Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Cynsations Winter Hiatus

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Many blessings of the season, Cynsational readers!

Effective immediately, this blog is on winter hiatus until sometime in early 2018. In the meantime, please find me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I'll continue sharing bookish news about writing and illustrating books for young readers, the creative life, and publishing as an industry--along with some adventures of my own.

Thanks to everyone who was featured or contributed a guest article to Cynsations this fall. Most appreciated!

(If your post was turned in but has not yet gone live, our apologies for the delay. It'll happen ASAP next year.)

Thanks also to interns Gayleen Rabakukk and Robin Galbraith and to reporters Carol Coven Grannick, Traci Sorell, Christopher Cheng, Melanie Fishbane, and Angela Cerrito. You are all wonderful people and talent writers. Color me your fan!

And of course thanks to all of you Cynsational readers for joining us, for supporting the world of children's-YA literature and young readers and for signal boosting our efforts!

Happy Holidays & Happy New Year!

Personal Links:

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Survivors: Tim Wynne-Jones on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children's-YA Author

Learn more about Tim Wynne-Jones.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

In children’s-YA writing, maintaining an active publishing career is arguably an even bigger challenge than breaking into the field.

Reflecting on your personal journey (creatively, career-wise, and your writer’s heart), what bumps did you encounter and how have you managed to defy the odds to achieve continued success?

Yes, that first magical published book. And then the struggle to get the next one out – the terrible twos! Followed by all that jockeying in mid-career. When, exactly, is the career of writing ever easy?

And then – suddenly – you’re old. The question is: How old? Are you ever not six; are you ever not sixteen? Childhood is a renewable resource.

C. S. Lewis said something to the effect that you don’t leave childhood behind the way a train leaves a station. I guess the big problem with age is not so much from staying on track but running out of it.

Reflecting on your personal journey (creatively, career-wise, and your writer’s heart), what bumps did you encounter and how have you managed to defy the odds to achieve continued success?

There is an inevitably to walls. You’re going to hit one. Maybe a bunch. I don’t really believe in writer’s block; if you’ve got nothing to say, chances are that you won’t be able to say it and that’s probably a good thing.

So when I hit the wall, it wasn’t that I stopped writing; it’s just that nothing I wrote was any good. Two whole novels finished. Finished and… well, rubbish. Soundly rejected. And this was after many books -- awards, even – some real success. I thought my innings were over. I’d had a good at-bat and I needed to let go.

Hey, I could teach. I do know some stuff. The letting go was critical -- the best thing that could have happened, giving myself the time for the well to fill up. Giving myself the time to realize there were things I cared deeply about and needed to say.

That was eight or nine books ago.

Stephen Sondheim said something like this: I know how to write a perfect song and that’s the problem. There’s no arrogance to that statement; to my mind, it’s an admission of the reality that knowing how to do something well, knowing the craft, the tricks of the trade, does not guarantee you much. The deal is always being renegotiated. Your vows have to be renewed. It has to matter.

If you had it to do all over again, what—if anything—would you do differently and why?

On the republishing of his first novel, The Man Within (1929), Graham Greene was asked if he wanted to make any editorial changes, since they would have to typeset the book, again. He read it and, if I’m remembering rightly, wasn’t very impressed. Actually, I think he cringed but that might be me projecting. So it became for Greene a question of not changing a single word or rewriting the whole thing. He opted for the former, more honest decision.

I’d have to say much the same thing about my career. Could I have done a better job of it? I’m sure. But who knew it was actually going to be a career?

Every book was just that – one book, the only book I ever wanted to write, at that particular moment in time. So you live with the decisions you make. No regrets.

The one thing I’m sure about is that disappointment is as inevitable as rain and unless you want to live in an arid place, get used to it.

On a more practical note, I should probably be more of a self-promoter or hire someone to do it for me. But that wasn’t the norm when I came into publishing. I got used to publishers who actually went out and sold the book. The changing face of the industry has left me in the dust, to some extent. I’m not very sellable as an author, anymore; maybe when I get to be a hundred.

My big hope is that I’m still sellable as a writer.

The field and body of literature are always evolving. For you, what have been the stand-out changes in the world children’s-YA writing, literature and publishing? What do you think of them and why?

