Friday, January 11, 2013

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author Insight: Writerly Conveniences from Wastepaper Prose. Peek: "Outside of the internet, what's your biggest writerly convenience?"

Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Stephen Savage by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "Linoleum block printing and the computer. Sketchbooks are an integral part of my process, too, and I usually have a pocket sketchbook with me at all times. I find that my best ideas start as thumbnails in those books." See also Laying a Foundation for a Great Picture Book.

Five Bad Things Radio Guests Do (& Seven Ways to Rock on Radio) from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Although many experienced hosts are adept at 'plugging' whatever you want promoted, some aren’t. So it’s up to you to mention that information a few times throughout the interview."

Three Vs of Fiction: Vision by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "Three things are essential in today’s crowded marketplace: vision, voice and vulnerability. In this three-part series, we will examine these essentials." See also Three Vs of Fiction: Voice.

How's the Weather in Your Middle Grade? by Dawn Lairamore from Project Mayhem. Peek: "As a lover of stories...I embrace tempestuous weather and all the exciting and mysterious possibilities that come with it."

Resolved: Writing Is a Job by Ann Patchett from The Washington Post. Peek: "I don't know why this struck me as such a radical concept, but it did -- time spent working equals output of work. Amazing!" See also A Real Job by Cory McCarthy from Through the Tollbooth.

Are You Listening? by Jeanette Larson from ALSC Blog. Peek: "...following a pretty thorough and interesting history of children’s audiobooks, Burkey deals with the question, Why Listen?, before moving on to an overview of the path written material follows as it becomes an audiobook."

Ask About the Numbers by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "...if the stories you are given to write are longer or take more thought, your 'production' quotas will look lower to others. Find a way to be okay with this, or it will plague you throughout your career."

Writers and Resolutions by Ash Krafton from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: "While promoting gets my stories out, it does seem like I spent more time on promoting than I did on writing new ones."

What Makes a Strong Author's Visit -- A Teacher's Perspective by Jillian Terry from Angela Ackerman at The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: "Let's take a look at some of the ways how an author could make their visit to a classroom benefit students."

Bringing the Past Into the Future by Mary Kole from Peek: "If an event or relationship doesn’t progress from what has already been established, you are not using it to its full potential."

Lalicki to Retire from HarperCollins by Diane Roback from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Executive editor Rosemary Brosnan has been promoted to editorial director."

Jacqueline Woodson Wins 2013 Charlotte Zolotow Award by Professor Nana from The Goddess of YA Literature. Peek: "Each Kindness, written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E. B. Lewis, is the winner of the sixteenth annual Charlotte Zolotow Award for outstanding writing in a picture book. The award is given by the Cooperative Children's Book Center, a library of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and will be formally presented on April 6, 2013 in Madison..."

Anneographies: Picture Book Biographies from Anne Bustard: celebrating the subjects' birthdays with books. Highly recommended, especially to teachers, school librarians, and writing students of the picture book and/or picture book biography.

Power Writing: Strategies to Help You Reach Your Goals and Watch More Bravo TV by Karen Rock from Harlequin Heartwarming. Peek: "Hide. Seriously. Find a spot in the house where you won’t be located, sniffed out, or hollered to. I’ve even written in the backseat of my garage-parked car during NFL playoffs."

John Cusick joins Greenhouse Literary. Peek: "John Cusick joins us from Jan 14 as a new U.S. agent, developing his own client list in middle grade and young adult, both fiction and nonfiction. John was previously an agent with Scott Treimel in New York. And Greenhouse is now moving strongly into picture books for the first to submissions from both U.S. and U.K. picture book authors from next week."

Cynsational Giveaways

Don't miss Retrospective Headdesk from Laini Taylor; source: Gwenda Bond.

See also New YA Lit Releases and Five Giveaways from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

This week's highlight was a Twelfth Night Party for the Austin children's-YA writer community at Nikki Loftin's house in Dripping Springs, Texas.

With Frances Yansky.
With Nikki, Salima Alikhan & Donna Bowman Bratton
Congratulations to my dear friend Meredith Davis, VCFA grad and founder of Austin SCBWI, for signing with signed with literary agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin at Trident Media Group, and congratulations to Alyssa for signing Meredith!

