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Get to know the Pitch Wars Mentors Mini Interviews . . . No. 26 Middle Grade

Wednesday, 13 July 2016  |  Posted by Heather Cashman

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From June 27th through July 18th, we’ll be posting mini-interviews with most of the Pitch Wars mentors so you can get to know them. Many of the mentors also hang out on twitter. Follow the links to their Twitter accounts and say hello. They’ll be on the #PitchWars hashtag tweeting advice and answering questions.

We will also host live chats from July 19th through August 2nd, and the Pitch Wars submission window will open on August 3rd!

We asked our mentors to answer these three questions …

1. What are you looking for in a submission and what would you forgive as far as issues in the sample pages? In other words, what do you feel is an easy fix and what would be a pass for you?

2. What is your editing style and do you have a game plan to tackle edits with your mentee in the two months given for the contest?

3. And lastly, what is your all-time favorite book and how did it inspire your writing?

And here are their answers …


AshleyAshley Martin

Twitter  |  Website

When all the other kids wanted to be zookeepers and astronauts, Ashley dreamed of being a writer. (Okay, she had her days of wanting to be a zookeeper/veterinarian/any job involving animals, but books were always her best friends.) Stories make her fantastically happy, whether it’s through the pages of a book, the scenes of a film, or the words of a song. When she’s not engrossed in the world of her next middle grade novel, you’ll find her drinking copious amounts of tea while hanging out with her husband, two kids, one schnoodle, and two aggressively affectionate cats.

ONE: I’m particularly drawn to characters — scenes can be tightened, pace can be fixed, tension can be added — give me a character I’m emotionally invested in, with a voice that pulls me in and gives me all the feels. As far as what would make me pass…If there are major issues throughout the entire book, that tells me the author needs to take the time to better learn their craft before they’re ready to start querying agents. We can all learn and grow as writers (I don’t think it ever stops) but I’m looking for a manuscript that shows the author has taken the time to learn the basics of good storytelling, with compelling characters and strong stakes. Does it still need strengthening in certain areas to take it to the next level? We can tackle that.

TWO: I’m very much both an editor and a cheerleader. I don’t just want to point out what’s not working, I like to point out what works, too. My comments on a manuscript are generally a mix of critiques when something needs fixing, and squeeing when I love a particular scene or line! I plan to give my mentee an overall editorial summary — a look at the key areas that I think can be improved — followed by line edits using the track changes and comments feature. And I won’t just say “fix this.” I’m the type of person who learns best through examples. Which means if we’re focusing on improving a particular area (say, pacing), the first few times I point out a problem spot, I’ll give an example of how it could be fixed and how to identify it in the rest of the manuscript. My goal is to help my mentee learn strategies they can apply not just to their Pitch Wars book, but to future projects as well.

THREE: This question is the worst! Who on earth can pick just one favorite book? I can’t, but I’ll settle for telling you about one of my favorites: ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND. My book, (which got me into Pitch Wars last year and eventually landed me my agent) is strongly connected to Alice and Wonderland. I love children’s classics in general, there’s simply something about the way they’re written — the flow of the words and the lyrical structure of the sentences. That rhythm, which lends its own emotion to the words and how they’re read, is something I try to pay attention to in my own writing. Also, I love how Carroll was a bit of a rebel in his time, taking all those stiff and stodgy, lesson-laden rhymes and recitations and turning them on their heads. There’s an awful lot of seriousness in this world. Sometimes you just need a bit of nonsense in your life.


GKByrneGabrielle Byrne

Twitter  |  Website

Gabrielle Kirouac Byrne lives in Olympia, Washington and writes dark and twisty tales for middle graders, often with roots in mythology and folklore. Gabby studied opera in Philadelphia, medieval studies in New York, literature in Scotland, and marine biology in the Pacific Northwest, but writing is the common thread that ties all her interests together. She has a Master’s degree in literature and a second bachelors in environmental studies. When she’s not writing, you can frequently find her fishing spineless critters out of the Salish sea with her husband and two daughters. She is represented by Catherine Drayton at Inkwell Management.

ONE: I’m looking for voice, and stakes! I want to know and love your main character from the first moment I meet them. Don’t just tell me the stakes, make me feel them. Put me in the setting. I want lots of rich sensory detail. If you do those things, I can forgive all kinds of small errors, including starting the story in the wrong place.

TWO: I’m kind, but blunt. I will support you, and help you find solutions, but I won’t sugar-coat things. Editorial suggestions will be just that. The book is yours, as is the responsibility to decide whether my edits ring true to you. Having said that, my plan is to go through the my mentee’s manuscript in its entirety at least twice. The first round will be for any big conceptual edits, while the second will be for clean up and tightening. In addition to that, I’ll likely revisit certain sections as edits are made to check in with the author, as needed.

THREE: Hardest. Question. Ever. I honestly couldn’t say what my all-time favorite is, but I think the books that have most influenced my writing are the Earthsea books by Ursula K. LeGuin. They’re old school, I know, but what I love about them is that everything is balanced so well. You have gorgeous language evenly matched with high stakes, tense character-driven scenes, and a setting that draws the reader in and makes them want to pick an island and take up residence.


