Dear lovely regular blog readers: this post will be an abstraction from my usual personal musings (and sorry I’ve been MIA this summer! THINGS are happening!) as it’s PITCH WARS time. This year I’m mentoring with the fantastic Rachel Griffin, and this post is dedicated to our wish list (thus the “we”). If you’re a writer with a completed, nearly ready to query manuscript, do check out this fantastic contest!
Welcome to the mighty co-mentoring team of Heather Ezell and Rachel Griffin. We are SO EXCITED that it’s finally the time of year when life takes a full swing into PITCH WARS MANIA.
If you’re looking for relentless enthusiasm, excessive capitalization, and a ton of exclamation points, you’ve come to the right place! Especially if you write young adult because that’s all we’re accepting. 😉
THE WISHLIST OF WONDERS!
What do we want?
- Your gritty, raw contemporary YA. We like it dark, we like it twisty, and we like it real. Life is messy and unpredictable, so show us that in your novel.
- Dark contemporary not your style? No problem, because we have a soft spot for light hearted reads. Make us smile so hard our cheeks hurt!
- We also LOVE to take our contemporary with a side of something extra: magic, the supernatural, the absurd, and more. Send us your speculative fiction, light/contemporary fantasy, and magical realism. We want magic rooted in the world we know, that could potentially pass as our own if we turned our heads upside down and blinked twice.
- We want to SWOON. Send us all your romance, whether it’s the primary thread or a subplot that leaves us weak in the knees. We want it.
- We don’t know a many people that made it through high school without some form of a friendship breakup, and we yearn to see this in YA. If your novel features a crumbling friendship, send it to us!
- ATMOSPHERIC NOVELS YES PLEASE. If your setting is so alive that we can feel and see it, and feel strongly about whether or not we want to visit, we neeeeeeed it.
- You’ll have us staying up into the wee hours of the morning to read your manuscript if it showcases an unreliable and/or unlikeable narrator. A lot of this comes down to voice, so hook us right away and reel us in!
- We ache for subtle lyricism and gorgeous prose that have us reaching for a pen to underline.
- YES to diversity, especially more f/f representation.
- We crave HIGH STAKES that make us desperate to read to the end. Set ‘em up early and keep upping the ante the whole way through.
- Sister stories. We have them. We love them. We want them.
- We want to fall in love with characters who are deeply flawed BUT TRYING. We’ll follow them to the ends of the earth.
- Hi. Hello. We both desperately want a book version of the movie Saved! If you can comp it, we want to see it.
- We love quirky, whimsical novels and voices and want them both in our inbox!
- We’re suckers for natural disasters, survival stories, and apocalyptic settings (not dystopian), especially when disaster drives the plot in unique and vivid ways.
- We want ALL the weird structures! Did you write your novel backward with 27 POVs and some diary entries thrown in there? WE WANT TO SEE IT. (Okay, maybe not 27 POVs, but you get the idea.)
We will not be mentoring:
- Anything that isn’t YA
- SFF/high fantasy. We love it, but we’re not the right mentors for it.
- Historical fiction. Again, adore it, want to read it, but we’re not the right gals.
- Horror. Rachel doesn’t like being scared.
- We love heavy books with lots of layers but aren’t looking for anything that would be categorized as an issue book, or one that specifically features self-harm or suicide.
- Abuse as a central theme: sexual, substance, or abuse toward animals.
A few of our favorite books that reflect what we’re hoping to see in our inbox:
- This Is Not a Test and Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
- A Million Junes by Emily Henry
- Up to this Pointe by Jennifer Longo
- If I Stay by Gayle Forman
- The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee
- One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus
- The Walls Around Us and Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
- Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano
- Far From You by Tess Sharpe
- I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
- The Weight of Feathers by Anna M. McLemore
- Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
- You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon 🙂
Still with us? Fantastic!
YOUR POTENTIAL MENTORS!
We’ve both been through Pitch Wars as mentees (Heather was Rachel Lynn Solomon’s alternate in 2014 and Rachel was Heather’s mentee last year!) and made it through to the other side, both with stronger manuscripts, agents, and incredible friends. We’re utterly passionate about this contest, this community, and helping other writers, and we both have backgrounds in teaching. Mentoring is a fabulous way to tap into that love for both of us. We can promise you that when we fall in love with your manuscript, we’ll be your fiercest champions and most loyal fangirls.
