Saturday, March 30, 2013

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Marie Lamba

Marie Lamba joined the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency as an Associate Agent in 2011.  She is the author of the young adult novel WHAT I MEANT, OVER MY HEAD, and DRAWN. Her work appears in the short story anthology LIAR LIAR  and the anthology CALL ME OKAASAN: ADVENTURES IN MULTICULTURAL MOTHERING.  

Marie's articles appear in more than 100 publications, including national magazines such as Writer's Digest, Garden Design, and RWR.  She has worked as an editor, an award-winning public relations writer, and a book publicist, has taught classes on novel writing and author promotion, and is a member of The Liars Club.

The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency is a New York City-based full-service literary agency founded in 2001 and named one of the top 25 literary agencies in the country by Writer’s Digest.

The agency represents children’s literature for all ages – picture books and middle-grade and young adult novels – but also represents high-quality adult fiction and non-fiction in a wide range of genres. The categories we are most enthusiastic about agenting are literary and commercial fiction; mysteries, thrillers, celebrity biographies; humor; psychology and self-help; parenting; health and fitness; women’s issues; men’s issues; pop culture; film and television; social issues and contemporary affairs.

If you're planning to submit a query to Marie Lamba, make sure you follow her guidelines.

For more information, check out my friends Natalie Aguirre and Casey McCormick's wonderful blog, Literary Rambles.

And now Marie Lamba faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

What? Just three???

1. Searching for Caleb by Anne Tyler

2. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffeneger

3. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen 

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?
Okay, I know I should be all clever and pick high brow stuff...but let's be honest ... I love to laugh, and I'm a sucker for romantic comedies.

1. Silver Linings Playbook

2. Never Been Kissed

3. Bridget Jones


1. The Bachelor or The Bachelorette

2. Big Bang Theory

3. How I Met Your Mother

* Also enjoy Castle and The Mindy Project, but I usually fall asleep before I can catch them.

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

Talented (of course), open to edits, professional, personable, enthusiastic and positive.

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

I'm looking for original stuff, not just knock offs of what's already out there. Give me a strong voice, and interesting point of view, and real heart. Make me spit out my coffee with laughter, or bawl over my lunch salad, or both! I'm looking for fiction including middle grade, YA and adult, and some memoir. And, given my penchant for romantic comedies, I'd love to get a smart and funny women's novel.

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

Most favorite? Helping writers' dreams come true. Least favorite? Having to reject a novel that is really promising but just not for me.

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)

Always continue to learn more and more about the business and about your craft. And view your career not as one book or one big break, but as a lifetime of books and opportunities, and conduct business accordingly. If you do this, disappointments won't derail you, you won't burn bridges, and all you will do will pull you closer to your goals. 

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

Anne Tyler, because I so admire her use of imagery and voice. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

7 Questions For: Author Ally Malinenko

Ally Malinenko, a self-proclaimed Bardolator, took her first pilgrimage to Stratford-Upon-Avon in 2009 and hasn’t been the same since. Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb is her first children's book. Her poetry book, The Wanting Bone, was published by Six Gallery Press. She blogs at Ally lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

And now Ally Malinenko faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Really? Just three? You know how hard that is? Ugh. Okay, first off my apologies to all the amazing books who are left off this list. Like Han says, "It's not my fault." 

1. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger - because it's beautiful and perfect.
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - it's the reason I wanted to write.
3. Wrinkle in Time - I love Meg Murray. 

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

I read most weeknights, Sunday nights and my lunches reading so probably in a week I read about 15 hours. I write weekday mornings starting at 5 am so I probably write about 8-10 hours a week. 

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

It was strange but sort of typical. I got an agent and then I got a small press publisher. In between those two was a ton of joy and heartache and a lot of revision.

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

I think both. I think someone has a talent that is cultivated and groomed and through their own determination molded into something worthwhile. That said, I don't necessary believe in the MFA. I think it's great for some people, terrible for others and really is up to the writer. I learned how to write by reading. That's really the only teacher that I think anyone needs.

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

My favorite is the pure total creation. I write fantasy so I love world building. My least favorite is revision. I suck at it and it's time consuming and I have trouble deciding what should stay or go. Hence my current WIP being 550 pages long. 

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. Read. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. The only way to learn how to write is to read. And then when you do start writing, don't give up. Just write. Keep writing. When it's good keep writing. When it's bad keep writing. When someone tells you it's terrible and you should stop - keep writing. When someone tells you it's perfect don't change it, keep writing. One day you'll wake up and you'll have found your voice. But it takes work. Be ready to do the work.

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

William Shakespeare. Definitely. Why? Because he's the greatest writer that ever lived. If it weren't for William Shakespeare we wouldn't have 90% of the plot devices we have now. No Shakespeare, no love triangle, no Three's Company. And really, who wants to live in a world without a character like Jack Tripper?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


First Paragraph: Harry felt as though he had barely lain down to sleep in Ron’s room when he was being shaken awake by Mrs. Weasley.

