The best part of the contests for us around here is when we hear about successes. Today we are so happy to have Paula Garner and her Pitch Wars mentor Lindsey Sprague here for a little Q and A. Paula recently signed with Molly Jaffa with Folio Literary. So as to not make this post a novel, we’ll jump right into the interview.
Paula, you were chosen for Pitch Wars, which was such a great accomplishment with over 2,000 applications and about 660 writers entering. What made you decide to send an application to Lindsey?
I actually didn’t submit to Lindsey! I had narrowed the field down to seven who sounded perfect for me (a group that included Lindsey), and of those seven I kept agonizing over trying to guess which four would like my manuscript best. I hemmed and hawed and finally ran out of time and just picked four. That Lindsey found me anyway suggests that it was meant to be.
I wasn’t aware that you hadn’t applied to Lindsey. Definitely shows what a great eye she has! Lindsey, what about Paula’s application made you choose her?
One of my favorite things about this story is that it shows what a strong community this is. Someone approached me in regards to Paula’s entry, saying it wasn’t really for them, but it sounded like something I would like. I read the first paragraph and I couldn’t even. I’d lost my ability to even. I was hooked from the first sentence (which is totally ironic because a lot of our edits ended up taking that paragraph out, but it still is very dear to my heart) and I found this weird connection between her work and my own. I genuinely felt that we thought similarly and approached writing problems the same, which I thought would be great.
As for the MS itself, it had everything I didn’t know I wanted. When I got more information, I simply fell in love with Otis and the fantastic sensitive (but not too sensitive), mature (but not condescending), smartass-y (but not douchey or mean) voice he brought. He is a beautiful, complex person who – if he was real – I would consider a delight to have as a friend. That’s it. That’s the beauty of this MS: it had characters that felt real and good, flawed and floundering, but uplifting and inspiring. Dara alone had me at ‘hello,’ although I’m certain she wouldn’t use the word ‘hello,’ but something much more colorful. It was beautiful and real, simply great writing, a great voice, and a beautiful metaphor woven throughout this MS that I could – quite literally – fangirl for hours. (well, there was a lot of shot-taking via Twitter, but that’s an entirely different story… *winks at Paula*)
It was love at first sight and, as they say, the rest is history. So Paula, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?
Most of Lindsey’s comments were actually positive (I still remember laughing when she said she loved Otis’s father so much she wished he could be on every page of the novel.) We spent the bulk of the time working on the pitch and the sample. I might have been a little obsessive—I sent Lindsey something like seventeen dozen million pitches for her to pick from. She was amazing. She narrowed it down to a couple and we chose from there. And she was determined that the opening sample better reflected Otis’s voice, so we worked on that excerpt quite a bit.
It’s so wonderful when someone gets your work. And Lindsey, tell us about your experience with mentoring Paula? How was mentoring your other team members?
Oh my gosh, one of my favorite and most mortifying experiences came the day the announcement of teams came out. I can’t even remember how this came to be, but Paula mentioned Iron Chef vaguely in one of the first emails and I got so excited that I wrote back “I LOVE IRON CHEF”… … … …and pushed send by accident without writing anything else. I was 598% mortified. Because I was super nervous about being a mentor in the first place and then one of my first emails was this ridiculous sentence in full caps. I straight up Flynn Ryder-ed it and was thinking, “…this is the story… of how I died…”
I think that’s a good sum up of our process.
But in all seriousness, Paula’s great. The MS was amazing and as she stated, we focused a lot on the pitch and the first pages for the application. There was a lot of cyber-wine involved, which may not be as good as actual wine, but it’s a close second. I have no doubt in my mind that this book will find a loving home and I’m so happy it’s happening to someone like Paula.
I loved my team so much. I wish you could all buy their books right now and read them, simply so I could have someone to fangirl over with. Abigail’s was simply beautiful and it hit my soft spot for father/daughter relationships. I have a personal connection with rooftop star-gazing and it made me feel, you know? Like when a book hugs you? Just me? Alright then… I wish we had more of an opportunity to chat – the evil Gmail monster of doom got between us for a while (alas, alack!), but don’t worry. True love will always conquer. Lora Beth (*ELBIE*) wrote, quite frankly, one of the funniest books I’ve read in a while and it appealed to all my fangirl sides. I read it on a plane and I kept wanting to turn to the person next to me and be like, “Listen to this paragraph, it’ll change your life!” As much as I think the business man sitting next to me, sleeping with headphones in, would appreciate that…
I could go on and on about these ladies. Seriously, if you’re not friends with them and fangirlling, I have a three-step process of awesome: 1) Stop what you’re doing. 2) Go meet them. 3) Enjoy your new, lovely friends. They are all gracious, funny, friendly, TALENTED, beautiful women and I consider myself very lucky to have had any part in their lives. For real. Sometimes I just have to sit back and ponder, ‘How is this my life?!’
