Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Back to high school

I know it's been a long time since I posted when I log in and there's a whole different layout to Blogger.

So what's been going on the last couple of months since I last posted?

I've been writing. A lot. And a big decision has been made.

I have decided to put my adult crime novel on the back burner for now and concentrate on writing young adult books.

I do see the irony of a middle aged woman in That Time of Life writing about teenagers. But I have a teenager living in my house, so it's not really all that difficult a reach. And in a way, all those physical and emotional changes that come when we're teenagers are only slightly different for a woman of certain years, and in some ways it's worse now because everyone tells you about puberty, but mostly everything about menopause is one big secret until you're living through it.

But I digress.

When I signed on with my new agent, Josh, I sent him the first 30,000 words of a new young adult novel I've been working on. It's not a dystopian or a vampire or a werewolf book. It's the story of a regular girl in an unusual situation. It's her struggle to find her identity. Something we can all relate to. Josh also inherited a time travel young adult novel I'd written.

In addition to those, I sent him the adult crime novel that Jack had sent to a couple of editors and I've been working on over the past year.

After a long discussion and some very sage advice from Josh, I agreed that it really isn't the time to concentrate on the adult crime novel. But this is an incredibly exciting time for young adult books. I'm finding that there is a lot more leeway in storytelling in YA. In my years writing adult crime fiction, I always had to tie things up in a neat little bow at the end, my characters had to behave in certain ways, not use certain language, must have romance. From the YA I've been reading, I see that YA stories don't necessarily follow a formula, and that's very liberating.

I wish when I was a teenager that there was such a thing as Young Adult in the book section. I went from reading LITTLE WOMEN to Harold Robbins, which is a pretty huge leap and now, as a mother, that would worry me. But teens today have such a variety of books to choose from, all with teenagers as protagonists, solving crimes, turning into werewolves and vampires, all of them struggling to fit in, like all teens through time. It's like one big support group, but you don't have to leave your house or actually interact and be part of a group if that's not your thing.

So I will be spending far more time with teenagers in the next months than I expected, although it is nice that they're fictional and I don't have to deal with them rolling their eyes at me whenever I tell them to do something. I'll only get that from one teenager, the one who lives in my house.

What do you think of young adult fiction? Do you read it? Write it? If you read it, what's your favorite YA book? 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Some good news

I appreciate everyone's thoughts concerning the loss of my agent Jack Scovil. It was not an easy time, since besides losing my agent and friend, I was suddenly faced with having to find another agent. Anyone who's ever had to find an agent understands how much anxiety it causes.

I had not written a query letter in 13 years. The last one I wrote was to Jack, and that one itself was very casual, since he and I had been corresponding before that. I had completely forgotten how to do it. But the good thing about looking for an agent in 2012 rather than 2000 is that there is so much more information on the Internet! Agentquery.com is a wonderful place to check out who's representing what, and who might be the best fit for a book. Also, there are tons of blogs and other sites where you can find out just how to write that dreaded query.

I did a bit of that, but I am incredibly blessed to be part of a writing community that reaches out and helps people who need it. I had two wonderful writer friends, Keith Raffel and Dana Cameron, refer me to their agent, Josh Getzler of HSG Agency. Keith's daughter is actually Josh's assistant, which I'd like to think gave me an even bigger "in." I did write that query, because any little bit helps, but within days, I was sending manuscripts to Josh, who was so incredibly enthusiastic, I could hardly believe my luck.

So long story short, Josh is now my new agent. And I couldn't be happier. Not just because I don't have to send out any more queries! I had felt blessed with Jack, who was so supportive about my work, but just in a couple of weeks of knowing and talking to Josh, I know I'm in very good, capable hands, and his excitement about my work is equal to Jack's (maybe even a little more!).

As a writer, it's really important to find an agent that you're comfortable with, that you're on the same page with, because you're both working toward the same goal: write the best book possible so it can sell. For me, it's important to find an agent who is also editor, someone who can help mold the book into something even better. Josh and I have talked at length about the young adult book I'm working on, and with his guidance, I'm feeling really confident about it.

