Thanks so much for visiting HipWriterMama, my blog about children's books, authors and readergirlz!

It's time for a change. I've decided to focus my attention on my writing blog, www.vivianleemahoney.com. Hope to see you there!


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Day 25: Mapping Out Writing Time: When the Familiar Becomes Not So

"Mom, are you sure we're going the right way?"

With this one question, a new Write-a-Scene topic was born. Thank you, Wonder Girl.

We were driving on a narrow road, one of the many quiet streets connecting one town to another. I've driven this way countless times, and yet, Wonder Girl's question made me wonder whether I took the wrong road.

I looked at our surroundings and all I could see was snow. A foot of snow covered everything around us. Gone was the golf course, the small pile of rocks, the dirt path. Fences, bushes, and trees all started to look the same with the snow. And the houses, now cloaked in snow, could have been any house, every house, the exact same house. It took a few minutes to know for certain I knew where I was driving.

This situation made me realize how the familiar can become unfamiliar when something new is added to the mix. All it took was Wonder Girl's question and some snow to make me see differently. What if we added more layers--freezing temperatures, 40-mile winds, blinding snow? Now we've got a blizzard and people can get lost in these conditions, even if they're close to home.

Write-a-Scene Writing Prompt: Rock your MC's world and add layers to the familiar to skew the view. This is a good thing to apply to a good portion of our manuscripts.

Write a scene where your protagonist finds the safety and certainty of the familiar changed--whether for good or bad. Use your imagination. Fiddle around with the setting, change the behavior of the best friend/boyfriend/girlfriend, add conflict to the family or ease up the school routine. Remember, writing is all about adding layers. Have a good writing day!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Day 24: Mapping Out Writing Time: Staying the Course, Even When Others Don't Believe

"Mom, I forgot to mail my letter to Santa!" Spy Girl flew into the kitchen this morning, envelope in hand. "Do you think it's too late?"

For the past few years, I've been waiting to have the talk with Spy Girl about Santa. Her friends have been dropping comments since the second grade, and despite the doubt cast by naysayers, Spy Girl's belief in Santa is much stronger. She'll defend Santa to anyone who tells her otherwise. As far as I know, Spy Girl is the only fifth grader in her school that still believes.

I'm cool with this.

Write-a-Scene Writing Prompt: There are times your MC is going to face opposition from people who have different convictions. This may be a matter of right vs. wrong or life vs. death, or it can be something where both sides are right, depending on upbringing, maturity, religious beliefs, race, etc.

Write a scene where your protagonist is faced with an opposing view, but has a different belief. Is this an easy situation, where both sides agree to disagree? Or is there something at stake, where winner takes all? Or perhaps the situation is more complicated and there is no clear winner. Emotion and conflict should factor in big time in this scene(s). Good luck!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Project 4 Awesome: You Are Not Alone by Myles Dyer

Check out this important video that Myles Dyer put together on his favorite charity for John and Hank Green's Project for Awesome...Thank you, Myles, for letting us all know we are not alone.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tamora Pierce LIVEchat Over at readergirlz Tonight! 6pm Pacific/ 9pm EST

It's that time -- Tamora Pierce will be at readergirlz tonight to answer questions about her books, writing process and whatever else comes to mind. This is a great opportunity to learn from an incredible writer. Don't miss this!

Stop by tonight, 6pm Pacific/9pm Eastern, for a great discussion! See you there!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chance to Win $1,000 Scholarship for Creating a Book Trailer for Susan Taylor Brown's HUGGING THE ROCK

If you're a teen, ages 13 - 18, hurry and submit a book trailer for the wonderful MG verse novel, Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown.

There's a chance you can win a Freshbrain.org $1,000 scholarship!!!

Deadline is this Tuesday, December 15th. Click here for the rules and submission information. Good luck!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Day 23: Mapping Out Writing Time: The Double-Edged Sword

Life seems to get in the way of my writing. The flu, three children, a husband, managing office work that piles up faster than I can organize, housework, soccer, too much homework to supervise, holiday pressures, and general doldrums have provided more than plenty of opportunity for numerous excuses and bad creative behavior.

When I do write, my husband and children sometimes get resentful of my time away from them, voicing their disappointment when I'm at my laptop. My writing is usually done on the sly, in tidbits, spread thin.

Right now, writing seems to be my double-edged sword. If I write, chaos erupts and my family is unhappy. If I don't write, the household runs more smoothly, but I'm restless. It's a tough balancing act to maintain peace in my writing world, where sacrifices must be made, and sometimes it's difficult to see how, and if, we can all win.

Gah! I don't mean to sound so dire, for my children are the world to me and I will move mountains for them. Deep down, I know they believe in me and my writing, in a shout-it-from-the-rooftop type of way, but they are young and they still need me. As I do them. And that helps me get through the tough days.

I'm writing about this because sometimes it's just nice to know there are people out there who understand how difficult it is to write when others depend on you, but write anyway, and find a way to make their dreams come true.

I want to be that person. I will be that person.

I am that person.

And I know you are, too. That is all.

Write-a-Scene Writing Prompt: Write a scene (okay, this may take chapters to explore, but start off small) where your protagonist is faced with a double-edged sword--two choices--one favorable, one not so much. What do these choices mean for the protagonist, for the other people in his/her life? Who will suffer the most? Will anyone win? What does your protagonist do? Why? How do others react? Remember to evoke emotion, conflict and consequences.

Now get your butt in the chair and write.

Help Kickstart Tu Publishing and Good Karma Will Follow You

Have you heard of Tu Publishing? This small, independent multicultural press for children and YA is the brainchild of Stacy Whitman.

Stacy is raising capital through Kickstarter to fund this project--she needs $10,000 and as of right now, is 63% there. She has 3 more days to raise the remainder of the money, which she'll use to acquire, produce, market and distribute the first two books. Check out the type of books Stacy will be looking to acquire in January 2010.

If you're able to donate $1 or more, or, if you can help spread the word, it would do much to help bring much needed books out into the world. Go here to find out more about how to pledge money to Tu Publishing and bring good karma into your life. Thank you!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Day 22: Mapping Out Writing Time: Do the UNEXPECTED

It's been awhile since my last Write-a-Scene Writing Prompt and I thank all of you for your patience. Though, perhaps, you've all been as crazed as I've been these past few weeks and have welcomed the reprieve. Or maybe, like me, you've hit a creative slump and needed the break. And truly, with the holiday rush, who has time to write?

Let's wait for the New Year, the beginning of a new decade, to start writing again. Sound good?

