It’s Pitch Wars season! And for the second year in a row, I’m mentoring! Don’t know what Pitch Wars is? Click this link.
Last year was pretty rad. I got over a hundred requests and it was really hard to narrow them down, but I ended up picking Victor Manibo, whose novel Sleepless was about a world where a percentage of the population suddenly lost the ability to sleep, with no (apparent) side effects. It was a great speculative mystery with elements of classism, biohacking, corporate greed… basically it hit all of my sweet spots. We did a couple of passes on it and I’m happy to say that Victor landed with a fantastic agent.
It was a fun process, and I’m excited to do it again! So, here’s what you need to know:
I’m the former publisher of MysteriousPress.com, at which I published and edited more than a dozen books in the crime/mystery genre (A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride, several Nero Wolfe books by Robert Goldsborough). I wrote a five-book amateur PI series and a collection of food-noir short stories, all for a small press, Polis Books. I co-wrote Scott Free with James Patterson, and my latest novel, The Warehouse, is out from Crown—it’s been sold in more than 20 countries and been optioned for film by Ron Howard. My next book will be Paradox Hotel, with Ballantine, and will come out at some point in the future! My non-fiction articles have been published widely—Daily Beast, Salon, LitHub, Electric Literature. This is all to say… I’ve seen the industry from a couple of unique angles and I think I can offer some useful advice.
I want you to write the best book you can. I want you to do it. I want to give you the insight to recognize where your story can be stronger, and the tools to make it happen—then get the hell out of your way. I want you to come out of this process with a shiny new toolkit. I’m going to push you because the story has to win in the end. I love big picture stuff—I’m okay with copyediting but a few misspelled words are not going to hurt you as much as a plot that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, so I’ll be focusing slightly less on the former.
What I want:
- Mixed genres: I like books that straddle genres. A murder mystery with time travel? A heist story set on a Mars base? Please and thank you. I won’t say no to a classic PI novel if it really lights my fire, but this is where my head is at: big, sprawling, challenging ideas.
- Strong social themes: I’m a big fan of books that get to the root of crime. I care less about the street crime created by the heroin crisis and more about the pharmaceutical companies that started it. Blue-collar crime? Yawn. White-collar crime? All day long. I like politics in my fiction. The Warehouse is an indictment of capitalism and consumerism wrapped in the language of a thriller. Paradox Hotel is a time travel story about how billionaires will let the world burn as long as they get paid. That’s my sweet spot.
- Diverse stories: I’m a straight white guy. I have read a lot about straight white guys in my lifetime. I’m not saying I won’t accept something with a straight white male protagonist—making a visceral connection to the narrative is the ultimate goal here. But as of late, I’m more interested in stories different from my own upbringing and experience. Think American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson (black Cold War-era FBI agent), the Roxane Weary mysteries by Kristen Lepionka (LGBT private investigator), Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Mexican fantasy), and Three-Fifths by John Vercher (noir featuring a bi-racial protagonist).
- Deeply, deeply human stories: Let’s use American Spy as an example because that book legit made me cry. It’s a spy novel, about a black woman in the FBI during the Cold War, so there are themes of racism and sexism. And the book could have just been that and it would have been really good. But it’s also a romance, and it’s a story about a mom and her kids. And those are the things that make it great. So… plot is great. Ideas are fun. Character is the most important thing. And I want deep emotional honesty more than anything else.
What I don’t want
- Game of Thrones– or Wheel of Time-style fantasy: Not my wheelhouse. A book with elements of fantasy (see genre-straddling above), I’m cool with. Got a PI who also uses magic? Great. But full-on fantasy, I don’t think I can offer effective guidance.
- A first draft: I want something you’ve worked over a few times and you think you’re done, or close to it. Spoiler alert: you’re not even close! But one of the best pieces of advice I ever got is: your book is ready for the next step when you don’t know what else to do with it. That’s the point when you need to bring in another perspective (like me!).
- Transgressive fiction: It is really, very rare for transgressive fiction to be done well. I cut my teeth on Chuck Palahniuk but I want emotional honesty a lot more than I want subversive, explosive violence for the sake of itself.
- A violent act against a woman as the inciting incident: Most any trope can be reinvented and done well but this one really needs to just… go away. If your story opens with a naked dead woman wrapped in plastic, I don’t think think it’ll be for me.
I like e-mail, and occasional Skype session is cool. If you’re local to NYC or you’re visiting, I’d be open to getting a socially-distanced drink/coffee/cupcake. I know a really good cupcake place.
Find more wishlists below!
Pitch Wars 2020 Adult Mentors’ Wish Lists
- Mia P. Manansala and Kellye Garrett (Accepts NA)
- Rochelle Karina (Accepts NA)
- Ren Hutchings (Accepts NA)
- Mary Ann Marlowe
- Rachel Lynn Solomon
- Anna Kaling
- Gwynne Jackson (Accepts NA)
- Kristen Lepionka and Ernie Chiara
- Rachel Howzell Hall
- Lyn Liao Butler
- Michael Mammay and AR Lucas
- Paris Wynters (Accepts NA)
- K A Black (Accepts NA)
- Heather Van Fleet and Jessica Calla (Accepts NA)
- Hudson Lin (Accepts NA)
- Sonia Hartl and Annette Christie (Accepts NA)
- Taj McCoy (Accepts NA)
- Ian Barnes (Accepts NA)
- Keena Roberts (Accepts NA)
- N.E. Davenport (Accepts NA)
- Elizabeth Little
- Anne Raven and Janet Walden-West (Accepts NA)
- Charish Reid and Denise Williams
- Kalyn Josephson and Kat Enright (Accepts NA)
- Gladys Qin (Accepts NA)
- Tanen Jones (Accepts NA)
- Clay Harmon (Accepts NA)
- Jake Nicholls (Accepts NA)
- Layne Fargo and Halley Sutton
- Denny S. Bryce and L. Penelope
- Roselle Lim and Farah Heron (Accepts NA)
- Morgan Rogers (Accepts NA)
- Samantha Rajaram
- Rob Hart
- Damyanti Biswas (Accepts NA)
- Maria Heater
- Cynthia Pelayo (Accepts NA)
- Gia de Cadenet
- Nicole Glover (Accepts NA)
- Rosie Danan and Ruby Barrett (Accepts NA)
- Cole Nagamatsu and Sequoia Nagamatsu
- Carly Bloom and Sam Tschida
- P.J. Vernon and Kelly J. Ford (Accepts NA)
- Matthew Quinn Martin (Accepts NA)
- Stephen Morgan (Accepts NA)
- Alex Segura and M. J. Soni
- Roma Panganiban (Accepts NA)
- Tricia Lynne (Accepts NA)