Success Story Interview - Linda H Codega

An Interview with Linda H Codega (lhcodega on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Bridget Smith of JABberwocky 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?
Linda H Codega:
MOTHEATER is an adult contemporary fantasy; it's the story of an Appalachian witch desperately fighting against the oncoming coal industry in the 1800s who gets shoved into the 21st century only to realize that she failed to protect her mountains and her people. It's also the story of a contemporary young woman who refuses to back down, even when faced with losing everything she's ever cared about.

I've lived in Appalachia for a few years and been enmeshed in Southern folklore my whole life. I still live at the foot of an Appalachian mountain. This is a book about fighting for the land, fighting against industry, and defying stereotypes. I was specifically inspired by the struggles of the Yellow Finch Tree Sitters, an extended protest against the MVP oil pipeline that cuts through the Appalachians, where activists sat in trees, blocking the path to the worksite for 932 days. MOTHEATER was written during their resistance, and I owe a lot of its energy to their activism.

Ironically, (or perhaps it was fated) I chose a semi-random part of Virginia for the setting of this book, mostly because I liked the name ‘Kire Mountain'. It was only after I did some more research during the first rewrite that I realized MOTHEATER is set in the same county as the tree sits.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Linda H Codega:
Since I was a kid, but more seriously starting in college. I'd say ten years of dabbling in storytelling, and about five years of considerate, focused fiction writing.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Linda H Codega:
I started during the first iteration of MOTHEATER during the initial springtime quarantine in 2020 and finished the first draft in exactly 40 days. It was originally a novella, and when I participated in Twitter's PitMad contest in September, I got a lot of interest. However, most agents were more interested in a novel-length version of the piece, so I decided to completely rewrite the book. I finished the second draft about a year after I first started, sometime in May 2021.

The titular character, however, has been living in my head for a while, and even made an appearance as my drag persona! I've had a lot of false starts with her story, but when it clicked... it just clicked.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Linda H Codega:
No, I never did. And honestly, I know that I got really lucky. I had agent and editor interest in this book before I even started querying because of PitMad.
QT: Is this your first book?
Linda H Codega:
Officially, yes. Unofficially... Does my 500K fanfiction count?
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Linda H Codega:
Nope. I have an English Lit degree, but that's more analytical than practical.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Linda H Codega:
Mornings are my focused writing time. I tend to get up early (6 am!), walk the dog, and then sit and write for a couple of hours.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Linda H Codega:
Just one big total rewrite (which took four months), and then another pass to tweak some stakes and motivations that weren't hitting right.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Linda H Codega:
I did! I had my local writing group (mostly friends) look at the first draft, and then after I received the same feedback from agents (“I want to see this as a novel,”) I asked a few more focused/professional writers for more perspective on how to do that. I applied for Pitch Wars and didn't make it but an author I pitched liked the vibe enough to read it anyway. They gave me some advice on how to double the word count. I had a select group of betas for the full novel, but they only read the finished draft.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Linda H Codega:
Bit of both. I always knew the ending and I went on long hikes to figure out the rest of it. I would write, hike, think, repeat. During the rewrite, I outlined a little more but found myself being flexible with the plot, as it had to tie into what was already established. I tend to prefer outlines and planning.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Linda H Codega:
MOTHEATER was only on query for about a month before I got my offer. Bridget Smith (at JABberwocky) actually saw the first iteration of MOTHEATER in its novella form and got on a call with me in 2020 to discuss it. She liked it, but she wanted to see if I was willing to expand it. I did a full rewrite and resubmit. She liked what I did and offered a couple of months later. I didn't get any other offers (I didn't have a lot of queries out, and when I notified the agents with outstanding queries of my offer I gave a short timeline for a response), but Bridget had loved MOTHEATER even in its roughest state and I was thrilled when she offered.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Linda H Codega:
Ten. I received partial or full requests from five agents.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Linda H Codega:
I did a good amount of research. First I looked into agencies where I knew my work would be a good fit (heavy on the fantasy books, clients were authors I recognized, a solid sales record) and then I dove into what agents had on the Manuscript Wish List (MSWL). It was also important to me that I found an agent who was either queer or represented multiple queer authors. I also wanted to find an agent who represented a variety of fantasy subgenres.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Linda H Codega:
I did for most of my queries, even though I resented doing it. (Who cares if I stalk their Twitter! I know it shows that I'm Paying Attention, but still. Needs must, I suppose.) I either mentioned a topic relevant to their MSWL, an author they rep'd that I admired, or I explained how my book was similar to a book they loved on Twitter. For example, while I didn't comp ‘Once and Future Witches,' I did mention to an agent who had gushed about the book on Twitter that my book had a similar theme (historical witch shenanigans).

