Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith,
Robin GalbraithGayleen Rabukukk, & Stephani Eaton
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Chris Barton, author of What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (Beach Lane, 2018). From the promotional copy:

Even as a child growing up in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas, Barbara Jordan stood out for her big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident voice. It was a voice that made people sit up, stand up, and take notice. 

So what do you do with a voice like that? 

Barbara took her voice to places few African American women had been in the 1960s: first law school, then the Texas state senate, then up to the United States congress. Throughout her career, she persevered through adversity to give voice to the voiceless and to fight for civil rights, equality, and justice. 

…a remarkable picture book biography about a woman whose struggles and mission continue to inspire today.


Interview with Nicole Resciniti, President of The Seymour Agency by Jonathan Rosen at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek:

“The MG market is still strong. I think we largely have librarians, booksellers, and teachers to thank for that.”


35-Point Checklist for a Great Author Visit from The Booking Biz. Peek:

“Setting up a great author visit is a big job, but the more organized you are up front, the better the event will be. To help, we’ve compiled a handy checklist so you can make sure all your bases are covered.”

10 Ways to Build Traffic to Your Author Website or Blog from Jane Friedman. Peek:

“…an author’s website, whether it gets much traffic or not, is foundational to your career. It offers readers as well as the media the official word on who you are and the work you produce.”

7 Presentation Tips for Speaking Online in a Virtual World from Gigi Rosenberg. Peek:

“So much public speaking nowadays happens not out in public but right from your computer…The most flattering angle for the camera to capture your face is from the same level or a little above your face.” 


Professor Writes First Novel About A Coming-To-Age Story Inspired By Her Own Native American Identity by Amy Mullowney from St. Catherine University. Peek:

“‘I’m tired of the negative stereotypes,’ says [Dr. Dawn] Quigley. Often times, the darker aspects of Native American characters are highlighted. ‘It’s not something we need to wash over…but I wanted to bring out the Native humor and the strong family ties that I grew up with—and they were really positive.’”

A Tale of Disruption: Teaching the Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, by Emily Visness from Nerdy Book Club. Peek:

“Disrupt texts, you ask? Here’s some background: A group of educator-leaders… started a hashtag to discuss the importance of including culturally relevant books in ELA classrooms, #DisruptTexts, and that hashtag has grown into a movement.”

Episode 23! Conversation with Lyn Miller-Lachmann by Karen Blumenthal and Lyn Miller-Lachmann from Kidlit Women.* Peek:

“…but the reason that I wanted to write this essay was to present my experience as an autistic writer…I wrote an Own Voices novel, and I faced a lot of challenges in the publishing industry, both because of my communication style and also the emphasis upon self-promotion.” 

10 Positive Things About Aging We Need to Show Kids in Books by Lindsey McDivitt from Nerdy Book Club. Peek:

“The fact is—we all have lots of living to do beyond age 18, yet the images of growing older in books for kids are often skewed to portray negative stereotypes as truth. Adulthood is frequently ignored and late life is often seen as sad.”

12 Picture Books That Showcase Native Voices by Debbie Reese from School Library Journal. Peek:

“The old saying that ‘a picture is worth 1,000 words’ is particularly important when the only pictures non-Native children see of indigenous peoples are sepia-toned ones set in the past that show us in traditional clothing.” 

In the Wake of Trump, YA Novels Highlight Immigrant Narratives: In Praise of a Sorely Needed Addition to the Genre by Holly Genovese from Lit Hub. Peek:

“These stories are equally important towards understanding that there is no one monolithic immigrant experience for teenage girls. Taken together, they demonstrate that varied immigration narratives are important, because immigrants are not just one thing.” 

WNDB Mentorships from We Need More Diverse Books. Peek:

“For the 2019 year, we are offering mentorships to 11 upcoming voices—ten aspiring authors (or author/illustrators) and one illustrator—who are diverse or working on diverse books…Applications for the 2019 cycle will be open from Oct. 1 to Oct. 31….”

Carnegie Medal Promises Immediate Action Over Lack of Diversity by Alison Flood from The Guardian. Peek:

“There is bias – even though it may be unconscious – every step of the way. It is the responsibility of those with a voice in the publishing industry to seek out diverse books and help to create the awareness that will lead to change.”

