Laura Biagi – Agent Interview

our_team_biagiI’m so excited that Laura Biagi, literary agent with the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, will be speaking this weekend at our 2015 SCBWI OK Spring Conference. This year’s them is “Ignite the Spark”. In Laura’s talk, entitled “The Spark an Agent Brings to the Table”, she will be discussing “insights from the front line about what literary agents do and what they offer clients”. She’ll also discuss what red flags may make an agent pass on a manuscript, among other issues.

Laura graciously consented to giving an interview here on the blog to entice us with a little preview.

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: What advice would you give to querying writers?

Laura Biagi: One of the more obvious pieces of advice is to do your research on agents so you’re not querying agents who wouldn’t be likely to represent the type of book you’ve written.  But there are many other pieces of advice that writers too often take for granted: Be persistent–not only in submitting to many agents or reworking your query letter to make it the strongest possible, but also in writing new material.

Your writing will keep growing and become stronger the more you write, and sometimes it’s the next book right around the corner that will be your breakthrough.  Prior to querying, make sure your manuscript is as polished as you can possibly make it.  Show your work to your writer friends or anyone else you trust and get their feedback, then incorporate it organically.  Don’t skimp on the time you devote to revisions.  Revisions are usually THE most important part of a successful writer’s process!  Be sure to read very widely in your genre, not only so you know whether your book is unique enough to stand out in the crowded marketplace, but also–and more importantly–so you can learn better how to write with authority and grace and build tension.

VL: Do your research, don’t skimp on revising, and read a wide variety of books. Great advice!

What makes you stop reading a query?

LB: This varies widely depending on the book.  I make sure to consider each query on its own terms.  However, some examples of things that might convince me to pass include stereotypical characters or plots, too many adjectives and adverbs that get in the way of conveying a clear image, too few details about the characters and their relationships with one another (this makes me worry the characters aren’t developed enough in the manuscript), too few details about the plot (this makes me worry the pacing isn’t strong enough and the stakes and conflict aren’t developed enough).

I’ll be discussing more red flags in my talk at the conference–so for more info, please come!

VL: Yes! You definitely don’t want to miss out on this conference!

What’s one major aspect of a manuscript that hooks you? What doesn’t?

LB: What hooks me right away is an immediate voice that cleverly and organically reveals details (even better if they’re unexpected details!) about the characters, setting, situation, etc.

What doesn’t hook me is a tepid opening that feels too familiar or unintriguing or takes too long to reveal its purpose.

VL: What type of manuscript would you love to find in your inbox?

LB: I’d love to find more magical realism YA novels with literary bents.  I’m very interested in books set in the South or Kentucky, as that’s where I’m originally from.  I’d also love to find a literary YA with Romani characters.  I’m searching for more middle grade, too, but the voice, characters, and plot must be stand out; quiet middle grade novels can be very challenging.  I’m also always glad to find more humorous picture books in the vein of Jon Klassen or with heartwarming, big-voiced characters, and early chapter books.

VL: Oh, those are are intriguing ideas – a Romani character in Kentucky. Hmm. Thoughts are churning here…

Tell us what happens after an author signs with you; what’s the next step?

LB: It’s always so exciting after an author signs with me!

If I think the manuscript needs some revision before I submit it out to editors, I’ll send detailed feedback and discuss it all with the author and we’ll work on revising the manuscript until it’s ready.   Then I’ll create a list of the best editors to go to for submissions and get them excited about the book.  There are many more steps afterwards, including negotiating the deal and contract, selling subrights, working with editors on getting my authors the best publicity and marketing possible for their books, and more.

To learn more behind-the-scenes details about what an agent does for her clients, please come to my talk at the conference!

VL: I for one, cannot wait to learn more.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, Laura.

Learn more about Laura from her agency bio here.

Follow Laura on Twitter here.

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ONLY A FEW SPOTS LEFT BEFORE CONFERENCE IS SOLD OUT!

For more details on the conference or to register online, click here. I hope to see you there!

TweetAnd for those who’d like more enticements, another one of our speakers for the conference this up-coming weekend, Editor Erica Finkel of Abrams Books for Young Readers will be our special guest this evening on our 2nd official OK SCBWI Twitter chat! Join us from 7-8pm CST and use the hashtag #okscbwichat. Follow Erica on Twitter here.

***If you missed the chat, CLICK HERE to view the recap on Storify. Enjoy!

Tips for Attending a Writing Conference

 

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Our SCBWI OK Spring Conference is a little over a month away, and it will be here before you know it. I look forward to this fun-filled weekend every year.

Are you attending a conference this spring? If so, are you ready?

Do you know what to expect?

Whether this is your first conference or your 30th (give or take a few) you can always use some good ideas to make the most out of your jam-packed day.

