Friday, October 29, 2010

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Jennifer Laughran

I have another interactive interview for you today with Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Ms. Laughran maintains a wonderfully informative blog, but I didn’t discover it until after I set up this interview, so the questions are the usual fare. As always, details on the interactive part are at the bottom. See you down there!

KV: How did you get into agenting?

JL: I started working at my older sister's bookstore at the age of twelve, and worked at bookstores all over the country for almost twenty years, ending up as a buyer for one of the largest indie bookstores on the west coast. In 2006 I started interning for an agent, and in 2007 I decided that I really wanted to specialize in children's and YA books, which have always been my personal favorites, so I joined the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, which has been a perfect fit for me.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

JL: Work hard, have fun, and make terrific books. I really don't think that the agent-client relationship should be as fraught with drama or mystery as some people feel it is. I am a very straightforward person and I value open communication with clients--and that goes both ways.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

JL: Gosh, I have a lot of stuff coming out this Fall. So I'll just pick a few:

DRAW THE DARK by Ilsa J. Bick--This is a very creepy horror novel about a kid who draws pictures...and the subjects of them have a tendency to die. Ilsa writes psychological thrillers--some are realistic, some are dystopian, some are paranormal...but they are all weird and complicated and fascinating.

MERMAID'S MIRROR by L.K. Madigan--I took L.K. on based on her first book, FLASH BURNOUT. That was the first book I ever sold, and if you have read it, you'll know that it is a realistic, funny but gritty "boy story." MERMAID is very different--the story of a surfer girl who finds a mermaid. But it is equally voice-driven and wonderful.

SUGAR AND ICE by Kate Messner--Kate just nails the middle school voice--probably because she is a 7th grade teacher. SUGAR is about a small-town ice skating girl who gets scouted by a charismatic Russian coach, plucked from obscurity and thrown into the uber-competitive world of "mean girls on ice." I tend to love "star is born" type stories, "outsider" stories, and funny realistic middle grade too. :-)

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

JL: I rep novels for middle readers and young adults. I am not looking for picture book or nonfiction, and I do not represent books for grownups.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

JL: About half the (many) queries I get are for things I don't represent, and/or they don't follow guidelines. These are just automatically deleted--what's the point? For queries that I actually look at though, I'd say, the point you want to get across is "what is this book about and why should I care?" Don't dance around the subject, just tell me what the book is about.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

JL: I am looking for something that I haven't seen a zillion times before, that will make me want to stay up all night reading.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

JL: Follow the submission guidelines found at In short:

*E-mail only
*Put "query" somewhere in the subject line
*Paste the query and first ten pages in the body of the e-mail
*No attachments

Thanks again, Ms. Laughran, for these awesome answers. It’s a wonder people mess up those submission guidelines, since they’re pretty standard. All you queriers, take note!

Well, I’m sure everyone knows the drill: Leave your questions in the comments sometime before 5:00 p.m. PDT today, and Ms. Laughran will drop in a few times to answer them. Looking forward to your questions and Ms. Laughran’s responses.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Book Recommendation: BRUISER by Neal Shusterman

I decided to check out BRUISER after reading Kelly’s recommendation, and I’m so glad I did. It was one of the best book decisions I’ve made in a while:)

BRUISER begins as a gentle love story between swimmer Bronte and loner Brewster with all the usual suspects: Bronte’s overprotective brother, Tennyson; Brewster’s quirky younger brother, Cody; Bronte’s in-the-middle-of-their-mid-life-crises parents; Brewster’s alcoholic uncle. But when Bronte discovers Brewster’s gift to absorb physical and emotional pain, the novel takes an unexpected turn. And that’s where the story stays. In un-expectation.

The novel unfolds through the first-person narration of four characters, and yet each of these four voices is distinctive and engaging. Tennyson’s chapters read like something written by an actual teenage boy, which isn’t the easiest point-of-view to pull off (although I would expect Mr. Shusterman, who was once a teenage boy himself, to be able to handle that point-of-view better than, say, me), and Brewster’s chapters, which are written in stunning free verse, provide both the novel’s highest highs and its lowest lows. Moreover, the storyline feels fresh and fully developed, like Mr. Shusterman really took the time to explore the implications of his plot points and the consequences of his characters’ decisions.

