Guest Post & Giveaway: Kelly Starling Lyons on Ellen’s Broom

Kelly at Mt. Nebo Primitive Baptist Church in Eden, N.C.

By Kelly Starling Lyons
for Cynsations

Sometimes you need help realizing that a moment or experience holds the seed of a story. That’s just what happened to me at The Writers Workshop at Chautauqua.

When I told my mentor Clay Winters about researching family history and coming across a cohabitation register – a document that registered the marriages of formerly enslaved people – he said I had a picture book in there. It was up to me to find it.

I went back to my room and thought about everything I shared with Mr. Winters. I told him how during slavery some enslaved couples jumped a broom to signify their leap into life together. Though their marriages meant the world to them, their unions had no legal protection. Husbands and wives could be sold apart at any time.

What would it mean to a child, I asked myself, to have her parents’ marriage made legal so they could never be forcibly pulled apart again?

At that beautiful retreat, I wrote the first words of my new picture book, Ellen’s Broom (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012). I’m so excited that it’s now a story to share. I flip through the pages and marvel at Daniel Minter’s gorgeous illustrations. You feel Ellen’s pride as she carries her parents’ wedding broom on their march to the courthouse. You rejoice with Papa and Mama when their marriage is finally registered. You smile when they jump the broom again at Ellen’s urging. It’s a celebration of family, freedom and love.

Holding a book in my hand was a journey seven years in the making. Deciding to write the story was the first step. But I had so much more to do.

Cohabitation registers were recorded by Freedmen’s Bureau officers during Reconstruction. I had to learn about what that process was like and what it meant to freedmen, women and children to have those marriages legalized.

I started by reading Freedmen’s Bureau letters available in an online resource created by the Virginia Center for Digital History called The Valley of the Shadow. I read slave narratives and an amazing article called “Sealing the Sacred Bonds of Holy Matrimony: Freedmen’s Bureau Marriage Records” by African-American genealogy specialist Reginald Washington. I read the Circular which gave instructions to Freedmen’s Bureau officers on how the registry was to be done.

Then, I focused on the feelings. What emotions would Ellen, her parents and siblings experience? Was it a bittersweet moment – heartache for the past mixed with joy for the future? Where would they get the news about this new law?

I was thrilled when Dwyer & O’Grady pitched Ellen’s Broom and it was acquired by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. But the journey didn’t stop there. Nancy Paulsen and Stacey Barney helped me shape it into a real picture book manuscript.

Now, seven years after I wrote the first words, it’s ready to share. Amazing.

My launch party at Quail Ridge Books & Music was the moment when it all hit me. Surrounded by a loving audience, I talked about the research, read an excerpt, watched children make their own brooms out of pencils and signed copies of my new book.

To think Ellen’s Broom came from a historic document I saw in a North Carolina library, wow!

So grateful for Clay Winters encouraging me to find the story within and for everyone who helped bring it to life. Feeling blessed.

King Choir at Kelly’s launch party

Cynsational Notes

Book Giveaway! Enter to win a copy of Ellen’s Broom by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Daniel Minter (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012). To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email Cynthia directly with “Ellen’s Broom” in the subject line. Deadline: Feb. 13. Publisher sponsored. U.S. entries only.

A Companion Craft and Discussion Guide for Ellen’s Broom, guide created by Debbie Gonzales. Learn more about Debbie’s Discussion/Activity Guides.

28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children’s Literature from The Brown Bookshelf. In celebration of children’s authors and illustrators of color, during the twenty-eight days of Black History Month, The Brown Bookshelf profiles a different artist each day. See Day 1: Kwame Alexander. Note: The team behind The Brown Bookshelf is Paula Chase-Hyman, Varian Johnson, Don Tate, Kelly Starling Lyons, Tameka Fryer Brown, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Gwendolyn Hooks and Crystal Allen.

Virtually attend Kelly’s launch party!

Release Day & Giveaway: Diabolical by Cynthia Leitich Smith

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Click to enlarge!

Enter to win a Diabolical giveaway! The grand prize includes:

In honor of the character Kieren.

Plus, sent separately…

I HEART My Guardian Angel mug; and…

I HEART My Guardian Angel T-shirt (winner’s choice of sizes and styles; available in white, light blue, light yellow and pink); or

dragon predator-and-prey shirt (winner’s choice of sizes; choice of white, light blue, gray).

