The best part of the contests for us around here is when we hear about successes. Today we are so happy to have Casey Lyall and her Pitch Wars mentor, Naomi Hughes, here for a little Q and A. Casey recently signed with Molly Ker Hawn of The Bent Agency. So as to not make this post a novel, we’ll jump right into the interview.
Casey, what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Naomi?
Naomi had amazing editing experience, she was looking for humour and quirkiness, and she had a list of favourite authors and books that I loved. My brain is about 50% cookies, 50% jokes, so I was definitely looking for a mentor with a similar sense of humour to mine. She’d written an awesome poem for her profile, outlining what she was looking for. After I read it, I thought – “This is hilarious and definitely something I would do. We should be friends.”Spoiler alert: we’re totally friends now.
Naomi, what about Casey’s application made you choose her?
Voice! Casey has this amazing, hilarious noir voice for her manuscript, and it was so strong that by the end of the first page I could practically hear the old-style detective music playing in the background. She was a top contender right away, and after I requested and read her first three chapters, no one else’s manuscript even came close to having that same spark for me. I had a huge grin on my face the whole time I was reading and her two main characters felt so real and just so much fun to hang out with. I sent her an email afterwards to feel her out, and when I discovered that she was professional and dedicated in addition to being a great writer, I immediately knew she would be my pick. (A few of the other mentors were also considering her at this point. I may have threatened them a tad excessively, as I seem to recall something about a potential shanking, but I dunno, I’m pretty sure no one can prove anything… *sets fire to old emails*)
Casey, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?I was already over the moon about Naomi choosing me to mentor but it quickly became clear how incredibly lucky I was. I went into this process with little experience and I was super nervous. Naomi’s enthusiasm for my story was fantastic and she gave me excellent notes to work with. She was super calm and supportive as I flailed my way through revisions. She gave me a huge amount of her time and was always willing to answer my endless questions. It was an amazing and exhilarating few weeks. I apologize to everyone who had to put up with me during that time. (Dealing with me when I’m at Excitement Level 10 can be…tiring.)
Naomi, in all her fabulousness, continued to work with me after Pitch Wars. I’ve learned SO much from her about writing and publishing in general. Basically, her awesomeness can never be overstated.
Naomi, tell us about your experience with mentoring Casey. How was mentoring your other team members?
Casey was (and is–she’s my critique partner now!) a dream to work with. She pushes herself hard to improve her craft and make her work the best it can be, and I admire that so much. I think we did one big critique sweep before the agent round, and then we went over smaller problem areas several times to make sure everything was working out the way it should. We also emailed back and forth every few days to check in and take care of any revision issues that came up. My other two team members from the 2013-14 Pitch Wars, Amy and Nicole, were also lovely and very professional. Due to time issues I only got to critique their first few chapters, but both had tons of potential (and Nicole even ended up being another mentor’s top pick the following year!).
Casey, after Pitch Wars you signed with Molly Ker Hawn of The Bent Agency, tell us about “The Call.” How long were you on submission to agents? What did you do to distract yourself? How did Molly contact you? How did you respond? How did you celebrate? Anything! We love knowing all the details!
Oh, goodness – that is a long (but fun) story!After Pitch Wars, I had some requests – I kept querying and ended up with a nice little pile of rejections. A few agents were kind enough to give me concrete feedback to work with and I decided to stop querying and overhaul my story. I cut close to half of the book and worked on rewriting it from March to August. At the end of August, I sent HOWARD WALLACE, P.I. back out to the agents interested in seeing the revision. I did Pitch Madness in September and got two more requests. My confidence was creeping back up so I sent out more queries and received more requests! From August to October, I filled my time with happy-dancing, obsessively checking Query Tracker, and stalking agents on Twitter.
In mid-October, I received an e-mail from one of the agents asking for a call. It turned out to be THE CALL! That in itself was awesome and I might’ve had a major freak out. I e-mailed all the other agents who had material from me and let them know I had an offer. I had a week to decide.
*cue the montage of me answering e-mails, talking on the phone, lying on the floor, and taking all the acid reflux medicine*
I ended up with three offers to consider, all from lovely and amazing agents. I did what any respectable Pitch Wars mentee would do: I called my mentor! Naomi said to go with my gut (which is easier said than done when your gut is full of Pepto Bismol). I signed with my agent because I’d felt such a great connection with her during our phone call and through our e-mails. She loved my story and she totally got me, my style, and my humour. It was a really tough decision but ultimately, I had to go with who I felt the most sparkles with and that was Molly Ker Hawn.
I celebrated with my friends and family and cupcakes (and a bit of a book splurge). I partied for as long as I’d been stressed out so it was a ten day bender of awesomeness.
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success?
Casey: Pitch Wars was instrumental to my success. I’m not exaggerating when I say it completely changed the path of my writing career. Through the contest, I gained CPs and made amazing friends for life. I learned a ton about myself as a writer and the publication process. Probably the greatest thing I gained from Pitch Wars was learning how kind, supportive, and helpful other writers can be and the value of sharing that support.
