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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1559

Our most recent subject here at the Class of 2k13 has been “what I’ve learned from teens.” But in all truth, I’ve probably learned more about the teenagers of Elizabethan England than I have about modern teens… even though I know several extraordinary young adults and am meeting more every day.

However, the teenagers in my debut, MAID OF SECRETS, are, well… teenagers in 1559. Which brings with it a whole different host of concerns than those faced by most of today’s young adults. Not more challenging concerns, necessarily, but different ones.

So, what did teens stress about in 1559?

1. Staying Alive

Staying alive was a bigger concern for the youth of Elizabethan England than it is for many contemporary young adults in the US. First, there was the Plague. It’s never good to have a capitalized disease associated with your era. Then, there were the lesser evils of a complete lack of sanitary water (no one drank water with meals… it was wine or ale), and somewhat questionable (at least by our modern standards) levels of personal hygiene. If you were not a member of the merchant class or higher, there was also the ever-present concern of starvation. Life sort of sucked for teen Elizabethans.

2. (Not) Getting Married

In 2013, the average age at marriage in the US is currently 26.8 years for men, and 25.1 years for women. In 1559, it wasn’t so much different. Most individuals not of the nobility did in fact wait until their mid-20s to marry. If you were noble, however, you were not so lucky: arranged marriages were the best way to assure the continuation of your family line, and so teens often found themselves promised in matrimony well before they’d even given much thought to a spouse and kids. Courtship in Elizabethan England was also fairly strict: so the more noble you were, the less likely you were to truly know your future spouse before you walked down the aisle

3. Following the Rules

As for many modern teens, following the rules wasn’t a favorite past-time for Elizabethan teens, but the repercussions then were a bit more strict than they are today. If you were part of the nobility, the most frequent crimes you could be accused of included: High Treason, Blasphemy, Sedition (fomenting disorder against the Queen…never a good idea), Spying, Rebellion, Murder, Witchcraft or… Alchemy.

(and yes, that last crime is totally going to be appearing in a future MAID book.. Actually, quite a few of these crimes make an appearance, if all goes well…)

If you were a commoner, you were more likely to get accused of:  Thievery, begging, poaching, adultery, being in debt, forgery, fraud, or… cheating at dice.  And while yes, most of the lawbreakers were older than your typical teen, the rules still applied to anyone old enough to actually understand the law.

Even worse, you didn’t have to do anything particularly “wrong” to run afoul of the law in 1559: just traveling without the proper license or acting in a public place could get you in trouble.

And if you did break a rule and get caught, life was not good.

Crime was taken very seriously in Elizabethan England. If you stole anything over 5 pence… you could be hanged. If you begged… you were stoned mercilessly until you reached the outskirts of town. If you were a habitual beggar… you could be imprisoned or hung.  If your crime was particularly egregious, you would be hung “partway” and then drawn and quartered (no one wants this).  Other popular forms of punishment included: burning, whipping, branding, pressing (don’t ask), being stretched on a wheel or a rack, being boiled in oil, being maimed, or being forced to wear excruciating devices intended to cause extreme discomfort.

Not awesome.

If you were a member of the nobility, of course, your fate was generally better—punishment for your crimes was either beheading or a slap on the wrist. Sure, that beheading concept was kind of final; but if you could escape that treatment, you would make out okay.

But either way, it paid to walk the straight and narrow.

All of that to say… the next time you are really steamed about how rotten life is, just tip your hat to our intrepid teens of the 1500s. Chances are, they had it worse.

Help Out the Little Guy

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One of the things I always focus in on during movies are the bystanders.  You know, the people fleeing for their lives during the climactic battles at the end of the movie?  They aren’t the main characters, and the cameras rarely focus on them for more than a “that woman is about to be crushed by a car” second.  Even though the story isn’t about them I always wonder how they feel.  Are Gothamers thinking “I really need to move to a safer city,” as yet another criminally insane fool sweeps into town?  Do New Yorkers wonder to themselves “Why does the Apocalypse ALWAYS have to start here?” as they flee the impending meteor?  I mean, how does the little guy feel?

