Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win a signed copy of Throat by R.A. Nelson (Knopf, 2011). From the promotional copy:

She's superhuman. There's just one catch.

Seventeen-year-old Emma Cooper has always been a risk taker at heart, smart and adventurous. But ever since her first grand mal seizure at the age of 13, her epilepsy has felt like a curse, wrecking her social life, derailing her dreams, even driving her boyfriend away.

Her doctors think they know best. Her mom worries her to distraction.

Tired of being held back, Emma fantasizes about running away, but she can't even legally drive. At least she can channel her frustrations into soccer, where she’s a star — the most aggressive player in the league — until a violent collision ends her playing days.

Heartbroken, Emma steals a car and races into the night, no idea where she is going. Losing control on a steep mountain road, she crashes into a ditch beside a sinister forest. An old cabin beckons through the trees. Emma goes to look for help — and her life is changed forever.

R. A. Nelson takes us on a supernatural thrill ride, a modern-day vampire story set on a NASA base and filled with romance and space-and-science intrigue.

To enter the giveaway, comment here or email me (scroll and click envelope) and type "Throat" in the subject line.

Deadline: midnight CST April 1. Note: Author sponsored; U.S. entries only.

More News

Anneographies: children's author Anne Bustard on her favorite picture book biographies and a few collected biographies, too, birthday by birthday.

Child Development & Picture Books: An Interview with Joanne Rocklin by Michelle Markel from The Cat and the Fiddle. Peek: "Piaget and others have shown, and parents intuitively know, that children endow inanimate objects and animals with feelings and opinions (animism), that they believe the whole world thinks and feels as they do (egocentrism) and that they believe in magic."

Q & A with Agent Elena Mechlin of Pippin Properties from the Writers' League of Texas. Peek: "I’ve been supremely lucky to be working directly with the incredible list of clients that Holly McGhee has amassed over the years, but in terms of my very own client, I haven’t signed anybody yet, but getting close with a couple of prospects!"

Why We Should Include GLBTQ Characters and Themes in our Writing and Illustrating by Lee Wind from I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? Peek: "You certainly don’t need to be GLBTQ to write a GLBTQ character – any more than you need to be male to write about boy characters."

Written in Stone: Editing OP Books for Reissue in E-books by Laura Ruby from e is for book. Peek: "There is one secondary ghost character...that died at his/her own hand. At the time I wrote the book, I felt it suited the story. But after looking at it again, I wondered about it."

Ashley Perez on How Her Students Inspired What Can't Wait from Diversity in YA Fiction. Peek: "To include a glossary would have been to say, 'Actually, this book is meant as a barrio tour for gringos. See? It comes with a travel guide…'"

The Associates of the Boston Public Library is currently accepting applications from emerging picture book writers/illustrators for the 2011-2012 Writer-in-Residence Program. The fellowship provides a children’s writer/ illustrator with the support needed to complete one literary work, including a $20,000 stipend and office space for nine-months within the Boston Public Library’s Central Branch. Applications are due April 1. Learn more about the program guidelines and the application process (PDF). Learn more about the organization and prior fellowship winners. No calls please.

Franny Billingsley: a newly redesigned author site. Site design by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys, who is also the webmaster for The Official Author Site of Cynthia Leitich Smith and Home of Children's & YA Literature Resources. Note: Franny's latest release is Chime (Dial, 2011)(excerpt), which has received six starred reviews. See also A Conversation with Chime Author Franny Billingsley by Lena Coakley from The Enchanted Inkpot.

A Glimpse of the E-Future of Not by Joni from The Spectacle. Note: sharing insights from Kristen McLean, CEO of Bookigee and former executive director of the Association of Booksellers for Children (which recently merged into ABA). Peek: "...teens at least say they’re more influenced to make a purchase based on the jacket blurb than either the cover or the title (though those are moderately important, too). But the single greatest factor is if it’s an author or series they know."

Congratulations to Rae Ann Parker for signing with Erzsi Deak of the new literary agency Hen & Ink, and congratulations to Erzsi on signing Rae Ann.

Breaking into the Christian Market with Kathleen Muldoon from the Institute of Children's Literature. Peek: "In fiction, you should construct your plot such that your protagonist overcomes the story conflict by applying Christian morals, values, beliefs."

Before and After Being a Published Author by Denise Jaden. A look back on expectations and realities in her first six months of publication. Peek: "Sales is pretty much my biggest concern when it comes to Losing Faith (Simon Pulse, 2010). Will I sell enough to make my agent and editor and publisher and favorite bookstores happy?"

Conference Expectations by Kim Baker from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "So, what is your primary reason for shelling out the registration fee and signing up for a conference? Is it a book deal? Save your scratch and stay home. If it’s inspiration, community, or honing your craft that you are after, you are on the right track."

