I'm author ELLE STRAUSS and welcome to my website!
I write fun, lower Young Adult (teen) fiction to do with whimsical things like time-travel, fairies and merfolk.
When my serious side peeks out, she's called LEE STRAUSS. She likes to write upper YA about real things that have happened in the past, or made up things that could quite possibly happen in the future.
This blog is about books, mine and other fab authors', but occasionally I'll share about other topics.
Thanks for dropping by!
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Samantha R. Vamos, a very talented picture book author, is joining us today to give a little insight of what publishing picture books has been like for her.
ES: Tell us a little about your books. What inspired you to write them?
SV: My bilingual children’s picture book, Before You Were Here, Mi Amor (Viking, 2009, illustrated by Santiago Cohen) describes all the things that one family does to welcome a new child into the world. The story evokes the warmth and community of la familia through the acts of each member – mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandmother, and grandfather, as well as the family puppy. Spanish words are woven throughout the English text, and both the context and illustrations clarify the meaning of the Spanish words. There is also a colorful glossary at the end of the book.
The inspiration for Before You Were Here, Mi Amor came from the first pregnancy of my younger sister. My family was very excited about the first grandchild to come and everyone began thinking about things to do to prepare for the baby’s birth. I recalled the anticipation I felt before my sister was born. I often asked my mother when my sister would be here, and when she would be old enough to play with me. With those thoughts and memories, I began writing. My book is an outgrowth of that experience. Of course, my nephew took a mere 9 months to be born and my book took almost 11 years!
In The Cazuela That The Farm Maiden Stirred (Charlesbridge Publishing, February 2011, illustrated by Rafael López), a “The House That Jack Built” styled cumulative tale, Spanish words, which are woven throughout the English text, repeat as the story builds. Five different farm animals (goat, cow, duck, donkey, and chicken) and their farmer each contribute ingredients to a pot (the “cazuela”) stirred by the farm maiden. Together, they create a surprise recipe. A glossary with pronunciation and recipe are included.
I was making pancakes the morning that the idea for The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred popped into my head. Missing two ingredients, I laughed, imagining borrowing a cup of milk from a cow. A few minutes later, I put down my utensils and began writing. I never finished the pancakes, but I did manage to write a first draft of my story!
ES: Have you always wanted to write? When did it become serious?
SV: My desire to write grew as I did and publishing my stories truly became a dream I held for many years. I credit my mom with planting the idea. She typed a story I “wrote” when I was three years old. She neither corrected my grammar nor altered the words I selected. It’s not exactly “publishable” material! It did, however, help create a sense of pride and accomplishment. For years, I felt proud about having created a story of my own. Later, as an older child and teen, I occasionally wrote – a radio show script for a contest, poems (definitely not my strength!), plays (a play I wrote in high school was entered in a contest) and a short story that I used for a few college essays. Publishing an article in The Washington Post while in high school was really the “Aha!” moment that hooked me on writing. Later, writing a chapter book (I still revise it and hope to show it to my agent someday soon) during a college summer confirmed that becoming a writer would be a dream. I became far more serious about writing after I became a lawyer. I wrote and submitted manuscripts in my spare time.
ES: What pulled you to writing picture books verses Middle Grade or YA?
SV: I have always loved children’s picture books. Long before I had a child, I found myself drawn to picture books. I have a running (and lengthy) list of favorites that I think are exceptionally well done in terms of text and illustrations (for example, “One Hungry Monster,” “Dinner at the Panda Palace,” “Counting Crocodiles,” “Agent A to Agent Z,” “While Mama Had a Quick Little Chat” and so many more). I was really inspired by some of these books. I am a great fan of middle grade and young adult, but I tend to think in terms of picture book length and story arc.
ES: Do you illustrate as well? If not, what’s it like to work with another person on your book?
SV: I am certain that none of my manuscripts would evolve into published books if I was submitting illustrations to accompany them! As for working with another person on my book, it’s incredibly exciting. Receiving the illustrations – which typically arrive later in the process – is like receiving a present. If I have not seen any prior illustrations, I don’t know what to expect. It’s really interesting to see how another person interprets your text. With Before You Were Here, Mi Amor, I saw Santiago Cohen’s black and white line illustrations before seeing color versions so I had a sense of his style, design, and intention for the book. I was wowed when I saw the vibrant colors. With The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred, Susan Sherman, Charlesbridge’s Art Director, sent me three final pages of Rafael López’s work. I had no idea Rafael was that far along and I was stunned by his work. He paints on wood panels and you can see the grain. His work is magical. I feel really blessed with respect to both of my illustrators. They are terrifically talented and both are remarkably humble.
