Category Archives: Lauren

0

Tension

It’s no secret to anyone who follows me on Twitter (or works here or has seen me in the last couple weeks), that I’ve become completely addicted to a new podcast called Serial (serialpodcast.org).  It’s a spin-off from This American Life, focused on one murder case and the possibly wrongful conviction of the victim’s ex-boyfriend, who has been in jail for 15 years.  It unravels in thematic episodes, following the course of the investigation not quite in real time.  The narrative arc of the “season” isn’t fully known to the producers, or wasn’t when it started airing at least, so those of us who are listening weekly with rapt attention have no idea where it will end up—or if there are even really satisfying answers to the questions it raises.  I’m completely and totally hooked, and I’ve managed to get Sharon, Miriam, Michael, Jim, DGLM client Catherine Whitney, my mother, and many of my friends addicted, too.

So for today’s blog entry, a plea to you from me:  I want to represent the book that feels like this podcast feels.  I want that tension.  I want that slow unfolding and conversational reportage.  Fiction or nonfiction is fine, but I’m not looking for a run-of-the-mill mystery or true crime book.  I want something that feels huge and also intimate.  A book where every answer raises more questions and then explores all those paths looking for the truth.  I want a book where I’m dying to get back to it and desperate for friends to read it to so we can talk about what we think is happening as we read.  I want to be certain and then confounded and certain again and endlessly curious.  I want something that grips me from the first sentence and maybe won’t ever let me go.

So if you’re the author of that book and you’re looking for an agent, please query me.  And if you want to just talk about Serial, hit me up in the comments or on Twitter (@laurenabramo). (Though let’s try not to spoil it below for anyone who’s just diving in.)

0

Spoiler alert!

I’ve been thinking a lot about spoilers lately.  You can’t really talk about them without citing them, so if you’re really averse and somehow magically haven’t had Gone Girl ruined for you yet, you might want to click away.

With all the book-to-film adaptations* this fall—perhaps not more than usual, but more than I usually have any interest in—I dedicated my vacation reading to finally getting to two books I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while, before the movies could ruin them for me.  I might just be the last person to read Gone Girl, and I wasn’t exactly early to the This Is Where I Leave You bandwagon.  Fortunately, my experience with the latter was spoiler free—the only thing I’d been forewarned about was that it was really, really good.

Now, this isn’t me getting on my soapbox about spoilers, because I tend to think that if you aren’t passionate enough to prioritize something you don’t get to quell the conversations of those who are.  (I’m almost always the late one, so I’ve come to this via zen-like acceptance of my own bad impulses to get angry at someone for talking about something they care about, as if talking about something you care about isn’t a fundamentally important part of the human experience that I value highly.)  I know there was also that whole thing about how people actually like spoilers, contrary to what they think, but I’d argue that it changes your experience anyway, in a way that’s interesting but not ideal.  I know I get distracted by spoilers, and it takes me out of the experience of really enjoying the thing in the way I otherwise would.  To each their own, of course, but I’m not going to start seeking them out, and I’ll still probably have to ban myself from social media on Sunday nights when all the good TV is on for the rest of eternity.

But sometimes—like when you’ve put off reading one of the buzziest books of the last few years until the eve of the release of a film adaptation and you work in publishing—spoilers are not entirely avoidable.  To be fair, I wasn’t totally spoiled with Gone Girl.  I somehow made it all this time without finding out exactly what the twist is. When Stacey read it for DGLM book club, I fled the room.  But I can’t imagine it’s possible at this point to have heard of Gone Girl and not know there’s a twist.  And like all books (or films) that are built around a major plot twist, knowing there is one is pretty much spoiler enough.  It didn’t take me long into the book to realize that there was really only one option people would actually have been impressed with in the way I knew people were.  Unfortunately, while I found it clever and admirably crafted and insightful—that “cool girl” diatribe is everything—I missed my chance to have the opportunity with the novel that so many others did.

The thing about thrillers, or mysteries, or other twisty types of fiction is that I really enjoy the puzzle of trying to figure it out before I’m meant to, but I don’t like it when I win.  I want the author to best my whirring brain and catch me by surprise.

