Friday, January 20, 2017

Guest Post: "From Idea to Book Trailer" by Eric Kahn Gale

About 1/3 of the conversation between my wife and I is us talking in the voice of our adorable pooch, Bowser. (Most-dog owning couples are like that, right?)

Years ago, in our first apartment together, Bowser was especially fascinated by the door that connected our unit to the hallway. I would speak for him in this little British boy’s voice. He would go on about the wonders of The Magic Door and saw my wife and I as wizards who had the power to open the door and produce delicious food at will.

It got me thinking that the dog of an actual wizard might have trouble distinguishing between standard human powers and real magic. It made me laugh and, as a life long dog lover, I’d always dreamed of writing a funny novel about the loyalty, humor, and beauty of dogs.

I thought of a dog called Nosewise, who would be owned by the famous wizard Merlin. Like all dogs, he would enjoy learning to Sit! Stay! and Fetch! But when he saw Merlin practicing magic with his apprentice, Morgana, and casting fireballs, levitating objects and weaving cloaks of invisibility, he’d wonder why Merlin hadn’t taught him such tricks.

I loved the idea of setting the story in the familiar Arthurian legend because seeing things from a magic wielding dog’s point of view was very silly, and it was helpful to have some touchstones the reader would be knowledgeable about.

I was bowled over when I first saw the cover art created by our illustrator, Dave Phillips. It was funny, exciting, and epic...and I wanted to see it move. I have a background in 2-D animation and whipped up a little animation test. It was so fun to do that I commissioned Dave to create five more pieces of full color illustrations, and after a few months of intense work, I produced the full book trailer.

This book has been my biggest labor of love, and I hope readers enjoy reading it as much as I have loved writing it. 

Eric Kahn Gale lives in Chicago, IL with his wife and his dog, Bowser--the inspiration for Nosewise in The Wizard's Dog.

"All of my books have been inspired by my life. My first novel, The Bully Book, is a a comic mystery taken directly from my experiences being bullied in 6th grade. My second, The Zoo at the Edge of the World, is a fantasy prompted by my lifelong obsession with animals. And my newest book, The Wizard's Dog, is what I imagine my lovely dog, Bowser, would be like if he was granted magic powers. Life has enriched my books, and these books have vastly enriched my life."

“A magical story full of humor and heart.” —Katherine Applegate, Newbery-winning author of The One and Only Ivan

For fans of The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom comes an offbeat, comedic spin on the Excalibur legend told from the point of view of a talking dog who wants to be a magician!

Meet Nosewise. He’s spunky. He’s curious. And he’s a dog who can’t understand why his pack mates Merlin and Morgana spend all day practicing magic tricks. If it’s a trick they want, he’s the dog to ask! He can already Sit!, Stay!, and Roll Over!

But there’s no way Nosewise is Stay!ing when his master and best friend, Merlin, is kidnapped. There’s nothing Nosewise won’t do to get Merlin back, even if it means facing the strange Fae people and their magic-eating worms, or tangling with the mysterious Sword in the Stone. But it may take more than sniffing out a spell to do it!

Nosewise’s hilarious escapades and steadfast loyalty get him and his companions through King Arthur’s Dark Ages.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

NINJA STUFF: Author, Year Three

photo by Jessica Holman
Esteemed Reader, the state of our ninja is strong:) I don't know how you feel about these yearly posts chronicling my journey as an author, but I like them. I liked reading last year's post moments ago and reflecting on the time that's passed (Time, you wicked thing, you move too fast). There are plenty of incredible interviews and amazing guest posts available if you'd prefer to read something more interesting written by and about people who aren't me:)

But alas, this online repository of insights by superior writers and publishing professionals doubles as my author blog, so occasionally you're stuck with me: Robert Kent, the guy who promotes and celebrates middle grade fiction while publishing nasty horror novels filled with all sorts of foul language and violence and blasphemy of the sort my own dear mother would not have let me read back when she could still stop me.

When I gave Momma Ninja a verbal synopsis of The Book of David, she shook her head sadly and said, "Oh my." To the best of my knowledge, she hasn't read it (I surely would've gotten a late night phone call), and that's probably for the best. I've caused her enough worry over my lifetime:)

A lot happened in 2016 and there will no doubt be endless posts elsewhere about all the celebrity deaths, the media released (God bless you Batman V. Superman and Uncharted 4), and the craziest presidential election I've ever seen that has me wondering just how much longer we're going to continue to run our country using this outdated political model desperately in need of an upgrade. But I have outrage fatigue, I honestly didn't see that many movies (I'll get around to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in 2017, I promise), and most of the books I read or listened to were published in previous years.

As for the deaths of famous people, they've all hurt, partly because of the way media holds such a pervasive and intimate role in our lives that hasn't been true for any earlier era (there are people alive now who remember when you couldn't watch movie stars in bed). Carrie Fisher wasn't just an actress I never met, she was among my first loves. Carrie Fisher was a lot of people's first love, and a lot of other people loved her for reasons far beyond Star Wars. Also, if someone as famous and important as her can die, any of us can die, holy crap, we're gonna get old and die. I just saw Return of the Jedi for the first time how many years ago... oh no. Time, you wicked thing, you move too fast.

Richard Adams' death struck me particularly hard. Unlike the many other celebrities we've lost, I interacted with him. He was a very kind man who was gracious with his time and generous with his praise and I'll always be grateful for the incredible kindness he showed me. 

