By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor
Baba Yaga’s Assistant, the new book by Marika McCoola, age 27 and a 2005 Glens Falls High School graduate, debuted at third on the August 30 New York Times list of best-selling hardcover graphic novels.
(Number One is a Batman title, Number Two is a graphic memoir by famed New Yorker staff cartoonist Roz Chast.)
Marika’s book is a young adult novel intended for ages 10-up. To quote the Times, “A teenage girl ventures into the woods and applies for a job as the assistant to Russian folklore’s most infamous witch.” It is illustrated by seasoned graphic novel artist Emily Carroll, and published by Candlewick Press.
Baba Yaga eats bad little children, but also admires those, like young Masha in Markia’s modern take on the old tale, who outwit her.
Marika will be at The Chronicle’s 20th anniversary Autumn Leaves Book Fair on Sunday, Nov. 8, at the Queensbiury Hotel.
Local events October 1 & 2
First, she’ll give a book talk for all ages at Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls on Thursday, Oct. 1, at 7 p.m.
The official North Country Launch and book signing is Friday, Oct. 2, at 6 p.m. at Northshire Books in Saratoga Springs, one of several independent bookstores where Ms. McCoola has worked (see below).
Disclosure: This writer has been a proud family friend of Marika’s since the artist-writer was four years old.
Below, we asked her to tell us a little about the Times, the debut of Baba Yaga, and her career. The questions are in bold; Marika’s responses (lightly edited for space purposes) follow.
You’ve been on a book tour?
I’ve done two launch events thus far, one at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., where I currently work as a bookseller, and one at The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Mass., where I worked when I wrote the book.
The events really kick off in October, when I’m doing at least one a weekend, plus school visits in New York and Vermont.
How’s that going?
I love doing bookstore events. It’s hard to do a traditional reading for a graphic novel, so I’ve been giving a presentation instead. I show the stages the book went through from script to character designs to sketches to final pages and talk about the changes that were made. A lot of people — including writers — don’t know the process of writing a graphic novel.
Audiences have really enjoyed it. The October events at Crandall Public Library and Northshire Bookstore will be this presentation.
What has the response been?
People have been amazed by how much writing and planning a writer does for a graphic novel, as well as the many stages the art goes through. Kids keep asking me if there’s going to be a sequel. Once family even sent me a postcard from their grandmother’s house after reading the book, because their grandmother tells them Baba Yaga stories when they visit. These personal responses are thrilling because they mean the book is finding its audience and resonating with readers.
How did you hear about the New York Times ranking?
I was emailed about the bestseller list a week and a half before it was released.
What was your reaction?
I was eating breakfast while reading my email (as I do most mornings). I clicked on an email from Candlewick, dropped my spoon, shouted at my friend across the table, and started crying. Then I jumped up and down a lot. Now that I think about it, there’s been a lot of jumping up and down and crying happily this month.
What’s the upshot for you and your career?
I am now New York Times Bestselling author Marika McCoola — which is seriously fun to say. A lot of readers select books because they’re on the bestseller list, so by making the list, you’re bound to reach additional readers. It’s also helpful for future book marketing as a publisher can put “by New York Times Bestselling Author” on the cover of the book. In terms of my career, I hope it means editors and publishers will take a chance on the other manuscripts I’ve written! If you ask me in a year, I’ll probably be able to better answer this question.
What does your agent say about it?
Everyone involved in the book is so excited. My agent, editor, and publisher took a chance on this book, publishing it in the hopes that it would find its audience. Making the bestseller list means it’s resonating with readers, and exceeding all our hopes.
Are you keeping abreast of actual sales numbers?
I don’t know what the actual sales numbers are and I don’t think I want to know. I do enjoy going to work at Porter Square Books and checking the store’s sales, though!
What’s it take to make the bestseller list?
I’ve no idea. Really. I’m flabbergasted.
What is Candlewick doing to get the word out?
Galleys (advanced copies of the book for the industry, printed in black and white) were distributed at conventions, including Book Expo America in New York City in May. These copies get booksellers and librarians excited about the book and encourage them to order it and post reviews on social media platforms. Reviews from major publications, such as Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Hornbook are also helpful.
You’ve had some other good responses? Which particularly jump out as meaningful to you?
The starred review from Kirkus was an amazing surprise. They’re known for their critical reviews, so the star was an incredible honor.
This week, Comic Book Resources posted a beautiful review that literally floored me (I fell out of my chair and start crying and laughing simultaneously).
J. Caleb Mozzocco compares my Baba Yaga to Neil Gaiman’s and then calls it “one hell of a debut.” I can’t talk sensibly about the review. Check it out: robot6.comicbookresources.com/tag/marika-mccoola.
Are you on a bit of a high? Is this a surprise?
This is a complete surprise for me. Last week I thought things were finally going to get back to normal, and then bing! An email changed everything! I am so excited about everything; there’s been a lot of jumping up and down while happily crying, but my myriad of day jobs are a good diversion.
Remind us of your day job(s)?
I currently work as an instructor for SUNY Empire State College, teaching Children’s Literature, Illustration, and Studio Art online. I also teach children’s art classes for The Umbrella Community Arts Center in Concord, Mass., and work as a bookseller for Porter Square Books in Cambridge. Additionally, I run a book club for Miranda’s Hearth, a community arts organization.
Can you share anything more about what you’re working on next?
I’m currently working on a realistic middle grade graphic novel set at a folk festival.
It’s about two friends figuring out their identities while dealing with the expectations of their families. This fall,
I’ll be working on a middle grade graphic novel that is inspired by Pinocchio and stories of the Golem of Prague.
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