Friday, September 02, 2011

Vote for the Teens Top Ten; Blessed is a 2011 Nominee

Looking for this week's round-up of the most useful and inspiring links in the kidlitosphere? It's at Cynsational News & Giveaways--packed with awesome info and the most giveaways ever!


After a summer of reading, teens are now invited to vote for YALSA's Teens Top Ten List!

Vote here, and see the annotated list.

I'm that my novel Blessed (Candlewick, 2011) is among the 25 titles nominated for YALSA's Teens' Top Ten!

From YALSA: "Teens' Top Ten is a 'teen choice' list, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year!

"Nominators are members of teen book groups in sixteen school and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted on Support Teen Literature Day during National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year.

"Readers ages twelve to eighteen will vote online between Aug. 22 and Sept. 16; the winners will be announced during Teen Read Week."

Hear an audio excerpt from Listening Library..

Cynsational News & Giveaways

The Art of the Deal by Karen Sandler from Novelists, Inc. Blog. A revealing insight into how submissions and negotiations take place between children's-YA book editors and agents. Peek: "If the agent says the book is going to be big, the editor gets excited. Note that the agent won’t say this about every book; she would lose her credibility." Source: April Henry.

Author Interview: Julia Durango from Carmen Oliver from Following My Dreams...One Word at a Time. Peek: "I first fell in love with Latin American music when I was a teen travelling in Brazil. Later, during college, I spent time in Colombia, Costa Rica, and other Latin American countries. In each place, I encountered amazing music, from tango to salsa to mambo, which told stories about people transcending adversity and celebrating life."

7 Imps 7 Kicks #234 Featuring Joyce Wan by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "...whose art, she tells me, is inspired by Asian traditional and popular culture. She also comes from an architectural design background and loves creating those books for wee ones that are tactile or contain interactive elements."

Opposing Viewpoints from A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy at School Library Journal.  Peek: "I’d much rather talk about books for those who want action, or quick reads, or emotional exploration, etc., than talking 'boy' and 'girl' books."

Getting Naked with the Muse by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "After a certain point, when one has reached a certain mastery of craft, craft is no longer the issue; the uniqueness of the voice is. Not just in the words you use, but the things you have to say. They have to matter. And matter a lot."

KidLit Illustration: News, Tips and Resources from Where Sidewalk Begins: "...home of the SCBWI Illustration Portfolio Mentorship Program Winners." Source: Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

Stand Up for Girls: A Virtual Rally to Promote Literacy and Education for Girls, Organized by LitWorld from PaperTigers. Peek: "Two thirds of all the world’s illiterate people are women. On Sept. 22, we will stand up for girls and their right to go to school and to learn to read and write."

Three Things That Come First Before You Tackle Social Media by Jane Friedman from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "You might very well start by asking yourself, 'What makes me interesting?'"

A Chat with Agent Kathleen Ortiz by Mindy McGinnis from Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire. Note: "She is currently looking for YA (especially cyberpunk, thrillers and anything dark/edgy), older middle grade..." This interview focuses on Kathleen's personality, not her approach to submissions.

Judge Says Books-A-Million Can Take Over 14 Borders Leases by Joseph Checkler from The Wall Street Journal. Peek: "...meaning at least some Borders stores will carry on as the rest of the chain winds down through liquidation." Note: the rest of the article is available by subscription only. Source: The Writer's League of Texas.

Walker/Bloomsbury, March 2012
Created in the Path of Irene from Kate Messner. Peek: "Before Hurricane Irene hit, I posted this invitation for those in Irene’s path to write or draw or otherwise create art during the storm, and to share it online as a communal art-making experience."

The Lambda Literary Foundation Changes Their Lammy Award Guidelines to Include Allied Writers and Highlight GLBTQ Writers by Lee Wind from I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? Note: see comments and Lee's own additional thoughts on the changes to date and (possibly) to come.

How to Raise Your Characters Above the Status Quo by Brian A. Klems from Writer's Digest. Peek: "Novelists have the daunting task of showing this dynamic of shifting submission and dominance through dialogue, posture, pauses, communication patterns, body language, action and inner dialogue."

