Friday, February 24, 2006

SCBWI Bologna 2006 Agent Interview: Rosemary Stimola

Children's/YA literary agent Rosemary Stimola will be speaking at SCBWI Bologna 2006. Other speakers include: Authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Justine Larbalestier (author interview), Sara Rojo, Doug Cushman. Editors: Victoria Arms/Bloomsbury, Judy Zylstra/Eerdmans, Anne McNeil of Hodder UK, Mary Rodgers/Lerner. Agents: Rosemary Canter/PFD, Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary. Hands-on workshops and roundtable discussions: SCBWI Bologna, 25-26 March 2006.

What inspired you to become an agent of children’s and young adult authors?

Children’s books have always been at the core of my evolution as a person and a professional. My first work life as a Ph.D. linguist, teaching Language and Literature, with a specialization in Children’s Literature, steeped me in the aesthetics of narrative and the written word. My second work life, as the owner of an independent children’s bookstore, educated me in the business of children’s books. Now, in my role as an agent, I combine the fruits of my previous work lives focusing on a body of literature that has pleased and sustained me from day one. I do believe it was my destiny to become a children’s literary agent.

What do you love about it? What are the challenges?

The thing I love best about it is the very thing that poses the greatest challenges. That is, publishing is not a science. For every rule you can create, there is an exception. As such, no matter how planned and calculated you may be, there is always a dimension of unpredictability that looms. One never really knows what is going to be in the next submission envelope. One never really knows what is going to happen to a book once it published. You can’t “control” it all, but the possibilities are very exciting.

Why do you think it is important for authors to have such representation?

First, with so many publishers today not accepting unsolicited manuscripts, the number of houses to which a writer can directly submit is very limited. An agent, who knows the personal likes and dislikes of various editors, can put a manuscript in front of those people most likely to acquire it. Beyond that, an agent is an advocate, representing the writer’s interests from acquisition, to production, to marketing and promotion, to bookkeeping. Writers should do what they do best…writing; and look to agents to do what they do best…attend to the business of writing, which, in this world of global publishing, grows more complex by the day.

What should writers look for in identifying prospective agents?

I often liken the selection of an agent to the selection of a spouse (without the romance, of course!). All writers deserve to work with a person they like and trust, a person with whom they communicate easily and share sensibilities and goals. Reputations exist for a reason, so I always recommend to potential clients that they interview editors and clients with whom the agent has worked. Some writers prefer being part of a large house; others prefer the intimacy of a small, independent agency. No matter which, there is a level of attention and follow-through that should be expected and delivered.

Are you open to new clients/receiving submissions?

I always welcome submissions. At different times, I may be looking for different things…more YA, fewer picturebooks; less fantasy, more contemporary realism. But with a very well-established client base, no matter what the genre or age group, I have to be blown away by the writing, the story, the characters.

What do you look for in prospective clients?

Certainly, a demonstrated (and not necessarily published) ability to write in a way that provokes, inspires, excites. I must see that the writer is capable of the kind of flexibility and patience that will be needed as we move through the publishing processes. I look for a person who understands the value of collaboration, when to compromise and when to stand strong. And most importantly, I look for a person who is a deep well of stories, with the first one representing just the tip of the iceberg.

Is your list made up of writers or illustrators or both?

I represent writers. I also represent writers who are illustrators. I do not represent illustrators only. It is a very different kind of representation, requiring different sensibilities and business approaches. There are others out there who specialize in such representation and do it far better than I ever could.

Do you find you are stronger in one area (say, fiction or non-fiction or picture books) than another?

While market trends may dictate what sells better at any given time, my previous backgrounds in education and bookselling have helped me to be eclectic in taste and strong in all areas of trade publishing for children. I represent, and feel equally comfortable with everything from preschool to upper YA that pushes the boundaries of the adult realm, in both fiction and nonfiction.

The picture book market has been depressed for some time. Do you see any improvement on the horizon? Why or why not?

