Zuri is Lizzie: supersmart, politically aware, has big questions about her place in this world, and, yes, falls in love.”

Advice from Tayari Jones to Writers in Difficult Times from Electric Lit. Peek: “This is a call to action for all of us, each according to her ability. This is a plea for truth telling in all of its complexity. I am asking you to be brave enough to forsake likes and shares in favor of revealing potentially unsettling realities.”

A Celebration That Lasts from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: “The best thing about seeing my words—and Ekua Holmes’s magnificent art—appear in book form is knowing they are here to stay.”

Guest Post: Susan Fletcher on Journey of the Pale Bear from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: “As part of my research I contacted the Oregon Zoo, where I met, up close, the resident brother-and-sister polar bears…”

An Interview with Adrienne Kisner, Author of Dear Rachel Maddow by Lucas Maxwell from Book Riot. Peek: “… I am all about having a day job…Keep writing, and painting, and creating, young artists! Do not give up, your dream is not stupid. But maybe also consider being a barista, because artists still have to pay the bills. There is great creative freedom in knowing that rent is covered.”

Spotlight on Science Writers: April Pulley Sayre from Science NetLinks. Peek: “The original version of my book, Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust …was rejected over and over, year after year. Then, one morning in a dorm at Vermont College, while studying for my MFA, I looked out at the sunrise and the entire book structure reorganized in my mind.”

How A Writer Reads by Meg Medina from Nerdy Book Club. Peek: “I read authors with roots from around the globe who offer me a wide range of lenses on life… reading across the age groups forces me to calibrate my ear, so that I can practice locating the voice of each age group when I sit down to write.”

Author Interview with Yuyi Morales from CBC Diversity. Peek: “I was working on a graphic novel when Donald Trump was elected president….My editor, Neal Porter, saw that I was stuck…he also told me that he thought the book I should be working on was my own immigrant story.”

Five Questions for Zetta Elliott by Katie Bircher from The Horn Book. Peek: “Traditionally in fantasy fiction, cities often figure as places that are unhealthy for kids… I want young readers to see Brooklyn the way I do — even after twenty-five years, my immigrant eyes still see magic and history and possibility around every corner…”

Diversity

WNDB Announces the 2019 Walter Awards & Symposium at the Library of Congress from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “…The Walter Dean Myers Awards Ceremony and Symposium, to be held on Friday, March 29, 2019 at the esteemed Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The event will be co-sponsored​ ​by the​ ​Library​ ​of​ ​Congress Learning and Innovation Division ​and​ ​We​ ​Need​ ​Diverse​ ​Books.”

The Power of Literacy: Changing the Narrative of Toxic Masculinity by Travis Crowder from Nerdy Book Club. Peek: “We reinforce toxic masculinity with our language, when we say that this is a ‘boy book’, or we appeal to male students with athleticism… and when we refuse to speak out against deleterious actions against men and boys who are not within the parameters of the norm.”

Kidlitwomen*: A Conversation with Karen Blumenthal by Julie Danielson from The Horn Book. Peek: “We settled on ‘Kidlitwomen‘ as a name and then added an asterisk (not allowed in the title on the Facebook page) because the focus includes trans and nonbinary people…The diversity of issues was fascinating — …conference experiences; #MeToo incidents; underrepresentation of people of color…people with disabilities and LGBTQIA+…”

A Few Thoughts on Ageism in YA from Mary Pearson. Peek: “…increased pressure on women in the writing world, thinking that a clock is ticking and their career choices are limited. …why do we always try to box women in from the day they are born? I felt it as a teen. I feel it now.”

Interview with Traci Sorrell by Carole Lindstrom from M is for Movement. Peek: “We cannot continue to have the majority of books available for children and teens created by people who are not from our Native Nations. Too many times, the homework has not been done to get it right..”

On Becoming A Black Girl Reader by T.R. Simon from Nerdy Book Club. Peek: “By seeking and finding myself in books, I was able to make the journey from reader to writer, from my red bean bag to the pages of my own book. I became a black woman writer because books taught me how to love my mind as a black girl reader.”

Who Are Las Musas? from Las Musas Books. Peek: “We are the first collective of women and non-binary Latinx MG and YA authors to come together in an effort to support and amplify each other’s debut or sophomore novels in U.S. children’s literature…We are not one voice, but many.”

Ellen Oh On “Crazy Rich Asians” and Representation by Rachel Carter from Booktrib. Peek: “…we know that education is key in our battle against racism, sexism, ableism, prejudice, and hate. The more diversity that children are exposed to from a young age, the more likely they will learn empathy and tolerance.”

Writing Craft

Is Your Picture Book Actually A Chapter Book? Five Ways to Find Out by Hillary Homzie from Writing For Kids (While Raising Them). Peek: “Picture books almost always require an interplay between words and pictures. Chapter books don’t. If you find yourself leaning towards exposition that doesn’t require illustration, you might have a chapter book on your hands.”

Un-dead Darlings by Fran Hawthorne from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “…darlings need to stay in their coffins..However, there are other possibilities for this excised material if we abandon the idea of keeping our darlings intact as chunks of prose and consider, instead, what they indicate, arise from, and serve.”

7 Quick Tips for Mastering Pacing in Your Story by Claire Bradshaw from Writer’s Edit. Peek: “While many stories whose pacing is ‘off’ can be put down to slower, ‘boring’ sections, just as many find trouble when pacing is too fast, or when there are no slowed-down sections at all.”

The Four Habits of Highly Effective Flashbacks by Dean Gloster from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “ Holly Black’s compelling and widely acclaimed 2013 YA novel, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, is a master class in how to use full flashbacks effectively…How does Holly Black make that work so well? For starters, her flashbacks follow all four good habits.”

Hero, Mentor, Trickster: Thinking about Archetypal Character Roles in MG by Jenn Brisendine from From the Mixed-up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: “I’ve listed some common character archetypes and given some examples from all sorts of MG fiction—recently published to modern classics, realistic to fantasy.”

Awards

Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves among finalists for $10K CODE Burt Award for Indigenous YA Literature by Jane van Koeverden from CBC. Peek: The short list is:



Publishing

When Zero Is Greater Than One by Susan Spann from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Consider every aspect of the deal. Does it make business sense? Does it fit your plans and desires for your overall career? For where you are now, and where you hope to go?”

Abrams to Launch Megascope Graphic Imprint by Calvin Reid from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Abrams has announced the launch of Megascope, a new imprint under its ComicArts program that will publish a variety of graphic novels focused on the experiences of people of color… The Megascope imprint will publish four to six books a year with the first book to be released in fall 2019.”


Interview with Jill Davis, Executive Editor from Harper Collins! by Jonathan Rosen at From the Mixed-up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: “Middle Grade seems to be where it’s at right now, likely because of the explosion and saturation in contemporary teen since John Green came on the scene.”

Marketing


35-Point Checklist for a Great Author Visit from The Booking Biz. Peek: “The checklist is broken down by timeline, but this might change based upon your school district and schedule. Read through the entire checklist, then do each step in accordance with your school’s needs.”

School Visit Survey Part 5: Next Steps by Michelle Cusolito and Jeannette Bradley from Polliwog on Safari. Peek: “Male authors are more likely to have publisher-sponsored school visits than female/non-binary authors…Even more striking, female/non-binary authors who had won a national ALA/ALSC award (ex: Caldecott, Newberry, Coretta Scott King awards, etc) had fewer publisher-sponsored visits than men who had not won an award.”

How to Build a Following with Uniqueness, Authenticity, and “Getting Crazy.” My Interview with Travis Jonker by Dan Blank from We Grow Media. Peek: “Travis would write a blog post, but then reread it and ask if it would truly grab someone’s attention. If not, he would go back in and ‘get crazier,’ meaning he would be more free, give more of himself, add more humor, maybe make it more in his own voice…”

10 Instagram Tips for Writers by Annie Sullivan from Jane Friedman. Peek: “The other day, a high school freshman walked up to my book signing. When I asked if she had a Facebook account, she said, ‘No, Instagram.’…Younger generations (and even some older ones!) flock to Instagram for its feed of beautiful pictures.”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Author copies! Pre-order your signed, personalized book now!

Welcome to new Cynsations intern, Stephani Eaton! We’re thrilled to have you on board.

Thank you to outogoing intern Kate Pentecost! Kate is now a Cynsations reporter, covering LGBTQIA and YA books.

Quiet week here, filled with MFA grading and getting ready for fall author-speaker events.

Tweeps, mark your calendars: I’ll be participating in the “Indigenous Authors in MG” #mglitchat Twitter event from 9 PM to 10 PM ET Oct. 18 (that’s 8 PM to 9 PM CT)!


BookRiot: Recommended: Interesting People and Their Favorite Books, featuring Gretchen Rubin and Cynthia Leitich Smith. Peek: “Apple in the Middle [by Dawn Quigley] is a rare contemporary story about a well rounded, likable native girl coming home to herself and her heritage for the first time. It’s ideal for those who like humor and elements of mystery.”

