My Writing Life:
Children's & YA Writing

My mom was the one who suggested I write for children, and I thought that was a horrible idea. I was a young grown-up, and I wanted to distance myself from anything related to being a kid. But then I started to read children's books again, and I realized I couldn't think of anything better.

After a few heartfelt conversations with my husband and some ducks swimming in Lake Michigan, I did what everyone tells you not to do: I quit my day job. My husband and I moved to Austin, Texas. I started teaching part-time at St. Edward's University and writing for a couple of parenting magazines.

Then I did something brilliant. I joined the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators. I read their publications, attended conferences and workshops, met mentors and friends.

I started reading the thousands of wonderful children's books that had been published since I’d abandoned them for Stephen King and pom-pons.

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich SmithA year and a half later, my husband and I moved back to Chicago, and I sold a picture book, JINGLE DANCER (Morrow/HarperCollins, Spring 2000). JINGLE DANCER is the story of Jenna, a contemporary Muscogee Creek-Ojibway girl who with the help of women of her family and intertribal community is readying her regalia to jingledance at an upcoming powwow.

The book was illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu.

Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich SmithAnother year and a half later, we moved back to Austin, and I sold my first middle grade novel, RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (HarperCollins and Listening Library, July 2001). RAIN is the story of Cassidy Rain Berghoff, a contemporary mixed blood girl who must face gossip, the loss of her first love, and the question of how to determine the character of another's heart and one's own.

Indian ShoesINDIAN SHOES (HarperCollins, 2002), an early chapter book collection of short stories followed.

Since then, I’ve sold more books, articles and short stories, continuing in my tradition of crafting realistic contemporary stories for children. These have stemmed largely, though not exclusively, from the Native literary tradition.

Indian Shoes Over time, I've branched into writing more young adult fiction and more fantasy. My most recent short stories were written for teens, and my latest books include the TANTALIZE series, the FERALseries and HOLLER LOUDLY (Dutton, 2010), a fanciful tall tale picture book.

In the meantime, I live the author's life, rather than the writer's. Though writing is a big part of it, I'm also busy speaking at schools, libraries, conferences, bookstores, etc. I spend a lot of time promoting my books and literacy in general. It's a lot of fun, though quite demanding—sort of like juggling while trying to type.

There are moments when I miss being just a writer and not an author, too.

EternalEnjoy that part of your development. Take the time to study the books you read and work on your craft. Once you're published, competing responsibilities will come into play, and you'll be glad you made the most of your apprenticeship. Again, remember, craft—first, last, always. Get an agent to handle the rest.

If you are already a published author, I encourage you to keep growing, pushing, enjoying the writer's life.

I hope y'all will look for my titles, but not just my titles. I also want to encourage you to read children's and young adult books generally. I hope you're enjoying your visit to my web site and will be inspired to pick up a good book when you're done. These pages offer plenty of suggestions!