Friday, December 14, 2012

I Found My Agent at the Mall or How Christmas Came Twice in One Year

by Michelle Houts
I’m really not much of a mall shopper. I tend to gravitate toward small shops and neighborhood stores. But there’s something so wonderful, so magical about the mall – any mall – at Christmastime, I could spend hours there. From Santa’s house to a Winter Wonderland to the massive ornaments and decorations, I don’t need to spend a dime. I’m happy just gawking at the glitz!
Recently, I was at the mall with my oldest daughter on her 19th birthday. I’d arranged to make a very important telephone call in the middle of the day. It was one of those calls every author waits for: an agent wanted to speak with me about my submission! So, the first order of business after arriving at the mall was to scope out a quiet spot to make this potentially life-changing phone call. But finding a quiet place in the midst of this…

…wasn’t going to be easy. There were people everywhere. There were children everywhere. There were elves everywhere! And, most of all, music everywhere. Now, I adore Christmas music. But how could I risk not hearing that all-important phrase, “I love your manuscript!” just because Jingle Bells was playing too loud?
Finally, my daughter had a brilliant idea.

Have you seen the ladies room at Von Maur? Von Maur’s restroom looks more like a Hilton lobby than a restroom. Nicely appointed with comfortable furniture, soft lighting, and best of all – delicate, classical piano music piped in from above, it was the perfect place for me to settle in, take a few deep breaths and get my thoughts together before my shaking fingers made THE call.
So, that’s how I found Karen Grencik at the mall.
I felt like Santa came early when Karen offered to represent me. She’s smart, sweet, and she believed in the middle grade manuscript I sent her. What more could an author want?
Oh, a book deal, you say?
Well, Christmas came again in May.  This time, no malls or restrooms were involved. Just an early morning phone call in which Karen announced we had an offer from Candlewick.  Sold! And guess what? It’s a Christmas story. 
I told you the mall is a magical place at Christmastime.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!
Welcome to a special Halloween edition of Foxy Friday (on a Wednesday). Our illustrators have outdone themselves this time with some deliciously spooky Halloween art. Make way for bat garlands, Day of the Dead Nutcrackers, Frankenfairies, and more! Plus, an eerie excerpt from Tom Llewellyn's middle-grade novel about a 13 year old boy who writes letters to his dead dad--who writes him back. . . best read in the dark, with a flashlight.
Here's to some good, juicy scares today.  

Rosalinde Bonnet

Masha D'yans

Elizabeth Haidle

Adam Gustavson


Hannah Harrison

Catherine Stock

Elizabeth Haidle

Diane Browning

Stacy Dressen McQueen

Mary Ann Fraser

Marty Kelley

Michael Wertz

Jed Alexander

Shelley Rotner

Marty Kelley

Oliver Dominguez

Sarah Watts

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Martian Chronicles

Foxy Friday is a little late this week since yours truly was away at the SCBWI Montana writing retreat this past weekend in Big Sky. Michele Corriel graciously dealt with the challenges of hosting a new mama away from her three month old infant for the first time and showed Simon & Schuster editor, Ruta Rimas, and I the wonders of Yellowstone, where we shared the road with lumbering bison and spied on regal elks. Ruta was determined to spot a moose but, alas, the probably moose factor (PMF) was low this weekend and they hid from us during our brief hike into the hills. The Montana SCBWI chapter is small but highly talented and everyone was very kind and tolerant as I foisted photos of Tristan at them. A big thanks to everyone at SCBWI Montana for helping me survive my first time away from the little guy.

And now, without further ado, here is this week's Foxy Friday. We were inspired this time by the recent landing of NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity, the fourth US rover to reach Mars since 1997. This photograph, taken by Curiosity just a few weeks ago, gave me the chills:

Something that we built, something touched by human hands, is now on the surface of Mars, roaming its red hills, pushing through its alien atmosphere, exploring its hills and valleys. It just gets the imagination going. What if one of those brave canine space pioneers actually made it to the red planet?

Mary Ann Fraser
What if Martians made their homes below the surface?

Rosalinde Bonnet
What would it be like to float among the stars?

