Quick Questions: An Interview with Editor Andrew Harwell

Photo Credit: Jeremy West

The dapper Andrew Harwell (Photo Credit: Jeremy West)

I’d like to thank Andrew Harwell  for agreeing to be the first person in my new Quick Questions series! Andrew is an editor at HarperCollins and a children’s book writer. He lives in Brooklyn, as almost all editors are required to do. According to his website, he may or may not believe in magic. Originally from Georgia, Andrew graduated from the University of Chicago.

Andrew’s first book for young readers, The Spider Ring, is coming out in January 2015. You can preorder it at IndieboundB&N, or Amazon . It’s a spooky modern fairy tale about a girl who inherits a magical ring from her grandmother, but it’s also about friendship, grief, and the power of stories to ensnare and define us.
Here are your questions, Andrew! Go!
  1. What book have you read in the past year (that you didn’t write or edit yourself) that you want everyone to read? Why?

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. This is the first book I’ve ever read that made me cry only after I’d turned the last page, and the cumulative weight of so many building emotions and themes caught up to me in one overwhelming fermata. Taking the image of an artist carving a sculpture out of stone, this book explores how it feels to be encased in stone metaphorically—inert—and then to break free of that and forgive yourself, move forward. This book carved me out of stone, for sure. I want everyone to experience that lightness.

  1. What bit of editorial/writing advice would you like to give to writers?

My favorite piece of writing advice comes to me from an interview with Holly Black: “The universal is in the specific.” That is, getting one small, fresh detail exactly right is infinitely more compelling than trying to capture broad appeal through generalizations. Don’t tell me a character loves poetry and expect us to be on the same page regarding what that means—tell me a character snuck out of school to hear Patti Smith read at a local bookstore and let me think, I know this person.

  1. If you could have a cocktail or a cup of tea with one person from history, what would you drink, who would it be, and why do you want to hang out with them?

I’d love to have a cup of strong coffee with Susan Sontag. After reading so many of her essays and journals, I feel like we’re already old friends, and I could ask her about anything and learn a great deal. At the very least, we could discuss the University of Chicago and our shared love of Thomas Mann.

  1. If you won 50 million dollars, what would you do? Would you still work in publishing?

You know, I think I would still work in publishing. I would get bored very quickly otherwise. I also would buy better groceries and maybe this converted clock tower penthouse. Honestly, I’m missing the part of my brain that allows me to visualize long distances or large sums—50 million dollars and 500 mabrillion dollars seem like the same absurd number to me.

  1. If you could wave a magic wand and have any kind of manuscript land on your desk what would it be about?

I don’t know what the manuscript would be about—probably about magic wands, knowing me—but I do know that it would follow characters who feel real because they have wants and make mistakes on their way to achieve them. Characters like Francesca Lia Block’s Witch Baby, or Noah and Jude from I’ll Give You the Sun. My favorite books are the ones that leave me excited to be alive because I’ve been through something redemptive with the characters, whether that be an adventurous quest, a moment of self-forgiveness, or a harrowing horror story. I’d love to find a manuscript like that.

You can find Andrew on Twitter, Pinterest, and tumblr @andrewasalways.

Thanks for playing on The Blabbermouth Blog, Andrew! Your generosity of spirit and words is always appreciated.

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A Weekend of Peace, Love & Writing

Click this! It's a poster you can buy!

Click this! It’s actually a poster you can buy!

This weekend I was a mentor at the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Plus Conference. This is the third time I was invited and attended this conference and I was really looking forward to going. But this year it was kind of a pain in the neck for me to get there. You see, I had double booked myself! Without looking at my calendar I had also bought lots of tickets to the events at the Woodstock Film Festival! So I was up in Woodstock, NY (peace out, man) on Thursday and Friday, watching tons and tons of indie movies and panels and stuff. Then I woke up on Saturday before sunrise, hopped

Woodstock Film Festival Program

Woodstock Film Festival Program

in my car, drove a gazillion miles to New Jersey, and went into agent/mentor mode. Then I drove back to Woodstock, had dinner at my client Ric’s restaurant, New World Home Cooking, and did more Film Festival stuff on Sunday. Why did I do that? Because 1. the Rutgers conference is pretty special; 2. I love eating at New World; 3. The Woodstock Film Festival is super fun and interesting; 4. Autumn in the Catskills; 5. I want it all!

Let me tell you about the Rutgers Conference… Each mentor is assigned a participant. The mentors are editors, agents, and published writers. The participants are writers who have applied to attend the conference. We get to meet for a full hour with our mentee, discussing a writing sample they’ve submitted; have lunch with them; sit in a discussion group with them. It’s kind of awesome to be assigned to hang out with a writer for a few hours and talk to them about their work. Usually at conferences you get about 10 minutes with someone. For someone like me (who talks too much) that is so insufficient. But at Rutgers I get the opportunity to connect a little more deeply and hopefully to make a real difference for someone. My mentee this year is an actress. I mean, that’s her day job! How cool is that?

And of course there are also panels and keynotes and stuff. And there’s this awkward mingle hour where all the mentors go into a kind of stuffy room, with tall cocktail tables (but no cocktails… what’s up with that?!), and we’re supposed to use that time to “network” with each other. Holy awkward nerd herding, Batman! When I feel insecure and shy I talk too much and say stupid things, trying to be funny. Epic Linda. I did hand a few folks my business card though. And I met a few editors that I’ve wanted to meet in person, as well as some new names and faces. Somehow I got in a pretty intense, kind of personal conversation, over lunch with someone I’d just met (about tattoos, fairy tales, being present in life!). That’s writing conferences, yes, but that’s also the Rutgers conference. It’s pretty awesome.

But basically, I had an awesome weekend. But I drove too much. But I bought a 32 lb pumpkin! But it was great. How about you? How was your weekend?

Make sure to check back here next week, for the inaugural interview in my new series “5 Questions for an Editor,” with my first victim guest, editor Andrew Harwell from HarperCollins. I’m shooting for interviews about once a month.


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Happy Intrepid Explorer Day!

330px-Christopher_ColumbusSo, today is Columbus Day, which if you live in the New York area anyway, pretty much only means the kids are off from school. In other parts of the country, and all over the world, it doesn’t even mean that. I have a difficult time celebrating Christopher Columbus for “discovering” the Americas, given there were already plenty of people here (+ there’s evidence Vikings had already come here a long time before anyway). But, I get it, Columbus was an intrepid explorer, and he “discovered” the New World as far as the European and African folks were concerned. So yeah, Columbus sailed the ocean blue and all that. And I can celebrate the spirit of adventure that takes a man or woman into unknown territory, facing who-knows-what. I mean, isn’t that what writers are all about, after all? There’s the blank page. It’s unknown territory, even if you think you know where you’re going. Because once that story starts coming out, who knows what’s going to happen next?! Right? So yeah. Happy Intrepid Explorer Day! For all my writer friends. For all my friends who explore different ways of self expression. For my friends who are explorers of new knowledge. For my friends who explore their capacity to love, to make music, to live a fulfilled life. Whatever “exploration” looks like to you, I raise my glass and salute explorers!

What are you exploring in your life? Does it take bravery?

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