Tammy Oja – #WriteMentor Success Stories

Tammy, what about Candace’s bio convinced you to sub to her?

Everything. Candace (@Literarydust) is dynamic, outgoing, and kind. She’s got great editing game and her writing style is quick pacing and a great punch without hiding behind flowery words or fluff. She has it all. I still message her all the time, and I consider her a great friend.

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Candace, what made you fall in love with Bird?

I felt it was a unique story with a cool paranormal vibe. I was also drawn to the sisterly bond in the story, because yes Casey loves her sister Bird, but you can also feel the frustration of what she goes through because of Bird’s problem.

Tammy, looking back, what was your favorite part of the #WriteMentor experience?

That’s a punch of a question. It’s a tie between gaining so many friends and all the learning that took place. I really got a chance to see things from another perspective. One night, Candace worked with me live with the whole process happening in real time on my screen and I couldn’t believe how much it changed me to see it. It was one of the best experiences, and I wish I could write like that with someone everyday.

Candace, tell us what it was like working with Tammy?

Let me just say that Tammy is the sweetest person I’ve ever worked with. And I mean seriously, so incredibly nice. Also, she’s easy to work with. When I received the manuscript back from her, I could see all the hard work she’d put in!

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Tammy, what was the most surprising part of the #WriteMentor experience?

Getting in. It’s such a close-knit community and everything is so positive. Even those who didn’t get in this time are still connected to the group and it just feels like I’ve known everyone so much longer than since the start.

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Tammy, the revision process is only three months and can be intense. Tell us about your revisions and how you dealt with constructive criticism from Candace.What advice do you have for future mentees?

I’ve always loved constructive criticism. Things can’t improve without another outlook and sometimes looking outside the box you’re in. Candace and a couple of the other mentors gave me some great feedback right off the bat. With Candace, she was eager to hear my rationale for things and offer her own when she saw changes she thought should take place. She was really open to my vision, and sharing hers. She allowed me to contemplate the changes by relating it to the whole story concept. She was literally the perfect mentor for me and I was so lucky to have gotten her. As far as advice for other mentees – listen, weigh, play the scene in your head and do your best to see it for what it is. Constructive criticism isn’t a reflection of you, or your work—it’s just another view. We so often see that word in a negative light, but it’s most often given because someone is invested, cares about the outcome, and can see something maybe you couldn’t.  You don’t have to accept every change, but not being open and honest about their validity only hurts your growth.

Tammy, after #WriteMentor, you signed with Ann Rose of The Prospect Agency. Give us all the details of “The Call.”

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Can I have 7 pages to gush this out? It was straight out of my dreams. When Ann called it probably should have felt intimidating or awkward, but it didn’t. It was an easy conversation and within just a couple minutes, I was overwhelmed by how much I wanted her to be part of my journey. She had really taken time and put in effort. She already knew my manuscript inside and out. We talked about the characters, the pacing, the place it was now, and where it had the potential to be. It was such natural communication that I felt like I had already storyboarded with her and that she knew exactly what I was trying to accomplish. Afterward, she told me exactly what kind of agent she is, and what to expect from her. I won’t share everything…because some things should just be experienced, but it was a moment I’ll never forget. When we ended the call I felt different, lighter, and my mind buzzed with the excitement of wanting to see the whole picture the way she did.  When I signed the contract, I was a mess. Not just because of how thankful I was to be here and how many people played a vital role, but because I know without a doubt Ann is exactly who I was supposed to be with.  I want the entire writing world to have that experience, so….everyone should probably query Ann. (Sorry, Ann. You’re amazing).

What does your writing process look like?

Tammy: Messy first drafts with holes and scattered moments. Lots of surprises that I didn’t see coming. Then labor intensive painful second and third drafts that make me hate my first draft process. Then serious remorse about previous drafts until I begin to see the weaving of where the story wants to be and then slowly chiseling it there line by line.  Sort of.

You’re on deadline! What are your go-to writing snacks?

Candace: It would have to be white chocolate, preferably white chocolate Reeses. And! Red velvet cake and nachos would be a bonus.

What fictional character would you like to spend a day with?

Candace: Warner from Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi. He’s perfectly awesome!

What author has most inspired you, and why?

Candace: I’d like to say the classics, but I can’t. It would have to be Sarah J. Maas because her books are so well written. The fact that she can write such big books amazes me too! I need those skills!

Tell us about your favorite writing spot.

Tammy: My favorite writing spot is at my kitchen table.  It’s in the back of my house, so there isn’t much noise and I tuck myself in the corner in silence. Distraction doesn’t bother me for first drafts, I can do that anywhere, but revisions and edits, silence and safety are mandatory.

What fictional world would you most like to live in?

Tammy: To be honest, none. This world is enough for me, beautiful, terrifying, and filled with more than I could see in a lifetime. I’ll take this one and all it’s mystery…that’s a lifetime of discovery right there.

Candace: The 80s! When everyone wasn’t glued to a cell phone!

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What is your favorite book (or series). Why?

Tammy: My favorite book is The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. It’s the first book that caused me to hurt deeply over fictional characters. It’s family, and sacrifice, and pain, and pleasure, and an incredible look at how far people will go to fight for what they believe.

What author would you most like to cowrite with? Why?

Tammy: Margaret Atwood. Because I love the fact that she see’s everything on a plane that’s just above and below reality. She writes what could be in a way that just too close to the line to be comfortable and in all her work there’s that moment of realization that good and bad aren’t ever without varying degrees of both.  Her evil is usually founded in desperation and drive and her good is never just for the sake of goodness.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Tammy: Reading (best passion ever), movies, a brain that always heads straight to the worst scenario possible. Books have always been my adventure friends, and when I was young and finished one, I’d take those characters in my head and move them forward into new territories and clash them with other characters so the time I had with them wouldn’t be over. I think that helped me a lot, being that kid.

Candace: Movies, books, and my weird brain!

Tammy OjaTammy Oja always has her head in a book – which explains why she’s constantly tripping. She works full time as a nurse and is a mom to 2 teens and 2 puppies. Her motto for life is kindness always wins.

