Friday, December 31, 2010

Spooky News, Giveaways & Birthday

The Dark Side of Young Adult Fiction from The New York Times. Insights from Scott Westerfeld, Jay Parini, Andrew Clements, Michelle Ann Abate, Maggie Stiefvater, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Lisa Rowe Fraustino. Note: click author names for individual insights. Source: Jennifer Ziegler.

Scam Proofing Your Writing Career by Jan Fields from Kristi Holl at Writer's First Aid. Peek: "The Internet is like one of those ancient treasure troves you read about in stories. You can find wonderful things there. Or you can hit the booby traps and get squashed flatter than a flitter."

Use Photos on Your Blog and Articles by Kathy Temean from Writing and Illustrating. Peek: "One of the best ways to make your articles look appealing and to hold reader’s attention is to use images to illustrate your work. But where do you find images that you can use without getting into copyright trouble?"

How's Your Query Letter IQ? an interview with Jessica Greene of J.R. Professional Writing Services by Dianne Ochiltree from Kathy Temean at Writing and Illustrating. Peek: "Number one, absolutely no contest, is spelling and punctuation. Surprised?"

Tenners in Eleven: a round-up of 2010-2011 new releases from this dynamic group of new voices by Teri Hall from the Tenners. See also Fall 2010 Flying Starts from Publishers Weekly.

Pathway to Becoming a Bestselling Author by from QueryTracker.net. Peek (under "agented writers"): "Start working on a new project so if your current book doesn’t sell, you’ll have something new for your agent."

Steampunk: Full Steam Ahead by Heather M. Campbell from School Library Journal. Peek: "Steampunk is both speculative fiction that imagines technology evolved from steam-powered cogs and gears–instead of from electricity and computers–and a movement that fosters a do-it-yourself attitude and a love of beautifully crafted, yet functional, objects." See also Arthur Slade on How to Put the "Steam" in Steampunk.

Spooky Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for The Lost Saint by Bree Despain (Egmont, 2010).



Austin Scene

For those who missed it over the holidays: Arrested Development? Young-at-heart Austin is home to a booming Young Adult literature scene by Melanie Haupt from The Austin Chronicle (cover story). Peek: "In many ways, the wedding of Victorian gothic to Austin's buzzing eclecticism within the context of Young Adult literature – itself a crazy amalgam of genres – is the perfect metaphor for the town itself. And it just so happens that Austin is a literary hotbed for the production and consumption of YA fiction. Austin and YA lit offer something for everyone, from dark, paranormal romances featuring werearmadillos to powerfully realistic portrayals of Southern racism during the Civil Rights movement."

Read in 2010: Austin Writers Recommend Their Favorite Books of the Year from The Austin American-Statesman. Peek from me: "I don't reach for historicals first, but [Y.S. ] Lee's Mary Quinn mysteries--[A Spy in the House (The Agency: Book One) and The Body in the Tower (The Agency: Book Two)(both Candlewick)]--read like lush, romantic fantasies, with plenty of page-turning intrigue and suspense." Note: recommendations from Chris Barton, Varian Johnson, and more.

More Personally

Thank you for all of your enthusiasm and support in 2010! I'm so grateful for the terrific fellowship, insights, and passion for the craft of writing and reading books for young readers. Here's to an even better 2011!

Vampires, Werewolves and Guardian Angels: a review of Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2010) by Teri Lesesne AKA Professor Nana from The Goddess of YA Literature. Peek: "Archetypes, motifs, and plenty of references to other vampire literature make this a terrific read for fans of the genre, too. Quincie is no shrinking violet; she is a strong young woman surrounded by danger at every turn. Lots of action and blood and gore balanced nicely with a growing romance between Quincie and Kieren."

Blessed: Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith and Giveaway by Jen Bigheart from I Read Banned Books. Peek: "I feel that her arc makes a fresh and substantive contribution to the literary tradition surrounding the vampire mythology. It calls long accepted metaphors into question, especially as they relate to gender, power, and the ability to be defined by someone else (versus defining yourself)." Giveaway deadline: midnight CST Jan. 9. Scroll for more information.

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Stacey O'Neale from The Young Adult Fantasy Guide. Peek: "It's [Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2011)] more romantic and horrific and sexier and has more heart than the previous two books. Quincie is also a far more reliable narrator than she was in Tantalize because she's on the other side of her transformation."

Author Insight: The Significance of Books from Wastepaper Prose and Other Literary Woes. Note: Insights from 30 authors, including me, every upcoming Tuesday and Thursday.

Reminder: Cat Calls by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2010) is now available for free as an e-book from Amazon.com! See more information!

Reminder: you're always welcome leave a comment at Cynsations at LJ. Please also find me at facebook, JacketFlap, Twitter, and YouTube. Check out Greg's news at GregLSBlog.

Even More Personally

Happy Birthday, Cynthia Leitich Smith from Happy Birthday Author: Where Reading and Birthdays Come Together. Peek: "I was born in a snowstorm on New Year's Eve in Kansas City."

Hey, hey, it's my birthday!

And yes, a birthday on New Year's Eve definitely prompts one to evaluate where she is in life.

That's okay! Don't panic. I'm a work in progress.

Much joy and many blessings to you in the new year!

My holiday has been almost entirely spent writing. I'm working on book #4 (still untitled) in the Tantalize series.

Here, you can see the dining room table set for Christmas dinner in the foreground and my work area in the background.

Dinner is turkey, giblet stuffing, gravy, green bean casserole, and corn. Dessert was bananas foster, all made by Greg, naturally.


On the 28th, fellow Austinites gathered around that same table for yet another day of writing.

