Tuesday, August 28, 2012

ASHES in paperback!

ASHES by Ilsa  J. Bick is out in paperback today, with a brand-new look. This is a completely addictive apocalyptic thriller that will leave you breathless... and sleepless. Buy it and read it so you can be ready for the sequel SHADOWS next month! 

Oblong Books
Book Depository
Barnes and Noble

Gripped me from beginning to end – dark, creepy and suspenseful.  -- James Dashner, New York Times Best-Selling author of The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials       
A haunting and epic story of survival in a shattered world, ASHES is a must read.  -- Michael Grant, New York Times Best-Selling author of Gone 

HUNGER GAMES, Schmunger Games!  -- me

When an electromagnetic pulse sweeps through the sky it zaps every electronic device we rely on and kills the vast majority of adults. Those who haven't had their brains fried have certainly had them scrambled and pretty much everyone who is left has changed considerably.  (Change can be for good, as in "now has super-human-spidey-sense"... or bad, as in "now has taste for human flesh".)

A few teenagers and children are spared.  Among them are Alex, a resourceful teen who was running from her own demons, and now is running for her life; Tom, who left the war in Afghanistan only to find something much worse at home, and Ellie, the angry eight-year-old girl that the two have to rescue. This improvised family will have to use every ounce of courage they have just to survive.


Happy Book Birthday: ME AND MOMMA AND BIG JOHN

ME AND MOMMA AND BIG JOHN by Mara Rockliff, illus. William Low:

Momma is a stone-cutter for the massive Cathedral of St John the Divine ("Big John"). Every day she comes home exhausted and covered in dust, but what she's doing is important. Her son "little John" is proud of his momma and excited to see the cathedral... but when he does, he's disappointed. All the stones look the same! How will anyone know which one was his momma's stone? This is a book, as the publisher says, that "lovingly shows the grace and dignity of having pride in one’s work — and in one’s Momma."

This book is seriously gorgeous. And there is a certain page spread that made me cry the first time I saw it. It is perfect for anyone interested in any of the following: NYC architecture or history, stories about strong women, stories about mothers and sons, stories about art and artisans, African-American stories... uh yeah. Basically it is perfect for most thinking people, is what I mean. It's touching and spectacular.

(Oh and the historical aspect is really cool too; this story is based on real events. The Cathedral of St John the Divine is arguably the largest Cathedral in the world, it is right in Morningside Heights section of NYC on Amsterdam and 110th St. It started being built in 1892. 120 years later it is still unfinished. !!!  And there really was an apprenticeship program that trained neighborhood people to be stonecutters through the 1980's and 90's.)

Buy the book from your local independent bookstore, from my local independent bookstore, from Mara's local independent bookstore Aaron's Books, amaz*n, B&N, Book Depository, or anywhere fine picture books are sold.

With Rockliff's plainspoken lyricism providing scaffolding for Low's incandescent realism, the story of a struggling family transformed through the joy and power of meaningful work is woven into the history of a beloved spiritual landmark. Whether the scene is inside the narrator's modest apartment or looking down from the barrel vault ceiling onto the cathedral's magnificent nave, every page is infused with golden light, quiet pride, and soaring hope.
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Rockliff's lyrical text celebrates collaboration and communion, whether as voices rising in a cathedral hymn or among the skilled workers who labored over more than a century. Low renders many gorgeous digital spreads, articulating the extraordinary light and deep shadows within and outside the architecturally splendid cathedral...An intriguing examination of the inside story of one of New York City's most important and beloved monuments. 
--Kirkus Reviews

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Happy Book Birthday: BEAR IN LOVE

BEAR IN LOVE is by Daniel Pinkwater, beautifully illustrated by Will Hillenbrand and out today from Candlewick. It's a total sweetheart of a story about a loveable scruffy bear and his small and mysterious secret admirer. They leave gifts for one another, and when they finally meet, sparks fly amidst a bit of confusion. (Bear to Rabbit: “You are some cute little bear,” Rabbit to Bear: “And you are quite the big strong bunny.") But it's all cleared up soon enough and (spoiler alert!) the tale of friendship has a charming and happy conclusion.