If I want to make myself misty-eyed, I have only to remember that first time I read his blurb for Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees, as it was more meaningful to me than any other milestone in my author career could be. If I ever get down on writing or blogging (happens to us all), or if somebody says something mean about one of my books (jerks!), I have only to remember that Richard Adams didn't think I sucked, and if that doesn't cheer me up or make me feel like I have as much right to participate in our shared literature as anyone else, nothing ever will.  And when some other author asks me for a blurb or to appear on this blog or for some other favor, I remember the kindness Richard Adams showed me and frequently feel obliged to pay it forward.

What I mostly did in 2016 was a lot of dad-ing. I bought a blow-up pool this summer marked down to 20 bucks from 60 and even though the pool sprung a leak by September, it's still one of the best things I ever bought. Little Ninja and I lounged in our pool and splashed each other in the backyard and laughed like loons over several long summer afternoons. If there's one thing I want to remember about 2016 in future years, that's the one:)

Little Ninja dressed as Prince for Halloween. After a decade of our clearance-special, Charlie Brown Christmas tree, Mrs. Ninja and I sprang for a brand new six-foot beauty that Little Ninja knocked over after it had been up a week. I changed a lot of diapers, attempted some potty training that's still a work in progress for 2017, worked with some wonderful child care specialists, and spent a fair amount of time worrying about some things that were out of my control (always a waste of time I'm rarely capable of avoiding). I also lifted a lot of weights and am now extremely proficient at picking up heavy things. While not transforming me into a Ben Afleck hunk, the exercise has helped me maintain a sense of calm-ish-ness.

(here it is again)

But this is a post about my being an author, not a dad (or a Batfleck), and some pretty cool stuff happened in 2016, like my being on that panel in the photo above. I'm the guy in white, talking about my books while sitting next to more talented authors. No, seriously. That's our old friends Skila Brown, author of Caminar, to my right, Sarah J. Schmitt, author of It's a Wonderful Death to my left, and John David Anderson, author of Ms. Bixby's Last Day on the end. A panel filled with that much talent and the guy who wrote Pizza Delivery is the one doing the talking? Are you freaking kidding me!?!

I'm elated that people are asking me to teach classes on writing and to speak on panels. I'm thrilled when really talented authors ask to appear on this blog or want to interact with me in other ways. I'm pumped to be swapping critiques with Laura Martin, whose series about dinosaurs in a post-apocalyptic Indiana has rocked my world. Is that Susan Kaye Quinn or Darby Karchut or Barbara Dee or any number of other amazing writers casually chatting with me on Facebook? You bet. One evening earlier this year I got an email from Andy Weir and while I was reading it my inbox chimed to let me know I had a new email from Hugh Howey, cause that's how the Ninja rolls, son. Whoo! Book life!!!

I'm not just bragging to be bragging, I have a point: somewhere in there while I was busy working so hard to become an author, I became one. I've got a whole bunch of writer friends and people are paying money to read my stories (as well as to see me in person) and it's awesome. What's the point of these year-in review posts if I don't acknowledge my successes? Some cool stuff happened this year to let me know that that thing I always wanted to do... I did it.

I could be doing some things better, and we'll get to some of my mistakes, but I'm no longer embarrassed to introduce myself at parties as a writer (I hand out a business card or sign a book). I'm not talking about something I'm going to do some day, I'm talking about something I have done and am actively doing. I'm still going to get old (maybe) and die (you too, Esteemed Reader, you too), but I honestly feel like I'm doing some stuff that's worth doing with the life I have while I can do it (Pizza Delivery is going to change the world!).

I've got three things left to share: a rant, a mistake, a personal insight, and then I'll tell you what's coming in 2017 and we'll call it a post.

First, a rant: I've been pleasantly surprised by how gratifying it is to publish my own books and by how many readers don't care one bit how a story gets to them so long as the pizza delivered is scary. Many authors who've been in the business long enough to have gotten a good look at how publishing actually works (not the imaginary way we hope it works when we're reading our first Writer's Market) are curious to know more about self publishing. Several editors and other publishing professionals who've been downsized or fear a layoff is coming have been curious to know how they can get in touch with other writers who are self publishing and in need of their services.

But some people are a-holes:)

It doesn't happen nearly as frequently as I feared it would when I first self published, but every so often someone will make a snide comment in my direction about self published authors not being real authors (real authors give up control of their work and settle for less money, apparently). I believe I've lost at least one friend due to my decision to self publish. Other well-meaning authors have said some fairly pedantic things in my direction.

In my third year of being an author, I can say I mostly don't care (I'm not made of stone). But, honestly, I'm having too much fun to worry what some sourpusses may think about it. When I decided to marry a black woman, some other white people advised against it, and when I decided to publish my own books, some other writers advised against that as well and I have yet to regret choosing what makes me happy. Boom! How you gonna refute my point when I brought racism into it!?!? Game, set, and match:)

Again, most of my fellow writers have been very kind. As for the handful of jerks, I recognize myself in them. The worst offenders are typically the authors who have published their first book, but aren't getting anywhere on the second, or who have been sending out queries for a long time. I've been there, brothers and sisters, and I used to say some mean things about self published authors myself; then I read some self-published books that were as good as, and in many cases, better, than what traditional publishers are offering and I quit being a snob. As for those of my brethren finding success with traditional publishing: Play on players. Get it how you live.

And it's not like traditionally published authors don't have to deal with jerks. I've got a traditionally published friend who assured me that an author famous for one book (still working on that follow up more than a decade later) treated him badly because he was simply a 'genre writer.' No matter how you publish, somebody somewhere is going to try to make you feel bad for daring to express yourself creatively. Life is short, haters gonna hate, so brush that dirt off your shoulder.