Laura Shovan & Co-Mentor Tricia Clasen

laura shovanTwitter  |  Website

Laura Shovan is former editor for Little Patuxent Review and editor of two poetry anthologies. Her chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone, won the inaugural Harriss Poetry Prize. Laura works with children as a poet-in-the-schools. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary is her debut novel-in-verse for children (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House).

tricia clausenTwitter  |  Website

Tricia Clasen is a college professor of communication at University of Wisconsin-Rock County. Her debut novel, THE HAUNTED HOUSE PROJECT, will be published in October by Sky Pony Press. She is also co-editor of Gendered Identities: Critical Readings of Gender in Children’s and Young Adult Literature, forthcoming Fall of 2016 by Routledge.

ONE: We are looking for literary middle grade with a good balance of voice and narrative movement. A pass from us might include a protagonist who isn’t likable, doesn’t have a clear voice, or feels more YA than middle grade. We’ll work with you if there’s a little too much exposition in a manuscript that has a strong voice and compelling story.

TWO: Tricia is more of a big-picture editor while Laura is an experienced line editor. We plan to work in conjunction with each other to give developmental feedback and to make sure that our mentee’s manuscript is as polished as possible.

THREE for Laura: I adore HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE and LOVE THAT DOG. Both books tell a good story, but at their core they are about characters who grow over time when they face challenging situations.

THREE for Tricia: Harry Potter is the easy answer, but it’s probably true. I could also throw in The Outsiders, and the reason is that they created characters and worlds I just didn’t want to leave. When I write, I hope my characters connect in that way.


Patrice CaldwellPatrice Caldwell

Twitter  |  Website

Patrice is a twenty-three-year-old introvert gone wild. By day, she’s an editorial assistant, and by night, weekend, and early morning (if she’s had enough green tea) she’s a writer. You can learn more about Patrice, her writing, favorite books, and general musings at her blog (patricecaldwell.com). You can also find her on Twitter (@whimsicallyours), her secondary home. Patrice has had many publishing roles, but started out as a book blogger and intends to keep blogging until the end of her days.

ONE: I’m an editorial assistant so I can handle plot problems, in fact I look forward to this. But, because I read so much for my job, for pleasure, and to stay up to date on “the competition,” I know my taste pretty well. I don’t give books much longer than the first couple chapters to make their mark. It’s all about voice (and thus character), and I’m the type who needs something about the voice and the character to leap out at me. If I love the voice, if I love the character I’ll forgive a lot. I can usually tell with the first page, but again, I’ll always read just past the first chapter, as sometimes books start in the wrong places.

So what am I looking for in a submission? Voice. Character. And a writer who is willing to revise and gets the heart and whimsy that is middle grade. I love a challenge. If you have a MG manuscript that’s genre-bending, that you’re unsure of where to self, I want to see it. I’m southern so I have a sweet spot for southern gothic, especially if it’s dark. Furthermore, if your story is #ownvoices (this goes for any genre), is something that reflects who you are, is the book you wanted to read when you were longer so much that you’re afraid to send it out into the world, I want it. Ultimately I’m looking for a MG voice that makes me miss my subway stop (yes, this has happened) and a writer I get along with who’s unafraid to dig in because there will be revisions J

I’ll definitely be elaborating on this during with my mentor wishlist/blog hop, and I’m happy to take ??’s on Twitter (after the wishlist is posted).

TWO: First, I’m going to read the manuscript. Usually as I’m reading, especially if I love something, I’m already thinking of ways to strengthen and best position it for your ideal audience (I have a marketing & publicity background that helps with this). Then I’ll think everything over and possibly give another read while jotting down more notes. At that point, I’ll talk with my mentee. It’s their book so 1) I want to make sure we’re on the same page and 2) I want to hear their dreams and visions for the book. After that, I’ll tailor my editorial letter based on our conversation. Then I’ll probably ask for an outline or something to know what my mentee plans to do. We’ll likely talk again to figure out timeline, etc. But after I send my editorial letter and after we talk again, I’m happy to let them take the rest of the time to write. Some writers like to brainstorm with others, some don’t. Ultimately I’d like to give it a final read. And then leave time to work with them on their query letter aka my favorite thing. I’ll probably also ask them to write a synopsis. Yes, it’s a pain, but agents and editors will ask for it down the road.

THREE: I’m going to cheat (surprise haha) because I don’t have a favorite book:

On Writing by Stephen King is one of my favorite “writing books.” However, while the writing tips portion is amazing, it was really the memoir part that inspired me the most. I took a year off from writing last year, due to a lot of personal things, and reading that has always reminded me that no matter what, I’ll find my way and it’s never too late for a restart.

Yoruba Girl Dancing by Simi Bedford is a book I’ve read numerous times. I, like the main character, was in and out of PWIs (predominately white institutions), and so that book taught me a lot about finding my strength and courage to be me and love myself. It inspired my writing in that I’ve always wanted to write a book / the books I wished I had that impact other children the way it did me.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott & the Little House on the Prairie series, for their focus on sisterhood and family, themes that resonate throughout all my works and dynamics I love in the books I read.

Lastly, Beloved by Toni Morrison and Kindred by Octavia Butler… genre-bending, southern, black stories that are painful yet true. These women are my warriors, my heroes, and these two books directly inspired my current WIP. But more than that, their writing style, their lives inspired all of my not-easily shelved, genre-bending, diverse stories (which, of course, is why I’m open to mentoring other writers who fit into these categories).


Thank you, mentors, for your marvelous answers. We appreciate you so much!

Pitch Wars Schedule:

June 27-July 15 Mentor Mini Interviews

July 19-August 2 Live Chats with Mentors

July 20-August 3 Mentor Blog Hop

August 3rd Pitch Wars Submission Window Opens

August 25th Mentees Chosen and Announced

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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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