Author Interviews

Interview with Kristin Gray, Author of The Amelia Six

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

Today, I am pleased to welcome to our site, someone who I have known virtually for a while, as well as a fellow member of Middle Grade debut year of 2017, and the author of the upcoming The Amelia Six, coming from Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books next week, on June 30th.

JR: Hi, Kristin and thanks for joining us today!

JR: First off, I really enjoyed The Amelia Six. I was fortunate enough to get an advanced copy, and it was such a fun mystery. For those who don’t know about the book, can you tell us a little bit about it and where the idea for this story came from?

KG: Hi, Jonathan. Thanks for having me and thank you for the kind words about The Amelia Six.

In the story, six STEM-savvy girls spend the night at the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, Kansas, and get swept up in a mysterious robbery. They settle in, expecting a night of scavenger hunts and sweet treats when Amelia’s historic flight goggles disappear.

I don’t know about you, but I have always loved CLUE, both the movie and the game. I knew one day I’d like to attempt my own cozy mystery, but the whole idea seemed daunting. The first task alone—choosing a setting—was nearly impossible. I wanted a real place kids could visit, and there are just so many cool sites! But when my family took a road trip to Amelia Earhart’s birthplace, everything clicked.

JR: Yes, I LOVE Clue. Could watch the movie over and over and over. You have six characters who all take center stage at one point. How difficult was it to veer back and forth between them during plotting?

KG: Very! Each of the girls has her own hobby or connection to aviation. Millie, the protagonist, is a Rubik’s speedcuber, vintage Nancy Drew collector, and daughter of a pilot. The story is told in her POV throughout, so I used her life lens to filter the mysterious happenings and understand the cast. My editor pushed me to make the girls distinct, and I’ll be the first to admit juggling that many middle-school voices was not easy. But I am proud of the end result. And of the floor plan I drew to keep track of where everyone was in the home and when!

JR: I love that you made a map to keep track of everyone! The book has Amelia Earhart as a central figure. How much research did you have to do about her, and what is it about her that fascinated you?

KG: Quite a bit of research, including two trips to the home, reading tons of biographies and articles, hours spent browsing the online archives at Purdue University, where Amelia taught as adjunct faculty. She really was ahead of her time and took on many roles from truck driver to social worker to columnist at Cosmopolitan magazine. But digging up interesting facts is one of my most favorite parts of the writing process. I felt like a treasure hunter!

 

JR: You’ve done both MG and Picture Books, do you have a preference, and what appeals to you about both formats?

KG: I was talking to a writer friend about this recently. I enjoy both, but each format presents its own challenges. Writing picture books is deceptively difficult. It can take years to distill a story into the best few hundred words. Drafting and editing (or rewriting) a novel can take years of work, too, but gives the writer more freedom . . . I tend to work on picture books when I’m stuck on a longer project or waiting to hear back from my editor. I’m always tinkering with a story. But it’s been a blast to have books available for a pre-K as well as middle schoolers.

JR: That is great. Picture Books are so daunting Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey getting to this point? 

KG: Sure. I wrote picture books for several years (back in the days of snail mail!) before one editor suggested I try writing something longer. My first middle-grade novel didn’t go anywhere, but my second novel’s opening garnered editor interest at a local SCBWI meeting. Encouraged, I took those same pages to another conference—Big Sur Writer’s Workshop—where I met and signed with my agent. That book went on to sell to Simon Kids/Paula Wiseman Books and became my debut novel, Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge.

JR: I read on your website, https://kristinlgray.com/ , that you’re an expert cookie dough taster. Is that more of an honorary title, or something that you had to be certified in?

KG: Haha. I love cookie dough, especially if I’m on deadline or you know, quarantined! Tried-and-true chocolate chip is my favorite, though peanut butter is also good. I would love to be certified, if that’s a real thing. Is that a thing? Can we find this out, Jonathan? Maybe this needs to go in a book!

JR: Okay, more importantly, I also read that you love peanut butter cups. Aren’t Reese’s Cups the equivalent of manna from heaven?

KG: Absolutely! And weirdly, I think the mini Halloween-size ones taste better than the regular-size two packs. It’s all about the perfect ratio of chocolate to peanut butter.

JR: What’s your writing process like?

