The Radius of Us

Marie Marquardt is the author of two YA novels. Her first, Dream Things True, is a gorgeous coming-of-age story that gives voice to the undocumented immigrant experience. On the jacket, author Jennifer Mathieu describes the story as one that will “forever change the way you view those who live their lives in the shadows” and I have to agree—Marie’s stories should be required reading for children and adults alike.

Today, Marie joins us to celebrate the release of her second novel, The Radius of Us. Marie, welcome to The Winged Pen and congratulations on your new release! Tell us about The Radius of Us.

The Radius of Us is a love story about two teenagers who struggle to overcome their past and become survivors together. Gretchen was a victim of assault robbery who suffers debilitating panic attacks. When the story opens, she sees Phoenix chasing a dog through a neighborhood park. She mistakes him for her attacker and then feels incredibly guilty and embarrassed about it (as she should!).

Phoenix is an eighteen-year-old university student who took his little brother and fled a dangerous community in El Salvador, after gang members threatened to take their lives. He and his brother were separated at the U.S./ Mexico border, and he was sent to detention. Now he’s living in a posh Atlanta suburb with a kind couple (He calls them “sweet, churchy lesbians”). They found him a lawyer, got him out of detention, and took him in.

As Phoenix struggles to be reunited with his brother and get permission to stay in the United States, he and Gretchen develop a deepening connection. But the shared past experiences that improbably link them also have the potential to tear them apart.

One of the common threads in both Dream Things True and The Radius of Us is that they feature characters who seem to have nothing in common but end up developing deep and compelling relationships; why is this theme important to you?

I think this is the most important theme – not only for my books, but for life! When people with diverse backgrounds and identities seek the things we share in common, we develop real, complex relationships. It’s only inside these relationships that we can honestly explore our differences and the dynamics of power that shape them. With trust and understanding, we can begin to challenge those insidious systems that work to keep us apart.

Your stories are fiction, yet they ring undeniably “true”––is this a case of writing what you know?

Yes, it is. I have been working with immigrants from Latin America for a couple of decades now, as an academic researcher, friend and advocate. My second book, The Radius of Us, builds on my work with asylum-seekers in detention, through a non-profit that called El Refugio. We visit with men who are detained at the Stewart Detention Center in southwest Georgia. Since about 2013, the government has been sending young asylum seekers from Central America, who were detained at the U.S./ Mexico border, to Stewart while they await their asylum hearings. I have spent many hours talking on the phone through the glass with teenagers like Phoenix – mostly listening. I wrote this book because I wanted a way to honor their stories – and to thank them for trusting me enough to share them.

One of the things that I always find fascinating is each author’s path to publication; would you please share yours?

My path was rocky, winding, and steep. If I didn’t care so much about getting these stories out into the world, I would have quit years ago!

For me, the biggest challenge was finding an agent. That took about a dozen revisions on my first manuscript and many dozens of queries. Once I found my agent, things started to fall into place. I am incredibly fortunate to have a talented, committed agent (Erin Harris at Folio Literary Management) who is both my fierce advocate and my careful critic.

Your illustrator, Carlos Alfredo Morataya, has a special story of his own. Can you share a little of his journey with us?

I met Carlos through a mutual friend and I asked if he’d be interested in the project. The moment I saw Carlos’ first sketch, I knew I had found the perfect illustrator.

What I didn’t know was how may similarities there were between Carlos’ own journey and that of my book’s characters. Carlos was orphaned at age 8 and he came to the U.S. from Guatemala at age 18. He’s been through a great deal in his short life, and he’s a remarkable person. He now studies art education at University of North Georgia. I know he will accomplish great things!

And finally, a fun question to round out the interview. If you could cast the main characters in The Radius of Us to appear in a feature film, who would you choose?

I’d love for Phoenix to be played by a Salvadoran actor. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many in the U.S. to choose from who are the right age. Kevin Hernandez is great—still a little young, but by the time a movie goes into production, he might be ready!

