Recently I had the honor of assistant adjudicating for a manuscript pitch contest. A fellow Clean Reads author Eli Celata asked if I would help and I jumped at the opportunity. She had the brilliant idea to call the contest PitProm, and each of us would have a court -- I worked with Court Sci Fi and she managed Court Fantasy. The winning pitches would be crowned the Queen or King of PitProm and hopefully be offered contracts to get those amazing manuscripts published.
After 200 entries, with the top twenty hopefuls taking a week to work with our author mentors to edit and refresh their pitches, we ended up with a three-way tie, and Queens bowed gracefully upon the PitProm stage. Here we explore their worlds a bit more in-depth, and check out the pitches which won these ladies their crowns!
Fascinated by storytelling from a young age, author J.S. Dewes cut her teeth writing screenplays for award-winning short and feature films. A creative at heart, she loves immersing herself in the exciting realms portrayed in science-fiction and fantasy, where her aptitude for crafting imaginative tales can have free reign.
Manuscript Title: THE DIVIDE
140-Character Pitch: A castoff commander and her rebellious crew are all that stand between mankind and the universe’s collapse. #PitProm #A #SF
Who's your favorite character in your manuscript?
If I had to pick just one, I would say Cavalon, one of my two POV characters. Though I love all my characters, I had more fun writing him than anyone else. He’s the smartest guy in the room, but you would have no idea. He’s also the funniest guy in the room, and he’ll go to great lengths to make sure you’re aware of it. He’s a weird mix of humble and proud, genuine and sarcastic, defiant and cooperative. He’s also extremely willing to learn and change, and to push his boundaries, though he does get a little help from the other POV character in that regard. Their personalities play off each other in a really constructive way, and though the plot and stakes of the story are rather intense, the core of the book is really about that friendship and how the two balance each other.
What are your favorite and least favorite things about writing?
My favorite thing about writing is the discovery process. I love letting my characters take the reigns and lead the story in unanticipated directions. Though I really do enjoy the whole process, if I had to pick a least favorite aspect of writing, I’d say the general editing process after draft one. I’m a pantser, so for me, that initial unearthing process of finding the story is what I enjoy the most. After that point, it can be difficult to “see the forest for the trees,” though I have a group of trusted critique partners that have helped ease that process tremendously!
Jamie Rusovick-Smith is a California-born girl transplanted to the not-so-sunny state of Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband, four children, and pet rabbit. When she’s not writing, reading, or plotting, you can find her shaking her groove thing at a Zumba class, baking cupcakes, or taking her brood to do anything and everything fun within a fifty mile radius of her home.
Manuscript title: THE BURN KINGDOM
140-Character Pitch: FROSTBLOOD+LABRYINTHLOST Mother Nature made fire-wielding Azara to end the world. Instead she falls for a Brujo on her hit list #YA #Pitprom
Where did you get the idea for your manuscript?
The idea behind this MS was sort of a mishmash of things: It started after a major natural disaster a while back, and everyone was asking, “Why, if there’s a God, does He let these things happen?” And my author brain went into overdrive. I thought, what if that’s exactly what was going on — He was letting things happen, but it was Mother Nature doing this to mankind. What did she have against us? What was the ultimate goal? When I overlaid those questions onto the Biblical accounts of a flooding of the earth, and the prophecy of its eventual destruction by fire, I had the bones of my story. But it really came together after I remembered the Mexican Myth of the weather-controlling Acalica. (My great grandmother was born and raised in Guadalajara Mexico, so, per tradition, monster stories were a big part of my upbringing.) I really wanted to incorporate something from my heritage, this myth especially, into the story, but I didn’t want my main character to be a wizened old man! So my amazing CP and best friend (Hi Vanessa!) suggested I gender flip it. “Make them all young women,” she said. And it was like, Ah heck yes, that’s it! The Burn Kingdom was born.
Who’s your favorite character in your manuscript?
