Sunday, February 26, 2012

Excerpt from #MGlitchat Agent Night

My dears,
Life's a bit CRaZy! right now. . .

Art by Andy Cordan

So rather than a more a conventional post, here's a streamlined excerpt from Twitter's #MGlitchat Agent Night. Find the full Feb 9, 2012 transcript for MGlitchat's "Tips From the Pros" series here.

The following tweets I pulled from the original transcript. Take a gander, fellow writers!

Middle grade authors Elissa Cruz (@elissacruz) and Karennina Posa (@karenninaposa).
1. Jennifer Laughran (@literaticat) is an agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc.
2. Joanna Volpe (@JoSVolpe) is an agent with Nancy Coffey Literary.
3. Tina Wexler (@Tina_Wexler) is an agent with ICM.


JoSVolpe: About "scarring" kids with reality. They can handle it better than you think. Better than most adults I know, actually :-) #mglitchat -9:04 PM Feb 9th, 2012 
iteraticat: I totally agree with @JoSVolpe - and I'd add, the best MG books are not "dumbed down" or "babyish". Don't dumb it down! #MGLitChat -9:06 PM Feb 9th, 2012
Tina_Wexler: Research, research, research. Read, read, read. Revise, revise, revise. Oh, and you know, write. #mglitchat -9:05 PM Feb 9th, 2012

Tina_Wexler: When searching for agents, PLEASE note when an interview was given; dated info can be as ineffective as doing no research. #mglitchat -9:08 PM Feb 9th, 2012

literaticat: Also, if you want to know about phenomenal voice & characterization, please read all Casson Family books by Hilary McKay.

JoSVolpe: RT @kellybarnhill: When we write MG, were not just writing for the kid, but for the adult that kid will be.
literaticat: Audience for MG may be 3rd-5th graders even tho characters may be 7th graders. So, I'd just be mindful of that.


Q: What are the smart, brave, genre-defining books out there that we should ALL BE READING? (@kellybarnhill)
A: literaticat: I think everyone should read WHEN YOU REACH ME if you haven't already. Go on. Now. I'll wait.
A: JoSVolpe: The Higher Power of Lucky, Coraline, & The View from Saturday are all genre-defining books in their own right imho
A: JoSVolpe: At least as far as recent titles. If we go back, Bridge to Terabithia (so painful!) or the first Alanna book. <3
A: JoSVolpe: I'm reading The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman right now and LOVING it

Q: Do "quiet" vampire-less, witchless books stand a chance in this commercially driven climate? (@MelissaRoske)
A: literaticat: I don't think "vampireless" and "witchless" = QUIET. The Penderwicks is not quiet. When You Reach Me isn't quiet.
A: JoSVolpe YES. Every editor I know that acquires MG is looking for well-written, meaningful stories.
A: literaticat YOU GUYS. Lots of questions about "is there a market for quiet middle grade." YES, IF IT IS BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN.

Q: A friend suggested I change my heroine from 13 to 10 because younger is selling. Are you seeing this trend also? (@Storiestobe)
A: JoSVolpe: I only suggest that an author change the age of the character if it better fits the tone and sensibility of the book.
A: JoSVolpe: UNLESS it's really a matter of hitting the genre, and a year would make a difference or something.

Q: When an agent says that your MS isn't strong enough for the markt - does that mean the premise, the writing or the plot? (@PippaBayliss)
A: JoSVolpe: It could mean any of those things--depends on the project.
A: literaticat: Couldn't possibly say without looking at the material. Could mean any of those things.
A: JoSVolpe: The "almost, but not quite" issue I say is usually that the concept is GREAT, but the voice is off

Q: Is MG affected by trends as much as YA seems to be? (@elissacruz)
A: literaticat: I don't think so.
A: JoSVolpe: I don't find that it does, actually. I think a lot of MG is pretty timeless.

Q: How edgy can you go and still qualify as MG? (@JoWhittemore)
A: literaticat: Depends - diff houses have different feelings about that - but, I'd say, er... no sex or major cursing for a start.
A: Tina_Wexler: I don't think in terms of content but in terms of how its handled, how its presented, if it fits with a mg voice.
A: JoSVolpe: Kids experience the real world just like we do-you can go as far as it takes to be real to the story and characters.
A: literaticat - yes, what @Tina_Wexler said!

Q: What is a good word count range for ages 10-14? (@Seagulley)
A: KateMessner: Here's @literaticat's recent (and great) post about word counts in kids' books: Tina_Wexler: I'm not the person to ask; the story will be as long or as short as it needs to be to be told and told well.

Q: Is tween still considered to be MG? Like a light romance for the middle school crowd? (@KarenB_Schwartz)
A: JoSVolpe: It actually depends on the publisher...sometimes the terms "tween" and "MG" are interchangeable. Not always tho.
A: Tina_Wexler: I want to like the term tween, but it always seems so...Limited Too to me.
A: Tina_Wexler: I think MG is only going to grow and grow.

Q: Much MG/YA fiction seems to have a "snarky" comic voice. What good examples are there of other kinds of comic voices? (@kingdomofpatria)
A: JoSVolpe: Adam Gidwitz, Brian Selznick, Andrew Clements, Jeff Kinney, Grace Lin, Richard Peck - none of them really snark.
A: JoSVolpe: Neil Gaiman, Beth Wolitzer, Jonathan Stroud, Kate Messner...the list goes on of non-snark
A: literaticat: I actually have a harder time thinking of MG books that ARE snarky than ones that aren't. That is more YA, no? ... (Or maybe people have a different opinion about what "snarky" is than I do.)
A: JoSVolpe: I've seen snark in both boy and girl books, and I'm okay with it! It just has to feel natural, not put on.

Q: How strongly are trendy mss sought? Frankly, I'd rather read just a good old-fashioned story. (@AniProf )
A: JoSVolpe: I look for the writing, the voice and a good story. Trends come and go. Good stories...they last

Q: Series seem to be big in MG. Any tips on how to create a successful series? (@elissacruz)
A: JoSVolpe: To create a successful series, have a plan for the FULL series ahead of time

Q: But what IS that quality which makes a great #mg book GREAT? (@kingdomofpatria)
A: literaticat: It's all about that elusive MG voice, to me. Very hard to nail. People who do? @KateMessner @LaurelSnyder for ex
A: Tina_Wexler: Writers who remember being that age, not just writers who have kids that age.
A: JoSVolpe: For me, great MG voice is such a know-it-when-I-read-it thing. So much easier to give examples than define.

Q: If MG boy book fell in middle of woods but no pub there to hear it, does it make a sound? IE: Present boy book market? (@mswinchell)
A: literaticat: There are NINE HUNDRED BACTRILLION middle grade boy books. Honestly. Look at the NYT Bestseller list.
A: literaticat: Depends. How good is it?

Q: Is fantasy still the going trend in MG? Or is contemporary more popular? (@MelissaRoske)
A: JoSVolpe: Both fantasy and contemporary still sells in MG, I don't see one trend stronger than the other, personally.
A: JoSVolpe: There's definitely a market for MG scifi

Q: How about tips for a successful agent/author relationship? (@restlessbjas)
A: literaticat: Successful author/agent relationship is based (imo) on good communication, transparency, trust.
A: JoSVolpe: Tips for a successful agent-author relationship: be honest & open, read a lot, don't be afraid to talk something out or set aside.

Q: Question: If characters are mid teens in Historical Fiction, but not involved in hot romance, is that more MG than YA? Chains? (@PBWorkshop)
A: Tina_Wexler: If their outlook is teen and the voice is teen, it's YA. Sex, drugs and rock n' roll aren't what make a ms YA.
A: literaticat: Honestly I think a lot of Historical straddles MG/YA - where it lands has to do with tone.
A: literaticat: Anne of Green Gables = the original bad girl of tween lit. #drunk #disorderly #dyedhair #bigsleeves #gangster

Q: QUESTION: How's the market for quieter MG, like LOVE, AUBREY? (@stefwass)
A: Tina_Wexler: Oh, I loved that book. Cried on the subway.

