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 www.JohnMCusick.com. 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 (johnmcusick.com), 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!