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Pitch Wars, Editorial Services, Writing Craft

Pitch Wars Wish List 2017

Welcome Pitch Wars hopefuls! I’m excited to be a Pitch Wars 2017 mentor and am looking forward to reading your MG entry.  I know you’ve got a lot of blog posts to read, so I’ll get straight to what I’m looking for. You’ll find a bit more about me and my critiquing style at the end.

Middle Grade Genres I Want to See:

If your MG story fits one of these genres, I want to see it. Please note I welcome ALL kinds of diversity.

  1. Science Fiction: I would LOVE to find a heart-felt sci-fi that features a main character with a strong and compelling character arc. If you’ve got this, please send it to me. Really. I’m a STEM nerd who loves stories that make me cry, so give them to me. Also, my first published story was an Adult Sci-fi that placed 3rd in the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest. Did I mention I love character-driven sci-fi? A recent MG Sci-fi I enjoyed was SPACE CASE by Stuart Gibbs.
  2. Heart-felt Contemporary (especially with a touch of magic or magic realism): This describes my own 2015 PitchWars manuscript to a tee. I love to read and write heartfelt contemporary stories, so please send me yours. Bonus points if it features a girl protagonist engaged in STEM activities. A few recent contemporaries I loved are THE INFINITY YEAR OF AVALON JAMES by Dana Middleton and THE THING ABOUT JELLY FISH by Ali Benjamin.
  3. Historical: I love a story that immerses me in a culture and time period different than my own. In fact one of my current WIPs is a historical fantasy (the others are YA Sci-fi and contemporary MG). A couple favorites are the classics CATHERINE CALLED BIRDY by Karen Cushman and UNDER THE BLOOD-RED SUN by Graham Salisbury.
  4. Fantasy: I love many kinds of fantasy, featuring many kinds of magic systems. I tend to like fantasy that mixes a serious problem with a lovable hero/heroine and a touch of humor. I’m not a fan of fantasy that can be described as cute or precious. A touch of darkness is okay, but I generally don’t like dark fantasy or horror. I’m currently re-reading the HARRY POTTER series by J.K. Rowlings aloud to my kids and am truly impressed with the world-building. The GREGOR THE OVERLANDER series by Suzanne Collins caught my attention as highly imaginative, with great characters and character arcs. Also, two classics, THE BLACK CAULDRON by Lloyd Alexander and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA by C.S. Lewis, rocked my world as a kid and ignited my writing dream. I have a special love for fantasy and want to see yours.
  5. Survival Stories: (Okay, I know this isn’t really a separate genre, but humor me.) Whether contemporary, historical, fantasy or sci-fi, I love stories about kids who step up in a disaster and not just survive, but thrive. Two current favorites are THE SHARK ATTACKS OF 1916 and HURRICANE KATRINA, 2005 both by Lauren Tarshis in the I Surivived Series. Lauren does a great job of creating fabulous characters with strong character arcs while telling a riveting survival story. If you have a survival story that also features strong character arcs, I’d love to see it.

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What I’m Looking for in a Manuscript:

More than a specific genre, I’m looking for a good story with a great main character. One that makes me shout with joy. One that makes me cry. One that makes me see the hero and humanity in all of its amazing characters. Here’s what I’m specifically looking for in a manuscript.

  1. A Good Story – Story is key for me. I want a story that draws me in and keeps me engaged until the end. If you regularly sacrifice story for extra laughs or to add extraneous conflict or adventure, your manuscript is probably not for me.
  2. Believable Characters – Your characters don’t have to be likable, but they do need to be believable (except the main character — he or she should definitely be someone I like).  Believable characters have good and bad characteristics, goals and problems. Believable characters grow and make mistakes and are sometimes truly heroic. Don’t worry if not all of your characters meet this criteria; we will work on this. But the basics of strong, believable characters should be in place.
  3. A Strong MG Voice – Voice can be difficult to pinpoint. One way to judge your manuscript’s voice is to read it aloud and ask yourself if the word choices and speech patterns are consistent with the way a 5th or 6th grader speaks or thinks. Can you imagine a child telling the story? Or does it feel a bit stuffy and adult-ish? Again, we’ll work on keeping voice consistent throughout the manuscript (which can be really tough), but most of your story should already be written with an engaging and believable MG voice.
  4. Engaging Prose – We’ll definitely work on this; almost all writers need some pointers, including me. But I’m looking for someone who already understands the basics of clear, engaging prose.
  5. A Realistic Word Count – If you’re a little over the accepted industry standard for MG (within about 10,000 words), don’t worry; we’ll work on cutting or adding scenes and words. If you are way over (or under), then you need to rethink your story before submitting. It is unlikely an agent or editor will make an exception for you, and neither will I.
  6. A Touch of Magic or Wonder – Whether contemporary, historical, fantasy or sci-fi, does your story capture some of the wonder and magic of childhood? I love MG because I’m still long for this wonder and magic and want to spread it far and wide.

