Meet a Mom: Literary Agent Nicole Kenealy James! | Greenwich Moms

Photo Credit: Sasha Illingworth Maloney

This week’s Meet a Mom is Nicole Kenealy James, a literary agent and boy mom! We spoke to this Greenwich Mom about her career, her quarantine coping strategies (they’re hilarious!) and what she loves about living downtown—including her go-to local businesses.

Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up in Westchester, New York, and graduated from John Jay High School.  I’m a mom of two boys who are about to turn 4 and 9. I am shocked every day that I ended up with boys. Anyone who knows me knows this. So for about nine years, I’ve felt utterly confused and humbled by the whole experience! For work, I’m a literary agent with an NYC-based agency called Chalberg & Sussman.

What an interesting job! What does that entail?
As a literary agent I represent writers of both fiction and non-fiction, adult and young adult.  In short, an agent’s job is to sell a writer’s project to a publisher and to oversee the life of that book — and hopefully the life of that author’s career. Within that main role an agent wears many hats. I will develop the project editorially with the writer so that their book has the best shot possible upon submission to publishers. I negotiate deal points at the deal making stage, and finalize language at the contract stage. Most importantly I am the author’s fiercest advocate when it comes to their work. I’ll help solve any problem in the publication process. This ranges from helping to fight writer’s block to deciding on the best book cover. My work is very much about books, but it’s also about nurturing my relationships with my authors. Oh, and I read, read, and read some more.

Awesome! Where are your two boys in school?
My oldest son is entering 4th grade at Julian Curtiss and my youngest will join the Pre-K classroom at Little Friends. Both of my kids went to Little Friends since early babyhood. Little Friends is like a second home/family to us. Verna Esposito, the brilliant owner of Little Friends is a personal hero to this working mom. She has created a wonderful school with a culture that is nurturing, fun, and with spectacular care.

As for my older son, Julian Curtiss is an incredible place to send your kid to school. I never imagined that I would be sending my child to a school as wonderfully diverse as JC in the middle of Greenwich, CT. The school’s slogan is: 60 countries, 30 Languages, One Great School. I’m so grateful for this.

 Why did you choose to live downtown?
My husband and I left New York City kicking and screaming when I was pregnant with my oldest son nine years ago. (Common story!) So to ease the pain of the suburbs we wanted to be able to walk to town so we picked downtown Greenwich.

What is your best “working mom” strategy?
I’m often juggling the day and deal with blocks of time so I need to be realistic as to what can get done in the amount of time that I have. (Now more than ever!) What I’ve learned is that if I have a 15-minute block, I need to pick a 15 min task, etc. I also bullet journal. Kidding, that’s a lie. I don’t bullet journal. I’d have to take a week of vacation time to bullet journal!  

Haha – but love the 15-minute task tip! How did you cope with quarantine?
The word cope might be generous. I think I may have just survived quarantine. It’s all a blur honestly, here’s what comes to mind:

-Late night walks in the rain, Air Pods in while talking/crying/venting to my best girlfriends
-Reality TV binging
-Eating good food (The only good thing that happened on this front was that my dear friend Geoff Lazlo ran a prepared food delivery service during this time. He’s a brilliant chef and I’m obsessed with his cooking. Total plug but it’s the truth.)
-Podcasts about reality TV (no shame here), also more highbrow podcasts like The Moth which can save your soul when you really need it. (The Moth features true stories previously told in front of a live audience– highly recommend!)
-Rage fighting the BET on education budget cuts (It was a good distraction, I’ll give it that. I GUESS!)
-I spent 5 weeks with my parents (don’t worry we did a pre/post-quarantine with COVID tests) and I’m not sure my two boys would have ever spent five weeks with their grandparents if this didn’t happen.

Ha – these are too funny! You road tripped to FL over the summer – what steps did you take to stay safe?
On the way to Florida we didn’t use any crowded rest areas. We planned all of our stops around public parks. (We brought some essentials needed in this department.  I recommend the OXO travel potty for the kids.) We packed all of our food in a large cooler, and really didn’t need the world. We just drove.

As a book agent you must come across so many great books. What are your favorite recent reads that you recommend?
I can’t help but sneak in a client recommendation here because this one is so of the moment. It is a novel about parenting–about the lengths to which will go to for our children as the world crumbles around us. (Hello! Homeschooling during a pandemic anyone?) Maja Lunde’s The End of the Ocean is an exquisite novel and I urge everyone to grab a copy.  It will move you beyond measure.

As a publishing person my to-be-read list is like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and since I’m always reading manuscripts, I rarely have time for a book with a spine but here goes:

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Laurie Gottlieb
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I also love thrillers, and love to have one going on audio. I’m currently listening to Catherine Steadman’s Mr. Nobody, which is fabulous so far. Her first, Something in the Water, is fantastic.

What’s one thing about Greenwich most people don’t realize before they’ve lived here awhile?
It’s not as homogeneous as I thought it was upon entry. This was a wonderful thing to learn. This is a big town — 11 elementary schools. There’s a lot of diversity in all ways.

We love to support local businesses. Can you please share your favorite places to:

Go out to eat as a family
Boxcar Cantina

Go for date night
What is this you speak of? How 2019 of you! I joke. Seriously though, we haven’t been going out much but love visiting and/or calling our good friends at Cap, Cork, and Cellar for a good wine or spirit. The store also has an awesome beer fridge, and we’re always excited to hear what they have on order.

Get your hair cut/colored
Color Café: Ashley for color, Lauren for cut. Check out their Instagram; their COVID protocols are amaze. I’m convinced that Fauci himself would be impressed!

Go shopping for yourself
Diane’s Books—few things are better than a neighborhood independent bookstore.

Go shopping for the girls
Habitat Greenwich is stunning. The owner Kim Caravella has wonderful taste and a great variety of items (low budget and high budget). You can pick up a quick gift or furnish a dream home.

Have fun as a family
My personal favorite is Tod’s Point: there is no greater gem. We all need to do more for Tod’s. We all need to pick up garbage when we see it and make a donation to Friends of Greenwich Point.

If you need ideas on this front you must follow the blog and Instagram feed @donutsatthedisco. Sending love to my fellow mom Marissa Millman who does more with her weekends than I do in a season. If there’s something worth doing, she’ll tell you about it!

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