Friday, May 06, 2011

YALSA's Teens Top Ten Nominees, Including Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith

I'm honored to report that my new novel Blessed (Candlewick, 2011) is among the 25 titles nominated for YALSA's Teens' Top Ten! See annotated list (PDF).

From YALSA: "Teens' Top Ten is a 'teen choice' list, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year!

"Nominators are members of teen book groups in sixteen school and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted on Support Teen Literature Day during National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year.

"Readers ages twelve to eighteen will vote online between Aug. 22 and Sept. 16; the winners will be announced during Teen Read Week."

Cynsational Notes

Check out the readers guide and book trailer for Blessed!

Cynsational News & Giveaways

In celebration of the Diversity in YA Fiction Tour, enter to win a copy of two, randomly selected books by participating authors!

Join the authors this month in San Francisco, Austin, Chicago, Cambridge and New York. See schedule and details!

To enter the giveaway, comment here or email me (scroll and click envelope) and type "Diversity" in the subject line. Deadline: midnight CST May 27. Note: author-sponsored; U.S. entries only.

Cynsational Giveaway Reminder

Enter to win a signed copy of The Owl Keeper by Christine Brodien-Jones (Delacorte, 2010). First prize: a hardcover copy. Second and third prize: paperback copies. To enter the giveaway, comment at this link or email me (scroll and click envelope) and type "Owl Keeper" in the subject line. Deadline: midnight CST May 27. Note: Author sponsored; U.S./Canada entries only. See also Christine on Writing Scary But Not Too Scary for Tweens.

More News & Giveaways

An Address and a Map Discovering Your Genius as a Writer by Tim Wynne-Jones from The Writers' League of Texas. Peek: "...I’m talking about the genius that each of us possesses to some degree: a natural ability or capacity or quality of mind; the special endowments which fit each of us for our work."

Children's Choice Book Awards Announced (PDF) from The Children’s Book Council (CBC) in association with Every Child A Reader, and the CBC Foundation. Rick Riordan was named author of the year, and David Wiesner was named illustrator of the year. See the complete list of winners. Space Blog: Where Kids Question the Cosmos. Peek: "SpaceBlog is place for kids to ask questions, to exchange ideas, and always to discover more about space. Of course, educators, parents, and space enthusiasts of all ages are welcome to join in, too!" Learn more about Jane Ann Peddicord.

Author Interview: Tim Tingle by Marie Penny at The Hub from YALSA. Peek: "My mentor, the Choctaw tribal storyteller Charley Jones says, 'tell the stories', but make sure the origin is acknowledged. The Choctaw tribe is very open, you don’t have to be Choctaw to tell the story, but you must respect the tribal origins." Source: American Indians in Children's Literature.

Lee B. Hopkins Poetry Award Teaching Toolbox: teacher guides and book trailers for the LBH award books.

The Interminable Agency Clause by Victoria Strauss from Writer Beware. Peek: "...language inserted into an author-agency agreement whereby the agency claims the right to remain the agent of record not just for the duration of any contracts it negotiates, but for the life of copyright." See also On Agency Agreements by Jennifer Laughran from Jennifer Represents...

Spaghetti Agents by Nathan Bransford. Peek: "They sign up a bunch of writers even when they're unsure about a project, they throw the manuscripts at publishers, and they see what sticks." See also Nathan on Separating Confidence from Self-Doubt.

Book Talking and Preparing for Focus Meeting by Little, Brown editor Alvina Ling from Blue Rose Girls. Peek: "....because I only have between 1 and 2 minutes to present each title, the presentation needs to be really tight. I want to touch on the summary of the book...."

Castellucci Joins 'Los Angeles Review of Books' as YA and Children's Editor by Wendy Werris from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "'So few venues review YA and teen books regularly, and even then it’s usually bestsellers and known authors, so this is an opportunity to assign reviews to the quieter books and older titles,' Castellucci says."

From Publishers Marketplace: "Nikki Loftin’s debut novel The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, pitched as Coraline meets Hansel and Gretel, about a young girl whose seemingly delightful new school hides frightening secrets, to Laura Arnold at Razorbill, in a two-book deal, for publication in Summer 2012, by Suzie Townsend at Fineprint Literary Management (World)." Congratulations, Nikki!

Twitter Tutorial: The Long Version by Lynne Kelly from Will Write for Cake. Peek: "It's not okay to pitch your novel or query an agent or editor via Twitter, but following them is a great way to find out what's going on in the publishing industry and with their own work...."

Attention New Yorkers: anticipated budget cuts in NYC would effectively shut down many libraries, reduce hours and staff. Please stop by your local library or click to your local library website to sign a petition to save the libraries. See Queens Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and New York Public Library.

Pay-It-Forward ARC Giveaway Contest from Dawn Metcalf. Enter to win advanced reader copies of Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando and Luminous by Dawn Metcalf (both Dutton, 2011). Deadline: May 7. See more information.

