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An Interview with Douglas Esper upon receiving an offer of representation.

09/24/2019

Douglas Esper (douglasesper on QT) has signed with agent Erica Christensen of Metamorphosis Literary Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
In The Watershed is a Suspense/Thriller aimed at the adult market. It began with the premise of throwing strangers together in a dangerous situation to see how they would react and either help/hinder in each other's survival. The tagline I used is:

When a plane crashes in the Rockies in the midst of a freak storm, eleven strangers find themselves stranded with a murderer.

As they proceed down the mountain, the survivors share watershed stories from their lives to help get to know each other and to keep their minds of their perilous circumstances. The stories also give clues as to how the people got on the plane and who might have wanted them dead.

I was inspired by books like In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware and And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Many plot points and character traits were inspired by real life events, which make me wonder about some of my life choices over the years.

How long have you been writing?
The easy answer is that I've been writing since I started learning words. I have old stories about pickle families running from the relish chopper and magic rivers and even some ill-advised video game fan fiction from my youngest days, but I got serious about writing after I got married in my mid-twenties and my wife encouraged me to put the stories I told her about on paper.
How long have you been working on this book?
One of the stories that a survivor tells in this book was written back in high school, though at the time I didn't realize its connection to the larger world yet. I cringe thinking that someday that original draft will see the light of day, but all I can do is keep writing and learning and improving, right?
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Any time the coffee pot was empty, any time I got a rejection, anytime I looked at my bank balance, anytime I read a great book, and a thousand other distractions had me second guessing if I should write or edit another word.
Is this your first book?
I have had a dozen or so short stories published in various anthologies under my name and a pen name, and one novel, A Life of Inches, published by Limitless Publishing in 2015. On the nonfiction side I have published concert, movie, music reviews, interviews, and music-based essays on several websites. I have a nonfiction book, Reintroducing Chuck Mosley: Life On and Off The Road, about my twenty-year friendship with rock vocalist Chuck Mosley (Faith No More, Bad Brains, Indoria) who I toured and recorded music with for a few years until his death in 2017, which will be published by ScoutMedia in 2020.
Do you have any formal writing training?
No, and boy should I get some. I was too busy writing stories or reading them in school to pay attention. My grammar skills need a serious tune-up.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I try to stay active and regular, but I dabble in music and acting as well, so I sort of go with the flow of each project to make as much progress as I can with each. I just finished filming a part for a horror movie, Dwellers, which should be out next year. It was produced by Ellefson Films, which is run by David Ellefson the bassist of Megadeth. The movie has some great moments from established actors and musicians, and the soundtrack is going to be awesome. I sing guest vocals on one of the songs, which I'm excited for people to hear. As my book is on sub, I'm starting the sequel, but also trying to fill any free time up with music, so I don't have time to obsess over good news in my inbox.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
How do you make the infinity symbol on an Apple keyboard? In all seriousness though, the book has gone through a dozen transformations and even now, with my book on sub, there are ideas brewing for these characters.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Over the years I've had a few people read the book, or at least chunks of it, but this was written without too much feedback from beta readers…a trait I hope I don't try on my next novel. Any beta readers out there want to swap stories with me? @douglasesper or douglas@douglasesper.com
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I'm a hipster or panster, for sure. When the initial idea for a story hits, I try to think of what I could do to turn it on its head or what twists would make people shocked at the end, but I don't like to know the details until the fingers type them on the keyboard.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I started a several years ago, querying A Life of Inches. I heard about QT shortly after my first few drafts of the query letter. I've kept a pretty constant watch over the page ever since. The main things I saw were how quickly trends can change, how difficult it is to get straight answers on formatting the query and what to include, and just how subjective the whole process is.

For In The Watershed I started sending out letters just before agreeing to jump on a music tour as a percussionist, which took up all of 2016 and 2017. When the tour ended I took a look at the MS and realized there were issues I wanted to clear up, but in 2018 I wrote a book about my tour and a YA Adventure/Fantasy first. I started to query in earnest in the Fall/Winter of 2018, though I only sent out one or two letters at a time.

About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
According to QT I sent out forty-one queries between 2015 and 2019, with one ill-fated query I sent in 2012, way before I should have, after meeting an agent at a literary event. I might have sent a few queries to agents not on QT in 2015 as well, but I'm not 100% sure.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
First I looked at genres to see if they even liked my type of MS. Next I'd look at the comments to get a feel for what other authors had gone through when they queried. If I saw the agent was rude or rarely replied I crossed them off the list. Next I would check their agency website to gather info on what they wanted in a query, if the website was regularly updated with news, if the agent or agency had a personality, or what they were currently looking for. If the agent or agency didn't specify they would work with new authors or if the website felt stale I might cross them off. Then I searched for interviews, features, essays, or books by the agent. I know a big part of the relationship between an author and an agent is communication, so I wanted to see how they expressed themselves and understand how they saw the industry and the current market. At that point, if I hadn't crossed them off the list I added them to my query list and began writing a query.

Erica Christensen joined Metamorphosis Literary as I was doing some research into them. She posted her wishlist and it fit my book surprisingly well. I had the query, synopsis, and sample chapters sent off quickly and I'm really glad she got excited by my MS the same ways that I did.

Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Having graduated from the prestigious Ohio School of Dad Jokes with honors, I find it almost impossible to send a query without a bad pun or two, and yes, I tried to also let the agent know I had done some research on them and their portfolio.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Be better, smarter, and more organized than I was. Believe in yourself and your writing more than I did. Spend some time on QT and the QT forum. Work with fellow Authors, not against them. Follow trends, but don't live and die by them, and for God's sake don't throw away a book if you think you're too late on a trend, the winds shift all the time.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Sure! This is the generic form I kept saved before adding any personality to it:

In the Watershed, complete at 85k words, is a mystery/thriller similar to In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware and And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

When a plane crashes atop the Rockies in the midst of a blizzard, eleven strangers get stranded with a murderer.

Preeya, a self-employed currier, leads the survivors down the mountain. Freezing, injured, and exhausted, the passengers share their watershed stories to break the ice and keep their focus off of their grim situation. Dwayne, a vagabond widow, tells the group about a good deed that didn't go unpunished. Henry, a disgraced politician, explains the vandalism that offered him a second chance. Nora, a celebrity security specialist, admits that a homicidal stalker may have chased her client, a coverboy on all the recent rock magazines, onto the plane. Her admission informs the group that the blizzard now represents the least of their worries.

Each step down the mountain brings them closer to escape, but the further they get, the bolder the stalker's plan to kidnap Jeffrey becomes. Can the dwindling survivors endure the storm and avoid a killer long enough to find rescue?

My recent publications include: Broken Wing, a general fiction short story in, A Journey Of Words (Scout Media), A Life of Inches, a new adult/sports fiction novel (Limitless Publishing), The Day We Hung The Tallest Thomas, a western short story (Frontier Tales Magazine), A Late Night Bang, a romance novella in, Men Of Mayhem: A Mafia Anthology (Limitless Publishing), My Wife's Favorite, a Suspense/Horror short found in the anthology, A Matter Of Words (ScoutMedia).

I was the touring percussionist for rock musician Chuck Mosley (Faith No More, Bad Brains) until his death in November of 2017. My book, Reintroducing Chuck Mosley: Life On and Off the Road is due for release in 2020 via ScoutMedia.