Dead Soon Enough

dead soon enoughAs you probably know if you’re already here, I wrote another book! Dead Soon Enough is the third installment in my Juniper Song series, and it deals with pregnancy surrogacy and the Armenian genocide. It got a starred, boxed review in Publishers Weekly––my first starred review, which I expect will result in runaway success and enormous wealth.

The book drops less than a week from now, on August 11, and I will be doing events in Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, San Francisco, New York, and Phoenix. If you live in any of those towns, please come say hi! If not, I’m sure you can find a reasonable flight!


August 12, 7:30PM

Skylight Books

This is my launch event! I’ll be in conversation with the wonderful novelist Jim Ruland, author of Forest of Fortune. There will be snacks and booze and probably some kind of afterparty.

1818 North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA

August 13, 7:00PM

Vroman’s Bookstore

Panel with novelists Jenny Milchman, Connie di Marco, Naomi Hirahara, and Kristen Kittscher, on killing people for a living.

695 East Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, CA

August 16, 2:00PM

Mysterious Galaxy

The talented Lisa Brackmann was kind enough to let me glom onto her book launch for Dragon Day. Lisa and I will be reading from our new books. There will be beer.

5943 Balboa Avenue, Suite 100, San Diego, CA

August 20, 7:00PM

Book Carnival

Joint event with Lisa Brackmann, author of Dragon Day.

348 South Tustin Street, Orange, CA

August 24, 7:30PM

Green Apple Books

In conversation with novelist Joshua Mohr, author of All This Life.

506 Clement Street, San Francisco, CA

September 13, 7:00PM


Joint event with novelist Ed Lin, author of Ghost Month.

85 East 4th Street, New York, NY

September 17, 7:00PM


Joint event with Lisa Brackmann, author of Dragon Day, and Elizabeth Little, author of Dear Daughter.

126 North Larchmont Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA

October 4, 2:00PM

Poisoned Pen

4014 North Goldwater Boulevard, Suite 101, Scottsdale, AZ

October 8-11


I registered too late to get on a panel, but I will see you there.

Raleigh, NC

October 12, 7:00PM

Vroman’s Bookstore

I will be interviewing Sarah Weinman, news editor for Publishers Marketplace, about her new editorial project WOMEN CRIME WRITERS: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s, published by The Library of America.

695 East Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, CA


Writing Process Blog Tour

Hey thanks to Zoë Ruiz for inviting me on this Writing Process Blog Tour. Zoë is an awesome L.A. writer who hangs out with me sometimes because we are friends. Her writing has appeared places like Salon and Two Serious Ladies, and you may know her as the former managing editor of The Rumpus. She curates the reading series Readings here in L.A., which might be how we met. You can read about her process here.

What are you working on?

1. The third installment of the Juniper Song series, another L.A. noir that deals with surrogacy and the Armenian genocide. This is due in December.

2. A short story for the Asian Pulp anthology about a Korean-American woman who learns some disturbing things about her family and the L.A. riots. This is due Monday.

3. A round-up of unique sea urchin dishes in L.A. for the L.A. Times food section. This is due tomorrow.

4. A review of Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes for the L.A. Review of Books. This is due Wednesday.

5. My big fat literary novel that I’ve been working on here and there for the last few years. This is due never and will hopefully get done before then but who even knows.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?  

I write Korean-American feminist noir, and as far as I know, I am the leading writer in this category. (I don’t know of another writer in this category. Please tell me if you do.)

Why do you write what you do?

I’ve spent my whole life living as a Korean-American in L.A. surrounded by other Korean-Americans in L.A. This experience is completely normal to me, like water to a fish, or whatever it is they say. I also have a rich reading life, and I’ve spent that whole life in other environments, without running across a single novel that represented my experience. I think I’ll write about Korean-Americans in L.A. for my whole career, in some form or another. I like mystery for now. It’s a great tool for exploring social issues, and it’s a lot of fun to read and write.

How does your writing process work?  

These days, procrastination, procrastination, AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, then goal! Mostly!