36 of October’s Best Young Adult Books by Dahlia Adler from BNTeenBlog. Peek:

“This month, you guys. This month. Look, I try to not to make grand statements like ‘This is maybe the best YA publishing month of all time,’ but you’ve got the returns of Anna-Marie McLemore, Nic Stone, Markus Zusak, Katherine Locke, Claire Legrand, Amy Rose Capetta, Destiny Soria, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and more…”

Remember to pre-order your signed, personalized copy of Hearts Unbroken, and it’s your last call to pre-order the paperback edition of Feral Pride (both Candlewick)!

Link of the Week: Friends of Indigo Memorial. Sympathies and support to Children of The Glades (@OfGlades on Twitter). Peek:

“Sixteen-year-old Indigo took her own life. She struggled with anxiety and depression. She also fought fiercely against the anti-Native prejudice and queerphobia that was all around her. We want to keep up that fight for her and give a gift to ‘all our beautiful hummingbird-hearted kin.’  

“We are starting this fundraiser because people are asking and wanting to give. Our library district was a haven for Indigo; a place for books and belonging. This was because our librarian Miss Ann welcomed her at the reference desk and at teen programs and guided her to books that enriched her and reflected her dreams and desires.”

More Personally – Stephani

This month’s highlight was attending our local book festival, Bookmarks, the largest book festival in the Carolinas. Our family had a blast at Dav Pilkey’s keynote and enjoyed several panels the next day. My son raved over getting to do a hands-on graphic novel workshop with Jeffrey Brown and my daughter was inspired by the Our Stories, Our Voices panel hosted by Amy Reed. The whole family came away with more books than we could comfortably carry.

Stephani and Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants

Personal Links – Cynthia

Personal Links – Robin

Personal Links – Stephani

New Voice: Nora Carpenter on Yoga Frog

By Robin Galbraith
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

September is yoga month!

So as a former preschool teacher I was thrilled to interview Nora Carpenter about her fantastic new picture book Yoga Frog, illustrated by Mark Chambers (Running Press Kids, 2018). From the promotional copy:

Frog loves to practice yoga. And he will inspire kids to enjoy doing yoga, too. Follow Frog’s yoga flow, from warming up to cooling down. 


Start with the mountain and chair poses, then work into giraffe, cat-cow, downward-facing dog, butterfly, and bridge. 


End with the quieting happy baby and savasana poses to help your muscles relax before going to bed or starting your day. 


For fans of Yoga Bunny and I am Yoga, Yoga Frog‘s simple, meditative text is complemented by playful yet instructive illustrations by Mark Chambers to teach youngsters how to start their very own yoga practice—and to have fun while doing so, too.

I love this book because it’s perfect for teaching preschoolers yoga! What inspired you to write a picture book on yoga? 

Thank you! I’ve dreamed of publishing a kids yoga book for so long! About a year after college, I took a job teaching preschoolers. (Shout out to the JCC of Northern Virginia!) For the record, that job was one of the best experiences ever and ended up re-awakening my creative writing energy, which had been a bit stifled by academia. But that’s another story!)

Anyway, at the same time I was also becoming more and more engaged with yoga and yogic philosophy, and decided to further my own study through an intensive teacher training program.

I began teaching yoga to my preschoolers and found:

  1. They loved it.
  2. Due to their age and limited attention spans, I had to jazz the poses up a bit with imagination and fun.

I looked for resources, but at that time, the only things available were some flash card sets and a couple wordy books geared toward much older kids.

Fast forward a few years. While attending the MFA program at VCFA, I decided to write the book I wish I’d had for my preschool classes. To be clear, Yoga Frog is nothing like that first attempt, which emerged as poetry! But my teaching (both of pre-K kids and of yoga) is what inspired that initial attempt.

The selection of poses is perfect for the preschool crowd and the prose for each is clear yet poetic. How did you decide what poses to include, what to call them, and how did you go about writing the prose for each pose? 

Again, thank you! I chose the most popular poses from my classes that would both enable kids to release energy and also calm down/de-stress. During yoga teacher training, you’re taught to construct flows that warm up the body for “peak poses,” or the most challenging/intense pose in the flow, and then cool down/relax the muscles that were just worked.

You also learn which poses make good transitions to other poses so that you’re not having students bounce back and forth between seated and standing poses. I drew on that knowledge and my experience teaching lots of kids’ yoga classes to construct the flow of the book.

I did wrestle with what to call some of the poses. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to include the proper Sanskrit names, but some of the English translations just aren’t very kid-friendly or engaging. For example, baddha konasana literally translates to “bound angle pose” and ardha matsyendrasana means “half lord of the fishes.” I never used those names in my kids classes.

My experience teaching kids yoga quickly showed me that kids have the most fun when there’s an imaginative element at play, and the most popular imaginative elements in my classes were pretending to be animals and other things relating to nature.

Nature names lend themselves so easily to interactivity. I mean, I have yet to meet a kid whose face doesn’t light up when “kabooming” during Volcano (malasana).

So I took some artistic license and included some of the English names I used in my classes, while still including the Sanskrit names underneath.

At the end of the day, the goal of kids’ yoga is for kids to have fun. If they do, they’ll want to practice yoga again. And again. And again. Before you know it, they’ve developed a healthy and incredibly beneficial self-care habit.

You recently sold your first novel—a contemporary YA titled, The Edge of Anything—which is slotted for spring 2020 publication. Can you give us a quick pitch? 

Sure! The Edge of Anything is the dual narrative of high school volleyball star, Sage, and Len, an outcast teen photographer with a guilty secret. The book explores the transformative power of friendship and how it can help you find yourself and the goodness in life, even when everything feels broken.

A novel is such a different beast from a picture book. How do you juggle working on such different kinds of projects simultaneously? Wait, do you work on them simultaneously, or do you write a novel, then a picture book, etc? 

You aren’t kidding about how different the forms are! I started my creative writing career focused on novels, so I’ve had a steep learning curve with the picture books. (I’m actually gearing up for a picture book intensive regional SCBWI conference, and I’m so excited for everything I’m going to learn!)

Anyway, I’ve heard people make comments about how picture book writing must be “easy” because the stories themselves are short. That could not be less true. A great picture book story has to achieve an incredible amount in a terribly short format, usually 400-600 words.

It really is like writing poetry, and the process works a very different part of my brain and challenges a different part of my creativity.

I’ve noticed, in fact, that after working on the picture book form for a while, my novel writing flows better and smoother. For that reason, yes, I have started writing picture books in the midst of drafting novels. Each serves as a good “break” or “switch” from the other.

Honestly, no matter what form or genre you prefer, I think writers should constantly be testing and challenging their skills. Believe me, I know how hard it can be, but forcing yourself out of your writing comfort zone almost always improves your work.

As I’ve matured as a writer, I try to do this more and more. For example, a while back I joined a picture book critique group with some of my agent-mates, even though I am by far the greenest picture book writer in the group.

But that’s okay. I’m learning a ton and it’s a safe space to ask questions and get valuable, constructive feedback. And that feedback improves my writing as a whole, not just my picture book skills.

Even if one (or a bunch) of projects don’t work out, the skills you’ve learned from those projects will enhance your writing in unexpected ways.

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

Once you get a book contract, there are suddenly all of these other professional responsibilities you have to juggle along with the process of writing itself: social media presence, interviews, panels, readings and any other type of marketing/promotion you and/or your publisher might set up. It’s exciting, but it does take away from writing time, so if you’re also balancing another job, kids, time with a partner, etc., it can definitely get overwhelming.

In addition to the short-term bouts of promotion that go along with book releases, I do carve out time to keep my website updated with links to reviews, blog interviews, upcoming events, etc.

Otherwise, I try to focus on the actual craft of writing as much as possible. That’s what I find rewarding and fulfilling (and yeah, also crazy hard and maddening at times).

I will say, I do love events. I’m pretty extraverted, so I love meeting readers and other writers and talking about writing and books. But I’m always eager to dive back in to the actual writing and creating process.

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

 Keep writing. Write through the inevitable fear, the “what-if-it’s-not-good?” insecurity. And know that every writer has that angst, often with every book. All you can do is write through it.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Leigh Bardugo, who also happens to be one of my favorite authors. She says: “I think the hard work of writing is just how long a book is terrible before it’s good.”

You must embrace the terrible. Get the draft on the page. You cannot craft a good book without first writing down its messy insides. Revision, re-vision, and revision again make a book great.

 Also, find a supportive writing community, people who will boost your confidence when needed but also provide you with honest, constructive criticism. Go to author and writing events, readings at local bookstores. Even if you’re introverted, force yourself to talk to at least one person there. You will find people just like you, looking for the same thing.

Cynsational Notes


Nora Carpenter grew up in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. After college she lived in Washington, D.C., where she became a Certified Yoga Teacher, before settling into the mountains of North Carolina.

She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and writes picture books and young adult fiction.

When she’s not writing, she’s doing something outdoorsy or chasing her three rocket-fueled kids. Check out the book trailer for Yoga Frog:

New Voice: Dawn Quigley on Apple in the Middle

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

This is a watershed year for the release of Native young adult novels.

From Eric Gansworth’s Give Me Some Truth (Scholastic, 2018), the followup to his If I Ever Get Out of Here (Scholastic, 2013), and Tim Tingle’s Trust Your Name (7th Generation, September 2018), the fourth in his No Name series, to the upcoming Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, October 2018), I’m pleased to feature a newcomer to the age market, Dawn Quigley.

