The best part of the contests for us around here is when we hear about successes. Today we celebrate Heather Ezell and her Pitch Wars mentor Rachel Lynn Solomon! Heather signed with Sarah Davies at Greenhouse Literary, and Marissa Grossman at Razorbill has acquired her debut NOTHING LEFT TO BURN. We couldn’t be more thrilled for her. So without further ado, please meet Heather and Rachel as they recap their Pitch Wars success story.
Heather, what made you decide to send a Pitch Wars application to Rachel?
Ah! Moment of shame. I did not submit to Rachel. AND I AM THE LUCKIEST GIRL THAT I STILL WOUND UP WITH HER, MY GOODNESS <3.
Backstory: I was a very, very last minute Pitch Wars applicant. I was supposed to start grad school and teaching that fall, so I knew it was unrealistic for me to attempt the rigidness of Pitch Wars, but man did I fantasize about submitting all summer. I had a manuscript ready! I wanted to revise! I wanted to interact with fellow YA writers! I wanted the challenge! But it could not be…
But then–dun dun dun–I started doubting the logic of moving to Alaska and starting grad school when my health was on the fritz. On a whim, I submitted. I only had an hour or so to read through the mentor blog hop (I know, I’m terrible, don’t do this!) and was in such a mental frenzy (I was dying my hair simultaneously!), I only submitted to mentors I’d been following on Twitter longterm–all fantastic writers and mentors–but I was SO, SO, SO lucky that one of those gals forwarded my submission to Rachel.
Whoever did this, THANK YOU! CAN I HUG YOU?
By the time I’d officially deferred my graduate studies, Rachel surprised-emailed me a request for my full manuscript. I was so thrilled by her email. It was an instant connection: I had those ~I GOT A GOOD FEELING ABOUT THIS~ vibes.
Naturally, when I went back and read Rachel’s blog-hop, I kicked myself. She was a perfect fit.
Long story short: I didn’t submit to Rachel but Rachel found me and this changed my world.
Rachel, what about Heather’s application made you choose her?
Heather’s application wasn’t initially submitted to me, but I’m so glad it found its way to me! The manuscript’s sense of place (Orange County during a forest fire the main character may or may not have played a role in setting) immediately captivated me, and the sensory details fully transported me there. Her writing is stunning. Every word felt both meticulously chosen and effortless, and the book was so smart. It made me think; it challenged me, even. I also love nonlinear and unusually structured books — Heather’s takes place over 24 hours with flashbacks scattered throughout.
Heather, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?
Rachel is INTENSE while being incredibly patient, honest, wise, and, um, also CRAZY WITTY IN HER LINE EDITS. Love. The revision period involved a lot of crying into my parents’ living room rug, doctors’ appointments, emailing back and forth with Rachel, and last minute revising sprints. It was exhilarating, surprising, and so rewarding. Rachel was there for all of it, even when I tried to isolate. I was only an alternate and she went above and beyond.
Also, she helped me changed my title from SPARKLERS (what was I thinking?) to NOTHING LEFT TO BURN. I think she deserves a standing ovation for that one.
Rachel, tell us about your experience with mentoring Heather.
Let me think back…it was almost two years ago now ;)! I’ve had ridiculously good Pitch Wars luck in that all of my mentees have become close friends. Heather and I sent novel-length emails back and forth and found we connected on a lot of levels. I made some suggestions and asked a lot of questions, and Heather basically ran with them. The book’s gone through some additional revisions since then, and I cannot wait to read the final version.
Heather, after Pitch Wars you signed with Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency, tell us about “The Call.” How long were you on submission? What did you do to distract yourself? How did Sarah contact you? How did you respond? How did you celebrate? Anything! We love knowing it all.
Rachel was also a huge part of this process. I texted her CONSTANTLY and called her near tears at some point. I received a number of requests from the PW period, and my first offers came from there. My very first call was about five days after the PW alternate showcase and, oh my, was it dreamy, exhilarating, horrifying, and so gratifying. I wasn’t anxious but rather happy and proud and floating. It’d been a long trek of querying; nearly 10 years. So for the submission to call period to end in a matter of DAYS? My brain!
Within a week of that first offer, I had about 20 requests for my full and subsequently more offers. I was dizzy and not totally convinced it wasn’t a dream. I sprawled out on my bedroom carpeting for every call. I do my best work on the floor. I didn’t take my best notes though because every agent was so kind, passionate, and enchanting.
The call with Sarah Davies, however, was pure magic. I knew from the get-go that my manuscript still had some significant work ahead, and Sarah made it clear that she going to push me–and not with NOTHING LEFT TO BURN, but as a writer still/forever learning craft. I loved her eagerness to push my characters to their darkest moments and her enthusiasm for my career as a whole.
If I remember correctly, after accepting Sarah’s offer (from a parking lot in the backseat of my mom’s car), I celebrated by going out for sushi and a midnight canyon run with my black lab.
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped in your success?
I’m not sure I’d have an agent–let alone a book deal–if it weren’t for Pitch Wars! I was in such a rut. I’d been querying for nearly a decade and, though I wasn’t close to giving up, I was losing steam. Rachel didn’t only help me sharpen my manuscript but also reminded me that I AM a writer and I do have an incredible story to share. Pitch Wars, from the beginning, felt safe and approachable and challenging and, well, fun. Though I’m shy and don’t interact online as much as I wish I did, the community is unparalleled.
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both to answer:
You and your favorite character from your favorite book are meeting at your favorite restaurant. Which character are you with, what restaurant did you choose, and what’s on the menu?