Grimmer, my MC’s mentor that, in my brain, looks exactly like Danny Trejo. While I was writing this, he surprised me the most and I tend to have a soft spot for the characters that drop twists I never saw coming.
Katherine Toran has had short fiction published in Abyss & Apex Magazine, the Whortleberry Press anthology Strange Changes, Every Day Fiction and Short Fiction Break. She also received an honorable mention in the Writers of the Future Contest. She’s currently working on her economics PhD at the University of Kentucky and writes fiction as a relief from the endless math jargon.
Manuscript Title: THE WITCH AND THE DEMON
140-Character Pitch: Fleeing a witchhunter, autistic Ebba sells her heart to a demon—trapping her in a deathmatch and an equally violent courtship. #PitProm #YA
Where did you get the idea for your manuscript?
I write the stories I wish someone else had written so I could read them. THE WITCH AND THE DEMON was inspired by my adoration for bad boy heroes but frustration with the genre’s clichés. I wanted to see if I could write my villainous love interest while avoiding unfortunate stalkerish implications or love triangles. My heroine, Ebba, accidentally ends up in a courtship with a demon after she throws a severed head at him. The difference between their moral values is both played for laughs and a major source of conflict throughout the book.
Who's your favorite character in your manuscript?
Kryptos, the demon, is my favorite character. As the God of Cowardice, he has a puffed-up ego and doesn’t understand humans, which makes him great fun to write.
These ladies rocked it, knocking those pitches out of the park. Each PitProm participant submitted a 140-character pitch, a query letter, and the first ten pages of their manuscript. You can see their final works at http://www.pitprom.ml/finals and see just how amazing these books are going to be.
Congratulations to all the PitProm participants -- and especially to our Queens. May you rule the 2017 PitProm Kingdom as fabulously as you can. Happy pitching everyone!
“It is awfully hard to be brave, when you're only a Very Small Animal.”
- A. A. Milne (from Winnie-The-Pooh)
In these shifting sands, I often feel like a Very Small Animal, just one pinpoint among the many, many stars. The reality is that dreams shift and shatter, and yellow-brick roads sometimes lead to dead ends. Sometimes life is a quick drop, a sudden stop. And what do we do? We can look up into the blue sky and wonder who is watching. We can glance over our shoulders to see if anybody saw when we fell down and skinned our knees. We can wipe away that glimmer of a tear because there just isn’t time right now. We can yell at the shoulda, coulda, woulda’s.
There are different types of fear. We fear letting people down, failing, falling, and basically appearing foolish or incompetent. Basically, we fear the unknown. It’s a survival instinct. Here’s one important lesson to realize: humans, inherently, are not psychic. Humans are limited in that way.
The good news is that the unknown is not a monster. The unknown simply doesn’t exist. The unknown is your projection of a possibility. It’s not fact, it’s not verifiable, and it’s probably not even what may occur.
Projection avoids the present. Appreciating the present eliminates fear. Let’s walk through it step by step.
I have always liked the movie Elizabethtown. It is the story of a man, Drew Baylor, whose great invention at a shoe company craters and he is fired; while he rigs a contraption to commit suicide, his sister calls to inform him that his father had a heart attack and died. Yeah, yeah, it sounds sad, whatever. This is the platform from which he falls, however, and the audience takes the journey with him, through facing failure and its wretched aftermath, new love, and fresh beginnings.
“You have five minutes to wallow in the delicious misery,” Claire Colburn says in a note to Drew. “Enjoy it, embrace it, discard ... and proceed. Sadness is easier because it's surrender. I say, make time to dance alone with one hand waving free.”
We see Drew dancing under some shade trees after scattering some of his dad’s ashes along the road. He cries.
You can dance and cry at the same time.
It’s about glorying in the moment rather than expecting a projected triumph.
At one point, Claire says to Drew, “We are intrepid. We carry on.”
