The best part of the contests for us around here is when we hear about successes. Today I am so beyond excited to introduce you to Susan Crispell and her Pitch Wars mentor Karma Brown for a Q and A regarding her recent success! Susan recently signed with Patricia Nelson of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. So as to not make this post a novel, we’ll jump right into the interview.
Susan, what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Karma?
When I read through Karm’s Pitch Wars post on her blog, I loved how much personality came through in her writing. She seemed like someone I would get along with, someone I would want to be friends with. And then I got to her wish list. The first thing she mentioned wanting was women’s fiction that included “those with magical realism, and in a perfect world, magic AND food)” like Sarah Addison Allen’s GARDEN SPELLS. And that’s exactly what WISHES TO NOWHERE is. She was my number one choice.
Karma, what about Susan’s application made you choose her?
I love magical realism, and magical realism + food, well, SWOON (two of my favourites are LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE and GARDEN SPELLS). So when I read Susan’s pitch – which included wishes baked into pies and a variety of other subtle and delicious magical elements — I knew it had to be mine.
Susan, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?
Revision was intense. But in such a good way. Karma warned me ahead of time that she was going to rip my manuscript apart and help me put it back together. That’s such a scary thing to hear as a writer, but I trusted her. And I willingly (excitedly!) signed up for this, so I wasn’t going to back down from the challenge. We started with a Skype call to go over the big picture things that needed to be nailed down (and simplified and streamlined) before revisions could start. Then over the next two months, we worked on about 5 chapters at a time, with Karma sending me detailed notes for revision and then me working on those changes and sending back to her to see if I was on the right track. She was always available for me to ask questions and brainstorm with. And she let me push back when I wasn’t sure I wanted to change something she suggested. Though every time, she was right. And after talking it through with her, I came around and the book is so much better for it.
Karma, tell us about your experience with mentoring Susan. How was mentoring your other team members?
Susan was a dream mentee (I think I said that about my last mentee as well…lucky me!) – she was ready for anything from the outset, and I knew she would work her a** off to whip the manuscript into shape. I had some pretty substantial (read: scary big) revisions for her to complete, and she jumped in without hesitation and polished that book beautifully. Same was true for Erin, my other mentee, and the three of us had a number of email exchanges to brainstorm pitches, query letter changes, and other writerly issues – we made a great team!
Susan, after Pitch Wars you signed with Patricia Nelson of Marsal Lyon 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 Patricia contact you? How did you respond? How did you celebrate? Anything! We love knowing it all.
I did! And I am so thrilled. Patricia didn’t request from me in Pitch Wars, so I found her through querying. I actually queried another agent at Marsal Lyon, who responded within an hour to my query saying she loved the idea and that she thought it would be perfect for Patricia, so she passed it along. Patricia then wrote me a little bit later that night requesting the full. After about two weeks, I got an excited email from her saying she was halfway through—and really enjoying it—and that she’d been to my blog and was interested in reading one of my YA manuscripts too. And I thought that was it. I was going to get an agent.
Then a few days later I got a very detailed R&R email from her telling me all the things she loved and then all the things she thought I’d need to rework for her to take it on. Needless to say, I was more than a little disappointed. (Especially since there was this blog post going around Twitter about why R&Rs don’t work most of the time and Patricia had retweeted it a few weeks before!) But like working with Karma in Pitch Wars, I wasn’t going to give up. And I agreed with everything Patricia said was missing from the story. Everything she wanted me to do resonated with me and after a week or being sad this wasn’t it (yet!) and of re-plotting and brainstorming, I dove into revisions. I had CPs read it and made more revisions. And then I sent it back to Patricia, terrified she would hate everything I’d done and that would be that. But she didn’t hate it. She loved it. Two days later, she emailed to say she was impressed with my revisions and wanted to talk. When we got on the phone, it was just like talking to a friend. Patricia raved about my book and had so many questions about how the magic worked and my MC’s background and motivation that it was obvious she had thought a lot about it. We talked about my others books, which she also seemed excited about, and at one point she said, “In case I haven’t made it clear yet, I would like to offer you representation.” And it wasn’t even a question about whether or not I would say yes.
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success?