Gah! This is no time to wimp out. I must admit, I've thought of taking a vacation from writing, but I can't stop. I'm a writer and that's what I do. I create characters and stories and most importantly, I write. So, if you're in it for the long run, like I am, let's keep on writing. Right now. We can cheer each other on.

The publishing world has been changing for some time and there is no time to wallow in doubt. Have you heard the latest? Kirkus is closing. Rather than worry about what will happen next in the world of publishing, let's focus on finishing our manuscripts and writing through the end of this year and into 2010. Wouldn't that be a great way to usher in a new decade of hopes and dreams?

And just for you, I've got a new writing prompt, to inspire a new scene or two for your manuscript.


School mornings are hectic in my household. Spy Girl and Wonder Girl are early risers, but Ninja Girl? Let's just say I've tried just about everything to get her to wake up so I can get the girls to school on time. Which is defined quite loosely most mornings.

And since the other two think they have more time, they meander through their morning routine, sometimes taking even longer than Ninja Girl to get ready.

I hate how I have to cajole, yell, scream sing Broadway songs to entice my children to get out the door. It's painful for all of us and really not the best way to start off the day.

Guess what I did today? I remained calm this morning. No arguments with children about their choice of clothing or hairstyle or shoes or warm gloves/hats or breakfast food. Talk about confusing them! But, they all got ready and out the door in record time. What a pleasant and freeing experience! My children made their own decisions and they shouldered the responsibility quite well, for the most part. And I squelched the temptation to interfere and ruin the good cheer.

Write-a-Scene Writing Prompt: Do the UNEXPECTED. We all know we should do this when we're writing, but sometimes, we need a gentle reminder. Shake things up a bit and let your characters do something unpredictable. Maybe your MC is miserly and shows a bit of holiday spirit. Or has trouble making choices and surprises everyone with a split-second decision. Or falls in love with the right person rather than the wrong one. Or decides to run off with a pack of vampires rather than join the family circus. Or is the shy one and tells off the school bully. See all the possibilities?

Are you ready to write the scene? Have fun with this and don't worry, there are no wrong choices. Just be sure to show the consequences, good or bad, and let your characters react to the unexpected situation. Don't wimp out. It'll be good for your story.

Add an interesting dimension to your story and your readers will love you.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Time to Announce the Winner: R.L. LaFever's ARC Giveaway...

Thank you, Everyone, for stopping by, reading R.L. LaFever's interview, and taking the time to comment. Isn't Robin awesome?

We knew it would be hard to choose a winner, but we didn't realize just how hard. You all created such great secret societies, plus, you kept us entertained.

But, there can be only one winner.....

Ello! Send me your snail mail address to hipwritermama @ comcast dot net and Robin will send you an ARC of Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus.

Before you all leave, Robin has a nice surprise. There will be one more winner!

Tricia! Send me your snail mail address to hipwritermama @ comcast dot net and Robin will send you an ARC of Nathaniel Fludd, Book 2.

Be good, All. You never know what else might come up! I'm a little bit in shock--I just got my 100th follower and will need to think of a good way to celebrate!

December readergirlz: Tamora Pierce

December is all about INDEPENDENCE as Tamora Pierce joins the rgz Circle of Stars with her books, Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen. Please join readergirlz as we chat about related topics all month at the rgz blog.

rgz LIVE! with Tamora is scheduled for Wednesday, December 16th at 6 pm PST/9 pm EST.

Gather the postergirlz recommended reads to accompany Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen:

His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
Sphinx's Princess by Esther Friesner
The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix
Flora Segunda and Flora's Dare by Ysabeau S. Wilce
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede
Teens Cook: How to Cook What You Want to Eat by Meghan Carle and Jill Carle

Happy December!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

R.L. LaFever's ARC Giveaway Deadline is November 30th

If you haven't had a chance to read R.L. LaFever's fabulous interview, go right here. By the way, there's a contest, for a chance to win an ARC of Theodosia - Eyes of Horus, Book 3 of the Theodosia series. Thank you, Robin!

So, pass the word! The deadline to enter for a chance to win is tomorrow, November 30th. All you have to do to enter Robin's THEODOSIA AND THE EYES OF HORUS ARC Giveaway, is answer the following question in the Comments section [CLICK here]:
Please keep it clean, folks.

Good luck!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Beth Kephart's readergirlz writing contest #4: writing from life

The fabulous Beth Kephart, author-in-residence for readergirlz, posted the final readergirlz writing contest:
"...a challenge that asks you to look at something familiar and transform it into the unexpected. Check out the video posted here. Send your best work to kephartblogATcomcastDOTnet. The winner will receive an advanced reading copy of The Heart is Not a Size (which is due out in March from HarperTeen). The winning work will be posted on this site. Our deadline is December 30, 2009."
And in case you're wondering, here's the winner for Beth's writing contest #3! Congratulations, Kiera!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving: Celebrate Life With The Gratitude Dance

I thought I'd share this great video made by The GratiDudes.

Can you imagine jumping up from your seat and breaking out into a Gratitude Dance during Thanksgiving Dinner? How many relatives would get up and dance? Are they the people you expected?

Yup. I've already got a smile on my face.

Don't let the bad stuff get you down. I know. I know. Easy to say. Hard to do at times in the midst of horrific world events, questions about national policies, and uncertain economic times. Add to this equation the daily grind of life, and sometimes, it's plain difficult to see the good that's been there all along.

No matter what difficulties life throws at us, I've got to believe, there is hope and gratitude lighting the way--for ALL of us.

This Thanksgiving, let's celebrate life's moments and let the spirit of gratitude lift us up.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Beth Kephart, readergirlz author-in-residence: Writing Contest Deadline November 25th

Beth Kephart, our first author-in-residence at readergirlz, has been posting monthly blogs in which she discusses the art (and the joys, and the frustrations) of writing, along with writing prompts and related contests. Here is Beth's third writing prompt:
"In this readergirlz challenge, the premise is simple: Find a photograph of yourself as a young child on the verge of some new knowledge or turning point. Write a paragraph about that photograph/that moment in present tense, as if you are experiencing that moment for the first time. Then write about that photograph/that moment in past tense, with the gift of retrospection. Ask yourself what you gain from working in the present tense, and what is gained by reflection; include your thoughts on this with your submission."
Send your entry to kephartblog AT comcast DOT net by tomorrow, November 25th, 2009. The author of the winning paragraph will receive a signed copy of Beth's beautiful novel Nothing but Ghosts, a novel about a young girl who, in learning to live past her mother's unexpected passing, involves herself in decoding the mystery that envelops the recluse down the road. The past and the present collide in Ghosts.


readergirlz LIVE! chat with Marlene Carvell, Author of Sweetgrass Basket Tonight!!

