Book Trailer: Keepers of the Labyrinth by Erin E. Moulton

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Keepers of the Labyrinth by Erin E. Moulton (Philomel, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Courage is tested, myths come to life, and long-held secrets are revealed.


Lilith Bennette runs at midnight. She scales walls in the dark and climbs without a harness. She hopes that if she follows exactly in the steps of her strong air force pilot mother, she’ll somehow figure out the mystery of her mother’s death—and the reason why her necklace of Greek symbols has been missing ever since.


So when Lil is invited to Crete for a Future Leaders International conference, the same conference her mom attended years ago, she jumps at the chance to find some answers. But things in Melios Manor are not what they seem. Lil finds herself ensnared in an adventure of mythological proportions that leads her and her friends through the very labyrinth in which the real Minotaur was imprisoned. And they’re not in there alone. What secrets does the labyrinth hold, and will they help Lil find the truth about her mother?


This book is perfect for older fans of Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the Heroes of Olympus–and anyone who wants to find out the true story behind the magic of the Greek gods.

Photographs of Pefki, Crete, Gr. and Milia Mountain Retreat (the location that inspired the idea of Melios Manor) by Erin Robinson.

Guest Interview: Mina Witteman on Talking Books, Ghosts, Writing & Teaching

By Angela Cerrito
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Mina Witteman is a published author, writing in Dutch and English. She has four adventurous middle grade novels, over 40 short stories, and a Little Golden Book out in the Netherlands.

The first volume of a middle grade series, Boreas and the Seven Seas, came out in June 2015. The second book is scheduled for early spring 2016.

Mina is the Regional Advisor for SCBWI The Netherlands and Chairman of the Working Group Children’s Books of the Dutch Authors Guild.

In addition, Mina is an accredited teacher creative writing and teaches writing to children and adults. She is a university-trained freelance editor and a mentor to budding writers.

For her English works, she is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter @MinaWitteman.

You have two books released recently, Mia’s Nest, a Little Golden Book, and Boreas and the Seven Seas (Boreas en de zeven zeeën), about the adventures of twelve-year-old Boreas as he sails around the world. Let’s start with Mia’s Nest. What was the inspiration for this book?

Actually, the inspiration came from the illustrator, Angela Pelaez Vargas who was inspired to create illustrations based on her young daughter’s constantly tangled hair.

When she showed me the illustrations and mentioned that she was trying to work them into a story, I fell in love with both the illustrations and the story, also because my son’s nickname through primary school, which was Bird’s Nest, because of his abundant curly hair. I wrote the story and Angela added and changed some of the illustrations.

We were thrilled when the Dutch publisher Rubinstein decided to publish it as a Little Golden Book.


The title character’s name is very similar to yours. Is this picture book semi-autobiographical? 

No, it was inspired by Angela’s daughter and my son’s nickname, although I still vividly remember my mother trying to untangle my hair when I was young.

Now onto Boreas and the Seven Seas: newly released this is the first book in a series. What inspired you to write about Boreas?

My dad was a sailing aficionado, and my entire childhood stood in the sign of sailing. He taught me to sail before I could ride a bike, which says something, for in the Netherlands, most children are born with a bike attached to them.

We had a small boat near our home and my father took me and my siblings out on the water nearly every day.

What I liked, and what I still like, most about sailing is the wind in my face, the way it can clear your mind and give you a feeling of ultimate freedom.

My mother used to call me “Wind Child,” and when I wasn’t sailing, I would try to recreate the feeling. On windy days, she knew if she couldn’t find me, to look on the roof. I would crawl out of the window in my bedroom and onto the roof and stand with the wind in my face.

So you love to sail and Boreas goes on a sailing adventure. Is this book semi-autobiographical?

The book itself is not, however there are a few adventures at sea that I have experienced, like getting caught in a storm. Also the impressions and sights, like Sark, a small beautiful island where Boreas ends up. I’ve been to these places and seen the sights and that helps a great deal in writing about them.

It feels good that Boreas and the Seven Seas receives raving reviews – the Dutch Libraries even made it Summer Reading Tip – and reviewers are unanimously praising the fact that reading the book is like you are actually experiencing what Boreas is experiencing and that you can feel the wind in your hair.

Without giving away any spoilers, what is the most unexpected adventure for Boreas in the book?

Mina sailing with her sister

Early on in the novel, the family is sailing through the night passing the English Channel and they crash into a wooden raft occupied by a young boy from Sudan. The boy is a refugee stranded in France trying desperately to get to the U.K. He is thrown from the raft but can’t swim.

Without thinking, Boreas jumps in the water and saves him. This is a turning point for Boreas and his understanding about his privileged situation compared to other children.

You write in both Dutch and English. What are the advantages of being so versatile?

I’m able to work on two projects, a Dutch and an English project, at the same time because I use different parts of my brain. Actually, I think having a more limited vocabulary in English than a native speaker is an advantage because it forces me to focus on the core of the story and prevents me from fluffing up the text.

You’ve mentioned on your blog your love of music, math and architecture. Do you incorporate this into your writing?

As a science girl, coming from a technically-minded family, structuring and building is infused into my life and thinking. I’m hooked on rule-based systems like math and computers. Architecture is incorporated in the way I set up a novel, and even when I teach – I’m also a teacher creative writing – I often use the design of a building as a metaphor for stories and the way you can set them up.

I always start a new story making an outline like an architect, with a sturdy foundation, a skeleton of strong walls and then fill those structures in with more details. The math comes in when it comes to balancing word count, chapters. I love Scrivener for this.

My fondness for math and science is often reflected in my characters who tend to be logical and mathematical in their thinking. In a YA novel I’m working on now, one of my protagonists is a science geek.

The same goes for music. There is always music somewhere in my books to provoke a certain reaction or emotion.

Not yet reviewed by Cynsations.

Some of your earlier novels, middle grade adventures, were written in Dutch and featured North American locations in the U.S. and Canada. What inspired these settings?

I’ve always been very interested in myths, legends, and stories, especially Native American stories. When I visited the U.S. and Canada, I learned so much more about the Native cultures. But when I returned to the Netherlands and looked in the Dutch libraries, I could only find stereotypical cowboy-and-Indian stories.

We needed to do better, I thought, otherwise, our children would grow up with a misrepresentation of entire cultures.

In addition to writing, you are also a writing instructor. Tell me about your experiences teaching writing to both to young writers and adults.

I enjoy giving children insight into how a story is built. It makes reading so much more fun. The biggest reward is encountering the student who says, “I don’t like reading. I don’t like writing. I don’t want to do this.” When this student “gets it” and starts writing, I couldn’t be happier.

