Why I Read (and Write) YA Fiction

Earlier this week I was conversing with a good friend, another author, who commented that she had difficulty reading YA Fiction.  Her life has long since moved past the phase of first relationships, snotty teen rivalries, and other issues our kids deal with.  I, on the other hand, love young adult fiction.  I just “get it.”  I understand their struggles and realize that, while this is just a short blip on the radar of their lives, what teens experience is real and sometimes painful.  Not only that, but how they respond to those challenges can sometimes shape the adults they will eventually become.

I once recommended the Harry Potter series to a friend.  His response was that he was insulted.  “Why would your recommend to me a kids’ book?”  he asked.

Why indeed.  Because “kids’ books” aren’t just for kids.  They’re for all of us.  They teach us about ourselves by presenting us with realistic challenges, and give us the opportunity to internalize how we might respond to those challenges.

I’ve often wondered where I’d be today without Judy Blume.  It didn’t seem to matter what phase of adolescence I was in, she always had a book that addressed my thoughts and feelings.  Are You There God?  It’s Me, Margaret opened my eyes to the changes in my body and answered the questions that were too embarrassing to address with my mother.  Blubber hit home because I always struggled with my weight.  Who can forget Forever?  It was my first introduction to sex in a novel.  And even before that, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing addressed the ever-present struggle of being the older sibling with the obnoxiously cute younger brother or sister.  Judy Blume completely “got” me.  She crawled inside my head and, in many ways, she remains there today.

Let’s not forget the young men.  There can be no doubt that millions of teens count The Catcher in the Rye among the best book they ever read.  Personally, I don’t get it; the main character annoys me.  But how can you not acknowledge the greatness of a book that touches so many?  Salinger clearly captured the angst of a young man navigating his way in the world, and kids responded to it.  Salinger understood them!

Oh!  I almost forgot!  The Bridge to Terabithia.  Even just typing the title brings tears to my eyes.  This book brought death to the forefront as nothing ever did before.  It opened my eyes and made me realize that life is precious and that none of us is immortal.

Though some may argue with me, I consider To Kill a Mockingbird to be a young adult novel.  More than anything I’ve ever read, this book profoundly changed my life and made me the person I am today.  It taught me to consider every situation from the other person’s standpoint, and it’s a lesson that I’ve carried with me into adulthood.  Every day, I practice these lessons.  When my kids are injured on the playground by another child’s carelessness (or even meanness), I try to handle the situation in the way I’d hope the other parent would handle it if our roles were reversed.  When dealing with difficult people, I mentally “crawl inside their skin” and wonder what hardship motivates their behavior.  Most importantly, the way I see race and gender preferences are directed by the lessons of Harper Lee.

These days young adult fiction is more mature, yet they all hold one common theme:  the end of innocence and the growth into adulthood.  The Fault in Our Stars….Eleanor and Park…Thirteen Reasons Why…Divergent…The Hunger Games...all of these maintain the common thread addressing some aspect of growing up.

So why do I read and write YA fiction?  Because it’s real and it’s important.  It almost always attaches to a key issue that our children struggle with and give them tools for overcoming.  It makes our kids better people. It makes all of us better people.

Testing Mom’s Good Humor

I like to think I have a sense of humor.  I’m good at playing pranks on others, and I’m usually good at being on the receiving end.  Usually.  Last night, my sense of humor was greatly challenged.

My 19 year old daughter is a freshman in college some three hours away.  As most parents do, we’ve worked hard to get her to this point.  We bypassed all of the challenging adolescent drama-queen phases and she’s finally matured into a beautiful, confident, independent young woman.  Our hopes and dreams for her were finally coming to fruition.  She’d finish college, get a good job, maybe find the guy, get married, and eventually have children.  In that order.  Last night she thought she’d goof with my head and get a glimpse of what might happen if she took those things out of order.

At 1:30 this morning, my mobile phone rang.  It was Amber.  I wasn’t shocked or concerned, sometimes she calls me at odd hours and I was awake.

