Writers on Writing: Cynthia Leitich Smith/Short Stories

Looking for a quick read? Or want to take a chance with a new genre without over committing? How about reading a short story? Cynthia Leitch Smith uses her expertise to guide us through some of the basics of short stories.

From a writer’s perspective, what are the essential differences between a short story and a novel?
Cynthia_Leitich_Smith_Black_SilverAt the risk of stating the obvious, the short story is…shorter. How much shorter is a subject of some debate and arguably a matter of publishing predisposition and/or posturing.

I tend to consider the short story one that takes the protagonist to (or just past) the precipice of change. It’s a narrower, more focused story than the novel, one with texture but not fully developed subplots.

How common is it for a young adult author to write short stories?Things_Ill_Never_Say
Quite common. I’m perhaps on the more prolific end. I’ve published seven YA short stories, mostly in trade hardcover anthologies (one in Cicada Magazine) and two middle
grade shorts, likewise in anthologies. My most recent are “Cupid’s Beaux” which appears in Things I’ll Never Say: Stories of Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick, 2015) and “All’s Well” which serves as a chapter from Violent Ends, edited by Shaun David Hutchison (Simon Pulse, 2015).

What young adult short stories or collections would you recommend for educators, librarians or teens?moccasin_thunder_large
My top pick would be Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today, edited by Lori M. Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005), with the caveats that I’m among the contributors and that I dearly wish there was a more current collection of shorts
by Native authors.

open_micI’d also like to highlight Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices, edited by Mitali Perkins (Candlewick, 2013).

Are fan fiction short stories very popular with teens?
Teens and grown-ups, too. You’ll find both among the readers and writers. Setting aside the copyright implications, fan fiction is essentially about imagining “what if” with the work of character and world building already in place. It’s an invitation to play with plot.

feral_Pride_finalWhat can we expect from you in 2016?
I look forward to the paperback release of Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2016), the final novel in the Tantalize-Feral universe. To varying degrees, the heroes of the Tantalize books join those of the Feral novels. It was great fun to write, especially those scenes in which protagonists who’d never previously met (like Quincie P. Morris and Yoshi Kitahara) appeared on page together. By that ninth book, I know what each might say or do under a given set of circumstances. The novel is a love letter of sorts to both the heroes and their most devoted readers.

Cynthia Leitich Smith is an award winning and best selling author who is noted for writing with diversity, humor, lyricism, imaginativeness, compelling action, and mid-to-southwestern settings. A complete list of Cynthia’s short stories can be found here. Her YA short story “Cat Calls” is available at no charge from Barnes and Noble.

review: Feral Nights

title: Feral NightsFeral+Nights+Final

author: Cynthia Leitich Smith

date: Candlewick; 2013

main character: Yoshi Kitihara

Yoshi is a high school senior being raised by his grandmother in Oklahoma well, until grams catches him with this girl he brought home for the night. Gram has a strict “No Company Allowed” policy that she enforces with a shotgun. Yoshi is given the boot and he decides to head to Texas in search of his sister, Ruby. Oh, they’re a werecat family.

Feral Nights is told in multiple voices. While I’ve had enough of multi voiced books to last me a lifetime, Leitich Smith carries it off quite well. The voices are unique and easy to distinguish.

There’s Clyde, a werepossum with 4 younger siblings. He sees ghosts.

Travis, whom Ruby is suspected of killing. He’s a ghost.

And there’s Aimee, a human who genuinely likes werepeople.

The witty dialog and use of present tense writing keep the story moving at a brisk pace. Leitich Smith smoothly packs in a unique, descriptive backstory as she builds an incredible world of werepeople, vampires, deities and humans. Wereanimals (werecats, wereorcas, werebears, werelions…) are at the core of the story with a werecat accused of killing a werearmadillo. More than that, they’re Ruby and Travis. While everyone has animal characteristics, they each also have fully developed human personalities. That Leitich Smith manages to do this all in 290 pages is amazing. Just as the reader has gotten familiar with the characters and the relationships they’re building, everything flips on its head. Needless to say, this is not a predictable story.

This review is really doing the book little justice because Leitich Smith so flawlessly weaves her tale. It’s like watching anyone who does something well: you don’t want to pick it apart because you just want to enjoy the artistry.

Feral Nights is the first book in the Feral Series. Feral Curse was released this past January and Feral Pride is forthcoming. All books are published by Candlewick. Cynthia Leitich Blogs at Cynsations. She’s the best selling author of the Tantalize series, Jingle Dancer (HarperCollins) and Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins) and number other books.

Rambling on a Rainy Tuesday

This morning, I suddenly realized that one reason I don’t do as many informational posts any more is because I post what I find on Facebook. Please, feel free to follow me there!