Congratulations to Alex Brown, Mary Louise Sanchez, and Sandra Headen, winners of the On-the-Verge Emerging Voices Award from SCBWI!

Congratulations to fellow Austin YA author Varian Johnson, celebrating five years in print for My Life as a Rhombus (Flux, 2008)!

Personal Links
Cynsational Events

Watch the Chronal Engine LEGO Trailer
Join Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith Jan. 19 at Young Adult Keller (Texas) Book Festival (YAK Fest). See more information from I Read Banned Books.

Join E.B. Lewis at 4 p.m. Feb. 10 at BookPeople from Austin SCBWI. Note: "food, drinks, and conversation." Space is limited, RSVP required. See link for more information.

Highlights Foundation's Whole Novel Workshop: applications are being accepted for the workshop from March 3 to March 9 with Candlewick editor Kaylan Adair, and writers Alan Gratz, Alexandria LaFaye, and Tami Lewis Brown. Special guest is editor Molly O'Neill, with Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children's Books. For more information about the Whole Novel Workshop, contact Jo Lloyd at 570.253.1192, email or visit to request an application.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

An Open Love Note to Debut Authors About Hurtful Online Reviews

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Originally published in 2009, this is one of the highest-traffic posts of all time at Cynsations. 

I'm sharing it again today because it's a new year and we have new debut authors.

Hey there,

I'm so sorry you're feeling blue.

Please know that:

(1) it's not exclusive to you. Our most critically acclaimed writers have fielded rather clueless, self-indulgent, overly personal, and unprofessional attacks on their fine work.

What's more, over the past couple of years, I've received several phone calls and emails from distraught first-time authors about mean-spirited online reviews and comments. In addition to their publishing debuts, many were dealing with personal challenges ranging from divorce to lost day jobs to living without health insurance. All had poured their souls into their manuscripts and made substantial sacrifices in pursuit of their writing life and career goals.

(2) not all of the "noise" matters. Negative reviews in general don't matter in the long run, let alone mean-spirited ones. Besides, not every voice is of equal/any influence. In particular, anyone calling themselves "anonymous" is way at the bottom of the movers-and-shakers list. Really.

(3) you don't have to follow everything said about your work. Turn off your Google Alerts. A lot of successful people do. Exhibit: the very successful (by anyone's measure) Sara Zarr.

(4) maybe rethink comparing responses to your book with those to other books. It's impossible to get a global bead within the first year anyway, and you're too close to it to see the big picture.

(5) a lot of interesting, quality work that advances the body of literature generates the most extreme (positive and negative) responses; it's probably less stressful to shoot for bland writing that doesn't challenge, but is that really what you want to do?

(6) move on to your next project, and put your focus, energy, and emotion into it instead.

(7) if it's hard to have faith in yourself, remember it's not all about you. Don't forget your home team--your early readers, your agent, your editor, your publisher. Believe in their judgment, their contributions, their faith in you. (And, hey, didn't you get some positive reviews too?)

(8) you are player, a contributor to the conversation of books, an exciting newcomer to a circle of storytellers that stretches back before the first fireside gatherings. Draw strength from that tradition.

(9) if tomorrow or the day after that, you're still feeling blue, please feel free to email me or another writer pal for a pep talk. It's not a matter of skin, thin or thick. You survived all the rejection that comes before getting published. You're tougher than you realize, and you'll get through this, too.

(10) focus on becoming your own best cheerleader. Take care of you!

Cynsational Notes

This post was adapted from my comment on a stellar debut author's locked post and shared with permission.

Certainly, more seasoned writers also might feel stung by overly personal and malicious online reviews, but it's mostly the new voices that I'm hearing from. Mostly.

Photo by Vera Kratochvil at

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

New Voice: Lisa Jenn Bigelow on Starting From Here

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Lisa Jenn Bigelow is the first-time author of Starting From Here (Amazon Books, formerly Marshall Cavendish, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Sixteen-year-old Colby Bingham’s heart has been broken too many times. Her mother is dead, her truck driver father is always away, and her almost girlfriend just dumped her for a guy. 

When an injured stray dog lands at her feet, she decides to care for it, against her better judgment. But new connections mean new opportunities for heartbreak. 

Terrified of another loss, Colby bolts at the first sign of trouble, managing to alienate her best friend, her father, the cute girl pursuing her, and even her dog’s vet, who’s taken Colby under her wing. 

