Agent Monday: Senior Agent Stephen Fraser

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Happy Agent Monday to all!  Today I’m honored to be hosting at Q&A with Stephen Fraser, Senior Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Stephen is a wonderful and kind agent with an acute eye for spotting talent! So let’s get to know a bit more about him here.

Q. Stephen, thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions! How did you get into agenting?

A. Happy to be here! I was an editor for 25 years at seven different publishers, working on everything from a children’s magazine, two children’s book clubs (both hardcover and paperback), and trade books (both paperback and hardcover imprints). When I left HarperCollins, there were no more jobs at the executive editor level available at that time – in fact, a lot of executive positions were eliminated – that was when Jennifer De Chiara asked me if I’d be interested in joining her agency. Interestingly, I had been the first editor she’d made a deal with when she had started her agency.

Q. Can you share some details about yourself, and how these have shaped who you are as an agent and as someone working with authors?

A. I was an English major in college and I did a Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature. Because I was an editor, I have a lot of experience working one-on-one with writers.

Q. What types of projects are you representing? Anything you are especially hoping to find in your inbox?

A. I represent everything from board books to picture books to chapter books to middle grade and young adult. Both fiction and nonfiction. I have done a few books for adults, like a couple of photograph collections and some Hollywood books. I have one adult novel I am shopping around. But children’s and teen are my primary focus.  In fact, the books that have won awards are all middle grade novels, like HEART OF A SAMURAI by Margi Preus which won the Newbery Honor; GLIMPSE by Carol Lynch Williams, which won a PEN grant; and ICEFALL by Matthew J. Kirby, which won the Edgar.

Q. Can you give us an example of one of your favorite books in each category that you represent, and why it’s your favorite?

A. One of my favorite picture books is THE GREEN UMBRELLA by Jackie Kramer. I love the circular structure of the narrative and the wonderful read-aloud quality. I love Janice Harrington’s touching verse novel, CATCHING A STORYFISH, which tells the middle grade story of a girl who finds her own voice. PURE GRIT by Mary Cronk Farrell is an outstanding nonfiction story which is true ‘narrative nonfiction.’ It reads like a novel. THE CHOSEN ONE by Carol Lynch Williams is a riveting story of a teen girl who runs away from a polygamist community. Guess what – I sold this story just one day before that news story broke about the Texan polygamist community!

Q. To help folks understand your point of view, what are some of your favorite TV shows and movies?

A. I love movies – I see at least two movies each week – and I like a variety of genres. EIGHTH GRADE was an honest and touching portrait of middle grade kids. INTO THE SPIDERVERSE was a hip, contemporary story for teens. Loved-loved-loved AT ETERNITY’S GATE, the recent film about Vincent Van Gogh starring Willem Dafoe. It really conveyed a sense of how Van Gogh saw the world. For TV, I am currently enjoying Season 7 of Homeland; I love my half-hour of silly with Will & Grace; and the series The Crown is TV perfection, in my mind.

Q. What’s in your reading pile?

A. I make myself read for myself for at least ½ hour every night. I’m currently reading a biography of Claude Debussy that came out last year and the latest historical novel by Louis Bayard about Abraham Lincoln. Plus a new book about Virginia Woolf, someone about whom I can never read enough.

Q. What makes a successful query to you?

A. I like a short description of the book – format,  genre, basic story line. And I like to know if the author has been published before (I need to know what publisher).  A good query is not too long and doesn’t include TMI.

Q. What are some common query mistakes that will result in an immediate rejection?

A. If someone begins, ‘Dear Agent’ or ‘To Whom It May Concern” I immediately delete it. A writer needs to be doing their research and to have the courtesy to address an individual agent.  Typos don’t make a good first impression. I guess the biggest mistake is a query for the kind of project that I am not interested in. And send one title at a time – I have gotten five picture books all banded together, which is too much.