Here's former Austin SCBWI RA Tim Crow with authors Jennifer Ziegler (in white) and Julie Lake (in green). Look for Jenny's Sass and Serendipity in July 2011 from Delacorte.


On the other side of the table, we have Greg with authors April Lurie and Chris Barton. Bethany Hegedus also joined us, a little later in the day. Look for Chris's Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities in April 2011 from Dial.


Menu: armadillo eggs, chicken enchiladas, homemade salsa, tortilla chips, tamales, fruit, cranberry apple casserole, chocolate-covered pretzels, and cookies! The armadillo eggs (cream-cheese-stuffed jalapeno peppers, wrapped in bacon) were brought by Tim.


My present from Greg was Mr. Monk Is Cleaned Out by Lee Goldberg (Obsidian, 2010). I adore these parallel stories that tie into the series at various points.

In return, I gave Greg Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read by Stanislas Dehaene (Penguin, 2010). From the promotional copy: "The act of reading is so easily taken for granted that we forget what an astounding feat it is. How can a few black marks on white paper evoke an entire universe of meanings? It's even more amazing when we consider that we read using a primate brain that evolved to serve an entirely different purpose. In this riveting investigation, Stanislas Dehaene explores every aspect of this human invention, from its origins to its neural underpinnings. A world authority on the subject, Dehaene reveals the hidden logic of spelling, describes pioneering research on how we process languages, and takes us into a new appreciation of the brain and its wondrous capacity to adapt."

Before bed most nights, we revisited favorite movies like "The Princess Bride" (1987), "White Christmas" (1954), and "Oh, God! You Devil" (1984)(I adore George Burns.).

I also fell in love with DreamWork's "How To Train Your Dragon" (2010), which we saw late one evening on DVD. Here's the trailer.



Spooky Events

Save the Date! Joint Launch Party: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) and Night School by Mari Mancusi (Berkley) book party and signing at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 at BookPeople in Austin. Read a guest post by Mari on Kids Don't Read Like They Used To...And That's a Good Thing (on connecting books to technology). Don't miss the Night School blog tour!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Voice: Greg van Eekhout on Kid vs. Squid

Greg van Eekhout is the first-time author of Kid vs. Squid (Bloomsbury, 2010). From the promotional copy:

The citizens of Atlantis are stuck selling cotton candy on the boardwalk, and only our hero can help.

Thatcher Hill is bored stiff of his summer job dusting the fake mermaids and shrunken heads at his uncle's seaside Museum of Curiosities. But when a mysterious girl steals an artifact from the museum, Thatcher's summer becomes an adventure that takes him from the top of the Ferris wheel to the depths of the sea.

Following the thief, he learns that she is a princess of the lost Atlantis. Her people have been cursed by an evil witch to drift at sea all winter and wash up on shore each summer to an even more terrible fate—working the midway games and food stands on the boardwalk.

Can Thatcher help save them before he, too, succumbs to the witch's curse?

With sharp, witty writing that reads like a middle-grade Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Greg van Eekhout's first book for young readers is a wild ride packed with as many laughs as it has thrills.


How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters?

Of all the characters I've written about in various stories, Thatcher, the boy in Kid vs. Squid, was probably the easiest to discover. I actually didn't feel like I was discovering him. It was more like he showed up on the page, already talking, and I just had to listen to him.

His best weapon is his smart alec mouth, and my biggest challenge writing him was getting him to shut up.

But Trudy McGee, who started out as Thatcher's sidekick, kind of threatened to take over the book. She's sort of a detective/superhero, and she's all about solving problems, taking action, throwing fire crackers, whatever it takes to get the job done.

Both characters could dominate a scene, Thatcher with his wisecracks and Trudy with her backpack full of crime-fighting gear. And whenever I had the two of them on the page together, it felt like watching a pair of actors improvise. All I had to do was nudge them along to keep the story moving.

Most of the time, writing doesn't work like that for me, but these two characters made it easy.

Most of the other characters in Kid vs. Squid came about just by imagining who would live in a town cursed by the severed head of a witch from Atlantis. It just made sense that there'd be jellyfish boys riding bikes, and that the king of Atlantis would be working the popcorn stand.

A couple of characters, though, fell in my lap out of real life. I was on the beach one day when this guy walked out of the surf, completely draped in kelp. So much kelp that it looked as if he was made of kelp! So I took that image and made up the evil witch's henchmen, the kelp guys.

Real life is weird!

As a fantasy writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time fantasy reader? Did a particular book or books inspire you?

I think most kids start out as fantasy fans, even if the fantasy they're into isn't necessarily Tolkien-style with swords and wizards and eating stew with elves. Dr. Seuss is fantasy. "Toy Story" is fantasy. Spider-Man is fantasy. Most entertainment for kids features an elevated reality in which people have abilities that we don't have in real life or the laws of physics don't resemble what goes on in the real world or animals talk.

That's fantasy.

A walking, talking sea sponge? Total fantasy. So basically, I've been a fantasy fan all my life.

My inspiration comes from so many sources that it's really hard to narrow it down to any particular books, but just off the top of my head, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (Simon & Schuster, 1962) stands out. I like the idea that you don't have to go somewhere else to experience fantasy, that there's weird stuff going on all around us, maybe out in the open, maybe in the shadows, and Bradbury often takes that approach.


Probably, though, the more immediately visible influences on my work are comic books and cheesy '70s and '80s Saturday morning cartoons.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

I'm lucky in that my local indie bookstore, Mysterious Galaxy, has been incredibly supportive. They've had me to the store twice for signings, and they've gotten me on panels at Comic-Con, and they set up my first school visit.

