Yay, welcome to today's stop on the ROOTLESS blog tour!!!!
These days I don't have time to do very many blog tours--but I HAD be a part of this one because I LOVED this book. It's so amazingly well written--and talk about a head trip of a story. Seriously, read it. You won't regret it.
But right--you're not here to read my ramblings!
Today I have the privilege of sharing an amazing--and exclusive--interview between Chris Howard and his lovely and brilliant literary agent Laura Rennert. So take it away Chris and Laura!
(and make sure you read to the end--there's an AWESOME giveaway!)
CHRIS: I brought ROOTLESS to the Big Sur Writing Workshop that your agency sponsors, and came away from that weekend with an agent, an editor, and some great new friends. Can you tell us a little about how the workshop came to be, and what's made it such a success over the years?
LAURA: We’re thrilled to be celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of our Big Sur Writing Workshop this December! As agents, we recognize that in-depth feedback on a manuscript from industry experts is incredibly valuable for writers, and is often hard to come by. The conference evolved to meet that need. Our agency created the Big Sur Writing Workshop because, though there are many conferences that present valuable industry information and offer networking opportunities, there aren't as many where a writer can get intensive feedback. One of the reasons the Big Sur Workshop is so special is that each attendee belongs to two critique groups of four or five writers, each with a group leader who's an experienced editor, agent, or author. Over the course of the weekend, each critique groups meets two times, for about two hours. Writers have the opportunity to workshop different sections of their work and get extensive hands-on feedback. They also have time for revision and can bring the revised material back for another session with their critique group.
Big Sur has been a great success over the years because of the attendees’ passion and commitment, the outstanding and generous faculty, and the intimate workshop setting, which fosters real relationships among writers and faculty. We're proud to have amazing success stories like yours! For us, the Big Sur Workshop is a labor of love. That so many attendees have found their agent or editor, turned an important corner with their manuscript, and gone on to get a publishing deal makes it all worthwhile for us.
CHRIS: One of the things I love about working with you is that you're hands-on at the editorial stage, before even sending a manuscript to the publisher. You pushed me to make ROOTLESS better with your great feedback, and my reaction to your ideas always seems to be "if I'd thought of that, I would have done it already!" It must be something that comes naturally to you, but how have you honed your editorial skills over time?
LAURA: Although I wouldn't say it's a requirement, I do believe that getting my Ph.D. in English Literature and teaching at the university level helped me hone my editorial skills. Those many years of literary analysis were invaluable. I also came close to attending a joint M.F.A. and Ph.D program and, though I didn't choose this path in the end, I did take quite a few creative writing courses. I'm drawn to great literary stylists, both of the past and of our time, and I believe reading widely and analyzing superlative works developed my taste and sharpened my editorial skills. Whenever I make big deals and have books that are breakout successes, I analyze the essential elements that are the basis for this success. These two things together, my academic background and my success in the market, have helped me come up with the criteria for powerful and successful books likely to stand the test of time. I use these criteria in assessing the works I choose to take on, and it also helps shape my approach to working on client manuscripts. I also invest in continuing education that helps me hone my editorial eye. For example, many authors need help with story structure, and I've found that Robert McKee's fantastic course on screenwriting, among others, has helped me work with authors on this aspect of their manuscripts. Finally, an occupational hazard and benefit: when I read in any genre, I always read with a critical eye, assessing what is working and what isn't working.
CHRIS: You represent such a diverse group of authors, from #1 NYT bestsellers Maggie Stiefvater, Ellen Hopkins and Jay Asher, to brand new, first-time authors. Are there common threads that tie your clients together, or is what draws you to a particular story always different?
LAURA: The common threads that tie my clients' diverse works together and draw me to a particular story are:
a.) an amazing, original voice
b). an unusual or fresh perspective
c). an ability to make the reader think and feel deeply
d). page-turning story telling
e). some element of narrative risk-taking
f). rich, replete world building
CHRIS: Though there are strong, dare I say badass, female characters in ROOTLESS, the protagonist, Banyan, is very much a seventeen-year-old dude. Why do you think so much of YA literature is dominated by female protagonists, and what do you think it'd take to buck that trend?
