Jeff Crook has recently signed with agent Peter Riva of International Transactions. Jeff, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Congratulations and good luck.
QueryTracker: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Jeff Crook: It's a paranormal mystery novel, sort of a detective story, only the detective is a photographer who is drawn into a serial killer case after she recognizes his most recent victim. She's also sensitive to spirits and has seen ghosts all her life. When she moves into a new apartment, she wakes up to find a ghost sitting on her bed. From there, things get rather dark.
The story came to me after a relative found two strange pictures on his camera. He didn't remember taking the photos, but they show my youngest son with "something" moving through the room behind him. I was showing the photos to my coworkers when I made some offhand comment as to how maybe I should write a story about a haunted camera. I swear, a lightbulb appeared over my head at that moment.
QT: How long have you been writing?
JC: 26 years.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
JC: Started writing it Halloween night, 2007. Signed with an agent April 1st, 2010. I know, it's scary, but this is no joke.
QT: Has there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
JC: All the time. The stories always draw me back, because they have to be told. Strangely enough, I quit entirely for about two years, many years ago. Some of my wife's old high school friends decided to start up a Dungeons and Dragons game, so I went along and joined the game. Before I knew it, I was writing material and running a game of my own, which led me back to writing fiction. My first professional sales were for the Dungeons and Dragons game, and eventually the Dragonlance book line.
QT: Is this your first book?
JC: No. I have four previously published Dragonlance novels. This is my first book in this genre.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
JC: I took several creative writing classes in college.
QT: Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
JC: Not really. I write when I have time, which isn't as often as I would like. However, I find that when I have the luxury to write, I don't. I am most productive when I don't have time, or only have a few minutes between other things. It's very frustrating.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
JC: I don't remember. Five or six full rewrites, and a constant state of editing until I turned it over to my agent.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
JC: No. I rewrote from agent responses. My wife tried to read it but she couldn't finish it. She had to put it down. My agent used several readers, and their comments were interesting and enlightening. However, I think Peter helped hone the story more than anyone else. He's very perceptive, and a true professional.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
JC: I create a detailed outline. I think the outline for this book ran about 10,000 words. But I don't let the outline get in the way of the characters if they want to surprise me. They often do.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
JC: I sent the first queries out on 6/19/2008. The first five queries generated requests for full or partial manuscripts, so I knew I had a strong story. However, all five were rejected for the same reason, so I knew I still had a lot of work to do.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
JC: Interest in this genre. Response time and type, and the comments of other Query Tracker users.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
JC: Before querying an agent, I'll visit their website and blog (if they have one). If I see something that interests me about that person, I'll mention it in the query, try to make it relevant to them. Often you can't do that, so you have to rely on the strength of your query.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
JC: Keep trying and follow your instincts. When I originally sent my query to Peter Riva, he didn't respond, so on a hunch I followed up. He responded, saying that originally he had decided to pass because he didn't really have the time for a new client, but at the moment he was willing to look at new material. I was lucky enough to hit that small window of opportunity. Like they say, you can't win if you don't play.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
When Jackie Lyons buys a second-hand Leica M8 digital SLR camera, she has no idea that photographs of an old murder are hidden in the camera's memory, nor that it is haunted by the murder victim. Her heroin habit and talent for photographing the dead drop her into an investigation of a string of brutal unsolved murders. She struggles to overcome her own demons before the trail leads to a final, surreal confrontation with Memphis' most notorious serial murderer – the Playhouse Killer.
Shades of Black is a 91,000 word supernatural mystery/thriller reminiscent of James Lee Burke's In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead. The setting is Memphis in the perpetual rain and cold mists of November during the week surrounding Thanksgiving. The styling is noir, with a hard-boiled former detective as the anti-hero. Jackie Lyons is an ex-vice cop of the Memphis Police Department, but now she sells photos of accident and crime scenes to support her heroin habit. Her life has been disintegrating for years – failed marriage, unemployment, drug addiction, and most recently she set fire to her apartment. When she recognizes a murder victim at a crime scene, she gets drawn into the investigation, while the ghost of the previous owner of her new camera tries to lead her to its killer. Little does she know that all dark paths lead to the Playhouse Killer – a serial murderer of homosexual men, who stages his victims in death scenes from famous plays.
I have published 31 short stories over the years, most in the last four years, and four novels in the Dragonlance fantasy setting (Wizards of the Coast). I have stories pending at Murky Depths, Cat Tales, and Aeon. My fiction has appeared in the Warrior Wisewoman anthology, Helix, Nature (twice), Nature Physics (twice), Mallorn (the journal of the Tolkien Society), Paradox, The Foliate Oak, Sein und Werden, Futures from Nature, Tales of Fantasy, Theaker's Quarterly, Tattered Souls, Pindeldyboz, Eclectica, and Hub magazine. My stories have also been honored as Notable Stories by the 2006 and 2007 storySouth Million Writers Award.