Author Archives: Michele Weber Hurwitz

Interview with Dana Carey, Assistant Editor, Wendy Lamb Books

Today we welcome Dana Carey, Assistant Editor at Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, to share an inside look at the book editing and publishing process. I had the pleasure of working with Dana on my middle grade novel, The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days.

Q: Welcome, Dana! So to start, what is your background? How did you arrive at Wendy Lamb Books?

A: I had a meandering journey to children’s publishing. After graduating college and doing trademark research for a year, I spent eight years in editorial at a professional nursing journal. Nurses are some fantastic and strong people! But I had this dream to work in children’s publishing that didn’t go away. So I took a big leap and went to school for an MS in Publishing at NYU. And I was extremely lucky to get an internship and then a position with Wendy Lamb Books.

tumblr_inline_mub7exSlaa1s70xgvQ: Tell us about a typical day.

A. What I love most about editorial is that there really isn’t a typical day! The many hats that you get to wear keeps an editor on his or her toes; it’s both exhilarating and challenging. A typical day for me could involve delving into a manuscript and writing notes (either for something under contract or a new submission), putting together jacket copy, researching comp (comparative or similar) titles during acquisition, pulling sales reports, starting a P&L (Profit and Loss) statement, writing copy for sales sheets, preparing for a presentation, sending out finished books or edited passes (drafts), talking with agents, authors, copy editing, design, subrights…just to name a few. Ha!

Q: Can you take us through the steps a book undergoes, from acquisitions to a final book?

A: When a manuscript is acquired it is usually assigned to a future span (a “span” is a book selling season in publishing-speak), which means the actual editing probably won’t start right away. When you do start editing, the author spends several months going back and forth with manuscript revisions using feedback from the editor in the form of a letter and marked manuscript pages and often a phone call to talk about the revisions. When that is done, the manuscript is sent on to copy editing. The author will review all of the copy editor’s changes and weigh in where appropriate. This is a helpful stage not only to clarify language and style if needed but also because the copy editor at this point has fresh eyes and can spot anything that was missed during editing.

Then the copy edited manuscript is sent to a compositor who will set the copy into the type of a book, which is very exciting because the manuscript is starting to look like an actual book! The proofreader will also provide a fresh set of eyes and pick up any small things that may have been missed previously. This is usually the last time an author will see the text before publication. But fear not, many people are still looking at these passes. And then finally you get a finished book.

Q: What grabs you in a manuscript when you’re reading? What tugs at your heart?

A: The first thing that grabs me in a manuscript is the voice. If the voice is unique, lyrical, authentic, and age-appropriate, you’ve caught my interest. The second thing that grabs me is the character. I love seeing a character who is basically a good kid and has this good quality challenged in some way, which often creates a deeper sense of tension and personal conflict.

IMG_5498The types of stories that pull me in are: heartwarming, funny, philosophical/psychological (what does it mean to be human, what does it mean to be a kid/teen now or at a point in history), adventure/journey stories…and who isn’t a sucker for a great Bildungsroman? I’m especially drawn to stories about kids who are struggling to belong, or are struggling with something they can’t change about themselves, such as race or sexuality. I’d also love to see more diversity in the traditional gender roles in children’s books.

Q: Is there a particular book you’ve worked on that you’re especially proud of?

A: This is a really tough question! I imagine it’s like asking a parent to choose their favorite child! But if I had to choose, I’ve loved working with Wendy on our two series of illustrated chapter books: ZIGZAG KIDS by Patricia Reilly Giff, illustrated by Alastair Bright, and CALVIN COCONUT by Graham Salisbury, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers.

zig_zag_1Since there is less space as in a text-only middle grade book, the author has to be especially efficient at creating scenes and establishing characters. The process of the manuscript and art evolving independently and then coming together is a magical process.

