Author Archives: Christina Uss

About Christina Uss

Bike writer, bike rider, dweller of Massachusetts, lover of popcorn and all things sleep-related. My debut novel THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE comes out Spring 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books at Holiday House. Whee!

The Making of a Book Cover: Behind the Cover Reveal of THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS

The Benefits of Being an OctopusFriends, I know you have met author Ann Braden in our last post, but I have to share with you my amazing interview with Ann about her cover reveal. What was particularly fun is that…well… basically I LOVE to talk to Ann anytime I get the chance and you are about to see why. She is not only a talented writer, but she is a thoughtful, observant, deep human. And I learn something from her every time we talk, like the importance of having a rock in your pocket to keep yourself calm. (No, really.)

This particular conversation with Ann is about what happened when her cover showed up. Not the flannel kind. The BOOK kind. As in, after all the many forms of anguish one experiences in getting published, it’s actually happening and you open an e-mail to look at your actual real live book cover.

Here we go. Enjoy! – Anna Crowley Redding

Anna: You and I first met out in Washington at a retreat. I’ll never forget it. Neither of us had book deals yet and I remember how you shared about managing that anxiety of working hard on writing and waiting for a break through. And here you are now, with your first book baby on the way.  How are you feeling these days?

ANN: Yes! That was soon after I had spent an entire month holding a satisfyingly-shaped rock in my hand because I was on pins and needles waiting to hear news about two books that had made their way to the top of the acquisitions process. That was a good rock. And for the record I think I finally heard the decision (of ‘not quite’) about a year later, so it was good I had that rock to help me settle in for the wait!

As to how I’m feeling right now, I’ve been loving every step of the process. I loved digging into revisions with my amazing editor, getting to copy edits, collaborating on this cover, and then most recently, getting to see it laid out like an actual book! There are even e-ARCs up on Edelweiss! That’s pretty darn real!

But I know that as you put your heart out into the world, it’s always best to have something sturdy to hold onto. For me that ideally means getting deep enough into the next manuscript that I’m able to stay sane while riding this roller coaster. Unfortunately, I’ve been pretty busy getting this book ready, and I’m only at the very beginning stages of the next one. It’s probably time to find that satisfyingly-shaped rock again.

Anna:  Your cover reveal was featured on Mr. Schu’s blog. I mean MR. SCHU!!!! He’s a rock star traveling librarian, a shout-it-out-from-the-mountain-tops book advocate, and all around kidlit hero. Please give us a taste of what it was like flying so close to the sun and having Mr. Schu reveal your book cover!

Ann: I’ve been a huge fan of Mr. Schu since I was on maternity leave from my middle school teaching position back in 2010 and had just discovered Twitter. His enthusiasm for books was (as you know) infectious and as I started down the path of writing MG books, I was propelled in part by the knowledge that out there in the world there were people like him who LOVED good books and introduced them to kids.

I have to admit that when Mr. Schu agreed to reveal my book cover I may have leaped around the house for a good long while.

Anna: I need to know about the first moment you saw your book cover with your name on it . . . as the author!

Ann: Oh my goodness. People had said that moment was amazing, and they weren’t kidding. I looked at it small. I looked at it big. I printed it out. I taped it to actual books. All while flailing around A LOT. Since then, my five-year-old daughter has started proclaiming: “THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS! BY ANN BRADEN!” at random moments.

Anna: THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS is such an important book for readers. And grabbing them with the cover, is an important part of getting the book into readers’ hands. I am such a fan of the design. How did that come together? And were you involved in the process?

Ann: I aually got to be super involved in the process. My editor pitched two concepts at the beginning, and I loved one so we went with that. We discussed things every step of the way, and it was such a great collaborative process – and I love love love the end result! I love how bold it is, and I love the way it captures the idea that there is so much going on below the surface of a person. Because isn’t that the truth?

Anna: Now teachers have a crazy good opportunity to win a full classroom set of THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS between now and your book birthday. Tell us about that!

Ann: Yes! I was a middle school teacher before I became a writer and I always thought about how this book could reach those kids feeling alone as they struggle to juggle just as much as the main character Zoey – and how this book could be used in classrooms to start really important and meaty conversations.

Here are the details for the giveaway:

Teachers and librarians have a chance to win a complete class set of books (32 copies!), octopus tattoos, and lesson plans. To enter visit: http://annbradenbooks.com/teachers-librarians/ and click the link at top of the page. While you’re there you can download the brand new Educator’s Guide for THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS. It offers a wide range of discussion questions and activities designed to help kids think deeply about the power of assumptions, the realities of poverty, the ways we can bridge the divides in our society (like about guns, for example), and the importance of finding your own voice.

Anna: Lastly, for writers out there who are still waiting for that first sale, what advice do you have in keeping calm and focused while they are waiting to break-in?

