A Pitch Wars Success Story with Wendy Roberts and Alicia Zaloga and their mentor Michelle Hauck
When our mentees land an agent or a publishing deal, it’s one of the highlights of being part of Pitch Wars. We’re so excited for Wendy Roberts and Alicia Zaloga and their mentor, Michelle Hauck. Wendy and Alicia signed with Jaida Temperly of New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. after Pitch Wars 2016, and we couldn’t be happier for them! Please, help me in congratulating Wendy, Alicia, and Michelle on their Pitch Wars Success!
Wendy and Alicia, what was it about Michelle that made you choose to send them a Pitch Wars application?
We started by researching which mentors were interested in fantasy. From there, we did some light twitter stalking. Michelle had great taste in SFF titles, plus she already had an incredibly helpful blog with agent interviews, writing contests, and insightful advice pieces. After checking out her book GRUDGING, we knew we liked her writing style as well. She seemed like she’d be both encouraging and critical (spoiler: she was!), which is important when working on edits with someone.
Michelle, what was it about Alicia and Wendy’s THE RESURRECTIONIST OF CALIGO that hooked you?
The first chapter starts out with stealing a corpse. That’s a pretty unique opening and had the sort of voice you don’t find in a story everyday. On top of that Wendy and Alicia created fantastic characters and a complex world. It was for sure the depth and attractiveness of the characters that sold it to me, though!
Wendy and Alicia, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?
We count ourselves fortunate that Michelle didn’t make us rewrite our manuscript from scratch! Our plot, it turns out, though clear in our heads, wasn’t entirely explained on the page. Michelle pointed out various places for us to elaborate more: the origins of magic, the romantic history of our main characters and their falling out, and emotional beat after emotional beat. By then our manuscript was getting dangerously long so Michelle encouraged us to cut some scenes (and two entire chapters) to trim things down and speed up the pace. She also knows her way around query letters and helped us amp ours up with voice and stakes.
Michelle, tell us about your experience mentoring Wendy and Alicia.
Alicia and Wendy were a dream team. They were so keen to follow my suggestions and jumped right into the changes, whether they were big or small. I could really tell they were totally focused on making their manuscript top notch and full of their own ideas, even down to arguing about word choice to better fit the gas light time period. We had fun throwing the sort of little hints into their manuscript that should really make the readers fly through the pages to read more.
Wendy and Alicia, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Jaida Temperly of New Leaf Literary. 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.
Jaida was actually a surprise for us. A lot of writers have dream agents, but we never did. After receiving an offer of representation, we nudged all our outstanding queries—including Jaida, whom we had queried a few weeks before because her bio said she was interested in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, one of our comp titles. Jaida read our manuscript over a weekend and was interested in representing us. Since we live in separate time zones, we set up the call for an early morning that would work for everyone—including Wendy in Japan—on Skype. Until our call with Jaida, we were set on accepting the offering agent, but Jaida’s confidence, her detailed plan to submit our book, and the overall cooperative vibe of the New Leaf agency really impressed us.
We asked for a sample contract and client contact to help us make our decision. By complete happenstance, Jaida also represented our mentor’s previous year’s mentee. We arranged two client chats to discuss their experiences working with Jaida and New Leaf. We also scoured the Internet for additional information that might help us decide. We had set aside a weekend before our deadline answer date to figure out our final decision.
Wendy and Alicia, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
As a support group, Pitch Wars gave us a great mentor and also the company of fellow writers in the same situation as us. Besides strengthening our manuscript and query letter, Michelle provided us guidance going into the agent round and, more importantly, after. She warned us that adult SFF historically didn’t attract much attention during the Pitch Wars agent round, strategized where to send our query afterward, and continued to check in with us during the months that followed. Having others to temper our expectations as well as encourage and cheer us kept us both optimistic and grounded—important for handling both rejections and requests.
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?
Wendy: I love vicariously visiting places I would never want to actually live through books—Victorian London or Gormenghast. If I were to physically relocate to another realm, I’m more drawn to worlds from my childhood reading (can I have my childhood self back while I’m at it?). Send me to Astrid Lindgren’s world in Ronya the Robber’s Daughter, where I can romp in the woods with ponies and the boy from the other side of the castle. Just remind me not to venture out after dark.
Alicia: The problem with fictional worlds is, by design, something terrible is about to, is already, or has already devastated the world/inhabitants. That said I’m going to live in Howl’s Moving Castle, where Calcifer can reheat my coffee, and I’ll mix magic potions during the day and read in the evening.
Michelle: I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek lately. I think that there is a lot to offer a person in that world: diversity, tolerance, lack of greed, nations working together for the greater good. It would be a great place for a writer to thrive. Somewhere where all the conflict can be inside the story instead of in real life.
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?
Wendy: My good friend Dr. Jekyll and I are on the run from a murderous miscreant named Mr. Hyde. Luckily we’re almost back to his house which has plenty of locks and a reinforced door (and also cocoa and tea). It’s anticlimactic really. What could possibly go wrong? [yes Alicia, I insist on imperiling all my characters…even myself!!]