Psst! Here's a secret to pass along. SWEETGRASS BASKET author Marlene Carvell will be featured at the readergirlz LIVE! chat tonight at 6pmPacific time/9pm Eastern time. Let's see how quickly we can spread the word. See you at the readergirlz blog!

Monteray Bay Aquarium: Young Women in Science (YWS)

Thanks to readergirlz and Little Willow, I found out about a program for teen girls over at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Young Women in Science (YWS) which may be of particular interest to our readergirlz still in middle school:
This week-long, summer day-camp is designed to get young women excited about and involved in science, the ocean and conservation. Through a variety of hands-on field activities, we strive to increase their knowledge and to spark a personal connection with the natural world that will lead them to become future stewards of the ocean. Kids get the opportunity to explore ocean habitats by joining in activities such as surface scuba diving, boogie boarding and kayaking.

We aim to serve young women regardless of primary language or economic background. We offer three camps in the summer that are conducted in both English and Spanish. Young women entering grades 6, 7 or 8, who reside in Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties, are eligible to apply.
Send an email to teenprograms@mbayaq.org to find out about the YWS program, as well as other Monterey Bay Aquarium teen programs.

Monday, November 23, 2009

WBBT Schedule Recap: November 16 - 20

In case you've missed any of the fantastic line-up of writers and illustrators in last week's Winter Blog Blast Tour (WBBT), what are you waiting for? Make the time and read these interviews. They are thought-provoking and full of good stuff.

Here's the schedule:

Monday, November 16th
Jim Ottaviani at Chasing Ray
Courtney Sheinmel at Bildungsroman
Derek Landy at Finding Wonderland
Mary E. Pearson at Miss Erin
Megan Whalen Turner at HipWriterMama
Frances Hardinge at Fuse #8

Tuesday, November 17th
Ann Marie Fleming at Chasing Ray
Laurie Faria Stolarz at Bildungsroman
Patrick Carman at Miss Erin
Jacqueline Kelly at HipWriterMama
Dan Santat at Fuse #8
Nova Ren Suma at Shelf Elf

Wednesday, November 18th
Sy Montgomery (Part 1) at Chasing Ray
Jacqui Robbins at Bildungsroman
Sarwat Chadda at Finding Wonderland
Cynthia Leitich Smith at HipWriterMama
Beth Kephart at Shelf Elf
Annie Barrows at Great Kid Books

Thursday, November 19th
Sy Montgomery (Part 2) at Chasing Ray
Laini Taylor at Shelf Elf
Jim DiBartolo at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Amanda Marrone at Writing & Ruminating
Thomas Randall at Bildungsroman
Michael Hague at Fuse #8

Friday, November 20th
Lisa Schroeder at Writing & Ruminating
Alan DeNiro at Shaken & Stirred
Joan Holub at Bildungsroman
Pam Bachorz at MotherReader
Sheba Karim at Finding Wonderland
R.L. LaFevers at HipWriterMama

A special thank you to Megan Whalen Turner, Jacqueline Kelly, Cynthia Leitich Smith and R. L. LaFevers, for taking the time and sharing their thoughts on their work, life experiences that influenced their writing, and thoughts on writing. It was such an honor to have them here on my blog.

Hope you enjoyed these interviews!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cynsational WBBT Giveaway by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Have you been following the fantastic discussion in the Comments section of Cynthia Leitich Smith's WBBT interview? You must check it out.

While you're at it, the deadline for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsational WBBT Giveaway is Sunday, November 22nd. Enter for a chance to win a copy of any of Cynthia Leitich Smith's books.
"I'm offering a signed copy of any of my books (winner's choice) to one of the folks who thoughtfully comments at my WBBT interview and then emails me (cynthia@cynthialeitichsmith.com) to let me know (so I have your contact information)."
Thank you, Cynthia!

Friday, November 20, 2009

WBBT: Fantastical Power with R. L. LaFevers and an ARC Giveaway

I'm a huge fan of Robin LaFevers. She's a wonderful resource on writing craft and actually shares her writing process on her blog. Robin, under the name of R. L. LaFevers, is also the author of a wonderful series, well actually two, that my children adore. And that is magical in my book.

We first discovered THEODOSIA AND THE SERPENT OF CHAOS at the beginning of this year. Spy Girl, my reluctant reader, loved Theodosia's take-charge spirit and fearlessness, the magic and adventure. She asked for the second book right away.

I couldn't believe it.

My reluctant reader wanted to read more.

Do you know how incredible this is, to find a book, let alone a book series, that keeps Spy Girl riveted to the page--especially since she has to read 40 books by the end of this school year for her fifth-grade Reading class, and all she is thinking of is the overwhelming number of 40, and by the way, is the book going to be as good as THE PERCY JACKSON series or THE DIARY OF A WIMPY KID series? THEODOSIA holds her own and passes Spy Girl's test. Big Time. Without being compared to anything. Now that is something in my household.

Ninja Girl, my big reader, wanted something adventurous but "a little less scary." Sweet NATHANIEL FLUDD, who had to face his own fears and find his inner hero, came to the rescue. Man. I don't have the heart to tell her she has to wait until the summer for the next book.

Check out the awards:

THEODOSIA AND THE SERPENT OF CHAOS (April 2007): A Junior Library Guild Selection; A Booksense Summer Pick; Agatha Award Nominee; West Virginia Children’s Book Award Nominees 2008-2009; Michigan Library Association 2007 Mitten Award Honor Title.

THEODOSIA AND THE STAFF OF OSIRIS (November 2008): Winter 2008-2009 Kid’s Indie Next List.

NATHANIEL FLUDD (September 2009): A Junior Library Guild Selection.

Robin kindly offered to host a THEODOSIA AND THE EYES OF HORUS (book release date April 2010) ARC Giveaway. This is the 3rd book in the Theodosia series. Let the singing begin. All you have to do is answer a question in the Comments section at the end of this interview: If you could create your own secret society, what would it be? Please keep this clean. DEADLINE, Monday, November 30th, 11pm EST. Winner will be announced December 1st.

It is with great pleasure that I welcome Robin to my blog today...


HWM: Why children's books? How did you get your “break” into children's books?
R. L. LaFevers: Kids are so much more open to the world of possibilities around them than many adults. Their minds are fresh and eager and willing to go along on an adventure. They are soaking up everything like little sponges, trying on ideas and philosophies, worldviews and ideologies—often without even realizing it.

