Saturday, October 12, 2013

BlogTalkRadio Interview: Greg Leitich Smith on the Peshtigo School Novels

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Greg Leitich Smith talks about new editions of his Peshtigo School novels:

Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo was a Parents' Choice Gold Award winner, Junior Library Guild selection and ALA Popular Paperback. It's companion, Tofu and T.rex, was a finalist for the Texas Reading Association Golden Spur Award and Writers' League of Texas Book Award.

Order Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo and Tofu and T.rex, both comedies featuring academically gifted kids at set at the fictional Peshtigo School of Chicago. The books were originally published by Little, Brown.

Greg also is the author of Chronal Engine (Clarion, 2012), a dinosaur time-travel adventure, and the forthcoming Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook, 2014), which is about what happens after a UFO appears over Cape Canaveral.

Friday, October 11, 2013

"Glee" Celebrates Finn Hudson

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

“Glee” is a musical dramedy television show, focused on a small-town, high-school glee club.

The humor is sharp, sometimes cutting, the emotion intense, and the song-and-dance numbers often rise to fantasy elements.

I’m a fan, a Gleek.

I felt loss, sadness and frustration when one of the show’s stars, actor Cory Monteith, died of a drug overdose in July.

Not a personal loss. I didn’t know the young actor, but I admired his talent and watched his skill set grow over the course of the series. I appreciated his performance of the character Finn Hudson.

As a YA author, I follow media related to teens and their culture. I’ve read essays arguing that “Glee” had a responsibility to directly address the circumstances of Cory’s death in the tribute episode that aired last night. Some suggested that the writers should insert Cory’s situation into Finn’s storyline. “Don’t do drugs” should be the theme, they claimed. Anything else or less would be irresponsible.

After all, they pointed out, “Glee” frequently touches on societal issues—such as eating disorders, homophobia and domestic violence—that affect adolescents. Concerns were expressed about romanticizing addiction.

How could the writers not take advantage of this opportunity to perhaps save young lives?

I understand the compulsion. The passion and the pain behind it.

It’s an important message (drugs can kill you), but this wasn’t that opportunity.

“Glee” was right.

Cory Montieth played Finn Hudson.

Cory Montieth was not actually Finn Hudson.

Teens are smart enough to know the difference.

Theme only resonates when fiction rings true. Finn wasn’t a minor character. He was the quarterback, the leader, and, to showstopper Rachel Barbra Berry, the leading man.

Viewers know Finn didn’t have a substance abuse problem. Forcing one in wouldn't have been playing fair with the audience. It would be inconsistent, and consistency is the key to resonance.

Think about it. Last night, Finn was compared to Superman.

Broad strokes, less loaded context:

If Superman was suddenly invulnerable to green kryptonite, without prior warning or explanation, and therefore, a villain’s scheme to kill him failed…would you find that satisfying?

No, it’s a cheat. It’s inconsistent with what you know about the Man of Steel. It doesn't ring true.

And if that example sounds trivial, you’re missing the point.

Stories shape our hearts. But storytelling must be sufficiently cohesive to make viewers suspend disbelief, which in turn, is necessary to their caring enough to keep watching (or in the case of a novel, to keep turning pages).

To exploit details of Cory Montieth’s death in a celebration of Finn Hudson’s life would strain credibility to the point that any intended anti-drug theme would, at best, fall flat.

Beyond that, the big-picture takeaway, one that grew organically from Finn’s character, is terrific. It's that the way we live, the choices we make, the people we love, matter.

In many ways, Finn Hudson was a breakthrough teen character, a remarkable role model. He was the popular guy, the athlete who could’ve played high school for glory days.

Instead, he pursued what he loved—musical performance, even though he wasn’t a natural at all aspects of it. He allied himself with the artistic kids, the outsiders, his gay stepbrother, and his true love (despite her early sweaters). He was taking steps toward defining his life's dreams.

Finn was talking about becoming a teacher.

His lesson was: The way we live matters.

Celebrate that.

Cynsational Notes

After the episode, three of the actors did offer information on how to get help for drug abuse (1.800.622.HELP). That felt appropriate. Hopefully, it made a positive difference.

Today's teens are the most info-saturated generation of all time. They already knew how Cory died. There was no need to treat it like breaking news. Not spelling it out again in no way erased their knowledge.

