Friday, November 01, 2013

Cynsational News, Giveaways & Texas Book Festival

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kit Grindstaff on Book Marketing for Newbie Authors from Literary Rambles. Peek: "people often don’t know that you’re the author of that lovely pile of books. Even with a poster of you/your book cover right there!...write a sign saying something like, 'Yes! I’m the author!' More people stop."

Royalties: A Few Answers from Laura Purdie Salas. Peek: "I think 4,000 is probably about right or even high for my two poetry books so far (both with Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), because BookSpeak is in its 5th printing, but I only just passed 10,000 copies sold in June of this year."

Putting the Cart Before the Horse (Novel & Synopsis) by Ash Krafton from QueryTracker. Peek: "I remember the first time I wrote a synopsis. I thought it would be impossible to pare down my novel into a mere page or two, and I struggled with it. I agonized over it. I hated every minute of it. So I did the professional thing..."

What is an Editorial Letter? by Marissa Burt from Project Mayhem. Peek: "...the level of interaction really stems from the unique relationship between writer and editor, but the general idea is that after you submit your first draft, your editor reads through it and sends you broad editorial notes."

LGBT Young Adult Books 2003-2013: A Decade of Slow But Steady Change from Malinda Lo. Peek: "That best friend — even if she’s important to the main character — is marginalized in the narrative. I’m looking for books in which LGBT characters are the stars."

Keeping Diamonds by Andrea Davis Pinkney from CBC Diversity. Peek: "...as people who are often newly out of college, it wasn’t easy to assert themselves when issues of race were discussed in meetings. When well-meaning people made inappropriate race-related comments that nobody else considered offensive. When a question came up at a meeting about whether or not to depict a face of color on a book jacket (as this is sometimes perceived as a detriment to sales), or when a person of color on a cover is shown from behind or only depicted through body parts like feet."

On Starting in the Middle by Debbie Levy from Adventures in YA Writing. Peek: "For me, what makes an opening not only effective, but also great, is when this plunking-down-in the-middle-of-something also alludes to unsaid events or characters that came before, and those that lie ahead."

How Is the World of Children's Picture Books Changing? from Penguin Random House. Peek: "How have globalization, technology, and eBooks impacted the world of children’s illustrated books? We sat down with Rachael Cole, art director for Schwartz & Wade, to find out more."

Nine Items to Check on Your Book's Proof by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "Update your author biography one last time, if needed, adding in any new and appropriate promo material. At this point, you can even insert a new author photo, if you like."

The Dreaded Middle: Why You Don't Have to Dread It by Yahong Chi from Project Mayhem. Peek: "...you have room, space and time."

Must Manuscripts Be Finished for Agent Conference Critiques? by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: "ou wouldn’t submit an unfinished project in a regular submission, but conference critiques really are for critiquing as well as networking."

Book List: Children's Books About Transracial Adoption from Lee & Low. Peek: "Because we don’t live in a color-blind world, transracial adoption (adopting a child of a different race or ethnic group) is a complicated act, and presents unique challenges for both the adoptive family and the adoptee. ...books that feature transracial adoption in some way."

Purrfect Reads by Katie Bircher from The Horn Book. Peek: "Founded in 2005 by pet expert and advocate Colleen Paige, National Cat Day aims to raise awareness of homeless cats as well as appreciate the companionship of feline friends." Note: bibliography of recommended reads.

Revision Technique: Book Mapping by Caroline Rose Starr from Project Mayhem. Peek: "The most recent mini map (in the last picture above) helped me through a rough portion when many story strands were coming together. I was able to see how things currently stood and where I needed to change things -- either moving poems to new places, cutting them entirely, or adding something new."

How To Get Over Writer's Block from Nathan Bransford. Peek: "It is not something that will stop you from finishing, nor is it something that you have to give into because it’s inevitable. You can’t treat it like a virus that will pass in time if you just wait it out. You must seek a cure."

