Writementor success story: gina gonzales

What made you apply for the WriteMentor programme?

I had seen some WriteMentor posts on Facebook, and it looked like a welcoming community that really cared about the mental health of its members so I made a note to apply when the program came around. I had been messing around with my first novel for years and was looking for help getting me out of the slump I was in. I had essentially been smushing around the same paint strokes years and now was just staring at a grey, splotchy mess. Even though I did get some requests, I didn’t get in the first year I applied. But I enjoyed the application experience and all the people I met, so I built my entire writing schedule around being prepared to apply next year.

Something cool to note is that one of the mentors who requested a full went on to mentor AJ Sass who ended up mentoring me the following year, so you never know how these things will turn out!

What was your experience like?

It was amazing (whenever I’m asked this I feel like I turn into an anime panda and my eyes get huge and filled with stars). I never expected to get in because it always seems like a shot in the dark with these competitions, but not only did I get in, but I got my dream mentors! They were everything I wanted and more – and I specifically requested a Gandalf wrapped in an Avatar Roku, so that’s saying a lot. We were able to make it through three rounds of revisions during the summer, and did a deep dive into worldbuilding, characters, and pacing that I sorely needed. AJ and Hannah were a fantastic team, and I often found myself cracking up at their comments. It made the whole critique process so much easier to feel like you were going through it with friends you could brainstorm with and talk things out. But where they helped the most was after the writing with the whole querying and agent process. I was contacting them almost every day frantically asking what to do, and they patiently guided me through the entire process.

Tell us about your writing journey from start until now.

I wrote a few short stories in high school, but it was never something I spent any time on. At work, I enjoyed writing pithy taglines and such, but it was more of a fun assignment than a job. Then in 2014, I decided to do NaNoWriMo and for the next four years I was determined to make that first story work. But I knew nothing about writing or storytelling, and after forty rejections I finally decided to put it aside. 

I have a great CP group who were also having trouble letting go of their first books, so we decided to go the opposite route and made a goal to work on three books in one year. Having learned my lesson with pantsing, I decided to try out The Snowflake Method and outline my story first. In four months, I wrote the outline and the rough draft. I got help polishing up the opening with the FirstFivePages.com program, then two passes later I had a book that was ready to submit to the WriteMentor 2020 program! 

AJ and Hannah were a fantastic team, and I often found myself cracking up at their comments. It made the whole critique process so much easier to feel like you were going through it with friends you could brainstorm with and talk things out.

When AJ and Hannah selected me, I was in absolute shock. I laughed and cried. The summer was super exciting, but really difficult. I had also had a huge project at work, so it was a challenging to make time. But I’m so glad I did because I entered the Agent Showcase feeling like I had done all I could have. I immediately started querying and participating in any pitch competitions I could as we waited for the Agent Showcase results and started working on another story.

I received several requests from the showcase and ended up signing with Alice Sutherland-Hawes with Ash Literary! We are currently making some edits to the manuscript and plan to go on submission in 2021. 

Can you tell us a little more about the book you worked on and signed with?

The book I worked on is a MG dark fantasy called Talented. It’s about a pair of sisters who kill the swamp monster stealing Talents from their town, but when Talents continuing disappearing, they need to figure out if they failed to finish the job, or if there is another evil lurking within the swamp. 

It was originally a short story I wrote for my writing group’s yearly Short Horror Story submission, but I loved the swamp environment, characters, and monsters so much that I decided to build it out into an entire novel. I also really wanted to write a story where siblings were forced to go against the roles they had grown up with.

What is your best piece of writing advice that you learned on the programme?

There are so many things that I learned during the program, it’s difficult to narrow it down. In terms of craft, I learned a lot about pacing, and how even though you may want to introduce everyone and their mother in the first act, it might not be needed and will actually drag down the story. Hannah hilariously described one of my chapters as Belle introducing us to all the villagers. I would pass along the advice that, especially in the beginning, less is more in terms of pacing and really ask yourself what the reader needs to know at that point.

Why do you think mentoring is important for writers?

Mentoring is important because you are working with someone who has been there before, and can answer all the questions you might have along the way. But I think the best thing AJ and Hannah did for me was give me the confidence to tell the story I had written, permission to give myself the occasional break (extremely difficult for a workaholic), and most of all, be huge fans and cheerleaders of my story. Having someone fanning out over my characters really gave me the enthusiasm to continue even when it felt like I was on my billionth round of edits. And when it feels like you’ve been writing in a vacuum forever, it means the world to have people believe in you.

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