Friday, April 19, 2013

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Martine on My Book of Life By Angel
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The Canadian Library Association/Association canadienne des bibliothèques has announced its winning title for the 2013 CLA Book of the Year for Children Award: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, by Susin Nielsen (Tundra Books). My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt (Groundwood, House of Anansi Press), is the winner of the 2013 CLA Book of the Year for Young Adults. The 2013 Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator's Award Winner is You are Stardust, illustrated by Soyeon Kimand and written by Elin Kelsey (Owlkids). Note: see links for honor books and more. Source: Cynsations Canada reporter Lena Coakley.

Drop Everything and Read Month by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek: "...begun in honor of Beverly Cleary. Dropping everything to read seems like a call to action that anyone who cares about literacy and kids ought to get behind." Learn more about Drop Everything and Read Month.

"You Should Do a Book Trailer" by Keith Cronin from Sarah Pinneo at Query Tracker Blog. Peek: "Inspired, she wrote the words and melody in a single day, and I have to say, the song sounded great. And her inspiration was contagious: suddenly I had a rush of ideas for how the video could flow."

Poet and children’s author share Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence: Lorna Crozier and Sarah Ellis named at BC Book Prizes Soiree by Mike Hager from Vancouver Sun. Peek: "Each will receive a $5,000 award from B.C. Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon at Victoria's Government House on May 4, at an event hosted by CBC broadcaster Grant Lawrence."

Interview with Independent Editor Harold Underdown by Jennifer Swanson from The Mixed-Up Files...of Middle Grade Authors. Peek: "Amazon seems to be growing in influence. The major trade publishers are discussing a merger. Some small presses are closing while others are opening. Editors who’ve worked for years developing wonderful children’s books are leaving or being downsized."

Three Ways to Improve Your Author Website Today from Jane Friedman. Peek: "...your homepage may represent only 25-30% of new visits. The long tail of visits may be spread over dozens or hundreds of pages, especially if you have a blog." 

More on The Nightmare Affair

Skip the Boring by Mindee Arnett from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. Peek: "If the scene doesn’t aid in the development of two or more aspects of the story (e.g. character development, main plot development, subplot, development, etc.) then something is wrong."

2013 E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards from Waking Brain Cells. Note: from independent booksellers.

Author Insight: Personal-Professional Separation from Wastepaper Prose. Peek: "Do you feel a need to divorce your personal life from your writing career on social media, etc. or are they too difficult to separate?"

Cobbling Together an Income from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "Deciding to write a long novel when I can sell shorter, younger work is hardly practical. It may not even be wise. Longer means, inevitably, more time committed, and more time committed doesn’t mean more income when the book is published."

Six Reasons to Attend a National Conference by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "This past weekend, I attended the National Science Teachers Association conference and it was a great way to meet my audience. Here are some specific things that I thought were a benefit of attending."

Infographic: How to Create a Book Trailer by Naomi Bates from YA Books & More.

Building Autism-Friendly Collections by Kiera Parrott from ALSC Blog. Peek: "Displaying books specific to identifying and characterizing autism is a great start. But to build truly autism-friendly collections that will be used and appreciated all year long, it is important to look for subjects that go beyond the basics and help support the physical, social, and emotional development of children with autism."

Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies
Should a Cliffhanger's Synopsis Hang, Too? by Deborah Halverson from Peek: "You’ll have already pitched your full trilogy or series in your query letter; adding the hook here gives context for the thread you’ve left dangling in this synopsis."

Why Writers Need Boundaries by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "When you begin to set boundaries of any kind—and start defining who you are and what you stand for—there will be opposition from certain people. Not from everyone, but some." See also Kristi on Four Essential Types of Personal Boundaries for Writers.

Working on Multiple Projects by Elizabeth S. Craig from Mystery Writing Is Murder. Peek: "I know which question I’ll be getting. "Do you work on all three series at once?'"

Five Dialogue Dilemmas to Avoid by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTrackerBlog. Peek: "...scour your manuscript to ensure they don’t exist."

Author Twitter Etiquette by Yahong Chi from Project Mayhem. Peek: "Don't clog up people's feeds. An overwhelming social media presence might just be worse than no social media presence."

