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Archive for March, 2010

Okay, so the title is not entirely true. I still very much love and enjoy reading. It’s just that the definition of ‘fun’ as it relates to reading has changed for me.

Now, when I pick up a book, it’s not merely to indulge myself. It’s not just a hobby any longer, though I’d have to admit, reading has always been much more than a hobby with me – it’s been a natural part of my life.

It’s just that my objectivity and perspective as a reader have recently altered. It’s like a kaleidoscope: I have adjusted the viewing tube ever so slightly and the whole pattern has shifted.

Let’s take a look at some of the thoughts that are likely to roil through a writer’s head the minute s/he starts reading a good book written by someone else:

  1. Wow, what a strong opening! Guess I need to work on mine (in my novel-in-progress) some more. (This thought can be objectively interpreted as: “Wish I would experience an epiphany and the opening for my novel would strike me like a bolt of lightning.”)
  2. Ugh! How could he have written the exact scene that has been brewing in my head for the past two weeks? (Read as: “The scene is somewhat similar to the one I’ve been sketching – the same one I haven’t been able to cough up coherently enough to put down on paper yet.”)
  3. Yes!! The voice of this character is very close to my protagonist’s. (Read as: “If this book got published, then there’s hope for mine, too!”)
  4. The narrative is so catchy; I admire the style very much! (Read as: “I’m envious, pure and simple.”)
  5. The plot is strong, there is just the right balance of dialogue and narrative, and the flow is so natural in this book. (Read as: “How many more revisions before my manuscript gets this tight?”)
  6. This author is so prolific. (Read as: “I’m jealous of this author.”)
  7. Gosh, I never expected this twist! (Read as: “I need to explore this genre more, if I didn’t see this coming. Sigh!”)

Reading like a writer is a completely different game, with its own set of rules, than reading for fun or relaxation. It is a sport that can become exciting and effective with discipline and practice.

I am game for this: I look forward to fashioning new relationships with a whole lot of new books, and forging fresher bonds with those that I have already read in the past.

Has something like this happened to you? I’d love it if you’d share with us your newfound wisdom!

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In keeping with the topic for this week, here are excerpts from a few children’s classics from my bookshelf. Again, they are presented in no particular order, and these form but a mere fraction of all the incredible works available to us.

 All the books I have selected have the following things in common:

  • They are all written beautifully, almost in a lyrical fashion.
  • Each of them takes place in a different country (or countries) or has a diverse setting.
  • Every one of them provides us with glimpses of lifestyle from various time periods in the past.
  • Each of the authors was possibly influenced, in their writing (both in style and content), by the cultures and belief systems they grew up imbibing.

(And, oh, be sure to stroll by Books-For-Young-At-Heart and Books-For-Young at your leisure – I have populated the latter only recently.)

 

*****

“Anna Maria,” said the old man rat (whose name was Samuel Whiskers), – “Anna Maria, make me a kitten dumpling roly-poly pudding for my dinner.”

“It requires dough and a pat of butter, and a rolling-pin,” said Anna Maria, considering Tom Kitten with her head on one side.

“No,” said Samuel Whiskers, “make it properly, Anna Maria, with bread-crumbs.”

“Nonsense! Butter and dough,” replied Anna Maria.

                    – The Roly-Poly Pudding by Beatrix Potter

As the children walked in, they saw that most of the walls had crumbled down. There were rubble heaps everywhere. In some places, parts of the walls were intact and they could see the niches in them, which must have been used for storage all those many years ago. Once or twice they came across wooden pillars rotting away. On one of them they saw something that looked as if someone had tried to carve a name on it.

The children stared in silence. It was so quiet, it was impossible to believe it was the middle of the day. There were no bird sounds, not even an insect. Two large crows, perched on one of the walls, flew away noiselessly as the children approached.

“It’s … it’s … eerie,” Dinu said, using a word he had just learnt. Polly was too subdued to ask ‘What’s that?’. It was Ravi who asked instead.

“It means, funny and frightening – like this is.”

“Frightening? Don’t tell me you’re frightened, Dinu?” Minu’s face was grave but her eyes held a mischievous twinkle.

                    – The Hidden Treasure by Shashi Deshpande

October was a beautiful month at Green Gables, when the birches in the hollow turned as golden as sunshine and the maples behind the orchard were royal crimson and the wild cherry-trees along the lane put on the loveliest shades of dark red and bronzy green, while the fields sunned themselves in the aftermaths.

Anne revelled in the world of color about her.

“Oh, Marilla,” she exclaimed one Saturday morning, coming dancing in with her arms full of gorgeous boughs. “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it? Look at these maple branches. Don’t they give you a thrill – several thrills? I’m going to decorate my room with them.”

