Author: johnmcusick

Agent with Folio Jr., representing picture books, middle grade, young adult, and everything in between. Author of GIRL PARTS and CHERRY MONEY BABY. Mostly harmless.

SAITS AND MISFITS Cover Reveal

In case you missed YA Highway’s cover reveal yesterday, check out the groundbreaking SAINTS AND MISFITS!

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Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tightknit Muslim community think of her then?

Pre-order SAINTS AND MISFITS on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or IndieBound, and check it out on Goodreads.

You can follow S.K. Ali at @sajidahwrites, and check out her piece on her quest to find an agent.

Happy PubDay Piper Perish!

Happy PubDay to the phenomenal PIPER PERISH, by Kayla Cagan!

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Piper Perish inhales air and exhales art. The sooner she and her best friends can get out of Houston and get to New York City, the better. Art school has been Piper’s dream her whole life, and now that senior year is halfway over, she’s never felt more ready. But in the final months before graduation, things are weird with her friends and stressful with three different guys, and Piper’s sister’s tyrannical mental state seems to thwart every attempt at happiness for the close-knit Perish family. Piper’s art just might be enough to get her out. But is she brave enough to seize that power when it means giving up so much? Debut author Kayla Cagan breathes new life into fiction in this dynamic, utterly authentic work featuring interior art from Rookie magazine illustrator Maria Ines Gul. Piper will have readers asking big questions along with her. What is love? What is friendship? What is family? What is home? And who is a person when she’s missing any one of these things?

“A character readers will remember.”-Kirkus Reviews

“Will embolden budding teen artists.”-School Library Journal

“Piper Perish is smart, fresh, and utterly engaging. Infused with a love and respect for art that shines through on every page, Kayla Cagan’s debut is equal parts funny and heartbreaking. You won’t put it down.”-Brandy Colbert, author of Pointe and Little and Lion

“Get ready for all the feels! Urgent, funny, and achingly real, Piper Perish will pull you into her artsy, messy, and love-rich world on the first page and hold you tight until the very end. The voice is so fresh and intimate you’ll swear you’ve known Piper your whole life. I read this book on a tear and when I finished-breathless and teary and hopeful-I not only knew I’d discovered an amazing author, I also felt like I had a new friend. Stop what you’re doing and go read Piper Perish now!” -Leila Howland, author of Hello, Sunshine

“Cagan tells Piper’s story with amazing authenticity. soulful reading for any artistic teen with a dream.”-Booklist, starred review

“After reading Piper Perish I want to start my own handwritten, doodle-filled journal full of creativity, dreams, and adventures. This book captured that excitement I felt when I was a young artist full of hope tackling a big city. If a book could be my BFF, it would be this one.” -Bonnie Burton, author of Crafting with Feminism and Girls Against Girls

“A smart, complicated, emotionally mature, coming-of-age story that leaps off the page and reminds you why you ever dared to dream. Bonus points for every Houston shout-out.” -Pamela Ribon, bestselling author of Notes to Boys: And Other Things I Shouldn’t Share in Public

“A love-letter to the artistic life, filled with glamour, passion, hunger and heartbreak.” – author, graphic novelist, and two-time Eisner Award Winner Hope Larson

Order PIPER PERISH on Amazon, B&N, and Indiebound, or check it out on Goodreads!

You can follow Kayla on twitter at https://twitter.com/KaylaCagan

 

Ten Cliches That Make Agents Roll Their Eyes

f3fc3c45fd59bc3cb7fe8ad224519132Great books break these rules all the time. I’ll say it again: great books break these rules ALL THE TIME.

But here are ten cliches agents see so often in queries and samples, they make us go “ugh, not again.”

 

  1. Characters running hands through their hair. This move almost certainly springs from the era of Jonathan Taylor Thomas hair.

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  2. Dead parents. It needs to be said, even though everyone does it, including me. But remember, grief is not a shortcut to character development.

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  3. Redheaded best friends. Poor redheads, always relegated to the position of bestie. Also, why are best friends so often the fun one, while the hero is a stick in the mud? Yes, shyness is relatable, but it’s okay for your main character to be a firecracker, too.

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  4. Alcoholic moms, especially ones that drink boxed wine. Like ‘Busy Dad’, ‘Drunk Mom’ has become a shorthand for suburban ennui and inattentive, embarrassing parenting. Unless your story is truly about substance abuse, try and find a fresh way to signal mom is less-than-perfect.

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  5. Car accidents! If you’re a parent in YA, you’re probably drunk or dead. If you’re a boyfriend, you’re probably two pages away from a horrible car accident. If Kaydan has to go, why not have him get hit by a falling tree, or skateboard into a meat grinder? Get creative!

