Scooch over just a little bit, Liz... Literary agent Sarah Davies is in the house.
Tell us a bit about the Greenhouse agency. How does an agency that spans both sides of the Atlantic operate?
The Greenhouse launched in late January 2008 – three months after I moved to the US from London, where I’d been a children’s publisher for 25 years, the last few of those as Publishing Director at Macmillan Children’s Books. The agency is owned by a very successful British company called Working Partners, who are the creative force behind lots of children’s fiction series in both the US and UK (including Erin Hunter’s WARRIORS). While Greenhouse is a completely separate company, it does mean I have a strong finance and legal team in place, great film/TV contacts, plus the benefit of my sister company Rights People, who sell all my foreign rights for me. It’s a fabulous position to be in and means the agency really has a lot to offer.
Greenhouse is uniquely transatlantic, in that I represent both American and British writers directly to both markets (and call both my ‘home market’ in terms of commission). This is possible because I have homes, and equally strong publishing contacts, in both countries. I love the increasingly international nature of the children’s books industry today, and it’s really useful to be able to bring this transatlantic overview to my authors. While publishing contracts are necessarily territorial, talent is not territorial, and aspiring writers approach me from many parts of the world. My office is just outside Washington DC in leafy Virginia, but I’m in New York and London very regularly. I notch up a fair number of air miles!
What kinds of books do you like? And what submissions would you most like to see?
I represent fiction aimed at children of around 5+ through teen/crossover. I don’t, at the moment, represent picturebook texts, illustrators, or non-fiction, and my prime interest is in middle grade and teen, though I’m open to seeing young chapter-book series if they are really high concept or strongly character led. I love great concepts and commercial hooks – cleverly plotted, original fiction matched by strong writing with a great emotional heart. Voice and concept have to go together like a horse and cart!
You’re a new transplant to the USA. Will this be your first Halloween here?
I arrived in the US on October 13, 2007 so I’ve experienced an American Halloween once before. I must say it was quite a shock. While Britain has caught on to trick-or-treating in a fairly low-key way, I was unprepared for the skeletons, coffins and tangle of cobwebs festooning my neighbours’ front yards! Fortunately my husband is American, so we’re all prepared with the candy. Oh, and we also have a great pumpkin head; Mr Pumpkin is currently sporting the campaign baseball cap of a certain presidential candidate.
Last Spring, Publishers Weekly quoted you saying that ‘horror is the new fantasy’. Is this still true? Will horror be a spot trend, here and gone in another year, or do you think it has fantasy’s staying power?
I was somewhat misquoted! What I actually said was that a New York publisher had said that phrase to me (in fact, David Gale of Simon & Schuster). I think it depends how you define ‘horror’. If you mean fiction totally defined by its horror content (ie, a kind of horror ‘genre’, in the same way as you might, for example, talk about ‘romance fiction’) then I think the answer is no – we’ve not moved into that kind of genre publishing. However, there are certainly elements of horror within a lot of the strong fiction around today, not least in the hugely popular area of paranormal teen fiction. You might perhaps say that fantasy has gone to the dark side! I do think this is going to be an area with longevity, or at least until the market becomes totally saturated and we’re not at that point yet. Everyone loves scaring themselves, especially if the frights are mixed with something sexy, so the best novels tend to have a great but dangerous love story at their heart. This kind of fiction also works brilliantly on the international stage, which is another reason why it’s doing so well. I think we may also see more dystopian novels coming, and those may also have dark elements to them.
As an agent (and former publisher) what have been some of your favourite horror titles?
Well, I’ll mention just three – all very different - that I’ve enjoyed fairly recently. Beth Goobie’s THE LOTTERY is scary in a chilling, psychologically thrilling kind of way. Like many great stories, part of its power comes from the fact that you can imagine yourself being in the position of the protagonist who is picked as the ritual ‘victim’.
TANTALIZE by Cynthia Leitich Smith is brilliant in mixing horror with food. A winning combination that somehow really works. The final scene, between Quincie and Kieran, is . . . Well, you’ll just have to read it!
Suzanne Collins’s THE HUNGER GAMES is probably going to be one of my personal ‘books of the year’. Such a great concept, so strongly written, and scary, scary, scary. Cato’s nasty death, at the end, lingered with me quite a while. And yet the brutality of it all is carried by a dystopian, thought-provoking plot that demands memorable and really dark writing.
Is there anything in the fantasy or horror field that you feel is way overdone? Characters, plot elements or themes you hope never cross your desk? And what would you love to see?
I think you can’t just fill a story with tons of nasty bits for effect. Anything gruesome, or truly frightening, has to be justified by a really strong and captivating storyline. The more unsettling the themes, the more ‘important’ the story needs to be to justify that, especially perhaps if unpleasant things are happening to young characters. There’s a level of graphic violence that I would personally have problems with, and no doubt like most people I have some kind of instinctive threshold within me that I’m uncomfortable crossing. That said, there’s a certain kind of almost spoof horror that can be quite fun. I’m working with an author at the moment who’s writing a gothic middle-grade novel set in Victorian London, and it features some excellently vile old ladies that turn into eyeball-pecking crows!
I’m definitely interested in seeing dark or paranormal fiction, so long as the story is really original, sharp, and arresting. There’s so much in this area out there, that anything new really does have to stand out. I’d love to see a great ghost story. Also, what I think of as a ‘big book’ – that is, a dark, epic story with intellectual insight, and layers and deeper themes underlying the action. But there’s got to be a great emotional heart to the story too.Thanks for dropping by Sarah! We look forward to reading lots of great work by Greenhouse authors-- scary or not!
Tomorrow in the Tollbooth we'll have another special interview- and announce the winners of our Cynthia Leitich Smith Sanguini's Tee Shirt-- and the M. T. Anderson Box Stuffed Full of Amazing Stuff award. And Carrie Jones is giving an ARC for her new novel Need here. There's still time to enter-- just click on the links and post your comments.
Tami Lewis Brown