Friday, April 21, 2017

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

The Changing Face of Family by Natasha Friend from CBC Diversity. Peek: "The traditional definition of family as a married mother and father and their children living under the same roof is woefully outdated, not to mention exclusionary."

A New Voice in Kid's Books by Melanie Kletter from Time For Kids Magazine. Peek: (Hena Khan) "....I had heard of resistance to mosques being built in communities, and some vandalism at mosques. It was an important theme that I wanted to address. But I didn’t want the book to be only about that. I wanted a character that readers could relate to and get to know and love."

While We're On the Subject of Shame by Gail Gauthier from Original Content. Peek: "We want to feel good now. We want to avoid what's making us feel bad (being ashamed of not working harder and longer, for instance), and we want to avoid it right away. Which usually means doing something easier and more fun than staying on task with our work."

Deprogramming Caution by Jan O'Hara from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "....certain types of occupational training, especially training connected to professions like law and medicine, invite caution and steadiness, making it harder to enter the entrepreneurial mindset or take creative leaps."

Wrap It Up by Dave King from Writer UnBoxed. Peek: "If it feels at all contrived, your readers will lose their suspension of disbelief.  This is most critical with your ending."

Trees, Forests, and Human Myopia by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing With a Broken Tusk. Peek: "Trees support one another. Some are bullies and others are loners. They have friends; they feel loneliness and pain. They communicate through networks of roots. It’s a compelling argument to rethink how we have been looking at nature for over a century...."

Dedicated Middle School Collections in the Public Library: A New Trend? by Christina Keasler from School Library Journal. Peek: "Many librarians now see the importance of providing safe places that are a haven for students in those formative years after elementary school but before high school."

Women Write About Family, Men Write About War by Andrew Piper and Richard Jean So from New Republic. Peek: "In the world of writing, gender bias has come to be seen as particularly entrenched, and in 2009, VIDA...began what they called 'the count.' The results...Men appeared 66 percent more often in The New York Times Book Review."

Two Booksellers Set Date for Inaugural Texas Bookstore Day by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Texas is increasingly becoming more relevant to the national bookselling scene, and several independent bookstores are slated to open in the state this summer....Interabang Books in Dallas.... and a second branch of Deep Vellum Books in Grapevine."

On SCBWI, Advice for Authors and Illustrators by Guiseppe Castellano from #ARTTIPS. Peek: "If you think SCBWI is just a bunch of grandparents painting bunnies, you are sorely mistaken. Attendees at SCBWI conferences are comprised of authors and illustrators of every talent level at almost every point of a career."

How to Support An Author or Illustrator's Book If You Can't Afford to Buy It by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl. Peek: "Post a photo of the book in the wild....Make your post more personal by taking a selfie of you holding the author's book, or another reader with the book -- photos with people in them always get more Like-love."

Congratulations to the Finalists for the SEE-It Graphic Novel Award from EBSCO and the Graphic Novel Committee of the Children's Book Council!

This Week at Cynsations
More personally - Cynthia

Cynthia is currently on deadline, polishing her contemporary realistic YA manuscript for Candlewick. It is tentatively scheduled for release in fall 2018.

Cynsational Events

Cynthia is a faculty member for the Highlights Foundation Workshop: The Joke's On You! The Scoop on Humor for MG and YA writers, Oct. 12 - 15. She will teach with author Uma Krishnaswami, writer-poetic-comedian Sean Petrie and Curtis Brown Ltd. agents Ginger Knowlton and Elizabeth Harding. Note: this program is: (a) a rare opportunity to gain insights from top writing teachers and Curtis Brown vice presidents: (b) both for comedy writers and those writing more serious works that include some comic relief.

More Personally - Gayleen

I made a quick trip to the Texas Library Association conference yesterday.

It was far too short, but I had the chance to say hello to a few friends I hadn't seen in a while, including my agent mates, Tim Tingle and Jessica Lee Anderson. We're all represented by Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Agency.

Tim's How I Became a Ghost (RoadRunner Press, 2013) remains one of my favorite MG novels and I'm eagerly awaiting When a Ghost Talks, Listen (RoadRunner Press, Sept. 2017).

