Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pitch Wars - Meet Team JOY

I have a confession to make: I didn’t think anyone would want me for a mentor.

So when I opened my PitchWars folder to 65 submissions, I was FLOORED. So completely honored by your trust, astonished by the quality, and so daunted by the task of picking just three.

I’ve gotten so much out of doing this so far, but the biggest thing I’ve gotten is a vastly greater understanding of how agents have to ABSOLUTELY FALL IN LOVE with something to sign it. There were so many things that were completely solid—very good, even—that I passed up without even hesitating.

Early on in my query reading, I read two that just absolutely grabbed onto me and wouldn’t let go. After those two, it got much easier to wade through my inbox. Because while there were many—SO MANY—submissions that were great, if they didn’t grab me more than those first two, they got moved out.

I’ll try to do another post on observations from the inbox in a few days, but first I want to tell you about Team JOY – I am so excited about these three manuscripts and their fantastic writers, who I am so excited to get to know!

Of those first two queries that stood out so strongly above the rest, one went to another mentor (because I can’t hog ALL the awesome), and one was my top pick, Laura Shovan’s THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY. I’m honestly a little nervous about “mentoring” this gorgeous contemporary verse novel, because what’s a lot more likely to happen is Laura’s going to give me a master class in poetry. I just hope I can share a useful tidbit or two about middle grade and/or the agent game before Laura shares this baby with the world. It’s so crazy-gorgeous, you guys. You’re going to love it.

One of my alternates actually didn’t catch my eye at first. The query didn’t grab me, mostly because superheroes aren’t really my thing, and I set it aside. But then one of the other mentors started championing it, and I went back and took a closer look. And boy did I feel ridiculous for having missed the fantastic voice in the pages of THE RISE AND FALL OF A HALLWAY SUPERHERO by Davy Degreeff. (Pages trump queries, always!) From the first pages, I completely trusted Davy to take me on an awesome ride—and make me fall in love with superheroes.

My other alternate is an excellent example of how you never know when something will strike an agent or an editor, even if they didn’t seem like they were looking for what you’ve got. I’m really not into creepy. I’ve never seen a horror movie. I won’t even go on the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. But Lyudmyla Mayorska’s NANNY MORTO would not get out of my head after I read the first pages. She calls it Mary Poppins meets The Graveyard Book, and that’s SUCH a perfect description. 

So overall, my top pick wasn’t a surprise. That I would go for something a little bit quieter, a contemporary verse novel with rich, gorgeous language, probably could have been foretold from my bio/wishlist. But that I would go for superhero + creepy to round out my team? Completely unforeseen. But I’m so excited to work with Laura, Davy, and Lyuda and grateful that they’ve trusted me with their awesome manuscripts!

Please know that just because I didn’t choose you doesn’t mean you weren’t good enough. It just means this wasn’t the opportunity for you. (Or it was—and another mentor fought for you!) There will be more opportunities. In the meantime—keep writing!

I hope you’ll cheer my awesome writers on.  Go Team JOY! 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Pitch Wars - PICK ME, PICK ME!!!

Pitch Wars writers! Hey, thanks for coming by! I’m thrilled to be a middle grade Pitch Wars mentor for the first time. I’ve been mentoring writers for about fifteen years, and I’m really excited about coming alongside one of you and helping you make your manuscript better than you ever dreamed.

This is how much I want your application—I’m going to do a query critique for everyone who applies to me.  

About Me:

I have a degree in theater from Northwestern University, where I focused on playwriting. Then I spent fifteen years writing plays (and submitting them and learning about rejection and self-promotion and discipline and feedback, etc. etc.). I also spent most of that time in classroom arts residencies, helping kids find their voice through writing. I make my living as a freelance ghostwriter (mostly writing middle grade fiction) and editor (mostly of fiction, but sometimes non-fiction, too). I started writing middle grade about four years ago. Earlier this year, I made the longlist for the Chicken House/Times of London International Prize for Children’s Fiction. I blog at Project Mayhem and I work as an assistant to a NYT bestselling middle grade author.

