Kiera Stewart is a freelance writer living in the Washington D. C. area. I was lucky enough to meet her at a writer’s retreat several years ago through Algonkian Writer’s Workshops (which I highly recommend) where we shared a cabin, a love of British humor, and a love of wine. Her new tween novel, FETCHING, will be published in 2011 by Disney Hyperion, and I can’t think of a more deserving girl. I asked her some questions about her journey to publication and her writing process that she was kind enough to answer. For more from Kiera, visit her website at www.kierastewart.com or follow her on twitter at @CreativeDrought.
Give us your elevator pitch for Fetching.
Basically, my book is about a bunch of eighth-grade outcasts who use dog-training techniques on unwitting classmates to try to up their status from underdogs to leaders of the pack.
But I have to confess — I never did get the “elevator pitch” down. I always imagined if I found myself anywhere near both an elevator and an agent, I’d have been the one who accidentally pressed the “close door” button on said agent. Or, in the unlikely event I pressed the right button, I’d be the one who, while trying to talk up my writing qualifications, would end up boasting about never having gotten wisdom teeth. In whatever scenario I could imagine, it never went off well. So thank God for email and query letters and fifth or sixth drafts.
Where did you get the ideas for the novel? How did you learn about dog training? What inspired you to (brilliantly) connect dog breeds to middle schoolers?
My dog Casper was definitely my muse for Fetching. We adopted him from a great organization called Friends of Homeless Animals. They’re located on a nice stretch of land out in Loudoun County, Virginia where you can meet and greet potential pets — even “test-walk” them. He’d come from an animal hoarder who had 126 dogs. But given Casper’s sweet demeanor, I’d guess that this hoarder was probably just a really kind person with a really huge problem.
I was actually working on a different novel when we adopted Casper and started working on training him. I took him to classes (another confession: we were obedience school drop-outs, but that’s another story). I also read some books and watched a lot of training shows on TV. What fascinated me the most was how big of a role human behavior played in dog training. Sometimes it wasn’t really about the dog, but about the owner. Self-doubt, weakness, lack of confidence — dogs notice these things and react pretty negatively to them. It’s not hard to believe that people do too. And where is self-doubt, weakness and lack of confidence more rampant than in middle school?
Your insight into the mind of tweens is remarkable. My young, awkward, middle-school self was resurrected through your protagonist every time I read a new chapter in your book. How are you able to tap into that age group so well?
Ah, middle school. I’m still recovering from it.
I’ve heard that emotionally-charged events are the ones we remember the most. Given that I was a walking ball of angst in middle school, that would explain why my experiences have been seared into my brain. None of the academic stuff, but all of the awkward social stuff. Friendship, love, betrayal, lies, conformity, rebellion — it’s all there. And honestly, nothing is NOT a big deal in middle school. If I got something stuck in my braces, I spent months agonizing about it. Once I tripped in the hallway and it haunted me through high school. I once got teased for my pants being an inch too short. To this day, this is a huge insecurity of mine. (Like I said — still recovering!)
How did you find your agent? What advice would you give to writers starting their search for an agent?
I’m a slush-pile success story. I researched tons of potential agents and sent out queries in very small batches to those who I felt could possibly be a match. It’s a roller-coaster experience and there are no sure things — sometimes you get an instant rejection, sometimes you hear nothing back at all, sometimes you get a requests for material. I’d say these are the hardest ones of all — every time an agent asks to see your manuscript, you want to enjoy that hopeful feeling, but you also want to guard yourself against the pain of possible rejection, not that that’s really possible. I think everyone goes a little crazy during this process.
My advice to anyone starting their agent search is to definitely do the research. Find out who represents the books you feel are similar to yours. Read every interview that you can find. Look at their sales. Check out agentquery.com and also visit the agent’s website (sometimes there are differences — always defer to the agent’s website). I like the small batch approach. If enough agents are telling you “no” after requesting materials, it might be time to re-examine the manuscript. Be open to criticism, listen attentively to feedback, but also know that it’s an extremely subjective process. What one agent loves is another’s pet peeve. EVERYONE gets rejected — and when you do, don’t take it too personally. It’s all part of the process. Sometimes it will hurt badly, even worse than you’d expected. When it does, grieve for a day. Cry, stomp, complain to anyone who will listen. Eat chocolate. Drink wine. Then move right along. And, oh yeah, try to keep an open mind when you do.
It sounds impossible. But it’s not. It’s just really damn hard. But persistence pays off. And when you do get an agent? Don’t be surprised if you find people unwittingly bursting your bubble. Trust me, you will find yourself explaining the difference between a landing a literary agent and landing a real estate agent at least, say, twice.
And once you land that agent, be prepared for a whole wash, rinse, repeat of the cycle. Your agent will submit to editors, and more rejection will ensue. But by then you’re a heck of a lot closer to being published, your skin is layers thicker, and you have a partner in the pain. And then, finally, that first offer comes in, making all those tears and day trips into insanity very much worth it.
And then the editing process begins……
How are you preparing for publishing your book? Are you working on edits?
My editor will be sending the first round of edits very soon, so I’m both excited and nervous to be starting the process. Those who have been through it have strongly advised me to stock up on chocolate and wine. Apparently, it’s a fairly effective coping mechanism and in some circles, considered standard procedure.
Can you tell us if you’ve started a new book, and if so, a little about it?
I have! It’s a young-adult novel set in high school, and it involves a socially awkward girl with a mad, mad crush. Not that I’d know what that’s like. Not at all.
Thanks so much, Kiera!