Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Bev Katz Rosenbaum Interview
11/24/2009 7:55:11 AM
An interview with YA novelist Bev Katz Rosenbaum, from writing and editing, to publishing and movie options, Bev shares on her experiences.
LS: Today, I’m excited to introduce you to my special guest blogger, the ever-so cool, lovely and engaging YA novelist Bev Katz Rosenbaum! There are so many wonderful, talented Canadian writers out there, but so few have met the level of success Bev has achieved.
Let’s start at the beginning, Bev. You have been writing stories since you were in elementary school growing up in Toronto. I get the sense you had your heart set on becoming a published author from a young age, or did you have other aspirations?
BKR: Actually, I didn’t even consider writing as a possible career until I worked as an editor. It just didn’t seem like real, practical goal. Writers were not real people…they were gods! By the time I was in university, studying literature, I had narrowed my career options to teaching and editing. To this day, I still freelance edit for publishers, and critique manuscripts for aspiring writers, so am still very active in both these areas, in addition to writing.
LS: After earning an Honors English degree from the University of Toronto, you landed a job as an editorial assistant at Harlequin Books, working your way up the ladder to eventually become an award-winning editor. Did working in the publishing industry seal the deal for you in terms of your decision to become an author?
BKR: Yes, absolutely. This is when I got to see that, wow, authors’ manuscripts usually needed two or three go-arounds until they became publishable! Authors were real, fallible people, after all! I published my first novel; What Friends are For, while still working full-time as an editor. By that time, I had also gotten invaluable insight into the business end of things.
LS: Having been immersed in the romance genre and even writing your own Harlequin Superromance novel ‘What Friends are For’ and ‘Wanted: An Interesting Life’ for Harlequin’s line of romantic comedies, how did you make the transition to Young Adult, and was it an easy one?
BKR: The transition was probably easier than you think. Wanted: An Interesting Life was written for Harlequin’s Flipside line, which was cancelled soon afterward. When I wrote that book, I realized I liked to write short and funny. But it was getting more and more difficult to find imprints that published short, funny books for adults. Meanwhile, I was loving the middle grade and young adult books my kids were reading, which were--lightbulb!--short and funny! I Was a Teenage Popsicle was my first attempt at a YA and it got snapped up pretty quickly in a two-book deal.
LS: Your YA novels, ‘I Was a Teenage Popsicle’ and its sequel, ‘Beyond Cool’ received rave reviews from your readers, even winning the Flamingnet Young Adult Book Reviews Top Choice Award. Described as a young adult novel that crosses several genres: chick lit/action-adventure/sci-fi, can you tell the readers a little bit about your protagonist, Floe Ryan and the life-altering predicament she’s faced with?
BKR: Floe was frozen--well, ‘vitrified’--when she was sixteen years old. She and her parents had a rare disease, and it was their only option until they found a cure. When the book opens, Floe’s been ‘thawed’, and guess what? It’s ten years in the future and she’s still a teenager. Her parents are still, shall we say, chilling out… So now Floe’s little sister is her older sister, and payback’s a beyotch. She’s making Floe suffer for every snotty thing she ever did. Not fun. And on top of that, there’s a new school, new technology and a zillion other new things to get used to. Luckily, Floe has Taz, the hottie skater boy who used to make her melt before she was frozen. He was a Popsicle, too, so at least they’re getting to reintegrate together. But now they’re trying to close the Venice Beach Cryonics Center--with Floe’s parents still in it! Now that’s cold. It’s up to Floe to save the clinic and her parents, so she can finally have the chance for a somewhat normal life…
LS: With all your wisdom and experience in the business, you are well aware that the road to publication can be difficult at the best of times. Was it difficult for you to land an agent? Or given that you were already established in the publishing world, did you even require an agent to sell your works?
BKR: I didn’t feel I needed an agent to sell my romance novels, as I was so immersed in that world, but I did feel I needed an agent to represent my young adult books, as I did not have contacts--or contract knowledge--in that area. The agents working in YA were unknown to me, so I was in the same situation as any other newbie author when I began my search. The fact that I was a former editor probably got me read faster than most, but ultimately, it always comes down to the book you’re pitching. Does somebody love it enough to want to take it on and does s/he think s/he can sell it? Luckily, somebody did and did!
LS: Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the writer struggling to find representation?
BKR: Ask as many questions as you possibly can. The author-agent relationship is a bit like a marriage. You should get to know the other person as much as you can before committing. You need to figure out if you’re compatible in a whole bunch of ways. Don’t ignore big red flags. Newbie writers sometimes get stars in their eyes and leap at the first offer of representation. And if there are problems after you’ve signed, don’t hesitate to communicate your concerns. I’m on my third agent, and I feel I’m finally getting it right!
