Earlier this year, I made it to my first Con –Conestoga 12 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A number of my favorite kick-ass authors from the Fangs, Fur & Fey site were part of the program. I just had to attend. Now, I have to admit I was nervous and had many questions. Could I wear normal clothes or did I have to dress up as an elf or werewolf? Did they really have wild parties?
So the first night, I show up at the bar area for a happy hour/mingling, find a spot and end up in a great discussion about vampires, faeries, writing and books with a wonderful bunch of ladies. Among them, was Devon Monk.
The next morning, while attending a writing panel, I realized she's an agented author with her debut novel MAGIC TO THE BONE coming out. Also, she’d sold over fifty short stories to fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, and young adult magazines and anthologies. Her stories have been published in five countries and included in a Year's Best Fantasy collection.
Yeah, I can be clueless at times and drinking wine doesn’t exactly help.
She handed me her first chapter to read on the plane ride home. And I was hooked. Here’s a blurb from MAGIC TO THE BONE, see how you like it:
Everything has a cost. And every act of magic exacts a price from its user--maybe a two-day migraine, or losing the memory of your first kiss. But some people want to use magic without paying, and they offload the cost onto an innocent. When that happens, it falls to a Hound to identify the spell's caster--and Allison Beckstrom's the best there is.
Daughter of a prominent Portland businessman, Allie would rather moonlight as a Hound than accept the family fortune--and the many strings that come with it. But when she discovers a little boy dying from a magical offload that has her father's signature all over it, Allie is thrown back into the high-stakes world of corporate espionage and black magic.
In bookstores November 4, 2008. To learn more about Devon, check out her site:
The Texas Typos had a slew of questions for Devon, which she generously offered to answer:
1. How long did it take you to write the book from concept to agent-ready?
I was invited to submit a short story to an anthology. It probably took two weeks to come up with an idea for the short story and a week to write it. That ended up being the first chapter of the novel.
I wrote the novel (except for the first chapter, which, actually, I had to rewrite) in a little over a month.
2. How do you know when a book is agent-ready?
When it is as good as I can make it with my current skills. I love rewriting, but there comes a time when I must let go of a book so I can move on to the next book, the next challenge, the next thing that will help me grow as an author. In the most basic terms I draft, rewrite, send to first readers, rewrite, and send to agent.
3. How long did it take you to find an agent and how many did you query? How did she target her agent(s)?
It took me five years and four different books to sign my current agent. I don't know how many I queried in the end. At first, I only queried the one or two agents I was familiar with. Then my goal became researching as many agents as I could (via Publisher's Marketplace, Agent Query, websites, blogs, conferences, chats, etc.) and submitting to as many I thought were viable every month.
4. From 'the call' to print: what's your favorite part of the process? Why?
I love hearing from readers who have enjoyed reading the book. That is after all, my ultimate goal--to write something others can enjoy and escape into. As for the writing process, I think my favorite part is rewriting after the first draft because that is when I feel I have finally unpacked the story and discovered what it truly can be. I also love seeing the cover art for the first time.
5. How many times did you want to give up and if more than two or three what kept you going? If less, what drugs were you on?
I gave up once a year for fifteen years. Seriously. What kept me going was that I love writing. Even when it's really, really hard, and there is no time for it in my life, and no one wants to buy my stuff, I love writing.
6. What is your message to pre-published authors hoping to see their books in print?
Remember writing is a job and you are responsible for your career. That means showing up at the keyboard every day and working (writing) to climb the mountain. The most important tool a writer can put in their toolbox is determination. Talent and inspiration are great, but determination will get the words down, will lead you to strive to improve, and will send out the novel/short story/article again and again, rejection after rejection, until it is sold.
7. If you knew what you know now starting out, what would you've done different?
I probably wouldn't have listened to the people who told me the only way to sell a novel was to learn to write short fiction. I also would have dared to be bad more often, trusted more in my voice, and tried to write more and faster, every day.
8. Do you have any strange -okay, let's call it unique-writing practices?
I don't think so. I just sit down, roll up my sleeves and sweat and cuss and despair. Isn't that how everyone does it? Wait, I just thought of something that might be strange--sometimes I plot my scenes/chapters/books in the shower. There's something about the warm water and time away from the rest of the world that really helps me think.