BRUISER reads like a contemporary, but the not-normal twist definitely pushes this into the category of genre-bending for me. It’s a fantastic read from start to finish, one that I’ll be recommending for years to come.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chapter the Second: "Maia Eyemieye and the Ungrateful Dead"

In honor of Halloween, I’m resurrecting Maia and Jackson’s story, which was the subject of my very first blog contest. This week’s story won’t be part of a contest, but I’m hoping it will be a diverting way to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve.

Here’s how it will work: I’ll begin the second chapter of Maia and Jackson’s story at the bottom of this post. Then the first player will continue the story in the comments WHEREVER I LEFT OFF. And the second player will continue where the first player left off, and so on. Sometime around Halloween, I’ll finish off the story.

I only have two rules for our little game: Keep your story comment PG-RATED, and keep it somewhere around 100 WORDS. Oh, and I don’t mind if you play more than once--just make sure you don’t make consecutive story comments.

Here’s the first chapter of Maia and Jackson’s story (don't forget to read the comments of that post), and here’s the last 100 words of that chapter. And here’s the start of the second:

The gaslights cast crazy shadows across the cobblestones, and overhead, a raven cawed. Maia winced as Jackson helped her hobble up Doornail Avenue. Sure, it might have been Purgatory, but did they really have to buy into the whole Halloween motif?

Jackson patted her remaining shoulder. “It’ll be okay. First, we’ll go back to school and get your stuff.”

Maia looked down at her crutch, her moth-eaten backpack, and, of course, the ring. “But I already have all my things.”

“I meant your arm and leg.” He glanced at the ring and shuddered. “Then we’ll have to do something about that amulet.”

Maia hoped his shudder was for the ring and not her missing limbs. “You think Cleveland Codswallop will be back?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I do.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Michelle Brower

Today’s interview features Michelle Brower of Folio Literary Management. When Empty Refrigerator asked to see more interviews with agents who rep women’s fiction, I was so excited, because I already had Ms. Brower’s interview waiting in the queue. Enjoy!

KV: How did you get into agenting?

MB: I actually answered an ad on Craigslist for an internship, and once I was in I was hooked.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

MB: My personal agenting philosophy is all about love--if I love the book and have a vision for it, then I’m going to find a way to get it published and make it successful, come hell or high water. But that always means that I really, really have to love something, and if I didn’t that writer would be better served with another agent who was passionate about their work. I love for my authors to be eager to revise, eager to promote, and to feel like they are on a team where we have the same goal in mind.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

MB: I have a wonderful book just out now called DUST by Joan Frances Turner--it’s a zombie novel, but it was unlike any zombie novel I had ever read. It had action and gore, but also an incredibly complicated main character and writing that really crackled with energy and style.

There’s also MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE by Philip Stephens, which will be out in January. It’s a dark, literary novel about a washed-up folk singer and a murderess whose paths cross in rural Missouri. It reads like an old-fashioned murder ballad, and that’s something that certainly was beautiful and arresting.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

MB: I represent a wide range of genres, from literary fiction, to commercial fiction, to certain kinds of non-fiction. My favorite books are those that fall on the literary/commercial border, narrative non-fiction that is subject driven, and things that have a supernatural twist that aren’t limited to the supernatural genre. I have a lot of those right now, though, so I’m currently more hungry for literary fiction, and fiction that might be a good fit for book clubs.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

MB: I absolutely hate queries that begin with a rhetorical question. If someone asks, “Have you ever wondered what life would be like if you were an elephant?” and my answer is “No!” I don’t have any reason to read further.

I also hate it when the only descriptions of the story are vague or only about a character’s emotional development. It takes a real story for a novel to work.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

MB: I would love some women’s fiction with a redemptive, heart-warming story and some amazing writing. I’ve been doing a lot of dark books lately, and I need a little sunshine!