Q. Are you a very editorial agent? What does that mean to you?

A. Yes. Because I was previously an editor, that is always my instinct: to see the potential in a manuscript and figure out how to bring it to full flower. I am glad to toss ideas around with a client, read a partial, or give feedback on a full manuscript. Not all agents work that way. I won’t let a manuscript go out until I feel it is right. I am especially fussy with picture books.

Q. What is your idea of an ideal client?

A.  A writer who stays in touch every six weeks or so.  Agents aren’t paid until they sell a book, so clients need to be respectful and appreciative of an agent’s time. I don’t mind chatting on the phone or communicating via e-mail. I don’t generally meet with clients who may be in Manhattan on vacation or for other business – I just don’t have the time.  If there is some event at a publisher which involves my client, that, of course, is different. And you know every writer is different. Some work very independently; some need more hand-holding. And that is okay.

Q. Where can folks go to follow you online?

A. Our website of course has a page about me here. I am also on both Twitter and Facebook. Or come to one of the writers conferences I participate in every year around the country. I am always looking for fresh talent.

Q. Your link for submission guidelines?

A. Please check our website for my guidelines here. E-mail queries only, please.

Thanks for taking to the time to chat with us today, Stephen! And for you fellow writers reading this, do check out the other Q & A’s featuring agents in past and future installments of Agent Monday. Stay tuned for more Agent Monday insights soon!

 

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: New Agent Marlo Berliner!

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Happy Agent Monday, and happy April everyone! Phew, we made it through March. Okay, I KNOW it’s April Fools day, but I promise this is a REAL post.  I’m excited today to introduce you all to one of our newest literary agents at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency – Marlo Berliner! It’s also very real and true that new agents are vigorously seeking new clients, so if you are a writer seeking an agent, I hope this info is helpful.

So let’s kick off our chat with Marlo!…

Q: Thanks for stopping by, Marlo! Tell us, how did you get into agenting?

A: Thanks for having me! I was originally an accounting manager for a Fortune 500 company, but I’ve been involved in publishing now for over twelve years, as a writer, the chair of a major publishing conference, a published author, a freelance editor, and finally a children’s lead bookseller for Barnes & Noble. As a freelance editor, I’ve always enjoyed helping other writers develop their stories. After a while, I realized I was able to recognize which stories in my inbox had much more potential than others. So when I saw an opportunity to intern at The Bent Agency, I jumped at it. I learned a great deal from that first year-long internship with Molly Ker Hawn, and then even more from my second internship with Colleen Oefelein at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. I will always be grateful for what I learned from both of these amazing agents.

Q: Can you share some details about yourself, and how these have shaped who you are as an agent and as someone working with authors?

A: Being an agent is a great fit for me because I’ve had a nearly 360 degree view of publishing – as author, agent, editor and bookseller. As an author myself, I just love working with stories to make them stronger, and I also understand firsthand the trials of this profession, so I love being an advocate for writers.

Q: What types of projects are you representing? Anything you are especially hoping to find in your inbox?

A: I’m interested in all genres of MG and YA fiction, with particular emphasis on adventure, psychological thriller, suspense, mystery, paranormal, urban fantasy, horror, speculative, and romance. I enjoy magic, magical realism, unusual settings, pirates, dark elements, gothic tone, secrets or secretive characters, treasure hunts, and unreliable narrators. On the adult side, I’m looking for mystery, thriller, suspense, women’s fiction, and all genres of romance, except inspirational, historical and erotic. I’d love to find a richly layered, historical mystery in the vein of Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale.

Q: Can you give us an example of one of your favorite books in each category that you represent, and why it’s your favorite?

A: So, so many I could mention but here are a few. MG – the Nevermoor series, love the magic and wonder of these books. YA – One of Us is Lying, love the way the story is told through multiple POVs and yet seamlessly moves the plot forward. Mystery, Thriller, Suspense –  The Death of Mrs. Westaway, Bring Me Back, The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Give Me Your Hand, love the dark, twisty, page-turning plots and complicated characters. Women’s Fiction –  The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, so many feels! Romance – The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang, so heart-warming, fun and original.

