2017 PitchWars Wishlist

Hello, Pitchwars hopefuls! After a fantastic experience as a PitchWars YA mentor last year, I came up with my 2017 PitchWars wishlist dreaming of another YA manuscript that will sweep me away as much as my mentees’ projects did last year. A bit more about them below because they are both worthy predecessors!

But before going on about my wishlist, a little bit about me:

kip_avatarBio: I’m a young adult writer represented by Roseanne Wells of Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. I have a Ph.D. in German Literature and am the Poetry Editor and acting EiC at Young Adult Review Network, publishing new teen writers along with superstars like Jacqueline Woodson. I’m also the Editorial Assistant at Laboratory Phonology, where I manage the submissions process and copyedit all papers. My own work has been published in the TIMELESS and SPAIN FROM A BACKPACK anthologies as well as BLACK FOX LITERARY, COBBLESTONE, and FACES magazines. My writing has won several awards, including the 2017 PEN New England Discovery Award.

Other fun tidbits about me: I normally call Boston home, but I’ll be spending this fall semester in Madrid (¡Ole!), and have lived in both Austria and Germany. My background includes service in the U.S. Army, a Fulbright teaching award, and a year with Rosetta Stone, where I worked on the Indonesian language product with a great team of linguists. I can always be found up and about by 5am, when I’m either off swimming laps or at my desk taking part in #5amWritersClub. I am a pretty serious person. You can expect few (if any) GIFS, jokes, or pop culture references from me, but you can also expect my undying devotion and passion in helping you make your project all it can be.

I absolutely love PitchWars. I was a mentee myself in 2014, and I can’t recommend it enough (evidence: my letter to the 2015 mentees). My amazing mentor, Sarah Guillory, helped me tear apart my manuscript that landed me my agent (read my journey about connecting with Roseanne here), and I’m still in contact almost daily with my fellow mentees, many of whom have been or are mentors.

My 2016 mentees were total rock stars who’ve already gone on to great things. I absolutely loved Kosoko Jackson’s fast-paced, dual timeline historical. His combination of talent and hard work made his manuscript even better, and he’s since signed with a great agent. Sam Taylor likewise captured me with her Babylonian-inspired fantasy. Her gorgeous writing in this project recently won her the Tassy Award in the YA category. I am so proud of both of them and will be a lifelong fan of their work.

This year, I’m a YA mentor just like last year, and I’ll start off by listing the top four things I’m looking for in a YA project. Probably not surprisingly, these are the things I like best and read most, which means they’re also the things I feel I can most help with. If your manuscript falls under even one of these, I would absolutely love to see it.

  1. Historical fiction. I write YA historical fiction myself and read oodles of it. Recent favorites include THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by Mackenzie Lee, SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys, and OUT OF DARKNESS by Ashley Hope Pérez. I’m also really, really looking forward to AMONG THE RED STARS by fellow 2014 PitchWars mentee, Gwen Katz, coming out this fall. My favorite era is twentieth century, but I am most definitely interested in all others. For instance, I absolutely loved UNDER A PAINTED SKY by Stacey Lee and COPPER SUN by Sharon Draper.
  2. Verse novels. As the poetry editor at Young Adult Review Network, I love all kinds of poetry, including verse novels. Some of my favorite YA verse novels include A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman, AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder, and BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson. I also love novels that combine poetry and prose, like AND WE STAY by Jenny Hubbard.
  3. Novels set in another country or with main characters from other countries. Bonus points for characters who speak other languages. Some recent favorites include SOLO by Kwame Alexander (novel in verse set in LA and Ghana), THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS by Anna-Marie McLemore (magical realism with Spanish- and French-speaking characters), SMALL DAMAGES by Beth Kephart (contemporary set in Spain), and BLUE VOYAGE by Diana Renn (mystery set in Turkey).
  4. Retellings or fairy tales. Though I’ll leave straight-up fantasy for the experts (see below for more details on what I’m not looking for), I find stories based on the familiar particularly compelling. Recent favorites include RONIT AND JAMIL by Pam Laskin  (a Romeo and Juliet retelling) and FAR FAR AWAY by Tom McNeal (a contemporary fairy tale narrated by Jakob Grimm).

RecentFaves

More bonus points: Other things I especially love are pretty writing, multiple points of view, diverse characters, weird timelines, unique formats (epistolary, anyone?), unlikable heroines, and unlikely friendships or romances.

