Valerie and Quressa, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on your partnership—and the book deal with HarperVoyager! To start, Valerie, I’d love to know more about your book and why you wrote it.
VALERIE: My book, currently titled CHILLING EFFECT, is about a Cuban-descended spaceship captain forced to work for an Illuminati-style group called The Fridge to ransom her kidnapped sister. It started as a short story about Captain Eva Innocente being hit on by an alien jerk who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Originally, it was a reaction to the “Yes All Women” movement happening at the time, riffing on the idea that even on a space station in another galaxy, women still had to deal with trashy dudes harassing them. My beta readers encouraged me to expand it into a novel, so I considered what issues women and other marginalized people face, what kinds of problematic tropes surface time and again in science fiction and fantasy stories, and how I could explore those in a way that was funny without being demeaning. So many big, ugly, serious things were going on in the real world, I wanted to write something that was escapist without being a full-on denial of reality. I decided to draw elements from some of my favorite video games and movies, while trying to make them my own in a way that would keep the story accessible to people who weren’t familiar with them. I also wanted to write a sweet love story, because I’m a sucker for those. And through it all, I wanted to infuse some of the flavor of the world I grew up in, especially through the character of Eva herself.
Quressa, what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?
QURESSA: People are going to get tired of me talking about the space cats, but the space cats. I was just planning to dip into the MS but I started reading, the psychically enhanced cats on the space ship began some hijinks, and I was hooked. I think I read it right before heading out to a conference and had the rep call in my hotel room between conference activities.
Valerie, how did you prepare this manuscript for submission? Do you work with outlines, schedules, or deadlines? Do you have critique partners and beta readers?
VALERIE: I wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo, which is great because it gives you a vicious deadline, but also the structure and community to make it work. I wrote the rest of the draft in a little under a year, workshopped it, sent it to critique partners and beta readers, and reworked it in major and minor ways for another year. I then took the first three chapters to Viable Paradise, where I got even more amazing feedback, but also was firmly told it was worth querying and I should get on with it.
And how was the #DVpit experience for you, overall? Expectations? Doubts? Disappointments?
VALERIE: #DVPit was exhilarating and stressful. It’s tough to put yourself out there in public for all your followers to see, instead of smuggling out queries in the dead of night and never having to share the pain of your rejections if you’d prefer not to. You get a like on your tweet, you freak out, you look and… it was just your friend, who has no idea what you’re doing or how #DVPit works. But then if you finally do get interest from an agent, it feels like you found the golden ticket in the chocolate bar. It doesn’t mean you’ll actually sign with that agent, but it’s a chance.
How was the experience for you, Quressa?
QURESSA: It’s always so overwhelming. There are so many pitches and you try to stay on top them all and remember who you’ve already hearted. I tend to jump in when the event is over or toward the end so I can feel less stressed. Yes. Agents get stressed, too.
Valerie, did you receive pitch help or tips? Any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to future participants?
VALERIE: I workshopped all my pitches with friends and with my Viable Paradise classmates; most of us were participating, so we helped each other out. My pitches that worked best were the ones with strong comp titles, and the ones where I tried to mimic the flavor of my book to give a taste of what to expect. I also tried to include my main character in every pitch, and the core conflict, so there was a sense of the stakes and the emotional center of the story.
And Quressa, do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?
QURESSA: It’s okay if you don’t get any hearts, or only a few. And it’s okay if you don’t find an agent through #DVpit. It’s one avenue.
Tell us about The Call, Valerie!
VALERIE: I was so nervous! I handed off my son to my husband, hid in my bedroom and hoped I didn’t sound like I was about to barf in my own mouth. We talked about the novel, Quressa’s editorial style, what kinds of changes she might want me to make, and which editors she would approach when it came time to go on sub. We also chatted about our respective backgrounds, including some of our shared nerd loves, as well as other novels I was working on. By the end, I was much more comfortable, but also excited at the prospect of working with her.
Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!
VALERIE: It was: “#DVpit #POC #SF The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet meets Mass Effect when a smuggler endangers her crew to save her kidnapped sister.”
Quressa, what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?
QURESSA: Well, I was looking for a space opera and wanted one with a lady captain. And while Mass Effect isn’t my favorite game series I have played and enjoyed it and could envision the structure of the story.
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?
QURESSA: More lady leads. I love fantasy, so all types, although I’m not as into low fantasy. In these fantasy stories I’d love to see women and girls fight with things other than swords. Cunning is a weapon I don’t see enough.
I’d love more stories about black girls—happy stories ala Jenny Han. Same goes for latinx girls—even better would be afro-latinx stories. I want friendship stories—especially about breaking up with best friends, and stories with sisters.
And of course witches. I’ve been looking for awhile and just haven’t found the right project.
Finally, Valerie, congratulations also on the sale of your novel to Priyanka Krishnan at Harper Voyager! Can you tell us about your editor? What was it like to speak with her for the first time, and what has your relationship been like so far?
VALERIE: Priyanka is great! Before the first call with her, I was nervous for the usual reasons: would I say something wrong? Would I be able to answer her questions thoughtfully? Would SHE be able to answer MY questions? Would I consume so much coffee that I would open a rift in space-time or achieve a new level of awareness that would transcend this mortal plane? That did not happen, thankfully (or alas). What did happen was we talked about my book, and Priyanka was not only enthusiastic, she also understood what I was trying to accomplish and was eager to help me make my novel the best possible version of itself. Editing can be a challenging and painful experience, so I'm excited to have her guiding me through the process.
Warm congratulations to Valerie and Quressa for finding each other and finding the perfect publisher for this book! I’m looking forward to seeing it hit shelves, and I encourage everyone to add the book to your TBR!
Valerie Valdes lives in Miami, where she writes, copyedits, moonlights as a muse, and occasionally plays video games if her family is distracted. She is a graduate of Viable Paradise and her latest work is published in Uncanny Magazine. Join her in opining about books, BioWare games, and robots in disguise on Twitter @valerievaldes.
Quressa Robinson (@qnrisawesome) joined the Nelson Literary Agency in 2017 after working at a previous agency and as an editor for five years. She is originally from San Francisco, but has been living in New York City for over a decade. As a New York based agent, she is eager to build her YA and Adult lists. When not curled on her couch reading, she plays video games, enjoys too much TV–mostly Sailor Moon and Harry Potter (Slytherin!), eats delicious things, drinks champagne, hangs out with her very clever husband, and adds another “dramatic” color to her lipstick collection.