I'm a bit skeptical about the effectiveness of self-promotion, so my approach is just to do things that I enjoy. Answering interview questions is fun. And I like meeting readers face-to-face. So even if turns out that making appearances doesn't have any real measurable impact on my sales, at least I've gotten to meet people who've read my book or might potentially read my book, and that's it's own reward.

Cynsational Notes

Kirkus Reviews cheers, "Drawing together a memorable supporting cast that ranges from a half-human Atlantean princess to a genial shark-man ('Howdy-do. Swim with us to shore or we’ll eat your legs'), van Eekhout chivvies the plot along at a lively pace to a hold-your-breath climax and a deftly choreographed resolution."

School Library Journal cheers, "Van Eekhout carefully balances his tongue in his cheek with some really creepy situations, and the result is a humorous fantasy that will rush over young readers like a tidal wave."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Voice: Ilsa J. Bick on Draw the Dark

Ilsa J. Bick is the first-time author of Draw the Dark (Carolrhoda Lab; 2010). From the promotional copy:

There are things the people of Winter, Wisconsin, would rather forget. The year the Nazis came to town, for one. That fire, for another. But what they'd really like to forget is Christian Cage.

Seventeen-year-old Christian's parents disappeared when he was a little boy. Ever since, he's drawn obsessively: his mother's face...her eyes...and what he calls "the sideways place," where he says his parents are trapped. Christian figures if he can just see through his mother's eyes, maybe he can get there somehow and save them.

But Christian also draws other things. Ugly things. Evil things. Dark things. Things like other people's fears and nightmares. Their pasts. Their destiny.

And some things the people of Winter would rather forget—like murder.

But Winter won't be able to forget the truth, no matter how hard it tries. Not as long as Christian draws the dark...


How did you approach the research for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you encounter? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

I’m going to turn this question around a bit because I think that the research process for any story is reflexive and reflective of history (personal and otherwise) and imagination.

As a child psychiatrist, I’ve always been interested in the sideways place in people’s minds: that hole down cellar where darkness lives. So, for me, researching a story means digging deep, personally and otherwise.

So, some things you need to know:

a) I’m Jewish and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor;

b) I live in rural Wisconsin about a stone’s throw away from an old Hebrew cemetery—which is weird because we’re the only Jewish family in town;

c) A German PW camp once stood about four miles from my house, and was only one of thirty-eight such camps in the state;

d) I think all art tells a story.

A somewhat longer version:

Being Jewish and a survivor’s daughter, I’ve always felt the Holocaust as a kind of background music. Couple that with my move from the East Coast to Wisconsin almost a decade ago—to a place where we are, literally, the only Jews in town. Virtually no one in my village has ever met a Jew.

I remember the first time this older guy found out I was Jewish. First thing out of his mouth: "Hey, I heard Jewish people get buried standing up."

I’m not making this up. To put this in perspective, there used to be about a thousand Jews and several synagogues as late as the 1950s--so many Jews, they called this area, “Little Jerusalem."

But . . . wait a minute. There’s that Hebrew Cemetery just spitting distance from my house. So what’s with that?

So I got curious and unearthed some interesting stuff, which led me a fabulous book, Stalag Wisconsin: Inside WW II Prisoner-of-War Camps by Betty Cowley (Badger Books, 2002). From Ms. Cowley’s work, I learned that prior to 1942 England held several thousand German prisoners of war but became increasingly nervous that Hitler was going to destroy England from the inside-out by air-dropping weapons to all those prisoners. So England asked the U.S. to take the PWs off their hands.

The first PWs started arriving here in 1942. Wisconsin’s Camp McCoy was one of the first Army base camps where captured Germans (and Italians and Japanese) were processed before moving along to other smaller, rural branch camps to ease manpower shortages on farms and in factories.

At its peak, the number of German PWs in the U.S. was about a half-million men. In many towns, especially in the heavily Germanic Midwest, camp officials were deluged with requests from U.S. citizens about German relatives.

Cowley’s book is chock-full of stories about things like German PWs knocking on relatives’ doors or those of German-Americans, only to discover a cousin or uncle or brother in a nearby PW camp.

After the war, many German PWs came back to the U.S.—to these communities—to live.

All that history got me thinking: what would it be like to be Jewish and to live here at that particular time? Here are Germans PWs, soldiers who’ve pretty much wanted to wipe you out, and now they’re just down the road. Your neighbors aren’t unhappy; in fact, they’re thrilled because some of these PWs are relatives or friends.

Think about that.

That’s where my protagonist, Christian Cage, enters: at the intersection of history and imagination and into a story I wanted to tell about darkness, secrets and guilt. (Christian’s name says it all, don’t you think?)

Christian tells his personal story to himself by painting his questions. Sometimes, his darkness freaks him out, but he keeps going and, personally, I think that takes guts. No matter how frightening, I think the journey through the darkness is worth it.

Call the reward insight; call it understanding. Or hope.

How did you go about identifying your editor?

Actually, my editor identified me!

I came up with the idea for this book at a writer’s workshop devoted to crafting queries and synopses. When I got home, I shot out my query and synopsis to a couple editors whom I’d researched pretty heavily in terms of what their houses were putting out and what their personal tastes appeared to be.

One answered immediately and wanted to see the book—which was kind of a trip because I hadn’t yet written the darned thing! So I typed my fingers off for about eight weeks and sent off the resulting book, originally titled "Stalag Winter."

And then I waited. And waited. And waited. And . . .

Well, you know the drill. After about five months of waiting, I contacted her again, only discover that she’d since quit her job.

