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Get to know the Pitch Wars Mentors Mini Interviews . . . No. 29 Middle Grade

Friday, 15 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 …


J.C. Davis & Co-Mentor Addie Thorley

JCDavisTwitter  |  Website

In addition to writing, J. C. Davis is an amateur photographer, runs a Harry Potter meet-up group and embraces all things nerdy. You can find her on Facebook here. She lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband, two kids, a pair of rowdy dogs, an incontinent cat, a hamster with a ridiculously long name, and two adorable hedgehogs who want to take over the world. Her debut novel, CHEESUS WAS HERE, will be released in Spring 2017 by Sky Pony Press. Ms. Davis is represented by Mandy Hubbard of The Emerald City Literary Agency and writes YA, MG and Picture Books.

addie thorleyTwitter  |  Website

Addie Thorley writes Young Adult historical fiction and fantasy. She has a passion for multicultural stories with exotic locales and anything with magic and kissing. When she’s not writing, Addie works as a professional equestrian and does everything from riding award-winning show horses to training wild mustangs. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and wolf dog and enjoys gallivanting in the woods, running, and eating cookies in her spare time. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

ONE: First and foremost, we are looking for submissions with incredible voice. Give us a compelling main character who leaps off the page. If that dazzling character also happens to come with a good hook and beautiful writing, it will be a match made in heaven! Assuming a manuscript has these elements, we would be willing to overlook small typos and grammatical errors (though, too many would suggest a lack of proofreading and attention to detail) or other common mistakes such as starting in the wrong place or a few wonky plot points. A weak or non-existent voice, however, would be a deal breaker. Story can always be fixed but only if the voice is solid.

TWO: Our editing style is very thorough. We dig deep and spend a lot of time on our critiques, which means we will hunt and destroy every last plot hole and awkward sentence, but it also means our mentee needs to be able to handle constructive criticism. We plan to do at least two editing passes– the first for broad/big picture feedback, then a second pass for inline edits and notes. We will probably make your manuscript bleed red, but we will send plenty of funny emails and puppy GIFs to ease the pain!

THREE for JC: I have a million favorite books and each of them have influenced me in some way. However, the Harry Potter series is what first inspired me to start writing. I fell in love with Harry and company before the release of the 5th book, a period the fandom calls the 3-year summer. I was enraptured. I wanted more! But there was no sign of the 5th book being released any time soon. So I began reading fan fiction. Then writing it. Soon I had a novel-length piece finished. From there it was an easy leap to writing in my own worlds and with my own characters. I fell so in love with writing, especially for kids, that I’ve never been able to stop.

THREE for Addie: My favorite book of all time is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I love how seamlessly she weaves magic into the past and her gorgeous, detailed world building. When I began writing my first novel, not long after reading this book for the first time, I was definitely inspired by the way Clarke brought so many threads together to build a complex and layered narrative, and it is always my goal to make my worlds feel steeped in big magic—where it literally sparks off every page. I also really, really adore An Ember in the Ashes and His Fair Assassin series.


jenna lehneJenna Lehne

Twitter  |  Website

Jenna is a reader, writer, wife, and momma who resides in the great north. She loves tea and ALL things horror. When she’s not picking away at a WIP, she’s binge-watching terrible reality TV shows or blogging over at MidnightSocietyTales.com with a bunch of incredibly talented horror writers.

ONE: Regardless of the genre, I want something with heart. I want kids I can cheer for and cry with. I’m fairly forgiving when it comes to grammar, plot holes, and other structure issues, but I really struggle with voices that don’t suit the age category. If I’m reading your MG mystery and it’s coming off as a cozy novel my mum reads, I’ll probably pass. I know that’s a common response, but it really is all about the voice!

TWO: In the first go around, I’m all about big picture notes. On our second round, I’ll do light in-line notes, but those aren’t my strong suit. I love brainstorming with my mentee as they edit and patching up plot holes etc. together.