Writing Craft

Writing a Proactive Protagonist by Mary Kole from Kid Lit. Peek:

“Novels are hampered when a ‘main character’ takes a backseat to action. Higher concept plots are often vulnerable to this. (Because, remember, high stakes can be tricky.)”

4 Ways to Keep Your Sentences From All Sounding the Same by Janice Hardy from Fiction University. Peek:

 “One of those challenges is writing sentences that don’t all sound the same… We’re focused more on getting the information down than crafting compelling prose, so the writing ends up sounding list-like or monotonous.” 

Volunteer Chronicles: Gayleen Rabakukk from Austin SCBWI. Peek:

“I’m not good at finishing craft books, but I do have one that’s become a mainstay of my daily writing practice: Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers by Susan Shaughnessy. Each page of the book starts off with a quote related to the writing life..” 

The Invention Process: Ten Strategies for Producing Writing by Brenta Blevins from Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Peek:

“This blog post lists ten invention strategies for ‘pre-writing’ or getting un-stuck when the words won’t flow. Regardless of when the need occurs or whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, short stories or books, invention exercises can help.”

Tips for Managing Writing and Chronic Illness by Alyssa Hollingsworth from Fiction University. Peek:

“Most of us are familiar with the Spoon Theory…begin asking yourself, ‘How many spoons do I have today? How many do I need to save for this week?’ This helps you modify your expectations for yourself into a doable spectrum.” 

Children’s Writer-In-Residence from Thurber House. Peek:

“Every year, we offer one talented, emerging middle grade author a month-long residency in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio…The deadline to apply is Friday, Nov. 16, 2018.”

Author/Illustrator Insights

7 Authors Discuss Complicated Families, Epic Love Stories, and More in October’s YA Open Mic by Michael Waters from BNTeenBlog. Peek from Cynthia Leitich Smith:

“My hope is that the story, loosely inspired by ours, opens minds and makes it safer and easier for teens to share who they are.”

Interview: New Voices Award Winner Rita Lorraine Hubbard on Writing a Picture Book Biography from Lee & Low Books. Peek:

“Once it was decided that I would re-write this as nonfiction, the challenge was to strip away those fictional elements I had fallen in love with and conduct some deep research that would fill in the gaps about William’s life and how he was able to accomplish the things he did.”

Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs: Double the Authors, Double the Fun by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“We developed a process whereby we wrote every chapter together, we edited each other and wrote over each other, so it’s really hard to tell at this point who wrote what sentence in any particular chapter. It really is a joint effort, down to the word choice.”

Four Questions with Marie Lu by Sara Grochowski from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“ I have to remind myself that these kids are growing up during a time of such rapid change. It’s not that we don’t all live through change, but the pace has grown faster and faster, which is both fascinating and really terrifying.” 

Curiouser and Curiouser with Melissa Stewart from Bookology. Peek:

“I usually work on at least a half dozen books at a time. I might be writing the rough draft of one and revising one or two others…Each day, before I stop working, I make a list of what I plan to work on the next day.”


Author-illustrator Carolyn Dee Flores & Lupe Ruiz-Flores

Congratulations to the 2018 winners of the SCBWI Work-in Progress Awards: Teddi Ahrens, April Jo Cervetti, Lupe Ruiz-Flores, Joanne Durham, Angie Chan and Stacy Allen!

Congratulations as well to the 2018 winners of the SCBWI Don Freeman Illustration Grant: Sandra Salsbury and Cristina Lalli!

Children’s Book Council Debuts Diversity Awards by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“The Children’s Book Council, the nonprofit trade association for children’s publishers in North America, has revealed the winners of the inaugural CBC Diversity Outstanding Achievement Awards… are as follows…Saracia J. Fennell…Jennifer Loja…Jason Low…Beth Phelan…Phoebe Yeh..We Need Diverse Books.”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Watch the Book Trailer!

October is a month of celebration at Cynsations!

The paperback edition of Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2018) is now available! From the Horn Book:

“Since this Feral trilogy–ender also wraps up its companion series Tantalize, several major characters from those books appear here, but Clyde, Aimee, Yoshi, and Kayla ably carry this series right up to its bittersweet conclusion. 

