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Pitch Wars Team Interview with Hetal Avanee and mentor, Gail D. Villanueva

Thursday, 4 February 2021  |  Posted by Brenda Drake


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 . . .

Hetal Avanee – Mentee

Website | Twitter


Gail D. Villanueva – Mentor

Website | Twitter



Gail, why did you choose Hetal?

I always read manuscripts multiple times before writing edit letters or leaving comments, so I wanted to pick a mentee whose work I could revisit gazillion times and never get tired. When I went through my submissions (I read all my subs first before making any requests), Hetal’s application was one of those I repeatedly came back to. Her writing voice grabbed me on the first paragraph alone.

But even though I had a lot of fantastic subs that kept screaming for my attention (the TALENT in my submissions was just amazing), I also needed to know how to help them. I had to have a clear idea on how to guide a mentee in order to bring out their book’s potential while staying true to their vision. I had that feeling about ANIKA PATEL AND THE BEASTLY BAKERY. I was confident I could take it on as a mentor.

Considering how Hetal totally nailed her revisions and how I’m in absolute awe of the changes she’s made, I’m not bragging when say I picked the best mentee. 🙂

It’s so important to connect to a story when mentoring. So happy you did with Hetal’s! And Hetal, why did you choose to submit to Gail?

First, the obvious: I felt like my story ticked at least half the boxes on Gail’s wish list. A complex character, with lots of heart, wanting to save her family. Gail was also one of the few mentors who wanted lower to middle MG, and her visual list of favorite books was so beautiful I kept going back to it. I’m a sucker for good pics.

But less obvious: I mean, because she’s fabulous! I LOLed at that line in her bio. Her humor jumped right off the page. We both work in the realm of IT (her, a web designer, me, a systems analyst), and we’re both plotters (have you seen my spreadsheets?), enjoy zombie movies (P&P&Z anyone?), and love travelling (obvs before Covid)—basically Gail and I might be the same person on opposite sides of the world.

Gail’s humor is the best, and we couldn’t do without her mad tech skills here at Pitch Wars! So Gail, can you summarize Hetal’s book in 3 words?

Desi Family Magic

Hetal, summarize your book in 3 words.

This is hard…Desi Girl Magic

It is hard trying to describe a story with three words, but you’ve hooked me! Gail, tell us about yourself. Something we may not already know.

Well, I’m pretty much a “what you see is what you get” kind of person. People I’ve met in the recent years know me as a kidlit author, an artist, and a tech nerd, which are all true. But folks who have known me for more than a decade know that I play basketball really well and have mixed martial arts training. 🙂

And oh, some folks might not know this yet, but my sophomore middle grade novel, SUGAR AND SPITE, will be published on April 20, 2021 by Scholastic.

I did not know you had mix martial arts training. That’s awesome! Now Hetal, what do you hope to get out of the Pitch Wars experience?

Well, it’s important for me to get this story right. ANIKA PATEL AND THE BEASTLY BAKERY is my first MG, written on the behest of my daughter, and I want it to be the best it possibly can. Gail’s mentor superpowers are helping me get my story to the next level, and I am so grateful for her time and love for this story. Also, her “real talks.”

Like so many others, I do hope that this story will be published with a beautiful cover one day. I want to dedicate it to my dear girl and let her finally read the story she inspired. Yeah, no, she hasn’t read the story yet. 🙂

Finally, I’ve found lifelong friends in this year’s PitchWars class. We’ll get on Zoom sprints and talk so much that we’ve started time boxing our “talk time” so actual writing can get done. Some of us are even talking about a meetup or two when it’s safe to get together. I can’t wait to meet my MG family one day!

From what Gail said, I think you’ve nailed your revisions. I can’t wait to see it in book form one day! And Hetal, tell us about yourself. What makes you and your manuscript unique?

It’s important to me to write about diaspora Desi girl’s experiences in Gujarat—because that’s what I am. Born and raised in the Midwest, I’ve taken 7 trips to India since I was 5 (my last trip was 3 years ago) and India evolves every time. It’s beautiful and chaotic and there’s this feeling I get as soon as I step out of the airport and breathe the masala air. That being said; they know that I am not a resident Indian. Their perception of me, the way they treated me, formed my diasporic experiences. I hope I captured some of that in my pages.

Because my setting is a fantastical Gujarat, I’m addressing the caste system and inherent bias that’s second nature to Indians through the imaginary. Whether it’s about race, body type, or sexual orientation, Guajarati’s say pretty inappropriate things without a second thought. When my parents or in-laws exhibit that behavior, I correct them. My kids are pretty great, they feel the wrongness of the prejudice, and speak up as well. I’m not sure they would if it wasn’t for my example, so I worry for the kids who aren’t as lucky, who aren’t taught to speak up, and will fall into the same pattern as their elders. For all those kids, I hope this story shows them they can.

I hope this story does get into the hands of kids and helps them break the pattern! Thank you Gail and Hetal for the interview!

Check out Gail’s upcoming book releasing April 20, 2021, SUGAR AND SPITE …

Jolina can’t take Claudine’s bullying any longer!

The taunts and teasing are too much. Though Jolina is still learning her grandfather’s arbularyo magic and isn’t supposed to use any on her own, she sneaks into his potions lab to get her revenge. There she creates a batch of gayuma, a powerful love potion.

And it works! The love potion conquers Claudine’s hateful nature. In fact, Claudine doesn’t just stop bullying Jolina—now she wants to be Jolina’s BFF, and does everything and anything Jolina asks.

But magic comes with a cost, and bad intentions beget bad returns. Controlling another person’s ability to love—or hate—will certainly have consequences. The magic demands payment, and it is about to come for Jolina in the form of a terrible storm…

Magic and reality mingle in this brilliant new middle-grade novel about true friendship that asks whether it’s ever okay to take away someone’s free will.

Pre-Order Sugar And Spite!

IndieBound  |  Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Book Depository  |  Indigo  |  Kobo E-Books


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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