And do we even really care?

I’ve been pondering that question a lot this week.  My book probably won’t be in Barnes and Noble when it comes out next week (inside story on that here).  For a debut author like myself, discovery usually happens when the book is on the shelf.  Eye catching cover and intriguing synopsis sell a book for a debut author, not name recognition.

With that out of the question (with the exception of indies, which are AMAZING and I highly suggest you use), the chances of anyone hearing/seeing my book is slim.  Same as a ton of other S&S titles.  But this happens to authors all the time.  So I came up with a short list of things you can do to support debut authors, or any author:

1. Tell people about the book.  Seriously. Word of mouth is the most powerful tool ever.  Leave reviews, tell friends, buy the book as a gift.  The only thing you need to do to support an author is tell everyone how much you liked the book.

That’s it.  Just number one.  It’s that easy.

Much easier than saving the world.

Changing the World

The biggest thing I remember about being a kid was that I never really liked being thought of or referred to as a “kid” … because this usually meant being talked down to, being told to leave the room, or being told to wait.

Being told to wait was usually a hassle, but sometimes it really, really got to me. This happened mostly when I had just learned to care about something or I was upset by an injustice. When this happened I found I was almost always told to wait… usually accompanied by some sort of phrase about “when I was older.”

For example, I remember vividly once having just read a book where the protagonist was struggling to survive in a country where a genocide was going on. I was really upset about it and wanted to know what I could do about it. I was told, “Well, honey, when you grow up you can join the UN or some other organization and really make a difference.”

And that bothered me. Not the idea that I would grow up and join the United Nations… but the idea that there was nothing I could do now made me feel useless. My favorite nonfiction book at the time quickly became “100 things you can do to save the planet.” I would read it compulsively, finding ways I could make a difference in the world. Even now, I still cut my 6-pack-soda rings into tiny pieces so I don’t choke the sea turtles.

So, when I finally did grow up (and didn’t join the UN after all), it mattered to me to write fiction for kids like me: kids that wanted to know about injustices, but that wanted to do something about them too. That’s why, if you head over to my website, or read the author’s note at the end of GOLDEN BOY, you’ll see a whole bunch of things kids can do to change the world around them.

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The Horrific Teen Years

My own children, age 5 and 3, are still a good distance away from their teen years. Despite the pains of potty training and runny noses and having to retie shoes ten times a day, I already know that these are the golden years, the times that I will look back at in a decades time and wonder, “Where did those sweet babies go?”

I know this, because I have already watched adorable children turn into teenage monsters.

I am the second oldest of five children – all of us girls. My older sister and I are close in age – just a little over a year apart. But my next sister is three years younger than me, the fourth in line is five years younger, and the baby of the family was born nine years after me.

Growing up, the whole family referred to the three youngest as, “the little ones.” The name stuck for a long time – even as they got older and not so little. When I left for college, I still thought of my baby sister as an actual baby – even though she was almost a pre-teen.

So I was shocked when I started getting reports from my mother about the ‘little ones’ and the trouble they were getting into. My older sister and I had been pretty tame teenagers (ie: nerds) and didn’t get into a whole lot of trouble. The little ones, though, were a whole different story. My mom struggled to deal with them, to help them get through those terrible teen years, while I watched from the safe distance of my college life and wondered what had happened to the sweet little sisters that I used to have tea parties with after school.

In ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE, the idea that sweet children become unrecognizable monsters with sometimes shocking wishes and desires is a big part of the story. I liked asking the question: How do you know this stranger in your child’s body and how do you love them?

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Sex, Drugs & Bad Words in NOT A DROP TO DRINK (Hint – There’s only one)

As a YA librarian serving a building with 7th graders through seniors, I’m often looking for a good way to assess age appropriateness for new titles. I put together this little video to help librarians, booksellers and parents figure out if NOT A DROP TO DRINK is a good title for them!

