Welcome to SPORTY GIRL BOOKS. At SPORTY GIRL, we want to give all girls the chance to love, watch, play, read, and write about any sport that interests them. We look forward to the day when the words, "You play like a girl," is the biggest compliment anyone can receive.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Publishing Industry Interview with Literary Agent Alexandra Penfold

Today, Sporty Girl Books Blog extends a warm welcome to Alexandra Penfold of Upstart Crow Literary Agency. Alexandra has been in publishing for over a decade. Her undergraduate degree was an interdisciplinary major in Entertainment Business and Marketing. From there she went on to be a book publicist, and an Editor at Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster. She is the co-author of New York a la Cart: Recipes and Stories from the Big Apple's Best Food Trucks and Publisher’s Weekly just announced the sale of her picture book FOOD TRUCK FEST with illustrations by Mike Dutton to FSG. I am so lucky to work with Alexandra. She is a business savvy, editorial agent, with infinite connections and a writer’s understanding of how frustrating this business can be. One of the things that drew us together was our mutual love of sports and fitness.

Alexandra, thanks for being on Sporty Girl Books Blog today. Tell me a little about your sports and fitness past and present. How does it shape the stories you like to represent?
I’m a lifelong swimmer from a swimming family. I think I took my first lessons with my mom when I was around 6 months old and it’s been a great passion of mine ever since. I swam competitively in middle school and high school and I still swim today.

Swimming is largely an individual sport, but there’s also an important team dynamic whether you’re cheering on the sidelines, counting laps for a teammate, or swimming a leg of a relay.  I suppose it’s no surprise that I’m interested in characters who challenge themselves, who are trying to find balance, who are negotiating friendships and/or just looking to find their place in the world.

It feels like we are seeing more books about sporty girls? How have you seen the demand for sporty girl books change in the industry?
I definitely think we’re seeing more of a demand for sporty girl books for all ages and I think the books being published cover a wider variety of sports than in the past.

More authors are pushing against the tradition teen female figure skating/romance trope. How do you see the content of sporty girl books changing?
I love seeing books where the sporty girl is the protagonist, not just the athletic sidekick of the main character. It’s also nice to see a broader range of sports represented in books aimed at young girls.

What do you look for in a sporty girl book?
While I’m drawn to books about female athletes, ultimately the story has to stand for itself. The very best sports books show us something about life, about the human experience.

What area of writing craft done poorly leads you to most commonly decline a manuscript?
I read a lot of queries and partials for stories that are good in concept. They may have a great hook or take a clever idea and twist it all around, but if the voice doesn’t ring true, it’s unfortunately going to be a pass for me. Narrative voice is tricky and while you can fix a lot of plot holes or inconsistencies and you can teach someone to improve their dialogue, if the writer hasn’t landed the voice, that’s very hard to overcome.

What area of writing craft done well impresses you the most?
The other side of the coin is that I’ll fall for an authentic voice in a heartbeat. Give me a fresh, real voice and I’ll put everything aside to finish that manuscript.

What new projects are you working on as a writer?
I could tell you but then I’d have to…you know. Just kidding. But seriously, I’m always turning new ideas around in my head, but I never talk about them until they’re in a finished place. Sometimes I find talking about my in-progress projects takes my energy and focus away from completing them. There’s a danger in over-talking an idea, I say, just go for it.

From your mouth-watering pictures on Facebook, I know you are an incredible baker. Donuts, pies, cookies… you seem to be able to bake anything! What recipe/type of food are you hoping to conquer?
I’m always looking to improve my pie-making skills and I’m very pleased at how my lattice weaving is coming along. Though people often remark on my baking, I also enjoy cooking. I’d love to be able to make Korean and Thai food with enough skill and confidence that I could go off recipe and improvise without courting disaster.

If you could have any kind of pie but it would be the only pie for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Apple pie. I know that sounds a bit dull, but there are so many different types of apples and different ways to prepare apple pie, that I’m sure it could keep me happy for years.

As you know, my main character uses speed-round questions in awkward situations and to spur conversation. Here are some specially tailored for you and your love of food. Speed round!
Tea or coffee? Coffee!
Donut or muffin? Donut, of course.
Cake or pie? Gah. Cake. No, pie. No, cake. Ok. I’m just going to go for it…pie.
Bike or run? Run.
Ebook or paper copy? Paper. Don’t you just love that new (or old) book smell?

Another huge thank you to Alexandra Penfold. Just a quick note that she is currently closed for submissions. Find out more about Alexandra and other Upstart Crow agents here or by clicking on the logo.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Athlete Spotlight with Star Volleyball Player Natalie White

Like Erin, who I interviewed last fall, I met Natalie at my church when I worked as her youth leader. Natalie is quick to smile, volunteer to help, and kind enough to take the time out of her extremely competitive schedule to answer a few questions on the blog. She comes from a family of athletes. Her older sisters played collegiate volleyball for St. Mary's in California, Utah Valley University, and Brigham Young University Natalie hopes to follow in their footsteps.

Could you tell us about yourself? 

I am 16 years old. I live in North Carolina and go to Apex High School. I have been playing competitive volleyball since I was 10. 

I mentioned your sisters above, could you tell me about your parents?

My mom played intramural volleyball and football for BYU and my dad played basketball and baseball in college for Long Beach State. He then went on on and played minor league baseball as a pitcher for the Padres. My dad is my biggest supporter and makes the time to come to as many games/tournaments as he can and is never afraid to tell me what I need to work on as an athlete.