Here are some tips I’ve scrounged around among my dozens of conference folders, notebooks filled with years of furious scribbles of knowledge, and just words of advice passed along from my elders. I hope you find them helpful as you prepare for this spring’s conference season.

  • Do your research – You’ll get more out of the conference if you’ve read up on the speakers and know something about their work beforehand. If they are on social media, follow them. (You can see a list of all of our speakers and where to follow them in my previous post here.)
  • Know how to talk about your own writing – Practice your elevator pitch until you know it well enough to ad-lib. Be able to talk about it conversationally. DO NOT try to memorize it. One false stumble can lead to panic. I’ve seen perfectly composed writers turn into blubbering messes because they lost their exact wording. DO NOT LET THIS BE YOU!
  • Say hello to a stranger and start a conversation - Here’s a great opener that’s sure to work in a room full of authors: “What do you write?” or “Tell me about the project you’re working on.” Because that’s what writers do when they get together, they talk about their writing.(Another good reason to know your pitch.)
  • Take business cards if you have them – Networking is an important part of conferences. After you receive a card yourself – during a free moment later – jot down something about that person on the back to help you remember them better. It could be something about their manuscript, what they look like, or anything memorable you discussed. (Here are a couple of sites where you can design your own cards: Moo.com charges a small fee and Canva.com has many designs at no cost.)
  • Dress in layers – Cardigans, jackets, and scarves can be your best friends at conferences. In the morning, the room may start out freezing cold, but as the day goes on and all of those bodies heat up the conference space, you may find that you start getting a little too warm. Layers, my friend. Trust me.
  • Bring some spending money – Of course you’ll need money for food and possibly lodging. But more importantly, there are almost always fantastic books available for purchase and the authors who wrote them are usually available to sign them for you! (I don’t need to tell you what fantastic gifts personalized books make, either. Right?)
  • Be courteous and professional – Everyone wants a chance to interact with the speakers. Believe it or not, the speakers also want to talk with you. They just don’t want to receive an unsolicited copy of your manuscript from underneath the bathroom stall. At our conference, everyone has lunch at a table with either a speaker or a published author. It’s a fantastic opportunity to ask industry questions in a smaller group setting. Make sure you keep your conversation appropriate and allow others at the table to have a turn asking questions. That’s right, share the speakers. They are there for everyone.
  • Participate! Ask questions during Q&A sessions, attend pre- and post- conference events, make a writing date for after the conference with a new friend. Get to know your local tribe of writers and the speakers. Our writing community is smaller than you think and you never know what connection will lead to something amazing. Also, writing can be a lonely endeavor; we can all use every bit of support we can get.
  • Recognize your opportunities - If you get a critique or opportunity to pitch, take some time (I mean several days at least) to let the comments sit with you before deciding your life is over and you’ll never write again. Ever. Many of us have this dream that we will be that rarest of rare finds and be offered representation or a book deal right out of the gate. Most of the time, what agents and editors offer when they critique our work is an opportunity to improve our work. This is no small thing. You never know when these insightful suggestions can turn a not-so-fantastic manuscript into a dazzling one. One that can lead to a big fat ‘yes’ a little farther down the road.

Have you any tips you’ve acquired that work for you? What’s your favorite part of going to a conference?

 

 

SCBWI OK Spring Conference 2015 – Get That Spark Ignited

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I love the title of this year’s Oklahoma SCBWI Spring conference, “Ignite the Spark”. Following our fantastically fabulous fall retreat, I’m ready for some serious spark ignition, how about you?

Three editors, two agents, and one design director should fill the day with more information than most craniums can hold.

Meet our dynamic speakers:

our_team_biagiLaura Biagi – Literary Agent with Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency.

Laura joined JVNLA in 2009 and is actively building her list. She is looking for young readers. Learn more about Laura from her agency bio here. Follow Laura on Twitter here.

 

rachel-orrRachel Orr – Literary Agent with Prospect Agency

Rachel joined Prospect in 2007 to become an agent after she’d spent eight years editing children’s books for HarperCollins. She is looking for middle grade and YA novels, as well as the next big picture book illustrator. Learn more about Rachel from her agency bio here. Follow Agency Twitter account here. Follow Rachel’s personal Twitter account here.

 

JulieBlivenJulie (Ham) Bliven – Editor with Charlesbridge Publishing

Julie is an Associate Editor with Charlesbridge who mainly works with middle grade and picture books, both fiction and non-fiction. Follow Julie Bliven on Twitter here.

Founded in 1989, “Charlesbridge publishes high-quality books for young readers from birth to age 14, with a goal of creating lifelong readers. We continually strive to seek new voices and new visions in children’s literature.” Learn more about this house from their Facebook page here. Follow them on Twitter here.

 

erica-finkel-photo1Erica Finkel – Editor with Abrams Books for Young Readers

Erica is an Assistant Editor with Abrams who is interested in picture books, middle grade, and YA. Follow Erica on Twitter here.