ES: Can you walk us through what it looks like to publish a picture book? Is it the same process as novel? (i.e.: query, agent, sale, etc?)
SV: Sure. First, I submit my manuscript to my agent (Jen Rofé of Andrea Brown Literary Agency). She may have questions about the story and (even more likely) she will offer constructive criticism, both of which typically prompt some rewriting on my part. When she’s happy with the condition of a manuscript, she moves forward with shopping it. She generates a list of publishers and shares that with me.
In terms of query, I’ve found that it’s really helpful for me to develop a concise description of each manuscript. I work on that language with the expectation that I will use it for promotion purposes as well as for submission to my agent. Jen may choose to use that language as part of her submission to editors. Also, if I think there is a unique marketing aspect to the manuscript, I share that with Jen in case she finds that information useful in her pitch.
As responses from publishers come in, Jen shares those with me (and, of course, those replies can range from amazing to inspiring to downright depressing and everything in between – it’s so true that you have to have a thick skin in this business). Thus far, in my experience, if the manuscript is moving in the right direction, the first sign is some indication that the manuscript is going to be discussed at either an acquisitions meeting, or with other members of a publishing house (for example, Marketing, Art, and/or the house’s publisher). Once an offer has been made, Jen shares that news (a/k/a “the best news”) with me.
ES: What are the time frames? (query to agent, agent to sale, sale to publication)
SV: Let’s see – query to agent is quick as Jen and I communicate by email (it’s so wonderful to avoid snail mail for this process).
Time frame for agent to sale really varies depending on the editor and publishing house receiving the manuscript. I had a manuscript out on submission last year that was with one house for over three months. The editor wanted to buy it and had even figured out which illustrator to partner with, but ultimately, the publisher of the house declined. It’s one of my all-time favorite manuscripts so I hope it finds a home.
As for sale to publication, for Before You Were Here, Mi Amor, it was about three years. For The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred, the time frame is approximately four years. With my picture book contracts, I have received half of the advance upon contract execution, and the remaining half upon completion of the manuscript (to the editor’s satisfaction). That’s only a small part of the ultimate time frame, however, because the illustrator’s schedule has to be taken into consideration. Rafael López was busy (yet well worth the wait) when he agreed to illustrate my manuscript. His paintings for “Book Fiesta” (Rayo/HarperCollins) by Pat Mora recently won the ALA’s 2010 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award.
ES: Are you working on anything new?
SV: I’m presently working on a manuscript I initially wrote twelve years ago. It’s a novel and it’s my favorite story I’ve written. Recently, I sent my agent a children’s manuscript I originally wrote fifteen years ago. If I know anything about my writing, it’s that it needs time to marinate (so it’s important that I write a lot to continue to improve and have manuscripts on which to work). The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred is really thus far the only exception to my marinating rule – I wrote it and my agent had very few comments and then sold it not too long after.
ES: What do you do when you’re not writing?
SV: I write when I can. My favorite title in the world is “Mom.” I love exploring the world with my son and through his eyes. I enjoy reading, movies, and traveling. I am planning to get back into skiing this winter as we live about 45 minutes from the mountains here in Washington and it’s an activity my family enjoys. I’m a “True Blood” and “Weeds” fan. I love shooting photos and I’m a dog nut.
ES: Where do you see yourself in five years?
VS: Hmm. I know this answer will sound mundane, but I truly hope that my family and I are settled into a great routine and are very happy and healthy. We sold our home in Chicago, Illinois three years ago and moved to the Pacific Northwest. We’ve moved around a bit and I’m ready to be settled – with a great dog, of course! We have a mischievous cat that could use some animal companionship. I have many dreams for the future. Without boring you, I’ll say that one great dream is that my novel will have been published and a great success, and I’m writing and publishing my work.
Thanks so much for the interview, Elle. It was fun and I’m grateful for the opportunity.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
ES: Can you tell us a little about your book, LOSING FAITH?
