http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2013/12/guest-post-carla-killough-mcclafferty.htmlBy Carla Killough McClafferty
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
There is a little piece of me in every nonfiction book I’ve written. Maybe no one else can tell, but I know it is there. Sometimes I see it in the text of the words I’ve written. Sometimes I see it in the white space –the words I didn’t write.
Of all my books for young readers, the one that reveals the most of my own heart is my newest book, Fourth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment (Carolrhoda, 2013).
As I began the research for the book, I recognized that I have a deep emotional connection to head injuries. My youngest son, Corey, died from a head injury after falling from a swing at the age of fourteen months. But I had no idea how personal it would get.
I began my research with the science part of the book—the easiest part for me. I managed to get a telephone interview with Dr. Ann McKee, a neurologist and neuropathologist who is an internationally renowned expert on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
Dr. McKee is frequently in the news because she has studied the brains of deceased NFL players found to have the disease. She graciously answered my questions and gave me permission to use her brain images in my book.
I also interviewed Dr. Robert Cantu, probably America’s leading authority on the treatment of concussions. Then I talked at length with the researchers from Purdue and the University of Michigan who study the effects of repetitive head injuries on High School football teams.
Next my goal was to understand the love of football. I interviewed football coaches, athletic directors, athletic trainers, and retired NFL players.
One game changer for me was my interview with Kevin Turner, a former pro who played for the Patriots and the Eagles. I asked Kevin, “What does it feel like to play in the High School State Championship game in Alabama?” and “What does it feel like to play in an NFL game in front of 70,000 screaming fans?”
And boy did he ever tell me! When I couldn’t get his stories out of my mind, I knew they had to be in the book. Talking to Kevin allowed me to see football through the eyes of a man who loves the game.
Then I came to the hardest part of my research. I interviewed the families of Nathan Stiles and Eric Pelly. Nathan and Eric were both teenagers who died as a result of concussions—and both of their brains already had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
By this point in my research I understood that even though the cause of the injury was different, my son Corey died in the same way as Nathan and Eric.
|Eric at Homecoming|
The writer in me asked these families the hard questions. At the same time the woman in me -- who knows the devastation of losing a child -- grieved for their sons and for mine.
I promised these families that I would write about the life and death of their sons with the same love and respect that I do when I write about my own child.
I am humbled that they trusted me.
When promoting my book, I say that Forth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment deals with the reality of concussions balanced with the love of the game. And it is. But between the text and the white space, the book is a whole lot more.
http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2013/12/new-voice-sam-bond-on-operation-golden.htmlBy Cynthia Leitich Smith
Sam Bond is the first-time author of Operation Golden Llama (Cousins in Action)(Volume 1)(Bound, 2013). From the promotional copy:
Dumped at their eccentric Grandma’s, Cagney, Olivia, Aidan, Lissy and Tess are convinced they’re in for a boring summer. But when Grandma gets a series of mysterious phone calls and a highly unlikely pet sitter arrives, the cousins find themselves jetting off to Peru, where, much to their surprise, they find the adventures have only just begun.
Why did you decide to self- publish independently rather than with a trade press?
Traveling the self-publishing route was not an easy decision. However, my reasons for self-publishing were very specific.
When I decided to write a children’s adventure book featuring my two girls and their three cousins, it didn’t occur to me there would be any issues. However, when submitting to agents and publishing houses I encountered the same complaint. Too many main characters.
Now, I’m English, and grew up reading one of England’s most prolific children’s writers, Enid Blyton. Her books are filled with adventure and mystery, with rarely a grown-up in sight. However, the one constant throughout her work is large groups of protagonists. The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, The Five Find-Outers and Six Cousins need no explanation as to the abundance of characters contained within.
Seeing I wrote my books as a gift to my children and their cousins, being told to remove two of the main characters was a deal breaker. After two or three agents reading fulls gave the same reason for rejection, I came to the hard decision that I needed to be true to my vision, and to do that, I would have to take a less traditional publishing route.
Believe me, I thought about making the changes requested. I knew writers who’d altered major portions of their book on the advice of an agent and gone on to be successfully published. However, in the end, I knew I would rather the book contain all five cousins and have a limited readership, than remove two of the cousins on the chance this would lead to the book reaching a wider audience.
What were the challenges?
I would say the biggest challenge to self-publishing is taking yourself seriously and truly believing you can do it. You must be aware there are no deadlines, other than ones you set yourself and nobody cares about this book, other than you, your critique partners and, if you’re lucky, your mother!
My biggest fear was that I would forget something. When I started a photography business ten years ago, I researched a photographer I admired, and purchased her three-part course on how to start a business. I took a year to create a website, build a portfolio and design a logo. I also formed a company, opened bank accounts and filed tax documents.
These things all took away from what I loved to do most – take photos, but I felt they were needed for me to proceed in an orderly manner and knew they would enhance my success down the line.
It has been the same with self-publishing, except instead of buying a tried and tested course I relied on the knowledge of several indie authors in the Austin area that I’d sought out ahead of time. In fact, finding mentors to answer questions and guide me through this process was fundamental to my success.
One provided an amazing six month countdown to launch. Another explained how KDP works to boost sales. A third was kind enough to share the more hum drum actions required – setting up bank accounts, LLCs and EINs. With these three authors to guide me, I at last felt confident to proceed.
What recommendations do you have for other writers considering this route?
Spend the time you would have dedicated to querying, checking out indie boards, becoming intimate with different companies that offer services and set yourself a budget.
