Guest Post & Giveaway: Ilsa J. Bick on Takeaways from Egmont USA’s Last List

Ilsa vs. The White Rabbit (Not Part of the Dream)

By Ilsa J. Bick
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I had this weird dream last night.

I’m in an office of some sort and there are all these old Star Trek books lying around that someone’s packing away.

Thing is, I know they’re not my Trek books because Spock’s on every cover, and I never wrote a Spock-centered book or story.

Yet I was positive I’d written every single one.

So, as these books are being sealed into boxes, someone—I don’t know who—says to me, “No, you can’t have any. We’re getting rid of these.”

Then I woke myself up and couldn’t get back to sleep. So now I’m here, caffeinating and writing this all down for you.

Now, you don’t need to be a navel-gazing shrink to get the gist.

First off, Nimoy’s death was big news. For a lot of people, his passing marked the end of an era.

I will be honest; I wasn’t devastated. I was sad and his death made me feel very old. You can’t imagine the number of kids these days that have no idea when it comes to Spock or Kirk. But Spock wasn’t the character I really fixated on, and so while I enjoyed the triumvirate of Kirk-Spock-McCoy . . . I haven’t been in deep mourning.

When Shatner goes, that’ll be a different story, I suspect.

Then, too, I’ve been cleaning out my kids’ rooms, purging toys, stuffed animals, books, comics, clothes . . . all that junk your kids leave behind for you to deal with when they move out. I’ve made more trips to Goodwill than you can imagine, and that was only for one kid’s room. The other still remains—and then there’s the horror show of their bathroom.

(A true story: the eldest comes home from grad school for a visit. Spills hair wax gunk all over the inside of her vanity cabinet. Doesn’t tell me. Skips town. Fast forward a half year, and I open the vanity to discover the moral equivalent of the La Brea tar pits, only now not only is this stuff permanently bonded to the vanity, so are bars of soap, a hair dryer, a couple combs. A razor. I still can’t quite decide if this last was the kid worrying I might kill her, or dropping a hint.)

So packing up stuff in the dream makes sense, too, because that’s what I’ve been doing.

But I also recognize that this is about me and writing and Egmont USA’s packing up and closing its doors. I didn’t know this, but when you close up an office, you purge everything: books, furniture, fixtures, the whole shebang everything. Nothing that you were or had can remain behind. You got to empty that place out and make like you were never there.

(Say, if I were a shrink, I might point out the interesting parallels here between what Egmont’s doing and my sudden need to clean the kids’ rooms.)

It doesn’t take a genius—or navel-gazing shrink—to put together that I am feeling the impact of an end of an era. By now, everyone knows that Egmont Last Listers’ story ends happily. We’ve got a new home, and I meant every single thing I said in my PW interview about that.

Nonetheless, this has been a very hard year, and I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple of months

coming to terms with how successfully—or not—I’ve navigated that, from my very first inklings that something serious was going down with Egmont USA and through my denial, my paralysis in terms of my writing, and all that.

(To be honest, I’m kind of sick of my unconscious and all this navel-gazing. When I was actively in practice, I remember complaining to my husband that I wished I could just react the way everyone else does without having to think through what it all means and how I’m really feeling, what’s really driving me. I mean, honestly, I’m as entitled to a good hissy fit as the next person.)

The problem is that old habits die hard. I’m talking navel-gazing now. This ages me, but it’s something that shrinks of a certain era did an awful lot. This was when psychoanalysis was in its hey-day. If you wanted to walk in Freud’s mocs, you had to be analyzed yourself.

 (This is, I’m sure, still the case today.)

For a little over three years, I spent fifty minutes, four times a week, staring at my analyst’s acoustical tile, listening to footsteps cross back and forth from the kitchen above, smelling whatever luscious meal my analyst would have later, saying the first thing that came to my mind, the whole nine yards.

I never finished the training for a variety of reasons, though the most pressing was I really wanted to buy a house and there was no way that would happen so long as I was funding my analyst’s vacations. So my analyst and I parted ways. She’s since died, but that woman taught me two invaluable and very simple lessons that, most of the time, I practice.

First off: pay attention to that prickle of uneasiness because it will save you from being eaten alive.

Second: Change is hard. Change makes people anxious, and it is the huge, hulking elephant of their anxiety that frequently keeps people from making changes they ought to. Instead, people substitute other emotions that help them feel more powerful and less helpless. For example, many people handle anxiety by getting angry, striking out, engaging in a whirlwind of activity and only circling around but never truly addressing the source of their distress.

To say that I’ve been incredibly anxious over the past year is an understatement. I have written elsewhere about everything that went down, from my first suspicions that something was up with Egmont USA to its dissolution and now our collective reprieve, and I won’t bore you with all that here. Suffice to say, though, that I never addressed my anxiety directly. For a girl who sees her analyst every day whenever she looks in the mirror, I did my best not to engage that part of me. I simply reacted with a lot of activity that, in the end, didn’t do me a ton of good.

