David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Month: April 2016

Alexandra Lutnick, author of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: Beyond Victims and Villains, a book about child sex trafficking

Everything You Think You Know About Child Sex Trafficking is Wrong … Alexandra Lutnick Tells You Why

I first met Alexandra Lutnick a couple of years ago in the strange little world of sex worker activist/academics. Trust me, it is a very strange little world. She had such interesting things to say about trafficking, particularly about child sex trafficking. So many people try to help and end up making things worse. Now that her book Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: Beyond Victims and Villains is out, I thought I’d pick her brain about what is to be done.

To read the full interview on the Huffington Post, click here.

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David Henry Sterry: How did you first come up with the idea for writing this book?

Alexandra Lutnick: The foundation of this book is based on a process evaluation of three programs that were funded to work with domestic minor victims of human trafficking. The evaluation was conducted by RTI International and led by Deborah Gibbs. As part of that evaluation, I designed a piece to try to better understand the experiences of young people involved in the sex industry. I was frustrated by what I was seeing in the media where it was only the story of young girls who were forced to sell sex. I knew from my previous research that the story was not that simple and wanted to better represent that diversity. To accomplish that, we conducted case history interviews with case managers as part of the process evaluation. During these interviews, case managers would share the story of specific young people who were receiving services from their agency. At subsequent visits, they would give us updates about those young people. This allowed me to better understand how and why young people become involved in trading sex, the role that other people play in this, and the challenges of meeting these young people’s needs.

I wanted to write something that challenges the prioritization of the narrative of young girls forced into this against their wills. I am not arguing that youth are not forced into trading sex. Some are. For some it is force by another person, for others it is force that results from limited or no options. Instead what I wanted to reveal was how this issue of young people involved in the sex trade is a much more complicated issue with a diversity of young people involved for a variety of reasons. For us to really be able to respond to this issue, we need to take into account that diversity. It is only when we do that that we will be able to develop programmatic and policy responses that will effectively meet their needs.

DHS: What were some of the perils and joys of researching and putting this book together?

AL: One of the unexpected perils of this process was that it was intertwined with the death of my parents. Right before I started the research in 2010, my father died. Two months before I got the book deal in 2013, my mom died. It is understandable that when I think about the process of putting this book together that I think of them.

Another challenge for me was my particular style of writing and organization. My method is that I get everything in order and then I sit down and write until the product is done. What that means for this book is that I wrote the first draft of the manuscript in 30 days. This isn’t the easiest content to spend a lot of time with, and by the end of that 30-day period, I was physically and emotionally exhausted.

Fortunately along with those emotional challenges, I have also experienced lots of joy. I am very fortunate to be part of a community of people who identify as people who have experienced trafficking, survivors, sex workers, scholars, activists, academics, service providers, or some combination of these various identities. Interacting with, learning from, and feeling supported by these various people while researching and writing the book was such a gift. Being able to present a more nuanced perspective of this issue and highlight the work of some amazing individuals and organizations has been an honor. Some of the organizations represented in the book, as well as other people working on this issue, have reached out to let me know what a valuable resource my book is for them. It is truly affirming to hear from them that they feel like I captured the reality of this group of young people and the challenges they face. I am also encouraged by some of the feedback I’ve received that the book is expanding people’s understanding and influencing how they think about program and policy development.

DHS: What are some of the misconceptions that people have about domestic sex trafficking as it pertains to minors?

AL: Unfortunately, misconceptions dominate the discussions about domestic minor sex trafficking. From the number of young people involved, to the average age of entry, to whether the young person has a third party, this issue is plagued by bad or misrepresented data.

The dominant narrative about pimp-controlled youth is also a misconception. Mainstream narratives would have us believe that all young people who trade sex are controlled by a third party. The reality is that third-party involvement all depends on the sample of young people. Some studies have found it to be as low as 0% (among street-based, young transgender women), and some have found it to be as high as 57% (among minors arrested for prostitution). The dominant narrative results in outrage and indignation directed at third parties instead of in a questioning of the structural factors that are the antecedents to such involvement. The lack of ambiguity in the way these relationships are presented by the media and the “victim industry” leads to overly simplistic ideas about young people’s involvement in trading sex and positions them as one-dimensional characters who are victims and need rescuing. It obscures the reality that for some young people, the third party involved is a friend or peer helping them survive, and for some it is a parent or guardian who is making them trade sex as a continuation of the abuse they perpetrate. It also fails to recognize the ways in which third-party involvement can and does change over time.

DHS: What can the average citizen do to help this terrible problem?

AL: That is a great question. I encourage people to critically engage with the information they get about this issue. The more we understand the complexities and nuances, the better equipped we will be to appropriately respond.

To that end, I would like to see the average citizen read the fine print on any ballot propositions and pieces of legislation. The reality is that no one is for human trafficking. No one wants to see people being exploited and having their rights violated. Unfortunately, most anti-trafficking propositions and legislation contain aspects that will create collateral consequences for the very people they purport to protect. We need to know those details, help educate others and pressure our representative to remove those components.

We can encourage our representatives to introduce and pass legislation that will prevent young people from being arrested for prostitution-related offenses, as well as allow them to vacate any prior convictions for offenses committed while being trafficked. It is logically inconsistent to say these young people are victims of a crime and then treat them like criminals. It is also misguided to support the “arresting them for their own good” approach. No better way exists to limit a young person’s ability to thrive than saddling them with convictions.

As citizens, we also need to work to address the vulnerabilities that racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, poverty, and generational abuse and trauma create. I know that a lot of people are eager to do work around trafficking, or volunteer with anti-trafficking organizations. I encourage you to think about how you can direct your efforts at addressing the macro-level issues that create vulnerabilities for our young people. Without a functioning system to support them, young people find that to meet their needs, their best, only, or least-worst option is to trade sex.

DHS: What do you want people to take away from reading your book?

AL: The aim of the book is to move past homogenous representations of this group of young people. By expanding the narrative beyond simplistic ac¬counts of victims and villains, I am hoping that readers will gain a more nuanced understanding of both this social issue and the young people involved.

Many different routes and motivations lead young people to trade sex, and the structural factors and inequalities that precede their involvement need to be examined. Relying on the victim-villain narrative has prevented us from examining the structural factors and social forces that produce and maintain young people’s vulnerability. To develop and implement effective policies and programs, we must be willing to acknowledge the diversity of youth who trade sex, explore the ways in which our constructions of childhood and victimhood may contribute to the social marginalization of young people, and assess what we as a community can do to offer alternatives so that youth do not feel that sex trades are the only way they can meet their needs and wants.

