I had the great pleasure to interview Ruta Rimas of Balzer and Bray for YA Highway's editor series, and let me tell you, I laughed out loud more than once. We asked her profound, insider questions just for you, our readers. (Well okay, we wanted to know too!)
What book do you think every teen should read?
Classic: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Brave New World is such a remarkable piece of art with such relevance to adolescence. It’s thematically apropos for that age group: the search for identity. The use of technology as control. Consumerism as destructive. Challenging the status quo. That and the story is so incredibly compelling and thought-provoking. In spite of the fact Huxley wrote the book in 1931, so much of what it has to say is relevant today. Perhaps even more so than when the book first published.
New Classic: Feed by MT Anderson
Um. See thematic description of Brave New World.
What up and coming books/authors should we be watching for?
Freeze Frame (Available); Compromised (Available); Compulsion (Summer ’11)
Heidi is the real deal—her writing is unbelievably fluid; her characters, fully realized; her stories, visceral. She is one of those rare talents that has the ability to write with raw, gripping realism and unfiltered emotion. She’s a risk taker on all counts, but I’m floored most by how she plays with structure, especially in her forthcoming book COMPULSION. COMPULSION is a fascinating and gut-wrenching account of a seventeen-year-old boy living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Obviously, it is easy for me to gush about the book because I edited it. But don’t just take it from me—
“COMPULSION is a starkly honest, compelling read. It will grab you and plunge you into the unusual, yet strangely familiar mind of Jake Martin and you will come out different.”--Francisco X. Stork, award-winning author of MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD
“COMPULSION is one of those books that immediately grabs the reader by the heart and won’t let go, even after the final page is turned. Compelling and real, Jacob’s story of grappling with devastating and frightening OCD is a must-read for anyone who ever thought they ‘knew’ what ‘normal’ looked like.”--Jennifer Brown, author of HATE LIST
The Unidentified (Available)
Rae Mariz, like Huxley and Anderson, has written an engaging, fast-paced, thought-provoking account of the destructive powers and collateral damage caused by a consumption-driven world.
And various others—Marianna Baer, Amy Huntley, Maryrose Wood, Suzanne Young, to name a few.
What would you love to see in your sub pile? (The hundred dollar question right there!)
Intelligent writing. Unexpected plots. Controversial themes. Multi-layered characters. I need to be challenged as a reader and as a thinker with the books I take on. Books should have something to say.
Think: FEED by MT Anderson. THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS by E. Lockhart. THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPIONS by Nancy Farmer.
I also would love a high-stakes mystery, a psychological thriller, and a creepy ghost story.
What are your manuscript pet peeves?
Specifically…. no special birthmarks as identifier of magical powers.
Generally…Triteness. Please, I want to see something new. I want the unexpected.
Your best piece of advice for aspiring writers:
If you want to make it as a professional writer, you have to take it seriously. What does that mean? For one, educate yourself on the art and craft of writing. Critique groups are great, but critique groups are also support groups who can sometimes err on the side of detrimental encouragement. Critique groups have their place, sure, but in addition to a critique group, why not enroll in a creative writing course at a local university? Challenge yourself as artistically as a writer. Surround yourself with the literati. And grow a thick skin—you’ll need it in this industry.
Education also means learn about the business of writing. Research how this industry works—and I don’t only mean the submission process or the acquisitions process. Learn about the various publishers, their imprints, the departments, production schedules, book distribution, digital initiatives, etc. Keep a pulse on the goings-on of the publishing world.
For Industry Hopefuls
How did you come to be an editor?
Short version—the stars aligned. And through a friend of a friend of a friend (literally), I was able to get my resume into the hands of my first boss in publishing. It was so impressive (please note my sarcasm) that I was called in for an interview. From there, I took a writing test, which entailed me writing a reader’s report and flap copy. What I did seemed to qualify as good enough, and voila, I was hired.
Now, to make a short story long…
I’ve always had an interest in books and writing so while pursuing my undergraduate degree at NYU (I have a BA in Journalism--media analysis and criticism), I minored in creative writing. I loved the workshop setting—evaluating others work and giving feedback, and seeing what my classmates could do with the suggestions I offered.
By the time I graduated, though, I decided to do something completely unrelated to my degree. My parents were thrilled (not).
I was accepted into the NYC Teaching Fellows program as a candidate to teach high school math. Yes. Math. Unlike most, though, I not only enjoy math (and science), I am particularly adept at it, so I was never daunted by the idea of teaching algebra, geometry, and trig to teenagers. In fact, I was excited by the prospect, even though the last mathematics class I had taken was AP Calc my senior year of high school (it was the AP Calc credit on my transcripts that qualified me to teach match, by the way).
I ended up teaching at a new public high school in Brooklyn. Those years were some of the best! I definitely miss teaching and miss my students (they were the main reason I stayed as long as I did), but in 2007, I made the very difficult decision to leave teaching and pursue books. I began asking my friends if they knew anyone in publishing, and, through a series of fortunate events, I met up one night with that friend of a friend of a friend who happened to work at HarperCollins as an associate editor. She and I got along well, and over the course of the evening, she let it slip she was leaving Harper at the end of the summer…and would be happy to hand my resume to her boss. Which she did. And here I am now.
I always start with the joke that the stars aligned to get me here, but in reality, I think people make their own luck. I made mine several ways—1.) by living in New York. 2.) By putting myself out there. 3.) By not being afraid of failure. 4.) By learning as much as I could about book publishing. And 5.) By taking risks.
What are your most and least favorite things about the job?
Love: Reading awesome manuscripts. Working with fabulously talented, creative-minded people. The marriage of art and business.
Dislikes: Paperwork. Deadlines. Paperwork. Not enough time in the day. Paperwork.
Last book you read: I tend to read multiple books at a time, and am currently finishing up Little Bee by Chris Cleave and The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking. The last YA I read…do my authors’ manuscripts (or my publisher’s authors’) count? Kidding. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.
One thing you can't live without: Sappy answer? My very patient and caring boyfriend. GROAN, I know! He’s not a thing, so I guess he doesn’t qualify. Neither does my cat, Odie, who I also cannot live without. How about this—a big cup of coffee. Milk, just a pinch of sugar. I cannot live without that.
Something no one would guess about you: I’m an active person and love sports in general--I am a rabid Chicago Bears fan. I love NFL season.
Best title: Some Day This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron. I’ve never read it, but that title is so arresting. It’s on my to-read list. Also, Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow by Anders Nilsen. Oh god, just thinking of that book chokes me up. Google it. Read the copy. Have your heart break.
If you weren't an editor, you would be...a math teacher or a personal trainer.
Where can we find you on the internet? Twitter (@RutaRascal), but I’m fairly inactive on account of laziness. Facebook, too, but I keep much of that private, so if you request me as a friend and I do not know you personally, you receive very limited access. I do not have a blog (no time!).
Thank you Ruta!
Check back next week for an interview with Vicki Lame, editor for St. Martin's Press!