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Pitch Wars Team Interviews: Ipuna Estavillo Black and mentor Joy McCullough-Carranza & Jesse Vigil and mentor Laura Heffernan

Wednesday, 11 October 2017  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

Our mentors are editing, our mentees are revising, and we hope you’re making progress on your own manuscript! While we’re all working toward the Agent Showcase on November 1st-7th, we hope you’ll take a moment during your writing breaks and get to know our 2017 Pitch Wars Teams.

And now, we have . . .

Ipuna Estavillo Black – Mentee

Website | Twitter


Joy McCullough-Carranza – Mentor

Website | Twitter


Ipuna, why did you choose to submit to Joy?

The mentor who chose me for Pitch Wars had to step down. Joy kindly agreed to step up and mentor me. I didn’t know anything about Joy because she was accepting only middle-grade manuscripts this year. Other people who knew her told me that I had hit the jackpot. After doing some research, I learned that Joy is a freelance editor, ghostwriter, and author assistant as well as an MG/YA writer represented by a wonderful literary agent. Additionally, six of her past mentees have signed with agents and had books published by well-respected publishing houses. She was only accepting submissions from writers from underrepresented groups, which included people of color and those living at or near the poverty level. I’m half Puerto Rican and half Korean, and my oldest son is half African American. I love diverse books. The protagonist in my manuscript is Puerto Rican and comes from a low-income single-family household. Therefore, I thought my manuscript would be a good fit for Joy. I’m a believer that things happen for a reason. Fate has brought me to Joy, and I will definitely make the most out of this opportunity.

P.S. Joy, THANK YOU for picking me up and giving yourself more work. I know you didn’t have to do this, but your actions spoke volumes for your heart. Your friends are right that I hit the jackpot.

Joy, why did you choose Ipuna?

I didn’t! I adopted Ipuna when the mentor who selected her had to withdraw. I had been through a similar experience once before with an unexpected Pitchwars mentee, and it turned into a wonderful friendship (and book deal!), so I didn’t hesitate, even though all I knew was that Ipuna’s manuscript was YA contemporary. She has weathered the ups and downs with a ridiculous amount of grace, and I feel fortunate to be working with such a dedicated writer!

Ipuna, summarize your book in 3 words.

Poignant, Prevail, Promise.

Joy, summarize Ipuna’s book in 3 words.

Guilt. Forgiveness. Choices.

Ipuna, tell us about yourself! What makes you and your MS unique?

I have four kids, and I love the outdoors. I use running for a mental escape and to discover or live in my stories. Staring at a waterfall is as close to heaven as I’ll get for now. I may think that because I live in the desert, Las Vegas, NV! I would die without caramel apples and chocolate covered strawberries.

Additionally, I have a PhD in Nursing and a Master’s Degree as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP). One of my first patients who passed away in the hospital was a little boy who died when he was alone with his older brother. Although the older brother was young when the tragedy occurred, I wondered if he ever felt guilt when he matured and understood what happened to his younger brother. This idea blended with my experience with young adult human trafficking victims.

As a PNP, I interviewed teenagers involved in human trafficking in Las Vegas. What shocked me the most about the girls I had interviewed was that many of them lived at home. They had to work to survive. Usually, work began with dancing, which led to more. Over time, fear kept the girls in the system. Often these girls came from single-parent homes. The mothers were frequently in and out of jail or checked-out on drugs. I had a soft place in my heart for these girls because I didn’t come from a stable home environment. I came from a dysfunctional, low-income, and predominately single-parent home. I had to work to live as a teen. I had many friends who got involved in stripping to survive. Although I was lucky enough to not go down that path to make money, I know how hard it is to live in a home where you have to fight your way into the world. There are many young adults in the world with absent parents. These young adults do not have to be involved in human trafficking, but I wanted this manuscript to be a voice for those young adults who have to find a way to survive with little guidance. Therefore, both my personal (#ownvoices) and professional experiences inspired me to write LIFE ART. I am also half Puerto Rican and half Korean, so I like writing about multicultural themes and perspectives in my MS.

