Cover Reveal: Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith

By Cynthia Leitich Smith for Cynsations

Wow! Today, BookRiot is hosting the official cover reveal for my upcoming realistic YA novel, Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, Oct. 2018).

Click this link for the inside scoop on my initial inspirations for the story. You can also pre-order the book from IndieboundBarnes and NobleAmazon and other book retailers.

And then keep reading here to learn more about my thoughts on the cover art itself.

From the promotional copy:

When Louise Wolfe’s first real boyfriend mocks and disrespects Native people in front of her, she breaks things off immediately and dumps him over email. 


It’s her senior year, anyway, and she’d rather spend her time on her family and friends and working on the school newspaper.



The editors pair her up with Joey Kairouz, the ambitious new photojournalist, and in no time the paper’s staff find themselves with a major story to cover: the school music director’s inclusive approach to casting The Wizard of Oz has been provoking backlash in their mostly white, middle-class Kansas town.


From the newly formed “Parents Against Revisionist Theater” to anonymous threats, long-held prejudices are being laid bare and hostilities are spreading against teachers, parents, and students—especially the cast members at the center of the controversy, including Lou’s little brother, who’s playing the Tin Man.



As tensions heighten at school, so does a romance between Lou and Joey—but as she’s learned, “dating while Native” can be difficult. In trying to protect her own heart, will Lou break Joey’s?

Cyn says:

What I adore about this cover is that it’s so unabashedly casual and contemporary. Accessible and inviting.

Learn more about Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Modern depictions of Native teens, especially girls, are rare. Showing a character in a T-shirt and jeans, simply standing, comfortably relaxed, is fairly revolutionary.

Centering the T-shirt imagery is something I discussed with my Candlewick editor, Hilary Van Dusen, who was working with Pamela Consolazio, the jacket designer.

To me, the art vaguely suggests the feel of a powwow T-shirt. So, it’s grounded in daily life, but intentionally not groundbreaking. You’d find a few similar Ts in my closet.

On another note, I’m glad that the design largely leaves facial casting to the young reader’s imagination.

I love the covers of two of my previous novels, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) and Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), both of which clearly show the face of the protagonist.

But prose novels are such deeply interior experiences. Sometimes it’s best for young adults to envision the story, including its hero, in their own theaters of the mind.

Beyond that, I highly approved of the decision to use a teen-friendly handwriting font for “Hearts” and a firmer, more formal one for “Unbroken.” When I think of real-life teens like my fictional Louise, I am optimistic about the future. Young Native hearts are strong.

Don’t forget to read about the inspirations behind Hearts Unbroken!

Cover Reveal: Donna Janell Bowman on Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words

By Gayleen Rabakukk

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Check out the cover of Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words, a nonfiction picture book by Donna Janell Bowman, illustrated by S.D. Schindler (Peachtree, April 2018). From the promotional copy:

Long before he was our beloved president, Abraham Lincoln was known for his smarts and his knee-slapping humor. 


In 1842, that got him into a heap of trouble. When he clashed with James Shields, a political rival, Lincoln came up with a rascally plan.

It was silly.

It was clever.

It was a great big mistake!

Shields challenged Lincoln to a duel!

Lincoln would need his wit and a healthy dose of humility to save his career—and even his life.

A rare look at the more human side of Abraham Lincoln and how the lessons he learned made him a better man.

Donna says:

“It always happens that, when I’m researching for one book, ideas for other books pop up. That’s what happened in 2012, when I came across a one-line mention of Abraham Lincoln’s duel. 

“At first, it was as if my brain couldn’t register that our most revered, monumentalized American figure did something so controversial and dangerous. 

“The research journey that followed revealed a great deal about the evolution of Lincoln’s character. He was a real, fallible, sometimes-naughty guy, just like the rest of us. How refreshing!

“Lincoln could have allowed his mistakes to define him, but he chose instead to learn from them. 

“Now that is something to admire, isn’t it? How lucky for our country that his duel ended without arrest or death. Either of those outcomes could have changed the future of the United States.

“I was fortunate that my Peachtree editor, Kathy Landwehr, included me in the illustrator-selection process. At the top of both of our wish lists was S.D. Schindler, the artistic talent behind many books for children, including Barb Rosenstock’s Ben Franklin’s Big Splash (Calkins Creek, 2014), Verla Kay’s Hornbooks and Inkwells (Penguin-Putnam, 2011), and Phil Bildner’s The Unforgettable Season (Penguin, 2011).

“Wait til you see the interior art when Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words releases April 1, 2018 (no fooling!). 

“Til then, check out this gorgeous cover! Don’t you love how oppositional Lincoln and his foe appear and how the placement of the book’s title—and its reference to the inciting incident—divide the men so intensely? 

“I love, love, love it. I hope you will, too.”



Donna Janell Bowman is the author of the picture book biography Step Right Up: How Doc And Jim Key Taught The World About Kindness, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Lee & Low, 2016), which earned many accolades, including three starred reviews, a Writer’s League of Texas Book Award, and a Carter G. Woodson Award Honor from NCSS. It was also named an ALA Notable Book, a NCTE Orbis Pictus Recommended book and a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Donna has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and enjoys speaking with and mentoring writers of all ages. She lives near Austin, Texas and is represented by Erin MurphyErin Murphy Literary Agency.