Q: To help folks understand your point of view, what are some of your favorite TV shows and Movies?

A: I don’t watch too much TV, but when I do I tend to binge watch an entire season or series at once. Some of my favorites are Stranger Things, You, Bird Box, The Passage, Supernatural, Arrow, and Ghost Adventures (as fodder for my own series, The Ghost Chronicles). I’m a huge movie buff, so I could list hundreds of movies as my favorites, but I’ll give just a few old and new – Practical Magic, Titanic, Avatar, The Woman in Black, La La Land, The Greatest Showman, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

Q: What’s in your reading pile?

A: I love to read widely across ages and genres. Right now, I’m looking forward to diving into some new middle grade – The Friendship War by Andrew Clements, Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner, and The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I’m also reading All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda.

Q: What makes a successful query to you?

A: To me a successful query begins with the title, genre and word count, so I know what I’m supposed to be considering. It’s an added bonus if you can add some personalization of why you specifically queried me (i.e. you met me at a conference, saw something I mentioned on #MSWL, read an interview about me, etc.) From there, the query should clearly describe who the main character is, what the dilemma is that they’ve been thrown into, and what the stakes are. This is the ‘meat’ of the query, so be sure to show me the hook, or what makes your story unique. End the query with a short bio that tells me a bit about yourself, particularly your writing pursuits, publications and any accolades. Then attach the most sparkling first twenty pages you can – show me a well-thought-out original concept, with memorable characters, a great voice, and solid, polished writing. Draw me into your story, your world, and your character’s dilemma immediately. Make those first twenty pages so great I simply have to ask for more. And if I do, then send me a full manuscript that has all of the above through to the very last page.

Q: What are some common query mistakes that will result in an immediate rejection?

A: I sometimes can forgive a muddled up query letter, one which doesn’t follow what I’ve outlined in the previous question, but it usually puts me on alert that the pages may not hold up either. In most cases, I will still read a few pages of the writing to give the writer a chance. But if the writing doesn’t wow me by page ten, you’re done. One of the more common mistakes is writing that feels too distant and doesn’t make me feel as if I am taking a journey along with the main POV character. Also, secondary characters that are cardboard – they’re given a physical description, a minor purpose for being in the story, and little else. Another mistake I see quite frequently, particularly in fantasy, is throwing me in a first scene with tons of action, but no depth to the characters, setting, or context. For instance, manuscripts which begin with an ongoing sword fight that could be taking place anywhere, any time period, on any planet. I need to at least know a bit about the setting to ground me, and a bit about the characters so I’ll care. Head hopping within a scene will also make me reject quickly. Telling a story through multiple POVs is fine; head hopping is not. And if a writer doesn’t know the difference between the two, then it makes me question how much they really know their craft.

Q: Are you a very editorial agent? What does that mean to you?

A: I am very editorially hands-on with my clients. I will work hard with my authors to get their work 100% ready for submission to editors, through multiple revisions if that’s what it takes. I thoroughly enjoy editing at all levels, from big-picture right down to line-editing, and would want to be sure we are sending out an author’s very best work.

Q: What is your idea of an ideal client?

A: An ideal client is one who reads voraciously, writes consistently, and wants a career as an author. An ideal client will also show patience, be open to critique and revisions, and always be seeking to improve their craft.

Q: Where can folks go to follow you online?

A: I’m active on both Twitter and Instagram: @marloberliner

Q: Your link for submission guidelines?

A: The best place for my most up-to-date guidelines is on The Jennifer De Chiara website here. : https://www.jdlit.com/marloberliner and you can query me here.

Thanks for stopping by Marlo!  You can also meet some of our other new agents by visiting some of my past Agent Monday postings. And don’t forget to check back for more Agent Monday stuff here in the future. Happy April to you all. 🙂

 

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: New Agent Zabé Ellor

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Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Today I’m so happy to introduce you to another fine new Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency – Zabé Ellor! So let’s get this Q & A started!