At this point, I suggest being truly realistic about your strengths. Although I knew I could do a lot of the work, I am not technically minded and needed abundant help formatting and uploading my manuscript. I was not expecting to need help and it was almost my undoing.
I also recommend giving yourself plenty of time. Just because you have the power to set a launch date, it should not be something you rush into. Once committed to a launch date it marks you as amateur if you have to back out because you underestimate the hours it takes to go from prototype to finished product – and believe me, it will take longer than you think. In fact, I would suggest having your book in hand before you even think of launching it into the world.
Finally, just because you’ve decided to travel the self-publishing route, does not mean you should do it alone. If anything it’s even more important to make contacts, join local societies, attend conferences and get to know your writing community.
In fact, I believe the encouragement and support I received from fellow writers, plus the accountability I had to my peers, was the piece of the puzzle that made all the difference.
|Sausage on the coach|
As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?
Operation Golden Llama has five main protagonists and is written in omniscient pov; this gave me a lot of heads to be inside. However, it was a POV I was familiar with from books I read as a child, and although I toyed with limiting the POV to just one character and rotating through the protagonists one chapter at a time, I decided my characters were too feisty to have their thoughts limited.
The youngest of the main protagonists is six, the oldest twelve. Luckily, I started writing Operation Golden Llama when my children were in first and second grade, so I had a lot of material to work with. Also, my characters are based on children I know, which made the writing easier.
I wanted the children to be realistic, but they obviously had to be somewhat smarter and more prepossessing than your average child in order to make them interesting. If you listen to conversations between typical elementary aged children and wrote it down verbatim, it might be realistic, but it would not be fascinating.
Striking that balance was the challenge, all the time making sure Tess used words appropriate to a six-year-old, and Cagney possessed the sass and confidence of a pre-teen.
I found one of the ways to make Tess believable was to have her ask questions. Not only was it a great way of explaining a word or situation the reader might not understand themselves, but it also reminded us of the age gap between her and her four cousins.
|Olivia, Tess and Sam|
Plus, I kept check of words each cousin would use regularly. For Cagney it was “good grief”. Lissy would often address an adult using the words “ma’am" or "sir" and Tess often ends her sentences asking for clarification.
As often as possible, I wanted readers to be able to identify which cousin was speaking from the dialogue alone without having to rely on identification tags.
It is also useful to have a word in your head that sums up your characters. To me, Olivia is fearless, Cagney exasperated. Lissy is smart, Aidan kind and Tess exuberant. Often, I would just write what I wanted the cousins to say with no tag lines, then return later and add tags appropriately. This often worked better than deciding at the time and helped with flow.
Often however, the characters seemed to claim their own lines, and if it was essential that one character said a line for the plot and it didn’t seem true, I would re-write the line in their voice. It was interesting how, when reading the book aloud, it was obvious to me if I had the tag lines wrong. Olivia would never be in awe of dramatic scenery, but Aidan would. In the same way, a character inquiring how someone was feeling would always be Lissy, never Cagney. That just left Tess and anything crazy fell in the “Tess” category.
http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2013/12/cynsational-news-giveaways.htmlBy Cynthia Leitich Smith
Revelry! Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac from Steam Punk Romance | Coffee Time Romance. Peek: "Not too many books I know contain a pedantic Sasquatch with ESP. But he and his people are in the traditions of every Native American nation and it was not hard at all for me to imagine them surviving into the tenuous future of my story." See also Nine Post-Apocalyptic Books Starring People of Color by Audrey from Rich in Color.
Birthdayographies from Donna Bowman Bratton. Peek: "Where did the biography birthday idea originate? I'm glad you asked. My friend, the talented author Anne Bustard, launched the idea in 2008 with her own blog, Anneographies. And she totally rocked at it. Though Anne still loves picture book biographies, she's more focused on fiction now. I'm honored that she has passed the birthday torch to me."
What to Do Before Revising a NaNoWriMo Novel by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "One great thing about Nano is that we’ve written it so fast, the character’s journey is fresh in our mind from first page to last. Take this opportunity to make some notes to yourself and ask these three questions..." See also The Seven-Step Business Plan for Writers by Angela from Jane Friedman.
The Color of Imagination: Interview with a Cover Artist by Therese Walsh from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "The sales reps have a lot of sway, as do the booksellers (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc…). If a book is slated for a large retail order (such as Anthropologie or Urban Outfitters), the retailers can also have the final word."
Character Building: Using Quirks to Reveal Personality by Becca Puglisi from Jody Hedlund. Peek: "As with any other gesture or habit, quirks that are used too often become distracting. Choose fitting times for your character to show his personality so each instance has meaning and serves a purpose." See also Becca on the Difference Between Primary and Secondary Character Traits and How to Use Them from Susan Quinn.
Villains are People, Too by Bobbi Miller from Children's Literature Network. Peek: "I asked many of my favorite writers and illustrators to name their favorite villains, what they found memorable about these characters, and how this character influenced their writing?"
The Creator's Game: A Story of Baaga'adowe/Lacrosse by Art Coulson (Minnesota Historical Society Press): recommendation from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "Coulson's storytelling delivers nuggets of info about the ways that Ojibwe people play lacrosse, and, the way that Cherokees play it."
Should You Revise and Resubmit? by Suzanne van Rooyen from QueryTrackerBlog. Peek: "Before committing to an overhaul, you need to ask yourself if the person requesting the R&R is someone you really want to work with, do you trust their opinion and will their suggestions improve your manuscript."
