Pitch Wars Success Story with Christy Goerzen and her mentors, Helene Dunbar and Beth Hull
Having our mentees land an agent or a publishing deal is one of the highlights of being part of Pitch Wars. We’re so excited for Christy Goerzen and her mentors, Helene Dunbar and Beth Hull. Christy signed with Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency after Pitch Wars 2016, and we couldn’t be happier for her! Please, help me in congratulating Christy, Helene, and Beth on their Pitch Wars Success.
Christy, what was it about Beth and Helene that made you choose to send them a Pitch Wars application?
Beth and Helene were top choices from the very beginning, from the first day that I read through all the mentor bios/wishlists, I had read Helene’s novels and loved her beautiful sense of voice and character, and on their wishlist post they both mentioned books/authors that I also love (Stiefvater! Flynn! Perkins! Levithan! Yes!). What they were looking for seemed to resonate with what my MS had to offer, so I submitted to them and crossed my fingers, toes, eyelashes, hair and whatever else you can cross. When I got the email from them that said “Congratulations, you win us!,” I ran out the door, shouting and screaming to my husband, who was chatting with a few of our neighbours. The neighbours all thought I was crazy, but in my haze of euphoria, I didn’t even notice!
What was it about Christy’s Love and Other Sharp Pointy Things that hooked you?
Beth: It wasn’t just the voice of her main character, Mercedes, but the way Christy deftly wove humor with tragedy. I’m usually the last person to want to read, much less work with, a sad story, but LAOSPT grabbed me from the start and wouldn’t let me go.
Helene: Christy has a wonderful ability to make every word count, which is crucial in verse. I was massively impressed with the way she chose her words for maximum effect.
Christy, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?
I’ve had three novella-length books for reluctant reader young adults published previously, and the editing process for those (line edits, mostly) didn’t even hold a candle to the in-depth revision process for Love and Other Sharp Pointy Things. The revision process truly made me a better, more aware writer. I never had the confidence to rip my work apart before and sew it all back together into a more fashionable, better-fitting, more innovative garment before (sorry, I think I’ve been watching too much Project Runway), but the whole process made me feel much better about digging into big revisions with my next WIPs.
The first revision was more exploratory, I felt, as I tried to beef up my verse novel from 18,000 words to more like 32,000 words (upon the excellent suggestion of my wonderful mentors!). So at that point I was adding lots of scenes, adjusting the character arc, filling in plot holes and backstory, and basically readjusting the entire manuscript. I knew that there were still issues with the draft at that point, but I sent it back for notes for more guidance before the next round of revisions. This is probably a good place to add that Beth and Helene were both amazing with brainstorming ideas. Whenever I got stuck, I knew I could shoot them off a somewhat intelligible email, and then magically the next morning they would have responded with brilliant ideas and lots of support.
Anyway, that second round of revisions turned out to be the most grueling, but ultimately the most rewarding. There were many late nights, several all-nighters, much nail-biting, and a few utterances of “why exactly do I want to be a writer?” [so to respond to Beth’s comment below, yes, I was freaking out behind the scenes!] But it was that second big revision that really made my manuscript what it is now, and that’s something I’m proud of!
Tell us about your experience mentoring Christy.
Beth: First of all, it was enjoyable—Christy was a delight! She may very well have been quietly freaking out over proposed changes on her end, but she only showed enthusiasm to Helene and me. We did two big-ish rounds of revision and then a third round for line edits. The whole time, Christy was excited to get to work.
Helene: The entire process was extremely easy. Beth and I have been CPs for years now and we have a kind of crazy shorthand to our process, so I wasn’t sure how the dynamic was going to work with a third person, but it was quite seamless.
Christy, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. Please, tell us about “The Call.” We love all the details about the offer, how they contacted you, how you responded, celebrations, emotions . . . How long did you have to wait and how did you distract yourself? Anything! We love hearing about all of it.
Oh man, it all happened so fast, I think I’m still getting over the shock! A couple of days after the Pitch Wars agent round ended and I had sent out my requests, I also queried a handful of my dream agents, because I thought well, why the heck not. Barbara Poelle replied the very next morning with a request for a full, and within two days after that, she emailed me requesting a call ASAP!