Ann: This advice is said a lot, but that’s only because it’s so darn true: once you put something out into the world, take a break…read some good books, watch some mindless TV…and then get to work creating the next thing. And until then, find a good rock to hold.


Readers, was I right or what? Ann is a gem and I can’t wait to have her book in my hands!

Award winning journalist and author Anna Crowley Redding‘s own debut GOOGLE IT! comes out in August 2018.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

THE POET X LAUNCHES (part 1)

The Poet X

All the members of Emu’s Debuts are privileged today to help Elizabeth Acevedo celebrate the launch of her gorgeous debut, The Poet X from Harper Teen.  Read on to learn more about this book’s path to publication and the ways the story is bound to touch and enrich readers everywhere.


The Poet X Belongs On the Shelf in Every School – Ann Braden

Last night I had the privilege of finishing The Poet X. I sat there for a long time, holding all of its amazingness inside me and trying not to burst. It was so real, and it explored such timely issues in such a powerful way that it exposed them for all to see – and to feel.

Take this stanza from page 126:

“She knew since she was little,
the world would not sing her triumphs,
but she took all of the stereotypes
and put them in a chokehold
until they breathed out the truth.”

And what filled me up to the point of bursting was thinking about what this book could mean for our students who not only need to see themselves in books, but who need to be inspired to make their voices heard. I used to be a classroom teacher, and my heart is full of all the students who need this book. Our job is to get it into their hands.

This year’s the NCTE has chosen the powerful theme of “Raising Students Voice: Speaking Out for Equity and Justice.” As Franki Sibberson, the program chair of the 2018 annual convention, reminds us: “Our students’ voices matter. Their voices matter in our schools, our communities, and beyond. As teachers, we want our students to discover their own voices.… Our students deserve stories that impact who they are and who they can become.”

The Poet X is a book that needs to on the shelf in every school. It will show students that their voices matter, and it will show them how their own lives can change when they speak out.

As the main character Xiomara says:

“If my body was a Country Club soda bottle,
it’s one that has been shaken and dropped
and at any moment it’s gonna pop open
and surprise the whole damn world.”


ARCs and Electricity – Kat Shepherd

I have been eagerly awaiting the book birthday of Elizabeth Acevedo’s THE POET X for almost a year now, so I felt doubly lucky that not only did I get a sneak peek of an ARC of the book, I also got a chance to attend my first even poetry slam this past weekend, where Elizabeth was the featured performer.

 

For those who don’t know, ARC stands for Advanced Reader Copy. These are early, unproofed copies of an author’s book that are sent out to librarians, teachers, and other reviewers to help build buzz around a book before it’s released. If you’ve ever followed groups like #bookvoyage or #bookexpedition on Twitter, you’re probably used to seeing kidlit folks excitedly tweeting about the latest ARCs making their way to mailboxes across the country. Having the chance for an early read already feels incredibly special, and THE POET X was everything I hoped for and more.

 

Xiomara, or X, is entering high school and working to make sense of the conflicting worlds that try to define her: childhood and adulthood, Dominican and American, skepticism and faith, self-love and shame. Poetry is what allows her to fit the pieces of herself together and share her voice with the world. So it was fitting that I got to get a glimpse into Xiomara’s real-life world just as I was reading her story.

Lightning Strike

Elizabeth Acevedo had been invited as the featured poet at a Macalester College poetry slam in St. Paul last Saturday. I already knew she was a phenomenal poet and speaker, but I had never seen her perform in person before. Have you ever felt that pull in your belly when you see someone do something that they were just absolutely born to do? That’s what it felt like seeing Elizabeth. She read poems, she told stories, she made goofy little asides, and she had us hanging on her every word. She was absolutely electrifying.

And the slam itself: undiluted and intense, with poets sharing their most vulnerable selves. Audience participation isn’t just encouraged; it’s absolutely vital. There are snaps, claps, hoots and hollers, peppered with the occasional hiss or cursing of the judges. It is organized chaos punctuated by moments of the sublime.There are poems with lines that cut into the deepest part of you and leave you struggling for breath. It’s the same rawness and urgency of emotion that is captured so beautifully in Acevedo’s novel.

 

THE POET X reminds of that art is a lifeline, and it’s also a heartline that connects us to one another. It allows us to be our most vulnerable and urgent selves, and still have faith that we will be loved.