So having finished Gone Girl with quite a bit of like and admiration, but no love, I’ve made a pact with myself:  next time a big buzzy, mysterious novel comes along, I’m reading it right away.

*Like The Maze Runner, based of course on DGLM’s own James Dashner’s novel of the same name.  I know I’m biased, but I thought it was a perfect adaptation.  Exactly what you always hope book-to-film can be, but it almost never is.

3

New York, New York, It’s a Helluva Town!

Sheep Meadow at Central ParkI am unabashedly fond of New York City.  I was born in Manhattan, to parents from the Bronx, where ¾ of my grandparents were from as well and where I lived as a child.   Since I grew up in the suburbs in New York State and moved back at 18 (other than a year-and-a-half stint at an Irish grad school I’ve been in NYC ever siWater Towers Near Union Squarence), I wouldn’t quite go as far as to call myself a New Yorker, but I love the place.  It has its flaws, but there’s nowhere else I’d want to live for more than the short term.  Conveniently, it’s also the center of the industry I’m planning to work in for the rest of my career and within driving distance (not that I know how to drive) of nearly everyone in the world I love.  You can tell me that it’s not the center of the universe or that there are far better places out there, and I will pretend to believe that is a perfectly reasonable opinion, but I’m not going to mean it.

Green-Wood Cemetery, the Prettiest Place in New York CitySo of course I was a sucker for Charlotte Jones’s blog post over at the Guardian on New York in books.  New York plus books?  Who could ask for anything more?  I haven’t read all of her selections, but am eager to pick them up.  Readers followed up with their own picks, which also helps add to my list.  From these, The Great Gatsby, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and Let the Great World Spin are not just among my favorite Bright Lights, Big CityNew York books, they’re some of my favorite books period.  I’ve never quite realized that their New Yorkness might be part of the reason why.

I’m actually currently reading Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, which I’m really loving for how much it reflects my own adolescent feelings about New York (for better or worse).  And my splurge on last The Big Blue Whale at the American Museum of Natural Historyweekend’s sleepover at the American Museum of Natural History was partially informed by my childhood adoration of E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (about a different NY institution, of course, but my childhood love was reserved for the big blue whale and the brontosaurus more than anything you can find in the Met*).

I loved Rebecca Stead’s gorgeous When You Reach Me for its loving, complex depiction of city childhood.  The Wonder Wheel at Coney IslandNot to mention Patti Smith’s Just Kids, Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved, Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, so many things by Judy Blume, Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love, and probably countless others I’m not thinking of. And it’s at least part of what drew me into my client Wayne Gladstone’s Notes from the Internet Apocalypse and Jane’s client Michael Callahan’s forthcoming Searching for Grace Kelly.

Don’t get me wroLady Liberty Salutes the Sunsetng, I love reading about other places, too, but when someone captures NYC just right, it fills my heart with joy and fond feeling.  What are your favorite NYC books?  I mean, my reading piles haven’t actually toppled over to kill me yet, so clearly there’s room for them to grow.  We like to build things up high here in New York City.

*Except for the Temple of Dendur, because of this other glorious locked-in-the-Met story from my childhood.

 

The Brooklyn Public Library    Prospect Park

 

 

 

8

Permanence

I’m not really a tattoo girl.  That might be an understatement: the notion of a tattoo terrifies me.  Not because I hate needles or pain—I’m not exactly fond of either, but they don’t bother me especially.  But getting a tattoo is decision making that is way too far down the scale of permanence.  I shudder when people suggest I will someday want to buy a house and that would be something I could sell.  Sure, laser tattoo removal exists, but I’m not sure I would ever elect to do anything to my body that requires being burned off with a laser if I change my mind. It’s not quite that I’m fickle, though it is true that I’ve hated virtually every pair of shoes I’ve ever bought within two weeks of purchase, but more that I’m the sort of person who is paralyzed by the question: What is your favorite X?  Or even, What are your top ten Y?  If you want to ask me that question, you’d better be prepared to give me paper, a pencil, and 24 hours to answer you.