I want readers to see how the prioritized approach of trying to get “the bad guys” has not brought about significant improvements for the young people these legal responses purportedly aim to protect. If we continue to prioritize the one narrative of young cisgender girls forced into this by pimps/traffickers, our programs and policies are going to continue to fail to meet the needs of this population. For example, if a young person is homeless, they need a way to survive. Trading sex becomes a way to survive. Making penalties higher for third parties or clients does nothing to address why trading sex is their only, least worst, or best option.

DHS: Tell us about your road to publication.

AL: I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. I presented some of my dissertation research related to this at the annual meeting of the Society of Social Work and Research in 2013. Unbeknownst to me, Jennifer Perillo, an editor from Columbia University Press was at my session. She approached me afterwards and asked if I had thought about turning my dissertation into a book. I acknowledged that I hadn’t, but would be open to that possibility. We scheduled a call for after the conference to talk through what that would look like. Based on our conversation, we were both really excited about the possibility and I submitted a proposal. Columbia University Press then sent it out for a number of peer reviews and then approved the proposal. After I submitted the manuscript, it was sent back out for peer review, and then for approval from the editorial and faculty boards at Columbia University. Three years after that first meeting at the conference, my book was published. It was such a great experience working with Jennifer and all the great folks at Columbia University Press.

DHS: What part does law enforcement have in enabling or preventing sex trafficking?

AL: At the federal level any young person involved in commercial sex acts is considered a victim of a severe form of human trafficking. Because prostitution laws are regulated by states, it is not uncommon to have young people being arrested for prostitution-related offenses.

Unfortunately, because their behavior is criminalized and because many of these young people report having experience abuse perpetrated by police officers, they largely do not think of law enforcement as a safety option. To address the ten¬sion that currently exists between viewing them as victims and treating them as criminals, all states need to incorporate a minimum age into their laws whereby no one younger than 18 can be charged for prostitution-related offenses. Decriminalization is the only way to ensure that young people are not arrested or detained for prostitution-related offenses. It is unacceptable that we have more young women being arrested for prostitution-related offenses now compared to right before the TVPA (Trafficking Victims Protection Act) was passed in 2000.

The call for decriminalization of young people involved in prostitution is supported by a number of entities. The American Bar Association’s Child Trafficking Policy is in agreement that it should be prohibited to arrest or charge young people with the crimes of prostitution, solicitation, or loitering as well as other offenses, including status offenses that are incident to their trafficking situation. It is also supported by the International Committee on the Rights of the Child in their 2013 criticism of the U.S. government for continuing to criminalize people younger than 18 who trade sex. In the guidance for a model state statute, Section 1243 of the TVPRA of 2013 includes not charging or prosecuting young people for prostitution offenses.

In addition to decriminalizing young people’s involvement in trading sex, future work needs to examine the ways in which decriminalizing or legalizing adult prostitution may have an impact on young people’s involvement in sex trades. Decriminalization is supported by entities such as Amnesty International, UNAIDS, the World Health Organization, the Open Society Foundations, and the Global Commission on HIV and the Law. It is possible that if a system for adults to procure sex were formalized through decriminalization or legalization, opportunistic clients would no longer have a need to purchase sex from young people. Similarly, removing criminal statutes against all individuals who sell and purchase sex may create an environment where they could report to law enforcement officials without fear of legal consequences any situations where people are being exploited in the sex industry.

We cannot legislate our way out of this social issue. As long as the needs of law enforcement and prosecution are prioritized over the needs of young people, we will continue to fail to meet their needs. The legislation that increases penalties for solicitation of minors does not grant youth social and economic power and does not acknowledge their needs and desires. Without this power, young people are still at risk for becoming involved in sex trades regardless of the increased penalties for third parties and clients.

DHS: I’m always so completely skeptical about any statistics I read from people doing work in the illegal underground sex world. Can you help us know what to believe and what not to believe?

AL: I am so glad to hear you say that. I wish more people questioned the statistics that are presented.

In the world of research, we consider people involved in the sex industry a hidden population. The reason for this is because the size of group membership is unknown. This makes it particularly difficult to obtain a random sample because a full listing of all those involved does not exist. An additional complication is that young people have many good reasons for not acknowledging their involvement, such as concerns about being judged, stigmatized, or arrested. What this means, and what is important to your question, is that we do not have representative data about this group of young people. Instead, we have data specific to a certain sample or sub-group (such as child welfare involved). Those data are from a convenience sample so they cannot be generalizable beyond that sample.

Unfortunately, the misuse of data related to young people involved in the sex industry is rampant. For example, in a review of forty-two published books about human trafficking, Lisa Fedina found that 78% of the books cited prevalence data from at least one flawed source. This misuse of data is also easily found in newspaper articles, news shows, documentaries, journal articles, activist claims, organizational literature, political speeches, and governmental hearings. To rely on unsupported estimates is a disservice to knowledge building and shifts the attention away from the social factors that create vulnerabilities among youth. The goal of research is to produce valid knowledge about a particular group and a reliable picture of their social reality. When the limitations of data are not acknowledged, it misguides service providers and policy makers about the needs of populations.

My suggestion is to be a critical consumer of information. Before you start using a statistic, trace it back to its source and look to see how the data was collected. You will want to pay particular attention to the sampling methods use, the phrasing of questions, and if the data is about outcomes (like rates of mental health issues, substance use, abuse), whether a comparison group was part of the research.

DHS: Why do we continue to have this problem in what we ourselves consider to be a civilized country?

AL: We need to move toward an empowerment, anti-oppression model of program and policy development and service delivery. These young people are resourceful and resilient, and they are the experts about their lives. Programs need to be committed to creating opportunities for young people to develop and enhance their skills so they are able to take on additional leadership roles within and beyond the organization. Funding and delivering formal leadership programs for these young people are crucial. I have sat through far too many meetings, conferences, presentations, and policy planning sessions about this issue where no young people are present or in positions of leadership. Often times when I ask where they are, the answer is that it is not convenient to meet when youth are available (meaning outside of normal business hours) and that people believe young people would not be comfortable at these types of gatherings. That needs to change.

Young people need social and economic power as well as the ability to have their choices about living situations, service needs, and sexuality respected. Unfortunately, the United States is one of only three countries that has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. If as a nation we ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we would be obligated to listen to young people and take seriously their opinions. We also would be required to ensure that young people have access to health care, education, and social benefits either indirectly through their guardians or directly.