The Team Behind the Launch  – Christina Uss

The Poet X began its transformation from manuscript to ARC to full-fledged launching hardcover book when Elizabeth Acevedo signed with her agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, who then connected her with the book’s editor, Rosemary Brosnan at Harper Teen. Pre-published writers often agonize over how they’ll find an agent or editor, wondering if there’s some magical, mystical way to get noticed. In Elizabeth’s case, all the magic she needed was right there in her words. Her writing spoke so strongly to these two, they both knew they simply had to work with her on this book.open-a-book

Ammi-Joan Paquette explained how her part in the journey began:

“Liz and I had been in touch a few years before, and at that time she had sent me sample pages of another work she had in progress. Although that was a bit earlier in her writing journey, she definitely had the magic already! We kept in correspondence, and when she eventually sent me the manuscript for POET X, I was hooked. I knew this was what I had been waiting for. Pure magic.” The main character, Xiomara, particularly drew Paquette in: “Her voice rings through so clearly and vividly. From the earliest lines she is a living, breathing, multi-dimensional character, and her personality is exquisitely captured as she develops and grows across the course of the story.”

            Paquette submitted Xiomara’s story to editors she thought might make a good match, and The Poet X ended up selling at auction – an enviable situation when multiple editors/publishing houses all want to be the one to publish a work. “When that happens, the various editors each make their case for why they would provide the best home for the work. That’s what happened with POET X—it’s very exciting, but also a bit nerve-wracking, as you might imagine, for the author to suddenly be in a position to have to choose between such an array of excellent options. In this case, Rosemary Brosnan at Harper Teen was inarguably the top choice for POET X, and I can’t imagine a better home for Liz and Xiomara anywhere!

Rosemary Brosnan let Emu’s  Debuts know she agrees:

Everything about THE POET X drew me in and made me want to acquire it! The voice, the wonderful poetry, the story—everything about this book screamed to me, ‘You must publish!’ I was also quite taken with the Afro-Dominican main character, Xiomara, as she is someone we have not seen a great deal in YA literature. And Liz herself is a force; I watched videos of her performances after I read the manuscript, and I was completely bowled over. (See links below to catch your own glimpse of Elizabeth’s power onstage.)

        Like Paquette, Brosnan found Xiomara to be a unique character. “Some of the issues…in the story have been dealt with by other authors, but Xiomara is a truly memorable character, with her Dominican heritage, her love of poetry, her ultra-religious mother against whom she rebels.” She hopes all the book’s readers will leave its pages knowing “that poetry does not have to be obscure or written by dead white males! That poetry is fun!”


Savoring Poetry – Please Join the Challenge – Hayley Barrett

The Poet X is stunningly beautiful, inside and out.

I tried to read it—to sit quietly and read it—but I couldn’t. My voice wouldn’t cooperate. My ears wouldn’t cooperate. I should have expected as much. I’m predominantly an auditory learner, and my voice is sometimes the best tool I have to explore an idea. As I read The Poet X, my lips began to move. Eventually, I realized I was whispering and began to read aloud. Sweet, poetic relief!

To experience poetry silently, to only ever experience it like that, is to do it a disservice. Poetry does not care to be silenced or made to be less that all it truly is. Poems deserve to be read quietly, to be read out loud, to be shared with many voices. The Poet X certainly deserves that.

Throughout my education—which included an undergrad English major—only one teacher required me to memorize and recite poetry. I often chose the work of my favorite poet, Maxine Kumin. When I recited Kumin in class, I heard her voice and, perhaps as importantly, I heard my own. Savoring her words broadened my poetic palate and whetted my appetite for language. The experience nourished and strengthened me.

There are many videos of author Elizabeth AcevedoElizabeth Acevedo on her website and YouTube, including spoken word, two TEDx talks, and others. I encourage you to seek them out. In a recent one, she introduces The Poet X and talks about how she hopes her readers “hear a voice they’ve never heard.” If they read The Poet X aloud, one of the voices readers hear will be their own. I believe this experience will nourish and strengthen them. They may even discover their own poetic voice. I hope so.

As we celebrate her launch of The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo challenges each of us to identify a female poet, choose one of her poems, and commit it to memory. I didn’t retain the Kumin poems I memorized for Professor Briggs, but I can reclaim them. I accept the challenge.


The rest of the Emus plan to do the same! Will you accept the challenge with us? Please comment below and share the poems and female poets who help you hear a voice you’ve never heard.



The Emu’s Debuts nest is honored to count Elizabeth Acevedo as one of our own! Contributors to this Emu’s Debuts post include middle-grade authors debuting in 2018 Ann Braden , Christina Uss, and Kat Shepherd, and picture book author Hayley Barrett, debuting in 2019.


 

4 Comments

Filed under Agents, ARCs, Launch, Poetry, Publishers and Editors, Uncategorized, Voice

The Three Questions That Led to BE KIND

Be_Kind

I’m so grateful to the current group of EMU’s Debuts for letting me visit for a guest blog.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was a member of EMU’s Debuts, waiting for SOPHIE’S SQUASH to come into the world. It was a time of excitement and fun and nervousness and wondering.

I’ve had more books come out since SOPHIE, but I still feel the same way when a new book arrives. What will happen? Will people like it? Will it matter?

So I’d like to walk you through the questioning process for my new book, BE KIND, illustrated by Jen Hill, which released Feb. 6 from Roaring Brook Press.

