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PITCH WARS 2018

 

Hi, old readers and Pitch Wars hopefuls! This is my third year mentoring and my second year co-mentoring with one of my best friends and most cherished CPs (well I cherish her in all things TBH), Rachel Griffin. I’m SO EXCITED to dive into our submissions this year to find the perfect-for-us manuscript and writer to mentor and adore together. To check out our fellow mentors’ wishlist, head over to the Pitch Wars mentor blog hop! Also be sure to check out Rachel’s blog, too!

Without further ado…

Welcome to the mighty co-mentoring team of Heather Ezell and Rachel Griffin! We’re so glad you’re here! It’s finally that time of year when life takes a full swing into PITCH WARS MANIA AND WE’RE HERE FOR IT.

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. 😉

 

For those of you keeping track, our wishlist is quite similar to last year’s. It’s a bit more specific now, and we prioritized what we’re looking for to make it easy for you to decide if we’re the right fit. We’re also including books we loved that are great examples of what we’re looking for under each bullet point. So let’s get to it!

 

THE WISHLIST

What do we want?

 

We will not be mentoring:

 

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 in 2016!) 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.

Here are some of our strengths:

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.

So what does our mentoring style look like?

We do everything together. 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 February, 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. (When Rachel was a mentee, she started her edits 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!)

Communication is extremely important to us. We want you to come to us with questions, concerns, brainstorming, and if you just feel like something isn’t working. We are always here and don’t want you to be shy. Writing is a vulnerable process, and you can be vulnerable with us.

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. This is a big one.

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?

RACHEL

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 was always writing in my spare time. After a shoulder injury required a career change, I became employee number six at a financial technology startup where I managed our customer support, brand personality, content creation, and social media.

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 three years ago, and in that time I wrote my second book, got into Pitch Wars, signed with an agent, wrote my third novel, mentored in Pitch Wars, and now I’m drafting my fourth novel. (I’ve since parted ways with my agent, something that is fairly common but not talked about much. I mention this because no two paths look alike, and I think being transparent when able and showing all sides of the journey is important!)

I have a schnoodle named Doppler and I absolutely ADORE her. I think nature is magic. I love hiking, reading, drinking lots of tea and coffee, playing the flute, and playing chess. Twilight foreverrr. Battlestar Galactica is the greatest television show of all time. 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. I’m not a morning person. I love fashion, red lipstick, and the King of Pop. I’m blessed beyond measure and love this beautiful life.

Have questions? Just want to say hi? I love meeting new people, so feel free to stop by on Twitter and Instagram!

 

HEATHER

I’m a Southern CA native, Colorado Springs adoptee, once-upon-a-time-Alaskan, and currently a Washington State resident. I earned my BA from Colorado College in English and started my MFA in fiction at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, where I taught college comp (have to note this because it’s my favorite job to date) and hope to return to finish my degree soon. These days I’m a full-time freelancer: editing, author coaching, tutoring, professional reading, copywriting, and staring at a dry erase board in my loft. I do it all!

My own writing history? I penned my first novel at thirteen, revised for an agent at fifteen, wrote a second book at sixteen, and so the cycle went on. Though I didn’t sign with an agent until I was twenty-three, I was constantly learning about the industry and my craft through the thick of it. If you go back through my posts here, 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 Razorbill/Penguin, which released this past March. I’m  still wrapping my head around it.

I live less than two hours south of Rachel depending on whether or not the I-5 behaves. You can bet we’ll be discussing our submissions by her pool with some wine (yes, Rachel, totally inviting myself over!). My apartment has a spiral staircase and, when I cross the street from my home, I can step into a rainforest and, from there, I’m a mere fifteen-minute walk to a beach. I REALLY love that forest and that beach and my eleven-year-old black lab, Bellatrix, does too. Below is a picture of Bellatrix and me in Forks, WA. Forks is great for its proximity to hiking and killer beaches, and for embracing my inner fourteen-year-old (and forever) fangirl. I also like to get fried chicken and beer to take to La Push, but that’s another story.

