New Voice: Lisa Jenn Bigelow on Starting From Here

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Lisa Jenn Bigelow is the first-time author of Starting From Here (Amazon Books, formerly Marshall Cavendish, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Sixteen-year-old Colby Bingham’s heart has been broken too many times. Her mother is dead, her truck driver father is always away, and her almost girlfriend just dumped her for a guy. 

When an injured stray dog lands at her feet, she decides to care for it, against her better judgment. But new connections mean new opportunities for heartbreak. 

Terrified of another loss, Colby bolts at the first sign of trouble, managing to alienate her best friend, her father, the cute girl pursuing her, and even her dog’s vet, who’s taken Colby under her wing. 

Colby can’t start over, but can she learn how to move on?

In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how to best approach “edgy” behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

It takes a fair amount to make my “edgy detector” go off, so I have to remind myself that all readers have different sensibilities.

Personally, I don’t think of Starting from Here as particularly “edgy.” There’s no drinking or drugs, in large part due to Colby’s best friend Van, who identifies with straight edge punk culture and has a lot of influence in Colby’s life. The profanity is pretty spare, too, since I think a little goes a long way when it comes to establishing character and emotion.

What some readers are more likely to find a sticking point, unfortunately, is that so many of the characters fall on the LGBTQ spectrum. Colby’s closest friends belong to her school’s Gay/Straight Alliance, and while many of them are still exploring their identities, and not all of them are “out” to their families, they’re not ashamed or shy about who they are.

And they follow their hormones. There’s kissing, groping, clothing removal, and innuendo. There’s probably sex, but I’m not 100% sure, because that scene fades to black. I’ve been a little startled when readers bring up the sexual aspects of the book as dicey areas. Love and lust are so visceral and entwined that I can’t imagine writing a romantic relationship with no physical passion.

There was never any question of toning down Colby and her friends or making them straight. Like Colby, I grew up in a mid-size town in Southwest Michigan, which was and continues to be a pretty conservative area. In the early to mid 1990s, virtually nobody was “out” at school, which was very isolating. LGBTQ literary options geared toward teens were also very limited.

I didn’t get my hands on the groundbreaking lesbian YA novel Annie on My Mind, by Nancy Garden (FSG), until my senior year of high school, by which point I’d been grappling with my sexual identity for several years.

Almost twenty years later, so much has improved—in publishing and elsewhere. But queer characters are still such a tiny, underrepresented piece of the publishing pie. Authors who care about improving the sociopolitical climate for LGBTQ people owe it to the world to write more of them.

Some libraries may choose not to purchase Starting from Here and some readers may be uncomfortable with the book due to its LGBTQ content.

Then again, who knows? So far I’ve only heard remarks objecting to Colby’s dad leaving her alone so much—which to me says their priorities are in the right place.

Young Lisa and her books

As a librarian-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a librarian has been a blessing to your writing?

Before my publishing contract, being surrounded by children’s books for eight hours a day was a double-edged sword. When I was frustrated, I’d think, “There are so many books here, some of them awful, so why does my good book keep getting rejected?” Other times, I’d think, “So many books, books for every kind of reader. Surely mine will find a home one day, too.” And, eventually, it did.

Teen Lisa

Interacting with readers is the biggest advantage to being a librarian as well as writer. I learn which books kids are seeking out—which books are popular, which books move them, which books are part of school curricula. On a daily basis, I see how books touch lives, which is an inspiring reminder of why writing is important.

Reading reviews and industry blogs and journals is another part of being a librarian, so I know what’s up and coming. I see new books before they’re put on the shelf.

I also have what I think is a realistic but healthy perspective on a book’s “success.” Schools and libraries collect a broader variety of books from all sizes of publisher than stores—especially big box stores—do. So while a less commercial book from a small press may not be stocked in stores or get big sales figures, if it gets good reviews, it will still find readers through schools and libraries.

Finally, working in a library—a public library, anyway—teaches me how ephemeral books are. My library is not an archive with an interest in preserving books indefinitely. It is a public browsing collection. We order books that get good reviews and/or that patrons ask for.

If they don’t circulate well after a few years, or if they get damaged beyond repair, we withdraw them. In doing so, we make shelf space for a new load of beautiful books.

It’s a natural part of the life cycle of a book.


New Voice & Giveaway: Barbara Elizabeth Walsh on The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans

Check out the teacher’s guide and the discussion/activity guide.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Barbara Elizabeth Walsh is the first-time author of The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans, illustrated by Layne Johnson (Calkins Creek, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Moina Belle Michael, a schoolteacher from Georgia, successfully established the Flanders Field Memorial Poppy as a universal symbol of tribute and support for veterans and their families during World War I and II. 

Known as the Poppy Lady, Michael dedicated her life to servicemen and women.

As a nonfiction writer, what first inspired you to take on your topic? What about it fascinated you? Why did you want to offer more information about it to young readers?

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was first inspired to write about Moina Belle Michael when I was ten years old and found a postcard in my dad’s box of World War II memories. It was addressed to my mom and signed, “Pat’s Poppy Lady.”

My dad met Moina during World War II. He and three hundred other soldiers-in-training were studying radio communication at the University of Georgia and living in the Georgian Hotel.

BEW’s dad in Moina’s poppy garden

Moina lived on a floor above them. Every day she would place fresh field flowers throughout the lobby and on each floor–a wonderful morale booster for my dad and his soldier buddies. She had a smile for everyone and would stop and chat, especially if someone seemed troubled.

On the day my dad found out that his two brothers were missing in action, Moina was there for him. For hours they sat and talked on a sofa in the hotel lobby. My dad said that if it hadn’t been for her kindness he wouldn’t have made it through that terrible time.

When I took my first writing course and had to pick a nonfiction topic my dad asked me to write about Moina. He worried that people had forgotten who she was and all she’d done for soldiers and their families.

And yet, after sixty years, my dad still remembered. Her small act of kindness had meant that much to him. I could see it in his eyes and hear it in the tone of his voice.

For that reason, I started on a journey learning all I could about Moina. And what I found impressed me.