I do see the wheel turning a bit, which is not to say we are on the way back to where we were. Nor should we be. We were publishing far too many picture books, many of them not very good. A correction was needed. True, the pendulum swung to the opposite end for a period, with very few acquisitions in a very tentative market. But with creative approaches to formatting and design, greater selectivity, and a focus on texts very spare in language, we are seeing glimmers of a comeback. Certainly, the creation of a new imprint at Random House devoted to picture books is symbolic of this renewed market.

Do you have a website? If so, what is the URL?

I do not. There is one in the works, but I can’t say I really feel the need for it. All one need do is Google my name and there is lots of web-presence for the Stimola Literary Studio.

Which international book fairs do you attend?

I went to London last year. I am going to Bologna this year. Trying to figure out if I need to be present at both.

Do you take care of your clients’ foreign rights or work through an intermediary?

I generally hold on to the rights for fiction and work with subagents to represent foreign rights in different territories. They attend Frankfurt, as well as the conferences above as I do. Picturebook rights are often best handled via publisher, in light of illustration issues.

With which countries have you had the best luck selling your US clients’ work? Why do you think that is?

I must say, I find the German market has been a welcoming and active territory. Part of it, is certainly due to the efforts and knowledge of my German subagent. But, I also think it is simply a vibrant market looking for good juvenile and YA fiction at this time.

Do you attend Book Expo?

I always go to Book Expo when it is in NY, which lately, has been every other year. I find the film and international people are in greater attendance when the convention is in the Big Apple, making my time there more productive as well. I will travel to other venues if one of my authors is being celebrated or featured and my presence is warranted.

Would you like to highlight some of the backlist and new books you have ushered into the market?

I love all the titles I have helped to find homes on bookshelves out there. If I had to single out a few…

On the fantasy front, I’m very excited to see the Underland Chronicles fantasy series (Scholastic Press) by Suzanne Collins building so beautifully. With Book I receiving First Runner Up in this year’s Texas Blue Bonnet, and enjoying awards from just about every state in the union, we have set the stage for later books and a gripping and powerful denouement in the life of young Gregor and his adventures in the Underland.

On the Young Adult front, there have been a number of striking debuts. Black and White (Viking Press/Penguin) by Paul Volponi was a BBYA selection, a top-ten Quick Picks selection, and winner of the IRA Award for Young Adult Fiction. Teach Me (Razorbill/Penguin), by R. A. Nelson (author interview), was featured in a segment of NBC Nightly News and acknowledged in many fine reviews for its treatment of a subject many find a bit unsettling. There are more wonderful books in the making by these two fine writers.

And, as careers build and develop, Mary Pearson’s, A Room on Lorelei Street (Henry Holt)(author interview), was a BBYA selection. Brava!

On the picture book front, I am particularly excited about two books coming out this coming year. The first, A Raisin and a Grape (Dial Books/Penguin), co-authored by Tom Amico and James Proimos and illustrated by Andy Snair, gives a whole new look to intergenerational stories for the very young. The second, An Egg Is Quiet (Chronicle Books) by Dianna Hutts Aston (author interview) and illustrated by Sylvia Long, is a joyfully informative and poetically illustrated look at one of nature’s most miraculous creations.

In the tubes, there are some exciting new talents and debuts coming down the road, so stay tuned!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Only that, I love my job and the people I work with, clients, editors, everyone who makes children’s publishing their world. It’s a joy and a blessing, and I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to contribute to such an important and prestigious body of literature.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Author Feature: Leda Schubert

Leda Schubert on Leda Schubert: "I was born in Washington, DC, and lived in Southeast Washington until I was nine, when my parents took me along with them to suburbia. Thoughtful of them. They also, however, sent me to summer camp (they both worked more than full-time, all year round; my mother owned a store and my father was the head of the chemistry department at American University), which changed my life forever. The camp had an 'outpost' about ten miles from where I live now, and I spent most of the years from 15 to 24 trying to figure out how to get back to camp. I moved to Vermont more than thirty years ago as a result.