Hi there, Esteemed Reader! It's everyone's favorite time of the week: Ninja Book Club time! Yay! Wednesday is the day each week when we discuss one and only one chapter from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Today we're chatting about Chapter 6.

I'm enjoying this series and I hope you are too. I'm not sure how I'll feel about this book club 31 chapters from now, but as of this sixth, I'm still having fun:) Slowing J.K. Rowling's naturally frantic pace down to a crawl has allowed me to appreciate what an awful lot of exposition goes into these books (as well as a lot of skill). Most of the later Harry Potter books were originally read by me in a day or two, which is how they should be read and enjoyed--but we're not here just to enjoy, Esteemed Reader. We're reading this book as writers and doing our best to dissect it like mechanics pulling apart an engine.

From a mechanic's perspective, Chapter 6 is another pile of exposition after the many chapters of exposition we've already had. But unlike the unbearable listing of events that occurred in Chapter 2, Rowling has a way of writing Chapter 6's exposition in a way that does not slow the story down. First, she explains magical travel, which muggle readers will no doubt find interesting, and she does it with a hint of graphic violence to keep our attention just as she did in Chapter 1:

“Oh yes,” said Mr. Weasley, tucking the tickets safely into the back pocket of his jeans. “The Department of Magical Transportation had to fine a couple of people the other day for Apparating without a license. It’s not easy, Apparition, and when it’s not done properly it can lead to nasty complications. This pair I’m talking about went and Splinched themselves.” 
Everyone around the table except Harry winced. 
“Er — Splinched?” said Harry. 
“They left half of themselves behind,” said Mr. Weasley, now spooning large amounts of treacle onto his porridge. “So, of course, they were stuck. Couldn’t move either way. Had to wait for the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad to sort them out. Meant a fair old bit of paperwork, I can tell you, what with the Muggles who spotted the body parts they’d left behind. . . .” 
Harry had a sudden vision of a pair of legs and an eyeball lying abandoned on the pavement of Privet Drive.

Ahh, the old gross-readers-out-with-an-eyeball-gag. That's a favorite of Rowling's and of horror writers everywhere because they know how the thought of having an eyeball harmed or removed turns the reader's stomach. Without this last bit, what we have is classic talking heads giving us information we're going to need to know to understand the story later and seeding "splinching," which we won't actually see for another 3 books. 

The information Mr. Weasley is delivering to the reader is interesting, but the presentation is not. This is the same sort of scene we've read in countless novels and seen in most every film or television show ever:

Character One: I'm going to tell you some information that explains what happens next.
Character Two: Interesting. Question that prods further exposition.
Character One: Further exposition.
Character Two: Are you telling me that blah, blah--exposition finished.
Character One: Grave repetition of exposition to make sure the audience remembers.

The lesson here is that if you're going to write this tried and true information-delivery scene, and inevitably, you will, you should: 1. Make the exposition about something as interesting as apparation which the reader can't know about unless you tell her. 2. Throw in some sexy or violent  (probably violent when writing middle grade) details to trigger a response in the reader's primal brain, covering up the fact that you just gave an exposition dump like a dog kicking dirt over its mess.

There's plenty more exposition delivered in Chapter 6, most of it about thousands of wizards from all over the world traveling to one place for the Wizard World Cup without alerting the muggle world. Much of this is fun, logical explanations for how a magical world could exist hidden with our own told to us like a person tells a young child how there's a secret village in the North Pole where a jolly fat man and his elves make toys for all the world's children. Rowling also needs to explain how Portkeys work and why they're necessary, which is the whole reason this chapter exist.

Those of you Esteemed Readers who know this story, which is hopefully everyone reading this, know that a surprise Portkey is to play a critical role in the finale act of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (we'll get there someday in the distant future). For that reason, it is essential that the reader know how Portkeys work in order for that surprise to be fair game. Therefore, this chapter opens with Harry waking and leaving the burrow with his friends and ends with the clan grabbing an old boot to warp to the Wizard World Cup. In-between Rowling delivers a bunch of exposition and that's pretty much Chapter 6. 

On the way to the Portkey, Harry and the gang meet up with Cedric Diggory and his father Amos, whom she has to plant even more prominently than the Portkey, and which she'll spend several chapters doing. Why? Because she's going to kill him of course! And if you're reading this chapter-by-chapter discussion and expecting a spoiler alert every time, you're being silly:) But see how Rowling expertly puts the reader's sympathy with Cedric and gets us to liking him (so we'll cry later) by the way he reacts to his boisterous father:

“Ced’s talked about you, of course,” said Amos Diggory. “Told us all about playing against you last year. . . . I said to him, I said — Ced, that’ll be something to tell your grandchildren, that will. . . . You beat Harry Potter!” 
Harry couldn’t think of any reply to this, so he remained silent. Fred and George were both scowling again. Cedric looked slightly embarrassed. 
“Harry fell off his broom, Dad,” he muttered. “I told you . . . it was an accident. . . .”
“Yes, but you didn’t fall off, did you?” roared Amos genially, slapping his son on his back. “Always modest, our Ced, always the gentleman . . . but the best man won, I’m sure Harry’d say the same, wouldn’t you, eh? One falls off his broom, one stays on, you don’t need to be a genius to tell which one’s the better flier!”

