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Get to know the Pitch Wars Mentors … mini interviews with MG & YA mentors

Wednesday, 12 August 2015  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

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For the past couple weeks we’ve been getting to know mentors on live chats on the Whiskey, Wine, & Writing site and by hopping to our mentors’ blogs to read their bios and wish lists. Today we have some mini-interviews with the mentors who couldn’t make the live chats. At the bottom of this post you’ll find YouTube links to some of the live chats. There are three more live chats happening this week. The first is tonight, next one is on Thursday, and the last is on Friday. Check out the Whiskey, Wine, & Writing site for the schedule and list of mentors joining the chats and watch them live. And there just might be a surprise happening on one of the upcoming chats.

But for now, here are the mini-interviews …

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’s their answers …


JoyJoy McCullough-Carranza


1. I’m looking for a submission that feels fresh, with a main character I haven’t seen a million times before, and 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. I’m not interested in working with a stale premise.

And I’ll pass if you don’t use an Oxford comma. (Kidding. Sort of. But you can expect a strongly worded lecture on the topic.)

2. 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. 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!

3. (Asking for one single all time favorite book is exceedingly cruel, Brenda Drake.) This is so hard. I’m going to say The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was one of the earliest and strongest influences on my idea of what stories could be and the power they could wield. But see my Pitchwars wishlist on 8/3 for many more MG favorites!


karaKara Seal


1. I’m looking for entries with great voice and a lyrical quality to the storytelling. Plot holes and inconsistencies can be fixed, worlds can built with more detail, character development can be drawn out, but a genuine voice and effortless writing cannot. Above all else, I need to care about and connect with your protagonist in order to spend the next several weeks with them.

2. When it comes to editing, I am very thorough. Expect tons of comments and suggestions, but don’t let that scare you. If you become my mentee, I’d give you big picture edits in an editorial letter outlining what I think works and what I think needs work. If applicable, I’d do a chapter by chapter breakdown. I would help you brainstorm through your revisions and be a sounding board for any questions/ideas you may have. I’d also be your personal cheerleader/pep talk master.

3.  I hate to be cliche, but the Harry Potter series is my all time, favorite book series. I wanted to be a writer long before I read them, but J.K. Rowling was the one who cemented my lifelong passion for kidlit. The depth of her world, her ability to make characters relatable to readers of all ages and her penchant for exciting, fast paced plots have influenced my writing more than any other author.


JulianaJuliana L. Brandt


1. In the first pages of a submission, I will especially be looking for voice. I’d love to find a manuscript with a main character whose personality shines through right from the start, as well as a world and magic that’s original. It’s difficult to say what would be an easy fix versus something that would be an automatic pass, but I can say that I would be turned off from telling and infodumps, as well as magic and characters that have been seen before.

2. I will likely tackle edits in two rounds again this year, as it seemed to work nicely for my mentee and alternate last year. I’d first send an edit letter containing any bigger issues to work on, be it plot, character issues, or things that might help your writing. In the second round, I will do close line edits. Hopefully we can take a month for each round and have time to go over the first page and query with a fine-toothed comb in the week before the contest!

3. Isn’t this the absolute worst question to ask writers and bibliophile?? I’ll have to go with HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones. I absolutely adore the originality of the worlds and magic she created, and especially how she always managed to bring together intricate story threads in an unexpected, glorious, climactic crash at the end of her books! It’s pure magic, with HOWL’S being one of the very best of them. I hope to be able to write books as clever and inspiring as hers 🙂


NKN.K. Traver


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?

Most of all, I’m looking for great writing and heart-pounding personal stakes. The closer the plot is tied to the MC’s greatest fear or desire, the more interested I’ll be. In sample pages, I think typos are totally forgivable. But a book that starts without tension–even if it’s the MC wanting a cupcake he can’t have–is one I’ll pass on.

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?

This being my third time mentoring, I have my game plan perfected. My editing style is to raise the right questions and point out places in the manuscript that can be stronger, whether related to character, plot, or writing technique in general. I always keep in mind that first and foremost, this is YOUR book and you should be comfortable with the direction it goes and the changes you make. As far as the exact game plan … seeing as it’s gotten my prior mentees at least 8 requests each in the agent round, I’m keeping those details close to the vest.