Also, I’ve had a rather satisfying adulthood, whereas my childhood was another matter. I felt powerless, voiceless, swept along by events I barely understood and couldn’t control. For me, those were the ages that were most ripe with material and issues that act as good story fodder.

My break came at an SCBWI National Conference where I had signed up for a manuscript critique. My critiquer was a new agent, Erin Murphy, who liked the manuscript enough to offer representation. Needless to say, it was my best conference EVER.

HWM: For some reason, I thought THEODOSIA AND THE SERPENTS OF CHAOS was your first book. Come to find out, you’ve written five other books before Theodosia--spanning werewolves, falcons, and a special sword. Tell us a little bit about your writing career.
R. L. LaFevers:You are not alone in thinking THEODOSIA AND THE SERPENT OF CHAOS was my first book. For some reason, when it was reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly they referred to it as a debut. I’ve felt a bit guilty about that ever since, but really, it wasn’t my fault.

My first five books were all boy books and centered around more traditional fantasy concepts. Not only was it the kind of fantasy I loved while growing up, but also it was the kind my sons couldn’t get enough of. Since I was raising boys, I was hyper-aware of what they looked for and couldn’t find it in reading material. I wrote to fill that void.

For the longest time I thought it was selfish and self-involved to write from who I was as a child, or for my own entertainment. How presumptuous of me to assume that what I felt or what fascinated me would be of any interest to anyone else! The rationale that boys like my sons needed books like these helped me feel less selfish about writing. Unfortunately, I don’t think one’s strongest stories necessarily come from that rationalizing type of place.

I first heard the idea of being a “selfish artist” from Laurie Halse Anderson when she spoke at SCBWI National, a number of years ago. Even with her good advice, it took me a long time and a number of books to get that really, as writers, that’s one of the most vital things we have to offer our audience; our truth, our reality, our idea of Other. THEODOSIA was the first book I wrote from a selfish artist place—my story, written to please me and to heck with the rest. I think there is a hugely important lesson in there that it has turned out to be my most successful book, by far.

HWM: I looked at the published dates of your books and am in awe. It appears you’ve written a few books in a close time span. I’m sure there are writers out there who will want to know, how did you do this and keep all the worlds and voices straight, while keeping yourself sane?
R. L. LaFevers: When I sold THE FORGING OF THE BLADE, the publisher wanted a trilogy, which of course I was only to happy to go along with. Since it was targeted at that younger middle grade reader, we didn’t want our audience to outgrow the books, so they decided to publish them in quick succession.

Right about that time the company I worked for was relocating to the Midwest, so I quit my PT job and just focused on writing the trilogy. It was still pretty grueling, in no small part because I hadn’t planned well or ever written a series before, so I had a number of corners I’d painted myself into and had to wiggle out of along the way.

In fact, the trilogy become such a slog that I needed to find a way to renew my love of writing—to reconnect with why I started writing in the first place; the creative joy rather than the hard slog it had become. So I started a new project, just for me, that would be a book written just to entertain and please myself. I’d work on the trilogy during the week, and allow myself to play with my new story on the weekends as a means of creative renewal. (That book was THEODOSIA, btw.)

Part of the key to working on multiple projects at once is having the works-in-progress be in different stages. I might be doing brainstorming and world building on one book, while revising another. I usually only write the first draft of one project at a time, though.

Also the tone and feel of a book factors hugely in this. For example, I can work on a THEODOSIA book and a NATHANIEL FLUDD book at the same time, but not my dark medieval YA. The tone and feel of that project is just too far away from the others to be able to jump back and forth.

As for sane, well, the jury is still out on that one.

HWM: Why do you write fantasy? Historical fantasy?
R. L. LaFevers: I can’t seem to NOT write fantasy. I’ve tried to write realistic fiction, but a whiff of fantasy always sneaks in, so in some sense, it’s just a part of my world view. Seeing the small magics and mysteries around me makes life vastly more interesting.

Also, one of the themes I’m drawn to is the issue of personal power and taking kids from feeling powerless to a place where they begin to feel as if they have some power over their lives. Fantastical power is a lovely, subtext-laden vehicle for personal power.

I lean toward historical fantasy because I like to write about those times when magic and reality meet, and I think they meet in history. It fascinates me how so many of our modern fantasy conventions are actually culled from old myths, forgotten religions, and ancient cultures.

HWM: I love Theodosia. How did you go about creating her character and voice?
R. L. LaFevers: THEODOSIA was born of a number of my own experiences as a child. I really allowed myself to go back and wallow in my own eleven-year-old self, to remember and feel what it was like to be eleven and what my huge frustrations were at the time. And then I just let her run with that.

One of the things I was constantly accused of at that age was being too sensitive. So many of the things I noticed or found worrisome were dismissed as unimportant by the adults around me. However, kids are so much more open to the world around them, in ways we adults have forgotten or discarded, and I wanted to explore that, reconnect with that. I decided the perfect revenge would be to write a book where those very traits in a girl would be her shining strengths, the very things that allowed her to save her parents and her country.

I also think one of the most difficult thing we ask of kids is for them to be mature and responsible and to take care of things, yet we rarely give them the true power or authority to accomplish those tasks. So I wanted to play with that concept as well. I wanted to illustrate that Catch-22 kids can often find themselves, needing on some level to take care of their parents or siblings, yet be very poorly equipped to do that.

HWM: My children are thrilled to hear another Theodosia book will be out next spring. And also an audiobook is in the works! What can you tell us?
R. L. LaFevers:Yes, we’re hugely excited about the audio book! Audible contracted to do all three THEODOSIA books in audio, and they are in the process of recording them right now. That’s all I know.

Theo’s third adventure is called THEODOSIA AND THE EYES OF HORUS and takes her even further into the world of secret societies, sacred artifacts, and ancient mysteries. It also introduces one of my favorite characters, the Egyptian magician Awi Bubu.

HWM: Except for Theodosia, your other protagonists are boys. How do you keep the voices authentic (male/female)?
R. L. LaFevers: Oddly enough, for a long time I felt more comfortable with boy voices than with girls. I had seven brothers while growing up, I am the mother of sons and was surrounded by boys for years. I feel like I get them and the way they communicate. And even though I’m a girl, girls can be a bit of a mystery to me. During my school years I felt like an outsider and was puzzled by the cliques and politics of girlfriends.

If you’ve been around boys all your life as I have, the distinction is pretty clear. A lot of it is about stepping into the skin of the character and seeing and feeling the world from his viewpoint, wearing his filters, and using his speech patterns. I don’t write about a boy or a girl. While I have the pen in my hand I am that boy or girl and try to see the world through their eyes and filters. Although I will admit that each boy character I write tends to possess one characteristic of a boy I have known. This acts as an entry point for me to access his boy-ness.