That pretty well does it for this week, except I want to share my favorite passage from Chapter 6 and then tell you why it's my favorite. First, the passage:

“What is that in your pocket?” 
“Don’t you lie to me!” 
Mrs. Weasley pointed her wand at George’s pocket and said, “Accio!” 
Several small, brightly colored objects zoomed out of George’s pocket; he made a grab for them but missed, and they sped right into Mrs. Weasley’s outstretched hand. 
“We told you to destroy them!” said Mrs. Weasley furiously, holding up what were unmistakably more Ton-Tongue Toffees. “We told you to get rid of the lot! Empty your pockets, go on, both of you!” 
It was an unpleasant scene; the twins had evidently been trying to smuggle as many toffees out of the house as possible, and it was only by using her Summoning Charm that Mrs. Weasley managed to find them all.
“Accio! Accio! Accio!” she shouted, and toffees zoomed from all sorts of unlikely places, including the lining of George’s jacket and the turn-ups of Fred’s jeans. 
“We spent six months developing those!” Fred shouted at his mother as she threw the toffees away. 
“Oh a fine way to spend six months!” she shrieked. “No wonder you didn’t get more O.W.L.s!”

What I love about that scene is that it's a whole page in this chapter that's not, strictly speaking, necessary  After all, we've already learned the twins are making joke toffees in Chapter 4 and we saw Mrs. Weasley's reaction in Chapter 5, so this page that is not on point for any of the activity in Chapter 6 is a repeat of information we already know. 

But this is why J.K. Rowling is J.K. Rowling and why her characters are remembered long after the story is done. Because the reader knows the boys would try to sneak more candies off and Mrs. Weasley would be suspicious of them. This scene is the natural outgrowth of character, not plot. It exists to give further dimension to characters who exist mostly in the periphery of the main story, which is why the wizarding world of Harry Potter is so detailed and nuanced. It's the little touches that add up to the whole. 

And that's it. Meet me back here for Chapter 7 next week... 

Last Paragraph (s): “Three . . .” muttered Mr. Weasley, one eye still on his watch, “two . . . one . . .” 
It happened immediately: Harry felt as though a hook just behind his navel had been suddenly jerked irresistibly forward. His feet left the ground; he could feel Ron and Hermione on either side of him, their shoulders banging into his; they were all speeding forward in a howl of wind and swirling color; his forefinger was stuck to the boot as though it was pulling him magnetically onward and then — 
His feet slammed into the ground; Ron staggered into him and he fell over; the Portkey hit the ground near his head with a heavy thud. 
Harry looked up. Mr. Weasley, Mr. Diggory, and Cedric were still standing, though looking very windswept; everybody else was on the ground. 
“Seven past five from Stoatshead Hill,” said a voice.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Book Review: LIZZY SPEARE AND THE CURSED TOMB by Ally Malinenko
First Paragraph: Her feet didn't seem to touch the steps. She pounded, step after step, Sammy right behind her. Each footfall fell in line with her thumping heart. Downstairs, in the kitchen she could still hear her father fighting with the man who rang their bell. Her father had told her and Sammy to get upstairs. He sounded so serious, so strange.

Ally Malinenko will be here Thursday to face the 7 Questions.

Good morrow, Esteemed Reader! As per usual, today's review will be a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. And yet you come back every week:)

Ahh, Shakespeare. Nothing in literature makes me clench up faster than the bard. Quoting Shakespeare anywhere in a modern story can have this effect on some readers. And the Ninja has a quality liberal arts education and has acted in (not well) and directed Shakespeare's plays. Even so, somehow a writer invoking Shakespeare gives me the distinct feeling of being under-dressed.  I've shown up to dinner in shorts and polo because I thought we were having a causal story, but the author's wearing a tuxedo because this is to be leeeeeeeterature. 

If I offer no other praise in this review, let me first say this: Ally Malinenko invokes Shakespeare in a manner that is fun and accessible. When the Shakespeare comes out in Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb, and it does (often), it never once made me clench up or feel like the book snobs (the sort who feel no one's written a good action story since Homer died) had descended to pretentiously lecture rather than entertain.