I know I'm going to be up late reading the advance copy of Jessica's Uncertain Summer (CBAY Books, Sept. 2017) - it's about searching for Bigfoot....Tim's story in Flying Lessons & Other Stories (Crown, 2017) was "Choctaw Bigfoot, Midnight in the Mountains." I'm beginning to feel a little Sasquatch peer pressure here.

Personal Links




Thursday, April 20, 2017

Video: Celebrating Día with Pat Mora

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations



El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children's Day/Book Day), commonly known as Día, is a celebration every day of children, families, and reading that culminates yearly on April 30. The celebration emphasizes the importance of literacy for children of all linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Día is a nationally recognized initiative that emphasizes the importance of literacy for all children from all backgrounds. It is a daily commitment to linking children and their families to diverse books, languages and cultures.

Visit author Pat Mora's website for a Children's Day, Book Day Planning Booklet.

To find a Día celebration near you (or to list your own) visit Together with Día!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Our Story Begins

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Our Story Begins: Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew as Kids, edited by Elissa Brent Weissman (Atheneum, July 4, 2017) is now available for pre-order. From the promotional copy:

From award-winning author Elissa Brent Weissman comes a collection of quirky, smart, and vulnerable childhood works by some of today’s foremost children’s authors and illustrators—revealing young talent, the storytellers they would one day become, and the creativity they inspire today.

Everyone’s story begins somewhere…

For Linda Sue Park, it was a trip to the ocean, a brand-new typewriter, and a little creative license.

For Jarrett J. Krosoczka, it was a third grade writing assignment that ignited a creative fire in a kid who liked to draw.

For Kwame Alexander, it was a loving poem composed for Mother’s Day—and perfected through draft after discarded draft.

For others, it was a teacher, a parent, a beloved book, a word of encouragement. It was trying, and failing, and trying again. It was a love of words, and pictures, and stories.

Your story is beginning, too. Where will it go?


Featuring: "Dreams to Write" by Cynthia Leitich Smith



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Author Interview: Marianna Baer on the Twisty Turns of Becoming a YA Author

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

We welcome Marianna Baer to talk about her new YA novel, The Inconceivable Life of Quinn (Amulet, April 2017). From the promotional copy:

Quinn Cutler is sixteen and the daughter of a high-profile Brooklyn politician. 

She’s also pregnant, a crisis made infinitely more shocking by the fact that she has no memory of ever having sex. Before Quinn can solve this deeply troubling mystery, her story becomes public. Rumors spread, jeopardizing her reputation, her relationship with a boyfriend she adores, and her father’s campaign for Congress. 

Religious fanatics gather at the Cutlers’ home, believing Quinn is a virgin, pregnant with the next messiah. Quinn’s desperate search for answers uncovers lies and family secrets—strange, possibly supernatural ones. 

Might she, in fact, be a virgin?

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

I never grew out of my childhood love of picture books and novels for kids/teens, but it wasn’t until my 30s that I discovered my passion for writing them—through a somewhat circuitous route!

In college and after, I was all about visual art—I both made art myself and was the director of a gallery in New York City. On a bit of a whim, I took a class in editorial cartooning at the School of Visual Arts

At the end of the semester, the teacher asked if I’d considered illustrating children’s books – he thought my style would lend itself well to them. Despite my love of children’s lit, this possibility hadn’t occurred to me before. Taking his advice, I moved onto classes in illustrating kids’ books, taught by the wonderful Monica Wellington (a mentor to many in the field).
One of Marianna's illustrations

Monica had us write stories so we could practice illustrating complete narratives. 

After the class ended, I continued writing and illustrating book dummies. I still didn’t consider myself a Writer—I just wanted to have dummies to show publishers my illustration abilities. 

To strengthen my stories, I took an online class in writing for children of all ages. At the end of the semester, the teacher told me she thought my YA voice was particularly strong and that I should give a novel a try. 

Uh…what??? I had never considered myself capable of writing a novel. But, hey, what did I have to lose? I came up with an idea and started writing a draft.