HWM: You have a wonderful way of world-building in your books. What were the challenges and surprises you found along the way?
R. L. LaFevers: One of the greatest challenges of world building is knowing what to put in and what to leave out. I always maintain that writers have to know 100% of the details of the world they’re building, but might only use about 20% of those details in the book. All the rest of the world building is used to inform the worldview and perspective of the characters.

Some tools I use when building a world are loads of research, character journaling, collaging, and detail brainstorming. I really think key details—like the contents of Theodosia’s curse removal kit—help bring the world to life.

HWM: What types of research do you do for your books?
R. L. LaFevers: Tons. In fact, my husband jokes that I am a writer so I have an excuse to do research, and he’s only half kidding. The truth is, I am mad about research and it is probably one of the reasons I write historical fantasy—all that lovely research!

I would have loved to travel to London and Egypt and Arabia, but my budget doesn’t allow for that. Instead, I relied on a number of research books on Victorian and Edwardian London, Egypt, archaeology, ancient Egyptian magic, myths, legends, and bestiaries. Also, I would never have been able to write some of these books except in the Age of Google. I was surprised at how much detail I could find on the internet, information I couldn’t find in books; pictures of the British Museum near the turn of the century, old archival photographs of Cairo and Luxor in 1907, when lifts went into operation in London. I was even able to find old street maps of London so that I could get the locations of things correct, although I did use artistic license with a couple of them.

HWM: FLight OF THE PHOENIX, the first book of your NATHANIEL FLUDD, BEASTOLOGIST series was just released last month. I think we were the first ones to buy your book from our local bookstore. What did you do to celebrate?
R. L. LaFevers: To celebrate, I went to Texas and did a two week round of school visits and a book signing event, as well as a couple of drive-by signings. It was a fabulous opportunity to share the book with thousands of young kids. Having written so many books, and so many of them series, I tend to shy away from doing too many launches here in my hometown. I don’t want the local booksellers to get LaFevers fatigue.

HWM: NATHANIEL FLUDD is your youngest protagonist. What were the challenges for writing for a younger age group?
R. L. LaFevers: There were a lot of challenges in writing young! One was keeping it short, as I knew I wanted it to be a shorter book. And the second was staying true to what a younger kid would notice, react to, feel. Once again, for me, the secret seems to be climbing into the skin of the character. I really spent some time with my own ten-year-old self, as well as re-connected with who my sons and their friends were at ten-years-old in a visceral way. What were their fears and hopes and worries? What kept them up late at night? When they were feeling timid, how did that timidity affect how they viewed things? What held enough power over them that they would be compelled to take action, even though they thought they were too afraid to do so?

Really, I think the key to connection with any given character is to access some of our own age-specific memories. Not the stories we remember being told about our childhood, but with actual, visceral childhood memories of ourselves at a given age. Not because every character is a thinly disguised version of ourselves, but so we can shift our mind back to those age-specific feelings and world view.

HWM:I understand from your blog that you’re writing a new book -- this time, a YA! Are you able to tell us anything about it?
R. L. LaFevers: Oh, my beloved YA. I’m still pretty close lipped about it because it’s only ¾ of the way done and I won’t be able to get back to it until I’ve finished Theo Four. But I will say it draws heavily on the bones of fairy tale and old Celtic myth, and takes place in late medieval France. And it’s very, very dark, and also, I hope, very, very romantic, in an old world, rip-your-heart-out sense of the word, not the calf eyes/mooning sense of the word. I’ve been working on it off and on for four years, three of which it took my editor and agent to convince me I really could write it as a YA and not burn in hell. (My internal editor is a cranky old Catholic nun. SO not helpful.) But the trick for me was again, going back and remembering what thrilled me at fourteen and fifteen, and once I was in that place, of course, this was a YA. For YA it is SO critical to put that well meaning adult aside and access our inner sullen/rebellious/slutty teen.

HWM: You’re very involved with helping out other writers. You offer up writing advice on your blog and you’re part of the Shrinking Violets Promotions team and fAiRy GoDsIsTeRs, iNk... How do you find the time and what have you found to be the most rewarding about these projects?
R. L. LaFevers: Well, you’re very kind to say so, but it’s not hard to find time to do the things you love to do, and I love talking to other writers about writing, so that’s easy! The most rewarding thing has absolutely been the people I’ve met and the communities that build up around the blogs.

HWM: What do you like writing the most: the beginning, middle or end of the story? How long does it take for you to figure out the end?
R. L. LaFevers: Oh the beginning. I adore the beginning because the story is so full of possibilities. I can take this road, or that one, or play with this element or throw in that. But by the end of the first act, the story has begun to take shape and one has committed to certain directions.

However, when I begin a story, I do often know the final climax scene and the resolution scene. Mostly. The part that I struggle with the most is from the mid-point to that climax scene—keeping the tension, building it in a steady climb to the big ka-boom.

HWM: What is your writing routine?
R. L. LaFevers: I pretty much get up every morning, grab a cup of coffee, then begin while my subconscious is still accessible. I write either with an Alpha Smart (because it doesn’t let me edit very well and the keyboard shape is easier on my wrists) or by long hand, usually for two or three hours. If I’m just starting a book, a lot of that time is spent brainstorming, journaling, playing with different plot ideas, world building, or asking key questions in the hope that they will unlock the secrets of my character.

Another important thing about my process is that I don’t write every day; I don’t believe that’s necessary. I need fallow periods, so I take them when needed. I also tend to do what some would call outlining, but I think of as more of just thinking up scenes and what will happen next far enough in advance that I don’t spend hours spinning my wheels. A lot of that is mostly assembling and creating and building the material I will need as I write the story.

HWM: What was the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?
R. L. LaFevers: The best single piece of writing advice I ever heard was from Susan Elisabeth Phillips when she spoke at an RWA conference. She said, very simply, "Protect the work." This is probably the best because it is the most all encompassing. Protect the work, whether from your internal editor, from misguided ideas of what the market wants or needs, or from misguided input. It can also mean to protect it from our own ignorance or lack of craft tools.

HWM: What advice would you give to all those NaNoWriMo writers out there?
R. L. LaFevers: Don’t stress. It’s only a game to get you really focused, nothing more that that. Simply by doing NaNo you’ve proved that you are committed to this idea of writing, that you are compelled to put words to paper. Enjoy it. By the same token, if doing NaNo doesn’t work for you, or your work from it is unusable, don’t despair. That might just mean that slamming through a quick and dirty first draft isn’t YOUR process. Lots of writers shudder at that approach, so it just means you’re one of them and not one of those who thrives on that. But don’t walk away! Continue to experiment with all sorts of different approaches and processes. You never know when you’ll find one that sticks.

