Saturday, March 27, 2010

Seizing that "Some Day" -- a Feature Article about Cynthia Leitich Smith from The Lawrence-Journal World

Seizing that 'Some Day': KU Alum Follows her 'Eternal' Dream and Gets a Best-selling Surprise by Cathy Hamilton from The Lawrence Journal World. Peek:

"'I literally gasped,' Smith laughs. 'I’ve always read that: 'She gasped,' and I thought no one ever really does it. But, apparently, yes, if you make The New York Times best-selling list for the first time and you had no idea it was going to happen, you will gasp.'"

Cynsational Notes

I graduated from the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas in 1990. My majors were news/editorial and public relations with a concentration in English. I took every fiction writing class and children's literature class offered.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Author Interview: Carrie Ryan on The Forest of Hands and Teeth & The Dead-Tossed Waves

Carrie Ryan is the young adult author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Delacorte, 2009) and The Dead-Tossed Waves (Delacorte, 2010).

A former lawyer, she now writes full time and lives with her fiancé, two fat cats and one large lazy dog in Charlotte, NC.

What were you like as a YA reader? Who were your favorite authors? What were your favorite titles?

I read anything and everything! I'm the youngest of three girls, so mostly I'd just rifle through my older sisters' bookshelves (this is probably why I got into romance novels at a very young age).

I remember spending many nights staying up late reading Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine. To this day, I credit them with making me a speed reader--I turned those pages so fast they were almost on fire.

What first inspired you to write for teens?

When I was still in high school I read an interview with a romance author who said she'd decided to write after finishing a book and thinking, I could do that.

As soon as I read those words, I thought the same thing: I could do that too.

For some reason, it just always stuck in my head that I'd write romance novels. It wasn't until 2006, when I really dedicated myself to writing, that I realized that I could write something other than romance, and that's when I realized that YA books were really exploding.

I remembered how much I adored reading as a teen, and it seemed like the most perfect fit! It sounds a bit lame, but until that point it had just never occurred to me that I could write for teens--I only needed a little nudge.

Could you tell us about your path to publication--any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I've been phenomenally lucky in my path to publication. A few months after starting in private practice as a lawyer, I realized that I didn't want to be doing that forever and I wondered what would have happened if I hadn't quit writing romance novels to go to law school.

I decided that I'd spend the next 10 years writing, revising, and submitting books (in addition to practicing law) and not allowing myself to quit when I hit stumbling blocks and rejections.

When NaNoWriMo came around in 2006, I knew I wanted to do it, but I had a collection of half-finished books and one of the rules of NaNo is that you have to start something new.

I whined about this to my fiancé, wondering what I should write next.

He said, "Write what you love."

I laughed and said, "the zombie apocalypse."

And he smiled and shrugged.

A few nights later on the way home from work, a first line popped into my head and I emailed it to myself.

Two weeks later, I'd written 20,000 words on this crazy post-apocalypse book with a voice I hadn't written in since college. I was loving every minute of it, but knew it would never sell--it was just too different. I didn't let that stop me, I kept writing because I loved it and my fiancé loved it.

When my critique partner, Diana Peterfreund, read what I had so far, she encouraged me to keep going (and I knew she was being honest cause she’d been "meh" about an earlier project of mine--thank goodness!).

I ran into the usual stumbling blocks: fear that I'd mess up the story, not knowing what happened next, etc.

Once the first draft was finished, I spent a lot of time revising--as much time or more than I'd spent writing the book in the first place!

I wanted to know when it got rejected that I’d given the book my best shot--there was nothing more I could have done.

As beta readers were going through my drafts, I spent a lot of time researching agents. I still didn't think the book had a shot (in fact, I thought agents would laugh at my query letter with the word "zombie" in it,) and so one of the agents I queried was someone I didn't know as much about but who'd recently repped a zombie book (so at least I knew he wouldn’t laugh too hard at me!).

A few weeks after I sent my query, I signed with that agent--Jim McCarthy at Dystel & Goderich. After a few revisions, he sent the manuscript out on a Friday afternoon, received a pre-empt offer Monday morning, and I'd signed by the end of the day.

Total and absolute dream come true.

Congratulations on the success of The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Delacorte, 2009, 2010)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is about a girl, Mary, who grows up in a village surrounded by a forest full of zombies about 150 years after the zombie apocalypse.

Her village has been totally cut off from the world and told by the ruling Sisterhood that they're the last humans left.

But Mary's grown up with stories about the ocean (which most people in the village think is a myth), and she thinks it's a place that's safe from the undead.

She just has to decide if she’s willing to risk the Forest to find out if there’s still a world beyond the fences. There’s also romance.

What was your initial inspiration for the story?

Like a lot of books, there were several random inspirations.