Regardless of what we hope for, project, or dare, what IS exists. And it’s stunning.
Call it a web, a journey, a path, or a plotline, humans navigate this earth and their time on it. The more difficult the landscape, the more you see of your true self. Amid the bouquet of options, I can see yesterday’s selfish flippancy, the materialistic cravings, the immature belief. I can see yesterday’s shaking flesh, the whimpering muscles. But I can also see how these challenges, these opportunities, they work like a sieve. Through the emptying out, an instigation of firmness builds within; as the complaining sifts out like powdery flour, a more solid hand steadies a tangible faith.
Not so long ago, God breathed out life upon the universe. He pieced together billions of people with billions of opportunities to thrive in a life greater.
The God who made us has us here to learn more about his security. He is secure, he is able. He is intrepid. As a believer in him, he resides within me, therefore I am secure, I am able, I am intrepid. There’s no better place for me than where I am right now. There’s no better place for you, either. You’re in this time and space with me, and we can reflect on the delightful present of our reality.
You breathe air.
You blink with bright eyes.
Your senses ignite, your hope flares, and you are now more awake to the possibilities of freedom — the possibilities of life, beautiful, perfect, as it is, right here, right now. How do you feel without expectations for what should be, and is not? How do you feel knowing that the story you’ve been beating yourself up for does not exist, nor should it? ‘Should’ does not exist. How does it feel to accept that the slow car in front of you is supposed to be slow? How does it feel to accept that you have the opportunity to wipe gum off your shoe in front of your child? How does it feel to receive the incorrect order at the drive-thru, and know that this is the moment for which you’ve been preparing? You get right now to be your best self. You get this one moment to drop your pride, speak with humility, and act in kindness.
You get right now to choose how to act.
Three kinds of business exist: Your business, My business, and God’s business. Your gift is this one reality to mind your business. You don’t have to mind mine or God’s. You can’t mind God’s business. (Seriously, would you want to? No thanks.) That’s why it’s his. He gets to deal with the stars, the natural disasters, and the mass of humanity as a whole.
“David also said to Solomon his son, ‘Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you’” (1 Chronicles 28:20).
See, God IS minding his business, which includes us. He won’t stop. He will never leave or fail us — he’s with us, he’s within us, he’s around us. So we’re secure on that end. Be strong, be courageous, do the work. I manage my business. You manage your business. And we rockin’ it. We magnificent.
Intrepid means ‘fearless and bold.’ Plucky. Dauntless. Resolute. We are intrepid. We carry on. It’s our business. And remember, you got yours, I got mine! We manage the events as they piece together before us. We have nothing to fear. We have nothing to complain about. Don’t assume some other scenario than what you currently have could be better. This one moment is the best option. (Spiders and all!)
Small animals? Maybe our bodies are small creatures compared to the stars. On any ordinary day, are our souls woven into the Spirit of the King of Kings, the Creator, the manager of the stars? Yes. Able to do the work? Yes. Dancing with one hand flying free? Oh, my dear, yes.
More on this coming soon. <3
I received some pretty harsh reviews of my books the other day. And by harsh, I mean crushing. These people did NOT like my books. Being a perfectionist, and one who has spent years investing in these stories, my heart flung itself outside of my chest and into a hole in the backyard and I came thiiiiiis close to hanging up my apron. The typewriter was in the garbage.
But as they say, the truth will set you free.
I went seeking. My inner voice said all those nasty deviled egg phrases about how I lacked any talent and I should give up and everything is pointless and what the heck have I been doing if I can’t get people to like me or my books…..or… me.
Byron Katie came up with some questions to use in situations where The Things don’t seem to be going your way and your thoughts are running away. 1) Is this thought true? 2) How do I feel when I have this thought? 3) Who would I be without this thought?
Still after working through these questions, I felt doubtful. What if the critics were right? What if my books were unbelievable, boring, “dragging on and on,” and confusing? Ah! The answers came in various forms, and one big answer came from the show Arrow. Because a lot of great answers come from superhero shows (They do!): WHY are you doing what you’re doing?