Note: Tantalize series logos designed by Gene Brenek; see the whole selection at Sanguini’s at CafePress.

Runner-Up Prizes

  • one of two signed hardcover copies of Tantalize
  • one of two signed hardcover copies of Eternal
  • one of two signed hardcover copies of Blessed

To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email Cynthia directly with “Diabolical giveaway” in the subject line.

Everyone will be entered for every prize unless otherwise specified. If you have, say, an earlier book in the series and don’t want another copy, please just say so! (In the alternative, you could plan to gift one to a friend or a local school/public library.)

Author-sponsored. This giveaway is for international readers–everyone is eligible!

For extra entries (itemize efforts in your entry comment/email with relevant links):

In honor of a new character, Evie.

Limit 8 entries. Deadline: Feb. 8.

About Diabolical

Diabolical by Cynthia Leitich Smith is now available from Candlewick Press in North America, and it will be published Feb. 1 by Walker Australia and New Zealand. From the promotional copy:

When “slipped” angel Zachary and his werewolf pal, Kieren, are summoned under suspicious circumstances to a mysterious New England boarding school, they quickly find themselves in a hellish lockdown with an intriguing assortment of secretive, hand-picked “students.”

Plagued by demon dogs, hallucinatory wall decor, a sadistic instructor, and a legendary fire-breathing monster, will they somehow manage to escape? Or will the devil have his due?

Best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith unites heroes from the previous three novels in the Tantalize series — including Zachary’s girl, Miranda, and Kieren’s love, Quincie — along with a fascinating cast of all-new characters for a suspenseful, action-packed clash between the forces of heaven and hell.

Cynsational Notes

Look for this title in hardcover and e-format. E-book: 978-0-7636-5963-9.

Kirkus Reviews cheers: “A smart, playful series… A blend of romance, action and horror, this distinguishes itself from the crowd of paranormal teen fare with the employ of plenty of camp and a healthy dose of dry humor.”

The Horn Book raves: “…this one runs full force on the fires of hell and the sword power of heaven.”

My Vicious Valentine: Spine-tingling YA Author Panel, featuring Jordan Dane, P.J. “Tricia” Hoover, Mari Mancusi, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and L.A. Weatherly—moderated by Sean Petrie–will take place at 7 p.m. Feb. 10 at BookPeople in Austin. Join us when six top YA authors dish on the devilish, gab about ghosts, and soar with the angels in this panel celebrating spine-tingling stories, supernatural creatures, and perhaps scariest of all, true love.

See Cynthia’s upcoming events in Albuquerque, Tucson, Sandy (Utah), Southampton (New York), and Montpelier (Vermont).

Sweet Giveaway: Signed Copies of Love? Maybe. and The Cupcake Queen

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Grand Prize! Enter for a chance to win:

A runner-up will receive signed copy of Love? Maybe. And sweet treats.

To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with “Love? Maybe.” in the subject line. (If you’re on LiveJournal, I’m also taking entries via comment at the Cynsations LJ.)

Author-sponsored. Eligibility: North America (U.S./Canada). Deadline: midnight CST Jan. 31.

From the promotional copy of Love? Maybe.:

Just because Piper’s birthday is on Valentine’s Day does not mean she’s a romantic. In fact, after watching her father and then her stepfather leave, she’s pretty sure she doesn’t believe in love at all. 

Then her friends concoct a plan to find them all Valentine’s dates, and somehow Piper finds herself with the most popular guy in school. But true love never follows a plan, and a string of heartfelt gifts from a secret admirer has Piper wondering if she might be with the wrong guy.

In this heartwarming romance, true love is more than a maybe – and it might be closer than you think.

From the promotional copy of The Cupcake Queen:

A confection of a novel, combining big city sophistication with small town charm.

When her mother moves them from the city to a small town to open up a cupcake bakery, Penny’s life isn’t what she expected. Her father has stayed behind, and Mom isn’t talking about what the future holds for their family. And then there’s Charity, the girl who plays mean pranks almost daily. 

There are also bright spots in Hog’s Hollow—like Tally, an expert in Rock Paper Scissors, and Marcus, the boy who is always running on the beach. But just when it looks as though Penny is settling in, her parents ask her to make a choice that will turn everything upside down again. 