Alicia: I’d be running from the individuality-destroying monolithic Borg with my affable side-kick Bilbo Baggins because no matter what happens, eventually, Space Gandalf will save us.
Michelle: Hmm. I’m not very brave so I’d look for something on the MG side where situations tend not to lead to death or dismemberment. Diving into my own books would be much too hazardous to my health. I know. I’m Anne of Green Gables and my boat is sinking and I’m about to be rescued by Gilbert Blythe.
What do you think is the most fascinating invention from fiction and what book is it from?
Wendy: The Lovecraft story “From Beyond” involves a machine that can illuminate creatures that exist on dimensions overlapping our own—except if you can see them, they can see you (dun dun duuuun). I certainly never want to use it myself (spoilers—the inventor’s servants turned it on by accident and were devoured!), yet I’m fascinated by the idea that other worlds could exist under our very noses, if only we had the ability to “see” them within our mundane surroundings. They can’t *all* contain ravenous beasties, can they?
Alicia: The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer from Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age.
Michelle: Maybe more magic than invention but the Marauder’s Map from Harry Potter always seemed like a very useful thing to have, especially if you work in a school.
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?
Wendy: This will get me fired from the cool writer club, but I am *not* an everyday writer. I do bursts of writing—decent stretches of elevated word count followed by fallow periods where I think, and read, and think some more. I often handwrite new scenes because if I write crap, no one will see it, and by the time I type up that scene, I’ve let it rest and thought so much about what I *really* want to do that it flows out quite easily (and almost always ends up completely different from the handwritten version). I’m also a slow writer as I stew over every word and edit as I go. But working with a writing partner is ideal for this method. We pass our document back and forth so that while one person is writing, the other is pondering, reading, researching, and recharging.
Alicia: Ideas brew in the back of my head; pretty much all week long I’m thinking about various writing projects. I might scribble down a few thoughts, but usually I just let things simmer until I’m ready to sit down and really write. Then I’ll spend several hours working at once. I’m terrible at writing every day as well. I’d rather hammer out 10000 words and then take a few days break. I’ll also go through periods of high output followed by droughts. Editing is a lot easier, and I can be much more focused and strict when it comes to the polishing phase.
Michelle: Lately I’ve been writing almost every day because I’ve fallen behind, from my perspective, on my deadline for my third book. It should be finished in plenty of time, just not as soon as Faithful got finished up last year. It would be nice to have time to send to critique partners before the June due date. I write in the morning before work and use the time after work to do things for my contests or marketing. I find it helps to take days off from writing and so usually give my inspiration a break on Sundays.
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?
Wendy: You will find me on my couch between 9 pm and 2 am (or in the case of the PW novel, 6 am for that last push) with a bottle of hard cider and a shot glass full of chocolate chips—a “shot” as reward for every 500 words on the page. I actually love a deadline—sometimes it takes a pressure cooker to generate the most delicious scenes.
Alicia: A room without Internet (nothing kills work progress for me quite like connection to the greater world outside aforementioned room) with access to coffee, water, mochi red bean paste, and chunks of sour dough bread.
Michelle: One day? After I stopped panicking, I’d go for some chocolate. Then I’d probably try to scribble in an outline of the last pages and hope my editor understands and lets me fill in the rest during editing. Writing something in a panic would probably all have to be redone anyway. J
What or who keeps you motivated, inspired, or is your biggest support to keep writing?
Wendy: No question, it’s my co-author Alicia! We talk for hours on Skype every week, figuring out the next scene, talking through plot problems, suggesting twists on too-common tropes. If one of us is struggling with our scene, we’ll trade characters for a bit and generate new material for the other to work with. It’s really fun to wake up in the morning and have a new chapter of your novel in your inbox, and you didn’t even have to write it. My other source of inspiration is books. I read a lot, and when I fall behind on my reading my creativity suffers, too. I could probably list a hundred books that somehow influenced my contribution to our PW novel.
Alicia: This is perhaps a cheat because the obvious answer is my co-author Wendy. There’s nothing like a creative partner to push you to work on your stuff. Not only is she going to be eagerly awaiting my pages, but she’s also going to discuss whatever project we’re working on in vivid detail. She cares about the “world” as much as I do. To say we have regular four-hour conversations about writing is not an overstatement. And when I’m stuck, she throws spaghetti at me until something takes hold.
Michelle: Other writer friends are great motivation and support, but the true force would have to be myself. Everyone has doubts and down days, and you have to trust to the spark inside yourself that won’t let you quit.
Please, share any last words you would like to add.
Wendy & Alicia: The well-tread advice: don’t compare yourself to others.
Michelle: I’d like to thank Brenda and all her helpers like Heather for making sure Pitch Wars continues. Contests are such great opportunities for writers and help make the lonely business of writing much more fun.
Thank you for sharing your success story with us. We wish you all the best in your publishing journey! CONGRATULATIONS!
Wendy Roberts – Co-Mentee
Alicia Zaloga – Co-Mentee
Michelle Hauck – Mentor