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Guest Post: Agent Caryn Wiseman and Debut Author Merriam Sarcia Saunders and Trouble With a Tiny t and Query Critique Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have a guest post by debut author Merriam Sarcia Saunders and her agent Caryn Wiseman to celebrate Merriam’s contemporary MG Trouble With a Tiny t. It sounds like a great story about a boy who gets into trouble a lot and has ADHD. And there’s a touch of magic!

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Westin Hopper gets in trouble--a lot. At home, at school, at his grandparents' house. . . . His ADHD always seems to mess with his brain, making him do impulsive things. So when Westin finds a magic bag that makes his thoughts come alive, he thinks it's the ticket to fixing his life. Instead, his wandering brain strikes again, conjuring up a mini T. rex, an army of headless plastic men, and a six-inch Thor. Now they all live in his bedroom, eating lunchmeat, wreaking havoc, and growing. And Westin doesn't know how to make them go away. He enlists his fellow social outcast, Lenora, to help him make things right. Lenora helps Westin realize that his talent for drawing could be the key to solving his problems. If Westin can focus while drawing, maybe he can learn to control the magic and get rid of the creatures in his room. But he'd better learn quickly. Tiny T is growing--and fast.

Now here’s Merriam and Caryn!

Questions to Merriam

1.     What have you found most helpful about having an agent, outside of editorial help and contract negotiation?

Caryn is truly a partner. She’s my cheerleader. My mirror. And a good set of brakes. When I’m feeling
bent and broken from rejection, she manages to say something that inspires me to forge on. She isn’t

afraid to praise, and she isn’t afraid to tell me when I haven’t even come close to nailing what I’m trying to do. If I show her the beginnings of something new, she’ll encourage me to keep going or stop me before I waste too much time.  She is also my finger on the pulse of the market and what editors are looking for now. I feel super lucky to be represented by such a wise woman. Get it? Wiseman? (I’m hopelessly corny)

2.     You’re a licensed psychotherapist. How does that influence your writing?

Because of my clinical training, I love digging deep to the layer of magma that heats people’s

motivations, their wounds, their misunderstandings and mistakes. Characters naturally fascinate me—especially the fact that, as a writer, I can make them do what I want, wreak havoc for them, but then show a path to healing. I feel fortunate that I can weave mental health into stories in a way that can create empathy and correct misconceptions and also act as a mirror to normalize children’s experiences. It’s meaningful that, through writing, I can help a greater audience than only my client base.

What inspired you to write TROUBLE? How do you usually find inspiration?

I specialize in ADHD in children, and when I wrote TROUBLE, there were very few children’s titles that portrayed ADHD characters. I wanted to show a realistic boy with realistic ADHD traits—but because I love silly and magic, I wanted the story to be fun and accessible to all. In a writer’s workshop, the instructor had us pick three random objects and write a short story with them. I picked a silk bag, a turtle and a crocodile. My “what if” moment was: what if this bag were magic, and a boy with ADHD found it? The piece I wrote wound up as the book’s first chapter—a million revisions later.

3.     What is the most important writing craft or tool you’ve learned to use, e.g. sparkling dialogue, making sure to show instead of tell, etc.

Reading. Such a vague answer, I know, but I read not only craft books, but also a lot of fiction—looking for what I’ve learned in the craft books, highlighting, dog-earing, underlining. It’s one thing to read about showing, not telling or creating tension or objective correlatives, (I mean, what the heck is that?) but if you don’t see it applied, sometimes it’s hard (for me, anyway) to really get it, and then especially, use it in my own writing.

4.     Do you have a favorite moment or character in TROUBLE?

The main character, Westin, is an amalgamation of me, my brother, my kids and my husband so of course he is deep in my heart. But hands down my fave is Thor. 100% I had SO much fun writing this mythical six-inch Norse god who is totally full of himself and desperately in love with Westin’s best friend Lenora. He’s nothing like Marvel’s Thor—in fact I stayed clear of their movies because I didn’t want to be influenced. But he’s so fun and I hope he makes kids laugh.

5.     What is the one thing you would advise aspiring authors?

Read! And find critique partners. Join SCBWI and plug into your community. It’s a long road and a tough business, and it helps to have trusted eyes on your work and writer friends that understand what you’re going through.

