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An Interview with Michael Landweber upon receiving an offer of representation.

Michael Landweber (mikeland on QT) has signed with agent Tricia Davey of Davey Literary & Media.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for about 20 years. I started in my teens with pretty bad short stories. In the years since, I’ve cycled steadily through better short stories, screenplays and novels.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
There have been times where I felt that the project I was working on would be my last. This will sound simplistic, but writing is hard. It can completely drain you. I’m not sure there is any writer who hasn’t thought that it would just be easier to quit. What keeps me on course? There’s always another idea, another story, that I have to write. So I do.
Is this your first book?
No. I wrote a couple of trunk novels in my early 20s. Then, I had a long period where I wrote no prose, but instead focused on screenplays with a partner in L.A. In 2007, I started writing prose again and have finished at least drafts of three novels since then.
How long have you been working on this book?
Less than a year. Probably about four months of intense writing over an eight-month period.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I took creative writing classes in college. I’ve also taken some screenwriting workshops at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda (which is a great resource for all kinds of writing for anyone in the DC area).
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
When I’m deep in a project, I write 3-4 hours a day, usually late at night after my family goes to bed. During these stretches, I write every day until I’m done with a draft. But when I’m finished with a project, I often will not write at all (except for an occasional short story) for an extended period. I guess I need to recharge and let ideas percolate.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I did three full passes at this book.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
I don’t really have beta readers unfortunately. In fact, I do exactly what I’m not supposed to do – that is, my readers tend to be my wife, my parents and occasionally friends. Luckily, though it pains her to criticize my work, my wife is a savvy reader who can usually point me clearly toward what isn’t working in my writing.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I do a mixture of the two. I tend to have a Word file that is a running, and frequently changing, outline of the overall structure of the book. But it is far from detailed. A combination of big picture stuff and odd details I don’t want to forget. Lots of scenes get written that were never in the outline. And I also tend to have lots of scraps of paper around that have specific little details on them that I plan to use in the near-term. Once I really get rolling, I tend to abandon the original Word outline altogether.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I queried this book for about two months. I queried another book for over a year with a couple of near misses with agents.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Sixty query letters. I love breaking down stats, which is why QueryTracker was so amazing for me. About half of my queries were non-responses, 40 percent rejections and 10 percent requests. Oddly enough, I sent sixty queries on my last book too. That one netted about one-third requests, but no agent. All the numbers really show is that it is true that you just need to hit the right agent on the right day with the right project.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I write off-beat literary fiction that tends to have genre elements. So I used QueryTracker to sort by agents who had offbeat/quirky in their profiles. Not a perfect filter, but it was a good place to start to narrow down. Of course, then I would do more in-depth research on each agent to see if their client lists and their comments on blogs or websites seemed to mesh with my work. Often it just came down to a gut feeling that this person might like what I wrote.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
I didn’t tailor queries at all.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
All the basics, of course. Don’t stop writing just because you’re querying. Always do your research on agents. Be polite and professional, even when you’re fed up with the process. But really the best thing for me was cultivating a community of writers. I did this in two ways. Locally, I joined a short story writing group. It provided me with a group of friends who were struggling with the craft of writing just as I was. Then, I started hanging out on online writers’ message boards (with a shout out to my AW Purgatorians). I learned a ton from the collective wisdom of other writers, particularly about the dos and don’ts of querying. But more importantly, by reading posts and interacting with so many writers, I saw the entire spectrum of the process, from querying to landing an agent to being on submission to publishing a book. Over time, writers who had struggled would land agents and sell books and give everyone else hope. It is strange to think about having this shared experience with people I’ve never met, but at the same time it was incredibly comforting to be able to tap into that extended support network.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Sure. My query letter went through a couple of iterations, but here was the one my agent saw.

Forty-year-old Ben Arnold stands in front of a familiar refrigerator staring at a picture he drew when he was a boy. This is the kitchen of his childhood home – a place he hasn’t been for nearly two decades. A moment earlier, he was dying in a New York City hospital room alone, hopped up on a cocktail of pain medication and anti-anxiety drugs. In the kitchen, Ben no longer feels sick. Quite the opposite – he feels healthy and light, as if the concrete in his bones has been replaced by helium. But it is not until his mother, who he also hasn’t seen in twenty years, picks him up effortlessly that he realizes that his consciousness has been transported from his failing adult body and deposited back into his seven-year-old self. Ben tries to talk, but he can’t find a voice. He tries to move, but he does not control this body. Ben’s consciousness is merely a hitchhiker, riding shotgun to Binky, as Ben was known as a child. And Binky wants Ben to leave. Now.

Ben would love to escape, but he can’t. When he discovers it is June 6, 1977, he knows why. It is three days before his seventeen-year-old sister, Sara, was raped by a gang of classmates. Horrified, Ben knows he must warn Sara and stop the crime that destroyed his family. The only way to do that is to convince Binky to trust the voice inside his head – easier said than done, given that Binky doesn’t seem to like Ben much. But, even if Ben manages to win over his younger self, is anyone going to believe a seven-year-old who claims to see the future?

"We" (70,000 words) is a literary novel with a Twilight Zone twist that combines elements of The Lovely Bones and Being John Malkovich. As he struggles to co-exist with his immature and naive younger self, Ben strives to simultaneously redeem his past and alter the future, discovering quite literally how difficult it is for our adult selves to come to grips with our childhoods.

My stories have appeared in Fourteen Hills, Fugue, Beloit Fiction Journal, American Literary Review and The MacGuffin, and online at Pindeldyboz and Barrelhouse. I am an Associate Editor at the Potomac Review and the Associate Director of the Partnership for a Secure America.

Per your guidelines, I have also included the first three chapters of the novel below. Thank you for taking the time to review my query. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Michael Landweber