Friday, March 22, 2013

Cynsational News & Giveaways

the movie poster
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

How They Turned My Book Into a Movie by Brent Hartinger from E.K. Anderson at Write All the Words! Peek: "Basically, the choice is: go with your brain or go with your heart."

School Visits: Pros & Cons by Kelly Milner Halls from I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: "Hanging out with kids keeps me on track to write true stories they care about."

Stressed-Out Characters: Just the Way We Want Them by Diane Krause from Writing Mystery is Murder. Peek: "The following is a crash course in the four basic personality types, and some common stress behaviors that are likely to pop up in each when all is not right with his or her world."

The Emotional Impact of Symbolism by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: "'s not hard to add symbolism when you consider how many things in our world have been assigned different meanings. For example, we associate red with passion, anger, embarrassment, danger, power."

Forced Diversity? by Alvina Ling from CBC Diversity. Peek: " a kid, I never saw this as a bad thing--I wanted it, forced or not--and to many kids (and adults), it isn't unrealistic and it isn't forced. It's an accurate mirror of their own experience."

Accountability: It Works! by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "You treat that commitment to write, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes, as sacred." See also Harnessing the Unconscious.

"Speak the Language." -- Children's Book Illustrator E.B. Lewis Shares His Emotional Work and Words by Mark G. Mitchell from How to Be a Children's Book Illustrator. Peek: "'Being able to tell the joke — and everybody in the room gets the joke and laughs — is when you know you’ve mastered the spoken language.'" Note: in-depth post includes video featuring E.B.

Celebrating Women in Picture Books by Dianne de las Casas from Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month. Peek: "Charlotte Zolotow is an editor of more than 100 books and author of more than 90 books for young readers."

Publishing Road Map: Your Guide to Reading, Writing and Publishing Young Adult Literature from YA Highway. Worth the click just for the graphic.

Keeping Up Your Motivation by Jane Lebak from Peek: "Respond to rejections by sending more queries. Have your next ten queries in mind while you're sending the first batch of ten."

From fAiRy gOdSiStErS iNk

faiRy gOdSiSteErS iNk (Mary Hershey, Lee Wardlaw, Val Hobbs, Thalia Chaltas, Robin LaFevers) announces its 6th annual SCBWI Summer Conference Scholarship. SCBWI Members may apply to receive $1,000.00 toward SCBWI National Conference tuition, manuscript or portfolio critique, and "a bit of mad money" for your trip.

The conference is scheduled for Aug. 2 to Aug. 5 at The Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. Note:  "We are five very fortunate authors for children and young adults who have been generously mentored, guided and supported by a host of talented individuals. We can't think of a better way to thank them than by easing the way for others. The National Conference is a game-changer."

To enter, write at least one but no more than three haiku telling us why you should be chosen for this year's conference recipient. (A haiku is a three-line poem, featuring a total of 17 syllables: five in the first line, seven in the second, and five again in the third.) Email your entry to by April 15. Winners will be announced May 1.  

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways 
More Personally

Teaching at the VCFA Novel Writing Retreat with Candlewick editor Andrea Tompa & author Lauren Myracle
See also Novel Writing Retreat at VCFA by Debbi Michiko Florence from DEBTastic Reads.

A VCFA informal dinner with M.T. Anderson, April Lurie & Kathi Appelt at La Traviata in Austin.
Debbie Gonzales & Lindsey Lane (celebrating graduation from the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts)
Congratulations to fellow Austin author Lindsey Lane on signing with Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and congratulations to Erin on signing Lindsey!

Personal Links
Cynsational Events 

The Art of Dr. Seuss from April 5 to April 20 at Art on 5th Gallery, 3005 S. Lamar, in Austin. Source: Austin SCBWI.

Authors/Speakers at TLA 2013 from April 24 to April 27 in Fort Worth from the Texas Library Association. Look for Cynthia Leitich Smith's signing and Spirit of Texas High School author panel.

YA lit readers! Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at 1 p.m. May 25 at Cedar Park (TX) Public Library.