Also? Nothing is wasted. Not even stuff that appears to be pure dreck. It’s important to know what doesn’t work so we can get that much closer to what does.

HWM: What is your most memorable fan moment?
R. L. LaFevers: I received a letter from a mother who had bought THE FORGING OF THE BLADE books to read to her younger son. Her older son was twelve-years-old and a rabid NON-reader. However, soon he started listening in. Even better, she later found him reading the books under his covers with a flashlight—the first fiction books he’d read on his own. THAT, I thought, THAT is what keeps us writers slogging forward. The best review ever.

HWM: If you found a way to go back to your tween years as one of your characters, who would it be and why?
R. L. LaFevers: Theodosia, absolutely. She says and thinks all the things I wished I could have had the gumption to say.

HWM: What makes you laugh?
R. L. LaFevers: Life’s little absurdities—luckily there is no shortage of those.

HWM: If you were a superhero, what powers would you want and why?
R. L. LaFevers: Wait. What? You mean I’m NOT a superhero??

Thank you, Robin!


Other Places To Find Robin:

Remember, if you'd like to enter Robin's THEODOSIA AND THE EYES OF HORUS ARC Giveaway, answer this question in the Comments section below:

If you could create your own secret society, what would it be?
Please keep it clean, folks.

[Edited] DEADLINE, Monday, November 30th at 11pm EST. Winner will be announced on December 1st.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

WBBT: Writing the True with Cynthia Leitich Smith and Cynsational WBBT Book Giveaway!

One of the first blogs I discovered, when I started blogging almost three years ago, was Cynsations. Then I quickly found Cynthia Leitich Smith's website. Between these two resources (talk about organized and easy to navigate), one can pretty much find anything worth knowing in the children's book world.

I'd read Cynthia's books TANTALIZE and ETERNAL, but thanks to readergirlz, I discovered more of Cynthia's books: JINGLE DANCER, INDIAN SHOES, RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME.

Let me tell you, Cynthia Leitich Smith has received so many awards and honors for her work, it would fill up pages. Here's an easy link to find out about Cynthia's books and awards.

Here's some awards Cynthia has received for her last two books:

TANTALIZE: Borders Original Voices Nominee, March 2007; Featured title, 2007 National Book Festival; 2007-2008 Tayshas List; Chapters (Canada) Junior Advisory Board (JAB) pick; Featured title, 2007 Texas Book Festival; BBYA nominee; Featured title, 2007 Kansas Book Festival; Cybils nominee; Featured title, Readergirlz 31 Flavorite Authors for Teens.

ETERNAL: YALSA’s 2009 Teens Top Ten Nominee; February 2009 Book of the Month, Native America Calling; February 2009; Featured Title, “My Borders Monthly”

Cynthia Leitich Smith is simply incredible. It's been an honor to have her here on my blog. Wait until you read what she has to say. So come on, grab your favorite beverage and hang out awhile.

But wait! This just in! Cynthia is hosting a Cynsational WBBT Giveaway in celebration of the Winter Blog Blast Tour. "I'm offering a signed copy of any of my books (winner's choice) to one of the folks who thoughtfully comments at my WBBT interview and then emails me (cynthia@cynthialeitichsmith.com) to let me know (so I have your contact information). Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 22." Thank you, Cynthia!

Please welcome Cynthia Leitich Smith...


HWM: Why children’s books? How did you get your “break” into getting published?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: My mom was the person who first suggested that I try writing for young readers, and at first, I was reluctant. I was a recent law school graduate, in my late twenties, trying so hard to be whatever a grown-up was. I thought I wanted to shake off everything about being a kid.

But my mom had begun taking me to the public library when I was a little girl and did so—up until about fourth grade—more Saturdays than not. I read avidly and anything…children’s books (especially the Newbery winners), superhero comics, my dad’s TARZAN paperbacks, even my mom’s paperback romances on the sly.

So, in my twenties, living in Chicago, I haunted bookstores. I remember going upstairs at a large indie bookstore in the Loop and noticing Angela Shelf Medearis’s DANCING WITH THE INDIANS (Holiday House, 1993) and then, weeks later, finding Annette Curtis Klause’s BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE at Borders on North Michigan Avenue.

Each was a revelation—DANCING WITH THE INDIANS because it featured Native characters who weren’t bad guys, and BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE because it absolutely beckoned to me.

At the time, I was working as a law clerk in the Office of the General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Social Security Administration (there was a reassignment in there somewhere), and I was sitting at my desk in a federal office in Chicago, on the day of the Oklahoma City Bombing. It affected me deeply—because of the horror of the tragedy itself and, I think, because I have such strong Oklahoma ties.

The atmosphere wasn’t like it was after 911. There wasn’t this idea of an ongoing threat (arguably there should’ve been), but rather people were eager to explain away the incident as the work of “fringe” men who’d been caught. I didn’t have any fear of working in federal building, but the bombing had reminded me of the brevity and preciousness of life.

I took a long walk home and found myself talking the whole thing over with some ducks in Lake Michigan (ducks are excellent listeners). I could hear myself saying that there was nothing I valued more than youth literature. I wanted to be a part of that world. Now.

So, with the blessing of my sainted husband, and not so much as one word down on paper, I quit my day job. (Don’t try this at home).

My “break” into publishing was organic. I had a picture book manuscript, “Something Bigger,” pulled out of the slush pile by Rosemary Brosnan’s assistant at the now-defunct Lodestar. Rosemary asked for a revision, and I sent her another picture book manuscript, “Jenna, Jingle Dancer” to consider while I worked on that.

JINGLE DANCER (2000) was eventually published by Rosemary at Morrow/HarperCollins, and “Something Bigger” turned into one of the short stories in my chapter collection, INDIAN SHOES (HarperCollins, 2002).

That said, it was my emphasis on the craft of writing, rather than on publishing as a business that got me there. My “break” was reading, writing, revising, becoming active in a critique group, and taking classes from author Kathi Appelt.

HWM: You’ve written contemporary Native Indian books for children, short stories, as well as fantasy. What do enjoy about these different genres?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: What I love most about writing across formats is how they inform each other.

I’m always vaguely flabbergasted by folks who begin as fantasists because the burden is so much higher. You have to succeed at all of the same elements as you do in realistic fiction and, at the same time, craft a resonant, integral, and internally consistent fantasy element. I couldn’t have written fantasy without having mastered the skills of realistic fiction first. I’m sure of it.