I know who I am, but choosing something to visually represent that to others, something I’ll remain connected to and proud of displaying, for years of my life?  That’s daunting.  I’m simply not up for the task.  But these people are, by golly.  They not only know what their favorite books or lines from books are, but they have happily permanently affixed them to their bodies.  Leaving aside that I’m not a tattoo girl, let’s envision the weirdest possible mugging: if someone put a gun to my head, I couldn’t think of a single image or line from literature that I’d want to identify myself by to the world.  There are those that I love, certainly.  I embrace Judith Viorst’s classic children’s book so much that I’m slightly bitter when my 5-year-old nephew beats me to declaring that “It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”  But I wouldn’t put that on my body, certainly.  The final lines of The Great Gatsby are gorgeous, but again kind of bleak.  The best lines in literature are often insightful about things that are more dismal than celebratory.  Tolstoy’s observation on unhappy families is true and brilliant, but I think that tattoo might be perceived as a cry for help!  And much as I love plenty of childhood books, I don’t quite have the personality for the cartoon embrace of kidhood writ across my skin.  So I guess I’d just have to call that mugger’s bluff and see how it goes.  Or at least ask him to make it multiple choice.

What about you?  Any literary tattoos adorning your skin?  Or any you hope to get?  Or would if you ever found yourself at gunpoint?

0

World Cup World Cup World Cup

If you don’t have World Cup fever, you might want to look away from this post.  (You might also want to reconsider, because not having World Cup fever is just wrong.)  I probably already love soccer too much—the 2010 World Cup reignited a passion I’d let dissipate a bit before it, and I’ve been in annoying-people-about-soccer mode ever since.  But with the tournament kicking off yesterday and how excited I am for the rematch of 2010’s finale that will be happening at 3 p.m. EST between Spain and the Netherlands today, I wasn’t sure how I’d manage to write a blog entry without writing it about soccer.

Happily for me, the fine folks at The Three Percent have made my job easy: with their 2014 World Cup of Literature I can combine the two things I love most in the world, books and soccer.  I like their strategy: books published after 2000 to eliminate the old guys who wouldn’t get called up for the squad and in some way capturing the spirit of the team.  Even if their David Foster Wallace/USMNT explanation stings just a bit.

It turns out I haven’t read any of the books in question, so I’ll just be pulling for the same “teams” here as I am in the World Cup itself: US, England, and Spain.  Which book do you think deserves the victory?

I’ll be watching Spain v Netherlands later with one of the refs—I mean, judges—so if anyone wants to offer her a bribe to honor the spirit of FIFA, please let me know ASAP.

0

Tiny readers

As the absurdly proud aunt of exceptionally wonderful nephews—who we’ll call Fidge and Gus, because that is what I call them—I’ve actively made it my mission to get them to associate me with books.  Fidge once told his “Aunt” Gabby that “Aunts read books” and made her read him bedtime stories.  A few weeks after that, he unceremoniously announced his desire to go to bed by walking up to me and saying “You always read to me.”  Why yes, Fidge, yes I do.  Gus is a bit of a tougher sell—he’s rambunctious and not so fond of sitting still.  But if he can interact with a book or laugh hysterically while “At” Lauren makes faces or yells or roars, he’s game.  His biggest obsession is with Bill Cotter’s Don’t Push the Button, in which illicit button pushes lead to a whole host of multi-colored monsters named Larry.  He now “reads” that one to himself, turning each page to intone “Don’t push a button!” and then…pushing that button anyway.

As Gus’s birthd9780062247759_p0_v1_s260x420ay is coming up, I headed out of town last weekend to celebrate it with the family.  Naturally, I dragged Sharon to the bookstore with me last week to find some future favorites for him and settled on Press Here by Herve Tullet, I Am Otter by Sam Garton, and his autobiography The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee (which is really more for his parents).  I read the books to both boys separately, and Gus especially loved Press Here, which was no surprise since it’s very similar to Don’t Push the Button.  He’s also a fan of counting, so it suits him.  He did seem to think The Boss Baby was pretty funny, but now I’m worried it might’ve given him ideas.  And I Am Otter was definitely my favorite of the three.

