Agent Monday: New Agent Savannah Brooks!

SavannahHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Did you miss me? 😉  It HAS been a busy time here, with lots of exciting goings on.  Part of that excitement? The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency has welcomed some terrific new agents. Today, let’s get to know more about new Associate Agent Savannah Brooks…

Q: Hi Savannah! Thanks so much for taking the time to visit.  How did you get into agenting?

A: When I started my MFA program back in 2015, I wanted to get as much experience in as many avenues of publishing as possible. So when I heard about the opportunity to intern for JD Lit, I jumped on it. I interned with Damian McNicholl for a year and a half before officially coming on board. I loved (and still love) the way agenting blends manuscript editing with author and editor facetime. It’s the perfect mix.

Q: Can you share some details about yourself, and how these have shaped who you are as an agent and as someone working with authors?

A: This isn’t anything new, but I’ll say it anyway: being a writer myself really informs the processes I create with my authors. I write creative nonfiction, mostly personal essays pretty heavily influenced by research (though I dabble in fiction as well). The last essay I had published I started writing two years prior. It’s an essay I wrote a few drafts of then had to put away for a while. I worked on other pieces, I grew as a writer, and I made it better with time. So when I look at an author’s career, I’m not just considering this one book; I’m considering the ways that writing and revising this one book can inform all the books that are to come.

Q: What types of projects are you representing? Anything you are especially hoping to find in your inbox?

A: I didn’t exactly mean for this to happen, but I’ve found myself focusing pretty heavily on YA fiction. By its nature, YA is extremely voice driven, and I’m most intrigued by characters. Weird, obsessive, smart, unforgettable characters. That being said, I’ve been keeping an eye out for funny, voice-driven adult fiction that isn’t afraid to tackle big topics but knows how to do it and entertain at the same time. Think An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.

Q: Can you give us an example of one of your favorite books in each category that you represent, and why it’s your favorite?

A: I’ll do some category bending here. Starting with one of the main players in the “what the heck is YA anyway” category: the His Dark Materials series. I’ve read this series countless times over the years, and each time, I’m floored by three things: how much I adore Lyra as a character, how real the worlds feel despite jumping around in them so frequently, and how layered the narrative is. As I grew up, the main focus of the story bounced around: adventure, love, religion, quantum physics, war. This is a book accessible and intriguing to readers of practically any age, which is, to put it simply, a feat.

For very similar reasons, I’ve also always gravitated to the Chronicles of Narnia series. I remember being crying-level devastated as a child by the fact that I could never actually get to Narnia. The world felt that real to me. Again, a feat, especially in children’s and middle grade writing. (That the film producers cast Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian certainly didn’t hurt my continued obsession into my teenage years, though I think I would’ve stuck with the series regardless.) I’m not a religious or spiritual person, but I’ve always been fascinated by Lewis’s allusions to Christianity. You can either read to be entertained or read to solve a puzzle. That level of engagement is powerful.

Q: To help folks understand your point of view, what are some of your favorite TV shows and Movies?

A: I don’t actually watch a ton of TV/movies, but this seems like a good opportunity for some psychoanalyzing, so why not? The shows I tend to turn to are Criminal Minds (again), America’s Next Top Model (again), Rick and Morty (again), Riverdale, and Planet Earth II. (Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I want anyone to read too deeply into that selection, but here we are.) As far as movies go, I’m always a sucker for Pixar and Marvel. I’ve seen Moana more times than I’d like to admit. I would say listening to “How Far I’ll Go” doesn’t still make me tear up (yes! girl power!), but that would be a lie. Continue reading

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Webinar for YA Writers – with Critique and Q&A!

MP910220840Hot summer tip time… Attention writers of YA novels! Literary agent Cari Lamba and I (we’re both from the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in NYC) are teaching the live Writer’s Digest Webinar “Write And Sell Your Young Adult Novel – Must-Know Info For Getting Published” on Thursday July 12th at 1 p.m.