Some trivia: I moved some fourteen times between 2009 – 2016, don’t have a spleen, prefer -30F to 80F degrees, 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, am naturally blond, and I’m not a fan of the sun.

I’m shy but also very loud and eager once I’m acquainted and I’d love if you said hi, either on Twitter and Instagram.


NLTB Launch Week

It’s been over a month since Nothing Left to Burn hit stores and I’m still unable to articulate my joy, shock, relief, and the general high surrounding it all.

Can I just say it was lovely and I’m honored by the support?
Can I just post a stream of pretty photos from that whirlwind launch week?
Can I just admit that I didn’t know I talked THAT much with my hands until I saw post-even videos and photographs?
Can I just say thank you thank you thank you?

So here are some moments from the week, in no particular order — the morning of release day at the beloved Browsers Bookshop here in Olympia (where I stopped en route to the airport to have my first in-store stock signing), my event at Vroman’s with Farrah Penn, the fashion show at Willow Manor, my LA/OC Barnes & Noble visits, and my incredible launch party that was hosted by the fabulous Lido Village Books in Newport Beach, CA. Thank you to every family member, friend, bookseller who has made this experience such a journey. I was warned of post-launch depression but, really, I’m still riding this wave and incredibly thankful and hoping I get to do it all over again (hoping as in working!).

 

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Happy Birthday.

Nothing Left to Burn releases tomorrow and I’m the calmest I’ve ever been — that’s what it feels like, at least.

This book has been a part of my life since I was thirteen. I’m now twenty-six. This book has been a weight, a passion, a desperation for over half of my life. Nothing Left to Burn is my first book but that’s also not at all true. Nothing Left to Burn is technically my fourth. But Audrey, this is her third story, and Audrey’s story has always been one entangled with my own. We grew together. And it’s hard to recall a time where I wasn’t revising or rewriting or drafting. I sent my first query letter when I was fifteen and did rounds every year. There was always agent interest. Full and partial requests. An agent who told me she was going to “take me there” and implied an offer of rep only to disappear. Close calls. A reason to grip and move forward. Not that it was necessary — this story haunted me, Audrey, a weight, a gnat in my head. An obsession. A love. And now I’m done. Set free. Her story is no longer mine but for readers to love, to hate, to consider, to do with however they please.

I thought the negative reviews would burn–that the very idea of negative reviews would cause panic. They don’t. I’m proud of this novel. My freshman novel that is infused with my teenage dramatics, my preference for some cheesiness, my rambling lines. I’m so absurdly proud and relieved.

My debut release tomorrow. Tuesday, March 13th. And on Wednesday, I’ll be at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, CA. The first time I visited Vroman’s I’d just turned fifteen. September 2006. It was my first book event at a bookstore, my second book event ever.  Stephenie Meyer. Outrageously special. Vroman’s has always been special to me and somehow, luck, magic, the right timing, Vroman’s is where I’m having my first signing (thank you, Farrah!). On Thursday, I visit the school I dropped out from at sixteen for an interview on their Titian TV channel. On Friday, I’ll be signing books in a boutique store during their fashion show–Willow Manor, a store I always loved to visit with my mom as a child, and then as a teen. They had coffee and apple cider on tap. Lovely trinkets and blinged out clothing. Willow Manor is nostalgia, childhood, my hometown at its core. And on Saturday, Saturday is the official launch party for Nothing Left to Burn in the most beautiful bookstore on Balboa Island (which isn’t actually an island), a location that plays such a great role in Audrey’s story.

This is real.