A New Independent Bookstore

The Book Spot, a new family-owned independent bookstore, has opened in Round Rock, Texas (1205 Round Rock Ave. #119 78681), just outside Austin. Mark your calendars for the official grand opening celebration April 8 and April 9.

Looking for a little more indie bookstore love? Virtually join Don Tate, hanging out at BookPeople in downtown Austin.

Hunger Mountain: the VCFA Journal of the Arts

Kudos to Bethany Hegedus and Kekla Magoon on another excellent edition of the children's-YA literature section of Hunger Mountain.

Highlights include:

Passion for the Picture Book by Bethany;

Unlocking the Past by Zetta Elliott;

Life on Mars by Kate Milford;

How I Found Myself as a Writer and Why It Took So Long by Brian Yansky;

The Anatomy of a Teacher Guide by Debbie Gonzales;

Where the Censor Hides by Charlotte Agell.

More Personally

I'm a traveling author-speaker-teacher of late, leaving again tomorrow (this time for a Wisconsin SCBWI novel workshop). I've got one more PowerPoint presentation to prepare, so I'll have to update you on all that in more detail in a future post.

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Michelle Delisle from Whatcha Reading Now? Peek: "New Schwarzwald (home of the Wolf pack in Blessed (Candlewick, 2010)) is inspired by small German towns in Michigan, where I went to law school, and here in central Texas. It's not the first time I've set a story in a historically German town; there's also Hannesburg, Kansas, the setting in my debut tween novel Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001)."

You can download a free copy of "Cat Calls"--one of my short stories set in the Tantalize series universe (Candlewick Press) from Library Bin. Then shop the site! "When you purchase eBooks & digital audiobooks, the funds are credited to the participating public library of your choice!" Nifty, eh?

Steven R. McEvoy at Book Reviews and More says of "Cat Calls," "If you have not read any of her books, get the free download and sample her writings; if you have, you will love this new short story."

Links of the Week: Kidlit for Japan, Librarian Helps Students, Author Create Book Trailers.

Cynsational Events

Erin Murphy Literary Agency Wine Social will be at 3 p.m. April 16 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: "Come meet Erin Murphy as well as some of the authors she represents."

YA A to Z Conference, sponsored by the Writers' League of Texas, will be April 15 and April 16 at the Hyatt Regency Austin (208 Barton Springs Road). Cost: $279 WLT Members, $349 Nonmembers (through March 15). See more information. Note: conference faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. The early bird registration deadline is today!

Jo Whittemore will be signing Odd Girl In (Aladdin, 2011) at 2 p.m. April 10 at BookPeople in Austin. Note: Odd Girl In is now available! Congratulations, Jo!

Liz Garton Scanlon will be signing Noodle & Lou, illustrated by Arthur Howard (Beach Lane, 2011) at noon April 23 at BookPeople in Austin. See curriculum guide.

Chris Barton will be signing Can I See Your ID? True Stories of False Identities, illustrated by Paul Hoppe (Dial, 2011) at 7 p.m. May 14 at BookPeople in Austin. See discussion guide.

Diversity in YA Fiction: Austin Tour Stop 7:30 p.m. May 9 at BookPeople. Featuring authors With authors Bethany Hegedus, Malinda Lo, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Cindy Pon, Dia Reeves, and Jo Whittemore, and moderated by Varian Johnson. See Jo Whittemore: Against Tokenism.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Guest Post: Monika Schröder on Inspiration and Cross-Culturally Writing a Book Set in India

“Wanting is just another kind of hunger...”
– Saraswati's Way

By Monika Schröder

Saraswati's Way (Frances Foster/FSG, 2010) is a middle grade novel about a 12-year old Indian boy, Akash, with a gift for math, who runs away from his home in rural India to find a better life. He prays for the help of the Hindu goddess of knowledge, Saraswati, and Ganesh, the remover of obstacles. Akash ends up in the New Delhi train station, where he joins a gang of street kids.

What made me write a book about an Indian street child? By the time I started Saraswati's Way I had already lived in New Delhi for six years, and often, when arriving at or leaving from the New Delhi train station, I had seen street kids, barefoot and dressed in shabby clothes, scavenging for food.

I wondered what would cause a child to run away from home and end up living in the train station. I contacted a charitable organization that works with these children and listened to some of their horrific stories.

By creating Akash, I wanted to explore how a young Indian boy can find the strength to overcome such circumstances in pursuit of something he desperately wants.

Writing about a boy of Hindu faith was the biggest challenge while working on Saraswati's Way. Since my arrival in India, I had read a lot about Hinduism.

Though I never became fluent, I had also taken Hindi classes for four years. My Hindi teacher, whom the book is dedicated to, taught me a lot about religious customs and festivals. I frequently asked her and other Indian friends if my depictions of particular events or religious rituals were correct.