Cynsational Giveaways

The winners of The Reluctant Journey of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen are Joy, Sandra, Andrea, Carl and Kristen.

Elsewhere on the Web, enter to win Mermaid Tales: The Lost Princess by Debbie Dadey (Simon & Schuster) from Noodling with Words. See also New Releases & Five Giveaways from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing.

Congratulations to Teaching Authors on their fourth blogoversary! They're giving away four $25 gift certificates to Anderson's Bookshops, and Anderson's is offering the winners a 20 percent discount ("which will help defray the shipping costs if you're unable to redeem your gift certificate in person").

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Here comes the judge(s)! Guess who's on this list? Announcing Judges for the May Pitch +250 Contest from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. See also Contest Details.

Last Thursday, I had the honor of appearing with fellow Texas authors Chris Barton and Tim Tingle at a Reading Is Fundamental event at the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum in Austin.

I love RIF!
With Tim & Chris on the sofa
Kathi Appelt, Curious George & Greg Leitich Smith
Tim models Saltypie (Cinco Puntos) & I model Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins) from RIF's multicultural list.
Signing with Chris, author of likewise RIF-listed, The Day-Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge)
With Austin YA author Jennifer Ziegler & Chris at El Chile Cafe y Cantina
Illustrator Joy Fisher Hein with Tim at El Chile (Joy & Kathi, creators of Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America (HarperCollins), were honored earlier that day at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.)

More Personally

I'm honored to say that Greg Leitich Smith and I hosted Jenny and Chris's wedding at our home last Saturday.

Greg and Chris before the guests arrive
Here I am at the buffet table!
Many blessings to you both, Jenny & Chris!

Reflecting on Tragedy

YA author Carrie Jones is brilliant and gentle and funny and formidable. She not only cares deeply about individuals and the world as a whole but also takes steps big and small to make it better. Really, she's adorable.

Carrie was at the Boston Marathon and witnessed much of what happened that day. She shares her experience in this post, Boston Marathon. Peek: "Their ultimate goal was suddenly gone, devastated by two bombs. Those of us who were there to watch, gave them our cell phones so they could call family members who were waiting for them. They were waiting for them right by the bombs. We gave the runners money so they could get on the T when it worked again. We gave them our coats."

To help the victims of the Boston Marathon tragedy, Jean Reidy, Tammi Sauer and Tara Lazar are auctioning off picture book manuscript critiques. Bid from now until 4/30/13. Proceeds will benefit One Fund Boston.

Personal Links

From Greg Leitich Smith

Cynsational Events

Celebration of Poison & Author Bridget Zinn: "Come to a celebration of Bridget Zinn's Poison at 7:30 p.m. April 19 at BookPeople in Austin. We're honored to be part of a nationwide series of events remembering Bridget and celebrating her book and thrilled to welcome the following local Austin authors to celebrate with us: Lindsey Lane; P.J. Hoover; Cory Putnam Oakes; Nikki Loftin; Susan Kralovansky; Greg Leitich Smith; Cynthia Leitich Smith. P.J. Hoover, Cory Putnam Oaks and Nikki Loftin will read an excerpt from Poison. Everyone will be available to sign copies of the book!"

By Tom Shefelman from I, Vivali 
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. See also the Itsy Bitsy Gallery to "take a chance on art at the TLA 2013 raffle" to benefit the Texas Library Disaster Relief Fund. Note: featuring an original illustration by Tom Shefelman from I, Vivali by Janice Shefelman (Eerdman's).

YA lit readers! Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at 6:30 p.m. May 25 at Round Rock Public Library.

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

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.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

New Voice & Giveaway: Scott Blagden on Dear Life, You Suck

By Karen Rock
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Scott Blagden is the debut YA author of Dear Life, You Suck (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). The novel has received a starred review from School Library Journal as well as a rave in The Wall Street Journal.

It’s a humorous, raw, coming-of-age novel in which an orphan who faces graduation, expulsion from the orphanage he’s called home, and a questionable future must face his past in order envision his future. From the promotional copy:

Cricket Cherpin’s life sucks. He’s stuck in a group home in the-middle-of-nowhere Maine. His past is ugly, his future is bleak, and with less than a year until his eighteenth birthday, he needs to figure things out fast. 

