Tomorrow is the pub day for Christina Matula's adorable picture book, THE SHADOW IN THE MOON, which shares a contemporary retelling of the Chinese folktale about the Mid-Autumn Festival! Booklist particularly enjoyed the illustrations, which they called, "[R]eminiscent of Tomie dePaola, with warm reds and yellows effectively used to depict the heat of the 10 suns, while cool greens and blues show the earth’s relief under only one sun. Useful for introducing a significant festival celebrated in Chinese and other East Asian cultures.
I've always been a sucker for anything folktale- or fairytale-related and loved the chance to learn about a story I never knew about before! I recommend you all go pick up a copy :)
First off tell us about the book and what your inspiration was to write it!
The Shadow in the Moon is about a modern-day family coming together to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is a major holiday in the lunar calendar celebrated in many places in Asia, and indeed in many communities in North America with large Chinese populations.
The story begins as the grandparents arrive to celebrate the festival at their daughter’s home, which has been beautifully decorated with lanterns throughout and they bring the traditional gift of mooncakes for the whole family to share. After dinner, the grandmother (Ah-Ma) tells the story of the ancient legend behind the Mid-Autumn Festival to her two young granddaughters. She introduces the heroes of the tale - Hou Yi, the young archer, and Chang’e, the Lady in the Moon.
The recounting of the legend by Ah-ma brings the festival to life for the next generation and helps the two girls to have a greater understanding of their own heritage.
My inspiration to write it was to pass on a bit of my own heritage to my children. My mother is from Taiwan but I was born and raised in Canada, so didn’t have very strong ties to my Chinese cultural roots. Now that I live in Hong Kong, it’s been amazing to learn about the different festivals, their origins, and most importantly the associated foods. When my daughter was in kindergarten, the Chinese teacher told them the legend of Chang’e and Hou Yi. I was fascinated by this legend, which I knew nothing about. I ran out to find a picture book about it to read to her, but couldn’t find anything. So, on a whim, I decided to write one myself. Initially, the idea was to write a picture book just for my own family, but as it developed, I thought it was something that I would like to share, that would perhaps spark an interest in Chinese culture in young children.
So your path to publication (not to mention finding an agent) was an atypical one, because you previously self published THE SHADOW IN THE MOON in Hong Kong! Can you share what your journey to being agented and being published was like as a self-pubbed author?
My experience of writing this book has certainly taken me down some unexpected paths.
I shared my original story of the legend of The Shadow in the Moonwith family and friends. One of these friends was Andrea Fessler, who is the founder of Premiere Performances, a classical music outreach charity in Hong Kong. I showed her a draft of The Shadow in the Moon and she asked if she could set it to music and present it in her family concert series. She commissioned a Hong Kong based composer, Alexis Alrich, to write the music, which was a beautiful combination of Chinese and Western classical instruments. A few months before the concert, Andrea told me that she’d like the book available for sale at the concert. So this was the push I needed to retrieve it from the slushpile and just go with it. I found a local illustrator, Pearl Law, whose edgy and bright illustrations I loved, and less than 6 months later, I self-published the book in Hong Kong!
About a month afterwards, I met with author Susan Blumburg-Kason, who was giving a writing workshop in Hong Kong as part of her book tour for Good Chinese Wife. One of the tips Susan gave was to make friends with other authors. So, after her talk, I got up the courage to go speak with her and tell her about my self-published book. She was so kind with her encouragement and generously introduced me to her agent, which was you! From my first chance meeting with Susan, she’s become a good friend and mentor.
Thanks to your support, we were delighted to find the perfect partner in Charlesbridge Publishing. Writing this book has been such an exciting journey - from the original idea of capturing the story for my children, through to today when you can buy a copy all over the world.
This book was doubly unusual, because there was also a long lead time between when you signed the contract and when the book was published. What was that like?
The original plan was to have the book published in summer 2017, which was two years from when we signed the contract. However, the publisher had to move some of their launch dates, meaning my book was pushed to a winter launch date. As Mid-Autumn Festival happens around September/October time, the book needed to be published close to these months, so it was moved so it would come out at a more relevant time. The news was disappointing at first, but the extra year has flown by and has given me more time to work on marketing for the launch.
Is the Charlesbridge version of the picture book different from the self-pubbed version in any particular ways?
