Tuesday, September 26, 2017

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Kelly Van Sant

Kelly Van Sant has nearly a decade of experience in the publishing industry. She cut her teeth in New York working at esteemed literary agencies such as Writers House and Harold Ober Associates, where she developed an eye for compelling, emotionally resonant stories, honed her editorial skills, and soon grew adept at contract vetting. She quickly gained expertise in subsidiary rights management, with focuses on audio rights, foreign rights, and permissions.

After relocating to Minnesota, Kelly joined Llewellyn Worldwide as their Contracts Manager across all three imprints and then moved to Quarto Publishing Group USA where she led the contract department. She has worked as a freelance editor with various publishers and is a teaching artist at the Loft Literary Center.  She also blogs about writing and the publishing industry at Pub(lishing) Crawl and co-hosts their weekly podcast.

Kelly's career came full circle when she joined D4EO Literary Agency in 2017 and began actively building her client list. You can learn more about her and what she's looking for on her blog Pen and Parsley.

And now Kelly Van Sant faces the 7 Questions:


Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Honorable mention: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

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

Movies:
When Harry Met Sally
Clue
Rear Window
(Runner Up: Legally Blonde)

TV:
Orphan Black
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Great British Bake Off


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

Prolific: I want to work with authors over the course of their careers, so I am always hoping to sign clients who have more than one book in them.

Honest: This should be obvious, but I only want to go into business with honest people.

Hard-working:  Publishing demands a lot of authors, and I hope to work with people who have good work ethic, and are willing to rise up to the challenges that meet them.

Talented: Another obvious one, but true. I want to work with creative, innovative people, who write compelling, unique stories.

Communicative: I need my clients to be able to talk to me candidly. I want them to be comfortable stating their expectations, coming to me with concerns, questions, or ideas. For our partnership to work  we need to have open communication.

Receptive: Likewise, I want my clients to be open to listening to feedback, counsel, and advice. Whether it's editorial feedback from a publisher or career advice coming from me, I want my authors to be open to hearing suggestions and being willing to consider all angles of an issue before making a determination.


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

Right now I'm super into YA fantasy and science-fiction and upper middle grade fantasy and adventure. I especially love books about friendship and found family, with compelling characters, meaningful stakes, and a commercial hook. I am always seeking diverse books from diverse writers.


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 working closely with authors to improve their craft, retain creative control over their work, and plan the long-term trajectory of their careers. I really love the creative work that goes into editing and pitching, but I've also got a background in contracts and I'm incredibly passionate about making sure that authors enter into deals that are mutually beneficial, and that respect and protect their rights. There are too many tragic stories about authors falling for scams or signing contracts that are full of red flags. As much as I love the creative work, I also really love negotiating and advocating for authors to give them the clearest and most positive path forward.

My least favorite thing about being an agent is time management. I'm a pretty organized person, and so I didn't anticipate having problems falling behind schedule on queries or requested reading. But it seems like the days fly by, no matter how organized and on top of things I am. Of course I am so grateful to have so many people interested in querying me; but it's a bit of a never-ending avalanche. I hate the times when I fall behind, because I know I'm keeping people waiting, and I hate not being able to respond promptly. I really respect writers, and I think it takes a tremendous amount of courage to query and seek representation. I believe in responding to every query I receive; I think authors deserve a direct response. Sometimes it just takes much longer than I'd like to send that response.


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)

Cultivate patience. This is such a hypocritical things to say, as I myself am an incredibly impatient person. But publishing is a slow industry at every stage, and if you cannot master patience then you will be very unhappy for much of the process. Always have something new to work on--it's one of the best ways to distract yourself while you wait, and it keeps you moving forward rather than staying stagnant.


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

I would love to have lunch with the late Louise Rennison, author of the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series, because she'd be down for cocktails and would make me laugh until I cried.





Thursday, September 21, 2017

7 Questions For: Author Lisa Yee

Lisa Yee’s debut novel, Millicent Min, Girl Genius, won the prestigious Sid Fleischman Humor Award. With over two million books in print, her other novels for young people include Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time, So Totally Emily Ebers, Absolutely Maybe, and a series about a 4th grader, Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) and Bobby the Brave (Sometimes).

Lisa is also the author of American Girl’s Kanani books and Good Luck, Ivy, and this year's Lea Clark novels. Her novel, Warp Speed, is about a Star Trek geek who gets beat up everyday at school. A Thurber House Children’s Writer-in-Residence, Lisa's books have been named a NPR Best Summer Read, Sports Illustrated Kids Hot Summer Read, and USA Today Critics’ Top Pick.

The Kidney Hypothetical - Or How To Ruin Your Life In Seven Days is Lisa's latest novel for teens. Lisa's 2016 books include the DC Super Hero Girls middle grade novel series and the American Girl, 2016 Girl of the Year books. 2017 novels include Batgirl At Super Hero High, and Katana At Super Hero High.

Click here to read my review of Batgirl at Super Hero High.

And now Lisa Yee faces the 7 Questions:


Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Oh, right. Ask me the impossible.

At this moment, I’d say, Walk Two Moons, Look Homeward, Angel, and To Kill A Mockingbird.


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

If I’m on a deadline, I write 24/7, but take time off to sleep and eat. During a normal week, I read an hour or two a day.


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

Unhappiness fueled me to write. I was leading a complicated life and needed a release that belonged to me and no one else. So I began to write late at night. Later, I sent in something to Arthur A. Levine who pulled me from the slush pile. We went on to do eight novels together.