KG: Sporadic at best. Especially now with my children home. I don’t write every day unless I’m on deadline. Some days are reading days, or research days, or thinking days, or responding-to-email days, like today. I’m grateful for all of it.

JR: I’m glad this was part of your diversion! What’s your favorite book from childhood?

KG: Charlotte’s Web

JR: What’s your favorite childhood movie?

KG: The Goonies

JR: That’s a popular answer here! Something people would be surprised to learn about you?

KG: I’m a twin! (We didn’t get a picture of Kristin with her twin, so just make a copy of her picture above and hold them next to each other)

 

JR: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received and is there any advice you can give to writers looking to break in?

KG: Best piece of advice: Pay attention to the world around you and write it as only you can.

To those looking to break in: Keep going. Find a few trusted writer friends. And always keep a stash of ice cream.

 

JR: That is great advice, and hopefully you mean pistachio ice cream. What are you working on next?

KG: I’m pages into what I hope will be my next middle-grade novel. Stay tuned!

 

JR: How can people follow you on social media?

KG: I’m @KristinLGray on all formats.

 

JR: Okay, lastly, as I mentioned, we were in the same debut year, so when you’re done with this, can you please send me a quick 20,000 word essay explaining how I was your favorite member of that debut group, and especially more than Melissa Roske?

KG: Haha! You know I’m a big fan of you and your books, Jonathan. Though I will say Melissa did buy me pancakes . . . 🙂

JR: That sounds like she was just kissing up.

 

JR: Thanks again to Kristin Gray, and make sure you go out and get The Amelia Six!

Legal Aspects of Writing and Publishing: Interview with Author-Agent Jacqui Lipton, and Giveaway

Hello Mixed-Up Filers! I was fortunate to know Jacqui Lipton at VCFA where we both got our MFA degrees in Writing. After graduating from Vermont College Of Fine Arts, Jacqui has become an agent and an author. I’m so pleased to welcome her for an interview at Mixed-Up Files today.

 

                                   

Hi Jacqui, thanks for joining us today at Mixed-Up Files.

Thank you for having me and congratulations on your recent book deal!

Thank you, Jacqui! Tell us about your book. What motivated you to write Law & Authors?

The more I began to immerse myself in the writing community, the more I realized the need for easily accessible resources for writers who couldn’t necessarily afford to hire lawyers for every little problem, and who could use some guidance on when and how to find legal advice. One thing I’ve tried to do in the book is to make the legal issues fun and accessible by using examples from popular culture to illustrate how things like copyrights, trademarks, contracts, privacy and defamation law work. I’ve also included hints and tips about what issues writers can handle reasonably easily on their own (e.g. registering a copyright) and when legal help may be necessary.

  1. How did you become an agent and an author?

Becoming an author is easy. You just sit at a typewriter and bleed, right?

But agenting is a tougher nut to crack, and I wasn’t always sure that’s what I wanted to do anyway. While I was in the MFA program, the opportunity arose to become a reader for an established kidlit agent. I loved the editorial and manuscript development work and, with my legal background, I was fascinated by the legal and business side of the industry. After a few years of moving in that direction, and doing some informational interviews with other agents, I figured it was time to fish or cut bait.

  1. What are the top three contract provisions an author must understand before signing with an agent?

Agency contracts are actually pretty easy to follow and are usually no more than two or three pages long. It’s the with publishers that are more complex: see below. For an agency contract, it’s important to understand:

  • the scope of representation (what work the contract actually covers e.g. everything you write during the term of the agreement; only your writing in a particular genre or in a particular market etc.?);
  • when and how the agreement can be terminated (how much notice do you have to give? Are you locked in for a particular period after signing?); and,
  • if you move on to another agent, what happens to projects you’ve worked on while at the previous agency (when can you submit them to editors through the new agency? Will the original agency take a cut of the commission?)

Of course, you want to know what commission the agent gets. It’s standard for most agents to ask for 15% of your royalties for a regular sale and higher percentages if they engage other agents for subrights etc. because that sub-agent will also take a cut.

 

  1. What are the top five dos and don’ts when it comes to contract negotiations with publishers?

It probably depends on whether you’re negotiating yourself or via an agent. If you have an agent, your agent will probably guide the strategy to an extent, and will handle the negotiation on your behalf, but of course in close consultation with you. After all, the agent represents you, not the other way around.

