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!
Let's welcome fellow Clean Reads author Bethany Swafford with us today! (Clap, clap, clap!) She has an inspiring story, both fiction and non, to share with us today!
First of all, I am delighted to be here so thank you Kadee for inviting me!
For as long as I can remember, I have loved books and reading. In fact, one of my earliest memories is of being in a library trying to find the biggest book in the children’s section because the bigger the book, the longer it would take to read.
My love of books inevitably led me to trouble, since I would much rather read than do things like schoolwork or chores. Thus, my parents would resort to the worst punishment imaginable, one they knew would get my attention: they would take my books away.
I wasn’t about to let this inconvenience keep me from words though. I found a loophole: anything I wrote I could read.
That’s how my writing career began. I developed the habit of writing short stories and essays to amuse my family and myself even when I wasn't in trouble. It was my hobby and all it would ever be. At least, that’s what I thought at the time.
The older I got, though, I began to realize that the ‘big books’ (novels of delightful length that would surely take me more than a few hours to read) all too often contained sex scenes that were unappealing and left me red faced.
My family had encouraged me to write my own book with the standards that I searched for in books and so that’s what I decided to do. My first novel, Emily’s Choice, was so much fun to write and I wanted to share it with others more than anything else. Many rejections taught me “sex sells” and publishers for a new author who refused to yield just didn’t seem likely.
Once again, it seemed like it was time for stubbornness and a loophole. I self-published without having the slightest clue what I was doing though. I was determined.
However, stubbornness wasn’t enough when doubts hit. Should I have tried harder to find a publisher? What if the reason I’d been rejected all those times was because I wasn’t good enough? If that was true, what was the point of writing more?
These doubts made sure my second manuscript sat, unfinished, for over two years. I worked up the courage to hand those six chapters to my mom for an honest opinion. She wanted to know where is the rest of it was. My stubborn streak flared up once again and I knew I had to finish it if only so Mom could know how the story ended. Once that first draft was done, it sat in all its imperfect glory.
Throughout this whole time, I kept reading, and it was my mission to let other readers know when sex scenes crept up into a novel. That's how I met Donna Feyen, who had just begun her book site More Than A Review which had the sole purpose of letting readers know what kind of content a book had. Soon, I joined her as a book reviewer and, through her, CleanReads.
Though previous rejections haunted my dreams, I spent several months polishing my manuscript to submit. Before long, I received the email with a contract attached and the rest is history. A Chaotic Courtship was released in August and I couldn’t be more proud of it.
Now friends and family ask if I have another book waiting in the wings. I just smile and say, “Not just a book. I have several.” And then I hide behind whichever CleanReads book I have at the time.
A Chaotic Courtship
Twenty year old Diana Forester, a country bred young woman fears that her inexperience and uncertainties has driven Mr. John Richfield away. On arriving back home from London, she learns that he is already there, ready to continue their acquaintance. If Diana thought that it was difficult in London, courting takes on a whole new aspect when Diana's younger siblings become involved. She finds herself dealing with her own feelings, her sister, her younger brother, jealous members of a house party, a jilted suitor, and a highwayman as she falls in love with the charming Mr. Richfield.
An Excerpt from A Chaotic Courtship:
“I thought you’d never get here!” Sarah said, ignoring my question completely as she spun to face me. I frowned at her as I put my outside garments away. She seemed highly agitated, a state which I had seldom seen her in. “Diana, I must speak with you!”
“About what?” I asked calmly.
Sarah took up pacing, and for a moment I believed she wasn’t going to continue with whatever she wanted to say. “You must listen to me for once in your life!” she finally said, as though I had been disagreeable.
Sinking onto our bed, I tried to hide a smile. “Then come out and tell me what has you in such a state.”
“I think Mr. Richfield is the highwayman!”
My smile faded instantly as I stared at her. How had she come up with this ridiculous idea? “You what?” I asked in astonishment.
“There, I’ve said it!” Sarah collapsed into the chair at the dressing table. “I’ve considered the matter carefully, Diana, and as your sister, I could not let you become attached to such a black-hearted criminal!”
I couldn’t help but laugh in response to that absurd notion. “Blackhearted criminal? You cannot be serious, Sarah. I have never heard anything so outlandish. Have you been reading my novels?”
“Diana, I am being completely serious! Stop laughing!”
“How can I take you seriously when everything you say is utter nonsense? Why would you possibly think Mr. Richfield, a true gentleman if I’ve ever met one, is a common criminal?”
Sarah leaned forward, her eyes wide. “Don’t you remember what Aunt Forester said at dinner yesterday?” she asked, lowering her voice for some reason. She acted like she was about to disclose some deep secret to me, and I found myself leaning closer. “About the highwayman being around the Bath area?”
Thinking back, I did in fact remember the conversation and our aunt’s comment. “Yes, of course I remember. What about it?”
“Mr. Richfield was there!”
I failed to follow her line of reasoning. “I’m sure a great many people were in Bath at the same time, Sarah. Aunt and Uncle Forester, for example, were there for two months, I believe.”
Shaking her head, Sarah groaned. “Don’t be obtuse, Diana! You have to see the connection here. Mr. Richfield was in Bath when a highwayman terrorized innocent people. And now, he’s here, where a highwayman has mysteriously appeared to threaten our peaceful home!”
For as long as she can remember, Bethany Swafford has loved reading books. That love of words extended to writing as she grew older and when it became more difficult to find a ‘clean’ book, she determined to write her own. Among her favorite authors is Jane Austen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Georgette Heyer. When she doesn’t have pen to paper (or fingertips to laptop keyboard), she can generally be found with a book in hand. In her spare time, Bethany reviews books for a book site called More Than A Review.
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Thank you so much Bethany for your words and stories! I think we all need a little chaos in our lives to make things more interesting. Thanks for joining in everyone!
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