At around the same time, I stumbled on the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and figured, fine, I’ll submit "Stalag Winter." There was no YA category that year, and so I submitted under "mystery," thinking my chances were slim to none.

I mean: a YA paranormal mystery? Hellooo . . .

As it happened, I made it to the semi-finals: the final hundred out of over five thousand entries. So I was pretty stoked; by then, other people had passed on "Stalag Winter," but that was fine. I had another book ready to make the rounds anyway; I figured that I’d mention "Stalag Winter" and the ABNA in the queries. Couldn’t hurt.

I sent out five queries—for a completely different book—on a Sunday afternoon.

By Monday morning, I had five replies, asking for the manuscript. On Wednesday, my fantabulous Carolrhoda Lab editor, Andrew Karre (interview), popped into my email, asking if we could talk. (Uh . . . that would be yes.)

We talked on Friday; Andrew wanted the book; it was kismet.

Andrew is the best kind of editor: one who’s boundlessly energetic, enthusiastic and eager to get under the book’s hood—not to yank out the distributor cap but figure out how the book works and how to make it work better. Above all, Andrew is interested in the writer. He wants to know what makes a writer tick. My kind of guy.

Mind you, though, his was a call for "Sin-Eater," not the book that became Draw the Dark. That book was still in the running for the ABNA. Andrew asked to see every YA I’d written, so I also shot him "Stalag Winter"/Draw The Dark.

Well, he completely flipped and wanted Draw The Dark, too.

All I had to do was lose the contest.

I did, but honestly, I won, big time. At this point, Draw The Dark is the first of three books Carolrhoda will be putting out; the others are Sin-Eater and Sweet.

I can say, with complete honesty, that I really look forward to working with Andrew on all these projects and many more.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays...



from My House to Yours!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cat Calls E-Book by Cynthia Leitich Smith Now Available for Free

Cat Calls by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2010) is now available for free as an e-book from Amazon.com!

Cat Calls is set in the Tantalize series universe and features entirely new characters. Here's a peek:

Tiffany's grandma sees something wild in her future -- but is Tiffany prepared for the powerful shape it will take?

I’m what people call “a late bloomer.”

This May, not long after my sixteenth birthday, I finally started my period for the first time and shifted from blah to bombshell overnight.

For me, it was a relief.

My mom, on the other hand, had a full-scale panic attack. Before you could say “Xanax,” she packed me up and shipped me off to my grandmother, who at the time was predicting the future in Missouri off I-35.


Cynsational Notes

Tiff is claws-down the sassiest point-of-view character I've ever written, and this story radiates "animal" in a fierce, sexy, mind-bending kind of way.

Amazon.com tends to be the first online retailer to roll out new e-releases, but as the book becomes available at other outlets, I'll update you on that information. If you want it now, though, you should order here.

"Cat Calls" was originally published as a short story in Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009).

It also will be featured at the back of the Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2011) e-book.

Spooky News, Cat Calls (free e-book) Release, Blessed Giveaway

2010 Trends and Industry Predictions by Jennifer Lynn Barnes and Ally Carter from Jennifer. Peek: "High concept historical fiction might be poised to make a move if, like paranormal, it has a mix of commercial elements. From crime-fighting flappers to Austenian assassins, historical might be a very interesting place to be in 2011 and beyond."

I Got the Call! Um, Now What? by Jennifer Laughran from Jennifer Represents. Peek: "Let the other agents who are considering your work know that you have an offer. Give them a few days or a week to read and respond."

Should You Post Your Writing Online? by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "Even though most editors and agents don’t like to work with previously published material, whether posted online or self-published, a short sample on your blog may not be enough to put them off your project. (Careful, though, as individual policies here do vary greatly.)"

Listen. Listen. by Jane Lebak from QueryTracker.net Blog. Peek: "For Christmas or whatever holiday you celebrate, give yourself the gift of believing you have something important to say."

Triaging Rejection Pain by Laurie Halse Anderson from The Debutante Ball. Peek: "Maybe you say prayers, or light candles, or visit shrines like Mark Twain’s house and leave small offerings of cigars and pots of ink. And then you wait."

Interview with Robin Wasserman by Debbi Michiko Florence from One Writer's Journey. Peek: "...you just have to keep reminding yourself that you have no control over how a book is received by the world. The only part of the publishing process that writers actually have control over is the writing. And I've found that focusing on that makes for a much saner Robin."

Dealing with Rejection by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "...cast off your unsuccessful projects and work on something else. Focus on your craft. Plod along toward mastery."

A Case for Villains by "No villain=no conflict=no plot=no point."

Developing Your Writer's Intuition by Angela Ackerman from Adventures in Children's Publishing. Peek: "Trust your intuition and if you think there's a problem, get some fresh eyes and opinions. You only get one chance to impress, so send out your best."

Bibliography of 2011 Children's-YA Books By/About People of Color from Color Online.

Mini Writing Conference -- 6 1/2 Lists of Advice from Editors, Agents, Authors and a Really Cool Kid from Donna Gephart at Wild About Words.

SCBWI Team Blog Interview with Art Directory Lucy Ruth Cummins by Jaime from CocoaStomp. Peek: "Often if I'm totally 'in the zone' working on a book, I'll have a hard time checking out the moment the whistle blows. Really flowing with a project is such a wonderful feeling, and squandering that flow is something I try never to do."

Writers Links: Promotion: a round-up of ideas, tips, and resources from Children's & YA Lit Resources.

