Meet Patricia Nelson from Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

reposted from GLVWG conference blog

by Tammy Burke

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I want to thank you for taking time out for this interview. With your background in literature along with your experience in the publishing world our conferees are certainly getting a well-informed resource with you. It is my delight to welcome  you aboard to our 22nd annual GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference.

Patricia Nelson: Thanks so much for having me!

I was wondering, in your opinion, how much does talent play into good writing and how much is it a learned skill that anyone can pick up?

Patricia Nelson:  The myth of the solitary genius who sits down at his or her computer and writes the Great American Novel by sheer instinct is just that–a myth! But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to pick up the skills to write a publishable book. In my view, writing is like any other craft: a person develops their talent by putting in a whole lot of time. In this case, that means reading and writing as much as possible. Maybe (probably!) your first book won’t land you an agent or a book deal, but if you write another book, and another–reading widely and working with a critique group for the whole process–chances are good that eventually your skills will grow and you’ll be able to produce writing at a level that you couldn’t when you were starting out.

I know you probably get this question often but what was your inspiration to become an agent? Was it always something you wanted to do?

​Patricia Nelson:  I always knew that I wanted to work with books in some capacity. When I was in high school I imagined that I would be an editor. Instead, after college I ended up going to graduate school, and for a time pursued a career as an English professor. There were aspects of teaching college students that I loved: helping talented people develop their writing, championing creative thinking, and figuring out what individual students needed and giving them the support system to grow and take risks. But ultimately, after getting the chance to teach many amazing, life-changing books, I realized that I really wanted a career on the other side of the literary world, where I could have a role in helping great books get made. As soon as I discovered agenting, I knew it would be a perfect fit for me.

What would be your ideal working relationship with someone you’ve either signed on or would like to sign on? Could you give an example of what that person could expect from you and what your expectations would be.

Patricia Nelson:  I look for clients who are professional and dedicated to pursuing writing as a career – talented people who work hard and are persistent and goal-oriented. Because I want to partner with writers for the long-term, not just one book, I’m looking for people who have lots of ideas and who are in it for the long-haul as well. I aim to bring that same professionalism and commitment to my relationship with clients – I’m in frequent communication with them and work together with them at every step of the process, from revision, to submission and sale, to developing next projects, etc.

Do you have any pet peeves when someone is querying or pitching? On the other hand, do you have things that tend to impress?

Patricia Nelson:  I’m always impressed with a concise query that gives me a sense of character, plot and stakes in a few short paragraphs–and even better if you can infuse it with voice that makes me excited to dive into the sample pages! I’m also a big fan of queries that include comparisons to a few recent published books, which helps me know what kind of tone to expect and where you imagine yourself fitting in the current market.

On the flip side, my pet peeves include: comparing your book to runaway bestsellers like HARRY POTTER (to assume that kind of success reveals unrealistic expectations); saying your book “will make a great movie” (I’m more interested in it making a great book); genre categorizations that suggest a lack of basic understanding of the market, e.g. “I’ve written a realistic sci fi-fantasy young adult/middle grade romance novel with crossover appeal” (hard for me to know how I would pitch that project). I also have an acute and irrational hatred for the redundant phrase “fiction novel” (just say “novel”!)… but that one certainly wouldn’t be a big deal if I otherwise loved the sound of the story! 😉

More stories about different cultures and lifestyles, I believe, are important and beneficial to society on many levels — two of the top reasons being the opportunity for greater understanding and, well, more stories! I am curious though…what would you say makes for an exciting story in multicultural and  LGBTQ fiction? Would you say this fiction requires something more than only having a minority protagonist and/or other characters? 

Patricia Nelson: Great question! Part of what I’m looking for with any novel is specificity – characters that are so well-rounded and layered that they feel like real people. Well, real people are diverse, in all sorts of ways: gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, body type, family background, social class, etc. So I want to see that portrayed honestly and authentically in the books that I represent. When I say that I’m looking for diverse books, I mean that I’m actively looking for novels where a character’s “diverse” identity is a part of the story insofar as it shapes who they are as a person. But just like race or sexuality is only part of a person’s story in real life, I’m looking for that complexity in novels as well. I am explicitly looking for diverse characters who populate all kinds of unique and captivating plots in all genres that I represent.

What would you predict for this market in 2015 and what would you like to see?

Patricia Nelson: Every genre right now is a tough market–when you look on the shelf, keep in mind that every single book there got published because numerous people in the industry along the way loved it ​ and couldn’t imagine it not being out there in the world. With that in mind, when I’m reading queries and submissions I’m really just hoping to find books that bowl me over with how amazing they are. Books with fresh voices, unique premises, and complex characters making tough choices. Books that make me have to pause to collect myself because I’m crying, or laughing, or surprised, or curious, or even in awe of one perfect sentence. There will always be space in even the toughest market for those kinds of books, so that’s what I’m looking for.

I understand some of the other things you are looking for include upmarket women’s fiction, romance (contemporary, historical, and New Adult), and accessible literary fiction.  I was wondering… how would you explain the difference between literary fiction and accessible literary fiction?

Patricia Nelson:  By “accessible literary fiction” I mean novels that pair impressive writing and strong character development with a page-turning plot–books that are both masterworks of craft and the kind of stories I can’t put down. Think THE INTERESTINGS by Meg Wolitzer, THE MIDDLESTEINS by Jami Attenberg, or POSSESSION by A.S. Byatt: all beautifully-written books I read obsessively and then shoved into the hands of friends. I’m not the best person to represent literary fiction in which the writing is significantly more important than the plot–although I do think those kinds of books have an important place in the literary landscape!

And last question…If you were to share one of your favorite stories as a child, what would it be and why?  Is it still a favorite? And what do you like to read now if you get to read for pleasure only?

