When our mentees land an agent or a publishing deal, it’s one of the highlights of being part of Pitch Wars. We’re so excited for Rachel Griffin and her mentor, Heather Ezell. Rachel signed with Melissa Sarver White of Folio Literary Management after Pitch Wars 2016, and we couldn’t be happier for her! Please, help me in congratulating Rachel and Heather on their Pitch Wars Success!
Rachel, what was it about Heather that made you choose to send her a Pitch Wars application?
Heather was so approachable online, and when I read her mentor bio, I was sold. My initial reaction after reading Heather’s bio was, “I really want to be friends with this person!” It also didn’t hurt that the elements she was looking for lined up well with my manuscript. One of the things I love about Heather is that she’s so genuine, and that came through well before we started working together for Pitch Wars.
Heather, what was it about Rachel’s SHADOWS CAST BY DREAMS that hooked you?
Oh, it was absolutely Rachel’s premise. She basically had me at hello. A car crash + brain tumor leading a girl and a boy to fall in love in a dream? Yes, please. I’ve always been so compelled by dream stories and Rachel had clearly twisted the norm. Her query snagged me quick with what it promised and I knew I needed to read her manuscript ASAP.
Rachel, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?
It was intense! My first order of business was to rewrite my manuscript from third person past to first person present, then dive into everything else. It ended up being a massive rewrite, and Heather was such a dream to work with. I entered Pitch Wars because I felt that something was missing from my manuscript, but I didn’t know what – Heather helped me find the things that were missing. On top of providing amazing feedback, she was so encouraging throughout the entire process. Not to mention she read my manuscript THREE times in less than two months. My manuscript got stronger with each revision, and so did my writing. And on top of everything, I made a wonderful friend.
Heather, tell us about your experience mentoring Rachel.
It was an absolute delight. This was my first time mentoring in Pitch Wars (after being an alternate mentee in 2014) and Rachel made the process so incredibly rewarding. She spoiled me with her open mind and ruthlessness toward her drafts. I challenged her to take significant risks (hello, total POV change!) and, without fail, she went far beyond my expectations. She still inspires me with the optimism and dedication with which she approaches revisions. And goodness, SHADOWS CAST BY DREAMS, truly, it gets better every time. I can’t wait to read it again, and again, and again, forever. My experience mentoring Rachel was fabulous, and that’s all because of her!
Rachel, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Melissa Sarver White of Folio Literary Management. 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.
I found Melissa when I was researching agents to query, and after reading what she was looking for and the authors she represents, she jumped to the top of my list (I actually fist-pumped the air when she requested my full)! When I received an email from her requesting to talk on the phone, I was ecstatic. We spoke on the phone for almost an hour, and Melissa was enthusiastic and her revision ideas for the book aligned so well with my vision for it. She offered at the end of our call (!!!) and I was over the moon. I gave a deadline of one week right before Christmas, and that whole week I was a ball of nerves! I knew I wanted to work with Melissa right away, and I was thrilled when I could finally call her and officially accept her offer. I’m still pinching myself – Melissa is wonderful and I feel very fortunate that I get to work with her!
Rachel, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
My manuscript is so much stronger because of Pitch Wars! Heather’s feedback brought my manuscript to the next level. I never would have thought to rewrite my book in first person, and all it took was someone who saw the potential I didn’t see. The manuscript got tighter, my writing improved, and I came out of Pitch Wars with a better novel. I am so thankful Heather believed in me and story, and so thankful to Pitch Wars for the incredible opportunity. I also have to give a shout-out to the amazing Pitch Wars community – it’s been wonderful going through this journey with such a supportive group of people.
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?
Rachel: I’d go live in the castle from Beauty and the Beast. That library! The huge fireplaces! The surrounding trees! Tea whenever I want! It would be magical.
Heather: My answer will always be the world of Harry Potter. I may sometimes answer otherwise, but let’s be real, I’d give up everything to teach at Hogwarts and live in the world of Harry Potter.
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?
Rachel: I’m running from the Cylons and bringing William Adama and Athena because they’re both badasses. (Am I allowed to swear in this? lol)
Heather: I’m running from some horrid creature that can inflict our world with a thousand-year drought (being a child in Southern California ruined me and the word drought alone gives me anxiety). And my side-kick is, well, this time, it’s Celaena Sardothien. She can do the dirty work while I sprint to the rain.
What do you think is the most fascinating invention from fiction and what book is it from?
Rachel: I’m not sure if this counts as an invention, but I’m fascinated by the simulation in Ender’s Game that turns out to be reality.
