A New Writing Podcast! MOM WRITES: THE DIRTY LAUNDRY ABOUT WRITING WITH KIDS

Mom Writes Podcast, Jennie Nash I subscribe to Jennie Nash’s newsletter and read her blog posts. She’s an instructor at the UCLA Extension Writing Program; the founder of Author Accelerator, a book coaching company; and generally a smart lady. So when I read that she was involved in a new writing podcast I wanted it to know what it was about.

Mom Writes: The Dirty Laundry about Writing with Kids is the brainchild of Abby Mathews, an unpublished writer mom. Abby was struggling through the process of writing a book with young kids underfoot. She guessed that she was not the only one who’d started stories and run into difficulties along the way and had the idea for a series of podcasts showing Author Accelerator’s step-by-step process for helping writers. In the podcasts, Jennie discusses the challenges of just getting a book written at a quality level that would pique the interest of traditional publishers, let alone accomplishing this with several kids and their friends dashing through the house or dribbling a basketball in the room overhead. Jennie will lead Abby and her friend, Melanie Parish, through the Author Accelerator’s Blueprint for a Book program, critiquing their manuscripts and helping them to do everything from identify their ideal reader to strengthen their story concepts to improve their writing skills. The podcast will also include tips from other Author Accelerator writing coaches and tips and encouragement from writers who’ve used the program.

Does it sound like an infomercial? I was a bit nervous about that. But as Jennie talks about why writers have trouble finishing their stories and face rejection when they query literary agents, you can hear how much she cares about helping writers improve. And what better way is there to work through common writing problems than by listening in as Jennie helps Abby and Melanie fix their stories?

I invited Jennie, Abby and Melanie here to talk a little more about their podcast.

Rebecca: Jennie, thanks for this podcast! As someone who has been writing for seven years and still does not have an agent, I would have loved to have had this podcast earlier in my journey! You talk in the first episodes about why writing a book seems a lot easier than it is. Can you give Winged Pen readers a sense of this?

Jennie: Yes! So the tricky thing with book writing is that book reading is a thing most of us do Jennie Nash, Author Accelerator, Mom Writes Podcastalmost every day, and have been doing almost every day for many years. In that way, it’s more akin to eating breakfast then it is to, say, flying an airplane. Most of us have never flown an airplane and never will. We also don’t presume that we have the slightest idea how to do it. Anyone who gets into the cockpit of a plane with the intention of flying it has embarked on a rigorous training program, passed tests and shown competence. But because reading is so familiar to us — an activity that we love and cherish, and probably consider ourselves quite good at  — we often presume that we know how to write a book that will captivate a reader. We imagine that we could just sit down at the keyboard and craft a compelling narrative.

But very often, we can’t.  At least not our first time out, or even our second or third or fourth.

Writing a book may not be as complex an undertaking as flying a 747, but it is still a very complex undertaking. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, you are making a myriad interrelated choices and designing a logical framework and organizing a ton of material and determining a structure and deciding on a point or argument and considering your audience, and deploying various skills (skills related to scene structure, dialogue, body language, language use, narrative drive, pacing, flow and, resolution) and underneath it all is a great deal of emotion — your emotion, your reader’s emotion, and in fiction, your character’s emotion.

It’s a lot! And many writers simply underestimate how hard it is — or how hard it is to do well.

Rebecca: Abby, you are sharing your manuscript, mistakes and all, with the Internet! That’s very brave! Why did you decide to take time out from your writing to create the Mom Writes podcast?

Abby Mathews, Mom Writes PodcastAbby: You know, deep down it’s probably just the teacher in me! In my former life (BC, before children) I was a high school art teacher. I can’t tell you all the crazy things I learned how to do in the name of teaching. Once the kids had the idea to make a really, really big block print but we didn’t have a large enough printing press. To solve the problem I learned how to turn a car into a printing press! So, see, this isn’t the craziest thing I’ve ever done. But it does feel pretty close.