“What’s up?” I said in greeting.

“Hey Mom.  I need you to check my Facebook status, then text me,” she said.

“Everything okay?”

“Yup!  I’m fine.  Just text me.”

“Okay,” I told her, hanging up.

michael-beaudry-gallery2I logged onto Facebook to find a “relationship status” update listing her as “engaged.”  I paused for a moment, then laughed.  Goofy kid, I thought.  I called her.

“Hi Mom!” she answered.

“Ha-ha.  Very funny,” I told her.

“What?” she sounded worried.

“Ha-ha.  You can take your relationship status down.  You didn’t fool me.”

“I wasn’t kidding,” she said.

“Okay.  You’ve had your fun.  Take it down before people think you’re serious,” I laughed.

“I’m totally serious.”

I paused.  Was she kidding?  She recently started dating this new guy and, while her dad and I both thought he seemed like an overall good guy, what did we really know about him.  What did she know about him?

“Mom?” she said into the dead silence of the phone.  “You still there?”

“I’m here.”  I could say no more.

8izKMprbT“Mom, we’re really happy.  I’m really happy.  I’ve never been so happy.  We want to get married right after away. Will you and Daddy come up next weekend?  We thought we’d just go to the courthouse.  It’s not what I’d imagined, but I really want to do this.  We really want to do this.”

“Am, you’re kidding me.  Right?” I asked.

Dead Silence.

“Am?  Tell me your kidding,” I said.

Long silence.  Then, “I’m not.  I’m really happy.  I want to do this.”

Now I’m getting angry.  She’s 19 years old, barely finished with her first year of college and she sounds serious.

“Okay, then…what’s your rush?  If this is a good idea today, it’ll be a good idea in six months or a year…two years….five years,” I said.

“I know.  But we want to do it now.”

“What’s your rush?” I asked again.

“Nick’s getting deployed.  We want to do it before he goes, and I’ll be here when he gets back.”

My blood pressure is now at boiling level.  We’ve reached DefCon 5.  I’m not sure whether I’m going to strangle her or the young man.  I go for the young man.

“Put Nick on the phone,” I tell her.

“He’ll be right back.  He went to the bathroom.”

“Then pass the damned phone through the bathroom door.  I want to talk to him.”

“Mom!  I can’t do that!” she said.

“Have you told your Daddy yet?” I asked.

“I thought I’d call him tomorrow morning.  I don’t want to wake him tonight.”

“Oh lovely!  His birthday’s tomorrow.  Happy freakin’ birthday!  He’ll love this!” I told her.  I’m now near panic attack mode.

The tears begin.  “Mom, why can’t you be happy for us?  We’re really happy.  I’ve never been so happy!”

Time to backpedal.

“Am, Nick’s a nice guy.  We like him.  But you barely know him.  Think on this for a while.  In six months or a year — if it’s still a good idea — then fine.  But this is too quick.”

“But I love him, Mom!  I can’t wait!”

Now I snapped.

“You can’t marry him!  You’re not even Facebook-Official for dating!  You can’t marry a guy that you’re not even Facebook-Official!!!” I think I might’ve screamed this last into the phone.

WOMAN-hair-raising-freakout-660x405You know how you can tell when you’ve sent a mom completely over the edge?  A good clue is when she evaluates the seriousness of her daughter’s relationship with whether she’s announced it on Facebook.  I’d clearly lost my mind.

“I’m done.  I’m handing the phone off to Daddy.  I can’t say anymore or I’ll say something I’ll regret, and I’m not handling this conversation well.  Hang on,” I told her.

“No Mom.  I’ll call Daddy tomorrow.  Don’t wake him up.”

“Oh no!  If I have to put up with this BS in the middle of the night, then so does he!”

Finally — after a full ten minutes of this discussion — she burst into laughter.

“I can’t do this anymore.  I’m kidding,” she says.

Now I’m not so sure.  She’s led me on so long that I don’t know which way is up.

“You’re serious?  You’re full of crap?” (Huh – did that even make sense?).

