We’re so excited whenever one of our mentees gets an agent offer or a publishing deal. Celebrating these successes is one of our favorite parts of the Pitch Wars process. We hope you can join us in congratulating Ian Barnes and his mentors, Michelle Hauck and Carrie Callaghan. Ian signed with Matt Bialer of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, and we couldn’t be happier for them!
Ian what was it about Michelle and Carrie that made you choose to send them a Pitch Wars application?
Michelle’s the fantasy queen of Pitch Wars. Three years I entered the contest with three different books. Each year I subbed to Michelle, and this time I was lucky enough to snag her interest. All those demonic pacts finally paid—wait, forget I said that last part. (Side note: I’m eternally grateful she clears out her sub folder every year and can’t go dig up that first book I tried, because hoo-boy, was that sucker a dumpster fire in hindsight.)
Carrie, interestingly, was someone I almost didn’t sub to. I knew she wanted epic fantasy, but her tastes seemed to veer more historical than second world. Granted, there’s a pretty strong historical vibe to parts of my book, so I’d hoped she’d be able to help with those (and she did!) Thankfully, one of her mentees from last year convinced me that I’d be remiss if I didn’t sub to her. Looking back, Carrie had THE NAME OF THE WIND on her list of favorite books. Given where I ended up, suppose that should’ve been a sign.
Michelle and Carrie, what was it about Ian’s GODBREAKER that hooked you?
Carrie: After reading only the first chapter of GODBREAKER, I had a dream about how desperately I needed to keep reading the rest of Ian’s story. His hero Kast is a grizzled war veteran with a sensitive heart and a deep love for his wife Val, who’s a kick-ass warrior in her own right. I loved their dynamics, and I wanted to know how what had caused the plague ravaging their land. The political dynamics in Kast and Val’s republic were sophisticated and believable, without overwhelming the adventure. There was just so much to love about this story.
Michelle: It was obvious from the first chapter that GODBREAKER had really polished writing. One of the comps was from my favorite author, but not his best known work. What kept me coming back to the story was two things: the main character was middle aged and the dynamic between the characters made me feel they HAD known each other for forty years. A unique angle in an older MC and that the story started not when he becomes a hero, but years afterward. Fascinating!
Ian, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars.
Shortly after the picks were announced, Carrie and Michelle sent me an edit letter detailing the spots they felt GODBREAKER needed work: some character arcs, a few worldbuilding details, emotional beats here and there that needed shoring up, etc. They also sent a commented and line edited to the Void and back copy of my manuscript, full of specific ideas and insights and “Stop misusing present continuing tense!”
Reading each of their comments was like flipping a switch inside my head. ‘Of course this spot needed fixing.’ ‘Yes, this is absolutely what this scene needs.’ I bounced ideas off them, and we bandied back and forth. Their suggestions felt like exactly what my book needed to level up.
Honestly—and I’m sure some of my fellow mentees will gnash their teeth and fetch pitchforks when I say this—my revision process was a relatively easy one. Everything clicked into place with Carrie and Michelle, and each change made me fall more and more in love with my weird little story about middle-aged assassins punching gods.
Carrie and Michelle, tell us about your experience mentoring Ian.
Michelle: We were supposed to mentor Ian? Our work with Ian felt way more like a group of critique partners having fun. He was already a total professional. He jumped right on any work we sent him and saw right away where our suggestions were headed. Had it done before we could check in with him. We had to be super nit-picky to find much to critique. He was ready for more work and already had a solid query and pitch for us. Did I say pitch? I meant like ten variations of a pitch. All we had to do was help with word choices. I told Ian to remember us when he’s famous. J
Carrie: The biggest challenge was not fan-girling over GODBREAKER too much. Michelle and I had some suggestions for improvement, of course, but Ian had obviously learned a lot from his mentor JC Nelson last year. We all had fun polishing this fantastic story.
Ian, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Matt Bialer of Sanford J Greenburger Associates. Please, tell us about “The Call.” We love all the details about the offer, how they contacted you, how you responded, celebrations, emotions . . . How long did you have to wait and how did you distract yourself? Anything! We love hearing about all of it.
