Month: December 2014

My Chat with Jessica Almon Galland, Razorbill Editor

Jessica Almon Galland

Jessica Almon Galland

Sometimes life gives you a big, fat present. Meeting Jessica Almon Galland, young adult and middle grade editor at Penguin’s imprint Razorbill and having her influence in my life and writing was one of those gifts. Working with Jessica made me a better writer. Period. I am sure everyone that has had the pleasure of working with her feels the same way. Today we have the honor of hearing her thoughts on editing, the publishing industry, love and a handful of other goodies. This interview just brims with her warmth and smarts. I am also touched by her honesty as she describes her journey to where she is now.

Jessica, what do you think makes a good editor? Do you think it is an innate gift or something that can be learned? Has your style changed over the years? Do you find the better the writer, the better the editing experience? Or do you like the challenge of a complete overhaul?

This may sound like I’m downplaying an editor’s role but I really do think the ability to put ego and intellectual opinions aside and tap into the experience of the average reader is the most important piece of being a good editor. Without it, the other things that make a good editor — a strong sense of rhythm, communication skills, empathy — are directionless.

So I don’t think my style has changed over the years. When I’m editing, I’m flagging things that would distract me or disrupt my reading experience if I had picked the book up at the library, or at my favorite bookstore. I actually think editing can be more difficult when I absolutely love a manuscript the very first time I read it. Because that in itself is a bias, and I have to figure out how to shed it. (It’s always a bit of a bummer to shed the love bias!)

When a writer isn’t – how shall I say this – up to par…how do you get them to give you what you need? It must be tempting to just write it yourself sometimes. I would imagine it takes heaps of patience. Do you consider yourself a patient person?

I do consider myself patient — until I’m not. Ha! Everybody has a limit I guess. I’ve been pretty fortunate to work with talented writers all around. But there are certainly styles of writing that aren’t exactly my taste, which doesn’t make them bad or wrong. In those cases, I have to train my eye and my gut to respect that style and hunt for things that ACTUALLY aren’t working — things like redundancies and gaps in logic — as opposed to things that I maybe don’t relate to or love, but that are by no means problematic.

It didn’t take long for me to learn not to fall into the trap of rewriting. It’s like pulling a thread on a sweater. And the truth is, you’re not making it better. You’re just making it different. It’s not worth the effort, and the author’s bruised ego!

When did you know you wanted to be a part of publishing? How did you get your start? Did you imagine yourself working as an editor when you began?

Oh my God, I had NO idea. I never thought of myself as an editor. But a lot of my day is spent examining characters, their childhoods giving way to (something like) adulthood, and if I look at the story of my life, my path to becoming a Young Adult editor started, probably, when I was just a kid.

I didn’t like to read. I had attention issues, and found it impossible engage with a written story. I was kind of bullied about it — I went to the same school from kindergarten through high school and am pretty sure some of the people I grew up with are STILL surprised I’m not a total dumb-dumb! It’s a difficult thing to explain, the feeling of knowing things, of understanding them, but of not being able to express or  communicate that because I’m not hitting the milestones of everyone else around me. So, I had something to prove.

My escape was always films, and as a teen I became a big cinephile cliche, smoking cigarettes with a VHS tape of LA DOLCE VITA under my arm. I studied Modern Culture and Media with an emphasis in film at Brown, and when I graduated, I wanted to be in that industry. But after a year working in motion picture marketing, I was a bit less certain. The movie industry was all in LA, and I wasn’t ready to move.

Someone suggested I apply to positions at full-service agencies, and by some miracle I landed a job as the assistant to the head of the book department. I knew nothing and was terrible, so God bless her for sticking with me and giving me my start in publishing. I learned to truly love books during that year and a half, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I never had that chance.

How has the landscape of publishing changed since you’ve been in the business?

Well, the obvious answer is that e-readers have become ubiquitous, and digital sales are now a significant piece of the pie. I also remember when Oprah’s Book Club picks would make a publisher’s year. They’re still a big deal, but without the show, it has slightly less of an impact.

