Do you write children’s books or graphic novels or need some inspiration or a writing challenge for the new year? Check out agent Bree Ogden’s “wish list” of manuscripts she would like to see in the coming months:

Bree’s Wish List

  • A serious middle grade/YA zombie manuscript
  • A Dexter-ish type YA black comedy
  • A manuscript written in the era of Mad Men with panache and style
  • A faux memoir (YA or MG)

You will also enjoy an interview with Bree where she answers all kinds of questions about being an agent, the publishing world, and trends in YA literature.

One of the things I am most grateful for in 2010 is Bree’s offering to represent my middle grade historical novel Planting Words: My Friend Oscar Micheaux. To celebrate Oscar Micheaux’s birthday today, here is a second and final sneak peak from the book (the first is here):


(The following excerpt is from Planting Words: My Friend Oscar Micheaux, represented by Bree Ogden of Martin Literary Management.)

Oscar was the first and best storyteller I’ve ever known. While we worked, he told me all kinds of stories about his life. Later, I sometimes wondered how many of them were true, since he had no trouble lying about his age to get his claim, but at the time I chose to believe every word.

My favorite stories were about the railroad. Whenever Oscar talked about being a Pullman Porter, I imagined him travelling on some of the very tracks Papa had laid.

Papa had told me about Pullman Company Sleeper Cars. Pullman cars were train cars made by the Pullman Palace Car Company. He once showed me an advertising flyer that said that Pullman cars had “All the Comforts of Home.” The sleeper cars had beds so that folks didn’t have to sleep sitting up on long journeys. Some Pullman cars even had crystal chandeliers hanging over the passengers’ heads and soft curtains to wrap around each bed at night. Papa used to say, “Sounds like ‘More Comforts Than Home’ to me.” Then he would wink at Mama. He said that someday he would take her in a Pullman Sleeper Car to see what comforts home should have.

Porters on the trains had the job of greeting the passengers. They also kept the sleeping cars clean, changed the sheets and made the beds, opened and closed the curtains, and even shined passengers’ shoes. Oscar said that Pullman Porters were all black men. Most, like himself, had parents or grandparents who had been slaves.

Porters were expected to smile all the time and to keep their jackets spotless. They had to use their wages to pay for their own uniforms and caps, shoe polish, and shining cloths. Most of the money Porters made came from tips from passengers, so it paid to smile a lot, no matter what passengers asked for.

“As soon as we opened the doors, the passengers would rush into the train and start making requests,” Oscar told me. He mimicked the passengers, waving his arms and raising his voice: “Porter, lower my curtain! Boy, when will we get to Portland? George, please check that my bed is made up.”

“George?” I asked. “Why did they call you George?”

“Some passengers called us all George because of George Pullman who started the company, just like slaves used to be called by the name of their masters. Smithereens, if that didn’t make some Porters crazy! The passengers had all us Porters running up and down the cars like lost calves.” He shook his head at the memory. “Smiling lost calves.”