Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Rebecca Williamson Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/8/2024
  • Sheila Fernley Agent Spotlight Interview, Critique Giveaway, and One-Hour Zoom Call on 7/29/2024
  • Erica McGrath Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 8/12/2024

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "K" as of 3/28/2024 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.

Debut Author Interview: Carol Coven Grannick and Reeni’s Turn Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Carol Coven Grannick here to share about her MG contemporary Reeni’s Turn. It sounds like a great novel in verse about issues of body size and dieting that many tween girls grapple with.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads

Eleven-year-old Reeni’s world is changing. Her star-of-the-senior-class, college-bound sister has no time for her, sixth grade is full of girls into makeup and diets and crushes, and something deep inside tells Reeni it’s time to become more than a shy girl in the shadows. But when she commits to dancing a solo for her retiring ballet teacher’s final recital, her lifelong fear of performing expands along with her newly-changing body. Lunch friends convince Reeni that a diet will give her courage and self-confidence, but the diet wreaks havoc with Reeni’s life. She lies to her parents, breaks up with her best friend, and loses focus on school work and dance. Reeni faces a painful choice: should she break her commitment to solo and quit dance? Or might she have hidden strengths that could help her come out of the shadows and become the girl she wants to be?

Hi Carol! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

            I scribbled poems and short ‘creative non-fiction’ as a child, fell in love with poetry, and got some encouragement from home and school that I was a writer. But in my young childhood, most of my ‘writing’ stayed in my head, with the exception of some passionate, issue/social justice-related rhyming poems, some essays that won little awards, and all my school writing. I was quiet in many ways, kept things to myself. Reading written words comforted me, and writing them seemed to give names to what was inside.

            But I didn’t realize what ‘being a writer’ meant until I was in social work school, and was writing a lot—process recordings that read like stories, and tons of poetry. Through my internship in an amazing YMHA, I met an older poet who became my mentor and told me it was time for me to submit work. “When you finish a poem, it does not belong to you anymore. It belongs to the world.” That gave meaning to my work that I hadn’t felt before, and I began submitting, receiving some acceptances, and even did a poetry reading at the Y.

            A persistent writing life requires emotional resilience, though, and I didn’t make that happen for myself until the early 1990s. Learning resilience (thank you, Martin Seligman!) opened up lots of possibilities, mainly for submitting more often and not being side-swiped by rejections. As a clinical social worker, I published many articles and scholarly papers.

            My passion for writing for children grew as our son grew. We read hundreds of old and new picture books and children’s magazines, and I began to volunteer in his school’s magnificent library. I wrote a story in 1999, saw it published in Cricket in 2001, and embarked on what would become a joyful, challenging, obstacle-filled journey.

2. That's awesome that you've loved poetry since you were a kid. Where did you get the idea for Reeni’s Turn?

            The story behind Reeni’s Turn came with me from childhood, where I learned—quite incorrectly—that my value was tied to the size and shape of my body. My first story for children, “The Inside Ballerina” appeared in Cricket in 2001. I wrote it in order to address an issue I didn’t see much in middle grade literature—a positive portrayal of a non-thin character within a story that undermined traditional stereotypes. The responses I received left me feeling that one day, I would develop the story into a novel. Even later on, “The Inside Ballerina” influenced the award-winning experimental film, La Folia, and the public response to that kept me believing that writing about these issues was important.

3. I read that you started writing this in prose and then switched to a novel in verse. What made you decide to make the switch and how far along in writing your story were you when you did this?

            Yes, I wrote the first draft in prose in 2008, nine years after writing “The Inside Ballerina”. After my then-critique group read and responded, my second draft came out in verse. It didn’t feel like a choice—it felt like the language and rhythm that my brain wanted on paper. I rewrote it in prose at the request of an extraordinary editor I consulted a couple of years later, which helped to put the story in a solid middle grade context. But I wasn’t happy with the prose. I tried hard to make it work, and respected the request, but it felt foreign to what my brain was hearing. Multiple revisions after that, I attended a workshop with another mentor. Before she began my 10-page critique, she asked, “Is there some reason you didn’t write this in verse? It just seems like it should be verse.” (Thank you, Claudia Mills!)

            That was a major turning point in my writing journey, and in Reeni’s Turn. I began to trust that the story needed to be in verse, but I also realized that the verse had to be more honest and accomplished than it was at the time. The decision to write it in verse felt ‘true’ to how I heard the story unfolding. I saw and felt snapshots of time and experience, of events and emotions. The heart of the story is full of intense emotions—joy, passion, longing, love as well as fear, anxiety, anger, and loss. I believed readers would need the white space, too, for rest, comfort, breaks between the emotion—just as I did.