​Patricia Nelson:  Just one childhood favorite?! That’s tough. Can I cheat and pick both a middle grade and a YA? On the middle grade side, I read Judy Blume’s JUST AS LONG AS WE’RE TOGETHER so many times that my copy fell apart, and looking back, it has many traits that I still love in fiction for all ages: complicated friendships, nuanced family dynamics, lots of hijinks, and a relatable, emotionally honest story. When I was a little bit older, I got completely hooked on Tamora Pierce’s SONG OF THE LIONESS series, which is still very close to my heart: an amazing female protagonist, lots of adventure and romance, and a fantasy world you can just fall into in your mind.

As for what I read for pleasure now: all kinds of things! In addition to reading being generally my favorite thing, it’s also important for me to keep up with the current market in genres that I represent, so even much of my pleasure reading isn’t really just for pleasure. Honestly, my to-read stack regularly threatens to overtake my house.

I guess that was more than one.  Anyway, thank you again, Patricia!

Patricia Nelson:  Thank YOU for your thoughtful questions!

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Patricia Nelson is an agent at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. She started at Marsal Lyon in early 2014 as the assistant to Kevan Lyon, and has previously interned at The Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency and in the children’s division at Running Press. Patricia received her bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in 2008, and also holds a master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in Gender Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Before joining the world of publishing, she spent four years as a university-level instructor of literature and writing.

And my wish list:

I represent adult and young adult fiction, and am actively looking to build my list. On the adult side, I’m looking especially for upmarket women’s fiction, romance (contemporary, historical, and New Adult), and accessible literary fiction. I’m also looking for all genres of YA, including contemporary/realistic as well mystery/thriller, horror, magical realism, light science fiction and character-driven fantasy. I’m always interested in finding exciting multicultural and LGBTQ fiction, both YA and adult. In general, I love stories with complex characters that jump off the page and thoughtfully drawn, believable relationships.

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Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. As a journalist and also with helping with the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference she has interviewed a wide-range of literary agents, publishers, authors, state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Meet Katherine Ernst from Jasper Ridge press

reposted from the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference blog

by Tammy Burke
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Hi Katherine,
Welcome to the 22nd annual GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference!  I have to say, your background with psychology, law, travel (including being on four different continents), writing and publishing is quite an intriguing and eclectic combination. It is exciting that you will be joining us.

Jasper Ridge Press has quite a catchy unofficial motto “We don’t screw authors. We pimp them.” Could you tell us a little about how your company started? What makes you stand out from other publishers?

Katherine Ernst: Heidi Tretheway and I formed JRP in 2014 because we wanted to create the small publisher that we wished we could’ve found when we were starting out. We were hearing a lot of complaints from our friends about small presses who would take their work, slap a hastily put together cover on it, barely copy edit it (never mind developmental editing), and throw it up on Amazon with no promotion. But then we’d also hear complaints from other friends with Big 5 deals that they didn’t really feel cared about and they felt like just another cog in a machine. This isn’t to impugn all other publishers, but the fact is, we saw a void in romance publishing and we sought to fill it. We wanted to form a house that would only take projects we were truly excited about and that we would put a promotional budget behind. We see publishing as a partnership between author and publisher and therefore feel that we should put as much care and effort into publishing your book as you put into writing it. Otherwise, what are we doing to deserve royalties? Because of that vision, we also decided on a 50-50 royalty split. If this were truly a partnership, then that split is only fair. (Many small presses take 80% or more.)

Your ‘Skip to the Good Part: 20 Authors Reveal Their Steamiest Scenes’ is such a fantastic idea…for readers and writers alike. Could you share a little bit about this project? How it came about? Where do you see it going?  What do YOU like best about it?

Katherine Ernst: This project is actually what launched our publishing company. Heidi came up with the idea over a year ago, and we immediately knew we had to organize the project, but it took until the end of 2014 until we actually did it. I immediately loved the title and saw the potential because it’s truly a win-win-win for us, the authors, and readers. Basically authors submit 2k-5k word steamy scenes from their previously published books and if they are selected, their piece is featured in one of our collections. (The first came out in November and the forth collection comes out in March.) We pay royalties to each author in the collection and so we’re basically paying authors to promote their books. As with all of our books, each collection has its own publishing budget. Many of the authors from the first collection have already talked about a bump in sales of their full length novels because of readers of the collection reading their scene, loving it, and then buying the full novel. After the March collection comes out we’re taking a hiatus on the project in order to focus on full-length submissions, but I’m so happy we did these collections. They are *a lot* of work in terms of coordination because there are 20 authors in each collection, but we’ve gotten to know the work of so many great authors through it. Each collection features 6 New York Times bestselling authors as well as a handful of USA Today bestsellers and newer up and coming authors. We were absolutely blown away by the talent that wanted to take part in this project.

Okay, so out of curiosity…any thoughts on the dreaded euphemism during sex scenes?

Katherine Ernst:  Honestly, I don’t think it’s much of an issue anymore. One of the best things about doing Skip to the Good Part is that I’ve now read *a lot* of steamy scenes. For every scene we published (80 in total by the end of March) we rejected approximately an equal number, so you can see that that’s a lot of reading. I think there was maybe one where the author used euphemisms (as in, love rod, or quivering staff, or whatever you think of with old-school romance). It’s just not really done anymore. Half of our submissions were from books the author considered “erotica” and half were from books the author considered “romance.” I didn’t see a difference in the heat level between the two, and everyone, for the most part, was very clear in what they were describing.

If you were to give an aspiring romance writer advice, what would it be? Would the advice be different than for an aspiring non-romance writer?

