Tom has agreed to let me torture interview him. Here’s how it went down…
B: So let’s get this party started. What made you decide to enter Pitch Madness, and how did you feel during the contest?
Tom: I’d been a first alternate during PitchWars, so PitchMadness was definitely on my radar. Even though I’d gotten a partial out of PitchWars that became a full, I knew it wasn’t a sure thing so I figured there was nothing to lose in trying another contest. I was on spring break while the finalists were being chosen and had time to follow the whole Twitter narrative, but I tried not to check it too obsessively to keep myself from thinking in circles. It was a great surprise when my name turned up on one of the blogs. I really didn’t think that after Pitch Wars lightning would strike a second time.
B: With that kind of luck, I’d be hitting the casino or something. And which blog were you on and what was the title of your entry? How many requests did you get?
Tom: I was on Rebecca Weston’s blog. My manuscript FOLLOWING INFINITY rounded up one entire request, which I was happy to get. When the agent round started I kept seeing tweets like, “Woo-hoo! Our team has this many requests! And now this many! And can you believe it, now we have THIS many!” I’d see those updates and think, “Man, I hope at least one is for mine.” And that was exactly what happened. And it was the right one.
B: As we always say in this business … it only takes one!! So you sent in your request to your agent. Was it a partial or a full? Tell us the details of the submission and wait time you had before Carrie Howland with Donadio & Olson, Inc. asked for the Call?
Tom: She asked for a full, which I sent as soon as I could. Oddly enough I’d received another full request on that same day from querying, and I still had a full out from PitchWars. Going from one to three fulls in a matter of hours was head-spinning. I did all my research on everyone and mapped out how much time it seemed I should expect to wait, then pushed it out of my head. I first heard from Carrie two weeks later when she sent a quick message saying how much she was enjoying the manuscript and that she’d be in touch as soon as she finished, which really caught me off guard. In all of the agent and request stories I’d seen, I hadn’t read of something like that happening very often. She got back to me a week later and we arranged a time for The Call.
B: Woot! That is fast! Okay, this is my favorite part *sits at the edge of her seat*. Tell us about THE Call.
Tom: The timing was a little tricky because Carrie and I are a time zone apart, and we each had commitments on opposite sides of her available window. I wound up calling her from my classroom as soon as I sent my students home. From there the conversation went very easy, like talking to someone I already knew. She had good things to say about the manuscript and my writing, hitting all of the marks I would’ve been hoping for, even referencing some of her favorite lines and moments that are also my favorites. We went over the revision notes she had, which fired me up into thinking about what new directions I could try. We kept talking a good half hour longer than she’d originally said she’d be available, then we finished the conversation with another hour-long call a few days later. There were several moments I caught myself mentally stepping out of it just long enough to think, “Wait, what?! How is it at all possible I’m even having this conversation?” By the time we were finished I had no question my manuscript was in the right hands.
B: Having someone get your writing is so surreal, right? Can you tell us a little about your novel?
Tom: FOLLOWING INFINITY is about a thirteen-year-old girl named Molly who has just lost her younger brother to cancer. Being so young she’s not emotionally equipped to deal with this and tailspins into a depression. She comes to believe that visiting a theme park with a famous roller coaster her brother wanted to ride, but never had the chance to, could give her one last connection with him, so she travels across the country with her grandfather and her cousin in the hope that visiting the park will help her resolve her grief.
B: I’m already tearing up here. Sounds like a moving premise. And how long had you been querying before you got your agent?
Tom: This was actually a NanoWrimo project from 2009. After I finished it, I gave it quick polish and wrote a good enough query to get a full request a little over a month later. That agent graciously told me what I wasn’t seeing — it just wasn’t ready yet. I shelved it for a couple of years while I worked on other things, then a year ago it found a new life as a read-aloud title at the school where I teach. That inspired me to dig it back out and rewrite it over the summer. I started querying again last September. I had another full within a month, which closed just after the request I’d received from PitchWars in January. Which brings us up to PitchMadness.
B: Sometimes taking a break from something and coming back to it can give you renewed passion for it. I love hearing stories like this. Okay, let’s have some fun. Coffee or Tea?
I’m going with Door #3 on this one and saying either Diet Mountain Dew or Orange Vitamin Water Zero.
B: I’m so disappointed. Coffee is life! You are such a rule breaker. Kidding. Maybe. Okay, potato chips or chocolate?
How about chocolate-covered potato chips? Best of both worlds.
B: Oh, now those I want RIGHT NOW! What’s your favorite cookie?
Tom: You know those big M&M cookies? Picture two of those with a thick layer of cake frosting between them as a filling. I saw some of those in a grocery store bakery not long ago. It was a pretty serious cookie.
B: Ugh, my teeth hurt just thinking of them. That would be such a sugar rush, though! Which vacation would you prefer: camping out in the wilderness or shopping in a quaint town?
Tom: This is an easy answer since I very recently spent some vacation time in and around Poulsbo, Washington, and did some shopping in Port Townsend, Washington, both of which are about as quaint as small towns should be allowed to get.
B: I am so a quaint-smal-town kind of girl. Where do you write?
Tom: Ideally I’ll put in some time on the treadmill and let my mind race through whatever I’m working on. As soon as I’m finished I’ll grab a notepad from my gym bag and scribble down ideas, then flesh them out later in my home office. But that’s the ideal. Most of the time it’s either early mornings in my office before I go to school or in the evenings.
B: I have to write while I think or I lose it. You have skills to wait until after your exercise. And the big question, are you an outline or panster type?
I’m an obsessive planner. I’ve developed an outlining method habit that seems to be a good fit for me.
B: Before I untie you from the chair, do you have any advice for those seeking representation? Anything you wished you’d done differently?
Tom: I wish I would have spent less energy comparing my progress to others when things didn’t go the way I’d hoped — such a horrible, self-defeating habit. Advice-wise, I’d say know your reasons for wanting to write and scaffold your goals realistically. Understand the process really is more marathon than sprint, and see that as an opportunity to develop your writing. And when you reach that point of connecting with the agent you’ll work with, be sure about your choice. It makes all the difference in the world to know you’ll be working with someone who is genuinely enthusiastic about your work.
B: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I can’t wait to hold the actual book when it comes out. Congratulations to you and Carrie. Here’s hoping you sell tons of books. And now it’s time to party! Everyone grab an old manuscript, and revise!