During the show itself, no cause of death was given for Finn. It’s a plot hole—for some, a distraction, but also a judgment call.

Actor Chris Colfer's character Kurt Hummel says, "Everyone wants to talk about how he died, but who cares?" That signals a deliberate choice.

The episode was about grief and memorializing. Would a random cause of death have diluted the focus?

I believe so. Years ago, a woman I didn’t recognize reached out to hug me before my dad's funeral. She whispered in my ear, urgently, “How did your father die?”

It brought me back, in a flash, to his bedside at the hospital. It made the moment about that tangled set of painful circumstances rather than who he was as a person. It shifted the focus entirely.

I shook it off. "Glee" did the same. Was it easy? No, but it was necessary.

For those in mourning, that’s not what a memorial is about.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Mixing Music Into Your Writing by Alexandra Monir from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "I knew that my readers needed more than just lyric excerpts on the page—they needed to hear the songs, as Michele and Philip would have heard them. So I set about recording their songs with a ten-piece band, which was the ultimate thrill."

The Unjournal of Children's Literature: " online, open-access, peer-reviewed...experience! strives to be more interactive than a traditional journal and encourages and embraces developing ideas and emerging voices in the field of children’s literature." Source: Debbie Reese.

The Cybils 2013: nominate a book for the children's and young adult book blogger awards. If you are an author, publisher or publicist, wait until after the public nomination period. You may nominate from Oct. 16 to Oct. 26.

28 Days Later: Call for Submissions from The Brown Bookshelf: United in Story. Peek: "The submissions window has officially opened for the seventh annual 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month celebration of picture books, middle grade and young adult novels written and illustrated by African Americans. We will take nominations today through Nov. 8."

Is Teen Too Young To Publish? by Deborah Halverson from Peek: "With your parents’ help, get an agent to protect your rights, manage the money, and devise safe ways to put you and your books ‘out there.’"

The Author Died of Exposure by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "Sure, we need the general public to know we exist, to know what our work is like, and where they can buy our works. But we also have to pay our bills."

Latin@s in Kidlit: Exploring the World of Latino/a YA, MG and Children's Literature. Peek: "...share perspectives and resources that can be of use to writers, authors, illustrators, librarians, parents, teachers, scholars, and other stakeholders in literacy and publishing."

Does a Book Need a Hook? by Chris Eboch from Project Mayhem. Peek: "A hook—in this case the 'high concept' idea—can grab the reader’s attention and make a book stand out."

Diversity for the "Cultureless" by Shana Mlawski from Heck YA. Peek: "...the lack of white diversity in YA is far, far less urgent a problem than the lack of characters of color. But it's still a problem. It bugs me when I see white protagonists that seem to have been plucked from some over-tested, middle-of-the-road sitcom." See also True or False? Multicultural Books Don't Sell by Elizabeth Bluemle from Lee & Low.

How to Turn Real Science into Great Science Fiction by Charlie Jane Anders from io9. Peek: "Is there a particular journal that you should make sure to read? Should you actually try to talk to scientists? And how do you find a story that hasn't been done before?"

Cynsational Giveaways

The winners of Texting the Underworld by Ellen Booraem were Katy in Michigan and Paige in Utah.

See also Young Adult Fiction Giveaways from Adventures in YA Publishing.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

The Austin SCBWI Graphic Novel workshop at St. Edward's University.
Afternoon panel with editor Calista Brill and author-illustrator Dave Roman of First Second.
At BookPeople with Shelli Cornelison, Greg Leitich Smith & April Lurie

Celebrating Entangled by Amy Rose Capetta & Promise Me Something by Sara Kocek

Even More Personally

Leo in a box--about the size of my college apartment 

Personal Links

Congrats to Greg Leitich Smith on new these new editions!

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will offer several presentations the week of Oct. 20 in conjunction with Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000) being the featured title for children as part of the 2013 One Book, One San Diego campaign, sponsored by KBPS, more details forthcoming.