Each contract varies with context so there are no hard and fast rules, but you should think about things like:

  • What rights the publisher is taking. If the publisher wants subrights like foreign, translation, merchandising, film/TV etc, think about whether the publisher is likely to be able to execute those rights satisfactorily. If not, try to retain them, or at least seek a reversion (ie you get back the rights) after a particular period of time.
  • How much is the advance you’re being offered? This is not something you should really look at out of context; you need to consider royalties, sub-rights etc at the same time. A lower advance will be easier to “earn out” (ie pay back out of royalties) so a lower advance isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
  • If you’re writing a book that has significant design or illustration elements (e.g. a picture book), will you get consultation or approval over those design elements, including over the choice of illustrator etc. The same comes up with choice of narrators under audio rights contracts. Many publishers will give you consultation, rather than approval, but most good publishers are collaborative on this score for the most part in any event.
  • Understand that you are likely making certain representations to the publisher that your book doesn’t infringe anyone else’s legal rights, including copyrights and trademark rights, and that your book doesn’t defame anyone. The publisher will likely seek an indemnity from you if they are sued for these things. Try to find out if you can limit the indemnity to non-frivolous legal action (frivolous claims are those that are raised more for the annoyance value than because there is a serious legal issue at stake). See if the publisher is able to extend any of its liability insurance to cover you: this is unlikely but you can ask.
  • Understand what happens if you don’t submit your final manuscript on time or you don’t submit a satisfactory manuscript. Do you have a right to have extra time (if you can’t make your initial deadline), and/or to revise to the publisher’s specifications? If you get more time, how much time? What happens to your advance if you fail to deliver a satisfactory manuscript?

Publishing contracts are much more complex than agency contracts which is why it’s a good idea to work with an agent, if you possibly can. If you don’t have an agent, it may be worth engaging the services of a lawyer with expertise in publishing contracts to help you negotiate these contracts.

  1. Could you recommend resources for authors or illustrators who would like to protect their rights in the current publishing environment?

For those who are members of the Authors Guild, there are useful legal resources on their website and they do offer contract consultations.

Volunteer lawyers for the arts organizations around the country provide pro bono legal advice to authors and artists but often have significant waiting lists.

Some writers’ organizations, like SCBWI and SFWA have helpful information about publishing dos and don’ts and current issues of concern on their website, including an “ask a lawyer” bulletin board accessible from the SCBWI website.

The Authors Alliance has useful information on their website particularly about contract negotiations, fair use and rights reversions.

I go into more detail on how to find effective and affordable legal advice in the final chapter of Law and Authors.

  1. Tell us about your experience founding Raven Quill Literary Agency, and your growing team of agents and authors.

It seems to have grown really fast but it’s been a lot of fun. I started the agency earlier this year with the aim of creating a fun and transparent, but of course professional, team of authors and agents working to bring new stories and voices into mainly the kidlit area. A significant aspect of our mission is to help make underrepresented voices heard. We also like to work closely and editorially with all of our authors. The agency largely grew by accident. It started with just me and rapidly expanded to include our other agents who are all amazing (Kelly Dyksterhouse, Kortney Price, and Lori Steel) largely through a series of happy accidents; people being in the right place at the right time.

  1. What advice do you have for authors who want to query an agent at Raven Quill Literary Agency?

Probably similar advice to querying any other agent/agency. Do your homework. Find the agent who seems like the right fit for your work. Write a professional query letter and make sure your manuscript really shines before you submit it. I always say: “I don’t want your fastest work; I want your best work.” There’s a lot of information on our website about what we’re all looking for and how to submit to each of us, and when we’re open or closed to general queries. (We all use Query Manager for submissions and try to ensure that at least one or two of us are open to queries at any given time.) We also regularly Tweet out particular wishlists. We do share submissions between us if we think something is a better fit for another agent. We do consider subsequent projects from someone who has queried us before, or even revisions of projects we passed on, but we like to see authors sit back and reflect on any feedback we may have given them for, say 6-8 weeks before submitting something new. Oftentimes what isn’t clicking for an agent in the first piece is the same in later pieces by the same author. It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with your writing, just that the agent you submitted to isn’t the right fit. We typically respond to all queries whether it’s a pass, a revise and resubmit request or an offer of rep. We try and give feedback in our responses as often as we can but sometimes it’s just not possible with the amount of queries we receive so please excuse any generic “pass” responses. Again, it’s not an indictment of your writing, just a sign of how busy we are.

