Friday, March 17, 2006

SCBWI Bologna 2006 Agent Interview: Costanza Fabbri

From SCBWI Bologna 2006:

Costanza Fabbri will be speaking at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 conference in Bologna, Italy, March 25-26, 2006. Other speakers include: authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Sara Rojo Pérez (illustrator interview), Justine Larbalestier (author interview), Doug Cushman (author-illustrator interview); editors: Victoria Arms/Bloomsbury (editorial director interview), Melanie Cecka/Bloomsbury, Shannon Barefield of Carolrhoda (editorial director interview), Anne McNeil/Hodder (publishing director interview); agents: Rosemary Canter/PDF (agent interview), Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary, Gabriella Ambrosioni/Gabriella Ambrosioni Literary Agency, and Rosemary Stimola/Stimola Literary Studio (agent interview). Hands-on workshops and roundtable discussions. See registration information. Note: there have been some changes in the speaker roster since the schedule was first posted; check the website for latest details.

Costanza Fabbri comes to agenting from an art background. She works with Gabriella Ambrosioni in the Gabriella Ambrosioni Literary Agency, representing authors, illustrators, publishers and other agents for foreign rights. She joins Rosemary Stimola, Gabriella Ambrosioni, Barry Goldblatt, and Rosemary Canter on the agents panel, “A is for Agent,” at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 Conference. Erzsi Deàk interviewed her in March 2006.

Erzsi Deàk: What led you to work in the field of children's books? Can you give us a brief outline of your career?

Costanza Fabbri: My work led me here due to my interest in figurative art, which picture books are a sort of branch of. Then, it became something more. I've a degree in Modern Literary Studies with Historic-Artistic course (it is a specific course of study inside that Faculty) at Bologna University. Since getting my degree, I've started working as literary agent (at Gabriella Ambrosioni's) and History of Art teacher (at the secondary school), keeping on with my studies by masters post-lauream in both branches at the same moment.

ED: Do you represent authors and illustrators?

CF: Inside of Gabriella Ambrosioni Literary Agency we represent both.

ED: Who needs an agent? Would you advise every professionally-minded children's book creator to be represented by an agent?

CF: Most of publishing-roles should be represented by an agent. A literary agent is not a simple "instrument" whom writers achieve publication with, but a sort of consultant working together with them, in order to reach the same goal: obtaining better conditions in their agreements with publishers, giving deserved visibility to noteworthy-writers' books we have worked so hard for. But an agent should be considered absolutely necessary also by publishers, who are interested in selling their foreign rights. Thanks to agents and co-agents, selling foreign rights is more diffused and effective: a sort of worldwide-web where every agency has to be responsible for its country, and handles agreements with local publishers for better conditions after selling. This makes all easier, effective and understandable. And optimizes time and gains. After these considerations, advising every professionally-minded children's book creator to be represented by an agent sounds superfluous...

ED: What grabs your attention and makes you want to represent someone after the first “hit” of the person’s work?

CF: After realizing it is well written, I often pretend to see the manuscript as a book on any bookshop's shelf: might it be there, according to publishing market and trends? Could it draw my attention as reader? Would I consider buying it? If I think, yes, for each question, then I realize it's worth being represented.

ED: Can you describe what strategies you use for submitting your artists' and authors' work to publishers?

CF: Any sort of special strategy. After individuating the most suitable publisher/s for our client's work, we start submitting manuscripts/books/CDs for their consideration. Usually we enclose a brief presentation for each work and, when it's possible, press releases. Within suitable publishers, we prefer to start with the majors, and then, after eventual rejections, we keep on with smaller publishers.

ED: What kinds of books do you think travel best? Which books don't? Do you encourage your artists and writers to adapt to the "global marketplace?"

CF: As an agent, I can say that selling picture books is more difficult than selling novels. That is to say, it's easier selling high-ages-books (from 8-9 upwards) than lower. Moreover, fiction travels better than non-fiction. Humor and multicultural books go well. As well as educational books, not talking about "drama" or heavy language, but in preference to light and ironic words. Regarding picture books and the foreign market, Italian publishers deal more through co-editions than buying foreign rights.

ED: What is the role of agents in the co-edition world?

CF: As an agency we handle publishing and secondary rights, as an intermediary. From my experience, the co-edition world doesn't provide for this role.

ED: Are you ever involved in the marketing campaigns for your clients’ work, once published (or once sold to the publisher)?

CF: Not directly.

ED: Do you have to actually like all your clients' work to be able to represent it successfully?