If she’s not at work, you can find her at the kitchen table revising or procrastinating on Twitter.

27654619_10155885468080751_8308789254962904984_nCandace Robinson spends her days consumed by words. When she’s not writing stories, she maintains a book review blog. Her life consists of avoiding migraines, admiring Bonsai trees, and living with her husband and daughter in Texas—where it can be forty degrees one day and eighty the next.

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AJ Sass – #WriteMentor Success Stories

AJ, what about Caroline’s bio convinced you to sub to her?

So many things. Caroline is a writer of an award-winning contemporary Middle Grade manuscript, for one. Since my #WriteMentor submission was my first attempt at Middle Grade-anything, her experience in that age category was a big plus to this newbie novelist. Her stated mentoring style—forthright about what doesn’t work, offset by positive comments about what does—appealed to me as someone who is shy about sharing my writing. It also didn’t hurt that she’d mentioned she is the mother of four boys. If anyone could assess whether my characters’ dialogue was coming off as authentic, I figured it’d be Caroline.

Initially, Caroline was offering a query package (synopsis, query letter, and first three chapters), which I thought would be a great way to get more comfortable with having my writing critiqued. Imagine my surprise on announcement day when I learned Caroline had not only chosen me but changed her mentoring package to a full manuscript review until it was query-ready. It was an intense summer of revisions and craft homework, but I’m so grateful for the experience.

Caroline, what made you fall in love with ANA ON THE EDGE?

From the first few lines, I was centre ice with Ana. AJ pulled me into Ana’s world of ice-skating and pushed me back into books I loved in my childhood, like Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes, where the reader gets a glimpse into the passion and dedication that a rising star must possess. The writing was beautiful – quite simple and stark at times, but rhythmic and with some exquisite turns of phrase. I almost dissuaded myself from choosing it, because I wasn’t sure I was the right person for a story about a young girl exploring her gender identity; but I decided that I could mentor on the story structure and pacing and even down to a line-edit level. The truth of the story felt very valid to me, so I didn’t need to even comment on that.

AJ, looking back, what was your favorite part of the #WriteMentor experience?

Two things: a dedicated point-person I could reach out to whenever I had questions, concerns, or frustrations and the community I became a part of as a result of my participation in the program.

First, Caroline has been where I was at the beginning of #WriteMentor. She understood what it was like to stare at tens of thousands of words in a first draft, wondering how you can possibly rework them into something coherent. I had some ideas for revising certain parts of my manuscript already, which I shared with Caroline early on. Maybe I could’ve revised fine on my own, but the process definitely would’ve taken longer and been filled with more self-doubt. Caroline was the sounding board I needed, someone I could turn to and bounce ideas off of to ensure sure I was headed in the right direction. Working with a more experienced writer who was invested in my success gave me the confidence to see the potential in my manuscript so I could effectively apply edits.

Second, writing can be such a solitary, isolating activity. I know very few people offline who write fiction, and it can sometimes feel like I exist in a vacuum. #WriteMentor introduced me to a wonderful group of mentorship program hopefuls right from the outset. I’ve stayed in touch with many of these writers over the summer, as well as taken the leap into being a more active member of Twitter’s writing community. Everyone is at a different stage in their writing journey, but the community is steadfast in its positivity and support. I may not have gotten as involved if it hadn’t been for #WriteMentor and other writers’ use of the program’s Twitter hashtag on the lead-up to the mentee announcements, throughout the summer, and ongoing as we gear up for the Children’s Novel Award.

And a bonus third: I love that the #WriteMentor community is inclusive. Whether you worked with a mentor this summer or didn’t, or maybe just heard about the program more recently, you’re welcomed into the fold and encouraged to support everyone else.

Caroline, tell us what it was like working with AJ.

He was amazing. You know that star pupil who sits in the front row and asks pertinent questions and always does their homework – that was AJ. His work ethic is impeccable. Puts me to shame, quite frankly.

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AJ, what was the most surprising part of the #WriteMentor experience?

I thought it was going to be revisions since I’d never done any on a full manuscript before, but it was actually how much prep-work Caroline assigned prior to giving me the go-ahead to revise. At first, it was hard not to compare my progress with other mentees who seemed to have leapt straight into revisions within hours of the mentee announcement. I wanted that to be me too, especially because I’d already taken notes about how to rework the first third of my novel while I waited to see who’d been chosen for the program. (I also don’t think I ever voiced this frustration to my mentor, so sorry if you’re hearing about this for the first time, Caroline! By the time I got comfortable enough in our mentor-mentee relationship to say something, it became a moot point as I’d already seen the light.)

That said, I also recognized that I was the green one in this pairing, and my initial skepticism didn’t stop me from working my way through each and every assignment. I completed work on theme to get to the heart of my story, devised novel loglines which later came in handy for Twitter pitch contests, fleshed out secondary character backgrounds, and completed thirty pages of detailed scene beats. Caroline even suggested I create a color-coded chart of major character arcs. I am neither an artist nor a particularly visual person, but I did my best. It came out looking like a literary subway map (also had my boyfriend wondering if I’d gone a bit mad after I proudly propped it up by the wall beside my writing desk).

I finally understood Caroline’s reasoning for assigning me all that homework when she gave me the go-ahead to start revising in mid-July. I printed out each assignment and referred back to my notes every single time I sat down to make changes. Even when I had to go off-script and make edits I hadn’t initially envisioned, they were so much simpler to implement when I had my homework in front of me. Caroline’s assignments allowed me to dig deeper, to learn more about my story and characters, something I hadn’t had the time to do while I was initially drafting my story. These are strategies I can take with me and make use of for future projects, so I’m glad I put the work in and stuck with Caroline’s style of mentorship for the long haul.

AJ, the revision process is only three months and can be intense. Tell us about your revisions and how you dealt with constructive criticism from Caroline.What advice do you have for future mentees?

My traditional revisions didn’t start until around the seventh week of a twelve-week program. Intense, indeed! I also happened to be out of the country for two weeks during that time. Caroline and I operated differently than some of the other mentorship partnerships I’ve heard about, in that we chatted back and forth about some of my revision ideas but she told me to sit tight until I’d completed my homework. Once I had the go-ahead, I started my revisions. The first half of my manuscript was relatively straightforward since I’d been thinking about how to rework a secondary plot point for two months by then.