I became fascinated with zombies when my fiancé took me to see the remake of "Dawn of the Dead"(2004)(he then bought me The Zombie Survival Guide [by Max Brooks (Random House) and read it out loud to me when we should have been studying in law school).

Part of what I loved about the zombie books and movies was the idea of survival--how we cope with an event that totally devastates and alters our world.

It was around Halloween when my fiancé was talking about a short story idea set in a zombie world with a forest and a village. In his mind, it was right after the apocalypse and the village was at the edge of the forest. But in mine, it was generations later and the village was utterly cut off. Off and on, we talked about this world, but I really hadn’t planned on writing in it.

Then one day I read an article about the overfishing of tuna, and I thought how odd it would be for future generations to grow up in a world without tuna when most of us today have cans of it stacked away in our pantry.

This made me think about what we lose over time--how something so common in our world could be lost to another.

That evening when I was walking home from work a first line popped into my head. It dovetailed so perfectly with the world my fiancé and I’d been discussing that I ran with it!

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I still have the email I sent to myself with that first line on Nov. 2, 2006. I finished the first draft that April and revised it through the summer.

In August 2007, my critique partner got tired of me waffling about sending out query letters so she sent one for me, spurring me into action. I signed with Jim around Sept. 20, 2007; and he sold the book Oct. 15 that year. Two days later, I had my first edit letter!

Much of the year is a blur of excitement and nerves--I really had no idea what to expect and what the timeline was for a book.

Definite high points included seeing the cover in February 2008, getting ARCs, going on a pre-publication tour and meeting George Romero (I got to sign a copy of my book to him, and he asked about movie rights! When I got home after meeting him, I had author copies sitting by my door--perfect timing!).

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

I'm not an outliner, so I definitely ran into challenges when I wasn't sure what should happen next in the book (I still face those challenges, but at least now I know I've figured it out in the past which gives me hope that I can do it again!).

Research was basically watching a lot of zombie movies and books and then building my own world. I spent time talking to my fiancé (who studied parasitology) and his brother (Ph.D. in biology) about the biological aspects of zombies. I also talked to doctors about wounds I inflicted on my characters, a forest firefighter about what that's like, etc.

One challenge I have whenever I write a book is the fear of closing off plots. I always think of a new book as an endless series of hallways with infinite doorways and each word you write and each plot point you decide, you're closing those doors.

It's sad to think of all the potential ideas that never make it.

What was it like being a debut author?

Amazing and terrifying and wonderful and every other emotion all combined together.

I was so lucky to be a part of a group of debut YA and middle grade authors called the 2009 Debutantes, and so we all went through the experience together, propping each other up, cheering each other on, sharing information and stories. Being with them really enriched the entire experience for me.

I go through these moments of thinking that having a book out is ordinary, and then sometimes I pinch myself and ask if this is all really real.

Congratulations on the release of The Dead-Tossed Waves (Delacorte, 2010)! Could you tell us about this novel?

The Dead-Tossed Waves is a companion to The Forest of Hands and Teeth and is told from the point of view of Mary's (the protagonist from the first book) daughter, Gabry.

Gabry grows up safe in a town by the ocean until one night, against her better judgment, she crosses the barrier to go hang out at an old amusement park with her friends (and the guy she has a crush on).

Being a book with zombies, things go terribly wrong, and she starts to realize that this safe little bubble she's lived in has really been a lie.

Now she has to decide if living a safe life is really living at all.

How was it different, craft-wise, writing your sophomore novel versus writing your first?

I'd actually never planned on writing a sequel--to me, The Forest of Hands and Teeth was a stand alone, but when my editor asked me if I would write more I jumped at the chance because I loved my protagonist and her world.

However, when I sat down to write more of her, I realized that I hadn’t set up any story arcs that would carry past the first book and this tripped me up.

Eventually I realized that Mary's story was pretty much finished, and I really wanted to write about a new character--someone who'd grown up in this town by the ocean.

But at the same time, I wanted to carry through some of the other threads and unanswered questions, so I figured the best solution was to have Mary still be a character, just not a major character.

Why spooky stories? Are you a spooky person?

What's funny to me is that I never thought of The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves as being spooky stories! It was just the world my characters lived in, and I think I accepted it as much as they did.

In fact, I'm someone who is very easily scared--I still jump when I watch "Dawn of the Dead" (even though I’ve seen it a million times), and I still freak myself out at night when I'm home alone.

If you could go back in time and talk to your beginning-writer self, what would you tell her?

That it would work out and to relax a little. But at the same time, one of the things I loved about being a beginning writer is that I had all these amazing things to daydream about.

I remember after I sold my book thinking, what will I daydream about when I’m falling asleep at night now? And I realized that I had to find new dreams to focus on.

What can your readers look forward to next?