Second, a mistake: Ye Esteemed Readers without sin may cast the first stone. I'll be talking a lot about The Book of David the first part of 2017 when I put up one of my so-smug-as-to-practically-be-unreadable afterwords and some other book-related posts as soon as the fifth and final installment of my serial horror novel is published (it's coming as quick as I can get it to you, I promise).

But Ninja, you ask, didn't you publish the first four parts of your continuing series last year, making your readers have to wait an unreasonable amount of time for the climax to the story they already forked over good money to read? Shut up, Esteemed Reader:)

Alas, it is true. I'm never going to be as fast at writing as I think I should be (or as good as I think I am). I honestly thought writing a serial novel would be like writing one book broken up into five parts. Instead, it's been like writing five novels about one story. The last three installments each have a higher word count than All Together Now without so much as a single zombie in their pages.

I'm trying to grow as an artist and I'm so proud of The Book of David. It's my most ambitious project to date and honestly, I didn't think the series would have so many readers so fast. Aside from this blog, I've done almost nothing to promote it, and yet readers have found it and enthusiastically embraced it. Actually, some readers might've thought it sucked, but all the Esteemed Readers who've taken the time to write me and tell me how much the story scared them and has them hooked, wanting to know the ending, have delighted me to no end as that's what I most hoped would happen when I wrote those first four chapters.

Unfortunately, most of the Esteemed Readers who've written me to tell me nice things about my story were also writing to ask where they could pick up Chapter Five, and I've had to be all like, "well, it's funny you bring that up, because you can totally find it... nowhere except in my head."

My bad, dudes. Chapter Five is written (mostly) and is in revision with the many editors I depend on to keep me from making a fool of myself. I could publish it now, but the only thing worse for me than disappointing Esteemed Reader by being late is rushing to publish a final installment that's not worthy of their time and money. The Book of David is the most humongous story I've ever had to tell and it's important to me that it be done right.

Still, it was reckless and irresponsible of me to publish the first three chapters while still working on the fourth and fifth. I honestly didn't realize just how much story I had to tell. To any Esteemed Readers who have been left hanging: I'm so sorry to have made you wait and I so appreciate your patience and your enthusiasm for my work.

I suck. I'll try not to do it again in the future.

Third, a personal insight: There was a day in 2016 working on the end of The Book of David that brought me to tears. I've put my whole heart into that story and when it's published, I can walk away from it and know that I left everything I had on the field. Should it become the story I'm known for, as much as I'll ever be known at all, (I'd prefer to be known as the Banneker Bones guy) I'll be happy to be identified as the guy who wrote the long horror story in which many mean and offensive things were said about religion, the government, and flying saucers. The Book of David, for better or worse, is the story I had to share with the world and if I were only ever able to have published the books I've published so far, I'd be glad The Book of David was among them (oh my God, you guys, I love it so much, and I don't care that some reader somewhere thinks I'm going to Hell for writing it).

Still, sometimes when in the throws of writing a thing, it's easy to forget why we writers are bothering at all. I identify with the title character, David Walters, in more ways than I'm completely comfortable admitting to in public, but in retrospect, it's his wife, Miriam Walters, I most identify with. She's not me and her crazy tale of living in a haunted house while being pestered by UFOs should in no way be interpreted as an autobiography by proxy. I made all that stuff up, honest.

That being said, of course I identify with my protagonists (yes, all of them). Each of my characters is typically reacting in a story the way a version of myself likely would were I to find myself in their circumstances (I hope I never do).

Miriam Walters is my only character to date who is a writer, a write of middle grade fiction no less, and she wants to take care of her family, find readers for her fiction, and to never be tempted to smoke another cigarette. I want all of those things myself and of all my characters in all my books, I think she and I might get along best at a lunch if she didn't hold a grudge for all the misery I put her through in service of the story (she's a writer, so she'd understand).

During one of the last chapters of her story which I won't spoil here (for those of you who've read it, this particular scene involves an open garage door) I realized that my character's emotional crux, for once, was my emotional crux. I was in tears by the time I finished the chapter because it dawned on me that I had written everything else that happened to my character to get her to that moment so I could forgive her and in doing so, forgive myself. 

The details don't really matter to anyone but me. What does matter is that in writing Miriam's story I was able to relieve myself of a deep-rooted emotional burden I'd been carrying for nearly two decades. Don't get it twisted: I wrote The Book of David to show Esteemed Reader a good time and maybe poke at their brain a little bit and that's it. If I made you laugh, scared you a bit, and made you consider an alternate point of view, than I did my job. I get your money and your attention, you get my story that hopefully justifies the expenditure of both, and that's it. We're square.

But once in a while there are moments that come to a writer that reward beyond what I have any right to expect to receive. Realizing I can hate myself a little less because I don't hate my character is a reward you can't put a price tag on. There are a lot of great things about writing that will keep me writing in 2017 (not discounting Esteemed Reader's money by any means), but that moment of realization when you at last understand why this particular story had to be told by this particular writer the way it was told make all the pain that goes along with writing totally worthwhile. You can't find catharsis like this at the bottom of a bottle or on a therapist's couch. 