9. What do you do for stress relief?
I knit, do yoga, and take walks. Knitting isn't always great on my fingers and wrists, but I love it. Yoga has done wonders for my typing-cramped shoulders and keeps my mind more alert. Walking is just plain fun.
10. Did you use a critique partner or group, or did your previous experience mean you didn't need to?
I'm assuming you're asking if I used a critique group for MAGIC TO THE BONE. No. I'd been a part of critique groups for fifteen years. All of them focused on short fiction. There wasn't a group in my area that critiqued novels. So I found a few trusty first readers and asked if they would take a look at the book. One of my first readers is a wonderful writer and the other two are wonderful (and voracious) readers. They all gave me invaluable feedback on how to make the book more satisfying.
11. How do you find a trustworthy beta reader? What are the qualifications of a beta reader?
This one's tricky. It takes knowing what you expect a beta reader to do and being clear about asking for that. If you're looking for someone to tell you what you did right, ask for that upfront: "I'd love it if you read my book and just told me the things that you like about it."
If you're looking for someone to tell you what didn't work in the book, be specific, i.e, ask, "When did you get bored and put it down? Was the scene in the warehouse confusing? Do you like the main character? Why not? Who was your favorite character? Why? Did (blank) make sense?"
I guess my advice is to just keep trying people--at critique groups, conferences, classes, online--until you've found someone who is willing to build a relationship of trust and (sometimes brutal) honesty. Then listen to them and apply the suggestions that make the most sense to your vision of the story.
12. What's the biggest difference in writing magazines, anthologies, short stories and novels?
The writing process is still the same (sit at keyboard, roll sleeves, sweat, cuss, despair) but the format and length of each form calls for a different approach in plotting.
Short stories need tight, brilliant little plots with every word doing triple the work. Novels need tight brilliant big plots with every word doing double the work.
Magazines and anthologies are different in that anthologies are often identified by themes and magazines are usually identified by genre. In many cases anthologies have a longer shelf life than magazines--simply due to the format.
I believe every form of story calls for deep characterization, rockin' plots, exciting world building, and a lasting sense of wonder.
13. How do you draw the line between fantasy and science fiction?
I don't. That's up to marketing/publishers/book sellers. There's a lot of blending between the two genres anyway, and I like it when things cross-pollinate.
I know there are purists who will argue the point, but as a reader I basically classify fantasy as stories with strong magical elements and science fiction as stories with strong technological elements.
14. You span a number of genres, what's your ultimate favorite to write?
All of it! I love a good story that will whisk me away and let me spend time with unusual/engaging people who are doing cool things.
15. What elements are a must in a good book?
I like books that have strong, engaging characters and plots, great dialog, interesting settings, emotionally fulfilling outcomes, and pacing that makes the whole thing sing.
16. Give us your top five reason why a reader should pick MAGIC TO THE BONE when browsing a bookstore shelf.
I get all kinds of shy doing that sort of thing. How about I just quote five people who have read it instead?
"...clever and compulsively readable...brilliantly and tightly written...a multifaceted character who will surprise, amuse, amaze and absorb readers." --Publishers Weekly Starred review
"With style and a magical world that is quite fresh, Monk explodes on the scene and makes a few waves!"
--Romantic Times top pick 4 1/2 stars
"Loved it. Fiendishly original and a stay-up-all-night read."
--Patricia Briggs, NYT Bestselling Author
"Monk's writing is addictive and the only cure is more, more, more."
--Rachel Vincent, NYT Bestselling Author
"The characters in Magic to the Bone are anything but stereotypical. They defy expectations and truly come alive on the page. The use of magic in here is new and fantastically riveting. The plot is complex and wonderful, with excellent twists and turns. The not-particularly-explicit (in fact, they’re teasingly abstract in some ways) sex scenes are searingly hot in an unusually “real” kind of way, and the emotions are incredibly poignant."
--Errant Dreams Review
17. State three ways you're similar to your heroine, Allie, and three ways you're different.
Oh boy, here we go!
Similar: I go out of my way to help others in need, I have a sarcastic inner monologue, I'm willing to risk it all for those I love.
Different: I get along with my family, I'm not a loner, I'm not in over my head burdened with magic in a world where dangerous secrets and dangerous people are around every corner.
Thanks a bunch Devon and best of luck with MAGIC TO THE BONE. May you have rock-rockin’ sales! Keep writing,