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One of the great things about writing science fiction is that you get to make up a lot of stuff.

You can create new worlds, new languages, and even new life forms. From the androids in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) to the self-aware computer Hal in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), an author’s imagination can exceed the limits of what science can do in a given time period.

Yet, as authors, we can’t insert these fantastic elements willy nilly into the story without respecting the basic laws of science.

While some science fiction writers are, in fact, scientists, most of us are not. My Ph.D. in clinical psychology helps quite a bit when exploring character motivation but isn’t so useful when I need to know how a planet’s distance from the moon impacts its rotation speed.

So how does a writer incorporate scientific aspects into their fiction? A little research goes a long way. For instance, if you’re writing a time travel novel, you might want to investigate things like black holes, event horizons, or even string theory. A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle (FSG, 1963) is pure fiction, but wormholes (similar to the tesseract in her story) are real.

The key is not to bore your reader with pages and pages of theories and expositions about the science involved with your story. If it’s fiction, you just want to sprinkle in enough research that your premise is believable.

For my first book in the series, Burn Out (Egmont/Lerner), I had to find a plausible reason that our sun could burn out early. Only by contacting an astrophysicist at a respected university did I find my answer, and luckily for us, it’s unlikely to happen.

In the sequel, Strange Skies (Egmont/Lerner), the new planet of Caelia has only four hours of light (called light breaks instead of “day”) followed by four hours of dark. I had to contact an astrophysicist again for questions I had about planet size and rotations speed, along with making sure that my freshwater oceans were possible.

Oftentimes, reading scientific articles and watching documentaries is enough, but I believe that contacting experts is a necessity in many cases.

It’s always interesting to see life imitate art—I’m still waiting for the flying cars in Luc Besson's The Fifth Element (1997)—but I had something cool happen with my series.

In Burn Out, the bio-weapons protected by my main character, Tora, are keyed to her individual energetic vibration, meaning that no one else can fire them.

Right before the book was published, which was several years after it was written, my agent sent me an article about guns being developed that would only fire for their specific owner. It’s often a circular relationship, where the science initially serves as a basis for a more advanced idea in science fiction, and then when science advances, that idea can come to fruition years later—such as the advanced crime software in Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" (2002).

The takeaway here for writers is that as long as you follow basic scientific laws in your sci-fi novel, the sky (or galaxy) is the limit!

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Activity Pages & Teacher Guide
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Emma J. Virján on the release of What This Story Needs Is A Pig In A Wig (HarperCollins, 2015). Peek:



What this story needs is a pig in a wig, on a boat in a moat with a frog, a dog, and a goat on a log. . . .

As a panda in a blouse, a skunk on a trunk, and more hop on board, it becomes clear that what this story really needs is a bigger boat Join Pig on an exciting boat ride as she discovers that life is more fun with friends in this fantastic funny read-aloud with cumulative text from author-illustrator Emma J. Virján.


Note: Central Texans! Join Emma in launching the book at 3 p.m. May 16 at BookPeople in Austin.

See also Interview: Author-Illustrator-Designer Emma J. Virján from Cynsations. Peek: "Community plays a huge, supportive role. I'm fortunate to live in Austin, where there is a fantastic, loving, talented kid lit community. I'm also a member of the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels and The Girllustrators."



More News & Giveaways

The Emotional Wounds Thesaurus by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Whatever the wound, the result is an all-consuming fear that if the character does not protect himself, this situation (and resulting emotional pain) will happen again." See also How to Uncover Your Character's Emotional Wound by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers.

Meeting People on Twitter: Hanging Out & Getting Found by Annie Neugebauer from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...if you’re newer and/or interested in broadening your following, the most sure-fire way to get discovered is to find others and engage with them."

Turning Prisons into Reading Centers by Deborah Jiang-Stein from CBC Diversity. Peek: "A baby’s early experiences shape his or her brain’s architecture, building either a strong or a fragile foundation for life, learning, and health. Adverse early experiences and deprivation can impact a baby’s brain development for an entire lifetime, and positive learning experiences can set the path for self-esteem and possibility."
Author Alicia Potter & Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Adi Rule from VCFA Launchpad. Peek: "I had kittens who stayed under the bed for two weeks, kittens who’d run and hide whenever I moved, and one who growled the entire time he was eating. But their metamorphosis was so gratifying and poignant to me."

What Are The Great Children's Literature Writing Retreats? by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse #8 Production. Peek: "...when I say “writing retreats” I mean places where authors, incipient and otherwise, pay a fixed amount to be inspired, edited, or taught by a knowledgeable staff. Bonus points if there’s pretty scenery. Extra added bonus points if you get good food." See also Elizabeth on In Search of the Elusive Lesbian Mom.

What Are You? by Christian Trimmer from CBC Diversity. Peek: "With nine million Americans identifying as more than one race, with one in every seven marriages being between spouses of a different race or ethnicity, and with the number of mixed-race babies soaring, the demand for more of these stories is growing."

New Literary Agent: Noah Ballard of Curtis Brown Ltd. in NYC from Writer's Digest. Peek: "Noah mainly represents books geared toward adults, but is open to YA and middle grade that breaks the mold."

Are They LGBTQIA? Let Your Characters Tell You by Karen Sandler from Gay YA. Peek: "I have yet to write a “gay character” during that initial process. Why not? Because I don’t know them that well. Most people don’t walk up to total strangers and blurt out, “So, are you gay, or straight?” I have to get to know my characters as I write my book just as I become acquainted with an actual person in real life."

