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for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

As writers, we can become so firmly grounded in our manuscripts that it's often hard to pull ourselves away from our settings to deal with the real world.

When I was first writing Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue, my middle grade novel published by North Dakota Institute of Regional Studies, North Dakota State University, I found myself continually surprised to find myself in the twenty-first century, instead of in North Dakota in the midst of the Great Depression, when I'd step away from the keyboard.

It was easy to imagine I was rolling lefse in North Dakota with Tori, who was scowling at the thought of her widowed mother's inviting her new suitor, bachelor-farmer Bjorn, for Thanksgiving.

Here is Tori's story:

Eleven-year-old Tori and her family are struggling with the Great Depression in North Dakota, and the death of her beloved Papa has been the severest blow of all.

Lefse on Turner
To aspiring writer Tori, everything is changing for the worse—her friends are acting too grown-up, and her little brother Otto invades her privacy. When a Norwegian bachelor-farmer begins courting Mama, Tori writes in her journal that her life will be ruined.

What will Tori discover about forgiveness and acceptance as she tries to keep her life from changing?
If you find yourself equally pulled into your setting and background, you might consider working with a university press, because your manuscript may have cultural and historic details that would fit perfectly with the mission of the university's imprint.

Naturally, this thought never occurred to me after I was finished revising (and revising and revising!) and ready to submit, so I sent the manuscript off to the usual New York City publishers, only to receive (I know you're surprised!) many rejections, although some were very encouraging.

Because the background and setting are the warp and woof of my husband's Norwegian immigrant family's precious traditions, I believed in Tori's story. I contacted my children's literature librarian friends across the country, asking for any publisher suggestions.

Ta-da! My North Dakota librarian contact emailed me to why not try NDSU? She didn't know if they would publish a children's book, but it might be worth a shot.

Why hadn't I thought of that? The cultural and historic details in the manuscript might mesh perfectly with the mission of a university press.

After doing research, I sent my manuscript off to several university presses, including NDSU.

A good research link to check out is the Association of American University Presses, and investigate each imprint that sounds as if it might be a fit. Remember to think outside of the box, because the worst the press can say is, "No," but paying careful attention to the listing will help you focus in on the right possible market.

For example, the listing for University of South Carolina's Young Palmetto Books imprint specifically says its mission is to publish educational and South Carolina-related manuscripts.

Naturally, my story would not be a candidate for this press; there are few states whose history and culture could be farther from North Dakota than South Carolina!

A number of months later, I received an email from the director of the NDSU press, stating that they had never published a children's book, but that they were so taken with the details and Tori's story that they would like to publish it.

I was elated! The precious cultural family heritage would be carried on, in print.

Paperback cover
One of the beauties of working with a university press is that the staff is so enthusiastic about your content that you feel as if you are part of a family. My editor helped add details she knew from her own one-room school experiences, the director and another professor helped with more descriptions.

Finally, my story was ready to meet the world!

Why haven't you heard of Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue? Although it received wonderful reviews from regional entities and readers, it never cracked the best-seller list (imagine that!).

University press books rarely make a big splash, but, that's not their mission or reason for existence, so if you're looking to write the next big best-seller, a university press might not be your best choice.

Ah, yes, there's also that "don't judge a book by its cover," right? The print cover, sadly, looks like a middle-aged lady, instead of a cute eleven-year-old Norwegian girl, seriously.

So, this past year, I asked the wonderful people at NDSU if they would consider releasing the novel as an ebook with a brand-new cover, and, because they so firmly believed in the worth of Tori's story, they agreed, and funded the transition.

Now, eleven years later after the print version was first published in 2003, kids can now read Tori on their e-reader devices, with the sparkling new cover.
New e-book cover!

When we write something we are invested in, and it has such a strong sense of background and setting that we are loath to pull ourselves away from our manuscript, maybe we need to consider what publisher would believe so strongly in the setting that they would "adopt" our work and help shape it into the best it can be.

As you write, ask yourself how additional cultural and historical details could actually strengthen the plot and deepen the characterizations.

For example, Tori grudgingly polishes the beste-far-stol, the grandfather's chair, telling herself that Bjorn, her mother's new suitor, has no right to sit in it.

When she rolls the traditional lefse for Thanksgiving, she asks herself why she's working so hard just for Bjorn, since he's not family, nor does she ever wish him to be.

If you find you can do this as well, a university press may just be your perfect publisher!


  • Is your story historical or cultural?

