I had an arguement with my 9 year old daughter the other day. The Chronicles of Egg by Geoff Rodkey sat on the counter and we both grabbed for it, wanting to be the first to read it. I tried to reason with her that it was my job to read it. She argued that it looked really interesting and she would absolutely die if forced to wait a moment longer.
While I eagerly waited for her to finish reading book one, I had the pleasure of interviewing the author (Geoff), the agent (Josh) and the editor (Jen). Keep reading to see what all the hub-bub is about, Bub!
Geoff Rodkey is the author of the Chronicles of Egg middle grade adventure series and the Emmy-nominated screenwriter of such hit films as Daddy Day Care, RV, and the Disney Channel’s Good Luck Charlie, It’s Christmas.
Me: Thanks so much for joining us at MUF today, Geoff, Josh and Jen! I’ll try not to get tongue-tied with the alliteration in the room 😉 So, Geoff, what prompted you to write a series?
Geoff: I’d been working as a studio screenwriter for over a decade, and I’d gotten pretty burned out, to the point where I was wondering if I still wanted to keep writing professionally. But I had an idea I really liked, for a sort of classic adventure story with a lot of humor –the kind of thing you’d get if you put Raiders of the Lost Ark andThe Princess Bride in a blender and then threw in some pirates.
I knew enough about the studio system to be certain that if I wrote it as a screenplay, no one would buy it, let alone make it (because it was a period piece with a 13-year-old protagonist, which are two things studios hate). But it seemed like it might make for a fun book. So I decided that before I gave up on writing and started applying to grad schools, I should try turning the idea into a novel.
By the time I was halfway through the first draft, I’d realized that not only was writing books much, much more fun than writing movies, but it might be the best thing I’d ever written. And as long as I could get it published, I no longer had any interest in going to grad school and getting a real job.
Me: I’m glad you decided to write The Chronicles of Egg as a middle-grade book – and so is my daughter! Josh, how do you feel about books pitched as a series?
Josh left Harcourt in 1993 to get an MBA from Columbia Business School. After Business School, Josh spent 11 years owning and operating a minor league baseball team (the Staten Island Yankees). He left baseball in late 2006 and rejoined the book world on the agent side. Josh worked at Writers House until November 2009, building a list of adult novelists, YA and middle grade authors, and the occasional nonfiction writer; then joined Russell and Volkening. In May 2011 he partnered with Carrie Hannigan and Jesseca Salky (HSG agency), and has been actively and happily running his list.
Josh: I am very happy when books are pitched as a series–it’s a good thing to be able to pitch to a publisher. However, it’s very important that book be able to stand alone if necessary. It’s what I’ll be sending out to a publisher, and it doesn’t look good to have to say to a somewhat interested editor “Oh, that extremely important antagonist who is trying to destroy the world? He doesn’t show up at all until the second half of book 2.” Book 1 needs to stand on its own merits. Me: *moves pivitol character to book one* Jen, what about you? Are you more drawn to series than stand alone books? Or does it all just come down to the story?
Jen: It’s absolutely the same ingredients that draw me in – but when I’m working with series it’s important to consider how much room there is for the world and characters to grow. You need to be working with an author who is dexterous enough to keep pushing the boundaries of the story.
Jennifer Besser first started working in the publishing industry at Miramax Books. She was also an Executive Editor at Disney Hyperion. Currently she is Publisher of G.P. Putnam’s Sons (an imprint of the Penguin Young Readers Group).
Me: When did you know you had a series in The Chronicles of Egg? Was it right away or did it take a completed first draft to see the whole aspect of the world you were creating?
Geoff: Pretty early in the process. All the successful kids’ books I knew of — not just contemporary things like Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket, but the Great Brain books and McGurk mysteries that I’d loved growing up — were series books.
Since it made professional sense to have it be a series, and the world I was creating felt big and interesting enough to contain a multiple-book story, almost from the beginning I was thinking of it as three books rather than one.
Me: At conferences I’ve attended I was always told not to pitch a book as a series. So how do you know when a book should be a stand alone and when it should be more? Do you put a limit on the amount of books in the series?
Josh: Often times, the author already has the number of books at least theoretically in mind (and in fact there are times that an author will have an unspecified, could-go-on-forever idea, where the number of books will be limited only by the market and the author’s own imagination). Certainly there are times when you spend 400 pages with a character and say “Well, the author has really taken this as far as it will go,” and then you know you have a stand-alone (or if a series, one where the episodes will be connected by something other than the protagonist).
