Authors

A debut deal for Susie Salom with Arthur A. Levine Books!

Very excited to announce Susie Salom’s debut middle-grade, KYLE CONSTANTINI FINDS HER WAY! From Publishers Weekly:

Cheryl Klein at Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books has acquired world rights toKyle Constantini Finds Her Way, a middle-grade novel by debut author Susie Salom. As Kyle participates in a problem-solving competition, she also navigates the maze of sixth-grade friendships, crushes, and trust, using T’ai chi, echolocation, twin ESP, and her lucky blue fedora. Publication is planned for fall 2016; John M. Cusick of Greenhouse Literary negotiated the deal.

Susie SalomJMC: When and how did you start writing?

Susie: I had this little tablet with a smiley-faced rainbow on it when I was six years old. I filled it with poems. Later, in third grade, I wrote a short story called ‘Nose Knows,’ in which a person (named Nose) with an enormous schoz saves the day because of his bionic sense of smell and his ability to trust where it leads him.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

Honestly, in the very beginning I was more hot and bothered by non-fiction, particularly stuff about outer space, the weather and any ‘unsolved mystery’ kind of reads that were available in the early ‘80s. I liked, and practiced, the venerable art of reading auras so the kinds of books I gravitated toward most were, like, I don’t know Esoteric 101 for Squirts. But if you put a watergun to my nostril and said, ‘Quick! Name a legendary storyteller from when you were a kid!’, I’d give props to William Sleator (Into the Dream was the first novel I hooked up to like an IV until I was done with it) and Zilpha Keatley Snyder. I’d say Snyder’s The Changeling had a measurable impact on my psyche. But I also loved really down-to-earth, recognizable, funny contemporary stuff like (the honorable) Judy Blume (long live Sheila the Great,) Barthe DeClements (Nothing’s Fair in the Fifth Grade, anyone?) and this other book that I’m super stumped in my efforts to remember. It was about this girl in junior high whose parents divorce and the mom goes on a health kick and gives her food that she’s embarrassed by in her lunch sack–tofu was seen as a heckuva lot weirder circa 1985–so she forms this club that meets under the bleachers to avoid the cafeteria crowd. If this sounds familiar to anyone, can you please help me solve the mystery? I’d be fraternally grateful.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

My first novel was completed eons ago. Key to going the distance were a handful of beta readers–my sister, a former student of mine, one of my best friends–who read chapters as I was writing it and were gracious enough to let me know where they’d laughed. In fiction, as in life, if you can laugh at the same stuff, you’ve made a gorgeous, inestimable connection. Then, of course, just finishing the thing–a women’s fic piece that was at once thinly-veiled autobiography as well as an amateur, but wicked fun, exercise in wish-fulfillment–also made my confidence soar. It was like, I can totally do this. And that was indescribably rad.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I’m a sprinter. Every novel I’ve completed, it’s been like that. I have a whole, virtual storage unit of novels I started but didn’t finish so if it’s gonna fly, it’s gotta happen quickly. I started off with Stephen King’s admonition to write 1500 words a day and I totally believe in having a metric like that. What I’d suggest, in case anyone wants unsolicited advice, is to find your pace and be true to it. For me, it’s banging out a novel before it dries up inside me. The last one I wrote came at a rate of about 3500 words a day. It was Middle Grade, so it only clocked in at around 40K words. I don’t know if I could sustain that pace for a full-length manuscript for adults, but that’s the fun in getting to know yourself creatively and productively. What are you capable of? What fuels you? Which worlds do you totally dig inhabiting when you can block out the one filled with autocrats and laundry and a ludicrously imbalanced signal-to-noise ratio. Sorry. Think I went off. Not sure I stayed on topic with your question but basically, when I’m writing, I start in the morning and I stop when I’m done for the day. Sometimes that’s around lunch time, sometimes I’m burnin’ ye olde candelabra after the sun’s gone to bed. I just have to work fast before the thing sets. It’s a lot like wet cement. Also, if I wait too long to explore a story idea, it kinda shifts, like this super-fragrant, lilac vapor (pre-cement stage,) and just goes somewhere else. Maybe to a spinal column that is better prepared to sit its coccyx down and do the work now. (No, I do not, nor have I ever, done drugs.)

Can you tell us about your next book?