 What attracts you to young adult literature?  Do you see yourself staying in that space long-term or are you open to moving into different genres?

There’s a lot of freedom in Young Adult lit, I guess because you’re dealing with characters experiencing a range of things for the first time, and so there’s this tremendous sense of possibility. I like living vicariously through that. I think I am open to staying in Young Adult long-term, but also open to other areas. I read a ton of adult nonfiction, for instance, and sometimes I think about working on those types of books.

Do you ever just get tired of reading and just want to cuddle up on the couch with Netflix? How do you overcome?

Um, YES. Overcome? Not so much! Especially ever since “Gilmore Girls” has been streaming on Netflix.

I just do the best I can. I never want to leave my authors hanging, and generally do a lot of editing in what is technically my free time. But I justify certain days and nights off to binge-watch something because I need to be relaxed, rested and happy to stay sharp at work. Anyway, it’s not like I’m paid extra to edit manuscripts on weekends!

What excites you about 2015? What are you looking forward to? Professionally? Personally? Do you believe in resolutions?  I know you are a newlywed (congrats!), married to filmmaker and musician  Jordan Galland. Do you two plan on a co-creative endeavor? How is it having two creative types in the house?

Professionally, I have so many books coming out in 2015 that I have been waiting to unleash on the world, ranging from epic fantasy to bittersweet contemporary to hip nonfiction titles you’d find at Urban Outfitters. It’s always tough to predict how any given title will take to the market, but whether it’s good or not so good there is ALWAYS a takeaway — and I’ll be hunting for it.

Some of my dearest friends are getting married this year — all fabulous destination weddings — so I’m also looking forward to some fun trips to Isla Morada, FL, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico and Gstaad, Switzerland, to name a few! I may go broke as a result of all this jet-setting, but travel is the one thing worth going broke for, IMO.

As for married life so far, I highly recommend marrying a creative if you, too, are creative. Jordan is like my secret weapon! We are constantly going to each other to talk through problems and flaws in a particular project, or when we’ve hit a wall and need a little inspiration, or when we’re doubting our instincts and need support. I’m not sure we’d ever officially work on something together, but we’re always working together, if that makes sense.

The lovely newlyweds at their New York wedding this summer. Sigh.

The lovely newlyweds at their New York wedding this summer. Sigh.

 Before we say goodbye, any must reads you can recommend? What was the last thing that kept you up into the wee hours?

Lately, I’ve been pretty obsessed with memoirs by women artists and thinkers. Recently I’ve read and loved: COUNTRY GIRL by Edna O’Brien, MINOR CHARACTERS by Joyce Johnson, NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL by Lena Dunham and REDEFINING REALNESS by Janet Mock. I’m currently reading GRACE: A MEMOIR by Grace Coddington and finding it absolutely delightful. 

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Meditation is Key. My chat with meditation teacher Jessica Snow.

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I love meditation, and up to now I have been really inconsistent about it. But in all honesty, I think it is right up there with money in its ability to cure most problems. More powerful than money when it comes to stress/anxiety/depression.

I have had the pleasure of taking classes with meditation teacher Jessica Snow, and it is a treat! She is so creative, gentle, soothing and whip smart. Whether you’re hardcore into meditation or have always wanted to try – Jessica will meet you where you are. Personally I am always better when I meditate. Even 5 minutes…

Jessica! Thank you so much for hanging out with us today. Let’s start at the beginning. How did you come to meditation? Is it something you grew up with? Was it love at first site or did you struggle with it?

I’ve always been a dreamy kind of person, but also kind of anxious. So I’ve always been a “seeker”, very quick to investigate or try all kinds of spiritual practices. In 2002 I began a devoted mindfulness meditation practice and really stuck with it wholeheartedly because it improved my experience of life so much. For a long time I stayed in my little meditation bubble, meditating everyday, reading, studying, journaling. Then in 2011 I went on a retreat and had an epiphany – that I could use the meditation that I love in such a way that I could help others as well as myself. Since then I have become very open in terms of writing my own meditations, adding in techniques from many different disciplines and sharing these more modern meditation experiences with others.

