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An Interview with CH Armstrong upon receiving an offer of representation.

02/15/2016

CH Armstrong (CathieArms on QT) has signed with agent Tina Schwartz of The Purcell Agency, LLC.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
The working title is called “In My Shoes” and it’s directed at a Young Adult audience. The story centers around a high school senior who finds herself homeless with both parents and her 6-year old sister in the midst of a frigid Minnesota winter. Told in first person thought the eyes of the teenage girl, the reader gets an up-close view of the difficulties faced by the homeless community, and especially the many children who must navigate both the homeless community and the already difficult social structure of a high school setting. The story was actually inspired by my own homeless community. As a regular contributor for a local magazine, I was assigned to cover a story on a local soup kitchen that catered to the homeless and those struggling through hard times. While there, I met a variety of people including a teenage girl and her family. It was these people who inspired the writing of this novel.
How long have you been writing?
My entire life — since I learned to read, actually. I’ve always written, but always non-fiction. It wasn’t until about a year ago that I decided to try my hand at writing fiction and, once I started, the stories just seemed to trample over each other as they tried to get out of my head.
How long have you been working on this book?
The actual writing of the book was fairly quick, as the entire store from beginning to end was already in my head before I sat down to write the first words. So writing the first draft took me roughly six weeks. Since then, it’s undergone several extensive revisions at the guidance or advice of very talented editors. Finding an agent, however, was a much longer process — though still short by most standards. I began querying this title in March of 2015. In April of 2015, I queried Tina Schwartz at The Purcell Agency. After several e-mails and a request for a revise and resubmit, she offered representation exactly nine months to the day after I sent her my original query.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
No — Never. I subscribe to author Randy Pausch’s theory as it relates to “brick walls.” In his book, “The Last Lecture,” Pausch writes about the obstacles that keep us from reaching our goals and refers to them as “brick walls." He writes, "The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people!” These words have been my mantra for a long time — long before I ever started writing with the intent to publish — but they became even more important to me as I began to get rejections from agents. I simply wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer, and was committed to not giving up.
Is this your first book?
No, this is actually my second book. My first book, "The Edge of Nowhere,” is a work of Historical Fiction that was released by Penner Publishing this past January.
Do you have any formal writing training?
Yes, I have a degree in Journalism from The University of Oklahoma.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I wish I could say that I did. The truth is that I’m the least routine-oriented person you’ll ever meet. Instead, I’d say I’m probably more “goal oriented,” or maybe even just hyper-focused When I have a story in my head, I literally drop everything and work on it nearly non-stop until I’ve typed the last word. Once done with the first draft, I’ll take my first big break for several days or even a couple of weeks before going back to make revisions. But taking breaks to do other things while actively writing completely breaks my concentration, so I will write for eight or ten hour stretches with only short breaks in between. Sometimes I’ll go to bed at night, only to get back out of bed a few hours later because the stories are swirling through my head too fast and need to be committed to writing. And then, when I’m not actively writing a novel, I can go several weeks without writing anything more significant than a magazine article or a blog post.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
The final manuscript for "In My Shoes” looks very much like the original draft with significant edits made for flow and pacing. The story itself is the same, but the overall manuscript has undergone three or four significant edits at the advice of some very talented editors. Because writing fiction is still new to me, the idea of “showing” versus “telling” was a very difficult lesson to learn. It’s in that area that the majority of my edits have been made.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Absolutely! In fact, since this novel is directed at a young adult audience, I actively looked for young adult readers to give feedback. Toward that end, I used mostly high school and early college students as my beta readers. They were fantastic about pointing out character “quirks” that were irritating to them, or issues/conversations that didn’t ring true.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
A combination of both. I don’t use a traditional outline like we were taught in school, but instead have a list of bullet-points for the major plot points. Most of those plot points remained in tact; but, once I started writing, I allowed the characters the freedom to take over. Doing this is actually my favorite part of the writing process because I’m often surprised at some of the twists and turns that make their way into the story when the characters are allowed free reign.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I began the query process with my first book, “The Edge of Nowhere.” As a newbie to publishing, I wasn’t completely certain whether I wanted an agent or a small publishing house, so I queried both simultaneously. For that manuscript, I only queried for three months before I was offered a publishing contract. I was in a hurry to see it published because it's loosely based upon my father’s family during the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl. At now 84, my dad has dementia and I wanted him to see his family story in print before he completely succumbed to his illness. I enjoyed the publishing process for my first book, but soon realized that I have so many stories in my head that I would never be happy until I had an agent for future works. Toward that end, I focused closely on landing an agent and was (and still am) beyond thrilled at being offered representation.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Oh gosh. At least 50-75, maybe more.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Absolutely. I studied each of the agents I sent a query. I followed them on Twitter and watched for blog posts, etc. If there was a way to make my query personal without being “weird,” I did. I looked for things like whether the subject of my manuscript was on their “wish lists,” or maybe we shared a favorite book or author. Sometimes I found an agent that also represented one of my own favorite authors, and would mention my love for that author’s works. But I was always honest. There’s nothing worse than someone who is disingenuous, so I was careful to always speak truthfully if there was a connection.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
I’d offer three words of advice, actually. (1) Never give up, (2) Always be professional, and (3) Don’t take rejection personally. This last piece of advice is maybe the most important. A rejection doesn’t mean that what you’ve written isn’t good; it simply means that the agent you’ve contacted lacks the same vision, or maybe isn’t sure how to sell it in today’s market. When you get a rejection letter, just take a deep breath and move on.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?

Like many teens, Abby Lunde has a bucket list. Her bucket list includes:

  • Finish high school
  • Get a college degree
  • Find a good-paying job
  • Buy her first home
  • Never be homeless again

At 17, Abby and her family are living on the streets. Floating between sleeping in her family’s van, moving in and out of homeless shelters, and even squatting in the basement of a nearby church after hours, Abby strives to live a normal life as a high school senior with dreams of going to college and pursuing a career in music. But Minnesota winters are unforgiving and, as most kids know well, so are many teenagers.

The only thing Abby wants more than a permanent roof over her head is to keep her shameful secret from her friends. But secrets seldom remain hidden forever. When her arch-nemesis discovers Abby and her family eating at a local soup kitchen, she maliciously announces it to the world through Facebook. Abby is certain her life is over. How can her friends possibly understand, and how will she manage to face them ever again?

IN MY SHOES is a contemporary young adult novel that blends the happily-ever-after of Disney’s "Cinderella" with the harsh realities of life as seen in popular titles like Rainbow Rowell’s "Eleanor and Park." Inspired by the lessons of Harper Lee’s "To Kill a Mockingbird," it features quirky sidekicks and a precocious six-year-old sister to bring humor to the otherwise serious topic of teen homelessness. Complete at 87,000 words, this novel features a strong supporting LGBTQ character, and defies the tired trope that parents (especially stepparents) are villains.

A 1992 graduate of the University of Oklahoma, I hold a B.A. in Journalism/News Communications and am the author of the forthcoming historical fiction novel, "The Edge of Nowhere," coming January 19, 2016, by Penner Publishing. I am a regular columnist for "Rochester Women" magazine; a prolific reader; a 15-year book club member; the administrator of a dynamic book discussion group on Facebook; and an avid blogger with a strong following.