Cameron Rosenblum and I are humbled to have such fantastic mentors for our 2013 SCBWI Squam Lake Writing Retreat that will be held this coming fall at the Rockywold Deephaven Resort in Holderness, New Hampshire.
We not only have secured editor Sarah Dotts Barley from HarperCollins, but also writers Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Scott Nash for our debut year on the small writing retreat circuit.
Rounding out this fantastic line-up is John Cusick, from the Greenhouse Literary Agency. I’m thrilled to be here today with an interview that will outline exactly what he’s on the prowl for as a top agent and some thoughts around the Squam event.
JOHN CUSICK OF GREENHOUSE LITERARY
1. John, what kind of a reader were you as a kid? Do you imagine your child/ya self when you are reading manuscripts?
I read Louis Sachar and Bruce Coville almost exclusively; I only realized a few years ago that half the books I loved as a kid were penned by these two. I also loved adult thrillers and sci-fi, like Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell, and Michael Crichton. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a major fav. I guess I was drawn to zany, scary, exciting tales. As an adult I’m still drawn to that kind of thing (you can bet I went and saw Jurassic Park when it was rereleased in 3D). I’m not sure I imagine my kid self when I read manuscripts, because that part of me hasn’t disappeared, really. I still have more toys on my desk than pens. I read with the same brain that built a spaceship like the one in Aliens Ate My Homework out of my mom’s old makeup container when I was seven.
2. Can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming an agent at Greenhouse Literary.
I knew I wanted to work in publishing when I left school—that, or children’s public television. The two passions came together accidentally when I landed a position as an assistant at a juvenile literary agency. I instantly fell in love (or rather, re-fell-in-love) with kids books, and realized I adored being an agent, working with authors, shaping stories, and gushing about them to editors (I am, at my heart, a fanboy). I met Sarah Davies (V.P. and founder of Greenhouse) at a conference in the summer of 2012. I knew who she was by reputation, and had admired her taste from afar. What I didn’t know then was that she is also one of the warmest, most thoughtful and passionate people in the business. One thing led to another, and six months later I was Greenhouse’s man in NYC. I couldn’t be happier.
3. What is your favorite part of the job? Any surprises?
I once heard an agent say “you get to the point where you can smell a good project,” and there really is a precious, invigorating shock when you begin to read a manuscript and realize this is it, I love this, even before you can quite articulate why. It’s a very subjective business, and I was surprised at first how much personal taste plays a role. You can’t be cynical about what you sell. At least in my experience, I have to be personally enthralled by a manuscript to work with its author. That deep-down-in-your-heart excitement about books, that was a surprise, and a very happy one. Also, every day is different, and I love that.
4. Squam Lake was the location used for the 80s movie ON GOLDEN POND. In it, there is a whopper of a fish known in local lore as Walter. Everyone tries to catch him or at least see him. Do you have a Walter? Is there a dream manuscript you’d love to find on your desk tomorrow morning?
I think I do have a Walter. I think there is a big, sweeping historical or maybe fantasy series out there, something totally original, with intimate scenes and great scope. It probably looks a little like A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, except for young people. Or who knows, it could be the prefect, heart-breaking realistic contemporary. I only know I’ll know it when I see it.
5. Tell us why you’re looking forward to mentoring the SCBWI Squam Lake Writing Retreat.
I love writing and shaping stories. I can’t wait to talk to writers about their work one-on-one, and also to give presentations. A) Teaching is fun, and B) this stuff is just interesting to me. A few days to kick around with other scribes and talk shop? I can’t wait.
6. (If you didn’t already answer this in #4) What are you looking to acquire now?
I’m especially hungry for middle-grade of all kinds. I’ve also just opened to picture book submissions, so the right pithy, character-driven story is high on my wish-list. I’m open to all genres, though I’m a little wary of dystopian and super-powers stories at the moment. I’d love to see a kind of Tolstoy for teens, or sci-fi in a contemporary milieu, like Children of Men or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
7. Finally, what is your advice to all the authors out there trying to get that first contract?
Write a lot, read a lot, revise a lot. Finish projects, work on them, and move on to other projects. When querying agents, do your research and follow the guidelines. Let the work speak for itself. Remember that getting published isn’t impossible. It literally happens every day, and moreover it’s just the beginning of a much longer journey. While you’re at it, pick up a copy of Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. There’s some great advice in there for writers of all kinds.
And of course: send me stuff!
Thank you, John Cusick for this great interview! If you’d like to join us for Squam, click here. Spaces are filling up fast!