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A Pitch Wars 2015 Success Interview with J.R. Yates and Kelly Siskind!

Monday, 23 November 2015  |  Posted by Brenda Drake


The best part of the contests for us around here is when we hear about successes. Today we celebrate J.R. Yates and her Pitch Wars mentor Kelly Siskind! J.R. recently signed with Stacey Donaghy with Donaghy Literary Group, and we couldn’t be more thrilled for her. So without further ado, please meet J.R. and Kelly as they recap their epically awesome Pitch Wars success story.

J.R., what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Kelly?

I had seen Kelly’s query critique post on Brenda’s blog and liked what she had to say. Initially, I couldn’t find her on the mentor list when it was released, but then I saw a Tweet from her and I immediately tweeted back asking where to find her profile. When I saw her mentor profile – that she was Canadian, and was looking for my genre – I was in. Plus, I loved her sense of humor. From the start she was one of my top choices.

Kelly, what about J.R. ’s application made you choose her?

First and foremost was her voice. Her first chapter had me sold. I loved that it was set in my home province of Ontario, but it was the way she brought the scenes and characters to life from page one. And God, her hero! I fell hard for him. He hit me right in the heart, this entire story sitting with me for days afterward. I knew I wanted to work with her, and I had a clear view of the structural and plot changes that would help the piece.

J.R., tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?

Kelly provided me with the edited manuscript immediately. They were in-depth, thorough and very specific. I was ecstatic with all the changes she suggested because everything she said made perfect sense to me. I was starving for the kind of feedback she had provided. I felt amazingly lucky to have found someone who completely got my story and had such great vision to help improve it. The revision period was very intense and a lot of work, but Kelly was there for me every step of the way. Her support was tremendous. Plus, she made it fun. We had a lot of laughs.

Kelly, tell us about your experience with mentoring J.R.

J.R. was a joy to mentor. She took every suggestion in stride. She worked her adorable little butt off cutting and adding scenes and chapters, and she even put up with the fact that I asked her to change her title. On a personal level, we just clicked. She not only put up with my dirty jokes but gave as good as she got. The whole experience was a pleasure.

J.R., after Pitch Wars you signed with Stacey Donaghy with Donaghy Literary Group. Tell us about “The Call.”

I received the email from Stacey on Thursday night just as I was typing out my cold queries following the completion of my last Pitchwars request. I expected it to be my first rejection following Pitchwars, but instead it said she wanted to set up a call for the next day!

I was leaving town at 10 am, so we scheduled The Call for 8:30 am my time, just after I dropped the kids off at the bus. It didn’t give me much time to prepare, but Stacey was so gracious and put me immediately at ease. She said such amazing things about my manuscript, things that were honestly a dream come true to hear, that I felt that I couldn’t get much better than her as she shared my vision for this story. Plus, she was Canadian, and for me that is a huge plus. I had a list of 15 + questions to ask, but in the end, I only asked her two questions; what publishers she wanted to approach and where she saw the project falling within the marketplace and I had everything I needed to know. It obviously helped that she also represents Kelly, who had nothing but great things to say about Stacey. In the end, it’s all about connection.

How do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success?

In every way possible! My manuscript would not be the version it is today without Kelly Siskind. I can say with absolute certainty that she changed the course of my writing career. There are few moments in life that you can point to and say, “This was a definite TSN turning point.” But Pitchwars was that for me. A life-altering event.

Aside from chiseling my manuscript into shape, I found such a supportive community that I know will help me refine my writing and future projects.

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)?

J.R.: Hogwarts! I need me an invisibility cloak!

Kelly: I’m not sure Dauntless from Divergent counts as an academy, but that’s my pick. Because Theo James.

What fictional character would be your confidante? Enemy? Idol? Kick-butt ally?

J.R.: I find this question weirdly difficult. I read a ton and yet…

I would have to say confidante would be Dumbledore, only the wisest and most powerful of all fictional mentors. (My mentor wins in the real-life category).

