Category Archives: Interviews

From our Friend, Agent John M. Cusick!

 Writers Digest Webinar, happening this Thursday (May 16) at 1pm, EST.

Here’s what John says:
There’s some info below. I can promise a good time, and lots a learnin’.

“FULL CAST: How to Enrich and Expand Every Character in Your Novel from the Leading Man to the Background Extras.” 

1 p.m., EST
Thursday, May 16, 2013

(If that time doesn’t work for you, don’t sweat it. The whole thing will be available to watch and rewatch for a year or so.)

Every novel is driven by character. We fall in love with heroines, cheer for heroes, and loathe our villains. Characters draw us in, and through them we experience our favorite stories. Without a compelling cast, even the most engrossing tale can fall flat. What makes some protagonists iconic, while others go up in smoke? How can we create rich motivations without burdensome back-story, or nuanced supporting characters without stealing focus from our protagonists? How can we populate our novels with an unforgettable ensemble our readers will love? The answer involves giving your characters a great blend of relationships, history and motivations.

And, also, learning a ton of cool stuff by signing up for this webinar.


  • How to create an unforgettable ensemble of empathetic, unforgettable characters
  • How to develop compelling motivations to drive your story
  • How to craft rich histories to inform your characters’ journeys
  • How to intensify relationships, creating intimate, intense connections within your tale
  • How to lend nuance and depth by creating “mini-arcs”
  • How to employ impressionistic details to bring background characters to life.

And there’s MORE. What? Yes. There is.

Everyone who attends is invited to submit a query letter for their novel. Every query is guaranteed a written critique by yours truly.

So, an amazing class, Q&A, and personalized query critique, all from the comfort of your living room / boudouir / computer dungeon? Yep. I can promise you this will be the greatest thing you’ve ever done that involved the word “webinar.”

So sign up!


Filed under Agents, Character, Exercises, Interviews

Several Bits of Inspiration to Help Improve Your Wiritng

1. After all this time, we are ready for registration for Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers.

Please tell your friends about the conference. And for those interested in advanced classes, you need to go through me.

2. Kyra received Martine Leavitt’s latest novel, My Book of Life by Angel. All I can say is, “read it.” The reason I can’t say more is because Kyra is planning on doing a review of the book. Plus, guess what? Martine is teaching an advanced class at the conference this June. Wish I wasn’t teaching so I could sit in her class. She’s pretty darned amazing.

3. Coming the next few weeks and months on Throwing Up Words: interviews from faculty from WIFYR.

Plus, interviews from many agents and editors and authors. Plus a few writing marathons.

Several writing exercises.

And Ann Dee’s baby.

4. John Steinbeck died when I was a very little girl. I can remember, as I read his books growing up, how I wished he had stayed alive long enough for me to meet him. John Steinbeck was one of my first writing teachers. I read just about everything I could get my hands on that he wrote. Here’s a great quote from Mr Steinbeck: “When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages, a  sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate.”

5. This week, put yourself in a situation to listen in on another person’s conversation. The mall is a good place to linger and and keep an ear out. Go somewhere there are a lot of people.  Wait till you hear what you need–just a tidbit that will make you want to write. When I visit BYU campus and listen to the people in the hallways, I wonder what I can use from what I see and hear.  Jot down the words, the emotions, the way YOU feel. Now, how can you change that up, that whole scene, and make it work in your book?

6. For me, emotion in writing is what connects the reader to your book. Here’s what says about emotion:

1. an affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced, as distinguished from cognitive and volitional states of consciousness.

7. Allow yourself to really feel something that you are experiencing this week. Maybe it’s taking care of a young child. Maybe it’s helping an older teen. Maybe you have a friend that needs you. Maybe YOU need you. As you are in these moments, connect with the emotion the incident brings up. Feel it all. Experience that emotion. Later, when you get a moment, write that emotion down, exactly as you felt it. Every bit of it. Now you have something you can use later in your writing. Borrow that emotion for a scene that you may be struggling with.

8. Ann Dee still hasn’t taught me how to do the blue letters.

9. My deepest sympathies go to the Kristyn Crow and her family at the loss of her father-in-law this last week. You all are in my heart and prayers.

Leave a comment

Filed under CLW, Editors, Exercises, Interviews, Kyra, writing process

A Taggy Thing, but I Have NO Idea How to Tag!

Apology in advance: I have no idea how to connect this blog to others with the little blue word.
If you all read Ann Edward Cannon’s blog (and you should), you’d see she said kickass.
She swears so comfortably.
And then there is me.
I guess in my next life I might want to be a professional swearer.
So here are my answers to the blog tag thingie that’s pretty neato. Or should I say frockin neato?
1. What is your working title of your book (or story)?
Travco Motor Home. Why? Because there’s a stolen motor home in the book. No title has hit me yet. If one does, it may just have a swear in it. A natural swear.
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Ack. Really? Um. Let’s see. I started thinking about this girl and a one-legged rooster. And that got me going on the novel. Then I remembered my very best dog who died and I knew I wanted her to star in the book. Sheeshhell, I have no idea where this idea came from.