I can't help but hope this means good things are ahead in many other ways, too.

Monday, March 5, 2012

In memory of Jack Scovil, 1937-2012

Several years ago, I had a manuscript that I was shopping around to agents. It was in the days when all you could really do on the Internet was see hamsters dance and no one really knew what email was. So I went to the library in the old fashioned way to check out the guide to literary agents. I sent the manuscript out, and the rejections started pouring in. After several months, I called Thomas Fleming, a writer friend who I'd interviewed 10 years before, to see if he could help. He gave me the name of his agent's partner and said I could use his name.

Jack Scovil had been Norman Mailer's agent. And Carl Sagan's. And Margaret Truman's. But I didn't know that then. I was incredibly naive about the entire publishing world. So, in my naivete, I called him and dropped Tom's name. Jack was very gracious and agreed to read my manuscript. I did a little happy Snoopy dance and dropped it in the mail. Only a few weeks later, Jack called me. He would not be taking me on as a client. He said he couldn't exactly tell me what was wrong with the manuscript, just that it didn't work. But then he encouraged me to try again, he liked my writing style.

Fast forward a couple of years. I had written SACRED COWS, with a newspaper reporter protagonist in New Haven. I didn't even bother with query letters this time. Instead, I called Jack right away. He called me a few weeks later and said he would be happy to represent me. He thought the book was "terrific," a word he used a lot when he liked something.

That was 2001. A week before 9/11. Needless to say, SACRED COWS was a victim of terrorism. Publishing was at a standstill. When it started to move again, Jack sent the book out, telling me time and time again how great it was, how it just had to be published. When I heard about the Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award competition for a first novel, I asked him if I should submit the manuscript. He said, "It wouldn't hurt." It certainly didn't. The book won, and I got my first publishing contract in 2004.

Jack and I spent 10 1/2 years together, seeing the publication of eight of my novels. He was my staunchest supporter. He was also an amazing editor, helping me turn my books into better books. He was blunt when he didn't like something, but that's exactly what he needed to be. I completely rewrote a manuscript after he told me what I'd written was just not good. "You can do better than this," he chided. And when I turned in the revised manuscript, he called me and told me it was "wonderful."

Jack Scovil passed away on Feb. 23 after a brief illness. I didn't know much about his personal life, except he'd grown up in Utah, went to Stanford, moved to Manhattan and worked at the Scott Meredith Agency until forming his own agency, Scovil Chichak Galen (now Scovil Galen Ghosh) in the early 1990s. He had a wonderful sense of humor, which usually showed up in his frankness about the publishing business. He loved books, and it meant so much to me that he loved my books. Most of the time we spoke on the phone, but we met a few times in Manhattan and once here in Connecticut when he was speaking at a conference. Once, right after SACRED COWS came out, I met him at his office and he told me he had something I just had to see. Three doors down from the entrance to his building was a store that was selling the china replicas of the cows in the Cow Parade, which is featured prominently in my book. One of the last emails I received from him was merely an image of Tattoo Barbie. No note, but he didn't need to write one. The image said it all. He'd told me I was his first and only author to ever have puns in my book titles.

RIP, Jack. Your passing has left a hole in the world of publishing—and in my world. I will miss you.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Touching base, briefly

I find that I keep apologizing for these huge lapses in blogging. But there are some reasons for this last one. Since I last posted, my life has taken a huge turnaround. Not exactly for the good, and I am trying to find the silver lining. I know it must be there; I've always believed that things happen for a reason. But this one is tough. Tougher than anything I've been through in my life before. It's a complete do-over in many ways. So if I'm not around for a while now, it's just because I'm trying to get things back on track. I am still writing, in fact, writing more now than I have in the last months, so hopefully will have a new, completed manuscript in the next month. But then comes another challenge. I'll be back, but can't promise soon. Talk among yourselves.