Monday, July 25, 2016

INTERVIEW WITH LITERARY AGENT LINDA CAMACHO by Mary E. Cronin



Literary Agent Linda Camacho has some words of wisdom for writers of 
middle grade fiction this week!

Here is Linda’s official bio:
Linda Camacho joined Prospect Agency in 2015 after a decade in publishing. She attended Cornell University and her experience since graduation created a great background for a career in agenting. She interned at Simon & Schuster and Writers House literary agency, worked at Penguin in production, and settled into children's marketing at Random House before making the move to agenting. She received her MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
She's interested in graphic novels, MG, YA, and adult fiction across all genres (particularly romance/women's fiction, horror, fantasy, and contemporary). She also seeks very select literary fiction (preferably with commercial bent) and picture book writer-illustrators. Diversity of all types welcome (ethnicity, disability, sexuality, etc.)! 

Linda is also on Twitter:



I signed with Linda in 2015 and I find her to have a solid sense of the publishing business combined with an encouraging and positive outlook. I invited her to answer some questions for Project Mayhem about middle grade fiction from her perspective as an agent, and I’m so glad she said yes!

Thanks for dropping in to Project Mayhem Middle Grade Blog, Linda! Can you start by telling us: what were YOU like as a middle-grader?

Thanks for having me! Project Mayhem is just terrific.

Ah, Little Me. Much like today, I was what I like to call indoorsy, pre-Netflix-and-chill era. I grew up in the Bronx with very protective parents, so I was always indoors, reading, reading, reading, and watching TV. I read Archie comics and R. L. Stine books, and stayed up late watching horror movies and telenovelas with my mom. It was fun! I was a lot more brash than I am now and got in trouble plenty of times for what I like to call "candor."  I like to think I've toned that down since then!


As an agent, what qualities do you look for in a middle-grade novel?

 Like with any amazing book, I look for an emotional core. The novel has to touch me in some way, no matter the genre. It can be a creepy tale, an adventure story, what have you--there needs to be some emotional truth that makes the characters come to life. Make me laugh, make me cry, and you've got me.


What kinds of characters are you drawn to?

Characters have to be sympathetic in some form. They don't necessarily have to be likable, but there has to be a way for me to connect with them. And with likable characters, I don't like perfection, since that's not realistic. I always think of Indiana Jones, who's cool and adventurous...and freaks out over snakes. I mean, how can you not love that? Even with a villain, I generally prefer to see some shred of humanity in him. Like in Bridge to Terabithia, when bully Janice Avery is humiliated and you see that, yes, she does have feelings. You could have the most amazing plot in the world, but without sympathetic, well-drawn characters, how could I care?


There seems to be a myriad of opinions about what constitutes “appropriate” subject matter for middle grade novels. For instance, author Kate Messner was recently disinvited from a school visit when the school realized that the main character in Kate’s latest middle grade novel, The Seventh Wish, has an older sister who struggles with addiction. Author Phil Bildner was disinvited from a school visit in reaction to his book-talking George, Alex Gino’s middle grade novel about a transgender fourth grader. What are your thoughts on complex topics and themes in middle grade?

  I really don't believe writers should censor themselves on the middle grade topics they'd like to cover. I was very disappointed to hear about Kate Messner's invitation being revoked because, you know what, kids are smarter than we think. They can handle tough topics and chances are, many of them are dealing with those hot button issues, as much as we like to believe they aren't. It's all in how a writer frames these issues. I'll represent anything I'm passionate about and if it's a hot button issue, all the better. If the content is written in just the right way, tailored appropriately to middle grade readers, then why not?


There has been so much advocacy and conversation in the children’s publishing world in terms of the need for more diverse characters and stories. Do you see this reflected in the marketplace?