I spoke with her the next day – trying not to get my hopes up, and expecting possibly an R & R (although that would have been okay, too) – but it wasn’t an R & R! After some quick hellos, she got right to the point, saying, “Okay Christy, so I love your book and I want to represent you.” After I gasped out something witty, like “Wow, uh, thank you!,” she went on to talk beautifully and eloquently about all the things she loved about the book. The entire chat felt like I was listening in on a conversation between an agent and some other author – very surreal.
Barbara then connected me with one of her other clients, who raved about her awesomeness, and as it turns out, two other authors in my Vancouver writing community are repped by her, too, and they all had nothing but amazing things to say about her. Four days after that call, I accepted her offer. She had given me a short window of time to accept her offer, but I didn’t mind as she’s been one of my longtime dream agents. That day, she sent out a hilarious tweet (photo attached) that I was joining the “Poelleans.” It was an amazing feeling. She wanted to sent my manuscript out on submission right away – she had a couple of small revisions that she wanted me to make to my manuscript, which took me only a few days, and then boom, she sent out my book (hoping for some news in early 2017!).
Needless to say, it’s been a whirlwind!
Christy, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
I could gush and gush about this for hours, but I’ll attempt to restrain myself. Pitch Wars has not only reinvigorated my writing life, but I feel like it’s also fast-forwarded it about 5-10 years. I could have languished for years with my draft of Love and Other Sharp Pointy Things, querying it, being rejected and not really sure what to do with it. Thanks to Beth and Helene, I learned how to do the work-your-ass-off sort of revisions that are needed to get a manuscript ready for submission. This whole Pitch Wars journey has had more of an impact that all of the graduate-level writing courses and workshops I was in before this.
Pitch Wars has also had another wonderful impact on my life – that of a new community. This experience has connected me with Beth and Helene, who I’m proud to call friends now, as well as a whole community of other mentees, mentors, and other writers I’ve met through the process. It’s a warm, fabulous feeling.
Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both to answer.
If you could live in any fictional world and take everything you love with you, where would you choose to live? What would you do there? And why this world?
Christy: I would curl up in the cozy dens of Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge – books I’ve loved since I was a child. Her scenes are so warm and cozy and detailed, with kitchens brimming with seedcakes and herbs and other delicious things. I could live in that world, no doubt about it.
Mind you, the urban girl in me is also drawn to living in the Plaza Hotel, like Eloise, or in Harriet the Spy’s 1960s New York City. I always thought that everything could just be solved by living on the holodeck from Star Trek, since you can make it anything you want, but that would be kind of a cop-out answer. (I also like Beth’s Ravenclaw tower response – as a fellow Ravenclaw…yes!)
Helene: I read so little fantasy, that this is hard for me. I’m going to have to default to a television show here and say that I’m a Babylon 5 devotee. The world building is amazing, but the characters are so incredibly deep and complex that I’d just want to hang out and drink with all of them.
Beth: This was a tough question. There are a lot of super cool places where I would not want to live because they’re terrifying. On the Serenity in Firefly, or in the Dells in Kristin Cashore’s Fire. I think I was meant to live in the Ravenclaw Tower—a blend of comfort and studiousness, the perfect place to write and hang out with likeminded people.
Somewhere in the (known or unknown) universe, you’re in a high-speed chase and have to escape the bad guys. Who are you running from and what fictional character is your side-kick?
Christy: I would always want Zoe from Firefly to be my sidekick in any running-from-bad-guys scenario. Because I’m a sci-fi nerd, let’s combine two worlds and pretend that she and I are running from some scary Star Trek creatures such as the Borg. Resistance is futile…but maybe not, with Zoe at my side!
Helene: While I realize that Beth isn’t fictional (!) I have a terrible fear of spiders and if she’s going to fight them, I’m happy to let her! (Also, this is what happens when you mostly read contemporary….questions like this are super hard!)
Beth: Running from Aragog and Shelob (combining two universes) and my sidekick is Roar from Veronica Rossi’s Under the Never Sky. I don’t know if Roar would be much help with the spiders, but at least I’d get to look at him.
What do you think is the most fascinating invention from fiction and what book is it from?
Christy: It may not be an invention, technically, but the subtle knife from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is a pretty formidable object. I don’t think I’d want to lose the required two fingers before I could use it to cut open windows into parallel worlds. Other than that, I’ll default to my previous holodeck answer.
