The Eastern Penn Points Café is very excited to welcome Erzsi Deàk as our guest today. Erzsi is the founder of Hen&ink Literary Studio, as well as an author, editor, and literary agent with 30 years of publishing experience. We’re also honored to have Erzsi as a faculty member for the upcoming 2016 Pocono Retreat, where she’ll be leading an interactive workshop on dialogue. If you haven’t registered for the Pocono Retreat, visit the registration page.
For more information on Erzsi, please visit the Hen&ink Literary Studio web site (http://www.henandink.com) and Twitter (@LiteraryHen). Or you can also say hello in the comments section below, especially if you’re enrolled in her workshop!
Hi Erzsi, and thank you for sharing your time with us today! Whenever we chat at the virtual Eastern Penn Points café, we ask our guest to choose their favorite reading beverage. What’ll it be?
A double espresso with one of those chunky chocolate chip cookies—with nuts is good!
Because Hen&ink is based in France, I must ask what French pastry you’d choose. (I’d take one of everything!)
Hah! I went for the American choice, but in France I’d probably go with the classic pain au chocolat or a chausson au pomme(apple turnover). If it’s after dinner that we are meeting, I’m a sucker for profiteroles with chocolate sauce…
There’s nothing wrong with more than one choice…or all of them! On the Hen&ink blog (cleverly titled Hen&inkblots), you wrote a post on the importance of character empathy. As an author yourself, what advice can you give on developing a scene that shows a character’s redeeming moment and why it’s so important to the reader?
Without empathy, I know I’m easily going to walk away from the character and the book, so I encourage clients and look for any “save-the-cat” moment to allow us see a part of the character that s/he might hide behind bluster, anger, etc. And it needs to be shown, not told to us. So, if we have a crime-fighting tough dog that’s going after the Big Hog Gang and doesn’t have time for small chat or the niceties of life with his friends, nor his puppies, it’s when we see the crime-fighting tough dog give a paw-up to the potbellied pig that got in over his head, tip him off with a whisker wiggle that the best way out is left not right (because that’s the direction the police dogs are coming to arrest the gang). It’s when the seeming bully lets the littler kid use the swing. It’s when disapproving dad helps his daughter save the wild ponies. It’s what makes us say, this character is human or has human characteristics; this character does have a kind bone in its body.
You are co-anthologist and contributing author for Period Pieces: Stories for Girls (published in 2003), which will be re-released by MAB Media in 2016. What does the re-launch mean to you and how do you think the stories will speak to girls now?
I’m over-the-moon to have PERIOD PIECES available to girls of all ages again! MAB Media is giving the book a terrific new life, featuring illustrations and a few words from a medical professional. And I love that proceeds will go to a charity that donates sanitary products to girls. The book was always meant to be accessible with well-written and good stories that speak to everyone (even fathers) and I think it did just that when it first came out. Now it will have an even wider reach and I can’t tell you or MAB Media how excited I am to have the book available to readers again. I know a number of girls who, when they got their first period, took the book off the shelf and read it cover-to-cover that day. The stories are timeless and universal, speaking to girls of all walks of life. If I could, I’d make sure every girl on the planet received a copy of PERIOD PIECES in every language. We need to empower and educate our girls and let them know that getting your period is nothing to be ashamed of, but is normal, healthy, and a milestone — Girl Power All the Way!
You are also the author of a debut picture book, Pumpkin Time!, illustrated by Doug Cushman and released in July. Congratulations! In the book, your main character, Evy, is so focused on a mysterious task that she misses the silliness going on around her. A great concept! What activity do you wish you had more time for?
I’m a huge proponent of we actually do what we want to do. We all make choices and yes, putting bread on the table isn’t really a choice, but it is a choice to watch TV or surf Facebook when we could be doing “that other thing” (writing, illustrating). So, for me, I try to live by that and since I work out of a home office, I can do the laundry and edit a manuscript while the lasagna bakes. As a writer, I find moments (often on-the-road) to write and ponder. What I have to force myself to do is STOP working and visit with friends, go to a movie, quilt, basically, get outside of my head and my office.
Hen&ink accepts specific types of submissions on Open Coop Days, which are held on the first Friday of each month. How did you develop this idea and how does a non-traditional model help you find great work?
I developed the idea because I needed to see new material and wanted to control it somehow (the first announcement about Hen&ink hatching brought in over 400 submissions from toddler to erotica). The first general kid-lit Open Coop Day awhile back also brought an avalanche into my computer. From the first Open Coop Day, I signed one (one!) person, SUSAN MONTANARI, a fantastic writer. Since Hen&ink has been around for a bit longer now, I see where we have “holes” in what I would like to be able to present to editors. So, genre-specific Open Coop Days are working. Coming off the first First Friday for middle-grade, I’m pleased to say that I found a number of projects I’m considering and that I’ve just signed terrific writer, Clare Di Liscia Baird. This submission model also allows me to actually respond to the submissions. So, combined with referrals and conference-attendee submissions, it works well.
