New Voice Interview & Giveaway: Kerri Kokias on Snow Sisters!

By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

In addition to covering publishing news pertaining to Native creators for Cynsations, I am excited to shine a spotlight on fellow Epic Eighteen authors and illustrators, all of whom have a debut picture book coming out in 2018.

One of the first releases from our group is Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Teagan White (Knopf, 2018).

From the promotional copy:

Just like snowflakes, no two sisters are alike, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work together to make the perfect snow day! 


When snowflakes fall, two sisters react very differently. One is excited and the other is wary. The first sister spends the morning outdoors, playing until she’s all tuckered out. Meanwhile, the second sister stays indoors, becoming ever more curious about the drifts outside. 


Soon, they switch places, and spend the second half of the day retracing each other’s footsteps. But each sister puts her own unique spin on activities like sledding, baking and building.
     
Since winter has descended upon most of the nation, I thought it would be the perfect story to start off this series.

Upon reading Kerri’s book, I noticed how the marriage of her text and Teagan’s art come together seamlessly. 

And although my sister and I both loved to play in the snow as kids, I appreciated how the book shows the differences between the way they interact with snow, the winter scene and, more generally, navigate the world. I related to that so much, yet it’s not an experience I’ve seen so well featured in a picture book.

Kerri, what was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Kerri at Snow Sisters! book launch
Snow Sisters! was initially inspired by its structure. 
I wanted to write a story as a reverso poem, meaning featuring mirrored language.

I played around with several different story ideas over a long period of time before landing on this particular story. 

The text for Snow Sisters! builds up to the middle of the story and then repeats itself backwards for the second half of the piece.

The two sisters’ stories are told parallel to each other with the first sister’s story unfolding on the left panel of each spread and the second sister’s story unfolding on the right. 

The sisters’ stories themselves are also in reverse language of each other. Using this structure where the same words are used in opposing ways seemed to suit the story of two sisters who are different and yet connected.



What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in writing this story?

Because of its unique structure, described above, writing Snow Sisters! was very much a logic puzzle. Any minor change I made affected other parts of the book. 

Kerri’s Post-it Note work board

Because of this I pretty much wrote this story on Post-it Notes. I laid them out on a tri-fold board so I could see the whole story at once and easily reposition or change text. Each spread started with a column of Post-it Notes for the text on the left panel and a column of post-it notes for the text on the right panel. 

Aside from wrestling with word order, I had to figure out how to develop character and plot within this mirrored structure. 
I spent a lot of time playing around with specific word choice and ways that the words could have different meanings for each sister. 
My favorite picture books are ones where the text and illustrations work together to tell the complete story; where they each bring something to the book that the other does not. 
So, it was natural for me to envision how the illustrations could work with this structure. 
As an author, I needed to figure out the story, but I didn’t need to be limited by the text spelling it all out. So yes, my manuscript has a lot of illustration notes. Not art direction, more like stage notes. 
I added columns of post-it notes indicating parts of the plot and character development that could be portrayed in the illustrations.

Once I had editorial interest, my editor, Katherine Harrison, also helped me draw out ways each sister’s action could build off the other’s to help them connect during the parts of the story where they are apart. More columns of Post-it Notes!

Seriously, I probably should have dedicated this book to 3M.

An important takeaway for me was that in some ways, this very limiting structure also had a way of freeing up my creativity by narrowing my focus.

What did Teagan White’s art bring to your text?

Teagan White’s art brought my text to life! Without the illustrations, there would be no story. 

The text for Snow Sisters! is very sparse, 58 words total, all repeated at least once. I gave my editor the manuscript and Teagan worked her magic and returned a book. 
I suspect there were more people involved, and perhaps in addition to magic, Teagan also used her talent and training and put in a good deal of time. But for someone like me who thinks visually, but has no ability to represent her ideas physically, it’s all magic! Just look! 
Here is a spread of the manuscript I turned in….
 and the finished spread. Magic! 
 
Cynsations Notes

I agree with Kerri’s assessment and loved Teagan’s magic in creating the art for this book. Check it out where you buy books or request it from your local library.

Kerri Kokias [Ko-KAI-us] credits most of her story ideas to her “fly on the wall” personality. 
This means she’s both a keen observer of social interactions and a nosey eavesdropper. She lives in Seattle with her family.

Learn more about Kerri on her website. Or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

Learn more about Teagan White and her children’s illustrations on her website. Or connect with her on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Enter below for a chance to win a copy of Snow Sisters! in a giveaway.

Traci Sorell covers picture books as well as children’s-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators for Cynsations. She is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Her first nonfiction picture book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga will be published by Charlesbridge on Sept. 4, 2018. The story features a panorama of modern-day Cherokee cultural practices and experiences, presented through the four seasons. It conveys a universal spirit of gratitude common in many cultures.

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

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No purchase necessary. Enter between 12:00 AM Eastern Time on Feb. 15, 2018 and 12:00 AM on Mar. 1, 2018.  Open to residents of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia who are 13 and older. Winners will be selected at random on or about Mar. 1, 2018. Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Void where prohibited or restricted by law.

Tantalize-Feral Verse 10-Year Anniversary

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Happy 10th birthday, Sanguini’s!

The Tantalize series features YA Gothic fantasy novels in both prose and graphic formats. These stories, set in the Tantalize-Feral universe, are suspenseful with high action and include romantic elements as well as some humor.

The first novel was released in 2007.

The Feral trilogy is a spin-off of the Tantalize series. The books are set in the same universe and feature many
overlapping characters and settings.

The Tantalize heroes appear and/or are mentioned in Feral Pride, which caps all nine books.

The novels are centered on a fictional restaurant, Sanguini’s, located on South Congress Avenue in Austin.