How and why did you start teaching meditation classes? What is your professional background? Did things take off right away? Were there any struggles? If so, how did you overcome them?

My professional growth has been very organic, which is another word for slow. I literally started teaching in my backyard. Every two weeks I would invite over a group of friends and treat them to an elaborate evening of meditation and ritual. Everyone loved it and magical things started happening in all of our lives. We became champion co-creators. Then, when my friends started bringing their friends and we needed more space we started meditating at my husband’s work after hours. Pretty soon, I was doing guided meditations in nature (the beach, Griffith Park), and then I was asked to present at a yoga conference and things kind of sped up (a little bit) from there. Looking back, everything did happen in perfect timing, and the pivotal moment two years ago when I met Mark and Martin from Spellbound Sky came at the perfect time.

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You are obviously passionate about meditation. What is it that lights you up about the process? I love how you incorporate crystals, guided imagery, animal imagery.  Who were your teachers and inspirations? How did you come to incorporate all of these wonderful tools into your practice and teachings?

I love meditating, I see the journey into the interior as the greatest and most rewarding adventure. I think what “lights me up” the most is that meditation is such easy magic and it is available to everyone at any time.

This might sound crazy, but everything I do when I create and guide meditations comes from some energy, some intelligence beyond me. When I sit down to create a meditation, I meditate first and receive inspiration about how to guide that specific experience. Nothing really comes from me, and even I am consistently amazed that the inspiration just keeps flowing.

What is your favorite thing about teaching?

Being with people and getting to breathe and feel the energy of all the hearts in the space we create. The giving and receiving of that heart energy is really what it’s all about. The stories I tell with my words are just to keep your brain busy while we do the real energetic work with the heart and the breath. I also love feeling that moment about twenty or thirty minutes into the practice where I can feel that everyone has suddenly been able to really let go and relax.

Can teaching at times drain you? Is there a lot of different energy coming your way and does that at times weigh you down?

Interestingly, teaching energizes me. I haven’t found out the exact mechanism that makes this possible, but I suspect it has something to do with it being my life’s work and that I’ve done it so much that even when I am leading I am meditating too.

I find your style very forgiving psychically. Like, “You’re good. It’s cool. It’s now. Whatever came before – it’s done. Whatever is – is exactly how it should be.” I am paraphrasing!  Were you raised with this sort of gentle attitude? Does it carry into your life, way of mothering, etc? I was raised to always BE BETTER. So I find this especially inspiring, cleansing, energizing – and hope I am raising my son with this new, more gentle messaging.

LOL. I grew up with a very strong internal voice imploring me to always BE BETTER. That’s a big reason this work has been so transformative for me and also why I really encourage that radical friendliness towards ourselves in meditation. I think (and hope) this great gentleness flows into the way I mother my son and find it very inspiring to apply that gentleness over and over again to myself as well as everything and everyone in my life.

CREATEYOUROWNKEYWICE

Tells us about the art on your site! Do you do the graphics? Where did the idea for the images come from? The way you package your meditations is so appealing! “Create your own key” (omg – gorgeous!!) Tell us more!  Your inspiration, how you do it. Also, can you tell us about the necklaces you are selling on your site? I want one! 

Yes, I do all my own art and graphics, I created my own website, I write and record my own meditations. I am a polymath, happiest when I allow myself to indulge all my creative influences regardless of medium. And again, the images and other creative elements all come from the deep wells of inspiration meditation gives me access to.