Can I do that? I mean, is that kosher? Well, I’ll let you decide what to print since you’re my agent! After Kyle’s story, I wrote a novel called ACE MASTRIANO AND THE SUPERSONIC MYSTERY CARAVAN. It’s kid’s fic that is at once thinly-veiled autobiography as well as an amateur, but wicked fun, exercise in wish-fulfillment. Just jokin’. It’s about an indomitable 12-year-old girl, Alexis ‘Ace’ Mastriano who stalks the secrets of the universe. She even tries to get a club off the ground to assist her in her quest until one day … the universe answers. It’s set in 1984. Yes, kids, the cosmos were communicating even before the Internet.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

I love this part. My tip is simple: know thyself. And then be true. The amount of horse doody you’re going to have to wade through on your way to The Desired End is staggering. So. Get used to the smell, and let your Nose lead you–sometimes around but sometimes through–where (and how) you need to go. Trust yourself. You’ve got this.

What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

What a killer note to end on. I’m gonna go with Ford Prefect. Either him or Jerry Spinelli’s timeless, artless, deeply wise and alive Stargirl.

Debut Deal for Amy Brashear and her Y.A. Retelling of In Cold Blood

Now, Truman Capote’s classic non-fiction novel In Cold Blood is one of my favorite books of all time. It explores the murder and aftermath of the Clutter family in 1959 Holcomb, Kansas, the search for their killers, and the eventual trial and execution (um, spoilers). So when author Amy Brashear queried me with a y.a. retelling of ICB from the point of view of Nancy Clutter’s teenage best friend, I requested immediately. Today I’m thrilled to announce that haunting coming-of-age, CONDEMNED, will be published by SoHo Teen!

Amy Brashear Author Pic

Greenhouse: When and how did you start writing?

Amy: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I was always scribbling something down on paper. I blame my mom. We would watch a lot of murder shows growing up, especially Murder, She Wrote. We would sit in front of the TV and try to figure it out before Jessica did. I wanted to be a writer like Jessica Fletcher. I wanted to write about murder and solve crimes. I was a weird little girl.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I was in the fifth grade and we had just moved from Garden City, Kansas to Nacogdoches, Texas. My class went on a field trip to Stephen F. Austin University to see a production of The Diary of Anne Frank. I had never read the book before seeing the play. But after school my mom took my brother and I to the bookstore at the mall and bought a copy. I still have that worn paperback.

Growing up I read a lot and that’s due to my mom. She would always tell my brother and I stories. She would always make them up. Though they would often be about us— what we were like as kids. When I started reading on my own I would read the Little House on the Prairie books, the Boxcar Children, the Babysitters Club books, Goosebumps, really anything by R.L. Stine, Caroline B. Cooney, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl, and Lois Duncan. I couldn’t get enough of those books.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

I grew up in Southwest Kansas and knew about the Clutter family murder way before I read imgres by Truman Capote, which is one of my favorite books. I was always fascinated about the case. Truman focused on Dick and Perry but I was fascinated with what it would be like to live during that time in that small town and what happens when everyone is looking at everyone else as someone who could have done something so violent. I wanted to answer the question of what happens if you’re best friend was murdered and your father ends up having to represent one of the suspects. I did so much research for this book. Newspaper articles were my saving grace.   

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

Yes. Yes it was. I’m a product of the slush-pile. I didn’t know anyone in publishing. Being published has been a dream for a very long time. I’ve queried many a book. But I guess this book was different. I researched many agents and queried many that I thought would be a perfect representative of my book but I ultimately signed with John, an agent that wasn’t just the perfect agent to represent this book but hopefully my future career.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I like to write historical fiction so I spend a lot of time researching. I like to read old newspaper articles, looking at vintage photographs, old magazines, anything and everything can make a good story. I write anytime I can. I use the note app on my phone throughout the day, whenever inspiration strikes.

Can you tell us about your next book?

I’ve finished another YA historical. It’s set in 1969. I’m drafting a YA alternate history novel set in 1984 and a MG historical fantasy.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

I know it sounds silly but never number your chapters until the very last minute. Trust me it will save you a lot of hair pulling. Always backup your work in many different places. Trust me. I’ve been there. And even though it’s easier said than done try not to worry and have patience.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

1. Have an outline but don’t stick with it. Let the words take you where they want to go.

2. Don’t be afraid to cut characters during revisions.

3. When you get “stuck” don’t be afraid to step away and work on other things.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Truman Capote. I think it would be a fun dinner party. Though he’d be doing all the talking and gossiping. But there would be laughing. And I think many secrets would be spilled.

Luna Lovegood and Amy Dunne. Two of the most different but amazing characters ever written.