Cynthia Leitich Smith joins featured authors at the Texas Book Festival Oct. 26 and Oct. 27 at the State Capitol Building in Austin. She will speak at the "Girl Power(s)" session with Kami Garcia and Jessica Khoury from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 26 in Capitol Extension Room E2.014, with a book signing immediately following.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at the Illumine Award Nov. 8 at the downtown Hilton in Austin, Texas.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at the Kidlitosphere Conference Nov.  9 in Austin, Texas.

Cynthia Leitich Smith (Feral Nights) and P.J. Hoover (Solstice) will sign their new releases from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Barnes & Noble in Round Rock, Texas.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will speak at the Florida Association for Media in Education Conference Nov. 20 to Nov. 22 in Orlando.

The Craft & Business of Writing: Everything You wanted to Know About Writing, a fundraiser featuring C.C. Hunter, Miranda James and Lori Wilde for the Montgomery County Book Festival, on Nov. 16 at Lone Star College Montgomery Campus in Houston. Fee: $100. Registration deadline: Nov. 10. See more information. Register here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Editor Interview: Anny Rusk on IntoPrint Publishing, LLC.

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Welcome to Cynsations, Anny! 

Could you share with us the history of IntoPrint Publishing?

John Campbell and Greg Luther realized that in the tech age there’s no such thing as an out-of-print book, just books that haven’t been read yet.

In addition, as readers, both Greg and John were frustrated by their inability to find certain out-of-print books.

Upon further investigation, they realized that many out-of-print books still had readers who wanted to buy them and that the authors of these books were losing out on untapped revenue.

IntoPrint was created to help author and reader reconnect.

Who are the people behind the company?

John Campbell—John has enjoyed a twenty-year career in publishing with a focus on operations including order fulfillment, manufacturing (printing), design, marketing and sales. In that time, he has successfully built business platforms to support the changing needs of publishers.

John also practiced corporate law, and as befits business in Nashville, spent a fair share of his time on intellectual property issues for music publishers.

John is excited about the future of book publishing and the ability to connect readers and authors.

Greg Luther—Greg is an avid reader and book collector with 30 years of experience in business, half of which has been as an entrepreneur. He has been a technology management executive in financial services, an educational software developer, a management consultant, and a private investment manager.

An overarching theme of Greg's work has been finding ways to use information technology to help people learn and work better. IntoPrint Publishing is the latest instance of that longstanding effort.

Anny Rusk—I’ve always written, be it lyrics, marketing copy, or books. Before I became an acquisitions editor at IntoPrint, I was a singer/songwriter and co-founded a music licensing company.

When not talking to authors about IntoPrint, I’m writing a middle grade chick-lit/fantasy novel. I’m also a Harvard College graduate.

What is the mission of IntoPrint?

By Greg Leitich Smith - now available!
IntoPrint’s mission is to serve authors by republishing their out-of-print works to the reading public, and in doing so, help them to make a living from their craft.

We think that serving authors’ needs helps readers, too. For readers, we represent an opportunity to discover, purchase, and read excellent works that have disappeared simply because their sales may not have met the financial requirements of a large publishing company.

What types of books are within your focus?

Our focus is out-of-print books. We welcome all genres in fiction and nonfiction, and most formats including picture books and graphic novels. (We don’t republish coffee table books and the like.)

Why is now the time for this idea?

How many times have you gone to the bookstore, or online, to search for a book you want to read again, or one that was recommended to you, only to find that it’s out-of-print?

As readers, we’re being deprived of a treasure trove of works because traditional publisher’s business models require them to dump books that fall below a certain sales number, often within months of the book’s release. Digital technology allows us to keep these books available by keeping our costs low; thus, we don’t have sales minimums for our books.

We think it’s time that the 99% of authors who want to keep their books out in the market, but who haven’t been well served by the traditional publishing industry, have a publisher who will allow their work to continue to be read.

Do you work with any author who contacts you or is this a selective submission process? 

By Greg Leitich Smith - now available!
It’s a two-way selective process. The author has to feel that IntoPrint is the right place for their work, and so do we. Once an author submits their book, we review it.

If we think that our business model will serve the author and the book, we’ll move on to the next step.

At any point before a contract is signed the author can walk away if she/he decides that we’re not a good fit.

What are the logistics of getting a book back into print?

First we scan our physical book(s), or we convert the author’s Word doc, PDF file, or InDesign files into print-ready digital files. Then we convert them into e-book formats.