Q&A with Patsy Aldana on International Children's Publishing, and IBBY in the Middle East and North Africa by Natalie Samson from Quill & Quire. Peek: "During her travels, Aldana will meet with the Children’s Book Council of Iran (CBCI) to speak about Groundwood’s approach to international children’s book publishing; consult with local children’s literacy workers and the Afghan minister of culture about establishing IBBY chapters in Afghanistan and Tajikstan; fundraise for IBBY initiatives in the emirates and North Africa; and deliver the keynote address at the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions conference on intergenerational reading in Tunisia." Source: ACHOCKABLOG.

AmyKossBlogThang from "the author of 14 teen novels and many L.A. Times articles and stuff like that."

Interview: Carla Jablonski by Esther Keller from Good Comics for Kids at School Library Journal. Peek: "I wanted to try to understand what it might have been like to live under occupation — ordinary people in not-so-ordinary circumstances."

A Notable Book for a Global Society
Notable Books for a Global Society: an interview by Nancy with Karen Hildebrand, chair of the International Reading Association selection committee from ReaderKidZ. Note: includes bibliography of picture books, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Move Books: a new publishing company, launched by Eileen Robinson, focusing on middle grade titles with boy appeal. See submissions information. Source: Writing and Illustrating.

Picture Books and Easy Readers: an excerpt from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books by Harold Underdown at The Purple Crayon. See also Harold on What a Publisher Does.

Judges are being sought for the the Cybils 2011: Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards. See more information on eligibility, changes, and duties.

How Much to Share Online by Rachelle Gardner. Peek: "Always be thoughtful and discerning when deciding what professional information to share publicly." Source: QueryTracker.netBlog.

White Space by Mary Quattlebaum from Write at Your Own Risk. Peek: "Suspended breath is not the absence of breath."

Photo-palooza: San Diego Comic Con from Get to the Point: A Blog from Macmillan Children's Publishing Booth.

Best Articles This Week for Writers from Adventures in Children's Publishing.

Cynsational Cheers

Cheers to E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally on the sale of Dear Teen Me (inspired by their blog of the same name) to Zest Books! Note: click the link to add your congratulations!

Cheers to Kimberley Griffiths Little on the paperback release of The Healing Spell (Scholastic, 2011)!
Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberley.

Cheers to children's author-illustrator team Janice and Tom Shefelman on Honeymoon Hobos: A Journey Around a World that Once Was, a memoir that's their first book for grown-ups. Peek: "Yearning to see the world, Tom and I sold our possessions, got married, and set out on a journey we could not afford but had to take. In October of 1954 we boarded a Japanese freighter out of Long Beach, bound for Yokohama, planning to take a year to circle the globe."

Cynsational Screening Room

What is Steampunk? - Steam-Reality Sizzle Reel from JonnyPhoenyx. Source: Arthur Slade.

Dinosaur Dig by Penny Dale (Nosy Crow of London). Cover re-worked on iPad using Brushes App.

Cynsational Giveaways

Last call! Celebrate the release of my first graphic novel by entering to win the Tantalize: Kieren's Story Howling Great Giveaway!

The prize includes: author-autographed copy of Tantalize: Kieren's Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle; Barbecue Lovers Guide to Austin by Gloria Corral; "Living with Wolves" DVD from the Discovery Channel; adult-size costume bat wings; bat finger puppet; armadillo puppet; wolf finger puppet; bear finger puppet; opossum finger puppet; flashing cat key chain, armadillo egg candies; mini journal; Austin magnet; and audio edition of Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith, read by Kim Mai Guest (Listening Library/Random House).

To enter, comment on this post (click link and scroll) 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 "Tantalize: Kieren's Story" in the subject line. Author sponsored. Deadline: Sept. 6.

For extra entries (itemize efforts in your entry comment/email with relevant links):
Limit 8 entries. This giveaway is for international readers--everyone is eligible!

Enter to win Liar, Liar and Flat Broke by Gary Paulsen (Random House, 2011). To enter, comment on this post (click link and scroll) 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 "Paulsen" in the subject line. Publisher sponsored. Deadline: Sept. 16. U.S. readers eligible.