At a time when women’s rights and opportunities were limited, Moina had made a difference. She was strong and purpose filled. And the motto she lived by–“Whatsoever your hands find to do, do it with all your might”–opened up endless possibilities for her.

I was positively inspired. I hope young readers will feel the same.

Book launch!

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

Writing Moina’s story was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle–one puzzle piece at a time.

Listen to an audio interview with Barbara.

I first searched the Internet for a personal connection. A woman living on the farmland where Moina grew up had heard of a book that Moina had written, but she had no other information.

Next I went to my local library. The head librarian had not heard of Moina but was interested in her story. We searched the library catalogue and found a 1941 autobiography, but no other books.

When Moina’s autobiography from Alibris arrived I felt like I’d struck gold. It held a treasure trove of experiences and turning points that helped mold and shape Moina’s character. I read the book over and again, marking so many passages with sticky notes that it soon resembled a porcupine.

But after outlining Moina’s story and going online to fact check my information, I ran into a problem. All the online resources drew their information from the same source–Moina’s autobiography.

I contacted the Poppy Chairmen of the American Legion Auxiliary and The Veterans of Foreign Wars. They provided me with the resources they used to teach the public about the poppy, but had little information about Moina.

It wasn’t until countless emails and phone calls later that I finally made a breakthrough. The woman who had nominated Moina as a Georgia Woman of Achievement in 1999 had met Moina’s two great-nieces at the induction ceremony. She shared their contact information with me.

Elinor and Lucia lived next door to one another in Georgia. Before contacting them I felt nervous and excited–all at the same time. What if they didn’t want someone delving into their family history? And how would they feel about a first-time author tackling the story of their great-aunt?

Sammie the Sea Dog

But I was pleasantly surprised. It was Elinor’s birthday, and she said my interest in her great-aunt was a birthday present. A house fire had destroyed much of the family’s paper-based records, but many of Moina’s personal belongings had been donated to various organizations for safekeeping.

Elinor, along with Lucia, offered to join me on my fact-finding journey. On our search for primary sources we combed through archives, museums, historical societies, and places where Moina lived and worked.

Once Carolyn Yoder accepted my manuscript and approved the text, my research took on a new direction. Before Layne Johnson created his beautiful artwork we combined our collected reference materials and images and made a file for each scene, ensuring historical accuracy.

Over the eight years it took to write and revise the book, Elinor and Lucia were my expert readers. I was especially grateful for their enthusiasm and support.

When I mentioned this to my dad he wasn’t surprised. It made perfect sense to him that Moina’s type of kindness would pass from one generation to the next.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans by Barbara Elizabeth Wash, illustrated by Layne Johnson (Calkins Creek, 2012). Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

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New Voice: J.A. Souders on Renegade

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

J.A. Souders is the first-time author of Renegade (Tor, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Since the age of three, sixteen-year-old Evelyn Winters has trained to be Daughter of the People in the underwater utopia known as Elysium. Selected from hundreds of children for her ideal genes, all her life she’s believed that everything is perfect. 

Her world. Her people. The Law.

But when Gavin Hunter, a Surface Dweller, accidentally stumbles into Elysium’s secluded little world, Evelyn comes to a startling realization: Everything she knows is a lie.

Her memories have been altered.

Her mind and body aren’t under her own control.

And the person she knows as Mother is a monster.

Together with Gavin she plans her escape, only to learn that her own mind is a ticking time bomb…and Mother has one last secret that will destroy them all.

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?

There was a workshop about a year ago at the Florida SCBWI mid-year conference, it talked about how it was important to see through your character’s lens–how they saw their world through their circumstances.

They went on to explain that no matter how similar a character is to another, they’re circumstances will always be different and that difference is what flavors how they see the world.

It was a real eye-opener, especially since I was having so much difficulty connecting with my main character. I immediately went home and thought about how she (and all the other characters) would see the world given their circumstances. It really helped me connect with all of them and I’m certain they’re better characters for it.

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

I was originally attracted to science fiction because like fantasy almost anything is possible, but, unlike fantasy, there has to be a basis in fact. And it excited me to see things that were only possible in science fiction become science fact.

 I loved thinking up something that doesn’t exist than using today’s technology or research to see how that would be possible in any given time period and then putting my own spin on it.

I have been a long-time science fiction reader. I just didn’t know it. The books I read always had some kind of science fiction base to them, but weren’t really “shelved” as science fiction. I just thought I was reading romance or young adult or a classic without an emphasis on any genre.

The classic dystopian writers from the past were a huge inspiration. Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (Ballantine Books, 1953). Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Chatto & Windus 1931), 1984 by George Orwell (Secker and Warburg, 1949), and, of course, Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2008).

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

I thought promoting would be the hardest part of my launch, but I have to say honestly it doesn’t seem as hard as I thought it would be. Most of my marketing is online. I’m completely addicted to Twitter, so it doesn’t feel at all like marketing and Facebook has been a great tool as well.

And I got some great SWAG, the normal stuff like bookmarks and buttons, and special like the emergency evac packs. 

My biggest issue was what to do when, but Lisa Schroeder has a great timeline/checklist that I check all the time to see what I should be doing and when. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude.

My support system has been and always will be my husband, first and foremost, and my lovely critique partners, Liz Czukas and Larissa Hardesty.

I think the best piece of advice I can tell anyone is to pick marketing things that are easy and fun for you and do those.

Everyone will notice when you don’t enjoy what you’re doing and it’ll have the opposite effect than what you want. But if you genuinely enjoy it, you won’t dread doing it and everyone will see how much fun you’re having doing it.

J.A.’s parrotlet, who is her “teeny, tiny muse.”

Guest Post: Mika Ashley-Hollinger on Character & Setting in Mystery

By Mika Ashley-Hollinger
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

To keep mystery and suspense throughout your story, up until the very last page, you need to engage the imagination of the reader at all times.

In my debut young adult novel Precious Bones (Delacorte, 2012), I tried to create suspense and mystery by using my young protagonist’s self doubts and the unique environment of a swamp.

