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Success Story Interview - Patrick Gabridge

An Interview with Patrick Gabridge (pgabridge on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Regina Brooks of Serendipity 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?
Patrick Gabridge:
The novel that landed me an agent is a middle-grade novel, entitled Buried Treasure. It's about an eleven-year old African-American girl, Tyra, who's forced to spend the summer with her white adoptive grandfather in an all-white lakeside town. It's clearly going to be the worst summer ever. And a weird one, too, because her grandfather disappears into the woods every night, hauling tools and maps. He's clearly searching for something, and Tyra desperately wants to know what it is.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Patrick Gabridge:
I started out writing plays and screenplays, more than 20 years ago. I started my first novel in 1997.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Patrick Gabridge:
I'd started working on it as a screenplay, about six or seven years ago, and had a treatment (like a long outline), but ultimately didn't write the script. In 2009, I decided to write the story as a novel instead. It took about six months to write it and get it to a point where I could send it to agents.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Patrick Gabridge:
Not really. I had such a great time with this story and the characters, it was a blast to write. And it came pretty quickly. (And middle grade novels are a lot shorter than adult novels, so the process wasn't as exhausting as for some of my other projects.)
QT: Is this your first book?
Patrick Gabridge:
No, my first novel, Tornado Siren, was published by Behler Publications in 2006. I also have quite a few published stage plays and have worked with theatres across the country. I've written another novel that we're shopping around now (for adults), and I'm hard at work on another (a historical novel set during the Civil War).
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Patrick Gabridge:
I have a degree from MIT in Humanities, where I studied creative writing and filmmaking. I know that seems weird--you don't think of writers coming out of MIT, but people there are involved in many different pursuits.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Patrick Gabridge:
When my kids were little, I wrote when they napped or before they got up. Now that they're older, I write while they're in school. I try pretty hard to devote 3-4 hours every morning to writing. I won't say that always happens, but that's my goal. When I stick to it, I get a lot done. I've also learned to keep a journal for each specific project, because I can tend to get pulled away, if I have go off and work on a play or something similar. Having a journal on each novel helps me get caught up on where I left off and what my concerns are.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Patrick Gabridge:
I did a number of editing passes, and three or four more significant rewrites, based on feedback at various times.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Patrick Gabridge:
My wife is my first reader. She's been reading my work for a long time, which helps. And she's a voracious reader anyway, so she has a deep knowledge base. I also have a terrific fiction writer's group, and they're always helpful on providing feedback. Their suggestions on Buried Treasure were just what I needed.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Patrick Gabridge:
In this particular case, I wrote, as mentioned above, from a 35-page outline/treatment. There were times when I had to change a bunch of things, either in the story or with the characters, but I had a pretty clear road map when I started. And before starting a major rewrite, I'd go back and plot out an outline/chart of what was currently in the book, so I could think of it from the larger view, and feel freer to make changes or move things around.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Patrick Gabridge:
I started querying in October 2009. I got an offer of representation (two, actually) in July 2010.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Patrick Gabridge:
A lot. About 80.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Patrick Gabridge:
They had to represent middle grade fiction, and querytracker was very helpful in figuring that out. I looked for agents who handled projects that dealt with issues of race, or who had sold summer adventure stories. I started out by contacting agents of friends or other connections. I went to the Muse & Marketplace conference in Boston, to meet people. I read blogs, did internet searches, read lots of middle grade fiction that I liked and found out who those agents were.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Patrick Gabridge:
I did at first, but after a while, I have to say, I wasn't sure it was making a huge difference. It depends a lot on the particular agent and agency. I would personalize a query whenever possible. And, of course, if I had any personal connection, I'd be sure to mention that. In the case of this book, personal connections ended up making a huge difference. I ended up with two offers, and one was from an agent of a friend and the other was from an agent whom I'd met at a conference, and who also happened to be friends with a friend of mine (our kids were in the same class at school). In both cases, however, those connections got my query read (and it still took a while), but after that, the query and book still had to be good enough to catch their attention.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Patrick Gabridge:
The obvious: write a really good book. And a really good query, and then send it out a lot. There's lots of information out there on the web that can help. I know it can be frustrating to hear, "oh, I got an agent who was a friend of a friend," but even in this case, it required a LOT of patience, a lot of query letters, and a lot of luck. Part of finding that luck is making sure you become part of a community of writers, whether it's in person or online, who can all help each other. Don't be afraid to pursue any possible connection, no matter how tenuous (but also expect that it still probably won't help). You have to learn to be patient not pushy, but also not be afraid of doing follow-up when the time is right. I had a couple very close calls at the start of my search, but ultimately, it didn't work out. It took a many more months before I finally got a call (and I wasn't sure I'd ever find an agent). There are a lot of agents out there. You only need to find one who loves your work enough to represent you.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Patrick Gabridge:
Sure. Here it is:

Query Letter:

Dear Agent,

Eleven-year-old Tyra is stuck spending the summer with her irascible Grandpa Rudy in a lakeside town where she's the only black person (she's adopted). It's clearly going to be the worst summer ever. And a weird one, too. Every night, Rudy disappears into the woods, hauling tools and maps. He's searching for something, and Tyra desperately wants to know what it is.

One night, Tyra follows her grandfather and discovers him digging for an old bootlegger's buried treasure. He swears her to secrecy, but soon Tyra leads her new summer friend, Cory, to Grandpa Rudy's dig site. After being chased deep into the woods by an enraged Rudy, Tyra and Cory uncover clues that lead to Emerald Eddie's secret stash.

Grandpa Rudy isn't the only person in Spirit Lake obsessed with Emerald Eddie's legendary treasure, and it becomes a race to see who will find it first. Someone has been poking around the excavation site and has even broken into Rudy's house. Soon, Tyra, Rudy, and their friends find themselves in very real danger. Only a great sacrifice will allow them to escape unharmed. Through all the ups and downs of their treasure hunt, Tyra and Grandpa Rudy ultimately realize they need each other a lot more than they ever expected.

Buried Treasure is a middle grade summer adventure novel of about 44,000 words that touches on race, adoption, and intergenerational relationships within families. In addition to reaching a general middle grade readership, this book's exploration of race and transracial adoption will make it of great interest to the numerous multi-racial and adoptive families who eagerly search for fiction with relatable characters for their children.

My first novel, Tornado Siren, was published by Behler Publications in 2006. I'm an award-winning playwright—thirty of my plays are published and have been used by thousands of schools, students, and teachers in performance and competition. I work closely with a number of play publishers who are deeply tied into the youth market (Brooklyn, Playscripts, YouthPlays, and Heuer). I'm also a transracial adoptive parent of two children.

Please let me know if you'd like to read Buried Treasure.

Thanks for your time and consideration.


Patrick Gabridge