CURRENT GIVEAWAYS

Here are my current Giveaway Contests

Melissa Richeson Query Critique through September 7th
CROWN OF CORAL AND PEARL through September 21st
THE TENTH GIRL through September 21st

Upcoming Agent Spotlights and Guest Posts w/ Debut Authors & Query Critique Giveaways

Danielle Burby/Rosary Munda Guest Post & Query Critique Giveaway on 10/2/19

Stacy Glick/Jennifer Camicca Guest Post & Query Critique Giveaway on 10/14/19

Jessica Reino Agent Spotlight Interview & Query Critique Giveaway on 10/28/19

RAJANI LAROCCA AND BRENT TAYLOR GUEST POST AND MIDSUMMER'S MAYHEM/QUERY CRITIQUE GIVEAWAY

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I'm excited to have debut author Rajani LaRocca here with her agent Brent Taylor to share about her new MG MIDSUMMER'S MAYHEM. It sounds like a great story with a great main character, a baking contest, a little magic,, and Shakespeare.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

Eleven-year-old Mimi dreams of winning a baking competition judged by her celebrity chef idol. But she loses her best helper when her food writer father returns from a business trip mysteriously unable to distinguish between delicious and disgusting. Mimi follows strangely familiar music into the woods behind her house, meets a golden-eyed boy, and bakes with him using ingredients they've found in the forest. Then everyone around her suddenly starts acting loopy.

Squabbling sisters, rhyming waitresses, and culinary saboteurs mix up a recipe for mayhem in this Indian-American mashup of A Midsummer Night's Dream and competitive baking.
Now here's Rajani and Brent!

Rajani LaRocca to Brent Taylor (Brent’s answers in purple):

1.     At the end of the 2017 Pitch Wars agent showcase, I sent you the full manuscript of Midsummer's Mayhem at 5 PM, and my email record indicates that you responded at 8:27 asking for a phone call to discuss representation. I think you set a record! What made you read and offer so quickly? 

The concept. I read A Midsummer Night's Dream in middle school, and it's one of the few Shakespeare plays I've really connected with and loved. I was so intrigued by your pitch of taking A Midsummer Night's Dream and making it intersect with baking (I have a major sweet tooth) and family (like Mimi, I come from a large and rowdy family). So those are the reasons that I began reading the manuscript as soon as you submitted it to me. I remember that right away I fell in love with the writing, and your pitch-perfect middle grade voice. I loved that this was a joyful and fun read, but that I also felt heavily invested in the plot and stakes—I was rooting for Mimi, terrified for her, and cheering her every decision. When I finished reading, I didn't need to take a second to think about it—I knew kid readers would love Mimi's story, and I knew you had a phenomenal publishing career ahead that I very much wanted to be a part of it.   

2.     You are unbelievably fast with everything – email responses, revision notes, submission lists, contract negotiations, deal announcements…everything! How do you keep on top of everything all the time? And how do you remain so positive and kind? 

I really love the challenge of juggling multiple projects all at once. It keeps me on my toes, and I never feel bored. I feel more motivated to do my best work when I'm not buried under a huge to-do list, so I try to stay ahead of the game as much as possible. It's easy to do because I love my job so much. Optimism is who I am. As much as I can get caught up in the anxieties of our world, I have an optimistic heart, and I try to never lose the faith that things are going to work out exactly how they're supposed to. Working with authors like you, Rajani, who are such incredible people and have the real interests of kid readers at heart, are what make this job an absolute dream for you. Your energy and motivation inspire me to put my best into the world. So that's how I'm able to do it—because I have such admiration and respect for my clients, and we have an unbelievable amount of fun working together on books that make a difference in the lives of kids. 

3.     What’s your favorite part of being a literary agent? What’s the hardest part? 

I love celebrating the successes and seeing books make a difference in the world. It was very exciting when you and I started selling our first projects together, but I've been just as excited with how, recently, we've been celebrating things beyond the sale—like Midsummer's Mayhem getting a starred Kirkus review, or selling to Spain. I can't wait for you to start getting fan-mail from kids, because that's when we'll really see what readers are taking from Mimi's story and how it's impacting them. My #1 goal is making books that kids have fun reading and that impart them with joy, love, and optimism. So those are the parts of being a literary agent that I love. The hardest parts are when you're working really hard at something but not seeing the results you want right away. When you and I were shopping Midsummer's Mayhem, we hit some devastating roadblocks. But we never let our faith waver, and we persisted, and here we are now! 

4.     Middle grade seems to be your sweet spot. What kind of middle grade projects appeal the most
to you? What are you looking for in YA and picture books? 

