Annemarie O’Brien has an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches creative writing courses at UC Berkeley Extension, Stanford Continuing Studies, Pixar, and DreamWorks, as well as edits children’s books for Room to Read which advocates literacy in developing countries. Lara’s Gift is her debut middle grade novel.
“Powerful and engrossing!” – Kirkus starred review
In 1914 Russia, Lara is being groomed by her father to be the next kennel steward for the Count’s borzoi dogs unless her mother bears a son. But Lara’s visions, suppressed by her father, suggest she has a special bond with the dogs. [book trailer]
Annemarie, I’m curious about your publication experience as well as the actual writing of Lara’s Gift. How did you connect with your agent?
Author and friend Varian Johnson introduced me to Sarah Davies at the 2009 Los Angeles SCBWI National Conference. He thought she would be a good fit for me and my manuscript, LARA’S GIFT. Sarah and I chatted and it didn’t take long before I was charmed by her lovely British accent. More importantly, I felt in my gut that Sarah was the right agent for me. What I like best about Sarah is that she’s a great communicator and responds to my emails and questions almost immediately! She is equally as strong and comfortable on the editorial side of publishing as she is on the business end. She is consummate professional and cares about all of her writers.
What was it like to get the offer from your editor?
It was a dream come true!
About ten years before I submitted my manuscript to Knopf editor Erin Clarke, my college roommate, Amy Myer, gave me a tour of Random House and showed me a room filled floor to ceiling with Knopf books. As I drooled over all the titles, I said, “I would love to get published by Knopf.” My friend responded with, “Yeah, you and everybody else!” She meant no harm by these words. She was absolutely right, but it didn’t stop me from dreaming.
Years later when I was preparing my Vermont College of Fine Arts critical thesis on the function of prologues, I was most impressed with the prologue in THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak and contacted his editor, Erin Clarke, for an interview. She was so helpful and quick to respond to my emails that I had a strong feeling she would be great to work with. So when Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Workshop director Nancy Sondel heard I couldn’t participate in her YA master class workshop, I told her I would come if she brought in Erin Clarke. Well, Nancy delivered and that was how I got the opportunity to have Erin read the opening chapter of LARA’S GIFT. She liked it and invited me to submit the full manuscript. It was painful waiting for a response, but when the good news came I was beyond thrilled!
You have two borzoi, and your debut novel is about borzoi. What is it about that breed of dog that connects with you?
It was by accident that I discovered borzoi. When I graduated with an MBA in international business and landed a job in Russia, I decided I would get a true Russian dog. I figured there was no dog more Russian than a borzoi so I set out to find one. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be but eventually I was gifted a puppy. Her name was Dasha and she was the most amazing dog. She was not only a great companion, but she opened so many doors for me. It’s because of her that LARA’S GIFT exists. That’s the kind of impression she had on me! One so strong a book came out of it!!
Lara’s Gift is set in Imperial Russia. What was involved in researching that time and place?
I spent about ten years of my life living and working in Russia and its neighboring countries so I have a good deal of knowledge about its history, language, and culture. I also have read numerous books on its history and literature.
One book in particular that helped me better understand life on the country estates in Russia breeding borzoi dogs was OBSERVATIONS ON BORZOI by Joseph B. Thomas about his travels in the early 1900s in search of the perfect borzoi in Russia to bring back to the United States. In his book, a wolf hunt was described.
Smith College Russian Professor Alexander Woronzoff-Dashkoff also inspired the story behind LARA’S GIFT from the questions he couldn’t answer when I learned about his connection to the famous Woronzova kennel. It is his family that started the Woronzova kennel that is cited in OBSERVATIONS ON BORZOI as being one of the top three. The other two were Gatchina, owned by Tsar Nicholas, and Perchino, owned by the Grand Duke Nicolai.
I also had numerous readers—including Russian historians, borzoi historians, and writers—read my story to help me strengthen the writing and the accuracy. One such opportunity was with YOU, Deborah, when you offered a free manuscript critique when you launched your blog, DearEditor.com. That was a terrific experience! (Readers, if you’re a writer and have a manuscript you’re looking to improve, I highly recommend Deborah. She’ll see where your story needs help and articulate a good game plan to get you going. I assign her WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES to my students at UC Berkeley, Stanford, and Pixar.”)
What was it like to revise with an editor post-contract?
