Saturday, February 28, 2009

Troll Chemistry

As an Oregonian by way of Wisconsin, my father is an avid outdoorsman. While growing up, I managed to avoid the deer and duck hunting trips that my sister endured but I did have to spend a fair amount of time in a boat at dawn fishing for trout. I actually enjoyed fishing; I liked the quiet, the mist, and the mirror-like water at that time of day. But, just as some girls lose interest in family activities when they discover boys, my interest waned when I discovered Trolls.

I wasn’t a big doll person, maybe because my Barbies would most often end up dismembered at the hands of my doll-hating sister and then thrown over the pasture fence for the horses to drop loads on. But I'll never forget seeing my first Troll—it was love at first sight. I started the acquisitions process immediately and soon had a full family of dayglo-haired playmates. I cleared the hooks and swivels and leader line out my tackle box and replaced it with Trolls and the empty match boxes, corks, jewelry cases, and other cast offs that became fantastic Troll World furniture. I remember combing the house for Troll accouterments—the puffy cotton I stole from the top of prescription bottles made for excellent pillows and costume-jewelry brooches became elegant door knockers on stacked-shoebox Troll apartments.

Why the instant connection with Trolls? I can’t quite say. Maybe it was the candy-colored hair, or the welcoming outstretched arms, or perhaps the stubby, jointless limbs that were beyond my sister's doll amputation skills. Can true love be explained? Not really. It’s a chemistry thing. Those Trolls and I had instant chemistry.

I found this love was shared by my cousins as well. When Aunt Judy and Uncle Keith would come up from San Francisco with cousins Chris and Jeff, we’d always head up to the lake for some fishing. But after I had discovered Trolls, we’d talk our parents into dropping us off on a small island in the middle of the lake while they fished. All we needed was a bag of sandwiches, a cooler full of Shasta Tiki Punch, and my tricked-out Troll tackle box. Untroubled by adults, the four of us would spend the day alone on the island in the blazing sun creating lagoons, quarries, entire mud villages for the trolls. It was bliss. I’d pay a lot of money for some sort of holodeck-type experience to revisit Troll Island.

A few months ago, I received a troll with hazmat-orange hair in the mail from my cousin Jeff. My kids don’t see the allure, they prefer to build build their tiny worlds for a cute but charmless Calico Critters mouse family, so happily the troll is mine. All mine! Though I do restrain myself from emptying out an old tackle box to fill with Troll World material, I must admit I do look twice when I see a particularly trollworthy box going into the recycling bin.

I don’t think any toy ever measured up to my Trolls. Any similar toy love stories out there?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Debunking an Urban Myth: Interview with Author Christina Diaz Gonzalez

There’s an urban myth about writing conferences and it goes like this, “My cousin’s wife’s best friend just started a novel and took a few pages to a writers conference and just happened to get paired with one of the top editors in the country and the editor loved the pitch and offered to acquire the book right then and there!” It’s the promise of this myth that keeps us paying a several hundred bucks a year to attend conferences. Because I always lean toward conspiracy theories, I'd suspected this urban myth was planted and spread by conference managers in order to keep their numbers up. Then along comes Christina Diaz Gonzalez. Guess what? She went to an SCBWI conference, pitched a novel based on a couple of chapters and then:

Nancy Siscoe at Knopf bought world rights to a debut novel by Christina Diaz Gonzalez titled The Red Umbrella, a coming-of-age tale about a 14-year-old Cuban girl sent to the U.S. in 1961 as part of the largest exodus of unaccompanied minors in the Western hemisphere. It is loosely based on the experience of the author's parents and that of the 14,000 children who were part of Operation Pedro Pan. Gonzalez, an attorney, negotiated her own deal, and Siscoe plans to publish in spring 2010.

As if being in the rarefied company of people who make deals at conferences were not enough, she also negotiated her own deal! Ouch, salt in the wound!

So let’s get to it: Can you please tell us how you got your deal with Knopf without an agent?
I met my wonderful editor at an SCBWI conference in Orlando last year. She critiqued the first ten pages of my novel and immediately told me that it was something she’d like to acquire. The rest of our critique time was spent discussing Knopf, the fabulous writers they have published and how well I would fit with them. (Yes, clearly my head was swirling after the word “acquire” was spoken and everything else seemed to be clouded in a beautiful haze). When I got up from the critique (a little dizzy), I realized that I needed to get home and finish writing the darn book so I could send it out!

I love the story about how you had interest from another editor through Facebook, can you share that here?
Well, after the interest expressed at the SCBWI conference, I went home and finished the book (revisions and all) in about six weeks. I only had the first few chapters written when I went to conference so I became a writing maniac. After sending the manuscript to the editor I’d met at the conference and with some down time on my hands, I joined Facebook. I friended people in the industry including a couple of editors I’d met at other past conferences. Then I got a message from an editor who wanted to commiserate about the heat in New York and the heat in Miami. She asked what I was up to and so I told her about the novel I’d just finished. She was instantly interested and asked me to e-mail it to her asap. I was surprised, but did it. By the end of that month, I had two editors from big publishing houses interested in the manuscript. I negotiated my contract and decided to go with Knopf.

Is negotiating your own deal as daunting as it seems to writers?
Yes and no. I’m a recovering attorney so contracts don’t intimidate me. However, this was my first book and I was so thrilled that it was still a bit overwhelming. I wasn’t opposed to the idea of having an agent, I just didn’t think that everything would happen so fast. I can see how having one would help.

How was it to see your editor and publishing team in NY last week? What was the highlight?
It was wonderful to see my editor again and be able to meet so many of the people who will be working on my book. I was thrilled to learn that others already knew of my book and were waiting for it to be in final form so they could start either doing the cover art or planning publicity or just be able to read it. They really made me feel like a rock star. A highlight was leaving the building knowing that I had definitely found the perfect place for my book.

Your book sold in 2008 and your pub date is Spring 2010, can you tell us where in the process you are now?
It’s actually summer 2010 (although May seems like a likely date). – Last month I sent in my first round of revisions and, after speaking with my editor, she seems very happy with them and only expects very minor tweaks. Yay! In the next few months, my cover should be designed and ready so it only gets more exciting from here.

I read you grew up in a small Southern town, how small was it?
Well, when my large extended family (think of the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding except everyone is Cuban) would come up from Miami to visit, they would double the town’s population. Okay, that’s not really true, but it did feel like it sometimes. The town was the county seat (you know it’s small when it’s referred to as the county seat) and we didn’t get a McDonald’s until I was about 10. But I loved it! It was a very idyllic setting to grow up in. I’m not sure if I could live there now (I’m a “big-city” girl now), but I would definitely go there for some R&R.

Do you have any other manuscripts in the works right now?
Yes. I’m writing a historical novel about a family that is torn apart because of outside influences and yet they never lose their connection to each other. It is a multi-generational story that begins in the Basque countryside of Spain in 1915 and ends in 1960’s New York. It’s a love story, adventure tale and coming-of-age novel all rolled into one!

What are your words of wisdom or nuggets of advice for writers?
Ackk! I am too new at this to have words of wisdom, but I will give some free advice (you get what you pay for). Get involved with critique groups and your writing community (local and internet based). It will help you network and make you a much better writer-- plus you’ll probably find some really great friends along the way!

Amazing story of publication, Christina! Thanks for the interview. Christina has a LiveJournal blog (check it out for details of her recent trip to NYC to meet the Knopf gang) and tweets on Twitter. And in a week or so she’ll have her website live, so check it out! She’s the real deal, the debunker of the urban myth!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cougar Barbie

Don't Stop Believin', Barbie!