I’ve watched issues come and go: literacy, appropriateness of themes and language, diversity, etcetera. And each of these issues is important and worth contemplating and doing something about. And each of these issues is, finally, something other than writing

That is not meant to diminish the importance of these matters but only to mitigate the potential of such things to distract you from the job at hand: writing honestly about what you feel you must write about. Writing diligently and conscientiously.

Listen to what people have to say. Yes. Now, what is your role in Change if change is called for?

The politics of writing is not writing. It is important; we each must do what we feel we can do. Decry what must be decried. Celebrate what must be celebrated. Write what must be written.

It’s that latter thing that can trip you up. No one can tell you what must be written. That’s your job.

The amount of your involvement with the wider world of literature is a personal decision, but I think it’s important to ask yourself this: does this involvement inspire me to write or does it keep me from writing?

What advice would you give to your beginner self, if that version of you was a debut author this year?

Good luck, dear friend. Keep your dreams flush, you’re going to need them. Find a good and supportive writing community. I took way too long to do that. It only happened for me late in my career, when I came to Vermont College of Fine Arts, and it has meant the world to me.

As much as you hate the business of writing, just do it. Engage. Spending a morning, now and then, promoting your work or setting up gigs is work that needs to be done. And yes, I know you hate work, but do it, anyway. Just don’t confuse it with actually writing.

What do you wish for children’s-YA writers (and readers), looking to the future?

Good luck, dear friend. Mourn your losses, but not for too long; celebrate your successes, big or small as they may be.

On a northern lake, researching The Starlight Claim (Candlewick, 2020)
A single letter from a kid who wasn’t forced to write it by his teacher is worth twenty reviews.

Don’t read your reviews, even the good ones, but if you can’t stop yourself, don’t take them too seriously. Don’t be diminished by opinion; at the same time, don’t work too hard on that protective shell. After all, a writer must stay open.

When someone, in person, genuinely praises your work, try to let them do so without being too self-conscious. As much as we long for praise, it’s somehow mortifying to get it. Get over yourself!

Keep the faith: There is something books do that no other medium can, engaging the reader in an active role of finishing what you, as the writer, only began.

As a writer, what do you wish for yourself in the future?

I hope to keep writing, but I hope I’ll know when to stop. And this is a conundrum. I’ve been one of the fortunate ones who has made a career in this field, I love so much. Which means I never had a full-time job. Which means I have no pension. So I must continue to write in order to live.

But then I kind of think that was always true.

Cynsational Notes

The Survivors Interview Series offers in-depth reflections and earned wisdom from children's-YA book authors who have successfully built long-term, actively-publishing careers.

Monday, December 18, 2017

New Voice: Kate Hart on After the Fall

By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Kate Hart’s YA novel, After the Fall, debuted in January 2017 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. From the promotional copy:

Kate Hart's debut YA novel After the Fall is a wrenching, emotional read and an intense conversation starter about issues of sexual consent.

Seventeen-year-old Raychel is sleeping with two boys: her overachieving best friend Matt…and his slacker brother, Andrew. Raychel sneaks into Matt’s bed after nightmares, but nothing ever happens. He doesn’t even seem to realize she’s a girl, except when he decides she needs rescuing.

But Raychel doesn't want to be his girl anyway. She just needs his support as she deals with the classmate who assaulted her, the constant threat of her family’s eviction, and the dream of college slipping quickly out of reach. Matt tries to help, but he doesn’t really get it… and he’d never understand why she’s fallen into a secret relationship with his brother.

The friendships are a precarious balance, and when tragedy strikes, everything falls apart. Raychel has to decide which pieces she can pick up – and which ones are worth putting back together. 

Publishers Weekly said After the Fall “has a lot going for it—well-defined and believable major and minor characters, in particular—as well as a lot going on. The book takes up consent, slut shaming, issues of class and (to a lesser extent) race, unrequited love, and competition between siblings—and then adds a tragic accident and the resulting guilt and fractures.”

I’m pleased to welcome Kate to Cynsations to talk more about After the Fall, what she is writing now, and her thoughts about working on a future project with her tribe, the Chickasaw Nation.

What was your initial inspiration for writing After the Fall?

I started writing After the Fall in 2010, when I had just trunked a paranormal manuscript and wasn’t sure where to go next. Someone online suggested the “I want” technique, so I sat down and made a simple list with “I want to write about…” at the top, followed by random topics that appealed to me.

After “hiking,” “the Ozarks,” and “keeping up with the boys” showed up, I wrote a random line about rock climbing that led to an entire scene, and six weeks later it was an entire book.

A lot has changed in the manuscript since then, and it took a lot more than six weeks to reach the book’s final form, but that scene stayed and the first line remained the same.

What has your author journey been like since publication in January of this year?

It’s been complicated, because my health took a downturn right around the book’s release (which also coincided with the week of the Inauguration), and an even worse downturn this fall.

I was lucky enough to attend several book festivals in the spring, and meeting readers has definitely been my favorite part of the experience, so being unable to travel for promo later in the year was really disappointing. But that’s life with a chronic illness, and hopefully I’ll be better prepared to manage those issues next time around.

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

The assault that Raychel’s character experiences is loosely based on my own, so when the first version of the book went on submission in 2010, it was very difficult for me to separate criticism of her actions from criticism of my own teenage behavior.

Seven years later, it’s not fun to read reviews that victim blame or claim that I, as an author, have somehow made light of the issue, but the time it took to get the books on the shelves gave me a while to develop a thicker skin and draw a better distinction between myself and my work.

What delighted you the most about writing this book?

With author Maureen Goo
Setting is an important element to me, so it was fun to pull parts of my hometown into the story. People have some pretty strong preconceived notions about Arkansas, and it’s been lovely to get thanks from locals who are relieved to see our area portrayed realistically.

You’ve mentioned in an interview earlier this fall that you’re working on a book informed by your Chickasaw ancestors’ experience. Will it also be a young adult story?

This is a great question because I’ve been asking myself the same thing! It’s certainly written about teenagers, but while one of the point of views is first person from a seventeen-year-old girl, the other is a “bird’s eye view” third person that may be skewing more adult.

I keep worrying about it, but ultimately you have to let the book be written in the way that works best for the story. My hope is that the finished draft will at least be a crossover – and if not, that my agent and/or future editor can help me straighten it out!

Any plans to work with the Chickasaw Nation’s White Dog Press to publish books for children and teens?

For now, I plan to stick with the major YA publishers, but I’d love to take part in some kind of anthology or project through the Chickasaw Nation.

I recently read their larger Chickasaw Press’ release Wenonah’s Story as a reference for my work-in-progress and I’m so grateful that they’re preserving the stories of our ancestors for future generations.

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

Find your group (but not your tribe, because Dear Internet, tribes are a totally different thing).

When I first started writing, I didn’t have any local writer friends, but thanks to sites like Absolute Write and the early days of Twitter, I ended up with an amazing support group of colleagues.

Watching their publishing journeys taught me so much, and I went into my own career well-informed because of their generosity and advice.

Any last thoughts on Native/First Nations writers for young people?

I am beyond excited for the books coming soon from Rebecca Roanhorse. Her debut novel Trail of Lightning is for adults, but she also has a middle grade called Race to the Sun coming from Rick Riordan’s new imprint, plus several short pieces in various anthologies.

I’m also a fan of Tim Tingle’s House of Purple Cedar, which takes place in Skullyville, a Choctaw town in Oklahoma where many of my relatives lived.

Cynsational Notes

After studying Spanish and history at a small liberal arts school, Kate Hart taught young people their ABCs, wrote grants for grownups with disabilities, and now builds treehouses for people of all ages.

Her debut YA novel, After the Fall, was published January 2017 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux; she's also a contributor to the 2018 anthologies Toil and Trouble and Hope Nation.

A former contributor to YA Highway, she currently hosts the Badass Ladies You Should Know series, and sells woodworking and inappropriate embroidery at The Badasserie. Kate is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation with Choctaw heritage and lives with her family in Northwest Arkansas.

Traci Sorell joins the Cynsations team as a reporter covering children's-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators.

Traci writes fiction and nonfiction for children featuring contemporary characters and compelling biographies for the trade and educational markets. She has been an active member of SCBWI since August 2013.

In April 2016, Charlesbridge acquired her first nonfiction picture book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, from the slush pile. It will be published on September 18, 2018. The story features a panorama of modern-day Cherokee cultural practices and experiences, presented through the four seasons. It conveys a universal spirit of gratitude common in many cultures.