"I have taught school, been a school and public children's librarian, and run a small parent-cooperative day care center, but for the seventeen years until 2003 I was the school library consultant for the Vermont Department of Education. A huge chunk of the job involved working with children's books in one way or another.

"I've been fortunate enough to serve on the Caldecott Committee, the Arbuthnot Committee, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Committee, as well as on both of Vermont's state book awards committees (though I have now left both after many years).

"I began to hang out a little bit at the Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, which is right in Montpelier (only two towns away from my humble abode), and soon I applied for a post-graduate semester (I didn't really need another degree). I was on campus for about five minutes when I realized I should do the whole program. After the first year of juggling work and school, I left work and became a student again, and I graduated in January '04, having thoroughly enjoyed studying with four outstanding teachers (Phyllis Root, Marion Dane Bauer, Tim Wynne-Jones (author interview), and Liza Ketchum (author interview)) and my outstanding fellow students.

"Throughout my life I've been involved in traditional music and dance, and I met my husband at Pinewoods Camp, a Brigadoon for dance lovers. He lived on Long Island, so I made him move here. I was the oldest bride in history. He has grown-up children; together we have infantile dogs."

What was your initial inspiration for creating Ballet of the Elephants (Roaring Brook, 2006)?

The evil periodontists (Hello, Dr. S) told me if I didn't floss I'd have gum surgery, so I began flossing full-time. I turn on the TV while doing so to offset boredom, and one night caught two minutes of a re-broadcast documentary on George Balanchine. I heard the phrase, "He also choreographed a ballet for elephants," and immediately became obsessed. I didn't even know if there was any kind of story to be found; I'd never heard of the event. But I barely slept and began research the next morning. This is true.

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

I really don't remember precise details (about anything, for that matter), but I began the book right after graduation, in February 04, and finished it by May, putting in very long days. My agent had suggested that I stop writing picture books since the market seemed rather unforgiving, but I pleaded with him (slight exaggeration) to read just one more. The first publisher rejected it very quickly, saying they had a book about elephants coming out, and the second publisher, Roaring Brook, took it even more quickly. I don't remember much else about that period, though of course I continued to feed my email addiction while I was writing.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

Logistical: I live in a small town; there is no large research library within many, many miles. I started by reading books on Balanchine, which soon led to books on Stravinsky, which then led to John Ringling North and Vera Zorina. I read about elephants. I found books online, in used bookstores, and in our local library, and each one took me somewhere else. I studied a little bit about the history of St. Petersburg, became lost in Balanchine's childhood, circus memorabilia, etc., and I spent hours online with Stravinsky, Balanchine, and the circus; I found old LIFE magazines on ebay with photos, and I kept having the thrill of discovery.

But I couldn't figure out how to tell the story for a long time (see next question).

Research: The book was accepted as a picture book, but then my superb editor at Roaring Brook thought it should include actual photos of the event and the principal characters. Doing photo research was a huge challenge; I'd never done it before and I started from scratch. Now I'm a mini-expert. It took more months to ask the right questions (and I'm often shy) and find the right photos and I made lots of new best friends at various places (The Circus World Museum, Getty Images, etc.).

Psychological: I hate traveling, and I was resistant about leaving Vermont. I could have simplified my efforts if I had only gone down to NY to the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library, but I didn't really know about the huge resource there (even though I am a librarian, shame on me) until long after I'd finished the book. They have an entire dossier on the ballet. The contradiction is that if I'd known about it first, I never would have had so much fun doing all the research, and if I hadn't discovered everything by myself, I probably couldn't have written the book. So my antediluvian research habits paid off.

Literary challenge: next question.

The story opens with the incoming circus, tells what's to come, and then offers backstory ("This is how it happened.") before taking readers to the ballet itself. Most picture books don't include flashbacks, but this one feels seamless and builds anticipation for the show. How did you arrive at this structure?

All of you writers have probably had that "aha" moment, when everything you've been struggling with falls into place. I had many drafts beginning in different places, but I couldn't figure out how to assemble the material in a way that felt exactly right. Then I came across one sentence in a biography of John Ringling North about his wild childhood; he had taken a pony into the attic of one of the five uncles' houses. Somehow it all came together at that moment: I knew I should begin with an overview of these three towering figures and then move back to North. It became clear that I wanted to begin with the circus train and the elephant parade through Manhattan. Even now, in our jaded time, when the circus hits New York, the New York Times sometimes publishes photos of the elephants coming through the tunnel from NJ into NY. The authorities actually close the tunnel, divert traffic, and let the elephants march through. What a sight that must be!

I also knew that I wanted to tell it in lineated prose. I don't know why. That's how it first came to me--the sentence I began with, which is of course no longer there (you writers will understand), was, "George Balanchine loved to dance/and he loved to tell others how to dance/even elephants."

What do you think Robert Andrew Parker's art adds to the story?

When I dreamed about the book and fantasized about my favorite illustrators for this project, Robert Andrew Parker was right at the top. I believe my editor called him first, and when he said yes, she called me to accept the manuscript. I couldn't have been more thrilled. I love the looseness and energy of his line, I love his use of color, I love his interpretation of the story. I wanted the book to have that sense of flight and magic. He's brilliant, isn't he?

Obviously, an elephant ballet is a big event! One of the pages even folds out to offer a greater scale. Was this in your original plan? If not, who arrived at it and what did you think?

I believe this was Robert Andrew Parker's idea; he asked for a gatefold for the entire ballet. The publisher did the figures and said yes. I know librarians don't always love gatefolds, which can fall apart, but I think this one adds a sense of wonder and space. Imagine! 50 elephants!

You're also the author of two early readers, Winnie Plays Ball (Candlewick, 2000) and Winnie All Day Long (Candlewick, 2000), illustrated by William Benedict. What are the particular challenges of such books? It seems to me that they're underpublished for the existing market. Am I right about this? Other than your own, which do you particularly recommend?

I wrote the Winnie books for two reasons. First, at the time I was completely dedicated to improving early literacy in Vermont (which I preferred to call "reading," but I was part of a bureaucracy), and I was a member of the Department of Education's early literacy team. I knew what books were out there from the testing/reading establishment, which were levelled readers that didn't really tell memorable stories. Second: I wanted to write about my dog, Winnie, who is enormous, enormously spoiled, and could practically dictate her stories to me. I hoped that kids would find lots of humor in a book about a spoiled dog, and indeed they do. They love "Yucky Ball," "In and Out," and "Winnie's Birthday."

Fortunately, Candlewick was thinking along similar lines. Candlewick's designer put lots of time and effort into coming up with a look that would work for new readers---format, type on a separate color, simple lines moving from left to right, illustrations that can be read along with the text, etc. Amy Ehrlich, David Martin, and I kicked off the series in the spring of 2000, and I think it's been fairly successful. They've repackaged some of the stories into kits, which also seem to be doing well.

I think there are lots of good early readers. I love all of Cynthia Rylant's books about Mr. Putter, Henry and Mudge (obviously), and Poppleton. I love Amanda Pig. I love Gus and Grandpa, James Marshall's Fox books, etc. There are lots of older books to love as well. I'm very happy with the new ALA/ALSC Theordore Seuss Geisel Award for early readers--I think it will help the field as a whole to have a major award for these books, which are very difficult to write and are so important. To have a story with so few words that's memorable, that delivers real characters, that's even funny---I salute them all.

Your recent picture book Here Comes Darrell, illustrated by Mary Azarian (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), features a snowplow driver. What inspired you to tell Darrell's story?

