The best part of the contests for us around here is when we hear about successes. Today we celebrate Nina Moreno and her Pitch Wars mentor Jaye Robin Brown! Nina recently signed with Laura Crockett and Uwe Stender of TriadaUS Literary Agency, and we couldn’t be more thrilled for her. So without further ado, please meet Nina and Jaye as they recap their epically awesome Pitch Wars success story.
Nina, what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Jaye?
A gut feeling. And I don’t mean to romanticize it after the fact of being chosen by her, but I’m a big believer in gut feelings, and Jaye was absolutely one for me. There was a spark when I got to her wish list where she described her love for YA, southern dramas, sharp storytelling, and big families. I knew she was someone who could get me and my voice, and I wanted so badly to be on her team. There’s a rhythm to southern fiction, and she had the ear and heart for it. I hoped with the burning fires of August in Florida that she’d pick me back.
Jaye, what about Nina’s application made you choose her?
Nina’s story, Hurricane Daughter, stood out to me from the beginning. It was my number one choice from the get-go and that never changed. I loved the voice, the atmosphere, and how immediately she connected me to her characters. Her first pages gave a real sense of what I could expect in the rest of the manuscript. As for application, she connected to my desire for poignant, bittersweet, layered stories that included family and setting as well as the main characters. It was apparent she’d done her research in choosing me and her letter was personal though I’d never interacted with her prior to Pitch Wars. Her blog was beautifully written, her Twitter feed was engaging and kind, and I really loved that she was just starting on her serious writing journey and that HD had not been over-shopped through queries.
Nina, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?
Well, it started with Jaye wondering if first person might work better for my story than the third person I’d written it in, and her curiously glancing over to see if I was willing to try. I grabbed the idea and took off with it. I jumped in and revised it into first and fell into an even deeper love with my own story. Jaye is an incredibly thoughtful, giving mentor. And she’s fearless like that. She hears beats and whispers and has this way of climbing right into your story and pulling you along, showing you the broken window you missed in this house you built. With a paint brush and a crowbar she creates magic. She had me and two alternates and she read our entire manuscripts. Several times. Her faith is absolute and she saved my moonshiners.
Jaye, tell us about your experience with mentoring Nina. How was mentoring your other team members?
Nina handed me a crowbar and told me to tear her story apart. She had no fear. She was not precious about her words and mostly she wanted to cannonball into the deep end of the pool. That kind of openness and “take me I’m yours” attitude is what I think is responsible for her getting agented with HER FIRST FULL MANUSCRIPT EVER. It took a little longer than either of us expected, but seriously, my first manuscript is deep in a drawer. Her tenacity and willingness to do the work is what brought her to this point with a story that is dear to her (and my) heart. I’m so excited for her and for the people who get to read Beau and Daisy’s story.
As for mentoring experience, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with amazing writers. I’ve maintained friendships with all five of my mentees. They are beautiful people in general. I tend to choose character driven stories that don’t always get snatched up as quickly as bold plot driven stories, but I have all faith that my 2014 mentees will have news sooner than later. It’s been fun to cheer on my ’13 alternate as she just got signed with her ’14 mentee manuscript. (Sarah Cannon and Oddity, Cat Scully mentor)
Nina, after Pitch Wars you signed with Laura Crockett and Uwe Stender of TriadaUS Literary Agency, tell us about “The Call.” Can you tell us the details about the offer: How long were you on submission? What did you do to distract yourself? How did Laura or Uwe contact you? How did you respond? How did you celebrate? Anything! We love knowing it all.
I was on submission for a year and a half. I actually signed a year after doing Pitch Wars, but with the same manuscript. After Pitch Wars I received such encouraging notes and a few requests for resubmitting, and then it was about revising, being patient and keeping my eyes on my own paper. Every time I thought about shelving it, I’d get another request, another set of excited notes, and it kept this manuscript alive. I sent Laura a query after looking up TriadaUS, and then a couple days later there was a #MSWL event on Twitter. I searched it for mentions of southern and YA and saw Laura’s tweet asking for it. It felt a little kismet and my gut started to whisper again. She requested a partial and then enthusiastically requested the full. I had other submissions out, and was down for playing the waiting game again.
On a Monday afternoon I missed a call from an unfamiliar number. I sat down to check the voicemail, then shot back up again when I heard Laura introduce herself before saying the most amazing things about my manuscript. My manuscript! And then she offered! I paced the house, shouted in all caps to my writer friends, and then after a lot of deep breaths and blasting some music for a confidence boosting dance break, I called Laura back. She’s amazing. She understood this swampy, murder ballad of a love story about this young Latina in the South. There was more dancing and dreamy disbelief. And Uwe is also the best and was so welcoming. I’m so excited to be Team Triada. I went out to eat at the lake with my family that night. We had fruity drinks with orange slices on the rim, sat beside the water as the sun set, and there was a Don’t Feed The Alligators sign next to our table. It was very Florida, which made it perfect.