Enter to win an advanced reader copy of The Vision by Jen Nadol (Bloomsbury, September 2011). To enter, comment on this post (click link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with "The Mark" in the subject line. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada entries only. Deadline: midnight CST Sept. 6.

Enter to win one of three Snuggle Mountain apps (IPhone and IPad users only). To enter, comment on this post (click link and scroll) 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 "Snuggle Mountain app" in the subject line. Author sponsored. Deadline: Sept. 26.

For extra entries (itemize efforts in your entry comment/email with relevant links):
  • Blog about this giveaway
  • Share the link to this post on facebook
  • Share the link to this post on Twitter
  • Share the link to this post on Google+ 
  • Like Lindsey's Facebook author page

Enter to win a copy of Tantalize and so much more from six prize packs in the Operation Awesome 500 Follower Celebration. Deadline: 11:59 Sept. 7. Note: not sure of time zone.

This Week's Cynsations Posts
More Personally

My thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by Hurricane Irene or Typhoon Megi.

Speaking of which, the next time you buy a Google ebook online, consider ordering it from Lisa Sullivan at Bartleby's Books in Wilmington, Vermont. Learn more about the "catastrophic" flooding that wrecked her store from Jason Boog at GalleyCat.

And do you have any new books, especially picture books, to donate? See After Irene: A Small-town Adirondack Library Needs Your Help from Kate Messner.

Or do you have $5 to spare? It's not too late to help save a library in Cherryfield, Maine.

Look for quotes from me in "The Well-Paid Writer" by Katherine Swarts, published in the September issue of Children's Writer.

School Library Journal says of Tantalize: Kieren's Story (Candlewick, 2011): "...both the art and the text come together in some touching moments, particularly between Kieren and his younger sister." Note: This may be the first review to mention little Meghan, who's one of my favorite characters.

Book Review & Author Interview: Tantalize: Kieren's Story by Cynthia Leitich Smith from The Obscured Vixen. I talk about the process behind the new graphic novel, the commercial pressure of happy romantic endings, and my next two prose novels, Diabolical and Smolder. Note: The Obscured Vixen's Review gives the graphic novel four out of five stars!

Thanks to Shelli Cornelison at Shelli's Soliloquy for the shout out!

Even More Personally

Maybe it's the 70-plus days of 100-plus degree temperatures, or just my busy brain needing to cool, but of late I've been watching shows before going to bed.

It took 24 hours for me to gobble up the first season of the BBC's "Sherlock." The show is witty and suspenseful, and I'm fascinated by the developing friendship between Benedict Cumberbatch's "Sherlock Holmes" and Martin Freeman's "Dr. John Watson. The three episodes are each 90 minutes long, so as a U.S.-based fan, it feels more like watching three movies.

Save the Cheerleader, Save the World!

I'd seen the first two and a half seasons of "Heroes," but started over from the beginning and finished watching the remainder of the series this past month. It's well written and one of the most ambitious shows--smart, funny, action-packed--I've ever watched. I especially liked the heavy early use of the comic framework and missed it later on. Beyond that, I appreciated the diverse cast, international settings, intricate writing, and of course the characters.

Personal Links:
From Greg Leitich Smith:
Cynsational Events

Attention, Houstonians! Please join Cynthia Leitich Smith for a discussion and signing of Tantalize: Kieren's Story (Candlewick, 2011) at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston.

Note: "This event is free and open to the public. In order to go through the signing line and meet Cynthia Leitich Smith for book personalization, you must purchase Tantalize: Kieren’s Story from Blue Willow Bookshop. A limited number of autographed copies of Cynthia’s books will be available for purchase after the event. If you cannot attend the event, but would like a personalized copy of her book, please call Blue Willow before the event at 281.497.8675."

Austin Teen Book Festival is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 1 at Palmer Events Center in Austin. The event is free! No need to register, just show up! Students do not need to be accompanied by an adult.

