I'm thrilled to share that @sansawicka from @MarjacqScripts is my agent! It's amazing to find someone who loves my gothic YA mystery as much as I do. Thank you to everyone who helped to get me to this point. Special thanks to @writementor and @MarisaNoelle77 for your support.
— Amy McCaw (@YAundermyskin) October 29, 2018
Amy, what about Marisa’s bio convinced you to sub to her?
Marisa’s bio immediately made me think that we would work well together. She has a lot of writing experience and has spent time and effort developing her craft. I thought her mentoring style sounded perfect, in terms of providing a good balance of areas for development and strengths. Her manuscript wish list of dark and twisty novels and murder mysteries sounded like a good fit, and when she mentioned thinking that vampires are still cool, I was sold!
Marisa, what made you fall in love with EMPIRE OF THE DEAD?
Amy’s story was a salute to the 90s when I was a teenager and her first chapter referenced most of my favourite movies of that time. She actually made me go hunt them down and watch them again! She evoked in me that delicious fear of reading vampire books and I’ve always been disappointed that more aren’t out there. Her first line and page drew me right into the story with an enticing creepy vibe. And such a good title!
Amy, looking back, what was your favourite part of the #WriteMentor experience?
The whole process was amazing. I’ve never felt so motivated or well-supported, and the best thing was knowing that Marisa was there to thrash out ideas or offer feedback. I’ve also become part of a brilliant online community and found some good friends and trusted critique partners because of this process.
Marisa, tell us what it was like working with Amy.
Amy was so hard working and never complained about anything I asked. She saw the value in additional exercises that I passed her and threw herself into craft books and other material I recommended. She put a lot of work in behind the scenes as I saw her manuscript develop and grow after digesting and applying this material. She used it in the correct way and her story really came alive. Amy takes criticism well and understood why I highlighted certain parts to develop. I’m sure she cursed me one or twice under her breath (lol) but she embraced the whole process enthusiastically and her book is so much stronger.
Amy, what was the most surprising part of the #WriteMentor experience?
I think I was surprised at how much I accomplished by the end of the process, which I couldn’t have done without Marisa’s support and the rest of the #WriteMentor community. By the time the program finished in September, I was ready to query and felt a lot more confident about my writing.
Amy, the revision process is only three months and can be intense. Tell us about your revisions and how you dealt with constructive criticism from Marisa.What advice do you have for future mentees?
The process was intense, but I found that really motivating. I sent a few chapters to Marisa at a time and she offered feedback about those chapters and the whole manuscript. The main things I had to work on were characterization and filling plot holes. I don’t mind receiving constructive feedback, especially when it’s as kind and astute as Marisa’s suggestions.
My advice for future mentees is to start this process with realistic expectations. It was a hard three months, juggling intensive edits at the same time as a full-time job. It was also the most valuable three months of my writing career. I’ve never made more progress in such a short time and this is the best manuscript I’ve written. After #WriteMentor, I felt ready to seek representation and got my offer less than two months after it ended.
Amy, after #WriteMentor, you signed with Sandra Sawicka of Marjacq Scripts. Give us all the details of “The Call.”
I pitched to Sandra at YALC in July and she loved the idea, so I sent my first few chapters and then the full manuscript.
I finished work one Friday and found an email from Sandra saying that she wanted to speak with me. I happened to be visiting London the next day so we arranged to meet. I was cautiously excited but tried not to get my hopes up.
As soon as we started talking, we clicked and it was clear we had the same vision for my edits and publication journey. Sandra made an offer in person and I accepted straight away. I think it was the most exciting meeting I’ve ever had!
What does your writing process look like?
Amy– I’m a combination of a plotter and a pantser. I usually start by plotting and doing research, then start writing when I have enough material and can’t wait any longer. My plot changes a lot when I write and I often plot out difficult scenes when I come to them.
Marisa– Usually a new idea will strike at random and I get that excited tingly feeling that I know it’s going to be more than just a book. For about a week, I let it float around my head, seeing if it’s a character or the plot that speaks to me the most. Then I start jotting down notes. After a couple of weeks of that, I usually have a pretty good sense of who my MC is and what I’m going to put them through. I plot as much as I can, usually on a spreadsheet, a chapter by chapter and scene by scene thing, but sometimes I do get stuck. Those are the times you have to write your way into it. And things always change as I write. When the story and characters start to come alive, they have their own input. I think listening to that instinct is vital for me. Ironing out any issues can come later in the dreaded editing rounds.
