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Success Story Interview - RA Burrell

An Interview with RA Burrell (raburrell on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Courtney Miller-Callihan of Handspun 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?
RA Burrell:
The novel is about a human rights attorney and former aid worker whose husband, a conflict photographer, goes missing after the crackdowns last summer in Cairo. That was largely what inspired it, along with other current events in the news the past few years about the NSA scandal and targeting of journalists. I wanted to show the human side of it though, and how it affects people in those professions.
QT: How long have you been writing?
RA Burrell:
About five years.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
RA Burrell:
About a year and a half. I wrote the first draft in eight months or so, let it sit for a while, then when back and starting revising.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
RA Burrell:
Doesn't everyone? It's more that I'm incapable of giving up. This story always calls me back any time I get frustrated with it.
QT: Is this your first book?
RA Burrell:
Nope - fourth, depending on how you count. I had an agent previously, but the books didn't sell, so we mutually agreed a change might be beneficial.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
RA Burrell:
I'm a scientist/engineer by trade, so no.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
RA Burrell:
With a long commute, I tend to plot in the car and write at night after work.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
RA Burrell:
It's a bad habit, but I revise as I go, so that's something of a constant process. I've done two larger sets of revisions on it though.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
RA Burrell:
Yes - I work with a 'critique partner' pretty much daily, a very patient and dear friend who's willing to look at whatever crap I churn out. I've also had two or three other readers who are writers I know, all of whom gave excellent suggestions for improvement.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
RA Burrell:
I outline ahead of where I'm writing, but generally not the whole book at one time. I'll start with a rough plan for plot points and character motivation, but the events sorta shake out as I'm writing.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
RA Burrell:
A few months. The offer I accepted actually came from one of the first agents I queried, but it took a little while to get to that point, as it often does in publishing. My previous agent, I found via referral, so I never really cold-queried a project before.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
RA Burrell:
Read the submission guidelines. Keep in mind that you're looking for someone who's as passionate about your book as you are and that's not an easy thing to find. My new agent was my first choice all along, but I don't believe there's any such thing as a 'dream agent'. (And that said, my book is definitely unusual for her list) It's just not possible to know when characters or an idea are going to click for someone else, and that's part of the magic of writing.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
RA Burrell:
Sure - this one had a pretty good request rate, something like 11/20.

Query Letter:

Human rights lawyer Leah Cahill begins each morning with an email to her husband Matty – silly, mundane things about her cases, or maybe what color underwear she’s wearing. Leah knows he’s not going to answer. Matty, a respected but troubled war photographer, is one of the thousands who disappeared in the Egyptian military crackdown of 2013. Since she’s about the only person who doesn’t think he’s dead, her emails makes him feel a little less gone.

When a mysterious message from a hacker confirms he’s alive, Leah crashes a closed Senate hearing. Turns out, Matty isn’t being held in Egypt – he’s under detention at a U.S. ‘black site’, facing accusations of espionage and terrorism. Determined to free him, Leah uncovers the pieces of a global illegal arms trading investigation he kept secret for their entire marriage, spanning conflicts from Johannesburg to Sudan, dating back to his childhood as the son of Christian missionaries living in pre-war Iraq.

Armed with his photo archives, Leah retraces their tumultuous yet passionate relationship, from their earliest days together in the African aid corp to an attack that chased her into law school. Her deeper look into their history reveals disturbing links to his investigation. When she unearths a plan to drag the U.S. into the Syrian Civil War, Matty’s enemies in the arms trade turn the full weight of the government against her. With her last chance to save him slipping away, his biggest secret may be one he’s willing to die to protect.

AT SHUTTER SPEED is a 93,000 word novel, upmarket commercial fiction with a strong central love story. It may appeal to fans of emotionally resonant thrillers such as THE CONSTANT GARDENER. Thank you for your time and consideration.