You can find more about me HERE and HERE and HERE

I still write plays, though my focus is middle grade these days. I live in the Seattle area with two amazing homeschooled kids and my incredibly awesome husband who I met when traveling through Guatemala for a year. I’m kind of a hermit, never happier than when I’m home reading and writing. And eating chocolate.

About You:

I want to work with someone who’s open to feedback, passionate about writing middle grade, willing to tear their novel apart as needed, and willing to keep trying no matter how many times they’re knocked down. I’ve been knocked down a lot. My getting-back-up muscles are incredibly buff. (They are, full disclosure, my only buff muscles.) I will help you get back up.

What I’m Looking for:


I don’t want to rule anything out completely – a couple years ago, I probably would have said, “No zombies.” But then I read Zombie Tag by Hannah Moscowitz, which is all kinds of awesome. So really, I’m open to anything that’s fantastically written. But to give you the best idea of my tastes, I’ve listed a bunch of middle grade books I LOVE. 

I’m limiting this list to the non-obvious, because Rowling, Cleary, Dahl, White, etc. - please.

But here are a few less obvious but still amazing books on my favorites list:

The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall
Splendors & Glooms AND A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
Wonder by RJ Palacio
The Book of Wonders by Jasmine Richards
His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (also Flora & Ulysses and Winn-Dixie)
Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshish
Walk Two Moons AND The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech
The Winnie Years series by Lauren Myracle
Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins
May B by Caroline Starr Rose
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams

And if I can place a special request—do you have a manuscript you think might be too literary or quiet to stand out in a contest? I’ve got a special place in my heart for you. (But send me your rollicking adventures, too—I really love all things middle grade!)

So, What Next?

On November 25th, go to Brenda Drake’s blog for all the details about submission.

But for now, go ahead and salivate over this super amazing agent list:

And, okay, I’m not the only mentor in this thing. (But send me ALL THE MIDDLE GRADE!) Check out the amazing array of mentors Brenda has gathered – read up and find the best fit for you!

(Oh, and p.s., don't tell anyone, but the SECRET LETTER is R. Like Ron Weasley. Or Roald Dahl. Or Reepicheep. Or Ramona Quimby. You get the idea. Good luck!)

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

On Holding Out Hope

Remember when I said this blog would be about writing middle grade books, except when it isn’t? We shall now diverge into talk of the theatre (do you notice the fancy –re spelling? That’s how we theatre folks spell it.)

So, I wrote this play a million years ago. Well, twelve years. Just before my brand new husband and I moved our lives to Seattle, I wrote the first draft of the play of my heart. It wasn’t my first play—it was something like my fourth. But it was most definitely my beating heart on paper.

My playwriting mentor—who has won the Tony Award for Best New Play and multiple Academy Award nominations for Best Screenplay, so he’s no dummy in such matters—raved about the play. It was going to be my breakthrough, he said.

We moved to Seattle, full of high hopes for my place in the theater world here (see how I switched out of the –re spelling? I do that because I do the –re spelling automatically, but part of me thinks it’s pretentious, so then I mix it up). I kept working on the play, and a year or two into our life here, I was invited to submit a play to FringeACT, which is now-defunct, but was an incredible new play development program that gave me a chance to workshop the play with some amazeballs people.

I thought this was it. I thought it really was my breakthrough. I started teaching playwriting for one of Seattle’s major regional theaters. I even got invited in for a meeting with the theater’s artistic director, who spoke to me warmly and with great interest about my plays.

But … the workshop didn’t lead anywhere, except to a revision of the play. I continued to work on the play, as well as write more plays. After a couple more years, I finally got my first full production in Seattle (or anywhere, since the full production of my very first play, which was produced by Northwestern University during my sophomore year there). Live Girls, which is a tiny but HUGELY AWESOME theater devoted to new plays by women, produced my play Mud Angel. (Thanks, Live Girls!)

And then … I continued to write. And rack up rejections. I used to spend vast amounts of money on copies and postage, sending my scripts all over the country, and even the world. I’ve got over 400 rejections to my name (just as a playwright). No more full productions came my way. Lots of compliments on my beautiful plays. Lots of staged readings and some great workshops (for which I’m grateful, but they’re not the same as production).

