A Starred Review for SOMETHING EXTRAORDINARY

The first review for Ben Clanton's Something Extraordinary (6/16/15) has found its way to my inbox, and it's a star!

"Bored with the familiar, this young daydreamer imagines how life could be different. For starters, he'd liked to fly or have his drawings—in this case, a robot—come to life. The ideas become more creative as he continues; he would like it if "the rain came in seven different colors. And flavors!" His longings are depicted in watercolor-and-pencil compositions, rendered in a muted palette of browns and blue-greens. Ultimately, his puff of air on a dandelion carries the wish "that something would happen. / Something real!" In a quietly ironic twist, the boy notices a springtime scene (brighter, by subtle degrees) just across the gutter. The birds that had earlier accompanied him, chirping in small, musical speech bubbles, are seen tending their family in a branch of a tree. Organic pink and yellow shapes form the flowers that grace the cheery paradise. The protagonist's earlier desire to talk to the animals is achieved as he bends toward a turtle and produces his own music bubble. In less capable hands, the idea that the real is extraordinary (and by extrapolation, that enjoyment requires close observation) could have come across as cliché and didactic. Instead, scenes full of gentle humor and inventive play convey respect and affection for the audience. The slowly dawning message will elicit excitement about spring, wishing, and the ability to decode a narrative." (Picture book. 4-7)

It's My Fall 2015 List!

Over the last couple of weeks, some lovely folks have revealed the covers of the books I'm editing with publication dates in Fall 2015. (See here, here, here, and here.) The titles and covers fed to accounts over the weekend (our first metadata feed for the season), which means they're all available for preorder. Yay for you! 

I thought it'd be cool to give you, dear reader, a little insight as to how these covers came together. 

Maid of Wonder by Jennifer McGowan is the third book in the glamorous, action-packed Maids of Honor series. It goes on sale on 25 August 2015.

Lucy Cummins had established a great look for the series with the paperback edition of Maid of Secrets, so there was no need to toss around a bunch of ideas. Instead, we could go straight into casting with the goal of finding a compelling young woman and a couple of hot guys. The lead character in Maid of Wonder, Sophia Dee, is the youngest of the Maids of Honor as well as a bit of an oddball--her gift of Sight has made her less socially graceful than her fellow maids. So Lucy and I needed to find someone youthful (all the models we meet are young, but many do not look youthful) with a vulnerable, ethereal quality, which this young woman totally had. In terms of the young men, we met a bunch of them (poor us, right?). The boys who made it to the cover had physical qualities that matched Sophia's suitors in the novel. They also happened to be fun to be around, which makes a shoot day all the more enjoyable.

Once casting was done, Lucy got to work sourcing costumes and props. There isn't a ton of quality Elizabethan garb available to the general public--the thought crossed my mind to call Sandy Powell and ask her what she did with the Shakespeare in Love costumes--but Lucy found some gorgeous pieces. 

We shot the cover at Michael Frost's very cool studio in Manhattan near Union Square. (I've worked with him on a few occasions, and it's always a blast to be in his space.) Lucy then selected her favorite images, and she and I reviewed them together. After a little bit of Photoshop magic, she presented the finished cover. The actual jacket will have a fancy holographic foil on the title. 

Lock & Mori, the first book in a new trilogy by Heather Petty, introduces us to a modern-day, sixteen-year-old Sherlock Holmes on the day he meets Miss James "Mori" Moriarty at their high school.

Though there has been a big shift in the industry toward illustrated covers for YA novels (a few years ago, this was not the case--publishers were encouraged to use photographs), our sense was that we needed to take pictures of actual humans for Lock & Mori. Krista Vossen devised a concept (if memory serves, she pitched just this one--it immediately felt right) and hired photographer Ylva Erevall. Next, we had the casting. I've been to a bunch of them at this point in my career, and I'll admit that they sometimes don't go very well. Not many models show up, or the ones who do don't look like the characters in the book. Or a model walks in, and you think, Yes, he's perfect! But then you discover he only has one expression and a leaden personality. Still, we must make a choice--a studio has been booked, hair and make-up hired, and costumes ordered, not to mention the in-house deadlines. But at the Lock & Mori casting, it was as if Catherine and Massey (the models we ended up hiring) had stepped out of the pages of the manuscript.