I actually have a cool set-up where I get to work day job full time about half the year, and spend the other half writing. I’m about a month into the writing half for 2014, and I’m still struggling to get into a disciplined rhythm. I’m far too willing to shove off and day drink, or drive out to meet someone for lunch. My best writing days are the ones where I roll out of bed, write for a while, then brush my teeth just in time to walk the dog before my husband comes home from work. If I sit in front of my computer for long enough, I get tired of the internet and produce something of use in a three-hour burst in the afternoon. I’m working on expanding this window of productivity. Shutting off internet certainly helps.

I am a believer in word quotas and deadlines, because I will generally meet definite goals out some combination of shame and responsibility (90/10 split). I shoot for 1,000 words a day, spread out across different projects (and not counting things like Yelp reviews or this blog post). Sometimes I cut myself some slack, but that slope gets slippery real fast. I am astonishingly good at accomplishing nothing for days at a time, and rewarding myself for the most minor of minor achievements. (Like after I post this I’m going to read some more of The Magicians while I eat hummus.)

As for the process of stringing sentences together to form a review, story, novel, whatever–I do it a sentence at a time, with outlining when necessary. I tend to know where things are going as I write them, and if the initial product comes out a bit lopsided, I can go back and adjust in editing. I will say, though, that I’m not one of these writers who discards 9 out of every 10 words. My deadlines are too tight for that kind of luxury, and also everything I write is pure gold no need to question that ever.


I tag Ed Lin, Lisa Brackmann, and David Connerley Nahm to participate next week. Here are their bios, stolen from their websites because I procrastinated this blog post and paraphrasing takes time.

Ed Lin, a native New Yorker of Taiwanese and Chinese descent, is the first author to win three Asian American Literary Awards and is an all-around standup kinda guy. Waylaid and This Is a Bust were both published by Kaya Press in 2002 and 2007, respectively, and were widely praised. Both books also won Members’ Choice Awards in the Asian American Literary Awards. His third book, Snakes Can’t Run, was published by Minotaur Books in April 2010; it was loved by many and also won an Asian American Literary Award. One Red Bastard was published by Minotaur in April 2012. His latest book, Ghost Month, a Taipei-based mystery, was published by Soho Crime in July 2014.

Lin lives in Brooklyn with his wife, actress Cindy Cheung, and son.

Lisa Brackmann has worked as an executive at a major motion picture studio, an issues researcher in a presidential campaign, and was the singer/songwriter/bassist in an LA rock band. Yes, she will do karaoke, and she’s looking to buy a bass ukulele. Her debut novel, ROCK PAPER TIGER, set on the fringes of the Chinese art world, made several “Best of 2010″ lists, including Amazon’s Top 100 Novels and Top 10 Mystery/Thrillers, and was nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel, GETAWAY, won the Los Angeles Book Festival Grand Prize and was nominated for the T. Jefferson Parker SCIBA award.

David Connerley Nahm was born and raised in a small town in central Kentucky. Currently, he lives in the mountains of Virginia where he practices law and teaches Law and Literature at James Madison University. His short stories have appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud WristletTrunk StoriesEyeshot, and on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

(ETA: His debut novel, Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky, is out now with Two Dollar Radio. I actually copy-pasted this bio from the TDR site because on David’s it just says DAVID CONNERLEY NAHM LIVES IN THE MOUNTAINS OF VIRGINIA WHERE HE PRACTICES LAW AND TEACHES COLLEGE.)

Brief summary of my last two years (plus tour schedule for Beware Beware)

Wow! I am really horrible at keeping a blog! I’m too cheap/lazy to get a real website, so every visitor for the last two year has been treated (TREATED, definitely) to pictures of my dog because that was the best I could do for a fourth blog post!

Here, this is better, yeah?

Scan 1

I decided to stop in to update my events page (aaaaand since I have your attention, I’ll just post the schedule for my BEWARE BEWARE book tour below), and I might as well do a lightning version of my life since, uh, hahaha 9/5/12 is when the Duke pics went on? Very good blog.

First of all, Duke is much bigger. He’s like 50 pounds and doing really well. In fact, he’s sleeping next to me right now.

My first novel, FOLLOW HER HOME, came out on April 16, 2013. It got some cool reviews. (Cool reviews page forthcoming, maybe.) I made a bunch of writer friends and started doing writer things around L.A. and elsewhere. I did the L.A. Times Festival of Books this April, which was a real dream come true.