I adore this book. I adore the art. I adore the story. I want to hug both the bear AND the bunny. This picture book has the look and feel of a modern classic. Candlewick did a terrific job. Three cheers for BEAR IN LOVE!

For a larger look at the art, click here.

“Extra special.” It’s a phrase that is used to great effect toward the conclusion of Daniel Pinkwater’s new picture book, Bear in Love, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand and out this August from Candlewick. And extra special could describe the book itself... It’s like a breath of fresh air, this sweet, unassuming tale. -- Julie Danielson of 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast (for the whole lengthy and wonderful review, plus more images, click here)

[P]erfect for reading aloud, either to groups or to an audience of one, again and again. - Horn Book

Pinkwater’s (Beautiful Yetta) impulsive, happy-go-lucky bear keeps finding carrots on a flat rock outside his cave, left by some anonymous well-wisher. After days of this, the bear places honeycomb on the rock as a lure (“He wanted to see who had left him the nice things”), and pretty soon there’s a full-scale war of random acts of kindness going on... Pinkwater’s talent for creating loveable characters and his unalloyed sense of goodness make it work. -- Publishers Weekly 

While the story is awfully sweet, Hillenbrand’s mixed-media illustrations distinguish this picture book. Faintly rendered backgrounds offset characters and foreground settings, lending a truly fresh look to the compositions. There’s lots to love here. -- Kirkus

BUY THE BOOK from My Local Independent Bookseller, Your Local Independent Bookseller, Powells.com, Amazon, BandN, or WHEREVER FINE BOOKS ARE SOLD.

Happy Book Birthday: THE UNNATURALISTS

About THE UNNATURALISTS by Tiffany Trent - out today from Simon&Shuster:

The streets of New London teem with a strange and wonderful bustle. Mechanical carriages glide down streets lit by the flicker of everlanterns, thanks to myth–the refined essence of magical beasts, and the resource that keeps the engines of the Empire moving.  But myth is in ever more limited supply as the last of the magical beasts are killed for it, and New Londoners are becoming desperate.

Vespa Nyx is a privileged young scholar with a penchant for jam pies and mischief. She spends her days cataloguing and studying creatures in the museum, and has no desire to follow her aunt's advice and start looking for a husband. She also may be New London’s sole surviving witch.

Syrus Reed is an outcast Tinker having an extraordinary run of bad luck. He hasn't a coin to his name, his family has been killed and he is being hunted to become a refinery slave.  His only way out may be to find a witch.  

These two are about to find their fates wound more tightly in the gears of deception and intrigue than they could ever imagine...

Review Quotes:
"By St. Darwin and his Great Apes, "The Unnaturalists" is unnaturally good! Few authors can mix science and fantasy the way Tiffany can; her science-worshiping New London is perfectly original and perfectly realized, and Vespa Nyx is a heroine to cheer for. So much steampunk is just more of the same; "The Unnaturalists" is captivatingly different."--Ysabeau Wilce, Andre Norton Award-winning author of "Flora's Dare"

"Thrilling, intricate and magical, "The Unnaturalists" is a formidable entry into the steampunk genre. Vespa Nyx is a spunky heroine we can all root for, and Tiffany Trent's worldbuilding skills are unmatched. This book will delight anyone who loves magic, gadgets and brilliantly drawn settings. I highly recommend it."--Caitlin Kittredge, author of "The Iron Thorn"

"Fast-paced, heart-wrenching, magical and fascinating."--Tamora Pierce, author of The Song of the Lioness quartet

"Utterly ingenious! Tiffany Trent has more fine invention at her fingertips than a roomful of magical Leonardos!"--Ellen Kushner, World Fantasy Award-winning author

"Thoroughly magical...Leaves readers wanting more."--Kirkus Reviews

"Science, magic, myth, and alternate history all work together to create an intriguing alternate world with more depth than many books in the genre. This is a world worth visiting." Publishers Weekly