4. That's great that you realized that you needed to write your story in verse and made the switch. What were some of the challenges you faced in writing Reeni’s story in verse? What advice do you have for other writers who want to write a story in verse vs. prose?

            The most significant craft challenges were creating emotionally authentic experiences in honest verse, and organizing the verse into a coherent, organic story flow. The dialogue, and Reeni’s “loud, huge voice” are not strictly verse.

            The other challenges were opportunities to sign with agents I admired and respected who asked me to write it in prose so it would sell more easily. I passed on them with regret, but with commitment to my manuscript.

            In terms of advice, I think the first piece would be similar to advice for any other form: read, read, read. There are many exquisite and diverse novels in verse. Learn the history of the genre by reading older novels in verse, not just recent. Sylvia Vardell has yearly lists; Sarah Tregay has lists divided by age group. Libraries can find and reserve for you. Learn what you like, what you don’t, what feels like poetry to you, and what may not.

            Practice. Experiment. Write a draft in prose to flesh out the plot. Even within a verse framework, experiment with free vs. formal poetry vs. poetic prose. Every story is not meant to be verse.

            Tell yourself the truth about why your work must be in verse—is it the topic? the lyrical quality of the story? the need for white space, broken lines, form? What would be different if it was in prose? And would that detract from the story, or add to it?

            I’ve been experimenting lately with different poetic forms, and am learning how each one is differently linked to storytelling. I’m currently in love with trimerics. They have a little narrative arc all their own.

            My best advice? Not everything wants to be a poem, and not everything is a poem. But what feels like it must be a poem, can become one. Be true to your story. Be true to yourself. And be true to poetry.

5. You deal with a lot of hard topics in Reeni’s Turn, like body image, dieting, and being shy, that many girls deal with. How did you incorporate these themes in your story without become preachy? How did your work with women and girls dealing with these issues help you craft your story?

            This is actually the simplest answer for the most complex part of the writing. It began with a fair amount of telling. My work as a therapist had clarified a pattern I knew I wanted to show in the book—the impact of the diet culture on young tweens, often children who’d been perfectly comfortable with their bodies, food, and themselves before puberty began. I wanted a story that could address this underrepresented issue in young middle grade work, and also address some of the stereotypes around fat characters. I wanted a shy, introverted, somewhat anxious character who at the same time longed to be in the spotlight. And I wanted to demonstrate the quiet strengths of introverts and the sometimes complicated journey to maintain emotional resilience.

            I worked hard, and then even harder. I needed to get to know my character over and over. I did many revisions, small and massive, changing the story, the characters, the events. I removed the antagonist to make the diet culture the appositional force. I delved deeply into memory and emotion and experience to show and not tell about the experiences Reeni went through. Ultimately, when I gently pushed myself to get to know my character in a much deeper way, she moved the story forward.

6. You were able to get some scholarships, awards, a Ragdale Writer’s Residency, and an Illinois Arts Council Grant over the years that you worked on revising your story. Share a bit about how they helped you in your writing journey.

            I would hate to have anyone think that without these things, we cannot write the book of our dreams. I don’t believe that. There was no question in my mind that my mission to write Reeni’s Turn was independent from these events and awards.

            However…these opportunities did provide unique help, support, and definite turning points. Most added meaning and joy to my writing life. The Highlights Novel in Verse workshop in 2013 with Sonya Sones, Virginia Euwer Wolff, and Linda Oatman High exposed me to a community of extraordinary teachers and fellow poets, where I learned how much work I had yet to do and the standards I wanted to meet. Being a Finalist in the Katherine Paterson Award steered me to an experience with an agent that turned out to be a painful and disappointing detour, but one that taught me to trust myself as a writer and business woman. The Honorable Mention in the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award provided honest and extremely helpful critique relating to the Jewish content in the book, and the 2018 Illinois Arts Council Grant allowed me to attend Esther Hershenhorn’s Vermont Manuscript Workshop, where we thought through many aspects of the marketing of Reeni’s Turn. And I just received a 2020 IACA grant to allow me to create a short video for my website!  

            What is significant, I believe, is that each of these experiences came because I looked for and attended to potential opportunities, and still do. There’s a part of me that says, This may not work, but then I respond, Now I’m going to do whatever I can to keep that from happening. I win some, I lose some, and I know that when I give it a go, the rest is out of my control. 

 7. What was your road to publication like?

            Challenging, joyful, filled with ups and downs, and meaningful. I wrote my first story in 1999 and the story was accepted. “Wow. This is going to be easier than I thought,” I told myself. Nope. Not at all. I worked hard, wrote, revised, found critique partners, learned, failed, had some successes. My writing life, as with most writers and illustrators, has been a journey fueled by the passion to write and the joy and meaning of doing the work, and filled with obstacles, occasional successes, and a wonderful community of supportive, encouraging colleagues and friends.