As for the keys, a while ago I started selling meditation MP3s as digital downloads and then on these really beautiful silver key-shaped flash drives. Recently I got to thinking about how I really believe each of us has our own path, our own secret code, our own brand of treasure to express. You know what’s best for you, I am just here to show you a few things, open you up to some possibilities. You are the one who is going to choose the way that speaks to you and make it your own. To that end I’ve just started offering a new way to pick and choose the meditation MP3s from my site that speak the most to you. For $25 you can now Create Your Own Key, self-curating four guided meditations which I then load onto the key flash drive along with an unguided drum meditation track. These keys obviously also make a really sweet gift for a close friend or loved one.

The necklace sets were born from my collaboration with Melinda Lee Holm who is an extraordinary individual. We refer to them as Adornments for Personal Evolution. Each set comes with a beautiful Melinda Lee Holm crystal necklace (so far we have featured four stones – Citrine, Fluorite, Rose Quartz & Rainbow Moonstone), two matching meditation touchstones, and an 8-page meditation booklet from yours truly. Melinda and I have both experienced the crystal and meditation magical combo so we created a collection of objects that would keep that magic working for you 24/7. In the morning, you meditate using the booklet & touchstones, put your necklace on so you are keeping that mojo going all day (and looking rad doing it), then at night you can meditate again and put those touchstones under your pillow so they work while you dream.

What’s coming up for you in 2015? What are you jazzed about? Or am I getting out of the present moment?

2015 is going to be a year of profound creativity. Now that I’ve found this groove, I am overflowing with ideas. I will definitely be releasing more things to read, listen to and experience. I’ve been recording our live crystal meditations week by week, so I hope to offer a bigger library of new MP3s. Also I’d love to find bigger spaces for live events and hopeful to offer some day-long retreats.

I am so grateful for the vibrant community of people (including you Marissa!) that has formed around this work. It is such a joy to meet and mingle with people under these circumstances.

P.S. I think it’s perfectly ok to get out of the present moment every once in a while as long as you are aware you are doing it. J

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The oh so lovely and talented Jessica Snow pictured above.

Jessica’s website http://jessicasnowmeditation.com/, is chalk full of downloadable meditations, and she hosts wonderful events around the Los Angeles area.

A little bonus for us – Jessica’s thoughts on holiday stress and new year resolutions…

The holidays are an intense time of year and this year especially I sense a lot of magnified energy which can feel exciting or stressful. Also, remember this time of year for our ancestors represented a time when the harvest was done, it was cold and dark a lot of the time and we hoped we had enough to last until Spring. I think the best antidote for this time of year is radical self-care. Taking a little time for the simple things: drinking plenty of water, getting plenty of rest, going outside, enjoying small moments and practicing gratitude. I’m sure we’ve all heard all of that before, but it really is the way to cruise through the season instead of fighting it. And breathe! Don’t forget to breathe.

I do New Year’s Resolutions, but they are unusual in that they are all about pleasure. I already am pretty clear regarding what I need to work on, my inner critic has that on lock-down. So I use the New Year’s Resolution process as an excuse to go ahead and give myself the things that make me feel really good. Because when I feel really good, and treat myself the way I would treat a good friend, that’s also when I’m bringing my A-game and showing up for myself and the rest of the world.

I also have a cool New Year’s Eve ritual. We do a meditation on the morning of Dec. 31st on the beach. We meditate and let the ocean wash away the old year and make space for the new. It’s fantastic, there is nothing like connecting with nature and something as big and grand as the sea and sky on the day before the new year begins.

If you want more information on the Keys, Necklaces, New Year’s Eve Ocean Meditation or to read my little 30-page treatise on this modern style of meditating, you can find it all at Jessicasnowmeditation.com/.

Rebecca Heller’s latest children’s book: FALLING ROCK

Falling Rock - Rebecca Heller's latest children's book

Falling Rock – Rebecca Heller’s latest children’s book

I am VERY excited to tell you about a new children’s book by author Rebecca Heller! You might know Rebecca from her other titles Surf Like A Girl or Gilbert and Louis Rule the Universe: First Impressions. Her books always have tons of heart. You are in for a real treat with her newest venture – a children’s book called Falling Rock. My son, who is six, was nothing short of mesmerized when I brought it home and surprised him with it during story time.