When Life Imitates Art...Or What Hurricane Irene Taught Me by Tamara Ellis Smith from Emu's Debuts. Peek: "Am I more suited to tell a story about flood victims because I have experienced a flood? Yes. Am I still a middle class woman who could borrow money from my family when I lost so much in that flood? Yes."

Writing After Major Losses by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "I had symptoms of 'writer’s burn-out': by-products of prolonged stress. It can be treated. Each symptom stifles a writer’s creativity in a specific way and needs a specific remedy."

Children's & YA Book Awards

2015 Jane Addams Book Awards: Winners & Honorees by the Jane Addams Peace Association from Mitali Perkins at Mitali's Fire Escape. Note: special congrats to pals Duncan Tonatiuh and Deborah Wiles.

The 2015 International Latino Book Awards Finalists from Latin@s in Kidlit. Peek: " The Awards are produced by Latino Literacy Now, an organization co-founded by Edward James Olmos and Kirk Whisler, and co-presented by Las Comadres para las Americas and Reforma, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos. The Awards themselves will be June 27 in San Francisco as part of the ALA Conference."

Cynsational Giveaways



The winner of Valiant by Sarah McGuire (Egmont/Lerner, 2015) is Donna in California.



See also Interview & Giveaway: W. Nikola-Lisa's The Men Who Made The Yankees (Winner of the SPARK Award) by Lee Wind from The Official SCBWI Blog. Peek: "Before the crash of 2008, I had published 21 trade children's books over a 25 year period. ...everything stood still. ...mid-career authors; they're not always first in line: they often have to stand in line behind new talent, marquee authors, and celebrities."

This Week at Cynsations
More Personally

Austin's own Cate Berry has been admitted to the VCFA Writing for Children & YAs program.

Quiet but busy week! I finished my fourth round of packet grading for VCFA and began catching up on correspondence, blogging and event preparation. As you can see from my schedule below, it's going to be a summer jam packed with travel, teaching and speaking!

Personal Links
Cover Reveal!


Cynsational Events

We Need Diverse Books YA Author Panel, moderated by Cynthia, will take place at 1 p.m. May 17 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: "After the public event, the authors will host a writing workshop at BookPeople. Space for the workshop is limited." RSVP ASAP.


Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 28 on an Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) program--"We Need Diverse Books: How to Move from Talk to Action Panel"--at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.

Learn more!
Cynthia will teach on the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts from July 8 to July 19.

Join Cynthia from July 30 to Aug. 2 at GeekyCon in Orlando, Florida. See more information.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will lead a YA Writing Retreat for A Room of Her Own Foundation from Aug. 10 to Aug. 16 at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall
Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 29 at Richardson Public Library in Richardson, Texas.


From Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

National Early Education Organization and Children’s Book Publisher Join Global Movement to Shine a Spotlight on the Importance of High-Quality Early Learning with 2015 campaign book Not Norman: A Goldfish Story

Jumpstart, a national early education non-profit organization, and Candlewick Press, an independent children’s publisher, have announced their partnership in honor of the 10th anniversary of Jumpstart’s Read for the Record, a global campaign that generates public support for high-quality early learning and highlights the importance of building children’s vocabulary and love for reading.

On Oct. 22, children and adults worldwide will take action by participating in the world’s largest shared reading experience, known as Jumpstart’s Read for the Record. Since 2006, the campaign has mobilized over 14.5 million people and has kept the world reading record for the most people reading the same book on the same day.

Each year, Jumpstart selects one children’s book as the catalyst for Read for the Record to bring together schools, libraries, communities, and businesses. Jumpstart is honored to embark on a new partnership with Candlewick Press and is proud to announce that award-winning picture book, Not Norman: A Goldfish Story by Kelly Bennett, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones, has been selected as this year’s campaign book.

Jumpstart President & CEO, Naila Bolus, quotes, “During the first years of life, children from low-income communities hear roughly 30 million less words than their more affluent peers. Jumpstart is working alongside Candlewick Press to combat this word gap and increase every child’s vocabulary and love for reading and learning.” Bolus continues, “We could not be happier to celebrate this momentous 10th year with our partners at Candlewick Press and look forward to making Oct. 22, 2015 a day to be remembered.”

Special edition copies of Not Norman: A Goldfish Story will be available through the Jumpstart website at readfortherecord.org. Each special edition features reading tips, vocabulary words, and extension activities provided by Jumpstart’s team of early education experts. Not Norman: A Goldfish Story will be available in both English and Spanish and pre-orders of the special edition are available now.

Karen Lotz, President and Publisher of Candlewick Press, says, “We are thrilled to partner with Jumpstart in this challenge to bring attention to children’s literacy issues and to connect with readers around the world in a global reading of Not Norman. The 10th anniversary of Jumpstart’s Read for the Record is a time to celebrate all that the campaign has accomplished, and to look ahead to its future successes. Candlewick is especially proud to join forces with Jumpstart for this landmark year, as Not Norman also celebrates its 10th anniversary.”

To learn more, register for the campaign, and to pre-order your copy of Not Norman: A Goldfish Story, visit readfortherecord.org.

