June 29, 2010
Here's a little background info about Jim:
Jim McCarthy interned for DGLM while studying urban design at New York University. Upon graduating, Jim realized he would much rather continue working with books than make the jump (as he had originally intended) to the field of city planning. Jim was raised just outside of NYC and currently lives in Brooklyn.
As you can see, Jim is a New Yorker through and through! Hmm, this makes me mighty jealous--he can go to the Met and the MoMA any time he wants?! Grr...
Anyway, let's get started on this interview, shall we?
I noticed on your DGLM bio that you planned on becoming an urban designer in college. What made you decide to become an agent instead?
Heh. I didn’t so much decide to become an agent as I fell into it. The summer after my freshman year of college, I sent out about 40 resumes for part time jobs. Stacey Glick was the first person to call me back. I didn’t even know what a literary agent was, but I figured, “Hey, I like reading.”
I left the agency twice to go work places I thought would advance my ability to land a great job in urban planning. But I kept coming back to DGLM. And they kept taking me. So when someone left the agency the day I graduated from college, well…that was just kismet. Now it’s 11 years from the day I first stepped foot in the door, and I can’t imagine what I would have done if I didn’t luck into it.
What are you looking for in your slush pile right now? I assume you're searching for some awesome Twilight knockoffs, right? (Hehe, kidding.)
I just want to find something different! There isn’t any one thing that I’m desperate to find. It’s more that I’m chasing a feeling: when you hit something that stops you in your tracks and makes you think, “Now that hasn’t been done that way before.”
Huh, very interesting! So what percentage of your time do you spend on your slush? How long is your typical workweek?
Slush isn’t a huge part of the job. It moves pretty quickly as well. I’d say maybe five hours a week is all it takes to go through it. That’s before you factor in all the manuscripts, of course!
Judging the work week is trickier. It varies a lot. I’ll say this: we’re all in the office at least nine hours a day on weekdays, and we do most, if not all, of our reading at home. It’s not the kind of job you leave in the office, but that’s part of what makes it so rewarding!
When we talked on the phone a couple months ago, you mentioned that you were expanding your MG list. What made you decide to take on more middle grade?
My reasons for wanting to take on more middle grade are, admittedly, a touch impure. I just kept hearing from editors how much they were looking for it and how much of a deficit there was in the market for great middle grade writing. Everyone who has ever written a line of fiction is writing a teen novel these days, but the middle grade market remains underserved. It’s also a tricky age group to write for, so I just have a tremendous respect for authors who can pull it off.
Tell me about what goes through your mind when you've found a manuscript you want to represent. Do you mull it over for a couple days? Do you discuss it with the other agents at DGLM?
There’s very little mulling after I’ve decided I want to represent something. When I’m in the process of reading, I’m in my most critical place, looking for every reason I think something might not work. If I make it to the end and want to do it, there’s very little that will convince me otherwise. I get other reads on manuscripts, definitely, but that’s usually if I think the material might be better suited to that other agent.
So YA dystopian seems to be the "it" genre of the moment. Is this something you'd like to see more of as an agent? How much longer do you think this trend will last?
I’m scared that it’s getting too trendy. I LOVE The Hunger Games. And my own client Carrie Ryan writes extraordinary dystopian fiction. Margaret Atwood is also one of my favorite authors, and we all know how much she can do with a dystopia. My fear is that it will be overpublished. That said, I’m still extremely open to it, especially when done well!
Oh, I love Margaret Atwood. If any of you guys haven't read The Handmaid's Tale yet, go get it now!
What's your favorite writing conference to attend? Which conferences would you suggest for writers at the start of their career (pre-querying and querying)? What about for writers who are a little further along (agented and published)?
Most of the conferences I go to are aimed at beginner writers, and of those, I’d say the best I’ve been to was the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference (even if I did get altitude sickness and don’t plan on personally returning!). I’ve also been very impressed by the Surrey International Writers Conference.
For published writers, the conferences organized by organizations like RWA or SCBWI are the best way to go.
I've noticed that some agents and editors moonlight as writers. Do you have any aspirations to pen your own novels?
Oh, hell no! :) Really…no. Agenting is a full-time job and requires a lot of attention. I can’t imagine trying to do something else at the same time. I’ve also just never been a writer. I don’t feel that need to create, so I’m content to just keep reading!
Haha. I laughed at the "Hell no!" Love the honesty there!
Anyway, a friend of mine would like to know: "Do agents pal around together after work hours?" If so, do you guys have a secret agent society a la Skull and Bones? (Thanks to Lynn Colt for suggesting this question!)
Nah. I have friends who are agents, and there are some folks that you see at every cocktail party you attend and every conference you go to, but I don’t go to secret agent meetings after I leave the office. I wonder if I’m just not invited!