CF: Most of the time I can say that. It depends on clients and circumstances: I have to like it when I deal with single persons (authors, illustrators, etc.). It's not the same when I deal with publishers or agencies; in that case it depends on an eventual previous success of that title, on the publisher's fame, etc.

ED: Are you still looking for new talent? Can you give any advice for an author or illustrator looking for an agent to represent them?

CF: We are always looking for new talent. But real talent is hard to find... A small bit of advice for authors and illustrators looking for an agent: Be humble.

ED: Are there any trends or new developments in children's publishing at the moment that you would like to say a few words about?

CF: It's difficult to say. Too many trends and novelties. Sometimes, I'm not so sure about their quality...

Thank you!

Cynsational Notes

Erzsi Deàk, along with Kristin Litchman, was an editor of Period Pieces: Stories for Girls (HarperCollins, 2003)(co-editors interview), which included my short story, "The Gentleman Cowboy" as well as stories by Dian Curtis Regan; Linda Sue Park; Jane Kurtz; Rita Williams Garcia; Bobbi Katz; April Halprin Wayland; Johanna Hurwitz; Uma Krishnaswami; Carmen Bernier-Grand; Kristin Litchman; and Erzsi Deàk.

Cynsational News & Links

Comics with a Twist: New Graphic Novels are Anything But Predictable by Becky Ohlsen from BookPage.

Meet Agent Jennifer Flannery of Flannery Literary by Susan VanHecke from Authorlink.com. Jennifer represents authors like Gary Paulsen (Newbery Honor Books Hatchet (1988), Dogsong (1986), and The Winter Room(1990)), Graham Salisbury (PEN/Norma Klein Award for Blue Skin of the Sea (1992), Scott O'Dell Award for Under the Blood-Red Sun)(1994)(author interview), and Kimberly Willis Holt (National Book Award for When Zachary Beaver Came To Town)(1999)(author interview). Note: site requires $6 mini monthly membership or $1.95 fee per article or 24-hour "all access archive past" or its silver/gold membership package to view. I would not normally feature a link to a pay site; however, the fees are modest and writers seriously researching agents would do well to carefully consider Jennifer. See a free online interview: Behind the Scenes with Agents and Publicists: Jennifer Flannery-Agent from Denise M. Clark. See also Agents from Children's & YA Writers' Links on my website.

Booklist's New Online Non-Fiction Series Roundup: "find reviews of series titles that we have recommended in the print magazine, starting with the April 15, 2004, issue, as well as selected reviews from previous years." Online search engine that may be used to search by age-level, subject, or publisher.

The 2006 BookSense Book of the Year Winners are: (in children's literature) Inkspell by Cornelia Funke (Chicken House/Scholastic, 2005) and (in children's illustrated) Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth (Scholastic Press, 2005).

Thursday, March 16, 2006

SCBWI Bologna 2006 Agent Interview: Rosemary Canter of PDF

From SCBWI Bologna 2006:

Agent Rosemary Canter of PFD will be speaking at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 conference in Bologna, Italy, March 25-26, 2006. Other speakers include: authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Sara Rojo Pérez (illustrator interview), Justine Larbalestier (author interview), Doug Cushman (author-illustrator interview); editors: Victoria Arms/Bloomsbury (editorial director interview), Melanie Cecka/Bloomsbury, Shannon Barefield of Carolrhoda (editorial director interview), Judy Zylstra/Eerdmans, Anne McNeil/Hodder (publishing director interview); agents: Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary, Rosemary Stimola/Stimola Literary Studio (agent interview), and Costanza Fabbri/Gabriella Ambrosioni Agency. Hands-on workshops and roundtable discussions. See registration information.

Rosemary Canter is head of the Children's Department at PFD, one of Europe's leading literary and talent agencies. She is based in London. According to Erzsi Deàk (who offered the text below), Rosemary has stated that the information in this 2002 interview remains current in 2006.

What led you to work in the field of children's books? Can you give us a brief outline of your career?

I fell into children's books by accident, and stayed by enchantment. I was working in publishing as an editor, and acquired skills enabling me to put together illustrated books. On the strength of this, I found a job with Macmillan Children's Books: and I was hooked.

I spent the first 17 years of my career as an editor in a variety of publishing houses, including Penguin, Hutchinson, Reed, editing adult and children's work. One of the most exciting ventures I was involved in was setting up the Teens list for Methuen, one of the first paperback lists for teenagers. That was in 1987. In 1989, I left Reed and became an agent, with a brief to develop a list of children's writers and illustrators for PFD. I can't imagine ever wanting to leave.

Some agents like to have a creative role in the relationship between their authors, illustrators and editors while others prefer to deal with the business of publishing. How do you see your role?