Once we have these finished digital files, we use Ingram’s global distribution network to make our print books available to over 30,000 retailers in 100 countries, and our e-books available to 160 online distributors including Amazon for the Kindle, Barnes and Noble for the Nook, and Apple’s iBookstore for the iPad. (See our Web site for a more detailed list.)

Why should authors choose IntoPrint? What are the benefits? How do you stand out and above other options?

We do all the work required to get our authors’ books back into the marketplace. They don't have to master new software, technology, or complicated business arrangements. And they don't have to pay for a series of service "packages." Because we are a publisher and not an author services company, we only make money if authors’ books do, and we do that in partnership with our authors.

Our print quality is excellent and we have a lot of options. Print on demand technology now uses the highest quality inkjet printers in addition to the toner-based solutions that marked the early years of print on demand publishing.

Our authors receive a sliding-scale royalty based on net sales that starts at 50% and goes up depending upon units sold. There are no upfront charges for digital conversion or distribution, and we pay for marketing. Our contract has a five-year term, but if book sales fall below a lower limit, the author has the option to terminate the agreement before then.

In addition, we support our books with what we call Discoverability Marketing. We’ll create a profile for your book, including a description, author information, available reviews etc., and send it to online bookstores like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, as well as to reader sites such as Goodreads.

Using continuous search-engine- optimization and search-engine-marketing techniques, we’ll also increase the likelihood that your book will pop up when readers search for you, your title, or keywords related to your title—making it easy to purchase.

We understand that authors have a great deal at stake in terms of their personal brand. Our intention is to go forward as partners and provide visibility to our process and methods so that the author is comfortable with IntoPrint.

Publishing is harder than it looks, and we aren’t perfect, but we want to do everything we can all the time to foster a trusting and effective relationship between us and our authors – and the same between authors and their readers.

How should authors contact you? What are key do's and don't's?

We welcome anyone with a previously published book to go to and submit your book to us for review.

At this time, we are not a good fit for unpublished authors. Our aim is to get previously published, out-of-print books back into the marketplace within 90 days or less. We’re not set up to edit, create cover art, and do all of the other steps that come with bringing an unpublished book to market for the first time. (Though that being said, some of our authors are dissatisfied with their book’s cover, and in those instances, we do work to obtain a new cover for the IntoPrint version.)

As a note, for those of you who want to submit picture books and/or graphic novels, we need both your consent and the illustrator’s consent before we can move forward.

Based on Ulman's Banner in the Sky,
Do you also publish original titles or only those that previously have been traditionally published?

We are open to taking self-published works if they meet our criteria.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

We recently decided to go look for James Ramsey Ullman’s titles. We’d read his mountaineering stories, and like for so many others, his words led us into the mountains.

We Googled his name – and in a several-step exchange found our way to his grand-daughter, who is the rights-holder on his work. We are in discussion to license these works and bring them back into print.

The lesson is that the technology—coupled with modern fulfillment practice—is enabling us to connect with authors and readers in a cost-effective manner that was impossible just a short time ago. I expect the same story to repeat itself for literally every genre over and over again.

We want to make out-of-print books a thing of the past.

Cynsational Notes

Greg Leitich Smith says:

"I’m absolutely thrilled to be bringing these books back into print with new editions and hilarious new covers.
"Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo and Tofu and T.rex are set in and around the world of the fictitious Peshtigo School, an academically rigorous and zany institution in downtown Chicago.
"Although I love the covers of the original editions, when it came time for new editions, we decided to go with a more cohesive, thematic look (see above).
"Tying it all together is the wrought-iron looking gate (the bird at the top of the gate is Phlogiston, the Warrior Penguin, the Peshtigo School’s mascot). And, since each of the books is told from multiple points of view, each corresponding to an element in the titles, it was decided to go that way with the cover elements, too."

Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo was a Parents' Choice Gold Award winner, Junior Library Guild selection and ALA Popular Paperback. It's companion, Tofu and T.rex, was a finalist for the Texas Reading Association Golden Spur Award and Writers' League of Texas Book Award.

Order Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo and Tofu and T.rex, both comedies featuring academically gifted kids at set at the fictional Peshtigo School of Chicago. The books were originally published by Little, Brown.

