Success Story Interview - Miriam Forster

An Interview with Miriam Forster (msforster on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown 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?
Miriam Forster:
The House of a Thousand Dolls is a young adult fantasy about a girl in a caste-basted society who has to solve a murder. In the book, the House of a Thousand Dolls is an estate where girls are raised to be all kinds of things, from courtesans to assassins to nobleman's wives.

At the time I was reading a novel about the early life of Guinevere (before she met King Arthur) and I remember that there was a mention in the book about Guinevere being "groomed" for someone. I thought the idea of being raised specifically for one person was so intriguing that I began to construct a world around it. Soon after I became fascinated by the life of geishas in Japan, and the sheltered, structured world they lived in. All those things kind of came together to make the idea of the Houses.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Miriam Forster:
I started my first novel in high school, about fifteen years ago. I wrote off and on for a few years, but I didn't start seriously writing until about 2003.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Miriam Forster:
It took me about a year to finish the first draft, and about three years to get it to its current state. I did put it aside and let it mellow between revisions though, so I wasn't working on it the whole four years.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Miriam Forster:
There were lots of times, actually. What kept me on course was mostly just writing the next book. Every time I had to put Houses away after a revision and querying round, I would write something else. That way I knew if this book didn't get picked up, maybe one of my other books would.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Miriam Forster:
I've taken a couple classes from the Institute of Children's Literature. They were great for teaching me the basics, and helped make my writing more consistent.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Miriam Forster:
I had an awesome writer's group who went through and early draft of it with me and gave me a lot of great feedback. I also got options from other people each time I rewrote.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Miriam Forster:
I'm a big believer in organizing my thoughts before I write. It's mostly lists: characters, places, worldbuilding stuff… I also made a list of scenes I wanted in the book, and tried to plot a rough narrative arch so I would know where I was going. Everything changes in the writing though.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Miriam Forster:
I queried Houses for about two-and-a-half years. For a few months last year I took a break and queried another book of mine, but it turned out that it wasn't ready yet.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Miriam Forster:
Somewhere between thirty-five and forty, and I usually sent them out in batches of five to six at a time.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Miriam Forster:
I was looking for agents who represented young adult literature, agents who either liked fantasy—or at least didn't dislike it—and agents that were reputable. I also kept my eyes open for agents who were looking for multicultural fiction specifically.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Miriam Forster:
Don't get bitter. It's a really painful process and I understand that, but I see so many writers get on forums and blogs and just complain like crazy. It makes me sad because that's a lot of emotional energy that could be spent writing awesome books. Don't get sucked up in that.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Miriam Forster:
Of course!

Query Letter:

Dear Ms. Laughran,

Nisha Arvi is a casteless orphan in an empire where caste and tradition are as unchanging as the roof of gray sky above her head. The only exception is the Houses of a Thousand Dolls, an estate where abandoned girls are trained to be anything from assassins to courtesans to nobleman's wives.

Nisha is not so lucky. When she finds out that the Houses want to sell her as a slave, and also that they are hiding a series of mysterious deaths among the girls, Nisha makes a desperate bargain. If she can find the killer, she'll have a chance at a caste and a future.

But it won't be easy, because in the Houses of a Thousand Dolls missteps are as easy as wearing the wrong robe. And when Nisha suspects her best friend of the murders, she puts both of their futures in jeopardy.

The Houses of a Thousand Dolls is a 57,000 word young adult fantasy based on East Asian culture and lore. I queried you partly because I know you are the agent for Magic Under Glass by Jackie Dolamore, and I thought you might be interested in another multicultural fantasy. I also queried you because I follow you on Twitter and have a bit of a pet-crush on your dog, Moxie. :)

I have enclosed the first ten pages as per your submission guidelines. The whole manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Miriam S. Forster