I enjoy the many facets of being an agent. I like to help writers develop saleable material for publishers, but not get further involved in the editorial process. I think it is my job to be a businesswoman, to get the best possible deals and contracts for my clients, and to help with legal advice, where necessary. But giving strategic advice on careers and making suggestions on individual projects is also an essential part of what I do.

Can you describe what strategies you use for submitting your artists' and authors' work to publishers?

There are lots of answers! We have a brilliant website, which we keep updated and which we advertise. I talk to publishers a lot about my clients, new ideas, etc. I arrange for writers and illustrators to meet editors or designers I think will like their work. Of course I send out material all the time, whether particular texts or projects, or general material on spec. The short answer is, whatever method is the best solution at the time.

What kinds of books do you think travel best? Which books don't? Do you encourage your artists and writers to adapt to the "global marketplace?"

There are several kinds of books that travel well. There's fantasy, which crosses cultural boundaries more easily than other genres, and the experience of being a teenager clearly also rings bells across nations. It's pleasing that funny books on this subject appeal so widely. Picture books also work well in many countries. Again, the experiences of young children have universal similarities. Where there is often a gulf is the literature for children between picture books and older childhood, the time where children are just growing up into their individuality out of the home, spending time in school, learning how their own society works. This seems to be an intensely local experience, so it is much harder for books for, say, seven year olds to travel.

I don't encourage writers or illustrators to consider the "global marketplace." I think it is much more important that they produce work rooted in the world they know. If it is good enough, it will work in the home market, and if its concerns are deep and wide, then it will travel too.

Would you advise every professionally-minded children's book creator to be represented by an agent?

What a good question! Almost all creative people need professional advice, I think, because they don't have the time or contacts to understand all the different facets that make up the marketplace. Nor do they have the expertise to deal with contracts and bigger problems that may arise when companies change hands or go bankrupt. Most people simply don't want to deal with these subjects. But, on a quieter level, I think some people can deal competently with contracts as well as their creative work.

Do you have to actually like all your clients' work to be able to represent it successfully?

I'm enthusiastic about my clients' work, or I would not have taken them on in the first place. But of course work can vary. The essential element is that I like and respect their work overall, and then selling it is not a problem.

Are you still looking for new talent? Can you give any advice for an author or illustrator looking for an agent to represent them?

I am always, always looking for new talent. Finding it is one of the most seductive aspects of a fascinating job. I'd like to give one piece of advice to writers looking for an agent: the letter you send is also a piece of writing.

Are there any trends or new developments in children's publishing at the moment that you would like to say a few words about?

I've been working in the world of children's books for 24 years now, and I think this is the most exciting of times. Children's writers have a higher status now, perhaps higher than they have ever had, and the real possibility of earning a good living. Historical fiction and fantasy are, once again, hugely popular, and there is a glorious vitality about fiction overall. There have always been remarkably talented illustrators, and there is a mass of clever talent around. It's a wonderful time to be involved.

You can check out the PFD website at www.pfd.co.uk/childrens for details of submissions policies for children's authors and illustrators.

Cynsational News & Links

Current Staff Picks at BookPeople in Austin include The Wall and The Wing by Laura Ruby (HarperCollins, 2006)(author interview).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Author Interview: Douglas Rees on Vampire High

Vampire High by Douglas Rees (Delacorte, 2003)(Laurel Leaf, 2005). From the promotional copy: "Cody Elliot hates everything about Massachusetts . All he wants to do is go back home to California . He thinks that if he fails all of his classes, even homeroom, his parents will see that he doesn't like it and will be willing to move back. Unfortunately, his parents don't see it quite like he does. Instead, his dad decides that changing schools would be best for him and gives him two to choose from—Our Lady of Perpetual Homework and Vlad Dracul Magnet School. Knowing that he doesn't want to attend a school with 'homework' in its name, he opts for the magnet school instead. Once there, he realizes that things are very different. First, he is told that as long as he plays on the water polo team, he doesn't have to do any work in class and he'll still get straight As. Then he finds out that most of the people are vampires. Finally, he learns that the vampires want absolutely nothing to do with the 'normal' kids because they think regular humans are a waste of time. So when Cody makes friends with two of the vampires, it begins to upset the entire school. The headmaster tries to expel him and the other vampires begin ganging up on him when no one else is around. It doesn't take Cody long, however, to decide what's more important—getting a free ride in high school or being a true friend." Ages 12-up.

I'm a great fan of your novel, Vampire High (Delacorte, 2003)(Laurel Leaf, 2005). What was the initial inspiration for creating this book?