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

MB: E-mail is the only way, with the query and first ten pages pasted in the body of the message.

Thanks, Ms. Brower, for these responses. And I’m sure all you adult fic (is that a word? Word says it’s not a word (go figure), but I decree it is) writers just added another agent to your lists!

Happy Thursday, everybody!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Seven Scintillating But Mostly Useless Facts

Fellow bloggers Ishta Mercurio (awesome name, don’t you think? Ishta, you should name one of your characters after yourself:) ) and Carol Riggs gave me these delightful awards a few weeks ago. Thank you so much, ladies!

To claim Carol’s, I have to tell you seven things about myself, so here are seven scintillating but mostly useless facts I hope I haven’t mentioned before:

1. Bob is thiiis close to being finished--like, I-have-the-first-few-chapters-and-almost-the-whole-manuscript-completely-totally done. More about that in the next couple of weeks.

2. I already have a Shiny New Idea that I could start outlining, like, yesterday. Actually, for the first time in my life, I have a few Shiny New Ideas, but I’m pretty set on this one. I think.

3. As scintillating but mostly useless fact number two implies, I’m not very good at coming up with Shiny New Ideas. Some writers have more ideas than they could write in two or three lifetimes. I’m lucky to come up with one roughly every time I need it.

4. My blood type is O-positive (’cause I’m sure y’all were dying to know that).

5. I can say “y’all” because I lived in Texas for, like, a year when I was twelve. (Have I mentioned that before?) The rest of my childhood I spent in Utah. (Pretty sure I’ve mentioned that before. Oops.)

6. My sister is half Guatemalan, but it didn’t occur to me she wasn’t white until I was, like, sixteen.

7. I don’t usually say “like” as often as I’ve said it in this post.

I’d like to pass these awards on to the following six bloggers, all of whom have served as betas for Bob in one way or another:

A.L. Sonnichsen of The Green Bathtub
Bittersweet Fountain of A Bittersweet Fountain
Jenilyn Tolley of Jenilyn M. Tolley
Jess of Must Love Books
Liesl of Writer Ropes and Hopes
Myrna Foster of Night Writer

Amy, Mandy, Jeni, Jess, Liesl, and Myrna, feel free to claim one or both of these. I’m feeling generous today:)

Thanks for reading, everyone!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Power of Positive Critiquing

RATATOUILLE is one of my favorite Pixar movies. I especially like Anton Ego’s monologue at the end of the film. I won’t quote it verbatim (as Disney seems to have a freak-out anytime anyone borrows even the smallest snippet of their material), but he basically says while critics thrive on negative criticism, the truth is that even the most useless piece of dreck is worth more than the critique that labels it so. That the only time critics risk anything is when they actually like something.

I have critiqued more work this past year, my own and other people’s, than I have in all the other years of my life combined, and I’ve noticed a few things. It's so easy to be negative, to see the worst in your own and other people’s writing and focus on that. Not long ago, I blogged about unconstructive criticism, and I stand by that post. But the truth is, I think we often focus on the negative because we’re afraid to like something. Because, as Mr. Ego points out, we risk more by liking something than by not liking it.

If you don’t like something, all you have to do is say it’s dreck and move along. If, on the other hand, you like something, genuinely enjoy that piece of writing and think the project has some merit, then you’re throwing yourself into the ring with the writer. Every time a rejection or a negative critique comes in, it stings you, too, because you said you liked the project.

But that’s the great thing about jumping into that ring. Suddenly, not all the blows are landing on the writer. You’re in there, too, throwing your own punches, taking a few as well, but giving the writer--the creator--someone else to lean on. Someone to ask, “I’m really not crazy, right? This isn’t just a piece of garbage?” Sometimes we need that validation more than we need anything from the people who’ve read, and liked, our work.

Huh. I meant to take this post in a completely different direction, but these last few paragraphs just kind of spilled out. And you know what? I kind of like them. Guess I’ll let them stay.