Have you had a chance to read “Against YA”? I’ve read pretty lively attacks directed at the thoughts expressed in the article and interesting to note they all came from authors of YA and kidlit, librarians and others with a unique relationship to the industry. Did bankers pay this any attention? How do plumbers and astronomers react to news of so many adults reading books written for those years or decades younger? The decades? That would be me. I honestly doubt I would fill my world with YA if I were not a librarian who works in the field. I know I wouldn’t. Perhaps I would pick up a YA books now and then, but I wouldn’t have the steady diet. I don’t like a steady diet of any gene, any ethnicity or any one thing when I read. I really like this from BookRiot on reading beyond your depths. I feel a constant back and forth in my reading, from stretching my imagination with a good YA spec fic to relaxing into an adult romance to expanding the bounds of my knowledge with professional nonfic. #INeedDiverseBooks

Yesterday, I finally made it back to the gym and as always, I used my time on the treadmill to get some reading done. I’m reading Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Feral Nights at home but prefer reading on my Nook when I’m on the treadmill. So, I began reading Shieldwolf Dawning by Selena Nemorin. As works of speculative fiction, both of these books require world building. The writers had to create myth, place, names, and problems that do not exist in their day to day life. I looked at Cynthia’s blog to get an idea how authors tackle such a project and found Malinda Lo discussing Ash (Little Brown, 2009). Cynthia asked Malinda how she goes about building worlds in her writing.

I was an anthropology graduate student when I began working on Ash, so I approached the world-building from an anthropologist’s perspective. I thought a lot about the rituals that mark the turning points in life–birth, marriage, and especially death.

This was particularly important for Ash because the story begins when Ash loses both her mother and father. I studied funerary rituals in China when I was in grad school, and I relied heavily on that knowledge when I wrote about Ash’s parents’ funerals, and when thinking about how people in that world think about death and dying.

Another of the most significant aspects of the Cinderella story is the fact that the stepmother wants her daughters to make wealthy marriages. I read a lot of analysis of fairy tales, and discovered that many tales included stepmothers because mothers often died in childbirth, and fathers were forced to remarry because they needed a wife to help raise the children.

These family structures might set up a situation in which a stepmother is forced to raise both her own children and another woman’s, and in a world of scarcity, this naturally sets up a kind of competition.

For girls, marriage was basically their ticket to freedom–a girl had to marry in order to support herself later in life, and it was to her advantage to marry well.

If a stepmother is raising both her daughter and her husband’s daughter from his earlier marriage, and there are few eligible males around, it might not be surprising that she would favor her biological daughter.

Obviously not all stepmothers are like this! But doing this research helped me to understand why a stepmother might act this way.

So, I guess I thought about the worldbuilding in a fairly intellectual, anthropological way! But then when I wrote, I kind of just loosened my focus and allowed it to become the background–the motivator for characters’ actions. I didn’t bother describing all the rituals or reasonings behind decisions; I focused on how those rules and practices would influence a character’s behavior. source

As with any writing, authors bring what they know and how they’ve come to view the world into their creation process.

Eric Gansworth’s If I Ever Get Out of Here didn’t have to involve world building, but I think when Eric considered his audience, he realized he’d have to build his world for them to enrich the story. How skillfully he did that! He took us right inside his character’s world and made us feel as though we were accepted.

I wonder which is more difficult, writing about a newly created world or one we intimately know. How does one become aware of things they’ve come to take so much for granted and know they need to be described to an audience?

Some of the following have recently been posted on my FB page.

Saturday 16 August is the date of this year’s International Children’s and Young Adult Literature Celebration: Muslim Journeys. This one day workshop will feature authors Ali Alalou, Saideh Hamshidi, Rukhsana Khan and Naheed Senzai. “This year the celebration will focus on Muslim Journeys by exploring new and diverse perspectives on the people, places, histories, beliefs, and cultures of Muslims around the world, through presentations on literature, media, history and social organizations.”

Creative Child Magazine, published by Scooterbay Publishing (a company that doesn’t appear too focused on diversity), focuses on “helping parents nurture their child’s creativity”. Yesterday, they selected Chinese Fables: The Dragon Slayer and Other Timeless Tales of Wisdom (Tuttle Publishing) as the Book of the Year, kid’s books category.

Works of many outstanding authors appeared on this year’s Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year List, including the following authors. Congratulations! Lists were created for a variety of genre for under 5, 5-9, 9-13, 12-14 and 14 and up. I did not look at the 5-9 list.

Margarita Engle The Lightening Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Poet (HMH) (12-14 Historical Fiction and 12-14 Poetry)

Margarita Engle Mountain Dog (Henry Holt)

Rita Williams-Garcia: P.S. Be Eleven (Amistad Press/Harper Collins)

Lesa Cline-Ransome: Light in the Darkness: A Story about How Slaves Learned in Secret (Jump At The Sun)

Jewell Parker Rhodes Sugar (Little Brown Books for Young Readers)

Diana López Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel (Little Brown and Co.)