Yes, middle grade makes up the bulk of my list, though I love picture books and YA too. I'm looking for middle grade that exudes warmth—I want to smile and squeeze the book to my chest when I've finished reading a middle grade novel. The Best Man by Richard Peck is one of my favorite novels ever, and it's the happiest, most love- and light-filled piece of fiction I've ever read. I love that family as at its core, and that Peck has captured the most beautiful pieces of life and memorialized them forever in this beautiful novel. I am looking for picture books that are fun and fresh, preferably author-illustrated but not necessarily. In YA, I'd love to find a novel as smart and ambitious as Dig by A. S. King, which I just finished reading and absolutely loved.   

5.     When writers query you, how important is the query vs. the pages? Do you always read one first, or do you skip around? 

Both are pretty important. The query should showcase that the author has a sense of their plot and stakes. I do skim through it before diving into the pages. 

6.     What’s your favorite dessert? 

It changes, but right now I'm always craving ice-cream cakes.

Brent to Rajani (Rajani’s answers in black): 
1. Before you entered Pitch Wars and then signed with me, what did your journey to writing and publishing look like?

I’ve loved books since I was tiny. I’m an only child, so books were some of my best friends growing up. I read pretty much everything—nonfiction, comics, folk tales, cereal boxes, and of course, novels. I wrote a lot through high school and college, but then I went to medical school, and then residency, and then became a mom, and I was occupied with medicine and motherhood, and didn’t write for a long time. A few years ago, when I’d become more established in my medical practice and my kids were in school, I started to think about nourishing my creative life again. I took writing classes, met fellow writers and formed critique groups, and, after a couple of years, started pursuing publication seriously. I spent 2014-2016 focusing on craft, writing multiple manuscripts and making Midsummer’s Mayhem and my picture book projects as good as I could. I started querying in 2017. I got many positive responses and had several full manuscripts out with agents, but then didn’t hear back for 4-5 months. So when Pitch Wars came along, I decided to enter, and to my surprise, I was selected. After an intense period of revision with my mentor, I ended up with a sparkling manuscript…and the rest, as they say, is history!

2. We have sold quite a few projects already—both picture books and middle grade. Every book I've read from you has been completely unique and unlike the last. Do you know if there is a common thread between your projects? What are some of the cornerstones? 

My family is my heart, so it’s not surprising that family is the heart of what I write about. In Midsummer’s Mayhem, the main character Mimi is the youngest of four siblings in a boisterous Indian-American family. Although they don’t always get along perfectly, the family members have a deep love and understanding that is an important thread in the book. Some of my picture books are immigration stories that explore what it’s like to spend years away from of those you love and depict familial connections that endure across distance and time.

I love science, math, puzzles, and music. In my nonfiction picture books, I channel my wonder and delight about how beautifully math and science work. In my fiction, I often write about smart kids solving intellectual mysteries. And inspired by my musical family, music plays a role in many of my projects.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a huge foodie. I think that every single project I have involves food in some way. Food is one of the most basic elements of culture and connects us in so many ways. And it’s so much fun to write about!

Midsummer’s Mayhem combines all those elements—music, puzzles, delectable food, and family.

3. What have been the most surprising parts of selling and publishing books? What about this process has been rewarding, and what parts have been challenging? 

The biggest surprise has been the kindness and generosity of the kidlit community. My critique
partners have read every draft of every book and taught me so much. Established authors have been happy to help someone new to the industry. Teachers and librarians work hard to get kids excited about a wonderful variety of books, and it’s been fun connecting with them.

The most rewarding aspects of publishing? I’ve been lucky enough to work with several wonderful editors on my various projects. Great editors are magical people who can see the heart of the story you’ve written and help you improve it through a combination of fascinating questions and gentle suggestions. And what a joy it is to work with you, Brent! Your honesty, positivity, and energy buoy me and make me want to write even more.

Rejection is challenging, and publishing is full of it. But having you as my advisor, advocate, and friend helps me get through it relatively unscathed.

4. What are the privileges and responsibilities authors carry when writing and publishing for an audience of young readers? 

I still can’t believe I get to write books for kids! I hope my books will entertain and move kids and get them interested in and excited about all kinds of things. I hope my books give them insight into someone else’s life and help develop empathy. Even when we write fiction, those of us who write for young people must tell emotional truths, and we always need to respect young readers as the astute and sensitive people they are.

5. If you were asked to give someone a novel (not written by you) that best captures the spirit of who you are, what book would it be and why? (I'm arrogant and want to answer this question too—The Best Man by Richard Peck, because the lens through which that story is told is honestly, truly, the exact lens through which I view the world.)

It would be The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. It contains so many themes that are dear to me: family, and how you fit into it; puzzles and adventure with a smart girl in the lead; a diverse (for the time) and interesting cast of characters; and a narrative full of humor and heart that never talks down to young readers.

6. Your debut novel is about to be released. You have countless picture books under contract, and you're hard at work on other novel projects. Looking to the future, what are you most excited about? 