I thought I’d be a mess. Stressed. Shaking. Especially considering this week follows Daylight Saving and since I can remember I’ve been struck with week-long insomnia this week every year of my life. But I’m sleeping. When my editor told me my release date was March 13th, I was terrified. The one week of the year I’m conscious of. The worst week of the year. Mania and no sleep and shaking. Perhaps it’s because I’m finally, finally, on the right medications for bipolar. Perhaps it’s that and because, well, this week is being transformed: the week my lifelong, childhood dream came true.

Little first-grader Heather, rushing into the principle’s office to share the “book” I’d written over the weekend. A stapled bundle of hot pink construction paper with doodles and a few words. Frayed edges. Fifth grade, punching the tetherball at recess, imagining the first cover of my book. Why do I remember that moment so acutely? Eighth grade, out of school, sick, writing fanfiction, and then, without realizing it, starting my own story. Teen me, rejection after rejection, revision after revision. I did it. I did it. With the help of so many people–my acknowledgments are perhaps double the normal length–I did it.

This is a beautiful thing. And, after this week, I move on. I continue to work on my next projects. I harness my teenage grit. I remember I did it. I write, just like I’ve always planned to do since my first memory. I rush into the fold with the thickest skin.

I did it. How am I so calm?

The happiest book birthday to me, truly.

 


Nothing Left to Burn Map

It was inevitable that I’d procure a map for Nothing Left to Burn.

I have always been obsessed with maps, flipping back to a fantasy novel’s map at every mention of a location, running my finger along mountains and valleys and seas. Scrutinizing the possibilities. Adoring the art and peculiarities of a map that (often) matched the story’s tone. The setting’s tone. If I’m reading a contemporary novel and a location is mentioned, even something as meager as a highway number, I turn to the internet to see it for myself. I can spend hours adore tracking locations and routes on google maps. For fun, I’ve routed every place I’ve called home, an epic memory road trip: Orange County to the Bay Area to Colorado Springs to Cascade back to Orange County up to Humboldt County and then another jump back to Colorado and then north, so north, to Interior Alaska back south to Southern California only to leap up to Pacific Northwest. (This epic, whiplash road trip would clock in somewhere around 200 hours, FYI.)

All of this is to say that I REALLY like maps in books and I really, really love to feel a strong sense of place when reading.

Even in the early versions of Nothing Left to Burn, the one I drafted at thirteen, Orange County was present: the Montage in Laguna Beach, the Spectrum in Irvine, Tesoro High School and Las Flores Middle School, Coto De Caza, Dove Canyon, beyond. In 2005, I wrote extensively of Southern California’s September heat, the Santa Ana winds, the June Gloom. This wasn’t a conscious decision–or, if it was, I don’t remember it–but it’s all there in that earnest first go of a novel.

But it wasn’t until I trashed that original version and wrote an entirely new story for Audrey–one that thrusts her into a day’s journey around Orange County–that the setting in NLTB came to the surface loud and clear (I hope!), wildfires and all. From her home that sits of wildland and Coto de Caza, to the Starbucks on Antonio Parkway just outside the gates, back into Coto De Caza to her best friend’s house, again to her own… up to the hospital in Orange, down to Newport, over to Foothill, and more. The 241 to the 133 to the I-5, she rambles. And her summer: the 405 to the 55 to Balboa Island, the dip into the canyon roads in Trabuco Canyon, offroading to the Holy Jim trailhead, etc.

In writing a new story for her, I passed on my obsession with place, with naming locations, to Audrey.

 

 

(As you can see, I’m clearly an amazing map drawer and this is… very directionally accurate (lol).)

It was during my first go at revising this new single-day version that I started sketching haphazard maps and google mapping Audrey’s day relentlessly. I did this in part for fun, to appease my obsession, as well as track her movement. But I also mapped out her day to ensure the time she spends at each location and on the road is realistic (this was a HEADACHE and I FAILED and my editor, copy editors, and proofreaders are SAINTS).  So, perhaps it was during this revision that I became fixated on having an official map for Nothing Left to Burn. Maps in contemporary novels are not a thing, so I knew that any map I had designed wouldn’t be in the book but I still had to have one created. It wasn’t an option. I’ve always been rather self-indulgent. And so I went about having a map designed, all the well knowing that perhaps I’d be the only one who would care about said map. That this map would be my last gift to Audrey.