Katherine Ernst:  It would definitely be different. I think the publishing world of romance is very different from the publishing world of other genres/categories and I think what you need to do to write a great romance novel is different from what you need to do to write a great book in other genres/categories. I literally could write an entire book devoted to this question (perhaps I will one day), but the best encapsulated advice I could give that would actually apply to all genres is: keep writing. I know you hear that all the time, but I am friends with many many bestselling authors. Some are self-published, some are with small presses, some are with a Big 5 publisher, many are hybrids, but the thing that unites them all is persistence. I have one friend who got a huge advance from a Big 5 publisher for the first novel she ever wrote. (Everyone’s dream, right?) It bombed. Terribly. Her hope of selling another book in New York became slim to none. But she didn’t give up. She started self publishing. She tried a couple different genres and categories. She tried different promotional strategies, but she had book after book that didn’t sell well. Eventually, after her 5th or 6th book, she finally had one that hit it big, and she’s now a New York Times bestseller. I have another friend who queried agents for 8-10 years. Wrote at least half a dozen books. Nothing. Until she finally sold her “debut” novel, and it hit it big and is now being made into a movie. I knew both of these people while they were still unpublished so I saw their persistence firsthand when they were in no way assured of success. And these are just two stories of many I could share. The vast majority of authors struggle for a long time before they “make it.” Even those with heaps of talent. So just stick with it. If you don’t like writing without the knowledge of reward, you’re in the wrong business.

Okay, contemporary romance is what you are looking but you could consider paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction for the right manuscript or author. Anything within this parameter that you’d like to see? Anything you definitely would not be interested in?

Katherine Ernst:  We’ll definitely consider any type of steamy romance, although paranormal et al. is definitely harder to sell than contemporary right now. But, if your book is fantastic, we want to publish it. The most important thing is: is the relationship front and center? Is your novel truly a romance novel or is it a fantasy novel with romantic elements? If it’s the former, we’re interested. If it’s the latter, then we’re not the best publisher for you. This goes for contemporary as well.

So… how would you describe (maybe an example or two) what makes a hero swoon-worthy?

Katherine Ernst:  To a certain extent this question is unanswerable because there are always going to be love interests who don’t fit an established trope but who still make your heart go pitter patter, but let me mention an element that always makes a hero compelling to the reader. There has to be sufficient push-pull between him and the heroine. What does that mean? Well, all successful stories involve tension. If your book is about two people falling in love, what is the tension there? It’s about whether they’ll get together, right? (There are a few other types of love stories, but they’re rarer, so let’s stick with this for now.) If they get together at the beginning of the book and then go on picnics and horseback rides for the rest of the story, that wouldn’t be very interesting, would it? So there has to be either an external or internal conflict that’s keeping them apart. Well, now it sounds like I’m just talking about the mechanics of plotting, but this is also what makes the hero swoon-worthy. Every woman is reading a romance novel because she wants to escape into a fantasy. At the beginning of the book, the girl and guy aren’t together. The hero keeps pushing the heroine away. This is necessary for tension in your story, but if done properly then it also makes the hero very attractive. How many jerks in your life seemed to like you one minute, but then pushed you away the next? It was infuriating, but you still were very attracted to him. In real life the guy probably had mommy issues and wasn’t worth your time, but in a great romance novel it turns out that the hero keeps pushing you away because…he’s a CIA operative and is trying to keep you safe! Or, he has deep-seated issues stemming from a tragic childhood that he wants to protect you from, but because of your love, he’s willing to overcome them! Or, he’s a vampire and he can’t get too close because then he might eat you! It’s what every woman’s ever wanted. The guy isn’t “not that into you”–he has a valid reason why he’s pushing you away. And actually, it’s a noble reason. He was trying to protect you all along. Swoon.

On personal note…Favorite Socrates quote?  And which continents are you missing?

Katherine Ernst: I know this is trite, but honestly my favorite Socrates quote will always be “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” I went through a phase in college where I became obsessed with ancient Greek philosophers, and Socrates was always my favorite. Of course I think I know a lot of things. (If I thought I was wrong about my beliefs, then I would change them, wouldn’t I?) But humility in life takes you a long way.

As to continents, I haven’t been to South America, Antarctica or Australia. I’d love to go to Australia next, but who ever gets off enough time to make that trek?

Thank you again, Katherine, for taking time out for this interview and I look forward to meeting you in person.

Katherine Ernst:  Ditto with you. These were great questions that forced me to say more than I intended, but I really wanted to give your readers real, non-trite answers. Cheers!
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Katherine Ernst is a successful attorney who has worked on billion-dollar cases. Five years ago she gave up the full-time practice of the law to pursue her real passion: publishing. More recently, along with her business partner Heidi Joy Tretheway, she has founded the romance publishing house Jasper Ridge Press. Their first series of books, Skip to the Good Part: 20 Authors Reveal their Steamiest Scenes, have featured over 30 New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors and have produced strong sales. In her spare time she is actively involved in her local community and was recently elected committeewoman in her district. For fun, she loves board games of all types, playing pub trivia, and travelingundefinedher goal is to make it to every continent; as of now, she’s visited four.

Jasper Ridge Press only publishes steamy or erotic romance, so first and foremost I’m looking for that. I am actively looking to acquire contemporary romance, but for the right manuscript and/or author I’d be willing to consider paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction. I’m also very LGBTQ friendly-I’d especially love a great F/F story. Here’s where editors usually tell you that they’re looking for perfect mechanics, a strong voice, and brilliant plotting. Well, of course I’m looking for that, but that doesn’t tell you a whole lot, does it? Here’s the secret to submission success that every writer is looking for (the following is assuming M/F romance, but the advice applies equally to M/M and F/F): I am looking for a hero that makes me swoon. Bestselling romances have one thing in common: they feature heroes that make readers’ hearts go pitter-patter. Everything else in your manuscript is window dressing. If I want to climb into your book and wrap my arms around your hero, you’re getting a contract even if your mechanics could use some work. Conversely, you could have the most beautiful writing in the world, but I won’t be able to offer you a contract if the romance isn’t sizzling. It’s as simple and difficult as that.