Bonny Wright would make a great Gretchen —but I’m not sure anyone will ever see her as anything but Ginny Weasley, plus I wouldn’t want fans of Harry Potter to hate Phoenix for stealing his wife. Harry Potter fans tend to be intense.

Marie, thanks for your time! 

Marie Marquardt is author of young adult novels, The      Radius of Us and Dream Things True, as well as a college  professor at Emory University, and an immigration    advocate. She is also the co-chair of El Refugio, a Georgia  non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their  families. She has been interviewed on National Public  Radio, Public Radio International, and BBC America, among many other media outlets. Visit her website at www.mariemarquardt.com and follow her on Twitter: @MarieFMarquardt and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MarieMarquardtAuthor.

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

A jack of all trades, JESSICA VITALIS worked for a private investigator, owned a modeling and talent agency, dabbled in television production and obtained her MBA at Columbia Business School before embracing her passion for middle grade literature. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she divides her time between chasing children and wrangling words. She also volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and eats copious amounts of chocolate. She’s represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch and would love to connect on Twitter or at www.jessicavitalis.com.

 

 

Agent Interview: Renee Nyen of KT Literary

This week’s agent interview series hosts the lovely and hilarious Renee Nyen of KT Literary. Renee joined KT Literary in early 2013 after working in the editorial department at Random House’s Colorado division. She has a sharp editorial eye and enjoys partnering with clients to help shape their projects in the best way possible.

Tell us a little about your background and what drew you to publishing.
I wrote and illustrated my first book when I was 5, so it was inevitable. I’ve been really lucky to always know this would be my path. (Ok, I wanted to be a nurse for a hot second, but then I remembered that I am emetophobic and nurses have to deal with a lot of vomit, so I signed up for British Lit instead of Anatomy.) I love reading and I love recommending books to people and at its core, that’s what agenting is.

What do you most want to find in your slush pile right now? Anything you’re really not that into?
I’m loving YA and MG SFF right now. MG magic and witchiness is something I’ve been looking for lately, too. And I recently put out a call on Twitter for YA thrillers and had so much fun reading the submissions.

I love historical fiction, too but rarely see it in my inbox. I would love a book like Kiersten White’s AND I DARKEN. In full disclosure, I typically don’t like American frontier/Oregon Trail books. Though, I did recently finished Rae Carson’s stunning WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER and loved every second of it. So…

What’s your favorite part of being an agent? What do you find most challenging?
Seeing a manuscript become a book is a thrilling, powerful feeling. I’m like a midwife for books. Ok, weird analogy, but ask any of my authors—it’s true!

As for negatives, the length of time the whole publishing process takes is hard. People who aren’t in the industry don’t understand it. Hell, I don’t always understand it. But sometimes it’s deflating to work on something that won’t hit shelves for 2 or 3 years. All of the author’s hard work isn’t even acknowledged for months and months. And when exciting things happen, you can’t talk about it right away. With the immediacy of social media, it’s hard not to share.

KT Literary seems like an amazing agency to work with. What sets it apart from other agencies?
You mean other than working with some of the most respected, articulate, savvy people in the business? There’s a real sense of camaraderie. And we’re a team. Every victory is celebrated. Every loss commiserated.

Are you participating in any upcoming contests/conferences where authors might meet you in person?
I’ll be at ALA Midwinter this year! Also, I’m going to be at the RWA conference in Scottsdale, AZ in June 2017.

What are your top three favorite books?
This year, other than my clients:
EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon
WOLF BY WOLF Ryan Graudin
THE GREAT AMERICAN WHATEVER Tim Federle

All time/desert island:
The Lord of the Rings
Harry Potter
Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson

What are your top three favorite films?
Weird thing about me: I prefer TV to movies. So my top 3 TV shows are:
The Office (US)
Firefly
Game of Thrones

Any nuggets of wisdom for querying writers?
It’s worth putting the time in. For all of it. Take time to research the agents. To perfect your query. Your comp titles. Your opening pages. It’s the little things that set the best queries apart.