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

Both! Being born an introvert has its benefits. You tend to live in your own world a lot. That coupled with a mom who instilled the love of reading in me at a very young age, pointed me toward being a writer.


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

I love it when I write a really great sentence. I hate it when I can’t write a really great sentence.


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)

If you think you don’t have enough time to write, then you don’t. But if you really want to write, you will find the time.


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

Harper Lee. Because I have so many questions. (But would be fine just to bask in her presence.)



Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Book of the Week: BATGIRL AT SUPER HERO HIGH by Lisa Yee

First Paragraph(s): Oh, sure, there were injuries. Lumps and bruises were an occupational hazard. Sometimes it was because a muscle-bound metahuman was momentarily careless when working out in Wildcat’s phys ed class. Or because a flyer took a turn a tad too sharply and slammed into a wall (or a fellow student or the cafeteria) at full speed. Or because of something like what had just happened: an invading interstellar alien army had targeted the student population for total enslavement to the powers of evil…which was all part of the daily routine at Super Hero High School. And most of the super heroes in training loved it. 
Now, as the young heroes flew, ran, stretched, strolled, and teleported into the auditorium, they laughed and congratulated each other. They admired their new casts and bandages and bruises. Never had so many been so sore—and so happy about it.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned this over the course of this blog, Esteemed Reader, but I'm something of a fan of Batman and other superheroes. As I recently told you in a post featuring a Batman gif, I'm plunging myself back into the world of middle grade writing and working on a second adventure for Banneker Bones, my character based on Batman.

Lisa Yee is a middle grade author I've wanted to feature here since I read her wonderful Millicent Min, Girl Genius and she'll be here on Thursday, so look forward to that. When I saw she was writing the Super Hero High series, I wanted to read it at once (and so will you when I tell you more). Batgirl and Supergirl are two of my favorite characters and Lisa Yee is an author I admire, so I knew I was in for a treat. And this was the perfect book for me to read in preparation for my own project.

What a fun series this is! It's clever and hit all the right notes for a middle grade book for girls about girls that can also amuse a grown man who still likes his comics. Super Hero High is like Hogwarts if Hogwarts had way cooler students based on DC characters. Personally, I would never want to go back to high school unless it was Super Hero High, and then I might consider it, because I'd love to take these classes:

In PE, instead of running laps around a track, they were often asked to run laps around the city. And in Weaponomics, they were learning about devices that could cause mass destruction—or save the world. As the school’s part-time tech wizard, Batgirl had seen it all.

As Principal Amanda Waller warns Barbara Gordon, A.K.A. Batgirl:

This isn’t like your old high school. Here, we train students to save lives, make the world a better place, and lead by example. There are villains who will aim to bring you and the world down. We have to be prepared for that.”






Obviously, as Amanda Waller is principal of a high school, Super Hero High is set in its own continuity separate from any other DC story. Although I can't say for certain as Harley Quinn's Super Hero High book doesn't come out until January, I'm guessing she didn't fall in love with the Joker after obtaining her doctorate in kindergarten. I'm also betting money that Batgirl won't be shot in the spine and paralyzed before the end of the series, though Yee does endow her with all the technical know how she'll need if she ever does become Oracle. 

In this version of the DC Universe, Dr. Arkham is a school counselor, which strikes me as rather ominous. More fun, Crazy Quilt is teaching costume making, and Red Tornado and Comissioner James Gordon are on the faculty as well (more on him in a moment). Steve Trevor is working at the local Capes and Cowls Cafe and wouldn't you know it, Batgirl's classmate Wonder Woman (the girl) has a crush on him. The reader is running into other characters from the DC universe every other chapter, sometimes literally:

“Barbara reporting to Supergirl. Supergirl, do you read me?” 
Her wafer-thin com bracelet crackled before she heard “Oops, ouch! Sorry! Sorry.” There was a moment of silence, followed by a loud thud, and then Supergirl’s voice came in. “Hey there, BFF. I flew too fast and The Flash was running too fast and we had a major collision. But we’re both okay. At least, I think we are. He looks sort of wobbly. What’s up?”

Sorry fellas, but the focus of this series is on the female characters of the DCU, most of them as teenagers. Aside from the Flash and Cyborg, I didn't spot a teenage Auquaman, or even Robin. But I think I would've enjoyed this series even as a teenage boy as superheroes of both sexes make for the most fun adventures.There are plenty of stories focusing on teenage Superman, but that's for another series.




Yee is careful to maintain the essential essence of every character in the DCU without being a slave to the source material. Yes, Harley's a bit crazy, but mostly about media and her own fame, and one gets the sense that in this version of the DCU, she might grow up to be... not good, exactly, but not bad bad either. As for Barbara Gordon, who mostly goes by the name Batgirl in school, Yee has lots of fun along the way with an oh-so-slight rearranging of her mythology:

Batgirl was relieved that she got to keep her annex, or as she referred to it, her Barbara-Assisted Technology Bunker. This was also called the Bat-Bunker.

Of all the characters present, I felt that Batgirl was the most true to her comic book self. When Red Tornado insists the teen super heroes learn to drive non-super-people vehicles so they can blend in as necessary (half of them will grow up to have secret identities, after all), Barbara naturally chooses the motorcycle, because it is her destiny.




Yee wisely shifts the novel's focus from the superhero aspects of our teen superheroes' lives to the more universal situations faced even by regular human teenagers without superpowers. At the end of the day, this is primarily a story about a girl and her father readers know from Batman comics, which is what most Batgirl stories have always been about. Commissioner Gordon wants his little girl to be safe and needs to learn to back off, Barbara Gordon wants to be a super hero, but needs to remember her father cares about her and has her best interest at heart. Though I did find it quite funny that Gordon, who is on the faculty at Super Hero High, wants his daughter to go to Gotham City High School where she'll be safe. It's like, Bro, do you even read Batman comics?