“Yeah.  I’m just kidding.  I’m not getting married.  I just wanted to see what you’d say!” she came clean.

Huh.  I guess she won’t have to guess any longer.  We continued our conversation for a few more minutes.

“Put Daddy on the phone,” she asked.

The only thing I heard in the background was Nick’s painful plea:  “NO!  PLEASE DON’T PUT ‘DADDY’ ON THE PHONE!”

I mig5131ce7a38c3e8b028d4f82735c42bd6ht forgive her someday.  I may even find the humor in the situation.  The verdict is still out.  For now, the young man is still hiding from me.  I heard last night that he was totally freaking out.  Apparently he’s had experience with a mom on the warpath?  That, or my reputation precedes me.

In the meantime, her favorite uncle has been notified.  He’s a badass Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army.  He’s currently putting together a unit of highly trained soldiers with special sniper skills to hunt down Young Nick.  He can run, but he’ll never hide from “The Uncle.”

I Will Never Forget!

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Today marks the 20th anniversary of a day I will never forget.  At 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a Ryder truck in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and detonated what equated to 5,000 pounds of explosives.  In the end, 168 combined adults and children were killed that day.  All innocents and all without any reason.

I remember that day as though it was yesterday.  An Oklahoma native, my husband’s job moved us to Rochester, Minnesota only three years earlier.  Around lunchtime, my good friend at work called me from her lunch break.

“Cathie?” she asked.  “Where is your family?”

“What do you mean?  My Oklahoma family?  They’re at home, I guess,” I told her.

“Okay…but where do they live?”

“Near Oklahoma City.  About 10-15 miles west.  Why?” I asked.

“Something huge is going on in Oklahoma City.  You need to take your lunch now and go home.  Turn on the TV and call your family.  A building in Oklahoma City has been bombed.”

I was stunned.  My heart stopped beating.  I was concerned, but I had no idea how serious this was.  I took my lunch break early and drove home.

I arrived home and turned on our local NBC affiliate.  I will never forget the images  floating across the screen.  My local affiliate was carrying live coverage from NBC’s Oklahoma City Affiliate, KFOR.  The newscasters I’d grown up with were now in my Minnesota living room.  The images on the screen were live; scared people looking for loved ones, children and adults injured…it looked like a war zone.

The tears flowed.  I was glued to the television and couldn’t comprehend what I saw before me.  The Murrah Building was so close to my home!  I learned later that my father was supposed to be in that building that morning, but had forgotten his appointment.  If not for his forgetfulness, he would’ve been in that building when it came down.

My parents live in a small town just West of Oklahoma City — not more than 15 miles.  My dad was outside using the rotor tiller in the garden.  If you’ve ever used on of those things, you know they’re insanely loud and they make the earth around you shake.  At the moment of the explosion, he both heard and felt the explosion while using the rotor tiller.  The employees next door at Banner Co-op heard and felt it, too.  The earth shook so violently that they came outside to look around, trying to discover what they’d felt.  Even from so far away, it felt huge.

I’m not sure I can explain how I felt.  Here I was, 650 miles away, and the home I loved was under attacked.  Never before had I ever felt so insecure, so vulnerable.  I sat glued to the television.  Did I know any of the victims?  My immediate family was safe, but that part of Oklahoma was still such a small community that the odds of knowing at least one person involved were high.  It’s been 20 years and, though I don’t think I knew any of the victims, I have countless friends and relatives who were directly touched by that day’s events; victims by association…those who knew someone in the building or lost someone in the explosion.  Even our early responders were victims, as the sights and sounds of that day profoundly changed them.  One of those victims was a young man I knew “peripherally” from high school.  By “peripherally,” I mean that he was a couple of years older than I and we weren’t friends in the truest sense, but my hometown is small and everyone knows everyone else.  We knew each other well enough to say hello, but not well enough to run in the same circles.  That gentleman was Terry Yeakey, and his death is officially documented as a suicide only one year after the Murrah bombing.

yeakeyWhat I knew of Terry was a handsome young man with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen before or since.  I never saw him when he wasn’t smiling.  Those who knew him well say he was profoundly changed by his experiences that day.  Many say his death was not suicide and have begun searching for answers.  If you google, you’ll find a dozen articles asking for answers regarding Terry’s death.  The only thing I know for certain is that, regardless of how or why he died, his presence is deeply missed by those who knew him.  Like many, his life was profoundly changed by the events of that day and he remains in my memory as one of the heroes.