I also created characters that bordered on the edge of being bigger than life. Their personalities were bold and outright, but there was also something hidden, good or bad, just underneath the surface. Some characters had contradicting traits and actions that left an air of mystery around them.

Hopefully, readers were often times left with the question; is this person a good guy or a bad guy, is he capable or not capable?

There were numerous times when the young protagonist’s perspective became clouded over with suspension. She allowed small worms of doubt to wiggle around in her mind. Sometimes stories and legends she had heard her entire life became entangled with her present day interactions.

Character traits also came into play. Was someone with a large, slow moving body capable of solving a serious murder? Was an old woman that lived in the swamp, an evil witch or just a lonely old lady? She even allowed doubts to creep in about her own beloved Daddy–was he just a harmless rascal or a man capable of doing unimaginable bad things?

Of course, the environment where the story takes place, a Florida swamp, is in it self, mysterious as well as frightening. I wanted to pay homage to the swamp for the magnificent, nourishing, ever changing place it is, and at the same time make use of it’s potential for danger. Some characters viewed it as a gentle gift from God, where animals came to raise their young, to others it was a dark murky place where secrets could be hid under a thick layer of muck.

The use of contradicting scenes and events is a sure way of bringing suspense to a story. Also creating a sense of doubt about a characters true nature results in page-turning events.

The reader wants to know, what’s this guy up to next? I let the reader’s imagination come to it’s own conclusions, before the real truth was revealed. I tried to make good use of the element of surprise.

Feeding time in the valley…
Mika’s husband and two of their granddaughters, overlooking the North Shore of Kaua’i.

New Voice: Mike Jung on Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Mike Jung is the first-time author of
Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities
(Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2012) and also is a contributor to
Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves, edited by E. Kristen Anderson and Miranda Kenneally (Zest Books, 2012) and
the forthcoming Break These Rules! edited by Luke Reynolds (Chicago Review Press,

From the promotional copy of Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities:

Vincent Wu is Captain Stupendous’s No. 1 Fan, but even he has to admit that Captain Stupendous has been a little off lately.

During Professor Mayhem’s latest attack, Captain Stupendous barely made it out alive – although he did manage to save Vincent from a giant monster robot. It’s Vincent’s dream come true… until he finds out Captain Stupendous’s secret identity: It’s Polly Winnicott-Lee, the girl Vincent happens to have a crush on.

Captain Stupendous’s powers were recently transferred to Polly in a fluke accident, and so while she has all of his super strength and super speed, she doesn’t know how to use them, and she definitely doesn’t know all the strengths and weaknesses of his many nemeses.

But Vincent and his friends are just the right fan club to train up their favorite superhero before he (she?) has to face Professor Mayhem again. And if they make it through this battle for the safety of Copperplate City, Vincent might just get up the courage to ask Polly on a date.

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you’re debuting this year?

By Mike Jung, used with permission

I was a voracious young reader, absolutely voracious. The years between ages 9 and 11 were, in terms of reading, absolutely the most satisfying years of my life, even though it was also a time of change and transition – my family moved from California to New Jersey just before my ninth birthday, and I terribly missed my friends and family on the west coast.

We actually left our dog there with my grandparents, which felt like the cruelest blow of all.

However, I acquired a bit of a reputation at our new local library for being a big reader, and I positively basked in the cooing approval of the librarians there each week as I walked out with my customary, teetering stack of books.

Those were also the years in which we went back to California for the entire summer, and among the many pleasures of that experience was the fact that my cousins Cathy, Grace, and Peter gave me carte blanche to plunder their bookshelves.

When I was eleven, about a quarter of the way through the school year, I was moved up from the sixth grade to the seventh grade, which turned out to be a very bad thing for me. I struggled terribly, failed to adjust to my new social surroundings, and saw my academic performance drop below a high-achieving level for the first time in my life.

And the nature of reading changed for me – reading functioned as more of an escape from reality than it ever had before, and it was often with a kind of frenzied desperation that I immersed myself as deeply as possible in the stories I read. I didn’t limit myself solely to novels – I also read comic books, magazines, our family’s World Book Encyclopedia, and a lot of nonfiction – but novels were always the first option, and science fiction and fantasy eventually became my flavor of choice.

The clearest and strongest influence those years had on Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities is the main character, Vincent. Vincent’s an outsider, and he has some challenges with regard to low self-opinion, and he’s not a thinly disguised version of my childhood self – in some ways he’s very, very different from the boy I was – but the emotional truths he deals with are familiar to me and I suspect those emotional truths will be a recurring theme in my work.

How did you go about identifying your editor? Did you meet him/her at a conference? Did you read an interview with him/her? Were you impressed by books he/she has edited? 

Mike & Arthur at SCBWI Nationals in L.A. 2010

I first saw the name “Arthur Levine” on Lisa Yee’s blog, and I believe the first photo I ever saw of Arthur was him and Lisa balancing books on their heads. Something completely goofy and lacking in self-importance, in other words.

I thought how great it was that people in this industry didn’t take themselves too seriously, and if a funny author like Lisa Yee could find a like-minded editor, why couldn’t I?

It wasn’t long before I learned Arthur was the co-editor of the Harry Potter series, but while that knowledge definitely impacted my mental image of him, it didn’t supersede my original impression of him as Lisa Yee’s editor and a guy with an obvious sense of humor.

As I continued researching the industry, I heard more and more about what a nice guy Arthur was. I also realized just how staggeringly high the overall desire to work with him was – there was clearly no end to the number of aspiring (and accomplished) authors who, like me, had Arthur in the top spot on their “Editors I Want to Work With” lists. I wasn’t even agented at the time, so I put my head down and focused on the daily grind of writing my manuscript.

I finally started my current borderline codependent relationship with Facebook in 2009, and after friending Lisa (who I had a remote-but-pleasant online acquaintanceship with by that point), I started commenting on her status updates, as great teeming masses of other people were already doing.

This went on for a year or so, and imagine my surprise when in early 2010 I got a friend request from one Arthur A. Levine! Apparently he’d seen a variety of my comments on Lisa’s posts, thought they were funny, and wanted to get acquainted.