Heather: Hm. I keep coming back to the Pensieve in the Harry Potter series. I’m obsessed with memories, with looking back at old videos, photos, journals, letters. I’m obsessed with documenting and saving and confirming memories with old friends–what someone said, what I ate, why she was upset, etc. If only I could have a pensieve! Additionally, I have delayed-onset PTSD and an avenue of treatment is recovering and reliving memories–and it’s all rather strange. I often wish I could simply hand off my backlogged memories to my therapist and let her sort them out… so, for that, the pensieve would be especially helpful!
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?
Rachel: I’m fortunate enough to write full-time, so I write every day. I am not a morning person, so typically I’ll spend the mornings checking email, social media, or writing blog posts, and once 2pm rolls around I hit my writing groove and write until 12:30am or so (with a break in there for dinner!). I’m a big believer in writing when I don’t feel inspired or when the words are hard to get down on the page. I find sprints really helpful when I’m drafting, and if I’m really stuck, I’ll walk away from my computer and write things down free-hand.
Heather: It so depends on what’s happening in my life. I’m still at this weird age (or, really, phase) in which my circumstances can’t seem to remain the same for longer than six months. So it’s always a game of adapting, and sometimes I fail. But, typically, I aim to write at least 15 hours a week–maybe this is a few hours a day or perhaps done over the course of two long days. Whatever gets the hours in (and I always hope for more than 15). Also, I’m a longtime Forest app fan and use it to write in thirty minute segments with short breaks. Sometimes I write at night. Sometimes in the morning. Whenever I can. I wish I could write in the bath but I’m far too clumsy!
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?
Rachel: Lattes and tea for sure. When I’m working with a deadline, it’s pretty common for me to forget to eat, so I doubt I’d gather any food. I’d hide in my home office with the lights dim and the candles lit. And then I’d have a huge celebration dinner when it’s done, with red wine, steak, and macaroni and cheese. And bread. Lots of bread.
Heather: Coffee. Sparkling water. Chocolate, tumeric popcorn, pho. You will find me with those items hiding on my living room floor behind the couch under a pile of blankets.
What or who keeps you motivated, inspired, or is your biggest support to keep writing?
Rachel: First of all, myself. Being a published author has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. Whenever I feel discouraged or unmotivated, I remind myself that every new word on the page is a step closer to fulfilling that dream. And also my husband. He is the one who encouraged me to quit my job to pursue writing full-time. I bounce ideas off him, he’s always my first reader, and he gives me the time and space I need to make my writing a priority. He’s also my biggest fan – he’s read this manuscript three times already!
Heather: Oh, this is hard. I’ve spent my entire life writing, so it’s strange to pinpoint a singular motivation for writing–it’s simply what I do, for so many reasons. Inspiration most often comes from my trying to understand the inexplicable or a jarring image that I can’t shake or a reason behind an action. I’m often accused of being far too nosey and curious but that fuels my story-thinking process! And support? I am so, so lucky. Support is everywhere: my parents (my mom is my top CP), my partner, my dog, communities like Pitch Wars… oh and now a special lady named Rachel Griffin. <3
Please, share any last words you would like to add.
Rachel: Put yourself out there. Don’t self-reject. That’s the biggest thing I learned from Pitch Wars. I used to be too shy or scared to advocate for my work and put it out in the world, but these opportunities only arose because I stepped outside my comfort zone and threw my hat in the ring. Believe in yourself, put in the hard work, and don’t give up!
Heather: SHADOWS CAST BY DREAMS is a total swoon heart break of a read and I can’t wait for the world to devour it. Also, Rachel is now one of my dearest friends. I lucked out big time as a mentor. The end.
Thank you for sharing your success story with us. We wish you all the best in your publishing journey! CONGRATULATIONS!
Rachel Griffin – Mentee
Rachel Griffin graduated from Seattle University with a bachelor of science in diagnostic ultrasound. She wrote her first novel in the evenings and weekends while working full-time, and eventually traded in her ultrasound transducer for a keyboard. Writing full-time has been an absolute dream come true.
She lives with her very supportive husband and schnoodle outside of Seattle, where she reads, hikes, and drinks a lot of tea. She’s also a flutist and avid macaroni-and-cheese connoisseur. She sits on the board of Seattle Arts and Lectures, a non-profit organization dedicated to championing the literary arts, because words matter.
Heather Ezell – Mentor
A Southern California native, Heather Ezell’s first novel – NOTHING LEFT TO BURN – will be out with Razorbill Penguin in Spring 2018. Though by many definitions a high school dropout, Heather ultimately graduated from Colorado College with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. After a brief spell of graduate school in Interior Alaska, she now lives in Washington State. She is a freelance editor, a forever teacher, and a girl who will always claim to practice amateur ballet.