  • Will more specific details benefit the plot pace and character development and add depth?

  • Have you investigated university presses during the writing process to help shape your story into a possible acquisition?

  • Have you contacted librarians for their input on publishers?

Cynsational Notes

Margo Sorenson's twenty-ninth book, Spaghetti Smiles, is newly published this fall by Pelican Publishing. From the promotional copy:

Every day after school, Jake hurries over to Rocco's Italian Restaurant to read his newest book to his Uncle Rocco. Along with sharing stories, Jake and Rocco play games together, such as bowling with mozzarella balls, "picking-up-stix" with spaghetti, and juggling ravioli.

When his uncle's restaurant is in need of a new neighbor, Jake goes on a search through the town to find the perfect match. Everyone fears that living next to such an unpredictable restaurant will ruin their business. Mrs. Page at the bookstore is Jake's last hope. Can he convince her to move in next door to such a crazy, mixed-up restaurant?

Follow Margo on Twitter at @ipapaverison.

Jon & Mac
By Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Mac: Hi, Jon!

Jon: Oh! Hi Mac!

Mac: And hello, Cynsations readers. We have taken over the blog today.

Jon: Yes.

Mac: We are using our power to just post this gchat we are having into the blog.

Jon: Great responsibility, etc.

Mac: On a lot of days, because writing and illustrating books is lonely, Jon and I have gchat conversations, either in text or with the audio link thing. I don’t really know what to call it, or even how to use it. Jon is the one who always has to call me.

Jon: There’s a country song in there somewhere.

Mac: Anyway, while we were making Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick, 2014), we were talking a lot.

Jon: Not so much anymore.

jk jk we still talk a lot.

Mac: Anyway, those conversations had a big impact on the book we were making, especially this spread right here:

See copyright information below.

Jon: Right. So here we have Sam and Dave, and their dog. This part of the book is about them missing these things in the ground that they are digging for, and they’ve just made an unfortunate turn, and are about to make another.

Mac: The joke is funnier in the book.

Jon: A little.

Mac: The Hard Sell.

Mac and John and their new release
Jon: In Stores Now.

Mac: Anyway, when Jon was doing sketches, we would already be on gchat talking about snacks and stuff, and then he would send the art over to me and we would talk about it.

Jon: Yes. This page and the next few pages started out as a visual joke that I liked, but wasn’t in the story that Mac had written.

Mac: Yeah, Jon sent me a picture where Sam and Dave split up and dig a circle around a big gem.

We can’t show you this picture—if you want to see it, you’ll have to stop reading Cynsations right now and head out to your independent bookstore, cash in hand. Hard sell.

Jon: Right. And I wasn’t even completely sold on it. I liked the joke, but I worried that Mac’s guys wouldn’t split up like this. They are good pals on a journey, and it seems like kind of a risky thing for them to choose to do.

Mac's dog, Henry
Mac: And when I saw the image, I laughed. It was beautiful and funny, but I didn’t think Sam and Dave would want to split up.

I think then Jon and I sat and stared at that image for a while. The only sound was the chewing of our snacks.

Jon: and the occasional slurp because i had a drink, also

Mac: And we talked about this question a lot—would Sam and Dave split up? We talked about it for the next couple of days.

Jon: with a few breaks for more snacks

Mac: and talking about snacks

Jon: comparing snacks

Mac: And then finally we realized that, yes, they would split up, but it would be a big deal for them—that our worry about the split was also their worry about the split, and so I wrote some new text to set up that image. And that’s the text you see here.

Dave, who tends to take the lead on this adventure, proposes the idea. Sam expresses trepidation. And Dave tries to reassure him. (But Dave is afraid too.)

Jon: Right. It was neat, because it shows them getting a little more committed to this thing, and willing to do things that make them uncomfortable, so the story kind of moved forward.

Jon's cat, Pigeon
Mac: I think you learn a lot about both boys in this spread. They’re vulnerable, especially Dave.

I love Jon’s art here. He’s so good at facial expressions, of course, but he’s also a master of posing. I love Dave’s hand on Sam's shoulder, that look in his eyes.

The art is telling you a lot about how the text should be read, as it should in a picture book.

Mac: (Cynsations readers might like to know that now Jon is just sitting, not writing anything, because he doesn’t know how to deal with compliments.)

Jon: i just broke out into a rash

Jon: It’s a fortunate end to have, illustrating a story like this, because the text gives all the emotion you could hope to have, and then if you put a guy very simply putting his arm on the other boy’s shoulder, you’re good to go.