Barbara Park Remembered from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Barbara Park, author of many books for children – including the bestselling Junie B. Jones series – died on Nov. 15 at age 66, after a long battle with ovarian cancer. Here, some of those with whom she enjoyed lengthy professional and personal relationships pay tribute." See more information.
Plotting Along: A Diagram of Key Plot Points by Janet S. Fox from Through the Wardrobe. Peek: "Today I’m posting the latest in my personal collection of plot diagrams, something I’ve put together based on the best plot diagrams I’ve found and used."
Dumpster Diving: An Observation on Socio-Economic Class in Children's Literature by Charlesbridge editor Yolanda Scott from CBC Diversity. Peek: "I’ll take with me into my editorial work is to look more carefully and deliberately for class markers and where they appear or don’t appear in text and art. Indeed, the latter is an intriguing issue to explore in any book: who is not in a given story, and why?"
Mentoring: Two-Way Learning by Juliet Marillier from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Be prepared to make major changes, including cuts, to render your manuscript more readable / more publishable. Yes, even if it’s an aspect of the story that you are deeply fond of."
The Gingerbread Man's Top Five Writing Tips by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "Based on the folktale about this popular Christmas pastry that comes to life, the Gingerbread Man gives his writing tips." See also Frosty The Snowman's Top Five Writing Tips from Darcy and Take a Different Approach to Writing: Eat Dessert First by Amy Rose Capetta from Adventures in YA Writing.
The winner of a signed copy of Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst is Alicia in Alabama.
See also the 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway from Latin@as in Kid Lit: Exploring the World of Latino/a YA, MG, and Children's Literature. Peek: "From Christmas Day through Three Kings Day (Jan. 6), one lucky winner will win one of these (12) awesome books."
See also Giveaway of One or Two Things I Learned about Love by Dylan Sheldon (Candlewick), plus new YA releases from Adventures in YA Writing.
This Week at Cynsations
Guess what. I'm home in Austin for the rest of the year. You know what that means?
|Gingerbread Who-ville at the Four Seasons Austin|
Deadline time! I'm pushing hard to finish my draft of the manuscript titled Feral Pride, which will be book 3 in the Feral series.
That said, I stole a little play time and consequently highly recommend "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" and "Frozen," both of which feature strong girl protagonists (Frozen has two of them!).
In other news...
Congratulations to Debbie Reese, recipient of the 2013 Virginia Mathews Scholarship! Peek: "The purpose of the Virginia Mathews Memorial Scholarship is to provide tuition to an American Indian individual who lives and works in an American Indian community, and who is enrolled, or has been accepted and will enroll, in a master's degree program at a university with a library and/or information sciences program accredited by the American Library Association for the 2013-2014 academic school year."
Find out the one thing I wouldn't change about the Feral series no matter what from YA Series Insiders.
Converting Prose to Graphic Novels with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Annemarie O'Brien from Quirk and Quill. Peek: "Think about offering new content or perspective with the goal of adding value for your readers. Perhaps tell the 'same' story from a secondary character’s point of view, for example."
YA Lit Boy Characters that Inspire Crushes from A Simple Love of Reading. Note: fun to see Kieren from the Tantalize series on this list.
A Celebration of Native American and Aboriginal Girls from A Mighty Girl. Note: pleased to see Jingle Dancer featured among recomendations.
And so the deadlines churn. Today, at long last, I finished a solid draft of Princess X. I'm calling it "Draft 0.5" because it still needs a good smoothing pass; I removed and added a lot of content, and while I believe everything works and holds together, it'll take one last thorough read-through before I'm confident. |
That said, the more distance I can put between Right This Moment and The Last Read-Through Before I hand in Draft One...the better. But I can really only give it about a week. The plan at present is to hand it in next Friday...or possibly the following Monday, at latest.
Anyway. If you're curious, I removed several thousand words and added almost that much back into the mix. The final draft tally, at present, is 64,409 words. And for the next week (or so), I'll concentrate on (a). giving myself a little mental break, maybe over the weekend, and (b). starting content on Jacaranda in earnest.
I'm looking forward to it, honestly. I've been nibbling at that project in bits and pieces - during what precious little "down time" I permitted myself while on the death-march; and I find it so...peculiarly easy, if that makes any sense. I found the center of this one quickly, without too much difficulty. The voices are coming smoothly, the structure isn't fighting me, and the tone is precisely what I want.
This is somewhat unusual. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And on that note ... here's recent progress on my poltergeist-plagued hotel horror story, wherein everyone’s favorite steampunk Texas Ranger joins forces with a goth-as-hell gunslinger-turned-padre who may (or may not) have supernatural powers:
Deadline: March 31, 2014
New words written: 1835
Present total word count: 7580
Things accomplished in fiction: Met the fellow guests of the Jacaranda Hotel; checked out a crime scene that's been quietly hidden.
Next up: Quiet mayhem. And then some loud mayhem, I suspect.
Things accomplished in real life: Morning jaunts around the neighborhood with the dog; several jaunts to the dog park; copious editing and writing and rewriting on Princess X; grocery shopping; housework; all the Christmas shopping; round #1 of Christmas cards; went to and from the bank/post office/Walgreens/grocery store a time or two; mostly just worked.
Other: HUZZAH and HOORAY - for the fine folks at i09 have given Fiddlehead a very kind (and only mildly spoilery) write-up. Many thanks to all involved, of course; click to read if you're curious, but, um...as with all things - don't read the comments.