When teaching adults, I like to give people the opportunity to hone their storytelling craft. I love helping people get their dreams realized and a few of my students are really close to being published now. I’m also mentoring someone who just signed his first contract, which is very exciting.

You are a fan of Writing Maps. How have you used these tools in your writing and teaching?

There are so many writing maps, there is really one for everyone. I randomly pick one each morning to get started writing. I typically use it as an exercise.

In a few instances, the result of the exercises end up in my novels, like little snippets I wrote with prompts from the Writing by the Sea map that ended up in Boreas and the Seven Seas.

As someone who loves to travel, what has been your favorite places to visit?

Mina at Tsé Bit’Aí

I love the empty vastness of Navajo Nation (located in the four corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah in the U.S.), especially Canyon de Chelly. To me, it is more impressive than the Grand Canyon. I love that you can walk or even drive for hours without anyone around, you can feel how the stories came to be, how they were inspired by the landscape and life.

There is this vast dessert with a cathedral like –or ship like- rock coming out of the earth. It’s often called “Shiprock,” but the Navajo named it “Tsé Bit’Aí” or “the Rock with Wings,” and it’s said to be the petrified remains of the bird that brought the Navajo people to safety.

Where is somewhere that you haven’t traveled to but would like to go?

New Zealand is at the top of my list. Also, I think it would be great to be on the international time line. It would be magical to be able to jump over the line and move through time.

Your first book, Dee Dee’s Revenge was set in a city much like your hometown of Vught. Do you plan to set more novels there?

No. This was my debut and that was me coming to terms with growing up in the southern part of the Netherlands, where life is easy going compared to Amsterdam, but also very small-town-ish and judgmental. Deedee’s Revenge was also a way for me to get even with my older brother.

My brother once locked me in a concrete sewage pipe on an assault course in a military restricted area. I couldn’t tell my parents what he’d done, because by doing so I would have to admit that I went into the restricted area, too. The book was my revenge.

So, it’s your first book that was semi-autobiographical! Tell us about your writing routine. Is it the same every day?

I meditate early in the morning. Then I make time for all of the business things related to my volunteer work for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and the Dutch Authors Guild. Next I do a writing prompt and then I write or revise.

Since I’m also a freelance editor I understand the importance of and the process of revision and I commit a lot of time to revising my stories.

I heard that you’re working on a YA novel that is a ghost story. Did that involve a lot of research?

I didn’t have to do research because I see ghosts. They come to me.

For example, I was part of the SCBWI Nevada mentor program. Our group of mentors and mentees spent four days at a cultural center in an old mining town that was claimed to be haunted. I’ve learned that when people think a place is haunted, it usually isn’t.

However, in this case I was in the kitchen and I felt the strong presence of a refined young man just over my shoulder. I was assigned to sleep in room number 16, which was reported to be haunted with a very nasty ghost. But all the while I was there, I felt the presence of this other ghost instead. I believe his presence with me for those four days kept the other ghost away.

That is fascinating. Tell us more about the SCBWI mentorship program.

I was already published in the Netherlands and teaching writing when I entered, but many mentees are not. Mentor programs are amazing perks for SCBWI members, who want to move forward.

The program teaches mentees to take the profession of writing seriously. It pushes them from having a hobby to having a career. I think writing, especially writing for children, should be done well.

Children’s book stories are so important and they absolutely must be crafted well. A mentor program can help aspiring writers to take their craft to the next level. We are in the process of starting a program for SCBWI members in Europe.

Cynsational Notes

Angela Cerrito writes by night and is a pediatric therapist by day. Her debut novel,  The End of the Line (Holiday House, 2011), was named to VOYA’s top of the top shelf, a YALSA quick pick and a Winchester Fiction Honor Book.

More on Angela Cerrito

Her forthcoming novel The Safest Lie (Holiday House, Fall 2015) is based on her research in Warsaw Poland including interviewing Irena Sendler, a mastermind spy and member of the Polish resistance, who helped over 2,500 children escape the Warsaw ghetto.

Angela volunteers as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and is the co-organizer of SCBWI events at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.

Angela contributes news and interviews from the children’s-YA creative, literature and publishing community in Europe and beyond.

New Voice & Giveaway: Maggie Lehrman on The Cost of All Things

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Maggie Lehrman is the first-time author of The Cost of All Things (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 2015). From the promotional copy:

What would you pay to cure your heartbreak?


Banish your sadness?


Transform your looks?


The right spell can fix anything…


When Ari’s boyfriend Win dies, she gets a spell to erase all memory of him. But spells come at a cost, and this one sets off a chain of events that reveal the hidden — and sometimes dangerous — connections between Ari, her friends, and the boyfriend she can no longer remember.


Told from four different points of view, this original and affecting novel weaves past and present in a suspenseful narrative that unveils the truth behind a terrible tragedy. Part love story, part mystery, part high-stakes drama, The Cost of All Things is the debut of an extraordinary new talent.

What inspired you to choose the particular point of view featured in your novel? What considerations came into play? Did you try the story from a different point of view at some point? If so, what made you change your mind?

When I started writing The Cost of All Things (way before it had a title, even), the only thing I knew was that Ari had chosen to forget her boyfriend Win, who had died. I wrote nearly a hundred pages from just her point of view as she attempted to navigate the world without part of her memory.

Then I started my final semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts with Tim Wynne-Jones as my advisor.

Tim took a look at this 100 pages and got very concerned. How could I convey anything about Win, about Ari herself, if she doesn’t actually remember him? How is the reader supposed to understand this world or connect to the characters?

I knew Tim was right, but I didn’t know what to do about it. Switch to an omniscient third person? Start the story earlier?

Give up, cry, take a nap?

So I put the story aside for a year as I worked on other things, and when I came back to it, I started thinking about the other people in this world, and how they would be affected by Win’s death.

Partly just for me, I wrote in other voices, basically starting the story over from the beginning. And as the other characters’ wants and needs came into focus, I knew their stories were an important part of Ari’s, even though she might not know it (yet). The interconnectedness of these characters became a driving force of the book. How does one person’s actions affect the others? What do they uncover, the closer they get?

At an early point, there were as many as seven or eight points of view. But I fairly quickly narrowed it down to the four in the book: Ari, Markos, Kay, and Win, all in first person.

I’ve read interviews with Jandy Nelson where she talked about how she wrote the absolutely brilliant I’ll Give You the Sun (Dial, 2014), which has two first-person narrators: she drafted straight through with one voice, and then straight through with the other, interspersing them later.

