Katie: Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you are representing?
Kathleen: Sure! First of all, I can tell you that I’m so happy to be featured here on YA Fusion – thank you so much for this opportunity! I’m currently representing young adult fiction, middle grade fiction, picture books, and some adult nonfiction.
For young adult and middle grade fiction, my interests are across the board. I like historical fiction, science fiction, magical realism, fantasy, humor, multicultural stories, romance, revenge, power struggles, and strong voices with an unusual hook (who doesn’t, right?). Right now, I’m particularly interested in YA thrillers, reincarnation stories, the occult, Southern gothic novels, and fast-paced mysteries. For MG, I’ve noticed that I tend to err towards the humorous and adventurous with some fantasy element, and would love to find a “cozy scary” MG, while for YA I enjoy darker or edgy stories. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t consider lighter YA or darker MG though!
For picture books, I absolutely love quirk and humor, and am looking for something character driven, as opposed to board books or concept books. I recently read Michael Kaplan’s Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake and this is a great example of a picture book I would be thrilled to represent.
For adult nonfiction, I’m interested in parenting, cooking, crafts, business, alternative medicine, women’s interest, humor, pop-culture, and some how-to.
Katie: Why did you decide to become a literary agent?
Kathleen: I knew I wanted to work in publishing, to work with stories. When I discovered what it was like to work in an agency during an internship, it sealed my resolve to become an agent. I love the diversity of this job. Agents wear so many hats: editor, cheerleader, pep-talk giver, negotiator, bookseller, matchmaker… it will never get old!
And I still can’t think of anything more thrilling for me than placing a book I’m passionate about and an author I love with an enthusiastic editor who shares his or her vision. I also love working with people, and this job has a lot to do with relationships and communication, so I enjoy both the introspective and extroverted aspects of it.
Katie: What do you see as trending in the YA/MG markets and what do you see as declining?
Kathleen: Well, here’s how I think people should think about trends: authors should be conscious of, but never cater to, trends. A book that started a trend was not catering to one. I think the best thing an author can do is to write a book he or she is passionate about, and hope others resonate with it as the author did.
That being said, I know people are weary not just of the vampire/ werewolf trend, but paranormal creatures in general seem tough right now (mermaids, zombies, angels, etc.). I think the dystopian trend is quickly passing us by, but it may be replaced with something else equally dark, like murder stories, or mysteries, or psychological thrillers. I also see science fiction getting its spot in the sun, but I’m not sure it will be a full-blown trend.
It’s really hard and often fruitless to try to speculate on what could be next, though, and there are exceptions to every rule. I mean, by the time consumers know about a trend and see it on shelves, it’s most likely already been in the works for a couple years. So, what I’m trying to say is: do not ever write for a trend, only be conscious of trends so you know where your book can fit in the marketplace.
Katie: Do you attend conferences and, if so, which ones do you plan on attending this coming year? Do you take pitch appointments?
Kathleen: Yes! I do attend conferences. I’ll be at the SCBWI conference in LA this August, and I hope to attend the Orange County SCBWI chapter’s Editors Day in October. I am also attending the Southern California Writers’ Conference in February (in San Diego), as well as the Central California Writers’ Conference in April (in Yosemite). I do take pitch appointments, although it varies with the schedule of each conference.
Katie: If you could wave a magic wand and your dream manuscript would appear, what would that dream manuscript include?
Kathleen: Hmm, my dream manuscript would include a strong voice and characters that leap off the page. When I was little I would sometimes finish a book feeling disappointed that the characters weren’t real and that the book was all I would know about them. I still love that feeling – for me, every story is really about the characters. That’s why I love so many different genres. It doesn’t matter what world it’s set in, or what powers or magic someone does or doesn’t have. I get into it for the people, so you have to make me care about them.
I also particularly love complex relationships and how they can affect plot. For example, this is partly why I’m on the lookout for a story that incorporates reincarnation. Can you imagine how complex a current relationship that also existed in a past life could be? I also really enjoy the unexpected and being scared a little. One of my favorite authors is George R. Martin (Game of Thrones series) and it’s partly because none of his characters are ever safe – not only do you care for them, but you fear for them. Other elements I would be happy to see in a manuscript include humor (some of the best dark stories still have some snippets of humor in them), magical realism, a bromance, ghosts, witches, a LGBT theme, twins interest me, multicultural elements, and boy POV.
Katie: In your bio on the Marsal Lyon Literary website, you said you have a soft spot for edgy YA. What do you define as edgy?
Kathleen: I think of edgy as anything that pushes the envelope of the expected or safe. I think of ‘edgy’ as a book that delves deep and goes dark – it involves tough subjects to tackle or sticks its characters in truly frightening or difficult situations. That situation may be internal or external, a gut-wrenching decision a character must make, or a terrifying place or situation they’re put in. I think edgy can be anything that keeps you up at night. I prefer the more thrilling or supernatural edgy over contemporary issue-book edgy, but I think both can fit this definition.
Katie: What are your favorite YA and MG books?
Kathleen: Ah! The dreaded question because it’s so difficult to choose. Here is a smattering of favorites that have stayed with me throughout the years:
The China Garden by Liz Berry
Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause
His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman
Harry Potter series (this is a given though, right?) J.K. Rowling
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
Anything by Tamora Pierce, especially the Song of the Lioness and the Immortals series
Sabriel by Garth Nix
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman
Clarity by Kim Harrington
Juniper by Monica Furlong
Wise Child by Monica Furlong
Quest for a Maid by Frances Mary Hendry
The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw
The Druid’s Tune by Orla Melling
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret of the Ruby Ring by Yvonne MacGrory & Terry Myler
The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth G. Speare
Katie: What do you think of book trailers?
Kathleen: I think they’re fun and an interesting way to promote a book. I don’t know if every book needs one, but they certainly can’t hurt!
Katie: Because I'm an Apocalypsies (a YA author debuting in 2012), one of my favorite questions to ask people is what 5 music albums would you take with you into the bunker in case of the apocalypse?
Kathleen: Any Tegan & Sara album
Lily Allen/ It’s Not Me, It’s You
Adele/ 21 (pretty much on constant replay in my office)
The Kooks/ Inside In, Inside Out
Bonus nerd track: I love the soundtrack from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie by Dario Marianelli
Thanks for spending time with us Kathleen! Okay guys, Kathleen told us what music she would take with her if she had to go to a bunker, continuing with the theme of music from last week, what music would you take with you?