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Michael Stearns Starts a New Agency, Upstart Crow Literary...
Former editor Michael Stearns recently left Firebrand Literary, where he's worked for more than a year, and will debut his own brand new agency, Upstart Crow Literary, the first week of August.
Michael will be joined at Upstart Crow by two other former Firebrand agents, Chris Richman and Danielle Chiotti. Michael says of his once and future colleagues:
"Chris and Danielle possess that mix of literary savvy, good taste, and dedication to their authors and books that marks them as either potentially crazy or simply crazily dedicated. I feel fortunate to embark on this new venture with the two of them, as well as with our talented list of authors, all of whom will be following us to our new home.
We'll be making our first Upstart Crow submissions next week, and when the site goes live the week after that, I hope you'll stop by and take a look at what we've got in the works."
Two New Agents Join Firebrand...
Firebrand Literary has recently added two new agents to its staff (which includes Michael Stearns and Nadia Cornier).
From the agency press release (which I retyped from a PDF so if there's a typo it's mine):
Firebrand Literary has expanded it's agenting team with the addition of Danielle Chiotti, formerly senior editor at Kensington, and Stacia Decker, formerly an editor at Harcourt.
Chiotti and Decker will be responsible for expanding the Firebrand list into the nonfiction and adult fiction book markets. Authors interested in representation should check the Firebrand website for information on how to submit.
Click here for a link to bios for all of Firebrand's agents
. Also checkout of the Firebrand blog
. (I love the "Overheard at Firebrand" posts.)
And note the new logo and look for the website. (See my interview with Michael Stearns
from last May for the old logo.)
In an effort to make this blog more highbrow, I’m going to start posting some deeply insightful, richly nuanced interviews with VIPs in publishing. But I don’t really know any, so I’ll start with fetal-stage VIPs. I mean members of the Tenners, a group of authors who will make their publishing débuts in 2010. They’re going to be huge a year from now, HUGE I tell you!
First up: Author Josh Berk (The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, Knopf, Jan 2010). Have you ever met someone who seems like a brother from another mother? Josh fits that role; we have the same infantile sense of humor, the same taste in books, and are both gifted Scrabble players. Well, gifted in that we both apply our infantile sense of humor to building Scrabble words. I’ve never met Josh in person before, but through the magic of Facebook, online Scrabble, and LiveJournal, I feel like I’ve known him for years. But hey, enough about me, this is supposed to be an interview, right?
By way of introduction, I’ll start with his deal announcement from Publishers Marketplace:
26 November, 2007 - Young Adult Children's librarian Josh Berk's debut, set in coal mining Pennsylvania and narrated with sardonic humor by a boy who is overweight, deaf, and mute during his first year in mainstream high school, when he begrudgingly solves a murder and uncovers a secret truth about his family history, to Cecile Goyette at Knopf, for six figures, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, by Ted Malawer at Firebrand Literary.
Let’s review some key words: Cecile Goyette, Knopf, six figures, pre-empt, two-book deal, Ted Malawer, Firebrand Literary—any writer would be thrilled to have just one of these attached to his name, and Josh has a string of seven. It’s a good thing he’s impossible to hate. (And believe me, I tried, mostly because as a result of being bublished by Knopf his book will probably have deckled edges and I have serious deckle envy.)
Before we get to my deeply insightful, richly nuanced questions, let me
steal repurpose some Josh-generated content from the Tenner’s site just to set the scene:
Five things about Josh:
1. I have a quiet day job (librarian) and a loud hobby (punk rock).
2. Both of my parents are also librarians.
3. I have two dogs with a total of three eyes.
4. I have a degree in political science yet pretty much hate politics.
5. My son has the ridiculously literary name of Elliot Emerson Berk.
And now, on to the questions.
Please tell us about finding your agent.
In May of 2006 I saw a little announcement in a local arts magazine that a literary agent would be speaking at a writer's group near to where I live (Eastern PA). Since graduating from library school and falling in love with YA lit the previous May, I had been working on a YA manuscript of my own. I was just about ready to begin figuring out how to send it out into the world so I thought I'd attend this meeting even though the idea of talking to an agent was terrifying to me.
The agent turned out to be Nadia Cornier of Firebrand Literary. She gave a great talk and I approached her afterward despite feeling nervous that she would brush me off. Surely she gets accosted by a hundred hacks a day with a "manuscript in a drawer at home," right? Well, that is probably true, but she was very nice to me and said that Firebrand had a young agent looking for new clients. I took down this young agent's e-mail address and felt very proud of myself for having the guts to talk to an agent (even though Nadia is totally not-scary, it was very very very stressful for me).