I published a handful of non-book things, including one piece of fiction, a short story in the Los Angeles Review of Books that’s sort of about the rapture. Some humor stuff, which is fiction-adjacent, for Trop Magazine. I also started doing freelance restaurant reports and book reviews for the L.A. Times. Since September 5, 2012, I’ve also written (fuck me, this is an exact number) 510 Yelp reviews for no money and at no one’s request.

On September 14, 2013, I got married! It was nice. Marriage is nice, too.Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 2.02.42 PM

I’ve been on and off temp legal jobs, and now I’m off, with a deadline Friday, which is why I’m suddenly so interested in updating my site! I sold a third Juniper Song book to Minotaur, and it is not quite almost half done.

Beware Beware comes out August 12! Come see me at one of these places below.



August 14, 7:30PM

Skylight Books launch event!

1818 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA

August 13, 7:00PM

Drunken Masters with Ed Lin at DTLAB by Writ Large Press @ Traxx Bar & Restaurant (we get drunk and critique your mystery writing)

Union Station, 800 N. Alameda St. Los Angeles, CA

August 21, 6:00PM

Book Passage

1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA

August 23, 7:00PM

Books Inc.

1344 Park Street, Alameda, CA,

August 24, 1:00PM

SoCal Mystery Writers of America and Orange & County Sisters in Crime @ Mystery Ink

A Wok on the Wild Side: panel with Lisa Brackman, Kim Fay, and Timothy Hallinan. Naomi Hirahara moderating. Free and open to public, but reservations required:

August 30, 12:30PM 

Decatur Book Festival (I will be there for the whole thing, I think 8/29-31, so hit me up if you want to go stare at Joyce Carol Oates and Jeff VanderMeer)

My panel is called Caught in the Middle and it’s with Linwood Barclay at the Recreation Center Gym.

101 E. Court Square, Decatur, GA (Directions:

September 6, 2:00PM

Mysterious Galaxy

7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. Suite #302, San Diego, CA

September 24, 7:00PM

Book Carnival

348 South Tustin Street, Orange, CA

September 27, somewhere between 1:00PM and 7:00PM

WeHo Reads Noir panel

West Hollywood Library or so (details forthcoming)

September 29, 7:00PM

Vroman’s Bookstore

695 East Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA

October 11, 2:00PM

Poisoned Pen

4014 N. Goldwater Blvd. Suite 101, Scottsdale, AZ

November 13-16


It is entirely possible I forgot to register for a panel. TO BE SEEN. But either way, I’ll be there, probably within eyeshot of the bar.

Meet Duke

This is my baby boy.  His name is Duke and he is a basset hound.  He likes to eat, sleep, and play.  He chews cardboard to shreds and has a slobber flinging radius of several yards.  He suffers from a rather vicious strain of separation anxiety, which we are working on taming.  Otherwise, he is just the sweetest animal – friendly, loyal, and very playful.  Like all bassets, he is something of a monster, maybe an alien.  I mean look at those ears.  That can’t be right.

See?  Alien.

Whatever he is, he is the absolute best.  My fiance and I adopted him two months ago from the Basset Hound Rescue of Southern California:  We wanted a basset hound and when we started doing our research, we came across this wonderful organization.  They’re very responsible and well-run, and they take good care of their dogs.  Duke needed surgery a few weeks after we got him, and the organization actually covered the surgery.  If you’re thinking about rescuing a dog, I would highly recommend a rescue basset.

My plan for the foreseeable future is to work at a paying job for half of each year, and spend the other half at home, writing with dog.  (I am able to do this due to both the constant need for Japanese doc reviewers and the flexible nature of this sort of contract work.)  I am in the writing half of 2012, and Duke keeps me company while I type away on our couch (one corner of which is pictured above).  Since he is a big part of my life, and also a particularly cute one, he will make occasional appearances on this blog.

He is, like most dogs, illiterate.