As a country, we have been dealing with young people involved in the sex industry for a long time. Over the course of time, we have used different terms to describe this social issue, but the issue remains. The unfortunate reality is we have not made much progress in truly addressing the root causes of this social issue. Without addressing structural inequalities and other factors that create vulnerabilities, we will continue to struggle to meet the needs of these young people. If young people’s basic human rights are met, if they have stable and safe housing, employment or another source of income, health care, access to education and welfare benefits, and supportive networks (familial or social), those who really do not want to be trading sex will have other options.

Dr. Alexandra Lutnick is a senior research scientist for the Behavioral and Urban Health Program at RTI International, one of the world’s leading research institutes. She also serves as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. Some of her current work involves a National Institute of Justice funded peer-based evaluation of the anti-trafficking task force in San Francisco.

Dr. Lutnick has authored and coauthored publications for numerous publications, including the Journal of Urban Health, Children and Youth Services Review, Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, American Journal of Epidemiology, Reproductive Health Matters, and Sexually Transmitted Infections. She has been an invited speaker about sex work and also trafficking for many conferences, including the Freedom Network Annual Conference, the National Harm Reduction Conference, the Society for Social Work and Research Annual Meeting, and the International AIDS Conference. Her book Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: Beyond Victims and Villains was published in early 2016 by Columbia University Press.

Jerry Nelson, author, Dear County Agent Guy, Pitchapalooza Participant

Booked! A Guest Column From Pitchapalooza Participant Jerry Nelson

Jerry Nelson, author, Dear County Agent Guy, Pitchapalooza Participant

Jerry Nelson, author of Dear County Agent Guy

As soon as we met Jerry Nelson at the South Dakota Festival of Books, we knew he was the real deal.  He has that subtle, dry, Midwestern wit that sneaks up behind you and then whacks you right in the funny bone. His first book, Dear County Agent Guy, will be published on May 3rd. Publishing is a long row to hoe, so Jerry shared his story of how he did it. This column first appeared on Agriculture.com.


It’s been nearly two decades since I began to do this silly writing thing. During that time, folks have often asked if I had considered publishing a collection of my selected works. This concept had a certain appeal – Fame? Fortune? Exciting new income tax deductions? – so I investigated the matter.

I soon learned that landing a book deal with a mainstream publisher – a publisher who isn’t just some guy with a Xerox machine in the trunk of his car – is only slightly less difficult than climbing Mount Everest on roller skates.

So my wife and I began to look into self-publishing. Some very famous writers have gotten their start via self-publishing. The original author of the Ten Commandments is a good example.

While it’s unlikely that you’ll receive a rejection letter from your self-publisher, self-publishing also has innumerable pitfalls. The main one is the actual publishing process.

I envisioned my wife ensconced in the basement, furiously cranking out copies of my work on a mimeograph machine. Meanwhile, upstairs, I would be slaving over a hot keyboard. It was a daunting proposition, but might be doable so long as my wife’s cranking arm held up.

But then fate intervened.

One September day we decided to attend the Festival of Books, a shindig that’s put on each autumn by the South Dakota Humanities Council. Call us wild and crazy, but our idea of a good time is browsing through stacks of books.

The Festival featured something called Pitchapalooza, an event that was conducted by the husband and wife team of Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry. Pitchapalooza participants must first buy a copy of Arielle and David’s book, The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published. Aspiring authors are then given 60 seconds to explain to the room why their book should be published. Beginning… now!

Even though I estimated my odds at somewhere between “none” and “lower than the bottom of a badger hole” I thought it was worth a shot.

I stood up in front of the assembled and dissembled about my columns and the idea of publishing a collection. Arielle and David offered upbeat and constructive advice, but added that nobody publishes collections anymore. Even so, they were kind enough to give me the contact info of a literary agent named Danielle Svetcov.

Danielle cautioned that nobody publishes collections anymore, but nonetheless thought that I should whip up a book proposal. Relying heavily on advice from Danielle and from Arielle and David’s book, I hammered a proposal together. When I printed it out, it was as thick as an oak tree.

Danielle suggested that I email my proposal to a handful of book editors. I didn’t expect to hear anything back from any of them. This is often how it goes in farming: no matter how hard you work, at the end of the day your wife will still probably tell you to get your muddy boots off her clean kitchen floor.

I was as shocked as the guy who backed into an electric fence when a couple of the editors expressed interest. Danielle grabbed the bull the scruff of its neck and made a deal with Workman Publishing. I later phoned Bruce Tracy, my editor at Workman Publishing. “Nobody does collections anymore,” he said. “But we’re making an exception for you. You have wonderful stuff and together we make it even wonderfuler.”

I felt like a man who had been stumbling around in a barren wasteland when one day, without warning, he spies a unicorn. Things like this never happen. At least not to me.

But there it was in black and white: A contract. A book tour. An advance!

It began to seem really real the day I partook in a conference call that involved my agent in San Francisco and my publicist in Manhattan. I thought, “Whoa! Here I am in the middle of nowhere, talking to both coasts. And all because of this silly writing thing!”

Did I mention that I now have a publicist? Everyone should have a publicist to handle all the tough questions that life throws at you.

One day, my wife demanded, “Why can’t you simply put your dirty socks in the hamper?”

“I’m sorry,” I replied. “But you’ll need to contact my publicist, Chloe, regarding that issue.”

I quickly discovered that having a publicist won’t get you out of household chores. It was worth a shot.

So here I am at the same old desk I have used for nearly 20 years. In my sweaty paw is a copy of a sparkling new book titled Dear County Agent Guy, which, I have been told, will soon be available in bookstores everywhere.

All because of this silly writing thing.


Dear County Agent Guy: Calf Pulling, Husband Training, and Other Curious Dispatches from a Midwestern Dairy Farmer, Jerry Nelson, book coverJerry Nelson and his wife, Julie, live in Volga, South Dakota, on the farm that Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s. In addition to his weekly column, his writing has also appeared in the nation’s top agricultural magazines, including Successful Farming, Farm Journal, Progressive Farmer, and Living the Country LifeDear County Agent Guy is his first book.

Dear County Agent Guy will be available from Workman on May 3, 2016. Look for our interview with Jerry in the Huffington Post next week.

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE INTERVIEWS AND TIPS ON HOW TO GET PUBLISHED. 

