Archive for April, 2014

April 22, 2014

Six Questions for Agent Lauren Clark

by Carolee Noury

Writers know it’s a good idea to get to know an agent before pitching to and/or querying her. In that spirit, here’s an opportunity to meet Lauren Clark, of Kuhn Projects literary agency. She will be one of four agents participating in the practice pitch sessions at the 2014 Maryland Writers’ Conference.

Lauren Clark PhotoCatch up with Lauren Clark, a Maryland Writers’ Conference agent, if you can. Wear your running shoes or make it easier on yourself and register for a practice pitch.

Carolee Noury: Your Twitter profile says “Cincinnatian at heart.” What do you miss most?

Lauren Clark: I can only narrow it down to my top three: Mio’s Pizza, Half Price Books, and the abundance of unmetered parking.

CN: What do you like best about your job?

LC: I feel fortunate to have a job that lets me mix the creative and business-oriented parts of my brain. In a typical day I’ll read and respond to an author about her proposal, and then think through a contract negotiation. I enjoy that balance; I wouldn’t want to do all one or all the other.

CN: What inspires you?

LC: My colleagues at Kuhn Projects, daily.

CN: What has been your most meaningful project to date?

LC: I handled the foreign rights for Escape from Camp 14 by former Washington Post reporter Blaine Harden. Escape was the true account of the life of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person born into a North Korean prison camp who was able to escape and make it to the West. I got to meet Shin briefly, and I was also in constant contact with Blaine because the book sold extremely well overseas. It became an international bestseller and was translated into more than 25 languages. I was so happy for Blaine and Shin each time another foreign publisher bought the rights to the book. I’m grateful to have been involved in that book, even a little bit.

CN: What’s your idea of happiness?

LC: A long, tiring run in the woods.

CN: What is your favorite DC haunt?

LC: The fiction section of Kramer’s or the National Gallery of Art.

April 17, 2014

An Interview with Dean Bartoli Smith

by Steve Berberich

Dean Bartoli Smith

Dean Bartoli Smith

The theme of the 2014 Maryland Writers’ Conference, on Saturday, April 26, 2014 at the Conference Center at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, is “Feed Your Writing Habit.” Some writers are poets, some novelists, and still others prefer the short story format. They all think about crossing over, to stretch their gifts into other writing genres, even different and media.

Dean Bartoli Smith will be speaking at the conference on the tools and mental approach to crossing over in his workshop, “Putting It All Together. ” Smith has published poetry, prose, and non-fiction books. Below, he tells in his own words how he does it. He recently published a book in August on the Baltimore Ravens football teams run to the winning the Super Bowl, which he calls “part an account of the 2012-13 season, part love letter to Baltimore. ”

Steve Berberich: What does your workshop title, “Putting It All Together, ” mean to you?

Dean Bartoli DBS: It refers to melding the genres together: poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. The first book I published was poetry in 2000. My poems are of a very narrative nature and can be easily turned into nonfiction or even fiction. In Never Easy, Never Pretty about the Baltimore Ravens, the foundation is poetry. Every section starts with a poem by American poets and it grew out of poems I had written about football. As for my writing habit, I need all the genres all the time.

SB: What can you tell authors about the mental process of making such a transition in genre?

DBS: Poetry opens all possibilities. From a poem, I will try to revise it into more accessible forms. I will write in between the lines of the poem. Here is an example from the book: I’ve spent my life running under a Johnny Unitas touchdown pass. To me that is a line of poetry. I’ve also had journal entries become poems. I start breaking apart the linkages and varying the syntax and something new arises. Memories drive poems and longer forms emerge. I wrote a poem called “Chow Mein” for my book of poetry American Boy. It was the last night my parents were together. I was seven and remember the plate of chow mein–the noodles and the chicken and the light from a bright chandelier. It stayed there until morning on a white tablecloth in front French doors. Mark Strand once told me that the success of any kind of writing is based on how well it evokes a shared sense of suffering.

SB: How did your love of a particular topic, football or perhaps the city of Baltimore, help you become a better writer through the years?

DBS: It’s about the imagination and for me sports are a kind of launching pad. It is one of the topics I like to write about from an imagination perspective. I am interested in the way motion and athleticism, especially when slowed down, approach art. For others, it may be a particular painting that inspires a poem. That’s happened to me too. Whatever that springboard is, that font or units of energy called psychic energy, that is what really cultivates the mind. That is what nibbled on the outskirts of poet Stanley Kunitz’ consciousness in his poem “The Wellfleet Whale,” for example after the townsfolk gathered around a whale that washed up on the beach.

