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A Pitch Wars Team Interview with Steve Hugh Westenra and mentor, K.A. Doore

Tuesday, 5 February 2019  |  Posted by Lisa Leoni

Our mentors are editing, our mentees are revising, and we hope you’re making progress on your own manuscript! While we’re all working toward the Agent Showcase starting on February 6, 2019, we hope you’ll take a moment during your writing breaks and get to know our 2018 Pitch Wars Teams.

Next up, we have . . .

Steve Hugh Westenra
Steve Hugh Westenra
K.A. Doore
K.A. Doore
Website | Twitter

Kai, why did you choose Steve?

The haunting first pages were what initially drew me in, and after that I had to keep reading because it was quite unlike anything I’d read before. Skaldsdottir’s Saga features a strong f/f relationship that is never once in question, legitimately terrifying monsters, and an underlying celebration of found family that brought warmth to a story otherwise full of horror. When I found myself puzzling out all the themes and all the ways to make the story stronger instead of sleeping, I knew I’d found my mentee.

Steve, why did you choose to submit to Kai?

I was really excited this year to see a number of mentors looking specifically for MSS featuring queer characters, many of whom seemed to be queer themselves, which was a plus for me.

Kai was on the top of my list because her wishlist seemed to align so much with my Pitchwars MS. Apart from her love of queer stories, I was exited that she was interested in dark fantasies that weren’t necessarily grimdark (I tend to live in that awkward space). I’m also kind of scatterbrained and excitable a lot of the time, and something in the way she wrote about what she was looking for made me think: a) This person will keep me constrained, and b) This person will understand. I also got a friendly and down-to-earth vibe from her bio, and my partner thought we’d work well together (I may have solicited advice on my mentor longlist–hah!). The enthusiasm and genuine excitement in Kai’s bio made me feel equally excited to submit to her. As someone who’s normally very shy I liked that she came off as knowledgeable and confident, yet approachable and easy to relate to.

For the first time since I started entering Pitchwars I didn’t really participate in any of the lead-up to submissions, and I wasn’t around Twitter a whole lot, so my choices were largely based on the Pitchwars bios (and what I knew of returning mentors already). This did not, I should admit, stop me from Twitter-stalking the Pitchwars hashtag or the SFF mentors once I *had* submitted, however.

Having now spoken to Kai a few times, and chatted over e-mail, I’m so glad I submitted to her. I was very nervous about our first Skype chat, but basically as soon as we started talking it was very relaxed and casual (you know, like normal human talking times . . . I promise I can do those).

Kai, summarize Steve’s book in 3 words.

Atmospheric queer horror

Steve, summarize your book in 3 words.

Lesbian vikings, ghosts

Kai, tell us about yourself. Something we may not already know.

I lived in Tucson for six years, where it routinely reaches 115+ degrees in the summer. One year, we decided to test whether or not we could bake cookies in a car during a heat wave. Turns out: yes. It just takes about five hours. And they’re super chewy.

Steve, what do you hope to get out of the Pitch Wars experience?

It was easy for me, during the years I hadn’t been selected for Pitch Wars, to imagine it as this grandiose thing that resulted (not always, but most of the time) in representation and eventual book deals for everyone. Clearly that is not the case, and while I’m beyond excited about the showcase and (semi) confident in my ability to pull all this madness off, I’m mostly enjoying the wild ride of meeting so many wonderful writer friends. Thanks to Kai’s help and encouragement I already have a lot of new ideas, and have managed to identify some of the major issues with my MS that were hampering my ability to improve it on my own.

Its early in the process for me, but I hope to come out of this with a stronger MS, good friends, and *fingers crossed* some requests, and *fingers and toes crossed* an agent, and *fingers and toes and arms and legs crossed* a book deal and millions of dollars and a haunted mansion and a fancy top hat (basically I will be the monopoly man).

Short answer: Please Pitch Wars, fulfill my lifelong(?) desire to become the monopoly man.

Steve, tell us about yourself! What makes you and your manuscript unique?

Skaldsdottir’s Saga combines a lot of narrative elements I find aren’t often placed in conversation with one another. Its full of deep dark secrets, haunted woods stalked by ancient gods, and awkward references to Welcome to Night Vale. I drew on a lot of disparate inspirations (the history of the Scandinavian conversion to Christianity, Twin Peaks, the weird but endearing colloquialisms of Northern England and Newfoundland), but I think where it shines brightest is in its emphasis on humour and family in the face of tragedy and exile.

As a queer reader, I’m always on the hunt for SFF featuring incidentally queer characters, and this was something that was important to me writing Skaldsdottir’s Saga. I didn’t want to write a book about lesbians being sad about lesbianism, or about queer drama, or about coming out (though these are all worthy topics and themes to tackle!). It’s been my experience that mainstream culture (and to some degree queer culture) doesn’t like to talk about what happens after you come out, or after high school, or after you stop being the only gay in the village. For these reasons I chose to focus on two women who’d already been together for a while when the story started, who’d been through thick and thin, and whose story wasn’t about the fact that they were queer, but whose characterization was nonetheless informed by their positionality.

My writing has always been informed and influenced by my academic research. Though my book isn’t historical fiction, I draw a lot on my knowledge of late antiquity and the middle ages. For a long time, mainstream history tended either to ignore people who didn’t fit in, or to clothe them in the skins of its monsters, and so I also see Skaldsdottir’s Saga as a small attempt at a reclamation of those lost histories. As an academic who studies monsters and the monstrous, I’ve always been interested in the status of the outsider, and how monsters have been used both to oppress and empower marginalized persons. While Skaldsdottir’s Saga explores these themes, I hope it also conveys some of my love for monster stories more broadly–for the refusal of the monster to be cleanly categorized, and for the bold embodiedness of our favourite beasts and baddies.

Check out Kai’s upcoming release, THE PERFECT ASSASIN!

A novice assassin is on the hunt for someone killing their own in K. A. Doore’s The Perfect Assassin, a breakout high fantasy beginning the Chronicles of Ghadid series.

Divine justice is written in blood.

Or so Amastan has been taught. As a new assassin in the Basbowen family, he’s already having second thoughts about taking a life. A scarcity of contracts ends up being just what he needs.

Until, unexpectedly, Amastan finds the body of a very important drum chief. Until, impossibly, Basbowen’s finest start showing up dead, with their murderous jaan running wild in the dusty streets of Ghadid. Until, inevitably, Amastan is ordered to solve these murders, before the family gets blamed.

Every life has its price, but when the tables are turned, Amastan must find this perfect assassin or be their next target.

Thank you for supporting our Pitch Wars Teams! The Agent Showcase is February 6 – 11, 2019. If you’re an agent and would like to participate, you must register here: https://pitchwars.org/info-for-agents/.

We hope you’ll join us to support our teams on the Twitter hashtag #PitchWars.

Filed: Interviews

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