Career Planning: Who, Me? by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "...making a writing budget–the nuts and bolts of figuring out how much income you need, where it’s going to come from (all possible sources,) and what to do to get it. You’ll want to study this too." Note: Kristi references Chip MacGregor's excellent post Strategic Planning for Writers, but her pep talk/insights/summary are worth considering, too.

Author Advances: How Much You'll Get and When by Author/Agent Mandy Hubbard. Peek: "If you sell a book to one of the big six publishers, and it's a single book deal, and it's something deemed more quiet or literary, you may see $7,500-$10,000. if it has a bigger commercial hook, but still seems a little risky, you may get $15,000." Note: keep in mind that authors also make money from royalties, sub rights sales, public speaking, etc.

Career Insurance: Five Ways to Sell Your Next Book Before Its Written by Roni Loren from Fiction Groupie. Note: emphasis on series writing. Peek: "Unless you're writing the next blockbuster of the century, one book does not a career make. One book is just the gun going off at the starter gate." Source: QueryTracker.netBlog.

2011 Jane Addams Children's Book Awards from Mitali Perkins. The younger children's category winner is Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and the older children's category winner is A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park (Clarion). See honor books. Note: "Since 1953, the Jane Addams Children's Book Award honors books published in the U.S. during the previous year that engage children in thinking about peace, justice, world community, and/or equality of the sexes and all races. The books also must meet conventional standards of literary and artistic excellence."

From Publishers Marketplace: "Brian Yansky's Fighting Alien Nation, the sequel to Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences, which continues the story of the survivors of an alien invasion, again to Candlewick, with Kaylan Adair to edit, by Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger (world English). Congratulations, Brian!

For Writers: Race and Science Fiction and Fantasy by Mary Anne Mohanraj from Whatever. Peek: "’s easy to be paralyzed by that fear, to retreat back to only writing characters who are just like you, or so vague that they can’t possibly be mistaken for anyone real. But again — that makes for bad fiction. If you’re going to write well, you have to get past those fears." See also Your Process of Creating Characters Across Culture or Class from Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape.

Point of View in Picture Books in Celebration of National Picture Book Writing Week from Paula Yoo from Write Like You Mean It. Peek: "Look at picture books that are written from different points of view. Compare a picture book written in first person versus third person limited. What are the differences?"

"Birthing a Book: Revelations about the Publishing Process," the transcript of a chat with Bonny Becker from the Institute of Children's Literature.

I Live in the Middle of Nowhere. How Can I Promote My Book? by Kristina Springer from Author2Author. Peek: "'s hard to get a book faced out at the book store for more than a couple of months. So what can I do?"

Hunger Mountain Critique Auction

Hunger Mountain Critique Auction: Bid for a chance to win critiques from authors, illustrators, and agents from picture books to YA and beyond. See details on:

Note: Hunger Mountain is the Vermont College of Fine Arts Journal of the Arts, featuring an in-depth focus on children's-YA literature.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Bats at the Ballgame by Brian Lies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010).

Edit Letter Fun: Butcher or Coddler? from lynnekelly2000.

More Personally

This week I turned in my revision of my upcoming YA Gothic fantasy novel, which will be the next fully prose addition to the Tantalize series.

To the left, we see Bashi in the guet room, helping to guard the manuscript as I read through it, tweaking text.

To the right, we see Leo, lounging on Greg's copy of the draft in the parlor. Greg, the kitties, and I read the manuscript out loud to catch typos, missing words, and other minor issues. I'm especially include to skip right over two-letter words like "to," "of," "on," and "so."

See also Official Writer Cat Bios.

I'm pleased to announce that actress Kim Mai Guest will be reading as the character Quincie P. Morris for the audio edition of Blessed for Listening Library/Random House.

Kim Mai also performed as Quincie in the audio production of Tantalize (Listening Library, 2008).

Reminder: all blurb requests must come from editors or agents. Never authors. No exceptions.

Tantalize Reviewed by Anna from Troublingly Good Teen Lit. Peek: "This book could help teens who find themselves with more responsibility than they can handle, or whose parents/guardians are absent. It could also help teens who feel they may have a drinking problem."

Holler Loudly Reviewed by Becca Huttman from South Sound Book Review Council. Peek: "This is a cute story that is just fun. It has lots of action, adventure and fun illustrations."

Holler Loudly Reviewed by GAHome2Mom from Loving Heart Designs. Peek: "...a wonderfully humorous book to share with any young child."

Check out the Holler Loudly Teacher Guides by Shannon Morgan for PreK, Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2!

Personal Links of the Week:

Cynsational Events

Diversity in YA Fiction: Austin Tour Stop 7:30 p.m. May 9 at BookPeople. Featuring authors With authors Bethany Hegedus, Malinda Lo, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Cindy Pon, Dia Reeves, and Jo Whittemore, and moderated by Varian Johnson.

