Friday, July 01, 2011

Cynsational News & Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies Giveaway

Enter to win one of two signed copies of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson (Wiley Publishing, 2011). To enter, comment on this post (click link and scroll to comment), mention "giveaway entry" and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email me directly with "Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies" in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Deadline: July 15. This giveaway is for U.S.-Canada readers.

In related news, from June 29 to July 5, Deborah is offering daily “Free First Chapter Critique” giveaways, free downloads, excerpts from the book, and profiles of the 13 authors (including Cynthia Leitich Smith!), editors, and agents who contributed sidebars to the book. As the grand finale, she’s giving away a “Free Full Manuscript Edit” on the final day of the launch. Click over to to check it out!

See Deborah on Why Perfectly Nice People Make Perfect Bad Guys from Cynsations. Note: five ways to make your antagonist believably sympathetic.

See also Guest Teaching Author Interview with Deborah Halverson and Book Giveaway by Carmela Martino from Teaching Authors: Six Children's Authors Who Also Teach Writing.

More News

Author Websites: The Basics from Kathleen Ortiz: Publishing + Digital + Chai = My Life. Peek: "Do not have automatic music: if someone's at work or in a quiet house and forgot the sound is on, it will irritate them and send them packing, never to return!"

Million-Dollar Mommy: Judy Blundell Moves from Star Wars to Noir by Nina Shengold and photographs by Jennifer May from Chronogram Magazine. Peek: "A hundred or so books into her career, at her editor’s urging, Judy Blundell finally published one under her own name. Her breakthrough teen noir What I Saw And How I Lied (Scholastic, 2008) won a National Book Award. Source: April Henry.

If I Were an Unpublished Writer, Would I Self-Publish? by Bob Mayer from Write It Forward: The Future of Publishing Is Here. Peek: "The more I think about it, the more I feel for a new writer with no backlist, the most important thing to do is write three manuscripts first, before investing heavily in promotion." Source: QueryTracker.netBlog.

Five Thoughts About Writer Publicity by Patty Jansen from Must Use Bigger Elephants. Peek: "Publicity is not something you do for a few days, and then let it take care of itself. It’s something that takes a long time building up, and that improves if you put regular effort into it. It’s not something that ever goes away, either." Source: Jon Gibbs at An Englishman in New Jersey.

Get Corked: The Screenwriters' Trick for Plotting by Stina Lindenblatt from Seeing Creative. Peek: "Obviously, this is ideally done before you write your first draft. But even if you’ve written your first draft (or your third or fifth draft), you can still use this tool." Source: QueryTracker.netBlog.

Congratulations to Donna Bowman Bratton for signing with literary agent Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary, and congratulations to Karen for signing Donna!

Recommended by Booklist.
Top Ten Biographies for Youth by Ilene Cooper from Booklist. Note: an annotated bibliography.

Infographic Reveals the Best Times to Post on Twitter and Facebook by Megan O'Neill from Social Times: Your Social Media Source.

A Bridge to Story by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "One of the things that I especially love about the beat sheet is that it takes narrative structure out of the lofty realms of literary criticism or writer’s workshops and puts the structure in terms that any reader would understand."

The Buffy Effect by Joy Prebel from Joy's Novel Idea. Peek: "...over the years, it was like a tutorial of storytelling - of how to mix pathos and humor and horror, how to hit the right funny beats, how to arc a series and characters and make it all blend." Note: "Buffy" had a huge impact on my writing. I often reference in in my author talks and author's notes.

Publishing and Why You Need a Game Plan: Keeping the Readers in Mind by Danyelle Leafty from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: "...keep your expectations real and write the next book. Find out what you should expect realistically and adjust yourself accordingly. And nothing keeps an author's books selling like having the next book come out, especially if each book is better than the last."

Cynsational Blogger Tip: Double check the spelling of names.

Interview with Alan Gratz by Mindy McGinnis from Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire. Peek: "Each rejection feels like a punch in the gut, whether it's your first or your fiftieth. It's whether you get up off the mat and take another swing that matters. Eventually you're going to connect."