And I never looked back. As much as I loved picture books and considered myself a visual artist, writing YA felt like coming home. (Not to mention that novels are easier than picture books. After 15 or so years of trying, I still haven’t written a great picture book!)

So, long story to say that while I always loved literature for kids, my path to writing for young readers was shaped by following my interests, listening to teachers, trying new things, and staying open to where I was led.

What inspired you to write this book?
 

I saw the Virgin Mary.

Well, sort of. There was this girl I used to see running in the park near my house, and something about her intrigued me. She looked like a “good girl” who was dealing with some difficult things behind the façade of perfection. 

Around that same time, I saw a painting of the Virgin Mary by Caravaggio at the Met. And it was the girl from the park! Caravaggio’s Virgin Mary from 1610 looked exactly like her. 

I thought to myself, “Aha! So that’s what the ‘good girl’ is dealing with!” A contemporary virgin pregnancy in Park Slope, Brooklyn. 

I knew it was a book I wanted to write.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing the text to life?

Ha! This question made me laugh, as an easier one to answer would be “What wasn't a challenge in bringing the text to life?”

Everything was a challenge! Finding the right point of view, figuring out what the character would do in this very strange situation, crafting the mystery, handling the religious aspects thoughtfully…

So, yes, I’m actually going to answer the alternate question, “What wasn't a challenge?” 

What wasn’t a challenge in bringing this book to life was maintaining my interest in the story. 

It was nine years from conception to publication, and while I wasn’t working on it that whole time, there were many years of labor and many challenges involved. And I can’t think of a moment when I lost my sense of engagement with the story. 

Sure, there were times when I wanted to give up because I felt like I couldn’t do it. But I never lost the desire to get the story out of my head and onto the page. 

I can’t say I love every single word in the book – I’m the type of writer who will lie in her grave wishing she could edit the words on her headstone – but I do love the story.

I understand you already knew your editor before she acquired The Inconceivable Life of Quinn? What was it like working with a friend?

It was great!
Marianna with editor Maggie Lehrman

I knew Maggie from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where we both got our MFA in writing for children and young adults. 

Looking back, I’m surprised I wasn’t nervous that having a previous friendship with my editor might cause sticky situations. But, in any case, the nerves would have been misplaced. 

Knowing Maggie made me comfortable communicating with her, helped me trust her advice (because I already knew how smart she was), and generally made me feel that my book was in very, very good hands.

And can I just give a shout out to the entire team at Amulet/Abrams? 

During the whole publication process, I felt like they cared so much about the book. For example, not only is the cover the most gorgeous cover ever (thanks largely to the illustration by Christopher Silas Neal), but the book is beautiful without the jacket, too! 



And instead of using black ink in the interior, they used deep blue! I will never stop being amazed by how beautiful the whole thing is as an object. 

 

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?

This is all very common advice, but it can’t be said enough:

1. Read! Read widely and voraciously in your genre—classics and contemporary, best sellers and award winners, books recommended by librarians and booksellers.... 

When you fall in love with a book, tear it apart. Figure out why you love it. Analyze every aspect. If it’s a picture book, type out the text to see what that reveals. If it’s a novel, type out a scene to feel the rhythm of the prose. 

I think reading widely and critically is the single most important thing a beginning writer can do.

2. Get feedback on your stories. Not from your kids and family members. Or, at least, not only from them. Find other writers in your area or online and join a critique group. Take a class if you can.

3. Know that the process of writing and revising a book, and the process of getting published, can take a verrrrrrry long time. Don’t be in a hurry. It’s like any skill—you need to put in the hours to get where you want to be. 

In some ways, no matter what happens in your career, your pre-publication days of experimentation and learning will be glory days—enjoy them!

Cynsational Notes

Marianna Baer received an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and a BA in art from Oberlin College.

She also attended boarding school, where she lived in a tiny dorm called Frost House, the inspiration for her first novel, Frost (Balzer & Bray, 2011). She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, the setting for The Inconceivable Life of Quinn.

Publishers Weekly gave The Inconceivable Life of Quinn a starred review. Peek: "In a suspenseful and thought-provoking novel, Baer tackles the illusiveness of memory (especially in regard to trauma), media firestorms, fear of the unknown, and the complexities of faith, without ever turning didactic or allowing Quinn’s story to fall into melodrama."