DJ: LOSING FAITH is about a sixteen year old girl named Brie, who loses her sister Faith in a tragic fall from a cliff. In the midst of mourning, Brie realizes that Faith held some pretty big secrets, and there may be more to Faith’s final night, and death, than what everyone believes.
ES: You've recently returned from Book Expo of America in New York. Can you tell us your top two highlights of that conference and why they were special to you?
DJ: Well, I’d have to say the BOOKS! I returned with around 80 advance copies of awesome books coming out this summer and fall. The whole experience was amazing, really, but one other main highlight of my trip was attending a Simon Pulse cocktail party, where I was able to get to know the awesome editorial staff and many of their authors. While chatting with Elizabeth Scott, she mentioned she has my book on her bedside table at home (insert huge squee!!)
ES: On the topic of conferences, do you think they are important for writers to attend over all? Just while looking for an agent or do you think it's beneficial to go even after a book deal?
DJ: I don’t know if “important” is the word I would use, but life-giving? Yes. Writing is such a solitary art, and for me it’s necessary to hang out with other authors at least a couple of times a year. All the writing conferences I’ve been to have been useful in so many ways that I don’t think I’ll ever stop attending them. Workshops seem to be more useful at some conferences than others, but networking with other authors and publishing people – that has never been a disappointment.
ES: You're a Canadian writer living in Canada yet the setting for Losing Faith is in America and you
pursued American agent and publishing, can you tell us why? (This is a question of debate for Canadian writers).
DJ: I’ve always been internally drawn to writing stories set in small town America, but even if I wasn’t, I think I would have pursued publishing through the U.S. From what I’ve heard, it is much more difficult to break in within Canada, and there is less variety (and abundance) in publishers and agents.
ES: The nitty gritty we all love: time from query to agent, agent to sale, sale to publication?
DJ: For LOSING FAITH (I had queried two other books unsuccessfully prior) I began querying in July, 2008 (quit to revise after getting some great feedback at a conference in October) Queried again in November and had offers of representations later that month. So I guess four months from query to agent.
My agent did a line edit for me over Christmas and we sent LOSING FAITH out on submission in mid-January. We had an offer by early March. So a little less than two months from agent to sale.
I sold in March of 2009 and will see my book on shelves in September, 2010, so about a year and a half from sale to publication.
ES: What do you like to do when you're not writing.
DJ: I’m also a professional Polynesian dancer and love performing with my dance troupe when I have the time. I homeschool my son as well, and don’t have time for too much else.
Thanks for joining us Denise! We'll be hearing lots more about you and your terrific book in the future!
Monday, June 21, 2010
Friday, June 18, 2010
Have a great weekend, everyone!
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
ES: I’ve heard your book, DITCHED, is The Hangover for teens. For those of us who haven’t seen the move The Hangover, can you share a bit more?
RM: So the thought of describing the plot of The Hangover just makes me giggle. Tee-hee! I can do this... In the movie, some guys go to Las Vegas for a raging bachelor party and they wake up the next morning with absolutely no memory of what happened the night before. The rest of the movie is spent piecing together what happened so they can find the groom (they lost him somehow!) and it involves an incident with Mike Tyson. After I had written DITCHED, my husband and I rented The Hangover and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I think I just wrote the teen version of that!” In my book, a girl wakes up in a ditch the morning after her prom with no memory of what happened. She walks down the road toward the 7-Eleven and her memories start to flood in. She ends up befriending the cashier at the 7-Eleven and telling her the story of how she ended up in that ditch. The story alternates between the past (the night before) and the present (in the 7-Eleven). So it’s a little different. And also, there’s no Mike Tyson scene, but that totally would have rocked.
ES: How long did it take you to write it?
RM: About 5-6 months.
ES: Who is your agent and how did you find her?
RM: Jill Corcoran of The Herman Agency. I met her at the LA SCBWI conference--before she was an agent--and I knew she had a great personality. When she put out her announcement of what she was looking for (funny stuff) two writing friends immediately emailed me and said, “You HAVE to submit to her!” I’m glad I did—she loved a middle grade book of mine and signed me within about 2 weeks.
ES: According to your blog, (and PM) you got a two book deal? Since DITCHED isn’t a series book, can you tell us how that works?
