With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer and blogger Katie Flanagan present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
Texillian Armadillion (aka Tex) lives in a mysterious attic filled with wondrous words, floating around the dust the way that invisible notes of a piano float through a concert hall. Tex is keeper of the tales. He is a voracious reader and loves to watch as words float from a person’s mind to the page. He is the Editorial Director of the macabre children’s magazine Underneath the Juniper Tree and loves every second that he gets to work with writers and artists to inspire creativity in the minds of young ones. Tex has a special gift, he hears a symphony when he reads words. He sees a painting when he watches alphabet letters dance with the dust bunnies in the attic. He only asks one thing of you, if you use his beloved words, please make them count. For each individual letter has a tale to tell, a life to live.
Trick or treat! One lucky commenter will win a free workshop of a macabre children’s short story by Tex. Just comment on this interview within the week to enter!
For more on Tex, visit the following links:Website: http://underneaththejunipertree.com/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Underneath-The-Juniper-Tree/205816152785730 Twitter: Tex- @underthejuniper / MM- @junipertreelit Issue Archive: http://issuu.com/underneaththejunipertree Google+: https://plus.google.com/113111789856642510763/posts
1. Can you tell us a little bit about what Underneath the Juniper Tree does and what your inspiration was for starting it?
Underneath the Juniper Tree takes all the monsters that hide in your closet and under your bed, pulls them out in the open and celebrates them.
We are a non-profit children’s macabre literature and art magazine that is published monthly online, with additional material, contests, giveaways, etc., on our website almost daily. Being the macabre delicacy that we are, our biggest inspirations are artists such as Dave McKean, Mark Ryden, Maurice Sendak and the like. Our literature inspirations range from classics such as Aesop’s fables, R.L. Stine, Edward Gorey, Neil Gaiman, Lewis Carroll, H.P Lovecraft, and of course The Grimm Brothers. Their story Juniper Tree is, in fact, our magazine’s namesake.
In each issue, we strive to accomplish two things: 1. Support new and budding artists and writers and 2. Promote the most creatively fantastical and darkly neurotic literature and art that has been much loved over the centuries. UTJT is not about cheap thrills. It is about creatively macabre literature that leaves you chilled long after you have left the page. Often there is a sense of melancholy in our stories, but we balance it out with a healthy dose of darkly hilarious stories and poetry.
UTJT, run by Marjorie Merle and myself, was created out of the devastating loss of another fantastically dark children’s publication, Crow Toes Quarterly. CTQ was a mysterious and grim literature and art printed quarterly for children. Marjorie, many of our dear friends, and myself not only loved and supported this independent publication but contributed to it as well. Therefore it was a huge disappointment to many people when it was confirmed in the spring of 2011 that CTQ would be closing its doors and ceasing publication due to budget issues.
In its departure, Marjorie and I decided that with our combined set of skills in literature, editing, art, design, marketing, and the world of publishing we could help revive the magazine and keep its legacy alive. With the blessing of the founder of CTQ, we started Underneath the Juniper Tree as a simple blog in April 2011, and in June we published our first monthly e-zine. We have been publishing monthly ever since.
We are continually astonished with the support and contributions we receive. Just last month, the wonderful Dave McKean (Coraline) and Jonathan Maberry (Rot & Ruin series, Simon & Schuster 2010) both contributed to our humble little magazine. That is on top of the many other extremely talented contributors that make our magazine what it is because of their love for the dark art and providing children with a creative outlet like no other. To this day, no one has been compensated in any way, including Marjorie and myself. It’s a labor of love, and we love to labor on it.
Our goal for UTJT is to continue the free online monthly but eventually start a subscription based quarterly.
2. Why partner with Marjorie Merle?
UTJT was initially the brainchild of Marjorie Merle (or MM as she is known around our dark circle). MM contributed to CTQ quite a bit, and thus when it closed down, she had the idea to start another outlet for dark children’s literature and art. Marjorie is a close, dear friend of mine, and she asked if I would be willing to come on board to help her achieve this goal.
We compliment each other very well. We have very similar taste in art and literature, which bodes well for the magazine—not a lot of arguing about what goes in and what stays out. But whereas Marjorie is professionally trained in art and design, I am professionally trained in editing and marketing. So after we got our wits about us, Marjorie became UTJT’s Art Director and I became the Editorial Director. The greatest part, however, is that we are both creative artists in our own right and where one of us is lacking, the other is right there to help support and build up that particular skill. MM is quite fantastic at editing and I know a little something about art and design myself. So we are always able to step in and fill each other’s shoes from time to time. We truly make a devilish team.
3. What, to you, makes a story scary? Why are they so compelling?
While preparing for the November Issue, we had a particular piece that involved a great deal of detailed torture. While whimsical in a way, because a doll was carrying out the torture, both MM and I agreed that the realistic nature of the torture was too extreme and instead of being “scary” it was just gross. The torture scenes were easy to cut out, and leaving those particular scenes up to one’s imagination made the story so much creepier.
So to directly answer your question, a scary story happens in your mind. The words and images on the page are simply there to help your imagination in the right direction—especially in children’s literature and definitely for UTJT. Now, of course you have many classic horror stories that use very graphic imagery, but they are horror stories, not macabre literature, which is what we strive for.
On that note, UTJT loves to work with select scary stories—for example: we have a Royally Beheaded series that uses very graphic imagery, but what we love more than anything is a good dark tale. Dark tales are so compelling because people rarely let their mind wander into those grim recesses. We all have them. Our minds are chock-full of mischievous little ghouls that only make an appearance when we are walking down a dark alley alone, or when we are lying in bed at night and we hear something go bump.