I’m going to cheat here because I can’t limit myself to one thing. There is nothing like your first anything, and not only is Midsummer’s Mayhem my debut novel, it’s my debut book, and some truly lovely accolades have already come its way. I am trying my best to savor every moment leading up to its release!

I’m also absolutely thrilled about our picture books publishing in 2020-2022! We are getting some preliminary art for my first picture book, Seven Golden Rings, which will be published by Lee & Low Books in 2020. The illustrator, Archana Sreenivasan, brings so much creativity to the story, and it is mind-blowing to see my words translated into art!

I am also really loving my current middle grade projects (both of them!) and look forward to polishing them up.

But what I’m most excited about is connecting with young readers who have read Midsummer’s Mayhem and, someday, my other books. It will be the culmination of my writer dreams!

Brent's links:
TriadaUS website: http://www.triadaus.com/
Twitter: @btaylorbooks

Rajani's links:
Twitter: @rajanilarocca
IG: @rajanilarocca

Rajani has generously offered a hardback of MIDSUMMER'S MAYHEM and Brent is offering a query critique 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 through June 1st. If you do not want to be included in the critique giveaway, please let me know in the comments. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest.
If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. The book giveaway is U.S. and the query critique giveaway is International.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Here's what's coming up:

Wednesday, June 5th I have an interview with debut author Shannon Shuren and a giveaway of her contemporary YA THE VIRTUE OF SIN and my IWSG post

Monday, June 10 I have an interview with author Lamar Giles and a giveaway of his MG fantasy/adventure THE LAST LAST-DAY-OF-SUMMER

Wednesday, June 12 I have an agent spotlight interview with Kerstin Wolf and a query critique giveaway

Monday, June 17 I have an interview with author Brenda Rufener and a giveaway of her YA contemporary SINCE WE LAST SPOKE

Hope to see you on Wednesday, June 5th!

LOVE IS IN BLOOM GIVEAWAY HOP


Happy Tuesday Everyone! Today I'm excited to participate in the Love Is in Bloom Giveway Hop hosted by by BookHounds. I am so grateful to Mary at BookHounds for continuing to host these giveaways.

I've got a lot of new releases to share with you this month. I hope you find a book you like for yourself, a family member, or a friend in the choices offered. Don’t see a book you like? You can win a $10.00 Amazon Gift Card instead. I hope you'll all enter to win a book or gift card for yourself or as a gift for someone.

So here are your choices. I've got a combination of MG and YA books that I hope you're looking forward to reading. Remember, if you want an earlier book in any of these series, you can pick that instead as long as it doesn't cost more than the book here. You can find descriptions of these books on Goodreads.

 







If you haven't found a book you want, you can win a $10 Amazon Gift Card.



To enter, all you need to do is be a follower anyway you want and leave a comment telling me what book you want or that you want the gift card through May 30th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. I will also give you an extra entry if you follow me on Twitter and let me know this. You can get two extra entries by commenting on one of my author interviews or guest posts listed at the top of my blog and mentioning it in your comment. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is International.

Here's what's coming up:

Monday, May 20th I have a guest post by Rajani LaRocca and her agent Brent Taylor with a query critique and MG contemporary MIDSUMMER'S MAYHEM giveaway

I'm off Monday, May 27th for Memorial Day

Wednesday, June 5th I have an interview with debut author Shannon Shuren and a giveaway of her contemporary YA THE VIRTUE OF SIN and my IWSG post

Monday, June 10 I have an interview with author Lamar Giles and a giveaway of his MG fantasy/adventure THE LAST LAST-DAY-OF-SUMMER

Wednesday, June 12 I have an agent spotlight interview with Kerstin Wolf and a query critique giveaway

Monday, June 17 I have an interview with author Brenda Rufener and a giveaway of her YA contemporary SINCE WE LAST SPOKE

Hope to see you on Monday!

And here's all the other blogs participating in this blog hop:


















BETH ANDERSON AND AGENT STEPHANIE FRETWELL-HILL GUEST POST/QUERY CRITIQUE AND AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET GIVEAWAY

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I have debut picture book author Beth Anderson and her agent Stephanie Fretwell-Hill to share about Beth's picture book, AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET. It sounds like a fun story that combines words and history.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:


Once upon a revolutionary time, two great American patriots tried to make life easier. They knew how hard it was to spell words in English. They knew that sounds didn’t match letters. They knew that the problem was an inconvenient English alphabet.

In 1786, Ben Franklin, at age eighty, and Noah Webster, twenty-eight, teamed up. Their goal? Make English easier to read and write. But even for great thinkers, what seems easy can turn out to be hard.

Children today will be delighted to learn that when they “sound out” words, they are doing eg-zakt-lee what Ben and Noah wanted.


Now here's Beth and Stephanie!