Wonder

What I’m NOT Looking For:

These are not deal-breakers, but in general I am not a fan of:

  1. Omniscient voice (I love deep POV, either first person or third. The deeper the better. I want to feel everything with your characters. It’s been a long time since I loved anything written in omniscient POV.)
  2. Stories whose main purpose is humor. BUT I love humor within a well-crafted story, so definitely send me those. LIFE ON MARS by Jennifer Brown is an example of a great story that also happens to be hysterical.
  3.  Stories written specifically for the younger half of the MG crowd (7 – 10 years). I usually prefer stories for the standard MG crowd (8 – 12) or the upper MG crowd (9-13 years).
  4.  “School Stories” that take place mostly in a school setting and deal with school problems (although of course some of your scenes can take place at school).
  5. Adult characters who seem stupid, unbelievable, overly evil or syrupy sweet. Adult characters should seem as real to me as your kid characters.
  6. Verse Novels. Actually, I love verse novels, but I don’t have any experience writing or critiquing them. If you’ve written a fabulous verse novel, I encourage you to find a mentor who understands this genre better than I.
  7. Horror. A touch of darkness is absolutely okay. I love to see kids grappling with real-life problems and sometimes this means grappling with some darkness. But I don’t want to see any manuscripts whose main purpose is to creep me out or make me shudder.

What I’m Looking for in a Mentee:

Are you . . .

  1. A hard-worker who is serious about their writing career?
  2. Willing to accept constructive criticism, imagine new possibilities, and dig deep for a better story?
  3. Able to work independently and take suggestions and run with them?
  4. Someone who loves children’s literature and infuses their work with the love, compassion and wonder kids crave?

If so, I would love to meet you!

Beach

About Me:

Are you still here? Yay! I’m so happy you are considering me as your mentor. Here’s a little about me.

When I wasn’t reading or listening to stories as a kid, I was writing.Me I wrote a 100-page fan fiction Narnia novel when I was 7 and won lots of awards for my short stories and poetry. When I was 13, I got scared that I wasn’t good enough. About this same time some very practical people pushed me toward a STEM career when they realized I loved math and science, and I ended up with a Ph.D. in agricultural economics. And yes, I do love math and science, especially sustainable agriculture and geeky stuff like statistical analysis and plant taxonomy. But writing is and always will be my first love.

My third manuscript, THE ART OF REAL MAGIC, a MG contemporary with a touch of magic, was chosen by mentor Jessica Vitalis during Pitch Wars 2015. It helped me snag my agent, Lisa Rogers of JABberwocky Literary, and is currently on submission (fingers crossed.) When I’m not writing, you can find me hanging out with my family, gardening, swimming, hiking, camping, rescuing animals or being a stuffy academic (most recently helping to develop a masters degree program in food security for Moscow State University). I live in Missouri with my twin 8 year-old boys, our three rescue cats, our German shepherd mix puppy and a pride of foster kittens.

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Critiquing Style:

I believe strongly in the revision process and LOVE to revise. If you chose to work with me, then I will ask you to dig deep and think about the many amazing and frightening possibilities for your story and characters. We will dig into story structure, scene structure, and strong character arcs for all of your characters (not just the main one). And we will definitely look at character motivation, which is often the difference between a good manuscript and a great one. I strive to be kind and encouraging in my feedback, but I will not let you get away with so-so work if I know you can give me better. You will work hard, with me in your corner, cheering you all the way (although of course, you get to decided which changes you wish to make.)