Join Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith at 11 a.m. June 11 at Lampasas (TX) Public Library.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held from June 17 to June 21 in Sandy, Utah. Note: I have taught at this conference in the past and highly recommend it.

Join authors Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Nancy Werlin and ICM Partners literary agent Tina Wexler at a Whole Novel Workshop from Aug. 4 to Aug. 10, sponsored by the Highlights Foundation. Peek: "Our aim is to focus on a specific work in progress, moving a novel to the next level in preparation for submission to agents or publishers. Focused attention in an intimate setting makes this mentorship program one that guarantees significant progress." Special guests: Curtis Brown agent Sarah LaPolla, authors Bethany Hegedus and Amy Rose Capetta.

Save the Date! 5th Annual Austin Teen Book Festival by Jen Bigheart from I Read Banned Books. Note: Sept. 28, 2013.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

New Voice: E.M. Kokie on Bridget Zinn & Poison

Bridget (wearing her blue "party hair" post chemo) & E.M.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Bridget Zinn was the debut author of Poison (Hyperion, 2013). She grew up in Wisconsin.

She went to the county fair where she met the love of her life, Barrett Dowell.

They got married right before she went in for exploratory surgery which revealed she had colon cancer. They christened that summer the "summer of love" and the two celebrated with several more weddings. Bridget continued to read and write until the day she died.

Her last tweet was "Sunshine and a brand new book. Perfect."

Bridget wanted to make people laugh and hoped readers would enjoy spending time with the characters she created. As a librarian/writer she loved books with strong young women with aspirations. She also felt teens needed more humorous reads. She really wanted to write a book with pockets of warmth and happiness and hoped that her readers' copies would show the watermarks of many bath time reads.

E.M. Kokie is an attorney, but has long had a strong interest in literature for teens. Personal Effects (Candlewick, 2012) is her first novel. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Could you begin by telling us a little about Bridget and how the two of you connected as critique partners and friends?

I met Bridget through my partner, who had worked with Bridget while she was a library school student. So, I knew Bridget as someone I chatted with at library events. But when Bridget learned I was just starting to write a young adult novel, she was gracious and generous enough to invite me to join the novel writing group she was in.

Through that group and SCBWI, which Bridget also encouraged me to join, I made wonderful writing friends and began to receive helpful critique while I was writing the first draft of Personal Effects. Bridget and the other members of the novel writing group were an endless source of tough critique and hopeful encouragement, both of which I needed desperately in that first year of serious writing.

I was really very anxious about showing my writing to other writers, but Bridget had a way of melting away the fear and making you believe in yourself. So, Bridget drew me into the writing world, and we became friends through being critique partners, and through talking about books, and writing, and so much more.

More from E.M. on Personal Effects
And then that friendship deepened as both our writing careers seemed on parallel paths. Bridget signed with her agent in the spring, and I signed with mine the following fall. She sold her Poison, and then I sold Personal Effects some months later. We were both revising for our editors and starting to think about the realities of promotion and thinking about our next books. And then we both even bought houses around the same time, so we were exchanging pictures and virtually stalking each other's house hunt targets.

Of course, Bridget was doing much of that while battling cancer, even if so many of our emails and calls had much more to do with revisions and writing and house buying than illness.

Some of my favorite messages from that time are the ones where Bridget is joyfully sharing bits from the next book she was writing, and how it was going off in directions she didn't intend, and her trying to wrangle it back to where she wanted it to go.

Even in the midst of tests and "the next round of yuck" (as I referred to the chemo and treatments and side effects in our messages), she was full of enthusiasm and joy in her writing, and in her life. Bridget wasn't a pollyanna, and she had her moments and certainly her frustrations, but she embraced every opportunity to be happy, to celebrate the good.

Reading back through her messages can make me laugh and smile now. Bridget's friendship, her generosity, enriched my life -- not only through the sheer joy of being her friend, but because she nudged me along my path to becoming an author and invited me into her circle of writer friends.