THE IDEA:

BE KIND started with a conversation I had with Editor Connie Hsu from Roaring Brook Press. She wanted to publish a book on kindness and had the title. My job was to write the story. Which led to question No. 1: What should I say?

I decided to tell the story from the point of view of a child who wants to be kind, but isn’t sure quite how to go about it – especially after the first attempt doesn’t go so well.

I thought back to how I often felt as a kid – nervous and unsure. Wanting to do the right thing, but afraid of having it taken the wrong way. So quiet, that I probably sometimes came across as rude even though that’s not what I wanted.

In the book, the main character ponders different ways of being kind and how each way might make a difference in the world. I like how it shows that there’s no one right way to be kind. All you can do is try sincerely and try again if it doesn’t work.

THE CHARACTER:

The story is told from inside the main character’s head. Which led to question No. 2: Who should this character be?

Because the story is told in first person, the main character doesn’t have a name. Or an identified gender. We wanted a character people could relate to and see themselves in.

And it’s interesting. Some people have read the book and assumed the main character is a girl. Others have assumed a boy. My favorite response came from Madison, Wisconsin, school librarian LuEllen Childers. She read the book to some students, and the kids started discussing if the main character was a boy or a girl. LuEllen asked them: “Does it matter?”

And, after some more discussion, the universal answer was that, no, it did not. Because everyone could be kind.

THE AUDIENCE:

Our question No. 3 was: Who is this book for?

It might seem like an odd question. Picture books are for kids, right? And, yes, they are. But picture books can have a broader scope than that. More and more middle school and high school teachers are reading picture books to their older students to introduce topics and start conversations and reintroduce the power and joy of story. And more and more adults are realizing that picture books can apply to them, too.

No book is ever for everyone. But I hope BE KIND has ideas and concepts that apply to people of all ages, and I tried to keep that in mind as I wrote.

If you’d like to know a little more about BE KIND, here’s a Pinterest board I made featuring other picture books about kindness.

And here’s a book trailer featuring some students talking about what being kind means: to them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2eZBM0uvIg


PAT ZIETLOW MILLER iis a former member of EMU’s Debuts. She has published seven picture books. Find her on Twitter at @PatZMiller or visit her website twww.patzietlowmiller.com.

4 Comments

Filed under Advice, craft~writing, Picture books, process, Uncategorized

You’re Publishing a Book? How Nice!

I remember walking into my local indie children’s book store and asking if I could talk to their book buyer. “My debut novel comes out next year,” I told her, eyes wild with joy. “How nice,” she cautiously replied, and I could immediately see weariness and wariness in the woman’s eyes. I thought I’m not the first mom to walk in here and say I’ve written a book, am I? I wondered how many folks came in with books printed through Amazon’s CreateSpace, certain every bookstore has plenty of room to stock them and time to hand-sell their self-published creations.  

Telling my I-just-signed-a-book-contract celebration news to acquaintances often elicited this reply: “How nice! My daughter/aunt/ neighbor/child’s teacher/lawyer/candlestick maker published a book too!” 99% of these books were self-published. I can’t guess what percentage of non-writer folks assume that self-published books and traditionally published books are pretty much identical in terms of quality and the time invested to achieve that quality, but it felt high. High enough that I felt compelled to introduce my impending authorship by cramming in somewhat pompous-sounding details before running out of breath: “My first book is coming out next year with a traditional publishing house that’s been in the children’s book business for over eighty years and it’s going to sold in bookstores all over the country just like Harry Potter and yes, you’ll be able to order it not only from Amazon but anywhere fine books are sold.”

When I began my journey to publication, self-publishing was not part of my equation. I never questioned that I was going to seek out an agent and go the standard elephant3

glacially-paced rejection-rife but-oh-so-worth-it-all route. However, after years of work and only six months away from my book’s birthday, self-publishing persistently lurks in the background when I talk about my upcoming debut. It doesn’t lurk maliciously; more like a confused, well-meaning elephant who doesn’t know why its presence near my dining room table (carefully set for a book debut celebration party) is making me uncomfortable.

I learned to accept this sense of a misplaced pachyderm wandering in my writer’s soul until I took over leadership of an informal local writers’ group. One member of my group nearly shelled out big bucks for a “publishing contract” from some vanity press pretending to be doing him a favor. And another elected to print his memoir through Amazon and was amazed to find that my publishing experience bore no resemblance to his. I’m now worried about pre-published writers who genuinely want to become professionals getting sucked into thinking there’s no appreciable difference between self-publishing and traditional.