What makes Yee's version of Batgirl all the more interesting is that she employs an intellectual response to her problems the same as her young readers can. This is how she handles her father's objections to her attending a school for superheroes:

Barbara knew she couldn’t argue with her dad’s feelings. She also knew he couldn’t argue with facts. Employing complex computer graphs and charts featuring a matrix of statistics to support her argument and supplemented by state-of-the-art videos, she worked deep into the night. 
The next day was Saturday. That afternoon Barbara invited her father into the living room. Her presentation took over an hour, and as Commissioner Gordon sat in his favorite chair nodding, neither smiling nor frowning, Barbara piled fact upon fact and reason upon reason as to why she should be allowed to go to Super Hero High.

It's good that Barbara is ready to use her brain, as she's at a school where most of the students outmatch her in the brawn department. Most of her fellow students "were born with powers, or developed special skills at a young age. Her peers had been nurtured at super hero preschools, then super hero elementary and middle schools. Conversely, Batgirl was a latecomer and had to make up for a lot of lost time." 

In doing everything she can to fit in with superheroes, not to mention running most of the school's IT needs, and taking care of a sick bat, and also competing in a reality show, Batgirl runs herself down and has to learn how to manage her time and her life, which is a lesson needed by most teens and their parents and everyone:

“People think I’m stressed,” she told him. “But really, I’m not. Okay, okay, maybe a little. Sometimes. But not all the time. Not when I’m asleep!” She let out a too-loud laugh. Batgirl kept dreaming about all the things she was supposed to get done and would wake up exhausted


Batgirl at Super Hero High is a fun story filled with beloved characters used in new and interesting ways. It's chock full of humor and charm and soars high (look at me, I'm Gene Shalit!). Although, even in the fantastical world of the DCU, one still runs across the occasional troll.

“NO!” he yelled. The sides of his mouth curled downward and there was insult in his eyes. “Not you!” 
Batgirl stopped. 
“In my day, super heroes could fly and move buildings, and were all men. NOT GIRLS!” Mr. Morris grumbled. 
Batgirl continued to remove the shoes, then lent a hand to help him up. 
“Next time,” he grumbled, “I want a real super hero, not a girl.”

Me, I just say that adds a degree of realism to a story, that while unrealistic, is absolutely accessible to younger readers. You should absolutely add this series to your reading list and for sure check back here on Thursday to see Lisa Yee face the 7 Questions. 



As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from Batgirl at Super Hero High:


No one dared move, and Miss Martian couldn’t because Killer Frost had just frozen her, “as a joke.” The only sound in the cavernous auditorium was a tiny ping coming from Cyborg’s internal circuitry.

 Batgirl felt an icy chill go through her entire body. “Ice to meet you,” Captain Cold said.

"When you meet new people, you should always hit them hard, and if that doesn’t work, hit them harder. Remember to always lead with a punch. BOOM!” 
“When I meet someone new, I prefer to lead with a smile,” Batgirl said, offering her one. 
Barda looked at her with suspicion.


Everyone applauded and Cyborg smiled. He had a nice smile. Cyborg lifted his arm to wave, and wave, and wave. It wasn’t until a minute had passed that Batgirl realized he was malfunctioning and couldn’t stop waving.

The library installation had gone well. Now students were able to access books and resource material from their dorm rooms, space vehicles, anywhere—though many still congregated at the heavy wooden tables in the library that were lit with old-fashioned green banker’s lamps. 
“It feels so awesomely retro and academic to study in here,” Hawkgirl whispered. 
“I know!” Batgirl agreed. “I know…but this is where all the knowledge is. I love the smell of information in this room.” 
Just as she was about to sniff an old leather-bound copy of Ra’s al Ghul’s The Decline of the Ancient World, someone cried, “THERE YOU ARE!”







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. 

Banneker Bones Appendix

Because this blog has always doubled as my writer's notebook, I sometimes store things here that may not interest regular Esteemed Readers, such as my handy Middle Grade Ninja Style Guide. I check that page (and update it frequently) and direct editors of my work there as well. And because it's online, anyone who needs it has access to it and I can't lose it:)

The following is a living document (expect regular updates) to help me keep track of the details of Banneker's universe. If you're a fan of Banneker Bones, this might come in handy for you as well. If you've never read Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees, I assure you, the book will prove far more interesting than this scattering of author notes. Why not start with the first five chapters?

Expect this appendix to get much, much longer and far more detailed as I work through Banneker's upcoming adventures. This will be a useful exercise for me. Maybe you'll care, maybe you won't. Whatever:) Plenty of great interviews and guest posts in the archives for you to peruse.



CHARACTERS (humans)


BANNEKER BONES: 11-year-old genius detective, biracial with light brown skin, brown eyes, and dark hair kinked close to his head (with faint blond patches), hums tunelessly when nervous or concentrating, terrified of bees. Allergic to dogs. Invented the Gyration Rotation Station: Teachers across America told their students the legend of how the then only six-year-old Banneker Bones put together the final bit of circuitry essential to his father’s invention of the first Autobox robot, using the pieces of a broken watch. Always wears the same outfit and thick, square black glasses. He was dressed in the clothes Ellicott would come to think of as his uniform because Banneker never wore anything else: mud-brown slacks and a black dress shirt with a cherry-red tie, over which he wore a forest-green v-neck sweater. Atop his head was a black felt hat with a wide white band just above its brim that made Banneker look a little like a detective in an old pulp comic book.