New from Abrams.
Chatting with Poetry Man Lee Bennett Hopkins by Jama Rattigan from Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup. Peek: "A good anthology should have an arc. Most of my collections have a beginning, middle, and end so that readers feel they are completing a whole story."

AmyKossBlogThang: new blog from the author of 14 teen novels and many L.A. Times articles.

Interview: Trent Reedy on Words in the Dust Part 2 by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing With a Broken Tusk. Peek: "I could have just as easily written 'goodbye' when Zulaikha said 'khuda hafiz.' I could have written 'thank you' when she said 'tashakor.' I wanted to keep those words and a few others in Dari because my fellow soldiers and I used them so often during our time in Afghanistan." See also Part 1 and Part 3.

Diversity in YA Reading Challenge from Diversity in YA Lit. Features opportunities to participate for libraries, bloggers, and other readers. See the preliminary list of prizes.

The Politics of Story by Neesha Meminger from Hunger Mountain: the VCFA Journal of the Arts. Peek: "Everything is connected—the political, the creative, the economic, the social, the cultural, the personal. It is an intricately tangled web where each strand is an integral part of the whole. If we futz with one, we affect them all."

Random Acts of Publicity (Sept. 6 to Sept. 9, 2011) from Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Get ready to spread some author/book love!

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand (HarperTeen/US)
Why "World Rights, One Cover" Is Not the Best Idea by Ginger Clark, agent, Curtis Brown Ltd. Peek: "...the author benefits much more if they have a publisher on the ground in that country, doing their own homegrown promotion and creating a market-appropriate cover."

Blogging Etiquette Dos and Don'ts by Jon Gibbs from An Englishman in New Jersey. Peek: "If you see a post you want to share with your readers, by all means link to it, but please don’t copy someone else’s journal entry into a post on your own blog (even if you do give credit to the original author in your introductory paragraph)."

First Drafts: Gary Soto's 'Talking to Myself' and 'Sunday Without Clouds' by Alex Hoyt from The Atlantic. Peek: "I remember the first time I presented a poem to the class, all ten of us with sadness in our satchels. Buckley uncapped his fountain pen--a functional Parker--and began, 'I think we have a poem here, but...'"

Parent-vision, Teen-vision, and What It Means for Books to Reach Their Audience from Ashley Perez. Peek: "I...fight my way toward an articulation of what's a little off for me with the direction the #YAsaves conversation has gone."

Poetry for the Very Young by Jan Fields from The Institute of Children's Literature. Peek: "When dealing with young toddlers, they have difficulty grasping comparisons at all. To a toddler, dogs are so much like cats, that if you compare them, the child may have difficulty understanding that they are really different things at all."

Celebrating the Journey: The Myth of Arrival by Salima Alikhan. Peek: "...we forget to savor what we have right now, the bliss of being intimate with our stories, just us and them, with no one’s hungry eyes on them yet. Every author who has written under pressure, saddled with expectations, probably yearned for just a taste of that freedom again."

From Caroline Starr Rose

Book Clubs for Kids: Enter to Win a May B. Book Club Kit from Caroline Starr Rose from Caroline by Line.A great opportunity for reading circles and book clubs!

The kit would include:

  • Schwartz & Wade, Jan. 2012
    10 copies of May B.
  • discussion questions
  • background on the storyline and setting
  • copies of a literature-based assignment Caroline created called Where in the World Are We Reading (used successfully during her years teaching)
  • ideas for social studies and poetry tie-ins (if applicable)
  • bookmarks
  • CD with book trailer
  • interactive Skype visit

From Holly Thompson, SCBWI Tokyo Regional Advisor

Tomo, an anthology of YA fiction related to Japan, will be published by Stone Bridge Press in Spring 2012 to benefit teens in the quake- and tsunami-affected areas of Tohoku, Japan.

See details and submission guidelines. Note: The deadline is very tight--August 15--"since we are eager for the Tomo publication date to coincide with the 2012 one-year anniversary of the March 11 earthquake."