So I had my introduction to Arthur, long before I felt even remotely ready to submit to him. We got to know each other a little bit, in that halting and limited Facebookish way, and I was striving mightily to maintain boundaries and not virtually hurl my manuscript in his face when he sent me a non-Facebook email and requested it! I sent it, despite my still-unagented state.

Mike & Joan at the EMLA retreat 2012

Shortly thereafter I registered for the 2010 SCBWI Summer Conference, realized Arthur was teaching an intensive class, and dreamily contemplated the mysterious workings of the universe as I signed up for it.

I was nervous about meeting Arthur, but not nearly as nervous as I would have been if we hadn’t already established an embryonic relationship online. I mustered up the nerve to suggest we get a cup of coffee and chat, which we did. He was every bit as kind, funny, and engaging as I’d been told, and we hit it off in a way that’s actually very rare for me.

The day after the conference I got an unexpected call from my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, and the rest, as they say, is history.

My respect and admiration for his editorial skills are stratospherically high, of course, but my fondness for him as a person and a friend are equally high. Working with Arthur has easily been the most enjoyable and fulfilling experience of my professional life.

New Voice & Giveaway: Melissa Guion on Baby Penguins Everywhere!

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Melissa Guion is the first-time author-illustrator of Baby Penguins Everywhere! (Philomel, 2012)(blog). From the promotional copy:

Can there be such a thing as too many adorable penguins?

One day a penguin sees a most unusual sight: a hat floating in the icy water. Even more unusual? Out of the hat pops a baby penguin. But not just one baby penguin . . . or even two. But a third, and a fourth, and on and on!

At first the mama penguin is happy for the company. Until she realizes that taking care of a family is very hard, very tiring work, and what she could really use is just a moment alone. Yet as newcomer Melissa Guion reminds us in her adorable debut picture book, alone time is all well and good, but, it’s together time that’s best of all.

Perfect for any mama penguin with a family, or classroom, full of mischievous little ones.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2012, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

Cynthia, I landed my first illustration gig in the 80’s:

My mom gave me limited phone privileges, so I don’t know if it was ringing with offers after that.

Seriously, I’ve always written and drawn, but I only decided I wanted to
make children’s books about eight years ago. The first thing I did was
register for the New York SCBWI conference

It was incredibly inspiring and demystifying. David Macaulay presented a slide show highlighting all the mistakes he made on his first book, Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction (Houghton Mifflin, 1973).

I left full of ideas and optimism. I figured, with a little luck, I could be working on a book very soon! The following day I sat down to draw. I drew for about half an hour, and then remembered I had to figure out what happened to the bathroom fixtures I’d ordered. I got an email that the rare funk record I’d listed on eBay had sold to someone in Brazil. Then I had a baby. A year passed.

It was not until late 2006 that I gave myself a real kick in the pants. I remember talking to my friend, the musician Jonathan Coulton, about a project he’d just finished called “Thing A Week.” He wrote a song a week, for a year, and posted all the songs on his website. He eventually made them into a set of albums. It had obviously been a great project for him.

I decided I would do the same thing with illustrations, in hopes of making some kind of progress. When I think back, I can’t believe how arbitrary the decision felt, because it ended up being one of the most important choices I’ve ever made.

In January 2007, I launched a blog called 52 Pictures, and committed to posting a new image there every Friday. The pictures themselves were important but so was everything around them. In addition to experimenting with drawing and painting styles, I learned to use Photoshop and HTML. I took part in collaborative projects. I began showing my work locally. I went to another SCBWI conference and displayed a painting in the show there, and SCBWI President Steve Mooser bought it.

The following year, I applied for and was awarded my first artist’s grant. These were major confidence builders. I used the grant toward renting my first studio, which didn’t pay for itself but gave me real space to work.

At that point I’d been talking for several years to a Writers House agent named Steven Malk. Steve saw my artwork in 2006 through a mutual friend. He really encouraged me to pursue writing and illustrating kids books. He would check in with me periodically, and his persistent confidence in me, right from the start, was very meaningful. I frankly didn’t know where it was coming from but I figured he had good reason for it.

In 2009, Steve and I decided to send around a little postcard announcing that he’d be representing me. I made very simple sequential drawings for the front and back. Steve’s response to the artwork was positive, though not effusive. A designer friend who helped me get the artwork ready for the printer was pretty unenthusiastic. I got very nervous for about 24 hours, wondering if I was about to make my professional debut with something people would ignore, or hate.

I sat in my studio that I couldn’t afford, and looked at the postcard for a long time. I concluded that I really liked it. We went with it and it was a big success. I got my editor and my first book contract directly from that card. To me, it represents the moment when I finally hopped out of the nest.

As an author-illustrator, you come to children’s books with a double barrel of talent. Could you describe your apprenticeship in each area, and how well (or not) your inner writer and artist play together? What advice do you have for others interested in succeeding on this front?

I like working with both words and pictures, but my apprenticeship as a writer has been longer and more complete. You might not guess that from my first book, with its grand total of 115 words, most of which are “the” and “penguin.” I wrote a lot when I was young. I liked it, I had a knack for it, and I was encouraged. I became an English major at Yale, which was initially frustrating for my scientist parents, but it was really what I loved, and they were ultimately very supportive.

After college I took a very business-y job, for financial reasons, but I always wrote for myself. Then a weird thing happened. In my early thirties I got really disgusted with my writing voice and stopped writing completely. I had no idea how long it would last and I didn’t care. If I bothered to pick up a pen, I would draw, often in an abstract way.

After about six months of that, I found myself starting to draw letters and words, drawing them as if they were line art, not thinking much about what I meant by them. I thought about how they looked. Sometimes a drawing would turn into words, or words would trail off into a drawing, and that’s basically how I got back to writing. My inner artist really bailed my inner writer out of a jam.

My apprenticeship as an illustrator was very different. I studied art a bit, at different times, and I wasn’t bad, but there were always people who could draw and paint circles around me.

