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Upcoming Agent Spotlights With Query Critique Giveaways:

Kristy Hunter, Wednesday, March 22nd

Agent Spotlight: Hannah Bowman

This week's Agent Spotlight features Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates.

Status: Open to submissions.

hannah-bowmanAbout: “Hannah joined the agency in 2011. She has a B.A. from Cornell University, summa cum laude in English and magna cum laude in Mathematics. While a student, she spent four summers working in particle physics at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, before eventually deciding her true interest was books. Before joining Liza Dawson Associates, Hannah interned briefly with agent Weronika Janczuk, now of Lynn C. Franklin Associates.

“In her free time, she writes her own fiction (mostly science fiction and fantasy) and plays the organ.

“Hannah specializes in commercial fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy, women's fiction, cozy mysteries, romance and young adult. Hannah is also interested in nonfiction, particularly in the areas of mathematics, science and spirituality.” (Link)

About the Agency:

"We are a full-service, highly selective literary agency based in New York City. Every day we draw on our expertise as former publishers to ensure that the material we submit stands out. We’re fascinated by how books and ideas spread, and so we’re deeply involved in all aspects of maximizing a book’s life in the marketplace – including the digital, film and licensing worlds.

“We’ve helped journalists and academics discover the nonfiction book they're truly excited to write – and that mainstream publishers are eager to acquire. We’ve re-built careers and we’ve launched first-time novelists. Many of our titles are award winners. We’ve had great success in the international market. Last year, three of our titles were on the New York Times bestseller list, for a total of seventy-two weeks. Our goal is to build long-lasting careers.” (Link)

Web Presence:

Liza Dawson Associates website.

Twitter @hannahnpbowman.

Tumblr.

QueryTracker.

What She's Looking For:

Genres / Specialties:

“Hannah specializes in commercial fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy, women's fiction, cozy mysteries, romance and young adult. Hannah is also interested in nonfiction, particularly in the areas of mathematics, science and spirituality.” (Link)

From an Interview (08/2012):

“I’m always a fan of epic, secondworld, and historical fantasy. Some of my favorite authors are Katherine Kurtz and David Eddings. Urban fantasy tends to be a harder sell for me, although I’d be very happy to take on the right project—something in the Jim Butcher or Kevin Hearne style.

“In science fiction, my tastes are very classic. I love stories set in space. I love science fiction that plays with big ideas, and that isn’t too dark. I’m probably not the right agent for anything post-apocalyptic or cyber/biopunk. I’d love to find some good military SF. My favorite SF authors include Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Lois McMaster Bujold.

“I’m willing to look at all types of YA. My tastes tend toward speculative, of course, but I’m also interested in contemporaries. Right now on my list, I have YA fantasy, paranormal, contemporary, near-future thriller—and I’m always looking for a true YA sci-fi (think Beth Revis’ Across the Universe).” (Link)

From an Interview (03/2012):

“I see a lot of similar stories in YA: not-well-fleshed-out dystopians, fantasy where the main character discovers they're really the prince/princess of a secret world, etc. I'd love to see more YA secondworld/high fantasy, YA contemporaries a la John Green, and true YA science fiction. On the adult side, there's nothing I'm sick of, but I would love to see more funny, high-concept women's fiction and upmarket romances with a strong sense of place (whether contemporary, historical, or fantastical).” (Link)

What She Isn't Looking For:

“I'm not the right agent for memoirs.”

“I'm a hard sell on thrillers, unless they're offbeat, and on anything that could be described as ‘hard-boiled.’ I'm also likely not the right agent for a literary fiction project.” (Link)

Agenting Philosophy:

“In general, I’m a very hands-on agent. I love to edit, and I edit every client’s work before it goes on submission. I also try to keep in close contact with authors, although of course there are times when one needs to communicate more and times when one needs to communicate less. I look for authors who are looking for a partner for their entire career, not for an agent who will sell one book quickly and then back off.” (Link)

Clients:

There are lists of client titles on the agency website.

Ms. Bowman’s clients include: Dianna E. Anderson, Melinda Braun, Pierce Brown, Rosamund Hodge, Kameron Hurley, Shallee McArthur, Lisa Ann O'Kane, Brian Staveley, among others.

Query Methods:

E-mail: Yes (preferred).

Snail-Mail: Yes.

Online-Form: No.

Submission Guidelines (always verify):

Send a query letter only by e-mail, or by snail-mail with SASE.

See the Liza Dawson Associates website for complete, up-to-date submission guidelines.  

Query Tips:

“The key things for me when I’m reading a query are: 1. Who’s the main character, and why is he or she interesting/appealing?; 2. What’s the plot, and how will it surprise me and take my breath away?; 3. What’s the setting, and what interesting elements of it make it seem real? If I see a compelling, three-dimensional character in a well-realized setting (whether it’s realistic or speculative) with a page-turning story to tell...I’m hooked.” (Link)

For additional tips, please read the interviews linked below.

Response Times:

Ms. Bowman’s response time for queries is one month; if you have not heard from her within this timeframe, resend your query (link).

Stats on the web show Ms. Bowman responding to most queries within hours to a few weeks and requested material within a week to a month. 

What's the Buzz?

Hannah Bowman joined Liza Dawson Associates in 2011 and has since sold to Del Rey/Random House, Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, HarperTeen Impulse, Strange Chemistry, Jericho Books/Hachette, Tor, and more. Her clients seem very happy with her representation and conference-goers report  positively on her workshops.

I recommend following her Tumblr and Twitter for further insight and great writing advice. She’s found at least one client through Twitter.

Worth Your Time:

Interviews:

Agent-Author Chat: Hannah Bowman and Shallee McArthur at Mother. Write. (Repeat.) (02/2013).

Interview with Literary Agent Hannah Bowman at Stacey O’Neale’s site (08/2012).

YA/MG Agent Series: Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson at Michelle Krys’ site (04/2012).

Interview with Hannah Bowman, Agent at Liza Dawson Literary at Five Scribes (03/2012.

December Mystery Agent, Hannah Bowman with mini interview at Operation Awesome (12/2011).

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Hannah Bowman at Mother. Write. (Repeat). (10/2011).

Around the Web:

Check out the agency's FAQ page.

Liza Dawson Associates at P&E ($, AAR).

Liza Dawson Associates thread at AbsoluteWrite.

Hannah Bowman in the 2013 Guide to Literary Agents via Google Books.

Storymakers Conference Notes on one of Ms. Bowman’s workshops at Lit and Scribbles (05/2013).

Elevator Pitching Your Book with Advice from Ms. Bowman, Twitter recap at Storify (08/2012).

An Interview with Lisa Ann Chickos (A QueryTracker Success Story) (07/2012).

An Interview with Melinda Braun (A QueryTracker Success Story) (11/2011).

Contact:

Please see the Liza Dawson Associates website for additional contact and query information.

Profile Details:

Last Updated: 8/29/13.

Last Reviewed By Agent? 8/29/13.

***

Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com

Note: These agent profiles presently focus on agents who accept children's/teen fiction. They are not interviews. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found herein is subject to change.

ITCH: THE EXPLOSIVE ADVENTURES OF AN ELEMENT HUNTER GIVEAWAY

Today I’m excited to share and give away a copy of ITCH: THE EXPLOSIVE ADVENTURES OF AN ELEMENT HUNTER by Simon Mayo. I haven’t had time to read it, but it’s gotten really good reviews and I thought you and your middle grade kids would enjoy it.

