Every other Wednesday, I’ll be showcasing authors who got an agent in the last couple of years. If you’d like to be a part of this, let me know in the comments or contact me via Twitter @judi__Lauren
I’m so excited to be interviewing Michelle today! Not only does she have some epic advice going on over at her blog, but she’s also a really nice person AND she’ll be mentoring in the FicFest writing contest with me! Welcome, Michelle!!
What was the hardest part about writing your book?
The hardest part about writing A CRUEL KIND OF BEAUTIFUL was deciding the scene order. My muse always gives me this camera-perfect glimpses of scenes, and then leaves it to me to decide how to logically fit them together. It’s amazing to me how much the meaning of a story changes when you simply change the chronological flow of events. CKB went through three major drafts where the scenes mostly stayed the same but they moved all over the place.
I’ve definitely been there. How did you meet your agent?
I joined Twitter to start doing writing contests in January 2015. A couple weeks after, I saw that Naomi Davis of Inklings Literary was re-opening to queries. I’d read and liked her bio months ago, but I probably wouldn’t have gone back to check on it for a while if I hadn’t seen the notification on Twitter. I sent her a query letter and then headed out on an 8,000 mile road trip around the country. When I went through New York City, I was fielding lots of requests and rejections from the last batch of queries I’d sent out. I remember feeling like one big ball of longing, being so close to so many literary agents and not being able to do a thing to actually sign with one.
A couple weeks later, my husband and I were in New Orleans, eating bbq. They were doing work on the sidewalk outside with a jackhammer, and it was too loud to talk, so I was checking my email and nearly dropped my phone in my lunch when I saw that I had an email from Naomi and she wanted to schedule a phone call. I texted my CP with liberal use of capital letters, had my husband drop me off at the hotel, and frantically googled questions to ask literary agents. For as much time as I had put into querying, I’d never considered what I might do if it actually worked! But when Naomi called, we immediately clicked. She was warm and funny and so enthusiastic about my book, and I made her say it twice when she offered representation because I still couldn’t quite believe it.
The ironic part about getting an offer of rep for THIS book was that I had previously gotten a book deal that turned out to be a really bad idea, and I backed out of it. It was for series set in (of all places) New Orleans. Out of that experience, I wrote A CRUEL KIND OF BEAUTIFUL. CKB has a subplot about Jera’s band trying to decide on a shady offer from a record label, and if you should grab any opportunity toward success or if some risks aren’t worth taking. I wrote a book about not taking the first deal that comes along, but waiting for the right one for you and your creative process. THAT was the book that got me an agent.
Do you have a rough number of how many queries you sent out before being offered representation?
I queried my first ms in 2005. It was terrible and my query was even worse. I wrote a few more books, then wrote quite a few books of fanfiction that eventually became bestsellers on Amazon’s Kindle Worlds, then queried another book called FORSWORN. It was a post-apocalyptic, and I got some requests and did well in contests, but garnered no offers. A CRUEL KIND OF BEAUTIFUL was the thirteenth book I ever wrote, the third I’d queried, and it actually got picked up fairly quickly. I sent thirteen queries (ooh, never noticed the double 13 there! Guess it’s not so unlucky!) and entered four different contests with it.
What inspires you to write?
There’s always a pull toward SOMETHING that just comes out of the ether, and some are stronger than others. For A CRUEL KIND OF BEAUTIFUL, it was like somebody clipped my leash to a rocket ship. I was attempting to write the sequel to my post-apocalyptic novel and the main character of CKB started speaking in my head. I heard the whole first chapter, and it played on repeat until I wrote it down, but I still refused to write the book because I was writing another one and I do NOT abandon manuscripts. But then I wrote the second chapter. And the third. After the third, a good friend told me, “Stop fighting it and just write the book. When something comes to you this strongly, it’s meant to be.” Turns out, she was right.
Great advice! Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process? Where do you get your ideas and characters?