I enjoy Mac’s praise, and will never discourage it, but these things are made much easier because the emotions are there and only need a really gentle implication in the picture.

Mac: Ultimately this ended up being one of my favorite spreads in the book—absolutely one of the most important—and it didn’t exist in the original manuscript.

We created the moment to support a drawing Jon just made up, which is on the next page, and which we’re not allowed to show you, so run don’t walk to your favorite bookstore and grab a copy of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole!

How was that for a big finish?

Jon: Thanks everybody! Come see us on tour! Bring snacks!

Cynsational Notes

SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick, 2014). Eligibility: North America. Publisher sponsored. From the promotional copy:

Sam and Dave are on a mission. A mission to find something spectacular. So they dig a hole. And they keep digging. And they find . . . nothing.

Yet the day turns out to be pretty spectacular after all.

Attentive readers will be rewarded with a rare treasure in this witty story of looking for the extraordinary — and finding it in a manner you’d never expect.

With perfect pacing, the multi-award-winning, New York Times best-selling team of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen dig down for a deadpan tale full of visual humor.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Cynsational News & Giveaways

for Cynsations

YA Supernatural Baddies by Cynthia K. Ritter from The Horn Book. Peek: "Looking for a book to send a chill down your spine? These four new novels involving creepy paranormal characters are perfect for the occasion."

Cynsational Insight

Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen (Candlewick, 2014), recommended at the above link by The Horn Book, is my new favorite book of all time! Not because the hero's name is Cyn, but, yes, that is a bonus.

From the promotional copy:

When Cynthia Rothschild's best friend, Annie, falls head over heels for the new high school librarian, Cyn can totally understand why — he's really young and ridiculously hot and apparently thinks Annie would make an excellent library monitor.

But almost immediately, Cyn starts to sense that something about Mr. Gabriel isn't quite right. Maybe it's the creepy look in the librarian's (literally) mesmerizing eyes, or the weird feeling Cyn gets whenever she's around him, or the blood and horns and giant bat-like wings that appear when he thinks no one is looking. Before long, Cyn realizes that Mr. Gabriel is, in fact ... a demon.

Now, in addition to saving her beloved school musical (Sweeney Todd!) from technical disaster and avoiding making a complete fool out of herself with her own hopeless crush (who happens to be the only other person who knows the truth about Mr. Gabriel), Cyn has to save her best friend from the attractive-yet-very-very-bad clutches of the evil librarian, who has not only bewitched Annie but seems to be slowly sucking the life force out of the entire student body!

The Horn Book says, "Fans of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize series or Larbalestier and Brennan’s Team Human will enjoy this blend of supernatural action, school story, romance, and dark comedy."

More News & Giveaways

Everything You Should Think About Before You Apply to a MFA Program by Elizabeth McCracken from Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Peek: "Don’t apply to safety schools. Don’t apply to any school you know you don’t want to go to. You shouldn’t settle for something you think is just okay in any aspect of your writing life."

There Is Nothing Wrong with Writing Nonfiction Books for Children by Liz B from A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy. Peek: "There is nothing wrong, and actually much right, with writing age-appropriate nonfiction books for children and teens. When and how subject matter is introduced and discussed is, well, the reason fifth graders aren't sent to university classes (unless they're Doogie Howser, of course.)" See also Clearing the Brush by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book.

Thoughts About Bordered and Borderless Girls by Samantha Marby from YA Highway. Peek: " my mind, Hispanic kids spoke Spanish. At their homes, there were statues of the Virgin Mary on the mantels. Their mothers made their own salsa and carried it in a porcelain mug when they went out to eat because what the restaurants served wasn’t hot enough. Those kids weren’t like me. But they were like my grandmother."

Is Aging the Problem? Or Ageism? by Lindsey McDivett from A Is for Aging. Peek: "Researcher Sheree Kwong See observes the seeds of ageism being planted in children as young as toddlers, and recommends that advocacy start early."

Interview with Lin Oliver on SCBWI's Emerging Voices Award from Lee and Low. Peek: "We all acknowledge the need to support aspiring authors of color, but their eventual success will be determined by the marketplace. It is crucial that the these books prove to be not only artistic and social successes, but also commercially viable."

Print Books Outsold E-Books in First Half of 2014 by Claire Fallon from The Huffington Post. Peek: "...not only did overall print book sales, at 67 percent of the market, outpace ebook sales, both hardcovers and paperbacks individually outsold ebooks."