It was the second half of the story that involved the most teeth gnashing for me. Possibly, this was because I was revising while traveling (and trying to remind myself I needed to chill out since it was meant to be a holiday!), but it may also have been because the second half of my story was rougher than the first. It was still in first draft format at the time I applied to #WriteMentor.

Since I was still revising in the month leading up to the end of the program, I would send Caroline a handful of chapters at a time to look at. She’d pass back feedback that I’d review whenever I needed a break from heavier rewrites. Caroline’s notes were on-point and helped me in a variety of areas: reworking dialogue to make it sound more authentic, clarifying skating terms that might not make sense to a non-skater, suggesting add-ons to flesh out scenes that ended too abruptly, and some straight-up line edits when I’d flubbed something that my word processor didn’t catch (compliment ≠complement!). For the most part, her feedback involved enhancements. My homework took care of the need for more extensive rewrites by the time I sent Caroline my chapters.

Until the final third of my story, anyway. That’s when Caroline rolled up her sleeves and sent me back loads of notes that basically boiled down to, “okay, so. This part? Doesn’t work.”

As someone who was already shy about sharing my writing with others, feedback of this nature can be devastating, even if it’s presented in a constructive way. My face gets hot. Self-doubt sets in fast. It’s easy to forget why I sought out a mentor in the first place.

I’ve worked with beta readers and critique partners. I know constructive criticism is meant to make my story stronger. But still, my first read-through of this type of feedback tends to lead to an initially negative reaction.

My advice to other writers is this: embrace it. Own that emotion, acknowledge how you’re feeling, and step away for as long as you need to mull over the feedback received. For me, this usually takes a day. Possibly two. During that time, I won’t return to look at it. I also won’t reread my manuscript. I do other, non-writing related activities but keep the feedback in mind, mentally working through it. Nine times out of ten, I have a gut feeling as to whether or not I agree with what was said. Once I’ve had time to process, I grab a sheet of paper and scribble down a plan of attack. Only then do I return to my computer and dig in for more revision.

And Caroline’s feedback? The part of my manuscript she didn’t think was working? She was right. It just took me some time to realize that she wasn’t telling me I’d failed as a writer. She did her job in pointing out that my story’s climax could be stronger. By the time the mentorship period came to an end, the story I’d submitted three months earlier was still there, but it was far more polished. Where before it was just a mesh of words and scenes that didn’t quite get to the crux of my intended theme, the characters now feel alive to me.

Even better? My mentorship with Caroline equipped me with the ability to accept and evaluate constructive feedback, a skill I’ll be able to use again and again as I take my next steps and begin edits with my agent (and hopefully one day with a publishing house editor).

AJ, after #WriteMentor, you signed with Jordan Hamessley of New Leaf Literary. Give us all the details of “The Call.”

Sure! Except it wasn’t actually a call, and thanks to a major oversight on my part I almost didn’t query Jordan at all.

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You know those non-writing related activities I mentioned above? One of them involved researching and creating a handwritten list of dream agents to query once my manuscript was polished. Later on, once the #WriteMentor program was done, I transferred the agent info to a color-coded spreadsheet so I could keep track of the queries I planned to send. Jordan’s name was on my initial list, but it never got transferred to its digital equivalent.

About a week and a half after I started querying (just about the time when I’d started fixating on how empty my inbox was looking, incidentally), I returned to my original list to update it. There was no reason for me to do this since everything was already in my spreadsheet, but the querying process induces the desire to do odd, unproductive tasks to pass time. As I scanned the original list, my eyes snagged on the entry I’d written for Jordan. I didn’t remember anything about my query package to her, so I cross-checked my spreadsheet, only to discover she wasn’t on it.

I did some internet sleuthing to confirm that she still did in fact take on manuscripts in my preferred age categories and genres, spent a good deal of time fawning over her #MSWL entries and kicking myself for my flub-up, then sent her my query materials. A few hours later, Jordan requested my full manuscript. A couple days after that, she emailed again, saying she’d love to find a time to chat about my story and writing goals. Since we live relatively close to one another, she said we could even meet in person.

In the end, “The Call” became a meet-up at a café inside a bookstore, and I can’t imagine a more perfect setting to discuss all things writing. I learned more about Jordan’s background and what led her from a decade on the editorial side of publishing to now representing authors directly as an agent. We discussed my manuscript, plus my ideas for future projects, I asked approximately 4 frajillion questions, and after a wonderful chat, Jordan officially offered representation. I’m still glowing about it.

What does your writing process look like?

AJ– I like prompts, those given to me and ones I come up with myself. Often, I get a character or a concept in my head that I fall in love with. As a long-time pantser, I used to take that idea and run with it, which often had me writing myself into a corner.

My approach for ANA ON THE EDGE was different. While I still started with a concept I found compelling (nationally competitive ice skater navigates gender identity in a rigidly gendered sport), I only got two chapters in before I stopped and decided to outline. So often in the past I’ve gotten stuck when whatever character or theme initially drew me in turned out to be a plotless dead-end. I didn’t want the same to happen with ANA, so I took time to ensure I had a roadmap. That made all the difference. Then I wrote like the wind so I’d have something to edit (my favorite part).

Was my first draft perfect? Not by a long shot. But it was far easier to identify what needed to be reworked when I knew where I wanted to end up by the final page.

It also helps to give myself a deadline. This is probably a throwback from my university and law school days, but I’m far more productive when I feel like there’s an expectation to have something complete by a specific date. I’m a big fan of daily checklists and spreadsheets. Once I’d outlined ANA, I created a spreadsheet with each chapter down one column, their start and first draft completion dates in the next two, plus word counts and the approximate percentage of overall manuscript completion. It definitely helped to see my progress laid out like that.