More recently, I’ve loved working with Wendy on WE ARE ALL MADE OF MOLECULES by Susin Nielsen, coming May 2015. It’s laugh-out-loud funny (really!). It’s told from two perspectives, a boy named Stewart who is a genius but socially awkward (but working on it!) and Ashley, a girl who is not a genius academically (and not working on it!) but is well aware of her high position on the social ladder at school. When their parents decide to move in together, what happens next is hilarious, tender, dramatic, and heartwarming.

Q: What are some common mistakes or faults you see in manuscripts?

A: I often see submissions from new writers with too much description, in particular too much detail of physical movements or of telling the reader rather than showing. The reader can infer a lot, not everything needs to be spelled out explicitly. Also, it’s common to see kid characters who sound too old or too young for their age. And sometimes new authors will focus on small conflicts rather than having an overarching theme or plot for the main character.

Q: What advice would you give to writers?

A: Keep reading. Read your favorites to remind yourself why you love children’s books. Read new books so you know the market. And read outside of children’s books sometimes, you never know where you may find inspiration.

Q: And finally, what do you like to do in your spare time, when you’re not hard at work editing the next bestseller?

A: My favorite things to do outside of work are walking my dog, Charlie, taking care of my cats, Willie and Gracie, and either attending or teaching a yoga class.

Thank you so much, Dana, for sharing your insights with us!

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold, both middle grade novels from Wendy Lamb Books. Find her at micheleweberhurwitz.com.

Winner of Gracefully Grayson

Congratulations, Heather DiAngelis! You’ve won the copy of Gracefully Grayson, which will release on November 4.

gracefully graysonYou will be receiving an email from us shortly.

Thanks to all who entered!

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Today we are pleased to host Ami Polonsky on the Mixed-Up Files. She’s the debut author of Gracefully Grayson, releasing on November 4.

From Indie Bound: Grayson Sender has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but sharing it would mean facing ridicule, scorn, rejection, or worse. Despite the risks, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Will new strength from an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher’s wisdom be enough to help Grayson step into the spotlight she was born to inhabit?

Q: Welcome, Ami, and congrats on your debut middle grade novel! How would you describe Gracefully Grayson for those who haven’t yet heard of it?

A: Hi, Michele! Thank you so much for having me here on the Mixed-Up Files! Gracefully Grayson is a coming of age story about a transgender girl. Grayson was born into a boy’s body and the book chronicles her journey out of hiding and into plain sight. From a universal standpoint, it’s a story about having the bravery to be who you are, regardless of what others might think.

gracefully graysonQ: Tell us what inspired you to write this story.

A: My son and daughter were young when the idea for Gracefully Grayson came to me. It was the summer of 2011 and, until that point, I’d spent several years as a stay-at-home mom. I could often be found sitting (or lying) on the floor next to my mug of coffee, watching my kids play. We’ve always had a variety of toys in our house — from cars and trucks to dolls and balls — and I never noticed either my son or daughter gravitating toward stereotypically “male” or “female” toys. They both played with everything. I began to wonder just how much of a child’s gender identity was prescribed by the media and adults’ preconceived notions about how to raise a boy or girl. The idea that a child’s blossoming sense of self could be influenced by (potentially misguided) outside forces really bothered me. One of my goals as a parent has always been to raise children who see the world with an open mind. I couldn’t bear the thought of a young child whose true self was being squelched as their world tried to mold them into someone they weren’t, and Grayson’s character was born from that emotion.

Q: Is there a scene in the book that is your favorite?

A: I love when Grayson stumbles upon an envelope containing hints to her true identity. I’ve always been entranced by the idea that all the answers to somebody’s questions about their past could be tied up in a neat package that’s just waiting to be found.

Q: Can you share a favorite quote from the book?

A: “Well, I think to be brave, you have to be scared at the same time. To be brave means there’s something important you have to do and you’re scared, but you do it anyway.”

Q: Wow! So what are some books and authors that have inspired you?