ELLICOTT SKULLWORTH: 11-year old genius sidekick, white with blond hair, blue eyes. Partial to hoodies and jeans, but unlike his famous cousin, wears different clothes everyday. Originally attended Mrs. Eddy's fifth-grade class at Brownsborough Elementary in Indiana before testing into the Latimer University Archimedes Program. Loves to read, is partial to horror novels. Excellent writer. Adores flying on jet pack and holographic videogames. Lacks confidence, contrasting with Banneker's overconfidence.


REGGIE RAND (the third): 11-year-old comic book artist, creator of Sa-Ninja, biracial, deeply enjoys mocking Banneker. The skinny kid had light brown skin and wore glasses, but his hair was too long and he was too tall to be Banneker Bones.


LING BONES: 7-year-old sister of Banneker, Chinese, proud of the fact that she's adopted, very talented piano player, extreme pain in Banneker's backside.


MR. REGINALD RAND (the second): Father of Reggie, Owner of Rand Enterprises, hulking bald white man, like a white bull stuffed into a shirt and tie. Has a distinctly deep voice. The man sounded like he recited Shakespeare to adoring crowds of English teachers on the weekends. Mr. Rand probably has entire passages of The Fountainhead memorized, would love to have dinner with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnel. He smokes cigars with a red 'R' wrapped around the end. "What the president and the congress don’t understand, what they've never understood, is it’s the captains of industry who truly rule America. Decisions are made in boardrooms, not the halls of government." Far more Lex Luthor/Kingpin than Donald Trump: He was dressed in a dark purple suit with a black tie made of a material that reflected every light in the room. From this distance he appeared so handsome he shone. 


DR. MYRA BONES (Aunt Myra): Banneker's mother, Professor of English at Latimer University. Does not wear glasses. Eyes bulge in sarcasm. Loves books almost as much as Ellicott. Dr. Myra Bones had dark skin, kinky hair that shot up straight from her head into an afro, and soft brown eyes that looked friendly.


DR. PATRICK BONES (Uncle Patrick): Banneker's father, president of the Autobox Company, inventor of Robots, sort of out-to-lunch most of the time. Wears thick black glasses like Banneker's. Dr. Patrick Bones was tall and thin with blue eyes and blond hair. He had a strong cleft chin and he greatly resembled Ellicott’s father and Ellicott himself. He was dressed in jeans, a white lab coat, and a button-down shirt that was only half tucked in. He had at least three days’ stubble on his hollow cheeks and his blond hair went every which way.


DR. JUANITA FRANKLIN (Grandma Juanita): Banneker's 70-year-old grandmother, black. She cooks all the food served at 221 Garrett Street, Myra Bones' mother. Devoted reader of The Latimer City Inquisitor.


PATRICIA SKULLWORTH: Ellicott's mother; affectionately call him 'Ellie.' Terrified of robots. Likes a strong drink after an encounter with one. Not afraid to confront her husband when it comes to Ellie, even if it involves a bit of corrupting her child (just a little). A fan of romance novels, such as Destiny Takes a Lover. His mother smiled, though tears glistened in her eyes, and she hugged Ellicott close to her for one last embrace. “You’re going to do well here, I know it. You’re brilliant. Always have been. And I’m proud of you.”


HARVEY SKULLWORTH: Ellicott's father. Blond hair and blue eyes like Ellicott and his half brother Patrick Bones, whom he hasn't spoken to in years for reasons not yet specified. Kinda creepy that Harvey married a woman named "Patricia." Maybe we'll explore that in an upcoming book. Probably we won't. Anyway, Harvey hates robots. Seems awful angry and cynical a lot of the time; pictures himself a working class hero taking the high road. Big-time football fan, giver of suspect advice. Manager at a Rand Enterprise's warehouse.



CHARACTERS (non-humans)


IMPORTANT: Robots are neither male nor female. Refer to them as 'it.' PEOPLE may call them 'he' or 'she,' but that's a reflection on the humans, not the robots.

ALSO IMPORTANT: Robots are designed to make humans comfortable over efficiency. For this reason, robot vehicles appear to have drivers, though they aren't necessary.


WINSTON: Robot butler. If it had a last name, it would be Pennyworth, but robots don't have last names:) Banneker's only friend/servant. Banneker rides it to dinner, which is not something friends should do. The back of its head can be a monitor and it can read Banneker's email and access Banneker's computer privileges even when they've been revoked. A bright silver robot appeared at the top of the staircase. It descended on thin metal legs finished in three-pronged feet, the long toes of which curled around each stair as the robot stepped.Its center was a bulky cube. The robot had two arms as thin as its legs. Its head was a metal box with a hinged jaw. Two dark pink eyes bulged out past the edges of its face. Has jet flames that fire out its feet when Winston wants to fly. “The protection and service of all the children in this home,” Winston said. “It's my primary function.”
Ellicott thought of the way Winston had allowed Banneker to ride it to dinner. “So if you serve the children in this home, does that include me?” Winston’s eyes flashed pink light and Ellicott had the impression his question amused the robot. “You're a child in this home, aren't you?” “I guess I am,” Ellicott said. “If I ask you to kick somebody really hard for me, will you do it?” All light disappeared from Winston’s eyes. “No. My programming forbids me to harm any human or creature unless not doing so conflicts with my primary function.”


