Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Take Two: Writing for Self vs. Writing for Publication

Since we're all still recovering from last week's festivities, I thought I'd share an old post with you. I originally published this post back in October 2009, when I didn't have any many readers (except for Holly--hi, Holly!). At that time, I had just started Bob's first draft and was finishing my previous manuscript's query cycle. Hope you enjoy.

A month or two ago, I remember saying something very much like, “Ugh! I just want to be writing again! I’m so sick of all this querying!” This was back when I was still outlining Bob (new work-in-progress)--and still trying to adapt to a new schedule with a new baby in the house. I hadn’t written even a sentence of a novel for months, and the withdrawals were starting to eat me alive.

My husband laughed at this and said, “Wasn’t it just a few months ago that you were complaining about the writing? I believe you said something very much like, ‘Ugh! I just want to be querying again! I just want to have another manuscript ready to send out to agents!’”

He was right, of course. I did say something very much like that while I was editing my last book. That’s because I was starting to feel that same feeling I’d get whenever my parents would make me stop to eat food in Disneyland. There I’d be, stuffing my ten-dollar slice of pizza into my face as fast as I could stuff, scowling at all of the other kids skipping past, and knowing, just knowing, that their favorite ride was Big Thunder Mountain, too. That they were on their way there, and that they were going to get in line in head of me. As if Big Thunder Mountain were going to up and disappear sometime in between when they arrived and when I finally choked down that last fifty-cent pepperoni.

It’s irrational, I know, but sometimes we humans are just irrational beings (case in point: whoever decided mullets were attractive). And the truth is, while my life’s ambition has been to publish a book for as long as I’ve known what the word ambition meant (which is why I put up with all that querying), it’s not the reason I write. I write because I have to; because some days it’s the only thing that stands between me, my two kids, and the nut house; because it gives me a socially acceptable reason to talk to the voices in my head. I write because whenever I see something funny or beautiful or tragic, I imagine how I would describe it if I were writing about it in a book. I’m sure you understand.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I write for myself. As magnificent a dream as publication is--and it is magnificent and, for now, just a dream--it is not what keeps me going, what forces me to put at least a few words down on paper (or up on the screen) every day. I probably would have given up a long time ago if that were my motivation. And I’m not giving up. Because I can’t.

Friday, December 24, 2010

What Christmas Means to Me

Tonight we celebrate the birth of a baby in Bethlehem, a baby who, I believe, was and is the Savior of the world. He died that we might be forgiven of our sins and return to live with our Heavenly Father, but He also lived that we might have an example, a way to follow.

The past few days have given Christmas a completely different spin this year. As you may have guessed, the picture at the top of the post is a picture of our house on Tuesday afternoon. Our neighbors took this from their front door just before they skedaddled. The water level was actually higher than this at one point--it made it past the palm trees and all the way up to the sandbags in front of the garage.

But this picture doesn’t tell the whole story. About fifteen minutes before we narrowly escaped, our friend from the nearby mesa showed up. He was there to aid in the rescue efforts, and he helped Honey Bear get the last of the sandbags in place. As they were sandbagging, he said something like, “You know you can always stay at our house, right?” Honey Bear thanked him for the offer and said we’d probably take him up on it.

Here’s the thing, though: We beat our friend to his house, which meant he probably hadn’t spoken to his wife before we showed up on their porch. But when she saw us climbing out of the car, she met us on the doorstep and asked, “Do you guys need a place to stay? We’re not really ready for company, but we can be in five minutes!”

As I sat in their living room that night, staring at the twinkling lights of their real, live Christmas tree, a few verses from Matthew came to mind:

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

“When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

“Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

When we showed up on their porch that wet and lonely afternoon, I felt like “one of the least of these my brethren.” My pants and shoes were soaked, my spirits even more so, but our dear friends didn’t hesitate. They gave us a place to stay. They gave us hope.

That’s what Christmas means to me this year. It means living the kind of life that precious baby lived--the kind of life our friends lived Tuesday afternoon--so that, when He comes again, we will be like Him and so abide the day.

Merry Christmas, everybody, and thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. I really think they made a difference. May you and yours have a beautiful holiday.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

When It Rains, It Pours--Literally

Have you ever wondered what you would grab if you had five minutes to get out of your house and run for the hills? Well, I don't have to wonder anymore.

We live several hundred yards (insert metric conversion here) away from a river. It's not a very big river, mind you--most of the time, it's a lot more sandbar and a lot less river--but it is a river, nevertheless. We knew about this river before we bought the house. We even knew it had overflowed its banks during a historic hundred-year flood almost six years ago, so named because this sort of flood generally only happens once every hundred years.

Someone should have told the river it still had ninety-four years left on its hundred-year contract.

We woke up yesterday to the delightful strains of heavy machinery. A couple of city crews were digging trenches, throwing up levees, pumping storm drains. We assumed they were just being proactive. Several hours later, someone called my husband and asked him to help sandbag a few blocks over. He came back an hour later, smelling like a sandbag and soaked to the skin (despite his heavy winter coat), and said, "You might want to start packing."

So I started packing, methodically, deliberately. We were planning to leave for the parents' house the next day, anyway, so I was just getting a leg up on vacation prep. That was what I told myself. An hour later, I had all the laundry put away and the essentials in a duffel. And a good thing, too, because when I went into the kitchen to grab something, I saw the river. In our street.

My hands began to tremble. I told myself, out loud, "Think. Clearly." I grabbed Honey Bear's laptop and scriptures (he teaches religion classes to high school students, and those are just about the only things he needs to do his job), the kids' diapers and some wipes, and a few basic toiletries and threw them in the bag. Then I ran back to the kitchen and grabbed my flash drive. I thought about saving the latest version of Bob on it, took one look out the window, and realized I had no time. A minute later, Honey Bear, who had just finished building the last of the sandbag barriers in front of our house, stuck his head in the front door and yelled, "We gotta go!" We grabbed the bags, grabbed the kids (with no socks or shoes, regrettably), and ran.

We were shin-deep in river water while we loaded our kids into the car (which was parked in the driveway, thankfully, and not the garage). Honey Bear was mildly concerned our car wouldn't be able to make it up the street, but we made it. Barely. As we drove away, I burst into tears.

A kindly neighbor--who lives on top of a nearby mesa, I might add--took us in, and that is where I'm sitting as I type this, in our kindly neighbor's family room. We've been back to our house a few times to check on it, and the waters appear to be receding. So far, the inside of our house has stayed dry. The rain is back this morning, though, and several dams above us might not hold. So today will be a nail-biter, but at least we're all dry and safe--which is more than I can say for yesterday.

You know, I got a full rejection yesterday morning, and I was feeling kind of bummed about it. Now I'm just happy that my family and my house aren't underwater (for the moment). Nothing like a friendly neighborhood flood to put things back in perspective.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Christmas I Remember Best

The Christmas I remember best was also the Christmas after my father lost his job. I was eight or nine at the time, so I didn’t really understand what was going on, but my mother tells me the day my father lost his job was also the only day she’s ever seen him cry.

I also didn’t understand the impact my father’s unemployment would have on Christmas, but my parents did. Thinking back on it now, as a parent myself, I realize their hearts must have broken as they thought about the much smaller Christmas dinner, the barren Christmas tree. So they did what any self-respecting parents would do: They set out to make that Christmas feel as unexceptional as possible.

They didn’t succeed.

They didn’t succeed because I remember the weeks leading up to Christmas with surprising clarity. I remember watching my mother disappear into her bedroom--where her sewing machine lived--with the express command that we were not to go inside when the door was closed. My dad played with us in the living room while she did who knew what, and neither of them ever explained. It never occurred to me to question what she was doing, so I didn’t.

They also didn’t succeed because I remember those Christmas presents better than I remember any others. I have a hazy memory of once opening up a keyboard (which my parents wanted me to have) and a boom box that played cassette tapes AND CDs (which I wanted me to have), but the two presents I got that year--a small handmade quilt and a muslin bunny rabbit with custom floral-print dress--stand out more than the others.

