Thursday, April 16, 2015

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Patricia Nelson

Patricia Nelson joined Marsal Lyon Literary Agency in 2014. Previously, she interned at The Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency and in the children’s division at Running Press.
Patricia represents adult, young adult, and middle grade fiction, and is actively looking to build her list.  In general, Patricia looks for compelling, well-written stories featuring complex characters that jump off the page and thoughtfully drawn, believable relationships. On the adult side, she is seeking women’s fiction, historical fiction, and accessible literary fiction, as well as contemporary and historical romance. For YA and MG, she is open to a wide range of genres, with particular interest in contemporary/realistic, magical realism, mystery, horror, and fantasy. She is interested in seeing diverse stories and characters in all genres.
Patricia received her bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in 2008, and also holds a master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in Gender Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Before joining the world of publishing, she spent four years as a university-level instructor of literature and writing.

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

This is such a hard question that I'm going to have to cheat a little. I'll give you three from my ultimate favorites shelf: Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, Sara Zarr's What We Lost, and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. And then here's three that I've read and loved recently: Kate DiCamillo's Flora and Ulysses, Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun, and Bennett Madison's September Girls.

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

A couple of my all-time favorites that I always go back to are Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Veronica Mars, and Friday Night Lights. But again, it's so hard to choose! Lately I've been binge watching The Good Wife and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and I'm super excited for the new season of Orange is the New Black.

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

Hard-working and devoted to honing their craft. Full of ideas. Driven to make writing a career, but aware that publishing is slow and takes patience. Persistent and not prone to giving up. Friendly and kind (never underestimate how far kindness will get you). And while it's not a necessity, funny doesn't hurt either!

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

I represent a pretty wide range of adult, YA, and MG fiction, and I always have lots of specific wants on my manuscript wish list, which you can find on my twitter. ​In general, I tend to be drawn to novels with compelling female protagonists, a strong sense of place or atmosphere, characters that are smart and witty without being snarky, and/or an offbeat, slightly askew, or even creepy sensibility. I also gravitate toward stories that have something interesting to say about friendship or found families, as well as stories that incorporate subtle, unique elements of magic into the real world. And of course I'm looking for diverse books of all kinds.

That said, the queries that I get the most excited about are often the ones that I wouldn't have been able to predict. I love to be struck by the unexpected: stories that surprise me, fresh voices, characters that feel like real/specific people, and writing that grabs me and doesn't let go. 

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

My favorite thing is the people, from my talented and amazing clients to all of the smart, savvy booklovers who have chosen careers in the publishing industry. My least favorite thing by far is sending rejections--I feel like most agents say that! After all, we got into this business to champion creative people, so having to spend so much time saying "no" can be a bummer... but alas, it's an unavoidable part of the job.

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)

​In order to write, you have to have something to write about, so it's important to soak up as much of life and culture as you can. Work hard, but find ways to recharge your creative batteries. Read widely, go to the movies, seek out adventures, travel if you can. It will all make your work richer and more layered.

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

This may seem a little random, but I would love to have lunch with Margaret Atwood, Joan Didion and Judy Blume together. I feel like that would be an interesting conversation!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Book of The Week: CAMINAR by Skila Brown

First Poem:

Where I'm From

Our mountain stood tall,
like the finger that points.

Our corn plants grew in fields,
thick and wide as a thumb.

Our village sat in the folded-between,
in that spot where you pinch something sacred,

to keep it still.

Our Mountain stood guard at our backs.
We slept at night in its bed.

Do you like poetry, Esteemed Reader? April is national poetry month, so it's the best time for us to discuss Skila Brown's Caminar, which is a middle grade novel written in verse. I'm going to be honest with you, I'm out of my element this week. I've read plenty of poetry over the years and I've even written some. Here's an old Robert Kent original you won't find anywhere else because I don't think anyone would pay money for it:

Chomp, Chomp

                                                I can 
                                      be your 
                        power pellet
            When the spooks            get      too      close
               And them other 
                   pellets won’t do
                             Then they’ll 
                                           fear you

So that's pretty much the height of my poetic prowess:) I think we can agree I'm woefully under qualified to discuss serious poetry, The thought of writing critically about a book like Caminar intimidates me the way reading Shakespeare intimidated me as a teenager, but later I played Nick Bottom in a version of A Midsummer Nights' Dream and wasn't booed off the stage (I even understood most of my lines). I suppose I'll roll up my sleeves and give this a go as well.