Meet Ming Doyle!
Illustrator Ming Doyle will be signing Tantalize: Kieren's Story at 2 p.m. Oct. 2 at Brookline Booksmith (279 Harvard Street) in Brookline, Massachusetts. Guests are invited to participate in a vampire/werewolf costume contest. See another interior illustration from the graphic novel from her blog.

Write Before You Write: Outlining, Planning Plotting with Jennifer Ziegler from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 10 at St. Edward's University in Austin. Sponsored by The Writers' League of Texas. Peek: "Do you ever start a manuscript and end up lost in your own story? Do you know your plot but still find that your writing is blocked? Or do you have a terrific idea for a book but are unsure where to start? If your answer is yes to any of the above, you might benefit from some 'prewriting' techniques."

Thursday, September 01, 2011

New Voice: Alex Epstein on The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan le Fay

Alex Epstein is the first-time author of The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan le Fay (Tradewind, 2011)(blog). From the promotional copy:

The sorceress Morgan le Fay - seducer of King Arthur and destroyer of Britain - was a girl once. But how did an exiled girl become a king's nemesis?

Britain, 480 AD. Saxon barbarians are invading, pushing the civilized British out of their own island. Morgan is the daughter of the governor of Cornwall. But when her father is murdered and her mother taken as the King's new wife, she has to flee to Ireland to avoid being murdered herself.

But Ireland is no refuge. She's captured in a slave raid and sold to a village witch. As Morgan comes of age, she discovers her own magical powers. She falls in love with a young Irish chieftain, and makes him powerful. But will her drive for revenge destroy her one chance for love and happiness?

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

When I was a kid, my dad used to read the T.H. White books to me -- The Once and Future King (Collins, 1958), The Book of Merlyn (University of Texas, 1977), The Sword in the Stone (Putnam, 1939). That gave me a lifelong fascination with the King Arthur stories.

At first I just loved the magic and the honor and the swordplay. But as I grew up, I got interested in the human relationships. There seemed to be a whole hidden story behind the legend. King Arthur has no children, but no one complains -- why? For a king not to have an heir is alarming. Why does Arthur tolerate Morgan le Fay's efforts to kill Guinevere? Why does he wait so long to confront Lancelot for having an affair with his wife? And of course the big question: how does Morgan go from being sent off to "a nunnery" to being the most powerful witch in legend? They don't usually teach necromancy in nunneries, do they?

The Circle Cast is a try at some answers. It seemed to me that maybe Arthur loved Guinevere, but not as woman, as an ideal. But maybe he loved Morgan as a woman. She was his half-sister, which made that a problem; but only in the new, Christian context. To an early Celt, it wouldn't have been a big deal. Arthur is torn between the old and the new, the ideal and the woman. He doesn't confront Lancelot because he knows he's not doing right by Guinevere. But he can't help himself. You love who you love.

People in my own life did things that resonated with the Arthur story; I won't get into them here; and maybe that's why I stayed interested in the story over the 15 years I wrote and reworked the book through many drafts.

As a historical fiction writer, what drew you first-character, concept, or historical period? In whichever case, how did you go about building your world and integrating it into the story? What were the special challenges? Where did you turn for inspiration or support?

I think you have to start with the character, and Morgan is a fantastic character. She's so angry, but she has every right to be. She's offered grace, and she's offered love, but if she accepts either, she'll have to stop being angry. And if she gives up her angry, who is she? It's what's defined her, what's made her strong, what allowed her to survive -- and it's what powers the magic.

I did a lot of historical research. I do love to read about history. The Circle Cast is set in 480 AD, almost a century after the Romans abandoned Britain, and a generation after the barbarians sacked Rome. That's not the traditional Arthurian setting, but it's when Arthur probably flourished, if you believe Geoffrey Ashe. Ashe makes a very convincing case that a Roman-style dux bellorum called Riothamus (= "High King") beat the Saxons for about two decades before heading off to help the Romans on the Continent. He disappeared near the town of Avallon.