I was getting ready for work, and I was thinking about something Ken Kesey had said, to the effect that every novelist should, as part of their development, undertake something in each of the major genres -- Western, detective story, all those --. And I was thinking, “Well I’ve always wanted to write a horror story, but the only thing that’s selling these days is vampires, and I hate vampire stories.” (I dislike that morbid, self-pitying Ann Rice stuff.)

So, as I was getting in to the shower, I thought (for I do sound like this in my head sometimes) “Surely even among the vampires there must be some decent chaps. I mean, they must go to high school--”

And as the hot water hit my back, I was looking at the silent halls of Vlad Dracul, with their tinted windows, sussurant students, and sandalwood-scented doors. And that was how the book began to unfold to me.

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

I think it took about three years, though that seems awfully short. Not long for publication, anyway. I stopped working on it for six months in the middle of things. Just stopped. It wasn’t writer’s block. Perhaps it was just that when, on my wife’s advice, I cut back to half time on my day job, writing got to be too easy. In any case, I eventually finished the book, and started sending it out. I had two or three rejections, then Karen Wojtyla, who was with Delacorte at that time, called and offered me a contract.

Working with Karen was easy. She had excellent suggestions for changes, and got back to me quickly when I responded with rewrites. Then, when we were nearly done, Delacorte started cutting staff, and Karen was one of the first ones they cut. I didn’t know what the status of my book was for a week or two.

Then Karen called and said she’d been offered a job finishing our work on contract. Was that acceptable to me? It was, in spades. So we did it, and it came out without further hassles.

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

This question doesn’t have a very interesting answer. Vampire High was the easiest of my novels so far. The hardest part was just sitting still and waiting for the story to unfold itself.

I drew deeply on my early teen years to write it; more deeply than I knew at the time. Certainly I was aware of basing the story on my one year in Massachusetts, when I went to a brand-new high school in Chicopee. What I didn’t realize until a year ago, was that I also was using the material laid down by my three years in Germany as an Air Force brat. Vlad Dracul is really just my old high school transmuted into a series of palaces. It really did have a student center and dormitories, and was a K-12 operation.

Also, the Air Force had taken over a small palace built by the English fascist Houston Stewart Chamberlain, for use by Amerian youth groups. I think some of my notions of the not-quite-right elegance of Vlad Dracul and the jentis generaly go back to that place.

So there wasn’t much need for formal research. About all I can recall doing is looking up Rumanian and Hungarian names. (Parethetically I have to point out that Ileana is neither. The common form is Ilona. But I liked Ileana better, and as she is quite an exotic creature, even among the jenti, it seemed good for her to have a slightly exotic name.)

You're also a writer of picture books. In Grandy Thaxter's Helper, illustrated by S.D. Schindler (Atheneum, 2004), your hero faces Death himself. How did this story come to you?

Once again, the library is involved. I was scheduled to work one Sunday at the main branch, and somehow they had given me the Children’s Desk for the first hour. They never put me on the Children’s Desk, possibly because they knew I was interested in
children’s books.

Anyway, it was very quiet, so I did what we were supposed to do in those days, which was to familiarize ourselves with some of the new picture books set out on display. I saw one that, from its title, made me think that it was the story of Grandy Thaxter. The whole thing came to me at once, and I opened the book excitedly, expecting to read the story I’d just imagined. Instead, it was some lame thing about a dog that wouldn’t stop barking. So I thought, “Well, I’ll write it then.” and I did.

What did S.D. Schindler's illustrations bring to the story?

I can’t understand why Schindler hasn’t won the Caldecott yet. I suspect it maybe the same reason they say Cary Grant never won an Academy Award--he made it look too easy. Moreover, Schindler doesn’t have one recognizable style. Each of books is resonant with the the text in a wholly individual way. Perhaps that makes it harder for librarians (God bless 'em) to see the quality of his work.

Anyway, I think that his pictures for Grandy Thaxter are the best work he’s done yet. I still remember the first time I saw them, how beautiful the colors of the evening were, how much I laughed when I noticed the portraits in Grandy’s house following Mr. Death with their eyes. I couldn’t be more pleased with them.

What do you think is at the heart of the enduring appeal of gothic fantasy, especially for young readers?

At a certain age, usually about twelve, we --most of us--begin to perceive reality in a whole new way. It’s the moment Ray Bradbury records in the beginning of Dandelion Wine when Douglas realizes “I’m alive!” With that realization comes a new fascination with death. In my case, it took the form of collecting plastic skulls for a while. All perfectly usual.

