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Pitch Wars Team Interview with Alexandra Otto and mentors, George Jreije and Long-Quan Nguyen

Monday, 8 February 2021  |  Posted by Rochelle Karina


Our mentors are mentoring, our mentees are revising, and we hope you’re making progress on your own manuscript! While we’re all working toward the Agent Showcase starting on February 10, 2021, we hope you’ll take a moment during your writing breaks and get to know our 2020 Pitch Wars Mentor and Mentee Teams.

Next up, we have . . .

Alexandra Otto – Mentee

Website | Twitter


George Jreije

George Jreije – Mentor

Website | Twitter


Long-Quan Nguyen – Mentor


George and Long-Quan, why did you choose Alexandra?

George – I chose Alex because I’m passionate about supporting diverse voices and I was looking for a fresh story idea. Alex’s story took a very fun story idea about family and finding one’s own story, but makes it SO much better by flipping a traditional folk villain into a force of good. I loved the idea instantly!

LQ – When I read the opening chapter, I was drawn to Alex’s great MG voice. I immediately fell in love with the atmosphere—the warmth of a log cabin snuggled in a winter land, the Ukrainian food being cooked, and a grandmother and her grandchildren sharing stories—all the while something ominous and magical is stirring outside. I continued reading and was intrigued by the clever world-building and deep meaning behind the story, with themes exploring identity and finding one’s voice.

Love the idea of flipping a traditional villain to a force of good. OK, Alexandra, why did you choose to submit to George and Long-Quan?

I submitted to George and LQ because they were some of the only mentors who listed that they were looking for comedic voices. My protagonist Anna is serious, but her brother Roman provides comic relief in my novel. I knew I needed to do some revision, but my novel deals with some heavy topics so I wasn’t willing to let go of my comic relief character. A lot of the other mentors had one element of my book on their “do not send” list (like solving puzzles or humor or a portal), so George and LQ just seemed like a really good fit. I liked the description of George being a strong line editor (he is!) and the description of LQ being able to help with consistency of plot – he has been great about helping me tie things together!

Teamwork is dream work! Now, George and Long-Quan, summarize Alexandra’s book in 3 words.

George – Twisty. Ukrainian. Siblings.

LQ – Family. Stories. Magic.

Alexandra, summarize your book in 3 words.

Ukrainian. Storytelling. Wordplay.

Twisty and magical with wordplay? Yes, please.  So, George and Long-Quan, tell us about yourself. Something we may not already know.

George – I’m a businessperson, yogi, and author of the forthcoming MG fantasy series Shad Hadid and the Alchemists of Alexandria. My passion is for supporting diversity both in the workplace or in publishing!

LQ – I love MG stories because they’re full of wonder. They encourage me to keep an open mind and to embrace the possibilities that exist in our world. Right now, I’m working on a story based on Vietnamese folklore. When I’m not reading or writing, I work as a dentist (No, I don’t take pleasure in pulling teeth. Please don’t tell the tooth fairy).

Oh, the stories you two must be able to tell! And, Alexandra, what do you hope to get out of the Pitch Wars experience?

I knew my novel needed to be more cohesive, but I wasn’t sure how. George and LQ suggested I dive deeper into my culture. As soon as I started including more Ukrainian and Slavic holidays and folklore/myths, everything seemed to come together. They also suggested some things I was reluctant to do, like streamline the point of view. But as soon as I did so, I was able to deepen Anna’s character and work more on Roman’s humor to make it stand out in contrast to her.

Yay! for deep cultural dives! OK, Alexandra, tell us about yourself. What makes you and your manuscript unique?

I live in Alaska where I’m a middle school math teacher and a mom. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine and I’ve woven some Ukrainian folk tales together. In my novel, Anna’s grandmother’s stories are stolen and Anna goes on a quest with the witch Baba Yaga to rescue them. They’ll meet some characters from Ukrainian and Slavic myths and folk tales along the way, though with some twists. I had some fun with the language and wordplay like in one of my favorite books, The Phantom Tollbooth. My grandfather told me about Baba Yaga, and for years I thought she was real. Maybe she still is. Be careful that you eat your dinner at night or she might just leave a bowl of horrifying soup on your doorstep with your name on it!

Horrifying soup does not sound fun. Thank you all for sharing a bit about yourselves and your work!

Keep an eye out for George’s debut, SHAD HADID AND THE ALCHEMISTS OF ALEXANDRIA, coming from Harper Children’s in Fall 2022!


Thank you for supporting our Pitch Wars Teams! The Agent Showcase is February 10-15, 2021. Make sure to stop by then and check out all our mentees’ entries when it opens. 


Filed: Interviews

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