New Blessed Interview & Giveaway

Chatting with Cynthia Leitich Smith & Blessed ARC Giveaway by Chris Eboch from The Spectacle. The full scoop on my YA Gothic fantasy series, how Stephen King scared me, the challenges of writing speculative fiction, connecting with a publisher, reaching readers, the sci-fi/fantasy world I'd want to live in, my favorite actors, and my feelings about Aquaman.

Comment for a chance to win an ARC of Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2011)!

See also the Blessed media kit (PDF). See also Chris's blog Write Like a Pro! A Free Online Writing Workshop.

Cat Calls: Free E-book Release

Cat Calls by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2010) is now available for free as an e-book from Amazon.com!

As additional online retailers make the e-book available, I'll update you with that information.

"Cat Calls" was originally published as a short story in Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009).

More Personally

Link of the Week: One of the Many Reasons I Love My Agent, Ginger Knowlton by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl.com: Daily Diversions for Writers. Note: Ginger is my agent too.

I'm spending this holiday in deadline mode, but here's a peek at the tree.

And here's my before-Christmas present from Santa Claus AKA my Candlewick editor, Deborah Wayshak--my first author's copy of Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2011).

Giveaway Reminder

Enter to win a illustrator-autographed copy of Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Daniel Jennewein (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins, 2011)! The book will include a customized drawing--the winner can pick the buffalo's pose!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) and type "Buffalo" in the subject line. Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message or comment me with the name in the header/post; I'll write you for contact information, if you win. Deadline: Dec. 31. Sponsored by the illustrator; world-wide entries.

Spooky Events

Jessica Lee Anderson will speak on seven things she's learned through her publishing journey...using songs at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at 11 a.m. Jan. 15 at BookPeople in Austin. Read an interview with Jessica and P.J. Hoover.

Save the Date! Joint Launch Party: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) and Night School by Mari Mancusi (Berkley) book party and signing at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 at BookPeople in Austin. Read a guest post by Mari on Kids Don't Read Like They Used To...And That's a Good Thing (on connecting books to technology). Don't miss the Night School blog tour!

A Cacophony of Conference Contests from Austin SCBWI in conjunction with Books, Boots, and Buckskin, the chapter's regional conference on Feb. 18 and Feb. 19. Note: includes drawings for saved seats and both author/manuscript and illustrator/portfolio critiques.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Voice: Shaun David Hutchinson on The Deathday Letter

Shaun David Hutchinson is the first-time author of The Deathday Letter (Simon Pulse, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Carpe Mortediem!

Ollie can’t be bothered to care about anything but food, girls, and games until he gets his Deathday Letter and learns he’s going to die in twenty-four hours. Bummer.

Ollie does what he does best: nothing.

Then his best friend convinces him to live a little, and go after Ronnie, the girl who recently trampled his about-to-expire heart. Ollie turns to carloads of pudding and over-the-top declarations, but even playing the death card doesn’t work. All he wants is to set things right with the girl of his dreams.

It’s now or never....


Are you a plotter or a plunger? Do you outline first, write to explore first, 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?

I'll tell you a secret: I suck at plot. Maybe that's not the sort of thing a writer should admit. It's like an accountant admitting that he sucks at math. But it's the truth. Plots are my weak point.

I don't think writers are either plotters or plungers. Instead I think we all fall on a spectrum somewhere. We all begin in the same place, groping about in the dark with naught but a lamp to guide our way. The only real difference is that some people have a much brighter light. Some writers can see a story from beginning to end before they write a single word, whereas some writers' lights are barely bright enough to illuminate their shoes.

My light is pretty dim. Generally, when an idea comes to me, I know two things: the beginning and the end. For instance, with The Deathday Letter, I began with Ollie. I knew his story began in bed on the last day of his life, and I knew that it ended 24 hours later with his death.

The rest of the story had to be uncovered one slow step at a time.

For me, it's like exploring. Like a Chose Your Own Adventure book. Sometimes I take a left when I should have taken a right and I end up having to delete huge chunks of work, but that's the fun of it for me. Not knowing what's coming next is how I stay engaged for so long.

I do have a notebook where I'll write scene ideas, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'll ever use them. I let every scene inform the ones that come after. I find that if I outline first, it traps me, boxes me in and takes away my ability to explore. If something unexpected happens, I like having the freedom to follow that new event to its logical conclusion.

The downside to this is that, if you're like me and suck at plotting, you can end up with a story that doesn't quite work. One that you have to heavily revise. This is where the plotters with their bright flashlights have the advantage. They have the ability to see those inconsistencies prior to writing the first draft. But hey, that's what revising is for.

After my first draft, I become an outlining fiend. I have this crazy spreadsheet a friend gave me, that I use to break down every scene by character and location. It's crazy but allows me to get into the nuts and bolts of the story.

To beginning writers who are maybe struggling with these issues: listen to what works, ignore the rest. You heard me right. There are a thousand voices telling newbie writers how to do this and how to do that. Most of them are wrong...for you.

I've heard the amazing Hannah Moskowitz, author of Break (Simon Pulse, 2009), finishes a first draft in a week, writing mostly in front of the television. Most people will tell you she's nuts, but it works for her and she's pretty genius in my book.


So when it comes to plotting or plunging or going bat-poop crazy on some blank paper, I say flick on your flashlight, see how far you can see, and forge your own path through the dark.

If it works for you, then it's the right way to do it.

As a comedic writer, how do you decide what's funny? What advice do you have for those interested in either writing comedies or books with a substantial amount of humor in them?

There's a secret to being funny. Want to hear it?

Okay, here it is: don't try to be funny. That's it.

Go forth and make people laugh now.

Okay, seriously, I don't know anything about how to be funny. I don't actually consider myself a funny guy. Ask my brother, he'll tell you how lame I am. But I suppose that's not the answer anyone wants. So here's what I've learned.