Horror in general is another way of confronting this great unknowable. Horror movies are strongly associated with the teen years. It also has something to do with the onset of that other great mystery, sex. We’re not sure exactly what it has to do with castles, monsters and slithering vampires, but we sense there’s something there.

But I would say parenthetically that I don’t think Vampire High has much to do with Gothic fiction. It’s actually a comedy of manners: East Coast vs West Coast; the old, popular American theme of the get-it-done outsider who comes in and changes an intractable situation into a better one. Vampire High has as much to do with Destry or Babes in Arms as it does with The Castle of Otranto. Perhaps more.

Could you also tell us a little about your most recent book, Smoking Mirror: An Encounter with Paul Gauguin (? WWatson-Guptill Publications, 2005)hat drew you to that story? How did you go about the research?

Ah. You’re asking me for my war stories.

I had more trouble with Smoking Mirror than I did with all my other books combined. Even more than with Grandy Thaxter, which essentially went to press unedited because the editor had, apparently, sort of quit without mentioning it to anyone.

Anyway, the decision to write a novel about Paul Gauguin didn’t have any deep roots. Jackie Ching at Watson-Guptill called me one day and told me that she was starting a new series, Art Encounters and she’d read my first book Lightning Time. On that basis, she wondered if I wanted to write a novel for her. We talked about a couple of ideas, and, after much back-and-forthing, Gauguin was settled on.

At the heart of my interest in the story was a single event: the first moment when Gauguin arrives in Tahiti, wearing a gray suit and a cowboy hat, which he’d acquired just before leaving Paris at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He starts up the street from the docks to the military officer’s club, with his long hair flowing down his back, and all the Tahitians start laughing at him. He doesn’t know why. Later someone, perhaps his friend Jenot the marine lieutenant, advised him that, in Tahtian culture there are mahus, transvestites. Now Tahitians don’t think transvestites are funny, they think they’re sacred. But mahus don’t just grow their hair long, they dress and live completely as women. They thought Gauguin was some kind of weird French intermediate transvestite, and that tickled them.

Researching the story of Gauguin’s life in Tahiti was interesting. There’s plenty of information about him -- though there’s a great deal we’ll never know, but opinions about him are so varied that deciding who the man actually was is hard. Was he a self-promoting cynic,or an artistic genius trying to get a living from hi work? A wife abuser, or a husband desperate to reunite his family? A child molester or a lover? The answer to all the questions, I decided, was yes. So, using the novelist’s prerogative, I wrote a Gauguin seen through the eyes of one character. My Gauguin is Joe Sloan’s Gauguin. Joe Solaon’s and nobody else’s.

What advice do you have for beginning writers? What about those authors looking to build a career?

Let me answer those questions in reverse order.

I would love to build a career writing my books. Maybe I’m doing that. But I’m pretty much in the dark about how. I don’t have an agent and have never been able to get one. I don’t go to conferences, and don’t know which ones to go to. I try to get readings in bookstores and usually get turned down by the events coordinators. What I mean is, I am definitely not the guy to ask for advice about building a career.

On the other hand, I am an expert at what to do before that first set of contracts hits the mailbox. Here’s what worked for me.

Recognize that your conscious mind is the servant of your unconscious. I really believe that, by the time your conscious mind “has an idea,” your unconscious has already done most of the work. But the thing is, the unconscious mind doesn’t deal in words. It deals in pictures and feelings. It’s up to the conscious mind to translate it into a form that a reader can absorb consciously, through reading. Now there’s one problem with that: these two parts of the self don’t readily communicate. You have to find the way to facilitate that.

There’s an image I like. In the part of the country I come from, there was a job title called zanjero. It’s a centuries-old Spanish term that means "ditch attendant." His job is to keep the irrigation ditches clear of brush and dirt so that when th rains come the water can flow. Every writer needs to be a zanjero.

Drinking and drugs are both recommended by those who don’t know what they’re talking about. The best way, the most reliable, productive and cheapest way, is simply repetition. When Daniel Pinkwater decided to try to write, he didn’t know whether or not he could. But he knew he could stare at a piece of blank paper and a pencil for an hour. So he did that. Gradually, as he stared, ideas began to come. Within a year he was writing.

You need to find a way to have the courage to be rejected without being devastated by it. In my case, the key was to get several manuscripts incirculation. My goal was to have “One on the gun and three in the air,” an artilleryman’s phrase from World War I. It meant that, when the French 75 was banging away at its usual rate of fire, three were three spent shells flying backwards as the fourth round was being fired. When, eventually, I achieved that happy state, I found that individual rejections meant very little to me. "Oh. Did I sent that one there? Forgot about that. Now who gets it next?” It was a good day when that happened.