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Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. As a journalist and also with helping with the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference she has interviewed a wide-range of literary agents, publishers, authors, state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Anyone ever dream with a narrator aboard?

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I had a dream this morning with what I can only describe as a master storyteller on board.

The dream opened with him telling a story…like a narrator would and it was a cute little fairytale-ish sort of tale — one I could see Pixar or Dreamworks doing about a spoiled human girl and a cursed fairy boy who’s been banished to the human world. I wish all the details weren’t slipping away but suffice to say they were thrown together…hating each other at first but along the way they started working together to fix their mutual problems.

During the story beats (rises and falls) the master storyteller would “lean in” and whisper about the technique, how things fell together organically and how someone else could do “this or that.” He asked me questions such as what would feel contrived and other things to see what I knew and then…we’d be at the next scene. He would narrate again if the scene’s beginning warranted it.

The story characters were wonderful — full of troubles and idiosyncrasies, weaknesses and strengths. Their conversation felt edgy and truthful. One, because they weren’t looking to impress but then…

They fell in love. And some horrible thing was happening to destroy, I’m assuming the fairy world, because they were being attacked and they were now in Fairy. A land where truth is sacred but creative truth telling is rampant. This means subtext is in the foreground.

I wish I remembered more about this but next I remember came this…

I saw how a clue, a tiny innocuous piece from the enemy’s construction got swooped up by the bird the girl was riding. The bird knew it was important but not the girl. Unfortunately, the item was lost when they veered in the sky to grab one of the cursed fairy’s people who was falling (I don’t remember how he got there… But at the time it made sense) and the bird spit out the piece to catch him.

The fairy was slipping–hanging upside down with his arms wrapped around the bird’s neck. They almost lost him before they made an emergency landing in a tree. But that piece they lost? It was found wedged almost out of sight within the tree’s canopy. The fairy spotted it, realized what it was and all of them decided what they would need to do.

The Master Storyteller leaned in again. “It isn’t enough to simply have the protagonist find a clue. They may be clueless and have to find that which unlocks the clue.”

The story evolved to where the fairy boy lost the feelings he felt for the girl. Human emotions and fairies mix strangely and it wasn’t that he fell out of love. He wanted those feelings back but they were lost to him.

The next part I remember … the girl, no longer spoiled, is ready to pass back into the human world. She is resolved to heal somehow from knowing such a true intense love. Her heart is breaking and she’s trying to be stoic. She said goodbye to him inside his tree home. They are not alone. His servant is there.

The fairy boy may not love her anymore but he is compelled to ease her suffering. He has found a way to get back his feelings but it can’t be just his…it will be both of theirs (just like the girl is doing at that moment).

He said “it’s better that way.”

The servant said, “I do not understand how you can say that. Your life is eternal and hers is fleeting. She will heal of it being human.”

The fairy boy said, “If I must live a life forever and never love, I want to know I did have love once and it was real.”

The whole thing was making me cry.

The Master Storyteller told me to wake up and to write this down… Which I’m doing now but I had continued dreaming. I was now inside an old medieval German house with a small library.

Someone was pounding at the door. I answered it only to find a skeezy little man who said he needed to ask me a lot of questions.

“Can you come back in half an hour? I need to write some stuff down,” I said.

Nope. He argued with me while I tried to keep the memories of my previous dream from dissolving into mist.

He barged in and said, “I’ll wait.”

I look for something to write on but all the notebooks in the house were full.

I finally picked up a book. Though I shouldn’t…I figured I could, at least, write quick shorthand notes in a blank page and transfer them over when I found a better place to put them.

I felt electricity go through my arm as soon as the pen was on page. I wrote. I had to.

The skeezy little man screeched. He had a book in his hands, one he had grabbed from one of the top shelves. It was an old book totally written in German.

New letters were forming inside his volume as if the books were linked.

Pandemonium broke out. Lights. Explosions. Villagers flooding in screaming about witchcraft.

The last I know I was desperately trying to hold onto the pieces I wanted to save from my dream.

Anyway I woke up…I reached for my iPhone where I usually put dream notes or notes on the fly only to discover I left it downstairs. I never leave it downstairs.

Despair, the house is awake.

I snuck down, retrieved the phone before the family noticed and barricade myself in the bathroom. And yes, you guessed it. I typed furiously to save as much of it as I could.

Interesting dream but I can’t help feeling like I had been plunged into battle to save…story ideas and writing tips. Alas, there had been more. So aggravating and sad but I’m hoping my subconscious will let it seep back.

Meet Claire Anderson-Wheeler, literary agent from Regal Hoffmann & Associates

reposted from the GLVWG “Write Stuff” blog

by Tammy Burke

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Hi Claire,

It is with great delight that we welcome you to this year’s GLVWG’s “Write Stuff” conference. I must admit I love the term European Amerophile from your bio on Regal Literary Inc.’s webpage. What a well-rounded perspective that must give you having experience in “both camps” (Europe and North America).

I know you probably get this question often but what drew you to law first? When did you realize creative writing and becoming an agent was what you really wanted to do?  

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  Interestingly, I think a lot of lawyer’s or legally-trained folk migrate to publishing. There are some strong shared affinities: a love of words – of their persuasive and descriptive power – and an interest in abstract ideas and problems. Also, often, a dimension of social engagement: even though the day-to-day can be quite solitary, stories are about wider society and so is law. Both are a way of engaging in a kind of dialogue, and an attempt to make that dialogue relevant. But ultimately, to me, law began to feel a bit too much of a straitjacket. In law, you have to hold back quite a lot of your personality or individuality. You have to be quite dry. Books are all about individuality.