While the conversation of diversity has been going on for many years (way before my time in publishing even), it's amazing to see how much more visible the issue has become. As a result of that visibility, more agents and editors are seeking diverse books, and there has been an increase in the publication of diverse books. What's more, some of these books are doing very well, even for a debut like Roshani Chokshi's The Star-Touched Queen, a young adult Hades-Persephone fantasy mixed with Indian mythology, which debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list a few weeks ago. Besides seeing these books on the list, more authors are being recognized with awards, like Cece Bell, who won a Newbery honor in 2015 for the amazing El Deafo. We still have far to go, but I remain optimistic that things will only continue to get better from here.


We know you like middle grade fiction. What other age levels do you represent? (PB? YA?) What genres are you open to?

Beyond MG, I love YA across all genres. In particular, I'd be thrilled if I could get my hands on some amazing fantasy. I do rep the occasional picture book, but I'm very selective about that category and tend to seek author-illustrators. My primary focus in children's is MG and YA fiction.


How should authors query you?

I'm accepting queries through Prospect Agency’s electronic submissions page, where writers can submit their query letter, three chapters, and a brief synopsis of their work.



A little more about Linda..

Once a year, I visit an elementary school in the South Bronx and lead a poetry workshop for the 7th and 8th grades. When Linda learned of this, she expressed interest in participating (after all, she grew up in the Bronx as I did!), and this past February she joined me. The students at St. Luke’s, a majority Latino school, were captivated by Linda’s talk about her work in publishing, from Penguin to Random House to agenting. Linda shared her experiences of growing up in the Bronx and she cheered on the young writers as they composed poetry. She also used her contacts at various publishing houses to secure a giant box of MG and YA books that she brought to the kids at St. Luke’s. She was a rock star that day (as you can see in the photo below).




Want to meet Linda? She frequently attends writing conferences. 


Some upcoming events on her calendar include:

Flame Con (NYC – August 2016)
James River Writers Conference (Richmond, VA – October 2016)
Kansas SCBWI (November 2016)
New England SCBWI (Spring 2017)


Thank you, Linda Camacho, for visiting the Project Mayhem Middle Grade Blog!






Friday, July 22, 2016

Cross Culture Creativity



It was an interesting semester. I taught three classes. One was on lyrical essays. However, I had several students interested in children’s lit. I offered to let students find their own creative voices. For many, this was a surprise.

I teach in Cairo, Egypt, and have observed an interesting phenomenon. Most of the writing, of my students- and much of what I have read in translation- is very must based within the confines of the real. Stories take place in the real world, or something like the real world. The characters are real people, or something like real people. Things that happen are real thing, or something like real thing. There is very little room for fantasy, outside of dreams. Even dreams mimic real life.

This semester, however, I had several student bring brilliantly unique pieces to class that offered unusual perspectives, fantastic and unreal, surreal, unlike the mundane and unlike anything I had encountered from students before. I know that Western work is read and appreciated, but here are kids (OK, not kids. These are rising seniors in their early 20s) writing pieces of science fiction and fantasy that could easily have come out of New York or London. Every stereotype of Egyptian genre I had begun to expect was crushed under the weight of such a creative class.

I suppose what it comes down to is every time we open a book we hope to find something that inspires. Every time w open a book from a different culture we bring expectations of what we are likely to expect. We can often be joyfully surprised.


- Eden Unger Bowditch

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

6 Ways Unicycling Is Like Writing by Jim Hill

My family gave me a unicycle for Father's Day. They might be trying to kill me. Thirty days later, I'm still alive – Ha! – and covered in wisdom. Or maybe those are bruises. Whatever. The point is, I've discovered that learning to ride my one-wheeled-antagonist is a lot like writing a novel. Strap on your helmet and wrist guards, and I'll explain.


A photo posted by @heyjimhill on

1. It Seems Like a Good Idea at First
Unbridled optimism might be the first sign you could be a writer or a unicyclist. You're sure in your heart-of-hearts that this new undertaking is a great idea, and you can definitely get it done if you work hard enough. This feeling is followed by the realization that...

2. You Have No Idea What You're Doing
Whether saddling up for the first time or staring at the blank screen while the cursor pulses in silent judgment, you quickly realize you're clueless about how to begin. Congratulations! You're on your way! To the emergency room. Or maybe the Newbery Award. I'm just saying prepare yourself for anything at this point, is all.