Caroline– Am I supposed to have a process? Okay, after hours/weeks/months of procrastination, I’ll make a few notes and start writing chapter one. I’m very linear – I don’t like dotting about and doing exciting climax scenes and then going back to find everything before makes no sense. After the first chapter, I usually realize I’m floundering and will go back and plot – I’m a big fan of Blake Snyder’s Beats Sheet. The Plotstormers course from WritersHQ www.writershq.co.ukis also hugely beneficial and brings clarity to some pretty muddy waters.

I edit a lot as I write. I know it’s frowned upon, but I don’t like the ‘zero draft’, ‘throw anything on the page’ idea. My first draft is usually quite polished as I re-read and make changes as I go along – even line edits that I know might be a waste of time later on. But I feel uncomfortable leaving detritus in my wake, so to speak.

Having said that, THE TRUTH ABOUT CHICKENS nearly doubled in lengths during revisions as I added layers and subplots and amplified emotions. So maybe it was a half-draft, rather than a zero draft?

You’re on deadline! What are your go-to writing snacks?

AJ– Boba Thai tea makes my life better. Always. I’m also a big fan of popcorn and brownie brittle (not necessarily in the same sitting!).

Caroline– ooh, what does Marks & Spencer have on the shelves? Salted caramel and Belgian chocolate popcorn is never a bad idea. And cheesy, salty things. Any kind of crackers with cheese. And more cheese. Yum!

What fictional world would you most like to live in?

AJ– Time City from Diana Wynne Jones’s A TALE OF TIME CITY would be a pretty awesome place to call home (after the events in the book, anyway!). It’s a city built far in the future on a patch of space outside of time itself. Its residents oversee all of history. I can think of no place cooler to live than a city full of time ghosts, where vending machines carry cuisine from various centuries and there’s ample opportunity to meet tourists visiting from other time periods.

Caroline– most fictional worlds are dangerous, so I’d steer clear, personally. I’m a risk-averse homebody. But when I was little, I desperately wanted to be in the Lake District with the crew from SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS, living their slightly feral, benignly neglected lifestyle. And I wouldn’t have minded experiencing the miniature world of THE BORROWERS – I loved their ingenious use of found items. But right now, the fictional world I would like to live in is one in which my sons pick their dirty socks off the floor and put them in the laundry basket.

What is your favorite book (or series). Why?

AJ– I … am incapable of picking just one. By and large, the books I love most, the ones that I repeatedly reread, are those that made me feel something when I was a kid and that continue to invoke an emotional response as an adult. Excitement. Hope. Fear. Grief. It doesn’t matter. If a story has the ability to draw me in, it’s a winner.

Some examples: THE GIVER – Lois Lowry; ONE MORE RIVER & BROKEN BRIDGE – Lynne Reid Banks; A TIME FOR DANCING – Davida Wills Hurwin; THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC – Jane Yolen; MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH series – Robert C. O’Brien; DOGSBODY – Diana Wynne Jones; TUCK EVERLASTING – Natalie Babbitt.

Caroline– I agree with AJ. Impossible to pick just one. I always come back to LITTLE WOMEN for the familial warmth and emotional trauma. I will never not be heartbroken by Beth’s death. Middle-grade favourites include CRENSHAW – Katherine Applegate, THE WOLF WILDER – Katherine Rundell; THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET – Brian Selznick; SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS – Jack Cheng; GOODNIGHT MISTER TOM – Michelle Magorian. The last one, for example, is flawed in many ways, but as I had tears in my eyes so many times, I know it will stay with me for a long time.

Where does your inspiration come from?

AJ– I answered this a little already when I described my writing process. What it comes down to for me is a desire to produce books that would’ve made me feel seen as a child or teen. I want to write stories my past self would’ve read multiple times, plus characters I would’ve wanted to be friends with. I read a lot as a kid, but rarely did I ever see characters like myself in print. I want more queer and neurodiverse representation in children’s literature, not just in traditional ‘issues’ books but in all genres of kidlit. I want autistic and queer characters just living their lives on the pages of stories that sometimes, but don’t always, relate to their identities. That’s my goal and it’s often what inspires me when I decide to put in the time to turn an inkling of an idea into a full-fledged story.

Caroline– my book that is out on submission, THE TRUTH ABOUT CHICKENS, was inspired by a magazine article about a man who, having been abused as a child, adopted ex-battery hens. Caring for those birds turned his life around. I loved the idea of ‘a boy and his chickens’ story, instead of ‘a boy and his dog’. I have another work in progress that was inspired by the total eclipse of the sun in 2017. And another that is very loosely based on my sons’ expat lifestyle. And I also write flash fiction, which can be inspired by anything – a day out with family, a throwaway comment from a child, distant memories, half-forgotten dreams…

AJSass2AJ Sass is a fiction-writing figure skater, inclined toward adventures of a traveling nature. He is autistic, non-binary, and keen on exploring how gender identity and neurodiversity impact character narratives. An avid figure skater, AJ is a U.S. Figure Skating double gold medalist in Moves and Free Skate, a silver medalist in Ice Dance, and a member of the 2018 national bronze medalist Masters synchronized skating team, IceSymmetrics. AJ grew up in the Midwest, came of age in the South, and currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his boyfriend and two cats who act like dogs.

Twitter: matokah

Instagram: matokah

Facebook: AuthorAJ

Website: sassinsf.com

Caroline MurphyCaroline Murphy is a former magazine editor and freelance journalist, specialising in design and home interiors. She moved from the UK to Singapore in 2004, followed by Hong Kong in 2006, and returned to the North-East of England in 2017, with a husband and four young boys in tow. She is now a full-time mother and part-time writer. Her middle-grade novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT CHICKENS, was shortlisted for the Joan Aiken Future Classics Award, and has just gone out on submission.

Twitter: @boybandmanager

 

 

Michael Lunsford – #WriteMentor Success Stories

Michael Lunsford recently took part in our #WriteMentor programme and has now gone onto sign with a literary agent for his story, DEREK HYDE KNOWS SPOOKY WHEN HE SEES IT. Congratulations on your recent signing, Michael! Everyone at #WriteMentor is delighted for you!

Michael, what about Carolyn and Emma’s bios convinced you to sub to them?