What I don’t want: I like a little magic (especially if it’s combined with one of the other elements on my list), but I’m best able to help those whose settings are based in reality, so high fantasy and heavy science fiction aren’t really for me. I’m likewise not much of a fan of paranormal and I’m way too chicken for anything that falls under horror. Finally, I prefer tragic reads that really make me think, cry, and feel, so fully lighthearted and upbeat stories are probably not the best fit for me.

So assuming my wishlist sounds like a good fit for your manuscript, what can I do for you?

Plotting! I am a plotter, and can share what I’ve learned from plotting and outlining workshops to help identify plot holes and areas that could benefit from higher stakes and bigger twists. Pacing is another problem I see in many manuscripts I read, as are endings (of a scene, chapter, or entire manuscript) that need more of a punch. I also know firsthand how hard it is to achieve a balance between setting details and too much backstory, and I have had plenty of experience both revising and rewriting my own manuscripts from scratch, as well as helping critique partners identify problem areas in their stories. Finally, I am a copyeditor (and grammar nerd) by day, so I can definitely help you clean up any of the peskier little issues before the agent round. If we end up working together, you can expect a full edit letter on your manuscript, as well as whatever level of support you need to get through revisions over email, twitter, gchat, whatsapp, and/or DMs. I like talking on the phone about as much as I like GIFs.

If you’re not sure if your project is right for me, feel free to ask in the comments. Best of luck to all!

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PitchWars Wishlist

PitchWars-LogoHello, Pitchwars hopefuls! I’m posting my PitchWars wishlist in the hopes that I’ll get lucky enough to be able to work with someone on something so lyrical and unique that it transports me to another time and place before breaking my heart and (possibly) putting it back together. But before going on about my wishlist, a little bit about me:

kip_avatarBio: Kip Wilson Rechea is a young adult writer represented by Roseanne Wells of Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. She has a Ph.D. in German Literature and is the Poetry Editor at Young Adult Review Network, publishing new teen poets along with superstars like Jacqueline Woodson. She lives in Boston, spends a lot of time in Spain, and has lived in both Germany and Austria.

As far as PitchWars goes, I absolutely love this contest. I was a mentee myself in 2014, and I can’t recommend it enough (evidence: my letter to the 2015 mentees). I’m still in awe of my amazing mentor, Sarah Guillory, who helped me tear apart my manuscript that landed me my agent (read my journey about connecting with Roseanne here), and I’m still in contact almost daily with my fellow mentees, many of whom are mentors this year.

I’ve been with my critique group for about ten years and with some of my other favorite critique partners and beta readers for several years, too. I’ve been so proud to see many of their books come out and land on my shelves, so here’s a quick sampling of some of the books I had the privilege of reading as manuscripts:

CPBooks2

As far as mentoring goes, I couldn’t be happier to be on board. I’m a YA mentor, and I’ll start off by listing the three top things I’m looking for in a YA project. If your manuscript falls under even one of these, I would absolutely love to see it. If you story falls under two, even better, and if it falls under all three, what are you waiting for?

  1. Historical fiction. I write YA historical fiction myself and read oodles of it. Recent favorites include OUT OF DARKNESS by Ashley Hope Pérez, SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys, and BELLE EPOQUE by Elizabeth Ross. My favorite era is twentieth century, but I am most definitely interested in others. For instance, I absolutely loved UNDER A PAINTED SKY by Stacey Lee and COPPER SUN by Sharon Draper.
  2. Novels set in another country or with main characters from other countries. Bonus points for characters who speak other languages. Some of my favorites include THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS by Anna-Marie McLemore and THE GIRL WITH BORROWED WINGS by Rinsai Rosetti. Both of these are magical, delicious books that absolutely stole my heart. Light-hearted contemporary is not for me, but I can’t stop gushing about more serious books like SMALL DAMAGES by Beth Kephart (a contemporary set in Spain) and BLUE VOYAGE by Diana Renn (a mystery set in Turkey), which both transported me deep into their worlds.
  3. Verse novels. As the poetry editor at Young Adult Review Network, I love all kinds of poetry, including verse novels. Some of my favorite YA verse novels include A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman, AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder, and BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson. I also fell hard for THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander even though a basketball novel didn’t sound at all like my thing.

RecentFaves

As you can see from these examples, I’m drawn to tragic rather than light reads, literary over commercial, and I prefer to cry rather than laugh over a good book. I like a little magic/fantasy, but I prefer those with very different settings, like Norway in Ingrid Paulson’s VALKYRIE RISING or China in Cindy Pon’s SERPENTINE. Between character, beautiful writing, and plot, beautiful writing always wins me over. I love multiple points of view, diverse characters, weird timelines, unlikable heroines, and unlikely friendships or romances. My personality is likewise pretty serious. You can expect few (if any) GIFS, jokes, and pop culture references from me, but you can also expect my undying devotion and passion in helping you make your project all it can be.

