I’m pleased to bring you the fourth installment of How I Met My Client/How I Met My Agent, featuring Michelle Belanger, author of CONSPIRACY OF ANGELS and HARSH GODS (coming August 30th)! Michelle is running a giveaway right now with swag packs and signed copies of HARSH GODS, so you might want to check it out if you haven’t already!
How I Met My Client
I met Michelle in the usual way—she sent me a query. Her name rang a bell and as I read her query, I realized why. I’d seen her before, probably more than once, but almost certainly on the History Channel’s The Secret Lives of Vampires. Although it could have been from Vampire Secrets (A&E) or Truebloodlines (HBO) or any number of shows in which she was called upon to provide her expertise. I didn’t watch Paranormal State, but that was a big one for Michelle, and in her query letter she described herself as, “that psychic lady from the show — the really tall one all in black”. Sure enough, she was. Michelle is a little hard to miss.
Her experience and the way in which the Shadowside series came about really intrigued me. Also from her query: “This series grew out of my work on Paranormal State as we traveled the country investigating possession and driving out angry ghosts. So many strange and breathless things happened both on camera and off, I wondered what kind of powers we might have if our lives were part of somebody’s novel. Eventually these thoughts blossomed into a world close to our own where all the paranormal elements that appealed to our fans (and to us) were given free reign. The Shadowside Series, starting with CONSPIRACY OF ANGELS, was the result. Fans of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and Kat Richardson’s Greywalker Series will find a lot to love in these books. My main character Zack is tough, witty, and speaks fluent geek (like any too-smart-for-his-own-good fellow raised in the 80s). It doesn’t hurt that he’s got some magic he can sling as well.”
She wasn’t kidding about Zack. I fell in love with him right from the start. CONSPIRACY OF ANGELS opened:
They were after me. I didn’t know who, and I didn’t know why, but I had to get away.
Classic way to start a novel, right? Jump right into the middle of things. Hook the reader. Well, I was hooked. She continued…
There was no other thought.
I fell through darkness till direction lost all meaning. My seizing lungs burned. When I fully breached the surface, I saw water and no shore. Pain chewed my awareness—pain and a wrenching sense of loss like a freshly severed limb. I groped for meaning, but it fled.
I had to keep reading. Now, Zack has some serious issues going on, not least of which is the identity crisis to end all identity crises, but his voice, his character came through loud and clear. I connected with him. It’s not just that he lives in a place full of shelves overstuffed with books. Or that he decorates with pages of illuminated manuscripts. Or his endearing Starbuck action figure (the Katee Sackhoff era). It’s his warmth and his smarts.
And he has to be strong not to be upstaged by Lil, who is beyond a force of nature and who could alone “tip the cosmic scale of snark”. Yup, you sort of have to love Lil…or else.
So yes, I fell for Zack and Lil and the rest of Michelle’s crazy cast of characters, as well as the wonderful, rich mythos presented in the Shadowside series. And we found a great editor at Titan Books, Steve Saffel, who shared our love and our vision for the books. Now, I’m pleased to say, CONSPIRACY OF ANGELS is on shelves and the sequel, HARSH GODS, is coming out at the end of August (though hint, hint it’s available for pre-order now). A third book is forthcoming, along with shorter Shadowside stories that will be released electronically to whet the appetite between times!
How I Met My Agent by Michelle Belanger
I came at all of this backwards and upside-down.
Like so many, I’d tried the get-an-agent dance before and given up. This was back in the late 80s and early 90s, when I was an impatient kid hungry to share my stories with the world — not an ideal recipe for surviving the industry grind.
It was my impatience that did me in. Back then, everything went through snail mail, and while I stalwartly weathered the rejections when they arrived, the waiting itself ate at me. It could take as long as six months to hear back from anyone, and I often had a new book written before I learned that someone hadn’t liked the first one. Mostly, I got told to stop writing about vampires and the paranormal (which is hilarious now, in retrospect), but those were the things I loved writing about. Young me quickly hit the point of “fuck it,” so I started publishing things myself.
Little did I know at the time, that decision would land me here — albeit through a long and circuitous route.
The 90s saw a profusion of underground presses and amateur magazines, off-beat labors of love often copied at places like Kinko’s, hand-assembled, and distributed through the mail. We called them ‘zines. My offering to this movement was Shadowdance, a Gothic literary journal that published all the vampire fiction and dark fantasy stories that my rejection letters kept telling me the big publishers didn’t really want.
We had a blast. Shadowdance ran from 1991 through 1996 and through it, I met a number of professionals I continue to work with to this day. One of them was Dr. J. Gordon Melton, whose inclusion of my work in his Vampire Book: Encyclopedia of the Undead lit the tinder of my unintended career as a writer of non-fiction. All the research I’d done into the folklore and mythology of vampires, as it turned out, held interest for a great many readers.
Half a dozen books later, I found myself getting invited to speak on paranormal topics for documentaries on the History Channel, A&E, and even HBO. That lead to my stint on A&E’s hit Paranormal State, where I often wandered haunted houses and abandoned prisons blindfolded and in high heels.
All of this was rewarding, not to mention great fun. But I never lost the itch to tell stories woven from the rich fabric of my folkloric interests. Several ideas for novels got jotted down in between flights to new and interesting hauntings as I worked with Paranormal State, MonsterQuest, and Monsters and Mysteries in America, but little came of them until this one scene got me in its teeth and wouldn’t let me go. It was a lone guy speeding at night toward the Cleveland skyline — nothing but him and his motorcycle and a soul-wrenching need for answers. His name was Zack, short for Zaquiel. He was the angel of memory — and he’d forgotten everything.
I had to tell that story. But I knew, if I wanted to share it with the world, I’d have to do the grind again and try to find an agent. All the non-fiction books in the world wouldn’t sell me to a publisher of fiction.
And here is where I feel like I cheated a little, even though I know I paid my dues through those twenty years of other work that led me to this point.
Lucienne Diver of the Knight Agency was the first agent I picked after my initial research to relearn the shape of the industry over on the novel writers’ side of the fence. Totally cold, I shot her an email with my pitch — and I heard back fast enough to make my head spin.
She recognized my name from The Secret Lives of Vampires.
I wasn’t expecting that, and I frankly hadn’t intended to use my appearances as my platform. Chasing ghosts on reality TV for four years was hardly proof I could write a good book. And, ultimately, it was my pitch for the Shadowside Series itself that opened the door — dour Zack on his search for answers, the sharp-tongued Lil with her spirit menagerie, and over-the-top Saliriel in all her Machiavellian glory. But that name recognition made my knock just a bit louder — loud enough that it got the right attention.
And, thanks to that, I get to share Zack’s story.
Select series quotes:
“A darkly vivid world… Her characters are intriguing, her pacing swift. More, please!”—Jim Butcher, creator of The Dresden Files
“Horrors that will send a chill up your spine.”—The Absolute
“A singular reading experience.”—Laurell K. Hamilton, bestselling creator of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter
Other Installments of How I Met My Client/Agent:
Amy Christine Parker