This 90 minute webinar will help you craft and sell a novel that literary agents, publishers and readers will love. It covers the YA market (including the 10 things the top NYC editors are asking for right now), tools that will help you craft a strong and focused YA novel, and details on how to create a professional and artful query letter that will impress literary agents.

The webinar includes a Q&A plus a personal critique of your query letter and your YA novel’s opening pages.

A bit about us… Cari and I are both agents at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York.  We represent authors of fiction for children through adults, pitching their novels to all the major publishers. In addition, I’m an author of picture books and young adult novels (including the Random House novel WHAT I MEANT…, and the novels DRAWN and OVER MY HEAD), so along with our literary agent point of view, I’ll bring my YA author perspective to this webinar as well.

*Can’t attend the live webinar? Registration still entitles you to a copy of the on demand webinar, plus the critique. So you can still go for it!*

Interested? Act quickly, the webinar is SOON! Eep! For info and registration click here.

 
*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: Fix Your Middle Grade Novel

Rear view of class raising handsHi everyone!  Happy Agent Monday!  Okay, YES, it’s Tuesday, but it’s never too late to learn about how to fix your novel. Today’s focus?: the middle grade novel. As an agent, I see so many submissions that are instant rejections because they don’t fit into that middle grade category in a fundamental way.  That’s a book I can’t sell. So is your middle grade missing the mark, and how can you make it really shine?

This Thursday, Agent Cari Lamba and I will be teaching a live webinar through Writer’s Digest called WRITING AND SELLING THE MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL: MUST-KNOW INFORMATION FOR GETTING PUBLISHED. It starts at 1 p.m., includes a Q&A with us, as well a personal critique of your query letter and the first 5 pages of your middle grade novel. There is still time to sign up! For more info, and to register click here. (Note that even if you can’t attend this webinar live, you can still register and get the recorded webinar, as well as get your personal critique.)

In this webinar, Cari and I cover the many ways that writers unwittingly ruin their chances at publication. We realized that there is a lot of need-to-know stuff – A LOT! So if you are writing in the middle grade category, DEFINITELY do your homework before submitting to any agents, whether by attending our webinar, or through extensive research. It’s simply a must.

For example, middle grade novels are geared at 8-12 year old readers, yet, because kids “read up” they are typically about characters aged 10-13 or so. So if your main character is only 8 years old, that’s too young! Also note that middle grade is not synonymous with middle school readers. Those readers are typically reading young adult novels, which is a whole other ball of wax.

Middle grade novels are of a certain length. Go too long or too short on the word count range and you’ll be hurting your story’s chances of acceptance.  Another vital thing to keep in mind?: subject matter and how it’s handled. Can you handle tough stuff? Sure. But the way it is handled in a picture book, vs. a middle grade novel, vs. a young adult novel is vastly different. In the webinar, we’ll cover how to handle tough subjects for this market in an age-appropriate way.

Young Boy at School Raising His Hand to Answer in Class

Study up, writers! The webinar includes a Q&A

There is a lot of ground we’ll be covering, but one important tip to keep in mind is that you must understand where kids are developmentally at these ages. Look that info up, and you’ll find a range of great themes and concerns that can help appropriately shape your story and your character’s point of view.

Also – are you up to date on current middle grade novels? If you are only reading classics, or ones you remember from your childhood, then your own novel may not be up-to-date enough when it comes to pacing and themes and voice.  We’ll cover what elements are essential in great middle grade fiction today, as well as share the top 10 things top editors have personally told us they are seeking in middle grade right now. We’ll also cover how to put together a strong query letter for your novel, and we’ll include examples of queries that actually led to representation and then to book deals.

So is your middle grade novel a good fit for its audience? Or are you creating a manuscript that won’t fit on any shelf because you are mixing up elements, subject matter and point of view? I often have to reject MG novel submissions because of this, so please do your homework, and make sure you understand what a middle grade novel is, and what it isn’t. This will help your novel become one that will make agents and readers alike take notice.