About Jumpstart

Jumpstart is a national early education organization working toward the day every child in America enters kindergarten prepared to succeed. Jumpstart provides language, literacy, and social-emotional programming for preschool children from under-resourced communities and promotes quality early learning for all children. By participating in Jumpstart’s year-long program, children develop the language and literacy skills they need to be ready for school, setting them on a path for lifelong success. Since 1993, Jumpstart has trained 36,000 college students and community volunteers to transform the lives of 76,000 preschool children nationwide. Follow @Jumpstartkids on Twitter.

About Candlewick Press

Candlewick Press is an independent, employee-owned publisher based in Somerville, Massachusetts. For over twenty years, Candlewick has published outstanding children’s books for readers of all ages, including books by award-winning authors and illustrators. Candlewick is part of the Walker Books Group, together with Walker Books U.K. in London and Walker Books Australia, based in Sydney and Auckland.
for Cynsations

Maggie Lehrman is the first-time author of The Cost of All Things (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 2015). From the promotional copy:

What would you pay to cure your heartbreak?

Banish your sadness?

Transform your looks?

The right spell can fix anything…

When Ari’s boyfriend Win dies, she gets a spell to erase all memory of him. But spells come at a cost, and this one sets off a chain of events that reveal the hidden — and sometimes dangerous — connections between Ari, her friends, and the boyfriend she can no longer remember.

Told from four different points of view, this original and affecting novel weaves past and present in a suspenseful narrative that unveils the truth behind a terrible tragedy. Part love story, part mystery, part high-stakes drama, The Cost of All Things is the debut of an extraordinary new talent.

What inspired you to choose the particular point of view featured in your novel? What considerations came into play? Did you try the story from a different point of view at some point? If so, what made you change your mind?

When I started writing The Cost of All Things (way before it had a title, even), the only thing I knew was that Ari had chosen to forget her boyfriend Win, who had died. I wrote nearly a hundred pages from just her point of view as she attempted to navigate the world without part of her memory.

Then I started my final semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts with Tim Wynne-Jones as my advisor.

Tim took a look at this 100 pages and got very concerned. How could I convey anything about Win, about Ari herself, if she doesn't actually remember him? How is the reader supposed to understand this world or connect to the characters?

I knew Tim was right, but I didn't know what to do about it. Switch to an omniscient third person? Start the story earlier?

Give up, cry, take a nap?

So I put the story aside for a year as I worked on other things, and when I came back to it, I started thinking about the other people in this world, and how they would be affected by Win's death.

Partly just for me, I wrote in other voices, basically starting the story over from the beginning. And as the other characters' wants and needs came into focus, I knew their stories were an important part of Ari's, even though she might not know it (yet). The interconnectedness of these characters became a driving force of the book. How does one person's actions affect the others? What do they uncover, the closer they get?

At an early point, there were as many as seven or eight points of view. But I fairly quickly narrowed it down to the four in the book: Ari, Markos, Kay, and Win, all in first person.

I've read interviews with Jandy Nelson where she talked about how she wrote the absolutely brilliant I'll Give You the Sun (Dial, 2014), which has two first-person narrators: she drafted straight through with one voice, and then straight through with the other, interspersing them later.

I couldn't do exactly that, as these four stories were meant to ping off of each other and loop around, but I did find myself going on a run of three-to-four Markos chapters in a row, and then catching up with a handful of Ari or Kay chapters, and then a whole mess of Win scenes. (Win was easier to write straight through because his chapters were all, by necessity, flashbacks.)

This meant I had a big jumble of scenes and plots in no particular order, which led to a lot of sorting and finessing after the first couple of drafts. Hence the Big Plot Wall, or what was affectionately known in my apartment as the Serial Killer Wall, named after the obsessive charts you see on TV in the homes of serial killers and those who hunt them.

The Big Plot Wall

Each of the four characters' stories are so personal, and they're each so blinded by their own perspective (at least in the beginning) that first person always made the most sense to me. They deal with pain in different ways, which I found I could express in first directly -- as well as show how much of the story was about who knew what secrets when.

As a fantasy writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your novel might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?

Tumblr & Twitter
My glimpse of this world began very small, with Ari and the spell she chose to take to forget Win.

I like to understand the characters before I do any larger-scale thinking about themes, or I can get bogged down with expressing ideas instead of exploring human behavior.

I completely understood why one girl would choose to eliminate the source of her pain -- isn't there something we all wish we could forget? -- and that moment of empathy made me want to know more about Ari and what happened to her. And so I had to dig in to the glimpse and expand it beyond Ari.

If Ari can take this spell, what else is true about this world? How does the magic work? What are its costs?

Once I started thinking about those questions -- how spells were made and taken and paid for, what the consequences would be, who took spells and why -- I started to see the types of parallels you could make to the real world: spells were shortcuts, a way to avoid moments or situations that might be difficult or painful. They gave you what you wanted, but what you wanted isn't always what you needed. There were parallels to performance-enhancing and recreational drugs, cheating, plastic surgery, and more.

This is not to say that using spells was always a bad idea; like in the real world with medical decisions or pain relievers or other important means of self-care, sometimes a spell could be a healthy choice. Hekame (what I called the practice of magic in this world) wasn't good or bad on its own, but could be used for good or bad based on the decisions of the characters. And it always has consequences.

As a side note, for a fascinating and very different way of looking at some of the same questions, especially when it comes to memory, I'd check out the excellent More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, 2015). Part of the reason I love fantasy/science fiction (as it is in Adam's case) is that writers can answer similar questions in totally different ways.