I began working on first book, which had a working title of “Brad: The Impaler” in 2000. The original concept behind all the books is that the events in Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula (1897) are loosely based on truth and my stories take a look at how that legacy manifests in present day.

They’re set in an international multi-monster verse, populated with vampires, a variety of shapeshifters, angels, ghosts, demons, faerie, and more.

Both series are originally published in the U.S./Canada by Candlewick Press and in the U.K. by Walker. Various other editions are available around the globe.

Giveaway & New Voices: Erin Petti & Christina Soontornvat on How to Be a Debut Author

Christina & kiddos

By Erin Petti & Christina Soontornvat
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Today Erin and Christina talk about
their new releases and lives as newly published authors.

Then
offer tips as to how to survive and thrive your literary debut experience.

Erin Petti is the first-time author of The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee (Mighty Media, 2016). From the promotional copy:
 

Eleven-year-old budding scientist Thelma Bee has adventure in her blood. But she gets more than she bargained for when a ghost kidnaps her father. 

Now her only clues are a strange jewelry box and the word “return,” whispered to her by the ghost. 

It’s up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be more dangerous than she thought–there’s someone wielding dark magic, and they’re coming after her next.

 
Christina Soontornvat is the first-time author of The Changelings (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 a mysterious 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.

CHRISTINA: The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee (Mighty Media, 2016) hit the shelves this fall. Has life changed for you now that you are a published author?

ERIN: Life is busier now with events and all that good stuff, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Also, it’s totally and completely amazing to walk into a bookstore and see something I wrote on the shelves.

Pretty much a lifelong dream come true!

CHRISTINA: Yeah, seeing my book on the shelf is still kind of a shock. When friends snap a photo of The Changelings (Sourcebooks, 2016) in a store halfway across the country, that’s when it hits me that all of this really happened.

Because otherwise life isn’t too different, you know?

It’s not like publishing a book gets you out of doing the laundry or the dishes! And meanwhile I can’t help putting even more pressure on myself to write the next thing.

ERIN: Oh absolutely, but writing that next thing is exactly what you have to do. That’s the biggest piece of advice I share with writers who are querying or about to debut – “keep writing!”

It took me a long time to write, revise, and query and there were moments where it was hard to get back to the actual writing part.

But the writing is really all you have control over so as long as you’re creating and getting words on the page, you’re doing your job.

Erin

CHRISTINA: That’s a good reminder – the author’s job is to write the books!

And you’re so right – there is a lot you don’t have control over, which can be stressful but also liberating in a way.

Speaking of “jobs,”you have a young daughter and another baby on the way as well as other work that you are passionate about.

How do you juggle life and writing?

ERIN: It’s not super easy to schedule, and I’ve definitely had a measure of trouble keeping the house clean and my kid’s shoes on the right foot – but we’re getting by.

My husband is more or less super-dad, and I rely on him an awful lot. But you are one to talk with your own work and two young kids!

CHRISTINA: Well, meeting other writers – like you – who have similarly jam-packed lives has been good for me. It’s a reminder that the vast majority of us have to purposefully and doggedly carve time out from our crazy lives to write, even after we get published.

Some days I get a couple hours, other days just enough time to jot down notes. But I’ve found that if I don’t write every day I get into trouble, and it’s harder to pick it back up. Oh, and I definitely gave up on having a clean house years ago!

Readers are going to fall in love with The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee. Your book isn’t just for the Halloween season, but it definitely explores the paranormal.

Do you have a favorite spooky scene from the book?

ERIN: One of my favorite scenes is when the three young heroes are walking alone through the cold, dark New England woods searching for a certain (possibly haunted) cottage.

I got to play with the environment a lot–exploring just what is lurking in those tall shadows–and it really shows the kids at their bravest.

CHRISTINA: And those illustrations really build the suspense! They remind me of Edward Gorey’s drawings, which I totally love.

ERIN: I love the illustrations, too! We’ve both talked about how we lucked out with our books’ art. Your beautiful cover jumps off the shelf! It definitely gives you the feeling that these fairies are no Tinkerbelles, that there is something darker going on.

CHRISTINA: Yes, the story was inspired by old folktales of fairies who steal babies and swap them with Changelings, so definitely a little dark. Their motivation for doing that was one of the most fun things to explore in the book. Why would they want human babies? And why would a Changeling sign up for that exchange?

Tips for Debut Authors

1. Enjoy the moment: As much as we hate to start things off with a sentiment that should be cross-stitched onto a pillowcase, this one happens to be very true.

Celebrate the big and small milestones – your first signing, seeing your book on the shelf for the first time. And then there will be a moment when a reader loves your book so much that they tell you.

Soak that in. Don’t skim over the beautiful moments. You only do this debut thing once.

Christina with authors Lindsey Schiebe, Madeline Smoot & P,J, Hoover

2. Connect with a community: Other authors are the best and most supportive people to have in your corner, and sometimes the only way to maintain your sanity.

Twitter, conferences, and debut groups are wonderful ways to connect with other debut authors who are going through the same ups and downs as you are.

It also feels so satisfying to cheer on their successes and root for people whose books you love.

3. Turn that dang thing off: Social media can help keep you connected when you need it. But it can also suck the hours right out of your day – and time is going to be your most precious resource when your book comes out.

So as much fun as it is to chat and retweet clever “Stranger Things” gifs, know when to put down the phone and work/read/rest.

Social media can sometimes also make you feel like everyone in the world is getting a book deal/winning awards/getting a movie contract/selling millions of copies – everyone but you. If you ever feel that way, turn off that app for a little while, and see Tip #2.

4. Make it easy on your publicist: Your publicist will be your ally in helping to set up events, pitch you for conferences, and make connections for a blog tour.