One of the most challenging scenes to write was the funeral for Akash’s father. During the Hindu funeral ritual, the oldest son cracks open the skull of the deceased while the corpse burns on the pyre. Having never attended a Hindu funeral, I relied on the descriptions given by Indian friends and colleagues. I remain thankful for their trust in sharing their own memories about such an intimate subject.

“Wanting is just another kind of hunger, burning until satisfied.”

I chose to begin the book trailer for Saraswati's Way (below) with this quote from the book as it encapsulates a main theme of the story.

Even though Saraswati's Way is set in a place foreign to most readers in the U.S., I hope a story about persistence and patience in the service of one’s dreams will resonate with readers everywhere.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New Voice: Crystal Allen on How Lamar's Bad Prank Won A Bubba-Sized Trophy

Crystal Allen is the first-time author of How Lamar's Bad Prank Won A Bubba-Sized Trophy (Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins). From the promotional copy:

Thirteen-year-old Lamar Washington is the maddest, baddest most spectacular bowler ever at Striker's Bowling Paradise. But when it comes to girls, he doesn't have game—not like his older brother Xavier the Basketball Savior. And certainly not like his best friend "Spanish fly guy" Sergio.

So Lamar vows to spend the summer changing his image from dud to stud by finding a way to make money and snag a super fine Honey!

When a crafty teenage thug invites Lamar to use his bowling skills to hustle, he seizes the opportunity. As his judgment blurs, Lamar makes an irreversible error, damaging every relationship in his life.

Now, he must figure out how to mend those broken ties, no matter what it will cost him.

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

I'm so thankful for all of the people who gave advice, support, suggestions, comments and concerns to me as I wrote How Lamar's Bad Prank Won A Bubba-Sized Trophy. In every season of my writing journey, there has been a group of people offering emotional and/or professional support for me. I'd like to mention some of those people and how they helped me.

(2004 - 2007)

Early on, I attended conferences and seminars. During those meetings, I was taken under the wings of a group of incredible women with more knowledge of the publishing business than I could ever imagine. (Bernette G. Ford, Christine Taylor-Butler, Eileen Robinson and Dara Sharif.)

I met Christine Taylor-Butler at a Houston SCBWI conference. I had written a horrible story with nine main characters that I wholeheartedly believed was Newbery worthy. Christine was so friendly and willing to offer advice and friendship. Christine was my first real "writer-friend." She introduced me to one of the conference speakers, Bernette G. Ford, who provided opportunities for me to hone my craft through written and verbal conversations.

I attended a conference in Missouri were Eileen Robinson, creator of F1rst Pages, taught us the importance of opening lines and especially emphasized the fragment of time we have to capture an editor's attention. Even after the conference, Eileen stayed in contact with me, answered questions, and encouraged me to stay in the race for publication.

I later met Dara Sharif during a workshop in Kansas City. She heard me read a poem I'd written and several months later, purchased it! That poem, "A Purple Hat For Mom," was actually my homework for the workshop!

I remember just days before I got that email from Dara, I was down, believing that maybe I was never going to be successful in this business. I had actually contacted Dara about another piece I had written, hoping she'd give me a bit of advice. It was then that she spoke of the poem she heard me read in Kansas City and a day or so later, purchased it.

Dara continues to follow my progress, just like Bernette, Christine and Eileen. That' s why I will always consider them the Winter and Spring of my writing community.

(2008 - present)

In 2008, during an SCBWI Conference, I joined a critique group made up of writers in my area. (Petula Workman, Carrie Garfield and Jenny Bailey.) My critique partners helped me revise my manuscript and prepare it for another huge workshop, the Big Sur Conference in California.

At the Big Sur Conference in California, author Neal Shusterman and editor Emma Dryden, encouraged me and, to this day, both continue their support of my writing endeavors through written and vocal conversation.

After the Big Sur Conference, three other conference attendees showed interest in starting an online critique group. (Juliet White, Petula Workman, Tim Kane.) They zoned in on the weak areas of my novel, made suggestions on how to make my novel stronger, and provided emotional support as I entered the submission process.

Even after my agent, Jen Rofe, sold my novel to Balzar & Bray, this critique group worked with me to tighten my story and work through my editor's revisions. This critique group is strong, and I'm very grateful for them.

I think if I counted everyone who helped, it would be enough people to make a village. It did take a village to push me in the right direction. And I'm thankful to all of them.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

At first, I created Lamar for a ghostwriting opportunity where the request was for a multicultural group of children in a school environment. The publisher wanted the story to be humorous with the opportunity to make it a series.

I wasn't completely focused on Lamar's voice since there were three other characters in the story at the time. But a bowling alley seemed a natural common place for all of the characters to meet after school.