After a few years, I pulled out Blood/Water/Paint—that’s the play of my heart. The one that was going to be my breakthrough. I did another major revision. I called super amazing actor people and had them come to my house to read the play aloud. They gave me great feedback. I revised again. I sent the play out. And nothing.

Around that time, I started writing fiction. It wasn’t a conscious decision that I was going to write books instead of plays. It was mostly that my daughter was three and OBSESSED with books, and I spent (seriously) an average of five hours a day reading aloud to her. We were reading the Chronicles of Narnia and the Wizard of Oz books, Mary Poppins and Charlotte’s Web.  So fiction just sort of became the way story formed in my head.

I’ve been focused on fiction for almost four years now. Aside from participating in Seattle’s awesome 14/48 festival a few times, I really haven’t given theater much thought.

And then I got an email a couple months ago. Meghan Arnette, the Artistic Director of the aforementioned insanely awesome theater company Live Girls, wanted to include Blood/Water/Paint in a reading series. Part of me was a little annoyed. Were we really going to dredge this play up, only to read it, and stir up my emotions, except that nothing would happen with it, because nothing ever does?

And then I met the director for the reading. I’d never worked with her before. She’d said very little in our email exchanges before meeting and I had no idea what she thought of the play. (It deals with some tough stuff, you guys, and I was a little worried.) And then I met her. And she is a FORCE OF NATURE. Her passion for the play was inspiring, but still I held back. The rehearsal process for the reading was the best I’d ever had, but still I held back. The reading happened, and the talkback was amazing, and I started to hope.

Just a tiny little bit.

And now, you know what? Twelve years after I started writing it? Fifteen years after I embarked on the whole I’m-going-to-be-a-playwright thing? Live Girls Theater is going to produce Blood/Water/Paint in 2014, with Amy Poisson directing.

So I guess I’m still a playwright.

And those novels I loved that came extremely close to getting me amazing agents, but then didn’t? I guess I won’t give up on them, either.

(Update: Now it's going to be 2015. But there's an amazing team in place and it's definitely happening)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Who's That Girl?

I’m not much into sports (and that’s an understatement), but early in my marriage, I wanted to show interest in the baseball my husband adores (just like he went with me to see art house movies and experimental theater). I found I liked it far better than soccer, for example, where the ball moved so quickly around the field, and all the commentators ever talked about was what was happening with the ball. But in baseball, the commentators have time to talk about the players and their lives. While a pitcher confers with his catcher, the commentators will tell us about how the pitcher’s wife is expecting a baby any moment, for example. Or how the catcher has a wonderful rags to riches story.

I like connecting to people’s stories.

When I’m researching agents or editors or other writers, I get inordinately excited about details that should have no bearing on whether I’d like their work, or they’d like mine. It doesn’t matter if an agent went to my alma mater, or traveled through the same Central American countries I did. And yet, I love finding these points of connection. I also love discovering the unique details that are completely removed from my own life. They speak Mandarin! They do Civil War reenactment!

So here are a few points of connection about me.

I grew up in San Diego, but I kind of hate the beach. (Also, the sun.)

Briefly, as a toddler, I lived in a castle in Scotland for two years. Honest.

I studied theater at Northwestern University. I went to school with Zach Braff and Seth Myers. They’re a tiny bit more famous than I am.

I lived in Guatemala for a year after college. Absolute best souvenir I brought home? My husband.

I live in the Seattle area now, with said Guatemalan souvenir, two crazy-awesome kids, and a mini-Australian Shepherd named Athena. (My Greek mythology-obsessed daughter named her. I was rooting for Luna.)

Mostly, I read and I write. Sometimes I sew. And I eat chocolate.

When a new friend was over at our house and asked for sugar for his coffee, I handed him the sugar bowl. Which contained coconut sugar, which is totally sugar. And he said, “You are so Seattle.” I really am. (When he asked if I had real, white sugar, I DID have some. I use it for making kombucha.)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Bring on the Mayhem!!!

Super excited to announce that I've joined the team of marvelous middle grade writers over at the group blog PROJECT MAYHEM!!

I'll be posting about all things middle grade, once or twice a month, starting in November.

But while you're waiting on pins and needles for my posts, check out the others! There are some awesome authors there already, like Marissa Burt (Storybound), Hilary Wagner (Nightshade City), Caroline Starr Rose (May B), and Dee Garretson (Wildfire Run). So come join the mayhem!