Instead of asking you what your favorite book is I thought I’d ask if you’d share an example or two of stories which you feel changed how you saw the world.   

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  I think the stories that really change your sense of the world are the stories you read as a kid. It’s amazing the windows they open. For me, I’d pick out The BFG. It was quite a philosophical journey for a 7- or 8-year old. I realised I’d never really thought about sleep before, or dreams; I’d never thought that much about how miraculous our minds were that way. I’d never thought about what it might mean to be an outcast in quite the way Roald Dahl presents it here. I’d never thought about humans as being a “bad” race: this wonderful giant does a great job of pointing out just how dangerous and far from innocent humanity can be. Heady stuff!

I have been reading more middle-grade having a second grader in my house. I was wondering what you see and/or hope to see for this genre in 2015? Also, with the increased savviness in today’s kids…any topics come to mind that might be too close to the edge? 

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  I don’t tend to have very specific desiderata – it’s more a question of knowing it when I see it. But I do love books with “issues” – we tend to get them more at the older end of the children’s spectrum but there can be such marvellous issue-oriented books for the MG demographic too. And a good fantasy adventure never goes amiss. I’d quite like to see some more “sibling” adventures; I feel like a lot of the MG submissions I get have just one solitary nine year old at the heart of them, but I think that’s an age where the presence of siblings can be really important. As for “too close to the edge” – no, not really. Not much is off limits these days, if it’s sensitively handled, with a level of sophistication that’s right for the reader. For example, a MG book where an older sibling or parent is transgender – I think that could be very interesting, but it couldn’t be treated in quite the same way as it would for the older YA audience.

If an author with an ideal project sat down with you for a pitch, what could he or she say or do that would favorably grab your attention? On the other hand, what would be a big no-no?

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  They’d be able to present their book succinctly, not “selling” it but “analysing” it, with a focus on what’s distinctive about it. They won’t recite to me a learned-by-rote “blurb” (In a galaxy far away, intrepid orphan Alex gets the surprise of his life when… etc)

Do you find there is a difference in European and North American readership? If yes, do you see that changing?

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  Not enormously. A lot of the big hits translate. I think in contemporary, realistic YA/MG, and in adult literary fiction, there tends to be less in common because these areas can have a more culturally specific focus (for example, they might tackle socio-economic issues (race, minorities, poverty, class) in a way that is more reflective of a particular culture. Also in general, I would say Americans are more attached to the idea of learning something from their fiction (learning about a historical conflict in a foreign country, for example). Europe is not necessarily so pushed about that. I don’t see those differences eroding much further. Cultures have different hot buttons and that’s natural.

What would you say is most important element in telling a compelling story that crosses over genre lines?

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  I’m not sure if it can be reduced to a single element! Ambition, perhaps. If you’re talking about crossing genre lines then you’re looking at something quite high-concept, but tackled in a really thorough, really thoughtful way, so that it’s telling us a story but also telling us about our world: not neglecting theme for plot.

And finally, what advice would you give to writers who are looking to get published?

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  READ. Read published authors (recently published authors: it’s no good if all you read is Dickens or Twain); read your peers’ work so you can practice breaking down works in progress and analysing why they do and don’t work; and finally, read your own work. Out loud if possible. We get into habits of perspective. Re-reading helps combat that, and allows you to keep fresh.

Thank you again, Claire, for taking the time out for this interview. On a personal note, I’m hoping I get an opportunity to ask you about the Old Library and the Book of Kells at your old alma mater Trinity College in Dublin. That has to be an amazing sight!

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  You’re welcome! And I hope you do.

———-

Claire Anderson-Wheeler is a literary agent with Regal Hoffmann & Associates, a New York-based full-service literary agency founded in 2002. Regal Hoffmann & Associates works with a wide range of authors in different genres, representing the likes of fiction writers such as Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveller’s Wife) and Daniel Wallace (Big Fish) and non-fiction writers such as Carl Hoffman (Savage Harvest) and James Reston Jr. (Defenders of the Faith) as well as middle grade and young adult. Claire represents writers across a broad range of fiction and non-fiction genres. Recent sales include the forthcoming debuts Mindstormer by AJ Steiger (Knopf), Cold Feet by Amy FitzHenry (Berkley) and To Feel Again the Kind of Love That Hurts Something Terrible by Patrick Dacey (Holt). Claire is Irish, was born in DC, and grew up in Dublin, Brussels and Geneva.

At the moment I’m particularly looking for narrative non-fiction by writers with a strong platform (biography, memoir, or general non-fiction that puts an expert’s slant on an aspect of everyday life – think Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together). I’m also particularly keen to find some challenging middle-grade fiction. In general, I’m always interested in fresh voices that tell ambitious stories, be it in non-fiction or fiction (literary, commercial, children’s). I like to see historical fiction that leverages an unfamiliar perspective on a familiar historical character or place (Think Girl With A Pearl Earring). I’m open to science fiction and fantasy, though more of the urban than the epic kind. I am not currently looking at: romance or erotica; picture books; prescriptive non-fiction (how to); screenplays or poetry.

———-

Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. As a journalist and also with helping with the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference she has interviewed a wide-range of literary agents, publishers, authors, state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Meet Cassie Hanjian from Waxman Leavell Literary Agency!

[reposted from GLVWG’s conference blog]

by Tammy Burke

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Hi Cassie,

I am so glad that you will be joining us for our 22nd annual “Write Stuff” conference. Your background — as an international literary scout, managing author rights, previous author support, and now an agent — I’m sure has given you exceptional skills in knowing what’s a good fit in the publishing world in addition to having the expertise to help an author grow. Welcome!

