Our Pitch Wars wishlist!

Who we are

Hi everyone, it’s Ava and Rachel, aka Avachel, aka your California Gothic dream team, and this year we’re mentoring Pitch Wars! Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each to spend three months revising their manuscript. It ends in February with an agent showcase, where agents can read the pitch and the first 250 words and request to read more. We’re thrilled to be a part of this amazing program, and we are mentoring adult fantasy.

(NB: While we will accept New Adult submissions, it is highly likely that we will ask you to revise it up to fit into the adult market.)

Why you should sub to us

We were both Pitch Wars 2018 mentees and, as such, we know what this process is like: the submitting and the waiting, the celebrating, the frantic revising, the pre-showcase panicking, the post-showcase panicking, the epic highs and dismal lows. With the help of my amazing mentor, Isabel Ibañez (seriously, if you are writing YA, SUB TO HER), I (Ava) signed with my incredible agent, Alexandra Machinist. My book went on submission and, a few weeks after the showcase, it sold in a five-way auction to Harper Voyager. My debut will release in 2021. I genuinely find writing queries and pitches to be a fun challenge, and I look forward to helping our future mentee figure out how their book fits into the market.

I (Rachel) have been teaching and critiquing creative writing for a decade. I facilitated the first peer-led genre fiction workshop at UC Berkeley, where I also worked as an academic writing tutor. In 2018, I attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop, where I did nothing but write and frantically critique at least two short stories a day for six weeks straight. I currently work as an editorial assistant for the literary adventure fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, where I read slush and write rejections with personalized feedback. Due to this latticework of experiences, I’ve developed a quick, incisive editorial method, delivering holistic feedback in an encouraging, positive manner. In essence, I know what it’s like to be both querier and queried. Whatever happens, I’ll be there for you through all of it.

What we’re looking for

We are primarily looking for character-centric, literary-leaning fantasy. We want beautiful, intentional prose with a distinct voice and and nuanced characters that transcend tropes. We are both more interested in second-world fantasy, but we could be charmed by historical fantasy or contemporary fantasy—though we would prefer it to lean more fabulist/magical realist than paranormal. In either, we want a vividly drawn world that feels fresh and unique. No generic white medieval settings, please.

In general, we love fantasy that is somehow anchored to the real world—inspired by contemporary politics, or by little-known periods of history, drawn from real-life cultures and mythologies. For example, Ava’s debut, THE WOLF & THE WOODSMAN, is inspired by the history of medieval Hungary and aspects of Jewish mythology. We would love to mentor fantasy from perspectives that haven’t yet been seen, in settings that haven’t yet been explored. If your pitch is basically “[political event/historical period] but with magic,” please sub to us.

We would love to mentor something epic and sweeping, with multiple POVs, or something quieter and with more personal stakes. In either, we would like the focus to be on character, and how that character’s choices propel the plot. We crave incredibly detailed character building; we want to laugh, cry, and scream with your characters. Essentially, we want human stories in a fantasy setting. Again, beautiful prose and unique voice are a must. No generic distant third-person POV (a lot of writers default to this in fantasy, but Ava’s debut is written in first-person, present tense!) Hook us with gorgeous and evocative language and then emotionally devastate us with your flawed, compelling, infuriating characters. We want ACTUALLY morally gray characters, and characters who have to earn their redemption arcs.

We want fantasy that subverts tropes and doesn’t take certain conventions of the genre for granted. For example, if your book takes place in an “empire,” what are the subjugated populations? What is the history of imperialism? How does that impact the economy and the politics of your world? (Incidentally, we would love to mentor fantasy that deals with themes of colonialism and diaspora). Please no fantasy states that are religiously/ethnically homogeneous—it’s just not realistic! We also love intricate, developed magic systems, particularly those that explore a relationship to science, religion, culture, or all three. Show us a magical response to resource scarcity, or explore the politics of hereditary magic. Give us a nuanced depiction of power dynamics and cycles of violence. In particular, we would like to see stories by marginalized voices and from marginalized perspectives, and we have a strong desire for LGBT characters and romances.