Helene: I’ll say that the most terrifying were the glasses from Andrew Smith’s The Marbury Lens. I made the mistake of reading it for the first time, alone in a hotel in Queens and it scared the crap out of me.
Beth: Helene jokes that I have the time-turner necklace from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I’d pay a lot of money to have one of those.
Share with us your writing process. Do you write every day, in sprints, early in the morning, in the bath, pen and paper? What works for you?
Christy: I’m a night owl writer, big time. I’ve tried writing during daylight hours, but there’s not fighting it – my creative hours are late at night. I tend to write in binges – long stretches of time at night that leave me a zombie with my young kids the next day, but are (mostly?) worth it. No, I don’t write every day, but I have a goal of working toward that.
Helene: LOL! I have no set process. I write in every stolen moment I can, and do a lot of brainstorming while I’m driving and letting the dog out at 2am. I’m a firm believer in not forcing myself to write (although I do set deadlines for revisions) but I still end up doing some almost every day.
Beth: I write every day that the kids are in school. I drop them off, exercise, and get to work.
You have one day to finish the last pages of your next bestselling novel. What food/drinks do you get and where do you go hide out to meet the deadline?
Christy: Can this be like a fantasy scenario? In an upper floor of the Hotel Vancouver, looking out over the city, with room service of coffee, baked goods, cheese and fruit. If we’re talking realism here, it would be at the library with coffee in my travel mug and a snuck-in muffin.
Helene: If I have the house to myself, I’m happiest writing in my office. Otherwise, almost anywhere. Each book seems to have its own food as well, but I’d probably default to Triscuits and Vernor’s ginger ale.
Beth: As much as I’d want to binge on cookies and ice cream, I’d (maybe?) do the smart thing and grab fruits, veggies, and almonds to snack on because they’d help me focus better. I’d hide out in my office, which is sort of a mother-in-law unit attached to our garage.
What or who keeps you motivated, inspired, or is your biggest support to keep writing?
Christy: My husband is my biggest supporter and main sounding board for ideas. I also have a wonderful, longtime writing group that I adore.
Helene: For me it really IS that a feeling that I have a story to tell and characters who are insisting that I get their story right.
Beth: I’m lucky to have some great writer friends who really understand the nuances of angst and mania that come with creative work. Overall, though, my biggest supporter is my husband, with his humor and endless patience.
Please, share any last words you would like to add.
Christy: I have felt so fortunate during this entire process. It has been life-changing to say the least. In the spirit of giving back, one of the first things I did after signing with my agent was to put myself on the waiting list to be a mentor for Pitch Wars 2017!
Helene: The whole PW process is one of such good will and positive energy. There can be a lot of negative emotions during the publishing process, so PW is really a breath of fresh air. I’ve met some amazing writers who have become true friends.
Beth: I know a lot of emphasis is placed on what mentees get out of Pitch Wars, but it is so beneficial to mentors as well—not just the camaraderie, but the learning that comes from getting so deep into someone else’s manuscript. This was such a joy to be a part of!
Christy Goerzen holds a BA in English and Publishing, and an MA in Children’s Literature. She’s worked as a children’s bookseller, a television writer for a children’s TV series, a speechwriter for a university president, a marketing consultant for arts organizations and a public library system, and for the past six years has been a university arts management instructor. Her three young adult novels for reluctant readers – THE BIG APPLE EFFECT (2014), FARMED OUT (2011), and EXPLORE (2009) – were published by Orca Book Publishers. Christy lives in Vancouver, Canada with her husband, two children, and three guinea pigs.
Helene Dunbar is the author of THESE GENTLE WOUNDS (Flux, 2014), WHAT REMAINS (Flux, 2015) and BOOMERANG (coming from Sky Pony in 2017). Over the years, she’s worked as a drama critic, journalist, and marketing manager, and has written on topics as diverse as Irish music, court cases, theater, and Native American Indian tribes. She lives in Nashville with her husband and daughter and exists on a steady diet of readers’ tears.
Beth Hull has a BA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing, an MA in Linguistics, and she taught high school for two years. She is a member of the SCBWI, and she has published short stories in Bourbon Penn and the YA podcast magazine Cast of Wonders. Beth lives in northern California with her family.