Agent Monday: New JDLA Agent Megan Barnard

IMG_6493Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Is it Monday? Time has truly been a fuzzy thing these days. I hope everyone is keeping well and cool. Well, here’s some happy news: The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency recently welcomed new Associate Agent Megan Barnard to its staff.  And Megan has popped by here to answer a few questions so we can get to know her better. So let’s get right to it!

Welcome Megan! Thanks so much for stopping by here.

Can you tell us how you got into agenting? 

Megan: I’d always been interested in working in publishing but wasn’t sure how to get into it, because I couldn’t afford to move to NYC to work as an intern. I was lucky enough to find a remote internship and I interned remotely for three years at several wonderful agencies, including P.S. Literary and Folio Literary Management. In 2020 I began working with The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency as an Associate Agent. I love it, and can’t imagine being anywhere else!

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

Megan: I only represent adult fiction and nonfiction. I particularly love historical fiction, upmarket, literary, and book-club fiction. I would LOVE to find the next Circe or The Snow Child, as I adore historical fantasy. Do you have something that is lush and atmospheric with a wonderful story like Kate Morton or Kate Atkinson? Send it my way! In terms of nonfiction, I’m open to narrative nonfiction, and would specifically love to find a memoir that combines nature writing with a lyrical style, like The Outrun or The Salt Path. I love that these books combine real problems (alcoholism, homelessness) with gorgeous and moving prose.

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

Megan:

  • The Office
  • The Crown
  • About Time
  • Pride and Prejudice-Keira Knightley version
  • Parks and Rec
  • New Girl
  • Anne of Green Gables
  • Knives Out
  • La La Land
  • Top Chef
  • Downton Abbey

What’s in your reading pile?

Megan: I generally read a mix of fiction and nonfiction. In terms of nonfiction, I’m reading H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald (I know, I’m behind!), Mudlark by Lara Maiklem, and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. For fiction, I’m reading The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, The Book of V. by Anna Solomon, and The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.

What makes a successful query to you?

Megan: The most successful queries for me are the ones that are clear and to the point. Who are your characters, what is the problem they have to overcome, and what will happen if they don’t overcome it? I also love a fabulous comp. Chances are if you comp (honestly!) to one of my favorite books, I’ll ask for a partial.

What are some common query mistakes that will result in an immediate rejection?

Megan: I understand how difficult querying is, so please don’t worry if you have a typo or spell my name wrong (though do try your best). The things that would make a query an automatic rejection are genres/categories I don’t represent, anything racist, sexist, or insulting me, or a query that doesn’t follow my guidelines (I don’t mind a mistake here or there, but don’t just send me your pages or synopsis and no actual query!).

Are you a very editorial agent? What does that mean to you?

Megan: I am! I would never try to sell a book without it being in the best shape possible, so my clients and I edit manuscripts until they really shine. Most of the time I won’t be line editing, but I will work with my clients on structural edits (character development, stakes, tension, pacing, and so forth).

What is your idea of an ideal client?

Megan: Someone who wants a long-term writing career with many great ideas and stories in them!  I also prefer you to tell me how you work best: do you want to communicate only by phone? By email? Do you want daily submission updates, monthly, or not at all? Just let me know! Communication is key in this relationship, and I want to know any issues or problems you’re having with your book, your editor, or anything! You’re my client, you’re never bothering me!

Where can folks go to follow you online?

Megan: You can follow me on Twitter @meganebarnard and Instagram @meganwbarnard.

Your link for submission guidelines?

Megan: You can find my submission guidelines at https://www.jdlit.com/megan-barnard.

Anything else you’d like people to know about you or what you are looking for?

Megan: As a young agent, I’m hungry to get my hands on a lot of different books. Above all, I’m interested in character-driven novels that are lyrical and give me a book hangover.

Also, querying is difficult and can be scary, and you are courageous each time you hit the send button! So please send me your queries. I am SO excited to read your wonderful stories.
Thanks again, Megan! We’re so happy to have you on board. 🙂

*Marie is an author of YA novels and of picture books, and she’s 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: Creativity for a Stressed Writer

Note that became A DAY SO GRAY

Marie’s note that inspired her new picture book A DAY SO GRAY

Happy Agent Monday, everyone! These are tough times, and everyone reacts differently. For some writers, it’s a period of isolation that leads to deep thinking and bursts of incredible creativity. But if you are feeling stuck, rest assured, you aren’t alone. As a writer myself, I’m finding it hard to string together big ideas, even though I may be pondering plenty. Are you feeling the same?

While this can be distressing to an author who is used to having words a-flowing, do take heart. Your subconcious is surely hard at work. And take notes, because books do indeed grow from those seemingly small ideas that pop into your head.

