Fast forward to 2013. I am 20 years old. It’s pretty amazing how from 11 to 20 I became a completely different person — I suppose that happens when you grow up! I slowed my appetite for art slightly to allow growth with ideas, friends, and exploring the world around me. And to dive into my lifelong obsession with sharks!
I grew up fascinated by sharks, swimming on a swim team called “the sharks”, visiting the ocean hoping to see a fin, and simply could not get enough of Shark Week! Then one day, I am watching a shark special on TV and they mentioned that “sharks are necessary”. The episode ends and doesn’t explain why sharks are necessary. But, luckily for me, I have that voracious appetite for art and knowledge and I take it upon myself to answer that question.
I went to a talk at a Patagonia store in San Francisco, met David McGuire, and soon started volunteering with his shark nonprofit Shark Stewards. I dove into research papers, articles, chomped at any research journal I could get my hands on and watched documentary after documentary. I learned about shark trawling, overfishing, shark fin soup, dead zones and of course sharks themselves! Absorbing all of that information, taking notes, and then eventually making three factual infographics that explain “What Happens When Sharks Disappear?”. I posted the three What Happens When Sharks Disappear? images on my blog.
At the time, I just wanted the question to be answered in a way I could digest it. I read so many dense papers that explained things with math and charts and incredibly detailed research… but that information is not easily accessible. I felt that I needed to create an easy and visually digestible way to explain trophic cascade in the ocean if we eliminate sharks in a way that all age brackets could embrace! I hoped my infographics could present the information in a way that would make people care about the plight of sharks the way I cared. It worked! They made waves across the internet and landed on the screen of my editor Emily, an editor at Roaring Brook Press.
Then one day, Emily the editor sent me an email. Soon after that email, we had a phone call.
Emily explained that she wanted me to write a book on what would happen to the oceans if sharks disappeared for Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing. I emphatically said “yes!”, because I had always wanted to write a book and I figured what I didn’t know, I would just learn. Then I called my uncle, Michael Benanav, who is a nonfiction author. He said I needed an agent and that he would look online and see if I could find one near me. He did and emailed me almost immediately with one single suggestion: BookStop Literary Agency. They just happened to be a children’s literary agency based out of my hometown.
That same day I first talked to Emily on the phone, I emailed BookStop and heard back immediately! Somewhere between phone calls, emails, and sitting outside in the sun reading Catching Fire just days before starting my senior thesis year at California College of the Arts, I had just said “yes” to writing a book and meeting with two agents.
I was so nervous when I went to meet with Kendra Marcus and Minju Chang from BookStop Literary Agency. With no idea what to expect, we set up a meeting in the theatre square of my hometown. Kendra told me that BookStop wanted to make sure I made the right choice for my future and to let them know after I spoke with other agents. Right when she said that, I was sold. I knew they had my best interests at heart. But not seem too eager… I did wait to tell them they were the agents for me. I think I waited one whole day before asking if I could sign with them.
Then… I signed!