Four-legged other: Have continued the dog-park trips with Greyson, to mixed results. Sometimes he's on cloud 9 the entire time he's there; other times, like this afternoon, he acts like he could take or leave it. It doesn't seem related to any other dog's behavior, so I have no idea. He has many dog-friends there, and is well-received by everyone - just sometimes, I guess, he's not in the mood to socialize.
Bonus four-legged other: Car time remains stable at "No barfing, but continued drooling and shaking." He calmly and patiently goes to the car, gets into the car, and then climbs frantically over me to get out of it again. Maybe this is as good as it'll get. His comfort level when he arrives in new places is much higher; his confidence and fellow-dog-socialization-skills have improved greatly; and he doesn't wig out, hide, and cry at the prospect of travel...but woo boy howdy, he does not enjoy the ride.
Furthermore four-legged other: I guess it's okay if he doesn't "enjoy" the ride - I just wish I could say or do something to make him less afraid of it. But we've definitely hit a plateau in that regard.
Number of fiction words so far this year: 177,186
http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2013/12/guest-post-giveaway-ellen-jensen-abbott.htmlBy Ellen Jensen Abbott
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
I was 50 pages into my first writing project, a YA fantasy novel, when I picked up a book about writing for children.
In the first chapter, the author explained that a new writer should never start with a novel instead of a short story or write fantasy instead of realistic fiction.
But my story had a hold on me and I was not about to stop. Three books and over a thousand pages later, I’ve realized what that author meant. For a beginning writer, it’s hard enough to struggle with character, plot and setting. But fantasy and science fiction require something more—world building.
World-building is a labor of love for any writer, but a novel set in present day Boston begins with a geography, climate, social structure, and government. A fantasy or science fiction writer can set her story anywhere in the universe.
Freeing and exciting, but where do you begin? It’s a rush at times to play the role of god, but the stakes are high. Like characters, worlds need to be three dimensional and ooze verisimilitude.
When I started my current series, The Watersmeet Trilogy, I saved myself some of the angst of world building by setting it in some version of New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
Once I knew I was in the rocky soil of a New Hampshire-like place, I knew my characters were doing subsistence farming or hunting and gathering. Small farms led naturally to villages and towns rather than cities.
With towns came artisans: blacksmiths, wood cutters, tanners, and shepherds. From the first decision about geography and climate, I gained an economy and social structure. My world was fleshing out.
The New Hampshire setting also dictated the flora of my world. My main character, Abisina, is a healer and needed plants for tinctures, teas, and infusions. I picked up Peterson’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs, which covers more than 500 plants. Overwhelming—but I was only interested in plants that grew in a northern climate. Plenty of invention was still necessary.
I found what sounded like a delectable root for my dwarves to roast—Solomon’s Seal. But the name “Solomon” threatened to pull the reader out of a world where the Green Man is a central deity. So I renamed the root “Blister root.” No reader will recognize my blister roots as Solomon’s Seals, but basing them on a real plant gave them a reality my imagination couldn’t.
My reliance on Peterson’s Field Guides is only one tool in my world-building kit. I have maps of the land, villages, and my main character’s house scribbled on scraps of paper. I have a calendar with moon phases marked lest all my scenes take place during a full or new moon.
Sometimes that moon has to be gibbous!
I’ve worked hard and had a lot of fun making my world 3D, but I wasn’t prepared for the sense of loss I feel now that the trilogy is complete. Finishing the series means leaving behind my own private Genesis—the Obrun Mountains, the River Couldin, and Giant’s Cairn.
This may be why, in a recent conversation with my editor, I pitched two Watersmeet companions. I don’t want to work on them yet—there’s a cranky fairy demanding to have his story told first—but a time may come in the not too distant future when I’ll want to go home.
Ellen Jensen Abbott thinks that life would be perfect if she could move her home, her job, her friends and her family to the White Mountains of New Hampshire where she grew up.
Until she can convince everyone to join her, she’s content to be writing, teaching English at the Westtown School, and living with her husband and two children in West Chester, PA.
In the Watersmeet Trilogy, readers follow the outcast Abisina as she leaves her village to search for her father and for acceptance.
On her journey, she discovers the whole land of Seldara: the dwarves of the Obrun Mountains; the fauns of the western forests; the centaurs of Giant’s Cairn—some friends, some foes. When she reaches Watersmeet, she thinks she’s found the home of her dreams where all of Seldara’s folk are welcome, but soon Watersmeet’s existence is at risk and Abisina finds herself outcast again.
Can she save the home she loves? Can she unite the land against a gathering evil? Can she embrace her destiny and become the Keeper of Watersmeet?
Enter to win the Watersmeet trilogy--Watersmeet (Skyscape, 2009), The Centaur's Daughter (Skyscape, 2011) and The Keeper (Skyscape, 2013) and a Kindle Paperwhite. Publisher sponsored. U.S. only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2013/12/guest-post-lindsey-mcdivitt-on-positive.htmlBy Lindsey McDivitt
of A is for Aging, B is for Books
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
Grumpy and frumpy, witchy and weary, frail and forgetful—none of us expects to be that kind of older person, and in reality this does not often describe normal aging.
But negative stereotypes of age, such as older characters in decline and needing help from a child, are too often the norm in books for kids.
In actual fact, late life is generally a time of great satisfaction.
Teaching empathy is important, but the images of aging we show children in books are of vital significance—to them and us. Ageism is evident in pre-schoolers. Even children who admire their own grandparents speak negatively about growing old and about older people.
Research also tells us that taking in negative stereotypes shapes us and even shortens our lives. We will become what we think as we get older. We all need and deserve a positive vision of our future.