With prospects that range from professional fighter to professional drug dealer, Cricket’s beginning to think that his best option is one final cliff dive into the great unknown. But then Wynona Bidaban steps into his world, showing him that maybe, just maybe, life doesn’t totally suck.

Part comedy, part tragedy, Dear Life, You Suck is at once angry and funny, heartbreaking and profane, illuminated by moments of tenderness and hope.

Since selling your novel, how has your life changed with regard to writing and your career? How has the transition to becoming a published author been?

Now that I’ve published one book, I’m obscenely wealthy and have moved into an oceanfront mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. I’m having trouble focusing on my next novel because Hollywood supermodels won’t leave me alone.

Well, things haven’t changed quite that much. In fact, they haven’t changed at all. I work full-time in real estate and write whenever I can. I’ve written another novel that’s being considered by my publisher. My job has flexible hours so I can usually find time to write every day.

The only additional responsibility has been book promotion, which I’ve been doing the last few months to get the word out.

Tell us about your inspiration for Dear Life, You Suck and its journey to publication. 

With "booze and profanity"?
Dear Life, You Suck was inspired by anger and frustration. I’d written three previous novels, all very character-driven, and all very enthusiastically rejected by the English-speaking publishing world.

I decided to write something I thought I’d have better luck selling - a teen mystery full of action and suspense. The original story was about a sixteen-year-old orphan who notices suspicious activity on an island across the bay from the orphanage he lives in. Kind of a Hardy Boys mystery, except with booze and profanity.

As the main character developed, his true voice bubbled to the surface. It was offensive, irreverent, and hilarious. I was having fun writing him, but didn’t think I’d actually include him in a novel I sent out for publication.

About the same time, I received my millionth rejection letter on my third novel and something inside me snapped. I decided I wasn’t going to write my next novel for anyone but me.

I continued writing Cricket’s story in his outrageously profane voice and the more I developed his backstory, the more I realized the story was really about him, not some island adventure.

By the time I was done, barely a hint of the original plot remained. I reference the original title, Orphan Island, in the book during one of Cricket’s story time hours with the Little Ones.

In the novel’s opening you use the Wikipedia quote, “Crickets, like all other insects, are cold-blooded. They take on the temperature of their surroundings.” How would you connect this quote to your main character, Cricket Cherpin?

It’s a reference to who Cricket is and why. “Cold-blooded” in some respects, such as his angry irreverence for anything he perceives as hypocritical; his distrust of adults; his sense of aloneness, of not being able to rely on anyone but himself; his sense of the world as cruel and hopeless.

“They take on the temperature of their surroundings” relates to his upbringing and how his past molded him into the person he is today.

The story begins with an English assignment in which Cricket is asked to write a letter to someone with whom he’s angry. For a boy abandoned by drug-dealing parents to an orphanage, that’s life. If you were assigned that letter, to whom would it be addressed, and what would be your concerns?

Visit Scott Blagden
My letter would probably be to God. I share a lot of Cricket’s anger, confusion, and curiosity about God: who He is, what He is, why He is. And, if He is, why He created the world the way He did.

Like how can such horrible things happen to people, children especially, if there really is a God out there who loves us?

I share Cricket’s frustration with organized religion as well. The simplistic, help-mankind-cope answers it dishes out are infuriating. I have the feeling mankind’s sum of knowledge about God is the equivalent of one grain of sand in the Sahara Desert.

The setting of your novel, Naskeag, north Maine, is unique and richly imagined. At one point you describe “Mainers” as “being wicked particular about geographic origins.” Why is Naskeag the ideal setting for this novel?

It’s an appropriate setting for a story about a character like Cricket. The landscape is complex and paradoxical. Harsh, magnificent, awe-inspiring, unforgiving. Boulders perched precariously on ancient cliffs overlooking a cruel, beautiful ocean. Very Cricketatious.

You’ve included edgy, realistic language, characters and events. What are some elements that might, on the surface, seem offensive? Why did you include them? 

Hmmmm, elements of Dear Life, You Suck that might seem offensive? How much time you got? Profanity, fighting, alcohol, drugs, disrespect toward adults, religious irreverence – it’s a pretty long list. Most of these things are realities of modern teenage life. Perhaps not taken to Cricket’s extreme, but his life’s been extreme.