We were snooping on the #PitchWars hashtag and saw that some hopefuls want to know what our strengths are, so here you go:
Heather is great with emotional arcs, atmospheric writing, building up your setting so it jumps off the page, and helping writers develop and grasp their voice.
Rachel is great with pacing, getting your hook in deep and early, setting up stakes, and character motivation.
Which is a great segue into our mentoring style.
We’ll both be involved with all elements of the process, from big developmental edits, all the way down to line edits. We’ll push you harder than you thought possible, and we’ll make you work. We won’t sugarcoat anything, just like we won’t hesitate to tell you how much we utterly LOOOOOOOVE something. We’ll cheer you on the entire way, pick you up when you’re down, and give you all the pep talks when you need them. And, come November, you’ll have a stronger manuscript and an incredible sense of accomplishment. We want to make you feel damn proud of the work you did during your two months with us, and we hope you love your manuscript more than you ever have before.
ARE YOU OUR MENTEE?
You’re ready to work. We’re not going to give you a few line edits and send you on your way. Nope. We’re going to pull your manuscript apart and help you stitch it back together. (Rachel started her edits last year by rewriting her entire manuscript in first person present, from its original third person past. And that was just the start. Then we did developmental edits, character arcs, subplots, and line edits!).
We’ve both been on the receiving end of many editorial letters, so we know how painful it can be to approach revisions and all that follows. As your mentors, we promise we’ll be here to support you, send love and make game plans, talk through the roadblocks and more. We will communicate primarily via email and, if you’re into it, text messaging (we’re into it, especially when it’s time to gush, share nerves, and burst into excitement).
You’re open to changes. We’ll never say you have to make a specific change, but we want you to really think through our suggestions and be ready to answer questions.
You believe in yourself and your writing.
You’re motivated and self-disciplined.
You’re awesome and friendly and won’t be weirded out by our constant enthusiasm and mushy tweets about how much we adore you.
STILL WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Considering this is my blog, you can find perhaps too much info on me if you want to, and there is obviously a bio page that gives you the run down of who I am, but hey! Hello.
I grew up in Southern California, visited my beloved Colorado Springs frequently through my teens until I settled there to earn my BA from Colorado College. I more recently spent two years in Interior Alaska for grad school and TAing composition until I jumped south to the PNW to escape Alaska’s sun (I’m not kidding). Teaching freshmen and sophomore composition is the best job I’ve had to date. These days I work primarily in freelance editing and book coaching. I occasionally pinch myself–working with fiction writers is as fabulous and rewarding as teaching disgruntled college students, plus I don’t have to change out of my lounge wear.
My own writing history? I penned my first novel at thirteen, revised for an agent at fifteen, wrote a second book at sixteen, and–though I didn’t sign with an agent until some eight years later–I was constantly learning about the industry and the craft through the thick of it. If you DO go back through my posts here on this wee site, you can read about my various detours of this long haul journey. But, ultimately, I signed with my agent Sarah Davies at Greenhouse Literary, and we sold my debut, NOTHING LEFT TO BURN, to Marissa Grossman at Razorbill-Penguin. It releases on March 13, 2018 (!!!!!!) and I’m still in disbelief.
I currently live in Washington State (only an hour or two south of Rachel depending on whether or not the I-5 behaves and 3 hours from ~Forks, WA~ [hey, guess what, Rachel and I both adore Twilight! the more you know!]). My apartment has a spiral staircase that leads up to a loft with lovely lighting, rain or shine–this is where I do most of my writing, whether at my desk or on the floor. If I cross the street, I can hop into a lush rainforest and, from there, I’m a mere fifteen-minute walk to an often stormy beach. I really, REALLY like that forest. All of this is very critical for you to know: spiral staircase and Twilight and all. I share my home with the love of my life, my family’s black lab, Bellatrix, and a guy named Regan, who is also pretty great. My professional bio states that I practice ballet and this is true in mind but *whispers* my trips to a studio have been on hold for a bit because BALLET IS PRICEY when you’re out of school. Please don’t tell my publisher (Ben or Marissa, hi, if you’re reading this, I should be back at the barre by NLTB’s release date, please don’t change the jacket flap!).