And now for some rapid-fire questions to finish things off:
Favorite book as a kid? I LOVED RL Stine’s Fear Street series and read entirely too many of them throughout grade school.
Favorite non-client book you've read recently? I just read the first five graphic novels in the Scott Pilgrim series and cannot wait for the sixth one to come out. I also really dug The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and am FINALLY reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay which I’m dying over. It’s amazing.
Weirdest thing you've ever gotten in your slush pile? Now that everything is electronic, we get a lot less really creepy stuff then we used to. But I did once get a Bible wrapped in multiple layers of duct tape. What did it have to do with the query? That I never figured out.
Favorite restaurant in New York? You have to go to ABC Kitchen, which is still relatively new and a little tough to get a reservation at, so book ahead. The best meal I’ve had all year. I also love Perry St and Olives if you want to go upscale, Momofuku Ssam Bar for something a bit more casual, and any Indian restaurant on 6th Street because they all churn out the same good, cheap food, but you’ll feel totally empowered when you try to decide which to go into and all the doormen fight for your business.
Awesome stuff! Thanks so much for your time, Jim!
June 27, 2010
I just finished Anthony Bourdain's memoir, Kitchen Confidential, which chronicles his antics as a New York chef in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.
In short, it's a fabulous read.
Binge drinking during dinner service? Check.
Shooting up heroin after closing? Check.
Awesome descriptions of vichysoisse, tarte Tatin, and other culinary delights? Check, check, and check.
Although I enjoyed reading about Bourdain's adventures in the kitchen, my favorite part of the book is when he offers his advice on eating out (ie, don't order fish on Mondays!). Some of these tips are too good to keep to myself:
1.) Skip the hollandaise sauce. Just skip it.
This is sort of gross but here we go: hollandaise sauce is a hotbed for bacteria. Since hollandaise sauce must be kept at room temperature, it often sits in its container for hours on end—which leads to inevitable bacterial growth. And since hollandaise is never made to order, you can bet your lucky stars that your sauce is a veritable petri dish.
A petri dish! Ew!
2.) Be wary of the bread.
Yeah, you see that basket of bread in front of you? Chances are, it's been recycled off of someone else's table.
Most restaurants recycle their uneaten bread since they can lose a ton of money by throwing it away. And so, they recycle it instead. Fortunately, Bourdain says this isn't a huge deal. After all, we live with germs all around us—what's wrong with a little reused bread? "Eat the bread," he tells us.
(Which I will gladly do. I love bread.)
3.) Don't eat mussels unless you personally know the chef.
Okay, this one grossed me out a lot. A whole lot. I don't even like mussels, but I'll be sure to never to eat one ever again.
So...most restaurants will leave their mussels in a large container where they wallow in their own "foul-smelling piss." *Dry heaves* Some restaurants will use special containers to prevent this unsavory practice, but more often than not they don't.
4.) Never order fish on Mondays.
To prepare for the weekend rush, most chefs will purchase their seafood on Thursday to carry them through Friday and Saturday. But what happens to the fish that doesn't get sold over the weekend? Yep, you guessed it: it's repackaged as a "dinner special" for Monday night.
A great tip to know, right?
Happy eating! And don't order the mussels!
June 24, 2010
Right now, I'm gathering a list of questions I'd like to ask in the interview, which should be posted early next week. Thus far, I've come up with generic stuff like what he's currently looking for in his slush pile and what projects he has coming out soon...but that's about it. I think I need some help!
So I'd like to open up this post to hear your suggestions. What questions would you like to get answered? What would you ask Jim?
June 23, 2010
I love you in so many ways, do you know that? So many ways...
June 22, 2010
My revision notes have arrived!
Dun dun dun...
Can I survive them without pulling all of my hair out?
I guess we will have to wait and see!
So Jim sent me the revision notes for my MG science fiction novel this afternoon. Fortunately, they're not as bad as I thought they would be! I was sort of expecting a massive 10-page single-spaced Word document, but I'm happy to report that the notes could fit on a page or two. No, not bad at all!
But, I do need to amp up the character development in the novel, which is definitely unsurprisingly. I'm not very good at character arcs, you see. I like focusing on action and tension--and sometimes I let my characterizations fall by the wayside. Bad Caroline! Bad!
This shall be a good learning experience for me though! *Fingers crossed* Never give up, never surrender, right?
June 21, 2010
The voice, the tension, the historical detail. It was fantastic! I sent off my critique with two thumbs-up and a request to read more.
Then I took a look at my WIP and I thought to myself...
This needs work. The voice, the tension, the scientific details. (Yep, I'm writing another MG science fiction novel.) Egads! How am I going to fix this book?