Chris Barton will be signing Can I See Your ID? True Stories of False Identities, illustrated by Paul Hoppe (Dial, 2011) at 7 p.m. May 14 at BookPeople in Austin. See discussion guide. See also Chris on Unbridled Silliness and Carefully Researched Truth-telling.

The Chills and Thrills Book Tour will be stopping at 2 p.m. May 15 at BookPeople. Turn out for authors Mari Mancusi, Tera Lynn Childs, Sophie Jordan, Jordan Dane, Lara Chapman, Jennifer Archer, and Tracy Deebs.

The First Annual BooksmART Festival will be from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 11 as part of Arts & Letters Live from the Dallas Museum of Art. Peek: "Come spend the day with authors, illustrators, musicians and actors, and enjoy talks, workshops, gallery tours, and entertainment, designed to appeal to every member of the family and every age group." Featured children's-YA book creators include Rick Riordan, Norton Juster, Laurie Halse Anderson, David Wiesner, Jerry Pinkney, Gene Luen Yang, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Duncan Tonatiuh, Antonio Sacre, Joe McDermott, Jan Bozarth, and Ann Marie Newman.

Authors Jennifer Ziegler and Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak to YA readers at 2 p.m. June 18 at Bee Cave Public Library in Bee Cave, Texas. Mark your calendars for book talk and pizza!

Austin Bat Cave Offers YA Writing Workshop with Margo Rabb from May 31 to July 5. See more information.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Guest Post: Christopher Golden on Shared Vision: Writing with a Co-author & The Secret Journeys of Jack London

By Christopher Golden

One of the many curious things about being a writer—especially a novelist—is the number of people you encounter who believe they could do your job, that the only thing that separates you from them is that you bothered to sit down and write a book, and though they’ve got that bestseller in them, they just haven’t made the time for it yet.

That’s not everyone, of course. Some people look at writers as if we’re strange objects behind glass in some museum display that ought to have a plaque to explain our purpose.

This isn’t a complaint, mind you. Both reactions are fascinating and sometimes amusing.

But I’ll tell you something that’s even more fascinating to me. When it comes to collaborations—two authors writing a novel together—even the just-haven’t-had-time-to-write-my-bestseller crowd seems to get that curious look on their faces, that what’s-that-odd-animal expression that comes over people who encounter the giant South American rodent at the zoo for the first time, the thing that looks like it should only exist in The Princess Bride. Due, presumably, to the fact that I regularly collaborate with other authors, I get that look—and that question—a lot.

“How does that work?” “How do authors write a book together?”

People really do seem mystified by the idea that two people can create one voice. Actors create a scene together, musicians perform a song together and write music together…but you don’t often seen painters working on the same canvas.

Perhaps that’s where people draw the line. Maybe, even subconsciously, a novel is perceived as a solitary work, much like a painting. And I suspect for a lot of writers, that is absolutely true. I suppose many—even most—writers have difficulty imagining creating a piece of fiction that is a shared vision, but it’s simply never been a problem, or even a question, for me.

Writing, I am fond of saying, is a solitary occupation, and I am not a solitary person. In the nineteen years since I quit my job (at the tender age of 25) and became a full-time writer, I have collaborated with more than half a dozen different writers, and those experiences share certain fundamental qualities. In each case, my collaborators were my friends first, and they were all writers whose work I respected and admired.

More often than not, such collaborations don’t arise from a conversation that even vaguely resembles what you might imagine. They don’t start with, “hey, we should write something together sometime.”

Nearly always, they begin with conversations about mutual interests, or drinks and dinner, or a stupid joke on an elevator…something that leads to an idea being born, sometimes in jest, and then a moment when you look at each other, both thinking, hey, that’s not a bad idea. We could really make something out of that. And if it’s something both authors are enthusiastic enough about, then you do it.

I first met Tim Lebbon via e-mail, when I asked him to contribute a short story to an anthology of Hellboy short stories I was editing called Odder Jobs (Dark Horse, 2004). That, I believe, was in 2003.

It feels like we’ve known each other much longer, but we didn’t meet in person until a World Horror Convention in New York City in 2005. I’d been cooking up the plot for a novel I wanted to write called Mind the Gap (Spectra, 2008), but because it was set in London and very much a British story, it felt to me like something I wanted to collaborate on with a British author.

As soon as I met Tim, I felt a kinship with him. We became fast friends and it seemed like serendipity. I told him about the concept for Mind the Gap and he jumped on board immediately.

That novel became a series of four loosely connected urban fantasy novels collectively called The Hidden Cities. They are Mind the Gap, The Map of Moments (Spectra, 2009), The Chamber of Ten (Spectra, 2010), and (coming later this year) The Shadow Men.

While I’m proud of the work we did on those books, especially The Map of Moments, which I think is one of the finest things either of us has ever written, collaboration or not, those books were born “on purpose,” if that makes sense. We wanted to create ideas, to build stories, all of that.