I slept with that quilt every night until I was, like, fourteen. Now it lives at the bottom of my cedar chest, waiting for the day when my own daughter will sleep with it, too, and appreciate the story of where it came from. I toted that rabbit around whenever my sister and I played house, since I didn’t particularly care for baby dolls. In fact, that rabbit was so iconic we decided that ought to be the secret signal of my engagement: When I brought a boy home wearing rabbit ears, my family would know I was getting married:)

My parents wanted that Christmas to feel just the same as all the others, and at the time, it did. I didn’t realize until years later that those presents had come from my mother’s sewing machine and not some store or catalog. But it is precisely because of where they came from that I remember that Christmas now. Far and away, that was the Christmas I remember best--and the one I treasure most.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Elana Roth

Today’s interactive interview features Elana Roth of Caren Johnson Literary Agency. Ms. Roth maintains a thought-provoking blog and also contributes to the CJLA blog, so if you’re looking for more information about her querying preferences and the agency in general, check out those links. Details on the interactive part of the interview are at the bottom. Now, without further ado (although there’s been quite a bit of ado so far (sorry)), I give you Ms. Roth.

KV: How often does a query intrigue you enough to look at the included pages? And how often do those pages intrigue you enough to request the manuscript?

ER: I pretty much always look at the sample pages. I've had cases where the query wasn't wonderful, but the pages had a great tone. I find the two work really well together. I really do need that query to tell me clearly what the story is, but the pages can give me the broader picture of the book's potential.

I request 5 to 10 manuscripts a month, from an average query rate of 300 queries a month. So the odds are so high, but about par for the course.

KV: What are you looking for in a requested manuscript?

ER: First and foremost I just want something really cool--a concept or voice I haven't seen a million times before. I don't expect crazy plot-lines, since most stories have been done, but I do want something fresh with the hook and setup and character. Those are things I can pick out in the query. But the manuscript just needs to keep me reading, which means something tightly written, plotted and edited. I am a plot girl. I like actions and events and intrigue. Keep me interested.

KV: What are some of the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you request?

ER: Pacing is a huge problem. If I hit page 50 and nothing has happened yet, we have a problem. That's usually where I stop reading. Children's books aren't that short, but they aren't that long either. If you think of having about 250 pages for a YA novel to work, you've just wasted the first 1/5 of your pages. Start the story where the story starts, and then keep it moving.

Voice is also a problem but one I find is harder to pinpoint. It's also very personal. I've hated voices other people loved. So it goes. But I think we are all aware of the hyper-cliché girl voice in YA. Before writing a whole book, find your voice. Both your own voice as a writer, but also the voice of the character. Do those exercises where you write conversations with the character, let them talk. Make sure you know exactly who they are, and then write that.

KV: When you come across a manuscript you really like/love, how do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?

ER: This is really case by case. It really depends on that inherent level of excitement. It also depends on any significant problems. Several books that I now represent had some problems, but I loved them, so I asked for revisions before I offered representation. This is mostly to make sure the author is actually capable of the work and capable of collaboration. But other times I just discuss any notes with the author during the phone call and if I think it jives with them, then I'll offer and handle the revisions later.

KV: When you do make that Call, you’re probably going to ask the writer if she has any questions. What sorts of questions should she ask?

ER: Every author should know what some deal-breakers are for them. Some authors might have a problem if their agent is also an aspiring writer. Some authors might want a more editorially hands-on agent.

I think it's mostly really important to talk about communication styles. For example, I'm a really blunt person--and I use that conversation to let authors know that I'm always going to be a straight-shooter and maybe don't work with me if you're too sensitive for that. I find a lot of a good agent-author relationship is just personality and willingness to communicate openly.

Beyond that, I think authors should be aware of all the basics, like commission breakdown, how the agreement works, how rights are handled, etc.

KV: And now for a few quick questions from the normal interview. What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

ER: I have a weird gap in books coming out because we (agents as a whole) had a bad run in 2009 selling anything at all. I went more than 6 months between selling things. So my last book out was Laura Toffler-Corrie's THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF AMY FINAWITZ, which is a hilarious middle-grade novel that I always think of as FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER as told by Woody Allen.

My next client book out is M.P. Kozlowsky's JUNIPER BERRY, which I can't be more excited about. It's a modern fairy tale, but it's charming and scary and imaginative and amazing. That is due out in May 2011.

While these projects couldn't be more different, both authors are just so talented in their fields. Laura is an incredible comedy writer, and I still laugh every time I pick up AMY FINAWITZ. And JUNIPER BERRY grabbed me from the first go--the concept is just that fresh, but the book fits so strongly into that classic timeless middle-grade genre we love so much. Michael is just a beautiful writer.

KV: Is there something you haven’t been seeing lately in the slush pile that you wish you were?

ER: I haven't been seeing anything new, really. I've been getting hammered with fallen angel books of all varieties. And I'm still getting lots of paranormal, girl-who-has-dreams kind of stuff. It's not really right for me, unless there's truly a spin I haven't seen before.

I would still love some really cool twist-on-reality-with-a-science-edge kind of book. I'm a nerd, so I like nerdy things.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

ER: E-mail! All of our submissions info is here:

And like I said above, include the first 3 to 5 pages of your novel at the bottom of the e-mail body. It helps!

Thank you, Ms. Roth, for these wonderfully in-depth responses. My favorite line from this interview (for obvious reasons): “I would still love some really cool twist-on-reality-with-a-science-edge kind of book.” (And if you don't know why it's obvious, maybe you should read a little of Bob.)

As for the interactive part, just leave a question down there in the comments sometime between now and 5:00 p.m. EST (that’s 2:00 p.m. PST, for those of us on the West Coast), and Ms. Roth will answer it sometime between now and whenever the world ends--but probably a lot closer to now:)

P.S. This is the last agent interview we'll be posting this year, but we'll be back in January with more agents, more interviews, and maybe a few more surprises. And I'll be back next week with a few Christmas-related posts. In the meantime, have a wonderful last weekend before Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Tidbits

I’ve been trying to come up with a blog post for the past few days, and all I can say is, I got nothin’. So here’s a random list of the Christmas things I’ve been doing/thinking about.

1. Racing to finish this round of edits on Bob so I can get him off to ANOTHER beta reader (thank you, Kelly!) before we leave for Kaysville next week. I realize said beta probably won’t get to him until after the holidays, but I’ll feel much better over the Christmas break if he’s out of my hands.

2. Writing a letter to my soon-to-be brother-in-law. We do a sibling gift exchange in Honey Bear’s family (he’s the oldest of six, and by the end of this month, half of them will be married), but this year, my mother-in-law had the awesome idea of writing letters to each other. I drew the soon-to-be brother-in-law's name out of the hat, which is arguably the hardest one since we don’t know him as well as we know everyone else, but I’m up for the challenge. How hard can it be to write a nice letter to someone who has a lovely singing voice? :)

3. Gloating about Honey Bear’s Christmas gift. I’m really excited about it, and he has no idea what it is. He usually figures it out, so this is exciting. (Maybe someone should get me a thesaurus for Christmas…) Honey Bear was home when the FedEx man delivered it, and I was kind of afraid the box would give it away, but he’s still clueless. Fantastic:)

4. Looking around my house and thinking, “You know, I really should clean you before we go out of town.” But I haven’t. I think I need to get pregnant again. When I was pregnant with Lady, my nesting instinct set in so bad that our house was spotless, SPOTLESS, for months. Ah, the days.

5. Singing in the ward choir for the Christmas program this Sunday. (We’re doing it a week early since so many people are going out of town.) We’re not very good. I hope a few angels show up to sing with us:)

What about you? How are your holiday plans shaping up?

P.S. If you haven't already, check out Kathleen Ortiz's TCUHBIP contest. Today she's giving away a Tor prize pack filled with fabulous last-minute Christmas gifts for the readers in your life books. Good luck!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Heather Evans

I think a lot of you are going to like this one:) Today’s interview features another FinePrinter, Heather Evans of FinePrint Literary Management. (If you’re looking for more FinePrinters, check out my interviews with Suzie Townsend and Marissa Walsh.) Enjoy!

KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?

HE: I've been officially agenting for about six months now. I grew up on books, reading them and writing them, so a career in publishing was a no brainer. After three years of being an assistant at FinePrint, I took the next step and starting looking for my own projects.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

HE: Good books take a lot of hard work, and I like to be very involved in that work. If I sign an author, it means I'm in love with their book and am committed to making it as perfect as possible before it goes out to editors. I expect that same commitment from the author. It's important that they're open to revision. An author needs to have (or fake) patience with the process. Good communication is key here, of course. I want all my authors to know that I'm available whenever they might have a question, concern, or just want to bounce ideas around about their current book or their long term career.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

HE: While I'm still on the road to making my first sale, my client Laird Barron will have his first novel THE CRONING coming out Fall 2011. Laird writes literary horror and already has two short story collections out. There's so much I'm drawn to in his work--it's intelligent, fresh, and strangely beautiful even at its most frightening.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

HE: I represent horror, fantasy, paranormal romance, historical romance, LGBT, commercial fiction, literary fiction, and YA in each of those genres. I like dark stories, both grim and whimsical.