So now The Dickens Mirror (Egmont, 2015) is out in the wild, effectively bringing The Dark Passages series to a close.

(Although a fan of the series and I got started on Twitter with the idea of spin-offs . . . like how cool would it be to actually write Tony’s book instead of only alluding to it. Or Rima’s? How about Bode’s, going along with him for the ride as he crawls through those black echoes in Vietnam? Yeah, I know: way cool.)

Carolrhoda, 2014

All my books are now with Lerner, and I am hugely relieved and happy to rejoin the Carolrhoda Lab family.

That means it’s time to take a breath, step back, and take stock of what I’ve learned in the interim. I don’t mean about what I did last year that didn’t help me. I’m talking about what I’ve learned in the past few months, ever since that phone call in late January when I learned that Egmont was kaput.

Well, here’s a biggie: no girl is an island. I know that’s clichéd. Doesn’t make it any less true.

You would’ve thought that someone who wrote in her acknowledgements that bringing a book into the world demands a village would have gotten this through her thick head. But I didn’t.

Another Last Lister, Matt Myklusch, and I chatted about this recently—this notion of writer and community—and he and I pretty much feel the same way. We’re hermits, or we’ve been that way.

I think that most writers are. In a way, you have to be because what are you really doing all day long? Right: you’re sitting in a room, by yourself, and writing about four walls.

(Okay, you can throw in a window or two. Plants. Maybe a couple cats.)

Yes, you take yourself away in your mind; you populate that room with characters. But at the end of the day, you are still talking about a relatively limited orbit, moving through a physical space about ten to twelve feet square, though that doesn’t take into account bathroom breaks, tea breaks, and the cats’ insistence that you open the damn can already. I leave the house every day to go to the gym and run an errand or two, if needed. But that’s it.

The thing is, I’ve never complained. I like being alone. I need the solitude. In fact, too much social media-ing around—checking the huge self-advertisement billboards that are Facebook and Twitter, for example—is liable to drive me a little crazy because I then sit there and wonder why the hell I’m not having as wonderful a time or as tenth as successful as this author or that.

There’s plenty of good research to suggest that too much of that isn’t good for folks either. Just think of that last sequence in “The Social Network,” where the Zuckerberg character is fruitlessly refreshing and refreshing and refreshing . . .

I’m also kind of a shy person. I know; most people who meet me don’t think that at all. Three words: practice, practice, practice. Being a shrink has the side-benefit of teaching you how to be silent with other people while asking the right questions that get them talking.

When I was attached to a publishing house and its marketing purse, being reclusive wasn’t much of a problem. Sure, I shouldered a chunk of the marketing burden by doing blogs, maintaining a social media presence and all that.

 (I know that other writers complain about that. But let’s get real. With so many houses feeling the squeeze and struggling to turn a profit—hello, mine folded?—they simply don’t have the resources to mount huge campaigns for everyone the way they might have in the past, and even then they were selective. Since I’ve known no other way, doing my share of the marketing is normal and no big deal.)

That is, when I had a house. When my novel wasn’t effectively coming out DOA.

Which is where what I’ve learned has come into play.

I said in another post that reaching out to bloggers for help feels weird, but not because I don’t like bloggers. I hate begging. It’s a humbling experience, and while it’s not the same at all, I can appreciate how humiliating it must be for a person who’s previously been able to take care of himself to be reduced to handouts, to going to other people and asking for help.

For me, asking for help is very hard. It’s not just about being shy. My parents drilled self-reliance into me from a very early age. To do any less is to fail in some way. So I’ve had to wade through a lot of feelings of personal failure—that I am somehow responsible for this, even though I had zero-zip-nada control over the situation.

My parents also taught me never to toot my own horn. That didn’t mean they didn’t want me to be competitive—they did—but if I did succeed, I should be quiet about it, not draw attention to myself. I shouldn’t become a target. I think I understand my parents’ history enough to know where that’s coming from, and I won’t bore you with that. But keeping a low profile while also being very driven has been my modus vivendi for my entire life.

So you can imagine how uncomfortable it is for me, this shy yet driven person, to suddenly be thrust into a lot of lookit-lookit-lookit me. Because that is, really, what marketing is all about.

Shakespeare wrote, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”

I’m not sure if that means misery loves company . . . but if it weren’t for us Last Listers banding together in our collective moment of need, no one would have heard of us, or our books.

As a group, we’ve become a community that may or may not stick together when this is all said and done, I don’t know.

On the other hand , I know that I’ve made “friends” I can count on to try and help because we’ve all been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.

I have also learned that marketing is really, really hard work. I already understood that because I once had to write and/or do thirty-five—yes, you read that correctly; thirty-five—blogs and interviews in only a few weeks’ time. You don’t have a lot of time or energy left over to do other, really important things like write.