So what can I do for you? I am a plotter, and can share what I’ve learned from plotting and outlining workshops to help identify plot holes and areas that could benefit from higher stakes and bigger twists. I specialize in multiple points of view and making individual voices in casts of characters unique. I also know firsthand how hard it is to achieve a balance between setting details and too much backstory, and I have had plenty of experience both revising and rewriting my own manuscripts from scratch, as well as helping critique partners identify problem areas in their stories.

If we end up working together, you can expect a full edit letter on your manuscript, as well as whatever level of support you need to get through revisions over email, twitter, gchat, whatsapp, and/or DMs. I like talking on the phone about as much as I like GIFs.

If you’re not sure if your project is right for me, feel free to ask in the comments. Best of luck to all!

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Favorite Craft Books

CraftBooksIn this pre-PitchWars season, I thought it might be helpful to share some of my favorite craft books in case anyone is struggling with preparations. Critique partners and beta readers are excellent (essential!) in pointing out any issues in a manuscript, but because in the end, the fixing of any issues come down to you, the writer, the right guide can sometimes help you see solutions that you’re unable to pinpoint on your own. A quick summary of some of my favorites:

  • READING LIKE A WRITER by Francine Prose. I picked this one up because I love Prose’s fiction, but this book is a great guide at any stage in the process. The premise is that creative writing can be taught through close readings of masterpieces, outlining how to do so looking at everything from words to characters to dialogue. It also serves to remind that there’s no substitute to reading recently published books in your genre.
  • SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. Originally a guide for screenwriters, this book walks writers through a “beat sheet” with details on how to nail down a manuscript’s structure. Though most helpful in the initial outlining stage, this is also a great tool in working through any plot issues in revisions.
  • SECOND SIGHT by Cheryl Klein. This is my go-to craft book for revisions. I’ve taken her amazing revision class as well (ask me about my bookmap), and can’t recommend it enough. Her advice and exercises can really get you to the heart of your story.
  • LETTERS TO A YOUNG POET by Rainer Maria Rilke. This collection of letters, sent to a young cadet in military school, contains inspirational advice that is applicable to most of us. I like to read it and pretend the letters were written to me.
  • BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert. This is a truly magical guide to stepping away from fear and writing books of your heart.
  • THE FIRST FIVE PAGES by Noah Lukeman. While only beginnings are stressed in this book, a clean, hooky beginning is essential in querying, contests, or even once published. This guide covers some typical issues and offers solutions.
  • SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Browne and Dave King. For the most part, this guide gets into the nitty gritty of typical issues found in manuscripts with some great exercises and checklists.
  • A POETRY HANDBOOK by Mary Oliver. I love poetry, and this is a great guide for poets, but I’m including it in my list because the musicality of language is important for writers of prose, too.

This is by no means a complete list of craft books! But hopefully at least one of these will be just what someone needs, and in the meantime, if you have any others to share, please do!

Dear 2015 PitchWars Mentees

Congratulations, lucky mentees of the 2015 PitchWars class!!! You are about to embark on a beautiful, terrifying roller coaster of a journey with your mentor, your fellow mentees, and your manuscript. While not being accepted does not mean there’s anything wrong with your project (subjectivity!), being accepted certainly means that there’s something right about it. It’s something to cling to in the Dark Night of the Soul. Your mentor picked you. No matter what happens in the agent round, a hearty handshake to you for making it this far.

SAMSUNG

If nothing else, this whole process will make you a better writer. Last year, my amazing mentor, Sarah Guillory, made me question decisions I’d made while writing and revising, and was able to point out ways to fix problem areas in my manuscript that I can now carry along with me on other projects. Throughout the process, she also kept reminding me that she believed in me and that she believed in my project–something I very badly needed to hear. While most writers have critique partners and writing friends pulling for us, it’s another thing entirely to have a stranger who’s read our work and who wants to champion it. And what’s more, wants to help you make it better! What a wonderful, wonderful gift!