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

I have way too many all-time favorites to pick just one, but I will say that A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness stands out to me as the “turning point” in my writing career. It was from him I learned my most valuable writing technique: voice.


LinseyLinsey Miller


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?

I’m looking for character and voice. I want to know with the query and first page that the story is going somewhere and the characters are motivated. I want to finish the first pages and think, “Oh, there’s more to this story and I need to know what.”  This doesn’t mean the inciting incident or any big reveals as to characterization or plot. I simply want a sense of the story’s momentum and characters early on so that I know the characterization is there.

Starting in the wrong place, setting the wrong tone, and typos can all be fixed in less than two months. They’re a bit questionable but acceptable. Major grammar issues and deep problems with the craft are instant red flags. There’s simply not enough time to to teach and learn the basics while revising the manuscript.

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?

I’m very direct and focused when editing. Sure, there will be emoticons (maybe), gifs (probably), and lots of asides about characters (definitely), but I believe in working until the book is as clean and polished as it could possibly be. I’ve been in Pitch Wars twice. I know it’s a weird, exciting, hectic time that simultaneously feels like it will never end and end too soon. A specific game plan would depend on the book and mentee, but expect lots of feedback, lots of talking, and lots of editing before the two months are up.

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

If I had to pick, I’d have to say Lirael by Garth Nix. Something about the emotional weight and tone of that book really struck me when I was growing up, and I’ve tried to make sure everything I write has that same feeling of there being more to the world. The writing, the characters, and the world have stuck with me for so long, and I think that’s the sign of a good book.


RachelRachel Lynn Solomon


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?

I want to see premises and/or characters that make me tune out of my reality because the one the author’s created is so intriguing. I read 100+ books each year, and most are contemporary YA, so I want to know what new voice you’re bringing to the YA world. Voice is the number-one thing that gets me wrapped up in a story. I also want to see a main character I can connect with, someone who is flawed and imperfect and maybe not always likable.

Easy fixes: starting in the wrong place, underdeveloped secondary (or even main) characters, pacing, stakes too low, not enough tension, minor grammar errors. Likely to pass: not connecting with the main character, voice doesn’t grab me, very unrealistic dialogue, so many grammar/punctuation errors that it looks like an early draft. Of course, everything in this business is subjective, so a voice that doesn’t stand out to me might be someone else’s top pick.

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?

I plan to make my mentee my top priority as soon as I have his/her manuscript, and my goal is to have notes back to him/her in about a week. I also want to set up phone calls or Skype sessions with my mentee to talk through revisions. This was a huge help to my mentee last year! While my mentee is editing, I plan to be available for weekly (or however frequent he/she wants) check-ins, and I love brainstorming and reading new chapters and sections as the contest progresses. A couple weeks before the contest, we’ll work on crafting a killer pitch and making sure the first page sings.

My editing style is supportive, thoughtful, and in-depth. I’m going to challenge you. I’m going to push you. I ask a lot of questions, and I NEVER tell someone, “change this” or “I don’t like this.” Rather, I give suggestions, ask (more) questions, and turn it into a discussion. Mentees will no doubt find smiley faces and funny quips in my in-line comments, too — this shouldn’t be 100 percent serious 100 percent of the time :). My mentee will receive both a marked-up manuscript and an edit letter.

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

My all-time favorite book is PREP by Curtis Sittenfeld. It’s a coming-of-age story about a Midwestern girl on scholarship at a prestigious East Coast boarding school, and it follows her through all four years of high school there. It’s uncomfortable, funny, sharp, and brilliantly written. It’s taught me to embrace all the uncomfortable moments of teenagerdom. I don’t write clean, sanitized books, and my characters are whole, imperfect people.


KellyKelly Calabrese


1. I’m looking for page turning, YA psychological thrillers / horrors that pull me in from the start and keep me reading because I care about what happens to the characters.

My ideal mentee has a manuscript that is near ready for querying, one that has been seen by a critique partner or beta reader and has already gone through several revisions. As far as what would make me choose a mentee versus pass on them… It’s all about the willingness to work together to make the best darn book possible! I want to help my mentee get an agent! #InThisTogether

2. My editorial style will be page by page specific as to what I think is working versus what needs clarification, higher stakes, or deleting. I’ll focus on helping to solidify a main character that readers will fall for and a story that compels readers to keep flipping to the next chapter.

