Talking recently with a new writer-friend, she was quite surprised to learn that I show my novels-in-progress (and everything-else-in-progress) to my agent for his reactions and advice: “Wow. That seems pretty — collaborative,” she said.
“I show Chris everything,” I said, Chris being the nonpareil Christopher Schelling. “And I listen to everything he says.”
So what’s an agent for, anyway? Some writers work solo, preferring to deal directly with their editors/publishers; some have a purely business-based relationship with their agents, i.e., here’s my book, please sell it; thanks. There’s not a thing wrong with either approach, if that’s what’s working for you. And every writer has or knows a nightmare story of the Agent from Deepest Dystopia. (Although for every one of those stories, agents could tell a dozen about the Writer Who Ought to Die, Now, Immediately.)
I’ve said in many interviews that if it wasn’t for Chris Schelling, I would never have written straydog, never imagined that I could write YA at all. His encouragement nudged me to begin the piece for Howl, too. And it’s not only that he has an eye for unexpected strengths — he’s also talked me out of other projects I thought might be absolutely totally peachy, but, well, kind of weren’t. At all. Ever.
And, as for reading those works-in-progress: A book’s process can sometimes be a tricky thing, and having another mind/eye/sensibility to help sort wheat from chaff is an amazing asset, not to mention a source of aesthetic pleasure (and comfort). Chris is not my first agent, but he’s definitely the first with whom I’ve had this kind of perfect chemistry. Which is why I dedicated Going Under to “Chris, my accompanist.” And why, yes, I listen to everything he says.