Favorites

Books

  • CIRCE and THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller
  • UPROOTED and SPINNING SILVER by Naomi Novik
  • SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo
  • THE POPPY WAR by R.F. Kuang
  • GRACELING and FIRE by Kristin Cashore
  • THE FEVER KING by Victoria Lee
  • HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, FIRE & HEMLOCK, and everything else by Dianna Wynne Jones
  • THE SISTERS OF THE WINTER WOOD by Rena Rossner
  • The Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden
  • Anything by Kelly Link
  • Anything by Karen Russell
  • HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES by Carmen Maria Machado
  • FATES AND FURIES by Lauren Groff
  • THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT by Seth Dickinson
  • JADE CITY by Fonda Lee
  • THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
  • THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI by Helene Wecker
  • HOUSE OF LEAVES by Mark Z. Danielewski
  • WHO FEARS DEATH by Nnedi Okorafor
  • DEATHLESS by Catherynne M. Valente

Tropes

  • Enemies-to-lovers/hate-to-love/rivals-to-lovers
  • The slowest-burn romance ever
  • Closed environments (schools, prisons, etc.)
  • Magic as [something] (magic as science, magic as religion—surprise us!)
  • Fantasy with horror/gothic elements—do you have a haunted house book with a twist? Something that reads like the novelization of a Guillermo del Toro movie? We want it! 
  • “Wait, that monster is more human than we thought” AND “wait, that human is more monstrous than we thought” (basically, we want Guillermo del Toro himself to sub to us)
  • Themes of religious angst. Both of our Pitch Wars books deal with religious conflicts and existential crises!
  • Necromancy. Please. Thanks.
  • Creepy, anthropomorphized trees
  • Anything that reads like a fairytale, or uses/subverts elements of fairytale

Other media we love

  • We’re both HUGE fans of book mood playlists. If, for example, your book reads like Hozier and Florence + the Machine collaborated on a magnum opus, we want it desperately.
  • We both grew up consuming massive amounts of anime and manga and slip many references into our work; if you, too, are an anime-inspired writer, we would love to see your submission.
  • I (Rachel) play a lot of video games and am particularly fond of RPGs and horror (especially gothic and psychological). Anything like the Final Fantasy series (VII, IX, and XII are some top favorites, but I love them all). Fantasy with horror elements that feel like Rule of Rose, the Silent Hill series, the Resident Evil series, or the Fatal Frame series (PS2-era horror!) would be fantastic (science fantasy, fantasy gothic, anything liminal, literary, and boundary-pushing).

Also, we’re not squeamish. Bring on the body horror.

What we’re not looking for

We are not the right mentors for epic fantasy dominated by straight white male characters, or fantasy with magical creatures (elves, dwarves, orcs, etc.) where prejudice against these creatures is an analogy for real-world racism. Please no dead sex workers or fridged women. Also, while we LOVE a good romance, we are not the right fit for books where romance is the main focus. If you sub heterosexual romance, we would like to see the man actually respect the woman, and for there to be a compelling reason why she wants to be with him aside from his physical attractiveness.

We are open to mentoring books that tackle difficult subject matter, such as sexual abuse, and I (Ava) am particularly interested in nuanced portrayals of survivors. However, please, please include content warnings if your book contains explicit depictions of sexual abuse (especially child sexual abuse) so we can properly prepare ourselves and be in the right headspace to read.

