Advice For Young Writers, Green-Eyed Monsters and Celebrating The Moment: Bev Katz Rosenbaum Answers Three Questions
Bev Katz Rosenbaum is the author of several works of fiction for young people, her most recent being Who is Tanksy?, published by Orca Books. Bev has worked in-house as an editor for book publishers and magazines and has taught writing at the college level. Currently she juggles writing children’s books with freelance editing. Bev lives in Toronto. When she isn’t writing, she’s catching up on all her friends’ books, guzzling coffee, dancing, and hiking (“Not the extreme kind. The mildly challenging and occasionally inspiration kind.”) You can find Bev and her work at BevKatzRosenbaum.com as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @bevrosenbaum.
I interviewed Bev for a Toronto blog called blogTO years before we actually met in person and became friends. She is so positive and encouraging, and I’m delighted to have her visit my Inkygirl blog.
In Who is Tanksy?, a topical but fun Orca ‘Currents’ novel, a middle school’s anonymous, protest graffiti artist ignites a revolution against the backdrop of a divisive election campaign for School President.
Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?
I photographed what I call my brag bookcase. I mostly work on my dining room table, but my official ‘office’ is a portion of my bedroom and features a desk, file cabinet, and this bookcase. I wouldn’t feel comfortable displaying this stuff in a more public space in my home–would feel immodest–but I have to admit I do look at it often to remind myself, when I’m feeling unaccomplished, that I’ve actually managed to do/produce some pretty cool stuff.
Taking pride of place on the top of the bookcase is what I actually consider to be my greatest accomplishment (aside from my kids), and that is a high school fiction and poetry anthology called Modern Morsels that I edited for McGraw-Hill Ryerson. Acquiring for this antho was such a huge responsibility and honour–and fun! I got to buy and shape original fiction from some of my favourite established and emerging authors. I tried to ensure that the book represented Canada in all its diversity.
On that shelf are also a couple of nice cards, one from Sandra McTavish, former McGraw-Hill Ryerson Literacy Division Publisher, and another from the renowned YA author (and huge literary influence) Meg Cabot. I’d sent her a thank-you card for featuring I Was a Teenage Popsicle on her blog, and then she sent me a card saying I was the only person who’d ever thanked her for mentioning them, which I found astounding! My mother drilled that thank-you card thing into me, LOL! Send thank-you cards, people!
Also on the top shelf is the mask I carried at last year’s inaugural Canadian Kid Lit Gala, which had a masquerade theme. On the top shelf are my books: Who is Tanksy?, I Was a Teenage Popsicle, Beyond Cool, and the German (Sauerlander) edition of If Wishes Were Kisses, a young adult novel that actually never sold anywhere but Germany! (My son called me David Hasselhoff for a while and constantly told people, ‘She’s very big in Germany’.)
There are also copies of my two Harlequin romance novels, What Friends Are For and Wanted: An Interesting Life, and copies of a few pop culture essay anthologies I have pieces in: Filled With Glee (about the TV show Glee), A Taste of True Blood (about the TV show True Blood), and Perfectly Plum (about Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books).
On the middle shelf are books that are dedicated to me or in which I’m mentioned in the acknowledgments. (Being completely immodest now, I’ll mention I have loads more in ebooks that don’t have print versions.) On this shelf we also have the script and DVD of the one television episode I wrote that made it to air (the fifth episode of the first season of Stoked, called ‘Waves of Cheese’, a loving homage to Point Break).
Finishing off this shelf are some press clippings from my romance writing years. The bottom shelf has a pile of nice emails from editing clients, another pile of letters from book fans, and a pile of Slush issues. Slush was a fun literary zine I published twenty years ago together with renowned children’s author and illustrator Patricia Storms.
Q. What advice do you have for young writers?
I’d also urge aspiring/emerging authors to try not to get too overwhelmed by all the writing systems and ‘rules’ floating around out there. When I’m wearing my freelance editor hat, I work with many authors who get so bogged down in all the ‘rules’ set out in the workshops they’ve taken or in books they’ve read, they lose their nice clear through lines. In a longer manuscript, I might mention something seems unnecessary and I’m told this fulfills so-and-so’s twenty-first beat or something. Much of that kind of information is useful, but remember, these are just guidelines–as well as moneymaking endeavours for their creators. As far as I’m concerned, as long as your book has a theme around which your main plot and subplots revolve, a basic three-act structure, conflict, tension, drama, strong voice and three-dimensional characters, you should be fine. Of course, once you’ve banged out a draft, you’ll need an experienced reader–a critique partner you trust or a professional freelance editor like me (hint, hint)–to give you the perspective you will sadly lack on your own book.
I’d also urge people to write about things they’ve personally experienced. These are the things you can best and most authentically write about and are likely more interested in working through. Your deep knowledge and passion will come through to agents and editors.
I think the most important advice, though, is to keep your eyes on your own page. It can be so hard, in this business, to keep that green-eyed monster in check–especially now that we’re all on social media to promote ourselves and our work. We see everything everybody else is getting–multiple sales, award nominations, etc.–on a daily basis. We have to remember that rejection is part of the game. My author friends and I joke that we’re only ever allowed to be happy for a minute in this business. Then something invariably crushes you. We have to celebrate what we can, even just getting a personal rejection letter as opposed to a form one. Also remember that if you’ve published something, you’ve changed someone’s life. That’s a fact. I Was a Teenage Popsicle got me a fan letter from a U.S. immigrant who told me the book was such a comfort to her, as it was about a girl who didn’t fit in and she didn’t fit in either. The book wasn’t about immigration, so the letter came as a surprise to me, but the not-fitting-in theme is, of course, a central one in much of YA fiction. So, see? Even the award-free among us help so many people.
Q. What are you excited about right now?
I’m super excited about the book I’m writing now. I feel like I’ll jinx it if I talk too much about it, LOL. It’s a YA. I’ve been working on it, off and on, for almost two years now, but I’m determined to wait to shop it until it’s perfect. Well, as perfect as I can get it, anyway. It’s been so tough to write but also the most satisfying. I love that feeling when everything drops away and you’re in that flow state and that’s happened so much with this book. I hope that’s a good sign. Cross your fingers for this one, everybody.
For more insights from book creators, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators From Book Creators.