I also tend to be a bit of a pit bull when it comes to tasks. Others would use the word “obsessive.” “Maniacal” also works. It’s just that I have a tough time not doing everything and this instant. Which means that even if I budget time for blogs or marketing, knowing I have to do either tends to weigh on and preoccupy me. Usually, I just break down and do the darned work already.

Yet that’s not necessarily a good strategy if you are truly going it alone as I kind of am at the moment. True, I do not have to worry about distribution.

But any marketing push will have to come from me, those bloggers who’ve been gracious enough to host me, and my fellow Last Listers’ willingness to lend a hand.

My hat’s off to self-published people who actually succeed (notice I said “succeed”) because I don’t know how you do it. I know a lot of the more successful ones hire this stuff out and/or rejoin/enter traditional publishing because trying to shoulder everything is simply too exhausting.

Either way, learning how to do this well is something I must do because you never know if I’ll have to straddle this line again.

My parents, God bless them . . . they were wrong (or maybe I just misheard; this has been known to happen). But I’ve needed to unlearn some bad behaviors. So here is what I would say to myself if I were in their shoes; these are my takeaways.

Yes, Ilsa, be self-reliant but understand that it is okay to ask for help. Not only will people frequently surprise you with how willing they are to do so, you become more approachable as a person.

(Think of your fan’s reaction when you respond to an email, or a Facebook post. Think of the courage it took for your fan to press SEND.)

Yes, Ilsa, be humble. Success is fleeting and so is fame, and life turns on a dime.

Yet it’s okay to share good news. Just remember that nothing wears out a welcome faster than too much me-me-me. That is hard in this age where every social media platform can become and frequently is a billboard.

But, Ilsa, remember: do not ignore warning signs. If you’re uneasy, don’t get anxious. Get active. Suck it up and deal, but also recognize what’s out of your control and try not to obsess.

Just do the best you can. If there’s something you can’t do well—marketing, per se—then learn. Don’t get crazy and fall into despair. 

Get competent.

Most importantly . . . 

Kid, do remember that you are not operating in a vacuum. Spending a lot of time alone is not the same as being alone. There is a community out there, happy to make your acquaintance.

You only have to be brave enough to try.

Sneak Peek
 

 
Cynsational Notes

Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, film scholar, surgeon wannabe,
former Air Force major, and now an award-winning author of dozens of
short stories and novels, including her critically acclaimed Ashes Trilogy, Draw the Dark, Drowning Instinct, and The Sin-Eater’s Confession.

White Space, the first volume of her Dark Passages
horror/fantasy duology, is currently long-listed for the Bram Stoker
Award for Superior Achievement in a YA Novel. The sequel, The Dickens Mirror, hit shelves on March 10.

Ilsa lives
with her long-suffering husband and other furry creatures near a Hebrew
cemetery in rural Wisconsin. One thing she loves about the neighbors:
they’re very quiet and only come around for sugar once in a blue moon.

Drop
by her website for her Sunday’s cake and Friday’s
cocktail recipes as well as other assorted maunderings; or find her on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter (@ilsajbick), or Instagram (@ilsajbick).

See also Ilsa J. Bick and Community by Matt Myklusch from The Other Side of the Story Podcast.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win The Dickens Mirror by Ilsa J. Bick (Egmont, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: International.

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2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Publisher Greet Pauwelijn of Book Island

Greet Pauwelijn

By Mina Witteman
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations 

Greet Pauwelijn is publisher with Book Island, as well as a translator.

True to Book Island’s bold dream of enriching children’s and adults’ lives in the English- and Dutch-language market, she publishes children’s books in English and Dutch.

She does this by bringing unique stories from Europe to the shores of New Zealand, then using only the best talent to translate, design and print beautiful high-quality books.

Book Island books are available in New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Ireland, Belgium and The Netherlands. Follow @bookislandbooks on Twitter.

Greet is part of the SCBWI Europolitan Conference faculty. The conference will take place April 4 and April 5 in Amsterdam.

Was there one book that started it all for you?

For me, it was really the ability to read my first words and sentences that started it all, not just one particular book. As soon as I had discovered the magic of reading, I immersed myself in books, devouring them voraciously. I must have been one of the very few children in the world who often got punished for reading too much.

Is there a book that changed your life?

There are too many titles that have influenced me to name them all. Having grown up in a country where literature in translation plays an important role, I was exposed to stories from all over the world, which instilled a desire to travel and explore in me.

However, as a child I particularly looked out for titles from Dutch publishing house Lemniscaat, who after all these decades, still publish the most amazing books.

We are very proud to have one of their recent titles on our list: The Umbrella by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert.

You started your career as a translator of Polish, but after your move from Belgium to New Zealand you founded a children’s book publishing house. What inspired this change?