What were Bridget's challenges and triumphs in crafting Poison, and what about it captured her/your imagination?

When I first read a draft of the first chapter of Poison I remember being so struck by how solid and developed her main character Kyra was, right there, from page one. She was scaling a building, her weapons at the ready, and wishing for pie -- hot, flaky pie -- and I loved this character!

Follow the Poison blog tour!
The world of Poison was an often lighthearted, fantastical world, but Kyra was so serious and confident in her plan to murder the princess. I remember thinking, "Murder the princess? She wants to murder the princess?"

It seemed such a huge and unexpected plot arc, and Kyra was so earnest in her plan, and yet this was not a book that took itself seriously. The world of the book was full of magic and fanciful, shiny bits and creatures, but Kyra's depth and seriousness grounded it.

But the joy was in Bridget's willingness to go to the silly, to the humor, to have something dire and creepy and tense happening, and you turn the page and start laughing out loud. I never knew where it was going to go next. Bridget was so willing to show Kyra's flaws, and her mistakes, and to put her in silly and uncomfortable situations.

Poison had so much of Bridget's humor, her readiness to laugh and to see the absurd as funny. To ask why not a magic search pig? What if I place my serious, earnest, tough character in silly, frilly underwear, and then catch her unawares in a compromising position? What if sometimes her seriously clever plans go a touch ridiculous?

That juxtaposition of the silly and the serious made for an unexpected reading experience.

How did she approach writing per se?

You can read, or even listen to, Bridget's thoughts on writing in her own words. I chuckle as I read her "Naughty" tips to getting writing done. I will add that as light and full of humor as her writing might be, and her thoughts on making time to write, Bridget was serious about her writing. She was dedicated to it, and she respected it. She respected craft and training and revision and critique. She was a laser sharp critiquer herself -- gentle, kind, often funny (there were many sad faces in the margins of my critiques from Bridget as she expressed her displeasure at my "mean" characters), but decisive and sharp in her focus.

I respected that focus, her belief that you didn't so much make time to write as write and make time for the other things you had to do. But, as I think her post shows, she wrote because she loved to write. She delighted in her stories. I loved talking to her about her work in progress drafts because she would laugh as she recounted the unexpected characters or scenes that had surprised her.

Even when she was struggling to write between treatment, she could laugh at the unexpected shenanigans in the story she was writing. I think that joy shines from the pages of Poison.

How did you hear about her selling the novel? What do you remember about that?

She wrote me a short and to the point Facebook message to tell me it had sold, and then we quickly planned a phone call so that she could share and I could hear all of the details by phone. It was an amazing, joyful call, to hear her excitement and happiness, the exuberance in her voice when she told me all about it.

I had signed with my agent about a month before that, and had just turned in revisions, so besides her sale, we had a lot to talk about. We were on the phone for a very long time.

That whole time feels like a roller coaster of emotions, with all these huge things to celebrate and to share, amid her treatments and fighting the cancer. When we emailed or talked by phone, we would talk about her health, of course, but then move on to revisions, writing, submissions, etc.

Have you participated in any events celebrating the book's release?

I participated in a video chat on March 12th, during which some of Bridget's author friends shared memories and bits of Poison. We and a whole host of people from around the country all logged in to shindig, and it turned into a really warm and wonderful celebration of Bridget with a lot of smiles and laughter. And it was wonderful to be able to see the faces of many of the participants (not just the authors tapped to participate) who had webcams because we could see them laughing and nodding along, too. I especially loved watching Barrett, Bridget's husband, react to the stories being shared.

And I've participated in a blog tour, which is ongoing, and there are some other virtual and in person celebrations and events in the planning stages. There was a fabulous launch party in Portland, and I'd love to see one in Madison, too. I have a feeling

I will be talking about Bridget and Poison for a very long time as readers find Poison and seek to know more about Bridget. Her spirit of joy and celebration is certainly living on.

How would Bridget have celebrated the release of Poison?