Oh, my goodness, in so many ways. WISHES TO NOWHERE had been in two pitch contests before Pitch Wars and I had six requests from those. But responses had all come back with similar feedback: loved the concept but didn’t connect with it the way they wanted. So that was my focus with Karma. She identified bigger-picture details that could be changed to help make the MC more accessible (making her less standoffish and forcing her to interact with characters instead of pushing them away to show her softer side) as well as pinpointed places in the manuscript where I could drop in bits of backstory and internal emotion to make her feel more well-rounded and real. The story and characters were still very much mine, but Karma helped bring it all to the next level. And the level of support from Karma was amazing. She was constantly cheering me on and checked in often even after Pitch Wars was over to see how my querying was going. She is a rock star mentor!
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)?
Susan: This one is so tough! As much as I adore Harry Potter, I think I’d want to go through Grisha training ( from Leigh Bardugo’s SHADOW AND BONE series) instead of to Hogwarts. Grisha get more personalized training for their power/order as opposed to sitting through structured school classes and then having to sit for OWLs.
Karma: Hogwarts will now and forever be my answer. You can just copy and paste this one, Brenda 😀
What fictional character would be your confidante? Enemy? Idol? Kick-butt ally?
Confidante: Isla Martin from ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER because she totally seems like my kind of people.
Enemy: Voldemort, because it doesn’t get much more evil than that.
Idol: Veronica Mars for her wit, loyalty, and determination to stand up for what’s right.
Kick-butt Ally: Jared Lynburn from Sarah Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy series (UNSPOKEN, UNTOLD, and UNMADE) for his sarcasm, leather jacket, and never backing down from a fight.
Confidante: Hermione, obviously.
Enemy: Amy from GONE GIRL. That girl scares the hell out of me.
Idol: Katniss, obviously.
Kick-butt ally: I recently read BIRD BOX (terrifying; amazing), and I would definitely want the main character Malorie on my side. That is, if I ever find myself in a world where I can never remove my blindfold… (seriously, go read this book!)
What fictional food/beverage would you most want to try?
Susan: I’d eat anything from Claire Waverley’s kitchen (from GARDEN SPELLS and FIRST FROST by Sarah Addison Allen) and all of the cakes made by Julia Winterson (from THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON also by SAA). Though most of their recipes are real food, their magical touches would make eating their food everything that much sweeter.
Karma: Again, I’m certain I said this before but I’d like to try Butterbeer.
You are faced with your nemesis! You instantly grab your trusty __________. (lightsaber, phaser, wand, mace, girly scream, katana, broadsword, etc)
Susan: TARDIS. Plus then I’d be with the Doctor, traveling through space and time, and that would be amazing.
Karma: Wand! I grab my Phoenix Feather wand and shout, “Expelliarmus!”
What is your work fuel of choice? (food-wise)
Susan: I use dark chocolate sea salt caramels as motivation. When I hit my big milestone word counts, I get one (and not a word before!). So they’re not an all the time thing, but they definitely keep me writing toward my goals.
Karma: I pretty much graze all day while I write, and my go-to snacks are apples, cheese strings (I have a six year old and that’s what’s in the fridge), dark chocolate, and carrot sticks. And coffee. Which I count as a food group.
Whose work inspired you to start writing?
Susan: Starting to write was kind of a fluke for me. I signed up for a fiction writing class because I needed to sign up for something and it seemed interesting. It wasn’t until I read A TRIP TO THE STARS by Nicholas Christopher—an intricately woven, epic story of loss and being lost and finding yourself along the way—that I knew for sure I wanted to be a writer. And then discovering Sarah Addison Allen’s whimsical brand of magical realism helped me find my own quirky little niche.
Karma: I have always been a voracious reader, and will try anything at least once (book wise, to be clear). I’ve been inspired by a lot of different books, but authors who have stuck with me (to name only a few) are Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, Amy Tan, John Irving, Alice Hoffman, and recently, Sara Addison Allen, Liane Moriarty, and Jojo Moyes.
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
Susan: Just that being in Pitch Wars was such an amazing experience. It was a lot of hard work, but so completely worth it. Any writer wanting to take their manuscript to the next level should apply this year.
Karma: Thank you for doing what you do, Brenda! So many of us have benefitted from your contests, posts, and wisdom over the years, and I for one have been thrilled to be a small part of it through PitchWars. Also, congratulations again to Susan – she worked hard, and deserves all her success.
Thank you Susan and Karma for sharing your success story with us. We couldn’t be happier about it around here – CONGRATULATIONS! Everyone, rush off and go celebrate with them, and if you don’t already follow them, you totally should – they’re awesome!