Maybe I’ll *see* you at the Webinar!

Happy writing!
Marie

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Book Giveaway – Green, Green by Marie Lamba

Hi all! Just in time for gift giving – here’s a giveaway for my picture book GREEN GREEN: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY. I’ve also shared how I got the idea for this book (something to do with a crack in the pavement, actually!). Check out Kathy’s Temean’s post here, and comment (must comment on Kathy’s blog page via the link, as opposed to my page) for a chance to win.

Writing and Illustrating

Marie Lamba has a new picture book titled, GREEN GREEN and lucky us, she has agreed to do the book giveaway. All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you did to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Check back to discover the winner.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Green grass is wide and fresh and clean for a family to play in, and brown dirt is perfect for digging a garden. But when gray buildings start to rise up and a whole city builds, can there be any room for green space? The neighborhood children think so, and they inspire the community to join together and…

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DRAWN HAUNT – Not All Bad

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I’m wrapping up the DRAWN Haunt party today with a post about writing those dark characters – the villains in our stories. Seems appropriate for Mischief Night!

If you’ve missed it, the DRAWN Haunt has been a month-long celebration for my award-winning novel DRAWN‘s 5th anniversary. You can explore through this past month’s posts to find lots of book-related stuff about writing, romance, ghosts, time travel and more. You can also subscribe to this site (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about my novel DRAWN, click here. 

So, about those bad guys. Is it true that they’re…

NOT ALL BAD

Bad guys can be seriously tough characters for an author to write.  But every story needs them. What would Star Wars be without Darth Vader? Or Harry Potter without He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?  But writing these characters in a way that makes them believable is tricky.

You want to create huge problems for your hero, and that requires a villain and some true evil. But write about a person who is all bad and you have a cardboard character.  Like those villains in the silent flicks who twirled their mustaches while tying the damsel to the train tracks.

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Literary Classics International Book Awards SILVER AWARD Winner; A Long and Short Reviews “Best Book”; A Night Owl Reviews “Top Pick”

In my novel Drawn I had to create several baddies. The book is about teen artist Michelle De Freccio, who moves to England hoping for a more normal life. Almost immediately she starts drawing a guy from the 1400’s. When she meets him (Christopher) at the town’s castle, things really get strange…and when she follows Christopher into the Middle Ages, well, stranger still. The novel needed villains in the present AND in the past, so I had my bad-guy work cut out for me.

The secret, I found, is to show another side to your villain. Even if it’s just for a moment, you want a glimpse of someone who means well at times, or who is wounded in some way, or who truly believes they are doing the right thing. If I can get the reader for just a moment to see this side of the bad person, then I know they’ll have a different view of things. That they may even understand how the bad person went so wrong.

Here’s a moment from Drawn when I try to do just that… In the following scene Michelle discovers that her visits into the past have seriously begun to alter history and to wound Christopher’s fate. At this point, she’s started to really fall for him, so seeing history books that accuse him of terrible things is frightening indeed. Michelle has pulled book after book off the Academy’s shelf, searching for answers. Her modern-day nemesis Constance takes this opportunity to get Michelle into trouble with Constance’s mother who is the Academy’s Headmistress:

I blink and see Headmistress Hunter looming over me. Constance peers smugly from behind her.

“Such disorder,” the Headmistress says between tight lips, taking in the jumble of books at my feet. She’s almost trembling with anger. “Horrific. We do not treat reading material so shabbily, Miss De Freccio.”

“Yes, ma’am. Sorry.”

“The Academy expects appropriate behavior both in school and out. We pride ourselves on being the best.” She sniffs as if I clearly don’t qualify.

Constance grins.

“Clean this at once,” the Headmistress is saying. “Understand, this will go on your record. And on your father’s. This doesn’t bode well for his future here.”