It’s also important to reduce the amount of egotism involved in your work if it gets in the way of producing. For years I gave up on things because they weren’t as good as I thought I was capable of doing. The problem with that is, whatever you’re writing at the moment probably is the best you’re capable of producing at that moment. Write it, and you will probably get better. And don’t worry too much about publication. Everyone wants that -- and why not? All I’m saying is, don’t let the desire hurt your work.

There’s a passage in Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons in which Sir Thomas More advises a young man named Richard Rich to become a teacher.

“You’d be a good teacher, perhaps a great one,” More tells him.

"Who would know it if I were?” Rich asks.

“You. Your students. God. Not a bad public, that,” More replies.

Writing is hard at any stage of the game, and it’s hardest by far when you’re starting out. No one wants your work, and the walls of the publishing houses seem as impregnable as the Siegfried Line. It helps to be able to think “Me. God. My friends. Not a bad public, that.”

What can your fans look forward to next?

The Janus Gate: an Encounter With John Singer Sargent (Watson-Guptill Publications, 2006), will be out this April. It’s less a historical novel than a ghost story. Only the thing in the shadows is something stranger than a ghost.

Cynsational Notes

See more author interviews as well as recommended young adult titles and YA book links.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

SCBWI Bologna Editor Interview: Victoria Arms of Bloomsbury USA

From SCBWI Bologna 2006:

Editor Victoria Arms will be speaking at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 conference in Bologna, Italy, March 25-26, 2006. Other speakers include: authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Sara Rojo Pérez (illustrator interview), Justine Larbalestier (author interview), Doug Cushman (author-illustrator interview); editors: Melanie Cecka/Bloomsbury, Shannon Barefield of Carolrhoda (editorial director interview), Judy Zylstra/Eerdmans, Anne McNeil/Hodder (publishing director interview); agents: Rosemary Canter/PFD, Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary, Rosemary Stimola/Stimola Literary Studio (agent interview), and Costanza Fabbri/Gabriella Ambrosioni Agency. Hands-on workshops and roundtable discussions. See registration information.

Victoria Arms is the Editorial Director of Bloomsbury USA. She is responsible for creating the U.S. list, overseeing manuscript acquisition and art direction. Erzsi Deàk interviewed Victoria in March 2006.

Erzsi Deàk: Please tell us a little about your background. You come from a children's book household. Did you ever consider working in another field? If so, what?

Victoria Arms: I was briefly a chef, but missed the book world too much. Perhaps someday I will be able to combine food and children's books.

ED: What is your all-time favorite book?

VA: I have many favorites, but no one all-time favorite. Time and Again by Jack Finney (adult) is at the top of my list. I love The Wind in the Willows [by Kenneth Grahame], The Trumpet of the Swans [by E.B. White], Marjorie Flack's books about Angus, Frog and Toad [by Arnold Lobel], Fox in Love (and the other Fox stories [by James Marshall]); too many favorites to list. I love them because they are beautiful, emotional and funny.

ED: What book are you proudest of having worked on and why?

VA: Some of the recent books I am proud of include of course, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury, 2005)(a Newbery Honor Book), an upcoming cookbook for kids called Kids Cook 1-2-3 by Rozanne Gold and illustrated by Sara Pinto, and another up-and-comer by Susan Vaught called Trigger (Bloomsbury, 2006), a contemporary YA novel about a boy recovering from trying to commit suicide.

ED: How would you describe the children's publishing program at Bloomsbury?

VA: We are open-minded and always looking for something unusual, child-centered and, if possible, either funny or meaningful, or both.

ED: How linked is Bloomsbury US to Bloomsbury UK?

VA: We work very closely with our U.K. office, publishing most books simultaneously. We share about 50% of our lists, and about 25% or more also go to our German publisher for release in that market. U.S. and U.K. editors speak on a daily basis, and we have a weekly phone call to catch up on production, submissions, jackets and other details

ED: Are you aware of any major differences between the U.K. market for children's books and the U.S. market?

VA: In the U.K., the structure of mass market and institutional publishing is very different, so we tend to try for books that are mostly going to sell in the retail market--library is a bonus. In the U.S., institutional sales are a much bigger deal. The result of this is that the British picture books are often published in paperback only, or then board, while ours start out in hardcover and often have more serious themes. We have an easier time with nonfiction in the U.S., including history, biography and science. In the U.K., upper-YA novels are also tougher to publish successfully than they are in the US. Conversely, the U.K. market for early chapter books is much stronger.

ED: What are the biggest challenges you face/have faced in building a new list in an already established and competitive market?