At this same meeting, I met Cyn Balog, a YA author who was one of Nadia's clients. Cyn was also incredibly nice to me. When she found out that I wrote YA, she gave me her e-mail address and offered to stay in touch. I could not believe my luck! Here was a real agented writer being so kind to me!
I sent my manuscript to the agent at Firebrand who read it, but "passed on the project" (in other words "no thank you"). I was a little upset, but thrilled because she said that I showed some talent and offered to read future works. I also stayed in touch with Cyn and sent her some of my writing. (If I was smart, I would have asked for Cyn's critque *before* sending it to an agent, but I was very new to everything at that point.) Cyn also said that I showed some talent and offered ways to improve. Basically, at that point, I would say that my writing was "over-written." I wrote a lot of fancy metaphors, deep inner monologues, and unnecessarily complicated plot devices. Cyn advised that I keep it a little simpler and add more action and less "brain dumping" (when the narrator just "talks" to the reader without anything happening). She reminded me of the old adage "show don't tell" and I took it to heart.
When did you start the book that would end up as The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin?
I was thrilled that I had an agent offering to read my future works and beyond thrilled that someone like Cyn would take the time to help me improve. I took her advice seriously and around this time--the summer of 2006--started the manuscript that would become DARK DAYS. My wife was pregnant at the time so I felt motivation on top of inspiration!
It took me about a year to finish a draft of DARK DAYS that I felt good enough about to send back to that agent at Firebrand. When I did, I found that she no longer worked there. She no longer worked in publishing at all! (I tried not to take it personally.) I used Agentquery.com to find some other agents and started querying. I got some interest and also learned that there was another new agent at Firebrand. He turned out to be a perfect match for my sensibilities and skewed sense of humor. That was Ted Malawer. He read the manuscript and offered representation in June 2007. I happily accepted!
Ted worked with me over the next six months until he was confident enough in the manuscript to send it to editors. It grew and blossomed under his oversight into something far superior to the draft (I didn't know it was a draft at the time) that I sent him.
Tell us how your amazing deal happened.
Yes, I still can't believe that said string of words applies to me! Ted sent the manuscript around to editors at various publishing houses who he thought might be interested. I was amazed that there was quite a bit of interest. Several very impressive editors called me to talk about the manuscript. They were all interested! I was astounded!
Ted told me that when this happens, the manuscript goes to auction. Auctioneers make me laugh and I pictured Ted talking fast, wielding a gavel. (I have since learned that it doesn't actually go down that way - mostly phone calls and e-mails.) This was right before Thanksgiving. He told me just to relax and that the auction would happen after the holiday. And then he called me again and said Knopf made a pre-empt offer! There was some back and forth between Ted and their people and then Ted called me at work. He asked me if I was sitting down. I reminded him that I work at a library, and that he shouldn't say anything that would make me scream. He said "I can't promise that!" and told me the details of the deal. He advised that we take it and we did. On the way home from work I bought a huge bottle of champagne and had a very happy Thanksgiving!
You sold the book in November of 2007, your pub date is January 2010, can you tell us where in the process you are now?
After lots (and lots and lots) of revisions, the manuscript was approved by Knopf for publication just last month. It is currently with a copy-editor. It then comes back to me and my editor for final scrutiny and then goes into design. The process of layout and design will start then and before long it will resemble an actual book! My publication date is actually January 2010.
Can you share one piece of advice for writers?
FOUR PIECES OF ADVICE FOR THE PRICE OF ONE!
(1) Don't be afraid to talk to agents or editors or other authors! They are just people and (for the most part) aren't that scary. They want to find a book to buy/represent as much as you want to find someone to do that for you.
(2) Practice and patience! If someone told me back when I was writing that first novel, that it was just a "practice novel" and that it would never be published I would have probably given up. But I learned a lot on that first manuscript and it led the way to the next one, which led the way to publication! (With a lot more waiting along the way, so yes! More patience!)
(3) Take any writing gig you can get. I took lots of other small writing jobs while working on my novels. These were neither glamorous nor high-paying (local magazines, newspapers, etc.) but they were great practice. I learned how to tell a story, I learned how to work with editors, I learned how to meet deadlines, and I learned how to write on days even when I didn't feel like it.
(4) Read! It might not be impossible to write and sell a manuscript without reading what's out there in your field, but it's probably pretty close to it! I had a great YA class at Pitt, but anyone can walk into any public library and ask "What's hot in YA right now?" (or any other field) and begin their education for free!