BISHOP: Giant security robot who protects the Bones family penthouse. A bronze robot that projects a beam of red light from its eye. The bronze robot stepped out of Rand Enterprises ducking, and then extended to its full height of nearly two stories. At the end of its arms were large barrels like Gatling guns where hands should’ve been. (30 barrels) He’s only armed with rubber bullets and chloroformus oxide.


JACOB: Snooty robot doorman who greets the visitors of 221 Garrett Street. Plugs into a charging station behind the lobby's front desk, answers phone calls without a phone. A robot with two big black wheels for feet, a silver chest, and arms ending in four steel fingers approached. It was dressed in a red doorman’s jacket that matched its red base, and permanently molded to its head was a steel cap, also red. The robot’s eyes pulsed purple light with each word, but its steel mouth stayed frozen in a wide grin. Ellicott had the distinct impression that though the robot doorman had barely more than a metal nub for a nose, it was now looking down it at his mother and him.


ROBOT WAITERS: There's also a kitchen staff that's rarely scene. Think of them as enchanted furniture ala Beauty and the Beast. The three robot waiters came rolling into the room carrying bowls of some steaming red substance that smelled exotic and spicy.Each robot had four arms and was able to carry four bowls without needing a hot pad. The last robot carried only one bowl and another pitcher of water. The robot waiter rolled into the kitchen where Ellicott could see another robot washing dishes.


EDWIN: Driver of the Bones' family Limo. The car has the green Autobox logo on its side. Ellicott had once asked his uncle why the Autobox Company's vehicles had robot drivers. "I mean, it's not like a robot car needs arms to turn its own steering wheel." Uncle Patrick had agreed this was true, but the company had market tested vehicles without drivers and the overwhelming consensus had been that potential customers found them "weird." 


SECURITY ROBOTS: Sometimes carry EMP blast rifles. robots painted blue with the word 'SECURITY' across their chests in white.


SANIN-JA (Sanin-JA): The star of Reggie and Ellicott's comic book. He opened the pad to reveal a sketch of a muscle-bound hero with big black eyes and a huge bald head. The hero was throwing two Chinese stars, one with each hand, and strapped across his back was a bo staff. “He’s an alien ninja with the power of telepathy and telekinesis.” Reggie grinned and flipped to the next page on which was a drawing of the same muscle-bound alien dressed in a suit and tie and wearing glasses. “This is his secret identity: Sanin-Joe.” Reggie flipped through more pages in which Sanin-JA was slicing the arms and legs off foot soldiers while wielding dual samurai swords, fighting monsters with his bare hands, and exploding the heads of criminals with his amazing psychic powers. Each drawing was accompanied by erupting fountains of blood.“You just tell the same story that’s in every superhero comic. Your hero comes from another planet down to Earth where he learns to love humans and becomes best friends with an evil genius who later turns out to be his greatest nemesis. And then they fight forever and eventually, if Sanin-JA has a sidekick, the evil genius kills him and they have their biggest fight of all.”




LATIMER CITY LOCATIONS


IMPORTANT: All the rooms in the Bones' Penthouse have programmable walls and carpet, so they can change design at any time (you didn't catch me in a lapse, Esteemed Reader, the room must've changed since the last time I described it).


221 Garrett Street (at the intersection of Garrett and Morgan, hee hee): Home of the Bones family (and Ellicott). Has impressive fountain in its lobby with a moving frog boy in its center ala Ball State (holla!) and moving fishies. 221 Garrett Street. appeared to be made entirely of darkened glass and stone. A grand marquee extended over the wide sidewalk. The building looked more like a swanky hotel than a place where people actually lived.


Bones Family Penthouse: Ginormous apartment with 20-foot windows big enough for giant robot bees to fly through and a grand piano on a raised platform. On the other side of this ridiculously enormous front room was a gathering of expensive-looking furniture in front of a fireplace the size of a garage door. Between the piano on the right and the fireplace on the left, a grand staircase wound down to the center of the room. This was not an apartment. This was a mansion that happened to be located at the top of an apartment building. 


Party Room: The funkiest room you ever seen. Tell you what its name is: Party Room. Rocks a party like nobody can. Rules and regulations, no place in this room's nation... It's nextdoor to the front of the penthouse as Ellicott walked directly there from listening to Ling play piano.  Around the bar were tables and chairs, and Ellicott guessed this must be a room where parties were held, but it felt more like a fancy restaurant than someone’s home.


Dining Room: Down the hall from party room.  Ellicott couldn’t possibly imagine a dining room bigger or fancier than this one. The walls were at least 15-feet tall and there were windows that ran from the marble floor to the ornately carved ceiling on either side of the table. Long blue velvet curtains hung to the side of each window, but they were open and the darkened skyline of Latimer City could be seen through them: bright lights, neon signs, and tall buildings of concrete and steel, the tops of which just reached the level of the dining room’s windows, reminding Ellicott how high up he was. Ellicott chose the chair beside his mother and had to move some of the rich red tablecloth aside to sit down. It pooled over his legs like a blanket. In front of him were two crystal goblets, three spoons, three forks, and two knives. Ellicott spun to see a robot of a similar model as the doorman pouring water from a pitcher into his glass. Just as the doorman’s red jacket had been permanently painted on, this waiter robot wore a permanent white tuxedo jacket.

***We are promised a grand dining hall not yet shone.


Banneker's Room: On the second floor of the penthouse. Large oak door at the end of the hall. This one room was bigger than Ellicott’s whole house, and it was three stories high. It was large enough for a Tyrannosaurus rex to stand upright and fit comfortably in the center of things. The walls were cold riveted steel, but black designs had been painted on them like Rorschach ink blots. On the wall directly ahead of them was a great clock 12 feet in circumference. The face of the clock was black, but the hour and minute hands glowed yellow and the numbers were neon red.Reggie led him beneath the clock into a new part of Banneker Bones’ bedroom where the ceiling dropped lower as there was yet more bedroom on the floor above them. They passed between four steel tables littered with bits of machinery and various metal objects that looked a lot like arms and legs. Ellicott spotted a steel head with light-up eyes.

