It was Agent-Palooza in the O.C. this weekend during the Orange County/Inland Empire SCBWI Agent’s Day. We didn’t run into Mischa Barton or Peter Gallagher, but I did get to schmooze with agents Kelly Sonnack (Sandra Dijkstra Agency), Nephele Tempest (The Knight Agency), and my very own agent, Laura Rennert. Oh, yeah, and I had the great fortune of hanging out and dining with authors Debby Garfinkle (of Storky fame) and…wait for it…wait for it…
JAY ASHER!!! (of Thirteen Reasons Why fame). That’s right, Jay broke on through to the other side (literally) of the giant conference room. He sat in the front facing us with hundreds of eyeballs locked on him, hanging on his every word. I have to say, I felt like a proud parent sitting in the crowd with my video camera, wearing my “I ‘heart’ JAY ASHER” button. After getting a little choked up while telling his success story, he had the crowd in stitches one moment and gasping in suspense the next. The highlight for me was hearing the crowd’s reactions while we read from Jay’s book. Jay read Clay’s part (the main character), and I read Hannah’s part (the deceased speaking from the dead), and I’m telling you…we should take this show on the road! But seriously, no matter how bad of an acting job I did, Jay’s prose is so intriguing; it could hook the most reluctant of readers.
Laura Rennert had so much to say, I filled my notebook with her words of wisdom, even though I’ve talked to her about all this before. Amazingly, in one short hour she defined buzzwords like High Concept, boiled down the essential elements of a good book, de-mystified Voice, simplified plot and structure, and just plain inspired us all to think big and write well. If you ever get a chance to see Laura speak, Go, Go, Go!! She’s not to be missed.
It was interesting to note how different agents operate and how varied their tastes are. Kelly Sonnack leans toward literary works, Nephele Tempest is mainly interested in commercial fantasy, sci-fi, and paranormal YA books, and Laura Rennert is known for representing the commercial-literary book.
The speakers (and I) capped off the day by sipping cocktails around a fire pit, laughing and chattering about everything from YA sex scenes to multicultural books to the evils of censorship. Debby Garfinkle told hysterical stories of her road to success (you must see her speak as well), Marlene Perez told hysterical stories of van collisions and critiques gone awry. I don’t know if Jay and I added anything to the hysterics, but we did tell stories of how we like to ding-dong-ditch hotel guests at the SCBWI annual conference. We regress back to Junior High when we hang around Kid-Lit authors, and we believe our antics help us tap into our inner 14-year-olds…it’s for research, man! At least, that’s what we told our agent so she didn’t think we were just immature.