Greg also is the author of Chronal Engine (Clarion, 2012), a dinosaur time-travel adventure, and the forthcoming Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook, 2014), which is about what happens after a UFO appears over Cape Canaveral.

Greg is a popular speaker and writing teacher. His school programs connect language arts and science in a fun, kid-friendly way. See more information to book children's author Greg Leitich Smith.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Guest Post: Angie Smibert on How Not to Write a Series. Or How to Dig a Rabbit Hole.

Read chapter one!
By Angie Smibert
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

How do you end a trilogy or series?

That is a good question. As I look back on writing the Memento Nora series, I feel like I’m more qualified to talk about how not to write one—let alone end one.

First of all, I didn’t intend Memento Nora to be a series. When I sold it, I thought it was a stand alone. (And that probably shows!) I had the ending and epilogue firmly in mind.

(Spoiler alert: Nora would sacrifice herself and her memory and ultimately save her mom. Her mom would hear Nora’s story, then spit out the pill, and later tell Nora what happened. The end.)

But somewhere in the revision process, my brilliant editor, Marilyn Brigham, scribbled a question in the margins that changed everything. Would Nora, the old Nora, the Nora who’d forgotten everything that happened in the book, believe her mom?

Facepalm. She certainly would not.

And at that point I saw where the story needed to go next. Or at least I thought I did. I thought I had a brilliant idea about how Nora and Micah would rediscover what they’d forgotten from book 1.

I wrote a version of The Forgetting Curve that summer and subbed it…and the publisher turned it down. Needless to say I was more than a little deflated.

Lesson 1: Writing the second book is really hard.

But it’s a good thing Marshall Cavendish passed on it.

That version of The Forgetting Curve did continue the story, but it didn’t cover new ground, either in terms of character development, theme, or plot. And that version didn’t advance the overall plot of the series. It didn’t take the reader further down the rabbit hole—or deeper into Mordor or the Matrix, depending on your taste in analogies.

Each book in a series or trilogy has its own story, but each also has to fit into an overall story arc that progresses with each new book.

Lesson 2: Lead the reader (and characters) farther down the rabbit hole with each book.

Still, I knew there was more story there. So I stared at the proverbial drawing board (AKA, out the window) until I saw it. And I saw that I’d need new characters to tell the next part of the story and give the reader a wider perspective on this dank rabbit hole I was digging. And since I’d made everyone from the first book forget what happened, someone new had to play detective. Enter Aiden and Velvet. (Technically, Velvet wasn’t new, but she’d only had a few lines in the first book.)

Lesson 3: Don’t dig yourself into too tight of a corner!

So then I wrote spec chapters of my new version of The Forgetting Curve (which the publisher liked, thank goodness)—and I nearly spit-taked coffee all over the dashboard of my car when my agent told me how soon I needed to have the rest done.

Publishers like to have books in a series, at least a YA one, come out not more than a year apart.

Lesson 4: Write fast!

Again I ended the second book with a key character getting her memory wiped (or did she), but at least this time I didn’t erase everyone’s memories (See lesson #3.) This time I also had an idea where the third book was going.

I sold The Meme Plague on spec. (I learned that lesson, too.)

And I did not spit-take coffee this time when told it was due in a month (not kidding), but then my agent got me two months, which seemed like total luxury. Still.

Lesson 5: Write smart—and fast!

The key challenge in book 3 was to tie up everyone’s story as well as the overarching one (on top of revealing what’s at the bottom of the rabbit hole)—while not making it too pat.

Easy. (Ha.)

The latter part of that requirement was mainly because I don’t like pat endings. I love stories that leave a little to the imagination and not everyone gets what they wanted. Life is messy, and fiction should be, too. At least a wee bit.

During the revision process of book 3 I did end up including additional points of view and storylines in order to show what happens to Winter and Aiden. (Another brilliant suggestion from Marilyn.)

Read Chapter One!
The POVs of the last book are Micah, Nora, and Velvet because they needed to tell this part of the story, but I ended up adding Winter and Aiden because we (me included) really needed to find out what happens to them.

Lesson 6: Wrap up everyone’s story lines without totally tying them up in a neat bow.