You have an impressive sporty family. I'm glad you all support each other so well. You're really tall, right? Are you the tallest girl on your team? How does it feel to tower over most people? 

I am a 6'2" and there are many tall girls on my team who are over 6'1". We all love it when we are together; however, when we are alone at school it's not always something that we absolutely are proud of. 

I had a roommate in college who was 6'2". She struggled sometimes with towering over so many people...especially the guys, but she taught me that whatever height I do have, to stand tall. I hope that you can do that too, but I can image what you mean about that being difficult!
You come from a really athletic family and I know you're also good at basketball. What sports did you play growing up and why did you choose to play JO volleyball? 

#3 with her teammates
Because I was always supporting my older sisters at national tournaments, I have never really played anything else besides volleyball. I did swim for a short summer season when I was 12. I loved both sports and I do regret not being more well rounded sports wise, but I do love where I'm at with volleyball. It was something that I have always enjoyed watching and it was in my blood. 

What position do you play? I bet you're a formidable blocker. Do you have a wicked spike? I imagine you doing those quick center 1 kills. Do you find you work well with your team's setter? Are you able to read each other well? 
I am a right side hitter and set here and there. I'm convinced that I have a powerful swing. The team that I am playing for does some crazy plays through out the game. I love the setters that I have because I realize how difficult the good sets can be. Because I have a good relationship with my setters, I can tell which directions they are going or if they might need help when in a difficult situation. 

I was a setter and a weak side hitter, so yes, having a good relationship with your hitters is key. I'm glad you guys work so well together. Could you tell us about your favorite tournament and why?
My favorite tournament was when I was 14 years old and we went to D.C. for Presidents Day Weekend. The tournament is called Capitol Hill. It is a three day tournament with heavy competition every match. We went undefeated and didn't lose one set!! It was the most rewarding experience I have very been a part of and it will never be forgotten. We played so hard every single day and I loved every second of it.
Spiking over the block.

That sounds wonderful! Being on a traveling team, how do you squeeze in everything you do? I know you're an honor's student and you're active in your church's youth program and even wake up early for seminary before school each day. Is there anything else you also juggle during this season? 
Honestly I don't know how I do it. When I am traveling I try and get as much school work done in small amounts of time. It usually leads to late nights and not so much sleep. When i was 13 I made it a goal that before I turned 16 I wanted to accomplish all of my youth responsibilities so that I could have the joy of something being done and having one less thing on my plate. 

Wow. I know turning 16 was pretty recent. Congrats on reaching those goals! 
What is your favorite book? Do you read sporty girl books?
I do not read many books, but one trilogy that has caught my eye lately is Divergent. Its nothing sporty or anything. I just love the physical and mental strength that she receives through out the whole experience. There is also another book that my Varsity Coach has some girls read that really caught my eye that I would love to read at some point in time. Its called A Mental Thing and it all takes about becomes mentally strong is just as important as being physically strong. 

The Divergent trilogy is really good. I struggled having to wait so long in between books. I'm a little jealous that you can read them all at once (when you have time, that is). I'll have to look into A Mental Thing. Thanks so much for being on the blog today, Natalie! We wish you to best of luck with all your endeavors, athletic, or otherwise:D

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Sporty TV Review: Bella and the Bulldogs

There's a new show on Nickelodeon and it has this sporty book blogger very excited. It's called Bella and the Bulldogs. Here's a blurb about the show from Nickelodeon's publicity site:

Bella and the Bulldogs

A head cheerleaders life takes an unexpected twist when her rifle-like throwing arm takes her from the sidelines to becoming her middle school's starting quarterback in Nickelodeons newest live-action comedy series,Bella and the Bulldogs, premiering Saturday, Jan. 17, at 8 p.m. (ET/PT). In this new comedy Bella Dawson (played by newcomer Brec Bassinger), a confident, caring and talented teenager, suddenly finds herself fulfilling a lifelong dream but also having to navigate the world of her teammates Troy (Coy Stewart), Sawyer (Jackie Radinsky) and Newt (Buddy Handleson), without losing her two best friends, Pepper (Haley Tju) and Sophie (Lilimar) from the cheer squad. The show will air regularly on Saturdays on Nickelodeon.

The show, appropriate for kids 6 and up, does a good job of sharing some of the challenges of being a girl in a boy's sport. While a real player probably faces issues more challenging than stinking on first date, and Bella's problems are solved with less effort than would be experienced in the real world, young girls and boys can still see the importance of working towards your dream and facing challenges, even if they are small. In the first three episodes Bella's teammates try to get her to quit, accuse her of betraying their trust, and force her to take part in their tradition of not showering.  

In the first episode  when Bella gets sad about a problem with her friends, her coach gives her a response similar to Tom Hanks' "There's no crying in baseball."  Coach says, "This is a locker room which means it's a no cry zone. Football players can't afford to get all emotional. We take our feelings and bury them deep inside. Then we burn them out so we can't ever find them. That's what a man does."

But unlike in A League of Their Own, where the baseball player has no response, Bella says, "Well I'm not a man, I'm a girl. And when I feel things I can't pretend that I don't." 

Coach kicks her off the team, but this moment reminds Bella's friends that they were blocking her from living her dream.

Bella's friend tells the boys, "She earned her spot and she deserves to play, but you weren't man enough to let her."

With the support of her mother, her friends, and finally, her new team, Bella leads her team to a victorious game and hopefully a brilliant series. I look forward to watching more episodes of Bella and the Bulldogs. You should check it out too.