Q: Is there a single element to a MS that will trump any and all shortcomings in your eyes?

Q: What is VOICE? (@_TimothyPower)
A: Tina_Wexler: I think this is when we all start crowing about VOICE
A: JoSVolpe: Voice is much more than vivid characterization--it's the essence of the entire narrative.
A: Tina_Wexler: I think of voice as the words you use and how you use them. As simple and as complicated as that.
A: JoSVolpe: I've been seeing MG voice that sounds like how adults WANT kids to sound, not how they really think, sound and feel
A: kingdomofpatria @JoSVolpe I think it's true: plot is primary, as Aristotle says in the Poetics, we are what we do, and voice comes out of that
A: Tina_Wexler @kingdomofpatria You're right. I should say it's the words your NARRATOR uses/doesn't use, the words that make up their heart

Q: Would you say that there is any room for boyfriend/girlfriend relationship in MG? Not saying sex and romance but "dating"? (@dsantat)
A: Tina_Wexler: I think so. That's when kids turn: your BFF who wasn't into boys is suddenly gah, and how obnoxious--until it hits you.
A: Tina_Wexler Also, they would have to have their parents drive them there (groan), but maybe there'd be some sweaty handholding.

Q: Querying?
A: JoSVolpe: In a query, I do NOT want to see someone just compare it to Harry Potter. If that's the only book they can think of, then chances are they don't really know the genre.
A: Tina_Wexler @JoSVolpe I want to bold and underline and CAPS your answer. NO HP COMPS!
A: JoSVolpe What I see lacking most in my MG submissions is the right voice. Lots of great ideas and even good writing, but the voice is off.

Q: Magic Realism in MG?
A: literaticat: I think @laurelsnyder's beautiful BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX is an example of MG Magical Realism.

Q: On MG in the digital world?
A: JoSVolpe: This generation of kids is growing up with smart phones & tablets. I think they will definitely pick up on ereaders.
A: literaticat: I think lots and lots of kids do not have access to e-readers, and won't. P-books are affordable, they don't break...
A: literaticat: Sure, lots of kids will get e-readers. But access to paper books is still VITAL, or you are cutting poor kids out of the picture

That's all, y'all! Thanks for tuning in :) Remember to visit #MGlitchat's blog for news about upcoming chats.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tag! You're it!

Tags, bloghops, blogfests, interviews, contests! Who knew the blogosphere would be so full of fun and imaginative ways to get to know each other?

I've been tagged over at Jaye Robin Brown's "Hanging on to Wonder" blog, which means I must answer the following telltale (and impossible, Jaye! What were you thinking???) questions.

Photo by Jan Hoffman
1. What is the best meal you've ever eaten - what, when, and where?
Oh my gosh, I've eaten some pretty scrumptious meals in my time. But, so far, hands down: Last year, in LA in The Grove, Ulysses Voyage. You have to do it Connie Srinivasan style, though, which is to tell the server that you will not be ordering. "Bring out plates to share--small or large plates, whatever you love best on the menu, one at a time until we tell you to stop." Paired with several rich and wonderful Greek reds, this meal that started with mouthwatering Saganaki (flaming cheese) and grilled octopus and ended with a gorgeous array of Greek desserts was the best I've ever had.

2. What is your earliest memory?
Oh, tough one! It's vague, but I remember a room--it was a church--dark and twisting--a wall that I wasn't supposed to go beyond. But I did. A corridor full of light. Splashed by mirrors reflecting stained glass windows, perhaps? Red cushions. Another room, darker still and a way that was not out but deeper. . . .

Img by
3. If given your choice of a secret rendezvous with any fictional hottie - who would you choose?
Spike. Absolutely : D

4. What is your favorite joke?
I recently I heard this terrible one on Twitter (via Shari B), and it's my favorite for the time being:
Girl 1: "Someone told me you look like an owl."Girl 2: "Who?"