Cover Reveal & Author Snapshot: Jazz Owls, a Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots by Margarita Engle

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the cover of Jazz Owls, a Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez (Atheneum, June 2018). Note: a young adult novel-in-verse about the Zoot Suit Riots in 1943.

Margarita says:

“During World War II, my hometown of Los Angeles, California became the scene of riots so strange that they don’t seem real, unless viewed through the lens of modern trends toward increasing racial violence.  

“Sailors on their way to the battlefields of World War II attacked
Mexican-American teenage boys, beating them, stripping them of their zoot suits, and setting the clothing on fire. Unwilling to arrest men in
uniform, police arrested the zooters instead.  

“Clothes were not the real motive behind these shocking attacks. Interracial swing dancing was the trigger for white supremacist violence.  

“I chose to narrate this complex story in free verse, using many voices, including a Mexican-American family, a Cuban musician, policemen, sailors, reporters, and the ghost of a murdered man. 

“I hope Jazz Owls will help young readers understand how World War II changed the roles of women, as well as the hopes and dreams of Latinos in the U.S.”

Cynsational Notes

Margarita Engle is the 2017-2019 national Young People’s Poet Laureate, and the first Latino to receive that honor.

She is the Cuban-American author of many verse novels, including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner, and The Lightning Dreamer, a PEN USA Award recipient.

Her verse memoir, Enchanted Air, received the Pura Belpré Award, Golden Kite Award, Walter Dean Myers Honor, Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and Arnold Adoff Poetry Award, among others.

Drum Dream Girl received the Charlotte Zolotow Award for best picture book text.

 Her newest verse novel about the island is Forest World, and her newest picture books are All the Way to Havana, and Miguel’s Brave Knight, Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote.

Books forthcoming in 2018 include The Flying Girl, How Aída de Acosta learned to Soar, and Jazz Owls, a Novel of the Zoot Suit Riots.

Margarita was born in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during childhood summers with relatives. She was trained as an agronomist and botanist. She lives in central California with her husband.

Cover Reveal & Author Snapshot: Uncanny by David Macinnis Gill

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Check out the cover of Uncanny by David Macinnis Gill (Harper, Sept. 5, 2017). From the PW announcement:

Uncanny tells the story of Willow Jane Conning, who on her 16th birthday, gains strange powers and begins witnessing unnerving events, including evil spirits rising from the dead and time inexplicably standing still.

Was there any particular element that you had strong feelings about the way it would be depicted?

Black birds — crows, ravens, magpies, starlings, grackles — play an important part in the plot of Uncanny and also in various characters’ histories. They also help set the creepy, mysterious mood of the novel.

David Macinnis Gill

We wanted to make sure the birds were depicted in a way that shows both their beauty and the fearful emotions they can evoke. The designer of the jacket did a great job of using understatement to bring these qualities out and to show the feathers’ beautiful iridescence.

Why is there blood on the bird’s wing? You’ll have to read to find out!

Cynsational Notes

David Macinnis Gill has been a house painter, cafeteria manager, bookstore schleper, high school teacher, and college professor. He now lives on the Carolina coast with his family and two rescued dogs. He is a faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Uncanny is now available for pre-order.

Guest Post: Linda Covella on Going Indie: Tips & Advice on Self-Publishing in the YA Book Market

By Linda Covella
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Thinking of going indie?

Self-publishing can be a fun, exciting, and rewarding endeavor. But get ready for an eclectic collection of hats, because you’ll be wearing many. It’s important to realize you’re selling a product that should be of the highest quality.

Here are some tips and resources to help you through the process.

Editing

By the time you’re ready to publish, you should have already gone through developmental editing of concept, character, and plot issues. Now, you need a proofreader/copy editor.

Don’t rely on a random friend or relative. Keep self-published books a strong and respected force in the market by having your manuscripts edited professionally or by a trusted, experienced critique partner. (Whenever you hire an outside service, be sure to have a contract.) See my list of editors from author recommendations.

Tip: Other indie authors can be a great resource for any self-publishing questions.

Cover Design

Your cover should be unique while blending with other books in your genre (a fine line to walk).

There are three cover options:

DIY: Royalty-free images are available online, such as this site, which you can use to design your cover.

Pre-made covers. Google “pre-made book covers,” and you’ll find quite a few.

Custom cover design. I’ve compiled a list of recommended cover designers. Bibliocrunch and Girl Friday Productions offer editing, cover design, and other help for indies on a budget.

ISBN

Do you need an ISBN (International Standard Book Number)?

Not necessarily, but most retailers and publishers require one. (Amazon.com does not.)

With an ISBN, your book will be more discover-able by readers, bookstores, and libraries.

Currently the price for an ISBN (purchased through Bowker) is $125—not cheap. And you need one for the ebook and paperback of each title. If you plan to publish several books, you can buy them in bulk at greatly reduced prices; they never expire. Some businesses buy ISBNs in large quantities so they can then sell them at reduced cost.

There’s some controversy about the validity of these or “free” ISBNs, so obtain one from a reputable source. See Joel Friedlander’s article on ISBNs and the ISBN website.

