Saturday, December 03, 2011

Giveaway: Jingle Bells: How the Holiday Classic Came to Be

Enter to win one of two copies of Jingle Bells: How the Holiday Classic Came to Be by John Harris, illustrated by Adam Gustavson (Peachtree, 2011).

The unexpected story of the creation of a holiday classic - in the most unlikely of places.

It is November 1857 in Savannah, Georgia, and the heat is stifling. Choir director James Lord Pierpont is busy writing a song for the children of the church to perform to usher in the holiday season.

He is also worried. Many townspeople are angry because the congregation does not believe in slavery, and someone has thrown a brick through one of the church windows.

As Mr. Pierpont sweeps up the glass from the broken window, he recalls his own Boston childhood, the sound of sleigh bells, and the fun of riding in a sleigh through the snow. 

Suddenly he gets an idea. A few days later - with the happy sounds of children singing and jingling bells and bags of "snow" - Mr. Pierpont introduces the delighted churchgoers to the charms of a northern Christmas!

To enter, comment on this post (click preceding 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 "Jingle Bells" in the subject line. Publisher-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST Dec. 12.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Edited by Aubrey Poole.
Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Interview with Sourcebooks Editor Aubrey Poole by L.B. Schulman from EMU's Debuts. Peek: "Previously published authors know the ropes and have experience with the editing and publishing process. But there’s nothing more exciting than that first call to an author to tell them that we want to acquire their book(s). That’s the best part of my job." See also Writers Links: Editors & Publishers.

3 Reasons to Have a Website if You're Unpublished from Jane Friedman. Peek: " still need to learn new systems and become accustomed to new tools. Don’t wait to start this process until the day you need a site. Educate yourself in advance." See also Writers Links: Promotion.

Interview with Karen Lotz of Candlewick/Walker Books by C.M. Rubin from The Huffington Post. Peek: "Every department at Candlewick is involved in making sure that the quality of our e-books is superb and equivalent in every possible way to our beautiful print editions. It is a much more intensive process than simply scanning a page and distributing it in digital form. One aspect of e-books that we have agonized over is typography..."

Thoughts on Scene Structure from Lena Coakley. Peek: "Now, I had been writing a long time—an embarrassingly long time—before I figured out that a scene needs structure in the same way that a complete novel does." See also Perspiration: Self Study.

Are You on Twitter? Dianne de las Casas, author and founder of Picture Book Month, suggests promoting picture books this holiday season with the hash tag #giftakidlitbook.

Black Friday Proves a Dickensian Start to Holidays by Judith Rosen with reporting by Claire Kirch, Marc Schultz, and Wendy Werris from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Several stores have been so encouraged by sales this year that they are planning to expand to fill the void left by Borders." Source: Harold Underdown of The Purple Crayon: A Children's Book Editor's Site.

1rst 50 entrants will receive this book!
Young Adult Novel Discovery Contest hosted by Serendipity Literary Agency, in collaboration with Sourcebooks and Gotham Writers' Workshop. Prizes include manuscript critique by or pitch session with literary agent Regina Brooks, feedback from major house editors, a free, 10-week writing course, courtesy of Gotham Writers' Workshop, and more! Source: SCBWI: The Blog.

Reminder: authors/illustrators do not own the copyright to others' (professional or informal) reviews of their work. Keep quotes short for fair use and attribute sources with a link. Under no circumstances should you reproduce the review in full on or offline without express permission.

Children's Book Council Holiday Art Auction:  The Children's Book Council has contributed five pieces from its historic collection of original art, created exclusively for the CBC in honor of Children's Book Week by Ellen Raskin, Don Freeman, William Pene du Bois, Ray Cruz, and Jose Aruego. Funds raised will benefit Every Child a Reader. Deadline to bid is midnight Dec. 15.