Which brings me around to The Secret Journeys of Jack London (Harper, 2011).

World Horror Convention, Toronto, 2007. Tim and I were at dinner with a large group of friends and colleagues. Thai food. Drinks. Tim was talking about his novelization of the movie "30 Days of Night" and somehow the subject of vampire polar bears came up. [Tim pictured.]

Yep. Vampire polar bears. The very thought of it sparked an instant excitement and enthusiasm in me—not necessarily vampire polar bears themselves, but all of the images and ideas that flooded into my brain at that moment.

Back up. My father was in the Coast Guard during the Korean War, stationed on Kodiak Island in Alaska. Some of my favorite pictures of him were taken during that time of his life. My parents were divorced when I was eleven, and my father died when I was nineteen.

I always wished I could have talked to him more about Alaska. Despite his many flaws, I romanticized Alaska and that part of his life in my mind.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that Jack London has always been my favorite “classical” writer, from the time I first read “To Build a Fire” and The Call of the Wild (1903) in middle school. Jack London inspired me with tales of the frozen north, with darkness and ice and stories told around fires and rough men in rough terrain and the purity and savagery so perfectly melded in the image of a wolf.

In the eighth grade, I wrote a paper called “Atavism in the Works of Jack London.” Fairly certain I got an A. It’s still around here somewhere, if I can only track it down.

Another aside. Also in middle school, I used to run across advertisements for some liquor or other in magazines, and the ads would have bits of poetry quoted from the works of Robert Service—all of them about the same sorts of things that were so central to the works of Jack London. The frozen north. Grim and determined men. The wild.

I can remember those snippets even now. “I have clinched and closed with the naked north, I have learned to defy and defend. Shoulder to shoulder we have fought it out, but the wild must win in the end.”

The Wild.

Robert Service became my favorite poet. I bought collections of his work. I quoted him in my second novel. Then, about ten years ago, my uncle gave me a packet of letters he’d found that my father had written to his Aunt Marguerite during his time stationed on Kodiak Island. He’d been romancing a girl there, and her father had taken a liking to mine. The man had given my father a book that had become my father’s favorite…a collection of poetry by Robert Service.

Full circle.

It’s all wrapped up in one strange cycle for me. Jack London. Robert Service. My father and me.

Back to that Thai restaurant in Toronto and someone says vampire polar bears and all of this goes through my head in a single moment. I look at Tim and say something about how we could do that. Jack London in the Yukon fighting vampire polar bears. Tim says we could do a whole series of them, a trilogy. I say: The Secret Journeys of Jack London.

Because, you see, he loves Jack London, too. He has had the same childhood imaginings of adventures in the frozen north and the grim and determined men of the Yukon and the noble wisdom of wolves. And we both love monsters.

The story started to grow right then, for both of us. After dinner, we walked back to the convention hotel, plotting Jack’s adventures. I think, in that moment, we were both twelve years old again. As adults, going back and rereading the works of Jack London, we’ve discovered even greater depth than we had seen as kids, though I believe we both recognized the power of Jack London’s themes even then.

So we collaborated.

I know, I know. We’re the weird things behind the glass museum case. How does it work? We plot together and we talk—a lot. We started with an outline and then one of us starts writing, does the first chapter and sends it to the other. We get on the phone again (well, on Skype) and talk about the chapter, and then what needs to come next, how far the next chapter should take us, how much we should keep to or stray from our outline, and then whoever is next at bat takes the next chapter.

And it grows. Like that.

It’s The Secret Journeys of Jack London. The first book is The Wild, and that’s out now.

VOYA and Booklist love it, and we love them for loving it, because it’s meant a great deal to us. It’s come from a very personal place that collaborations sometimes don’t come from.

The second book is The Sea Wolves. We’re starting the third one soon. White Fangs. And yep…vampire polar bears.

See, even though these are Jack’s journeys, they’re our journeys, too. And we’re loving every minute of them. [Christopher pictured.]

Maybe some of you still have that curious expression on your faces, wondering how two authors collaborate on a novel together.

Maybe for some of you, I haven’t explained it well enough because I haven’t gone into the mechanics of it thoroughly.

But, really, it isn’t about mechanics, and when it comes to how two writers can create a shared vision, I think I’ve explained it perfectly.

Cynsational Notes

The Princess Bride by William Goldman (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973) was adapted into a film of the same name in 1987.

This video features celebrated comic artist Mike Mignola (Hellboy) and award-winning novelist Christopher Golden, talking their illustrated novel, Baltimore (Random House, 2007).

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Guest Post: Christine Brodien-Jones on Writing Scary But Not Too Scary for ‘Tweens

“If you look up before you get the light on, It will be there.
"The Thing. The terrible Thing waiting at the top of the stairs.”
--Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity (1990)

By Christine Brodien-Jones

Shortly after Cynthia invited me to write a guest post, I was cleaning out a filing cabinet and ran across my old stories from elementary school. They confirmed what I already knew: I’ve always loved writing tales that terrify and scare.

