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Day 6 (Part 3) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Heather Van Fleet and Jessica Calla

Friday, 3 September 2021  |  Posted by Rochelle Karina

Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2021 mentors. From a lottery drawing, we selected writers to receive a query and first page critique from one of our mentors. We’ll be posting some of the critiques leading up to the Pitch Wars submission window. Our hope is that these samples will help you in shining up your query and first page.

We appreciate our mentors for generously dedicating their time to do the critiques. If you have something encouraging to add, feel free to comment below. Please keep all comments tasteful. Our comments are set to moderate, and we will delete any inappropriate or hurtful ones before approving them.

Next up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentors Heather Van Fleet and Jessica Calla … 

Heather Van Fleet is a stay-at-home-mom turned book boyfriend connoisseur. She’s married to her high school sweetheart, a mom to three girls, and in her spare time you can find her with her head buried in a book, guzzling down copious amounts of coffee.

Heather graduated from Black Hawk College in 2003 and currently writes Adult contemporary romance. She is published through Sourcebooks Casablanca with her Reckless Hearts series and Bookouture with her Red Dragon series. She is represented by Jemiscoe Chambers-Black of Andrea Brown Lit.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads

Jessica Calla is a contemporary romance and women’s fiction author. Although Jessica’s passion is reading and writing about love and relationships deep into the night hours, she moonlights during the day as an attorney. If she’s not writing, lawyering, or parenting, you’ll most likely find her scrolling through her Twitter feed, binge-watching Netflix, or gulping down way too much caffeine (sometimes all three at once). A Jersey girl through and through, she resides in the central part of the state with her handsome husband, two charming sons, and a princess dog.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads

Heather and Jessica’s recent release, LOVE IN THE AISLES …

Love in the AislesOn a scale from one to ten on the epic failure charts, Charlotte Dawson’s day just passed an eleven.

The last thing Charlotte wants to do is go to the supermarket, but with a four-year-old to feed, she doesn’t have a choice. Just when she thinks she’s free and clear of marketplace drama, Charlotte finds herself in the throes of a hide-and-seek game with the nosiest woman in town. And if that wasn’t enough to add to her bad day, the hot new bag guy catches her hiding out…in the liquor section…on a Sunday in the South. But she can’t formulate the words to tell him to get lost. In fact, she can’t speak at all once she gazes into those hazel eyes.

Having been ditched at the altar by his long-term girlfriend, Hollywood sensation Ian ‘Cleary’ Tate escapes to Sunrise Valley for one reason—peace. Serving as a temporary apprentice under his stepfather at Adler’s Market is the perfect cover—nothing says redefining his life like a little manual labor. Until he runs into a problem…Charlotte Dawson, the widow of the town’s biggest hero. He in no way expected to develop a fascination with the bumbling, yet refreshing, young mom, who just so happens to have the grace of a one-legged chimpanzee.

In a series of unexpected encounters between the aisles of the supermarket and the gossip-filled streets of Sunrise Valley, Charlotte and Ian get to know one another, Georgia style—all under the watchful eyes of a group of meddling old women known as the GOLs (Gossiping Old Ladies).

It’s not easy falling in love after heartbreak, but Ian and Charlotte have a chance at exactly that…if Ian’s secret Hollywood fame and Charlotte’s former life don’t get in the way first.

Amazon | Goodreads

Heather and Jessica’s critique . . .

Category: Adult: Contemporary Romance


Dear Pitch Wars,

Cassie Brown has had her fair share of men, and [perhaps “but” would work better here, that way the first half of the sentence is more a comparison to the last? -HVF] relationships have never been her thing. She’s always been the fun girl who enjoys hook ups but avoids anything long term. [I’m wondering if you could somehow combine the fun girl/hook up premise to the first sentences, as we already kind of know this -HVF] Her only responsibilities are to her family and her job. Both of which she loves. The Griffin is a premiere performing arts venue that host[s-JC] all kinds of performances and it’s Cassie’s job to find and book talent. It’s a position she takes seriously, and one she hopes will lead to bigger opportunities.

Adam Guerrera is only five months out of his six[- JC] year relationship and isn’t in a hurry to get back in one. For now, his focus is on the Griffin and making sure it has more than enough donors to keep it’s [its-JC] doors open. Cassie and Adam have always had a friendly yet professional relationship, but things change on the night of the Griffin’s annual holiday fundraiser when they discover their mutual attraction for each other. [Love a good work romance!! My one thing is here is when you say relationship, it feels like Cassie has suddenly changed her status? Is this more of a friends with benefits situation that turns into more? -HVF] They [decide to – JC] start seeing each other under the agreement that if their relationship interferes with work, they put an end to it. Their biggest obstacle being…Adam is Cassie’s boss. Aside from dodging co-workers, Adam’s boss, and their nosy families, they have to reconcile with the fact that their casual relationship is becoming more than they originally sought out.

