Agent Diedre Knight is the founder of the well-respected The Knight Agency. Recently, Knight broke out of the box, becoming an author herself! In fact, her first novel was published just this past week, on April 4th. Therese and Kathleen recently spoke with her about these changes and what she does to balance her parallel lives.
This interview has recently been updated so that parts 1 and 2 appear together in this one post. Enjoy!
Interview with Deidre Knight
Q: You are the ultimate Agent Unboxed, Deidre – coming out with not just a single novel, Parallel Attraction, but a unique series of your own. The obvious common denominator between your two jobs is a great love of writing. How did it all start; how long have you been writing; and when did you decide to pursue becoming an agent in particular?
A: Wow, that’s a wonderful compliment! Thank you so much. When I was about nine years old I was fortunate enough to be placed in a creative writing program at my elementary school. We did things like visit the art museum, then write poems about what we’d seen. Around that same time I decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, so my mother gave me a journal and told me that I should write in it every day. I also decided to write a novel, and began typing it out on an old manual typewriter. I don’t remember much about that “book” except that it was about a girl and her horse. Also at that same time I read GONE WITH THE WIND, and was mildly obsessed with it for a while (flash forward—I love historical romance. You can probably sort that one out!) I wrote a sort of “fanfic” based on GWTW, which I still have to this day!
Anyway, writing fever never left me, though at times it ebbed. I didn’t write that much during college, for instance, but right afterward began writing screenplays. Although I was always frustrated by the minimalist approach in scripts, I think it taught me to focus on two key elements—story and dialogue. To this day, I think of my novels in that same kind of structured way.
My husband is a multi-published author, and it was actually through his own agent that the idea of starting my own literary agency gained life. She’d left Sterling Lord, a very old and established agency, and moved to Atlanta so her husband could head up the now defunct Turner Publishing. We had dinner at her house one night, and I’d literally been praying about starting a business of my own. I knew I wanted to do that—we’d grown up in a family-owned business, and I really just wasn’t sure which kind of business to start. Well over dinner that night the agenting profession really came clear to me: I could edit, read, work film rights, and generally sell, always a major strength of mine. That was probably in 1993, and I didn’t act on the inspiration right away, but in 1996 we knew the time was right and I made the “leap.” Of course it’s always tough starting a new business, but I’ve been very blessed to discover some major authors like Karen Marie Moning, Gena Showalter, Cara Lockwood, Diana Peterfreund, Jennifer St. Giles and many other wonderful writers.
Q: What do you think – are there other agents out there secretly burning the midnight oil? How common might it be to have the desire to write as well as work the business side of the industry?
A: Oh, trust me, I know plenty of agents who are also writing. Some pseudonymously others aspiring to be published. If you think about it, it’s the love of writing that attracted us to our job, so naturally many of us do write. I might just be different in that I chose to publish under my own name, but as a person I’m always open, and didn’t want to be any less open about my writing.
Q: Do you find yourself growing as a writer because you’re an agent?
A: No single thing has helped my writing more than agenting. I spend a lot time reading, year after year, with an eye toward what works in a book and what doesn’t. It’s like the story of a tennis player who improves just by imagining himself playing the game. Similarly, you don’t necessarily have to be writing to grow as a writer. That’s why reading is so important—and reading analytically. So, without a doubt, YES, agenting improved my writing a great deal.
Q: Let’s talk a little about your book, “Parallel Attraction.” How long did it take you to write it?
A: About seven months. I put the proposal together, then took time off while my agent shopped it. I’m usually a pretty fast writer, depending on how much time/energy I have for the work. I’d be a whole lot faster if I were a fulltime writer, but considering I have a very demanding job, I’d describe myself as a fast writer.
Q: You have a great hook: Young King from another planet flees to Earth just as he’s starting his first “mating season,” meets young 14-yr-old girl and after a few days of flirtation – and a kiss – decides to pledge himself to her. Pledging in his world is a serious matter – it binds souls — so did he pledge right or wrong? And just before Young King is hoisted back into his space station by his frustrated mentors, said mentors mind-wipe both his young love and him. You’ll be unraveling the story of these two people in your trilogy. What or who were your inspirations for the novel? How long did it take for the story to evolve? And was it always planned to be a trilogy?