What author has most inspired you, and why?
Amy – Laini Taylor is my favourite YA author. Every sentence is beautifully crafted, her plots are thrilling and the characters feel like real people. I find Laini inspiring because she has amazing attention to detail and takes time to make her books as good as they can possibly be.
Marisa– I’m going to go with Dean Koontz. He’s been my favourite author since I was ten and continues to be. His ability to build tension without anything actually happening is second to none. He can handle a wide cast of characters and make you care about all of them. What brings his stories even more to life to me is that when I lived in California, he lived in the same area, so I knew exactly the locations he referred to. I’ve devoured every single one of his books and it’s where I turn when I need inspiration or comfort.
Tell us about your favorite writing spot.
Amy – I write in all sorts of places. Sometimes, I’m at my most productive in a busy coffee shop with a regular supply of tea and chatter around me. I also like writing on the sofa, in bed or at the dining room table. I have a beautiful old-fashioned writing desk but it’s often too cluttered to do any writing on it!
Marisa– I move around a lot. We moved house recently and I haven’t been able to write in the study as it’s dark and dingy, but when we re-do the house, I’m excited about making that room mine. I have back and neck issues so I move from couch to desk to kitchen. Sometimes I’ll go to a coffee shop or work in the restaurant in my gym. I like the buzz of different places and they can make you feel a different vibe. I tried writing in the garden once but had to keep running away from the dive-bombing bees (not a fan).
What is your favorite book (or series). Why?
Amy–The Northern Lights trilogy by Phillip Pullman came out when I was eleven and I’ve loved it since then. As a child, I related to Lyra and wanted to go on adventures like her. As an adult, I appreciate the layers of meaning, the incredible scope of the world and the subtlety of the characterization.
Marisa –There’s no such thing as one favourite book. (How did you do it Amy???) I’ll second Amy’s answer. That trilogy has stayed with me and has a special place in my heart. I also fell in love with The Hunger Games and Twilightseries. And if I refer to Dean Koontz, my favourite of his is The Watchers, which is fittingly about genetic modification as that’s what my own debut is about! I love Stephen King and my favourite of his is Salem’s Lot. I also loved The Helpand The Homecoming of Samuel Lake. I better stop here…
Where does your inspiration come from?
Amy– My inspiration for EMPIRE OF THE DEAD came from the setting, New Orleans. When I visited a few years ago, I knew I’d write a story about the intriguing history and mythology. Usually, my ideas come from a question. What would happen if…? What kind of person would…? If a question like that occurs to me, and suddenly I’m hooked by trying to answer it, then I think it’s an idea worth exploring.
Marisa– Usually, they hit me like a thunderbolt; the character or the plot is delivered to me either in a dream, when I’m falling asleep or as a spark after a conversational snippet. With my own novel coming out, my brother is genetic scientist and we always talked about the risks of trying to produce a perfect race, where lines would be drawn. The conversations started after Dolly the sheep was cloned. And so I wanted to explore in a novel what the world would look like if there were no boundaries to genetic engineering.
Amy McCaw is a YA blogger and writer represented by Sandra Sawicka at Marjacq Scripts. She’s loved reading and writing YA since being a teenager and is thrilled to be getting her YA Gothic mystery ready for submission to publishers. If she’s not reading, writing or blogging, you can probably find her at a book event or talking about books on Twitter (@yaundermyskin).
Twitter & Instagram: @YAUnderMySkin
Marisa Noelle lives in Woking with her husband and 3 children. She writes mostly YA SFF but also dabbles in mental health area as it’s an important aspect in her life and she wants to advocate for those who don’t have a voice. Her debut, a YA sci-fi called The Unadjusteds is coming out with brand new publisher Write Plan next summer. Still on the hunt for the perfect agent relationship, she is out there in the query trenches with her MG mental health book, Spectrum. When not cooking an array of different meals for complicated children and wondering how she might fit a dog into the family chaos, she can also be found standing on a soapbox about all the plastic in the ocean and supporting those causes.
Twitter & Instagram: @MarisaNoelle77