One of the many reasons I write is to free myself. If that doesn't make sense to you, Esteemed Reader, that sucks for you, but I bet a lot of you writers know what I'm talking about:)

Here's what's coming up in 2017: I have promised my number-one middle grade fan that I would stop writing so much horror and finish Banneker Bones 2 in time for his birthday in July.  That means I'm slowly ramping up into middle grade mode once again. My sentences will be shorter and my prose will be tighter and I'll knock off all the cussing, but I wouldn't go so far as to promise complete politeness or what would even be the point? I'll also be focusing on reading more middle grade books instead of horror stories and I might even review a few books here (don't worry, we'll still have plenty of interviews and guest posts).

Little Ninja recently broke my and Mrs. Ninja's hearts by starting pre-school (Time, you wicked thing, you move too fast), which is freeing up a bit more time for me to write and one reason why this post is so long:) My number one writing resolution for 2017 is to focus on book promotion beyond this blog. Once Chapter Five is available, I'll finally have enough books out to justify spending money on promoting my stuff, so I'll be attempting various paid marketing venues and possibly be sharing some of my experiences here so you can learn from my screw ups:)

Here's hoping that 2017 is a very good year for both of us, Esteemed Reader. Author, Year Four, here I come!

Monday, December 12, 2016

GUEST POST: "The Story Detective (Where do Story Ideas Come From?)" by James R. Hannibal

With the mystery and magic of The Lost Property Office now revealed, I’m starting to see a lot of questions from young writers. Probably the most common is “Where do your ideas come from?” I’m often tempted to respond, “Why, the stork, of course.” But the truth is, ideas don’t come to writers out of the blue like a baby-toting bird. The best writers are detectives. If you want great story ideas, you’ve got to track them down.

In the counterterrorism world, we used to say you don’t know what you don’t know. Terrorists don’t send notes to intel HQ that say, “By the way, I’m planning to bomb base X in city Y sometime next week. See if you can stop me.” In counterterrorism, if you’re not out in the world, both physically and digitally, actively seeking the threads and inklings of plots and plans, you’re already losing. A good writer’s job is much the same. You don’t know what you don’t know, so if you’re not out in the world seeking the threads and inklings of wonderful tales, you’ll never find them.

Let’s break down that phrase digitally and physically.

Digital – Lay out an online net to catch the scent of your elusive prey. My genres are military thrillers, mystery, and fantasy. Therefore, I follow sites and online publications that produce news and images that might inspire me. My personal Facebook feed alone is a treasure trove of cutting edge science and old world imagery, and I sift through it every morning.

Physical – Every good gumshoe knows that the best clues aren’t found from a desk. Get out there and see the parts of the world that inspire you. If I had not made the effort to see London’s Baker Street for myself, The Lost Property Office would never have come to be.

Of course, that’s not the end of it. That’s just the beginning. Real-world plots don’t come to investigators in complete, tidy packages, and neither do story ideas. That first footprint is never the whole story. It’s only the first clue. Once your net, or your gumshoe dedication has brought you to the first thread, you’ve got to start pulling. Sometimes it’s just a rabbit trail. Sometimes it’s pure gold. You won’t know unless you commit to the hunt.

Again, let’s break that down.

Digital – So you read one article on the mind-blowing potential of photon-collision holograms. Cool. But where’s the story? Only by persistent digging will you uncover the hidden dangers few people are talking about, or gather enough intel to invent your own (after all, this is fiction).

Physical – It’s not enough to be inspired by a locale. What’s the history behind this castle ruin you’ve stumbled upon? Who fought and died there? What secrets were they hiding? You’ve got to canvas the area like any good detective. Talk to locals, guides, and experts. Find the nearest library. Bits and pieces will emerge, whether real or fragments of imagination. Then you, like Sherlock Holmes, can fit them together into a great tale.

Are you waiting for ideas to come to you? They won’t—not the best ideas, anyway. Lay out your net. Pull out your magnifying glass and hit the bricks. To be a great fiction writer, you first have to become an expert story detective.

As a former stealth pilot, James R. Hannibal is no stranger to secrets and adventure. He has been shot at, locked up with surface to air missiles, and chased down a winding German road by an armed terrorist. He is the Thriller Award nominated author of the Nick Baron covert ops series and the middle grade Section 13 Series. His latest, THE LOST PROPERTY OFFICE, is a Book Expo America Buzz Book, appearing on both the Los Angeles Times and Publishers Weekly ShelfTalker Hot Holiday Gift lists. 

Thirteen-year-old Jack Buckles came to London to find his missing father. But his dad was not who he claimed to be. A hidden world of secret societies and unspeakable danger awaits Jack at The Lost Property Office. The only way he will ever see his father again is if he finds the Ember, an artifact that holds a secret dating back to the Great Fire of London, and brings it to a madman calling himself the Clockmaker. Can Jack save his father along with millions of unsuspecting Londoners, or will he have to choose between the two?

Monday, December 5, 2016

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Marcy Posner

Marcy Posner is a literary agent with Folio Literary. She is seeking: “I straddle the line between adult and children’s books (middle grade and young adult only). In the adult world, I’m looking for: commercial women’s fiction, historical fiction, mystery, biography, history, health, and lifestyle – and, especially, thoughtfully written commercial novels, thrillers with international settings, and narrative nonfiction. In the children’s world, I’m looking for smart, contemporary YA and middle-grade novels. A great new juvenile mystery series for boys would be fun.” She does not represent genre books of any kind (no romance, mystery, sci-fi or fantasy), nor does she seek memoirs.

