Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Pitchwars Matchmaking!!!


We’re in that strange in-between time when you’ve chosen your mentor picks and sent in your submission and now you WAIT. And some of your hopes might be falling, if you haven’t gotten a request yet.

If so, 1) there is still hope. Requests are still going out.

and 2) While getting picked is awesome, I hope you’ve realized by now that one of the very best things about Pitchwars is the community. And hopefully you’ve already enjoyed and grown from this new writing community.

I can only mentor one of you, but I want to do something for people who subbed to me (though I can’t guarantee a timeline on it). If you would like me to play CP matchmaker for you, I will send you a CP suggestion from the pool of people who subbed to me. I don’t know you guys personally, so I can’t vouch for how everyone will be as a CP—I will only be matchmaking based on your submissions. And of course, I can only do this for people whose subs are in my inbox.

I will only give out names as potential matches of people who have given me permission to do so.

SO, if you submitted to me and would like me to make you a match, leave a comment here with the title of your submission. These will come AFTER picks are announced, and it will be a one-time thing. I won’t be able to find you someone new or field complaints if someone isn’t a match, etc. After I’ve taken care of my post-picks emails, I shut down the account until the next Pitchwars. So it’ll just be a one-time thing that hopefully yields a few successful critique partnerships.

So if you’d like me to try to work some magic, leave a comment here with the name of your manuscript!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Pitchwars 2016!!! I want your MG!!

It’s PitchWars time again!!!!!

(We start the storytelling early in my house.)

I love this contest. Highest of fives to you for taking your work seriously enough to even consider entering. This road can be long, but there’s no reason it has to be lonely, and PitchWars is an AMAZING way to plug into the writing community.

Last year, I had three Pitchwars mentees. (Long story, unusual circumstances.) My mentee Eric Bell “won” the contest with 25 requests in the agent round, ultimately selling his MG contemporary ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD at auction to Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Collins. (Though I really think anyone who participates in Pitchwars wins, even if you’re not selected by a mentor. That’s not a rah-rah everybody-gets-a-ribbon mentality. It’s my experience heading into my fourth year as a mentor, seeing what writers can get out of this contest if they truly invest themselves in the community that’s offered.)

Also last year, my mentee Shanna Rogers signed with Julia Weber of JAW Literary Agency, and mentee Amanda Rawson Hill (who’s a mentor this year) signed with Elizabeth Harding of Curtis Brown. I expect we’ll hear great news from both of them soon.

Here's what those three mentees from last year had to say about working with me: 

The best thing about Joy is that she is able to see right down to the heart of your story and knows just how to draw it out. I learned so much about how all the pieces of a story should fit together from her. It has fundamentally changed the way I write. 
Amanda Hill, Pitchwars mentee 2015 

Joy is the master of all mentors. Yes, I am biased, but I can't imagine anyone else approaching this process with the care, love, and skill that Joy brings. She is a multi-year veteran and her experience shows. Joy pushed me to go deeper with my characters than I ever had before, and her insights left me thinking, Why didn't I think of that? She sees right through to the heart of a story.  
Shanna Rogers, Pitchwars mentee 2015

Working with Joy was an incredible experience. Her enthusiasm and love for my book were boundless, but it didn't stop her from taking an objective editorial approach to revisions. She helped build up the good parts and honed in on key areas that needed to be strengthened. Joy was available at every step of the process: she helped with my pitch, my query letter, and with general advice and questions of all kinds. Submit to Joy—she will be your biggest cheerleader and your fairest critic, and she will take your manuscript to the next level!
Eric Bell, Pitchwars mentee 2015

That's my first PW mentee's book!
My mentees from previous years include current MG mentors Laura Shovan and Ellie Terry, who both got agents and book deals with the Pitchwars books they worked on with me. You can buy Laura’s THE LAST FIFTHGRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House) now and pre-order Ellie’s FORGET ME NOT (Feiwel & Friends/ Macmillan) here.

I LOVE this contest, because I have seen the results and built relationships that have lasted. I have one previous mentee who has not signed with an agent yet, but I have seen the growth in her work too. I continue to read for her and encourage her along the journey. It’s different for everyone and I know the long road better than most.

That's the MG reader who lives in my house, in her reading nook.