David Henry Sterry’s Baseball Mancave

http://bit.ly/1r2QBth

 

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BlogHer + The Book Doctors = Pitchapalooza Webinar

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Do you want to get successfully published?  Find an agent?  Attract an editor at a great independent publishing house?  Or do it yourself?  Whichever way your publishing path takes you, your pitch is in many ways the most important arrow in your quiver.  Learn how to pitch like a professional at Pitchapalooza. Like American Idol for books (only kinder and gentler), the winner receives an introduction to an agent or editor that is appropriate for his/her book. Numerous Pitchapalooza winners and participants now have book deals. Pitchapalooza is the brainchild of Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, co-founders of The Book Doctors and authors of over 25 books including The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published

Pitchapalooza

 

BlogHer Pitchapalooza

Now, for the first time, BlogHer is collaborating with The Book Doctors on an interactive online Pitchapalooza.  Writers will send in their pitch, 250 words maximum.  Then, on May 18, at noon (CT) The Book Doctors will randomly select 20 pitches, and read them aloud, one by one.  They will critique them, and explain what’s working, and what needs to be improved.  At the end of the webinar, a winner will be announced. Whether you get to pitch or not,  this is a highly educational (and entertaining!) experience for writers. All genres are accepted.  The Pitchapalooza is free, but in order to pitch, you must buy a copy of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… SuccessfullyJust send your pitch along with proof of purchase to david@thebookdoctors.  This also entitles the purchaser of the book–whether you are picked to pitch or not–to a free 20-minute consultation (worth $100).  The consultation will be set up after the webinar, and will take place over the phone.

Who We Are

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company dedicated to helping authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for over 20 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Rostan Literary Agency. She is also the author of nine books and the co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 16 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, Middle Grade fiction and reference.  His first book has been translated into 10 languages and optioned by HBO, his latest book was featured on the cover of the New York Times Book Review.  They’ve taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today.

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE INFO ON PITCHAPALAOOZAS AND TIPS ON HOW TO GET PUBLISHED. 

Arielle Eckstut, David Henry Sterry, family at Tucson Festival of Books

The Book Doctors in Omaha

http://bit.ly/1VFr1ao

 

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Cathie Borrie, author, memoir, self-publishing

Cathie Borrie on Getting a Book Deal When No One Wants to Publish Your Book

We first met Cathie Borrie years ago on our trips around the publishing world. It was immediately apparent upon reading her stuff that she was an amazing storyteller and an exquisite wordsmith with a true gift for poetic articulation. But her book was about such a difficult subject, we knew she’d have a hard time getting a traditional publisher interested. That didn’t stop her. She wrote a deep, moving, glorious book, and eventually, after years of ridiculously hard work, she found her audience. We thought we check in with her to see exactly how the heck she did it.

To read the full interview on the Huffington Post, click here.

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The Book Doctors: When did you first start becoming a writer, and how did you learn to be one?

Cathie Borrie: No doubt you are aware of that stale, sorrowful mantra: “I’ve always wanted to. . . ” That cliché was my writing story. I dabbled in poetry as a child, followed by decades during which I had marvelous experiences and adventures but did not write. When my mother became ill and went on to develop dementia, everything changed for me, turned direction, and stopped. Her language evolved into one of extraordinary insight, humor, and poetic sensibility. I wanted to keep her voice, and began to tape our conversations. I think this time of quieting down, of listening and taping, served as muse for the release of my own writing voice. Mother living with dementia, as muse! My goal became to convey that the story is not a long goodbye, and that she had not become an empty shell.

How does anyone learn to be a writer? Can it be learned? I began my vignette-like pencil scratchings in 2004, when my mother was still alive and living with dementia. I have always loved learning, and loved going to school. It suits me: the discipline, the homework, the camaraderie, and I was thrilled when, in 2005, I was accepted into The Writer’s Studio program at Simon Fraser University. This course changed everything for me and for my writing. Under the expert tutelage of author and then-director Betsy Warland, I honed the words I had already written and added thousands more. After the program, a number of us formed an inter-genre writing group, which provided me with an enormous opportunity to continue with my writing and editing.

TBD: What are some of your favorite books or authors, and why?

CB: Treasured genres: literary fiction, short stories, poetry. The ever evolving author list: Annie Dillard, Harriet Doerr, Lydia Davis, Ann Michaels, Anita Brookner, Yeats, Jane Yolen, John Kennedy Toole, because they write in a sparing beauty and I crave that. Favorite book: Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, the 1980 edition with illustrations by Michael Hague.

TBD: Read any good books lately?

CB: I am reading or re-reading, and loving, The Conference On Beautiful Moments by Richard Burgin, The Night Sky by Mary Morris, Tinkers by Paul Harding, Seamus Heaney’s Wintering Out, and Molly Peacock’s Alphabetique: 26 Characteristic Fictions.

TBD: We’ve heard over and over from New York publishing people that books about Alzheimer’s don’t sell. We tell writers that they know more about their audience than New York publishing oftentimes does. Tell us about Cathie’s wild ride to publication.

CB: I finished the work around 2008, at the time of the economic crash. Agents and publishers were pulling back on taking new clients, especially platform-less memoirists. On top of this dismal scene, I kept hearing that books about Alzheimer’s don’t sell, or that the market is saturated with memoirs about Alzheimer’s. But non-fiction topics leave room for different perspectives, and I knew this work wasn’t like anything else in the field, in form or content. It uniquely included the voice of an elderly woman living with dementia and no author had taken that approach with this topic. Also, I wrote a memoir with broader themes, which I set in context of family relationships, and, although its center revolved around dementia, it included universal stories that would, I believed, appeal to a wider memoir readership.

In September, 2010, Francesca Rosenberg, Director of Community, Access and School Programs for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, invited me to present The Long Hello for World Alzheimer’s Month. I had been doing theatrical readings based on the manuscript internationally for a number of years, as I continue to do. For this event, Melia McLure accompanied me by reading my mother’s voice. MoMA expressed interest in having the book available so I took a deep breath, and self-published. For the next four years I marketed the book to the best of my abilities and although I possess drive and determination, my tolerance for rejection is shaky, at best. At the time, media were not interested in a self-published author, and I still held dreams of being part of a publishing team. In 2014, author and memoirist Molly Peacock referred me to a literary agent, Marilyn Biderman, who secured a contract with Simon & Schuster Canada. Publication with a major trade publisher ushered in a sunny day for The Long Hello, and for me. Marilyn then placed The Long Hello with Arcade, an old and esteemed independent house that had recently been bought and resurrected by a larger independent, Skyhorse, while maintaining some of the members of its original editing department. I continue to perform excerpts from The Long Hello, sometimes accompanied by live musicians, and more recently have completed the stage play, co-written with playwright James Fagan Tait.

TBD: Tell us about delivering your keynote performance at MoMA for the World Alzheimer’s Day event. What was that experience like? What were the repercussions?

CB: I think we can all agree that a call from MoMA would be considered a highlight in any author’s career, as it certainly was in mine. MoMA runs a marvelous program for people living with Alzheimer’s and their care partners: Meet Me at MoMA. To be able to tell my story, to hear my mother’s magical words that defy the Alzheimer’s stereotype, in that beautiful space, was unforgettable. I met wonderful people and received additional invitations after my appearance at MoMA.