Thanks Mattson!

Put a Fork In It

I did it! I finished the manuscript. And, as usual, the minute I typed the last word I thought the whole book was crap. There's something broken in my brain.

So, for fun today, I bring you the Facebook craze that's sweeping the nation: Debut Album. It's fun and easy to play! Here's mine:

1 -Click here: The first random Wikipedia article you get is t he name of your band.

2 - Click here: The last four or five words of the very last quote of the page is the title of your first album.

3 - Click here: ht tp:// The third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

4 - I slapped mine together in Word, but if you want to get fancy you can use Photoshop or

If you release your debut album, please paste a link to it in the comments section. Some of these are amazingly cool.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Chasing the Ending

Today I’m going to finish a manuscript. This is the one I’ve been saying I’m going to finish for weeks now. I’ve been chasing the ending and not finding it. You know when the grocery list blows out of your hand in the parking lot and you run after it but every time you think you’ve got it cornered the wind blows and it flies away again? I’m in that place where I’m going to pounce on it, and finally get it. If the wind stays calm.

Then comes the terrifying part: sending it to my agent. In addition to knowing the market so well, Laura Rennert has a Ph.D in English. This means every time I send her anything I cringe. (As does she.)

I promise you tomorrow’s blog will say: I’m done!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tenacity and Talent: An Interview with Author Becca Fitzpatrick

Becca Fitzpatrick is tenacious. I encourage all writers who are afraid to trash sentences, paragraphs, even chapters that aren’t working to go to Becca’s webiste and read the Bio section. This part, in particular, floored me: “Even though it's embarrassing to admit, I probably have two thousand pages of deleted scenes, which is a nice way of saying unbelievably sucky scenes that were at one time, actually part of the book. Today, chapter one is the only part of the book that survived five years of rewriting.” Now that's a woman who believes in her story—and that's a woman with a two-book deal. Coincidence? I think not.

Here’s Becca’s deal report from Publishers Marketplace:

Becca Ajoy Fitzpatrick's HUSH, HUSH, a sexy and dangerous romance about a teenage girl who falls in love with a fallen angel with a dark agenda to get his wings back, to Emily Meehan at Simon & Schuster Children's, in a two-book deal, for publication in Spring 2010, by Catherine Drayton at InkWell Management.

Hi Becca, can you please tell us how you met your agent?
I found my agent, Catherine Drayton, by chance on The Universe was being especially nice to me, I suppose! The day after Catherine requested sample chapters, I received an offer of representation from another agent, and Catherine promptly threw her hat into the ring. Despite what I always believed, having more than one offer is an extremely uncomfortable place to be. In the end, my heart made the decision, and I told Catherine, "Let's do this!"

How did the story that became HUSH HUSH come to you, and how long did it take you to write?
I feel like I've been collecting pieces of HUSH HUSH my whole life, but three instances in particular stand out. When I was in third grade, I discovered Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. I kept a flashlight under my bed, and every night I read about the mysterious and frightening adventures of my favorite girl sleuths. I'm pretty sure all those hours spent reading mysteries played a role in my desire to write them! Also, I remember reading the Bible one day and coming across a passage of scripture in Genesis that talks about fallen angels. I experienced a Eureka! moment, and the sexy bad boy fallen angel in my book got his first breath of life.

Finally, in March 2008 I drove to Denver with two friends, Laura and Katie, to attend Left Coast Crime, a conference for mystery, suspense and thriller writers. I left the conference high on forensics, murder and crime and set about writing a sexy, sizzling mystery novel that would become HUSH HUSH. From first draft to book deal took five (yes, five!) years.

You sold your book in 2008, you pub date is spring 2010, can you tell us where in the process you are now?
Over Christmas break, I spent three intense weeks revising for my (brilliant!) editor. Next week I'm expecting line edits. Fun times!

Do you listen to music while writing? If so, what kind?
I was wondering if you'd ask that! Actually, there must be something wrong with my brain because I can't write with background noise. I do, however, listen to music when I'm plotting, and most of my plotting happens when I'm working out. Being the mother of two small children, I have to multi task as much as possible. If you spot me out running in the morning, there's a good chance I'm plotting my next scene/chapter/novel. I listen to a lot of everything, from classic rock to movie soundtracks.

You signed a two-book deal, is the second book a sequel or a standalone? Have you started it?
The second book is a sequel. I was never very good at the whole procrastination thing, so yes, I've started it. In fact, I'm close to finishing the first draft! Writing the sequel has been a blast, because I finally feel like I know what I'm doing. Both HUSH HUSH and the sequel are mysteries, which requires a lot of intricate plotting and twisting. The phrase, "Nothing is what it seems" is always at the forefront of my mind when writing.

Tell us about your exciting foreign rights sales! How many countries has your agent sold to at this point?
Life is definitely unpredictable! If you'd asked me a year ago if I thought I'd be published, let alone selling across the globe, I would have laughed myself sore! InkWell has an unbelievable foreign rights sales force, and so far they've sold HUSH HUSH in The United Kingdom, Brazil, Germany, France, Japan, Holland and Taiwan. It really is exciting to think I'll have the chance to entertain readers all over the world!

Do you have any words of wisdom or nuggets of advice for aspiring writers?
Look for opportunities to learn from criticism. Keep a journal, and write in it daily. Be true to your story, but also be true to yourself. Oh, and read—it's brain candy.

Becca has all her webtastic bases covered: Website, LiveJournal, Myspace and Facebook.

Thanks for the interview, Becca. We’re looking forward to seeing your book with all those international covers!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Taking Slacking to a Whole New Level: Interview with Trish Doller

Trish Doller (rhymes with roller) is all about the slacking; she says slacking is her favorite pastime and, of course, her favorite band is The Slackers. But I need to know what brand of slacking allows a person to have seven manuscripts in the works at one time! Yes, people, in addition to having sold a book, Trish has seven projects in various stages of completion! I wanna slack like that.

Tish’s debut book is called My Way or the Highway and it will be published by Delacorte Press/Random House in Summer 2010. Here's the synopsis:

After getting caught cheating on her U.S. History final, seventeen-year-old Jacey Lowell will not be spending three weeks in Europe with her friends. Instead, she's been sentenced to two weeks aboard the eXtreme Teen Tour charter bus, which offers "an unforgettable adventure at some of our nation's greatest historical landmarks". (Or so the brochure says.)

Jacey has no interest in bonding with her eXtreme Teen tour mates and even less interest (yes, it's possible) in seeing historical sites. But when the tour (and her luggage) leaves her behind in New York City, Jacey's boring bus ride turns into a cross-country adventure that takes her places she's never been before.

Trish, can you please tell us how you met your agent?
When I started the query process, I read somewhere that a good place to look for prospective agents is in the acknowledgments of your favorite books. My favorite YA author is Maureen Johnson, so I tracked down the true identity of superagent Daphne Unfeasible (a.k.a. Kate Schafer-Testerman) and sent off a query letter. Although three other agents had the full and one offered representation, I held out for Kate. It was totally worth it because she's awesome!

Did your agent go straight for Delacorte or did your manuscript go out to other houses?
Delacorte was one of four publishers in our first round of submissions. The other three houses ultimately passed, but it only takes one offer, right?!

I read that you started My Way Or The Highway as a NaNoWriMo project. How long did it take you to write from start to finish?
Ooh, this is my favorite "writerly" story! I started My Way or the Highway on November 1, 2006 and about a week into NaNo it was pretty clear I wouldn't be finished by the end of the month. But, I knew this was a story that I WOULD finish.

