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An Interview with Leah Raeder upon receiving an offer of representation.

Leah Raeder (leahzero on QT) has signed with agent Weronika Janczuk of The Janczuk Literary Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
THE FERAL is a modern take on the zombie mythos--told from the viewpoint of the so-called zombies. A viral outbreak spread through contaminated flu vaccine sweeps the country, turning its victims violent and cannibalistic. Five ordinary people in a small Iowa town find themselves thrown together, struggling to survive as their friends and neighbors turn on them. The bad news? They're infected, too. The maybe not so bad news? They're not becoming zombies...but something both more and less than human.

I've been a zombie nut ever since I was a teenager scaring myself silly playing Resident Evil. You'll never walk down a hallway with a lot of windows and feel safe after that. My generation grew up more with zombie video games rather than zombie movies. Notice what's missing from that equation? Zombie books.

I wanted to combine modern horror with my love of literary fiction and intensely character-driven stories, and zombies are a surprisingly good fit: in most zombie stories, the monsters are almost just a backdrop for the human drama. But I wanted these monsters to be front and center, so the solution was obvious: make the main characters infected. The result is a literary horror/thriller fairly unlike anything out there. The closest comparison is probably Alden Bell's (Joshua Gaylord's) wonderful THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS, a Southern Gothic literary zombie bildungsroman. (Say that three times fast.)

How long have you been writing?
I wrote my first novel in pencil on looseleaf notebook paper when I was 8. It was about pirates. LEGO pirates.
How long have you been working on this book?
I worked on world-building THE FERAL throughout 2009. Started seriously writing the first draft in February 2010 and finished around November, so roughly 10 months of writing. The next half-year was spent editing, querying, waiting, and then editing s'more. This book has been a major part of my life for the past three years. I dream about my characters. It's awesomely geeky.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Oh yes. Mostly during the querying process.

What wore me down was how long the whole process took. A close friend of mine found her agent after a month and a half of querying. Of course it's a mistake to generalize from that, but every month that passed galled me. I made a promise to myself that if I didn't find an agent before my birthday this year--or at least have very good prospects with one--then I'd seriously consider self-publishing, just so I could get out of the agent game and get on with what I really wanted to do: continue writing.

What helped me stay the course? Stories from the online writing community. My season of querying is nothing compared to what some folks have endured. And, deep down, I knew I had something special. It's been my dream since I was a little girl to become a commercially published author, and I've spent a lot of my time on this earth working toward that dream. If it didn't happen with THE FERAL, it would happen with something else.

Is this your first book?
Yes and no. There were the LEGO pirates, and over the years there were some (embarrassingly autobiographical) novels that never got finished, but THE FERAL is the first book I've completed, revised, and that feels like a real book to me.
Do you have any formal writing training?
Nothing beyond your requisite college English courses. I just read a lot.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
While I was writing the first draft, I had daily goals: 500 words, 1000 words, finish this scene, kill that guy off, etc. I'm a procrastinator of the highest order, so it took an effort of will to discipline myself at the beginning.

But when the story really got rolling, I found myself looking forward to the hard work, because I just had to find out what was going to happen next. That's probably the best part of writing: when you get so caught up in the story that you don't even realize you're doing work.

How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Only about a billion times. I'm obsessive about editing. Never satisfied with word choice or sentence rhythm. But I didn't do any serious rewriting until my agent requested a revise & resubmit.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Yup. About half a dozen. My beta experience was largely positive. I'm the type of person who learns more from critiquing others' work than being critiqued, though, so what I really enjoyed was getting to read others' novels and offer my feedback.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Both. The first act was outlined. The latter two acts emerged organically, but I tried to plot several scenes ahead as I wrote. I have to mention my boyfriend here: he was instrumental in listening to me ramble about the plot and helping me figure out where it had to go next. If possible, I highly recommend acquiring a live human sounding board and/or crap filter of your own. Bonus points if it's cute.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I started querying in December 2010. In late February 2011, Weronika offered me a revise & resubmit, so I stopped querying then to work on revisions. I sent the R&R back in June and she offered rep in July.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
48. Out of those, 42 were rejections or no response, and 6 were partial or full requests.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Initially I just looked for agents interested in the genres represented in my book. Horror was the toughest sell, because very few agents are interested in horror these days. Later I tried the book approach: I contacted agents who represented books I read that felt similar to mine, whether or not those agents claimed to rep my genres. That seemed to yield better results.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
For some of them, yes. I mentioned books/authors they repped that were similar to mine, or referred to something they posted on their blog or said in an interview that inspired me to query them. I figured, even if they passed, at least they could recognize that I did my homework and wasn't just spraying and praying. And it must be nice to feel like a person instead of a name on a checklist.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Three magic words:

Don't. Give. Up.

Would you be willing to share your query with us?

Rosa Farrow didn't kill Ben Waters. She moved in with her brother to get away from violence: the alcoholic father who was behind the wheel the day Mom died. But she's the last one who sees Ben alive. When his body turns up brutally mauled—with evidence of human bite marks—everyone wants to talk to her. Cops. Social workers. Even her brother seems unsure of her innocence. Rosa's starting to feel like she's in some waking Kafkaesque nightmare.

Until Ben's body disappears from the morgue.

And he shows back up at school, bloody, pissed off—and with lots of murderous new friends.

That's when he does the one thing you shouldn't let the recently deceased do: he bites her. She flees with her brother, but something escapes with her, stows away in her veins. She's infected. Changing. Becoming something like Ben. Becoming a monster even worse than her dad.

Rosa's no killer. Whatever happens, she won't follow in her father's footsteps. But how can she fight something that's inside of her?

THE FERAL is a literary thriller complete at 100,000 words... etc. etc. (I included the first 5 pages unless the agent's submission guidelines specifically said otherwise.)