I grew up reading myths, fairy tales and fantasy. I was a fan of horror movies. Not surprisingly, these influences—vampires, mummies, ghosts, monsters—followed me into adulthood. They began turning up in my fiction.

When writing fantasy for young readers, I find myself revisiting those old frights. Evoking the altered insects in sci-fi films like “Them!” (1954)(ants mutating into man-eating monsters), I created the Usk Beetles in The Dreamkeepers (Macmillan, 1992) and giant scorpions in The Scorpions of Zahir (Delacorte, 2012).

If I think about readers of my books, I imagine Megan, eleven years, sitting under a tree reading her favorite novel, The Magician by Michael Scott (Random House, 2008).

Megan has a child’s sense of wonder and a teen’s rebellious yearnings—and she adores old-fashioned adventures with heroines who save the world. At eleven, she’s at that magical in-between age of the ‘tween, a marketing concept that wasn’t around a generation ago. Maybe what draws her to fantasy is a wish to be brave: by confronting imaginary monsters she slays her own demons.

But Megan, dreamily turning the pages, isn’t concerned about conquering her fears. Her head is filled with incantations, leygates and immortal elixirs. She’s on Chapter Three, lost inside her own adventure, waiting for the magic to take her down a road she’s never traveled, to strange and wondrous lands.

And she doesn’t mind getting a little scared along the way.

I grew up in a house where the stairs creaked at night and I knew someone—or something—was making its way up. I still shudder at the memory. If you write what scares you, it may just happen—what my husband calls a ‘goosebump’ moment, what some British fuddy-duddies call ‘getting the collywobbles’: that delicious instant when the hairs prickle on your neck, your stomach goes hollow and you feel a catch in your throat.

Images from books haunted me as a child, long after I closed the covers: Kay’s heart turning to a lump of ice in Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, Bluebeard’s wife unlocking the forbidden door, Meg Murry’s confrontation with IT in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (FSG, 1962). “The wolves are running,” says the old man to Kay Harker on the train in The Box of Delights by John Masefield (Heinemann, 1935). I still go shivery, recalling that phrase.

‘Goosebump’ moments in my book The Owl Keeper (Delacorte, 2010) occur when Max sees the misshapens (genetic experiments gone wrong) approaching the house where he and Rose are hiding, and also when a plague wolf surprises the two children inside a tower, just when they thought they were safe.

Fantasy storylines are sometimes dark—but not too dark for younger ‘tweens. Many authors use humor to take the edge off the scary parts, as in Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl (Viking, 2001) books, Suzanne CollinsGregor the Overlander (Scholastic, 2004) series, and The Witches by Roald Dahl (Cape, 1983)(amusing book, but those witches are fearsome).

There’s a fine line between ‘goosebump’ and horrific.

My editor Krista Marino discouraged me from having the scientists in The Owl Keeper extract the eyes of mutant skræks, saying it was too frightening for young readers. I later remembered my ten-year-old son’s nightmares after reading John BellairsEyes of the Killer Robot (1986), where a scientist tries to take out Johnny Dixon’s eyes. Shudder!

When describing hopeless situations, things can be bleak but not totally without hope.

Certainly there can be loss, tragedy, even death, but for ’tweens fantasy books tend to have upbeat endings. And hope, according to Lloyd Alexander, author of The Chronicles of Prydain (Henry Holt, 1964-1968), “is an essential thread in the fabric of all fantasies.”

‘Tween reader Megan turns the page, shivering as her heroine flees the Dark Elders. The magic is working, the world needs saving. I watch (from behind my computer screen) as she disappears into Chapter Four.

Cynsational Notes

Christine Brodien-Jones, a graduate of Emerson College, Boston, is a former teacher and editor, and lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband Peter.

Her post-apocalyptic children's fantasy, The Owl Keeper (Delacorte, 2010) comes out in paperback (Random House Yearling) in April 2011 and has been licensed to Scholastic Book Club for Fall 2011.

The Scorpions of Zahir (Delacorte), an adventure/fantasy set in Morocco, will be published in Summer 2012.

She is represented by Stephen Fraser of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of The Owl Keeper by Christine Brodien-Jones (Delacorte, 2010). First prize: a hardcover copy. Second and third prize: paperback copies. To enter the giveaway, comment here or email me (scroll and click envelope) and type "Owl Keeper" in the subject line. Note: if you comment, be sure to include an email address (or link to one) where you can be reached. Deadline: midnight CST May 27. Note: Author sponsored; U.S./Canada entries only.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Author Interview: Tracey Turner on Dreadful Fates: What a Shocking Way to Go!