Launched in 1999, ABFYR is one of the imprints of Abrams Books, founded in 1949. This imprint runs the gambit from picture books to YA, from poetry to nonfiction. Visit the imprint website here.

 

alysonHeller1Alyson Heller – Editor with Aladdin ( a Simon & Schuster imprint)

Alyson has been an Associate Editor with Aladdin since 2008 (and with S & S since 2006). She works on everything from picture books to middle grade. Learn more about Alyson from her publishing house bio here. Follow Alyson on Twitter here.

Aladdin is a Simon & Schuster imprint that features titles for readers of all ages up to tween. They publish paperbacks and hardcovers, single-titles and series.

 

kristine-brognoKristine Brogno – Design Director with Chronicle Books

For all of you illustrators out there, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to hear Kristine speak. And if that weren’t enough, Kristine will be giving twelve art portfolio critiques during the conference to the lucky few who register early.

Chronicle Books is based in San Francisco and publishes books for both adults and children. Follow Chronicle Books on Twitter here.

 

There are a limited number of manuscript and portfolio critiques available, as well as the ever popular pitch sessions, so sign up while they’re available!

This year, Tulsa is the host city for the conference. Mark your calendars for March 28th! It’s going to be another spectacular day of learning awesomeness.

UPDATE 3/2/15:

ONLY 45 SPOTS LEFT BEFORE CONFERENCE IS SOLD OUT!

For more details on the conference or to register online, click here. I hope to see you there!

Art & Fear – An Exploration, Part I

We all have to face fears in our lives at one time or another.

My daughter drops whatever she’s doing and runs inside at the sight of any flying insect with a stinger (mostly bees, but on occasion she has run from butterflies by mistake). My husband has to put on his iPod and listen to Pink Floyd whenever he goes to the dentist. What can I say? He had a bad experience with a dentist overseas once who didn’t use anesthetic. I don’t really blame him for that one.

I recently faced one of my fears around Halloween. This one had to do with my son, Trevor.

I had been dreading Halloween for weeks. I remembered the year before how Trevor had been so much bigger than most of the kids going around the neighborhood and even though he went out with a family friend who was in grade school – something of a holiday tradition – we still got some puzzled looks. No one said anything mean, but I felt uncomfortable all evening. And I knew this year, with Trevor being even bigger and older, things would only feel more tense. I couldn’t get Trevor to understand that he was too big for Halloween and I’d tried the year before to have him stay home and help me pass out candy, but that didn’t work out.

My fear was that he would be turned away. Shunned. That he would receive hurtful stares or ugly comments – not that he was likely to notice (unless he didn’t get any candy), but I would. And it would hurt. No one wants to see their child be rejected.

So, I thought of a different strategy. I’ve been doing some part-time work for our local autism group and that inspired me to do some outreach of my own.  I’d open up and let our neighbors in. THIS WAS WAY OUTSIDE OF MY COMFORT ZONE. I am not good at asking for help or reaching out to people, so this step was huge. But then, it wasn’t for me. It was so my neighbors would understand who my son was and welcome him.

Here’s the message I posted on our Neighborhood Association Facebook page:

Trevor Halloween Story

There was such a huge positive response to this post that I was overwhelmed. And even one other family in the neighborhood told about their young child with autism, too. They hoped to have their child be able to leave the comfort of his stroller and go door-to-door this year. (Stretching the boundaries of social difficulties that accompany autism.) How nice was that? Finding another family who shares our same issues?

When we went out trick or treating, Trevor was recognized several times by neighbors who went out of their way to introduce themselves.  Later people posted how nice it was to meet Trevor and how sweet and polite he was. Now, when we take our dogs for a walk, more of our neighbors say “hello” than before, and more greet Trevor by name. We even met an actual firefighter who invited us to bring Trevor down to his station for a tour. That made Trevor’s night.

One fear conquered.

Fear & Art

When it comes to dealing with fear in our writing or any medium of art, it can have a crippling effect. Even keep us from making art altogether.

Being a writer can be so thrilling when everything is coming out just right. The words are flowing, the characters are bending to my will, I am the master of my imaginary universe!

YES! YES! YES!

And then that tiny little voice of doubt creeps in. This isn’t working. I suck, my writing sucks, my characters suck, nobody will ever want to read this drivel. EVER!

Creative Process Pic

Sound familiar?

During our SCBWI OK Fall Retreat in September, Romney Nesbitt did a workshop on Conquering Procrastination & Self-Sabotage. One of the first things she had us do was name off all the different ways we procrastinate.

Some of the examples tossed out were fairly typical:

The Serial Projects excuse (“Just as soon as…then…”)

The “I don’t have time excuse” (too many responsibilities)

Perfectionism (waiting for the right conditions/right moment)

Social Media (worse than television)

So I voiced my own reason. The one thing that holds me back from moving forward on projects more than anything?