Of course, Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb isn't really about Shakespeare. It's about Lizzy Speare, a 12-year old girl with a love of reading and writing (I'm thinking Ally Malinenko an untold number of years ago) who happens to be an expert on all things Shakespeare:

“Well, a reader is one thing but honestly, I have never seen a child so in tune with language. You know, Mr. Levinson said she was the only person in class that doesn’t need the Cliff Notes for the Shakespeare he assigns.” 
“You don’t say.” Rupert cleared his throat awkwardly. “I’ve never believed that Shakespeare should be taught as literature—it needs to be performed. But that’s just my opinion. C’mon, let’s go guys,” Rupert said, pushing his daughter towards the open car door. 
“It’s uncanny. He said he’s never seen a student at this age so advanced.” 
“Well, Shakespeare is my favorite,” Lizzy butted in. 
“We all know that, dear, now come on, get in the car. We have to get going,” Rupert said. 
“Well it was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Speare. And I do hope that you will let Elizabeth join my theater group this summer.” 
“Theater group?” Rupert said, stopping. “Yeah, well, I think we might have plans. Family obligations and whatnot.” 

So what's up with Rupert there? And why is it so crucial that Lizzy Speare be so awesome at Shakespeare? Actually, Lizzy is pretty much awesome at everything, which is part of the fun of a fantasy tale (James Bond, anyone?). But it's particularly good she's awesome at Shakespeare because it turns out, minor spoiler, she and the bard are related. Zounds!

When Lizzy's father is kidnapped, Lizzy and her sidekick Sammy set off an adventure steeped in Shakespeare and mythology. As the story gets cooking, the real world slowly rescinds, making way for fantasy:

When Gossamer Willowfly headed back into the kitchen, Lizzy swore she saw thin green shimmering wings, like those of a cicada, fluttering on Gossamer’s back. Gossamer turned her head and winked at Lizzy and then was gone. When she came back in, Lizzy nudged Sammy but he just mouthed “What?” with a mouthful of eggs. This time Lizzy couldn’t see any wings.

And yet, amidst all the excitement and allusions, Malinenko is never too busy to slow down for a bit of advice to us writers:

“It’s good you shop at a place like this. Never skimp on a journal. When it comes to your writing, your precious thoughts, your deepest dreams, Elizabeth, you can never compromise. Especially not with the tools of your craft. They may in fact, change everything.”

Lizzy Sphere and the Cursed Tomb is a fun adventure for book nerds everywhere and throughout Ally Malinenko is unapologetic-ally geeking out with her love of literature. Even the chapter titles are quotations from Shakespeare such as "Something Wicked this Way Comes," "Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark," and my personal favorite chapter title, "This Way Madness Lies." Thematic Spoiler: the last chapter is "To Thine Own Self Be True:)"

Fans of Lizzy Sphere will no doubt clamor for a sequel and Ally Malinenko is no doubt laboring to produce it for them. This first tale is a good start and the perfect read for the lover of literature. As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb:

One of the witches limped forward and you could see the spider web of scars running across her face. Where her eyes should have been were two empty sockets, blackened and charred. In one hand she held the soft flax of yarn that was being fed into the spinning wheel and in the other she clutched an eyeball, her black nails digging into the meaty tissue.

Since her death her father rarely mentioned her mother. Jillian’s death was still painful for him, even eight years later. Lizzy remembered very little about her, just snatches, like photographs flipped by too quickly.

The sound of her father’s frantic voice would be the last thing Lizzy would remember before she was abducted.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: All reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Guest Post: Why Literary Agent Joanna Volpe Loves Middle Grade

THIS WEEK IN NINJA-ING: Tuesday's Book of the Week is Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb, Wednesday we're discussing Chapter 6 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and Thursday author Ally Malinenko will face the 7 Questions. Saturday, as ever, we'll be joined by a surprise literary agent

Today, we are incredibly fortunate to have our first guest post ever from our old friend Joanna Volpe:

Why Joanna Volpe Loves MG

I am re-opening to new submissions again soon, after an 18-month hiatus.  During that time I did sign a few new things that I found via conferences, referrals and contests. (Yes, I did sign something because of a critique win! And sold it, too.) I'm both excited and nervous to re-open.  It feels like I've been out of the game for so long.  Will query reading and reviewing be like riding a bike?  Will I get 10000000 queries?  Or will no one query me at all?  Well, pretty soon I'll have the answers to those questions and more, I'm sure. 

So I reached out to an old acquaintance of mine, the Middle Grade Ninja himself.  What I'm looking for has changed a bit since 2011, and I knew that Robert was the person to help me to get the word out.  He graciously agreed to let me write this post for his blog (thank you, Robert!).  You see, I'm not re-opening to much in the juvenile market.  I'm hoping to build my adult list up a bit more.  But in terms of what I am looking for most in Children's books, it is more middle grade. 

To me, the most important genre/market for the book business is middle grade. Because it is the last chance where, as adults, we can really influence young minds en masse and turn them into life-long readers. This doesn't mean that we always succeed, but it's an opportunity. (This also doesn't mean that it's the ONLY time one can become a reader.  I'm speaking in generalizations here.) During this time, kids are at a point when they're deciding what they do and don't like, but they're still accepting the suggestions of their elders.  After the MG years, teens pick and choose what to buy on their own (for the most part), and WOAH do they NOT listen to the suggestions of their elders.  So because MG is the last stop of Big Opportunity, I feel it's the most important market. But I also love monsters and boogers and kickball and adventure and first crushes.  So I'm probably just biased and a middle-grader forever at heart.