Books that share positive messages about aging benefit both kids and adults, and they more accurately represent our diverse world of young and old.
At some point in our lives the conversation around birthdays will shift, from happy anticipation to dread. Why is that?
Ageism—pure and simple. Just like racism, ageism steals away recognition of our abilities, strengths and individuality.
In the words of Rosemarie Jarski, “We will all get older, so ageism is like turkeys voting for Christmas.”
We plan for a long life, so why is it so hard to recognize we stereotype older adults?
You can hardly blame us—our society surrounds us with words and images worshipping youth. But getting old is not a failure to remain young and it should be celebrated as the triumph of strength and survivorship it is.
What can we do to balance other media and add more realistic and positive images of aging to books for young people? As writers and illustrators let’s challenge ourselves to:
- Provide older role models by creating interesting, complex characters and avoiding one-dimensional stereotypes such as poor, sick and sad. And let’s remember—dementia is not a part of normal aging.
- Share the knowledge and strength older adults have acquired because of their age and experience. See My Teacher by James Ransome (Dial, 2012).
- Highlight creativity and lifelong growth. Include a wide range of abilities and interests. See It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw by Don Tate, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Lee & Low, 2012).
- Normalize aging and changing by showing it is a lifelong process. See Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney (Viking, 1982).
- Show satisfaction with late life—research tells us people grow happier as they age.
- Avoid the freaky and foolish in both text and images, and choose our words carefully. “Old” is not a bad word and should not be used as such in any of our writing.
- Include older characters that are working, volunteering, or making a difference in the world. Highlight the strengths often masked by an aging body. See Grandmama’s Pride by Becky Birtha, illustrated by Colin Bootman (Whitman, 2005). Show what people of all ages have in common.
- Share the positives of intergenerational relationships, including those outside the family. See Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco (Doubleday, 2009).
Let’s try visualizing who we want to be as we grow older—both words and pictures carry powerful images.
And lastly, in the interest of full disclosure—the grandmother in my latest manuscript? She knits. But that’s not all she does...
Visit Lindsey's Blog, A is for Aging, B is for Books, and like A is for Aging on facebook.
http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2013/12/cover-reveal-author-interview-dori.htmlBy Cynthia Leitich Smith
Cheers to your upcoming series, The Haunted Library (Grosset & Dunlap, 2014)! Could you tell us about it?
It's a chapter book mystery series, just like my Buddy Files series (Albert Whitman). But instead of a canine protagonist, my main character Kaz is a ghost.
He's spent his whole life (and he is "alive"...this is a chapter book series so my ghosts aren't dead people, they're simply transparent people with superpowers) living with his ghost family in an old, abandoned schoolhouse.
But when the "solids" come and tear down the schoolhouse, Kaz and his family are separated as they blow away in the wind. Kaz ends up in a city library, where he meets a solid girl named Claire. Claire can see Kaz when he's not "glowing." She can hear Kaz when he's not "wailing." No one knows why.
Kaz and Claire form a detective agency to solve ghostly mysteries and help Kaz find his family.
What are the challenges of writing chapter books? How about writing a chapter book series?
I think one of the main challenges to writing a chapter book is first understanding what a chapter book is.
I hear a lot of parents say, "my child is reading chapter books."
What do they mean when they say that? Do they mean their kids are reading Frog and Toad? Yes, Frog and Toad has chapters, but it's an easy reader. Are they reading A Wrinkle in Time? That's a middle grade novel. Or are they reading The Magic Tree House? Those are chapter books!
You can't go by the age of the child...kids learn to read at different ages. Though, if pressed, I would say most chapter book readers are between ages 7 and 10. They're able to read and comprehend easy readers, but they maybe don't have the stamina to stick with a middle grade novel yet.
Chapter books tend to have spot illustrations, large type, lots of write space. Chapters are short. So are paragraphs. Sentences tend to be simple, but not too simple. Main characters are spunky and fun, and plots are fast-paced with lots of action. You don't see a lot of explanation and description in chapter books. Everything moves along at a good clip.
As for chapter book series, writing a chapter book series really isn't any different from writing any other series. For me, the biggest challenge to writing a series is I'm limited by what I've already written. I often get three books in and wish I'd established some key element to the series back in book one. But it's usually too late to go back and change book one. That can be frustrating.
What advice would you give to writers interested in creating a chapter book series of their own?
First, read some chapter book series. I don't think you can write one if you've never read one or if you haven't read one since you were a kid.
Read a bunch of them. Get a feel for chapter book characters, plot, and pacing. Get a feel for how series are put together. That will help you as you craft your own series.
Keep in mind that each book in a series should be a stand-alone story, but it should also advance the series arc. Create a series character and/or concept that's interesting enough to follow through multiple books. Readers like series because they connect with a character and want to follow that character into other adventures. Give yourself enough to work with.
What are your thoughts on the cover art? How does it draw readers into your series?
I love the cover art! I'm usually pretty happy with the covers of my books, but these may be the best covers of any of my books. I think Aurore really captured the personalities of the ghosts and she makes the books look fun.
I'd pick these books up if they weren't already mine.
http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2013/12/guest-post-giveaway-kristi-valiant-on.htmlBy Kristi Valiant
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
Look through your shelves of picture books (does everyone love picture books enough to own shelves of them?). Do you notice any differences between the books that were written and illustrated by the same person versus the books that were written by one person and illustrated by another?