Some trivia: I moved fourteen (sixteen?) times between 2009 – 2016, don’t have a spleen, prefer -30F degrees to 80F, completed my BA in 2 1/2 years, started writing seriously after a fabulous stint of Harry Potter fan-fiction, can’t live in cities because of the stimulation, have an obsession/irrational fear toward natural disasters, and am terrified of the sun (but look photographic proof that I’m challenging myself these days!).
I’m a PNW native and absolutely looooooooove it here. LOVE. I graduated from Seattle University with a bachelor of science in diagnostic ultrasound because seeing inside the body is SUPER cool, but I never could outrun my love for writing. I wrote my first novel in the evenings and weekends while working full-time and juggling being on-call.
After a shoulder injury prohibited me from continuing my career as a sonographer, I became employee number six at a financial technology startup. I managed our customer support, brand personality, content creation, and social media, and eventually moved on to PR and marketing as well. I will always love that #startuplife.
That’s where I met my husband, my biggest support and absolute love of my life. One evening he suggested I quit my job to pursue this writing thing full time, and after a bit of coaxing on his part, I took the plunge and haven’t looked back. That was two years ago, and in that time I wrote my second book, got into Pitch Wars, queried agents, signed with the amazing Melissa Sarver White of Folio Lit, and got halfway through drafting my third novel.
Heather was the very first person to love my book the way I did. She understood what I was trying to do and just got it, and that changed everything for me. Not only did she help make my book SO MUCH STRONGER as my mentor in Pitch Wars, she also became one of my dearest friends and trusted CPs. Still to this day I thank my lucky stars she chose me. Not just because of the writing aspect, but because of how my better my life is with her in it.
I have a schnoodle named Doppler and I absolutely ADORE her. I love hiking, reading, drinking lots of tea and coffee, playing the flute, and playing chess. I looooove eating. Twilight foreverrr. I’m an optimist through and through. I have a twin sister who was my very first soul mate (I’m very lucky to have two!). My husband still gives me butterflies. I’m an INFJ and proud hufflepuff. I’m not a morning person. I love fashion and am a big fan of the King of Pop. I’m a big hugger, and if we ever meet in person, you should be prepared for that. I’m blessed beyond measure and love this beautiful life.
I’m writing from Orange County, where–for the first time in years–the region is experiencing daily June Gloom in the mornings. I’m in California, firstly, to move up my beloved dog to Washington. My dear Bellatrix will hit the road with me up the coast all the way to my northern home. She’ll walk in a rainforest for the first time. She’ll discover moss and run through Jurassic Park-like ferns and damp, foreign terrain. She’ll live with me: a dream of mine for years, a dream I didn’t think was a possibility as recent as two months ago. This is happening.
The other reason for this trip is to bid farewell to all of my long-term doctors and do final hurrah check ups. I turn twenty-six in August and will be transitioning to Washington’s public health care. That is happening. It’s beyond my control and all I can do is fight for proper treatment and medications, not panic, and hope. I’m lucky. Washington is the best state for public health care. I’ll be okay.
In May, I finished up the last of my line edits on NOTHING LEFT TO BURN. It’s now in copy edits and has a gorgeous (so, so gorgeous) cover that will be ~revealed~ June 26th and, equally exciting, it’ll be up for pre-order the week prior. This is all happening. This dream. This hope I’ve been working for my entire (young adult and) adult life. I started writing the first version of this novel when I was thirteen and have been re-writing, revising, learning to write, again and again, querying, writing, fighting for this book ever since.
I don’t know when I’ll truly believe that NOTHING LEFT TO BURN is being published. Maybe when I hold an ARC in my hands this summer. Maybe when I hold a finished copy in January. Maybe when I see it on bookshelves on March 13th.
March 13th. March used to be my least favorite month but, oh, that’s now changed.
March is usually my least favorite month but, oh, that’s now changed.
