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?

I am AI, We are AI (and other thoughts about indigo)

I have been thinking about indigo a lot lately.

My forthcoming novel, Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible, is about a biracial girl whose father is an indigo farmer and dyer in Tokushima. The inspiration for this is rooted in an interview I did about ten years ago with indigo farmer/textile artist Rowland Ricketts III, an American who apprenticed with dyers and farmers in Tokushima. At the time of our interview, he was living in Shimane Prefecture, where his Japanese wife, Chinami, studied weaving, and where he continued to grow and dye indigo.

Here is the end of my published article:

Eventually, he hopes to collaborate  with Chinami, dyeing fabrics that she has woven herself.

“We want to start with  a handful of cotton seeds and indigo seeds and, with the help of nature, transform them into textiles.

Ricketts also has large-scale plans, and is trying to organize an exhibition of indigo in the United States. “I want to explain to Americans what Japanese indigo is, from sukumo, starting with the seeds.” 

It’s still in the planning stages,” he says of the exhibition. “Nothing happens quickly – I learned that from farming.”

Now, Ricketts is growing and dyeing and teaching in Indiana. His full scale exhibition has been achieved. Today, my daughter and I took in his indigo installation, the final event in a multi-faceted program – I am Ai, We are Ai. It’s always good to know that with hard work and dedication, dreams do indeed come true.

Of Princesses and Prose

We narrowly missed Princess Masako’s  (er, Prince Naruhito’s) motorcade on Friday.  There were policemen at every corner when I went to pick up Lilia at the deaf school, and also clusters of on-lookers, preparing to wave their little Japanese flags.

Princess Masako has made the front page of the newspaper two days in a row.  She looks well, in her beige pantsuits, with her Chanel handbag, but it’s hard to tell her state of mind.  This is her first public appearance in five months.

Speaking of princesses, I was both intrigued and dismayed to learn that John Burnham Schwartz has a new novel coming out.  The novel, entitled The Commoner, is inspired by the life of Empress Michiko, who has had many stress-related health problems of her own.  There is also a Masako-type princess in the story.  The book got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.  It’ s going to be published in January, the same month as my novel, Losing Kei.  Of course I’m going to read it, but this book has obliterated any slim chance I had of having my own novel mentioned in Vogue, Vanity Fair, etc.  There’ s no way they would mention two novels about Japan in one issue, and Schwartz, who has already published three novels, one of which has been made into a major motion picture, and who writes features for Vogue and is obivously well-connected, will get all the ink.