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An Interview with Craig Faustus Buck upon receiving an offer of representation.

Craig Faustus Buck (cbuck1 on QT) has signed with agent Ann Collette of Rees Literary Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
I'm a noir junkie, so I decided to write what I love. My first novel is called Go Down Hard and, as I described it in my query letter, it "takes readers on a dark romp through the worlds of aging rock-and-rollers, live Internet sex shows, abusive psychiatrists, Slavic mobsters, child molesters, emotional betrayal, deceit, arson, murder and estate planning." I was inspired by the need to support myself. I've been writing TV for the last several decades but TV writers are generally put out to pasture by age 40 (witness the Writers Guild Age Discrimination suit, most of which was recently settled with several agencies and production companies for $70 million), so I decided to try writing novels, which is a medium where experience is actually valued. I just hope the market for novels outlives me because writing is my only marketable skill.
How long have you been writing?
My first writing job was a summer gig as a cub reporter on the Staten Island Advance in 1972. I've been a professional writer ever since, first as a freelance journalist, then as a nonfiction book co-author, and finally as a TV writer of episodic dramas, MOWs and pilots. I've had a short film nominated for an Oscar and I've had nonfiction books hit #1 on the NYT Bestseller list, but nothing has been as satisfying as writing this novel.
How long have you been working on this book?
Actively, about 18 months.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
I never felt like giving up, though there were moments of torturous indecision. When I first started, I was alternating between the first and third person. Then I took a writing workshop to get some feedback and discovered that readers were so enthralled with the immediacy of the first person stuff that they found the third-person stuff tedious in comparison. So I decided to dump the third person, which required tossing about 400 MS pages and my original plot. It was a painful but fruitful decision. I also learned another valuable lesson in that workshop: never let your spouse read your work in progress.
Do you have any formal writing training?
Other than my professional experience, I have no formal training. I never took writing courses in school.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I am at my computer whenever possible. I read the paper in the morning, sometimes do the crossword, then start writing by 9 a.m. at the latest and will work until appointments or dinner or my workout schedule intrude. I'll usually break for lunch, but try to keep it under ten minutes. My life is too chaotic for a real routine, but I do need to find long windows of time to get anything productive done. I try to block at least five-hours at a time to really get in the groove, but that only happens a few times a week.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
It's a continual process for me, which is probably not the most productive way to work, but everyone has his or her own needs. I tend to have a bad memory and can be disorganized about notes, so if a character does something unexpected that requires earlier setup, I'll go back to the earlier chapters and do it right away. This requires constantly keeping up with the ripple effects of changes so there's often a lot of writing with no forward motion. Thank god for Word's document map.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
I did workshop it twice, but only one of those was helpful. My wife and my daughter both read it and gave me good notes ("tone down the sex"). But I generally found that beta readers gave me more positive feedback than instructive feedback. I hired an editor who had been an acquisitions editor in my genre in NY before moving out to CA to go freelance, and she gave me some extremely practical notes. And now that I'm finished, I've joined a writer's group that includes several published novelists so I'm hoping they'll help me wrangle my next book.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I started with an outline, but it turned out to be more of a hindrance than a help. You wind up painting by the numbers instead of allowing your art to surprise you. Though I will have an overall structure in mind, I now let my characters drive the story and, luckily, they seldom adhere to my original structure or plot contrivances. This makes the process much more fun for me as an author and more full of surprises, which translate into surprises for my readers. In Go Down Hard I truly had no idea how it would end until I got there, which prevented any telegraphing of punches.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I sent out about a dozen queries in January and about twice that many in May. I got a pretty good response rate with about 25% requesting a submission. I got an offer a few weeks later from an agent I liked, then notified all the others that had asked for submissions letting them know that I had an offer on the table and would give them one week to counter if they so chose. It was not easy to hold off on signing after having waited so long, but I felt it was the considerate thing to do and saw no reason to burn any bridges. Besides, if she couldn't wait a week for an answer, how real could her enthusiasm be? It turns out, she appreciated the fact that I respected the others enough to give them fair warning, and so did the other agents who had time to respond. I received one other offer a week later but after speaking to both agents on the phone felt that I connected better with the first and so signed with her.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I got some recommendations from friends, but I primarily used Querytracker's reporting functions to find agents in my genre. Then I researched each one individually to determine if he or she was appropriate, open to submissions, and what their submission requirements were.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
If I had some personal connection somehow to an agent I would tailor the query to reflect that, but I would say only about ten of my submissions were personalized. I also had a horrible time writing a synopsis for Go Down Hard because it's a pretty complex story, so I simply ignored any synopsis requests, relying instead on the general one-paragraph description in my query letter. A think a bad synopsis is more likely to sour a first impression than the absence of a synopsis, especially since my voice is much more of a strength than my plot.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Keep at it. Agents are incredibly overloaded with submissions, but most of these books are not all that good, so don't let the numbers discourage you. Just work hard to write something that will stand out from the pile. Your first paragraph is critical. If they don't get hooked fast, they won't keep reading. Most agents ask for only five pages to be pasted into your query Email, so they'd better be good. As Elmore Leonard says, never start a book with the weather. As an example, here's my opening line: "I look through the spyhole. Gloria has a bottle of gin in her hand and a pair of cuffs hanging from her belt loop. A deadly combination."