Questions to Caryn 

  1. What was it about TROUBLE that made you offer representation?

I read TROUBLE in one sitting on a cross-country flight coming back from New York (remember those days?) and, first of all, I didn't fall asleep while reading on a plane!  I laughed, I ugly cried, and I just felt so strongly for the frustrations that Westin (the main character) faced.  I could picture him in my mind.  I was so emotionally invested in his struggles, and I rooted for him all the way.  Westin read like a real kid, not a mini-grown-up, and I knew that readers would love the tiny-T, Thor, the little army men, and all the fun playthings that come to life in the story.  I knew that there weren't a lot of honest portrayals of kids with ADHD in the marketplace, and I really felt that Merriam hit it out of the park.  I had some thoughts for revision in mind, but they were definitely doable.   I emailed Merriam immediately and offered representation.

  1. Can you walk us through a typical workday? What do you enjoy most about your job? 

There is no typical workday!  Every day is different and that's what I enjoy most about my job.  I'm in California, so I usually get up pretty early, check my email, and respond to anything pressing over breakfast.  I check social media and read the news and trade journals to see if anything's happening that I need to be aware of.  Then I plan out my day (rarely do I stick to the plan!) and try to get a little exercise in before really getting started.  My day might consist of any combination of the following: meetings with editors, an agency meeting, preparing submissions, following up on submissions, reviewing and negotiating contracts, talking to clients, putting out “fires,” doing mundane admin tasks, Slacking with my colleagues, and reading and editing manuscripts (although that usually gets relegated to nights and weekends).  If an offer comes in, all bets are off.  Then I get to make the best phone call in the world, and let a client know that their manuscript and/or art will be published! 

  1. In a submission, what is it that makes you want to request the full manuscript? The concept? The query? The pages?   

The pages!  It's all about the pages!  You can write the best query in the world, but if you don't grab me in your opening pages, I'm not going to continue reading.  By the same token, you can have a fantastic concept or a fantastic voice, or fantastic line-level writing, but if it doesn't all come together in a fantastic package, I don't want to read it.   And, there's far less leeway for a slow opening in children's books than in adult.  In adult fiction, I might be willing to slog through some gorgeous expository pages, but that’s not the case in children’s books.  The book needs to capture my heart right away and make me want to keep turning the pages.

  1. What is the one thing you wish aspiring authors knew about you, or literary agents in general.   

That I understand disappointment and rejection, too.  I only offer representation to creators whose work I am passionately in love with, and if they don’t come with me, it’s disappointing.  But, I always cheer when I see the book sell, and root for its success.  I know that my colleagues would agree.  By the same token, when we go out on submission with a project, it’s like sending your babies out into the world.  Sometimes they get bruised and battered before they find the right home.   So, we empathize with the ups and downs of the query/submissions process. 

  1. How do you decide which editors to submit to, and how do you get to know their changing tastes when there are so many?

That is a fantastic question.   I am so very lucky to work at such a collaborative agency with thirteen

other agents; we are all constantly in touch with editors.   We have a proprietary database that we update with information about new editors and changes to what editors are looking for.   I search that database, and triangulate it with Publishers Marketplace.  I also use my institutional knowledge of editors with whom I’ve been working for years.  I’m very careful not to fall into the trap of only working with a limited number of editors.  This past week, I just closed a deal with an editor who was one of the first editors I met many years ago when I was a brand new agent and she was a brand new editor; we had never worked together until now.  I also closed deals with two young editors with whom I’ve never worked before, and a deal with an editor with whom I’ve been working for quite some time.  It was a good week!  Finally, again, because our agency is so collaborative, I often ask my colleagues for their thoughts on who might be the best fit for a particular manuscript.  We all support each other this way, and it’s an invaluable resource.

6.     What are you looking for at the moment?

The most important work that I do is lifting the voices of creators who can help erase hate from our world.  So, at the moment, I am looking for the following: diverse illustrators and graphic novelists; untold Jewish and Muslim stories; layered YA romcom by and about non-white and/or queer creators; timeless, heartwarming middle-grade like THE VANDERBEEKERS; and MG and YA graphic or narrative nonfiction.   I am open to work that doesn’t fit into these categories, but I have a strong preference for work by creators whose voices have been traditionally underrepresented in publishing.

Thanks for sharing your advice Merriam and Caryn. You can find Merriam at:

ANovelMind.com Co-founder

 Giveaway Details

 Merriam has generously offered an ARC of Trouble With a Tiny t and Caryn has offered a query critique 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 March 27th. 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 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. 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. 

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Tomorrow, March 16th I’m participating in the Chasing Rainbows Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, March 17th I have an agent spotlight interview with Jennifer Herrington and a query critique giveaway

Monday, March 22nd I have an interview with debut author Christina Li and a giveaway of her MG contemporary Clues to the Universe

Wednesday, March 24th I have an interview with publisher Maria Dismondy of Cardinal Rule Press

Monday, March 29th I have an interview with debut author Jessica Olsen and a giveaway of her YA fantasy Sing Me Forgotten

Hope to see you tomorrow!






nashvillecats2 said...