Interview with Author / Illustrator Julie Bayless

Julie Bayless_picI first saw Julie Bayless‘s phenomenal work at the SCBWI Oakland conference last year. She participated in the “Best Portfolio” contest, which I judged along with the other visiting editors and agents, and she was our unanimous choice. In fact, I now use some of Julie’s samples in my conference talks as examples of character, relationships, and story in illustrations. Julie’s debut picture book ROAR! (the beginnings of which were in her Oakland portfolio) is coming from Running Press Kids, Fall 2015.

When and how did you start writing?

I wrote and illustrated alphabet books starting at age eight.  “Irving Iguana Icked.” is a line from one of them, and the illustration shows Irving saying “Ick!” to several creatures offering him nasty-looking food. I like to think my writing and illustration has taken on a bit more nuance since then, though I like the sound of the line.

WildebeestwithPieCan you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

I loved If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss and  How the Rhinoceros Got his Skin  from old, politically incorrect Rudyard Kipling. I fondly remember Caps for Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina, and Rosalie the Bird Market Turtle, by Winifred and Cecil Lubell. I later got my own box turtle and named her Rosalie.

Tomi Ungerer’s Crictor the Boa Constrictor and The Three Robbers were also favorites.  Tomi has some of the most beautiful compositions, which are simple and powerful, and his drawings make me laugh, no matter how many times I look at them.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments

I remember thinking , “I’ll write a story with just a very few words; that’ll be MUCH easier!” Ha. 

When I showed my first storyboards to my husband, I was so pleased with them, and he (who has a fabulous sense of humor) didn’t think they were amusing at all.  He thought I was telling a story about a lion cub who has a deeply flawed relationship with her own family.  I trust Doug’s taste in a number of things, but I felt the idea of the book, un-formed at that point as it was, was worthy.  So I forged ahead. Doug has since come around!

Was it hard to get an agent ? Can you talk us through the process?

I joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) in 2009. Without that organization, I doubt I’d have an agent today.  Attending talks, getting portfolio reviews, and finding critique groups for my stories and illustrations; that, and drawing like a madwoman was how I got better. 

I sent postcards of my 623542illustrations to publishers every few months for three years, but never got any response.  I decided I needed to win “Best Portfolio” at a conference in order to land an agent to promote my work, and was astonished when it worked!  I met John at the 2013 Oakland SCBWI conference, where I did win “Best Portfolio”.  He said he’d like to see a book from me, so I came up with an initial draft of Roar! in four months.  I got feedback from as many people as I could while I was creating it. When I sent it to John, he offered to represent me, which was only slightly less thrilling than when my husband asked me to marry him. 

Describe your day.   Where do you look for inspiration? 

I spend as much time as possible drawing.  I love the iterative process of refining an idea, working out the composition, the characters, the colors.  I know I’m going in the right direction when I do a drawing that makes me laugh. 

I belong to both a writing critique group and an illustration critique group, and I get a huge amount of support and inspiration from them.  Conferences also provide a great deal of information and inspiration, and remind me to keep my portfolio and website updated.

Every week, I go to the library and grab any picture book that has an appealing cover.  I steal as many ideas as I can from other authors and illustrators!

EmandRafonStump005Are there any tips you could give aspiring author/illustrators who are looking to get published?

Join SCBWI, attend the conferences, familiarize yourself with what other books are being published in your genre, and draw and write as often as you can.  Find a group of people you trust who will give you honest feedback.  When you tell yourself you suck, don’t listen.  Besides, sucking for awhile is the only way to get better!  Don’t edit yourself in your first draft, just push forward.  Send it out, hope for the best, don’t give up.

Find out which tools make you happy, and try out some new ones from time to time. Be open to accidents, in whatever form they arrive.  Art accidents are a great opportunity to surprise yourself. 

See more of Julie’s artwork on her website.

Welcome Julie Olson!

JulieOlsonHeadshotI’m delighted to welcome veteran artist and author/illustrator Julie Olson to Greenhouse! Julie and I met in 2012 at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference in Utah (which I highly recommend), where Julie was teaching a class on illustrating picture books. Though I’d worked with picture book authors before, this was my first experience addressing a room full of illustrators. Throughout my talk Julie stood off to the side, and whenever I was a bit uncertain she’d shoot me an encouraging thumbs up. For the rest of the conference Julie was my sometime driver, showing me the sights of beautiful Provo and also ensuring I visited Starbucks at least twice a day. Julie kept me sane, punctual, and caffeinated all week.