Any query pet peeves or format styles you particularly prefer?
Get down to business. I don’t need wooing in your query. No voice. Nothing cutesy. That’s what your pages are for.
I want to know what your book is about, who it’s about, what makes it special, and where you think it should sit on the bookstore shelves. That’s it.

What’s one little-known (and preferably rather odd) fact about you, just to keep things interesting?
I was a swimmer in high school. I wasn’t half bad. And I loved it.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share a little bit about yourself, your agenting style, and about KT Literary! For all you querying writers, Renee is open to queries and if your project is a good fit for her, she’d love to hear from you. You can submit your query and first three pages to her at reneequery@ktliterary.com.

 

HILARY HARWELL writes dark, whimsical fantasy and atmospheric horror for kids and teens. She makes her home in Colorado where she’s also a literary assistant at KT Literary. You can connect with her on Twitter.

New Agent Interview: Hannah Fergesen of KT Literary

Today we’re kicking off a mini-series of agent interviews with the lovely Hannah Fergeson of KT Literary. Hannah recently joined KT as a literary agent after working as an assistant at Trident Media, a bookseller at Books of Wonder, and several internships for a reputable, rock-star agent.

 

Tell us a little about your background and what drew you to publishing:

I’ve been a writer my entire life, but when I was querying my first book, it was the first time I really had to look into agents and what agents did. I’d been beta-reading for my friends as long as I could remember, and agenting sounded like a dash of that, mixed with a lot of other cool stuff. I was very intrigued, to the point where I told a lot of people that if I didn’t end up becoming a TV writer, I’d want to be a literary agent. But I thought, “I could never do that – I’d have to have an English degree (I was getting a degree in Writing for Film and Television at that point, and had NO interest in staying for several more years to get another degree)”. This is, of course, NOT the case – a varied background is actually quite helpful in the business, and internships are where industry hopefuls seem to gain the most experience before joining an agency or publishing house. When a sudden life-change turned me toward New York instead of LA, I thought it was time to actually look into what it would take, and got my first internship, which, of course, led to everything else!

What do you most want to find in your slush pile right now? Anything you’re really not that into?

I want to find unique, speculative fiction about diverse characters. I am not getting enough, and it’s very important to me and KT Literary to support #ownvoices. For example, a Latinx “Buffy” character/story would make my day.

I am NOT the right person for medieval fantasy, dragons, fairies, Atlantis, elves….you get the idea. Unless you have a really strange (hopefully dark) take on these, I am simply not that interested. In this vein: Arthurian stories. Unless you have an interesting take on the myths I know (and love) very well, I’m not interested in stories that simply take the names of the characters and run with them.

I also seem to get a lot of romantic fantasy, which just isn’t my thing. I like fantasy, with romantic subplots if the story calls for it, but NOT the other way around.

What’s your favorite part of being an agent? What do you find most challenging?

Working with authors. I love editing their books, talking to them on the phone, seeing how their career moves. It’s fascinating and rewarding, and never the same, even though the process doesn’t really change.

I think the most challenging part is the process of matchmaking the book with an editor – you have to consider a lot of things before doing so, and sometimes, even though you were sure it would be, it’s not to an editor’s tastes. This is the part where the agent experiences the rejection right along with the writer, even for the most amazing books, and when you love a book and worked hard on it with the writer, it can be tough if it doesn’t sell right away, or at all. And the only thing you can do at that point is be there for the writer and start working on the next thing.

KT Literary seems like an amazing agency to work with. What sets it apart from other agencies?

KT is so warm, open, knowledgeable, and connected. We (the agents and the agency’s fearless assistant, Hilary!) talk a lot, so we have a lot of support from one another within the agency. This means clients also have the full support of everyone at KT. Each client is cheered on by everyone, and it’s really lovely to watch and be a part of.

Are you participating in any upcoming contests/conferences where authors might meet you in person?