I've always been fascinated by the way fantasy heightens and reflects the real world. Ursula K. LeGuin said that fantasy stories "work the way music does: they short-circuit verbal reasoning, and go straight to the thoughts that lie too deep to utter."

Hekame was a way for me to talk about choices and consequences, things we in the real world have to face constantly, without having to name each of the parallels. There's room for the reader to fill in their own experience and intuition.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: continental U.S.

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For Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures is by Erin Hagar and illustrated by Joanna Gorham (Duopress, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Julia Child knew how to have fun, and she also knew how to whip up a delightful meal.

After traveling around the world working for the U.S. government, Julia found her calling in the kitchen and devoted her life to learning, perfecting, and sharing the art of French cuisine.

This delicious, illustrated middle-grade biography is a portrait of the remarkable woman, author, and TV personality who captured our hearts with her sparkling personality. “Bon appétit!”

What about Julia's life most resonated with you?

EH: Julia didn’t find her true passion until she was almost forty. She worked hard at all the other jobs she had, but it took a long time to find the job that didn’t feel like work. I worry that today’s kids are pressured to excel at such a young age. I hope Julia’s experience speaks to them, as well.

JG: To achieve all that Julia did, she had to have courage, creativity and the willpower to withstand failure if things didn’t go as planned. I hope I can have the same strength that she showed throughout her life.

Julia Child, First Bite by Joanna Gorham, reproduced with permission.

How was this process different from other projects you've worked on?

EH: I also write (but don’t illustrate) picture books. Folks like me are supposed to stay the heck out of the illustration process so the illustrator can add his or her creative genius to the work.

With this book, I was asked to help to map out what the visual sequences would include and provide visual information from my research. At first, I felt very hesitant about this, but that’s what the project and the timeline demanded. The beauty of the illustrations, however, is all Joanna. I don’t take one ounce of credit for that.

storyboard

JG: When I illustrate magazine articles, I’m looking to show details about the character that tell the viewer more than what’s in the text, while capturing one moment in time. In the Julia book, the chapters show an evolution of Julia’s life.

What were some of the biggest revisions you made?

EH: Cutting, cutting and more cutting. I don’t remember most of what was cut (which means the edits were absolutely necessary) except for this one thing: There’s a long, convoluted, and funny story about how Julia flunked her final exam from Le Cordon Bleu. Word count got the best of us, so I’ll save it for school visits, I guess!

JG: Showing Julia change over the years and making sure she still looked like the same person was a challenge. I didn’t want to exaggerate her age to get the point across that she was aging, but she couldn’t look like she was thirty throughout the book. I painted and repainted her face a lot.

What was the most challenging aspect of this project?

Erin Hagar
EH: Describing the cultural landscape of the 1950’s and '60’s in a child-friendly way was tough for me. Today, there’s a broader conversation about food and cooking than there was back then.

Also, kids today can watch an entire channel devoted to food and cooking. There were only three national channels during Julia’s time.

JG: The timeline, for sure.

After I finished an illustration, I sent it to the art director, who reviewed it with the Erin and the publisher, sent it back for revisions, and then it was sent it to the designer to include in the book.

My job was to try my best to keep up with the schedule.

What is your favorite illustration in the book?

EH: The cover of the book really knocks my socks off, but the illustration of Julia holding her cookbook for the first time is my favorite. This is my first book, so I can totally relate to the mix of emotions Joanna captured so beautifully.

@Joanngorham
JG: Julia’s recreated kitchen in the Smithsonian. Her own kitchen was such a personal part of her. Cooking wasn’t just a job, but a passion she took home after work.

The little girl is so excited to experience the intimate setting where Julia shared so much of herself with thousands of museum guests.

Cynsational Notes

Erin Hagar writes fiction and nonfiction for children and teens. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and two children. She has not yet trussed a chicken, but makes a mean molasses cookie. This is her first book.

As a child Joanna Gorham traveled all over the world. She found a love for food, exploring, and storytelling. Now she tells her own stories through her watercolors in children’s books and family magazines. She recently won two of Applied Arts Magazine’s Young Blood Awards, for the brightest up-and-coming talent. You can find her painting in a little red cottage on an island in the Pacific Northwest.
From Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Happy Monday! Couldn't make it to the Bologna Book Fair? Need a smile?

Watch this video. It won't take long, and you'll feel happier and more connected to the big, wide world of children's literature.


Hello from 2015 Bologna Children's Book Fair... by snottypig

Cynsational News & Giveaways

for Cynsations

Congratulations to Liz Garton Scanlon on the release of her debut novel, The Great Good Summer (Beach Lane, 2015)! From the promotional copy:



Ivy and Paul hatch a secret plan to find Ivy's missing mom and say good-bye to the space shuttle.

Ivy Green's mama has gone off with a charismatic preacher called Hallelujah Dave to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida. At least that's where Ivy and her dad "think" Mama is. But since the church has no website or phone number and Mama left no forwarding address, Ivy's not entirely sure.

She does know she's missing Mama. And she's starting to get just a little worried about her, too.

Paul Dobbs, one of Ivy's schoolmates, is also having a crummy summer. Paul has always wanted to be an astronaut, and now that NASA's space shuttle program has been scrapped, it looks like his dream will never get off the ground.

Although Ivy and Paul are an unlikely pair, it turns out they are the perfect allies for a runaway road trip to Florida--to look for Mama, to kiss the Space Shuttle good-bye, and maybe, "just maybe," regain their faith in the things in life that are most important.


