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An Interview with Monique Jones upon receiving an offer of representation.

04/21/2017

Monique Jones (Cappycat on QT) has signed with agent Tricia Skinner of Fuse Literary.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
L'Abatteur is a slow burn Southern Gothic novel about Julie, a young woman whose life has unraveled. After her marriage dissolves and her alcoholic father disappears, she returns to the tiny South Louisiana town where she grew up, broke and broken, with nowhere else to go. The town and her childhood are both steeped in the folklore of l'Abatteur. Cajun French for “slaughterer,” he's a cursed man become a bloodthirsty monster that haunts the bayou. Julie is just trying to get her life back on track and find out what happened to her dad, but she's neck deep in generations of really dark family secrets linked to the murders committed by this creature. L'Abatteur has returned to the bayou, too. And this time, he's coming for her.

The inspiration for the story came from the oral tradition of my own family. My family lived on the bayou with my grandparents next door and two great-grandmothers and several great aunts all within walking distance. They would tell all these incredible stories, half in English, half in Cajun French. And there was a murder in the family, but we definitely didn't talk about that in polite conversation. As I got older and started digging and asking the right questions, specifically researching the murder, I realized how things had been obfuscated with the passage of time and with the generational loss of the French language. It was shocking to me how much I had misinterpreted the truth or truth had been purposely watered down to make it more palatable.

How long have you been writing?
Since I was a kid, but mostly in notebooks hidden under the bed. I got serious about trying to write a novel about seven years ago.
How long have you been working on this book?
The idea of this book took root about seven years ago. But I had no idea how to plot a novel and lost my way pretty quickly. I left it alone, and I wrote another book. I decided to tinker with the basic storyline of L'Abatteur in short story form over the summer, but the story was just too big to squeeze into three months or a short story. L'Abatteur grew up into a novel. I think I have a printed copy of that somewhere. It's a mess. At about the same time, the 1890's Victorian house that belonged to my great-grandmother was slated for demolition. It just about broke my heart. My husband and I decided to save what we could and began deconstructing the house to salvage the lumber. It's a very tedious, time consuming process to deconstruct a house. You take it apart one nail at a time, board by board. I wrote very little during that time. But I was digging up all kinds of mysteries, history and hidden things within that old house, and I think that was when the plot coalesced. After that, it took me about a year to re-work the book, then probably another year of revisions.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
I can't say that I ever thought about giving up. But sometimes you have to step away from the project. Drift. Think. Go for a walk. Or maybe tear down a whole Victorian mansion with just a crowbar and a hammer. Whatever works for you.
Is this your first book?
Yes. It's the first book I've written to the point being a truly polished, finished manuscript.
Do you have any formal writing training?
My undergraduate degrees are in English and Biology. But it was always my intention to go to graduate school in Biology, so my formal writing training was geared towards technical writing.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I generally write every day, but there is no schedule. I love long stretches of uninterrupted writing time where I can really immerse myself in the story. But some of my best writing has been done in long hand, sitting in my parked car, waiting to pick up one of my kids. Or walking. I carry 3x5 note cards and a pen when I walk in the woods. Or I think of passages or catch snippets of dialogue as I am drifting off to sleep, and I email them to myself from my phone. I think I am always writing.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
At least two major re-writes where I gutted the book completely. Maybe three! I had two rounds of beta reading, and there was a good bit of revision following the first, less on the second. For me, the real magic always happens in the revision process. Minor revisions and edits will likely continue until it's published.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Yes! My beta readers are amazing.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I wrote this book from the hip and wound up writing it right off the road and into the weeds several times (resulting in all the re-writing.) I had to learn how to plot, and for me, writing the novel, gutting the novel, re-writing the novel was how that education took place. Now I am dedicated plotter and work from a detailed outline.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
This was the first book I queried. I sent my first query out in October of 2016 and discovered that I had no idea what I was doing. I sent out two more queries in the next month and got a couple of full requests from those. But I didn't start seriously querying until January of 2017. I received an offer of representation in March. Signed in April!
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
34 queries plus an in-person pitch. I had nine requests for fulls or partials.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I looked for agents who repped SFF, specifically if their tastes ran towards the darker aspects of those genres.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
I did a lot of research on each agent before I queried and would really try to connect the novel to something specific that they were requesting. I used MSWL quite a bit and would tailor the query accordingly.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Do your homework on each agent. Twitter is your friend for both #MSWL and pitching events (you learn a lot about your book when you are forced to pitch it in less than 140 characters.) Get someone who has not read your book to critique your query letter. Write something else while you wait. Try not to obsess. (If you figure out how to swing that last bit, please contact me and let me know how you did it.)
Would you be willing to share your query with us?

Dear Ms. Skinner,

In the tiny town of Bayou Derniere, Louisiana, the bottle tree at the edge of the cemetery belongs to l'Abatteur. Cajun French for "slaughterer," you saved the last swig of whiskey for him, the last sip of beer. In the old days, if you killed a pig or a deer, you filled a bottle with blood and hung it from the tree. You gave him a little so he didn't take it all.

Of course, nobody believes that stuff anymore. Or maybe Julie does. Just a little.

At twenty-five years old, she really wants a second chance. Her husband left her for another woman. Her alcoholic father is missing and presumed dead. Broke, grieving, her life unraveling, she drops out of college and returns home to the dilapidated shotgun house where she grew up.

With gritty determination, she tries to start over. She finds a good job. She meets the enigmatic Raphael, and falls in love. But as Julie begins to piece together the circumstances surrounding her father's disappearance, she discovers that the new love, the new job, the new life she desperately desires are, in reality, a closing snare. She learns the truth about the creature that haunted the bayou so long ago. L'Abatteur is no folktale. The stories are true. Now, l'Abatteur is coming for her.

L'Abatteur is 127,000 word Gothic Science Fiction with series potential that explores paranormal tropes. I've lived in Louisiana my whole life and drew inspiration for the story from local folktales and my family's oral history.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Monique M. Jones