The short story as a form has been the greatest gift to me. It’s more containable and feels less risky than the novel. The time commitment is less. The psychological and publishing pressures are less.

I first tried humor, “boy” voice, and upper YA, for example, in the short form. Don’t get me wrong, the short story is a wonderful end unto itself. But it’s also a tremendous lab for experimentation and confidence building.

I would like someday to write a grounded fantasy with a Native protagonist that appeals to mainstream teens and rings true to Indian readers and allows them to better imagine themselves as heroes in magical and make-believe worlds.

HWM: November is all about celebrating Native American Heritage Month over at readergirlz. I was shocked how difficult it was to find good books, that treated Native Indians with respect, rather than as a stereotype. Why do you think this is the case, even in 2009?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: Big question. It’s a combination of reasons.

The first is that many folks in the United States—including some in youth literature--are still in an active state of denial (or ignorance) about the nation’s history with regard to Native people and our reality today. Especially the former is painful—after all, we’re talking about child abuse, rape, land theft, and genocidal efforts.

Perhaps because of misplaced ancestral guilt, it’s easier for some to believe that we all had a great time together at the first Thanksgiving and then Native people either (a) became savage warriors who had to be exterminated or (b) mysteriously died out through no one’s fault.

Certainly, that’s—to a significant degree—what’s still taught in American schools.

Of course there are some terrific teachers and school librarians trying to counteract this, but possibly the majority of Americans are carrying false information about Indians, delivered by our educational system itself.

I’ve had my share of school visits where the very young students had already been taught that Native people were either scary or extinct or both—taught not only at school and through books but also from other media and influential adults.

Grandma says, “My, aren’t you the savage little Indian!” (I overheard this in a bookstore, said to a young child who was misbehaving.).

To further complicate matters, a significant number of people who think of themselves as open-minded tend to equate “Native American” with either (a) supernatural, super-ecological largely inhuman creatures or (b) a tragic, defeated and dying people whose glories (and achievements) exist only in the misty past.

It’s a mess.

That’s the big-picture challenge.

Extend that to books, and often you’re looking at authors (a) who’ve been raised in that mainstream (sometimes contradictory) belief system, (b) who honestly don’t begin to realize how off-base many/most of their assumptions are, (c) who’re consulting “original” resources drafted by enemies of Native people, and (d) are trying to connect with a mainstream audience that shares many of their same biases. You get the idea.

It’s entirely possible to write across race successfully. I do it, and I have no intention of stopping. Miranda, the protagonist from ETERNAL (Candlewick, 2007) is Asian (Chinese), and I’m not. Kieren, the protagonist from TANTALIZE: KIEREN’S STORY (Candlewick, 2011) is Mexican American, and I’m not. And I fully realize that we’re humans. We all make mistakes.

But in writing cross-culturally about Native people, it’s critical for non-Indians to begin as if they know absolutely nothing, take a significant amount of time to acquaint themselves with the truth, and proceed in a patient, open-hearted, and respectful manner. It can be done. I’ve had friends and students and colleagues who’ve done it. But you have to stretch, perhaps more than you might realize at the beginning.

That said, writers are only a part of the equation. For the reasons I mentioned above, readers—including gatekeepers—may be more likely to find that an inaccurate book that embraces popular stereotypes rings “true” to them than one that reflects Native realities.

For example, over the years I’ve had several readers mention—some in a questioning way—my inclusion of Native characters with a higher education in my books. Cousin Elizabeth from JINGLE DANCER is an attorney. Aunt Georgia from RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (HarperCollins, 2001) is a retired school teacher and a science teacher at that.

The final big reason is numbers and interest level. Native people are 1.5 percent of the population. As I mentioned, there are certainly writers who succeed in writing cross-culturally about American Indians, but when it comes to writers from within the communities, the pool is small. We need to nurture interest and aptitude where we find it.

Likewise, our numbers of Native teachers, librarians, reviewers, editors, agents, marketing people, and bloggers are small and in some cases non-existent or at least statistically non-existent.

We need more friends, more loud mouths who advocate for quality Native voices and visions and well-executed cross-cultural additions to the body of youth literature.

HWM: What made you venture into Gothic fantasy?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: I’m spooky by nature. Scary stories have appealed to me since junior high, and I was writing the kind of books I love to read.

I also have a love of the European classics. I took honors English in high school and completed a concentration in English at the University of Kansas.

I also had strong feelings about the quintessential vampire-mythology novel DRACULA by Bram Stoker (1897), especially the character of Mina Harker and what had happened to her since.

By today’s feminist standards, there are certain elements of Mina’s depiction—such as being sent to bed by her husband (to protect her supposedly delicate sensibilities)—that are appalling. But big picture, you could make an argument that she is the protagonist. That windbag Van Helsing gets all the credit, but it’s Mina who props up the soggy men after Lucy’s death and organizes all the information and tracks the monster, using Dracula’s power over her against him.

She can even use that newfangled device, the typewriter.

In the 1931 movie “Dracula,” starring Bela Lugosi, Mina is just “the girl,” “the victim.” That’s it. She doesn’t help in any way. She may be dangerous in a sexual way, if the vampiric infection takes.

(Throughout the history of literary/film vampires, much is made of the juxtaposition between the virgin (or at least sanctified) female victim and the demonic woman with any sexuality. That interested me too.)

In Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” starring Winona Ryder, Mina is the reincarnated late wife of the Count, and falls in love with him again, even after he’s threatened the life of her beloved Jonathan Harker, murdered Mina’s much-adored best friend since childhood, Lucy, and is revealed as a demonic undead serial killer.

Yikes, how much weaker could she get?

Gothic fantasy traditionally deals with gender and power, and I wanted to write about that theme. And as I dug farther into Gothic literary history, I realized that its other core themes—including the “dark” other (which back in the day meant “Eastern European”), invasion, and plague—were still as pertinent today as they’d been in the 1800s.

HWM: You’ve written from both the female and male POV. What are the challenges for each one?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: I focus more on writing the individual than the gender, but I was intimidated at first of trying a male POV protagonist, especially because my husband, Greg Leitich Smith, is a fellow author and has been known to remark on “boy” voices that don’t ring true to him.

Writing a male voice is something that I tried first in a YA short stories—“A Real Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate,” which appeared in MOCCASIN THUNDER: AMERICAN INDIAN STORIES FOR TODAY, edited by Lori Marie Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005) and “Riding with Rosa,” which appeared in “Cicada” magazine (Vol. 7, No. 4, March/April 2005).