Fear of Failure.

Romney responded that this is actually a “problem with expectancy”.

That answer surprised me.

Expectancy meant it was coming from me. It made me realize I was in control of that fear. And that meant I could change it.

I also knew I wasn’t the only one who grappled with creating art and fear. Not just of failure. But of what others would think of what we created. Even of success.

I wanted to explore this further.

So, this month, I’m doing just that. I’m forcing myself to do some things to push past this fear.

One thing I’m doing is taking the NaNoWriMo plunge and vowing to actually complete the 50,000 words in one month challenge. I’ve participated for a few years now, but I’ve never made it to the finish line.

I’ve also started reading ART & FEAR OBSERVATIONS ON THE PERILS (AND REWARDS) OF ARTMAKING  by David Bayles & Ted Orland. I’ll be sharing some of my insights from that book later in the month. So far it’s quite enlightening.

How about you? What are you afraid of as far as your art is concerned? What do you do to combat that fear?

Insights from our SCBWI OK Fall Retreat

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Wrapping up the month-long celebration of our local SCBWI Oklahoma group, I’m going to share some of my insights from our Fall Retreat. It was a relaxed, 3-day event packed full of inspiring, helpful information.

The first day was all about craft. Which is something all writers are never too advanced to brush up on, if you ask me. There were so many great workshops, it was a harrowing decision just narrowing down the choices, let alone finalizing a selection.

 

AnnaMyersphotoCI sat in on a workshop by Anna Myers about point of view entitled “The Real Difference Between First and Third Person” where I learned that this difference is more than a matter of pronouns. To begin with, she told us that first person is the easiest and the hardest POV to write. It’s all about voice. Character drives the story in first person, in every word, in every sentence. “If you don’t have a strong voice, you shouldn’t write in first person.” Voice is still important in third person, but the story’s success is not as dependent on it. The great thing about third person is that not every word has to come from the viewpoint character. Anna walked us through a great exercise with a movie camera, demonstrating how the different aspects of third person – from third person intimate to third person distant – could move you in close or take you out wide of a scene, depending on how close you wanted the view to be – on how much you wanted the reader to experience.

 

sonia-gensler-225In another craft workshop, this one led by Sonia Gensler entitled “Kidlit Romance and Friendship: Keeping it Real”, we learned how important it was to develop the main characters separately. You have to make the readers fall in love with the characters individually before asking readers to fall in love with them as a couple. “They must have an identity separate from the relationship.” Character is key. To attain this, Sonia suggests you start with an in-depth understanding of your characters before you start writing. It is especially helpful to know the answer to the fundamental question of what your character wants versus what your character needs. She gave the example from THE HUNGER GAMES using the main character Katniss. What she wants more than anything is to keep her sister safe. That is her motivation for volunteering as tribute in her sister’s place. But what she needs to survive in the games is to learn to let people in, to trust.

 

Pati Hailey taught us in her workshop entitled “Building Memorable Worlds” that every story has a need for world-building elements, even those populated by ordinary humans. What makes a world memorable is when the elements of the world are put into perspective and introduced throughout the story. Elements need to be specific, authentic, and distinct. A great way to add some of these elements is through the use of similes and metaphors that are not cliché, but specific to your world. Use them as an opportunity to tell something about the character or the world. When describing a room, be specific. Don’t give a laundry list of items; give things meaning and connect them to a character. Also be more original with body movements – wide eyes and shoulder shrugs are over done. Pay attention to what people really do.

After a complete brain workout with  the amazing crafts, our day wasn’t even finished, we got a little introduction to our wonderful featured speakers. I tell you, our SCBWI OK group knows how to spoil us.

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Our first featured guest speaker was Minju Chang, literary agent with Book Stop Literary.

Minju comes from a small agency based in San Francisco that doesn’t do much advertising. They do work very collaboratively and they love SCBWI. She represents MG and YA of all genres and some PB as well. Minju was just brilliant and so enthusiastic about the business of books.

Minju said, “Rejection is inevitable.” She said she and her colleagues understand the frustration. They deal with rejections all the time as well.

She then decoded some editorial rejections for us:

“Not right for my list”     This is an umbrella form rejection

“I love the idea, but I didn’t make a connection”     View this as a bell curve. This means your manuscript is hitting the middle.

“I love this, but I couldn’t get my team on board”     May have already tried to sell similar book and it wasn’t successful.

“I like the concept/character, but there’s not enough story”    Quiet. This is a dangerous word. This means it’s difficult to sell.

Minju then said when she has a client receive this last type of rejection, she may suggest setting that manuscript aside to try again later. Maybe after they’ve made a bigger name for themselves and a quiet book won’t be so scary to publishers.