A: My original conception of their meeting as teenagers grew from the idea that he was her “Peter Pan.” I’d actually planned to have them meet several times, but as with most creative ideas, that one kept evolving. But I actually had that thought specifically, about her being Wendy and he’d be Peter Pan. LOL. You’ve read the book, so you realize how far afield I went from that concept along the way! I also loved the idea of an alien hero being a pure being of fire—and yet that the heroine would be compelled to touch him, even if it meant death. Those were two core ideas that inspired the way the first book played out. I’ve also been very inspired by television and movies, both of which have been a great canvas for the idea of time travel. As for this being a trilogy, ha! I actually have three more books planned, so I’d say the canvas keeps broadening. While writing the first two books, I’ve come up with many more ideas, and have even teased those (albeit a bit subtly) already.
Q: I loved the idea of time folding in on itself, the idea that the characters are drawn to each other because they are together in the future, so they’re acting based on “foreknowledge.” Will you be playing with this concept in your next two books as well? Will it become even more important down the road?
A: Well, the name the Parallel Series really does refer to their growing awareness—and interaction with—parallel universes. Absolutely, this will become an increasingly important part of the novels, even more so in PARALLEL HEAT. Every time these characters “change” their fates, things grow more and more complicated, and there are reactions to be reckoned with. What interests me most in this series is that our choices all have consequences, including the way these characters “toy” with time itself.
Q: You “birthed” a unique antagonist in Marco. By plumbing his vulnerabilities and showing us his growing self-loathing, we feel for him. He’s definitely the hero of his own story. Are you planning on developing him in the series? What do you think is the secret to great antagonists?
A: Ah, Marco. I love him! LOL! And, yes, you can expect a lot more page time for our towering menace. Actually, Parallel Attraction will include an excerpt from Parallel Heat, which is a chapter fully devoted to Mr. McKinley. We’re not done with him yet!
As for strong antagonists, I think the real secret is giving them complexity. No character exists in a vacuum—whether good or bad—and everyone has their vulnerabilities, their flaws and their strengths. I was just watching HUSTLE AND FLOW the other night, and the main character D-Jay is a great example of a protagonist who does some things you really despise. Yet you still root for him. Antagonists exist on the same plane, just turn it around. At least that’s how I see it. I like the gray areas of characterization.
Q: Without giving too much of your plot away: I liked that you didn’t reach for a predictable reunion scene for these two characters. Instead, you found a way to amp up the tension and bind them together in a thoroughly unique way. You made other unorthodox choices as well, including creating a 6’ tall heroine! When you write, are you consciously striving to bypass formula and go in new directions?
A: Honestly, what I try to do is trust my instincts. I tend to think of unusual twists or unique characters, and that’s what I enjoy most about writing. So it’s not a conscious choice so much as it is the way I write. In fact, the first novel my agent shopped never sold because it was too unorthodox. So many editors loved it, but nobody thought it had a clear publishing “niche.” I was just plain lucky that this next project, the Parallel series, hit a mark with my publishing company. From the beginning they described it as “pushing the envelope” and they really responded to that. But it could have easily been a case of also missing the mark because of being too “out there.” So it’s always a risk to be true to your own ideas, but it can also pay off because I personally believe readers are looking for something that feels fresh. But you can’t push yourself that way as a writer simply to grandstand. It has to come from your writer’s heart and wellspring—if that makes sense at all.
Get up, stretch, and then come on back to read part 2 of WU’s interview with Deidre Knight, where you’ll learn more about Deidre, the agent! Read on, below!
Agent and founder of The Knight Agency, Deidre Knight had her first novel, Parallel Attraction, published just last week. Therese and Kathleen recently chatted with her to learn more about her dual careers, including the future of her newborn series!
Part 2: Interview with Deidre Knight
Q: What is your writing process like?
A: I tend to write at night, on weekends, or even during occasional “retreats” away on my own. As far as my process, I write all over the map in a book, depending on what’s speaking to me. And I’ll even write ahead on future books. For instance, I wrote about 125 pages of the third book in this series while still finishing PARALLEL ATTRACTION. I’m guided by the parts that are speaking loudly to me, and I’ve learned over time to focus on those while they’re burning inside of me. Otherwise, those same scenes may lack power once I get to them. On PARALLEL HEAT (book two, which publishes in October), I’d written the last one hundred or so pages early on. It was great knowing exactly where the book was headed, and once I reached that section, I was so excited to knit that portion in with the rest of the book I’d been writing. I found that the end of that book had a real energy, which it might have lacked if I’d waited until the end to write it—at which point I was pretty ready for the book to be over.
Q: As a full-time agent (and mother!), have you found it challenging to also pursue your writing career? Has it been easy or difficult to balance these roles?
