Pitch Wars | Wish List 2017

Hi virtual friends! :) 

I'm so stinking excited to be mentoring again in the YA category this year. Back in 2015, I first entered the Pitch Wars realm as a mentee, and the following year I wanted to give back and become a mentor. I'm so happy to say that my mentee went on to score representation after the agent round in November (shameless plug alert: I actually think it was that month she got the offer). 

Some other qualifications: I majored in Creative Writing + History, have critiqued and beta read for other writers (agented and not) and have gone through hefty revisions of my own manuscripts. I know how to break down a novel and build it back up again so it's at its best. It will be hard work but totally worth it when everything is all said and done. With me as your mentor, please be prepared for hard work. I want my mentee's story to be the absolute best that it can be, and I'm going to put you through the ringer. :) 

When I'm not writing, I'm designing for 9th Letter Press, a design and stationery studio that I founded five years ago (I recently sold it, but maintain the lead designer position). That's right...I design and write greeting cards for a living. 9th Letter Press uses a letterpress built in 1894 (it's made of cast iron and weighs a whopping 1,500 pounds!) for printing and he is the heart and soul of the company. 

Side note: I feel like now is as great time to mention my scavenger word is STEER (and it's supposed to be in BLUE). 

WHAT I CAN DO FOR YOU

Here's the game plan: I'll read my mentee's MS very carefully and write up a detailed edit letter addressing the various aspects of the story that need work. This can be anything from dialogue to the world building, from character development to their emotional arcs. From there, my mentee will revise, revise, revise and then once he/she believes it's ready, I'll take another quick look and add any track comments I think necessary for another round of quick edits before the agent round. If you're game to work hard, I'm your mentor! I'll push and encourage you, always politely and never in a harsh way. And I'll always be honest with what is and isn't working. 

I'll always be available for questions. I'll respond quickly to emails and questions, twitter and any DMs. If you're game, I also like to jump on the phone and hash out any problems with the manuscript, along with doing joint brainstorming sessions. 

SHAMLESS PLUG | Interview with Christy, my 2016 Mentee!

I thought I'd have Christy share what it was like being my mentee last year. I hope it will give you a better idea of my mentoring style. I know it looks like a lot of work, and you'll probably be exhausted by the end, but it's so worth it. I'm super committed to sharing everything I know about writing well and the publishing world. :) 

 

From Christy Chao: 

Working with Isabel last year was an amazing experience! She was very encouraging with comments/criticism during Pitch Wars and remained incredibly supportive throughout the querying process. During the mentoring period, she made herself available to help me improve my manuscript in every way possible! She’ll brainstorm with you, check in to make sure you’re still doing ok, offer suggestions when you’re stuck, and celebrate with you when ideas start coming together. 

PRE-REVISION PERIOD

When Pitch Wars kicked off, Isabel immediately sent a detailed edit letter explaining the different parts of the story she liked and the parts that needed work. Before the rewriting process began, we also had homework assignments to figure out how I was going to address these points during the revision period. This included coming up with a new title that better described the story, outlining the chapters to block out a new plot for revisions, and putting together romance sheets for the main characters. 

During this stage, we communicated through text, DMs, and a shared Google Doc we both edited (sometimes simultaneously! Hurray for color coded conversations!). Whenever I was stuck, Isabel was always there to exchange ideas with and brainstorm solutions. She had great recommendations for fixing whatever I was struggling with at the time (characters, plot points, etc). Even if I didn’t end up going in the particular route she suggested, her feedback and questions were so helpful in guiding me to that final solution! 

REVISION PERIOD

During the revision period, Isabel gave me feedback regularly. I began revising based on the new plot outline and sent these revisions to her in chunks. She would send me back notes (pointing out areas that didn’t make sense, asking questions, letting me know what she loved) and then we would have a detailed phone call discussing ways to improve the chapters. I have pages and pages of scribbled notes from these calls! We worked on everything from world building, character reactions, dialogue tags, sentence structure, tension, fluff cutting, character development…basically anything that needed improvement! 

AGENT SHOWCASE PREP

Before the November showcase, Isabel read the manuscript one last time and sent a final set of comments. She helped me polish up my query, pitch, and first 200 words. Even though this was close to the end of Pitch Wars, she continued to challenge me to improve my writing/manuscript and worked extensively with me (providing quick feedback, notes, inspiration) until we were both happy with the final product. 

I learned so much from Isabel! How to revise, how to pace a story, how the publishing industry works, to name a few. Be prepared to work hard, but also be prepared for how much your writing will improve with her guidance and support! Her future mentee is a very lucky person. :) 

WHAT I'M LOOKING FOR

Squeeee! My favorite part of this blog post. 

Remember that moment in Beauty and the Beast when Belle is surrounded by rolling hills and she starts singing about wanting adventure in the great, wide somewhere? This is all me, sweet friends. I want your adventure, your far off places, daring sword fights and princes in disguise, please and thank you!