I'm not the right agent for straight up mysteries or thrillers, chick lit, middle grade, or inspirational. In general, I'm not right for something that's lighthearted or sweet.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

HE: Don't send the same "Dear Literary Agent" e-mail to me and fifty other agents. If you don't care enough to address me by name, why should I care enough to read your query?

Really, the best way to get my attention is to write a pitch that sounds like something you'd read on the back of a novel. Although a short bio is fine, don't get bogged down in personal details or give lengthy explanations of why you wrote the book. Your pitch should be clean, concise and polished; it should give me a good idea of the novel's plot and characters, and be written in the same tone as the novel itself.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

HE: I'm looking for a strong, fresh voice that's relevant today, edgy characters, and beautiful writing. I would really love to see a YA (or even adult) in the vein of TV's Dexter or Weeds, something grounded in reality, but pushing the envelope.

In YA and romance, vampires and angels feel very "been there, done that." In horror, I'm tired of seeing the same old-fashioned monster, etc. premises that just aren't scaring people today. It has to mean something. It has to make you think.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

HE: Send me an e-mail, and include the first several pages of your manuscript pasted into the bottom.

Told you you’d like this one:)

Thanks again, Ms. Evans, for these detailed responses. Now don’t everyone query her all at once.

Have a great weekend, all. Hope you get lots of Christmas/late-Hanukkah shopping done!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Query Update

First off, some numbers:

Total queries: 33
Pending queries: 10

Minimum response time (requests): 0 days
Median response time (requests): 12 days
Maximum response time (requests): 30 days

Minimum response time (rejections): 1 day
Median response time (rejections): 3.5 days
Maximum response time (rejections): 22 days

In some ways, this seems a little counterintuitive. Why do agents take longer to request? Don’t they pounce on the manuscripts they’re interested in? Maybe they do if the concept’s super amazing, or if they wake up that morning and think, “Gee, I’d really love a YA space opera with a line-dancing ocelot,” and then one lands in their inbox.

More often, though, I suspect requests tend to take longer because agents are mulling them over. Mary Kole blogged about the way she tackles queries several months ago, and the moral of the story was, if you receive an insta-response from her, it’s probably an insta-rejection. That’s not always the case, of course, and every agent is different, but I think a lot more agents are quick to reject than are quick to request.

In other news, I’m happy to report I've only sent out nine queries since my last query update, so I’m definitely trying to be more conservative. Also, you’re probably wondering what happened to that partial-turned-full request I mentioned last month. (Or maybe you’re not. My life’s probably not as interesting to you as it is to me:) ) Well, it turned into a revise-and-resubmit a few weeks ago, and I’m pretty excited about it. The agent had some fantastic ideas, and I hope to be able to send off that revision sometime in the next couple of months.

In the meantime, it’s onward and upward. Even though I’m working on this revision, I still stand behind the original Bob. Because you never know when someone will come along and love him just as he is.

How’s everybody else doing? Did you survive NaNoWriMo? Any other good news (or bad news) you’d like to share with the rest of us?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Book Recommendation: WE TWO (Plus a Long Subtitle) by Gillian Gill

Honey Bear and I checked out the movie The Young Victoria the other day (we never see anything in theaters anymore), and I LOVED it. I loved it so much that I decided I needed to find out more about Victoria and her German prince. (Who also happened to be one of her first cousins. Hey, don’t judge. They did that a lot back then. Too bad no one informed them about the genetic risks…) So I checked out Gillian Gill’s WE TWO a few days later--and loved it just as much.

WE TWO is split into two parts: The first details the Queen’s and prince’s early lives (the Queen is always capitalized, by the way, to the utter dismay of capitalization rules), and the second describes their life together. What’s more, WE TWO doesn’t map things out strictly chronologically; rather, it treats its material thematically on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Ms. Gill picks up a story thread (such as the Queen’s daughter’s engagement to the surprisingly adorable heir of Prussia) and follows it through to its conclusion, then backs up several years and picks up a parallel thread.

A lot of WE TWO surprised me. For instance, Victoria despised having children (although she ended up having nine) and wasn’t a terribly affectionate mother. On that same topic, she never had a miscarriage (a feat for any woman in any century, let alone the nineteenth), and all of her children grew to adulthood (which is even more impressive when you find out her youngest son, Leopold, had hemophilia).

But perhaps the biggest surprise was that Albert wasn’t quite as, uh, swoon-worthy in real life as he was in The Young Victoria. He wasn’t nearly so in love with her, at least at first (although Christopher Hibbert’s biography offers some evidence to the contrary (yeah, I’m currently reading Hibbert’s brick-like QUEEN VICTORIA:) )), and he was more than a little misogynistic. Albert was definitely a product of his times, and I like to think The Young Victoria explored the man that would have been had he been raised in this century.

The subtitle I failed to mention, “Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals,” really says it all. Both the writing and the subject matter of WE TWO thoroughly engaged me, and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about England’s longest-reigning monarch and her beloved prince.

P.S. Honey Bear and I also attempted another recipe from MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING, but I decided not to blog about it because the dish turned out so well:) For all my fellow culinary experimenters, you might try cotes de porc poelees (with gratuitous accent marks I’m not even going to attempt to reproduce, page 386 in the teal-and-orange edition) with the mustard, cream, and tomato sauce mentioned on the next page.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Kathleen Ortiz

As promised, I give you Kathleen Ortiz of Lowenstein Associates. Check out the interview, then check out Ms. Ortiz’s awesome blog. (She’s kicking off a huge twelve-work-days-before-Christmas contest next week, so click that “Follow” button right away!) Happy reading!

KV: How often does a query intrigue you enough to look at the included pages? And how often do those pages intrigue you enough to request a partial?

KO: I keep an updated stats report on my blog ( It varies month to month. From September 1 to 30 I requested 23 partials out of 1,179 queries. This is really high compared to the average agent, but I’m looking to build my list of clients:)

KV: Jumping in to add Ms. Ortiz recently posted her agency's October stats, which are similar. Okay, back to the interview!

What are you looking for in a requested manuscript?

KO: I’m looking for a great voice, great plot--do I get sucked into the world you’ve created/the characters who interact with each other? Is it a realistic voice? Is the pacing good or am I falling asleep/thinking about laundry that needs to be done?

KV: What are some of the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you request?

KO: Too much backstory; super slow pacing; not knowing what the story is to begin with (tons of side plots but no actual, main plot); non-engaging characters; telling instead of showing; writing a story that’s already been written except with different character names; etc.

KV: When you come across a manuscript you really like/love, how do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?

KO: If it’s great writing and an intriguing read but there’s a major plot issue, then I’ll chat with the author about it, let them know my thoughts, and then if they want to revise/resubmit then I’ll take a look and go from there. If it’s great writing, an intriguing read and just needs minor adjustments then I jump on the phone:)

KV: When you do make that Call, you’re probably going to ask the writer if she has any questions. What sorts of questions should she ask?

KO: Great question! :) Hannah Moskowitz actually guest blogged about this on my blog:

But in a nutshell, be prepared to ask how the agency works, thoughts on your manuscript, communication policies, submission styles, etc.

KV: And now for a few quick questions from the normal interview. What client work do you have coming out soon?

KO: Jaime Reed’s YA trilogy SOUL IMPULSE sold to Kensington recently.

KV: What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

KO: I love it because it’s SO different from the paranormal out there--the MC is a kickass teen who isn’t a damsel in distress. And the paranormal element = Cambions, the offspring of humans and incubi? Um hello amazing.

KV: Is there something you haven’t been seeing lately in the slush pile that you wish you were?

KO: YA Thrillers!!

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

KO: By e-mail:

Please send us a one-page query letter, along with the first ten pages pasted in the body of the message (if fiction; for non-fiction, please send only a query letter), by e-mail to Please put the word QUERY and the title of your project in the subject field of your e-mail and address it to the agent of your choice. Please do not send an attachment as the message will be deleted without being read and no reply will be sent. We reply to all queries and generally send a response within two to four weeks.

By mail:

For Fiction: Mail a query letter, short synopsis, first chapter and a SASE (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope).

For Nonfiction: Mail a query letter, proposal, if available, or else a project overview and a SASE (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope).

Lowenstein Associates
121 West 27th Street
Suite 501
New York, NY 10001

Thanks, Ms. Ortiz, for these responses. And look how easy she made it on us queriers--we’ve got her submission guidelines right here!

