How to Get a Book Deal: Timing is Almost Everything

Screaming Divas FINAL.indd

I can still clearly remember the phone call that I thought would change my life. I was in the bedroom, standing next to my infant twins’ crib, listening to one of the top children’s and young adult agents in the business telling me that she was passionate about my novel about an all girl punk rock band in 1980s Columbia, South Carolina, and that she would be persistent in finding a publisher. This is the big time, I thought. I’m about to publish my first novel!

I’d originally written it as an adult novel, but I was happy to revise it for the young adult market, and I foresaw devoting myself to angsty teen fiction. But the big-time agent couldn’t sell my novel. Well, if she can’t sell it, then nobody can, I thought.

I stuck the novel in a drawer. I wrote and published another novel, this one for adults. I compiled and edited two anthologies. I published a picture book, and a different young adult novel. But every now and again, I’d open the drawer, pull out that other novel, and revise it yet again.

Nobody would buy it since it was set in the 1980s, I thought. And the only books agents seemed to want at the time were paranormal and dystopian novels. Still, I couldn’t quite leave Screaming Divas alone. I decided to chop it up and sell it for parts. I placed a chapter in an anthology called Woman’s Work: Stories edited by Michelle Sewell. I placed another chapter in the literary journal Hunger Mountain.

A writer friend who’d read and loved Screaming Divas when I’d first written it, encouraged me to give the novel another try. After all, the editors who’d rejected it the first time around were no longer employed. And there seemed to be a resurging interest in the 1980s and in the riot grrl movement. The Perks of Being a Wallflower was on the New York Times bestseller list. Rainbow Rowell’s 1980s novel became hugely popular as well. And recently I came across no fewer than three young adult ballet novels set in that same time period. It looks as if the 80s are back.

Okay, I’ll give it one more try, I thought. A couple of new presses, headed by two of my favorite famous writers, had cropped up. I submitted to both on the same day. Little did I know, one writer/editor, Jacquelyn Mitchard, of Merit Press, had just started teaching at Vermont College of Fine Arts, the publisher of Hunger Mountain. Noting that part of my novel had been previously published in the journal, she immediately invited me to send more pages. (She was online when I hit “send,” so by immediately, I mean within an hour.) Within weeks, Jackie offered to publish my novel. The famous writer/editor of the other press sent me a list of revisions with an eye to the adult market and invited me to resubmit. By this time, however, I was pretty sure that I wanted to publish Screaming Divas as a young adult novel, and I was thrilled at the prospect of working with Jacquelyn Mitchard.

My infant twins are teens now, so it’s taken awhile, but the book will be published in May, 2014, by Merit Press.

10 YA Novels Involving Travel in Europe

Two things that I love – travel in Europe, and YA novels. Here are ten books that include both:

1. Small Damages by Beth Kephart

A high-achieving teen, who winds up pregnant, is sent by her mother to Seville to secretly have her baby and give it up for adoption, but she starts to have other ideas.

2. Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone

Thanks to her time-traveler boyfriend Bennet, Anna gets to go to Italy, Thailand and other fun places without even trying.

3. The White  Bicycle by Beverley Brenna

Taylor Jane Simon, a teen with Asperger’s Syndrome goes to the South of France with her Mom.

5. Instructions for a Broken Heart by Kim Culbertson

A high school drama club goes to Italy! Gelato! A hot guy named Giacomo! Romance! Plus, great writing!

6. Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Sort of like that movie Before Sunset, but in Paris, with an American high school student and a Dutch guy.

7. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

A fun romance set in an international school in Paris. But you probably already know about this one…

8. Flirting in Italian by Lauren Henderson

Art! Italy! Hot Italian guys!

9. Westminster Abby by Micol Ostow

From the Students Across the Seven Seas series, feauturing teens on foreign study. American Abby goes to London!

10. Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible by Suzanne Kamata

Paris! Art! Manga! My YA debut!

Anything you’d like to add to this list?


Ten First Lines – Which do you like the best?

I also like to give my creative  writing students a list of ten first lines, unattributed, and find out which ones they are attracted to,  to get them thinking about what makes a compelling beginning. Here’s a list for you:

1. My father has blue hands. – from this book

2. At first, our pack was all hair and snarl and floor-thumping joy. – from a story in this book

3.  When I was eight, my papai took me to the park to watch a king die. – from this book

4. Sophronia intended to pull the dumbwaiter up from the kitchen to outside the front parlor on the ground floor, where Mrs. Barnaclegoose was taking tea. –  from this book

5. I felt like I was trapped in one of those terrifying nightmares, the one where you have to run, run till your lungs burst, but you can’t make your body move fast enough. – from this book

6. A friend of mine has a habit of going to the zoo whenever there’s a typhoon. – from a story in this book.

7. Before Victor arrives, we are bored.  – from a story in this book

8. I inherited a 1968 three-quarter ton Chevy pick-up from my grandfather who mowed lawns and trimmed shrubbery in suburban Los Angeles until he was eighty-seven.  – from this book.

9. What do you wear to the birthday party of your ex-best friend? – from this book

10. Destiny is a saddled ass, my daughters; he goes where you lead him. – from this book

So. Which first line do you like best, and why?

Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible – The Book Blog Tour!