But my favorite reading moment of the weekend was this one: in a crowded house full of family, with Gus trying to go to sleep in the bedroom, Fidge was clearly ready to wind down.  Fortunately, aunts know what to do when you need a moment away from all the bustle.  So I gathered up Gus’s new books and some old favorites and hunkered down in a Super Secret Hiding Spot under the dining room table with Fidge.  We read through the above three plus Madeline and Wild About Books, one of his absolute favorites, since it’s got books AND animals AND ample opportunities for counting and guessing and finding hidden frogs.  Not only did we get quiet time (where, according to Fidge at least, no one even knew where we were!), we also got to revisit old friends and make new ones.

I kind of miss Otter and Teddy, actually.

6

Perfection

Just now on Twitter I came across possibly the most perfect line of copy I’ve ever seen:  the revamped cover from Atheneum/S&S Children’s of Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret contains the tagline “Growing up is tough. Period.”

Atheneum, I salute you!

“Growing up is tough. Period.”

If you’re not familiar with the book you probably weren’t a preteen girl post 1970 and you also might not know that this, perhaps the most perfect book I read in all of elementary school, is about a girl trying to figure out her religious identity while facing the many struggles of puberty.  (I read it young enough that it was my first introduction to what was coming my way, and I remember having to ask a lot of questions, including interrupting a roomful of people to loudly ask my mother what a sanitary napkin was.)  The copy is coy enough to not offend, except perhaps those who already try to get the book banned for being honest about complicated things, and you can hardly market to that crowd.  It cleverly alludes to the contents for those of us who grew up with it and might need to go snag some Judy Blumes on the way home to re-read this weekend or give to any preteens we know.  And it’s smart since it gets people talking—when I googled it to find the cover image, I saw that the sites that covered it when the new editions were revealed all acknowledged it.

Writing any kind of marketing copy is hard.  As agents, we have to draft it for our pitches to publishers when trying to sell books, and as rights director I often have to write it for foreign or audio submissions (either because it’s too early for publisher-generated copy or because different markets will need a different approach).  It’s one of the toughest things about a query letter or a sales pitch.

So when it’s just right, well, I think we should all give kudos where they are due.  Congratulations, Atheneum, because that’s a stroke of genius.

Ever seen any book copy that made you sit back and take notice?  Share the brilliance with the rest of us below, please!

6

Under Pressure*

Earlier today, I gave up. Looking at the bookmarks toolbar on my web browser, I thought that I should really read some of those articles over lunch, because they’re timely and important or potentially edifying and I will be a better person if I read them or a terrible person if I don’t.  At first I thought about how I could send them to my Pocket app and read them this weekend, but then I realized that would cut into the time I’d planned to set aside to crack open one of the new books I’ve bought myself lately.  Then it occurred to me that my list of subrights reading is growing at such a fast pace that I wouldn’t have time for a pure pleasure read till late May at earliest.  And there are three books for two different book clubs sitting next to my TV, shaming me every time I pick up the remote.  Though those aren’t quite as time sensitive as those requested manuscripts sitting on my iPad, so I’d have to tackle them this weekend instead.  Which naturally lead me to count up the books on my weekend to do list of reading and editing for clients—which is pretty much going to dominate every minute I’m home this weekend except for those I’ll need to spend sleeping.

And while I love reading and feel grateful to have the career I do, I won’t lie:  when the piles of obligations get so high they look like they might topple, the idea of how much I have to (or “have to”) read really stresses me out.  It’s a lot harder to love a book if all you can think about is that you’re reading it too slowly.

