Category Archives: chat

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Globalizing the literary landscape

Hey readers! Today I’m pleased to share a guest blog post from our bright and insightful intern Christa Angelios:

From Mallory Ortberg’s poem “Male Novelist Jokes” to Junot Diaz’s comment in the New Yorker on his MFA program – “that shit was too white” – it’s no secret that the world of literary classics is awash in a lack of diversity. Culturally diverse authors often assume pseudonyms or use initials to make themselves fit in more with what they see as expected of them – because they’re worried the sales numbers will be too low if they use their given names. They’re worried that the American public is simply not interested in hearing their stories, cultural stories.

There are, of course, authors who are pushing against this formulaic assimilation, and proving that diversity does not equal diminishing numbers. Khaled Hosseini’s wildly popular novel, THE KITE RUNNER; Matt de la Peña’s critically acclaimed piece, MEXICAN WHITEBOY; and Junot Diaz’s hailed work, THE BRIEF AND WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO, all attempt to diversify the modern literary landscape. Fortunately, my schools have not only respected diversity, but encouraged it. In high school, during my sophomore year, we read Jhumpa Lahiri’s INTERPRETER OF MALADIES along with a selection of short stories by Amy Tan, Sherman Alexie, and Junot Diaz. Diaz came to read at my high school that year, before which the administration begged him to keep his audience in mind and to tone down his presentation and after which the administration stood mortified when he chose to read some of the most colorful stories he had hand. Teachers were torn between admiring his bold rejection of censorship and finding his gall appalling. But despite the fact that the administration cracked down on a lot of smaller spoken-word performances after that, we still read works that broadened our cultural literary palate.

In college, I discovered that folklore held my literary heart. Celtic mythology, Grimm’s tales, and Russian skazkas could entertain me for a lifetime. And when I began writing culturally informed work, taking up the mission Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie expressed in her TED talk to prevent a culture from being distilled into a “single story,” my professors felt compelled to ask the question: what gives you the right to be writing about a culture that isn’t your own? My father is from Egypt, after all, so I have a rich ethnic history to draw from to which I could “appropriately” lay claim, and I admit that Ancient Egypt and the Arab Spring have captured my interest and imagination. But I count myself among what ethnically Indian author Pico Iyer, who feels he has not earned the “right” to call himself Indian because he didn’t know enough about the culture even if it was his ethnicity, calls an increasingly multicultural group for whom “home” is more of an intangible and ongoing project than a place. With no indication that globalization will be slowing down any time soon, what happens when our world becomes full of people who are of every nation – then whose “right” is it to lay claim to a nation’s culture?

These are not questions that the literary world can continue to ignore. Diversity should be recognized and celebrated across the board, not separated out into its own genre of “ethnic” work. In an interview with RonReads, young adult author Jenny Han said of her choice to include diversity in her work, “I want my books to look like the real world, and the real world is populated by all kinds of people.” It’s time the American literary landscape began reflecting the real world, too.

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On censorship

I don’t often think on the topic, but a recent New Yorker article, coupled with the recent announcement that China is the guest of honor at this year’s BEA Global Market Forum, pretty much demands a philosophical blog post today.

Office politics plays a role in publishing, same as in any other industry. In China, it’s Party politics.

Peter Hessler’s piece in the New Yorker not only sheds some light on the Chinese publishing industry and the extent to which it is controlled by the government, but it also begs an interesting question—one to which I don’t have a confident answer.

Should authors allow their work to be censored if it means bringing their book to a new market and a fresh audience?

I don’t know. As Americans, our freedom of expression valued as highly as it is, our initial reaction is: absolutely not. After all, allowing your manuscript to be censored can be seen as passive endorsement of government propaganda. But when the alternative is not being published, can you really deny an entire country of people your ideas? Change is often incremental, and many publishers in China are doing an admirable job working around the realities of censorship to bring fresh, sometimes controversial literature to the Chinese people.

What do our readers think? Does anyone have experience dealing with such issues?