In her own words: “I have spent a lifetime in books. I started out with a brief stint as a librarian, but found it a bit too staid, so moved on to publishing. My first job was at Pinnacle Books where as assistant to the President I was given a book to edit the third week of my employment. I then moved on to Rodale Press and then Salem House where I helped bring British books to the US, finally moving up the publishing ladder to Pantheon’s Associate Publisher, where I worked with some of the major cultural icons of our time, including Noam Chomsky, Studs Terkel, Matt Groening and Art Spiegelman. After fifteen years on the editorial side of the business, I made the jump to agenting – spending twelve years as at the William Morris Agency as an agent and as Vice President and Director of Foreign Rights; five years as president of my own agency; five years at Sterling Lord Literistic as an agent and Director of Foreign Rights; and I’m now here – and very happy – at Folio.

“Editorial skill and a deep knowledge of the publishing industry sets me apart from many of my colleagues. When I work with my authors, I’ll focus editorially on how to make the book as strong as it could be – whether that book be terrific women’s fiction or an extraordinary YA debut (or any of the other categories I represent). During that process, I’m able to bring to bear all the institutional memory I possess, knowing which editors and which publishing houses have a penchant for a certain subject, or a different voice, or a particular kind of author. My clients include Newbery Honor winner and New York Times bestseller Jacqueline Kelly, other New York Times bestsellers, Sheri Reynolds and Jill Barnett, along with Kristi Cook, Christopher Grant, Georgia Bockoven and Jerri Corgiat.”

And now Marcy Posner faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

A Wrinkle in Time 
The Alienist

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

the first season of True Detective

The Drowning Pool 
Serial Mom

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

My ideal client loves what they do and excels at it, and they are open to receiving feedback.

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

I love receiving queries for beautifully written fiction, middle grade/YA, and interesting platform nonfiction.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing about being an agent is getting to work with so many talented writers. 

My least favorite thing is receiving queries from people who aren’t serious about the craft. Remember: just because you can type doesn’t mean you can write!

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Read more! As a writer, reading is research. Read as much as you can in every genre, but especially in the area you would like to write in.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

I would have lunch with Jane Austen, because so much of modern fiction has grown from the model she established.

Monday, November 7, 2016

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Barbara Ivusic

Over the course of twelve years working in the publishing industry, Barbara Ivusic has amassed an invaluable skillset in publishing, editing, and cultivating talent. 

After graduating with honors from the University of Sydney with a degree in English literature, Barbara pursued a postgraduate certificate in editing and publishing while simultaneously working for Rick Raftos Management. There, Barbara was responsible for hunting through unsolicited manuscripts to help select new clients, as well as liaising with editors and publishers.
With her new found love for helping aspiring authors discover their voice, Barbara established New Author Literary Services an editing company with a strong focus on helping emerging authors.  
Since arriving at Inkitt Literary Agency, Barbara has already launched the careers of numerous new authors and succeeded in publishing five novels.

From smaller firms and old fashioned hardbacks, to big name publishing houses, like Random House and Tor, and new media innovations, she has honed skills and fostered relationships in all facets of the industry.

And now Barbara Ivusic faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

This is a difficult question indeed! The ones that stood out for me are:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

My three favorite movies are: Out of Africa, Into the Wild, The Hours

I don't really watch TV shows.

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

I have been lucky because I have worked with some amazing authors who have been more than receptive to feedback for their work. In doing so, they have grown to understand that publishing is a business.

As as editor and agent I can see both sides of a project; from the importance of polishing a manuscript and getting it ready for publication to approaching a publisher and finding a market for it. My ideal client has a clear vision of what they want and they are driven to make their work better.

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

The project I would most like to receive a query for is unique; it is something I am intrigued by, something that I can't turn away from, a story I can't put down because it is so different yet so familiar. It is something that can become universally popular and at the same time be edgy and raw.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

I love being an agent. I love every aspect of it but what I love the most is meeting new authors. 

My least favorite is having to reject people especially because I know how hard people work to write their stories. It makes me happy that people reach out to me and take the time to submit to my agency.  

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

The advice I would like to tell to an aspiring writer is that it is important to research your market as thoroughly as possible. Try and picture your book on the book shelves; where would it be located, among which books would it be positioned. Think about your readers, who are they, where are they, what do they do? What is it about your book that they are going to love. When you picture your readers, you will also have a better understanding of how to pitch your work when you approach publishers and agents.

I would like writers to understand that in our day and age it pays off to have an online presence, somewhere where their fans can reach out to them and ask questions and interact with them. We are incredibly lucky with how much social media has given us in terms of helping to establish relationships and friendships with people who are on the other side of the world. I encourage writers to engage with their readers.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

If I could have lunch with any writer, it would be Charlotte Bronte because she made such a great contribution to English literature and I have always been fascinated with her view on Victorian spirituality. I would like to know where her ideas came from and I would love to know her as a person. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

NINJA STUFF: An Open Letter to Stephen King

Dear Mr. King,

Thank you for sharing your gift with the world. We've never met, but your work has forever changed me for the better and had a profound impact on the course of my life.

Describing you as my favorite author doesn't quite cover it. Mentor would be a better term, though perhaps disrespectful to the writers who've worked with me in person. Imaginary friend feels too trite (and unfavorable to me), so I think I'll settle for describing you as my Heroic Writer Mental Construct, the voice of the other who whispers to our protagonist, usually in italics, the way Pennywise whispers to Henry Bowers in It while simultaneously being the moon (I slept with my curtains shut for months!). Like so many of your characters, I hear voices, and strongest among them is yours.