***Clock is 10 minutes fast


Banneker's Office: Directly above Banneker's robotics lab and behind the great clock. Accessible by a spiral steel staircase and a fireman's pole (naturally).  The first thing he saw of the second floor was the giant television screen only because it was impossible to miss. Almost the entire far wall was one big screen, 10 feet high and 20 feet across. On the rear wall was the back of the giant clock. Though the yellow hands and the red neon numbers were mercifully not as bright from the back of the clock, they still provided the only light in an otherwise dark room... long table behind Banneker, at the end of which was an old-fashioned red phone that glowed beneath a glass dome cover.


Guest Room/Ellicott's room: On the second floor of Banneker's Room with five bookshelves.  “That’s where Banneker sleeps,” Aunt Myra said, pointing to the right of the front door where Ellicott at first saw only shelves filled with books. In front of the books was another spiral steel staircase and fireman’s pole, and now Ellicott realized there was even more to the second floor of Banneker’s incredible bedroom. “And this was the guest bedroom,” Aunt Myra said, pointing left. “But it’s your room now. Aunt Myra led him up the third and final steel staircase in Banneker Bones’ lair to the guest bedroom. It was four times the size of Ellicott’s bedroom back in Brownsborough and like Banneker's office, it had its own fireman's pole. Large windows on two of the walls looked out over the rest of Banneker’s extraordinary room. Ellicott poked his head into the bathroom. There was both a shower and a tub that looked more like a Jacuzzi. It was shaped in a perfect circle and could've held 20 Ellicotts.
“There’s a toothbrush and floss for you,” Aunt Myra said, pointing toward a marble sink with gold fixtures and an enormous vanity. “And on the other side of this counter is a laundry bin. Just leave your dirty clothes in there and Winston will take care of them.”


Uncle Patrick's Workshop: Directly below Banneker's robotics lab, connected by a spiral steel staircase and a fireman's pole.  THIS NEW ROOM WAS THE largest Ellicott had been in yet. There were partially finished robots everywhere and a lot of the same equipment Ellicott had seen in Banneker’s workshop, only larger. In the center of the room was a raised steel platformAt the top of the platform was a walkway the width of the deck around an above-ground pool, and that was what the platform reminded Ellicott of: an above-ground pool without water. In the center of the walkway was a pit filled with all sorts of machines.


Rand Enterprises Lobby: The first thing Ellicott saw of the lobby of Rand Enterprises was an enormous fountain five times the size of the fountain in the lobby of 221 Garrett Street. In the center of the fountain was a stone man bent forward with the literal weight of the world on his back, spinning between his shoulder blades. He led Ellicott around the giant fountain to where there were banks of 10 elevators on either side of the lobby. Between the elevators stood robots painted blue with the word 'SECURITY' across their chests in white. Only once he and the officers were in an elevator did it occur to Ellicott that he barely noticed the robots, he'd already become so accustomed to seeing them. They rode the elevator up 81 floors to the very top of Rand Enterprises.


Aunt Myra's Library: Three story library at the end of the hall from Banneker's room, which officially starts on the second story.  There were two enormous gated holes above the main floor's seating area, giving the library the feeling of a courthouse or other stately building. Through the circular openings, Ellicott glimpsed the other two floors of the library, all containing shelves upon shelves of books.At the end of every shelf was a painting or photograph blown up to poster size, and though they looked to be canvas stretched and placed into ornate golden frames, he suspected they could probably be changed as easily as the walls and floor of the hallway. Soft classical music played overhead and Ellicott had the thought that if it were possible to crack a doorway into Aunt Myra's skull and climb inside her mind, it would look and sound like this library.




GADGETS

JUKEBOOK: All-purpose book capable of generating holographic displays and neccesary for classes at Latimer City University: It was a slim book as thin as a folder, and when Ellicott opened it he saw there were no paper pages, only electronic screens on either side. “It’s a Jukebook, so it’s any book you want it to be,” Aunt Myra said. She pressed a power button in the lower corner. Both screens lit up and millions of book titles appeared for the reader to choose. “If I may make a suggestion.” Aunt Myra pointed to an icon for Watership Down by Richard Adams. “Have you read this one?” Ellicott grinned. The opening pages of Watership Down appeared on the two screens as though he were holding an open book.“I think you’ll like it. It’s my favorite.” Tiny holographic projectors protruded from the corners of the Jukebook, allowing small rabbits to crawl out of Watership Down's cover and hop across its pages. She pressed a button along the Jukebook’s spine and something long and black poked out that looked like a pen. Aunt Myra pulled the stylus free and manipulated the electronic menu until one page of the Jukebook went blank.


ROCKET SCOOTER: Textbook metal square that can transform into a rocket scooter and a jet pack because awesome: With that, Banneker took his backpack off his shoulders and pulled from it a metal square that was only a little larger and wider than a textbook. He set it on the sidewalk in front of him and at once the metal began to reform. It unfolded itself, sprouting wheels and a steering column. Within 30 seconds and with surprisingly little noise beyond a faint whir, it had shaped itself into something that looked like a scooter. Banneker kicked off and started the scooter down the street. Then two streams of flame shot out from somewhere beneath the scooter.