After relocating to New Zealand at the end of 2009, one of the first places I visited was the children’s section at the local library. It was quite a culture shock.

Back in Belgium we had been spoilt for choice when selecting books for our sons, then aged three and one. I immediately noticed that most of the beautiful picture books that European readers have access to were unavailable in the English-language market.

Most stories at the library were rhyming, poorly illustrated, with very predictable endings. I was desperate to find more challenging books for my kids and myself.

At that stage, I was still translating Polish literature for Belgian and Dutch publishers. I rapidly realised that due to the ongoing crisis in the book industry, this source of income was about to dry up.

Polish literature in translation had never been a gold mine for foreign publishers and they were becoming increasingly reluctant to publish more titles from Poland. I decided to look into adding English to my portfolio and soon after that I came across a children’s adventure novel by a well-known New Zealand author, Barbara Else.

Thanks to its universal story, it seemed just perfect for the Dutch-language market. I convinced a Belgian publisher to buy the rights to The Travelling Restaurant and this way I landed my first translation job from English.

While working on this title, I suddenly wished I hadn’t told the publisher in Flanders about this possible bestseller and had acquired the rights myself. Also, there were so many more foreign books out there that had been overlooked, so here was my chance.

That day I decided to become a children’s publisher and fill the gap that I had identified earlier.

To make it slightly more challenging I thought: why not publish in two languages, English and Dutch, at the same time?

Obviously, I knew very little about publishing and its challenges!


Book Island is based in New Zealand, but also active in the Dutch-language area – Belgium and The Netherlands. You publish both Dutch-language and English-language picture books. What are the similarities and what are the differences between the two?

The differences between the Dutch- and English-language market are significant, which makes our selection process quite challenging. Very few titles work well in both markets.

Quite often the content of European picture books (i.e. from the European continent) is not entirely acceptable or suitable for the English-language market, where there tend to be a lot more taboo topics.

The Dutch market is a lot more open-minded. The illustrations are generally also more sophisticated. More care has been attended to the design and production of the books.

Bookstores in the English-language market sell predominantly paperbacks, while our customers in Belgium and the Netherlands only want hardbacks.

For one of our latest titles, the two-way books Follow the Firefly/Run, Rabbit, Run! – Excuseer, heeft u soms een knipperlichtje gezien?/ Hup, konijntje! by Bernardo Carvalho, we had to design a new paperback edition for the English-language market, while the Dutch title was released as a hardback, like the original Portuguese edition. I will talk about these differences in more depth at the conference in Amsterdam.


How would you describe your house’s publishing focus? What kind of books do you love working on?

With Book Island, we want to share the treasures of children’s books in foreign languages with Dutch- and English-speaking readers.

When selecting new titles we particularly look for layered picture books. Each time you return to the book it will reveal a new layer, in the illustrations or the story. These layers make our books suitable for young and older readers alike, which is an important Book Island selection criterion. I like how Belgian ALMA winner Kitty Crowther compares such picture books with Russian nesting dolls.

We’re drawn to books that tackle quite difficult but very important topics. A perfect illustration is Maia and What Matters by Tine Mortier and Kaatje Vermeire (translated by David Colmer), a story about the enduring relationship between a little girl and her grandmother in the face of illness and aging.

We believe that the children of the 21st century are a lot brighter and more mature than we were at their age, hence we feel we need to publish titles that don’t dumb down their ability to understand and learn.

Our world has also become increasingly diverse, which should be reflected in books of all kinds.

We love stories with strong characters and a little twist. Sir Mouse to the Rescue by Dirk Nielandt and Marjolein Pottie (translated by Laura Watkinson), which is a gorgeously illustrated chapter book about reversed role models, is still one of our favourites. There’s also Sammy and the Skyscraper Sandwich by Lorraine Francis and Pieter Gaudesaboos, a wonderfully absurd story about a little boy who thinks he’s very hungry and wants to eat a giant sandwich.

The illustrations in our titles are as important as the story, and if they don’t match 100 percent, we sadly have to reject the book. Sometimes we also have to turn down stunning books because they’re just not translatable.

You publish books in translation. Could you tell us how the acquisition and translation process works?

Once we’ve preselected new titles, we check with the original publishers whether the rights are still available for English and/or Dutch. Subsequently, we negotiate the royalty payments etc with them.

Once we’ve acquired the rights we immediately start the translation process.

Since the pages in a picture book hold very few sentences, which are supported by equally important illustrations, we need to pay attention to each single word. I love having long discussions with the translator about the meaning of one particular word. Every word has to be right.

Fortunately, we’re not translating novels, because we’d probably never publish them, still trying to change words here and there.

Editing is the next step. Editors are as important to us as translators and too often they don’t get mentioned. We’ve been working with Frith Williams who has an incredible eye for detail and a great feeling for rhythm.

