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Success Story Interview - Jaime Questell

An Interview with Jaime Questell (jaimequestell on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Patricia Nelson of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, LLC.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Jaime Questell:
BY A CHARM AND A CURSE is a YA Contemporary Fantasy novel centering on a carnival that's held together by - as the title suggests - a charm and a curse. Emma visits the carnival one night and has the curse transferred to her. Alan works for the carnival, and when he falls for Emma, they decide that instead of passing the curse along along as has been done for years, they're going to try to break it.

As for inspiration, I had a song I couldn't get out of my head, and it inspired the short story that became the first chapter. My critique group liked the short story so much, they urged me to continue writing, so I made it my project for NaNoWriMo 2012.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Jaime Questell:
Off and on for seven years, seriously for four.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Jaime Questell:
I wrote the short story in March 2012, then didn't do anything with it until I gave it to my critique group in October. I wrote the bulk of it during NaNo, then finished it in December. I put it away for a while as I revised another novel, then came back to it earlier this year.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Jaime Questell:
I received a rejection for this novel that made me start to lose hope, but as soon as I thought about not writing anymore, I realized I wouldn't know what to do with myself, and that there was no way I could quit.
QT: Is this your first book?
Jaime Questell:
This is my second novel.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Jaime Questell:
No. I do read just about anything I can get my hands on, though, and I participate in a very rigorous critique group.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Jaime Questell:
I have kids and work a full-time job, so writing is generally done after the kids are asleep or whenever I can sneak off to a coffee shop to write.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Jaime Questell:
I like to say I did 2.5 rounds of edits. I drafted, revised as I sent it to my crit group, revised again, and then had one marathon editing session where I polished up the lingering trouble spots before querying.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Jaime Questell:
I'm sure everyone says this, but I have the best critique group a writer could ask for, including QT member (and success story!) thedrellum. They're thorough and don't hold punches, which can sometimes suck, but it's all in the name of making the best book possible. And without them egging me on to make that short story into a novel, this manuscript wouldn't even exist, so I am extremely grateful to have them.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Jaime Questell:
I outline. Sometimes it's vague, and sometimes, particularly when I'm stuck, I'll do what I call micro-outlining, where I get into the nitty gritty, and that'll help the chapter(s) flow more easily.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Jaime Questell:
I started querying this book on July 31, 2014, and signed with Patricia on November 13. I had another novel that I queried from February to June of this year.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Jaime Questell:
83. The breakdown wound up being 12 fulls, 1 partial that upgraded to a full, and the rest were rejections or non-responses.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Jaime Questell:
I used Query Tracker to compile a big list of anyone who took YA, then honed that down based on the agent's preferences and tastes. Beyond that, I was looking for someone who worked at an established agency and would be okay with me doing a little genre-hopping in case I head that way in the future.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Jaime Questell:
I try to be genuine when adding in a personal note, so I would only tailor a query if I could do it in a way that felt organic and not stalker-y or creepy.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Jaime Questell:
Trust your gut. I actually had two offers, and while I don't think I could have made a wrong choice, Patricia's comments for revision resonated with me more than the other agents, and I knew she was the one.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Jaime Questell:
Of course!

Query Letter:

Dear Ms. Nelson

I am writing to seek representation for my novel BY A CHARM AND A CURSE. Complete at 65,000 words, it's a standalone Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy told from two points of view.

A walking, talking bundle of low self-esteem, seventeen-year-old Emma is seduced by the boy in a carnival fortune-telling booth, and kisses him. But with the kiss comes a curse, and immediately Emma’s skin petrifies until all she can feel is a brutal cold. Trapped within the confines of the carnival and taken away from her family and friends, she learns that the only way she can free herself is by passing on the curse to another rube.

Thanks to the charm protecting LeGrand’s Carnival Fantastic, apprentice carpenter Alan is preternaturally lucky. Ever since he and his mom joined the carnival, he has never experienced any hardship, much less heartbreak. When the new girl shows up, he desperately wants to help her, but doing so means putting himself at risk of being the next recipient of the curse.

Alan and Emma are convinced they’ve found a solution – Emma won’t just pass on the curse, she and Alan will break it. They search for any information about the origins of the curse but the charm begins to weaken as a result, endangering everyone who calls LeGrand’s home, and they must decide if the cost of their own happiness is worth the destruction of the carnival.


Jaime Questell