The Elusive Premise   

Beth:
Thank you so much for all the great content you offer on Literary Rambles! One of the most difficult concepts for me as an author on this writing journey has been the elusive premise. I’ve concluded that the author’s concept of premise differs from that of an agents and editors. I think my biggest challenge is to learn to see a story as an agent or editor would. And I think it’s a major factor in moving from rejection to offer.

I started to get my head around premise when I signed with agent Stephanie Fretwell-Hill of Red Fox Literary and was able to bounce ideas off of her and get feedback on my manuscripts. I wanted to share some of my learning and her thoughts with you. My first revelation was when she referred to my debut picture book, AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET, BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER’S SPELLING REVOLUTION, as a “slam dunk.” I didn’t fully realize what I had. (I think it was a lightning strike.) I just knew I loved it in my own way as it connected to my students and personal interests. So what was it? And how could I do it again…with informed intention!

I could define the words "slam dunk,” and others I’d seen in rejections like “compelling," and "entry points for kids," but I needed to understand it all on a deeper level. So I began asking questions…


Stephanie, what exactly makes a manuscript a “slam dunk?” What makes a premise “compelling?” How would you explain “hook” and “entry points for kids” on a deeper level?

Stephanie:
This is kind of a tough topic to talk about, because I think for many editors and agents, it’s a matter of
“knowing it when we see it.” It’s very hard to tell someone how to make a manuscript more compelling or hook-y or however you want to describe it.

Beth:
And I think because this is a gut level response, it’s seldom explained, making it really tough for authors to understand.

Stephanie:
In any genre, there are trends in publishing that agents and editors are aware of, even if we can’t always articulate what they are. Right now, people are looking for biographies of subjects who are either well-known but have a part of their story very few readers are aware of, or subjects who are lesser-known (or even overlooked by history) but played an important role in a relevant or timely story. In general, editors and agents are shying away from the traditional “cradle to grave” treatment, and are looking for a single incident or story arc brought to life.

What I saw in AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET that made me get excited was a combination of factors: well-known subjects engaged in a lesser-known story from history; a direct application to something kids can relate to on a daily basis; a fresh format that is in line with current trends in picture book biographies; a fun and approachable voice; your trademark meticulous research and attention to detail. The “entry points” are Ben Franklin, Noah Webster (and his dictionary), the history of our language, the American Revolution, the fact that young readers are learning to spell right now and wondering why it isn’t so simple, the idea that everyone fails, and of turning those failures into future successes. Each of these are subjects that might come up in a classroom setting, and some might even be part of retail displays for the Fourth of July, revolution, stories about Ben Franklin, or another category of books that stores might group together for some promotional reason.

There’s an industry side of all of this that writers and consumers don’t always see—how will I pitch this book to an editor? How will the editor sell it to his or her acquisitions or sales team? How will the sales rep convince a bookseller to take a few copies? How will the bookseller decide to shelve the book or include it in displays? What will make a school librarian feel that this is the book to spend part of the budget on instead of that one?

The truth is, the answers to these questions are never long—they are sound-bytes. Unique, exciting, fresh. Easy to explain in a single sentence. Easy to remember after the sales conference is long over.

Beth:
How does all this differ with fiction and nonfiction? With picture books and middle grade/YA?

Stephanie
:
I don’t know that it does differ so much with fiction and nonfiction, except that some books are more school- and library-driven and others are more commercial or trade-oriented, so each of those categories will affect how it is viewed. So, for example, a really commercial topic might be one that ties in directly with a hot current event, whereas the school and library markets will be looking for stories that fit with age-appropriate curricula and will stay relevant for some years to come. And then, of course, so many imprints say they want to “straddle the line” between the two—meaning, they want it all! Curricula connections, classroom value, hot, current, popular subjects…that stand the test of time. Easy, right?

And the hook has to appeal to readers of the appropriate age group. So, for example, what a preschooler finds meaningful—dinosaurs, magic, potty training—is not the same as what a YA reader will find meaningful—breaking out of one’s family and becoming a person in your own right, finding romantic love, exploring what it means to be you in the wider context of the world.

As an exercise, look at how the same writer could frame a single subject in different ways to appeal to different readers. Take, for example, THE LITTLEST MARCHER vs. WE’VE GOT A JOB, both by Cynthia Levinson, both on the same subject, approached in completely different ways for different age readers. Or WONDER vs. WE’RE ALL WONDERS by RJ Palacio.

Beth
:
I’ve learned a lot from Candace Fleming and her “vital idea” and Barb Rosenstock and her “so what?” and know they are key to this process of honing the premise. What has helped me most of all, I think, is when you offer suggestions on manuscripts in terms of “reframing.”  I understand this as seeing the story through a new lens, from a new angle that directly connects to kids.

I had written LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT earlier in this journey. After 91 revisions I finally found the right frame in an article lamenting that our “hero” stories lead kids to believe that all we need to do is wait for that one exceptional person to save us. The reality is that no one does it alone; we all play a role - whether it be action or inaction. I had a morsel in the story already
but the article expanded that into a frame. My takeawayread widely on a topic or theme.

