08 Apr

Coming from me in 2015: Pioneers and Pirouettes

Good news from the Erin Murphy Literary Agency:

Some projects just feel like they are touched by kismet. Such is the case with Chris Barton’s nonfiction picture book text PIONEERS AND PIROUETTES.

Chris has had the idea of doing a picture book about the Christensen brothers, three guys from small-town Utah who are responsible for the Christmas tradition of performances of THE NUTCRACKER, for quite some time. As he dug deeper, he found the guys were pretty fascinating—their lives covered vaudeville, serving in WWII, living all over the country, writing original stage performances, championing ballet as an American art form—and always, always, a love of dance in all forms.

Enter Carol Hinz of Millbrook, who not only confessed to being a fan of Chris Barton’s writing, but to having a lifelong love of ballet herself, from her first lessons at age 7 through her present-day classes. It turns out Carol wasn’t the only Millbrook staffer to be currently taking classes in ballet, either.

A match made in heaven! Now Carol and Millbrook will bring PIONEERS AND PIROUETTES to bookshelves in fall 2015—just in time for Christmas. Of course.

I’ll just add that my oldest electronic files for this project go back more than 10 years — thank you, Erin Murphy, for being so patient and persistent about finding the right home for Willam, Harold, and Lew Christensen’s story.

03 Aug

All roads (well, two) lead to Austin

I got the official announcement this week that my agent and my S.V.T. editor will both be at the next big Austin SCBWI conference. And though it’s not until April 26, 2008, I’m already plenty excited. This will be only my second in-person get-together with my agent, and the first time to meet my editor.

You New York authors, with your New York agents and your New York editors — do you realize how lucky you are?

14 Jul

Three is a magic number

In my first 75 months of writing for children, I made one sale (The Day-Glo Brothers). In the past five months, my agent has made three on my behalf — S.V.T., my Alan Lomax biography, and now Pasta.

This third sale, to Dial, was announced just yesterday, and we’re describing this Y.A. project as a “collection of profiles of real-life impostors ranging from charlatans to survivors.” Since it doesn’t yet have an official title, or much else — we sold this one based on a proposal and two sample chapters — Pasta gets to keep its code name. (Get it? Impostor, pasta — I guess it helps to imagine a New England accent.)

These past few months have been thrilling and bewildering, rewarding and discombobulating. After more than six years of always actively trying to sell what I’ve written, I’m in the unfamiliar position of having enough work lined up to keep me busy for the next couple of years. I like the security and stability of the situation, but I hope I’ll still have the flexibility to jump onto some new project temporarily should inspiration come from an unexpected place.

But that’s just me overthinking things. For now, I’ll close with this quote from my limbic brain:


01 Mar

Coming sometime from Little, Brown: S.V.T. By me!

Breaking news: I’ve just sold my second book!

Little, Brown is going to publish the thoroughly silly, not-at-all-nonfictional, just-something-I-made-up picture book that I’ve been referring to here as “S.V.T.” And in fact, because the book is so concept-driven, and because the actual title gives so much of that concept away, and because I’m just plain paranoid, I’m going to continue to refer to it by its acronym.

But if you’re the first person to guess what “S.V.T.” stands for, not only will I not stamp my feet until I go through a hole in the floor, I’ll give you a free copy of the book — you know, in a few years.

This has been a thrilling few weeks watching this deal come together, and I’m just as happy as can be. It was fascinating to watch my agent do her thing, and it just about killed me not to spill the partially cooked beans here on Bartography. I could go on and on about this whole experience — as you already know if you’re my wife, kids, agent, or mother — but I have no idea where to start (or stop).

Many thanks to my family for their inspiration and enthusiasm, to Don, Julie and Gregory K. for reading an early draft of S.V.T., and to Agent E for finding such an exciting home for this manuscript. Wheeee!

21 Jan

Kelly and Jennifer and Liz and Janette and…

Real quickly-like this Sunday morning…

First off, welcome to those of you visiting via the 10th Carnival of Children’s Literature at Big A little a. Thanks for sending them this way, Kelly!

Those of you in Houston: Author and Cybils judge Jennifer Armstrong will be down from New York next Monday reading and signing The American Story at Blue Willow Bookshop. If you attend, be sure to ask for the story of the molasses flood.