On Gender and Writing: Ellen Renner from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Peek: "I believe that almost all of us, however pro-female we believe ourselves to be, are so conditioned by the constant bombardment of overt and subtle messages in every aspect of our society about the relative value of the male versus the female that we subconsciously take a story written by a man more seriously than we would the same story written by a woman. I don't think J.K. Rowling's books would have been as successful had she published them as Joanne." See Exploring Diversity: Themes and Communities.

A Digital Revelation by Lindsey Lane from ALSC Blog. Peek: "When I stepped in front of the audience to give my presentation, I knew that everyone in that room was on a tremendous learning curve. And we were on it together."

It Started with a Picture Book by Greg Leitich Smith from ALSC Blog. Peek: "I realized that if I wanted to portray dinosaurs realistically and compellingly, I would have to learn not just all the things I didn’t know, but all the things I didn’t know I didn’t know, although I was somewhat daunted by the amount of work that would require." Reminder: authors and illustrators (and other children's-YA book professionals, as he's planning to expand it soon) are invited to send Greg a photo of themselves with any image (from museum to toy) of a prehistoric creature for his related online celebration.

Focus on Children's-YA Nonfiction with Agent Ken Wright and Authors Steve Sheinkin, Marc Aronson, and Deborah Heiligman by Barbara Krasner from The Whole Megillah. Peek: "When I was at Scholastic I was the editorial director for nonfiction books. When I left to become an agent, it seemed to me that many of the nonfiction authors I’d worked with as an editor, or I knew of by reputation, were either unrepresented or under-represented, and it seemed like a good opportunity for them, and for me, to focus on trying to help them with their careers." See also Writers Links: Agents.

Marking/Publicity Intern position available at Lee & Low Books. Peek: "Tasks include but are not limited to researching and qualifying leads through mailings and web-based research and corresponding with reviewers." Note: New York City based; 20 hours a week; unpaid but weekly stipend (may be done for academic credit).

YA Saves T-shirt by Maureen Johnson available for sale: 100 percent of proceeds will go to Reading Is Fundamental. Peek: "Founded in 1966, RIF is the oldest and largest children's and family nonprofit literacy organization in the United States."

Reader Guides: Pick Your Pleasure by Debbie Gonzales from ALSC Blog. Peek: "(Academic) Guides such as these tend to be crafted with a more scholarly approach, written to support the educator’s measurement of a reader’s comprehension, cross-curricular understanding, and/or thinking skills. The page count for Academic Guides can run from 15 pages to well over 200."

Rethinking the Familiar Book Tour by Joanne Kaufman from The Wall Street Journal. Peek: "The shop would sponsor only author events that featured a conversation or a mini-lecture, a PowerPoint presentation or perhaps a slide show, all followed by a question-and-answer session and—at most—the recitation of a paragraph or two from the book to illustrate a point." Source: April Henry.

Congratulations to Christopher S. Jennings on the sale of Hello, Texas! illustrated by David Walker (Sterling), to Scholastic Book Fairs. Learn more about the book.

Beyond Visual Literacy by Uma Krishnaswami from Write at Your Own Risk. Peek: "Its future is obviously tied up with the future of the book itself. But as with hybrid cars, we haven't quite found the right combination of green, cheap, tough, and accessible, not yet." See also Picture Books A-L and Picture Books M-Z.

Children's Poets Joan Bransfield Graham, April Halprin Wayland and Janet Wong on the Writing Process by Michelle Markle from The Cat and the Fiddle. Peek from April: "I love with working with the online and several online rhyming dictionaries, including"

Don't miss the weekly roundup at Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing.

Picture Book Month

Magick 4 Terri: A Fundraiser to Benefit Terri Windling

See more information; available items include:

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win a critique by Peggy of a nonfiction picture book manuscript or the first three chapters of a longer nonfiction manuscript and a signed copy of Anatomy of Nonfiction by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas (Writers Institute Publications, 2011).

To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll to comment) 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 "Anatomy of Nonfiction" in the subject line.

Author-sponsored. Deadline: Dec. 12. Eligibility: international. Anyone can enter! However, the manuscript must be written in English. See also more from Peggy on The Anatomy of Nonfiction.

