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An Interview with Lisa Ann Chickos upon receiving an offer of representation.

07/01/2012

Lisa Ann Chickos (LisaAnn on QT) has signed with agent Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
My YA novel ESSENCE is a Near-Future Thriller about a seventeen year-old who lives under the control of San Francisco’s cult-like Centrist Movement. She stumbles upon a group of free-spirited Outsiders living in the abandoned remains of Yosemite National Park, and she must struggle to stay true to herself while realigning her values and pushing herself to become one of them.

ESSENCE was inspired by the summer I spent living in a tent and working in Yosemite National Park. (I am now a huge fan of indoor plumbing, shooting stars and keeping both my feet planted firmly on the ground.)

How long have you been writing?
I have been writing recreationally for pretty much my whole life, but I have been writing with the goal publication since the fall of 2009. This is my second completed novel.
How long have you been working on this book?
This novel is a personal record for me. I wrote the first draft in just under five months, and I spent an additional month and a half revising and polishing it. (My first novel took a year and a half to write, and it took an additional six months to revise, so this novel definitely took control of my life.)
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Absolutely. This is actually my second Query Tracker Success Story, as I parted ways with my former literary agency earlier this year. Getting an agent the first time around was hard enough, so the realization that I needed to dive back in AGAIN was nearly panic attack-inducing. (Not to mention the fact that I was less than 100 pages into ESSENCE, so I didn't even have anything to dive back in with.)

Fortunately, I have a great support system (including all my friends on the QT forum!), so I dove immediately into the creation of ESSENCE—which explains its lightning-quick inception. Within a few months, I had something tangible in my hands, and I felt ready to put myself out there again.

Do you have any formal writing training?
I minored in Magazine Journalism in college, but my creative writing background is mostly self-taught. I also learned quite a bit from the mistakes I made in my first novel, so ESSENCE didn’t fight with me nearly as often as that first manuscript did.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I work full-time at a nature center, so ESSENCE was mostly scrawled late at night or on weekends. I also tend to take the approach of the hare, not the tortoise, so there were many periods of feasts and famines—including the entire month of April 2012, when I barely wrote a word.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Act One has undergone a few rewrites already, but Act Two and Three remain mostly untouched. (This will all change, I’m sure, when Hannah and I begin revisions!)
Did you have beta readers for your book?
I did. As always, my husband, my parents and my sister were hugely helpful. My cousin-in-law was the perfect target audience, and two of my friends from Yosemite checked the book for accuracy. A handful of other critique partners helped me polish my first fifty pages, and this novel definitely wouldn’t be what it is today without everyone’s insight and support.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I am an outliner by nature, but this novel fought back every time I tried to pigeonhole it. I finally gave up and let the story tell itself—which was simultaneously the most liberating and the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Thankfully, I made some really good agent contacts last year when I was querying my first novel. One of these contacts was Hannah, and she just happened to be my dream agent. She and I began conversing back in February when the story was still in its early stages, and we agreed I would send it to her when I was finished.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Because I already knew Hannah was the agent I wanted, I told her the novel was hers if she liked it; I wouldn’t even query it to other agents. (I nearly had a panic attack when I finally sent ESSENCE to her, but thankfully, she offered me a contract a week later. This is WAY faster than my first novel, which took eight months to find a home.)
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Remember that literary agents are just people. As aspiring writers, it is important for us to look at more than just agency reputations and book sales when we discuss potential partnerships with them. We need to look at things that can't be quantified quite so easily: compatibility, enthusiasm, passion, and the drive and determination necessary to follow-through--not just for one book, but for the duration of our careers.

After all, it's that intrinsic, abstract quality of "rightness" that is often the difference between success and failure. And in a business as competitive and unforgiving as book publishing, we need to take every advantage we can get.

Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Absolutely. Like I said, I didn’t have an “official” query letter this time around. I did, however, write up a pitch, and I would be happy to share that with you. Here it is:

Neutrality is the key to longevity.

This is the only truth seventeen year-old Autumn Marsh has ever known. She lives under the control of San Francisco’s cult-like Centrist Movement—a new spirituality that claims emotional experiences lead to Essence drain and early death.

Autumn has learned to suppress her feelings, but her younger brother’s death brings her faith into question. While illegally sprinting through a condemned park, she encounters Ryder Strong—a free-spirited Outsider who claims Essence drain is nothing more than a Centrist scare tactic. From his headquarters in the abandoned remains of Yosemite National Park, he says he can prove it.

Joining Ryder’s community means abandoning her family, giving up her identity and forsaking everything she has ever believed in, but Autumn is determined to find the truth—even if she risks losing herself in the process.

-Lisa Ann Chickos