Category Archives: Interviews

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.

Food and Friendship: An Interview with Veera Hiranandani

imageWe mostly talk middle-grade here at From the Mixed-Up Files, but I’m also happy when I can give some attention to the little sibling of MG books, the chapter book.

Today I have the honor of visiting with author Veera Hiranandani. We discuss food, friends, and her new Phoebe. G. Green chapter book series published by Grosset and Dunlap/PSS! (an imprint of Penguin Random House).

MUF: Welcome Veera! First of all, tell us a little bit about the first book in your new Phoebe G. Green series, LUNCH WILL NEVER BE THE SAME.

VH: I’ve always been passionate about food and have tried to share that with my kids. I also know a lot of kids who are imagereally into food and I didn’t see many books for kids celebrating that. I have seen a bunch of “picky eater” stories out there, so I wanted to create something for the kids who really love exploring food and also something to inspire the kids who are more reluctant. I had a funny, adventurous character in mind who sometimes gets herself in trouble, but ultimately learns to not only accept what makes her unique, but the differences around her. The book is as much about how Phoebe negotiates her friendships as it is about her love for food. 

MUF: I love that this book is about food. Why did you decide to use food to bring together Phoebe and the new girl, Camille?

VH: Well, I’ve always admired how the French eat and how they teach their children to eat. I wish we’d do more of that in America and banish all the children’s menus! I’d rather restaurants just offer half-portions off their regular menu. If kids see over and over that they are only supposed to choose from hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and mac and cheese, they get the message that they’re only supposed to like those things. So it felt right to have Phoebe enter into a friendship with a child from France. That idea seemed rich with possibilities, both food and friendship related.

MUF: Yes it is, and I love how your book is full of new types of food for most American kids. Did you do a lot of taste testing yourself for research for this book?

VH: I’m always taste testing something for better or worse. Sometimes I reference dishes that we’ve enjoyed as a family and sometimes I did research on more traditional French dishes that I mention in the book (including using my editor, Eve Adler, who grew up in France as a resource). I don’t include very specific recipes in the book because I wanted it to be more about inspiration than the actual recipes. There are many amazing chefs out there who can fill in that information if someone wants to make Beef Bourguignon, Julia Child is probably a better resource than I am for that recipe!

MUF: I think it’s perfect that you introduce your readers to new foods through Phoebe.  What advice can you give kids about trying new foods on their own?

VH: That it’s a life-long adventure. Also, sometimes if you don’t like something the first time, it’s good to give it a few more tries. Camille tells Phoebe in one of the books, “My mom says you taste something the first time to get to know it and then taste it again to become friends with it.”

MUF: Speaking of friends, I love that this book is also about friendship. Phoebe is navigating her old friendship with Sage while making a new friend as well. Do you have any advice for readers who are dealing with the same kinds of changes in their own friendships?

VH: Along with good food, friendship is one of our greatest pleasures in life. But friendship can be a little more complicated than a good meal. Phoebe suddenly finds herself with two close friends and has to figure out how that’s going to work for her. She usually comes to the realization that accepting her friends’ differences, being kind, and being honest is the best way to go. But she doesn’t always take the shortest route getting there. Being accepting, kind, and honest still applies in grown-up friendships too!

MUF: Before you go, can you share a little about the next book in the series, FARM FRESH FUN?

imageVH: I’ve found that one of the best ways to get kids to try something new is having them pick it right out of a garden or cook it themselves. It really empowers them. My kids have gobbled up vegetables they normally don’t love when they’ve picked it out of the ground. They also will eat anything they cook, even something they haven’t wanted to eat when I’ve cooked it alone. It’s so important for kids to connect with food that way. In FARM FRESH FUN, I wanted to have Phoebe experience the thrill of collecting eggs, picking her own spinach, making her own goat cheese, and creating a true farm-to-table lunch. But a day out with Phoebe is always unpredictable and her enthusiasm usually gets the best of her, as it does at the farm, especially when her best buddy, Sage, is involved. 

MUF: Thank you, Veera, for sharing your books (and your love of food) with us!

Readers, Veera’s publisher is offering to give away the first two books in the Phoebe G. Green series to one lucky reader.  Please leave a comment below to be considered.  Only US residents are eligible. Thanks!

And Happy Eating, everyone!

Elissa Cruz eats food.  And she has friends, too.  She is the ARA for SCBWI Utah/Southern Idaho region and cohost of #MGlitchat on Twitter.  She  is happily married to her husband of 19 years, and together they live with their five children.  The husband and children eat a lot food, too, and usually invite their friends along on the adventure. Life is good.