Her debut novel, Apple in the Middle (North Dakota State University Press, 2018), features Apple, a teen whose mother, from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, died due to complications from her birth.

Raised by her white physician father and stepmother in an affluent suburb of the Twin Cities, Apple has never had contact with her mother’s family.

The story focuses on Apple’s experience during an extended summer visit with these unknown relatives on the tribe’s reservation located near the Canadian border in what is now north central North Dakota.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

As I was writing some poetry I found myself sharing my frustrations of how many non-Native authors were creating books which were stereotypically shedding negative light onto Native culture. Here was my inspiration, my poem, and my call for the Native world to not let others tell our stories for us:

Arise 

I am tired of seeing Indians portrayed as victims in literature.
I am tired of how Natives are dripping with alcoholism in your books.
And I am tired of images of
sexually deranged,
violently abused and
educationally-lacking characters. 

Native people, arise!
We have, and are still, climbing the mountain of injustice;
Carrying our history on our back as we tread to the top to see the vision our ancestors told us of.
But, instead of glimpsing at the majestic vista,
Too often we must listen as writers plunge our People back to the desolate valleys again.
But you only show the darkness, shutting out the light of hope, and resilience; condemning the beacon of a better tomorrow to melt away.
We Natives have lived in nightfall, but revel in the sunrise of tomorrow.
We, at times, hibernate for a season, but awake in springtime of life. 

Native people, arise!
Our stories, like of old, must reflect the balance between darkness and light; between the highs and the lows; and between this world and the next.
Our history has been one of
genocide,
tear-wrenching tragedy,
and historical trauma.
This must be remembered. This should be told.
But we also know the beauty of our culture; the history which we hold tight; and the values we pass down seven generations. 

So why, when we only have our imaginations to limit us, do we as Native writers and storytellers allow them to present only our darkness to the world?
Why do continually let
them tell our tales? 

Native people, arise!
Where are the heroic characters in our modern Native fiction?
There are too few Indigenous writers who shine the light on our culture.
But I am greedy. I want more.
Why don’t we write about our success –
Not success as the world may see it, but in our Indian way?
Tell us about your grandmother’s quilts.
Tell us why your sister worked two jobs and went to night school for her college degree.
Tell us the time when your grandfather’s teaching touched your life.
Tell us.
Tell us.
Just tell us.

Honoring author Joseph Bruchac during the Native YA Today: Contemporary Indigenous Voices & Heroes for the 21st Century panel at the American Library Association conference. Author Cynthia Leitich Smith, moderator Alia Jones, Joseph Bruchac and Dawn Quigley.


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

My greatest challenge was that I had no idea how to write a book!

In teaching middle school English and reading for most of my 18 years, I spent countless hours reading YA books for my students to select read-aloud and classroom novels.

I fell in love with reading books that could transform my students.
I began writing letters to the editors of our local newspapers, then wrote full commentary essays. I gained a lot of confidence each time something was published.

Next I branched out to poetry.
But to write a book, this was the challenge. I took a few courses at a local writer’s loft on how to sell and promote books, but not on the actual task of writing.

I did read only one book on it: Stephen King’s On Writing (Scribner, 2000). That book, and reading up to 10 books a month, were my teachers.

I would use favorite sections of a book to learn how the author crafted dialogue, the climatic parts, etc. Then I wrote roughly two pages a day for some time until I had a finished book! I didn’t outline my story at all, and this is something I will do in the future: begin with a rough frame.

What were the best and worst moments of your publishing journey?

The best moment was when I actually finished the book! I felt like a five-year-old wanting to run out and say, “Look, Ma, I wrote a book!”

Then the down side was trying to learn how to pitch and query editors and agents for my Apple in the Middle. I got many “bites” and asks for partials and fulls and also rejects, but it was one editor from North Dakota State University Press who made my writing career when the first line in her letter back to me was: “I love Apple. I love everything about her world.”

Suzzanne Kelly loved my Native coming-of-age book, and this, so far, has been another great moment.
My book has just come out, so I’m doing readings, signings, et cetera. I know I’m only beginning!

Rolling hills of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota.

As a member of a community under-represented in youth literature, what did your diverse perspective bring to your story? 

Turtle Mountain rose

I taught in K-12 grades for over 18 years, and it was challenging at times to find books and materials that reflected Native people respectfully.

As a Native teacher, I wanted to show the positive aspects of our culture. I knew that I have lived and seen these beautiful Native aspects and began to educate myself and my peers that there are books out there, but we all need to put in the effort to find, read and evaluate them.

I began this book because of a beckoning voice I kept hearing: Tell them the stories.

My first instinct was to push it away. How could I write a book? Who was I? But I felt this book was to be a legacy for my children to hear about my Turtle Mountain grandparents and what they taught me-and are still teaching me today even though their footprints are no longer on this Earth, but in my soul. And like many Native people who are storytellers, I knew that the best way to share history and life lesson is through the telling of tales.

As I was in the middle of the book, I started to wonder if this was meant to be more than just a family tale, but instead a way to let non-Native people peer through the keyhole to get a glimpse into our world. A world that is a beautiful one, but also a world that is many times misunderstood.

Cynsational Notes

Dawn Quigley, enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, North Dakota, is an assistant professor in the Education Department at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Her website offers support for educators in finding, evaluating and implementing Native American curriculum content from an indigenous perspective.

In addition to her coming-of-age Young Adult novel, Apple in the Middle, Dawn has over 25 published articles and poems, in mainstream magazines, academic journals and newspapers, including American Indian Quarterly, Yellow Medicine Review: A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art and Thought, Indian Country Today, Hollywood and Vine magazine, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

She was awarded the St. Catherine University Denny Prize Award for Distinction in Writing and has been a finalist in both the Minnesota Loft Literary Center‘s Emerging Writer award and its Mentor Series.
Dawn lives in the metro area in Minnesota with her husband and two girls.

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 illustrated by Frané Lessac (Charlesbridge Sept. 4, 2018) 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.

In fall 2019, her first fiction picture book, At the Mountain’s Base, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre will be published by Penguin Random House’s new imprint, Kokila.

Traci is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Literary Agency.

Survivors: M.T. Anderson on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children’s-YA Author

Learn more about M.T. Anderson.

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? (Mention the year your first book was published.)

My first book – Thirsty, a vampire novel (Candlewick) – came out in 1997. YA was a very different world then. It was an obscure, niche field within children’s trade publishing, which focused on the picture book.

Commercial success was basically impossible for YA books, except in the case of mass-market tween series, and even those series weren’t yet as profitable as they would become. YA wasn’t a place for the ambitious to go. It was really pursued for the love of the craft and out of love for the audience.

That really changed around the turn of the millennium, and I think my career rode on that wave of expansion. My first two novels were published in the somewhat quieter, more parochial world of YA as it had been … but by my third novel, the dystopian satire Feed (Candlewick, 2002), the industry had exploded into the public view. I was a beneficiary of that explosion.

The first bump I hit was after the 2008 crash. Suddenly, the market contracted. Several things assaulted the publishing industry simultaneously: as the economy went into deep recession, consumer spending dropped; library funding fell through the floor; and ebooks began decimating hardcover revenues. The income structure for books had really relied on hardcover sales, especially to libraries, and increasingly, libraries had less to spend on collection development.

At the same time, the number of titles published had gone through the roof, so each individual book was less likely to attract attention. At the corporate level, publishers and their parent companies were all staggering around like the wounded in a B horror-movie, tripping all over each other and, in fact, merging and disintegrating in new and bizarre combinations.

I had the same experience many people had during this period – and I want readers to know that even now, this experience is not unusual: the awful experience of watching books you love and have worked on with pride and pleasure slipping through the cracks.

In the midst of all the mergers, the firings, and the rapid staff turnover, many publishers’ marketing and publicity teams simply were not promoting a lot of the titles on their list. Communication between marketing and publicity departments – which are, somehow, separate at some companies – was nil. There were no thought-through strategies for promotion, and a lot of opportunities were missed.

One example: I had a publisher spend a lot of money to create some photo-ops for me – and then accidentally neglect to send the photos anywhere. I ended up feeling guilty because they’d wasted money paying for my travel. I hate self-promotion anyway, and wasting my publisher’s resources made my teeth hurt. But that kind of snafu was not unusual.

At the time, I was working on two lighter, younger teen series. In both cases, the first books had sold well. But after the crash, the sales plummeted. The same thing was happening to everyone around me, as we all clamored for attention from ever smaller marketing and publicity staffs.

You should know that everyone complains about that kind of neglect at some stage of their career. To some extent, it has become the new normal in a bloated and competitive industry.

That doesn’t make it any easier, emotionally and artistically. This is a book you crafted lovingly! You’ve lived with it for years, fostering its growth. Then it’s out in the world and can’t seem to get any traction. And worse, writers often blame themselves when a project doesn’t sell – though the mechanics of what makes a book take off are mysterious to everyone.

Please know that many of our industry’s most famous authors have stories in which projects they loved and believed in foundered and disappeared, never reaching their audience. You can’t take it to heart. It happens to everyone.