TBD: What was it like to take some of the worst experiences in your life and make art out of them?

CB: My writing style has been described as “lyrical, poetic, and spare.” The chapters about childhood, birds, horses, dance, even about sports’ day, lent themselves to that form. But when I knew I had to bite the bullet and write about my parents’ divorce, the death of my brother, my mother’s last days, I looked down at the yellow paper with those perfectly spaced wide lines and despaired. How could I take those stories and render them in lyrical form? I hardly wanted to think about them. But, as other writers have described, beauty and meaning are available in the darkest of places, and I found that wonderful memories surfaced alongside the difficult ones. I recalled a poignant incident that occurred shortly after the death of my grandfather.

I would climb a tree after school to wait for my mother to come home from work every day, feeling a deep pleasure in looking out over the beautiful farms scattered throughout the valley, and breathing in the pleasing scent of pine, my fingers sticky with pitch.

In other parts, or scenes, as I think of them, sad memories were often infused with bird song, always birds . . .singing, and the moody sea, offering solace. Homesick at boarding school, my beloved English teacher reveals what it means to love by reading Yeats to us, her eyes closed, a thin private smile etched across her face. And finally, I found a euphoric comfort and sustenance in the writing process itself: that burning need to write sparingly, and the commitment to edit every sentence hundreds of times so that no word is unnecessary, or wasteful, or unfit.

TBD: What was it like to get a quote from Maya Angelou? It must be so gratifying to get so many amazing blurbs from doctors, writers, reporters.

CB: Maya Angelou’s one word, “Joy!” was an absolutely astounding response to the work. Imagine a memoir centered on dementia, described with this one perfect word – “Joy!” I am deeply grateful for all those generous people who endorse The Long Hello: Maya Angelou, Lisa Genova, MoMA’s Francesca Rosenberg, and others whose names warm my heart and whose words fill that uncertain place in which a writer, manuscript completed, waits to be published.

TBD: What’s next?

CB: My current manuscript is a genre busting work for children. My wish list:
1.The stage adaptation, performed in theatres. 2. Just the right people to bring The Long Hello to the screen, with eyes knowing how to unearth the back-stories, the landscape, the beauty.

TBD: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?

CB: Edit your work so that when you send it to prospective agents and publishers, it is in pristine shape. To survive the process, muster: tenacity, a relentless drive, resilience, and a sturdy constitution.

Cathie Borrie briefly tried her hand at theater school, trained as a nurse, holds a bachelor of science in nursing from the University of British Columbia and a Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University. She has a law degree from the University of Saskatchewan and received her Certificate in Creative Writing from the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. She continues to write new work, and to perform adaptations of The Long Hello, and is no longer an active actor, a nurse, or a lawyer. She lives in North Vancouver. You can see Cathie’s website at: www.cathieborrie.com

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

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Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, photo by RalphGabriner

Reverend Billy On Disney’s Fundamentalistic Apocalyptic Christianity, the Church of Stop Shopping, and How to Save Mother Earth

Our Earth is in terrible trouble. Every day I try to figure out what I can do to help. Sometimes it seems like recycling, turning off lights I’m not using, and riding my bicycle instead of tooling around in my gas-guzzling machine aren’t enough. So when I got Reverend Billy’s book in the mail, I rejoiced. He is a true visionary when it comes to our planet. So now that his book, The Earth Wants You, is coming out, I thought I would pick his brain to see what he has to say about the whole thing.

To read the full interview on the Huffington Post, click here.

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David Henry Sterry: Why did you decide to write this book?

Reverend Billy: I discovered that under the surreal conditions of 2016, to write powerfully on the page is the same thing as an act of civil disobedience on the street. And the thing that good writing and activism share is the slimy, scary spiritual life of the Earth.

A small number of people over a short period of time (a couple centuries) have turned the Earth’s behavior into science fiction. We’re trying to get the Earth to be a character in a human drama; get it to act like a world war, or an angry god, or the ultimate criminal artist. So I wanted to join the resistance to casting. This means dodge the smoke and mirrors of the “Environmental Movement” and going straight to the Earth.

The Earth is saying something to us and we have to learn that language and speak it and write it down. I wanted to be the ghost writer and let the Earth be the author.

DHS: What exactly is the Church of Stop Shopping, and how do I join?

RB: You join by letting your own drama out. Let’s face it – Consumerism is designed to make us feel fabulous when we’re dull and derivative. Consumerism is a con-job. I have seen people run toward us across super malls like we were the Taliban, and all we were doing was singing gospel in the back aisle with the phrase “Stop Shopping” in a nice harmony. Consumerism is like a fundamentalist religion.

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DHS: I love how in your book you say that the Earth talks to us. Why do you think it’s so hard for us to listen?

RB: Consumers listen to products. Militarists listen to sentimental patriotism. Religionists listen to Gods that aren’t there. In the West, we’ve got products, patriotism and gods screaming at us all at once. We have a lot of white out here.

But even though we have forgotten how to listen to the Earth, the Earth never stops singing its song to us. It’s still there. Of course, we listen to nothing but the Earth before we’re born, and after we die – and so we always have this familiar feeling from the scream of a hawk or the ghostly fingerprints of a caress.

Our ultimate radical instruction is never far away, our life is earthy, even in the heart of New York. We can leave our computers, walk outside and look around, and the wind is waiting with its lovely snake of vowels.

DHS: Why should we stop using products from Monsanto? Is it okay to hate weeds?

RB: I’m a weed. I reject the monoculture. I grow along its edges and feast on its mistakes. You can hate me, but if you try to kill me, then I will call out for another weed to come help me and we’ll destroy your GMO corn crop. No, genetically tampered crops and their glyphosate herbicides are deadly to life, including humans. Back away from the product! Industrial agriculture is devastating to the climate, living ecosystems, and dinner.

We are drowning in a sea of identical details! Uniqueness is in the shout “Earthalujah!” The corporate state has taken over our food and art, our energy and transportation, our national security and our daydreams, and here comes a wind at a thousand miracles a second because the Earth is hot and bothered.

DHS: When I was hired to write a screenplay by Disney, I found out inside the company their nickname for it is Maushwitz. I noticed that you called Mickey Mouse the Antichrist. Why is that?

RB: Disney is the oldest international media company. The United States Congress openly extends Mickey Mouse’s trademark. Disney believes in the monetization of desire down to three year olds. Now it’s trying to make deals with hospitals to establish a protocol in birth centers, so that the mouse is the first thing the child sees. Disney runs a sweatshop empire, estimates range to 20,000 factories. That company is the burning lake of hellfire. I have a 5-year-old. I’m battling Christ and the anti-Christ daily. They deserve each other.