Andrea Cheng The Year of the Baby (Houghton Mifflin)

Andrea Cheng Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet (Lee and Low)

Cynthia Kadahata The Thing About Luck (Atheneum)

Angela Cervantes Gaby, Lost and Found (Scholastic Press)

Farhana Zia The Garden of My Imaan (Peachtree)

Eric Gansworth If I Ever Get Out of Here (Arthur A. Levine0

Crystal Allen The Laura Line (Balzer + Bray)

Nikki Grimes Words With Wings (Wordsong)

Shaun Tan The Bird King: An Artists Notebook (Arthur A. Levine)

Andrea Davis Pinkney Peace Warriors (Scholastic)

Tonya Bolden Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty (Abrams)

Matt de la Peña The Living (Delacorte Press)

Patrick Scott Flores Jumped In (Christy Ottaviano Books)

Carol Blythe Revenge of a Not-So-Pretty-Girl (Delacorte Press)

Gene Luen Yang Boxers (First Second)

Gene Luen Yang Saints (First Second)

Lynn Joseph Flowers in the Sky (Harper Teen)

Alaya Dawn Johnson The Summer Prince (Arthur A. Levine)

Sherri L. Smith Orleans (Putnam Juvenile)

Swati Avasthi Chasing Shadows (Alfred A. Knopf)

Walter Dean Myers Darius & Twig (Amistad)

I am really enjoying the BrownBookShelf’s Making Our Own Market series. Not only am I learning how African Americans are succeeding in various areas of the book industry, but I’m learning more and more about the industry itself. Most recently, Kirsten Cappy of Curious City discusses marketing African American titles. Here, she talks about how her work to promote Terry Farish’s The Good Braider (Amazon Children’s Publishing).

In “creating partners for the book by finding commonalities,” I reached out to a young Sudanese hip hop artist and shared a galley of the book with him.  A few months later OD Bonny told me the book reminded him of his flight out of South Sudan alongside his brothers.  I asked if we could pay to use one of his songs as the audio for a book trailer.  He responded, “Why wouldn’t you want a song of your own? I’ll write it. Tonight.”

When I heard his song, “Girl From Juba,” I realized that it was not just marketing, but a reader’s genuine tribute to a work of fiction. An author can have no greater gift.  I also realized that I did not need to be the one to produce this trailer. I transferred the book trailer funds to OD and the music video/book trailer was created with an all Sudanese American cast (save one Irish kid), crew, and director. The video had 1000 hits within a week, not of book professionals, but of Sudanese and African American young adults that follow OD’s music.

Ok, I have some writing of my own to do!

 

 

 

 

SundayMorningReads

I’ve been complaining for the past couple of years about the shrinking numbers of books written by authors of color. The CCBC’s number came out not too longer ago, only to validate this complaint. The number of books by African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos and American Indians has been steadily decreasing since 2008, while the numbers of children of color in this country steadily increases. Zetta Elliott said it better than I can.

Despite this downward trend, Malinda Lo’s numbers indicates that BFYA continues to grow in its ability to embrace all teen readers.

The Feral Librarian speaks to the number of some of the gatekeepers, specifically librarians. Has anyone seen numbers on diversity in the gatekeepers in publishing?

Cynthia Leitich Smith speaks her mind on “Writing, Tonto & The Wise Cracking Minority Sidekick Who is the First to Die”.

My inspiration for this post was a Jan. 17th article in Indian Country Today, reporting that the real “Lone Ranger” was an African American who lived with the Muscogee Creeks and Seminoles. It made me to think about the Hollywood version of the story, about my own stories for young readers, and, in turn, the body of youth literature more globally…

While writers can (and increasingly do) successfully write beyond our own identity markers, life experience does matter, and voices from underrepresented communities should be nurtured, sought out and held up as models.

Cynthia’s mention of the minority sidekick immediately led my mind in two different directions. First, to Knockout Games by G. Neri where in the pages I just read, the main character, Erica (a white girl, red-head) was schooled by Kalvin (a very tall black male) on the realities of characters of color in movies: they’re expendable and die first.

I also thought about one of the best Twitter convos I’ve ever witnessed: #imnotyourasiansidekick

Librarians try to be more inclusive.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the Society of American Archivists (SAA) are now accepting applications for the second cohort of the ARL/SAA Mosaic Program. This program promotes much-needed diversification of the archives and special collections professional workforce by providing financial support, practical work experience, mentoring, career placement assistance, and leadership development to emerging professionals from traditionally underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups. An important objective of the program is to attract and retain individuals who demonstrate excellent potential for scholastic and personal achievement and who manifest a commitment both to the archives and special collections profession and to advancing diversity concerns within it. More information at: http://e2.ma/message/5i40f/x4rnfo

Please, don’t miss my review of Yacqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass! at Latin@s in Kidlit! Have you read this multiple award winner yet?