LS: Excellent advice, Bev! Now, becoming a published author is truly a difficult road to travel, so we’re always pleased when a fellow writer is plucked from relative obscurity to land a book deal. Can you share that moment when ‘I Was a Teenage Popsicle’ was sold to Berkley Jam?
BKR: Well, let me preface this answer by saying it meant sooo much to me to get a YA novel published. I wanted to have something on the shelves that my kids could get into, and I also wanted to prove to myself that I could be successful in a genre other than romance. (I’m not slamming romance here at all--just saying I wasn’t sure I was capable of versatility!) So when I got the call from my then-agent about our firm offer from Berkley/Penguin, I screamed! It was a really intense, touching moment I will never forget. I also remember very clearly when I got the word about my first romance novel. These are the moments you never forget!
LS: Screaming is a very human response, even for a writing goddess like you. I can picture the agent on the other end of the phone with ruptured eardrums! As for success, it’s hard enough getting a book published, but what can be just as, if not even more difficult, is having your work optioned for film and TV. I know firsthand how difficult negotiating a contract can be, having dealt with two production companies seeking rights for my fantasy series, so I was thrilled to learn you had succeeded! Can you tell the readers how you pitched your work and can you reveal some info about the Toronto-based production company that optioned your books?
BKR: Mine is so not the cookie-cutter story! A few of the big Hollywood-based production companies/studios had asked to look at the manuscript when the publishing deal was announced in Publisher’s Marketplace, but nothing came of any of that. My husband and I kept thinking I Was a Teenage Popsicle would make a great cartoon, though, so we looked up some smaller Toronto-based companies ourselves. We zeroed in on one company, Fresh TV, which is responsible for some huge tween-oriented ‘toons (6teen, Total Drama Island) on cartoon networks in both Canada and the U.S. My kids watched and loved 6teen, as did I, and I thought my books sounded a lot like their shows. I sent them a letter and a copy of my books. My husband said I’d hear from them within a week. I said, ‘You so don’t know how this business works.’ But to my utter shock, the phone rang three days later, and it was an executive at Fresh, inviting me to lunch! They optioned both books shortly thereafter. (The option was just renewed, actually!)
LS: Do you have any ideas if the production company is considering live actors or an animation for the film adaptation?
BKR: As far as I know, they’re planning to make a live-action, made-for-TV movie. I’m hoping they’re going to consider that a pilot for a TV series, but I really have no idea. They’ve just hired an experienced TV/movie writer to do the treatment, and they will try to attract network interest with that. It’s very exciting! They contacted me recently to talk about some changes they made to the story, but I’m fine with that. You have to give up a certain amount of control in this situation. They’re the experts in this area…
LS: I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
BKR: I do a mix of writing and editing, so it’s always a balancing act. I don’t always write every day if I have tons of editing work. I get too nervous about meeting my editing deadlines! Strangely, it always seems to work out. I never seem to run into trouble with writing or editing deadlines. Everything tends to go in waves. I’ll get a ton of editing work and be really busy with that for a while, but when that’s done, I’ll be able to dedicate huge chunks of time to my writing until the next flood of editing work comes in. I don’t know--maybe I’ve just been really lucky with timing and my system will come crashing down on me one day soon! I know some writers who devote a certain number of hours to writing each day before they do their other work, but I like to spend very long periods of time writing, so that method doesn’t work very well for me. Also, I need to think a long time about a new project before I actually begin writing. I have to let it really gel in my head (and on paper, in outline form) before I can actually start writing chapters. I finished big rewrites on a couple of projects two weeks ago and had intended to dig into a new project this month, but I’m finding the prep work just isn’t there yet. I feel kind of guilty because I was going to do a sort of unofficial NaNoWriMo thing with it, but if I went ahead and blitzed it at this stage, it would probably just be a big fat waste of time…
LS: Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser?
BKR: A little of both. I don’t do humongously long outlines or collages or any of that sort of thing--I’d get sick of the book before I started writing it! But I do a brief chapter-by-chapter outline just to remind me of what I want to happen and what I want to accomplish in each chapter. I also need to be able to visualize and ‘know’ all of my characters before I begin writing.
LS: With a talent for writing in a number of genres, where do you find most of your inspiration and which is your favourite genre to write?