At one point in an early episode, Jennie told me that an agent wouldn’t have made it past page one of my manuscript. Page one! That’s when I paused and thought, “Oh my god. It’s really bad! I am insane for doing this in front of a live studio audience…” (Well, not live, but you get what I mean!) After the initial sting wore off, it occurred to me this is exactly why I have to do it. I’m putting all my dirty laundry out there because I know I’m not alone. I know there are others out there just like me- like us- toiling away at their kitchen tables trying to teach themselves how to do this massive thing. And we need help. Because this problem is not going to go away. Writing is a curse, and one bad manuscript isn’t going to lift it. I’m on my third bad manuscript and I keep coming back for more!

My solution was to find professional help. (And book coaches seem to double as therapists, so trust me, it’s a lot of bang for your buck!) I feel confident that coaching is going to help me write the book that’s in my head- the one where readers don’t just make it off the first page, but to the end of the novel and want to come back for more. I’m so confident, in fact, that I am willing to lay it all out there to teach others how to do it as well. Even if it is super embarrassing!

Plus, I won’t lie, having to publicly answer for my work keeps me on track!

Rebecca: Jennie, what are some of the common writing problems that you’ll be talking about in the podcast?

Jennie:  Abby and Mel are perfect “subjects” to show how the chaos of creativity can be tamed because they exhibited all the most common problems! Neither of them had really thought before they started to write. Like so many writers, they just liked to write and felt called to write and started to write. (This pull is often very strong for moms of little kids because it’s one time in your day when you can just rest in the musings of your own mind. You don’t have to make sure no one is going to stick a fork in the electrical outlet or figure out how to make a dinner for one kid who won’t eat anything but white food and another who won’t eat anything but green. )Then Abby and Mel did what writers tend to do next — they went to conferences and workshops and writing groups, and kept writing, and really just kept digging their holes deeper — the holes caused by lack of thinking first.

So by thinking first I don’t mean plotting. I don’t mean giant grids of scenes. I mean understanding your story’s deep-level WHY and bringing that to the visible surface, and working to let the reader IN. That’s the work most writers skip — and skipping it leads to all the writerly problems, from openings that wander to middles that sag to ends that fall flat — and Abby and Mel were no different.

What’s fun is that Abby is writing a middle grade fantasy starting from scratch and Mel is revising an adult sci fi dystopian thriller so, in addition to the common problems I mentioned above, we get to dig into a lot of different problems from a topical standpoint — so everything from the logic of an imaginary world, to the motivation of a villain, to a character’s true desire.

Rebecca: Melanie, you guys got a lot of feedback on your opening pages from Jennie. What was it like to go back to those pages and revise after the feedback.

Melanie:  I’m not gonna lie, it felt a bit brutal at first.  Neither Abby or I had a lot of Mel, Mom Writes Podcastexperience being edited.  It was eye-opening, though, and I personally felt so much clarity on my story afterwards.  I had been unable to articulate what was wrong with my draft and Jennie was able to pinpoint exactly where I had gone wrong and how to fix it.  She doesn’t do the work for us, and I don’t feel that as a book coach she is taking me in any one direction vs another.  It’s more like she’s asking the right questions in order to help me find my own answers – questions that I initially didn’t ask myself when I first started writing my novel!  We are learning so much about the process that one can (and maybe should!) do before you write a single word of your story.

I’d like to thank Jennie, Abby and Melanie for joining us on the Winged Pen today! Mom Writes launched September 15th and is available here. Check it out! And tune in for our Twitter chat on October 2nd, 8 pm EDT, 5 pm PT to Tweet live with Jennie, Abby and Melanie, find out more about Mom Writes, and get tips on writing with kids constantly pulling on your elbow! To tune in, put #momwrites in the Twitter search box and press enter.

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She on Twitter at @RebeccaJ_Allen and her website is writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.

An Interview with Manuscript Academy co-founder Jessica Sinsheimer

Manuscript Academy Happy #MSWL day! Today, agents and editors from around the world will Tweet their wish-lists. It’s a great way to fine tune your query list and to get an idea of what editors are looking for as well.