Cassie and Adam just wanted to have some casual fun [I’d say we need to know this is a casual fling right away -HVF] but thanks to their work dynamic, the casual part becomes ripe with tension from their families, colleagues, and Adam’s higher ups. Cassie and Adam have to figure out if they want to keep things simple or plunge into a serious relationship all without risking their careers in the process.

I have a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts and Dance. My concentration was stage directing and playwriting. I am a co-founder of the BFCC (Black Female Comics Collab). We’re a group of Black women writers and artist[s – JC] from the US and Canada that are currently working with the ladies of Hex Comix on a super-hero anthology. I recently released a graphic novel entitled “Suz and Keem” on the digital platform, Macroverse Media, [a – JC]nd I’m working on my next romance novel. My other passion is my family. I have two sons, [Michael and Alexander,– JC] and my [a – JC]wonderfully supportive husband who puts up with me tapping away at my computer all hours of the night. 

TITLE is an Adult Contemporary Romance, currently clocking in at 40,576 words.

Thank you for your time and consideration! I look forward to hearing from you.

[Hi! I love that you are using a theater for a contemporary romance setting! Your query looks good. I love a romance with a boss, and the tension that causes with families and coworkers. One thing I wondered is why is there tension with their families? Also, is there a plot besides the romance between Adam and Cassie, like more you can offer about their struggle to keep the theater open? I’d love to see more descriptive words about Cassie and Adam to get a feel for their personalities. Is Cassie a type-A kind of player? Is Adam different than that? Good luck with everything! Jess]. 

[Hey! As a huge theater lover myself, I am so excited by this premise! And Jess nailed exactly what I’d like to see too—more of an exterior explanation as to why they can’t be together. I also noticed your word count is a little smaller than an average contemporary romance. I’d definitely recommend beefing it up and adding too before querying. Otherwise, I’m in LOVE with this premise. Heather]

First page:

Cassandra Brown steps off the metro bus with a large white box in hand. She and her roommates, Felicia and Gwen lucked out on finding a two bedroom apartment so close to their respective jobs. Gwen works as an admin assistant at GirlsTyme, it’s a play on the old band name of Destiny’s Child. It’s a WeWork type workspace ran by women. Felicia works at Diamond and Fletcher, a personal injury law firm as a junior paralegal and Cassandra works at the Griffin Amphitheatre named after Tiffany and Ezra Griffin, one of the wealthiest couples in the country and huge philanthropists of the arts. Cassandra is the Programs Supervisor. 

She’s in charge of placating the artists that perform at the venue. She makes sure they have everything they need from the moment they sign their contracts until they take their final bow. This includes providing them with their contracts in the first place. She heads to the administrative offices where everyone is a buzz. The end of the year campaign is in full swing, and it includes the winter fundraiser. This is the biggest event of the year. Cassandra or Cassie as her friends call her, has been working overtime to lock down artists to perform. She walks by Adam’s office and as usual, he’s on the phone wheeling and dealing with everyone from members, donors, and board members, all of whom are often the same people. He’s the Griffin’s fearless leader or the Managing Director, which is his actual title.

[Hi! I think maybe your chapter starts in the wrong place. It reads more like a synopsis. I’d suggest starting with Cassandra holding the box, and then going right into the office with her, without the information about her apartment and her friends’ jobs (as the reader isn’t sure why to care about that yet). Take your time to introduce Cassandra, assuming she’s the main character, so that the reader can get to know her a bit. What’s in the box and why is she bringing it to work? What city is she in? Is she happy to be going to work, or does she hate it? Is her office in the Griffin or off site? Set up the scene for Cassandra, and you’ll be able to weave in her friends’ information more naturally in other chapters where the friends are present. I love that you have the love interest and main character interacting in chapter one (assuming the love interest is Adam). Great start, just try to hook the reader in before giving out the other information in the first page.]

[Hi! Heather here. Just wanted to let you know that I so love this premise to pieces. With that being said, I agree with Jess. I think it probably does start off in the wrong place. It’s best to start off with a line and/or paragraphs that really pulls a reader in. Whether humor or something else. You only get one chance to impress an editor or agent, and it’s got to be stand out. Another thing, which pretty much mirror’s Jess’ comment above again, let us get to know Cassandra and who she is. Set the scene and use those senses while you do. Show what’s happening around a person, instead of introducing with backstory as you’ve done, is super important. Perhaps sit down and make a character outline to really delve into Cassandra’s head? That’s always a great way to find the voice of your main character. Good luck! I think you’ve got great writing chops!]

Thank you, Heather and Jessica, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2021 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more. 

We're thrilled at the different ways those in our Pitch Wars community are giving back—and we encourage them to do so. However, please keep in mind that Pitch Wars is not affiliated with any of these various contests, promotions, etc., including those of our mentors and mentees. Promoting any such opportunities via our social media channels doesn't imply endorsement or affiliation. We encourage you to do your research before participating.

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