Recap for Those at ALA

More Personally

Thanks to Kit and the YA Reading Group at the Cedar Park (Texas) Public Library for your hospitality last Saturday!
This week I reviewed Ming Doyle's first sketches for the Eternal graphic novel.
I also met with Austinite, Nikki Loftin. Learn about her 2012 debut middle grade novel.

Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith Review from Carmel at Rabid Reads. Peek: "I like a novel that plays on my emotions and Blessed definitely achieves that in spades."

Check out this video of Boston Comic Con 2011 from Nerd Caliber, which includes Tantalize: Kieren's Story illustrator Ming Doyle, dressed as Thor.

In conjunction with my traditional summer blockbuster quest, I saw "Green Lantern." What I liked about it was depiction of the alien Lantern characters, iconic to the comics/mythology. I know this franchise has gotten off to a rocky critical start, but I'm a long-time fan of Hal Jordan and rooting for a great second movie. Note: my favorite Lantern is Kyle Rayner.

From Greg Leitich Smith:

Personal Links:

Cynsational Events

Jeff Crosby is launching Weiner Wolf (Hyperion, 2011) at 11:30 a.m. July 2 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: "The Central Texas Dachshund Rescue will be here handing out information on how you can adopt a darling dachshund yourself - and will be bringing one of those wiener dogs for us to meet! We'll have hot dogs to snack on, crafts to do, balloon animals, a costume contest, and cupcakes! Wiener Wolf, Granny, and a wolf might even make an appearance." Don't miss it! See also Jeff's blog and learn more about him and the book from Mark G. Mitchell at How to Be a Children's Book Illustrator. Here's a quick promo video!

Jenny Moss will be signing at 2 p.m. July 16 at the Barnes & Noble Arboretum in Austin. Her latest book is Taking Off (Walker, 2011).

Jennifer Ziegler is hosting a launch party for Sass & Serendipity (Delacorte, 2011) at 2 p.m. July 23 at BookPeople in Austin.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Guest Post: Deborah Halverson on Why Perfectly Nice People Make Perfect Bad Guys

By Deborah Halverson

There I was, sitting on my couch with my computer on my lap, desperately trying to focus on the piece I was writing, when the neighbor’s dog started barking. Wildly . . . and for an extended period of time. A really long extended period of time. The neighbor’s dog rarely barks, especially for long stretches. This was not a normal event.

But then, this was not a normal day. It was crazy rushed day, and a particularly hot one so my window was open and thus the barking seemed particularly loud and distracting, which was particularly frustrating because I had a particularly unyielding deadline and my sons were due home any minute and I really really had to make this deadline and I just couldn’t take the barking anymore and, oh my gosh, for the love of Pete, “Lilo, shut up!”

No, I didn’t say it out loud. I certainly didn’t put my face to my window screen and holler it like I’d wanted to at that moment. I just thought it. And then I froze.

Wow, I thought. I’m a perfectly nice person. And that’s a perfectly nice dog. Yet for an instant there I could have been perfectly happy doing something very not nice to that sweet animal. How in the world does that happen?

Because perfectly nice people sometimes have bad thoughts, that’s how. They just don’t act on those thoughts. Normally. But what about on those abnormal days, under those abnormal circumstances, when all the right buttons are being pushed or they feel threatened in some manner or stressed out or they’re particularly hot or they need or want something very, very badly? Indeed, sometimes, when all the factors are just so, nice people can and do act on bad thoughts.

Which is precisely why nice people can make such great antagonists in fiction.

Think about it. Some antagonists seem perfectly nice when you first meet them. They can have very obvious moral centers. They might even be friends with the protagonist—or would be, under different circumstances. But in the circumstances you devise to get and keep your story rocking, that character provokes your protagonist, challenges him or throws roadblocks in his path or pushes him into situations of actual physical peril. The antagonist causes wonderful, juicy conflict even if he still seems inherently nice otherwise.

This duality makes that antagonist intriguingly complex, and intriguingly complex antagonists are tremendous fun to read. These are the Bad Guys you remember long after you’ve finished a book.