I couldn’t do exactly that, as these four stories were meant to ping off of each other and loop around, but I did find myself going on a run of three-to-four Markos chapters in a row, and then catching up with a handful of Ari or Kay chapters, and then a whole mess of Win scenes. (Win was easier to write straight through because his chapters were all, by necessity, flashbacks.)

This meant I had a big jumble of scenes and plots in no particular order, which led to a lot of sorting and finessing after the first couple of drafts. Hence the Big Plot Wall, or what was affectionately known in my apartment as the Serial Killer Wall, named after the obsessive charts you see on TV in the homes of serial killers and those who hunt them.

The Big Plot Wall

Each of the four characters’ stories are so personal, and they’re each so blinded by their own perspective (at least in the beginning) that first person always made the most sense to me. They deal with pain in different ways, which I found I could express in first directly — as well as show how much of the story was about who knew what secrets when.

As a fantasy writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your novel might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?

Tumblr & Twitter

My glimpse of this world began very small, with Ari and the spell she chose to take to forget Win.

I like to understand the characters before I do any larger-scale thinking about themes, or I can get bogged down with expressing ideas instead of exploring human behavior.

I completely understood why one girl would choose to eliminate the source of her pain — isn’t there something we all wish we could forget? — and that moment of empathy made me want to know more about Ari and what happened to her. And so I had to dig in to the glimpse and expand it beyond Ari.

If Ari can take this spell, what else is true about this world? How does the magic work? What are its costs?

Once I started thinking about those questions — how spells were made and taken and paid for, what the consequences would be, who took spells and why — I started to see the types of parallels you could make to the real world: spells were shortcuts, a way to avoid moments or situations that might be difficult or painful. They gave you what you wanted, but what you wanted isn’t always what you needed. There were parallels to performance-enhancing and recreational drugs, cheating, plastic surgery, and more.

This is not to say that using spells was always a bad idea; like in the real world with medical decisions or pain relievers or other important means of self-care, sometimes a spell could be a healthy choice. Hekame (what I called the practice of magic in this world) wasn’t good or bad on its own, but could be used for good or bad based on the decisions of the characters. And it always has consequences.

As a side note, for a fascinating and very different way of looking at some of the same questions, especially when it comes to memory, I’d check out the excellent More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, 2015). Part of the reason I love fantasy/science fiction (as it is in Adam’s case) is that writers can answer similar questions in totally different ways.

I’ve always been fascinated by the way fantasy heightens and reflects the real world. Ursula K. LeGuin said that fantasy stories “work the way music does: they short-circuit verbal reasoning, and go straight to the thoughts that lie too deep to utter.”

Hekame was a way for me to talk about choices and consequences, things we in the real world have to face constantly, without having to name each of the parallels. There’s room for the reader to fill in their own experience and intuition.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: continental U.S.

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New Voice & Giveaway: Sarah McGuire on Valiant

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Sarah McGuire is the first-time author of Valiant (Egmont/Lerner, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Reggen still sings about the champion, the brave tailor. This is the story that is true.


Saville despises the velvets and silks that her father prizes far more than he’s ever loved her. Yet when he’s struck ill she’ll do anything to survive–even dressing as a boy and begging a commission to sew for the king.


But piecing together a fine coat is far simpler than unknotting court gossip about an army of giants, led by a man who cannot be defeated, marching toward Reggen to seize the throne. Saville knows giants are just stories, and no man is immortal.


Then she meets them, two scouts as tall as trees. After she tricks them into leaving, tales of the daring tailor’s triumph quickly spin into impossible feats of giant-slaying. And stories won’t deter the Duke and his larger-than-life army.


Now only a courageous and clever tailor girl can see beyond the rumors to save the kingdom again.


Perfect for fans of Shannon Hale and Gail Carson Levine, Valiant richly reimagines “The Brave Little Tailor,” transforming it into a story of understanding, identity, and fighting to protect those you love most.

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an “ah-ha!” moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

I think it came in stages for me. I was one of the lucky writers included in the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. Harold Underdown chose me as one of his mentees, and for six months, we worked though my novel. I think my biggest takeaway was tackling the middle of the novel and keeping it from sagging.

Even though I had to slide that novel, under the metaphorical bed, I had a much better understanding of story structure. And I used it in Valiant, making sure I had a tent pole of tension to hold up the center of the story.

My next jump was in a Highlights Workshop with Patti Gauch. She taught (among other things) about going far enough emotionally, about reaching a transcendent moment of fear or hope or joy. She taught me to watch for those places in the story that already meant something to me. I learned to circle back to those places and dive into the emotion of that moment.

I think as writers, we’re afraid of our emotion in a scene seeming cheesy or overwrought. And from that place of fear, we keep our emotion on a tight rein. I would have said I was being subtle, but the truth was that I was scared– scared of purple prose and people laughing at over the top scenes. When I was afraid, and didn’t go far enough, my writing came across as insincere or insubstantial.

And … here’s the secret: it was. I was too scared to reveal the substance of that emotion. I was too afraid to be truly sincere. My fear of emotional triviality actually made my writing trivial.

But now I’m all better.

Ha.

Of course, I still work at this. And I still don’t get it right the first or second draft. Or the third. And when I do finally go far enough, I have to loop back a few days later to trim and shape and make sure there’s nothing in the writing of that moment that would keep a reader from going far enough. But I’m getting better at it. And knowing when I don’t go far enough is half the battle, right?

Right.

As a fantasy writer, how did you go about building your world?

Photo by Chris Anderson

I found that stories and math (among other things!) shaped Valiant’s world.

Let’s start with stories. When we think of world building, we often think of government, architecture, all the minute details of daily life. But we forget that we view our own world through the lens of story.

For instance, going off to pursue a dream is most mostly viewed as proper independence in America. In our stories and movies, it’s often rewarded. But in other cultures, such independence might be viewed as destructive and selfish.

Anyway, once I realized I’d be writing a story about giants, I knew wanted to work within the stories we all know about giants–even if we don’t think we know them. So I did an informal survey of Western myth, folk and fairy tales. Whether it was a titan of Greek mythology or the giant who ground bones to bake bread, giants were brutes who could only be overcome by some form of trickery.

(I found one story of a smart giantess: Oona, the wife of Finn MacCoul. But she defeats another giant through (you guessed it!) trickery. The only story I could find in which someone beat a giant through a straightforward attack was David and Goliath.)

So I had stories where giants were 1) the enemy, 2) stupid, and 3) sometimes ate humans. It seemed only right that the humans in my novel would have similar stories (and thus views) of giants.