When I didn't get the ghostwriting job, I continued to work with my characters but the writing felt forced. I was determined to write their story, but now, as I look back, the story I was writing was not theirs.

Then...while watching an episode of "C.S.I." (If you're a "C.S.I." fan, Grishom was still in the cast) a young, African-American male popped up in my head, walked around my brain like he owned the place, and signaled for me to follow him.

Yes, I'm still staring at "C.S.I.," but I had no idea what was happening on that show. Mentally, I followed him as he took me inside a bowling alley. I knew it was Lamar.

The scene inside the bowling alley was so vivid. Kids were bowling, eating at the snack bar, talking trash, playing video games, just all kinds of stuff you'd see in a place like that. I've bowled since I was very young, so this scene Lamar was showing to me brought back memories.

He was a smart aleck, a prankster, but was liked by everybody because of the confidence that seeped through his voice, his walk and his bowling.

I don't even remember if "C.S.I." was still on, but my eyeballs began to burn from the lack of blinking.

So, I dashed to the computer, closed my eyes, and listened. I typed what I heard, whether it made sense or not. And every day after that, I did that same exercise. Lamar's voice banged so loud in my head that I actually began to take Advil.

Some days my husband would ask, "What's wrong?"

I'd answer. "It's Lamar."

I'm still not sure how my hubby felt about that.

I've never had a character beg for a story to be told like Lamar. All I did was listen.

I began watching Nickelodeon shows and eavesdropping on as many teenage conversations as I could, but none of the boys I heard seemed to mimic Lamar's voice or give me clues about him.

It was then that I realized I was going out on a limb. This boy was going to have his own way of talking. He was going to have a style unlike other boys, yet be a typical thirteen-year-old, trash-talking kid.

So, that's what I'd tell other authors to do. Listen to you character.

Sometimes it may feel like a daydream when it may be a character trying to push through your thoughts to get noticed. And if you think a character is trying to speak with you, find an episode of "C.S.I.," space out, and let them walk around your brain like they own the place!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Guest Post: Sean Beaudoin on A Journey to Noir

By Sean Beaudoin

It started with Creature Double Feature. Every Saturday afternoon, my father smoking a cigar, feet up. Me lying on the carpet, chin resting on hands, a foot from the television.

Basketball practice was over, and it was time for four hours of blue flickering horror. Horror movies, that is.

Black lagoon, "Mothra" (1961), "Mighty Joe Young" (1949). Haunted hotels, séances, sacrifices. Gargoyles and witches. B-movie actors down on their luck, trying to bring a shred of craft to their aaarghs! and aaaahs!, warding off yet another prosthetic menace.

When I turned eleven, we graduated. Monsters were out. Basil Rathbone’s "Sherlock Holmes" (199-1946) was in. So was Errol Flynn’s "Captain Blood."

This, in turn, led directly to noir. To smoldering cigarettes, doomed schemes, and sour final kisses. My father and I stripped down to our boxers and dove in.

I don’t think either of us ever came back up. In fact, my becoming a film major in college was no doubt a choice made as much by Fred McMurray and "Double Indemnity" (1944) than my own grades and creative inclinations. Even before I could drive, I was subconsciously dying to light something, anything—my greatest wish to shine massive Kliegs through a louvered window, cast Germanic slat-shadows across the face of a tight-lipped femme fatale.

My crushes were manifest. Gloria Grahame, Ida Lupino, Veronica Lake, Alida Valli, Hedy Lamarr, Peggie Castle, Barbara Stanwyk, Greer Garson, and especially Lauren Bacall.

At the dawn of Betamax and VHS, my father and I would drive into Manhattan--where the only video stores were at the time--and load up on obscure titles and third-rate directors, sit through choppy knock-offs and watery soliloquies.

I loved them all, especially the failures. I loved the effort. I loved the swing from cool detachment to sweaty desperation, deepest black to crisp grey. I’m a sucker for a hard-boiled line, a cleft chin, a pantyhosed gam. I am transported by a failed escape, suitcases full of loot broken open on the runway, dollar bills being sucked into the propeller and chopped into hammy metaphorical bits.

Many years later, when I began to write young adult fiction, my very first thought was “Noir City High! Sophomore femme fatales! Cafeteria gunsels! An entire campus on the take!”

It took a while for me to put that conception into a viable framework. But when I did, it all came out pretty easily, as if it had been gestating, nestled below my duodenum like Johnny Law’s bullet all along. Which, of course, it had.

You Killed Wesley Payne (Little, Brown, 2011) had been writing itself for years, the narrative bone-knitting taking place in my sleep. All that carpet-lying hadn’t gone for nothing. Or, maybe that’s for others to decide. But as to your reader’s unasked question about my inspiration for this novel, it couldn’t be clearer.

Saturday afternoons. Cigar smoke. Pinstripes and fedoras.

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