Today I’m interviewing two YA authors, Vicky Alvear Shecter (Cleopatra’s Moon) and Erin McCahan (I Now Pronounce You Someone Else). What do these two authors have in common? Their books were edited by the amazing Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine books, an imprint of Scholastic.
Vicky’s debut historical novel was just released this month. Isn’t the cover gorgeous? And Erin’s debut was a 2011 finalist for a prestigious RITA award through Romance Writers of America.
Several years ago at an SCBWI-MI conference, I had the opportunity to meet Cheryl Klein. Recently, she published her own book, Second Sight, An Editor’s Talks on Writing , Revising & Publishing Books for Children and Adults. If you’re in the midst of revisions or starting a new story, Cheryl’s book offers plenty of guidance.
Read on for insight into the author/editor collaboration, and details of our 3 BOOK GIVEAWAY!
I first learned about Cheryl through her popular blog, Brooklyn Arden. She comes across as very intelligent and passionate about books and narrative structure. In Second Sight, she describes herself as insanely detail-oriented and workaholic. Frankly, her analytical nature is a bit intimidating to me! What were your expectations for working with her?
Vicky: Thanks for having me here, Kristin. In truth, I didn’t know what to expect about working with Cheryl Klein because Cleopatra’s Moon was my first work of fiction. But, I guessed that it needed work. I just didn’t know how much! Fortunately, I had read that one of her authors had rewritten a significant portion of his book while working with her. I really respect and admire that writer so knowing this helped me set my expectations accordingly.
So, when her editorial letter came in at about 22-pages, I didn’t freak-out completely (okay, that’s a lie; I freaked out, but maybe not as much as I might have!). Later, I learned that was about typical for her. That’s her process.
And yes, of course, I was intimidated! Who wouldn’t be? But it was a reassuring-kind of intimidation because I knew her brilliant analytical mind was focusing on ways to make my book better. I mean, what a blessing!
Erin: I benefited from knowing nothing of the editorial process and nothing of Cheryl’s reputation. (Keep in mind I began working with her 2 years before her book came out.) So, honestly, I had no expectations, which is rare for me. I almost always have expectations which are almost always harrowing but which never materialize quite as I’ve imagined them. (For example, I just went to NYC where I met Cheryl for the first time. At her insistence, I took the subway – alone! – to her office and was absolutely convinced I was going to get mugged or murdered on it. I seem not to have experienced either.)
But let me tell you what I’ve come to learn about Cheryl. She IS insanely detail oriented, and she is definitely analytical. But she’s also incredibly lovely and kind. So much so that these qualities were evident over the phone, long before we met in person. She’s reasonable, not demanding. When she suggests a change, she explains why. And she has always listened to my explanation for characters’ motives or actions and considered them. I’m going to say this again: She’s just lovely. I can picture her smiling with a mix of bemusement (really?) and just a little naughty joy (really!) when she reads that she’s intimidating to anyone.
A 22-page editorial letter - wow! In Second Sight, Cheryl describes many revision exercises such as making a bookmap, character charts, and plot checklists. Did she ask you to do any of these exercises? How did your story grow working in collaboration with Cheryl?
Vicky: Cheryl herself outlined the book in the beginning (it was part of her editorial letter). That’s how she gets her arms around a novel, I think, which helped me get some much-needed perspective. She did ask me to outline the rewrites and I was willing to give it a shot, even though I don’t really like to. But here’s the thing, if I’d said, “Nope, sorry, I can’t, my brain doesn’t work that way,” she would’ve accepted that. She never demanded that I do something “her way” and was always open to discussing sticky issues. For me, that was awesome, because “talking it through,” is one of the ways I work things out. Sometimes, I think people don’t realize just how respectful and gracious she is as an editor because of her reputation for thoroughness.
There’s no doubt in my mind that working with Cheryl and AAL Books helped the novel in countless ways.
Erin: Oh, yeah, the book map. I forgot about that. She did ask me for one, and I developed so much anxiety over creating one perfectly that she told me to stop. And I cannot even begin to describe how I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU SOMEONE ELSE transformed at Cheryl’s hands. Let’s just say this: The book she bought bore little resemblance to the finished product. I’ve told her this already. I can’t believe she bought the thing. That’s how different it became.
I've been told that editors have to absolutely LOVE a book for them to acquire it because they spend so much time repeatedly immersed in the story. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into this process. What’s next for you?
Vicky: Oh, I can’t say. It’s too early. I’m still in the research phase.
Erin: I’m working on two new books – one a middle grade novel set in 1972, one a YA novel set in 1968.
And finally, because I ask everyone this, what are you reading now?
Vicky: Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens
Carl J. Richard, Why We Are All Romans
Lunn Cullen’s Reign of Madness
Plus, the odd research book here and there. Yeah, I’m all over the place.
Thanks for having me here, Kristin. I love this blog!
Erin: This is a great question. I just finished THE BELL JAR and have started I AM THE MESSENGER. Kind of a gearshift there, I know, but when I went to the bookstore to buy I AM THE MESSENGER, I saw THE BELL JAR on a nearby table, picked it up, started reading and had to finish it.
Libba Bray, Markus Zusak, and Sylvia Plath - sounds good to me! Thanks Vicky and Erin, and best of luck with your future projects!
For more about Erin and Vicky and their books, go to their websites/blogs:
Cheryl Klein’s blog is here: http://www.chavelaque.blogspot.com
***And now what you’ve all been waiting for – the three book giveaway!
The contest is open to followers (old and new) of our blog – we appreciate you!
Three random winners will be selected. You could win one of these 3 books:
1. Second Sight, An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising & Publishing Books for Children and Adults, by Cheryl Klein.
2. I Now Pronounce You Someone Else by Erin McCahan.
3. And, Vicky is donating a signed copy of Cleopatra's Moon!
Here’s what you need to do:
1. Comment on this blog post by Friday, September 9th.
2. You may request a particular book if you have a preference.
3. Leave your email address, so I can notify you if you win.
4. Please help spread the word by sharing this giveaway on your own blog, Facebook page, etc., and you’ll earn an extra entry.
Want a chance to win more books? Shannon Whitney Messenger is giving away 4 ARCs here.
Also, check out my guest post for the Tip Tuesday feature at Literary Rambles here.
Thanks everyone, and good luck!