But as much as they love you and your book, they will have other authors they are also working with and new books continuously coming down the pipe. Do what you can to help them help you.

During your first meeting or conference call, ask them for concrete ways you can help. Maybe you know of a local area children’s book festival that your author friends rave about. Or perhaps your critique partner has a great blog and she wants to do a giveaway for you. Doing your research ahead of time will make everyone’s jobs easier.

5. Get ready for things to change: Have you ever gone to a SCBWI Conference and sat next to a debut author who told you, “Just enjoy the freedom of not being published yet. You can write so unselfconsciously,” and you wanted to stab them with the pen that came in your registration tote bag? Turns out there’s a little bit of truth to that.

For a lot of authors, getting published creates this paradox of delusional thinking that now they will never be published again. I blame some of this on the overemphasis of “being a debut.” and the accompanying feeling that once your debut is over, you are used goods.

But whatever the reason, there are expectations now, real and imagined, from you, your agent, your publisher about you as a professional author. And you may find yourself longing just a little for the days when you wrote just to write, and there was less expectation, less self criticism, more freedom. (But don’t say that to unpublished writers at conferences. Those pens are sharp).

6. Get ready for things to be exactly the same: After the initial sparkly, Instagram-worthy swirl of launch date subsides, life is likely going to feel pretty same-ish.

Yes, there may be events and school visits, book signings and festivals. But for most of us, the bulk of our days will carry on as before.

Your non-writer friends will assume you are out shopping for a Tesla Roadster or having brunch with Ann Patchett when really you are cleaning a lint trap or scraping an exploded baked ziti off the oven door.

If in that moment you think to yourself, “I shouldn’t be doing this – I’m a published author,” you are in big trouble.

7. Keep writing: The best way to simultaneously get over your anxiety and celebrate your newfound authordom is to write more things.

If you have gotten to this point of having a book published, you must love the work of writing. There is no other reason that a sane person would endure the long, unpaid hours, the sting of rejection letters, the glacial delay of gratification, if that person didn’t love to write.

You may have to write more things because you signed a contract for another book. If so, lucky you! But even if that’s not the case, start on a new project before your debut comes out. You may have to set it aside during the busy days of your launch, but it will feel so good to open up your laptop and have something ready and waiting for you.

8. Find joy in other things: These things may be hobbies or your day job or your daily walk, or art museums or jiu jitsu. Or they may be people, like your spouse or your friends or your children.

These things matter very much, just as much as writing. And unlike writing, these things will hug you and they will eat your cruddy, over-baked ziti. And when you are having a hard day, they will hold up your new book and smile and say, “Look what you did! You did this!”

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New Voice & Giveaway: Donna Janell Bowman on Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Donna Janell Bowman is the first-time author of Step Right Up:  How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Lee & Low, 2016). From the promotional copy:

A Horse that can read, write, and do math?

Ridiculous! 

That’s what people thought until former slave and self-taught veterinarian Dr. William Key, with his “educated” horse Beautiful Jim Key, proved that, with kindness, anything is possible. 

Over nine years of exhibiting across the country, Doc and “Jim” broke racial barriers, fueled the humane movement, and inspired millions of people to step right up and choose kindness.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

This question ties so perfectly into my belief that there’s a piece of us in everything we write.

In 2006, I read a book about Beautiful Jim Key, authored by Mim Eichler Rivas (William Morrow 2005/Harper Paperbacks 2006). It was a given that I would be drawn to a horse book. I grew up on a Quarter Horse ranch, where life revolved around raising, training, and showing horses, and caring for the myriad livestock and other animals. I have always been an animal lover, and I know firsthand how powerful the human-animal bond can be—how the combination of time, trust, and affection can create such synergy that you can practically read each other’s minds.

Courtesy of Tennessee State Library and Archives.

That kind of relationship bonded William “Doc” Key and his horse, Beautiful Jim Key. While the horse was what drew me to the story, I was immediately awed by Doc. His greatest historical contribution was an unmistakable message about kindness, in a time of extreme racial prejudice, and brutal treatment of animals.

How could I not love the story of a man who overcame so much to make a real difference in the world?

Thanks to Doc, “Jim,” the horse, became a sort of poster child for the emerging humane movement, while Doc overcame injustices, broke racial barriers, and helped change the way people thought about and treated animals. Doc was awarded a Service to Humanity Award, and Jim was awarded a “Living Example” award.

So, back to your question, Cyn, about what inspired me to write this story—it spoke to my heart. I dived into research with zeal.

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

There were a number of challenges to writing this story, but three that most stand out:

First, the research. It was claimed that Beautiful Jim Key could read, write, calculate math problems, compete in spelling bees, identify playing cards, operate a cash register, and more. I had to get to the bottom of how this could be possible.

I used the adult book as my jumping off point, but I wasn’t satisfied to rely solely on somebody else’s research.

This is a story that straddles the 19th and 20th centuries, so I read a great deal about the period, including slavery, the Reconstruction Era in the distinct regions of Tennessee, the history of the humane organizations; the related World’s Fairs, Doc’s business interests, etc.

Emotionally, the most difficult part was reading about how animals were treated in the 19th century, and, more importantly, how enslaved people were often treated with similar brutality. Only a tiny fraction of my research appears in the book’s back matter, but it all deeply affected my approach to the story.

I visited the Shelbyville (TN) Public Library and skimmed through their microfilm. Then I spent some time at the Tennessee State Archives, donning white gloves as I perused the crumbling scrapbooks from the BJK collection.

During that 2009 trip, I also visited the humble Beautiful Jim Key memorial in Shelbyville, TN, and Doc’s grave site at the Willow Mount Cemetery. (I might have shed a few sentimental tears.) We then tracked down what I think was Doc’s former property, though the house is long gone.