Fast forward to July 2007. My father-in-law was getting remarried and I was supposed to be getting packed for my flight to Ohio. Except I was about THISCLOSE to finishing the book. So I was packing and brainstorming and printing off a hard copy--as my friend Katy was looking at her watch going, "Trish, if we don't leave soon, you're going to miss your flight." When I got to the airport, I realized I hadn't packed a notebook. (I know!) So I bought a little tablet and wrote the last lines right there in the waiting area.

I took the next couple of months to polish, but my "official" time was about eight months from the first word to the last.

Do you have a firm publication date yet? Where are you in the process of writing/revising?
I am still revising, so I don't have a publication date yet. We're tentatively slated for Summer 2010, but I just got a new editor so that might change after she has a look at what I've been doing. Or not doing, as the case may be.

If you could have any superhero power, what would it be?
I'd have the ability to be two places at once. The "real" me would spend my time writing, goofing off, hanging with the kids, traveling—basically all the fun stuff—while the "clone" me would do the chores and go to work. It's not as exciting as being able to fly or being invisible, but if you had any idea the intensity of my dislike for work and the enormity of my ability to slack...well, it's the perfect power for me.

Do you have any other manuscripts in the works?
I have seven other projects going right now in various stages of incomplete, but Kate and I recently agreed a couple of contemporary YA ideas are the best follow-ups to My Way or the Highway. So my next will probably be a book called Breaking Rule #2.

What are your words of wisdom or nuggets of advice for aspiring writers?
I suspect if I say "read a lot" and "write a lot" I probably will be repeating what other writers have said. And they're not wrong. Everything you read and write adds to your experience and knowledge as a writer.

So my advice is this: Invest in a good dictionary and a style book like Strunk & White. No matter how good your story idea, it's not going to catch anyone's attention if your spelling and grammar aren't as strong as can be. Does it need to be perfect? No. But it's sort of like showing up to NFL tryouts when you've only played pick-up games with your friends behind school. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to bring your A-game.

Excellent advice, Trish! Thanks so much for the interview.

Trish is superwired: she has a blog and a very cool website (check out the forum section for great stuff, including some very good contemporary YA book reviews), plus you can follow her on Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter. (If you become friends on Facebook you get the added bonus of seeing her amazing tattoo.)

Slack on, Trish! It’s definitely working for you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Last night at dinner the kids asked for some funny stories from college. They didn’t eat much after I spun this yarn for them:

August, 1986 Eugene, Oregon
When we were sophomores, a group of girls and I decided to do a summer sublet of a sketchy little house west of campus from some older boys who wanted to keep it for the following year. It was a classic university rental complete with cracking linoleum floors, chipped sinks, and carpet that had been moist for so long that we’d often find mushrooms growing in dark corners.

One night, when we had nothing to do and no money with which to do it, we decided to poke around the house, see if the boys had left anything interesting stashed away—you know, boxes of gold bouillon, or at the least, embarrassing personal items or a six pack. I think it was just four of us, Julie, Tina, Peggy, and me, because MK was always on dates. (Side note to children: going on dates is overrated; you miss all the Good Stuff that happens. So don’t. Date.) The garage on the rental was around the back of the house, which was strange, and meant that we never parked in it or used it in any way. It was about 1:30 in the morning and we were bored and poking around in the mystery garage when we came across a jar, one of those big glass ones for restaurant-sized pepperoncini and mayonnaise. It was covered in dust but inordinately heavy, so we thought maybe we’d discovered someone’s change jar. Bingo! No strangers to scraping up change, we knew a restaurant-sized mayonnaise jar full of it could keep us in Pop Tarts and wine coolers for weeks!

We carried it into the kitchen and rubbed it down with a wet cloth. I think Peggy screamed first. As you may know, when a handful of girls are together late at night and one screams, all hell breaks lose. We all started screaming, each one getting louder than the one before it. It wasn’t until I looked through the smear of wet dust into the jar that I realized why Peggy was screaming: there was a baby in the jar. A baby packed into the jar and surrounded by a clear greenish yellow fluid.

Once we all realized what it was, we started a fresh round of screaming, followed by the phrase/chant that most often follows screaming: ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod!

I’m not sure which one of us geniuses thought to take it to the hospital. It was about 2:00 in the morning by then and we probably thought that showing up at the police station with Bartles & Jaymes on our breath and a baby in a jar might not be the smartest move. What do you do when you can’t go to the police? Take the baby to the hospital, natch!

Peggy didn't want a big jar of unknown fluids seeping out on the velour seats of her '78 Buick Electra so we piled into Tina’s '66 Plymouth Valiant with its pleather seats. [May I digress here and mention that Tina could be guy-level gross in terms of, well, everything, but she was drop-dead gorgeous. You’ve probably seen her: she was chosen as the Black Velvet Girl and graced billboards and magazines worldwide 1988ish, PPB (post pickled baby).]

Tina drove the Valiant exactly as if she was taking an ailing living baby to the hospital, as if having a baby-in-a-jar emergency protected her from being pulled over for reckless driving. It was terrifying. As the person holding Pickled Baby, I expected some of the bile-colored juice to sploosh onto my lap with each corner she squealed around, but happily the thing was sealed tight as a drum.

We got to the hospital—the ER, no less!—and parked right outside the door, emergency style. We were greeted by a jaded clerk who had seen most everything; Sacred Heart was right at the edge of campus and hosted a wide variety of ex-hippie crazy homeless regulars like The Man Who Swallowed Barbie Heads.

I was holding a dish towel around the jar like a curtain on a freak show. When the woman asked who had the emergency I stepped forward, put the jar on the counter, and lowered the towel a bit. “We found this in our garage,” we all whispered. “It’s a rental,” I added. “The house, I mean.”

She put us in a private room to wait, thinking four girls with a pickled baby might be too much for ER patients awaiting triage to handle. I think we expected to have a Doctor show up, maybe do a little forensics à la Quincy, M.E., but instead we got what we were avoiding in the first place: the police.

They took our statement and the jar. Neither was ever seen again.

R.I.P. Pickled Baby. R.I.P.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Gang Leader: An interview with Heidi R. Kling

In 2007 I stumbled across a group of debut YA authors who had banded together to brave the unknown world of having a first book published. At that time I didn’t even have an agent, but the thought of joining this kind of gang excited me almost as much as seeing my name on a book contract. So the minute I had an actual publication date, I started putting out feelers for a gang—I needed a gang! At a conference last summer, Suzanne Young told me she had just joined the Tenners, which had been started by one Heidi R. Kling. I excused myself from the conversation, ran up to my hotel room, and emailed Heidi immediately. Now I am a member of the Tenners gang, and Heidi is the one I salute.

Here’s a synopsis of Heidi’s book, coming Summer 2010 from Putnam:

Emotionally messed up after her mom disappears in a plane over the Indian Ocean, Sienna, a California teenager, reluctantly travels to Indonesia with her trauma psychiatrist father and his Team Hope for a three-week volunteer stint at an orphanage six months after the tsunami. Used to comforts of her cozy, safe live in the U.S., she is horrified by creepy critters in the mondi, the moldy sleeping conditions and goats riding sidecar on motors…until she meets Deni. Haunted, irresistible tsunami survivor, Deni, who is shockingly more like Sea then anyone she has ever met. Unable to resist her feelings for the soulful, damaged boy, Sienna risks everything as she slowly sparks back to life, embracing head-on a thrillingly forbidden journey of the spirit, body and heart. And her real adventure begins.

Can you please tell us how you met your agent?
I met my wonderful agent Sara Crowe through I was given her name by a well-known YA author who thought my synopsis of SEA on myspace sounded good (points for MySpace!) and wanted to know what stage I was at in publishing it. She gave me a short-list of five agents and Sara was on that list!