Because I love middle grade so much, when I re-open to submissions on April 1, I am specifically looking for a lot of it.  I already have some wonderful things on my list (see full list below), but there is room for more.  And like I said, it's an important genre/market to me.

When I think about middle grade that keeps me up late into the night reading, it's usually something with high stakes, either emotionally or plot-wise (or both).  I'm not afraid to get scary or real with young readers.  I know that kids can handle it, and not only that--they're often intrigued by it!  So horror, yes please.  Dark stories? Send them my way!  Awkward and quirky, check and check. Real and difficult and honest and raw--I want to see it.  The friendship storyline in When You Reach Me made me ache with familiar pain.  And Wonder is both heart-warming and heart-aching at the same time.  Coraline scares the bejeebies out of me (button eyes!). And Zombie Tag is a fun-but-honest look at how grief affects kids.  

I also love humor, too. So do kids. They can laugh loudly, without feeling self-conscious.  I try to remind myself that's OK to still do that as an adult. I absolutely adore the Wimpy Kid series and Origami Yoda.  The Great Hamster Massacre cracked me up, and I'm reading Better Nate Than Ever right now and loving it. And I can't wait to get my hands on an ARC of My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish!

And finally... adventure!  Well, for that the sky is the limit--fantasy, historical, sci-fi, action thriller. This might be my favorite MG genre of all because it makes me feel like I can do anything.  

So please. Send me all the middle grade you've got! I am dying to read some good MG. Boogers and monsters and all. 

Joanna Volpe is the president of New Leaf Literary and Media, Inc. She is a sucker for sushi, chihuahuas, pizza, good whiskey, Zelda, movie popcorn, and anything green. But not all at once. And she appreciates a good prank. She represents a variety of middle grade literature already, including the Ever Afters series by Shelby Bach (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers), the Bot Wars series by J.V. Kade (Dial Books for Young Readers), The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless by Allan Woodrow (HarperCollins), Sway by Amber McRee Turner (Disney*Hyperion), Chained by Lynne Kelly (Margaret Ferguson Books), The Seven Tales of Trinket by Shelley Moore Thomas (Farrar Strauss and Giroux Young Readers), the works of Kirk Scroggs (Little Brown Books for Young Readers) and upcoming: The Lost Planet series by Rachel Searles (Feiwel and Friends), The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School series by Fowler DeWitt (Atheneum), The Pet War by Allan Woodrow (Scholastic), Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner (Disney*Hyperion) and The Last Summer of the Swift Boys by Kody Keplinger (Scholastic). 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Brittany Booker

Brittany Booker is a  Literary Agent and co-founder of The Booker Albert Literary Agency. She has worked with Marisa Corvisiero during her time at the Lori Perkins agency and the Corvisiero Literary Agency. She will graduate in December  of 2012 with a BA in English and a minor in journalism.

She is looking for novels that keep her  up at  night and transports her into the pages.In fiction she is looking for well-written contemporary romances, historical fiction, fantasies, YA and new adult. She is specifically interested in time travel novels. As for YA, Brittany  is drawn to contemporary works; dramatic or funny romances; and urban fantasy.  She's especially interested in YA that is funny and quirky. The goofier the  heroine the better. She is a big sucker for happy endings. She also has a  passion for books set in the south. She also has working knowledge of Japanese  and Spanish.Brittany is not looking for erotica,middle grade, memoirs or paranormal works at the moment.

And now Brittany Booker faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Waiting For Normal by Leslie Connor

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

The Vampire Diaries
Pitch Perfect

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

This is a rather difficult question. I love all of my clients and they each have qualities I love. I would say that the most important things I want my clients to have is confidence and patience. If an author is absolutely in love with their book, I will be able to tell.  It makes me want to read it even more. Confidence helps an agent see how important the novel is to the author. Also, it takes a while to find an agent. However, it can also take a long time to get published. If an author has patience it helps both the agent and the author in the long run.

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

YA Contemporary is what I love the most. I absolutely adore the dramatic teenage stories. However, I’ve been in search of a good YA time-travel, novels boys can relate to and new adult novels. New Adult is the new thing and I really want to find a good one.

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

I love to read. I could get lost for hours in a good book. I also love the thought of making someone’s dreams come true. My least favorite part is that it’s very easy to get behind. You take on too many partials to read and it can take you a few weeks to get caught back up.

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)

Wisdom. I never thought someone would ask me for that. Even though this is cliché, I would say ‘never give up.’ If you believe in your novel enough, keep submitting, keep searching for that one person that is meant for your book. After all, it only takes one yes.

