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An Interview with Stephanie Denise Brown upon receiving an offer of representation.

08/25/2011

Stephanie Denise Brown (StephLovesSciFi on QT) has signed with agent Jennifer DeChiara of Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
SUNSTRUCK is a young adult fantasy novel about a teenage girl with the ability to harness healing powers from the sun, powers that ultimately cause more harm than good. I was inspired to write this novel by three things: visualizing a mother and daughter staring at the night sky (I wanted to know why they were doing this), wondering what would happen if humans had the ability to photosynthesize, and researching the sun's impact on human health. According to Dr. Carl Hoffminster, "soldiers in World War II healed and survived much better when their open wounds and broken bones were exposed to sunlight." I was continuously inspired by science, history, and poetry.
How long have you been writing?
Apparently, I wrote a story on construction paper about a mouse and a piece of cheese when I was very young, but I don't remember this. You'll have to ask my mom! The earliest memory I have of writing involves my sixth grade English class and an assignment to write a story inspired by a Bible scripture. I wrote a horror story, which made my teacher (in a small, religious school) a little nervous. Since then, I've written for enjoyment, for study, for solaceā€¦
How long have you been working on this book?
I started this book in October 2008 when my young adult alien abduction novel stalled.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Oh, absolutely! In fact, I had convinced myself that my writing wasn't good enough, was awkward, was insert-self-doubt-here. Friends would allow me to vent and tell me to keep going; friends listened to my dramatic whining and smiled inwardly. It's difficult to fail when you're surrounded by people who love and believe in you; I feel indebted to my family and close friends.
Is this your first book?
No. I've been writing since I was a kid but consistently since 2004. I have amassed boxes of drafted novels, short stories, and poems in my closet.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I earned a BA in English Literature and an MFA in Writing, but the best training for me comes from reading, particularly nonfiction and poetry. I'm an awful poet, but writing poems gives me the courage to try anything in prose.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I teach part-time at Los Angeles Harbor College, so having an adaptable schedule is helpful. I tend to use fall and winter months for drafting and spring and summer months for revising. I didn't intentionally set up a seasonal rhythm, but it didn't take long to recognize a pattern. I'm not a morning person (still working on that), so I often write in the afternoons or late at night.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
I made four complete revisions and countless chapter-by-chapter revisions. Line editing came next. I will complete at least one more revision with my agent. There's always room for improvement!
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Yes. I had one critique group read the complete manuscript (and often several versions of the same chapter). I also exchanged manuscripts and critiques with two writers last year. Finally, another critique group focused on the all-important first 50 pages.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I created an outline for my book in the initial stage, but my manuscript took a life of its own while writing and revising.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I queried SUNSTRUCK for five months and signed with Jennifer DeChiara in August 2011.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
More than 50.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I used QueryTracker to find and submit to agents representing young adult.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
If I was given a referral or had met the agent at an event, I tailored the email or letter. Otherwise, I addressed agents individually and kept a professional tone. More importantly, I confined my query to one page.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Make sure your manuscript passes through the hands of a critique group or family/friends who are avid readers. Once done, revise revise revise and query widely, but do so in small batches of a dozen or so agents. Querying in small batches allowed me to revise the query letter in different sections. If you query widely, you might receive more than one offer, which places you in the best position to steer your career. Lastly, surround yourself with loving, supportive people. Don't let the rejections and doubts keep you down; let them come and go like ocean waves.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?
It's difficult to pinpoint the most effective query because I kept revising it. I have too many versions!