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Success Story Interview - Emily Murdoch

An Interview with Emily Murdoch (HorsebackWriter on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Mandy Hubbard of Emerald City Literary Agency.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Emily Murdoch:
THE PATRON SAINT OF BEANS is a literary YA novel with a mystery at its core. It was inspired by the courage and tenacity of children kidnapped and later returned to their families.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Emily Murdoch:
All my life. Only, I wrote because I wrote, not because I wanted to get published. I wrote short stories and poetry from Kindergarten on. I was obsessed with books, both reading and owning them, and loved those tiny little books you used to get in bubble gum machines as prizes. I even used to cut construction paper into small pages, staple the middle, and make my own "books".

However, I began writing with an eye toward publication in May of 2008.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Emily Murdoch:
PSOB was my 2010 NaNoWriMo novel. I wrote it in twenty-three days, revised by reading from beginning to end twice, and then did one further read-through revision before sending it to Mandy. I'd say four months of solid work, although, this book seemed to come out whole from the get-go.
QT: Is this your first book?
Emily Murdoch:
No. I wrote my first real book (all 265 passionate pages!) at eleven-years-old. I used loose notebook pages held together with a binder clip. One afternoon in sixth grade, I left the manuscript behind in the school library. Our librarian, Mrs. Mills, found it and read it in full. The next morning, I made a mad dash to the library, hoping it was still there, and she held it up, raving. "Would you mind if I typed it up and sent it to a few publishers?" I remember nodding my consent, because I was speechless!

It took Mrs. Mills about a week to type it up, and we sent it off. It went out to three children's publishers, along with a cover letter. I don't remember who the other publishers were, but an editor at Random House, the signature illegible, wrote: "She's got something. Tell her to try us again in ten or twenty years".

Flash forward to now, and I've written five more manuscripts. This is my third queried manuscript. My first garnered full and partial requests, and even an exclusive revision with an agent that didn't pan out. The second manuscript landed six offers of representation, only for me to part ways with my agent, as sometimes happens.

THE PATRON SAINT OF BEANS was my fresh project. I was offered representation for both this and another manuscript.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Emily Murdoch:
No. I've learned the hard way -- by writing. However, I'd kept a journal most of my life. It was writing practice without realizing it.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Emily Murdoch:
No. I write when I can, throughout the day, and then I light some candles and pound away into the night, since I write best when life quiets down and the rest of the world is asleep. (Except us writers! And the owls! : )
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Emily Murdoch:
Three times initially, and then once more, incorporating Mandy's notes.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Emily Murdoch:
I have two. One is an old writing friend, and another is a writing friend I met on QT.

I'm the kind of writer who used to never let anyone read my stuff. I was that girl with the crab-hand (I'm a lefty) furiously scribbling away with my arm covering the page, scowling daggers at anyone who even thought of glancing at my writing. (A problem, if one has publishing in mind!) I've come a long way since then ... but I still get butterflies knowing others are reading my work.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Emily Murdoch:
From the hip. I come up with a concept or premise, and then I sit down and let the words come. I have a knack for writing in flow, which often feels as if I'm channeling my stories. I lose time -- forget to eat, my legs fall asleep, and I've even drooled a few times, forgetting to swallow! All of a sudden, it's hours later and I have to read back over what I've written, to see what happened.

I love to be surprised, myself, as to the story unfolding on the page. However, I do take notes in a story notebook, as ideas, scenes and dialogue come to me throughout the day.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Emily Murdoch:
I never queried this book. It was pure serendipity.

I was anonymously consulting other writers about an agent-related situation. A writer, who also happened to be an agent, offered to help, if I didn't mind "outing" myself.

Mandy remembered me from my first queried manuscript, a full request she'd rejected. As I finished up PSOB, I'd assembled a list of fifteen agents I'd love to work with, and Mandy happened to be on the list. She read my two current manuscripts, loved them both, and offered representation, which I happily accepted.

As a friend said, "It's like something out of a novel!"
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Emily Murdoch:
My top fifteen list took YA tastes (the books the agent represents), YA sales, editorial (was the agent editorially-oriented, so my work could be its strongest before submission?) and personality into consideration.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Emily Murdoch:
When I query, I find out, best I can, an agent's tastes and wish lists.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Emily Murdoch:
To keep writing. If you work hard, each manuscript, due to the time invested and the experience gained, will be better than the one before it. My own motto is, if not this book, then the next! Hold on to that bird's-eye view. Don't drown in one manuscript, making it the be-all, end-all. Writers write. So, keep writing!

Also, do all you can to refrain from comparing yourself to other writers -- your story is your story, your journey, your journey. Keep writing, learning, improving. Dream, but balance it with the realities of the business. Be ready for your time to shine!

It also helps to foster friendships with other writers. They will be your sanity, your cheerleaders, and a never-ending source of emotional support. I heart all of you!
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Emily Murdoch:
Luckily, I'd written a mini-synopsis ahead of time, with thoughts of future querying. Mandy asked for a pitch. I sent this:

Query Letter:

I shook her bony shoulders and said, what happens in the woods, stays in the woods. I just never thought Nessa would take it that far.

A broken-down camper at the Obed Scenic and Wild River National Park -- dubbed the Hundred Acre Wood -- is the only home fifteen-year-old Carey has ever known. Sure, coping with a bipolar mother on meth is no picnic, but beneath the sun-dazzled canopies of Hickory and Walnut, the haunting strains of Carey's violin can be counted on to transport her from their bare-bones existence in the same way her selectively mute little sister, Jenessa, finds comfort in her stash of second-hand Pooh books.

Life is dependable that way, until Mama goes into town for supplies and vanishes off the face of Tennessee, sending social services in her wake with a one-way ticket back to their father, a stranger in an even stranger world. The hardships of survival in the Hundred Acre Wood pale in comparison to Delaney, their hellcat of a stepsister, let alone the winding maze of high school halls dizzy with whispering girls and those loud, alien beings called boys. One in particular, Ryan, makes Carey feel as safe as when she plays her violin ... as long as he never finds out what she did, because if Jenessa starts talking, Carey's fragile world will come crashing down like the inevitable weight of snow on Walnut.