David and Goliath, by Osmar Schindler (c. 1888)

But things got interesting when I looked back through that same story-lens. Given those stories, how would giants view humans? As unreliable tricksters who used their wits to overcome and kill giants.

So within the giantish world, the most powerful giant might not always be the strongest, but the one who couldn’t be fooled.

For me, that was when things got interesting. So I wrote Valiant with the idea that I had two cultures with the same set of stories, but who viewed those stories from two very different perspectives.

I also used math to build my world. (Such a whiplash-inducing change from stories, isn’t it? But bear with me.) I was thinking about volume.

Let’s say you have a cube that measures one inch on every side. It’s volume is length x width x height, or 1 x 1 x 1, which equals 1 cubic inch. If I had a cube that was six times the size of the first cube, 6 x 6 x 6, its volume would be 216 cubic inches.

So–and this is an oversimplification– if a giant was six times as big as a human, he could weigh roughly 200 times more. And he’d need a lot more food than six humans.

Where might giants living in the stony Belmor Moutains find food? And how could they travel the great distance they did in Valiant? I discovered some of my favorite details about the world of the uten by exploring that. What started as mathematical ended with one of my favorite scenes.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of Valiant by Sarah McGuire (Egmont USA/Lerner, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

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Guest Post: Janet Lee Carey on Tips for Writing Fantasy

Kathy Dawson Books/Penguin, 2015

By Janet Lee Carey
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

So good to be back visiting the multi-talented Cynthia Leitich Smith here on Cynsations with my third book in the Wilde Island trilogy. Cynthia hosted an interview for the first Wilde Island book, Dragon’s Keep (Harcourt, 2007) so this visit brings it full circle.

I thought it would be a good time to look back and share a few things I’ve learned on the way up the twisty fantasy writing road.

Be Flexible

This is my first published trilogy in an ongoing series, but it’s not the only series I began building toward a trilogy.

My third book set in Noor following The Beast of Noor (Atheneum, 2011) and The Dragon’s of Noor (Egmont, 2010) did not go anywhere. Neither did a draft of a book taking place in Zolya following the YA fantasy, Stealing Death (Egmont, 2010).

If you love writing fantasy as much as I do, you have to learn to be flexible. You can’t hold on too tightly. In my case, anyway, I had to learn to let go and create new worlds, places for the stories I was passionate about to unfold. Wilde Island and its sister island Dragon’s Keep has been particularly fruitful. These islands are home to Dragons, fey folk and the indigenous Euit people. There were layers of bitter history already rife in this world before book one began.

Perhaps this line from the Kirkus Reviews review for In the Time of Dragon Moon says it best:

“Humans, dragons and fey coexist on Wilde Island, but this uneasy peace masks a simmering, mutual distrust.” 

There are so many possible plots created by this “simmering mutual distrust” and given time, more stories can grow there.

Keep Your Cuts

So in the above paragraph I’m saying learn to let go.

In this paragraph I’ll say the opposite, learn to hold on.

By the time I’ve revised a book twenty or thirty times, I’ve cut out nearly as many pages as I’ve kept. Some early clippings are never retrieved, but some later cuts are often well polished scenes by the time they’re severed. What to do?

Mine the treasure there! I create a “cuts” file and keep notes on the cuts. Sometimes I use snippets from cuts, finding those little gems and placing them just so in a new scene during the final revision.

And best and most secret of all, I used an entire rescue sequence originally set in one world (Noor) in another world (Zolya). The scene worked beautifully in Stealing Death.

Of course I had to reset it changing context and characters, but the baseline scene depicting a daring rescue from a desert prison turned out to be a great fit. Voila!

Recognize Story Seeds

Finally, I’m learning not to pack books too tightly. I had what amounted to a double ending to In The Time of Dragon Moon. The last chapters felt very powerful and true, but I ended up having to cut them out of the book because they brought in some new elements when the story was essentially over.

I later realized these important scenes were actually seeds for a new book. I was being given a new theme dealing with romantic ties, mothers and children, abandonment, betrayal and renewal. The strong feelings I had for those last chapters were meant to carry me into another full length novel I’m writing now and setting in a new world.

If you write fantasy, I hope you find the pointers helpful. But if you work in other professions you can translate these practices:

  • Be Flexible –a healthy survival technique in any workplace.
  • Keep your Cuts — take a little time to honor your ideas, and store them in a place you can readily retrieve them. Those of us who think outside the box sometimes need actual storage boxes. Ideas that don’t quite fit the workplace now, might be perfect if introduced at a later time.
  • Recognize Story Seeds –keep abreast of your passions and learn to recognize the inklings of something new forming in you, something teasing you toward an entirely new adventure. 

Whatever your passion or profession, I leave you with a healer’s saying from Uma’s Euit tradition:

~ Ona Loneaih – be you well~

About the Book

Beware the dark moon time when love and murder intertwine


All Uma wants is to become a healer like her father and be accepted by her tribe. But when the mad queen abducts her and takes her north, Uma’s told she must use her healing skills to cure the infertile queen by Dragon Moon, or be burned at the stake. 

Uma soon learns the queen isn’t the only danger she’s up against. A hidden killer out for royal blood slays the royal heir. The murder is made to look like an accident, but Uma, and the king’s nephew Jackrun, sense the darker truth. 

Together, they must use their combined powers to outwit a secret plot to overthrow the Pendragon throne. But are they strong enough to overcome a murderer aided by prophecy and cloaked in magic?

About the Author

Photo of Janet by Heidi Pettit

Janet Lee Carey grew up in the bay area under towering redwoods that whispered secrets in the wind.

When she was a child she dreamed of becoming a mermaid (this never happened). She also dreamed of becoming a published writer (this did happen after many years of rejection).

She is now an award-winning author of nine novels for children and teens. Her Wilde Island Chronicles are ALA Best Books for Young Adults. She won the 2005 Mark Twain Award and was finalist for the Washington State Book Award.

Janet links each new book with a charitable organization empowering youth to read and reach out. She tours the U.S. and abroad presenting at schools, book festivals and conferences for writers, teachers, and librarians.

Janet and her family live near Seattle by a lake where rising morning mist forms into the shape of dragons.

She writes daily with her imperious cat, Uke, seated on her lap. Uke is jealous of the keyboard. If Janet truly understood her place in the world, she would reserve her fingers for the sole purpose of scratching behind Uke’s ear, but humans are very hard to train.

2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Author & Diversity Advocate Marieke Nijkamp

By Mina Witteman
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Marieke Nijkamp is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, and diversity advocate.

She holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies, and wants to grow up to be a queer time traveler.

In the midnight hours of the day, Marieke writes stories full of hope and heartbreak.