Diane Browning

Jennifer Simms' Conference Experience

            Every time I attend the SCBWI Rocky Mountain Chapter’s fall conference, I receive encouragement to continue on my writing journey. At my first conference, a critique session with an enthusiastic editor confirmed that, YES, I was in the right place. The next year a woman who introduced herself by saying, “You look so young, I thought you were here with your mother,” became a good friend and treasured member of my critique group. Another year, author Julie Anne Peters’ inspiring dinner speech lead me to apply to work with her in the annual mentor program, and her insight helped make my novel submission-ready. In fact, this encouragement has come so regularly that I no longer wonder if I’ll be inspired but how. This year, I registered for the conference in search of encouragement to get my butt in the chair and get back in the writing game after a six-month leave. With my previous conference experiences, plus the news that my agent, Karen Grencik, would be on the faculty, I was confident I would not be disappointed.

            Saturday started with several uplifting experiences, like chatting with a brand new writer at lunch and receiving advice on a dusty manuscript in my critique. As I kept my eyes pealed for Karen, I confess I wasn’t sure how to act. Should I hang around her like we were already friends or give her space to mingle and work? Karen answered that question the second I introduced myself by wrapping me in a huge bear hug. But as I observed her throughout the weekend, it was clear her kindness was not only for me. As a speaker, she was warm and genuine. As a critiquer, she was able to validate the person while still providing an honest evaluation of the work. Just being in her presence made me feel valued, and listening to her share the inspiring story of selling Double Luck, Memories of a Chinese Orphan made me proud to have such a tenacious agent.

            The encouragement continued as I assisted Karen during her post-conference workshop, Writing From the Heart and Finding Your Authentic Voice, on Sunday. The purpose of the session was to help us better understand ourselves so that we could connect to that heartfelt space from which our voice originates. Karen’s sincere introduction set the stage for the twenty attendees to get deep, get personal, and let their unique voices be heard. Volunteers shared pre-prepared answers to a thought-provoking questionnaire. This provided each of us with the opportunity to receive validation from the group and to better connect with one another. Listening to others share what they had overcome to pursue writing reaffirmed my quest for publication. And hearing others give similar answers to questions like, “What beliefs have kept you from achieving your dreams?” helped me to consider the fallacy of my own doubts and realize that I wasn’t battling them alone.

            Next Karen asked us to write a poem to complete the phrase, “I come from…” to test her theory that a stronger connection to self and others will help your writing flow. I started by brainstorming individual words and then suddenly the phrase, “Born in the mountains,” appeared in my mind and the rest of the poem just poured onto my paper. It was an otherworldly experience I can only describe as inspired. And it was evident from the work produced in that short time that the other attendees had been equally moved. The poems shared reaffirmed that when we consider who we are, we can better access our own voice.

            After a weekend with Karen, I can see her authentic voice in the way she interacts with people and in her approach to agenting. Her example inspires me to seek out my own true voice as I draft my new novel and to write about the themes that resonate most with me. With my butt now firmly in my chair, I may or may not write the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games, but I am confident that what I do write will be authentically me. I am grateful to the RMC-SCBWI for giving me the opportunity to meet Karen and for hosting a wonderful conference. I look forward to another large helping of encouragement next fall.




Friday, September 14, 2012

 North Beach, San Francisco, 1955: A gawky fifteen-year-old girl wearing bright red lipstick and ballet slippers uses her fake ID to sneak into The Jazz Workshop, a club on Green Street. John Coltrane is playing tonight. The girl finds a table off to the side, with a good view of the stage. She orders a Coke and takes out her sketchbook. Coltrane starts playing his sax and music pours out of his horn like a stream of whispers. The girl starts drawing. 

Years ago, in an old photo album, I came across my mom's sketches from her youth in Beat era San Francisco. I like to imagine her then: young and in love with jazz, art, and the city. Today, in honor of her and the  release of the film version of Kerouac's On the Road, we feature Beat-inspired artwork from the Red Fox crew:
Diane Browning
Rosalinde Bonnet

Elizabeth Haidle

Sarah Watts

Jed Alexander

Adam Gustavson

Friday, August 31, 2012

Welcome to another Foxy Friday! This Labor Day edition says goodbye to summer with a final trip to the fairgrounds for a ride or two, and a visit with the prize pig at the 4H show. 

In a couple of weeks we'll be celebrating the release of the film version of Jack Kerouac's ON THE ROAD with Beatniks, jazz, and perhaps even a HOWLing, poetry-reciting dog with a passing resemblance to Allen Ginsberg. Stay tuned!

