A flood and a deal

September 6, 2008

As I write this, the Greenhouse is about to float away on the monsoon known as Tropical Storm Hanna. There are floods on the roads, waterfalls in the yards, and a Hound that smells so bad from his brief outing in the rain that he will thenceforth be known as Stinker (a name he richly deserves at the best of times). So it’s a good afternoon to stay inside and catch up with the welter of things that just don’t get done during the crazy, hectic week: booking flights, downloading Skype (watch this space, I’m going to be doing a monthly podcast from October for my agent mate Peter Cox’s Litopia After Dark series, which discusses industry issues. I’ll let you know when I’m on and you can listen to me via the internet!), creating and printing notes on my authors/books for this week’s trip to New York, and finalizing some appointments. Then of course there are the ever-present submissions to unpack from their envelopes and stack in an orderly pile on the floor (the only space left), waiting for the next patch of time when I can concentrate on them.
Yes, I’m off to New York early Monday morning until Wednesday night. It should be great – I’m meeting three Greenhouse authors there and will be joining two on their first visits to their publishers. Now, I think you can imagine what an exciting moment that is for any debut author, and I feel like a proud parent on the first day of school (do you have your lunchbox? Does your uniform fit?). But it’s also a scary moment too for a new author – for the first time they’re out in the real, commercial world of the book industry, under a contract, and feeling a pressure they’ve not felt before. So it’s great to know that we’re working with some lovely editors who manage to be not only very professional, but also very understanding and supportive. There’s no doubt about it, this is a great business to be in – people work incredibly hard, but there’s so much fun involved too. And most people are just plain nice!

I’ll also be meeting with lots of editors on my own, seeing a few for the first time, but also getting better acquainted with others. This process is so important. A book can stand or fall on the personal passion of one editor who leaps in and champions a novel within their publishing house. And everyone has different taste. What I want to know, and keep up to date with, is what individual editors are seeking right now – what they already have and don’t need more of, and what they’d love to find. So these appointments are often less about me presenting manuscripts than just listening and making notes as editors talk about their lists. When I submit a novel I usually pick about twelve editors (occasionally more than one within the same house, but different imprints) to send to, so each one represents a very careful decision on my part.

So that gives you a feel for my week ahead. But the week just past has been an exciting one. The biggest thing has been that – hurrah! – I have sold US/Canadian rights in Teresa Harris’s debut middle-grade novel, TREASURE IN THE PAST TENSE, to Dinah Stevenson at Clarion, part of the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt group. I first met Teresa in July when I was a panellist at the alumni conference of the MFA program at Vermont College. We bumped into each other very early on and seemed to keep being in the same place at the same time – not least down in the local coffee shop where we had a rather good chat about a book we both loved – Donna Tartt’s SECRET HISTORY. At the cocktail party hosted by Greenhouse, a couple of students also came up and surreptitiously whispered in my ear, ‘Teresa is amazing – you should see her writing!’ So when I got back to my desk and Teresa wrote to me about TREASURE IN THE PAST TENSE, my interest was well and truly piqued. It’s already posted on the ‘Our Authors’ section of the site, but here’s the story in a nutshell:

Treasure Daniels hasn’t had a real home for four years, since her dad left. Ever since then, her mom has been on the run – from herself, and from all the people to whom she owes money. But tough as life is for Treasure and her little sister, they really don’t want to obey Grandma Celeste and go stay with evil old Great-aunt Grace in Black Lake, Virginia. Sure enough, Grace is even worse than Treasure had feared, with her endless cigarettes, her depressing house, and her four-hour church services on Sundays. And Black Lake is a town where segregation still lingers. It doesn’t take long for Treasure to have had enough and to want out. But then something unexpected happens and Treasure witnesses Grace standing up for her in a way she can hardly believe. Suddenly Black Lake starts looking a little different, and Treasure realizes that after running for so many years, she’s finally found a home – and a real family – where she’d least expected.

TREASURE IN THE PAST TENSE is really special – insightful, charming, and memorable. It will be great to see how the novel grows over the next few months as Teresa develops the story still further with such a high-calibre and challenging publisher as Dinah Stevenson.

Oh my goodness, I do believe it has stopped raining. Perhaps I won’t have to float off to New York in an Ark with Stinker after all. Enjoy the weekend, wherever you are, and take care if you’ve some bad weather around. Cheers!