HWM: When you wrote TANTALIZE, did you know there would be companion books, ETERNAL and BLESSED?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: I hoped. I hoped enough that I wrote the book with that in mind. But I also knew it was a long shot. From a publishing perspective, a book series doesn’t come easily, and at that time, my previous sales figures were quite respectable for a literary trade multicultural author, but they didn’t exactly signal a likelihood of a “big” bookstore, multi-book sale.

Fortunately, the success of TANTALIZE opened up the possibility for more books in the series—both prose and graphic—including quite arguably the rest of Quincie’s story.

Sometimes you just have to go for it.

HWM: You have a wonderful way of adding humor in your books. Are you a naturally funny person?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: I’m hysterical. No, really, I do often use humor when I speak, both at the podium and informally. When people laugh together, it’s the greatest meeting of the minds.

HWM: What types of research do you do for your books?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: With the Gothics, which are the most recent, I studied the original folklore from around the world and early literature up to present day, including books for adults and young adults and film and pop culture.

For TANTALIZE, I spent hours pouring through Eastern European cookbooks, including historical cookbooks. For both TANTALIZE and ETERNAL, I walked the paths of my heroes through their settings, cameras in hand. I’ve also spent quality time researching the Ice Age animals—from bears to armadillos—that inspired my shape-shifters and spent a lot of time talking to the Big Boss about guardian and arch angels.

HWM: It must be wonderful exploring first love as a theme in your books. Do you believe in love at first sight? Or are you more a fan of get to know the person?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: I absolutely believe it’s critical to get to know the person before giving away part of your heart or building them into someone they might not be.

On the other hand, I first met Greg at a law school party in Ann Arbor, and I distinctly remember looking across the crowded yard, my gaze resting on him, and thinking, I am going marry that guy. And I did.

So, I guess it’s important to love yourself first, to take care of yourself, but be open to magic when it appears.

HWM: What can you tell us about BLESSED? Or any other writing projects?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: BLESSED picks up where we left off with Quincie at the end of TANTALIZE and crosses over the casts of TANTALIZE and ETERNAL. A graphic novel adaptation of TANTALIZE, from Kieren’s point of view and including lots of new scenes, is also in the works.

On the children’s fiction front, I look forward to next year’s release of HOLLER LOUDLY (Dutton), a humorous original southwestern tall tale, illustrated by Barry Gott.

HWM: You’re very involved with encouraging and helping other writers, through your blog and website. How do you find the time and what have you found to be the most rewarding about these projects?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: I work on my blog far in advance. Though there’s always some timely information, at least in the weekly round-up of news and links, most of the features are pre-formatted months in advance. Right now, Cynsations posts are pre-formatted through Jan. 14, 2010.

When I quit my day job to become a writer, it was a commitment not only to my own work but to the body of literature and the community that creates and connects it.

I’m so pleased that Cynsations and www.cynthialeitichsmith.com (hopefully) make some contribution to the conversation of books, and I’m honored to shine a light on my colleagues. I sometimes talk to authors who’ve pinned their definition of success on this or that award or income point, and, well, awards are great and I need to eat…but I just feel amazed that I get to be a part of this inspiring, faerie-dusted world.

HWM: You're also a faculty member at the Vermont College of Fine Arts - Writing for Children & Young Adults MFA Program. Is it hard to separate the teacher from the writer when you work on your projects?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: Not really, but it’s an interesting question. Mostly, I try to unlock what my students’ vision for their writing might be—perhaps even before they’ve fully realized it—and then try to figure out strategies to best facilitate their improvement and eventual success.

HWM: What do you like writing the most: the beginning, middle or end of the story? How long does it take for you to figure out the end?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: I often know the end before I begin writing. Middles can be deadly. I have an MTV generation attention span, and much of my readership has a Wii attention span.

Reversals are key.

HWM: What is your writing routine?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: It’s totally dependent on the other demands on my time. I often feel like author Cynthia Leitich Smith—with all of her travel, speaking, promotion, teaching--is the biggest obstacle to writer Cyn.

But I typically post to my blogs and catch up on social networks and email correspondence in the morning. Then I write in the afternoons and evenings and on weekends and holidays. People always feel sorry for me when I say that. But I love to write at Christmastime. I love it.

HWM: What was the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: It’s advice I gave to myself actually. When I was in my early apprenticeship, I read all of Paula Danziger’s books in order of publication. From the beginning, her writing was solid and kid-friendly and funny and engaging, but I could see her craft develop over time. I decided that my only goal would be to keep improving—even if that meant taking some scary risks and maybe even stumbling all the way.

HWM: What advice would you give to all those NaNoWriMo writers out there?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: When you’re done with the draft, print it, read it, then throw away the draft and delete the file. First drafts are all about discovery. Take the lessons learned from that exercise, and then get to work on draft number two.

HWM: What is your most memorable fan moment?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: A girl reader had written me after reading TANTALIZE to say that she was infuriated by Quincie’s independence—“true love means giving up EVERYTHING!!!! so the boy will love you!!!!”

She wrote back a couple of months later to apologize for “yelling” at me. She said that she’d been in an abusive relationship, that her girlfriends had all urged her to stay in it because the boy was cute and “at least you have somebody.”

TANTALIZE, and especially Quincie’s value system, shook her up. The girl wanted me to know that she’d broken up with the boy with “the temper when he drank.”

My books have a feminist undercurrent, though I’m not writing Slayers (“Buffy” fan that I am). My female heroes are much more “everyday” girls than that. And I err on the side of the theme, pushing aside the message per se.

But you know, I’m glad that girl isn’t with that abuser anymore. And if my hero Quincie had even the tiniest thing to do with that, I say bully for both of them!

HWM: If you found a way to go back to your tween years as one of your characters, who would it be and why?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: Miranda from ETERNAL, so we would both have the courage to step on stage sooner.

HWM: What makes you laugh?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: My rambunctious kitties, my awesome writer buds, the goddess that is Libba Bray, the combinations of bumper stickers on Austin bumpers, and hummingbirds. I just adore hummingbirds.

HWM: If you were a superhero, what powers would you want and why?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: Most of all, I would want to be able to speak dolphin because dolphins are in the know, and I bet they could make me laugh too.

Thank you so much, Cynthia!

Other Places to Find Cynthia Leitich Smith:

Remember, Cynthia is hosting a Cynsational WBBT Giveaway in celebration of the Winter Blog Blast Tour. "I'm offering a signed copy of any of my books (winner's choice) to one of the folks who thoughtfully comments at my WBBT interview and then emails me (cynthia@cynthialeitichsmith.com) to let me know (so I have your contact information). Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 22."

For more WBBT interviews, check out Chasing Ray's Master List.