Pitch Wars Success Story with Jen DeLuca and her mentor, Brighton Walsh
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 Jen DeLuca and her mentor, Brighton Walsh. Jen signed with Taylor Haggerty of Waxman Leavell Literary Agency after Pitch Wars 2016, and we couldn’t be happier for her! Please, help me in congratulating Jen and Brighton on their Pitch Wars Success.
Jen, what was it about Brighton that made you choose to send her a Pitch Wars application?
I’d been following Brighton on Twitter for a few months before PW, so I already loved her. During the blog hop, the thing that stood out was when she said that she knew romances, and she knew how to make them good. This novel of mine had been through a lot of querying and 2 revise & resubmits at that point, and I felt if anyone could help me figure out how to put it over the top, it would be Brighton. Thankfully, my novel had a lot of elements on her wishlist!
Brighton, what was it about Jen’s ONCE WHEN YOU WERE MINE that hooked you?
The yearning. SO. MUCH. YEARNING. When I was reading her MS, I had a night in Milwaukee planned, but I couldn’t bear to be away from the MS, so I bought a program that would read it to me on the drive. I knew then I was hooked.
Jen, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?
Insane! I did so many things to this book that I’d never imagined doing. We cut close to 10,000 words from the middle, in order to make the pacing work without sacrificing plot (and yearning. This book is all about the yearning). The other major revision was adding a new ending, which was frankly a little terrifying. All the revision I’d done to that point were within the four corners of my very original first draft, so to suddenly add about 14,000 words past my current “The End” was crazy to me. I felt like I was writing fanfiction for my own story! But it was also exhilarating, and as the new ending came together I knew it was exactly what the book had been missing all this time. And Brighton was incredible, not just in helping me understand how the story needed to fit together (No, Jen, the black moment can’t come at the 50% mark), but in her enthusiasm. She loved my book and my characters as much as I do, and as we brainstormed plot points she never suggested anything that wasn’t true to them, and I loved that.
The process itself was grueling. A full rewrite, then an edit of that rewrite, then a rewrite of the new ending I’d just written, then a polishing pass, all in just about two months. I’d never worked so fast! It was writing boot camp. I was exhausted, my house was a mess, but it was incredibly rewarding. I learned so much rewriting this novel with Brighton!
Brighton, tell us about your experience mentoring Jen.
She was always 100% game for any suggestion I had. She worked her ass off every step of the way and took my critique graciously (or at least she did to my face…she might’ve cussed me out to her husband.). And she always came to me if something didn’t feel right or if she was uncertain or worried about something. But also when she was excited about something she’d just written or a plot hiccup that had been worked out. It was a very interactive mentor/mentee relationship, and I loved that.
Jen, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Taylor Haggerty of Waxman Leavell 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.
My call with Taylor was completely unexpected. She’s in Los Angeles, so three hours behind me in Florida. I was all settled in on a Friday night when I got the email from her that she’d read the book in a day (!) and wanted to talk (!!). When I found out she represents the author of THE HATING GAME, my favorite book of the year (!!!), I almost fell off the sofa! We hit it off on the phone right away. I loved everything she had to say about the types of books she wants to get out in the world, and I felt like the way I write is a good fit for what she has in mind. I was absolutely on Cloud Nine when we hung up, and I knew she was the one.
I signed with her that next Monday (her offer came toward the end of a waiting period where I’d had multiple offers). My work schedule and my husband’s has been so busy lately that we haven’t had a chance to celebrate, but I have my eye on dinner at our favorite little Italian place. Also, my book has a Russian main character, so I have a bottle of vodka that I got when I found out I got into Pitch Wars. I’ve been doing a celebratory shot at milestones (finishing a draft, agent round starting, etc.), so I’ll making Moscow mules with the rest of it!
I’m still getting used to the idea that I have an agent! After all this time writing and rewriting this novel, and all the rejections, I’m finding it a little confusing that I don’t have to scan Query Tracker and #MSWL anymore.
Jen, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
It’s helped in so many ways! Brighton was a godsend, teaching me about pacing and story structure. I simply could not have made this novel the story it is now without her.
I also learned lots about getting the work done by a deadline. And the community of mentees has been wonderful. We’ve cheered each other on, celebrated with raptors (long story), and commiserated with virtual table flips when rejections came in. The Class of 2016 mentees are a great group of people, I’m proud to have been a part of it, and the best part is knowing we’re sticking by each other for the long haul.
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?
Jen: The Land of Oz. No question. I grew up on annual viewings of the movie when I was a kid, and when I learned Baum had written 13 more books about the Land of Oz, a whole world opened up to me. I’ve traveled down all those roads (not just the yellow brick ones) countless times, and I know it so well I doodled maps of that land in the margins of my high school notebooks. So I’d live somewhere there, probably in the South (Quadling Country). Probably not in the Emerald City, I’m not a city girl.
Brighton: Since I read almost exclusively contemporary romance, I’m not going to have any awesome fantasy worlds to live in, but there is one place that seems like a fantasy: Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor. It’s a small, charming town with irritatingly loving characters. It reminds me very much of Stars Hollow.
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?