Catherine Scully is the brilliant designer I brought to the task. And, oh, is she a patient designer. We started with one approach (an accurate topographic-y style) and then another approach and then another. I likely the most frustrating client ever. I’m nitpicky but also easy to confuse and, even more, I’m confusing when articulating my visions. I also went into the collaboration with a REALLY unrealistic concept. I wanted the impossible: a map that was accurate, highways and scale and all. And I wanted this detailed map complete to encompass nearly ALL of Orange County: from the most southern end to the north side. AND I wanted this monster map to have detailed locations for readers to recognize (houses, the pirate ship that I swear exists in Coto, the fire station, and the Balboa Ferris wheel)…

Obviously, I was quite silly.

But as I let go of my obsession with accuracy, as Catherine and I moved forward with our collaboration and I continued to gasp at her talent, this distance-compacted interpretive version of Orange County felt more and more right and true to the story. As we moved closer to the final product, I was reminded of my initial desire to have a map created: for it to be Audrey’s interpretation of the setting in retrospect of her long day and whimsical summer, that–if she were as incredibly talented as Cat–she could have drawn it. I wanted a dreamy map with the ever so slight-blink-and-you-miss-it darkness.

And though it took some time and A LOT of back and forth (because of me), Catherine managed to capture exactly that: the map of my dreams, or, rather, Audrey’s dreams.

From the locations marked, to the detailed mountains, to the surreal colors that so wonderfully match the cover, the focus on Coto, and of course the fire. This map is perfect in that what is significant to Audrey is represented. It so accurately shows how she cloudly recalls her summer with Brooks, and, by the end of the novel, how she compartmentalizes her day’s journey.

And so, at long last, I present to you Nothing Left to Burn’s map!

 

 

(Click here for a closer look!)

I’m obsessed. IN LOVE. My poster-sized version can’t come soon enough. I hope you love it too, especially if you’ve already read Nothing Left to Burn and if you’ll be reading Nothing Left to Burn soon.

And if you do love this map, or like it enough to want your own version in print and you’ve pre-ordered NLTB, head over to my pre-order thank you page to have a GORGEOUS print of this map sent your way (among other gifts!).

*whispers*: the Orange County Institue of Ballet doesn’t exist. It’s the one and only made up location–it had to happen.

And for those asking, why Heather, why the HELL is a STARBUCKS showcased on this map? BECAUSE YOU’LL FIND OUT. Because it’s an inside joke. Because, okay, five (!) (very short! really compelling! fantastic!) chapters are set in that Starbucks. In earlier versions of the book, those chapters were… not good and 100% introspection.  It became a joke among friends. Get Audrey out of the Starbucks. And, of course, I did, I do, but I also brought in some others, and some drama, to the Starbucks. (I’m not some mega Starbucks fan, there are simply no other coffee shops or cafes for Audrey to go in a reasonable proximity!)


What It Means To Finish

Last week I received word from my editor: on my end, NOTHING LEFT TO BURN is complete.

I’m done.

Finished. Done. Complete. In the fall of 2005, I committed to writing a novel about a girl named Audrey. And now, in the fall of 2017, I have finally (FINALLY) finished the task and that story (albeit a very different version of it) is being sent to the printers and will be bound in hardback. What the hell. What the hell. A passion and task that has been in my life FOR LITERALLY HALF OF MY LIFE. What! What does my life look like without a draft of this book waiting on my desktop? What does it look like without the periodic reshuffling of index cards, the swapping an hour for an hour within the plot? What does it look like–a year where I don’t break my heart trying to understand Brooks as a character, all the while trying to reconcile my own teen romance?