What authors have influenced you as a writer? What have you taken away from their work and their advice?

There are too many awesome authors to list. For edgy fiction, I will say that Adam Rapp’s been an influence/inspiration.

The common factor that’s influenced me the most is voice. Authentic voice gets me every time. I love reading books where the voice is so captivating I don’t care what happens, plot-wise. I respect authors who dig deep into their character’s heart and mind and write honestly about what they find. Authors who aren’t afraid to write life as it really is.

Like many teens, Cricket examines religion in terms of his life. He’s been raised in an orphanage, attends mass, prays, and reads the Bible. Yet he says, “I don’t believe some white-haired old dude is sitting in a Barcalounger on a cloud, doling out good and bad and happy and sad with an almighty Xbox controller.” What does Cricket believe in, spiritually?

Cricket’s not sure what he believes. He’s trying to figure it out. He doesn’t believe in an all-knowing, all-loving God because the reality of his past seems to negate that possibility. What he’s been taught about God by the nuns and priests doesn’t jibe with his real-world experience.

But he’s not an atheist either. In the presence of God’s “worthy” creation, he “can’t deny a connection. An intermingling. A gravity. A pull. I mean, it sucks at my soul.”

He compares his father’s treatment of him with God’s treatment of Jesus and observes, “this dude was the son of God, which means He had a dad. Now, I can see a human dad standing on the sidelines while his kid sizzles in the hot sun ‘cause I know how evil human dads can be. But a God Dad doing that?”

What’s funny is that, on the surface, Cricket’s irreverence and intolerance of religion appears anti-Christian, but I’d argue that he’s actually more Christ-like than the typical go-to-mass-once-a-week masses who blindly follow their religion’s rules without ever thinking about them.

Jesus was a radical. He challenged the status quo. He said things that were so radical and offensive that he was put to death. Jesus was awesome, but I don’t think he’s portrayed realistically in the Bible. He was a bad-ass.

Cricket describes himself as a "hooded, fisticuffin’, prison-dwelling, scar-faced beast" and questions whether anyone will care for him. How has his troubled life impacted the way in which he views himself and adult authority? How does it trigger his rants?

Scott with his actress/singer niece, JoJo
Cricket’s upbringing by his dirtbag parents and floozy foster mom made him distrustful of adults. And rightfully so. In some instances, his mistrust is misdirected, but he has reason to be skeptical. His religiously-irreverent rant against Mother Mary is one that some readers may be offended by.

But, as a boy who had to fight on the streets to survive, he doesn’t understand why Jesus didn’t fight back to protect himself and his friends.

Like he says, “I ain’t gonna turn the other cheek if a dude attacks me… I’d rather go to prison than be a coward.” He also doesn’t understand why Jesus’ all-powerful dad didn’t step in to protect him.

His seemingly “gay-bashing” rant against his school principal is another. The ugliness beneath this rant is a little deeper. His male role model for the first eight years of his life was his drug-addicted, drug-dealing, push-him-into-fights father. Now, ten years later, the main male authority figure in his life is his school principal, Randall LaChance, a physically formidable man who Cricket perceives as “cowardly,” “weak,” and “girly.”

Cricket’s rant has nothing to do with sexual preference. It has to do with his warped perception of what it means to be a man. Hints at this issue are sprinkled throughout the story. One example is the scene where he meets Wynona’s father: “Seeing this big-ass dude smile and hum in a girly apron as he stirs his stew makes me feel less fruity about the cooking I do at the Prison.”

Some readers have been quick to slap simplistic labels on Cricket because of his rants, but readers who give the book a deep, open-minded read will discover the true roots of the ugliness.

Cricket bonds with Wynona because, like him, she prefers “God Art to Man Art.” How do you distinguish between the two and how does this tie into one of the themes in Dear Life, You Suck?

Cricket thinks about higher meaning stuff like God, art, and life. He perceives the natural world as a work of art by God. “Like a baby’s been finger-painting on God’s blank canvas.” To Cricket, Man Art is “The copycat $#@% hanging in big city museums and rich folk’s foyers.”

