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Interview – April Tucholke

1. I’m going to be perfectly honest, the title of your book is what attracted me to it first. The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Chilling. Poetic. Evocative. Was that always the title? I saw on YA Highway in your query that you called it that. Was there ever a different work in progress title?

Great question. I had originally titled my bookDEVILRIVER–this felt very southern gothic to me, so yeah, love. But I was listening to the great Cab Calloway one day, and he started singing “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.” And I just knew. Check out these lyrics, especially that last stanza—it just fit the book to a T:

I don’t want you,

But I hate to lose you,

You’ve got me in between the devil and the deep blue sea.

 

I forgive you,

‘Cause I can’t forget you,

You’ve got me in between the devil and the deep blue sea.

 

I ought to cross you off my list,

But when you come knocking at my door,

Fate seems to give my heart a twist,

And I come running back for more.

 

I should hate you,

But I guess I love you,

You’ve got me in between the devil and the deep blue sea.

 

2. Nice!  Very evocative!  So speaking of queries, if the title caught my eye, the description of you book blew my mind. That query was amazing. So let’s talk about that for a moment.

a. First, this was not your first time on the query train! How did you approach writing the query for Devil that was different from before?

I didn’t use footnotes in my query this time—I figured those suckers pushed my first queries from “unique” into “possibly insane” territory. Otherwise, I guess I was less frantic and more relaxed. I let myself do what I wanted. Minus the footnotes.

b. Footnotes.  Haha.  You sent on 9 queries in 2 days before you got the fabulous Joanna Volpe as an agent. Now that’s quite a success story! When writing a query, what’s the most important thing for an author to keep in mind?

Don’t be afraid to be interesting—take the risk. Be concise. Be unique, but sane. Don’t be afraid to show how much you love books, but avoid fanboying it. Mention comp titles—this really worked for me.  Finally, come up with a pitch, even if you don’t include it in the query. You’ll want to know how the agent will sell your book. Is it WINTER’S BONE meets John Green? Is it VERONICA MARS meets HOW I LIVE NOW? Is it PET SEMATARY meets FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC?

3. You say you had a small list of top agents you wanted to send the letter to. How did you create that list? What were some guidelines?

As it has been mentioned, I’d been rep’d once before. And I learned a thing or two. I figured if I couldn’t get my top choices, then I’d trash the book and write something else. That’s always an option. Anyway, I’d made a few writer connections by this time and learned some insider info about the above and beyond agents…the attentive ones, the kind ones, the ones that really cared, the ones that seemed to like the same books I liked. This helped. A lot.

4. What are some good questions to ask an agent when they are interested in representation?

I wouldn’t know. I didn’t ask any. Not kidding. I just kept saying “brilliant” over and over (I picked up the habit when living in Scotland), and basically refused to talk. I’m horrible and shy on the phone. And yet, it still worked out. I didn’t scare Joanna off, at least. I tend to go with my gut on these things, anyway.

5. I would love to visit Scotland one day!  You’re going to have to chat with me again and we’ll talk all about Scotland!  But for now, can you tell us a little bit about the event that inspired your story, and what about it attracted you so much?

September 23, 1954.Glasgow,Scotland. Hundreds of kids are found patrolling the city’s ancient necropolis. They are armed with sharpened sticks and knives—the kids tell the police they are hunting a 7ft tall vampire with iron teeth who has already kidnapped two boys.   loved this story. People speculated that American comic books started the craze, but what I thought about–what inspired me–was that it still came down to one kid. One magnetic kid who told a lie about a vampire in the cemetery and made all those kids believe him. This fascinates me. Was the kid bored? Did he just like making mischief and stirring up trouble? What motivated him? Where is he now? What kind of man did he grow up to be?

6. Creepy! Crazy.  But creepy.  🙂  Let’s switch gears a minute. You worked in a bookstore for several years. In all that time there, what are some things you learned about books and the publishing industry you never knew before?

Things I did not know:

1. How long it takes for a book to get published. 18 months to 2 years. Who knew? Back then I probably would have guessed three months, or something…

2. A lot of authors still have to keep their day job.

3. Authors are not gods. They are not eccentric recluses (usually). They don’t live in dusty, crumbling, rat-filled mansions with secret passageways (no matter how much you want them to). They don’t go around wearing veils in public or harbor deep dark secrets (mostly). They still have to go to the dentist, just like everyone else.

7. You’re a member of the Lucky 13s.  (Love that name!) How important is having a network like that as an author?

Well, I’m cautious about the internet and social networking (I’m currently not on Facebook or Twitter), mostly because I wish I was living in an Edward Hopper painting, i.e. no internet, cell phones, etc. That said, having access to other debut authors, and a support system, is crucial. I’ve met some really cool, really supportive people.

8. From what I read on your site and other places online, it seems like Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is a stand alone. Please correct me if I’m wrong. If it is a single title though, what made you decide not to expand the story and try the ever so popular YA trilogy?

Well, there might be a sequel. I left the ending open for one. I actually prefer writing stand-alones. I get distracted easily and have a folder full of book ideas I’d like to try—I want to do a YA noir, and a dark MG, and a dark fantasy, and a YA cult book, and I’m working on a non-zombie THE ROAD-ish post-apocalypse right now…

9. Finally April, I can’t ever leave an interview without asking for advice. You’ve queried before, you’ve even been represented once before. So what advice do you have for those writers that come SO CLOSE but then it just doesn’t seem to work for them?

First of all, if you’ve already gotten really close, then you’ve proven yourself to be in the top one percent. Which is huge. At this point I think persistence matters, of course, and cautious optimism, and cheerfully low expectations. But the most important thing, I think, is ADAPTABILITY. Don’t consider yourself above anything. I’ve talked to aspiring authors who seem to think that not making it at all is preferable to compromising their vision. They won’t even try writing genre, or YA, or fantasy, or romance, etc. This makes me furious. If you truly want to be an author, you need to see the value in all writing. You need to read everything. Everything. All genres. Maybe you aren’t meant to be an adult literary writer, but your skills are perfectly suited to westerns…and you’ll never know because you’ll never try writing them. Yeah. Enough said. How bad do you want this, after all? Read. Learn. Adapt.

9 Comments »

  1. April, this is one of the best author interviews I’ve read. Ever ever. Because you covered your awesome, rocking book DEVIL, Flowers (natch), Pet Semetary, Scotland (kilts! Jamie Fraser! scones!), and clarified just how crazy and rewarding this whole author business is. I cannot wait for the world to read your book. Thanks for the interview, April and Bethany! (Brandy, I’m going to have to arm wrestle you for that synopsis!)

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