Matt was the very first query I sent off the night Pitch Wars ended. The next morning, I got a request for the full. The morning after that, we had a call scheduled for early the following week. It was … surreal. Those five days between scheduling and the call itself were some of the most stressful I’ve ever had.
On paper, Matt was a dream agent. If I’d created a list of attributes I wanted in an agent, he ticked every box. Represents some of my favorite authors, great sales history, works at a stellar agency, career-focused for the writer, great reputation, etc etc. That said, I’m always leery of using the term “dream agent,” because that can be a setup for disappointment. However I’m delighted to say that after talking with Matt, he turned out not only to be a dream agent on paper but one in reality.
When I spoke with him on the phone, I got the impression Matt loved my book even more than I did. He was friendly, approachable, and just plain fun to chat with. I think we drove his assistant nuts the next day constantly trading emails back and forth, chatting about favorite SFF books and debating the finer points of various superhero movies. Beyond that personal connection, the edits he and his assistant suggested during the call were phenomenal. I only got about three hours of sleep that night because I simply could not get my brain to switch off thinking over all the ways I could implement the changes.
Suffice it to say, everything about the call clicked and I felt a moral imperative to sign with him. At that point, I began actively hoping for a river of rejections to flood my inbox so I could sign with Matt early.
Ian, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
This book would not exist and I wouldn’t be half the writer I am without Pitch Wars. As I mentioned previously, this was my third year entering, but my second actually being selected. Last year I wrote an off-the-wall cyberpunk/urban fantasy mashup and worked with JC Nelson on it. Ultimately that book died in the query trenches, but I learned a ton about writing in general.
Even more importantly, I connected with the community. My family of Pitch Wars 2016 mentees was everything I could have hoped for and more. Met some great friends, found new critique partners, and joined the best group of writers ever. Even a year later, we’re still going strong; cheering one another on, tracking our writing in spreadsheets of doom, flipping tables, and making terrible jokes about raptors. Or maybe that’s just me.
Plus, my community of awesome has expanded again with the Pitch Wars 2017 group! I’m not kidding when I say this community is the biggest takeaway from the whole process.
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you all to answer.
If you could live in any fictional world and take everything you love with you, where would you choose to live? What would you do there? And why this world?
Ian: The various Londons of VE Schwab’s SHADES OF MAGIC series. One hopes I could be a magician there, or better yet, an Antari, because who wouldn’t want to slip between worlds every now and then? Barring that, a pirate! Because pirates.
Carrie: I love London, but unlike Ian, I’m terrified of VE Schwab’s versions. I’d prefer Susanna Clarke’s lighter take on London in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.
Michelle: I have an unending supply of contact lenses? Because I’m not going to any world without them. Okay. Then I will cheat and say I want to go to the world I created. My Spanish-influenced desert world from my Birth of Saints series. I’ve been there in my head, I want to see it with actual eyes. Talk to my own characters, like pals. I mean at least until Hollywood gets smart and makes the movie.
Share with us your writing process. Do you write everyday, in sprints, early in the morning, in the bath, pen and paper? What works for you?
Ian: I try to write every day. No real set time, just snatches here and there when I can find the time. The occasional sprint with my PW16 friends. Ideally I like to hit a daily word goal, but that’s more guideline than rule. The main thing is butt in chair at my desk, hammering away at my computer. Usually with a glass of whiskey nearby.
Michelle: I write in the early morning before work and on the weekends. I’m usually too tired to write by afternoon or evening, so that’s when I do other things like blogging or editing. I set a very low goal for myself of 200 words and hope for more. But my true goal is to get a chapter done a week, however long that turns out to be.
Carrie: My kids are aged 6 and 4, and I have a full-time day job, in addition to being an editor for the Washington Independent Review of Books. So I’ve gotten really good at sitting down in a chair to scribble out as many words as I possibly can in 20 or 30 minutes, whenever I can.
What fictional character would be your confidante? Enemy? Idol? Kick-butt ally?
Ian: Ooh, is this the writer equivalent of Kiss-Marry-Kill? Let’s see…
Confidante – Gavin Guile
Enemy – The Outsider
Idol – Luke Skywalker
Kick-butt ally – Harry Dresden
Confidante – Dorothea from Middlemarch
Enemy – King Haggard from The Last Unicorn
Idol – Elizabeth I (Margaret George’s version)
Kick-butt ally – Hoa from The Broken Earth Trilogy
Michelle: I shall be very cliché!