Teri Sloat

Rosalinde Bonnet

Monday, August 20, 2012

Foxy Friday: The Park

Hello, Abi here. After Jed's capable stint as blog manager, I'm back from maternity leave and in the saddle once more. This time, I'm accompanied by my new sidekick, Tristan:

Eight weeks old and already an art afficionado

The last waning days of summer are a delightful time to pack a picnic and head to the park. This week, Marty Kelley, Sarah Watts, Diane Browning, Stacey Dressen-McQueen, and Rosalinde Bonnet invite you to join them in the cool grass--bring a book!

Rosalinde Bonnet

Stacey Dressen-McQueen

Diane Browning

Marty Kelley

Sarah Watts

Friday, August 10, 2012

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED--A Dog-Loving Introverted Homebody Scales Mt. McKinley!

Karen Grencik's Report on the SCBWI Los Angeles Conference! 

The only thing that will be harder for me (and I say "will be" because I hope I'll have the courage to scale it in the future) is Mt. Everest. That will be if and when I ever speak before the large group at the national summer conference.

Okay, so here's the scoop:

For the very first time I was on faculty at the national summer conference in LA, meaning that I was invited to all the parties put on by SCBWI--kind of like being invited to the Academy Awards after parties. Sounds exciting, but for me, it was frightening. Even though I know many, many people by now, I still get very insecure. Thank God for Ellen Hopkins and Emma Dryden, who took me under their wings and helped me navigate the Thursday evening cocktail party at the X-bar. And for the highlight of the evening--Amazon's own Tim Ditlow, Associate Publisher, who said to me, "Hey, you're Brenda's (Sturgis) agent. Margery Cuyler told me to look for you and introduce myself. " I think I've officially arrived!

Friday morning began with the faculty parading up to the stage, stating our names along with a single word that might inspire attendees. My word was "gratitude". I could not believe that I was standing up there!

I had made homemade muffins in an effort to save breakfast money, but that savings was quickly wiped out on Friday afternoon when I inadvertently missed the first two critiques I was supposed to give. I had in my mind that it was 11:45 when I'd left the last workshop before lunch and thought I had an hour and 15 minutes to schmooze with my clients over lunch. When I looked at my phone to make sure I wouldn't be late, 1:36 blinked bright and clear. I almost had a heart attack. My first invitation to be on faculty, my first two critiques, and I'd missed them! I was sure I was NEVER going to be invited back!

Needless to say, the critique coordinator was more than a little bit angry with me. I promised I would make it up to the authors, and I did. I offered them private critiques in my room on Sunday morning, had a pot of coffee delivered, and served them homemade morning glory muffins. I also took the authors and one husband to dinner on Sunday evening at Breezes, where they enjoyed the pleasure of my fabulous clients' company, Golden Kite wInner Sarah Wilson, Linda Whalen, and Kathy Urban. The authors thought they'd died and gone to heaven. The critique coordinator told me at Lin's on Monday evening that she would definitely have me back. Whew!!!

On Friday evening, at the PAL party, I met many authors and RAs with whom I'd been communicating, then escaped for dinner with a Red Fox author who shall remain nameless ( although her initials are BH!). She'd had a fabulous critique with an editor who will also remain nameless, and the editor basically said that she loved the manuscript with all her heart and would be pitching it to her colleagues as soon as BH made a small revision. BH whisked me away for a lovely dinner on the patio and I think we both drank a little too much wine that night in celebration! By the way, I am known for celebrating every single small step towards publication. Why wait?

Saturday morning dawned and I had breakfast with two lovely authors, Morgan Shamy and her colleague, Courtney Pearson. Morgan had sent me a full manuscript that I had requested last year that was so beautifully written, yet it was fantasy, which I'm not all that fond of, and I felt so guilty that I'd had her mail it that I threw a $20 bill in the return envelope to make up for her mailing costs. She will be a friend forever and is now writing something other than fantasy! Yea, Morgan!

I was on time for my critiques on Saturday, thank goodness, and had great meetings with the authors. Then Saturday afternoon my very best friend drove down from San Luis Obispo to help me throw the first ever Red Fox Literary party in my room. It was PACKED, and Neal Porter made a special appearance. Thank you, Neal! I'd ordered food from BJ's across the street and got twice as much as I'd ordered and charged twice as much as I'd expected, but it was an over-the top success. Very fun for me to be able to serve my talented authors and illustrators and get them primed and ready for the Hippie Hop Party. During our party I got the great news that Red Fox Literary's own Juana Hernandez Neal had won the Grand Prize for Best Portfolio in the Illustrators' tight competition! Go Juana!!!