That’s easy! Carolyn wrote, “I love chillers and thrillers and pacey nail-biting stuff. Horror is my main love, and mixing that with comedy my ultimate wish. If you’ve written something weird I am definitely interested.” Emma wrote, “I would really love to see some chapter books or Middle Grade in all of genres, but especially Humour, Fantasy or Thriller.” Sounded like a perfect fit!

Emma, what made you fall in love with DEREK HYDE KNOWS SPOOKY WHEN HE SEES IT?

I loved the pitch and the character names. It hooked me straight in and made me really want to know what was going to happen to the main character. The whole concept had the sort of quirky humour and concept that really appeals to me.

Carolyn, what made you fall in love with DEREK HYDE KNOWS SPOOKY WHEN HE SEES IT?

There aren’t many MG stories that grab me like that one did. It was clever and weird, and made me laugh. I had already picked two other mentees, but then Emma suggested working on it together and how could I refuse?

Michael, looking back, what was your favorite part of the #WriteMentor experience?

The edits I received from both Carolyn and Emma were great! And they were enormously supportive through the whole process. Even after all the editing and revision, they were so encouraging and wise in their suggestions about my querying process. I don’t think I’d be agented if it weren’t for them.

Emma, tell us what it was like working with Michael.

I loved Michael’s enthusiasm and commitment. He is a fast worker and soon got each set of edits done. We were able to brainstorm ideas and see which Michael felt would work best for his story.

Carolyn, tell us what it was like working with Michael.

Michael was super-committed and thrilled with the suggestions, he was great to work with.

Michael, what was the most surprising part of the #WriteMentor experience?

I was most surprised, and hugely gratified, that both Carolyn and Emma really “got” me. My humor is definitely quirky and weird, and rather more British than American, I’ve always thought. They both agreed!

Michael, the revision process is only three months and can be intense. Tell us about your revisions and how you dealt with constructive criticism from Carolyn and Emma. What advice do you have for future mentees?

Amazingly, I agreed with and made changes based on almost all of the suggested edits. I did receive one suggestion that I agonized over, and finally rejected—albeit very apologetically. The response was, “Hey, it’s your call! Edits are suggestions only, no need to feel badly.” So that’s my advice to future mentees.

Michael, after #WriteMentor, you signed with Patty Carothers of Metamorphosis. Give us all the details of “The Call.”

Patty Carothers of Metamorphosis Literary wrote in her email, “I’d love to get you on the phone and discuss the possibility of you being rep’d by Metamorphosis.” So I felt pretty confident going into “The Call.” I was delighted, though, when she told me her 8-year-old son (who hates to read) read the whole book to her out loud in 3 evenings—and they both loved it. That enthusiasm convinced me more than anything else that she was the right agent for me.

What does your writing process look like?

Michael – I started as a pantser, but after my first book I realized that this was not the most efficient way to write. Now I try to outline first—though I have to admit, it’s tough!

Emma – I also started as a pantser, but over the years I’ve evolved into a plotser. I’m not quite a full on plotter, but I do like to do a pitch, blurb, synopsis and chapter by chapter notes before starting any project now.

Carolyn – I start with the barest skeleton, but usually pants a few chapters and then plot from there once I’ve got the voice.

What fictional character would you like to spend a day with?

Michael – Captain John Yossarian, from the novel CATCH-22. It would be great to hang out with his offbeat and courageously irreverent view of the world for a day.

Emma – The Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, because we’d always have plenty of tea, cakes and fancy hats!

Carolyn – Cassandra Mortmain from I Capture The Castle. She could show me round the place and then we could light a bonfire and dance!

What author has most inspired you, and why?

Michael – I discovered William Faulkner when I was in my 20s, and read every novel he wrote. His voice, characters and themes were always impressive and inspirational to me.

Emma – So many have influenced and inspired me, but I would say that Neil Gaiman is the one who inspires me the most. I love his variety of styles and genres, and his offbeat approach to any story. There are many YouTube videos of him giving writing advice, well worth a watch!

Carolyn – I’m inspired in different ways by different authors – from Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, Stephen King’s horrific imagination, Michael Crichton’s science thrillers… I’m fascinated by anyone who can write prose that grips me with that magic feeling that makes me never want to stop reading. I’ve recently been impressed by The Thirteen Treasures by Michelle Harrison and Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff; also any Enid Blyton which I can read endlessly even now.

What is your favorite book (or series). Why?

Michael – The Nobel-prize-winning 100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE, by Gabriel García Márquez. It’s epic, rich with vivid prose, and un-put-downable. I would love to write a magical realism book myself some day.

Emma – I have so many favourites! But if pushed I suppose anything by Matt Haig or Neil Gaiman, especially Neverwhere by Gaiman. With Gaiman, I love how he can transport you from the seemingly real to somewhere totally surreal.

Carolyn – Do enjoy a good series, Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike books are fab… but Malory Towers, I mean come on. Classics. Also at this late stage I’m reading the last two Harry Potters for the first time and I’ve been gripped.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Michael – I wish I knew! I’ve always been creative and full of ideas, but never understood where it all came from. I can say this:  My best, most surprising inspirations come while I’m writing. And when I’m in the shower. So to get more inspiration, I need to write more. And take more showers.

Emma – It comes from literally everywhere. It’s the shadows across the path made by the trees in the early morning light. The advert with a catchy tune that gets stuck in my head. Snippets of overheard conversation. Books, television, a biscuit, anything. And I always seem to get the answer to a plot twist or my best ideas when I’m washing my hair!

Carolyn – I just let it flow. Just get writing and don’t think too hard about it. I like catchphrases and slogan competitions, I flirt with poetry and write a lot of flash fiction. Playing around with words is fun and leads to connections which develop stories.

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Michael Lunsford

Michael Lunsford lives with his lovely wife in the San Francisco Bay Area. A graduate of the U. of Maryland with a BA in English Lit, he’s the author of 14 tech books published by Bantam, Simon & Schuster and other top publishers. His latest manuscript, DEREK HYDE KNOWS SPOOKY WHEN HE SEES IT, marks his second try as a Middle Grade novelist. He’s now represented by Patty Carothers at Metamorphosis Literary. He’s also a poet, playwright, musician, composer, inventor, entrepreneur and chief cook & bottle washer.