Once we feel like the translation is about right we pour the text into the original files. Then we reassess the result in relation to the illustrations.

Often, we have to edit the text a couple more times before we’re entirely satisfied.

Finally, we send the finished PDF to the original publisher for approval.

Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

Learn more!

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

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then things got really crazy.

Writers are readers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Read

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

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

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

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

Favorite Read
Favorite Read

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post & Giveaway: Kimberley Griffiths Little on Making the Switch: from MG to YA, YA to MG & Back Again

By Kimberley Griffiths Little
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Over the last decade I’ve published seven middle-grade novels with Random House and Scholastic, focusing my last four titles on contemporary magical realism stories set in the bayous and swamps of Louisiana with page-turning plots and a lot of heart and family issues.

But I also write young adult and always have. I’ve just never published one—until now.

It’s funny because as promotion and publicity has been ramping up for the launch of Forbidden (HarperCollins, 2014), my YA trilogy debut, I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries filled with curiosity about my sudden change from writing middle grade to YA. Which is kind of humorous because, in some ways, it’s just the opposite.

During the craze of vampires, werewolves, and Harry Potter, I was writing an epic historical set 4,000 years ago with goddess temples, belly dance, and betrothals gone very, very bad.

When I first started trying to learn the craft of writing back in the DABI: Dark Ages Before the Internet, I took writing classes through the Institute of Children’s Literature, SCBWI, and the Southwest Writers organization in Albuquerque, that offered local classes and some terrific conferences. I experimented with every children’s genre trying to find my niche/voice: picture books, easy readers, chapter books, and novels. Toddlers to high school.

Back in the DABI, I printed out my short stories and full-length novel projects, and hauled them to the post office with big fat SASE’s. A practice unheard of in today’s fast pace of email and social media with hashtags like #PitchMadness.

My first writer’s conference was in Santa Fe and sponsored by a local independent children’s bookstore (which is now long extinct). The owner of that bookstore had chutzpah though!

She went big, and brought in Steven Kellog, Rosemary Wells, Richard Peck, Lois Duncan, and Katherine Paterson. This was before I even knew SCBWI existed!

(I helped start our state chapter a few years later).

Rosemary Wells, a well-known author of dozens of picture books, was overwhelmingly generous. After the conferences she let us newbie attendees send her a project and gave feedback—free of charge. When she read a couple of my picture book manuscripts she told me that she believed my true voice was for older readers.

I took her advice to heart (and agreed with it!) and began focusing exclusively on my stack of currently-drafting novels for 8-12-year-olds. Which finally garnered some success many years later.

Novels were my first love, and I’d written the first two longhand, typing them up on my college typewriter (DABWP = Dark Ages Before Word Processors).

I have filing cabinets filled with practice novels.

Well over 10 years ago I started the research and writing of Forbidden, which has experienced more reincarnated lives than Shirley MacLane.

The novel received interest from agents as well as a few editors I was developing a relationship with (when I switched agents and was querying new agencies for over a year). But they were skittish about some of the mature themes; abuse, rape, prostitution, and even though they loved the book they weren’t sure where to sell it—or if it was even young adult. Maybe it was adult—but it wasn’t clearly an adult novel, either.

Then the Vampire/Werewolf/Fairy/Mermaid/Zombie/Harry Potter decade hit.

My epic ancient historical floundered. Historical fiction got pushed aside, but I kept rewriting the book because I loved it. The almost fantasy-like time period and sensuous belly dance tapestry of the storyline wouldn’t leave me alone.

I changed the point of view. I added plot. I experimented with twenty different versions of the first chapter. In the middle of all this, I was orphaned three times on my first three novels – and changed agents because she left the business.

My new agent loved both my middle-grade and my YA novel. We went on submission. Six weeks later, we had a three-book deal with Scholastic for two MG novels and my YA ancient romance.

Wowza!

The Famine was over, right?

The first two middle grade novels came out to great reviews and enjoyed wonderful Scholastic Book Fair reception. I wrote two new proposals. Scholastic bought those. After the third middle grade novel was finished we turned our attention to Forbidden. After a fresh read, my editor confessed that she had forgotten just how sensuous and mature the book was.

Conference calls with my agent and editor ensued. Verdict: Based on the success of my middle-grade novels in the Scholastic Book Fairs, would I be willing to rewrite the YA and try to make it more middle grade?

I was flabbergasted. But I’m a pleaser.  

Okay, I agreed, albeit with trepidation.

I did the work, but in my heart the story, characters, tone, and theme was for older readers.

My agent wholeheartedly agreed.

We discussed the issue of censoring myself. But the story is what it is—and historically accurate.

My agent agreed again.

Learn more from Kimberley!

So what to do? What to do? The next few months were a combination of agony and strategy as we ended up pulling the book from Scholastic and giving them another middle grade in its place. (That book just came out, The Time of the Fireflies (Scholastic, 2014)).