Q: Hi Zabé! Thanks so much for joining us here. How did you get into agenting?

A: When I got my first publishing job out of college, I was very unsure of what I wanted to do, but I knew I loved working with authors and helping them achieve their goals. Listening to an interview with agent Saba Sulaiman of Talcott Notch helped me realize that agenting would be a career that could fit well with my passions. I sought out agency internships and, after interning for a year, received an offer to join JDLA.

Q: Can you share some details about yourself, and how these have shaped who you are as an agent and as someone working with authors?

A: Books have always been my guiding passion! I was a voracious reader growing up, and my favorite kids’ books will always have a special place in my heart. When I take on a project, it’s because I feel it has the potential to leave just as deep a mark on readers.

Q: What types of projects are you representing? Anything you are especially hoping to find in your inbox?

A: I represent all genres of YA (except for category romance) adult SFF, graphic novels, and select nonfiction (preferably history/science). If you’re a science journalist with a strong story to tell about an under-explored topic, I’d love to see your proposal in my inbox!

Q: Can you give us an example of one of your favorite books in each category that you represent, and why it’s your favorite?

A: In YA, I’m really enjoying A Blade So Black by L. L. McKinney—an action-packed, fun, voice-driven Alice in Wonderland retelling. I love YA books that really feel like they were written with teenagers in mind! In science fiction, I really loved An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon—a dark, literary tale that seemed to perfectly capture the feeling of hanging adrift in space. In graphic novels, I absolutely treasured Estranged by Ethan M. Aldridge, a beautifully drawn tale of family, friendship, and belonging. Finally, in nonfiction, Endless Forms Most Beautiful by Sean B. Carroll is one of my favorite pieces of science writing. I love how it takes a complex subject and distills it for a mass audience.

Q: To help folks understand your point of view, what are some of your favorite TV shows and movies?

A: I’m a sucker for classic comedies—my all-time favorite is The Princess Bride—but while I love humor, I find it very difficult to pull off in a novel!

Q: What’s in your reading pile?

A: Too many books! Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James is at the top of my TBR right now, as is Kingdom of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty.

Q: What makes a successful query to you?

A: Get me excited by showing me you have a unique, cohesive story to tell in a genre I represent.

Q: What are some common query mistakes that will result in an immediate rejection?

A: Not telling me about the project. The goal of the query is to tell me what the book is about. Your publication credits, platform, the themes of the book, potential market are all secondary.

Q: Are you a very editorial agent? What does that mean to you?

A: Every project needs a different level of editorial input. To me, being an editorial agent means I meet the project where it is and help shape it into what it has the potential to be.

Q: What is your idea of an ideal client?

A: Someone with an interesting book that’s a good fit for the market, and someone interested in a collaborative partnership to bring that to life. It’s incredibly important to me that I have a diverse base of clients.

Q: Where can folks go to follow you online?

A: I’m best reached on Twitter, where my handle is @ZREllor

Q: Your link for submission guidelines?

A: Please send a query letter, 1-2 page synopsis, and first 25-30 pages to http://queryme.online/ZabeEllor

Q: Anything else you’d like people to know about you or what you are looking for?

A: I have a pretty eclectic MSWL, but if you can relate your story to one of my tagged tweets, I’ll be really excited to see it!

Thanks so much for letting us all get to know you a bit better, Zabé!  Folks can also visit Zabé’s page over at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency by clicking here.  And pop by again for another Agent Monday post!

 

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: New Agent Savannah Brooks!

SavannahHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  Did you miss me? 😉  It HAS been a busy time here, with lots of exciting goings on.  Part of that excitement? The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency has welcomed some terrific new agents. Today, let’s get to know more about new Associate Agent Savannah Brooks…

Q: Hi Savannah! Thanks so much for taking the time to visit.  How did you get into agenting?

A: When I started my MFA program back in 2015, I wanted to get as much experience in as many avenues of publishing as possible. So when I heard about the opportunity to intern for JD Lit, I jumped on it. I interned with Damian McNicholl for a year and a half before officially coming on board. I loved (and still love) the way agenting blends manuscript editing with author and editor facetime. It’s the perfect mix.