Aww, sounds like a wonderful team. You have me tearing up over here, Lindsey. Now Paula, what was the wait like during the agent round and the days leading up to the offer?
The wait for the agent round was LONG and the days leading up to offers were SHORT—I had my first offer within a week. I ended up with five offers, which never would have happened without PitchWars. Honestly, PitchWars was one of the luckiest things that’s happened to me. And not just for the success story, but for the way my circle of writer friends expanded through the process. Which leads me to take this opportunity to thank you again, Brenda. And you, Lindsey!
Wow, you raked it in. I’m sure the decision was tough and torturous. Paula, you signed with Molly Jaffa with Folio Literary tell us about “The Call.”
I was already kind of in love with Molly before the call—she just seemed the perfect combination of sweet but strong, brilliant but respectful, classy but good-humored, and that totally carried through on the phone. What I most remember about the call, though, was embarrassing myself with an unexpected surge of emotion when talking about one of the characters in PHANTOM LIMBS. To my horror, my voice wobbled a little, and I was like, self? Don’t even! You are so not going to CRY on your agent call with Molly Jaffa. But Molly was so great about it—really lovely and understanding. She told me that she cries if anyone cries, which astounded me because that’s exactly how I am. And I was so excited to think that with Molly, I might not always be the only basket case in the room. I was already wowed by her reputation and I absolutely loved her feedback about the novel, and then this? I just had such a good feeling about her—I trusted her completely.
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)?
Paula: Well, since Harry Potter is the only book/series I’ve read of this sort, it has to be Hogwarts.
Lindsey: HOGWARTS, HOGWARTS, Hoggy-warty Hogwarts, teach us something please!! (And yes, I can sing this song from memory, a la Fred and George doing it to the funeral march. Wait. Fred + funeral march = not enough wine in this planet to quell my sorrow.)
I started reading Harry Potter in 3rd grade, so I was around 10 at the time. When I turned 11, I distinctly remember having this horrible realization that not only was Harry Potter fake, even if it wasn’t I was a MUGGLE. I cried. You may think I’m kidding, but I am not.
Ha! Everyone loves Hogwarts. We should have a writer’s retreat to the Harry Potter theme park! Who wants to organize it? Anyway, Paula and Lindsey, what fictional character would be your confidante? Enemy? Idol? Kick-butt ally?
Paula: I’d have my eye on McGonagall for my new bff. I would love to get her out for a few drinks. I used to work at a residential facility run by nuns, and my favorite nun, who shall remain nameless, loved to go out for margaritas after work. She was always the one to say, “Come on, girls, let’s have just one more.” And then she was a hoot— uncensored, irreverent, hilarious. I’d like to coax out this side of McGonagall.
Confidant? It’s almost distressing how difficult I’m finding this question. But, in all honesty, I’d go with Hermione Granger. Talk about fierce. *Beyonce snap*
Enemy: I have never hated any living/nonliving being as much as I detested Professor Umbridge.
Idol: Mrs. PiggleWiggle. Wait, is that weird? I don’t care. I loved her so much when I was little. I always wondered about the glorious woman in the upside down house.
Kick-butt ally: I’m using Hermione again. Let’s be honest – Harry may be a human horcrux, but Hermione is a human library.
And again, I’m sensing a theme here with the Harry Potter characters. What fictional food/beverage would you most want to try?
Paula: I’m the kind of person who likes to taste everything. I’d probably just take a seat in the Great Hall at Hogwarts and eat until they had to roll me out.
Lindsey: Woah, I have absolutely no idea. I recently made myself a ‘Butterbeer’ coffee at work (espresso, steamed milk, carmel, toffee nut, and whipped cream) and it was way too sweet for me – I barely drank half. I suppose it’s not really an item, but I would love to dine with some Hobbits. Second breakfast is one of my favorite meals. I’m known for carrying snacks with me (like a squirrel, it’s really ridiculous), and whenever someone comments about it, I’m always like, ‘…but what about second breakfast?!’