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What I’ve Learned from Teens

While there are exceptions to every rule, my experience with teens has taught me about:

  • Honesty
    Teens tell it like it is. My kids and students have no problem pointing out my fashion faux pas and rolling their eyes if they think my vocabulary is out of date. On the other hand, some of the most amazing insights about human behavior have come from a teen’s off-handed observation. So when I’m writing, I don’t try to be a wannabe teen. And I don’t try to channel my 1980s teen self. That’s not honest. I try to create a real person dealing with big issues that everyone experiences because the feelings that young people have aren’t immature feelings that will grow up and gain understanding someday. Kids of all ages understand unfairness and justice and acceptance and rejection and love and rudeness and everything else. They deserve honest stories that don’t talk down to them.
  • Advice
    Unless they ask, don’t give it. One way to annoy my kids the fastest is to start giving advice when they start ranting about their bad days. They don’t want to hear about how I had bad days way back when I was a teen—before cell phones and the Internet. And they certainly don’t want to hear about my experience with those bitchy girls from high school and how everything works out okay in the future. They’re not looking for solutions. They just want to vent. They don’t need me to fix anything; my fixes feel trite anyway because I’m not in the throes of it all. So, when I’m writing I try to let the characters simply exist, not create false situations to teach kids anything. I want my characters to make real and honest choices and experience the triumphs or consequences that come with them.
  • Assumptions

Nobody fits perfectly into jock or nerd or any other stereotypes. High school is much more nuanced than the characters from the movie The Breakfast Club. When I write I try to envision people beyond labels. In my novel 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS), my main character Ann is overweight, but she’s into fashion and has friends. How she sees herself is not necessarily how others see her. In fact, she’s cute—so cute that a hot guy notices.

No matter how old I get, I can still learn new stuff—even if it does accompany an eye roll or two.

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BRIANNA ON THE BRINK Release Day!

Today is release day for my debut contemporary young adult novel BRIANNA ON THE BRINK! I am so grateful to my agent, Stacey Glick, editor Sylvie Frank and all the folks at my wonderful publisher, Holiday House, who have made this day a reality. Fly little bookbaby, fly!

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It’s been a week of celebration around these parts, starting with the Tucson Festival of Books last weekend, where signing my first book for a reader made me feel more like a Real Live Author than just about anything on the journey so far. Here I am with the lovely lady who bought that first signed copy (because I had to get a picture, right?). Mari is also an author, as it turns out, and I hope to hear great news about her book someday soon:

TFOB

Today I’m planning to continue the release-day festivities by heading to the Grand Canyon with a bunch of family members (because that’s how we celebrate big stuff here in Arizona—by visiting big holes in the ground). Cupcakes and Prosecco will also be involved.

Copies of BRIANNA ON THE BRINK have been popping up in the wild already this week, so you can likely find it at your local bookstore. If not, please consider ordering the book from them. Here are some links for purchasing your copy online, too!

Barnes & Noble (It’s also available as a Nook book!)

Indiebound

Powell’s

Amazon (It’s also available in Kindle edition!)

Also, don’t forget about the Class of 2K13 March Giveaway, which includes BRIANNA ON THE BRINK, GONE FISHING and MILA 2.0!

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Our Agents and Why We Love Them

Most (but not all) of the Class of 2k13 is represented by a literary agent. Agents can be a great asset to your writing career. Over a third of publishers are closed now to unagented writers, which means if you have an agent, you are greatly increasing the number of places your manuscript can be submitted. Your manuscript arrives at a publisher pre-filtered by a professional. A good agent knows what publishers and editors are looking for and can match your manuscript with those editors who are most likely to buy. Unagented writers can wait months and years to hear back from publishers, but good agents hear back within weeks or even days. Finally, if you do make a sale, a good agent makes sure you get a strong book deal AND makes sure you keep all those complex rights that change constantly as the business and technology changes.

All that said, a writer can still get published with a reputable publisher without an agent. Sometimes you might be your own best agent for your book!

Here we share with you our agents, how we met, why we love them, and where to find them.

Mindy McGinnis, NOT A DROP TO DRINK

Agent: Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary

How they met: Query letter, baby – they actually work.

Why my agent is awesome: Because she’s in this with me for my career, not just one or two books.