 


Monday, April 17, 2017

In Memory: Patricia C. McKissack

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Patricia C. McKissack, honored children's author from Chesterfield, dies at 72 by Jane Henderson
from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Peek: "...'I think my mother died of a broken heart.' Fredrick McKissack Jr. said his mother and father were 'best friends and partners.'”

Before becoming an author, Patricia earned a master's degree from Webster's University and taught English at a junior high school in Kirkwood, Missouri.

In a 1998 story by Renee Stovsky from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Patricia said frustration over lack of information on poet Paul Laurence Dunbar to share with her students fueled her drive to write children's books. Peek: "I realized then that if someone didn't start preserving these stories, an extremely important part of our heritage could be lost forever."

Not surprisingly, Paul Laurence Dunbar: A Poet to Remember (Children's Press, 1984) was one of her first published books. Dozens more quickly followed.

Before long, Fredrick left his civil engineering job to work on books with Patricia. Together, the McKissacks published more than 120 children's books on a wide range of topics from African history and customs to supernatural stories.

In For the McKissacks, Black is Boundless, Barbara Bader wrote for the Horn Book about the couple's prolific list. Peek: "The McKissacks do think big. 'We’re Kennedy products,' Pat McKissack has said — idealists and optimists."

In 2014, Frederick and Patricia McKissack received the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement from the American Library Association.

Patricia's The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Random House, 1992) won the Coretta Scott King Award in 1993 and was also a Newbery Honor Book. The same year, Sojourner Truth: Ain't I A Woman (Scholastic, 1992) co-authored by Frederick and Patricia also received the Coretta Scott King Honor Award.

Sojourner Truth: Ain't I A Woman also received the Boston Globe-Horn Book award for nonfiction. The McKissacks delivered the acceptance speech together. From Patricia: "Like most children of my generation, I was not introduced to African-American heroes through textbooks. History in the 1950s didn’t contain much information about African-American contributions....but we got our history in other ways." She explained how her Sunday school teachers combined spirituals and Bible truths. "We decided to use that format and begin each section of our book with a spiritual..."

Her Horn Book essay with Fredrick, You Can Be President, explores the magical things that can happen at family dinner.

In A Literary Love Story's Final Chapter, Kenya Vaughn from the St. Louis American wrote,"the couple decided that little black boys and girls deserved positive images of themselves and a broad scope of their people’s rich history as they turned the pages of books. The McKissacks knew that these words would be critical in shaping what they think, feel and know about who they are..."

In Rocco Stanio's article from School Library Journal, Jacqueline Woodson said of Patrica, "She was lovely and groundbreaking and doing the work that set so many of us in motion."

Patricia McKissack, Prolific Author Who Championed Black Heroes, Dies at 72 by Sam Roberts from the New York Times. Peek: "Ms. McKissack, who grew up in the segregated South and was the only black student in her sixth-grade class, wove the back-porch fables she remembered from childhood together with her own personal anecdotes (including a false accusation of thievery and a dinner at a whites-only restaurant) in fictional narratives."

Remembering the Life and Writing of Famed St. Louis Children's Author Patricia McKissack aired on St. Louis Public Radio. St. Louis librarian Jennifer Ilardi talked about Patricia's impact on her life. "...I’m biracial and finding other books that represented my father’s side of the family was tricky. Books are windows, mirrors, and doors....I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t have access to these type of books and her books when I was a child."

In reviewing Patricia's most recent book, Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs & Stories from an African American Childhood, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Random House, January 2017), Roger Sutton from the Horn Book called her "children's book royalty and storyteller supreme" and described the book as "a rich compilation."

The Horn Book called Patricia's death "a huge loss to the children's literature community."

Edith Campbell had a moving tribute to Patricia on Crazy QuiltEdi. Peek: "I’ve learned that we are all libraries, each carrying in us the stories that make us unique. And yet, there are those who are more than that; they’re the people who create the stories that express our shared identities, that inspire us to be more than we’ve planned for ourselves and who question."



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