I'm a ghostwriter, freelance editor, and MG writer represented by Jim McCarthy. I have a degree in theater and also write plays. I spent more time in previous wishlists explaining my credentials, and you can see those here and here

I LOVE MIDDLE GRADE. Most especially realistic contemporary, verse, multicultural, and magic realism. I LOVE funny and heartbreaking, and if you can manage it – both! I’m wide open to “quiet” and literary, but also love the commercial and adventurous. Diversity of all kinds is always welcome. Above all, it has to have TERRIFIC VOICE.

If your manuscript has anything in common with these MG titles, PLEASE send your submission my way!!

ROOFTOPPERS by Katherine Rundell
FLORA & ULYSSES by Kate DiCamillo
THE PENDERWICKS by Jeanne Birdsall
MAY B by Caroline Starr Rose
LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech
MATILDA by Roald Dahl
THE WINNIE YEARS series by Lauren Myracle
A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness

Some personal elements I’m likely to connect to in a manuscript (or chatting with you on Twitter) – performing arts, bicultural families, homeschooling, Latin America, dogs, feminism, social justice issues, and chocolate. (In no particular order!)
Oh look! Some books fell off my shelves 
and just happened to land in an 
interesting shape! Is that a letter…?    

(But maybe your manuscript has none of the above and that’s TOTALLY fine. If it’s got great HEART and VOICE, I want to see it!!)

I'm open to a touch of magic but I’m not your best bet for sci-fi, horror, or high fantasy (elves and witches and systems of magic and whole other kingdoms). I’m also not your best bet for animal main characters (unless you’re Kate DiCamillo. And if you are—can you mentor me???).


You don’t have to have ANY credentials, aside from stellar promise in your manuscript, as long as you’re willing to dig in and do the work. If I choose your manuscript, there’s a good chance you’ll have major revisions ahead of you. Previous mentees have added or cut major plot elements and entire characters, changed POVs, and pretty much worked non-stop for the entire revision period. (But you won’t be required to implement any revision suggestions that don’t resonate with you. It’s YOUR book, after all.) So I’m looking for someone who’s willing to WORK, who’s not precious about changes, who’s in this for the long haul, and who wants an agent, a book deal, AND a sense of community.

I can’t promise you the first two, but I’ll throw everything I’ve got into getting you there. And I CAN promise you as much support and encouragement as you can possibly stand!

I LOVE to watch my kids unlock whole other
worlds, build empathy, and become more creative,
intelligent, compassionate people through the stories
they read and tell. 

Here's where you can check out the rest of the amazing MG mentors!

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Pitchwars 2016 is almost here!!!

I know it's almost Pitchwars time again when my blog starts getting traffic. (Also because I work with Brenda behind the scenes and we've been at it for months.) When it occurred to me that hopefuls might be dropping by my blog to get a sense of me, I also thought about the fact that the most recent post was last year's wishlist. So feel free to read on to the next post, but just be aware that was my wishlist from LAST YEAR. This year it might be different.

In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter, where I'm quite active, especially on the #Pitchwars hashtag or on my website.

The 2016 wishlists go live on July 20th, so that's when I'll be able to tell you all about what I'm looking for this year. For now, all I can say is that I'm mentoring Middle Grade again, and I can't wait to get started!!!

Monday, August 3, 2015

2015 Pitchwars Writers! Let Me At Your MG Manuscript!!

I’m so excited to be back as an MG mentor for Pitchwars! Whether you’re chosen by a mentor or not, you’re going to develop some amazing relationships – if you make yourself available for that. And you should! We all need more support on this writing journey!

That’s me in playwright mode, but you can imagine my eagle
eye on your manuscript, rather than on actors.

You have a lot of great mentors to choose from. Here’s why I hope you’ll consider me. I know the road well—you can read about my agent journey here. I’ve been a freelance editor and ghostwriter for many years, and I assist a NYT-bestselling middle grade author. I made the longlist twice for the Chicken House/Times of London’s International Children’s Fiction prize, and I was a playwright for many years before turning to middle grade fiction.

Here’s what some of my critique partners have to say about working with me. Maybe you've read some of their books?