My characters just show up. Sometimes it takes longer to get to know them, but I can’t “make up” anything about them or the story stops working. Jera (the hilariously irreverent heroine of CKB) had a really strong voice, and she spoke to me right from the start. As soon as she came into my head, I knew she had a best friend, Danny. He’s a tattoo artist and bassist and a total weirdo who is a real pain to fit into stories because he does whatever the hell he wants and doesn’t give a snip about my plot needs.
As for story ideas, those are much harder. I have to consciously consider what the conflict and setting should be, and build a lot of the plot elements from scratch. It’s a weird balance, because I feel like there IS a truth to each story, and I’m always trying to balance the need for structure with hitting the mystical mark of what feels right for that book. A lot of times it feels like I’m groping around in the dark, trying different things until I hit the right answer. Once I do, things fall into place with startling speed and a level of complexity I could never have consciously planned. I have a friend who does psychic readings, and she tells me the way I describe my writing process is a lot like the way she gets her jolts of intuition when she does readings.
Many people have jobs along with writing. How do you balance that schedule?
I’m a wildlife biologist, specializing in threatened and endangered desert species. I work on a contract basis for 2 or 3 seasons a year. That means for a few months at a time my husband and I are gone to work, camping in weird corners of the desert and working long, physically demanding hours.
The worst part about it is I get almost no writing time for months, which feels like holding my breath—the longer I have to do it, the more uncomfortable it becomes. The benefit is when I’m off, I can write or travel as much as I please. In my off time, I’ll often write 10-12 hours a day for as many days in a row as I have. It’s a very unbalanced lifestyle, but it fits my needs perfectly.
That’s a pretty freaking cool job. Is there a fictional character or book you wish you had created? Why?
The Black Dagger Brotherhood. It’s not exactly how I would do it, but I adore the idea of a continuing series, with very strong men that have great bromances and are totally devoted to their women. Plus, there are lots of openings for fight scenes with hand to hand combat instead of boring shoot-outs.
The longer you have a series, the more emotional capital your readers invest in the world, and every detail and character interaction and mention of backstory becomes layered with meaning. After a few books, it is like writing fanfiction of your own work! My supporting characters always end up demanding their own stories (case in point: CKB was supposed to be a standalone that grew into 3 full-length books, a novella, and two short stories) so I would love to write a long romantic suspense series someday.
Of course, I always wish I would have written The Fault in Our Stars by John Green or The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, because those are the kind of books where you can set down your pen and know that whatever else you do in your life you wrote The Right Book.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
The time with my characters. I love each and every one of them, and when they’re bantering or fighting or making love, I can reach a state of flow along with them that is utter joy.
Can you describe your MC(s) in three words each?
Jera- witty, uncertain musician
Jacob- pun-loving nude model
Before you leave, would you share the first sentence of your query that got you an agent?
In A CRUEL KIND OF BEAUTIFUL fairy tale romance comes down to earth when a hard-rock drummer finds love, but not a cure for her sexual dysfunction.
Thanks so much, Michelle!
Michelle Hazen is a nomad with a writing problem.
Years ago, she and her husband ducked out of the 9 to 5 world and moved into their truck. She found her voice with the support of the online fanfiction community, and once she started typing, she never looked back. She wrote most of her books in odd places, including a bus in Thailand, an off-the-grid cabin in the Sawtooth Mountains, a golf cart in a sandstorm, a rental car during a heat wave in the Mohave Desert and a beach in Honduras. Even when she’s climbing rocks, riding horses, or getting lost someplace wild and beautiful, there are stories spooling out inside her head, until she finally heeds their call and returns to her laptop and solar panels.
Michelle was awarded first place in the 2015 NTRWA Great Expectations Contest, New Adult genre. Her work is represented by Naomi Davis of Inklings Literary. Michelle is the Amazon bestselling author of Kindle Worlds titles: the Desperate Love Trilogy, the In Time We Trust Trilogy,Happily Ever After: Salvatore Style, and Sanguine Veritas. You can connect with her on Twitter, Goodreads, or at her website.