I just finished the third book in the series, The Dark and Hollow Places, which should come out in spring 2011.

For those who don't want to wait that long, I also have three short stories set in the same world coming out this year.

The first, "Hare Moon," is coming out in the Kiss Me Deadly anthology, edited by Trisha Telep (Running Press, July 2010) and is about Sister Tabitha when she was a teen.

The second, "Flotsam & Jetsam," is in The Living Dead 2 anthology edited by John Joseph Adams (Night Shade) and is about two boys on a life raft after the infection breaks out on their cruise ship.

Third is "Bougainvillea," coming out in the Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (McElderry, Sept. 2010). My story is set about 15 years after the Return on the island of Curacao--I'm so excited about all three stories!

Cynsational Notes

This is the first stop on Carrie's blog tour! Here's the whole line-up:

3/16: Cynsations
3/17: The Book Smugglers
3/18: “Hollywood Crush”
3/19: The Page Flipper
3/20: Through A Glass, Darkly
3/21: readergirlz
3/22: Mundie Moms
3/23: Cheryl Rainfield
3/24: Just Blinded Books
3/25: The Story Siren
3/26: Bildungsroman
3/27: Beautiful Creatures

From March 22 to April 4, you also can visit with Carrie at RandomBuzzers!

See a video interview with Carrie from Christ Church Episcopal School:

Check out the book trailer for The Forest of Hands and Teeth:

And the book trailer for The Dead-Tossed Waves:

Teens Get to Do the Interview & Eternal Giveaway

Attention: Teen Readers!

As part of Café Skill's first ever You Do the Interview series, Karey Shane is hosting a giveaway of Eternal (Candlewick, 2010) and an opportunity to interview me, author Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Peek: "If the thought of coming up with questions feels daunting, no worries. I'll be happy to talk you through it. I'll forward the questions on to Cynthia and she'll send me back her answers."

To enter, simply comment here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Spooky News

Speculative Fiction

"New-Fashioned" Fantasy: What Does It Look Like? by Kate Coombs from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "What does today's fantasy look like, and how is it different from the work of decades past? I put my head together with the Inkies, and here are some of the things we came up with..."

How Quickly Will the World Degrade by P.J. Hoover from The Spectacle. Peek: "As for the time when the book is set, what particularly works for me is what I estimate to be the accuracy in how far the world has declined in this amount of time." Read an interview with P.J. and Jessica Lee Anderson.

What In the World is Steampunk After All? from The Book Smuggler. Peek: "Yes, there are some basics with which most people agree: usually steam-power is still used, and is set mostly in a Victorian-like world. This is definitely the 'Steam' part. The 'Punk' part or the other parts that makes it gravitate towards..."

Science Fiction and the Frame of Technology by Paul Woodlin. Discusses the six basic representations of technology. Peek: "While SF should explore the potential dangers of technology, it should be very careful, more careful than many writers (especially script writers) are, to not cross the line into being anti-science. It is scientific wonder that is at the heart of SF." See also Science Fiction and Time Frames and Science Fiction and Frames of Mind: Space.

Youth Literature

Young adult lit comes of age: Authors may gear their novels toward the junior and senior high crowd, but adults are snapping up the books, often about misfit teens or fantasy worlds. By Susan Carpenter of the Los Angeles Times. Peek: "'Even as the recession has dipped publishing in general, young adult has held strong,'" said David Levithan, editorial director and vice president of Scholastic..."


Denouement AKA Moment of Reckoning by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog - Writer Talk. Peek: "Everything should have been leading the reader to this moment." Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Outlining No Fun? Try Storysaurus! by Jamie Harrington from Totally the Bomb. Peek: "...he used the storysaurus. He was a dinosaur with spikes on his back. Each spike represented a chapter, and his whole body represented the story’s main plot." Check out the diagram! See also storysaurus apparel. Source: E. Kristin Anderson.

Beware! Burnout Ahead by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "Having a healthy drive is good, but letting yourself be driven-–by others or your own inner critic–-will eventually ruin the joy you originally brought to your writing."

Attention: Writers World Wide: "Vermont College of Fine Arts is authorized under federal law to enroll non-immigrant alien students." The VCFA MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults now welcomes applications from international students. See more information. Note: students, alumni, and other friends of the school are encouraged to pass on this great news! Please include the quoted material--per law.

Having What It Takes by Eric from Pimp My Novel. Peek: "You can be the most talented writer in the world and still utterly fail as a professional author if you don't maintain a writing schedule and treat your writing like a business as well as an art form." Source: Elizabeth Scott.

Five Reasons Writers Get Stuck by Martha Alderson from Plot Whisperer for Readers and Writers. Peek: "The rhythm of story telling is in all of us right now, especially for those of us who were read to as youngsters and continue to read fiction today." Source: Anna Staniszewski.


