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 . . .
Jaq Evans – Mentee
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Cole Nagamatsu – Mentor
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Sequoia Nagamatsu – Mentor
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Cole and Sequoia, why did you choose Jaq?
Cole: THE SPINNEY grabbed us both right away. The line-level writing is beautiful, but it’s also paced and plotted well. That’s an exciting combination. Though the manuscript was already polished, we had ideas for revision, and we were confident Jaq would be able to implement them. We both love horror and lyrical writing, and Jaq’s novel brings those two loves of ours together. Fake paranormal investigators find a very real supernatural entity lurking in the woods: there’s a lot to like. Jaq is also very skilled at putting her characters’ complicated feelings into words, and I appreciate when books can make me feel connected to the characters–even (or especially) when they are selfish, dishonest, or otherwise flawed.
Sequoia: We were captivated by the story, and we both like novels that push the envelope in terms of genre but are beautifully written. Jaq’s manuscript merges literary sensibilities with elements of horror–a few of our favorite things. It was already an accomplished novel, but we felt that we could help the book reach the next level in time for the showcase. It’s the kind of book we’d love to have on our shelves.
It sounds like a fun, if scary, read! Love that fake paranormal investigators find a real one. And Jaq, why did you choose to submit to Cole and Sequoia?
I spent a few weeks deliberating over whether or not to enter Pitch Wars, and then suddenly the submission weekend arrived so I mainlined mentor wishlists and blogs for about 4 hours straight. Cole and Sequoia went to my shortlist immediately.
Not only did they ask for my preferred blend of dark, lyrical writing and genre concepts, their wishlist included all sorts of specifics found in my book as well as a few requests that spoke to me personally—#ownvoices, climate change narratives, fabulism as distinct from magical realism. Outside of the wishlist itself, I liked that Sequoia came from short fiction. The chance to work with two novelists with such varied backgrounds felt really valuable, especially as I spent the last few years focused almost exclusively on short fiction before writing this novel.
Finally, Cole and Sequoia are both known for gorgeous prose, and I’m a fan of Psychopomp Magazine (had a story rejected just last year, in fact!), so I knew I would be in great hands purely from a craft perspective.
I’m so glad you decided to enter! So Cole and Sequoia, can you summarize Jaq’s book in 3 words.
Cole: lyrical, eerie, suspenseful
Sequoia: surreal, atmospheric, nimble
Jaq, summarize your book in 3 words.
Lies / Forests / Bravado
All intriguing words. I’m sold! Cole and Sequoia, can tell us about yourselves? Something we may not already know.
Cole: I’m a big horror movie fan. That’s the one genre of movie I’m always in the mood for. I also really like video games. Growing up I was pretty obsessed with Final Fantasy, but now my favorite franchises are Dragon Age and Mass Effect. At the moment my mind is usually on Assassin’s Creed because I’m finally playing the Fate of Atlantis DLC for Odyssey.
Sequoia: Maybe it’s because a lot of the other writers I know were English or creative writing majors in undergrad, but people seem to be surprised that I was a biological anthropology major. I wasn’t very good at science, but I do love it. I’m a big Star Trek fan. One more thing people might not know–I really like LEGO. Half our basement is set up for assembling and displaying LEGOs.
I’m a fan of horror movies, but I’m a total chicken and have to cover my face with my hands and watch it between my fingers. Now back to Jaq. What do you hope to get out of the Pitch Wars experience?
Two years ago, I wrote a flash fiction piece in about 30 minutes, and the core of it wouldn’t leave my head. That 700-word story turned into this project. Now, after so much time getting to know the characters and following them to the end, I’m ready for someone else to dig around and shine a flashlight on the things I’ve missed. Beyond just improving the book itself, I’m hoping this experience will help me better self-edit my future longform work, as well as prepare for a career that will (if all goes well…) involve a lot of pitches and synopses and edit letters.
My writing career to this point has also made it abundantly clear that if you don’t have people in your corner, doing this is incredibly difficult and exhausting. To that end, I’m just really glad to be working with such thoughtful and talented authors. I believe the connections made during this process are specific and important and lasting, with special thanks to Twitter.
Working towards a writing career is difficult without having other writers in your corner. So happy you’re connecting with other writers! And Jaq, can you tell us about yourself? What makes you and your manuscript unique?
The Spinney is absolutely the spawn of my childhood in rural Virginia, where I grew up running wild in the woods and decorating my room with sticks, rocks, and bleached animal bones found on the railroad tracks near my house. (These days it’s mostly just rocks.) I’m a big fan of pairing the lovely with the grotesque, both aesthetically and narratively: using horrors to expose beauty.