As I researched “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES, I found lots of interesting history, a fun character, and a mysterious setting. But it wasn’t until I saw his incredible sense of smell as a super power that it fell into place with a strong kid connection. I’ve learned that my “frame” often emerges in my author’s note, and I need to bring it into the story deliberately. 

I was starting to get it. With a child main character, entry points came easier for TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE, as I found an endearing father/son story featuring a boy with learning differences. But when you helped me identify one element, learning differences, to frame how we view the characters and action, it made the story more focused.

Stephanie, could you explain this concept, how it relates to the premise, and how to find new ways to frame a story?

Stephanie
:
I read lots and lots of manuscripts that include various interesting parts, but are never really able to bring those parts together into a meaningful whole. In the case of LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT, for example, it wouldn’t be enough to say “gosh, did you know there was another transportation-related civil rights case 100 years before Rosa Parks’s, which many people have never actually heard of?” That’s interesting, but it’s like trivia—it’s just a snippet of a thing you might say to someone at a dinner party. Your job as a writer is to draw larger connections—tie that trivia to something that matters to kids right now, in our moment in time. That’s what I love about your frame in LIZZIE. You’re saying change happens over time through collective action, not just through the most famous single moments in history. It’s inspiring—to me, to kids reading the book, etc—to think that many people’s small actions can add up to something bigger.

So now this story is more than just an interesting “did you know?”—it has a heart, it has meaning, and by extension it also fits some categories now that might help in selling it: civil rights, activism, civic responsibility, etc.

One thing I often find myself asking writers is “why did you choose to write this particular story?” I’m trying to find out what was so meaningful for the writer that he or she decided to dedicate so much time to it. I’m asking them to include that meaning in their story (oh—but without becoming didactic or preachy. It’s a fine line!) And this part is key: how does that meaning relate to bigger themes, and are those themes big enough to find a wide audience?

It’s kind of the same thing as asking why I should care as a reader, except that I’m turning the question back on you as a writer. Why did you care enough to sit down and write a whole manuscript? Why does this story matter?

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Beth and Stephanie!

Links and Bios:


Stephanie - Website: www.redfoxliterary.com Twitter: @SFretwellHill 
Stephanie Fretwell-Hill is a literary agent with a sales and editorial background. After starting her career in foreign rights at Walker Books in the UK, Stephanie moved home to the US as an acquiring editor at Peachtree Publishers. In 2016, she joined Red Fox Literary where she represents authors and illustrators of picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction and non-fiction. Some of her fabulous clients include Beth Anderson, Michael Belanger, Carolyn Crimi, Brenda Maier, and Christina Soontornvat. Stephanie lives in Asheville, NC with her husband, two spirited little girls, and a very clever border collie.

Beth - https://bethandersonwriter.com , Twitter and Pinterest: @BAndersonwriter
Beth Anderson, a former English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. Armed with linguistics and reading degrees, a fascination with language, and penchant for untold tales, she strives for accidental learning in the midst of a great story. Beth lives in Colorado where she laughs, wonders, thinks, and questions; and hopes to inspire kids to do the same.
Beth has generously offered a hardback of AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET and Stephanie is offering a query critique 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 through May 18. If you do not want to be included in the critique giveaway, please let me know in the comments. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest.
If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. The book giveaway is U.S. and the query critique giveaway is International.

Here's what's coming up:

Tuesday, May 14th I'm participating in the Love Is in Bloom Giveaway Hop

Monday, May 20th I have a guest post by Rajani LaRocca and her agent Brent Taylor with a query critique and MG contemporary MIDSUMMER'S MAYHEM giveaway

I'm off May 27th

Wednesday, June 5th I have an interview with debut author Shannon Shuren and a giveaway of her contemporary YA THE VIRTUE OF SIN and my IWSG post

Monday, June 10 I have an interview with author Lamar Giles and a giveaway of his MG fantasy/adventure THE LAST LAST-DAY-OF-SUMMER

Wednesday, June 12 I have an agent spotlight interview with Kerstin Wolf and a query critique giveaway

Monday, June 17 I have an interview with author Brenda Rufener and a giveaway of her YA contemporary SINCE WE LAST SPOKE

Hope to see you on Tuesday!


REMY LAI AND JIM MCCARTHY GUEST POST/PIE IN THE SKY AND QUERY CRITIQUE GIVEAWAY/IWSG POST

Happy Wednesday Everyone! I'm excited to have debut author Remy Lai here with her agent Jim McCarthy to share about her MG contemporary PIE IN THE SKY. It sounds like a fantastic, heartwarming story about Jingwen's experience moving to Australia. It's told in prose with graphic novel elements. I'm excited to read it. But first I have this month's IWSG post.


Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday is officially Insecure Writer's Support Group Day.

The co-hosts this month are:  Lee Lowery, Juneta Key, Yvonne Ventresca, and T. Powell Coltrin

I'm going to skip today's optional question and discuss tw things: how I can help you when your book releases and exciting news.

How I Can Help You

I want to help my followers when your book releases. Because I only post once a week, I cannot participate in a few blog tours for you. However, there are other ways I can help you. For anyone who doesn't know or doesn't know, I'm glad to post about your book release in Follower News. Just e-mail me a two-sentence blurb with your book cover and a few links. This is open to picture book through adult as long as your book is not erotica. You just have to be a follower who regularly visits the blog (once a month is okay) and leaves a comment so I know that you have stopped by.

Also, I participate in a monthly book giveaway hop with other book review bloggers where I offer a variety of MG and YA new releases. I get about 70-100 comments and 1000 or more page views on these posts. I'm going to also open this up as a way to help my followers. I'm glad to offer your book as one of the choices when it releases. This is also open to picture book through adult as long as your book is not erotica. Same follower requirement as for Follower News. Just e-mail me your book cover!

Take advantage of these opportunities to let me help you promote your book!


Exciting News



Last month on the day of our IWSG posts, Literary Rambles hit a milestone--6 million page views. It feels like a huge accomplishment. I thank you all for your support and friendship. I especially appreciate those of you who take the time to read and comment on my posts. 


Now onto my guest post. Here's a blurb of PIE IN THE SKY on Goodreads:


When eleven-year-old Jingwen moves to a new country, he feels like he’s landed on Mars. School is torture, making friends is impossible since he doesn’t speak English, and he's often stuck looking after his (extremely irritating) little brother, Yanghao.

To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of Pie in the Sky, the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother has laid down one major rule: the brothers are not to use the oven while she's at work. As Jingwen and Yanghao bake elaborate cakes, they'll have to cook up elaborate excuses to keep the cake making a secret from Mama.

Told in prose and graphic novel elements, this middle-grade novel is about a boy's immigration experience, his annoying little brother, and their cake-baking hijinks!


Questions from Remy to Jim:


What about PIE IN THE SKY that prompted you to make an offer of representation? (This is where I'm fishing for compliments ๐Ÿ˜‚)

PIE IN THE SKY was the perfect meeting point of two areas I wanted to do more work in—middle grade and graphic novels. Since it’s a hybrid, and because of the style in which you wrote describing your illustrations, it was super accessible to me in form. Then we add to that the fact that it’s incredibly moving, deeply hilarious, and beautifully written AND illustrated? It was a no brainer. I’ve loved the book since the first time I opened the first page, and I knew I needed you on my list.

You reply to emails almost immediately. If you take over a day to reply your clients, we genuinely start to worry that you're dead. How do you respond to your clients and read for them so fast? Is it special beard magic or just good organisational skills?

The most common complaint I hear about other agents is how lax they are about communication (there are plenty of wonderful communicators out there—it’s just that folks who DO have complaints tend to have them in this area). So it has always been important to me that folks not be hanging around forever waiting for a response. I’m also a hugely anxious person and hate the idea of keeping others in suspense. Of course, there are times where I can’t be as fast as usual, but I make a sincere effort in those cases to be as honest with everyone as possible about how long things might take me. There are usually about two weeks a year where everything lands at the same time, and I just….dance as fast as I can!

Do you really not mind being known as The Beard? I know that when you called me about the offer for PIE IN THE SKY, you just had your beard spruced up and we joked it brings good luck. Does it?

First, I’ve never been one to take myself very seriously, so I definitely don’t mind. It might be
weirder in person? It certainly hasn’t proven weird YET. And second, I’ve only shaved my beard off twice since the 90s. Both times, I looked in the mirror and criiiiiied. It’s just so much a part of my face that I don’t have any qualms about it being a noted feature.

One of the things I asked your clients before we signed was how supportive you are when your clients have writerly melt downs (the answer was: very). Do you get exhausted? Do you wish that we were less melodramatic?

Listen, agenting can be tough. It’s very easy to get deeply emotionally invested in projects and in authors. For me, the most important things are to be honest with clients about what the challenges they may face are, not let them see ME sweat (the process isn’t about me), and do my utmost to keep a healthy emotional distance. Do I get exhausted? Sure, sometimes! But doesn’t everyone? And do I wish clients were less melodramatic? Also sometimes! But I know how brutal this process can be, and I sympathize with everyone jumping onto this crazy emotional roller coaster that is publishing.

About the time difference . . . How has it been for you, working with a writer from Australia who sends you emails at strange hours?

Again, you email at truly all hours of the day, so I’m still not wholly sure you sleep. But it really hasn’t proven difficult at all. I have other clients who are night owls and such, so I haven’t noticed too much!