EDYE SMITHAnother is a survivor that I didn’t know, but whose image and story have been emblazoned upon my heart and mind for twenty years:  Edye Smith.  Edye was a young mother who lost her two boys, Chase and Colton, while under the care of the building’s daycare center on the day of the explosion.  Her babies were only 3 and 2.  They would never see their first days of kindergarten, lose their first teeth, have their first dates, go to prom.  I felt her loss as though it was my own, and that was before I had children.  I don’t think I could handle the fresh pain of her loss now, after having two children of my own.  You think you understand the loss of a mother until you have your own children and realize that there’s no way to understand that kind of loss.  Just imagining it takes my breath away.  From all accounts, Edye is doing fine today.  She went on to have more children and has recovered from her loss as much as anyone can recover from that kind of loss.

Only two months after that day’s events, I went home to visit family.  I had to go to the makeshift memorial.  I had to see firsthand the destruction of my home, and I needed to pay my respects in person.  If you’ve read about this event, you’ve no doubt seen the photos and the wide scoop taken out of one side of the building.  It’s shocking to see in photos, but in person it was beyond belief.  My breath left me and I could only stay a few minutes.  It was the first time I’d ever experienced what I think might’ve been a panic attack.  I imagined all of those people inside. I imagined the pain of those who’d lost loved ones, and the despair of parents who’d lost children.  I still have no words, and the pictures simply don’t do it justice.

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I remember the manhunt for Timothy McVeigh.  They imprisoned him in the Federal Prison in my hometown.  I remember seeing him in a bullet-proof vest and thinking it was such a waste.  I wanted to hurt him, and I’m not usually a violent person.  As the years progressed and he went to trial, I remember waiting and watching for his conviction and execution.  I’m not generally in favor of the death penalty; not because I have a problem with the concept, but because studies show it’s more expensive in the long run than allowing the prisoner to rot in prison.  And, honestly, I’d rather those who’ve committed heinous crimes to rot in a jail cell knowing that this is the extent of their life’s enjoyment.  In McVeigh’s case, however, I couldn’t wait for his execution.  Each day he spent on this earth left me angrier.  Oklahoma need closure.  There was no room on this earth for Oklahomans and Timothy McVeigh.

IMG_0046Twenty years have passed and there isn’t a time when I return home that I don’t think about that day.  I always try to visit the memorial that now stands in place of the original building.  It’s a beautiful tribute and you can “feel” the souls of those who’ve passed when you walk through.  They were the first victim of domestic terrorism.

For a while, all of us were changed by April 19th, 1995.  No, that’s not true.  We’ll always be changed by the events of those days, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve been changed for the worse.  What I’ve seen of my home state in the days following the bombing is amazing.  We came together to help each other.  We became more a community.  We supported each other.  We still support each other, if the tornados of the last several years are any indication.

Some people wilt in the face of adversity.  Oklahomans become stronger.  We will always overcome and be stronger for the challenges we’ve faced.  God bless my home state and the many people remembering today’s anniversary with sorrow.  You are all in the hearts and minds of the whole nation.

National Library Week

Okay, I admit.  I’m a procrastinator!  It’s National Library Week and I’m three days late to the celebration.  Cut me some slack…I’ve been busy!

Is there anything better in this whole world than a library?  It doesn’t seem to matter whether they’re big or small, libraries provide an invaluable service to the community.  I’ve used libraries for finding the best new reads; to do research for papers; to send a quick e-mail on their computers in a pinch (pre-smart phone); and even just to  hang out and hide from the rest of the world.  Where else can you do all of that without paying a dime?