This kind of onsite research, along with old photos and local news accounts, allowed me to imagine the setting of Doc’s hometown. Back home, I collected binders-full of newspaper articles, playbills, and promotional booklets. Through these, I got a feel for how people thought about Doc and Jim.

And, most importantly, I found some of Doc’s explanations for how he taught the horse. What became clear was, though we may never know exactly how the horse was able to do so many remarkable things, the countless news reporters and professors who tried to prove trickery or a hoax, never found anything beyond “education.” Jim only rarely made mistakes.

Ultimately, what Doc and Jim did for the humane movement is even more significant than what the horse performed on stage.

Originally, I had planned the story for middle grade audiences until my agent (who wasn’t my agent yet) suggested that I try a picture book version. I already had half of the chapters written by this time, so I was aghast at the thought of starting over. And I didn’t know how to write a picture book biography. I spent the next two years analyzing and dissecting a couple hundred picture book biographies to figure out how they work.

I decided to blog about some of my craft observations, using the platform as a quasi-classroom for myself and anyone else who might happen upon my site.

Many, many, many drafts later, I had a manuscript that attracted the attention of a few editors. Lee and Low was the perfect home for Doc and Jim.

There was a built-in challenge in writing this story about a formerly-enslaved African American man. Because I don’t fit any of Doc’s descriptors, it was doubly important that I approach the subject with respect and sensitivity.

I couldn’t merely charge through with the mindset that I’m just the historian sharing documented facts.

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

It is so exciting to finally be crossing the threshold into this new role. The past nine years, which is how long I’ve had the story in my head and in my heart, have felt like the longest-ever pregnancy.

There’s a mixture of joy, relief, and fear during this delivery stage. Fortunately, so far, very nice starred reviews have praised the book, and each reviewer wisely sings the praises of Daniel Minter’s spectacular lino-cut acrylic art.

As I think ahead to marketing and promotion, I’m planning for the Oct. 15 release, the Oct. 23 launch party, and how the book might raise awareness of the need for more kindness in the world—not only toward animals but toward each other.

From my very first draft, nine years ago, I knew I’d revive the original Beautiful Jim Key Pledge—originally signed by two million people during Doc and Jim’s time.

I plan to incorporate the pledge into my author presentations, and it will be downloadable from my website soon. I also hope to align with some humane organizations to help them raise awareness.

I have two more books under contract, several others on submission or in revision, and a novel-in-progress.

In 2018, Peachtree Publishers will release En Garde! Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words, illustrated by S.D. Schindler, followed in 2019 by King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara, illustrated by Adam Gustavson.

Such is the author’s life, right? We write, we rewrite, we revise, we sell, we wait, we celebrate, then we do it all over again. Because we can’t imagine not writing something that moves us. And we can’t imagine not writing for young people.

Cynsational Giveaway

Book Launch! Join Donna Janell Bowman at 3 p.m. Oct. 23 at BookPeople in Austin. Donna will be speaking and signing.

Fundraiser: Step Right Up and Help The Rescued Horses of Bluebonnet Equine Human Society: “They are horses, donkeys, and ponies that are helpless and hopeless. And they are hurting. The lucky ones land at Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society. Under the loving care of professional staff and volunteers, the animals are medically and nutritionally rehabilitated, then placed with trainers to prepare them for re-homing/adoption.” See also Interview: Step Right Up Author Donna Janell Bowman by Terry Pierce from Emu’s Debuts.

Enter to win two author-signed copies of Step Right Up:  How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness by Donna Janell Bowman, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Lee & Low, 2016).

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Giveaway: Signed Copy of Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie & Yuyi Morales

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win one of two author-signed copies of Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Little Brown, 2016). Obtained from BookPeople. Cynsations sponsored. Eligibility: North America. From the promotional copy:

Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his dad, but he wants a name that’s all his own. 

Just because people call his dad Big Thunder doesn’t mean he wants to be Little Thunder. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he’s done, like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder.


But just when Thunder Boy Jr. thinks all hope is lost, he and his dad pick the perfect name…a name that is sure to light up the sky.



National Book Award-winner Sherman Alexie’s lyrical text and Caldecott Honor-winner Yuyi Morales’s striking and beautiful illustrations celebrate the special relationship between father and son.

See below the book trailer, followed by the giveaway entry form. See also Towards a Common Understanding of Native Peoples in the U.S. (or, Why Alexie’s Thunder Boy Jr. Needs a Note to Readers) by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature.

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Guest Interview & Giveaway: Translator Cathy Hirano (Pre AFCC 2016 Con)

By Misa Dikengil Lindberg, Alexander O. Smith and Avery Fischer Udagawa
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

This month, the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore will feature Cynsations’ own Cynthia Leitich Smith speaking on “The Irresistible Fantastical Supernatural: Writing a World that Beckons.”

Also featured at AFCC 2016 will be Cathy Hirano, a leading translator of Japanese children’s literature into English. Hirano’s translation of the middle grade realistic novel The Friends (by Kazumi Yumoto) won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction and a Mildred L. Batchelder Award. Her translations of the YA fantasy novels Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi won the Batchelder Award and a Batchelder Honor, respectively, and paved the way for Uehashi to win the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing. This honor is often dubbed the Nobel Prize for children’s literature.

In addition, Hirano translated a YA fantasy novel by Noriko Ogiwara that went out of print, but drew such a fan following that it was republished with a sequel. The results are Dragon Sword and Wind Child and Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince.

Members of the SCBWI Japan Translation Group have admired Hirano for years. Three members of the group—Misa Dikengil Lindberg, Alexander O. Smith and Avery Fischer Udagawa—interviewed her for Japan-focused publications and here combine their efforts in a “pre-AFCC 2016 omni interview.”