How we can help you

  • We will guide you through two major edits, the first being a big picture edit that will look at plot, pacing, and broad strokes character arcs, and the second being smaller scale, assessing the changes made, micro-level line edits, etc.
  • We both like to look at big themes and make sure they’re resonating within each plot turn, each character’s arc, and even in the prose itself. We love to read a book that feels thematically cohesive, and like every choice the author makes is intentional!
  • We will be paying VERY close attention to character development and worldbuilding. I (Ava) studied politics and like to get very detailed with political and economic systems and have used game theory and rational choice theory to help me understand my characters and their decisions (really), and I (Rachel) am a stereotypical English/Media Studies major with a profound interest in character arcs (I’m here for emotion, internality, and relationships) and SYMBOLISM.
  • We are both total prose geeks and will help you root out ALL your clichés and repeated words.
  • Rachel is Ravenclaw good cop who will remind you to honor your vision and stay true to yourself and Ava is Slytherin bad cop who will force you at virtual knifepoint to use beat sheets (she will convert you to beat sheets; Rachel is now a believer).
  • We may not necessarily be the most forthcoming with praise (we don’t really use the ‘compliment sandwich’) but if you’re ever in need of moral support, PLEASE feel free to ask us and we will shower you with validation (we are also happy to supply book-related memes/vines). If we pick your book, that means we adore it and see the potential.
  • However, we may also ask you to make major changes to your book. As a mentee, I (Ava) rewrote half my book, completely changed my main character’s motivation, added a subplot, deleted and added secondary characters, and went from past tense to present tense. And my book is a thousand times better for making all those changes! I (Rachel) changed the nature of the main plot thread and magic system, added the entire concept of alchemy, rewrote many, many chapters, and completely removed one of the protagonist’s relationships.
  • We will make ourselves available for anything you need during the revision period, and you can feel free to contact us via email, text, phone call, Skype, Twitter DM, carrier pigeon…We live close by in real life, which means we can easily do Skype calls with you (and will also totally gush about your book together over coffee).
  • There are two of us, which means even if one of us is busy, chances are the other will be free!
  • We will also help you prepare your pitch and query for the showcase. I (Ava) genuinely love writing queries and am super excited about this part (seriously!), and Rachel loves crafting pithy pitches and titles. If you want help curating your query list, or just general industry advice, we are happy to talk about that, too! We are mentors because we want to put our vast reservoirs of publishing knowledge to good use by helping our mentee.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to reach out to us on Twitter (@asimonereid and @khymatos). While we ask that you don’t directly pitch us your book, you can ask us if we would like a manuscript with certain elements, i.e. “would you be interested in a book with a fresh take on witchcraft?” (The answer is yes, by the way.) Even if your particular trope/setting isn’t listed here, don’t assume we don’t want it! A lot of times we don’t know what we’ll enjoy until it’s right in front of us.

Please check out the other mentors’ bios below, or view the main Pitch Wars mentor blog post here.

Pitch Wars 2019 Adult Mentors’ Wish Lists

  1. Paris Wynters
  2. Kathleen Barber (Accepts NA)
  3. Ian Barnes
  4. Mary Ann Marlowe (Accepts NA)
  5. Elizabeth Little
  6. Hayley Stone and Erin A. Tidwell
  7. Gwynne Jackson (Accepts NA)
  8. Maxym M. Martineau (Accepts NA)
  9. Katie Golding (Accepts NA)
  10. Ava Reid and Rachel Morris (Accepts NA)
  11. Carolyne Topdjian
  12. Natalka Burian
  13. Tim Akers
  14. Alex Segura
  15. Michelle Hauck and Carrie Callaghan (Accepts NA)
  16. Laura Brown (Accepts NA)
  17. Mia P. Manansala and Kellye Garrett (Accepts NA)
  18. Kerbie Addis and Ren Hutchings (Accepts NA)
  19. Susan Bishop Crispell (Accepts NA)
  20. Kelly Siskind and Heather Van Fleet (Accepts NA)
  21. Janet Walden-West and Anne Raven (Accepts NA)
  22. Kate Lansing (Accepts NA)
  23. Kristen Lepionka and Ernie Chiara
  24. Alexa Martin and Suzanne Park (Accepts NA)
  25. Gia de Cadenet (Accepts NA)
  26. Rob Hart
  27. Layne Fargo and Halley Sutton
  28. Michael Chorost (Accepts NA)
  29. Sarah Remy (Accepts NA)
  30. Nicole Glover (Accepts NA)
  31. Farah Heron (Accepts NA)
  32. Samantha Rajaram
  33. Keena Roberts (Accepts NA)
  34. Rebecca Enzor (Accepts NA)
  35. Matthew Quinn Martin (Accepts NA)
  36. Denny S. Bryce (Accepts NA)
  37. Meryl Wilsner and Rosie Danan (Accepts NA)
  38. P.J. Vernon and Kelly J. Ford (Accepts NA)
  39. Gladys Quinn (Accepts NA)
  40. Diana A. Hicks (Accepts NA)
  41. Damyanti Biswas
  42. Stephen Morgan (Accepts NA)

On Budapest, and the politics of fantasy writing

[Content warning for this post: antisemitism, genocide]

I just got back from a four-day trip to Budapest, Hungary. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful city with a fascinating history, and it (as well as Hungary as a whole) serves as the backdrop for my debut novel, The Wolf & the Woodsman. It was incredibly meaningful to visit a place in person that inspired so much of my work, and to interact with Budapest as a living city, not just a relic of the past.