Joy's critiques are always intelligent, super helpful, tactful, and thorough. Her feedback makes me think about both the technical and emotional aspects of creating an authentic story. Without Joy as a critique partner, I would not be a published author. There is no doubt in my mind that Joy's guidance-based feedback and spot-on critiques throughout my writing journey have pushed me to become a better writer. Joy has an impeccable eye for identifying what works and what doesn't, how to eliminate manuscript baggage, and how make your pages shine. 

Jessica Lawson (The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher, Nooks & Crannies, Simon & Schuster)

If you have a chance to have Joy to critique your work - take it! Joy will help you find ways to make your WIP stronger, all while making you feel good about what you’ve accomplished so far. She’s done it for me, on multiple occasions. She is genuinely supportive and insightful and wonderful and great. If she had critiqued this endorsement, it would have been written so much better, but she didn’t, so...

Sheila Grau (Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions, Amulet/Abrams)

Joy McCullough-Carranza is my fairy book mother. She was a supportive coach through the final revision of my middle grade novel. Why “final”? Joy is such a thorough critiquer and adviser that when an agent asked for a resubmit a few weeks after Pitch Wars, my manuscript was ready. I signed with my dream agent and the book went on immediate submission. Joy brings a playwright’s three dimensional understanding of character to her critiques, but she also knows how to tweak a story until it sparkles. You’ll work hard with Joy as your mentor, knowing she will guide you in making your book the best it can be.

Laura Shovan, (2013 Pitchwars mentee, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 2016)

Don’t choose Joy for her query Jedi powers, although she certainly has those. And don’t choose Joy for her knowledge of the MG market or for her supportiveness, although you will be endlessly grateful for these. Choose Joy because she will take your story seriously. She will see through to why you had to write the story you wrote and she will find opportunities to make your story even more of what you dreamed. 
Ki-Wing Merlin (Weaving a Net Is Better Than Praying For Fish, Balzer + Bray, 2016)

Joy is so much more than a mentor. She's a cheerleader, a friend, a fairy godmother, an excellent brainstormer. I'm pretty sure she's smarter than Einstein and I'm certain my query and manuscript would not have garnered the attention it did without her expert critiquing skills. Joy as your mentor > winning a million dollar lottery.

Elliah Terry (2014 Pitchwars alternate, 
I Am Calliope June, Feiwel & Friends, 2017)

You are in this for the long haul. If you choose me, you might not “win” Pitchwars - as in, get the most requests in the PW agent round - because I don’t always pick the biggest, splashiest manuscripts. Hopefully you’ll get requests from Pitchwars agents, but I’m in it to be sure you’re ready to query effectively, too. Please don’t submit to me if you already think your manuscript is near-perfect and just needs a few commas moved. I’m likely to suggest some big changes. My mentees and alternates from previous years have all dug into really major revisions – strip out a POV, raise the stakes in a major way, develop (or cut) a whole subplot.

I entered PitchWars at the last minute, but I could not have found a better mentor for me if I spent a million years researching the different mentors--all of whom were fabulous! Joy helped me uncover the real vision for my book by providing insightful feedback and asking hard questions. I learned so much from Joy, not just about craft but about surviving the inevitable ups and downs of this crazy business! I am so grateful for her continued friendship and support. If you write MG, pick Joy! You'll be glad you did. I know I was.

Elizabeth Dimit, 2014 Pitchwars mentee, 
still on the agent-hunt!

In years past, I’ve been greedy for aaaaaaall the middle grade, hesitant to limit whole genres. After all, there are always exceptions I adore!! This year, though, I’m going to do it. So, first of all, no fantasy, no science fiction, no horror. I’m sorry! You are awesome – go forth and seek the right mentor for you!

Everyone else, to get a feel for what I love, you can see the list below of some of my favorite middle grade books. I love contemporary, from serious issues to light and fun. I love magic realism (but again, no fantasy) and I tend toward the literary. While I could certainly pick something big and splashy and commercial, you’ll also find a welcome harbor for the “quiet” manuscripts here. I’m open to verse. And a big YES, PLEASE to diversity.