I queried Sara and she responded right away (same day) requesting a full manuscript. Simultaneously, I had the manuscript out with an interested editor. When the editor emailed me asking for a phone meeting, I emailed Sara who called me a few minutes later offering to represent me.

It was a classic case of good timing. Just so I don't sound like a Cinderella story, which I'm so not, the other four agents I requested that day didn't even request a partial! (Shhh, don't tell anyone.) So that old saying really is true. It just takes one yes!

How did the story that became SEA come to you, and how long did it take you to write?
My husband, a young psychiatrist fresh out of residency, volunteered to spend two weeks at an Indonesian orphanage 6 months after the tsunami. He was utterly changed by the experience of working with these incredible child survivors who witnessed and lived through something we can imagine in our worst nightmares. I was working on another novel at the time and he said, "You should write about this." At first I resisted, thinking I could never pull off such tough material, but then I came up with a character, a smirky and thoughtful American teenager traveling to post-tsunami Indo with her trauma psychiatrist father who had lots of issues of her own. And then I came up with Deni. And this, well, I don't want to sound cheesy, but this really tender and beautiful love story, and I thought, okay this could work.

SEA took three years to complete. I started writing when my son started preschool and treated it like a job. From 9-11:00 each morning I worked on it and on weekends. I did a lot of research on Indonesian culture and religions as well as interviewed tsunami survivors that my husband met, who we still keep it touch with. It was a giant epic project. I wanted to make sure every detail was right. I hope it was right. It will be 5 years from sparkle of idea to publication.

You sold your book in 2007, you pub date is summer 2010, can you tell us where in the process you are now?
Shortly after Sara took me on as a client we sold SEA to Putnam. Summer 2007 with a pre-empt. Very exciting! Originally, my editor told me we were hoping to be penciled in Summer, 09 so I joined debut groups etc. Last May, after I completed a huge line-edit and had just had my baby girl, she told me it would be Summer, 2010.

So basically, I did a lot of work upfront and haven't had any new notes since last May. My line-edits were really extensive. I joked that I got out my chain saw. Ended up cutting about 150 pages off of it! Believe me, I learned my long-winded lesson. So now I'm waiting for the last bit of edits, then we go to copy-edits. My ARC's for SEA are expected to be ready this Fall. Oh, and I started the Tenners, which you know about already.

How would you cast SEA as a movie?
Wow, good question! :)
- Sienna, my MC, would be the actress who plays Julie on Friday Night Lights. She has the perfect mix of soulful thoughtfulness and playful innocence. Plus, she looks just like Sienna in my mind.
- Dr. Andy Jones (Sienna's dad): A tie between George Clooney and Brad Pitt. I keep in close touch with both of them, so it will just be whatever my whim is at the moment. *holds hands up like scales* Brad, George, Brad, George...
- Deni: An Indonesian actor. I love how they cast Slumdog Millionaire. I'd love a smoking hot no-name guy. I have someone in mind, someone we know, but he may be too old by the time the movie is out. And I don't want to do a Andrea Zuckerman type of move and have a 30 year old play a teenager.
- Spider: Riggins from Friday Night Lights. Hands down. =D
- Sienna's mom: Angelina Jolie or me. Again, it will be a hard decision for the casting director. We're both equally talented and sought after for major Hollywood roles, you know. Plus, there's the whole Brad Pitt connection.

Do you have any other manuscripts in the works now?
Yes! My fantasy novel JADE is complete (just last week) and is in my agent's hands now! JADE is the first novel in an urban fantasy series called WITCHEZ & WARLOX about gnomes and trolls. No. It's about witches and warlocks. Teen-aged ones. I can't give too much away but it's a modern battle-of-the-sexes story featuring swordplay, stolen amulets, and ancient grudges. It's told from the alternate points of view of a angsty warlock named Logan, and a kick-ass witch called Lily. I told someone recently that JADE is to my imagination what SEA is to my heart. Fingers crossed it sells quickly and I can give you a release date for JADE too!

What are your words of wisdom or nuggets of advice for aspiring writers?
Advice? Um. I'd say write the book you want to read. I think if you are writing something that you are passionate about, if you truly are in love with your characters and are in love with your story, you have a much better chance of selling it to an agent or an editor, because they can feel your enthusiasm. That said, never ever say to a professional publishing person, "My mom loves it! So does my sister!" Believe me I learned that the hard way. No, I'm kidding, but you know what I mean. Join a writing group either online or in person (I'm in both.) Trust those people. They are smart and savvy. Enjoy the process, don't take yourself too seriously or other people may make fun of you. Just enjoy it, and realize publishing moves at a snail's pace and there's not too much you can do to speed that up. Pay attention to the market but don't be a total trend jumper because you may jump on the trend too late and fall smack on your booty. Oh, and be nice to people. No one likes Blue Meanies. Was that at all helpful?

Incredibly helpful, Heidi! Please check out Heidi’s website, and be sure to stop by and read her blog. But don’t stop there! You can also be virtual BFFs by friending her on Facebook! For you really obsessive types, she’s also on Twitter, Goodreads and Myspace under Heidi R. Kling, and she adds that “by the time 2010 rolls around there will probably be 10 new networking joints I'll also be hanging out in. Oy!” Heidi R. Kling, gang leader extraordinaire, has got it covered.

Thanks for the interview, Heidi. And best of luck shopping JADE, it sounds amazing!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Ten

On the 2010 Authors website we're each supposed to make a list of top 10s. It can be top 10 anything, but all the good topics have been taken (chocolate, movies, etc.). I flirted with the idea of doing Top 10 Reality Shows of all-time since I'm one of the preeminent scholars on this subject, but admitting to loving Paradise Island above all might just lower my credibility with these literary folks. My time to post a list has come, so I chose:

Top Ten — Favorite books on/about writing. I know! Titillating!

1. Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See - This great book comes with a bonus: an embarrassing back-story in which I give the book to someone, it ends our budding friendship, I write about it on my blog, she finds the post and makes a comment on the blog entry, and I respond. If you like awk-ward, you’ll love this post.

2. The Elements of Style Illustrated – This is the Strunk & White classic, updated with amazing paintings by Maira Kalman, the illustrator responsible for quirky kids books like Sayonara, Mrs. Kackleman and Max Makes a Million. A great gift book for writer friends.

3. Red Herrings and White Elephants: The Origins of the Phrases We Use Every Day by Albert Jack – I absolutely love books about the origins of clichés. This is because I am a dork.

4. On Writing by Stephen King - Though I’m not a big fan of his fiction, this book is fantastic. It’s entertaining and informative and his anecdotes are great—King has had a very interesting career and he has really worked for all the success he’s had. (But I still say shame on him for criticizing Stephenie Meyer; that’s what critics are for. Shouldn’t there be a code of honor among writers?)

5. Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market by Alice Pope - In addition to being the ultimate reference on the market, there are really great interviews and articles by authors, illustrators, and publishing people and lots of great how-to stuff.

6. Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions by Harry Shaw - This is an old book with a groovy 70s cover, but it’s one of those I keep on my desk for spontaneous learning. Like if I’m stuck on something I’ll open it up to a random page, learn the difference between, say, a dais and a lectern, and close it again. Sometimes the information even sticks; i.e. one of those things is a raised platform.

7. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss – This is the funniest book on punctuation you will ever read. And we all know how high that bar is!

