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.