Off the Literary Reservation: Young Adult Fiction Is Giving Native Americans Their Own Voice by Catherine Addington from The American Conservative. Peek: "In the American imagination, the Native population is confined not just to physical reservations but to the historical reservation of the past."

Five Ingredients for Writing Horror by Robert Lettrick from Project Mayhem. Peek: "...we are hardwired to protect ourselves and fear is a big part of self-preservation." Note: includes giveaway.

The 2014 GG Short List from Canada Council for the Arts. Peek: "'This year’s list of finalists contains powerful novels and poems, imaginative children’s books, skillful translations, entrancing dramas and enlightening non-fiction,' said Canada Council Director and CEO, Simon Brault. 'They are all meaningful books in which we can, as readers and Canadians, lose ourselves and find ourselves.'"

Pre-writing: Discovering Your Character's Secrets by Robin LaFevers from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Pre-writing is all about backstory, which informs the characters and story taking place just as surely as the contours of the earth’s crust influences its landscape."

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of a signed copy of The Camelot Code by Mari Mancusi was Karin in Oklahoma.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Exciting news! I'm honored to be a contributor to the recently announced Violent Ends anthology, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse).

Highlights of the week also included watching fellow Austin children's-YA author Chris Barton on "Mysteries at the Museum" on The Travel Channel! Way to go, Chris!

Reminder: my e-edition of Blessed (Candlewick) is on sale this month for only $1.99. A perfect Halloween read--check it out!

Personal Link

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.

for Cynsations

Enter to win one of three signed paperback copies of Uncovered (An Autumn Covarrubias Mystery) by S.X. Bradley (Evernight, 2014). Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.

From the promotional copy:

Last year sixteen-year-old Autumn solved her sister’s murder. This year, she is part of a high school forensic dream team that assists the police when teens are kidnapped.

When it’s discovered the kidnappings are part of a secret online survivor game, the police and team focus on the game maker-the man behind the game.

The focus of the investigation shifts when Autumn is singled out and becomes the target of the Game Maker’s sick game.

Through encrypted messages hidden in steganographs, Autumn must discover who the last kidnapping victim is if she hopes to save him in time.

S.X. writes: "As a Mexican-American writer, I've very proud to continue Autumn's story. She's a smart, driven Hispanic teen that wants to make her own path in life. My hope is that young Latinas will draw inspiration from Autumn."

Enter here.

for Cynsations

Congratulations on the release of Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature (Candlewick, 2014)! What was the initial inspiration for the book?

Betsy: Well, back in the day (I think it was about 2009 or so) I noticed that there were a great many really top notch children’s literature bloggers out there that had sites that were unique and interesting.

Two of them in particular caught my fancy.

There was Peter Sieruta, who ran a historical children’s lit blog called Collecting Children’s Books, and there was Jules Danielson, who with another person was running the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast illustration blog.

I don’t think anyone would have read those blogs alongside my own and thought we necessarily had similar voices, but that didn’t stop me from reaching out to them and saying, “Hey! Let’s write a book!”

Of course I had no idea what kind of book to propose. So we put our heads together and came up with the notion of writing about the true and often little known stories behind children’s books.

It was just our great good fortune that we ended up with Liz Bicknell at Candlewick as our editor. She took one look at our behemoth of a manuscript (every time I tell this story it gets bigger, but I swear it was around 700 pages) and said that the first thing we needed to do was cut it down and the second was to rally round a theme.

 After some discussion we realized that one point that kept coming up time and again in our manuscript was the fact that people have this view of children’s literature that it’s some cute little fluffy bunny, sunshine and daisies world where all authors and illustrators skip through meadows with a childlike sensibility. The truth is far more interesting, so we took that interesting truth and made a book out of it.

Why mischief?

See notes for copyright information.
Jules: As Betsy said, we wanted to debunk the romanticized notion of children’s literature that is so prevalent today (with, say, the Average Person on the Street).

There’s also some condescension that occurs too (“oh, it’s just kiddie lit,” as if it’s not worth anyone’s time to discuss or study), and we do address that in our book as well.

So, taking a look at acts of mischief can go a long way in showing that these are books written by adults, who don’t necessarily live infantile lives.

One illustrator with whom we spoke said that when she tells people she illustrates children’s literature for a living, she gets the sense that a lot of people expect her to act like a well-behaved child herself. And that’s an unfortunate thing.

