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An Interview with Patrick DiOrio upon receiving an offer of representation.

Patrick DiOrio (tarzan on QT) has signed with agent Helen Heller of Helen Heller Agency.

How long have you been writing?
I've been writing since I convinced my parents to buy me a used portable typewriter as a thirteen-year old. It was an ancient Remington. In order to type faster, I took a typing class in high school. I was the only boy in the class. But I was the fastest typist--close to a hundred words a minute on a manual. Let's say I was motivated. There were also other compensations: there were a lot of cute girls in the class.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
There have been times where life has intervened. When I put my creative writing aside and concentrated on career and family. There were many years where I did zero creative writing.
Is this your first book?
No. There have been the good, the bad, and the darn right ugly: eight in all (two juvenile, one sci-fi and the rest crime/detective/thrillers).
How long have you been working on this book?
I had about a quarter written and then put it aside for another project before going back to it. Figuring total time spent I'd guesstimate around six months.
Do you have any formal writing training?
Yes. I majored in Journalism and Mass Communication. I took creative writing, play writing and script writing in addition to my core subjects. I've worked as a journalist on newspapers, magazines, advertising and public relations agencies.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
When I'm working (and not contemplating my navel) I average two to five pages a day. When I finally sit down to write.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I pretty much edit as I write. However, my agent has already given me my marching orders on a number of changes she sees are needed in this book. We have had several conversations and I will be doing some re-writing.
Did you have beta readers for your book? Not until recently.
A friend did read this last one and gave me feedback and sometimes a piece of her mind. I plan to use her going forward as I work on new projects.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Definitely from the hip (ergo the re-writing). I go in pretty much knowing the basic plot and the opening scenes and usually how I want to end the book. In-between is an organic exercise in letting the book surprise me (hopefully in a good way). In the quiet time in bed my subconscious mind often gives me answers on plot points, etc. If I'm lucky, I remember them when I get up.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
This requires a little back filling. I have had two other agents. My first agents (a husband & wife team) submitted my first crime novel to a handful of publishers with standard rejections. They let it die a slow death. Instead, we became best friends and they subsequently concentrated on non-fiction. Life, as I have said, intruded and I stopped writing for a number of years.

Then I decided to start up again, completed a crime novel and went looking for another agent. Got one and she submitted this book to a handful of publishers and then let it die a silent death. I worked on another in the meantime and sent it to her. She was excited with this one and sent it out to five publishers with various responses but no offers. Dorchester eventually made an offer but after discussing it with my agent, we felt this particular book deserved a bigger house so we passed. She sent it out to one more publisher and when they passed she seemed to lose interest.

In the meantime I was completing another crime novel. When it was ready I contacted her. Her response was that she wouldn't be representing any more of my books but that she still believed in the one she had and wanted to try a bit longer on selling it. I let it go for awhile and then made the decision that I should cut ties and move on as I wanted to get serious about getting published and I really thought my latest book was viable.

That's when I discovered/stumbled upon QueryTracker. Wow. Talk about a god-send! I immediately began using QueryTracker exclusively. I spent a year querying and got a number of agents requesting partials or fulls but in the end all passed. None had consistent critiques on why. Two offered to look at a re-write.

I wasn't letting the grass grow under my feet. I finished up this one and started querying. I got some immediate requests for partials and fulls. Sarah Heller, with the Helen Heller Literary Agency responded within a couple of days to my query for a full. I emailed it on a Friday. She called my home that Sunday but I missed the call. She called back Monday and we talked for nearly an hour. Bottom line is she liked my writing and my book and I liked her. I thought it over and got back with her and signed up.

Another thing I'd like to mention as I think it's worth noting: this is a Canadian agency. I had not queried Canadian agencies until now as I was under the impression most only worked with Canadians. Some do, but not this agency. In fact, most of their clients are U.S. authors. They have a 'recommended' listing on P&E and they are AAR members. My point is, don't ignore the Canadians if they cover your genre and don't specifically state they handle only Canadian writers.

About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Checking my query stats on QueryTracker (and really, if you aren't utilizing all their features, you are doing yourself a disservice): 179 sent/9 positives/62 negatives.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I'm an equal-opportunity agency hunter: anyone who covers crime/detective/thrillers and contemporary fiction got a look. I also checked out what QueryTracker has on the agencies to make certain I'm dealing with an agency that would have an interest. Another positive I've found with QueryTracker (as opposed to another service that shall not be named) is that they do a very good job of vetting the agencies they list so you are pretty certain you are not sending your queries out to a scam artist.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Not really. Just made certain I put their last name in the salutation. I did change, where appropriate, what I included with the query: i.e. sample chapters, synopsis, etc. if the agent requested such. However, in all instances (unless specifically stated by the agent's guidelines that they did not want anything PASTED behind a query) I PASTED the first chapter (five pages) at the end of my query. I figured if they were on the cusp the sample might give them the extra push to ask for more. Worse case scenario, they just didn't read it and/or sent the query police after me.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
The obvious: make certain your project shines like a polished gem. Then write the best query you can. The same goes for your synopsis. Then query widely and simultaneously. And never give in, never give up. In the meantime get cracking on your next project. Work on your skills. Write every day. Get better every day. Read other writers in your genre. Study how they put words together. Study their technicals. Learn and write, write, write.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Certainly. I'll give you the query letter but not the chapter.

Dear (Agent's Last Name):

A lone pilgrim to a mountaintop shrine stumbles upon a horrendous scene: a body crucified to a burning cross. The next morning the bullet-riddled bodies of Las Cruces Mayor Hugh Culberson and his wife are found burnt and smoldering in shallow graves outside of town. Then just as Sheriff Ethan Kane thinks matters can get no worse, the body of their lawyer son is found crumpled from an involuntary ten-story fall. Not since Pat Garrett’s storied pursuit of Billy the Kid, who fled the old jail after killing two deputies, has there been such bloody carnage.

Kane’s on a short leash–in two weeks he’s turning in his badge. He just lost the election and the new sheriff wants him gone yesterday. All of which has put him in a foul mood. He’s like one of the feral dogs that roam the desert: he’s not housebroken and you don’t want to corner him. The murders went down on his watch. And he’ll be damned if he’s just going to walk away.

Kane doggedly sets out in pursuit of the perps. But he may have bitten off more than he can chew. The deeper he digs, the more he stirs up. The murders stem from an intricate enterprise with a payout worth hundreds of millions; whose partners are as mean as junkyard dogs and ready to turn on anyone, including themselves, foolish enough to get in the way. When Kane gets too close the pack turns on him, culminating in a series of unexpected and ultimately tragic events–steeped in betrayal, money and murder. Where no one, including Kane, will escape unscathed

DESERT DOGS is an 89,000-word thriller that will entice those readers who enjoy the novels of Robert B. Parker (Jesse Stone), J.A. Jance (Brandon Walker), or C.J. Box (Joe Pickett).

My professional experience includes police reporter, The El Paso Times; Associate Editor, the Arizona Farmer/Ranchman magazine, Phoenix, AZ; Promotion/Public Service Director, KTSM-TV-AM/FM, El Paso, TX; Creative-Broadcast Director, copywriter, etc., at various advertising and public relations agencies in El Paso and Houston, TX. My essays have appeared in the Houston Chronicle’s Texas Magazine. Short stories have been published in the literary magazine, The Kennesaw Review, and the genre magazines, Aphelion, and Dark Moon Rising.

A sample is pasted below. The full novel is ready for your request.


Patrick DiOrio