Jen: When I run, I use the Zombies, Run! app, so I’m pretty used to running (slowly) away from zombies. But a high-speed chase? I think I’d want to be with Korben Dallas from The Fifth Element in his flying taxi. Multipass optional.
Brighton: I have no idea who I’m running from (I’ve watched enough horror movies to know not to look behind you), and the person at my side is…maybe Katniss because she’s a badass. Or Noelle from Elle Kennedy’s Killer Instincts series because she, too, is a badass. And an assassin. So, you know.
What do you think is the most fascinating invention from fiction and what book is it from?
Jen: After going through Pitch Wars, I’d say a Time Turner from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which I’m sure is a really unoriginal answer. But I’d probably overthink it if I had one. When should I use it? What mistakes are important enough to go back in time to fix?
Brighton: Yeah, the only thing that gets invented in the books I read is different sex positions.
Share with us your writing process. Do you write everyday, in sprints, early in the morning, in the bath, pen and paper? What works for you?
Jen: I work full-time, and while I’m sometimes able to write in the evening, it doesn’t always happen. My typical process is to carry a notepad around with me, and during the week I’ll do a bullet-point style outline of the scene I’m working on in longhand, adding in scraps of dialogue or other phrases that come to me. Then on the weekend I’ll have marathon writing sessions to get the scene(s) down. I’ve found that the writing comes really easily because I’ve been planning it all week.
Brighton: No, I don’t write every day. I tend to write in floods and droughts. Generally, when I get going, I draft very quickly (4-6 weeks) and then I do nothing for about two months. I’m trying to adjust this to be more balanced, but I’ll take words whenever I can get them. I usually write doing pomodoros, which is a fancy name for 25 minute sprints followed by 5 minute breaks. I can’t write longhand as my brain thinks too fast for my fingers to catch everything unless I’m typing. So it’s me and my Mac.
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?
Jen: I actually finished a draft of this novel while spending the weekend in an apartment on the top floor of a stilt house a block from the Gulf of Mexico in Cedar Key, Florida. I’d go back there in a heartbeat, and bring along some good coffee with half & half to put in it and snacks like donuts, caramel popcorn, and hummus & veggies.
Brighton: I can’t be the only writer in the world who doesn’t snack while drafting, can I? The food gets on your fingers! And then on your keyboard! Can’t do it. And depending on the time of day, I’ll either have tea or wine. My favorite places to write are pretty much anywhere but at home. A cafe, a bakery, Panera, Starbucks. Anywhere that doesn’t have a pile of dishes and baskets of laundry waiting for me.
What or who keeps you motivated, inspired, or is your biggest support to keep writing?
Jen: So many people. I was inspired the moment I first walked into a local RWA meeting, and had the nerve to say “I’m a writer” out loud. I have CPs who never let me give up, and an incredibly supportive husband who says helpful things like “Is that book done yet?”, “I really thought you’d be done with that book by now”, and “You’re not getting paid by the hour to write that you know.”
Brighton: While my family is immensely supportive of my writing, I’d say my writer tribe keeps me motivated and inspired and is always there when I need them.
Please, share any last words you would like to add.
Jen: I had no idea what I was in for when I got into Pitch Wars. I thought I’d get some useful feedback and some help on polishing my draft. Instead I got the most intense two months of my life, a writing boot camp, an increased addiction to junk food, a whole class of fellow mentees of whom I couldn’t be more proud, a close friend in my mentee sis (Hi Helen!!), and a mentor whom I absolutely adore (I LOVE YOU BRIGHTON). Over a month later I’m still recovering from it all, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Thank you, Brenda, Heather, Nikki, Monica, and JC, for all that you do.
Brighton: Every year, I forget how much work Pitch Wars is until I’m knee-deep in it. But this, right here–seeing my mentee(s) succeed in this very fickle business–is exactly why I do it year after year.
We are so excited for you and wish you all the best! CONGRATULATIONS!
Jen DeLuca was born and raised in Virginia, but there weren’t enough alligators and hurricanes so she relocated to Florida as soon as she could.
Her first career was in theatre, where she served as a wardrobe master for regional theatres both large and small, and also worked backstage as an ice-show dresser. (She can strip down an ice skater and shove him into a Klingon costume in less than a minute. Where’s THAT Skill & Endorsement category, LinkedIn?) After working with temperamental actors, the next logical step was temperamental lawyers, so she switched to the legal field, where she currently works as a litigation paralegal. So far, no one’s needed to wear a Klingon costume, but when that day comes she’s ready.
Jen lives in Central Florida with a husband and a house full of rescued pets. She spends her days picking dog hair off her clothes and arguing with the cat about who gets to sit in the office chair. (Spoiler: the cat often wins.) She likes latte-flavored lattes, the Oxford comma, and Hokies football. She thinks its sucks that guacamole costs extra, but she’ll pay for it anyway.
She is a proud member of RWA and CFRWA.
Brighton Walsh spent nearly a decade as a professional photographer before deciding to take her storytelling in a different direction and reconnect with her first love: writing. When she’s not pounding away at the keyboard, she’s probably either reading or shopping—maybe even both at once. She lives in the Midwest with her husband and two children, and, yes, she considers forty degrees to be hoodie weather. Her home is the setting for frequent dance parties, Lego battles, and more laughter than she thought possible.