Tracey Turner on Tracey Turner: "I’ve written 30 or so nonfiction books, nearly all of them for children and all of them with some element of humour. Subjects range from biographies of famous writers to the history of the universe to weird phenomena to dinosaurs.

"I’ve also written fiction under pseudonyms for U.K. fiction packagers Hothouse and Working Partners, and I plan to write my own fiction, too (though it’s proving more difficult than I’d thought!).

"I live in Bath, in the southwest of England, with Tom and our son, Toby."

Congratulations on the release of Dreadful Fates: What a Shocking Way to Go! illustrated by Sally Kindberg (Kids Can, 2011)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

Thank you, I’m delighted the book’s being published in Canada and the United States.

People are often surprised when I tell them I’ve written a book about death – Dreadful Fates is about the amazing, surprising and sometimes ironic ways in which people have died, as well as the people whose bodies have gone on to have adventures of their own long after death.

There are also some unusual funerals, last words and epitaphs.

Could you give us an example or two?

My favourites are the people who died laughing – it’s difficult to imagine what could be that funny, but apparently a 1970s comedy sketch show and "The Beggar’s Opera" have both been responsible.

I also like the Swedish sweet salesman who was buried in a chocolate coffin, the man who tripped over his own beard, the voyages of Oliver Cromwell’s head, and the Greek philosopher who is supposed to have died from lack of sleep because he couldn’t stop puzzling over the liar paradox…I could go on, but I’ll control myself.

What about this topic appealed to you, and why did you think it would be a great fit for young readers?

I was listening to the radio and heard the story of Aeschylus (the Greek dramatist) being killed by a plummeting tortoise dropped by an eagle. It’s the kind of thing I find funny (hmm…), and I did a bit of research and realised there are hundreds of wonderful stories like that.

For example, Sally Kindberg, who illustrated the book, told me about the driving instructor who was killed when a monk fell on him (the monk had been repairing the guttering – apparently he made a full recovery). I’ve learned that what makes me laugh often makes children laugh too – and the stories in Dreadful Fates have proved to be no exception.

How did you go about making arguably morbid content so kid friendly?

Death is part of life, as I found myself explaining to my young son, and I don’t see any reason why elements of it shouldn’t be funny sometimes.

I didn’t feel I had to work hard to make the stories kid-friendly, I just chose examples that I thought were funny, rather than simply horrible.

Could you tell us about your research process? What were the biggest challenges?

The idea was bobbing around in my head for ages, so I had a long time to amass a long list from which to start researching – the list included things from the radio and friends’ stories (as in the two examples above) as well as things I’d read or remembered from long-ago history lessons. I did most of my research online, with many trips to the library.

Several books proved very useful, especially the wonderful The Dying Game: A Curious History of Death by Melanie King (Oneworld, 2008).

I think the biggest challenge was working out how to organise the material.

The greatest coup(s)?

Some stories became more fascinating the more digging I did. Aeschylus and the tortoise is a good example of that: I found out about bearded vultures and their seldom-seen practice of dropping tortoises on rocks to break the shells. And I liked the twist in the tale: according to Pliny, the reason Aeschylus was out in the open that day was because of a prediction that he’d die when a house fell on him (which it did, if you think of a tortoise’s shell as its house).

How did the format/vision for the book come together?

I’d spoken to Sally Kindberg about it, and she was keen to illustrate it, so I’d always envisaged it with her lovely pictures. I’d imagined straightforward black-and-white, B-format paperback, but the publishers (A&C Black) wanted to try a more unusual format: it’s tall and thin with cover flaps and Sally’s pictures are two-colour (red and black).

I especially like the introduction of colour – the red works really well with Sally’s pictures.

What did Saly Kinderberg's illustrations bring to your text?

I love Sally’s work – in fact we’ve worked together on several books, including the Comic Strip series. She has a great sense of humour, and her drawings often have an element of the absurd, which is just right for Dreadful Fates.

What advice do you have for beginner children's nonfiction writers?

Real enthusiasm for your subject, whatever it is, always shines through.

Plus, always archive your research notes!

What can your fans look forward to next?

Published on April 7 is How to Make Stonehenge out of Biscuits: A Year’s Worth of Crazy Ideas (Scholastic, 2011).

Coming out in the autumn are The Comic Strip Big Fat Book of Knowledge (Bloomsbury, 2011), which includes The Comic Strip History of the World, History of Space, and Greatest Greek Myths, and How to Tell a Warlock from a Wizard: Life-saving Differences You Need to Know.

Next year there’s the Comic Strip Age of the Dinosaurs, which I’m most excited about because I’m working on it now.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Agent Interview: Erzsi Deàk on Hen & Ink Literary

A journalist for ages, and a "maman poule" (mother hen) for forever, Erzsi Deàk launched Hen & Ink Literary when a golden egg presented itself in the guise of Siobhan Curham's Dear Dylan in November 2010.