Enter for a chance to win a signed copy of Home for the Holidays: Mother-Daughter Book Club #5 by Heather Vogel Frederick (Simon & Schuster, 2011)(excerpt), plus a copy of the newly released Betsy-Tacy Treasury by Maud Hart Lovelace, illustrated by Lois Lenski (HarperCollins, 2011) and the first two Betsy-Tacy high school books, in a special Betsy-Tacy canvas bag! Note: in this story, the club is reading the Betsy-Tacy books!

Two additional winners will also receive a signed copies of Home for the Holidays!

To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll to comment) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with "Mother-Daughter Book Club" in the subject line.

Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada. Deadline: midnight CST Dec. 14.

This Week's Cynsations Posts
Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Legend by Marie Lu (Putnam, 2011), and review the novel for a chance to win a Bag of Books from Young Adult Books Central.

A video interview with Atinuke by Ed Spicer from Spicy Reads. Peek: "I don't think that one can live in Nigeria or write about Nigeria or even Africa and ignore the great difference between the poor and the middle class." See also a new video interview by Ed with Mitali Perkins.

This weekend, I also saw the film "Hugo." See My Impressions of "Hugo" from Educating Alice.

More Personally

It's a rainy day.
A quiet week here, filled mostly with writing, critiquing, promotion, and a lovely online chat with The Apocalypsies. Seek out and and support new voices!

Why Picture Books are Important by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Picture Book Month. Peek: "Upon my arrival in the library, I ran for Sendak’s masterpiece. And fell more deeply in love."

My YA short story, "Haunted Love" may be pre-ordered for free download on Dec. 13 from and UK (click for direct links to the respective purchase pages). The story is set in the Tantalize series universe and features new characters. It's fairly lengthy for a short story and is probably best described as a mystery-romance. More on that soon!

Publishers Weekly says of Girl Meets Boy: Because There Are Two Sides to Every Story, edited by Kelly Milner Halls (Chronicle, 2012): "’s impossible to know everything someone is thinking and feeling—even when you are in a relationship together. This important idea is executed with finesse throughout." Note: the collection includes "Mooning Over Broken Stars" by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Regular Cynsations readers may notice more attributions on the posts. It's in response to an increase in them being lifted and distributed under other blogs' banners. Please note that Cynsations posts may not be republished without express written consent of Cynthia Leitich Smith and in a manner that makes the original authorship(s) clear.

On a more cheerful note, you'll also notice more links to Children's & YA Lit Resources on my main website. Hooray to Lisa Firke for her recent massive content update! There's much to discover.

Personal Links
From Greg Leitich Smith
Even More Personally

I highly recommend "The Muppets" and plan to always travel by map from now on.

I also saw "Super 8" (via rental) for the first time and thought it was terrific.

Cynsational Events

"Write Before You Write! Outlining, Planning, Plotting" with Jennifer Ziegler: a class from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 10, sponsored by the Writers' League of Texas. Learn more about Jennifer.

Christmas Spectacular with the Texas Sweethearts and Scoundrels from noon to 2 p.m. Dec. 10 at The Book Spot (1205 Round Rock Ave #119) in Round Rock, Texas.

Holiday Tree Lighting and Author Signing at LBJ State Park! Join Cynthia Leitich Smith for the tree lighting ceremony at LBJ State Park from 4:30 p.m. Dec. 18. Cynthia will be signing Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010). Lucy Johnson will be speaking briefly at the event, and Santa may make an appearance, too. See more information.

See also Cynthia's upcoming events in Austin, Albuquerque, Tucson, Sandy (Utah), Southampton (New York), and Montpelier (Vermont).

About Cynthia

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of the Tantalize series for young adults and several acclaimed children's books, most recently including Holler Loudly. Her most recent release is the YA graphic novel, Tantalize: Kieren's Story, and she looks forward to the release of Diabolical in early 2012.