My big fear was that I would have to do a major revision of my story. For good or bad, I was relieved when Erin told me that she didn’t think LARA’S GIFT needed any major revisions. We primarily worked on tightening some scenes by cutting and by expanding others to tap into the emotion of the moment. She also had me change the ending a bit to one that is now much stronger than the original one I submitted to her. I have a tendency to want to protect my characters and Erin saw to it that Lara would struggle more.
I agreed with all of her suggestions and feel they made the story stronger. So I’m very grateful to Erin for her keen eye and respectful manner in asking for changes. She also let me keep the original title, DANCE WITH BORZOI, as well as Lara’s original name (Bohdana) up until the very end. It was really quite clever of her to hold off on these requested changes because it didn’t distract me from the real revision work that was needed on the story.
What’s next for you?
I am working on the companion novel to LARA’S GIFT. The working title is FROM RUSSIA WITH DASHA. It is set primarily in the Gorbachev era in both Northampton, Massachusetts, and Moscow, Russia, and told from two points of view.
Enter to win copies of Lara’s Gift and hear more from Annemarie at these stops on her blog tour:
Fido and Friend, Fiction Notes, Kissing the Earth, Quirk and Quill, Simple Saturday, Coffee with a Canine, Dog Reads, World Reads, Children’s Literature Network, Word Spelunking, Random Acts of Reading, The Hiding Spot, Beth Fish Reads
I’m giving away a FREE Substantive Edit* of one fiction manuscript. I can’t get Rafflecopter to work with my site format yet, so for this contest here are the rules and ways to enter:
- Your manuscript can be of ANY FICTION GENRE or FICTION CATEGORY (for adults or children, including picture books).
- Your manuscript must be COMPLETE.
- Your manuscript SHALL NOT EXCEED 80,000 WORDS.
- Manuscripts that do not meet these requirements will be disqualified.
- Deadline: MIDNIGHT, August 11, 2013, PST.
- Winner will be randomly selected using Randomizer.org and announced on August 12, 2013, on DearEditor.com and on the DearEditor.com Facebook and Google+ pages, and the winner will be notified directly via email.
One entry – SEND EMAIL to DearEditor.com using the “Write to The Editor” button at the top of the blog or by clicking here. Type “Free Edit Giveaway” in the subject line. In the body of the email, include the TITLE of your manuscript and YOUR FULL NAME. DO NOT send your manuscript or any portion of it. (If you have any difficulty with the contact button, send an email entry directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Bonus entry – SUBSCRIBE. DearEditor.com subscribers get a bonus entry by sending a second email with “Subscriber’s Bonus Giveaway Entry” in the subject line and your title and full name in the body. (Note: the Editor will verify!) Not a subscriber yet? Then subscribe now by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of DearEditor.com and then email your second entry.
Extra bonus entries – SPREAD THE WORD. Blog, tweet, or otherwise electronically tell others about this giveaway to get additional entries. Send an email to DearEditor.com with “I Spread the Word!” in the subject line, and in the body include a link to your blog post or your Twitter address or your Facebook wall or whatever social media you used to spread the word. Don’t send screen-shots; attachments won’t be accepted. Include your title and full name in the body. Spread the word more than once? Then send an “I Spread the Word!” email for each one!
Anyone who doesn’t follow these rules will be disqualified, at the Editor’s discretion.
*In a “Substantive Edit,” the author receives general feedback about the manuscript’s overall pacing, organization, narrative voice, plot development/narrative arc, characterization, point of view, setting, delivery of background information, adult sensibility (children’s books only), and the synchronicity of age-appropriate subject matter with target audience, as the Editor determines appropriate and necessary after reviewing the entire manuscript. It is not a word-by-word, line-by-line “Line Edit.”
Disclaimer: The Editor does not share or in any other way use your contact information; it’s collected solely for winner contact purposes at the end of the giveaway.
Wow! What a great success story. Your editorial genius + Annemarie’s talent and hard work = Win!! Congratulations on the debut novel. I think it sounds fascinating and I know many friends of mine would like to read it too. 🙂
Thanks, Teresa! I hope you enjoy it.
Love the success story, as well as the trailer. (“Lassie meets Dr. Zhivago–awesome!). Congrats on the debut, Annemarie, and thanks Deborah for doing this giveaway and interview. 🙂
I totally love your free edit give-aways 🙂 I will spread the word!
This is absolutely wonderful! I know I could use a free manuscript edit!!!!!!!! Um…. Where would I sign up for that? My iPad is behaving badly.
Fantastic! Congrats Annemarie… ALL THE BEST!
Thanks for the free edit contest, Dear Editor!!!!
Thank you, Michael!
Great giveaway. I spread the word via Twitter: @sallyspratt and FB Page: SallyWrites
It’s great to share the “I FINALLY sold a book” joy with another hard-working soon-to-be published author, though my pub date’s not yet known to me, but it’s contracted, and will come out, eventually (Still smiling…!)
I too have a great match in my editor. She really “Gets” the book. In my specialty (Which you can guess from my blog’s url) is hard to find.
I’m STILL looking for an agent, though…
That was awesome! thanks for sharing.
I can wait to see Annemarie at SCBWI Oakland on the debut panelist forum! Such so much for hosting this contest!
Obviously I meant I CAN’T WAIT – *headslap!*
Sounds like a fascinating book! Maybe I’ll break out the vodka while reading it. I don’t know much about these dogs, but all dogs are great and I have a fondness for things Russian. Looking forward to reading it!
Sounds like a fascinating book! I also lived in Russia for a short time, and love all things Russian! Look forward to reading this!
What an interesting and unusual subject for a book. I’ll look for Lara’s Gift–I’d like to read more about this little known Russian-dog connection. Congratulations on the sweet success of all your hard work!
Annemarie (beautiful name, I’ve a cousin by same!) Congratulations on the publication of your 1st novel 🙂 Just from the book trailer, this sounds like a must-read. And your two dogs are absolutely gorgeous!! I’m wondering what the name of the other borzoi is?
In addition to just loving Annemarie’s story, like others who commented here I connected with the Russian setting. I traveled the Soviet Union as a youth ambassador with the State Department when I graduated from high school. What an amazing experience that was!
I’m so excited for you and your book! Can’t wait to see it. Congrats!
Thanks for this interview! I’m excited to read her book now. 🙂
I love the unique premise of the book – no wonder it got a contract! Annemarie’s story was fascinating. I wish her huge success! 🙂
Lara’s Gift is now on my To Read list!
Congratulations, Annemarie! I read the interview twice. This has given me such clear picture on what goes into a successful story…it is inspiring! Well done. S. E. Harris
Congratulations Annemarie on publication. Cannot wait to read this book!
Great interview. Love knowing the backstory behind the story. Best wishes for a successful launch.
Congratulations Annemarie! Wow historical fiction and dogs. I have to read Lara’s Gift.
What a great interview! I am inspired! And looking forward to reading!
What I love most about this interview is reading about Annemarie’s extensive research. Even for picture books, I dig so deeply into the research until I can dream about my subject. And Annemarie not only researched but has the first-hand experience of living with her borzoi and living IN Russia–real life research!
I agree, Toni. You can’t help but inject the time, place, and topical info into a novel when it all becomes a part of you so deeply. The trick then is striking the perfect balance between the real and the fictional!
Great interview. What a great agent story. Congrats too Annemarie. And thanks for the contest.
Congrats, Annemarie! I was intrigued by your book’s premise during Christine Dowd’s lecture at VCFA in July. Thank you for offering this generous giveaway!
I love the trailer, music and art, and after reading how different aspects of Annemarie’s life came together in this story, I am hooked.
I read the opening pages on Amazon and it’s a great beginning. Can’t wait to read the rest. Annemarie’s research behind the story is a shining example of how it should be done. Congratulations.
Reading about Lara’s Gift has energized me to take notice and get busy submitting my manuscropts. I am eager to read your debut book and I send my biggest congratulations for a job well done.
Thank you, Diane!
Congratulations, Annemarie! Good luck to everyone who enters the competition!
This goes to show how patience and perseverance pays off. Love the cover!
Congratulations, Annemarie! Can’t wait to read your book. It was wonderful to see you in Vermont.
It was great seeing you, too, Margaret!
Great interview! I’m so excited about your book coming out, Annemarie!
Oh, bummer, I missed this.
Good luck to Annemarie!
I’m pleased to announce the winner of the giveaway: Ann Jacobus Kordahl, with her dark YA Romancing the Dark in the City of Light. I’ll be sending you an email, Ann!
Congratulations, Ann! I’m super excited for you! Thank you all for participating in the give away and for your kind comments about LARA’S GIFT!
Thank you, Anne! Hope you enjoy it!
Thank you everyone for participating in the free manuscript critique give-away and to Deborah for offering such a generous gift! Congratulations, Ann for winning!! You will not be disappointed. Also a BIG thanks for all of the kind remarks about the cover, the story premise and warm wishes. It’s been an exciting process. Good luck to you and your manuscripts. I hope you’re all next!