RM: Somewhere during the rounds of meetings at Disney-Hyperion…editorial meetings, acquisitions meetings, sales & marketing meetings (it takes a lot of meetings to get a book sold!)…the editor asked if I had any other ideas percolating. I pitched a couple of ideas and one of those they loved, so they bought it, too! Woohoo! I’m about half way through the first draft of this second book. (I ADORE it and can’t wait until I can give details!)
ES: You also mention on your blog that you had to wait a couple months before you could announce your deal—how was that for you?
RM: Like I was secretly pregnant and could only drink water when everyone was handing me wine. I wanted to spill the news so bad! So those two months were kinda excruciating. It was particularly hard to blog during that time. I’m sure my posts were stilted—what the heck did I talk about!? But it was sooo worth the wait…seeing the announcement in Publisher’s Marketplace made it all feel VERY real.
ES: So the nitty gritty that all aspiring authors want to know: time from query to agent? Agent to sale? Sale to publication?
RM: I will preface this by saying that Jill is my second agent. I’ve written four other middle grade novels and have gone through rounds of meetings, got close several times (even did some revisions for publishing houses) but nada. So this whole process has taken, you know…years. When I first started out, my husband and I agreed to give myself five years to pursue this dream of getting published.
Luckily he kept giving me one-year extensions because it took eight.
ES: Okay, give us the nitty gritty:
RS: Query to agent: Two weeks
Agent to sale: A year (we subbed two other projects before I wrote this one)
Sale to publication: Just under two years…which is code for forever? (Nah…I’m hoping it will sneak up on me and I’ll wonder how the time passed so quickly. Um, right?)
ES: What kinds of things do you like to do when you’re not writing?
RM: You mean I can not write? Huh. *scratches head*
No, for real, I love hanging with my family and going hiking and kayaking—we live on a bay. I’m also obsessed with GLEE and what Anderson Cooper is wearing (he wears the cutest shirts when he’s on assignment).
ES: Have you read any good books lately?
Yes! BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver (for my serious side) and A MATCH MADE IN HIGH SCHOOL by Kristin Walker (for my lighter side). Loved ‘em both!
Thanks, Robin! So great to get to know you better.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Friday, June 11, 2010
The biggest change is being in the truck. On our little island, we walk or ride our bikes almost everywhere we go, but for the last week, I’ve been on a book tour and I think I’ve spent more time in the truck in these few days than I have in the last year. It feels very strange.
Can you tell us a bit about your book?
I think you can pretty much read the promo copy all over, so I’ll tell you how I see it. Restoring Harmony is a family story about determination, love, and hard work. There’s a road trip and an adventure, and I’ve thrown in a mysterious stranger and a bunch of fiddle music to liven it up.
Now for stuff writers are really curious about--how long did it take you to
write the book? From query to agent? From agent to sale? From sale to
How did you find your agent?
I am always thrilled to say it was a cold query and my agent pulled me out of the slush. Not because being pulled out of the slush is an amazing feat, but because so many people don’t believe it’s possible and I’m proof that it is. In fact, almost everyone I know was pulled from the slush.
Many people who visit my blog are Canadians. As a Canadian myself (I'm
actually dual citizen with the US, but have lived most of my life in Canada)
I'm hesitant to actually write a book based in Canada or with a Canadian
protagonist--I think many Canadian writers feel the same way if they plan to
pitch their book to American agents and editors. Did you feel any of that
yourself, and did you find resistance from American publishers, ie wanting
to reset your book in the US? Or did it work because part of your story is
set in Oregon?
*Sorry that's a long question*
Do you have a blog?
I do have a blog that I’ve been keeping up for about three years. It’s on my website and I generally blog three times a week, with the Wednesday post being an interview with another author. I am about to reduce my blogging to once a week for the summer so I have more time to go to the beach! I also blog at The Debutante Ball (www.thedebutanteball.com) on Fridays.
Are you working on anything new?
I’ve just handed in my second book, and I think we will start editing it in the next few months. It’s called The Right & the Real and is about a girl whose father gets involved in a religious cult and when she won’t join with him, he disowns her and kicks her out onto the street. It’s a bit of an adventure, but like Restoring Harmony, it’s mostly a family story.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Monday, June 7, 2010
PS: Contest details to come.