The God Art/Man Art comparison correlates to his comparison of life at the Prison to the lives of the “outside kids” who have “real” homes and “real” families. “Poor-ass schleps like me get to view God Art every day, while rich-ass hoity-toits dangle million dollar replicas over their bidets. A Girl with a Watering Can.”

FYI - "A Girl with a Watering Can" is an actual painting by Renoir.

As an author of realistic YA fiction, what advice would you give to writers who might hesitate to include realistic language or edgy topics present in today’s teenagers’ lives? Why was it important to you, your characters, and your novel to depict include these situations and, at times, edgy dialogue?

With regard to voice, I think it’s important to focus on your character, not on what some readers might think about your character. Sometimes profanity is warranted and sometimes it’s not.

Scott picking out a Christmas tree with Connor and Madison

If it’s integral and authentic to the character, and it advances the reader’s understanding of who he is, then include it. But if it’s in there simply to try and make the character sound modern, tough and cool, leave it out.

The argument “but that’s how teens talk” doesn’t fly because all teens don’t talk like that. Profanity is powerful. It can add realism and emotional color to your character. But if it’s overused, it loses its power.

With regard to edgy topics, nothing’s off-limits in teens’ lives, so why should it be off-limits in their literature? But writing about edgy content adds an element of responsibility. Actions have consequences in the real world and they should be shown realistically. Stories need to be written in a realistic, big-picture way. Main characters must be well-developed so the reader understands the “why” of his words and actions.

The struggle that comes with making a difficult decision must be shown. And when it comes to decisions, it’s not about right and wrong - it’s about what’s true to the character.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two autographed copies of Dear Life, You Suck by Scott Blagden (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), each with a Dear Life, You Suck T-shirt. Author sponsored; eligibility: U.S.

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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 learn all about Camp Boyfriend (Spencer Hill).

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Celebration of Poison & Author Bridget Zinn

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Attention Central Texans! Come to a celebration of Bridget Zinn's Poison at 7:30 p.m. April 19 at BookPeople in Austin. From BookPeople:

Join us tonight for a very special celebration of late author Bridget Zinn and her debut novel, Poison (Hyperion, 2013).

A librarian and active member of the children's and YA communities in Madison, Wisconsin and Portland, Oregon, Bridget was a true book person who brought her love to bear on the page.

The result is Poison, her new YA fantasy novel.

We're honored to be part of a nationwide series of events remembering Bridget and celebrating her book and thrilled to welcome the following local Austin authors to celebrate with us: Lindsey Lane; P.J. Hoover; Cory Putnam Oakes; Nikki Loftin; Susan Kralovansky; Greg Leitich Smith; Cynthia Leitich Smith.

P.J. Hoover, Cory Putnam Oaks and Nikki Loftin will read an excerpt from Poison. Everyone will be available to sign copies of the book!

About Poison

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.

Book Trailer: The Sasquatch Escape (The Imaginary Veterinary: Book 1) by Suzanne Selfors, illustrated by Dan Santat

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for The Sasquatch Escape (The Imaginary Veterinary: Book 1) by Suzanne Selfors, illustrated by Dan Santat (Little Brown, 2013. From the promotional copy:

When Ben Silverstein is sent to the rundown town of Buttonville to spend the summer with his grandfather, he's certain it will be the most boring vacation ever. That is, until his grandfather's cat brings home what looks like . . . a baby dragon?

Amazed, Ben enlists the help of Pearl Petal, a local girl with an eye for adventure. They take the wounded dragon to the only veterinarian's office in town -- Dr. Woo's Worm Hospital. But as Ben and Pearl discover once they are inside, Dr. Woo's isn't a worm hospital at all -- it's actually a secret hospital for imaginary creatures.

After Ben accidentally leaves the hospital's front door unlocked, a rather large, rather stinky, and very hairy beast escapes into Buttonville. Ben and Pearl are tasked with retrieving the runaway creature, and what started out as an ordinary summer becomes the story of a lifetime.

Suzanne Selfors delivers a wild journey filled with mythical creatures and zany adventures that are anything but imaginary.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Guest Post & Giveaway: Kathy Duval on Magic With a Bit of Serendipity

By Kathy Duval
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Stories ideas generally come to me in bits and pieces. Their arrival can be troublesome when I’m trying to concentrate on something else.

