10th Anniversary Feature: Carolyn Crimi

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked some established authors–folks I’d featured early on–the following question:

Over the past decade, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing/artistic life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here’s the latest reply, this one from author Carolyn Crimi:

Before I was published I imagined that the life of an author would involve, um, writing. Just writing.

I actually believed I’d earn a living from my advances and royalties alone.

Hey, don’t laugh! That’s not nice.

I had a hard lesson to learn, and that is that writers are asked to give talks. You could even say that writers often earn more money doing public speaking than they do on their craft.

I know! It’s crazy! But there have been many times in my writing career when I have felt more like a public speaker than a writer.

If people ask me what my advice is for new writers, I tell them to write, read, and join Toastmasters. Improv classes also help with public speaking.

I go to conferences just to watch authors present their material. How do they use their hands? How often do they use anecdotes? Do they read their lecture or do they have it memorized?

Because when it comes right down to it, authors who present well will be in high demand and they’ll sell more books.

So that’s what I’ve learned. Oh, and don’t picture the audience naked. That’s a lot scarier than actually doing the talk.

Read a Cynsations interview with Carolyn. Read Carolyn’s team blog (with Andrea Beaty and Julia Durango), Three Silly Chicks! Note: you also can subscribe to the Chicks’ LJ syndication.

10th Anniversary Feature: Nancy Garden

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked some established authors–folks I’d featured early on–the following question:

Over the past decade, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing/artistic life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here’s the latest reply, this one from author Nancy Garden:

I think the most important lesson I’ve learned about my craft–or at least about myself as a writer–over the past decade is to slow down!

By that I don’t necessarily mean to write less, and I certainly don’t mean to take more time off (what’s that?), but what I do mean is to be sure to give each new book or story all the time it needs before sending it off to one’s editor or one’s agent.

Working on more than one book at the same time used to work for me, especially when each project was at a different stage of development and or when each was different from its companions–different age levels, for example, different genres, etc.

But recently, I found myself working on two or three things which were at roughly the same stage of development at more or less the same time–and that led to my impatiently releasing some before they were really ready.

Maybe that’s because I’m not as young as I once was, or maybe it’s because I’ve become less patient, but whatever the reason, it’s made me feel increasingly that it’s best as much as possible for me to stick to one project at a time–at least to try to make sure close-together projects are at different stages of development.

Artistic life? Well, when my first book was published–and actually my first two books were published very close together, after a long period when nothing of mine had published–I made the mistake of thinking the days of rejection letters were probably over.

But since then, both in the last ten years and earlier, I’ve found that, at least for me (and many, many other writers I know and admire!), there’s nothing sure but death, taxes, and rejection letters!

And–this is more important–I’ve also found that being aware of that is a good way to keep a sense of balance about one’s career.

That leads me to the third part of your question, the part about publishing, and this is tricky.

I’ve learned, especially in the last ten years, that it’s a good idea as much as possible to try keep abreast of the changes in publishing and in kid/teen culture.

I’m not saying that one should try to write whatever seems to be selling best or seems to be most popular, for I firmly believe that it’s important to write what one wants to write, what one is burning passionately to write, what one loves to write.

But it’s still helpful to have an idea of where and how one’s work and what one wants to say might fit within this rapidly changing world.

Don’t get me wrong on this, though. Even if it doesn’t fit, and there’s no way to make it fit, I think that’s okay, too–because it’s also true that good stuff that doesn’t fit often eventually gets published anyway.

I know this must sound as if I’m contradicting myself, and in a way I guess I am–because I do believe strongly that both are true: It’s important to try to be aware of what’s going on in the world for which one writes, but also to write what one wants to write anyway!

Read a Cynsations interview with Nancy.

10th Anniversary Feature: Kathi Appelt

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked some established authors–folks I’d featured early on–the following question:

Over the past decade, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing/artistic life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here’s the latest answer, this one from author Kathi Appelt:

I think I could probably write a thesis on this, but when all is said and done I’m thinking that the biggest lesson is one that I have to remind myself of, and that is to always keep in mind that there is a “love factor” involved: love for the process even when things aren’t going swimmingly; love for those in your life, which means surrounding yourself with people who are supportive.

Likewise, we have to be providers of love, not just takers.

And finally, it requires love for our young audience.

It all seems so obvious, but maybe it’s that obviousness that makes it so easy to forget.