LAURA: I LOVE Banyan precisely because he's such a relatable teen guy!
So much of YA literature is dominated by female protagonists because this segment of the market is driven by girl readers. When editors make acquisitions, and when agents take on clients, they're especially on the lookout for works that appeal to this female audience. Editors and agents know that one of the best things about this female readership is its intense loyalty. Maggie Stiefvater's THE RAVEN BOYS, the first book in her new YA series, and Ellen Hopkins' new YA novel TILT just both debuted on the New York Times Bestseller List, and it's this amazing, committed female readership that helped put them there.
Unfortunately, this kind of thinking also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Acquisitions are increasingly driven by this teen girl readership, so editors and agents have a harder time making the case for books that don't target this audience. As a result, agents take on fewer YA novels that target a male readership, editors are more reluctant to bring these books to acquisitions, and fewer such books are published. There's a trickle down effect. Writers are then disinclined or discouraged from writing YA boy books because they're aware of this calculus, and at the other end, we lose many male teen readers because they have a hard time finding YA books that appeal to them.
I think the way to buck the trend is to publish smart, powerful fiction that has both teen girl and teen boy appeal. ROOTLESS accomplishes this beautifully. It's an intense, page-turning, action-filled, nail-biting novel about a gritty, vivid, violent world, with a charismatic, sometimes inconsiderate teen guy protagonist. Banyan is a survivor but is also vulnerable. His tough exterior hides his longing for connection and belonging, and his conflicted relationships with the other characters, including his intense romance with a badass girl pirate named Alpha, are so relatable, real, and wrenching.
CHRIS: If an aspiring-author is reading this and thinks… I should query Laura, she's beyond awesome… what's your best advice for them before they do?
LAURA: First and most importantly, I'd advise them to work on their craft and to make sure their manuscript is as strong as they can make it on their own. It's also important that they demonstrate their professionalism as writers in the work itself, in the query, and in any contact with the agent. Authors should educate themselves about the market, about how to approach agents, and about the category within which they're writing. Also, the more you can personalize or tailor your submission to a specific agent, the more likely it is to capture the agent's attention. Thus, before submitting to me or to any other agent, please check out the agency's website. For me, that's www.andreabrownlit.com. Our website includes submission guidelines, our bios, and a list of our exemplary titles and recent deals. My author website, laurajoyrennert.com, also offers some advice for writers.
CHRIS: Finally, I got asked this, and because you know the book almost as well as I do, I wondered what you'd say… If you could be in one scene in ROOTLESS, which would it be?
LAURA: This is a tough one! There are so many scenes I love in ROOTLESS, and some are so vivid and terrifying that, even though they're amazing, I’m not sure I’d want to inhabit them. I'd have to pick the beautiful and heart-rending scene where Banyan has repaired the statue and brings Alpha and the others to see it first illuminated. I don't want to say too much more about this scene because readers should come to it on their own, but for me it sums up the perilousness, vulnerability, and beauty of being human. It's a moment that stayed with me.
And now, the tables get turned, and it's Laura's turn to ask me questions!
LAURA: What's was inspiration for ROOTLESS? You wrote the novel in such a compressed period of time that I'm particularly curious about where it came from.
CHRIS: The inspiration came from seeing all the trees in the Colorado Rockies that have been killed by the Mountain Pine Beetle. I started thinking "What if some sort of insect destroyed every single tree, all the crops and plants and grasses? What would be left?" … I imagined genetically engineered corn surviving, and a single corporation owning it. And then I pictured a young man building trees out of scrap metal on the dusty plains… Once I started thinking about it, I couldn't stop. Banyan's voice was so clear in my head. "They figured me too young for a tree builder." I had that as the opening line right away, and I wrote the first chapter the same day the idea popped into my head. By the end of the first chapter, I'd introduced five main characters and the map to the last trees, so then I thought about it for a few weeks, to make sure my ideas "made sense", and then I let it pour out of me. I knew the book was about people searching for something "lost" - nature, the trees, human connection. And I think, more than anything else, knowing what it's about helps tell the story - though you realize later all these other things it's about, too!
