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Pitch Wars Team Interviews with Heather Clark and her mentor, Nicole Panteleakos

Tuesday, 4 February 2020  |  Posted by Rochelle Karina


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 starting on February 5, 2020, we hope you’ll take a moment during your writing breaks and get to know our 2019 Pitch Wars Mentor and Mentee Teams.

Next up, we have . . .

Heather Clark – Mentee

Website | Twitter


Nicole Panteleakos – Mentor

Website | Twitter

Nicole, why did you choose Heather?

I had a number of really wonderful submissions, but Heather’s just stuck out in my mind beyond the rest. I kept having ideas for suggestions to make it stronger, and thinking about her characters like they were real, and getting choked up remembering certain elements and moments that just tugged at my heart (no spoilers here, though!). I loved her protagonist, Morgan, and Morgan’s adorable younger siblings, and I knew the story had a ton of potential to go far and be a moving, immersive, therapeutic reading experience for middle graders – especially those who, like Morgan, are grieving the loss of a close loved one. Her story tackles anxiety and mental health in a way that kids can relate to even if they’ve not had the same experiences as her protagonist, and the ending left me feeling hopeful without tying everything up in a neat, unattainable bow – this felt REAL. Plus, I love books that make me cry, and this submission did. Several times. Even when re-reading parts I’d already read before. I went through many tissues. So that’s a bonus!

Heather, why did you choose to submit to Nicole?

Funny story there. I queried Nicole’s agent with this novel. In researching her tastes, I read the synopsis for Nicole’s book, PLANET EARTH IS BLUE, and had to rush to preorder. It’s the only time I’ve ordered a book because of query research. I just thought, Nicole writes things that are right up my alley—and the book did not disappoint at all. I often wind up writing about children who find themselves without a voice for whatever reason, going through hard and heavy things, and most often, a powerful paradigm shift is the thing that makes things “okay” in the end. Usually learning to be okay with things not being okay is a strong thread in my work. Nicole handles elements like these so gracefully. She is masterful at letting kids deal with real stakes and heartbreaking challenges, and still filling you with hope with her perfect, gentle touch that makes the reading compelling, heartrending, but never devastating. I also love Nicole’s online presence. I love that she stands up for things she believes in, and challenges the thinking of those around her, while being kind and affirming too. I’m so excited to get to know Nicole better, and to have her fingerprints all over my novel. When I saw her name at the bottom of the list of MG mentors, I jumped out of my own chair, and moved her right to the top of my list of mentors. When I saw she’d chosen me, I leapt off of the couch. My husband thought someone had died. Basically, thanks to Nicole, one by one all the seating options in my house are being frantically abandoned. I can’t wait to learn what she has to teach me.

Nicole, summarize Heather’s book in 3 words.

Grief, growth, hope

Heather, summarize your book in 3 words.

Grief, Survival, Connection

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

Hmm… Not everyone knows that I’ve been writing Harry Potter fanfiction for about a million years and actually have a good-sized following, a few awards, and people who call themselves fans of my work on various online fangroups, so that’s kind of cool (or super nerdy. Or both). I love writing stories about morally gray or more complex characters, like Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape, or Narcissa Malfoy, or those we know a lot about but hardly saw on the page, like Andromeda and Ted Tonks. But I keep my pen name(s) a closely guarded secret!

Heather, what do you hope to get out of the Pitch Wars experience?

Haha! You mean besides an agent for this book I love so much?

I am a shy kind of girl. If not an introvert, at least an extravert with social anxiety. The social media world is overwhelming to me, and making connections for me happens most organically one on one in my quiet personal world—which is limiting. Writing can be such a solitary experience, and there’s power in connecting with a wider writing community. The lasting, supportive relationships that people build through Pitch Wars have amazed me. In just the last two weeks since finding out Nicole selected me as her mentee, I’ve been so touched by the support and uplift offered by my fellow 2019 Pitch Wars Classmates.

But perhaps the most important thing I hope to gain from Pitch Wars is transformation for my novel. I feel like my book is “almost there.” If I could get it all the way to where I want it to be by myself, I would have already done it. But I’m a firm believer that few great books are created in a vacuum. Finding a mentor like Nicole, whose work is so uplifting and heartfelt and human is an incredible gift. Over the next couple of months, I have the privilege of overhauling this manuscript with the generous oversight of someone who succeeds at doing what I am trying to do with my work. Agent or no, new BFFs or no, my story that I already love so much will transform for the better through this experience. I can’t wait to dive in.

Heather, tell us about yourself! What makes you and your manuscript unique?

I love so many things. In addition to crocheting, singing, playing piano, guitar and ukulele, reading, writing, wire wrap jewelry design and photography, I love hiking and camping with my husband and three kids. Capitol Reef National Park is my happy place, and the gorgeous setting for my Pitch Wars novel.

In addition to its personal setting, MORGAN’S MAGNIFICENT PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING was born from my own experiences more than any book I’ve ever written. The idea first came to me while sitting in a conference lecture by Agent Elizabeth Harding, who mentioned writing from personal experience and insight. Suddenly my mind lit up with ideas about my own life. Five years ago I almost died from multiple pulmonary embolisms, and the experience of almost losing me was highly triggering for my sweet oldest daughter who deals with an anxiety disorder similar to my own. And that was only almost losing me. What if I had really died?

This new book was born as I imagined my husband taking my three kids camping for our annual summer trip to Capitol Reef without me for the first time. Sitting in a conference class, crying as my fingers flew over the keyboard, the basic premise of this book poured itself out of me. It’s so healing and cathartic and empowering to look into your own experiences and ask “What if?”

What if my super-responsible oldest daughter had to learn to carry on without me?

What if Dad, even though he loved her, couldn’t see her needs past his own grief and exhaustion?

What if she thought she had to sacrifice her own needs and goals to take care of everyone else?

What if her plans to fix everything failed because they were unrealistic?

What if she was camping when everything exploded, and she thought the only way she could prove she was strong enough to make it without Mom was to try Mom’s favorite dangerous river hike alone?

The characters have long since morphed from family members into their own stubborn, wrongheaded, loving, impetuous, grieving people. But the spark of the idea was so personal and so close to my heart, making me love this story even more fiercely.

Check out Nicole’s latest release, PLANET EARTH IS BLUE.

Twelve-year-old Nova is eagerly awaiting the launch of the space shuttle Challenger–it’s the first time a teacher is going into space, and kids across America will watch the event on live TV in their classrooms. Nova and her big sister, Bridget, share a love of astronomy and the space program. They planned to watch the launch together. But Bridget has disappeared, and Nova is in a new foster home.

While foster families and teachers dismiss Nova as severely autistic and nonverbal, Bridget understands how intelligent and special Nova is, and all that she can’t express. As the liftoff draws closer, Nova’s new foster family and teachers begin to see her potential, and for the first time, she is making friends without Bridget. But every day, she’s counting down to the launch, and to the moment when she’ll see Bridget again. Because Bridget said, “No matter what, I’ll be there. I promise.”

Thank you for supporting our Pitch Wars Teams! The Agent Showcase is February 5 – 10, 2020, and our next Twitter Pitch Party on #PitMad is March 5, 2020! Want to know more about #PitMad? Go here


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