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Pitch Wars Success Stories with Angel Di Zhang and Her Mentor, Michelle Hauck

Wednesday, 3 February 2021  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

Illustration of PItch Wars owl mascot saying "mentee graduate"

We’re back with another Pitch Wars Success Story! Please join us in congratulating Angel Di Zhang and her mentor, Michelle Hauck! Angel signed with Jon Michael Darga at Aevitas Creative Management. We’re so excited for them!

Category: Adult

Genre: Magic Realism

Angel, what’s your favorite tip you learned from your mentor?

I learned so much from my mentor that it is hard to choose one thing. If I can pick only one, I would say that she taught me to center my characters’ emotional life. I enjoy concise writing, which led to a joke that I would turn my novel into a haiku. I’m happy to report that it remains a novel.

Tell us about the revision process during Pitch Wars.

It was an intense time filled with lots of learning. I call Michelle my magic realist mentor–think of the perfect mentor, and she will appear. Michelle asked me to read a craft book, and I already had the book on order. We were very much on the same wavelength. In her editorial letter and comments in my manuscript, she was incisive and kind, delivering a nuanced critique of my characters’ emotional lives and helping add to their unique personalities. I had never revised to a deadline, and having the compressed time of Pitch Wars and Michelle’s mentorship helped me navigate the process.

Please tell us about The Call. We’d love as many juicy details as you’d like to share (e.g. how they contacted you, how you responded, celebrations, emotions, how long you had to wait, anything you’d like to share)!

Three weeks after the end of the PW Showcase, I received an email from an agent asking for a call. While I was reading that email, another popped into my Inbox, so I consider the offers concurrent! I spoke with Jon Michael for two hours on the phone, and we could have gone on longer. He had such enthusiasm for my manuscript and understood the story on a deep level. Some readers only saw one aspect of the story, but he recognized that it was a novel not just about family and grief but about art and what it means to be an artist. I had calls with several other agents in the ensuing two weeks, and while they were affable and accomplished, I knew I had found the perfect advocate for me and my work in Jon Michael. I was thrilled to sign with him and remain thrilled.

How do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?

Pitch Wars has helped me connect with a community of writers and infused my life with joy every day. My insightful mentor Michelle helped me shape my manuscript into its best form. My fellow mentees have since become CPs and close friends.

Do you have advice for people thinking about entering Pitch Wars?

Do it. Don’t overthink it. Don’t self-reject.

Entering Pitch Wars and becoming a mentee was one of the best things to happen to my writing. Having a hard deadline for entry forces a completion date on your manuscript. It is possible to tweak and tweak otherwise, forever editing on your own. That way leads madness. Open yourself to the possibilities of not just a wonderful mentor but a community of writers eager to support you!

Michelle, tell us about working with your mentee.

Angel was easy to mentor. Her work was more literary than any of my other mentees and she schooled me. She was always a step ahead of where my suggestions were going. The hardest part was keeping her from turning her prose into a haiku. (That’s our little inside joke.) But seriously, she did like to pare her writing down. Maybe I helped her strike a balance.

We’d love to hear about something amazing your mentee did during Pitch Wars.

Angel was and is a take-charge writer. She really used the full potential of PW when she was a mentee. Not only revising and signing with an agent, but really connecting with the other mentees. I’m not surprised to find her working behind the scenes for Pitch Wars this year. Of all my mentees, Angel was the one I was sure would achieve her goals.

How can mentee hopefuls prepare themselves for Pitch Wars?

There are plenty of craft books to check out to shine your writing before the next Pitch Wars, but there are also many online sites that can help with questions you might have with the smaller things like hyphens and grammar issues. When my first publishing experience was with a small press, I did a lot of my own research on copy editing tidbits. Grammarly and Grammar Girl helped me learn more about the framework that goes into writing, and though line editing isn’t a make or break skill for Pitch Wars, learning more in this area did give me confidence and was something I could do on my own. Anything that gives you confidence as a writer is a good thing.

Let’s find out what drew agent Jon Micahel Darga to this manuscript. 