Traci is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She grew up in northeastern Oklahoma, where her tribe is located. She is a first-generation college graduate with a bachelor's degree in Native American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

She also has a Master's degree in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and a law degree from the University of Wisconsin. Previously, she taught at the University of North Dakota School of Law and the University of New Mexico.

She also worked as an attorney assisting tribal courts nationwide, advocated for national Native American health care, and directed a national nonprofit serving American Indian and Alaska Native elders. She now lives in the Kansas City area and is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Literary Agency. Follow Traci on Twitter and Instagram @tracisorell.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Canadian Children's-YA Literature Awards

By Melanie J. Fishbane
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

This fall a number of awards were given out to the best of Canadian children and young adult books.

Here’s the rundown of who won, the shortlist and more.

The 2017 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Awards

Every November, in a gala event at The Carlu in downtown Toronto, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC), in partnership with TD Bank and other donors, gives out $145,000 in prizes to the best in Canadian children’s writing and illustration.

A similar award ceremony occurs in Montreal, Quebec distributing French language awards.

English Awards:

TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award ($30,000) Winner:

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk by Jan Thornhill (Groundwood Books, 2016)

Finalists ($2,500):

Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award ($20,000) (Sponsored by A Charles Baillie):

The Snow Knows by Jennifer McGrath, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon (Nimbus Publishing)

Normal Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction ($10,000) (Sponsored by the Fleck Family Foundation):

Canada Year by Year by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Sydney Smith (Kids Can Press)

Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People ($5,000) (Sponsored by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Bilson Endowment Fund):

Blackthorn Key, Book 2: The Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands (Aladdin)

John Spray Mystery Award ($5000) (Sponsored by John Spray):

Shooter by Caroline Pignat (Razorbill Canada)

Amy Mathers Teen Book Award ($5000) (Sponsored by Sylvan Learning):

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston (Dutton Books)

See the full list of finalists and comments from the jurors.

French Awards

Prix TD de littérature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse ($30,000):

Même pas vrai by Larry Trembly, illustrated by Guillaume Perreualt (Éditions de la Bagnole)

Prix Harry Black d l’album jeunesse ($5000) (first time awarded):

Au-delà de la forêt by Nadine Robert and illustrated by Gérard DuBois (Comme des géants)

Governor General’s Awards

Every fall the Canada Council for the Arts gives the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Awards, which recognizes the best in Canadian English and French books.

Winner Young People’s Literature – Text (English):

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Demaline (Dancing Cat Books)

Shortlist Young People’s Literature – Text (English)
Winner Young People’s Literature – Illustrated Books (English):

When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Fleet (Highwater Press)

Shortlist Young People’s Literature – Illustrated Books (English):

Winner Young People’s Literature Text (French):

L’Importance de Mathilde Poisson by Véronique Drouin (Bayard Canada)

Shortlist Young People’s Literature Text (French):

Winner Young People’s Illustrated Book (French):

Azadah by Jacques Goldstyn (Les Éditions de la Pastèque)

Shortlist Young People’s Illustrated Book (French):
Cynsational Notes

Cynsations reporter Melanie J. Fishbane covers children's-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news originating in Canada.

Photo by Ayelet Tsabari
Melanie holds an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an M.A. in History from Concordia University.

With over seventeen years' experience in children's publishing, she lectures internationally on children's literature. A freelance writer and social media consultant, her work can be found in magazines, such as The Quill & Quire

Melanie also loves writing essays and her first one, "My Pen Shall Heal, Not Hurt": Writing as Therapy in L.M. Montgomery's Rilla of Ingleside and The Blythes Are Quoted," is included in L.M. Montgomery's Rainbow Valleys: The Ontario Years 1911-1942 (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2015). And, her short story, "The New Girl," was published in the Zoetic NonBinary Review. 

Her first YA novel, Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery, was published by Penguin Teen in 2017.

The novel was featured on the Huffington Post's Summer Reading List, a top pick for the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading Kids Summer Reading pick and winner of Hamilton Public Library's Next Top Novel.

Melanie lives in Toronto with her partner and their very entertaining cat, Merlin.

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