Joy, tell us about yourself. Something we may not already know.

The very first role I ever played onstage was Roo in Winnie the Pooh. The last was Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing.

And next, we have  . . .

Jesse Vigil – Mentee

Website | Twitter


Laura Heffernan – Mentor

Website | Twitter


Jesse, why did you choose to submit to Laura?

Within five minutes of announcing my Pitch Wars intentions and the tweet-length pitch for my book, Laura replied back “please don’t stop talking about this.” I couldn’t tell if this was truly *the book* or if I might be out of my league, but I suddenly felt like I had an ally. When her wishlist post went live, we seemed like kindred spirits. I’m also (like a lot of people in showbiz) mildly superstitious. Genre writers ignore a first act setup like that at their own peril.

Laura, why did you choose Jesse?

Before the sub window closed, a couple of other mentors were talking about how they got a romance about a girl who writes video games. I got SO MAD that it wasn’t subbed to me…. and then I realized that I hadn’t checked my email that morning. As soon as I saw the entry, I requested the full. And the book has everything I love: great writing, geeky girls in tech, diversity, hot sex, games, cons, cosplay, and a male main character who reminds me of Chris Hemsworth. This book could have been written with me in mind.

 Jesse, summarize your book in 3 words.

Gamedevs, cosplayers, smooching.

Laura, summarize Jesse’s book in 3 words.

Gamer loves cosplayer.

Jesse, tell us about yourself! What makes you and your MS unique?

I’m a writer, filmmaker, game designer, serial entrepreneur, and now I’m also an educator. Right out of school I worked in AAA videogames for a major publisher and then quit to go indie. I started a film, TV, and interactive company with my friends (we’re still going) but I was still thinking about games. I got my MFA in interactive media at USC — where I fell in with dreamers, rockstars, and undiscovered geniuses who were making different games for different audiences.

I’m honored to now sometimes teach at USC, too. Being able to interact with young game designers who come from such diverse backgrounds and who really want to expand the medium and tell their own unique stories keeps me young and connected. It’s also motivating, because I am surrounded daily by good humans who are all *ridiculously* talented.

In fact, my students and colleagues inspired the manuscript in no small part. I don’t love the current state of “geek” representation in popular culture. The narrow depiction of a certain kind of person who is good at computers runs counter to my experience of who these fascinating people are and what they care about. Why shouldn’t they be the heroes and heroines of anything they damn well please, including a romance novel?

OnCollision (that’s a programming wink, the name of a function that says what happens next when two bodies connect) is about the games of the heart we all play, told from a unique perspective that deserves a bigger stage.

Laura, tell us about yourself. Something we may not already know.

My upcoming GAMER GIRL series blends elements of both my mentees books in some ways, so it’s not a huge shock that I loved them.

Our mentors’ latest releases…


PRH | Indibound | Goodreads


SWEET REALITY by Laura Heffernan

Amazon | B&N | Itunes 

Jen Reid’s life after walking off a reality show has been great–she’s gone from being a broke twenty-four-year-old Seattleite with no love life and no job to the twenty-five-year-old who got the guy, moved to Miami, and is starting a bakery with her best friend. She thinks her showmance love might be about to propose. And with mouthwatering goodies based on everyone’s favorite shows, her business, Sweet Reality, is destined for success. That is, until a killer competitor opens right across the street. If she’s going to save Sweet Reality, Jen has to come up with a secret ingredient–like the recipe that won Totally 80s Bake-Off. Jen can get it–if she steps back into the spotlight. Soon she and her boyfriend are out to sea on a cruise ship full of reality stars, including her nemesis, Ariana; her lying, cheating ex; and some wicked producers looking to bring the drama. Separate cabins, “surprises” from her past, and scenarios tailor-made to spark fights are just the beginning. But with her self-respect, her business, and her future on the line, the fallout from this made-for-TV plotline will be all too real . . .

Thank you for supporting our Pitch Wars Teams! The Agent Showcase is November 1st-7th, and our next #PitMad is December 7, 2017!



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