She is proud to be the founder of DiversifYA and VP for We Need Diverse Books™. (But all views are her own.)

Find her on Twitter @mariekeyn.

She was interviewed by Mina Witteman for the SCBWI Europolitan Conference.

Could you tell us a little more about We Need Diverse Books?

We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. We Need Diverse Books is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality.

We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.

Our mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.

In order to accomplish our mission, we reach out to individuals and groups involved in many levels of children’s publishing—including (but not limited to) agents, publishers, authors, distributors, booksellers, librarians, educators, parents, and students.”

That is straight from our mission statement, but I feel it sums up who we are and what we do.

WNDB is an organization that works toward making children’s literature and children’s publishing more inclusive, through several programs.

We have our Walter Award, which recognizes the best diverse YA.

We have Walter Grants, to aid up-and-coming diverse writers.

We are creating a program to support publishing interns from marginalized backgrounds.

We also have our WNDB in the Classroom project, which brings diverse books and diverse authors to disadvantaged schools.

And honestly, I could go on.

We have many projects in the works and we are continuously looking for ways to promote and amplify diversity. And that’s what WNDB is too: a team of very, very passionate people, working hard to make change happen.

How has your experience and background prepared you to be effective with this diversity initiative?

As a queer, disabled person, diversity has always been foremost on my mind.

I have used a wheelchair and have been completely ignored. I have used a cane and have been stared at, laughed at, shouted at. I have been told that my love is a sin. I have been excluded. I have felt invisible. I have worked with LGBTQ teens who felt alone and scared and as if the world wasn’t for them. And far, far too often the rest of the world only reinforced that image.

So I know firsthand what discrimination and marginalization feels like. I know all about that anger and frustration and heartbreak and fear. And it’s those experiences that fuel me when working toward better representation, because I know we can do better and should do better. We owe it to ourselves and to each other, because when we work with each other instead of against each other, we can move mountains.

What do you see as the most challenging aspect of bringing diversity into children’s literature?

Aside from institutionalized (and often internalized!) -isms, one of the most challenging aspects is the other side of that feeling that the world isn’t for us: the mindset that books (or any form of stories or art) about marginalized people are only for marginalized people.

Not just for wizards!
Not just for Hobbits!

It stems from the believe that white, straight, non-disabled, middle class is somehow the neutral and relatable to all, whereas “other” characters are only relatable to those readers who share their experiences.

This, of course, means Harry Potter is only of interest to wizards and witches, and The Lord of the Rings finds its audience among the vast populations of Hobbits.

I guess you can see how blatantly absurd it is.

The white, straight, non-disabled, middle class character is no more a neutral character than any. But unlike other characters, the difference is that this particular character has been normalized to the point of becoming the standard. And all of us who do not fit that standard do feel excluded, but are told that feeling is invalid. After all, it’s a neutral.

Or, we are taught that this neutral is somehow the character we ought to aspire to (relate to), which often includes the implicit or explicit belief that being other than is somehow lesser than.

It’s a highly problematic narrative. It’s why for so many disabled characters, the happily ever after involves being healed and becoming “normal” (or why their stories are being told through the point of view of non-disabled characters altogether). It’s why so many queer romances end in tragedy, while the straight romances don’t. It’s why too often, non-white characters are sidekicks (or villains!) not heroes.

Before becoming involved in We Need Diverse Books, you created the website DiversifYA. What prompted you and how can writers and illustrators use DiversifYA?

I created DiversifYA as a way to showcase the many different experiences around us, inside and outside our own communities. I wanted the interviews to show just how rich and varied our experiences are, but also how many of the struggles we face are inherently the same. I wanted to focus on those countless combinations of sameness and difference.

As a result, I think DiversifYA has turned into a great database of experiences. It is by no means a substitute for good research, but it is a starting point for anyone who would like to know more about the world around them.

You write for young adults and middle grade readers, both dark contemporary and epic fantasy. In what specific way has diversity shaped your writing?

In every way, and then some. Growing up, I read many hundreds of books per year, but I rarely saw myself represented in the stories I read. And in those few instances when I did, those reflections were anything but good. The “me”s I read about were only ever lessons for the main characters.

Marginalized characters were stereotypes, caricatures, or comic relief.

It left me a very lonely reader and a very determined writer.

From the very first story I wrote, writing has always been a way for me to explore the world and to create all those stories I couldn’t find. So my stories are populated with characters who were other than the neutral norm but still very much my normal.

Among the four point-of-view characters of my upcoming debut This Is Where It Ends (Sourcebooks Fire, 2016), there are two queer girls, one of them Latina (and her brother is one of the other main characters).

The story I am working on next has genderqueer characters, disabled characters, all as a matter of course–because they reflect the world I live in.

What can we, writers and illustrators of children’s books, do to foster diversity in our work?

  • Think about the world you want in your stories. Who do you want to reflect? How inclusive do you want to be? What assumptions lie at the basis of your story, your world, your characters? What do the choices you make tell your intended audience?
  • Research, research, research. Whether you are part of the marginalized group you write about, but especially when you’re not, research, research, research. Be aware of the tropes. Be aware of the triggers. Talk to people with the same experience, don’t just talk about the experiences.
  • Listen and learn. I don’t believe the books we write exist in a vacuum. We can’t represent marginalized experiences without being aware of a long history of privilege and oppression, and we all have our internalized prejudices. 
  • We are probably going to screw up. I know I have in the past. I know I will in the future. If you end up making mistakes, make them gracefully. Listen to the people who point out what you did wrong and learn from that. It’s the only way we can improve, after all.

Cynsational Notes

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp is told from the perspective of four teens in a
high school held hostage who all have their own reasons to fear the boy
with the gun. It’s forthcoming from Sourcebooks.

Mina Witteman
is a published author, writing in Dutch and English. She has three
adventurous middle grade novels, over 40 short stories, and a Little
Golden Book out in The Netherlands.

The first volume of
a three-book middle grade series, Boreas and the Seven Seas, is
scheduled to come out in April 2015. She is the Regional Advisor for The
Netherlands and Chairman of the Working Group Children’s Books of the
Dutch Authors Guild.

In addition to writing, Mina teaches creative writing. She is a freelance editor and a mentor to budding writers. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter @MinaWitteman.

Giveaway: Feral Pride Releases: All Tantalize-Feral Universe Novels Now Available

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Today’s release of Feral Pride means all of my TantalizeFeral universe novels are available from Candlewick Press.

While all the books can stand alone, there’s likely best appreciated in concert.

This finale unites protagonists of the two series and brings back a number of other fan-fave characters.