In her earlier incarnations, Erzsi covered fashion and children's features from Alaska to San Francisco to Paris. She has tramped the Alaska Pipeline looking for environmental problems, worked as a camp counselor, managing the craft hut, and always as a writer.

In addition to writing about flowering spaces and urban fowl, Erzsi scouts for great literary works for the French publishers, Editions de La Martinière Jeunesse and Le Seuil Jeunesse, part of the La Martinière Groupe. She also edits the SCBWI Bulletin "Here, There, Everywhere" column that shines a light on children's books around the world.

But her bright and shiny project is Hen & Ink Literary and her favorite food may very well be most things starting with A, or at least artichokes and avocados.

What led you to specialize in youth literature? Could you give us a snapshot of your career?

Whether working in a bookstore and spending all my earned income on children's books (I might possibly have been the store's best client...), studying children's lit at the University of Oregon, or writing my own stories, I have always been attracted and involved in children's books on some level.

Risking the vampire analogies, this was definitely a vein of literature I tapped into early on! And that was before YA officially existed.

Prior to my job at the bookstore, I bought out the Scholastic Book Club's pregnant-girl books -- all of them (think: Mr. & Mrs. Bo Jo Jones by Ann Head (Signet, 1968); Too Bad About the Haines Girl by Zoa Sherburne (William Morrow, 1967); My Darling, My Hamburger by Paul Zindel (HarperTrophy, 1969)-- those were the days, eh!?

Now we have doom and gloom/shadows and darkness, and in those days it was the ideally vicarious thrill of someone else's mistakes in broad daylight (and The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (Viking, 1967)) that provided the shiver. But I digress.

My career has been very outside the box. While working at the bookstore, I also worked at the Fairbanks News-Miner as the Youth Page Editor. Then I took advantage of that money-making machine, the Alaska Pipeline.

I worked in television after college (NBC in New York) and was thankful to escape to the Bay Area, where I worked in advertising before moving to France. There, I wrote articles on the fashion world for small rags in the Bay Area (my front page article for the San Jose Mercury-News Travel Section was locked in the post office in the Marais for a couple of weeks due to one of the endless strikes in France; needless to say, the deadline came and went and so, sadly, did my Mercury-News career).

After a stint of price reporting on the petro-chemical industry and some freelance copywriting, I found myself permanently in Paris. In 1996, I launched the SCBWI France chapter, and in 2001 became the international rep for the organization, growing the international presence to some 28 territories and sponsoring projects like the U.K.'s Undiscovered Voices project and eventually organizing and running the SCBWI Bologna conference.

In 2008, I stepped aside to let Kathleen Ahrens and Angela Cerrito run with the international baton, and in 2009, I teamed up with La Martiniere Groupe, building their new DLMJ list of imported titles. Today, I still work with them on two imprints, DLMJ and Le Seuil Jeunesse.

And then came Dear Dylan. I'd been thinking about agenting for 20+ years, but being in Paris and having a resume that wasn't exactly a straight ladder, I'd hesitated.

But no more! Response has been very supportive, and we're clucking happily here at Hen & Ink.

What inspired you to become a literary agent?

I've always been an advocate for others (in high school I actually wanted to be a labor negotiator!), so agenting is an extension of this. Being an agent allows me to shout about projects and people I love but to also work with said projects and people to get them to that "lovable" point.

Working only as a consultant and scout with the French publisher, I missed the pulse of hand-on editorial work. Agenting allows me to fluff my mother hen feathers and sharpen my red pencil.

Why found your own agency instead of joining an existing one?

I'd happily have joined an agency a few years ago, but after working independently and across various oceans, it wasn't likely to happen.

It's like the actress who wants to play Scarlet and dresses like Dorothy for the audition: she won't get the role of Scarlet, she might get the role of Dorothy.

Imaginations can be limited, so if on paper, you look one way, many won't stretch to see you might be that square peg/round hole mix.

How does Hen & Ink stand out from other literary agencies? What makes it special?

I like to say that Hen & Ink is a literary studio with a twist. We aim to work in the traditional publishing arena, but also to encourage and develop work across cultural borders, genres, and media, bringing my 25+ years experience on the international stage, connecting individuals and companies with those around the globe who can make things happen – no matter where you find yourself.

I meet often with publishers in the U.S. and U.K. and aggressively market domestic and foreign rights, attending the Bologna, London and Frankfurt rights fairs. I see Hen & Ink as an opportunity to push the boundaries of our ever-changing transmedia world and connecting people across borders and genres. I'm particularly excited about our growing partnerships, a loose consortium of companies and individuals there to meet the needs of our clients.

(Partners include SheepSpot Creative, which creates book trailers and more, and Raab Associates, which specializes in children's-YA book marketing and publicity.)

How long have you been in publishing? In your view, how has the industry changed?

Depends on what you consider "in publishing." As Richard Nash recently said at the Writer's Digest conference in January, "The business of writing is the business of reading."