As for the word itself, the sub-title of our book comes from a lecture that Patricia Lee Gauch once gave at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in 2011. It was called “Picture Books as an Act of Mischief,” and it’s a wonderful lecture. (It can be read here.) We secured her permission (and the Carle’s permission) to use it for our book.

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

Betsy: Jules may have to correct me on this but as I remember it we first came together as authors in 2009. We tapped my agent, the amazing Stephen Barbara, and he hooked us up with Candlewick and Liz. Then for the next three years we worked on it together. 2010 and 2011 weren’t particularly significant. There was a lot of running to libraries, consolidating ideas, and editing one another.

In 2012, however, things took a significant turn. By this point we’d submitted the manuscript to Liz and been told to cut it down. We were in the midst of doing that when I received a phone call from Jules on the evening of May 26th. She said she’d been on Facebook and saw that Peter’s brother John had written via Peter’s account that Peter had died the night before.

Honestly, I had a hard time understanding what Jules meant by that. Neither of us had ever met Peter in person but we were fairly certain it would happen someday. His “voice” online was so clear and distinctive that there was no confusing it with anyone else. The idea that it was now gone . . . well, it was inconceivable.

 By this point Peter had turned in all his writing and we were just culling things down, but now Jules and I found ourselves in the odd position of having to edit the manuscript for the first time without Peter’s guidance, wit, and humor.

We did so, happy at least that the book would carry on his voice in some form. In 2013 we spent the better part of the year making absolutely 100 percent sure that our sources were dead on and that we had permission for everything in this book. It was hard work, the hardest I think it’s safe to say we’ve ever done on a piece of writing, but in the end it was worth it. Voila. Wild Things.

What were the biggest challenges and triumphs in bringing the book to life?

Betsy: Peter’s death was the biggest challenge, no question.

How do you cut a chunk of the book that he loved without getting his permission to do so? It was some comfort that we got to put some of his stories onto our book’s blog, but it still wasn’t quite the same.

See notes for copyright information.
That was a challenge and so was getting the permissions for the book. I guess you could say that the permissions were both the biggest challenges and the biggest triumphs.

 Every time we got a permission to use something, whether it was a photo or a quotation, we felt like breaking out the champagne.

Jules: What Betsy said! Peter’s death really threw us for a loop, and it’s a really bittersweet time now, since the book is finally out and we’re excited – yet he was really pumped for this day to happen, and he’s not here for it. It’s not the same without him.

Our only consolation is that his voice lives on in this book.

And, yes, permissions can be the devil, so each one we tracked down and nailed (from image permissions to text permissions) was, as Betsy said, a little triumph.

Who is your intended audience?

Betsy: That was a question we had right from the start. To what extent do you specialize?

When our book was still in its monolith state, we had a lot of stories that were hugely interesting to us, but might not catch the eye of someone who wasn’t already into children’s literature.

So when we honed things down, we realized that we’d have to narrow our focus a bit. That tale about the true story behind the Newbery Award winning book Onion John (Crowell, 1959) might be awesome, but how many people have ever heard of Onion John (or care to)?

 In the end we hope that this book will appeal not only to people who already work with children’s books in some fashion but also to those adults that have fond memories of the books of their youth and might be curious about some of their back stories.

 Judging from the current trend of children’s book biopics ("Saving Mr. Banks," the upcoming Shel Silverstein picture, the upcoming C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien feature, etc.), there’s a definite interest.

What did you learn about writing nonfiction?

Betsy: Source everything from the start so that you don’t have to go back over your work a million times just to make sure you got things right.

Learn how to make Source Notes. Keep your Bibliography in order. And definitely be flexible.

Third circle of hell, illustrated by Stradanus.
If the estate of a great big author or illustrator decides that the only way you can include a piece of information is to pay them untold gobs of money, have back up material to replace the stuff you’re not allowed to use.

Oh. And photos permissions belong in a circle of Dante’s Inferno that few people should ever have to visit.

Jules: Yes, keeping notes of each and every little thing cannot be emphasized enough. Also, be clear on what you are expected to do and what your publisher will do.

Candlewick was great to work with, but since this was my first nonfiction book (well, it was my first book), I admit to some naïveté over the amount of work involved regarding permissions.

I thought, for instance, that surely some intern at the publisher’s camp would handle, say, image permissions for us! Nope, you as the author handle all of that yourself. This is fine, but be prepared.