Best of luck to all who query. I’m hanging out in Ms. Ortiz’s query inbox right now, too:)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Today, I'm grateful I survived my turn teaching preschool:)

The long weekend was wonderful, Thanksgiving dinner tasted great, and my favorite team almost, ALMOST beat their rival. We decided to head home on Saturday since a big storm was supposed to hit on Sunday, and on the drive, Honey Bear and I talked about all our blessings and how thankful we were for them. A perfect end to a perfect trip home.

Somewhere around Cedar City, though, the wind really picked up, and we were suddenly flying down an eighty-mile-per-hour freeway with forty-mile-per-hour storm gusts slamming into our car every couple of seconds. It bugged me because we’d been making such good time up until that point, but then I wondered: How often had the wind been blowing directly behind us, silently pushing us along, and we hadn’t even noticed?

Life is a lot like that, I think. The turbulent times stand out because they’re so, well, turbulent, but the seasons of calm--even the seasons of plenty--sometimes slip past us before we even notice them. How easy it is to forget the true source of our blessings when the blessings are flowing past us on every side.

I need to do better at this. I need to be more thankful. Because I’ve lived a lot of my life in a tailwind.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Few Housekeeping Notes

Today, I’m thankful for my health, which I only seem to notice after I get sick.

First off, I won’t be posting an agent interview this week, just so we can all enjoy the holiday, but I’m very excited about next week’s interview, which will feature Kathleen Ortiz of Lowenstein Associates. December’s a crazy month, so the interview won’t be interactive, but Ms. Ortiz came up with some wonderful answers to the usual questions.

Also, I’ve been playing around with Blogger’s pages, mostly because “Interview with an Agent” has been unnecessarily elongating my sidebar, so the link to those interview archives is now just below the title header. Maybe someday, when I’m feeling in the mood for a little self-torture, I’ll add genre listings and a bunch of other cool stuff to that “Interview with an Agent” page. For now, though, it’s just the same old list.

And just so the “Interview with an Agent” tab isn’t up there all alone, I also added a “More About Me” page (as if you didn’t already know way more than you wanted to just by reading this blog) and a “WHOSE TEETH ARE AS SWORDS” page, which features Bob’s query and first chapter.

I think that’s it. Unless anyone knows how to fix that silly-looking border around the tabs. (If I can’t figure it out, I may have to relocate them to the sidebar, because I really can’t stand that border…)

Oh, and if I don’t get a chance to say it later in the week, happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Jennifer Unter

Today, I’m thankful for PBS’s Super Why. I’m pretty sure it’s the reason my three-year-old knows all his letters (and has since he was two), and you know, it’s actually kind of engaging. Not that I watch it. Too much… :)

Morning, all! Today, I give you Jennifer Unter of The Unter Agency. (Warning: She’s pretty fabulous, so if you don't want to add another agent to your list, you should probably stop reading now.) Enjoy!

KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?

JU: I have been agenting for ten years. I initially started in publishing at Henry Holt as an editorial assistant, and while I loved editing books and working with writers, I found myself more excited about the idea of coming up with projects and making deals.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

JU: My philosophy, if I have one, is to have an open, honest relationship with my authors. I expect to be able to tell them when things aren’t working or need tweaking, and I expect them to be able to come to me with any problems they are having at the publishing house. I am always available to my authors and expect the relationship to be one of mutual trust and respect.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

JU: A few things that are coming out (or have just come out):

- THE SECRET OF KA and THIRST 3 by Christopher Pike. Christopher’s work is fluid and exciting and it draws you right into the story. I love YA fantasy/adventure because the authors can really be imaginative and teens are drawn to that.

- LIVING SKINNY IN FAT GENES by Felicia Stoler. This is a great diet book because it is not “faddish” or fleeting--it’s real, healthy advice and America needs help in this area.

- THE VIRGIN WIDOW by Anne O’Brien. This is great historical fiction that takes you into the War of the Roses. It’s escapist, sexy and she’s a wonderful writer.

- THE SEA OF BATH by Bob Logan. This is a very imaginative picture book about a captain on a boat in a bathtub. My three-year-old son loves it and gets a kick out of all the great illustrations.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

JU: I do a lot of food/cookbooks/food issue books (Nina Planck, Nicolette Niman, Aaron Sanchez) and children’s books (Barbara Bottner, Sue Fliess). I also have a number of women’s fiction titles (Katharine Fisher Britton, Jill Mansell), memoir (Maria Finn), mystery (Esri Allbritten) among others. I also like to do history, biography and environmental titles.

I don’t do a lot of genre fiction.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

JU: A pet peeve is when writers call me Sir, or have no idea what kinds of books I do. When someone mentions a book I do or the kinds of books I do, I am always more likely to read their query.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

JU: I’m really not looking for anything in particular--just good writing, a good story or a good idea. I know a lot of publishers are looking for middle-grade boy adventure novels, so I’m looking for those, too!

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

JU: Via e-mail.

KV: How do you feel about a writer's including a few sample pages at the bottom of the query? Do you find that more assertive or obnoxious?

JU: I don’t really love it, but sometimes I do read it. So, sometimes it works out for the writer! And, sometimes I just don’t read them anyway. Sorry for the non-answer, but that’s how I feel!

Thanks again for these answers, Ms. Unter. I always love it when I recognize one of the authors in an agent’s list, but interestingly, the name I recognized this time isn’t a full-time writer. Aaron Sanchez is also a chef and a sometimes judge on the Food Network’s Chopped! How cool!

Anyway, good luck to all you queriers. (I may be joining you shortly…) And have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In Which I Defend the Form Rejection

Today, I'm thankful for indoor plumbing. And water heaters.

When it comes to rejection, there’s definitely a hierarchy. At the tip-tip-top of the list is the “Well, I think I’m gonna pass, but I loved your characters, and that climax had me going, and your voice is really witty, and while we’re on the subject, I think you’re a great writer, and…wait, why am I passing? I’m offering you representation!” rejection. (Okay, so I kind of made that one up.) Below that is the request for revisions, and below that is the invitation to submit future work. And just below that is the form rejection.

Which isn’t the bottom of the list, I might add. I think we’d all agree that the no-response-means-no rejection is something we could live without, but I submit that, more often than not, we could probably do without those personalized rejections as well.

Let me say that again, just so we’re clear: We could probably do without those personalized rejections as well.

Personalized rejections aren’t always bad. It’s nice to get a “While your plot sounds intriguing, I’m afraid I didn’t quite connect with the pages” rejection, and I don’t even complain when I get one of those “Dear [Insert Writer’s Name Here], thank you for submitting [INSERT BOOK TITLE HERE], but it’s not what I’m looking for right now” (which is really more of a gussied-up form rejection, anyway). But most of the time, when agents send personalized rejections, they sound more like “I’m rejecting this because your concept isn't commercial enough,” or “I’m rejecting this because I don’t like your voice.”

They’re trying to be helpful. They don’t have time to tell you all the things you did right, so they focus instead on the stuff you did wrong. But when all you’re hearing is one-and-a-half lines of “You’re not good,” “You can’t hack it,” “Your idea is utter dreck,” it’s easy to get discouraged.

Most agents figured this out a while ago. They’re not out to hurt everyone’s feelings, so they use form rejections (which happen to cut down on response times, too). An agent is only one person, after all, and his or her opinion is no more or less valid than any other one person’s opinion. (Okay, so maybe an agent’s opinion is a little more valid than, say, my aunt Mabel’s (if I even had an aunt Mabel, that is), but you get the idea.)

So huzzah for form rejections! (Although, agents, if you’re reading this, feel free to just request more material. We’re okay with that, too.)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Mary Beth Chappell

Today, I’m thankful for Honey Bear, who is my alpha reader, my beta reader, and my everything-in-between reader. (Yes, I’m trying to make up for forgetting to mention him in my last (work-in-) progress report.) Oh, and the guy who keeps me from going crazy, either with too much or too little confidence:)

Today’s interview features Mary Beth Chappell of Zachary Shuster Harmsworth, who strikes me as a straightforward, no-nonsense sort of agent. I’m sure a lot of you will relate.

KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?

MC: About six years...complete serendipity.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

MC: It's a chemistry thing...I expect hard work, enthusiasm and a strong desire to produce really great work.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

MC: My client Melanie Dickerson's YA medieval romance, THE HEALER’S APPRENTICE, was recently published. I thought she did a great job of creating a warm, relatable character.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

MC: No poetry. Fiction and nonfiction, cookbooks.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

MC: "I have written a fiction novel." Basically, it needs to grab me.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

MC: Quality. Same as always.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

MC: E-mail only.