Constance’s grin fades.

“But this isn’t his fault,” I say and hate the pleading tone in my voice. “Please don’t let it affect my dad, Headmistress.”

Constance whispers, “Mother, I don’t think—”

“Are you criticizing me?”

“No, of course not.” Constance looks at the floor.

In that brief scene the reader knows that Constance didn’t mean to endanger Michelle’s father’s position at the Academy. We see Constance has some sort of a soul and some limits, and that she is terrified of her own mother.

As for the villains in the medieval part of the book? This was a tough one because there is a mystery intertwined in the plot. Who is the traitor? Who murders the Earl? And who is killing off all the courtiers? What if all signs point to Christopher, the young man (er, ghost?) Michelle has now come to love? I had to spread doubts and clues in a way that gave info but also made the reader (and Michelle) wonder who can really be trusted. I can’t tell you who the real villains are without spoiling the book for you, but when all is revealed, you can bet the reader understands why the bad ’uns are doing what they do.

Balancing good and bad in a way that’s convincing can be a real challenge for any writer. Put in too much good, and the villain is not a real threat. Put in too much bad, and you’ve created someone that’s ridiculous and unbelievable. I tried very hard to balance my villains for just the right feel… I hope readers will find it all works.

Actually, a review about Drawn that popped up on the site Author Chronicles says: “not a single character is one-dimensional—each one has flaws, strengths, and depths to them. Even the snotty ‘Queen Bee’ girl, Constance, who could easily have been a stereotype, has flashes of a soul at war with the front she puts up.”

Not all bad! 😉

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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DRAWN Haunt – Do Over!

pumpkinsOn today’s DRAWN Haunt party post, I get a bit personal. I share a time I struggled with my confidence, and talk about having a Do Over. If you ever needed a Do Over, I think you might relate…

The DRAWN Haunt is a month-long celebration for my award-winning novel DRAWN‘s 5th anniversary. All October I’m featuring book-related posts about writing, romance, ghosts, time travel and more. Catch all the spooky DRAWN Haunt posts by exploring the blog, and you can subscribe to this site (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about my novel DRAWN, click here. 

So now it’s time for your…

DO OVER

How many times in your life do you get to reinvent yourself? To leave behind your past and become the person you really want to be?

For some of us, it can happen when we move to a new place or switch schools.  Or maybe you simply decide that this is the moment when you will make a change in your life.

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I fell in love with the main character… And, she has the good sense to fall for a worthwhile guy, a 3-D character, instead of the cardboard cutouts that are common in so many books…Time travel. Drawings that come to life. Ghosts…The writing and, most important to me—the characterizations—are so well done.
— Whatcha Reading Now?

In my novel Drawn, Michelle longs to escape her past and have a fresh start. As she says in this early scene from the book:

The two of us have only been in England for a few days, yet I’m already convinced it’s the best place in the universe. Not because of the quaint little shops or everyone’s adorable English accent, or even because of this supposedly grand castle on the edge of town. No. This place is perfect because here no one knows that back in New Jersey my family, the De Freccio’s, are called the De Freak-o’s.

Back in New Jersey, Michelle’s mother was an eccentric psychic who suddenly up and left the family without a trace. And her brother was a diagnosed schizophrenic. And Michelle had been friendless, an outcast. But in England, she hopes for a new life. A normal one.

Honestly, while writing Drawn I could really identify with Michelle’s do-over moment. In elementary school a bunch of snotty girls used to push me around during recess, and it crushed my spirit.  So in middle school, where lots of new kids filled the classrooms, it looked like a clear do-over moment to me.

But reputations tend to cling to a person, so it was pretty rocky for me at first.  Those nasty kids still were in my school, even though their power was now diluted. Still I was too self-conscious and too worried about what I said and wore and how people looked at me.

Now looking back I can see the real problem wasn’t those girls, it was what I carried inside myself: the loser image I wanted to ditch, but that on some level I’d bought into.  What if they were right about me?

In the novel, Michelle may have left her past behind, but her insecurities have come along for the ride:

I get that familiar hot burn of humiliation. I always felt it whenever someone back in New Jersey would pull a trick on me, convincing me that I really was invited to a party, or that science class was actually meeting out near the woods on the edge of school grounds. I discovered I was an easy mark. Too trusting, too eager for friends.

I’d promised myself that those days were over. But here, an ocean away from New Jersey, it’s starting all over again. It’s like I’ve got a permanent “KICK ME” note stuck on my back.

Luckily for me, by the end of middle school I did have friends. I was liked. I remember wondering, why? It mystified me. Wasn’t I the same person who was so looked down on earlier?

In the novel, when things start looking up for Michelle, it mystifies her too:

I sigh, realizing I’ve disappointed my friends. I blink a few times, as this all sinks in. I’ve just turned down an “in” with the popular kids. And I actually have friends. It seems that by simply moving to a new place, I’ve somehow climbed out of my social wasteland. I think of all the high school kids in the world who are teased and shunned. They should all have the chance to move and start over—kind of like a witness protection program, but for outcasts.

Actually, I believe there is a sort of relocation program for anyone who needs it. And you don’t need an airline ticket to England to get there. It’s not a place, but a state of mind deep within ourselves. Michelle started to have friends not because she moved but because she had already begun to change inside. To trust others and have more faith in herself. She truly wasn’t that same person anymore.  And that’s what happened to me, too, in a way.  I’d started to genuinely feel good about myself and to open up to people more and that made all the difference.

Of course nothing is simple, and real change doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t just wake up one morning and DING! Everything is all butterflies and happy songs.  It takes time to gain inner strength and for those better choices in what you do and who you hang out with to all gel and reshape your days into the life you truly want.  For me, it was a process of feeling better about myself and discovering what was most important to me. It did take time, but by the end of high school I felt like really strong, really happy.

In the book, not all Michelle’s new friends are good ones. And her life is NOT easy, especially after the appearance of Christopher who is either a delusion or a ghost.  This definitely spells trouble for a girl trying very hard to blend in. And it forces her to wonder about who she really wants to be. And what she should truly believe in.

She comes to learn she can’t control how others feel, only how she feels. And in the end she must choose whether or not to believe in Christopher, a spirit who may or may not be a murderer. Who may or may not love her back. His life, their love, and Michelle’s hope all hang in the balance.

Michelle does a lot of incredibly brave things in the book, but to me, she is most courageous when she owns up to this:

Maybe I am a fool. Maybe Christopher doesn’t love me. But that doesn’t mean I’m not in love with him…

It’s a huge risk, trusting that this is enough. And it propels Michelle into a life threatening struggle where she puts everything on the line. But in the end, trusting her own feelings opens Michelle up to true friendship and to true love.

Taking risks and believing in yourself.  It’s the bravest thing you can ever do, and what do overs are all about. So believe!

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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DRAWN Haunt – DRAWN from My Art Background

MP900309567The October DRAWN Haunt party, full of ghosts and drafty castles, rocks on today with a special post about how my experience as a fine artist influenced my writing, and about how vivid imagery can enhance any scene you write. The DRAWN Haunt is my way of sharing the celebration of DRAWNs 5th year anniversary. FYI, DRAWN features a young artist who falls in love with a ghost from the 1400s. 😉 To catch all the spooky DRAWN Haunt posts, check back often or subscribe to this blog (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about DRAWN, click here. 

Now, about that drawing thing…

DRAWN FROM MY ART BACKGROUND

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A fun, historical time travel full of creativity, beautiful scenes, and an engrossing mystery…I fell in love with the entire story…The castle that Michelle meets Christopher in is spectacular.  And going back in time during that setting? Brilliant…Their romance was very beautiful and endearing. I didn’t want to see it end. 5 STARS
The Cozy Reader

In some way or other, aspects of my own life seep into my novels. And in my novel DRAWN you will find it’s the artist in me. Like in these lines from the novel:

“I sit on a wooden pew in the back row, flip open my pad and lose myself in my sketch.