Here’s a description from Goodreads:

Thrills. Danger. And world domination. Itch is as action-packed and suspenseful as a middle-grade novel can get!

Fourteen-year-old Itchingham Lofte, nicknamed Itch, has an unusual passion: collecting specimens of every element in the periodic table. So what if that means he's had a few ... mishaps? But when he gets his hands on a suspiciously warm rock made of a new, previously unknown element, things really begin to explode. Soon, a malevolent teacher, an evil-doing corporation, and a top-secret government agency are all after Itch. Can his science know-how keep him one step ahead of everyone...and help him stay alive?

Cover and jacket flap feature augmented reality animations via a free downloadable Itch app!

Here are a few reviews I found on the Website of Sterling Publishing Company, the publisher.

“A great debut. You'll be itching to read more!”
—Anthony Horowitz, New York Times bestselling author of the Alex Rider series
“You'd have to work quite hard not to like Itchingham Lofte. . . amid the teenage intrigue and heart-in-mouth escapades there are sequin flashes of real science. . . the story [moves along] in a high-speed Hitchcockian manner...”—The Guardian

And here’s a bio of Simon Mayo, the author:

SIMON MAYO is one of Britain's best-loved and well-known radio DJs. He works for BBC radio, and in 2008 he was recognized as the Radio Broadcaster of the Year at the 34th annual Broadcasting Press Guild Awards and the Speech Broadcaster of the Year at the Sony Radio Academy Awards. ITCH is his first middle-grade novel, and he's working on a sequel, scheduled for 2014. Simon lives in England.

Sterling Publishing generously offered a copy of ITCH for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on September 7th. I’ll announce the winner on September 9th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. This giveaway is for U.S./Canada residents only.

Here’s what’s coming up:

Monday is Labor Day and I’m participating in a Sequels Blog Hop Giveaway. I’ll have lots of great sequels for you to choose from. Don’t worry if you’re busy on Monday having fun. The contest will run through September 9th.

Next Wednesday with an interview with Mari Mancusi and a giveaway of SCORCHED, a dystopian/fantasy/time travel story. I’ve been excited about this book since I read the book sale blurb in PW Children’s Bookshelf. And I was not disappointed. It’s fantastic and I can’t wait to share it with you. I’m sure Mari with have lots of advice for us because she’s also the author of another 8 book series.

The following Monday I’m interviewing debut author Caroline Carlson and giving away a copy of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT. It’s a fantastic pirate adventure story with a bit of fantasy as well. It’s my first pirate story and I really enjoyed it.

Tuesday next week I’ll have a special Tuesday tip interview with Daniel Alexander who is the 20-year old author of two books and a new picture book, A SWIM THROUGH SPACE, which he’s offering for a giveaway. He has 28,000 Twitter followers and he’s going to share some advice on Twitter. I’m really excited for the tips because I’m not sure exactly what to do on Twitter and I’ve heard this from a number of writers.

The following Monday I’m interviewing Alex Cavanaugh, one of our followers, and giving away ARCs of CASSAFIRE and CASSASTORM. This is an interesting Sci-fi series that takes Bryon from a young adult into adulthood. I don’t spotlight adult books but I’m a big following and fan of Alex and this is the last book in his series. And he’s a very successful blogger and will be sharing blogging advice with us. In these times when some writers seem to be tiring of blogging, I really feel it’s important to help each other invigorate our blogs and support each other by continuing to follow each other.

Wednesday that week I’m interviewing another follower, debut author Christina Lee, and giving away an e-book of her new adult novel, ALL OF YOU, a contemporary romantic story.
And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Thursday agent spotlights.

Hope to see you on Monday!

C.J. REDWINE INTERVIEW AND DECEPTION GIVEAWAY

Hi Everyone! Hope you're having a good day. Just to give you the heads up, my mom is here and we're having a great time. Today's her last day here so I probably won't get to many of your blogs today. Hope you understand.

Next, the winners of TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD are DM and Emily King!

Congrats! E-mail me your addresses so I can have the publisher send you your books. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.

Today I’m thrilled to have C.J. Redwine back to share about her new novel, DECEPTION, which is the second book in her series and releases tomorrow. You can read her very popular interview when her first book, DEFIANCE, was released last August HERE.

This is a fantastic second book in this series. I really loved how C.J. took the story in a totally new direction that I didn’t anticipate. There were also twists and revelations about Rachel and Logan, the main characters, which I didn’t expect. And even if you haven’t read DEFIANCE, C.J. has given you just the right amount of back story so you could read and enjoy DECEPTION.

Here’s a description from Goodreads:

Baalboden has been ravaged. The brutal Commander's whereabouts are unknown. And Rachel, grief stricken over her father's death, needs Logan more than ever. With their ragged group of survivors struggling to forge a future, it's up to Logan to become the leader they need—with Rachel by his side. Under constant threat from rival Carrington's army, who is after the device that controls the Cursed One, the group decides to abandon the ruins of their home and take their chances in the Wasteland.



But soon their problems intensify tenfold: someone—possibly inside their ranks—is sabotaging the survivors, picking them off one by one. The chaos and uncertainty of each day puts unbearable strain on Rachel and Logan, and it isn't long before they feel their love splintering. Even worse, as it becomes clear that the Commander will stop at nothing to destroy them, the band of survivors begins to question whether the price of freedom may be too great—and whether, hunted by their enemies and the murderous traitor in their midst, they can make it out of the Wasteland alive.

In this daring sequel to Defiance, with the world they once loved forever destroyed, Rachel and Logan must decide between a life on the run and standing their ground to fight.

Hi C.J. Welcome back!

1. For those who haven’t read DEFIANCE, tell us a bit about it.

The short summary is this: Defiance is about a girl who commits treason against the brutal leader of her city-state in order to escape into the Wasteland beyond and rescue her father. She ends up starting a war that was twenty years in the making. It has swoony almost-kisses, tragedy, swords, explosives, and a dragon that tunnels up from underground. It also has a hot boy who is a genius inventor and who can kick butt in a fight.

2. I love that description. It’s so full of words that make you want to read the book. I’m always interested to know how a writer develops a series. When you wrote DEFIANCE, did you know it would be a series? How much of the rest of Rachel and Logan’s story did you know as you wrote your first book? What advice do you have for the rest of us thinking of writing a series?

I didn’t know Defiance was a series until I was halfway through the first draft and realized there was absolutely no way I could fit all of the plot into one book. I sat down to write the full synopsis and realized I couldn’t fit all of the plot into TWO books either, so I planned it as a trilogy. I knew the overall plot arc for the series. I knew the major things that would happen and why (what drove the characters to make those choices), but I got to discover all the stuff in between the major plot points as I was writing.

My advice to those thinking of writing a series is … don’t. No, not really. But seriously, it’s hard. That second book has to accomplish so much more than the first. You have to hit the pacing just right so that the book has its own story arcs but also fits perfectly into the overall series arc. You need to continuously provide emotional growth for your characters. And you have to keep the action and the stakes as high or higher than your first book. It’s a challenge! If you’re going to do it, make sure you’ve got plenty of plot, plenty of problems, and plenty of emotional conflict to sustain the entire series.

3. That’s great advice—know the arc of your story and have problems, plot, and emotional conflict. When I started DECEPTION, I thought it might be about Rachel and Logan rebuilding Baalboden, the city-state they lived in. But you decided to take the story in a completely different and fantastic direction. What made you decide to do this?

