As writers we’ve heard the same old mantra over and over “write what you know.” Some of us do this. Many do not. I’m a firm believer that those who write from a place of experience bring a more authentic feel to their premise. The intricacies of something close to our heart always seems to resonate on the page.
As I read Stasia Ward Kehoe’s novel, AUDITION, I felt her love for the arts come alive on the page. Her years of performing experience were evident in the exquisite detail given to each and every scene. I devoured this amazing literary gem, written entirely in verse, and knew in an instant, I wanted to learn about Stasia’s journey toward becoming a published author.
Here is her story…
Amy: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Stasia: I first became seriously interested in writing in eighth grade, thanks to inspiration from a terrific English teacher. However, at that time I was still very involved in dancing and my career focus was definitely more toward the stage. I began to think seriously about BEING a writer, not just loving to read and write, much later. Probably in my early twenties
Amy: How many manuscripts had you completed prior to AUDITION?
Stasia: For a long time I wrote without submitting. In my drawer of “learning manuscripts” are an adult mystery, a Redwall-style fantasy novel, several picture books, a couple of middle-grade-length novels about gymnasts, and a couple of contemporary YA’s. That I can think of. So, um, lots. I guess I’m a slow learner.
Amy: Did you have critique partners that helped you polish AUDITION? If so, how did that affect your writing process?
Stasia: I have belonged to critique groups on and off for years and have made great friends and writing colleagues in this way. That said, I was not in a writing group when I wrote AUDITION. I did, however, send the ms to a few trusted beta readers. As noted by my timidity in submitting manuscripts, I tend to feel very vulnerable about works-in-progress and sometimes it’s easier for me to barrel through a first draft without a lot of feedback so I don’t just give up on the whole thing.
Amy: What was your first query process like?
Stasia: The query process for AUDITION was embarrassingly quick and easy. I should say, however, that I had gotten very positive feedback on the ms from an editor at an SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC and some good advice from an agent (not the one who reps me) about how to submit it. And I’d worked on and revised the ms for a year, so I knew I was ready to go. I think a big mistake people make is to send out their NaNoWriMo or other writing workshop pieces without taking the time to understand what it means to revise, rework, hone and prepare material for the tough scrutiny of agents and editors.
Amy: If you had preliminary rejections, how did you deal with that process and continue to write?
Stasia: While I did not have a tough time with AUDITION, in the past I’ve had tough critiques from editors at conferences. Years ago an editor liked a ms of mine, asked if I’d try a revision, and I did so too quickly–without taking time to really understand what she was trying to get me to do. She didn’t buy the ms. While a tough day, a great lesson: Revision doesn’t mean checking the boxes an editor asks you to check. Revision means understanding the weaknesses an editor is observing in your manuscript and IMPROVING the piece while still keeping true to your own voice, character and vision for the novel. Rushing is NEVER a good idea. Not for submission. Not for revision. Just don’t rush!
Amy: How many agents did you query for AUDITION?
Stasia: I sent queries to my top eight “wish list” agents.
Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?
Stasia: The whole process was very quick.
Amy: Can you tell us what your “call” was like with your agent, Catherine Drayton of Inkwell Management?
Stasia: Catherine was very nice. Professional and practical. I really liked her client list and the work she represented.
Amy: I see every query an author writes as a “mini” audition with a prospective agent. With this in mind, what advice would you give an aspiring writer to clinch that one chance they have to impress an agent?
Stasia: Honestly, I think people spend far too much time agonizing about the query letter. When people say they’ve spent weeks honing and polishing a one-page note, all I can think of is the time they’ve spent NOT working on their manuscripts. Agents are looking for great work. If your manuscript is ready, writing a paragraph summary of it and giving some flavor of the main character should be fairly straightforward. I also think that so much of this industry is luck and timing. Was it a “magical” query letter you wrote or did you happen to submit a book about deep-sea diving to an agent who happens to be a total scuba fan? Did your verse novel get rejected because of a weak query or because a given agent had just signed another verse novelist and didn’t feel s/he could fairly represent another one at this point in time? These are things you cannot guess or control. What you can control is the standards you set for your own work and having the patience (and sometimes the thick skin) required to learn from every bit of feedback you receive through the submission and publication process.
After growing up dancing and acting on stages along the eastern seaboard, Stasia Ward Kehoe now lives in Western Washington with her husband and four sons where she works as a freelance writer and novelist and choreographs the occasional musical. Visit her online at www.swardkehoe.blogspot.com or on Twitter @swkehoe.