I really enjoyed working with my editor, Julie Bliven. She kept my original story and the illustrations as they were, but helped me enhance my writing. She also encouraged me to add more of a character arc for the main character and a bit more context to the festival. So now there is a richer story around the young sisters in the story and additional beautiful illustrations to go along with it.
What is your favorite part of the Mid-Autumn Festival?
In many ways, Mid-Autumn Festival is a bit like Chinese Thanksgiving, bringing together friends and family in celebration. My favourite part of the evening is having a picnic in the park or at the beach with friends and family, lighting our lanterns, and most importantly eating mooncakes! My favourite ones are the red bean ones. My kids love the snow-skin mooncakes, which are like mooncake-shaped mochi.
What is the most exciting/fun things you've done to promote the book so far?
I love going into schools and reading the book to students and having them share their own connections to the Mid-Autumn Festival or similar cultural festivals with me. It’s a really satisfying feeling having a couple of hundred students waiting for you to turn the page and find out what happens next. I’m planning to visit several schools as well as public libraries in September in the US and Canada and cannnot wait to share my story with the children there.
What do you hope readers enjoy most about the book?
The story takes place in an urban setting, but it could be the tale of any family in any city in any country. For those readers with Chinese heritage, I want to share that fascinating legend that makes the Mid-Autumn Festival so special. But for any reader, I hope they will not only be drawn into the charming tale, but also in observing their own parallels with the religious and cultural festivals that their own families celebrate.
Anything new authors can learn from your experiences?
Go out and get involved in local writing groups and attend workshops, such as via SCBWI. This gives you a chance to meet people trying to get published, so you can share your experiences and give each other support, or meet established authors, who can be very generous with their words of advice and encouragement. I’ve had the chance to sit down and chat with exceptional writers this year with my SCBWI group, most notably Grace Lin and Jason Reynolds.
This month's tip is about how to choose an agent, whether after an offer or querying! I feel like it would be better to figure this out during the querying stage (always better to be ahead of the curve!), but this tip is also helpful if you've also just received an offer of rep.
When I was in college, my career center advisor gave me a really great tip for how to determine what kind of job I wanted. She told me to write a list of all the things I wanted and all the things I didn't want in a career...basically a pros and cons list. What I ended up with was something like this:
I Don’t Want…
To work with authors
To do the same thing every day
Something that utilizes analytical and creative skills
To work in a super corporate environment
Flexibility with work hours
To travel regularly
Something that can feel moderately competitive
Something that requires me to hit a certain goal (e.g. with sales, etc.)
Something fairly autonomous when it comes to day-to-day work
In a similar vein, I think it is essential to work out the things you do and don't want from an agent. For example:
I Don’t Want…
Someone who shares my vision for my books/career
A project-by-project agent
Someone moderately editorial
Someone who shelves a project after one round
Someone who communicates mostly over email
Someone who isn’t open to me writing in other genres
Someone with an open communication-style
An agent who isn’t open to occasional brainstorm conversations on the phone
An agent with a strong record of sales in my genre
An agent at a small agency
Willing to try different things, e.g. Radish
A POC agent
Organizing your thoughts and gleaning what you want from interacting with agents can help you realize what kind of person you want to team up with. It's always best when an agent and an author have a similar working style and aligning goals, and sorting out what those are up-front can save you a lot of heartache or wasted time down the road. I hope this tip was helpful--happy list-making!
Summer is very obviously in full swing now--at least it is in New York (ohhh, the humidity!!!)--and I happen to have the best beach reads ever to talk to you about!
One of my clients is NYT bestseller Suzy K. Quinn. I stumbled across Suzy accidentally one day when I was bored and scanning Amazon for something cheap and fun to read. I downloaded the first book in her Bad Mother's Romance series, BAD MOTHER'S DIARY and was hooked from there. There are four books in the series, which revolves around the exploits of new mother, Juliette Duffy, her horrible boyfriend who jilts her at the altar, and the handsome hotelier who always seems to be around when she's at her worst.
It's the best kind of romantic comedy, and although originally self-published for a UK audience, today the US versions of the books are available (click on the book images to buy)!! I can't tell you how much I love these books--they are the perfect indulgent read, with plenty of laughs and swoons and are a bit of Sophie Kinsella, BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY, and BAD MOMS all rolled into one!
I hope I've convinced you all to grab your own copies today!