Cynthia makes her home in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Chronal Engine author Greg Leitich Smith, and four writer cats. For more news and conversations in children's-YA literature, read Cynsations.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Giveaway: Home for the Holidays (Mother-Daughter Book Club), Betsy-Tacy Books & More!

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Grand Prize! Enter for a chance to win

Two additional winners will also receive a signed copies of Home for the Holidays!

From the promotional copy for Home for the Holidays:

This holiday season, join the mother-daughter book club as they turn the page to a whole new chapter of adventures!

Unfortunately, nothing goes quite as planned for any of the girls. 

On a Christmas cruise with their families, Megan and Becca fight over the dashing son of the ship's captain. Cassidy and her family fly back to California to visit Cassidy's sister Courtney and stay with old friends in Laguna Beach during Hanukkah. Meanwhile, they’re wrestling with a big question: which state should they call home? 

And back in Concord, a disastrous sledding accident means both Emma and Jess have to completely change their winter vacation plans.

Between squabbles, injuries, and blizzards, everything seems to be going wrong. Will the girls be able to find their holiday spirit in time for a rollicking New Year’s Eve party?

Note: in this story, the club is reading the Betsy-Tacy books!

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 "Mother-Daughter Book Club" in the subject line.


Eligibility: U.S./Canada.

Deadline: midnight CST Dec. 14.

Give the gift of children's-YA literature to the young readers in your life!

Cynsational Notes

Do you like holiday picture books? You can also enter to win one of two copies of Jingle Bells: How the Holiday Classic Came to Be by John Harris, illustrated by Adam Gustavson (Peachtree, 2011). Click this link for details!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Publisher Interview: Peggy Tierney of Tanglewood Press

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Peggy Tierney on Peggy Tierney:

"I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I attended community college part-time. I transferred to the American University of Paris in 1990 and received a degree in Comparative Literature in 1992. I then moved to London to marry a man I met in Paris, had a baby, and got my break in publishing as an Americanization editor for Usborne Books.

"In 1999, we decided to try life in the States and moved to Washington, D.C., where I was an editor and then publisher, running the Child Welfare’s League book publishing program.

"After four interesting years, we decided to do a major lifestyle change and moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, where my son could live around extended family and we could try a slower lifestyle. 

"During a farewell luncheon with bestselling author Audrey Penn, she offered to let me publish a pirate novel she had written if I started my own company. We had become quite close, as editor and author often do, and she knew I loved her book, which was important to her. How could I say no to Audrey Penn?

"Tanglewood is now seven years old, having published around thirty books."

What inspired you to focus your career on books, especially those for young readers?

Plainly put, I have had a mad passion for books since I learned my alphabet. Books have done so much in my life. They’ve entertained me and educated me. They have been my friends. I have laughed with them and cried with them. I hugged them tight, and they whispered answers to my secret questions. They have given me so much, and I loved them for it. I still do.

I publish for kids because I share the belief of many that reading makes us better people. And books can often help kids. It gives them a safe place to explore issues, an escape from life when they need it, and also, for some kids, the message they need the most, which is that they are not alone in the world. That can be a lifesaving message.

Certainly, a good reader will very likely be a good student, and education has the power to transform lives. It did mine--leading me, a blue-collar girl from Oklahoma, to a scholarship at the American University of Paris, a decade of living in Europe, and a career in book publishing.

And beyond that, young readers will hopefully get all the joy, all the lessons, all the messiness and exuberance of life captured in great literature and in lives lived well.

On a less earnest note, I still love reading children’s books, even picture books.

I laugh every time I read Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin (Simon & Schuster). I smile at the sight of Olivia by Ian Falconer (Atheneum, 2000).

When the last volume of Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic) came out, I let my family know that they could fend for themselves, because I was going to be in an armchair until I reached the end.

Could you tell us about Tanglewood Press? Its history, mission, and growth?

I was working in Washington, D.C. as an editor and then publisher for a large children’s nonprofit there.