Here are some testimonials from a few of my critique partners:

“Heidi is great at helping me brainstorm through issues with my stories and is particularly good at pointing out areas where the tension or pace is lagging. She quickly grasps the big-picture of what I’m trying to do and is both whip-smart and supportive in her feedback.”  –Julie Artz  writes magical middle grade and is represented by Jennie Dunham at Dunham Lit and is also a Pitch Wars 2017 mentor. Connect with her on Twitter @JulieArtz.
“Heidi’s thoughtful beta read gave me a roadmap for revision. She pinpointed which character relationships were working and which would benefit from more growth. And her recommendations for strengthening my main character’s character arc were spot on. Thanks, Heidi!” –Priscilla Mizell writes contemporary MG and was a 2015 Pitch Wars Mentee. Find Priscilla on Twitter @PriscillaMizell
“Heidi has an eye for characterization and motive that has elevated me as a writer many times. She has the ability to read with a wide-angle lens that allows her to see where plot restructuring may be needed, whether macro or micro-editing. She explains herself well, and has learned the (sometimes difficult) skill of remaining encouraging while holding writers accountable to be their best.” –Amy Whitley writes thrillers, sci-fi and mainstream fiction, while maintaining her career as a free-lance travel writer. Find her at http://www.amywhitley.com
“Heidi has a sharp eye for structure and never settles for the obvious solution. She always takes the time to dig deep and think things through. Her observations have been invaluable to me even though I write women’s fiction and she writes middle grade. A good eye transcends genre.” –Kate Basi writes women’s fiction and placed 3rd in the WFWA’s 2014 Rising Star contest with her manuscript WINE WIDOW. Find Kate at https://kathleenbasi.com

If you would like to read a bit more about what my critique partners have to say about my critiquing style and editorial eye click here.

Thank you for reading all the way to end of my PitchWars 2017 wish list. I’m looking forward to reading your entry and am ready to go to battle for you.

If you’d like to go back to Brenda’s main mentor blog hop post, click here. Or check out some of the other MG mentor’s blogs by clicking on their names below.

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Middle Grade, Pitch Wars, Editorial Services, Writing Craft

Ten Rules for Adult Characters in Middle Grade Fiction

1) Adults represent some of the most important relationships in a child’s life. Craft them with as much care as you do your young characters, and your readers will thank you.

2) Adults are people, too. Give them some good characteristics to go along with their faults and vice versa.

3) Adults can make mistakes, but they shouldn’t act stupidly. They need plausible reasons for the mistakes they make. And kids need to be very clever to outsmart them.

4) Adults need character arcs, too. What do your adults learn through the action of the story? How are they changed for better or worse?

5) Adults can be helpful and supportive.

6) But adults cannot save the day. Your kid characters need to get out of their own messes, especially during the climax of your story.

7) Adults can get in your hero or heroines’ way and make it hard for them to achieve their goals. In fact, it’s fun for kids if most of the adults in the story present an obstacle for the hero or heroine to overcome instead of giving them a helping hand (and it can be really fun if an adult does both.)

8) Adults need reasons for the way they act and the things they say. Not all of these reasons need to make it into the story, but you should know them.

9) Adults can be important or even main characters in your story, but make sure you have at least one other child or young teen for your hero or heroine to interact with. Kids like to read about kids interacting with other kids.

10) Have fun creating adult characters your readers will love.

 

Pitch Wars, Editorial Services, Writing Craft

2017 Pitch Wars Mentor

I’m excited to announce that I’ve been chosen as a 2017 Pitch Wars Mentor. Pitch Wars helped me to grow immensely as a writer and a beta reader. My new revising skills and understanding of story structure led me to my wonderful agent Lisa Rogers of JABberwocky Literary Agency and have given me the confidence to work with industry professionals and to advise writers of all experience levels.

Learn more about Pitch Wars here.

critiquing, Editorial Services, Writing Craft

Editorial Services

Do you need help bringing out the magic in your manuscript? I offer editorial services, including query critiques, first chapter critiques, three chapter critiques and full-manuscript critiques. I also offer gentle critiques for those who aren’t sure they are ready for criticism, but want a few gentle suggestions for improvement.

If interested, send me a note here.

If you’d like to know more about what my critique partners have to say about my critiquing style and my editorial eye, click here.

As I work on developing this site, I’ll post more information about what I offer, prices, etc. Thanks for your patience.

Photo credit here.

 

critiquing, Pitch Wars, Editorial Services, Writing Craft

Testimonials

Here is what some of my critique partners have to say about my critiquing style and editorial eye.

