February 13, 2015

Casual Friday: Agent Interview with Rena Rossner

Today we have a Q & A with Rena Rossner, literary and foreign rights agent at The Deborah Harris Agent. Rena is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University’s Writing Seminars Program, where she double-majored in poetry and non-fiction writing. She studied at Trinity College, Dublin and holds an MA in History from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She worked at bookstores in four countries, has written extensively for The Jerusalem Report and The Jerusalem Post, and worked in PR, grant-writing, and website development at The Jerusalem Foundation. She is a writer of both fiction and poetry and has a cookbook called EATING THE BIBLE out with Skyhorse Publishing.

Hi Rena and welcome!

We love book recs. What have you read recently and loved?

THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER by Leslye Walton – one of the best books I read this past year, it’s got everything I look for in a submission: lyrical language, magical realism and fantasy, beautiful descriptions and it made me cry.

GREENHEART by Alice Hoffman – I love everything that Alice Hoffman writes, but since her adult novel THE DOVEKEEPERS she’s become one of my all-time favorite writers. This is her latest YA novel, and again: poetic language, magic and witches. Yes please.

FAMOUS IN LOVE by Rebecca Serle – not to neglect my love for YA contemporary, I read this novel in one sitting on a plane. I love novels that captivate me that way and won’t let me go. It was fun and light but it also had me crying. I’m a sucker for a good love story.

I saw on your website that you have five kids in addition to your career as a writer AND an agent. Any tips for balancing a full life?

People always ask me: how do you find time to read?? And I always look at them and say: how do you not? And I think that’s really the answer. You make time for what’s important to you. It might be half an hour or an hour a day, or you may go to bed later and stay up into the wee hours knowing you’ll be tired the next day, but it’s worth it because it’s “your time” to read, to write, whatever. Runners find time to run, readers find time to read, and writers find time to write. If it’s your passion, it cannot be denied.

How did you become an agent?

I spent years doing all sorts of things that were related to writing and books, but never really found my calling. I worked in bookstores, worked as a journalist, had a weekly food column in a major newspaper, worked in website design and content editing, marketing, grant writing, editing books for an archaeological press, but all of it made me miserable. I quit my job about 5 years ago and spent a year writing my second novel. But I was still unhappy. So I asked myself what I really wanted to do. I wrote to my (current) boss, even though The Deborah Harris Agency wasn’t looking for anyone, and told her I’d do anything to work for her. And here I am three years later, SOOO HAPPY. I regularly tell people how much I love my job.

Are you able to read a book without the "agent hat" on or does it creep in?

Absolutely. I think that what makes me a reader and a book-lover is that I have a very well-developed “willing suspension of disbelief” built into me. It means that I can allow myself to get completely swept away by a book, be it by the language, the plot, or the characters (and ideally all three…), but I am very much able to let go of my “agent hat” and just hold on for the ride. Guilty confession: I am obsessed with paranormal romance and urban fantasy and my greatest joy is to curl up with a cup of coffee and a good mass-market paperback and read about vampires and werewolves, demons and gargoyles, elves and fairies, and all the creatures of the night (yes, still.)

Any recent sales or upcoming client releases you’re extra excited for?

Yes! I have three coming out this year and I’m so excited about all of them!!

1. May 2015: DUCK’S VACATION by Gilad Soffer, coming from Feiwel & Friends / Macmillan (Picture Book)

2. June 2015: DARKNESS BRUTAL by Rachel A. Marks, coming from Skyscape/Amazon (YA Paranormal/Urban Fantasy)

3. September 2015: YOUR VOICE IS ALL I HEAR by Leah Scheier, coming from Sourcebooks (YA Contemporary)

What are you looking for right now and not getting?

I love historical fiction in all genres: Picture Book, Middle Grade, YA and Adult.

Ditto fantasy and scifi in all genres.

I’m really looking for some great “voice-y” middle grade

YA romances to make me swoon, with diverse characters, LGBQT too!

Beautiful writing.

My dream books right now:

1. YA or NA set in the Israeli army

2. A sweeping Middle Eastern Epic fantasy

3. Books with badass characters who cover their hair (and no, that’s not a contradiction in terms.)

What type of characters or stories do you feel are underrepresented?

I definitely think we’re not quite there yet in terms of diversity in fiction. Like I said above, I’d love to see more characters who cover their hair. Characters with mixed-race heritage where the color of their skin isn’t the most important thing about them, but it does enrich who they are. Surprise me, show me characters transcending stereotypes. Multicultural romances with all the messiness that that entails. And though I love a happy ending, give me some miserable ones, because that’s life.

Anything you’re tired of seeing?

I love demons, but I see too many of them in my submissions. I think “grief-group” YA or characters meeting in therapy is something that’s on its way out. There’s also too much suicide in YA fiction right now. So much scifi I read starts on the bridge of a ship…or with characters who have “ports” of some sort – futuristic communication devices. I want scifi that doesn’t feel like scifi. Give me real people in space. Ditto fantasy that starts with an eagle soaring overhead, verdant forests all around…give me real people in fantasy and historical fiction, get your characters out of the tavern.

Best piece of advice we haven’t talked about yet?

There is an exception to every rule. I once tweeted that I love historical fiction, but not Civil War, and now I rep a YA Civil War novel with elements of magical realism. I also once tweeted that I’m not the right person for sports books, especially not baseball, and now I represent a YA contemporary novel about French and baseball. Good writing trumps everything. Good writing can even bring suicidal demons in grief group therapy on the bridge of a spaceship with eagles soaring overhead to life. (Actually can someone please write that?)

Since we’re the YA Misfits, what would your high school superlative have been?

Gosh. It’s too obvious to say “biggest booknerd,” right? (Though I think that was actually what my superlative was…) that, and “I’m outta here! Suckers.” (because I skipped my senior year of high school in favor of early acceptance to Johns Hopkins’ Writing Seminars program.) Like I said: total BOOKNERD (and proud!)

Thanks so much for stopping by, Rena! Good stuff, right? Now go get your submissions polished up!

You can follow Rena on Twitter (https://twitter.com/renarossner) and check out her website at http://www.renarossner.com.


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