I'm a Pitch Wars alum making the jump to mentor this year, and I am pumped to dive in!
I'm from (the state of) New York and coach competitive gymnastics, throwing girls into the air and catching them on the way down. I love country music, driving down back roads, and quotes from The Office. Sometimes I run races that I'm not really prepared for.
Why should you pick me? I'm a writing professor well-versed in providing constructive, in-depth feedback. My BA and MFA are in writing, earned from the blood, sweat, and tears of hours of workshops. I know what it’s like to have your work up for review and what kind of comments are especially useful. (And the ones that aren’t. You know the kind I’m talking about.) I'm encouraging, collaborative, and love brainstorming.
Speaking of feedback/blood/sweat/etc., I’m an agented writer who’s been through the query trenches. I’m also intern at a literary agency, so the slush pile and I have become quite intimate. I see what stands out from the crowd, and I'm going to help your manuscript achieve that -- while having fun at the same time!
And your work? I bet it’s awesome. I can’t wait to read it. My wish list: Contemporary new adult:
In the vein of SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL by Trish Doller or FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell: characters in NA situations where romance plays an important role, but so do family, friends, and growing pains. Humor is welcome. Darkness is welcome. A blend of both? Perfect. Contemporary young adult:
I want to be immersed in a new world. Multicultural characters, serious athletes, genius protagonists – I love when I can be whisked away by a great story and voice while learning something at the same time. Strong friendships, fascinating secondary characters, and love interests with a slow burn are all winners for me. So is beautiful prose.
And hey, you think you've got an old trope turned on its head? Send it along! YA fantasy:
Low on the creatures, high on the intrigue and adventure. If it’s funny, too, I want to see it. I love strong characters that aren’t invulnerable due to a secret power; I’d rather be afraid for them (GAME OF THRONES fans know what that’s like). Epic fantasies are cool. Alternate universes are cool. Characters that work their way up to greatness rather than being the “chosen one” are very welcome around these parts.
If you're looking to play a little game: SECRET LETTER: A
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I take it easy, hold steady, never let my breath run faster than my legs. Get in a quick few miles, hose off, and call it a workout.
Look, there's been a scarring race or two. I've tried to kick it up too fast. Maybe I wasn't ready for those hills. Or those ten miles. Or waking up that morning and getting on the road at all.
On those days, I've trudged along, consistently getting passed by the elderly and folks wearing massive braces. In the dull moments between miles, I've promised myself that this would be my last race. I'd cross that finish line and find another sport. No playlist could be good enough, no shiny finisher's medals bright enough.
Then, every time, I hit the final straightaway, the announcer calling finisher names as the clock counts up, and I want my name called with the fastest possible combination of numbers. So I let loose. Give in to that natural kick and let it tear me across the line, the possibility cramps and dry heaving forgotten.
It feels so much better to be trembling and spent, I think. There's satisfaction in the fatigue as you swagger (or maybe stagger) over to the drink tent, medal around your neck, knowing the final mile was the fastest although you'll feel it tomorrow.
I've tried to bring that mentality to workouts lately, reminding myself that I can bail out and walk if I get too out of hand. Two minutes on, two minutes off. The clock strikes "on" and I book it. The breathing grows ragged, but my arms keep swinging. I watch my shadow on the street and remind myself to stand taller.
It's tough. It hurts. It doesn't look anything like the inspirational montages I watched on YouTube the other day. But when the stats show that the average pace drops well below my usual, everything is immediately all right.
That's my goal for approaching a scene: Digging in. Experiencing it from all directions. If I work enough at it, the slow days -- the middle of miles -- give way to the sprints.
You're in that desert under the waning moon, deeper in the dark than you planned to be, and you, rational human, would turn back, but your main character turns toward. You nail that line, set that searing zinger down, and days later, when you reread, it hits you even harder the second time around.
One week later, and we're back! Goals have been achieved, goals will be pursued, highways will be driven upon...and so we roll:
What I'm Reading:
What's not to love about that stud?
I finished The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and decided that, in keeping with Oscars, this would be my next choice. While the former's narrative momentum was sometimes slow, I loved the voice, rhythm, and style.