First, you can't try to be funny. Every time I've ever written a joke, it's fallen flat. Jokes can't be forced, they have to come organically from a situation. For me, that's the biggest rule. Sure, you can do things to enhance a funny situation, but everyone can tell when you manufacture one.

The other thing you have to do is be prepared to to be humiliated. You can't be self-conscious if you're going to be funny.

What does that mean? It means that you better be able to handle the idea of your mom reading a book filled with crazy euphemisms for boy parts. It means going there. To that place that other writers won't go. It means being open and raw and honest even when it hurts.

One of the best examples of this, in my opinion, is Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner (Random House, 2007). In titular character Shakespeare Shapiro, Wizner created a gut-crushingly honest teen that made me laugh harder than I'd laughed in just about forever. And that's because Wizner doesn't pull any punches.


This goes back to some great advice I learned from reading Stephen King's book, On Writing (Scribner, 2000): Be honest.


What Wizner gives us (and what you must also give, if you're going to write a comedy) is one hundred percent of your soul. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and draw from your most humiliating moments, if you're going to make people laugh.

It's a painful but rewarding process.

The difference between those who write drama and those who write comedy is ugliness. Comedic writers embrace the ugly in everything.

Kissing, for instance. Open up most dramatic books and you'll find the tentative first kiss between two lovers. It's beautiful and sweet and tender. It's magic. And it's also bull.

I don't know about you, but my first kiss was nothing like that.

Mine was in the parking lot of a grocery store. I was hot and my breath smelled like Doritos and she was wearing too much make up. I remember thinking that her tongue tasted like bologna and kind of made my skin crawl. The steam from our breath made my nose wet and it felt like snot. When we were done, I slipped a dollar into her Salvation Army bucket and went back into the grocery store to finish my shift.

Not the stuff dreams are made of. But possibly funny.

As a person who writes the funny, I embrace the ugliness of my first kiss. I milk it for its tragic awkwardness. And I'm not embarrassed to share it with you. If you want to write comedy, these are the things you have to do.

Also, you have to be prepared for people who won't think you're funny.

Humor is highly subjective. People might laugh at the story of my first kiss because they've had similar, cringe-inducing experiences. But maybe there's someone out there whose every kiss has been fairy-tale magic wrapped up in candy-cane bows. Without a similar experience to draw from, that person might read my story and simply think me a sad, sorry individual. But that's the risk you take.

I knew when I sold Deathday that the high proportion of boy-oriented jokes might be a turn-off to some female readers, but it was a risk worth taking, and if you want to be funny you'll have to take similar risks.

Comedy is like love: you can't force it. You just have to be open to it, ready for it, and prepared for total humiliation. I may not know anything about being funny, but I know a heck of a lot about being embarrassed.

Spooky Notes

Check out The Deathday Letter website, read chapter one (PDF), and learn more about Shaun from Simon & Schuster. Visit him at facebook and his tweet deck.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Spooky News & Giveaways

Enter today to win the Cynthia Leitich Smith Grand Prize Giveaway from Book Club as part of Book Club's 31 Days of Giveaways!

The prize is:

a signed Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 2011) ARC;

Quincie's Chicago-themed road trip journal (lined for your own notes);

and a plush toy bat with purple ears and bow tie!

To enter, you'll need to surf to the immediately preceding link answer the following questions:

(1) In the 2003 movie "Elf," what are the four main food groups that elves stick to?

(2) What did I give you last Christmas, that the very next day, you gave it away? (Hint: The name of of the carol is in the question.)

(3) Rudolf the red nose reindeer was made fun of by the other reindeer until what happened?


Surf over to answer in the comments section of today's prize post at Crissi's Blog. The winner will be randomly selected from the correct answers and awarded within 24 hours.

Good luck, and happy holidays!

See also a Cynsations interview with Cristina Brandao on Book Club at facebook. Note: Book Club is currently 12,516 members strong.

More News & Giveaways

What Children's Publishers Are Doing in the Apps Space: Houses Are Testing, Experimenting by Rachel Deahl from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Bloomsbury is creating its first app this season, based on Carrie Jones’s YA paranormal romance series Need. A spokesperson for the house said the planned release date for the app is December, to coincide with the publication of the third book in the series, Entice (2010)." Source: Alice Pope's SCBWI Blog.

Congratulations to Paul B. Janeczko on the success of The Dark Game: True Spy Stories (Candlewick, 2010)! From the promotional copy: "Ever since George Washington used them to help topple the British, spies and their networks have helped and hurt America at key moments in history." The Dark Game is a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults and Booklist said: "With well-chosen subjects (including many women and African Americans who used their marginalized positions to gather information) and contagious enthusiasm for the spy world's 'tantalizing mysteries,' this makes a strong choice for both avid and reluctant readers alike."

Re-submissions and Re-querying: Yes or No? by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker. Peek: "What should you do if you’ve queried an agent with sample pages, but by the time they’ve request the partial or full, you’ve made substantial changes to those pages?"

Figment Looks to Attract Young Writers from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Founded by New Yorker staff writer Dana Goodyear and former New Yorker managing editor Jacob Lewis, Figment.com is an online writing community aimed at attracting a membership of young people, ranging from kids to teens and older, to post, share and comment on each other’s original writing. Launched this week...." Note: I've had the opportunity to visit with Jacob on a couple of occasions and have participated in a couple of pre-launch activities on the system.

Interview with Robin McKinley on Pegasus (Putnam, 2010) by Parker Peevyhouse from The Spectacle. Peek: "I did realise [sic] that something the size of pegasi either had hollow bones or some magic to allow them to fly at all, but that kind of explanation or confirmation tends to come later in the story-telling process."