Now I’m not saying we should sugar-coat everything. If we genuinely don’t like something, we’d be cheating the writer if we didn’t tell him or her so (but in a nice way, of course). And even when I like a project overall, I still point out the places in which I think it could be improved. What I am saying is that it’s all right to be positive when you really believe in something. That as much as a writer will get out of our suggestions for improvement, he or she may get even more out of the positive things we say.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Rosemary Stimola

To round out Culinary Week, I give you Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio, who is the first agent I’ve interviewed to represent cookbooks, I believe. Oh, and did I mention she represents all things kidlit, too? Must have slipped my mind… :)

KV: How did you get into agenting?

RS: This is actually my third professional life in books. I was an academic teaching language and literature, and then a bookseller. An editor friend asked if I had ever considered agenting, noting my backgrounds as good foundations. The rest, as they say, is history.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

RS: I don’t know if it is a philosophy, but it is a relationship of mutual respect. Every writer is different, in personality and in process. I try to work with each, giving what they need when they need it.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

RS: A lot of work in the tubes right now. Happy to see how stand alone novels have been growing into series. Mike Beil’s middle grade THE RED BLAZER GIRLS is now at four titles; Mary Pearson’s THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX is about to become a trilogy; Amber Kizer’s MERIDIAN is now a four title series; and Lisa Papademetriou’s SIREN’S SONG and David Gill’s BLACK HOLE SUN now have sequels in the making.

Strong voice, good storytelling, and memorable characters may be found in each and every one.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

RS: I represent pre-school through young adult, fiction and non-fiction. I also do cookbooks, which I find great fun.

I do not represent adult fiction.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

RS: Don’t apologize if you are unpublished. Don’t pitch your book as the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games. Don’t tell me you read it to your four-year-old and she loved it.

KV: You only want to see the query letter in a writer’s initial contact, but several respected industry sites have advised writers to include a few sample pages at the bottom of every query, whether the agent asked for them or not. So if a writer goes ahead and adds those pages, do you find that more assertive or obnoxious?

RS: Neither. I don’t read them. If the query interests me, I will ask for a full ms.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

RS: Something fresh. Something that doesn’t feel like I have seen it a hundred times before.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

RS: E-mail at

Thanks again, Ms. Stimola, for these responses. And queriers, take careful note of those query pet peeves and pitfalls. It’s probably a bad idea to tell any agent your book is the next Hunger Games, but I imagine it’s a doubly bad idea to tell that to the agent who sold the series in the first place.

Thanks for hanging with me through Culinary Week, everybody. Next week, I promise to dish up some writing-related posts (pun intended).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Recipe Recommendation: Lemon Pepper Pasta and Asparagus

So we do eat vegetarian meals occasionally (hard to believe, I know, based on the other recipes I’ve recommended), and I wanted to share one of those with you today. This one is light and summery (hey, it still feels like summer here in Mesquite), and the flavor profile is a surefire winner.

You can find the original recipe in Betty Crocker’s big red cookbook or on their website, but here’s my slightly altered version:

Lemon Pepper Pasta with Asparagus

2 cups uncooked farfalle pasta (if you’re looking for a variety that commonly comes in whole grain, penne would work just as well)
2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons lemon juice (or as much lemon juice as you can squeeze out of one lemon)
1 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed (or the equivalent amount of prepared dry beans, of course)
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Cook and drain the pasta as directed on the package. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Saute the bell pepper, asparagus, lemon peel, salt, and pepper in the oil, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are crisp-tender, about 4 to 6 minutes.

Stir the lemon juice and white beans into the vegetable mixture. Cook until the beans are hot, about 2 minutes. Add the pasta to the skillet and toss everything together. Top with more freshly ground black pepper and/or grated parmesan cheese, if you like.