Ylva shot TONS of images, with the models in various poses and outfits; Krista has plenty to choose from for the next two books in the trilogy. The image on the bottom half of the cover (a stock photo) represents a key plot detail in Book One; Books Two and Three will follow suit.The final jacket is being printed on gritty stock with a metallic foil on the front cover.

Daniel Kraus is one of my favorite writers, so I was thrilled to beat out a bunch of other houses in the auction for The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volumes 1 and 2. When it came time to talk about the cover for Book One, publishing on 27 October 2015, we knew we needed to go with an illustration...but of what? The novel spans five decades and two continents. There are dozens of characters. The book is a coming-of-age tale, it's historical fiction, it's gothic, it's literary, it's horror.

Thankfully, Lizzy Bromley had a plan. She came up with a list of illustrators whom she felt could capture the spirit of the book in a narrative way. One of those artists, the absolutely brilliant Ken Taylor, was intrigued by the novel's premise and signed on to the project. Lizzy and I provided him with a list of objects significant to Zebulon's story, as well as a little guidance on Zebulon's physical appearance--he took it from there. Ken's finished piece is one of the most intriguing, exciting, and cool illustrations I've ever seen for a book. Lizzy made it even more awesome with her excellent title treatment, color choices, and special effects.

Captive by A. J. Grainger, out on 11/3/15, is exactly what a thriller is meant to be: a fast-paced novel that keeps you guessing and is, most importantly, thrilling. In the book, the British Prime Minster's daughter has been kidnapped by terrorists. The story doesn't pull any punches, and designer Krista Vossen took inspiration from some of its dark and graphic scenes. She showed the group (at one of our bi-weekly meetings, in which designers and editors talk about covers) a number of images. This close-up of a girl blindfolded perfectly captured the tone of the book. Krista added some graininess to the image to create even more distance between our imperiled heroine and the reader. The finished jacket will have an extra shiny gloss to emulate a TV screen. 

Check out the Coming Soon tab in the near future to learn more about these books.

A Starred Review for IN A WORLD JUST RIGHT

I'm not going to lie--I'm a little emotional that my Spring 2015 titles are getting so much love from reviewers. In a starred review, VOYA gave IN A WORLD JUST RIGHT a perfect ten. The review appears in their February issue. 

"At the age of eight, Jonathan Aubrey barely survived the plane crash that took the lives of his parents, younger sister Tess, and Auntie Carrie, leaving him under the guardianship of his widowed Uncle Joey. Jonathan's physical scars may have faded over the past ten years but his desire to escape his lonely, isolated life has only increased. Looking for something better or at least different from what he already knows, Jonathan discovers he can create alternate worlds where he can be happy for a while. Now Jonathan splits time between his everyday existence and his preferred Kylie-Simms-is-my-girlfriend world, but with graduation coming, he knows things must change. Will he be ready to choose just one world?

Jonathan is the best kind of main character any story could want; he is sympathetic, flawed, and is as surprised as the reader by how events unfold. His life experiences are so unique that they should be un-relatable but Jonathan's honest, emotional responses allow for a real connection. Feelings of isolation and dreaming of a more ideal life will feel familiar to just about any reader, no matter what their background, but it is Jonathan's method of escaping his everyday struggles that teens will envy. The matter-of-fact acceptance that others worlds are possible and how one person can travel from space to space makes it easier for readers to focus on the characters, their relationships, and their difficult choices. Every piece of the puzzle that is this books slides into the exact right spot, forming a picture-perfect work of fiction."

In a World Just Right goes on sale on 28 April 2015.

 

My First Book Deal

Dear Readers, I'm thrilled to announce that I've sold my first manuscript! Simon's New Bed is a picture book with art by Melissa van der Paardt. The great Justin Chanda, publisher extraordinaire of numerous imprints at Simon & Schuster, is editing; the talented Lauren Rille is handling design. Simon's New Bed will be on sale 25 August 2015. 

The cover of my first book!

The cover of my first book!

