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An Interview with Christine Ellis upon receiving an offer of representation.

11/01/2016

Christine Ellis (cellis on QT) has signed with agent Hannah Fergesen of KT Literary.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
BETWEEN STARS OF FIRE AND GOLD is Adult Science Fiction about Audra, a naive Martian colonist who gets caught up in the politics and espionage of the larger solar system, falls in love with the greatest revolutionary of the time, betrays him, and ultimately becomes a war criminal to save her people and her planet.

There's a lot of violence and darkness in the world right now. I set out to try and examine for myself what drives a normal, logical person to commit acts of great violence, in a setting that was both familiar but completely different from our world. So it's Mars and Venus and Earth, but obviously in the future, and I think that's what Science Fiction is really best at. Using the future to examine the present.

How long have you been writing?
Foreeeeever. I wrote all the time as a kid. I wrote all the time in High School. I went to college for fiction writing and then got my MFA in dramatic writing, then worked in film and TV for a number of years, writing. So I was writing fiction and then swerved sharply into screenplays and plays, then after grad school swerved back into fiction. Which may sound weird, but all the scriptwriting I did really helped me internalize structure, and storytelling in any medium functions the same way. So I'm very strong on structure no matter what I'm writing.
How long have you been working on this book?
It's taken two years to get to where we are now. I tend to think about things for a really long time and then draft quickly, but it still took me a whole year to draft the full novel, because I kept having to stop and think about things! Then I revised, then I started querying. And THEN I got two R&Rs, so I had to stop and think even more, then revise more.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
There was never a time that I thought I would stop writing. There were times I thought I would give up on this novel. In the back of my mind, though, I always knew I would get there eventually. Maybe not this book, maybe not the next, but eventually I would get there. It is, of course, a HUGE relief that it is, in fact, this book. :)

And I do the work. I said that to myself over and over, every time someone asked for a big round of revisions, every time I got SO CLOSE but not quite close enough, I told myself to do the work. It's the only thing I can control. So we do the work, and we do it as many times as we have to. So really the work helped me, as it always does, to stay on course.

Is this your first book?
No! This is my second full novel. And I started COUNTLESS more that I never finished. That's the other thing that scriptwriting gave me -- I learned how to FINISH. And I'm convinced at this point that the real reason writers write is for the euphoria of finishing a draft. It's a high! I write toward it now. And once I wrote my first book, I knew I could write a book, and some of the fear ebbed.
Do you have any formal writing training?
Like I said above, I have a BA with a focus in fiction and a MFA in dramatic writing. So yes. But I was hustling words well before I got those degrees and, while they were immeasurably helpful to me, I don't think they're necessary for everyone.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I think we all TRY to do this but it's basically impossible for me. I work full-time and so I end up getting up at 6am to write, but only get in an hour's worth of writing by the time I completely wake up, and then have to work the day job. More often than not, I shut myself into my apartment for a weekend and crank out as much as possible. It's not a great process, but it's mine!
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Hahahahahahaohmygod. Okay. I never fully rewrote the book. I've done about three major revisions that altered parts of it, rearranged the story a bit, etc, but I never did a full rewrite. That being said, I wrote this STORY first as a screenplay, as a movie. That didn't work. So I wrote it as a TV series. That didn't work either. So after about three years of trying to figure out the best way to tell the story, I settled on it being a novel, with a different protagonist than the one I'd tried to focus on when it was various forms of a script.

That is all to say that while I didn't rewrite the book in its entirety even once, I lived with the story and the world and the characters in my head for a VERY long time before I finished a draft, and then I did many revisions.

