League Interview with Gretchen McNeil: Agent Magnet
Nicole: Hi Gretchen! Great to have you here! Ummm . . . before we begin, can I just ask you something? You haven’t heard anything about up and coming authors disappearing from League headquarters, never to be seen from again, have you? Because it’s totally lies. I mean, we’re not trying to off all the competition in our crazy bid for world domination, or anything. Again. After that last time . . . haven’t heard anything? Wonderful. Why don’t you go ahead and sit right there . . . What was that? Oh, no, that’s not a trap door under that chair. Those are just . . . spirit lines. We draw them. You want to sit over here instead? Shi . . . I mean, sure! Whatever’s clever! Now, why don’t you tell the League a little something about yourself and your current project.
Gretchen: *examines new chair for booby traps* Well, I'm an opera singer, television producer, voice over artist and circus performer who decided, on a bit of a whim in 2007, that I’d try writing a novel. It turned out pretty good but (justifiably) failed to snag me an agent. While I was on the query-go-round, I started a second, significantly better novel. THE WITCH'S EYE is about a one-eyed Bronx teenager who ends up racing the not so mythological tribes of Ireland to an ancient scroll that could destroy the world.
Nicole: Wow, that’s really interesting. *she accidentally sets her coffee cup on one of the buttons on the armrest of her chair. The trap door underneath the seat Gretchen declined whooshes open, sending the chair rattling down into oblivion.* Huh, maybe it was a trap door. Who knew? Anyway. You had a very unique experience in acquiring an agent. Can you share what happened with us?
Gretchen: Let me preface this story by pointing out that I queried my first novel for seven months – over 130 queries with only about two dozen requests for material. It's a process that's about as action-packed as a Sunday afternoon at Leisure World. Therefore, I was completely unprepared for the speed at which THE WITCH'S EYE was snatched up. Within two weeks of unleashing it on Agent Land, I had four offers of representation. Now I was over the moon after the first one. By the fourth, I think I'd developed an ulcer. However, once I made the decision to go with Ginger Clark at Curtis Brown, I knew it was the right choice. Stress and anxiety? Gone!
Nicole: I’ll give you stress and anxiety . . . I mean, what is the most important lesson you learned from this experience?
Gretchen: I never set out to be a "writer." I never kept a journal. I wasn't the kid writing full length stories on rainy days. I've never taken a writing class in my life. Part of me felt it was awfully cheeky of me to dare to write a novel. And yeah, that first draft of that first novel was craptastic. If you asked me at 18 what career I would follow, I'd have said "opera singer." I did, for awhile. I was pretty good at it, not great, not spectacular, just pretty good. Then through a series of coincidences I got into television production. I'm pretty good at that, too and I really do enjoy it. Now I write, which I love and hate at the same time (it's like a marriage, really)…
Stick with me. I'm going somewhere with this.
There was an anecdote I once heard about the world-famous soprano Renee Fleming. When she finished Julliard, she was working as a jazz singer in a New York bar and there was a point at which her career could have gone either way – opera or jazz. It just so happened that the next major opportunity came from the opera world. But she kept her options open; she was receptive to whatever came along. That's the lesson I learned. Keep your options open. We weren't put on this earth to just do one thing. Don't be afraid to try something else.
Nicole: Speaking of “trying new things,” would you like to try this . . . gimlet? Why is it smoking? It’s dry ice. And no, that wasn’t Drano I poured in it. That would kill you! And who would want that, Miss Soon To Be Famous and Lure Away League Readers? Okay, fine, you don’t want the damned drink. So what is your advice for aspiring writers?
Gretchen: There are a lot of clichés floating around in the world of the unagented writer. "It only takes one." "Right novel, right agent, right time." "There's a perfect agent for every manuscript." "Don't call us, we'll call you…" We kind of hold onto these, repeating them like pseudo-religious mantras, willing ourselves to believe them. For me, I always hoped that an agent would love my work, but until I got that first magical call which included the words "I'd like to offer representation," I'm not sure I truly believed it. And I can tell every aspiring writer that it can-slash-will happen until I'm blue in the face without getting them to believe it. But I'll say it anyway. It can happen. It will happen.
Thanks Gretchen! And since you survived . . . I mean, were nice enough to come talk with us, you can still be found at http://www.gretchenmcneil.com/. Dammit.