We are delighted to have you join us for the 22nd annual GLVWG “Write Stuff” Conference. With your twenty-something years of experience with editorial management, in addition to your writing, speaking, consulting, and also representing — you indeed wear many hats and obviously bring a lot of knowledge for our conferees to enjoy. Welcome!
If I might say your blog “Concept to Contract, Tips on Writing the Christian Nonfiction Book” is a wonderful resource. What was the inspiration behind it? How does it tie in with your book “Writing the Christian Nonfiction Book?” Any new topics coming up soon?
David E. Fessenden: The blog/website (www.fromconcepttocontract.com) is an outgrowth of my book, Writing the Christian Nonfiction Book: Concept to Contract. That book, in turn, was the result of 20 years in book publishing, and is sort of my magnum opus. I sometimes say, “It’s everything I know about writing—and more!” Some of my blog posts are borrowed from the book, but others are things I wish I had included in the book.
Speaking earlier of hats, you list the different “ones” you currently wear (editorial coach, publishing consultant and academic literary agent) in your blog. I’m sure you find enjoyment wearing all three but if you had to choose a favorite “hat” which one would it be? And why?
David E. Fessenden: I really like all of those roles, because in each of them, I am helping authors craft their message and get it published. If I had to choose the one I like best, it might be literary agent. And don’t be scared off by the “academic” label. I am representing some academic authors, but I am trying to work with authors of more popular material as well.
One of the things you’re currently looking for is fiction, either historical or speculative sci-fi/fantasy. Anything in particular that you would like to see? Anything that you probably would not be interested in?
David E. Fessenden: Well, the “speculative” label opens up a lot of possibilities, so I am willing to look at just about anything. However, I would like to point out that the “post-apocalyptic/dystopian” story has been overdone. And in historical, the pioneer West 1800s is overdone as well. Also, I tend to shy away from romances, simply because I personally have no appreciation for them, so I don’t think I can judge them fairly!
Do you think it’s important for a nonfiction manuscript to have a story arc? Also, can you give an example or two of nonfiction that you’ve read which made you question what you knew?
David E. Fessenden: Yes, I would say that a nonfiction manuscript should have a “story arc,” in the sense that it should follow a pattern, a standard structure, such as: “1. Identifying the problem; 2. Introducing the solution; and 3. Implementing the solution.” And that is a story arc, in a way, isn’t it? It has to follow a formula without being formulaic. That is, admittedly, a hard thing to do, and I think it’s why so many authors go into fiction. (Then they discover that fiction is harder to write than real life, because fiction has to make sense!)
When pitching or querying, what are things that tend to impress you and, on the other hand, what would tend to “make you shake your head?”
David E. Fessenden: I am impressed by significant media appearances and web presence, coupled with a compelling idea, presented well. The kinds of things that make me shake my head are lame arguments, usually in the form of clumsy use of statistics: “This book is for married people. Did you know there are X-million married people in this country?”
Reading how WordWise Media Services evolved from a manuscript critique and editing services for aspiring authors into a literary agency made me think of serendipity reaching out a hand as if it was meant to happen that way. Could you give us a “fly on the wall” tour on what makes the company a ” Diversified and Publishing Enterprise?” And what makes it stand out from other agencies?
David E. Fessenden: Wow, that’s a question better answered by Steve Hutson, the founder of the company! But I think Steve would say that his decades of experience in writing, editing and publishing have given him a good handle on the current publishing market. I think what makes WordWise stand out is our commitment to fresh, new authors and a diversity of publishing contacts.
You have an impressive topic range for your speaking engagements. They all look great! Do you personally have a favorite one? Also, do you have one that gets called on more often than the others?
David E. Fessenden: The one that is the most fun to present is “That Reminds Me of a Story,” about using anecdotes in you writing. I like it because it gives me a chance to tell stories! The one that seems to be the most popular, however, is “A Fly on the Wall in a Publishing House,” which gives an insider’s view of how a publishing house acquires a manuscript.
I understand your recent whodunit book ‘ The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy’ reflects your love of Sherlock Holmes and history. Out of curiosity, when did you first start reading stories about Sherlock Holmes? What do you like best about the character or that genre?
David E. Fessenden: I was staying overnight at my in-laws’ home and looking for something to read before going to bed. I happened upon a book of Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan-Doyle. This started a life-long love of the great detective, and I read every one of the Sherlock stories many times over. It struck me, however, that one character in the stories was given a raw deal by Conan-Doyle. Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s older brother, was described as having the same powers of observation and deduction, but to an even greater degree. He was such a fascinating character, yet he appears in only two of Conan-Doyle’s stories, and is just mentioned in passing in one or two others. It occurred to me that I might be able to write a story myself in which Mycroft appeared. And so began my first major foray into fiction. I stumbled around at it, and felt very discouraged at times, but over the years, various experiences of mine found their way into the novel. Thirty years later, I finished and published it.
The part I like best about my characters is the old man/young man interaction between Mycroft (the story is set in the 1920s, so by now he is almost 80) and Dr. Watson’s son, Thomas, who is just starting his career as a newspaper reporter. This clash of generations allows for some lively and humorous dialogue and action.
And last question… if you were to give three “pearls of wisdom” to an aspiring writer, what would they be?
David E. Fessenden: First, write every day. Second, don’t throw anything away, just keep it organized. Third, learn how to rewrite and edit yourself.
Thank you again, David, for taking time out of your schedule to do this interview. I’m looking forward to meeting you at the conference!
David E. Fessenden is a literary agent with WordWise Media Services and an independent publishing consultant with degrees in journalism and theology, and two decades of editorial management with Christian publishers. He has written six books and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. His first novel, The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy, was published in the fall of 2013. His blog on writing is http://www.fromconcepttocontract.com.
I am looking for fiction in the areas of historical (no romance, please) and speculative (sci-fi/fantasy). I am looking for nonfiction in the areas of academic/semi-academic (thoughtful and thought-provoking) theology, biblical studies, church/social/cultural issues, and reference.
Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. As a journalist and also with helping with the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference she has interviewed a wide-range of literary agents, publishers, authors, state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).