What To Expect When You're...On Submission by Elizabeth Fama from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "When your agent tells you the names of the editors on your submission list, it’s a little like learning that you’re pregnant.'"

New Agent Alert: Brianne Mulligan of Movable Type Literary Group by Chuck Sambuchino from Guide to Literary Agent's Editor's Blog. Peek: seeking "high-concept YA and middle grade fiction."

Books, Boots & Buckskin: 2011 Austin Regional SCBWI Conference Contest from ARA Carmen Oliver from Following My Dreams. Prizes include saved front-row seats. Deadline: Feb. 1. Note: conference dates are Feb. 18 and Feb. 19 at St. Edward's University in Austin; see more information.

Cover Stories: Matched by Ally Condie from Melissa Walker. Peek: "The dress is beautiful and has significance to the story, as does the bubble/glass world and the color green." Peek: "Matched was just named #1 on the Winter 2010-2011 Kid's Indie Next List. "

Too Many Cooks - How Do You Handle Conflicting Critiques? by Mary Lindsey from QueryTracker. Peek: "First, as with all criticism, do not take it personally or you cannot objectively evaluate the input. Then, consider the source. How well do you know this person? What are his/her qualifications?"

2010 YA Books Central Reader's Choice Nominations from YABC. Peek: "This year, YABC is hosting our own Reader's Choice Awards for 2010! We'll be collecting your nominations until Sunday, Dec. 19. Then, on Monday the 20th, we'll open the voting for your favorites...." Note: picture book, middle grade, and YA author and book categories. Go nominate!

What Makes a Great First Page? by Alvina Ling from Blue Rose Girls. Peek: "I can definitely gauge how talented a writer is based on the first page. In fact, because authors know the first page is so important, they tend to spend a lot of time revising that first page (if they're smart!)."

GregLSBlog Favorites of 2010 from Greg Leitich Smith. Note: book pics from picture books through YA. Here's a peek (above) at his middle grade choices.

World Building Through Character by Anna Staniszewski from annastan. Peek: "Build as you go, allowing your characters to lead you."

Whether to Give Up on a Project by Jennifer R. Hubbard from writerjenn. Peek: "Sometimes the magic leaves a project. We don't get to the ending, or maybe we don't get to turn that early draft into the book it could be."

Where Do I Go From Here?: 3 Literary Agents, 3 Opinions: a one-day workshop from Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Literary Agency, Anna Olswanger of Liza Dawson Associates, and Ann Tobias of A Literary Agency for Children's Books from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 6 at The New York Open Center, 22 East 30th Street, New York NY 10016. (This event is not affiliated with The New York Open Center.) Fee: $295.00 to February 6, $325.00 thereafter (lunch included). Group size is limited; previous workshops have sold out.

Lindsey Scheibe: new blog from an Austin-based YA writer, represented by Mandy Hubbard of D4E0 Literary Agency. Peek: "For now, I hope to put up three blogs each week. One personal. One writing focused. One highlighting writing related blogs or sites that I admire and find enlightening." More about Lindsey: "She volunteered with Makarios the past two years, as well as visited their missionary school in the Dominican Republic where they service Haitian and Dominican children."

Do What You Do Well by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog - Writer Talk. Peek: "The truth was maybe one or two could write beautiful prose (and this was in a large group of talented writers). Most just didn’t have that gift. But instead of struggling to develop what gifts they did have they got caught up on language because that was what all the teachers praised most."

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus (Egmont, 2010). Anna lives in Austin, Texas; and Shadow Hills is her debut novel.



Austin Scene

Austin SCBWI members gathered last week at Opal Divine's Marina for fajitas and holiday cheer.


Author-illustrator Don Tate with illustrator Erik Kuntz.

Authors Jessica Lee Anderson and Margo Rabb.

More Personally

I'm honored to announce that my essay, "Isolation," will appear in Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories, edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones (HarperTeen, fall 2011). A percentage of the book's proceeds will go to a national anti-bullying program. See also Anthology to Compile Authors' Personal Stories About Bullying by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly.

Cynthia Leitich Smith: Children's Book Author Interview by Aaron Mead from Children's Books and Reviews. Note: I talk about my writing, life on line, and offer advice to beginners. Peek: "A picture book is like a puzzle, getting just the right combination of words and elements. A novel is more like an endurance trek, uphill in the rain, carrying a rhino on your back. I love both."

Great Gifts for the Paranormal Romantic by Madeline from BookKids at BookPeople in Austin. Suggestions include Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009, 2010) and more by other nifty YA fantasy authors.

Thanks also to Katiebuggy129 for this writing project video on Eternal! Cynsational readers--I love the songs and comments! Great voice and humor! Wow!



And the Christmas train is chugging around the kitchen table.

Link of the Week: Bags get bookish: 'intellectual' clutch bags by Olympia Le-Tan from Fashion Telegraph. Source: April Henry.

Please note that I'm in the deadline cave and restrain from sending any non-critical messages.

Spooky Events

Save the Date! Joint Launch Party: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) and Night School by Mari Mancusi (Berkley) book party and signing at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 at BookPeople in Austin. Read a guest post by Mari on Kids Don't Read Like They Used To...And That's a Good Thing (on connecting books to technology). Don't miss the Night School blog tour!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Eternal Trailer by YA Reader Midnight Machiko

Color me blown away by YA reader Midnight Machiko's book project video on my YA Gothic fantasy Eternal (Candlewick, 2009, 2010)!