So I was honest with myself:  I’m just never going to read all those can’t-miss articles I’d flagged for later because there was no time to dive into them during work.  Instead of reading through as many as I could at the fastest possible clip during lunch, I deleted them.  Going through, some of them seemed so important that at first I was conservative in ditching them.  That technological development sounds like it could be relevant to publishing five years down the line, so I should definitely take a look.  Or that essay on contemporary fiction by Julian Barnes, he’s one of my favorite writers so I can’t skip that.  But when I realized that some of those links were from best books of 2012 lists, I knew I had a problem.  I mean, sure, that summer reads of 2013 list would be kind of handy to have as the warm weather approaches (one assumes!) and those books hit paperback release dates, but that doesn’t mean I actually need to read it.  After all, there are stacks and shelves and stacks and more stacks of books in my apartment and office, so it’s not like I’m short on ideas of what to read next.  So I deleted all those bookmarks and gave myself the favor of a blank slate.  And, I told myself that if I don’t read the 15 books I impulse bought in the last month before the end of 2014, it’s probably going to be okay.

I still have a ton of reading to do this weekend, but the load on my shoulders feels just that little bit lighter. There’s a seemingly infinite amount of writing in the world, much of it worth reading.  Sometimes we just need to let ourselves off the hook so that we can give our best attention to what we do read—and maybe even have some time to enjoy it.

*If you saw that title and thought of this interview, you are my favorite person today.

8

Eventful

For some reason behind the book table is always my preferred spot at Greenlight readings.

Wayne Gladstone reads at Greenlight Books in Brooklyn

 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about author events, having been to four very different ones in the last several weeks: first Wayne Gladstone’s two readings for his hilarious and heartfelt debut novel Notes from the Internet Apocalypse at Corner Bookstore and Greenlight Books, then two book launch parties, one for Aaron Starmer’s new middle grade series The Riverman, which took place on a river cruise around Manhattan; the other for Christopher J. Yates’s debut, a psychological thriller called Black Chalk, at University Settlement not far from where the book is partially set.  Each event had a different spirit and in some ways different purposes, and in each case the setting of the event and the personality of the author really contributed to making it feel like it perfectly suited the book being celebrated and enjoyed.

 
I must admit, I don’t go to many author events purely as a spectator (all of the above are DGLM clients), but it’s nice to have a moment to sit back and celebrate the results of all the hard work that goes into bringing a book to fruition.  Even handier when the author, his/her agent, and his/her editor are all in the same vicinity and can do so together.

I should know which skyline that is (NJ? BK? Manhattan?), but I don't.

Aaron Starmer (in red near the right of the photo) reading from The Riverman

 
I think the logistics of book events are challenging: beyond the well-attended reading series (of which there are a number in NYC), the ones at industry conventions, and the signings for major bestsellers, they’re not terribly likely to sell many books to people who weren’t going to buy them anyway and often are populated by people close enough to the author to already have a copy.  And an event that’s more of a party than a sales opportunity is likely to get pretty costly for the author, without much (or any) chance of return on that. The conventional wisdom is that book events don’t sell books and tours aren’t worth it, and as a former bookstore cashier I know firsthand how few copies of books are sold at most signings. 

That cover photo projection is a very nice touch.

Christopher J. Yates reading from Black Chalk

But I do wonder if there are things more authors can and should do that would make book events more beneficial to them and to readers.  Certainly stores that have multi-writer reading series (like the one Wayne participated in at Greenlight) are helping to introduce people to the fans of others, and this is something the self-published author community has strongly embraced as well with very large multi-author signings.  And I’ve personally found that an author event that happens well after publication—though this is logistically tougher to justify or achieve—is likely to be more appealing to me, because I have little interest in attending author events for books I haven’t read by authors I don’t have a professional relationship with.  For example, I’ve seen Colum McCann twice, once for Let the Great World Spin well after publication, which was magical, and once for Transatlantic right when the book came out that really didn’t do anything for me.

 
Do you ever go to author events? If so, what draws you in?  If not, what’s keeping you away?  What would you like to see more of?  Have you ever been to one that really blew you away?  Have you seen any creative strategies that you’ve taken note of for yourself?