What’s more today’s paperback release of Feral Curse by Candlewick means that all but that last book in the series are available in paperback from Candlewick (plus, they’re all available in e-format and most are available on audio).

Then there are the three short stories, “Cat Calls,” “Haunted Love,” and  “Cupid’s Beaux,” which releases as part of Things I’ll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick, March 2015).

So to sum up, we’re talking nine novels (including two graphic novels, illustrated by Ming Doyle) and three short stories set in the Tantalize-Feral universe.

The early notes on the first book are dated 2000 and the last novel is out today.

The whole shebang totals out at 458,169 words (and I write tight).

Thanks to all who’ve joined and supported me along the way!


“Kayla is only baby steps into recovering from the death of her first boyfriend and Yoshi, who has legendary experience with ladies, is suddenly faced with the first one with whom he could have a real relationship, a real future, if they both survive.” 

Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of Feral Pride, on Fans Inspiring a New Series from Adventures in YA Publishing.

Feral Pride


Anti-shifter sentiment is at an all-time high when Kayla’s transformation to werecat is captured on video and uploaded for the world to see.


Suddenly she becomes a symbol of the werebeast threat and—along with fellow cat Yoshi, Lion-Possum Clyde, and human Aimee—a hunted fugitive.


Meanwhile, a self-proclaimed weresnake has kidnapped the governor of Texas and hit the airwaves with a message of war.


In retaliation, werepeople are targeted by law enforcement, threatened with a shift-suppressing vaccine, terrorized by corporate conspiracy, and enslaved by a top-secret, intelligent Cryptid species.


Can Clyde rally his inner lion king to lead his friends—new and old—into battle against ruthless, media-savvy foes? A rousing blend of suspense, paranormal romance, humor, and high action.


The explosive finale to the Feral series by New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith.

“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.”
-Booklist
“…the wickedly funny, quickly paced style is anchored by the novel’s underlying theme of the marginalization of people and its effects, both those obvious (‘Our legal rights are slippery,’ explains Kayla) and more insidiously subtle (like the wedge driven between Clyde, a werepossum/werelion hybrid, and his human girlfriend, Aimee, because of her father’s prejudice).
“…witty, smart and moving—sure to satisfy…”
-Kirkus Reviews
“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.”
-The Horn Book
“Smith once again weaves an action-packed plotline with campy alternating narration by Clyde, Aimee, Kayla, and Yoshi, all while dealing with the complex themes of acceptance, tolerance, freedom, and self-esteem. All this is done in a nonpreachy style to which readers can easily relate. A successful conclusion to a thought-provoking series.”
-School Library Journal
“…the chance for alternative interpretations of who the shifter community could represent
— 
any group reviled by those who consider themselves mainstream — 
make this series as meaty as it is entertaining.”
-The Austin American-Statesman

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three copies of Feral Pride in hardcover or Feral Curse in paperback (both Candlewick, 2015). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

New Voice: Nicole Maggi on Winter Falls (Twin Willows Trilogy)

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Nicole Maggi is the first-time author of Winter Falls (Twin Willows Trilogy) (Medallion Press, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Sixteen-year-old Alessia Jacobs is dying to get out of her small town of Twin Willows, Maine. 

Things start looking up when a new family comes to town—but when she falls for Jonah, their mysterious son, her life turns upside down.


Weird visions of transforming into an otherworldly falcon are just the beginning. Soon she learns she’s part of the Benandanti, an ancient cult of warriors with the unique power to separate their souls from their bodies and take on the forms of magnificent animals.


Alessia never would’ve suspected it, but her boring town is the site of an epic struggle between the Benandanti and the Malandanti to control powerful magic in the surrounding forest.


As Alessia is drawn into the Benandanti’s mission, her relationship with Jonah intensifies. When her two worlds collide, Alessia’s forced to weigh choices a sixteen-year-old should never have to make.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2014, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

Way back in the fall of 1999, I got an image in my head of a woman walking through snow. I followed her around for quite some time, and after a few months I realized I had a book, and that I wanted to finish it and try to get it published.

That book took me six years to finish. It was an epic historical novel, a female Huck Finn, five hundred pages long and full of my blood, sweat and tears.

 In 2005, I submitted it to an agent that I’d met through a conference. She called me three days later to offer me representation. She was my dream agent, so of course I jumped on the offer.

Wow, I thought. If getting an agent is this easy (she was the only one I queried), selling the book will be a breeze. Right? Wrong.

That book crossed the desk of probably every publisher in New York and was rejected by all of them. After several months on submission, my agent gently suggested we should pull it and I should write something else.

I was devastated. I had pinned all my hopes on this book.

Reeling from the rejection, I picked up a copy of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (2002) and embarked on Julia Cameron‘s 12-week recovery program for ailing creatives.

At the end of it, I was stronger and ready to write something new. That something was another historical, this time set in 1830s Nantucket.

Then in 2007, my agent and I were at the Historical Novel Society Conference and every editor we pitched it to said the same thing, that American historical fiction is a tough sell. My agent and I had a heart-to-heart, during which she said, “You’re so ready to be published. Why give yourself another hurtle? Write about Europe.”

So I went back to the drawing board and starting trawling Wikipedia for ideas. One day I was on the sight for European witch hunts and saw a little footnote about something called the Benandanti. I clicked on it and as I read the page, my heart started to pound. This was it. My next idea.

So I started writing a YA set in 16th century Italy, about a girl who is a Benandante, a warrior who can separate her soul from her body and transform into a magnificent falcon. Then, several months into writing it, I got stuck. I had the whole thing plotted out, I knew exactly where I needed to go, and yet every time I sat down to write I just stared and stared at the blank page.

One night, after many weeks of this torture, I was having a conversation with my husband about it and I blurted out, “Maybe it doesn’t need to be set in the 16th century!”

Well.

A favorite writing spot — Romancing the Bean in Burbank, CA.

For someone who identified themselves as a historical novelist, who was a member of The Historical Novel Society and had attended their conferences, who loved history and all things old and ancient, this was a radical idea. But I decided I had nothing to lose.

So I started writing the book set in the here and now. Four months later, I had a complete draft.
I wrote the whole thing without a road map, and had a lot of revision to do on the back end.

After about a year, I sent the manuscript to my agent. It took her a long time to get back to me. So long, in fact, that I was already counting on her telling me she hated it and making up lists of new agents to query. But she finally responded, had some minor notes which I implemented, and in the spring of 2010 we sent it out to five publishers.

Two days later, we had a bite. A big bite.