The original recipe calls for cannellini or navy beans, but we’ve found white beans to be the perfect combination of texture and flavor for this dish. (Actually, I have a sneaking suspicion navy beans are white beans, since I can’t find canned navy beans at our grocery story, but that suspicion is unconfirmed.) Also, we once substituted grated lime peel and lime juice for the lemon peel and lemon juice, but I didn’t like it as much.

Hope you give this one a try sometime. Feel free to wait until next spring, though, as asparagus will be in season then.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Recipe Recommendation: My Family's Adobo

Well, it’s Culinary Week here on the blog, I’ve decided. Something Julia Child said about her boeuf a la bourguignonne made me think of this dish, and then, since I’ve been feeling bad about not supporting my vegetarian readers, I hunted down one of my favorite vegetarian recipes online, which I plan to share with you tomorrow. Even this week’s agent interview fits, because the agent whose interview I already had scheduled represents cookbooks. Totally. Awesome. Coincidence.

Anyway, here’s that thing Julia Child said about her boeuf a la bourguignonne: “Carefully done, and perfectly flavored, it is certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man.” That may be the case, Julia, but it in no way rivals the best-tasting meat I’ve ever eaten. That honor, I’m happy to say, belongs to a little Filipino dish called adobo.

My grandfather was born in Manila in 1922, immigrated to the US in the late 1930s, and married my Danish-stock grandmother in 1950. (Yeah, don’t even get me started on the awesomeness that is my grandpa’s life story. I could probably write a whole book about it, especially since, you know, I like to write.) Luckily for us, he brought adobo with him.

Adobo is the name Spanish conquerors gave to the uniquely Filipino dish that involves marinating meat in vinegar, lots of vinegar, for lots and lots of hours. Every family has a slightly different take on this classic recipe, but I once served our family’s version to a Philippine native who had recently moved to the States, and she said it was the best adobo she’d ever had:)

And so, without further ado (although there's been a lot of ado so far), the recipe:

My Family’s Adobo

4 pounds boneless pork spareribs or rolled pork roast
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup Sprite
1 cup frozen pineapple juice concentrate, thawed but NOT reconstituted
2 teaspoons garlic powder
4 teaspoons black pepper

Cut the pork into 2-inch chunks. Combine the other ingredients in a large pot. Add the pork chunks to the pot, cover, and marinate in the fridge overnight. The next day, uncover the pot and bring it to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 3 to 5 hours. Serve over rice.

Now I'm not sure how much of this is my grandpa's original recipe and how much we Americanized (because as rich as my great-grandparents were by Filipino standards (my great-grandfather actually received a law degree from the University of Michigan), I'm not sure how much access they would have had to things like Sprite and frozen pineapple juice concentrate:) ), but frankly, I don't care. The meat is beyond fork-tender by the time it’s done cooking, and it’s got that nice kick of Asian spice.

If you do try this one, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to drop me an e-mail or leave a belated comment. (I’ve enabled comment moderation on all posts older than a week, so I’ll be sure to see it!)

In the meantime, what are some of your favorite around-the-world dishes, and how did you discover them?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Massacring the Art of French Cooking: Boeuf a la Bourguignonne

Hour Six. The kids are finally--finally--in bed, the dinner eaten, and the leftovers in the fridge. The kitchen is a wreck, but I’m too tired to clean it. No, tired is too gentle a word. I am spent. I am exhausted. Boeuf a la bourguignonne is an unforgiving taskmaster.

Hour Zero. We hadn't attempted a recipe from MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING for months, but Honey Bear was determined to try one this week. We settled on boeuf a la bourguignonne (which you can find on page 315 in the cheerful teal-and-orange edition), and though we knew it would be an ordeal, we figured it would make up for all our months of culinary negligence. Plus, we figured it’d make a good blog post:)

Hour One. Honey Bear came home from work an hour or two early for the express purpose of making this meal. We started by boiling bacon. (Yeah, you read that right: Boiling. Bacon.) That took about ten minutes. Then we browned the bacon (?) and the beef, which we’d had the foresight to cut into cubes the night before. What we hadn’t had the foresight to do is cut them into decent-sized chunks. No, our meat cubes were a little bigger than the sugar variety, and as they all had to be seared on every side (so they wouldn’t release their juices over hours and hours of simmering in a big black pot), we spent a lot of time browning beef.