(Spoiler alert: The ending of The Meme Plague may leave some things open, world-wise, but at this point, I think the main characters’ jobs are done. Or at least they’ve done what they can do for now.)

Some people might read the ending and think, oh, she must have another one planned. But this time I don’t. Yet.

Lesson 7: Stop when the characters are finished with their jobs.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

New Voice: A.B. Westrick on Brotherhood

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

A.B. Westrick is the first-time author of Brotherhood (Viking, 2013). From the promotional copy:

The year is 1867, and Richmond, Virginia, lies in ruins. 

By day fourteen-year-old Shadrach apprentices with a tailor and sneaks off for reading lessons with Rachel, a freed slave, at her school for African-American children. By night he follows his older brother to the meetings of a brotherhood, newly formed to support Confederate widows and grieving families like his. 

As the true murderous mission of the brotherhood—now known as the Ku Klux Klan—emerges, Shad is trapped between his pledge to them and what he knows is right. 

In this unflinching view of the bitter animosity that stemmed from economic and social upheaval in the South during the period of Reconstruction, it’s clear that the Civil War has ended, but the conflict isn’t over.

What inspired you to choose the particular point of view featured in your novel? What considerations came into play? Did you try the story from a different point of view at some point? If so, what made you change your mind?

Research photo of Richmond, Virginia after the Civil War
I drafted Brotherhood in first person, present tense, but on revision changed the manuscript to third person, past tense. Such a difference!

I love to draft in first person-present because it’s intense. It’s arresting. First person-present forces me to enter into my protagonist’s world and imagine his actions as if they are happening right now: I smell what he smells, and touch what he touches. I taste, see and hear the specific, concrete moments of his life.

To some extent, I experience his emotions while I’m writing, and can observe exactly what my own body is doing. Am I breathing or holding my breath? Curling my toes? Clutching the edge of my desk? Chewing on the inside of my lip… or my fingernail… or a pencil eraser?

First person-present demands a sense of immediacy that’s honest and real, and forces me to shed stereotypical concepts of who I think this character might be or become. Instead of an idea or symbol or construct, he becomes an individual.

But my first person-present version was over the top! My protagonist is an illiterate 14 year-old boy whose awful grammar is difficult to read. Sure, I created a strong voice with an honest cadence rolling on the page—I could hear him speak—but the choppiness of the dialect detracted from the story. I had to let it go.

Visit Kathi Appelt
I decided to keep his Southern dialect in passages of dialogue, and remove it from narrative sections, and I rewrote the story in third person. But even in the dialogue, there were times when I cleaned up the words, knowing that once the lilt of his speech was established, the reader would supply the Southern accent organically. Readers would hear him; they’d get it.

So for example, instead of writing something like, “we gonna git ’im,” I’d spell it correctly (“we’re going to get him”) and leave the pronunciation to the reader.

(By the way, it was my advisor at VCFA, Kathi Appelt, who helped me wrestle with these tense and point of view changes. Oh, that we could all have critique buddies like Kathi Appelt!)

When I switched to third person, I considered omniscient third, and decided that it created a greater sense of distance and perspective than I wanted. So I re-wrote in close-third. When the protagonist learns something, the reader learns it simultaneously and not before.

As someone with a MFA in Writing for Children (and Young Adults), how did your education help you advance in your craft? What advice do you have for other MFA students/graduates in making the transition between school and publishing as a business?

I’m a debut author, so I’m still figuring out the business, and there’s a lot to figure out! You can put your whole day, every day, into social media and book promotion, but if you don’t love the process of writing, if you don’t write for the story and the language and the characters, and instead you write only for the business, well, I don’t know what to tell you. I wouldn’t be able to do it. For me, the writing of fiction comes first, the business second.

Visit A.B. Westrick
How did the MFA help me with the business? It helped me improve my writing! And when I was ready to pitch my manuscript, mentioning the MFA piqued my agent's interest. But the writing had to speak for itself.

I remember that in my first phone call with the woman who is now my editor, she asked if I’d be willing to make significant revisions to the manuscript, and I said, “Yes, by all means.

After Vermont College, revision is my middle name.” Or I said something like that. (You know, I have no idea what I said. It was my first-ever conversation with a New York editor. I think I babbled a lot.)