KV: How do you feel about a writer’s including a few sample pages at the bottom of the query? Do you find that more assertive or obnoxious?

MC: Completely neutral. If my interest was caught by the pitch it's helpful. If not, I don't really care:-)

Thanks again, Ms. Chappell, for these answers. Like I said, simple, straightforward. Also, you queriers might be interested in knowing that she responded lightning-fast to every one of my e-mails. Best of luck.

Have a great weekend, all!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Query Update

Today, I'm thankful for a good night's sleep.

Ah, Bob’s first query update. At last. I’m doing the numbers a little differently with this manuscript, but in any case, here they are:

Total queries: 24
Pending queries: 15
Minimum response time: 0 days
Median response time: 1 day
Maximum response time: 6 days

I’ve really only been querying since November 1, and I didn’t expect to have so many queries out so soon. But I got a partial request last Tuesday that turned into a full request literally overnight, and at that time, I only had eight queries out. So I panicked--and probably went a little overboard:) Far and away, this is the most queries I’ve ever sent out at once. I intended to send them out in batches of five to ten every week or so, and I’ll probably go back to that now that the excitement of a partial-turned-full request isn’t (quite) so potent.

The response times are skewed, obviously, since I’ve only been querying for a little more than a week. Still, nine responses within six days is pretty good. Way to go, agents!

The only other thing I’ve noticed so far is that the rejections have all been very kind, complimenting something about the concept or the sample pages and then pointing out that, on the whole, they just didn’t fall in love with it. Even when they don’t spell that out specifically, agents probably think it most of the time. We’re the same way. I mean, I read dozens of books every year, and yet I only recommend a handful of them. Because even though I find good things in nearly every book I read, I have to really fall in love with the story if I’m going to recommend it. And agents have to fall in love with both the concept and the writing if they’re going to represent it.

Well, that’s it from me. Anyone else querying right now? If so, how’s it going?

Monday, November 8, 2010

On the Origin of "Interview"

Today, I’m thankful for sixty-degree weather (at least when I'm trying to run--I'd much rather it were in the high seventies/low eighties most of the time:) ).

Recently, several people have asked how “Interview with an Agent” started. They wonder if I know these agents personally and, if not, how I got them to agree to do the interview.

Answers to questions two and three first: I’ve never met any of the agents I’ve interviewed face-to-face, but rest assured, I haven’t threatened their firstborn children, either. No, the short answer for how the series started is simply this: I asked, and they said yes.

Not terribly exciting, I know, so here’s the (slightly) more enthralling version: The idea first came to me back in January of this year. At that time, I’d been blogging for about five months, and I was trying to think of ways to boost my readership. Bailey, a blogging friend, had just started doing author interviews on her blog (one of which was with the amazingly amazing Lisa McMann), and I asked her the same question several people have asked me: “How did you get these authors to do the interview? Do you know them in real life?”

She cyber-snorted (I assume) and said something like, “Uh, no. I just e-mailed them or their publicists and asked if they wanted to do an interview.”

Huh. That didn't sound so hard. I decided to try the same thing, except with agents.

I put together a brief interview query, e-mailed it to several agents I wanted to know more about (including a few who had requested material from me in the past), and waited. I didn’t hear back from most of them, but then I did hear back from one, Marissa Walsh, who said something like, “YES!”

The whole thing kind of snowballed from there. At first, I focused on agents who didn’t have as much Internet presence, since I figured querying writers needed more information about them. Then one agent suggested I contact one of her colleagues, Mary Kole, who also happened to be a blogging agent. Ms. Kole was gracious enough to agree, so I decided to contact more blogging agents (although I didn’t develop my blogging agent interview for another couple of months). And the rest, as they say, is right there in my sidebar. (Okay, so maybe no one says that, but maybe someone should.)

The main thing I’ve learned from all of this is that, by and large, agents aren’t these snarling three-headed beasts who guard the gates to Publication. (Kind of makes Publication sound like Hades, doesn’t it? Any published authors care to comment on that comparison? :) Because something tells me it’s not as peachy-keen as those of us unpublisheds would like to think it is…) The truth is, they’re just people, with grocery lists and doctor’s bills and maybe a kid or two. Some of them like to do interviews, and some of them don’t. Some of them have time to chat with me, and some of them don’t. (That last sentence kind of makes it sound like I do the interviews over the phone. I don’t--I handle everything through e-mail.) Most of them are polite and personable (including all the ones I’ve interviewed), and they love--they LOVE--to find the diamonds in the slush.

So the real story’s actually pretty boring. Hopefully, it answered a few questions, though. If anyone has any others, feel free to ask them in the comments.

Friday, November 5, 2010

(Work-in-) Progress Report: Bob

Today, I'm thankful for sunrises, which always bring light back to a darkened world.

Word count (to the nearest thousand): 73,000
Status: FINIS
Attitude: Crazy relieved

I’m crazy relieved because I’m finally done, and I’m just plain, old crazy because I started querying a few days ago and it’s already got me all tied up in knots. But this (work-in-) progress report isn’t about the querying, it’s about the Bobbing, and the Bob (yeah, he’s so cool he needs an article now) is finished. HE’S FINISHED!

(Okay, so I was just kidding about that whole article thing. I mean, I think he’s pretty cool, but as little Sheryl Yoast said in REMEMBER THE TITANS, now ain’t the time to be proud.)

Another huge thank-you to my awesome betas, Amy, Jeni, Jess (who just landed herself an agent on Tuesday!), Liesl, Mandy, and Myrna (double thank-you to Myrna, since she read Bob twice), and to everyone else who has given me feedback on this blog and over at Nathan Bransford’s forums (yeah, that means you, Holly). I’ll quit there, I guess, since this is starting to sound like the Acknowledgments page at the back of a book, and that would be putting the cart way, way, way, way, way out in front of the horse.

Anyway, I can honestly say Bob is the best book I’ve written so far. I’ve grown so much as a writer as I've worked on him this year. I realize that sounds cliché, but it’s true, so I’m sticking to it.

And one more for good measure: BOB’S FINISHED! (At least until the agent feedback starts rolling in…)

What about you? Where are you at with your works-in-progress, and how are they going? (NaNoers, feel free to chime in--unless you'd rather not give away the fact that you're here and not writing:) )

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Danielle Chiotti

Today, I'm thankful for e-mail. Do you remember going to that strange place called the post office every time you wanted to send someone a letter?

Oh, we’ve got another good one. Today’s interactive installment of “Interview with an Agent” features Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary. Ms. Chiotti’s a regular contributor to Upstart Crow’s blog, so I asked her the blogging agent questions. As always, details on the interactive part are at the bottom. Happy reading!

KV: How often does a query intrigue you enough to look at the included pages? And how often do those pages intrigue you enough to request the manuscript?

DC: I just went through a huge pile of queries yesterday, so it's a good day to answer that question. To be honest, even if I'm not crazy about the query letter, I'll always glance at a few sample pages, because a query letter isn't always indicative of how good (or bad) a project will be. The only time I don't read at least a few pages is if the project is outside of the genres I represent.

And now onto the tough question: How often do sample pages interest me enough to request a full manuscript? Let's see: Yesterday, I read 75 queries. I requested one manuscript. And I'd say that's generally how it goes for me.

KV: What are you looking for in a requested manuscript?

DC: A strong voice that immediately sweeps me away, a strong sense of character, and simple, beautiful writing.

KV: What are some of the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you request?

DC: I see a lot of pacing problems, meaning the story is either too fast or too slow--most often too slow.

I also see a lot of point of view problems. It seems like a lot of writers try to write in a first person present point of view, but in order to pull that off successfully, there's got to be a really strong voice to help carry it off. Without the strong voice, it's probably better off in the third person.

Finally, I see a lot of "copycat" problems. Oftentimes, an author sort of writes herself into a corner and then relies on a tired trick plucked from a perennial bestseller (TWILIGHT, THE HUNGER GAMES, you name it) to try and get herself out of it. So what had potential as an original concept becomes unoriginal, and thus disappointing.

KV: When you come across a manuscript you really like/love, how do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?

DC: I don't sign manuscripts I like, I only sign manuscripts I love! For me to offer representation right away, it truly has to be a stayed-up-all-night-reading-it, love at first sight kind of situation.

When I fall in love with a project, the first thing I do is have a phone conversation with the writer to see if we click and to bounce around my ideas for revision. If we seem to "get" each other right away, I'll usually make an offer of representation, and then we'll begin work on revisions together.

If I have a manuscript that I like, but that I think needs more work, I'll usually have a phone conversation with the writer and share some notes for revisions with them, and ask them to resubmit. That gives me a chance to see if the revisions can push me over the edge from "big crush" to "true love."