If you want your antagonists to be stick with readers, they should be drawn as deeply as your main characters. Never settle for stereotypical antagonists, or those who antagonize simply because it’s their job to do so. You’ve worked hard to populate your story with rich characters; don’t let a cardboard cutout villain slip in. Strong antagonists are layered, unpredictable, and even sympathetic characters. They give readers something to chew on.

How can you make your antagonist believably sympathetic? Here are five ways:

Give your antagonist goals and dreams.

The best antagonists are those who hinder not because they’re stereotypes with jobs to do but because they’re pursuing their own dreams and struggling with their own inner conflicts. They’re not necessarily trying to crush anyone; they’re simply trying to attain their own goals. The protagonists are just in their way.

Let your antagonist think he’s being good.

A good bad guy needn’t be despicable; he may just have conflicting or intrusive goals that pit him against your protagonist. A well-meaning father, for example, may want his son to join the safe, financially rewarding family business, whereas the son wants to be a rock star. Dad’s no ogre—but he is a powerful antagonist.

Give your antagonist a higher purpose.

Maybe Bad Guy thinks being harmful to one person is okay because he’s acting for the sake of the greater good. Consider a cadet in a military prep school who wants to weed out the “bad eggs” for the sake of his school and his fellow loyal cadets. It’s good to uphold your school’s values and reputation, right? Only if you’re the one doing the weeding.

Skew his values.

Maybe your antagonist has a different value system than other characters and doesn’t see what he’s doing as wrong. That doesn’t make him a criminal. It does, however, make him a detriment to the protagonist. Consider the young lady in the first-class cabin who runs her young maids ragged through the entire voyage. To her, that’s just how you treat the help. To your maid heroine, that spoiled brat is a force of evil.

Let him give in to the Dark Side.

Antagonists often embody traits that readers struggle with themselves, allowing readers to see what would happen if they were to give in to the bad impulses and emotions. Like, say, hollering ridiculously at the sweet dog next door for barking about a bunny in the bushes.

Not everyone can keep their halo straight all the time. And honestly, sometimes it feels good to give in to the bad impulses. Sometimes it serves our ends. Only, for some people, “sometimes” can become “always.” It’s powerful to watch an antagonistic character degenerate morally through the course of the story.

Antagonists are valuable tools for pushing your protagonist toward triumph or a new shade of wisdom. Both readers and writers can come learn as much from these so-called bad guys as they do from the star—and have a particularly great time along the way.

Cynsational Notes

Deborah Halverson is the author of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies and founder of the writer’s advice website

Deborah edited children's-YA fiction with Harcourt Children's Books before picking up a pen to write the award-winning teen novels Honk If You Hate Me (Delacorte, 2007) and Big Mouth (Delacorte, 2008).

Deborah’s new book Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies hits stores July 5, and articles include "Cynthia Leitich Smith on Paranormal Fiction: More Than the Monsters."

Deborah is celebrating the release with a seven-day virtual book launch on starting today.

From June 29 to July 5, she’s offering daily “Free First Chapter Critique” giveaways, free downloads, excerpts from the book, and profiles of the 13 authors (including Cynthia Leitich Smith), editors, and agents who contributed sidebars to the book.

As the grand finale, she’s giving away a “Free Full Manuscript Edit” on the final day of the launch.

Click over to to check it out.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two signed copies of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies. To enter, comment on this post, and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email Cynthia directly with "Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies" in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Deadline: July 15. This giveaway is for U.S.-Canada readers.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Guest Post: J.L. Powers on Writing a Foreign Culture: Research for This Thing Called the Future

By J.L. Powers

My just-released young adult novel, This Thing Called the Future, a coming-of-age story set in South Africa (Cinco Puntos, 2011)(excerpt), dives deep into African culture, including traditional healing through the spirits of the ancestors. It deals with the HIV-AIDS epidemic rampant among young Zulus.

It takes place in a world utterly foreign to 90% of the people who will likely read it.