Most of my decisions are because of what my characters are doing. I like my plots to be very driven by
the choices my characters make. In the case of Deception, my characters didn’t have the time (or the resources) to stay and rebuild. They have two formidable enemies after them, and their only chance for survival is to gain allies as fast as possible. The only way to do that is to leave Baalboden and strike out for other city-states. I hope the readers enjoy seeing another city-state! Each one is so different from the others.

4. I really enjoyed seeing more of their world. Rachel is an even more fascinating character in this book. Not only do we see her fiery nature but also all her pain. And you show it all in the midst of the action. What if any challenges did you face in showing her grow as a character in this book?

I knew Rachel’s emotional arc in this book better than I knew the plot, actually. The challenge for me was to balance her pain and how she deals with it with action so that the reader doesn’t get mired down in Rachel’s difficulties, but can still relate to her and feel empathetic for her.

5. I thought you did a great job of combining Rachel’s emotional growth with the action of the story. And some books don’t do such a great job of this and their characters sound whiny.

So it’s been a year since your first book was released. In retrospect, what worked marketing-wise and what didn’t? What advice do you have for other authors who signed a book contract and are looking ahead to the release of their first book?

What worked: Being a cheerleader for others often. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and I’ve been doing it for years. I love sharing books I’ve read with others and talking them up both online and in person. I still do that. I don’t know that it markets my book, per say, but it continues to build a community of book lovers around me, and whether they choose to buy the Defiance series or not, that community is pretty awesome.

Also, I spent my marketing “gold” carefully. I made the cover reveal an event, I did fewer book giveaways but made them a huge thing, I did an annotated ARC giveaway to make it something special, and I did blog tours with bloggers I’d developed relationships with. Also, I got to know my local booksellers and librarians.

What didn’t work: I took on too many guest posts last time around. Those are actually really time-consuming and difficult to do in the midst of editing the next book. It was hard to force myself to be creative and interesting for a guest post and then turn around and try to be creative and interesting for my draft. The book has to come first. Always.

Advice for authors getting ready to debut: Remember that you don’t have to care what everyone thinks of you or of your book. My motto is “If I wouldn’t cry for you at your funeral, I don’t have to care what you think of me now.” Don’t read reviews if it kills your creativity or makes you nutty. Write consistently because inventory is more important than blogging or social networking. And above all else, don’t be a douche to anyone.

5. Not overdoing it sounds like a good approach. And I love the shouting out about other authors and books ideas since I already do that here. Are you promoting DECEPTION differently than DEFIANCE? How so and why?

A little bit. I’m doing less guest posts and less blog tours. I’m doing a four city tour. It’s a little easier to do the whole less-but-epic-when-I-do-something this time around because I have more of a built-in readership than last time.

6. I notice that you’re not blogging that much. What are your favorite ways to engage in social networking and why? What tips do you have for the rest of us on using this type of social networking?

Yes, I had to stop blogging midway through last year. I hated stopping, but it was that or get a straitjacket. My personal life derailed last year (two kids in serious accidents and hospitalized/therapy for months etc) right before Defiance debuted, I was traveling constantly, and I was rewriting Deception for what felt like forever. Something had to give.

I use Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, and Blogger. Blogger is now mostly for updates and news. Tumblr is for random stuff I happen to feel like throwing on there. Could be a very personal post (like the one I did to explain why I regressed women’s rights in Defiance) or could be a Benedict Cumberbatch gif. I put no pressure on myself for my Tumblr. It’s random and spontaneous. Pinterest is crack, so … yeah. I don’t use that to network. I use it for story boarding my projects and for fandoms and recipes. I mostly network on Twitter and Facebook. I check in a few times a day, respond to people who’ve talked to me, and maybe say a few things. I try to be accessible and interesting, without being whiny or TMI about personal stuff. I also work hard to balance self-promo with promoting others or with just fun, random stuff. If I promote my books, my signings, or my workshops, I then make sure I focus on other stuff right away too. I personally loathe seeing my tweet stream (or FB page) filled with nothing but self promo and ME ME ME LOOOOOOOOK AT ME. So I avoid that. I guess I just treat it like it’s a way to be fun and accessible. And I give myself time limits on all of it because I don’t get paid to tweet. I get paid to write books. 

7. So sorry about your kids being in accidents. That must have been hard to just write then. And yeah, I don’t think anyone likes the ME, ME, ME, tweets or posts. That’s a great idea to promote someone else right after you promote yourself. And I so need the time limits. At the end of DECEPTION, in the acknowledgments you thank your readers. How are you reaching out and engaging them?

My readers are AWESOME. I’ve met so many incredible people through this experience. It’s just humbling and amazing. I engage my readers via social networking, for one. I always respond to tweets or comments. I also respond to email. I have a newsletter (sign up is on the sidebar of my blog) that goes out occasionally, too. And I try to do enough events (both online and in person) to give my readers a chance to connect with me if they want to.

8. What are you working on now?

I’m currently finishing the edits on Defiance 3. I’m also working on two new series. One is high fantasy inspired by fairy tales (but not strict retellings). One is urban fantasy that is basically … Percy Jackson meets Supernatural. We’ll see which series I end up selling first. 

Thanks for sharing all your advice, C.J. You can find C.J. at



C.J.’s publisher, Baltzer + Bray, generously offered an ARC of DECEPTION for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on September 7th. I’ll announce the winner on September 10th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. International entries are welcome.

Here’s what’s coming up:

On Wednesday, I’m giving away a copy of ITCH, THE EXPLOSIVE ADVENTURES OF AN ELEMENT HUNTER by Simon Mayo. He’s a very popular DJ in England. It’s a middle grade story about a boy who needs his science know how to keep him ahead of a malevolent corporation and a top-secret government agency. It’s gotten great reviews and I’m hoping you and your middle grade kids might enjoy it.

Next Monday is Labor Day and I’m participating in a Sequels Blog Hop Giveaway. I’ll have lots of great sequels for you to choose from. Don’t worry if you’re busy on Monday having fun. The contest will run through September 9th.

Next Wednesday I’m thrilled to share an interview with Mari Mancusi and a giveaway of SCORCHED, a dystopian/fantasy/time travel story. I’ve been excited about this book since I read the book sale blurb in PW Children’s Bookshelf. And I was not disappointed. It’s fantastic and I can’t wait to share it with you. I’m sure Mari with have lots of advice for us because she’s also the author of another 8 book series.

The following Monday I’m interviewing debut author Caroline Carlson and giving away a copy of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT. It’s a fantastic pirate adventure story with a bit of fantasy as well. It’s my first pirate story and I really enjoyed it.

Tuesday next week I’ll have a special Tuesday tip interview with Daniel Alexander who is the 20-year old author of two books and a new picture book, A SWIM THROUGH SPACE, which he’s offering for a giveaway. He has 28,000 Twitter followers and he’s going to share some advice on Twitter. I’m really excited for the tips because I’m not sure exactly what to do on Twitter and I’ve heard this from a number of writers.

And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Thursday agent spotlights.

Hope to see you on Wednesday!

DARCY PATTISON INTERVIEW AND START YOUR NOVEL-SIX WINNING STEPS TOWARD A COMPELLING OPENING LINE, SCENE, AND CHAPTER GIVEAWAY

Today I’m excited to have Darcy Pattison here to share about her new book, START YOUR NOVEL-SIX WINNING STEPS TOWARD A COMPELLING OPENING LINE, SCENE, AND CHAPTER, that was released in early June 2013. Darcy’s is the author of many picture books, nonfiction books, and THE WAYFINDER, a YA fantasy. She’s also the author of books on the craft of writing, including NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS: UNCOMMON WAYS TO REVISE NOVELS WITH CRATIVE WRITING TIPS, TOOLS, AND STRATEGIES. I have NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS and found it really helpful as I revised my manuscript. Plus Darcy holds novel revision weekend workshops, which some of my writer friends have attended and raved about. I was lucky to meet Darcy at a Michigan SCBWI conference where she gave a great session on novel revision and a talk on social media.