Formatting and Publishing

Depending on where you decide to publish your book, you may need help formatting your manuscript. It’s free and easy to publish ebooks through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), and they accept Word docs. Amazon’s print service, Createspace, is free and requires only a PDF. They also offer professional publishing services.

Smashwords is an ebook publisher, accepts Word docs, but has a style guide that must be followed.

Smashwords has distribution agreements with all major online retailers and with Baker&Taylor, which libraries use to purchase books.

Draft2Digital publishes ebook and print books. They accept simple Word docs with no style guide to follow. They offer editing and cover design as well, and distribution agreements.

Smashwords or Draft2Digital? Here’s one blogger’s analysis.

IngramSpark is a print and ebook publisher with distribution agreements. They have a style guide to follow, and you may need a professional formatter. See blogger Linda Austin on IngramSpark vs. Createspace (book doctor Stacey Aaronson says it’s beneficial to use both)!

Pricing

To price your book, check other books in your genre. A common price for ebooks is $3.99.

The freebie can be a good marketing tool when you have a series: offer the first book for free in the hope that the reader will buy the other books in the series.

Experiment with pricing; see where that “sweet point” is. Just remember, you’ve worked hard and deserve to be paid a reasonable price.

Marketing and Promotion

Once you’ve published your book, the real work begins. As an indie book publisher, marketing and promoting is a never-ending job! Here are some tips and resources:

Local schools, libraries, and bookstores. Ask if libraries and bookstores will carry your book. Contact schools to do author visits. Author Alexis O’Neill’s blog is a great resource on school visits.

Subscribe to newsletters for publishing news, tips, classes, freebies, and generally “knowing your industry.” Some good ones are:

Follow blogs, including those of your favorite YA authors. If you use WordPress, you can follow tags in your reader to find others with similar interests. Good blogs for self-publishing include:

  • Chris McMullen. Lots of info on Amazon, other self-publishing tips.
  • Bookbaby (another ebook and print book publisher). They had a recent Twitter chat with YA author Lauren Lynne.
  • IngramSpark has a blog on their website with self-publishing information.
  • Of course, Cynthia’s blog, Cynsations!

Guest blog on YA authors’ blogs. Most bloggers love having guest posts. Come up with an interesting topic and ask!

Join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), check the website for resources, sign up for their newsletter, and get involved in your local chapter (you can join forces with other authors for book signings, etc.).

Use Social Media

  • Get your books noticed through accounts on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, and other social media sites.
  • Join some young adult author and reader groups on Facebook and Goodreads to meet and learn from other YA authors, and to expose your books to readers.
  • Create a website. Pay someone or DIY with sites such as WordPress.com and Wix. This article showcases some “stellar” author websites.

Reviews

It’s tough for indie authors to get reviews. Ask for reviews on your website and social media. Put a request at the end of your books. Here’s one list of bloggers who review books. Though the title says middle grade literature, most will also review YA books.

Ginger

Do a blog tour (usually done when your book is newly published), and many of the bloggers will review your book. These businesses, among others, handle blog tours. Some specifically target YA audiences, but be sure to pick a blog tour company that lines your book up with YA bloggers.

Enter contests. Prizes can add credibility to and exposure for your books. There are many free contests and others, such as RONE, Chanticleer, and Literary Classics, have entrance fees. These three all have YA categories. And, of course, there are the biggies from ALA. See which awards accept indie books.

Advertise. Occasionally having a sale on your book and advertising can help boost visibility. Advertising prices and results vary. Most, if not all, of these promotional sites have YA categories. Missing from the list, but popular with authors, are The Fussy Librarian and Bookbub (expensive, but results can be worth it).

Self-publishing has lost its earlier stigma of “vanity publishing,” and readers are embracing indie authors and their books. Indies have discovered the advantages of self-publishing: control over content and cover design, higher royalties, and quicker time to market.

Do the research, put out a quality product, work on marketing, and you can find success and satisfaction as an indie author.

Cynsational Notes

Linda Covella’s varied background and education (an AA degrees in art, an AS degree in mechanical drafting & design, and a BS degree in Manufacturing Management) have led her down many paths and enriched her life experiences. But one thing she never strayed from is her love of writing.

Her first official publication was a restaurant review column for a local newspaper. But when she published articles for various children’s magazines, she realized she’d found her niche: writing for children. She hopes to bring to kids and teens the feelings books gave her when she was a child: the worlds they opened, the things they taught, the feelings they expressed.

She is a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). She lives in Santa Cruz with her husband, Charlie, and dog, Ginger.

No matter what new paths Linda may travel down, she sees her writing as a lifelong joy and commitment.
Find Linda at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Pinterest and YouTube.

Cover Reveal & Author Snapshot: The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone by Lisa Doan

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the cover for The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone by Lisa Doan (Sky Pony, 2017). From the promotional copy:

A funny middle grade mystery adventure complete with an unconventional knight, a science experiment gone awry, a giant spider, and a boy to save the day!

Twelve-year-old Henry Hewitt has been living by his wits on the streets of London, dodging his parents, who are determined to sell him as an apprentice. 

