Ryan and Veronica, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on your partnership! To start, Ryan, I’d love to know more about your book and why you wrote it.
RYAN: OMG first of all, wow is it surreal to be answering these questions after reading so many of these inspiring interviews. Thanks Beth, and thank you for organizing #DVpit!
I didn’t set out to write the gayest book ever, yet somehow I ended up with a manuscript that hit all the hallmarks of the typical gay experience. You know, a gay hero who shoots projectile rainbows from his hands. A profoundly powerful teacup talisman. The right amount of girls in hand-to-hand combat (which is a lot). A drag queen sorceress who harvests dreams, locks them into kitchy charms, and uses them to tear apart the fabric of reality. I’m two rollerblades short of my own high school experience.
In all seriousness, DREAM CRUSHER does very much embody my own experience of growing up as a visibly gay child. Beneath the glitz and fantasy, this book is about the loneliness of queer adolescence, and about how survival often means fighting against those that are the most like you. It’s about the gloom of escapism, but it’s also about the fussy power of the worlds we build within ourselves. Dreams can save us, but they can also entrap us. I wrote this book because I wanted to write a tribute to the daydreams that saved me as a kid, which were powerful and hypnotic, but also courteous enough to let me go as an adult. Not all dreams are so nice.
Veronica, what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?
VERONICA: I think it was more like a series of disturbingly fortunate events. #DVpit and #Ownvoices are two movements I am very passionate about, and I usually find myself drawn to stories where writers manage to show their experiences in a way that subtly makes readers empathize with characters and situations that are realistically flawed. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be the best fit for every project that meets these guidelines. (That’s a good thing—every story can’t realistically appeal to every person’s taste; like some people can’t stand cilantro, and that’s weird, but okay.)
In this case, the concept of DREAM CRUSHER was intriguing at first sight, and I was stoked to see it. (Really unique concepts like Ryan’s tend to stick with us, so that when we finally come across the manuscript in our TBR pile, there’s this moment of “HELLO, GORGEOUS” and we can’t wait to read more.) Of course, after that happens, the content has to deliver on its promise. I was admittedly skeptical, because how could anyone achieve the level of epic quirkiness I was expecting from “Inception meets RuPaul’s Drag Race?” And yet, it worked. (Werked?)
Ryan, how did you prepare this manuscript for submission? Do you work with outlines, schedules, or deadlines? Do you have critique partners and beta readers?
RYAN: I sat my manuscript down, lovingly dusted its cheeks with blush, and said, “You know what the judges are looking for. Your turns are sloppy, but you make up for it in enthusiasm. You got this.” Then I pushed it onto stage.
Before all that, I terrorized my book with outlines, deconstructions and spreadsheets. I am, and I was, a very efficient procrastinator. I created exhaustive outlines. I mapped my timelines as gantt charts using project management software, and annotated the weather daily. For years I checked my characters’ horoscopes. I may or may not have created fake wikipedia pages for each of my characters, too, all to avoid actually writing them.
But that’s all the distracting details. Really, the most useful preparations came from the people I met during DVpit itself. Many of my crit partners, beta readers, and writing friends are DVpit people. They’ve helped me work out the important stuff with my book, like prose, stakes, tension, and—yes—those sloppy turns.
And how was the #DVpit experience for you, overall? Expectations? Doubts? Disappointments?
RYAN: Prior to #DVpit, I had never taken part in any sort of pitch contest, never mind one on Twitter. I found out about #DVpit the day before it was happening, and didn’t even have a pitch ready. I just had my book, a vague notion of why I’d written it, and a quickly blackening dread based on the few rejections I’d already gotten on my query. I was petulant and paranoid at that point, too. Why was I even querying this mess? Who was going to sign me for such gay, indulgent drivel? Why had I included so many descriptions of espadrilles? Where was the sensible footwear? Do agents like sensible footwear?
Basically, I was at a low point. Afraid for myself and my book and wondering if I was wasting my time on something unwanted and unwantable. Participating made all the difference. I’m so glad I did. #DVpit remains perhaps the most pivotal turning point in my writing career, short of actually getting signed.
Now, my admiration and appreciation for #DVpit borders on reverent. I’m a huge fan of any effort to showcase diverse voices in writing, and I’m beyond honored to call #DVpit my own discovery story. #DVpit not only helped me find my dream agent, it also introduced me to a host of diverse writers that I now call close friends. Several have even sold the book in their pitches. That, to me, is undeniable evidence that #DVpit is leveraging real market interest to put a spotlight on incredible, diverse, and talented writers.
How was the experience for you, Veronica?
VERONICA: I love #DVpit and always try to peek at the entries ASAP. So far, every submission that has come through has taught me something new. But in Ryan’s case, I felt like he wrote from a marginalized perspective in exactly the way I was hoping, as a matter of fact, because that’s what life is like. (Even if it’s only like that in dreams, and there are magical forces at work, it still feels like something that could’ve happened.) My favorite stories have always felt like falling into something and being immediately absorbed, without instructions or provisos. I love seeing writers who tell stories about dragons and danger and life or death moments with the same type of confidence strangers correct each other’s grammar on the internet. No apology necessary. Also, strap in, because things are about to get weird.
Ryan, did you receive pitch help or tips? Any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to future participants?
RYAN: Interestingly enough, I only found out about #DVpit before it happened because I saw buzz around signed authors offering pitch critiques to marginalized voices. At that point I was unaccustomed to how friendly and helpful people in publishing were, so reaching out to learn more felt like a huge risk.