VA: We don't want to steal other houses' authors, so often we must build new authors and artists' careers from the ground up, without being able to rely on established names in the U.S. market.

ED: Are there any books on your current list that you would consider "quintessentially Bloomsbury"? If there is a difference between a Bloomsbury US and a Bloomsbury UK book, what is it?

VA: We seem to be doing more fantasy than many other U.S. publishers, and much of it seems very Bloomsbury – from U.S.-originated titles by Shannon Hale to Anna Dale’s Whispering To Witches (Bloomsbury, 2004).

ED: What can you tell us about the Bloomsbury US publishing program?

VA: We are publishing about 60 hardcovers a year, and 20 paperback reprints. We also publish some paperback originals in the chapter book, YA and graphic novel formats. We publish books from many different countries in addition to the U.K.: Australia, Belgium, France, Spain, Germany and more. We publish for all ages, 0 to 18 and beyond.

ED: What are you looking for? What grabs your attention and makes you want to publish someone after the first "hit" of the person's work?

VA: I look for the unusual, the funny and the emotionally strong stuff and, of course, great writing and talented artists who are consistent and easy to work with.

If it really makes me smile or cry or it seems utterly unique.

ED: Anything you are definitely not looking for?

VA: I never say never.

ED: Are your acquisition decisions influenced by co-editions?

VA: Sometimes, Bloomsbury does try to buy books for a worldwide audience.

ED: What would you consider the role of the editor in the publishing process?

VA: First, the editor is responsible for finding talent and bringing it to the publishing house. Then the editor is responsible for making sure this talent is appreciated in-house. Then beyond the office, with the sales reps, the buysers and of course, children and parents who buy and read our books. The letters of complaint come right back to us if we mess up!

ED: Are you aware of any trends in publishing at the moment? How do you feel about them?

VA: There seems to be a trend for older YA's to fall into the adult market. This can be a good thing if it really serves those true young adults (age 16-22), who tend to ignore traditional YA books and only go for "real" adult books. But it can also be a problem if the YA books are seen as too adult to be safely presented by booksellers to parents.

There is also a lot of computer art out there, which is not so good.

ED: Are you involved in the marketing campaigns for your authors/illustrators and their books? What say, if any, does your sales/marketing department have in the look or type of book you produce?

VA: Yes, our departments are small, so the publicity and marketing departments discuss all their plans with us editors constantly. I work very closely with sales and marketing, particularly on jackets and concept books, but the editing and art choices are strictly editorial. I try to listen to all opinions, however, including those of the buyers – if they don’t buy the books, we can’t sell them.

ED: Will you look at illustration samples? If so, do you advise an illustrator to send new samples every six months, or so?

VA: I love looking at illustration samples. Sending new samples periodically is always a good idea -- even a postcard is nice.

ED: What are some of the common mistakes authors could AVOID making when submitting to you?

VA: Not sending an SASE, sending too many manuscripts at once, not knowing what kinds of books we publish, thinking we want books set in a faux English country village...

ED: Anything else you would like to add?

VA: Please forgive our slow response time-- we are a small staff, and do try to really look at everything that comes in, but our priority is always our existing authors.

Cynsational Notes

Erzsi Deàk, along with Kristin Litchman, was an editor of Period Pieces: Stories for Girls (HarperCollins, 2003)(co-editors interview), which included my short story, "The Gentleman Cowboy" as well as stories by Dian Curtis Regan; Linda Sue Park; Jane Kurtz; Rita Williams Garcia; Bobbi Katz; April Halprin Wayland; Johanna Hurwitz; Uma Krishnaswami; Carmen Bernier-Grand; Kristin Litchman; and Erzsi Deàk.

Cynsational News & Links

To Market: Learning the Ropes of PR: "Read Any Good Blogs Lately?" from Raab Associates. I'm honored that Cynsations was mentioned along with Read Roger--talk about good company!

Student Web companion to the Norton Anthology of Children's Literature: Traditions in English (W.W. Norton, 2005). Features include: self-grading review quizzes; annotated web links; timeline; public domain illustrations; and additional resources for instructors. More on the Norton Anthology of Children's Literature.

"Uglies in the New York Times" from Westerblog, the blog of author Scott Westerfeld (author interview). Scott discusses "Young Adult Fiction: Wild Things" by Naomi Wolf from the March 12 New York Times.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Author Interview: Marlene Perez on Unexpected Development

Unexpected Development by Marlene Perez (Roaring Brook, 2004). What did Megan do over her summer vacation, Mrs. Westland? Sex. That's what she relates in her answering essay. But that's not all. Megan also works at a pancake house, fends off sexual harassment, contemplates breast reduction surgery, and finds herself overwhelmed when a crush turns into a real boyfriend with everything that implies. Highly recommended. Ages 12-up. More on Unexpected Development from Cynsations.