I am still working out details on some in 2017! I will very likely be talking about it on Twitter, so if you follow me there, you’ll get the updates!

What are your top three favorite books?

Oh my gosh, I have WAY more than three from the past few years (see my manuscript wishlist!) so I’m gonna go with classics: SABRIEL by Garth Nix, THE FIONAVAR TAPESTRY by Guy Gavriel Kay (which is technically three but shhhh), And THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING by T.H. White.

What are your top three favorite films?

Again, SO MANY. Some that really shaped my sensibilities (and this will come to NO ONE’S surprise): The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Moulin Rouge, Donnie Darko.

Any nuggets of wisdom for querying writers?

Keep it short – you don’t have to give me your whole story in the query. Give me your hook, your inciting incident, the conflict in a sentence or two, and what is at stake for the character.

I also really like a sentence or two about why you chose to query me, either at the top or bottom of your query. This will help set you apart and make me seriously consider the reasons you picked me.

Any query pet peeves or format styles you particularly prefer?

Peeves: Rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions. Also, not including your first three pages. I need them. I love them. Give them to me.

I love the Hello Hannah, Hook > Inciting incident > conflict > what’s at stake for your character > here’s a few lines about me > why I queried you > Thanks for your time Format. I don’t want a bio first, or a paragraph on why you wrote the book – those are conversations we’ll have in time, if I choose to represent you. Right now, I’m looking at the book. And the longer you delay talking about the actual book, the more likely I am to get tired of your query.

What’s one little-known (and preferably rather odd) fact about you, just to keep things interesting?

When I lived in Toronto (I was in middle school), I lived down the street from Ed Robertson of the Bare Naked Ladies. So of course, I was obsessed with them, and their album at the time was Maroon. I think it really helped to inform who I am today. Once I put a hand-drawn babysitting flier in his mailbox, but I never heard from him, which, of course, crushed me.

 

Hannah, thank you so much for taking the time to share a little bit about yourself, your agenting style, and about KT Literary! For all you querying writers, Hannah is open to queries and if your project is a good fit for her, she’d love to hear from you. Please send a query letter and the first three pages of your manuscript to hannahquery@ktliterary.com. Additional information about KT Literary can be found here.

Subscribe to THE Winged Pen and never miss a post, including our monthly #FourOn400 writing contest for middle grade and young adult. Click to SUBSCRIBE!

HILARY HARWELL writes dark, whimsical fantasy and atmospheric horror for kids and teens. She makes her home in Colorado where she’s also a literary assistant at KT Literary. You can connect with her on Twitter.

SaveSave

Literary Auctions: The Inside Scoop with Pitch Wars Winner Eric Bell

With all the Pitch Wars excitement in the air, I thought it would be fun to invite the MG winner of PitchWars 2015 to stop by for a chat. Eric Bell, thanks for joining us!

Your 2015 PitchWars entry generated tremendous enthusiasm during the agent round. I’d love to hear about that, but first … let’s talk about your publishing deal. Your middle grade novel sold in a two-book deal at auction. In my head, I see an auctioneer standing up at a podium with editors flinging out bids at lightening speed. I suspect the reality of a literary auction is somewhat different. How did your deal unfold?

That’s actually how I used to think of it too: some type of real-time bidding war where various editors gather together and keep raising their bids. The reality is a bit different, but no less exciting! What happened with me was we got our first offer, which came in at a set amount. Once we had more than one offer, however, my agent Brent Taylor kept the other editors informed that there were other offers on the table, so the editors could adjust their own offers accordingly. Much like when you receive an offer from an agent, you give everyone with the manuscript a deadline to respond by. One thing Brent told me is that, while it’s tempting to side automatically with the highest offer, other factors can play a role too, like if you really want to work with a particular house, or if you click with a particular editor. In the end I signed with Ben Rosenthal at Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, and they’ve been just terrific.

Congratulations! Can you tell us anything about the story and/or when it’s scheduled to release?

ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD is the story of twelve-year-old Alan Cole. Bullied by his big brother Nathan and his emotionally abusive father, Alan has a massive crush on a popular boy in his class. When Nathan gets wind of this, he blackmails Alan into playing a game designed to maximize Alan’s humiliation and discomfort—and if Alan loses the game, Nathan swears he’ll out him to the whole school. Some of the things Alan is tasked with doing in the game include passing the school swimming test, standing up to his father, getting his first kiss, and becoming the most well-known kid in school, all of which are downright impossible for the shy, timid Alan. But he refuses to give up. He’s determined to prove the title right—that he’s not, in fact, a coward.

The book is scheduled for a Fall 2017 release.

Now let’s back up and talk about the Pitch Wars process. I read on your blog that you thought previous manuscripts were stronger than Alan Cole Is Not a Coward. How long have you been writing, and how long had you worked on this manuscript before Pitch Wars?

I’ve been writing with the intent of publication since 2012. ALAN COLE is the third novel I’ve written, and I didn’t think it was “The One” until I got a ways into it (specifically, chapter 7). I spent maybe four or five months planning the book out and about a month actually writing it, which is standard practice for me. I had just finished the first draft when I heard about Pitch Wars, and I got a second draft written in time for the submission window.

You worked with veteran MG mentor Joy McCullough-Carranza. Were you surprised by the level of work she suggested before the agent round?

I was fortunate that Joy didn’t feel the book needed much structural change apart from a few relatively minor issues. She had some very targeted areas of character and stakes she wanted me to focus on, mostly centering around Alan’s family. There was at least one area I thought I had fixed when it came time for Joy’s line edits (which came roughly one month after her initial edit letter) but Joy didn’t think I had gone far enough with it, so I edited it some more. Even though the book didn’t need its innards ripped out and surgically readjusted, it was still a lot of work. But it was good, solid, honest work.

Your success interview is posted over at Brenda Drake’s blog, so we won’t go into too much detail about the agent round, but suffice it to say it resulted in offers of representation from ten agents. For many writers, this this the stuff dreams are made of. Was it as exciting as it sounds?

First, the bad. It was exciting at first, but—feel free to not have sympathy for me over this—it quickly became overwhelming. I was practically fielding a call a day, sometimes two or three! And several agents hopped back on the phone with me more than once. I actually cut my deadline short because I had already made my decision and it was just getting too stressful. And writing nine rejection emails was heartbreaking, especially since everyone was so passionate.

Now, the good. Yes, this was a dream come true. To receive one offer is incredible; ten is almost beyond comprehension. It was one of the greatest ego boosts of my life to have all of these literary professionals so invested in something I wrote—something I created—and wanting to build a career with me. If I had any doubt I had created something special, that doubt went away very fast. It was also, not going to lie, kind of fun to be on the other end of agent interactions. Now they were the ones who wanted to work with me! Ultimately it was a real once-in-a-lifetime experience that, despite the stressors, I’m so privileged to have been privy to.

What’s next for Eric Bell?

Eric Bell is currently working on the second book in his two-book deal. He doesn’t know if he’s allowed to really go into detail about it, but it’s another contemporary middle grade and he thinks he’s finally finding his groove with it after months and months of planning. He also lapses into third person if he’s not careful.

eric bell headshot-1
Eric Bell graduated from the Robert E. Cook Honors College, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, with a degree in Psychology and a minor in English. Once the other kids at recess began pretending to go on the adventures he came up with, he never stopped telling stories. ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD is his first novel.

 

 

 

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

jessica vitalisJessica Vitalis is represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch. An active member of the literary community, she volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign*, and contributes to two blogs: Writing With The Mentors and The Winged Pen. When she’s not pursuing her literary interests, Jessica can be found chasing her two precocious daughters around Atlanta, Georgia (or eating copious amounts of chocolate). She’d love to connect on Twitter at @jessicavitalis