To learn more about the topics discussed in this piece, please follow the links below it to the three source interviews. And don’t forget to enter the Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit giveaway!

Avery Fischer Udagawa: Cathy Hirano, you work as a translator in fields such as anthropology, sociology, architecture and medicine, and you live in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan. Where did you grow up, and how did you come to study Japan and Japanese?

Cathy Hirano

Cathy Hirano: I grew up in Vancouver, Victoria and Winnipeg and came to Japan in 1978 when I was 20. I was not directly interested in Japan at the time but was invited by a Japanese-Canadian friend. My image of Japan was of a highly populated, highly polluted country that manufactured cars and cameras—not a very attractive picture. I had very little idea of Japan’s history or culture and saw traveling here as a stepping-stone to other countries in Asia, and then to the rest of the world.

But my interest in Japan and the Japanese language began as soon as I arrived in Japan. I got lost in Tokyo on my second day here and realized that if I did not acquire reading, writing and speaking skills, I would be lost forever in more ways than one.

I studied for a year in Kyoto at a private language school called Nihongo Kenkyu Center. It was very small with creative teachers who were always experimenting with new methods. I fell in love with kanji [ideograms] at that time. The concept that a “letter” could be a picture with meaning was fascinating. To help memorize them, I used to make up my own stories about how each part of a kanji combined to make the meaning of the whole. In 1979, I went on to study anthropology at International Christian University in Tokyo, which had a fantastic Japanese language program.

How did you discover and cultivate your skills as a translator?

I think it was my Japanese teachers in Kyoto and at ICU who first pointed out to me that I had some ability in this area. Reading has always been a great source of pleasure, inspiration and comfort, and when we had to do translation exercises in class, I wasn’t content with just a literal translation. I had to play with it until it sounded as natural and literary as the Japanese.

Cultivating my translation skills was very much a hit-and-miss, learning-on-the-job experience. I was hired as a translator by a Japanese engineering consulting company after I graduated.

I didn’t know any other translators when I started out, and as far as I knew there were no courses in translation. So I read as much as I could in English about whatever subject I was translating to get a feel for the right language, consulted the Japanese engineers I worked with frequently to make sure I understood, used the dictionaries and references in their library and got native speakers (including my father, who is an engineer) to read what I had written and give me feedback.

This is still the approach I use today for any type of translation. The only difference is that with the Internet, I no longer need to accumulate reference books and dictionaries. Thanks to email, I also have an extended network of friends and relatives, both Japanese- and English-speaking, who I can consult for different subjects.

You have translated a number of picture books—most recently Hannah’s Night by printmaker-illustrator Komako Sakai, for Gecko Press—as well as novels. What attracted you to children’s literature?

I fell into children’s literature entirely by accident. A friend and fellow graduate of ICU who worked in publishing asked me to review English-language children’s books for possible translation into Japanese, a dream job for someone who loves reading. She would give me a stack of books, and when I had finished reading them I would meet her in a coffee shop and tell her what I thought.

She then began asking me to translate Japanese picture books for promotional purposes. My publications of picture books started out as byproducts of the promotional translation: English-language publishers liked the translations and asked for permission to use them.

Meanwhile, when my friend’s company published an award-winning novel by Noriko Ogiwara, I agreed to read it and write a summary. This was followed by a request for a sample and finally to translation and publication of Dragon Sword and Wind Child. This then led to translating three novels by Kazumi Yumoto for Farrar, Straus and Giroux—including The Friends.

Alexander O. Smith: An essay you wrote for The Horn Book about The Friends has become a classic description of Japanese-to-English literary translation. To follow on that discussion, how do you position yourself as translator with regards to the work, the author, and your audience?

I think that my approach as a translator differs significantly for bread-and-butter translation and for literature. With the former, I am more objective. I keep a clear picture in my mind of the target reader and I focus on conveying the intent and meaning of the Japanese rather than on the style, sometimes extensively editing and rewriting the original.

With literary translation, however, I find the translation process more personal and subjective. The author has written the book for me and I’m translating it so that others can enjoy the same experience. In the initial stages in particular, I don’t worry about the readership and instead focus far more on the author, on his or her style, choice of words, rhythm—on the voice. I’m quite faithful to the original.

It is only when I go back and reread it, that I regain some objectivity and become rather ruthless. But I am still trying to convey an experience rather than just content or meaning.

Misa Dikengil Lindberg: Your first novel translation, of Dragon Sword and Wind Child, got republished with a sequel after it fell out of print. How did that come about?

I loved Noriko Ogiwara’s Magatama series and was therefore very disappointed when Dragon Sword and Wind Child went out of print.

Then my daughter grew up and fell in love with Ogiwara’s books as a teenager. Searching the Internet, she found that the English translation had received nothing but five-star reviews on Amazon. She also found used copies selling for up to five hundred dollars and one young reader who had made a website dedicated to the book. This person had even typed the entire out-of-print English translation to put on the site! I was stunned. People had actually liked the book as much as I had!

I contacted the Japanese editor to see if there was a possibility of re-doing it, although I knew most American publishers would be reluctant to publish a book that hadn’t done well before. The editor, who also loves the book, began putting out feelers.

Although we did not know this, around the same time, VIZ Media had decided to branch out into publishing translated Japanese literature and was looking for good Japanese books. One of their editors had read Dragon Sword and Wind Child when she was young and loved it.

When the editing team tried to get a copy of the English translation for review, they found that the majority of library copies had been stolen, which actually made them more interested in the book, indicating as it did how popular the book was. They eventually got a copy and decided to republish it. The original English-language publisher agreed to give them the right to publish it but not the rights to my translation. When the VIZ editor contacted the Japanese publisher, she put them in touch with me and they asked if I would “re-translate” it. Of course, I was thrilled!