It's a time when all bets are off. The Saxons are pushing the British out of Britain. Christianity is replacing the Old Religion, which may have involved the worship of a war goddess called Bellona Morigenos. She's the same goddess the Irish worship as the Morrígan, a scary battle queen whose crows take slain heroes to Valhalla by eating them. My first wife did her Ph. D. thesis on the Morrígan, and I edited it, so for a little while there I might have been the person who knew the second most about Her.

I went to Ireland and England, too, and climbed up on South Cadbury Castle, a hillfort that might have been Camelot. I climbed up on Cader Idris in Wales, known as Arthur's Seat. I went to Tintagel. And I went to the lakeshore of the yew trees, now called Emly.

I tried to make the historical details as gritty and real as possible. Chimneys hadn't been invented yet. The Irish didn't have any horses big enough to ride; they had chariot ponies. The Irish worked butter into their hair before battle to make it stand up. All the strange details in the book come out of research.

The magic comes out of contemporary neo-pagan Wicca. I met a lot of witches when I was first writing this book, and participated in some intense rituals. I've rarely felt in touch with the powers of the Earth -- certainly never anything like Morgan. I can make magic happen on the page but I rarely feel it. I'm not sensitive that way.

But I did see a woman draw down the Moon, and I could swear there was someone else in her, someone ageless and powerful. So the magic is as real as I could make it, too.

How did you go about connecting with your agent? What was your search process like? Who did you decide to sign with? What about that person and/or agency seemed like the best fit for you? What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?

I didn't sell this book through an agent! It's funny, because I have no shortage of agents. I have screenwriting agents in Toronto and Montreal, and I have a nonfiction book agent.

I had a terrific, smart, hardworking fiction agent for a while, Ginger Clark (formerly) of Writers House, and we came close, but at the time King Arthur books seemed to be out of style.

A couple years later, I contacted a publisher in Canada about the movie rights for a novel he published, and we got to talking.

Turned out he was interested in my book as a YA novel. It already more or less was one, it just needed to be trimmed down a bit -- and the trims were all for the good, thanks to my terrific editor, Kim Aippersbach.

So I guess my advice would be: persevere. Try different avenues. Keep reworking the book when you get good feedback.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Guest Post: Jen Nadol on Oh No! Someone Used My Idea! & The Vision ARC Giveaway

By Jen Nadol

You’ve got a great story concept. The minute it comes to you, scenes start unfolding in your head, plot points filling in faster than you can remember them. You grab a piece of paper and jot down ideas before they slip away.

You start writing. Chapter after chapter. Some easier than others, but still with that exhilarating sense that this is a winner. A story that will sell. Something new. Fresh.

And then one day you’re walking through the bookstore or scrolling through Publishers Lunch and you see it: your concept, already on the shelves or listed in the latest deals.

Has this happened to you?

It’s happened to me. Twice.

My debut novel, The Mark (Bloomsbury, 2010), was finished and in production when I heard about not one, but two other YA books coming out within a few months of it with nearly the same concept.

Take a look at these descriptions:

The Mark: Cassie knows when someone is about to die. Not how or where, only when: today.

My Soul To Take by Rachel Vincent: She doesn’t see dead people, but she senses when someone near her is about to die.

Numbers by Rachel Ward: When Jem Marsh looks into a person’s eyes, she sees the date of their death.

Oh, no! I thought. My new, fresh, exciting idea has already been used!

It was an agonizing, terrifying, deflating moment.

What did I do? The only thing I could: after moping around for a while feeling rotten, I ignored those other books. I didn’t look them up again or follow their reviews or sales numbers. And I certainly didn’t read them.

Until now. Two years later I was finally un-chicken enough to take a peek.

Turns out I was right to avoid them. Not because they’re just like my book (fear #1) - they’re not.

But because of the doubt the few similarities would have planted in my head. That insidious, parasitic second-guessing that is a writer’s worst enemy: Should I change that character’s name? Have her live with an uncle instead of an aunt? Cut that line that sounds too much like one in another book?

Re-write this scene? Or what about this one? Make the narrator male? Or instead of a glow, maybe it should be something else…

You can see how that might be unproductive.