From Bridget's blog; used with permission.
With cake. Many different kinds of cake. Bridget celebrated many things, and many of those things she celebrated with cake. I can imagine she would have had stops for cake scheduled into all her release day activities, and cakes from all her favorite places at her launch parties (and there would have been multiple parties). And she would have joyously signed books, the line wrapping around the space and moving slow so that Bridget could befriend every single person in line.

If you search Bridget's blog for the word "cake" you will be rewarded with many posts in which cake was mentioned.

About Poison

Can she save the Kingdom with a piglet?
Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly-skilled potions master, is the only one who knows her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she's the only one who can save it. Faced with no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom's future ruler, who also happens to be her former best friend.

But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart..misses.

Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king's army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she's not alone. She's armed with her vital potions, a too-cute pig, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can't stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her?

Kyra is not your typical murderer, and she's certainly no damsel-in-distress—she's the lovable and quick-witted hero of this romantic novel that has all the right ingredients to make teen girls swoon.

Cynsational Notes

Bridget's Path to Publication by Bridget Zinn from Bridget Zinn's Blog. Note: in her own words. See also Barrett on Bridget, El Dia de los Muertos, and Cake.

Promoting a Late Author's Debut Novel: Poison by Bridget Zinn from Publishers Weekly. Peek: " can a book be successfully launched without an author? In the case of the YA fantasy novel Poison (Hyperion) by debut author Bridget Zinn, who died of colon cancer in May 2011 at the age of 33, the answer is simple: with a lot of help from friends." See also A Remembrance of Bridget by Michael Stearns, her agent, from Upstart Crow.

Attention Austinites! Celebrate Poison and Bridget at 7:30 p.m. April 19 at BookPeople in Austin.

Cyn Notes: (1) Please help spread the word about Bridget and #Poison. (2) Photo of Bridget and E.M. by Georgia Beaverson.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Guest Post: Krissi Dallas on Creating a Phantom Island

Cynthia Leitich Smith & Krissi Dallas
By Krissi Dallas
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Every magical world is first created here in the real world, born out of the author’s own experiences and perspective.

Stephen King says the novel idea happens when two previously unconnected ideas suddenly converge and you go, “That’s it. That’s the story I have to write.”

(Sorry, Steve, I majorly paraphrased you on that one. See his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, for the actual wisdom imparted there.)

I had been playing with the idea of writing a novel, feeling that illusive itch to create something, but toying with different plot ideas. It was my addiction to the show, "Lost" (before my Season 5 bitterness set in) combined with my love of summer camp that sparked the idea…Camp Fusion (the world I knew) and the White Island (a world I had yet to create).

Four tribes. Four elements. Magic. Mystery. Secrets.

One epic journey for truth and purpose.

I knew I wanted to capture the everyday magic of the real world, and then explore its connection to the supernatural magic of a new world. My series, unlike most fantasy series, was shaping up to be about the importance of both places.

Learn more.
Surely I was not the only one to deal with the depressing letdown of leaving Narnia, or returning to the Dursley’s house after a school year at Hogwarts, or realizing along with Milo that the Phantom Tollbooth is gone and he can never return to his new friends who taught him so much.

For my Phantom Island series to work, there just had to be something about these two worlds colliding that enriched both places and changed these characters for the better.

For me to like my own books, the real world would have to be just as vivid and real as the magical world.

So I set out to write the fantasy novels that would somehow end up being “fantasy for those who don’t like fantasy” – a phrase coined by readers who were surprised to find how much they loved the books.

One of my secrets was to make my new world “accessible” by naming places and characters in such a way that they were easy to pronounce and quick to learn. If I could tap into a reader’s prior word knowledge, I figured they could focus on enjoying the journey instead of wasting concentration on understanding the new world. So I used root words to name my four Island tribes… (Forgive me. I’m a junior high teacher.) For example, “aero” is air/wind and “dora” is gift. So my four tribes became...