Until this summer, I’d never participated in any kind of reading group that wasn’t explicitly an English class.  Since college, I’ve treated reading as more or less a solitary activity, and I think I’m okay with this as my normal mode.  I like to read at my own pace, and I don’t feel an immense need to discuss most books while I’m reading them.  Still, when Lee Konstantinou (novelist, LARB editor, professor, and my T.A. for Contemporary American Fiction in 2004) announced an online reading group for William Gaddis’s J R, I was intrigued.  I’d read and enjoyed Carpenter’s Gothic in college, and I’d always had a vague desire to read Gaddis’s longer works.  The Recognitions sat uncracked on my bookshelf when I purchased my copy of J R.  #OccupyGaddis also started around the same time as my obsession with Goodreads, and as I’d already been tweeting to no one about the books I read, I decided to give this online reading group a shot.  I joined, I participated, I occupied Gaddis.  I’m so glad I did.

For one thing, I loved the book.  It’s been years since I abandoned a book, so I was going to get through it whether I liked it or not, and I am happy I liked it.  Last year I spent two months reading The Adventures of Augie March; in 2010 I got bogged down in This Side of Paradise and Time’s Arrow, both short books that just couldn’t hold my interest for more than a few pages at a time.  The pacing of #OccupyGaddis helped a lot – I decided at the beginning that I would read other books at the same time, and I had no problem toggling back and forth between novels.  I think I might even keep this approach to long books in my solitary reading.

When I first opened J R, I had a fuck this moment.  I did a quick flip-through to look for chapter breaks or scene breaks or really any kind of breaks, only to discover that I was staring at 700+ pages of unbroken unattributed dialogue.  You know that feeling when you want to ride Splash Mountain but the line is a thousand times longer than you thought was possible and the sun is pouring itself right on your head?  Similar idea.  But I proceeded.  The first scene was fantastic, with Anne and Julia Bast (as interchangeable as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, if I’m not mistaken) having an absurd conversation with the lawyer Coen involving a pretty soapy family history.  It was easy to follow after the first page or so, and I thought, “All right, let’s do this.”  A couple scenes later, I found myself scratching my head as about ten characters gathered in the principal’s office of J R’s school, where they all talked across each other while watching educational programming on television.  That was a hard scene to follow, and I have to say, I didn’t enjoy it.

At some point early on, I found the annotated scene outline on, which I am a little ashamed to say I had to use as a crutch for my reading sanity.  With this roadmap and a growing grasp on the style and characters of the novel, I started to enjoy J R immensely.  It was a difficult book – certainly one of the more difficult books I’ve read of late – but it was not at all impossible.  I’d say that the opening scene and the scene at the principal’s office represent the two levels of difficulty in the novel.  Most of the scenes don’t involve more than two or three people, and these are pretty easy to understand.  A few of the scenes are literary clusterfucks, which I like to think Gaddis meant to be chaotic and cluttered.  Someone should map out the entropy levels of the scenes in J R, add that to the website.

So J R takes some work, especially in the beginning.  I think I was about 200 pages in when I started reading for pleasure.  At some point, though, it became almost easy.  I stopped reading 10 pages a day.  Instead I took days to read other books and did my catch-up reads on J R in 50-70 page bursts.  The second half went by quickly, as many other Occupiers noted on Twitter.

There are many reasons to read J R.  It’s a damning portrait of capitalist America that is particularly relevant today; it’s a book with some real caché, that you want to look nice and creased on your bookshelf.  But the reason that got me through and made it all worthwhile is that J R is fun.  Not just fun, but fucking zany.  I mean look, the Pynchon comparisons are necessary and obvious, but I don’t think they do anything for potential readers put off by the apparent difficulty of the novel.  J R, more than any other novel, reminded me of Catch-22.  I was ten years old when I first read that book, and I listed it as my favorite until late into high school.  I remember laughing my ass off when someone promoted Major Major Major, and when Milo Minderbinder bought all the Egyptian cotton and coated it with chocolate just to try and unload it.  Do you guys remember all that?  How it was just the funniest shit you’d ever read in a way that was completely different from Roald Dahl?  J R tickled me in the same way.  I mean it was so ridiculous.  Dog-food-eating Dad.  Pre-Photoshop blackface.  Bast in that headdress.  The 96th St. apartment.  J R Vansant.  It was a laugh-out-loud ride with some serious things to say along the way.  Milo Minderbinder and his Egyptian cotton tax loss would’ve fit right in.