I'd say that I've always been in it, either as a reader, bookseller, writer, editor, networker, editorial consultant, scout, and now as an agent.

Would you describe yourself as an editorial agent, one who comments on manuscripts, or one who concentrates more exclusively on publishing issues? Why?

Both. I love the brainstorming and process of working with an author and a project, but I like finding the perfect fit between publisher and author (and working the contract).

Is your approach more manuscript by manuscript or do you see yourself as more of a career builder? Why?

Career builder. I'm not interested in one-off projects -- if I can avoid them. I want to work with creators for a long, long time, building strong foundations and chateaux (castles) in the world of children's literature!

I like the dedicated concentration, and I like the commitment on both sides. I also like seeing great books find their readers.

Will you be providing promotional support to your author/clients?

As much as possible. We are creating a blog for the clients to participate in, providing creative options for promotion via our partnerships and generally, talking up our people!

What do you see as the ingredients for a "breakout" book in terms of commercial success, literary acclaim or both?

Outside of good crystal ball, I think it's the usual: Amazing voice, language and plotting. To find the sweet spot of what makes for a commercial literary gem is the goal.

But I'd add, serious honesty in the prose, an ability to use social media to the best end and not being too shy to talk about oneself.

The world is a loud place these days, and each author/illustrator needs to find her/his own voice and make sure it is heard above the clamor.

It's rare that an author may be allowed to be retiring or shy and assured of any kind of success.

I just hope authors can allow themselves the luxury to actually create amid the noise.

What sorts of manuscripts appeal to you?

Basically, well-written, well-crafted, well-worked books that are not didactic. I respond well to work of any kind that is balanced with a sense of urgency and humor and takes the reader on an adventure -- whether in the literal sense or in the emotional sense.

I want to feel and be touched by the work, laughing, crying, sighing, guffawing, gnawing. I suppose I'm looking for work that makes me feel alive as a reader. Even if I'm sitting in an armchair or lying on a beach towel.

That said, I invite those who might wish to submit to check out my submissions guidelines, as there are a few things, but particularly picture books or poetic mood pieces of over 1000 words can send me round the bend.

More specifically in the positive, I'm open to sparely-written picture books through adult, with a focus on children's and YA/crossover.

I like graphic novels. I don't care where the setting is, nor what color the protagonist is as long as its a compelling story and the setting and race make sense.

Genre? By the time this is read, it's probably time time to find a new genre. The thriller is a big deal now, and not just because of that dragon tattoo.

I'd love to find an exciting thriller-romance (and if you've dared right an unexciting thriller-romance...) that breaks barriers and builds worlds and just generally kicks proverbial you-know-what.

Do you also work with author-illustrators? Illustrators?

I work with author-illustrators.

Are you accepting queries? With or without a referral? If so, what do you require, and what's the best way for a prospective client to get in touch with you?

Please note that queries over 500 words will not be considered. I'm asking that authors query first in a succinct way and only send their work when requested.

Normally, I accept queries from October to May of each year and am closed to queries from May to September. However, in 2011, I'm accepting queries until June 15 (and thus, will be closed from June 15 to September 2011).

Do you have any additional submissions preferences or pet peeves?

Not addressing specifically to me or Hen & Ink (i.e., just writing the email like it's a shopping list).

Not signing with a real name (in other words, leaving me to divine who you are).

Not following the guidelines. By trying to blaze their own path, these people slow it down for everyone else, so I've sadly had to just toss those that don't follow the guidelines, risking missing out on great stuff, but the volume is far to high to do otherwise.

It's a little like "Do not pass go."

How much contact do you plan to have with your clients? What's your preference--emails, phone calls, a listserv? What kind of relationship are you looking to build and why?

I'm all about communication and making sure each client feels heard and tended! Email is the best for now though I communicate by phone if necessary. I'm looking to build a strong professional-relationship-verging-on-friendship. A definite working marriage!

As a reader, which children's-YA books have you enjoyed lately and why?

My current list of favorite reads includes Siobhan's recent books to come out with Egmont and these titles:

Is there anything you would like to add?

The support for Hen & Ink from all arenas has been great. The children's book world is no longer a small pond, and, as the airlines say, you could choose to fly with someone else.

I very much appreciate those who choose to fly with Hen & Ink -- whether they be creators or publishers.

Cynsational Notes

See also A Chat with a Cool Chick Erzsi Deàk on Hen & Ink from Melissa Buron.

Erzsi will be speaking on "Pitching Your Work in the Global Market" at 10:45 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 7 at the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. Peek: "Hitting the high notes -- pitches that stop traffic (and create contracts). A mini workshop for writers, illustrators, and anyone who needs to pitch – and sell – a project in under three minutes. What works and what doesn't from New York to Bologna and back again. Bring your pitches and be ready to sell us on your ideas – with or without Colin Firth in the starring role."

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...