Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The Call with Steve Hickner

Before I sent out my agent queries, I braced myself for the tidal wave of expected rejections. I’ve worked in the entertainment industry for a long time and I knew first-hand what the chances of success would be like. In fact, right outside my office was the assistant to one of DreamWorks development executives, so I had a front row seat to the battlefield of disappointed faces. My point is, I figured that Charlie Bucket had a better chance of finding a Golden Ticket than I did in getting an agent.

The closest thing that I can compare to sending out agent queries is when those rats will hit that lever repeatedly in the hopes that it might deliver a treat. Well, one day, I sent out a few queries and I got a request for a full manuscript.

Cue heavenly choir: a full manuscript.

I told myself, don’t get too excited. I’m sure the studio with Pluto Nash felt they had something at the time. (“My god, we have Eddie Murphy!”)

Not long after I sent the manuscript, I got an email from Lynnette saying that she liked the material and wanted to discuss possible representation. I was thrilled, and vowed on the spot to never again mock Sally Field for saying, “You like me, you really like me.”

I have to confess, the details of the phone call are all a blur now, but one thing about it stood out: Lynnette struck me as a wonderful person. She really loved books, loved telling stories, and most importantly, she cared about people. I know selling books is a crazy pie-in-the-sky pipe dream, but having someone along with you on the journey makes it worthwhile.  

Even now, I am grateful for the countless hours I spent scouring manuscript wish list to find the right agents to send my material to. Because all that work led me to getting that phone call from Lynnette Novak and working with the Seymour Agency. 

To all of them, I am—and will be—forever grateful. 

One more thing, if this is needs to be edited, nuked of adverbs, and spell checked, then that’s another reason why I need Lynnette Novak. 

About Steve Hickner: 

Steve Hickner has worked at many of the fabled studios in animation: DreamWorks, Disney, Amblimation, Aardman, Hanna-Barbera and Filmation.  His extensive career includes experience with both the production and artistic sides of the process, serving as Producer on such films as:  American Tail II: Fievel Goes West, We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story, and Balto.  His director credits include Bee Movie and The Prince of Egypt.   In addition, he has contributed to such feature films as Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Little Mermaid, The Great Mouse Detective, Madagascar, Shrek Forever After, Peabody and Sherman and Home.  His television credits include the childhood favorite, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Steve has contributed to theme park and location-based entertainment projects in China, Dubai, London, Singapore, Malaysia, and Hollywood.  He recently collaborated with Steven Spielberg to write and direct the Comcast sphere film, The Power of I. He has been a guest speaker at many colleges and universities, film festivals and animation events.  He is the author of Animating Your Career, and Animation Rules!  

Twitter:  @HicknerSteve

Instagram: @stevehickner1


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Finding His Voice: Q&A with the Author of Timestamp: Musings of an Introverted Black Boy Marcus Granderson

 By Margaret Apostolis

Q: Around what age did writing start to spark your interest? 

A: I would probably say sometime in middle school. Around 7th or 8th grade, I started to recognize the fact that there were very few teenage black authors. At about 12 or 13, I solidified the idea that I wanted to produce an advice or self-help type book.  

Q: Was this the driving inspiration behind your journey into writing? Or was there a specific author or novel that was a big inspiration for your work?

A: I never thought I would be a writer growing up. I always said if I knew I was going to be a writer, I would have read a lot more books. I was not the type of kid who was into reading novels; I was more of the article browser in the weekly paper because I invested in catching up on current events. The biggest inspiration behind my work is my ancestors, my personal history as an African American, and my legacy. What I mean by legacy is the art created by black people and how literature, words, and writing, are a form of preservation to sustain, clarify, and capture history through the proper perspective. I like to consider myself a legacy writer: I am writing in the tradition of this legacy as an African American to preserve it, to celebrate it, and to uplift it.  

Q: How did you address this legacy within your debut novel Timestamp: Musings of an Introverted Black Boy

A: The book is inseparable from my heritage and identity as an African-American, which is one part of my identity that I did not fully come into until I went to college. At Harvard, I came of age in every sense of the phrase: physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and racially. During this four-year experience, I truly discovered writing as a medium to process and reflect on my experiences. At the time, however, I did not even realize I was writing the book. I was just writing because I felt inspired to do so. Over time, I soon realized I could use writing to also help others around me who were struggling to come of age, in whatever sense that meant. Which is what ultimately led to this book. So, to put it succinctly, had I never gone to Harvard, Timestamp maybe would not exist. But had I never come of age into my blackness at Harvard, this book would definitely not exist. 

 Q: On the topic of Harvard, were there any experiences you wanted to highlight? 

A: Harvard was a fascinating experience. Harvard was the first time that I reckoned with my racial identity and found myself surrounded by more young black people my age than I had ever in my young adult life. My racial coming of age took place at Harvard because I realized I was black. I mean obviously, I knew I was black, but after I joined the oldest undergraduate black organization at the institution, I truly fell in love with my blackness. The choir Kuumba Singers of Harvard College gave me a legitimate diverse experience and furthered my interest in continuing the legacy discussed further in my novel. My experience attending Harvard and joining the choir sustained me during my four-year journey and ultimately helped with the production of my first novel. 

Q: For my wrap up question, is there any advice you want to give to aspiring or struggling writers?

A: The journey is not an easy one. Even once you are published, you will still get rejections. Second, I think one of the things that I had to realize and encourage authors to understand themselves is that those rejections are not a measure of your value as a writer. If you write something and you believe in it enough to pour your heart and soul into it, then it has value. Believe in the work you are producing. Being published does not equate to value. Don’t ever say, “my work didn’t get published; my work doesn’t matter,” you wrote it. Your work comes from you -- it is a part of you. So, it matters.

About Marcus Granderson:

Marcus Granderson is a podcaster, speaker, and writer based in New York City,  originally from Canton, Michigan.  A 2018 cum laude graduate of Harvard, Marcus created his own interdisciplinary degree curriculum, concentrating on the intersection of rhetoric and oratory. His written work has been featured in Blavity, Medium’s The Start Up, and Eden Magazine. And his debut literary collection, Timestamp: Musings of an Introverted Black Boy, was released in September 2019.