In a listserv reply, Crystal Brunelle reinforced that the forces that change what’s published in YA, that change anything, occur at the micro level. It’s like what I learned as a classroom teacher. Like many, I became a teacher to make a difference. What I soon realized was that to make a difference, I needed to define my corner of the world and make a difference there. The effects will ripple out. I’m glad you’re reading this blog, but please do some real work to make a real difference.

One of the most important events during BFYA occurs on the Saturdays of the ALA conferences when students who have read the books recommended for the list come to share their opinions. There were two striking comments in Philadelphia. While most of the students commented several times during the afternoon, there was one black girl (and there were very few black students at these events) who only commented on one book. It was one of only two books recommended this year with a  black female protagonist. (Neither made the final list.)

I also noted several students who commented on the authenticity in what they’d read. Students remarked how spot on books set in foreign countries, past decades and even in the future were.

Yes, we have a real responsibility in what we make available to young readers.

I’m going out with an article I’ve just begun reading. Leave your thoughts if you get a chance to read it. Maybe we do a little discussing right here!

The Hispanic Division and the Center for the Book of the Library of Congress will honor Sonia Manzano for The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano (Scholastic) with the America’s Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Program on Monday 23 September in Washington DC.

First Book made headlines this past summer when they targeted purchases from two publishers to increase the availability of diverse books for young readers. After distributing books from HarperCollins and Lee and Low around the country, First book has announced the second phase of their program.

So what’s next for First Book? In June, the group unveiled at the Clinton Global Initiative America the planned next phase of the project, a “Commitment to Action” that includes outreach to 30,000 new schools and programs, special collections of diverse and multicultural titles, matching grants for educators, and an influential council of authors to help inspire new books and stories.

In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a growing dynamic in the demand for diversity in characters and authors in YA lit. Sure, it may be just another phase that the industry is experiencing, but I feel a real commitment from the individuals who are speaking up. They’re making statements that express concerns and beliefs they live with all the time. School Library Journal recently held a virtual conference “Embracing Diversity” which resulting in an article full of diversity resources.

The mosaic on Elephant Rag blog is a great place to find new books that reflect the world around us.

From authors Kelbion Noel and Zetta Elliott

Everyone deserves to see themselves in the pages. That’s what Diversity Reads is all about. Allowing youth the opportunity to enjoy speculative fiction featuring characters who look and deal, just like them. The non-profit is introducing a quarterly series, featuring multicultural authors of speculative fiction works, featuring main characters of color. Stay tuned for an event near you!

Their first event, “Black Magic” is in Toronto on 21 Sept.

Author Carole Boston Weatherford visited the Brown Bookshelf to discuss her book, Birmingham 1963 which pays homage to the four girls who lost their lives in a church bombing 50 years ago.

Lisa Yee is publishing on Paper Li.  STET, Good Books and Bad Dogs and Outer Space Stuff is brought to you daily.She’s much better at that than I am! I have a weekly publication but all I news I manage to collect comes from YALSA. I’m working on it!

Author Cynthia Leitich Smith will be presenting a Graphic Novel Writing workshop in Austin on 5 Oct. To prepare for this event, her blog recently featured an interview with her conducted by Samantha Clark, Austin SCBWI’s regional advisor, Why did she take her Tantalize series to graphic format?

The Tantalize series struck me as a great fit for graphic format. The books are genre benders–Gothic fantasies with strong elements of romance, mystery/suspense and some humor. They’re high action, rich in setting – an alternative Austin; Dallas; Chicago; small-town Michigan; Montpelier, Vermont – and offer diverse protagonists and visually arresting creatures (angels, vampires, werearmadillos).

Me? I’m working at the reference desk today! I’m looking forward to my first visit to Rose Hulman’s library this week to hear a speaker that’s part of the Muslim Journey bookshelf on which we’ve partnered. And, I’m reading reading reading for BFYA! With regards to BFYA, I’m really excited to have identified several ways to distribute the books I’ve been receiving. Of course, some have been going to the Indiana State University library! Advanced copies have been going to area teachers for their classroom libraries. Others will soon ship to the Boys and Girls Club of Burbank and in March I hope to distribute the remaining hundreds to school libraries here in Indiana. Thanks to a wonderful suggestion from Suzanne Walker, the Children’s Librarian for the state of Indiana, I’m planning a mini-grant program to send the books to the neediest libraries in the state. Hopefully, I’ve found a way to get it funded as well!

You?!! I hope you have a fantastic week and that your favorite team wins, unless they’re playing the Colts!