Success Story Interview - Jeff Howe

An Interview with Jeff Howe (axordil on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Evan Gregory of Ethan Ellenberg 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?
Jeff Howe:
I've been interested in the history of faerie beliefs and stories since my graduate school days. One thing that struck me early on was how, in medieval romance (Marie de France, Breton lais, the early Arthurian material, all the way up through the ironic commentary of Chaucer) the faerie world became a canvas on which the writer could project their own world and *play* with them.

So I tried some of the same thing.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Jeff Howe:
I've been writing in one academic or professional capacity or another since about 1980. Fiction I dabbled in now and again until 2001, when I took a Gothic dream I had and plowed through NaNoWriMo with it.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Jeff Howe:
My PC tells me the earliest drafts are from November 2008. I didn't do NaNoWriMo that year, but I still produced about 50,000 words in about six weeks.

I've expanded on the idea with other novels in the meantime, and done some other unrelated work on both shorts and novels. It's not been a five-year slog or anything.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Jeff Howe:
I don't think so. The writers' group to which I belong has been extremely helpful, and thus supportive, to the point where I never even considered giving up. If something I wrote didn't work, I either fixed it or moved on to the next piece.
QT: Is this your first book?
Jeff Howe:
This is not the first novel-length manuscript I've completed, but it is the first one to acquire representation. So it depends on what one means by "first," I suppose.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Jeff Howe:
I had one class on fiction writing back in the 80s. My degrees are in English Lit, though, so I've not lacked for on-the-job training, as it were.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Jeff Howe:
When I've got a novel going I try to produce at least 2500 words a week of material I think is worth my writing group's time. I do continuous redrafting as I go, which I know is supposed to be terribly bad form, but it works for me. If I have a short story I'm working on I want to get to a halfway decent draft in a week or so too, unless it's pushing novella length or some such.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Jeff Howe:
I would say there have been three primary iterations, although the first of those probably represents what a lot of people would call three drafts' worth of revision. Only the last would be what I call a rewrite, and it primarily consisted of grafting new material in.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Jeff Howe:
Yes: in addition to the writers' group, I had a number of friends, including an author I know, give it a look. I got a good mix of feedback and encouragement from them as a whole.

My wife also read it and gave me copious line edits. She's a journalism major, so I was happy to have them.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Jeff Howe:
I don't do chapter outlines, but I do frequently stop and survey the ground between where I am and where I want the story to go. I think it saves a lot of energy to at least know what you want the end to look like when you start out. It may change, but you begin with a vector that way.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Jeff Howe:
I sent out the first queries for the first iteration in June 2009. I did some ill-starred queries for my first novel back in 2003 or so, I believe. I wish QT had been around then!
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Jeff Howe:
For this last iteration, 31.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Jeff Howe:
I wanted agents with interest in both fantasy and mystery/detective fiction, since the novel is what I call "faerie noir."
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Jeff Howe:
I had a boilerplate paragraph describing the protagonist and the setup for the plot. The intro I varied a bit--the general format was "since you rep so-and-so, you might like my novel." The last paragraph, with comps, I would tweak when writing an agent who repped the author of one of the comps, and I would make sure I listed the materials I was enclosing/attaching--but that was as much for my benefit as theirs!
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Jeff Howe:
On a practical level:

Look at who and what they represent, and what they've sold. Many times an agent indicates they will represent someone in genre but it's hard to find examples of it among their authors, or they have a very narrow interest in a specific niche within a genre.

Also, these days, many agents have active presences, via blogs and social media. You can learn an awful lot about their personal/professional style, their outlook on the business, and other important factors by reading what they post.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Jeff Howe:
Sure! The bits below bracketed by asterisks are the parts I always changed out.

Query Letter:

Dear **Salutation and Name;**

Your work with **Similar Writer** makes me believe my current novel may be a good match for you.

Ray Farrell, disgraced ex-lawyer, ekes out a living where the raw edges of faerie and human cultures rub together. Armed only with a silver tongue, an iron crowbar, and a curious immunity to faerie glamour, Ray confronts the dark mirror that is Tink society every day. The job offered by his faerie lover Meara's clan, recovering the gilded bones of an ancestor, sounds simple at first. Then the Tink psychopath who stole the relics seizes Meara too, and simple turns into desperate.

In pursuit, Ray muscles past a sordid, bloody cavalcade of porn stars and faerie thugs. Except Meara doesn't need to be saved from the tangle of Tink intrigue -- he does. Feared and desired by the faeries for talents he possesses but does not understand, Ray must decide whether he can leave Meara before the Tink way of life draws him in for good...if it's not too late already.

LAST TINK STANDING, 81,000 words of hard-boiled urban fantasy, should appeal to readers of Jim Butcher and Seanan McGuire, as well as readers ready to move on from Melissa Marr's YA books. Short stories of mine appear at The First Line, Untreed Reads and **Please find the stuff you asked for enclosed.** Thank you for your time and kind consideration.