So the first question I would like to ask is on your bio on Waxman Leavell Literary Agency’s website you say that you “look forward to creating partnerships that prioritize building identifiable author brands.” Could you share a tidbit on some branding ideas? Also, what would be your dream manuscript and how would you describe the ideal author?

Cassie Hanjian:  For author branding, the most important thing to think about is your audience. How does your audience see you, and how easily will your audience be able to identify you in the future? I don’t have any one “dream” manuscript — although I’m currently looking for historical fiction similar to Sarah’s Key set in a period before WWII. Outside of specific plot elements, I’m looking for a good handle on plot and pacing, writing that doesn’t need to be heavily edited, and a style that is accessible to even the casual reader. To me, the ideal author is one that is not only supremely talented; they also have to be open to constructive criticism, able and willing to do a lot of leg work to market and publicize their book, respectful, and professional.

Could you share any pet peeves or significant ‘no-no’s’ when it comes to sending out a query or giving a pitch? Does it make a difference if it is for fiction or nonfiction?

Cassie Hanjian:  For both fiction and nonfiction queries, writers should take care to proofread and pay special attention to the spelling of the agent’s name and the name of the agency. Spelling my name or that of my agency incorrectly signals either apathy or a lack of attention to detail — qualities I’m definitely not looking for in an aspiring author. I view the query letter as a representation of what I’ll find in the manuscript; if there are lots of spelling/grammar errors, or if the letter is unfocused, I can only assume I’ll find more of the same in the actual sample. It’s also important to remember to succinctly describe the central idea of the book in the pitch — I need to have a clear idea of what I’m going to read before I actually take the time to do so.

Out of curiosity, when did you decide that you wanted to be involved in the publishing world? Was there a specific inspiration?

Cassie Hanjian:  (Laughs.) I decided I wanted to pursue a career in publishing when I was sixteen years old. I had an English teacher who had just moved to the area; her husband’s job forced them to relocate. She had previously worked at Houghton Mifflin as an editor in their educational division. I was an avid reader from a very young age, and when I heard that you could actually work with books for a living, I was sold. From that point on, I never thought about doing anything else.

One of the genres you represent is New Adult which seems to be trending in the publishing world. I am sure you counter misconceptions about what it is and what it is not. How do you explain the differences?

Cassie Hanjian:  Yes, there are quite a few misconceptions out there about New Adult, which I think, in large part, is due to the fact that the publishing industry has yet to come up with a standardized definition. Many people have stuck the New Adult label on a variety of things: YA Crossover, erotic romance, etc. When I try to succinctly explain New Adult, I usually compare it to YA: YA is about discovering who you are; NA is about discovering your place in the world.

What’s your take about romance in upmarket women’s fiction…necessary, nice or not needed? What do you see happening for 2015 in women’s fiction and what really grabs you?

Cassie Hanjian:  Romance is not a requisite in upmarket women’s fiction — or even commercial women’s fiction for that matter. Women’s fiction covers a wide range of issues and topics; sometimes a romantic element is integral to the story’s telling, and sometimes it’s not. Because the women’s fiction world is so varied, it’s hard to predict any one thing that will rise to the top this year, but I’m looking for family sagas with an element of mystery or suspense and emotionally wrought narratives about traumatic events or difficult life decisions.

Being a history buff and seeing you represent historical fiction I can’t resist asking…do you have a favorite time period?

Cassie Hanjian:  I love historical fiction set between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment — there is so much natural human drama in those centuries, that these stories naturally lend themselves to intricate and imaginative plots. If I had to pick one period in particular, I’d have to go with the Elizabethan period.

Anything you are definitely not looking for?

Cassie Hanjian:  I don’t represent children’s fiction or speculative fiction of any sort.

And last question…if you could give three ‘words of wisdom’ for our attendees, what comes to mind?

Cassie Hanjian:  Can I have five words? Start with an elevator pitch. Boiling your book down to one succinct sentence to start, whether in a query letter or during an in-person pitch, is often more effective than trying to explain all the intricacies of your plot, concept or thesis when you have limited space or time.

Thank you so much for taking the time out and we look forward to seeing you soon!

—————–
Cassie Hanjian
Prior to joining Waxman Leavell as an agent, Cassie held positions at the Park Literary Group, where she specialized in author support and foreign rights, and at Aram Fox, Inc. as an international literary scout for publishers based outside the United States. She holds a B.A. in English/Creative Writing from the University of South Florida, a Graduate Certificate in Publishing from the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute and an M.S. in Publishing from Pace University. Follow her on Twitter: @cjhanjian

Areas of interest/representation: New Adult, commercial and upmarket women’s fiction, historical fiction, psychological suspense, cozy mystery, contemporary romance, parenting, mind/body/spirit, inspirational memoir, narrative nonfiction focusing on food-related topics and cookbooks.
—————–
Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. As a journalist and also with helping with the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference she has interviewed a wide-range of literary agents, publishers, authors, state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Forthcoming Agent Interviews

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Just an fyi…

As some of you know, I am a member of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group (2011 Conference Chair and Ex Officio). Their conference GLVWG’s “Write Stuff” as far as I’m concerned is one of the best writer’s conferences out there and it’s in its 22nd year.

Last year I had the opportunity to interview the entire conference faculty (presenters, editors and agents). Yes, lots of work but very rewarding. Those interviews are still on this blog around the January-March 2014 time. This year I will be doing more interviews as well (not all of them though) plus share any good tidbits I learn along the way.

Click Here for more information about the conference but I’m also sharing some of its highlights.