Searching for a way out of the city, Henry lands a position in Hampshire as an assistant to Sir Richard Blackstone, an aristocratic scientist who performs unorthodox experiments in his country manor. 

The manor house is comfortable, and the cook is delighted to feed Henry as much as he can eat. Sir Richard is also kind, and Henry knows he has finally found a place where he belongs.


But everything changes when one of Sir Richard’s experiments accidentally transforms a normal-sized tarantula into a colossal beast that escapes and roams the neighborhood. 

After a man goes missing and Sir Richard is accused of witchcraft, it is left to young Henry to find an antidote for the oversize arachnid. Things are not as they seem, and in saving Sir Richard from the gallows, Henry also unravels a mystery about his own identity.

Congratulations on your upcoming release! What do you think of your new cover?

I love it! Huge thanks to Sky Pony and my editor, Adrienne Szpyrka, for capturing the humor of the book while at the same time working in two prominent elements – the giant tarantula and a journal detailing a trip to South America.

The tarantula is Henry Hewitt’s problem and the journal is the key to figuring out what to do about it, which he must do to save his friend and protector, Sir Richard Blackstone.

More specifically, how does the art evoke the nuances of your book?

We wanted the journal to feel Old World, hence the faded brown, as this story takes place in the late 1700’s English countryside.

Sky Pony’s designers had the genius idea of having the tarantula holding the journal to tie it all together. The red and yellow lettering really pop and signal the lighthearted tone.

I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

Isn’t it every middle-grade writer’s dream to have a cover with a tarantula on it?

I know it has always been one of mine!

Cynsational Notes

Lisa Doan has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is the author of the award-winning series The Berenson Schemes (Lerner).

Operating under the idea that life is short, her occupations have included: master scuba diving instructor; New York City headhunter; owner-chef of a restaurant in the Caribbean; television show set medic; and deputy prothonotary of a county court. She currently works in social services and lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Cover Reveal & Author Snapshot: The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the cover of The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat (Jabberwocky/Sourcebooks, 2016). From the promotional copy:

All Izzy wants is for something interesting to happen in her sleepy little town. But her wish becomes all too real when an enchanting song floats through the woods and lures her little sister Hen into the forest…where she vanishes. 

A frantic search leads to a strange hole in the ground that Izzy enters. But on the other side she discovers that the hole was not a hole, this place is not Earth, and Hen is not lost. She’s been stolen away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to bring her home.


But inside Faerie, trouble is brewing-and Izzy is in way over her head. A ragtag group of outlaw Changelings offers to help, and she must decide whether a boulder that comes to life, a girl that’s not quite solid, and a boy who is also a stag can help her save Hen before it’s too late.

Tell us more about your cover. How did it feel to see it for the first time?

It was a total thrill! When I opened the box of galleys that my publisher sent me, it seemed like the books were absolutely glowing. The cover art makes me want to dive in and see what is behind that door. I hope kids will feel the same way.

The girl on the cover is the main character, Izzy, who journeys into Faerie to find her little sister and bring her home. The three animals are the Changeling children who help her.

The Changelings are shape shifters who can make themselves look like almost anything for a short while. But they can only truly “Change” into a handful of forms – like the stoat, butterfly, and badger on the cover.

The little flying fairies are Pollenings. They play a very tiny, but important, part in the story. (And they make honey that goes great with pancakes!)

What was it like to see your characters depicted on the cover?

I actually didn’t think the cover would feature the characters at all, so it was such a wonderful surprise to see them in the first draft! When I got my first look at Izzy, I thought the artist captured her perfectly. She looks curious and thoughtful, and is having a very human reaction to all the magic around her – a mix of awe and nervousness! I’m sure most of us would feel the same way if we stumbled into Faerie.

I think it was a very wise decision on Sourcebooks’ part to have Izzy be the only human face we see on the cover. The artist could have drawn all the Changelings in their child forms, but I think that would have taken some of the fun away from readers being able to imagine them for themselves.

Tell us more about the cover design process. Where you involved?

The artwork and design were done completely without me – thank goodness! But my editor and art director did ask me for input on the characters, and we went back and forth several times to make sure the details were right and the cover was being true to them.

I am really lucky to have been involved as much as I was. I know that’s not always the case for authors!

I learned so much about covers during this process and the heavy lifting they have to do. The cover has to draw a reader in, give them a feeling for the writing and the story, but without giving too much away. Everything, from the font to the color palette, to the way the art wraps around to the back, contributes to that sense of wonder you want readers to have – before they even start reading.

The cover for The Changelings doesn’t depict an exact scene in the book, but I think it does everything you want a cover to do!

Oh, and there is a secret hidden in the cover as well. But you will have to read the book to figure it out!

Cynsational Notes

Christina Soontornvat spent her childhood in small Texas towns, eagerly waiting for the fairies to come and kidnap her. They never came, but she still believes magic things can happen to ordinary people. When not writing, Christina hangs out in science museums and takes care of her own little goblins-ahem- children. She lives in Austin, Texas. The Changelings is her first novel.

Cover Reveal & Interview: Author Ashley Hope Pérez & Editor Andrew Karre on Out of Darkness

By Ashley Pérez and Andrew Karre
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

From the promotional copy of Out of Darkness (Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner, Sept. 2015):

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them.