This book also features some good, old-fashioned ghost hunting. Not going to lie, I spent many a night with a tape recorder in various abandoned barns, convincing my friends we might find a spirit or two. We did not. I think. But I wanted to capture the specific terror and wonder of those rare moments of belief. More personally, I need more characters to go around being casually nonbinary and bisexual and anxious like myself, so I wrote some.
On a deeper level, I’m fascinated by the lies we tell ourselves—about ourselves, about our histories, about what other people think of us—and how those stories shift over time, as well as how they impact our relationships. That’s hardly unique to me and this manuscript, but I’m particularly interested in how this kind of self-storytelling intersects with environmentalism: we love and are shaped by nature, while simultaneously carving our names into it.
I think The Spinney brings all of this together to create a creepy good time that lingers with you, which is my ultimate goal as a writer.
I’m excited to watch The Spinney’s journey to publishing. Crossing my fingers for your success! Thank you Cole, Sequoia, and Jaq for the interview!
Check out Cole’s upcoming release, WE WERE RESTLESS THINGS …
Last summer, Link Miller drowned on dry land in the woods, miles away from the nearest body of water. His death was ruled a strange accident, and in the months since, his friends and family have struggled to make sense of it. But Link’s close friend Noemi Amato knows the truth: Link drowned in an impossible lake that only she can find. And what’s more, someone claiming to be Link has been contacting her, warning Noemi to stay out of the forest.
As these secrets become too heavy for Noemi to shoulder on her own, she turns to Jonas, her new housemate, and Amberlyn, Link’s younger sister. All three are trying to find their place―and together, they start to unravel the truth: about themselves, about the world, and about what happened to Link.
Unfolding over a year and told through multiple POVs and a dream journal, We Were Restless Things explores the ways society shapes our reality, how we can learn to love ourselves and others, and the incredible power of our own desires.
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If you would like to see a list of content warnings, you can find one here. Note that several of the warnings will contain spoilers.
Check out Sequoia‘s upcoming release, HOW HIGH WE GO IN THE DARK, coming in 2022 …
Add the novel to your To-Read Shelf on Goodreads.
About the book:
Beginning in the present-day, a grieving scientist arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue his recently deceased daughter’s research, only to discover a plague, newly unearthed from melting Arctic permafrost. As the Arctic Plague reshapes life on earth for generations to come, the story hurtles into the future revealing the myriad of moving and inventive ways that humanity persists, while struggling to counter this terrible, destructive force. In discrete, seemingly unconnected chapters we meet, among others, an aspiring comedian, employed by a theme park designed for terminally ill children, who falls in love with a mother trying desperately to keep her son alive; a scientist who, having failed to save his own son from the plague, gets a second chance at fatherhood when one of his test subjects—a pig—develops human speech; a man who after recovering from his own coma plans a block party for his neighbors who have also woken up to find that they alone have survived their families.
From funerary skyscrapers to hotels for the dead to interstellar starships, How High We Go in the Dark follows a cast of intricately linked characters spanning hundreds of years as humanity struggles to restore the delicate balance of the world. At its core though, this is a story of an unshakable spirit of hope that crosses literary lines to give us a wildly imaginative, deeply heartfelt story of a world rebuilding itself through an endless capacity for love, resilience, and reinvention. Taking its cues from such formally inventive novels as Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, How High We Go in the Dark breaks new ground in its ambition, and will appeal to fans of Ted Chiang, Matthew Baker, Ling Ma, and David Mitchell.
And check out Sequoia’s collection of short stories, WHERE WE GO WHEN ALL WE WERE IS GONE…
Black Lawrence Press
“You should be here; he’s simply magnificent.” These are the final words a biologist hears before his Margaret Mead-like wife dies at the hands of Godzilla. The words haunt him as he studies the Kaiju (Japan’s giant monsters) on an island reserve, attempting to understand the beauty his wife saw.
“The Return to Monsterland” opens Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone, a collection of twelve fabulist and genre-bending stories inspired by Japanese folklore, historical events, and pop culture. In “Rokurokubi”, a man who has the demonic ability to stretch his neck to incredible lengths tries to save a marriage built on secrets. The recently dead find their footing in “The Inn of the Dead’s Orientation for Being a Japanese Ghost”. In “Girl Zero”, a couple navigates the complexities of reviving their deceased daughter via the help of a shapeshifter. And, in the title story, a woman instigates a months-long dancing frenzy in a Tokyo where people don’t die but are simply reborn without their memories.
Every story in the collection turns to the fantastic, the mysticism of the past, and the absurdities of the future to illuminate the spaces we occupy when we, as individuals and as a society, are at our most vulnerable.
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.