BUY THE UNNATURALISTS at: Your Local Independent Bookseller, My Local Independent Bookseller,  B&NBook Depository, Powells.com, Amazon, OR WHEREVER FINE BOOKS ARE SOLD.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Happy Book Birthday: D IS FOR DRAMA

D IS FOR DRAMA by Jo Whittemore - Aug 7, Simon & Schuster
A lead role means lots of drama in this sparkling story of one tween's efforts to shine in the spotlight. 
Sunny Kim is done with one-line roles at Carnegie Arts Academy--she's ready for the lead. But even after a summer of studying with an acting coach, Sunny doesn't snag the role of Mary Poppins in her school's upcoming production.

Unfortunately, her entire family mistakenly thinks otherwise, including her former-actress mother.
Desperate for a solution, Sunny convinces her theater adviser to let her produce a one-woman show. But when the rest of her friends find out--the friends that never seem to make the playbill either--they all want to join in. Before long, Sunny is knee-deep in curtains, catfights, and chorus lines as her one-woman work turns into a staging of the hit musical "Wicked." And when a terrible misunderstanding pits the entire cast against Sunny, can the show--and Sunny's future acting career--be saved in time for opening night?
Jo is a master at writing "tween slapstick with heart." Her books really are laugh-out-loud funny, but with a core of sweetness rather than meanness. They're a delight. But they are also not dumb. After all, Sunny is dealing with something serious. Are the directors passing her over for leads because she is Korean-American, or because she isn't talented enough? What about the heavy kid, or the klutzy kid, or the "weird" kid... is it discrimination or just chance that they don't get lead roles? Will they always be "Villager #2" or "Tree"?  Sunny and her friends are determined to take the reins of their own destiny and not let anyone else define them, and I love that.

D IS FOR DRAMA will find a place in the heart of anyone who has ever felt like they don't fit in (which... is almost everyone, right?) and it is sure to please the young drama lover in your life.

Buy at Your Local Independent Bookseller - Powells - Oblong Books - Book Depository - Barnes&Noble - Amazon .... or wherever fine books are sold.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

LeakyCon Fun! But I need your help...

So as some of you know, I'll be attending LeakyCon for the second time next weekend. I'm excited because last year was SO fun. I love Harry Potter, I love Chicago, I'm basically obsessed with all my fellow LitDay participants....basically I'm going to BE NERDY and GET MY RAVENCLAW ON.

But sadly I don't JUST get to guzzle butterbeer and run around a hotel in a cape. I'm also, you know, doing official stuff.  I'm on a Diversity in YA panel, I'm on a "How Not to get Published" panel... and I am MODERATING at panel too!

Moderating? Me? YES!
Is This Panel Too Dirty? For many, sex is a tricky and sometimes squicky business. How do you write a sex scene? Should there be sex in YA novels? Our panelists discuss the pros and cons and talk about how it’s done. (Possible graphic content.)

Panelists: Daniel Ehrenhaft (editor & author), Laini Taylor (author), Kate Schafer Testerman (agent), moderated by ME!
So here's where YOU come in. I want more points of view on this stuff. I have some questions - what do you think? How would you ANSWER them? And what other questions would YOU ask the esteemed editor, author and agent on this panel?

* Lot of people say there can be sex in YA books as long as it is not "gratuitous" - what does that even mean?

* How far is "too far" -- is there any topic TOO TABOO for a YA book?

* For the editor and agent: Have you ever asked an author to tone down sex scenes? Why?

* For the author(s): Have you ever been asked to tone down (or ramp up!) sex scenes?

* For editor: Do sales & marketing departments ever have a say on a books content? Does "cleanness" or "edginess" affect how you publish & promote the book?

* Sometimes books come under fire or are banned because of content issues. How does this affect the authors?

* What are some of your favorite "sexy" YAs?  Are they actually "dirty" or is it more sexual tension than outright s-e-x?

Anything else I should be sure to ask?