Okay…that’s not true.  As a habitual procrastinator, I’m a major contributor to my local library’s coffers.  It’s just not possible for me to return a book on time.  Humph!

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El Reno Carnegie Library – El Reno, OK

I remember my library growing up — the Carnegie Library in El Reno, Oklahoma.  Housed in a gorgeous building on a side-street in the heart of downtown El Reno, this beautiful building was graced with four gorgeous columns in the front.  It reminded me of a southern plantation home.

Entering the building, I was greeted with the librarian’s desk; always staffed by Mrs. Diane Costin. I loved that lady!  I remember in college waiting until the last minute to write a huge research paper on schizophrenia.  My first college writing course and I’d waited until the last minute to do the research or begin writing the paper.  I showed up to the library that morning, looking stressed and frazzled, to find Mrs. Costin with a pleasant and calming smile on her face.  I told her what I needed and she showed me where to find the materials.  Within moments, I’d taken hostage a large table and dumped about 27 books and 44 magazines on this table.  Research material.  Before I left (seven hours later), Mrs. Costin had slowly accumulated another 327 magazine articles and 14 books to aid my search.  Every time I turned around, she place another item on my table to help me.  She never once looked at all of those materials and asked, “And who do you think’s gonna put those items away, young lady?” She also never chastised me for waiting until the last minute.  She could’ve.  El Reno is a small town and lives by the credo that “it takes a village” to raise a child.  My paper was due the next morning at 7:30 a.m.  I use the word “procrastination” in the most literal sense of the word.

Impossible as it is to believe, I made an A on that paper.  Not only that, my English Comp professor held me after and wanted to discuss the stellar job I’d done with the writing and research!  Ack!  I can only say that I have the wonderful Mrs. Costin to thank for both getting the paper done on time AND for the outstanding research articles she helped me find.  The “stellar” writing was a fluke.

1835590Besides that one research paper, I found my love of reading at the library and, better yet, local authors!  At 16, I was a devoted historical romance reader and loved anything by Connie Federson (a.k.a Carol Finch, Gina Robbins, Connie Drake, Debra Falcon), who was an author in the town closest to us.  I met her once and it was then I fell in love with writers.  Mrs. Fedderson was so kind to that 16 year old me.  I asked her why she used so many pen names, and she told me it was because her publisher would only allow her to write one novel every 6 months under each name, so she made up several to publish more frequently!  Gotta love a woman who knows how to find a way over that brick wall!

Summer was my reading time.  Once each week I’d head to the library and pick out as many books as I could find; usually at least twenty.  I’d bring them home, scurry up to my room, lock the door and hibernate there until I’d read every book cover-to-cover…usually in about six or seven days.  I always lost weight during those summers.  From the moment I opened my eyes in the morning, until the second I closed them at night, I had a book in front of me; compliments of the El Reno Public Library.  There was no time for food or playing with other children.  I had serious reading to do!  It was my job to read those books and get them back to the library quickly so someone else could check them out.

My favorite thing about the library was “forbidden” reading.  Not that my parents ever forbid anything I wanted to read, but there were just some things I didn’t want my parents to know I was reading.  I could find those books at the library.  I didn’t always check them out and take them home; Mrs. Costin knew my parents, after all!  But if I wanted it, I knew it was at the library.

I’ve wondered what the future holds for the traditional library.  So many publishers are leaving print behind and going straight to e-readers.  While I love this evolution, I’m also terrified to lose the resources provided at our library.  Nothing can replace the ability to get the answer to every question from the always-helpful librarian.  If they don’t have the answer, they’ll do their best to find it.  Google just isn’t going to cut it!  It takes a person with a creative mind to come up with the right search terms to find an answer.

In honor of National Library Week, I want to say a HUGE thank you to the many librarians I’ve known over the years.  Thank you to Mrs. Diane Costin, who has left this earth but not our hearts.  Thank you to the librarians at the two libraries I frequent most often.  You people (not ladies, there are men librarians too!) are the best of the best.