My eventual agent responded with: "you totally grabbed me with the five pages you sent -- they couldn't be more my kind of prose! I'm insanely intrigued and want to see the whole novel." Most others responded with form rejections. Finding an agent is like finding a mate, it just takes one if the chemistry is there. Of course true love is a lot easier to find than the right agent because you don't have to compete with as many other suitors.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Here is my query (excluding the first five pages of the MS):

Dear _________,

I've just completed a noir mystery called Go Down Hard which takes readers on a dark romp through the worlds of aging rock-and-rollers, live Internet sex shows, abusive psychiatrists, Slavic mobsters, child molesters, emotional betrayal, deceit, arson, murder and estate planning. I chose to write the kind of book I like to read, a character-driven page-turner that aspires to live in a neighborhood where Elmore Leonard might hoist a glass with Charlie Huston.

Nob Brown is a divorced, disillusioned thirty-something ex-cop turned freelance tabloid writer whose friend and occasional lover, LAPD detective lieutenant Gloria Lopes, gives him exclusive access to the confidential case file of the most notorious homicide of the 20th century -- the unsolved murder of rock legend Lana Strain. Unrepentant in his worship of Lana Strain and hopeful that her story will finally propel him from the tabloids to best-sellerdom, Nob dives into his research with gusto, only to find himself sucked into a mud-hole of violence and bleak family skeletons.

Soon after he interviews Lana's younger daughter, a neurotic Internet porn queen, she turns up dead and the cold case turns hot. As the body count rises, Nob becomes convinced that the next victim will be Lana's other daughter Sophia, whose secrets dwarf those of her murdered sister. Nob and Sophia become emotionally entangled as he defies beatings and death threats to protect her and solve the murders. The dramatic threads finally twist together in a deadly showdown with Lana's killer, whose sordid past gave birth to all of this novel's high crimes and misdirections.

I have been writing professionally for 35 years. I''ve written network TV drama, pilots, miniseries and movies including the blockbuster V: The Final Battle, an Oscar-nominated short film, and mysteries such as Magnum P.I. and Simon & Simon. Before that I worked as a print journalist and co-authored nonfiction books, including four self-help books, one of which was a NYT #1 bestseller and is still in print after more than 15 years. That book, Toxic Parents, along with my first book, Betrayal of Innocence (also still in print), addresses the emotional wreckage of childhood trauma, which is the underlying theme of Go Down Hard.

I have already begun laying the foundation for marketing the book to its natural genre audience through social networking. I have more than 4,900 Facebook friends, all of them readers, who've been following my writing progress, and I've been forging relationships with book bloggers, online reviewers, bookstore owners, Tweeters, fellow Mystery Writers of America, Sisters In Crime, Writers Guild members, etc. In addition, I plan to leverage my experience in the self-help world to reach out to mental health professionals and their organizations, as well as to victims of child abuse and therapist sexual abuse, who I'm sure will identify with the ethical and emotional dilemmas buried in the subtext of my novel. I plan to use these same themes to solicit invitations from book groups who might not otherwise consider hard-boiled novels.

I have included the first five pages in the body of my Email below, just to give you a taste. The complete MS weighs in at about 100,000 words. I thank you in advance for your time and attention.