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An Interview with Karen Brenner upon receiving an offer of representation.

01/03/2018

Karen Brenner (kbbrenner on QT) has signed with agent Anna Trader of The Rights Factory.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
The book that is being represented is titled "All That Remains." It's a family saga that begins in Louisiana in the 1960's, travels to Chicago, New York City, on to the UK and ends in the present day back in Louisiana. It is the story of a family of musicians whose lives collide with violence and tragedy and their quest to understand and forgive. I was inspired to write this book because of my deep love of music and my belief in its transformative powers.
How long have you been writing?
I've always wanted to be a writer (from the time a substitute teacher in my second grade class told me that I was a wonderful writer). I started writing professionally in 2005 after a bout with cancer. (I've been cancer free for 12 years so its all good).
How long have you been working on this book?
I started working on "All That Remains" in 2014. I took some other writers' advice and put the book away for a year. I started reviewing and revising it just this December. I think the time away from the book really helped me.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
No, I never intended to give up. I knew that I wasn't going to allow the book to stay in a drawer. If I couldn't find an agent, I would self publish. I was (and am) determined that the people in my book will live out in the world!

But it is very discouraging to get the rejections. You do grow a thick skin and this process is an important learning curve.

Is this your first book?
This is the second novel I've written. I co-wrote a non-fiction book with my husband that has been published. We have a contract with a publisher in the UK for a second non-fiction book that we're writing together.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I have a master's in literature and was a writing teacher for several years.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I have a very strict routine for writing. I go to work in my study every morning. The writing comes first, everything else can wait (except for my family). I usually write through the morning and leave the afternoon for the rest of my life. When I'm working on re-writes, I work here and there throughout the day as re-writing is exhausting and I find I do it best in small increments of time.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I am a serial, obsessive re-writer. I've rewritten the book many times. I have no problem throwing out entire chapters or completely rewriting a character. On the last rewrite of "All That Remains" I cut out 25, 000 words and two entire chapters. I'm good at editing content but I'm the world's worst editor when it comes to typos and mistakes. I find lots of missing end quotes, and missing words in my MS, even after many revisions!
Did you have beta readers for your book?
I'm very fortunate in my beta readers. My children and husband are my first readers. I have a group of friends who are also beta readers. Their corrections, comments and suggestions are invaluable to me. I don't always agree with their critiques but I'm always grateful that they take the time to read what I've written and give thoughtful feedback.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I don't write fiction from an outline. (I do use brief chapter outlines when writing non-fiction). I see the novel as a movie in my head and then I put it down on paper where it usually changes quite a bit. I often argue with characters who want to do something I don't agree with or don't want to do something I want them to do. They always win the argument and they're always right!
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I was so very lucky with "All That Remains!" I only queried for about a week. I think I sent out 22 queries, got several requests for more material and signed with an agent, Anna Trader of The Rights Factory by the end of that week.

Anna is a wonderful person to work with and I am so happy that she is representing me! I began querying for my first novel, "The Dancing Skeleton" in June. I sent out 150 queries and had several agents ask for more material. Five wanted to see the entire MS. This experience with querying for my first book gave me a much tougher skin and taught me how to write a pitch paragraph and a tag line. It was a painful but very important learning process. I couldn't have survived it without Query Tracker!

On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
My criteria for selecting an agent was based on the genres they are interested in, the comments found on Query Tracker, and their rate of reply.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
I didn't tailor my query letter to specific agents.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
I would encourage my fellow writers to use the querying process as a learning experience. There is so much to learn! It does hurt when you receive rejections (especially when you get two or three or more on the same day)! But rejection is part of being a writer and, if you allow it, this process will make you a better, tougher and smarter writer.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Here is my query letter for "All That Remains." Good luck to everyone on QT!

All That Remains is my 96,000 word, women’s literary novel that tells the story of the Quinn family: the enormously talented, wildly dramatic, funny and sometimes dangerous Quinns. The novel opens with the story of Birdsong Olivier, a mixed-race child growing up in the Jim Crow South, a little girl with an enormous gift. Her mother, Hattie Mae, cleans the house of the music teacher in Abbeville, Louisiana. Miss Elder recognizes Birdsong’s musical ability and works with the little girl to develop her crystal clear, soaring soprano voice. But neither Birdy’s mother nor her music teacher can prepare her for the day she meets Michael Quinn, the man for whom she must audition to win a scholarship to the Julliard Vocal Arts Program.

And nothing can prepare Michael Quinn for the stunning moment when he first sees Birdsong Olivier as she stands trembling before him, waiting for her chance of a life time. This gifted singer from Louisiana, this slip of a girl shakes Quinn to his core. It isn’t her powerful spinto soprano voice that overwhelms him, it is Birdsong’s uncanny resemblance to that girl with the red-gold hair in Derry, the laughing girl reaching out to the letter box to post her wedding invitations. The girl that he and his brothers in the IRA blasted to nothingness.

The lives of Michael Quinn and Birdsong Olivier are shaped and choreographed by the music inside of them, their destinies determined by the tragedies visited upon them. It is these terrible events from their past that forge the journeys each must take, together and apart. From the rape of innocence and the murder of youth a wellspring of discovery and grace flows through their lives.

I was raised in the South in a family of musicians and singers and loved writing this story about the power of music in the lives of a family spanning three generations. I have written many articles and stories that have been published both in the US and abroad. After the success of my first non-fiction book, You Say Goodbye and We Say Hello, I recently signed a contract with a publishing house in the UK for my second non-fiction book, A Day in the Life. Since 2005, I have been an on-air contributor for WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio reading my stories from life. I was awarded the Peter Lisgaor Prize from the Society of Professional Journalists for my story, “Driving with Frank Sinatra.”

Thank you very much for your consideration of this query