Carrie Howland on The Shark Curtain
To celebrate the release of The Shark Curtain — a powerful and unique look into a young creative mind by debut novelist Chris Scofield and the latest release from Akashic’s Black Sheep imprint for young readers — we’re very pleased to bring you a guest post by Carrie Howland, literary agent at Donadio & Olson, on what makes The Shark Curtain such a special book.
Click here to read Akashic managing editor Johanna Ingalls’s interview with Carrie Howland.
Over a decade ago, as a young agent beginning my career, a place like Donadio & Olson felt, I imagine, like being a college freshman at an Ivy League university like Yale. (Granted, most of my knowledge of Yale comes from Rory Gilmore and a certain gentleman in my life.) I truly felt I’d hit the jackpot and found my home; I was at a place most only dreamed about. And much like walking the hallowed halls of Yale’s Sterling or Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, each day my hands would graze the spines of the remarkable literary talents I’d admired my entire life: Joseph Heller, Peter Matthiessen, Laurie Colwin, Robert Stone, and of course, new literary superstars like Chuck Palahniuk. It was here that I was introduced to an author who I’ve come to know and love in the way that can only be described as kismet. That author’s name is Tom Spanbauer.
I was first introduced to Tom as Chuck Palahniuk’s writing professor. Over time, Tom and I connected over our own work (I a young poet), personal traumas, and the fact that he’s simply one of the most kind and wonderful humans I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. Most know Tom Spanbauer as the brilliant writer of books such as In the City of Shy Hunters and The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon. (My personal favorites are Faraway Places, which inspired a poem that I will not torment you with here, and the recent I Loved You More, which came to me at a time when I desperately needed a book to connect with—Tom, as usual, did not disappoint.)
Tom Spanbauer also runs the infamous Dangerous Writers workshop and has, over the years, sent us a few of his most talented authors, Chuck Palahniuk included. So when he emailed about a new writer named Chris Scofield, my curiosity was piqued. I read her manuscript, The Shark Curtain, and was blown away. Early on, I described the novel in this way:
Lily Asher lives in two worlds: her own not-quite reality, and that of her 1960s nuclear family. Both are spinning slowly out of control. The Shark Curtain is a tragicomic glimpse into the world of a young girl with a disorder that has yet to be discovered, set against the backdrop of a decade that redefined everything.
It was as if Chris had a list of all the things I love in literary fiction: a dark, quirky, powerful voice that is both humorous and heartbreaking, coupled with poignant and beautiful writing. I had to have both The Shark Curtain and the talented Chris Scofield on my list. I offered her representation, and she graciously accepted. While the age of Chris’s narrator, Lily, was thirteen, she’d written the novel as adult literary fiction, and that’s how we pitched it. I got a series of beautiful, heartfelt rejections from editors who loved the writing, but simply weren’t connecting to the voice. As agents, we’re taught not to take things personally, but I loved this book so dearly that each rejection felt, well, personal.
Cut to October 2012 in a hotel bar on my first trip to a place called Macon, Georgia. Here I sat with the incomparable Johanna Ingalls, with whom I was attending the Crossroads Writers Conference. (Those who know me, or simply any of you who have Googled me, know what a special conference this became, and what an important place Macon is for me now.) As is so often the case when an agent and editor sit down for cocktails (how do you think most great literature has come about?), she asked what projects I was working on. I immediately began talking about this beautiful manuscript, and she asked me to send it her way upon my return to New York.
I did just that, and when I got the response that, not only would she like to buy it for Akashic, she wanted to publish it as part of their new young adult imprint, Black Sheep, I was thrilled. Young adult was still a new venture for me at this time, but something about Lily’s voice had always scratched at the back of my mind: she has something important to say to younger readers. Thus, Johanna’s note felt like that first aha! moment after solving a long equation, that first breath you take after a long swim. She absolutely got it, and I knew The Shark Curtain had, at last, found its perfect home.
The Shark Curtain is, and will always be, a project close to my heart. It’s a work characterized by courage: Chris’ courage for writing it, Akashic’s for publishing it, and the courage needed for the main character, Lily, to tell it. For anyone who has ever felt different, who has lived in a world that feels out of control, who is searching desperately for something to hold on to, this book is for you. It’s for all of us. And I’m thrilled to have had even the smallest part of helping to bring it into the world.
CARRIE HOWLAND joined Donadio & Olson, Inc., Literary Representatives, in 2005. She represents literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, young adult, middle grade, and picture book authors. In addition to her own clients, Carrie handles foreign, first serial, and audio rights for the agency. Carrie is a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives and writes for its newsletter. She also enjoys speaking at various writing conferences throughout the year. Carrie holds a BA in English and creative writing from Albion College, where she was the poetry editor of the Albion Review. Her poetry has appeared in various literary journals and magazines. In her spare time, Carrie volunteers as a foster for a local dog rescue. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. You can follow her on twitter @ecarriehowland. She can also be reached at [email protected]. For even more information about Carrie, visit her her website at ecarriehowland.com.
Posted: May 13, 2015
Category: Akashic in Good Company | Tags: Johanna Ingalls, Akashic in Good Company, Carrie Howland, Literary Agent, Black Sheep, YA, Writing, Oregon, fiction, Portland, Young Adult, The Shark Curtain, Chris Scofield, Donadio & Olson, Yale, Tom Spanbauer, She Did Not Jump the Shark, Chuck Palahniuk, Dangerous Writers, 1960s, Crossroads Writers Conference
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