Out of the Nest: Interview with Esther Ehrlich

nest jacketNest (Wendy Lamb Books, 2014) begins on a hot, hazy, and humid day on Cape Cod, when Chirp and Joey begin a friendship that will carry them through the tragic events of their sixth grade year. This debut novel by Esther Ehrlich has earned three stars and Kirkus calls it “a poignant, insightful story of family crisis and the healing power of friendship.”

It just so happens that Esther and I shared the same sixth grade teacher—although not at the same time—and so I reached out to Esther to talk about her amazing book.

JG: I love Chirp, the bird-watching heroine of Nest. Her nickname expresses her character too; how cheerful she tries to remain in spite of events and how se comforts herself by making a nest of blankets in her room. Which came first, the bird-watching idea or her name?

esther_ehrlichEE: I don’t really know which came first! When I write, everything develops in relation to everything else, so it’s hard for me to look back and tease apart what happened when. I do know that when Chirp was a baby she made a chirpy sound that her parents loved. The nickname “Chirp” stuck as Chirp’s love for birds declared itself!

JG: Chirp is Jewish, and occasionally her classmates make her feel like she doesn’t belong. How important to you was it to include the family’s faith in the story?

EE: Being Jewish is an integral part of who Chirp is. I think the range of feelings that she has—comfort and pride in who she is, but also that uncomfortable feeling of “otherness,” of feeling vulnerable and on the outside sometimes—is important to talk about. For Chirp and her family, being Jewish is a huge part of their backstory, a connection to the past. It also impacts their day-to-day life in a very real way, since there are so few other Jews in their community on Cape Cod. There’s a richness, I think, in exploring these layers of a minority identity.

JG: In addition to the challenges in Chirp’s life, we get a peek into her friend Joey’s life. This is handled so deftly and realistically—the helplessness of kids to do anything or even speak of something unspeakably sad. How did Joey’s role in the novel evolve?

EE: I had no idea that Joey was going to be such a central character in Nest. Originally, I imagined him as just one other kid who populated Chirp’s life. But he kept popping up. And I was captivated by his quirky, sweet, troubled self. I wanted to try and see behind the closed door of his family’s home. As I continued to write the story and Joey and Chirp had more chances to interact, Joey revealed himself as a layered, complex character. He became much more vital to the story because he kept proving himself as a loyal, courageous friend.

JG: Depression is so little understood as a disease, and you really capture the despair and lethargy. What inspired you to write about depression?

EE: Sadly, depression is just so common. I really don’t know if there’s anyone whose life hasn’t been touched by it in some way, yet there’s still plenty of stigma attached to it. Though I didn’t write Nest with a conscious agenda in mind, I do think it’s important to give voice to what we know—depression is mysterious, powerful, and can turn families upside-down. I’m convinced that Hannah would have been okay adjusting to the challenges of living with multiple sclerosis, but her depression on top of that was just more than she could handle.

JG: This is your first novel, and it’s getting rave reviews. Tell us about your love of language and story.

EE: Where to begin? I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love words and stories. As a young girl, I kept a running list of my favorite names and would speak the names out loud, just to hear the sound and “feel” of them. My mom was a poet and shared her poetry with me, which I think helped shape my love of words. I also had an amazing sixth grade teacher. She was insightful enough to set up a corner of our classroom as a living room and, a couple of times a week, we’d all get cozy on couches and pillows and she’d read to us! What a joy that was! As an adult, I was trained as an oral historian. I learned how to listen carefully to people’s stories, to hear the stories within the stories. It was deeply satisfying work for me. I think it helped me really listen to my characters as I worked on Nest.

JG: In Nest, Chirp takes an unauthorized bus ride into Boston. Have you ever run away from home?

EE: Yes, my friend Penny and I packed up our backpacks one Saturday morning and tromped down to the playground in our town. We were in fourth grade. We set up camp, which meant spreading out a blanket, lining up our books, and arranging our food in a neat row. Then we read, ate, lay in the sun, talked about everything we could think of, including how everyone was probably super worried about us. By the time the sun was straight overhead, we were hot, cranky, and bored. We stalled just a bit more to ensure that people would be really worried about us. Then we packed up and walked home. Of course, no one had noticed that we were gone, which seemed to us like a perfect reason to run away again. We talked about it but never quite put our plan into action…