What I'm Writing:
Last week, I publicly stated that I'd polish up my opening chapters, send them to my beloved CP, and research. As someone who is highly motivated by public shaming, I'm happy to report that I've achieved those objectives!
I've also put these bad boys out into the world:
If you like gymnastics, running, both, or perhaps neither, here's my June column for The Couch Gymnast, an international gymnastics website.
If you like The Onion, here's a small and silly piece for my friend's Onion-esque website.
Push my way into the middle of the novel. It's time. Two to three chapters with a firm direction would be great.
What Else I've Been Up To:
Running really slow 10K races. At least the scenery was nice!
Preparing for a road trip this weekend with my fellow coaches so we can learn the new gymnastics compulsory routines in real life. Muscles may be pulled. Laughs will be had.
What Inspires Me Right Now:
Twitter #ReadySetWrite gatherings -- these have been immensely helpful, and I'm looking forward to meeting more writers and writing more words!
Whenever this song comes on, I may or may not repeat it...several times:
You know what's cool? Working on a novel while other people are, too. Like this:
Ready. Set. WRITE! A two(ish) month-long writing intensive for writers that includes weekly goals and updates, and a whole lot of encouragement, accountability, and support along the way. Each week we'll check in during What's Up Wednesday, share what we accomplished and set new goals for the coming week in the What I'm Writing section.
To kick it off on this inaugural Wednesday...
What I'm Reading:
So far, I'm enjoying Diaz's mixture of humor and heartbreak.
What I'm Writing:
My summer goals include:
Finish the first draft of my WIP, a contemporary YA novel following an elite runner in the southwest U.S.
Finish a speculative? post-apocalyptic? who knows? short story that's been cooking for awhile.
Embrace any other writing ideas that come up (flash fiction, nonfiction, novel nibbles).
For the next week, I aim to:
Clean up the opening chapters and send them to the awesometastic Flo.
Continue to research.
What Else I've Been Up To:
Teaching myself the new USA Gymnastics compulsory routines, so I can then instruct the tiny gymnasts,
Planning a potential cross-country road trip, whaaaaat!
Preparing for a race this weekend, though the wind seems to want me to do otherwise.
What Inspires Me Right Now:
My roommates! They're writers and generally awesome humans. Sometimes, we battle with the lawn mower.
You're in grad school, footloose and fancy free (minus that whole finish-your-thesis thing). The school hosts a summer conference that includes a YA workshop. You haven't actually written YA since you were a teen (see: angsty blog posts circa ages 15-19), nor do you have an idea for a novel. But when sitting down to write sample pages before the workshop, you recall the days of failing your road test (more than once). Wasn't that a good time?
The sample pages go over really well in the workshop. Everyone keeps asking, "What's next?" You don't have anything definite, but over the course of the conference, so many ideas fly at you. Classmates have talked about that feeling of waking up in the night to write down an idea. Finally, you feel this way, too. Those first ten pages could actually become something.
Also, you're a really safe driver. Just so everyone knows.
Before you can continue the novel about the hapless driver who goes by her middle name (why does she do that?), there's the finish-your-thesis situation, which requires many nights of writing with Make It or Break It streaming in the background. You get the papers signed, shake hands with the proper dignitaries, and there you are, unleashed for the world.
You have free time now. Lots of it. You decide to rewrite your entire thesis, write a whole new novel for NaNo, look for "real jobs" (hey, how about those?), and finish that novel you started in the workshop. Many fires burning.
You finish that novel. It doesn't have a title, but your protagonist does have two names. Thankfully, Writing BFF Flo comes up with one: WHAT HAPPENS IN WATER. ("I'm guessing nothing good," your roommate says. She's right.) You decide, "Hey, I like free things" and enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest for the heck of it.
Also, you have four jobs now. The economy is pleased, since you're always buying gas.
The shiny world of blog contests unfolds. Basically, the most fun you can have on the Internet without fearing who's looking over your shoulder. Also, cold querying sounds scary and the idea of a test drive seems like a better strategy at this point, even though it'll take place publicly.
Contests are fun! Nerve-wracking! Exciting! Requests and rejections are earned in turn. Revisions follow. In the interim, WHIW chugs its way to the semi-finals of the Amazon contest, finishing in the top 50. The universe supports you, but you still have work to do.