 

Tracy DanielsTracey Daniels from Media Masters Publicity was our next featured speaker.

She was there to teach us everything we didn’t know about publicity. That, my friends, was a lot. After talking with us for awhile about everything that goes into promoting a book and showing us all of the different social media options out there, she said the important thing was not to get overwhelmed.  (Oh, I was overwhelmed. I didn’t recognize half of the social media logos. And there were at least thirty of them!)

You have to be realistic with your books and with your goals. Know yourself. Be honest about what you want to do to promote your book. Do what is right for you and your book. Not every book needs a big tour splash. The publicity budget your publisher allots for your book may not be as big as you’d like. You may have to invest some of your advance or your own money to do some publicity yourself. Whatever you decide to do on your own, make sure to communicate clearly with your publisher’s publicity department. You may be surprised how much they can help you.

The most important publicity tip she gave us was to create an on-going contact database. This should be a detailed excel spreadsheet with every industry contact you’ve ever made – past and present. This will be an invaluable tool as you move to the publicity/promotion part of your career. Be meticulous! Keep city, state, and zip codes in separate columns. This allows you to search your database by location.

She had so many fantastic ideas for making connections and generating ideas, it was astounding. I wish I could share them all with you.

Our second day was all about the featured speakers. We were finally introduced to our third speaker, Brett Duquette, editor with Sterling Publishing. His appearance was delayed due to the fire at the O’Hare airport, or rather the fire set at the traffic control center near Chicago that grounded hundreds of flights. Yes, that fire. Brett had a less than stellar travel experience and yet he was still in great spirits when he arrived. He was just delightful. (Even though he announced being a proud Cornhuskers fan while deep in Sooner country, I think we’ll still claim him as an honorary member of the SCBWI OK tribe.)

Brett spoke to us on the elusive subject of voice.

Best surprise of the retreat was when Brett Duquette met Tammi Sauer while praising her book.
Best surprise of the retreat was when Brett Duquette met Tammi Sauer while praising her book.

Voice, Brett said, is the cornerstone of the creation of the narrative. “Everything comes from the voice. It’s where we begin to build something out of nothing.”

Brett went on to explain that in his mind, all parts of the story are the voice, really. Narrative isn’t just the beige carpet, it has a voice, too. The language used is in harmony with the character, narrative, setting, etc. Each piece has a voice which adds up to the capital “V” Voice.

Most people forget about the narrative and when they are told they need to work on voice, they only focus on dialogue. Voice is so much more than that.

Consistency is key to voice and good writing. Without it, the story feels unreal or boring.

It’s much more apparent in illustration when voice doesn’t work. You see it immediately. To avoid this, you shouldn’t over explain the action in your text. Make sure to leave room for the illustrators. Brett brought out CHICKEN DANCE by Tammi Sauer. “This is perfect picture book writing because it allows the illustrator room to do their job.” Brett discussed a series of pages spreads where the chickens were trying to pick a talent for the talent contest.

Bowling was out. So was juggling. And tightrope walking.

With concise language choices, Tammi set up the joke and let the illustrator deliver it.

Much to his surprise, Tammi was in the audience, just a few feet away. Brett then said it was a good thing he only had nice things to say about her book. It was a fantastic moment to witness. Then it was back to business.

He said the way you learn to do what Tammi did, to leave those spaces for the illustrator to be creative and tell part of the story, is you have faith that the editors will be able to envision a great book and the illustrator can do their job and create great illustrations.

Brett had so many great writing exercises for us to work through to help us really understand what he was telling us. It was an awesome session on voice with a capital “A”.

Anna and her Quilt of Many Book Covers
Anna and her Quilt of Many Book Covers

 

The final day was for wrapping up, a speaker panel, and for saying goodbye. Some goodbyes were more tearful than others.

Our dynamic leader of 14 years, Anna Myers, passed the torch on to Helen Newton with many tears spilled, but not before she received some love back in return. We all pitched in a gave her a quilt made with all 20 of her book covers on it, including her latest release, her first picture book. Anna will still be a part of our SCBWI OK family as an Regional Advisor Emeritus.

Although I don’t see how this retreat could ever be topped, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the next one was even better.

If you somehow missed this awe-inspiring event, make sure to mark your calendars now for the spring conference on March 28, 2015. You will not want to miss it.

Thank you to all of our guest speakers who traveled so far to be with us and to all of our fantastic local talent that made the craft day such a wonderful success. I learned tons of new information that will stick with me and I know I’m not alone there. This great event wouldn’t have been possible without all of you.

 

Anna Myers TUMBLEWEED BABY – The Interview & Book Giveaway

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Next up in the series celebrating fantastic local SCBWI talent, I give you the dynamic Anna Myers. Anna is my first repeat interviewee on the blog, so she’s a pro at answering in-depth questions. I’m so happy to have her back!

