The best part of the contests for us around here is when we hear about successes. Today we are so happy to have Emily Martin and her Pitch Wars mentor Evelyn Ehrlich here for a little Q and A. Emily recently signed with Lara Perkins with Andrea Brown Literary. So as to not make this post a novel, we’ll jump right into the interview.
Emily, you were chosen for Pitch Wars, which was such a great accomplishment with over 2,000 applications and about 660 writers entering. What made you decide to send an application to Evelyn?
While it was so difficult narrowing my choices down to four from the amazing group of mentors, Evelyn was always on my DEFINITELY list. Her mentor bio was great, and she very enthusiastically requested contemporary YA. She also mentioned liking books with flawed characters and a lot of emotion, so she seemed like a great fit. And last but not least, Evelyn came off as a tell-it-like-it-is mentor, which was exactly what I was looking for (and needed!).
That’s exactly how we love our critiques—tell-it-like-it-is! Evelyn, what about Emily’s application made you choose her?
Oh, goodness, so many things!
First off, Emily’s opening lines were phenomenal. They were like a one-two punch, except more like a one-two-knockout.
Punch 1: The first sentence hit me with a hint of conflict–concise and masterfully worded–and I was hooked.
Punch 2: The voice, OMG, the voice.
Knockout: The main character, Harper, is bold and wry, and I was smirking along with her by the end of the third sentence. I knew I wanted to spend an entire novel with her.
Secondly, the love interest is named Declan, and I’m a sucker for boys with Irish names.
And third, well, I obviously devoured the rest of the pages attached to the initial application. And requested more pages. And double-checked my e-reader to be sure I was reading a PitchWars manuscript, not an already-published book. Emily’s manuscript was that good. When I finished the thirty pages she’d sent me, I emailed the other mentors she’d applied to and laid down the gauntlet: I told them I loved this manuscript so much, I’d fight tooth and nail for it.
Ha! Love how you described this. It definitely was a knock-out entry. Emily, tell us about the revision period for Pitch Wars?
What a crazy month! Evelyn was only halfway through my manuscript when I got my first homework assignment, and a couple of days later I received a detailed, insightful, and super-motivating editorial letter from her. To sum it up, my manuscript needed a major revision, which would leave no chapter untouched. And I had just four weeks to do it. Cue panic!
I knew I had my work cut out for me, but I also knew Evelyn’s feedback was spot-on, and she was incredibly supportive throughout the entire revision process. After drafting a revision outline and talking it over with Evelyn, I shut myself in my writing cave and emerged a few weeks later with a much stronger (and shinier!) manuscript.
It was definitely a rushed schedule, but great practice for when you start having agent, and then editor deadlines. Evelyn, tell us about your experience with mentoring Emily? How was mentoring your other team members?
I love my team so much! Everyone is so talented, and they were all so appreciative of the feedback I gave them. I loved watching the camaraderie as they got to know each other on twitter and cheered each other on, from the beginning through the very end.
I worked with Emily the most extensively, and she was a dream mentee. I had some huge revision suggestions that required completely overhauling the plot structure, cutting lots of scenes and writing a ton of new material. She didn’t flinch at all but instead met me with excitement and a can-do attitude. Add to that the fact that she had to turn around this ambitious rewrite in four weeks, and you can see why I’m in awe of her. And the manuscript she sent back to me after those four weeks? Phenomenal. She exceeded everything I could have hoped and imagined, and the story was one of the best things I’ve ever read, published novels included!
With the other two members of my team—Laurie Elizabeth Flynn and Regina Garvie—I worked on short pitches, queries, and opening pages. They were both so impressive as well, and they both cleaned up during the agent round! I’m sure there is good news around the corner for them.
I’m lucky to have had such amazingly talented and hard-working writers on my team! Plus, they are all such lovely women, and I’m really happy to be able to call them my friends now, too.
Here’s hoping for more successes! Emily, what was the wait like during the agent round and the days leading up to the offer?
Um, torture. Although, I was actually on vacation during the agent round, and got to play with a sea lion and hang out on the beach… so, I probably had it better than some of my fellow Pitch Wars warriors! But I was crazy excited for the agent round and was dying to read all the pitches, so I was running up to my hotel room every two hours to check in.
Evelyn was awesome (duh.) during the agent round, and sent me a wonderful pep talk which helped keep things in perspective. To feel more productive during the wait, I also sent out a small batch of queries to agents outside of Pitch Wars. I came home after the contest to find an email from an agent I’d queried, asking to have “The Call.” That’s when the waiting became really brutal!
I’d say a sea lion would be a lovely distraction. Emily, you signed with Lara Perkins with Andrea Brown Literary tell us about “The Call.”
I was a shaking, sweaty-palmed bundle of nerves. But Lara is quite possibly the loveliest person I’ve ever spoken with, and we quickly discovered we have so many common interests. I had done a lot of research prior to The Call, so I knew what questions I wanted to ask, but most came up organically as we discussed my novel and the possibility of moving forward together.
As she told me more about her approach to agenting and ABLA, it became clear she was everything I was looking for in an agent. Her revision ideas were so insightful and in line with my own thoughts, and her enthusiasm for my work left me speechless. Literally, I just kept grinning like a fool and then realized she couldn’t actually see my expression and I needed to use my words. Overall it was a thrilling experience, and I knew within the first few minutes that I wanted to work with Lara!
Now for some fun! (Not that that wasn’t fun. It was totally fun. Just … um … ) Anyway, the following questions are for you both to answer:
What fictional academy/university/school would you most want to attend? (ie Starfleet Academy, Hogwarts, Jedi Academy, Camp Half-Breed, Battle School in Space, Beauxbatons, etc)?
Emily: Hogwarts. I can’t even tell you how many daydreams I’ve had about attending Hogwarts.
Evelyn: Algionby Academy, so I could hang out with the Raven Boys. If they’d have me.
I so want to hang out with the Raven Boys, and as far as daydreams about attending Hogwarts, Emily, I think we were in many of the same classes. Potions was my favorite. What fictional character would be your confidante? Enemy? Idol? Kick-butt ally?
Confidante: They just don’t come more level-headed or trustworthy than Charlie from JASPER JONES by Craig Silvey. He had my trust from page one.
Enemy: Courtney Summers has mean girls down. Any of them would get my blood boiling.
Idol: Luna Lovegood. I simply adore her, and admire how little she cares what anyone else thinks. Plus she’s hilarious.
Kick butt ally: Evelyn recently introduced me to Veronica Mars (I know, was I living under a rock!?) and she’s pretty much the definition of kick-butt.
Confidante: Will Grayson (guess which Will Grayson)
Enemy: This is hard. I don’t like having enemies. I guess people who are mean to my friends (or characters I like) are enemies. So I pick… Ed Slaterton from Why We Broke Up, for crushing Min’s heart (and because I remember what it’s like to have your heart pulverized).
Idol: Gansey from The Raven Cycle series
Kick-butt ally: Cassel Sharpe from The Curse Workers series
Oh, Emily, love Luna! I wish I were more like her. Evelyn since you capitalized the name, I’m going with Will Grayson 1. Am I right? (If I’m not right, I will have to scold you for not putting the name in lower case.) Any who, what fictional food/beverage would you most want to try?
Emily: Butterbeer! Or maybe Honeydukes Chocolate Frogs…
Evelyn: Oooh, I’m going to cheat and say I want to attend one of the Midnight Dinners at la maison LeFevre in The Night Circus, especially for dessert: gargantuan cakes shaped like black-and-white circus tents and filled with raspberry cream, pastries lighter than air, figs dripping with honey, sugar blown into fancy curls…
I’m suddenly hungry for gargantuan cakes and thirsty for butterbeer. You are faced with your nemesis! You instantly grab your trusty __________. (lightsaber, phaser, wand, mace, girly scream, katana, broadsword, etc)
Emily: I’m going old school on this one: Sword of Protection, on loan from She-Ra. It projects beams of energy AND is nearly indestructible!
Evelyn: Poison pen.
Ha! The poison pen is a great idea. I’m a sword girl myself. What is your work fuel of choice? (food-wise)
Emily: Hot chocolate with a big dollop of whipped cream—especially during the chilly Pitch Wars season. Also chocolate-covered almonds, peanut butter on toast or apple slices, and tea. Lots and lots of tea.
Evelyn: Carbs! Usually peanut butter/honey/cinnamon sandwiches or chocolate chip cookies. Or both.
I’ll be back, I suddenly need a snack. *runs to pantry, shuffles through shelves* Okay, back. So whose work inspired you to start writing?
Emily: Like so many people, the Harry Potter series was a big contributor to my love for books. But there are so many contemporary YA authors who turned that love into an obsession and a desire to write stories of my own—authors like John Green, Jandy Nelson, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Melina Marchetta.
Evelyn: When I was really young, I wrote a lot of poetry because I loved Shel Silverstein. Then I stopped writing creatively for a couple decades for various reasons, but mostly because I was told that I was a seriously left-brained person who was better suited to reality than fiction. That didn’t keep me from majoring in Russian literature in college (does a seriously left-brained person pick such an impractical major? I think not.), and I am still inspired by the Russian literary masters, even though the connections between Anna Karenina and contemporary YA may not be so obvious.
As for whose work kicked my butt into actually writing creatively again, it was Stephenie Meyer and the Twilight series. I’m not ashamed to admit that I tore through those books. They got me excited about writing, and although it’s popular to put them down, I think there’s a lot to be learned from her work about pacing and setting and characters who stay with you. (And yes, I saw all five of the movies.)
There is no shame in reading the Twilight series! Auntie B’s Book Club that I hosted for my niece when she was younger, read all of them. The girls were obsessed and we had overnight readings each time a new book came out.
Last question: Which team are you? Team Brenda or Team Rae? Kidding. No really (chickens). Thank you for sharing your success story. Rae and I couldn’t be happier about it – CONGRATULATIONS!
Emily: Thank YOU! Pitch Wars was truly one of the coolest experiences of my life, and I learned so much and met so many wonderful people because of it. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity! You gals rock!!
Evelyn: I could never choose! I hope you two stay together forever. PitchWars—and all the other contests you put on—are such incredibly selfless gifts you give to the writing community, and we can never repay you. I am just honored to have been a part of PitchWars!
Wonderful interview, you two! Congratulations on the success, and we’ll just sit here and watch you dance off into the sunset together. Everyone else, go say hello to them on Twitter.
Why are you still here? Scram. Give them some love! (And watch out for any flying punches.)