There are certainly valid reasons to self-publish, like avoiding rejection and having control over your book’s design and timing of release. I would hope that anyone choosing self-publication does so with their eyes wide open, knowing the price they pay for personal control is giving up the giddy fun of receiving advances, the power to reach readers through extensive publicity and distribution networks, and the warm, supportive hammock of confidence in the quality of your book’s professional editing and production.

elephant2

What about your own journey, fellow pre-published and published writers? Let’s talk about any elephants that lurk at your own dining room tables. Have you considered going (or even satisfactorily navigated) the self-publishing route? Have you ever struggled to convince folks that traditionally publishing a book is one heck of an accomplishment? You have? How nice! Please share a comment below.

 


Christina Uss

CHRISTINA USS is proud that it’s taken years of persistence to say her debut novel THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE comes out June 5, 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books/ Holiday House. See the cover reveal on KidLit TV here. Tweet to her about your own publishing experience @christinauss or drop by http://www.christinauss.com.

 

 

 


6 Comments

Filed under Celebrations, Publishers and Editors, Self-publishing and Traditional Publishing, Uncategorized

MUSIC SOOTHES THE LOST

I’m thrilled to be writing about author Darcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel, LOST BOYS. While the essential plot follows twelve-year-old Reza’s experience as a child soldier during the Iran-Iraq War, music lives at this book’s heart as well. Reza’s love of music helps him make sense of his world and to survive.  I won’t give away any plot points, but suffice it to say, one couldn’t take music out of this book and have it tell the same story.

LOST-BOYS_5.5_x8.25_

Since the beginning of human history, from every continent across the globe, we’ve made and shared music. Whether it’s soothing our savage breasts or our savage inner beasts, it hath charms nothing else can quite duplicate. Reza shows us this in one complicated twelve-year-old life.

Darcey’s story of Reza’s reality where music can never be taken for granted smacked me upside the head with the realization of how lucky I was in my own music-filled childhood. I was encouraged to find passion, solace, sanity and happiness in listening to and performing music. I love the idea of young readers having their eyes opened to their own aural freedoms by learning about Reza’s barriers to access.

When Reza finds adults who not only recognize his need for music but take risks to provide it, it made my heart soar.  As a parent with kids headed towards the pre-teen years, I think a lot about providing them access to quality music, expanding their auditory boundaries, letting them know music is as good for them as proper sleep and decent food. I often prescribe doses of their favorite pop songs to lift their moods. (As Dr. Mom and a music major, I have the authority to say, “Take two Weird Als and some Katy Perry followed by Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and call me in the morning.”)

I’m so glad that LOST BOYS portrays the power and necessity of music for children – NOT the necessity of music lessons to turn kids into Baby Einsteins, but something that helps us feel balanced, comforted, understood, and more alive. I brainstormed to think about other middle-grade and YA books where music plays an integral role in supporting the main characters. How about Conrad Wesselhoft’s poetry-and-Red Bull-fueled ADIOS NIRVANA, Adi Rule’s gothic mystery STRANGE SWEET SONG, Ann McCaffrey’s classic fantasy DRAGONSONG, Linda Urban’s quirky A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT?

I know there are others out there. Please share with us at Emu’s Debut your own suggestions below for books where music is as integral to a character’s happiness as it is for Reza in LOST BOYS!

LOST BOYS can be found at your local bookstore, or online at:

Indie-Bound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781627797580

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-boys-darcey-rosenblatt/1125067336

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Boys-Darcey-Rosenblatt/dp/1627797580

Books-a-Million: http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Lost-Boys/Darcey-Rosenblatt/9781627797580

 

1 Comment

Filed under Book Launch, middle grade, music, Uncategorized

LET ME COUNT THE LINES

The celebration of Sarvinder Naberhaus’ new gem of a board book continues! Have you ever wondered what unicycles, doughnut trucks, towns, and our solar system have in common? (C’mon, you have at least once, haven’t you?) I’ll let you in on the answer: LINES.

 

lines-9781481490740_hr

And illuminating profound connections between disparate things doesn’t require as high a word count as you may suppose. As authors, we may think more often than most people about the number of words we are writing – did I make my daily quota for NaNoWriMo? Has my picture book inadvertently expanded to chapter book? Is my YA novel so long that no agent could ever even lift the manuscript?

 

Female face behing pile of paper

 

The fewer words we choose to use, the bigger the challenge to create something of substance, a book a child will enjoy having read to them again and again (and a book adults are happy to pull off the shelf again and again). LINES offers the simplest of ideas, carefully crafted. Sarvinder uses sparse language and simple repetition to condense the shapes around us to their basic essentials. Then she expands the reader’s view to see those shapes filling out into every nook and corner of the world around us.

In less than twenty words.

 

pile-of-words

 

That’s right – she pretty much covers the fundamental interconnectedness of all things, from doughnut trucks to the solar system, with just a double-handful of nouns, verbs, and prepositions. The famously constrained Green Eggs and Ham uses a whopping fifty. Goodnight Moon and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! both have over a hundred. Just sayin’.

 

If you’re a writer like me who usually functions at maximum verbosity, you can’t help but be impressed with the skill of writers who can pare down to the essentials and create an engaging book for the youngest readers-to-be.