Check out the art, music, emotion! I don't think I could love it more. I don't even think that's possible. How about you?



Feel free to comment at Cynsations LJ.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Spooky News

Congratulations to Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams on the release of Artemis the Brave (Aladdin, 2010), the latest book in the Goddess Girls series! Read a Cynsations guest post by Joan and Suzanne on how the series came together.

Enter to win the celebratory giveaway:

* 8 1/2 inch plush Amby--short for Ambrosia--food of the gods! It's Artemis's pet dog. (Yomiko)
* Sally nail polishes
* Bangle bracelets (mudd)
* Goddess Girls bookmark
* Autographed copy of Artemis the Brave

See more information.

More News & Giveaways

How To Guest Blog
by Lia Keyes from The Scribbler. Peek: "You need to be sure your post fits their style and stance. So read as many posts as possible, as much to be sure it’s something you’d like to be associated with as to figure out how to write a post that will integrate seamlessly with their existing content."

Cynsational Tip: if you're a featured in an interview or guest post on someone else's blog, it's gracious to link to it with your thanks. Don't copy and publish it (simultaneously or otherwise) without first touching base with the host blogger. If you'd like to retain the copyright, most folks will say "sure!" But first make sure you have a meeting of the minds.

Twitter Tags of Interest for Children's Literature (from Picture Book to YA) by Greg Pincus from GottaBook. Peek: "Here is an attempt to create a list of the various tags used on Twitter that relate to the field of children's literature. This will be a 'living' document, changing as Twitter changes and as new tags pop up."

Interview with Barry Deutsch, author of Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword (Yet Another Troll-Fighting, 11-Year-Old, Orthodox Jewish Girl) by Leah Cypress from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "I...wanted to counter the stereotype that being religious means being dour and grim. I hope people reading Hereville will get the impression that for the characters, Shabbos is, yes, a religious occasion with real spiritual meaning, but also an occasion that's full of joy." See also Seasons in Fantasy.

When Writers Don't Read by Parker Peevyhouse from The Spectacle. Peek: "Reading a chapter of someone else’s book is like taking a shot of espresso–it keeps me going. It puts me in the right frame of mind, like the author is sitting there with me waiting for me to jump in with my own story."

Promoting Your Books by Michelle Bayuk of Albert Whitman from Tabitha at Writer Musings.. Peek: "...authors are not expected to sell books. You can go into a bookstore and alert the store manager about the book they have coming out, possibly leave a postcard or something similar behind, but you are not the one who convinces the store to buy X number of copies."

Online Persona Week Ten: Friends and Followers by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Features tips and suggestions from Lisa Schroeder, Sherrie Peterson, and Becky Levine. Peek from Lisa: "The best blogs are inspirational, educational or funny, or a combination of the three."

New Agent Alert: Joan Slattery of Pippin Properties by Chuck Sambuchino from Guide to Literary Agents. Peek: "Joan Slattery joined Pippin Properties in November of 2010 as an agent and contracts manager. After nearly twenty years in children's book publishing, most recently as Senior Executive Editor at Knopf Books for Young Readers."

2010 Winter Blog Blast Tour Schedule by Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray. Note: lots of great insights here; I especially enjoyed L.K. Madigan at Writing and Ruminating. Peek: "If I'm really honest with myself, I think I did know when I first wrote the book that I wasn't finished with Lena's world. At the same time, if this book ends up as a stand-alone--after all, I can't force my editor to publish a sequel--I'm proud of the story. It's whole and complete, in its own 'bittersweet' way."

Child's Letter Writing Campaign Brings Local Bookstore: Books-A-Million to open at mall by Mark Millican from The Daily Citizen in Dalton, Georgia. Peek: "Claude Anderson of Books-A-Million was at Westwood Elementary School on Friday morning to announce a store opening in Walnut Square Mall — perhaps even before Christmas — as a direct result of Charlie’s letter-writing campaign that eventually included 500 students from several schools."

Scholastic Experts Issue List of Ten Trends in Children's Books from 2010 from PR Newswire. Peek: "Given the effects of the recession on families, it is nice to see a rise in the humor category...."

Writer's Links: Agents compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Children's-YA Literature Resources. Note: round-up of the best of the Web on acquiring, working with, hiring and firing an agent.

Spooky Screening Room

Check out this book trailer for Across the Universe by Beth Revis (Razorbill, Jan. 11, 2011). It's incredibly effective. Read the first chapter (PDF).



More Personally

The Horn Book magazine says of Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2011), "Even in undeath, Quincie has a zest for life that shines through as she balances supernatural duties with schoolwork and running her family restaurant, the vampire-themed Sanguini's. Romance blossoms, too, as she and her beloved werewolf, Kieren, prove their devotion to each other under deadly duress. A hearty meal for the thinking vampire reader."

Austin YA librarian Jen Bigheart sent in this shot of the Blessed ARC, taken at Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek in Austin. Jen was there seeing "Due Date" (and apparently, reading, too!).

This week's highlights included welcoming Anne Bustard, Bethany Hegedus, and Amy Rose Capetta (pictured) for a writing day in the dining room. Amy brought homemade chocolate muffins, cranberry scones and whipped cream. Anne brought mixed nuts and dried fruits.


We also did a little seasonal decorating. The themes of my tree are music and literature.

Reminder: I welcome (and respond to) comments at Cynsations at LiveJournal. You can also find me at facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Spooky Events

Save the Date! Joint Launch Party: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) and Night School by Mari Mancusi (Berkley) book party and signing at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 at BookPeople in Austin. Read a guest post by Mari on Kids Don't Read Like They Used To...And That's a Good Thing (on connecting books to technology).