My journey to becoming a published author has been long in the making...and then happened all at once. I never thought of myself as a creative type. Or, rather, I never allowed myself to think that way. Which is odd, considering I regularly got the solo in my choir, I loved dancing, and I had a pretty constant urge to put on costumes. 

Me as Barbra Streisand in  The Main Event . I'm from a tennis family.

Me as Barbra Streisand in The Main Event. I'm from a tennis family.

Still, my strongest subject was math, and kids who are good at math (and also have Asian mothers) are often encouraged to pursue paths more secure than the arts. For me, that was medicine.

From age five to nineteen, I was certain I was going to be a doctor. Every decision I made - selecting classes, participating in extracurriculars, skipping parties I wasn't invited to - was meant to bring me closer to my goal of getting into a university with a stellar pre-med program. 

Once I got to college (Northwestern University), I soon realized that my chosen path might not be the right fit. Not only was I struggling through organic chemistry and physics (admittedly, instead of buying the textbook for the class, I purchased a sweater), but also I had become completely enamored with the theater crowd. Never had I met such charismatic, talented individuals. They could sing! They could dance! They could over-act! I wanted to be just like them.

But I was not a creative type. Unlike these peers, I had not devoted my childhood to honing my singing and dancing skills. I did not deserve to be in their shows. Really, I didn't even have the right to audition.

With pre-med behind me and no clear plan what to do after college, I decided to move to Los Angeles (as one does). One of my first jobs was doing script coverage, and I found I was quite good at tearing apart other people's hard work. Uninspired dialogue, plot holes, weak transitions--I discovered that I had a natural gift for sussing out these problems. Additionally, a number of my friends were aspiring screenwriters, and we had long talks about process and spent many nights dissecting and criticizing primetime television shows.

Side bar: The pilot for Felicity is masterful. 

Simultaneously, at the urging of a great friend, I started to take acting classes. There, I learned the importance of back story and character development. I started to audition (the talent pool in LA was less intimidating than the one at NU), but I felt like an impostor. Even though I knew none of them, the other young people aspiring to be Guy #1 in the new Taco Bell commercial struck me as more worthy. I could commit in class, but at auditions, I found biting into imaginary burritos and driving through fake drive-thrus a bit embarrassing. And for anyone who wants to be an artist, commitment is key.

In addition to head shots, my agency wanted modeling shots. Here I am, "modeling" on a roof in downtown LA. (I miss that coat...)

In addition to head shots, my agency wanted modeling shots. Here I am, "modeling" on a roof in downtown LA. (I miss that coat...)

Though I loved the art of acting, I couldn't stomach the business. I had also grown tired of Los Angeles and was looking for jobs in New York City. And I landed a great one, one that would greatly enhance my understanding of storytelling. Thomas Schumacher, then president of Disney Feature Animation and Theatrical Group, who oversaw the production of many of my favorite movies, was opening an office in New York and needed an assistant. I'd never worked for someone so charismatic and passionate--his every breath was about great storytelling. On top of that, Tom was brilliant with talent. He knew how to bring out the best in people, to tap into their most creative selves, to comfort bruised egos and gently reign in inflated ones. Little did I know that I was receiving some of the best training for my future job as a book editor.

Through Tom, I met many other great storytellers: Rick Elice, Roger Rees, Francesca Zambello, Julie Taymor, Sir Richard Eyre, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Phil Collins, Doug Wright, Julian Fellowes. While deeply inspiring, my interactions with these folks intimidated the wannabe artist inside me. I hungered to do the things they did, but as I had been doing for many years, I convinced myself to leave the art-making to the real experts.

After two years working for Tom, I switched to publishing. (In today's market, landing an editorial job is akin to winning the Hunger Games, so I was very lucky to get in when I did. I just happened to have the right skill set and can-do attitude my new boss, Brenda Bowen, was looking for.) The desire to create lingered, but at long last, at least I was in a position that would allow me to produce.

Brenda threw me into the process, first teaching me the basics and then helping me to develop my skills. Tom had instilled in me the value of systems, and I incorporated them into my process. As an editor at Disney Hyperion, I was exposed to the works of Jonathan Stroud, Eoin Colfer, Melissa de la Cruz, E. Lockhart, Mo Willems, and Rick Riordan, many of whom I would eventually have the great pleasure of editing. (Or rather, mostly the great pleasure.) Over the years, I've worked for and with some truly legendary editors, and if/when I win a Golden Globe, they will all be thanked in my speech.