8. The Best American Short Stories of xxxx (insert any year between 1915 and 2008 here) – I always look forward to this collection. Edited by a different writer each year—2008 is Salman Rushdie—this is a survey of great writing. It’s interesting to go back and read stories from past years; you definitely see subtle changes in theme and style attributed to both the editor who picks the stories and trends. Good stuff.

9. Scholastic Children's Dictionary - I’ve stolen this one from my daughter. In addition to being a pretty decent little dictionary, the back matter includes reference info on random bits you may or may not have learned in middle school (Braille and American Sign Language alphabets, international flags, info on presidents, etc.)

10. The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner – Betsy was a poet, then an agent’s assistant, then an editor, and now she’s an agent married to a publisher. This book includes lots of comforting info on why writers are neurotic. In addition to having a varied perspective on the publishing industry, she is also an incredible writer. I enjoyed this book as much for the information as I did for her writing.

If you could only recommend ONE book to writers, what would it be?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Valentine's Tale

When I was 25 I spent a year house-sitting for several single friends who worked on Microsoft tradeshows that kept them away from their homes and cats for months. The timing was perfect; at that point I had a Rabbit Convertible in which I could fit everything I owned, and since I was on my fifth roommate in three years it was becoming clear that I needed to live alone.

House-sitting was a great way to sample lifestyles without committing to them. First stop was deep in the suburbs in Kirkland, on the other side of Lake Washington from Seattle, in a shiny new townhouse in which all walls were white and the windows covered with puffy floral valances; next on Capitol Hill, in the heart of the city, in a funky, urban, mid-century apartment with a kitchen so small it only took fourteen tiles to cover the counter tops; and last, in the kind of wet, woodsy neighborhood north of Seattle that made you think about how a body could decompose before it’s even gone missing, in a wood-paneled aerie so quiet I could hear the blood rushing though my ears when I put head to pillow.

The Kirkland suburbs aborted my budding social life. The commute to Microsoft was a breeze, but being so far away from friends put a damper on going out or having people over. I spent every night in that creepy new townhouse with a wheezing cat, both of us watching sitcoms and wondering why all circa 1991 construction had to feature textured walls, popcorn ceilings, and windows that were rounded on top. It was then that I started sampling psychics again.

I'd say it was mostly because my love life was in a miserable state. I had spent (wasted?) almost a year with James, a brilliant programmer I’d met at Microsoft. We couldn’t have been more different. He was from a prominent Boston banking family that summered at their villa in Italy and he pronounced basil “bahzil” without irony. While his co-workers were spending their stock on Porsches, he bought a Volvo, saying his real treat to himself was his 18th century Italian dining table with ten matching chairs that were reupholstered in period silk. He knew a lot about food and wine and taught me then, even before coffee really became a scene, that one should never, ever order a latte after dinner. I’m not at all sure what he saw in me, or what I really saw in him.

For the Fourth of July he suggested I come over to watch the fireworks on TV and listen to the synchronized music by the Seattle Symphony on his Bang Olufsen while he made his “famous” salmon in béchamel sauce. I said I wanted to take a blanket and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken to Gasworks Park and watch the fireworks explode over my head. This distilled our relationship so succinctly that I had to end it right then and there. He took it hard and didn’t want to end it, letting it slip that because I was born on the same day that his mother had died he believed that we had some mystical connection. This only made me run faster.

After that, friends tried to set me up on blind dates—my personal nightmare. I finally conceded to one, only because an influential woman in my department insisted I go. Oliver was another programmer at Microsoft. We communicated via email before the date, which I left up to him to plan. He decided on dinner at a vegetarian restaurant downtown and then a concert by Diamanda Galás, who was promoting her Litanies of Satan album. I had never heard of her or even seen “performance art” before, but remained open minded.

As soon as I entered the restaurant, I was approached by a tall, pale man with braces and long red hair that smelled like breakfast. Nothing makes me more nauseous than hair that smells like breakfast. He ordered the vegetarian chili for dinner, which became stuck in almost every brace-laden tooth. Conversation was stiff enough without the added distraction of dangling kidney bean skins. Later Diamanda poured chalice after chalice of pig blood over her body while chanting, “There are no more tickets to the funeral! There are no more tickets to the funeral!" We never spoke again.

Enter the desperate search for a good psychic. Also enter, once again, my father. He had recently found an excellent one—though you had to reach her by phone. This was before Dionne Warwick started the whole phone psychic sham, so I didn’t really question it. Plus she had a good Slavic last name like mine.

She started with a prayer and a few minutes of silence while she “tuned in” to me. I busied myself with a crossword so I would not add up the three-dollar minutes that were ticking by.
She breathed in deeply and began. “All right sweetheart, I’ve got you now. What would you like to ask?”
“What I really want to know is when I’ll meet my future husband,” I asked. This is one of the stupidest sentences you can ever hear yourself say out loud.
She must have heard it a lot; without a beat she said, “Believe it or not, he’s right around the corner.”
I gasped. “In Kirkland?”
She chuckled and sipped at something, “No, dear, I mean time wise. By June 23rd you will have met him.”
“June 23rd as in three months from now?”
I could hear faint card shuffling in the background. “That’s right sweety.”
After the initial freakiness of talking to a psychic in Wisconsin who sounded just like my grandmother, I settled in. “So who is he?”
“Not to sound cliché, but I see tall, dark, and handsome.”
“Can you get any more specific?” For me tall, dark, and handsome only existed in black-and-white movies.
“You’ll be friends for awhile, but just take it easy on him; it will take him some time to figure out that you’re the one.”
“But I’ll know right away?”
“Women usually do.”
“I don’t know him already?”
“No, you don’t. Or you do and you don’t really know it.”
She took another sip of something and said, “Now remember, for once in your life you have to be patient. He needs to think it is all his idea.”
Patience was my missing virtue. “Okay, I can do that,” I lied.
“I’m seeing water. Your first date will be on the water. Either near or on a boat.”
All I could see was a Cary Grant type on a yacht, “Jeeze, he has a boat?”
Pause. More shuffling. “Not necessarily, no. Could be someone else’s.”
“Oh, okay…”
“You know dear, your circulation is a little slow. You should take a hot bath and pour a good heap of powdered ginger in the water.”
“And get your cat some MSM,” she said as she tapped the receiver.
“The cat I’m babysitting?”
“The tabby right next to you.”
I reached down to pet Grover and a chill went through me. For the first time I thought she might be legit. Me and a tall, dark, handsome man who may or may not have a boat seemed sketchy at best, but this mangy old cat needing some drugs made a lot of sense.
“You can get MSM at health food stores. She could really use some. Bad joints.”
“Great, I’ll do that,” I lied again.
“Okay then, honey, if there’s nothing else I’ll let you go. You’re going to have a real fun summer.”

I hung up and looked at my calendar; by June 23rd I would be out of condo hell and into the cool apartment on Capitol Hill. Perfect backdrop for Cary Grant romance avec bateau. That also left three months to lose ten pounds.

I met Scott through our mutual friend, Chris Ritter (aka Critter). Scott had left the downtown advertising agency where he worked with Critter for a job at Microsoft. Since I worked there too, Critter suggested we all get together for drinks one night. I had recently moved to Capitol Hill so my social life was picking up.

We met at one of the college bars in Pioneer Square. Sitting in the back by the pool tables, we ordered some pitchers of Hefeweizen and got to talking. Within five minutes I knew Scott was The One. It was June 21, the first day of spring.

Scott was a dead ringer for Young Elvis. He was a thin 6’2 with big blue eyes and dark hair, and had the most beautiful hands I had ever seen. He smelled like pine, but not like pine cologne, something more intrinsic. It was intoxicating. The only thing missing was a boat.