In celebration of National Library Week, I think I’ll head to my local library and pick up a copy of one of those old books I once held so dear.  Um…hmmm…on second thought, maybe I’ll just remember it fondly.  I currently have a block on my account until I can come up with the final $17 to pay off my overdue fees.  Humph!

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Author Interview – Mary Kubica – “The Good Girl”

Back in February I started the query process for a literary agent to represent my efforts to have one or both of my novels published.  As a newbie to this process, I had no idea what to expect.  What I’ve experienced, though has been a roller coaster of good and bad…though mostly good.  Not good enough to land an agent yet, but good overall.

Through this process, I’ve wondered about the query process of several published authors.  I’m blessed to count a few of them as friends (or at least friendly acquaintances), so I started asking questions.  One of them told me that she studied literary agents and elected to query only two.  The first responded quickly with a definite no and her second query came back positive.  She’s now a bestselling author of her first novel, and working on her second.

Another author-aquaintance queried countless agents without a single positive response.  Not one full or partial request, if I recall our conversation correctly.  She didn’t give up.  She published her book through Amazon and other e-book services and she had a bestseller on her hands.  Now agents came looking for her!

All of these stories give me hope, but this next one is the absolute best “Cinderella Story” I’ve heard yet.  Her story gives hope to every aspiring author out there.  Some day our books will find homes!

51P3outSH8L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Last week I read an amazing novel by Mary Kubica called The Good Girl.  It had been sitting on my bookshelf for a while, but I’d been too busy to read it.  But all my friends were talking about it!  I finally made time to sit down and read it.  What I found was an amazing novel that I wish I’d been brilliant enough to write.  I recently learned that Kubica’s novel has been optioned for movie!  How exciting is that?!

This was the first book I’d read since I began querying for an agent.  It was also the book that made me gasp out loud on the first page, “THIS is why my manuscript isn’t getting picked up!  I can’t write like this!”  Truly, the author grabbed me right away on the first page and held on for dear life.

I turned the last page and wondered about the author.  What was her query process like.  I’d’ve bet a million dollars that her query process was easy.  I bet she only queried one or two agents and they snapped her up immediately.  I had to know!  So I sat down and wrote to her, asking if I could interview her for this blog.  She was so gracious and I can’t thank her enough for her time.  Mary Kubica is a class act and the story of her query process is my favorite of all time!

Below is my interview with Mary Kubica.  Before you read on, I have a couple things to say.

First, if you’ve not read her book, you need to!  I loved it!  Get it today!

Second, I’d like to extend a HUGE thank you to Ms. Kubica for taking the time to respond to this Q&A for my blog.  When truly nice people find success, it just makes it that much more fun to watch them enjoy it.  And Ms. Kubica is a truly nice person.

Third, make sure to look for Ms. Kubica’s next novel, Pretty Baby, due out in July!  I can’t wait to read it, so check back here in July or August for a full review.

Q&A WITH MARY KUBICA – AUTHOR OF THE GOOD GIRL

Mary-KubicaCathie:  Can you talk a little about your query process for The Good Girl?  Was it easy?  Hard?  Did you receive many rejections, or was it mostly smooth sailing?  How long was your query process?

Mary Kubica:  I would love to, but first off want to thank you so much for welcoming me to your blog today.  I’m thrilled to be here, Cathie.

The querying process for THE GOOD GIRL was indeed hard, and yes, I received many, many, many rejections.  Of all the agents I queried (and there were quite a few; I queried just about every agent I could find who represented novels like mine) only two asked to read the entire manuscript.  In the end, both declined to take the project on and it wasn’t until two years later that one of these agents reached back out to me, wondering if THE GOOD GIRL was yet represented.  The novel had stuck with her those two long years and she was now in a position to represent the book.  Without her, THE GOOD GIRL would never have been published.

Cathie:  Do you remember the best (most positive) rejection letter you received?  Maybe one that kept you going when you were ready to give up?