                    – Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

“Can’t I go out and play, Ma?” Laura asked, and Ma said:

“’May,’ Laura.”

“May I go out to play?” she asked.

“You may tomorrow,” Ma promised.

That night Laura woke up, shivering. The bed-covers felt thin, and her nose was icy cold. Ma was tucking another quilt over her.

“Snuggle close to Mary,” Ma said, “and you’ll get warm.”

In the morning the house was warm from the stove, but when Laura looked out of the window she saw that the ground was covered with soft, thick snow. All along the branches of the trees the snow was piled like feathers, and it lay in mounds along the top of the rail fence, and stood up in great, white balls on top of the gate-posts.

                    – Little House In The Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

“Might I,” quavered Mary, “might I have a bit of earth?”

In her eagerness she did not realize how queer the words would sound and that they were not the ones she had meant to say. Mr. Craven looked quite startled.

“Earth!” he repeated, “What do you mean?”

“To plant seeds in – to make things grow – to see them come alive,” Mary faltered.

He gazed at her a moment and then passed his hand quickly over his eyes.

“Do you — care about gardens so much?” he said slowly.

“I didn’t know about them in India,” said Mary. “I was always ill and tired and it was too hot. I sometimes made little beds in the sand and stuck flowers in them. But here it is different.”

                    – The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

 “You’ll not say anything about it at home, will you?”

“Not a word.”

“And you won’t tease me in private?”

“I never tease.”

“Yes, you do; you get everything you want out of people. I don’t know how you do it, but you are a born wheedler.”

“Thank you; fire away.”

“Well, I’ve left two stories with a newspaperman, and he’s to give his answer next week,” whispered Jo, in her confidant’s ear.

“Hurrah for Miss March, the celebrated American authoress!” cried Laurie, throwing up his hat and catching it again, to the great delight of two ducks, four cats, five hens, and half a dozen Irish children; for they were out of the city now.

“Hush! It won’t come to anything, I dare say; but I couldn’t rest till I had tried, and I said nothing about it, because I didn’t want anyone else to be disappointed.”

                    – Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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A couple of dictionary definitions for Tolerance are:

1 : sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.     

2 : the act of allowing something : toleration.

Isn’t tolerance one of the most needed qualities in all of us, in this day and age? Is tolerance an instinct or is it a learned behavior? If the latter, could it be cultivated in children?

What are some of the best ways to expose children to diversity?

  • Travel: No better way to teach children about how the rest of the world lives.

 

  • Movies: Remember the three protagonists in Finding Nemo? Marlin, the dad, is a little different, with his paranoia for his son’s safety; Nemo is not your run-of-the-mill Clown fish, what with his one small fin and everything; and Dory is way out there, literally, with her short-term memory loss. Still, at the end of the movie, you come away loving these characters — their idiosyncrasies and all.

 

  • Books: The best and cheapest means of getting your point across, if you ask me. (You guessed I’d say that, right? This is a blog all about books, after all! :)) You don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home and which child can resist a bed-time story? There are so many books out there, both fiction and non-fiction, that help us nurture empathy in children that is at the crux of the definition for tolerance.

* Won’t a child be less likely to torture a classmate who speaks with a stutter, if the former understood why the latter does that and how that makes him feel?

* Won’t a child be less likely to bully another who dresses peculiarly, according to her, if she knew the reason/custom behind the clothes being different?

* Won’t a child think before she judges another’s family structure if she were taught to be more sympathetic?

* Won’t a child be a little less likely to be sniggered at because of the contents of his lunch box, if his friends knew the name of the food he’s eating and how it is prepared?

Overall, it is my belief that children exposed early to diversity in geography, culture, and belief systems tend to grow up to be more tolerant and understanding of the physical, religious, and cultural differences in the population around them.

What do you all say?

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I have seen some writers post snippets from their work-in-progress (WIP) on their blogs last week and found that a cool idea. So, here’s one from my manuscript. (Is my manuscript close to being finished or is it a WIP? The answer to that depends upon the day you’re asking me the question; and that is a topic for a whole series of posts… so, moving on…)

Where was I? Oh, yes, my manuscript — it is a multicultural fantasy, targeted at middle grade children (ages 8 to 13). This also sort of acts as a precursor to the topics I’d like to discuss in the next few days…

Comments? Suggestions? Critiques? They are very welcome – please send them my way!

****

             wait for her mother to join us so they could all start grilling us.

kept fidgeting and looking at the doorway, as if she couldn’tMeenagchi

            “Mother!” she finally yelled, making me jump. “Come along,

Mother – everyone is waiting for you.”

            “You have to learn to be patient, Daughter,” her father chided her gently.

            “Yes, Father.” Meenagchi lowered her head, but her tone made

it obvious that it was something she was reminded of constantly.