My first picture book as both author and illustrator, Penguin Cha-Cha, was published recently by Random House. I loved illustrating my own story, but I also love illustrating other authors’ books.
I’ve illustrated a handful of those, including the upcoming Pretty Minnie in Paris, written by Danielle Steel, about a teacup Chihuahua in the fashion world of Paris - Oh la la!
I approach illustrating someone else’s manuscript differently than when I illustrate my own.
When I’m given a manuscript to illustrate, much of the storyline is already there and can’t be changed. I do have some creative freedom in bringing my half to the book, and to promote that, the publisher usually keeps the author and illustrator away from each other.
I can deepen the story by adding elements, and sometimes even characters, to the illustrations that aren’t mentioned in the text. For example, in the picture book, Cora Cooks Pancit (Shen's), I added in a dog that wasn’t in the text and used him to echo the main character’s feelings with a problem of his own – all through the illustrations.
But even though I can deepen the story and be creative through the illustrations, the fact remains that the text was written before the illustrations, and I can’t change the text.
When I wrote and illustrated Penguin Cha-Cha, the visuals came first and the illustrations influenced the writing of the text in a major way.
Penguin Cha-Cha started as a portfolio illustration. The great thing about portfolio pieces is that you can draw anything you fancy. I was in a Latin-and-swing dance group and I liked penguins, so I drew dancing penguins.
Art directors and editors kept asking if I had a story to go with the illustration. They could see just by looking at the dancing penguins that I had fun drawing them.
When that joy shines through an illustration, it’s time to start thinking about making a book.
So I began writing stories about dancing penguins. Learning the craft of writing picture books, of course, took time and many tries.
I’m still learning, but what worked the best for me was to envision my dancing penguins story in my head as a sort of animation and pick out the key parts that forwarded the story and were the most visually interesting to draw as spreads for the book. Then I added in just the words necessary.
My editor had me add in a bit more text after the dummy was acquired, but mostly we stuck with the original dummy.
Many of us author-illustrators tend to start as illustrators and therefore are more visual than wordy. We can show part of the storyline in the illustrations, so perhaps not as much text is needed.
Check out the picture books on your own shelf and see if you can tell if the same person wrote and illustrated them.
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Today is Sample Sunday. I have a "witchy" book (think "Bell, Book, and Candle" or "Bewitched," and MAYBE even "Sabrina" with a sprinkle of "Charmed") that I need to finish. (I have the first 3/4 and the ending written--it's just a saggy part that has to connect everything that needs plumping up.) I thought it might be fun to see whether anyone would go out and read about MIRANDA'S RIGHTS.|
MIRANDA'S RIGHTS by Shalanna Collins
The demon Asperioth felt himself being conjured just as he was finishing up a complex three-day working.
Because the first tug came when he had his hands full, he couldn't even try a countermeasure. The working was too strong, anyway; someone out there must have his Name. He rose up into the air tail-first, cursing and dropping the components for the last step of his spell as he was sucked into the vortex between the demons' realm and that of the mortals.
The feeling was like being pulled butt-first through a knothole. A too-small knothole.
He materialized in a deep-forest clearing bathed in the light of the full moon. Someone must know a little about what they were doing. His hooves crunched on pine needles; the scent turned his stomach. Looking down, he saw he stood in the center of a salt-encrusted pentagram inscribed in a double circle engraved in the soft dirt. Apparently, someone knew quite a bit.
Or had been reading up on Summoning in the occult literature.
He blinked. As his infravision adjusted to the harsh light, he could make out a petite figure. A human female stood before him with black-draped arms upraised, her toetips barely tangent to the edge of the magickal figure.
Her voice squeaked forth with a whiny nasal accent. "Asperioth, I command thee!"
She'd heard his Name somewhere, or read it in a book, he supposed. That made things tougher for him: once they knew your Name, you couldn't resist the conjuring when you were called. That was part of the reason he'd been pulled so suddenly. And unless you could fool them, you were compelled to obey. Within reason.
"What do you seek by calling me, O woman?" He boomed it out with an echo, hoping he sounded properly fearsome. Asperioth couldn't quite remember the language, the exact phrasing that he was supposed to use. It had been so long since he'd had his Name called by a mortal. "I have little time to spend here. Tell me your desire."
"I want more power." Her eyes gleamed in the moonlight. "More power at my command without all these material components and . . . rituals." Her lips parted, revealing slightly pointed canines at the edges of her smile, and she glanced over her shoulder.
Asperioth followed her gaze to a naked human male, almost as young as she, panting on a woolen blanket behind her. The youth lay unnaturally twisted and still, as though stunned from a working. It was a sophisticated method of raising power; she was no newcomer to the Craft, nor apparently to the rules of diabolical magick.
"I could give you more power in the same way this one has given it." Asperioth beckoned, hoping he wasn’t leering too obviously. "Come hither into the center of my pentacle, and I shall grant your request."
"I am young, but not one day old, dear." She grimaced. "A demon child is not in my plans. Anyway, I've never heard of going into the pentacle with the demon."
Asperioth winced. “Please--we prefer the more correct term, ‘antiangel.’”
She rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”
Asperioth spread his arms wide, then pulled them in a bit as a shower of tiny blue sparks shot from the edge of the pentacle’s central pentagon, in which he stood. “I will do you no harm and plant no seed. You will find I can give you great pleasure as I increase your power.”
She gave him a hard look. "Don't mess with me. You can give me power at my command with a single word. I want that word of power."
Well, it had been worth a try.