“What is this book?” He asked with excitement. “Where did it come from?” He LOVED it. I think you will too. The story is gripping and moving – and the images – painted by the author’s talented mother Joyce Robertson – are  devastatingly beautiful (as is all her work!) We will read this again and again and I will definitely be buying it for holiday gifts! Here I speak to the author about her process and the story behind Falling Rock. Enjoy! The author also treated us to some of the book’s images!

1. Tell me about how you came to know the legend of Falling Rock and why it touched you. What was it about the story that made you want to write a children’s story about it.

Falling Rock is not a new idea; it has been told around the campfire for decades. I was introduced to the idea of Falling Rock by a counselor at camp when I was around 8 years old. I can’t remember any of the details of the story except that he told me whenever a Native American named Falling Rock was spotted they put up a sign with his name on it. Even at eight, I was skeptical about the truth of the story, but I still loved the notion of something so ordinary containing a little magic.

The idea stayed with me. Whenever I passed a sign that read Falling Rock, I would think to myself, “Falling Rock was here.”  I had never seen a written version, particularly not a children’s picture book, so I created a story around the idea. I liked the idea of having Falling Rock go out into the world to search for his best friend, and his best friend just happens to be a horse.

 2. The artwork in your book is just beautiful – haunting, inspiring. I know they were done by your very talented mother and artist Joyce Robertson. How did you approach her about the project? Did she just run with it? What was your process of collaboration like? What medium did she use to create these exquisite paintings? (I am assuming they are paintings.)

One of Robertson's exquisite illustrations

One of Robertson’s exquisite illustrations

My mom was a super star. I actually wrote my first version of Falling Rock about fifteen years ago.  That is when most of the paintings were created. I gave her a draft of the story and she went to work. I think she probably did all the paintings in less than a month. She used hand cut stencils and spray paint for the images and an oil paint glaze for color. It’s all done on a canvas coated with a smooth sanded stucco-like finish.

At that time, we shopped a version of the book to publishers but didn’t see much interest (in all fairness, the draft I wrote back then wasn’t very good). So I put it all away for years. With the recent birth of my daughter, I was re-inspired to create the book for her. When I pulled out the paintings from storage I was further encouraged, I had forgotten how beautiful they are.
3. What age group do you imagine enjoying Falling Rock? Do you imagine different age groups will take different meanings from your book? What about different genders? Is there a message you want children to carry away from the book?

The book is designed to be read to children of all ages. I think the sweet spot is probably between 5-8. I will be doing a reading for a third grade class who is studying Native Americans in the spring and I am looking forward to their insights.

I hope children take from it that it is a story of hope, determination, independence, and love. My wish is that it brings a little magic to a place where you would least expect it.

4. Any words of wisdom for people who would like to write fiction for children? What is your process like?  Why did you choose to self-publish? I know you have both self-published and had an outside publisher before – are there pros and cons to both? Any next projects on the horizon?

My advice to anyone who has an idea brewing is to go for it. Write it down, work on it until you enjoy it, and then put it out into the world. I think people are sometimes fearful to share their creative work, which is totally understandable, but you can’t hide it or no one will ever be able to enjoy it. No one is going to come knocking, so you need to fling yourself out into the world and share what you have done.

Self-publishing has become so easy, and you have so much control over the process. There is certainly a learning curve, but that is kind of what makes it fun. I loved every part of working on Falling Rock from writing (and rewriting), to photographing the paintings, to working on them in Photoshop, to formatting the text, picking the fonts, and colors. I love the ownership of self-publishing. Being published is great too, don’t get me wrong, but there is something so satisfying about doing it yourself!

I never know what is coming next, I have some ideas floating around, but it will certainly be a surprise to me as much as everyone else!

Available for purchase on Amazon: FALLING ROCK

The author

Author Rebecca Heller