At the Hippie Hop party I reached out to everyone I saw who looked uncomfortable or alone, just as I'd asked my clients to do. There were no takers, but at least the offer was extended and I felt I'd done my good deed for the day. One person I reached out to I learned the next day was Agent Natalie Fischer. No wonder she didn't need to join me! The Flash Mob was a HUGE success, and once again Lin and Steve were celebrated for their incredible efforts and accomplishments.

Sunday was filled with meetings and meals with clients, including the authors whose critiques I'd missed, but you already know all about that!

Monday dawned with breakfast with Kari-Lynn Winters, a very successful Canadian author whom I'd met with last year. At the time she'd pitched mostly concept manuscripts, which are not what wins my heart. This year she shared with me two fabulous books that will be coming out soon, No-Matter-What Friend, which brought me to tears, and Gift Days, two picture books that I would have been honored to have represented. Let me tell you, I was so sorry I let her get away. She now has a NYC agent who is selling her manuscripts like hotcakes! So always remember that a "no" today simply means "not now". Tomorrow you could get a "yes"!

What followed was the scale to the top of the mountain, when I was supposed to speak for 15 minutes about Red Fox Literary. Rules are made to be broken--right?--so instead I spoke about how I had become an agent and about my first time at the national conference. Both stories are amazing and they were very well received. I hate public speaking more than ANYTHING IN THE WORLD! I'd gotten an A+ in speech in college because my teacher said she had never seen anyone who was more traumatized by public speaking who actually finished the course. I'd been a waitress at Coco's at the time and was much more comfortable when people focused on their food and not me, so I spent my hard-earned tips buying snacks that related to my speeches so that everyone was eating while I spoke. It's the only way I got through it!

Knowing what my body does when faced with public speaking, I took a beta blocker an hour and a half before my scheduled panel, yet my heart was still beating out of my chest and I could not stand up. My body floods with adrenaline just like a car floods with gas and stops functioning. Not only do my knees collapse, but I start crying with the first word out of my mouth. Just ask Philomel publisher Michael Green, who was in the audience in Nevada at my very first presentation 11 years ago. Boxes of Kleenex came flying to me that day!

So, back to the present. I took another beta blocker an hour before and my heart was still beating out of my chest and I still could not stand. I thought I'd never be able to do it! So I took another half a half hour before, wondering if I would be awake and coherent for my presentation or if my heart might stop. Beta blockers are for people who have tachycardia or high blood pressure. My prescription is written for me to take one half of a beta blocker whenever I have to (or, in this case, request to) public speak. Yes, I had e-mailed the coordinator and asked for this! When 10:15 arrived, I approached the table with a calm confidence, sat with the other agents, and presented like I'd been doing it all my life. Yep, 2-1/2 beta blockers is the magic recipe!

The grand finale was the party at Lin's extraordinary home in Hancock Park. Nothing could be lovelier. While standing in line to say hello to Lin, Michelle Parker-Rock came up to me and gave me the biggest and warmest hug imaginable. I reciprocated, then asked her where she was from. When she said Arizona, I said, "I'll be presenting there in October." Her response was, "You have no idea who I am, do you?" I reluctantly admitted that I hadn't placed her name in my brain's rolodex and she laughed and told me she was the RA who'd invited me to Arizona! Thank you for your kind forgiveness, Michelle!

My best friend had the time of her life being surrounded by fabulous authors, illustrators and editors while I mingled with colleagues and friends, and It was an awesome ending to an amazing five days. We were both exhausted so we grabbed a cab and headed back to the hotel early, sharing a cab with Arthur Levine--okay, just pinch me!

All this to say that EVERYTHING I do, every meeting I have, every letter I write, is as hard for me as submissions and critiques are for you authors. My heart is my voice that is unique from all other agents. I look fun, happy and confident--yet inside I am terrified, shaking and cannot wait to get home to my loving dogs.

It's 8:23 a.m. now on Thursday and I have a 9:15 appointment with my doctor to follow up on how the beta blockers worked. My stash will be replenished and I will be ready for the Denver, Phoenix and Iowa conferences this fall. I hope to see some of you there.

And now that this blog is finished, I hope that my leg will stop shaking, my heart will stop pounding, and the blood will come back into my hands. You see, I am even afraid of blogging--thus, the need for our fabulous client, Jed Alexander, to provide our Foxy Friday blogs. Thank you, Jed!