Here are just a handful of the things I did while researching it:

• Camped out for three days and nights on a mountainside with 5000 Zulus, all converts to a healing cult.
• Got dog sick on that mountain. There were no latrines to take care of my problem privately. Learned humility.
• Traveled with HIV-AIDS activists to clinics where they taught newly diagnosed HIV-positive individuals how to take their medicine.
• Took hundreds of photos of a variety of condom boxes and HIV-AIDS billboards for a NGO that needed my help—or maybe just my camera.
• Sat through several sessions with Zulu sangomas (traditional healers), including one who talked to her ancestors for/about me. What she said they said made the hair on the backs of my arms stand up.
• Stayed with families of all socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.
• Learned how to clean the floor by smearing it with cow dung.
• Got robbed, unfortunately by the son of a close friend.
• Learned fear.

If going to a foreign country or a strange place to research your novel seems daunting, here are a few things I found helpful to get me started and to keep me going.

Leocardia pictured in white, Jessica in pink.
1) Find out everything you can about the subject and the place in the United States. The public library is usually inadequate. Try to obtain access to a major university library.

2) Before traveling, contact everybody you knew remotely connected to the country, every academic whose research touches on your topic, and the directors of non-profit organizations based there. Because I did this, I never lacked for people to talk to and interview while I was in South Africa.

3) Jump on every opportunity you have to do something local. I didn't stay in hotels—I stayed with local families, usually ones I met through friends and friends of friends. If I got invited to do something, even something mundane, I went. It was all about experiencing as much as possible, even if it didn't make it into the book, or didn't seem to relate directly to the book.

South Africa has the reputation for crime and violence. This reputation is deserved. But in my multiple, lengthy trips there, I discovered a country rich with hospitable people who welcomed me and made me feel like I was home. It was an adventure.

Likewise, if you’re interested in writing a book that takes place somewhere else, especially somewhere outside of the comfort zone of the western world, you’ll find the same kind people no matter where you go. I promise.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New Voice: Nathan Bransford on Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow

Nathan Bransford is the first-time author of Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow (Dial, 2011). From the promotional copy:

Space travel is all fun and games until someone breaks the universe.

Jacob Wonderbar has been the bane of every substitute teacher at Magellan Middle School ever since his dad moved away from home. He never would have survived without his best friend Dexter, even if he is a little timid, and his cute-but-tough friend Sarah Daisy, who is chronically overscheduled.

But when the trio meets a mysterious man in silver they trade a corn dog for his sassy spaceship and blast off into the great unknown. That is, until they break the universe in a giant space kapow and a nefarious space buccaneer named Mick Cracken maroons Jacob and Dexter on a tiny planet that smells like burp breath.

The friends have to work together to make it back to their little street where the houses look the same, even as Earth seems farther and farther away.

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

When I was younger I was really drawn to book where kids were thrust into difficult situations on their own and had to figure out how to be responsible and/or survive, and that was really important to me as I wrote Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow.

When you're in the 8-12-year-old age range, I feel like you're just beginning to think of yourself as your own person and beginning to look ahead to what life will be like when you're a grownup and making decisions and being able to survive on your own.

With that new sense of self, I think kids are also really beginning to have a thirst for exploration, excitement, and confronting danger.

At the same time, you're still a kid! And kids at that age have a tremendous appreciation of fun and wackiness. Your imagination is still a powerful part of who you are as a kid, and you're still willing to suspend your disbelief. The world (or should I say universe) really seems like a place where anything is possible.

So all of those things came together for me with Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow. I tried to infuse it with a sense of fun and wackiness and the universe is a place where you can blast off into space and get marooned on a planet where the days are just a minute long, but underlying the silliness is some seriousness, as Jacob is wondering if his absent dad could be in space. As much as the kids want to have fun adventures, real life can't help but intrude.

While I was writing, I was most influenced by the books I liked at that age, Roald Dahl especially, whose entire canon I read when I was in fourth and fifth grade, and whose protagonists were often orphans or had terrible parents. Underlying the flights of fancy was an escape from life's painful realities.