Fear #2 – that these books might influence my writing - was real. The Mark was beyond my ability to change, but I had a sequel to write, one that wouldn’t benefit from shaken confidence.

Writing is a leap of faith. It’s one thing to examine your characters and plot to make them as good and authentic as you can. But when you stop believing in yourself and your story and your characters and start changing them just to fit a mold or break one, you lose something essential to the process: your unique voice and point of view.

Writer Audre Lord said: There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.

Of course it would be better if no one ever came up with the same fabulous concept you did, but what are the chances of that? And yes, there is probably a saturation point for certain ideas. But if you don’t know of five or ten books already out there, that point probably isn’t close. Vampires have proven there’s ample room for variations on a theme.

So if it happens to you, I say believe in your story and write it anyway. Because even if your basic concept is the same, through your eyes and with your voice, it will still be unique.

At least, I’m banking on that for my WIP, a novel called The Box that was eighty percent drafted when I read about the new Jay Asher/Carolyn Mackler book The Future of Us.

The concept? Teens accidentally see a slice of their future.

The same as my new, exciting, fresh novel. Oh no.

As you might have guessed, I wrote it anyway.

Cynsational Notes

Enter to win an advanced reader copy of The Vision by Jen Nadol (Bloomsbury, September 2011). From the promotional copy:

Cassie Renfield knows the mark tells her when someone is going to die and that she can intervene and attempt to change fate. But she still doesn't understand the consequences, especially whether saving one life dooms another.

With no family left to offer guidance, Cassie goes in search of others like her. But when she meets Demetria, a troubled girl who seems to have the same power, Cassie finds the truth isn't at all what she expected. And then there's her heady new romance with bad boy Zander. Dating him has much graver repercussions than Cassie could ever have imagined, forcing her to make choices that cut to the essence of who she is and what she believes.

The Vision is a riveting sequel to The Mark, offering readers a romance with big stakes and a new ethical dilemma with no easy answers.

To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with "The Mark" in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada entries only. Deadline: midnight CST Sept. 6.

In Memory: Children's Author Kezi Matthews

From the ALAN Newsletter:

"Beverly 'Kezi' Matthews passed away on Nov. 16, 2010. After an early career in radio and television, both on and off the air, Beverly settled into a lengthy career of creating original artist dolls and then took up writing. Within a short time, she became an award winning novelist, writing three powerful novels--Scorpio's Child (Cricket, 2001), Flying Lessons (Cricket, 2002), and John Riley's Daughter (Cricket, 2000)--and a number of short stories for young people."

See also Kezi is remembered by doll makers from around the world.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Guest Post: Lindsey Lane on From a Print Picture Book to an App & Giveaway of Snuggle Mountain App

By Lindsey Lane

The inspiration for the digital transformation of Snuggle Mountain (Clarion, 2003/PicPocket, 2011) from a hardcover picture book into an app happened when I found out the original picture book was going out of print.

As you can imagine, having a book go out of print is a sad day for an author. Especially for me. I love kids, and I love going into classrooms and libraries to read Snuggle Mountain to little ones. I love hearing them laugh, watching their eyes grow wide with worry about the two-headed giant and then, as I turn the page to the big reveal, hearing them exclaim, “Hey, it’s Mom and Dad!”

I’ll never forget this one little boy, sighing, when I finished reading and saying, “That was the best book ever.” I tell you, those little uncensored reviews are like chocolates for the spirit.

In December 2007, I heard that Clarion had decided to let Snuggle Mountain go out of stock (that’s sometimes the step before going out of print). I thought about getting the rights back then and finding a smaller publisher to print a softcover version, but I was about to start the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) and I wanted to focus on craft, not publishing.

At my second residency at VCFA in January 2009, Jean Gralley came to speak to the students and faculty about ebooks. Basically, Jean’s talk was about the gigantic possibilities of picture books in the digital format. In the discussion afterward, Jean acknowledged that some people are quite unhappy about ebooks because they think that ebooks and screens spell the death of picture books.

I remember Tim Wynne-Jones saying that people had the same fear of television killing theater. It didn’t happen.