Here are some of my favorite books:

The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall
Splendors & Glooms, A Drowned Maiden’s Hair, and The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
The Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker
Wonder by RJ Palacio
Unusual Chickens for Exceptional Poultry Farmers by Kelly Jones
A Crooked Kind of Perfect and Hound Dog True by Linda Urban
The Tale of Despereaux and Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshish
Walk Two Moons and Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
The Winnie Years by Lauren Myracle
Better Nate Than Ever and Five, Six, Seven, Nate by Tim Federle
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Allison Levy
Inside Out and Back Again by Thannha Lai
When You Reach Me & Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead 
The Boy In the Dress by David Walliams
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

UPDATE: I blog about the difference between magic realism and fantasy here

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment on this post or find me on Twitter @JMCwrites and I’ll happily answer. Putting your work out there takes so much courage and I applaud all of you who submit, whether to me or any of the other mentors. Good luck! And if you aren’t chosen – stick with it! I got my agent through traditional querying, and I know if you stick with it, you’ll connect with the agent who’s right for you.

So if you're excited and ready to go, here are all the details at Brenda's site about what's next! And here are the rest of your awesome mentors! 

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Pitchwars 2015 is almost here!!!

There’s been an uptick in visitors to this blog of late, and with the Pitchwars contest approaching, I’m guessing most of you are doing some preliminary mentor research (since I barely ever use this blog for anything else). I can’t post my bio and wishlist until August 3rd, but while you’re getting to know me, you could check out this post about my writing process, or this interview with me about the difference between writing novels and plays. I'm looking forward to getting to know you once the contest is underway.

My 2013 Pitchwars mentee Laura Shovan has repeatedly called me her Fairy Bookmother.
So I made myself an appropriate costume.

And if you’re still on the fence about submitting to Pitchwars at all, DO IT. I got my agent through traditional querying and that option is open to everyone. But what I adore wholeheartedly about Pitchwars is the relationships formed. Even if you’re not chosen by a mentor, through the Twitter hashtag you’ll have the chance to connect with other writers at the same stage of the game (and with mentors, too). I have developed some wonderful friendships and critique partnerships through Pitchwars, and we all need more friends along this journey. So I say do it!

And I’ll see you back here on August 3rd!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Telling Stories

Telling stories is powerful.

This is something I’ve known for a long time, of course. I wouldn’t have dedicated the last fifteen years of my life to making plays and novels otherwise. But the point has been starkly illustrated in my own life recently as Live Girls Theater produces my play Blood/Water/Paint. I wrote about the play’s long journey to production here.

Simply put, it is the story of my deepest pain. And to watch as a tremendous group of artists honors that story with their time and their talents has been tremendously validating.

Daniel Christensen and Alex Highsmith in Blood/Water/Paint
at Live Girls Theater, Joe Iano Photography

Especially with stories of sexual abuse and assault there is so much invalidation. The disbelief, the flat-out accusation of lies, the fear or shame around telling one’s story. And not everyone is willing or able to tell their story to their loved ones or authorities. But they still deserve to be heard, and have their story believed and honored the way Live Girls is currently honoring my story.

So I want to begin to gather the stories of other survivors of sexual abuse, assault, harassment, incest. My goal is to ultimately take these stories and create a documentary theater piece in the style of Twilight: Los Angeles or The Laramie Project, using the actual words you use as you tell me your stories.

I don’t yet know what the play will look like, exactly, at this point. I’m just in the earliest stages of gathering the stories. I’m not even sure what the story-gathering will look like yet. I think, as much as possible, I’d love to do in person interviews, recorded with permission to use the subject’s exact words. For those not in the area, or not comfortable with an in-person interview, I will develop a written questionnaire. And perhaps Skype/Facetime can play a role.

At this point, I’m gathering interest – people who would like to share their stories with me, to have their stories honored as source materials in a documentary-style play. So if that sounds like something you’re interested in, email me at . Let me know if you’re in the Seattle area and would be comfortable with an in-person interview. If not, let me know if you’d be open to video interview, or if you’d prefer only written communication.

Around mid-March, I will begin contacting people, with questions and logistical details worked out. Please share this with anyone you think might connect with the mission and would like to have their story honored. I would love to reach well outside my own circle of friends. So many people have stories to tell. I’d love to help find an audience for those stories.

Thank you for your courage as you even consider sharing your story. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

On the Play of My Heart and its Journey to Production

I was supposed to be at Live Girls! Theater’s annual fundraiser tonight, talking about what their work on new plays by women has meant to me. I’m stuck at home w/this crud I can’t shake, but here’s what I was planning to say.