So above all, my advice to you is:

  1. Listen. Your mentor has the experience and the know-how to be able to point out problems. It doesn’t mean you have to take every single suggestion or go along and make changes blindly, but take all that feedback and consider every piece of it. One comment might lead you to fix something related that neither of you thought of. But listen to everything, take some days to let it sink in, and then make a plan of attack to see how you can use that feedback to bring your story to the next level.
  2. Play nicely. Never forget how lucky you are to have been chosen. Plenty of other writers would gladly take your spot, and being nice about it goes a long, long way. Brenda Drake and all of the other mentors are putting in their time for free when they have a lot of other things they could be doing, so being grateful and positive is absolutely essential.
  3. Join in. Our PitchWars 2014 mentee group became a family through a private Facebook group where we can ask any question, cheer each other on, and pick each other up. I love my PitchWars peeps and the community we formed.
  4. Believe. Mentors pick the stories they can personally help, stories that they love, and stories that they believe can make it. Revising a full novel in two months is hard work, so you need to believe in yourself and your story to be able to do the best you can, so a big cheer for you: You can do it!!! And while you’re at it, be sure to check out these letters to you from other 2014 mentees here:

Making the Most out of PitchWars

It’s almost that time of year again, and as a proud member of the 2014 PitchWars mentee family, I thought sharing my experience from last year might help 2015 PitchWars hopefuls decide whether or not to enter and how to make the most out of it.

Pitch-Wars-2014

First off, this contest is truly different from other contests. Most online contests help you get your work in front of agents, and yes, this contest does that too, but that’s only the final–and honestly least important–part of the process. While a crazy-high percentage of the 2014 PW family is now agented (with several book deals already announced!), most of us got our agents through traditional slush. (See my own agent story here.)

If you decide to enter, you’ll see that PitchWars, like many other aspects of publishing, depends a lot on timing. The point of the contest is to devote two months to revising the novel, so having a complete, polished (but not too polished) manuscript is key. Basically, if the project needs so much work that two months won’t be enough time to finish revisions, or if it’s so close to ready that it doesn’t need an overhaul, PitchWars probably isn’t for your manuscript. Likewise, while it’s great if it’s a completely unqueried, virgin-to-the-trenches manuscript, having sent out a few queries isn’t going to get in the way of a successful PitchWars stand.

The chance to be paired with an experienced writer (mine was the amazing Sarah Guillory) who hasn’t read your project is a gift, and the time and effort of the mentors to help you get your work ready is without a doubt the best part of the contest. When I entered, I had two goals in mind: to make my particular manuscript better, and to learn more about improving my writing in general. There’s nothing like one-to-one attention to achieve goals like those!

Another huge benefit of the contest is the writing friendships formed. You might have noticed I called the other members of the 2014 group my “PitchWars family” in the first paragraph, and it couldn’t be more true. Many of us connected from the contest in an online, secret group, where we have a safe place to pick each other up, ask questions, and cheer successes. It hasn’t been an easy road for anyone, and we’re there for each other like crazy.

So while the agent round is fun and exciting, and PitchWars is absolutely one of the best contests out there, do it for the right reasons, and the 2015 group will be just as awesome as the 2014 one. GOOD LUCK!

 

PitchWars Blog Hop: Why I Wrote This Manuscript

First off, huge thanks to C. M. Franklin, fellow PitchWars mentee, for organizing this blog hop, the amazing Brenda Drake, for organizing and hosting the PitchWars contest, and of course Sarah Guillory, author of the YA novel, RECLAIMED, and the best dementor a girl could ask for.
 
Writers are often asked to sum up their stories in a sentence or two, so it’s best to be prepared with an answer to the question, “What’s your book about?”
 
In my case, THE MOST DAZZLING GIRL IN BERLIN is the story of an unlikely friendship between two desperate girls at a queer cabaret in Berlin in 1930.

Gisela and Christl banner

artwork by Gwen Katz

The inspiration behind a story is something that often doesn’t get asked right away, but “Why did you write this story?” is such a great question. This is when it gets personal. It’s your chance to show the reader why you were the perfect person to write it.
 
I have a myriad of reasons for mine: a fascination with this time and place, a burning desire to write about diverse characters organically, and a head start on the necessary research back from my days studying and reading for my Ph.D. in German Literature.
 
Still, there was one particular moment when it all came together for me.  It was after seeing the fantastic 1930 film, PEOPLE ON SUNDAY. This slice-of-life silent film chronicles a group of twenty-somethings as they break away from their everyday lives in Berlin for a day off at the Wannsee beach just outside of the city. You can see the entire film (it’s in the public domain) here.
 
A couple of months after seeing the film, I was brainstorming new manuscript ideas, and I put stars next to two scribbled lines in my notebook:
 
*People on Sunday retelling with teens struggling through the uncertainty of the Weimar Republic Era in Berlin.
 