“No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs.”


They know the people who enforce them.


“They all decided they’d ride out in their sheets and pay Blue a visit.”


But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.


“More than grief, more than anger, there is a need. Someone to blame. Someone to make pay.”


Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history— as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.


The starred Kirkus review of Out of Darkness called it “a powerful, layered tale of forbidden love in times of unrelenting racism,” and Elizabeth Wein, best-selling author of Code Name Verity, had this to say: “The beauty of Pérez’s prose and her surefooted navigation through the dangerous landscape of the East Texas oil field in the late 1930s redeem the fact that anyone who dares read this agonizing, star-crossed love story will end up in about six billion numb and tiny pieces. Absolutely stunning.”

Read on for a conversation between Ashley and her editor, Andrew Karre, who is now executive editor of Dutton Books for Young Readers. 

Ashley and Andrew talk about book covers, challenging boundaries in YA, what happens in the woods of East Texas, and the author-editor collaboration that made Out of Darkness possible.

Ashley Hope Pérez: Since this is also the cover reveal for Out of Darkness, can we start there? I love that we arrived at this design. What do you think it signals to readers?

Andrew Karre: I think it does the jobs of a book cover very well: it is visually arresting from the shelf, and it rewards deeper looks after you’ve read on in the book.

The image of the braid is lovely and intriguing, but once you’ve read the book, the layers begin to emerge.

I also love the uncomfortable separation in “Darkness.” It is not a comfortable cover—and it shouldn’t be.

AHP: I love that you mention the absence of comfort—right now I’m writing an article about the role of discomfort in YA reading experiences. So let’s linger for a moment on the topic of narrative elements that don’t sit easily with readers’ expectations.

Your particular vision of YA—which I’ve always taken as being focused on engaging or deconstructing various ideas of adolescence—gave me license to write the book without worrying about fitting it to a particular YA mold. You’ve never been interested any kind of filter for writing “at” teen readers and instead have gained this incredible reputation as an editor for choosing unusual, boundary-pushing works.

Did Out of Darkness give you a chance to scratch anything off of your boundary-pushing bucket list?

AK: I definitely got to put a check in the box labeled “historical YA that portrays teenagers acting on recognizable sexual appetites.”

AHP: Glad to have helped on that front. I think I was at least a little bit influenced by the workshop on sex in writing that you and Carrie Mesrobian did with teens last year and the insights that came from that.

I took a few items your compelling piece and the list Carrie compiled, and I thought about how they intersected with the private worlds and identities of my characters.

Portraying teen sexuality as a real part of the past was one of the contributions I wanted to make in Out of Darkness.

This is in addition to my general adamancy about the fact that teens are sexual people regardless of how they act on that fact. I find it maddening when people assume that the relative silence around sex in times past somehow amounted to a magical chastity or innocence among teens. That’s an assumption that especially gets applied to women in depictions of the past, I think. I enjoyed researching sexual matters of the period from the book.

AK: I distinctly remember my own delight at discovering some vintage condom packaging.

The kind of tins that held condoms in the 1930s. Image from www.collectorsweekly.com.

AHP: As do I… I think you gleefully tweeted a link to this article full of handy details about prophylactics of the past. For me, beyond the period particulars, there was also the pleasure of thinking about logistics for my characters. The woods in East Texas are notorious for being where you go to do things you don’t want others to know about, but I loved the chance to also show it as a space where a particular kind of possibility unfolds: an interracial love with a definite sexual intensity.

Although I didn’t want to idealize the physical aspect of Wash and Naomi’s relationship, which has an intensity that can be parasitic on their emotional connection at times, there’s also a sweetness to what they give each other.

So, we did some important work around the idea of teen sexuality in days gone by. What other boundaries do you see Out of Darkness testing?

AK: Well, the book pushed a bit at my personal definition of YA, which is novels about people experiencing the various social constructs of teenageness. For example, I don’t think Wash and Naomi are teenagers in the sense of your typical YA character. Because of their races, they’re not afforded the leisure we associate with teenagers. They are adults in many significant ways, but they do overlap with modern teenage-ness (in the form of all the white high school kids) and I found this deeply fascinating and illuminating. Your execution of these characters casts a bright light on the white privilege at the heart of that teenage-ness.

I also saw that you had set yourself an enormous challenge with the character of Naomi’s stepfather Henry. The book would fail if you let him simply be a racist monster. You had to make him a deeply flawed human who behaves monstrously—a considerably taller order and one that makes the book harder for some readers, though I think ultimately more satisfying.

AHP: I remember several important conversations with you that helped me to find and capture the humanity, however distorted, in Henry. I went through a similar process to uncover the complex character of the pastor who initially encourages him to bring the kids to East Texas and then has to buoy him up repeatedly in the role of father. The evolution of characters is more memorable, maybe, but the editorial back and forth was just as critical to the development of the narrative and stylistic choices that make this book what it is.

You’ve managed to be my ideal reader three times now. Each time we’ve worked on a book, the questions or challenges you presented me with opened the right doors for me in revision so that I could help the story grow into what it was supposed to be. Dark magic aside, how do you do that?