Heather: Oh man. I can’t do favorite books (my brain!) so I’ll pull from a recently recent stand-out… I’d take Scarlett Epstein from Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here to Carmelita’s Mexican Grill in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA. We’d scarf down on some fancy tacos and bonkers addictive chips and salsa. I’m craving some good fan-fiction talk and I know Scarlett would be conversation–and not judge me for my heavy salsa consumption!
Rachel: Well, we are definitely dining at El Chupacabra, this punk rock Mexican restaurant in Seattle where I had the good fortune to take Heather when we met last summer!! Homemade salsas, sunny balcony (the three days of the year it’s sunny in Seattle), fresh ingredients. I have a top 20 favorite books, the rankings are ever-changing, and most of the characters are unhappy people, but right now I’ll go with Bex from Jenn Bennett’s THE ANATOMICAL SHAPE OF A HEART, which is a really brilliant character-driven YA romance.
What author would you like to spend the day with, and what would you do with him/her?
Heather: Courtney Summers. We’d bond over Supernatural (I’d disappoint her with my inability to keep up with trivia and my having fallen behind the last two seasons but oh well) and then we’d scheme up more way ways to ruin our characters’ lives over some food! Hopefully something involving salsa again.
Rachel: I’d love to just hang out with Meg Cabot. She’s the reason I started writing — I was obsessed with all her books and religiously followed her blog when I was in junior high. The very first “novels” I wrote were essentially me trying to emulate her style.
What book character or movie character best describes your personality?
Heather: Hands down, Ygritte from Game of Thrones. Runner up: Sally Freaking Draper from Mad Men. Have at this answer as you will.
Rachel: If you’ve read the book, this may make me seem like a terrible person, but the character I’ve always felt I relate to the most is Lee Fiora from PREP by Curtis Sittenfeld. She’s observant, smart, awkward, desperate for people to like/accept her…I don’t think the latter applies to me too much anymore, but in high school and college — oh my god, I wanted to fit in so badly. So while I guess she doesn’t fully describe my personality right now, she’s the character who popped into my head first!
You just won a spot on The Amazing Race what fictional character do you team with and what makes him/her/it a good match for this adventure?
Heather: Hayley Kincain from The Impossible Knife of Memory and Laia (blanking on last name!) from An Ember in the Ashes! I know, I’m cheating by teaming with two characters but man these two are so strong in such compelling and different ways. They’ll both inspire and challenge me, emotionally and physically.
Rachel: Ha, once again, most of my favorite fictional characters are so mopey that they’d probably be zero help at all! Maybe Regina from Courtney Summers’ SOME GIRLS ARE because she’s so vengeful.
You only have two hours to finish edits, where do you go for some quiet time?
Heather: A large space of carpeting, preferably in my own home, with some blankets and maybe a pillow. Seriously. Writing on my stomach may be hell on my neck, but it gets the job done.
Rachel: A local coffeeshop that sells homemade truffles and looks out onto a lake.
What fictional character would best describe your mentor/mentee (alternate)?
Heather: HA! Oh my goodness. A TACO-EATING, LOVELY, ABSURDLY STYLISH UNICORN FROM A HAPPY UNICORN BOOK (or maybe just my head!). Seriously though? Rachel is Rachel. I can’t choose one fictional character–only parts and pieces that don’t even begin to add up to her kindness, generosity, zest, humor, wisdom…. Hey, well, maybe she’s a bit of Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood. <3
Rachel: That is a tough one! Maybe Hermione because both she and Heather are so ambitious and intelligent!
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
Heather: Rachel is incredible. Her and Pitch Wars changed my life and I’m honored to call this community a home of sorts. Thank you so much.
Rachel: Just that you should add Heather’s book on Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29613845-nothing-left-to-burn?from_new_nav=true&ac=1&from_search=true, and when it comes out, you should listen to this song while reading it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5Or6-HOveg.
Thank you for sharing your success story. We couldn’t be happier about it – CONGRATULATIONS!
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I am Heather. I was born and raised in Southern California, but can’t admit this without insisting I spent a chunk of my teens in Colorado Springs. Despite considering myself a high school drop out, I earned my BA from Colorado College and am currently a grad student at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. These days, I teach college composition with a YA-lit spin, bemoan the mild winters, and write about teenagers while on a bouncy yoga ball as if I am playing Mario Cart. I am represented by the fabulous Sarah Davies of the Greenhouse Literary Agency.
I’ve been off and on blogging here since 2008. This space is where I let myself be messy, embrace typos, and long sentences. I waffle and rant and my mom says I should start being more professional. Maybe someday, but not yet. While some old (and new) posts are outrageously embarrassing, a tad dark (looking at you, early 2011), and rather pointless, I invite you to enjoy my frequent moving tangents and weather dramatics.
Rachel Lynn Solomon
I’m a Pacific Northwest native in love with all forms of storytelling. I’ve produced a radio show in the middle of the night, recorded podcasts in elevators, and sang in a wannabe riot grrrl band. Once, I was part of a group of people who broke a Guinness World Record for the most natural redheads in one place. I love black-and-white movies, tap dancing, and pointless trivia.
I’m passionate about contemporary young adult fiction. Books for teens are intensely powerful and express such a range of emotions. Joy, misery, love, pain — I feel it all when I read and write YA. I hope to write books that mean something to teen readers and capture the reality of falling in love, making mistakes, and growing up.
great news! Congratulations Heather. Do you also link up children’s picture book authors with agents @ #pitchwars?
Definitely want to read this! Great interview, ladies!! <3