A: The first book I ever loved and read over and over again was Autumn Street by Lois Lowry. I remember reading and re-reading certain passages because I was so impressed by the beauty of the language. Much of the book was, content-wise, over my head at the time, but I think that reading it taught me how beautiful language can be. As a teacher, I loved discussing Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech with my students. I’ll never forget when one of my sixth graders burst into tears when he realized that Sal’s mom had died. Walk Two Moons is a powerful model of an excellent book because the reader experiences the emotions around Sal’s revelations at the same time that Sal does. Creating this parallel experience between characters and readers is something that I strive to do in my own writing.

ami polonskyQ: Gracefully Grayson is your first novel. How was it to get “the call?”

A: Surreal, amazing, baffling…I still don’t think I’ve processed the fact that this is actually happening. I got “the call” on a beautiful October day. I was home with my daughter because she had a day off from preschool. We were in the living room, where she was building a pirate ship out of couch cushions, and my cell phone rang. I went to the kitchen to answer, and saw that it was my agent calling. She’d told me upfront that she always emails with bad news and calls with good news, but as the phone rang and rang, I still couldn’t make sense of why she would be calling me. My daughter was yelling for me to get back on the pirate ship (“the sharks are coming!”) and I was staring at my ringing phone. Finally, I picked up. The phone connection was kind of crackly, but I was able to make out something about “Hyperion” and “incredibly excited,” and the rest is history!

Q: What a great story! Are you working on a second book?

A: I am! It’s another middle grade novel, and it’s about very different characters and a very different situation. I’m really excited about it, but it’s still a baby, so I can’t say much about it just yet!

Q: Where do you like to write? Tell us about your writing routine.

A: When I wrote Gracefully Grayson, I had very little time to myself. About three mornings a week, I’d write at the library while both of my kids were in school. Now, my routine is different. My ideas for the book I’m currently working on come to me when I’m exercising. The combination of movement and listening to music allows me to visualize the next chapter and feel the emotions that need to be conveyed. I take notes as I exercise, and then, the next morning, I write that portion of the book. What could be better — exercise and writing ideas, all in one fell swoop! (And it’s nice to have some serious motivation to climb onto the elliptical every day!)

Q: You’ve been a teacher and literacy coach. Did those experiences help you write a novel for middle grade readers?

A: I never would have become a writer if I weren’t first a middle school Language Arts teacher. From 2001-2006, I taught reading and writing to fifth and sixth graders at Onahan Elementary School in Chicago, and I taught my reading lessons through novels. I had discussion groups going on in each of my four classes, so on any given day, I was discussing up to sixteen middle grade novels with my students. Needless to say, I became very familiar with lots of great books. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the plot structure, pacing, and thematic constitution of the middle grade novel were being burned into my mind. When I eventually sat down to write, I was able to call upon this knowledge and understanding.

Q: Now for the fun stuff! Where would we find you on a Sunday afternoon? What’s your favorite ice cream flavor? Do you have any pets? What’s your best childhood memory?

A: Sunday afternoon…that would be my daughter’s soccer practice. I’m a fan of just about any flavor of ice cream, but given the choice, I will always pick a combination of peanut butter and chocolate. I have a big, deaf, arthritic sixteen-year old mutt named Winnie. She was my first baby and she’s Superdog — I think she might live forever.

And my best childhood memory… One winter when I was about ten, I went skiing with my family.  My parents sent me to ski lessons and I was mad and nervous because I was a shy, timid kid. I was also a very cautious skier. I met a girl named Christy in my ski class, and she was really brave and daring on the slopes. Something about the situation allowed me to crack out of my shell. I remember barreling down the slopes with Christy, trying to “catch air” off of moguls. It was crazy — I was being who I wanted to be, but who I typically wasn’t able to be. I think it’s an important memory because it shows that if the conditions are right, even a timid child can step out of her comfort zone and do something bold.

Thanks, Ami, for visiting today! We’re giving away one copy of Gracefully Grayson. Please enter on the Rafflecopter link below. One random winner will be chosen. Find Ami on Twitter @amipolonsky and visit her site at amipolonsky.com.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days (Wendy Lamb Books 2014) and Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books 2011). Visit her at micheleweberhurwitz.com.