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An Interview with Tehlor Kinney upon receiving an offer of representation.

03/14/2016

Tehlor Kinney (tehlorkay on QT) has signed with agent Jim McCarthy of Dystel Goderich & Bourret Literary Management.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Sure! My book is a YA fantasy set in a Latin American based society where each upper class man of marrying age is assigned two wives. It follows Dani, a seventeen-year-old student at the end of her training, as she navigates school, placement within a powerful family, and the rigid, upper-class hell that breaks loose when she and the other wife assigned to her household fall in love with each other. There's also lots of political unrest and brewing revolution :)

I was inspired by a lot of things, my dad's side of the family is Mexican-American so I had a lot to draw from there, as well as my love for world-building and fantasy in general. The push for more diverse/multicultural stories in KidLit has been so encouraging, so I just figured...why not me?

How long have you been writing?
Pretty much ever since I learned the alphabet, haha. I remember being totally caught out of the blue by ideas for stories as early as second or third grade. But I finished my first novel about two years ago, so that's when I really started getting serious about doing it professionally.
How long have you been working on this book?
I got the idea for this book in the summer of 2015, finished a first draft pretty quickly, and have been revising and re-working ever since! I'm sure this is far from its final form, Jim is a brilliant editorial agent, and we've come up with some pretty exciting ideas on how to get it in the best shape for submission. Luckily I've always liked revising :)
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Sure, I think everyone has those moments sometimes. For me, I was a new mom when I started my first book, and sometimes juggling family stuff and writing stuff can be really hard. On top of that the publishing industry is notoriously competitive and the odds of success are pretty low, so it's always in the back of your mind as a writer I think: "Am I good enough? Is this ever going anywhere? Should I just go back to school or try to find a more stable career-path or something?"

Ultimately what kept me going during the tough times was the fact that I believe we need more stories for kids that don't fit the "norm" this industry has been portraying for so long. Having the chance to get stories to teens that are hungry for portrayals of their cultures and identities in literature has always been motivation enough to get back to it for me.

Is this your first book?
Nope! This is my third book. I queried the first two as well, but realized pretty quickly that neither of them were ready. They were my practice books, haha.
Do you have any formal writing training?
I don't! I took the requisite undergrad writing classes during my brief attempt at college, but mostly my education has just been a giant appetite for books :)
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
Oh man, I really try to! Haha. On a good day I'll block out specific hours of the day in my planner for writing and actually sit down during those times? But I'm also a freelance editor (www.tehlorkay.com/editing-services) and the mom of a toddler, so writing time is kind of dependent on workload and child-development stage :)
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
It's been through two major revisions and one minor, fine-tuning type one, but my agent and I are about to begin a third big revision. Like I said before I actually love revising - post its and notecards and highlighters and lists! - so I'm looking forward to diving back in.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
YES. And I think absolutely everyone should. Even though it's a fantasy setting, I still think we have a responsibility as writers to approach the cultures that inspire our fantasy worlds sensitively. I get beta readers even when I'm writing my own culture, because my experience has been very non-typical, and also because the Latin@ experience varies so much from person to person. I wanted to make absolutely sure I was covering my bases with regard to representation. I'm super lucky to have a group of amazing beta readers and two very talented CPs, so I've been really fortunate in that regard.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I'm a big outliner. I get so stuck whenever I try to do anything without a road map, so I usually do like a zero draft, which is a super detailed outline with some scenes and dialogue and stuff thrown in when I feel inspired. Then I take that whole mess and turn it into a first draft.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I started querying for this book in September, so about five months. Jim ended up offering me an R&R pretty early on, and we went through two revisions together, so while I had other queries out we were in pretty constant communication throughout the process.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I think it was about 20 overall.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
A lot of criteria, haha. First of all I wanted someone who was committed to representing diverse authors and stories, because mine was going to need a pretty fierce champion owing to the intersectionality of Latin@ culture and queerness. Next, since I haven't had any "formal" writing training I wanted an agent that was going to be hands on and editorial, so that was definitely a big selling point for me. Then also I'm a pretty anxious person, haha, so I wanted an agent that was open and relatively quick with communication and response times on material.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Yep! I had a few agents on my list that had sent me very nice rejections on requested materials for my last book and requested to see future work, so I made sure to mention that manuscript in those letters. Then since I researched so thoroughly based on so many factors I definitely knew the agents I was approaching were interested in a lot of what made my book unique. I tried to put a line of personalization in each letter, just something about the agent's general preferences, a book they'd represented that I liked, an author friend we had in common, etc. I'm honestly not sure if it made any difference in the long run, but it made me feel better :)
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
I actually do query critiques as part of my editing services, so I have lots of answers to this, haha, but I'll try to keep it simple:

Familiarize yourself with the general structure of the query, and don't deviate too much from that. Ideally your writing will speak for itself, so you shouldn't have to resort to anything gimmicky. Secondly, once you get to the later stages, remember that your partnership with this agent will be a two way street. You have a lot to bring to the table, so don't let any agency make you feel like they're doing you a favor by representing you. There's a tendency in writing communities to see representation as this holy grail, but remember it's more important to find the RIGHT agent than it is to just have the representation feather to stick in your cap. It's worth holding out for someone you work well with that believes in your work and has the skill to represent it well.

Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Sure!

Dear Mr. McCarthy,

After hearing nothing but great things, I did some research and found I connect strongly with your views on writing and representation. I was especially thrilled by your interest in YA Fantasy and your commitment to finding underrepresented voices. I am hopeful you will find what you're looking for in my new novel, BETWEEN THE SHADOW AND THE SOUL, a work of YA fantasy which is complete at 73,000 words.

On the island of Medio, women have two options when they come of age: Become one of the two wives assigned to each man entering high society, or remain a burden to their families forever - a subject of gossip and ridicule.

As the newest primera of the most powerful family in her world, seventeen-year-old Daniela Vargas knows she must resist the temptation to become romantically involved with her new husband. Emotions (and all the messy entanglements that come with them) are the territory of segundas, after all.

But when Dani is tested in her new life, it comes from the most unexpected of places. Though the advances of her handsome new husband leave her heart cold, it catches fire in response to another member of their household. Someone she didn't even expect to like, let alone love.

With the country on the brink of a civil war, and a revolutionary group straining at the well established boundaries of society, Dani is forced to make an impossible choice: Should she follow her head, using her status and the power it brings to create a more peaceful world? Or her newly awakened heart, and the girl who brought it to life?

BETWEEN THE SHADOW AND THE SOUL will appeal to fans of Renee Ahdieh's THE WRATH AND THE DAWN, and Marie Rutkoski's THE WINNER'S CURSE among others. It is based in part on my experience as a biracial teen trying to fit into to two separate communities - neither of which was always welcoming.

Per your submission guidelines, I have attached the first twenty-five pages of my manuscript. The rest is available upon request.

Thank you for your time,