More News & Giveaways

How To Meditate When You're Too Busy to Meditate and Why You Should Care With Leo Babauta by Therese Walsh from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Fears are based on fantasies (I want to be an amazing writer who impresses everyone!) and the worry that they won’t come true. The antidote, in my experience, is to let go of the fantasies and just be present in the moment."

I Am So Over Writing About "Strong Girls" from Kirby Larson. Peek: "Every time I write the words, 'strong girl' or 'strong woman,' I am implying that the default state of the female of the species is weakness. And I, of all people, know first hand that nothing could be further from the truth."

Rewriting Again...and Again from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "...the scariest question of all, was I using the quick-in, quick-out of verse as a way of avoiding exposing my own vulnerability?"

A Bi-cultural Narrative by Kim Baker from Latinos in Kidlit. Peek: "...people are often surprised to hear about my Mexican heritage. When people do find out (and I’m pretty open about it), sometimes we play stereotype bingo and they ask questions to see if I meet their preconceived qualifications (Do I have a big family? Yes. Do I like spicy foods? …Yes. Do I listen to mariachi? Please stop.)."

A Plea for Anger by Susan Vaught from Emu's Debuts. Peek: "...positive, healthy things to do with anger, like exercise, or write a fiery speech or even an entire book, make a video, paint it out, write a bill to become law, walk away from a toxic person or situation, protest injustice–the list of healthy ways to spend anger is pretty limitless. Put it to work."

Sarah Davies (Greenhouse Literary): Agent Looking for Diversity by Lee Wind from I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? Peek: "As a Londoner for most of my life, I come from one of the most racially diverse cities on earth. My sons went to schools where white kids were often in a minority and there was a huge racial mix. They had friends from all over the world, many were from first or second generation immigrant families, and my sons’ circles included Hindu, Muslim and Jewish children/teens." See also Survey Seeks to Shed New Light on Publisher Diversity by Kathy Ishizuka from School Library Journal.

Change by Donald Maas from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Every change, big or small, knocks us readers off balance which in terms of emotional craft is good. Shake us out of our fog and our hearts open. We’re free to feel."

lIllustrator Shadra Strickland Takes Us Behind the Art of Sunday Shopping from Lee & Low. Peek: "The most challenging part of making the art for Sunday Shopping, was making sure that all of Evie and grandma’s 'bought' items were consistent in all of the small paintings. I had to draw the same small bits of paper in every scene as the wall of items grew and grew." See also Lee & Low Announces 16th Annual New Voices Award from Lee & Low. Peek: "...given for a children’s picture book manuscript by a writer of color. The Award winner receives a cash prize of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash prize of $500."

A Writer's Flexibility by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "...life has a way of twisting itself into a pretzel. Your well-planned life (and those of loved ones) takes many unexpected twists and turns. It happens to everyone sooner or later. And if you’ll bend a bit, the writing life allows you to be flexible as well, so you can keep your career and your sanity both."

Will Awards Net More Author Visits? by Kim Norman from Cool School Visits. Peek: "I’ve always thought perhaps it would, so I posed the question to teacher and librarian friends on Facebook."

When Your Scenes Is Dragging: Six Ways to Add Tension by Anna Elliott from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Whatever issue it is that your characters are arguing about– try to raise the stakes as much as you possibly can, so that the pressure on them to make the right decision is that much greater."

Finding the Humor: Jokes in the Midst of Tragedy by Rochelle Deans from QueryTrackerBlog. Peek: "When you're working with heavy themes, the most important thing to remember is that to your characters, there is no overarching theme. There are the present circumstances and what they're doing about them, nothing else." See also Send in the Clowns by Robert Lettrick from Project Mayhem: The Manic Minds of Middle Grade Authors.

Muslim Representation in YA Lit by Kaye M. from School Library Journal. Peek: "Muslims are a beautiful example of diversity, in ethnic background and in practice, denomination and interpretation. The essence of our faith rests in diversity and universal humanity, on bonding through similarities instead of being forced away from each other due to perceived differences." See also #WNDB Chat on Religious Diversity Storify.

An Indigenous Perspective on Diversity in Young Adult and Children's Books in Australia by Ambelin Kwaymullina from The Wheeler Centre. Peek: "In relation to greater publication of Indigenous works, there is not only a lack of opportunities for authors, but a critical lack of Indigenous editorial expertise."

Bid on critiques by top children's-YA literature agents and editors to benefit Hunger Mountain: The VCFA Journal for the Arts and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways


The winners of Anywhere But Paradise by Anne Bustard (Egmont/Lerner, 2015) were Karen in New York and Jenn in Wyoming.

More Personally

Celebrate Children's Book Week with Eternal (Candlewick)!

The highlight of the week was the launch party for Anywhere But Paradise by Anne Bustard (Egmont/Lerner, 2015) at BookPeople in Austin!

By Cakelustrator Akiko White

With Shana Burg, Carmen Oliver, Meredith Davis, Debbie Gonzales, Lindsey Lane & Varsha Bajaj

Debbie, debut novelist Anne Bustard & Lindsey

I'm delighted to announce that Erik Niells of Square Bear Studio is in the midst of redesigning my official author website. Look for a more streamlined, device friendly and definitely updated site soon.