KV: When you do make that Call, you’re probably going to ask the writer if she has any questions. What sorts of questions should she ask?

DC: That's a great question! She should ask what the editorial process between us will look like and how long I think it will take. She should ask how often we'll be in touch during the submission process and how the submission process works. She should ask about Upstart Crow so I can tell her all of the many wonderful things we offer to our clients. She should ask me about what books I've read recently that I love. And most importantly, she should ask me if I prefer cookies or cake (I prefer cookies).

KV: And now for a few quick questions from the normal interview. What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

DC: There are several books coming out soon that I'm particularly excited about. One is currently titled FRENENQER (but this will most likely change), and it will be out from Dial Books for Young Readers in 2012. It's a gorgeously written young adult love story. The author is quite young--she was 18 when I signed her and sold her book--but immensely talented. I was drawn to the project because of the delicious writing and fantastic characterization. I remember writing the author an e-mail when I was only 50 pages into the story. It was so good that I was literally tingling with excitement. So I wrote to her and told her: I'm not that far into the manuscript yet, but if I love it as much at the end as I do right now, I'm going to offer you representation. We signed contracts a few days later.

Another is called LOVE AND LEFTOVERS, which will be out from HarperCollins in 2011. It's an absolutely charming novel in verse full of quirky characters and adorable turns of phrase. I remember that I started reading it on my Kindle very late one night, and I just couldn't put it down. I kept elbowing my husband awake and saying: "Listen to this line! Isn't that fantastic?"

And last but not least, there is SHUCKED: MY YEAR IN OYSTERS, which is a memoir about the author's year spent on an oyster farm in Duxbury, MA. It's a fantastic blend of personal memoir, informational narrative, and good foodie facts. St. Martin's is publishing it in 2011. The author came to me by referral, and we worked for months shaping the proposal to get the tone and content just right. It was such an enjoyable process, I was almost sad when the proposal was ready to go out to publishers!

KV: Is there something you haven’t been seeing lately in the slush pile that you wish you were?

DC: I'd love to see more high-concept YA fiction that's realistic rather than paranormal or dystopian/post-apocalyptic. I'd also love to see more foodie-centric nonfiction projects.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

DC: The best way to query me is via our submissions guidelines, which can be viewed at

Told you this was a good one:) Thanks again, Ms. Chiotti, for these responses. As for your question about cake or cookies, I say, “Both!”

And now on to the really fun part. Leave a question in the comments before 5:00 p.m. EDT (that’s 2:00 p.m. PDT), then find an answer down there later. It’s as easy as cake or cookies pie.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vote, Vote, Vote!

During the month of November, I’ll start every post with something I’m thankful for. Today, I’m thankful to live in a country that gives every citizen a vote, a country in which I don’t have to worry about being shot on my way to the polls.

Just a friendly reminder to get out and vote today. And try to find out something about the not-so-high-profile races in your state. Those positions matter, too. In fact, in many ways, those local leaders have a bigger impact on our day-to-day lives than the national ones.

Happy Election Day!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Jennifer Laughran

I have another interactive interview for you today with Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Ms. Laughran maintains a wonderfully informative blog, but I didn’t discover it until after I set up this interview, so the questions are the usual fare. As always, details on the interactive part are at the bottom. See you down there!

KV: How did you get into agenting?

JL: I started working at my older sister's bookstore at the age of twelve, and worked at bookstores all over the country for almost twenty years, ending up as a buyer for one of the largest indie bookstores on the west coast. In 2006 I started interning for an agent, and in 2007 I decided that I really wanted to specialize in children's and YA books, which have always been my personal favorites, so I joined the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, which has been a perfect fit for me.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

JL: Work hard, have fun, and make terrific books. I really don't think that the agent-client relationship should be as fraught with drama or mystery as some people feel it is. I am a very straightforward person and I value open communication with clients--and that goes both ways.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

JL: Gosh, I have a lot of stuff coming out this Fall. So I'll just pick a few:

DRAW THE DARK by Ilsa J. Bick--This is a very creepy horror novel about a kid who draws pictures...and the subjects of them have a tendency to die. Ilsa writes psychological thrillers--some are realistic, some are dystopian, some are paranormal...but they are all weird and complicated and fascinating.

MERMAID'S MIRROR by L.K. Madigan--I took L.K. on based on her first book, FLASH BURNOUT. That was the first book I ever sold, and if you have read it, you'll know that it is a realistic, funny but gritty "boy story." MERMAID is very different--the story of a surfer girl who finds a mermaid. But it is equally voice-driven and wonderful.

SUGAR AND ICE by Kate Messner--Kate just nails the middle school voice--probably because she is a 7th grade teacher. SUGAR is about a small-town ice skating girl who gets scouted by a charismatic Russian coach, plucked from obscurity and thrown into the uber-competitive world of "mean girls on ice." I tend to love "star is born" type stories, "outsider" stories, and funny realistic middle grade too. :-)

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

JL: I rep novels for middle readers and young adults. I am not looking for picture book or nonfiction, and I do not represent books for grownups.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

JL: About half the (many) queries I get are for things I don't represent, and/or they don't follow guidelines. These are just automatically deleted--what's the point? For queries that I actually look at though, I'd say, the point you want to get across is "what is this book about and why should I care?" Don't dance around the subject, just tell me what the book is about.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

JL: I am looking for something that I haven't seen a zillion times before, that will make me want to stay up all night reading.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

JL: Follow the submission guidelines found at In short:

*E-mail only
*Put "query" somewhere in the subject line
*Paste the query and first ten pages in the body of the e-mail
*No attachments

Thanks again, Ms. Laughran, for these awesome answers. It’s a wonder people mess up those submission guidelines, since they’re pretty standard. All you queriers, take note!

Well, I’m sure everyone knows the drill: Leave your questions in the comments sometime before 5:00 p.m. PDT today, and Ms. Laughran will drop in a few times to answer them. Looking forward to your questions and Ms. Laughran’s responses.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Book Recommendation: BRUISER by Neal Shusterman

I decided to check out BRUISER after reading Kelly’s recommendation, and I’m so glad I did. It was one of the best book decisions I’ve made in a while:)

BRUISER begins as a gentle love story between swimmer Bronte and loner Brewster with all the usual suspects: Bronte’s overprotective brother, Tennyson; Brewster’s quirky younger brother, Cody; Bronte’s in-the-middle-of-their-mid-life-crises parents; Brewster’s alcoholic uncle. But when Bronte discovers Brewster’s gift to absorb physical and emotional pain, the novel takes an unexpected turn. And that’s where the story stays. In un-expectation.

The novel unfolds through the first-person narration of four characters, and yet each of these four voices is distinctive and engaging. Tennyson’s chapters read like something written by an actual teenage boy, which isn’t the easiest point-of-view to pull off (although I would expect Mr. Shusterman, who was once a teenage boy himself, to be able to handle that point-of-view better than, say, me), and Brewster’s chapters, which are written in stunning free verse, provide both the novel’s highest highs and its lowest lows. Moreover, the storyline feels fresh and fully developed, like Mr. Shusterman really took the time to explore the implications of his plot points and the consequences of his characters’ decisions.

BRUISER reads like a contemporary, but the not-normal twist definitely pushes this into the category of genre-bending for me. It’s a fantastic read from start to finish, one that I’ll be recommending for years to come.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chapter the Second: "Maia Eyemieye and the Ungrateful Dead"

In honor of Halloween, I’m resurrecting Maia and Jackson’s story, which was the subject of my very first blog contest. This week’s story won’t be part of a contest, but I’m hoping it will be a diverting way to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve.

Here’s how it will work: I’ll begin the second chapter of Maia and Jackson’s story at the bottom of this post. Then the first player will continue the story in the comments WHEREVER I LEFT OFF. And the second player will continue where the first player left off, and so on. Sometime around Halloween, I’ll finish off the story.

I only have two rules for our little game: Keep your story comment PG-RATED, and keep it somewhere around 100 WORDS. Oh, and I don’t mind if you play more than once--just make sure you don’t make consecutive story comments.

Here’s the first chapter of Maia and Jackson’s story (don't forget to read the comments of that post), and here’s the last 100 words of that chapter. And here’s the start of the second:

The gaslights cast crazy shadows across the cobblestones, and overhead, a raven cawed. Maia winced as Jackson helped her hobble up Doornail Avenue. Sure, it might have been Purgatory, but did they really have to buy into the whole Halloween motif?