Although I did get responses on non-personalized queries. I personally think that a personalization might help catch initial interest (and is, in general, good practice), but probably won't change an agent's decision to request or not.

The part of my query that changed the most was actually the metadata! I felt like every agent/agency/writer wanted to see it in a different place, without any real reasoning other than, “I like it there.” I prefer it at the end, but plenty of places like to see it on the top of the letter. Definitely do your research.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Linda H Codega:
Perfect your cover letter. Do pitch contests, even when it feels like you're shouting into the void. Seek out opportunities to get your materials in front of an agent, even outside of queries; practice pitching at conventions, sign up for virtual pitch events, enter review contests, research writing podcasts hosted by agents—they occasionally seek submissions to review on air. There's a lot of opportunities to get feedback from pros in the industry.

Also important is to find a community to support you. You want to surround yourself with a group of neo-pros and pros that are as focused as you are. Often larger internet communities based on social media sites don't offer the kind of support/encouragement/focus that you might need. Find a place that does and then make friends. Start a Discord or a Slack and help each other out. Apply for mentorship programs (the SFWA does a mentorship program that I found helpful!), take classes that give you a cohort (Odyssey, Clarion, Futurescapes), and be a part of the conversation. Keep up with what's happening in your genre.

This is less important, in my opinion, but I know that my query isn't hurting because of my bio.I worked hard to get bylines, author credits, and short fiction magazine experience. If you have time, I'd consider working on your ‘brand', but I don't think it truly matters. Books are what the agents care about. (To that point—your comps might be what turns a ‘maybe' request into a ‘definitely'. Know your genre. Know your books.)

And, above all, remember that this process is extremely subjective. Sometimes it really is as simple as finding an agent that responds to the One Thing that you're passionate about.

Query Letter:

Dear [Agent Name!]

[Brief Personalization, if I must.]

In 1880s Appalachia, Esther is known as the Witch of the Ridge—the psychopomp protector of miner's souls—and for years, she's defended her hometown of Kiron from the ur-god of Kire Mountain. But when a Yankee industrial company attempts to muscle in on the coal-rich highlands and the townsfolk jump at the chance to make more money, Esther might have to become Kiron's villain in order to save her people from Kire's wrath.

In the present day, Bennie Mattox—a young woman with a vendetta against the mining company that covered up her friend's death—rescues a near-drowned woman from a creek. When the woman reveals she's an Appalachian Neighbor, Bennie is sure that the witch can help her stop the mining company for good...and prevent any more miners from dying in the shafts.

But the witch doesn't remember who she was and her power's not enough to bury Kiron's new mining industry. If Bennie wants to end the company that tore apart her life, she'll have to help the Neighbor unearth her past and face down the ancient threat looming on the horizon. Literally. Just like in the nineteenth century, the strip-mined god of Kire Mountain is waking up, hungry for Appalachian blood.

MOTHEATER is a 100,000-word contemporary fantasy southern gothic, for fans of Emily Tesh's SILVER IN THE WOOD and Alexis Henderson's YEAR OF THE WITCHING. It incorporates traditional, folkloric Appalachian culture and magic, a multi-racial and LGBTQ+ cast, and has two main POVs that go back and forth in time.

Linda H. Codega is a nonbinary queer Virginian living in the mountains of Yankeeland. They are a contributor to and their short fiction has been published in places such as Luna Station Quarterly, Helios Quarterly, and Dark Moon Digest. They are a Hugo-nominated first reader at Strange Horizons.

Thank you for your time and consideration.