Alexander O. Smith: What was it like revisiting the first volume fourteen years after your first translation? 

It was fun, embarrassing, unnerving, confirming. I started by reading it aloud to my kids and their cousins, who by then were in their mid and late teens. They loved it, thank goodness! But they also had some good laughs about some of my word choices while I found myself cringing in places where the language I’d used was stuffy and stilted.

I then went through the translation line by line against the Japanese and caught things I had missed or misunderstood—not as many as I had feared, but still. After rewriting all the trouble spots, I did a final pass through the whole book.

Although it was embarrassing to see the mistakes I had made, it was also confirming to see that I have evolved somewhat as a translator in those 14 years and that I still love to escape into Ogiwara’s world!


How was it to do the sequel?

In a nutshell, the knowledge that people were waiting to read Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince is what kept me going. Readers have power!

Misa Dikengil Lindberg: Nahoko Uehashi’s ten-volume Moribito series, about the adventures of a young female bodyguard, is the winner of numerous literary awards and has become hugely popular in Japan, even spawning anime, manga, and TV series. How did you first encounter Uehashi’s work?

Japanese and English covers

My first exposure to Ms. Uehashi’s work was in 2004, when I was asked to do a summary and sample of Beyond the Fox’s Flute. I was attracted by Uehashi’s writing style and by the fictional world she created. Around the same time, a Japanese friend told me about her Moribito series, and I found it intriguing that a children’s fantasy series was so popular even with people my age (fifty).

Before I had a chance to read the series, however, the Japanese publisher contacted me to do a summary and sample translation of the first book for overseas promotion.

This led to publication of Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and later Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Arthur A. Levine Books.

How closely did you work with your editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, Cheryl Klein? What were some of the problems you worked to overcome?

Cheryl Klein is the most thorough editor I have ever worked with. She edited the translation as if it were a new manuscript submitted by an English-language author, which made some of her suggestions extremely radical. As Ms. Uehashi is also one of the most thorough and involved authors I have ever worked with on a translation, the result was definitely a team effort.

Probably the biggest problem was fitting the history of New Yogo (the fictional empire in which the story takes place) into the book in a more natural way.

When I first read Moribito in Japanese, the history stuck out awkwardly in the third chapter, slowing everything down. Until that point, the action is fast-paced and the story gripping. Then suddenly the text switches to an unnamed narrator, jumps back in time, and then jumps back to the present again.

It’s quite abrupt and would have sounded unnatural in English. So when I did the initial sample translation, I took it out (with the author’s and publisher’s permission) and tacked it on as a prologue with a note explaining that this would need to be solved during the editing process.

After playing with several ideas, the three of us finally agreed that the history basically belonged in its original location but that English readers needed more of a transition to ease them into it and keep them from getting impatient during that section.

Ms. Uehashi rewrote certain parts of the history, replacing the unnamed narrator with the more personal voice of Shuga, one of the Star Readers. So the English version is actually different from the Japanese but still written by the author.

Alexander O. Smith: The Moribito series and the Magatama series are interesting to me in that they both fit snugly within a very western fantasy genre and yet their stories and worlds are influenced by Asian history and myth. How did you navigate the process of bringing these worlds into English without losing the flavor of the original? Were you inspired, stylistically or otherwise, by any other books in English?

A hard question! For me, it’s a very intuitive process and I’m never sure if I really have succeeded in keeping the flavor of the original. One thing I try to do is read the translation out loud once I get it to a more polished state. That helps me see whether it “feels” the same.

What I’m looking for at a gut level is whether the English grabs me in the same way as the Japanese. To me, Uehashi’s voice is fast-paced, powerful, compassionate, clear and deceptively simple. Ogiwara’s voice, though just as powerful, is completely different. Her rich, lyrical images and sweeping descriptions vividly convey the emotional atmosphere. She has a knack for capturing a focal point or detail that draws in the reader and for mirroring the inner worlds of her characters’ minds and hearts in the outer world. However, this style, which is very Japanese, is less compatible with the English language than Uehashi’s.

To give one example, Uehashi’s battle scenes are graphically detailed. You know exactly when and how each bone is broken, whose bone it is and what it feels like (ouch!!). This brings home the reality of life for the bodyguard Balsa.

As for what books inspired me during the translation process, I actually strive not to be influenced stylistically by other authors so that I can remain true to the original. At the same time, however, I do read books in the same genre because exposure to good English helps me avoid an excessively literal translation.

While translating the Moribito books I found myself rereading Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series. I think what appealed was their common themes such as the search for meaning, the painful journey of self discovery and acceptance, and the fact that their voices both evoke the oral tradition of story-telling.

When translating Ogiwara, on the other hand, I was drawn to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Again, it wasn’t the style but the story’s epic nature and the use of humor to lighten a serious tale that resonated.

Avery Fischer Udagawa: Are you at work on any children’s or young adult projects now?

Yes, I am getting a start on The Beast Player (Kemono no soja), a fantasy novel by Andersen laureate Nahoko Uehashi.

Cynsational Notes: Interviewers & Source Interviews

Misa Dikengil Lindberg is a freelance writer, editor and translator. She translated the new adult novel Emily by Novala Takemoto and the story “The Dragon and the Poet” by Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933), one of Japan’s most beloved writers, for the anthology Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories. Her full interview with Hirano, Young Adult Fantasy in Translation: An Interview with Cathy Hirano, focuses on Dragon Sword and Wind Child and Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit.

Alexander O. Smith is the translator of thirty novels from the Japanese, including Brave Story and The Book of Heroes by Miyuki Miyabe, The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, and the Guin Saga series by Kaoru Kurimoto. He is also known for localization and production of video games, and is co-founder of publisher Bento Books. His full interview with Hirano, Catching Up With Cathy Hirano, focuses on Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince.