Confident- Elizabeth Bennett
Enemy- Darth Vader
Idol- Kaladin from the Stormlight series
Kick-butt ally- Mat Cauthon from Wheel of Time (I like our chances)
Whose work inspired you to start writing?
Ian: This is a tough one. I started out falling in love with the worlds of Terry Brooks and Tad Williams in high school. But it wasn’t until I found Jim Butcher’s DRESDEN FILES in college that my own ideas really started churning. Toss Brandon Sanderson’s MISTBORN books into the mix, and the stories swirling about my head began consuming my thoughts so much that I felt if I didn’t get them out, they’d fry my brain.
Michelle: Not really any certain work. I’d been reading fantasy for years and had no desire to write anything. I was happy being a working mom. Then an operation for a minor health scare and suddenly I felt ten years younger, I guess you could say. I got back energy I didn’t know I was missing. And all these stories appeared in my head. I started writing and here we are.
Carrie: I’ve been writing on and off since I was a child, so I guess it was my favorite childhood books that inspired me. Knight’s Castle by Edward Eager really caught my young imagination – children who travel back to the time of Ivanhoe. I can see so much of my adult literary passions reflected in that story: the allure of history, the conversation with classical books, and the thrill of adventure.
You just won an entry into a game show and you may only bring one fictional character with you to beat the clock. What show is it and who would you choose to join you?
Ian: Brainiac. Sure, he’s a supervillain, but you just know he’d be killer at Jeopardy.
Carrie: I don’t watch TV, so I’d bring along Tyrion Lannister. We would drink and subvert the proceedings while nursing our secret resentments at being left out.
Michelle: I’m afraid a supervillain would make off with our loot. I’m gonna go with a mentor/wiseman type. Like Yoda or Gandalf. The kind of character who would make me feel calm and confident.
Any last words you’d like to share or tell us that wasn’t covered in the questions above?
Ian: Never give up. Keep moving forward. If the book you’re writing now dies in the query trenches/withers on the on-sub vine/fails to summon that Dark God to wipe out mankind, write a new one. More importantly, write one you love. And don’t approach something new as a lifeline. No ‘this book will get me an agent’ type mentalities, because that’ll nuke your brain. More ‘this book will be better than the last!’ Easier said than done, but that mindset kept me moving forward over the years and eventually led me here.
Michelle: Last words: THE END. J Okay, how about think of your writing career as a journey. There will be small goals and larger ones, but always come up with more goals to be steps along your journey. When you achieve one, always have another one ready to take its place so your journey forward never ends.
Carrie: Do what you love. There’s no point in anything else. Just make sure you can also pay the bills.
Thank you for sharing your success story with us! We wish you all the best in your publishing journey and hope you’ll share your future successes with us. CONGRATULATIONS!
Ian Barnes is a writer of bad jokes and various flavors of fantasy. A former computer engineer-turned-technical writer-turned-purveyor of puns, he lives outside Boston with his wife amid an ever-expanding fort of books. He’s a lover of video games and whiskey, and will happily talk your ear off about either. When he was four, a ghost said hi to him. Ian is represented by Matt Bialer of Sanford J Greenburger Associates.
Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling metropolis of northern Indiana with her hubby and two kids in college. Besides working with special needs children by day, she writes all sorts of fantasy. A book worm, she passes up the darker vices in favor of chocolate. She is a co-host of the yearly contests Query Kombat, Nightmare on Query Street, Picture Book Party and Sun versus Snow. Her Birth of Saints trilogy from Harper Voyager features Grudging, Faithful, and Steadfast. She’s repped by Marisa Corvisiero of Corvisiero Literary.
Carrie Callaghan is a historical fiction author living in Maryland with her family and two ridiculous cats. Her debut novel, A Light of Her Own, about Dutch painter Judith Leyster is forthcoming from Amberjack Publishing in November 2018. Her short stories have been published in Silk Road, Floodwall, The MacGuffin, and elsewhere. She’s also a senior editor with the Washington Independent Review of Books.