Once again, Forbidden was an unsold manuscript. The original book deal happened in 2008. It was now the summer of 2011. I rewrote the book again, putting back in all that I had taken out.

We went on submission. It was nail-biting. I seriously wondered if this book would ever become a real book.

But miraculously, three weeks later we had a significant pre-empt from HarperCollins for the entire trilogy, not just a single title.

They loved it just as it was.

I began my first, tentative draft of this book in early 2003, after researching the time period and the people and culture and history for several years—and selling short stories set in ancient Arabia and Egypt to Cricket Magazine. I’ve watched the ups and down of young adult publishing run the spectrum from Twilight (Little, Brown, 2005) to The Hunger Games (Scholastic, 2008) to The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton, 2012).

As we used to say in the DABI, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

Is the young adult world ready for an ancient historical with danger, murder, blackmail, and goddess temple prostitution? I’m counting on it!

After all, there have been rumblings in the publishing world since 2012 that readers are ready for juicy historical novels, and there are authors who are already obliging.

HarperCollins has designed a most spectacular book. I’m deeply grateful to my editor and my agent who took many risks with me to see that this book stayed “in the game” —and now, hopefully, will thrive.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little (HarperCollins, 2014) and Book Club Cards. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

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Author Interview: Ginger Wadsworth on Yosemite’s Songster: One Coyote’s Story

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Yosemite’s Songster: One Coyote’s Story, by Ginger Wadsworth, illustrated by Daniel San Souci (Yosemite Conservancy, 2013). From the promotional copy:

A sudden rockslide in Yosemite Valley in California’s Sierra Nevada separates Coyote from her mate. 

Readers journey throughout the valley observing its many famous landmarks on four paws with Coyote. You’ll explore both the natural world and the human world with one’s nose leading the way.

Who or what inspired you to write this story?

Illustrator Dan San Souci and I have known each other for years; we’re both part of the San Francisco Bay area community of children’s book authors and artists.

 At an informal party, Dan and I chatted about writing a book together, specifically about a coyote in Yosemite National Park. Dan, along with his brother, Bob, had already written several books for the park, including their Two Bear Cubs, a Miwok Legend from California’s Yosemite.

I had published John Muir, Wilderness Protector (Lerner), Camping with the President (Calkins Creek), about the 1903 Yosemite camping trip with President Theodore Roosevelt and naturalist John Muir, plus Giant Sequoia Trees (Lerner).

Photo by Ginger Wadsworth

I’ve visited Yosemite National Park my entire life as well as many other parts of the Sierra Nevada. In fact, I try to explore the park every year. Dan is just as familiar as I am with this amazing natural wonder.

We both agree that working in California’s Yosemite National Park, doing research in the library there or hiking the trails with a camera, binoculars, or art supplies, is almost like cheating. To be allowed to work in this gorgeous setting is a gift.

Besides, who wouldn’t want to work with Dan San Souci? His art is breathtaking! I said “yes,” and the rest is history!

How did you come up with a story line?

During one of my stays in the park, I took a nature walk with Ranger Shelton Johnson. We crossed Stoneman Meadow on one of the protective, wooden boardwalks.

We were a multicultural group and didn’t need to communicate with one another when Ranger Johnson pointed out famous rock formations or falls, or had us cross arms across chests to bang gently against one another to demonstrate how glaciers are formed.

At one time, when most of the group was looking up, I was peering into the meadow. A pair of pointed ears was moving through the grasses. Every so often, a coyote leaped high to pounce on something. It was “mousing” – hunting for an afternoon snack of field mice.

And so my story was born . . . of this wild dog that shares the park with us . . . and vice versa, yet we seldom notice one because we’re so caught up in taking pictures of granite walls and waterfalls. I’m just as guilty as the next person!

Photo by Ginger Wadsworth

I set my story in the Yosemite Valley because that is where most first-time visitors come. They seldom step beyond the valley in their typical one-day explore. There are many iconic spots in the valley—the wedding chapel, the Merced River, Half Dome, the Ahwahnee Hotel, Bridalveil Fall, and more—and I wanted to include as many as sites possible.

I am familiar with Dan’s work, and I hoped that my story would offer him a smorgasbord of possible images. After seeing his first images, I was “blown away” by what he captured with his watercolors. I recognized almost spot he painted!

Illustration by Dan San Souci; used with permission.

What was your biggest challenge in writing this book?

The book is published by the Yosemite Conservancy, a nonprofit organization devoted to educating visitors about the world that is Yosemite National Park. I could not anthropomorphize the coyote in any way, and I had to be scientifically accurate. I also had to be willing to make changes to reflect the philosophy that the Park Service wants to portray. That meant that the manuscript (and Dan’s art) was reviewed for accuracy by the National Park Service staff.

