Success is in the air! We couldn’t be more ecstatic to share this fabulous interview with Gwen Katz and her Pitch Wars mentor Fiona McLaren. Gwen recently signed with Thao Le of Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, and we are beyond thrilled for her! So without further ado, enjoy this Q&A with Gwen & Fiona as they recap their epically awesome Pitch Wars success story.
Gwen, what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Fiona?
Fiona is kind of a perfect human being and I want to be her.
Oh, you want specifics? She was interested in epistolary novels. That’s the first thing I noticed. Novels with unusual narrative styles are a matter of personal taste, so it was important for me to connect with other people who like epistolaries. Then, as soon as I expressed interest in working with Fiona, I was flooded with former Fiona mentees telling me what a great experience it had been. Can’t argue with that!
Also, she had a video of her horse pulling a boat.
Fiona, what about Gwen’s application made you choose her?
I knew I had to have Gwen’s manuscript when I saw it. It has been a long time since I have seen a book that was so real. I believed 100% in the world and the characters. The characters were so multi-faceted, the world so detailed and well-crafted, and it had an amazing sense of era. Add in that it’s a teen female fighter pilot (holla!), war-torn Russia, and a story of love and friendship? Hook, line, and sinker. I adore books that explore the bond of friendship in particular, and this had it in droves!
Gwen, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?
Fiona had to gently break it to me that the second act needs a plot and it can’t just be a series of action scenes and explosions, no matter how awesome the explosions. My other big weakness was emotions. She kept telling me “you need to describe how Valya feels about this and I kept being like “Feelings? What are these feelings of which you speak?” Thao is still telling me to add more feelings, so listen to your mentors, boys and girls.
Meanwhile I mostly bombarded her with historical photographs. I will do this at the least provocation.
Fiona, tell us about your experience with mentoring Gwen. How was mentoring your other team members?
Mentoring Gwen was really engaging and interesting. She has such an intelligent, observant mind that one of the best parts was seeing what she came up with after suggestions were made. Gwen really took suggestions and ran with them, creating something uniquely her own. One thing that I really admired was her fearlessness in editing – some of the suggestions we worked on were the kind that you go “oh lord” but Gwen was 100% dedicated to making her book the best it could be.
As for my other team member? Carlee is a polar opposite from Gwen in personality, but has the same drive, editing fearlessness, and dedication to making her book work. I really loved the team I had the honor of working with. They are two seriously talented authors and I learned just as much from them as I hope they learned from me!
Gwen, after Pitch Wars you signed with Thao Le of Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, tell us about “The Call.” How long were you on submission? What did you do to distract yourself? How did Thao contact you? How did you respond? How did you celebrate? Anything! We love knowing it all.
First of all, I messed up the query, as in it actually ended in the middle of a sentence. Let that reassure you next time you notice a typo a second after hitting “send.”
Thao didn’t request Among the Red Stars; it was a regular slushpile query (See? They really do work). On manuscriptwishlist.com she was asking for an epistolary where two people fall in love through letters, which just happens to be the central conceit of my novel.
I had to do three rounds of R&Rs, starting with switching from third person to first person, before she made me an offer. But I didn’t mind because she had really good suggestions and I could tell she had the same vision for this book as I did. I eventually got two offers, but it was an easy choice because I’d enjoyed working with Thao so much.
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success?
If you had seen my first draft, you wouldn’t need to ask.
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both to answer:
You’re outnumbered by the bad guys, what mode of escape would you take? (ie a Tardis, a flying car, a flying carpet, something from your favorite food, etc.)? And why?
Gwen: Rescued, Androcles and the Lion-style, by a flying magical creature whose life I saved earlier in the story, because then I’d have an animal sidekick and that’s always handy.
Fiona: The real me would cry and stand in the middle of the place, unable to do anything other than blink. The me that wants to be awesome would say “I’d totally fight to the death”. Failing those? Travelling by Floo powder!
What fictional character would you like to spend the day with, and what would you do with him/her/it?
Gwen: The Bishop of Digne from Les Miserables, because he changes your life. My plans are flexible, but stealing his silver is traditional.
Fiona: Seriously, who comes up with these? They are way too hard. Hmm, okay…I’d want to spend the day with Katniss from the Hunger Games so she can show me how to man up! lol
What fictional character(s) best describes your personality?
Gwen: Cal from East of Eden.
Fiona: I think I’d be a cross between Hermoine Granger and Luna Lovegood – book smart but a bit dippy!
You just won an entry into a game show and you may only bring one fictional character with you to beat the clock. What show is it and who would you choose to join you?
Gwen: The game show would clearly be QI so I could hang with Stephen Fry. My fictional character would be Sherlock Holmes because he’s highly intelligent but he’s also from the past so he’d constantly be astounded by everyday things and it would be funny.
Fiona: Hermoine Granger hands down if it’s intellectual like Jeopardy…Tris from Divergent if it’s kick ass survival show!
You only have two hours to finish edits, what do you grab–coffee, tea, wine, hard liquor, or some fictional drink–to fuel you through the time crunch?
Gwen: Orange juice if it’s late, Newcastle if it’s early. You’d think it would be the other way around, but no.
Fiona: Coke. This is actually part of my staple diet much to everyone’s dismay of how unhealthy it is!!!
Who is your biggest supporter of your writing? What fictional character would best describe this person?
Gwen: My husband. I have some kind of filter with everyone else, but whatever goofy idea I come up with at three in the morning, Jordan immediately hears about. As a fictional character, he would be the loyal dog sidekick from any children’s book.
Fiona: It has to be two people – my sister Eve. She reads almost everything I write. She is amazing. I’d say she’s kind of like Charlotte from Charlotte’s web; compassionate, strong, and wise. And my partner Christos – despite not being an avid reader, he listens to all my ruminations on writing and really cheers me on…even when I get boring! He’s kind of like Gabe from the Hunger Games: bold, knows his mind, and caring.
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
Gwen: Subjectivity isn’t just something agents say to spare your feelings. Three of the Pitch Wars mentors I submitted to gave my query positive feedback, but the fourth said it didn’t work at all. And both positions are completely valid.
Fiona: I’d just like to say a huge thank you to Brenda for giving us this opportunity to connect, and a huge thank you to Gwen for letting me be a part of her book’s journey. It really is a fantastic experience.
Thank you, Gwen and Fiona, for sharing your success story with us. We couldn’t be happier about it around here – CONGRATULATIONS! Everyone, rush off and say hello, celebrate with them, and if you don’t already follow them, you totally should – they’re awesome!