Note: My usual disclaimers apply to everything in this interview. Nothing about the law is intended as formal legal advice and those who feel they do need formal advice should consult a lawyer with the appropriate expertise.

Thank you so much for having me!

Enter the giveaway for a copy of Law & Authors by leaving a comment below.  You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be determined on June 26, 2020 and will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.

If you’d like to know more about Jacqui and her agency, visit her website: https://jdlipton.com/index.html or https://ravenliterary.com/ or follow her on twitter: https://twitter.com/Jacqui_Lipton

 

Interview with Scott H. Longert author and book giveaway!

Scott H. Longert is the author of Cy Young: An American Baseball Hero, published by Ohio University Press, Biographies for Young Readers.

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Thanks for taking the time to chat with us here at the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors!

What attracted you to share Cy Young’s story with younger readers?

I was thinking about somebody who would be relevant to a young reader, someone they wouldn’t know very well, but that they might have heard of them. Of course, we have the Cy Young Award, so I thought lots of young people might know about the Cy Young Award, but do they really know Cy Young the man. I knew some things about him, he came from a small town, and he rose up as high as you could go in baseball, so I thought he would be a good guy to write about.

You share in your author’s note that you went to the historical society and to where Cy lived. Can you share with readers how these experiences helped you in your research on Cy’s life?

It really kind of humbled me when I went there. He was born in Gilmore, (Ohio) a real small farm community outside of Newcomerstown, which is a fairly small community as well.  Just to see his imprint there, was amazing. When we came into town, we saw the Cy Young baseball field and park, and the museum devotes just about an entire wing to Cy and his life so you could see right away that he was a very important person It really helped me writing the book to getting a sense of who he was by visiting where he was born and the house he passed away.  To stop by and look at that house and to know that he sat on that porch many times, just a regular guy and just happened to be probably the greatest pitcher in the history of the game.

Please share with readers what Cy’s real name was, and how he came to be nicknamed “Cy.”

His real name was Denton. As a young boy, and as a teenager everyone called him Dent or Denton, and he was fine with it. He could throw a baseball extremely hard from a very young age and everyone knew it.  When he got his first tryout for professional baseball to pitch for Canton, he was on the mound, and  there were a few players watching, and he took his wind up, he threw the ball so hard that the catcher literally let it go by him and the ball smashed into the grandstand and apparently cracked some of the wood. Cy did this several times. One of the people watching commented, “Look at that man, he throws like a Cyclone!”  The name really stuck and then people, instead of calling him Cyclone, just called him Cy, and he liked that name. From then on, Denton disappeared, and everybody called him Cy.

Cy was born in 1867 and began playing professional baseball in 1890. Baseball was a slightly different sport then. You share the many changes from then until now in the book. Can you offer a few of the differences from then until now?

One of the major ones, was that there was no pitching rubber at the time, where the pitcher had to put their foot on it and couldn’t move off of it when they pitched then, they called it the pitchers box, they could stand at the end of it, they virtually could take three of four steps forward, and just launch the ball they didn’t have to be confined to one spot and just let a lot of momentum when you were going to throw the baseball. There were some other rules about “fair and foul” if you hit a foul ball, it wasn’t counted a strike, you could be at bat for quite some time and not have any strikes against you.

It wasn’t considered manly to try to and protect your hands at all, you were a tough individual only the catcher would wear a thin glove, kind of like what we’d wear in the winter, to shovel snow. When Cy got in the major leagues, a few guys here and there most guys felt like “I don’t need a glove, that’s for babies.” Eventually guys, after getting more broken fingers and broken hands, decided it would be a good idea to wear a glove to protect their hands. Cy didn’t wear one until mid-1890’s, so he resisted for many years. As the pitcher, you are closer than anyone else. But he would not wear a glove for the first three or four years of his career.

How long did Cy play?

Cy started in Canton 1890 and played all the way through 1911. He was in the Major Leagues for twenty years as a pitcher. His career was over several decades. Most guys not able to do. He had a lot of strength and stamina.

Do you feel the physical requirements as a farmer helped him to be so strong?