DHS: How did we get in the mess we are in today, with refugees roaming the Earth, drought striking down huge parts of our country, crazy violent weather, and insane homophobic, racist, raving lunatics running for president?

RB: I’m encouraged right now, surprisingly enough, because things are breaking open. Think of a few years ago, when the smooth monoculture of the Clintons ran things. The liberal capitalists didn’t even know they were colonizers – they were so powerful for so long they thought that they were the natural world. So now people cross borders and the white demagogues scream. Well, that’s good. Black Lives Matter at Trump rallies is our guiding moral force.

DHS: What can I, one humble human, do about all this?

RB: First of all, take your own mind seriously. Study your personal dreams and learn things in an on-purpose way. The full-court press of the American con-job is a hell of slippery Devil. It comes at you and won’t let go.

Each of us is surrounded by thousands of products who insist that they are freedom, democracy and the American dream. In consumer society, the products say that they are actually you. Our identity passes into what we buy. The economy infantilizes us. So to take yourself seriously might feel lonely and harsh at first. But it’s like a new kind of sex that you’ve been waiting for all your life. Get into it.

DHS: America has a great tradition of standing up to bullies, the little guy fighting against the rich and powerful, taking to the streets to try to get what we believe in. How did you start as a street activist?

RB: For years I preached in the Stonehenge of Logos – Times Square. The bully was Mickey Mouse, a 12-foot-tall statue standing behind me. And the bullies were also my fellow preachers up and down the sidewalks. The fundamentalism of right-wing apocalyptic Christianity is very much the same as Maushwitz, and so sometimes I felt surrounded and lonely. But as I started to get my rhythm going, my preaching “whoop”, then people started clapping their hands around me. Then they began to harmonize like a doo-wop group. It dawned on me that I didn’t have to be alone. The choir is being born. Activist communities have the best kind of love.

DHS: What do you want people to take away from your book?

RB: The book is a report on the work of the Church of Stop Shopping, our work in the Chase lobbies, at fracking sites on the Hudson River, in the police-station parking lot of Ferguson, Missouri, and in the laboratory in Harvard where they are trying to make a robot bee as Monsanto and Syngenta and Bayer kill the real ones. What do I want? I want a new kind of Earth activism. I’m like everyone else. I want to live and I want my kid to live.

DHS: What was the hardest thing about writing your book? What advice do you have for writers?

RB: We’re still in a preliminary period in this apocalypse. At this time, the freak storms and extinction waves are still being sold back to the unconscious predators who make the climate in the first place. We’re buying our own tragedy in flashy packaging and punny slogans and plastic credit.

We will stop shopping: stop letting them translate the Earth’s screaming wind. We’ll let the Earth disrupt us, admit that this tragedy is real – not as a theory or policy or electronic posting–but as life and death. Then we can tell each other that we will change because we must change. That is evolutionary dueting with the Earth, which is hair-raising, a shocker, and sometimes dead. But this is true of all the social movements that created freedom in our benighted America.

“Reverend Billy” is the nom de plume of William Talen, a performance artist who lapsed into his Earth ministry with a community of activists who sing as an act of trespassing against abusive corporations. They are “Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir” and are in recovery from various religions – having defended citizens from the fundamentalism of Consumerism. They originate their work in nonviolent dramatic actions against Devils such as coal companies, big banks, Walmart and Monsanto. The concert stage show, which they call “Fabulous Worship,” has taken the company to four continents, most recently a rock tour with Neil Young on his “The Monsanto Years” tour, and a run at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in New York.

Julie Schumacher

Julie Schumacher on Writing & Selling a Novel Written in the Form of Recommendation Letters

It’s pretty rare when we, The Book Doctors, are reading the same book. Arielle tends to love books written by people who’ve been dead for several hundred years. Or doorstop-sized biographies, and giant non-fiction tomes about people doing bad things, like the brilliant book about Bernie Madoff, The Wizard of Lies. I tend to gravitate toward books with tragically flawed heroes and gorgeous mysterious dames who are never quite what they seem to be at first blush. I tend to like bullets, bombs, uncontrollable passions, epic gruesome one-of-a-kind murders. Raymond Chandler, Cloud Atlas, Game of Thrones. But we both absolutely adored Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. We love it so much we’ve become evangelists for the book, telling everyone who will listen that they MUST read this novel. When you read it, you’ll find out why. So we decided we would interview Julie and see what she had to say for herself.

To read the full interview on the Huffington Post, click here.

Julie Schumacher julie schumacher dear committee members

ARIELLE: Because we edit books, we’re always interested in how a novel is constructed. Yours is one of the most brilliant constructions that we’ve ever seen! You’ve managed to write a novel that is made up solely of recommendation letters from a Professor of English at a University. It’s a brilliant high-concept idea, but it’s one that seems impossible to pull off before you read it. We were wondering how you conceived of the idea and how you constructed it?

JULIE: The idea came to me sort of accidentally. I was teaching an undergrad fiction class at the University of Minnesota, which I often do, and I was telling the students that typically we don’t start with plot and structure, but sometimes if you’re stuck, you might try to begin a short story or a short work of fiction by coming up with some kind of format. Maybe you could come up with a short story in the form of a to-do list. Or a series of definitions. Or there’s a couple of pieces of fiction written in alphabetical order. Is there some way in which they could jumpstart and experiment with something by coming up with a form first? And one of the students asked me, “Is this something you usually do?” And I said, “No, actually, I never do that. I don’t start with structure. It’s not the way I write. I always start with character.” And they kind of pushed me on it. And someone asked, “Well, if you were going to do that, what would you do?” So I said, kind of facetiously, “Well, something in the form of letters of recommendation because I always write them for you people.”

DAVID: That’s hilarious! So what happened next?

JULIE: I was thinking about the idea and didn’t know if it would be feasible or doable. I told the idea to a colleague, and he said, “I hope you’re going to do that.” And I thought, well, maybe I could just give it a whirl. I realized pretty early on the two major challenges would be: One, how do you make the letters stick together? Where’s the narrative glue? And two, how do I portray my main character if he’s supposed to always be invisibly describing other people? He’s supposed to be behind the scenes as an author of these letters, rather than on stage. But I thought, having written a zillion letters myself, just finding them frustratingly dull and full of praise but also very boring at the same time that I could create a guy who would just insert himself all over the place. Talk about himself when he’s supposed to be talking about other people. I thought that could actually be good fun!

ARIELLE: What were your next steps?