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

I believe I would say Harper Lee who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. This is one of my favorite novels (not my top three but one of my favorites) and I would ask why she’d never published another book. For someone who wrote a classic, it bugs me to know why she didn’t write another one.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

7 Questions For: Author Anna Olswanger

Anna Olswanger is a literary agent with Liza Dawson Associates in New York where she represents fiction and nonfiction, for young readers and adults.

She is the author of Shlemiel Crooks, a Sydney Taylor Honor Book, Koret International Jewish Book Award Finalist, and PJ Library Book, and the just-published Greenhorn. Anna is the co-author of My Shoshana.

Click here to read my review of Greenhorn.

Because of her interest in Jewish-themed books, she has created a number of resources for Jewish book authors on her website, she has created a number of resources for Jewish book authors, including an interview with a psychiatrist about the meaning of Jewish narrative, and online discussion groups for authors and illustrators of Jewish children's books and marketing professionals in the Jewish book world.

She has published several Jewish-themed miniature books for Judaica collectors.

Anna is the rights holder and licenser for the music of Berl Olswanger, a Memphis composer of the 1940's-1960s.

And, finally, through her work as a literary agent of children's books, Anna has developed a special interest in animal advocacy. Koko's Kitten and Looking for Miza are two of her favorite children's books—she recommends them to anyone who doubts the intelligence and emotional depth of animals. As a vegan and advocate of kindness to animals, she has compiled a list of links to organizations she is committed to and tweets about. She hopes visitors to this site will click on the links to the left and discover one or more organizations to support.

And now Anna Olswanger faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

My current favorite book is City Dog, Country Frog, which epitomizes what I've learned so far about life on this earth: that we love, that what we love can leave us, and that we can love again. The story could be a cliche, and yet, it moves me every time I read it—the innocence of the dog when he plays with the frog, the love of the frog in return, the frog who becomes tired and old, the sadness of the dog when he returns the next summer to find that the frog is gone, and the love that begins to grow between the dog and his new friend. The book is profound and beautiful. I could read it endlessly. And it reminds me why I love picture books, because they are little novels.

As for my other two favorite books, I'll mention my books here, or what's an author interview for?

So, my next favorite book is Shlemiel Crooks.

My father was a wonderful storyteller. When he died in 1981, I yearned to hear his stories again about growing up in the 1920’s in the Jewish neighborhood of Memphis. If I couldn’t hear his stories again, I could at least learn more about the background of the stories and who his parents and grandparents were (they died before I was born), so I began genealogical research.

I went to St. Louis, where my grandparents had lived before moving to Memphis. I discovered there a Yiddish newspaper article about the attempted robbery of my great-grandfather’s kosher liquor store. This is the English translation of the article:

Reb Eliyahu Olschwanger Almost Robbed

Shlimazel crooks, their work was unsuccessful. Last Thursday at 3:00 a.m. in the middle of the night, several men drove to the saloon of Reb Eliyahu Olschwanger at the corner of 14th and Carr Streets. They opened the saloon and removed several barrels of brandy and beer. Mr. Mankel who lives on the second floor, upon hearing what was going on in the saloon, opened the window and began shouting for help. Benjamin Resnik from 1329 Carr Street, hearing the shouting, shot his revolver from his window. The band of crooks got scared and left everything, including their own horse and wagon and ran away. Police immediately came and took everything to the police station.

What could be funnier than crooks who left with less than they came with! From that Yiddish article, I created Shlemiel Crooks (not Shlimazel Crooks like in the article, as I suspected that "shlemiel" was a more widely known word). After adding the ghost of Pharaoh, the prophet Elijah, and a talking horse to the story, I was in business. Shlemiel Crooks became a Sydney Taylor Honor Book and a PJ Library Book. And I discovered the added pleasure of being able to share my family's story with children, even though I had none of my own.

My next favorite book (what's an author interview for?) is Greenhorn. I heard the real story of Greenhorn thirty years ago in Israel. The rabbi of my synagogue stood in the front of our tour bus as we approached Jerusalem and told us about a little boy who had lost his parents in the Holocaust, who wouldn't speak when he came to live at the Brooklyn yeshiva where the rabbi was in the sixth grade, and who wouldn't let a tin box out of his sight.

The little boy made a friend in my rabbi. Later, the little boy agreed to live with his friend's family. And in the actual scene in the Afterword, the little boy, who had grown up to marry and have his own family, was finally able to bury the contents of the tin box in the backyard of his house in Jerusalem.

I discovered through all those successive drafts of Greenhorn that I was writing, not about loss and loneliness, but about family.

Through Shlemiel Crooks, I was able to share my family's story with children. Now, it was the same with Greenhorn, published just a few months ago. My grandparents' cousins, and their children who never left Eastern Europe, died in the Holocaust. I have no children to discuss my cousins with, or even the Holocaust that wiped out not just them, but two thirds of Europe's Jews. Through Greenhorn, I can take part in discussions between children, parents, and teachers about the Holocaust. The publisher has even made free guides available for parents and teachers to facilitate discussions. So, although I don't have my own children, I can share something I consider important with any child who reads Greenhorn.

