The best part of the contests for us around here is when we hear about successes. Today we celebrate Kristen Valentine and her Pitch Wars mentor, Kellye Garrett! Kristen recently signed with Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, and we couldn’t be more thrilled for her. So without further ado, please meet Kristen and Kellye as they recap their epically awesome Pitch Wars success story.
Kristen, what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Kellye?
Kellye’s Pitch Wars wish list was so similar to my own tastes, it was like I could have written it! She name-checked Kinsey Millhone, Elvis Cole, The Wire, and The Closer—I read that and was sold. I wanted someone who loved the mystery genre, so Kellye was perfect. Plus, she sounded like she’d be a blast to work with (which wound up being true, of course).
Kellye, what about Kristen’s application made you choose her?
It just felt like Kristen’s manuscript for written specifically for me—and not just as a mentor but as a life-long fan of really well-written first person female private detective novels. (Those are my first love from the time I picked up my first Sue Grafton novel as a kid.) Picking a mentee was both the hardest choice and the easiest choice I had to make this year because I got over 80 submissions that were amazing in their own right—there are some seriously talented people out there—but as soon as I read Kristen’s submission, I just knew that it had to be mine. I may have even politely threatened a few other mentors over it.
Kristen, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?
We made some huge changes to the manuscript. Kellye’s main feedback was that the original version didn’t feel suspenseful enough, so we blew up the first 2/3 of it almost completely, introduced a new major character/plot element, scrapped several supporting characters and thousands of words of a flashback sequence that I loved but didn’t fit in with Mission: Suspenseful. As a die-hard Pantser, I balked a little when Kellye wanted me to use an outline but doing so wound up being incredibly helpful for seeing where the action beats fell and rearranging as needed. I sent Kellye the three acts of the rewritten manuscript as I finished them, and luckily she was happy with most of the changes and the second round of feedback was minimal. Kellye is a brilliant mentor because she has a great sense of pacing and she always knew exactly what a scene needed or how to end it in just the right place. And because she’s hilarious, even the tougher feedback was always easy to swallow.
Kellye, tell us about your experience with mentoring Kristen.
I half-jokingly have already told people that Kristen has ruined it for anyone I mentor next year because she literally was a dream mentee. It’s probably going to be like Jan Brady: Marcia, Marcia, Marcia—except it will be Kristen, Kristen, Kristen. I basically said, “I love this!!!! We need to rewrite most of it.” And her response was essentially, “Ok. When do we start?” Kristen may have privately balked about having to outline but she didn’t let on to me at all. In fact, she took to outlining amazingly well. She did all the heavy lifting. My job was just to sit back and supervise by occasionally suggesting things like “Maybe move this a few inches. Move that into a different section. And you know this thing right here? It should probably just be thrown away.” She never once complained. Not. Even. Once. I would be so excited when she would send me each act. You could just feel the love and dedication she put into her pages. I really do believe that her finished manuscript is the best mystery I read all year.
Kristen, after Pitch Wars you signed with Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Tell us about “The Call.” How long were you on submission? What did you do to distract yourself? How did Jill contact you? How did you respond? How did you celebrate? Anything! We love knowing it all.
Jill contacted me about four days after I sent her my manuscript, so I didn’t have long to wait. The Call wasn’t pre-arranged, so I wasn’t quite prepared. For the first half of the conversation, I thought we were talking about a revise & resubmit situation because Jill asked me if I was comfortable making some changes. But the changes she had in mind were not extensive, and after she outlined them, I asked what the next steps were—and then she offered representation! I was literally stunned speechless for a few seconds. After a second agent offered, I wound up speaking to Jill again two days later so that I could ask some questions I was too shocked to ask during the first call.
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success?
I really owe 100% of this present success to Pitch Wars. Even though I was happy with my original manuscript at the time, I can see that it is vastly, hugely, crazily improved by Kellye’s genius eye for pacing. Kellye never hesitated to run things past other people too, so I really had a lot of eyes on my manuscript, query, and pitch. Her fellow mentors Sonia Hartl and Roselle Kaes also read my complete manuscript shortly before the end of Pitch Wars and provided excellent feedback too. I also got a lot of great advice from other mentees. Basically, I feel like never in a million years could I have made as much progress as I did on LAST CALL without everyone’s help!
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?
Kristen: I’d probably go with the Batmobile because it has enough gadgets and tricks to get me out of any jam. That being said, if the escape was taking place during the early morning hours, I may be interested in using my bed as a mode of transportation, a la Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
Kellye: This feels like a prime opportunity to use my long dreamed-of superpower to instantly teleport from anywhere in the world to my living room couch. The bad guys would all be standing around confused and I would be relaxing while inhaling an entire bag of Snicker Bites and watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
What fictional character would you like to spend the day with, and what would you do with him/her/it?