Here’s a blurb about START YOUR NOVEL:

You want to write a novel, but you don’t know where to start. You have a great idea and—well, that’s all. This book explains the writing process of starting a novel in six winning steps.

CHAPTERS
• Starting the Journey
• Why Editors Focus on Page 1
• STEP ONE: Clarify Your Idea
• STEP TWO: Review Your Skills
• STEP THREE: Plan the Opening Chapter
• STEP FOUR: Plan the Opening Line
• STEP FIVE: Now, Write!
• STEP SIX: Revise
Writing teacher and author, Darcy Pattison, is the author of NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS: Uncommon Ways to Revise,How to Write a Children’s Picture Book, and The Book Trailer Manual. She brings extensive experience in teaching writing to this exciting new book and helps you get started with the creative writing process. The book is available on Kobo, Kindle, and in print.

Hi Darcy. Thanks so much for joining us.

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

I am the fifth of seven children, daughter of a real cowboy and a teacher from the Show-Me-State of Missouri. With seven young children and living in a rural area 100-miles from the nearest library, my mother wrote to the state library to ask for books to be sent. We grew up with family story times each night. I distinctly remember the first time I got to read the story for that special time. Later, my mother arranged for the book mobile to stop at MY house. Folks from 30 miles around came by our house to check out books. I grew up with a rich and varied experience with literature and stories. At some point, I wanted to be on the opposite side of stories, to become the person who writes them.

2. That must have been hard being so far from a library. That’s awesome that your mom arranged for a bookmobile to stop at your house. In START YOUR NOVEL, you talk about using plot templates to help clarify our story ideas and you show how that can change the Cinderella story. Share about how plot templates can be helpful.

One of the difficult tasks of a writer it to focus a story so that it doesn’t ramble off into nothingness. Plot templates are a shortcut way to focus a story. For example, if you want to tell a Cinderella story, you could use a revenge plot template. In that Cinderella story, the abused girl has had enough and plans to humiliate her step-family. It’s one valid retelling of the Cinderella story and a fresh one. Plot templates let you figure out what focus will help you tell your story in the best way possible.

3. And your examples using the plot templates with the Cinderella story in your book really show how you can tell the story in many different fashions. You also talk about scene basics. What are some of the key points we need to focus on in creating our scenes?

In this continuum of things we call scenes, there are very loosely constructed scenes and very tightly
constructed scenes. For beginning and intermediate writers, though, I recommend tight construction. This means that scenes—however long the scene is—need a beginning, middle and end. The beginning sets up the conflict of the scene, while the middle complicates it. Somewhere in the scene, there is pivot point where something changes drastically and often it is what leads to the disaster at the end of the scene.

I often use this Harvard Bar Scene from the movie, “Good Will Hunting” to demonstrate the pivot point: http://youtu.be/ymsHLkB8u3s. The scene opens with Will and his friends entering a Harvard bar, just to check it out. The pivot point comes when Will steps into his friend’s discussion with a Harvard student. Up to this point, Will and his friends are just doing a friendly once-over of the bar scene; after this, Will goes head-to-head with a Harvard grad student and wins.

Also, notice what Will is fighting for, what is worth him fighting for: his friend. Sometimes, character motivations can be convoluted. I like to ask the question: what is the character fighting for? That should be evident in the scene, even if it is unstated and subtext.

4. Those are great tips about what our scenes need to do for the story. One of the things I thought was really helpful in START YOUR NOVEL was the discussion on first lines and how you show 12 ways to do it. Tell us about some of the ways that we can craft our first lines.

Steven King recently had a great article about opening lines and mentioned several of his favorite lines from his novels HERE. I’ll use his opening lines as examples.

"I've never been what you'd call a crying man." 11/22/63

This is a variation of the I AM opening, where a first-person narrator is giving a summary or judgment about themselves.

"Everybody thought the man and the boy were father and son." Salem's Lot

This type of LET’S MEET JACK OR JILL opening focuses on character and promises a character story instead of just an action/adventure story.

“On the second day of December, in a year when a Georgia peanut farmer was doing business in the White House, one of Colorado's great resort hotels burned to the ground.” The Shining

SETUP openings take the time to locate the time and place, even if it is in a small way. Here we know the specific date (December 2), general time period (during President Carter’s term of office), the state (Colorado), and what is at stake (resort hotel burns). We don’t know why it burns or why we should care yet, but the reader is firmly oriented in time and space.

5. Those are all great examples. Thanks. What are some of the common mistakes you see in author’s first chapters?

Backstory. Never put backstory on the first page. I often see a great opening that grounds the reader in an immediate scene, but then the writer inserts backstory with a couple pages of explanation that bogs down the story and slows the pace. Put the backstory in chapter two, if you must; but it’s better to delay it until the backstory directly affects the ongoing story.

Telling, instead of Showing. The story is told in a lackluster way with no sensory details and few vivid verbs.

Nothing happens. Sometimes writers need to do prewriting to figure out their characters, the setting, and the plot. The problem comes when they leave that prewriting in the novel. Each scene or chapter should have a purpose in the story and something must happen in that scene. Something changes. Too often, first chapters are a mash-up of events with no real purpose. In this case, read along until you find the real beginning point of the story, often 30 or 50 or more pages in.

6. I’ve heard others say that the story is often started too soon and the first few chapters can be cut. I’d like to move on to social networking because you also do workshops on this. I’ve noticed that a lot of authors are not as active in blogging, perhaps because of how much time it takes to maintain a following by following others. What’s your thoughts on this and blogging as part of a writer’s platform? There are so many ways for authors to engage in social networking. Are there any you see as essential and why?

I consider a website the basic necessity of every author. It’s publicity space that you own and control. It should be up-to-date and creatively interesting. A blog, on the other hand, is optional. If you are the sort of person who likes writing about a topic over and over, then start a blog. It’s probably better if the blog is about something besides writing. I was recently talking with a mystery writer and I asked what sort of things interested her. She said she loves to read stories about near-death experiences, because the phenomenon is a mystery that fascinates her. Her blog could be about mysterious events that we encounter in life. Interviews with those having near-death experiences might figure prominently on her blog. It’s not directly tied to her mystery books, but that doesn’t matter. Her readers find her mysteries interesting; they will also find interesting the mysteries that mystify her. Blogs work well when they work because the author has a passion for something. If you can’t find a passion to write about, don’t start a blog.

7. Yeah. Blogs are a lot of work, so you do need to be passionate about them. What are you working on now?

My picture book, WISDOM, THE MIDWAY ALBATROSS received a starred review in February and I am excited that I’ll be collaborating with wildlife artist Kitty Harvill again. When WISDOM came out and we started talking with people about it, we realized that people didn’t realize an important strength of the book. It is a biography of a wild animal in art and text. It is the story of the oldest known wild bird in the world and how she survived the Japanese tsunami. I researched the story heavily, including talking with biologists on Midway Island. But Harvill also did extensive photo research. As a studio artist, she has done many portraits of people and pets. When she moved to wildlife art, she took that aesthetic with her. The illustrations in WISDOM are studio-quality portraits of a specific bird. It’s not just some generic bird, it is Wisdom herself.