Witness the note above that I wrote to myself after journaling early one morning. It was a simple idea, but it had some true power behind it – at least to me. So I stuck it on my desk and let it sink in. It grew and became a picture book manuscript, which then became A DAY SO GRAY, illustrated by Alea Marley, and published by Clarion Books.

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Starting pages from Marie’s picture book A DAY SO GRAY

The book features two friends, one who complains, saying, “This day is so gray,” and another who says, “No it isn’t!” and then points out all the colors in the landscape. It’s an optimistic book that reflects a side of me that is always looking for beauty and positivity everywhere. And it all came from a very simple but honest idea quickly jotted down.

So even while you may be feeling scattered and stressed, listen to the ideas that bubble up. For me, these quick thoughts are often unguarded and honest, so they truly express something important to me. Something with deep possibilities and meaning. Some jotted down notes come back to me as I think of them again and again – that’s one way I know that THIS idea demands attention. That it just might become a book. But some of the best ideas are those I’ve quickly forgotten until I looked back at some scribblings.

So journal. Keep a notebook and pen by your bedside to capture your early morning dreamy ideas. Go for a walk and immediately record with your phone an idea right as it comes to you, before it flutters away.

Gray coverIdeas do indeed flutter away unless they are caught and looked at. There’s something there. Some piece of you that is honest and true. Collect these thoughts and review them from time to time to see where the inspiration will take you.

It’s a small but important way to be creative, even when you are very stressed. Even when you find it hard to be productive as a writer.

And, it just might just become your next book.

*Marie is an author of YA novels and of picture books, and she’s 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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A DAY SO GRAY – my book birthday!

Today is the book birthday for my new picture book A DAY SO GRAY!!! Woo hoo!!! As of today, this book is available for purchase everywhere in bookstores and online. It’s illustrated beautifully by the talented Alea Marley, and published by Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

In this book, warm friendship and a fresh way of seeing things transform a snow-covered landscape from bleak to beautiful!  Kirkus says, “The thought-provoking and poetic text effectively celebrates balanced, helpful relationships and a positive, almost magical way of seeing and appreciating the world….Cozy up with this book to start a conversation about finding what’s bright when things seem dull.”

Please join the “party” and help me celebrate this birthday! How? Well, there are a bunch of ways to help this author (and any author you know). Here are a few (and any one of them will be much appreciated):

  1. Obvs, buy the book, if you can. Here’s the link to sites everywhere
  2. Share this post and other posts about the book on social media
  3. Know someone with a grandchild, a baby, or who needs a gift for one on the way? Suggest they check out A DAY SO GRAY.
  4. Attend a signing/reading that I’ll be at – and come and say hi! Don’t feel you have to buy the book there. Your presence will make a huge difference! Here’s where I’ll be, when.
  5. Read and review the book on your own sites, on book sales sites, and on Goodreads.com
  6. Mark my book as “to read” on Goodreads – that means others who are friends with you there will see it too
  7. Belong to a library? Then you can go onto the library’s site and key in this book as a requested purchase for your library system
  8. Are you a teacher/librarian, or do you know one? Perhaps you or they would want to use A DAY SO GRAY for a wintry story time, or for one about colors or mindfulness
  9. Tell anyone about the book who might be interested. Word of mouth is the best way to share!
  10. Be seen in the wild reading this book. Perhaps take a selfie and share it.
  11. If you see A DAY SO GRAY on the shelf somewhere, take a pic or a selfie with it and share online
  12. If you’d like to have me on your blog, or podcast, or chat with you for an article, send me an email at marielamba@hotmail.com
  13. Thinking of booking an author for a school visit? Check out my school visit pages here.
  14. A high five of any sort, whether online or in person, means a lot. Seriously, your support in any way, shape or form, makes a huge difference to this writer. Writing can sometimes be a long and lonely path, so just knowing there are so many good people in my life who are cheering me on? Well, that means the world!

Thanks, everyone! Thanks to my family for their support, always. Thanks to my fabulous agent Jennifer De Chiara. Thanks to my gifted editor, Anne Hoppe, and the wonderful and caring team of editors, designers, publicists and marketing team members at Clarion Books. And thanks to you!

No day is gray with all of you by my side!
🙂 Marie

News! Now Seeking Non-Fiction to Rep!

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsHi everyone! I’m so excited to announce that, in addition to representing fiction and memoir, I’m now also representing non-fiction projects. I’m actively hunting for non-fiction works, so hit me up with your query if you think our interests align.