When my husband and I decided to move to the Midwest in 2003, Audrey Penn, who is best known for The Kissing Hand (Tanglewood, 2006), offered to let me publish a pirate-themed novel she had just written if I would start my own company. I loved the novel because I knew kids would love it - even if parents didn’t.

And kids did love it. I have more than one story of that book converting a non-reader into a reader.

I want to publish kidcentric books. I want books that speak to kids, whether it’s in a funny or dramatic way. I want smart books--books that respect kids.

Adults are always underestimating just how smart and savvy kids really are. Sure, they love poop and fart books, but they also love irony. They like silliness, but they are also, even from a very young age, looking at the bigger issues in life--who they are going to be, where they belong in the universe.

Kids are amazing.

I want to publish personally--one book at a time for one reader at a time. Every author and illustrator, everyone at Tanglewood, takes personal pride in our books. This is the great advantage of being a small house. I never want to lose sight of that.

I had a wonderful retreat for authors this summer. One author gave a workshop on social media; another two gave workshops on doing school programs. We did a lot of fun stuff, too, like a weenie roast and a hike in a beautiful state park nearby. Just as much as learning some marketing strategies, I think creative people are energized by other creative people, and I wanted to create a space and time to nurture that creativity and those professional bonds. My authors are an incredibly talented and just plain nice bunch of people. It was wonderful.

Tanglewood Press

You're based in Indiana, yes? How does that give you a different perspective than, say, an east coast U.S. publisher?

It was a bit difficult in the beginning because I didn’t come from a N.Y. house and no one knew me, so I had to establish some credibility. Because I’ve lived in such a variety of places, from Tulsa to Paris to London to Washington, D.C. and now the Midwest, my preferences or tastes are not necessarily dictated by my current location.

That said, when I first moved here and looked for kids to try things out on, I worried that their taste would be quite different than, say, a kid from California or New York. Instead, I found the opposite. From movies to books to music to clothes, American teens are in sync, regardless of location. Maybe it’s the Internet or maybe it’s television, or maybe it’s the universal subconscious. I don’t know.

How has your list changed and grown over the years?

I have published a few not-very-good books and a few very good books with not-so-good covers, which pretty much doomed them. But I feel like I’ve learned a few things from every book we’ve published. Like other publishers, I’m backing away from picture books and trying to move into middle reader and YA books more.

I published one autobiography, and I’d love to find more nonfiction that is interesting and different, especially biographies or history books on an intriguing, unexplored subject. Overall, though, I’m pretty much looking for the same things I always looked for: books that kids and teens will love.

What are a few of your success stories?

I don’t judge success strictly by numbers, though I’ve certainly had success in that way. It’s when I’m told, without asking, that a Tanglewood book has become a child’s favorite, and has had to be read over and over and over.

I’ve heard that the most about It All Began with a Bean by Katie McKy, illustrated by Tracy Hill (2004) and The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Freres by Marie Letourneau (2007).

Or when yet another parent or child tells me how much The Kissing Hand enriched their lives.

Or the time when a teen looked through all my picture books, slowly and carefully, and then looked up and asked, “Where were you when I was young?”

Or when a blogger said about Ashfall by Mike Mullin (2011) that if she could marry a book, that would be the book. Another said it was one of the best books ever.

Or the times when I heard that a book like Mystery at Blackbeard’s Cove by Audrey Penn (2004) had turned a non-reader into a reader. That happened with my Barnes & Noble sales rep’s daughter. It certainly gave the rep a passion for the book that helped her sell it into the stores.

As much as I love books, a lot of what I do day-to-day isn’t all that fun. The hope of publishing books readers will love is what keeps me going. Corny but true. I’m very prone to earnestness.

What's new and exciting?

I was so lucky to have some great books to publish this fall. Audrey Penn wrote her first Kissing Hand board book for the little ones, which I think is adorable - A Bedtime Kiss for Chester Raccoon, illustrated by Barbara Leonard Gibson (2011). All of Audrey’s Chester Raccoon books should be a staple on children’s bookshelves.