LATIMER UNIVERSITY


IMPORTANT: 12 girls and 8 boys of the Archimedes Program.


IMPORTANT: official school colors are red and gold.


SCHEDULE OF CLASSES: Mondays and Wednesdays: American History, World History, American Literature, Art, Lunch, Homeroom. Tuesday and Thursdays: Swimming, Anatomy, Applied Physics, Mathematical Theory, Lunch, Homeroom. According to the schedule, this was World History with Professor Chandra Gupta. Next up was American Literature taught by—Ellicott reread just to be sure—Professor Myra Bones. After that, was Art, followed by lunch, and then something called Homeroom with Professor Nelson Martinez.Ellicott couldn’t believe his luck: two history courses, a literature class taught by his aunt, and an art class—all Ellicott’s favorite subjects! His stomach turned, however, when he read his schedule for tomorrow: Swimming (not bad), followed by Anatomy (could be interesting), followed by Applied Physics (yikes!), followed by Mathematical Theory (theoretical math sounded a lot harder than regular math), followed by more Homeroom.


THE CAMPUS: Latimer University itself is a fairly standard city college (in a world of high concept science fiction) for well-to-do students. It's the Archimedes Program that's special. Ellicott had never been on a college campus before and he was amazed by how large it was. There were tall brick buildings on either side of the limo marked with plaques proclaiming them as the School of Science or the School of Telecommunications, and so on. Apparently every academic subject had its own building and its own plaque and students hurried between the buildings yammering on phones. Above the brick buildings, Ellicott could see the tops of the larger buildings of Latimer City. But they seemed farther away, as though the university were its own separate city within a city.


LECTURE HALL: American History and World History are held in the same lecture hall. A lectern is at the front as well as a holocomputer. There were 40 rows of desks, almost all full, and arranged in descending heights like the seats in a sports arena. There must've been 300 students in the giant university lecture hall, all at least eight years older than the boys.


PROFESSOR NELSON MARTINEZ: Homeroom professor. At the front of the room a skinny old black man dressed in a suit stood behind a lectern.


PROFESSOR MCGOWN: American History professor. At the front of the room a skinny old black man dressed in a suit stood behind a lectern.


PROFESSOR CHANDRA GUPTA: World History professor. A short Indian woman dressed in a sari.

MADAM SMITH: Art professor with big teeth and bouncy blond hair like Virginia Bombshell. Is this a sly reference to my best friend since the third grade who illustrated the first book? Who would ever suggest that!?! These are very serious books and I would never joke around in such a casual manner with really important leeeeterature.


WYATT LANDER: College student with long hair. Description forthcoming.


Monday, September 11, 2017

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Jim McCarthy

Jim McCarthy interned for DG and B while studying urban design at New York University. Upon graduating in 2002, Jim realized he would much rather continue working with books than make the jump (as he had originally intended) to the field of city planning. As an avid fiction reader, his interests encompass both literary and commercial works in the adult and young adult categories. He is particularly interested in literary women’s fiction, underrepresented voices, mysteries, romance, paranormal fiction, and anything unusual or unexpected. In addition to fiction he is also interested in narrative nonfiction, memoir, and paranormal nonfiction. Jim was raised just outside of NYC and currently lives in Manhattan.

And now Jim McCarthy faces the 7 Questions:


Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

SONG OF SOLOMON by Toni Morrison
SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME by Victor Hugo

It’s tough to call out three favorites. These are three that I read in high school and made me really fall in love with literature. So they’re more books that shaped and defined me as a reader than necessarily absolute all-time favorites. But they’re all genius and still move me deeply.


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

TV: RuPaul’s Drag Race; 30 Rock; Veep
Movies: This is somehow even harder to narrow down than books: Leaving Las Vegas; Clue; Carol


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

First and foremost, talent. Then kindness, tenacity, and drive.


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

I am always, always on the lookout for great sci-fi and fantasy from middle grade through adult. Non-Western based settings a plus. But I also would love to find exciting historical fiction and hook-y contemporary. And it’s hard to define exactly what I want in nonfiction, but I would love to find more narratives that open up the world a little wider—that can be in science or history or memoir or social justice. I just want stories that feel fresh and thrilling.


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

Nothing is better than the feeling of calling an author and telling them their first book has an offer. Being an integral part of making people’s dreams come true can’t be beaten.

The hardest part is the flip side of that: you get very emotionally invested in the lives and work of your clients, and not every book is a hit. So learning to roll with the punches and not take things personally/working to keep spirits up and keep driving forward is a constant journey.


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’ll leave this to much more capable hands: “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison


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

J.D. Salinger. And you know what? I don’t even like his books. But if someone turns into a hermit and doesn’t reveal almost anything about themselves for several decades? Then I want to know more. So just the impossibility of it and the potential for secrets is too tantalizing for me to turn down.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

NINJA STUFF: Return to Middle Grade


"I'm back in baby's arms. How I've missed those loving arms. I'm back where I belong."

I hope this post finds you well, Esteemed Reader, and if it does not, I hope you are swiftly on your way to wellness. As I write this, I'm officially a fourth of the way into writing a new middle grade novel and I'm enjoying myself very much. I've been so focused on horror fiction for adults these past couple years (I've even taught a class on the subject), I nearly forgot how much I love middle grade fiction.