Avery Fischer Udagawa translated the middle grade historical novel J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 by Shogo Oketani. She serves as SCBWI Japan Translator Coordinator and SCBWI International Translator Coordinator. Her full interview with Hirano, Children’s Book Translation: An Interview with Cathy Hirano (PDF, pp. 7-9), focuses on ways to get started in translation.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a hardback edition (now a collector’s item) of Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano. Eligibility: International.

The design of this volume is described here by editor Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine Books: Behind the Book: Moribito Guardian of the Spirit.

See also: Moribito: Editing YA and Children’s Literature in English Translation: An Interview with Cheryl Klein by Sako Ikegami (PDF, pp. 4-7.

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Guest Post & Giveaway: Melissa Buron on A Book of Mermaids

By Melissa Buron
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I discovered A Book of Mermaids by Ruth Manning-Sanders.

During a long, hot summer, I read and re-read the stories until my mother and the public library insisted that I return the book.

I was distraught because no matter how many bookstores I searched, I never found the book again.

Forty years later, I did find the book. This time, not in a library, but in a hot warehouse full of old, used books.

I reread the book and fell in love again with the witty, crafty and of course magical mermaids. And in-between work, family and laundry, I spread the word about this wonderful book.

After all, who doesn’t love mermaids? Unfortunately, the book was out of print and a used copy (if you could locate one) averaged between $200 and $350.

With this enchanting and beloved book in mind, I started an independent publishing company, MAB Media. To my joy and delight, A Book of Mermaids by Ruth Manning-Sanders is MAB Media’s very first release.

Ruth Manning-Sanders was a fascinating person, not just because of her writing ability, but also for her way of life. She was a feminist before “feminist” was even a word. She was prolific as few authors are (more than ninety books to her credit). Her fairy tales, both original and adapted, reflected a wide range of characters, both human and non-human, of all shapes, sizes, colors and creeds.

In A Book of Mermaids, Manning-Sanders introduces the readers to sixteen stories of mermaids and their fantastical adventures.

Within my wide collection of fairy tales and folk tales, these are by far my favorites.

Cynsational Giveaway

Do you love mermaids? Here’s your chance to win one of five free copies of A Book of Mermaids by Ruth Manning-Sanders and some surprise mermaid swag!

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Guest Post & Giveaway: Emma Dryden on Putting the Internal Editor in a Time-Out

By Emma Dryden
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

An Editor Tries on Her Writer Hat

I’ve been a children’s book editor for over thirty years. Editing’s in my blood. Little else brings me as much joy or satisfaction as coaxing, guiding, and encouraging authors and illustrators to dig deeply and express their truest passions and richest stories.

Over the course of my career, I’ve edited well over 1,000 books, which means I’ve played some small or large part in the creative process for well over 1,000 people.

Throughout the journey, I’ve been asked many times if I ever wanted to write. The long and short answer to that question is “Yes.” But that’s easier said than done.

Being a life-long editor for others comes with a significant downside: I have an aggressive, impatient editor living inside me. She’s tough.

So much so that when serendipitous events occurred and stars aligned for me to co-write a picture book last year, I had to have it out with my internal editor and it wasn’t pretty. I started out nicely, pleadingly, but soon began to rant and swear, begging her to shut up and leave me alone so I could just put down on the page whatever I wanted, without limitation, without question, without suggestion. It’s an understatement to say my internal editor had a hard time turning off. But finally, finally she did shut up and I could start to write.

Maybe it was the looming deadline and my co-author expecting to hear from me that boosted the confidence in the writer part of me to strap my internal editor into the time-out chair. Or maybe it was exhaustion and the writer part of me just didn’t care anymore what those first sentences looked or felt like, as long as there was something on the page. Or maybe it was my trust in the writing process (goodness knows I’ve told hundreds of writers over the years to trust the process!) that eventually forced my internal editor to just darn well wait her turn.

I suspect it was all of these combined that finally allowed me to write with creative adrenaline the words and phrases that would eventually become the score for What Does It Mean to Be An Entrepreneur? (Little Pickle, 2016).

Most artists are not professional editors, but artists are always contending with some sort of internal editor—that nagging, probing questioner; that voice saying something isn’t good enough; that self-doubter.

Writing is a courageous, delicate, and precious act. Creating art of any kind is a courageous, delicate, and precious act.

Editing, eventually, is critical to the process, but not during those early moments of creativity, when the words and the sketches are barely formed and just emerging from the craftsperson’s imagination.

Through the experience of quieting down my internal editor to write What Does It Mean to Be An Entrepreneur?, I received two great gifts. One was that I was reminded of the obligation I have as an editor: To be patient, supportive, and empathetic to the myriad of feelings (euphoria and despair and everything in between!) an author or illustrator is going to be feeling during their creative process.

And the second gift I received is seeing my name in the byline of a book that springs from my own experiences starting a company and of which I couldn’t be more proud. I was in a position not only to co-write the book, but to edit it and assist in design and art direction—it was the best of all possible worlds for me creatively and professionally.

And now I know, when it comes time for me to write some more, exactly where my internal editor’s time-out chair is waiting!

Cynsational Notes

Emma D. Dryden is the founder of drydenbks, a premier children’s editorial and publishing consultancy firm which she established after twenty-five years as a highly regarded children’s book editor and publisher. She works with authors, illustrators, start-ups, publishers, and app developers.

Emma has edited over a thousand books for children and young readers and during her tenure with Atheneum and McElderry Books, many of her titles hit bestseller lists in USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, and other national publications, and have received numerous awards and medals, including the Newbery Medal, Newbery Honor, and Caldecott Honor. Emma’s on the Advisory Board of SCBWI and speaks around the world on craft, the digital landscape, and reinvention.