My Dog, My Cat by Ashlee Fletcher (Tanglewood, 2011) is so young and fresh. It is my designer’s two-year-old daughter’s new favorite.

Wild Rose’s Weaving by Ginger Churchill and illustrated by Nicole Wong (Tanglewood, 2011) is a sweet, beautifully illustrated story of a girl learning to weave a rug from her grandmother, but it’s about so much more: creativity, the interplay of life and art, and the gifts that women pass down to daughters and granddaughters.

Chengli and the Silk Road Caravan by Hildi Kang (Tanglewood, 2011) is a middle reader about an orphan boy joining a Silk Road caravan; it’s a great adventure inspired by the author’s own trip down that trade route. I love finding a book that I think both boys and girls will enjoy.

And then there’s Ashfall by Mike Mullins (Tanglewood, 2011). A book this good doesn’t come along often, and I do think it’s a truly exceptional book, probably one of the best I will ever publish. It’s a dystopian YA about the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano. It is just so gripping and so real and so true. Readers love--I mean really love--the characters. The author, Mike, is so hard-working, so talented but humble, such a nice guy and funny, too.

 And he is so generous with other authors--he has championed some other Tanglewood novels he admires and feels need more attention, like Chengli above, and Two Moon Princess by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban (Tanglewood, 2009). I am one lucky publisher, for all of the above.

Have you adjusted your marketing strategies during the economic downturn?

I am not doing less marketing overall, just different marketing. I’m doing more ads and mailings and trying to use any opportunity that arises. Like other publishers, I’m going to have to learn how to market directly to readers due to the growth of e-books. Assuming that I won’t have any additional money to do it, it’s going to be challenging.

Please describe your dream children's author, illustrator, or author-illustrator.

I have several dream authors in real life. But overall, the dream author will be unafraid to promote him/herself, will share in the task of marketing.

Unfortunately, a lot of authors think that writing the book is the end of their duties, but it’s not. Publishing is a collaboration, a partnership, and both sides have to work all the way through the process. Authors can market to the general public in ways that I can’t: write a blog or Twitter, ask for an endorsement, do a signing or a school visit.

Publishers are not interesting to most people. But authors are!

Peggy's office

I have to do a lot of things that are behind the scenes, to bookstores and librarians, that authors never see. I have actually read published authors talking about how their publishers are only doing the “normal” stuff - taking the book to shows, sending it out on a media mailing, sending out samples. They have no idea how much money and time those activities take. For the record: a lot.

For an illustrator, the two biggest things are meeting deadlines and being open to input, to change. I’ve had two books sabotaged by the illustrators missing deadlines. I’ve had new illustrators become overly defensive and difficult to work with. They just didn’t get that it’s not like a college art project where everything is totally their vision. Again, it’s a collaboration, and they need to be open to that or they need to be in a different area of art.

Do you accept unagented work?

Yes, we do accept unagented work. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people trying to get published out there. I had to hire an acquisitions editor to help, it was so overwhelming. In spite of our small size, we get probably several thousand manuscripts a year. Out of those, I might sign one or two.

But it is what it is. I try to tell everyone who writes a story to please keep it, bind it, and put it safely away for their grandchildren to discover. It will be a family heirloom. It’s never time wasted.

There's been a lot of discussion of late about the current state and future of the picture book. What do you think?

I think it’s tragic that the picture book is being sidelined. Kids love picture books, even when they get older. There are so many wonderful, interesting picture books published each year - and not nearly enough get on bookstore shelves or into schools and libraries.

Kids are being pushed to read chapter books at a younger age, which I also think is tragic. When a child is pushed to read before they are ready, it causes all kinds of problems that are long-term and very harmful. I didn’t even learn my alphabet until I was six, yet I became a very advanced reader.