A lot of problems can be solved with that question.
I’ve sorted through why I write for years and haven’t always known my answer. I write because I can’t stop. It makes me so much more than happy. And my books are not really, "me." They aren't all I have to give. A person does not have children in order to receive praise. So then the same applies to books.
Friends, I came to these conclusions about critics and books. I think they’ll apply to you, regardless of your goals or projects:
1) If you ask for criticism, you’ll receive it.
As I started out with my publishing process, I was told to get reviews, get reviews, get reviews. Send it out, pay for reviews, enter contests; the more people who read it, the more people will see it. If it doesn’t say ‘best-seller’ or ‘award-winning’ then no one will read it. This is in part true. However, any person who reads any string of words can criticize them and how they are put together. There is no perfect book.
As a writer, as a creator, you are not perfect. And try as you might, your best work will not be good enough. The truth hurts, but that is what it is. You’re not perfect, your work is not perfect, and someone better climbs the rope ahead of you.
This does not mean you don’t do your best. If you read my books, you’re reading my best shot. I give my readers my 2000% best. I spend hours plotting, replotting, editing, sharpening, revising, and revisiting. What you see is my 100. Maybe they're not perfect, but my books got heart.
Look at the challenge as a chance for gratitude. What can you learn? Who can you be now? Once the rafters have fallen, what can you build? Use the fear, the criticism, and the hate to see how you can be better.
The trick is to know that criticism will come. Expect it. Take the facts and use them to make you stronger. Expect people to ignore you and walk away. Expect the worst, and prepare for the storm. Be someone who can get hit and stand up straighter. Getting hit hurts. You’ve got to lift heavy and scrape away the blood. Be someone who can get rejected and still has self-respect, self-love, and fortitude. Be the hero who takes the hits others cannot.
2) There will always be someone out there who won’t like you.
a. If you want a template romance, you’ll hate my books.
b. If you want light-hearted, easy fiction, you’ll hate my books.
c. If you want predictable plotlines and characters, you’ll hate my books.
d. If you love adventures, you’ll enjoy my books.
e. If you like twisty plots, relish unpredictable storylines, and totally dig characters who have to go through hard decisions and rough landings, you’ll love my books.
f. If you are willing to grow with my writing and my characters, you’ll love my books.
g. If you want characters who inspire you to be better, if you want characters who make some poor choices, if you want characters who are not perfect, you’ll love my books.
h. If you like a good moment of BEING, a moment where you feel and taste and see and hear and experience the essence of LIFE, and can accept that in the middle of any scene or location, then you’ll love my books.
3) It’s my freaking story!
My circus, my monkeys. If I decided to kill a character, I had a good reason. I won’t write the same story as you, and that’s the magic of stories. My characters needed me to tell it this way. I did right by them.
a. If you don’t like it, are confused by it, or wanted it to go a different way, let’s talk about it. But you didn’t write this story. I did. Did I make you think? Fabulous. That's the win.
b. I want to hear your opinion. And hopefully you’ll hear mine. This is the fun part of stories.
c. If my stories inspire you to write it a different way or to add to it, then I did my job.
4) The critics may not be your audience.
Find your tribe. Find your village. Your village will love you regardless.
The people who stick with you, those are the hearts and minds who really count. Because they see the truth of what you have to offer, and they love it. So appreciate it, love it, thrive in it. Tell them thank you. Name (hero) characters after them.