 

Now are you wondering not only how LINES links so many things but how it does it so succinctly? Only one way to find out – pick up a copy (I promise, it’s as light as a doughnut) at IndieBoundBarnes & NobleAmazon or your favorite bookseller and take a look at how Sarvinder and illustrator Melanie Beck made it happen!

6 Comments

Filed under Board Books, Book Launch, craft~writing, Uncategorized

WHO, WHO IS YOUR AGENT? An interview with Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency

whobert hoover

As we continue the debut celebration of Jason Gallaher’s WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, I got to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on how WHOBERT went from manuscript on submission to debuting picture book with the help of agent extraordinaire, Tricia Lawrence. For those of you interested in becoming agent-signed authors yourselves, here’s how the process worked for Jason and WHOBERT:

Tricia, I saw WHOBERT as an advance reader copy and was immediately charmed by this over-eager owl detective. Was WHOBERT WHOVER the manuscript that led you to sign Jason as a client? (If not, please tell us how you and Jason first connected!)

Actually, this wasn’t the only manuscript. Jason had a few more manuscripts and WHOBERT made me laugh out loud for the second time. The first time I laughed out loud was at his manuscript about a squirrel that hoards unusual sustenance for the winter (that one hasn’t sold yet, but if you love WHOBERT, you’ll love that one too!)

squirrelI’d love to see that one – I’m already trying to imagine what that squirrel is up to! What was it about Jason’s writing that drew you in?

 

His incredible sense and use of humor; his understanding of what makes a text strong enough to stand up to being illustrated; his vision coming through only the text (very sparse art notes) and the beauty and strong emotion of his writing. 

 
I understand you’re the kind of agent that helps her authors revise and polish their manuscripts before sending them out to editors. How did you and Jason work together to make sure WHOBERT was in tip-top shape before going out on submission?

I didn’t have to work on this one, and that is very rare. Usually, I am much more involved in manuscript revisions. This is why I knew I had to sign Jason immediately. The majority of his PB texts come to me ready to go. Jason has that strong eye to know when he needs revision before I even seen the manuscript.

Being on submission can be a nerve-wracking time for authors, since every day can Jason G.bring the chance of an offer…or the chance of another rejection. While WHOBERT was out on submission, did you do anything to keep up Jason’s spirits? (Did he even need spirit-up-keeping? He seems like one of the bubbliest and cheerfullest authors ever. And I know livens up any costume party.)

Jason doesn’t need much spirit up-keeping, true! But we keep in close contact anyway, because even if the submission process is going smoothly, he also writes novels and he is awesome about keeping me in the loop on his progress and always ready to ask for help when he needs it. 

 
Knowing when to ask for help is a skill in and of itself; Jason’s main character Whobert the owl certainly has trouble doing that! Have you ever done something Whobert-esque, where you were certain you were right but completely misunderstood the situation?

Oh, yes. Haven’t we all? It’s usually me intervening in the dog negotiations at our house. The big mastiff, Toledo, is a bit intimidated by his younger and smaller sister, husky-shepherd mix, Rue, and they have this long “Wookie”-esque conversation about who gets to come through the dog door first. I often think it’s Toledo trying to bug his sister, but he’s just trying to get inside out of the sun or outside into the sun. 

dog negotiationsDog negotiations do sound complicated. I know you are closed to unsolicited queries, so if there’s an author out there who thinks they have something special like WHOBERT, is there a way they can query you? And do you have a suggestion on how their query can shine as brightly as an owl’s talons among all the queries that come your way?

 

They can attend a conference where I’m on faculty (I’m done for 2017; stay tuned for the 2018 schedule) or they can get referred into Erin Murphy Literary Agency by an EMLA client or another industry professional. Write something good! The query should not shine brighter than the manuscript. Make your manuscript amazing first. Then get help with the query by reading aloud a lot or having someone more experienced read and review it for you. I am a BIG FAN of critique groups and beta readers. Use them.

I’m going to take a page from some previous Emu agent interviews and ask you to finish this sentence: the perfect reader for WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE is…

Who, Who, Who, Whover-ific!

Who could doubt that? Thanks, Tricia!


Christina UssChristina Uss loves being part of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency since she gets to hang out with terrific people like Jason Gallaher and Tricia Lawrence and see sneak previews of books like WHOBERT.

4 Comments

Filed under Advice, Agents, Book Launch, Picture books, Uncategorized

ACKNOWLEDGING THE ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

In the months leading up to signing with my agent, I got in the habit of flipping to the acknowledgements page of middle-grade books to peruse who the author thanked and how fervently they thanked them.  I didn’t realize how much the tender, earnest gratitude other writers pledged towards their supportive spouses and children was making me sweat until I saw the acknowledgments page of Scott Seegert’s VORDAK THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE. Here, after dedicating the book to his own glorious self, Vordak refuses to commend the contribution of others to its publication, observing, “A herd of bison would have been more helpful.”