But my point is that I think she felt better about taking a risk on me—a debut author, no track record—knowing that I had an MFA. The degree reassured her that I would approach revision requests professionally.

But even with the MFA, I think there’s a “don’t quit the day job” mentality in the world of writers, and that’s probably good advice. Writing doesn’t necessarily pay the bills. Many authors supplement their royalties with speaking engagements.

To aspiring authors, I’d say: don’t get an MFA because you think it will help you with the business. Get an MFA because it will make your writing better and will challenge you, and you’ll have to write so much that it will help you decide whether you’re cut out to be a writer. Whether you enjoy hours spent alone. Whether you love the process. Because if you don’t love it, and if there’s anything else that you could be happy with and make money doing, I’d suggest that you consider seeking the other thing rather than writing.

A.B.'s work space
Cynsational Notes

Of her workspace, A.B. reports, "I grew up with that lamp, and inherited it when my parents downsized to a retirement community. My daughter did the painting over my desk; it’s her illustration of Mark Mathabane’s autobiography, Kaffir Boy. (My daughter is a painter, living in Brooklyn.) The starfish inspires me, the heater warms me in the winter, and books pile up faster than I can read them."

A.B. won the SCBWI Book Launch Award. She says: "My winning proposal included the plan that I would get students to write, revise, rehearse and record stories in the format of NPR’s 'This American Life.' Then I’d post the recordings on my website. I’ve had a blast doing this! My website now includes a page called 'Students' where you can listen to students reading their own writings."

Monday, October 07, 2013

Guest Post & Giveaway: Lyn Miller-Lachmann on the Best Book Launch Party Ever

By Lyn Miller-Lachmann
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Six weeks before my novel Rogue (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2013) came out, I attended a friend’s launch party and thought, “I could never pull this off.”

Her apartment building’s party room was jam-packed with guests, everyone had a good time, and all her books sold out.

I have Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism, which makes it difficult for me to connect with people and organize big events. I also don’t like noisy, crowded parties.

But I wanted my book to be noticed on its launch day, and I wanted to feel like this—the arrival of my first novel from a major publisher—was a special day for me.

Rogue is about a young teenager who, like me, is on the autism spectrum. She is obsessed with the X-Men, mutant superheroes who have been excluded from society but who have unusual special powers that can save society. She sees herself as a mutant, but one who has not yet found her special power.

As Rogue’s launch day approached, I thought about my own obsessions and my own special power. Over the past several years, I have built an entire Lego city and created various story lines with minifigures. I thought, “Why not use my minifigures to celebrate my book?”

I’d recently bought a Lego picture frame that I could use as a billboard, and I had barriers to block off streets and plenty of Lego people to show up to an all-day block party.

In the morning, I set up and photographed the billboard and the start of the celebration, complete with the BMX bikers and skateboarders who play a major role in Rogue. I posted the photo on Facebook and tweeted it to my followers.

Many wrote in their congratulations, and I sent them additional photos of my Lego city, Little Brick Township, in appreciation of their support.

The big event happened at night, when one of Little Brick Township’s popular bands, SlikMoovs, played at the huge party and dance.

Social communication is one of the greatest challenges of persons on the autism spectrum, but as Temple Grandin has pointed out, there are many ways to communicate.

In creating my launch party, I played with two-dimensional images, three-dimensional figures, light and shadow, and narrative to convey an imaginary community’s celebration via social media. I had fun, and I believe that I brought joy to others through my art. Above all, I found a creative solution to what was for me a seemingly insurmountable problem.

Teachers know that not every student is an academic star. Not every student is a leader who can gather people around him or her and get things done. Not every student comes with an entourage of friends.

Students possess a wide range of abilities and challenges, and teachers have the tough task of bringing out the best in each student, and giving everyone a chance to shine.

I hope my book launch party gives you ideas for your classroom or library and serves as inspiration to help each of your students find his or her special power.

Cynsational Notes & Giveaway

LEGOctober: Lyn's reflections on what the Little Brick Township has taught her about writing.

Enter to win a signed hardcover copy of Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2013). The first person in the comments to identify the language of the green and white sign just above and to the left of the billboard in the first Lego photo will win. Be sure to include a link to your contact information/Twitter account. Author sponsored. Eligibility: international.
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