How much do you enjoy the editorial side of agenting? Or do you wish that you only get perfect manuscripts all the time?

I love the editorial process. My general rule is this: I won’t sign a project unless I think I could send it out in its current shape. However, I have never once sent a project out without editing it. It’s my chance to make sure the book is as saleable as possible, but it’s also probably the most creative I get to be as an agent. It’s an endlessly delightful process that also helps me understand everything I work on in a deeper way and connect to it more fully.

Perennial question: what are you looking for in your slush pile?

Oh, gosh. I feel like I’m always looking for a bit of everything since I do middle grade through adult fiction and nonfiction (though mostly fiction). Send me ALL THE QUERIES! But you know what I’d really love to find kind of across categories, communities, and age brackets? Fun stories. I’ve worked on a number of books that beautifully handle deeply difficult subject matter, and I will always be passionate about those books, so don’t shy away from them. That said, I could use some comedy about now. Or just a delicious page-turner whether it be a thriller or fantasy or romance—something escapist, especially if it has a fresh twist!

When are you getting a second dog?

Let me get really honest for a moment—my beloved pup Winston is 6 now, and he’s the first dog I’ve ever had. While he is fantastic at many things (snuggling, being adorable, launching himself at guests with adoration), he is not what I would call terribly well trained, and he is not always the moooooost friendly with other dogs. I really worry about him losing his mind if we get another pup, but the conversation continues on a near daily basis.

Any genius advice for writers in their debut year?

Remind yourself how spectacular what you’ve achieved really is. It’s not easy to get published. The odds are not in your favor. And then once you’re published, the odds are still not always going to go your way. But what you have done—finishing a book, editing a book, selling a book, having a book published? Those are all extraordinary things. Try to keep that in mind because it’s so easy to start comparing yourself to other authors and their perceived successes which itself can prove maddening. Fight like hell for the career you want, but never lose sight of how great what you’ve already done actually is.

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Questions from Jim to Remy:

Your book is a bit of a mash-up, not quite a full graphic novel, but definitely more than just a novel with some illustrations. How did you strike the balance that you did, and how did you know what moments were most calling out to be illustrated?

In the early stages of writing, I write mostly by intuition. In the later stages, I'd take a closer look at my decisions. And my relentless editor at Henry Holt definitely makes me analyse things deeper. The decisions come down to pacing, whether prose or illustration could convey a certain emotion or moment more effectively, and just simply thinking about how much fun a certain thing would be to draw.

A younger brother myself, I’m epically in love with impish, charmingly annoying, irrepressible Yanghao. Though he’s not our main character, he’s an attention grabber. Was he always a scene stealer? Did you have to work to hold him back from taking off with the novel?
Yanghao is partially inspired by my nephew who is absolutely impish and irrepressible, and I did (still do) have so much fun drawing him. But I always knew that PIE IN THE SKY is the older brother Jingwen's story, although it couldn't have been told without Yanghao. I know—don't ask me how I know, I just do!—that Yanghao has his very own story that he needs to tell, so maybe one day . . .

You made a conscious decision not to address where Jingwen and Yanghao immigrated to Australia from, a choice that has come up much more in reviews and discussions of the book than I anticipated. Have you also been surprised by this? Did the response ever make you doubt your choice, or has it more solidified for you how strong the choice was?

I wasn't surprised.

When I was a kid and I moved to Singapore, I hadn't fully grasped the concept of countries. I understood "country" on a very superficial level, in that I need a passport to get into another, and currencies and perhaps languages are different, but mostly I just thought in terms of back home and Singapore. Just two places. Because I am first and foremost writing for kids, because this story is so personal and influenced by my own experience, and because this story is told in first person point of view, I decided to trust how eleven-year-old me saw the world, and to trust Jingwen's voice.

If I'd written PIE IN THE SKY in third person POV, I might have stated their country of origin.

But maybe not. Because I also wanted a story where the cultural differences to do with immigration don't take centre stage, and stating the country might inadvertently shepherd some adult readers into focusing on the cultural differences. The boys grew up in a pretty globalised city, in pretty liberal environments, so the culture shift really wasn't that significant. They are economic migrants. There wasn't any mortal danger to them in their home countries. Their parents simply wanted them to have more opportunities in life. Ultimately, the thing I remember the most when I migrated was missing my family.

I wanted readers to see the boys as kids first and foremost. Kids who happen to be immigrants. That was why, aside from the language barrier, I had Jingwen have problems that are not specific to immigrants. For example, the dad's death was simply an accident. Nothing to do with migration.

I knew from the beginning that some readers will prefer the boys' country of origin to be stated, and there will be others who won't care. I don't know if I'll change my mind. Ask me again a few years later haaa.

You’ve now been through multiple editorial processes with this novel—first on your own, then through Pitch Wars, then with me, and ultimately with your publisher. As someone who has told me they love revising, can you compare the various stages of revision and how you knew what advice to take on vs. what to leave behind?