Did you have beta readers for your book?
I did! I have the most wonderful writing group. We're all close friends and we all write and I trust them implicitly. They are my betas and my CPs and I would never accomplish anything without them.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
You'd think, with my background in scriptwriting, that I would be an outliner. AND YET. I am in fact kind of a hybrid. I start with an idea, then the protagonist. I figure out the beginning, the dark night of the soul (or act 2 low point), and the end. Then I start drafting towards those last two. Part of the freedom of novel-writing (unlike in scriptwriting) is being able to splash around in the pool, and some of my favorite turns in any story have happened in the moment of writing them. I think so long as you have strong worldbuilding and a handful of immovable story moments, you can wing the rest. (and then revise, heh.)
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I queried my first book for about a year before shelving it (it was fundamentally flawed and even I couldn't articulate why until about a year later). With Audra, I also queried for exactly (almost to the day!) a year.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I sent 55 query letters and it was the second-to-last one, and the last agent to request pages, who offered. (She asked me to do a R&R and so I basically stopped querying while I did it, then she offered before I could start again!)
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
They had to represent Adult SF, obviously, but I was also looking for agents who repped all kinds of SFF, including Fantasy and all its subgenres, for Adult and YA. I hop genres and I wanted someone who could roll with that. I was also looking for someone who had similar tastes to mine, because I think we're all formed by the things we love even if they're not what we write. And I wanted someone who was editorial because I always want another pair of eyeballs on the work once it's finished, when I'm too deep in it to see everything clearly. Most importantly, though, I really wanted someone who GOT it, who understood what I was trying to do, and who could make the book (and me) better. I'm so excited to say that Hannah is exactly that. She also has a background in scriptwriting, so we speak the same language, in a way, which is really awesome when discussing revisions!
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
I didn't tailor all of them. If I saw a #MSWL that seemed to fit or they repped an author I loved, I included that, but the vast majority of my queries were untailored and got straight to my book.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
DO THE WORK. I know everyone says, "Don't give up!" But I think that's too simplistic. Sometimes, you need to give up on some books (and stories, in my case) because they don't work the way you're trying to make them work. Sometimes, you need to stop and step back and spend time thinking (I call this the stare-at-the-wall stage). But in the end, you always always always have to keep doing the work. Everything you write makes you better. Every story will be better than the last. Even if you give up on a book or a script or a story in its current form, you did the work. And that is never a waste. So give up when you have to, when you're not doing the work anymore, when all you're doing is just trying not to give up. Give up. And then get back to work.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Absolutely.

Dear Amazing Agent,

Born Martian, a child of the red iron mines and the scarlet sky, Audra Yve is ill-suited to fighting and espionage. Her artificial lungs handicap her in every atmosphere beyond Mars and she must wear a respirator. Her Martian nature makes her guileless and trusting, and her greatest act of rebellion is smuggling much-needed supplies through the only offworlder bar in the Capital city. But she will doom a planet to save her own and give her people a voice.

James Castor is a charismatic revolutionary determined to unify Mars and its sister colony Venus in a vote for Independence from Earth. When a bomb goes off in the Martian Capital during his rally, Audra saves Castor from the chaos only to find that Sev Charis, the smuggler she thought was her friend, has framed her for the disaster and plans to kill Castor. Audra risks her own life and any future she might have to save him, and in return Castor helps her conceal her identity -- at a price. She needs a new face, and he needs a spy. Swept into his world of false promises, fake smiles, and privilege, Audra finds in Castor a very seductive mentor.

She uses her wits, turning dangerous new biomods on her skin and in her brain to her advantage, and infiltrates the political knot of Earth and Lunar society. And she begins to change. She starts to resent the glistening world around her, and the shining people who have never suffered, or struggled to breathe. Sev always said that there were no innocent people left in the solar system. Castor believes that change must be a slow progression towards equality, but Audra turns on him. When Mars is threatened by invasion, her people sure to be enslaved, she decides that change must be swift and violent to be permanent.

BETWEEN STARS OF FIRE AND GOLD is Adult Science Fiction with romantic elements and a diverse cast, completed at 105,000 words. It is a stand-alone novel with series potential that will appeal to fans of Seth Dickinson’s THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT, Pierce Brown’s RED RISING, and anyone who loves a villain origin story. I’d love to submit it for your consideration.

[Bio redacted.]

Thank you so much for your time!