Most interesting to read Natalie and a great review and interview.
Have a good week.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Caryn sounds really passionate about what she does. Merriam was lucky to find her.

Deborah Foster said...

I look forward to reading Trouble!

Greg Pattridge said...

ADHD is such a misunderstood condition. I'm glad to have choices in books with ADHD characters. This one sounds like a winner. Excellent interview with both Merriam and Caryn.

Danielle H. said...

I enjoyed getting to know the author and her background is amazing for this important book. I also learned more about an agent's job and role in an author's career. I would love to win an ARC of this book to read and review, but will pass on the critique. I follow on Twitter.

Computer Tutor said...

I enjoyed the interview. Good suggestions for authors--Read! And find critique partners.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Great interview!
I definitely want to read that book and recommend it to my tutoring students. It sounds wonderful!

Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf said...

This is a great interview! I enjoyed hearing from Saunders about this awesome-sounding book and from Wiseman about her experiences as an agent. I'll pass on both giveaways, but thanks for the great post!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'm sure being a psychotherapist would be so helpful with character development and motivation!

Joanne R. Fritz said...

Great post! I love Merriam's "what if?" moment in a writing class that led to the first chapter. I just finished reading this wonderful book yesterday! It's so much fun to read, but also filled with heartwarming, touching moments. The reader really begins to understand Westin's ADHD.

Please let someone else win the giveaways.

Aryn said...

This book sounds like a delightful way for ADHD kids to see themselves in the text.

Patricia T. said...

Haven't read a good MG novel in a while on ADHD -- perfect for my themed blog. Loved the interview with Saunders and Wiseman. Interesting relationship and perspectives. Excellent post.

Liz A. said...

It's great to have a book out there with a character with ADHD. It's so misunderstood, but it is also so prevalent.

Andi Michelson said...

Thank you for the great interview. I have long admired Ms. Wiseman and would be thrilled to win a query critique with her!

Jenni said...

TROUBLE sounds like such a great book. I work with a lot of kids with ADHD and this book sounds like it really rings true. I also like that it doesn't sound so much like an issue book, but a book a kid with ADHD would like. I also like that it appeals to boys, which is hard to find as well.
Please count me out of the critique giveaway, but I'd love to win a copy of this book!

ken ohl said...

this book looks intriguing

Liz Steinglass said...

Sounds like a great book and a great partnership.

Susan Johnston Taylor said...

I'm working on a middle-grade novel, so this is helpful!

Angie Quantrell said...

Great interview! I love hearing from both author and agent. This MG book featuring an ADHD boy sounds just right. Congratulations, Merriam!

angelecolline at yahoo dot com
I shared on Twitter as well, Natalie. Thanks for hosting so many great stories and people!

Eileen Mayo said...

What a great interview. It was so unique to hear from both the author and her agent!

Cynthia K said...

I always enjoy your interviews - thanks for sharing!

Shanah Salter said...

great interview, I have shared this on twitter and would love to be considered for a query critique.

Emily K said...

This sounds like a lovely read!

Laya said...

Such an informative and enjoyable interview! Thank you, Natalie, Caryn and Merriam! I look forward to reading TROUBLE.
lasword (at) rcn (dot) com.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this interview! I love happy success stories and Trouble sounds like a necessary story indeed. I once queried Caryn and she was so kind in her rejection while being so busy already. (lievedelint@gmail.com)

Judith L. Roth said...

Sounds like a wonderful book! I love that line of Caryn's about her most important work being lifting creators who erase hate from the world.

DMS said...

This sounds like a great book! I am so intrigued. The interview was interesting too. I love that the main character is a mix of so many people who are special to the author. I look forward to reading this one. Thanks for sharing. :)

DonnellySports said...

Awesome interview. Would love to win a query critique!


K Kumai said...

For some reason my last post didn’t appear so sorry if I’m posting this twice! Thanks so much for this! I would love to be considered for the query critique and just followed you on twitter. Thanks!

Andrea Carroll said...

This would be perfect for my middle schoolers... I know some could identify with the characters. I would love a copy of the book, but no need for the query critique at this time. (carrolla@sw1.k12.wy.us)

Jenelle Theis said...

Can't wait to read. I follow you on Twitter. :)

Jenelle Theis said...

Can’t wait to read. I follow you on Twitter and mentioned contest.

@melissa_trempe said...

Trouble with Tiny t sounds wonderful! Thank you for the interview and I'd love a query critique!

K.B. said...

It would be truly an honor to get a query critique from a specialist. Thank you for giving us such an opportunity!