Elaine and Jennie, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on your partnership! To start, Elaine, I’d love to know more about your book and why you wrote it.
Elaine: The Disappearance is about a sentient city under a sleeping beauty curse, a young empath who falls in love with his family’s enemy, and the malevolent ghosts that have hunted them through the stars, determined to reclaim them all.
I’ve called The Disappearance of Rafael Panaligan my Filipino Battlestar Galactica / Filipino X-men—one spacefaring culture of psychics grappling with the paternal imperialism of another. And I wanted to show the effect of its emotional and physical violence on two queer teens from those cultures who fall in love.
I’m Filipino-Chinese. I was born in the Philippines and grew up with stories about our long history of colonial rule, our resistance (and sometimes, our collusion) and survival. I grew up a science fiction fan and a gamer—I loved Homeworld and Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Dune, the X-men in all of their incarnations. But it wasn’t until I was older—and I think every PoC geek has this moment—when I realized that the stories I loved most, the stories that resonated with me, were fractured reflections of our history. What was the X-men, for example, but a people fighting for equal rights, engaged in an internal fight with each other about the best way to bring them about? What was Battlestar Galactica, but people making compromises to ensure survival? But so few of the characters in those stories looked anything like me, like my friends and family.
Then a friend in X-men fandom recommended Dean Francis Alfar’s The Kite of Stars. It was the first time I read a Filipino short story that melded Filipino history and SF. I realized these were the kinds of stories I wanted to see so badly in SF, the story I wanted to write myself. And all of those stories, everything I loved about SF and Filipino history, I threw into The Disappearance.
Jennie, what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?
Jennie: It was the voice. The language was gorgeous and lyrical, and the worldbuilding was innovative and evocative. I wanted to visit Elaine's living, spacefaring Siyudad Isabel, with its mysterious ghosts.
Elaine, how did you prepare this manuscript for submission? Do you work with outlines, schedules, or deadlines? Do you have critique partners and beta readers?
Elaine: I have learned several very important things about novel writing from The Disappearance. 1) It takes a village to raise a manuscript and 2) set deadlines for yourself early on.
Because I did the other right things, or so I thought. I made outlines. I had a writing/editing schedule. I got up at 5 am every day to work on the manuscript. But I didn’t give myself deadlines, because I wanted to focus on getting a “perfect” manuscript. I thought I would somehow know when that was. I did not: there were days when I would get lost editing and redrafting the work and it was very hard for me to know when to step away.
I was lucky to find a very supportive community. I had a couple of wonderful mentors who went through the manuscript with me in its early drafts. My girlfriend was one of my first beta readers and we spent afternoons on the couch, curled up with hot chocolate, reading aloud the first few chapters together. We took things apart and I sat back at my computer and put things back together. My amazing critique group—the Arctic Pandas—read individual chapters and helped me whip the manuscript into shape. And finally, I was lucky enough to swap manuscripts with another Pinoy writer, Randy Ribay. They were all honest with me about what worked for them and what didn’t, elements of world-building and plot that needed clarification.
I also asked my family, if they could double check Filipino names and terms. This was particularly important to me, because living in Manila, they were immersed in Filipino, its particular codeswitching, on a daily basis I no longer had access to. I drafted and redrafted a lot, edited a lot, before I started querying.
And how was the #DVpit experience for you, overall? Expectations? Doubts? Disappointments?
Elaine: I was VERY nervous! But #DVPit was amazing: there was so much support in the lead up to the event, so many authors and agents offering help to newcomers for queries and pitches. And there were so many amazing projects being pitched that day, a lot of words of encouragement from writers and agents during the event. There was a real sense of community and camaraderie in the lead up to, and during #DVPit. I think that does make a big difference to everyone throwing their hats in the ring.
How was the experience for you, Jennie?
Jennie: It was great! Even though my inbox is always pretty full, I was able to request the sort of manuscripts I'm really looking for: adult and YA science fiction and fantasy. And I didn't see a lot of duplication with other pitch fests.
Elaine, did you receive pitch help or tips? Any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to future participants?
Elaine: I did receive pitch help: Nita Tyndall and Justina Ireland offered help to authors crafting pitches for the event and were very generous with their time and advice. In particular, I found the use of comps helpful. They’re not the absolute rule in a twitter pitch, but they’re an excellent way to get across the plot, concept and tone of your project in 140 characters.
My advice: There’s a lot that goes into crafting pitches. Read up on pitches that successfully landed their authors an agent—both on #DVPit and elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to play around with different pitches for your project. And don’t be afraid ask for help when it’s offered.
And Jennie, do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?
Jennie: Remember, your goal is to get the agent to request more material—you don't have to explain everything about your book. In fact, that's probably impossible for books with a lot of worldbuilding, like science fiction and fantasy. When I look at pitches, I'm generally scanning for key words that indicate the story is something I'm looking for at the moment. I'll also sometimes request a query letter if the idea strikes me as unusual.
Tell us about The Call, Elaine!
Elaine: I say I was nervous during DVpit: imagine me when I got an email from Jennie, saying she loved the project and wanted to make a time for us to chat. We arranged for my 6:00 am and her 2:00 pm. (hooray for timezones!)
Jennie was really warm and lovely and put me at ease right away. We talked for an hour about the manuscript—she loved The Disappearance, connected with it. It was obvious she was someone who cared about her authors. I felt right away she was someone I wanted to work with. She knew where the manuscript would fit in the marketplace, knew right away who she wanted to send it to. And she was amazingly patient and understanding with all of my questions about publishing.
Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!
Elaine: "#DVpit #SF #YA Psychic Peacekeepers + Filipino BSG. A psychic Empire unleashes a plague of ghosts & disappearances on a living city."
Jennie, what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?
Jennie: At the time, I was looking for space opera, and Elaine's project seemed to fit the bill. It was even better than I'd hoped! Elaine's book was not your standard foursquare spaceships-and-lasers saga, but a lyrical, romantic, swoony read.
What else are you looking for these days? Is there anything specific on your wishlist that you’re hoping to find, maybe at the next #DVpit?
Jennie: I'm always looking for genuinely new science fiction and fantasy set in futures we'd all want to live in. At the moment, I'm a bit low on cyberpunk-inspired projects, and on military SF, especially by ex-military writers. And as you can tell, I have a global practice—as long as you hope to have the book published in the United States, I'd love to hear from you, no matter where you live!
Warm congratulations to Elaine and Jennie for finding each other! I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next. Follow them on Twitter so you can do the same!
Elaine Cuyegkeng was born in Manila, Philippines. She loves ghosts, fairy tales and eusocial creatures, both real and imaginary. All of these things together have somehow found their way into her work. Her short fiction can be found in The Dark, Lackington’s and Rocket Kapre. She is also a librarian and now lives in Melbourne with her partner and a rose named Blue. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.
Jennie Goloboy (@JennieGoloboy) is a literary agent at Red Sofa Literary in St. Paul, MN with a particular interest in representing history and science fiction and fantasy. She is the author of Charleston and the Emergence of Middle Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era. In her free time, she enjoys writing fiction under her pen name, Nora Fleischer, and jogging, very slowly.