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An Interview with Dario Ciriello upon receiving an offer of representation.

Dario Ciriello (Fairduncan on QT) has signed with agent Anne Devlin of Max Gartenberg Literary Agency.

How long have you been writing?
I've dabbled on and off since I was a child, but only started getting serious in 2002.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Ha! I've probably seriously considered giving up about once a year, especially when I was only writing short stories. The income/time investment ratio is beyond ridiculous. Plus the more I write, the more I understand how many REALLY good writers there are out there, even among my pro crit group and friends. Writing a long work -- especially if it's successful -- may change that feeling though. There's a tremendous sense of accomplishment; and when an agent picks it up, that's a huge validation.
Is this your first book?
Yes. I've had several short stories published, but this is my first long work. Since I'm a science fiction writer, it's amusing that my first long work is a memoir.
How long have you been working on this book?
About a year. I got the first draft of 120k words down in 4 months; the rest of the time was spent in post-critique rewrite and edits.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I spent 6 weeks at the Clarion West workshop in Seattle in 2002. It's fantastic, and super-intense; they don't call it 'literary boot camp' for nothing. Like Clarion, it's geared to prepping you for a pro science fiction/fantasy career. I'm still integrating a lot of what we were taught during that six weeks.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
Yes. I find that I'm really 'on' if I hit the keyboard first thing after making coffee, about 6am. I aim for 1,500 words, and on a good day I can get that down in 2-3 hours, good, clean words. A daily routine makes it a lot easier to stay in the zone.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
After my crit group, many of whom are pros, weighed in, I did some light rewriting and added a 20k-word section to the beginning. after that, I did four full edits. One pass to try to cut the wordcount -- I got it from 150k to 140k, which is still a long book for today's market. But I really believe in what Alfred Bester used to say -- the book is the boss. I don't believe in writing to the market.... the story makes its own demands.

After that, I did three more passes to strengthen and hone the prose. Now since this book, AEGEAN DREAM, is a memoir of the year my wife and I lived in Greece, and a bittersweet memoir at that, every edit was painful, as I relived a lot of tough experiences. It was always good to get the end though, where the power of love and friendship carries the day and turns a tragi-comedy into a redemptive story.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Yes. First was my crit group, 'Written in Blood', who are an awesome bunch of writers, as well as my wife, who always gives me terrific, honest input. She actually crossed out one paragraph and scrawled 'Yuck!' in the margin. Cracked me up. After the post-crit rewrite, I circulated the 2nd draft to 6 or 7 trusted readers.

The question I emphasized to every 'civilian' reader was, "What I most need is for you to flag any parts where you get bored or want to put the book down." Amazingly, there weren't. One person read it 24 hours, all 140k words!
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Since AEGEAN DREAM is a memoir, I was going mostly on memory. We'd also kept a blog of our year in Greece, which was an invaluable aid.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
It was about nine weeks from sending out the first queries to getting an offer.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
55 or so, in three batches. I had four requests for partials and three for fulls. About half the queries are still unanswered, which I think is just inexcusable -- It takes half a minute to paste a form rejection onto an email, or stuff one in an SASE.

That said, I was surprised how many agents take pains to be gentle with their rejections. And a few sent very nice comments on the writing.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
The stats and links on Querytracker were incredibly helpful. Most of all, I made sure that the agents I queried handled memoirs, and I took pains to follow their criteria for queries to the letter. I avoided those who wanted a synopsis. LOL. I hate doing synopses. The query was tough enough to write!

I also made a point of choosing to query by snail-mail when the agent offered that option. It's pretty clear that many email queries are either ignored or deleted, and I've read interviews with agents who admit to doing that when they're overloaded. Think about it -- most writers will always choose email, so the rarer snail mail query is far harder to ignore. It also shows you're not lazy.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Not really. But I did research them and -- if they had one -- visited their websites and let them know that on the first line of the query.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Research each agent thoroughly; make sure that you exactly adhere to their requirements; polish your query over and over until it's really, really, good; use snail mail. And don't obsess over getting it on one page (mine was one and a half); if they're interested, they'll keep reading.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Sure. I like to think the dialog excerpt helped!

Dear XXX,

When I joked to my wife about packing up everything and moving to a tiny Greek island, I never thought she'd take me seriously. But what use are dreams if they only remain dreams? How awful would it be to grow old knowing you'd been too timid to take risks to make them come true?

'Aegean Dream' is the true story of two slightly crazy people who gamble everything they have on their dream.

In November 2006, my wife Linda and I leave California for a new life on the tiny Greek island of Skópelos (the 'Mamma Mia!' island). We've studied Greek, done our research, and have a simple goal: to set up an island-branded, natural cosmetics business, and live happily ever after. Our means are modest, and everything we have is at risk if we fail.

After a promising start in our new home, the rascally and incompetent lawyer we've hired to file Linda's residency application first drops the ball, then bribes a public official right before our eyes. Within hours, we're warned this will spark an international incident involving Greece, the US, and Britain. Suddenly, Linda's status is that of an illegal alien, and her vital residency and business permit, on which our whole enterprise depends, beyond reach.

In Greece, connections are everything. But will the efforts of our friends -- the proud and complicated Dr. Yiánnis; the mayor's gentle and intelligent daughter, Iliána; and Tákis, the island's chess-playing, motorcycle-riding Casanova -- be enough to help us out of a deepening mess before our very slim finances run out and we're forced to abandon our dream? And how will we cope emotionally as our dreams collide with some very ugly realities?

Dr. Yiánnis quickened his pace. "We must go to the police station." I hesitated. "Look, Yiánnis, I don’t want to make things worse." "Ehh, this is not possible," he said, grim-faced. "It is already so bad that you cannot make it worse."

Often comical, sometimes edgy, and always truthful, 'Aegean Dream' is a bittersweet story of dreams, friendships, and the resilience of the human spirit; of mistakes made, and lessons learned.

I've sold short fiction to several print and online publications, including 'Shimmer' magazine (Fall '05 and Winter '07 issues) and the upcoming 'Best New Tales of the Apocalypse' anthology (Permuted Press); I was also a semi-finalist in the 'Writers of the Future' contest in 2008.

At 140k words, the ms of 'Aegean Dream' is complete and in a good state of polish. I'd be deliriously happy to send you a partial or full.

Thanks so much for your time thus far, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Cordially,

Dario Ciriello