I've read Caminar twice now. It is haunting and beautiful and will get you right in the feels.  One advantage of a free verse novel is it can be read quickly, even by middle grade standards, so I was able to read it once for comprehension, and once for appreciation. Part of me is excited to see a subject as serious as this can be presented in a middle grade book, and the other part hates to label Caminar as middle grade lest some readers view it as just a book for kids. This is a book of serious weight and magnitude to be appreciated by readers of all ages.

And like the best fiction, Caminar has a hook. For me, the hook was meeting Skila Brown at a conference last month and sitting in on a couple sessions of hers. I was so impressed by the author, I wanted to read her book. For the reader, I suspect the hook will be not the first poem above, although it does go a long way toward assuring the reader they are in the hands of a capable artist and are about to enjoy a story that will be richly told. For the reader who hasn't met the author, I think the hook lies with the Note to the Reader preceding the first poem:

In 1954, the democratically elected government of Guatemala was overthrown by a group of military men who were unhappy with the way the government had been passing laws to help poor farmers in rural communities. Forty horrible years followed, in which the people of Guatemala tried to resist, organize, and bring about change, all while the Guatemalan army did everything they could to discourage the "rebels" or "guerillas," as they called the organizers. The army went into the mountains of rural Guatemala, where they tried to prevent villagers from joining the rebels. 

Many lives were lost. And many more were never the same.

And that is to be the background of a novel perfectly acceptable to read to children. It's not a cartoon movie with a happy-meal tie-in. When I was in film school, I had a wacky professor who told me that if modern American story culture were a meal, it would be mostly desert, barely any meat and almost no vegetables. My response: I like desert and it sure seems to be popular. Now as an author, I'm serving up zombies and robot bees, but I try to remember to include some depth and meaning in my fiction so my readers don't get mental cavities.

Caminar is meat and vegetables. It is rich and nutritious and the sort of reading experience a young mind needs to grow strong. And there's some desert: the pleasure of fine language composed artfully is a desert that refines taste. And now I'm going to drop the metaphor before I start talking about how a good book review is an antacid:) 

Caminar is the story of Carlos, although really, it's the story of what happens to Carlos' village, Chopan, when an army invades with the intent of eventual genocide, as told from the perspective of a young boy.  It's a coming of age story and it's a historical narrative and it's a work of art. The violence is never graphic and Brown is smart enough to keep much of the horror "off-screen," while still telling the truth about what happened. I'm terrified of reproducing passages as spacing is crucial and I'll sure I'll muck it up, but here's a good example:

Why I Dropped the Mushrooms

pop pop pop pop
pop          pop          pop                                            
pop      pop

it sounded like

on a saint's day

except for the


In fact, spacing is crucial to most of the poems, which is perhaps the reason Caminar isn't currently available as an ebook. Sometimes the reason for spacing is obvious such as:

"Here we have                        space."


"I was your age when I stepped away
from Child,      stepped into Man."

In other poems, the spacing helps to form an image, such as is the case in my favorite poem, listed below. Another poem, called Smoke, features short lines spaced back and forth across the page to evoke the image of rising smoke. I was so inspired I reformed my highly literary poem Chomp, Chomp into old school Pac-Man, or tried to:)

At other times, the spacing is less obvious and left to the reader to determine the reasoning behind it. And that is the pleasure of Caminar: the language that's used and the way it's used. Brown sets up multiple lines early in the book to be called back to later, rewarding the reader for paying attention. Even if you don't write poetry, the skills on display here are applicable to all fiction writing and worth paying attention to whatever you write.

Caminar is a good story, well told, and it will haunt you. I'm so glad I got to meet Silka Brown and enjoy her novel as both experiences have made a lasting impression on me. Typically, I end each review with four or five of my favorite passages from the text, but this isn't your typical book so I'll leave you with a favorite poem instead:


I looked, pointed
    my eyes toward the village, toward
          Chopan. Looked through
               trees to see. Something
                      moved. Something
                                         fell. A limb.


                                                       And then—the sky
                                                                                     was filled
                                                                                        with blue,            butterflies,
                                                                                   tiny blues
                                                                         that fluttered and flew,
                                                                past my tree,
                                                     over my head, above
                                                 the forest,
                                            into the sky.
                                   I blinked
                                   and saw
                     the last one
was yellow.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn’t happen to read that week. Also, 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.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

7 Questions For: Author Skila Brown

Skila Brown holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee, lived for a bit in Guatemala, and now resides with her family in Indiana. Caminar is her first novel.

Her first job ever was selling hot dogs. She is terrified of frogs and hates being tickled.

Click here to read my review of Caminar. 

Click here to read her guest post "How to Write a Poem in 10 Easy Steps."