Me: You must really love a story in order to read it over and over again. What intrigued you about The Chronicles of Egg?
Jen: For me, the real homeruns start with voice – a character who feels utterly real, who speaks from the heart with authority. Egbert is such a character, plus he’s affable and hilarious and self-deprecating, characteristics that I find appealing in the real world.
Me: Those are great characteristics, ones that definitely draw me to read a story. Geoff, what would you compare your writing experience to?
Geoff: I’ve only written one series, so I don’t actually know what I’m talking about here. Writing The Chronicles of Egg has been much more pleasure than pain — I had as much fun writing it as people have reading it. But now that I’m winding up the Egg books, I’m starting to look ahead to the next series, and I suspect it’s not always going to feel this easy.
Me: As an agent, how is working with a client on a series different than stand alone books?
Josh: Well, the main difference is that if I sell a series, the headaches are different. We don’t need, for example, to worry each year or year and a half about selling a next book—most often, series are sold as two or three book deals, where that is not the case in stand-alones. The headache, of course, is navigating the ups and downs with the publisher over a more long-term relationship in a series contract. You’ve received a commitment, but given up the flexibility of movement. Generally, it’s a perfectly fine tradeoff.
Me: That is a tricky, but good position to be in. I think most authors would be happy to have that problem 🙂 When working with both an agent and author how do you approach revisions and edits?
Jen: I’ve been lucky in my career, in that I’ve gotten to work with real pros. First, I deliver editorial notes, then the author takes some time to process them, then we jump on the phone or meet to discuss the best way to tackle the challenges. It’s very collaborative.
Me: One final round of questions. Geoff, name your least pleasant odor.
Geoff: My eight-year-old’s feet. He’s a really cute kid, but the stink that comes off his feet is just inexplicable.
Me: Ha! Stinky feet are the worst. *plugs nose politely* Josh, which do you prefer—Aliens or monsters?
Josh: Monsters (but mostly the Victorian types–vamps, werewolves…not so much the bigfoots or Yetis).
Me: *crumples up bigfoot manuscript* Alright, Jen, this is very, very important, so be sure to answer correctly. Unicorns and glitter or fairies and wings?
Jen: Sisters questing for glitter unicorns.
Me: Sweet! That’s exactly what I was thinking. Thanks for playing along.
It’s tough to be thirteen, especially when somebody’s trying to kill you.
Not that Egg’s life was ever easy, growing up on sweaty, pirate-infested Deadweather Island with no company except an incompetent tutor and a pair of unusually violent siblings who hate his guts.
But when Egg’s father hustles their family off on a mysterious errand to fabulously wealthy Sunrise Island, then disappears with the siblings in a freak accident, Egg finds himself a long-term guest at the mansion of the glamorous Pembroke family and their beautiful, sharp-tongued daughter Millicent. Finally, life seems perfect.
Until someone tries to throw him off a cliff.
Suddenly, Egg’s running for his life in a bewildering world of cutthroat pirates, villainous businessmen, and strange Native legends. The only people who can help him sort out the mystery of why he’s been marked for death are Millicent and a one-handed, possibly deranged cabin boy.
Come along for the ride. You’ll be glad you did.
After a narrow escape from Deadweather Island, Egg and his slightly deranged partner Guts head for the remote New Lands. They’re in search of the lost Okalu tribe, who hold the key to the mysterious treasure map that Egg can’t decipher. But the ruthless Roger Pembroke is hard on Egg’s trail, and the New Lands are full of new enemies—against which our heroes’ only weapons are their brains, their courage…and the two dozen swear words Guts just memorized in the local tongue.
They’re going to need help. But who can they trust? Is Kira, the beautiful and heavily armed Okalu refugee, their ally…or their enemy? Is Pembroke’s daughter Millicent on Egg’s side…or her father’s? Why on earth is the notorious pirate Burn Healy being so nice to them? And the biggest question of all: what shocking secret is Egg about to discover in the shadow of an ancient Okalu temple?
As luck would have it, you have a shot at winning not one, but BOTH of these books! And for our readers, who are also writers, Josh has offered to crit your query letter! How cool is that?!
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Amie Borst and her 12 year old daughter, Bethanie, write fairy tales with a twist. Their first book in the Scarily Ever Laughter series, Cinderskella, debuts October 26th, 2013!