            For a few minutes everyone was quiet. Then Meenagchi suddenly

turned to Nitu, her eyes intent. “Why would you wish to wander around

in the company of two boys?”

            At first, Nitu looked confused; then her face lit up with amusement

and she grinned in my direction. Ankit pressed his hands to his mouth, trying

hard to smother his giggles.

             The blood rushed up to my face and I glared at Ankit — not that it was

effective in shutting him up or anything. Then I looked down at myself. Here

I was, dressed in a drab pair of pants and a pale colored t-shirt, with my

long hair pulled into a tight ponytail. By contrast, Nitu was dressed in

a bright-colored skirt and a pretty blouse, and her long hair tumbled

loosely over her shoulders.

            I found it annoying, not to mention humiliating, to have to justify my

sense of style, or lack of it, to someone I met only minutes ago.

            I looked up and stammered an explanation. “Um… I’m a girl, too. Girls …

can dress this way, too, in my country.”

            “Really? You are a girl? It never would have occurred to me.” Meenagchi

burst into gales of laughter.

            Frowning, I looked away from her.

            “She doesn’t mean that, Jiya!” Nitu poked me playfully in the ribs,

trying to pacify me.

            Cheliyan, who had been observing the whole exchange with interest,

turned to his sister. “Will you ever learn to behave properly?” However, from

his reddened face I could tell that he had originally mistaken me for a boy,

too. Just great!

            Grinning, Meenagchi flicked away a lock of her hair in response to her

brother’s reproach.

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I present to you the different (very much simplified) perspectives a book engenders, right from the time of its conception up to the time it makes it to the bookstalls … and beyond.

Author: Writes the book based on her: research, past history and experiences, sensibilities, inspiration and motivation.

Publisher: Acquires a manuscript, which gets eventually published, based on: concept’s salability, market direction, industry’s current trends, economy, marketability of the author’s name.

Bookseller: Displays a book on the shelf based on: salability, cover art, name of the author, reviews, hype produced by the book in the market, bestseller list.

Librarian: Orders a book for the library’s shelf based on: genre, reviews, awards won by the book, concept of the book, author’s name.

Reader: Picks a book to read attracted by: the genre, the cover art, the flap copy, the name of the author/series, excerpts, assignments, current fads, his taste and sensibilities.

Parent: Chooses a book for his child based on: genre, child’s taste, his own taste, concept, price of the book, awards won by the book.

The perspective changes even for the same set of people, given a slight change in the circumstances. For instance, the same parent might not choose the same book for another of his children.

And these are only a few of the points of view that a children’s book produces. If it were a book in adult category, that too, one with political or religious context to it, then the whole ballgame changes and the perspectives multiply.

The adage Don’t judge a book by its cover isn’t really such a cliché, is it?

Hope you can find a book this weekend in which you can lose yourself willingly!

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PART B

Critique:

Hema: Is it advisable to get your manuscript read to a classroom before it is published?

Mark: No, not at all! (Mark was emphatically unequivocal about this point.) This exercise will not produce an objective critique for your manuscript, which is what you should be seeking. And I say this for two reasons:

  • The kids will say they love it anyway, because the book will provide a break for them in the day’s routine.
  • The teacher will say she’s excited about it; I was a teacher myself, so I know. Most everyone when they ask for criticism, they’re only willing to listen to positive comments about their work. So, the teacher will only focus on the positive aspects of the manuscript and will not be able to provide the kind of objective critique you’re looking for.

So, I do not suggest this kind of exposure for your manuscript. You should be part of a critique group which has published authors, or authors who are working at getting published. They can provide objective comments for your work.

I would advise you strongly against including anything like “I had my manuscript read to a classroom and the kids loved it” in a query letter; no one will look at it favorably.

(I always thought that reading it to a classroom would be a good beta test for one’s manuscript. Mark’s answer was sure an eye-opener for me!)

Questions Related to McVeigh Agency:

 

Clients:

 

Hema: What are you looking for in a client?

Mark: I am looking for authors who: 

  • Have a unique voice.
  • Have something they need to say that will be of interest to a wider audience.
  • Take a professional approach to writing.
  • Are willing to take criticism.
  • Are aware of industry trends and market direction.
  • Can write multiple genres for multiple age groups: picture books, middle grade, young adult, the lot.
  • Are not reluctant to talk to the agent. Authors should be upfront about what’s working and what’s not in their relationship with me. When I provide them with editorial suggestions, they don’t always have to take them. They should be able to tell me if they don’t agree with my suggestions.

Hema:    What is the ratio of established authors vs. new authors in your client list?

Mark:    About 2/3 of my clients are established authors and the rest are new talent.

 

Query Process:

Hema: What do you look for in a query?