Manuscript Wish List co-founder Jessica Sinsheimer has been hard at work on another project recently as well: The Manuscript Academy. She stopped by The Winged Pen to chat with us about this exciting new opportunity for writers.

You already do so much for the writing community by running the amazing Manuscript Wish List, what made you decide to add The Manuscript Academy to your repertoire?

It’s actually an idea that had been brewing for years.  I was invited to speak at a conference a few years back—an amazing conference, one that sounded like so much fun. But, when I asked about travel stipend, they said that there wasn’t one—I could only get discounted admission. So I started pricing it out, and soon realized it would be well over $2,000 to attend. Worse, some told me that if I “really cared” about my career, I’d pay it.

It had never occurred to me that the events I attended regularly could be so expensive for writers—and that’s before considering the logistics of childcare, health, religious obligations, family needs, and just plain time. Plus, there’s just so much pressure to go—probably even more than was put on me, because I get to attend so many. It just seemed incredibly unfair. Having money shouldn’t be a prerequisite to a writing career. So this stayed with me, as a problem we needed to solve as an industry, but I didn’t know how.

But then co-founder Julie Kingsley and I met—thanks to a wild coincidence of her being on a bus to Book Expo with my colleague, then invited to networking drinks—and I was so impressed with her knowledge of the film, media, tech, and startup worlds. These were things I assumed were out of my reach forever, however fascinating I found them. But we quickly realized that, together, we could finally make something like this happen—and bring the conference to writers, in a way that’s accessible to so many more.

The concept is great–prerecorded content from industry professionals with unlimited access for thirty days for a price lower than any writing conference around, plus a series of live pitch sessions, critique sessions, and live webinars. How has the reception been so far?  

It’s been incredibly exciting. If anything, there’s been a LOT more enthusiasm than I expected (though I’m the pessimist of the group!) I mean, new different things are scary! Especially new, different things with technology. But we now have about 700 members, and the community is only growing. Lots of members are getting agents and book deals. We’re actually going to start making “class reunion” events to keep everyone in touch, because these are the people who are going to grow, learn, and eventually succeed together.

It’s always been important to me that we price everything as low as we can while still paying every single person who works for us—including those who helped Xerox and hold doors and organize agents and get snacks on filming day—a living hourly wage. We work with incredibly talented, kind people. And I’m thrilled that we could pay everyone right away.

There are lots of online writing courses out there and I know from experience that the quality varies greatly. How do you select faculty? How would you recommend writers decide how to spend their precious personal development dollars?

We select faculty not just for their brilliance but for their openness, kindness, and breadth of interests. I know it’s so scary to find yourself face to face with an agent—even if it’s through a screen. I wanted to be sure that I could trust everyone to handle that with grace, warmth, and kindness—to turn in work on time—and to bring new insight to their classes.

It’s true—there is SO much content out there. But we were very thoughtful about every single faculty member, every choice of class, and every new program. We’re very conscious of the fact that we’re not taking money from, say, bankers. We want everyone to feel like they get not just instruction, but a feeling of connection and support, from our programs.

Some people learn best in a group—and for that, we have classes (including our brand new Five Days To A Fab First Page challenge) where people can absorb the material, talk about it in a group, and then have live interaction with our faculty. Some people want individual feedback—for them, we have Ten Minutes With An Expert meetings to go over queries and first pages—and written critiques, so the notes are there and ready to be implemented.

Both of these web sites (MSWL & MA) are gorgeous. Who is your designer/tech guru? 

We work with Mike Chen and Sierra Godfrey of Atmosphere Author Websites. They seriously saved my life on the ManuscriptWishList.com site. Version 2.0 was a site that I updated myself—every time someone wanted a change, I did it. This was fine for awhile, but as we grew, it became not just a second job, but was taking over my life! Mike and Sierra then, as if by magic, appeared—offered to make a new site to benefit the community—and spent months with me (more than six months!) redoing the site in a way that made it sustainable for the future. Now agents and editors can update their own profiles, searchability is VASTLY improved, it’s MUCH prettier, and there are just so many things that work better. I could never have done it without them.

