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)