Young boys need heroes (so do grown men), and writers specialize in creating imaginary people. I've often imagined you sitting behind me as I write so that when I got stuck in a story and didn't know what Miriam Walters should do next, I could turn to you and hear you say, "What did Wendy Torrance do in this situation?" When the Heroic Writer Mental Construct did it and did it right, how did he do it? What would Stephen King do (WWSKD)?

For this reason, my extremely long serial horror novel containing copious swearing, incremental repetition of creepy phrases, mental voices whispering in italics, a writer as a protagonist, and themes of dark Christianity, The Book of David,  feels like my final exam in a course I've been enrolled in since I was in the sixth grade and read my first Stephen King novel. Have I used what you taught me to create Stephen King fan fiction that's somewhere in the neighborhood of emulating your style without straight up copying it? Does The Book of David (the next-to final Chapter releases today!!!) come even close to delivering the combination of strong character/strong situation tension and philosophical humor I always loved about your stories, that unique reading experience I've never been able to get anywhere else?

Probably not. But if a writer isn't going to give his all and aim to be the best, why's he bothering?

This is the curse of knowing there exists in this world a writer like Stephen King: though I'm devoting so much of my life to writing, I will never write anything as incredible as The Dark Tower. The greatness of The Stand is beyond my reach. I have to wonder why I've bothered writing not one, but two zombie stories in a world where Home Delivery already exists. Sorry vampire writers of the world, we have Salem's Lot, so we don't need any more vampire stories, thank you, and for sure don't even attempt a scary clown. The competition is closed, we have our best horror story in every category and they all happen to have been written by the same dude.

Trying to out write Stephen King is like trying to win a fight against Superman. I tell myself, "It's all good and well that you like to write scary stories, little buddy, but you can't beat that guy. No one can. It isn't possible. So don't waste time feeling bad that you're not smarter than Einstein. Learn from him as much as it's possible to understand with your less-gifted brain and do the best you can to be scary in your own never-going-to-be-quite-as-good way."

For years I've been referring to readers of this blog as Esteemed Reader, which is absolutely my version of Constant Reader. "Constant" is an assumption it's fair to make when you're a writer of your talent, Mr. King, but if you're little ole Robert Kent, you're just happy somebody showed up, so "Esteemed" it is:)

I've read every one of your stories and novels, Mr. King, most of them twice, with the exception of The Tommyknockers, which I can never quite bring myself to finish no matter how many times I try. But hey, if you need to write the occasional The Tommyknockers to also write The Mist or The Body, then I'll take that trade all day everyday.

The purpose of the previous paragraph is not just to be a dick, but also to illustrate that I'm not entirely in the bag for you all the time, every time; just mostly:) As much as I love your writing, it's not a blind love. I am paying close attention and learning with every word. As prolific as you've been, not all of it can be perfect, but oh my dear God in Heaven, when you got hold of a good story, no one has ever done what you could do and I don't know that anyone ever will.

When I met the future Mrs. Ninja, I wasn't sure about a small town white boy coupling with a black girl from the city. But when we discussed our mutual love of The Dark Tower, I knew it was meant to be. And did we make nerd jokes about our being Eddie Dean and Detta Walker (Mrs. Ninja likes Susannah, but loves Detta) while calling our cat Oy? No comment. But Mrs. Ninja did write her graduate thesis on a contextual analysis of the multiple published versions of The Gunslinger, which is why I know and find it hilarious that you changed Roland's line "how's it hanging" to "how are they hanging" (much better, I guess?) to "Long days and pleasant nights."

We're excited about the movie and think Idris Elba will make an amazing Roland, even if he's a little young (I wanted Michael Keaton). I don't suppose the movie Roland and Detta will have the same wonderfully suspenseful racial tension as it exists in the book (if they cast a white actress, my wife may drive to Hollywood to slap someone), which makes me sad.

But real talk: it doesn't matter as there isn't a movie studio in the world with the courage to put Detta Walker out there in all her glory (for the uninitiated, she's the psychotic projection of an otherwise mild mannered black woman intentionally embodying racist stereotypes) as too few artists are as oh-my-God-are-you-watching-this-guy nuts as you. I cherish your recording of The Drawing of the Three audiobook (hard to find, but so worth it) in which you with your white skin do your version of a Detta Walker voice, and to hell with all the angry letters I'm sure you were already getting for dropping N-bombs in Carrie and The Shining and It and wherever else you needed them because you're fearless in a way every author should yearn to be and you never let social convention get in the way of telling The Truth.

Mr. King, when you get hold of a good tale, it's like hearing notes composed by Mozart. Your story reads like no other story could. When I read and reread and reread and listen to you and William Hurt read Hearts in Atlantis, it works every time (the only book I've read more is It, but only just barely). Hearts in Atlantis is perfect, it's always perfect, because that's how great literature reads when it's done right, and I cry at Bobby Garfield's tale every time because you've earned those tears through your craftsmanship and Bobby's story is more real to me than so many life events I've witnessed firsthand.

To displace a single paragraph of Hearts in Atlantis would mean diminishment. To know so perfect a novel can exist, can be brought forth from that ethereal realm where fiction exists before its written is like having discovered proof of God. A great novel is a religious experience and the shelves in my office where I keep your books form a sacred temple.

When I was a teenager, I was assured by multiple adults that:

1. Your writing was cheap trash.
2. It was rotting my brain.
3. I was probably going to Hell for reading it.

You could not have asked for a better combination to make me a loyal Constant Reader:) I'll never forget the way the adults who taught my Sunday School classes looked at me when I brought Pet Semmetary on a week-long missions trip, and those disapproving looks from the people so often telling me what to think and how to act were part of what made your books such a pleasure to read, like getting an earring or a tattoo. Pet Semmetary scared me then, but I reread it last year, and now that I'm a father, I found it almost too scary to finish.