SB: What’s new with Dean Smith these days?

DBS: I’ve become more interested in writing more long-form things after being forced by my publisher to produce the Ravens book in 90 days. And going back further, when I started doing journalism in 2008-9, those deadlines and word counts prepared me to write the nonfiction book. It gave me the necessary discipline. I’ve got a poetry manuscript entitled “My Father’s Gun” that’s ripening in its 15th year and a detective novel that needs a rewrite.

SB: My guess is that a lot of your subject matter and inspiration comes from your love of Baltimore. What can you offer others in terms of how they can find their Baltimores?

DBS: I know this place. It is an acquired taste like the mustard in the back fin of a [blue] crab. It is the muse in a lot of ways, for me. Those poems come easier. They seep into the consciousness like water into the cracks of a sidewalk. Write what you know and the rest will take care of itself.

April 10, 2014

Questions for Literary Agent Shannon O’Neill

by Carolee Noury

Writers know that it’s a good idea to get to know agents before pitching to and/or querying them. In that spirit, here’s an opportunity to meet Shannon O’Neill, Agent at Lippincot Massie McQuilkin. Shannon will be one of four agents participating in the practice pitch sessions at the 2014 Maryland Writers’ Conference. Shannon is an agent for a New York firm who lives in DC–offering the best of both worlds for our Maryland writers: a “hometown” rep with NYC connections.

D12_201_019Carolee Noury: What’s it like working as an agent in DC? While it’s not remote, it’s also not New York or California.

Shannon O’Neill: DC is full of articulate and driven people. There’s a strong intellectual climate here; it’s a very literate city. I feel fortunate to be based here with so many universities, think tanks, and nonprofits in my backyard. And, oh yeah, the government just so happens to be here too. That means a large pool of interesting people who are experts in their field, and plenty of aspiring writers.

I love that DC is such a livable city. It’s quite beautiful, easy to navigate, and has so many free cultural offerings. The Smithsonian museums are my favorite, especially the National Gallery and the Museum of the American Indian. The free concerts at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage can be pretty great too.

CN: What trends are you seeing in popular science these days?

SO: The narrative is ascendant in most all types of nonfiction these days. It’s not enough to have breakthrough findings or brand-new scientific discoveries to share; you really have to be able to tell a great story and to connect with your readers.

CN: What makes fiction “upmarket? ”

SO: Upmarket, to me, basically means writing that aspires to last beyond the season in which it was published. Beyond being entertaining or well-written, upmarket fiction has staying power. It resonates with a reader on a deeper level. To write in such a way requires a mastery of the craft. Other forms of fiction do not necessarily make the same demand.

Recent examples I love include Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs.

CN: What writing book(s) do you wish rookie writers would read before they start writing?

SO: I wish that people would read more, and read more widely before they tackle their own book. There’s no “how to” guide that I’d recommend; instead I’d urge people to read or return to to the classics of literature, or make sure you’ve read every recent book on your subject that’s intended for a general audience if you’re writing nonfiction.

CN: What books are you reading right now?

SO: My most recent reads are Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station, Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be, and Nabokov’s Pale Fire.

CN: What’s a typical “a-ha” moment when you know you want to take on someone’s project?

SO: It’s different for every project but for fiction, I’m usually drawn in by the voice or the authority of the writing within the first few pages, or the first chapter.

For nonfiction, a strong platform matters but so does the originality and marketability of the idea. It’s often after a phone call or a meeting that I really feel confident that the writer and I are on the same page and would work well together.

CN: How many hours do you spend working in a typical week?

SO: That’s a really good question–one that I need to work harder on quantifying. Whenever I am reading–the news, book reviews, blogs, articles, literary magazines–I am constantly thinking about whether this person could write a book, or this article deserves to be expanded into something more robust, or the expert cited in a piece might have more findings to share. I need to work harder at unplugging!

April 9, 2014

The Conference Preview Edition of Pen in Hand is Out!

The Spring 2014 issue of Pen in Hand, the quarterly newsletter of the Maryland Writers’ Association, is hot off the presses! The issue (PDF) is available for download here.

In this Annual Conference preview issue, you’ll find:

  • Interviews with speakers and agents by Steve Berberich and Carolee Noury
  • Program synopses for all four program tracks
  • Exclusive tips for making the most of your conference experience

Download your free copy of Pen in Hand here. Back issues are also available on the MWA website’s Newsletter Page.