You just never notice those forgotten chapters in other people’s careers because, well, they’re forgotten – so the successful, in hindsight, seem as if they’ve always been successful.

Believe in yourself. Believe in your work. And love your work from day to day – because that’s what’s going to make it worth it, regardless of a book’s fortunes in the wider world.

One practical suggestion for avoiding self-pity and self-flagellation: In general, I recommend working on several things in alternation. It makes sense from several standpoints: You can put one project on a back burner for a couple of months while working up something else, and that absence is often key to gaining new insight on your own work.

A side-benefit of this is that when a book comes out, you’ve already left it behind. You’re working on something else and surging toward a different goal. You can afford to be more indifferent, therefore, to setbacks for a previous project.

Keep moving! Keep striving!

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

What a great moment for me to contradict my previous answer! One thing I was noted for, early in my career, was trying out very different genres – horror, rom-com, picture book biography, sci-fi, historical fiction, middle grade adventure, etc. I love challenges and confronting myself with a new task, a new mountain to climb.

When I was younger, I dove into each new project blithely. But I have discovered that variety also has a cost. Authors who work in the same mode or genre develop followings in a different way than those of us who hurl things out toward different audiences.

Would I do anything differently, though? I’m not sure I would. I loved each of the projects I worked on. While I was working on each one, it was my world. Each one engaged a different part of me, different skills. How could I want to give that up? That joy, and that sense of exploration and discovery? That’s part of what writing is about.

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 talked about this a lot above, and I’d basically say that when literary historians look back at the early 21st century, they’ll see this period as a golden age for YA lit.

Sure, those of us in the thick of the industry might experience the present as something of a scramble – but now that the stakes (and, sometimes, the advances) are higher, we’ve attracted a lot of great talent to the field, people who otherwise wouldn’t have considered writing for teens.

I think that’s amazing – and if you’d asked me in 1995, when I was an editorial assistant, I would have said this extraordinary growth of the genre was pretty much impossible.

Oh, one industry factoid that young writers should know about: one of the reasons we became so profitable so quickly, as a sector – one of the reasons that corporate publishing licks their chops over our work – is that, believe it or not, our contracts dictate we receive proportionally smaller royalty cuts than writers for adults do.

That’s a hold-over from the days when YA publishing typically took a loss. So as YA sales exploded in the early 2000’s, and many more copies of YA books were being sold, publishers were making a few percent more on each book, too. (Money that, in the world of publishing for adults, would have gone to the authors themselves.) That meant giant profits, and YA came to seem even more delectable as a publishing investment.

All of this has contributed to making the genre so prominent in our national culture.

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

With co-author Eugene Yelchin

That is a tough one. The flip side of the field being rich with variety is that it is incredibly hard to break into it and to get noticed. I am a New Englander, and hate self-promotion. It makes my severe little Puritan soul shrivel. The only P.R. event I’m really comfortable with is sitting in a graveyard during a drizzle, reading to the slate stones.

I would say that social media helps some authors, but at this point, we’ve passed the apogee of that approach. We’re glutted with tweets.

What about joining these groups of people who travel together and promote together?

Readings when you’re a young author can be demoralizing, because only your friends come, and you’re a writer, so you don’t have many friends. But I know several young writers who have banded together and traveled together, creating their own little tour, taking advantage of personal connections instead of staying at hotels etc.

It’s more fun to travel as a group anyway – and then each of you is a draw for friends and relations, so you actually get respectable regional audiences. Thumbs up all around.

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

More wonderful books – and more books that break the mold and tell us about experiences we haven’t heard about yet.

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

Well, for one thing, I’m working on a book for adults at the moment, which is fascinating and challenging.

In looking to the past and the future, I’ve noticed one common theme in my career: I have miraculously found a way to anticipate trends by just enough that I completely miss capitalizing on them.

I published a vampire novel six years before the vampire craze, a dystopian novel four years before the dystopian craze, a steampunk series four years before the steampunk craze, and so on. Each one cleverly timed so that I never monetize the coincidence.

So if you’re a trend-watcher, here’s a word to the wise: I’m thinking that in a couple years, there might be a run on Russian espionage nonfiction.

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.

M. T. Anderson’s forthcoming novel, The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, written with Eugene Yelchin, will be released in October 2018. It has been named to the 2018 National Book Awards Longlist in Young People’s Literature. M.T. was the 2006 award winner for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party (Candlewick.)

 

Cynsations Intern: Stephani Eaton on The Joy of Writing

Stephani Eaton, photo by Tanya Odom

By Stephani Eaton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

When I was in second grade, I wrote a poem about an impending storm that pleased my dad so much that he hung it in his office. It stayed there for years.

I recently asked if he remembered what it said and he rattled off: “This dark and rainy noon will soon pass the sunset of time.”

I had to laugh at the melodrama of my seven-year-old self. Laughed and said, “What on earth does that mean?”

He defended my first “serious” writing attempt as the start of my writing journey.

Second grade was a pivotal year, one in which words came alive for me. I remember bringing a story to Mrs. Giannone’s desk and in the middle of reading it she put her head on her desk and fell asleep!

Well, she didn’t really fall asleep, but I had used the word “nice” and she was showing me how boring that was for a reader. Her reaction amused me to no end. It lit up my brain and made me want to write, write, write.

Young Stephani at the keyboard

Yet, I learned later that too much pizazz in the writing just gets in the way of meaning. My dad would harp on me to “say what I mean” and not to embellish too much. In a book report on Ivanhoe, I had cooked up some flowery sentences. He asked what they meant and I couldn’t tell him because I didn’t know. Finally, after much back and forth and lots of frustration, I told him that I was just trying to say that the book made me think.

“Say that!” he said.
He taught me not only the importance of clarity but precision. That’s what you get when your dad has a PhD in biochemistry but loves to read literature and history. The copy he gave me of Ernest Hemingway’s On Writing (Grafton Books, 1986) is still on my shelf.

In sixth grade, Mrs. Siltman told me I was good at reading and writing only after she told me I needed to stay in for recess because I talked too much. This is probably the year that I discovered Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabitha (Crowell, 1977) and Gilly Hopkins (Crowell, 1978). And it was one year before I met Anne of Green Gables (by L.M. Montgomery, L.C. Page & Co., 1908).

I wore those books out.
All the while I was writing, writing, writing at home. We had gotten a new Apple IIc computer and it had Print Shop software on it. I obsessively made newspapers filled with stories of our family life to send to my out-of-state-grandparents. Grandparents are the best audience. 

In high school, the boy who sat in front of me in AP English frustrated me to no end. He aced all the timed writings and our teacher frequently used his work as the model to which to aspire. I was a good student, but no standout.

The same was true of my undergrad experience. I earned a BA in English and secondary education with a journalism add-on, but not with stellar grades. After graduation, I taught middle school and loved it. I had a whole crop of kids to introduce to books and writing. An added bonus, I got to teach my beloved Gilly Hopkins.

I needed to get a Master’s to continue teaching, so I decided I would pursue my first love and what I felt I never had time for in undergrad: creative writing. I worked and worked on a manuscript. I had no idea what I was doing.

I was promptly rejected.
Several years and two babies later, I sat back down to write. It felt familiar. It felt right. But it was hard. I realized quickly that I needed and wanted to learn more. I wanted to take all those creative writing courses that I never took in undergrad, that I wanted to take in graduate school. So, I applied to four MFA writing programs.

I was promptly rejected.

It would have been wise for me to remember what I knew as a second grader, that: “this dark and rainy noon will soon pass the sunset of time.”

I boxed up my seventeen drafts that weren’t getting me into school.

And I started over.

I did what I could. I joined a critique group, went to some conferences, and listened to webinars. I read craft books such as A Sense of Wonder by Paterson (Plume Books, 1995) which fueled my purpose to write. I read blogs like this one (but few as good).

About eighteen months later, I had something that looked more like a story. A friend invited me to go with her to an SCBWI conference in New York.

By chance, we met some Vermont College of Fine Arts alumni, who were gracious when I confessed I had been rejected from their program. Later, one of them came to find me and introduced me to VCFA’s recruiter. They both sincerely encouraged me to apply again.

I texted my husband in a flurry of eagerness.

Seconds later he texted, “Do it!”

I did.

Even though I didn’t get in on the first try, when I did get to VCFA it provided me with everything my seven-year-old self could have dreamed of: encouraging mentors, a community of writers, a place to grow and experiment.

Katherine Patterson and Stephani in Oxford

I added to the champions in my corner a hundredfold. I even traveled for a week with, Katherine Paterson (the author of those books I wore out), during a VCFA writing residency in Bath.

But most importantly, VCFA gave me an excuse and a reason to don my favorite hoodie and sit down at the keyboard and write.

Stephani and family on a research trip
to the Bodie Island Lighthouse in North Carolina

Writing has become a family activity. My husband loves to write. My kids write. We share our writing with each other. We go on research trips together.

It has become part of the fabric of our family life.

The writing life is full of refusals, rejections, and revisions. No writer’s life is free of those storms, those “dark and rainy noons.” But those pass.

And even amidst those storms there is joy.

Joy in creation, joy in community, joy in those moments alone with the blank page and the promise of what’s possible.

Oh, and that boy who frustrated me to no end in AP English?

Reader, I married him.