Contests are fun, yes! But the same entries and the same agents start cropping up. Maybe it's time to do that query thing. Go for the proverbial gold in 250 words or so. You can't resist one last contest, though: Pitch Wars, where a mentor will whip your words into shape before the agent round. You luck out and get chosen by Danielle Ellison.
And whip your words she does! Troublesome places smooth out. Inexplicable actions become clear. New scenes come to life. This is the book you were aiming for. You thought so before, but you know it now.
A brave new world:
Post-contest, you begin to query. A drip here, a drop there. Not exactly a deluge, but a start.
Life BFF Lena reads the query and novel. She suggests trying a bold new direction in the query. Why not? But what you verbally come up with on Monday night falls flat on Tuesday morning, so you spend every free moment of the next 48 hours writing and rewriting and compulsively emailing Lena, sometimes sending her a revised version before she's read the original. Dog, meet bone.
Lena is a saint. She says, "Nope, it's worse now" and you know she's right. You think you're onto something and she'll say, "Eh."
On Thursday afternoon, you feel the subtle shift in the universe; you're onto something. Lena writes back, "YESSSSSSS." This draft only takes 29 email exchanges to iron out. This the one.
You fix yourself a nice beverage, open up the agent spreadsheet, and get sending. And the responses start coming.
Finding a zen place:
Checking your email makes you terrified. Every. Single. Time. You start checking when you're on breaks from coaching, because no matter what the response is, the children will keep you grounded. Requests, rejections, silence: a healthy mix of all of the above. Partials become fulls. A request and a form rejection arrive at nearly the same time. So it goes.
You start training for a half-marathon. It gives you a whole other world to worry about. You like worrying, so it's a good fit.
Thanks to Pitch Wars, an offer comes in from a cool press. Nice! You alert the agents who have your manuscript, then examine your spreadsheet for agents who have the query but haven't responded yet. You don't have much time before work, so you email your top picks and let them know what's going on.
One of them responds right away. Her colleague is interested in the query, and can she read the manuscript? Let's think about that -- yes.
Amateur sleuthing abounds:
While waiting for responses, you research publishing contracts. You weigh pros and cons. Eventually, you decide that if all of the agents say nay, you can go forward on your own. The Internet will be your beacon.
You survive the half-marathon and follow it up with a road trip with friends. Survival is wonderful.
As you're hanging in the backseat somewhere in New Jersey, you check your email. The colleague of the original agent has replied. You see "Thank you" and expect the rest of the email to say, "But no thanks and have a nice life." You open it.
Nice things about your book in paragraph one. Okay, this is going to be a lovely, personalized rejection. More nice things in paragraph two. Suspicious.
There is no "but."
You speak with the agent, who is lovely, and follow that up with sleuthing on the Internet, emailing her questions that she promptly responds to, and deciding, "Let's do this."
Which means that Lyndsay Hemphill of ICM Partners is now in your corner, and let the games begin!
You make photocopies of receipts for work and drive to the gas station. You're still you, after all.
Made it to 50K of that NaNo novel! There's still more story to tell, but I'm proud that I've gotten the momentum started.
Before fully unleashing WHAT HAPPENS IN WATER upon the world in query form, I felt like it needed another look. Enter Pitch Wars, in which writers applied to be mentored by agented writers/editors. I was lucky enough to be picked by Danielle Ellison, who was fantastic in her notes, multiple readings of the manuscript, pitch/query skills, and ability to discern precisely what could be strengthened.
Thanks to that experience, I'm feeling confident and prepared going forward!
Alas, it is time to plunge into new novels. I'm keeping that fantasy novel on the side for fun times while I channel my energy into a new YA contemporary story. The idea's been kicking around for some time, but thanks to an outlining/brainstorming session with the man friend, I know where it will go and how to get there.
Except that "plunge" thing is tough, man. The abundance of writing advice on the Internet, while very useful, has also made me sit up tighter in my chair. I want the perfect words. The precise opening line, the desert unfurling beneath it. Symbolism and controlling metaphors. That big moment before page 50. And so on and so forth. Perfectionism runs rampant, you could say. But so it goes. I'll battle back.
Have you started any new projects this week? How do you keep your editorial self at bay?