Jackson patted her remaining shoulder. “It’ll be okay. First, we’ll go back to school and get your stuff.”

Maia looked down at her crutch, her moth-eaten backpack, and, of course, the ring. “But I already have all my things.”

“I meant your arm and leg.” He glanced at the ring and shuddered. “Then we’ll have to do something about that amulet.”

Maia hoped his shudder was for the ring and not her missing limbs. “You think Cleveland Codswallop will be back?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I do.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Michelle Brower

Today’s interview features Michelle Brower of Folio Literary Management. When Empty Refrigerator asked to see more interviews with agents who rep women’s fiction, I was so excited, because I already had Ms. Brower’s interview waiting in the queue. Enjoy!

KV: How did you get into agenting?

MB: I actually answered an ad on Craigslist for an internship, and once I was in I was hooked.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

MB: My personal agenting philosophy is all about love--if I love the book and have a vision for it, then I’m going to find a way to get it published and make it successful, come hell or high water. But that always means that I really, really have to love something, and if I didn’t that writer would be better served with another agent who was passionate about their work. I love for my authors to be eager to revise, eager to promote, and to feel like they are on a team where we have the same goal in mind.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

MB: I have a wonderful book just out now called DUST by Joan Frances Turner--it’s a zombie novel, but it was unlike any zombie novel I had ever read. It had action and gore, but also an incredibly complicated main character and writing that really crackled with energy and style.

There’s also MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE by Philip Stephens, which will be out in January. It’s a dark, literary novel about a washed-up folk singer and a murderess whose paths cross in rural Missouri. It reads like an old-fashioned murder ballad, and that’s something that certainly was beautiful and arresting.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

MB: I represent a wide range of genres, from literary fiction, to commercial fiction, to certain kinds of non-fiction. My favorite books are those that fall on the literary/commercial border, narrative non-fiction that is subject driven, and things that have a supernatural twist that aren’t limited to the supernatural genre. I have a lot of those right now, though, so I’m currently more hungry for literary fiction, and fiction that might be a good fit for book clubs.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

MB: I absolutely hate queries that begin with a rhetorical question. If someone asks, “Have you ever wondered what life would be like if you were an elephant?” and my answer is “No!” I don’t have any reason to read further.

I also hate it when the only descriptions of the story are vague or only about a character’s emotional development. It takes a real story for a novel to work.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

MB: I would love some women’s fiction with a redemptive, heart-warming story and some amazing writing. I’ve been doing a lot of dark books lately, and I need a little sunshine!

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

MB: E-mail is the only way, with the query and first ten pages pasted in the body of the message.

Thanks, Ms. Brower, for these responses. And I’m sure all you adult fic (is that a word? Word says it’s not a word (go figure), but I decree it is) writers just added another agent to your lists!

Happy Thursday, everybody!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Seven Scintillating But Mostly Useless Facts

Fellow bloggers Ishta Mercurio (awesome name, don’t you think? Ishta, you should name one of your characters after yourself:) ) and Carol Riggs gave me these delightful awards a few weeks ago. Thank you so much, ladies!

To claim Carol’s, I have to tell you seven things about myself, so here are seven scintillating but mostly useless facts I hope I haven’t mentioned before:

1. Bob is thiiis close to being finished--like, I-have-the-first-few-chapters-and-almost-the-whole-manuscript-completely-totally done. More about that in the next couple of weeks.

2. I already have a Shiny New Idea that I could start outlining, like, yesterday. Actually, for the first time in my life, I have a few Shiny New Ideas, but I’m pretty set on this one. I think.

3. As scintillating but mostly useless fact number two implies, I’m not very good at coming up with Shiny New Ideas. Some writers have more ideas than they could write in two or three lifetimes. I’m lucky to come up with one roughly every time I need it.

4. My blood type is O-positive (’cause I’m sure y’all were dying to know that).

5. I can say “y’all” because I lived in Texas for, like, a year when I was twelve. (Have I mentioned that before?) The rest of my childhood I spent in Utah. (Pretty sure I’ve mentioned that before. Oops.)

6. My sister is half Guatemalan, but it didn’t occur to me she wasn’t white until I was, like, sixteen.

7. I don’t usually say “like” as often as I’ve said it in this post.

I’d like to pass these awards on to the following six bloggers, all of whom have served as betas for Bob in one way or another:

A.L. Sonnichsen of The Green Bathtub
Bittersweet Fountain of A Bittersweet Fountain
Jenilyn Tolley of Jenilyn M. Tolley
Jess of Must Love Books
Liesl of Writer Ropes and Hopes
Myrna Foster of Night Writer

Amy, Mandy, Jeni, Jess, Liesl, and Myrna, feel free to claim one or both of these. I’m feeling generous today:)

Thanks for reading, everyone!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Power of Positive Critiquing

RATATOUILLE is one of my favorite Pixar movies. I especially like Anton Ego’s monologue at the end of the film. I won’t quote it verbatim (as Disney seems to have a freak-out anytime anyone borrows even the smallest snippet of their material), but he basically says while critics thrive on negative criticism, the truth is that even the most useless piece of dreck is worth more than the critique that labels it so. That the only time critics risk anything is when they actually like something.

I have critiqued more work this past year, my own and other people’s, than I have in all the other years of my life combined, and I’ve noticed a few things. It's so easy to be negative, to see the worst in your own and other people’s writing and focus on that. Not long ago, I blogged about unconstructive criticism, and I stand by that post. But the truth is, I think we often focus on the negative because we’re afraid to like something. Because, as Mr. Ego points out, we risk more by liking something than by not liking it.

If you don’t like something, all you have to do is say it’s dreck and move along. If, on the other hand, you like something, genuinely enjoy that piece of writing and think the project has some merit, then you’re throwing yourself into the ring with the writer. Every time a rejection or a negative critique comes in, it stings you, too, because you said you liked the project.

But that’s the great thing about jumping into that ring. Suddenly, not all the blows are landing on the writer. You’re in there, too, throwing your own punches, taking a few as well, but giving the writer--the creator--someone else to lean on. Someone to ask, “I’m really not crazy, right? This isn’t just a piece of garbage?” Sometimes we need that validation more than we need anything from the people who’ve read, and liked, our work.

Huh. I meant to take this post in a completely different direction, but these last few paragraphs just kind of spilled out. And you know what? I kind of like them. Guess I’ll let them stay.

Now I’m not saying we should sugar-coat everything. If we genuinely don’t like something, we’d be cheating the writer if we didn’t tell him or her so (but in a nice way, of course). And even when I like a project overall, I still point out the places in which I think it could be improved. What I am saying is that it’s all right to be positive when you really believe in something. That as much as a writer will get out of our suggestions for improvement, he or she may get even more out of the positive things we say.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Rosemary Stimola

To round out Culinary Week, I give you Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio, who is the first agent I’ve interviewed to represent cookbooks, I believe. Oh, and did I mention she represents all things kidlit, too? Must have slipped my mind… :)

KV: How did you get into agenting?

RS: This is actually my third professional life in books. I was an academic teaching language and literature, and then a bookseller. An editor friend asked if I had ever considered agenting, noting my backgrounds as good foundations. The rest, as they say, is history.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

RS: I don’t know if it is a philosophy, but it is a relationship of mutual respect. Every writer is different, in personality and in process. I try to work with each, giving what they need when they need it.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

RS: A lot of work in the tubes right now. Happy to see how stand alone novels have been growing into series. Mike Beil’s middle grade THE RED BLAZER GIRLS is now at four titles; Mary Pearson’s THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX is about to become a trilogy; Amber Kizer’s MERIDIAN is now a four title series; and Lisa Papademetriou’s SIREN’S SONG and David Gill’s BLACK HOLE SUN now have sequels in the making.

Strong voice, good storytelling, and memorable characters may be found in each and every one.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

RS: I represent pre-school through young adult, fiction and non-fiction. I also do cookbooks, which I find great fun.

I do not represent adult fiction.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

RS: Don’t apologize if you are unpublished. Don’t pitch your book as the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games. Don’t tell me you read it to your four-year-old and she loved it.

KV: You only want to see the query letter in a writer’s initial contact, but several respected industry sites have advised writers to include a few sample pages at the bottom of every query, whether the agent asked for them or not. So if a writer goes ahead and adds those pages, do you find that more assertive or obnoxious?

RS: Neither. I don’t read them. If the query interests me, I will ask for a full ms.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

RS: Something fresh. Something that doesn’t feel like I have seen it a hundred times before.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

RS: E-mail at

Thanks again, Ms. Stimola, for these responses. And queriers, take careful note of those query pet peeves and pitfalls. It’s probably a bad idea to tell any agent your book is the next Hunger Games, but I imagine it’s a doubly bad idea to tell that to the agent who sold the series in the first place.