I also loved the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip by Bill Watterson, and the title of Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow is a bit of an homage to "Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie," the book that Calvin always demanded his parents read him at bedtime.

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?

It's not easy! I find it especially difficult to come home after a long day at work and then sit down at the computer to write into the night. So I try and carve out days on the weekends, but that also can be challenging, because it's difficult to recharge for another week if you're never taking a break.

For anyone juggling jobs and family obligations and a social life, I feel like life as a writer is a perpetual search for balance, and it's not easy to find.

I guess the most important thing I've learned over the last few years is that family and friends have to come before writing. Writers are dreamers, and I think we can talk ourselves into the idea that getting published or having your book take off is going to make your life complete and if you can just do that it will make all of the other problems in life go away and then you can calm down and be happy.

But it's really not the case - if you're not living a happy life prior to being published, being published is not going to be the thing that suddenly makes you happy. Yes, it's something you'll be always proud of and something no one can ever take away from you, but it's not a magic elixir that cures everything.

At the same time, we write because we love it, and the satisfaction of sharing part of yourself and completing a novel and having people read it is something that can't be replaced. It's worth making time for. It's worth late nights and early mornings and spending time in front of a computer when you'd rather be out frolicking in the sun.

Just as long as it doesn't stop you from living a happy life outside of writing.

Cynsational Notes

Nathan's blog offers extensive information on publishing as a business, finding an agent and query letters, working with agents and editors, and the writing process.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Guest Post: Maureen Crane Wartski on Yuri’s Brush With Magic

By Maureen Crane Wartski

Is there such a thing as magic?

Not the sleight-of-hand, smoke-and-mirrors type of magic, but the real deal, the mysterious something that brings chills to the spine and a joyous shiver to the heart?

In me, you have the true believer, for magic is the cornerstone on which Yuri’s Brush With Magic (Sleepy Hollow, 2010) was written.

Not convinced?

First, there is the magic of memories. While I was writing this book, memories crowded around me of my aunts--young then, beautiful and full of life--singing a song of old Japan or encouraging me to explore new ways to end a folktale.

Of course, it could have another ending. Why not? When you tell a story, you change it in some small way because you see it with different eyes….

Then there is the magic of words themselves. To me, words have been and always will be the most extraordinary things in the universe. From the time when I sat--an entranced five year old--listening to my uncle read from "Julius Caesar," I understood the power of words.

With words, one could do anything. Create anything. And there were a million possibilities for combining words into stories.

The natural world is full of magic, too. Anyone who has seen a sunset must agree! When I walk the beach at Emerald Isle and see a new sea turtle nest site, I experience the same thrill that I felt when the idea for Yuri first popped into my brain. Sea turtles, which have been around for 200 million years, are pretty magical, too.

If there were a wand to wave so that these elements could come together, that would be tremendous. There is work instead. Nothing magical in that, I have often groused as I sat down to face a blank screen. We writers have all been in this place before—sitting with an outline, pages of notes, and a handful of unformed characters who must somehow be given definition and enough personality to carry the story.

In the case of Yuri, though, the work wasn’t too hard. I had only to close my eyes and remember. I had only to tell the story in my own words, let it become a part of me…and find the right words. I had only to let the song sung to me...oh, so long ago...fill my mind like sunshine, and the story wrote itself.

Perhaps that is magic, too.

Cynsational Notes

Maureen Crane Wartski was born in Ashiya, Japan, in a house by the sea. She has written many middle-grade and young adult novels, among them the award-winning A Boat to Nowhere (Penguin, 1981)(Bank Street College Award, 1980) and the critically acclaimed Candle in the Wind (Fawcett, 1995).

With themes of Japanese folklore, the power of nature, and the longing for home, Wartski’s newest offering for Yuri’s Brush with Magic (Sleepy Hollow, 2010), is a middle grade story about a young Japanese American girl whose sea turtle rescue work soothes fears about her mother’s recovery.

Wartski lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Facebook or send a note to her blog.

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