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An Interview with Jason Flum upon receiving an offer of representation.

10/16/2011

Jason Flum (jasonflum on QT) has signed with agent Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary Services.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
The book is a MG contemporary set in a theater school. The book is told from the alternating perspective of two students: one a girl who is convinced she'll get the lead in the fall musical (Bye Bye Birdie), the other a boy who isn't entirely sure he belongs there. Both of their lives and plans are changed when a new girl comes to the school, mirroring the plot of the play they are doing. I've always been a huge theater lover, and have tried to figure out how to write a book about musicals for a very long time. I found my "in" when I realized that I could incorporate all kinds of references and jokes about theater into the plot, and it just kind of grew from there. I need to give credit to my wife, also, who suggested one day that I try taking all this theater knowledge I have and using it for a book.
How long have you been writing?
That's an interesting question. Ten years ago, because I love writing so much, I became a middle school writing teacher. I started "seriously" writing with the goal of writing novels about five years ago. That said, I wrote short stories, plays, and poems on and off since high school.
How long have you been working on this book.
When I get going on an idea, I work incredibly quickly. From idea inception through revising and editing I spent maybe six months on this book. To be fair, I've had a vague idea of this book swimming around in me for years.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
I can't say I ever felt like giving up with this book since it just felt so right for me. I did write other books, though, and rejection letters can be very trying. My attempt at another book before this one failed miserably. I got an idea that I wanted to try - a high school murder mystery. I spent about eight months on that one, wrote about 3/4 of a MS, and realized the book just wasn't working. The mystery element had completely gotten away from me. At that point, before I really hit on this book, I didn't know if I would continue pursuing publication.

However, I knew I couldn't stop writing. I enjoy the creativity and the process of it far too much. Additionally, encouragement from my wife really helped keeping me writing. She kept pushing for my next chapters and next ideas!

Is this your first book?
No, this is my fourth completed book.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I learned writing from three places. The first was from college: I was a theater major specializing in theater history, dramaturgy, and playwriting. The training from those classes helped me a great deal with story structure, conflict, and dialogue. The second training ground from me came in the form of teaching. I wrote a lot of short stories and plays as models for my students, and the many trials and errors of that process helped me improve a lot. That taught me what worked and what didn't when writing for young teenagers: they are the harshest critics imaginable! Finally, I learned a lot simply from reading ALL THE TIME. I grew up with a book attached to my hands, and I knew early on what I liked and didn't like. If I didn't like it, I didn't want to read it. Same goes with writing - if I don't like it, I know it's probably not any good!
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
No - I'm terrible about this. I write in fits and starts. I truly believe in inspired writing and that "forcing it" results in "forced" writing (I realize this makes me somewhat hypocritical as a writing teacher!). I do ALWAYS have whatever my WIP is in the back of my mind, so in a way I'm constantly writing. I also make it a habit to always leave whatever I'm working on open on my computer at any given time. I'll write as inspiration strikes - sometimes pages at a time, sometimes paragraphs, sometimes a sentence. As soon as I feel inspiration is gone, I stop. I've actually left sentences half written to come back to them later. A couple of times I've come back to the computer and found I left off in the middle of a word! Most of the time I can pick right back up when I need to, but occasionally I have to ask myself, "What in the world was I writing there?"
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I tend to do a lot of revising and editing as I go. I ran through one edit two weeks after I finished the first draft and sent it out to a writer friend I have in the theater industry. He gave me some tips and I ran through it again and made some changes. I then gave the book to someone else who I knew loved theater and is in the publishing industry. He gave me some more advice which led to some pretty big changes: two added conflicts, more character development for two of the characters, and a big adjustment in the pacing of the book. I think I'm like a lot of writers in that I could make changes endlessly, but it was not long after this change that I got my offer of representation.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
As I said above, yes, I did have a couple of beta readers. My wife reads every word I write. I have given some of my writing to my students (though not this particular book). I also have a couple of people I met at online writing conferences who've served as great beta readers for some of my work.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I totally write from the hip. I'm constantly thinking about my WIP, so the outline is in my head at all times - constantly being readjusted and tweaked. I'm also a big fan of retcon-ing my book. If an idea comes to me for later in a book, I'll do what I can to make it work by going back and fixing things that came earlier so they line up. I tend to find outlining a little restrictive -- I have a very hard time diverging from an outline if I create one, and I feel like that stifles my ability to let the story grow in a natural way.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I queried this book for about a month (I got very lucky!). I queried my first book for about a year and a half. I got some requests for partials and even a couple for fulls, but fell shy of getting representation for it.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I sent out about a dozen for this book.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I did searches for agents who represented MG books, of course, but also tried to find ones with an interest in theater. Rachael's website mentioned a love of pop culture, so I took a shot with her. It turned out she is a huge theater fan, so we connected right away!
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
I did in that I looked specifically for agents who would get the theater references in my book. I made references to their love of pop culture or, in a couple of cases, the blogs they wrote that mentioned theater.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Four simple words: DO NOT GIVE UP. It's really frustrating getting rejections. My first book got a LOT of them. It takes a lot of grit to keep sending out to agents knowing the odds are so heavily stacked against you, but you're never going to get that agent if you quit. The other thing I can say is that agents are people, too. Show them respect, be polite, and try to be patient. One of the ways I knew I would click with Rachael was when I spoke with her on the phone and I could hear the enthusiasm in her voice. I was busting when I talked to her, but it was even more reassuring to know that she was excited as well.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?

Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start): Jennifer Knight is a diva. As the best actress in the eighth grade in an exclusive performing arts school, she should be a shoo-in for the lead role in the upcoming gender-reversed production of Bye Bye Birdie. Of course, heroines in musical theater never get what they want easily, and Jennifer’s road to stardom is a bumpy one: her best friend is planning to betray her, the boy she wants loves someone else, and the new girl in school is an experienced professional just waiting to steal Jennifer’s spotlight.

Every great musical needs a hero, of course, and our hero is Bill Franklin. The trouble is, while a great performer, Bill doesn’t buy into the school’s tradition of peppering language with references to musical theater at every conceivable opportunity. In fact, he considered leaving the school altogether until he met and fell head-smashingly in love with Connie Wells. Everything seems to be coming up roses for Bill, until he realizes Connie may not be the girl he wants, the backstage drama at the show may well destroy the entire production, and, to top it all off, a big shot Broadway producer will be in the audience opening night, ready to create a new star!

*Insert personalization and a couple of sentences about my friend in the theater world*

Bye Bye Connie is contemporary MG novel told from two POVs complete at 40,000 words. With over 150 references to lyrics from musicals ranging from Show Boat to Book of Mormon, as well as characters and a plot in the tradition of musical comedy, this book will entertain anyone who has ever thrilled to a great big Broadway show, danced around their living room to Glee, and wants a story filled with humor and heart (“you’ve gotta have heart!”).

Since I was seven years old and my father showed me The Sound of Music, I have been hopelessly devoted to musical theater. After majoring in theater in college, I went on to become (fittingly for Birdie) an English teacher in middle school. I have had four short stories published in _________ magazine.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to your response.