Naomi is lucky #8 this month! Congrats, Naomi!! Here is her original query:
Dear [Agent Name]:
When Gay rights icon Harvey Milk is assassinated in 1978, he never dreams that he would enter the Afterlife, fall in love with codebreaker and mathematician Alan Turing, and together, change the world.
Brash, impulsive Harvey is excited, at last, to love a man whom he can respect as an equal, and who can thrill his mind as well as his body. Sensitive, passionate Alan is delighted to be understood and appreciated by a man who speaks fluent Geek. They seem the perfect match: as lovers who bring out the best in each other and as teammates with the chance to enter an alternate universe and prevent World War II with the aid of robots.
But when Harvey makes a rash move, Alan's insecurity and a jealous ex-lover threaten to destroy the relationship. Unless Harvey can swallow his pride, he will lose the best boyfriend he has ever had, and the fate of millions will hang in balance.
EVER I SAW YOUR FACE, an HEA adult speculative romance complete at 115k words, has series potential. It retells a fairy tale like TWO YEARS EIGHT MONTHS AND TWENTY-EIGHT DAYS and incorporates alternate worlds like ALL THE WRONG TODAYS. This story may resonate with you because of your interest in alternate history, queer voices, and geeky love stories.
Like Milk I am Jewish-American. Like Turing I am British and Irish. Like both I am Neurodiverse, queer and love math. I have exhaustively researched both men and spent time where they lived. My book DELICIOUS PROSE (Brill, 2018) studies the ancient fairy tale. TOBIT, upon which the novel is based.
Thank you for your consideration.
And here is my critique:
Dear [Agent Name]:
When Ggay rights icon Harvey Milk is assassinated in 1978, he never dreamst that he would enter the Aafterlife, and fall in love with code-breaker and mathematician Alan Turing, and together, never mind change the world.
Brash, impulsive Harvey is excited, at last, to love a man whom he can respect as an equal, and who can thrill his mind as well as his body. [This sentence reads awkwardly. I would consider changing to something like the following.] The afterlife truly is heaven for Harvey, who is thrilled with his intelligent, passionate lover. Sensitive, passionate Likewise, the sensitive Alan is delighted to be finally understood and appreciated by a the kind of man who speaks fluent Geek. They seem like the perfect match: as lovers soulmates who bring out the best in each other and as teammates with the chance to enter an alternate universe and prevent World War II with the aid of robots. [How does this chance happen? Expand more here. Do they come up with the idea/ability to travel back in time together and invent robots to help them right one of the worst wrongs in history or are they assigned this task by someone? Help us get a better sense of what the plot is here.
But when Harvey makes a rash move, Alan's insecurity and a jealous ex-lover threaten to destroy the relationship. Unless Harvey can swallow his pride, he will lose the best boyfriend he has ever had, and the fate of millions will hang in balance. [Give us more! Without becoming overly wordy, I'd love to get more specifics of this situation. What is Harvey's rash move? How does Alan's ex factor in? Without a better grasp of the story line, it is more difficult for the reader to feel truly compelled/invested in the manuscript.]
EVER I SAW YOUR FACE, an HEA adult speculative romance complete at 115k words, has series potential. It retells a fairy tale like is a fairy tale reimagining similar to TWO YEARS EIGHT MONTHS AND TWENTY-EIGHT DAYS [How is this a fairy tale retelling? What fairy tale is this based on?] and incorporates alternate worlds like ALL THE WRONG TODAYS. This story may resonate with you because of your interest in alternate history, queer voices, and geeky love stories.
Like Milk I am Jewish-American. Like Turing I am British and Irish. Like both I am Neurodiverse, queer and love math. I have exhaustively researched both men and spent time where they lived. My book DELICIOUS PROSE (Brill, 2018) studies the ancient fairy tale., TOBIT, [I'm not familiar with this fairy tale. I would move this explanation further up in the query and also take a moment to briefly describe what it is, e.g. a quick sketch of the story, origins, etc.] upon which the novel is based.
Thank you for your consideration.
This is a very original premise with popular characters whom I am sure would compel reads to dip in! I really like the idea of Harvey Milk and Alan Turing as lovers in the afterlife, but as you'll see my main issue to fix in this query is drawing out more detail so that we can more fully understand what the story is about.