Illustration by Dan San Souci; used with permission.

For example, coyotes are natural scavengers, and in the park they occasionally eat human food. I’ve seen them raid overflowing garbage cans, so I mentioned that in the text.

The staff works hard, with signs and handouts, to remind visitors that coyotes, bears, and all other wild animals should find and eat their natural food. After my reviewers asked me to revise that section, I took out the raiding of garbage cans. I even corrected the name of a pine tree I’d misidentified, and I’m most grateful that other eyes looked for errors.

Would you tell us about winning the Spur Award?

Last spring I stayed in the Anza-Borrego Desert in Southern California, where I own a one-room cabin in an isolated canyon. It’s a perfect spot for this writer to concoct stories, photograph passing coyotes, or even go out and howl with them on a warm desert evening.

I have a well, electricity, and my cell phone sometimes works. Someone from the Western Writers of America called me to say that Yosemite’s Songster: One Coyote’s Story earned the 2014 Spur Award in Storytelling, the best illustrated children’s book. I was to receive a Spur Award for the text, Dan San Souci for the art, and the Yosemite Conservancy for being the publisher.

I’ve been a member for many years, and this past June, I attended the Western Writers of America’s annual conference in Sacramento, California. Belinda Lantz from the Yosemite Conservancy and Nicole Geiger, my editor, joined me at the WWA banquet where I received my Spur Award.

I spoke about the honor of receiving this award that has an actual spur mounted on the plaque. I was thrilled with the award’s description of “the best storytelling for children in a 3,000 word book.”

After all, isn’t that what each of us strives for every single day?

It was my second Spur Award. Ten years ago, I earned one for Words West: Voices of Young Pioneers (Clarion) in the category of juvenile nonfiction. I dedicated my 2014 Spur Award to the memory of my father, Hal G. Evarts, Jr., a founding member of Western Writers of America, and a prolific author of books about the west.

In fact I am the third generation of writers of the west. I never met my grandfather, Hal G. Evarts, Sr.,who wrote books that first appeared in serial format in many of the “big slicks,” magazines including the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, and The Red Book.

My Spur Awards hang in my office, over an original painting by Dan San Souci from Yosemite’s Songster: One Coyote’s Story. It’s a stunning night image of a coyote howling at Half Dome.

What’s next?

Yosemite’s Songster: One Coyote’s Story has been approved for a second printing! In the meantime Dan and I are under contract to write a second book for the Yosemite Conservancy. Think Sierra black bears that live in around Yosemite National Park. It’s due out in the fall of 2016. I’ve been doing research this summer; Dan will step in once the text is accepted. We have lots of ideas for future park-themed books.


What else would you like to share?

Nicholas and Willa via Paws to Read at Orinda Library (A). Photo by Michelle Bea, posted with permission. 

I have two Golden Retrievers, Scout, and Willa. My third dog, Oreo, is a young, miniature poodle mix. Most of the time, Willa, Scout, and Oreo join me in my office, lying under my desk while I write.

 Willa and Scout are trained therapy dogs. I take them into libraries and schools where elementary-aged children read to dogs as part of national program called R.E.A.D. Our local name is “Paws to Read.”

Oreo and I are in dog school every Wednesday night. We’ll see if he can settle down and earn his therapy dog certificate.

Helping children improve their reading, courtesy of my dogs, is a perfect extension of my writer’s hat.

Cynsational Notes

Photo by Bill Wadsworth

Ginger Wadsworth is the award-winning author of over 25 nonfiction books for young readers.

Biography subjects are John Muir, Rachel Carson, Benjamin Banneker, Cesar Chavez, Julia Morgan, Annie Oakley, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and others; books with western American history themes including Words West: Voices of Young Pioneers (Clarion); and natural histories titles about the desert, rivers, sequoias, and spiders that include Up, Up, and Away (Charlesbridge).

Her most recent books are Camping With the President (Calkins Creek); First Girl Scout: The Life of Juliette Gordon Low (Clarion); and Yosemite’s Songster: One Coyote’s Story (Yosemite Conservancy).

She lives in Northern California with her family.

Guest Post: Margo Sorenson on Working with a University Press

By Margo Sorenson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

As writers, we can become so firmly grounded in our manuscripts that it’s often hard to pull ourselves away from our settings to deal with the real world.

When I was first writing Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue, my middle grade novel published by North Dakota Institute of Regional Studies, North Dakota State University, I found myself continually surprised to find myself in the twenty-first century, instead of in North Dakota in the midst of the Great Depression, when I’d step away from the keyboard.

It was easy to imagine I was rolling lefse in North Dakota with Tori, who was scowling at the thought of her widowed mother’s inviting her new suitor, bachelor-farmer Bjorn, for Thanksgiving.

Here is Tori’s story:

Eleven-year-old Tori and her family are struggling with the Great Depression in North Dakota, and the death of her beloved Papa has been the severest blow of all.