As you may know, I’m a Literary Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in NYC. I’ve done deals with major publishers, including Simon & Schuster, Random House, Scholastic, Harper Collins, etc., and I’ve secured film and TV deals for clients as well. So far that’s all been within the realm of children’s and adult fiction. I’m really looking forward to jumping into the world of non-fiction too!

For children’s non-fiction, I’m open to looking at most subjects. In the adult realm, I want memoirs with strong voices and unique, inspiring stories (especially foodie memoirs, or ones with a celebrity or pop culture connection). And in adult non-fiction, I’m seeking narrative non-fiction, pop culture, history (little known or unique view of well-known), science and technology for the rest of us, art, biography (especially unknown/little known sides of well-known people), parenting, cooking and food, health and wellness, lifestyle, advice and relationships, and personal finance.

MP900178861Overall, I’m especially looking for non-fiction that is inspiring and hopeful. I have a special interest in social justice, in titles that elevate and celebrate women and diverse people, and in books that aim to improve our society and help our environment.

​Do you have a non-fiction project that seems to fit? Then send it my way. Please follow my submission guidelines, though, which you can find by clicking here. Along with my guidelines, you’ll also find some more specifics about the type of books I gravitate towards.

I look forward to seeing what you have!

*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: Senior Agent Stephen Fraser

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Happy Agent Monday to all!  Today I’m honored to be hosting at Q&A with Stephen Fraser, Senior Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Stephen is a wonderful and kind agent with an acute eye for spotting talent! So let’s get to know a bit more about him here.

Q. Stephen, thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions! How did you get into agenting?

A. Happy to be here! I was an editor for 25 years at seven different publishers, working on everything from a children’s magazine, two children’s book clubs (both hardcover and paperback), and trade books (both paperback and hardcover imprints). When I left HarperCollins, there were no more jobs at the executive editor level available at that time – in fact, a lot of executive positions were eliminated – that was when Jennifer De Chiara asked me if I’d be interested in joining her agency. Interestingly, I had been the first editor she’d made a deal with when she had started her agency.

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. I was an English major in college and I did a Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature. Because I was an editor, I have a lot of experience working one-on-one with writers.

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

A. I represent everything from board books to picture books to chapter books to middle grade and young adult. Both fiction and nonfiction. I have done a few books for adults, like a couple of photograph collections and some Hollywood books. I have one adult novel I am shopping around. But children’s and teen are my primary focus.  In fact, the books that have won awards are all middle grade novels, like HEART OF A SAMURAI by Margi Preus which won the Newbery Honor; GLIMPSE by Carol Lynch Williams, which won a PEN grant; and ICEFALL by Matthew J. Kirby, which won the Edgar.

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. One of my favorite picture books is THE GREEN UMBRELLA by Jackie Kramer. I love the circular structure of the narrative and the wonderful read-aloud quality. I love Janice Harrington’s touching verse novel, CATCHING A STORYFISH, which tells the middle grade story of a girl who finds her own voice. PURE GRIT by Mary Cronk Farrell is an outstanding nonfiction story which is true ‘narrative nonfiction.’ It reads like a novel. THE CHOSEN ONE by Carol Lynch Williams is a riveting story of a teen girl who runs away from a polygamist community. Guess what – I sold this story just one day before that news story broke about the Texan polygamist community!

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

A. I love movies – I see at least two movies each week – and I like a variety of genres. EIGHTH GRADE was an honest and touching portrait of middle grade kids. INTO THE SPIDERVERSE was a hip, contemporary story for teens. Loved-loved-loved AT ETERNITY’S GATE, the recent film about Vincent Van Gogh starring Willem Dafoe. It really conveyed a sense of how Van Gogh saw the world. For TV, I am currently enjoying Season 7 of Homeland; I love my half-hour of silly with Will & Grace; and the series The Crown is TV perfection, in my mind.

Q. What’s in your reading pile?

A. I make myself read for myself for at least ½ hour every night. I’m currently reading a biography of Claude Debussy that came out last year and the latest historical novel by Louis Bayard about Abraham Lincoln. Plus a new book about Virginia Woolf, someone about whom I can never read enough.

Q. What makes a successful query to you?

A. I like a short description of the book – format,  genre, basic story line. And I like to know if the author has been published before (I need to know what publisher).  A good query is not too long and doesn’t include TMI.

Q. What are some common query mistakes that will result in an immediate rejection?

A. If someone begins, ‘Dear Agent’ or ‘To Whom It May Concern” I immediately delete it. A writer needs to be doing their research and to have the courtesy to address an individual agent.  Typos don’t make a good first impression. I guess the biggest mistake is a query for the kind of project that I am not interested in. And send one title at a time – I have gotten five picture books all banded together, which is too much.

