Success Story Interview - Malulani Moreno

An Interview with Malulani Moreno (tophersghost056 on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Allison Hellegers of Stimola Literary Studio.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Malulani Moreno:
Sure! WHY WON'T YOU SAY SOMETHING follows two high school outcasts as they struggle to find acceptance and friendship in a small Hawai'i town. Keoni is a Renaissance art geek and his long-time bully vanishes in a string of kidnappings. Aaron recently moved to town; he's selectively mute with debilitating anxiety. Soon the two boys become friends, and Aaron starts having visions about the disappeared boys. As Keoni and Aaron's relationship grows, the abductions begin to hit closer to home.

This story is a bit of a mash-up of previous stories I've written. My Aaron character comes from a story I wrote nearly 10 years ago about a girl with mutism. My Keoni character comes from another failed story of mine about a native Hawaiian boy who connects more with western culture than his own Hawaiian heritage. The mashup wasn't conscious. I needed characters for a new story, and lo-and-behold, these two came up.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Malulani Moreno:
My whole life. As a child, I'd write silly nonsense skits and force my family to watch me act them out. In high school I wrote a lot of angst-ridden poetry and edited the school newspaper. My BA is in journalism, and I went on to become a newspaper reporter turned magazine editor turned communication guy.

Fiction was always in the background during my journalism years. Then I got my MFA in Creative Writing and my writing began in earnest. I've published a chapbook of poetry and a chapbook of stories, so far.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Malulani Moreno:
Since April, so only seven months or so. The story poured out of me in a furious fit of writing in about two months. I spent several months after that revising, sharing with critique partners and editors, and revising more. The revision process is what helped the story come alive.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Malulani Moreno:
Yes, and no. I've taken months and years off from writing. Partly because I can get easily discouraged. And partly because most of what I've written comes in a fit of productivity. I'm not a write-a-thousand-words-everyday kind of writer. During the query process, when the rejections came at me like birds in a Hitchcock film, I did begin to doubt my abilities and questioned whether I should hang it up.
QT: Is this your first book?
Malulani Moreno:
No. I've written a few failed stories that will never see an audience. In fact, this novel has elements of some previous attempts at a novel, including my MFA thesis.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Malulani Moreno:
I have a BA in Journalism from Hawai'i Pacific University, an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. I've taken lots of workshops throughout NYC, including at the Poet's House, The Writer's Studio, Gotham, and 92Y. I'm a workshop junkie.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Malulani Moreno:
I don't do re-writes, necessarily. Rather, I do revision passes. I've combed through this book at least a dozen times. Each time I go through the manuscript I look for something new: characterization, pacing, dialog, etc. I've also deconstructed and put the novel back together two or three times, including once with a developmental editor. I really believe the revision process needs to be collaborative, working with a quality CP or an experienced editor.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Malulani Moreno:
I had about five readers. But, I mostly relied on feedback from mentors, CPs, authors and editors. I find the most helpful revisions come while working with someone who's been there before.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Malulani Moreno:
A bit of both. I outlined to the extent that I had the beats down. I wrote from the hip to get from one beat to the next. An outline is absolutely necessary in revisions. That's when I created a scene by scene outline and pulled out the handy index cards to visualize my pacing issues.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Malulani Moreno:
About three months, since August.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Malulani Moreno:
I sent out 45 queries and received 14 requests. In the end I had four offers, but one agent stood out from the pack. Allison knows the YA terrain well. When I spoke with her, it became obvious pretty quickly that we clicked and she would be an enthusiastic advocate for my work.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Malulani Moreno:
Yes, but only a sentence or so. Mainly I wanted to explain why the agent was getting a query from me.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Malulani Moreno:
I know it's cliché, but don't give up. I hate this advice when others give it to me. But it's true. Someone out there will connect with your work. It's a matter of finding them. The adage that writing is subjective is also true. I'd get feedback like, "I don't connect with the voice," only to get another agent say they love the voice. Heck, so many people loved the musical Hamilton and I thought it was dreadful. The creative life is subjective. So you have to keep trying. Especially if you're serious about your work and believe in it.

Query Letter:

Life as a sixteen-year-old gay outcast in the rural sugar plantation town of Wahiawā, Hawai'i isn't easy for Keoni. He loves Renaissance art and longs for the day he can escape to a bigger city, where he dreams of finding people who accept him. He's trying to hold on to his only friend, whose newfound popularity leaves Keoni on the margins. When his longtime bully disappears, Keoni is both relieved and apprehensive—especially when more boys, all native Hawaiians, start to vanish.

Meanwhile, Aaron moves to Wahiawā after years of homeschooling have made him feel like a permanent outsider. He's determined to change that at his new high school, but friendships are intimidating for a guy with debilitating anxiety, selective mutism, and an overprotective dad. Though his dad runs an occult shop, Aaron doesn't believe in the supernatural—until he starts seeing the ghosts of the missing boys.

When Keoni defends Aaron during a fight at school, the two begin a hesitant friendship. Bike rides turn into hours-long conversations about Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the ways they don't fit in, and their desire to escape island life. Soon Aaron confides in Keoni about the ghosts of the missing boys, and Keoni tries to help him interpret the visions. Both boys seem to have finally found someone who understands them. But as the disappearances hit closer to home, Aaron's mental health deteriorates and secrets from Keoni's past begin to surface. If Keoni and Aaron don't find the courage to accept themselves, they could ruin their fragile, growing relationship.

WHY WON'T YOU SAY SOMETHING is a contemporary YA novel with speculative elements complete at 75,000 words. It will appeal to fans of DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY and WE ARE THE ANTS. As a native Hawaiian and gay man, this is an #ownvoices story.