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Success Story Interview - M W Brooke

An Interview with M W Brooke (gloomsday on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Ronald Gerber of Lowenstein Associates.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
M W Brooke:
Happy to! WAX ENGINE PARADE is a near-historical literary novel about an offbeat rock band in the late '90s—with a fabulist bent. The book follows bassist Noah and his bandmates as they embark on a surreal tour across North America. On the road, Noah develops feelings for Eli, the band's leader who is suffering from depression and painful glass shards sprouting from his head. As fame veers within reach and Eli's afflictions worsen, Noah must navigate his desires and the remaining tour with care to protect the band—and man—he loves.

My wholehearted love of music inspired this book. I have no formal education in music, but my father is a guitarist, and classic and psychedelic rock comprised the soundtrack of my childhood. I love banging around on any instrument that comes within arm's reach, and I'm an avid music enthusiast (I've been to around 300 live shows in my life). The alternative rock/indie scene of the '90s in particular has always struck me as something very special and unique, so I wanted to explore that space with the added complexity of queer identity and mental illness in a time when both were more misunderstood, stigmatized, and demonized.
QT: How long have you been writing?
M W Brooke:
I still have my first grade draft books chock full of talking animal friends going on adventures! But in all seriousness, I've had my eye on traditional publication from around the age of sixteen. I was nowhere near ready at that time, of course, but the desire and drive was there. I've been actively writing with the goal of publication for almost half my life now.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
M W Brooke:
The short answer is three years. The longer answer is that I drafted half of the book during National Novel Writing Month in November of 2017, then put it away for two years—untouched. I returned to the book in November of 2019 and worked on it throughout 2020 (while querying! I don't recommend it) until I received my agent's offer in November of 2020. Looks like November is my lucky month!
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
M W Brooke:
For sure. It ain't easy staying on course when you're bombarded with rejections on the daily. After even a couple months, it can start to erode the psyche. I contemplated moving on to the next project more than once. At the same time, I genuinely believed in my book and felt like I owed it to myself to see the process through to its natural conclusion—regardless of what the outcome was.

I am also privileged to know a group of skilled, badass writers who have talked me off the metaphorical ledge multiple times and encouraged me to keep pushing forward. While writing itself is mostly thought of as a lonely endeavor, there is such a rich community of fellow writers out there worth connecting with, and I highly recommend every writer does so before beginning their querying journey.
QT: Is this your first book?
M W Brooke:
Yes. While in college, I wrote and completed many short stories, but I never managed to complete any of my full-length novel ideas. WAX ENGINE PARADE is the first book I've finished, revised, polished, and queried.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
M W Brooke:
I have a B.A. in English with a creative writing and literature emphasis, which no doubt helped shape my writing style and familiarized me with excellent examples of language and literature, workshopping, and how to provide and receive feedback. But truthfully, most of my training as a writer has come from reading often and widely, observing the world around me with curiosity and intention, and doing the work of putting words on the page.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
M W Brooke:
No. When I'm committed to a project, I'll devote most of my spare time to working on it until it's complete, but nothing is set in stone. The rigidity of a schedule doesn't mesh well with my creativity, and leaves me feeling stifled and anxious.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
M W Brooke:
This question is difficult to answer because most of my revisions blurred together at some point, but I want to say two major rewrites, with lots of tinkering and minor edits in between.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
M W Brooke:
Yes, five beta readers at various stages of edits once I'd finished my first major revision.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
M W Brooke:
The first draft was written almost entirely from the hip. When I set out on this book, I had half the characters conceptualized, three scenes I wanted to include, and a vague idea of where those scenes took place within the narrative. That was all. For me, outlines strip the joy of discovery from the writing process. The spontaneity propels me. However, this method can be a real thorn in the side during revisions, and often calls for major rewrites. It seems counterproductive because it is, but it works for me nonetheless!
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
M W Brooke:
Altogether it was about four months of active querying. I sent out my first queries in May of 2020, but received some feedback that compelled me to slam on the brakes in August and embark on a major rewrite. I resumed querying in October and received an offer in November.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
M W Brooke:
70 queries according to Query Tracker. The vast majority of them were sent prior to my final rewrite. Once I re-entered the querying trenches with a more confident book (and a brand new genre!), the requests were more consistent.
44 rejections
18 closed/no response
8 requests
1 offer of representation
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
M W Brooke:
I used Query Tracker to create a longlist of potential agents based on genre alone, then whittled that list down once I researched the agent's Manuscript Wish List page, Twitter #MSWL, agency webpages, client list, recent sales, etc. However, some of the agents I queried reached out to me first! I participated in a few pitching events on Twitter, which is how I discovered my agent Ronald. In these special instances, I still did my due diligence and researched all interested agents prior to sending any submission materials using the same criteria mentioned above.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
M W Brooke:
I tried to tailor each cold query to the specific agent by referencing their Twitter #MSWL/Manuscript Wish List when applicable or comparing my book to one of their client's. In the event I couldn't gather enough information to write a meaningful personalized letter, I sent a form query. Better not to force it, I say.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
M W Brooke:
Because writing is so subjective, it is likely you will receive conflicting feedback on your manuscript from agents, beta readers, and critique partners. To navigate these waters successfully, you will need to learn how to assess the feedback you receive from a place of objectivity. This is way easier said than done, of course, as you are inherently biased toward your book. Take a step back when reviewing critique and take the time to digest it. Make sure you understand the intention behind each piece of feedback you receive, especially if you disagree and/or decide not to implement it. Lastly, continue honing your craft by practicing and reading widely, which will develop confidence in your own work and instill good creative instincts that will make assessing feedback you receive easier over time.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
M W Brooke:

Query Letter:

Dear [Agent Name],

Noah Katz charmed his way into offbeat rock band Wax Engine Parade for the good tunes and comradery of fellow artists and weirdos. With a bass guitar, banjo, and hand-made theremin tethered to the souls of his grandparents, Noah settles into his role with ease. When the band's 1999 sophomore album gathers unexpected steam, Noah leaps at the opportunity to cram into a derelict van with his bandmates and perform across the country for growing crowds.

Giddy with adrenaline after each gig, Noah stays up late with Eli, the band's founder and beating heart. No longer able to cloister himself in his room and scribble down lyrics or pick the shards of glass sprouting from his head, Eli shares his inner world with Noah. Childhood trauma, failed relationships, mushroom trips gone bad: Noah gets a glimpse of the man behind the music. Rapt by Eli's every word, Noah's focus drifts from his basslines to the curve of Eli's jawline, and to Eli's fingers against the neck of his guitar.

But as the heat of impending fame intensifies, Eli wilts under the pressure. Bouts of depression and anxiety threaten his ability to perform at shows. The glass in his head spreads, tormenting his waking life. When Noah assumes the role of Eli's primary support on the road, their friendship swerves toward unexpected intimacy. Wrestling with his desires and wary of Eli's crumbling mental state, Noah must navigate the rest of the tour with care to keep the band he loves—and the man he loves even more—afloat.

Complete at 100,000 words, WAX ENGINE PARADE is a near-historical literary novel that combines the magical realism, queerness, and lyrical writing style of Genevieve Hudson's Boys of Alabama with the complex band dynamics of Taylor Jenkins Reid's Daisy Jones & the Six.

I have a B.A. from Northern Arizona University in English with a creative writing and literature emphasis. As a neurodiverse, bisexual woman, I am invested in crafting narratives that destigmatize mental illness and feature queer characters and their experiences. I currently reside in Portland, Oregon with my partner, tortoiseshell cat, and a menagerie of musical instruments.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.


M. W. Brooke