Darrell was a real person, who did plow our driveway, dig our basement, and dig our pond, and he did so selflessly for many other people in this community for a long time. When he got cancer, we went to visit him, and I realized I needed to write about him. Just needed to. I asked his family if it was all right. I wrote many, many drafts, and I had a difficult time creating tension. It's more of a quiet book than a jump-in-your-face book, but I've actually seen people cry when I read it, which then makes me cry, and then we're all crying, and that's good. Of course Mary's illustrations make it work. I think her work is so full of truth and heart.

You're having great success as a picture book writer in a tough publishing market. What advice and/or words of encouragement do you have for your fellow writers in the field?

Thank you, but can we define terms? I don't think I feel successful--I'm always just a step away from therapy. Writing is so hard! And I've got enough rejections to ride to the moon and back (we can no longer wallpaper the bathrooms with cyberspace rejections, so I am creating an alternative), but I do admit that I've been very lucky in this slightly static picture book market. I have two more books coming after Ballet of the Elephants, and needless to say I hope to have more.

Words of encouragement? Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Probably you've all heard this before. Don't wait for inspiration; make yourself write every day even if you'd rather eat chocolate or check your email. Do the work. Talk to other writers, because they understand. Read like a writer--try to figure out how books work. Ask yourself questions as you read. Go as deeply as you can every day. I have convinced myself that if the writing is wonderful, the book will get published. Ah, how naive.

Your strong background in education and library science certainly seems related to your creating wonderful books for young readers. Did one lead to another? What does your breadth of background in literature offer you as a writer?

I've read so much that I'm not sure it's always helpful. I've read as many bad books as good books, and sometimes both get in the way of my own writing. Conversation in head: "There are so many books published, does the world really need to see a book by me, why am I subjecting myself to all this self-loathing every morning in front of the computer, etc., etc." On the other hand, I have a truly defective memory, so I've already forgotten much of what I've read in the last six months (sorry). But I digress. So perhaps the breadth of experience means that I have high expectations for myself--that maybe I can actually write something I haven't read a thousand times--and simultaneously it makes me bemoan the possibilities of ever writing anything fresh, and I will just write the thousandth and oneth book. There are so many amazing writers working now in children's books!

On the other hand, I have always read voraciously, and I could no more stop reading than I could stop breathing. I read grownup books, too. They often have more words. I believe it's crucial to read widely and analytically. I find books that do things I want to do and I put them in a pile to examine more thoroughly. Now I must find the pile.

How do writers do what they do? I keep looking for the key. The rope trick.

What may your fans look forward to next?

Hi fans! I blow countless kisses your way.

FSG will bring out Feeding the Sheep, illustrated by Andrea U'Ren, of Pugdog and Mary Smith fame, and I can't wait to see what she does with my unusually sweet story. The Vermont Folklife Center, under the editorial guidance of Anita Silvey, will eventually publish Donna and the Robbers, based on a very brief transcript in the Folklife Center archive. It's about a horse in Maine who foils a robbery in 1902, and I love the story.

I'm working on a young adult novel about a girl growing up in a leftist family under McCarthyism, which I started approximately thirty years ago but hope to actually finish soon (I was the runner-up for an SCBWI work-in-progress grant for this, so the pressure is on) and my middle grades novel, Ice Out, is out with an editor.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Thanks, Cyn, for giving me this opportunity to ramble on. You have more energy than any other twenty people put together. You've asked probing questions, too.

Cynsational Notes

Leda Schubert from Authors Among Us: Children's Writers Who Are or Have Been Librarians.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Author Feature: Cynthia Kadohata

Cynthia Kadohata is the author of numerous books, including the 2005 Newbery Medal novel, Kira-Kira (Atheneum, 2004)(excerpt) and Weedflower (Atheneum, 2006)(excerpt), a Junior Library Guild selection.