We clicked immediately that first night. After the bar we met up with some other friends at other bars and after last call, when no one wanted the night to end, we went to 7-11 for a case of Rolling Rock and headed back to my apartment just up the street. The four of us talked until dawn and made lots of summer camping plans. The next morning I called my Mom and told her I met her future son-in-law. Two days earlier than the psychic's deadline, impatient girl that I am.

A couple of weekends later we all went camping as planned. Critter and his friend Pete drove together and, since Scott and I were both leaving from Microsoft, we drove together. The turnoff was only about 30 minutes out of Seattle, but we got to talking and forgot about directions until we saw a sign for the Canadian border. We backtracked and made it to camp three hours late.

We became inseparable. We worked in the same building at Microsoft so we’d meet for lunch in the cafeteria or have dinner at Callabria nearby where we’d both always have the Penne Gorgonzola and a bottle of ice-cold Vernacchia. We’d meet Critter and friends downtown about four nights a week, often staying out until last call and then hitting Denny’s for Moons over My Hammy or Trattoria Mitchelli for the linguine in vermouth cream sauce.

It turns out Scott really was right around the corner, and not just time-wise. He lived about a half mile from the dreadful condo I house-sat for in Kirkland. His VW was always on the fritz so he carpooled to work with his roommates. But after work I was his chauffeur, and even at the end of a 3:00 a.m. night I had no problem driving 40 minutes from downtown Seattle over Lake Washington to the Kirkland suburbs and then back to Seattle to my place. I couldn’t get enough of him. I was ecstatic, driving home with the top down and the music up.

My patience wore a little thin at the end of a couple of months. Daves, confirmed bachelor and good friend from high school was coming for a visit so the three of us went to dinner on Capitol Hill. Scott came straight from work downtown; he was looking slick, very ad-man-1991. We had a great dinner and then went on to coffee and dessert. After Scott left, Daves broke the news.

“Sorry sister, there’s no way he’s straight,” he said as if delivering news about a terminal illness.
“What, the good haircut?”
“That and straight guys aren’t that damn funny.”

We drove home in silence, Daves respecting the fact that I needed to mourn a little. But after running it over in my head, I knew Daves was wrong. So for the first time in my life, I remained patient and confident. It was as if I were watching a play that I had already read; I knew what was going to happen, but the actors were bringing it to life.

At the end of the summer, when after I would drop Scott off at three in the morning I’d have to put up the convertible top to stave off the dewy chill, I could tell things were changing. There was a tectonic shift in our relationship that perhaps, like animals and earthquakes, only I could feel.

Apparently he felt it too. “So let’s do this,” he said one day on the phone.
I knew immediately what he meant. “Okay, let’s do it,” I said.
“Let’s go out tomorrow night, just you and me.”
“Oooh, a real date,” I said, mockingly. The adultness of all of this was too much to bear.
“I’d say it’s long overdue,” he said with so much earnest it made my heart sink. “I’ll plan something, and even pick you up this time.”

I was dumbfounded. I called Daves immediately. He didn’t take the news well, he hated being wrong.

The next day Scott picked me up at my apartment, just like a real date. He had made reservations at a seafood restaurant on the waterfront called Elliott’s. At dinner, I felt a calmness, a peace that I have never felt with a guy I was dating. There was nothing clumsy or uncomfortable about our relationship; it was as if we had always been together like this. Elliot’s was right next to the ferry terminal so we watched the boats dock and sail as we ate. After dessert, Scott suggested we hop on a ferry boat. I smiled as the words of Darlene Gustovich rang in my ears.

We ran over to catch the next one. It was a chilly but clear evening as we sailed from downtown Seattle, watching the skyline fade as we neared Bainbridge Island, where the stars shone brighter in the black night. Staying on as commuters disembarked, we rode back on the same boat.

We stood on the bow, Scott behind me with his head on my shoulder and his arms around me, both of us thinking those monumental thoughts that come from looking out at the universe at night.

The following Valentine's Day, exactly 16 years ago today, Scott proposed. Guests had to ferry to our wedding on Bainbridge Island.

Lucky, lucky me.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Blog o' the Week!

The amazing Alice Pope, editor of the must-have Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market has chosen Juvenesence as her Blog of the Week. Squeal! Thanks Alice!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Classic Overachiever: An interview with author Suzanne Young

I met Suzanne Young at the SCBWI Conference in LA and I swear to god I never saw her without a huge grin on her face. I don't think I could even picture her without a smile. But, now that I think of it, I’d smile all the time too if I were her.

Suzanne is a classic overachiever—you’ve got a book deal? She’s got a four-book deal. You’ve got a book coming out in 2010? She’s got two books coming out in 2010. This is not all luck; to have this kind of success you also have to also have her skills, which include the ability to write a draft of a book in a week—with two young kids, a husband, and a full-time job. [Insert silent scream here.] Suzanne is now writing full time and if you stop to do the math you realize this means it might only take her a day, instead of a week, to get a first draft out. Crazy!

Let's start with the deal report from Publisher’s Marketplace:

Suzanne Young's SMITTEN KITTENS, a new series about a group of girls who spy on cheating boyfriends, to Ben Schrank at Razorbill, by Melissa Sarver at the Elizabeth Kaplan Agency (World English). [Note: Working title Smitten Kittens is now officially changed to The Naughty List.]

Now, on to the questions.

Your how-I met-my-agent story is really interesting (and bumpy). Can you share it with the readers?
Well, when I first started writing, I had no idea what I was doing, (that hasn’t really changed) so I sent out these awful queries to agents and editors. Nada. I busted out a few more books, learned how to write a kickass query letter and started over. I got picked up about 7 months after I’d written my first book. Only… It didn’t work out. I wrote fast. Really fast. And unfortunately my break-neck speed and aversion to following rules got me in trouble. My agent dumped me and told me that maybe I should join a critique group. Ouch.

Two weeks later, I decided to never speak to another literary agent. I went directly to the editors. Luckily, this WONDERFUL editor over at Razorbill along with a couple other lovely editors decided to look at my book immediately. (Guess I didn’t need the group after all.) Just when the editors had decided to offer, an agent emailed me. Yes. EMAILED ME! She’d been reading my blog, but of course, I told her that I never wanted to speak to another literary agent. She was understanding, and then told me WHY I needed one. I put her through the ringer. (SORRY MELISSA!) And eventually, she won me over. I signed with Melissa Sarver at Elizabeth Kaplan Agency. Four weeks and three offers later, I had a two-book deal with Razorbill. How’s that for a reason to have a blog!?

So in 2008 you landed a two-book deal with Razorbill, and then last month you scored another two-book deal for a total of four books (!) all before the first one is even in print. Can you tell us how this went down?
I should probably know the answer to this, right? Luck? Good timing? Getting fired from my regular job? Actually, the last one is sort of true. Basically when I sold the first two books, I made sure the editors knew I had seven others. I’m not sure they believed me at first. So as I waited for my revision letter, I let them know again. And again. And for good measure, just one more time.

Then I lost my job. I emailed to ask if there was any freelance work available because… well, I had a lot of time to write! Turns out they had given SMITTEN KITTENS (Now Titled THE NAUGHTY LIST) another look and decided they loved it. They asked about my other books. I told them that I had an idea for a sequel. Then… it just sort of happened. THE NAUGHTY LIST became a series. And again, just to make sure they wouldn’t forget, I sent them a few more books. Have I mentioned how much I love Razorbill?

