Today, we begin the official first of a series on successful authors. (For the unofficial first, hop over to my LiveJournal blog for an interview with Mindy McGinnis.)
Some of the authors I'll be spotlighting on Fridays have agents, others have found success in less conventional ways. But, one thing they all have in common is their use of the QueryTracker website, whether for information or emotional support. In some way or other, each of my upcoming guest posters have utilized this amazing online tool to help make their tracks in the publishing world.
For our official first QT author interview, I'd like to welcome Brenda St. John Brown, who recently signed with literary agent Marlene Stringer. If you're a fan of dancing Snoopies, and you'd like to read Brenda's representation story, click here.
Let's jump right in:
AGH: What genre(s) do you write?
Brenda: I write YA Contemporary. I've got a women's fiction that's about 50% complete, but I'm not sure I'll ever go back to it, although I still like the story line, so never say never, right?
AGH: What inspired your very first book?
Brenda: My first complete MS is a YA paranormal, inspired by all the paranormal I was reading at the time, no doubt. It's got some good points, the best being what it taught me about writing, characterization, moving the plot along, showing vs. telling...I could go on and on. My betas were incredibly helpful and I learned SO much from them that I then took and applied wholeheartedly to what I've written since. My current MS, SWIMMING TO TOKYO, is definitely better for it!
AGH: How do you come up with titles?
Brenda: Titles are hard! My current MS is titled SWIMMING TO TOKYO and will likely be changed due to all that's happened recently in Japan.The title fits the book, but it might be inappropriate. So, I'll use my usual totally nonscientific method and scour Amazon to see if what I've thought of has already been taken (98% of the time it has) and then think about what's unique about my character or situation that could make a pithy title. I'm a fan of short titles, so the fewer words the better.
AGH: What scenes do you find most challenging when you write?
Brenda: I try to visualize the scene as I write it, so emotionally charged scenes are difficult for me. I can "see" it but then choosing the words that match the pictures in my head -- without being too over the top -- can be a challenge.
AGH: Is there a message or theme that seems to be prevalent in your novels?
Brenda: Hmmm...well, there always seems to be a love interest/first love (because it's really fun to relive all of that excitement and angst when it's not actually happening to you). Difficult family situations seem to be prevalent, too...to add to that angst?
AGH: What books / authors have most influenced your own style and concepts?
Brenda: In current YA contemporary, I love Sarah Dessan and Sara Oeckler. I tried writing in first-person present after reading Meg Cabot this summer. And Margaret Atwood is my long-time absolute favorite. I wrote my grad school thesis on "The Robber Bride."
AGH: How did you find QueryTracker, and how did it aid you in your effort to get inside the publishing doors?
Brenda: I found QT via Elana Johnson's blog and have found it invaluable! From researching agents in my genre to helping write the query in the forums, I can't imagine going through the process WITHOUT it. People are so genuinely helpful and there's a great sense of community.
AGH: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about your querying process?
Brenda: I'm a VERY cautious querier, so I'd probably send out more queries. I only sent out 13 queries, including the one I sent to Marlene. I've been lucky to land such a great agent so quickly, but I also learned a lot from the rejections I got and had some good feedback on a couple of rejected partials that I'll definitely think about when I'm doing edits.
AGH: Can you share any current news with us?
Brenda: I just got my agent edits back this week, so am working on those. They're not as extensive as I feared and I'm excited to get those underway.
AGH: Have you recently learned anything about the business side of publishing that you can share with up and coming writers?
Brenda: I've barely touched this side of things, so no, probably not. I will say that I'm always surprised when I go over to the QT forums and I see people posting their query letters who say, "I've been getting a lot of rejections on this, so I thought I should ask for some feedback." Get feedback before you send a single query. Other people can almost always see your query more clearly than you can and better to get it ripped apart in the forums or by your betas than pile up the form rejections.
5 For Fun:
AGH: How many hats do you have in your home?
Brenda: There are three of us...my husband, 5-year-old son and me. I swear, we have enough hats for our entire neighborhood.
AGH: Which would you rather do: carry an umbrella or sing in the rain?
Brenda: I never carry an umbrella. A huge mistake in London, can i just say? And my curly/wavy/frizzy hair pays for it dearly.
AGH: What’s your favorite breakfast?
Brenda: Coffee and Doritos.
AGH: Are you Team Dog or Team Cat?
Brenda: Definitely Team Dog. We have a yellow lab named Lucy.
AGH: What video games do you play?
Thank you, Brenda, for sharing your insights and for letting us peek into what makes you unique and successful. Two things I love: 1) that you don't carry an umbrella, and 2) that you live in London. It's all so romantic, somehow. :-) Congratulations on catching that elusive agent, and I wish you much luck and happiness on your climb to the shelves!
Now it's your turn ... anyone who has questions for Brenda about her journey, her agent, or her book--or if you'd simply like to congratulate her--please leave a comment! And don't forget to follow her blog as her dream to be published unfolds.