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An Interview with Trisha Causley
(A QueryTracker Success Story)



Trisha Causley has recently signed with agent Julia Kenny of Markson Thoma Literary Agency. Trisha, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Congratulations and good luck.

You can follow Trisha on twitter @tcausley.




QueryTracker: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?

Trisha Causley: It's about a woman who, after just having a child, begins a search for her own mother who abandoned her at birth. Because she suffers from an anxiety disorder, her adoptive mother---a nurse on shift at the hospital the night she was born---has kept certain facts hidden from her for years, including the existence of twin sister. The woman's search takes her to a remote Arctic community, where she learns about the life she could have had.



QT: How long have you been writing?

TC: I've always been a dabbler, and had some vague idea of writing fiction. (I am a technical writer by profession.) After I had my second child seven years ago, I decided to set concrete writing goals for myself and started working on short stories and a novel.



QT: How long have you been working on this book?

TC: Now it's been about three years, though I finished the first full draft in September, 2010.



QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?

TC: There are definite low periods where you get overwhelmed by the sheer number of books on the market and feel as though you couldn't possibly have anything new to contribute. My inspiration comes from reading a great book where the writing and/or the story makes you feel almost physically charged up. It's humbling when I read a stunning sentence or finish a chapter that leaves me in awe, but then it makes me want to take it apart, and figure out how the author was able to do that so well just using words.



QT: Is this your first book?

TC: It's my second. I wrote another women's fiction book that I queried for a few years ago. I stopped querying because I really wanted to write the current novel, but now that I look back, the agent response that I got was not as bad as I had thought.



QT: Do you have any formal writing training?

TC: I've taken a few creative writing workshops through the continuing education program at the university, some of which were really valuable and some of which were less so.



QT: Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?

TC: When I'm writing a first draft, I try to do 500 words a day. I work full-time and have young children, so I really need to be efficient in my writing time.



QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?

TC: I've edited a lot of sections 4 or 5 times, but done two major edits of the whole book. I'm now doing a third edit with my agent.



QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?

TC: I have one very good critique partner, and a few beta readers that I've used for different drafts. I try to be strategic about using my beta readers because I like them to come fresh to the material to give me their first impressions. You have to save a couple for the later drafts.



QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?

TC: Both. I had a general story arc in mind, with a few milestones along the way, but the scenes kind of found me as I wrote.



QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?

TC: I started querying at the end of January, 2011 and received an offer April 2011.



QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?

TC: Query Tracker says I have sent out 64 queries which resulted in 15 requests, 26 rejections, and 23 no responses to date. QT has been the most amazing tool for me. I don't know how I would have done it without it.



QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?

TC: For some of them I did, but only if I had something really specific to say, for example if they said they liked humourous or quirky women's fiction, or bookclub fiction, I would describe my book in those terms. But really, the personalization was minimal.



QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?

TC: Take your successes where you can get them, and squeeze every bit of value that you can out of personalized responses. I had some really great responses from some agents who had taken the time to read and provide specific feedback on my work. This happened extremely rarely, until I had an offer on the table and 10 different agents with the full. Suddenly, those agents were reading my manuscript really closely, and I actually spoke on the phone with a few that provided really useful feedback, even if they ultimately passed on the book. I also feel like sometimes in the agent comments on QT, writers are a teeny bit disparaging of the agent assistants that they interact with, but I found in several cases the assistants were amazing: responsive and approachable and articulate. I assume in many cases, they are "agents in training" and they shouldn't be discounted or underestimated. One day, they may be taking on clients of their own.



QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?

TC:


Dear Agent,


Even with her anxiety disorder mostly under control, Katya Baranski is still not good at a lot of things: crowds, public-speaking, any form of dancing. What she is good at, much to the apparent surprise of everyone around her, is being a mother. But when her anxiety resurfaces in the guise of "paranoid delusions" (her therapist's words, not hers) about her husband's infidelity, Katya starts to suspect her condition is rooted in her genes---genes she might pass along to her infant daughter.


Now Katya needs to track down the woman that abandoned her at birth thirty-four years ago. Based on the grim portrait painted by the delivery nurse that later adopted her, she's always been grateful that the drugged-out teenager stumbled away that night from the hospital empty-handed.


Though normally reluctant to even ride the subway, Katya embarks on a journey to the Canadian Arctic in search of her biological family and the key to her own disorder. Her appearance in the remote community exposes long-held secrets about her birth and adoption, including a mysterious twin sister---a better version of herself that she never knew existed. When these revelations threaten to put her adoptive family at risk, Katya has to overcome both her feelings of betrayal and her own anxieties to save them from harm.


THE SUM OF HER PARTS is a work of literary women's fiction, complete at 85 000 words. I might put something personalized here if I had read something about the agent's specific interests or client list.


An excerpt of this book was a finalist for the Random House Canada 2010 student writing award. My fiction has appeared in Storyteller magazine, and my non-fiction in the Globe and Mail, Canada's leading national newspaper. I am also a regular feature contributor to a monthly publication by Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières).


I have included the first five pages for your consideration.