Cynsational News

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

Author/Illustrator Insights

Nova Ren Suma On Ghosts, Unreliable Narrators, & A Room Away from the Wolves by Luann Toth from School Library Journal. Peek: “As a writer, it’s both a fantastic rollercoaster ride writing a [unreliable] narrator like this, and also a maddening puzzle, because even if the reader isn’t meant to know the full truth, I always need to, and I need to make sure all angles and avenues are covered.”

The WD Interview: Bestseller Jacqueline Woodson on Confronting Controversial Subjects & Writing Across Age Categories by Jera Brown from Writer’s Digest. Peek: “I get asked a lot about my literature in terms of the controversy of it, which, it’s not controversial to me. I’m writing about everyday life and real issues and real people—I mean real characters who are trying to find their footing.”

Q & A with Hena Khan by Alex Rah from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “When I was growing up, I never saw myself represented in a single book that I read, and it wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I finally had that shock of recognition and saw ‘myself’ in a book for the first time.”

Interview: Paula Chase by Edi Campbell from CrazyQuiltEdi. Peek: “These characters are bonded by their neighborhood…Sometimes adults forget there’s an entire world their kids live in outside of them.”

Advice for Young Writers, Office Cats, and Up in the Air: Three Questions with Ann Marie Meyers by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl. Peek: “Dare to dream, especially when life throws ‘curveballs’ at you, because no matter what happens, you’ll always veer back on the path if you keep your dream alive.”

Author to Author: A Conversation Between Nadia L. Hohn and Itah Sadu by Itah Sadu and Nadia L. Hohn from Anansesem. Peek: “Writers of colour are highly underrepresented in the publishing industry but have a long history of independent (self) publishing and developing alternative presses of our own…Movements like We Need Diverse Books and publications like Anansesem are needed to increase the visibility of our work.”

In Conversation: Yuri Morales and Neal Porter from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “One of the most joyful things for me, in the way we make books, is that we honor the love I have for Spanish. And the importance Spanish has for me. Spanish is not a language that opposes or cancels English, but is equal.”

Interview with Jonathan Roth, Author of Beep and Bob Book Three: Take Us to Your Sugar by Wendy McLeod MacKnight from Middle Grade Minded. Peek: “… I got frustrated with years of rejections of picture books and middle grade novels and just sat down to write something silly and fun from my heart… I think I benefited from both the power of letting go and from all the practice I had put into my other projects.”

Writing and Illustrating Muslim Characters in Children’s Literature: Interview with Author Saadia Faruqi and Illustrator Hatem Aly by Suma Subramaniam at From the Mixed-up Files. Peek: “It was really important to me not to make Yasmin or her family ‘the other’ – someone different because of their skin color or their religion or ethnic background. There is a sort of empowerment in that normalization that only minority groups can truly understand.”

Awards

The 2018 National Book Awards Longlist: Young People’s Literature from The New Yorker. Cyn Note: Shout out to pal M. T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin, nominated for The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge (Candlewick).

Diversity


Ageism in YA Lit from Mary E. Pearson. Peek: “If older women in the arts become a rare species, will young writers fear for their own careers? Will middle-aged women just give up because of some antiquated message our culture perpetuates?”


Sorell’s Debut Book Features All Things Cherokee by Will Chavez from the Cherokee Phoenix. Peek: “After my son was born, I noticed nearly all the books I had were either traditional stories or about Native people and historical events prior to 1900. I wondered where all the fiction and nonfiction picture books featuring modern Native life were….That’s what inspired me to write for children.”

How and Why To Build Diversity into Your Speaker Program by Cynthia Leitich Smith from The Booking Biz. Peek: “Think about a balance of voices, their idiosyncratic and intersecting perspectives, because that will make for a richer, more layered and interesting conversation.”

South Bend Bookstore Promotes Diversity Through Literature by Allie Kirkman from the Miami Herald. Peek: “Not only am I looking for a good story, but I am looking for the high-quality inclusive books. I am looking for marginalized voices.”

NYRF 2018: Money, Status Will Drive More Diversity by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I don’t see this as a trend—I see this as about educating the retailers and the gatekeepers,’ said [Judith] Curr…”

Picture Book Recommendations: First/Native Nations by Jillian Helse from Heise Reads & Recommends. Peek: “I am concerned about the number of teachers I see recommending books… that are problematic in their representations of First/Native Nations cultures… many educators just don’t know…To help with that, I decided to make a post compiling a few picture book recommendations…”

WNDB Mentorships from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “We are offering mentorships to 11 upcoming voices…This is an opportunity to be matched with an experienced children’s book creator and receive individual support and feedback on a completed draft of a work-in-progress. Applications for the 2019 cycle will be open from Oct. 1 to Oct. 31, 2018.”

‘We Rise’ Anthology Offers Call to Action by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek:”…impetus for the book dates back to the ugliness surrounding the 2016 presidential campaign….the Hudsons knew that they wanted to do something to reassure her (their niece), and millions of young children like her: ‘We’ve come through different challenges in the past, and we will get through this.’ We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson (Crown Books for Young Readers in partnership with Just Us Books, Sept. 4, 2018).”

Publishing


How to List Your Publishing Credits in a Query Letter from Nathan Bransford. Peek: “If you’re writing fiction, publishing credits can help. A bit. Sort of. But the current project you’re querying about is by far the most important thing.”


What Authors and Editors Wish They Could Say to One Another by Leila Sales from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “…I sometimes demand of my editor things that she cannot give; and as an editor, I’m aware that I sometimes keep from my authors things that they want….simply seeing the process from the other’s eyes doesn’t fix everything. But I do believe that it’s a start.”

Bologna Children’s Book Fair: How to Take Part. Peek: “The Exhibition is open to: illustrators, including professionals and newcomers, submitting unpublished works or works published in the last two years…Deadline for sending your artwork: Oct.5, 2018 (the postmark date serves as proof).”

Marketing


13 Ways to Promote Before Publication by Therese Walsh from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Ideally, you’ll have three-to-six months before your book’s release to brainstorm, experiment, and implement your promotional plan. What’s worth your time? Here are 13 strategies to consider.”

How Traditionally Published Authors Can Repackage and Self-Publish Their Backlist by Jess Lourey from Jane Friedman. Peek: “I got my rights back to the first ten books in that series…It’s too soon for me to provide sweeping data on what works best, but one thing I know for sure: successfully publishing a book is a hundred times harder than I’d imagined…”

How to Support a Book or Favorite Author: 6 Easy Tips (Including Many Free Ones!) by Kelly Jensen from Book Riot. Peek: “This guide is meant as a way to spread the word about a book you love or you want to get more attention, and all of the tips are pretty easy and straightforward. Some will cost you a little bit of money while others are completely free…”

School Visit Survey: Next Steps by Jeanette Bradley and Michelle Cusolito from Polliwog on Safari. Peek: “…if everyone posted their school visit fees on their websites, and that information was freely available to schools searching for authors, it would reduce the misconception that authors are able to visit schools for free.”

Writing Craft


Changed Perceptions Equals Character Growth by Kim Bullock from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “The towns hadn’t changed. The people hadn’t changed. My perception of myself and my place in that world had.”

Need to Add Depth to a Character? Consider a Quirk by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: “… I’d like to focus today on how to utilize quirks deliberately as a way of showing your character’s positive attributes. I’ve found that the best way to apply them meaningfully is by pulling them directly from the character’s personality or emotional wound.”

New Resources for Teaching Nonfiction by Melissa Stewart from Nerdy Book Club. Peek: “Many students connect more strongly to books with an expository writing style…And so the question we need to ask ourselves at this point is: Now that we know better, how can we do better?”

How to Write Fiction That’s Fresh by Cathy Yardley from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “Being fresh and original depends largely on being different than existing material. If you haven’t read widely in your genre, it’s hard to say whether publishing professionals or the reading audience at large would consider your premise original or not.”

A Recap of My First Residency in the VCFA Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA by Sarah S. Davis from Broke By Books. Peek: “I scoured the internet to find first-person narratives of what a low-residency MFA experience is really like before I went, but honestly I just didn’t find much…So this is my honest account of what my MFA residency experience was really like.”

Guest Post: How to Write Middle Grade Cringe Humor by Dan Richards from Middle Grade Ninja. Peek: “Cringe humor is a great way to face our own fears by watching others navigate embarrassing situations. We learn that if they can survive an embarrassing moment, so can we.”

What to Write About When You Can’t Thing What to Write About by Claire Fayers from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Peek: “… just last winter at the Scattered Authors’ Folly Farm retreat, we talked about the rhythm of the seasons and the danger of trying to be constantly productive when we need the fallow periods for stories to put down roots.”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia


LoonSong Turtle Island 2018

This month’s highlight was 10 days at LoonSong 2018 on Lake Elbow in Cook, Minnesota. I taught back-to-back workshops on a faculty with fellow authors Nikki Grimes, Bruce Coville, Marion Dane Bauer, Jane Buchanan, Sarah Aronson, Debby Dahl Edwardson, Jenny Meyerhoff and Carol McAfee as well as editors Cheryl Klein and Yolanda Scott.