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

I write in the mornings. Because of the demands of my job as literary agent, I can only write a few minutes each day, but those minutes add up, and I feel that I'm always working on a project. I read during meals because that's when I can take a break from being on the computer. I yearn for pre-email days when I would lie on the couch and read before going to bed, sometimes staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning to finish a novel, but now I answer email before going to bed.

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

I majored in theater in college and wanted to be a playwright. I wasn't happy with the MFA program I was in, so I went to London to try to start a theater and write for a group of actors. Before starving to death, I discovered children’s picture books in a large bookstore. What I discovered was that those little books contained a script, costumes, lighting, and stage set between their covers. I didn't need a theater anymore. So, when I was thinking about writing Shlemiel Crooks, I decided it would be a picture book. In the course of its submission history, it received over 100 rejections. The story did get published in Young Judaean magazine (and won a SCBWI Magazine Merit Award), but I had no offers from book publishers. I then decided to self-publish Shlemiel Crooks as a miniature book for collectors. And as soon as I did that (the universe has a sense of humor), NewSouth Books, an independent publisher, decided it wanted to publish Shlemiel Crooks. This wasn't the big New York publisher I had been waiting for but I said yes, and it's been a good experience. I've learned that money is not the only consideration in being published (there's little of that), and best of all, it's allowed me to pay honor to my great-grandparents and to share their story with thousands of children.

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

I grew up in a household where my father, a professional pianist, practiced the piano an hour-and-a-half each day. I heard that rhythm every day of my life until he died, and I'm sure that it enabled me to hear the rhythm in language. So in that sense, I was born a writer.

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

My favorite thing is revising. I love going back over the text again and again and getting it right so that it reads well on the page. My least favorite thing is getting the first draft down. I struggle hard to find the words and even to find the story. I don't really know what the story is until I get the words down on paper.

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)

I have two bits of wisdom:

If you accept that books can change the world, try to see the bigger picture: It's not just your book that can help change the world, but everybody's book. So, help someone else get published. That may feel a bit like sleeping with the enemy, but if you help bring one more book in the world, the practicality is that if the book sells, the publisher will want another book to sell, and that book could be yours. The market keeps wanting more.
You are here to contribute to the universe in the way that is particularly yours. Why even consider chasing the market? Write the story that only you can write, not the dystopian, vampire, zombie, ancient gods, angels, demons, teenage secret spies book that others are writing.

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

Shakespeare, though I'm not overly curious about the private lives of writers. We live in an intrusive world where no one is allowed to have secrets. It's a world where the private is public (witness people talking on cellphones in public about the most intimate aspects of their lives). I am content to let writers be. I don't need to know why they wrote what they wrote or how their books reflect their personal lives. I am happy that Shakespeare left no tell-all autobiography, no memoir. I think the man should (always) have his privacy.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


First Paragraph: Harry spun faster and faster, elbows tucked tightly to his sides, blurred fireplaces flashing past him, until he started to feel sick and closed his eyes. Then, when at last he felt himself slowing down, he threw out his hands and came to a halt in time to prevent himself from falling face forward out of the Weasleys’ kitchen fire.

Today we're talking about Chapter 5 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and only Chapter 5. If it's Chapter 6 you're wanting, you'll have to come back next week. 

Chapter 5 is the first time Harry meets Bill and Charlie Weasley, both of whom have roles to play in later books. It's also the first appearance in this book of Ron and Hermione, and the story never quite feels complete without them. My brother told me once Harry Potter was his least favorite character in the books, and while I'm not quite there, I do like a lot of the supporting characters more than him:) Ron Weasley and his parents are closer to my heart than Harry, though Mad Eye Moody and Dumbledore are my absolute favorites. 

I'm sure you have your own favorites, Esteemed Reader, and no one likes Dobby the House Elf:) It says something about J.K. Rowling's gifts for characterization that her books are populated with so many fully realized individuals that even throw-away characters such as talking paintings are memorable. I don't really know how Rowling does it, but today I want to look specifically at Mrs. Weasley. 

First, however, an observation: in this chapter the reader is reminded Ron has a feisty new owl for a pet. Spoiler ahead, I guess, although why you would be reading a series of blog posts analyzing Harry Potter without first reading Harry Potter is beyond me... Anyway, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ends with one of the greatest, most unexpected twists in all of literature. Ron's pet rat, Scabbers, who slept with the boys and lived with them for three books, turned out to be an adult servant of Voldemort in disguise. And yet, here in Chapter 5 of the book immediately following that tale, Harry has this odd thought: 

Pigwidgeon zoomed happily around his cage, hooting shrilly. Harry knew Ron too well to take him seriously. He had moaned continually about his old rat, Scabbers, but had been most upset when Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks, appeared to have eaten him.

