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Success Story Interview - Vera Kurian

An Interview with Vera Kurian (verakurian on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Rebecca Scherer of Jane Rotrosen Agency.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Vera Kurian:
With Teeth is an adult psychological thriller about an incoming college freshman, Chloe, who is a diagnosed psychopath. She has been invited to a college in Washington DC to participate in a clinical psychology panel study along with 6 other psychopathic undergraduates to better understand psychopathy. But really she is there to hunt down a boy who grievously wronged her in childhood. Her plans are complicated when it appears that someone is hunting down the 7 students in the program. With Teeth sort of came out of nowhere -- I have a background in psychology and have always been interested in psychopaths and how difficult it is to treat them. I wanted a different type of psychological thriller than what I've been seeing on the market.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Vera Kurian:
Since I got a typewriter in 4th grade.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Vera Kurian:
I wrote the first draft in October of 2017.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Vera Kurian:
Many many times over the course of my career as a writer. I've been successful at getting short stories published, but had struggled with getting an agent since 2014 with two different books before With Teeth. There were a lot of emotional ups and downs: I would get positive news that made me feel like a good writer--like getting into competitive workshops or getting stories published, or getting requests from agents--but then I would get Nos or more heart-stabby, "I love your writing but no." I thought a lot about going back to being a strictly short-story-only writer. What kept me going was the community of writer friends I had built, and at some level, my continuing to believe deep down that With Teeth deserved to be out there.
QT: Is this your first book?
Vera Kurian:
No. Not counting the terrible vampire novel I wrote in high school, I wrote a literary novel in 2013, and another one a couple years after that before this one. I had primarily been a short story writer.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Vera Kurian:
I minored in creative writing in college and go to some summer workshops. That said, I'm not a believer that someone has to have formal training. You just need to write and read a lot.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Vera Kurian:
No, and I don't think writers should be pressured to have one. I write when I want to and don't when I don't want to. You can work full time and write a book without having to get up at 4 in the morning or something every day.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Vera Kurian:
One major rewrite based off of an R&R, and one minor revision of that revision to fine tune.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Vera Kurian:
I have two fabulous ladies in my regular writing group, then a couple friends I asked just because they read a lot. For the record, one of the latter hated it lol
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Vera Kurian:
I'm a huge believer in outlining. I worked from the solution to the mystery backwards. After I got an R&R I deliberately put the pen down and did a lot of plotting and exercises with notecards and moving thing around to make sure the plot worked.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Vera Kurian:
I started querying this book in late February of 2018, with a pause from July 2018 to April 2019 when I was working on the revision. But I had written two other books, one of which I queried for a long time starting in 2014 and another one a couple years later. (If you add queries across all books, it was almost 300.)
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Vera Kurian:
64. Additionally I had a couple agents approach me out in the wilderness, or that I met at conferences (for the record I didn't end up signing with them.)
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Vera Kurian:
It was really critical for me that they had sold something within the realm of adult psychological or suspense, particularly if they were looking for something dark, or something that leaned "upmarket." I definitely looked if they made large deals or sales at auctions.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Vera Kurian:
Nothing that took more than 60 seconds. If they had a MSWL tweet, or something specific on their website that my book fit into, yes.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Vera Kurian:
Don't think about agents until you've finished your book. Do your research and become business savvy. Don't pay for pitch sessions or time with agents for the sake of pitching--use that time to get advice about your query or first pages (it takes the pressure off, and is more valuable for you. If the agent is interested anyhow, they will request. Otherwise it's awkward.)

Query Letter:

Chloe Sevre, a social chameleon with an IQ of 135, is about to enter John Adams College in DC with an unusual scholarship. It includes tuition, room and board, and a smartwatch to track her moods and movements. But her scholarship isn't based on good grades—just her diagnosis as a psychopath.

The Multimethod Psychopathy Panel Study based at Adams gives seven undergrads a free ride through college in exchange for donating their time and bodies to science: therapy sessions, MRI scans, experiments—anything to help the field of clinical psychology study the little-understood diagnosis. While most associate the condition with hardened criminals and serial killers, many psychopaths fly under the radar, their misdeeds and lack of empathy hidden by manipulative charm.

Chloe joins the study because it puts her at the same school as a childhood friend, Will, who grievously wronged her and has no idea that Chloe has spent the past six years planning her revenge.

But college is tough. There's grades to worry about, nosy roommates who don't understand dark urges, and the handsome, broody junior who unfortunately has a perfect girlfriend (at least for now…) The plot to kill Will gets complicated when other bodies start showing up on campus. Someone is tracking down the students in the study and trying to kill them. Chloe definitely doesn't want to die, and she sure as hell isn't going to let anyone stand in the way of her plan.

With Teeth is a 99,000 word multiple POV psychological thriller that would appeal to fans of Meg Abbott and Gillian Flynn. My literary fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, The Pinch, Juked and elsewhere (see verakurian dot com) and I have studied fiction at several competitive workshops (Sewanee, Breadloaf, VONA, etc.) I'm a DC-based writer with a doctorate in social psychology and am a person of color. Thank you for your consideration.

Vera Kurian