I’d also add: Be willing to let go of that really great quote you wanted in the book but can’t quite afford (I have a Madonna story along those lines … oh, Madge), because it’s outrageously expensive, and embrace paraphrasing.

What advice do you have for fellow nonfiction writers?

Jules: I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but my first piece of advice would be, once again, to keep copious, seriously nerdy and detail-oriented notes about each and every source and where you got it, and become one with the notation of page numbers.

Also, I should say: It was a joy to write with Betsy and Peter, so my advice would be much different if I had done it alone. I had them to lean on; I had them to turn to with questions or teeth-gnashing or advice. We probably went a long time without saying word one to our wonderful editor, because we had each other. I feel like they made me a better writer.

Visit Wild Things!
How did your tie-in website come to be?

Jules: There were many stories we wanted to share that were cut from our book. We turned in, as Betsy noted, a manuscript that was much longer than what was required. I think we cut about a third of the book.

We also had to re-organize and re-structure the book, and after that happened, many stories no longer fit. We thought sharing them at a site would be a fun thing.

It’s a lot like, as Betsy puts it, the Director’s Cut version of the book.

Would you like to admit to any mischief of your own?

Betsy: Golly. What kind would you prefer?

I can definitely say that I’ve been a bit mischievous in my promotion for this book. You see, there were certain stories out there that we knew and just couldn’t use because the perpetrators (so to speak) were still alive and kicking and probably wouldn’t appreciate us bandying about their names.

Still, I’ve slipped references to these stories into some of our blog posts. For those in the know, when I say “the dead cat story” they know exactly what I’m referring to. Or when we mention “the most infamous Caldecott speech of all time” (the one that more librarians claim to have witnessed than could have actually fit in the banquet hall), you’ll see some surreptitious nods. Or the story that involved someone punching someone else out.

I can’t use it. I can’t even allude to who might have been involved or where it might have taken place.

But buy me a drink some time and I might easily spill all.

Jules: Most people don’t know about the great Pooh Bear Heist of ’99. … Nah, I’m too guileless, and I’d get caught.

Instead, I’m going to answer for Peter – in a way. Peter pulled off many an April Fool’s joke at his site, Collecting Children’s Books, and they were so much fun.

Here’s one bit of mischief, probably my favorite.

I think he really got some people goin’ for a while there.

Cynsational Notes

Betsy Bird is the youth materials collections specialist for the New York Public Library and the author of Giant Dance Party, illustrated by Brandon Dorman (HarperCollins, 2013). She has also written a nonfiction text for library students, called Children’s Literature Gems: Choosing and Using Them in Your Library Career (ALA, 2009). In addition to writing for The Horn Book, she is the creator of the blog A Fuse #8 Production. Betsy was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and now lives with her family in New York City.

Julie Danielson is a regular contributor to Kirkus Reviews and BookPage and has also written for The Horn Book. At her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, she has featured and/or interviewed hundreds of picture-book creators. Julie, who lives with her family in Tennessee, also teaches picture books as a Lecturer for the School of Information Sciences’ graduate program at the University of Tennessee, where she got her library degree in 2002.

Wild Things!. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by David Roberts. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

As a reader, I’ve lately accumulated a large pile of books I’ve read only halfway. Getting all the way through a single book lately has been challenging.

But when I heard comedian and TV writer Carol Leifer ("Seinfeld," "Modern Family") on a podcast several weeks ago talking about the attitudes toward professionalism and creativity that have come in handy during her four-decades-and-counting career, those reflections sounded to me like they could have come from an experienced, successful children’s/YA author.

And when Leifer mentioned her new book, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying: Lessons From a Life in Comedy, I suspected it was one I should read.

I’ve now read it twice. Let me tell you: Its applicability to the kid lit career that I and so many of my friends have chosen far exceeds my expectations. Plus, it’s really funny. You should read it.

Seriously -- whatever your professional or creative path, this entire book is worth your time. But in case your not-yet-finished reading pile resembles mine, I’d like to share some of the especially resonant parts of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying:

Chris Barton, Jennifer Ziegler & Cynthia Leitich Smith
1. “What is the topic for which the discussion never ends? The subject that could keep a conversation going on a train from New York to Florida, if you met a stranger interested in the same thing? The answer is a good indicator of what career to aim for.”

I’ve found this to be true for me for children’s writing in general -- I confess that I get disappointed by any social gathering that doesn’t provide an opportunity for discussing books for young readers -- but also for specific story ideas or research topics.

