The best part of the contests for us around here is when we hear about successes. Today we are so happy to have Mara Rae and her Pitch Wars mentor, Jessie Humphries here for a little Q and A. Mara recently signed with John M. Cusick of Greenhouse Literary. So as to not make this post a novel, we’ll jump right into the interview.
Mara, what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Jessie?
I sent my application to Jessie because I’ve “known” her for a while now via the blogging community, and she has always been one of my favorites. Her own how-I-got-my-agent story was really inspiring to me, and she just seemed like someone I could be friends with in real life. She wasn’t necessarily looking for speculative fiction, and the other three mentors I pitched to were all specifically asking for manuscripts in my genre, so Jessie was kind of a wild card. But I had a dream that she picked me the week before Pitch Wars, so I guess subconsciously I was really hoping Jessie would want to work with me!
Jessie, what about Mara’s application made you choose her?
Mara’s writing jumped off the page for me. It was obvious from the first line that she knew what she was doing. And it didn’t hurt that I’d seen Mara around the internets before and I had prior knowledge of who she was. I suspect that agents and editors use this kind of knowledge all the time to move through their slush piles and submission lists. Meeting someone at a conference, or engaging with a writer on Twitter, can help create a relationship of trust. Mara had both advantages: strong writing and an established platform.
Mara, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?
Jessie was extremely busy during the revision period, what with a huge book launch party, a week-long contest tour, and the release of her second book (seriously, if my novel gets published, I’m going to Jessie for advice – she knows how to do it up right!)! So we didn’t have a ton of back and forth. Jessie gave me her notes a few weeks into the contest, and then I revised and resubmitted the ms to her. The best part was that Jessie honed in on a couple of plot holes I KNEW were there but had been lazy about changing. This was the kick in the pants I needed.
Jessie, tell us about your experience with mentoring Mara. How was mentoring your other team members?
Mara is a pro, so she didn’t need much help from me. She already had a stellar manuscript so my suggestions were only fine-tuning stuff. I think the main breakthrough we had together was focusing less on the fantasy elements and more on the Russian Fairytale components that make her book stand out. The fact that Mara lived in Russia while she wrote this book gives her major street cred. And along with my alternate pick, Jocelyn Rish, all three of us have been a great team. Mara and Jocelyn have really supported one another and it’s been an amazing experience for all three of us to band together as Team B-words.
Mara, after Pitch Wars you signed with John M. Cusick of Greenhouse Literary, tell us about “The Call.” How long were you on submission? What did you do to distract yourself? How did John contact you? How did you respond? How did you celebrate? Anything! We love knowing it all.
John was not a Pitch Wars agent, but I received 12 requests from the contest and two additional ninja agent requests. Jessie very generously referred me to John, who is an agent at her agency, and it turned out he was a Russian lit major and had been looking for a Russia book! He had my book for about 24 hours when he emailed to schedule the call for the following day. I ended up with multiple offers, something I had dreamed about but never really thought would happen to me. And it was incredibly difficult to choose, because all the agents were fabulous. In the end, I chose John because of his stellar reputation and track record, his enthusiasm for WINTERSOUL, and because he genuinely seems like a wonderful person to work with. Greenhouse is also the agency of a previous contest mentor, Dannie Morin, and I figured if it was good enough for both my mentors, it was definitely good enough for me! Plus Greenhouse has biannual retreats which sound so fun. I celebrated with cake, champagne, and a Kate Spade purse 🙂
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success?
My personal theory is that writing is a combination of talent, persistence, and luck. I’ve been writing for about ten years and have queried multiple novels, and while I’d gotten close before, I felt like the luck part of the equation was always missing. I know some people don’t chalk this sort of thing up to chance, but honestly, if Jessie hadn’t chosen me, I have no idea if I would have gotten an agent. Contests like Pitch Wars create a real sense of competition between the participating agents, and that definitely worked to my advantage. So I feel like Pitch Wars was integral to my success, and I am eternally grateful to Brenda!
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)?
Mara: I fantasized about shipping off to boarding school when I was a teenager (although I probably would have hated it in reality). A cross between Hogwarts and Chilton would have been right up my alley.
Jessie: Hogwarts fo’ sho’. I’d even take the fake one at Disney World if it wasn’t on the opposite side of the continent.
What fictional character would be your confidante? Enemy? Idol? Kick-butt ally?
Mara: Confidante – Elizabeth Bennet; Enemy – Mordred, the spider-baby from The Dark Tower series – he would pretty much kill me just by looking at me; Idol – Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone; Kick-butt ally – Daenerys Targaryen
Jessie: I’d like to go on a girl’s vacay with Marianne from Sense & Sensibility. We could get all gussied up and go to London to meet all the hot aristocratic dudes. It would probably end in heartache but we would have the time of our lives.
What fictional food/beverage would you most want to try?
Mara: I have a major sweet tooth, so pretty much anything from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would do the trick, but Wonka’s Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight sounds particularly delicious.
Jessie: Butter Beer.
You are faced with your nemesis! You instantly grab your trusty __________. (lightsaber, phaser, wand, mace, girly scream, katana, broadsword, etc)
Mara: Steed! I grew up riding horses and it’s pretty much my only skill. If I can’t fight my nemesis, at least I can run away!
Jessie: Smith & Wesson. I don’t’ mess around.
What is your work fuel of choice? (food-wise)
Mara: In a perfect world (meaning a world where I get to leave my children with someone else and go to my favorite cafe), I love a breve latte and a pastry (or cupcake) while I write. In real life, it’s usually water or tea.
Jessie: Sunflower seeds. I know . . . I’m not a baseball player! There’s something about the constant chomping and spitting that keeps me satiated and focused. I even do this at my office as an attorney, which I know doesn’t scream “sophisticated professional,” but whatevs.
Whose work inspired you to start writing?
Mara: I dreamed of writing books when I was little (my very first manuscript, “Mary Got Married,” was completed around age ten), but I didn’t have the confidence to try until my mid-twenties. As a kid, I read a lot of fantasy, and it’s still my favorite genre. Roald Dahl, JRR Tolkien, Robert Jordan, Mercedes Lackey, and Piers Anthony all fueled my imagination growing up.
Jessie: This is probably a super weird choice, but I’d say Shakespeare. I had a serious Shakespeare addiction in college. I memorized monologues and poems for auditions, did two study abroad programs in London, and even snuck into the Old Globe Theater in San Diego with my roommates to perform our own versions of plays. (Oh geesh, I’m admitting publicly to a misdemeanor trespassing crime).
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
Mara: I just want to thank Brenda and Jessie for this amazing opportunity! And to anyone struggling to get an agent, I know exactly how you feel (seriously, we can eat chocolate together and compare rejection letters; I’ve got a couple hundred of ’em). But if this is what you love doing, don’t give up! It WILL happen!
Jessie: I love PitchWars. Everyone (and their mothers) should participate!
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 …