Interview with Editorial Director Stacy Whitman of Tu Books/Lee & Low by Ellen Oh from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "Our mission remains the same—to acquire great fantasy and SF titles for children and young adults that feature diverse characters and settings. The biggest change is that we’ll have more resources to accomplish our mission."

Ten Rules for Query Letters by Maggie Stiefvater from Words on Words. Peek: "Agents are people too. More importantly, they are not just any people, they are readers. So guess what -- the thing that makes you pick up a book is what makes an agent pick up a book. So therefore..." Read a Cynsations interview with Maggie.

Carolrhoda Lab: new imprint "dedicated to distinctive, provocative, boundary-pushing fiction for teens and their sympathizers." See media release (PDF). Read a Cynsations interview with Andrew.

On Referrals from Waxman Literary Agency. Peek: "This is not a referral: An agent's client who you know on Twitter/blogs/writer’s group, but who has not offered to put you in touch with his or her agent." Source: Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent.

An Interview with Senior Editor Kate Harrison of Dial Books by Nancy Sondel from the Pacific Coast Children's Writers Workshop. Peek: "My notes are always only meant to be a jumping off point, to make an author think about why something may not be working. The best revisers take those notes and come up with their own solutions." Note: see more on the workshop below!

Michael Pietsch, the executive vice president and a publisher at Little, Brown and Company, Outlines Publishing Future by Jacqueline Small from The Phoenix ("the independent campus newspaper of Swarthmore College since 1881"). Peek: "...because physical books have a great deal of sentimental value, and because digitalization does not improve the reading experience, he expects that they will continue to coexist with electronic books “for a long period in the future." Source: Laura Sibson.

Submitting a Partial by Jessica from BookEnds, LLC. - A Literary Agency. Peek: "Since most agents are reading on ereaders these days I find it helpful, and I do know other agents agree with me, to have a copy of the cover letter submitted with the attached partial."

Self-Published E-books? The horror! The horror! by Michael Stearns from Upstart Crow. Peek: "I’ve borne witness to the fruits of self-publication, and I can testify to you all that it is no threat to books from publishers. It’s the opposite in fact, and some kind of spectacular ugly."

New Critique Service from The Texas Sweethearts & Editor Critique

New Critique Service from the Texas Sweethearts. Peek: "...strive to be honest in critiques above all else. We believe within each manuscript there is a treasure chest, and we are committed to doing what we can to help find the key to unlock the treasure inside." Note: the Texas Sweethearts are authors Jo Whittemore, P.J. "Tricia" Hoover, and Jessica Lee Anderson.

Editor Critique: editor "Madeline Smoot of Blooming Tree Press AKA The Buried Editor at Buried in the Slush Pile, has kindly offered up a critique. She will critique a query letter and ten pages for one lucky winner." To enter, follow the Texas Sweethearts blog and comment on this post. Deadline: March 28. Note: in the photo above, Madeline visits with Austin writer Erin Edwards.

Congratulations to Tricia on her Five-Star Gold Award for The Navel of the World (CBAY, 2009) from Teens Read Too! Peek: "The world that was created – Lemuria – was so cool. What was even better about Lemuria was that it felt real. You could hear the footsteps on the path and the bell jingling when the characters walked into a shop."

See also Shrinking Violet Ideas in Action: The Texas Sweethearts from Shrinking Violet Promotions: Marketing for Introverts. Peek: "...your individual fanbase multiplies when you’re in a group. Yes, there will be overlap with common friends and organizations, but there will also be plenty of social circles that intersect at just one writer (picture a Venn diagram)."

The Pacific Coast Children's Writers Workshop

Eighth Annual Pacific Coast Children's Writers Workshop will be Aug. 20 to Aug. 22 at Pajaro Dunes' private beachfront facility near Santa Cruz, California. Intensive, team-taught seminar for 30 savvy and/or published writers of character-driven youth novels, "active observers," and teen readers and writers.

Faculty includes Kate Harrison, senior editor, Dial Books/Penguin; Ted Malawer (agent, Upstart Crow Literary); and author-consultant Laura Backes, publisher of Children’s Book Insider. See an interview with Kate.

Teen enrollees will be led by YA author Liz Gallagher (author interview).

The weekend theme is "A Novelist’s Toolkit: Architecture, Archetypes, and Arcs." Focus on craft as a marketing tool; 90 percent hands-on. Open critique clinics AKA master classes, are enhanced by interactive pre-workshop assignments.

Deadline: for the most critique options and lowest fees, apply by April 10 or ASAP. (Limited enrollment may be open through July.) More info on teen and adult programs: contact Director Nancy Sondel:

Cynsational Screening Room

In the video below, meet Lauren Kate, author of Fallen (Delacorte, 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with Lauren.