Resolutions: Telling the Truth to Children by S.P. Gates from Elizabeth O. Dulemba. Peek: "Are we, as children’s writers, under an obligation always to present a world with resolutions, where lessons are always learned, where bullies get their deserts, where good always triumphs over evil, even though we know that isn’t true?"

http://picturebookmonth.com/


This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaway
See also Six YA Giveaways & New Releases from Adventures in YA Publishing.

More Personally

With author-illustrator Don Tate at the Texas Book Festival author breakfast at Texas Monthly
Authors Greg Leitich Smith & R.L. "Bob" Stein
With author Guadalupe Garcia McCall
With fellow Austin writer Carmen Oliver
Texas authors Diana Lopez & Karen Harrington at the Family Life Center
With fellow Austin author P.J. Hoover in the green room
The Girl Power(s) panel (P.J. Hoover, Jessica Khoury, Kim Garcia & moderator Sean Petrie)
With Austin writer Meredith Davis & festival author (& VCFA alum) Kate Hosford at Bess Bistro.

See also Greg Leitch Smith's photo report on One Book, One San Diego (for Kids!).

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

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. Check out the program and register today!

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.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will teach from June 16 to June 20 at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers in Sandy, Utah. Note: details are still emerging.




Thursday, October 31, 2013

New Voice: Colleen Gleason on The Clockwork Scarab: A Stoker and Holmes Novel


By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The Clockwork Scarab: A Stoker and Holmes Novel (Chronicle, 2013) is Colleen Gleason's debut young adult novel. She has previously published novels for grown-ups.

What inspired you to choose the 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?

When I sat down to write this book, Mina Holmes’s voice popped into my head and I began to write in her proper, Victorian voice, in first person.

But because Evaline Stoker is just as important a lead character as Mina is, I also wanted to write scenes from her point of view.

At first, I wrote her scenes in third person. I thought it would be easier for the reader to differentiate between the two perspectives if I did one first person and the other third person. But my editor felt strongly that I should do them both in first person…which was a little more of a challenge.

Before writing this YA novel, I’d never written in first person (for publication), and definitely not in two very different voices. So not only did I have to create a strong voice for Mina Holmes, but I had to create a second strong voice for Evaline Stoker…while at the same time, keeping their language free of anachronisms and true to the relatively stilted Victorian tone I was attempting to replicate.

That was a great challenge, and I actually ended up making a chart that delineated each girl’s particular voice: structure and vocabulary, as well as any motivations or subtext that would drive from her character. I’ve now finished writing the second book in the series, and while I found it much easier this time around, I still had to go back and clean up some of the chapters to make the voices more distinct. I tend to slip into Mina’s voice more easily than Evaline’s (Mina’s is more stilted and pedantic—very much the flowery yet proper Victorian tone, while Evaline’s is more modern and terse), and when I got into the throes of a scene, I would sometimes “lose” the voice a little.



As a historical fiction writer, what drew you first--character, concept, or historical period? In whichever case, how did you go about building your world and integrating it into the story? What were the special challenges? Where did you turn for inspiration or support?

Kate & Co. Photography
I have always loved historical settings. The majority of the two dozen novels I’ve written are set in either a historical setting or a dystopian/post-apocalyptic world (which in my mind is like a historical setting for many reasons).

Even though I set my book in an alternate historical world, needed to incorporate quite a bit of historical accuracy and detail for this quasi-Victorian setting in order to make it “real,” so I did a significant amount of research. In particular, I researched things like crime-solving techniques (what’s known as the Bertillon concept to identify perpetrators by measuring parts of their body and comparing it to clues left on-scene) as well as the political and cultural aspects of late Victorian London.

Some of my favorite resources when I do historical research is images. I’m a very visual person, and seeing a picture of London in 1880s really gives me something to build on. Whether it’s a photo, a drawing, or a painting, pictures give me a solid foundation for my world—and also provides details I might not get from other resources. I also like to look at advertisements—which help me as I “invent” the wild and often superfluous steampunk devices in my world—as well as newspapers.