For example, when I’m watching a great movie and I don’t have any paper, and it’s too dark in the theater to write, anyway.

I lovingly collect the fragments I do manage to capture and am ecstatic when one sparks an idea for a story. Then I tune my antennae for other ideas to connect to it, so that writing can begin.

However, Take Me To Your BBQ (Hyperion, 2013) arrived fully formed. I was struggling with another project, wanting to put my head down and groan, when two lines popped into my head. “Yippee-ki-yi! Yippee-ki-yo! I think I see a UFO.”

This happened long before the movie "Cowboys and Aliens." At that time, neither cowboys nor aliens occupied much of my cerebral territory. They’d simply appeared out of the blue— sort of like a UFO.

Kathy's journal
I laughed at my silly idea and spent the afternoon writing the story of a farmer named Willy and his encounter with little barbeque-loving green men.

Then I forgot about it.

I believe I initially dismissed this story because it came so easily. And it was in rhyme. Picture books in rhyme don’t sell. You know that, right?

I’m reluctant to tell this story because it reinforces a stereotype. People who aren’t writers often have the idea that all picture books are written in a single afternoon.

When I ask kids in schools how long they think it took me to write The Three Bears' Christmas (Holiday House), the answers range somewhere between five minutes and two hours.

When I tell them I wrote seven versions, and it took a year, they are shocked. Even grownups don’t know that shorter doesn’t equal easier, unless they try to write a picture book themselves.

However, I decided to tell this story, because I realized I actually had been working on this book for a very long time. Writers are urged to write what they know, but writing is also a bridge that connects us to what we don’t know.

I’d spent years writing to build my bridge, and in a moment of magic, I got a ride across in the fast lane.

Now here’s the bit of serendipity. Six months later, on Jan. 8, I re-discovered that quirky little story. It made me laugh again, so I decided to polish it for submission. Several weeks later, I watched Larry King interview residents of Stephenville, Texas (including a farmer) who had sighted a UFO.

On Jan. 8.

What a grand coincidence!

Can you pick out Kathy in her cowgirl outfit?
However, it was no coincidence when Disney-Hyperion chose Adam McCauley to illustrate Take Me To Your BBQ. His vision for this book was inspired.

A delight for a picture book writer is seeing what happens when “your story” becomes “our story.” After I cooked up this cowboy+alien+BBQ dish, the immensely talented Adam McCauley spiced it up and presented the plate with panache.

Pure magic.

Cynsational Giveaway 

Enter to win a copy of Take Me To Your BBQ by Kathy Duval, illustrated by Adam McCauley (Hyperion, 2013). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Event Report: There Was A Tall Texan Who Swallowed a Flea

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author Susie Kralovansky and illustrator Deborah Ousley Kadair recently launched There Was a Tall Texan Who Swallowed a Flea (Pelican, 2013) at BookPeople in Austin. Susie is a former children's librarian, and that experience certainly paid off in her planning and hosting the event.

Featured elements included thematic food and costuming, a costume contest (with prizes), a story-behind-the-story presentation by the author, additional insights from the illustrator, an interactive reading (assisted by young fans) and a signing.

With debut author Susie before the event; learn more about her!
With my writing hero, Betty X Davis, who's actively publishing children's stories in her 90s.
Susie offers insights into the story behind the story.
Thematic costuming, including a contest with prizes, and refreshments added to the fun!
Illustrator Deborah steps to the podium to share her insights.
Susie confers with young fans so they can help act out her reading.
Each child acts out one story element and all chime in on repetitive language.
Readers line up to get their books signed! (That's Austin illustrator Clint G. Young, taking photos!)
Susie and Deborah sign together!
Austin writer Shelli Cornelison models the new book!
If you're a children's-YA writer--especially if you've signed a publishing contract but your first book isn't out yet--I highly recommend attending book launches.

It gives you an opportunity to support your fellow writers and illustrators, connect with the youth literature community, support bookstores, discover new books for enjoyment and study, and get ideas for your own future events. It can really help to see what other folks are doing, to gauge what might work for you and what you might do differently, depending on your specific book(s), personality and age market.
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