Her blog “Our Stories, Ourselves” explores the intertwined themes of life and writing. She can be followed online at Twitter @drydenbks, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three signed copies of What Does It Mean to Be An Entrepreneur? by Rana DiOrio and Emma D. Dryden, and illustrated by Ken Min (Little Pickle, 2016). Author sponsored. U.S. only.

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Guest Post & Giveaway: Hannah Barnaby on Writing for My Life: How I Dug into My Past for Fiction

By Hannah Barnaby
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

In early 1999, I was a graduate student in the children’s literature program at Simmons College in Boston.

I had a work study job at the Simmons social work school, mailing out applications and entering information into a computer, and that’s where I was on the morning of February 16th—sitting at someone else’s desk, collating papers—when the phone rang.

I ignored it. It wasn’t my phone.

It stopped, and rang again, and stopped, and finally the receptionist came in and said, “You need to answer that. It’s for you.”

It was my father, and he was crying, and he told me that my brother Jesse was dead.

I was twenty-four years old. My brother was not even twenty-one.

There is no good reason for why it has taken me seventeen years to write Some of the Parts (Knopf, 2016), the story of Tallie McGovern, who is sixteen and has lost her big brother and feels that she has no right to still be alive. There is no good reason, except that I was afraid to write Tallie’s story because I knew that it would bring that day in 1999 rushing back like an unstoppable river.

And it did. I remembered things that I was sure I’d forgotten, like the single red mitten on top of a fence that I saw as I walked to the T station after that phone call.

Like the first thing I ate after I found out: a tuna sandwich.

Like the ride home to Albany from Boston that night, like what my mother looked like when I saw her at the door, like the guilt and the aching sadness of an empty chair in our kitchen.

I am often asked about the process of writing for teen readers, about accessing my “inner teen,” about telling stories that they can relate to. But the truth is that the experiences which truly shape us—loss and gain, trauma and victory, love and devastation—refuse to be forgotten.

We have only to glance back at them and they reanimate, like a movie unpaused, and they start to talk and move and sing.

Tallie’s story unfolded that way. I expected that writing Some of the Parts would be difficult, and it was. Nate is not my brother, and Tallie is not me, but much of their story is taken from my own and that is how I wrote this book—not just for teens, but for everyone who has lost somebody important.

I didn’t expect that it would heal me all over again. But it did.

I spoke to my brother’s friends from high school and college. I listened to his favorite music (Charlie Parker). I read his favorite writers (James Michener and William Faulkner). I ate his favorite ice cream (vanilla). I spent time with him, the way that Tallie spends time with Nate. I walked through every part of her story right along with her and when she was finally safe again, I knew that I was, too.

I don’t know if Jesse was an organ donor. He died in a fire and most of his personal belongings were damaged or lost, including his driver’s license. But he cared deeply about his family and his friends and the world we lived in with him, and in that way, he lives on.

As for me: I have a little heart on the bottom of my driver’s license. I am very careful crossing the street, and I always wear my helmet.

I have a little boy now. When Some of the Parts is published—on the seventeenth anniversary of my brother Jesse’s death—my son will be nearly six. He loves vanilla ice cream, and music, and reading. He has brown hair and dark eyes, like the uncle he will never meet.

Before I wrote this book, I didn’t talk about my brother with my children very often, because I thought it would be too sad, and because I didn’t know what tell them. Writing Some of the Parts gave me the words to say, and I hope those words are taken by readers and used in conversations about loss of all kinds.

Sometimes bad things happen, and we are not the same when they are over.

This is the line from Some of the Parts that sums it all up for me. When we lose someone, their empty space doesn’t get filled up. It isn’t like digging a hole in the sand and watching the hole disappear when the tide comes in. It’s more like this:

We grow around the memory of the people we’ve lost, and we carry them with us. And if we’re feeling very brave one day, we write about them.

Cynsational Notes

Hannah Barnaby is the author of Wonder Show (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), a Morris Award finalist; Some of the Parts; and the upcoming picture books Bad Guy and Garcia & Colette. She is a proud graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts and a former children’s book editor and bookseller.

Hannah lives in Charlottesville, VA with her family and teaches creative writing to anyone who will listen. Find her on Twitter @hannahrbarnaby.

Learn more about Hannah’s upcoming Write for Your Life workshop at The Writing Barn in Austin.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of Some of the Parts by Hannah Barnaby (Knopf, 2016) and a sterling silver heart necklace. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.

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Book Trailer & Giveaway: Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin

Discussion Guide (PDF)

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin (Razorbill, 2015, 2016)–now available in paperback. From the promotional copy:

Peter Stone is a quiet boy in a family full of extroverts, musicians, and yellers. The louder they are, the more silent Peter is . . . until he practically embodies his last name.


When his family moves to the Texas Hill Country, though, Peter finds a peaceful, mysterious valley where he can, at last, hear himself think. There, he meets a girl his age, Annie Blythe, a spirited artist who tells Peter she’s a “wish girl.” 

But Annie isn’t just any wish girl: she’s a “Make-A-Wish Girl.” And in two weeks she has to undergo a dangerous treatment to try to stop her cancer from spreading. Left alone, the disease will kill her. But the treatment could cause serious brain damage and take away her ability to make art.


Together, Annie and Peter escape into the valley, which they begin to think is magical. But the pair soon discovers that the valley—and life—may have other plans for them. Sometimes wishes come true in the most unexpected ways.

Trailer: “Wish Girl” by Nikki Loftin from Dave Wilson on Vimeo.

Cynsational Giveaway

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