Congratulations to Yamile Saied Mendez on her New Visions Award honoree from Lee & Low and on signing with Linda Camacho from Prospect Agency. Cheers also to New Voices Award winner Axie Oh and Award honoree Andrea Wang.

Congratulations to Children's Choice Book Awards Teen Choice Debut Author Jennifer Mathieu (The Truth About Alice (Roaring Brook))! See more on the winners.

Interview with YA Author Cynthia Leitich Smith from T.A. Maclagan. Peek (to debut authors): "You are courageous. You are living your dream. Breathe, breathe, breathe and laugh as much as you can."

Personal Links
Learn more!


Cynsational Events

We Need Diverse Books YA Author Panel, moderated by Cynthia, will take place at 1 p.m. May 17 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: "After the public event, the authors will host a writing workshop at BookPeople. Space for the workshop is limited." RSVP ASAP.


Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 28 on an Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) program--"We Need Diverse Books: How to Move from Talk to Action Panel"--at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.

Learn more!
Cynthia will teach on the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts from July 8 to July 19.

Join Cynthia from July 30 to Aug. 2 at GeekyCon in Orlando, Florida. See more information.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will lead a YA Writing Retreat for A Room of Her Own Foundation from Aug. 10 to Aug. 16 at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall
Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 29 at Richardson Public Library in Richardson, Texas.
Courtesy of Jesse Gainer
Director, Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award will be celebrating its 20th anniversary Sept. 25 and Sept. 26. In addition to showcasing exemplary Mexican American children’s and young adult literature, the program strives to share examples of powerful ways to engage young people in culturally responsive teaching and learning with the award winning literature.

The main events include a conference from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 25 and a Mexican American literature fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 26.

Rivera Award Conference

The conference is an opportunity for educators and others who are interested in Mexican American children’s and young adult literature to meet and discuss critical topics in the field with award-winning authors and illustrators as well as leading scholars in the field. Fourteen authors and illustrators who have won the Rivera Award in the past ten years will be featured speakers at the conference. The cost is $25 ($10 for college students) and includes lunch and registration materials. Register now at: riverabookaward.org

Rivera Award Literature Fair

The literature fair will include a book parade, presentations by the authors and illustrators, literature-inspired presentations by students, music and dance performances, and many hands-on activities for the whole family. It will take place at the San Marcos Public Library and San Marcos Activity Center. The fair is free and open to the public.

If you would like to bring students to share original works inspired by their study of Rivera Award books, or if you would like more information, please contact Jesse Gainer (jg51@txstate.edu).

More on the Anniversary Celebration!

Participating Authors and Illustrators

Winners of the Rivera Award from 2006-2015

Works for Younger Children Category (age birth to 12 years)

  • Winner 2015 : Duncan Tonatiuh for Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez’s and her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (Abrams);

  • Winner 2014: Duncan Tonatiuh for Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale (Abrams);

  • Winner 2012: Winifred Conkling for Sylvia and Aki (Tricycle);

  • Winner 2012: Duncan Tonatiuh for Diego Rivera: His World and Ours (Abrams);

  • Winner 2010, Carmen Tafolla and Magaly Morales for What Can You Do With A Paleta? (Tricycle);

  • Winner 2008, Marisa Montes and Yuyi Morales for Los Gatos Black on Halloween (Henry Holt);

  • Winner 2006, Susanna Reich & Raúl Colón. José! Born to Dance (Simon & Schuster);

  • Winner 2001: Amada Irma Pérez and Maya Christina Gonzalez for My Very Own Room/Mi propio cuartito (Children’s Book Press). Note: Amada Irma Pérez will represent the first decade of winners.


Works for Older Children Category (age 13-18 years)

  • Winner 2015: Isabel Quinteros for Gabi: A Girl in Pieces (Cinco Puntos);

  • Winner 2014: Susan Goldman Rubin for Diego Rivera: An Artist for the People (Abrams);

  • Winner 2013: Guadalupe Garcia McCall for Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low);

  • Winner 2011: Alex Sanchez for Bait (Simon & Schuster);

  • Winner 2009: Carmen Tafolla for The Holy Tortilla and a Pot of Beans (Wings);

  • Winner 2009: Benjamin Alire Sáenz for He Forgot to Say Goodbye (Simon & Schuster);

  • Winner 2007, Juan Felipe Herrera for Downtown Boy (Scholastic).


About the Award

Texas State University College of Education developed The Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award to honor authors and illustrators who create literature that depicts the Mexican American experience. The award was established in 1995 and was named in honor of Dr. Tomás Rivera, a distinguished alumnus of Texas State University.

Follow @clairelegrand
By Claire Legrand
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I will always remember the first time I had a panic attack.

I was in fifth grade, in the middle of a math lesson, and I don’t remember what triggered the attack, although I assume it had something to do with the fact that I was in the middle of a math lesson. Numbers never came easily to me, and even at a young age, I was hyper-aware of that fact, and embarrassed by it.

So I asked to be excused and hurried to the restroom. I hid in a stall and sat on the toilet, shaking. I was flushed all over, sweating like you do when you wake up from a nightmare. My skin crawled, and I couldn’t stop scratching it. I couldn’t breathe.

I thought maybe I just had to throw up and then these feelings would go away, but I couldn’t, and they didn’t.

With no idea what was happening, I huddled there, terrified and alone, for as long as I felt I could get away with it. I thought I was going to burst out of my skin.

That was the first time, but it wouldn’t be the last.