“I have had the honor to have been in the same writers’ group as Heidi Stallman for over fifteen years. She has beta read for all five of my published novels, plus several others. I can say with assurance that I would never have been published without the feedback from this group, and from Ms. Stallman in particular. She has a wonderful knack for helping authors see how their work could be improved. Her feedback is both positive and insightful, allowing a writer to see both the strengths and the weaknesses of a manuscript. I consider myself lucky to have a writer and critique partner of such talent at my disposal.”  —Brian Katcher, author of ALMOST PERFECT, (winner of the 2011 Stonewall Book Award), PLAYING WITH MATCHES (winner of the 2011 North Carolina Young Adult Book Award), EVERYONE DIES IN THE END, THE IMPROBABLE THEORY OF ANA AND ZAK, and DEACON LOCKE WENT TO PROM. Find Brian at http://briankatcher.com/site/

“Heidi has a sharp eye for structure and never settles for the obvious solution. She always takes the time to dig deep and think things through. Her observations have been invaluable to me even though I write women’s fiction and she writes middle grade. A good eye transcends genre.” —Kate Basi writes women’s fiction and placed 3rd in the WFWA’s 2014 Rising Star contest with her manuscript WINE WIDOW. Find Kate at https://kathleenbasi.com

“Heidi has an eye for characterization and motive that has elevated me as a writer many times. She has the ability to read with a wide-angle lens that allows her to see where plot restructuring may be needed, whether macro or micro-editing. She explains herself well, and has learned the (sometimes difficult) skill of remaining encouraging while holding writers accountable to be their best.” —Amy Whitley writes thrillers, sci-fi and mainstream fiction, while maintaining her career as a free-lance travel writer. Find her at http://www.amywhitley.com

“Heidi is great at helping me brainstorm through issues with my stories and is particularly good at pointing out areas where the tension or pace is lagging. She quickly grasps the big-picture of what I’m trying to do and is both whip-smart and supportive in her feedback.” —Julie Artz writes magical middle grade and is represented by Jennie Dunham at Dunham Lit and is also a Pitch Wars 2017 mentor. Connect with her on Twitter @JulieArtz.

“Heidi is able to pinpoint problems in a manuscript and offer helpful advice. She’s always kind and thorough, but also is honest about what a writer should address. She thinks deeply about what’s working and what’s not. Any mentee would be lucky to work with her.” —Elizabeth Leis-Newman writes Women’s Fiction and was a 2015 Pitch Wars Mentee. Find Elizabeth on twitter @TigerELN.

“Heidi’s thoughtful beta read gave me a roadmap for revision. She pinpointed which character relationships were working and which would benefit from more growth. And her recommendations for strengthening my main character’s character arc were spot on. Thanks, Heidi!” —Priscilla Mizell writes contemporary MG and was a 2015 Pitch Wars Mentee. Find Priscilla on twitter @PriscillaMizell.

“Heidi has a keen eye for plot structure. She’s great about reminding me that making the words sound pretty isn’t enough to carry  story.” —Ida Fogle writes mainstream fiction with a literary flair and can be found on twitter @damari19.

 

Pitch Wars, Editorial Services, Writing Craft

Your First Page

Ten Questions Readers Should be Able to Answer After Reading Your First Page:

1) Who is the main character? If we have not met your main character yet, you need to have a really good reason (and he or she needs to show up soon.)

2) Where is the main character? Ground us in the scene with enough details that we can picture the setting for ourselves (but not so many details that we get bogged down).

 3) Is there a feeling that not all is as it seems? There should be a hint of mystery behind the character’s actions that we don’t completely understand (But it shouldn’t be so mysterious that it confuses us and make us think, “What the heck is going on?”)

4) What is going on?  (see above)

5) Are the characters doing something? (And is that something interesting or important to the story?)

6) What’s important to the main character or makes the character tick? A good way show the reader this to start the story with your main character engaged in an activity that is important to him/her or important to the story problem, such as a hobby, sport, responsibility etc.

7) What is the main character’s goal in this scene?

8) What are the stakes of not reaching this goal (spelled out or implied)?

9) Who or what might get in the way of the main character reaching this goal? Remember, the best story conflict happens when characters take action to achieve his/her goals and are met with resistance.

10) What is the main story problem or theme? Make sure you drop some hints about at least one, if not both, of these in the first few pages, enough that the reader could make a good guess.

Bonus Question: Can you tell the story in one line? The first line (or two in MG) is a great place to drop a big hint about the theme or story problem – something that helps reader understand the essence of your story from the start and draws them in.