I reached out to Kayla Whaley and Mark O’Brien (I think I found them on a post of Beth Phelan’s?). Both gave me advice that fundamentally altered my book, and that still guides me to this day. I’d share it, but really you should seek them out and tap their wisdom directly.
My advice is an adaptation of Ursula’s advice to Ariel in The Little Mermaid, which is: “The only way to get what you want is to become a human yourself.” Basically, you need to look around at the people you admire, learn from them, and then make your best effort to do it yourself. Events like #DVpit are incredible opportunities to see real bonds being forged, and you owe it to yourself, your book, and your writing to put yourself out there and see what happens.
And Veronica, do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?
VERONICA: I definitely want to stress that diversity is not an accessory. A lot of authors during in-person pitch sessions say something along the lines of “diversity is really in right now,” or, “I wrote my character as [diverse] because I felt like the book would sell better that way.” To this, I usually respond...NO. You should be writing books that reflect the world we live in, and/or that create a fantasy world you and future readers (ideally, different types of readers) will actually want to live in. If your world is structured in such a way that only a certain type of character is allowed to tell their stories, you might want to look into that. Because the issue may be a lot deeper than giving your characters “exotic” surnames or food-based descriptors, it may be that you’ve created a world so boring that your characters all grew up to be basic. Even if you’re writing contemporary, or the story is based on real events, ask yourself: what kind of world do you really want to build?
Tell us about The Call, Ryan!
RYAN: Veronica and I got on the phone because our emails back and forth were getting too long, too sarcastic, and too whimsical. I was nervous as hell, but I remember hyper-focusing on the way Veronica sometimes signs her emails as just ‘V’. This reminded me of Sailor V (as in Venus) from Sailor Moon….and who wouldn’t want Sailor Venus as their literary agent? She’s a pop star. My decision was made for me.
This next part will sound very Gaiman, but behind my office is a wooded path that I have never been down, but always wondered about. During my call with Veronica I was pacing at the path’s mouth, convinced she’d called me to let me know that my manuscript had been used to mop up spilled coffee and that it was very absorbent thanks to its stupid-high word count. Then, mid-way through my stumbling explanations of a few other projects I was working on, she gave me the official offer. Next thing I knew I was walking that new path.
Super heavy-handed metaphor, right? Whatever. It happened.
Anyhow—and no pun intended—but the experience was dreamy as hell. Not only was Veronica deeply interested in DREAM CRUSHER—she wanted to explore other projects I was working on and talk about my career beyond just one manuscript. She was charming, competitive, and compelling. Even better, she understood the nature of my villain with a complexity I did not expect. I perhaps love my villain more than my hero and she saw why. I knew I wanted her on my team.
Veronica advised I take some time to check in with the other agents I was talking to, and to think. Good thing she did, because that weekend I ended up at a friend’s cabin in Maine, surrounded by books and lofts and subtle, cloudy lighting. It provided the perfect backdrop for my current author photo.
Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!
RYAN: “INCEPTION vs. RuPaul - Kane must fight through a drag sorceress' menagerie of dreamt labyrinths to save his sister #DVpit #LGBT #ownvoices”
(and then I attached a picture of one of my favorite drag queens—Alaska Thunderfuck. Here’s the link!)
Veronica, what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?
VERONICA: (You’re joking, right? See: above, re: ridonkulousness.) The serious answer: Contrast. In my experience—not just in the literary world, but in the wide world of consumerism—I’ve learned that readers/buyers love high-contrast concepts. Sweet & Spicy. Hip-Hop and the American Revolution. Pizza Rat. Regency Romance & Zombies. The less something seems to go together, the more interesting it can ultimately be. Whenever I see a pitch that combines unexpected elements in a creative way, I simply have to know more.
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?
VERONICA: I’m always looking for #ownvoices YA, but particularly romance at the moment. I’d also love to see something that pairs complicated family dynamics (joint custody, single parenting, multi-generational household) with current issues like immigration, access to education, opioid addiction, etc. I realize that these themes can be depressing to read about, but I also believe they don’t have to be. I prefer to see difficult topics dealt with in a “Silver Linings Playbook” kind of way.
Warm congratulations to Ryan and Veronica for finding each other! I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next. Follow them on Twitter so you can do the same!
Photo credit: Shams Ahmed
Ryan La Sala writes about surreal things happening to real people, often of the queer variety. His book DREAM CRUSHER focuses on the worlds we build within ourselves—our dreams and our delusions—and how they warp our reality. Living forever upon the partition of the real and unreal, Ryan’s life is predictably colorful. He writes out of a house festooned in theme party decorations, works during the day atop an antique movie theater at a design agency, and spends the rest of his time trying to convince anyone who will listen that CATS the musical is the pinnacle of art.
And, for those wondering, Ryan writes about drag queens but is not regularly in drag himself. He just doesn’t have the nose for it, and that’s okay.
Veronica Park is an agent, author, journalist and marketing consultant with more than ten years of experience writing and editing for publication.
She graduated with a BA in print journalism with an emphasis in linguistics and business marketing from Brigham Young University and went on to expand her writing skills as a broadcast journalist and independent film producer, before running away with her husband to work on cruise ships in the Caribbean as a port lecturer and luxury goods marketing specialist.
In publishing, she has finally found an arena that requires her entire assortment of professional skills, while allowing her to read and write every single day. From editing to marketing and consulting on author platforms and campaigns, she's been fortunate enough to experience the publishing industry from a lot of different angles. At the end of the day, V believes there's nothing you can't accomplish with the 3 Ps: Persistence, Perseverance and a Positive Attitude.
Agent Website: https://www.corvisieroagency.com/veronica-park.html