Success Story Interview - Stephanie Knipper

An Interview with Stephanie Knipper (sknipper on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Daniel Lazar of Writers House.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Stephanie Knipper:
The book is about a young autistic girl who can temporarily heal people, including her mother whose heart is giving out. Unfortunately, the magic never lasts and worsening seizures threaten to kill the girl before she can fix everything.

The inspiration for the book came when I had my son. He was born 10 weeks early, and I spent two months in the hospital.

When we were both better, I started wondering what would have happened if things had turned out differently. What would it be like for a child to grow up feeling that she had caused her mother’s death? What would it be like for a mother to know that she started dying from the moment her child was born?
QT: How long have you been writing?
Stephanie Knipper:
I wrote my first book of poetry when I was eight-years-old. It included an epic masterpiece comparing the number eight to a snowman. I think it ended with the line: “Number eight, you’re great!” I even illustrated it with a snowman wearing a green and red striped scarf.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Stephanie Knipper:
A long time. Wait, you probably want more than that.

I got the idea in 2003, but I didn’t start writing then. I waited several years, writing other things first, but I couldn’t let go of this idea. I finally wrote the first draft but after reading it, I didn’t like one of the characters. I rewrote the entire thing. From idea to the manuscript I queried was 8 years, but during that time I put it aside to do other things, like adopt three children from China and get my masters in English.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Stephanie Knipper:
Not for this book. There were times I put it aside to work on other things (or adopt kids!), but I never thought about giving up on it. I cared too much about the characters, and I felt like I owed it to them to finish the story. That’s what helped me the most, writing about people I cared about.
QT: Is this your first book?
Stephanie Knipper:
No. I’ve written other books, but this is the first one I just couldn’t get out of my mind.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Stephanie Knipper:
Yes. I have an M.A. in English. I also write for Kentucky Gardner Magazine.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Stephanie Knipper:
Before September I had four kids with very different school schedules. I always had someone getting on or off a bus, and often had a child following me around the house. Plus, I was finishing my master’s degree. I wrote whenever I could--at night, on the weekends, whenever. Things changed this fall. I finished my masters and all of the kids were in school full-time. Now I write every day while they are in school. It’s much easier!
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Stephanie Knipper:
I did one major rewrite--completely changed one of the main characters, added the magical elements--and several (probably 4 or 5) revisions. Also, I edit as I go. I write one chapter, then I go back and tweak it before moving on to the next.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Stephanie Knipper:
Yes. I have fantastic writer friends. They read early drafts and the finished draft and gave me great feedback. They were also there every time I emailed them in a panic after an agent requested material. They talked me through it and kept me sane!
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Stephanie Knipper:
I write from the hip, not knowing what’s coming next. I have a general idea of where I’d like to go, but that’s it. It’s like driving in thick fog. The only clear spot is a few inches in front of me.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Stephanie Knipper:
This is the first book I’ve queried. I sent my first query letter on 10/31/11. I was offered representation on 11/29/11. It was amazingly fast.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Stephanie Knipper:
I sent out 16 letters.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Stephanie Knipper:
I read a lot so when I came across books that were similar to the one I was writing, I found out who that agent was and added them to my list. I specifically looked for agents who were interested in quirky, off-beat characters and magical realism.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Stephanie Knipper:
No. I made sure the agent’s name was spelled correctly and sent it off.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Stephanie Knipper:
Find a story you love and write that one. Then pull it apart and make it “more”. More interesting. More spectacular. More compelling.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Stephanie Knipper:

Query Letter:

Dear Agent,

Ten-year-old autistic Antoinette Martin lives on a flower farm in Freedom, Kentucky where marigolds sprout when the soil tastes grief and chokecherries push through the ground at the sound of a lie. Antoinette can’t speak, but she can heal anything and anyone. Flowers with root bores, neighbors with cataracts and arthritis, even her mother, Rose, whose heart is giving out.

But Antoinette’s magic never lasts. No matter how many times she fixes her mother, Rose is still dying, and worsening seizures threaten to kill Antoinette before she can permanently heal Rose. Needing a guardian for Antoinette, Rose turns to her estranged sister, Lily, who is more comfortable with numbers than people. Lily doesn’t know how to mend fences with Rose, and she has no idea how to take care of a young girl with Antoinette’s abilities—and disabilities.

Lily’s arrival changes everything except hearts. But Rose does not have long. And Antoinette is not safe from those who wish to abuse her powers. The women cannot go on as strangers living in the same house, but must come together and learn to be a family again.

BROKEN, complete at 95,000 words, aims to appeal to readers who enjoyed the magical realism in “Garden Spells” and the quirky characters in “The Curious Incident of the Dog at Midnight”. It is told in alternating point-of-view chapters from the three main characters: Antoinette, Lily, and Rose.

I have a Master’s Degree in English, and my short story, “Modeling Life”, was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In addition, I am a Master Gardener and write feature articles for Kentucky Gardener Magazine.

Thank you,

Stephanie Knipper