Hour Two. Still browning beef. I’d wanted to have the stew in the oven by the start of hour two, but alas, it wasn’t to be. After the beef was finally browned, we still had to sauté the vegetables (two out of the three members of French cooking’s Holy Trinity, the carrot, onion, and celery), which took another five or ten minutes. Finally, about halfway through hour two, we added grape juice and beef stock to the pan (the recipe called for “full-bodied, young red wine,” but since we don’t cook with that, we used grape juice instead), then stuck it in the oven to simmer away for two to three hours.

It was about this time that I scurried off to use the bathroom (since I’d had to go for, like, the past forty-five minutes), leaving Honey Bear to start the brown-braising of the small white onions by himself. I got back just in time to see him peeling the last of the onions while they were cooking in half an inch of beef stock--no small feat, I assure you--with the help of our meat tongs and a short blade. (Apparently, Julia hadn't been very clear on the difference between peeling and skinning until halfway through the recipe.)

Hour Three. We actually had a few minutes of peace at the start of this hour--from the boeuf a la bourguignonne, anyway. Our kids had woken up from their naps, and now they wanted our attention. I tried to entertain them while Honey Bear read up on the next stages of the Great Supper, which, at Julia’s suggestion, was also going to include boiled potatoes and buttered peas.

Halfway through this hour, Honey Bear set to work on the potatoes and started prepping the mushrooms. (Wait, mushrooms? There are mushrooms in this stew?)

Hour Four. The stew was almost ready to come out of the oven, so it was time to get those peas going and start sautéing the mushrooms, which we were supposed to add to the stew after it had finished simmering. Now, to be honest with you, Honey Bear and I don’t really like mushrooms, but in the interest of being one-hundred-percent faithful to Julia, we decided to make them, anyway.

Finally, (almost) two full hours later (yeah, we cheated on the time, but after three hours of full-time cooking, we decided we’d earned the right to a few shortcuts), we pulled the stew out of the oven. It looked about the same as it had two hours before. Still, we persevered. We poured the stew into a colander, catching the juice-and-stock mixture in a saucepan so we could reduce those juices to a glaze. Five minutes later (Julia said it would only take “a minute or two”), we were still reducing. The sauce wasn’t much thicker than juice and stock normally were, but by that point, we hardly cared.

As we dished everything up, Honey Bear said he hoped it tasted good. I said, “Nothing tastes as good as this should taste.” After Honey Bear took his first bite, I asked him how it was. He said, “It takes like stew meat.”

Curse you, Julia Child! (But you have to say that how Dr. Doofenshmirtz would.)

All right, all right, so the sauce was actually pretty good. Not three-or-four-hours-of-constantly-chopping-searing-or-stirring good, but pretty good, nevertheless. If you have company coming over and you want to impress them with your French culinary skills (not to mention your French pronunciation), give boeuf a la bourguignonne a try. If not, just take my word for it and save yourself the trouble.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Susan Hawk

So excited for today’s interview, which features Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency. This is an interactive interview, so Ms. Hawk will drop in periodically throughout the day to answer your questions in the comments. More information on that below. Check out Ms. Hawk’s responses to the usual questions, and then I’ll meet you at the bottom!

KV: How did you get into agenting?

SH: I worked for over 15 years in children’s book marketing. A little more than two years ago, I realized that it was time to try something different--I knew that I wanted to stay in children’s books, but learn something new.

This coincided with the birth of my second child, so I took some time off, and during that time I considered agenting. Then I saw a post on a neighborhood parenting e-mail group from Jenny Bent. She had just opened her own agency, and was looking for readers. I got in touch, we hit it off and after awhile, she asked if I’d like to start working as a children’s book agent, and here I am! I couldn’t be luckier than to have landed with Jenny, and the first nine months of agenting have been exciting.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

SH: For me, everything begins with the book. When I read something and can’t put it down, that’s when I know I’ve found something that I want to represent. And then, it’s my job to communicate that feeling, and to connect an author with an editor who shares this feeling about the book. Essentially, this is what I did in my previous life marketing books, and as a librarian--I’ve always enjoyed sharing books I love.