Jean’s presentation didn’t spell doom to me. In fact, it kind of set my brain on fire.

I love the possibilities of interactive screens as a way for kids to explore words and images and ideas. Yes, I still love the lap and the print picture book and turning the pages. For me, it’s not an either/or situation. It’s both.

Our world is changing, and it now includes both paradigms: the page and the screen.

Sure enough, while I was immersing myself in the MFA program at VCFA, the digital world was rapidly expanding. The IPhone debuted in 2007. Likewise, the first ereader. Other smart phones flooded the market. Kindle and Nook arrived on the scene. In 2010, the iPad debuted and Amazon announced it was selling more ebooks than hardcover books.  

By the time I graduated from VCFA in July 2010, the world of books as we knew it was undergoing a sea of change. And the tsunami of apps was just beginning.

Remember that expression, “Is there an app for that?” Remember way back in 2010, when we’d ask that question, wondering if someone had designed a tool, an app, to, say, find a parking space, scan bar codes for price comparison or tell us what song was playing in an elevator? While all of these reading platforms were changing, there was another game changer: the app. Apple, in particular, was focused on this thing called an app. At first, most people were using apps as tools or games, but the app is a fundamentally multimedia experience and that is why it lent itself to picture books.

The difference between eBooks and apps is simple. eBooks are text heavy/image light. They are a cost-efficient way of making your book available on a multitude of eReading devices, from a variety of retailers, thanks to the ePub format. The app can be an in-depth reference guide, a great tool, a game. It can combine art and text, sound and movement. It is multifaceted, and the app market exploded when smart phones became the device to carry in your pocket.

Picture books can be eBooks, but they don’t, in my opinion, work very well because what you see on the screen of an eReader is one page. That's fine for the text-only reading experience. But picture books, as we know, are a much different species. Illustrators use the entire two-page spread to tell a story. They play with the gutter. They think about the placement of words on the page. Every page, every spread, is a complete work of art.

Picture books don’t work very well on eReaders because you can only see one page, one half of an illustration. Apps are another story. Apps take the artwork on the two-page spread and fit it to the smartphone or tablet screen. Apps could at last do justice to the artwork in picture books.

Right after I graduated, I got busy getting the rights to Snuggle Mountain reverted to me.

Melissa Iwai
Thanks to you, Cyn, I went to Aimee Bissonette of Little Buffalo Law. She looked at my rights reversion clause in my contract with Clarion (an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and helped me write the official reversion request letter.

Aimee was prepared to step in if there were any problems, but there weren’t. Clarion was most gracious, and the rights reverted to illustrator Melissa Iwai and me in January 2011.

At that same time, a coalition of respected children’s trade book authors’ and illustrators started a blog called e is for book, focused on experiences developing their books for electronic media. (Thank you, Greg Pincus, for announcing their debut.) Their blog posts helped me understand the difference between eReaders and apps.

I was intrigued by success stories like the transition of Elizabeth Dulemba's picture book Lula’s Brew into an iPhone and iPad app.

One of the posts talked about PicPocket Books. I contacted Lynette Mattke of PicPocket and sent her one of the few remaining copies of Snuggle Mountain. She loved it. Melissa and I liked that PicPocket was dedicated to keeping the integrity of the book. Apps have the inherent temptation to become more of a game.

Lynette made the choice to remain true to the books she develops into apps. She told us up front that if we were more interested in games, then we should look elsewhere. Melissa and I talked later, and we agreed that PicPocket felt like a good fit. At the time, PicPocket had done about two dozen apps and Lynette had started MomswithApps, a collaborative group of family-friendly developers seeking to promote quality apps for kids and families.

We did explore other app developers. In fact, it was kind of crazy for a while because it seemed like every other day, there would be a new app developer popping up.

We went with PicPocket because, as I said to Melissa, we were just getting into this big e-stream, why not be with a boutique developer and figure it out as we go along? So that’s what we did.