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Tips from writers, for writers

Stephen King’s  short story, “A Death,” was this week’s fiction in the New Yorker, so naturally I started thinking about how I still have to get around to reading 11/22/63 and ON WRITING. Then I started thinking about how a lot of writers seem to enjoy giving advice about writing. But is any of it any good? The answer is yes: Yes, writing tips from established writers can be very, very good.

Here’s some of the best advice I’ve come across:

99% of great writers will tell you that their first drafts are rambling, incoherent pieces of s!@*. The other 1% are lying. (Full disclosure: I haven’t finished crunching all the numbers yet, so I’m ballparking here.) Editing and rewriting are such vital components to crafting a story, but first you need to put your ideas down on paper. You can’t shape what’s not there. If you haven’t read Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD, do so. Now. It will revolutionize your writing process.

John McPhee’s “The Writing Life” column in the New Yorker is a goldmine of wisdom. His tips on how to develop the structure of a story are particularly helpful. Few writers place such importance on structure as McPhee. Few writers have also had as prolific a career.

You ever hear of this guy Ernest Hemingway? I hear he’s good. He was also a proponent of simple, direct prose. Cut out all ornamentation. If a word isn’t necessary, lose it. He also said that writers should never describe an emotion—they should present the situation/action in a way that evokes the emotion in readers. This is  difficult to perfect, but it’s something all writers should strive to do.

What are your favorite tips from writers? Let us know in the comments.

Tell us how we’re doing

A while back (a year, maybe more—my conception of time is shockingly horrible, bordering on nonexistent), Sharon did a blog post asking for feedback from our readers. What we heard was eye-opening to say the least.

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All of it was informative and very helpful—and I believe it led to a better year in blogging for DGLM and our readers. So I will do so again here. Let’s call it our year-end review.

What do you guys enjoy about our blog? What keeps bringing you back for more? What would you like to see us do differently, do better?

This is your chance for some input. Our readers are important to us, and we want to blog about what you want to read about. So please, don’t hold back. What’s on your mind?

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Reading goals for 2015

The New Year is fast approaching—way too quickly if you ask me—and with a new year comes new goals!

I have never before made reading one of my resolutions for the new year. Reading has always been such a huge part of my life that I never really felt it was necessary. It would be like resolving to drink more water or take more showers. But ever since I’ve started taking on clients of my own and representing more and more authors, I’ve found that I’ve had less and less time to read books by authors who aren’t my clients. So for 2015 I will make a very moderate reading goal: I will read one book every two weeks, in addition to the massive amounts of reading that comes with the territory of being a literary agent.

And then, I came across this thoughtful post about resolving to read less on Book Riot via Twitter. (I’m new to Twitter, by the way, so excuse this shameless plug: mike_hoogland.)

Now I’m certainly not at the point of “oversaturation” that Jeremy describes, but he makes a very compelling point. Reading should make you better informed, wiser, and possibly even funnier or more empathetic, so a better-informed, wiser, funnier, more empathetic person-turned-hermit is counterintuitive. I don’t think reading 24 books next year will lead to such a life either, but I’m wondering if there are people out there who have hit this reading tipping point.

Are you one of them? What are your reading goals? I’d like to know. Sound off in the comments.

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National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo)

Happy National Novel Writing Month everybody! Writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in a single month is no easy feat, so I figured I would help out those of our readers who are writers currently working on a project with some helpful tips and resources.

First things first, if you’re going to do this, don’t make excuses. Check out this advice about finding time to write. I especially like #2. As an iPhone 6 Plus user, one of the benefits a big screen provides is the ability read and edit manuscripts on the go. Smartphones do everything. They can be your pen and paper when you’re out and about.

GalleyCat also has some useful advice for writers. Their first writing tip this November can be found here.

Who better to take advice from than Ernest Hemingway? Ever heard of him?

And perhaps the most important tip of all: don’t get discouraged! You can do it! After all, it’s been done before. And if you need some inspiration, here’s a pep talk from James Patterson.

Show, don’t tell. This is a classic piece of advice. It’s also what I tell my clients on a consistent basis. Not only does showing the reader actions and emotions make your story come alive, but it’ll help you increase that word count so 50,000 words in a month seems like no big thing!

