Success Story Interview - Martine Fournier Watson

An Interview with Martine Fournier Watson (mnfourn 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?
Martine Fournier Watson:
The working title of my book is The Dream Peddler, and it was inspired by a fictional book called "A Seller of Dreams" that briefly appears in the works of one of my favourite childhood authors, L. M. Montgomery. In addition to the well-known Anne of Green Gables character, Montgomery had a lesser-known heroine named Emily, who grows up to be a writer. "A Seller of Dreams" is her first book, but it is never published. (A dear friend who is jealous of her book tells her he doesn't believe it's any good, that she'll never sell it, and she burns it.) The contents of this book are only hinted at, in the second and third volumes of the trilogy, and for some reason as an adolescent this drove me crazy. I always wondered what a book involving a "seller of dreams" would be like. I think my subconscius may have worked on this idea for decades! While the story I came up with is much darker than anything Montgomery would ever have written, I had a lot of fun finally satisfying my curiosity by writing my own version.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Martine Fournier Watson:
A long time. I won my first student writing competition when I was about 14, and also began publishing poems and short stories when I was still a teenager. I took a LOT of time off to focus on raising my children, and picked it back up when my youngest started kindergarten, but if you don't count that hiatus I guess it's a good 25 years.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Martine Fournier Watson:
It's a bit hard to say because the work is not constant, but I first started in the spring of 2013. I found out I was moving out of state so my summer and fall were spent getting ready to leave one place, and settling into another. In November I picked it back up, and I finished my first draft in the spring of 2014, about one year later. Maybe a total of 6 months actually working to produce the first draft. I spent the following summer editing. I found a few beta readers, and edited some more in the fall. By January of 2015 I was sending out queries. However, I continued to work. Sometimes agents would make helpful suggestions, and I would return to the book again. It kept expanding and contracting, expanding and contracting. Every time I let it be for a few months, I'd reread and still find myself cutting like crazy!
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Martine Fournier Watson:
Honestly, I never felt like giving up. I had my moments of frustration, like anyone else, but I knew if I didn't make it with this book that I would continue to try with my next one. What helped me stay on course was just my pure love of the work. I was writing to be published, certainly, but I was willing to write for years and years to make that happen. In the meantime, I could enjoy writing even if I hadn't yet realized my dream of publishing a novel. Joining a writing group is also one of the best things I ever did. Companionship and encouragement from a group of fellow writers was invaluable.
QT: Is this your first book?
Martine Fournier Watson:
Nope. My first book was awful. Something I think I intended for middle graders, with a story that went nowhere. New girl shows up at school, and so on and so forth. I didn't know exactly where the book was going and before you knew it I had thrown in ghosts, etc., worse and worse! I was about 25 when I wrote that, and I definitely learned a lot from it. The next book I wrote was a collection of short stories, all with one unifying character who sometimes starred, sometimes played a minor but pivotal role in someone else's story. I considered it a failed experiment, but I did manage to place some of the stories that could stand alone in literary magazines and contests, so that was a good learning experience as well. If you count short story collections, this is my third book of fiction.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Martine Fournier Watson:
Not really. The best writing training I had was with a poetry teacher at a college I went to after high school in Montreal. (I grew up in Quebec, and the education system there is weird. High school ends at grade 11 and following that is usually a two-year stint at a college before three years at university.) I took his creative writing poetry class, followed by an independent study. His teaching style was great, as it consisted basically of just commenting on what I wrote, and suggesting things for me to read. My undergraduate degree is in Fine Arts, and I have an MA in art history (that was my way of being practical). I just kept writing even while I was formally studying other things, and that seemed to work.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Martine Fournier Watson:
No. I sometimes wonder if I should. I still attend a weekly writing group, where we actually write, which helps me stay on track. Writing comes to me in fits and starts, and I seem to be able to produce quite a lot without ever forcing myself to sit down at a designated time. I go about my other jobs, and when ideas pop into my head I grab the notebook and start scribbling (always by hand, I never type a first draft). I also take a lot of walks, because I love them, and often find as I'm walking that my mind wanders, and I'm filled with ideas I have to start working on when I get home. Also get a lot of ideas while driving. Once I start working on a book, and getting to know my characters, there is this thing where they kind of take over. Their conversations and happenings intrude on my thoughts, without it feeling like I actually have to do much work. All I have to do is record them. That's the tough part, doing them justice.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Martine Fournier Watson:
I'm sure I have lost count. I described a bit of that in an earlier question. I think at this point I've probably overhauled it 6 times. The core of the book has remained unchanged, it's just been a matter of adding and cutting scenes, and tinkering with the language.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Martine Fournier Watson:
Yes, so far I've had five, but I probably shouldn't count my mom. She's just the cheering section!
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Martine Fournier Watson:
I did not outline, and can't imagine I ever would. I write literary fiction, and what works best for me is just to start with an idea or situation and let all my characters grow organically out of that. Most of the joy of writing for me lies in the process of discovery. Even if I could outline a book before I began writing, I think it would kill a lot of the fun. Not knowing precisely what a character is going to say or do, or even at times where my story is going, is what keeps me excited and motivated. I've never understood those character pages people like to fill out, with a long series of questions for every character in a book, designed to help the author draw them more convincingly. Questions like "what is your character's favourite food?" or "who was their first love?" I prefer to discover my character's favourite food when it suddenly comes up in a scene, because it's not on the restaurant menu or what have you, and all of a sudden I know with certainty that it's mac and cheese. This is so much more fun for me than deciding that beforehand. And if it never comes up in the book and I never know what their favourite food is, that's okay too. They're like real people to me. They don't tell me everything.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Martine Fournier Watson:
This is the first book I ever queried. I would send out a batch of a dozen or so, and wait. I'd send out a few fulls, and wait some more. I was at it for more than a year and a half before finding Bridget.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Martine Fournier Watson:
I counted them up and the grand total was 109. But the funny thing is, Bridget was actually number 39, and that was the one that worked. It's just that for some reason she took eight months to request the full, and in the meantime I had of course sent out many more!
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Martine Fournier Watson:
Well, at first I followed the professional advice, and focused on agents who represent authors I admire. I crafted a list of maybe 10 or 12 for my first round of queries. Unfortunately, when those didn't pan out, I discovered it's far too time-consuming to find most agents that way. I could read a new book, love it, find it similar in style or subject matter to my own, and then discover that author's agent wasn't taking on new clients. So after my initial round I just invested in a big 2015 Guide to Literary Agents and started working my way alphabetically through the list. If an agent was open to queries and interested in literary fiction, I sent it to them. My ratio of manuscript requests to number of queries went down a little, but over all it was the most efficient way for me.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Martine Fournier Watson:
I did my best. When I found a prospective agent, I did some online research to see if I was familiar with any of their authors, sometimes using Amazon's "peek inside" to check out writing styles. If I found articles or interviews with that agent I read them, and then I mentioned having done so in my query. But at the end of the day, I sent out far fewer queries that were personalized than not. If a query piques an agent's interest, they are not going to care whether you met them at a conference or not. The worst case scenario is they don't respond, and I certainly got used to a lot of silence on my end!
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Martine Fournier Watson:
Don't. Give. Up. I was almost at the end of the list when I heard back from Bridget. As I mentioned, I was going through my list of agents alphabetically, and I was on the W's. It was the end of the line for me, and I had only one more round to go. From there I was considering entering some contests run by smaller presses, and then just focusing on my next book. When my next book was done, I was going to start the process all over again. I had already accepted the fact that this was probably not going to be the breakout book for me, but I was willing to try again with something else. An author needs a good book in order to succeed, but after that, it's all about attitude.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Martine Fournier Watson:

Query Letter:

Dear (Agent Name),

Traveling salesmen like Robert Owens have passed through Evie Dawson's farming town before, but none of them ever offered what he has to sell: dreams, made to order, even a nightmare if you're in the mood, and customer satisfaction guaranteed. He spends a few months in this town, maybe a year in that one, then moves on. It's a solitary life. It's what he deserves.

Until Robert walks into Evie's town. That very morning Evie's 9-year-old son Ben has gone missing, and when his body is discovered Evie seeks Robert's help to treat her grief, craving what only he can sell her.

While a secret friendship between Evie and Robert grows, his relationships with the rest of the town devolve. Evie's husband, George, doesn't like him. He flirts too much with the teenaged Cora Jenkins. The minister wants him gone.

As Robert's unpopularity increases, rumours begin to circulate about the timing of his arrival, which followed so closely upon Ben Dawson's disappearance. And despite all his seemingly good intentions, some of the dreams he sells will lead to disaster.

My short stories have been published in literary journals such as Beloit Fiction Journal, Roanoke Review, and The Best of Foliate Oak Online. In two separate years I received an honourable mention and the Editors' Prize in the E. M. Koeppel short fiction contest at I was recently awarded an honourable mention in the 2014 Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition, and shortlisted in the Fish Anthology 2014-15 short memoir competition. My poetry chapbook, Michelangelo and Me, was published in 2005 by Finishing Line Press.

I believe my 82, 000-word literary novel THE DREAM PEDDLER, which was shortlisted for the 2015 Yoevil Literary Prize, might be of interest to you. I would be thrilled to hear from you!

Thank you for your time and consideration,

(And then I would paste whatever they had asked for in terms of synopsis and sample)