Rest assured, Esteemed Reader, I haven't run this middle grade oriented blog these past 7 years as a clever ruse to get you interested in my writing, and then suddenly switch to being exclusively a horror author. The part of my brain that handles marketing and branding insists that's exactly what I should do, but that part of my brain is a bit too cold and calculating for my taste, and I write for love. I've always written for love. Money is nice and necessary, but I know several good ways to make it without dedicating myself to the craft of fiction. In my capacity as a financial adviser, I have never once recommended a client turn their finances around by writing a book:)

I've spent the last few months on a sort of victory lap for The Book of David that is still ongoing as I need to get out there and shake my paperback to promote the series. And I've so loved the kind feedback I've received and am continuing to receive from Esteemed Readers. I took a lot of big risks and swung for the fences with The Book of David and knowing some readers love my story almost as much I do is enormously gratifying. I do a happy dance every time an Esteemed Reader writes me to let me know how happy the final chapter in the series made them. And they inevitably ask me when the next book is coming and I'm all like, dude, I just gave you five horror novels, give me a second:)

But the writer's journey, at least for me, is a lifelong one, and it doesn't end with a single novel (or five of them). Esteemed Readers eager for a new story is always something I'll take into consideration, and I know they want more flying saucers or more zombies or both or maybe something about a scary clown as that's so popular just now. Esteemed Readers know I'll deliver on all the violence and offensiveness of a scary story and I have no doubt that on a long enough timeline, I'll write another one (I've had a werewolf story brewing in my brain for years, and there is an All Together Now 3 if I ever get to it).

Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees is the least popular of my novels and the worst selling. It's also my favorite and the Esteemed Readers who've read all my books tell me it's their favorite as well. I haven't figured out how to successfully market an indie middle grade title, but I also haven't changed the name of this blog to Horror Ninja because I hold out hope that I will. I've gotten far less emails about Banneker, but the young readers who've written me are ticked that I've written another horror story they're not old enough to read and they want Banneker 2 yesterday. I can't do it that fast (and you wouldn't want to read it if I did), but I honestly am writing it now.



It's exhilarating to find myself back in Banneker's world at the top of a penthouse at 221 Garrett Street. My boy genius detective and his ever faithful sidekick Ellicott Skullworth have got their hands full with a new mystery to solve and new monsters to do battle with. It's like coming home to write new dialogue for Ling and Grandma Juanita and all my other beloved friends whom I haven't seen in far too long. Their concerns are far less brooding than the concerns of David and Miriam Walters and certainly Ricky Genero and Michelle Kirkman. Not to promise there aren't at least some zombies in Banneker 2:)

The real world is a bit too dark for my taste just recently and I'm relishing this opportunity to indulge in a fantasy far less serious in its tone. And it's a thrill to find that after my time away, I still know how to write middle grade. My ninja skills may be a bit rusty (that's what revisions are for), but the basic equipment is still intact.

In The Book of David, I was intentionally channeling the style of Stephen King (however less skillfully deployed), and so was able to indulge in long run-on sentences, seemingly lackadaisical plotting, profuse profanity, and long flashbacks to establish character back story. All those tools have been removed from my writer's toolbox for Banneker 2, but replaced with some also fun-to-use tools I haven't been able to play with for far too long.

After all, this is a sequel to a book in which two eleven-year-old boys rode jet packs to blast giant robot bees out of the skies with EMP rifles. There's no need for extended flashbacks to establish character or a slow build of evidence to convince Esteemed Reader that something they know isn't possible might just be possible for the length of the story. As in most superhero stories, the world of Banneker Bones is so preposterous from the outset that Esteemed Reader either agrees to suspend disbelief going in so we can have a good time, or doesn't. Because middle grade is largely intended for younger Esteemed Readers with minds more open than the minds of adults, less convincing is required.

And yet, just as when I wrote All Together Now, I felt like a middle grade author putting on the airs of a horror author, and now I feel like a horror author putting on the airs of a middle grade writer:) I had always intended for Banneker 2 to be darker than the original story as the second story in a series is traditionally darker, but at times I worry I might be going too dark. We'll see if passages such as this one make the final cut:

Ellicott flew in the opposite direction slowly, the headlights from his jet pack leading the way until they caught on the corpse of an animal laying on the cement walkway. The animal was too long dead for Ellicott to know what it had been.
A rat perched atop it, the dead animal’s decayed eyeball lodged in its mouth. The rat tugged against the cords connecting the eye to its socket the way Ellicott might've pulled a cherry from its stem. When the jet pack’s beams swept across it, the rat leapt into the river of sewage with a panicked squeak and swam away.
Ellicott swallowed the bile that rose in his throat and flew past the dead animal.

Of more concern to me is my planned ending, which is presently extremely dark, at least on the outline. It's the sort of ending that would be perfectly at home in a horror novel (possibly even too light for the horror crowd), but which may prove too mean-spirited for middle grade. As ever, though I outline my novels ahead of time, the characters are welcome to take actions to talk me out of my plans. We'll see if they do or not.

And at the end of the day, I suspect that what I'm feeling is the same early stage fright I have endured during the first act of every story I've ever written. It's also a mindset shift that accompanies going from the high of finishing a project to the low of working in the early stages of a new one (after the initial excitement of the opening). As ever, it's best to take a deep breath and keep writing.

We're going to be doing some cool stuff at this blog as well. I'm going to write some actual reviews of middle grade books to get me back in the proper middle grade mindset, we're going to have some great blog posts, some interviews with lots of interesting people, including some authors who are really, really famous (no spoilers, but one author's name rhymes with Pate Picamillo), and some other authors who soon will be.

As ever, I hope your writing and, more importantly, your reading, are going well, Esteemed Reader. If you'll excuse me, there is a signal in the sky with a ninja in the middle of it and I must return to my own middle grade writing:) It feels good to be back.