Do you not believe me, Jim? I really do love getting editorial notes and revising. Sure, sometimes I curse the note-givers (Haaaa!), but I truly do love the promise of how much better my stories would be after revision.

With Pitch Wars, it was big picture revision. Then you gave me a very short edit note for a "light revision." It's still a mystery to this day how I ended up rewriting the first act and taking several weeks. I was following breadcrumbs and I fell off a cliff! I think a lot of writers encounter that during revision. 
With my relentless editor, it was about strengthening the elements that were already there. I might have cursed him quite a bit too ๐Ÿ˜‚.

Throughout the revision process, when I read the edit notes, I could immediately see how making most of those changes would make the story better. Other pieces of advice, I felt so so about. And then there were a few pieces of advice that made me balk. Ultimately, I'd just mull on the notes for a week or two, jotting down thoughts as they came along. Sometimes it was a matter of trial and error. Even the advice I thought didn't make sense, I'd try them on for size. Sometimes I'd be surprised, or sometimes that advice that didn't fit ended up leading me to another nugget of wisdom that made the story better.

Speaking of Pitch Wars, can you walk me through what that was like? On the agent side, it’s a whirlwind trying to keep up with material and try to read faster than folks are getting offers. What’s it like on the author side? Is it ever overwhelming? And would you do it all over again?

Being a person who loves deadlines, I LOVED the short revision timeframe. I sometimes wish you would be a meanie and put me through such a rigorous schedule for every manuscript.

As for the agent round . . . When I entered Pitch Wars, I wasn't on social media much. I didn't even think about the agent round much until it was all over. When I entered, all I really wanted was the editorial letter from my mentor, to make my story better.

I hear from folks sometimes that they’re overwhelmed trying to break into the North American publishing world if they live overseas. Being in Australia, how has that process been for you? Do you think its been easier for you than most as you, to the best of my knowledge, never sleep?

The time difference is insignificant thanks to you and my editor who don't make it a big deal at all. What's most frustrating is I cannot be there to attend panels and conferences and meet the writing and publishing communities, the librarians and booksellers, and the readers. Macmillan has been very, very good to me in bringing me to the US in January, and I am so lucky. The rest of the time, I sit here nursing a serious case of FOMO.

I know this is very much a question that the answer to will change upon publication, but what have been the best and worst parts of the process so far—from initially having the idea to now being just a short while from publication?
The best part is meeting people who believe in my work and me. The worst part is the times when publishing makes me feel like I might never be enough, which is something that many writers feel at some point. Luckily, so far, the best part is much stronger than the worst part.

Do you have a dream reader—a sort of person who it would be a dream come true to have a piece of fan mail come in from?
For PIE IN THE SKY, it would have to be readers who have a personal connection to being an immigrant and having to learn a new language.

You have lots of new material in the works—where do you from here? What are your future publishing goals?
My first love is middle-grade, but I would also love to do everything else. I'm very greedy.

Perhaps most important of all, you and I have something very special in common—we both share our homes with adorable dogs. I do a lot of editing with my pup curled up in my lap, taking breaks when he decides its play time. Do yours affect or inspire your writing at all?

I talk through my story problems with them all the time. They look at me like they understand, but actually they just want me to feed them nom noms. I also take them for long walks in the forest at the end of my street, and that's my daily recharge. I don't think I can be a writer if I don't have a dog.

You can find me on:
Instagram: @rrremylai
Twitter: @Remy_Lai

Remy has generously offered a hardback of PIE IN THE SKY and Jim is offering a query critique 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 through May 18. If you do not want to be included in the critique giveaway, please let me know in the comments. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. The book giveaway is International for anywhere that Book Depository ships for free and the query critique giveaway is International.

Here's what's coming up:

Monday, May 6th I have a guest post with debut author Beth Anderson and her agent Stephanie Fretwell-Hill with a query critique and AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET giveaway

Tuesday, May 14th I'm participating in the Love Is in Bloom Giveaway Hop

Monday, May 20th I have a guest post by Rajani LaRocca and her agent Brent Taylor with a query critique and MG contemporary MIDSUMMER'S MAYHEM giveaway

I'm off May 27th

Wednesday, June 5th I have an interview with debut author Shannon Shuren and a giveaway of her contemporary YA THE VIRTUE OF SIN and my IWSG post

Monday, June 10 I have an interview with author Lamar Giles and a giveaway of his MG fantasy/adventure THE LAST LAST-DAY-OF-SUMMER

Wednesday, June 12 I have an agent spotlight interview with Kerstin Wolf and a query critique giveaway

Monday, June 17 I have an interview with author Brenda Rufener and a giveaway of her YA contemporary SINCE WE LAST SPOKE

Hope to see you on Monday!