At the start of May, I flew to the Bay Area to help my older sister with my two-year-old niece and their moving to Reno. It was a sudden and quick trip: five days with a roadtrip to Reno squeezed in. But it forced me out of my go, go, go, work, work rythm, and oh I will never turn down an opportunity to see my niece. And, after the trip, still early May, I became severely sick. In May, I wrote seventy pages set in Alaska and struggled relentlessly with a synopsis. At the end of May, I withdrew from the MFA program I’d planned to start this summer. It was when I started applying for a private personal loan to cover rent for the next year that it hit me: no, this can wait, this is a financially terrible idea, no, it can wait, it’s not now or never.
In May I made some good decisions.
In April and May, I walked into the forest regularly, and I’m learning to appreciate the sun, and I learned to let myself take days off, letting myself stop working after I’ve put my time in, seeing new and old friends. In April and May and now June, I’m focusing on the differentiation of what I want to do and what I need to do and what I think I need to do but don’t need to do: I too often get the three confused.
And now it’s June and June kicked off with my flight to California and I’m still here, sorting through a lifetime of books, spending time with my parents and my brother and my dog (oh my, that girl has no idea what’s in store for her), seeing doctors every day, and (attempting) to squeeze some work in. It’s my older sister’s anniversary and she and my brother-in-law are vacationing, so–surprise!!!–more time with my niece (which I did not know what was happening).
And so, with the roadtrip home next week, I won’t be back to my desk until the 16th–so deep into this month–and I’m trying not to let this freak me out; I’m focusing on why this is the case: my health and moving my baby home with me.
This summer: holding a galley of my book in my hands, pass pages, seeing more old friends (fingers crossed), finishing my proposals (again) and letting them go enough to send them onward to my agent, a booked two months of freelance projects (so, so happy about this), and PITCH WARS (and all the better: I’m co-mentoring with one of my dearest friends, Rachel Griffin)!
But, god damn, I miss my young sister fiercely. The last time I saw her there was snow on the ground in Utah. The next time I’ll see her there will be snow again on the ground in Utah. Why is Australia so far?
Spring is my least favorite season unless it’s followed by a particularly lethally hot summer. The week after Daylight Savings, mid-March, insomnia hits without fail. I always forget this trend but, the past two years, Facebook has reminded me. Day four of no sleep and TimeHop pings me with a post from that same day in 2007: “Sleep deprivation will kill me.” This past March, with its lengthening days and breaks in the rain, had me aching for early February, for the season’s last snow, for the dim mornings and afternoons.
Spring has never been kind to me but, then again, this spring has been all right. I think the rain helps. The news says this has been the coldest, wettest winter on record in Seattle and the cloud cover has pushed deep into April. It’s a relief. It’s a dream. Why am I so lucky that with every place I live it’s hard to fathom that it’s my home because of its beauty? That I live here. Here. I’ve been lucky with everywhere, this silly blog is a testament to that. I’ve been so spoiled.
I live in a place where five minutes on foot leads me to a forest. And in that forest are tree houses, and huts made of twigs and branches and logs so that I can crawl over rivers, and platforms in the highest trees. It took me three months to find these forest gem. Three months to see past the mossy evergreens and rain and hail and all the lush green.
I live three hours from Forks, WA. Fourteen-year-old me would be so amused. And, now, naturally, whenever I have visitors a trip up the peninsula is essential. Less for Forks and more for the Hoh Rainforest, for La Push, and Ruby Beach. I’m admittedly going through something of a fangirl resurgence–triggered surely from a personal event that I can’t go into, triggered inevitably from my basically living on the border of the Olympic National Peninsula, triggered probably from meeting new friends who are loud and unashamed in their past fangirl ways. It’s refreshing. And it feels good to embrace nostalgia, to laugh at the passion of younger me but also seriously acknowledge the impact that events and friendships in conjecture to Twilight had on me. I’d be a fool not to be grateful.
The best of news: I’m moving my dog up from California to live with me in June. A three-day drive with my baby. Living with my beloved. I’ll believe it when she’s here, or maybe when we’re on the road, but oh my heart. It’s been a hard few months in terms of health and pain levels, so I’m holding onto this truth with the tightest grip: my dog with me always.