A: I think the greatest challenge for modern, working women is always balancing motherhood and their work. I’m no different. But I’m also very lucky in that I am my own boss, and this translates to some flexibility—even as it means burning lots of midnight oil (just ask my clients about those round-the-clock emails!) As a mother and wife, the writing is, frankly, less of a challenge than the agenting because I usually write once my kids are in bed. I think it’s the stress of agenting that sometimes gets to me, especially as a mother. But the longer I’m in this business, the more I’m learning about balance.
We’ve also hired some fabulous support staff at TKA this past year, and that has freed up a lot more of my time for what I do best at work—agenting. Not handling 1099’s, or submission logs. I’d say that’s one major reason why our sales have exploded in the past twelve months. Already this year TKA has placed 51 titles!! I can’t wait to see how we close out the year. We also have two other agents at TKA, the amazing Pamela Harty, who is both V.P. of Sales, part owner of the company, a kickass agent—and my sister! Nephele Tempest is our newest agent, and she has impeccable taste, is incredibly savvy about publishing, and brings a background from Simon and Schuster. Plus she’s one of my very dear friends.
Also, my faith really keeps me centered. At times I might feel like I’m overloaded, but then I’ll pray and ask for strength, peace, and focus. Honestly, I have a dream life—amazing children, soulmate for a husband, and on top of that, I get to agent and write. I could be jealous of me.
Q: You mentioned balance. How structured do you have to make your time to be sure you get that balance? What have you learned?
A: Oh, man, this is every working mother’s struggle (and every working woman’s, for that matter!) My biggest secret is knowing when to “no” or “I can’t do that.” As an agent, obviously there are many people and events pulling at my time and energy. So I have to protect myself by setting limits. That might be if a potential client pushes me about signing them on. My motto has always been that if I have to give an answer right now, that answer is likely no. Taking time for exercise, which I’m trying to become much better about. My husband and I have recently taken up tennis and it’s a great stress reliever. And definitely scheduling spiritual time—meditation/prayer time, church time, and so forth. That’s been one area where I’ve struggled because there’s always something “more important.” But I’m learning that if I don’t take time to recharge myself by making room for my spiritual self, then I get very burned out.
Q: Can you read a book or watch a movie for enjoyment now, or are you on some level analyzing what works and what doesn’t?
A: Absolutely! Movies in particular are one of my great interests. This week we watched a great sci-fi thriller, THE ISLAND. I knew nothing about it going in, and it really captured my interest. Laughed really hard this week at TEAM AMERICA, though it was over the top in its satire. Still a lot of fun. As for books, I especially enjoy historical romance, a genre that is pretty tough to agent right now. I’ve devoured just about every book ever written by Lisa Kleypas and Julia Quinn. I do find it a bit harder to emerse in genres I rep more frequently. I find there’s a disconnect. And then of course there’s always the guilt factor, i.e. “I should be reading X client’s proposal, not this romance by another author.” So it’s complicated, but the joy is still there for the right books.
Q: This past year was a big year for the Knight Agency. You have new digs in Atlanta and a growing branch in California. How are things looking for 2006?
A: We’re off to an amazing start, with fifty-one titles already placed in the first ten weeks or so of the year. Our sales last year were up almost 30% over the year before, and we expect to hit at least that kind of increase this year! We’re all aggressively looking for new authors, and just yesterday I placed a new YA author, Marley Gibson, with Puffin for four books! So we’re all incredibly excited about the direction things are going this year.
Q: Do you have any predictions for the next hot thang?
A: See the below answer. :) But in terms of what editors are looking for: YA, romantic suspense, paranormals, erotic and very sexy romance, and even—get this—historical romance. I’ve had several editors mention historicals to me lately. Still, when an author trusts their unique ideas, THAT translates to the next hot thing.
Q: It must be incredible to make that kind of discovery in a new author. Are there ever any tell-tale clues that you’ve spied a new talent?
A: Well, it’s all subjective, of course. My tastes won’t match that of ten other agents’ sometimes, but the trick is finding a manuscript I’m passionate about, then conveying that passion to just the right editor. It’s a matter of falling in love, then getting someone else to fall in love too!
Q: What’s your best advice for a writer who wants to be unique – and publishable?
A: To be true to their own ideas, and not be absolutely driven by the market. I see too many writers studying what’s selling, what’s on the shelves, and so forth. You have to go with what’s inside you. Not to the point of being foolish, but you do have to trust your own ideas. Chasing the market will always be just that—chasing. Writers should strive to be pacesetters. When they trust their own instincts, that’s when the unique, hot, breakout ideas come.
THANK YOU, Deidre Knight, for an inspiring interview. We wish you all the best with your new career–and your old one, too!