How many of our readers out there are currently partaking in National Novel Writing Month? Do you have any other tips for fellow writers? Let us know in the comments below.

Lastly, and on a completely unrelated note, we here at DGLM would like to express our sincere gratitude to all former and active members of the U.S. military. Happy Veterans Day!

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A couple guest posts by our interns on what they’ve learned so far

A Little More Than Nothing About Publishing by Francis Adams

Today, when Mike asked me if I’d like to write something for the blog, I looked at him blankly, then said, “Sure!”, knowing full well that I had no idea what I was going to write about. After kicking around a few ideas, he suggested that I might talk about a few things I’ve learned about publishing since taking on this internship. After thinking about this for some time, I must say (in the spirit of Socrates) that the only thing I know for sure about publishing is that I know only a little more than nothing about publishing.

But upon further (and only somewhat more serious) reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that the clearest glimpses I’ve gained into the world of publishing have come in the moments when I am doing the exact opposite of what I am supposed to be doing, or even what is socially acceptable! Let me explain. The truth is, I often find my attention drifting from the narrative of my n’th slush sample of the day, or the reader’s report I am writing, and zeroing in on the things going on around me—whether it be a phone conversation, a quick (or not-so-quick) glance at my fellow colleagues’ monitors (I hope that’s vague enough), or even, in the more extreme cases, overhearing someone interview for a job, or listening in on a meeting. When you’re new to a job, you tend to try to hold as much as possible to the conventional wisdom that tells you to always be focused and attentive to completing the task at hand, or on figuring out what new tasks need doing—in short, don’t slack off–but I have found that it is in the idlest of moments, when I let my focus drift momentarily from the task at hand, that I actually learn the most.

So when I try to pinpoint one thing, one overarching theme if you will, that these little diversions have alerted me to, I am forced to conclude, simply, that communication is paramount in this business. I say I am forced to conclude this only because nearly every glance to a monitor displays either an open email or twitter page, and nearly every phone conversation—especially if it is with an author—seems to be directed towards clarifying some misconception or making sure he or she knows what works, what doesn’t, and, overall what is marketable about the work.

I’d be interested to know if anyone else has experienced this irony—the realization that one has actually learned more by doing the opposite of what one is supposed to be doing, or even what is socially acceptable? If so, maybe it’s worth writing about …

 

The Ingredients of Book Publishing by Amy Hendricks

Before applying to internships, I knew I wanted to get into publishing somehow. Being able to work with books is a dream for any passionate reader, and I was eager to see what it would be like. I never realized just how many people are involved in the production of one book! From what I’ve gathered in the office, there’s the query to be read, calls to be made, publishers to shop around to, emails sent, financial negotiations, contracts to be signed, covers to design, and so so so much more. I’m not sure what I imagined before seeing it in action, but the most important ingredient in the recipe for a book seems to be a supportive team of ambitious agents.

One week in September I was able to help Lauren with the packaging and shipping of some boxes. This day of work entailed unpacking foreign copies of books and sorting then sending them to authors. It was a good day of work, and as someone with a bit of wanderlust it was interesting to see the different covers and titles of the same book throughout different countries. Lauren taught me how to decipher their country codes and send the books on their way, and I spent my commute home imagining the variety of languages these stories would be told in.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned interning here is that there are so many good ideas out there! Reading queries and helping agents look over potential manuscripts has been an exciting part of this internship, and I am endlessly amazed by the wide range of stories which come into the office. The volume of queries is another thing I didn’t quite grasp the enormity of until I was sent an email with several attached at once. It has been so exciting to read some of these stories, and even if they don’t make the cut it is an honor to read something that has been worked on lovingly by someone.

Something I’ve learned, which pertains less to books and more to what it’s like working in an office, is that baked goods don’t last a long time in the kitchen here. I’ve been able to try out a few new recipes (like today’s White Chocolate Pumpkin Snickerdoodles) on everyone, and am happy to say I never need to cart leftovers home on the train!