One of the nice things about researching Victorian London, as opposed to, say, Medieval England (the setting for four novels I’ve written), is that I can actually find accurate images (photos, printed objects, etc.).

As far as worldbuilding and incorporating it into my story: I take both a macro and a micro approach.

In other words, I look at the world at a very high level: who’s in charge politically, what does the actual landscape/geography look like, are there any supernatural/unnatural elements or creatures, etc.

And then I look at it on a micro basis: what do my characters do for fun, what’s their slang, what do they wear, what sort of occupations might they have. And then I begin to fill in the middle. Some of the details included in the Stoker and Holmes world are true to history, but many others are little things that I made up as the story developed.

And that’s how I generally work with worldbuilding: most of it happens as I write, once I get the macro picture. Usually whatever the big picture is what drives at least part of the conflict and/or character development. The micro stuff is just plain old fun, and I often research it on the fly!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book Trailer: The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Abigail Halpin

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Abigail Halpin (Atheneum, 2013). From the promotional copy:

Dini is back from India—with Bollywood star Dolly in tow! But life in the States isn’t all rose petal milk shakes…

Dini and Maddie, very best friends, are back in the same country at the same time! Better still, Dolly Singh, the starriest star in all of Bollywood, is in America too.

Dini’s only just returned from India, and already life is shaping up to be as delicious as a rose petal milk shake. Perfect. Then why can’t she untie the knot in her stomach? Because so much can go wrong when a big star like Dolly is in town.

Check out book 1!

All Dini has to do is make sure Dolly has everything she needs, from a rose petal milk shake to her lost passport to…a parade? And an elephant?

 Uh-oh… It’s time to think. What Would Dolly Do? If Dini can’t figure it out, Dolly might take matters into her own hands—and that will surely lead to the biggest mess of all!

A Junior Library Guild selection and CCBC Book of the Week.

Don't miss the downloadable Activity Kit!

See also Uma Krishnaswami on Reinventing Your Children's Writing Career.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Guest Post & Giveaway: Hazel Mitchell on One Word Pearl

By Hazel Mitchell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I was so excited when Charlesbridge’s imprint, Mackinac Island Press, approached me to illustrate One Word Pearl by Nicole Groeneweg, because it’s all about words!

Immediately, I started thinking how to use words in the images.

I had a ton of fun cutting out words from magazines and anything I could find (just like Pearl), doing collages, making up little stories for the backgrounds. I even got to write a 'stream of consciousness' for a couple of the images.


I wanted to give the surface of the printed book a textured, papery feel. To get the ‘grainy’ look I overlaid layers of paper that I’d scanned – rice paper, crumpled brown paper, handmade paper with flecks and specks. I used paper torn from a spiral notepad.

 I really wanted to give the reader lots of visual interest. And I had a great time doing it too!


The drawn elements of the book were by hand in pencil and watercolor and then scanned into Photoshop, coloured digitally with added textures and layers. Some of the pages had over 150 layers.

I’ve been using Photoshop since 1988 (when I was a graphic designer in the Royal Navy), and I’m hooked. I find it hard to imagine illustrating without it and my Wacom pad.



Pearl’s a departure from books I’ve illustrated in the last four years (which is when I got serious about chidren’s illustration – I’d worked in commercial design since leaving art college in England. It was only after I moved to America that I begin seriously pursuing my dream. I count myself lucky to work in this industry!)

One Word Pearl gave me chance to experiment with technique and be much freer. That’s something that I had been working on.

Years working in graphics meant I was extremely tight. Looking back at my fine art work from college I was so loose! Every time I did a looser piece in my portfolio, it’d get attention from art directors and editors. I figured that was the way to go.

Trying to find your style mystifies a lot of illustrators when they start out. For a while, you go through phases of trying to me like someone else, to follow a trend, it’s a necessary part of learning to be an artist.

For me, my voice came through when I’d forgotten all about it. When you don’t think about it anymore and you just draw. It’s an unconscious thing.