LAURA: How much of you is there in Banyan?
CHRIS: Probably more than I realized when I was writing the story! I've certainly been a rootless drifter at times :) And we both love trees, that's for sure. I'd say the most similar thing, though, is that I began writing stories because I believe in the transformative power of art, that transcendence that Joseph Campbell calls the "elixir of life", and that's ultimately why Banyan and his father build trees. "To have something to believe in. To prove you can take one thing and make one thing into another," as Banyan says in the book.
LAURA: You're a musician, as well as an author. Can you tell us if there's any connection or relationship between the music and writing for you?
CHRIS: Well, I think I have more of a gift for writing than for anything I've ever done musically! But I come at it from the same place… I'm trying to tap into the feeling of being alive. I mean, really being alive. Whether you're creating it or witnessing it, I believe a story or song, a sonnet or statue, a beautiful building, a play, a film… anything where the human spirit is allowed to soar… it lifts you up, reminding you of the wonder of existence. The natural world certainly fills me with that sort of transcendent feeling, too. And for me, there's no better feeling :)
LAURA: What do you feel are some of the most important things you learned from any part of the process -- writing, revising, working with an agent, working with an editor, working on the sequel -- of bringing ROOTLESS to publication?
CHRIS: I've learned that I do really good with deadlines - even if I just set them for myself. I wrote the first draft of ROOTLESS in a frenzy, and then spent a lot of time revising. So I thought I'd take more time over the first draft of the second book in the series, assuming I'd have to do less revising on the flip-side. The opposite was true! I "took my time" too much on the first draft, and got bogged down in prose versus story. I had to really gut it and get back to the mindset I was in on the first book.
Another important thing I've learned is: the "audition feeling" doesn't go away! I thought if I found an agent and an editor who connected with my work, then I'd be set. But your story has to connect with people every step of the way - all the way through the publishing house, booksellers, reviewers, readers. So you have to get used to people judging your work, and their opinions affecting how many others will be exposed to the story.
LAURA: What part of the working on a novel is the most fun for you, and why?
CHRIS: The first draft! Even if it needs tons of work later on, I love that initial creative phase where you feel like you're reading and writing the story at the same time. I think the subconscious is more interesting than most stuff on the surface, and it's so fun to balance on all these different parts of your brain. It's a rush, really. Like surfing a wave :)
Laura Rennert has been a Senior Agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency since 1998. She thinks of herself as a "literary omnivore" and specializes in all categories of children's books, from picture books to young adult, and in up-market women's fiction and narrative nonfiction. She represents award-winning and best-selling authors, including #1 NYT bestsellers Ellen Hopkins, Jay Asher, #1 NYT bestseller and Printz Honor Finalist Maggie Stiefvater, and National Book Award Finalist Kathleen Duey, as well as brand new, first-time authors. Find Laura online at andreabrownlit.com and laurajoyrennert.com
Chris Howard was born not far from London, but was raised under the influence of a galaxy far, far away. He left England at the age of nineteen, traveled around the globe one too many times, then settled in Colorado. He's studied natural resources management, concentrating on forest ecology and sustainability; spent seven years leading wilderness adventure trips for teenagers; worked for the National Park Service; released three albums of swirly guitar music; and been a kick-ass wedding DJ. ROOTLESS (Scholastic Press, November 1st, 2012) is Chris's first novel, and he's currently at work on the next book in the series. Find Chris on facebook, twitter, goodreads, and his website
Look at the shiny prize:
(and in case that's not clear, 1 winner will get one SIGNED AND PERSONALIZED hardcover of ROOTLESS, a bookmark, and a T-Shirt of their color/size preference. )
Enter using the fancy rafflecopter thingie!
(And if you want to follow the rest of the tour and get more chances to win ROOTLESS swag, check out http://yabookscentral.com/blog/rootless-blog-tour)