Carolyn Ward
Carolyn Ward

Carolyn Ward lives in the West Midlands and is working on her debut children’s novel. She enjoys writing flash fiction and her shorts are featured in places as diverse as a writers’ café in Wolverhampton, the Express and Star newspaper, and anthologies including Original Writing’s Second Chance, the NAWG Narrathon project: The Wishing Star and the Birmingham (Alabama) Arts Journal. Her horror-themed flash is featured on several websites including Twisted Sister Literary Magazine, Horror Scribes and Sick Lit Magazine. She’s won writing competitions run by Senior Travel Expert, 99 Words, and Movellas. Her work will soon be published on a foreign language app by Alsina Publishing. For more, follow @Viking_Ma on Twitter.

Emma Finlayson-Palmer
Emma Finlayson-Palmer

I’ve been writing for donkey’s years, with my first item published on CeeFax at the age of 8. Over the years I’ve had poems, flash fiction and short stories published in a variety of magazines, anthologies and online. I mainly write MG Fantasy, but have written YA contemporary, upper MG thriller, and comedy. I am agented by Laura West of the David Higham agency and have a lot of experience editing and mentoring via Wonder Writers. I also had the best part of a year mentoring from Tamsyn Murray. I’m a member of SCBWI and belong to numerous writing groups as I love the company and support network offered by other writers. I’m open to most ideas in a manuscript, though I have a particular fondness for Fantasy, Humour, Horror and Thriller.

Picture1.pngCarolyn and Emma – We’ve worked together many times over the years, including setting up a local writing group and winning a co-authoring competition on Movellas for a modern fairytale. We’ve been featured in our local paper for organising an evening with Skylark Literary when they visited our local area.

Our latest project is @WitchesWord on Twitter – launching soon.

 

Lydia Massiah – #WriteMentor Success Stories

Interview by K.C. Karr

The best part of being a #WriteMentor is seeing authors make their dreams come true. We’re thrilled to share the success story of author Lydia Massiah and her mentor Kathryn Clark.

Lydia, what about Kathryn’s bio convinced you to sub to her?

A combination of factors suggested we inhabited the same world of cultural references. Kathryn’s list of favourite novels overlapped with many of mine (The Lie Tree, The Hate U Give, The Knife of Never Letting Go), while on her wish-list were historical stories and multiple voice narratives, both key aspects of my novel. I liked that Kathryn had lots of experience editing and critiquing as part of her MA in Writing for Children. Particularly though, I was drawn to her because she came across as empathetic and supportive, when she emphasized the need to be kind to potentially nervous writers. The liking for Earl Grey Tea was the clincher…

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Kathryn, what made you fall in love with Troglodyte?

I was immediately hooked by the eerie stalactite girl in Lydia’s pitch, and as I read through Lydia’s application, synopsis and MS I knew this was the one I had to mentor. Lydia’s passion for the natural world and love of myth give the story such a richness. I love books where the setting is important and in Troglodyte the cave is really a character in its own right. Lydia’s writing is lyrical and beautiful, particularly the historical narrative, and the ending is very strong and unexpected. Also, the story touches on mental health issues in young people, which is something that Lydia and I share an interest in.

Lydia, looking back, what was your favorite part of the #WriteMentor experience?

Being selected in the first place was pretty fabulous – to know my writing was at least good enough for someone to choose me!

Getting Kathryn’s edit letter, or any edit letter is always a bit tough. I let it sink in, then started going through her comments in detail, and began to apply them to my work. It was then that I saw how well her ideas were working. That moment made me so excited about ‘Troglodyte’ again, about how much better it could be, and the new level I could take it to.

After that, I completely trusted Kathryn’s opinion, because the changes felt right.

Kathryn, tell us what it was like working with Lydia.

It has been wonderful working with Lydia. In her #WriteMentor application, Lydia was very open about what she felt needed addressing in Troglodyte. She had been on writing courses and set up critique groups, so was used to working with other writers. However, it is quite a different thing to have fresh eyes on your entire manuscript, and I was worried initially about sending her my editorial report – it came in at around 6,500 words! I know how hard it can be when someone critiques your work, and this was a big chunk of feedback.

Lydia very sensibly took her time after reading my report, and then we discussed various aspects of it via email. Lydia and I also managed to meet up in person, which was so helpful to the process and made ongoing communication even easier.

I really believe that the mentoring process is not about one writer telling another what they should do. It’s a dialogue between the two of you, and you’re both on the same side, trying to make the story the best it can be. It’s important to be honest with each other, and the final decision is, of course, with the mentee, as it’s her manuscript.

When I read Lydia’s new first page, I had goosebumps. It was amazing. She had completely changed the style, and massively increased the tension right from the first line. She has done a wonderful job keeping the new style and voice throughout, and I’m excited to see what will happen next.

Lydia recently gave me feedback on my own WIP which was very helpful, and I hope we’ll continue to work together.

Lydia, what was the most surprising part of the #WriteMentor experience?

How quickly it made a huge difference! Just changing my opening to improve pacing and heighten the tension, being more explicit about certain issues – all that gave my start so much more impact and focus. Which meant that when I went to a literary festival with my newly written chapters, and when I entered a competition, my work immediately attracted interest.

Lydia, the revision process is only three months and can be intense. Tell us about your revisions and how you dealt with constructive criticism from Kathryn. What advice do you have for future mentees?

Constructive criticism can be hard to take, but writers need to get used to it if they ever want a book published. No book is taken on by an editor in a publishing house who goes, “Well that’s all perfectly fine then…”

It’s best to read through an edit letter quickly, and then leave it to settle in. Give yourself a few days if necessary. A good editor will temper the changes with praise, and Kathryn did all that, but making changes is hard at first. The other thing to remember though is that changing something doesn’t make that new version irrevocable. It doesn’t mean that your earlier manuscript is lost. You’re just trying out a new way, so if it doesn’t work out, you can scrap it. Going into edits thinking: “This is no big deal. I’m just playing around here, and if I don’t like it, then I can go back,” is very liberating!