Plus, they’re both writers, so they really understand the creative brain that doesn’t get all of the tech speak—and could translate my clumsy descriptions of what I was hoping for into something that looks gorgeous and just works.

What’s next for The Manuscript Academy?

 Our next goal is to bring low-cost mini-courses to as many people as possible—all while creating a supportive community. Ultimately, we’re about access—to information, experts, and the support you need while taking this amazing creative journey.

You can check out ManuscriptAcademy.com, follow us at @MSWLMA, and check out our FREE podcast—including a mini first pages panel every week—on iTunes and Soundcloud. See more at ManuscriptAcademy.com/ourpodcast/.

BRAVE NEW GIRLS #STEM Anthology: Inspiration for Future Female Engineers/Scientists

Releasing Today, August 1st, 2017!!!

Brave New Girls: Stories of Girls Who Science and Scheme is a collection of 22 stories about brainy young heroines who use their smarts to save the day. Edited by author Mary Fan, the anthology’s goal is to inspire girls (ages 12+) to study science and engineering. Even better, proceeds from the anthology fund scholarships for women through the Society of Women Engineers. The first Brave New Girls anthology, released in 2015, has provided several thousands of dollars’ worth of scholarships. Hopefully, this new anthology will provide many, many more, enabling more young women to pursue STEM careers!

 

Check out this fun Book Trailer for the anthology!

 

Also visit the Brave New Girls website!

Here are a few quick links where you can purchase the anthology to inspire all the #STEM girls in your life. And don’t forget, proceeds from the sale of the anthology provide scholarships for women to study engineering through the Society of Women Engineers, so please spread the word!!!!

Amazon

Barnes & Noble  

Indiebound

Quail Ridge Books (Raleigh, NC)

GoodReads

We’ve invited two authors from the anthology, the Winged Pen’s Michelle Leonard and fantasy author Karissa Laurel, to talk about women in science and science fiction.

I’d love to know how each of you ended up being passionate about women of science? What sparked the story you wrote for the anthology?

Karissa:  In my careers, I’ve tended to pursue the artistic and creative (not that there isn’t room for creativity in science and vice versa). However, I was raised by a woman of science. My mom was a biology major in college and spent years working as a cytologist. When I was in elementary school, she decided to change careers and went back to school to learn how to be a computer programmer—this was in the mid-to-late 80s. At the time, I didn’t understand it was rare for women to make that kind of career choice. I simply thought my mom could do anything she put her mind to. She’s always inspired me, and only as I get older do I realize what a pioneer she was.

Michelle:  I fell in love with science when I took high school chemistry. Everyone else hated our teacher. She was stern, like a drill sergeant, not at all warm. But Mrs. Davis was the smartest person I’d ever met, and she was black. Her fierceness and passion for science made an immediate impression on me (picture the Beyoncé of Chemistry, without all the razzle-dazzle). I became infatuated with learning everything Mrs. Davis could possibly teach me. We became good friends, even though she remained very stern, and distant, only referring to me by my last name. I often stayed after school to help her set up the next day’s lab, or I would grade tests and homework for her. She insisted that I should become an engineer and asked my guidance counselor to help me land an after-school job to make sure I’d have enough money to go to college.

The main character in my story, a biracial fifteen-year-old named Nina Jessup, is a mash-up of my chemistry teacher and me. Nina uses the blue LED technology I developed as an engineer to fight against something that has deeply troubled me and that I’ve fought against my entire life: racism.

Mrs. Davis has long since passed, but I’ve always felt indebted to her for her inspiration. I’m not a teacher, but I’ve always wanted to do what she did for me for someone else. This story is one attempt to do just that.

What are some science-girl clichés you’d love to see squashed and do you have a book or movie recommendation that does it well?