*comments are moderated - if I'm not at my computer it might take awhile. sorry!*

Friday, August 03, 2012

A Question of Love

Question from the comments: "Many literary agents say that they have to "fall in love" with the book in order to represent it. I don't get it. I view literary agents as professionals, with the main goal to find books that they feel editors/publishers will buy ... whether they like the book or not. Lawyers defend clients that they believe to be guilty, but also feel that they can set them free. Maybe it's my business education/background/attitude ... if a literary agent finds a book that she is "not in love with" but knows that editors/publishers will buy it ... why not take the book"
Let me start by saying: Both my parents were lawyers, and I love lawyers. But a literary agent is not the same as a lawyer.

A defense attorney might know their client to be guilty, but they defend them because everyone in this country -- EVERYONE -- has the right to a fair trial. Even straight-up, no-doubt-about-it, self-admitting guilty people get to have an attorney defend their rights in court. A public defender doesn't get to pick and choose their clients, they are assigned... so obviously, unlike an agent.

A somewhat more accurate comparison might be a privately-hired defense attorney, who, if they were in the position to pick-and-choose, would (I imagine) pick the richest clients with the most interesting cases. Except for the fact that agents DO NOT GET PAID by their clients until/unless they sell a book.

So it is more like having a privately-hired defense attorney who is willing to work pro bono. Why would they work pro bono? Well, it would probably have to be for a cause or a client they REALLY BELIEVED IN and wanted to support. Because it is a hell of a lot of work and time, with no guarantee of a reward.

Some agents might very well take on work that they don't care for, or work with clients they personally despise, if they knew for a fact the book would sell. That wouldn't work for me, but hey. To each his own. Even if a client comes to me with an offer already in hand, I still have to like the book and believe the author can do more, because I am hoping to work with them for their whole career, not just one deal.

Personally, for me, I have to spend a lot of time reading these books, and a lot of time talking about, and to, and for, my clients... for free. A LOT. OF TIME. FOR FREE.  I have limited time available, so I have to devote the time I have to things I believe in. I have to love the work, or I can't be passionate about reading it over, and over, and over, and over again. I simply have to like talking to the author, or it will be a misery for us both. (After all, I have worked with some of my clients for YEARS at this point, and talk to them more often than I talk to my own family!)  My enthusiasm for my client's work is not fake, it's genuine - and the editors I work with know my taste. If I tried to fake it, I pretty much guarantee it wouldn't work.

That said - I have to not only love the book, but also THINK IT CAN SELL. Just thinking it's good isn't enough. If I loved the work or adored the author but had a strong feeling that I could NOT sell it for whatever reason... I'd also have to pass.

But that's just my .02 - any other agents feel differently?

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Your Path is Unique; You are Incomparable

I read a nice blog post the other day that inspired this -- but it is something I say when I give talks all the time:

There's a lot of advice out there for writers. I've read lots of it, I've given some of it... and you might have, too. No advice is "one size fits all." (Not even the advice in this very blog.) But one thing I feel very strongly about is, it is damaging to compare yourself to other writers.  (<--- don't do it! this is advice. sorry.)

Recently a writer I think is terrific said that when she writes faster, she writes better. She's quite successful, so it is tempting to take that to heart and say, "Hm, clearly, if I want to be successful, I HAVE TO WRITE FASTER!  FASTER!!!"  ...until the next successful writer declares that slow and steady wins the race. One writer says that she has to write things out of order, skip from action scene to action scene and fill in the rest later. Then somebody else says they have to write things IN order. One person is a plotter and does a detailed outline before she starts. The next is a "pantser" and the story comes to her in the moment.

If you were to hear all this advice from these expert-fantastic-genius writers, and you were new enough to think advice was all gospel and had to be followed to the letter, you'd likely feel real crappy about yourself pretty darn quick. Because it'd be IMPOSSIBLE to do all those things at once. They contradict each other. It is a recipe for failure and sadness. The only thing that works is to figure out what works for YOU.