Naomi: I love having been able to vicariously live Casey’s Pitch Wars success. It’s been such an exciting (and occasionally grueling) time! Pitch Wars has actually been a huge help with my own success too–in the 2012-13 contest, I was chosen as an alternate and landed my own amazing agent, Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. But more than that, Pitch Wars introduced me to the amazing community on Twitter, which in turn opened my eyes to a huge world of new craft resources. Not only did I land my agent, but I became a better writer, made approximately a zillion friends, and eventually became a freelance editor–and it all started with Pitch Wars.
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)?
Casey: Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts!
Naomi: Starfleet Academy. Mainly because: Chris Pine. (Also Zachary Quinto, and their awesome bromance. Just a little bit. Okay, slightly more than a little bit.)
What fictional character would be your confidante? Enemy? Idol? Kick-butt ally?
Casey: Confidante: Jo March and Anne Shirley. They’re totally my kindred spirits.
Enemy: The Trunchbull! She’s so horrible and nasty. I would relish taking her down.
Idol: Some sort of metahuman combination of Veronica Mars, Minerva McGonagall, and Geraldine Granger.
Kick-butt ally: The Nac Mac Feegles. Those dudes can help you out of pretty much any jam.
Naomi: I would LOVE to be friends with Eugenides from Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series, because he’s the cleverest and overall most awesome character ever. (I would also like to be friends with Irene, but she’s slightly terrifying so I think I would just admire her from afar.) As far as allies, I would pick Artemis Fowl, because he’d be the guy you want on your side in a battle of wits–plus if you ever get in an *actual* battle, he’s got Butler to back us up. As for enemies, I would like Loki, please. We could have hilarious snarky dialogue right before me and Eugenides and Artemis kick his butt, and then later he could sulk in that adorable way he does.
What fictional food/beverage would you most want to try?
Naomi: Butterbeer! It just sounds so tasty and cozy.
You are faced with your nemesis! You instantly grab your trusty __________. (lightsaber, phaser, wand, mace, girly scream, katana, broadsword, etc)
Casey: I was going to say wand because it’s versatile and provides a respectable distance between you and most splatter. HOWEVER – if I’m being honest, probably the most Casey-ish weapon would be the Care Bear Stare.
Naomi: I would like to claim that I would immediately bean the intruder with my good ol’ quarterstaff (which is technically fictional), but I’d probably just scream and hightail it to my neighbor’s house while mentally plotting my vengeance. Unless it’s Loki. Then I’d stick around for the snarky dialogue.
What is your work fuel of choice? (food-wise)
Casey: Tea, cookies, chips, peanut butter M&Ms – basically if it’s unhealthy, it goes in my belly and I turn it into words. And hips. Words and hips.
Naomi: Pretzels and Nutella! Even though it makes my keyboard sticky.
Whose work inspired you to start writing?
Casey: So many authors have renewed and reshaped my love of writing at different stages of my life. I managed to narrow it down to seven: Robert Munsch, Bill Peet, Roald Dahl, Gordon Korman, Madeleine L’Engle, Jennifer Crusie, and Stuart M. Kaminsky. They instilled in me a love of captivating stories filled with humour, heart, and snappy dialogue.
Naomi: I’ve loved writing since before I can remember, so I can’t think of any particular author who really inspired me to start writing. But there were many books and authors that spurred me to be better: Megan Whalen Turner’s amazing characterization, Leigh Bardugo’s rich world-building, and pretty much every element of THE WINNER’S CURSE by Marie Rutkoski.
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
Casey: Two things!
First of all, I can’t thank you enough, Brenda, for running Pitch Wars. It has brought many wonderful people into my life (shout-outs to Naomi, Wendy Parris, and Laura Shovan!). If I can be half as generous and supportive within the writing community as you’ve been, I’ll be very pleased. (Pleased and tired. How do you do it? You’re a machine!) I also want to thank Rae for giving me a query and first page critique before I entered the contest. Her awesome feedback gave me the confidence I needed to go through with entering.Secondly, my new mantra is: It’s going to take as long as it takes. I made it into the very first contest I entered with my very first novel. That was freakin’ amazing. On the flip side, I also spent the better part of the year after the contest ripping apart that same story and building it back up before I was signed by an agent. Everyone says “Don’t compare your journey with everyone else’s.” But seriously, don’t. All that gets you is a one-way ticket on the Bitter Bus headed to Crazy-making Town. Keep entering contests and keep making friends. Build your support group. I have amazingly supportive friends and family, but I would still be a miserable mess if I didn’t have Naomi, Wendy, and Laura. Find me on Twitter. I love new writer friends!
Just keep going. Goonies never say die.
Naomi: I love Casey’s book almost as much as I love my own, and I’m beyond thrilled for her success. She earned every inch of it with her determination and hard work, and I can’t wait to see HOWARD WALLACE, P.I. on shelves someday soon!
Thank you for sharing your success story. We couldn’t be happier about it – CONGRATULATIONS! Everyone, go and say hello and follow them or something …