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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
What I’m NOT Looking For:
These are not deal-breakers, but in general I am not a fan of:
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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).
- “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).
- Adult characters who seem stupid, unbelievable, overly evil or syrupy sweet. Adult characters should seem as real to me as your kid characters.
- 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.
- 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 . . .
- A hard-worker who is serious about their writing career?
- Willing to accept constructive criticism, imagine new possibilities, and dig deep for a better story?
- Able to work independently and take suggestions and run with them?
- 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!
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. 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.
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.