Karissa:  The first that comes to mind is the “Velma” cliché—yes, Velma from Scoobie Doo. Women in science are often portrayed as nerdy, stiff, robotic, and cold. Despite its flaws, the new Ghostbuster’s movie with Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon made me unbelievably happy because it represented a group of women with disparate and varying personalities all brought together by their passion for science. It took the women who are usually given “sidekick” status and made them the protagonists and heroes.

Michelle:  I whole-heartedly agree with Karissa, but I also get annoyed seeing female scientists portrayed as hot scientists because it’s the twisted trope, the opposite of a “Velma,” and diminishes respect for females in the profession. I’m also not a fan of mad scientists, especially in children’s literature, because it gives kids the wrong impression about science. Hello, does anyone want their child to grow up to be an evil genius? Most scientists save lives and work passionately to make the world a better place. Hidden Figures is a wonderful example of a movie/book showing the obstacles real scientists, especially women and minorities, face every day in their quest to advance knowledge for society and to protect our Earth and all its precious creatures. Those are the stories about scientists that kids need to hear.

Now, a bit of fun.

Time machine to travel back and forth in time or ability to stop & restart time at your will?

Karissa:  Dozens of books and movies have taught me that messing with the past or future is dangerous, and it’s impossible to calculate the consequences. Maybe killing Hitler before he came into power, or saving JFK from assassination, might have made the world a better place. But how are we to know it wouldn’t have made it worse in some way? I think I’d like to be able to stop and restart time. Now that I’m a mother with a teenager, it seems like the days are flying by. He’s growing up too fast, and I’m growing older too fast. I’d love to be able to slow time down, on occasion.

Michelle:  I’m with Karissa in believing that messing with the past could have unintended consequences, but I would do anything to be able to flash back to 1938, right as nuclear fission was discovered, to prevent the development the atomic bomb. The devastation at Hiroshima would be erased. I’d love to be able to stop and start time too. I could squeeze so much more reading in that way. *wiggles eyebrows.

Magical powers or computer brain?

Karissa:  I think what looks like magic is often just science that we don’t yet understand. I love that magic offers so many possibilities and would probably choose that answer, but having a computer brain, if it were big enough and complex enough, might serve the same purpose. With magic, maybe I could heal a person’s cancer. With a computer brain, maybe I could come up with a cure. Both powers come with a great need for responsibility and a strong moral ethos, however. To quote Stan Lee: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Michelle:  Scary news alert! We already have the technology to computerize our brains. So far, it’s being used mostly for medical purposes, but the possibilities are limitless and truly frightening. Magic, on the other hand? Yes, please sign me up!

You guys are the best! This was too fun.

Karissa Laurel lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky named Bonnie. Some of her favorite things are coffee, chocolate, and super heroes. She can quote The Princess Bride verbatim. On weekends, you can find her at flea-markets hunting for rusty things to re-use and re-purpose. She is the also the author of The Norse Chronicles, an adult urban fantasy series based on Norse mythology; and The Stormbourne Chronicles, a young adult fantasy and steampunk series. More information about those is available at her website. You can also connect with Karissa on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

Michelle Leonard was born to be a math and science nerd. After spending over ten years working with an engineering dream team developing commercial blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs), she escaped the world of seventy-hour workweeks. Nowadays, when Michelle’s not tinkering on her teleporter for transporting her talented daughters to important gigs or pushing books into young readers’ hands at her local Indie bookstore, she’s turning outlandish thoughts into stories for young readers. She lives with her science-savvy husband, three inspiring daughters, and a border collie who hates numbers. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.

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NEW AGENT ALERT! Meet Hilary Harwell of KT Literary

I am thrilled beyond belief to introduce you to Hilary Harwell. Full disclosure, she’s one of my dearest friends, a long-time critique partner and a member of The Winged Pen critique fellowship. NOW SHE’S AN AGENT TOO–for the renowned KT Literary agency.  I’m also excited to share that Hilary will be a participating agent in Pitch Wars this year. She’s opening up to queries at the start of August, and here’s your chance to get to know her!

G: Hi Hilary. *grins*

H: Hi Gab. *grins*

G: So, what made you want to become an agent?

