Nancy Sondel's Pacific Coast Children's Writers Workshop
16th Annual    September 28-30, 2018    Master Class to Masterpiece
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Which genres and themes are you soliciting or avoiding in youth novels?

Rofe: Personally, I’m looking to acquire more YA/MG with protagonists in the 10-15 year-old range. I tend to avoid most historical novels, chick lit, sci fi and fantasy. (I’m just the wrong agent for these genres.) That said, there are always exceptions. Though fantasy isn’t my strength, I do very much enjoy magical realism, or stories that have elements of the fantastic woven into a realistic setting (such as fiction by Borges and Garcia-Marquez). I also enjoy stories with school settings, and I am particularly interested in multicultural literature. I gravitate toward stories about minority characters who struggle, to some extent, with identity.

Neaves: I look for convincing, compelling writing and work with whatever genre or theme comes along. I tend to go for girl coming-of-age stories. I’m interested in finding a book for young readers that explores gender identity. I’m glad to be working in a time when so many subjects are being explored, and I try to be open to all of them. As long as the topic is handled delicately, not sensationalized, I’ll read about it

What, if anything, is replacing raw, edgy, issue-driven teen novels?

Rofe: I wouldn’t say this material is being replaced, but there is more room now for lighter, more entertaining novels, particularly those with school settings.

Neaves: I believe there has been a backlash to the raw, edgy, issue-driven teen novel. Perhaps rightly so. Chick lit and fantasy seem to be very popular right now.

Sherry Garland says in Writing for Young Adults, “For YA novels, among the most common plots are the journey (quest), adventure, romance, survival, coming of age, underdog, and whodunit.” Do you believe these are timeless, along with friendship and family themes?

Rofe: All manuscripts that I take on fall under these categories. Also, stories dealing with some kind of coping.

Neaves: Editors are fond of saying that there are no new stories, only new ways of telling the same old stories. Journey (quest), adventure, romance, survival, coming of age, underdog, and whodunit plots are timeless. It’s worth noting that there are many types of each of these plots—for instance, you might have a emotional or psychological journey as opposed to a literal journey. Editors look for a stories that will let them hear and see in a new way.

Any pet peeves or warnings re: openings?

Rofe: Too much telling, too much exposition, and not enough showing.

Neaves: Many stories start, but have no beginning. Openings must captivate. A story begins because something has happened that has changed all that has come before. It’s a beginning because something will necessarily follow it, something that will convey precisely to a reader the nature of things—the nature of the character, the place they are in, the place they come to. All the elements of a story—character, scene, setting, plot—must be working from the very start.

Sherry Garland (op cit) notes a YA literature paradox: “The more unique and controversial your story and characters, the more likely the book will be acclaimed. Yet... the more unique and controversial the story and characters, the more difficult it will be to find a publisher, given the risk of censorship and resistance by schools.” Which kinds of controversial books, if any, are you likely to publish or acquire?

Rofe: Andrea Brown Literary Agency in general doesn’t shy away from controversial stories or characters. Personally, the most controversial manuscript I’ve taken on is about a Korean adoptee who struggles with her identity. The manuscript includes race relations, eating disorders, psychological instability, violence, and drug use.

Neaves: I’m not sure I agree with Garland. Controversy in YA literature doesn’t necessarily bring acclaim—not the way it sometimes does with Adult trade fiction. Controversy surrounding Adult literature sells books. Controversy surrounding Young Adult literature can keep books off of school and library shelves, and out of the hands of the people for whom it was intended. I would argue that the controversy doesn’t bring acclaim, as much as good writing and storytelling does.

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