I will always remember playing in the woods behind my grandma’s house. Now, the trees aren’t quite as tall as they once were, the woods not as deep. Now, I can see reality through the leaves—other houses and other streets, power lines. But growing up, it was an endless wonderland, a neverland, a paradise for me and my cousins.

"My cousins and I hung this sign at the entrance to our clubhouse."
We explored it for hours and days, months and years. We grew up there, shaping it to fit our games of runaways and witches, Peter Pan and Robin Hood.

We built a clubhouse and gathered moss to make potions. We crawled into the green hollows beneath bushes and whispered about where we would go next—other kingdoms, other forests. We stayed out past sundown, the windows of my grandparents’ house glowing with lamplight.

We were never afraid of the dark, not in that place. It was ours, after all. We had made it.

To us, that world seemed full of magic.

I have always wanted to write a story about that place, as I remember it. To capture it forever in the pages of a book.

I’ve always wished that my scared, ten-year-old self could have found a book on the library shelves that told the story of a girl like me. Who got scared like I did, and sad like I did, for no particular reason. A book that could have helped me understand what was going on inside me.

I hope that, through my next book, Some Kind of Happiness, I’ve accomplished both of these things. It’s the story of eleven-year-old Finley Hart, who knows she should be happy. She has a good life, a loving family. Some days she is happy. Some days, though, she’s not. She gets scared for no reason she can pinpoint, and sad, too. She feels tired and heavy. She loses herself to inexplicable panic.

"The tree named 'Mother Octopus'"
Whatever is wrong with her, she wants to hide it from the world, and especially from her parents. They have their own problems to deal with, and she won’t be another one.

To cope, she creates the forest kingdom of the Everwood and writes about it in her beloved notebook. Only in the Everwood does she feel in control. Only there does she feel safe.

While spending the summer at her estranged grandparents’ house, Finley draws her cousins and the wild boys next door into the world of the Everwood—but when the days spent exploring in the nearby forest reveal buried family secrets, the lines between fantasy and reality start to blur, and Finley must find the courage to bring darkness into the light—both her own darkness and that of the family she has come to love.

I’m so excited to announce that Some Kind of Happiness is set to release May 2016 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. This is my third middle grade novel, and perhaps my most personal one. It’s a story about secrets, family, and friendship, adventure and summertime, mental illness and the power of imagination.

I hope you love it as much as I love it—and even more than that, I hope it finds its way into the hands of kids who, like me, struggled with anxiety and depression but didn't yet know how to describe what they were feeling. Like me, maybe they only know it as a nameless, lonely weight on their shoulders. Maybe it scares them, or embarrasses them. Maybe they try desperately to hide it.

I just hope that maybe, as they go on this adventure with Finley, they’ll find words to articulate those feelings, and that weight will start to feel a little bit lighter.

For more on the look and feel of Some Kind of Happiness, be sure to check out the book’s Pinterest board—and for a brief, exclusive excerpt from the book itself, read on!

Excerpt

Once there was a great, sprawling forest called the Everwood.

It was not the kind of forest children played in.

It was the kind of forest most people stayed far away from, for it was said to hold many secrets, and not all of them kind.

According to rumor, the Everwood could be both beautiful and foul, vicious and gentle.

"We were in our own special world."
It was home to astonishing creatures and strange, solitary people—some of whom were born in the Everwood, and some of whom wandered inside, whether they meant to or not. No one in the Everwood got along, for they had no ruler to bind them together, no neighborhoods or cities. They lived like wild things and kept to themselves.

Or so the rumors said.

Most people were afraid to enter the Everwood, but some brave souls made the journey anyway: Adventurers, witches, explorers.

They never returned.

Perhaps the wild creatures who lived in the forest had trapped them there. Or maybe the Everwood’s secrets were so enchanting that those who made it inside did not care to leave.

Everyone who lived near the Everwood knew it was protected by two guardians, who were as ancient as the Everwood itself. Throughout their long lives, the guardians had learned how to read certain signs—the wind in the trees, the chatter of the Everwood creatures.

One summer, not so long ago, something happened that would change the Everwood forever.

The ancient guardians determined that soon, a terrible Everwood secret—one they had kept hidden for years—would come to light. And if this happened, the guardians read in their signs, the Everwood would fall. They would no longer be able to protect it. Its secrets and treasures would be laid bare. Its people would be turned out into the cold, wide world.

There was hope, however. A small, cautious hope.

The guardians could read this hope, slight as it was, in their signs. It was as clear to them as though it were a page in a book:

The Everwood, if it were to be saved, would need a queen.

Cynsational Giveaway


Enter to win a signed set of books by Claire Legrand: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls (Simon & Schuster, 2012), The Year of Shadows (Simon & Schuster, 2013), The Cabinet of Curiosities (Greenwillow, 2014), and Winterspell (Simon & Schuster, 2014). U.S. only. Author sponsored. Enter here: a Rafflecopter giveaway
for Cynsations

Danica Davidson is the first-time author of
Escape from the Overworld (Skyhorse, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Eleven-year-old Stevie, who comes from a long line of Steves, doesn't feel as if he fits in the Minecraft world. His father is great at building and fighting off zombies, but Stevie struggles in these areas.

One day, when Stevie is alone in the field trying to build something new that will impress his dad, he discovers a portal into a new world.