Over the two months, I’ll be working with my mentee via email and phone conversations – possibly even Skype parties! I’ve got heap loads of energy and passion and am stoked to do everything I can to help my mentee’s dreams come true!!!

3. My fave book of all time? Possibly Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 because it’s inventive, suspenseful, and full of richly developed characters. Also, it made me realize how much I truly love books – because the idea of having books burn kills me. Books rule the universe!!! And I look forward to having the universe populated with as many Pitch Wars community books as possible 🙂


RosalynRosalyn Eves


1. I’m looking for a project that surprises me in some way–either a clever concept, an unusual voice, a fascinating character, or a setting I can’t say no to. I would love to find something that haunts me, that I can’t stop thinking about after I’ve read the opening pages.

I don’t have an issue with some grammar or stylistic issues–those are easy enough to fix (and I’m an English teacher. I see those kind of issues all the time). Even issues with descriptions (too much or not enough) and pacing are forgivable, if the concept and voice are powerful enough. I think the biggest issue for me will be writing that doesn’t stand out–if the voice and/or writing style isn’t already there, that’s not something I think I can help with in two months.

2. My background as an English professor means that I always look at big picture issues first–there’s no reason to obsess about grammar if there are major pacing issues. My aim with feedback is always to find a mix of things to praise and to work on, because I’ve found that some writers aren’t aware of what they’re good at. I’m not particularly harsh, but I do think I’m critical, and I’ll work with my mentee on issues with plot structure/pacing, characterization, setting, etc. Once we’ve hammered out big issues, I hope to read through again to focus more on style.

3. Asking me for an all-time favorite book is like asking me to name my favorite child–I don’t think I can do it (and if I can, it varies depending on my mood). Even if I limit it to YA, it’s still extremely difficult! But a book that I adore and have reread multiple times is Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night. Like the others of her Lord Peter Wimsey books, it centers around a mystery, but this time it’s Harriet Vane who is the central sleuth. There are so many things I love about it: the rich, historied setting (Oxford); the complex but swoony love-affair between Harriet and Peter; the fantastic wit (this is a book for smart readers!); Harriet herself, who is smart and prickly and difficult and vastly different from other women of her era. This book inspires me on a personal level–I read it for the first time in graduate school and Harriet’s struggle to find a balance between the life of the heart and the life of the mind really resonated with me. It also inspires my writing, mostly because it reminds me that books don’t have to shy away from hard questions or smart writing.

Co-mentors …


Meredith McCardle


RonRon Walters


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?

Meredith: I’m looking for an interesting concept that hooks me immediately. Something that leaves me wanting more. I’m definitely willing to overlook small issues like an instance of awkward wording or something along those lines. Harder to overlook are the big problems, like flat characters or an inauthentic voice. Those would be a pass from me.

Ron: I want voice to die for, characters I connect with, and a concept that feels fresh. Whether it’s something unique or an unexpected take on an old trope, I want my first reaction to be, That sounds amazing. That said, concept will only get you so far. If the writing falls flat, or the characters are unlikeable, I’ll probably pass. Also, I can forgive some typos and awkward sentences, but your manuscript should be well past the point of first-draft mistakes.

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?

Meredith: I’ve been a Pitch Wars mentor twice now, and it’s worked out pretty well both times! 😉 I’m generally more of a big picture editor, so you can expect a pretty detailed edit letter with everything that I foresee as an issue. And then I’m open for lots of hand holding and follow up conversations along the way.

Ron: My experience as Meredith’s mentee last year taught me how to edit for big picture issues. I’m also pretty good at line editing, so depending on how quickly you take care of revisions, I might be able to line edit before the agent round. I’m also a big fan of lots of emailing back and forth in order to hash out ideas or air concerns. That’s how I work out my own ideas with my critique partners, and that’s how I revised with Meredith, so it’s a pretty solid system.

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

Meredith: My all-time favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s one of those books that makes me strive to be a better writer.

Ron: Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin. It’s beautifully written, has an amazing plot, and a setting that’s so immersive I feel like I’m there more than in any other book I’ve ever read. I want to write my own Winter’s Tale one day.

Thank you mentors for your fabulous answers!  Everyone else, come back tomorrow for some more young adult and some new adult mentor mini-interviews. And check out the following recorded live chats to get to know some of our other mentors.




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