 

4

Nine Years and Counting

Nine years ago today, I started my first day at DGLM.  Every person who worked here on my first day (Jane Dystel & Miriam Goderich, naturally, but also Stacey Glick, Michael Bourret, and Jim McCarthy) is working here still.  I’m lucky to be part of an agency that’s grown and changed and evolved so much in my nearly a decade here.  Publishing isn’t an easy business, agenting maybe even less so than working for a big corporation where income isn’t commission based, so I’m lucky that Team DGLM of early 2005 is still the core of Team DGLM of early 2014.  If you’re interested in how I feel about being here for nine years—and clearly you are, because the inner workings of my mind are oh so fascinating—the answer is: pretty similar to how I felt about being here for seven.

Still I wanted to mark the occasion somehow on the blog.  I mean, with my DGLMiversary falling on my blog day, it’s just too convenient not to.  Fortunately, through the magic of Twitter (and the help of @MichRichter1, @HopeDellon, and @PicadorUSA), I found inspiration in this Atlantic round-up of answers as to who is the greatest fictional character of all time.  I was thinking that I can’t imagine answering that, as such questions always paralyze me.  Greatest?  Of all time?  That’s too many to choose from!  I can’t decide what to eat if a menu has more than 15 options, so how could I possible do that??  But I think what I can do is tell you my favorite 9 new non-DGLM books of the last 9 years.  Obviously all the DGLM books are equally perfect and superior to all other books, so you’d be here all day if I didn’t exclude them.  So without further ado:

  • Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love is nothing short of exquisite.  I loved it so much more than I ever thought was possible.  And despite years of people telling me to check it out, which normally makes something basically unlovable to my contrary soul, it’s one of few books I really thought lived up to the hype.
  • Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me is a middle grade novel that is absolutely spot-on in its understanding of its characters and its audience.  There aren’t too many novels I read that I’m confident will stand the test of time, but if there’s any justice in this world, this one will.  It made me want to re-read my favorite books from childhood, so I could linger in that feeling a little longer.
  • In as much as books can really be for a person, I didn’t think that Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One would be for me.  It’s so involved in the minutiae of its deeply nostalgic world, and my knowledge of videogames and geek culture doesn’t run nearly deep enough for me to love the novel on that level.  And yet it’s a captivating story, and one which my book club loved more than virtually anything else we’ve read, despite having no knowledge of nearly any of the references.  A real testament to the fact that some of the best books are the ones that anyone can love.
  • Kevin Wilson’s The Family Fang is a story of family dysfunction that’s moving and delightful and hilarious and strange.  It has tons of heart and is a lot of fun, which is an impressive feat given that it could easily have gotten bogged down in theories of art and morality.  Wilson has a beautifully light touch.
  • The World Without Us by Alan Weisman is precisely the kind of interdisciplinary narrative nonfiction that I really adore.  It’s a fascinating subject compellingly explored.
  • Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette is every wonderful thing every person you know whose read it said it was.  It’s funny and charming and touching and original—and I can’t wait to see what Semple does next.
  • What can I say about Emma Donohue’s Room that hasn’t already been said?  It’s narrated from the perspective of 5-year-old Jack, whose unusual circumstances color how he sees the world in ways I would call unimaginable if Donohue hadn’t somehow managed to imagine them down to the most intricate details.  It’s a difficult premise in more ways than one, but Donohue explores it with enviable skill.
  • Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End is compelling and accessible and beautifully written and ambitious and all around extraordinary.  I was confident that the structure was going to annoy me fairly quickly, but the perfection of the voice carried me through to the last page, where I was truly sad to put it down.
  • Colum McCann blew me away with Let the Great World Spin.  I think this must be my absolute favorite book of the last decade.  I was already a fan of McCann, who I’d first come across when reading his Everything in This Country Must in college, so I had high hopes for this novel.  But I didn’t realize when I first began reading that I would wind up loving this book so much that it would become my favorite of his novels—and among my favorite of anyone’s.

Honorable mention to Rivka Galchen’s Atmospheric Disturbances, Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, and Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which I was definitely going to include before I realized that I already had 9.

So…what am I forgetting?  Which books am I going to hate myself for leaving off the list the second you mention them?