            Reeni’s Turn went through a huge number of drafts, had a number of “close calls” and “Beautiful, but”s (“I love your writing, but…”). I received a lot of encouragement, my share of discouragement, lots of requests for adding or removing things that were or were not important to me (but I tried everything).

            The topic disturbed some people, and thrilled others. The Jewish content put some people off, and delighted others. I parted ways from the agent I worked with after the Katherine Paterson Finalist award, and returned to the simpler story I preferred. I created the book I wanted. I submitted to one last round of agents and at the same time, researched and identified a handful of small, traditional publishers that might be good matches for Reeni’s Turn. I had the book I wanted, felt I’d spent enough ‘waiting time’ over the years, and in early 2018 accepted an offer from a small, traditional literary press. I worked with my editor, who is also the publisher, did several more revisions, and added some crucial verses. It was time for Reeni to be out in the world.

           8. How have you been promoting your book given the pandemic? What advice do you have for other authors who will have a book release during these challenging times?

            I’m an introvert. But even introverts are all different. I didn’t look forward to the promotion aspect of the writing life, but I jumped in with high energy because I love my book. Some things I’m doing are easier, some are very hard.

            I had a broad and detailed plan that included many familiar, some new, and some uncomfortable activities. I listened to every promotion workshop and webinar I could in order to add to my list and confirm that most marketing workshops say the same things. I organized my plan, and began with the things I was most comfortable with—articles, my regular columns, and a dozen guest blog posts. All before or around the launch. And now I’m pitching more.

            I’d set up the launch with a favorite indie bookstore shortly after I received a contract in March, 2019. I had plenty of time to write the posts, articles, and columns, and I spent lots of time doing them. Before I knew it, the launch was near…so, lots of time spent on that. I was fine with the virtual launch. I’m an introvert who’s comfortable with presenting, as long as I’m secure in the material. In fact, more people attended than could ever have come to The Bookstall, who hosted it!

            I took a brief break after the launch to think about my next project, and now I’m on to the outreach to schools, libraries, book groups, podcasts, bookstores, conferences, and more. The pandemic has actually made these things a bit easier for me, because everything is via email. One thing I learned in one book launch workshop was that I didn’t have to do everything before the book launch.

            Social Media? No advice from me. I’m not great with it, although I post once a day, most of the time, on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I do my best. I’m better in person and through my writing.

            What I’ve learned that seems like good advice to me? Since my advice in my chronicles leans toward the psychological/emotional, here’s what I’d say:

 1.      Identify why you want to promote your book. What are your dreams and hopes? What are your objectives? Who is your imaginary reader and where will she find your book?

2.      Learn all you can about the “things to do”. There are tons of online resources, not only through SCBWI and other writing sites, but through business-related sites, as well. You’ll end up with a list of familiar items that overlap, and perhaps a new idea or two. Take into account your realistic budget. I wanted to do everything I could that didn’t cost anything,

but I had some funds set aside for posters, stickers, giveaway books, etc.

3.      Organize the promotion activities that have a straight line to your target audience and that are connected to your objectives. Identify the ones that are most likely to be the best for you/your book—those are your priorities.

a.       What things would be easiest for you to do or plan? Start with those.

b.      What things are a little more difficult, but your strengths make you capable of doing them? Do one at a time, so you can recover and/or enjoy the success.

c.       What things seem beyond your capacity but may be very important for your book?

                   Rev yourself up, practice if you need to, then go!          

9. Thanks for the tips. It's a great one to start with what you're most comfortable with. You also do school visits and workshops at schools. How are you connecting with schools and setting up these visits now?

            I am reaching out to schools on an individual basis. Whether or not I’ll succeed in setting up visits, I do not know—but it’s an effort worth the time (and small expense). I’ve done many workshops in schools as a pre-published author but this feels quite different. I am lucky to have two middle grade teachers as critique partners!

            I’m in the process of having curriculum guides developed for Reeni’s Turn, and I believe these will be useful in bringing Reeni into classrooms, if not me.

            I also offer no-cost virtual visits to underserved schools, and to schools connected to individuals (school social workers, librarians, teachers) who promote the book in certain ways. 

10. What are you working on now?

            I’m planning to write a first draft of a chapter book during November—which means I should almost be done by now!

            I have a poetry chapbook for adults I’m revising for submission.

            I have a couple of new drafts of picture books to send to my agent, whom I found during the pandemic through her interview at Literary Rambles!

            I continue to write and submit poetry for very young children.

            All this is always one thing at a time. When one piece is ready for a rest, I do something else. I love being busy with my writing life.

 Thank you for all the great questions, and the opportunity to be here!