So much of the work in publishing is collaborative, I think to an extent that many don’t recognize (it’s hard to tell from the outside), and I really enjoy that kind of work. That’s the kind of relationship that I establish with my clients. The key to any collaboration, of course, is open communication from both sides.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

SH: I have four clients all of whom are revising and writing now. Their work runs the gamut: a middle-grade book about a lovable iconoclast called Baloney Boy; to a YA romance set in a world that has much in common with medieval Arabia; another about the long hot summers of childhood, solving a family mystery and taking that first peek into the adult world; and the last a YA with some paranormal aspects, about a boy who must save his sister’s life, which is hard to do when you’re already dead.

There’s a feeling that I think we all have, when you sit down with a book, crack open the pages and an hour passes in what feels like five minutes. You’re in a world that you don’t ever want to leave, with characters you hope to know forever. The projects above are all very different, but have one thing in common--I didn’t want to put them down.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

SH: I’m open to just about anything, my reading tastes are broad. I’d love to find a great mystery, and I’m looking for humor. Sci-fi is at the top of my list. I’ve always read fantasy, but I’m not looking for epic, high fantasy right now. Historical fiction is another favorite. I love boy books. I’m very picky when it comes to paranormal and romance, and am looking for something in those genres that feels fresh.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

SH: Really, for me, it comes down to the strength of the writing. I’m less concerned with the query itself, than I am with the sample pages that the author attaches, so be sure to include your first ten pages.

To avoid pitfalls, it’s best to look closely at an agent’s submission info, which should always be available online--if you make sure to follow the instructions there, you’re in good shape.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

SH: What pulls me into a book faster than anything else is that magic combination of great concept and authentic voice. I’m looking for exciting stories, told in a compelling way, with characters that are true to life. I’m drawn to the quirky and unique and have always loved books about people who see things just a bit differently. But story is key, I do want something to happen to those lovely characters!

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

SH: E-mail me a query letter that briefly tells me about you and your book. Include the first ten pages of your material in the body of the email and send to For more on querying me, see

Thanks again, Ms. Hawk, for all of this great information. Your passion for your clients’ work is wonderfully apparent. That is what we’re all looking for, after all--an agent who is as passionate about our writing as we are.

If you have a question for Ms. Hawk, feel free to leave it in the comments. Please note that I’ll be cutting questions off at 4:00 p.m. EDT (which is 1:00 p.m. PDT), so don’t dilly-dally!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Little Things

Yesterday, I shared some of the big things I’d like to see before I die. Today, I want to share some of the little things.

1. Fireflies. I don’t think you Easterners realize how totally awesome these bugs are. I’d definitely be willing to trade a few scorpions for some fireflies.

2. A field of sunflowers. Wouldn’t a field of sunflowers, all of them facing the sun, just be the happiest thing you’ve ever seen?

It’s a shorter list, I know, but I’m still adding to it. Happily, the list of little things I’ve already seen is longer.

1. Wild dolphins frolicking in the waves. My in-laws lived in Carlsbad, California, for a few years, an d we always went to the beach every time we visited. On one of our outings, I saw two dolphins cavorting in the same breakers we’d been swimming in earlier. I decided they must have been on their honeymoon:)

2. Caterpillars morphing into butterflies. When I was around nine, a neighbor lady offered my mother two caterpillars in a jar. She took them, of course, and for the next couple of weeks, we watched these caterpillars eat their way through bunches of leaves, spin themselves into cocoons, and emerge as two huge monarch butterflies. As I watched them fly away, I got this strange twist in my stomach. I didn’t know then--but I do now--that it was the bittersweet twinge all mothers feel when they watch their little ones go out into the world.

