It’s time for another debut author interview. I love debut author interviews because it gives people an opportunity to see what successful writers did right on their journeys.
This interview is with Max Wirestone, who is a librarian in a small New Hampshire town. He lives in New England with his editor-husband and his non-editor son. THE UNFORTUNATE DECISIONS OF DAHLIA MOSS (October 20, 2015, Redhook) is his first novel. Kirkus Reviews called it “a clever mystery featuring a delightful amateur detective.” Connect with Max on Twitter.
What is the book’s genre/category? (For example, mainstream, literary, fantasy, YA…)
Please describe what the story/book is about in one sentence.
A geeky twenty-something is hired to recover a stolen item in a video game, but is embroiled in a real world murder when her client is unexpectedly killed.
Where do you write from? (Where do you live?)
I’m from Concord, NH, which bills itself as the City of Steeples, but is more accurately described as the City Where Most Places Close at Six P.M.
Briefly, what led up to this book?
This was my first book. I’m a librarian, and I was in charge of collection development. I had made the observation that my wait list of readers for the Game of Thrones books were awfully similar to my wait list for the Flavia De Luce mysteries, and I had the thought that I should order a geek-themed mystery for the collection. When I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I thought—you know?—I could write the hell of out of that, actually.
What was the time frame for writing this book?
The first draft was written in a crazy two-month flurry of activity, mostly while my son was watching Curious George in the same room I was typing. A lot of twenty-minute writing sprints. In the earliest version there was actually a character named Betsy (a character on the show)—but I cut that, deciding it was too cute by far. And I’m happy to say that my manuscript is entirely now monkey free.
How did you find your agent (and who is your agent)? (If you do not have an agent, tell us how the deal came about sans agent.)
I started by querying agents one at a time, if you can believe that, and if I got rejected I would make changes based upon the (form) response the agent sent me. I am not making that up. Luckily, by my third agent I got a request for the full, and so I started querying wider at that point. I was actually really lucky with querying in general—I think I queried around 20 agents and ended up with four offers of representation. One thing that helped me move quickly through the process is that I only queried agents that represented both mystery and fantasy. My book, while not having any supernatural elements in it, trades in geek culture and I figured that an agent that wasn’t comfortable with that was not going to be the right fit for the novel. So I think I preemtively cut out a lot of the people who would have been no’s. My agent is Caitlin Blasdell of Liza Dawson Associates, who is amazing, honestly.
What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
After having been a librarian for so many years, it was fascinating to come at it from the “other side of the shelf” so to speak. What I found especially interesting were the choices behind titles and book design– it’s not simply about what looks the best or sounds the zingiest. It’s really about positioning the book to the market you’re after, which probably sounds obvious to anyone’s who’s self-published, but from this librarian’s point of view was a little revelatory.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?
I saw a gap in the market, and I wrote a book that fit it. Also: I didn’t query too soon. I was in no particular rush and I made sure that my whole book was ready before I sent it out to agents. This is a mistake I see a lot of other writers make, and I think the polish of the book—the whole book—helped ensure that I wasn’t in the query trenches for long.
On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?
I would have started writing about five years earlier! I had never really pursued it because I had imagined getting published as an unrealistic goal. But if you find the right topic, and you have the skill and craft, the industry will find a place for you.
Did you have a platform in place?
I blog a little, but mostly I’m focused on destroying the blogs of my enemies.
It’s indefensible, but Space Mutiny from MST3K. Not many things can make me hurt from laughter, but that’s one of them.
Best piece(s) of writing advice we haven’t discussed?
Tenacity is everything. Don’t listen to the people who tell you can’t make money as a writer. They’re well-meaning, but they lack imagination.
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
My last name is sort of a real-life pseudonym. When my husband and I got married, we didn’t want either of us to have to take the other person’s name. And we were planning on having kids right from the outset, so we didn’t want to hyphenate and saddle our children with an eighteen-letter surname. So we took some Scrabble titles that spelled out our old names, cracked open some wine, invited some friends over, and shuffled them around until we had something we liked. When I signed with Redhook, they asked me if I had created the name to serve as a pseudonym, but it only just worked out that way. But there’s a nice side effect to it; we’re the only Wirestones in the world.
Redhook has hired me to write two more Dahlia Moss books—the next of which, ASTONISHING MISTAKES—should hopefully come out in 2016, if I meet all my deadlines, he said confidently. I’m also hard at work on a light fantasy about an out-of-control bureaucracy—but we’ll see how that one develops.
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- Successful Queries: Literary Agent Jim McCarthy and The Midnight Thief.
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- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and writing a query letter.
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