Cynthia Kadohata on Cynthia Kadohata: "Oh, well....I was born in 1956 in Chicago and moved in 1957 to a couple of small towns in Georgia, where my father worked as a chicken sexer. Then from 1958 to 1965 I lived in Arkansas. I had a very strong Southern accent. My parents divorced, and my sister, my brother, my mother, and I moved to Chicago while my father stayed in Arkansas. By the way, I still keep in touch with nearly my entire eighth grade graduating class from Chicago. I love dogs and live in Long Beach, California, with my Doberman Shika Kojika (which means 'deer, little deer' in Japanese) and with my 2 1/2-year-old son, whom I adopted from Kazakhstan in 2004. My adult books are The Floating World (1989), In the Heart of the Valley of Love (1992), and The Glass Mountains. My children's novels are Kira-Kira and the upcoming Weedflower (March 28, 2006). I also have a children's book about the Vietnam War scheduled for Spring 2007."

How exciting it was when Kira-Kira (Atheneum, 2004) won the Newbery medal! Looking back, how did that change your writing life? Your daily one?

It was was shocking and purely joyful. I've never experienced a feeling like it. The joy was just so incredibly intense. One analogy I can think of is that it was like in Chicago when we would go to Lake Michigan on windy days and the waves would hit us so hard we would fall over and even get bruised. And yet it was so much fun. The feeling when the waves hit you was thrilling and yet also a strong physical feeling.

The main way it changed my writing life was I had a lot less time to write for a while. It changed my daily life in many ways. For instance, now while I'm walking my dog I ALWAYS, literally always, think to myself at some point, I actually won the Newbery. I was also able to pay off my staggering credit card bills, since I basically adopted my son by building up credit card debt. Crazy, I know, but I wanted to raise a child so badly!

Kira-Kira followed two novels published for adults. What inspired you to write for younger readers? How would you compare writing for children versus writing for grown-ups?

Really it was my editor and long-time friend, Caitlyn Dlouhy (editor interview), who encouraged me pretty strongly to write for younger readers. I don't know if she'll like my saying this, but I happen to believe she's psychic. I can say that because I'm from California and we talk like that! My previous novels were from the POV of young narrators, so the jump from adult books to children's books wasn't extreme.

What was the initial inspiration for Kira-Kira?

I'm not sure. I did once keep a journal when a friend of mine was dying, and I did use some of that journal in Kira-Kira. Also, for some reason the South inspires me more than the North or California. I would love to be able to write about California in the evocative way Raymond Chandler did. But for whatever reason, I haven't been inspired in that way, at least not yet. Another inspiration was that I had sent my editor a list of ideas for children's novels and the idea for Kira-Kira was one she especially liked.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

The cancer research was fairly straightforward. I have a good friend who is head of an oncology lab and knows a lot about cancer. She put me in touch with a doctor who is an expert on cancer from that time period. I will also add that he thought my questions were basic and beneath him and I could tell that I was kind of annoying him with my lack of expertise in comparison to his. But this is just one of the minor humiliations you endure when you write a book! I appreciate his help immensely, actually, and I'm sorry I annoyed him with my lack of expertise. I think what bothered him was that I was so dogged. If I didn't understand exactly what he was saying, I would ask over and over. The other challenges really just have to do with my having an extremely rigorous editor, or, as I call her, The Great Torturer.

You're upcoming book is called Weedflower (Atheneum, 2006). Could you tell us a bit about the novel? What is it about?

It's about a friendship between a Japanese American girl and a Mohave boy. The Colorado River Relocation Center was one of two Japanese internment camps located on Indian reservations. The book is the based-on-real-life story about how the meeting of these two groups of people changed the futures of both.

What inspired you to tell this story?

My father was interned in that camp. The other reason has to do with my belief that it is not just the sharing of values but the sharing of this amazing land that makes us Americans. So I wanted to write about how two groups of people sharing a land can change the world.

It's often said that writers are readers. What are your favorite recently published books for young readers and why?

I loved Saffy's Angel [by Hilary McKay (McElderry, 2002)] a lot because it made me laugh and cry. I know, that sounds cliche, but it's the truth.

What do you do when you're not writing?

Walk my dog and take walks or play with my son. Period. I really don't even have the opportunity to watch movies any longer.
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