20110321__BISON-ART-DENAp1

I felt a thrill of YES and VORDAK, YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO UNDERSTANDS ME.  Then I found a quote from Franz Kafka telling his fiancée, “You once said you would like to sit beside me while I write. Listen, in that case, I would not be able to write at all…one can never be alone enough to write…” Oh, Franz, I hear you, too, dude.

 

My husband and I worked out a plan last summer whereby he’d be the family breadwinner, and our kids would be the family bread-eaters, and I would try being the family writer. In planning, however, we failed to acknowledge that I already have a couple of full-time jobs managing our household and parenting two intense little people who want nothing more than to spend their day talking to me, negotiating with me, playing with me, squabbling near me, and lying down on various parts of me and asking me to read to them. In addition, my husband is pretty introverted and many days, I’m his only social outlet.

We’ve tried various methods of preserving a quiet, protected daily writing space and time for me.

writer at work

 

I’ll be frank, though: bit by bit, I’ve been disintegrating. I’ve always been unusually sensitive to disturbances in the Force around me, which my doctor is now calling generalized anxiety disorder. When I’m out of balance, I develop really odd anxieties. (One fun example: after my twins were born, I developed a fear of my home’s mailbox.)

mailbox_lizard

And I’ve found that even with a regime of medication, supplements, meditation, and therapy, if I don’t get enough alone time, I’m neither a good writer nor a good member of our family. Instead, I hide in bed and fantasize about:

  • digging a moat around and bricking up the doorway to our home office
  • finding a way to become the sound-hoarding Soundkeeper from THE PHANsoundkeeperTOM TOLLBOOTH
  • inventing reverse hearing aids that allow you to turn silence up or down as needed (better than ear plugs, we’ll call ‘em Hearing Thwarts, $19.99 per pair plus shipping and handling. Stock up for the holidays!)

It’s not easy. Nevertheless, when my editor asked for my own dedication and acknowledgements pages, I did thank my family. It’s understated, but it’s there. While there’s a mailbox-fearing creature ready to hijack my hippocampus pretty much whenever, I’m not a jerk nor an evil overlord at heart.

It’s worth noting, however, that my kids’ school summer vacation begins tomorrow. So if you hear I’ve disappeared, please do me a favor – don’t tell the authorities that I’ve likely taken my laptop to sit amidst the nearest herd of bison to get some peace and quiet.


Christina UssCHRISTINA USS has never found a frilled lizard in her mailbox, but there’s always a first time. Her debut novel THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE comes out Spring 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books/ Holiday House. Tweet her if you know of a herd of bison seeking a Writer in Residence @christinauss or drop by http://www.christinauss.com.

 

10 Comments

Filed under Anxiety, Families, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

After the Ecstasy, the Editing

Everything editors, agents, and authors have told me at SCBWI conferences has turned out to be true, particularly the things I didn’t believe would be true for me.

For example, I’ve been told that getting a book deal will not magically transform me into a permanently satisfied, optimistic, and resilient human.  When SCBWI folks said stuff like that, I remember thinking, “Oh, I’m sure that’s true for the other pre-published writers here, but not me. Once I get a book deal, I may still be an easily-exhausted anxiety-prone weirdo, but then I’ll be that weirdo WITH A BOOK DEAL AND THAT WILL MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE.”

Nope. Sigh.

After the ecstasy of getting “the call” in 2016 from my darling agent and connecting with my talented editor to begin the publication journey for my debut middle-grade novel, I expected to wallow in utter contentment for a long time. Years of wallowing. At the very least I’d wallow through the whole process of getting my manuscript out into the world.

Then the first round of revision edits was delivered to my door, and with it arrived the Mind Games Writers Play On Ourselves (yep, MGWPOO).

I got caught up in such MGWPOO favorites as:Shel Silverstein head

  • I’m Not a Real Writer
  • Before I Can Handle Criticism, I Need to Die
  • Chasing False Measures of Success
  • Envy of All the Other Writers Who Don’t Struggle with This Crap
  • The 33 -Minute Limit of Success-Fueled Joy-Basking Before I Find a Way to Undermine Myself
  • The Permanent Longing for Success That Makes Hope Painful.

 

TheySidecar (4) come roaring along with every new delivery of manuscript revisions, like rumbling motorcycles leaving greasy tire tracks across my soul, and this thousand-pound steel sidecar is attached to every single one: Beating Myself Up for Falling into Mind Games Again.

What’s an anxiety-prone weirdo to do?

First, I think, find another writer somewhere who will tell you that you are not alone in this. (You’ve found me. I’m telling you. You’re not.) Airing out the mind games, bringing them into the light of discussion with your fellow writers shows them up for what they are: common. Common as commas.  I’m beginning to think none of us can publish a manuscript with some of them in the mix.