When I decided to illustrate books as well as write them I signed up for studio art classes in anatomical drawing and figurative painting, and they made me totally insane. My goal was to make books, not to become Leonardo da Vinci. I stopped after a few classes (and yes, of course, they were helpful in the end). I focus on having an expressive line and I keep things simple. I love the looseness of watercolor, so I use that. I leave detailed rendering and sophisticated color palettes to the illustrators who are wonderful at those things.

I don’t have a lot of special advice for illustrators who want to become writers. Wait, there’s one thing: don’t read the chapter in Becoming A Writer (Tarcher, 1934) where Dorothea Brande insists you write every day at the same time, and says if you fail to write on schedule you should give up. If you’ve worked hard enough to become an illustrator, you’ve earned a free pass.) If you’re a writer who wants to illustrate, I say find out what you do well and develop it. If you’re not sure what that is, share your artwork with an artist friend and let them tell you what seems strong. Try not to be self-conscious. My drawing table is in my apartment and I used to keep it totally off limits. Now I let people in, casually or during open studio events. I share work in progress; I let people watch me draw. It’s not for me to say when a person is ready to bare their mess, but it’s true that once you do, things really start to move.

If you want to make picture books and haven’t been to an SCBWI conference, go.

Two great teachers whose classes did not make me crazy were Roger Winter and Sergio Ruzzier.

Hear Jonathan Coulton’s “Thing A Week” songs here.

See my 52 Pictures artwork in my 2007 blog archive, starting here.

Melissa saves her pencils after their too small to draw with — she has quite a collection.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of Baby Penguins Everywhere! by Melissa Guion (Philomel, 2012). Eligibility: U.S. Publisher sponsored.

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New Voice: Hillary Hall De Baun on Starring Arabelle

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Hillary Hall De Baun is the first-time author of Starring Arabelle (Eerdmans, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Impulsive, romantic Arabelle Archer is determined to make the most of her freshman year. She’ll audition for the school play and soon be on her way to the stardom she knows is her destiny.

Arabelle’s year gets off to a unexpectedly rocky start, however, when all the roles in the play go to upperclassmen and she has to settle for prompting. 

And to make matters worse, her guidance counselor insists that she fulfill her community service requirement by volunteering at the Heavenly Rest Nursing Home — the last place she wants to be.

But when a crisis puts the school play at risk, Arabelle realizes the true value of the friendships she’s made at Heavenly Rest, and discovers that making a lasting impression isn’t always about being a star.

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?

Several years ago, when I had struggled through endless drafts of Starring Arabelle and was not happy, I took myself to a week-long whole-novel workshop offered by the Highlights Foundation. Phyllis Root and Jane Resh Thomas, both well-published authors, led the small group.

One of the first comments from Phyllis Root after she read my manuscript was, “Why are you solving Arabelle’s problems so quickly? Where’s the thread of tension that makes readers want to turn the pages to the very end?”

Wow, was she ever spot on! I had become a helicopter parent to my heroine. Instead of letting Arabelle’s problems in the school play get worse and worse until all hope of achieving her dream to be a great actress seemed doomed, I had fixed the problems, one by one, with great dispatch. I did the same thing at the nursing home, where Arabelle volunteered. Her failures there quickly turned to triumphs. Needless to say, my story arcs were small and episodic. No wonder I was unhappy!

Another “ah-ha!” moment at this same workshop happened when I realized that as a comedic writer, I was downplaying serious issues and Arabelle’s heart’s desire—what Jane Resh Thomas calls “the thing your heroine is dying for want of.” By concentrating on the humor part of the story, I had given short shrift to Arabelle’s deepest longings and fears and forgotten that humor is just another side of tragedy.

Alas, the fixing wasn’t over. Not by a long shot. The draft I took to the workshop was in first person, present tense. To apply the “ah-ha!s” I was encouraged to shift to third person, past tense.

Not only was I dubious, I was horrified. A huge revision loomed. But after rewriting several chapters (believe me, many things change when you shift from first person to third—many!) I was convinced that this was the best voice and tense to tell my story, which ultimately made for a still humorous but far deeper, more satisfying novel.

As a comedic writer, how do you decide what’s funny? What advice do you have for those interested in either writing comedies or books with a substantial amount of humor in them?

It’s a funny thing about writing a funny story; it can become “unfunny” very quickly. In my first attempt to write a comedy piece, I used caricature and over-the top humor to carry the load. Improbable situations abounded. But no one except me was amused.

So what road map do you follow to create a funny, memorable stand-alone novel or a series that isn’t hyperbole?

  • Put Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn at the top of your reading list.
    Avoid cream pie projectiles, pants falling down, and exploding cigars. Those stopped being funny years ago.
  • Create a character that readers can identify with. This doesn’t mean the character has to be like you but that you care about him and understand his travails, though they may be outside your experience. Tom and Huck, again.
  • Find your inner funny bone. Even serious subjects can have a humorous edge.
  • Voice is key to humor. In large part, this is finding your own voice.
  • Show your character’s humor through dialogue.
  • Find a good match between your hero and the plot your novel turns on.

In writing Starring Arabelle, I did not have a funny book in mind. That happened along the way as I discovered Arabelle’s voice: dramatic, impulsive, romantic, and determined in a ninth-grade way.

Why ninth grade? Quite simply, Arabelle’s was a ninth-grade voice. That was the beginning.

What would she say and how would she say it was a recurring question. In the end, Arabelle was the prime mover of the book’s humor.

Hillary as Angelique in “The Imaginary Invalid”

The nursing home plot came out of the blue. Was it because I had
visited several nursing homes and been entertained by some of the
comical goings-on? 

The school play, “You Can’t Take It With You” (Farrar & Rinehart, 1936), came next, but only after I had sifted through a bunch of plays, searching for the perfect one. The eccentricities of the cast of characters in “You Can’t Take It With You” had to match the antics of the nursing home residents. 

The mishaps and disasters of rehearsals and opening night I borrowed from my own acting experience in amateur theater.

Then came narrative scenes, in no particular order.

The linear events of the story came much later and led eventually to all the pieces fitting together snugly.

But throughout the lengthy writing process, Arabelle’s voice was the glue that held this comedy of errors together.