I keep thinking about what I want to do with this space. My blog. I’ve gone through and privatized a bunch of old posts–those that felt too revealing, those in which I showed my teenage naivety, or were simply too painful to read. There are still many vulnerable ramblings public, though I could argue that every last post is just that, including this: exposed, transparent. Where’s my privacy? I’ve been here, open and loud and clear, for so long that I don’t know how to set new boundaries. Since the beginning, I questioned my having a blog on a yearly basis, often shutting it down for months or years at a time, and lately, more and more, I lean toward replacing it with an “updates” page that will offer more book related updates. ~Professional~ Ha? Finally? Maybe. We’ll see.
Hi. I moved. I mentioned I was moving, right? Only an hour south but that hour south has made all the difference. My backyard is a forest, and that forest has trails that lead to a beach or lead to more trees. It’s quiet. It’s so quiet, and it rains ever so slightly more. A hush exists. Strangers smile. My neighbor offered me an ice pack when I fell down my spiral stairs, when she heard my thuds and cry, and that was the strangest warmth. And, oh, driving home means taking the 101 north, and life is always something special when home entails the 101 north (hi, Humboldt). And from the 101, my exit is dark. I have to use my brights and squint and drive real slow as I weave through trees, it’s something like a maze that I learned within a day but it feels safe, protected, beautiful. And yes, I’m so dramatic, but when I enjoy the immediate commute to and from home, I know I’m lucky. This element reminds me of Colorado Springs, when I took the long way home through Garden of the Gods; when I lived in Chipita Park, curving up the mountain pass about Manitou every day. It was a balm. After the exhaustive six months in Renton, to have my home be a balm feels so strange and lovely.
But, oh my, February was weird. Is February ever not weird? A rapid attempt of settling, of organizing, of finding a new work rhythm–all cut off by a quick trip to Utah. And then, the last full week, last week, an utter slam: strep throat, hip woes, falling down my stairs, my Mini (finally) breaking down, and a stomach bug. Last week nearly did me in. But I saw my family this month, I fell more in love with where I live, I saw a concept for Nothing Left to Burn’s book cover (!!!!), and–on many days when it felt improbable–I got myself up from the floor. I want to better focus on the good. I have a home, a workspace, a forest, health and support. And while, yes, simultaneously I feel like I’m in the thick of something–life heavy in ways that are both private and hard to articulate–it’s okay. The future of my life in Olympia isn’t stable when I so desperately want it to be. I’m living month to month, living on hope and dumb luck. And that’s fine. It’s only temporary. And I’m here now.
I am lucky. So I’ll hope and push for that luck to continue.
What I’m working on in March: the next round of NLTB edits, a meaty freelance project (I hope!), two proposals and WIP drafting, lovely Indiana visitors, the onslaught of longer days that March always thrusts onto me (I take it personally), and the continued intention of taking care of myself before anything else.
I hope you find your way outside this month. I’ll be right here.
Things are strange and wonky and as I enter the new year and try to lift up from the last six months, I need to remember the ways in which 2016 was kind–
So, the good that happened in 2016, accompanied by photos from November and December:
I started blogging again. I switched my domain back to heatherezell.com–coming out hiding–making a blog that goes back to my 2008 tangents public. Perhaps a silly, horrifying choice but hey. Here I am. Thank you for reading. Go back and see how I was at seventeen if you so desire.
Nothing Left to Burn was acquired by Razorbill at Penguin Random House. After ten years of work and trial and rejections, my lifelong dream came true, is coming true.
I finished another graduate semester at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. I knew it’d be my last semester at the start of it, but I went in strong and finished strong. Thanks UAF (and Fairbanks) for the strange and exhilarating and painful and glorious experiences.
I taught a course of my own design: Academic Writing About Literature: Growing Up During the Apocalypse–a study of YA trauma and resilience. This course, aside from the book deal, was the highlight of my spring, and perhaps the whole year. It reaffirmed my absolute love of teaching. I worked with incredible students who challenged me and inspired me and I think I challenged them, too. I miss teaching in a classroom. I miss my students.
Finally, finally, after a decade of floundering, I was diagnosed that led to proper treatment, the right medication, and feeling hope, clarity, and safety in my mind. Bipolar II and PTSD. It still feels strange to accept those diagnoses, to work with these tools of labels. But I am working, trying–with a psychiatrist, with a therapist–I’m working to find some level of calm.