As I said, this is a super cool idea and a great start, though! I hope my thoughts have been helpful, Naomi, and best of luck with this! Everyone, chime in with thoughts and questions in the comments section below.
This month's tip is inspired by alllllllll the books I snagged at BEA this year:
June's tip is this: read.
It sounds super basic and kind of like a cop-out tip, but I promise it's not! It's an incredibly important one! Reading current and bestselling books in your genre is an essential way to do many important things:
learn about trends in the market
see what kinds of themes and tropes are commonly used in the genre you write in
gain insight into how different authors successfully achieve different things (e.g. creating two distinct POVs, walking the line between sparse worldbuilding and micromanaging the readers' imagination, transitioning between chapters, creating tension, etc.)
see what has already been done so you don't try to send out a project that already exists
It's important for agents to stay on top of what's selling well, too, so I completely understand that a task as simple as "read" can still be hard to do. I often need to stop and force myself to do it! It's easy to get sucked into your own projects and forget to take the time to read a book that has already been published and is not connected to you in any way. There's always so much to do as an agent and as an author, which means taking the time to just READ can induce strong feelings of guilt--but then I tell myself that I'm making essential updates to my current market knowledge...♫ and then I don't feel soooo baaaad! ♫ ♫
Being ahead of the curve is a big plus for querying authors, and making sure that you read in your genre helps and are aware of what's selling in it ensures that you won't waste time pursuing an out-of-date trend and can even help you figure out how to get ahead of the next wave! And as I'm sure you know, the more you read, the better your writing gets! You get to kick back and watch NYT bestsellers and other writing wizards build three-dimensional characters or perfectly utilize showing moments to evoke a particular feeling/idea and then implement their tricks in your own work.
So be sure to take time to productively relax (one my favorite things to do) and take a free master class with a great book!
One of the things I love about Taylor is that his books always make me feel like I'm at the movies--he does a fantastic job of creating tension, keeping a fast pace, and creating amazing characters. Be sure to buy a copy of the book and also check out his Wrecking Crew series!
First off, tell us about THE MAW!
THE MAW is the story of Milo Luttrell, a young Georgetown history professor whose career and personal life have fallen to tatters. Redemption comes with a mysterious invitation to the recently rediscovered mouth to the largest cave system in Africa. A team of elite cavers has assembled to map the cave, and, with Milo's help, discover why famed British explorer Lord Riley DeWar was drawn to the deep--and why he never left.
Your previous books, THE WRECKING CREW and RED SUN ROGUE, partially tie into your real-life experience as a maritime historian and deep-sea salvage diving. Did you draw on any past adventure when writing THE MAW?
Of course! Back in the day, I went through months of pretty extensive Wilderness Search & Rescue training. We practiced underground technical rescues, and I joined my new S&R buddies for some pretty rad caving and canyoneering trips. The world of caves and caving became a fascination for me, and the basis of this novel.
Besides your own experience, where else did you draw inspiration when it came to writing the characters and plot?
I'm an obsessive researcher; and spent months combing through modern and historic materials about deep cave expeditions to bring this story to life. I think readers will be captured by the allure of the deep from the first page to the final revelation, just as I was.
What is your favorite plot twist in the book?
My favorite plot twist in this book struck a very personal tone. Protagonist Milo Luttrell finds out he wasn't asked to join the expedition just for his expertise in a missing explorer. His highly accomplished ex-girlfriend, the expedition's doctor, pushed hard to include him and give him one last chance to redeem himself in academia and resurrect his career. On one hand, it's a devastating blow to learn he was invited because she felt sorry for him. But on the other hand, her unflagging faith pushes him to become rediscover himself and solve an incredible mystery.
What was is like getting back into submission mode with publishers again? Did you feel more relaxed or confident this time around?
Would it be terrible of me to say I don't remember ... ? My son was just turning one when this was on submission, and a lot of that time period was a sleepless blur. I have some vague memories of the usual mix of excitement and dread, but beyond that it's mostly lost to me at this point.
What is some fun promotion you've done for the book? Anything upcoming we should be keeping our eyes or ears out for?
My favorite promo for this book was a photo shoot in a subterranean lava tube at the base of Mt. St. Helens. I met up with cave photographer extraordinaire Josh Hydeman (www.joshhydeman.com) for the session. He's just back from a National Geographic Adventure assignment to a massive cavern system in Mexico, the guy is the real deal and a monster talent behind the lens. He had me doing some really awesome stuff - long exposures, multiple flash, even jumped in for a swim in an underground river. Verdict? It was January, and it was very, very cold, but I loved the excuse to throw a little adventure into all the promotion I'm doing.