Back by popular demand: the Origami Yoda video! Note: teachers read the book aloud, and try this with your class! Read the story behind the story of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Amulet, 2010) from Tom Angleberger.

Austin Scene

Newly announced Austin SCBWI ARA Carmen Oliver with fellow member Jerri Romine.

Austin SCBWI RA Debbie Gonzales with founding RA Meredith Davis.

YA author Brian Yansky.

Author Julie Lake.

Austin 2010 debut author Lisa Railsback! Look for Noonie's Masterpiece, illustrated by Sarajo Frieden (Chronicle)!

More Personally

In Conversation with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Bethany Hegedus from Hunger Mountain. Topics include debuting on the New York Times list, Multiculturalism 3.0, future books, the influence of Bram Stokers' Dracula (1897) and girl heroes. Peek: "I’d be surprised if [Sherman] Alexie sat down to write [The Absolutely True Diary of a] Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown, 2007) with any curriculum connections in mind. I suspect folks who asked when I’d write a Trail of Tears novel never thought I'd grow into a Gothic fantasist."

New Vampires in Town from Early Word: The Publisher / Librarian Connection. Highlights recent New York Times best-sellers Eternal (Candlewick), Heather Brewer's Vladimir Tod series (Dutton), and Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Delacorte). Note: Carrie's book features zombies, not vampires, and Eternal features shapeshifters and angels in addition to vampires.

Book Review: Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith by Stacy & Shannan from Girls in the Stacks. Peek: "Yes, this book is a love story, but it is so much more. It is a story of choices, good versus evil, redemption and grace. The ending is poetic, heartfelt and definitely enduring." See also a video interview with Becca Fitzpatrick and an audio interview with Carrie Jones from Girls in the Stacks.

Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith by Stacy & Shannan from Girls in the Stacks. Peek: "Like Miranda, as a teen, I loved to read fantasy, was sometimes overshadowed by my best friend, and longed for the courage to try out for the school play. I also lived for a while in both Dallas (her hometown) and Chicago (where much of Eternal takes place)."

Attention Event Planners: I'm book solid for the spring 2010 semester, but I still have some availability for the fall. Contract Jean Dayton at Dayton Bookings with queries.

It delighted me to apply an Austin cityscape to my LiveJournal.

Even More Personally

It's been an exciting couple of weeks as Eternal debuted at #5 on the New York Times paperback list and, I learned yesterday, will stay on for another week at #8! Thanks again to all for your continued enthusiasm and support!

I'm especially excited about the second list because it also includes The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum). Kathi was my own children's writing teacher, and now we're friends and colleagues at the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Regular Cynsations readers may recall that we hosted a joint event in celebration of these books last spring at BookPeople in Austin.

These flowers were sent by family.

And these were presented to me by Austin SCBWI ARA Carmen Oliver at our monthly meeting last weekend at BookPeople.

Here's more on The Underneath and some writing advice from Kathi, courtesy of Simon & Schuster:

Cynsational Giveaways
In celebration of the release of Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins (Hyperion, 2010), enter to win a Hex Hall T-shirt (size small, medium, or large)! To enter, just email me, message me or comment me with "Hex Hall" in the subject line. Deadline: March 31. Note: U.S. entries only. Read a Cynsations interview with Rachel.

The winners of Token of Darkness by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes (Delacorte, 2010) were Amenda in Texas, Pamela in Georgia, Naseoul in Texas, Tashia in Michigan, and Jami in Florida. Read a guest post by Amelia on world building.

Cynsational Events

Joint release party - YA authors Varian Johnson and April Lurie will be featured in a joint book signing at 2 p.m. March 27 at BookPeople in Austin. Varian will be signing Saving Maddie, and April will be signing The Less-Dead (both Delacorte, 2010). Read a Cynsations interview with April.

"Lighting the Way to Literacy:" 2010 conference of the Illinois Reading Council March 18 to March 20 in Springfield. Look for me there! Note: additional featured authors include Joan Bauer, Andrew Clements, Will Hobbs, Eric A. Kimmel, Gail Carson Levine, Pam Munoz Ryan, Sarah Weeks, and David Wiesner. See program (PDF).

Oklahoma SCBWI Spring Conference will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 27 at Embassy Suites Hotel (1815 S. Meridian) in Oklahoma City. Faculty includes: editor Amy Lennex, Sleeping Bear Press; editor Greg Ferguson, Egmont USA; associate editor Kate Fletcher, Candlewick; Stephen Fraser, Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency; and senior designer (art director) Kerry Martin, Clarion. See registration form, information on writers' and illustrators' critiques, and more. Note: registration closes March 23.

The Greater Houston Teen Book Convention is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 10 at Alief Taylor High School, and admission is free! Speakers include keynoter Sharon Draper and Cynthia Leitich Smith.