Our next book, ABAYOMI, THE BRAZILIAN PUMA, follows the story of a puma cub that was orphaned when her mother was caught in a trap and died. The scientists who rescued him shared original documents with me as source material to write the story. Harvill saw the cub in person and photographed it for references for her art. This will be another biography in text and art.


Thanks for sharing all your advice, Darcy. You can find Darcy at http://darcypattison.com, @FictionNotes, Youtube.com/DarcyPattison, and Pinterest.com/DarcyPattison.

Darcy has generously offered an e-book of START YOUR NOVEL for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on September 1st. I’ll announce the winner on September 4th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. International entries are welcome.

Darcy also has a Goodreads giveaway HERE.

Here’s what’s coming up next:

Next Monday I’m thrilled to have C.J. Redwine back to talk about her new book, DECEPTION, the sequel to DEFIANCE. I really loved how C.J. took the story in a totally different direction I didn’t anticipate. And of course, I’ll be giving away an ARC of this.

Next Wednesday, I’m giving away a copy of ITCH, THE EXPLOSIVE ADVENTURES OF AN ELEMENT HUNTER by Simon Mayo. He’s a very popular DJ in England. It’s a middle grade story about a boy who needs his science know how to keep him ahead of a malevolent corporation and a top-secret government agency. It’s gotten great reviews and I’m hoping you and your middle grade kids might enjoy it.

The following Monday is Labor Day and I’m participating in a Sequels Blog Hop Giveaway. I’ll have lots of great sequels for you to choose from. Don’t worry if you’re busy on Monday having fun. The contest will run through September 9th.

Wednesday that week I’m thrilled to share an interview with Mari Mancusi and a giveaway of SCORCHED, a dystopian/fantasy/time travel story. I’ve been excited about this book since I read the book sale blurb in PW Children’s Bookshelf. And I was not disappointed. It’s fantastic and I can’t wait to share it with you. I’m sure Mari with have lots of advice for us because she’s also the author of another 8 book series.

The following Monday I’m interviewing debut author Caroline Carlson and giving away a copy of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT. It’s a fantastic pirate adventure story with a bit of fantasy as well. It’s my first pirate story and I really enjoyed it.

Tuesday next week I’ll have a special Tuesday tip interview with Daniel Alexander who is the 20-year old author of two books and a new picture book, A SWIM THROUGH SPACE, which he’s offering for a giveaway. He has 28,000 Twitter followers and he’s going to share some advice on Twitter. I’m really excited for the tips because I’m not sure exactly what to do on Twitter and I’ve heard this from a number of writers.

And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Thursday agent spotlights.

Hope to see you next Monday!

ICONS AND THE TESTING GIVEAWAY AND ASK THE EXPERT INTERVIEW

Hi Everyone! Just a few things before I get to my fabulous interview. First, just to let you know, I may not be around as much this week. My mom is coming in for a visit on Thursday so I'm getting ready for that. Yay! The house is finally clean. And of course the night before her visit I have a potluck meeting for the swim team and need to register Anna Li for school the day my mom comes. It'll be a bit crazy.

Next the winner of ALL OUR YESTERDAYS is Amanda!

Congrats! Please e-mail me your address so I can send you your book. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.

Today I’m excited to interview Gabbey, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Dianne Salerni who’s going into eleventh grade in the fall for my ASK THE EXPERT series. She’s an avid writer and occasionally contributes a guest post on Dianne’s blog. Dianne is a middle grade and YA author and her most recent book is THE CAGED GRAVES.

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself, your school, and what you like to read and write.

I am 16 years old and I will be a junior at Avon Grove High School in the fall. I really like the Legend of Zelda and Doctor Who, and I enjoy reading classic literature as well as some science fiction and fantasy. I have tried writing with several different genres but the one I like best is fantasy. I get to use more imagination. :D

2. I love fantasy and sci-fi too. And I love writing fantasy too. That’s great that you’re starting to write now. Does the fact that your mom is an author influence what you read or what you write? How?

I guess it does, because I usually end up going to a lot of events like PAYA and getting signed copies of books from the authors there. I wouldn't say it has much of an impact on what I write.

3. Awesome you get to meet authors and get signed books because of your mom. What are you reading now? What’s the last book you read for pleasure instead of for a school assignment?

Right now I am reading the Glass Castle for my AP English summer assignment. I'd be enjoying it more if I didn't have to complete a dialectic notebook on it. Blech. The last book I read for pleasure was actually a manga, which is a Japanese graphic novel. It was the fifth volume in a series called Yu-Gi-Oh, which is about a shrimpy high schooler who is occasionally possessed by the spirit of an incredibly good-looking Egyptian pharaoh.

4. My daughter’s reading East of Eden for her AP English class. She doesn’t have as much time as she’d like to read for pleasure either. Do you buy most of your book or get them at the library? How often do go to a bookstore?

Usually I buy books from Amazon...I don't go to bookstores too often since there aren't really any good ones that I know of nearby.

5. Oh, that’s too bad there aren’t any good bookstores near where you live. Do you read any teen book blogs, author blogs, or author or publisher websites? Become a fan of an author on Facebook? Why?

I just started my own blog (http://writerssword.blogspot.com/), but as I have just gotten started, I don't have too many blogs that I follow. As for Facebook, I don't really go around liking too many author pages. I don't know why, it just doesn't occur to me to look up authors I like.

6. That’s so cool that you’re starting your own blog. Has your teacher or mom recommended any blogs or websites to your class or to you?

Yes, my mom has e-mailed me lots of links to blogs and as I said I am trying to immerse myself in the blogging world. However my teachers don’t really do that sort of thing. My school is more interested in standardized test results than it is in helping creative minds to blossom.

7. I bet your mom has lots of blogs to recommend to you. Tell us about the Writing Club you founded at your school? What inspired you to start your own club?

I am very happy with the success we have had with the Writing Club so far. We have quite a few members and through the club I have met and gotten to know a lot of people that I wouldn’t have otherwise. The idea for the club actually came when I was in ninth grade, and a friend of mine from middle school was still in eighth grade. We noticed that the high school didn’t have a writing club, and my friend said that once she got to high school we would start one. So the next year we did!

8. The writing club sounds like a great way to become friends with other aspiring writers. Are there things authors could do that would make you more likely to visit their website, their blog, or become a fan on Facebook?

Hey, as long as they don’t write books about sparkly vampires, I’ll visit any website they want me to.

9. Have any authors visited your club in person or by SKYPE? What are you looking for in a guest author?

No, as we were just getting started this past school year, we did not get any guest authors. We hope to find some volunteers for this in the coming year. We are just looking for someone who writes YA books and is willing to talk to teens and answer questions.

Having Skype visits sounds like a great way to connect with authors. Thanks for sharing all your advice, Gabbey.

Now onto my giveaways. First, I’m sharing ICONS with you.

Here’s a description from Goodreads:

Your heart beats only with their permission.

Everything changed on The Day. The day the windows shattered. The day the power stopped. The day Dol's family dropped dead. The day Earth lost a war it didn't know it was fighting.

Since then, Dol has lived a simple life in the countryside -- safe from the shadow of the Icon and its terrifying power. Hiding from the one truth she can't avoid.

She's different. She survived. Why?

When Dol and her best friend, Ro, are captured and taken to the Embassy, off the coast of the sprawling metropolis once known as the City of Angels, they find only more questions. While Ro and fellow hostage Tima rage against their captors, Dol finds herself drawn to Lucas, the Ambassador's privileged son. But the four teens are more alike than they might think, and the timing of their meeting isn't a coincidence. It's a conspiracy.

