Having our mentees land an agent or a publishing deal is one of the highlights of being part of Pitch Wars. We’re so excited for Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo and her mentors, Laura Shovan and Tricia Clasen. Jeanne signed with Stacey Glick of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret after Pitch Wars 2016, and we couldn’t be happier for her! Please, help me in congratulating Jeanne, Laura, and Tricia on their Pitch Wars Success.
AND HAPPY VALENTINES’ DAY! WE LOVE YOU!
Jeanne, what was it about Laura & Tricia that made you choose to send them a Pitch Wars application?
There were a lot of wonderful mentors, but the thing that kept me coming back to Laura & Tricia’s Wish List was when they said, “If you’re looking for a mentor to help clean up an almost-there manuscript, someone else will be a better coach…” I loved this because I knew they were going to expect a lot from me and that they would help me dig deep into the heart of Ruby’s story to tell it in the best possible way. Plus, they are like SO AMAZINGLY TALENTED!
Laura & Tricia, what was it about Jeanne’s RUBY IN THE SKY that hooked you?
Tricia: Reading submissions was an educational process. We adored the heart in the middle-grade submissions, which was exactly what we asked for. Because we were working as a team, we also had to agree on shared criteria. Jeanne presented us with a manuscript that was the perfect blend—a likeable narrator, an intriguing plot, gorgeous writing, and real characters with real problems. We loved what we read and had a good sense of how we could help Jeanne as well.
Laura: Tricia and I sent follow-up questions to several PitchWars hopefuls. One question was, “Why are you the right person to tell this story? We’d like to hear about your expertise/real life experiences connected with the characters and their story.” Jeanne’s thoughtful and honest response sealed the deal for me. Through Ruby, she’s exploring how an admirable quality like courage might be confusing for a ‘tween. In RUBY IN THE SKY, a parent’s courageous act upends the main character’s life.
Jeanne, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?
Rigorous – in the best way possible. I still can’t get over how hard Laura & Tricia worked reading, editing, encouraging, skyping. They went above-and-beyond. I was so happy I’d met deadline on the first round of revisions, I hadn’t expected the second-round edits to be so intense. But I love that feeling — when you’re totally immersed in your story (it was time for the kids to learn how to cook for themselves, anyway). In the end, the hard work paid off. Admittedly there were times when my manuscript was like the broken toaster I’d taken apart in hopes of fixing — parts scattered all about. But eventually, I was able to fit the pieces where they belonged. From that revision, I took away the knowledge that even when you feel like things are never going to come together – you have to trust the process and press forward.
Laura & Tricia, tell us about your experience mentoring Jeanne.
Tricia: Jeanne inspired us. We knew that we set the bar very high for her, creating an expectation that for all intents and purposes could have been unreachable. Jeanne was so impressive in her ability to hear our comments, to know that we loved her story and believed in it and ultimately to trust a shared vision. We appreciated her openness and her incredible work ethic.
Laura: Tricia’s exactly right. Jeanne came into this process willing to take a hard look at a manuscript that had already received accolades. When everyone’s telling you, “This is fabulous,” it takes guts to pull a book apart and figure out what’s not working – but that’s exactly what Jeanne did. Together, we went back to the original inspiration for Ruby’s story. Once Jeanne found that focus, everything fell into place.
Jeanne, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Stacey Glick of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. Please, tell us about “The Call.” We love all the details about the offer, how she 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.
The Agent round was difficult because there were so many amazing agents and I would have been honored to be represented by any of them, but … I’ve had an agent-crush on Stacey Glick ever since I saw her at the Rutgers One-on-one Conference in October 2015, where she spoke about a book she’d championed through the submission process. Her passion for her work and dedication to her clients was so evident. When she actually requested RUBY during the agent round, I nearly fell over. The Call of course, was surreal, but it felt as though the stars had lined up. I am honored to have her represent RUBY because I know she loves her as much as I do.
Jeanne, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
My participation in PitchWars didn’t just strengthen my manuscript and provide me the exposure to connect with a rock-star agent, it gave me the tools to develop better future manuscripts and pursue my dream career: Writing for children.
At the very beginning, Tricia and Laura described RUBY IN THE SKY as: VOICE YIELDS TRUTH. These words have become precious to me. They are the incantation that begins my writing day. So, of course, I must say that meeting Laura & Tricia accounts for all my success in PitchWars.
I must also give a shout out to the many other Mentees I’ve gotten to know. I am so honored to be a part of this incredibly talented community and hope that as we each move forward with our stories and careers that this experience will be the glue that holds us together because, for me, it is where everything changed.
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both 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?
Jeanne: The Murry twins’ vegetable garden where I would sit amongst the broccoli and sip hot cocoa with Meg and Calvin and Charles Wallace. I’d bring my laptop and Meadow who would become fast friends with Fortinbras.
Tricia: I can’t speak for Laura but I’m off to teach “Understanding Muggles” at Hogwarts.
Laura: I’m reading the sequel to Heidi Heilig’s amazing debut, THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE. I would happily take a trip with Nix and Kash on their time-traveling pirate ship, The Temptation.
Somewhere in the (known or unknown) universe, you’re in a high-speed chase and have to escape the bad guys. Who are you running from and what fictional character is your side-kick?
Jeanne: We are running from IT – the source of all that is evil in the world: bigotry, intolerance, ignorance, walls of hatred and inane executive orders. But I’ve got Meg Murry by my side and with her fierce love and bravery, we can remind the world that LOVE is truly the strongest weapon against evil.