 Artistic Director Meghan Arnette probably doesn’t remember this, but my first encounter with Live Girls was an audition. It was my first audition in Seattle, in fact. I was twenty-five, newly transplanted, and I remember arriving at the Pioneer Square building and climbing stairs of dubious structural integrity, thrilled by the fringe-iness of it all. I auditioned for Quickies and was not cast – but now this theater that did all new plays by women was on my radar.

But let me back up even a few more years to my sophomore year at Northwestern University, where I had a brilliant playwriting professor. I ended up winning the school’s playwriting award and getting a full production of the first full length play I ever wrote. I knew it would be hard work, but life as a widely known, frequently produced playwright seemed spread out before me.

A few years out of college and just before I moved to Seattle, I wrote a play about Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi, which I called Blood/Water/Paint. I sent it to my professor, who had remained my mentor, and he raved. This play was going to be my break-out and make me a name, he said.

This was 2001.

But getting full productions of Blood/Water/Paint or any of my other full-length plays proved much harder than getting that first production had. Still, I kept sending things out. And after that Live Girls audition, I sent Blood/Water/Paint to Meghan at Live Girls.

She wasn’t ready to fully produce it yet, but something in the play spoke to her and she asked if Live Girls could use excerpts from the play in Notorious Women—LG’s collection of vignettes about, well, notorious women. That was the first of many times Live Girls put my work on their stage. My work was in countless Quickies, reading series, Notorious Women, and Holiday XXX. In 2007, Meghan said she wanted to do one of my full lengths plays in a season slot and I was thrilled.

I had continued sending my plays out all over the country and trying to connect with other Seattle area theaters. I had around 400 rejections to my name.  Blood/Water/Paint had had a workshop in FringeACT, many other plays had had readings and workshops around town and other places, but I had not had another full length production since the one in college in 1997.

I was kind of surprised that Meghan wanted to produce my play Mud Angel, and not Blood/Water/Paint, which I thought was stronger, but I was still thrilled. Live Girls had moved to Ballard, and while the space did not give me the near-death thrill of stairs that could collapse at any moment, it was absolutely overwhelming to see all the artists coming together in service of my play.

Any hopes I had that the Mud Angel production would lead to more Seattle area full productions were unfounded, though. While I continued to get readings and workshops and pieces in short play festivals, those rejections for productions kept rolling in.

Over the last five years, I’ve basically stopped writing plays. I didn’t stop writing – my focus is largely children’s fiction now – but for as much as I love theater, fifteen years is a long time to bang one’s head on the stage door. And yet, though I wasn’t writing new plays anymore, on a regular basis, Meghan would come to me and say, “Hey…what are you working on? Do you have something for Quickies? Do you have something for a reading series?” She refused to let me stop being a playwright completely.

So when I got an email from Meghan about a year ago, I wasn’t surprised – until I read it. She said she wanted to do a reading of Blood/Water/Paint. At first I was a little annoyed. Readings can be really useful at certain stages, but they almost never lead to production. And though I had pulled Blood/Water/Paint out several times since FringeAct and overhauled it, each time it had been met with scores of rejections. It is the play of my heart, and I honestly didn’t want to dredge it up if it was just going to get another reading.

But Meghan said no, she really wanted to consider it for a full production. And then she connected me with director Amy Poisson. Amy, if you guys don’t know, is a FORCE. She is going to completely take over Seattle theater, if not the entire world, and she is putting that energy behind my play right now. The play of my heart, which I was completely convinced would never find an audience. This play is my self-portrait; it says the most important things I have to say in the world, and for more than a dozen years, people have been telling me, “No. We don’t want it on our stage.”

But no longer. Because Live Girls is producing my play, opening February 20th at Theater Off Jackson. I cannot believe my good luck in having been partnered with Amy, except I have to remind myself that it wasn’t luck at all. It was Meghan and Live Girls remembering my play, remembering me, dragging me out of my hermit cave, giving me a place, and being the only company anywhere willing to put my heart on stage.

Thank you, Amy. Thank you, Meghan. Thank you, Live Girls. And thank you, everyone who supports new plays by women.

You can donate to support LG Theater HERE.