Mary Kubica:  The best rejection letter I received was from Rachael Dillon Fried, the agent who, two years later, decided to represent THE GOOD GIRL – and who is still my agent today!  The vast majority of the rejections I received were standard form letters that didn’t give me any useful insight as to why they didn’t want to represent my novel.  There was no feedback and so I wasn’t able to make edits on the novel to make it better.  The initial rejection I received from Rachael did provide extensive feedback and I appreciated this aspect of it.  It was also very kind, and I knew the agency’s decision not to represent the novel was not a unanimous one.

Cathie:  Do you remember the worst rejection you received?  How did you respond to it?

Mary Kubica:  The worst rejections were the ones where I felt quite certain the agent didn’t read my query letter at all.  That was hard to take knowing the work I had put into the manuscript and the query letter itself, though I now understand that there are times when an agent is not actively seeking new clients, and so the timing is bad or their workload is full.  The only response I ever gave to any of the rejections was a simple thank you, but inside my heart broke a little with each one.

Cathie:  Is The Good Girl your first book, or just the first to be published?  If not your first book, will you push to see the others on your shelf published?

Mary Kubica:  THE GOOD GIRL is my first published manuscript, but I have bits and pieces of manuscripts I worked on before THE GOOD GIRL.  They were a learning experience for me, and through trial and error – and a decent number of not-so-great partial novels – I found my voice and learned what works for me as an author.  I don’t see myself ever going back and finishing those books, but without them I’m not sure I would have been able to write THE GOOD GIRL.  I like to think of them as my practice novels.

Cathie:  How did your agent notify you that he/she would represent you?  What was the first thought that went through your mind?

Mary Kubica:  As I said before, two years passed from the time I queried agents for THE GOOD GIRL before I found my agent.  I started querying in 2010, and over the next two years received countless rejections.  I was absolutely certain my novel would never be published.  In early 2012 I received an out of the blue email from one of the agents I had previously queried, and she wanted to know: had I sold my novel?  Was I represented?  THE GOOD GIRL still resonated with her, she said, and she wanted to represent it.  In those two years she had been promoted from an assistant agent to an agent and was actively seeking her own clients.  I was thrilled.  Since then she’s been a huge champion for my novels, and I feel very grateful to her everyday.

Cathie:  How long did it take for the agent to sell your book after taking you on as a client?

Mary Kubica:  My agent, Rachael, and I worked together on edits to THE GOOD GIRL for about seven or eight months before she sent it to publishers.  It took a month to six weeks to sell the novel to Harlequin MIRA once she reached out to publishers to try and make a sale.

Cathie:  What advice do you have for other writers as it relates to the query process?

Mary Kubica:  Never give up!  I think I am proof of that.  I was quite certain my novel would never see the light of day, but then years later received an email that would forever change my life.  The most important factor in the querying process is that query letter itself.  Make sure it’s top notch and catches the agent’s eye instantly.  In some cases, that’s all they will see of your writing and so it needs to be great.

Cathie:  Any general advice to other writers?

Mary Kubica:  Again, don’t give up.  There is a lot of rejection in this industry at all levels and stages – finding an agent, selling your book, publicizing your book, and getting reader feedback.  An author needs to have thick skin (which I, myself, am still working on!).  Know that every writer goes through this, but that authors themselves are some of the greatest mentors and supporters out there.  I’ve been so fortunate to connect with such a great group of fellow authors along the way.

Cathie:  Would you like to say anything about your new book coming out in July?  

Mary Kubica:  Yes, PRETTY BABY releases in July and is the story of a Chicago mother who comes across a young, homeless girl with a baby.  She becomes quite taken with her and wants to help her with her plight.  Against her husband’s better judgment, this woman, Heidi, ends up bringing the girl and her baby into their home.  It’s then that the reader starts to discover who she is and why she’s here, and what effect her being there will have on Heidi and her family’s lives.  I can’t wait to hear what you think of this, Cathie!  Hope you and your readers will enjoy it.

