Shooting for the moon

June 4, 2009

Last Saturday night I sat outside a diner on New York’s 7th Avenue, eating cheesecake and smiling up at the moon.
It has been one of the best weeks in the short history of the Greenhouse – packed with progress, excitement, and affirmation that we’re doing some things right and are truly on our way. Alone in the city on that warm night, and staring up at that moon, I was suddenly ‘surprised by joy’ – as C.S. Lewis once said.

Let’s go back to where my last blog post ended, with me wearily slumped over my keyboard in England. I arrived back in the US Tuesday lunchtime, unpacked and sat straight down at my desk, where (apart from a few muddled hours of sleep – I dream constantly about not having plane tickets) I more or less stayed until 7.30pm the following night, when I finally settled the deal that dominated my British trip.

After an enormous amount of interest among US publishers, and a number bidding in a big auction that finally went to ‘best offers’, Brenna Yovanoff’s debut YA novel, FE (not Fae or Fey, please note – FE is the chemical symbol for iron) will be published by the team at Razorbill, Lexa Hillyer and Ben Schrank, in a 2-book deal. For any of you who don’t know, Razorbill is the teen imprint of Penguin US and the people behind the NYT blockbuster, THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher. Razorbill loved FE from the start, and I knew this was a very special acquisition for them.

I’ll be posting details of Brenna and the book on the Author section of this site as soon as I can, but I can tell you that Brenna’s voice is elegant and strange, and her story is darkly compelling. I can practically guarantee that there will be considerable international interest in it.

The hero of the story is Mackie Doyle, a brooding, bass-playing teenager who seems like everyone else in the perfect town of Gentry, but who is hiding a big secret: he is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby 16 years ago. Now, the dark side – those who live under the Hill – wants him back, and Mackie must decide where he really belongs. Will finding love with feisty, vulnerable Tait finally make him worthy of the human world?

I know many of you aspiring writers must at times doubt that you can find representation through the usual agency submission process. You are one of thousands, and I’m sure you wonder if agents even look properly at your material. Well, Brenna’s story may encourage you. She appeared in my inbox last August when I was especially inundated. Her submission immediately made me sit up (something in the way she expressed herself?), I asked to see her whole manuscript, and we then began an editorial process together that resulted in the complete rewrite that went out to US publishers this May – so nine months after our first encounter. Brenna is a star at revision, a big talent, and it’s been an exciting journey to see FE develop.

Deal done, up at 5am the following morning to fly to New York – only to sit on the tarmac for ages due to fog at La Guardia. Frustrated, I felt my Blackberry vibrate, took a quick look – and saw we’d had an offer on another project. Hooray!

A day whirling around New York, seeing a bevy of editors, then off to BEA (see photo). If you’ve never visited the Expo, let’s just say it’s vast, it’s sensory overload, it’s the entire US book industry clamouring at each other in a comparatively small area. You walk miles, you regret wearing heels, you think you may start hallucinating, you think, ‘Why don’t those &*%! [expletives deleted] drummers just SHUT UP!’ and ‘Oh, there’s NEIL GAIMAN’ as you’re swept past the booth where a semi-naked lady is handing out fliers . . . Grabbed a bagel at the Children’s Author Breakfast, repressed a huge urge (unlike Tomie dePaola) to sing ‘The Hills Are Alive . . .’ when Julie Andrews spoke, and then enjoyed ten minutes alone with Meg Cabot (in glorious lime-green dress) for the first time since I stopped being her publisher at Macmillan UK. (Oh, did I ever tell you I stayed with Meg at her house in Key West? But that’s another story, which will never be told.)

On to numerous other publisher appointments (lovely to at last meet Nicole Geiger from Tricycle in California, and Richard Florest from Weinstein Books). Then Greenhouse author Sarwat Chadda (DEVIL’S KISS) appeared, flanked by his Hyperion entourage. Chosen as one of the Fall’s breakout YA authors, Sarwat had been flown out to NYC from London for this year’s new YA Buzz Panels, chaired by Scholastic editor/author David Levithan. Big thrill to hear Ari Lewin of Hyperion talking about DK at the first panel (to a huge audience – not even standing-room only), and then to watch Sarwat himself talk about the book next day on the Author panel – the lone Brit amid a bunch of up-and-coming American authors. Not the easiest forum, especially with all the noise and exposure of the Downtown Stage where anyone passing could listen in.

Then on with Sarwat to meet Tim Ditlow, his audio publisher from Brilliance – and a great chat with the head of Amazon Books division. By which time I think both Sarwat and I were wondering what incoherent insanity was coming out of our mouths. As we parted ways (both flying back early next morning – him to UK, me to DC), I headed straight for an unoccupied table to vacuum up a large cappuccino and blueberry muffin in peace – only to find myself in (unsolicited) discussion with a doctor specializing in pediatric medicine and seeking a literary agent . . . Aaaagh.

For me, BEA ended with Egmont’s lovely first-anniversary party. Very nice canapés, amazing band! Since they are publishing our Alexandra Diaz’s OF ALL THE STUPID THINGS this was a chance to celebrate with a team that is one of New York’s nicest – Elizabeth Law, Regina Griffin, Doug Pocock (and to meet Greg Ferguson and Alison Weiss for the first time). Greenhouse and Egmont US were born about the same time, so there’s always been a bit of a connection between us.

Pitched up back home Sunday afternoon – surprisingly sprightly, though I do say so myself. And more good things waiting for me: fabulous and classy advance proofs of Val Patterson’s THE OTHER SIDE OF BLUE and Lindsey Leavitt’s PRINCESS FOR HIRE. A final jacket image for OF ALL THE STUPID THINGS (see the Author section on site), and a really attractive and commercial author website-in-the making from Harriet Goodwin, nearly ready to go live.

So what do you think I did on Sunday night? The Husband (bless him, for without him most things domestic would collapse) had got tickets to the open-air concert venue at Wolf Trap to see Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, and SHAWN COLVIN in concert. Shawn is in capital letters because she is one of my all-time favourite singer-songwriters who really inspired me to sing in the 1990s. She is everything I’d like to be musically – great lyricist, great guitarist. Oh, and she’s beautiful too.

As we sat there on a rug, on that warm, perfect night, I drank a glass of wine, thought about the week – and felt full of joy at how good the world is. Remember this, Sarah, I thought. Remember this. And I smiled up at the moon.