H: Besides loving the art of storytelling, I’m in love with being able to bring amazing, impactful stories into the world and into the hands of children just as they’re opening their minds to the power of story. To help all children and young people find themselves inside the pages of a book, I mean, how incredible is it to be a part of that?!

G: What would you say sets KT Literary apart from other agencies?

H: Well, first of all, we have a ton of knowledge and talent amongst all of our agents. Kate, Sara, Renee, and Hannah are all brilliant and well-connected, and all around great people. Then, of course, there are our amazing clients. I had the privilege of meeting many them on our annual KT Literary retreat this past February in Lake Arrowhead, California (and yes, our agency hosts an annual retreat – that in and of itself sets us apart!). They are all such wonderful, supportive, talented folks and we’re lucky to have them!

G: Talk a little about what you’ll be looking for in the slush? What kind of books are you hoping to find?

H: At the present moment I’m focusing on middle grade and young adult projects. I’m interested in all genres – dark fantasy, thrillers, psychological horror, contemporary, mystery – though I’m probably not the best choice for slasher horror, suicide stories, or high fantasy unless it’s 100% original. I’m generally not a huge fan of elves, fairies, and their ilk. I especially love heartfelt contemporary, and though I recently signed an amazing author and her Chinese adoption middle grade contemporary, I still have a soft spot for these types of stories, especially if they’re told from diverse perspectives.

G: What are some of your favorite books?

H: So many! My more recent faves are: The Hate U Give, Exit Pursued by a Bear, Frost Blood, Caraval, The Diviners, The Blackthorn Key, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, Out of My Mind, The Thickety, Anna and The French Kiss (and ISLA and LOLA), Open Road Summer, The Duff, We Were Liars, The Night Gardener, Rules for Stealing Stars, Salt to the Sea, The Wrath and The Dawn, The Scorpio Races, A Curious Tale of the In-Between, Seraphina and the Black Cloak, The Grisha Trilogy, I’ll Give You The Sun, Splendors and Glooms, A Snicker of Magic, The Graveyard Book, The Mysterious Benedict Society, An Untamed State, The Bourbon Thief, The Girl on The Train, and Crank (anything by Ellen Hopkins)

I don’t want to leave out the older faves though, because they’re such classics and I find myself returning to them again and again. I love books like: Bridge to Terabithia, The Hobbit, Black Beauty, The Black Stallion series, Hatchet, The Call of the Wild, White Fang, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Westing Game, James and the Giant Peach, THE BFG, IT, A Wrinkle in Time,  and The Secret Garden.

 G: Okay. When do you open for queries, and how can authors submit to you?

H: I open to queries August 1st. Authors can find our complete submission instructions on the KT Literary website (www.ktliterary.com). But for the sake of convenience, you can reach me at hilaryquery@ktliterary.com. Please send me your query letter and the first three pages of your manuscript. I’m looking forwarding to reading your work!

G: Okay, Pally. are you ready for this? *hands Hilary mirrored sunglasses*

H: Let’s do it.

LIGHTNING ROUND:

G: Coffee or Tea?

H: Both, but usually coffee.

G: Sweet or savory?

H: Both, but usually savory.

G: Cats or Dogs (or other)?

H: Both. And horses. And fish. And toads. And salamanders. (I grew up in the woods. Catching things was kinda my thing. As was climbing trees.)

G: Curve Ball! Lynda Carter or Gal Gadot?

H: I don’t know? I guess I have to go with Lynda Carter because I have a thing for originals.

Thanks, Hilary, for joining us today (and everyday) at the Winged Pen! 

Hilary joined the KT Literary team to support office operations and assist with queries and manuscripts, and now acts as Associate Agent with clients of her own. She graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder, with a degree in Anthropology and went on to work in the back office of a major Swiss Investment Bank for eight years before deciding to trade numbers for letters. When not reading or editing or writing stories of her own, Hilary likes to hike the Rockies with her family and dreams of one day owning her own horses. Connect with her on Twitter and check out her blog.

