Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Caldecott Call

As anyone who would ever read this blog already knows, last Monday the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced. Two of my clients were recipients of honors.

Our very own Grace has now been recognized two years in a row by award committees: last year with a Newbery Honor for WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON and this year with a Geisel Honor for LING & TING: Not Exactly the Same!

I must admit, before Grace received both honors, there was a significant level of expectation (despite the fact that that one should never expect an award doled out by a committee). WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON had been named on numerous mock Newbery lists, some bloggers even predicted that it would win the 2010 medal. Because the midwinter conference was in Boston last year and Grace was present throughout the weekend at the convention center, many attendees told her that they were confident she would have a seal on her book by the same time next week. In my BRG entry recapping 2010, I have already detailed the hours leading up to calling me that Monday morning. To describe it one word? Nerves. Grace’s call to me was the end of an emotional journey which included hopefulness, anxiety, and melancholy. The last stop in that journey came with Grace’s call; it was relief, happiness, and pride all at once but most importantly calm.

I had a similar experience with Grace’s Geisel honor. Even before the holidays, Alvina had suggested to Grace that she answer the phone if an unknown caller rang the Saturday or Sunday of Midwinter 2011 weekend. It may seem overconfident, but how could Ling & Ting not receive a Geisel distinction? So when Grace called that Sunday evening, I answered the phone with the slightly cocky, “Oh, you already know something do you, Ms. Lin?!” The call brought closure; Ling & Ting was indeed award-worthy.

But oh how different Monday morning was.

To back track, I first met David Ezra Stein at the SCBWI annual conference in the summer of 2006. He seemed like a wonderful person, and I really liked his book Cowboy Ned and Andy. But, it wasn’t until the next year, his book LEAVES came out, and I KNEW I wanted to work with him and our agent/client partnership began. Toward the end of 2007, there was a lot of buzz for Leaves; it had received five starred reviews, and I distinctly remember, my colleague Steve Malk saying on the phone, “I think Leaves is going to win the Caldecott.” That would have been great, but I just began working with David; I hadn’t sold Leaves, we hadn’t worked together through its development. When it was not acknowledged with an award or honor, I simply thought “onward!”

The following year, I sold Interrupting Chicken to Sarah Ketchersid at Candlewick at auction. It was the first book David would write and illustrate for Candlewick, and I was excited to help forge this new relationship.

These images are part of the submission material from Interrupting Chicken. David’s sketches tend to be very loose and many changes come about from this stage to final art.)

Two years later after a lot of hard work on David’s part, but also from Sarah and his designer, Ann Stott, Interrupting Chicken was published to good reviews. David and Candlewick made a wonderful trailer for the book. PW had just included it in their article “Don’t Write the Obit for Picture Books Yet” as a new picture book by a non-household name that can still sell well.

But…on Monday morning, I had no expectation that David’s non-household name status could change in a matter of hours. Of course, there is always the possibility, even though, no other clients had a lock on an award the way Grace did on the Geisel. I have several clients who were eligible for Coretta Scott Awards. There are very few predictions made publicly/online on awards other than the Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz, so I was unsure who the frontrunners were except in those races. My client, Matt Phelan, had received some Caldecott buzz for his illustrations in Flora’s Very Windy day.

Despite the fact that I had no Monday morning expectations, I was experiencing a sense of unrest. On my walk to the office, I called my mom and jokingly asked “Why hasn’t anyone called me this morning?” Once in the office, I involuntary jerked forward any time I heard the phone ring… anywhere in the office; I wondered if life-changing news was being relayed, and I kept thinking that in San Diego and in New York editors, agents, and publishers were rejoicing with secret news that the entire country would be privy to in the next couple of hours…as I sat in anticipation. At 9:54, I posted on twitter “I’ve been unreasonably antsy all morning.”

I need to shake some of that energy off, so I walked away from my desk, got a drink of water, went to the ladies’, stopped for a quick chat with a colleague. When I got back to my desk and looked at my Outlook, the top email was from my assistant. It came in at 10:02. The subject line was “Sarah at Candlewick called.” My heart leapt, my hand shook as I opened the email which simply said “Sarah called to talk about David Ezra Stein. She’s out of the office, but her cell is [number omitted, because…duh!]…

And then I remembered that I had called and left a message the previous Thursday for Sarah saying that I wanted to catch up about David. Immediately, I thought “who in their right mind returns a call the morning of ALA awards announcements?”

A brief tangent for those that don’t know; this is how an author or illustrator finds out about an ALA win. Early in the morning of the award announcement, all employees of any given publishing house that are in attendance at ALA midwinter conference gather in hotel rooms and wait for committees to call. If/when the phone rings, the committee tells the school & library marketing contact and all those in the hotel room “your book X by author and/or illustrator Y has received award Z.” Then school & library marketing contact gives the committee the winner’s phone number so that the committee can call the winner and deliver the news. After that call, the winner would call to celebrate with the editor who most likely already has been told either because she is in the room or because the publisher has called the editor from Midwinter. AND, a client should call their agent to break the good news.

So, I was instructed to call Sarah the morning of the award announcements, not David. Chances were Sarah was returning a call, but as I dialed her number, there was a hopeful part of me that thought, “She wouldn’t do that the morning of the awards; Interrupting Chicken could have won something.”

Here is a reenactment following Sarah picking up the phone and saying hello…
Agent: (warbling) Hi, it’s Rebecca; I’m returning your call? (Question mark intentional though, yes, that should be a statement).
Editor: (with hesitation) Have you spoken to David this morning?
Agent: noooooooo? (again, should be statement; voiced as question)
Editor: BlabberingStammeringHemmingHawing (note: editor should be cast as a woman who normally has a relaxing confidence, level-headed with a soft voice; we can tell something is off here).
(Though editor has not said a thing, agent suspects she knows the very thing editor is not saying)
Agent: (not meaning to, but yelling) WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY!
Editor: somethingsomethingwhitenoise We Just Got a Caldecott Honor whateverwhateverwhatever

And scene.