Within the Icon's reach, Dol, Ro, Tima, and Lucas discover that their uncontrollable emotions -- which they've always thought to be their greatest weaknesses -- may actually be their greatest strengths.

Bestselling author Margaret Stohl delivers the first book in a heart-pounding series set in a haunting new world where four teens must piece together the mysteries of their pasts -- in order to save the future.

I read this right after I finished THE 5TH WAVE by Rick Yancy. Both are sci-fi/dystopian stories where aliens take over our world. I was struck how different these stories are and how amazing the power of imagination is and how you can put fresh spins on a story. In ICONS, our world is not as destroyed as in THE 5th WAVE, though things are pretty bad.

This was a fast paced story with lots of action and twists. I loved figuring out what Dol, Ro, Tima, and Lucas’ connection is to each other and what their captors want with them. The interactions between all four of them and their developing relationships really kept me reading. They all grow through the story. And I wasn’t always sure whose side some of them are on. And there’s a conspiracy and rebellion too. I found this to be a fast read.

The second book I’m giving away is an ARC of THE TESTING. The reality is that I can’t read all the books and ARCs I receive. But many, like THE TESTING, have gotten good reviews and I want to pass them on to you while they’re still fairly current. I’ll be doing more of this type of giveaways as my schedule and budget permits.

Here’s a description of THE TESTING from Goodreads:

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close
when they may be one in the same?

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies--trust no one.

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

I’m giving away my ARCs of ICONS and THE TESTING. Thanks to Little Brown and Company for the ARC of ICONS and Houghton Mifflin Books for the ARC of THE TESTING. To enter, To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight September 7th. I’ll announce the winner on September 9th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. International entries are welcome, but I’ll only pick one international winner at most.

Here’s what’s coming up:
On Wednesday, I’m interviewing Darcy Pattision and giving away a copy of her new book, START YOUR NOVEL-SIX WINNING STEPS TOWARD A COMPELLING OPENING LINE, SCENE, AND CHAPTER. Darcy’s the author of picture books, non fiction books, and a YA novel. And she’s also the author of NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS: UNCOMMON WAYS TO REVISE NOVELS, a fantastic book that I found really helpful when revising my novel. I know she’ll have lots of great advice to share with us.

Next Monday I’m thrilled to have C.J. Redwine back to talk about her new book, DECEPTION, the sequel to DEFIANCE. I really loved how C.J. took the story in a totally different direction I didn’t anticipate. And of course, I’ll be giving away an ARC of this.

The following Monday is Labor Day and I’m participating in a Sequels Blog Hop Giveaway. I’ll have lots of great sequels for you to choose from. Don’t worry if you’re busy on Monday having fun. The contest will run through September 9th.

Wednesday that week with an interview with Mari Mancusi and a giveaway of SCORCHED, a dystopian/fantasy/time travel story. I’ve been excited about this book since I read the book sale blurb in PW Children’s Bookshelf. And I was not disappointed. It’s fantastic and I can’t wait to share it with you. I’m sure Mari with have lots of advice for us because she’s also the author of another 8 book series.

And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Thursday agent spotlights.

Hope to see you Wednesday!



Agent Spotlight: Bridget Smith

This week's Agent Spotlight features Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary, Inc.

Status: Open to submissions.

bridget-smith-literary-agentAbout: “Bridget Smith began her career at Dunham Literary, Inc. in June 2011.

“Previously, she was an intern at Don Congdon Associates, worked at a secondhand book store in Connecticut, and evaluated short story submissions for Tor.com under Liz Gorinsky and Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

“She graduated from Brown University in 2010. While there, she studied anthropology and archaeology, worked as a radio DJ, fenced on the varsity team, and helped design an experiment that she later performed in microgravity at NASA.

“A lifelong fan of children’s books, she’s looking for middle grade and young adult novels in a range of genres, including fantasy and science fiction, historical fiction, romance, and contemporary, plus anything that bends the rules of genre. She is actively seeking books with underrepresented or minority characters.

“She is also seeking fiction for adults, especially fantasy and science fiction, historical fiction, and literary women’s fiction.

“In accordance with her college degree, she’s interested in informational, literary nonfiction, especially science or history written by experts for a general audience.” (Link)

About the Agency:

“Dunham Literary represents authors of quality fiction and nonfiction, books for adults and children and some illustrators of children's books.

“The Rhoda Weyr Agency is a division of Dunham Literary.

“Member AAR, SCBWI.” (Link)

Web Presence:

Dunham Literary website.

Twitter @bredalot.

QueryTracker.

What She's Looking For:

Genres / Specialties:

Middle grade, young adult, new adult, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, literary women’s fiction, select nonfiction.

From an Interview (06/2013):

“I always want something with a fresh twist: a cool setting, an unusual point-of-view, a thoughtful inversion of the tropes. A clever premise spun into a heartfelt story will get me every time, as will characters that I’d enjoy reading even if there were no plot. However, you still need a plot, though. What I’m really looking for is something that I’ve never thought of! But for personal specifics: I’d love to see a ‘fantasy of manners’ in the vein of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell or Shades of Milk and Honey, a heroine with a big voice from 1940s England à la Code Name Verity or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, or something that makes the very earth feel magical, like The Raven Boys or Chime.” (Link)

Via Twitter (6-7/2013):

“I would love a MG fantasy with the clever whimsy of Eva Ibbotson. #MSWL” (Link)

“Irish fantasy. Not, like, leprechauns, but ancient, arcane & also domestic, tied to the land & the people, magic that overwhelms. #MSWL” (Link)

“I'd love historical fantasy. Not steampunk, but a historical society with magic. Esp. Regency/Edwardian England, France, Italy, more. #MSWL” (Link)

“I would love a magical realism novel (or a straight historical, that works too) set in a nautical New England town. #MSWL” (Link)

“I've said this before, but: YA that feels like a Bruce Springsteen song. Restlessness, energy, driving at night with the windows down. #MSWL” (Link)

From an Interview (12/2012):

“I’d love a brilliant and charming Regency fantasy, with a spot-on lively voice and a well-constructed type of magic. Think JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL or SORCERY & CECELIA. Or an original high fantasy starring awesome girls/women doing awesome things. On the nonfiction side, I’d love a Mary Roach (STIFF, PACKING FOR MARS) or, to get really specific to my college major, something like THE BONE WOMAN by Clea Koff. (Any biological anthropologists out there?)” (Link)

From a YAtopia Feature (08/2012):

“I love a good, distinctive voice and lovable characters with an off-kilter charm. Girl friendships. Boy friendships. Romance that flows under the surface, especially if no one talks about it – until they do. Snarky, funny dialogue in a heartfelt narrative. Gorgeous and true lines I want to cut out and paste on my wall. Contemporary characters doing something big or unusual outside the realm of high school, like elite athletes or radio DJs. Worlds I can get lost in, and characters I want to get lost with.” (Link)

What She Isn't Looking For:

Individual short stories, chapbooks, novellas, screenplays, adult-targeted romance, horror, westerns, poetry. (Link)

Editorial Agent?