A sweet novel about love, creativity, and accepting life’s unexpected turns.

Check out this Cupcake Queen trailer by MRCPLStaff.

Giveaway: Tantalize Series Signed Bling & iTunes Gift Cards

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

art by Ming Doyle

Enter to win an author-signed Tantalize: Kieren’s Story postcard, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story bookmark or Diabolical bookmark! Up to 20 total!

Plus, the occasional Tantalize series button or bat stickers or nifty surprise!

And three lucky winners will receive a $15 iTunes gift card!

Teachers, librarians and book clubs also may enter to win one of five sets of 10 Tantalize: Kieren’s Story bookmarks or one of three sets of five Diabolical bookmarks! Please indicate your related affiliation in your entry. I.e., Suzy Q, school librarian, Austin Independent School District.

To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with “Tantalize Series Bling” in the subject line. (If you’re on LiveJournal, I’m also taking entries via comment at the Cynsations LJ.)

Author-sponsored. Eligibility: international. Deadline: midnight CST Feb. 1.

Cynsational Notes

Diabolical by Cynthia Leitich Smith will be available Jan. 24 from Candlewick Press in North America, and Feb. 1 from Walker Books Australia and New Zealand. More releases to come!

Giveaway: Ten Signed Copies of Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations  

Enter to win one of ten signed copies of Bittersweet by Sarah Ocker (Simon Pulse)(excerpt)!

From the promotional copy:

From the author of Twenty Boy Summer, a teen pushes the limits to follow her dreams—and learns there’s a fine line between bitter and sweet…

Once upon a time, Hudson knew exactly what her future looked like. Then a betrayal changed her life and knocked her dreams to the ground. Now she’s a girl who doesn’t believe in second chances, a girl who stays under the radar by baking cupcakes at her mom’s diner and obsessing over what might have been.

So when things start looking up and she has another shot at her dreams, Hudson is equal parts hopeful and terrified. 

Of course, this is also the moment a cute, sweet guy walks into her life—and starts serving up some seriously mixed signals. She’s got a lot on her plate, and for a girl who’s been burned before, risking it all is easier said than done.

It’s time for Hudson to ask herself what she really wants, and how much she’s willing to sacrifice to get it. Because in a place where opportunities are fleeting, she knows this chance may very well be her last….

To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with “Bittersweet” in the subject line. If you include in your comment a thought on the video below, you’ll receive two extra entries! Good luck!

Publisher-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST Jan. 23.

Cynsational Notes

Courtesy of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing

Sarah Ocker is the bestselling author of Fixing Delilah (Little, Brown, 2011) and the critically acclaimed Twenty Boy Summer (Little, Brown, 2010), a YALSA Teens’ Top Ten nominee and IndieNext List pick.

She is a championship cupcake eater, coffee drinker, night person, and bookworm.

When she’s not writing or reading at home in Colorado, Sarah enjoys taking pictures, hugging trees, and road-tripping through the country with her husband, Alex.

Visit her website at sarahockler.com and find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Read chapter one of Bittersweet.

Guest Post: Joy Preble on Embracing Risk & Two-Book Giveaway

By Joy Preble
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Was out with a friend the other night: sushi, sake, good conversation. Somewhere near the end of the evening, she observed, “I’m glad I traveled widely when I was in my early twenties. Because now that I’m older and a mom and aware of my mortality, I don’t know if I’d go on that safari with someone I didn’t really know all that well.”

Which explains why I’ve decided that I’m probably never going to sky dive. Because I have passed the point where I can fool myself into believing that once I jump out of that plane I won’t break something on the way down.

That said, I am still a firm believer in risk. Writing for publication requires huge leaps of faith. The risk is enormous. But so is the payoff, and you don’t get one without the other.

At Comic Con this fall, a guy in an amazing steampunk costume asked me what motivated me to move beyond “I think want to write” to “I’m going to finish a novel and get it published.” He was a writer, he told me. But he had never finished any project that he started.

What I told him was this: I’d decided that I needed to jump out of that plane anyway. Because the alternative was to continue doing what I’d been doing, which while good enough, was not great.

We make all sorts of excuses for ourselves, and many of them are even legitimate: my family, my kids, my day job…

Jump anyway.