Where to find her: Twitter: @AdriannRanta or http://wolflit.com

 

Lydia Kang, CONTROL

Agent: Eric Myers of the Spieler Agency

How they met: Querying!

Why they’re awesome: He’s got great experience and instinct. And he’s in this for my career, not just for a book.

Where to find him: http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/ericmyers/

Demitria Lunetta, IN THE AFTER

Agent: Katherine Boyle of Veritas Literary

How they met: Query letter.

Why they’re awesome: She has amazing editorial advice, she always answers all of my (most probably stupid) questions in great detail, and she’s definitely invested in my success.

Where to find them: http://www.veritasliterary.com/

Stephanie Kuehn, CHARM & STRANGE

Agent: Michael Bourret of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management

How they met: I actually queried a different agent at DGLM, who passed my query on to Michael. (Yes, that really happens!)

Why they’re awesome: Well, besides the fact that he’s a wonderful, wonderful agent and that I respect and admire him and all of his clients so very much, I think he’s awesome because he gets my writing. That’s important to me. My writing is strange and dark and weird and difficult, and he gets that and it makes me feel safe to be the writer I am.

Where to find them:

DGLM website http://www.dystel.com/
twitter: @MichaelBourret

Liesl Shurtliff, RUMP: THE TRUE STORY OF RUMPELSTILTSKIN

 Agent: Michelle Andelman of Regal Litarary

How they met: Good old-fashioned query, which I personalized by highlighting why I thought she’d be interested in my work. (Helps to do your homework!)

Why they’re awesome: So many reasons! Michelle is wonderfully editorial. She really understanding the elements of story and can so perfectly pinpoint an issue and how it might be resolved. She’s savvy with the market, a great negotiator, and cares deeply for all aspects of her clients’ careers. It’s not just about making sales for her, but building authors’ careers.

Where to find them: @michellelit http://www.regal-literary.com/

Tamera Wissinger, GONE FISHING

When I sold GONE FISHING I didn’t have an agent and I don’t have one now. It is possible to represent and sell your work on your own.

Justina Ireland, VENGEANCE BOUND

Agent: Elana Roth of Red Tree Literary

How they met: I queried Elana and she passed me on to my former agent, Caren Estesen. When Caren quit agenting, Elana picked me up.

Why they’re awesome: Elana is an amazingly editorial agent, which I love. She’s also lightning quick on responses to emails and our lines of communication are always open. I really value that.

Where to find them: Elana is on twitter as @ElanaRoth and her agency website is www.redtreeliterary.com

Liz Fichera, HOOKED

Agent: Holly Root at Waxman Leavell Agency

How they met: The old-fashioned way: a query.

Why they’re awesome: When my first book didn’t sell right away, she didn’t drop me like a hot potato. She gets my writing and quirky characters and gives me great feedback.

Where to find them: Twitter at @hroot

Jennifer McGowan, MAID OF SECRETS

Agent: Alexandra Machinist, at Janklow & Nesbit

How they met: I queried her, then emailed to let her know another agent had expressed interest. She emailed me back to say she’d never gotten my first email, but loved the idea… and she read the book overnight before offering representation.

Why they’re awesome: Other than the above, she also is someone who is an amazing advocate for me in good times and bad. She is fun, dynamic, has great insights and believes in me and my work.

Where to find them:

Janklow & Nesbit website: www.janklowandnesbit.com
twitter: @AMachinist

Geoffrey Girard, PROJECT CAIN

Agent: Stephen Barbara, at Foundry Literary & Media

How they met: Just like all the How To guides tell you. I made a short list (one agent) of pros I wanted to work with. I queried by email, sent the full, tweaked some based on his suggestions, and was then offered representation. The whole thing took about four months (which included the three-month rewrite).

Why they’re awesome: Because he loves books as much as I do. The tradition and magic of publishing and NY and the thousands who’ve come before us actually matters to him. I’d also heard – sorry, Stephen – that he was super smart but “too confident” and “too forceful.” My reaction was: Hell, Yes! That’s exactly the agent I want! Turns out he’s a charming gentleman. But I’m from Jersey, so my idea of confidence and force is different than some…

Where to find them:  http://www.foundrymedia.com

K.A. Barson, 45 POUNDS

Agent: Sara Crowe with Harvey Klinger, Inc.