BKR: Right now, I think of myself almost strictly as a middle grade and young adult author. I do have a couple of vague ideas for adult books swimming around in my brain, but I don’t seem to have the desire to develop them. One day, maybe…
LS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
BKR: I’m disgustingly strict about my routine. I wake up at 6:30 each weekday, eat breakfast (usually a disgustingly fibre-rich cereal and some fresh-squeezed juice and milk), read a newspaper or two, and am at the computer by 8:00. Then I check my e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and surf the net for a while, and then it’s time to get down to work. If it’s an editing day, I edit until twelve, drinking multiple cups of (disgustingly healthy again--get ready for it) hot water with lemon all the while. Then I break for lunch (soup and salad, usually) and some exercise, and then, after checking my e-mail, Twitter and Facebook again, it’s back to work until about 4:30-5:00, when my kids get home. Then it’s chat time, one more round of e-mail, Twitter and Facebook checking, then dinner-making time, and then TV or reading time. Friday afternoons are devoted to housework and laundry, and I try to avoid working on weekends, though sometimes I have no choice. Yeah, I’m definitely a creature of habit! Oh--sometimes I will do a quick lunch with other MG/YA writers in the area. (There are quite a few, which is nice!)
LS: A fan of social media, I see! Now, back to the subject of writing: At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
BKR: You know, sometimes I think the dreaded writer’s block has a bad rap! Sometimes it just takes a long time to come up with a unique, saleable idea, and that’s okay. There’s no point elaborating on a mediocre idea that no agent or editor is going to get excited about. Once you do come up with an idea that excites you and that you think is fresh, it’s a matter of doing enough prep work so that you won’t get stalled in the writing phase. That means having an outline, however brief, that sets out your goal(s) for each chapter, and knowing exactly who your characters are and what they’d say/how they’d react in any given situation.
LS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
BKR: God, I have tons of favourite authors--I can’t even begin to name them all! I will say that when I was thinking about writing YA, Louise Rennison (Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging) was really big, and I thought she was a big breath of fresh air. She is just hysterically funny. My style is quite different than hers--I’m more dry and sarcastic and a tad serious than ha-ha, laugh-out-loud funny--but she definitely inspired me. As did Meg Cabot with her Princess Diaries books. I love, love, love Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak--it’s much more serious than my stuff, but the voice is dr. She’s been a big influence, too. Just a beautiful writer.
LS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
BKR: I was shocked to learn that even light, funny books can have a really big impact on people. I got the most beautiful letter from a recent Korean immigrant about I Was a Teenage Popsicle; she said reading about Floe, an outsider, made her feel less alone. (Yeah, I cried.)
LS: Very touching! This is the kind of stuff that keeps us motivated to write the next novel! So, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
BKR: Wow, again, it’s hard to zero in on just one--I’ve learned about a million things on this road! But I’d have to repeat how important it is to come up with a really fresh idea (and a cool title doesn’t hurt!). I know people keep saying there are only so many stories in the world and it’s all been done, etc., but you really do have to try. Agents and editors don’t want to see retreads, they want original and unique. Which isn’t to say somebody else won’t come up with the same original, unique idea you do; chances are if you’re killing yourself trying to come up with the next big paranormal idea, somebody else--many somebody elses--are killing themselves, too, and are going to come up with the exact same idea!
LS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
BKR: I’m reading Sophie Kinsella’s Twenties Girl. Love her style--she’s been another big influence. It’s such a fun story with a great voice, and there isn’t one wasted word. Her writing is sooo tight. Just a pleasure to read. For those of you who are wondering, I do read serious books too. Just finished Still Alice, about a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s, told from her point of view, even as her condition worsens. Fascinating character and POV study. Also there’s an interesting back story: the author, a neuroscientist, self-published first, marketed it to Alzheimer’s organizations, then S&S picked it up.
LS: This is interesting info, considering many turn their noses up at self-published works, so it’s interesting to learn that some works are picked up by the big publishing houses. And speaking of publishing, what do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from YA and romance into other genres, perhaps a historical fiction? Also, can your fans expect a trilogy in the Floe Ryan series the near future?
BKR: I hope to get at least a couple more MG and YA books published in the next five years. I hadn’t planned a Floe Ryan trilogy, but who knows, maybe if the movie gets made… Time will tell!
LS: Thank you so much for taking the time to share in your adventures in writing and publishing, Bev. It’s been fun and now, I’m going to run out to my local bookstore to buy your novels for my daughter. I know she’ll love them!
For more information about Bev Katz Rosenbaum and her novels check out:
Follow on Twitter: .bevrosenbaum
Where to buy the book: At a bookstore near you!
(If the title you seek is not on the shelf, please check the store’s database or ask a sales rep to place an order! Such orders will help to ensure the publisher continues to make these titles available in a very competitive market.)
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