Now I know a story about a fantastic world of wizards within our own requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but shouldn't Ron be just a little less willing to love a new pet? Shouldn't he be in some form of magic therapy explaining to a wizard shrink how for years a creepy old dude watched him sleep and change clothes? I'm surprised Ron isn't subjecting his new owl to a series of test to prove he is indeed an owl. It's a minor quibble, I suppose, and Rowling seems to have decided not to directly address how unbelievably wrong that whole situation must've been. She's just moving on and perhaps that's best.

Chapter 5 is mostly about exposition, but unlike the atrocious Chapter 2, it doesn't read like exposition. Much of the chapter is devoted to Percy Weasley and his new job working for Mr. Crouch and the ministry of magic. It's essential to the plot that the reader know about Mr. Crouch, which is why we'll be meeting him later in Chapter 7. We're going to need to know about him later to have a fair shot at solving the mystery, but note the way in which Rowling tells us about this adult and his adult issues: through comedy.

Mr. Crouch isn't the least bit interesting in light of the things the reader has been promised. We want the Quidditch World Cup and we want to get to Hogwarts and Rowling already brought the story to a halt to tell us about an adult and his problems in Chapter 1. So instead of telling us about Crouch directly, Rowling tells us about Percy Weasley working for him and his brothers making fun of Percy for it. 

If Chapter 5 were an episode of a sitcom, Percy's struggles with Mr. Crouch would be the 'B' story, even though it's the most relevant to the overall plot. The 'A' story is Harry being reunited with his friends and Ron's brother's Fred and George getting in trouble for their prank on Dudley in Chapter 4. It's a successful means of misdirection.

The first time I read Chapter 5, I laughed at the many jokes the Weasley boys have at Percy's expense without ever suspecting the import of all Percy's exposition, even though it should be obvious anytime Rowling slows down the story to tell the reader about an adult it's important to the plot. Even though Percy and Mr. Weasley have a short discussion about Bertha Jorkins, who Voldmort and Wormtail discussed in Chapter 1, the casual reader will still be more interested in Fred and George's plans to build practical jokes with magic instead of focusing on their studies and their mother's fury at them. 

Which brings us back to Mrs. Weasley. Note how Rowling shows us more about who Mrs. Weasley by showing us the reactions to her by other characters in a way simply showing us Mrs. Weasley on her own wouldn't quite do: 

“Oh hello, Harry, dear,” she said, spotting him and smiling. Then her eyes snapped back to her husband. “Tell me what, Arthur?” Mr. Weasley hesitated. Harry could tell that, however angry he was with Fred and George, he hadn’t really intended to tell Mrs. Weasley what had happened. There was a silence, while Mr. Weasley eyed his wife nervously.

As Harry, Hermione, and Ginny followed Ron up three more flights of stairs, shouts from the kitchen below echoed up to them. It sounded as though Mr. Weasley had told Mrs. Weasley about the toffees.

Later, of course, Rowling shows us through a myriad of actions how upset Mrs. Weasley is while at the same time telling us how upset she is:

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” she snapped, now directing her wand at a dustpan, which hopped off the sideboard and started skating across the floor, scooping up the potatoes. “Those two!” she burst out savagely, now pulling pots and pans out of a cupboard, and Harry knew she meant Fred and George. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to them, I really don’t. No ambition, unless you count making as much trouble as they possibly can. . . .” Mrs. Weasley slammed a large copper saucepan down on the kitchen table and began to wave her wand around inside it. A creamy sauce poured from the wand-tip as she stirred.

Mrs. Weasley jabbed her wand at the cutlery drawer, which shot open. Harry and Ron both jumped out of the way as several knives soared out of it, flew across the kitchen, and began chopping the potatoes, which had just been tipped back into the sink by the dustpan.

If you're having trouble creating three dimensional characters like I am, J.K. Rowling is the writer for you to read. She's outstanding at plotting and pacing, of course, but I believe the key to Rowling's success is her creation of immediately identifiable characters the reader cares about. As my own characters always need work, we'll be talking more about Rowling's gift for characterization in the coming weeks. 

Though, just to be clear, I doubt we're ever going to find the magic bullet. There is no one technique J.K. Rowling mastered that's responsible for her success. She's amazing at all the techniques.

Join me next Wednesday for a discussion of Chapter 6. At this rate, we should reach the actual Goblet of Fire part of this story sometime in May:)

Last Paragraphs: “Well, I certainly don’t,” said Percy sanctimoniously. “I shudder to think what the state of my in-tray would be if I was away from work for five days.”
“Yeah, someone might slip dragon dung in it again, eh, Perce?” said Fred. 
“That was a sample of fertilizer from Norway!” said Percy, going very red in the face. “It was nothing personal!”
"It was,” Fred whispered to Harry as they got up from the table. “We sent it.”