A video posted by @heyjimhill on

3. Research is Key
Write what you know is a cute aphorism, but maybe a bit of a lie. Unicycle what you know is straight up crazy talk. Research is your friend, the Tom to your Huck, the Martin to your Lewis. I wouldn't even have been able to get on that cyclopean-death-steed if I hadn't googled and youtubed beforehand. The same can be said about writing. Do I know which fork to use first at a State Dinner, or the melting point of human flesh? No, no I don't. But the internet does. If that fails, your friendly, neighborhood librarian is just an email away. (Raise your hand if you think the NSA has you flagged for some "necessary" search topics. Yup, me too.)

4. It's Hard to Tell Where You're Headed
Plotter or pantser, sometimes you wander off the main road and end up in the garden. Ask yourself, "is that poison ivy?" and "is anything happening in this scene that moves the plot forward?"

Atop the monohoop-of-shame, you have to activate your core to stay on course. So, what is the core of your writing? The characters. What do the characters want, what do they need, and what's in their way? When you're face down in the hydrangea take a moment to check in with your characters, and they'll pull you out of the weeds. (I may have sprained my metaphorical ankle with this one.)

5. Sometimes You Fall on Your [REDACTED]


A video posted by @heyjimhill on


This is the part of Hero's Journey when the hero faces abject failure and almost quits, but then somehow beats the odds to return with the elixir. The elixir in this instance being a large bottle of Advil.

Writing has similar, less (physically) painful pitfalls. You will hit them. Good crit partners will be there to ask if you're okay, and get you back up and pedaling toward a resolution in no time.

6. Butt In Chair (or Seat)
Yolen's Law gets the job done on the page and on the road. You're not going to get better thinking about writing or riding. You're going to get better by doing them. A novel is a big, intimidating goal. Mastering the single-wheeled-conveyance-of-clowns-and-doom is too. I'm nowhere near joining the circus, but I am better than I was yesterday. So don't sit down to write a novel, sit down to write the next sentence, the next paragraph, and the next scene. You can get a lot accomplished with just two pages a day. Keep track. Celebrate your progress. Jump for joy.

Meanwhile, if you need a unicyclist that's good for about eight to ten feet at a time, I'm available.

A video posted by @heyjimhill on

Monday, July 11, 2016

So Much Smaller Than the Stars, by Anne Nesbet

I know that my task here is to provide a dose of thoughtful writing advice, but this week I find myself at a loss for words.

I have sat here for some hours now, feeling at a loss for words, and while at first I struggled hard against that feeling, because it makes me so anxious and cranky and helpless-in-my-bones, I have decided instead to embrace it for a while.

To embrace (for this moment) the loss of my words.

I am so much smaller than the things the words thought they needed to say.

Instead of running after words, I am sitting in silence, and I find myself remembering other silences I have experienced in the face of other large things, and I remember that sometimes it is a gift to feel so silent and so small.

To look up into a night sky where an ocean of stars wheels above your head! We are adrift in the arms of the galaxy--how rare and wonderful those moments are when we can really feel what that means, how indescribably tiny we are. How huge the world around us. How numerous the stars!

When I am unhappy or sick or despairing about the world, I dream of mountains, because in the mountains I feel so wonderfully small. It is while backpacking in the mountains that I learned to see the stars, for instance. The Summer Triangle spins slowly above our heads. Cygnus flies slowly, slowly across the sky. We are just tiny, sentient crumbs, looking up in awe at it all.

The largeness you turn to may not be mountains--it may be the ocean. It may be an orchestra. It may be a crowd of people marching, hoping to make the world a better place. It may be a bookstore or a library, where thousands and thousands of stories line the shelves, and every single one of those stories is an entire world.

We are so small. The universe is so large.

Sometimes it is all right to sit and listen.

Sometimes it is fine not to know what to say. Or it is not fine, but it is what it is. Sometimes there are no words.