Kristen: I’d love to job-shadow Kinsey Millhone or Spenser for the day. I’m pretty observant and good at finding patterns, so hopefully we could turn it into a working relationship. I’m sure an apprenticeship with a fictional private investigator would totally hold up to state licensing requirements!
Kellye: I would totally be Kristen’s plus-one when she is shadowing Kinsey or Spenser. I’d probably be like the annoying little sister. We’d all be on a stake-out and I’d be in the back asking lots of annoying questions like “Exactly how old is Hawk?,” having to get out to use the bathroom every 5 minutes and generally just ruining any and all of Kristen’s apprenticeship dreams.
What fictional character(s) best describes your personality?
Kristen: I’m a nerd about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test, and according to the internet, my personality type of INFJ is shared by Jane Eyre, Lisa Simpson, and Amelie. So somewhere in there, but with a healthy dose of sarcasm.
Kellye: I’m probably a less angry but still just as sarcastic and nosy black grown-up version of Veronica Mars.
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?
Kristen: I’d love to be on The Amazing Race. I’d take Jack Reacher because he’s good at solving problems and would also be adept at challenges that involve transporting heavy things across random foreign cities.
Kellye: I’d probably take Kinsey’s octogenarian landlord Henry Pitts on Wheel of Fortune. Henry is a retired baker who now creates crossword puzzles as a side-hustle so I feel like we’d kick serious butt. And if we did lose, he’d be able to bake me something amazing to make me feel better.
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?
Kristen: A cup of cinnamon tea to get me through the edits, and a shot of whiskey to celebrate when I’m done. Okay, several shots.
Kellye: (In my best Angela-Bassett-as-Tina-Turner voice): Coca-cola, please.
Who is your biggest supporter of your writing? What fictional character would best describe this person?
Kristen: My girlfriend, Joanna, is a huge supporter of my writing. She’s read everything and also endured countless discussions of plot and character motivation—and also patiently waited while I ignored all personal obligations during the Pitch Wars revision process. I can’t think of a comparison to a fictional character, but I hope someday I can write a character that does justice to how awesome she is. Joanna, if you’re reading this, I promise I’ll resume normal life soon.
Kellye: First, I was way more concerned that Joanna like Kristen’s revised manuscript than I was that even the agents like it. Second, although my parents and family support me in everything that I do, I have had a group of three writing friends (Stephanie, Mocumba and Linda) who have literally held my hand from the moment I told them that I had an idea for a mystery novel. There’s no way I could have written even a single word without them. And I’m sure as any group of single women in their thirties would do. I’ll say the four of us remind me of Sex and the City. I refuse to say who reminds me of who though!
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
Kristen: I just want to say THANK YOU again to everyone involved in Pitch Wars, including Brenda, Kellye, Sonia, and Rosey. And all the other mentors and all of my fellow mentees while I’m at it! You’re all completely amazing and so beyond generous with your time and energy. It is such an honor to be a part of this community, and this has been an incredible experience.
Kellye: I was a 2014 Pitch Wars mentee and I thought it was just the most amazing experience that could never ever be topped. But then Brenda and my Pitch Wars mentor Sarah Henning both believed that I might actually do well on the other side as a mentor. It was just as exciting and fun and (surprisingly) nerve-wracking as my initial go round and I’m so happy that I was able to experience it again. It also helped strengthen my bond with other 2014 mentees who also mentored this year and introduced me to people who I know will be life-long friends. Thank you so much Brenda for the opportunity, Sarah for continuing to let me ask you annoying questions, and to Kristen for being the most amazing mentee.
Thank you for sharing your success story, Kristen and Kellye. 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!
Kristen is a graphic designer by day and a mystery novelist by night. Her writing has been selected by Akashic Books’ Thursdaze, Grift Magazine, The Bitch Collective, and The Atticus Review, and She’s the editor of Betty Fedora, a mag devoted to crime fiction featuring kickass women. She likes whiskey, hotels, vintage cameras, and Oxford commas.
Kellye’s 15 years of professional writing experience runs the gamut from working on the CBS drama Cold Case to writing reports for a P.I. firm. A former editor for Vibe magazine, she holds a B.S. in magazine writing from Florida A&M University and an M.F.A. in screenwriting from the University of Southern California’s famed School of Cinematic Arts. She currently lives in her native New Jersey, where she commutes to Manhattan every day for her job as a communications writer at a leading media company. Pay Day is her first novel.