How they met: I met her at Vermont College over a year before I was ready for an agent. I was impressed with her and her blog, and I also respect many of her other clients. When I was ready, I queried her. She requested the full manuscript that day and offered to represent me a couple weeks later.

Why they’re awesome: Sara is awesome because she’s smart and enthusiastic. She’s not overly pushy, but lets the work speak for itself–I like that. She’s a tough negotiator, and is worth double her weight in gold.

You can find her at saracrowe.com or follow her on Twitter @saraagent

Polly Holyoke, THE NEPTUNE PROJECT

Agent: Douglas Stewart with Sterling Lord Literistic

How they met: I read Publisher’s Marketplace religiously for a year and used their Dealmakers database to track which agents were selling the most dystopian fiction. Doug had made a couple of recent sales in that genre, so I knew he liked it, and I sent him a query.

Why they’re awesome: Doug is steady and sensible and completely believes in my writing. Sterling Lord is the third largest literary agency in NYC, so their resources and contacts are phenomenal. I had a foreign sale within three weeks of my domestic sale.

Where to find them: Doug, most sadly, rarely takes on new clients. You can try for Doug, who is fabulous, or go for one of the younger agents at Sterling Lord (www.sll.com).

Tara Sullivan, GOLDEN BOY

Agent: Caryn  Wiseman of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency

How they met: We got a SCBWI writers-group development grant and invited Caryn to a Skype conference to tell our group more about the querying and agenting process.

Why they’re awesome: Caryn is amazing! She has a very helpful, hands-on approach to the pre-pitch manuscript, and great business connections when it’s time to launch. I only received thoughtful, personalized rejections (and, of course, my acceptance, yay!) from the people she selected for GOLDEN BOY. I’ve felt very solidly that she’s on my side every step of the way and I couldn’t imagine a better agent.

Where to find them:

https://twitter.com/CarynWiseman

http://www.andreabrownlit.com/agents.php

 Cristin Terrill, ALL OUR YESTERDAYS

Agent: Diana Fox of Fox Literary.

How them met: In a completely random way. She ran across an old blog of mine, liked my writing and invited me to submit the novel I had mentioned I was working on. After I regained consciousness, I did. That novel was terrible and she wisely passed, but I queried her again with a later novel and she offered rep. And the moral of the story is, completely random crap you write on the internet MAY be being read by an agent at this very moment, so try to make it good!

Why they’re awesome: She took a chance on me because she thought I had potential and has made my writing a thousand times better. She’s tough as nails when she’s negotiating for me but also will geek out with me over the terrible teen TV shows we both like.

Where to find them:

Foxliterary.com and @dianafox on Twitter.

What I’ve Learned From Kids – Kids Say the Darndest Things

Let’s face it, kids can be brutally honest. They’ll tell you if you have spinach in your teeth or ask you what’s up with the mole on your chin, or flat out tell you at the top of their lungs that you’re wrong. And children say it with such sincerity, such openness, that it’s not even insulting.

Maybe it’s because of this honesty that children are incredibly insightful. Kids are very observant and pick up on a lot of things that an adult may not. I don’t have children myself, but I’ve spent countless hours baby-sitting, listening to little high-pitched voices, and I’m always eager to hear what they have to say. Children are amazingly bright and perceptive. We have a lot to learn from them.

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The What Ifs: What I’ve Learned from Kids

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There’s a lot of stuff I love doing with my kids. Reading books. Looking for creepy crawlies under rocks. Searching for wild turkeys in our neighborhood.

It’s so easy to be distracted by emails, work, social media, chores…life stuff. But what I always have to remember is to let my curiosity breathe and live. It needs elbow room, to stretch and just be.  It’s too easily confined by the endlessness of my to-do list.

But children, with their non-stop curiosity, remind me to never stop asking questions. To never stop wondering the whys and what-ifs.

I love what-ifs. It’s how every one of my books began, after all. 🙂

Look. Explore. Imagine. It’s so worth the effort!

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