“My mother died of a broken heart, or so the letter said.” I could end this answer with just that one sentence. How do you read a first line like that and not find yourself drawn in? It’s everything that we teach writers to do: instill that first taste with voice, character, emotion, intrigue. The rest of the manuscript took those same elements and braided them like a loaf of challah, sturdy and gorgeous and sure. But the real “aha” moment arrived after I fell in love with the manuscript but had a few editorial suggestions, which I delivered to Angel over the phone. She thoughtfully and gently told me why my opinions were wrong, and thus armed I revisited the manuscript. It was like walking along a favorite path wearing glasses for the first time, everything thrown into sharper relief even more gorgeous than before: Angel was right. She always is.

How about some fun questions for Angel and Michelle.

You only have two hours to finish some edits. Where do you go for quiet time?

Angel: I would sit on my chaise lounge on my deck and edit there. Despite thinking I edit best in silence at a desk, I’ve clocked myself editing more words per hour outside.

Michelle: I’m not a writer who really needs quiet time. I’m used to working in the middle of the kitchen with kids running in and out all day and the tv going in the background. Or I was used to it. Nowadays the kids are gone and I have maybe too much quiet time.

What author would you like to spend the day with? What would you do with them?

Angel: The poet Lord Byron. We would get tipsy on Ouzo and talk about The Prisoner of Chillon, Percy and Mary Shelley, and swimming the Hellespont.

Michelle: I’d have to say that I’d choose my mentees! I’d love to spend the day with all of my mentees from over the years. What wouldn’t we do! I think there are eleven of them! That’s perfect for a party.

What fictional character would you most like to meet? Why?

Angel: I would like to meet Aria, the protagonist in my WIP so that I could grill her on her motivations and steal some secrets.

Michelle: I think I’d like to tag along with Hercules Poirot as he solves a case. Maybe try my hand at a bit of blackmail and end up getting offed by the murderer. Just hypothetical, of course. 

If you could only be in one fandom, which would you choose?

Angel: This is such a difficult question as I’m enamored of many fictional worlds and would have a hard time giving up any.

Michelle: Be in a fandom? My answer to this hasn’t changed. I’d pick Austen fandom because it’s nice and safe and likely to end in love instead of death.

What inspired you to start writing?

Angel: I have always had a love of words and stories, and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write.

Michelle: The writing bug hit me when I was recovering from a surgery. I was such a huge reader but often couldn’t find what I wanted to read. My husband challenged me to create my own worlds. Challenge accepted.

Share with us your writing process (e.g., routines, tools you use, time of day you write, go to inspiration, etc.).

Angel: I’m a member of the #5amwritersclub but from the wrong direction. I find my mind especially crystal between midnight and 5 am, so I write in that time, free of distractions.

Michelle: I haven’t done much writing lately with my career move, but I write first thing in the morning before thoughts of the day can drive ideas out of my head. Best ideas happen in the shower. I like a bit of noise, whether that is music or some news station in the background. And I always write in the same place–at the kitchen table in a hard chair.

About the Team…

Angel ZhangAngel Di Zhang was born in China and raised in China, England, Canada, and the USA. She was educated in the joint BA-MIA program at Columbia University. She is an internationally exhibited fine-art photographer. Her first novel is The Light of Eternal Spring. Angel lives in a secret garden on a cloud that floats above Toronto.

Website | Twitter




Michelle HauckMichelle devoured the classics at an early age, falling in love with heroic stories like The Three Musketeers, Ivanhoe, and The Scarlet Pimpernel. It wasn’t until her teens that she got her hands on The Sword of Shannara and discovered a new heroic level in SFF. Now she’d like to advocate for stories that take the reader beyond the traditional hero’s journey.

After publishing Birth of Saints, a historic fantasy series with Harper Voyager, mentoring for six years in Pitch Wars, and running writing contests like Query Kombat for many years, she decided to take her love of helping writers further. She is now an associate literary agent with Storm Literary Agency. Currently, Michelle is taking submissions for middle grade, young adult, and some limited adult genres. Find her wishlist at Storm Literary Agency.

Website | Twitter

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