Writing a book can take a long time, and when setting out on that journey it’s best to be paired with a subject that you never grow tired of discussing.

2. “[W]hatever job you’re in or aspire to get, you’ll never go wrong sharing your genuine enthusiasm with those involved and keeping tabs with folks you meet as you pursue your goals."

This is especially true in an industry where folks move around so much. Editors, publicity and marketing folks, and librarians with whom you connect often land elsewhere not long after you’ve made that connection.

Even if that connection involved an opportunity that fell through, you made an impression, and you’ve now got memorable ties to where they currently work as well as to where they used to be. Cultivate those ties. Make the most of them.

3. “As a writer, I find that connecting to my body via exercise has become the essential counterpart to spending so much time inside my brain.”

And, I might add, to spending so much time in front of a screen. As I try to always tell kids when I visit schools, I do much of my best creative thinking while exercising.

I’m tempted to say that I’d type this post while walking or running if only I could figure out how, but that’s not true. I cherish the time I get to think about the right words without having any possibility of writing them up at that particular moment. If they’re truly the right words, they’ll still be in my brain by the time I get back home.

I could go on and on about Carol Leifer’s new book, but she’d probably like me to leave you wanting (to buy) more, and I’ve got my own books to write.

So I’ll leave you with just one more lesson from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying -- one I aim to keep in mind the next time I review an editor’s changes (and every time after that):

4. In the making of "Seinfeld," she says of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David's final passes on the scripts, “I pored over their drafts, studying which parts of my script they kept, what they threw out, and what they altered. ...Whenever your ideas don’t rise to the top, or if they get changed along the way, it’s important to understand why.”

Cynsational Notes

Chris Barton is the author of the picture books Shark Vs. Train (Little, Brown, 2010)(a New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller) and The Day-Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge, 2009)(winner, American Library Association Sibert Honor), as well as the young adult nonfiction thriller Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities (Dial, 2011).

His 2014 publications include picture book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet (powerHouse) and his YA fiction debut as a contributor to the collection One Death, Nine Stories (Candlewick), and 2015 will bring picture book biographies The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdman's) and Pioneers & Pirouettes: The Story of the First American Nutcracker (Millbrook).

Chris and his wife, children's-YA novelist Jennifer Ziegler (Revenge of the Flower Girls (Scholastic, 2014)), live in Austin, Texas, with their family.

blessed_paperbackBy Cynthia Leitich Smith

for Cynsations

Thrilling news!

The electronic edition of my novel Blessed (Candlewick) is on sale this month for $1.99!

It's the third novel in the Tantalize series, but it can stand alone and is a perfect read for Halloween!

You’ll try to fight it. But you’ll only be fighting your true self. It’s done. It’s destined. In time, you’ll come to accept it." He pulled back his sleeve to reveal two dress watches. "In time, you’ll come to me."

Quincie P. Morris, teen restaurateuse and neophyte vampire, is in the fight of her life -- or undeath. Even as she adjusts to her new appetites, she must clear her best friend and true love, the hybrid werewolf Kieren, of murder charges; thwart the apocalyptic ambitions of Bradley Sanguini, the seductive vampire-chef who "blessed" her; and keep her dead parents’ restaurant up and running.

She hires a more homespun chef and adds the preternaturally beautiful Zachary to her wait staff. But with hundreds of new vampires on the rise and Bradley off assuming the powers of Dracula Prime, Zachary soon reveals his true nature -- and a flaming sword -- and they hit the road to staunch the bloodshed before it’s too late.

Even if they save the world, will there be time left to salvage Quincie’s soul?

With a wink and a nod to Bram Stoker, New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith unites the casts of Tantalize and Eternal in a delicious dark fantasy her fans will devour.

Blessed was a YALSA Teens Top Ten nominee.

"Off-handed humor, clever wordplay, and a host of supernatural beings

will delight fans of Smith's Tantalize and Eternal, the two novels that precede this one,

though Blessed can certainly be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel."

–School Library Journal

"Wild and ultimately fascinating…

"..the pages fairly smolder in describing their [Quincie and Kieren] attraction...."

–Kirkus Reviews

“Quincie is a capable, independent and appealing heroine

who has matured considerably since her debut in Tantalize.

...Blessed raises expectations for a complex (and thrilling) conclusion.”