* * *
Wow. GREAT interview, wasn't that? I think it's safe to say that Josh is a writer to watch. Josh is going to be a Big Deal. And if this interview alone didn't convey that, just look at his photo. I mean, clearly this is a man who is out standing in his field.
If you'd like to know more about Josh, here are some avenues, (all sanctioned by him, of course). To become Facebook friends click here (I recommend this highly). To see his Myspace page click here. Or to be, as he says, “updated about the book and the excitement that is my career” send an e-mail to joshberk (at) gmail.com. Prepared to be awed.
The fourth season of Project Runway just wrapped up this week. To stave off any withdrawal symptoms, here are a couple fantastic fashion design books.
Fashion Design: The Art of Style by Jen Jones is a highly photographic, behind-the-scenes peek at fashion design and designers, past and present. And, taking a more in depth look at one designer, Vera Wang by Anne M. Todd delves into her design roots as well as what motivates and inspires her to create today.
Interested in becoming a designer yourself? Check out these two tomes. Trendsetter: Have You Got What It Takes to Be a Fashion Designer? by Lisa Thompson looks at just what the title asks. And get started yourself by transforming clothes you already have with the ideas in Sew Subversive: Down and Dirty DIY for the Fabulous Fashionista by Melissa Rannals.
Fashion can be fiction too. From the publisher of Gossip Girl comes Poseur by Rachel Maude. Four Hollywood Hills sophomore girls couldn’t be more different, so when a school class forces them together to create a fashion label, the sparks fly.
With Leap Year Day last week, we encouraged everyone to get
out there and do something. This week, we’re featuring books about do
not-ing. We dug around and found some
wonderfully amusing and informative titles, all starting with Don’t or Do
How could any list of Don’t books be
complete without Mo Willems’s hilarious, perfect-for-reading-aloud Pigeon
books: Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!?
On the informative side, Don't Squash That Bug!: The Curious Kid's Guide to Insects by Natalie Rompella introduces insects through colorful
photos, spreads, and sidebars, while Do Not Open: An Encyclopedia of the World's Most Intriguing Mysteries from DK is full of
enigmas from the Mona Lisa's hidden past to the history of Area 51, from
lost worlds to secret codes.
Don't forget to check out thist list of more great Don't books!
The tag along the bottom of the front cover—A Novel Nefariously Written & Ignominiously Illustrated by the Author—piqued my curiosity. I was hooked by the end of the first chapter. The discussion therein of what to name a baby found on the Willoughby’s front porch sealed the deal. The baby is named Ruth because, as the oldest Willoughby child notes, they “are the ruthless Willoughbys.”
Hand this hilarious book about four children trying desperately to become orphans—while at the same time their parents try desperately to become childless—to fans of Lemony Snicket.
Author Lois Lowry pokes fun at various conventions found in orphan-heavy children’s books, even providing a bibliography at book’s end with amusing annotations for a handful of such books. Her Glossary is also not to be missed for those seeking to suck every last morsel of humor from this book. The nanny she has conjured up is a delight; instead of the horrid, mean type the Willoughby parents were seeking, this nanny is kind and an excellent cook to boot. Naturally, Lowry uses the nanny to take aim at yet another famous character: Mary Poppins. When asked if she is like the sugar- and song-dispensing caregiver, Nanny sniffs back, “Not one bit like that fly-by-night woman. It almost gives me diabetes just to think of her: all those disgusting spoonfuls of sugar! None of that for me.”
Tattoos… They seem to be everywhere these days, especially on the arms of athletes. They’ve also made their way into books. Here are a couple of our favorite tattooed tomes.
My favorite work of tattoo fiction is The Black Tattoo by Sam Enthoven. It tells the story of Jack and his super-cool friend Charlie, who wakes up one day with a super-cool, moving black tattoo. The tattoo gives Charlie super powers. Or so they think. The tattoo is actually the mark of the Scourge, an ancient demon out to destroy the world. And it’s up to Jack to stop it.
The Monster Blood Tattoo series by D.M. Cornish begins with Foundling. It follows the life of orphan Rossamund Bookchild, an orphaned boy stuck with a girl’s name, through a fabulously imagined fantasy world filled with incredible characters. Humans here fight a constant battle against the monsters, with the tattoos being the mark of a monster killer. Look for Lamplighter, the second book in this exciting series in April!
Another set of tattoo books is Suzanne Weyn’s Bar Code Tattoo and its sequel Bar Code Rebellion. In the world of these books, it’s 2025 and the government, controlled by a shadowy corporation, starts requiring bar code tattoos on everyone. Seventeen-year-old Kayla resists, especially after the tattoo drives her father to commit suicide, and becomes part of a rebellion.