May 15th
Wintry Words >> Excerpt

Bookwyrming Thoughts >> Guest Post
May 16th
Sab The Book Eater >> Review
Must Read Faster >> Review
May 17th
Lola’s Reviews >> Review
Carti nemuritoare >> Review
Books and Insomnia  >> Excerpt
Alexa Loves Books  >> Review
May 20th
Cherie Reads >> Review
Bookworm’s Multiverse >> Interview
Moosubi Reviews! >> Excerpt
May 21st
JennReneeRead >>  Review
Mythical Books >> Excerpt
Word Spelunking >> Review + Interview
Alice Marvels >> Review
May 22nd
Reader Girls >> Review + Interview
lilybloombooks >>  Review
May 23rd
Curling Up With A Good Book >>  Guest Post
May 24th
Tumbling In Books >> Review
Nazish Reads >> Review
Total Book Geek >> Review
Mother/Gamer/Writer >> Review
Froggarita’s Bookcase >> Interview
May 27th
Book Adoration >> Review
Reviewing Shelf  >> Review
Teen Blurb >> Review + Guest Post

Teen Otaku Association

With the Teen Otaku Association at RCPLMy daughter Lilia and I just returned from our first international mother-daughter trip ever! The two of us went back to the States, leaving her brother and father behind. Although we missed them, we had a great time.

A highlight of our visit (aside from hanging out with the relatives, of course) was attending the Anime Festival at Richland County Public Library in Columbia, South Carolina. In the morning and afternoon, we watched a variety of anime with the Teen Otaku Association, a bunch of smart, savvy young adults and college students who love manga, anime, and Japanese culture in general. One thirteen-year-old girl even brought onigiri (rice balls wrapped with nori) that she’d made herself! Another girl came wearing a fluffy tail (part of her Cosplay costume).

During a lunch of delivered pizza, I gave a little chat about Japan, writing, and the anthology Tomo, to which I contributed a story, “Peace on Earth.” Afterward, we took a photo together.

A Review of The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

The Art of Hearing Heart Beats begins, as many such books do, with a missing person, a box of keepsakes and a mysterious letter.
In this case, it’s a father who goes missing – a Burmese-born entertainment lawyer, married for 30 plus years to an American with whom he has two adult children. One day, he tells his wife and daughter, Julia, that he is going to Boston. He never comes back. Later, they discover that he actually went to Thailand, and they haven’t heard anything since.

His wife hands over the box of keepsakes which include a love letter written by her husband to a woman named Mi Mi in Burma, dated 1955, thirteen years before his daughter’s birth. With nothing to go on but an address in Burma, Julia sets out in search of the truth about her father.

In Burma, she happens to meet an astrologer, U Ba, who knows the story behind her father’s disappearance. Thus, the novel becomes a story within a story, a fable-like unfolding of the great love between a blind boy whose hearing becomes so acute that he can hear heart beats at a distance, and a girl with deformed feet whose songs cure eczema and bring good luck. This girl, Mi Mi, would later become a woman so beautiful  that “there were men prepared to die in hopes of coming back into the world as one of her animals, a pig, a chicken or a dog.”

Fittingly, in a novel in which senses are so important, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is rich with sensory details – the scent of eucalyptus and jasmine, the buzzing of flies, the beat of monastery drums, the taste of chicken curry and sugarcane juice. Sendker brings Burma alive for readers who have little knowledge of the country (which would include most of us). He also weaves superstitions and folk tales into the story, as Tea Obrecht did in THE TIGER’S WIFE, adding a tinge of magic realism.
I must admit that before I started reading, I thought the German origin of this novel indicated that it would be a difficult read. I was wrong. Sendker himself admits in an interview at the back of the book that he’s not a big fan of German novels, and that he’s more drawn to the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Haruki Murakami. Sendker, it turns out, is a consummate storyteller. His story had me turning the pages rapidly, until the final satisfying end.

If I hadn’t known any better, I would have thought this book was originally written in English by an American woman. The translation is excellent.

This book, already a sensation in Europe, deserves to be read widely. I loved it.

My New Book is Now Available for Pre-order!


 A  little bit of happy news…

My short story collection, The Beautiful One Has Come is now available for pre-order. You can reserve your copy here.

Early reviews:

The Beautiful One Has Come poignantly shows the pains and the pleasures of living in a culture that is not your own.  Kamata also illuminates the modern struggles of everyday people, showing us that perhaps foreigners are not the only ones searching for belonging in this traditional society.  An insightful exploration of what it means to straddle two worlds, of embracing the old ways while being open to new. — Margaret Dilloway, Author of How to be an American Housewife

Kamata’s stories reverberate like a Japanese Noh opera: They portray the “agony of love” in all its forms, acted out by sympathetic characters in various stages of external flight and internal change. The stories are artfully plotted, and tiny details–spots on photos, bean-filled cakes, sewing stitches, insects–take on the heavier weight of symbolism under her observant, empathic eye. Kamata will make you look at the world, and the culture you take for granted, in enhanced and profound ways.–Tara L. Masih, Author of Where the Dog Star Never Glows
With evocative grace, and the authority of real experience, the Kamata takes us on a tour through a garden of lives which touch Japan. Each story wanders as delicately as a small stream, with jewel-like descriptions and plot points waiting to be discovered around every corner.-Rebecca Otowa, Author of At Home in Japan: A Foreign Woman’s Journey of Discovery


Read for Japan!

So I was thinking about what I could do to help the evacuees right now, besides sending money (which I have done, and will do again) and books for the kids to read (which I will do on Tuesday). Several writer/editors are putting together e-books of Japan-related writing to raise money, and I’ve sent in a story and an essay to two different projects. I like the idea of putting together a book, but then again, I recently put together a collection of Japan-related writing, my literary journal Yomimono, so why not donate proceeds from that?

So here’s the deal. If you buy a copy of Yomimono here, I will donate every penny that I get to the Japan Red Cross.