So it was a delight to see her this year when I returned to WIFYR. Julie was hosting an author shindig at Salt Lake’s legendary independent bookstore, King’s English. We caught up over stuffed peppers and pigs-in-blankets, and she told me about her latest book, Discover America. We discussed the picture book world, the commercial art world, and I mentioned I thought artists ought to have a dedicated illustration agent, as separate from their commercial artwork representation, as the markets are so different.

Julie considered this, and sipped her sparkling apple cider.

Now, lo, it’s a few months later, and Julie and I are going to be working together, which makes me deliriously happy. Whenever a new client joins the agency, we ask them a few questions about their work, their process, etc. Julie’s answers are fabulous. Check it out:

When and how did you start writing and/or illustrating?

Well apparently my artistic history goes all the way back to my toddler days. Apparently, my mom would often turn around from her task at hand to find me quietly drawing tiny circles in ballpoint pen all along the baseboards of her white walls. Being the patient woman she was, she simply shook her head in amazement at my finger dexterity and provided plenty of paper and art supplies from then on. As I grew older, I checked out “how-to-draw” books from the local library and even set the old VCR to record Bob Ross and other PBS painting shows. I asked Santa for my first set of real artist paints at the age of 11 and from then on I’d get home from school and try copying the PBS masters’ paintings. In the meantime, my love of the written word developed as well. My favorite times were when my busy dad would spend time reading Mark Twain stories in all the voices or when my sister and would stay up late telling each other stories of “Marshmallow Pie Bar Mysteries.”

IMG_7816Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

We loved books in my house so it’s hard to pin down only one book. My siblings and I even set up a neighborhood library for the kids on our street. Complete with card pockets on the inside of every book cover. Mostly we just liked to stamp the card and check out the books to ourselves, but we had a grand time with it. Some of my early favorite books included Lillian Holban’s Frances series, “The Country Bunny and the Little Golden Shoes,” and Nora Smaridge’s “The Big Tidy Up.” I also always loved to read Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Pippy Longstocking and Judy Blume books, along with “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”  And of course, a soft spot for Mark Twain (in my dad’s voice).

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

I had been illustrating books for about 9 years as well as attending conferences, meeting with writers, and studying the art of writing all along. Finally, I decided to really give it a go. I had just spent the weekend hosting author/illustrator Janet Stevens at a book conference and she and I had had some great discussions. After dropping her off at the airport, I was stuck in traffic and a little idea started. I grabbed the back of my name tag and a ballpoint pen from the dash and scribbled a few words down on the back (don’t worry…traffic was completely at a stand still). The words I wrote were, “Groundhog. Scratch my back. Tickle. Tingle. Twitch. Itch. Porcupine. Alligator. Thistle.” From those few words came my first book, “Tickle, Tickle! Itch, Twitch!” Of course I say that like it was simple, when it wasn’t. But it all began there.

groundhog idea

Was it hard to get an agent ? Can you talk us through the process?

I actually went out on my own without an agent for the first 9 years of my career. Since I was an illustrator and a mom to young kids, I took the route of finding my own work and managing the flow of it without the worry of disappointing an agent when I needed to turn a job down to spend time with my little ones. However, I finally came to the realization that an agent could actually HELP me spend more time with my family by taking all of the busy work off my plate. Then I could focus on my art. I began with an art rep who illustrator friends of mine used instead of a literary agent because at the time I wasn’t as focused on the writing aspect of picture books. I submitted my work to them and they took me in as one of their own. I was able to work on books but a lot of other interesting projects for various industries as well. However, after 5 more years in the industry and one book authored under my belt, I finally realized that creating an entire book is what I NEEDED to keep doing. My art rep was having a bit of a hard time helping me in that goal since their focus was primarily on the art and not the writing. I was explaining this to a literary agent, who I’d met a year previously at a conference, while we chatted at another event. After our talk that night, I realized that it was time to make a change in my focus and in my career. It was very scary for me to give up my art rep who I got along well with and move to a literary rep, but I knew it was the right thing to do. That literary agent I chatted with and subsequently signed on with was John Cusick, of Greenhouse Literary Agency. I am so excited to work with him and the Greenhouse team and take the leap of faith into my dreams.

p12-1Describe your writing/illustrating day. Where do you work? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

As a mom, and an artist, it’s hard for me to keep set hours. I work when the kids sleep. I work when the kids are at school. I work when I’m at the dentist. I work while I’m at the park. I even work while I’m in the car. Whenever I find a free and quiet moment, I think books. I think art. I think stories. However, when I’m on a deadline, I work out some childcare help to get some good solid painting time in. I’m lucky that both of my kids’ grandmothers live close enough to help out when I’m in a pinch. But truthfully, a lot of my work happens with kids in my office painting at their little mini desk, banging on the piano or electric guitars upstairs and downstairs, or not so quietly reminding me they need to be fed. I am lucky to have an art studio in my home so I don’t have to go far. And I think growing up in a big family (9 kids and two parents) allowed me to be able to work amongst noise and craziness when I need to. Honestly, I think these kids are my greatest inspiration…life with them provides all sorts of ideas.

