Saturday, December 19, 2009

Editor's Cookies?

That's right.  One of the many reasons my editor rocks is that she sends holiday cookies.  She is a seriously busy woman who still finds ways to remind her writers that this business is the best one to be in.

This is the second year I've received cookies and this year, my husband and I were checking the mail.  When the envelope came, my husband came in our kitchen and said, "Editor's Cookies!"

This is how they come:

Here's why we gobble them down:

They are as tasty as they look.  Chocolate Meringue and Cranberry Bars.

I don't want this post to suggest that I value my editor's cookies more than her notes, only that her cookies have a very different affect on me.

So yummy.  Gotta go... I'm getting crumbs in my laptop.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Joshua Swanson is Jace!

Split on audio is fast becoming a reality.  Listening Library snagged the award-winning Joshua Swanson for the gig.  I'm thrilled!  He is wry and seems to find the funny in scripts -- something absolutely necessary for Split to work.  I can't wait to hear him embody my protagonist, Jace.

Check him out:  Demos

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Agent or Fairy Godmother? You Decide.

It is Happy Agent Day in the Blogosphere, so I'm celebrating my agent, Rosemary Stimola.  Rosemary is actually a fairy godmother in disguise.  Here are my top 5 reasons why:

#5)  With a wave of her wand, she can make emails appear in my inbox.

Recently, I was worried about not receiving some nameless information from a nameless person at a nameless company.  When I called Rosemary and relayed my concern, she first calmed me down, telling me not to worry about it.  Then she said she shared my concern that I wasn't getting any communication.  She put in a call and --ding-- I got mail.

#4) Receiving email from her is like getting a treat.

First, she has lightening-speed response time.  I have yet to wait 24 hours for a response.  Not even when she broke her ankle and warned me she might be a little slower with responses.  When I queried her, she asked for a full manuscript within nine hours. This woman knows what 'prompt reply' means.  She must have coined the term.

Second, she has her own style of emailing, which just oozes personality  Here's an example:

hey, lovely news!
am about to leave office for weekend, so will get contracts out to you on my letterhead for signature early next week!
more on subs then as well...
very pleased to have you on board!
ro stimo

#3) Her experience in the biz is reliable.

The most important aspect of the agent-writer relationship, as Andrew Karre once told me, is trust. At the time, I didn't quite understand why, but now I do.  Truth is, I'm a writer and I don't know how this industry works:  with Rosemary's help, I'm learning what is reasonable to expect from my publisher, what is important, and what I shouldn't worry about.  She's been at this for a long time now and is one of the top-sellers on Publisher's Marketplace; she knows what she's up to. That keeps years on my life and takes more off my plate.

#2.5 because it is related to #3, but a little higher up) We're in this together

When she offered to represent me, I asked to interview her, which made me a little self conscious.  But Rosemary thought it was a great idea because, as she said, the agent-writer relationship is like a marriage.  It's a long-term commitment and you need to know what you're in for.

And she does treat me like a partner in my career.  We talked about what houses to send Split to when it was just an aspiring manuscript.  After relaying her list, she asked if there was any house I wanted that wasn't on her list.  When I said yes, she included it.  She went through my contract with Knopf for Split with me word by word, and it's around 12 pages.  And explained things to me I couldn't understand (me: "remind me...what are sub rights?").

#2) Best opening line for an auction ever.

When it became official that Split would go to auction, I wasn't sure that my feet were actually on the ground.  The idea that one house wanted to publish it would have sent me to Cloud Nine.  But having more than one house interested and willing to bid on Split was like being rocketed into the stratosphere of high-hopes.  Cloud Nine was so small from way up there.

On the day of the auction for Split, she called me in the morning with the offers and said, "Are you still breathing?"
I laughed, releasing some of my jitters.  "Barely."
"Deep breaths," she said, amused.  "I can't have you pass out on me now."

Talk about setting the tone for the day:  celebratory, surreal, and business-like.

#1) She's incredibly diplomatic, knowing how to set the tone of a conversation, (see #2) and has balls of steel.

In other words, she is exactly the kind of woman I want representing me --  polite, knowledgeable, reasonable, and won't back down when she's right.  Which she usually is.

After all, what fairy godmother is in the wrong?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Death Knell #1

I know that businesses routinely close. I know we shouldn't get attached to corporations. But there are some for which, when the bell tolls, we don't need to ask who it tolls for, because we know that we've all lost.

Goodbye Kirkus Review.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Audio Book Recording Begins

After a disheartening week in which I was waiting for good news that never came, I have a little something to celebrate. Yes, in my inauspicious inbox, I found an email that let me know that the audio book for Split will be recorded this month!

And with this step, like all the others on the what-do-you-mean-I'm-getting-published road, I have to convince myself that I haven't gone completely around the bend and fantasized the entire contract.

3 months and one day until kick off.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Interview with Julie Schumacher

BACKSTORY: I met Julie Schumacher almost three years ago as one of her students in University of Minnesota’s MFA program, but knew her through her work and venerated reputation within the Twin Cities writing community prior to that. I first encountered her work in Book of One Hundred Truths, which won a Minnesota Book Award in 2007, and was drawn into the work at the end of the first chapter in which our narrator states, "I should probably mention something right now before this story goes any further: my name is Theodora Grumman, and I am a liar.” Um, yes, Hooked.