How did the story that became THE NAUGHTY LIST come to you?
Ninja Cheerleaders. Seriously, I had a vision of cheerleading ninjas and laughed myself silly. At the time, I was strictly into love stories. So I started writing about these cheerleaders and then decided, she needed a super hot boyfriend! Then the love story evolved in my head. The sweetness, the heartbreak, the hurkies. When the book was done, it had become something entirely different, but so much better than I could have ever imagined. A cheerleader that doesn’t swear? Get the eff out of here!

You are well-known for being able to crank out a first draft in a week. How long did THE NAUGHTY LIST take you to write?
The funny thing about this book… it was my hardest task. I fought against it. The idea and first chapter sat in my files for months. I had a good friend (Heather, I love you!) who kept telling me to work on it. So one day, I sat down and started to write it. It took about two weeks to write the first draft, which was about 29,000-words. Really just a glorified outline. I had tons of great friends who read it and after a month and four more passes through, I had the finished project that I sent to editors.

You sold the book in 2008 and your pub date is Summer 2010, where in the process are you now?
Well, my date just got moved up to Spring of 2010 for book 1 and summer for book 2. I’m about to work on the line edits of book 1, but even more interesting than that, I’m getting close to seeing my cover. Which I will love all over.

Where do you get your sweet and adorable disposition?
Why thank you for that question, Christy! It was so nice of you to say! I believe I get a lot of my personality from my grandmother, but she sadly passed away before my book sold. It will be dedicated to her, of course. She was my heart, my soul and my guide. And she was the funniest bitch you could have ever met! Thanks, Grammy!

Can you give aspiring writers some nuggets of advice?
I’m sorry if you’ve heard this before, but JUST WRITE. Don’t stop. When your book is on submission, keep writing. When you’re sick of it, keep writing. My first book didn’t sell. Neither did my second, third, fourth, fifth… get it? THE NAUGHTY LIST was the sixth book I wrote. So if I could tell you anything, it’s to have an arsenal! It makes for great agent stalking!

Suzanne has a fantastic blog that you should all check out. To get a taste of her writing style, read Going Green, the story she’s publishing serially (just like Dickens!) on her blog. The minute you start reading, you'll see the woman has a serious gift for dialog.

Congratulations on your great success, Suzanne! And thanks for the interview.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A new way to think about creativity...

No matter how you feel about Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, her speech "A new way to think about creativity" at the 2009 TED conference is really, really interesting. A worthwhile way to spend 19 minutes. (Thanks Katie!)

Lock me in the basement

Yesterday I brought dishonor to my family by admitting that I deny a certain elementary “fact” about math and then trying to find evidence from the IEEE to support my claim. You see I come from a family that includes more than one PhD in Applied Mathematics* and a past president of the National IEEE. So I am the shameful family secret, the offspring they’d like to hide in the basement with the canned peaches and Christmas ornaments. I really should just remove the post altogether, but the comments are just too good to lose to the ether.

So I will marinate in my shame a bit longer.

Though a dimwit, I did learn one thing: I shall never speak of mathematics again. Instead I shall speak of writing! Tonight is the weekly meeting of my critique group, the Lithia Writers Collective, and I have pledged to have the revision of my work in progress finished by tonight. This means about 3,000 new words and about 80 pages of line edits. I love a deadline. So off I go!

* These are their real dissertation topics: “A Comparative Analysis of Methods for Sampling Stationary Stochastic Processes” and “Seismic Velocity Estimation from Time Migration”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quantum Weirdness

During breakfast this morning my daughter says, “Mom, do you know what two times zero is?”
“Two,” I answer quickly, busying myself with the coffee maker to keep from adding, “Duh.”
“No! It’s zero!” she shouts with glee, as she is a child who loves to see her mother get things wrong. (Rare treat.)

I give her a patronizing look and ask her what fool told her that. She answers, “My teacher.” Rolling my eyes, I get the calculator and punch in the equation. It comes up zero. I toss it aside, complaining that it is one of those fancy calculus calculators that doesn’t understand simple math, and we tromp into my office to use the calculator on the computer. The answer: still zero! More cackles from the third grader. Then the five-year-old brother starts in on the cackling, just for the fun of it. I shoo them from the office with a can of compressed-air keyboard cleaner so I can think this through.

Really, it’s wrong on so many levels. You just can’t make the two go away, I mean it’s right there before the multiplication symbol!

The phone rings. I see that it’s my friend Kim so I answer with, “I’m baffled!”
“Me too!” she shouts.
“I know, right? Like how can it be zero?” I ask, assuming she’s just had the same conversation over breakfast.
“What? No, I’m wondering why there are four inches of new snow and no delayed start for school.”
“Seriously, how can the two just go away? The two was there even before the zero!”

Kim tries to talk me down, explaining it just as my gloating eight-year-old had. But I have a minor character flaw in that I Can Never Be Wrong. I realize the only place I’m going to get any supporting evidence is the internet, so I Google the phrase “How can 2 x 0 = 0 ?” until I find something that makes me right. Behold:

Quantum Weirdness: Two Times Zero Doesn't Always Equal Zero
By Mark Anderson
In a surprising discovery released this week, physicists have announced that two times zero does not always equal zero. The new theoretical research examines transmissions of individual quantum states, blah blah blah...

So I immediately print this article (from an Aug 2008 issue of IEEE Spectrum, the magazine of “The world's leading professional association for the advancement of technology” no less) and am seconds away from cramming it in my daughter’s backpack to make her show her teacher when I hear the faint echo of the even fainter Voice of Reason somewhere deep in the warm folds of my neocortex. Do I really want the greatest third-grade teacher in the universe to feel sorry for my child for having an insane mother? Do I really want to be the topic of hilarious ridicule in the faculty lounge?

So I let it go. But on this, as with all things, I side with the quantum physicists.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Move Aside, McRib; Josh Berk is The Next Big Thing

In an effort to make this blog more highbrow, I’m going to start posting some deeply insightful, richly nuanced interviews with VIPs in publishing. But I don’t really know any, so I’ll start with fetal-stage VIPs. I mean members of the Tenners, a group of authors who will make their publishing débuts in 2010. They’re going to be huge a year from now, HUGE I tell you!

First up: Author Josh Berk (The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, Knopf, Jan 2010). Have you ever met someone who seems like a brother from another mother? Josh fits that role; we have the same infantile sense of humor, the same taste in books, and are both gifted Scrabble players. Well, gifted in that we both apply our infantile sense of humor to building Scrabble words. I’ve never met Josh in person before, but through the magic of Facebook, online Scrabble, and LiveJournal, I feel like I’ve known him for years. But hey, enough about me, this is supposed to be an interview, right?

By way of introduction, I’ll start with his deal announcement from Publishers Marketplace:

26 November, 2007 - Young Adult Children's librarian Josh Berk's debut, set in coal mining Pennsylvania and narrated with sardonic humor by a boy who is overweight, deaf, and mute during his first year in mainstream high school, when he begrudgingly solves a murder and uncovers a secret truth about his family history, to Cecile Goyette at Knopf, for six figures, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, by Ted Malawer at Firebrand Literary.

Let’s review some key words: Cecile Goyette, Knopf, six figures, pre-empt, two-book deal, Ted Malawer, Firebrand Literaryany writer would be thrilled to have just one of these attached to his name, and Josh has a string of seven. It’s a good thing he’s impossible to hate. (And believe me, I tried, mostly because as a result of being bublished by Knopf his book will probably have deckled edges and I have serious deckle envy.)

Before we get to my deeply insightful, richly nuanced questions, let me steal repurpose some Josh-generated content from the Tenner’s site just to set the scene:

Five things about Josh:
1. I have a quiet day job (librarian) and a loud hobby (punk rock).
2. Both of my parents are also librarians.
3. I have two dogs with a total of three eyes.
4. I have a degree in political science yet pretty much hate politics.
5. My son has the ridiculously literary name of Elliot Emerson Berk.