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  6. Stories that open with characters moving to a new town. I’m not sure why this is such a common set-up, especially in YA and MG, but rather than kickstart the plot, this device can leave agents feeling like they’ve covering the same old territory. (Oops, slipped into “listicle” voice there. Sorry.)

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  7.  / being forced to spend the summer with grandparents / relatives / country bumpkins of any stripe. I think this one originated in romantic comedies, where the too-busy, too-snobby hero is brought down to earth by the love of a simple man. (There are actually quite a few great books that follow this trajectory, but again, agents see it too often.)

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  8. Amnesia. In chapter one. A great story can explore a hero’s rediscovery of her past, and this plot device isn’t an instant turn-off to agents, but if you’re setting out on your first draft, this may not be the best place to start.

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  9. “I bet you’re wondering how I got myself in this situation.” Direct-address to the reader pulls us out of the story and reminds us we’re being narrated to. I think this is something we’ve picked up from movies and t.v., but in novels we’re ALREADY being narrated to, and don’t need reminding. We want to be immersed in your story and identify with your hero, not hear her monologue.

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  10. Heterochromia. This is one of many writer shortcuts for ‘there’s something different / special about her.’ For some reason it’s usually attributed to girls rather than guys, and sometimes suggest the supernatural. Speaking of which, this picture is creepy.

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If you’ve already queried a sample with one or more of these elements, don’t panic. Agents look past this stuff to see what’s truly original about your work. BUT, while there’s nothing wrong with the above in an artistic sense, the best and most enticing writing feels fresh, so in the future, kill these darlings!

Are there any I missed? Add them in the comments!

The Legend of Victor Bailey

screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-8-02-46-amJazz bass guitarist Victor Randall Bailey of Boston, MA passed away peacefully in Stafford at the age of 56 of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Born in Philadelphia, PA, Victor was a professor of music at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA.

 

 

 

 

Last night I received a text from my mother, linking to the above obituary. “The legend is dead,” she wrote.

The name Victor Bailey really was the stuff of legends in my childhood home. My parents were musicians. My mother was a song writer and piano teacher, my stepfather played guitar, and on the weekends their wedding band practiced in our basement. When the house wasn’t filled with the sound of live top 40 hits or my mother’s students plunking away at Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, my family’s impressive stereo system played everything from Bill Evans to early-90s grunge. There was never silence.

If you picked up a Jazz, or heck, a stereo magazine in those years, you might have spotted Victor Bailey on the cover. But his renown as a bassist wasn’t why he was famous in our house. Or at least, that wasn’t all of it.

My mother tells the story like this. In the early 80s she was a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston. She was a jazz composition major, but played out regularly (and missed commencement because she had a gig– a fact of which I am inordinately proud. Mom had her priorities straight). She was a pretty good pianist, and though she wrote a little, her speciality was performing. But like all artists she was self-conscious. In an attempt to improve she was overly aware of her flaws, and worried too much what other players thought of her technique.

One day, so the story goes, a truly renowned and genius Jazz bassist came to speak at Berklee. He sat on stage with his instrument in his lap, answering a moderator’s questions while occasionally playing for the crowd. My mother was in awe. It was like having a Q&A with Jesus, she said, and seeing this master play in person, just a few feet away, was awesome.

Seated next to her was her friend, Victor. Throughout the performance Victor sat with crossed arms and sour but intent expression. Like my mother and the other audience members he was rapt, but less enchanted. When the Famous Bassist finished a particularly impressive riff that left the rest of the hall in appreciative silence, Victor got to his feet and shouted at the stage.

“I can play that shit.”

Now here’s the thing. Victor could not play that shit. Victor was a sub-par bassist at best. But Victor never let that stop him. As my mother tells it, he would boast his way into sessions with musicians of much greater experience and talent, ignoring their stares as, a few songs in, his lack of skill became all too apparent. But it didn’t matter to Victor. He showed up. He played that shit, even if it sounded like shit.

So cut to my mother in the auditorium, slipping lower and lower in her seat, trying to cover her face, as Victor stands beside her, claiming to be on par with the guest speaker. Not just claiming, certain. “I don’t know him,” Mom whispered to the horrified girl beside her.

So how did Victor go from the hacky loudmouth to a famous bassist in his own right, and a professor to boot? Well, while my mother, by her own admission, sought out musicians whose skill was equal to or less developed than hers, Victor was never afraid to embarrass himself. As such, he was always surrounded by the best players. In those sessions, there was nowhere to go but up, and he learned from the better players around him. He watched them play, grew by observing, mimicking, and drawing from their experience. In the end his infectious attitude endeared him to his bandmates, but more importantly, his skills improved. And improved and improved.