  • Aerodora – Wind-gifted Tribe
  • Geodora – Earth-gifted Tribe
  • Pyradora – Fire-gifted Tribe
  • Hydrodora – Water-gifted Tribe

By 8th grader Sonia Pennington
In addition to that, I’m a lifelong follower of Jesus Christ. The Bible shapes my worldview and my heart, thus shaping the ideas that flow out of me. There are certainly biblical allusions contained in my series because of it. All of the Island characters were given Hebrew names and some of them have a subtle connection or parallel to a biblical story. To name a few,
  1. Ezekiel - the Aerodorian Elder – named for Ezekiel in the Bible who received a vision from God in a “windstorm.”
  2. Joseph - the Geodorian Elder – named for Joseph in the Bible who saved the people of Egypt from famine by storing up crops and provisions ahead of time.
  3. Eli - the Pyradorian Elder – a shortened version of the prophet Elijah who called down fire on the mountain.
  4. Simeon - the Hydrodorian Elder - Simeon is the Hebrew version of Simon, named for Simon Peter, the disciple who walked on water to meet Jesus.

In each of those biblical stories, the presence of a particular element was important to that person’s experience. Likewise, I wanted my own elemental tribal leaders to have a parallel connection in how I named them.

Krissi and her husband, Sam
I also tried to link experiences on the Island to similar experiences we have in our world… like dance clubs, festivals, magical versions of cell phones, sports (yes, they play a version of dodge ball on my Island that is way more dangerous and, um, juicy), fashion and colors, everyday items like mouthwash, makeup, and perfume… The list goes on and on.

I loved taking what I enjoy about my world and playing with how another world parallel to ours might come up with the same ideas or “technology.”

Worldbuilding became fun when I found creative ways to translate my own world into an alternately magical world. I don’t even really like calling it the “real world” versus the “magical world” because both worlds are equally real and uniquely magical to my characters.

Even when writing fantasy, we are still conveying truth about the world around us… It just gets layered in there with all the fantastical stuff. And you can read it on a surface level for enjoyment or dig deep to find all the layers of meaning and truth.

Cynsational Notes

Texas author Krissi Dallas loves pop music, mismatched socks, and fried chicken. She is the author of the YA urban fantasy series Phantom Island and her fourth book, Watermark, comes out later in 2013. To find out more about the books, the author, or what Phantom Island tribe you belong to, visit  here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Event Report: VCFA Novel Writing Retreat

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of teaching at the tenth annual Vermont College of Fine Arts Novel Writing Retreat for Middle Grade and Young Adult Writers. The event organization was seamless, morale high, discussion meaty and writer-takeaway tremendous. Programming included speeches, one-on-one critiques from an editor and established authors, critique groups, readings, socializing, and terrific informal discussions. In sum, a group of about 40 writers came together from across the country to celebrate story and make magic on a historic campus in quaint Montpelier, Vermont.

To those looking for a weekend of high quality, budget-friendly, MFA-level instruction, I give the VCFA Novel Writing Retreat, my highest recommendation. Watch for breaking news and registration information for the 2014 program at Facebook.

Novel retreat coordinators Sarah Aronson & Cindy Faughnan
Opening address by author Julie Berry
Author Ann Angel & Novel Retreat coordinator Sarah Aronson
With Elly Pitaski Swartz -- thanks for many of the photos!
With Novel Retreat coordinator Cindy Faughnan & author Debbi Michiko Florence at lunch
With author Debbi Michiko Florence
Talking about metaphor and world building.
With fellow faculty Candlewick editor Andrea Tompa & author Lauren Myracle

Giveaway: Unraveled by S.X. Bradley

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win a signed copy of Unraveled by S.X. Bradley (Evernight, 2013). From the promotional copy:

Sixteen year old math whiz, Autumn, spends her days reading about serial killers and dreaming of becoming an FBI Profiler. She never dreams her first case will be so personal. 

Her world is shattered when she comes home from school and discovers her murdered sister’s body on the living room floor. When the initial evidence points to a burglary gone wrong, Autumn challenges the police’s theory because of the personal nature of the crime. 