A Big Five publisher was interested. I was actually at a funeral and when I got back to the house there were phone calls and emails waiting for me. I got on the phone with my agent. The publisher wanted a huge amount of edits, major changes, and they wanted me to do a new synopsis and first three chapters on spec. I did it. Six weeks later, I had a three-book deal.

And then things got really crazy.

Writers are readers!

For the next year, I was kept in an endless loop of revisions. I turned in three drafts. Then my editor left. I was assigned to a new editor. For six months she told me everything was fine, that she would get me notes “soon” (notes I never got), that all was well.

Until November 11, 2011, when she called my agent and cancelled my three-book contract.

I got that call at eight o’clock in the morning. I was feeding my one-year-old daughter. She got fussy and I had to hang up with my agent to deal with her. I called my husband, who was on his way to work, to turn around and come home.

When he walked through the door, I collapsed into his arms and cried for several minutes. Then I straightened, told him to take our daughter to daycare, and did the only thing I knew how to do at that moment. I went to yoga.

In class that morning, I thought, if I can hold this crazy ridiculous pose, I can survive this.

My agent put the book back out on submission. Meanwhile, I curled into myself, grieving the dream that had been shattered. Rejection after rejection rolled in, all saying the same thing: they loved the book, but the market for shapeshifting paranormal YA had changed and they weren’t doing it anymore. In the 18 months that the Big Five had kept me under contract, the genre had fallen out of style (which was the real reason, I believe, for the cancellation).

Then one night, I pulled the old copy of The Artist’s Way off my shelf. Once again, I embarked on that 12-week journey to heal. I had lost complete faith in myself and the Universe, and I needed to restore so I could write again. Several weeks in, I had a new idea for a book. I signed up for Laura Baker’s Fearless Writer course and started to plot the book out. As I began to get really excited about this new idea, I got the Call from Irene. We’d resold the book to Medallion Press.

The offer from Medallion was much smaller, but I didn’t care. It wasn’t lost on me that the book sold only after I started to get excited about another idea. I had to put that positive energy out into the world in order to receive any back. And Medallion, though a small press, has treated me a million times better than the Big Five did along every step of the way.

While my agent hammered out the details of the deal, she sent me an email. It was now June 2012, and the earliest available slot for publication on Medallion’s schedule was December 2014.

I’ll never forget where I was when I got that email. I was in a movie theatre with a dear friend, waiting for the lights to go down, and I checked my phone. I read the email to my friend and we burst out laughing. We laughed and laughed and laughed. I’d been waiting to be published since 1999; what was two more years? It was so ridiculous that there was nothing to do but laugh.

After that, I realized what a gift those two years were. I had a contracted book, but I didn’t have to do anything with it for a long time. That allowed me the time to go back to that other book I’d started writing and focus on it without distractions. That book was a joy to write. Through The Artist’s Way, my faith in myself as a writer had been restored, and I wrote that book just for the pure love of writing. I finished it relatively quickly and we sold it two months later in a two-book deal to SourceBooks Fire. That book, The Forgetting, will be released on February 3rd, 2015.

On the same day that SourceBooks sent my agent the deal memo, Medallion sent over contracts for the second and third books in my trilogy (we’d only sold them the first book in the initial deal). In less than two years, I went from having a cancelled contract to having five contracted books.

I know that this is not the end of a long road; rather, it is the beginning of another long and twisting road. I’m sure there will be many bumps and hurtles and, hopefully, celebrations along the way. The thing I’ve learned is that no matter what happens, I can survive it. At the end of the day, it’s the writing that matters, and no one can take that away from me.

As a paranormal writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time paranormal reader? Did a particular book or books inspire you?

Favorite Read

I’ve been reading paranormal and fantasy ever since I can remember. When I was in middle school, I pulled The Song of the Lioness books by Tamora Pierce (Random House) off the library shelf and reread them over and over. In fact, I don’t think any other kid at my school ever got to read them because I had them checked out so often.

 Finally, my stepmother took pity on me and actually called the publisher (they were out of print at the time) and got me a full set of first-edition hardcovers. Those books sit on a shelf in my office reserved for Very Special Books.

I also loved all the magicky Lois Duncan books like Down A Dark Hall and A Gift of Magic (both from Little, Brown), and the Jane Yolen Pit Dragon Chronicles (Harcourt). In later years, I loved historical fiction (still do!) and so when I started writing, I naturally gravitated toward historical fiction. But when I realized that Winter Falls needed to be contemporary, and I started writing in a paranormal YA voice, it was like coming home. “Of course,” I thought. “This is your voice!”

I remember attending a panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books a few years ago where one of the authors said that he had started writing his book and realized some ways in that what he wanted in the book were monsters. He was writing literary fiction, so he tried to make the monsters metaphorical and imaginary. Then he realized, “No. I want real monsters.”

Favorite Read
Favorite Read

That’s kind of how I am. I like my books with a side of weird. I love that quote, “Why by normal when you can be paranormal?”

I love magic and ghosts and the mystical. I think maybe it’s because I believe this world is full of magic and mystery that no matter how much logic we apply, we just can’t explain.

Winter Falls is based on the real 16th century cult of the Benandanti. They were investigated for over 100 years by the Roman Inquisition and all the transcripts from those trials still exist. It is so cool, reading the testimony of these people who claim – who believe with all their heart – that they could separate their souls from their bodies and that their souls took on the forms of animals.

And you know what? I believe they could, too. Every myth has its root in truth.

I’m working on a book right now that is a straight thriller, no paranormal. It’s actually kind of hard for me. But don’t worry – I’m sure I’ll manage to sneak something weird into it.

Author Interview: Ysabeau S. Wilce on Flora Segunda

Ysabeau S. Wilce on Ysabeau S. Wilce: “Ysabeau S. Wilce was born in Northern California and, though she has traveled the world, considers herself a Californian still. After being trained as a historian, she turned to fiction when the truth no longer compared to the shining lies of her imagination. She’s published in both boring scholarly journals and in exciting fiction magazines and is equally proud of both. Ysabeau lives in the Middle West, with her husband, a cheese-swilling financier, and a border collie named Bothwell. They do not have a butler!”

What about the writing life first called to you?

I’ve always been drawn to making things up, and if you don’t write down the things you make up, they’ve got no sense of permanence. And I was also drawn to a sense of permanence, hence: writing! But although I’ve been writing down stories for years and years, it was only about five years ago that I decided to try fiction professionally.

I’ve got a degree in history and was working as historian, but as much as I loved researching and writing factual pieces, it was hard sometimes not to drift into “what if…” But historians must (for the most part) shun such thoughts.