Q: Can you share some details about yourself, and how these have shaped who you are as an agent and as someone working with authors?

A: This isn’t anything new, but I’ll say it anyway: being a writer myself really informs the processes I create with my authors. I write creative nonfiction, mostly personal essays pretty heavily influenced by research (though I dabble in fiction as well). The last essay I had published I started writing two years prior. It’s an essay I wrote a few drafts of then had to put away for a while. I worked on other pieces, I grew as a writer, and I made it better with time. So when I look at an author’s career, I’m not just considering this one book; I’m considering the ways that writing and revising this one book can inform all the books that are to come.

Q: What types of projects are you representing? Anything you are especially hoping to find in your inbox?

A: I didn’t exactly mean for this to happen, but I’ve found myself focusing pretty heavily on YA fiction. By its nature, YA is extremely voice driven, and I’m most intrigued by characters. Weird, obsessive, smart, unforgettable characters. That being said, I’ve been keeping an eye out for funny, voice-driven adult fiction that isn’t afraid to tackle big topics but knows how to do it and entertain at the same time. Think An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.

Q: Can you give us an example of one of your favorite books in each category that you represent, and why it’s your favorite?

A: I’ll do some category bending here. Starting with one of the main players in the “what the heck is YA anyway” category: the His Dark Materials series. I’ve read this series countless times over the years, and each time, I’m floored by three things: how much I adore Lyra as a character, how real the worlds feel despite jumping around in them so frequently, and how layered the narrative is. As I grew up, the main focus of the story bounced around: adventure, love, religion, quantum physics, war. This is a book accessible and intriguing to readers of practically any age, which is, to put it simply, a feat.

For very similar reasons, I’ve also always gravitated to the Chronicles of Narnia series. I remember being crying-level devastated as a child by the fact that I could never actually get to Narnia. The world felt that real to me. Again, a feat, especially in children’s and middle grade writing. (That the film producers cast Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian certainly didn’t hurt my continued obsession into my teenage years, though I think I would’ve stuck with the series regardless.) I’m not a religious or spiritual person, but I’ve always been fascinated by Lewis’s allusions to Christianity. You can either read to be entertained or read to solve a puzzle. That level of engagement is powerful.

Q: To help folks understand your point of view, what are some of your favorite TV shows and Movies?

A: I don’t actually watch a ton of TV/movies, but this seems like a good opportunity for some psychoanalyzing, so why not? The shows I tend to turn to are Criminal Minds (again), America’s Next Top Model (again), Rick and Morty (again), Riverdale, and Planet Earth II. (Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I want anyone to read too deeply into that selection, but here we are.) As far as movies go, I’m always a sucker for Pixar and Marvel. I’ve seen Moana more times than I’d like to admit. I would say listening to “How Far I’ll Go” doesn’t still make me tear up (yes! girl power!), but that would be a lie. Continue reading

Webinar for YA Writers – with Critique and Q&A!

MP910220840Hot summer tip time… Attention writers of YA novels! Literary agent Cari Lamba and I (we’re both from the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in NYC) are teaching the live Writer’s Digest Webinar “Write And Sell Your Young Adult Novel – Must-Know Info For Getting Published” on Thursday July 12th at 1 p.m.

This 90 minute webinar will help you craft and sell a novel that literary agents, publishers and readers will love. It covers the YA market (including the 10 things the top NYC editors are asking for right now), tools that will help you craft a strong and focused YA novel, and details on how to create a professional and artful query letter that will impress literary agents.

The webinar includes a Q&A plus a personal critique of your query letter and your YA novel’s opening pages.

A bit about us… Cari and I are both agents at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York.  We represent authors of fiction for children through adults, pitching their novels to all the major publishers. In addition, I’m an author of picture books and young adult novels (including the Random House novel WHAT I MEANT…, and the novels DRAWN and OVER MY HEAD), so along with our literary agent point of view, I’ll bring my YA author perspective to this webinar as well.