Editing Kit Kats

Next, it seems smart not to assume the mind games will pass us by.  We must arm ourselves for the ongoing battle; perhaps with weapons of Show Kindness to Fellow Writers and Give Yourself Time and Turn the Nebulous Sense of Mortal Despair into a Concrete To-Do List. I’m still working on this concept as my battle armor currently consists of a jar of Kit Kats.

But I’ve got my MGWPOO out in the open now, here in the light of EMU’s Debuts, and that’s a start.

(Many thanks for the warm wit and wisdom of my agency-mates Anne Nesbet, Ann Bedichek, and Sophie Petersen for convening the Special Committee on Writerly Mind Games and How to Defeat Them. Check out Anne Nesbet’s Middle Grade Mayhem post on the same topic!)


Christina Uss

CHRISTINA USS is a bike writer, bike rider, mother of twins and dweller of Massachusetts. Her debut novel THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE comes out Spring 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books/ Holiday House. Help her learn to dodge the MGWPOO at http://www.christinauss.com.


 

12 Comments

Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, jealousy, process, rejection and success, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Let Nature Nurture You, and Wash Your Spirit Clean

Readers of Terry Pierce’s cozy MAMA LOVES YOU SO will encounter many poetic images of nature nurturing the young, reminding us that nature has room to nurture us at any age.  mama-loves-you-so-coverTerry will be giving away a signed copy of MAMA LOVES YOU SO as part of her book launch week. Enter by leaving a comment below, and she will enter your name into the giveaway (up to one comment per day.) Read on to see how nature nurtures Terry and some of her fellow kidlit writers.

Terry has always found solace in nature, going back to her childhood. “For hours, I could sit cradled in the branches of a tree, or perched on a rock watching the woods. Anytime I’m feeling restless, worried, or at a breaking point, if I can get out in nature I’m instantly calmed and can put things in perspective. And I love writing in the woods! I carry a waterproof journal and pencil in my backpack because my muse often appears in nature. In fact, I wrote MAMA LOVES YOU SO outside, inspired by the grandeur of the mountains.

 

TerryLyingonRock

The place in nature that nurtures me the most are the Sierra Nevada mountains. Whether I’m sunning on a boulder, climbing, hiking, listening to a stream, or watching wildlife (hopefully with a camera in hand), I’m at peace in the mountains. I once spent five weeks hiking from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney, one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

John Muir, one of my favorite writers, once wrote, ‘Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. So true! My hope is that MAMA LOVES YOU SO will inspire parents to take their little ones outdoors so they can learn to love nature and feel its benefits, too.”

 

Author Debbi Michiko Florence finds, “Whenever my mind gets too busy or I feel overwhelmed by my Things To Do list, all I need to do is step outside. I have two ducks (Darcy and Lizzy) and at least twice a day I have ‘duck time.’

IMG_5135

I let them out of their coop to wander the yard and I sit there, watching them, listening to bird song (and duck quacks), breathe the fresh air and watch the clouds roll by. My mind settles and I get present with what is. Duck time is meditative for me and nurtures me like nothing else.”

 

 

Author Hayely Barrett appreciates animals too. “As much as I love people, I’m deeply thankful that humans aren’t the only creatures on this planet. Life on Earth is spectacularly varied, and whether I watch a video of a jaguar slinking through the rainforest or spot a fisher slinking through my yard, I am cheered.

Me and Munchkin

Hayley and Munchkin, fully themselves

I enjoy the company of non-humans, horses and dogs especially. They are fully themselves—unchanging and at peace—and spending time with them helps me to remember who I am too.”

 

 

 

 

Author Katie Slivensky shares,

bluejoyNature calms me by giving me something to focus on that is external. I was stuck on some summary work during a snow day in February, and then a paused and spent an hour taking pictures of blue jays outside. That took my mind away from my book troubles, and when I came back around to work on those summaries later, I had a much easier time.”

 

Author Megan Lloyd’s debut picture book celebrates kids in nature, and she finds support there herself. “When I find myself getting anxious, with my heart racing and my thoughts swirling, going outside for a walk, or just taking a minute to sit in the sunshine, centers me. It helps me let go of my problems and instead feel absorbed in the beauty around me. And then I’m ready to take a deep breath…and return to my challenges (writing and otherwise), with a renewed sense of perspective and focus.”

Author and agent Ammi-Joan Paquette knows where writers can find an ever-present boost beyond their writing chair, saying, “Nature is nurturing because it is always accepting, always peaceful, always there. It’s like a personal magic kingdom that lies in wait for whenever you need it.”

And wherever any of us are in the writing and publishing process, there’s not one of us who couldn’t use plenty of that.

5 Comments

Filed under Book Launch, Inspiration, Nature, Thankfulness, Uncategorized, Writing and Life