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An Interview with Lindsay Eagar upon receiving an offer of representation.

09/09/2013

Lindsay Eagar (lindsaymccall on QT) has signed with agent Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
HOUR OF THE BEES is a MG magical realism about a girl who spends a summer in the New Mexico desert on her grandfather's run-down sheep ranch. There's also a parallel story about a magic tree, an ancient green lake, and bees that the grandfather thinks will bring rain and end the drought.

The whole thing poured out of me with no warning. I started with a blank piece of paper at 7 AM on a June morning. I literally sat down with no idea, no premise, just a desire to write something different. An hour later, I had a scene about this girl, her ailing grandfather, and a baby brother who crawls under the porch and is nearly bitten by a rattlesnake. This is still my opening chapter.

I had no idea who these people were. Or why they were on a ranch, or why the grandfather kept talking about bees. I turned on the soundtrack to The Fountain (gorgeous, sparse, haunting violin music by Clint Mansell). By the end of the last song, I knew my plot. The thing spilled out of me in ten days.

How long have you been writing?
Writing? Since I could spell.

Writing well? For about two years. Books and storytelling have always been part of my fabric; they're in my blood. After a few false start manuscripts (we all have those, right?), I made a conscious decision to work on my writing craft. Hard. That was in fall of 2011. The writing I did before, as compared to the writing I am capable of now... It's astonishing. Forget talent; hard work makes the writing bloom.

How long have you been working on this book?
The first draft took ten days. I made myself wait for two weeks before revising while critique partners read and gave feedback. The second draft took another month. Every page got the red pen, though the skeleton of the book's plot stayed the same. I deemed it ready for querying at the beginning of August.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Giving up was never on my radar. I've wanted this my whole life. That isn't to say it was always smooth sailing. My family and friends have been tremendously supportive, allowing me to ramble when things are going well, and vent when things are crashing and burning.
Is this your first book?
No. I started lots of writing projects, but never finished or revised. In fall 2011, I wrote a MG pirate adventure, finished it, and revised it about six times in 18 months. I lovingly call it my Training-Wheels novel. Via trial and error, Pirate Book taught me what worked and what didn't. Someday I hope to go back and rewrite Pirate Book. To get it right, now that I know what I'm doing.

Amazingly enough, the night before I started HOUR OF THE BEES, I officially trunked my Pirate Book. Closed the computer files, put all my hard copies in a desk drawer. I gave myself one night to cry and mourn (I really love Pirate Book) and set out a blank piece of paper for in the morning. I knew to be a writer, I needed to move onto a new project. The next morning, I wrote that first chapter of HOUR OF THE BEES.

Do you have any formal writing training?
Nope!
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
Schedule? Ha. No. I'm a single-mama to my three year-old daughter. I learned long ago not to rely on any kind of writing routine (crutch) but to be flexible (desperate) about my time. I write anywhere. At any moment. At the park, in the car, while she's in the bath, and of course, when she's asleep. I steal little bits of time and write sentences, outlines, dialogue.

Music's been my anchor for getting "in the mood" to write; whenever I go back to the songs I've assigned to certain scenes, I can remember what kind of emotional core each scene has.

I do handwrite everything, then edit as I type. And coffee. Iced coffee, in an IV.

How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Only once. But every word was inspected and polished.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Yes, and I just want to kiss all their feet. My wondrous CPs are Lori, a fellow MG writer who is generous with her time and genius with her feedback.

Also the exceptional Taryn Albright, who edited HOUR OF THE BEES in its raw, rough draft form and told me, "you've got something special, people will be buzz-ing about it," and I love her enough to let her make bad puns like that.

My other CP is an old friend Bree, a writer of brilliantly dark and bloody things. Bree and I have been swapping our writing since elementary school. She's my favorite author, but she hasn't been published yet.

My family also kindly read the manuscript at various points of completion.

Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I do not begin writing projects unless I know how they will end. (I learned that the hard way.) I take my time brainstorming, write down lots of images and conversations and weirdly threaded character stakes and feelings. I scribble for a page or two like I'm really writing it, trying to get a feel for the voice or tone. Then I outline like a beast.

