Pitch Wars 2016: You Might Be Our Mentee If…

Selecting a Pitch Wars mentor (or co-mentors in our case) can seem daunting. There are so many of us. And let’s be honest, everyone involved in Pitch Wars is pretty great. So how is a potential mentee supposed to choose?
Emerson Cod

Well, we’re here to make it super easy on you. Pick us! Okay, kidding. (Mostly kidding, anyway). But if you have a Women’s Fiction, Literary, or Magical Realism book, and it’s fresh and shiny (to be clear, to us “shiny” means polished, not first draft material) and you’re ready (we mean really ready) to get a solid critique, PRETTY PLEASE SEND IT TO US. No, really. Go to the submission form (on August 3rd), put Karma Brown and Susan Bishop Crispell down as a top mentors pick, and hit send. For everything you need to know about how to submit, including the amazing agents playing along, head on over to Brenda Drake’s blog.

Since you’re still reading, we’ll assume that either A) your manuscript fits one (or more) of the above descriptions or B) you just want to get to know us a little better. Either way, we’re glad you’re still with us. Especially because now we get to convince you why should you pick us:

1. You just might get the most thorough critique of your life. That might sound like an exaggeration, but we are seriously thorough. Between the two of us, your manuscript will get the full range of macro and micro edits. We’ll look at big-picture stuff like the story’s hook, pacing, tension, and characterization, as well as the smaller details like word choice, consistency, unnatural dialogue, and character actions that don’t feel organic to the story. When we’re done, we promise you a manuscript riddled with track changes. If that level of revision scares you, another mentor/team might be a better choice for you. But if you can handle tough but constructive feedback and are excited about taking your book to the next level, we’re all in. (Not sure if that much work is worth it, check out Susan’s success story when Karma was her mentor in 2014!)

2. We’re with you for the long haul. Pitch Wars is so much more than simply getting a solid critique of your book. That’s a huge (invaluable) part to be sure, but our cheerleading, advice, and all-around support can make the solitary act of writing feel much less lonely long after the contest has ended. We’ll be there to celebrate your successes (and tell the world about them too!), encourage you when the writing isn’t going as planned, and share our experiences working with agents and editors as well as all the roller-coaster of emotions that come with the pursuit of publication. To quote J.K. Rowling, “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other…” Hopefully you won’t encounter a twelve-foot mountain troll like in Harry Potter, but if you do, we’ll be there for that too.


3. We’re firm believers that reading makes for better writing. We read a lot, and from a wide variety of genres. For one, we’re readers first, but also because we believe reading books — even those outside your particular genre or age category (or maybe especially those!) — is the best way to improve your writing. We both write upmarket women’s fiction (Karma’s books are realistic, heartbreaking yet hopeful stories of love and loss and finding strength amid it all, and Susan’s are magical and quirky and end with a happily-ever-after), but we read everything from young adult, to (light) urban fantasy, to thrillers, to everything in between. And each one of those books has something to teach us. Whether it’s about voice or world-building or plot techniques or creating an instant emotional connection to the main character. Then we take what we’ve learned and apply it to our books to continually improve our own craft. And that’s exactly what we want to help you do!

If you missed our Pitch Wars mini-interview you can check it out here.

Still want to know a bit more about us?

KarmaBrownKarma: I live near Toronto, Canada (if you would like to know the appropriate way to insert ‘eh’ into a conversation, I’m glad to help), am happily married and mom to a great, early-rising kid who has trained me well for my #5amwritersclub group on Twitter. I’m also an award-winning freelance journalist, a member of the Tall Poppies writers group, and am on the faculty of the Midwest Writers Workshop. When not writing you’ll find me reading, baking muffins, running, bing-watching Netflix, and adding items to my very long bucket list. I’m represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists, and am author to the bestselling and one of Globe & Mail’s Top 100 Books for 2015 COME AWAY WITH ME (Mira/HarperCollins – 2015) and THE CHOICES WE MAKE (Mira/HarperCollins – July 2016).

Crispell_Full_Size_for_Printing01Susan: I live in Wilmington, North Carolina with my husband and our orange tabby cat, Pippin. Aside from writing, I obsess over swoony fictional boys and baked goods; spend all my spare money on books, art, and going to hard rock concerts; and fangirl over quirky TV shows, most of which got canceled way before their time (and I have a wax lion to prove it!). My debut women’s fiction novel THE SECRET INGREDIENT OF WISHES comes out Sept. 6, 2016 and THE PROBABILITY OF FATE releases fall 2017, both from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. I am represented by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. I earned a BFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and love that I can truthfully say I use my degree for my day job (I’m a proposal manager for a clinical research company) as well as being an author.

We haven’t scared you off yet? Fantastic! Now, for the part you’ve been oh-so-patiently waiting for…

In general, the books we’re most drawn to have a voice that jumps off the page, complicated issues, big hearts, and pretty words. Give us layered friendships and family drama and characters we can love, flaws and all. We particularly love stories that include food, magical realism, and strong women. Most of all, we want to be awed by your book.

Penelope_MagicSpecifically, what we’d love to see:

  • Women’s Fiction — think book club/upmarket (commercial with a literary feel): WHAT ALICE FORGOT (or anything by Liane Moriarty), AFTER I DO (Taylor Jenkins Reid), THE PILOT’S WIFE (Anita Shreve), ME BEFORE YOU (Jojo Moyes), WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE (Maria Semple), APRIL & OLIVER (Tess Callahan).
  • More literary (still with a commercial feel) — LITTLE BEE (Chris Cleave), THE DINNER (Herman Koch), THE NIGHT CIRCUS (Erin Morgenstern), FATES AND FURIES (Lauren Groff), STATION ELEVEN (Emily St. John Mandel).
  • Magical Realism — books with charming towns and magical elements that are full of quirk and whimsy (and in a perfect world, magic AND food): GARDEN SPELLS (Sarah Addison Allen), LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE (Laura Esquirel), PRACTICAL MAGIC (Alice Hoffman), LANDLINE (Rainbow Rowell), OF BEES AND MIST (Erik Setiawan).

We’re not looking for genre books, so Fantasy & Sci-fi, Romance (though we do like romantic storylines!), and Crime are not for us. If you’re not sure, give us a try. We’re open to having our minds changed by spectacular writing.

Scavenger hunt time! This wishlist was brought to you by the letter O.

Don’t forget to check out the other mentors’ blogs — click below and start doing your homework …

































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Giveaway: The Choices We Make



Karma Brown’s second novel The Choices We Make comes out next week. And let me just tell you how excited I am! Karma is one of my favorite people (and my Pitch Wars co-mentor this year!) and deserves all of the critical acclaim she’s been getting for both of her novels. I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of this book, and it does not disappoint. (But make sure you have some tissues handy.)

Since the book is all about the lengths best friends will go to for each other, I’m giving away a copy of the novel and a gorgeous (not cheesy!) set of gold best friend necklaces–one for the winner and one for her BFF! Here’s a longer description of the book:

Following her bestselling debut novel Come Away with Me, Karma Brown returns with an unforgettable story that explores the intricate dynamics between friends and mothers.

Hannah and Kate became friends in the fifth grade, when Hannah hit a boy for looking up Kate’s skirt with a mirror. While they’ve been close as sisters ever since, Hannah can’t help but feel envious of the little family Kate and her husband, David, have created—complete with two perfect little girls.

She and Ben have been trying for years to have a baby, so when they receive the news that she will likely never get pregnant, Hannah’s heartbreak is overwhelming. But just as they begin to tentatively explore the other options, it’s Kate’s turn to do the rescuing. Not only does she offer to be Hannah’s surrogate, but Kate is willing to use her own eggs to do so.

Full of renewed hope, excitement and gratitude, these two families embark on an incredible journey toward parenthood…until a devastating tragedy puts everything these women have worked toward at risk of falling apart. Poignant and refreshingly honest, The Choices We Make is a powerful tale of two mothers, one incredible friendship and the risks we take to make our dreams come true.

So what are you waiting for? Go enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!

Favorite Books of 2015

2015 focused a lot more on my writing than reading. (I mean, I got an agent this year and a two book deal with a dream publisher so I can’t really complain about the limited reading time!) But that means the books I did read this year were all high on my TBR list. There are still many (so very many) books I want to read and as soon as I have time I might go into a reading cave and not come out for months. Of the ones I did read, these were the ones I would (and did!) push on everyone I knew because I love them that hard. (Note: they’re not all from 2015. Two aren’t even out yet!)

2015 Books

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Come Away With Me by Karma Brown

The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley Doyle

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn (Out Jan 2016)

In Real Life by Jessica Love (Out March 2016)

My COME AWAY WITH ME-inspired Bucket List

20150825_123947Today I’m wishing the happiest of book birthdays to my friend and 2014 Pitch Wars mentor Karma Brown. Her debut novel COME AWAY WITH ME is a gorgeous look at love and heartbreak and finding a way to heal. Her publisher MIRA, is doing a cool contest to celebrate its release. It ends this Thursday, so if you haven’t already entered, what are you waiting for?

If your curious what my bucket list looks like (and why!) here you go…

It seems like such a cliché to say that when you’re young you never think you’re going to die, but honestly it’s so very true. I was that way, not necessarily thinking I was invincible but definitely not worried about how short my life could be. And then at 29, I had a seizure, which led to the discovery of a cluster of blood vessels leaking blood in my brain, and then the subsequent brain surgery to remove it. And all I could think through the whole ordeal was that I couldn’t die yet because I still had so many things I wanted to do with my life. I hadn’t published a book yet. I hadn’t had nearly enough time with my husband. I hadn’t seen so many of the places that I’d dreamed of visiting. I hadn’t seen the people my sister’s kids would grow up to be. There was just too much left to do and to see and to experience.

I came through it grateful to be alive and still able to function the same as before. Still able to write and walk on the beach with my husband and sing my heart out at concerts for my favorite bands. And it pushed me to get my priorities in line and go after some of my dreams I’d been letting sit off in the corner pouting while I ignored them. I started checking off bucket list items with fervor. Not because I worried something else would go wrong, but because doing things you love with the people you love is what life’s all about.

Now you’d think after brain surgery I would’ve fulfilled my quota of big, nasty illnesses and been allowed to go on my merry little way. Not so much. Earlier this year, at 34, I found out I had thyroid cancer, which lead to surgery to remove it, and a round of radioactive iodine for good measure. And again, all I can think is, Nope not yet. There are still things I need to do. Things I want to do. And this small, barely-even-a-fight with cancer isn’t going to stop me from doing them.

The things still on my bucket list might not be earth-shattering ideas or adrenaline-fueled adventures, but they are things that will feed my soul and remind me how grateful I am to be alive and healthy again. Taking a rule from Zombieland, I’m going to enjoy the little things (as well as some bigger wishes too) for as long as I can.

I’m putting some of my bucket list items out here as a reminder to focus on things that will fill my life with laughter and excitement and inspiration and love rather than things that will only weigh me down:

  • Go whale watching in Vancouver, British Columbia: Long before I wanted to be a writer, I dreamed of working with killer whales. Despite being a pitiful swimmer and not science-minded.) Thankfully I found my way from whales to words, but I never lost my love of orcas. And I desperately want to see them in the wild.
  • See Lacuna Coil perform in their home country of Italy: Lacuna Coil is one of my husband’s and my favorite bands. And while they have some hardcore fans in the US, I can only imagine how charged their Italian shows must be, surrounded by local fans.
  • Take the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London and visit Platform 9 ¾: Harry Potter. Need I say more?
  • Tour distilleries in Ireland and Scotland: Ireland and Scotland have always been high on my travel list for their sheer beauty, but I’ve never been. My husband loves whiskey and scotch so it seems like a win/win kind of vacation for us.
  • Start a scholarship for creative writing students at my alma mater, UNCW: Moving to North Carolina for college and lucking my way into a creative writing class there changed my life. I would love to be able to help other aspiring writers fuel their passion with some amazing teachers and classmates. #LoveTheDub
  • Sign books at BEA: I’m a severely introverted person, but if I got the chance to go sign my books at BEA, it would be a huge dream come true.
  • Have a Charm City Cakes cake made to celebrate the launch of one of my books: My all of my books contain some sort of baked good. I can’t help it. I‘m just so in awe of people can make art from food. (My personal motto is it doesn’t have to look pretty as long as it tastes good because I have zero food-art talent.) And no one does it better than Duff and his crew.
  • See the Great Barrier Reef: This will most likely take the form of me experiencing it safely from a boat (because I am a notoriously bad snorkeler) while my husband scubas or snorkels, but there’s a very real chance I’d get in the water there. Some things you really do have to see for yourself.
  • See tulips in bloom in Holland: I spent my formative years running around the greenhouses of my (extended) family’s orchid business, and it gave me such a deep-seated love of flowers. And tulips are my favorite. Just seeing them makes me smile, so seeing field after field of them in Holland would be such a lovely thing.
  • Write the book of my heart: I put so much of myself into all of my books, and I love all of them. Even the ones that might never see the light of day. But I don’t think I’ve written the one that’s basically my soul on paper. I have an idea for what it will be, but I’m not ready to write it yet. It’s too important to rush. But one day…

Giveaway: Come Away With Me by Karma Brown


I am beyond excited that my uber-talented friend and Pitch Wars mentor Karma Brown’s debut women’s fiction book COME AWAY WITH ME releases in just a few weeks (Aug 25 to be exact). I was lucky enough to read the book early and, y’all, this book made me sob in all the right ways. To celebrate, I’m hosting a giveaway of the book (with a signed bookplate) and a handmade travel journal. But before we get to the giveaway entry, here’s a little about the book:

One minute, Tegan Lawson has everything she could hope for: an adoring husband, Gabe, and a baby on the way. The next, a patch of black ice causes a devastating accident that will change her life in ways she never could have imagined.

Tegan is consumed by grief, not to mention her anger toward Gabe, who was driving on the night of the crash. But just when she thinks she’s hit rock bottom, Gabe reminds her of their Jar of Spontaneity, a collection of their dream destinations and experiences, and so begins an adventure of a lifetime.

From the bustling markets of Thailand to the flavors of Italy to the ocean waves in Hawaii, Tegan and Gabe embark on a journey to escape the tragedy and search for forgiveness. But they soon learn that grief follows you no matter how far away you run, and that acceptance comes when you least expect it.

Heartbreaking, hopeful and utterly transporting, Come Away with Me is an unforgettable debut and a luminous celebration of the strength of the human spirit.

See how fantastic that sounds? Now, go enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!

A Bucket List Giveaway from Harlequin/MIRA to Celebrate COME AWAY WITH ME

03-VER-2---Come-Away-with-Me-Banner-Twitter-Ad-440-x-220There is an amazing contest starting today over on MIRA’s BookClubbish blog to celebrate the Aug. 25th release of Karma Brown‘s debut, COME AWAY WITH ME. The story follows Tegan and Gabe as they travel to Thailand, Italy, and Hawaii, checking off items on their bucket list, after a tragedy rips their lives apart. And Karma’s publisher, MIRA, wants to give one lucky winner an item from their own bucket list. Details for the contest are here. You do not want to miss out on this contest or this book!

(And check back here on Aug. 4th because I’ll have a (smaller) giveaway of my own going on leading up to the book’s release!)

Reading Rewind: Come Away With Me


This week I got to read an ARC by my fabulous Pitch Wars mentor, Karma Brown. Her debut novel, COME AWAY WITH ME, comes out in August, and I’m really sorry y’all have to wait that long to read it. It’s so damn good. Even when it rips your heart out and makes you sob.

Goodreads Summary:

One minute, Tegan Lawson has everything she could hope for: an adoring husband, Gabe, and a baby on the way. The next, a patch of black ice causes a devastating accident that will change her life in ways she never could have imagined.

Tegan is consumed by grief, not to mention her anger toward Gabe, who was driving on the night of the crash. But just when she thinks she’s hit rock bottom, Gabe reminds her of their Jar of Spontaneity, a collection of their dream destinations and experiences, and so begins an adventure of a lifetime.

From the bustling markets of Thailand to the flavors of Italy to the ocean waves in Hawaii, Tegan and Gabe embark on a journey to escape the tragedy and search for forgiveness. But they soon learn that grief follows you no matter how far away you run, and that acceptance comes when you least expect it.

Heartbreaking, hopeful and utterly transporting, Come Away with Me is an unforgettable debut and a luminous celebration of the strength of the human spirit.

My Thoughts:

Come Away With Me is a beautifully written, heart-wrenching story of love and loss and being brave enough to face what life throws at you. I worried at the beginning of this book that I wouldn’t connect with Tegan and her grief over losing her baby (full disclosure, I do not have a single mothering bone in my body so while I felt awful for her, it didn’t get me the way it will most women). But then her journey—both emotional and physical—began, and I was so caught up in it that it swept me right along with her to experience the painting elephants and fried crickets in Thailand, the gorgeous views and decadent pasta (and wine!) in Italy, and the rolling swells of Hawaiian waves. Everything in this book is vibrant, from the people Tegan meets in each country to her love story with Gabe—and her heartbreaking fighting with Gabe over the accident—to her depression that is so all-consuming at times that it feels like it’s happening to the reader too. And the story is so delicately woven together that when you’re done you want to go back and reread it in a whole new light.

*I received an ARC from Mira/Harlequin and NetGalley for an honest review.

Confessions of a Pitch Wars Mentee

Well, today’s the day. Pitch Wars. Today the pitches of the 75 mentees go live for agents to read and hopefully request more pages of their manuscripts.

For those of you who don’t know, Pitch Wars is a genius online pitch contest put on by the wonderful Brenda Drake, in which agented/published authors select one mentee and one alternate each from the many, many, many submissions (this year it was something like 1,200 entries!) and spend the next two months working on revisions to the mentee’s manuscript.

And as the title of this post suggests, I was so very fortunate to be selected as the mentee for the amazing Karma Brown. The first thing on her manuscript wishlist was “magical realism, and in a perfect world, magic AND food)”. Which, lucky for me, is exactly what my Pitch Wars manuscript, WISHES TO NOWHERE, is.

Pitch Wars (and you know, writing in general) isn’t for the faint of heart. Going into this, I knew it was going to be tough and time-consuming and possibly a tiny bit soul-crushing, just based on the nature of the contest (the “Hey, I love your manuscript so much that I choose you! But um, yeah, let’s talk about this crazy-ass plot and this character who is totally not-needed and I see what you were trying to do here, but you kinda failed. *Note: these are just made up criticisms for effect, not anything that was ever actually said!). On top of that, Karma told me point blank that she was going to rip my manuscript apart and help me put it back together.

And rip apart she did (but in the super-nice, encouraging, I-promise-you’ll-thank-me-later way that Karma has). The first two weeks were spent on the first 3-4 chapters alone. Karma helped me ground the magic in the story more, cut extraneous backstory/details that cluttered up the main story, and really focus on creating a character in those first pages who would appeal to a wide audience. (Apparently my love of snarky, sarcastic, kinda flippant characters isn’t something most of the world shares *le sigh*.) Then we moved on to working in 5-chapter chunks. I would revise my original manuscript based on those foundational changes in the beginning, send to Karma for in-depth critique and line edits, then take her comments and tweak, rewrite, and in some places throw out what I had and write something totally new. Sometimes I would email her with my reasoning for not wanting to change an aspect she was adamant about, and we’d talk it through, and then I’d get back to writing and realize she was 100% right.

Some days it was daunting to read through the comments and realize just how much work I had to do to the book. Some days, I wanted to just sit and cry and then apologize to Karma for having a book with so many problems and I would totally understand if she regretted picking me as her mentee. And some days when I was drowning in work and had so many chapters backing up for me to rework, all I wanted was to read a book, which just made the stress that much heavier because I didn’t have time to do something fun for me. The I started dreaming about Pitch Wars. One night in the middle of all this, I dreamed about getting emails from Karma where she told me the book completely fell apart in the middle and I would have to rewrite the last 40,000 words in a month. (As tough as she is, she is way, way nicer than that!)

But here’s the thing: all of that stress and self-doubt was so very worth it. Every page I edited, ever scene I cut, ever new scene I wrote made this book So. Much. Stronger. Every time I got it right, Karma was there to cheer me on. Every time I was close but still needed to push farther, she was there to talk me through what else was needed. And in the end, it’s still very much the story I set out to tell—my idea, my words, my characters, my plot—but each of those aspects is more polished, more refined. More the type of book that will *hopefully* catch and agent’s eye (and, fingers crossed, eventually an editor’s eye too).