Then Cheryl, Yolanda and Debby stayed on with me at LoonSong: Turtle Island, and we were joined by authors Tim Tingle and Dawn Quigley as well as author-editor Arthur A. Levine. The Turtle Island program was specifically open to Native authors.

Thank you to LoonSong founders Jane, Marion and especially Debby (who coordinated both workshops) and to all involved.

Author copies in the house!

Reminder! Pre-orders are really important to the success of books. To show my appreciation to anyone supports my writing in that way, between now and Oct. 8, if you pre-order Hearts Unbroken from my independent bookstore, BookPeople, or from another bookseller and fill out this form, you’ll receive an autographed copy and a little swag, too!

Please also considering pre-ordering the paperback edition of Feral Pride (Book 3 in the Feral trilogy)(Candlewick, Oct. 2018). Thank you.

Congrats to Anne Clare Le Zotte (@annclezotte), the winner of the Hearts Unbroken ARC classroom set giveaway, sponsored by Candlewick Press!

Link of the Week: Hurrican Maria Anniversary Auction 2018 from Latinx in Kidlit.


More Personally – Robin


Last weekend I went to Jonathan Roth‘s book signing to get a small stack of his new book Beep & Bob, book 3: Take Us to Your Sugar signed for my Halloween-book project.  This series is just perfect for its age six-to-nine audience. I can’t wait to give these books out at Halloween!



More Personally – Gayleen


Last weekend I was inspired and energized by the talent and creativity of this phenomenal group of illustrators and writers at Austin SCBWI‘s Picture Book Retreat. Red Fox Agent Abigail Samoun and Chronicle Editor Ariel Richardson presented fantastic workshops taking a deep dive into picture books. Huge thanks to Illustrator Coordinator C.S. Jennings for leading the event!

Guest Interview: Lawrence Schimel on The Treasure of Barracuda & The Wild Book for #WorldKidLit Month

Lawrence Schimel, photo by Nieves Guerra

By Avery Fischer Udagawa
for Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations

September is #WorldKidLit Month, a time to notice if world literature is reaching kids in the form of translations. 


Read a Cynsations interview with co-organizer Marcia Lynx Qualey.


Lawrence Schimel wears many hats: translator, writer, founder of SCBWI Spain, publisher at A Midsummer Night’s Press.


I talked with him about his translations of two middle grade adventure novels: The Treasure of Barracuda by Llanos Campos of Spain, and The Wild Book by Juan Villoro of Mexico. Both tie the joys of reading to wide experience, romance, daring and even ruckus!

Let’s get right into these rip-roaring reads, Lawrence. The Treasure of Barracuda features an 11-year-old boy named Sparks who serves on a pirate crew, which combs Europe and the Caribbean for a sought-after coffer from Asia. The place names alone are legion: Antigua, Barbados, Corsica, Dominica, Española, Formosa, Guadeloupe—and that’s just A through G. How did you keep track of the geography? 

I imagine it was much trickier for the author to keep track of the geography than for me as translator.

By the time I get a text, it has usually been seen by so many eyes at the original-language publisher: author, editor, copyeditor, proofreader. But mistakes do sometimes slip through, and as translators we often wind up stumbling on those because everything must make sense in order for us to translate it. 

Had you spent time before with the nautical and pirate vocabulary? Also weapons, from arquebus to mauser . . . did you have to immerse yourself in other lore of the high seas?

That’s one of the interesting things about life as a translator: we’re always learning new things, and new terms, in both source and target language. Even with fiction. In terms of the weapons, they were new to me in both languages!

I did also try and refresh my “pirate speech” to make the dialogues and descriptions read well in English.

Little Pickle Press mounted a great social media campaign using terminology from the book, to get people ready for Talk Like a Pirate Day!

The pirates in The Treasure of Barracuda teach each other to read, in a process likened to “trying to teach a flock of ducks to sew.” The book offers remarkably apt descriptions of reading challenges, such as distinguishing b from d, paid from said. I presume that these examples differ in the original Spanish. How did you bring them into English?

Yes, this was one of the trickiest challenges in the book for me! Because the original samples weren’t plays on words in English, and it was important to recreate the experience of confusing letters and words in a way that would work for English readers. I’m glad that my solutions seem to have worked!

Here is one example, which in the original Spanish used the similarity of the letters U and V to confuse vida (“life”) and uida (“flight”) which should be spelled with a silent H at the beginning:

Muchas veces confundía letras, sobre todo la U y la V, con lo que en vez de «vida» leíamos «uida» (y encima así, sin H; ahora lo sé). 

In the translation, I had to take liberties, to use words that could be confused in English, and wound up playing with how the lowercase letters b and d are mirror images of one another. I used:

Often he got letters all mixed up, especially the lower case “b” and “d” which looked so similar, so that instead of saying “drown” he read “brown”. 

I love how the pirates experience their world anew once they can read. What are some of your favorite examples of this? 

Well, it may be giving away spoilers to give specific examples. But, once they can read, the pirates wind up saving themselves from danger, disaster, and confrontation, time after time, because of something they’re able to read (in the moment) or something they have read in the past. Whether this is because their adversary assumes that they are ignorant and can’t read, or because something they read bears an uncanny relation to their current predicament, reading offers them knowledge or information that winds up saving the day.

How did you find it translating the comedy, from short phrases (“his underpopulated mouth”) to whole sections, such as one in which a feud over paella leaves two brothers estranged? 

Author Llanos Campos has a background in theater, and I think the pacing of the novel shows her understanding, and it works well in both languages. Llanos manages to have both humor that is language-based, and humor that is more situational or slapstick.

I did worry that the argument about the paella might not be culturally relevant, but since it was playing up the stereotypes of Spaniards, written by a Spanish author, we thought we should leave it in as-is.

Llanos Campos

I found it quite effective! On another topic, the narrator Sparks occasionally addresses readers in the second person. Is this common in Spanish-language novels? 

I think this is actually a much more common convention in English-language novels, especially those from a certain period—“Reader, I married him,” from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), etc. Although it’s true that in Don Quixote (1605, 1615), arguably the first modern novel, Cervantes does in fact address the reader.

I understand that The Treasure of Barracuda won the El Barco De Vapor Award in Spain. 

Yes, this was Llanos Campos’ first novel, which was published after it won the award in Spain—an award given out by Her Majesty the Queen in a gala celebration each year in Madrid. The book has been tremendously successful in Spanish (over 50 printings in just a few years), and there are two more volumes of Sparks’ further adventures.

Unfortunately, there aren’t yet plans for these to be published in English. Little Pickle, the publisher who brought out The Treasure of Barracuda, was bought by Sourcebooks a few months after publication, and their focus is on other areas for now.

Moving on to The Wild Book, please tell me about author Juan Villoro. I understand that he is extremely well-known in Mexico. 

Juan is a justly-beloved figure in Mexico, who is an author for both adults and kids. He is a polymath, writing fiction, essays, newspaper columns on politics and sports, children’s books, theater—all at a really high level of quality.

And The Wild Book has been a tremendous success, selling over a million copies in Spanish. I hope that as many English-language readers fall in love with this great story!

(And I know that, thanks to being able to read the English translation, editors in a few other countries have fallen in love with the book, and have bought the rights to publish it in their languages. It will be translated directly from the Spanish, but the editors were only able to read and evaluate it once the English translation was published.)

Juan Villoro

That’s great that the English translation of The Wild Book is having a ripple effect!

Let’s talk about this novel. In some ways it shows the adventure of becoming a passionate reader. It is far from didactic, however: 13-year-old Juan, whose parents are divorcing, endures domestic trauma before undertaking a quest in his eccentric uncle Tito’s library. Juan also experiences his first romance. Did you find it tough to translate the delicate mingling of hard reality, comedy and joy in this book? 

I love Villoro’s voice, which I think translates well into English—Juan is very well-read, as this novel proves, and also speaks English very well, which I think made the translation easier.

I also love how he doesn’t write down to kids, but still writes from a young person’s perspective even when tackling difficult issues. He presents life, which is often messy and complicated, and full of both sorrow and joy, often at the same time—to the confusion of those who have to live through it.

I would also say that the book is about coming to appreciate the power and beauty of reading, not necessarily becoming an avid reader or a bibliophile. I think something really important in the book is how many of the characters, even the ones who start off as the most fervent readers, go through “dry spells” or moments when they’re not reading as much or it just doesn’t grab them, for various reasons having to do with other events in their lives.

The book really shows in a lovely way both how reading can exert an influence on our lives, and how our lives can exert an influence on our reading.

I enjoyed the many truisms about reading in The Wild Book: certain details make stories true; books seem to seek their readers. Censorship even comes up: “Trees are like books; if you dare try to burn one, you run the risk of burning them all.” Did you consider the act of reading in new ways as you translated? Did you want to run out and reread the authors mentioned in the book (Dante, Kafka, Melville…) as I did? 

I am an omnivorous reader, so so much in this book resonated for me. It is one reason I really wanted to have a chance to translate it.

I had originally written a reader’s report on the book for Arts Council England for a project being run by Danny Hahn, a precursor to the current In Other Words program that provides support for sample translations of children’s books to reach U.K. publishers. My report was so glowing that Arts Council England chose The Wild Book as one of the titles they commissioned samples for.