Colby can’t start over, but can she learn how to move on?

In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how to best approach “edgy” behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

It takes a fair amount to make my “edgy detector” go off, so I have to remind myself that all readers have different sensibilities.

Personally, I don’t think of Starting from Here as particularly “edgy.” There’s no drinking or drugs, in large part due to Colby’s best friend Van, who identifies with straight edge punk culture and has a lot of influence in Colby’s life. The profanity is pretty spare, too, since I think a little goes a long way when it comes to establishing character and emotion.

What some readers are more likely to find a sticking point, unfortunately, is that so many of the characters fall on the LGBTQ spectrum. Colby’s closest friends belong to her school’s Gay/Straight Alliance, and while many of them are still exploring their identities, and not all of them are “out” to their families, they’re not ashamed or shy about who they are.

And they follow their hormones. There’s kissing, groping, clothing removal, and innuendo. There’s probably sex, but I’m not 100% sure, because that scene fades to black. I’ve been a little startled when readers bring up the sexual aspects of the book as dicey areas. Love and lust are so visceral and entwined that I can’t imagine writing a romantic relationship with no physical passion.

There was never any question of toning down Colby and her friends or making them straight. Like Colby, I grew up in a mid-size town in Southwest Michigan, which was and continues to be a pretty conservative area. In the early to mid 1990s, virtually nobody was “out” at school, which was very isolating. LGBTQ literary options geared toward teens were also very limited.

I didn’t get my hands on the groundbreaking lesbian YA novel Annie on My Mind, by Nancy Garden (FSG), until my senior year of high school, by which point I’d been grappling with my sexual identity for several years.

Almost twenty years later, so much has improved—in publishing and elsewhere. But queer characters are still such a tiny, underrepresented piece of the publishing pie. Authors who care about improving the sociopolitical climate for LGBTQ people owe it to the world to write more of them.

Some libraries may choose not to purchase Starting from Here and some readers may be uncomfortable with the book due to its LGBTQ content.

Then again, who knows? So far I’ve only heard remarks objecting to Colby’s dad leaving her alone so much—which to me says their priorities are in the right place.

Young Lisa and her books
As a librarian-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a librarian has been a blessing to your writing?

Before my publishing contract, being surrounded by children’s books for eight hours a day was a double-edged sword. When I was frustrated, I’d think, “There are so many books here, some of them awful, so why does my good book keep getting rejected?” Other times, I’d think, “So many books, books for every kind of reader. Surely mine will find a home one day, too.” And, eventually, it did.

Teen Lisa
Interacting with readers is the biggest advantage to being a librarian as well as writer. I learn which books kids are seeking out—which books are popular, which books move them, which books are part of school curricula. On a daily basis, I see how books touch lives, which is an inspiring reminder of why writing is important.

Reading reviews and industry blogs and journals is another part of being a librarian, so I know what’s up and coming. I see new books before they’re put on the shelf.

I also have what I think is a realistic but healthy perspective on a book’s “success.” Schools and libraries collect a broader variety of books from all sizes of publisher than stores—especially big box stores—do. So while a less commercial book from a small press may not be stocked in stores or get big sales figures, if it gets good reviews, it will still find readers through schools and libraries.

Finally, working in a library—a public library, anyway—teaches me how ephemeral books are. My library is not an archive with an interest in preserving books indefinitely. It is a public browsing collection. We order books that get good reviews and/or that patrons ask for.

If they don’t circulate well after a few years, or if they get damaged beyond repair, we withdraw them. In doing so, we make shelf space for a new load of beautiful books.

It’s a natural part of the life cycle of a book.


Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Jo Knowles (& Maurice Sendak) on Living Your Life

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

For the last couple of days, I've stepped away from my YA fantasy manuscript in progress while Greg Leitich Smith reads it to offer his insights and feedback.

I took advantage of that opportunity to catch up on the kidlitosphere and came across this inspiring post by the glorious gift to the world that is author Jo Knowles.

Check it out. Take some time with it. Watch the embedded video interview with Maurice Sendak. Ponder Jo's thoughts. Grab a tissue or three, just in case.