I loved J R and I had a great time reading along with all the other Occupiers on Goodreads and Twitter.  I liked seeing what others were reacting to, and sharing thoughts and favorite quotes through the hashtag.  I read Gravity’s Rainbow during my semester abroad in college, when I had no internet access off campus.  It was a reading experience that now seems antiquated (at least for the long, difficult books that demand some Google support), from a time long before Twitter, when book blogs were either not really a thing or totally off my radar.  I’m sure I’ll read many more books on my own, but I’d be open to doing this sort of online book club again.  Tweet @ me if you have ideas.


PS. Other things read while occupying Gaddis:

1. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

2. The Song is You by Megan Abbott

3. How to Raise the Perfect Dog by the Dog Whisperer

4. A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

5. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

6. Lost in the Funhouse by John Barth

7. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

8. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carré

9. The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

10. 300 pages of Cryptonomicon, because Neal Stephenson passed through my local bookstore on August 8.  I am now almost halfway through and I’m giving it the J R treatment.  I’ve read Sharp Objects (Gillian Flynn) and Death of a Salesman since finishing J R, and I’m going for Dare Me (Megan Abbott) next.  As you can see, I’m on a female crime novelist kick.

Other than Cryptonomicon, I stuck to relatively short/quick reads.  I got a lot more out of my reading this summer than I would have if I’d insisted on reading just the one book at a time.  I’d be curious to know what others read while reading J R.

Books for my 15-year-old brother

My brother Peter is almost 12 years younger than me (we have the same zodiac sign, which is noteworthy in an Asian family, if not exactly meaningful).  He’s a brilliant kid, smart and self-motivated with a good sense of humor and a great way with words.  His primary interests lie with science and sports, which are not my areas of expertise, but he’s read and enjoyed the books he’s read in school (Catcher in the RyeTo Kill a MockingbirdOf Mice and Men – the ones you would guess). He turned fifteen yesterday, and since he has all the video games he could possibly need, I gave him a stack of books.  He joked that they would be decoration for his new bookshelf.  Fair enough.  I have many, many books on my shelf that I won’t touch for a while, but they do inspire aspiration.

I got him seven books (about $100 with my members discount at Skylight Books).  I wanted to pick books that I’d read and enjoyed, that I thought would be appropriate for a fifteen-year-old kid.  At that age, my favorite book was Catch-22, which he already owns (and hasn’t read, but plans to read).  I think I was sixteen when I read As I Lay Dying and Lolita, and those are the books I generally credit with my lasting love of reading.  For Peter’s birthday, I picked books that were somewhere between Heller and Faulkner in difficulty.

1. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

This was the first book I thought to get him, since I associate it strongly with Catch-22 as a fun literary romp best read in one’s teens.  I think I read it in late high school or early college, shortly followed by Cat’s Cradle, which I liked even better.

2. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

I read this book my freshman year of college and it changed my life.  My novel is a response and homage to Chandler, and it couldn’t have happened if I hadn’t read The Big Sleep.  I got this one for my brother for two reasons.  One, I want him to get some context before he reads my book.  Two, it’s a fucking excellent book, and it’s a reasonable read for a high school kid.

3. A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

Short stories are good for an adolescent attention span, and I enjoyed this collection when I read it last year.  The stories are fun and gothic, and shit happens that isn’t a series of epiphanies.  I wanted to make sure I gave Peter a few classics that he won’t necessarily read in school, and SlaughterhouseThe Big Sleep, and A Good Man fit the bill.

4. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

I read this one on my friend June’s recommendation when I was in eighth grade.  It is the first and only John Irving book I’ve ever read, and I’m not sure why.  I really loved this book.  It was long but pretty easy to get through, and the story was fascinating.  I remember it remarkably well, considering I haven’t touched it since Peter was a baby.

5. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

This is not my favorite David Mitchell novel, but I’m a lot farther removed from boyhood than my little brother.  I like David Mitchell’s style.  His prose is pretty and well crafted but very accessible.  In fact I’m thinking I could’ve gotten Peter number9dream or Cloud Atlas instead.  Maybe next year.

6. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

I read this a few years ago and had mixed feelings about it to be honest.  I disliked the narrator and found the style a bit glib.  But!  It was a fun, fast, kind of epic read, and I loved a lot of things about it.  I liked the way it folded in history with a folkloric flourish, and it was certainly hard to forget.  Junot Diaz actually came to my school, and he was a great reader/speaker.  Also, I love this interview he did with the Boston Review:

7. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

As long as he’s reading a pile of books, he might as well hack into the latest Pulitzer winner, right?  Plus, this one’s beautifully written, easy to read, with an engaging short story format.  Also, I will not have my little brother growing up thinking only men can write great books, because it just isn’t true.

Since I am not the worst, most self-absorbed sister in the world, I did ask Peter in advance if I could get him books for his birthday.  He said sure, so I hope he reads some of these and finds them worthwhile.  My fiancé bought him a couple Grantland books to even out the reading material, and I’m sure he’ll get to those first, and that’s okay.

The Agent Process: My Data Point

Michael Bourne posted a thoughtful, honest, anxiety-inducing article over at The Millions, on navigating the world of literary agents:  I read the whole thing and felt incredibly lucky while I had unpleasant flashbacks of my year of continuous rejection.

I’ve had a few people ask me about the publishing process, and my experience has been that the hardest and longest part is finding a literary agent.  I am just one data point, but I want to share my thoughts on this particular ordeal.  I didn’t really know anyone who had gone through it when I started, and since I would have loved to talk to someone who had, I’m going to post this in the hopes that someone finds it useful.

Without gloating too much (this post will be mostly angst with a happy ending), I’ll say that I started the query process with no writing credits and almost no connections – the odds are not great, but it can be done.*  I finished the first draft of my manuscript in December 2009 and started querying in earnest in March 2010.  I signed with my agent Ethan on my twenty-fifth birthday, January 14, 2011.  It felt like a long time, but I know I was very lucky.

The first thing I did after finishing my manuscript was try to find a connection.  I had none, so I contacted someone I thought might be able to help.  I hand-wrote a letter to the headmaster of my fancy private high school asking if he knew anyone who could help me publish a book.  I slid it under his office door.  Does this sound ridiculous?  It absolutely was.  I had no relationship with my headmaster while I was in high school, and I had no reason to believe he would take an interest in me seven years later.  To my delight, he replied to my letter about a week later and put me in touch with another alumnus from my high school, a big agent at William Morris.  I queried her, and after more consideration than I deserved, she rejected me, listing a few good reasons.  This was extremely generous of her – she gave me some great criticism, pointing out flaws I later addressed with my current agent.  She wished me luck.

It was only at this point that I started querying left and right.  In retrospect, I should have mixed that one agent in with dozens of others from the start, but I knew nothing about the process.  I educated myself using Google, found Agent Query, and wasted money on a physical catalogue of Literary Agents that I could have culled online.  I read a few threads on Absolute Write and kind of got going.  I made a spreadsheet (I rarely use Excel, but this was very helpful), listing agencies, agents, email addresses, and little tidbits I could use to personalize my query letters.  I made a point of querying a few a day for a while, and I kept track of my query dates and query statuses in my spreadsheet.  It was a pain in the ass, and I didn’t even get to the agencies that didn’t accept e-queries.

In this first wave of queries, I hit around three dozen agents and got five requests for partials/fulls.  I was thrilled with this success rate, and I remember thinking, “Maybe it will be this easy.  Maybe this agent will read my book and fall in love and we’ll sell it before graduation.”  Ridiculous.  So ridiculous!  But it’s hard not to fantasize when you’re dealing in dreams.

I got my first rejection on a full manuscript on March 31, 2010, which was my then-boyfriend-now-fiance’s birthday.  It was the first time I’d gotten feedback on the novel as a whole, and it was a short letter that said, “Although you have a thrilling story, I did not fall in love with the characters as much as I had hoped for.”  I was devastated.  I picked a fight with my boyfriend and cried a lot and basically ruined his birthday.  (I did make him a cake and a pizza from scratch after I realized I was acting out like a child.)  Until that rejection, I thought my book was really good and that if someone would just read it cover to cover, things would fall into place.  Of the remaining agents, one never replied, and another replied with a rejection when I followed up nine months later.  One responded to a follow-up with a request to resend – she said she’d forgotten all about it, and it was the right decision to nudge her (nudging agents is a topic for another blog post, probably by someone who knows more about it than I do).  She eventually rejected me when Ethan offered me representation and I forced the decision.

