It's time for our monthly interview with a member of Team Bent! Up this month, the marvelous Beth Phelan...
How did you decide that you wanted to become an agent?
I knew I wanted to work, in some way, bringing books to readers. Especially with YA lit. I originally started with an agency, as a foot in the door more than anything else, on my way to becoming an editor at a big house. But the more time I spent in agencies, the more I liked. When the time came to move on, I looked for positions at an agency. I figured out that it was where I really wanted to be.
What’s your favorite part of being an agent?
The control. I can be a control freak and I’m really independent and self-motivated. I like to be in charge in a lot of ways. So the editor dream never would have panned out for me. I want to be able to take on the projects I love and decide to spend my time on stories and authors that I believe in. That freedom is really important to me because I love being the first on scene to really fall in love with a book and champion it to shelves.
What are you very hungry to find in your query pile?
More of everything! I want literary YA and also big YA fantasy. I like things that are ambitious and maybe a little weird. Some kind of speculative contemporary would be great, and laugh-out-loud YA too. For adult, I’d love to add another adult thriller writer to my roster, as well as a writer of diverse contemporary romance.
Tell us about some of your projects – what’s going to hit bookstores shelves this fall or next year?
I’m really excited to see Kathryn Ormsbee’s LUCKY FEW (Simon & Schuster Children’s) hit shelves in summer 2016. There’s homeschooling, fake near-death experiences, REAL near-death experiences… very black humor, very Harold & Maude. I love it. But this fall, I’m also really eager to see THE DEVIL’S DREAMCATCHER (Holiday House) make its way to readers who loved the first book, THE DEVIL’S INTERN by Donna Hosie, which—ahem—was a Kirkus Best Teen Book and also an ALA YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults book.
Children's books are not easy to write, but they have that reputation. Why do you think people think of them as "easy," and what is it about them that actually makes them very difficult?
I think people underestimate kids and teens. They understand, appreciate, and remember things as well as adults do, but I think people forget that or just think the bar is lower because they aren’t as “matured” or experienced. But what’s actually difficult about writing for them, I think, aside from there just being so much more competition these days, is that they are so well-informed and they are better, more engaged learners than adults. But it’s hard to capture that authentic teen voice and be able to speak and relate to a generation that’s really just a blip in your life. It’s one of the most important blips, but it happens so fast and is so big that it’s hard to catch.
If you could see any one genre of children's books gain exponentially in strength, what would it be?
I’d really love to see alternate history really take off!
Do you recall the first book you read and loved? (Or perhaps a major favorite as a child).
I think the first time I was truly OBSESSED with a book was when I started Cate Tiernan’s Sweep series in high school. I couldn't read them fast enough and I felt so completely swept away from my life and my world that for a while I could have been convinced that my world wasn't real and that Morgan and Hunter and Cal were the real ones!
The natural talent you would most like to have?
Photographic memory. That’s the dream, isn’t it?
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
I spent one summer in my teen years working at a toy store in my hometown. It was a small local chain, located in this semi-deserted outlet mall and we never needed more than one person there at a time, as not many people came in. Most of my shift would be spent trying to make our limited supply of toys and games look like they actually filled up the shelves, or else “demonstrating” the toys on the sidewalk in front (I played with a lot of bubble guns). I would occasionally get to chase kids out of the store, but they always got away with fistfuls of Yu-Gi-Oh playing cards stuffed in their pants.
What did you want to be when you grow up?
I always wanted to be a veterinarian, until I found out that they had to euthanize pets. Sad face.
Where would you go in a time machine?
I wouldn’t. For all the time travel I represent, the idea freaks me out!
What are some of your favorite movies?
Ahh, favorite movies. Well, I really loved The Fall. And I love the Mighty Ducks and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Also the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost trilogy. Love me some Simon Pegg!
What is the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
I might sound like a dork here but I think the scariest thing I’ve ever done – or at least the most scared I’ve ever been to do something that I did anyway – was agreeing to go to my first conference. I’m terrible in social situations and the idea of a conference with speed-dating pitch appointments and speaking on panels alongside well-seasoned agents had me freaked out. I also have a very real fear of public speaking. So agreeing to go wasn't easy and once I said yes, my stomach was in knots until it was over. I’ve been to many conferences since then, and it’s still a little scary every time, but definitely less so the more I do!
Pie or cake?
Oh, cake, for sure.