Lydia, after #WriteMentor, you signed with Jo Williamson of Antony Harwood Ltd. Give us all the details of “The Call.”

What happened to me is rather unusual. I went to a literary festival first, where some editors from a publishing house were giving feedback on opening chapters. I’d booked my slot months ahead and hadn’t fully registered what I was booking. Another writer had told me it was A GOOD THING. I sent off my first three chapters a couple of weeks earlier, then on the day, took my dog along, as after my half hour of feedback, I thought it would be fun to go for a walk, and explore the town. At the door I checked in with the person running the event, to find out exactly who I was seeing. I thought I’d get a mixture of good and bad comments and was expecting NOTHING.

But the editor really loved my opening chapters and asked to read the whole novel. I knew the manuscript was uneven as I was part way through my WriteMentor edits, so was reluctant to hand it over. The editor attempted to coax me into parting with it!

Afterwards, I was completely stunned.

Only later did it strike me that maybe I should send my novel off.

My covering email detailed what I was working on with my mentor. (In other words: I know X and Y and Z are rubbish!!) About ten days went past, and all was quiet. I thought the editor had gone off on holiday…

But then I received THE EMAIL. I was out on a walk with two of my sons when it arrived. The editor had just finished reading my book and they’d loved it. The whole concept. The writing. The ending that had wrung them out. And would I come to their offices to talk about it?

The long and the short of it was that I had publisher interest, but no agent.

Luckily a handful of agents had caught my eye, and one in particular, whom I’d met at the Winchester Writers’ Festival a month earlier. At that stage, I’d just got onto the WriteMentor Programme. Jo Williamson read my old opening, and I told her what I was aiming to do with the novel. She seemed to understand the concept, and how my story fitted into classic children’s literature adventures and expressed an interest to see more when I was ready. Of the four agents I saw, Jo stood out as being most sympathetic to me and my writing. I was so pleased she responded to my news – because amazingly most of the other agents I contacted didn’t even reply. (A query with news of publisher interest gets buried as deep in the slush piles as any other submission apparently.)

Jo was on holiday when I contacted her but started reading my story when she got back. Her email when she finished was very exciting. She was bowled over by how it ended, as she totally hadn’t seen it coming. She thought the story was unique, it ‘got under her skin’, and could totally see why it had attracted interest. And she booked in a time to make a phone call. We’d talked on the phone before, and Jo has a really engaging manner, so it’s easy to chat. I didn’t hesitate when she offered to represent me! There was plenty of excitement from both of us about the project, but also awareness that there’s lots of work ahead. My manuscript is going to change, but I’m ready for that.

The moment I knew I had Jo backing me, I relaxed. She could begin serious negotiations as she knew about how everything worked, about the market, and about the track record of this publisher. Now all the difficult bits are ahead, like contracts and rights – and I’m very glad to have her there to step in.

What does your writing process look like?

Lydia: Chaotic. Ideas fill notebooks, and I pick up interesting historical facts from research, or museums, or talking to people, or snipping out local news stories … My story happens in a very rough form longhand first, not much more than ‘and then he does this, and then that happens, but this stands in his way,’ with more detail if I’ve a clear idea for a scene. Then I start to use a laptop to write the story properly. I tend to think in scene units. If I’m finding it tough to write, I may skip ahead to a scene I’m more excited about. Because I have a clear idea of the whole story shape, I don’t have to write chronologically, but because the outline is very basic, there’s plenty of room for freedom and inspiration. I love dual narratives, so I choose whose voice I want to write in. At the end, I divide up all the scenes from each POV onto Post-its, and then put them into the order I think works best.

Kathryn: Like Lydia, I work in notebooks before going onto the laptop. Some days I write pages and pages, and sometimes it will just be a sentence. My stories usually start with character. I write masses of backstory (sometimes as far back as great grandparents) to get to know my characters. I used to worry about writing all those words that never actually appear in a manuscript, but now I accept it’s part of the process. I write scenes rather than chapters, often different versions of the same one from various points of view until it feels right. I think I’m somewhere between a plotter and a pantser. I don’t tend to have a full plot worked out, but I do usually know how my main character is going to change, and I have an inkling about the ending. I make a playlist for each MS and I listen to it while I write.

What author has most inspired you, and why? What is your favorite book (or series)? Why?

Lydia: Alan Garner. His classic story ‘The Owl Service’ is a huge inspiration for ‘Troglodyte’, with its idea of something momentous happening, and echoing down through history. I love how his characters release the magic, and then take on roles of people from the past, in a haunting narrative. Garner uses a real legend, and imagines a history repeating itself, trapped in one valley. Setting and history are central to Garner’s writing, and places and their pasts inspire me too. Garner’s style is particularly spare however – nothing like mine! He writes dialogue like play script, but it’s wonderfully done. I’m not sure modern writers would be allowed to get away with leaving out as much as he does, particularly the way he implies but very rarely describes the feelings of his characters.

Kathryn: One of the authors who has inspired me is C J Skuse. She was my tutor and manuscript supervisor on my MA. She taught me to be bold and brave in my writing, and I will always be grateful to her. I love all her books – but for me the best one is ‘The Deviants’.

I completely panic if I’m asked what my favourite anything is, I’m afraid – so be prepared for a long list here!

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I like books with a strong narrative voice – The Color Purple, The Knife of Never Letting Go, Crongton Knights, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hate U Give and Wonder. I also like books where the setting plays an important part in the story, particularly natural settings – like The Killing Woods, by Lucy Christopher, Kook by Chis Vick, and Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean.

At the moment, I’m really into verse novels. One by Sarah Crossan is astounding, and I love The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo and Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds.

Tell us about your favorite writing spot.

Lydia: Having a spot would have been a luxury when I wrote ‘Troglodyte’, and I don’t think you need one. I wrote it at the kitchen table, sharing the space with my boys doing homework. Or I sat on the sofa and wrote, or tapped away in the car waiting in a car park, while one child or another did sport or drama – basically anywhere. I only need a notebook, or a couple of pages of A4. The back of a letter will do. If I find I have to hang around somewhere, I often write a scene that lies ahead. Lunchbreaks at work I’d write. When I set kids at school writing tasks, I’d often write too, as a good example. Typing up properly could happen while the family were watching TV in the evenings, when there was more noise about, and I had less energy to be inventive.