We signed the contract in March. I immediately wrote little bits of dialogue for my protagonist, Emma, to say in addition to the text on the page. Meanwhile, Melissa was working her magic with the illustrations and getting them to fit the iPad and iPhone format. She also animated some of the art work (e.g. the wagging dog tail) and put little eyes in the bed covers to enhance her already brilliant design, which involved hiding the giants' faces in the wrinkles and folds of the covers. 

In April, I had a Skype visit with the Lynette in which she basically showed me the Snuggle Mountain app on her computer. It was amazing.

Lindsey Lane
One word of caution: because apps are applications (read: software), you really need to check all the bells and whistles that your app offers. Software formatting errors are the digital version of typos. 

The good news is app updates are pretty normal, and they can fix your ‘typo’ with ease. 

We signed a contract in March, and the app was available for purchase in May. 

In the traditional publishing world, the standard advice is to try to sell your first print run in the first year your book is out. 

Having an app is different. You still need to do marketing every day, but you don’t have books taking up warehouse space so the pressure is a bit different. In a way, there’s more freedom.

Also the price point (Snuggle Mountain IPhone app is $1.99 and the IPad app is $2.99) is hugely different. I remember preparing for an airplane rides with my daughter when she was a toddler. I would stock up on little toys to keep her occupied on the plane. Now parents can tuck a few book apps on their smart phones or tablets for a trip. 

Learn more!
It’s kind of exciting, figuring out new ways to promote your book as an app. Currently, I am working on a trailer for the Snuggle Mountain app, tweaking my website to feature the app, and doing guest posts for blogs. 

I am also looking forward to taking this new format into schools and libraries. 

On Oct. 8, Austin SCBWI is presenting a symposium called Storytelling in the Digital Age and I’m thrilled to be one of the speakers.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three Snuggle Mountain apps (IPhone and IPad users only).
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 "Snuggle Mountain app" in the subject line. Author sponsored. Deadline: Sept. 26.

For extra entries (itemize efforts in your entry comment/email with relevant links):
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Monday, August 29, 2011

Guest Post: Gary Paulsen on Writing About Boys - Giveaway of Liar, Liar and Flat Broke

By Gary Paulsen

I write about boys because I am a boy. And I write humor because so much about being a boy is funny. Not at the time, of course, but usually looking back and almost always from the perspective of others.

I don’t remember thinking it was funny when I was 12 and kept tripping over my own feet, for example, but I laughed until I nearly peed myself watching my own son try to figure out the pull of gravity when puberty hit him.

I read once that comedy is tragedy plus time and also that memories are what you remember, not necessarily what happened. So it’s good for me to revisit my own adolescence and give it a funnier spin.

Kevin came to be a few years back when someone lied to me. I remember feeling disgusted and thinking, “That’s not even a good lie. And you’re not really selling it. You’ve got to be able to do better than that.”

And then I heard Kevin’s voice: “I’m the best liar you’ll ever meet.”

He’s not one of my usual characters—he’s glib and self-assured in an almost tragically misguided way. He can’t seem to pull it together but he doesn’t see that about himself.

I liked the idea that, all evidence to the contrary, this boy would act as if it was impossible for him to fail. Despite all the proof that keeps stacking up that he has no idea what he’s doing, he’s self-confident. Clueless, but relentless in his certainty.
I wrote Liar, Liar (Random House, 2011), and I thought I was done with Kevin’s story. But then Flat Broke (Random House, 2011) came along because I’d gotten a letter from someone who’d read Lawn Boy (Random House, 2007) and said he didn’t think it would be that easy to get filthy stinking rich as a 14-year-old.

And then Crush (coming May 2012) because someone asked me about Harris and Me (Harcourt, 1993) and the scene where I could not figure out how to talk to a girl I liked when I was a kid and I remembered the feeling of being tongue-tied, paralyzed with fear, even though I couldn’t stop thinking about her.

Sometimes I think I’d be happy to write a book a year about Kevin in between the other books I have in mind. Perpetually 14, perennially messing up, everlastingly optimistic.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win Liar, Liar and Flat Broke by Gary Paulsen (Random House, 2011). To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email me directly with "Paulsen" in the subject line. Publisher sponsored. Deadline: Sept. 16. U.S. readers eligible.

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