Can you tell us about your next book?

I currently have two books I’m working on. One is silly and the other is completely the opposite, serious and emotional. Both are picture books. I really hope they find a home and get to provide more laughter and love in the world.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers/illustrators who are looking to get published?

The best advice I have is to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE your craft. Go to writing and illustrating workshops and conferences. Learn from professionals in the industry. Network there. READ  A LOT OF BOOKS in the genre you are interested in and then lots of books in general. Overall, take the advice, constructive criticism and tips you receive from editors and professionals and put them to use. Let them build your work into something better instead of allowing it to tear you down personally.

Which favorite authors/illustrators would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight (because I would love to witness and learn from their friendship), David Small and Sarah Stewart (because they are one of the sweetest couples I know…true opposites attracting), and Aaron Becker, Dan Santat, Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (to keep the blood young, hip and hilarious) — The whole dinner I would soak up all I could from these amazing artist in word and sight

I wish I’d invented Eloise. Because she’s got such spunk and truly speaks to my own inner sassy know-it-all child. However, I don’t know that I was ever that spoiled (actually I know I wasn’t…there were 9 kids in my family, remember?)

Check out Julie’s picture books at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Indiebound. You can also follow Julie, and add her work on Goodreads too!

BTW if you yourself are an author/illustrator or illustrator, I highly recommend you check out Julie’s blog for all kinds of great resources.

Chatting with the Middle Grade Ninja

In case you missed it this weekend, check out my interview with Middle Grade Ninja. It gets real, yo.

Question Three: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

 My ideal cninja stufflient works hard and writes a ton. He or she handles rejection like a champ, and is always striving to improve. I feel some kind of bond with all my authors; connecting on a personal level is vital for a positive professional relationship. I like to joke around too, so a sense of humor is a bonus (I feel like I’m filling out a personals ad!).

Read the whole thing here!

A Person-to-Person Call

“All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Earnest Hemingway

“Beauty plus pity — that is the closest we can get to a definition of art.” – Vladimir Nabokov

“Writing isn’t about applause. It’s about humiliation.” – Steve Almond

“The most exquisite sensations in art are not love and loss, but humiliation and disappointment.” – Lunette Glass

The first time I knew I wanted to create some kind of art was listening to the blues. The content was miserable, but the spirit soared. The music, in its beauty, leant meaning to the sorrow, gave it sweetness and depth, made it a kind of victory rather than a loss.

Years later I’ve given up my musical aspirations, but I try to apply this same sensation to writing. Literature at its best (and the names under this heading, for me, are Nabokov, Carroll, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Capote, Chekov, Pushkin, Shakespeare, Cheever, Carver, McEwan, Dahl, Fitzgerald, and Babbitt) does not create a glimmer-glammer image of the author, nor does it evoke a rough and rugged, weather-beaten soul chewing a cigar and cuffing convention. RATHER, the best writing is a last-minute, desperate communiqué from single writer to single reader: “We have both wept, have said the wrong thing, lost utterly the ones we loved, expected too much, given too little, we are ugly, we are scared, we have been the least loved and the last considered, we have given up too soon, held on too long, you and me have failed and tried and survived and yet still our souls float along, knowing there are words for what we feel, there are always words, and if we can’t find them, someone else can, and those words will find us in our corner, in our bed, in our car as we drive recklessly through the rain, toward a train we will not catch, our ticket tucked happily under a book on our bed table.”

On Character

I’m reading “Life & Times of Michael K” by Coetzee, who wrote one of my favorites, “Disgrace.” “Life” is two-hundred pages and taking me forever, which is usually a sign I’m bored. I realized that while the writing is superb, the exploration of war-torn South Africa is less about a character and more about a people, a time, and a place. Michael is representational rather than real. I sense I’m supposed to compare myself to him as a homo sapien, as opposed to a human being. Cotzee is sending me a message about humanity, rather than Michael’s own, personal desires, struggles, and dissapointments. He’s not interested in his character’s individuality, but his universality.

Which, to me, makes for one snoozer of a book. “Disgrace” managed to say something broad via the particular pains of real, particular people.

Ah, well. Character is king, I guess.