And now Skila Brown faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Well, obviously this changes from day to day. But I won't cheat on this. I'll really give you just three. My three favorite today. 

Terry Pratchett's Nation
Kristin Cashore's FIre
Rainbow Rowell's Attachments

And - you didn't ask what my favorite series was - but if you did, I'd say Suzanne Collins's Gregor the Overlander series. With Tui T. Sutherland's Wings of Fire a close second.

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

The writing time varies a lot. When I'm drafting a novel - it's probably 20 hours or so a week? But when I'm not--when I'm revising or fiddling with poems or freewriting or brainstorming--it's often less. Maybe more like 8 hours a week? (Gosh, that's a small number. No wonder I feel like I never finish anything.)

I'm a big reader. I'd guess 20-30 hours reading on an average week.

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

If I were more tech-savy, I'd draw this out with diagrams and arrows and such. So just imagine that. In your head.

Freelance writing for magazines and newspapers led me to some publications in Highlights and Ladybug and the like. Which led me to "Hey. I want to write books for kids." Which led me to an SCBWI conference. In which I first heard of Vermont College of Fine Arts. There I learned everything I know about being a writer. And left to land a fantastic agent (Tina Wexler at ICM) and a great publishing house (Candlewick) to boot.  

Those are the major stops along the path to publication. But rest assured, there were detours. I have a file cabinet full of printed-out detours. 

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

Oh, that's such a great question. The obvious answer is both, I think. Right? Doesn't everyone say both? I think some of us are born with this instinctual need to tell stories; we're comfortable crafting narratives, filling in the details. We're excellent liars. But we can learn so much about the craft. I'm the kind of person who loves to learn. I'm always studying something. Writers are artists, first and foremost. So while we may have some kind of talent we've been gifted with, we've got lots of room to grow and improve with classes, training, education, and by studying the masters. 

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

Well, my least favorite part is definitely revision. Too bad that's 70% of writing a novel. After about Draft Eight, I just feel completely drained and confused about why I ever thought the idea was worth my time. 

Favorite thing: I get paid to lie. 

Close second: I get to eat doughnuts. For research. And it's a tax deduction. 

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. Write, write, write. You can't do either of these too much. 

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

Oh, wow. I needed to think about this one for a bit. I want to say J.K. Rowling just for the fact that I could blow my kids' minds. But selfishly, I've love to say Judy Blume. Her books were so influential to me when I was growing up, I'd love to be able to sit down and tell her that. But then - I could say the same for Shel Silverstein too. I remember feeling like the subversiveness in his poems was speaking directly to me--like he could see inside my brain. Also, I kind of want to pick Neil Gaiman. Because doesn't every writer have a tiny crush on Neil Gaiman? Right? Wait. Is that just me? 

Okay, I might have cheated on this last one. But I didn't on the first, so it all evens out.

Reviews, Interviews, and Guest Posts for BANNEKER BONES AND THE GIANT ROBOT BEES

If you have a blog or a site and you'd like to interview me or have me over for a guest post, I'd be thrilled. Just ask.

If you've written a review of the book, let me know and I'll link to it here.


"It's a good one for readers who like smart kids using really cool technology to save the day!  Banneker is a borderline sociopath and an utter snot, but the utterness of his snot-ness is so great as to be amusing.   Ellicott, on the other hand, is a nice kid, easy to relate too.  And the technology (jet packs and holographic games, as well as the giant robot bees) will delight the young technophile."
Charlotte's Library

Five Out Of Five Bookworms! "This is a really cool book. Mr. Kent has written a unique story where the government’s fear is that robots will be taking over everyone’s jobs. And Banneker’s family are the ones making the robots. I like the fact that Banneker Bones isn’t the main character, and that he’s a jerk. It provided a lot of humor in the story. Ellicott is a great kid that you really feel for."

"Mr. Kent has created a work that reads a bit like Sherlock Holmes meets Sci Fi pulp  meets Richie Rich in this near future middle grade science fiction adventure... a highly entertaining and interesting story that  dives into its subject matter with passion and enthusiasm."
View From The Tesseract

"This wonderful story made me laugh, cry, and all other emotions in between! It's a terrific read for all ages to enjoy! I loved it!"

"If my nine-year-old son could review this, and believe me, he wants to, he'd give it ten stars. Five just isn't enough. He was instantly drawn into the story. He laughed throughout."


A discussion about writing middle grade versus young adult and adult with Jessica Lawson at Falling Leaflets

Guest Posts

Rambling About Voltaire and Indie Publishing While Parenting at Literary Rambles