And now, on to the questions.

Please tell us about finding your agent.
In May of 2006 I saw a little announcement in a local arts magazine that a literary agent would be speaking at a writer's group near to where I live (Eastern PA). Since graduating from library school and falling in love with YA lit the previous May, I had been working on a YA manuscript of my own. I was just about ready to begin figuring out how to send it out into the world so I thought I'd attend this meeting even though the idea of talking to an agent was terrifying to me.

The agent turned out to be Nadia Cornier of Firebrand Literary. She gave a great talk and I approached her afterward despite feeling nervous that she would brush me off. Surely she gets accosted by a hundred hacks a day with a "manuscript in a drawer at home," right? Well, that is probably true, but she was very nice to me and said that Firebrand had a young agent looking for new clients. I took down this young agent's e-mail address and felt very proud of myself for having the guts to talk to an agent (even though Nadia is totally not-scary, it was very very very stressful for me).

At this same meeting, I met Cyn Balog, a YA author who was one of Nadia's clients. Cyn was also incredibly nice to me. When she found out that I wrote YA, she gave me her e-mail address and offered to stay in touch. I could not believe my luck! Here was a real agented writer being so kind to me!

I sent my manuscript to the agent at Firebrand who read it, but "passed on the project" (in other words "no thank you"). I was a little upset, but thrilled because she said that I showed some talent and offered to read future works. I also stayed in touch with Cyn and sent her some of my writing. (If I was smart, I would have asked for Cyn's critque *before* sending it to an agent, but I was very new to everything at that point.) Cyn also said that I showed some talent and offered ways to improve. Basically, at that point, I would say that my writing was "over-written." I wrote a lot of fancy metaphors, deep inner monologues, and unnecessarily complicated plot devices. Cyn advised that I keep it a little simpler and add more action and less "brain dumping" (when the narrator just "talks" to the reader without anything happening). She reminded me of the old adage "show don't tell" and I took it to heart.

When did you start the book that would end up as
The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin?
I was thrilled that I had an agent offering to read my future works and beyond thrilled that someone like Cyn would take the time to help me improve. I took her advice seriously and around this time--the summer of 2006--started the manuscript that would become DARK DAYS. My wife was pregnant at the time so I felt motivation on top of inspiration!

It took me about a year to finish a draft of DARK DAYS that I felt good enough about to send back to that agent at Firebrand. When I did, I found that she no longer worked there. She no longer worked in publishing at all! (I tried not to take it personally.) I used to find some other agents and started querying. I got some interest and also learned that there was another new agent at Firebrand. He turned out to be a perfect match for my sensibilities and skewed sense of humor. That was Ted Malawer. He read the manuscript and offered representation in June 2007. I happily accepted!

Ted worked with me over the next six months until he was confident enough in the manuscript to send it to editors. It grew and blossomed under his oversight into something far superior to the draft (I didn't know it was a draft at the time) that I sent him.

Tell us how your amazing deal happened.
Yes, I still can't believe that said string of words applies to me! Ted sent the manuscript around to editors at various publishing houses who he thought might be interested. I was amazed that there was quite a bit of interest. Several very impressive editors called me to talk about the manuscript. They were all interested! I was astounded!

Ted told me that when this happens, the manuscript goes to auction. Auctioneers make me laugh and I pictured Ted talking fast, wielding a gavel. (I have since learned that it doesn't actually go down that way - mostly phone calls and e-mails.) This was right before Thanksgiving. He told me just to relax and that the auction would happen after the holiday. And then he called me again and said Knopf made a pre-empt offer! There was some back and forth between Ted and their people and then Ted called me at work. He asked me if I was sitting down. I reminded him that I work at a library, and that he shouldn't say anything that would make me scream. He said "I can't promise that!" and told me the details of the deal. He advised that we take it and we did. On the way home from work I bought a huge bottle of champagne and had a very happy Thanksgiving!

You sold the book in November of 2007, your pub date is January 2010, can you tell us where in the process you are now?
After lots (and lots and lots) of revisions, the manuscript was approved by Knopf for publication just last month. It is currently with a copy-editor. It then comes back to me and my editor for final scrutiny and then goes into design. The process of layout and design will start then and before long it will resemble an actual book! My publication date is actually January 2010.

Can you share one piece of advice for writers?
(1) Don't be afraid to talk to agents or editors or other authors! They are just people and (for the most part) aren't that scary. They want to find a book to buy/represent as much as you want to find someone to do that for you.

(2) Practice and patience! If someone told me back when I was writing that first novel, that it was just a "practice novel" and that it would never be published I would have probably given up. But I learned a lot on that first manuscript and it led the way to the next one, which led the way to publication! (With a lot more waiting along the way, so yes! More patience!)

(3) Take any writing gig you can get. I took lots of other small writing jobs while working on my novels. These were neither glamorous nor high-paying (local magazines, newspapers, etc.) but they were great practice. I learned how to tell a story, I learned how to work with editors, I learned how to meet deadlines, and I learned how to write on days even when I didn't feel like it.

(4) Read! It might not be impossible to write and sell a manuscript without reading what's out there in your field, but it's probably pretty close to it! I had a great YA class at Pitt, but anyone can walk into any public library and ask "What's hot in YA right now?" (or any other field) and begin their education for free!

* * *
Wow. GREAT interview, wasn't that? I think it's safe to say that Josh is a writer to watch. Josh is going to be a Big Deal. And if this interview alone didn't convey that, just look at his photo. I mean, clearly this is a man who is out standing in his field.

If you'd like to know more about Josh, here are some avenues, (all sanctioned by him, of course). To become Facebook friends click here (I recommend this highly). To see his Myspace page click here. Or to be, as he says, “updated about the book and the excitement that is my career” send an e-mail to joshberk (at) Prepared to be awed.


BONUS: Josh's cover is now done! The art was done by the fancy French artiste Philippe Petit-Roulet, bien-sur, who does a lot of covers for the New Yorker.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Blanket Apology to 22% of Readers

Every couple of months I check the Google keyword search page to see how readers end up at my blog. Still a full 22% of people who end up here are sorely disappointed, having Googled some form of "camel toe pants" and/or "three-legged fetish". The camel toe thing makes sense because of this blog post, but the three-legged fetish search has me scratching my head; I didn’t even know this was a condition of interest, and I have never blogged about it. Apparently there's lots of interest, so if you want to increase your traffic, you might want to post a little three-legged story. Another surprise traffic driver? Barbie doll heads. More people than you'd think are interested in Barbie heads, especially in combination with some other choice words, which I won't mention here for fear of even more people looking for content of questionable taste. My writing is questionable enough—throw in distasteful content and suddenly I become far too much like Anne Coulter than I am comfortable with.

Some interesting entry paths to this blog in the past couple of months:

the man who ate his head
ablaze naked
cenote ik kil disease (having swum in Ik Kil Cenote, this worries me)
high school tight pants
can men go in the dressing rooms at victoria's secret (answer here)
latex ballgag (this comes up every time)
company bought blue sky wound vac
crying indian poster (a classic)
daryl hannah nude
quantum entanglement (sorry dude, wrong blog)
electric blanket bad dreams
i need a psychic (so do I)
fetish htv
really tight pant camel toe (I like the addition of "really" to this search)
fuzzy set theory tai chi symbol (hu?)
bird feaking (not a typo)
an escher moment
barbie head necklace (this I can explain)
neon green parachute pants (this too)

I must be writing some high-brow stuff, no?