And that's when the feelings of inadequacy sank in.
*Insert whiny voice* Why can't I write like my friend? Why isn't my voice as strong as hers? How come my writing sucks compared to hers? *End whiny voice*
Whenever I get down on my writing, I force myself to take a deep breath and give myself a mental slap for sounding so whiny. (No one likes whiners!) I try to focus on where my strengths lie. I try to remind myself of all of the things I've learned so far. And I try not to compare myself to others...but it's hard not to do so.
So how do you guys deal with feelings of inadequacy? Any tips on how to conquery the inadequacy monster? And do you find yourselves comparing your writing to other writers? Or is this one of my weird quirks? :o)
June 16, 2010
Not only do these books create strange-and-scary worlds, they also make me ask questions.
What would it be like to live in a colorless world with little joy or pain? (The Giver)
What would it be like to in a society where books were banned and burned? (Fahrenheit 451)
And what would it be like to live in a country where teenagers must fight to the death in a reality show gone haywire? (The Hunger Games)
Whenever I finish one of these books, I always get a bit of a chill. After all, it's such a relief that these controlling societies only exist in the realm of fiction.
But as I watched the World Cup this week—namely the game between Brazil and the PRK—I realized that the dystopian genre isn't a mere work of fiction. I mean, just take one look at North Korea! It's chilling how life in this isolated country resembles some of the worlds in my favorite dystopian novels.
Totalitarian government? Check.
Carefully-controlled media? Check.
Cult of personality? Oh yeah, a big fat check on this one.
So crazy, ain't it?
I've known for years that North Korea has had a terrible regime and has committed multiple human rights' violations against its own people. And yet, I've never put two-and-two together that North Korea is a real dystopia.
From detention camps to religious persecution to severe malnutrition, the citizens of North Korea live in a world of complete isolation and government control. One of the World Cup commentators even mentioned how most of the PRK's soccer team had never seen a cell phone before. You'd think that this sort of stuff was concocted by some crazy writer who lives in a cabin in the woods—but it's not.
And so, I don't think I can read dystopian fiction in the same way again. I used to read this genre with a sigh of relief that it's only fiction, that it's some sort of make-believe. But dystopian societies certainly exist right now—over 23 million people live with it every day.
Life imitating art, art imitating life?
June 15, 2010
So here are some side-by-side comparisons of US covers compared with their UK counterparts. I have to admit that I'm sort of partial to the US covers--I am American after all!--but some of the UK ones are looking pretty good as well.
3.) THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH (US cover at top, UK cover at bottom)
6.) TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (US cover at top, UK at bottom)
What do y'all think? Which covers do you like or dislike? Do you find yourself preferring the US covers over the UK ones? Or vice versa?
June 14, 2010
I think SHIVER has certainly one of the loveliest YA covers I've ever seen. Love the simple color palette, love the wolf image in the background, and LOVE the red dot in the title.
I really like this cover for one main reason: the girl seems like she can kick some serious ass. Yeah, she looks pretty and innocent as well—but watch out for that sword!
This cover is plain awesomeness. Again, I love the simple colors and the hidden wolf imagery. (Hmm, was this made by the same artist who did Shiver?) And the design itself is just plain cool.
And now, here's a cover that doesn't do the book justice in my mind:
Okay, this cover is just all right. Admittedly, I do like the font and the mockingjay pin (although the pin won't make sense unless you read the book), but I'm not sure if this cover really does THE HUNGER GAMES justice.
Personally, I like the German edition of THE HUNGER GAMES much better. Love the colors, the mystery, and the obscured face. Then again, this cover makes me think of fairies for some reason...so maybe it doesn't convey the story that well either! But I still like it anyway.
So what are your favorite covers—be it YA, MG, PB, or adult? What covers have caught your eye in particular?
June 11, 2010
My YA dystopian isn't working. I've been trying to finish it for the past week, but it's not coming together. The plot is convoluted. The motivations unclear. The entire thing is...kind of broken.
Kind of irrevocably broken.
Normally, I'd press ahead and try to fix things, but I think this novel has some serious flaws that can't be fixed with re-writing and editing. *le sigh*
BUT I do think some stuff can be salvaged. First, I really like the premise of the book. I feel really strongly about it. Second, I love the main character Anna and her romantic interest Zak. Although the novel itself is severely flawed, I think the romance between Anna and Zak is one of the few things that do work.
So I'm scrapping the unfinished novel and re-writing the whole damn thing. The basic plot will stay the same (Anna must bear the children for her sterile city) along with the romance, but pretty much everything else will change. The setting...the supporting characters...the side plots...all new.