The Texas Library Association Annual Conference will be April 14 to April 17 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio. Note: I'll be speaking from 1 p.m. to 1:50 p.m. on the "A Conversation Between Books and Technology" panel with Jay Asher, Corey Doctorow, Maureen Johnson, and Jude Watson. Then I'll sign books from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. See a schedule of Austin authors at TLA.

Release party - author Chris Barton will celebrate Shark v. Train, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Little Brown, 2010) at 1 p.m. April 24 at BookPeople in Austin. Read a Cynsations interview with Chris.

Moments of Change: the New England SCBWI Conference will take place May 14 to May 16 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. See conference schedule, workshop descriptions, manuscript critique guidelines, and special conference offerings. See faculty bios. Note: I'm honored to be participating as a keynote speaker!

"The Misadventures of a Manuscript: How to Write a Viable Story, with Literary Agent Scott Treimel of S©ott Treimel NY," hosted by the Writers' League of Texas, is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 14 at First Presbyterian Church (5300 Main Street) in Houston. Note: "Top children's literary agent S©ott Treimel NY receives hundreds of queries and submissions each month, and he asks to see partial manuscripts of only 5 percent of those. In this workshop, you'll learn directly from him the answer the question: What's wrong with the other 95 percent? $99 members / $169 nonmembers." Register here.

"Kid Lit: How to Break in to the Children's Market, with Literary Agent Scott Treimel of S©ott Treimel NY, hosted by the Writers' League of Texas, is scheduled for 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. May 15 in Austin. Note: "In this workshop, renowned children's agent Scott Treimel will cover the ins and outs of the children's and young adult publishing world. $99 members / $169 nonmembers." Register here.

Master Class/Writing Salon Event Details from Austin SCBWI. Peek: A Master Class/Writing Salon for the advanced writer, led by author Carol Lynch Williams, will be held May 15 at the Ranch House at Teravista in Round Rock, Texas. The cost is $80. Read a Cynsations interview with Carol.

2010 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop is scheduled for June 14 to June 18 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Peek: "Full-day participants spend their mornings in small workshops led by award-winning faculty. Both full- and half-day participants enjoy afternoon plenary sessions by national children's book editors and an agent, as well as breakout sessions by our workshop faculty and guest presenters. The keynote address and book signing are open to all conference attendees." See faculty.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith Debuts at #5 on The New York Times Best Seller List

Oh, my! Oh, wow! Oh...I'm greatly honored--and stunned--to share the news that Eternal (Candlewick) has just debuted at #5 on The New York Times Best Seller List!

Children's Best Sellers - Paperback, to be exact. The full list is available to subscribers online and will appear in Sunday's paper (March 14, 2010).

It's the first time that one of my books has made the list, and to be candid, I'm a little teary and profoundly grateful.

And absolutely wowed and thrilled and, okay, I had to have both my agent and editor assure me that it was really for real, but they both said "yes!" and so... Yowza!

Thanks so much to all of you who have supported this novel and my writing for all these years!

Big heaping thanks to my YA readers--it's a pleasure and honor to work for you! In fact, it's my dream come true!

Thanks to the booksellers--a million times over! I know it's tough on the front lines right now, and I appreciate you!

Thanks to the teachers and librarians for everything y'all do! I wouldn't never made it this far without your support, and I'm hopeful that our future will be just as sparkly!

More personally, thanks to Deborah Wayshak, Jennifer Yoon, and everyone else at Candlewick Press as well as my Ginger Knowlton and Tracy Marchini at Curtis Brown Ltd., along with manuscript readers Anne Bustard, Tim Crow, Sean Petrie, and Greg Leitich Smith!

Thanks to Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys for her web design efforts, to Shayne Leighton for designing the Eternal book trailer, and to Gene Brenek for designing the Eternal T-shirts and other goodies!

Thanks also to my creative communities in Austin, Texas (including Austin SCBWI and the Writers' League of Texas); at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and around the U.S. and world!

It's quite possible that this post will set the exclamation-point record at Cynsations! Before signing off though, I want to take just one more moment to cheer and reflect.

Congratulations to Carrie Ryan, whose novel The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Delacorte) also debuted on the paperback list! Her companion novel, The Dead-Tossed Waves (Delacorte), releases on March 9!

It also occurs to me that--with Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown) at #10--this may be the first time that two Native children's-YA authors have been on The New York Times list. How cool is that?

And, with All The World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane) listed at #8 among picture books, this may be the first time that two Austin-based children's-YA authors have made it in the same week. Note: Liz is the Austinite!

[I'm unsure on the "first-time" here, as All the World and Jacqueline Kelly's Newbery Honor Book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Holt) were on the list at about the same time, but I'm not clear on whether they actually overlapped.]

And that's enough from me! Oh, wait! I have just one more thought...

