Sign In
Home

An Interview with Kevin Winchester upon receiving an offer of representation.

Kevin Winchester (kwinches on QT) has signed with agent Adam Friedstein of .

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
It's a historical novel about two brothers seeking redemption in the tragic roles thrust upon them in the volatile three years building up to the 1961 Monroe race riots. The "prodigal" brother returns home, having not spoken to his brother in over ten years. That brother has quietly joined the Klan in order to help preserve "the Christian way of life." The returning brother joins an interracial band soon after his return. The historical backdrop for the novel is Monroe, NC during the years of 1958-1961, when Robert Williams is promoting his "armed resistance" movement (later adopted by the Black Panther Party) until he is wrongly accused of kidnapping a white couple and flees the area to live in exile, first in Cuba, then China.
How long have you been writing?
Most of my life as a hobby, but I've been writing seriously (for publication) for about fifteen years.
How long have you been working on this book?
The first idea of the novel came from a short story I wrote called "Shine" that appeared in Gulf Coast in Spring of 2006. I began developing the idea as a novel that summer, spent almost a year researching the historical portions, finished the first draft in 2008 and the draft I submitted to agents in the fall of 2009. So, to answer the question, indirectly for four years, actual writing--two years.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
No, not really. By the time I started this project, I'd already established pretty solid writing habits. I wrote every day, so this project simply provided a unified topic for my daily writing.
Is this your first book?
First novel. A small literary press (Main Street Rag) published my short story collection, Everybody's Gotta Eat, in July, 2009.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I have na MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University in Charlotte, NC and I've attended several workshops and conferences, including Bread Loaf as a "wait-staff scholar."
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
Yes, I write every day, have for several years, except for Christmas and my wife's birthday.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
First page to last, every word, complete edits? Eight, including the quick pass with my agent. Seven complete times before I began to query and a few chapters and sections many, many more times.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Yes, I have three readers who I really trust. They're honest and don't pull any punches.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
For the most part, from the hip. I had the historical aspects as a general framework or guide, but those aspects really have little to do with the thrust of the plot or the characters. Most days I sat down to write without knowing exactly what all might happen that day on the page.
How long have you been querying for this book?
I sent my first query in October 2009, and tried to send at least one or two a week. My agent offered representation in August, 2010.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Agent queries- 42. I also submitted and queried small presses and contests.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I did a lot of research and developed a three tiered-list: good, better, and best. First, I looked for agents who represented authors I admired and thought my work was similar. Then agents who represented my genre and style.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Not really. Since I'd researched my agent list thoroughly, I didn't feel the need to tailor my query. Sure, there were minor tweaks, but never anything major.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Revise your manuscript until you know it's as strong as you can possibly make it. Have someone read it who'll be honest and who you trust. Most importantly, be patient.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Sure. Here's a copy of the "master query" I sent:

Dear xxx:

In the small town where Robert Williams is beginning his movement of armed resistance against racism, Franklin McAllister, a local Ku Klux Klan member, is working against him when Franklin’s brother, Harley, returns home and joins an interracial band that Williams supports—an unforgivable act, as far as Franklin is concerned.

On Trembling Ground is a literary novel of 102,000 words, which readers of authors Ron Rash and Kathyrn Stockett will enjoy. It is the story of two brothers, Franklin and Harley McAllister. More than anything, Harley wants to play music professionally but after nearly fifteen years touring juke joints in the South, he returns home broke and unsure how to advance his career. Franklin is a member of the local Ku Klux Klan, and is intent on preserving “the Christian way of life” in the South. As racial tensions in the community rise, Harley is offered the chance to play in an interracial band with Addie Johnson. Harley chooses to follow his dream, and once the Klan hears of it, they force Franklin to choose his allegiance—to his family or to the Klan’s cause. He chooses the Klan and is willing to destroy his brother and their family as a result.

The historical nature of the novel arises from “the Kissing Case.” Two African-American boys, ages eight and ten, were accused of raping a twelve-year-old white girl in Monroe, NC in 1958 and Robert Williams used the ensuing publicity to begin actively promoting his idea of armed resistance against racists. Three years later, he fled Monroe for Cuba as a riot engulfed the town. The tension-filled years from 1958 to 1961 provide the setting for the novel On Trembling Ground. The novel utilizes alternating, first person narrators to reveal the community’s struggles and Harley and Franklin’s attempts at coming to terms with their past and current differences, their family heritage and legacy, and their new roles in those struggles.

I received an M.F.A. from Queens University of Charlotte in 2005. Sections of On Trembling Ground appeared previously in “Gulf Coast Literary and Arts Journal” and in my short story collection, “Everybody’s Gotta Eat,” published by Main Street Rag in 2009. Other examples of my writing have appeared in “Tin House,”“Story South,” “Barrel House Magazine” and the anthology Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas. I also attended the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in 2005 on a “wait-staff” scholarship. I currently live in Waxhaw, NC and grew up in Monroe, the novel’s setting. Much of the material in the novel is based on firsthand accounts of these events from relevant sources in the area.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Best regards,