  • If you are wondering, the keynote this year is Kristen Lamb,author of the new best-selling book, “Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World” along with #1 best-selling books “We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media” and “Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer.”
  • Conference runs March 26 -28, 2015.
  • There is a Thursday all-day workshop with Kristen Lamb, a Thursday evening Writer’s Cafe, plus additional Friday morning workshops.
  • Then Friday evening is one of the best!! The welcome reception is a great way to mingle with other attendees, volunteers and the conference faculty.
  • As for the rest of conference…it’s full of opportunity. Check it out:
    • 22 interactive sessions with industry leading authors, editors and agents
    • Continental breakfast, lunch, morning and afternoon snacks
    • Page Cuts critique on Friday evening  (Limited attendance, register early)
    • Pitch Practice sessions Friday evening.
    • Agent/editor pitch sessions on Saturday (Limited sessions, register early)
    • Lunch and Keynote Speaker Kristen Lamb: Boy Am I Glad I Didn’t Get a Real Job
    • Friday evening welcome reception with hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, and networking
    • Flash Fiction writing contest with prizes
    • Book fair
  • Stay tuned for more and Happy Writing!

Diary of a Would-be Novelist

(Caution – New Year’s Resolution in progress)

This is the year I WILL get my YA project finished. AND I believe I have more excuses than most of why it isn’t finished yet (though I have learned lots through the process). So this is the year I am walking the talk complete with game plan, obstacles, Plan b’s (c’s, d’s) and all that.

If you have found yourself in a similar situation OR if you are a fountain of advice OR any combination of the two, or none of the above, please feel free to click on “Blowing Up Excuses. Chime in too…whether it’s to uplift, commiserate, share your experiences and/or projects, give advice or point and laugh, the tab is open.

Happy Writing!

[REPOST] 15 Alternative Steps to Better Writing by Philip Overby

One of the interesting things I’ve found online. This is a great tongue-in-cheek piece on writing. Gives you a nice kick-in-the-pants if you’re waffling…

Since this isn’t my article, if you have a comment please visit the below link and let him know what you think.

15 Alternative Steps to Better Writing

Writing_starOften writing advice comes at a price. You don’t always know what works and what doesn’t unless you actually put it into practice and get results.

I’m here to say that every situation is different. So understand that as a writer, it’s up to you to find out what works.

Below, I’ve presented 15 alternative ways to approach your writing. Despite many of them going against what other professionals may preach, I think you’ll find some wisdom in each step.

1. Always write when you feel like it.

Many writers may suggest that “writer’s write.” Well, anyone who writes anything can be a writer then. Why torture yourself everyday by not putting out your best material? Write when you feel like it, even if it’s five minutes a day. I would even suggest that posting on Facebook or Twitter could count as your five minutes. By networking and discussing your day, you are doing important preparation for your fiction.

2. Probably no need to read anyone else’s work.

Another common bit of advice is to “read, read, read.” Why? Reading other people’s work not only muddies your vision, but wastes precious time you could spend writing. I never understood this bit of advice. The only inspiration you need is what you get from your muse. Plus, you can always use TV or movies to get any extra inspiration you need.

3. Re-invent and experiment.

Oftentimes the worry may come up, “My writing isn’t original enough.” In that case, go experimental. Write your novel in your own made-up language. Perhaps don’t even write it, just make a book out of nothing put pictures. You can do anything you want. It’s your novel. Genre conventions are meant to be broken. So go all out!

4. Intelligent discussions about writing.

This is sort of self-explanatory. Talk about writing as much as you like. You are a writer after all! Even if you’re spending more time talking about it than actually writing, you’re reminding yourself constantly that you should be writing. Talking about something is the best way to show you’re interested in it, after all.

5. Literally describe everything.

Dealing with fantasy, your audience isn’t always going to know what’s going on unless you’re describing every character, every new race, every city, and every piece of clothing. If you really want to immerse your readers in a fantastic world, you have to give them as much description as possible. Need to describe what a minor nobleman is wearing? Do it! It’s your novel, so if you need to spend multiple pages describing everything, by all means do so.

6. Forget “show, don’t tell.” “Tell, don’t show.”

Another bit of advice I’ve never understood is “show, don’t tell.” Why not “tell, don’t show?” It is story-telling after all, not story-showing. If a character is angry, don’t waste time with subtle hints or gestures. Just say “He is angry.” It saves your reader a lot of time trying to figure things out. If more writers employed this technique, reading would be a lot easier, faster and thus more rewarding.

7. Overemphasis on grammar and spelling are overrated.

That’s what editors are for, right? Don’t worry about your grammar and spelling so much. Spell-check covers most of that for you, so there’s no need to spend so much time worrying about your sentence structure. Most readers won’t notice anyway.

8. Old fonts can be boring.

I’ve often seen guidelines say, “Use Times New Roman or Arial.” Then what is the point of having all these other great fonts? My advice: use a new font and make it your own. It can be your “calling card” so to speak.

9. Longer is better.

Novels are getting bigger and bigger nowadays. If other writers are putting out 300,000 word novels, then you need to trump them by putting out 500,000 words. It’s a competitive market and the more words you have, the more “bang for your buck” you’re giving your readers. They will appreciate the longer book because it requires them to spend less money on other books.

While on the subject of the need for longer books, why not have a longer prologue? Prologues are very popular in fantasy novels and are your first introduction to the world. Some writers may say that making a prologue too long may detract from the meat of the book, but I think the more information the reader can get about the world you’re introducing them to, the better. I’d even suggest making the prologue longer than any of your other chapters.

10. Super-awesome magic and characters.

The more awesome and crazy, the better. Fantasy readers love magic, but don’t care so much about how it works. Wizard can pull fire from the sun? Works for me. Magic is derived from ancient glaciers? OK! There’s no need to explain magic or have it make absolute sense. Magic is awesome because it’s mysterious. So making the mechanics of how it works relevant is to me, irrelevant. Save that for hard science fiction.