Thanks to you, too, Zachary & Miranda! There's more of your story to come!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

New Voice: Lauren Kate on Fallen

Lauren Kate is the first-time author of Fallen (Delacorte, 2009). From the promotional copy:

There's something achingly familiar about Daniel Grigori.

Mysterious and aloof, he captures Luce Price's attention from the moment she sees him on her first day at the Sword & Cross boarding school in sultry Savannah, Georgia. He's the one bright spot in a place where cell phones are forbidden, the other students are all screw-ups, and security cameras watch every move.

Even though Daniel wants nothing to do with Luce--and goes out of his way to make that very clear--she can't let it go. Drawn to him like a moth to a flame, she has to find out what Daniel is so desperate to keep secret . . . even if it kills her.

Dangerously exciting and darkly romantic, Fallen is a page turning thriller and the ultimate love story.

Are you a plotter or a plunger? Do you outline first, write to explore, or engage some combination of the two? Then where do you go from there? What about this approach appeals to you? What advice do you have for beginning writers struggling with plot?

Is it possible to be both a plotter and a plunger? Or a plunger who’s working on plotting? And sometimes a plotter who’s dying to plunge? I have struggled with plot for my whole writing career, and I’m still looking for the perfect mix of meticulousness and mystery.

Character is easy for me. Dialogue? Bring it on. Descriptions sometimes have to be pulled out of me like teeth, but I’ll give ‘em up eventually.

But plot? Most of the time I don’t have a clue. I’m the writer who spent six years working on a love story between a teen girl and her uncle—whose plot still needs a major kick in the pants to come to any sort of resolution.

I’m also the writer who kicked out four pseudonymous novels in two years with fun but very straightforward plots. You could say I was looking for a middle ground.

The two novels I have published on my own are getting closer to that. The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove (Razorbill, 2009) and Fallen were both meticulously plotted out before I wrote them. Character descriptions, paragraph-long synopses for each chapter, “big” endings, the whole deal.

Both outlines (along with a few chapters) were shared with writer-friends, agents and/or editors at very early stages.

And because the stories were larger and more complicated than I’d first realized, I actually did revisions on the outlines. Way more plotting than I’d ever done before.

At the end of plotting, when I was ready to plunge, it was comforting to sit down every day and know I had to write a chapter where X happened, followed by Y, and then Z.

But sometimes, it was also uninspiring. Suddenly, Y bored me, and Z felt really predictable. But it was in the outline, which fit together like a puzzle! What to do?

Eventually, I realized there were days when I would have to loosen my leash from my outlines, to let the story adapt and change organically as I went along. This was a very good decision, one that took me too long to make.

Right now, I’m in the middle of revising Torment (Fallen’s sequel). And honestly, the experience writing the first book and the second book has been night and day. Maybe it’s because much of the structure and world-building (see below) is already in place from the first book. Maybe it’s because I know the characters better.

But I know part of it is because I’m constantly refining my plotter-to-plunger ratio: freeing myself to stray when inspiration strikes, returning to my outline when I want to feel more grounded.

As a paranormal writer, how did you go about building your world?

When I started writing Fallen, I wasn’t really aware that I was building a world. Looking back, I wonder how that was possible. Because world-building seems like Step One in how to write paranormal fiction, doesn’t it?

I used to work in YA publishing and got to edit many paranormal and fantasy authors. Working with them, I was always very conscious of the ways in which they built and experimented with their worlds.

I even enjoyed being a task-master if they broke the rules they’d set up. "But you said a wizard could only come back from the dead eleven times! This makes twelve." That kind of thing.

But when it came to writing my own story, Fallen really began with the character. I had Lucinda and I had her conflict: she was looking for an escape from her past and a connection to something that felt real. That was where Daniel came in—bringing with him the beginnings of what I guess is called “the world.”

Suddenly, angels, demons, millennium-old curses, scores of reincarnations, and dueling forces of good and evil were all battling for a piece of the action in my little romance story. So it—the world, I mean—had to get bigger. Yank us into the world of Sword and Cross, my agent demanded when I sent him the first few chapters. Make it oppressive and inescapable and all-encompassing.

Oppressive? I had never written paranormal fiction in my life, and suddenly I wondered: could I do it?

Writers talk frequently about the worlds of fantasy and paranormal fiction, but of course, every novel has a world. A world is really just a setting, isn’t it? A setting whose bricks and mortar are really just description and imagination.

Even though, technically, Long Island already existed, Fitzgerald still had to build the world in The Great Gatsby (1925), didn’t he? You could say it’s just description, but the kind of description that informs everything else in the book—the protagonist, the conflicts, the emotional arcs of every character—that’s when description becomes world-building.

