Thursday, May 2, 2013

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Jennifer Skutelsky

Jennifer Skutelsky studied English, Anthropology and Politics in South Africa and acquired her MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Her experience as a visual artist and ballet coach informs her devotion to creative expression, which she now channels into writing, reading and editing. She is a fan of dark, Gothic fiction, loves a good story, and is drawn to the distinctive use of voice and language. She has a tender spot for elephants and rhinos.

She worked as a technical writer and marketing consultant before moving to San Francisco, where she wrote her debut novel, GRAVE OF HUMMINGBIRDS, which was also her thesis. GRAVE OF HUMMINGBIRDS won the Clark Gross Novel Award in 2011. She is a published author of nonfiction.

For more information, check out my friends Natalie Aguirre and Casey McCormick's wonderful blog, Literary Rambles.
And now Jennifer Skutelsky faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Swamplandia by Karen Russell
Looking for Alaska by John Green
The English Patient by Michael Ondaaje.

That was three, wasn't it?

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

The Killing
Hell on Wheels

Empire of the Wolves

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

An author who reads other writers and is receptive to editorial feedback. S/he trusts me. Qualities of an ideal client would be skill, flexibility and intelligence.

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

A high concept, original premise is the first thing to catch my attention. When good writing and great storytelling combine, even the query stands out, and if this is sustained throughout the ms, well, that's the best I hope for.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?
My favorite thing about being an agent? The discovery of literary talent and potential to nurture it. My worst is having to reject good writing for commercial reasons.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)
Being any kind of artist is a balancing act. There's conflict between commerce and art, and the trick is finding where they converge. An exciting, fresh and authentic voice doesn't follow trends; it sets them or follows its own path. I also think a narcissistic ego does the writer no favors, yet it invariably rears its head. I'm a writer too, so I understand the painful and exciting process of getting the baby out into the world. Find a balance between confidence and humility, expectation and patience. And always persevere. Be as informed as possible. Read. Write. Spend a lot of time soaking in the tub with bubbles and a little yellow duck that goes quack, especially after you've just received a rejection. Buy a lot of little yellow ducks.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

I'd like to have lunch with Stephen King, although of course I'd be crazy to turn down Charles Dickens, Tana French, David Foster Wallace, Gabriel Garcia Marques or Nadine Gordimer. Stephen King is smart about writing and the industry, and there's always a chance he might scare me. That would be a thrilling lunch indeed. Who knows what we'd order?


  1. Yay for Jenn, my wonderful agent!

  2. Great interview. Jennifer sounds like a fantastic agent, especially since she's also on the author side of the table.


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