Tanglewood conference room

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New Voice: Shirley Reva Vernick on The Blood Lie

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Shirley Reva Vernick is the first-time author of The Blood Lie (Cinco Puntos, 2011)(teachers' guide). From the promotional copy:

One autumn afternoon in 1928, a Christian girl disappeared near her home in a small upstate New York town. By chance, it was the day before Yom Kippur. 

Someone started a rumor – that the Jews had kidnapped the child, murdered her, and drained her blood to use in their holiday foods. 

People bought the lie. The police bought the lie. And they decided to take action.

That is the true story of the blood libel that happened in Massena, NY, just a few years before Hitler took power in Germany and began using the blood libel to help justify the oppression and ultimate slaughter of the Jewish people. 

The Blood Lie is a novel inspired by the events in Massena. Delving into the minds of both the perpetrators and the casualties, it’s a story about hate crimes and loving acts, despair and hope, loss and redemption.

What is it like, to be a debut author (or illustrator or author-illustrator) in 2011? What do you love about it? What are the challenges? What came as the biggest surprise? In each case, why?

Being a debut author is a wild, sometimes frustrating, often surprising, somehow always life-affirming ride. I don't know if that feeling is 2011-specific, but I'm guessing it's not.

For me, the best part is the actual writing -- that gritty process of using words to create characters, settings, emotions and, ultimately, cohesive stories. I love to sit with my laptop and my muse (a dog named Twinkles) and make a narrative happen. The selling part, on the other hand, is the price I have to pay to do what I love.

I think the biggest challenge for new authors nowadays is the state of the economy, as reflected in the closing or shrinking of bookstores. Still, I'm lucky to be writing YA at a time when this age market is so popular.

My biggest personal challenge has been to thicken my skin against rejection. It's easy to equate "no" with "you are a lousy writer," or "it's not my cup of tea" with a slap in the face. And, let's face it, in a bad economy, rejections are more plentiful. I've developed a whole set of affirmations to remind myself that I can write well, that I'm more than my writing, that I will get to "yes," etc.

My biggest surprise? Actually, I came into it thinking nothing would surprise me. As a journalist, I already knew the importance of revising, for example, and that facts can be tricky to track down. What I didn't know was how magnified those truths become when you're writing a book-length piece based on events from decades past.

Who has been your most influential writing/art teacher or mentor and why?

At the risk of sounding mushy, it's my mother! I've always loved writing, even before I could write. I used to sit on Mom's lap and scribble something on paper, and she'd tell me what it "said." It was always something brilliant, of course!

As I got older, she encouraged me to follow my dream of becoming an author, even when others advised me to do something more practical. She gave me much-appreciated pep talks, as well as some tough love, and it made all the difference in the world. She also instilled a love of reading in me.

Even though Mom isn't here any longer, I still have -- and cherish -- the motivation and enthusiasm she engendered in me.

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

Mothering is challenging. Making a writing career is challenging. Doing both is uber-challenging.

I do it by compartmentalizing my time. I write when my daughters are at school or asleep; otherwise, it's all kid stuff.

This works only when I respect Murphy's Laws for writers. First, writing projects always take longer than expected. Second, parenting responsibilities frequently and unexpectedly dash your plans to write (think late-night fevers, cancelled play dates, snow days).

You've got to take these realities into account when negotiating deadlines -- even when the only person you're negotiating with is yourself.

If you have a spouse, relative or friend who's willing/interested in helping with childcare, go for it!

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

Shirley's work space, featuring Twinkles.
I decided early on to become actively involved in promoting The Blood Lie. I'm using social media, including a Facebook author page and a website. I'm contacting book reviewers and author interviewers who publish online or in print (newspapers, magazines). I'm also reaching out to relevant historical and library associations. And, of course, I've been telling all my friends and family!

My wonderful publisher has also been promoting the book through posts on their website, tweets, a book trailer, and networking with media, libraries, and other pertinent organizations.

I already knew a fair amount about promotion from my early work in public relations. But I was/am a neophyte when it comes to social media. Fortunately, my husband is a computer guy and has been instrumental in this endeavor. I have to say -- and I guess I already did say -- that I don't love doing promotion. It's not that people are mean to me -- they're surprisingly kind, once you reach them -- but I just don't enjoy the process. If I did, I probably would have stayed in public relations!