Mark: I look for a letter that is simple and professional. See the submission guidelines in my web site for more details.

Hema: Writing a good query letter is a whole different ballgame than writing a good story. It’s very hard for the author’s voice to come through within the expected 250 words or so. I see that your submission guidelines include a query letter and the first 20 pages of the manuscript. So, if a query letter does not grab your attention, do you leave it at that, or do you go ahead and read the pages included in the email?

Mark: When the query doesn’t grab my attention, I do go on to read ten or so of the pages included. It depends upon those initial pages whether I will go ahead and read all 20 of them.

Hema: Thank you very much, Mark, for taking time out of you busy schedule to answer my questions!

======

At this point, I had at least a dozen more questions that I would have loved for Mark to answer for me, but the 15 minutes allotted me were regrettably up.

Mark’s new blog is going to be officially launched soon, with interviews with publishing legends, give-aways, videos, and more. He also promises to up the gossip quotient to make it worth the time for those who follow his blog.

Need more reasons? Then how about this: he is going to give away more of these free chats in the first week of April! So, go on and start following his blog, if you aren’t already doing so.

It was a pleasure to talk to Mark, and he gave me a lot of food for thought. Thank you, Mark, for sharing all this excellent information with me and the readers of my blog!

Here’s Part A of the same interview.

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PART A

I got to chat with literary agent Mark McVeigh for fifteen minutes last Friday! Mark was direct and professional in the way he dealt with my questions and was immensely approachable. For someone like me, who is new to the publishing industry and has not been hitherto privy to firsthand information about how things worked, that in itself was very encouraging.

The McVeigh Agency (http://themcveighagency.com/) handles writers, illustrators, photographers, and graphic novelists for both the adult and children’s markets.

The agency web site says: “THE McVEIGH AGENCY does things those others think can’t be done”. Check out the web site for more information about what the agency’s vision and goals are.

I have recorded my conversation with Mark here, and I hope you all can get the same value out of it as I did when I talked to him face-to-face via Skype. (Btw, Skype is really cool – you should all try it out, if you haven’t already.)

Note: The text in blue within the interview is my commentary/impressions as the author of this blog; I added them whenever I felt the need to emphasize a point.

Current Publishing Industry:

Hema P.: With the economy the way it is currently, are publishers willing to take risks or do they tend to go more with trends?

Mark McVeigh: The publishing industry has always done both. Trends such as: vampires, werewolves, angels have come into vogue and are in various stages of publication. I think  Steampunk as a genre will be increasingly in vogue.

(Are you stumped as to what Steampunk is? I would have been, too, had I not read a post about it in Mark’s blog. Check it out.)

Hema: Do new authors have a harder time making a breakthrough into the industry today?

Mark: Yes, the industry is a tougher place today than it was even five years ago.

Hema: Is that because the publishing industry tends to play safe and go with established authors?

Mark: Not necessarily. Publishing houses are cutting down on the number of books they publish per year. If they were doing 100 books previously they’re only doing 75 now. As a result, fewer manuscripts are acquired, and so fewer new authors will get a break.

Hema: How are multicultural and historic fiction faring these days — especially in middle grade?

Mark: Historical fiction will always have an audience, be it middle grade or young adult. They aren’t typically blockbusters, although there are exceptions like Libba Bray’s gorgeous A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY, but they find a place in the market.

Hema: I understand that this question has a lot of variables in it, and may not have an answer, but I’ll ask anyway. What is the current average time between a manuscript being acquired by an agent and it getting published and available on the racks?

Mark: I have no answer to this question.

Hema: Do you see the publishing industry going towards E-Books in the future? Is this good or bad for the industry?

Mark: Yes, I do. And it is going to be a huge help! I see tremendous potential in that direction; E-Books are going to revolutionize the industry.

Hema: Do you see traditional publishing going away completely?

Mark: Traditional books will never go away completely, just as vinyl record stores still exist despite the fact that most people buy music online. We are very lucky as an industry to have this innovation available to us: E-Book technology is going to be big.

New Authors and Career Promotion:

Hema: In addition to attending conferences, blogging and being part of a critique group, what do you suggest aspiring authors do in order to get noticed in this industry?

Mark: Those are all very good things to do for aspiring authors to promote their careers. Authors should be well aware of market direction and current trends in the industry. They have to make sure they study those using resources such as Publisher’s Marketplace. You should also blog about industry news, so other authors start following your blog for the valuable information that they can get out of it. It is also important to Twitter, to put yourself as a branded individual out there.

I will post Part B (Edit: 3/14/2010 – link to Part B added retroactively) of this interview on Wednesday. It deals with questions related to Critiquing, and specific practices at The McVeigh Agency regarding Clients and Query Process.

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