I'm seeking incredible landscapes, well drawn fantasy, captivating historical time periods, and fresh world building. Does anyone have a fairy tale retelling in the same tone as SHREK or ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS? Please do send my way! Do you have a story set in a desert kingdom or ice castle? YES, YES, YES. I want all the unique settings, please! 

(And here is where I reiterate my love of fairy tale retellings and historicals. GRABBY HANDS). 

SETTING: I'm the most excited about unique places that haven't been overly done. Roman servant in a palatial house? Catherine the Great's court? A YA mystery set in a theater? I LOVE epics and sweeping landscapes, where the latter is a character onto itself. If you've got a story set in a non-European inspired setting, I WANT IT. 

ROMANCE: I LOVE love. I'm looking for believable romance, so please no instalove and the like. I'm a sucker for these troupes: hate to love, friends to something more, will they or won't they, forbidden romance, slow-burn, and enemies to lovers. Do you have something that falls in that category? HIT SEND NOW, please and thank you! I'll be leaning toward manuscripts that have a romantic subplot, but please no love triangles. My heart can't take them. :) 

DIVERSITY: As a Bolivian Latina writer, I think reading about different cultures enriches the reader and their perspectives. This is super important to me. I would love to get my hands on a story from a different culture/religion/background. Ottoman empire? Babylonian? Imperial Russia? The Dominican Republic? Cuba? China? Africa? Hispanic, Black, Asian? YES PLEASE, especially #ownvoices. 

TIME TRAVEL: As an avid Outlander fan, I would love to get my hands on a YA version, but please no Scotland and their highlander warriors. I'm looking for something that hasn't been done before. :) 

HISTORICAL: I love any and all Historical tales, so if you have epic battle scenes and political powers at play between empires, PLEASE send it my way. If you have a story about the French Revolution (and kudos if it has french words in it), I WANT IT. But seriously, all of the history—I want it, no matter the era or continent. Side note: I used to want to be an Egyptologist. If you have a story about a plucky female Egyptologist...you know what to do! :) 

CONTEMPORARY FANTASY: A new genre for me! I'm excited to mentor any YA Contemporary manuscript that features a fun and unique magic system. I would love to see our world paired with a magical slant. 

RANDOM LOVES: I love bounty hunters, Norse Mythology, shipwrecks, ninjas, and mysteries. Do you have a YA version of Sherlock? I want it! I love tough heroines, who don't just rely on their mad sword skills but on their intelligence and wit as well. I also love princesses, but lately I've been more intrigued by the people around those in positions of power—the guards, ladies in waiting, etc. I want to read about the people whose stories don't often get told. 

In short, I'm looking to be delighted and kudos to you if you make me giggle over a clever turn of phrase. :) 

If you have anything like the following books, SEND IT MY WAY PLEASE AND THANKS!

  • Uprooted
  • Shadowfell (or anything by Juliet Marillier)
  • Salt to the Sea
  • Walk on Earth a Stranger
  • Song of the Current
  • Anything by Susanna Kearsley 
  • My Lady Jane
  • Enchantment of Ravens  

To make things easier, here's my YES list: 

  • Historical (I love all history and time periods, kudos if it has fantasy). 
  • Fantasy
  • Adventure
  • Fairy Tale Retellings (Cannot. Stress. This. Enough!!!!)
  • Epic
  • Regency
  • Romance (as a subplot!)
  • Contemporary Fantasy  

And here is my NO list:

  • Erotica
  • Contemporary (I LOVE contemp, but I'm only taking manuscripts that have some kind of magic)
  • Rape (it's OK if it alludes to it but NO on screen time)
  • Paranormal 
  • Dystopian
  • Urban Fantasy 
  • Science Fiction
  • Love Triangles

Thanks so much for reading! :) To continue blog hopping, click here

 

Review: CARAVAL

OMG. This book! I was just dying to have it in my hands, and the moment I started I couldn't put it down. Which, side note, is NOT the best way to go. I tend to devour books like a starving wolf instead of taking my sweet time, and slowly enjoy every word. No matter how many times I tell myself to slow my roll, it just doesn't happen. Le sigh. 

But back to this amazing book. 

First, the premise. It's exciting and original, a story about sisters and creepy in a good way.  The book is full of twist and turns, the writing is spot on and echoes the vibrancy of its setting. By that I mean, it's hard not to imagine COLOR as you're reading. Stephanie Garber nailed the prose and told the story beautifully—it's SO descriptive! As a writer, I tip my hat off to you. I LOVE the feeling you get when you're diving into a new book, and immediately you get the sense that you're in good hands. You can trust this author to deliver, to transport you so deep into the story that you're feeling everything the characters are. And holy crap, does Stephanie put you through the ringer! I experienced a wide range of emotions while reading. Like Scarlett, you just don't know who to trust. 

I loved everything about it—ESPECIALLY the epilogue. OH. EM. GEE. I can't wait for the next one. Please already be writing it, Stephanie! 

CARAVAL has so much going for it (and the romance is super sweet, too!), I highly recommend you pick this one up! 