FYI, everyone at this conference [2016 Pocono Retreat] is, of course, invited to submit when their work is ready through a “conference pass.” Outside of the conference pass, the next First Friday is for middle-grade and illustrations. We are pecking for both. We are well-stocked with picture book projects and I hope, following Open Coop YA Love Story on Valentine’s Day, that we’ll find some fun YA. That said, I’ve been known to genre hop and if I fall in love with something, no matter the genre, I want to run with it.
That’s really valuable information! We’ll definitely keep an eye on the Open Coop Days and Pocono Retreat attendees will be excited to learn further details about conference pass on-site! The submission guidelines for Open Coop Days ask authors to submit their first five manuscript pages, a log line or one-line pitch, and a one-page synopsis. Do you find these materials are more telling than a query letter?
I read the five pages before I look at anything else. So, basically, I don’t read query letters anymore. It’s the work that counts. If I’m interested in the work, then I ask for more details about the person and the project and/or other works. So, yes, the work tells me everything I need to know, at least about that one project.
For writers who would like to query Hen&ink on an Open Coop Day, what questions do you suggest they ask themselves prior to sending submission materials?
I think of it as more of a submission than a query, so if you can answer YES to the following questions, you’re good-to-go!:
· Do I have a finished project that fits the requested genre?
· Is there smart humor/levity/irony even in a darker story?
· Is my main character one with whom I’d like to hang out and/or play?
· Have I studied what books the agent likes?
· Have I studied the list of what the agent isn’t looking for and does my book still fit the bill?
· Do I take my job as a writer and/or illustrator seriously (i.e., this is not a hobby); am I professional?
· Do I love revision?
· Am I open to constructive criticism?
· Am I an armadillo (do I have a hard skin)?
· Do I have a VOICE when I write and/or does my character/book have a VOICE?
· Do I love what I do?
I love this list—these are questions all writers/illustrators should ask themselves before preparing for any submission. With that in mind, the Hen&ink site provides valuable information on what you’re looking for (and not looking for) from writers, but you also represent illustrators. Can you describe what you look for in submissions?
Voice. Illustrators and Writers have Voice. Words and pictures have Voice. Books have Voice. I’m looking for great Voice in all genres and illustration. In illustration, specifically, I’m looking for styles that we don’t have already and that enhance the Coop.
As a world traveler, you’ve been to many amazing places! Is there a destination you’ve only visited once and can’t wait to see again?
Most of my travels these days are tied to where my family and friends are, so probably not! I’ve never been to the fjords in Sweden, however, and still keep a picture of a B&B with a bicycle parked out front, which looks divine. I haven’t been to Pennsylvania, other than a drive-by, since my family and I toured the Mennonite country more than 30 years ago (!), so I’m looking forward to getting back to Pennsylvania—and to exploring the Poconos for the first time!
And we’re looking forward to having you! Given your experience in international publishing, can you share your thoughts on diversity in books, and if this topic is as prominent internationally as it is in the U.S.?
No. Outside the US, it just isn’t. That said, everyone needs to see her/himself reflected somewhere in the books we read. For the French market, I’m just looking for an amazing story with amazing characters and glorious writing that will sell (commercial literary/good hook) and if the main character comes from a non-white culture, great! Unless it’s germane to the story, the color/religion/sexuality/physicality/etc. of the character doesn’t matter. It’s the choices they make and their actions that make for a book I want to read. Oh, and Voice. Not to overdo it, but without Voice, a character and a book will fall flat and I know that I’ll never know what happened to him/her, because I shut the book.
You’re running late for your flight to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and have just two minutes to choose a book on your “to read” list for the plane. What book do you bring with you?
I mostly read manuscripts and proofs of books being published in the US and UK, so my e-reader is pretty stacked with stuff to read (i.e., this is not a realistic scenario for me). But let’s say my e-reader is out-of-battery and I’m at the check-out at the airport store: I’d probably grab a Terry Pratchett I haven’t read yet or even a Jane Austen to re-read (i.e., all fabulous comfort reading).
And for our lightning round of questions, please tell us your favorite…
Animal (besides chickens!):
Can I just say, MAMMALS?
Book from childhood:
PB: Pitschi by Hans Fischer
Fiction: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Book that made you laugh:
Book you’d like to see adapted into film:
The middle-grade I just accepted. Watch this space; it’s going to be awesome.
Place to take a walk:
Anywhere with a view! That can be a vista and it can be stunning store windows. That said, I live in the low Alps and do love a good beach walk.
Nac Mac Feegle
Thank you so much for your time, Erzsi! We can’t wait to see you at the Pocono Retreat!