So when someone has the opportunity to explore those darker areas of their mind in a great piece of literature, or a wonderful piece of art, it’s compelling and it intrigues. We seek after the unknown, also known as what we fear. It’s human nature.
4. You accept general submissions for children’s stories. What are some of the mistakes you see when writers write for children?
Yes, we love general submissions! We love to see what macabre, grotesque minds occupy the world.
One thing I have noticed lately while editing is that people forget that in order to appeal to a target audience you must appeal to a target audience. We’ve had stories written about teenagers doing macabre things, or even adults. Although the story concept may be wonderful, I’ve always written back saying, “Make them kids!” We write for children. Children love to read about other children doing mischievous things, or perhaps… getting their heads lopped off (Juniper Tree by The Brothers Grimm). Why do you think the majority of the Grimm tales were about children in peril? We have a great piece coming out in our November Issue called Bone Music that initially started out with an adult couple. The concept was wonderful, so we had the writer change the adult couple to a younger brother and sister pair. The bottom line is that children don’t relate to adults as well as they do to other children.
That’s not to say there cannot be any adults in our stories. Some of our stories feature adults (again, the Royally Beheaded [RB] series). But there has to be an appeal to children. In the case of the RB series, it’s educational with a terrifying or gruesome twist. Darling Dire, the author of the RB series works very hard to use historical fact, one of the reasons we picked up the series. It’s historical, but gruesome. It teaches children some history in a unique manner.
This is good advice for writers of any genre for kids: Your main protagonist (or antagonist in many of our stories) should only be a few years older than your target audience. Writing for an 8-year-old? Your character should be 9-12, and so forth.
5. You pair the stories with artwork. What do you look for in artwork, and what does it add to the writing?
The question is: what doesn’t a great piece of art add to a story? UTJT is just as much an art magazine as it is a literature magazine. Initially, we had a short stories section, and we had an art section. But then we had artists wanting to work with writers and vice versa. Soon we had not one but two, three, even four illustrations for some of our stories. Art is just another stepping stone to help build a child’s imagination. A lot of our art is quirky, whimsical, and abstract enough, that the reader can add his or her own interpretation. We would never want the art to hinder the reader’s imagination.
We obviously look for macabre, whimsical art. We send out stories to the artists and they chose what they think fits their style and then they create pieces for the stories. Sometimes we will find an amazing piece of art, solicit the artist, and a writer will create a story based around that art piece.
As an artist, new or veteran, it is always a great thing to start up a portfolio of your work. This helps publications like UTJT get a strong sense of your work so that we can determine whether you are right for our magazine or not.
6. Since Underneath the Juniper Tree is primarily an online publication, how do you go about driving traffic to your site? Do you advertise to the children or their parents or both?
While we are a children’s magazine, we have a huge adult demographic. Which does not surprise us in the slightest. After all, we are all still reading Alice in Wonderland and The Chronicles of Narnia, aren’t we? Adults never want to leave that part of their life behind. It’s the Peter Pan Syndrome. Therefore, we promote our publication everywhere. Facebook and Twitter have been great ways to drive traffic to our site and publication. But word of mouth is absolutely priceless.
We have, on average, about 50-60 contributors in each issue. Say each one of them tweets the issue’s release, or facebooks the issue a couple times a month, we’ve just added about 1000 potential viewers per contributor. It becomes a we—a wonderful web of readers and art lovers who want to support the magazine. We also have the help of our dark partners in crime: The good folks over at The Daily Dead (http://dailydead.com/) who promote us each month. Our good friends at Dreadful Tales and Kinderscares (http://dreadfultales.com/) do a great deal of promotion for us as well as The Lit Coach (http://thelitcoach.blogspot.com/) and several other wonderful powerhouses in the industry. Just last month, we did a contest with Literary Asylum (http://literaryasylum.blogspot.com/) and Walden Pond Press. Having the support of a major publishing imprint like Walden Pond was wonderful for us.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I have had many courses in marketing and know the appropriate steps to take in order to be seen. If a writer is truly serious about any type of Guerilla Marketing, they should look up online courses or read books published on the subject. It’s a wonderful skill to have in this industry.
But specifically for UTJT, it’s truly a matter of supporting art. Support others and you will be supported tenfold. This is an extremely important lesson for all budding writers and artists. Build a community for yourself. Support others and they will support you.
7. What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?
To borrow a quote from one of our biggest inspirations: “…short stories are the best place for young writers to learn their craft: to try out different voices and techniques, to experiment, to learn.” —Neil Gaiman
Aspiring writers need to…ahem…write. Every day. And as Gaiman says, short stories can be the best place to learn your craft. Most of us wouldn’t buy a pair of jeans without trying them on. You take about a hundred pairs into the dressing room and leave with one or two. It’s quite similar with writing. Don’t write something just because you think it will sell or because it is trendy. Write what fits you. Write what you are passionate about.
8. What are you dressing up as this Halloween?
I’m going as a skeleton. It’s kind of my thing. I’m convincing MM to dress up as me this year!
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Katie Flanagan is a fiction major at Northwestern University. She is currently an editor with Booktrope and a reader for Pink Fish Press. In the past, she has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management and the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. Her favorite genre is women’s fiction, but she reads any fiction put in front of her. Check out her blog about the writing life at katieflanagan.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter at @K_Flanagan.