In the spirit of full disclosure, it is probably more accurate to say that I was pushed. The year I wrote what would become Dreaming Anastasia, I was having the worst year at work that I have ever had. From an unsupportive administration to cranky colleagues to a mold issue in the physical building, I would come home each day exhausted, demoralized, done. The kind of bone-deep tiredness that stops you from even looking for another job.

I wrote in spite of it. I wrote because somewhere around page fifty I realized that I couldn’t imagine my life without writing. Some weeks I wrote only a page. But I kept writing.

Even now, even with the above explanation, I can’t really say what changed, what switch flipped.

Part of it was watching colleagues who every single day talked about retirement even though they were decades from it. I did not ever want to be that kind of walking dead.

Part of it was listening to mom friends who had nothing to talk about but their children. They all, I noticed, used the pronoun ‘we’ – as though they had kicked that soccer goal themselves.

Writing is in fact the riskiest thing I’ve ever done professionally. I put a piece of myself on each page and send it out into the world: to readers, to editors, to publishers, to my agent. They see who I am through those pages – not everything, but enough. It is a scary and wonderful thing.

If they read enough of what I have to say, they will learn how I see the world: my take on love and loss and grief and passion and fear and joy.

So jump.

Make sure your parachute is working (I’m not an idiot; I didn’t quit the day job until this past fall and even with that, I’ve got contingency plans).

But jump. The view is awesome.

Cynsational Notes

Joy is the author of Dreaming Anastasia and Haunted (both Sourcebooks) She looks forward to the release of Anastasia Forever (Sourcebooks, Fall 2012) and The Sweet Dead Life (Soho Press, 2013).

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win Dreaming Anastasia and Haunted! To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with “Joy Preble” in the subject line. Publisher-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST Dec. 31.

“Haunted Love” E-Short Story By Cynthia Leitich Smith Now Available for Free Download

“Haunted Love,” a short story by Cynthia Leitich Smith is now available for free download from Barnes & Noble (U.S.), Books on Board, Amazon.com (U.S.) and Amazon.com (U.K.). It will be available from additional e-retailers soon. From the promotional copy:

Spirit, Texas, is a town of secrets, and as the new owner of the local haunted movie theater, Cody Stryker is juggling more than his fair share. 

When a mysterious new girl comes to town and runs afoul of the ghost that lives in his theater, Cody’s caught in the middle and needs to figure out exactly who he can trust.

“Haunted Love” is a short story by New York Times Bestseller Cynthia Leitich Smith — featuring new characters and set in the same Gothic universe as her novels Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed, and Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle.

This story includes a sneak preview of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s upcoming novel, Diabolical (Jan. 2012), which unites heroes from the previous three novels in the Tantalize Series along with a fascinating cast of all-new characters for a suspenseful, action-packed clash between the forces of heaven and hell.

Cynsational Notes

Published by Candlewick Press (N. America) and Walker Books (U.K.).

Litter Box: Scoop Daily observes: “…sometimes after reading a lengthy novel, a short story is exactly what you need. If you find that this is where you are at…I recommend this be the one.”

Giveaway: The Princess of Borscht by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen

Enter to win an author-signed copy of The Princess of Borscht by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, 2011).

From the promotional copy:

Ruthie’s grandma is in the hospital, not surprisingly complaining about the food. All she wants is a nice bowl of borscht. 

Ruthie comes to the rescue, even though she hasn’t the faintest idea of how to make it. 

With the help of a few well-meaning neighbors (including the Tsarina of Borscht and the Empress of Borscht and some ingenuity of her own), a soul-reviving brew is concocted…

To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with “The Princess of Borscht” in the subject line.

Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST Dec. 12.

Cynsational Notes

The New York Times Book Review raved, “Schubert (‘Ballet of the Elephants’) turns the story of a sick relative, not a particularly cheery topic, into a sweet and salty tale, warmed by Christensen’s lively sketches, about bickering Jewish neighbors and intergenerational caregiving.”

Giveaway: Jingle Bells: How the Holiday Classic Came to Be

Enter to win one of two copies of Jingle Bells: How the Holiday Classic Came to Be by John Harris, illustrated by Adam Gustavson (Peachtree, 2011).