AK: I have no idea, but it’s my only useful skill, so I’m glad it works. Good editing is about building a little space where an author’s best work can happen. (And it has to be a little space, because books don’t happen by committee.) The minimum qualifications are understanding, nurturing, and—when necessary—reminding the author of the original vision.

AHP: That little space is a gift to writers. I think you must also have a kind of special sight that allows you to see submerged possibilities, both in a manuscript and in the writer herself. I feel like this was especially true in how you responded to Out of Darkness. I mean, it was such a different case from What Can’t Wait (2011) and The Knife and the Butterfly (2012)(both Carolrhoda Lab), both of which are contemporary realistic fiction and arrived to you somewhat resembling their final form. And then there was Out of Darkness…

AK: Out of Darkness is the best of what can happen when an author and an editor have a good working relationship. Honestly, if at any point after our first two books you’d told me about the school explosion and your eagerness to use it as an entry point for a story about race and class and love and family, I would have been in. I knew we could work well together, and I wanted to do so again.

At least 294 people were killed in the New London, Texas, school
explosion. Chaos after the explosion and the destruction of all school
documents made an exact count impossible. Image from the London Museum
archives.

AHP: It’s true that you didn’t even flinch when my agent sent you a manuscript that filled a ream of paper. Or at least you didn’t let on that you flinched. I think the first complete draft weighed in at 200,000 words.

AK: I’m glad that you sent those 200,000 words. Even though I knew we were years away from a book, the scale of that draft gave me a sense of how committed you were to a project somewhat more ambitious than our first two. And I knew you would match my effort, so I didn’t worry about how much work it would be or whether you were prepared to explore some difficult places.

AHP: There was some serious cutting, reshaping, and expanding that happened over those years… and a ton of collaboration to develop the vision for what the novel would become. Did your expectations evolve over those years we went back and forth?

AK: I don’t think my expectations evolved much, given how high they were to begin with. This is a book that could obviously only exist on a fairly significant scale and scope.

As you know, I dearly love short, circumscribed stories of unusual individuals. This was never going to be such a book—or maybe better said it was several such books tightly braided together and making a still greater whole. My job was to see that from the beginning and work like hell to make sure we never compromised. (We didn’t.)

AHP: I’m grateful for that. I felt all along the way that I had just enough space to grow to be the writer who could handle whatever challenge we’d set for a round of revision.

Looking back, I realize that you probably read this manuscript at least five times as we were working through that process. Am I some kind of crazy outlier, or do you find yourself going through comparable iterations with other authors?

Ashley’s writing process. Crucial tools: writer’s
notebook, Scrivener, paper, pen, scissors, and tape.

AK: You’re not a crazy outlier, except perhaps in terms of length of first draft.

With some authors, I’ve gone through more drafts, others fewer. Ideally, they all get a similar level of attention, but sometimes that attention takes different forms.

AHP: You also do this thing where you don’t force a change but you plant a seed that makes it possible for me, on my own, to wholly embrace that change. That probably happens dozens of times in a book, but I distinctly remember at one point discussing the author’s note for Out of Darkness.

There was this line in it that more or less sounded to you like an apology for the intensity and tragedy of the novel, and you gave me the courage to cut it. I think you said something like, “you shouldn’t apologize for making your readers feel deeply.”

AK: The longer I do this, the more I’m convinced that the only reliable indicator of a book’s durability and quality is whether it elicits strong feelings in the reader. Whatever those feelings may be, if they are present, then the book is doing something right.

I get more upset by indifferent reviews than I do by strongly negative ones. A.S. King and I were talking just a couple weeks ago about a Goodreads review for her first novel, where the reviewer thinks she’s angry at the book—thinks she’s writing a bad review—but by the end of the review both of us agreed that the reviewer got exactly what we’d hoped from the book: very strong feelings. We didn’t take issue with a single point from the review.

Polite people generally apologize for causing emotional distress in others, so I’m never surprised to see a line like the one you cut. But I always try to remind the author that emotional distress is what the reader is paying for.

AHP: There’s an intensity and darkness to Out of Darkness that connects it to The Knife and the Butterfly, but I also feel like both novels leave room for hope, too. Does that resonate with you? Or do you see the works differently?

AK: I do absolutely find a hopeful quality in all your books. It’s hard earned and never more so than in this book. Brokenness and injustice are things I find in your work, but you also have a faith in human resilience that balances the brutality. That’s hope.

AHP: Hope is a thing with me. It’s literally my middle name, so how could it not be?

There are some books, like Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Simon & Schuster, 2014), that are so full of promise and hope that you can’t miss it. I mean, that’s a novel set in the 1980s where two gay, Mexican-American boys discover and embrace their love for each other in part because of the support they receive from their parents. Ben finds ways to tell stories that get to the heart of growth and healing without being sentimental.

In Out of Darkness, I’d say that the possibility for hope depends on a certain kind of commitment from the reader. Or maybe what the novel does is create an appetite for hope—an authentic desire for life possibilities that go beyond what the characters achieve. My characters improvise wholeness, cobble together a family, but it can’t hold.

AK: There is something so, so gorgeous in the magical little family Wash, Naomi, Cari, and Beto make for themselves. Yes, it cannot possibly survive, but the short spring of that incredible family is unbearably and eternally beautiful.