Well, I now know to give you both Harry Potter themed gifts. Not saying I’m getting you gifts, just saying I know what to get. Umm … yeah, let’s get to the next question, shall we? You are faced with your nemesis! You instantly grab your trusty __________. (lightsaber, phaser, wand, mace, girly scream, katana, broadsword, etc)
Paula: This is so not my area. Would Lindsey be there? If she were there, I’d probably grab her. If she weren’t there, I’d probably grab a pillow and bury my head under it. Wait, no—I’d grab my trusty bottle of absinthe and unleash the mythical green fairy! I’m not sure how she’d handle my enemy, but I have a feeling she’d be pretty fierce.
Lindsey: I do NOT trust myself with any sort of weapon – I’m not kidding. Me? I am straight up like Bambi learning how to walk. I have a deep, meaningly relationship with the ground. If you have time, I’ll tell you a really wonderful story that involves my brother, a hunting bow, double jointedness, which later resulted in my arm looking like someone shot it with a pellet gun.
But when faced with my nemesis? I would stun them with my…rhetoric? (Literally I could bore someone to death, bring up gravitational force with me or ask me about my library of science jokes I DARE YOU)
Wow, I’m going to make sure I never face a nemesis with you guys. I’d have to protect you both. On ward. What is your work fuel of choice? (food-wise)
Paula: I don’t eat while I’m working, which is probably why my characters think about food all the time and eat so much. When I do eat, I’m a big fan of the underdogs (cilantro, black licorice, stinky cheeses, anchovies, etc.) and extremely spicy ethnic food of all sorts. I’m also a cocktail nerd and wine lover. My morning beverage is a single cup of rich, perfect black coffee with a shot of espresso added. I can’t wait to hear what Lindsey’s is, since she was a barista.
Lindsey: I totally have a thing. But once I tell you the thing, you’ll make fun of me for the thing. I have this thing about mints. Like, they are literally my life blood. (That’s right folks – Lindsey Sprague: 60% water, 21% Sass, 14% Bacteria, 5% LIFESAVERS Pep-O-Mints) I eat them nonstop when I write. I’m eating them right now, actually.
Well, Lindsey, Paula has you beat on the weird fuel of choice. I’m still gagging a bit here, and I’m hoping she doesn’t eat them all at the same time. The coffee is cool, though. I’ll have to try that. And now, whose work inspired you to start writing?
Paula: I read like mad when I was a kid. Judy Blume was a biggie for me. And I remember reading Lois Duncan’s Summer of Fear about a thousand times. I also loved the old John Bellairs books at the library, especially the House with a Clock in its Walls—great characters and lots of fun, but also scary and atmospheric. Later, as a teen, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter had a huge impact on me. The first story I ever wrote, though, was in first grade, and it was called Runaway Rose. It was about a rose who got pregnant and was ostracized by the rest of the garden and had to run away. You know, the usual concerns of any six-year-old. (Clearly I was destined to write angst-y YA.)
Lindsey: Okay, I feel like this entire interview is me explaing why you should all immediately unfollow me on Twitter because of the oddities. I started writing because of Indiana Jones. That is a cold, hard fact. When I was in 6th grade, my dad and I watched Raiders of the Lost Arc. Once it was over, instead of revelling in the amazingness of the movies and Harrison Ford (although, that makes some semblence of sense because I was, like, 12 and, ew, cooties), I remember being hit with this profound realization that OH MY GOSH SOMEONE WROTE THAT STORY AND THAT’S AN ACTUAL THING HOW CAN I DO THAT THING THAT IS REAL AND OH MY GOSH GIANT BOULDERS.
That is a direct quote.
The next day I decided I wanted to write a novel. I have it written on this little piece of paper in my awful, scratchy handwriting that says *Publish a novel before you are done with school. I know I meant high school at the time, but I’m in graduate school now – does that still count?
No one may unfollow Lindsey on Twitter. We like weird around here. Last question: Which team are you? Team Brenda or Team Rae? Kidding. No really. Thank you for sharing your success story. Rae and I couldn’t be happier about it – CONGRATULATIONS!
Paula: So hard! Brenda, you’ve been such a good friend to me these last weeks, but Rae can cook Korean food!!! *bites nails* I can’t choose!
Lindsey: THAT IS SOPHIE’S CHOICE.
You both are chickens. I would have picked Rae. She does interviews better than me. Ha!
No seriously, wonderful interview you two! Congratulations on the success, and we can’t wait to hear about more successes in the future. Everyone else, go say hello to them on Twitter.
Why are you still here? Scram. Give them some love!