Enemy would be Amy from Gone Girl, because the B- be crazy and scares the hell out of me. I want nothing to do with her.

Idol would be Henry de Tamble, because he has the gift (and curse) of time travel…and hello, Henry de Tamble is the sexiest hero of all time.

Kick-butt ally would be Eric from True Blood, because he is sexy, good, evil, and fierce all at once. Someone you definitely want on your side.


Confidant: Cade Maxwell from Brighton Walsh’s CAGED IN WINTER. Because Cade Maxwell.

Enemy: Winter Jacobson from Brighton Walsh’s CAGED IN WINTER. Because Cade Maxwell.

Not sure I idolize any fictional characters, but my kick-butt ally would be Katniss all the way.

What fictional food/beverage would you most want to try?

J.R.: Schweddy Balls from the SNL skit featuring Alec Baldwin. Who can resist a snack with so much sexual innuendo?

Kelly: Neverfood. In Neverland. So I can imagine anything I want whenever I want, and it simply appears. (Husband agrees.)

You are faced with your nemesis! You instantly grab your trusty __________. (lightsaber, phaser, wand, mace, girly scream, katana, broadsword, etc)

J.R.: Timemachine! I’d get the hell out of there. Don’t judge. I’ve always wanted to travel through time.

Kelly: A wand made of Elder wood and unicorn hair.

What is your work fuel of choice? (food-wise)

J.R.: Nibs and gummy bears. Yes, I know that Kelly will likely say Gummy Bears too, but she is my sister-from-another-mister, and she doesn’t have a monopoly on the little fellas.

Kelly: Pretty sure I covered this last year, so this won’t surprise many people: GUMMY BEARS!

Whose work inspired you to start writing?

J.R.: Colleen Hoover’s Slammed inspired me to pursue a career in writing. She quoted a line from an Avett Brothers’ song in her dedication, “Decide what to be and go be it.” I realized I had no reason to NOT pursue my dream of being a writer.

Kelly: Early on, authors such as V.C. Andrews, Sidney Sheldon, and Anne Rice got me hooked on storytelling. John Green reminds me to add humor and quirk to my characters, while K.A. Tucker’s mastery of plot continues to amaze. I can also thank writers like the Christina Lauren duo and Emma Chase, who have helped inspire my love of fun, sexy books.

Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?

J.R.: Just a huge THANK YOU! Thank you to Brenda Drake for the opportunity she has provided to me and countless other writers through Pitchwars. Thank you to Kelly Siskind for picking my story out of her slush pile, seeing its potential, and mentoring me so that I could achieve that vision. And thank you to Stacey Donaghy for loving the story just as much and putting her faith in it.

Kelly: This was my first year as a mentor, and I loved every second of it. Can’t wait to do it again next year!

Thank you for sharing your success story. We couldn’t be happier about it – CONGRATULATIONS! Everyone, rush off and say hello, celebrate with them, and if you don’t already follow them, you totally should – they’re awesome!


J. R. Yates

J.R. Yates

Website | Twitter

J. R. Yates is a word nerd through and through. When she isn’t writing or reading, she practices as a pediatric speech-language pathologist (SLP) and mothers her three bilingual children. She often jokes that she spends all day at work trying to get kids to talk, and the rest of her time at home trying to get her kids to stop! Married to the love of her life, her favorite moments are quiet evenings with her husband sharing a nice glass of wine at their home in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.


Kelly Siskind

Kelly Siskind

Website | Twitter

A small-town girl at heart, Kelly moved from the city to open a cheese shop with her husband in Northern Ontario. When she’s not neck deep in cheese or out hiking, you can find her, notepad in hand, scribbling down one of the many plot bunnies bouncing around in her head.

She laughs at her own jokes and has been known to eat her feelings—Gummy Bears heal all. She’s also an incurable romantic, devouring romance novels into the wee hours of the morning.


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