My understanding of story blossomed in these years, and with it, a belief that I could create something of my very own. I decided to try my hand at screenwriting because, as everyone knows, selling a screenplay is super easy. My first effort, in partnership with a friend with some experience with the format, was a female-driven comedy about motherhood, of all things. We never finished the first draft, but I took a lot away from the experience, particularly that writing is hard!

I next tried a screenplay on my own, one that I completed and one that will eventually win me that Golden Globe. A good friend who has worked on a number of Oscar-winning films gave me priceless feedback...that I've yet to address. In essence, I need to rewrite the whole thing, and I'm struggling to find the time to tackle the revision. Let's just say I now empathize with my authors who are facing a lengthy editorial letter. (Not to suggest that I didn't before, but let's be honest--I didn't.)

In April of 2013, after eight years with Disney Publishing and thirteen--my youth!--with The Walt Disney Company, I moved over to Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. This post is about my book deal, so I won't go into how much I love being an editor at S & S. I will write, though, that I felt much more comfortable pursuing my artistic endeavors once I started there. Emboldened by the fact that I had finished a 100-page screenplay, I began writing more regularly. There were a couple of picture book ideas I wanted to tackle. As part of the terms of my employment, I shared the manuscripts with my boss, Justin. He liked them. He made offers on both. I accepted them. Less than a year after starting at S & S, I had signed two contracts for two manuscripts I had written in that timeframe. (I'll tell you more about the other book very soon.)

Years ago, I often spoke with Schumacher about my desire to create something and my insecurities about competing with folks with so much more experience. He pointed out the obvious: "Everyone has their own path." They were words I needed to hear, words that I eventually internalized. I'm happy that I finally decided to take the chance on my own work. I'm thrilled that my name appears on the cover of a beautiful book. And I can't wait for you all to read it!

Learn more about Simon's New Bed here.

 

 

A Third Starred Review for WE ALL LOOKED UP

Publishers Weekly has graced Tommy Wallach's debut novel with a starred review, its third one to date.

"An asteroid named Ardor is on course to destroy the world. As four Seattle teenagers count down the weeks until impact, they wrestle with the meaning of their lives and their possible deaths. Peter, a basketball golden boy, must decide if he should save his sister from her nihilistic boyfriend and whether true love is worth ignoring the status quo. Eliza, a photographer with an unseemly reputation, negotiates her father’s cancer diagnosis, her mother’s abandonment, and the need to chronicle the chaos erupting around her, while finding herself drawn to Peter. Rounding out the story’s rotating voices are Anita, a straight-A student who just wants to sing, and Andy, a slacker who must decide where his loyalties lie and how to handle his dangerous friends.Debut novelist Wallach increases the tension among characters throughout, ending in a shocking climax that resonates with religious symbolism. Stark scenes alternating between anarchy and police states are counterbalanced by deepening emotional ties and ethical dilemmas, creating a novel that asks far bigger questions than it answers."

We All Looked Up goes on sale on 24 March 2015.

A Second Starred Review for WE ALL LOOKED UP

VOYA loved We All Looked Up, giving it a perfect score. The review appears in their February issue. 

"Four Seattle high school students whose lives have not intersected much are brought together by the disturbing news that an asteroid is headed for Earth with a 66.6% chance of collision that will obliterate human life. With impact expected in two months, life becomes drastically different. Food is rationed, gas prices skyrocket, satellite and cell service grind to a halt, and looting and lawlessness make the streets unsafe. Through the alternating perspectives of popular jock Peter, promiscuous Eliza, slacker Andy, and overachiever Anita, the reader sees each character grapple with the prospect of a shortened life, challenged to make the last days meaningful in a doomed world where human nature has bared its teeth.

With the terrifying possibility of an apocalyptic ending for humankind and the philosophical and ethical challenges that this brings, We All Looked Up offers much food for thought: What would you do if you were given a limited number of days on Earth?  Each of the major characters, having lived life for others, examines past choices and recognizes the need to change course. Readers, in turn, will be challenged to question what matters in their own lives. This compelling, well-written narrative, which offers sometimes raw insight into human motivation and behavior, will have readers racing to the final pages and pondering its ideas long after."