10th Anniversary Feature: Brent Hartinger

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked some established authors–folks I’d featured early on–the following question:

Over the past decade, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing/artistic life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here’s the latest reply, this one from author Brent Hartinger.

That I’m absolutely crazy-insane to make my living as a writer of fiction, and that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lately I’ve been doing some work for some friends producing online content, so I’ve had a chance to really compare the two mediums: publishing versus the Internet.

And after ten years in publishing, I kind of have to describe it as something of a harsh, desolated crack expanse of earth, where you maybe can grow enough food to eat, but it’s really, really hard. You have to know exactly what you’re doing and, frankly, you have to have a lot of luck.

Meanwhile, the Internet world is like that scene in The Magician’s Nephew [by C. S. Lewis, 1955] where Narnia is only a couple of hours old and everything is lush and rich and productive. Bury a toffee in the ground, and a couple of hours later you have a toffee tree!

Basically, if you’re smart and you have talent and you work hard, you’ll be a huge success in the world of the Internet. But in publishing? Well…that’s just not necessarily true.

Okay, now that I’ve completely depressed you, let me know also say that working in publishing can still be extremely satisfying–more satisfying than working in the Internet.

Why? Because the people who still read books, though they’re decreasing in numbers and influence, are some of the best, smartest people in the world.

And the people who still choose to work in publishing, they’re some of the nicest people in the world.

Finally, the whole process of creating characters and inventing stories for them to inhabit?

It’s just so phenomenally, wonderfully satisfying. That’s why a lot of people do it even without getting paid. So imagine a situation where you do get paid for it–and get gushing fan mail to boot! It’s still a pretty heady thrill.

What am I saying? Basically, that it’s an incredibly tough business, getting tougher every day. And yet, somehow, it’s still a wonderfully satisfying life.

I confess, I might change my mind in a few years if things get too much worse. But for the time being, it’s still a pretty easy call: I absolutely love being a writer.

Read a Cynsations interview with Brent.

10th Anniversary Feature: Michelle Meadows

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked some established authors–folks I’d featured early on–the following question:

Over the past decade, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing/artistic life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here’s the latest reply, this one from children’s author Michelle Meadows.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past decade is that I am in charge of my writing. That means that it’s up to me to take my writing seriously and work on my craft.

There was one time in particular where I went through a period of reflection. I had one picture book published pretty quickly, and then the rejection letters piled up.

I felt so tired. So I decided to take a break from writing, step back, and think about whether I wanted to keep writing and trying to get published.

A few important things happened during this period of reflection. One important thing is that I found out that I couldn’t stay away from writing. Even though I was supposed to be taking a “break,” new ideas for stories kept coming and characters kept talking to me.

Another thing was that during this same time, I bought one of those little books of inspirational quotations as a birthday gift for a relative. Right before I wrapped the gift, I decided to flip through the book and read all the quotations.

And there was one in particular that struck me. It was this quote by actress Mary Pickford: “If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down but the staying down.”

I love that. Especially the part about “a fresh start any moment you choose.”

I realized that I didn’t have to give up. I didn’t have to let my past rejection letters swallow me up. At any moment, I could have a fresh start; I could choose to write something totally new and try again.

The next manuscript I wrote after that was Pilot Pups (Simon & Schuster, 2008)!

Read a Cynsations interview with Michelle.

10th Anniversary Feature: Ellen Wittlinger

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked some established authors–folks I’d featured early on–the following question:

Over the past decade, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing/artistic life, and/or publishing, and why?

YA author Ellen Wittlinger said:

What I’ve learned about writing in the last decade is to give all the ideas and all the energy I have to each book as it comes along.

I’m not going to run out of ideas; the well isn’t going to go dry.

What I’ve learned about the writing life is that there aren’t any weekends.

Yes, your time is your own, you can work in your pajamas, in the middle of the night if you want, etc., but the work is always with you.

What I’ve learned about publishing is that it will always worship the next new thing. You have to try not to let it make you crazy.

Read a Cynsations interview with Ellen.

10th Anniversary Giveaway

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I’m offering one rather eclectic giveaway package, which will include paperback copies of the following books:

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (1958);

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1977);

Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause (1997); and

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (2008)(signed).

Why? Each of these books has a personal meaning to me. The first two were favorites of mine as a young reader–the first because it made me feel less alone and the second because it in part inspired my own debut novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001). The third influenced me most in my own YA writing, and the last is my latest contribution to the conversation of books. I’ll also likely include a few additional surprises.

All Cynsational readers are eligible! To enter, email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with a question to answer along with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 30!