*Can’t attend the live webinar? Registration still entitles you to a copy of the on demand webinar, plus the critique. So you can still go for it!*

Interested? Act quickly, the webinar is SOON! Eep! For info and registration click here.

 
*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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Agent Monday: Fix Your Middle Grade Novel

Rear view of class raising handsHi everyone!  Happy Agent Monday!  Okay, YES, it’s Tuesday, but it’s never too late to learn about how to fix your novel. Today’s focus?: the middle grade novel. As an agent, I see so many submissions that are instant rejections because they don’t fit into that middle grade category in a fundamental way.  That’s a book I can’t sell. So is your middle grade missing the mark, and how can you make it really shine?

This Thursday, Agent Cari Lamba and I will be teaching a live webinar through Writer’s Digest called WRITING AND SELLING THE MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL: MUST-KNOW INFORMATION FOR GETTING PUBLISHED. It starts at 1 p.m., includes a Q&A with us, as well a personal critique of your query letter and the first 5 pages of your middle grade novel. There is still time to sign up! For more info, and to register click here. (Note that even if you can’t attend this webinar live, you can still register and get the recorded webinar, as well as get your personal critique.)

In this webinar, Cari and I cover the many ways that writers unwittingly ruin their chances at publication. We realized that there is a lot of need-to-know stuff – A LOT! So if you are writing in the middle grade category, DEFINITELY do your homework before submitting to any agents, whether by attending our webinar, or through extensive research. It’s simply a must.

For example, middle grade novels are geared at 8-12 year old readers, yet, because kids “read up” they are typically about characters aged 10-13 or so. So if your main character is only 8 years old, that’s too young! Also note that middle grade is not synonymous with middle school readers. Those readers are typically reading young adult novels, which is a whole other ball of wax.

Middle grade novels are of a certain length. Go too long or too short on the word count range and you’ll be hurting your story’s chances of acceptance.  Another vital thing to keep in mind?: subject matter and how it’s handled. Can you handle tough stuff? Sure. But the way it is handled in a picture book, vs. a middle grade novel, vs. a young adult novel is vastly different. In the webinar, we’ll cover how to handle tough subjects for this market in an age-appropriate way.

Young Boy at School Raising His Hand to Answer in Class

Study up, writers! The webinar includes a Q&A

There is a lot of ground we’ll be covering, but one important tip to keep in mind is that you must understand where kids are developmentally at these ages. Look that info up, and you’ll find a range of great themes and concerns that can help appropriately shape your story and your character’s point of view.

Also – are you up to date on current middle grade novels? If you are only reading classics, or ones you remember from your childhood, then your own novel may not be up-to-date enough when it comes to pacing and themes and voice.  We’ll cover what elements are essential in great middle grade fiction today, as well as share the top 10 things top editors have personally told us they are seeking in middle grade right now. We’ll also cover how to put together a strong query letter for your novel, and we’ll include examples of queries that actually led to representation and then to book deals.

So is your middle grade novel a good fit for its audience? Or are you creating a manuscript that won’t fit on any shelf because you are mixing up elements, subject matter and point of view? I often have to reject MG novel submissions because of this, so please do your homework, and make sure you understand what a middle grade novel is, and what it isn’t. This will help your novel become one that will make agents and readers alike take notice.

Maybe I’ll *see* you at the Webinar!

Happy writing!
Marie

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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DRAWN HAUNT – Not All Bad

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I’m wrapping up the DRAWN Haunt party today with a post about writing those dark characters – the villains in our stories. Seems appropriate for Mischief Night!

If you’ve missed it, the DRAWN Haunt has been a month-long celebration for my award-winning novel DRAWN‘s 5th anniversary. You can explore through this past month’s posts to find lots of book-related stuff about writing, romance, ghosts, time travel and more. You can also subscribe to this site (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about my novel DRAWN, click here. 