What is a fun fact about yourself?
I don't just write about explorers - I am one. I'm a member of the Explorer's Club and helped discover and identify a number of lost deep sea shipwreck. Part of my mission as an author is to bring my sense of wonder and fascination with history and the natural world to readers. The best way to do that, I believe, is to write a helluva good story.
Any advice you want to share with your fellow thriller writers?
Thrillers are propelled by tension. It's your job to provide that tension. Take away your character's security blanket. Show that they're vulnerable. Put them into impossible situations. Make their brilliant solutions backfire. Give them multiple critical problems to solve at once. Failure is always an option, and things can always get worse. Every victory, big or small, must come with an unbearable cost or sacrifice. By using these narrative techniques, you force your characters to become their true selves, which is the only way they'll get out alive.
Happy Memorial Day and happy query critique time! For everyone who enters (and those who don't) spread the word so that even if you don't submit a query, you encourage others to read and comment. Thanks :)
If you're not familiar with how to enter, take a look at my previous post to read the rules. Good luck!
It's Tip Time! This month I thought I would talk about how to nail your genre.
I see a lot of queries where authors get their genre wrong or in an abundance of caution, classify their manuscripts using the broadest possible strokes, e.g. "I am querying you because you represent fiction."
This is a mistake because even though you may have a fantastically written manuscript, being too broad or just completely getting your genre wrong shows agents that you don't really know the marketplace, which is essential knowledge to have, since as we all know, promotion efforts will definitely fall on your shoulders when your project publishes, regardless of where you land.
To familiarize yourself with different genres, I strongly suggest taking the time to cruise Publishers Marketplace, to see the kinds of deals that are being done each day and note which projects are similar to yours and how they are being classified (you can either sign up for a subscription or receive a free newsletter). For instance, you might think that your historical fiction about Highlanders belongs in the historical fiction category, but after scrolling through several pages, you'll probably see that anything about Highlanders pretty much automatically belongs under romance and that labeling it as anything else will be more of an uphill battle, both for you and for a potential agent.
Another easy thing to do is to just park yourself at a Barnes & Noble or your local library one day and walk the shelves. You might see that instead of calling your book an adventure story, you should really label it as a thriller or that since your protagonist is going off to college, your book is really more New Adult than YA. Looking at comp titles is also a great way to see where your book fits into the publishing landscape!
Doing this will help give an agent a favorable impression when you query them and help you determine which agents you should send to when looking at what genres an agent does and doesn't represent. We're always glad to see authors who know what they're talking about and have clearly done their research!
As we get closer to summer, I am realizing I am SUPER hungry for romance subs to read on the beach or during those long-haul airplane rides! Since they haven’t been appearing in my inbox as much as I’d like I thought I’d write a blog about exactly what I am looking for!
I am interested in pretty much all romance sub-genres, except for Christian. I love contemporary romances that are adorable without being predictable, sassy, funny characters, LGBTQ, historical, steamy/erotica, paranormal, and anything in between. Romance authors who are savvy and have great platforms already will definitely catch my eye!
More specifically, I am always looking for a romance about baking or food (think GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF!), but if you have a millennial romance about young graduates figuring out life, with diverse characters, or involving technology, that is also on the top of my romance wish list, so please send it to me! I tend to gravitate toward quirky romances with strong, spunky heroines and guys that don’t brood too much! I want plots that aren't purely romance-driven but have a storyline involving transformation for the main character outside of her relationship.
SILVER trilogy by Kate Valentine
ONCE UPON A TIARA series by Carolyn Hector
THE HATING GAME by Sally Thorne
ALL SOULS trilogy by Deborah Harkness
ROYALLY ROMA by Teri Wilson
THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT by Beatrice Williams
I am NOT interested in romances about naive wallflowers who are swept off their feet by domineering (leaning towards abusive) men. In contemporary romance, think more Alexa Martin or Sophia Kinsella, and less Nicholas Sparks. I always wish steampunk would take off in the market, but it just doesn’t seem to sell, so it’s sadly not for me!
Here are some of my romance authors, whose books I LOVE: