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Success Story Interview - H.L. Dyer

An Interview with H.L. Dyer (hldyer on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Katherine Boyle of Veritas 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?
H.L. Dyer:
The kernel of inspiration for The Edge of Memory came from a snippet of lyrics from a song called "Half Acre" by Hem. The lyrics focus on the home as a touchstone, but the line that worked its way into my head was, "I am holding half an acre, torn from a map of Michigan." Half an acre is quite small... So small, in fact, that a map of such an area would lose all context. Unless you already knew exactly where to look, you'd never find the right place, no matter how detailed that map might be.

Now I had an obstacle, but needed to create a character motivated to overcome it. So I considered why someone might be desperate to find such a place and why this map would exist.

And a concept was born: a twist on a treasure map, which led my protagonist Beatrice on a hunt for herself.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
H.L. Dyer:
Off and on, for over a year. It took me exactly seven weeks to write the first draft. Then I left it alone for a month before I started editing.
QT: Is this your first book?
H.L. Dyer:
My first book, titled “The Two Flowers” was completed when I was four years old. I contracted a free-lance editor for that one (my grandmother) as I did not know how to spell “rain” at the time. Interestingly, that first book was also women’s fiction…the story of a young couple who start a family and are quickly overwhelmed by the responsibilities of parenthood. But The Edge of Memory is my first novel-length book.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
H.L. Dyer:
That’s hard to say really, because I can always find something to tweak. I would say I did three major edits. I did a quick pass after letting the first draft settle, to flesh out descriptions, ramp up emotional scenes, clean up phrasing and typos, etc. Then I passed it through scads of test readers. I used their terrific feedback to complete what I consider the first major edit. I sent out my first few queries at that point, but I completed two more major rounds of editing later in response to agent suggestions.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
H.L. Dyer:
Yes, I have had tremendous help from betas with this project. Like most writers, I was nervous at first, so I had only my fabulous BFF Clara, and a few other close friends reading. But when I was ready I sought out a wide variety of test readers through writing sites like QueryTracker and Critique Circle, plus readers who represent my target audience, through some online women’s chat groups I belong to. And, of course, my amazing critique group… my fellow QT blog mistresses.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
H.L. Dyer:
Oh, I’m a hopeless plotter. I need to know exactly where I’m heading with a story arc to write well. I feel when I’m completely clear on my characters’ pasts and futures (which includes necessary research), I can make them react more appropriately. Even tiny details can become incredibly important to me. I recently spent thirty minutes naming a day care center in my work-in-progress before settling on “Bright from the Start.” I simply couldn’t continue that chapter until I knew that detail.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
H.L. Dyer:
Well, that depends on how you look at it. The Edge of Memory is the only novel I’ve ever queried. I first began the query process by sending a few letters after attending my first writing conference in 2008. I got requests right away, but my manuscript wasn’t quite where it needed to be at that point.

In fall of 2008, when the economy took a turn for the worse, I decided to take a break from querying, although I continued to receive agent feedback on submissions I already had out. One agent gave me a very simple suggestion that led to a very major revision. I began querying in earnest this spring. So, either three months or one year, depending on your point of view.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
H.L. Dyer:
The single best piece of advice I can give, based on my own experience, is to slow down. It’s exciting to type “The End.” It’s a thrill to finish a round of revisions. The thought of publication is an intoxicating dream, so it’s hard to wait to take the next step. My recommendation is to force yourself to take a beat. Leave the manuscript alone for a few weeks and come back to it fresh. Find a critique group whose opinions you trust and take your time considering their feedback. And when you’re absolutely convinced you’ve done all you can, query tentatively at first. Don’t give up that opportunity for professional feedback. Many people advise writers to query widely, and, while I agree with that concept, I think it probably works against you to query widely immediately.

Send out a few queries and see whether you’re getting requests. If you are, you know your query works. If you’re getting requests for fulls from partials, you’ll know your writing works. So even without a single word of feedback from an agent, you can still get a lot of information about your project. And if you do get specific written feedback, so much the better. My own manuscript was not ready, in my opinion, when I first queried, although one of my offers came from those early queries. It seemed ready to me at the time, though. If I had queried all the agents on my list right away, I might not have interested the agent I eventually signed with. And if I hadn’t queried at all last year, I wouldn’t have gotten some feedback that strengthened my manuscript.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
H.L. Dyer:
Sure thing!

Query Letter:

Dear Ms. Boyle,

I would like you to consider my novel, THE EDGE OF MEMORY (89,000 words.)

Maybe if Beatrice Greyson knew someone faked her death as a child, she wouldn't wish so desperately to remember the first decade of her life.

As a young girl, she collapsed in an unfamiliar house in rural Illinois. No one knew where she came from or how she ended up on war widow Thea Greyson's front porch that stormy night. Thirty years later, Beatrice is devastated by the death of the woman who took her in. But her grief turns to a sense of betrayal when she finds the letter from her birth mother that Thea claimed was lost.

When the search for her birth parents reveals the brutal details of her mother’s murder, Beatrice thinks she’s found the reason she can’t remember her childhood. She doesn’t know her past holds darker family secrets or that someone else is also desperate for Beatrice to remember. Uncovering the truth will force her to confront a violent murderer. And maybe miss out on the love of her life.

My current work as a pediatrician gives unique insight to the physical and psychological impact of traumatic childhood as addressed in my novel. I am also an RWA member and co-author the QueryTracker blog.

THE EDGE OF MEMORY would appeal to readers who enjoy the work of Jodi Picoult and Anita Shreve. The full manuscript is immediately available upon request.

I appreciate your time and look forward to hearing from you.


Heather Dyer, M.D.