We All Looked Up goes on sale on 24 March 2015.

A Starred Review for WE ALL LOOKED UP

The first review of Tommy Wallach's brilliant debut novel, We All Looked Up, just hit my inbox. Very excitingly, it's a starred review. Here's what Kirkus Reviews thought about the book:

"The end of the world turns into a life-changing opportunity for four high school seniors. High school is all about labels. In this stunning debut set in present-day Seattle, there's Peter the athlete, Andy the slacker, Anita the overachiever and Eliza the slut. Just as each notices a strange blue star in the sky one night, the president announces that the star is actually an asteroid with a path that is 66.6 percent likely to hit and destroy the Earth in two months. Told from the teens' alternating viewpoints, sometimes with cleverly overlapping details, this edgy story follows how each copes with impending doom with brilliant imagery and astounding depth. Knowing that all life will probably end in just weeks, the four teens abandon their labels and search for meaning in the time they have left. Inspired by Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, they forge a "karass"—an unbreakable, and indeed life-changing, bond—as they explore purpose, evil, faith, independence, friendship, sex and love together. In the background there is also social commentary to be gleaned as the world becomes a dangerous place and martial law becomes a farce. But just like the asteroid that dots the night sky, Wallach pierces his darkness with tenderness and humor. A thought-provoking story that will bring out readers' inner philosophers." 

We All Looked Up goes on sale on 24 March 2015.

A Second Starred Review for RED BUTTERFLY

Like Kirkus, me, and sure-to-be many others, Publishers Weekly loved Red Butterfly. Here's what they had to say in a starred review:

"Evocative first-person poems divided into three sections—“Crawl,” “Dissolve,” and “Fly”—combine with small, delicate b&w illustrations from Bates to provide a framework that helps organize the chaotic feelings 11-year-old Kara struggles to express. Mysteries pervade her life: although ethnically Chinese, she lives in China in near poverty with her Caucasian mother, hiding her misshapen right hand in long sleeves, speaking English at home, unable to attend school. Mama promises that someday they will live with Kara’s father in Montana, but for now: “Don’t ask me,/ Kara,/ don’t ask me.” Piecing together her story, Kara realizes Mama discovered her, an abandoned baby, and stayed in China illegally to raise her. After this transgression is discovered, Kara finds herself in an orphanage as her Montana parents vie with another family to adopt her. Sonnichsen creates a palpable sense of yearning for home and belonging (“I want to explain, but/ I can’t make my mouth form words./ How a place so beautiful/ can make me feel so sad”) in this heartbreaking, heartwarming, and impressive debut."

A Starred Review for RED BUTTERFLY

Well, this makes me very happy. Kirkus Reviews has given a starred review to A. L. Sonnichsen's debut novel, Red Butterfly. I'm so in love with this book and am thrilled that at least one other person feels the same way.

"Set against the backdrop of China's one-child policy, this emotional debut novel-in-verse reveals how one girl refuses to be left behind. Eleven-year-old Kara lives a sheltered life in Tianjin with Mama, an elderly, American, non-Chinese woman. Mama rarely goes out and refuses to send Kara to school like other Chinese kids. With money tight and a "daddy" who lives in Montana, Kara begins to question why they can't go live with him. When Kara's neighbor Zhang Laoshi tells her about being abandoned as a baby, Kara suspects that her hand, "with two short nubs / instead of fingers," is at the root of her woes. "This is why my birth mother / didn't keep me, / why she decided to try again / for someone better." Piece by piece, she discovers a shocking secret about why they must hide. Soon, an accident during a visit from Jody, Mama's older daughter, sets into motion a roller-coaster adoption process. Kara must make unthinkable choices and painstakingly claim with whom she belongs. Sonnichsen draws upon firsthand experiences in volunteering to improve China's orphanages and adopting her own Chinese daughter. With spare, fluid language, she creates the endearing, authentic, nuanced emotions of a girl stuck between two worlds and brings to light a foundling's hope and determination. An adoption story that's rich in family complexities and that readers won't abandon."