Note: as examples, questions may be related to the writing life, craft, publishing, teaching writing, or any area within my fields of interest/expertise such as–writing for young readers; children’s-YA fiction; diversity (of ethnicity, religion, region, etc.) in books; Native youth literature; writing picture books; writing short stories; writing novels; Gothic/urban/paranormal fantasy; speculative fiction more broadly; promotion; teaching writing; diversifying your “brand;” working with an editor or agent; the youth literature community; blogging; etc. I’ll likely pick some to answer as part of the anniversary series of interviews.

OR, if you’re on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me with the previous information on that network by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 30! But DON’T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I’ll contact you for it if you win.

Please also type “anniversary giveaway” in the subject line.

10th Anniversary Feature: Uma Krishnaswami

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked some established authors–folks I’d featured early on–the following question:

Over the past decade, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing/artistic life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here’s the first reply, this one from author Uma Krishnaswami:

About my craft, I have learned that the journey is everything. Every time I start a new work, I am beginning all over again.

Someone said to me the other day, “But you know how to write novels and picture books.”

And I replied. “No. I know how to write the novels and the picture books that I have written. The next ones that come along, I’ll have to learn how to write them, and each one will be different.”

About the writing life: it’s a roller coaster, and it always will be. You have to embrace the downturns, more than just expecting that they’ll come and bracing yourself.

I practice tai chi, and it’s a bit like yin and yang. The positive energy is great, but the negative allows you to pull back, return to being grounded again.

I’ve also learned that teaching feeds my writing. When I’m so busy with teaching that I don’t even have time to write–that’s when the ideas begin catching fire or I make breakthroughs in work in which I thought I’d lost my way.

About publication: I’ve learned not to pay attention to trends, and to treat “the market” as a giant conversation of books. And most of all, to write what I want to write.

Read a Cynsations interview with Uma.

10th Anniversary: WWW.CYNTHIALEITICHSMITH.COM

In the winter of 1998, my agent sold a manuscript that would eventually be published as my first book, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000).

In September of 1998, I launched a do-it-yourself, official author Website (www.cynthialeitichsmith) and monthly e-newsletter. Over time, the newsletter eventually attracted more than 1,000 subscribers.

The focus included my own work, but also celebrated youth literature more globally.

Each issue highlighted publishing news, writer resources, and a couple of original author interviews.

This information was then archived in a major section of the main author site, Children’s and YA Literature Resources, which grew more extensive with each passing month.

In 2004, the Cynsations blog replaced the e-newsletter. By that time, the main site was attracting more than 100,000 unique visitors a year.

Then in 2006, Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys (interview) transformed my amateur design effort on the main site into a work of art, and by then, Cynsations had become its biggest feeder after Google.

By 2007, the number of unique visitors had climbed to more than 2 million. At current traffic rates, 2008 looks likely to top that.

For the past decade, it has been my great pleasure to take part in the discussion of youth literature on the Internet, and so I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you!

Thank you to the writers, artists, authors, illustrators, editors, agents, bloggers, publishers, publicists, booksellers, book doctors, teachers, librarians, reviewers, readers, gurus, university professors, and children’s-YA book enthusiasts of all stripes who have visited my site-blogs!

Thank you to everyone who passed along my URL on a listserv or site or blog or message board or chat or at a live event!

Thank you to everyone who suggested a resource to feature or shared your thoughts in an interview!

Thank you all for your support and encouragement!

And if you haven’t surfed by lately, please check out www.cynthialeitichsmith.com!

Cynsational Notes

In a Dec. 12, 2007 interview with YA author Sarah Aronson at Through the Tollbooth, I advised fellow writers:

I have found that it helps to celebrate every victory, no matter how small.

You finished your draft? Celebrate!

You received a personal rejection letter? Celebrate!

Your workshop leader says your story arc is stronger?

An agent asks for the whole manuscript?

You’ve sold your first book? Your fiftieth?

Celebrate! Celebrate! Celebrate! Celebrate!

So, in celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked several well-established authors–folks I’d featured early on–the following question:

Over the past decade, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing/artistic life, and/or publishing, and why?

And in my tradition of highlighting new voices, I also asked several first-time authors:

As a debut author, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing life, and/or publishing, and why?

Answers are incoming (and fascinating)! Over the next few months–amidst more typical postings–I’ll share them as they become available.

I’ll also be offering a 10th anniversary giveaway and other celebratory features.

Stay tuned, and thanks again!