Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Our *First Ever* Interview

I know Kate regaled you all with our agent story last week (with GIFs!), but today we thought we'd share the interview we did for QueryTracker.net after we signed with Pooja.  It's a little more about our writing process, as well as how we queried VEILED.  Double-plus-bonus, you get to read our query letter!  The interview is posted here: An Interview with Katherine Ernst and Chelle Bruhn, but I thought I'd post it to the blog as well (because sometimes clicking the clicky things just takes too much effort).


QueryTracker: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Katherine Ernst and Chelle Bruhn: VEILED is a YA Sci-Fi with steampunk elements that add flavor but are not the story in themselves. It's a world based on the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the century and incorporates a lot of themes that are still relevant to Middle Eastern culture and politics today. Katherine originally had the idea for the world and what happens in the story and a trip to Istanbul really solidified some of the themes and imagery we used to create the world. Chelle's background as a graduate student of Global Studies (and specifically women's and minority social movements in the Middle East) add the final pieces to the puzzle.

QT: How long have you been writing?
K&C: We've been writing together since we were 14-years-old when we wrote a two-act play about a vampire that falls in love with a human girl (we were ahead of our time, apparently). We've been more seriously collaborating, however, over the last two years when we started writing YA novels together.

QT: How long have you been working on this book?
K&C: We started writing this book about 6 months ago. We wrote the book in flurry of activity over a three month period, and we were lucky to quickly find representation.

QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
K&C: There are definitely days when neither of us feel like writing, but it's incredibly helpful to have the encouragement of a co-author to keep you motivated. After our first novel didn't get much attention from agents, Chelle stepped away from writing for a bit to focus on finishing her Masters degree, but the itch for storytelling never really went away. Sometimes stories just keep nagging at you until you write them down, and VEILED was definitely one of those stories, so staying on track was much easier.

QT: Is this your first book?
K&C: We started our writing career a couple of years ago when Katherine's mother found the play that the two of us had written in high school and that reignited our passion for writing. We realized that our teenage effort at storytelling was terrible, frankly, but it made us want to see what we could do as adults and we co-wrote a YA fantasy novel about Irish Travelers. We subsequently shelved that idea, but a year later we started brainstorming VEILED and we've never looked back.

QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
K&C: Not much. Chelle took a few short story writing classes in undergrad, and Katherine has formal writing training as a lawyer, but we've really relied on our experience as avid readers in writing this novel. We came to this project wanting to tell a story we really wanted to read, and we think that's what made the book so good (if you'll allow us to toot our own horn for a moment ^_^).

QT: Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
K&C: As cowriters we have to plan out our writing fairly well. We generally sit down and write out an outline for a book together. We brainstorm and then one of us literally writes down the ideas. After that process is complete, we then trade off chapters and then edit each other so the book sounds like it’s written by one person. People that have read our books report not being able to tell where one of our writing begins and the other ends which we see as a victory.

QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
K&C: We wrote the first draft doing the back-and-forth editing with each chapter, and then did a full-draft edit before sending it out to beta readers. After incorporating some really valuable suggestions from their feedback, we started the querying process. When we got a positive response from our agent, Pooja Menon, she included some of her own suggestions for how to improve the story—they required some pretty in-depth rewrites (essentially it turned out to be an entirely new manuscript) but in the end it made for a stronger book overall.

QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
K&C: Of course we had a few family members and friends read the first draft, but we also had a handful of members from our writing group go through it with a fine tooth comb. Chelle also asked one of her former professors, an expert in the field of Middle Eastern studies, to look it over for accuracy and give any suggestions on how to improve on our world building.

QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
K&C: Again, since we’re writing together, it’s really important to have a clear picture of where the book is going, so we created a chapter-by-chapter outline before we ever stated writing. Of course things come up along the way that we hadn’t thought of while writing the original outline, but those things are always discussed at length and incorporated into the outline before moving on. Even if we weren’t co-authors, though, we both agree that outlining is the best way to approach a book. It’s so much easier to add and change along the way than to brainstorm while you’re also trying to make something readable.

QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
K&C: We didn’t query very long for VEILED, maybe a few weeks, but for our first manuscript we spent at least four months querying before we decided to shelve that project and work on something else.

QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
K&C: About 25 or so.

QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
K&C: First, and probably most obviously, we looked for agents who represented YA. When we started querying we hadn’t decided whether our book was Sci-Fi or Fantasy (it’s really a crossover), so we queried agents interested in both. One of the most important thing we looked for were agents who were interested in representing books with multicultural aspects because we wanted an agent who was as excited as we were about the world we were building.

QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
K&C: For agents that we had information about, we definitely did. Actually, one of the reasons that we were particularly interested in Pooja Menon was that she had a twitter presence, and Chelle had actually tweeted with her on a number of occasions. The relationship that we built with her through the querying process definitely made us confident that she was the right choice for us.

QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
K&C: Keep writing and keep querying. Moreover, twitter is a valuable resource for finding out what agents are looking for. They might not constantly update their websites, but many agents tweet quite prolificly. Also, seeking out supportive fellow writers is extremely helpful. We found out about innumerous agent contests and we honed our craft by keeping in contact with fellow writers.

QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
K&C: Sure.
In Eskifalia men control everything, including the minds of the women they touch. Aveza and Warin ran away from the palace knowing an entire army would be in pursuit.
Warin ran from his role in the cruel experiments performed on women in the palace lab. Genetic alterations designed to ensure men will always maintain control.
Aveza ran to avoid having her mind enslaved by the despicable Bey Reginald, the same fate that drove her sister to burn herself alive.
When Aveza and Warin meet up with a pair of outlaw twins and a subversive underground society, it seems they’ve finally found a safe haven. But can Aveza ever really be safe from the danger of exposing her gloved skin or the face she hides behind her veil?
VEILED is an Ottoman-inspired Young Adult Sci-Fi where Steampunk adds flavor but is not the story. Complete at 96,000 words, it is the first book in a proposed series.



So, there you have it!  Our very first interview--hopefully the first of many, if you'll allow me to get ahead of myself a little. :)  Sorry for the distinct lack of GIFs in this post, but as I've spent the day knee-deep in a mountain of laundry getting ready for holiday traveling, I didn't have time to scour the internet for one.



Make sure to come back tomorrow for Katherine's post in which she will announce the lucky winner of the blog launch contest!

Ok...maybe just one GIF (since I'm feeling festive, but also tired).




~C

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