What will I do with all of the new space in my mind?
(Continue to attempt to develop and write the three books blinking on my desktop).

And how do I feel having completed the book that has, in some capacity, been haunting me for over a decade?

Relieved.

While finishing my second round of proofreading, I finally let myself acknowledge the weight of this book. Finally, I came to terms with the fact that NLTB hurts. Reading it hurts. Writing it hurt. Revising it hurt. Working on that beast was akin to an intensive therapy session x 10. Perhaps it was self-preservation that I didn’t put a name to the particular ache that developed whenever I turned to work on it.

This book has done me good. This book has seen through my life, acting as a place to periodically return to and shed my skin. This book is a reminder of my life and growing up. Of being a teen. Of learning what it means to be honest. Understanding the weight of identities and how easy it is to take on a story that isn’t your own. I think of NOTHING LEFT TO BURN and I think of being kissed for the first time and, later, the first strike of heartbreak.

I think of living up north in Humboldt County. I was nineteen and I hadn’t opened the manuscript in over half a year. A new document. It was raining in Humboldt but it was burning in Orange County. And, in the span of one hour, I wrote a new first chapter for NLTB: the morning after Audrey loses her virginity, waking to an evacuation. That first chapter has only been minorly tweaked since then, line edits, a paragraph cut and added. I felt something big after fast drafting that new chapter but I never could have guessed it’d stick as well as it did. I never would have imagined that new first chapter would inspire me to center the timeline around a wildfire and trash my original plot, along with what I was trying to say, along with Audrey’s boyfriend who was named Kevin and then named Luke, who then *became* Brooks–someone entirely new.

I think of NOTHING LEFT TO BURN and I think of being curled up on my bedroom floor at fifteen, my first rejection beside me–a written letter, the last hardcopy rejection I’d receive. I think of those tender months after treatment, opening the document for the first time in nearly a year, terrified and thrilled. I think of being fourteen, a Friday night, at my family’s desktop with a Diet Coke, realizing that I preferred writing to social gatherings. I think of being thirteen in the bed when I still had that pink comforter. Thirteen, midday, in bed, half asleep, books stacked around me, the TV on in the background–Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban–thirteen and typing furiously instead of completing my school work.

Thirteen and falling in love with writing for the first time.

This book, so small and quiet as it is, as grown alongside me.

It’s a gift that I didn’t realize the weight of NOTHING LEFT TO BURN until my final read. But perhaps that’s how it is, how it always will be: I won’t understand the pain of each book until I’m letting it go. And that’s the thing, I am finally ready to let Audrey and Brooks go. Finished. Done. I feel complete. It’s a strange thing. A year ago at this time I was diving back in for a significant revision, wondering how the hell I’d possibly be comfortable calling it done within the year.

Surprise. I’m more than satisfied and it’s bonkers surreal.

So how do I feel? I don’t feel much–I’m still processing, surely–but I know I feel grateful. Calm. Relieved. I feel utterly lucky that I have the opportunity to share this story, and to have a clear-cut line that calls it done. (I’m also a tad terrified that it will take me another decade to produce a second book but that’s both unfair, already proven inaccurate, and a post for another day.)

I’m free. Is that a bad way to feel? I don’t think so. I’m free. NOTHING LEFT TO BURN is no longer mine. It belongs to the reader. It belongs to the reader who finds herself in Audrey, in Brooks, in Grace. Or it belongs to the reader who doesn’t click with the story but maybe, maybe, gained something from it regardless–even if it’s a declaration of not being a fan of me and a slight fear of fire. I can say what I think NOTHING LEFT TO BURN is about but, in the end, now, it’s not for me to interpret.

I am so beyond happy, exhausted, relieved.

But, all of that said, cheers to fourteen-year-old me who finished the first draft of that first version, and–I think–would love how the story grew.

I’ve loved the development of this book (and, more than that, my development as a writer) an awful lot, growing pains and heart aches and all.