And, here's the official description:

Whatever you've heard about Caraval, it doesn't compare to the reality. It's more than just a game or a performance. It's the closest you'll ever find to magic in this world . . . 

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Review: HUNTED

My sweet friend lent me HUNTED because she knows I'm a sucker for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST retellings, and I'm so stinking happy she did. 

I have read my fair share of retellings, especially about Beauty and her grumpy friend, Beast. My favorite version to date is BEAUTY by the indomitable Robin McKinley. If you haven't read it, stop what you're doing and get thee to the library. You're welcome. 

For reference, here's the official description of the book:

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them. 

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance. 

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?

When I started HUNTED, I have to admit I was super nervous. I love retellings, but I find that I'm drawn to the stories that flesh out the tale in a unique way, but still keep the essence of the original. When Marissa Meyer wrote her Lunar Chronicle stories, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed them (except for WINTER, but that's me personally. I have such a hard time reading about a character who turns evil. I had the same issue with THE PORTRAIT OF DORIAN GRAY and BREAKING BAD). 

HUNTED was able to show me a fully realized world, while still keeping with that whimsical, vintage and historical tone I love from the original tale. It felt fresh, but familiar at the same time. I was hooked by the end of chapter one.

Our heroine is headstrong and brave, adept at hunting thanks to her Papa, and it was a joy getting to know her. I'm also drawn to stories about sisters—I think it's because I don't have any, and I want to adopt them all. Their relationship was portrayed in a realistic and sincere way, which I appreciated. The three of them rang true, and were all fully developed. And they had journeys of their own—KUDOS to the Meagan Spooner. It's amazing to read about characters who aren't props for the MC. They each had their own story, own desires and disappointments, separate from our Heroine. 

As for the BEAST...Yes, please and thank you. He's a great character and when he's on the page, he steals the show. The romance absolutely worked—no instalove here! 

In this book we have wonderful writing, adventure, a sweet love story, sisters, and a dog! Seriously, I highly, highly recommend the read! 

Review: WINDWITCH

My time back in the WITCHLANDS...

Full disclosure: I am in love with this book. A sweet friend lent her ARC to me, and I could barely contain my delirium I was that excited to read the sequel to WINDWITCH. I had fallen in love with the friendship story at the heart of these books. In the first book, we meet Safi + Iseult. Two witches from the Witchlands who each have a specific power. From the get go, their dynamic pulls you in. It's the trust that exists between them that makes a refreshing change to see a book center around a friendship as they are tested and tried. 

For reference, here's the official description of the book: 

Sometimes our enemies are also our only allies…

When an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first? 

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

In the sequel, the story still feels like it's about Safi + Iseult, even as the book follows the heels of Merick, Safi's love interest from book numero uno. The undercurrent of their romance is still there but it's not main drive of our hero—he has much bigger fish to fry, since you know, he survived an explosion and he'd like some answers. 

In this one, despite being miles apart, you'll still feel how much Safi + Iseult deeply care and miss each other. The book hops from one POV to another, and it never feels jarring, managing to check in with its growing cast consistently and at a solid clip. Which is why Safi and Iseult not reuniting isn't a bad thing. You're still seeing slices of their lives—and it is thrilling.

It's amazing how deftly Susan weaves in the subject of family. Safi and Iseult feel like sisters (they aren't), and Merick is at odds with his own flesh and blood, but ends up relying so much on another character. It's interesting to read how these characters honor the relationships in their lives who feel like family, even if they aren't. 

So, let's talk about my favorite character Iseult. Out of everyone, her story intrigues me the most and perhaps it's because I relate to her more. She's the character who hasn't fully stepped into who she is or knows what she's really capable of. Her best friend is nobility, beautiful and a fighting machine, never mind that Iseult can hold her own in a battle. If I were Iseult, I'd start to feel like a shadow. It would be hard not to question what role you're meant to play, if you're even meant for something more and bigger and special. I just love Iseult because she's not afraid of confronting her insecurities. She thinks she just might be the lesser half in her friendship with Safi. She might be the ordinary one. She's totally wrong but that's for her to discover as her arc continues. 

And Aeduan. OMG. This man. If you've got a wee crush on this character, can I direct you to this post

YUP. GUESS WHO'S UP NEXT, FOLKS. 

All right, one last thing. The WORLD BUILDING. There's something about stepping back into a world after having left it for a year or more, and everything feeling so comfortingly familiar. That's the mark of a great writer. The world feels it's own, concrete and though it offers surprises, it feels recognizable. Like a friend you haven't seen in a really long time. Like that old friend, you remember certain ticks of theirs, you remember how they take their coffee or how they don't like to wear sneakers. This felt much the same. You remember who doesn't like who, you remember the allies and their enemies and those who put a sour taste in your mouth when you first met them in the previous book. 

All that to say, I highly recommend that you get thee to a bookstore (shop small, ya'll!) and pick up this gem. And maybe harass Susan to hurry up with the next one. Speaking of...if you need a beta reader for that one, you just let me know! ;)