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Storybook endings

Last Thursday night, in the last home game of his 20-year career as the New York Yankees shortstop, Derek Jeter hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the 9th inning. A storybook ending.

Now I’m not the resident Yankees fan here. That crown belongs to Miriam. In fact, I’m not even a Yankees fan at all. I’m a Mets fan—may God help me. But come on, how could you not love that moment? Jeter, a class act, the last vestige of the old New York Yankees, the embodiment of clutch, comes up with a big hit in the bottom of the ninth to win the game, his last game in pinstripes. You couldn’t write a better ending.

“Where fantasy becomes reality.” That’s what the announcer said after Jeter’s last ever walk-off hit. I must have watched that clip fifty times. And I got goose bumps every time. But I’m not entirely sure why.

Usually I hate storybook endings. For some reason, whenever I encounter a happy ending at the end of a book, I always feel cheated, taken for a fool. Perhaps I’m a pessimist, but I don’t think happily ever after ever really happens. Books that end that way aren’t realistic. Storybook endings just don’t happen in real life.

Except they do. It certainly did for Derek.

So why then do readers often criticize fairy tale endings? Does good literature always need to end in tragedy and despair? And if so, what does it say that a good book must leave you feeling hopeless?

I am curious to learn what our readers have to say about storybook endings. Love them? Hate them? Does it depend on a case-by-case basis, and if so, why do some storybook endings work and others don’t? Sound off in the comments!

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My Fall/Winter Reading List

I’m really excited for pretty much every upcoming fall/winter book, but I know I won’t have a chance to read everything I want to. I don’t have enough time. So I have narrowed my blog today down to the following selections that will take precedence on what looks to be a very ambitious reading list these next few months.

A debut novel from a talented writer about a young woman growing up in a poor Irish family with a stream of consciousness narrative. Definitely worth a look.

Howley’s year-long immersion following two MMA fighters sounds fascinating. A captivating narrative that analyzes the philosophy behind MMA fighting is sure to raise some eyebrows.

I love NPH. He’s extremely talented, not to mention the clever structure of this book. I expect great things, but then again, I never expect anything less from NPH.

Yes please, I’ll have a copy. She’s funnier than Tina Fey–don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Parks and Recreation is hilarious.

Because how could I not read Louis Zamperini’s autobiography after Hillenbrand’s Unbroken?

A unique World War II story about the brutal murder of a Japanese family and those investigating it. Ellroy’s latest is receiving a lot of buzz. Color me intrigued.

Honorable mentions:

LACY EYE by Jessica Treadway

I’ve already read this book, but wanted to include it hear because I strongly recommend it. A suspenseful, haunting read.

TO RISE AGAIN AT A DECENT HOUR by Joshua Ferris

Published this summer so not technically a fall/winter book, but Ferris’s novel has been on my list for a long time and was recently shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2014.

What are you most excited for this fall?

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Before the camera rolls

There is a book. Well, not always. But the other day surfing Netflix I realized just how many movies are based on books. There was an entire category devoted to them. And most were movies I had never realized were based on books.

So what’s the process behind turning a book into a movie?

One of the cooler things we do here at DGLM is meet with people in the film industry—production companies, packagers—basically anyone in development. In other words, we meet with people in the film industry who are looking for ideas, which they then bring to the studio, producer, or actor they’re representing.

In a very broad sense, these meetings are always the same. The producer is looking for great storytelling, there is a brief pause, and then we hear what the producer is actually looking for. Memoirs written by ordinary people who’ve lived through extraordinary things. Something geared toward an audience of middle-aged women. Something with a lot of action that can be done on a budget under $X. We then go back and forth with the producer explaining the various projects we have that might be of interest.

My point is that most people would be surprised how much the market dictates which movies eventually get to the “roll the camera” stage. Market and monetary constraints are king. So if there is a book you really, really want to see get made into a movie, be loud about it. If there’s a market, there’ll be a movie.

If you need further evidence, take The Fault in Our Stars, The Giver, and If I Stay, all films which were developed, in part, because of fan support.

So how about it? What do you want to see on the big screen?