Thinking that finding the killer will bring her family back together, she conducts her own investigation using her affinity for math and forensics, but her plan backfires and her obsession with the case further splinters her family.

When her investigation reveals the killer is someone she knows, Autumn offers herself up as bait and sets a dangerous trap to unmask his true nature and to obtain a confession for her sister’s murder.

Author sponsored. Eligibility: international.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, March 18, 2013

Guest Post: Monica Brown on Where Art Meets Text: Reflections on the Author-Illustrator Relationship

Peek into Rafael's process in creating the book.
By Monica Brown
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Conventional wisdom states that authors and illustrators should have as little contact as possible, especially during the creation of a picture book.

Conventional wisdom is right in the sense that illustrators need to be free to create without interference from authors, guided by conscientious feedback from talented editors and art directors.

I would, however, like to share a writer’s perspective on the confluence of words and art that creates the children’s picture book.

On the one hand, artists tell stories with pictures, but on another, passionate picture book writers infuse their words with art—images, symbols, movement, and action (not to mention rhythm and music, but that’s another topic).

When I write, it’s not in an artless vacuum. On each page, I think about illustratable action, and the ways a gifted illustrator might take my words and fly with them.

Let me take as an example two of my picture book biographies, the first—My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/Me llamo Celia: La Vida de Celia Cruz (Luna Rising), was published almost ten years ago with illustrator Rafael López; and the second, our new book together, Tito Puente, Mambo King/Rey del Mambo (Rayo/HarperCollins, 2013), which arrived March 5.

When I write, I do so for myself of course and for my imagined audience of children. But I also write for illustrators.

In the case of Celia Cruz and Tito Puente, any biography of their lives would have many musical scenes, but the illustration of these scenes would have to be varied and interesting and filled with action.

I tried to do this on the first page of My Name is Celia, when I wrote:

“Sugar! My voice is strong, smooth, and sweet. I will make you feel like dancing. Close your eyes and listen. My voice feels like feet skipping on cool wet sand, like running under a waterfall, like rolling down a hill. My voice climbs and rocks and dips and flips with the sounds of congas beating and trumpets blaring. Boom, boom, boom! beat the congas. Clap, clap, clap! go the hands. Shake, shake, shake! go the hips. I am the Queen of Salsa, and I invite you to come dance with me.”

With Tito Puente, King of Mambo I wrote:

“When the Tito Puente Orchestra played, the tambourines sounded like rain on metal roofs. The horns blew high and loud and strong and low. The claves smacked clackity clackity clack clack, and everyone’s feet went tappity tap. Best of all, Tito played the timbales . . .Tum Tica! Tac Tic! Tum Tic Tom Tom!” 

When I turned in the manuscript, I couldn’t wait to see what Rafael would come up with, and I wasn’t disappointed!

As a writer, I’ve been very fortunate (and, perhaps, unusual) in that I’ve had editors who have allowed me to be involved in each part of the process, staring with the selection of the illustrator, through notes on the first rounds of sketches, to final art (though obviously, with these talented artists, notes on final art involve expressions of gratitude and glee!).

With certain books, I’ve give feedback on candidates presented as potential illustrators, and when possible, I’ve suggested illustrators who I think will work with my manuscript.

In this way, I’ve gotten to work more than once with the same artist. My two books with Rafael López are one joyful example. Another is my two collaborations with John Parra.

Our second book together, the Christopher Award-winning Waiting for the Biblioburro (Random House, 2011) was released last year. I specifically requested John for this project because I knew he would be perfect for it, with his sweet characters and delightful depiction of animalitos.

The author/illustrator relationship can be amazing, and I’ve loved the opportunity to reunite with illustrators as we grow in parallel and non-parallel ways as writers and artists.

Monica & Rafael

In the case of John Parra and Rafael López, we’ve also found occasion to present together in various venues across the country—from academic conferences to literacy nights to school visits. This is especially rewarding as it affirms why we do this in the first place—to support literacy, put smiles on the faces of children and encourage them to find their own voices and make themselves heard.

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