Schumacher’s latest novel Black Box has been named a Junior Library Guild selection, ALA Best Book for Young Adults 2009, and a ALA Quick Pick (for Reluctant Readers) 2009. Even more honorably, Black Box makes my list of fav books for the year. Impressed by the choices and techniques that Schumacher brought to this novel, I taught it in my young adult and voice class at the Loft last summer. And, because Julie gives her time and attention, she agreed to answer some questions.


Q: I think the decision to go into flashback from page 4-20 was a risk (i.e a ballsy and brilliant move) Did you see this as risky? Were you concerned about losing the forward motion of the book?

**SPOILER** Why did you chose to start where you did and not, as this question implies, when Dora swallowed the handful of anti-depressants?

JS: Yes, I do see it as risky (because of the forward-momentum issue), and the editor had a bit of a problem with it at first, for the same reason. I don't see it as brilliant, at all: this is one of those cases in which, Yes, I knew the early flashback presented a problem, and Yes, I knew I'd probably have to argue for it/justify it, but.... that's where the book started from fairly early drafts, and it Just Felt Right, so I was willing to leave it there and to argue for it. This was always Elena's book, and I think that entry into the hospital would have been the moment that struck Elena hardest. I imagined that moment as the one that would always be foremost in her mind. It would be the moment when she recognized, for the first time, that something was truly happening to her family -- a story was unfurling itself in front of her, and she had to begin to try to tell it.

Q: Right before the flashback Dora poses the question: "How did my sister fall through the hole in her life..." Because of that (and something I think you said to me earlier), I'm wondering if you structure your books as a series of questions for the reader to answer?

JS: Interesting. I do think that part of the author's job -- particularly in y/a lit -- is to raise a series of questions in the reader's mind that will inspire that reader to continue turning the pages. If the reader isn't, at some level, wondering "what happened next?" you lose your audience. I didn't consciously think about structuring the book via a series of questions, though. The "How did my sister fall..." is the one huge primary question in Elena's mind, e.g. "How can this have happened to us?"

Q: My students (and I) were blown away by the one line chapters and asked me: "How does she get away with that?" I'm wondering if you have any insights about how you made that work?

JS: Initially there were a few more one-line chapters, and the editor (wisely) said, "These will be more powerful/more effective if there are fewer of them." So I excised a few very short chapters (folding them into larger chapters) -- while insisting that I had to keep #5 ("Dora got worse") and #61 ("A bottle of pills, a tube of glue. She broke her promise.") I see these two as echoes of one another. In any case, my intention, with these very short sections, was to try to capture Elena's distress and her fragmented thinking, the sense of shock. In chapter 5, there is no room for anything else in Elena's mind but "Dora got worse." Those three words entirely occupy her thoughts and her imagination, crowding everything else out. In effect, I didn't see these short chapters as stylistic flourishes, but as a way of conveying the quality of Elena's emotions.

Q: **SPOILER** Toward the end, Dora is talking to the grandma therapist, she narrates, "I felt as if I were waiting for the end of the story, for the moment the crisis passed and the characters wisely understood what had happened to them and someone shut the book with a satisfying snap. But what if the story didn't end and the book stayed open?" Your book, does have an open ending. At what point in the writing process did the scene with the grandma therapist come into the novel? Do you feel that it, if you are giving the reader an ending that is not as clear cut, you need to foreshadow it? I ask, in part, because I've been seeing this more frequently in open endings.

JS: I didn't feel obliged to foreshadow the ambiguity at the end of the book. But I wrote the ending relatively early (something I often try to do), and then struggled to find the best ways to work toward it, so that the final page wouldn't seem to come out of nowhere. I suppose one of those ways in which I worked toward the ending was the passage you're referring to. In general, I think the aim is for all the portions of a novel to cohere and to echo each other, and to add to the power of the whole.

Q: I think you set us up nicely, foreshadowing that the ending won't be exactly clean, but it is an ending that has no clear (if any) denouement. Again, a risky successful move. Which I see as even more risky because it is a YA novel and you're employing an ending that really requires a sophisticated reader, that requires that reader determine whether Dora's ability to face her emotions is enough for her to heal or not. Did you see that as risky? I see this as an ending that makes me understand the whole of the book in a different way, which is not the way I'm used to thinking of endings, actually. In our class we discussed what makes a good ending, what would you say?

JS: While I was working my way toward the end of the book, I knew I couldn't write either a "happy ending" (it would be unrealistic, and not in keeping with the tone of the novel) or a disaster scenario. (If Dora had died, Elena would have had to say so earlier -- for Elena to get to the end of the book and only then reveal that her sister was dead would be too manipulative.) So I knew I was aiming for ambiguity in some form or another. I have always loved (and often taught) Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which ends with the handmaid "stepping up into the darkness, or else the light" -- either being rescued, or heading off to her doom. And I often tell my students, if you're headed toward a choice between two possible endings, Ending A and Ending B always head for C. You want an ending that will cast a shadow over everything that has preceded it, so that the reader will want to look again at the beginning of the book in the new context of the ending. (I'm not advocating for a "surprise" ending, but for complication and resonance.)

More specifically, regarding Black Box: what mattered to me most in the novel was Elena's reaction to Dora, the progress of Elena's emotions being more central or primal than Dora's deterioration. Logically, even if Dora were to get better, Elena would always worry, would always be left with some emotional ambiguity. So that's where I decided to leave her.

I have gotten emails from some teenage readers asking me whether Dora is going to be all right. To me, that's a great source of satisfaction: to have a reader contact me, worried about the welfare of a person I have invented. I want my readers to worry about Dora; I worry about her as well.

Thanks to Julie Schumacher for providing this insight into her book.