JULIE: I decided to try to write a few pages a day and see if it went anywhere, and if it didn’t, I’d throw it away. I started it in the summer, and probably by the end of the summer I had a good piece of it done. And I was having the time of my life writing it. I loved writing this book. I had so much fun. Writing is not always a good time, you know? But this was a great time.

ARIELLE: Did you already have an agent? And if so, at what point did you talk about the idea or send some pages, and what was his or her reaction?

JULIE: Yeah, I do. I’d been trying to get her to sell a collection of short stories, and she was giving me the big yawn.

DAVID: Yeah, good luck with that. You had already written a number of books that had sold, right?

JULIE: Yeah. I had two books for them that were out of print, then I had written five novels for kids. In part because my own kids were young, and I was reading what they were reading. I was urging them, “Why don’t you try this book or that book?” and that was where my mind sort of was. Because my agent was not terribly excited, to say the least, about my short story collection, I wrote to her when I was about half done with Dear Committee Members, and said, “Maybe they would want my stories if they knew I was working on a novel as well.” She said, “Well, what are you working on?” And I said, “Well, it’s kind of a weird thing, it’s not done.” And she said, “Send it to me anyway.” I was kind of nervous sending it to her because I thought maybe it’s just amusing to me, and anybody else will think it’s a dumb idea. But she immediately wrote back and said, “Forget your story! We’ll sell this!”

ARIELLE: And did you pitch her the idea over the phone or an email before sending her the manuscript?

JULIE: No, no, I didn’t.

ARIELLE: David and I both heard Maureen Corrigan review your book on Fresh Air while driving and we were both so intrigued we went out and bought the book.

DAVID: It was an incredible review. It was basically a letter of recommendation for your book!

JULIE: I was so thrilled with that review. I think I was in the car too, but I must have been listening to another station. My sister called me and was shouting over the phone at me. “Turn the radio on!”

DAVID: One of the things I love about the book is the way that we watch not only the Creative Writing department, but this man himself, deteriorate through the course of these letters. Was this a conscious decision, or did that just come about as the book went forward?

JULIE: I think his deterioration came about as I was writing the book. I realized early on, “Okay, I’ve got to have several people that he writes to more than once, so it’ll stick together. I started out with his poor student Darren.”

DAVID: We won’t give away what happens. I’ll just say, poor schmuck!

JULIE: Yeah! And then I thought, “Okay, he’s got to have an ex,” so I added Janet. And then I thought, “I should have some backstory to him,” so I created the seminar and his pals from that time. But I wasn’t really sure. I did start to worry when I was about halfway or two-thirds of the way through. Is he just going to seem monochromatic? So I thought, “Okay, I’ve got to kill Darren off.”

DAVID: Well, you just gave it away!

JULIE: Actually, I had an argument with the editor when he bought it. Again, I had sent the agent the first half of it that was finished. The back half was in draft form, I was fairly sure at that point what was happening. But it wasn’t polished enough that I wanted to send it anywhere. And the editor called me up and said, “What’s gonna happen at the end?” And I said, “Well, I’m going to kill Darren off.” And he said, “Oh no no no. Don’t like that idea.” And I said, “Well, Darren’s going.”

ARIELLE: Wait, so you sold this on half a novel?!

JULIE: Yeah!

ARIELLE: That’s wonderful and very unusual. How did the editor influence what you ended up writing in the second half?

JULIE: I had long conversations with the editor about what was going to happen. And he was worried about Darren. He wasn’t sure that was going to be justified. And he was also worried that there wouldn’t be any sort of change in Fitger (my protagonist) himself. He wanted me to include a letter written by someone else that would recommend Fitger for something. And I kept saying, “No no no, I don’t want to do that. I want them all to be outgoing because I thought that would make him seem lonelier somehow.” He said, “Okay, you can kill Darren off, but I still want somebody to write a letter for Fitger.” And I said, “No no no no no.” But we did finally compromise with the letter at the end, in which Fitger quotes someone saying about him: “He’s not as much of an ass as he thinks he is.”

DAVID: Had you worked with this editor before?

JULIE: No. So it was kind of nerve-wracking.

ARIELLE: So what happened? It was sent as an exclusive?

JULIE: No, she sent it to four or five places. I think one or two of them thought about it and passed. And there were two that did want it at the end. Doubleday was one. And I talked to both editors. That had never happened to me before. It was terrific.

ARIELLE: Who was your editor?

JULIE: Gerald Howard.

ARIELLE: Oh, lucky you!

JULIE: Yeah it was really lucky. But again, I didn’t know him at all. And I had never met him. And I was kind of nervous as I was finishing this thing. But it turned out to be a really good editing relationship.

DAVID: Fitger’s character is so unlikeable in certain ways. He’s a liar. He’s petty. He’s narcissistic. But in the end, you kind of end up loving the guy because his heart seems to be in the right place in many ways.

JULIE: I definitely see him that way. I know there’s been a few people who’ve read it who clearly see him as a 100 percent curmudgeon. Just a jerk. They would want to avoid him. But no! He’s sorely lacking in diplomatic skills, and tact, and some common sense. But he cares about things people in the arts care about. And he does care about his students. And I think any shift at the end is demonstrated in the fact that he does start to recognize that he’s not done right by Darren. And he should have said to him early on, “Bad idea. It’s a bad book.” And he didn’t. He was selfishly advocating for Darren in part because it was sort of a vicarious relationship, and selfishly he wanted his program to live on, and Darren’s his last chance.

ARIELLE: I just want to go back to one thing, because we get this question from clients all the time about, “How do I say no to my editor, and when do I say no?”

JULIE: I think that’s really hard. In the past, I think it was the second story I ever published, I was 28, 29 years old, and had a really bad experience where an editor just ran roughshod over my story in a way I thought was offensive. And in retrospect, I think I should have just said, “No, you can’t do that to my story.” But you know, I was 28, I really wanted a credit and something on my resume, and I let him screw with my work. I think right now, I’d say, “I’m taking it back.” But back then, I didn’t have the wherewithal to do it. But most of the time, everything other than that one story, I’ve had really good experiences with editors. In the kid-book world, the editorial hand is extremely heavy. I think I’m not the only one who’s found that. You send in your completed manuscript and feel very happy about it, and they say, “Oh, we still like your book. We’re so excited!” And then they send you a 12 or 15 page letter. “Here are the things we’re really excited to see you do.” So those were sometimes excruciating to receive, and I would get snarly and defensive and take long walks for a few days, and then would realize, well, they were right. Ninety percent of the time, I was just going to do what they asked.