Things make sense when I draw. Everything is angles and texture and relationships.”

Like Michelle in this novel, I’m a very visual person. I notice the slant of an eyebrow, the curl of someone’s hair along their neck, the slightest twist at the corner of a mouth. In college I double-majored in English and in Literary Art, which was a major I created that blended creative writing and fine art.  My plan was to become a writer/illustrator, but since then I’ve been all writer.  The artist side of me has always been within me, though, lurking.

As an artist, I tend to unconsciously sketch the lines of things I see. You might find the pointer finger of my left hand (southpaw, here) tracing the lines of what I see onto my lap or on a tabletop. And as a writer, this “mental sketching” naturally filters into my writing. I’m always making connections about what things look like. It filters into my scenery, like in this part of my novel when Michelle is describing a graveyard she’s walking through:

I like St. Paul’s because you enter its yard through a little wooden gateway with a peaked roof. The roof leans to the left and the gate makes a horror-movie squeak when you open it. Best of all, the graveyard is filled with stones in varying stages of decay. Tall ones lean forward or backward like giant levers that have been pushed or pulled. And full-sized carved stone images of knights in armor on top of marble slabs look like they’d laid down for a nap and froze into place for a few hundred years. Closest to the tiny church are the oldest graves. Words washed away by time. Stones cracked and crumbling. My favorite stones are the ones that look like giant gingerbread noblemen resting on the ground. Their arms and legs are separated from their bodies as if they’d been soaked in milk for too long.

And it shapes my character descriptions, too:

He rubs his chin. “Yet there is something, indeed. And you wield some power over me. I feel it.”

I shake my head but I think there is something about him. Christopher has this rugged appeal that makes even William Wallingford ordinary in comparison. I can’t seem to look away. It’s as if I’m studying him for a portrait. I notice he tends to raise his chin. The very corners of his mouth curve up, making him seem slightly arrogant. And his eyes. Their light color gives them endless depth. Yet they seem so full of…of what?

Longing.

I glance away, surprised.

Of course the fun here is that Michelle actually is an artist too. This means I can use her powers of observation to shape what the reader sees, and her drawing skills are integral to the plot.  Through her drawings she starts to channel what is either a ghost or a delusion. And her ability to notice details ultimately helps her to put together the pieces in an ancient mystery. It also presents a great opportunity for me as the writer to create some beautiful images, especially of the guy Michelle is so drawn to:

I take a deep breath and open the door. The flickering fire in the small stone hearth casts a shadowy light. Christopher is in his bed asleep. I close the door and press my back against it. My eyes fill with grateful tears. I’m not too late.

He is bare-chested, a sheet covering him just below his arms. His one arm is flung over his head and his chin is turned toward the fire. The coin he took from me hangs on a chain around his neck, a silvery orb resting in the hollow of his throat. I quietly set my bag beside the door, peel off my sweater and crouch beside the bed, wincing from my sore knees. But what do sore knees matter? He’s here and he’s real and he’s safe and he’s even more beautiful than I’d remembered. I’m glad he’s asleep so I can look closely at him without embarrassment. The pout of his lips. The curl of his dark lashes. His flexed bicep. I long to touch him but can’t bear to wake him.

I’ll draw him.

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My drawing of Christopher, which was used for the book’s original cover.

I’ll draw him…  With DRAWN, it’s as close as I’ve come to being the writer/illustrator I’d once envisioned I’d become. I did draw the book’s original cover myself, which is a pencil sketch painted with India ink. I guess in a way I am a writer/illustrator and always have been. Just painting images with words.

And hoping you, as the reader, are seeing what I see.

Happy reads,

Marie

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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