I signed with Ethan in January 2011, but my relationship with him started in March 2010, when he responded to a query I had sent to another agent in his agency.  He asked for a partial, then requested a full two months later.  A week after that, he emailed me to say he enjoyed my book, and asked to speak on the phone.  We spoke, and he invited me to come to the agency office to talk about the manuscript.  I put on my best interview dress and took a train to New York a few days later.  We had a long conversation about books (I was reading Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson and had the third volume of 1Q84 in a shopping bag – the office was very close to Kinokuniya, and if I’m being honest, I also thought it might impress him) and then he gave me his extensive notes on my manuscript.  Looking back now, I can see that my first draft was severely lacking in several departments, such as character development and plausibility.  I’m lucky that Ethan saw a kernel of something he could work with because it needed help and I was too close to see it.  He gave me a lot of praise, but noted that he couldn’t take me on unless he knew I could edit my writing.  I left feeling hopeful, and told him I would get him some sample chapters and a revised draft in the fall.  In between, I studied for and took the California bar.  I sent him my first revision in September 2010.  He sent me an email in December 2010 apologizing that he hadn’t gotten to it yet, but that he planned to very soon.

That stretch from June to December was pretty stressful.  Because I had met with Ethan, I felt very much that he was my one point of entry into the publishing world, and I kept thinking I would never succeed if he decided to drop me.  At various points, I thought he had rejected me silently, and that I would never know for sure what had happened.

With Ethan’s help, my manuscript had become a lot more presentable, and I decided to send out a new round of queries, between December 2010 and January 2011.  This time I emailed around two dozen agents, and my success rate was much higher – my query letter was stronger because my book was better.  By the beginning of January, I had partials or fulls out to six different agents.  (I used a connection to get in touch with one of these agents – when I went to my fiance’s swearing-in ceremony, I met one of his co-workers, who, coincidentally, had been in my dorm our freshman year of college.  His mother was, incredibly, Lisa See.  We talked and she referred me to her agent.  Nothing came of it, but it would be weird to omit this anecdote.  As Michael Bourne notes in his article, the easiest way to get an agent is to know someone who can help you.)  On January 12, I received an offer of representation from a well-known agent who wanted me to take my book in a more commercial direction.  He was a bigger name, but by that point I was quite attached to Ethan.  He understood what I was trying to do, and he knew how to push me to do it better.  I followed up with Ethan and he offered me representation on the spot.

It’s been over a year and a half since I signed with Ethan, and everything has been pretty easy since then.  We edited together and sold the manuscript to St. Martin’s (that was also a process, but a less difficult one that I may cover in a future post) less than a month after it left the house.  Getting Ethan on board was the most difficult and most essential part of my publishing journey.  I think writers and artists of all stripes struggle with the same persistent fear that we don’t have talent, that people will laugh behind our backs when all our efforts lead to nothing.  I still have that fear, but it’s become a lot more manageable since my 25th birthday.

Anyway, this is my agent story, and I hope it’s been somewhat informative.  The process went about as smoothly as I could have hoped, but it still felt long and painful while I was in it.  There’s an easy parallel to dating here.  I haven’t been single for a while, but I remember sitting around staring at my phone, waiting for texts from guys I didn’t even fucking like.  It was terrible, and the agent process was terrible in a similar, magnified way.  There were times when I sat staring at my inbox waiting for the smallest communication because I’d put out dozens of missives and a response could come and crush me or change my life at any time.

So.  If you’re about to start querying, just know that it is a frustrating, soul-crushing, and sometimes fruitless effort, but that if you succeed and get the right agent, it will be the hardest part to get through.  Also, if you need someone to talk to, I will answer emails.

Good luck.


*I did have one hook, I think, though no one has said as much.  I was a Yale Law student, and I think that prestige sticker might have given me a little push.  On the other hand, I’m guessing I would have been in better shape with an MFA or any sort of publication to my name – as I found out when I was roundly rejected from every MFA program I applied to during my 3L year, no one in the literary world gives a fuck if you went to a fancy law school.  And why should they?