Also, make your characters as awesome as you can. Near invincible characters prove for interesting stories.

11. Deus ex machina.

Why are these three Latin words so contentious? It exists because it used to be a perfectly acceptable way to end a story for the Greek dramatists. What makes writers today better than Greek dramatists? Use whatever device you need to end the story. Especially if you’re on a deadline. Having Zeus or Gandalf’s eagles or whatever come down and clean-up everything is a fine ending in my view. “It was all a dream” is also doable.

12. Ample info-dumps.

Often critics may say “Oh no, the dreaded info-dump.” But why? Info-dumps are after all, when broken down, “dumps of information.” Don’t readers need information to understand what’s happening? My belief is that if you want to stop the plot to give plenty of information to the reader, then it’s your choice as a writer. To me, plot and character development aren’t as important as knowing what’s going on. A good dump of information now and again can help clear things up.

13. Your characters can do nothing sometimes.

Realism in fantasy is becoming more and more popular. What is more realistic than sitting around and doing nothing? It’s what most normal people do a large percentage of their day. Have your character sit on the porch for six pages or take a nap for two. It’s important to get into the characters’ heads as much as possible. Having them think about daily chores, sharpening their blades, walking their dog, or whatever will make them appear more realistic to the reader.

14. Look at the first letter of each numbered step above.

15. Spell it out.

Tell your friends to read this article and it’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard.

Do you have any “alternative” advice to dispense? Leave some in the comments below.

You can find Phil’s blog about Japan, writing, pro wrestling, and weird stuff at philipoverby1.blogspot.com.

Philip Overby is a nomadic warrior, indiscriminate troll slayer, undead unicorn enthusiast, former indie wrestler, and lover of all things fantasy. He lives in Yokohama, Japan.

A Gutter of Tree Sludge and Blood

(Warning. This is an introspection piece and it contains graphic and unsettling imagery)

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I compartmentalize. Sanitary little mind boxes meant to keep things separated. I’m sure I created the first one to keep me functioning when life and death got too big. It muffled painful things when it was locked away and I could pretend a normal face. Pretend, pretend and eventually you’ll feel it. But…I think the boxes are leaking.

I think they’re leaking because when I get overwhelmingly stressed, I go to a dark place…

And I have extra servings of worry lately. What are they? Suffice to say safety, sanity and survival for those I love most are pinging the top of the list along with a cumulation of swirling other exasperations to fill in the cracks.

Anyway, I think the boxes are too full … That or perhaps I’ve rearranged them so much the bottoms are breaking. I need to unpack them. Yes, I know.

See I’ve realized no matter what box I’m in, I’m missing my full potential. I’m incomplete. I’m a ghost shadow of what I could be. It’s a relatively recent realization and it makes me sad. But I wonder, in moving the boxes around in preparation of unpacking, have I allowed seepage to collect?

No. It can’t be. I’ve been trapped face down in a sludge of graphic images before. People with twin smiles who grasp their throats with hard realization and bodies cut deep to spill their inner secrets.

I turn inwards to escape the world and am greeted with a horror-lovers’ marathon. oh, fantastic. I don’t seek a horror genre but here it is waiting in the sacred place where thought collects.

The same mantra… Please…make the images stop, drain the poison from my mind. Do something with it.

Ah yes, the carnivorous carousel….and the blood pours bright red.

But I have used this venom to propel myself into better incarnations. Fling myself across the precipice to reestablish. Recreate. Fear of failing pales with what’s in my mind’s eye. I dress for battle. But I’m in a holding pattern this time. I must wait.

I hate waiting.

Perhaps I can use this creatively. Glimpses of hatchets with small heaps of bloodless feet. Yes. Creatively.

But where?

And why?

Yes, I’ve finally asked why. Why do I find this dark place. Why does it find me? Why does it hold the same template.

I remember waking.., cold sweat, afraid to move, hours before-elementary-school-started-pitch-black with yet another nightmare with my grandmother’s disembodied head in the yard. I remember… Squished and…

I feel squished… Like two massive hands work to press me flat like Playdough. Time to be reformed?Reshaped?

And I understand. I found a connection. A wild a-ha and resounding duh. The visceral blood thoughts and the sorrow and the worry… these are the legacies from and of my family when my uncle died and my aunt lost her jaw and I didn’t know if a killer would go free.

I made my first box then to hold the blood images and the shadow gunman who lived in my closet. And over time, I made others. They hold a myriad of ugly things. Some I’m afraid to open. But I know they hold hostage light and happy times too.

Like goes with like … and worry and overwhelm-ness goes in that first blood box and the memory goes…over there…in one of those hundred boxes….

I don’t want to put these worries in the box. Even for function’s sake.

I understand.

There’s a living tree, dissected and hacked, inside these boxes. My own personal tree of life. I’m not quite sure of its real dimensions … but I have in my hands a limb and a root. Their mine and I stand.

[Dark thoughts can be disconcerting and they can make life seem bleak. For anyone sinking into them I would suggest finding someone safe to talk to and to step back with the basics. Enough sleep, nutritious food, stay hydrated. Walk, dance, do something for your body’s natural feel-good endorphins. Journal. Paint. Breathe. Be your own best friend for a bit. Take things in moment-bites. Let go and let God. Know things will get better. Eventually. Live.]

Sweet creations at Chocolate World

Thank goodness there are places in the world that draw our inner children out to play. One such place is the sweetest place on Earth…Chocolate World in Hershey Pa.

I’m sharing our tour via an iMovie attachment on “Creating (and designing) Your Own” Chocolate Bar.

There’s also a cameo of the singing cows.

http://youtu.be/x9ySkKdjybU