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Pitch Wars Interview with Joan He and her mentor, Mara Rae Rutherford

Wednesday, 23 September 2015  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

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Welcome to the Pitch Wars Team Interviews by Marnise Nicole

Bringing you a closer look at each Pitch War Team and their projects.

Be sure to comment with support, comments, and questions.

Meet Joan He and Mara Rae Rutherford

Team: Team B-Words


Mara Rae Rutherford (Mentor), tell us a little about yourself.  

My favorite genre is YA fantasy (favorite books include The Scorpio Races, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and everything by Neil Gaiman), but I like to take breaks from my own genre. For example, I’m currently reading Bossypants by Tina Fey, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (a must for anyone who moves every two years!), and I’m about to delve into some Peruvian folklore for inspiration for my next book. I have no idea how to describe my own writing style, but it has recently been called “enchanting” by one fellow Pitch Wars mentor, and “fast-paced and thrilling” by another, and that sounds good to me! “Atmospheric” is another word I’ve heard used – I think if you’re going to set a novel in a foreign country, it helps if you’ve spent some time there.


Joan HeJoan He (Mentee), tell us a little about yourself.    

It’s too hard to decide what my favorite novels are, but some of my favorite authors are Sara Zarr, Marie Rutkoski, Lauren DeStefano, Ruta Sepetys, and Cristin Terrill. From that you can probably tell that I read across the genres, from historical fiction to time travel/thriller, though I do find myself reaching for books from the more speculative side of the spectrum. I cherish beautifully strung-together words and protagonists of quiet strength. I’ve been told that my writing style is minimalistic yet descriptive, which sounds simple enough. The process of getting the words down is a whole other story. I frequently will write out of order, and my pre-first draft of anything will come out with many random strings of letters (fdjskfjds is my favorite) acting as substitutes for words, sentences, or even full paragraphs that I could not come up with on the spot. My real first draft involves going back to plug in the holes.

When I’m not writing and drowning in textbook readings, I’m baking cupcakes as fuel for when I am writing and drowning in textbook readings.

Mara, why did you decide to participate in Pitch Wars?       

I have wanted to be a Pitch Wars mentor since before I ever made it into Pitch Wars as a mentee! I just knew it would be such an awesome way to pay it forward if I was ever lucky enough to sign with an agent. However, I was reluctant to sign up as a mentor this year because I was afraid I didn’t have much to offer my mentee. Fortunately I was able to sign up with Jessie Humphries, my mentor from last year, and I feel better knowing she’s there to guide me.

Joan, why did you decide to participate in Pitch Wars?          

I’ve participated in other pitch-type contests before, but never Pitch Wars. This was partially due to bad timing (I’d either exhausted a manuscript in the query trenches and/or didn’t have a polished one ready) but also partially due to fear. I say fear because I’ve always thought of this contest as the epitome of pitch contests, probably because of all the Pitch Wars related success stories that I’ve read and the unbelievable quality of all the entries. This year, I knew I had no excuse not to participate. I had a relatively polished manuscript (which I will probably soon learn is not actually that polished at all, haha) that hadn’t been queried extensively yet. I put aside my fear that I couldn’t possibly match up to all the other amazing contestants and made the leap. It goes without saying that I’m so glad that I did!

Mara, what are you most excited for?

I’m excited to see Joan’s manuscript get even more amazing, and hopefully get lots of requests in the agent round. But I think I’m most excited to make another writing friend who I hope will turn into an awesome CP! I don’t doubt I’ll be learning as much from Joan as she learns from me (seriously, her book is gorgeous). I just love the community Brenda has created and I am so grateful to be a part of it.

Joan, what are you most excited for?

I’m super excited at the opportunity of getting feedback from an experienced author like Mara! It really is quite unbelievable that I’m going to be getting her advice when so many seasoned authors simply don’t have the time to do this sort of thing for writers trying to make it—which is completely understandable. I’m also looking forward to reading the 250 words and pitches of fellow Mentees when the agent round goes live. Some of the premises that I’ve read so far need to be on shelves ASAP.

Joan, describe your novel in 3 words.

Complicity, betrayal, downfall

Mara, describe your mentee’s novel in 3 words.    

Loyalty, deception, strength

Check Us Out…

 Joan He

Joan He, Team Mentee

Twitter | Website

Hi!! I’m Joan He, a writer of YA and NA and a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Psychology. During the seven years that I trained to become a professional artist at portrait painter Nelson Shank’s studio, I secretly wrote fanfcition for Spirited Away on the side. It was through the journey of 140k words and outpouring of reader support that I discovered that my true passion in writing. From there on, I started exploring my own work.


Mara Rae Rutherford, Team Mentor

Twitter | Website

My name is Mara Rae Rutherford and I write YA speculative fiction. My husband is a diplomat, so we live all over the world with our two sons, Jack and Will. We’re currently posted to Lima, Peru, and we our loving the food, culture, and weather! Our last post was Yekaterinburg, Russia, where I was inspired to write WINTERSOUL, the novel that helped me sign with my agent after Pitch Wars 2014. I’m also a triplet born on Leap Day.


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