“While editorial services are not officially part of an agent's job, sometimes we will give some editorial suggestions that will help make a project more salable. We do not demand that these changes are made. No author should change his or her artistic work if it doesn't seem right. We do reserve the right to say we don't feel strongly enough about a project to submit it in which case the client has three options: revise the project, put the project aside and focus on a different project, or find other representation.” (Link)

“I do indeed do editorial work with my clients. That quote encapsulates the agency's overall philosophy, but I personally enjoy working closely with writers to improve their manuscripts.” (via e-mail 8/2013)

Clients:

Unknown.

Query Methods:

E-mail: Yes (preferred).

Snail-Mail: Yes.

Online-Form: No.

Submission Guidelines (always verify):

E-mail: Include a query letter, the first five pages of your MS in the body of the e-mail, and Ms. Smith’s name in the subject line. No attachments.

Snail-mail: Send a query addressed to Ms. Smith and a SASE.

Query only one agent at the agency. Queries are read by all interested agents.

Please see the Dunham Lit website and Ms. Smith’s bio for complete, up-to-date submission guidelines.

Query Tips:

“She prefers email queries and asks that you include the first five pages of your manuscript in the body of your email and her name in the subject line.” (Link)

“Seriously, folks, don't send me queries addressed to ‘Mrs. Smith.’ A) Not married, B) that's my mom, C) even if you don't know, why assume?” (Link)

If you’ve received a request, see the “How to Submit” page on the website.

For more tips and peeves, I recommend reading all the interviews linked below, but “Query Questions with Bridget Smith” in particular.

Response Times:

The agency’s stated response time is 4 weeks for queries and 4-8 weeks for requested material (Link, Link). Stats on the web show Ms. Smith responding within days to several months with an average around 2 months.

What's the Buzz?

Bridget Smith is a junior agent at Dunham Lit who is smart, book savvy, and actively building her list. I’m not aware of any sales as of yet. 

I recommend following her on Twitter @bredalot.

Worth Your Time:

Interviews:

Query Questions with Bridget Smith at Michelle4Laughs (08/2013).

Literary Agent Interview: Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary at Guide to Literary Agents (06/2013).

5 Questions with Literary Agent Bridget Smith at L.S. Murphy’s site (12/2012).

First Five Frenzy with Agent Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary, Inc at Chasing the Crazies (08/2012).

Around the Web:

See the Terms & Services page for more information on the agency.

Dunham Literary on P&E ($).

Dunham Literary thread at AbsoluteWrite.

Contact:

Please see the Dunham Literary website for additional contact and query information.

Profile Details:

Last Updated: 8/15/13.

Last Reviewed By Agent? 8/15/13.

***

Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com

Note: These agent profiles presently focus on agents who accept children's/teen fiction. They are not interviews. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found herein is subject to change.

ELLEN BOORAEM INTERVIEW AND TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD GIVEAWAY

Hi Everyone! Hope you're all having a good end to summer or start of school for those of you who have kids starting school. We still have a few weeks of summer left although the high school swim preseason starts this week. I'm so excited that I found a carpool partner or two. Yay! My daughter's excited for the season to start too.

First, here's a reminder that WriteOnCon starts tomorrow. Are you going? I'm planning to as much as I can with work. You can find the schedule HERE.  It sounds awesome so I recommend you check it out. And don't forget. WriteOnCon is free!

I have a few winners to announce.

The winner of SHIP OUT OF LUCK is JessWiz!

The winner of MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN is Cait!

And finally the winner of the my Summer Giveaway Hop is Andrea at TheBusy Bibliophile who picked THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US.

Congrats! E-mail me your addresses so I can send you your books. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.

Today I’m excited to have Ellen Booraem here to share about her new middle grade novel TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD, which releases on August 15, 2013. It’s about Conor, a less than brave kid, who must confront his fears and the underworld to save his family. Ellen is also the author of her debut novel, THE UNNAMEABLES, which was released in 2008, and SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS, which was released in 2010. I was excited when Ellen contacted me for an interview because her book sounds really good and I know she’ll have lots of great advice for the rest of us.

Here’s a blurb about TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD from Goodreads:

Perpetual scaredy-cat Conor O'Neill has the fright of his life when a banshee girl named Ashling shows up in his bedroom. Ashling is--as all banshees are--a harbinger of death, but she's new at this banshee business, and first she insists on going to middle school. As Conor attempts to hide her identity from his teachers, he realizes he's going to have to pay a visit to the underworld if he wants to keep his family safe.

"Got your cell?"
"Yeah . . . . Don't see what good it'll do me."
"I'll text you if anything happens that you should know."
"Text me? Javier, we'll be in the afterlife."
"You never know. Maybe they get a signal."

Discover why Kirkus has called Booraem's work "utterly original American fantasy . . . frequently hysterical." This totally fresh take on the afterlife combines the kid next door appeal of Percy Jackson with the snark of Artemis Fowl and the heart of a true middle grade classic.

Hi Ellen. Thanks so much for joining us.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer.

I’m happy to be here, Natalie!

My first recorded composition was a Valentine: “I love my mother. I will never have another.” A career in greeting cards appeared to be a certainty. The closest I got, though, was writing and editing college publications and corporate newsletters, which I did the first decade after college. In 1984, my partner Rob and I moved to coastal Maine. I started writing and editing rural newspapers, and that was such a hoot I forgot all about greeting cards. I worked for local papers for almost 20 years.

I’d written short stories in my twenties and early thirties, but newspapering was so much fun I forgot all about fiction. Then in 2003 the urge came rushing back in, and I went insane—I up and quit my favorite newspaper job to write THE UNNAMEABLES. I’m ridiculously lucky that it worked out.

2. That’s awesome how it worked out for you. Your first two novels were fantasies. This seems more like a paranormal novel. Where did you get the idea for this story and why did you decide to try a slightly different genre?

Oddly, this is the first time I’ve considered that TEXTING might be paranormal! I suppose you’re right—we are dealing with a banshee, the ancestral Irish spirit who wails before the death of a family member. The thing is, my banshee Ashling is so . . . so . . . friendly. She puts the “normal” in paranormal.

I came up with her while reading ABBEY LUBBERS, BANSHEES & BOGGARTS by the late British folklorist Katharine Briggs. I’d known about banshees all my life—the one in Walt Disney’s “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” scared the pants off me in 1959—but this was the first time anyone told me they could be the spirits of maidens who died too young.

I got thinking about this poor dead girl and how much she’d miss the world. Before I knew it, there she was telling poor Conor that she needed somebody in his family to die so she could do her banshee thing and earn a new life.

3. You can tell I’m a fantasy lover too. I have one of Katherine Brigg’s books and like to refer to it for ideas too. Share a bit about how you developed the underworld setting in TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD and what your world building process is like.

Because both Ashling and Conor are Irish, I started out researching the Irish afterlife. But it wasn’t long before I realized that—duh—the Irish aren’t the only ones who die in this world. So I started looking for death spirits and underworld deities from other cultures.

If I have a world building technique, it’s to take the culture back to its original function— in this case, the processing of souls from death through reincarnation and into a new life. It made sense to me that the underworld deities would be glorified paper-pushers, overtaxed by the increasing world population. It also made sense that they would have absolutely no insight into how life, death, and the universe actually work—all they know is their immediate task. I had fun figuring out their various reactions to the fact that they’ve been doing the same jobs in the same place for literally eons.

4. That’s a great suggestion for world building. Getting the voice of a character right is always important, but especially so in middle grade novels. What were some of the challenges in developing Conor’s voice and what tips do you have about getting a character’s voice right in general?