And there was interest from some U.K. publishers, but in the end none of them bought the rights, so after a year, I asked if I could show the sample to publishers in the United States.

Restless Books had just published Villoro’s collection of essays on football, God Is Round, when former publisher Joshua Ellison told me at the Frankfurt Book Fair that they were planning a children’s imprint, Yonder. I sent the sample to him, he shared it with the team, and they all fell in love with the book too.

Blind readers are depicted with much affection in The Wild Book. Readers absorb that some of the world’s great bibliophiles have been blind, making Wild a “window” read for children with no experience of visual impairment. Are there plans to publish a Braille edition as well, which could be a “mirror” read for blind children? 

I really admired how the issue of reading in Braille versus in “ink” is both an integral plot element but also a non-event in The Wild Book: the important part is reading and sharing stories.

I don’t know if there is yet a Braille edition in the works in English, but it would be a lovely idea. I myself was recently in Colombia for FILBo, the International Book Fair of Bogotá, where I launched a new picture book of my own, ¡Qué Suerte Tengo! illustrated by Juan Camilo Mayorga and published by Rey Naranjo. This title includes a spread in Braille to offer a “window” into that experience. 

Which passages in The Wild Book did you most enjoy that describe first love? 

I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler, but I love the moment when Juan (who isn’t much of a reader, really) realizes how sharing a book with someone changes the experience of the book. So much of Juan and Catalina’s relationship is reflected in the series of adventure books they both read. 

Something else I love about The Wild Book is that it offers a contrast to the stereotypical portrayals of Mexicans in recent United States political discourse. 

Not sharing that stereotypical view of Mexico, I wasn’t expecting such portrayals. But what I am very pleased about is that this is a Mexican novel that is not about Mexican-ness.

Very often, there are good books that wind up not getting translated because what publishers seem to look for in foreign fiction is either armchair tourism, or books that are only/mostly about identity, about being from those countries.

The Wild Book is a title that can be enjoyed by anyone who reads. It seduces you into looking at reading anew, and also gives nods to lots of classic stories (like Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1851)). Villoro gives enough clues that even if you haven’t yet read those stories, which you’ve likely heard of, however, you can still understand all the references.

At the same time, it is a Latin American book, and I was excited that he includes Latin American writers like Jorge Luis Borges among those universal stories. That was, I felt, something important—more so in the English translation than the original.

Have you ever heard or seen The Wild Book compared to the Harry Potter series? A boy who has experienced domestic hardship, finds himself in a welcoming magical world? 

I think it would be a stretch, actually. Because the magic in The Wild Book comes not from the world inhabited by the hero, but from reading. And from sharing reading. So it is really a very different approach.

Also, it is the opposite of the school story: The Wild Book is about how Juan, instead of getting to spend the summer holiday with his friend, winds up going to live with his eccentric uncle because of the unexpected separation of his parents. So instead of being surrounded by peers, he is isolated and surrounded by books. And that winds up changing everything.

Are there any other translations of Juan Villoro in the offing? 

Villoro does have more middle grade and young adult fiction, and I’d love to translate more by him.

Some of his adult fiction has recently been published, and I know at least one more title is being translated by Yvette Siegert.

I’m thrilled with how well Yonder/Restless Books credits you for translating The Wild Book. Why is translation a creative endeavor that, while different from authorship, must be recognized and credited? 

I live in Spain where the Intellectual Property Law considers translators as co-authors, who are required by law to share in the benefits of the book (and also things like payments when books get checked out from libraries).

People can get confused by how translation is a subsidiary copyright: I can translate anything I want to, just because I want to, but I can’t publish my translations without the consent of the copyright holder (the author, their agent or the publisher, usually—sometimes the heirs).

At the same time, the author (or their agent, publisher, heirs, etc.) can’t publish my translation of the work without my consent.

As you mention, a lot of publishers don’t recognize still how a literary translation is a co-authorship; my translation of a work will be very different from a different translator’s.

But Restless Books was a joy to work with in that regard.

Are you working on any new translations of children’s literature? 

I’m currently working with the Latvian poet and translator Arvis Viguls to co-translate a book of rhyming poetry for kids about being sick, Līze Analīze by Latvian poet Inese Zandere, illustrated by Reinis Pētersons, into Spanish for the Spanish publisher Esdrújula in Granada. It will be titled Anita está malita in Spanish.

Original Latvian edition, published by Liels un Mazs, 2012

The most recent book I’ve translated into English, La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono (Feminist Press), was published as an adult novel, but features a 16-year-old girl in Equatorial Guinea.

It is a coming-of-age story about her search for her father—the mother died in childbirth, and because the father never paid the pride price to the mother’s family, Okomo belongs to her grandparents’ tribe. She struggles, as do other people she meets along the way, to challenge the patriarchal, polygamous Fang culture. This is the first novel by a woman writer from Equatorial Guinea to be published in English.

I do hope to have the chance to translate more middle grade or young adult fiction from Spanish.

There’s lots of great writing out there, it’s just a matter of finding editors who are open to works in translation. . . I think a lot of American editors tend to want books in translation to be about the culture they’re from—as a guide to life and issues in Honduras or Argentina, say—as opposed to just good stories that kids will love reading. But that’s changing, as The Treasure of Barracuda and The Wild Book show.

Hear, hear! 

Cynsational Notes 

Lawrence Schimel tweets in English as @lawrenceschimel. An author as well as a translator, he recently won a 2018 Crystal Kite Award for his picture book Will You Read My Book with Me? illustrated by Thiago Lopes (Epigram Books, 2017).

Avery Fischer Udagawa contributes to the SCBWI Japan Translation Group blog and is SCBWI International Translator Coordinator.

She translated Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba, a middle grade novel forthcoming from Chin Music Press. Find her on Twitter @AveryUdagawa.

Guest Post: Harold Underdown on Line Editing

Harold Underdown

By Harold Underdown
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Eileen Robinson and I have been teaching about revision for several years now through our partnership, Kid’s Book Revisions.

Until recently, we hadn’t taught about line-editing–it seemed too complicated, too messy, for a workshop approach–but we thinking we’ve figured out how to do it. I’d like to tell you why you should learn about line-editing, show what line-editing is and how to do it, give you a couple of exercises to do, and point you to some places where you can learn more about it.

Line-editing is an in-between stage of editing, with developmental editing coming before it and copy-editing after. It’s often done by an in-house editor.

Why should you take the time to learn about it?

I can give you three reasons.

Though there are limits to how objective anyone can be with their own writing, you can use line-editing to make your manuscripts better. You can also trade line-edits with writer friends, as you might do with beta reads, which could help with the objectivity problem.

And as author Jo Knowles pointed out, learning line-editing skills could lead to “freelance editorial opportunities.”

To understand what line-editing is, it helps to know what comes before and after.

Developmental editing comes before–that’s the stage when an editor works with a writer on the big issues, such as plot, characterization, voice, and so on.

After line-editing comes copy-editing, when an editor typically lets go of what’s seen as a finished manuscript, so that it can be prepared for publication by the copy-editor, who typically works on grammar, punctuation, spelling, and the like.

What’s left between those stages?

Editing at the sentence and paragraph level, done line by line (hence the name), covering problems in description, dialogue, pacing, and sentence structure, requiring the line-editor not only to spot specific writing problems but to bring their editorial judgment to bear and ask questions and make comments about focus, clarity, or what’s left in or left out.

The boundaries between these three stages are blurred, of course, but overall, that’s what you can expect as a manuscript moves through them.

Line-editing can be done in one of two ways–on paper or on screen. Line-editing was always done on paper until the arrival of personal computers and electronic workflows, and that approach is still used by some editors today.

Here’s an example courtesy of Emma Dryden, done on a picture book manuscript we provided to her and some other editors as a sample. As you can see, she wants to trim a lot of the text. She has comments, and she has a few suggestions. If she had even more comments, she might have added them on Post-it notes.

Click image to enlarge

More and more these days, editors like to do their line-editing on screen, using the Track Changes and Comments features in Word.

Just as with line-editing by hand, heavy editing can lead to a confusing visual display, and writers often have to pick carefully through the manuscript to make sense of them. Here’s an example of work that editor Karen Boss did on that same passage, this time on screen.

Click image to enlarge

As you can see from these two short examples, there’s a lot going on in line-editing, which is why it’s typically learned by young editors in house, in an apprenticeship kind of process, watching more senior editors do it, and then doing it themselves with supervision.

How can you learn to do it on your own?

We think it’s possible to learn via a two-part process, first practicing identifying and fixing specific issues in isolation, and then doing actual line-editing with the help of “mentor examples.”

We are planning to do this in a seven-plus hour workshop this fall, but to give you a feel for it, we’ve got a couple of examples here.

This first example is set up as a puzzle.

We’ve taken a passage from Gail Carson Levine‘s Dave at Night (HarperCollins, 1999) and scrambled it. Your task is to put it back in the correct order. This requires you to think about what sentence makes the most sense as the opening sentence, what would best follow after it, and so on.

Click image to enlarge


Though this is an artificial exercise, a writer has to make decisions like this in action sequences, so we think it’s a good way to sharpen your thinking around this area.

Once you’ve done your best with the passage, scroll down to see how the passage was actually published. We would agree that other sequences are possible, but see if you can figure out the logic of that sequence.

