Friday, May 29, 2009

Poetry Friday: Emily Dickinson

Not too long ago, on my way to Brattleboro, VT, I pulled off the highway so I could stop at Emily Dickinson's house. I had never been there before. It was a beautiful late-spring day, and as I drove into Amherst I was hearing the children's children's children's children of the birds Emily might have heard, seeing the branches' branches' branches of the branches Emily sat under for shade.

The museum had just opened and the volunteer at the ticket desk was very kind. She recommended a tour, and I signed up. The docent who was assigned to the small group who had assembled that morning was knowledgable, so knowledgable! But oh, she did not fit with my expectations of what my pilgrimage to Emily's house would be!

Thankfully, I had already told our host that I might have to leave early, so after the first half hour -- spent in the sitting room, narrated with a history of the Dickinson family -- I excused myself, and spirited away.

A very young woman, with a straight backbone and a plain and friendly face, was seated at the base of the stairs to Emily's bedroom. She offered to lead me up to the second floor. Quietly, we climbed the stairs together. Then she walked down the hall, said "This is where Emily wrote," and led me to the open door. There was the small bed, with Emily's own shawl draped over it. There was the tiny, tiny, modest writing desk. And there were two photographs of women over the dresser. Emily's own heroes, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot.

The silent guide left me alone to weep on the threshold. I mean it -- tears poured down my face. (They're welling up now, even.) It was the two other writers' faces that did it to me. The continuum of women writers. The idea that Emily had her own idols. That she didn't know she would prove to be an idol of so many writers herself. That she couldn't be sure.

After a couple of minutes I took a breath and said, "Is everyone overwhelmed when they come in here?" And my lovely guide said, "I am, every time."

Wild Nights -- Wild Nights! 
Were I with thee

Wild Nights should be

Our luxury!

Futile -- the Winds --

To a Heart in port --

Done with the Compass --

Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden --
Ah, the Sea!

Might I but moor -- Tonight --
In Thee!

--Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The new job

Today, I switched from editor to agent. A different side of the same desk. It's a very big change for me: doffing the mantle of publisher and donning that of agent at Sanford J. Greeburger Associates. You can read a little about it in today's PW Children's Bookshelf. But in case you're seeking a more in-depth analysis of this move, look no further. I asked my old friend, Brenda Bowen, Ex-Publisher, to interview my new self, Brenda Bowen, Girl Agent. We caught up with each other on the eve of BEA. Here's what the world's greenest children's book agent had to say about her choices.

BBXP: So Brenda -- an agent? How come?
BBGA: It's been a long time coming, I think. I've seen other people -- Nancy Gallt, Michael Stearns -- make the change successfully. Maybe I can do it, too.

BBXP: How come Greenburger? Why not hang out your own shingle?

BBGA: SJGA is the home of Dan Brown, Fancy Nancy, and Kafka. Can't beat that. And they're experts in areas where I'll need expertise: contracts, royalties, rights.

BBXP: How are you going to find clients. Is that the word -- clients?
BBGA: Actually, I like to use the words authors and illustrators. I'll look for them through blogs and conferences and in magazines and newspapers. I'll ask authors and editors for referrals. I'll eavesdrop on people's cell phone conversations while I'm getting a pedicure.

BBXP: You know, you've moved around a lot. What's the deal with that?
BBGP: Change is the only constant.

BBXP: No cliches, please.
BBGP: Fair enough. I made this move because I've finally come to the realization that I'm old enough to be working for myself. SJGA is a loose federation of independent agents; so I'll have colleagues, not a boss. I'll ask advice; not permission.

BBXP: Nicely put. Is it true you're also a writer?
BBGP: Yes, like many people in publishing, I've had a little sideline as a writer. It will help me as an agent, I think, to have had experience as an author, too. And I have a new agent -- Faith Hamlin, also at SJGA.

BBXP: Why exactly are you becoming an agent, when the entire industry is crumbling about our ears?
BBGA: Not crumbling. Reimagining itself. And what better time to be closer to the creative community than this? Books will survive, in whatever form they may take.

BBXP: Hmmm. We'll see about that. What exactly is your take on new media?
BBGA: Maybe I'll auction the first American cell-phone novel for teens. Who knows. I'll be open to great stories and book ideas wherever they come from.

BBXP: And you're packaging too? And taking on adult authors?
BBGA: In the fullness of time.

BBXP: You're very ambitious.
BBGA: My weakness and my strength.

BBXP: How would you describe yourself as an agent?
BBGA: I see myself as the love-child of Dan Lazar and Marilyn Marlow: texting editors at 2AM, only in 19th century prose.

BBXP: Thanks so much for your time.
BBGA: My pleasure.