Sabine River and the East Texas woods where Wash, Naomi, and the twins improvise a family. Image by Michael Gras.

AHP: That does sound like grounds for hope. Readers might only wish for things to be different for Wash, Naomi, and the twins as they’re reading, but maybe that wish can turn into something like a broader awareness that an unconventional family can have a rightness to it that is just as fundamental as any biological family. That’s one possibility I see in the novel when I think about it as a reader or lit professor rather than a writer. I try not to do that too much because it’s not the lit professor in me who runs the show when I’m writing.

My academic work has a place in my heart and my brain, but the novels I’ve written take up a lot more space. They’re like houses I once lived in but have had to leave behind. Each one is unique, and I have a distinct sense of what it felt like to be inside them, what the building and repairs and maintenance cost me.

I have favorite spaces, too, passages that, at least in my imagination, are where I felt most at home as a writer, most myself.

Is there anything comparable for you when you think about the books you’ve edited? What’s their afterlife like?

AK: I find myself remembering the process more than the book itself. I mean, I can recall the books as needed, but the pleasant memories that come unbidden are more about the experience of working on the book—the editing on my own, the phone conversations, the emails, the lunches. It’s as close as I get to old army buddies.

AHP: I look forward to reenlisting for another tour of duty. I’ll take the pen over the sword any day.

Cynsational Notes 

Find Ashley online at www.ashleyperez.com, where her blog is full of writerly and readerly insights, or at www.latinosinkidlit.com, where she’s part of a team of bloggers working to get the word out about awesome kid lit by Latina/o authors or about Latina/o experiences.

Follow her on Twitter (@ashleyhopeperez) and on Facebook.

Also follow Carolrhoda Lab on Twitter (@CarolrhodaLab) and Facebook for news and reviews of Out of Darkness and other fantastic Carolrhoda Lab titles.

Andrew Karre keeps us all entertained and informed from Twitter via @andrewkarre.

Librarians, bloggers, booksellers, reviewers, and teacher types: don’t forget to go to netgalley.com by the end of July to request an advance read of Out of Darkness.

Guest Post: T.A. Maclagan on Spy Novel Covers & They Call Me Alexandra Gastone

By T.A. Maclagan
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

From the promotional copy of They Call Me Alexandra Gastone by T.A. Maclagan (Full Fathom Five Digital, 2015):

When your life is a lie, how do you know what’s real?


Alexandra Gastone has a simple plan: graduate high school, get into Princeton, work for the CIA, and serve her great nation.


She was told the plan back when her name was Milena Rokva, back before the real Alexandra and her family were killed in a car crash.


Milena was trained to be a sleeper agent by Perun, a clandestine organization from her true homeland of Olissa. There, Milena learned everything she needed to infiltrate the life of CIA analyst Albert Gastone, Alexandra’s grandfather, and the ranks of America’s top intelligence agency.


For seven years, “Alexandra” has been on standby and life’s been good. Grandpa Albert loves her, and her strategically chosen boyfriend, Grant, is amazing.


But things are about to change. Perun no longer needs her at the CIA in five years’ time. They need her active now.


Between her cover as a high school girl—juggling a homecoming dance, history reports, and an increasingly suspicious boyfriend—and her mission in this high-stakes spy game, the boundaries of her two lives are beginning to blur.


Will she stay true to the country she barely remembers, or has her loyalty shattered along with her identity?

Find T.A. at Facebook, Tumblr & Twitter

As a book cover art aficionado (I have a Pinterest page of covers I fan girl over – yes, I’m that much of a book nerd), I headed into the cover design phase of my publishing journey with both excitement and trepidation.

I wanted a cover that I could love so badly, but knew that authors don’t usually get much input on cover design.

I was both surprised and thrilled, however, by how open Full Fathom Five was regarding the whole process. They asked me for my thoughts at the start, and then after each cover that came in, until we found the perfect one! It really felt like a journey we took as a team.

Yeah, I know how cheesy that sounds, but it’s true nonetheless.

My initial idea for the cover was a close-up face shot of Alexandra that emphasized her heterochromia (two different eye colors), but with the rest of her face being a bit hazy.

With the book’s title being what it is, I thought Alexandra needed to be staring out at the reader and as her heterochromia is a pivotal component of the book, I also felt that should be emphasized. I liked the idea of the rest of her face being a bit hazy because Alexandra struggles with her identity as the story unfolds and the haziness, I thought, could allude to that struggle. In addition to her face, I pictured a Washington D.C. skyline in the background, and a two-headed swan at the base of the cover (a symbol from the book).

As you can see from the final cover, which was the fourth iteration, some of my ideas made it onto the cover while others didn’t and thankfully so, because when I was thinking of cover design, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of book marketing.

With Full Fathom Five being generous about including me in the cover design process, I was able to learn quite a bit about what goes into making a successful cover. What I didn’t at first realize is that the cover should not only represent the book but also represent the genre.

For They Call Me Alexandra Gastone, that is spy fiction, in general, and YA spy fiction, in particular. This is something my original vision for the cover didn’t take into account. When someone looks at your cover, they should know what kind of book they are looking at.