—Gabrielle Byrne (G.K. Byrne) writes fantasy for middle graders. Gabby has a Master’s degree in literature and a second bachelors in environmental studies. When she’s not writing, you can frequently find her fishing spineless critters out of the Salish sea with her husband and two daughters. She is represented by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management. Gabby is also a Pitch Wars mentor. Her web site is here.

 

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Meet the Winged Pen Pitch Wars Mentors!

Pitch Wars, Winged Pen Pitch Wars MentorsIt’s Pitch Wars time and this year 4 members of The Winged Pen are sharpening their pencils and cracking their knuckles, getting ready to help a lucky mentee revise their ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT so that it shines in the agent round! We know what awesome advice these ladies have provided on our own manuscripts and we want to make sure anyone considering submitting to Pitch Wars chooses them!

The Winged Pen Pitch Wars mentors are:
Julie Artz and Jessica Vitalis – co-mentoring middle grade
Gabrielle Byrne – mentoring middle grade
Marty Mayberry – mentoring adult

Have you ever been on the other side of a writing contest…submitting? If so, what did you learn from the experience?

Julie: I was a hopeful in 2014, but wasn’t selected. Then I entered a new manuscript in 2015

A photo of author Julie Artz
Photo credit: Gail Werner

and was selected by the amazing Juliana Brandt. She managed to cram what I think of as an intensive MFA into two months, teaching me about story structure and writing emotion and so much more.

I’m a big fan of contests (having also been in Pitch Slam and a few others), but the biggest thing I’ve learned is that everyone needs to find their own path. I didn’t get my agent with my Pitch Wars manuscript, but I still think everything I learned during the contests allowed me to write the manuscript that got me my agent.

Jessica: The one and only writing contest I ever entered was…Pitch Wars! I was absolutely sure my manuscript was as polished as I could make it on my own. After 120+ rejections on my two previous manuscripts, I was desperate for a mentor to help take my work to the next level. Unfortunately, I wasn’t selected. *cue wails of despair*

The good news? I got a call from my agent (who had seen my manuscript during WriteOnCon) offering representation the day after the mentees were announced. This whole experience taught me several valuable lessons: don’t rush the process (after I felt the manuscript was “ready,” I set it aside for a few months and then read/edited with fresh eyes before sending it out, which was something I hadn’t done with the two previous manuscripts), there is no one right path in this industry, and most important of all: NEVER GIVE UP!

Gabrielle: I’ve entered several contests, including Pitch Wars. The first time I entered, I didn’t get in. The second time, I squeaked in as the very last alternate. What did I learn? I learned tons about revision, and diving in, and persisting. I also learned that without fail, the writing community would bolster my spirits and push me forward, if I reached out. That book eventually got me represented, in no small part because of those Pitch Wars revisions.

Along the way, I made some really good friends as well as critique partners, and I’ve had the privilege of watching people I know and love rise to the top of their game and get published.

Marty: I was a PitchWars Alternate in ’13, but got no requests. This hit hard, but I ultimately signed with my agent (for that MS) through a Twitter pitch event. So, hang in there. There are many different paths to success.

 

What draws you into a story?

Julie: There is a magic combination of fresh premise (even in a retelling!), compelling voice, and starting the story at the point where stakes and conflict will come together in the right way to make questions pop into my head as I read. Then I know I’m hooked.

Jessica: Voice, voice, voice, and voice. Oh, and did I mention voice? (Also: an intriguing premise accompanied by superb writing.)

Gabrielle: I want to connect with the character. That’s partly about the voice, but it’s also being clear about what’s at stake, and what those stakes mean to the MC. The world building (fantasy or otherwise) is a huge draw for me too. A well written world can be such a vivid experience, and if it’s accompanied by clear stakes, and a unique voice, it’s pure gold.

Marty: There’s probably an echo here, but Voice. Hook me with a character I want to follow for 80,000 words.