One of the ALA Quick Picks in 2007 also featured tattoos: Body Type: Intimate Images Etched in Flesh by Ina Saltz. This one looks at typography, as it is used in tattoos, which might sound dull, but results in fabulous photos of tattooed messages that range from the hilarious to the deeply touching.
What’s the deal with the groundhog and its shadow again? February 2nd, a.k.a Groundhog Day, is the day we dread or adore, depending on our love of snow and cold. If the groundhog emerges from its burrow and sees its shadow, watch out! – more winter is on the way. But if it doesn’t see its shadow, spring is coming soon. These delightful books feature our furry friend, the groundhog, and its special day.
In honor of the vast quantities of food that will be consumed on Thanksgiving, we thought we’d highlight picture books featuring PIGS!
Our two newest pig favorites are the Elephant and Piggie early reader series by Mo Willems, and The Adventures of Max and Pinky picture books by Maxwell Eaton III. Lovable characters, humorous stories, and brilliant, deceptively simple illustrations make these books irresistible.
Then there is the (relatively) new classic: Olivia by Ian Falconer. Her latest adventure, Olivia Helps with Christmas, which has just been published, is all about getting read for the holiday—how she “helps” her family prepare for Christmas while watching for Santa…and waiting for Santa…and watching and waiting for Santa some more, all in true Olivia fashion.
In the twisted tales category, two outlandish versions of the Three Little Pigs story stand out: David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs, in which the wolf blows the pigs right out of the story, and Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs!, in which the wolf finally gets to tell his side of the tale.
Here's a list of more prime pig picture books.
Anything I can say about The Golden Compass will be overshadowed by both the awards it has won—ALA Notable, ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults, Horn Book Fanfare Honor, BCCB Blue Ribbon, Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year, Booklist Editor’s Choice, Carnegie Medal (England), Carnegie of Carnegies (best children’s book of all time in England), Guardian Prize for Fiction (England), not to mention four starred reviews—and the book itself.
The Golden Compass is the first book in an incredible trilogy, featuring 11-year-old orphan Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon. The daemon is the first of author Philip Pullman’s amazing creations. A daemon is a sort of soul/conscience made physical; it takes the form of an animal, but the form isn’t fixed until adolescence, so children like Lyra have daemons that are constantly changing from one animal to the next. (Confession: I so want a daemon!)
Lyra lives at Jordan College in a world very close to ours, yet very different also. Her adventure begins when she hides in a wardrobe and sees her Uncle Asriel show the college scholars some mysterious photos and artifacts that show evidence of Dust from the far north. Then, in quick succession, her best friend is captured by the Gobblers, and Lyra is taken in by the gorgeous, very charming, and very very frightening Mrs. Coulter, who is also chasing Dust. From there, Lyra's quest to save her friend sweeps her into the far north where she befriends gyptians, witches, an aeronaut from Texas, and even one of the panserbjorne, the talking armored polar bears of the north. The bear, Iorek Byrnison, and Pan, her daemon, and the mysterious golden alethiometer that answers questions through symbols are Lyra’s truest companions in this vast fantasy.
So what is this Dust? That question takes the entire trilogy to answer. Lyra, a stubborn, charming, willful, innocent girl, comes to believe that it must be good because all the grown-ups around her who keep telling her it’s evil do such bad things themselves, like separating kids from their daemons which is infinitely painful.
And yes, it is the Church that is behind this horrible separating. Talk has been swirling around The Golden Compass, as the opening date of the movie approaches, that it is anti-Christian. Here is what Pullman had to say in response: “In the world of the story — Lyra’s world — there is a church that has acquired great political power, rather in the way that some religions in our world have done at various times, and still do (think of the Taliban in Afghanistan). My point is that religion is at its best — it does most good — when it is farthest away from political power, and that when it gets hold of the power to (for example) send armies to war or to condemn people to death, or to rule every aspect of our lives, it rapidly goes bad. Sometimes people think that if something is done in the name of faith or religion, it must be good. Unfortunately, that isn’t true; some things done in the name of religion are very bad. That was what I was trying to describe in my story.”
While the main character of this story is an 11-year-old girl, so 11-year-olds might enjoy it, this book, the entire trilogy, is so rich and complex that I believe older readers, YAs and OAs (old adults) will get the most from it.
A movie based on The Golden Compass is coming out on December 7, 2007, so check back for a review of the movie and how well (or poorly) it compares to the book.
View this book in the Tandem Library Books online Bookstore