I outline scenes and break down my chapters. I also write chronologically, at least for the first draft, so I can control the pacing. I don't outline every detail in every scene, but I do a rough sketch of the main plot points that need to happen before I begin; that way I can focus on those up-close moments that are so important to have with a character.

How long have you been querying for this book?
(Please don't kill me for this answer.)

Before I sent a single query, I posted my finely-polished (with the help of the QT Forum community) onto the WriteOnCon forums. That was on 8/6. I had two Ninja Agents (real-life agents in disguise) request my full manuscript within a couple of hours! I had two full requests before I even sent any queries!

I took that as a sign. Instead of tentatively sending queries in wee little batches (testing the waters, like you do), I got super picky with my list of agents and sent ALL the queries. One in particular was terrifying to send, to Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Lit. I know you're not supposed to have a "dream" agent, QT community, but I did, and Sarah Davies was her name. I nearly bit through my tongue when I hit the send button on that one.

On 8/23, these were my stats:

  • Total queries sent: 30
  • Total full requests: 20
  • Offers of representation: 4
  • Total personalized rejections: 5
  • Chips and queso nervously nibbled: all the chips and queso.

I spoke to lovely literary agents on the phone about HOUR OF THE BEES. Hearing strangers tell you they loved your book... Honestly, it's the best writing experience I've had. But when I hung up with Sarah Davies... I knew this was the agent for me. Dream agent. :)

I know it seems like my experience querying was atypical... But I didn't sent a single query until both my manuscript and the query letter were SOLID. Ready. Without a doubt the best I could make them.

It was kind of a crazy couple of weeks.

On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
The obvious: they repped my category (MG) and were actively seeking my genre (contemporary/magical realism). I pared down the long list to the ones whose online presence I admired, whose clients' books I respected, and who was selling to imprints/houses I liked. I used QueryTracker to glean this data from, as well as Publishers Marketplace and good ole' Google.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Somewhat. I liked my query letter to be sparse, so I didn't add a lot of personal schmoozing. And my publication credits were easy to list: zero.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Be connected. If I'd sent the first query I wrote (shudder), I wouldn't have gotten requests. The QueryTracker community gave me tremendous help rewriting my awful query until it shone.

Treat every response as the feedback it is. Are you getting form rejections? That's feedback; something's not working. Are you getting personalized rejections? That says something too. You almost have their attention, but it's still not working. Getting requests on your full manuscript, but no offers? Your query and sample pages are doing their job, but something's wrong with your manuscript. Dead silence? That's feedback, too.

This is obvious, but slooooooooooow down. Treebeard says, "Don't be hasty." He must have been in publishing. Is your manuscript really ready? Are you sure? Double check, just in case. What about your query? Have others read it? You only get one shot per agent per project. Why rush and waste that chance? Why guarantee rejections when your manuscript or query isn't ready? I'm proof that if you wait, work hard, and only submit when it's really time, you don't have to have a ton of rejections.

Would you be willing to share your query with us?

Babysitting her thousand-year-old grandfather isn't how Carolina wants to spend her last summer before junior high. Grandpa Serge has dementia and is meaner than a rattler. Her family is fixing up Serge's sheep ranch to sell, and Carol's already counting down the days until they dump Serge at the assisted-living facility. Then she can go home. Sweet, air-conditioned home.

This stretch of New Mexico desert is so dry, the locals joke it's cursed with an eternal drought. But Serge takes it literally. He says a magic tree used to grow on the shores of a green lake, and honeybees lived in its blossoms. When the tree was chopped down, the bees were so furious, they carried the lake away and the drought began. It won't rain again until the bees come back, Serge says. To Carol, it's the stuff of fairy tales.

Carol rolls her eyes at Serge's wild stories, along with the rest of her family. But when she finds a beehive in the barn and hears thunder at night, she realizes this is more than Serge's dementia rambling. Curses don't come with how-to manuals, so Carol has to team up with the one person she never thought she'd fight for: loud, creaky, crazy Grandpa Serge.

Unravel the curse, so the bees will bring back the rain. Keep Serge out of the old folks' home long enough to see it happen.

There's something happening under all that New Mexico sky, and it might be rain.

HOUR OF THE BEES, a MG magical realism, is complete at 32,000 words. It will appeal to readers of Louis Sachar's HOLES and Sandra Cisneros's THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET.