He's done such a good job, in fact, that I've invited him to officially take over the Success Story pages on the blog. Because, yanno, I haven't exactly been keeping up with those very well.
So, without further blathering, I give you An Interview With Peter Salomon:
AUTHORESS: Peter, I have an emotional investment in your success story! In a nutshell, will you share it for everyone?
PETER: I'd entered some of the earliest Secret Agent events at MSFV (though I missed a number of them) as well as some of the query critique sessions. It was actually so long ago that the query I sent in was for the book I'd written prior to writing HENRY FRANKS (a Young Adult action/thriller starring the children of Santa Claus...well, *I thought it was a good idea...). While I received great feedback, I didn't win but was able to take the constructive criticism from the wonderful MSFV community and use that in my writing. Then, there was a new Secret Agent contest and I felt that THE MEMORY OF HENRY FRANKS (that I'd just finished revising) wasn't quite ready to submit yet so I decided to wait. But something wonderful happened. The Secret Agent was so impressed with the quality of writing from the MSFV community that she decided she'd read queries from anyone who emailed her one with MSFV in the subject.
Well, this was an agent at an agency that was at the top of my 'dream agent' list so, even though I didn't actually have the query letter written yet I decided to email her. Literally, I threw the email together. I'd been sort of kind of in my head working on a query letter so I had some idea of what I wanted to say but I hadn't written anything (to put in perspective just how wrong I was about this, the bones of the 'query' I threw together is pretty much still, to this day, the blurb for the book on my website). One hour after sending the email to Ammi-Joan Paquette, of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, she responded that the idea sounded 'utterly intriguing' and could I send the full.
To say I was shocked, delighted and terrified all at once is an understatement.
So, I sent the full and the rest, as they say, is history.
All of those original emails, going back and forth discussing my book? Every single one of them had the same subject line: 'Miss Snark's First Victim (Query: The Memory Of Henry Franks).' The offer that Joan made to the community of MSFV made me the third Success Story and I am eternally grateful for that.
AUTHORESS: So tell us a little about HENRY FRANKS. In short, make us salivate!
As he begins to doubt the stories that his increasingly erratic and distant father tells him about his childhood, Henry tries to piece together the truth before it's too late. And for Henry, too late includes a hurricane about to strike his island home, a serial killer that may or may not have anything to do with the strange nightmares he's been having, and the inescapable fact that he's losing feeling in parts of his body.
So, as his world is falling down around him the last thing he ever expected to find was the girl next door, seeing past his scars to the lonely boy struggling to answer the oldest question of all: Who am I?
AUTHORESS: And "Who am I?" is such a huge question for many of the teens who will be reading your book!
So, share a bit about the angst of having your title changed.
PETER: It's a little bit funny now, in hindsight. The original title was THE MEMORY OF HENRY FRANKS, which, in 2007 when I came up with it was a GREAT title idea. Fast forward five years and the 'cliche' of THE (BLANK) OF (BLANK) titles has gotten way out of hand...Flux, my publisher, was 100% against using the original title. I always thought it gave a sort of 'literary' feel to such a creepy, haunting type of horror novel. I actually spent some time coming up with alternate titles but Flux rejected most of them. Actually just calling it HENRY FRANKS was their first choice. Some of my suggestions were 'SCARS' (which I never much liked) and 'HENRY' (because for all the months that I was emailing back and forth with my agent about the book we would use 'HENRY' as shorthand for the much longer title so I was quite comfortable by that point referring to the book as 'HENRY').
I'm probably about 98.43% in love with the current title. That missing 1.57% still has a slight soft spot for the lost words: 'THE MEMORY OF'
AUTHORESS: Well, as someone who watched you walk through that particular struggle, I'd say you've come out on the other end just fine!
So talk a bit about your agent, Joan Paquette, whom I absolutely adore. Why is she "the right one" for you?
PETER: Great question! The author-agent relationship is an interesting one. It can be a tremendous source of support when it works. Joan is a joy to work with and EMLA as a whole is a fantastic agency (from the close friendships and support systems between the EMLA clients to the annual retreat, which I've yet to be able to attend, EMLA is a dream place to be). None of which, of course, actually answers your question!
When I first spoke with Joan right after the MSFV contest that lead to sending her my manuscript I fully believed that not only did she 'get' the book but that she 'got' me, as a writer. She saw the whole of the piece the same way I did but from a very different perspective that served to make the book so much better. That, plus she got my jokes (which is not a strongpoint of mine...I don't really 'do' funny). The comments and suggestions she made throughout the revision process, both before and after the sale, were incredibly helpful and her constant encouragement (which, I'll admit, I definitely need) helped far more than she probably realizes. Every time the whole process would get me down an email from Joan would pop up just cheering me on from the sidelines, even when there was no way for her to know that at that particular moment I really needed the cheers.
What a lot of people miss is that she's also a fabulous author, with picture books and a glorious middle grade novel (Nowhere Girl) published. That writer's background gives her a connection with and an understanding of her clients that is truly a wonderful gift.
AUTHORESS: I've gushed about NOWHERE GIRL before; Joan's writing is luscious!
Not every success story is fast and furious. Can you talk a little about the journey that led, finally, to the sale of HENRY FRANKS?
PETER: The journey, which was in the end completely worth it, seemed at the time to be never-ending. At times, it always seems as though the light at the end of the tunnel is really a run-away train heading right towards you. So imagine my surprise to discover that not only is it a train but it was actually stopping to pick me up.
HENRY FRANKS is my fifth completed manuscript (the first four were various degrees of 'bad'...actually, that's not 100% accurate. They all have different parts which are worthwhile and show promise, though the one I started in high school shows far less promise, for example, than the later ones). If you figure I first started writing (poetry mostly) when I was around 10 I've been on this journey for close to 35 years. A long time to travel before my debut novel comes out.
With HENRY, I started writing in 2007, squeezing moments to work on the book in between family and job. The actual writing of the first draft only took a few months ('only' being a relative term as it always seems to take forever during the actual writing). At that point the revisions began. I am a big huge fan of revisions. Just as I am a huge fan of constructive criticism/feedback. I firmly believe that anyone who takes the time to make suggestions is only doing so because they actually want to make the book better. Since I also want to make the book better, criticism is HELPING me. So I began revising. The revision process took years. It wasn't until I had revised the book all by myself that I turned to my Alpha reader, author Terri Molina (www.terrimolina.com).
For some reason, Terri edits my writing incredibly well. Terri and I went back and forth on the book for a long while, all the time improving the book until finally I felt it was ready to maybe think about querying. Which just happened to be, as previously mentioned, a really good time to be thinking about that.
Once I signed with my agent, there were still more revisions until, months later, Joan thought the book was strong enough to go out on submission. After that first round of submissions, I ended up revising the book yet again before sending it back out. At that point, a little over a year after signing with Joan, the book sold. Then, as always, there was another round of revisions, with the editorial letter from Flux. From the date of signing my book contract to the final version sent to press was a little over a year and during those 12 months, it was almost a constant state of revision to the book.
Thankfully, as I mentioned, I love revising. It has been a long journey and so many times I felt as though giving up was the best option. But I never quit believing that I'd hold my book in my hand one day. There's still a train heading towards me, there always will be, but I'm ready now to hitch a ride. And I'd be delighted and honored if all of you would join me on my travels.
AUTHORESS: Yours is a story, of course, of never giving up. Now that you're realizing your dream, what's next? What do you see in your future?
PETER: I've spoken about this 'future' idea with other debut authors and I'm pretty sure we all have the same secret wish/hope/dream in our heart of hearts after signing that first book contract: signing the second book contract before the first book is released. Since the timespan between sale and release can be up to 2-3 years long this seems to be a good rule of thumb for hopes about the future. Unfortunately, with release only a little more than 2 weeks away (as of the day I'm answering this question), time seems to be running out on that particular dream. This isn't, of course, the worst thing in the world. After all: it's still only a little more than 2 weeks away from the release of my book!! It's hard to be sad at such a time, no?
While HENRY was out on submission I wrote two manuscripts, both YA (a Dystopian and an Action/Adventure sort of story), and have been busily revising and editing in the months since. The Action/Adventure one (codenamed HTRASH) is currently with my agent to see if it's ready for the submission process. Fingers crossed here. In addition, I've been working on two picture books, one of which is currently out on submission. So, the future is, as always, more writing, more revising, more editing. Always more. And it's wonderful. It's taken quite a long time to get used to being an 'agented writer.' It's taken just as long to get used to having a book coming out. I'm not sure how long it will take to get used to being a published author. But I'm certainly enjoying the journey!
AUTHORESS: And from where I sit, you have been making this journey with grace and aplomb.
Any words of wisdom to share with aspiring authors?
PETER: Thanks!! Words of wisdom? So much of this journey I've been on, since the age of 12 when I first started writing angstian poetry (and why is that still not a word?) through the years of learning to write novels, the one constant was my grandfather. He was a true renaissance man, a truly gifted writer as well as an all-around brilliant man. He spent most of his adult life as a Professor (and founded his own private school in the early 50s) and then as the Public Relations Director for the city of Miami Beach (back when he believed Miami Beach, with its crumbling art deco hotels had something special to offer and spent years promoting the city through a number of Mayors. What Miami Beach is now, with South Beach and it's international destination status, traces back to the job my grandfather was doing. Which is an odd sort of legacy to leave. I actually used to have a very impressive certificate declaring my birthday, Nov. 3, as Peter Adam Salomon Day in Miami Beach. Of all the things I've lost and misplaced over the years that certificate is probably at the top of the list). And throughout all of that work, he never stopped writing. Unfortunately, after being rejected for a novel when he was a much younger man, a rejection that basically said his novel was 'too intellectual for the contemporary American audience', he never submitted again. He died unpublished.
But for my entire life, he encouraged my writing. He supported me, defended me. He made the writer I am today possible. I used to listen to his stories of studying poetry with Robert Frost. Robert Frost! My grandfather lived long enough to meet my soon-to-be-wife (but not to attend our wedding) and one day Anna and I sat with him in his Miami Beach home on one of the islands off the Venetian Causeway as he spoke for hours about poetry. It was an impromptu master class and was absolutely captivating. My one big regret is not videotaping it.
And in all those years of his encouragement and support he told me the same thing so many times it became something close to a mantra: Just write.
Nothing else matters. Just write. Keep writing. If there's nothing on the page, you can't improve it. A blank page is 'potential' so fill it. You can always fix it, make it better, but only if there are words to fix, words to improve. So just write. Don't stop writing. No matter what. Just keep writing.
Words of wisdom? Write. As simple as that. The moment you stop writing, you've given up, admitted defeat. Just keep writing.
And whatever you do, whatever the rejection, whatever obstacles pop up, the only way to be a writer is to write.*
*Read Peter's tribute to his grandfather HERE.