With the recentish debut of Liz In Ink, my friend Liz Garton Scanlon has joined the ranks of Austin children’s writers who blog (ACWWB). This past week, I’ve enjoyed reading about her enthusiasm for her new research project and her poetic take on the super colossal ice storm that shut down this town.

Also relatively new to the kidlitosphere is Janette Rallison, with whom I share an agent So, what does that make us? Fellow clients? Sibling clients? Agentmates? POSSLA? At any rate, welcome, Janette.

Speaking of our co-/mutual/shared/common agent, those of you in SCBWI (and logged in to scbwi.org) can now read the transcript of the chat she participated in last month. Potentially great news for folks in Austin: She’s tentatively scheduled to come to the conference this fall. It’s never too soon to start thinking of ways to get on her good side.

27 Oct

Well, here’s something I’d hoped wouldn’t happen

Yesterday morning, an acquaintance told me about a concept for a picture book that sounded so perfect, it’s amazing that someone else hasn’t already thought of it.

Funny I should think that when I did.

This sort of implausibly unclaimed idea comes along from time to time, and one of them came to me a few years ago. When I thought up the title and concept for P.O., (a.k.a. “the bomb,” for you longtime Bartographiles), I immediately checked into whether they’d already been done. Astonishingly, they hadn’t, so I started writing and ended up with three complete picture book manuscripts and partial takes on two more stories, all involving the same characters.

Then came yesterday afternoon’s news from my agent. She’d submitted P.O. to an editor at a major house, and something about the title rang a bell with this editor. Could that be because another editor at the same house had recently been showing around an illustrator’s project with the same title and concept?

Yes, indeed.

It makes me a little queasy to think about, so I’m not going to think about it. It’s just that simple.

Not thinking about it.

Still not thinking about it.

09 Aug

No writer left behind

Any progress I make as a writer in the next week or two, I feel I will owe to No Child Left Behind.

I suppose I should explain.

A literary agent of my acquaintance was ruminating recently on the poor sales prospects for simply told, old-fashioned children’s nonfiction and historical fiction:

I called one editor who is passionate about historical fiction to talk with her about it, and she said it’s due to No Child Left Behind and the standardized testing that has become prevalent in American schools. For a couple of decades, the whole language movement has dominated, and teachers at all age levels have used trade books–picture books, chapter books, and fiction–to expand and underscore the lessons they teach in all areas, not just for reading classes or library time. The way standardized testing has come to dominate the educational landscape has caused the pendulum to swing away from the whole language approach, and now teachers are relying, again and unfortunately, primarily on textbooks, which better prepare students for those multiple-choice questions, supposedly. Even institutional publishers who specialize in the school and library market are finding they cannot do historical fiction and other nonfiction subjects terribly successfully outside of textbook form, and so naturally, trade houses are also pulling away from nonfiction, history, and biography–unless they are such strong stories that they would be successful whether they were truth or fiction, and the truth-behind-the-story aspect becomes just a bonus, rather than the point. [emphasis mine]

I tend to write nonfiction in a pretty straightforward form and with a pretty straightforward voice. I would be hard-pressed to describe that voice, other than to say that it sounds an awful lot like the way I talk.

But once I read this theory about the impact of NCLB, I realized that I’ve been undercutting myself by not paying anywhere near as much attention to voice and form as I do to the facts and themes of the lives I write about. And I immediately resolved to do something about it — in some unspecified project at some point in the maybe not-so-distant future.

Just a couple of days later, I was talking with my wife about all this when I two-thirds-jokingly suggested an off-the-beaten path approach I might take to Pasta. To my surprise, the idea rang in my ears like I’d struck a tuning fork — it felt just perfect for the stories I’ll be telling in this project. The next morning, it still did, and a few days later — now that I’ve actually begun writing — it still does.

So there you have it: Whatever else one can say about NCLB, it has jolted me out of my narrative rut. And I don’t even have to take a standardized test to prove it.

13 Apr

How to make my day

A nonfiction author I hadn’t met before e-mailed me the other day with a few questions about my agent. In closing, she wished me well with my book and said, “It had never even occurred to me that someone invented Day-Glo!”

Yes, yes, YES!!! That’s exactly how I want folks to respond when they hear about The Day-Glo Brothers.