Turns out, it’s much less scary to think about world-building as imaginative description. The biggest difference between writing the worlds of straightforward contemporary fiction and paranormal fiction is that you get to make up fun new rules and dialect. I can’t say where most of these terms or rules come from. They just pop out of my mind onto the screen of my computer, and then I spend the rest of the series working through (and sometimes paying the price for) that little bit of impulsiveness.

For example, at the end of Fallen, I made an offhanded reference to a truce that is to last for eighteen days. Didn’t think too much about it, kind of just made it up. I had no idea that that one line would dictate the entire structure of the sequel, Torment. But once it went to the printer and I sat down to plot out Torment, eighteen days was what I had to work with, so eighteen days it was!

I’m not complaining, but I’ve learned to keep a notebook with a list of rules and terms for when I forget what I’ve tossed into Luce’s world. And I love the fact that I have three more books to work though, to let the world grow bigger, denser, and more complicated over the course of the series.

As you can see, building the world of my books is something I’m still figuring out, but I’m learning how to make the most of it, and sometimes even to enjoy it.

Cynsational Notes

The New Voices Series is a celebration of debut authors of 2009. Note: interviews with the debut authors of 2010 are scheduled to begin soon.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Guest Post: Author Amelia Atwater-Rhodes on World-Building & Token of Darkness Giveaway

By Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

One of the most exciting challenges I face when writing fantasy is world-building.

With a brand new book in a brand new world, the challenge is to figure the world out. What cultures exist, and how do they interact? How does magic work, and what are its limitations?

This is a fun stage, though the first book in a new world is normally a mess, because I spend a lot of time walking around, looking through a character’s eyes and going, “That’s cool. What do I do with it?”

In the Forests of the Night (Laurel Leaf, 2000) was the sixth or seventh book I wrote in Nyeusigrube. It took me that long to develop the world enough in my own mind to write a coherent story within it.

Once I, as the author, have a sense of the world, I need to figure out a way to communicate it to the reader without drowning them in info-dump that slows the plot.

Imagine writing a story about a girl who has ridden horses all her life, who goes to compete at professional horse-racing. There is probably no reason that anyone in that story is going to take the time to say, "A horse is a tall animal with four hooves. It’s thinner than a cow, with slender legs…" Everyone in the story knows what a horse is; they might think or talk about technical details ("Oh, I need to remember to get new shoes for that horse"), but they will not bother to describe the animal itself. That’s fine, because most people reading the story already know what a horse is.

In fantasy, however, a writer is often faced with a circumstance where the character is encountering something that is as familiar as a horse to him, but unfamiliar to the reader. This might include animals, or land features, or cultural norms, or something else entirely.

Either way, the challenge is to somehow communicate to the reader what this thing is, and that it is normal to the character, without the narrator taking the time to make an aside that interrupts the narrative flow and seems odd for the character himself.

The Kiesha’ra Series was especially challenging in this way; I often needed to clarify the world for my editor, so she could help me figure out how to explain to the reader.

Then, of course, there is the challenge of a well-developed world: Maintaining canon.

I sometimes have people say to me, “It’s fantasy. You can do whatever you want.”

Whatever has been established for the world needs to have consistency through stories, or a very good reason for changing.

In In the Forests of the Night, Risika says there are ghosts; in Token of Darkness (Delacorte, 2010), it is an important plot-point that Ryan le Coire says ghosts do not exist. Both books are canon.

In this case, the apparent contradiction is solved by a matter of semantics: Risika isn’t a witch, and she uses the term "ghost" in a different way than Ryan does. However, since no one in Token of Darkness knows Risika (Ryan certainly knows of her, but it is unlikely that they have met), and they certainly have no access to her interior narration, I needed to find a way as writer to acknowledge and clarify the apparent contradiction without Cooper stepping aside to say, “In Forests, Risika claims…”

Some people think writing fantasy is easier, because you can do “anything.” Maybe they are right, but writing fantasy for publication is harder.

In the real world, I can assume most people are familiar with basic facts of reality.

In fantasy, even the law of gravity sometimes needs to be clarified.

Token of Darkness Giveaway

Enter to win one of five copies of Token of Darkness (Delacorte, 2010)! To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Token of Darkness" in the subject line.

Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the title in the header
or comment on the interview post; I'll write you for contact information, if you win.

Deadline: midnight CST March 6. Note: U.S. entries only. Sponsored by Random House.

Amelia's Online Tour

Surf by all the stops on Amelia's online tour!

March 1: Tales of the Ravenous Reader (direct link)

March 2: Park Avenue Princess (direct link)

March 3: The Story Siren (direct link)

March 4: Cynsations/Cynthia Leitich Smith

March 5: The Book Butterfly

March 8: Books by Their Covers

Cynsational Notes

In addition, you can also visit with Amelia this week at Random Buzzers!

See also Den of Shadows!