Fellow debut authors, do devote some time to promoting the book you worked so long and hard to get out there. But work smart -- you need to start working on your next project!

When it comes to print media, keep in mind that many city newspapers only cover authors who have a local connection (you live there, you're doing an event there, your book takes place there).

Finally, try to think of it all as a training ground for promoting your second book, which, with any luck, you've already got brewing!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Guest Post: Peggy Thomas on Baring All – Anatomy of Nonfiction & Critique-Book Giveaway

By Peggy Thomas
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

As a nonfiction writer I am, by profession, a nosy person. I root around scrutinizing other people’s lives and work.

But when Margery Facklam, my mother and award-winning children’s author, suggested that we collaborate on a how-to guide for writing nonfiction, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be scrutinized.

Although I’ve taught writing for years in workshops and through the Institute of Children’s Literature, this was going to be different. Did I have the guts to bare all in a book?

The first job was to remember what it was like when we began. What were our greatest hurdles? Where did our ideas come from? How did we develop them into viable projects? How were we able to catch an editor’s eye?

Basically, what do we know now that we wished we knew then? Those were the tips we wanted to share with our readers.

Like the good little archaeologist that I trained to be in college, I sifted through the detritus of past book projects: old manuscripts with editorial notes, query letters (ones that worked and ones that didn’t), floppy disks I could no longer access, and cassette tapes of interviews with scientists that I thought I conducted professionally, but now make me cringe because my voice sounds so young and naïve.

But those tapes reminded me that I do have information to share, some of it learned the hard way. For instance, Tip # 1 - Make sure a spouse, neighbor or grandparent is watching your toddler while you conduct a phone interview. I still remember that moment of panic when my daughter poked her head into the office just when the expert was finally divulging the good stuff. The professor kindly excused me so I could deal with my daughter’s playdough issues, but I felt as if I had been caught in the act of pretending to be a real writer. Here was my chance to save others from that embarrassing fate.

Peggy's Office
And speaking of embarrassing, what about the time an interviewee became enraged because I didn’t tell her I was taping the conversation. I actually wasn’t (I was writing notes), but that didn’t seem to matter. Another lesson learned. Tip # 2 – Always tell your interviewee if you are recording the conversation and how you are recording it.

I feel I need to redeem myself for a moment. There are anecdotes in the book that relate some of my successes, too. Like the time I sold an article to Cricket Magazine, and the editor loved it so much he asked for a recipe. Unfortunately, the article was about eating insects. Tip # 3 – Bake mealworms in a pan with sides so they don’t crawl off and commit suicide on the bottom of your oven.

Peggy and Margery
But we didn’t want a narcissistic book that was just about our process; after all, there is no single correct way to write. So we picked the brains of dozens of other nonfiction writers.

Carla Killough McClafferty shared tips on photo research, Jim Murphy outlined his research process, Jan Fields talked about revision, and Trudi Trueit offered advice on writing self-help books.

We even let editors weigh in on subjects like voice, marketable ideas, writing to themes, and what they like to see in cover and query letters.

After five years of research, we discovered that writers of children’s nonfiction have two important characteristics in common – a penchant for learning and an enthusiasm to share that knowledge.

I’m sure there are many more writers out there who fit that description, and our hope is that this book will help them hone their craft, so, someday they will become the authors we interview for the second edition of Anatomy of Nonfiction (Writers Institute Publications, 2011).

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win a critique by Peggy of a nonfiction picture book manuscript or the first three chapters of a longer nonfiction manuscript and a signed copy of Anatomy of Nonfiction by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas (Writers Institute Publications, 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 Cynthia directly with "Anatomy of Nonfiction" in the subject line.

Author-sponsored. Deadline: Dec. 12. Eligibility: international. Anyone can enter! However, the manuscript must be written in English.
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