It was the first book for adults I ever read. The experience expanded my mind and is one of the clear markers in retrospect of my transition from childhood. I wanted to read It because a couple of the more popular boys were reading it, and they almost never read anything. A teacher yelled at them because that book was "not appropriate for school," which blew my mind, because all they ever want you to do at school is read books. Even then, teachers were convinced that literature was dead, but I saw that kids would read if you let them get their hands on something interesting to them. And to the great annoyance of the other teachers, the cute Language Arts teacher I yearned to marry some day was also reading It.

I had read sections of certain adult books prior to It--"the good scenes," as it were, recommended to me by kids in the know--but I had never sat down to read an adult book. And what an adult book! At 1,138 pages, the hardback called me a chump for even daring to glance at it. Getting through the whole thing was its own right of passage, or ritual of chud, so that I could say that yes, I, Robert Kent, am capable of reading a book it strained my wrists just to hold. Today's kids with their e-readers don't know how good they got it:)

But reading It never felt like work, partly because it had all manner of good stuff inside from copious amounts of "forbidden language," to frank depictions of sex, to violence worse than anything I'd ever seen on cable. That book has everything my mother didn't and still doesn't want me to read, like all the Grand Theft Auto games put in the written form:) If that had been all the book contained, I likely would've moved on upon growing up and wouldn't be writing this letter, but it must be acknowledged that the naughtiness of your books is surely part of what's made them so popular. I wasn't the only kid reading for the "good scenes."

But my relationships with so many of your books are not tawdry flings. If I live another decade, I'm for sure going to reread Memoirs of a Geisha, The Cider House Rules, Watership Down, Jurassic Park (and will curse the stupidity of the characters engaging in the raptor nest climax for the 20th time), The Exorcist, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; the list goes on at considerable length, but some books must be cherished and loving them is a commitment. Half your books are on that list and if I live another two decades, I'll probably reread the other half. I just reread It again last month, so I'm good for a couple years, and I'm currently listening to Frank Muller's incredible recording of Wizard and Glass, and I've got a candy craving to reread Needful Things again soon.

So when reviewers have compared my writing to yours, I've both flushed with delighted pride as that's the finest compliment I could hope for, and taken issue as a Stephen King fan. Sir, I have read Stephen King, and Mr. Pizza Delivery is no Stephen King.  Still, I have devoted more hours of my life to reading your work than any other author's, so there's no question in my mind that your influence has shaped my prose on levels I'm not even aware of. And not just when I'm writing horror. When I write Middle Grade books, I'll spy the occasional sentence I know to be a Stephen King sentence, because it's the right sort of sentence the Heroic Writer Mental Construct would write. And it's no coincidence that there's a chapter in Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees titled "The Long Walk."

I have a degree in literature and you can't get one of those without consuming a fair amount of books and listening to a fair number of blowhards with entrenched views spouting the virtues of James Joyce (do you want a story, or do you want an obnoxious puzzle for insiders that calls itself a novel?) and crying out against the evils of modern fiction. I took a lot of guff for comparing classics to your work (several professors gave me embarrassed looks as though I had publicly defecated). I didn't know much, but I knew people pretended to have read The Scarlet Letter and actually read Misery.

It made me angry that these professors with good jobs, relatively speaking, wouldn't acknowledge that there was a difference between poorly written genre fiction and your stuff. I resented their beliefs that they were smarter than you and your readers, and that the books they liked were somehow better than the books enjoyed by "common people" with less cushy jobs. I have never stopped being offended that so many of them admitted to me, proudly, that they had never read your work. Imagine it: professors of literature neglecting to read the world's bestselling novelist and arguably the most popular writer on Earth at the time they were living.

I learned that snobs can still teach you a lot about great works provided their authors are long dead:) One day their descendants will be teaching your works and railing against future upstart crows. I am grateful, however, as they convinced me that if I was going to be a writer, I wanted to be the sort people would want to read even if no one was making them.

This letter is long, and so I'll say what I came here to say and be done with it: Stephen King, I love you, man. Your work has meant more to me than I could ever express if I wrote a hundred letters. You deserve every penny you've made and all the praise you've garnered and much more than we Constant Readers are able to you who have given us so much.

Thank you, Stephen King, for making my life brighter and for showing me what fiction writing should be when it's done right.

Your Eternal Fan and Constant Reader,

Robert Kent

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

GUEST POST: "Sailing Takes Me Away To Where I've Always Written It Could Be" by Tom McCarthy

I think of myself as a sailor, though I do far less actual sailing than I’d like. Some of my favorite sailing trips include sailing on the Indian Ocean, right near where the Runnymeade crashed. Luckily we encountered no terrible weather or man-eating islanders.

I’ve also sailed near Hong Kong in the South China Sea and around the tip of Cape Cod on the other side of the world. I’ve sailed along the same route off Wiscasset, Maine, that Daniel Collins and his crewmates followed on their fateful trip to the Caribbean.

Sailing gives me a taste for nautical history that books don’t. Tasting the salt in the air, feeling the sun on my face, glimpsing the stars in the night sky when the clouds part after a tense rainfall—these are the same sights and sounds and tastes that Daniel Collins and the doomed crew of the Betsey experienced in the 1800s. 

That heavy, humid, tangy air in the Indian Ocean? That’s exactly what the crew and passengers of the Runnymeade had to contend with for weeks before they shipwrecked.