So I decided to look at history through the prism of my imagination, and Califa was born. So far all my fiction has taken place in this tiny country. Califa is not supposed to be an alternative history of any one place, but I’ve drawn from a lot of historical detail, as least as far as material culture goes. Once I decided to try to write professionally, I was very lucky how quickly I was able to proceed.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

I wanted to write the kind of book that I would have liked to have read when I was young. Of course, there were many books I read when I was young that I loved–but in my hubris, I thought that maybe I could add something to genre, something that girls like me would like. And I was a pretty weird girl! I had a young reviewer comment that she thought Flora Segunda was a book for weird kids, and I felt very satisfied with this compliment!

Could you tell us about your path to publication–any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I was pretty lucky. The first publishing event I went to (a retreat sponsored by the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (www.scwbi.org), I met a very kind editor who took an interest in my rough draft of “Flora Segunda.” He asked for a submission, and then a rewrite, and then bought the rewrite.

The only hitch in my git-along was that towards the end of the final edit process, the acquiring editor decamped for another publisher, leaving me behind. It took some time to get me a new editor, who, lucky for me, was just as fabulous as the first!

Another thing that was very helpful in my journey was attending Clarion West in 2002. Clarion West (www.clarionwest.org) is a six-week long residential writer’s workshop held in Seattle. It’s a chance to work with professional in the field, and to do nothing but write for six weeks. I made great contacts there, had a fabulous time, learned a ton of stuff, and met my husband there! It was a very worthwhile experience and I urge anyone thinking of making a career in SF/F (adult or YA) to consider applying to Clarion. It’s a once in a life-time experience.

Congratulations on the publication of Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog (Harcourt, 2007)(excerpt)! What was your initial inspiration for this book?

Well, I rather made it up as I went along. The only clear thoughts I had in mind when I was writing the first draft was that I wanted to write about a cranky girl, and I wanted to try to capture the feeling that you have when you are kid and everything seems so super important, and yet the adults around you are oblivious to this. When you are a kid, everything can feel so super-charged, and yet as adults we forget this and figure that nothing in a kid’s life can possibly be that important.

I had already written several stories that took place in Califa, but with other characters. I’d never met Flora until I started writing, and it look me several chapters to figure her out. But her voice came through so strongly that even from the first she seemed like a real person, with a great story to tell. The book is really her accomplishment; I was just the secretary!

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

Well, I wrote the first draft in two weeks. Lots of coffee, no sleep! Then I wrote drafts of Book 2 & 3 in about two months. Then, about six months later, I went to the SCBWI conference. From initial submission to rewrite was about a year. Then another six months to an offer, and another six months to contract. Then, alas, almost three years to actual publication. So, about five years total. It’s a long process–I didn’t realize that when I started! Somehow you think once the book is bought it will magically appear on the shelves in six months! Alas, no. Tho’ from what I understand, my situation was a bit prolonged because I had the editorial switch in the middle. The journey of “Flora Redux” will be much shorter.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

The biggest challenge I had was sticking to Flora’s voice, while making sure that subtleties of her inner life came through. Flora talks a lot, but she doesn’t always say what she’s truly feeling, which can be a problem in a first person point of view (POV) book. There many times I wished I had not written the book in first person!

It would have been easier to have lots of exposition (“And now Flora wished she’d never eaten that last cupcake…”) than to try to communicate that Flora wished she hadn’t eaten that last cupcake, when she’s too proud to admit that fact out right. Lots of first person POV often falls into exposition (“Oh, how I wished I hadn’t eaten that last cupcake!”) and sometimes it works, but other times it’s too fake. After all–how many times do we stand in front of a mirror and describe ourselves out loud, yet this is a common scene in many first person books. So, trying to convey information without seeming too out of character was hard. You have to get readers to read through the lines, and thanks tricky.

My second huge challenge was that the first draft was much shorter than the final. Originally, the book was very straight forward in its plot. But my first editor really felt that to get a true feeling of the characters and the world, the book needed to be longer–“breathe” as he called it–so I had to add about 40,000 words. Which is a lot of words!

Trying to retro fit a new plot-line (which turned out to be the Dainty Pirate) without making the book appear to be pieced together or starting completely over was a challenge. But thanks to editorial advice I think I pulled it off! The irony is that usually I write very long, and trying to make the first draft short had been quite an effort. I’ve had some feedback that the plot is a bit too convoluted in places, but I like that–life is convoluted and roads are rarely straight. And though Flora Segunda is a novel, it was important to me that Flora and her world feel real. Hence, Flora’s journey must be complicated and full of surprise.

What do you hope readers take away from the book?

The feeling that they were entertained, and that Flora and Califa seemed real. And that they’d like to know more about both.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Keep writing. And read everything you can get your hands on, from newspapers to novels. Try to make sure you leaven the good stuff with the bad–it’s as important to see how you shouldn’t do it as to how you should.

Don’t be afraid to branch out–even if you think you don’t like mysteries (for example) try one anyway. Every book is different, and they can all teach you something.

Also, read old books–not necessarily classics, but writers that people have forgotten today like Edna Ferber, Norah Lofts, and James Branch Cabell. All three of these writers were great storytellers and big names in their day, but no one remembers them now. Still, they have a lot to say about how to construct a great story and fabulous characters and their writing styles, though wildly different, have a fluidity that is harder to find today.

How about for fantasy novelists specifically?

Ditto above. In fact, I think it’s more important for fantasy novelists to read outside of the fantasy genre. If you stick to your own genre only, you risk becoming insular. And great fantasy is, oddly enough, realistic, so it behooves you to read broadly. I think sometimes genre writers can get so engrossed in the genre elements (the fantasy, the SF, or even the mystery) that they short-change the characters and the story. Yet it is the realistic elements (characterization etc.) that makes the reader buy into the genre details.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Walk the dog and read books. Nap. Eat snacks. Read more books. I read even when I’m writing, somewhere between five to ten books a week. Gotta keep the furnace stoked!

What can your fans look forward to next?

Well, Flora’s adventures will continue next year in Flora Redux, which will be published in Spring 2008. For overseas fans, the UK edition of Flora Segunda will be out in July. After Flora Redux, there will be one more Flora book. I’m also about half-way done with an adult fantasy set in Califa called Metal More Attractive. And I have plans to collaborate with another author on a YA book about a young girl mad scientist who decides to make a guardian so she isn’t sent to an orphanage. Consider it the young Jane Eyre meets Frankenstein…! So there’s plenty coming!

Cynsational Notes

Learn more about Ysabeau via interviews from BookPage and Harcourt. See also a recommendation of Flora Segunda from Bookshelves of Doom. Note: the novel received a rare full-page review in the New York Times.