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An Interview with Banning Lyon upon receiving an offer of representation.

11/07/2022

Banning Lyon (Somewhere on QT) has signed with agent Meg Thompson of Thompson Literary Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
My memoir details my being held against my will for 353 days in a psychiatric facility when I was fifteen years old. During my incarceration, I spent nearly ten hours a day sitting in a chair facing the wall of my room. Several kids spent months tied to beds. Two of them needed physical rehabilitation to walk again. Six years after my discharge, I became involved in a class-action lawsuit against the corporation that owned the hospital, a suit that would eventually lead to the largest health insurance fraud settlement in the history of the United States at the time. My story also details the years of fallout and trauma that resulted from what I witnessed during my incarceration. Many years after the settlement, after the death of my fiancée and nearly committing suicide twice, I became a backpacking guide in Yosemite National Park in search of a way to reconnect with others and the outside world.
How long have you been writing?
Since I was a child. I have no formal education in writing, although I did step away from my memoir for a few months to study style and grammar before rewriting my manuscript.
How long have you been working on this book?
It took about five years to complete my manuscript. I often wrote as many as twelve hours a day or more.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
I had four nervous breakdowns and was actively suicidal at times. My wife supported me through every moment of my journey. I wouldn't have completed my manuscript without her.
Is this your first book?
Yes.
Do you have any formal writing training?
No.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
Absolutely. During the five years I worked on my manuscript, I woke up every day at six o'clock, made a cup of coffee, and then wrote until lunch. Sometimes I didn't bother eating. Then I'd write again until four o'clock' when my wife got home from work; then we'd take a walk together before eating dinner. Afterward, I usually spent a couple hours tweaking or editing whatever I'd written that day. I was usually in bed by nine or ten.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I went through about three formal rewrites, including a developmental edit with an editor I hired after I finished. After finding my agent, she and I made some very minor changes.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Yes, and I workshopped the book with a small group for nearly three years.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I knew where I'd begin and end, and I had some idea of the basic structure, but I didn't use a formal outline.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I queried in small batches of five or six letters a time over the course of a year.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I sent out about 40 query letters for my manuscript, and I received six full manuscript requests.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I primarily looked for agents who represented memoirs that dealt with trauma. I didn't query my top choices at first; I wanted to see if my query actually captured the attention of agents, even if they didn't typically rep memoirs. Once I started receiving interest and positive feedback, I swung for the fences. I never thought I'd actually receive an offer of representation from my dream agent, but here I am. It's still difficult to believe.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
No. I intentionally didn't personalize my queries. I wanted my story to speak for itself.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Be patient. Be kind to yourself. Write the best manuscript that you can, then laser focus your queries toward agents you think might love your manuscript. And it's okay to let the rejections hurt. They should hurt. If you don't, then you probably don't love your work. This industry is cruel, especially to debut writers.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?

Dear Ms. Thompson,

When I was fifteen, I was held hostage in a psychiatric institution for 353 days. Many of the patients on the unit had been confined even longer. We were not allowed to go outside, touch one another, or talk privately. One of the patients, a girl with matted black hair who was covered in bedsores, had been strapped to her bed for so long she eventually needed rehabilitation to walk again. Most of us were told we suffered from depression and that our incarcerations were intended to help us. That was a lie. Six years after my discharge, one of the executives of the company that operated the institution pleaded guilty to paying kickbacks and bribes for patients, as well as misdiagnosing patients for profit. My story was pivotal in the largest health insurance fraud settlement in the history of the United States at the time. In 1993, I wrote about my experience in THE NEW YORK TIMES.

THE CHAIR AND THE VALLEY is my story. After being abandoned by my father and sent to live with relatives in Texas, my high school counselor told my mother I was suicidal. Two days later, I was placed in a psychiatric hospital where I was subjected to physical and emotional abuse, including being forced to sit in a chair facing a wall for up to twelve hours a day for weeks at a time. I left the institution almost a year later, broken. After my release, my friends from the hospital began to die, some by suicide, some by drug overdose. I fell in love with a former patient. She had become a heroin and prescription-drug addict after leaving the hospital. We were engaged to marry. Only after she died did I realize something was truly wrong with me. I became a recluse and computer gaming addict. I lived on the verge of suicide for years. Eventually, my search for healing led me to rediscover the compassion and love of others, and the beauty of the outdoors. I was hired in 2011 as a backpacking guide in Yosemite National Park, where, slowly, I healed.

My completed memoir is approximately 95,000 words. My book isn't just a story about surviving trauma and depression—it's a love story, a story of triumph. I hope it will resonate for people who have read Tara Westover's EDUCATED, Mikel Jollett's HOLLYWOOD PARK, and Stephanie Foo's WHAT MY BONES KNOW. And I hope it will resonate with special power for the thirteen million Americans who suffer from PTSD, the millions of survivors of divorce, abuse and isolation, and countless others who have been damaged by our country's failing health care system.

NEW YORK TIMES best-selling author Jonathan Eig, who covered my lawsuit when he was a young journalist, calls THE CHAIR AND THE VALLEY "a gripping, heartbreaking and ultimately hope-giving miracle of a book." He is currently writing an introduction to my manuscript.

Thank you for your consideration,

Banning Lyon