Anna is stopping by to tell us all about her latest book, TUMBLEWEED BABY, which was just released this month. It is her 20th book. It is also her first picture book. (Stay tuned! At the end of this post, Anna is giving away a copy of her book.) There’s quite a difference between writing picture books and writing historical fiction novels – like her story set during the Tulsa race riots in TULSA BURNING or the one where she created a fictional character that existed during the time of Abraham Lincoln in ASSASIN.

But don’t take my word for it.

Before we get to the Q&A, let’s learn more about Anna’s debut picture book. One could say that this is the tall tale of how Anna herself came into the fold of her own large family. For those of us who know Anna and have had the pleasure of watching this story’s evolution, it is such a delight to see this become a living, breathing picture book.

The Book Tumbleweed Baby 2

TUMBLEWEED BABY written by Anna Myers, illustrated by Charles Vess

Published by: Abrams Books for Young Readers

Release date: October 7, 2014

Genres: Picture Book

A large, loving family in the 1930s Dust Bowl finds a “tumbleweed baby”—a wild baby—in the plains near their cozy farm home. The baby’s new siblings discover the ways she fits and doesn’t fit into the family, ultimately deciding that her wildness makes her one of them. The rhythm and voice of the text make this feel like a classic tall tale, and it pairs perfectly with the dreamy, warm art from master illustrator Charles Vess. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Tumbleweed Baby3

The Fabulous Kirkus Review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A family gets a new addition in a tall-tale sort of way.

The Upagainstit family (say it out loud) has five children in their “falling-apart house.” Coming home from school one day, they discover a baby in a tumbleweed, and they promptly bring her home. “She’s a wild-all-over baby,” says the “littlest-of-all girl,” and she is, with hair down to her little naked ankles. Tumbleweed Baby does not take well to bathing or to sleeping, although she is very enthusiastic about dinner—messily so. The next morning, the littlest-of-all girl is still insistent that the family cannot keep her, although the “biggish boy,” the “not-so-big girl” and all the other siblings find ways that they can help to do so. When Tumbleweed Baby kisses Papa’s cheek, it’s all over but finding the right name for her. Much later, the littlest-of-all girl shares a secret that will not surprise adult readers and will probably delight the younger ones. Myers’ consistently idiosyncratic nomenclature is charming, as is her matter-of-fact tone. Vess does the most expressive hair—each Upagainstit has distinctive locks, but none more so than Tumbleweed Baby’s. As usual, his color and line are expressive and rich while staying within a gently rainbowed palette.

An adoption story, a feral child story, a foundling story, a child-of-difference story—perhaps any and all of these; certainly wise and full of delight. (Picture book. 4-8)

The Interview
Anna Addressing the troops at the SCBWI OK 2014 fall retreat.
Anna addressing the troops at the SCBWI OK 2014 fall retreat.

Valerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this book?

Anna Myers: I was born in west Texas, and my big brother always told me that he found me in a tumbleweed.

VL: And I bet for years, you actually believed him. Aren’t older brothers wonderful?

After writing 19 novels, what was the biggest challenge of writing a picture book? How did you go about learning to write a picture book?

AM: Getting a story down to picture-book length is hard. I had some help from writing buddies during the writing. One friend told me I didn’t leave enough to the illustrator in my first draft.

Another friend gave me an idea for the ending.

VL: That was a surprising thing to learn about picture book writing, that you needed to leave part of the story out so the illustrator could fill it in.

What surprised you most working in this different medium?

AM: I am surprised how excited I am about this book. Only my very first book made me more excited. I love having my words turned into such beautiful pictures.

VL: Working in a different medium invigorated you, that’s so wonderful. We should all strive to remember to keep trying new things.

Tell us about the difference between how you imagined the illustrations and how they turned out. What did you learn about the art of illustration?

AM: If I had been choosing illustrations, I would probably have chosen bright colors and a cherub-like baby. Neither of those would have been right for the story. Charles Vess knew what colors went with the story and how the characters in a tall tale should look. I learned writers should have nothing to do with the illustrations.

VL: And what gorgeous illustrations – those southwest landscapes! Vess really knows how to evoke a mood.

Tell us about your story of the Tumbleweed Baby.

AM: On their way home from school, five siblings find a baby in a tumbleweed. The smallest girl declares that the baby is a “wild-all-over baby” and that they should

put her back. They take her home. The baby is indeed wild. The question is whether or not the family can keep such a baby. Of course, they do keep her, and the story

ends with a surprise revealed by the girl who used to be the smallest.

VL: Your use of language is just so playful and perfect for the setting, like the Upagainsit family. I love it. 

What are you currently working on?

AM: I am revising Trashy Women, a book for adults about three teachers who form a garbage company to supplement their teaching income. I thought the book was

finished, but I don’t want it to be a pretty good book. I want it to be the best book I can make it.