The main tip is that you do have to think about voice—it doesn’t just happen, for characters or for the
narration. For characters, it’s a question of getting to know them as well as possible and writing some diary entries for them as you’re developing the plot. You need to figure out, for example, whether this is a kid who spends a lot of time with adults (like Mellie in SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS) or who’s more attuned to other kids.

Conor’s more kid-oriented than Mellie, but he is very much influenced by his grandfather and in general he’s not quite comfortable in his skin. So he’s less breezy than his feisty younger sister Glennie. But both he and Glennie will say something like “holy macaroni,” an outdated expression they picked up from their beloved Grump.

When you have a third-person narrator, that’s an additional consideration. For THE UNNAMEABLES, for example, I wanted a formal, slightly archaic narrative voice, so I read a chapter of Jane Austen every morning before I started writing. For TEXTING, I stole what I think was J.K. Rowling’s technique—her books all read as if the narrator is a kid Harry’s age, who gets older with him. So the narrator of Conor’s story is, in my mind, a 12-year-old boy, although a pretty smart one with a good vocabulary.

5. So interesting how thoughtful you are to the narrator’s voice as well as the character. What’s your plotting process like? Has it changed at all through the three novels you’ve written? If so, how?

Early on, my technique was to get the idea, write the first chapter in a white heat, then hit a wall and concentrate on developing characters. Within a few days, I generally knew the last line of the book but not how I was going to get there.

For TEXTING, I gave my editor five chapters and a synopsis before I’d written the book. So when I started on chapter six, I already knew how the plot was supposed to proceed, which in some ways was comforting. But it also felt as if I’d already told the story. I had to learn to forget the synopsis as much as possible and follow the story as it unfolded chapter after chapter—sometimes, things don’t work out on the page the way you think they will, and it’s a mistake to force a story into a predetermined shape.

Now I think I’m addicted to writing a synopsis first, just because it’s nice to know the plot can work out somehow. But then I have to make sure I ignore it.

6. I like having a general idea where my story is going too. Your agent is Kate Shafer Testerman. Share how she became your agent and your road to publication.

Luckily, I live in a place that attracts writers as summer residents. When I was newspapering, I met Bill Henderson, a published author and the founder of The Pushcart Prize. The summer after I finished my first book, I took my courage in my hands and gave the manuscript to him and his wife, Genie Chipps Henderson. They liked it enough to send it to Bill’s agent at Janklow & Nesbitt, and he gave it to Kate, who at the time was a fledgling J&N agent. She offered to represent it, thank heaven, and later took me with her when she left for Colorado and started her own agency.

Kate submitted the book to six publishers, who declined it but offered excellent advice. I revised the manuscript accordingly, and Kate sold the revised version to Kathy Dawson, then at Harcourt Children’s Books. THE UNNAMEABLES was just published when Kathy jumped to Penguin and Dial Books for Young Readers. Like Kate, she let me tag along. Now she has her own Penguin imprint, Kathy Dawson Books!

7. Wow! What an amazing publishing story. Marketing middle grade novels can be a bit more challenging than promoting YA novels because they seem to get less buzz in the blogsphere. Share what you’ve learned about effective marketing middle grade novels from having three books published.

I’m hardly a good role model for marketing—blowing my own horn does not come naturally. The major thing I’ve done right, though, is engaging in collaborative marketing efforts. As a debut author, I joined the Class of 2k8, and now I’m a member of The Enchanted Inkpot group blog as well as Scene13, a group blog whose members have books coming out in 2013.

In each case, the blog has been a great way to get exposure, but equally helpful has been the Yahoo group that each group set up for internal communications. The original purpose was to keep us organized, but we also solicit help or advice from one another and discuss questions like how to increase racial diversity in our books (a recent topic for the Inkies). We’ve formed lasting friendships and collaborations—I’ve even done bookstore appearances with fellow 2k8ers and Inkies.

8. That’s great advice to join groups. And I love The Enchanted Inkpot. I hadn’t heard of Scene13, but it sounds like a great idea. What advice do you have for authors during the year leading up to the release of their debut book?

Definitely join a debut authors group—I would have gone nuts without 2k8. Also, take a hint from my godmother Sherry, who used to spend six months of every year traveling off the beaten path: “Take all the precautions you can in advance, then stop worrying and have fun.” Do all the stuff your publisher recommends—the website, the blog, whatever—and once that’s done do not allow yourself to fret about how the book’s doing. You’ve had a book published, for heaven’s sake—what more could you possibly want out of life?

This is all easily said, of course. There isn’t an author alive who hasn’t obsessed about that Amazon ranking.

9. I love Sherry’s words of wisdom. What’s your favorite way of social networking? Why?

I love reading Twitter, for some reason, and I try to tweet a couple of times a day. So I guess that’s my favorite, even though I make absolutely no effort to gain followers.

10. That’s my next place to join. And soon. What are you working on now?

Several things. One is a companion book to TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD, but I don’t know yet whether it will fly. I have another middle-grade fantasy idea I’m developing and a book for younger kids that needs a total overhaul. I’ve also gotten back into writing short stories for adults.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Ellen. You can find Ellen at ellenbooraem.com, enchantedinkpot.com, and scene13ers.wordpress.com/
Tomorrow’s stop on the TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD blog tour is Kid Lit Reviews. See you there!

Ellen and her publisher Penguin have generously offered two copies of TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on August 24th. I’ll announce the winner on August 26th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. This is for US residents only.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was started by Shannon Messenger and you can find the rest of the blogs participating HERE.

Here’s what’s coming up:

Next Monday I’m interviewing author Dianne Salerni’s (author of THE CAGED GRAVES) 16-year old daughter about how she finds out about books and the writer’s club she started at her high school for my Ask The Expert series. And I’ll be giving away a copy of ICONS. It’s another sci-fi/dystopian story I really enjoyed. I was struck by how different it is from THE 5th WAVE that I spotlighted last month.

Next Wednesday, I’m interviewing Darcy Pattision and giving away a copy of her new book, START YOUR NOVEL-SIX WINNING STEPS TOWARD A COMPELLING OPENING LINE, SCENE, AND CHAPTER. Darcy’s the author of picture books, non fiction books, and a YA novel. And she’s also the author of NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS: UNCOMMON WAYS TO REVISE NOVELS, a fantastic book that I found really helpful when revising my novel. I know she’ll have lots of great advice to share with us.

The following Monday I’m thrilled to have C.J. Redwine back to talk about her new book, DECEPTION, the sequel to DEFIANCE. I really loved how C.J. took the story in a totally different direction I didn’t anticipate. And of course, I’ll be giving away an ARC of this.

Wednesday that week, I’m giving away a copy of ITCH, THE EXPLOSIVE ADVENTURES OF AN ELEMENT HUNTER by Simon Mayo. He’s a very popular DJ in England. It’s a middle grade story about a boy who needs his science know how to keep him ahead of a malevolent corporation and a top-secret government agency. It’s gotten great reviews and I’m hoping you and your middle grade kids might enjoy it.

The following Monday is Labor Day and I’m doing a Sequels Blog Hop. I'll have lots of great sequels by popular authors for you to choose from. Don’t worry if you’re busy on Monday having fun. The contest will run through September 9th.

Wednesday that week with an interview with Mari Mancusi and a giveaway of SCORCHED, a dystopian/fantasy/time travel story. I’ve been excited about this book since I read the book sale blurb in PW Children’s Bookshelf. And I was not disappointed. It’s fantastic and I can’t wait to share it with you. I’m sure Mari with have lots of advice for us because she’s also the author of another 8 book series.

And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Thursday agent spotlights.

Hope to see you on Monday!