THREE: The Princess Bride! If you’ve only seen the movie, you MUST read the book. I remember writing my first piece of fanfiction on it in grade four and I haven’t stopped tinkering with words since. Not only does it still inspire my writing today, it was what got me writing in the first place.


jessica vitalisJessica Vitalis

Twitter  |  Website

Jessica Vitalis is represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch. Her debut, a middle grade novel called NOTHING LIKE LENNON, is currently out on submission. An active member of the literary community, she volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and contributes to two blogs: Writing With The Mentors and The Winged Pen. When she’s not pursuing her literary interests, Jessica can be found chasing her two precocious daughters around Atlanta, Georgia (or eating copious amounts of chocolate).

ONE: I’d love to find a contemporary or historical middle grade (realistic or magical realism/light fantasy) with a great hook and a strong voice. Setting, character development, and plot are all things I can fix. Writing that isn’t clean and polished will be a definite pass for me (in other words, I’ll pass if I can tell the writer doesn’t have a good grasp of writing fundamentals or hasn’t carefully edited their submission).

TWO: It all depends on the manuscript. But if last year is any example, my mentee can expect to receive a lengthy editorial letter accompanied by enough red ink on the manuscript to (according to one of my 2015 mentees) give them a heart attack. In the letter, I’ll generally make suggestions for how to move forward, starting with the big picture changes and wrapping up with line edits.

THREE: This is like asking me to pick my favorite child. But if I had to pick one middle grade book that’s always at the top of my list, it would be Bridge To Terabithia. No matter how long I go without reading that book, I can always pick it up, flip to the end, and the tears immediately start to flow. I hold this book up as an example of how to engage a reader and invoke deep emotional responses through careful use of craft.


JOYJoy McCullough-Carranza

Twitter  |  Website

Joy writes MG & YA fiction, as well as plays, and she’s represented by Jim McCarthy at Dystel & Goderich. She works as a freelance editor, ghostwriter, and assistant to a NYT bestseller. She lives in the Seattle area, where she homeschools two children, eats copious amounts of chocolate, and leaves the house as infrequently as possible.

ONE: I’m looking for VOICE VOICE VOICE!! Regardless of genre—or just about anything else—I’m looking for strong, fresh voice. MG voice is super difficult to nail, and it’s also super difficult to teach. I can work with you on plot, on character development, on structural or craft issues. But if the voice isn’t there, that’s much more difficult to work with. I also want to see clear and urgent stakes (internal and external). These don’t have to be end-of-the-world stakes; I’m a big fan of quiet. But they need to be clear and urgent to the character. What will happen if your character doesn’t achieve their goal? If the answer is their life will pretty much go on as usual, you have work to do. Raise—or clarify—the stakes is one of the most common bits of feedback I give in my freelance editing. Major story revisions are certainly not easy, but I’m excited to jump into those with a willing writer.

TWO: In past Pitchwars, I have given my mentees thorough edit letters within about a week of choosing them. This letter will focus on broad story issues – plot holes, stakes, character development, etc. As the mentee works on their revisions, I’ll check in from time to time and they are welcome to contact me with questions or brainstorming support. Email is my main form of communication. I generally read again before the agent round, with more of a line-edit with margin comments, and closer to the big day we hone the pitch. My past mentees have tackled big developmental edits, but they’ve always been ready by the agent round!

THREE: It’s adorable how Brenda thinks she’ll get me to answer this question if she just keeps asking. ☺ This time I’ll say that when I was in the 8-12 age group myself, I loved reading Nancy Drew, Harriet the Spy, and The Babysitter’s Club. (Also, I stole my sister’s Sweet Valley Highs, which I wasn’t supposed to read.)


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


One Comment
  • Nadine Poper says:

    I have been reading the posts about Pitch Wars. I am hoping someone can explain to me more about what this is and how someone prepares for submission in August. Thanks.

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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