VL: I’m so excited about TRASHY WOMEN! I’m glad you’re working on it. And it’s your first novel for adults, too. More playing with new mediums.

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

AM: I think my favorite book this year has been The Book Thief. 

I have also read lots of books written for adults and have loved all of the books by Alice Hoffman.

VL: THE BOOK THIEF is just wonderful, isn’t it? And I do like Alice Hoffman. I’ve read about four of her adult novels. I didn’t even realize until recently that she wrote teen novels, too.

What would be your dream assignment/what would you most like to write about?

AM: I would like to write another picture book, but I have to find the right story. The idea for a picture book needs to be unique.

VL: Thank you stopping by, Anna, and for sharing TUMBLEWEED BABY with us. We wish her a very successful journey.

For those of you lucky enough to be within driving distance of the Oklahoma City area, Anna is having her book launch party, today, at Best of Books in EdmondThe fun starts at 5:30pm, where I’ve heard tale that there will be a readers’ theatre, answers to weedy questions, and refreshments with tumbleweed tea. Meet Anna and pick up an autographed copy of her book.

For those not so lucky, you can still order your own copy here:

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Learn more about Anna Myers here.

Follow Anna on Facebook here.

The Book Giveaway

Anna has graciously donated a copy of TUMBLEWEED BABY to giveaway here on the blog. To enter, simply click on the link below and follow the instructions. Contest is open to everyone! Deadline for entering is Tuesday, October 28th.

Tumbleweed Baby 2
Win a hardback copy of Tumbleweed Baby by Anna Myers

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤ Anna Myers Rafflecopter giveaway

CONGRATULATIONS TO STEPHANIE THEBAN!

She won the the autographed copy of Tumbleweed Baby!

Jennifer Latham – Author Interview

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Continuing our celebration of phenomenal local talent plucked from the branches of our SCBWI Oklahoma family tree comes debut author Jennifer Latham. Her first novel, SCARLETT UNDERCOVER, comes out this spring on May 19, 2015, and I for one am thrilled. I met Jen a few years ago at a local Tulsa schmooze and immediately took to her. I’ve had the privilege of getting a sneak peek at some of her manuscripts for critique sessions and I love the way she writes fully developed characters and scenes that evoke a mood. I’m so glad she was able to take time out of her hectic schedule and stop by to answer some probing questions.

First, a little bit about her upcoming novel.

The BookScarlett Undercover

SCARLETT UNDERCOVER by Jennifer Latham

Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release Date: May 19, 2015

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery

When 15-year-old Muslim-American detective Scarlett agrees to investigate a local teen’s suicide, she figures she’s in for an easy case and a quick buck. But it doesn’t take long for that suicide to start looking a lot like murder, and for cults, ancient artifacts, and a very private billionaire to figure into things. To save the scared little girl who hires her, Scarlett has to face her family’s brave past, her own future, and maybe even a jinni or two. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

So many things to love about that! I am a sucker for a great detective novel. And throw in a great female character and I’m pushing people out of the way to grab it off the shelf. (Well, maybe, kindly nudging them, and at the same time pointing out what fab book I’m reaching for.)

Let’s hear some details about how this creation came into being, shall we?

Jen LathamFBThe Interview

Valerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this book?

Jennifer Latham: Honestly, I’m not sure there was any one particular inspiration – it’s more like my brain spent a long time gathering bits and pieces and then, when I started playing around with actual words on a page, they collided and made a book. Some of those bits and pieces were: a little girl playing in a giant sandbox at the state fair with her biker-dude grandfather (they became Scarlett and Manny); my obsession with hardboiled detective stories; my disappointment over all the vitriol aimed at Muslim-Americans; the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy; and the sudden rash of jinn sightings across the country.

 Well, OK…I made that last one up.

VL: Ha! you had me worried for a moment. It sounds like Scarlett was a great conglomeration that came together at just the right time, with just the right ingredients.

I love the idea of a young female detective and Scarlett sound like my kind of sassy; tell us more about her.

JL: This seemed like such an easy question when I first saw it. Then I realized it is so not. Because, corny as this may sounds, talking about Scarlett is like talking about my kids. I mean, to me, she’s amazing. Brave. Imperfect. Generous. Stubborn. Kind. Short-tempered. Strong. And entirely capable of being a complete pain in the ass. But I have no clue how other people are going to see her. My one great hope is that she’ll be more to readers than just a smart aleck, or a black, or a Muslim. I want them to see her for what she is: a complex teenage girl

 

VL: In essence, she’s feels very real to you. I’m sure this will translate to your readers. 

How much research did you have to do to create an authentic character of such a diverse background?