Why does the first sentence make sense as the first? Why are the second, third, and fourth sentences together, and why in that order?

Continue asking yourself questions like these through to the end.

To line-edit well, of course, editors must do much more than put sentences in the best possible order, fix run-on sentences, eliminate clumsy phrasing, and the like, though doing those things is a required part of line-editing.

Correct sequence for Dave at Night excerpt (click image to enlarge)

Editors must also bring their editorial judgment to bear on a line-by-line basis, and ask questions and make comments to help the writer see where they need to make improvements.

To learn how to do that aspect of line-editing, we believe it’s essential to see actual examples of line-editing being done. As I mentioned previously, as we worked on our course, we asked some editors to provide sample line-edits, and in the course itself we show how multiple editors responded to the same passage.

I will share one example here. Take a look at this sample, which is the opening paragraph for a middle-grade novel with a setting on a planet other than our own–it’s a sort of vacation planet, visited by many different kinds of beings. Shelpa is the main character.

If you encountered this passage, what comments and questions would you have about this as a line-editor?

Click image to enlarge

Now compare your notes to what editor Marlo Garnsworthy had to say.

Click image to enlarge

She had a suggestion about the first sentence (as a side note, almost all of the editors we shared the passage with had a comment here–but all of their comments were different!), followed by a clarifying question, a comment phrased as a question, and then a comment on something she liked.

These are good examples of the kinds of things editors do when they line-edit.

As Emma Dryden did by hand in the passage I showed earlier, they may also suggest deletions, re-orderings, and even additions, but engaging with the writer via questions and comments is a large part of the process.

So, where can you go to learn more? There’s no one book that I know of that is “about” line-editing, but I do want to recommend a few for reference:

  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King (HarperCollins, 2004): this is aimed at adult writers, but much of the editing it covers is line-editing. 
  • The Chicago Manual of Style (University of Chicago Press, 2017): this is more of a reference book, but does have some guidance regarding types of sentences and correct syntax. 
  • The Magic Words by Cheryl Klein (W.W. Norton, 2016): chapter 16 offers an extended and annotated line-editing sample. 
  • A Dash of Style by Noah Lukeman (W.W. Norton, 2016): this crosses over into copy-editing issues but provides help with punctuation, for those who need it.

But if you really want to learn how to line-edit, I hope you will join our class, “An Introduction to the Practical Side and the Mysteries of Line-Editing.” Our first session will be at 8:30 p.m. Eastern  Sept. 26. Registration is still open.

Cynsational Notes

Harold Underdown is an independent editor and publishing consultant; he does critiques, helps to develop manuscripts, does strategic consulting, and provides other services for individuals and publishers.

Harold enjoys teaching, and in that role wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Children’s Book Publishing (Penguin Random House, 2008), now in its third edition. He founded and runs “The Purple Crayon,” a respected website with information about the children’s publishing world.

He speaks and gives workshops through the Highlights Foundation, SCBWI‘s national and regional conferences, and Kid’s Book Revisions (offering online and on-site tutorials, webinars, retreats, and workshops in partnership with Eileen Robinson).

As an in-house editor, he worked at Macmillan, Orchard, and Charlesbridge, and has experience in trade and educational publishing.

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

Learn more about Melissa Stewart.

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? 

A piece of paper on the idea board above my desk says:

“Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself.” 

Those six simple words are a constant reminder of a lesson I learned the hard way at the beginning of my writing career.

My first book, Life Without Light: A Journey to Earth’s Dark Ecosystems (Franklin Watts), was published in 1998—twenty years ago.

At the time, I was working as a science editor for Franklin Watts and Children’s Press, two nonfiction imprints that had been independent children’s publishing companies for decades, but had recently merged with encyclopedia giant Grolier Publishing Company.

(Today, Watts, CP, and Grolier are all owned by Scholastic.)

Book #1 

I continued to work at that job until 2000. By then, I had published two more nonfiction books, and I had six additional titles under contract with companies that published for the school and library market.

I was confident that I could support myself as a writer.

But (you knew it was coming, right?) two things I never could have predicted happened in 2001.

There was an economic recession, and Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act. These events along with the rise of the internet, which made straightforward, kid-friendly information widely available for free, spelled disaster for the school and library publishing market.

Some publishers went bankrupt.

Others adjusted their publication schedules, pushing books that were supposed to come out in 2001 to 2002, 2003, even 2004.

They stopped acquiring new titles for several years. There was no work. Period.

I was single and had bills to pay, so there was only one option: I had to reinvent myself.

I joined the SCBWI, found a critique group, and began learning about other areas of the children’s publishing market, especially the trade market. I wrote magazine articles for adults.

I taught writing at a local community college. I worked as a substitute teacher.

Most of all, I realized how foolish I’d been to put all my eggs into one publishing basket.

Book #186, Sept. 2018

I needed to diversify by writing for as many different markets as possible, and, going forward, I needed to pay close attention to how nonfiction writing for children changed over time. I needed to be flexible and adaptable.

I needed to always be on the lookout for new opportunities.

Since that time, nonfiction for children has continued to shift and change, and, luckily, I’ve been able to evolve along with it.

Sometimes I spotted opportunities and actively pursued them. And to be honest, sometimes opportunities fell into my lap, and all I had to do was say, “Yes.”

Some of the projects I’ve been involved with failed miserably. Early sales didn’t live up to publishers’ expectations, and books-in-progress were cancelled midstream. But enough of them worked out that my 186th book, Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis (Peachtree, 2018), entered the world in September.

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

Like all writers, I’ve faced my share of obstacles and setbacks, but it’s hard to have regrets when you get to spend your life doing something you love.

Maybe I should have worried less, but even with twenty years of experience, I still worry.

Maybe I’ll never get a great book idea again.

If I do get a great idea, maybe I won’t be able to find the information I need to write it.

February, 2018

If I do find the information, maybe I won’t be able to write a manuscript that lives up to my vision.

If I do write a manuscript I’m happy with, maybe no one will acquire it.

If an editor does acquire it, maybe it will get terrible reviews and it won’t find its audience.

I’m constantly reminding myself that I need to relax and enjoy the ride, to savor the time I spend digging up fascinating facts and presenting them in a way that will delight as well as inform my young readers.

The creative process is what really matters, and time spent “in the flow” is a gift to be treasured.

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

When I began working as an editor in early 1990s, there was just one kind of nonfiction—what we now call traditional nonfiction. But since then, nonfiction has transformed in dramatic and exciting ways.

Today, there are five distinct categories of nonfiction, which I described in this recent article, Understanding and Teaching the Five Kids of Nonfiction (School Library Journal, April 2018).

The following visuals summarize the characteristics and publication opportunities for each category:

Not every nonfiction book fits snugly into one of these five categories. For example, some titles are a blend of narrative nonfiction and expository literature. Others are a mixture of traditional nonfiction and browsable books. But understanding these five basic categories can help book creators, educators, and young readers begin to understand the wide world of nonfiction.

Thanks to that piece of paper tacked to the idea board above my desk—you know, the one that says: “Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself.”—I’ve written books in all five categories, and that diversification has allowed me to continue doing a job I love for twenty years.

Thanks to Common Core, nonfiction is finally having its moment in the sun.

Right now, today, is the golden age of nonfiction. And even though Common Core is on its way out, the state educational standards replacing are still emphasizing nonfiction reading and writing.

That’s good news for nonfiction creators.

Melissa’s Critique Group:
Top, l to r: Deborah Kops, Mary LaPointe-Malchik,  Steve Anderson, Betsy Uhrig, Joannie Duris, Heather Lang, Sam Kane;
Middle, l to r: Sharon Abra Hanen, Jeanne Bracken;
Bottom,  l to r: Melissa Stewart, Sarah Brannen.

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

Stop and celebrate! It’s not easy to publish a book, so don’t take your accomplishment for granted. Savor every moment of the journey and all the small successes along the way.

Celebrate the acquisition. Celebrate when the book heads off to the printer. Celebrate every review that doesn’t suck. And, of course, celebrate the launch.

But don’t stop there. If the book receives an honor or an award, celebrate some more. And if you’re lucky enough to get fan mail, celebrate that, too.

It means kids are connecting with your work, and that’s the best reason of all to celebrate.

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

Research in Hawaii.

Right now, educational leaders like Donalyn Miller, Lucy Calkins, Pernille Ripp, Teri Lesesne, John Schumacker, Colby Sharp, Jillian Heise, Susannah Richards, Alyson Beecher, and Frankie Sibberson are emphasizing the importance of using finely-crafted fiction and nonfiction children’s books in the classroom.

As read alouds. As mentor texts for writing instruction. As part of text sets for teaching science and social studies.

They’re also encouraging student choice in reading materials and recommending that educators develop large, robust classroom and school libraries with a range of titles that can meet all students’ needs.

My hope is that their voices will be heard, and schools will allocate the funds necessary to purchase plenty of high-quality books for their students. The kids will benefit, but so will book creators.

Publishers will be more willing to take risks, which means creators can be more innovative.

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

I hope that I can continue to stretch and grow as a writer and evolve with the market. And I hope that my writing continues to delight as well as inform young readers.

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.