*A girl working in a queer cabaret?
 
Apparently I ran with the idea from there. Just under these lines is my character list, scribbled notes on queer cabarets at the time in Berlin, followed by notes and more notes from some of the non-fiction books I read. And so it began!

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1998-012-36A, Potsdamer Platz

As part of the blog hop, make sure to check out the amazing posts by the other PitchWWars mentees on what inspired each of them to write their stories:
 
Carleen Karanovic: HOPE ON A FEATHER
Heather Truett: RENASCENCE
Tracie Martin: WILD IS THE WIND
Susan Bickford: FRAMED
Rachel Sarah: RULES FOR RUNNING AWAY
Amanda Rawson Hill: GRIMM AND BEAR IT
Charlotte Gruber: CODE OF SILENCE
Mary Ann Nicholson: CALAMITY
Nikki Roberti: THE TRUTH ABOUT TWO-SHOES
Anna Patel: EXODUS
K. A. Reynolds: LE CIRQUE DU LITERATI
Susan Crispell: WISHES TO NOWHERE
Ron Walters: THE GOLEM INITIATIVE
Rosalyn Eves: THE BLOOD ROSE REBELLION
Ashley Poston: HEART OF IRON
Mara Rutherford: WINTERSOUL
Janet Walden-West: Damned If She Do
Kazul Wolf: SUMMER THUNDER
D. Grimm: WITCHER
Kelli Newby: THORNVAAL
Tara Sim: TIMEKEEPER
Elliah Terry: POCKET FULL OF POPPIES
Alessa Hinlo: THE HONEST THIEF
Rachel Horwitz: THE BOOTLEGGER’S BIBLE
Whitney Taylor: DEFINITIONS OF INDEFINABLE THINGS
Lyra Selene: REVERIE
Natalie Williamson: SET IN STONE
Robin Lemke: THE DANCE OF THE PALMS
Stephanie Herman: CLIFF WITH NO EDGE
Shannon Cooley: A FROG, A WHISTLE, AND A VIAL OF SAND
Ruth Anne Snow: THE GIRLS OF MARCH
Elizabeth Dimit: PHOEBE FRANZ’S GUIDE TO PASSPORTS, PAGEANTS, & PARENTAL DISASTERS
Elliah Terry: POCKET FULL OF POPPIES
Gwen C. Katz: AMONG THE RED STARS
Jennifer Hawkins: FALSE START
Kelly DeVos: THE WHITE LEHUA
Gina Denny: SANDS OF IMMORTALITY
Natasha M. Heck: FOLLOW THE MOON
Esher Hogan – WALKING AFTER MIDNIGHT
D.A. Mages: THE MEMORY OF OBJECTS
Kirsten Squires: INCEPTO

PitchWars Plan B

I’m a huge fan of contingency plans. In writing, life, menu choices. It’s always good to have a backup plan. Keep your hopes up! Channel that energy somewhere positive! When you find out there’s no Sachertorte, at least Linzertorte is an option!
 
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This weekend, with the PitchWars mentors making their final picks, it’s hard for mentee hopefuls NOT to think about the contest, so instead I decided to devote at least some of my time to thinking about my Plan B for what I’ll do if I don’t get selected, and I came up with the following.
 
I already know I want to revise this manuscript once more. I haven’t sent out any queries at all yet, and I don’t want to shoot it off too early. It’s close, but it’s still a little jiggly and can use some firming up. While I’m crossing everything that I’ll get to work with one of the fantabulous mentors, I figured it would be a good idea to map out my strategy in case I have to wing it on my own.
 
I got to thinking about what I might have to change and what’s really important to the story. This in turn got me thinking about what editor extraodinaire, Cheryl Klein, had said at a revision workshop I attended. “You get one thing,” she’d said, “Maybe two.” She was referring to those things that we as writers feel are so important to the manuscript that changing them would endanger the manuscript’s core.
 
So I started to write down my manuscript’s strengths, and I wrote down two things (being generous to myself) that I’m not willing to change. Luckily for me, these things seem to be what piques people’s interest in my story in the first place, heh heh, so I don’t think I’ll be asked to change them. Still, it was a good exercise.
 
Then I started to think about my manuscript’s weaknesses, and I wrote down a list of potential changes I’ve been contemplating. Things I feel in my gut that might need work. Things that might hold someone back from falling in love with it. I got some great feedback from writeoncon and from some new writer friends, so I definitely have somewhere to start.
 
What about you? What’s your Plan B?
 
Besides Linzertorte. Because Linzertorte.