"All right. But within the confines of this figure, I feel cramped and uneasy. When I am made to be so, I cannot think." The pentagram seemed claustrophobically small; it was squeezing his potbelly and his rear pillows. "Rub out a line so I can come forth, and I will grant you a word which will allow you to command power in an instant."
"Forget it." She glared at him. "You're not coming out here, and I'm not coming in there. Do I look stupid? You stand right there and think fast. Just give me the word."
All right, he would give her a word. But first he had to know what it was worth to her. "What is the payment you are willing to give for each use of this word?"
She scowled, pushing her wild dark hair back behind one ear. "What are you talking about?"
So she hadn't read up as thoroughly as all that.
"I mean there is a cost for each use of the word. The power does not come from the sound of the word alone. It must be paid for by the sacrifice of some mortal component."
"Component." Her voice wavered a bit.
He paused for dramatic effect. "Your pet . . . the use of your right arm . . . your singing voice. . . ."
"Those things are not negotiable. They're too personal." She squinted into the blue light that surrounded him, as if thinking, although he doubted it was remarkably deep thinking. "What about another person?"
"That could be satisfactory." Asperioth looked at her with new respect. He had to admire her ruthlessness and her brazenness in demanding such things so confidently of a power like himself. And she was almost as free from the burden of compassion as he was. However, she should have had all her dragons in a row before Calling him. "This grows tedious. State your exact offer."
"I don't know yet. Can I state it at the time I use the word? Another person, still to be named."
"Named at the time of the casting. All right." He felt he was giving her ample exception.
But she paused. "Wait a minute--let me think if I want that, or if there's a better way." Stroking her chin as if she were an aspiring member of Z Z Top encouraging her beard, the human appeared ready to muse until Tuesday.
His own abandoned spell would be ruined, unrecoverable, if she kept him here much longer. He could feel steam rising out of both ears. "Do not anger me, mortal woman. Show the same courtesy you would use to a fellow magician, or better. You forget what I am and what you are."
He clapped his hands over his ears before her invocation of Light could do any damage. "Please! No need for that kind of language. I have your word of power." After waiting one suitably solemn moment, he pronounced a word in the magickal tongue. Guttural and hissing all at once, it would be a challenge to her.
"Can't you give me an easier one?" She squinted at him as if things were blurring over, which would mean her hold on him was fading. She was running out of energy.
"The words are the words." He sent a hostile light out of his eyes to convince her. "They cannot be other than what they are."
"All right, all right. Say it again clearly so I can get it, and you can go."
He pronounced it once more for her, slowly, to be fair, because she had proven herself brave as well as admirably wicked. “Use it wisely. Remember the price.”
She smiled and raised her arms. “I release thee, Asperioth, and return thee to thy proper realm.”
He felt himself slipping back into his own dimension. "Thank you," he heard her calling as he clattered back onto the floor of his own workroom.
He bared his fangs in what passed for a smile. Her fatal mistake was a beginner's error. She had failed to pronounce the peace. She should have ended not with a stupid thanks, but with something like, "Depart now, and may there ever be peace between me and thee. So mote it be."
So now he had her. When she Called him next--if there was a next time--he had no obligation to comport himself with peace. "Mortals today," he muttered, picking himself up and dusting off his legs, which were sticky and covered with dried cinders from the floor. "Complete fools. But when has it ever been otherwise?"
On the morning of her thirtieth birthday, Miranda Callahan came awake with the certain knowledge that her best friend was casting a spell on her.
"The moon enters the house of the dragon, and Hecate works her magick on me." Miranda groaned, raising her head off the sketches for her latest cartoon panel. She'd fallen asleep at her drawing table again.
Charcoal sketches are unforgiving. The entire page was smudged like yesterday's mascara. In the gentle morning light, the new cartoon seemed particularly uninspired. Her fingers flew to her temples, where they automatically started massaging in circles.
What could be worse than waking to unfamiliar magick--except, of course, waking up in a cold bed without Alex. Which she'd cleverly avoided by conking out at her desk around three in the morning.
She had to put a stop to this enchantment, immediately. Being manipulated was never her preference, no matter how well-meaning the manipulator.
But the spell was already working on her.
This spell was benevolent, though, she'd swear. She felt optimistic, for a change, and a little buzzed, as if she'd been affected by the margaritas she vaguely remembered drinking in her dreams.
Her stomach guggled. She hadn't been spelled unexpectedly like this since her mother had semi-retired from the Craft.
Reaching toward the ceiling, she rolled her head back and forth, working at the crick in her neck. She knew she ought to be concerned, perhaps even panicky, about being magicked. As a confirmed control freak, Miranda was uneasy around witchcraft; she'd witnessed its unpredictable power too often in childhood. Yet she found that being the focus of a spell weaving its way around her moment by moment was oddly soothing. Somebody cared.
She was tempted to give in, to surrender to the euphoria that the spell wanted to build in her, maybe just a little.
"Dagnabbit, Zepp, quit it," Miranda said aloud. "Don't turn me into a frog, because I know what your idea of a great lilypad is. Isn't it bad enough having another birthday so soon?" But the spell was not to be waved away.
Sweet, misguided Zepp.
This old mock-Tudor mansion was drafty, especially up in this third-floor turret. It had been Alex's idea to add their aerie of a bedroom during the first phase of remodeling, but he hadn't realized how inadequate the cheapie brand of insulation would be. Slipping her feet into her marabou slides, she reached for Alex's brown velour bathrobe. Burying her nose in its collar, she sucked in his musky scent. She could hardly believe his "two weeks away to gain some perspective" had stretched out to seven and a half.