New Voice & Giveaway: Donna Cooner on Skinny

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Donna Cooner is the first-time author of Skinny (Scholastic, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Hopeless. Freak. Elephant. Pitiful. 

These are the words of Skinny, the vicious voice that lives inside fifteen-year-old Ever Davies’s head. Skinny tells Ever all the dark thoughts her classmates have about her. Ever knows she weighs over three hundred pounds, knows she’ll probably never be loved, and Skinny makes sure she never forgets it.

But there is another voice. Ever’s singing voice, which is beautiful but has always been silenced by Skinny. Partly in hopes of trying out for the school musical—and partly to try and save her own life—Ever decides to undergo a risky surgery that may help her lose weight and start over.

With the support of her best friend, Ever begins the uphill battle toward change. But demons, she finds, are not so easy to shake, not even as she sheds pounds. Because Skinny is still around. And Ever will have to confront that voice before she can truly find her own.

Could you tell us about your writing community-your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

A couple of years ago, I was in a small critique group at a writing conference. We all read pages from our works in progress, and I was immediately impressed by the quality and diversity of the writing around me. One manuscript was a futuristic dystopian. Another a historical set in the time of Henry VIII, and still another a paranormal tale based on Celtic myth.

Later, one of the participants emailed to see if we’d like to stay in touch. We did, and the YAMuses were born.

At that time, we never imagined how our writing lives were about to change or how important that chance meeting would become. Within a year, we launched a blog, signed with agents, and sold eleven books between us.

Those manuscripts we read that day became Under The Never Sky by Veronica Rossi (HarperCollins, 2012), Gilt by Katherine Longshore (Viking, 2012), Silver by Talia Vance (Flux, 2012), and Skinny by Donna Cooner (Scholastic, 2012). We also adopted future author, Bret Ballou, along the way.

The writing life is, for the most part, a solitary endeavor. Having four brilliant writing minds focused on making my manuscript better is an incredible resource.

While the Muses certainly support the writing process, we also support each other in the business aspect of publishing. I’m lucky enough to often get a “behind the scenes” view of different agents, different publicists, and different publishers.

Muses share a wickedly funny sense of humor. When we’re together we laugh a lot, sometimes so hard we can’t catch our breath. We usually have multiple email streams in play every day. One day we had twenty three emails exchanged that started with the title, “Quick.” We share celebrations, frustrations, information, jokes, silliness, and fears.

Below is a small sample of what the conversation looks like:

On Tue, Sep 11, 2012 at 7:12 AM, Talia Vance wrote:

Hi guys,

So I am already at the office after being here until 10 last night. The only thing getting me through this week is knowing I will get a break on Saturday to celebrate with you. Thank you so much for everything. Your support and friendship has become so dear to me in the last couple of years, and I just want you to know how much I appreciate it.

Why yes, lack of sleep does make me a tad emotional.


On Sep 11, 2012, at 10:57 AM, Bret Ballou wrote:


So sorry that you’re slammed at work. We are lucky to have you in our lives. You’re so insightful, analytical, and passionate. You are fiercely loyal and generous. You work so so so hard. The amount you’ve achieved (all y’all have achieved) is mind boggling.
I for one, couldn’t ask for better friends.

On Sep 22, 2012, at 2:32 PM, Donna Cooner wrote:


I just had this weird, out of body experience where I pulled the car over to the side of the road and had to blink the tears away. You know that moment when you realize, Oh My God, I’m actually living my dream of being an author?

Sometimes all the stress and doubt of this path overwhelm that amazingness, so I just wanted to share it with you.

Love you guys!

On Sep 22, 2012, at 3:02 PM, Veronica Rossi wrote:

Thank you, Donna. For sharing the journey and for this email. I’ve been trudging through stuff most of the morning, and this is a wonderful reminder that we are so lucky to be where we are, to have something we love to do that has brought us great friends and so many memories.

On Sep 22, 21012 at 3:15 PM, Katherine Longshore wrote:

Now you’ve got me started. Thank you for sharing, and thank you for reminding me.

Love you, too.

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

Balancing the time between writing a novel and being in the real
world is challenging. Sometimes beyond challenging. I am a professor
and university administrator at Colorado State University.
It is a full time, twelve month position, and I am responsible for
supervising over ninety faculty and staff. Time for writing, and now
marketing/publicity, has to be squeezed in around the work schedule.

more than the time management needed to get the actual story onto the
page, there is the constant pull of living stories out in your head. The
“head” world is a tempting one. It’s full of word play, adventure,
passion and imagination. The other world–the “real” one–is often full
of curriculum meetings, graduate students, and budget scenarios.

Finding equilibrium and continuity between the two worlds is never easy.
Driving to work, I stop at a traffic light and suddenly realize I’ve
solved the plot problem in chapter three. Or I find myself nodding at
inappropriate times at a Dean’s council meeting because I’m listening to
the dialogue in my head instead of the conversation at the table.

Even though the balance isn’t easy, there are some things learned that seem to help. I often start my morning at a local coffee shop before heading in to the office. They keep my tab on an index card in a little box and I pay up monthly. It’s a special place I keep sacred for the writing world, and going there triggers my brain to shut down all thoughts of work.

I also set short, daily writing goals to keep the story going in my head even if I’m not actually at a computer writing it down.

Finally, I don’t compare my writing routines to a perception of how it “should be.” Very few writers I know actually have a writer’s cottage in the woods with the perfectly behaved pet curled up on the rug at their feet while they type away at breakneck speeds on novel number nineteen.

And if you want to see just how far away I am from this perception, see photos below.

Roxanne, who’s featured in Skinny.
The reason Roxanne is called “the goat dog.”

Cynsational Notes

Donna Cooner is an author, blogger, speaker, and teacher currently living in Fort Collins, Colorado. A former teacher and school administrator, she is a now a professor and university administrator at Colorado State University. Donna is the author of more than twenty picture books and was a founding member of the Brazos Valley Society of Children’s Bookwriters and Illustrators. She also wrote children’s television shows for PBS and textbooks for future teachers. Skinny (Scholastic, 2012) is her debut novel for young adults.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of Skinny by Donna Cooner (Scholastic, 2012). Author sponsored. U.S. only.