Lefse on Turner

To aspiring writer Tori, everything is changing for the worse—her friends are acting too grown-up, and her little brother Otto invades her privacy. When a Norwegian bachelor-farmer begins courting Mama, Tori writes in her journal that her life will be ruined.

What will Tori discover about forgiveness and acceptance as she tries to keep her life from changing?

If you find yourself equally pulled into your setting and background, you might consider working with a university press, because your manuscript may have cultural and historic details that would fit perfectly with the mission of the university’s imprint.

Naturally, this thought never occurred to me after I was finished revising (and revising and revising!) and ready to submit, so I sent the manuscript off to the usual New York City publishers, only to receive (I know you’re surprised!) many rejections, although some were very encouraging.

Because the background and setting are the warp and woof of my husband’s Norwegian immigrant family’s precious traditions, I believed in Tori’s story. I contacted my children’s literature librarian friends across the country, asking for any publisher suggestions.

Ta-da! My North Dakota librarian contact emailed me to why not try NDSU? She didn’t know if they would publish a children’s book, but it might be worth a shot.

Why hadn’t I thought of that? The cultural and historic details in the manuscript might mesh perfectly with the mission of a university press.

After doing research, I sent my manuscript off to several university presses, including NDSU.

A good research link to check out is the Association of American University Presses, and investigate each imprint that sounds as if it might be a fit. Remember to think outside of the box, because the worst the press can say is, “No,” but paying careful attention to the listing will help you focus in on the right possible market.

For example, the listing for University of South Carolina’s Young Palmetto Books imprint  specifically says its mission is to publish educational and South Carolina-related manuscripts.

Naturally, my story would not be a candidate for this press; there are few states whose history and culture could be farther from North Dakota than South Carolina!

A number of months later, I received an email from the director of the NDSU press, stating that they had never published a children’s book, but that they were so taken with the details and Tori’s story that they would like to publish it.

I was elated! The precious cultural family heritage would be carried on, in print.

Paperback cover

One of the beauties of working with a university press is that the staff is so enthusiastic about your content that you feel as if you are part of a family. My editor helped add details she knew from her own one-room school experiences, the director and another professor helped with more descriptions.

Finally, my story was ready to meet the world!

Why haven’t you heard of Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue? Although it received wonderful reviews from regional entities and readers, it never cracked the best-seller list (imagine that!).

University press books rarely make a big splash, but, that’s not their mission or reason for existence, so if you’re looking to write the next big best-seller, a university press might not be your best choice.

Ah, yes, there’s also that “don’t judge a book by its cover,” right? The print cover, sadly, looks like a middle-aged lady, instead of a cute eleven-year-old Norwegian girl, seriously.

So, this past year, I asked the wonderful people at NDSU if they would consider releasing the novel as an ebook with a brand-new cover, and, because they so firmly believed in the worth of Tori’s story, they agreed, and funded the transition.

Now, eleven years later after the print version was first published in 2003, kids can now read Tori on their e-reader devices, with the sparkling new cover.

New e-book cover!

When we write something we are invested in, and it has such a strong sense of background and setting that we are loath to pull ourselves away from our manuscript, maybe we need to consider what publisher would believe so strongly in the setting that they would “adopt” our work and help shape it into the best it can be.

As you write, ask yourself how additional cultural and historical details could actually strengthen the plot and deepen the characterizations.

For example, Tori grudgingly polishes the beste-far-stol, the grandfather’s chair, telling herself that Bjorn, her mother’s new suitor, has no right to sit in it.

When she rolls the traditional lefse for Thanksgiving, she asks herself why she’s working so hard just for Bjorn, since he’s not family, nor does she ever wish him to be.

If you find you can do this as well, a university press may just be your perfect publisher!

Checklist:

  • Is your story historical or cultural?
  • Will more specific details benefit the plot pace and character development and add depth?
  • Have you investigated university presses during the writing process to help shape your story into a possible acquisition?
  • Have you contacted librarians for their input on publishers?

Cynsational Notes

Margo Sorenson‘s twenty-ninth book, Spaghetti Smiles, is newly published this fall by Pelican Publishing. From the promotional copy:

Every day after school, Jake hurries over to Rocco’s Italian Restaurant to read his newest book to his Uncle Rocco. Along with sharing stories, Jake and Rocco play games together, such as bowling with mozzarella balls, “picking-up-stix” with spaghetti, and juggling ravioli.


When his uncle’s restaurant is in need of a new neighbor, Jake goes on a search through the town to find the perfect match. Everyone fears that living next to such an unpredictable restaurant will ruin their business. Mrs. Page at the bookstore is Jake’s last hope. Can he convince her to move in next door to such a crazy, mixed-up restaurant? 

Follow Margo on Twitter at @ipapaverison.