It's like dieting. There is NO crazy fad diet that is awesomely good for you, works for 100% of people 100% of the time, and keeps working. If there was, we'd all be "bikini ready" right now. You generally get healthier by eating more good stuff and being as active as you are able to be. "But that is BORING and SLOW" you say! I say, if you try to circumvent it ("Hey! This magazine says I should ONLY EAT BACON from now on and I'll lose weight fast!") -- well it might work in the short term, but in the long run, you will probably be damaging your body.

And let's say you do get healthier: There is no "right" way to look at the end of it. Some people's "healthy" is the body of an Olympian. Personally, my "healthy" is the body of a Yugoslavian peasant woman. Genetics, babe. Neither is wrong. And if I bemoan the fact that even at my healthiest, I'm naturally more "Hammer Throw" than "Uneven Parallel Bars", that is not helping me be as healthy and happy and successful a Hammer-Thrower as I can be. In fact, if I sit at home crying about it instead of practicing, I'll be a TERRIBLE Hammer-Thrower.

Wow that was a long tangent, sorry.

The point I'm making: Just as there is no one way to look, there is NO ONE WAY to write a book. There is NO ONE WAY to get an agent. There is NO ONE WAY to be published. I have personally seen as many paths to publication as I have seen books. All of them different. None of them "right."  There are no guarantees in life, and there sure aren't any in this crazy business, except that everything is subjective, and your path will be your own.

Great writing. Great hook. Kick-ass Query. All of these might help you, and definitely couldn't hurt. But what is "great"? Every single one of the manuscripts I've sold, also had rejections. I know for a fact I'd have turned down a book like DA VINCI CODE, TWILIGHT or 50 SHADES... does that make those books "bad"? No. Just bad for ME. While many would agree with me and pass on these books, many more millions of people do not share my taste at all... and that's a good thing. People liking different things - it's what makes this crazy world go round. If everyone liked the exact things I liked... well I'd be richer, sure... but I'd also be pretty bored.

Perseverance. Being in the right place at the right time. Sheer luck. These factors will likely play a part in your success, too. Author A was writing and actively looking for an agent for ten years. She wrote and queried several manuscripts over that decade. We became friends when I wasn't even an agent yet, just a bookseller. I thought she was terrific. I said, "If I were an agent, I'd rep you!" -- and then, later on, I became an agent, asked her to query me. Everything clicked into place beautifully and I sold two books for her in two weeks.  I know for a fact that this has happened to me with editors as well - - for Author B, I sent a manuscript out for almost a year with nary a bite. I sold a picture book and a chapter book for B, but the novel didn't sell and didn't sell. On the third round, it got snapped up immediately... by somebody who hadn't been an acquiring editor yet when I sent it out the first time. Kismet! It was a perfect match, and the book went on to become an award winner.

And see? Two successes right there in that last paragraph - two VERY different paths! If Author B compared herself to the quick-selling Author A, she might have been miserable for a year... but she didn't. Instead, she kept writing, and I sold different projects for her, and she has had terrific success, in her own timeline, on her own terms. If Author A compared herself to Author B, she might have grimaced about the 10 years and many manuscripts before she even landed an agent... but she didn't. Because she couldn't have had that path. It TOOK the 10 years, and it came together when the manuscript and the timing were both right.

There's a quote that's attributed to Samuel Goldwyn that I like. "The harder I work, the luckier I get." I feel like this applies to writers. LOTS and LOTS of people want to be successful writers... but then they never finish a book. Or they finish, but they never learn to revise. Or they finish it, and revise, but are too scared of rejection to put it out there. 

If you've finished a book? CONGRATULATIONS. You are ahead of MOST of the world. Sure, that doesn't mean it will automatically get published. Still, the harder you work, the luckier you are likely to get.

Pretty much everyone who shares advice is doing so from a good place in their heart. If the advice works for you... awesome. If it makes you feel upset or weirded-out or doesn't work for you -- you're allowed to ignore it!  Take the best, discard the rest.

Ultimately, no matter how much research we do, no matter how many "buddies" we have to ask questions of, we each have our own machete, and we each have to hack out our own path through this jungle. Bring a headlamp!