Monday, September 23, 2013

PITCH WARS!!! (Or, I Brag About Myself a Little)

This week, the fabulous Brenda Drake will be announcing the mentors for Pitch Wars, a very cool contest in which aspiring writers are paired up with more experienced mentors to polish their queries and manuscripts for submission to agents. And this year, I’ll be on that mentor list!

This means that all the aspiring writers (or at least the ones who are research-fiends like myself) will scuttle off to the blogs of all the mentors to figure out who they’d like to work with.

But here’s the thing—I just started this blog. And while you can find me at my website and some other places, I want to do a few posts to let Pitch Wars participants know who I am and why I might be a great mentor for their middle grade manuscript.

I’ve been mentoring writers for fifteen years. In a previous life, I was a playwright (more on that later). As a playwright, I spent a ton of time doing classroom residencies teaching playwriting. Working mostly with 6th-12th graders, I helped kids find their voice and helped draw out the story they wanted to tell. I’ve also worked with adult writers, teaching workshops and evaluating scripts for the literary departments of several major regional theaters.

I’m a freelance editor and ghostwriter. As a ghostwriter, I’ve written fifteen middle grade novels (plus more picture books than I’ve counted, and some adult projects, too). I’ve edited a wide variety of manuscripts, but my favorites are always children’s projects. Past clients and critique partners say nice things about me here. I also work as a PR assistant to a NYT-bestselling middle grade author.

Speaking of critique partners… My critique partners all have amazing agents and deals with major publishers. I know my way around a query letter.

I write middle grade, aside from my ghostwriting. My manuscript FRAMED made the longlist for the Chicken House/Times of London International Prize for Children’s Fiction. I’m about to join one of the awesome MG group blogs (and will update this as soon as it’s official). I’ve been in the query trenches, myself and with my critique partners. I know the market.

About that playwright thing … Writing plays is very different from writing novels. No question. But in addition to teaching me how to be a disciplined writer, how to receive feedback and revise, how to manage submissions and deal with rejection (SO much rejection), being a playwright first gave me a kick-ass sense of pace, plotting, character, and DIALOGUE. (I’m super good with dialogue, y’all.)

So that’s all my bragging for now. (It sounded really braggy, didn’t it?) Trust me, I have a million insecurities. But one thing I’m confident I’m very good at is helping other people make their work the best it can be.

Next time I’ll post more about who I am on a more personal level …

Monday, September 16, 2013


I am not a blogger.

This is probably not a very auspicious way to start a blog.

But I never have before, and my reasons are threefold. 1) There are already so many great writing blogs that already exist with info and inspiration and statistics and analysis (and don’t judge by the blogs I follow list, because I don’t properly follow hardly any of the blogs I actually read). I’m not sure I have anything hugely unique to add, which leads me to 2) I don’t really want to talk into the void. I mean, I could. But I’d rather spend that time—which is precious as a stay at home mama who also juggles a freelance writing and editing career while (kinda sorta) homeschooling my kids—doing to the actual writing. The books and plays I mean.  And because of that, I’m afraid 3) I really won’t be able to keep up with the kind of steady posting that a good blog requires.

BUT I have recently found out I will be a mentor in a pitch-contest type thing that will be starting up in a few months, and it’s the sort of thing where prospective entrants will want to read up about the mentors when deciding who to pitch. So I decided to start this blog so there will be at least a few entries when someone comes along wanting to know who I am.

You can also check out my website.

Or this interview with me.

Or just use good old Google, because I have actually been getting mentioned around the interwebs and in newspapers (remember those?) for some time.  

Also I’m soon to join one of the well-established MG group blogs, which will totally be more my speed, since I’ll only need to post once a month or so. I’ll post a link to that when it’s official and newsworthy.

But I’m also going to try to make a few posts, at least before this contest starts. I know good blogs are focused, so this one should be about writing middle grade fiction. Except when I digress and write about plays. Or my kids. Or my sewing projects (which, to be fair, are often literature-related—I made an awesome Harry Potter quilt).

But mostly, I’ll try to stick to the kid lit.