So, about those bad guys. Is it true that they’re…

NOT ALL BAD

Bad guys can be seriously tough characters for an author to write.  But every story needs them. What would Star Wars be without Darth Vader? Or Harry Potter without He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?  But writing these characters in a way that makes them believable is tricky.

You want to create huge problems for your hero, and that requires a villain and some true evil. But write about a person who is all bad and you have a cardboard character.  Like those villains in the silent flicks who twirled their mustaches while tying the damsel to the train tracks.

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Literary Classics International Book Awards SILVER AWARD Winner; A Long and Short Reviews “Best Book”; A Night Owl Reviews “Top Pick”

In my novel Drawn I had to create several baddies. The book is about teen artist Michelle De Freccio, who moves to England hoping for a more normal life. Almost immediately she starts drawing a guy from the 1400’s. When she meets him (Christopher) at the town’s castle, things really get strange…and when she follows Christopher into the Middle Ages, well, stranger still. The novel needed villains in the present AND in the past, so I had my bad-guy work cut out for me.

The secret, I found, is to show another side to your villain. Even if it’s just for a moment, you want a glimpse of someone who means well at times, or who is wounded in some way, or who truly believes they are doing the right thing. If I can get the reader for just a moment to see this side of the bad person, then I know they’ll have a different view of things. That they may even understand how the bad person went so wrong.

Here’s a moment from Drawn when I try to do just that… In the following scene Michelle discovers that her visits into the past have seriously begun to alter history and to wound Christopher’s fate. At this point, she’s started to really fall for him, so seeing history books that accuse him of terrible things is frightening indeed. Michelle has pulled book after book off the Academy’s shelf, searching for answers. Her modern-day nemesis Constance takes this opportunity to get Michelle into trouble with Constance’s mother who is the Academy’s Headmistress:

I blink and see Headmistress Hunter looming over me. Constance peers smugly from behind her.

“Such disorder,” the Headmistress says between tight lips, taking in the jumble of books at my feet. She’s almost trembling with anger. “Horrific. We do not treat reading material so shabbily, Miss De Freccio.”

“Yes, ma’am. Sorry.”

“The Academy expects appropriate behavior both in school and out. We pride ourselves on being the best.” She sniffs as if I clearly don’t qualify.

Constance grins.

“Clean this at once,” the Headmistress is saying. “Understand, this will go on your record. And on your father’s. This doesn’t bode well for his future here.”

Constance’s grin fades.

“But this isn’t his fault,” I say and hate the pleading tone in my voice. “Please don’t let it affect my dad, Headmistress.”

Constance whispers, “Mother, I don’t think—”

“Are you criticizing me?”

“No, of course not.” Constance looks at the floor.

In that brief scene the reader knows that Constance didn’t mean to endanger Michelle’s father’s position at the Academy. We see Constance has some sort of a soul and some limits, and that she is terrified of her own mother.

As for the villains in the medieval part of the book? This was a tough one because there is a mystery intertwined in the plot. Who is the traitor? Who murders the Earl? And who is killing off all the courtiers? What if all signs point to Christopher, the young man (er, ghost?) Michelle has now come to love? I had to spread doubts and clues in a way that gave info but also made the reader (and Michelle) wonder who can really be trusted. I can’t tell you who the real villains are without spoiling the book for you, but when all is revealed, you can bet the reader understands why the bad ’uns are doing what they do.

Balancing good and bad in a way that’s convincing can be a real challenge for any writer. Put in too much good, and the villain is not a real threat. Put in too much bad, and you’ve created someone that’s ridiculous and unbelievable. I tried very hard to balance my villains for just the right feel… I hope readers will find it all works.

Actually, a review about Drawn that popped up on the site Author Chronicles says: “not a single character is one-dimensional—each one has flaws, strengths, and depths to them. Even the snotty ‘Queen Bee’ girl, Constance, who could easily have been a stereotype, has flashes of a soul at war with the front she puts up.”

Not all bad! 😉

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

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