Tricia: Same IT. But Tricia’s got Hermione and that endless bag of goodies!
Laura: I’m going to mash-up THE MATRIX and THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY for this one. I’m running from Mr. Smith (Matrix) and my sidekicks are Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and Trillian (Hitchhiker’s Guide). Oh. I just realized how much a certain world leader looks like a Vogon.
What do you think is the most fascinating invention from fiction and what book is it from?
Jeanne: Not to overplay the Wrinkle in Time reference, but it was my first love, so I must say a Tesseract. I often ponder its usefulness while stuck on I-95.
Tricia: I’ll carry my theme. Hermione and that BAG! To have everything you need always, but it’s so small.
Laura: The Hitchhiker’s Guide (the actual guide) and the Babel Fish in particular. You stick the fish in your ear and it translates any language in the universe for you.
Share with us your writing process. Do you write every day, in sprints, early in the morning, in the bath, pen and paper? What works for you?
Jeanne: On a perfect day, my kids are at school by 7:30, I take Meadow for a hike, then settle into my desk for an intense, distraction-free writing session. However, I work part time and have a host of other obligations, but this is always my goal.
Tricia: I tend to write NaNoWriMo style. Short time frame. Lots of words. Then nothing for a long time. I would like to be more consistent, but inertia is a killer for me. I usually split it between morning and evening when it’s quiet in the house and I’m always a keyboard gal.
Laura: I like to write about two hours a day in the morning. That goes out the window during revision crunch time, when I’m glued to my keyboard for days at a time.
You have one day to finish the last pages of your next bestselling novel. What food/drinks do you get and where do you go hide out to meet the deadline?
Jeanne: Writing is like running a marathon – no water stops in the last mile! Okay, except maybe sometimes I grab a handful of Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chips and a chai tea with almond milk and then I work at my husband’s desk because mine is a complete mess.
Tricia: diet coke, twizzlers, milk chocolate, and chips and dip.
Laura: British tea with milk (comfort food) and frozen grapes to crunch on. I don’t do people when I’m on deadline, so I’m home with only the dogs for company.
What or who keeps you motivated, inspired, or is your biggest support to keep writing?
Jeanne: Oh my goodness – everyone! Other writers, my mentors and CPs and the amazing art they produce, my husband, my kids, my mom and sisters and brother and the fact that every morning I wake up and remember that I get another day and I am so very, very grateful.
Tricia: I just want to feel like I’ve given something to the world, so I stay motivated based on that goal.
Laura: I’ll go back to the phrase “Voice Yields Truth,” which Tricia came up with as a guiding principle for Jeanne’s book. Writing helps me make sense of the world and the people in it. For me, writing and language are the best tools we have for yielding truth.
Please, share any last words you would like to add.
Jeanne: My words cannot adequately describe the gratitude I have for Laura & Tricia & Brenda and everyone who is part of this amazing community that is so generous with their time and talent. I hope someday I can give back even half of what you all have given to me. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Tricia: What a blessing to be a part of Jeanne’s journey. It’s one thing to fall in love with a character and her story, but then to meet such an amazing real human along the way was a bonus. Big things are coming for Jeanne!
Laura: I feel lucky to have been a PitchWars mentee (Joy McCullough-Carranza coached me) and now a mentor. Working with Jeanne and Tricia reminded me how much I love the process of digging into a story and finding its heart. I’m grateful to them both for being such great teammates.
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!
Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo
Jeanne lives in Ellington, Connecticut with her husband, Paul, her children, Andrew and Sophia and a poorly behaved Golden Retriever named Meadow.
Her middle grade novel, Ruby in the Sky has won the SCBWI Work-in-progress Award in the Middle Grade Category (2016), the PEN-New England, Susan Bloom Discovery Award (2016), the Tassy Walden, New Voices in Children’s Literature Award (2015), and the Ruth Landers Glass Scholarship at the spring NE-SCBWI conference (2016). She is currently working on another middle grade novel, The Prisoner’s Daughter, set in communist Czechoslovakia in 1989.
She is a member of SCBWI and has attended numerous writing conferences, most notably: Rutgers One-on-one Plus, namelos, Patricia Reilly Giff’s Writing Class, Whispering Pines and the Time to Write Retreat.A breast cancer survivor, Jeanne has been a public defender, taught English at the Gymnazium Parovska in Nitra, Slovakia, worked on Capitol Hill and waited tables at an all-night café/bookstore in Washington, D.C.
In both her writing and her work, giving a voice to the voiceless, remains her greatest priority.
Laura Shovan is a Poetry Friday blogger, former editor for Little Patuxent Review and editor of two poetry anthologies. Her chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone, won the inaugural Harriss Poetry Prize. Laura works with children as a poet-in-the-schools and is currently serving as the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society’s Writer-in-Residence. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, her novel-in-verse for children, will be published April 12 (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House).
Tricia is a college professor of communication at University of Wisconsin-Rock County. She is co-editor of Gendered Identities: Critical Readings of Gender in Children’s and Young Adult Literature, forthcoming Fall of 2016 by Routledge. She grew up in a small town in Wisconsin. Always a lover of a good story, she spent her days reading and dreaming of being a writer, though she never wrote any fiction until much later. After many years off exploring, she returned to her much-too-frigid home state where she lives with her husband and two girls, her parents, and what seems like small zoo. Most of her time goes to shuttling her kids to dance and trying to get the glitter off the kitchen floor as well as planning trips to much warmer destinations. Her debut novel, THE HAUNTED HOUSE PROJECT, will be published in October by Sky Pony Press.