Sign In
Home

An Interview with Katherine Field Rothschild upon receiving an offer of representation.

09/05/2016

Katherine Field Rothschild (katwinn on QT) has signed with agent Rena Rossner of The Deborah Harris Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
HOPE AND OTHER FEATHERED THINGS follows sixteen-year-old Sabine in the aftermath of her father’s sudden death as she moves to a small Northern California town and into a ramshackle mansion that her father owned with another man—a man who holds secrets to her father’s past. It was inspired by events in my own teen years in the 1990s, but as most books do, it took on a life of it’s own and is no longer a reflection of my experience, but it’s own world. I’d told a writer friend the story years before, and he said “you have to write that! It’s amazing!” and I was like, no way, that’s like, true. But I found that the more I thought about it, the more I was able to separate from my own past, and create a world that reflects the current struggle to accept a gay parent and all the life shrapnel that goes with it.
How long have you been writing?

I love this question, because it’s so important for newer or younger writers to see that writing is a journey—and a long one. I’ve been writing my whole life. I wrote my first novels in tri-color ink on binder paper in Mr. Zedaker’s seventh grade biology classroom. If you’re curious, it was a teen camp romance—of course! And I kept writing from there.

I was accepted into UC Irvine’s undergraduate creative writing program, and studied with Michelle Latiolais and Geoffrey Wolf. At the end of my senior year, Geoff Wolf pulled me aside, and flat told me to go to graduate school. He said something like “If you don’t continue writing, it will be a mistake. Go to grad school.” So I did. I attended St. Mary’s MFA program and studied with Lynn Freed, John Fleming, Rosemary Graham, and Lou Berney, who are all amazing teachers and award-winning writers.

But the most important thing I can say is that although I earned an MFA in Creative Writing in my twenties, I didn’t start what I think of as “seriously writing” until I realized the kind of writer that I am—and that’s a children’s book author. For a long time after graduate school I tried to be something I’m not—an adult author. It was a frustrating time of incomplete manuscripts and terrible short stories. But in that same time, I became a wife and a mom—and that’s what brought me back to who I really am. It was when I was pregnant that I stopped trying to write adult fiction. I was working on a historical fiction for which I had to read these huge research texts, and I just couldn’t do it. I had preggy-brain in a big way. But I wanted to read and I wanted to write, and my dear friend Jennifer Bertman of Book Scavenger fame said, well, I’ll send you some books. And she sent me Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever. And it changed my life. I was like: OH. This is the kind of book I want to write. And that’s OK.

How long have you been working on this book?
HOPE has taken about six years to write, revise, and pitch. Because I had infants for years of that time work was very slow—or nonexistent. But I kept going. I’d wake before the (first) baby and write until she woke, then let it go until the next day. After my second one was born, I had established more time for writing, and I wasn’t willing to give it up, which I’m grateful for. Now I have much more structured time to write. I spend at least two hours a day devoted to writing, either during nap time or at night. Hopefully this means I’ll be done with book two and three a lot faster. We’ll see…
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?

I felt like giving up sooooooo many times. This question should be an entire blog entry, really. If it weren’t for my critique group partners, both past and present, and for the children’s book community at large, I would have stopped querying. I just didn’t know how hard it would be. And of course that’s not the case for everyone. But for me, it was very difficult. I’d been querying for about a year when I got the most heartbreaking rejection from an agent who’d LOVED my book and said a zillion nice, super specific things she loved about it, but she just didn’t think contemporary was selling well right now. She even said if she’d seen me two years ago, she would have signed me in a heartbeat. I mean, come on. It was devastating. So, I said to myself—well, that’s it I guess! This is the best rejection letter ever, and that’s as far as this book is going to go. By then I’d already drafted and was revising my second book, and figure that my first book just wouldn’t sell, and that would be OK. Then two of my published writer friends, Darcey Rosenblatt and Lisa Schulman, cornered me at an SCBWI retreat and staged a writer-vention. They both said: You are so CLOSE. Don’t stop now. Don’t stop now!

I blew them off, but Lisa kept at me and wanted me to read her some of my book, and she just said: you’re good. Don’t give up.

So I didn’t. And they were right—I was really close. So—guys: don’t give up.