“You always want to be the dumbest person in the room, Kate,” he told my mother.

And this piece of advice is precisely what my mother told me.

The Legend of Victor Bailey, as told by Mom, probably grew and stretched over the years like most legends do, but decades after Victor Bailey and my mother had fallen out of touch, the phrase, “I can play that shit,” was bandied around my house. To my stepfather it was more of a joke, but to my mother and me it’s a kind of battle cry. A reminder to throw yourself in, of the power in ignoring self-doubt, the wisdom of being the dumbest person in the room.

Failure is not only inevitable but necessary for progress. I am a chronic over-thinker, but I’ve thrown myself into a few deep ends, and never regretted it for long. Seeing that Mr. Bailey passed recently, at such a young age, is sad, but he accomplished so much in his all-too-short life. He didn’t wait, he stood up. He jumped in. That’s a life well-lived.

Keep playing that shit, man.

 

Happy Pub Day, THE DOLL’S EYE!

Several years ago an author sent me one of the creepiest, delightful, unnerving, exciting stories I’d ever read, and today I’m so excited to see Marina Cohen’s THE DOLL’S EYE hit book shelves! Congratulations, Marina!

Doll's Eye_Cover“An ever present and always-growing sense of dread accompanied by an atmosphere of chills and mystery make this perfect for reading in the closet under the cover of night.”―Kirkus Reviews

“Cohen crafts a pleasingly shivery tale of greed, repercussions, and innocence. A must-have for horror fans.”―School Library Journal

“Cohen makes maximum use of creaking doors and strange shadows to create a delightfully chilling atmosphere, while an unnerving neighbor and whispered rumors heighten the suspense.”―Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

All Hadley wants is for everything to go back to the way it used to be—back when she didn’t have to share her mother with her stepfather and stepbrother. Back when she wasn’t forced to live in a musty, decomposing house. Back when she had a life in the city with her friends.

As Hadley whiles away what’s left of her summer, exploring the nearby woods and splitting her time between her strange, bug-obsessed neighbor Gabe and the nice old lady that lives above the garage, she begins to notice the house isn’t just old and creaky. It’s full of secrets, just like appearance of a mysterious dollhouse and the family of perfect dolls she finds.

Oh, how she wishes her family were more like those lovely dolls! Then one day, Hadley discovers a lone glass eye rolling around the floor of the attic. Holding it close one night, she makes a wish that just might change her world forever.

You can order Marina’s super spooky THE INN BETWEEN on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.

Check out Marina Cohen online and on twitter.

Congrats to Ann Dee Ellis on her new deal with Dial Books!

From Publishers Weekly:

ann-dee-ellis_picNamrata Tripathi at Dial has bought world English rights to Ann Dee Ellis‘s second middle grade novel, The Wild Place. The story follows 12-year-old Cass, who after reconnecting with her maternal grandmother discovers she is a descendant of Etta Place, mistress of the Sundance Kid, and finds herself on a journey to unearth long-lost outlaw treasure. Publication is set for spring 2019; John M. Cusick of Folio Jr./Folio Literary Management brokered the deal.

Congrats to GENA/FINN, on the 2017 Rainbow List!

Congrats Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson! Their co-authored novel has made the Rainbow List, a bibliography of books with significant gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer/questioning content.

41O+px6P4HL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Gena and Finn would have never met but for their mutual love for the popular show Up Below. Regardless of their differences—Gena is a recent high school graduate whose social life largely takes place online, while Finn is in her early twenties, job hunting and contemplating marriage with her longtime boyfriend—the two girls realize that the bond between them transcends fanfiction. When disaster strikes and Gena’s world turns upside down, only Finn can save her, and that, too, comes with a price. Told through emails, text messages, journal entries, and blog posts, Gena/Finn is a story of friendship and love in the digital age.

Find out more about GENA/FINN here, and on Goodreads, Amazon, and B&N.

You can find Kat on her website and twitter, and Hannah on her website and twitter.

Congrats to Shutter, a 2017 YALSA Popular Paperback

9781250044679Congratulations to Courtney Alameda, whose fantastically scary SHUTTER is a 2017 YALSA Popular Paperback! Check out the full list here.

Visit Courtney’s website, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook. You can also check out SHUTTER on Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, and Indiebound.

Most-Anticipated #OwnVoices 2017

11 of Our Most Anticipated #OwnVoices Reads of 2017

So excited to see S.K. Ali, along with Folio Jr’s own Julie Murphy and Jenny Han on this list!

You can follow S.K. Ali at @sajidahwrites, and check out Sajidah’s piece on her quest to find an agent.

 Pre-order SAINTS AND MISFITS on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound, and check it out on Goodreads.