ARIELLE: Gerry Howard is a guy with best-sellers longer than both of his arms. What, in that case — I’m sure you agreed to many of the changes that he made — but what was it in the places you did say no, that made you say no?

JULIE: The only one that was of consequence was his desire for somebody to write a letter for Fitger at the end. He pressed on that and pressed on that, but when I suggested a compromise, and wrote it in, he said fine.

DAVID: But killing off Darren is also a huge thing.

JULIE: Yeah, and he did not like that idea. But once I sent him the completed manuscript, he went, “Oh okay. I see what you want to do. That makes sense.” When I talked to him on the phone after he was thinking about buying it based on the first pass, he said to me, “I’m a reasonable person. I’m not going to ask you to do things to your book that you think are going to ruin it. We’ll be able to talk about ideas. We’ll bat things back and forth. I want you to be able to trust me.” He was great.

ARIELLE: So, Professor Fitger is very helpful to his students who want to get their books published. But we’ve found that, typically, there’s a lack of education, or even just snobbery, by academic and MFA programs about how to get published. I’m wondering how you prepare your students for the very harsh realities of today’s publishing world.

JULIE: I don’t know. I haven’t found any snobbery. I’ve certainly found among creative writing faculty people who say, “Let’s bring editors and agents in here, let’s help with the professional life of the writer.” And on the other hand, some faculty who say, “Let’s create a more sheltered environment in which people can purely work on their writing, and worry about publishing, et cetera, later. Now is not the time to be thinking of marketplace issues. Now is the time to be writing. Let’s consider this a sort of retreat.” I understand both those points of view. I think some programs in particular, Iowa and Columbia – Iowa because it’s Iowa, Columbia because it’s in New York – are very good at bringing in agents, editors, et cetera, to look over people’s work. I’ve certainly had students who, when we have occasionally brought in editors to the U of M, say, “I don’t want to meet with them. I’m busy on my novel. I can’t do that right now.” Which I totally respect.

ARIELLE: And do you, for example, teach people how to write a proper query letter? Or do you give wisdom from your own experience of having books published? As we all know, you can have a perfect book that doesn’t get published.

JULIE: Yeah, definitely. I don’t teach to a whole group of people how to write a query letter. Or here’s how to find an agent. Here’s how to self-publish. I would say on a more individual basis, “This book is on its way to being terrific. I don’t think it’s there yet. I don’t think you’re going to profit by sending it out right now. I think you need more time.” In the rare case where people are ready to sell something while they’re still a student, I and other faculty will try to hook them up with an agent.

ARIELLE: You do? Oh, that’s great!

DAVID: And how did you make the leap from writing for adults to writing for kids? Did you find it a difficult transition, or what?

JULIE: For me it wasn’t hard at all because the short stories I had been writing, and many of which were in my first book of short stories — first and only so far!– were about parents and kids and families. A bunch of them had child narrators. It felt to me like a small or relatively subtle shift to go from writing about children for an adult audience to writing about children for a younger audience. I think in Kid Lit there’s a greater directness in plot and structure, and a greater emphasis on, y’know, what happens next.

DAVID: Action.

JULIE: Yeah. I had started working on the first kid book I wrote, and realized I am not good at plot. I really needed to teach myself how to do it. Again, my own kids were young. I was reading aloud to them, reading E.B. White. I must’ve reread Charlotte’s Web ten times. My kids love that book. I thought, here’s a plot, clicking into place like little Lego pieces. A leads to B leads to C. I’m going to teach myself how to do this. I’m going to learn cause-and-effect in narrative. And I’m going to build a book. And I very, almost mechanically, outlined a book. Conflicts would start on page one. There’s a mother and a daughter disagreeing. Each chapter was going to be 8 to 10 pages long. There were going to be fifteen chapters. I thought, “It’s probably not going to be any good. I’ll probably just toss it away. But I’ll learn something!” And at the end of the year, I had written a book, and I really liked it! Then I kind of fooled myself into thinking it will be so easy writing children’s books, y’know? Every new project refuses to cooperate in its own unique way.

ARIELLE: We saw that you’re teaching a course on the child narrator. And you sort of answered this question, but we’re curious about, for you, what separates YA from adult fiction if you have a child narrator? Prep, for example, was published as adult fiction.

JULIE: I think that’s a really interesting question. I taught a class on child narrators. Again, I think it’s a matter of emphasis. You would read something like Push by Sapphire and simply because of the subject matter, the sexual violence, you would decide, not for a kid. But The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime was published in Britain in two simultaneous editions with two different covers. One for kids, one for adults. Same book. In the U.S, for whatever marketing reasons, it was decided that it was for adults, but eventually kids started reading it anyway. There’s this whole crossover phenomenon. To me, typically, the hallmarks of a kid book are a greater directness, in plot and structure on the one hand, and maybe in the emotions on the other. I just reread The Yearling. I haven’t read it in ages, and it’s a beautiful thing. There’s nothing in that book that would not satisfy an adult reader. But it’s not as subtle, emotionally. As an adult you can feel that your emotions are about to be worked on in a particular way, but it’s no less beautiful or literary for that.

DAVID: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?

JULIE: Oh, persistence. I just think persistence is key. At some point, in the dark of the night, you ask yourself, “Am I more foolish for continuing along this path and hoping, or would I be more foolish for giving up?” You don’t know sometimes.

DAVID: Yeah, there is an element of blind faith, isn’t there?

JULIE: Yeah. It is about blind faith, and believing in yourself. I think part of that is you want to believe in yourself not because you are sure that vast success is on its way, but you’re sure that this matters to you. And that it will offer you some reward even at its most frustrating. There will still be something in it for you.

Julie Schumacher graduated from Oberlin College and Cornell University. Her first published story, “Reunion,” written to fulfill an undergraduate writing assignment (“tell a family tale”) was reprinted in The Best American Short Stories 1983. Subsequent stories were published in The Atlantic, MS, Minnesota Monthly, and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards 1990 and 1996. Her first novel, The Body Is Water, was published by Soho Press in 1995 and was an ALA Notable Book of the Year and a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Minnesota Book Award. Her other books include Dear Committee Members, An Explanation for Chaos, and five novels for younger readers, all from Delacorte. Ms. Schumacher lives in St. Paul and is a faculty member in the Creative Writing Program and the Department of English at the University of Minnesota.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

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Why Aren’t You Playing … Outside?

Olive’s first meme

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Olive Interviews David for Huffington Post On Donald Trump, Food, & World Peace #TalkToMe

Olive & David Henry Sterry talk about game shows, Mary Lou Retton, Hillary Clinton, Donald J. Trump, food, & world peace for Huffington Post #TalkToMe

 

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