“Kayla’s full acceptance of her animal self, and the courage she gains in that acceptance, is particularly compelling.  

“With its sharp humor and fully realized characters, this urban fantasy will leave readers hoping for another series from Smith—and soon.” 

From Booklist:

“Smith’s ability to mix the paranormal and the divine with sexy, wisecracking humor, youthful optimism, and fast-paced action has been a hallmark of this entertaining series. Fans will not be disappointed. 

“High-demand Backstory: Smith’s fantasies have earned her an army of fans, and this trilogy-ender—that connects two series, no less—will have high visibility.”

In related news, you can subscribe to Candlewick’s Evolt Newsletter and purchase e-copies of Eternal (2009) and Feral Nights (2013) on sale for $1.99 – this month only!

We’re at four days and counting down to the release of my upcoming YA novel, Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018).

In a starred review, School Library Journal says:

 “Absorbing….Blending teen romance with complex questions of identity, equality, and censorship, this is an excellent choice…”

Last call! Pre-order your signed copy of Hearts Unbroken from my local independent bookstore, BookPeople in Austin, Texas. Note: Oct. 9 is the U.S. and U.K. release date. The novel will be available from Walker Australia on Jan. 1, 2019.

15 Exciting New YA Books for October 2018 by Kate Oldfield from United By Pop. See also October MG & YA Releases from CrazyQuiltEdi.

10th Texas Teen Book Festival Features Nic Stone, Marissa Meyer by Sharyn Vane from The Austin American-Statesman. Peek:

“…attracts top-notch talent from across the country, as well as Austin’s own robust literary community. Now under the aegis of the Texas Book Festival, the free event draws more than 35 authors and thousands of fans to St. Edward’s University, the festival’s venue since 2014.  

“…Austin-based Cynthia Leitich Smith is a doyenne of children’s literature…. curating the nationally acclaimed Cynsations blog….” 

Cyn Note: I’m looking forward to the fest this weekend and am honored by the mention, both personally and on behalf of all of Team Cynsations.

More Personally – Robin

I stocked up on books for my Halloween book project at a book signing with my former VCFA housemates Brendan Reichs and Ally Condie. Their new novel, The Darkdeep, sounds like the perfect book to give out for Halloween!

Personal Links – Gayleen

U.S. Supreme Court Keeps Ban on Uranium Mining at Grand Canyon

Personal Links – Robin

Expository Nonfiction: Display It in Classroom Libraries and Read It Aloud

Personal Links – Stephani

School Library Journal: Newbery/Caldecott 2019: Fall Predictions

Kids’ Fantasy Novels That Make Heroes Out of Underdogs

Personal Links – Cynthia

In light of the paperback release for Feral Pride, please check out the trilogy book trailer.

Intern Insights: How to Set Up a Halloween Book Project

By Robin Galbraith
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

The Problem

Like many writers, I have a lot of books.

One of my favorite social activities is going to a friend’s book signing and buying their fabulous book. I also love keeping up with the newly published children’s and young adult offerings and buying those amazing books.

This leads to a problem—the danger of being swallowed up by books.

Even if I buy some books in eBook format, I find myself wanting to share my favorite books. If I love a book, I want to give it to a kid or teen that will enjoy it. Amazing books should be read  – not hoarded on an eReader.

Also, because of health issues, I haven’t been able to eat candy for the past five years. So I was feeling weird giving out something on Halloween that made me so ill. Plus, I couldn’t eat the leftovers but didn’t want to throw them away either.

The Solution 

One day I read a Facebook post where someone mentioned giving out books for Halloween, instead of candy. I instantly knew this was something I wanted to do!

Giving out books was the perfect solution for me, combining all the things I love: books, sharing good books with kids and teens, and dressing up for Halloween.

A New Approach To Book Signings 

Instead of having the author write a note to me, I explain my Halloween book project at the signing and have the author write Happy Halloween on the title page.

This way a child gets a signed book from an author that celebrates the fact that they acquired the book on Halloween. It also makes for a fun conversation with the author at the signing.

Places to Buy Inexpensive Books 

Buying lots of books at book signings can get expensive, so to supplement my book supply I turned to local used-book sales. My local high school has an annual used-book sale in March. On the last day of the sale they sell a bag of books for $10 dollars. Now I stock up for Halloween books in March.

My library also has its own on-going Friends of the Library used-book sale on a couple of shelves in the library branch near me. They also run a couple used-book stores in nearby towns. I was able to round out books in the age levels that I was missing at those stores.

The Book Witch’s Count Down Sign

Now that I had a solid book supply, I was ready to figure out the Halloween details. I decided I would dress up as a witch to give out books since I already had a witch costume.

It was hard to predict how many kids might come to my block on Halloween though. Some years we’ve had a good number of kids and other years we’ve had only a few. To encourage more kids to venture to my block, I decided to do a little pre-Halloween advertising.

On October first I put up a countdown sign. I used the frame from an old political sign and covered it with a pillowcase (slit at the bottom) that I decorated using sharpies.

Each day I changed the number on my countdown with tape covered Post-it notes. This way word of mouth could spread and I would be sure at least a few kids would come to my house. It also made me commit to the project so I wouldn’t back out.

On Halloween day I changed the sign to say the Book Witch is coming from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Halloween Preparations

I bought Halloween-themed lights, a cauldron, and other props in October. I also looked over my collection to make sure that I had a good selection of picture books and novels.

My spouse suggested using hay bales as a way to display the books. On Halloween day, he moved the car to the street and set up the hay bales on the driveway.

I set up the books in piles on and around the hay, changed into my costume and was ready to be the Book Witch.

The Response

The kids and parents who came to my house loved this idea!

I had just one kid who told me they didn’t “do books,” even graphic novels. Most kids were thrilled to get to pick out a book, though, and even more excited when I showed them books by local authors.

One kid even said, “This is the best thing ever!”

Evening Wrap Up 

At the end of the night, I brought the few leftover books back inside, washed my costume, and packed up all my props. I put everything in a box labeled “The Book Witch” so it would be easier to do the project again the next year.

What I Plan To Do Differently This Year 

The hay bales didn’t work very well. The books kept sliding off them. This year I’m planning to put out tables with boxes and sort the books by age and format (picture books, graphic novels, nonfiction, novels, etc.)

Last year, I also didn’t take any inventory ahead of time, so I had no idea how many books I gave out. I was afraid if I made the project too time consuming I’d never actually do it. So I was glad I didn’t make a list the first year.

I ran out of novels midway through the night, though, because kids tend to trick-or-treat in my neighborhood until ninth or tenth grade.

Turns out there is a big need for novels in my area, which I think is terrific!

This year I plan to create a list of all the books I give out and will check off what’s left at the end of the night. That way I’ll have a better feel for what books I’ll need next year.

I feel up to that challenge this year, since I’ve already done the project once, and know how much fun the night will be.

Other Halloween Book-Themed Ideas

A couple of writing friends have mentioned fun twists on my Book Witch idea. Laurel Abell suggested being a Book Fairy. Angele McQuade suggested setting up a haunted library and being either a ghost or zombie librarian. She wants to have some adult books for interested parents, too, and possibly also bookmarks/swag from author friends, We Need Diverse Books, and other bookish resources.

I love all these ideas and can’t wait to see a sea of photos on social media of the many, many types of Halloween book projects out there this year, and in the years to come!

Guest Post: Lee Wind: From Kickstarter to Book – The Wild Roller Coaster of Publishing My Debut YA Novel

Learn more about Lee Wind

By Lee Wind
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

There’s a saying that a work of art isn’t complete until it has been witnessed.

So the book I wrote that would have completely changed my life if I’d read it as a fifteen-year-old wasn’t complete. Not until it had readers.

Over six years, the manuscript for Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill had been written and re-written, eight full revisions in all, with the final polish under the brilliant editorial direction of National Book Award-winner M.T. Anderson at a Highlights Foundation workshop. It was ready, but with no readers, it wasn’t complete.

My agent at the time told me it had been submitted, over a period of two years, to more than twenty editors. In all that time, it had only received five rejections, with the rest not even bothering to respond. No book deal meant no readers.

I didn’t doubt the merit of my story. I didn’t doubt that I’m a good writer. I did doubt the courage of traditional publishing to put out a story that would be controversial, as the novel’s hook is a closeted teen boy discovering a secret from history—that Abraham Lincoln wrote Joshua Fry Speed letters that could prove the two men were in love. Romantic love.

This doubt was strengthened by what happened to the nonfiction book for young readers that I had sold to an imprint of Simon & Schuster in 2015. The Queer History Project: No Way, They Were Gay? included five chapters on men who loved men in history, and Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Fry Speed were one of those chapters. Everything was going great until two weeks after Trump’s election, I got a phone call. Suddenly, they absolutely couldn’t publish my book.

I got the rights back in January of 2016, and my agent at the time told me it was so strong she’d sell it in three weeks… It was sent, I was told, to eight editors. Nine months passed, and no responses. Not even a “no, thank you.”

I was sure I was being preemptively banned by a traditional publishing industry too afraid to rock the cultural boat that was suddenly, with the election of our 45th President, in stormy seas.

Now I’ve been blogging about books, politics, and culture for LGBTQ kids and teens since 2007. I’m Here. I’m Queer. What The Hell Do I Read? has done well, gaining an audience across the world that’s built over time—The blog passed 2.5 million page loads in July 2018. So I thought, maybe one way to reach readers would be to post chapters on my blog.

Starting in September of 2017, over 32 weeks, I serialized the entire novel. I knew people were reading it, and I liked the idea of it being available for free, forever.

But the experience of reading the manuscript, clicking for each chapter, felt different than reading a polished, published book with copyedited text, interior design, an author’s note, discussion questions, and all the other great stuff that makes a book in your hands such a transformative experience. How could I create that? How could I reach more readers?

Lee visited with the Pasadena City College Queer Alliance in May 2018.

Publishing a book professionally is expensive. Copyediting, design, cover art, setting up printing and wholesale fulfillment—it’s thousands of dollars if you’re doing it right. $5,600 was what I needed to cover those expenses. And wouldn’t it be amazing if in addition to having the money to do that, I could have the money to donate copies of the book to LGBTQ teens, as my book is a story that could empower them?

That’s where the idea of crowdfunding came in. A friend argued with me that it sounded like a lot of work for what wasn’t in the big scheme of things that much money. Couldn’t I take a loan, or ask two or three wealthy friends?

But I loved the idea of crowdfunding being a barn-raising. Of the community coming together to not just help me professional publish Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill but to also raise enough money to donate some dramatic number (I settled on 400 copies) of the book to LGBTQ and Allied teens.

In January 2018 I launched the Kickstarter project, and we fully funded in six days! The campaign went on for a full thirty days, and by the end 182 people had donated enough money to give away 810 copies of the novel to LGBTQ and Allied teens!

Now with the funding secured, the publish date was set, and I put on my publisher hat and got to work. I sent the manuscript out asking for blurbs. I held a cover design contest. I hired a book designer. I tested out copy editors, found a great one, and had them do their thing. I printed ARCs. I submitted the book for reviews. I printed up bookmarks, and started using them instead of business cards. I signed up for marketing programs, to let librarians and the rest of the trade know about my book.

And I gave away the first 260 copies of the ARCs to LGBTQ teens at four summer sessions of Camp Brave Trails.

Lee speaking to teens at Camp Brave Trails

I got a curve ball thrown at me when on July 25, 2018 it was revealed that my agent at the time had lied about submissions, and rejections, and two book offers that were ‘pending.’ She lied to about 60 other clients as well.

The book I’d decided to crowdfund and author publish may never even have been seen by any editor! I hadn’t been preemptively banned by a publishing industry in need of courage, I’d just been preemptively screwed over by a criminally manipulative agent! (Needless to say, Danielle Smith is no longer an agent, and I’m now represented by the ethical and wonderful Marietta Zacker.)

But the train had left the station: 182 people were waiting for their copies of Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill. I’d committed to give away 810 copies to LGBTQ teens. And I was already getting strong trade reviews! Librarians were interested! I’d started booking some events! And I’d told the world that I was publishing this book. That couldn’t change now.

So Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill publishes on Tuesday October 2, 2018 (BookBaby).

It’s the story of Wyatt, who is fifteen, and nobody in his homophobic small town of Lincolnville, Oregon, knows that he’s Gay. Not even his best friend (and accidental girlfriend) Mackenzie.

Then he discovers a secret from actual history: Abraham Lincoln was in love with another guy!

Since everyone loves Lincoln, Wyatt’s sure that if the world knew about it, they would treat Gay people differently and it would solve everything about his life.

So Wyatt outs Lincoln online, triggering a media firestorm that threatens to destroy everything he cares about—and he has to pretend more than ever that he’s straight. . . . Only then he meets Martin, who is openly Gay and who just might be the guy Wyatt’s been hoping to find.

And here’s hoping it reaches readers.

Lee signing ARCs of Queer As a Five Dollar Bill
for librarians at the ALA Conference in June 2018.

Survivors: Sharon G. Flake on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children’s-YA Author

Sharon G. FlakeHomewood Library, Pittsburgh

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

I guess it makes sense that my career always felt a bit magical. For gosh sakes, I began as a Disney Hyperion author. Prior to the publication of The Skin I’m In (Hyperion, 1998), Disney flew several newly published authors and illustrators to New York where a small cast of “The Lion King” performed for us. There was champagne as I recall, a high-ranking Disney executive to welcome us—and Disney theme park trips to follow.

But this writing life ain’t all princess gowns and fairy tales.

Like it or not, bitter apples (let’s call them bumps in the road) appear now and again. But, it’s what you do with them that determines your staying power in the industry.

I was in the business ten years, before I hit a bump in the road. Seven books into my journey my editor left the business all together. Change was afoot I suppose, because the publisher left not long afterward—or did she go first?

I really liked those women. But life happens. And sometimes the bumps keep coming.

My new editor and I didn’t work out. I’ll just say this publicly, I apologize to her. My momma raised me better.

I was fortunate. I was able to choose my editors. So, in walks another editor of my choosing. I’d heard great things about her. She was also responsible for significantly increasing my advancements prior to becoming my editor. Nonetheless, it wasn’t long before I began to think she didn’t like my style; how I wrote. Perhaps it was her 12-page critique that led me to that conclusion.

Sharon at a book festival in Florida

At this time in my career, I had won many accolades and awards. Teachers cried when they spoke to me about the impact of my work. But for the first time in my career, I questioned my abilities and talent. I overthought things; tripled checked my work; wrote and rewrote until I couldn’t recognize my own story.

At some point, my editor was fairly satisfied with the 200-plus novel I turned in. But I was on a roll. For the next round of edits, I turned the manuscript into a 400-plus novel that I deemed perfection. My editor and agent thought otherwise. It took me a while to see the light. And boy, did it sting.

Not long afterward, my editor was offered a position with another house. She asked if I wanted to come with her.

Really? I thought. You serious? Nah.

Her invitation did, however, make me realize that she did indeed value me and my work. We just weren’t the best fit.

After my next editor left the publishing house, (I swear, they weren’t all running from me), my agent decided to take the book to another publisher.

My novel was ultimately published. It didn’t win awards, but it was named a Booklist Top Ten Book of the Year and earned three stars. Not bad for such a difficult birth.

Bumps in the road show up in everyone’s life. They can slow you down, stop you or help propel you forward. But who you choose to be along the way is what will help you stay the course.

I kept writing no matter what. I shifted. I discovered I have many gifts. I began to teach and mentor. I developed my work into stage plays; went from only writing realistic fiction to also writing picture books, historical fiction, and now books in verse.

That bump in the road did me a favor. It helped me expand inside and out. All along I held tight to my love of writing, and the young people I write for. Both have remained my North Star, my biggest reasons for doing what I do.

Writing at the dining room table.

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

I hadn’t realized I was on an island by myself, until I hit the proverbial bump in the road.

I was part of this incredible children’s writing community, but not part of it, you know? I knew authors and people in this business across the nation. They knew me. We liked and respected one another. But I hadn’t established many close, deep, I-got-your-back-you-got-mine, relationships.

When that bump trips you up, you realize things like that.

I wasn’t comfortable asking for advice or favors. I was used to helping others; lending a hand whenever I could. But there I was in new territory, in many ways, needing to reach out. But how? 

21 printings, almost a million copies in print

There’s this introvert in me that would rather not. Besides, I was raised to turn to family in times of need. But how could they help me? They weren’t in this business.

It was difficult, but I pushed past my insecurities and pride and reached out to folks in the writing community locally and nationally. I opened up and shared my truth: Struggling through that book for a number of years scarred me some; left me uncertain of myself as an author.

I went looking for connection with like-minded folks. I joined a critique group, which is so not like me.

No judgement, please. I sought feedback on my work in ways I hadn’t before. Formed deeper ties with my agent; established closer relationships with authors I already knew, and developed a very close relationship with one author in particular. To this day, we read one another’s work, give and take each other’s advice, laugh often.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Skin I’m In, I formed a committee, reached out to
author friends, editors and other folks in the business. Ten years ago, I would not have done any of that. Do it yourself or leave it alone, was a big part of my philosophy then.

That bump freed me up. Allowed me to be as vulnerable with adults, as I’d always been with my teen audiences in person and in the books I write. I’m grateful for that.

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?

The biggest stand-out change has to be the industry’s efforts to be more diverse and inclusive. We Need Diverse Books played a huge role in pressuring them to right the ship when it comes to diversity and inclusion. But they did not do it alone.

Black Lives Matter; the browning of the nation; the murder of black people and the political climate for LGBT and cis communities; along with women’s rights issues, all helped give WNDB the wind they needed to sail into publishing houses, conventions, media outlets, etc., and demand, work for, and push for change in children’s publishing.

Our community still has a very long way to go. But when I see black and brown people with books on The New York Times Bestseller lists; earning top awards and prizes; heading imprints like Salaam Reads or Versify; breaking new ground with books like The Hate You Give (by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray, 2017)), We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices (by Wade Hudson, Cheryl Willis Hudson (Crown, 2018)), and Long Way Down (by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum, 2017)), then I know we’re headed in the right direction.

But we can’t get comfortable. There are folks who want us to return to yesterday.

Here’s hoping none of us will let that happen.

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

Don’t worry, God’s got you.

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

My hope is that they understand that new voices and new ways of seeing and being are necessary to the survival of any organization or group of people.

Change makes us all uncomfortable. But change we must, for it’s the only way progress happens.

Learn more about Sharon G. Flake.

Cynsational Notes 

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

New Voices: Kaylee Morrison and Nancy Smith on Joshua and The Biggest Fish

Nancy stands behind co-author & grandkid, Kaylee.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

What an honor and joy it is to welcome debut children’s authors, Kaylee Morrison and Nancy Smith, who’re also citizens of Muscogee Nation!

Their picture book is Joshua and The Biggest Fish (Doodle and Peck Publishing, 2017). From the promotional copy:

The big fish are way out in the deepest part of the river. Will Joshua find a way to catch a really big fish? Maybe then, the men won’t see him as “cepane,” or little boy. 

A historical, coming-of-age story, based on true events.

You are a grandmother-granddaughter team. How and why did you two begin writing together? What has that been like?

KM: Growing up I was always interested in writing and my grandmother, who wrote her whole life, encouraged me to follow my talents. The older I got, the more I wanted to learn about my Muscogee (Creek) heritage.

My grandmother suggested co-authoring a book to learn about our rich past and provide a way to bring us closer in my teenage years.
The process was long, and a bit tedious at times, but that’s what comes with the territory of wanting our book to be historically accurate.

This involved many trips to the Muscogee tribal complex and talking to multiple people which lead to even meeting new family members.

NS: When my granddaughter, Kaylee, turned 16, she told me she wanted to learn more about her Muscogee Creek heritage. I was so happy to hear that.

So, we drove to the Muscogee tribal complex in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, and met with Buddy Cox at the tribe’s Cultural Preservation office. He shared with us many ideas, but the subject that jumped out at us was “fish kills.”

Writing a children’s book about this part of our Muscogee Creek history and culture seemed like a wonderful project we could do together. Kaylee was in her last two years of high school, and then went away to college, so writing our book was a long journey, but so worth it.

What was the initial inspiration for Joshua and the Biggest Fish, illustrated by Dorothy Shaw (Doodle and Peck Publishing, 2017)?

KM: Initially, we both wanted to gain knowledge of our ancestors’ past. Although I have lived in Oklahoma my whole life, I knew very little about the Muscogee Nation and I feel that most Oklahomans are the same way. My little sister was about two at the time and a children’s book felt like a perfect way to teach her and many other children a little piece of Creek history.

NS: All young Creek Indian boys are nicknamed “cepane” (chee-BAH-nee), which in Creek language means “little boy.” Our book evolved as a coming-of-age story about a young Creek boy who longs to be accepted as one of the men, and who does not like being called “cepane.” The book is named after my Muscogee (Creek) grandfather, Joshua.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

KM: The idea came about when I was sixteen, and after six years of research and writing it was published in 2017. During all of this I was graduating high school and moving to college, so this also slowed up the process along the way.

We first heard of fish kills from Buddy Cox and we both found them incredibly interesting. We decided to go with it, but literature on fish kills is very slim. My grandmother came up with some creative ways to research history on fish kills that made this book possible.

NS: Our book took a total of six years to complete. This was mostly because we wanted our book to be historically and culturally accurate.

After doing research at the Oklahoma Historical Society (Oklahoma City), I discovered historic photographs of Creek Indians taken at the fish kill in the 1920s. Finding these photos was so exciting, and some are featured in our book. By the second year, the Cultural Preservation office changed managers several times, so that was a hurdle. Finding a publisher was also a challenge.

What were the challenges (emotional, logistical, research, professional) in bringing the book to life?

KM: After finishing the writing portion of the book, I think the biggest struggle was finding a publisher. Being first-time authors in a niche market was hard to sell to publishers.

My grandmother promised me from the very beginning that we would get the book published and I never doubted her; although, it is vexing to be turned down multiple times on something you have worked so hard on.

My grandmother never gave up, even through tough times, to get this book published and I couldn’t have done it without her. I am grateful for her every day.

NS: We took at least 8 to 10 trips to the Creek Nation in Okmulgee to do research, and several trips to the Oklahoma Historical Society. You must be very interested in your project, and very dedicated to work for long periods of time toward completion. One thing that kept me going was wanting to complete the book with my granddaughter, Kaylee.

What do you hope that young readers take away from the story?

KM: I want readers to learn a part of history that few know about and to spark their interest in Indian culture. There are very few Creek Indian children’s books, and I hope this book inspires more to come.

NS: I hope young Muscogee (Creek) readers will feel pride in their culture from our book, and pride in being Creek citizens. I also hope all young readers will enjoy reading about our tribe’s past and learning about our language and culture.

What did Dorothy Shaw‘s art bring to your book?

With illustrator Dorothy Shaw

KM: The first time I saw Dorothy’s artwork for the book, I was blown away and thrilled that she brought our words to life. The story would not be the same without her craftsmanship.

NS: Dorothy Shaw brought our characters to life in a wonderful and colorful way. Her beautiful illustrations along with the historic photographs provided inspiring images to our readers.

How have you celebrated the book’s release and connected it to readers, especially in the Muscogee (Creek) and larger Native community?

With Principal Chief James Floyd & Second Chief Louis Hicks

KM: We have done several book signings and hope to start having school visits soon in the Tulsa County area. The tribe has ordered and even re-ordered the book which is very exciting.

Imagining Creek citizens reading our book is a bit mind-blowing and very encouraging. After reading your own words so many times you start to not even recognize them as words, so it comes to a point where you must stop editing and get it out there or you could spend your whole life on it.

NS: We donated seven books to our tribe’s Head Start schools, to share with their young students. Kaylee also presented our Chief and Second Chief with their own personal copies of our book. “Joshua and the Biggest Fish” is carried at our tribe’s gift shop, and we have also done several book signings. Our Tulsa City-County Library has our book at seven of their library branches. I have personally contacted over 20 outlets, bookstores, etc. to market Joshua and The Biggest Fish.

What can your readers expect from you next?

KM: I currently have something in the very beginning stages that I presume will take me a considerable amount of time to finish. It’s a different genre and different age group but something that has been in the back of my head for a while.

NS: I have started working on a middle-grade historical novel about my tribe, which I’m currently doing research on.

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…”


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.”


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:


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.”


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:


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
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.)