Q. Are you a very editorial agent? What does that mean to you?

A. Yes. Because I was previously an editor, that is always my instinct: to see the potential in a manuscript and figure out how to bring it to full flower. I am glad to toss ideas around with a client, read a partial, or give feedback on a full manuscript. Not all agents work that way. I won’t let a manuscript go out until I feel it is right. I am especially fussy with picture books.

Q. What is your idea of an ideal client?

A.  A writer who stays in touch every six weeks or so.  Agents aren’t paid until they sell a book, so clients need to be respectful and appreciative of an agent’s time. I don’t mind chatting on the phone or communicating via e-mail. I don’t generally meet with clients who may be in Manhattan on vacation or for other business – I just don’t have the time.  If there is some event at a publisher which involves my client, that, of course, is different. And you know every writer is different. Some work very independently; some need more hand-holding. And that is okay.

Q. Where can folks go to follow you online?

A. Our website of course has a page about me here. I am also on both Twitter and Facebook. Or come to one of the writers conferences I participate in every year around the country. I am always looking for fresh talent.

Q. Your link for submission guidelines?

A. Please check our website for my guidelines here. E-mail queries only, please.

Thanks for taking to the time to chat with us today, Stephen! And for you fellow writers reading this, do check out the other Q & A’s featuring agents in past and future installments of Agent Monday. Stay tuned for more Agent Monday insights soon!

 

*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: New Agent Zabé Ellor

Zabe Ellor

Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Today I’m so happy to introduce you to another fine new Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency – Zabé Ellor! So let’s get this Q & A started!

Q: Hi Zabé! Thanks so much for joining us here. How did you get into agenting?

A: When I got my first publishing job out of college, I was very unsure of what I wanted to do, but I knew I loved working with authors and helping them achieve their goals. Listening to an interview with agent Saba Sulaiman of Talcott Notch helped me realize that agenting would be a career that could fit well with my passions. I sought out agency internships and, after interning for a year, received an offer to join JDLA.

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: Books have always been my guiding passion! I was a voracious reader growing up, and my favorite kids’ books will always have a special place in my heart. When I take on a project, it’s because I feel it has the potential to leave just as deep a mark on readers.

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

A: I represent all genres of YA (except for category romance) adult SFF, graphic novels, and select nonfiction (preferably history/science). If you’re a science journalist with a strong story to tell about an under-explored topic, I’d love to see your proposal in my inbox!

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: In YA, I’m really enjoying A Blade So Black by L. L. McKinney—an action-packed, fun, voice-driven Alice in Wonderland retelling. I love YA books that really feel like they were written with teenagers in mind! In science fiction, I really loved An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon—a dark, literary tale that seemed to perfectly capture the feeling of hanging adrift in space. In graphic novels, I absolutely treasured Estranged by Ethan M. Aldridge, a beautifully drawn tale of family, friendship, and belonging. Finally, in nonfiction, Endless Forms Most Beautiful by Sean B. Carroll is one of my favorite pieces of science writing. I love how it takes a complex subject and distills it for a mass audience.

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

A: I’m a sucker for classic comedies—my all-time favorite is The Princess Bride—but while I love humor, I find it very difficult to pull off in a novel!

Q: What’s in your reading pile?

A: Too many books! Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James is at the top of my TBR right now, as is Kingdom of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty.

Q: What makes a successful query to you?

A: Get me excited by showing me you have a unique, cohesive story to tell in a genre I represent.

Q: What are some common query mistakes that will result in an immediate rejection?

A: Not telling me about the project. The goal of the query is to tell me what the book is about. Your publication credits, platform, the themes of the book, potential market are all secondary.

Q: Are you a very editorial agent? What does that mean to you?

A: Every project needs a different level of editorial input. To me, being an editorial agent means I meet the project where it is and help shape it into what it has the potential to be.

Q: What is your idea of an ideal client?

A: Someone with an interesting book that’s a good fit for the market, and someone interested in a collaborative partnership to bring that to life. It’s incredibly important to me that I have a diverse base of clients.

Q: Where can folks go to follow you online?

A: I’m best reached on Twitter, where my handle is @ZREllor

Q: Your link for submission guidelines?

A: Please send a query letter, 1-2 page synopsis, and first 25-30 pages to http://queryme.online/ZabeEllor

Q: Anything else you’d like people to know about you or what you are looking for?

A: I have a pretty eclectic MSWL, but if you can relate your story to one of my tagged tweets, I’ll be really excited to see it!

Thanks so much for letting us all get to know you a bit better, Zabé!  Folks can also visit Zabé’s page over at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency by clicking here.  And pop by again for another Agent Monday post!

 

*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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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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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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