JL: A lot. I’ve worked really hard to be accurate and respectful when it comes to Islam, Middle Eastern folklore, and religious texts. I even hired a Muslim PhD student in English Lit to consult on the manuscript. There were some tricky issues to navigate; as I mentioned, Scarlett is complex. She’s not a “perfect” Muslim. But when she’s doing things that a more devout Muslim wouldn’t, I’ve done my best to point the discrepancy out.

VL: Fantastic! Extensive research for something like this is so vital. I’m thrilled that this book will add to the much-needed diversity landscape H2cWxknS_400x400in our literary world. I also love that although her Muslim heritage and her struggle with it is part of her, and it does come into play, but it’s not the main focus of the story. The mystery is the focus.

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned during this process to get your first book to publication?

JL: How long everything in traditional publishing takes. And that there is nothing – nothing — you can do to change it.

VL: Amen to that!

Thinking back to your childhood heroes /role models when you were a kid, who were they? What drew you to them? What powers/abilities did they have that you wished you could have? Do you still feel that way about them now?

JL: True confession: most of my heroes were authors. Their power was that they could tell stories that people wanted to read. And I feel even more like that now. My favorite writers are rock stars.

VL: Mine, too! I’d stand out in the rain to see an author I love, probably not for my favorite bands – priorities!

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

JL: I always knew, I was just afraid to really try. So I worked a lot of strange jobs after college. Then went to grad school (I’m half a dissertation short of being a PhD in Psychology) Then had babies. But when my older daughter turned three and it still felt like she was brand new, I realized how fast babies grow up. That was ten years ago. And it’s when I started drafting my first (still unsold) manuscript.

VL: Tell me about your most memorable adventure you had with your friends outside of school.

JL: Hmm…there was the time Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which used the tesseract to transport me across space. And the time that mean girl at school dumped a bucket of pig blood on me at prom…
Oh wait. That’s right. I didn’t actually have a lot of friends. My best adventures were the ones I lived through books.

 

VL: Ha! That sounds eerily familiar.

What was the scariest thing that you ever experienced as a kid?

JL: I don’t think anything was really scary. Hard, yes. But not scary. The really bad stuff has happened to me as a grown-up.

VL: My teen-aged daughter would agree that becoming an adult IS the scariest thing.

Tell me about the most interesting place you have ever lived. What did you like/hate most about it?

 

JL: So here’s where I’ve lived: NYC; San Francisco: West Point, NY; Augusta, Georgia; Buffalo, NY, Philadelphia; Madrid; Rhode Island (4 different towns); and Tulsa, OK. Honestly, Tulsa wins. Maybe its because I’ve been here longer than anywhere else. Or maybe it’s because this place refuses to be defined, and manages to both frustrate and surprise me (in good ways) every day. Someone once told me, “It’s a great place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit.” And that kind of fits.

VL: That is some serious globe-trotting. I’ve never thought of Tulsa like that before, and yet, I totally see it.

In your bio, you mentioned that you’ve had some really weird jobs, tell us about the worst job you ever had while going to school?

 

JL: This is a tie. Both jobs came after I’d graduated from college. The first was cleaning up in a virology lab at Brown University. It wasn’t so much the work (though autoclaving test tubes is a joy, let me tell you) as the nasty woman I worked for. I thought the job would give me an inside track if I decided to apply to the med school there. It didn’t. And I didn’t apply, either.

The second was working for this nutball guy who ran an interior decorating business. I literally spent days peeling stickers off the backs of carpet samples and gluing new ones on. See, he didn’t want customers to be able to find the same carpet at other stores, so he changed the product info. Again, it wasn’t so much the actual work as it was the way he treated me. No matter how menial the job, people who work hard deserve respect. And neither of those two crazy bosses gave me that.

VL: Bored to tears and no respect? Sounds like my idea of hell on Earth!

What are you currently working on?

JL: Well, I’ve been fiddling around with a second Scarlett mystery, and a historical fiction story set in Tulsa. I’ve also finished about 1/3 of a noir mystery for older young adults that’s kind of The Black Dahlia meets Oklahoma!

VL: What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

JL: I loved GOING BOVINE, by Libba Bray. And MY SISTER LIVES ON THE MANTLEPIECE by Annabel Pitcher. But those are just the first two that popped into my head. There are so many amazing books out there. It blows me away.

VL: GOING BOVINE was fantastic! (Of course, I love anything Libba Bray writes.) I will have to add the other to my must check out list. Always looking for interesting titles.

What would be your dream assignment/what would you most like to write about?

JL: Not a clue. I guess I’ll just keep writing until I figure that out.  :)

VL: Jennifer, thank you for so much for joining us and sharing your story with us, today. I wish you well with your debut of SCARLETT UNDERCOVER and look forward to its release date this spring.

Learn more about Jennifer Latham here.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter here.

Follow Jennifer on Facebook here.

Follow Jennifer on Tumblr here.

You can preorder SCARLETT UNDERCOVER here:

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