5) Your Why Is Your Why.
a. I am not writing for the critics or the naysayers.
b. I do not write for applause or for people to talk about my abilities, good or bad.
c. I do not write books because I want to be a bestseller and make a million dollars. (Although I like eating and wearing clothing.)
d. I write because I love playing with words. I use a lot of them. It’s my passion.
e. I write because I love stories. I love characters and their abilities to be more and to inspire us.
f. I write to make you think.
g. I write because I feel most alive when I can put my creative thoughts on paper. Something about the process of creating a situation in my head, the challenge of putting it down on paper, the ordering of words makes me feel like I’m solving a riddle only I can unlock.
h. I write because I’ve learned some hard lessons and I think others can benefit from them. Jesus used stories to help teach. So he’s my example.
The “why” can change over time, and the why can be hard to pinpoint. But it’s vital to your survival in this task you’ve got to do. Find it and keep it ahead of you. The why keeps you on track when the critics wave their torches.
6) Readers’ opinions show where they are as people.
Sometimes they aren’t ready for a certain book. Sometimes it’s just not their style. Sometimes it wasn’t what they thought they would be reading, and perspective changes everything. Don’t rely on someone else’s opinion.
7) Good and bad are subjective in terms of writing and storytelling.
There are levels to it, but ultimately, one critic will disagree with another. If multiple readers have similar issues, then take that and use it as a lesson in how to write better or improve. But you can’t get better if you just give up.
8) Awards Are Stupid. Art Is Not.
Amy Poehler attended numerous award ceremonies for her roles in “Parks and Recreation,” one of my favorite TV shows that I have been watching and re-watching lately. Her character Leslie Knope is one of the most inspirational to me. TO ME. To tiny ol’ me. Do I matter? YES. Does an award matter? NO. It’s a symbol of someone’s opinion. Stupid! Leonardo DiCaprio had my heart and always will for his roles in various movies. He’s forevermore my Romeo. When did he finally win an award? Once he was in some really gray, dramatic survival-bear-eats-him-or-something movie. Ugh. Stephanie Meyer and her ridiculous Twilight story. “I wrote down this dream I had and then it was a blockbuster and then yay it’s a whole franchise of movies. I wasn’t even trying all that hard.” Just crazy. Good for you, Mrs. Meyer. But I LOVED reading those books the first time around. She captured the feeling of a first love. There’s something huge to that gift. Fast and Furious movies, superhero movies, the Step Up dancing movies, those are movies I can watch any time and they inspire me. They don’t win awards, the writing and acting isn’t always top-notch, but WHO CARES. I prefer the movie I like, and I usually don’t prefer an Oscar winner. Those Oscar winners are depressing and you know you don’t like watching that either when you’ve had a stupid day. Art is for entertainment. If it entertains, then it is doing its job.
9) Critics Can Be Bought.
Anyone can pay for a review. Anyone can pay to buy copies of their books and become a best-seller (well, the rich people can. Now accepting sponsors.). Anyone can pay for this or that or bribe or buy.
Who. Freaking. Cares. About. The. Numbers.
Numbers can be bought or bribed. Again, the numbers go back to who has the resources or the scandal or the ability to straight-up lie.
10) Who Really Counts?
Does each reader count? Yes. Does one review and one opinion count more than another? Not really. If a person likes a book, then yay! My biggest excitement about books is talking about them with people. If my books get your attention enough so that you want to tell someone about it or ask me a question, then that is the most validation I want. I really just want to share these stories with friends so we can sit over coffee and chat about them. Why did she do that? Why didn’t she do this other thing? What if that other guy was better for her? What if this other thing happened instead of that other thing? THAT is why I write. For the up-late-at-nighters. For the lonely. For those needing a win. For the seekers. For the desperate. For the lost. For the coffee dates. For the questions. For the readers’ investment. For the thrill of the story. For the happy endings. For the entertainment.
You are valid. Your opinion is valid. If we differ, okay, but let’s appreciate that about each other. I’ll always offer you an extra serving of grace if you need one. Even if you don’t return the favor, okay. This whole ‘life’ thing we’re doing requires a sword and a shield. I got those. Hopefully we can share them today. Don’t listen to the critics. Don’t listen to the whispers of despair. You do you, and you rockin’ it.
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