The Rumpus (one of my longtime beloved online journals) published my personal essay on my above mentioned lifelong struggle with mental illness, and particularly the two years leading up to my being diagnosed bipolar II. I’m rather proud of the essay. I wrote the first draft when I was hitting rock bottom in Alaska and was finally acknowledging that I needed help. You can read it here.
In May, I drove from Fairbanks, Alaska to Trabuco Canyon, California in a packed to the brim Mini Cooper. Down the Alaska Highway–through the enchanting Yukon and the outrageously beautiful British Columbia.
All the snow the fell in 2016 was a balm, in both Alaska and Washington. The rain, too.
From June to August, I drafted an entirely new book. This was and is a Big Deal. While I occasionally wrote short stories and creative essays (all for school), I’d been solely revising and rewriting Nothing Left to Burn since… 2011 (with some one or two year long breaks). I often regret not drafting other books–my tunnel vision, my obsession, my losing the sense of flowing into a first draft. But NLTB revisions and rewrites were all I could mentally manage with my time, with my frequent moves, with my completing my undergrad in two absurd years. So, last spring, last spring when I drafted a new novel, it was an absolute release.
And that new book: I’m proud of it, now working on further developing it, making a revision plan. It is a challenging and weird and sometimes painful book, and I don’t know if it’ll be the “next” book or if it’ll ever sell but I’m in love and proud.
Oh, and in 2016, I finally learned to outline. In December, when I took a break from my NLTB revision, I started a blueprint for an Alaska-set novel and ahhhhh! That’s all I will say.
Pitch Wars! I mentored in Pitch Wars and it was both rewarding and fun. It reminded me of passion for teaching, mentorship, editing, and working on projects outside my own. And I made new friends and have had the pleasure of watching them gain success and growth as authors.
And following that, in late November, I was hired as an author coach at Author Accelerator. I am utterly thrilled and may have cried when I learned I was joining the team.
In September, I came out. Hi, I’m bisexual. This was something I denied and ignored and refused to accept as a teen. And something I dismissed during undergrad, telling myself that it didn’t matter, I was taking those years to be solo and learn how to depend only on me, why make a fuss, etc. And something, over the last two years, desperately wanted to acknowledge and not keep hidden but didn’t know if I could and should, as it still often felt it was irrelevant because of my being in a relationship with a male. But it does matter. It was painful to keep that part of me hush. I let it impact my writing, my characters. I let it impact my identity, myself. It was damaging to lie and say I was straight. And it felt and feels so good to be out and honest with who I am, my whole self.
I moved to Washington State–something I’ve been attempting and planning and getting distracted from doing (hey Colorado, how are you?) for YEARS. And while I’m moving out of the Seattle area next week (goodbye city life, hello quieter and cheaper and closer to forest trails land), I’m so so so happy that I pushed to move the PNW.
All of the wonderful moments with pup, Bellatrix, and the glimmer of hope of moving her up to Washington to live with me. My previous blog goes a tad too into that but, my gosh, as she gets older, our bond only deepens.
I took risks. I quit jobs that were damaging to my physical and mental health. I chose to pursue freelance and editing (interested? email!) and tutoring, and–while I’ll probably have to supplement with some out of the house part-time work soon–it finally feels like I’m on the right track work wise. My health is far more stable. Retail schedules will never be a good choice for me.
I finished my first for-publication revision and signed my Penguin Random House contract and received my first paycheck as an author. It was strange. It is strange. It is exhilarating.
When I was at the lowest of lows, I asked for help–more than once. I aggressively pursued recovery for things I’ve refused to acknowledge for since I was teen. In 2016, I started taking care of my whole self. I also learned to take days off, to accept down days, to take longer baths, and not hate myself for relaxing. What a concept.
I spent weeks with my family and strengthened those relationships and didn’t go crazy for the two months my boyfriend and I spent living in my parents’ house (!).
And so much more. But these were the highlights, the moments and events that stick out in warmest ways. And I have hope and optimism and thrilling intentions for 2017. It’ll be okay.
Wishing you warmth.