In an ideal world, what would be your plan for working with your mentee?Pitch Wars, Pitch Wars Mentors

Julie: I’m very big-picture oriented. So I’ll be deep diving into the character arc and major plot structure in my edit letter, along with looking for themes, motifs, and imagery that can be used not only to up tension in the story, but to reinforce the character’s arc. I’m also a big believer in homework, so my mentee can expect a list of comp titles to check out, as well as craft articles/blog posts and maybe even books to refer to during revision.

My amazing co-mentor, Jessica Vitalis, is way better with the line edits than I am, although I’ll also take a look for repeated issues like wordy dialogue, junk words, emotional telling, and saggy pace/lagging tension in a second pass.

Jessica:  Typically I start with a detailed (and lengthy) edit letter covering big picture elements (plot, structure, character development, etc.), which leads to a week or two of intense brainstorming. After the big stuff is done, I go crazy with my red pen. Along the way, we’ll get to know each other really well and become critique partners and BFFs (you did say in my ideal world, right?). Of course this year I’m co-mentoring with the inimitable Julie Artz, so we’re going to be double trouble the whole process is going to be extra amazing.

Gabrielle: Like with the other pennies, my mentee will get a long edit letter. Depending on what I think the issues with the manuscript are, I’ll share my thoughts about the pacing and character arcs, the world/setting, the dialogue, the secondary plot lines, the character relationships, and the prose. If there’s a big change–to plot or character–that I want to recommend, I’ll probably already have mentioned it to them, but we’ll have a more in-depth conversation about it early in the process.

It’s possible I’ll give my mentee a week or so of “homework”.  This might consist of reading a book or two critically, with particular things in mind, or it might be short writing exercises to strengthen particular skills, or both. After my mentee’s done their edits, I’ll comb through the manuscript a second time and we’ll tighten things up, and smooth things out. Voila!

Marty: I’m co-mentoring adult with Léonie Kelsall year. We’ll offer our mentee what I gave my prior mentees: Complete read-through with edit letter, ongoing discussion about edits & support as needed, plus a second read-through if there’s time, which will include line edits. We’ll also help with the synopsis, query, and first page/pitch for the agent round. We’ll be there for our mentee after PitchWars when they get requests, offers, etc., and then promote their books when they sell. We’re the complete package. LOL.

Lightening round! Fasten your seat belts!
Favorite writing snack?

Julie: Macadamia nuts or roasted almonds. With oodles of tea, of course.

Jessica: I don’t necessarily have an all-time favorite, but right now I’m on a peanut M&M binge.

Gabrielle: Sourdough toast with almond butter, popcorn with Siracha, or cashews with Thai spices, depending on the scene. Coffee. That’s a snack, right?

Marty: Lately: pickles, especially Sweet Chili Thai. And Earl Grey Tea.

Favorite 5 minute break between writing/revising chapters?

Julie: Twitter! Or loving up on my kitties, who typically sit in my lap while I’m working anyway.

Jessica: I often get cold when I write, so I occasionally do jumping jacks or burpees to warm up.

Gabrielle: 5 minutes? Sheesh. Make coffee, I guess. Light a candle maybe? If I need a real break though, I take a long hot shower, or go on a walk. Both really help work through blocks and problems.

Marty: Walk, walk, walk. I aim for >14,000 steps on my pedometer daily.

Favorite writing craft book?

Julie: Story Genius by Lisa Cron changed my writing life.

Jessica: I’m currently obsessed with Story Engineering.

Gabrielle: My newest obsession is The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird, but I’ve long loved Stein on Writing by Sol Stein as well. It’s an oldie, but a goodie.

Marty: Stephen King’s On Writing.

Thanks to Julie, Jessica, Gabby and Marty for being on the blog today! Thanks also to Brenda Drake, queen of Pitch Wars, for hosting the awesome contest and to the whole team that helps her run it!

If you want deep a little deeper on our mentors, you can find last year’s interview of the Winged Pen Pitch War Mentors or click their names below to find their Pitch War bios and wish lists.
Julie Artz
Jessica Vitalis
Gabrielle Byrne
Marty Mayberry

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She on Twitter at @RebeccaJ_Allen and her website is writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.