Actually, this phone scene ran long, because Sarah and I then tried to guess if David had already been called or not. If he had, maybe he didn’t know that he was supposed to call us; after all, this had never happened to him before. If he hadn’t been informed yet, we didn’t want to ruin the moment when the committee called him. Luckily, David and Sarah were supposed to meet at 10:30 to go over the dummy for his next book. Between the two of us (muddled by emotion), it took far too long to come up with a plan in which Sarah would call David. If he knew something, he would tell her of course, if he didn’t say anything, Sarah would pretend she was calling about their meeting.

Agent: (again, at an unintentional volume) WELL, IF HE KNOWS, WILL YOU TELL HIM TO CALL HIS AGENT! (Yes, that should be a question mark.)

We hang up.

As I explained in my 2010 recap, when an agent gets news on ALA awards morning, we are supposed to swallow the excitement until it has been announced to all. I am not proud of this, but last Monday morning after hanging up with Sarah, I proceeded to run around my office building like a maniac. I ran up the stairs to tell Simon Lipskar. Not in his office, I veer right toward his assistant, who sits next to my assistant, who sits next to another assistant.

Manic Agent: WHERE’S SIMON?
Simon’s Totally Together Assistant: It’s Monday…
Simon’s Totally Together Assistant: Would you like me to call him at home?

Manic Agent then tears down the stairs, calls her own mother, interrupting a class of preschoolers to relay the good news. Her mother marvels, “two years in a row,” and says a whole bunch of things about pride and loving her daughter, but her daughter quickly gets off the phone to keep the line clear. She can’t sit still though, so she runs down the hall to the office of the Children’s Subsidiary Rights Director (who had already sold audio rights to Interrupting Chicken to Recorded Books). Said rights director has her assistant in the office, but in honor of the title character…


Agent’s unruffled assistant comes down the stairs, peaks into her boss’ office doesn’t see her. Agent sees this happen, and gets her attention.

Agent: I’m over here!
Unruffled Assistant: (in everyday voice) David’s on the phone
(Stage direction: without saying a word, Agent swiftly walks away from slack-jawed colleagues in subsidiary rights’ director’s office back to her desk. Unruffled Assistant heads up to her office to put through the call).

Agent: (answering the phone) IsThisCaldecottHonorWinning David! Ezra! Stein! (agent notes, in the future, when a client calls with award news, she will let them tell her without blurting out that she already knows).
Just Slightly Less Than Cool As A Cucumber Client: They told me not to tell anyone.

Honestly, I can’t remember much of our conversation, except that always level-headed and measured David did say at one point…

Just Slightly Less Than Cool As A Cucumber Client: (imagery not verbatim): I’m not the type to do jumping jacks and shoot off fireworks, but I really am very excited.

And, I told him I could tell. I also remember that during David’s effusive gratitude, I was distracted by my colleague, Dan Lazar who came to my doorway. While trying to listen to David, I pointed to the copy of Interrupting Chicken on my shelf, smiling and then wildly put up my hand to Dan to high-five…but Dan thought I was trying to say that Interrupting Chicken had won FIVE awards… well, that is one way to deflate the mania.

Honestly, I did feel revved up all day. It powered me through a spin class that night, and only started to ebb later in the evening. It wasn’t until my book club meeting the next night, when I could explain it. Unlike the announcement of the Newbery Honor for WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, which ended an emotional journey, the news that David had won a Caldecott Honor STARTED the day’s emotional journey. Experiencing an ALA awards day that began without expectations and found a client winning an honor was completely different from my experience the previous year.

I wonder what emotions a Medal phone call will bring. Get crackin’, clients!

In all sincerity (and poking a bit less fun at myself), I am over the moon happy for the deserving, David Ezra Stein. As David said in our call, we are thrilled that the committee has recognized a “funny book.” Trying to remain sensible, David says, “I know it doesn’t change the world,” to which I interrupted, “so many more children are going to read and be read Interrupting Chicken now. They’ll remember it as adults as one of their favorite books and part of their childhood, and in that way it does change their world.”

Rebecca Sherman is a fabulous agent with over 9 years of experience at Writer's House. Her clients include Lunch Lady author/illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka, the Scott O'Dell Award Winner Matt Phelan, Caldecott Honor Illustrator Brian Pinkney and Blue Rose Girls Anna Alter and Grace Lin. You can follow Rebecca on twitter @rebeccagent.


Kristi Valiant said...

What an exciting post! It got my heart racing right there with you. And a big congratulations, of course.

alvinaling said...

You know, when I heard the news I remembered that we had met David for the first time together! We were hanging out with Mo Willems and Jarrett, if I recall...in the company of so much greatness!

Literaticat said...

Yayyy Yayyy! I love this book a lot. And I love the story about Sarah on the phone. And it made me tear up a little toward the end.


tammisauer said...

I looooved this story.

Congratulations on all of it, Rebecca!

Sondy said...

That's a great story! I so love the "phone call" stories the winners tell at the Banquet. This is awesome because you let us share your thrill that someone highly deserving (whom you were already championing) got the recognition they deserve. That's a long-winded way of saying that your story made me smile.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little late to reading this, but I read it with such vicarious enjoyment, visualizing you tearing up and down the halls with glee. I love your mom, and I loved this story. I'm a tad prejudiced, though, since I'd just interviewed David on my podcast, and so was extra thrilled he received an honor! http://authorkatiedavis.blogspot.com/2010/12/interrupting-david-ezra-stein_08.html