Cathie:  Anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to share?

Mary Kubica:  One fun fact people enjoy hearing is that I wrote THE GOOD GIRL in secrecy.  Only my husband knew about the work-in-progress, and it wasn’t until I sold the manuscript to Harlequin MIRA that I filled family and friends in on the great news: not only had I written a book, but it was going to be published, too.  That was a fun day!

To Each His Own

Here’s a truth about me:  I’m a prolific reader.  I will read anything, with the possible exception of science fiction; and then I could probably be talked into it if someone strongly recommend it.  I read anything.

For years, I refused to leave a book unfinished.  If I started a book, I was committed to reading it to the last page.  I finally ended that dedication when I read a book that quite literally caused me to throw it across the room, leaving a nice big dent in the wall for my husband to fix.  He wasn’t pleased.  Since then, I have a rule:  a book has 50 pages to gain my attention and, if it fails, I close the book.  Now, that doesn’t mean it has to be a page-turner.  I just have to enjoy the story enough to continue reading.  I have to like something about the characters and/or the writing.  The exception to this rule was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I started it four times before it finally picked up the pace at about page 65!  I only continued giving it another chance because so many people loved it, and I’m glad I did.  Once I passed page 65, I devoured it and the next two in the series!  Great read!

I wish all books were like Dragon Tattoo.  I wish you could always rely on the strong recommendation of others in anticipation of a good read.  Sadly, that’s too often not the case.

Recently I sat down to read a book that came highly recommended.  I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it!  The title was quirky, the premise was fun, and readers reported that they loved it.  Better still, readers reported that it made them laugh out loud.  Yes!  I was set and excited to read.

I broke my rule.  I read every page.  The characters were flat, the story was boring and predictable, and I didn’t laugh out loud even once.  But I kept reading.  I kept thinking that I was just a page or two away from what others enjoyed, but I never arrived at that  page.  Frankly, the writing was horrible.  I’ve read worse, but it’s been a while.

I turned the last page  and sat there scratching my head.  People really liked this?  I wondered about the author.  Was this his first book?  Did she have others?  How did they stack up against this one?  A quick search through Google gave me my answers:  this was about the third or fourth book in a series by this same author, and each book received reasonable reviews.  Huh.  Really?

All of this left me, as an aspiring author, with one thought:  YES!  The process of querying for a literary agent isn’t necessarily about what’s good or bad; it’s about what appeals to the person flipping the pages.  A rejection on a query doesn’t mean, necessarily, that the writing is bad or that the story sucks; it just means I haven’t found the right person to appreciate what I’ve done.  Which brings me back to the book I just read.  Maybe it didn’t really suck; maybe I’m just not the right person to appreciate it.

A huge thank you to all of the novels out there that I didn’t “connect” with.  It makes me appreciate my own query process a little better.  Not every book “connects” with every reader, and my manuscript won’t connect with every literary agent.  But I know there’s one out there who’s going to love it, and I just have to find him/her.

Book Review – “The Good Girl”

"The Good Girl" by Mary Kubica

My favorite thing in the world is a book that grabs me by the throat in the first few pages and hangs on for the full ride, all the way until the last page.  A lot of authors attempt to do this, but few actually succeed.  Mary Kubica is the exception.  From the first few paragraphs of her debut novel, The Good Girl, Kubica takes the reader on a thrill ride and doesn’t let go.

Written in three different voices, Kubica keeps the reader guessing until the very last page.  Just when you think you’ve figured it out, the big reveal happens and you’re left with your jaw on the floor.  It’s one of the best reveals I’ve read in a long time.

The only downside of the book is that it’s left me with mixed feelings about some of the characters.  Those I thought I hated, maybe I don’t hate so much after all.  Those I thought I loved, now cause me to wonder at my own judgement.  And really, that’s one of the best signs of a great read: the inability to forget the characters once the last page is turned.

The Good Girl is a great read, and I’m looking forward to the next novel by this author, Pretty Baby, which is due out on July 28th!  I can’t wait!