Marlene Perez on Marlene Perez: "I'm the youngest of twelve children. I credit my love of reading to my siblings because they taught me to read before kindergarten. I grew up in Story City, a small town in Iowa. My parents divorced when I was a baby, and my mom raised us by herself. I now live in Orange County, California, also known as 'The OC.' I'm married with two great kids and a wonderful, supportive husband. We also have a cat, a dog, and a corn snake. I'm not so fond of the snake, but I am getting used to it." Read Marlene Perez's Journal.

What was your initial inspiration for writing Unexpected Development (Roaring Brook, 2004)?

Like Megan, the main character in Unexpected Development, I developed early and plentifully. I also worked in a pancake house during high school and college. I still have nightmares where I'm the only server in a packed restaurant. The other inspiration was that, in my own experience, anyhow, a lot of people didn't realize that their perceptions/assumptions about girls with large breasts were NOT factually based and could be hurtful.

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

In August of 1999, I attended the SCBWI National Conference in LA and heard Norma Fox Mazer (author interview) speak. She talked about her method for shutting up that internal editor that we all have in our heads.

After hearing her speak, I realized that I could write a novel. I'd tried before, but ended up with a couple of really good chapters and nothing else, because I thought everything had to be perfect (or as close as I could get to perfection) before I moved on to the next chapter.

Nowadays, I'm a big believer in a down-and-dirty first draft. It took me six months to write a first draft and I lost count of the number of times I revised, polished, tweaked, and edited it after that.

An agent signed me up in August of 2002, the day before I left for another SCBWI National Conference. He sent out the manuscript in January 2003, and Deborah Brodie from Roaring Brook bought it in March 2003. It was originally scheduled for publication in the spring of 2004, but Roaring Brook Press was put up for sale and Unexpected Development's publication was delayed until the fall. It all worked out well in the end, but it was a little scary at first.

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

I think the psychological part of writing is sometimes the hardest. It was hard to put myself out there and risk being rejected, risk failure, and risk my own idea that I could do it "someday." But the most important thing to me was that I was as true and as honest as I could be. My first instinct was to protect my character, but eventually, I figured out that she had to go out there and endure the teasing and the comments. And I've learned the theme of teen sexuality is a sensitive one, especially novels about female teen sexuality where no one dies or gets a disease. We should be responsible about potential sexual consequences, but I don't think we need to portray every sexual female as someone who should and will be punished.

Your site highlights an "alter ego," Lana Perez. Who is she, and what does she do? Why are there two of you?

Lana Perez is my pen name for the mid-grade series fiction I write for Mirrorstone Books. The main series I write for is Starsisterz. Bright Lights for Bella is the first of the "Bella" books in that series. There's a little of my own daughter in Bella, so I'm particular attached to that character. There are two of me for a couple of reasons. I wanted to a different name for my series fiction, something that would help to define the differences in style for the reader. It's not a secret, at least not a very well-kept one, but it's fun. And the other reason is that I simply like pen names. When I was a kid, I thought it was really cool to discover that some of my favorite authors had different identities.

As a reader, what are some of your favorite recent YA novels and why?

I read a lot. I always have. One of my favorite recent YAs is A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt, 2005)(author interview). In fact, it's probably the best book I've read in the last three years, YA or otherwise. I was blown away by Jennifer Richard Jacobson's Stained (Atheneum, 2005)(author interview). I'm a huge fan of fantasy, particularly modern or urban fantasy like Holly Black's. I have a mad literary crush on Neil Gaiman. I love his work. I like YA by Libba Bray, Elise Broach, E. Lockhart, D.L. Garfinkle, Lara Zeises, and Brent Hartinger. I love vampire fiction and read as much of it as I can, so I'm looking forward to your upcoming novel.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I just finished a manuscript tentatively titled Cupid In the Corner Pocket, which is a girl whose only love is pool, until she falls for the same guy as her best friend. And I recently started working on a modern fantasy that I'm really excited about.

Cynsational Notes

The "upcoming novel" of mine that Marlene mentions is Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), and I'm honored by her enthusiasm.

"A Day at the ALA Midwinter Conference" by Marlene Perez from Smartwriters (February 2004).

Chat Log September 7, 2004: Publication Party with Marlene Perez from the YA Authors Cafe.

See more author interviews as well as recommended young adult titles and YA book links.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...