5. Pick three words to describe yourself (one is just too hard!)
Are you kidding?? Three is too hard! But, I would have to say... Tenacious, Rebellious, Passionate.

And now to tag my own victims!
1. Amber Plante
2. Kara Lucas
3. Charlie Holmberg

Honestly, I think you're allowed to change the questions up, but I adore Jaye's terribly impossible questions and would love to know your answers to them. So.

Tag! You're it!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Coming Soon!

I've been tagged over at Jaye's blog! Answers to her "5 Questions About You" and further tagging, coming soon!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Spider Moments

Courtesy of Directory Journal

I like to think of the brain like a city, crammed full of skyscrapers and towers and slums and alleys, bridges, back yards, and gnarly hedges. Memories take up residence in dark nooks and tend to get shut away and locked up, inaccessible until the barbed wire fence or shiny new apartment complex is pulled or burned down.

Some memories stand like monuments in the city of your mind.

For me, one of these monuments is the summer between 5th and 6th grade.

During the annual house makeover, my older brother landed the lawn work, mowing, and edging. My younger brother had weeds and window-washing.

My mom gave me a broomstick, sans bristle head. "Go clear out the jungle," she said.

On the side of the house grew a grand old oak tree that in years to come would be my best friend and stairway to a reading heaven--a bath mat platform roped over two sturdy top branches; I'd hold the book in my teeth as I climbed up.

But right then, the oak tree was surrounded by a jungle of bramble and overgrown palmettos, vines, and ivy.

Courtesy of EPA
And spiders. Huge nightmare banana spiders the size of your head. My job was to take my broomstick and whack down all the spiders.

Eventually, my mom and brothers stopped work to watch me bravely and repeatedly tiptoe into the infestation, broomstick raised, sneak up on each nasty, spindly-legged bastard, smack its round, segmented body as hard as my little arms could, and then run shrieking.

Spiders, when smacked out of their webs, tend to fall down on the person who does the smacking.

Now, as I contemplate that monument standing tall and proud in the middle of my city, I know this truth: There can be nothing more terrifying in this life than that rain of spiders. I had courage enough then; I'll have courage enough when...


What are some of your spider moments--real or metaphorical? Which memory monuments make your chest swell and fortify you for the future? As writers, how do you go about learning and using these moments in the lives of your characters?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Make the Most of Less Time

The writing tool that's rocking my world.

You've settled in at your computer. Coffee? Check. Cinnamon peach muffin? Check. WIP open and cursor blinking? Check.

You're good to go.

Except you're not. Because now you're staring at the page, rereading what you wrote last, making little grimacing faces (if you're like me) because you can't remember quite where your head was and what's happening next.

Maybe this is the curse of the pantser.

Whatever the case, I realized I needed a tool to practice getting my head in the game faster. A tool to teach my brain how to put on its writing hat as soon as that cursor starts blinking.

Deb Marshall inspired me when she wrote her #wipmadness goal last week: Take full advantage of short chunks of time.

I thought, There's no way. I need at least half an hour just to get in the groove.

Enter the #5minblitz.

Every night, right before pushups and planks before bed, I sit down, open my doc, cursor ready, set my timer, read only the LAST line, and GO!

The first few times, it was like writing blindly in the dark. Now, I'm starting to feel the urge to keep going. But I won't. That's not what blitzing's for. At least not for me. Not yet.

If you're looking to make the most of less time, I challenge you to decide on a time of day for blitzing and stick to it. It literally only takes five minutes. Your writing brain will thank you.

And if you post your #5minblitz word count to Twitter, we will cheer for you!


Come make weekly writing goals with us! We'll help you keep them: Deb Marshall hosts this month's #wipmadness.
Come blitz with us!
Any other writer's brain tools out there?
Links, posts, ideas?
How do you make the most of less time?

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Compare this learning to school learning. #thatisall

--Reblogged from