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success?
This manuscript’s story feels like a long one because of the time it took from my first query to now, but it’s the first I’d ever queried, and I was so brand new and inexperienced when I started. I’d written other stories, because of course I had, but being such a terribly anxious introvert whose nerves fray when it gets close to being my turn, I shelved before trying to go further. But something about this story made me take a deep breath and finally try. As much research as I’d done before, I was still terrible. Awful, really. My first queries were bloated and clumsy. I didn’t know many other writers and I was the kid holding my tray in the cafeteria who had no idea where to sit. Pitch Wars was a crash course in all of it. I learned so much about querying, pitching and revising, but I also learned how to put myself out there, and reach out to other writers. I learned to wait, focus, and keep writing. I’m forever grateful to Brenda and this contest. And the best part is that I got an amazing, supportive group of friends out of it. After Laura offered I immediately shouted in all caps at my best friend, Kristine, also a writer, as well as my PW teammate, Sarah, and Jaye. Sarah had to remind me how phone calls worked.
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both to answer: What fictional academy/university/school would you most want to attend? (ie Starfleet Academy, Hogwarts, Jedi Academy, Camp Half-Breed, Battle School in Space, Beauxbatons, etc)?
Nina: Hogwarts. I want to be super fierce and say Jedi Academy, but I was made for the Hufflepuff common room. Snacks, blankets, some books and then a stroll over to my herbology lesson? I will take all the notes, drink all the tea, and maybe most probably sneak into the kitchen.
Jaye: Hogwarts, mostly because I think the meals would be amazing. You wish it, there it is. I could be very down with that.
What fictional character would be your confidante? Enemy? Idol? Kick-butt ally?
Nina: My confidante would be Leslie Knope. I just want a seat at her table on Galentine’s Day. My enemy is forever and ever the awful Dolores Umbridge who is basically a Dalek. My idol is Atticus Finch. His words are carved somewhere deep in my chest. And to fight alongside Rose Hathaway from the Vampire Academy series would be awesome.
Jaye: Confidante: Zuzana from Laini Taylor’s trilogy – she is basically the best friend ever. Enemy: Eleanor’s stepdad in Eleanor and Park, because, ugh. Idol: Elise from This Song Will Save Your Life – so cool this girl. Kick-butt ally: Sam McKenna from Rites of Passage – This girl kicks butt and takes prisoners. I would definitely want her on my side in a dark alley.
What fictional food/beverage would you most want to try?
Nina: Living near Orlando means theme parks, so I’ve been lucky enough to go to Wizarding World and try Butterbeer and cauldron cakes (so good!) but I think I’d like to try a dehydrated pizza from the Hill Valley Pizza Hut. Now that it’s 2015 everyone is asking where our hoverboards are, but I’m really concerned about the future of snacks.
Jaye: Hard question since I read/write mostly contemporary. Therefore, real food. But I wouldn’t mind sampling the chocolate river at Willy Wonka’s factory! (though I’ll stay away from the blueberry gum)
You are faced with your nemesis! You instantly grab your trusty __________. (lightsaber, phaser, wand, mace, girly scream, katana, broadsword, etc)
Nina: I grab my sonic screwdriver and then am swiftly accused of trying to build a cabinet.
Jaye: Siamese Cat. They are serious vicious when needed.
What is your work fuel of choice? (food-wise)
Nina: Coffee. All the coffee. Also, Chai Lattes when I’m feeling fancy.
Jaye: Jelly Bellies!
Whose work inspired you to start writing?
Nina: I once came across the Saul Bellow quote, “A writer is a reader moved to emulation.” It shifted something significant for me. The eternal reader holed up in her room with a pile of paperbacks suddenly understood that her own notebooks of words and make-believe meant something too. They counted. It was a lit match for me that still warms me when I get a little lost. After that everything fed me in different ways. From twangy songs about broken hearts to French films about everyday magic and my dad’s stories about growing up in Cuba.
Jaye: There was no specific work that got me started writing. But I always feel inspired by the stories of Barbara Kingsolver, the poems of Mary Oliver, the humor of Carl Hiassen, and the worlds of Laini Taylor.
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
Nina: Don’t wait for it to become your turn. Go out there and find your team, keep your fire lit as best you can, and fall in love with your words over and over again.
Jaye: Write for you. Write what you love, what you want to read, the stories you want to tell. Publishing is fickle and though being published is a miraculous thing, and a worthy goal, it will not fill your soul well and shouldn’t be viewed as the ultimate carrot. Your words should do that for you. And read, read, read.
Thank you, Nina and Jaye, 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!