Is this your first book?
HOPE AND OTHER FEATHERED THINGS is my first book—and by that I mean the first book I finished a draft of then revised and perfected. I’ve attempted to write adult novels, but never finished any. One I started working on at UCI may still have a life as a re-imaged set of connected historical YA shorts. We’ll see. That book was just in pieces, though. What I learned from writing HOPE is that it doesn’t matter how good what you have is—you need a full draft. Once you finish a full draft and you have a beginning and a middle and an end, you can make all those things better. But you can’t do anything with an unfinished draft.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I am actually an English Professor by trade, so yes, I have extensive training and of course I studied creative writing as an undergrad and have an MFA as well. Not that it really matters. I mean, James Dahsner of Maze Runner fame has said he’s a terrible writer with amazing book ideas. That’s the great thing about writing. You can become a more polished writer--anyone can. It just takes practice.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I insist on one, as a mom. I write during the baby’s naptime, and I write at night. I also take four hours on Saturday morning to write. I never get as much done as I’d like, no matter what! But I have also applied to residencies, and received an artist's grant to Vermont Studio Center, and that was amazing--two weeks, all writing.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
My first book has been revised so many times. If there’s one thing I would advise those querying to do, it’s to take three agents you’re interested in, who would be good matches but not perfect, perhaps, and query them first. Then be patient patient patient. I got this piece of advice, and was lucky enough to get a full, a partial, and a pass. The partial and full both came back passes, but contained such great advice. I went straight back to the book and revised for everything they said that resonated with me, which was a lot. Then I did the same thing again. Query, revise. Query, revise. It took me four revisions AFTER I began querying (when I’d thought the book was ready) before I got a sudden slew of requests (11) and four offers of rep.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
I have beta readers and I have a critique group. I think it’s important to have both, separately. I give the MS to my CG, then implement feedback, then read it through, let it rest, then give it to the betas. And I never let anyone read it twice to critique it—it’s so important to have fresh eyes.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
My first book I was absolutely an idiot and pants’d it. My second, third and forth WIPs are all from outlines. I became a convert after revising my first book so many times. But, there’s something to be said for trying it both ways. I know other authors who always outlined, then got stuck and began to pants-it. I learned so much from the first book, that I can’t knock pantsing. But I hope to never do it again.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
This book I began querying very slowly over a year ago. I did take my time, and I took breaks from querying to revise, but it took over a year. I’ve only had to query one book, and I really hope I never have to query more… it’s worse than trying to buy real estate.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
By the end, I’d sent out just over fifty queries. But I didn’t start that way. As I said, I sent three first to test the waters. The reason this is such a good idea is that you can find out if the query itself is drawing people in, and if the pages are standing up to reading. If you send to an agent who only wants a query, and you get asked for pages, the query is good. If you send the pages and they’re rejected right away, then you know you need to look at your pages, but not the query. And you go from there. I did about twenty queries in ten months, very slowly. Then when I felt like: yes, This book is DONE I sent out a bunch all in one month. It was a crazy month.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I was really careful to select agents who were interested in my genre and my topic, but I kept an open mind. Because I have LGBTQ characters, it was important that the agents I was querying were open to diversity.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
I did tailor every letter to every agent. It takes time, but those querying should definitely do it. I recommend a three-sentence opening paragraph with two of those sentences being why you might be a good fit. I used Manuscript Wish List and of course QueryTracker and most importantly, Twitter! I just stalked anyone I thought I might query to see them in their Twitterverse. To really do personalization well, you need to know quite a bit about each agent, but that’s worthwhile. You never know when you’ll be juggling four offers and if you have notes on everyone already, all the better.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Don’t Give Up! And—be willing to accept criticism from agents. Sit with it to see if it resonates with you. Even be grateful for it (after the wounds have healed). I am so incredibly grateful for three particular agents who spent a lot of time writing to me about what worked, and what didn’t. They all passed on HOPE, which of course stank, but they allowed me to move forward with strong revisions and gave me a glimpse into agents’ expectations. Their help was invaluable.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Here is my query in all its fabulousness... I would have started with a paragraph about how the agent and I have SO MUCH IN COMMON. I’ve included my bio, because I had to look at other people’s bios to figure out how to do my own and to represent my personality through it. Not easy!

You know how you can read a poem like ten times and still not get it? After Sabine’s dad dies mysteriously, she gets it. She has the ability to Totally Get Poetry, a ramshackle mansion in a small town, and a box of her dad’s old letters—like any of that will help.

But when a man who claims to have known her father befriends her mother and moves in with them, those three things lead to the truth: he was her father’s longtime lover and the mansion was their love child. Now all she wants is to find a real home, but the only way to get rid of the mansion is to sabotage its renovations. When her efforts uncover a town scandal, she must decide if she’s willing to fight for the legacy of a father she only thought she knew, or if there’s a way to find peace with the dad she really did. HOPE AND OTHER FEATHERED THINGS will appeal to fans of Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere, Emily Dickinson, and Nina Lacour’s Hold Still.

I'm an Assistant Professor of English at St. Mary’s College, I teach Arabic dance at Girls Inc., and I Twitter-follow food trucks obsessively. My first-person essays have been published on KQED/NPR, in The San Francisco Chronicle, and several other Bay Area/California publications and I’m the recipient of a Vermont Studio Center Artist’s Grant. I have an MFA in Creative Writing and I’m a member of the SCBWI.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Katherine Rothschild