She doubled the robe's belt around her waist, shivering a little. Anything sprung on her without warning and utterly outside her control--such as this spell--usually made her teeth itch. Howsomever, Miranda was certain that Lynn Zepp wouldn't pull a trick like this unless the spell was intended to help, unsettling as the differences between her concept of "helpful" and Zepp's might be.
The intense aroma of bacon--with a suggestion of burning sugar, as in cinnamon toast--wafted up the turret's spiral staircase. Miranda sighed. She'd put on three pounds last week, yet she knew she'd offend her mother if she didn't eat a plateful. Cooking was Mim's passion and her current mission in life.
Mim--alias Mimetia McGaha, the "Divine Madam Mim," albeit retired--seldom practiced the Craft these days, at least not openly. Still, what Mim had learned over twenty-eight years she certainly hadn't forgotten in five. Miranda padded downstairs, confident that her mother would know what could be done about her impending ensorcelment.
As she emerged in the sunny morning room, her two orange Pomeranians rushed for her legs. She snatched up first Woofie, then his sister Amadée, and kissed each firmly on the head before setting them back down to compete for her attention. Deciding on the coy approach, she smiled at her mother. "Morning, Mamacita. Notice anything different about me?"
Mim looked up from behind the pastry island and smiled indulgently. The spot of flour on the end of her nose told Miranda that she'd been mixing up biscuits from scratch.
"Happy birthday, sweetie. Do you feel any effects from Lynn Elizabeth's magicwork yet?" Mim habitually called Zepp--along with everyone else--by first and middle names, despite Zepp's expressed preference for being called solely by her last name. Those who normally objected to this Southern-gothic practice made an exception for Mim. "She started raising power and sending a spell your way about forty minutes ago."
Miranda winced, for drama's sake. "And this didn't move you to come wake me--or, better yet, try to block the spell?"
*end of sample*
Current Mood: accomplished
Current Music: Christmas carols
Yes, it's that time of year again! November's Super Fancy and Thankful November Blog!!!|
So then, let's be bold (lazy) work without an outline, shall we? First up, but not necessarily in chronological order, I went to St. Louis to speak/teach at the Missouri SCBWI. However, we got purposely sidetracked and ended up at the most marvelous City Museum!
The museum is a defunct shoelace factory that was artfully re-imagined . . .
Speaking of artists, here's my lunch pal, author/illustrator (and draw-er of my Bobby books) Dan Santat crawling gracefully through one of the many tunnels and tubes at City Museum . . .
And here we are swinging from ropes, participating in the ball pit, and enjoying a peaceful train ride . . .
Then there was this . . .
There's even a ferris wheel on the top of the building . . . oh! Look what I spy. Why, it's Katie Wools, illustrator and Lisa/Dan wrangler . . .
So then, since we had a dinner to attend, we ate GOOEY BUTTER CAKE. Nom nom nom, this local favorite isawesomelywildlygood!!!!
Hello? Who's that? Why, it's Delacorte executive editor Krista Marino and author Matt de la Pena at dinner, wondering where their GOOEY BUTTER CAKE is . . .
The next day, it was off to the conference. Boom! Boom! Boom! There was a high school marching band competition happening at the same time. Same place.
But did that bother my students? Nope. They looked so happy . . . until I made them revise and revise and revise and revise. Well, I was teaching a class in revision, after all.
What's that? Lunch. Dan made a lemon bar chocolate brownie sandwich. Yum.
Soon it was time for my closing keynote speech. Awww, all these people raised their hands when I asked, "Who would give me 70% of the payout if you won the lottery?"
The next day, I taught a master class on how to write Bad Guys and Bullies. However, this Nice Gal, Rodeen Literary Management agent, Lori Kilkelly, brought me . . . MY VERY OWN GOOEY BUTTER CAKE!!!!
Sigh. Because I refused to share, my students reacted badly . . .
Later, it was deep dish pizza at Pi Pizzeria with Dan and Katie and Krista and author Jody Feldman and Moi . . .
Later, we checked out Chuck Berry's Blueberry Hill which looked sort of like my office . . .
Before the airport, we hit (as in pigged out) Ted Drewes for frozen custard . . .
When it came time to head home, we saw a TV celeb -- the man with the baseball cap. Hint: One of the dads from Modern Family, the one who sells real estate, Phil.
Back in Los Angelese, it was all about Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986 . . .
We admired the graffiti in the LA Arts District . . .
And we so totally admired our Mexican Chocolate Pie from The Pie Hole . . .
That's not the only great food we had in November. Look, it's a bunch of authors and illustrators having brunch (you know who you are) . . .
Hey! Did you get your Harry Potter postage stamps yet? I did, They're really cool, but controversial . . .
What? Yes, that's right! We also visited Orlando, Florida for the FAME conference. Scholastic Book Fairs sponsored our visit . . .
I gave a couple of presentations . . .
. . . while Peepy and teacher Mike Cohen disagreed over what to eat for lunch -- salad or GOOEY BUTTER CAKE . . .
And then last weekend, I got to attend my pal Ann Whitford Paul's book party at local indie Skylight Books. Here's Ann with 'Twas The Late Night Before Christmas illustrator, Nancy Hayashi . . .
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!!!
(The lovely fruitful turkey created by editor Elizabeth Law's mom, Betty.)
Autographed books make delightful holiday gifts. You can order yours from Vroman's and tell them who you'd like Lisa Yee to sign it to, and they will mail it to you!"
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