3. A whole rainbow. I walked out of a college class one afternoon, and there it was, a whole rainbow, a perfect arc that touched the ground in two places. If I’d been the gold-chasing type, I would have had two chances that day.

Again, I’ll probably come back and add to this list over the next few days or weeks, but since I-gots is at preschool right now, I want to get working on Bob. So I’ll finish by asking you the same question I asked yesterday (well, almost the same question): What little things would you like to see before you die, and which ones have you seen already?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Big Things

We all have a list of big things we’d like to see before we die. Here are a few of mine, in no particular order:

1. The Hagia Sophia. When I took AP Art History in high school, this was the building I fell in love with. The Hagia Sophia has been both a basilica and a mosque, but I want to see it for its clerestory, a window-lined wall that rises above the roofline of the surrounding walls. The Hagia Sophia’s clerestory is just below its dome, and they say that at certain times of day, when the light’s shooting through those windows at just the right angle, the dome looks like it’s hovering on a cloud of light. I’d like to see what a cloud of light looks like.

2. Italy, any or all of it. I’m not picky.

3. New York City. I’ve had a fascination with this city for a long time, even before I started trying to publish a book:) When Honey Bear got to go there on a mock trial trip before we were married, I was supremely jealous. (He was kind enough to bring me back a New York City T-shirt, though, which I still wear proudly.)

4. The Grand Canyon. I live, like, an hour away from the North Rim (if I don't mind taking a four-wheeler up and over a mountain on a gravelly trail), but I’ve still never been there. Maybe when I-gots is a little older, we’ll have to make the trip (though I think I’d prefer going the long way around in a car).

5. Angel Falls. Have you seen that shot in the BBC’s Planet Earth, when the camera sweeps over the top of Angel Falls and down the drop-off? It’s not the world’s tallest waterfall for nothing.

6. Ireland. (See the comments.)

7. An erupting volcano. I'd prefer not to be in the path of the erupting volcano, but hey, if I ever am, at least I'll be able to check another thing off my list. Gotta look on the bright side, right?

8. The Mississippi River, 'cause it's huge. Have you seen how huge it is? Out here in the West, our rivers come in medium, small, and so small a three-year-old can hop across them.

And here are a couple of big things I’ve already seen:

1. Yellowstone. I’ve even stood thirty feet down a boardwalk from a wild buffalo. A herd happened to come through the patch of mud pots we happened to be looking at, and when I broke through a knot of people, well, there it was. My little sister was with me, so I muttered to her, “Let’s just put our heads down and back away slowly.” If a park ranger had been there, he or she probably would have had a fit.

2. The Alamo, which is actually much smaller than it looks. I lived in San Antonio for about a year as a kid, and we visited the Alamo several times. My dad is something of a war history buff.

I might come back and add to this list over the next few days or weeks, but for now, I’ll just turn the question back around to you. What big things would you like to see before you die, and which ones have you already seen?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Interview with, uh, You

No agent interview for you this week, although I've got some great stuff in the pipeline, including another interactive installment with Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency coming up next week. Today, though, I want to focus on you.

First and foremost, I want to know what you write. I must admit, I've been pretty selfish when it comes to contacting agents about doing these interviews. For the most part, I've concentrated on agents who rep YA, fantasy, and sci-fi, since that's what I write. In the future, though, I want to interview agents who rep things that are more proportionally representative of the genres you write, so let me know in the comments (even if you write the same things I do, because you might never see another YA/fantasy/sci-fi agent again otherwise:) ).

Also, I'd love to hear your suggestions for making these interviews more helpful. Do you have a great general question you think I should ask every agent? Do you like these all-purpose interviews, or would you rather read agents' takes on specific topics (like effective revising, for instance)? I probably can't incorporate every piece of advice, but if it sounds like a good idea to me, too, I'll definitely take it around the blog for a spin.

In sum, please leave a comment with the genres you write and any other ideas or suggestions you have to make these agent interviews the best they can be.