3. What genre does your book fall under?
 This is a young young adult. It’s set in the 70’s. Does that also make it historical fiction?
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Somebody who looks like me only 40 years younger, with strawberry blonde hair and large bosoms. That’s the girl.
The boy would be Ryan Reynolds. Of course.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
When Winston Fletcher’s grandmother brings home a stolen motor home so the two can drive from Florida to Las Vegas to pick up Winston’s mother, they have no idea the boy of Winston’s dreams has stowed away–making the Fetchers car-thief felons and kidnapper felons.
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My amazing agent, Steve Fraser, sold the book to Paula Wiseman Imprints at Simon & Schuster in December of last year.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Still not done, but hope to have it finished by the end of the month. At least a strong draft.
8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Hmmm. Something that sold millions. But I can’t think of that title yet. Oh, yes. To Kill a Mockingbird.
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I think my characters inspire me to write. When I find one I want to spend time with, I just settle down and go. And I do just fine until I get to the middle. How can i writer be expected to work through the icky middles? Hmmm?
10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
There is kissing. And swimming. The aforementioned felons. A bit of Vegas costumery. Sorrow. Laughter. Fresh eggs. Plus that great dog.
PS When Ann Dee teaches me to do the connect-o thing-o, I’ll tag some people.
Shipty, yes!


Filed under Agents, Character, Editors, Interviews, Publication

And Here He Is– Mr. John M. Cusick!


So last year we had a terrific agent at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. And yes, he’s coming back next year.  Those of you who came to the conference in 2012 had a chance to meet John. He’s an amazing fellow. Kyra, if you remember, had a terrible crush on John.

This morning I asked Caitlynne to help me save John’s picture so I could add it to this piece. “That’s John?” she said. “No wonder Kyra had a crush on him. He is very cute.”

So three Williams girls have given John the thumb’s up.

And here’s the interview, to boot.

John M. Cusick is an agent with Greenhouse Literary, representing middle-grade and young adult novels. He is the author of GIRL PARTS and CHERRY MONEY BABY (Candlewick Press), as well as managing fiction editor at Armchair/Shotgun, a literary magazine. He is a regular speaker at writers conferences, and keeps a blog at You can also find him on twitter: @johnmcusick. He lives in Brooklyn.

(Don’t worry, John. Brooklyn is a big place. I’m pretty sure the Williams girls won’t find you for several years.)

1. I know you are a published writer, John, as well as an agent. You’re totally immersed in books. How does agenting inspire, influence or maybe even take away from, your own writing time? And how do you give yourself the time you deserve to write on your own work?

 I put aside a little time everyday to write, always in the morning, before my agenting day begins. The two jobs don’t compete for time, but do occasionally compete for mental space. It’s the writing I have to make room for. Agenting is so big, brash, and dynamic, it often overshadows Writing, who’s the sensitive wallflower at the party. But for the most part they compliment each other. I mean, all day long I think about books, how to make them better, how to get people to love them. In that sense, agenting and writing are perfect compliments. Agenting is the body and writing is the brain— or perhaps, agenting is the brain and writing is the heart.

2. What are five words you would use to describe yourself as a writer?

 Persistent. Methodical. Contemplative. Expansive. Passionate.

3. As an agent?

 Dogged. Positive. Intensive. Engaged. Enraptured.

4. As a writer, how do you happen upon your novel ideas? (Ha! Happen upon!)

 I’m usually inspired by a moment or phrase that evolves into a theme. Before I began GIRL PARTS, I saw a video of a sixteen year old girl, born deaf, who was given the ability to hear, thanks to an operation. They turned on the machine and she immediately began to weep. Her boyfriend was there and asked her what was wrong, and she replied in sign language “I don’t want to hear myself cry.” Something about that moment evolved into Rose and her experiences in the novel.

 5. What are you working on now?

 I’m writing a young adult novel about a con-artist in training. If it works out, it will be my first novel in first-person, and with a sole male protagonist. Unlike GIRL PARTS or CHERRY MONEY BABY, I’m doing a good deal of outlining beforehand, mapping out all the plot’s twists and turns. It’s a totally new approach for me and so far I’m enjoying it.

6. What draws you, as an agent, to a novel and to, eventually, offer representation to a writer?
The story has to draw me in with mystery or excitement, so I’m eager to read on. The concept has to feel very fresh, like there’s nothing quite like it on the market. Then, if the author is a strong reviser, and excited to work, I’m in!

 7. You teach online courses. Can you tell us about those and how a person might find out when John Cusick is teaching?
I’ve done online courses with Writers Digest and plan to do more this year. I also go to a lot of conferences and give talks there. I always announce my classes on twitter (@johnmcusick) and on my blog (, which also features a list of my speaking engagements. I’m easy to find! Usually…

 8. If you could change two things about your own writing process, what would it be?
I keep a precise regimen: two hours in the morning, six days a week. I wish I wasn’t so uptight, though. I find it difficult to write in the afternoon or evening, or in longhand instead of on my laptop, or anywhere other than at my desk. The regimen is useful but now I’m a slave to it. When I hunker down to write a book or short story, I’m already thinking about who will read or publish it, and that’s just silly. I wish I were more casual, freewheeling. I’d probably get a lot more done.

 9. Finally, what is your best advice to writers wanting representation with you?
Read a ton of contemporary books in your genre, so you know what’s out there, and to help hone your craft. Avoid chasing trends, or generic story lines without fresh flourishes. Write something new and exciting, with an iconoclastic (read: stand out, not an everyman) protagonist. Then query me!


John M. Cusick

The Greenhouse Literary Agency

Facebook: follow all our news.

Twitter:  @JohnMCusick – and follow our writing tips at #GHLtips


Filed under Agents, Interviews