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Pitch Wars Team Interviews: Stephanie Willing with mentor Hannah Karena Jones and Syed Masood with mentors Marty Mayberry & Léonie Kelsall

Wednesday, 25 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 . . .

Syed Masood – Mentee


Léonie Kelsall– Mentor

Website | Twitter

Marty Mayberry – Mentor

Website | Twitter

Syed, why did you choose to submit to Marty & Léonie?

I actually submitted to Carrie Callaghan. Carrie listed “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro as one of her favorite books. I adore Ishiguro. I flattered myself that Carrie might connect with my MS if she liked Ishiguro’s work. Turns out, Carrie did like my pages but, as the MS was not the right genre for her, she sent it on to Lee and Marty, who picked it and who have been absolutely fantabulous.

Marty & Léonie, why did you choose Syed?

Syed’s witty, evocative prose in this literary love story about arranged marriage and Pakistani family expectations and traditions captured us from, literally, the first paragraph (wait until you read it, it’s a killer!)

Squeeing like a couple of teenagers, and frantically messaging behind the scenes, we excitedly planned our strategy to mentor and help improve a story that touches on Islamophobia, drone strikes and the border wall—and yet manages to convey heart, passion and humor. As we’d not engaged with Syed on social media, we were a little concerned he might reject our enthusiastic overtures (TRANSLATION: We were worried we’d terrify him). Fortunately, he wholeheartedly engages, parries our banter, considers every suggestion we make, and is up for every challenge we throw his way.
This timely book is going to do so well, both in the PitchWars agent round and beyond, and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to play midwives, and help bring it into the world.

Syed, summarize your book in 3 words.

Immigrant Love Story.

Marty & Léonie, summarize Syed’s book in 3 words.

Family, Faith, Fidelity

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

They say a rolling stone gathers no moss. Well, I’ve been on the move all my life. I’ve been a citizen of three different countries and I have visited several more. Within the US, I’ve lived in seven cities and three states. I’m a first generation immigrant, twice over.

Living among different people, in different countries at fascinating times in their histories, I’ve learned a few things about the world. For example, you should know that moss is overrated. No one really cares about moss.

It feels like we’re living in grim times. It is easy to lose sight of the humanity that connects us to each other. So, I asked myself if it was possible to write a book about dark, contemporary sociopolitical issues that was still funny and full of love and family and hope? I thought it was, so I tried it.

If you ever read “”Other People””, I hope you find some laughter and some joy in the experience.

Marty & Léonie, tell us about yourself. Something we may not already know.

Marty: Wears flipflops in all kinds of weather, as long as the snow doesn’t come over the edges.

Lee: Instead of thinking of something clever, will translate Marty’s factoid into Aussie. ‘Marty wears THONGS year round’ *snigger* Pass it on!

And next, we have  . . .

Stephanie Willing – Mentee

Website | Twitter

Hannah Karena Jones – Mentor

Website | Twitter

Stephanie, why did you choose to submit to Hannah?

Hannah wrote in her blog that she liked MG stories with VOICE. Haven West, the main character of my novel, has that in spades. Hannah’s booklist had so many authors and books that I loved on it that I thought we’d probably have similar instincts about what makes a good book. But I was also looking for a mentor who could help me with my particular stumbling blocks: plot structure and raising the stakes (and keeping them up!). Hannah was all of those things!

Hannah, why did you choose Stephanie?

Her writing and spot-on middle grade voice swept me away! I felt like I was in the hands of a writer who really cared about craft (and knew how to tug on my heartstrings!) Doesn’t hurt that WEST OF THE SEA is a combo of my favorite things and a perfect fit to my wish list: magic, sisters, sea creature lore, and learning to feel comfortable in your own skin. And with a comp to one of my favorite books of all time–HOUR OF THE BEES–I knew I’d be eager to reread this again and again!

Stephanie, summarize your book in 3 words.

Skin-shifting. Paleontology. Texas.

Hannah, summarize  Stephanie’s book in 3 words.

Fossils, monsters, drought

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

I’ve been a hyphenated person for so long! The past couple years have been about pulling back on being a dancer/actor/dance-and-fight choreographer/writer/assistant-director to focus on being a capital “”W”” Writer. The one unifying element in every passion I have pursued is story, and they’ve all helped me become the character-driven writer I am now.

West of the Sea is very specific to its fossil-rich setting as the site of a vanished prehistoric ocean in North Texas. Within the real world of a homogenous small town, I wanted to explore the idea of a complicated magical mother who disappears overnight and the daughter who has inherited some of her magical attributes, good and bad.

It’s been over ten years since I first visited my friend’s wheat farm and thought, “”Wow, the wheat fields move just like waves. What if there were mermaids or sea dragons out there?”” The story has changed A LOT since that first image (no mermaids, sorry!), but the inspiration for a contemporary fantasy set in rural Texas has remained constant.

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

I caught a sturgeon once in the Delaware River while fishing with my dad as a kid. Dinosaur fish! This is thematically appropriate 🙂


Our mentors’ latest releases…


BYBERRY STATE HOSPITAL by Hannah Karena Jones (Arcadia Publishing, 2013)

Arcadia Publishing

Looming on the outskirts of Philadelphia County since 1906, the mental hospital most commonly known as “Byberry” stood abandoned for 16 years before being demolished in 2006. At its peak in the 1960s, Byberry was home to more than 6,000 patients and employer to more than 800. With its own self-sustaining farm, bowling alleys, barbershop, ice cream parlor, federal post office, and baseball team, Byberry was a micro-community. Throughout its history, the hospital served as an educational institution for Philadelphia’s medical, nursing, and psychology students; was the site of a World War II Civilian Public Service conscientious objector unit; and a volunteering hot spot for local churches, schools, and Girl and Boy Scout troops. This book provides an unprecedented window into the good, the bad, the unusual, and the forgotten history of Byberry.

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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