Thanks for hanging with me through Culinary Week, everybody. Next week, I promise to dish up some writing-related posts (pun intended).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Recipe Recommendation: Lemon Pepper Pasta and Asparagus

So we do eat vegetarian meals occasionally (hard to believe, I know, based on the other recipes I’ve recommended), and I wanted to share one of those with you today. This one is light and summery (hey, it still feels like summer here in Mesquite), and the flavor profile is a surefire winner.

You can find the original recipe in Betty Crocker’s big red cookbook or on their website, but here’s my slightly altered version:

Lemon Pepper Pasta with Asparagus

2 cups uncooked farfalle pasta (if you’re looking for a variety that commonly comes in whole grain, penne would work just as well)
2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons lemon juice (or as much lemon juice as you can squeeze out of one lemon)
1 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed (or the equivalent amount of prepared dry beans, of course)
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Cook and drain the pasta as directed on the package. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Saute the bell pepper, asparagus, lemon peel, salt, and pepper in the oil, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are crisp-tender, about 4 to 6 minutes.

Stir the lemon juice and white beans into the vegetable mixture. Cook until the beans are hot, about 2 minutes. Add the pasta to the skillet and toss everything together. Top with more freshly ground black pepper and/or grated parmesan cheese, if you like.

The original recipe calls for cannellini or navy beans, but we’ve found white beans to be the perfect combination of texture and flavor for this dish. (Actually, I have a sneaking suspicion navy beans are white beans, since I can’t find canned navy beans at our grocery story, but that suspicion is unconfirmed.) Also, we once substituted grated lime peel and lime juice for the lemon peel and lemon juice, but I didn’t like it as much.

Hope you give this one a try sometime. Feel free to wait until next spring, though, as asparagus will be in season then.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Recipe Recommendation: My Family's Adobo

Well, it’s Culinary Week here on the blog, I’ve decided. Something Julia Child said about her boeuf a la bourguignonne made me think of this dish, and then, since I’ve been feeling bad about not supporting my vegetarian readers, I hunted down one of my favorite vegetarian recipes online, which I plan to share with you tomorrow. Even this week’s agent interview fits, because the agent whose interview I already had scheduled represents cookbooks. Totally. Awesome. Coincidence.

Anyway, here’s that thing Julia Child said about her boeuf a la bourguignonne: “Carefully done, and perfectly flavored, it is certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man.” That may be the case, Julia, but it in no way rivals the best-tasting meat I’ve ever eaten. That honor, I’m happy to say, belongs to a little Filipino dish called adobo.

My grandfather was born in Manila in 1922, immigrated to the US in the late 1930s, and married my Danish-stock grandmother in 1950. (Yeah, don’t even get me started on the awesomeness that is my grandpa’s life story. I could probably write a whole book about it, especially since, you know, I like to write.) Luckily for us, he brought adobo with him.

Adobo is the name Spanish conquerors gave to the uniquely Filipino dish that involves marinating meat in vinegar, lots of vinegar, for lots and lots of hours. Every family has a slightly different take on this classic recipe, but I once served our family’s version to a Philippine native who had recently moved to the States, and she said it was the best adobo she’d ever had:)

And so, without further ado (although there's been a lot of ado so far), the recipe:

My Family’s Adobo

4 pounds boneless pork spareribs or rolled pork roast
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup Sprite
1 cup frozen pineapple juice concentrate, thawed but NOT reconstituted
2 teaspoons garlic powder
4 teaspoons black pepper

Cut the pork into 2-inch chunks. Combine the other ingredients in a large pot. Add the pork chunks to the pot, cover, and marinate in the fridge overnight. The next day, uncover the pot and bring it to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 3 to 5 hours. Serve over rice.

Now I'm not sure how much of this is my grandpa's original recipe and how much we Americanized (because as rich as my great-grandparents were by Filipino standards (my great-grandfather actually received a law degree from the University of Michigan), I'm not sure how much access they would have had to things like Sprite and frozen pineapple juice concentrate:) ), but frankly, I don't care. The meat is beyond fork-tender by the time it’s done cooking, and it’s got that nice kick of Asian spice.

If you do try this one, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to drop me an e-mail or leave a belated comment. (I’ve enabled comment moderation on all posts older than a week, so I’ll be sure to see it!)

In the meantime, what are some of your favorite around-the-world dishes, and how did you discover them?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Massacring the Art of French Cooking: Boeuf a la Bourguignonne

Hour Six. The kids are finally--finally--in bed, the dinner eaten, and the leftovers in the fridge. The kitchen is a wreck, but I’m too tired to clean it. No, tired is too gentle a word. I am spent. I am exhausted. Boeuf a la bourguignonne is an unforgiving taskmaster.

Hour Zero. We hadn't attempted a recipe from MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING for months, but Honey Bear was determined to try one this week. We settled on boeuf a la bourguignonne (which you can find on page 315 in the cheerful teal-and-orange edition), and though we knew it would be an ordeal, we figured it would make up for all our months of culinary negligence. Plus, we figured it’d make a good blog post:)

Hour One. Honey Bear came home from work an hour or two early for the express purpose of making this meal. We started by boiling bacon. (Yeah, you read that right: Boiling. Bacon.) That took about ten minutes. Then we browned the bacon (?) and the beef, which we’d had the foresight to cut into cubes the night before. What we hadn’t had the foresight to do is cut them into decent-sized chunks. No, our meat cubes were a little bigger than the sugar variety, and as they all had to be seared on every side (so they wouldn’t release their juices over hours and hours of simmering in a big black pot), we spent a lot of time browning beef.

Hour Two. Still browning beef. I’d wanted to have the stew in the oven by the start of hour two, but alas, it wasn’t to be. After the beef was finally browned, we still had to sauté the vegetables (two out of the three members of French cooking’s Holy Trinity, the carrot, onion, and celery), which took another five or ten minutes. Finally, about halfway through hour two, we added grape juice and beef stock to the pan (the recipe called for “full-bodied, young red wine,” but since we don’t cook with that, we used grape juice instead), then stuck it in the oven to simmer away for two to three hours.

It was about this time that I scurried off to use the bathroom (since I’d had to go for, like, the past forty-five minutes), leaving Honey Bear to start the brown-braising of the small white onions by himself. I got back just in time to see him peeling the last of the onions while they were cooking in half an inch of beef stock--no small feat, I assure you--with the help of our meat tongs and a short blade. (Apparently, Julia hadn't been very clear on the difference between peeling and skinning until halfway through the recipe.)

Hour Three. We actually had a few minutes of peace at the start of this hour--from the boeuf a la bourguignonne, anyway. Our kids had woken up from their naps, and now they wanted our attention. I tried to entertain them while Honey Bear read up on the next stages of the Great Supper, which, at Julia’s suggestion, was also going to include boiled potatoes and buttered peas.

Halfway through this hour, Honey Bear set to work on the potatoes and started prepping the mushrooms. (Wait, mushrooms? There are mushrooms in this stew?)

Hour Four. The stew was almost ready to come out of the oven, so it was time to get those peas going and start sautéing the mushrooms, which we were supposed to add to the stew after it had finished simmering. Now, to be honest with you, Honey Bear and I don’t really like mushrooms, but in the interest of being one-hundred-percent faithful to Julia, we decided to make them, anyway.

Finally, (almost) two full hours later (yeah, we cheated on the time, but after three hours of full-time cooking, we decided we’d earned the right to a few shortcuts), we pulled the stew out of the oven. It looked about the same as it had two hours before. Still, we persevered. We poured the stew into a colander, catching the juice-and-stock mixture in a saucepan so we could reduce those juices to a glaze. Five minutes later (Julia said it would only take “a minute or two”), we were still reducing. The sauce wasn’t much thicker than juice and stock normally were, but by that point, we hardly cared.

As we dished everything up, Honey Bear said he hoped it tasted good. I said, “Nothing tastes as good as this should taste.” After Honey Bear took his first bite, I asked him how it was. He said, “It takes like stew meat.”

Curse you, Julia Child! (But you have to say that how Dr. Doofenshmirtz would.)

All right, all right, so the sauce was actually pretty good. Not three-or-four-hours-of-constantly-chopping-searing-or-stirring good, but pretty good, nevertheless. If you have company coming over and you want to impress them with your French culinary skills (not to mention your French pronunciation), give boeuf a la bourguignonne a try. If not, just take my word for it and save yourself the trouble.