And a great big thanks to all of you for taking your precious time to read this very long post!

Happy writing and illustrating!


Friday, August 3, 2012

Foxy Friday: Traveling

About once every two weeks we try to make your Friday foxier with Foxy Friday! Each Foxy Friday we challenge our Red Fox illustrators to come up with an image on a given theme. This Friday's theme is "traveling," and though the theme isn't "traveling with boats," by coincidence, many of our artists have chosen a maritime theme. We have images from Jed Alexander, Rosalinde Bonnet, Diane Browning, Adam Gustavson, Elizabeth Haidle and Marty Kelley, who travels with zombies. Watch your fingers, Marty! And a late entry by Stacey Dressen-McQueen! Our next theme will be, "the park" and we hope to see you then!

Jed Alexander

Rosalinde Bonnet

Diane Browning

Adam Gustavson

Elizabeth Haidle

Marty Kelley

Stacey Dressen-McQueen

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Power Outages and Learning to Write Historical Fiction

The other night, my sleep was interrupted by a loud bang. This summer has been so hot and once again we had closed up the house and turned on the air conditioner. I much prefer open windows, breezes, and crickets to the hum of machinery. On the other hand, waking up sticky isn’t fun either. But on this sultry night suddenly the world was silent. The dreaded bang was the transformer behind our house, and thus, no power.

Thinking about past lives and cultures has always intrigued me. However, as I conducted my day; no coffee, no hairdryer, no radio or TV, and no laptop, as it was not sufficiently charged, I decided that even though I love history, I didn’t want to be a woman in the 1870’s that day.

You see, for the past 10 months, I had been “living in 1877” as I sweated through the first draft of my historical middle grade novel. The novel begins in June, 1877 along the Mississippi River in a place called the Bohemian Flats. The Flats still exist as a green grass park bordering the winding river near downtown Minneapolis. Recently it held the twisted steel of the 35W Bridge collapse so the engineers could study and determine what went wrong.

The remains of the bridge are gone, making it even easier to imagine over 500 immigrants living in poorly constructed shanties so close to the river. When I began this 1877 adventure the first thing I did was go to the site itself. I read the kiosk with its brief history and noted the sources.

Because there isn’t much written about the Bohemian Flats I grabbed every source I could find. From real immigrant letters illustrating their struggles, to histories of the Minneapolis Fire and Police Departments, to Bohemian recipes. When I checked out the Minnesota Historical Society, I hit the jackpot. I found dozens of photos from the time period and a book about the flats written by the Writers Project during the depression.

The pictures were my gold mine. For with them I could imagine the children, women, and men, as they made their way through this life. Many of the men walked up the seventy-nine steps to the city each day to work in the flour, lumber mills, or cooperages. The women stayed on the “flats” as they were called, and ran their homes by collecting wild mushrooms, planting small gardens, baking in a large communal oven, and raising hordes of dirty-faced children.

The river flats drew in immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Bohemia, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, and Russia. A real melting pot crammed on the flats, beneath the growing city of Minneapolis.

The more I read about this community the more I knew I had to write about it. A story appeared in my head and I backed up the facts with books, articles, and photos. In order to try and get a feel for the time period, I read literature written around 1877, as well as fiction about this time period. One of the best sources I found was called, “The Boat of Longing,” by O. E. Rolvaag. This takes place a little bit after my story but the feel was what I was looking for. I listened to music, looked at period clothing, and even attempted to bake a loaf of bread, without a bread machine, mind you!

Putting the draft aside for a few days has helped me garner the courage to dive back in for revisions. But when our power went out, I was back there again whether I wanted to be or not. This is the first historical fiction manuscript I have written, learning the genre as I typed and loving every minute. Since our brief power outage, I’ve decided I like living in a new time period for only a few hours at a time, reassuring myself that I can surface again, sip my coffee and enjoy other comforts of 2012!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Foxy Friday: Best Friends

Welcome to another fine Foxy Friday! About every two weeks we ask Red Fox Literary artists to create an image on a given theme. This Friday's theme is "best friends." This week we have illustrations by Jed Alexander, Rosalinde Bonnet, Diane BrowningStacey Dressen-McQueen and  Marty Kelley! Thanks to all our fine foxy artists for sharing their interpretations, and keep an eye out for our next theme, "traveling" in about two weeks hence!

Jed Alexander

Rosalinde Bonnet

Diane Browning

Stacey Dessen-McQueen

Marty Kelly