I have to say I can’t see me sticking to just one style. For one, I would be bored and I think it depends on the manuscript. There are always elements of your work that connect with each other. As long as the illustrations are right for the book, that’s what matters.

Of course, composition, subject, content, interacting with the manuscript, those are all conscious things. But if you are searching for your style, it will be there when you stop worrying about it.

And the only way to do that is Draw! Draw! Draw! (and have fun!)

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win illustrator-signed giclee print!
Enter to win...

Grand Prize: an illustrator-signed copy of One Word Pearl and one signed giclee print from the book (pictured above).

Runner-up Prize: an illustrator-signed copy of One Word Pearl.

Illustrator sponsored. Eligibility: international.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, October 28, 2013

New Voice: Stephanie Watson on Psyching Yourself Up to Write, the Craft of Picture Books & The Wee Hours

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Stephanie Watson is the first-time author of The Wee Hours, illustrated by Mary GrandPr├ę (Disney-Hyperion, 2013). From the promotional copy:

What if the wee, small hours of the morning weren’t just hours, but playful creatures instead? 

And what if those creatures came out in the early-morning hours, to make mischief while you sleep? 

The Wee Hours, this new brand-new picture book, imagines just that.

How do you psyche yourself up to write and to keep writing?

I use lots of tricks to keep on keepin’ on with the writing. Here are five of my current favorites:

  1. Drink pots and pots of highly caffeinated green tea. It gives me courage and stamina. 
  2. Blast "I Am Superman" by R.E.M. before I sit down to write. I do a jumpy-spinny-punchy dance in my office and get all pumped up to do the day’s work. 
  3. Watch YouTube interviews with writers and artists that inspire me (see: Quentin Blake, Lynda Barry, Daniel Handler, Mo Willems and Kate DiCamillo). 
  4. Make other kinds of art. I draw and paint and knit and collage and hot glue things to other things. Crafty projects are great palate cleansers to writing, especially when they’re not particularly fancy or difficult. Right now, I’m really into making things with Perler beads. 
  5. Go for quantity, not quality. Daily word count goals are easier to meet than objectives like “Write something awesome.” If I sit in my chair and work with 1000 words each day, I’m golden, I win, I pat myself on the back. The less pressure I put on the quality, the better the writing seems to go. Funny how that works.

The thing about tricks is that they eventually wear out. Like, the magic of "I Am Superman" will fade soon, and then I’ll have to pick another power anthem to jump and spin and kick to. Always developing new ways to con myself into being courageous enough to write—this is just part of the job.

Stephanie & "I Am Superman"

How did you learn the craft of picture book writing? What are your strengths? What has been your greatest challenge?

I certainly owe a debt of gratitude to my writing teachers over the years, but I’ve learned the most about writing picture books by reading them. I love to sit at the library and consume 20 picture books in a sitting.

By reading lots of this type of book, you quickly get a sense of what works, what’s funny, what falls flat, what a strong page turn feels like, what a satisfying ending feels like.

I love re-reading the classics, like Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (Harper & Row, 1963) as much as I love looking at new stuff, like Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem (Disney-Hyperion, 2009).

I think one of my strengths as a picture book writer is that I’m always up for following a strange idea to see where it might lead. In an early draft of The Wee Hours, the creatures that came out to play started pulling things from the sleeping child’s dream. I wasn’t sure if that could work, but I was intrigued.

I played with the idea and gave it some space to either grow into something cool or explode into a horrific mess. I got it to work, and it added a nice dimension to the story.

Challenges? Well, it can be hard to muster the endurance necessary to rewrite a piece over and over. I did 15+ drafts of The Wee Hours, and it’s only 375 words long. I put both of my 35,000-word novels through ten rewrites apiece.


For me, writing is a marathon. Sitting down day after day to work on something you are not sure will ever see the light of day: That can be hard. But hey, that’s what I Am Superman and green tea are for, right?

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