A part of me is kind of freaked out. Holy crap! I'm throwing out 48,000 words and starting fresh? Am I insane?!
But a part of me is excited, too. I think I may have needed to write those 48,000 words to flesh out Anna and to get the voice of the story right. I'm also kind of stoked about the new direction the novel is taking--I actually thought about doing this a few months back but I decided against it since I had already written about 20,000 words. Ha! Maybe my initial instinct was right.
Have any of you guys scrapped a novel and re-written it from scratch? Any advice for me as I tackle this ordeal?
June 9, 2010
It's a nifty idea, but I never posted my work due to a variety of reasons (feel free to shoot me an email for details). Yet, I do check out Authonomy from time to time for kicks and giggles. And to procastinate...
Anyway, I checked my Authonomy account today and I noticed a few people had left messages in my inbox, asking me to review their book. One message in particular caught my eye. It went something like this:
I noticed you were online earlier and I thought I'd give this a shot. Would you be willing to read my novel? Below, you will find a couple blurbs that my readers have said about the work:
"Blurby blurb! Blurb blurb FANTASTIC BOOK. Blurby mcblurby LOVED THIS!"
[Insert brief summary of the story]
I hope you will take the time to read my first chapter. I look forward to hearing what you have to say!
When I finished this message, I sort of had a minor epiphany: Is this what agents feel like when they read queries? Because this is kind of how I felt—like this guy had sent me a pseudo query.
And then, something weird happened... I started to dissect this dude's pseudo query! I know, I know. It isn't a real query—far from it really—but I couldn't stop my brain from doing it. I blame this on the fact that I've spent the past two years jamming my mind with query do's and don'ts that it's kind of become second nature to me.
My critique as follows:
1.) The dude scores a couple points for trying to personalize the query. Yeah, he only said that he saw me online, but at least he tried!
2.) In a real query, the dude shouldn't include blurbs unless they're from a notable author. Sorry to say it, but blurbs from Aunt Jo and Cousin Billy don't mean anything to an agent.
3.) The dude gave a nice summary of his book. Short and succinct. Agents don't want you droning on and on about your epic dolphin fantasy with hairy trolls, smelly prostitutes, and Bill Cosby. Just a short snippet (200 to 250 words) will do just fine.
ARGH. Bad Caroline!
I really need to take a break from writing and agenting blogs... Look at what I have become—a query monster!
I imagine the query monster might look something like this: green, tentacled, and sparkly.
June 8, 2010
We named these monstrosities Bud (the potato) and Peg (the onion), and we decided to plant them in some of our mother's gardening pots. What the hell, we thought. This would make for an interesting experiment, right?
Surprisingly, it didn't take long for Bud and Peg to thrive in their new environment. Bud blossomed into a raggedy-looking bush while Peg's shoots continued to shoot upwards. Unfortunately though, our mother was unaware of our little experiment and unknowingly threw away Bud and replaced him with a pepper plant. A pepper plant! Gah!
As the spring turned into the summer and the summer turned into the fall, my sister and I soon forgot about Peg. (How cruel.) Eventually I moved back to North Carolina and Kristy headed off to her freshman year in college. We figured Peg probably died in the giant Snowpocalypse of 2010.
Little did we know...
While I was home in April, I noticed Peg had not only survived the winter--she had grown almost a foot long! She grew...she grew...she grew...and NOW look at what she's become!
She stands over three-feet-tall! And she's sprouted a giant flower! (Photographs courtesy of my sister since I'm still in North Carolina.) Wowzah! Who would've thought that a little ol' purple onion could grow into such gargantuan proportions?
This got my sister and I thinking...what if someone planted a whole field of onion flowers? It'd look SO cool! I mean, these plants are a little alien looking--long stalks and weird bulbous flowers. It would surely be a sight to behold.
June 7, 2010
June 4, 2010
June 3, 2010
June 1, 2010
As I strolled through the aisles of good ol' Target, however, I couldn't help but stare at the most adorable dresses and skirts and bathing suits for baby girls. Holy cuteness! Such lovely patterns and designs--all wrapped up in pint-sized proportions.
Right then and there, a single thought ran through my head: "Man, I really hope I have a baby girl one day so I can dress her up in all this cute stuff...."
Gah! I've probably cursed myself because of this. The gods shall play a joke on me, I'm sure! Whenever Justin and I start pumping out babies (well, just two babies, please), I will probably have all boys. And not only will they be boys, they shall be the sort of boys who love dirt and bugs and spitting and camping. Which will make Justin quite happy...
Of course, I will love my dirty bug-loving boys as well. I will squeeze them and hug them and give them kisses on their muddy faces.
And maybe--just maybe--they'll let me dress them up! Erm, I'll be sure to dress them up in very manly things. :o)