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New Voice: Send Me a Sign by Tiffany Schmidt

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Tiffany Schmidt is the first-time author of Send Me A Sign (Walker-Bloomsbury, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Mia is always looking for signs. A sign that she should get serious with her on-again, off-again soccer-captain boyfriend. A sign that she’ll get the grades to make it into an Ivy-league school. A sign that the summer before senior year will be the best one yet.

But when Mia is diagnosed with leukemia, the only sign she wants to see is that she will survive cancer and still be the girl she’s always been—top student, top cheerleader, and top of the social food chain.

Until she’s better, Mia doesn’t want anyone to know she has cancer. She doesn’t want her friends’ pity. And she certainly doesn’t want to start feeling something more than friendship for the one person who knows her secret, her best friend, Gyver. But the sicker Mia gets, the more she realizes that not even the clearest signs offer perfect answers, an in order to discover what will happen in her life, she will have to find the courage to live it.

Could you tell us about your writing community-your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

Emily and Tiffany

There have been so many people who supported me and pushed me along this path to publication, but here I’m going to focus on one: Emily Hainsworth.

Emily and I met on Twitter—way back in 2008. I was teaching sixth grade and directing the school musical. I’d tweeted something about having the songs to “Annie” permanently looping through my head and @Emily_ya responded by tweeting a lyric. I don’t remember which—if I’d known this was going to be the beginning of such a treasured friendship, I’d have favorited the exchange.

We started tweeting pretty consistently—to the point that my husband would ask if I was talking to “Emily Why Aye” every time I was at the computer – and in March of 2009, she suggested swapping pages of our respective works in progress.

I didn’t sleep that night. First, because I was kept up reading her fabulous pages. Second, because I was so worried about what she’d think of mine… what she’d think of me!

I just searched my inbox way back to those first emails and pulled some snippets from Emily’s response:

I really do like your writing – it’s like a comfortable pair of pajamas: I get into it easily, and feel comfortable with it. Yay!

I’D LOVE to keep CP’ing w/ you! There are so many things to worry about in finding a CP – Will we like each other? Will we be interested in the stories we’re each trying to tell? Do we like each others’ style? Will we get constructive feedback we can find a way to use?

So far, I’m just nodding YES, YES, YES, YES!! 😀

Isn’t it obvious why I adore her?

The work in progress she was reading was Send Me A Sign. I could only give her chunks, because the book wasn’t done. Her encouragement made me want to finish it, pushed me to write more, faster, because I wanted her feedback and encouragement.

Em and I have each had very different roads to publication, but we’ve been constants in each other’s journeys. She’s the first person I called when I got an offer of representation from my dream agent, and she was also the person I called, emailed, texted after every rejection.

I remember whisper-squealing when her book, Through To You (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins), sold—the whispering only because I was holding a sleeping infant. I wanted to shout hooray at the top of my lungs. And this spring she held her newborn and whisper-squealed for me when I called to tell her that my second book, Bright Before Sunrise, had sold.

I can say without a doubt that I wouldn’t have made it to this point with Emily. The fact that we were both scheduled to be Fall 2012 debuts made the process even more special—it’s been fabulous to have to have someone going to commiserate and celebrate with as I deciphered copy edit code, brainstormed revisions, planned release parties, saw my first reviews… – and then Emily’s release date was changed…

…to the same date as mine!

So on 10/2/2012, I get to celebrate twice as hard— once for Send Me A Sign, and once more for Through to You.

As someone who’s the primary caregiver of children, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

I was five months pregnant with twins when Send Me A Sign went out on submission in September 2010. I was also setting up my classroom and getting ready to start another year teaching sixth grade. Or, at least part of a year… the twins were due mid-January, so I had originally hoped to teach until the winter break.

Nope. My doctor had other ideas. He insisted I stop working at 28 weeks, which was okay with me. I was over-the-moon about the idea of having twelve weeks of full-time writing before my Schmidtlets arrived.

Nope. On my first day out of the classroom, I learned that those ‘little twinges’ I’d been feeling for the past month were actually contractions. I was put on bedrest. The only time I was to leave the space between my headboard and footboard was to go to the bathroom and go to the doctors.

It took a little while to get used to being trapped in a bed. As someone who fidgets and fusses and does her best drafting on a treadmill desk, lying still and writing were not compatible activities. But a month into bedrest I was starting to get the swing of things. I had lofty goals of finishing my second novel’s revision…


The Schmidtlets continued their pattern of interrupting any plans I’ve dared to make by arriving eight weeks early. They spent a month in the NICU and came home with all sorts of medical accessories—monitors that false-alarmed constantly and had me jerking from pseudo-sleep to see if they were still breathing.

It was chaos—it still is chaos. They’re nearly two now. A hundred percent healthy. Tearing up my house and getting into whatever mischief they can manage.

It would be a lie to say I enjoy every minute of it – cleaning applesauce off puggle #2 this morning wasn’t particularly fun – but they are the loves of my life.

This is not to say they are my life. It’s so important to me that while “mother” is a cherished part of my identity, it is not my whole identity. Writing has been a passion of mine since long before they were born, and it will still be one of my passions after they’ve grown up and moved out (sniffle).

So, how do I do both? It’s changed a lot over the past twenty-one months – It used to be that I could snuggle a baby in the sling while simultaneously walking on my treadmill desk and working on a book. It used to be that I could read whole chapters aloud and they’d stare at me with Momma-is-Magic eyes. It used to be that I could rock a napping baby with one foot, pat a sleepy back with one hand, and use my free hand to mark up revision pages.

Now I don’t want pens or markers anywhere near toddler hands.

But, naptime is magic. From the time I put them in their cribs until the time I take them back out is sacred. This means setting myself up to make the most of those precious minutes. It’s not time for Twitter or texting—those can be done in stolen seconds while I fill sippy cups or wait for someone to be “all done” on the potty seat.

It also means mentally preparing—since I can recite Moo, Baa, La La La by Sandra Boynton (Little Simon, 1982) in my sleep, I can use the morning’s fourth (or eighth) read to think about what I want to get done in my own book once they’re asleep.