With They Call Me Alexandra Gastone, I doubt anyone would think anything other than spy with the red and black color scheme and the riflescope. The red and black practically screams spy. Just look at these covers for popular spy novels…(photos of spy book covers).

The style of the cover is also in keeping with advertising for one of my favorite TV show, The Americans, which is also about sleeper agents living in the United States. My first drafts of They Call Me Alexandra Gastone were written before “The Americans” hit the airwaves but some of my later editing was definitely influenced by the dynamics of the relationships on the show.

So I find it fitting that there’s some resemblance between Alexandra’s cover and advertising for the show as I believe the book, despite being YA, could easily cross over into the adult market and would appeal to fans of the show.

As far as representing the YA spy genre, broadly speaking YA spy books fall into two subgenres, the “lighthearted adventure” subgenre, and the “darker, more serious, suspense” subgenre. These two subgenres have very different styles of covers.

Books like Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series (Hyperion), Robin Benway’s Also Known As series (Walker), and Jennifer Lynn BarnesThe Squad (Laurel Leaf) are all very popular YA spy books that fall into the “lighthearted adventure” category and as such they all have similarly styled covers.

Because They Call Me Alexandra Gastone doesn’t fit into this subgenre, it was important the cover didn’t, in any way, resemble this cover style. Instead, the cover for They Call Me Alexandra Gastone is much more in keeping with books like Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (Hyperion) and Lindsay Smith’s Sekret (Roaring Brook) from the “darker, more serious, suspense” subgenre—note the use of red on both covers.

After the cover designer nailed the color scheme and spy vibe, we faced one last hurdle. The model featured on the cover was used in every cover version we saw and looks very much like how I envisioned the character. That said, we were struggling a bit with her expression as the cover designer zoomed in for the third cover attempt. It looked too flat. That’s when the riflescope idea came into play. With the scope overlaid across her face, her expression morphed from flat to defiant.

As Alexandra is a kick butt kind of girl, this last minute addition to the cover, sealed the deal for me and gave me a cover I’m more than a little proud to have as the face of my debut!
 

Cover Reveal: Golden Girl by Mari Mancusi

By Mari Mancusi
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

The day I learned to snowboard was not the best day of my life. I actually spent most of it on my butt. And the bruises the next day were more than brutal. I was cold, I was frustrated. I was pretty sure anyone who even attempted this sport had to be a masochist and maybe I just needed to cut my losses and go home.

After all, I was already a decent skier. Maybe I should go back to what I already knew was safe.

But I didn’t go back. And the next day got easier. And the next week, easier still. Now, when I do have a chance to go snowboarding (not as often, thanks to now living in Texas!) I have a blast. I’m not Olympic caliber by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s become a sport I’m passionate about and truly love. And the fact that it wasn’t easy? Well, that only makes it better.

I think the same could be said about the writing and publishing industry. Just like snowboarding, it’s not for the faint of heart. You get a lot bruises—to your ego, to your heart, to your sanity—as you try to send books out into the world, only to face disappointment, rejection and frustration. It would be so easy to go back into the lodge. To play it safe and give up on this seemingly unattainable dream.

Mari with Cory Putnam Oakes & Christina Soontornvat

But for those of us who stick with it, who keep writing in the face of rejection, in the face of disappointments, day after day, we do get better.

And while saying it gets easier is a stretch—we do start finding small successes and maybe even large ones. And whether we become multi-published, bestselling, or just remain hobbyists, writing can become a passion and something we truly love.

And the fact that it isn’t easy? That only makes it better.

I’ve done a lot of adult and teen novels, but Golden Girl (Aladdin Mix, January 2016) is my very first middle grade novel and one I’m particularly proud of.

My heroine, Lexi, has dedicated her entire life to snowboarding, hoping to someday achieve Olympic gold. But when a freak accident may put her out of the running for good, she is forced to reexamine her life—and what’s really important to her. It’s a life lesson that applies to everyone—even those who have never set foot on a mountain and I’m so excited to share Lexi’s story with the world.

Cover Reveal

Cold meant snow. Snow meant snowboarding. Snowboarding meant everything.


Lexi Miller–aka “Golden Girl”–is Queen of the ‘Cross–snowboard cross, that is. As the most promising student at the elite ski and snowboard school, Mountain Academy, she is a sure lock for the Olympic-level trial team and has the most promise for a future Olympic gold medal the school has ever seen. 

Until a freak fall during a snowboard-cross competition crushes her dreams and puts her future on hold.


One year after her disastrous fall, Lexi is back at Mountain Academy and attempting a comeback. But everything has changed—her best friend is suddenly friends with her arch-enemy on and off the slopes, and everyone seems to be rooting for her to fail.


Everyone except Logan Conrad that is. Logan is a “staff rat” whose mother works at the school and he believes snowboarding should be for fun—not sponsors. With his help and friendship, Lexi begins to discover a whole new world outside her favorite sport and even a new passion for music.


But Lexi’s dad–who just happens to be her coach and lead instructor at Mountain Academy–has strong opinions on his daughter’s future. Can Lexi figure out how to balance her dreams with the dreams of her dad’s–and find out what exactly happened on that mountain a year ago?