It's absolutely required reading/viewing. Again, here's the link:
Live Your Life: A Theme and Challenge for 2013 from Jo Knowles. Peek: "A desperate plea to anyone who would listen: Don't wait until you are aging to fall in love with the world." Source: Carrie Jones.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Author Interview: Lauren Oliver

By Karen Rock
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Beloved, bestselling, YA author Lauren Oliver, stopped by to chat with us about her contemporary novel Before I Fall, dystopian series, Delirium, and her exciting, upcoming projects.

Here’s what she had to say about her eclectic writing journey:

As a successful writer of both realistic and dystopian fiction with Before I Fall and your Delirium series, what elements are important to you, regardless of genre, in appealing to readers?

I think people read novels to learn, essentially, about people. So it’s important for me to create realistic and well-rounded characters and to show them undergoing transformations.

The story structure of Before I Fall is one of the most unique, memorable, and effective formats I’ve read. Would you discuss your thought-process in telling the story this way? How did it help you fulfill the goals you had for the novel? 

I’m not sure it was totally conscious; I needed to find a way for Sam, the main character, to begin to perceive the consequences of her actions. I thought of it in terms of a physical analogy: a person orbiting around a single set of events and seeing them from different angles.

Some might question if a popular, self-absorbed, charmed protagonist like Samantha Kingston would be relatable to readers. Why was she the right narrator for Before I Fall? How did you transform her into the sympathetic character we root for by the end of the novel?

I always felt that although Sam was not particularly likable, she was deeply recognizable.

And from the beginning I tried to give hints that there were aspects of her character that could were redeemable. She’s not a bad person. But she’s a very, very careless and afraid person at the start of the novel. She moves toward a kind of bravery and integrity over the course of the book.

To what degree do you feel chance versus choice determines our destiny? How does this issue factor into Before I Fall?

Well, I think Before I Fall is ultimately a book about choice, although there are some ultimate “limits” to what we can influence (i.e., Sam cannot ultimately control her death). At the same time, I believe choice, personal choice, has tremendous impact in our lives.

What drew you to a dystopian series project after writing Before I Fall?

I didn’t originally conceive it as a “dystopian” project; that’s a label that was applied to the book afterward. I was drawn to the concept and the character of Lena, and I was very clear about the fact that I wanted to do something quite different from BIF.

What real world issues served as inspiration when imagining Delirium’s dystopian world?

I was definitely inspired by places in the world where issues of love and sex are rigorously controlled and where access to free information is limited.

The question of whether giving up personal control is needed for a stable society is one Lena learns to question in Delirium and challenges in its sequel, Pandemonium. 

What further realizations and/or character growth can we expect for Lena in the next novel in the series, Requiem… and any chance that release date is moved up from March, 2013?

In Requiem, Lena begins to question whether such a thing as free choice truly exists, or whether we are always influenced by the confluence of external circumstances. And sadly, the release date has not yet moved up!

I’ve heard that Requiem will be told in alternating points of view. What prompted your exciting decision to change the narration of the series? What can you share about it with your fans?

In order to keep pushing myself as a writer, I feel I need to keep challenging myself to try different perspectives, different kinds of projects, different voices. So I really wanted Requiem to push the boundary in terms of what I’d already tried.

Thanks for answering our questions, Lauren! Your diverse tastes keep your fans intrigued and guessing. What upcoming projects can we look forward to seeing from you? 

I’m working on a realistic YA called Panic, and after that, I have a book for grownups coming out. I’ll keep doing YA and middle grade and all of it, if I can!

Cynsational Notes

More on Karen Rock
In a quest to provide her eighth grade students with quality reading material, English teacher Karen Rock read everything out there and couldn’t wait to add her voice to the conversation of books.

Now a debut YA series author, Karen is thrilled to pen stories that teens can relate to. When she’s not busy reading and writing, Karen is downloading live versions of favorite songs, watching "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" marathons, obsessing over reality TV contestants (Adam Lambert you were robbed!), cooking her family’s delizioso Italian recipes, and occasionally rescuing local wildlife from neighborhood cats.

She lives in the Adirondack Mountain region with her husband, her very appreciated beta-reader daughter and two King Charles Cavalier Cocker Spaniels who have yet to understand the concept of “fetch,” though they’ve managed to teach her the trick!

Check out her website, her co-author website, her Facebook page, and follow her on twitter @karenrock5. Then check out Camp Boyfriend.

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