“Maintain tension and pace from beginning to end. Make your characters uncomfortable, and allow your characters to make other characters uncomfortable.” -James Mustelier, The Bent Agency
Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings 20-25 literary agents and book editors to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 29th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 24 – 26, 2022, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our visiting agents and editors here.
An Interview with James Mustelier
James Mustelier (The Bent Agency) is looking for a range of commercial and literary fiction and non-fiction. In all genres (but particularly in literary fiction) James prizes economical prose, complex characters, steadily building tension, narrative gravity, and the momentary relief of dark humor, even (or especially) amid dire circumstances. In commercial fiction, James is looking for compact horror and mysteries with big hooks and intricate plotting. James is drawn to grounded sci-fi and fantasy that features high stakes that touch on contemporary issues — more alternate histories and speculative fiction than high fantasy or space opera. In nonfiction, James is looking for a vivid look into subcultures and events he might not otherwise have had the chance to explore. Much of James’ favorite nonfiction melds a distinct narrative voice with rigorous research. For YA and MG, James is interested in epic fantasy, grounded sci-fi, and irreverent retellings of fairy tales, classic myths, and historical events. James is specifically seeking stories written from diverse perspectives that draw from underrepresented cultures.
Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?
James Mustelier: I always begin the process of working with a writer by sending them an editorial letter letting them know what (if anything) in their manuscript I think could be stronger. This type of critique often helps me understand how a writer sees their book and which direction they want to move towards in revision which in turn helps me know where to place it in the market.
Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?
JM: Concise prose, memorable characters, visceral honesty & big ideas. If a novel, chapter, paragraph or sentence can be condensed into a more potent form, I almost always feel it should be.
Scribe: What’s one piece of advice you find yourself giving to others time and time again?
JM: Maintain tension and pace from beginning to end. Make your characters uncomfortable, and allow your characters to make other characters uncomfortable.
Scribe: What excites you the most about the publishing industry today?
JM: The growing prominence of new reading/listening formats and the proliferation of alternative avenues to allow books to find the readers that will love them.
Scribe: Tell us about a recent book/project that you worked on that excited you and want everyone to know about?
JM: I’m readying a submission for a project that imagines a near future in which VR & IR are ubiquitous and nearly all human behavior is mediated by an omniscient AI. The idea itself is in the air at this point, but the execution, both in terms of what that world would look like, and how the people who build it will manage to do so, is remarkable.
Click here for more information on the 2022 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 24-26) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.