The unexpected story of the creation of a holiday classic – in the most unlikely of places.

It is November 1857 in Savannah, Georgia, and the heat is stifling. Choir director James Lord Pierpont is busy writing a song for the children of the church to perform to usher in the holiday season.

He is also worried. Many townspeople are angry because the congregation does not believe in slavery, and someone has thrown a brick through one of the church windows.

As Mr. Pierpont sweeps up the glass from the broken window, he recalls his own Boston childhood, the sound of sleigh bells, and the fun of riding in a sleigh through the snow. 

Suddenly he gets an idea. A few days later – with the happy sounds of children singing and jingling bells and bags of “snow” – Mr. Pierpont introduces the delighted churchgoers to the charms of a northern Christmas!

To enter, comment on this post (click preceding link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with “Jingle Bells” in the subject line. Publisher-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST Dec. 12.

Guest Post: Peggy Thomas on Baring All – Anatomy of Nonfiction & Critique-Book Giveaway

By Peggy Thomas
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

As a nonfiction writer I am, by profession, a nosy person. I root around scrutinizing other people’s lives and work.

But when Margery Facklam, my mother and award-winning children’s author, suggested that we collaborate on a how-to guide for writing nonfiction, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be scrutinized.

Although I’ve taught writing for years in workshops and through the Institute of Children’s Literature, this was going to be different. Did I have the guts to bare all in a book?

The first job was to remember what it was like when we began. What were our greatest hurdles? Where did our ideas come from? How did we develop them into viable projects? How were we able to catch an editor’s eye?

Basically, what do we know now that we wished we knew then? Those were the tips we wanted to share with our readers.

Like the good little archaeologist that I trained to be in college, I sifted through the detritus of past book projects: old manuscripts with editorial notes, query letters (ones that worked and ones that didn’t), floppy disks I could no longer access, and cassette tapes of interviews with scientists that I thought I conducted professionally, but now make me cringe because my voice sounds so young and naïve.

But those tapes reminded me that I do have information to share, some of it learned the hard way. For instance, Tip # 1 – Make sure a spouse, neighbor or grandparent is watching your toddler while you conduct a phone interview. I still remember that moment of panic when my daughter poked her head into the office just when the expert was finally divulging the good stuff. The professor kindly excused me so I could deal with my daughter’s playdough issues, but I felt as if I had been caught in the act of pretending to be a real writer. Here was my chance to save others from that embarrassing fate.

Peggy’s Office

And speaking of embarrassing, what about the time an interviewee became enraged because I didn’t tell her I was taping the conversation. I actually wasn’t (I was writing notes), but that didn’t seem to matter. Another lesson learned. Tip # 2 – Always tell your interviewee if you are recording the conversation and how you are recording it.

I feel I need to redeem myself for a moment. There are anecdotes in the book that relate some of my successes, too. Like the time I sold an article to Cricket Magazine, and the editor loved it so much he asked for a recipe. Unfortunately, the article was about eating insects. Tip # 3 – Bake mealworms in a pan with sides so they don’t crawl off and commit suicide on the bottom of your oven.

Peggy and Margery

But we didn’t want a narcissistic book that was just about our process; after all, there is no single correct way to write. So we picked the brains of dozens of other nonfiction writers.

Carla Killough McClafferty shared tips on photo research, Jim Murphy outlined his research process, Jan Fields talked about revision, and Trudi Trueit offered advice on writing self-help books.

We even let editors weigh in on subjects like voice, marketable ideas, writing to themes, and what they like to see in cover and query letters.

After five years of research, we discovered that writers of children’s nonfiction have two important characteristics in common – a penchant for learning and an enthusiasm to share that knowledge.

I’m sure there are many more writers out there who fit that description, and our hope is that this book will help them hone their craft, so, someday they will become the authors we interview for the second edition of Anatomy of Nonfiction (Writers Institute Publications, 2011).

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win a critique by Peggy of a nonfiction picture book manuscript or the first three chapters of a longer nonfiction manuscript and a signed copy of Anatomy of Nonfiction by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas (Writers Institute Publications, 2011). To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email Cynthia directly with “Anatomy of Nonfiction” in the subject line.

Author-sponsored. Deadline: Dec. 12. Eligibility: international. Anyone can enter! However, the manuscript must be written in English.