–The Austin American-Statesman

See more reviews, interviews and blog buzz, sample chapter, media kit and reading group guide.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

for Cynsations

Firstborn Cover Analysis & Author Interview: (Former Editorial Director) Lou Anders by Matthew MacNish from Project Mayhem. Peek: "To create the countries of Norrøngard, Ymiria, and all the lands on the continent of Katernia, I researched numerous cultures. I worked out time lines to five thousand years. I invented cosmologies and religions. I have an entire book’s worth of notes that isn’t in the book."

Age 14: The No Man's Land Between Middle Grade and YA by Dianne K. Salerni from Project Mayhem. Peek: "Is it just a random benchmark applied by one giant book store chain that some publishers buy into, and others don’t? Why does this particular age matter so much?"

2014 Cybils Nominations Are Open from The Cybils. Peek: "The big one: the book needs to be published between October 16, 2013 and October 15, 2014. Oh, and one book per category per person. No exceptions."

How to Write What You Don't Know by Crystal Chan from National Novel Writing Month. Peek: "Are you willing to dig deep and analyze systemic racism—not just in our society but within themselves?"

History and Magic by Juliet Marillier from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...anyone who writes in my genre can tell you that the historical research still needs to be done, and done thoroughly. A novel containing fantasy elements should be consistent to its time and culture, whether that time and culture are historical, imaginary or some blend of the two."

Cyn's favorite Halloween Book!
October 2014 Calendar of Children's Books by Elizabeth Kennedy from Note: autumn, National Bullying Prevention Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month, Star Wars Day, Teen Read Week, Halloween and more. See also Are You Ready for Some Football...Books? by Randy Ribay from The Horn Book.

The Writer of Faith by Martine Leavitt from Write at Your Own Risk. Peek: "Some of my students who love their religion have asked me how I, as a writer, cope with the expectations of people in a faith community. These young writers have no desire to rebel, and yet in an effort to portray the truth, sometimes fiction offends."

Advice from Authors by Elisabeth Weed from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I now schedule exercise just as I would a meeting and find that it makes me that much more effective. And happy."

Stuck in the Writing Doldrums? by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "The writers who last, who keep producing quality writing, are usually those who have found a way to stay on an even keel most of the time."

Kirkus Prize Finalists

From The Washington Post: "On Tuesday, Kirkus announced the finalists for its first prizes — 18 books in fiction, nonfiction and young readers’ literature. The winner in each of the three categories will receive $50,000, making it one of the largest literary awards in the world."
Cynsational Giveaways

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Exciting News! My novel Feral Nights (Book 1 in the Feral series)(Candlewick, 2013) has received the Writers' League of Texas (MG/YA) Book Award. See finalists and more information.

Thank you to Mr. Gray and the students, teachers, administrators, staff and families of Harvard Elementary School (Houston) for a wonderful school visit on Thursday evening and Friday.

With fantastic Harvard Elementary librarian Mr. Gray and Greg Leitich Smith.
Greg and I enjoyed visiting with kids (from PreK to grade 5) and their families as well as leading workshops for the fourth graders! One of the best schools we've ever visited! Loved it!

Last week's highlights also included the Tweens Read panel at South Houston High in Pasadena, Texas.

I wasn't on the program, but I went with Greg and played fan girl to many author friends and soaked up the book love from 1500 young readers.

Yowza! The enthusiasm was sky high!

Brava to Blue Willow Bookshop and the entire volunteer committee for an excellent event! See full coverage via Greg's event photo report.

With author pals Jenni Holm & Jennifer Ziegler outside Blue Willow Bookshop.
Matt London, Jessica Brody, Jennifer Brown & Greg on the "Houston! We Have Problems!" panel.
With morning keynoter Jacqueline Woodson.

Six Minutes with an Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith from LitPick at Facebook. Peek: "Don't forget to floss, eat something green every day, and if you're suffering from writer's block, try dancing in the dark to Olivia Newton-John's 'Xanadu' album." Note on Facebook? See the LitPick site instead!

Personal Links

Inspired by "My Fair Lady"

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.

for Cynsations

From the Writers' League of Texas: "The 2013/2014 Writers' League of Texas Book Awards, awarded in 2014 and recognizing outstanding books published in 2013, honor Texas authors across five categories with three distinctions: Winner, Finalist, and Discovery Prize Winner, all of whom will be celebrated at the WLT booth at the Texas Book Festival in October."

Middle Grade/YA Winner

(Candlewick, 2013)


Discovery Prize Winner

Picture Book Winner

(Pelican, 2013)


Discovery Prize Winner

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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