Same with strolls around the neighborhood, as the Schmidtlets chatter back and forth in a hybrid version of English and twin speak, I mentally plan the scene that I’ll throw onto paper once they’re in cribs.

And I jot notes everywhere. On my phone. On papertowels and receipts. I keep notepads in all the diaperbags, the car, their stroller, their nursery, and their playroom—occasionally this leads to I thought I wrote that scene. Didn’t I? when I can’t remember where I wrote something down. I’ll also record voice notes on my phone. Or call and leave myself a voicemail message with something I don’t want to forget.

I don’t have any magic answers—if your kiddos are anything like mine, they seem to delight in changing things up as soon as you’ve mastered a functional routine. And what works for my family, probably won’t work for the unique challenges of someone else’s.

But, for me it comes down to a simple statement: I need to write. It would be easy to make excuses, but I want it too badly. So, instead, I make the most of the opportunities and time I have.

And I think the fact that the twins say, “Momma book,” whenever they see the cover to Send Me A Sign is their way of saying they’re proud of me too.

New Voice & Giveaway: Kim Baker on Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kim Baker is the first-time author of Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School (Roaring Brook, 2012)(excerpt). From the promotional copy:

This is the story of The League of Picklemakers

Ben: who began it all by sneaking in one night and filling homeroom with ball-pit balls.

Frank: who figured out that an official club, say a pickle-making club, could receive funding from the PTA.

Oliver: Who once convinced half of the class that his real parents had found him and he was going to live in a submarine.

Bean: Who wasn’t exactly invited, but her parents own a costume shop, which comes in handy if you want to dress up like a giant squirrel and try to scare people at the zoo. 

Together, they are an unstoppable prank-pulling force, and Fountain Point Middle School will never be the same.

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you’re debuting this year?

Visit Kim Baker

I don’t think anything influenced the formation of Pickle more than thinking about what the younger me would want from a story.

I was a voracious reader as a kid. I always have been, but during the “middle grade” years I read everything I could— from classics like The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Frederick A. Stokes, 1911) and Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (Harper, 1952) to tons of series and mass-market stuff, with everything in-between.

My parents were really great about providing books and letting me have pretty free reign with a library card.

My elementary school librarian, Mrs. Schuster, recognized me as a book lover and gave me a “job” helping out in the school library after school while my mom was working. She would give me tasks around the library like tidying up and shelving, and we’d talk about books. Having that kind of “after hours” access to the stacks and a children’s book expert really helped me find my tastes as a reader.

There were some rough patches in that phase of my life, and I tended to steer toward books with fun and irreverence. I developed an early appreciation for humor. I was a semi-inadvertent troublemaker and so are the characters in Pickle. I wanted to make a story about goodhearted troublemakers, more mischievous than mean-spirited. The secret prank club starts out as a creative way to have fun, but when a rogue prank threatens their new alliance they use their unorthodox skills to push back.

Hopefully, it’s subtle, but there’s an underlying theme of standing up for individuality. As a young reader, anytime the kids in the story became empowered somehow, it was a plus. And if they beat an unfair system? It blew my mind.

I think I would have really been drawn to a book like Pickle as a young reader. And apart from the humor and shenanigans, I would’ve been really excited about a Mexican-American protagonist.

Kim’s workspace

There was, and is, a huge void of books with Latino characters. Last year, Mitali Perkins pointed out that Latinos make up over 16% of the U.S. Population, but less than 2% of kid/YA books are written by Latinos or about Latino characters. That’s crazy!

I’m a mash-up of a Mexican-American Californian mom and an Anglo-Texan dad. I grew up in Wyoming and we’d spend summers in urban Los Angeles with my mom’s side of the family.

As a young reader, I could find books on practically anything in the library, except one that reflected aspects of my cultural identity.
I tried to create something that my kid self would’ve been really excited to find on the library shelf: diverse characters in a story filled with silliness, friends, covert operations, creativity, and protest. That fits younger me down to the core. It pretty much sums me up presently as well.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you deal with the pervasiveness of rapidly changing technologies? Did you worry about dating your manuscript? Did you worry about it seeming inauthentic if you didn’t address these factors? Why or why not?

It was tricky, because I wanted the characters to use technology in their exploits, but I was worried about dating the story. I didn’t include any gadgetry beyond basic computers for two reasons. Electronics are the best example of how quickly technology can change. Just look at the shift from push-button style cell phones to smart phones over the last couple of years. If I’d mentioned the old style of texting that was more common while I was writing Pickle, it would be out of date by now. And secondly, my characters are middle schoolers from mostly working class families. They probably wouldn’t be that wired into the newest tools.

But, I wanted my characters to use the Internet to their advantage and create a hole in the wall where the story ends and the real world starts. The group creates a website for their pickle-making club, Pickles Forever. But like the club itself, it’s a front. If you click on the fizzy pickle soup recipe and then the word “simmer” there will be a new page with a password prompt. Enter “cheese” and it opens up another website with information and pranks for the P.T.A. (Prank and Trick Association) “maintained” by the characters. Kids can log their own pranks or comment on others. There’s a map feature to mark a new chapter and a decoder wheel for encrypted messages.

Kim’s workspace

We tried to think of fun things kids could do while staying within the COPPA regulations (not collecting any identifying information on minors). The good thing about the website is that it can be adapted as times change. My husband is a programmer, so that definitely helps.

One of the characters has a website, Cat vs. Dude, that she works on during the story.

Kids like going out of the book to see evidence of the characters online. Technology is changing all the time, but websites are going to be around longer than other aspects.

It’s just another way of breaking down the fourth wall and looking at adapting our storytelling with new outlets. I think there’s a lot of potential for multi-media storytelling by working technology into the story in an organic way that expands beyond the page.

Cynsational Notes

Great Examples of Humor in Kid Lit & YA: a bibliography compiled by Kim Baker. Organized by format and age-market category.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three copies of Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School by Kim Baker (Roaring Brook, 2012). Author sponsored. Eligibility: international.

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