It’s details like these that make writing this series of books so much fun. I get to relive my times at sea and inject the scenes with those details, even though the events I’m writing about took place long before I was even born!

And the fear and uncertainty my characters felt when faced with deadly consequences—I’ve had my share of that too. Nothing quite so brutal, because now we have GPS and the Coast Guard and other useful modern inventions. But there was a time I went sailing on Lake Eerie and the afternoon did not go as planned. You’d think the open ocean would be the water to beat me, but it was on the lake that our boat lost its rudder. Have you ever tried sailing a boat with a lost rudder? Remember when Captain Doutty realized the Runnymeade had lost its rudder? “Losing the rudder meant that whatever weak control Captain Doutty had managed to hold on to was gone.” Yup. That was me. Stuck on the lake without a rudder.

The situation turned out more embarrassing than dangerous. We got a tow back to land. No capsizing on an island and having to defend ourselves from cannibals. Phew!

One thing writers know is that everything is material. And my sailing experiences are certainly material. I used them extensively when writing Pirates and Shipwrecks, and I’m sure they’ll come into play in more books.

Tom McCarthy has been an award-winning writer and editor for more than twenty-five years. As an editor and ghostwriter for various publishers in New York City, Maine, and Connecticut, he developed and edited titles that have won such awards as Harvard University's Goldsmith Award for Book of the Year; Readers Digest Top Five Summer Books; Sports Illustrated's Top Books of the Year; and Esquire's The Year's Five Best Reads, among others. As the series editor for several best-selling collections, including Incredible Pirate Tales, Ghost Pirates, and Incredible Tales of the Sea, he has developed a knack for finding great stories for readers of all ages. He lives in Guilford, Connecticut.

Tales of survival are as old as humanity! In Survival: True Stories, readers discover accounts of survival that required innovation, a thirst for adventure, and even a bit of brutality. Whether it’s Shackleton on the frozen landscape of Antarctica or William Bligh and his loyal followers adrift in the Pacific after mutiny on the Bounty, survival is a fascinating topic for readers ages 9 to 12!

Each of the true tales told in Survival are paired with interesting facts about the setting, the industry, and the time period. A glossary and index provide the opportunity to practice using essential academic tools. These nonfiction narratives use clear, concise language with compelling plots that both avid and reluctant readers will be drawn to.

Monday, October 17, 2016

7 Questions For: Author Danica Davidson

Danica Davidson is the author of the Overworld Adventures book series for Minecrafters, with the books Escape from the OverworldAttack on the OverworldThe Rise of HerobrineDown into the Nether, a The Armies of Herobrine and the newly released Battle with the Wither. She is also the author of Manga Art for Beginners and  Barbie: Puppy Party

And now Danica Davidson faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

The Iliad, the Odyssey and Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

As much as I can (and it still somehow feels like never enough). With my Minecrafter novels, I’ve gotten into the habit of getting the first draft completely done in a week, give or take a day. That’s a lot of writing! But my deadlines have usually given me about six weeks to write the book, so I’ve had to move fast. Then I take a little break from it before I go back and revise. 

Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?

I started seriously submitting my work to agents and editors when I was in middle school. I was writing novels at the time and all I’ve ever wanted to be was a professional author. Everyone tells you to be ready for rejections, but I never expected the sheer number of them on my way to selling my first book. When I was in my senior year of high school, I was in a situation where it was important I start making my own income, so I went to the local newspaper and asked for a job. I started out as a freelancer, covering dramatic, stop-the-press events like the local tractor pull (okay, it wasn’t dramatic).

I’d send my published articles to other places, trying to get in. I started writing for an anime magazine (I’m a big fan of anime and animation), and that helped open more doors. Eventually I was writing articles for MTV, CNN, The Onion, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and other publications. All the while I was still trying to sell my books and was stacking up rejection letters. More than a decade after I started submitting, I got an agent who was impressed with my writing and all my publications and wanted to represent me. Some months later, I’d sold my first book, Manga Art for Beginners.  

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

For me, it just came naturally, though I think we all need “teaching.” Since I was little, I made up stories. I used to dictate stories to my parents when I was three. I wrote my first chapter book when I was seven. I just wrote.

But it’s also important to learn how to edit, how to portray characters, etc. Some of that can be done from studying how other writers handle it. It also helps to find an editor who’s willing to look over what you have, because writers tend to be too close to their work, especially at the beginning. 

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing is the act of writing, especially when the words come as a rush and it feels as if you’re just taking dictation from your brain. Sometimes it’s harder to get the words to come, but when they do come in a rush, it’s the best.

My least favorite thing is more the business of publishing. For instance, getting an agent is agony and it took me years. Then you have to publicize your book, but a million other people also want to publicize their books, so everyone’s vying for attention. I just want to write and let the books sell themselves, but it usually doesn’t work that way. It’s very time-consuming and takes time away from actual writing, but it’s part of what you have to do to be a professional writer. 

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

My best advice for writing is “to write.” I hear from people all the time who say they want to be a writer, though they’ve never written anything down. It’s like they’re scared to put something on paper in case it isn’t perfect. No rough draft is perfect, but getting the words down is important. 

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Anaïs Nin, a French-American writer I discovered in high school. She writes for adults, not kids, so she has a very different audience than the ones I have with my Minecrafter, manga and Barbie books. She kept a diary her whole life and parts of it have been published, and some of it is the most real, authentic writing I’ve ever read. She describes things I’ve felt but never heard described before. That’s what all writers want to do.