Stevie steps out of a computer screen and into the room of eleven-year-old Maison, a sixth-grade girl who loves to build and create, but who is bullied and made an outcast by her classmates for not indulging in activities deemed "cool." Stevie is shocked by how different this world is, and Maison takes him under her wing and teaches him all about her world. The two become friends, and Maison brings Stevie to school with her.

Stevie is horrified to see there are zombies in the school He realizes that when he opened the portal, this allowed zombies to also enter the new world. More and more creatures are slipping out by the second, wreaking havoc on a world that has no idea how to handle zombies, creepers, giant spiders, and the like. Stevie and Maison must put their heads together and use their combined talents in order to push the zombies back into Minecraft, where they belong.

As Stevie and Maison's worlds become more combined, their adventure becomes even more frightening than they could have imagined.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I’ve always loved writing — I still have stories I dictated to my parents when I was three, or little notebooks I wrote in when I was so small I had to follow my mom around and ask her how to spell each word.

This continued on throughout the years, with me starting to write multiple novels in middle school. I like to write in a private area, usually with music playing. The music varies depending on the type of scene or book I’m writing.

For my book Escape from the Overworld, I got the contract before I’d written the book and the publisher wanted a quick turnaround of about six weeks.

There was definitely a moment of, “Six weeks – what have I gotten myself into?” But then I made myself plan.

Working as a journalist has taught me that you sit down and you write your project; if breaking news is happening, your editor is not going to care if the Muse isn’t inspiring you that day.

I’d turned in a synopsis for the book, which is what led to the contract, so I spent the next week figuring out in my head the details of the scenes. The main characters are eleven, so I reread some writings I did at eleven to help me get back in the voice. The week after that, I made myself write at least 2,000 words at day on the manuscript before taking any breaks. I wrote more on the weekend or if the words were flowing extra well that day.

In one week, I had my rough draft of about 20,000 words. I gave it to some friends to help me edit (warning them it was called a rough draft for a reason), and waited till I got their edits back before I returned to the manuscript. Once I got their thoughts, I started my revisions and I made my deadline.

There were a number of things that were important to me while writing. I know some people might be quick to dismiss it as, “Oh, it’s just a Minecraft book,” but I wanted it to be more than that.

Since I notice a lot of Minecraft books (or even just adventure books in general) are male-dominated, I made sure my protagonists are male and female and on equal footing. I take on issues like bullying and the fears of going to a new school. I made the shop class teacher female, because I know many people would unconsciously picture a shop class teacher as being male. Both the main characters are from single-parent households, since I wanted to show that’s normal for many kids and nothing to be ashamed of.

Learn more!

As a result of my bullying and girl-power angles, the book has been included in an anti-bullying, girl-empowerment program called Saving Our Cinderellas that aims to inspire young girls of color in cities around the country. I want the book to be fun — I end almost every chapter with a cliffhanger for a reason — but I also hope it can inspire young readers and touch them emotionally as well. It's my goal to write all different types of books for all different ages.

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

This is kind of a trick question for me, because writing is my full-time day job, but it’s journalism.

Hear me out.

My fantasy was to publish novels and become a professional writer that way, but as many writers know, that’s easier said than done. When I was in high school, I had to start earning my own money because of financial and family issues. Like many a naive young writer, I submitted stories to "The New Yorker" and other such prestigious places. And like many a naive young writer, I have some fabulous rejection letters from the "The New Yorker" and other such prestigious places.

I realized that wasn’t going to work, so I started out smaller, writing for local newspapers. Once you’ve published things professionally, other places will take you more seriously. I would take samples of my published work and send them to bigger and bigger places.

Porthos
My interest in anime and manga had me writing about the subject for local papers, and then I used that to get me in Anime Insider, which led to Booklist, Publishers Weekly, CNN, The Onion, Los Angeles Times and other places. (I know this sounds really quick, but I can tell you it actually took years, and I got many rejections in the meantime.)

I even found opportunities to write the English adaptation of Japanese graphic novels for the publishing company Digital Manga Publishing.

At first I was working other part-time jobs to supplement my income, but within a few years I became a full-time writer. Every single day I wrote articles and sent out more submissions.

I began to be known as an expert on manga and graphic novels, and this led me to writing for MTV, which at the time had me reporting on superhero comics being made into movies. I love writing for MTV News, and now I cover social justice issues for them, which means I write about things like philanthropy, activism and advocacy with causes that matter to young people. I was part of a small group of MTV writers to receive a Webby Honor for Best Youth Writing.

All of this helped me hone my craft, get my name out there, and pay the bills.

When I got my agent not long ago, he was very impressed to see a twenty-something who’d sold more than a couple thousand articles to big-name places.

Then while he was shopping around a YA series of mine, Skyhorse Publishing approached me, wanting a manga art guide. Of course I was thrilled and grateful! Next they asked me if I could write some sort of Minecraft book, which led me to pitch Escape from the Overworld. The manga book will be out soon, and I just finished my rough draft for my sequel to Escape from the Overworld, which has the planned title Attack on the Overworld.

I still haven’t been in "The New Yorker," but that’s okay.

about me & cynsations

Cynthia is a New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of fiction for young readers. Graphic novelist. Fond of cats, comics, and cocoa.

Cynsations is a source for conversations, publishing information, literacy and free speech advocacy, writer resources, inspiration, news in children's and teen literature, and author outreach.

Note: via various means and mirror sites, Cynsations has about 6,000 regular subscribers and averages 80,000 page views a month.

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