 Thanks for sharing all your advice, Carol. You can find Carol at https://carolcovengrannick.com

Giveaway Details

Carol has generously offered a paperback of Reeni's Turn for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by December 5th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

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

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

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Wednesday, December 2nd  I have an interview with debut author Diana Pinguicha and a giveaway of her YA fantasy A Miracle of Roses and my IWSG post

Thursday, December 3rd I'm participating in the Winter Is Coming Giveaway Hop

Saturday, December 5th I'm participating in the December 2020 of Books Giveaway Hop

Monday, December 7th I have an agent spotlight interview with Maria Vincente and a query critique giveway

Monday, December 14th I have a guest post by debut author M.L. Tarpley about marketing and school visits during COVID-19 and a giveaway of her MG contemporary Malie and the Maize

Hope to see you on Tuesday, December 1st!



nashvillecats2 said...

A most wonderful interview Natalie and an equally wonderful giveaway.
Have a good week.


Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

Those are great book marketing tips! Thanks for sharing :-)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That book was a long time in the making.

Greg Pattridge said...

A long but successful journey to get this book published—one that is much needed in middle grade classrooms. Thanks for the insightful interview and for having it a part of today's MMGM celebration.

Yolanda Renée said...

Wonderful! As an introvert searching for way to get my book out there, this was very helpful. Good luck, Carol! As a girl who struggled with diet issues and body confidence, it's awesome to see it addressed!

Danielle H. said...

Thank you for today's post and interview. This book tackles issues I needed in middle school and will be well-received. I shared on tumblr: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/635594644207648768/debut-author-interview-carol-coven-grannick-and

Patricia T. said...

What an amazing 20-year journey! I love Carol's passion and inner muse that guides her. Ultimately she did know how her character wanted her story told -- in verse. What a fascinating interview.

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thanks to all—tried to comment on each of your responses, but Blogger wouldn't let me! I appreciate all your kind words!

Liz A. said...

This is a book I needed when I was that age. I'm sure many young girls will benefit from having read it.

Samantha Bryant said...

Great interview :-) You find the most interesting writers to talk to.

Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf said...

What an excellent interview! Reeni's Turn sounds like an important story, and I really appreciate Grannick's advice about how to decide if your story should be in verse (I've been trying to write as a hobby, and I can never decide that myself). I'll pass on the giveaway, but thanks for the great post!

Brigid Finucane said...

A wonderful interview of a thoughtful and inspiring author. I'm very much looking forward to reading Reeni's Turn.

ken ohl said...

Nice Interview this looks like something my little niece would enjoy a lot

Leela said...

I'm an email subscriber.

Jennifer said...

Thanks Natalie and Carol for this inspiring interview of perseverance!

Jenny Mattern said...

I can’t tell you how much I wish I’d had Carol’s book when I was 12. Reeni’s Turn sounds absolutely beautiful!

Cindy S said...

This was a great interview. Thanks for sharing all the marketing tips.

tetewa said...

I love hearing the stories of how authors publish their first reads! Enjoyed the interview, continued success to you!

miriam said...

This book sounds amazing! Thanks for sharing your writing journey and congratulations on your debut!

Rosi said...

I really have to read this book. It sounds terrific. Thanks for such an interesting interview. I follow you on Twitter.

Maria Antonia said...

Yes, interesting interview. It is so true that sometimes a book demands to be a certain way... like how this book needed to be written in verse! Haven't read the book, but it sounds interesting.

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Glad they're helpful!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

And quite a journey....!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thanks, Greg - glad to be here, and love doing virtual school visits!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thanks so much, Yolanda!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

I hope so, Liz! And actually, sold almost as many books to boys as girls from my first virtual school visit! it's an issue for all children.

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thank you for the kind words!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thanks for reading!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

I hope so! If she does, and would like a poster, email me and I'll send!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thank you, Jennifer!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thank you so much, Jenny! Me, too!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thank you - glad they were helpful!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thank you, Rose - would love to hear your response/review of the book when you've read it!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thank you, Tetewa!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thanks, Maria Antonia!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thank you, Miriam!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Fun interview. Sounds like a fun book.

DMS said...

Sounds like a great read and one that tackles important issues. A fun interview! Wishing Carol the best of luck. :)

Angie Quantrell said...

Wow, what a winding journey to publication! So glad you kept up with it, because this book sounds like a great read. Congratulations and best wishes!

Will share on Twitter. :)

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

A very interesting interview. Thank you. Congratulations on your book. Here's to many more.

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thanks, Weaver!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thank you, Jess!

Carol Coven Grannick said...

Thanks, Angie! I appreciate the Twitter share!

Melanie B said...

Sounds like a cute book, thanks for the chance! Shared on twitter: https://twitter.com/craftychicky58/status/1333860793469841409

Following you on your blog and twitter

Email: melanie_brac (at) yahoo (dot) com