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 9, 2021, we hope you’ll take a moment during your writing breaks and get to know our 2021 Pitch Wars Mentor and Mentee Teams.
Next up, we have . . .
Mary Berman – Mentee
Sequoia Nagamatsu – Mentor
Cole Nagamatsu – Mentor
Sequoia & Cole, why did you choose Mary?
Sequoia: I have a fascination with larger than life monsters in literature, and I generally love novels that merge genres but don’t sacrifice too much in plot or character development or world building. Mary’s novel is something that I’ve rarely encountered–it’s genre defying in its core elements, commercially fast-paced, and yet line-by-line there’s still poetry there. It was already a very accomplished novel when we chose it, but Cole and I knew we could help it get to the next level. I’m not a betting man, but I’m betting on this book.
Cole: Mary’s is the kind of book that I just couldn’t get out of my head once I’d started reading it. Then, after getting the full manuscript, I loved it more and more with each chapter. I’m someone who’s usually drawn to quieter works, but Mary’s book combines the nuanced characterization I’m most drawn to with an exciting and action-packed plot. I also love her voice, her prickly main character, and the striking imagery of her Antarctic setting and its enormous, prehistoric inhabitants.
Mary, why did you choose to submit to Sequoia & Cole?
I badly wanted to work with Cole and Sequoia, and I still can’t believe how lucky I got. On a content level, I really connected with Cole’s self-described “quirky, unsociable women [characters] who tell lots of lies of omission and show a general disregard for authority.” (That’s definitely my protagonist.) I also felt that my work shared a number of elements with Sequoia’s: the polar regions, kaiju, climate anxiety. So overall I thought that Cole and Sequoia would really grok the book, and that it would be easy for them to see what I was trying to do and to help me do it better.
Also, even though it feels mercenary to say it, they’re both so successful! I got to work with not just ONE successful novelist who teaches creative writing and edits a literary magazine, but TWO! How could I ask for anything better than that???
Sequoia & Cole, summarize Mary’s book in 3 words.
Sequoia: Bone-chilling, Epic, Unexpected
Cole: Clever, Thrilling, Unique
Mary, summarize your book in 3 words.
Giant Antarctic cat!
Sequoia & Cole, tell us about yourself. Something we may not already know.
Sequoia: There’s a conversationist heart in Mary’s novel that digs at a big part of my past: I was heavily involved in grassroots environmental activism (particularly forest issues) in my 20s. I also did quite a bit of research on Arctic environments and research stations for my own novel (although I opted for Siberia vs. Antarctica), and I even considered applying for grants/fellowships to travel in the Arctic until I realized that I wanted to stay inside. Other tidbits: My wife and I started hydroponic gardening during the pandemic, I’m a lifelong Star Trek fan, and a new hobby that I want to embrace soon in astrophotography.
Cole: In fairness Sequoia does do most of our indoor gardening, but I’ve taken up outdoor gardening recently, as it’s the first time I’ve had a space to plant things. I’m pretty excited about the pollinator garden I planted behind our house. We designated a room in our house specifically for indoor plants, which has been a nice escape from the Minnesota winter. I write a lot about nature, and there’s a hydroponic garden that features significantly in a story I started during the first year of the pandemic, so it’s been interesting to learn more about growing different plants under different conditions.
Mary, what do you hope to get out of the Pitch Wars experience?
I’m so grateful for this opportunity to polish a manuscript in this really intense, yet refined way. I already had a lot of faith in the book’s foundational elements – the giant cat (!), the action scenes, my protagonist’s prickly weirdness – but I was struggling to surface some of the book’s themes in an organic way, and I wasn’t sure my protagonist’s emotional resolution ultimately felt earned. I can’t believe how much I’ve been able to improve the book in just a few months, thanks to Cole and Sequoia’s focused feedback. I feel very indebted to Pitch Wars for that.
Mary, tell us about yourself. What makes you and your manuscript unique?
It’s a very action-packed manuscript; I’ve been calling it GODZILLA VS. KONG meets THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME. But it’s also really about climate anxiety, and internalized trauma, and one woman trying to juggle having way too much on her plate. I’m really excited about the way the narrative laces these external and internal elements together.
Plus, in case you didn’t hear me say it before, there’s a GIANT CAT!!!
Unfortunately, unlike my protagonist, I do not live in Antarctica and I am not a big-cat specialist. I’m a university administrator who lives in Philly. But for my Gritty stans out there, there are a few Philly-based Easter eggs in the novel if you know where to look.
Check out the latest news from Sequoia & Cole…
HOW HIGH WE GO IN THE DARK by Sequoia Nagamatsu
In 2030, a grieving archeologist arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue the work of his recently deceased daughter at the Batagaika Crater, where researchers are studying long-buried secrets now revealed in melting permafrost, including the perfectly preserved remains of a girl who appears to have died of an ancient virus.
Once unleashed, the Arctic plague will reshape life on Earth for generations to come, quickly traversing the globe, forcing humanity to devise a myriad of moving and inventive ways to embrace possibility in the face of tragedy. In a theme park designed for terminally ill children, a cynical employee falls in love with a mother desperate to hold on to her infected son. A heartbroken scientist searching for a cure finds a second chance at fatherhood when one of his test subjects—a pig—develops the capacity for human speech. A widowed painter and her teenaged granddaughter embark on a cosmic quest to locate a new home planet.
From funerary skyscrapers to hotels for the dead to interstellar starships, Sequoia Nagamatsu takes readers on a wildly original and compassionate journey, spanning continents, centuries, and even celestial bodies to tell a story about the resilience of the human spirit, our infinite capacity to dream, and the connective threads that tie us all together in the universe.
WE WERE RESTLESS THINGS by Cole Nagamatsu
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.
Thank you for supporting our Pitch Wars Teams! The Agent Showcase is February 9-14, 2022. Make sure to stop by then and check out all our mentees’ entries when it opens.