I think it had something to do with it. A number of guys would take it easy during the off season, the most they would do, they would hunt and fish.  Other guys had jobs, indoor jobs, sitting behind a desk. Cy was outdoors all the time, tending to his farm which was 125-150 acres, which was a lot of ground to cover. He believed in running. He would do a lot of running on his own, which was very rare for athletes at the time, he thought that helped him, so he would run. I’m sure wearing his farm clothes, coat and boots, running around the property, helped him. He’d usually come to spring training in good condition. It was customary to come to spring training, probably 5-10 pounds overweight, and use spring training to get back in shape. Other players would let themselves go over the wintertime.  Cy would come to camp just about ready to play for opening day and was usually several steps ahead of everybody else.

Tell me about Cy the man.

What I found was that Cy was a great member of the community, he was a good man, and he was honest. He was a clean-living man, he didn’t really drink, he didn’t smoke, when he wasn’t playing baseball, he was home with his wife and working at the farm. He was a hard worker, and  he never let success go to his head, he was the same guy he was when he was nineteen leaving for his first efforts in semi-pro baseball until the time of his retirement, he was the same guy, always kind and good hearted. I think that was the thing about the man that impressed me. He never had a big head about himself, like “don’t you know who I am, I’m the great Cy Young.” He didn’t think like that all, he was just a regular guy, who loved going home to the farm on the off season and being with his friends and family. He preferred staying home and reading or visiting with friends, he was very content with that, to be on the farm, take care of animals, plant crops and of course, chop down trees, which was his favorite thing. He was always willing to help anyone, anytime. He was very good to his friends, when people needing a helping hand, they could always call Cy.

As a fellow biographer, I stress the importance of primary sources with younger readers. What sources did you discover through your research? How did they help in sharing Cy’s life journey?

The Baseball Hall of Fame has a wonderful research library. The most important thing at the research library at Cooperstown is the player files. The Hall of Fame keep an active file on everyone who has played major league baseball. In the file you’ll find lots of newspaper clippings, magazine articles, which could be from 1893 up to something written a couple of years ago, photos, letters from the player, and to the player, statistics on the player, all kinds of things that help you get a picture of who the person was, as a ball player and a person. I think it is very vital in researching a baseball player, to see his player file and read everything there. And usually that leads to other sources. Ball players from long ago, born in small towns, usually there is a historical society that keeps the history of the town and the people who in it. If the baseball player comes from a small community, chances are the historical society will keep records of that person, and a lot of personal things, so that’s really important to visit the local historical society. If you can, in a lot of cases, the ball player you’re doing research on, has grandchildren or great-grandchildren, and usually the relatives are very happy that you are interested and happy to share stories that have been passed down from generation to generation.

The Cy Young award is given to the best pitchers in both the American League and the National League. The award was created the year after Cy’s death. How do you think he would feel about this honor?

It’s a shame that they didn’t decide to do the award while he was still alive. He would have been extremely happy and proud of the award. I think that after he passed away the Major Leagues, said what can we do for Cy? I think it would have been okay with him that even though he was gone, that baseball thought enough of him to create one of their biggest awards, and name it in his honor. Just knowing Cy, he was happy with whatever came his way. On his 80th birthday there was a big celebration in Newcomerstown, lots of people came to honor him, and give him gifts, and having a big piece of cake and dinner, shaking hands with people and that’s pretty much all he expected, and that made him happy.

In one sense it would have been great if he would have known about the award, I’m sure he would have been thrilled,  but his name still lives today and will live for quite some time, and I’m sure he would have been fine with that.

Is there anything that you would want our followers to know about your book about Cy Young?

It’s a look at early baseball, how the game evolved during Cy’s time, when it started, when he played ball first for Cleveland in 1891 and how the game gradually changed, until he retired in 1912. And a little bit of history about our country at the time. America was a growing place, with expansion and new jobs, and exciting things the telephone, and automobiles and then radio and television, Cy lived through all those things. Even Little League, Cy was a big fan, and would go out and talk to the kids and show them the fine points of being a good ball player. I think the book gives a good sense of America and all about baseball and how important it is to society by reading the book.

We’re giving away a copy of Cy Young: An American Baseball Hero! Contest applicable only to those living in the United States. Click here to enter!
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