Ruth E. Walker
Recently, I filled out a Query Manager form as part of my search for an agent for my YA sci-fi manuscript. Query Manager is an online form that writers complete with samples, query letter, synopsis – whatever the agent’s submission guidelines state.
Most agents’ Query Manager forms are similar, with generic questions designed to get information on the book, the writer, etc. This particular agent had some interesting additional questions, such as: Are you a Marvel or DC fan? That was a no-brainer: Marvel all the way. Except, I added, I still had room in my heart for Superman and Batman. (Call me old-fashioned but classic DC had a steadiness that served as a nice counterpoint to Marvel’s edge.)
Back to the agent. For me, that question was an intriguing insight to the agent’s personality. A response time of 8 to 10 weeks means it will be a while before I can ask her why she uses that particular question. But I’d like to thank her for another couple of questions on her online form. It’s a question that reminded me of the power a character or storyline can have, even if it’s been abandoned for some time.
What inspired you to write this book?
Character, I answered. (It’s always been my entry to almost all of my writing.) But then I went on to explain how my protagonist Garnet was a character rattling around in my brain while I worked on literary manuscripts. Some years before, I imagined this young feisty female in a warrior role she’s born for despite the odds. She’s a battlewipe – a job loosely combined with field medic, battlefield scavenger and skilled assassin. Don’t ask me how. She just was—and still is. I wrote a single paragraph to get her out of my system and filed it.
Despite the intervening manuscripts, Garnet wouldn’t leave me alone. And finally, I had a chance to dust off her one-paragraph character study and see if she could sustain a longer work. I signed up for the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a 72-hour writing marathon to fundraise for literacy in the Muskoka Region.
Garnet could – and did – sustain the longer work: 27,000 words approximately. By the time I’d worked and reworked her over the years, she now fills 98,000 words and is clearly part of a duology. (and yes, I’ve started the sequel.)
Why are you the author to write this book?
My fingers quivered at this one. My published poetry, stories and novels are in the literary stream. I have no stories in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction or Strange Horizons. And I’ve published nothing in the Young Adult genre up to now. Was I kidding myself?
I hope not.
I’d loved science fiction as a young reader, and continued to selectively read sci-fi over the years. Ray Bradbury’s R is for Rocket (which I stole from the school library–and still have) and The Martian Chronicles kick-started my interest. And then Star Trek and James T. Kirk, et al, captured my idealistic heart. The stories told in science fiction are stories about the human condition, even those termed “hard science” novels. From Asimov’s Foundation series to Andy Weir’s The Martian, science is the brain but characters form the heart.
And I had a character who happened to exist on a planet with two suns. This feral teen had hopes and dreams that she kept whispering in my ear until I had the chance to breathe more life into her. That early draft I wrote at the marathon won the YA category, high praise from the editor judge and, later on, a Works-in-Progress grant from the Ontario Arts Council.
When characters insist
Notice I used the relative pronoun “who” in the paragraph above instead of “that” which is what you are supposed to use for non-human things. My character is quite real to me and I won’t be able to let her go until she has a home inside a book.
So she’s a who.
And that’s what I mean about a character who sticks like glue. I’ve got a few more rattling around in my brain but Garnet is one insistent voice. She even shows up when I’m focusing on other things. And that’s a good thing because one other question this agent asks in her Query Manager form: If your book was a movie, who would play your main character? That one was easy: Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) or Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things.) Fierce and vulnerable.
I may only get a “no” from this query. But that’s okay because it let me dive even deeper into the who of my character and firm up my confidence on being the one to tell this story. The heck with all the rest. As my friend Sue Reynolds says: follow the energy. So I did. Do you?