Kathryn: Likewise. A favourite writing spot will have to wait till real life is less hectic, I think! I write all over the place: kitchen table, desk in the bedroom, sofa, in the car, waiting rooms at doctors and hospitals, cafes, libraries, trains, coaches, and even a muddy field on occasion.

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Where does your inspiration come from?

Lydia: I love to explore and seek out new places, when I take my collie dog for a walk. I get easily bored by doing the same routes. Landscapes and their atmospheres inspire me, particularly if they have a strong sense of the past. I like that juxtaposition of something ancient, or timeless, with the modern, the way we can reach back through history. But ideas come from everywhere, from my children’s experiences and kids I’ve taught, from stories in local newspapers, from trying out sports like caving, kayaking or bouldering, from objects in local museums, or from just talking to people. A man working in a garden centre once told me about cutting peat on the Somerset Levels and discovering ancient trackways and dug-out canoes, while a caver described how he found an Iron Age brooch deep inside a Mendip cavern. Little museums often have unusual exhibits, and objects can inspire, as well as the stories you uncover there. Unfamiliar myths and legends are fun to collect, especially tales associated with particular places. A writer has to be endlessly curious about everything, ‘a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles’, and open to new experiences. Inspiration is everywhere!

Kathryn: I tend to write about the things that anger or scare me, and there’s plenty of those about at the moment. My inspiration often comes from snippets of things that people tell me or that I overhear. Those little details can be the start of a story. Those odd random news stories that fill a few lines at the bottom of a newspaper page are also something that I squirrel away for future use. Music inspires me, too – either the lyrics of a song or the emotion that a piece of music invokes.

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For a long time, Lydia Massiah dreamed of being a writer, but it took a while for her to have the confidence to write a novel. When she began, she wrote about everything she loves: adventure, mystery and wonder, with threads of ancient history and folklore thrown in. A Curtis Brown online Writing for Children course helped her improve but being selected for #WriteMentor completely changed her luck.

Lydia studied English at Exeter College, Oxford, the inspiration for Jordan College in ‘His Dark Materials’. Amazingly, Philip Pullman was one of her tutors when she trained to be a teacher. Lydia has taught at secondary level for many years, and more recently worked in a middle school.

In 2016 she moved to Bristol, with her husband, three sons, and a few geriatric chickens. Shortly afterwards she acquired a gorgeous little red collie, who provides an excellent excuse for long walks. Although Lydia misses living in Somerset, with its caves, gorges, peat moors and history, luckily it’s within reach. Lydia is passionate about all the natural world but finds wildflowers easiest to photograph as they stay still.

Twitter: @lydia_massiah

Kathryn Clark photo writementor

Kathryn Clark has worked in a wallpaper shop and a call-centre; as an aromatherapist and a researcher. All that time she made up stories in her head, and one day she began to write them down. Kathryn has a degree in English Studies, and an MA in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University. After success in various writing competitions, several of her stories have been published. She writes for all ages and mentors other writers at #WriteMentor and Manuscription Magazine. Kathryn lives in Gloucestershire with her husband, two teenagers, two cats, and a border terrier. She loves reading, running, the sea, and earl grey tea.

Website: www.kathrynclarkwriter.co.uk/
Twitter: @KClarkwriter

Never Give Up. Never Surrender.

Every time I finish a book—at least to the point where I feel like I’m ready to send it off to my agent (or, in the past, begin querying)—I think I’ve got a handle on this whole writing process. I’ve written something, and I think it’s pretty darn good.

What happens after I send it off is not so pretty or darn good. First, there’s that worry about whether I’m completely wrong about how good it is. Sure, my CPs liked it, but does that mean it’s good enough to get published? I linger in this moment of mingled hope and dread. Will this be the book an editor falls in love with? That plants me on the New York Times bestseller list and turns me into the next J.K. Rowling? Or will this be yet another outpouring of my soul that gets nothing more than a small amount of interest, followed by polite rejections that include lovely but unhelpful comments about my talent?

And, of course, since this is the snail-paced publishing business, I won’t know for months which category this manuscript falls into. It’s enough to make an insecure writer consider setting aside the metaphorical pen and settling for a career as an actuary.

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For me, the dread of querying or going on submission is combined with a fear of starting a new book. I love editing—not the first round or two, where I’m mostly rewriting—but the end, when it’s almost there, and I get to play around with words and sentence structure and itty-bitty details. But going from having my inner critic turned on to max volume to shutting it off and coming up with ideas and getting words on the page, no matter how awful, is tortuous. It doesn’t matter how many books on story structure I read or how much I try to plot everything out in advance. Until I get around 30% into the first draft, it feels like I’m plucking an enormous unibrow, one hair at a time. Painful. Tedious.

And every time, I wonder if my creative river has shriveled, and I should give up. Actuarial science might not be so bad.

I’m in that point right now. I’ve been struggling with my WIP for nine months, and I’ve only got a few thousands word written. I’d like to blame it on life. I’ve been mentoring. I’ve recently had a job change. I’ve had bouts of mild depression. It’s a sequel, and the first book hasn’t sold.

Those are just excuses, though.

The truth is, I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing. The inspiration isn’t going to come if I don’t try. I drafted the bulk of my last manuscript in one month during NaNoWriMo. Once I got my flow, it poured out. And, no, that’s not a sustainable pace for me. After NaNo, I crashed and couldn’t write for a few months. But I need to remember that I love writing. That drafting is hard, but the more I do it, the more joyful it becomes. I just need to keep trying through the difficult parts to get to the good parts.

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So if you’re feeling discouraged because the writing is hard, or the agents or editors aren’t responding, and you’re wondering if you should bother to keep on—the answer is: keep on. Maybe you won’t ever be published, but if you give up, you’ll never know. Give yourself a break if you need one, and don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t been writing. But if you’re just making excuses, like I am, maybe you just need to let go of your expectations and rediscover the joy in writing. Write the story that’s in your heart, and keep on trucking on.