Statue of St. Stephen, Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest

This picture is one I took of a statue of St. Stephen (Hungarian: István), who, as some of you know, plays an important role in my book. Stephen was the first Christian king of Hungary and is considered the founder of the modern Hungarian state. Stephen himself was a convert, born with the pagan name Vajk, and he is responsible for uniting Hungary’s disparate tribes and Christianizing the country through violence. St. Stephen’s basilica, the largest and most iconic church in Hungary, is essentially an altar to Stephen. As we walked through it, my partner (who was raised Catholic) said it was the most nationalistic church he’d ever seen. On the main altar, where you might ordinarily have a statue of the crucifixion, or the Virgin, there was a statue of Stephen instead.

Interior, St. Stephen’s basilica, Budapest

After visiting the basilica, we went to Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe, which is also the site of a mass grave. Unlike Christians, it’s not common for Jews to place cemeteries near houses of worship, but in 1944, the synagogue was part of the Jewish ghetto. In about three weeks, 13,000 people died – from starvation, cold, sickness. The names on the graves represent only the bodies that could be identified; most of the others buried there remain anonymous. Other Jews were deported to death camps like Auschwitz, via train or via death march. More were shot into the Danube River. The banks of the Danube are littered with pairs of shoes, a memorial to those killed. In all, nearly 600,000 Hungarian Jews died, more than two-thirds of the total population. Today, about 300 families are members of the Dohány Street Synagogue, attending services in a temple built for 3,000.

Cemetery at Dohány Street Synagogue, Budapest

It is impossible to talk about Hungarian Jews and Hungarian history without also talking about contemporary politics. On our way to dinner one night, we also passed part of the campus of Central European University — the university that was recently forced to close by prime minister Viktor Orbán. This is due in large part to the fact that CEU was founded by George Soros, a Hungarian-Jewish philanthropist and Holocaust survivor. Orbán and his party, Fidesz, promote the idea that George Soros is responsible for facilitating the influx of migrants and refugees to Hungary, and they have campaigned on promises to “Stop Soros,” relying on blatantly antisemitic messaging and symbolism to rally support. Fidesz has a supermajority in the Hungarian parliament.

Exterior, CEU campus building, Budapest

This is tricky to talk about, but I think it’s important that we fantasy writers who draw inspiration from European cultures and histories are careful not to unintentionally reinforce ideologies of ethnonationalism. I’ll explain what I mean: in recent years, and particularly in Eastern Europe, pre-Christian mythologies and symbols have reemerged as tools of ethnonationalism, which, in Hungary, is synonymous with nativism, anti-Roma racism, and of course, antisemitism. It’s common knowledge that Orbán has been virulently opposed to refugees and migrants settling in Hungary, and has built a fence on the country’s border with Serbia and Croatia to prevent further migrant crossings. Roma in Hungary face racially-motivated violence and staggering, often state-sponsored discrimination. All of this is in service of promoting Hungary as a nation-state – a political entity governed by, and comprised solely of, ethnic Hungarians. Symbols like the turul, a fantastical bird that is central to Hungarian national mythology (which also plays a role in my book), are utilized by far-right parties to bolster their nationalistic, virulently bigoted message.

Hungary is not alone in this respect. Slavic neopaganism is so entangled with ethnonationalism that the two are difficult to separate. Golden Dawn, the Greek Neo Nazi party, regularly uses symbols of Greek mythology; its official logo even features a laurel wreath. These parties are promoting neopaganism as a return to a purer, pre-Christian form of the nation, and this idea is directly tied to anti-EU and anti-globalization rhetoric, as well. This is all complicated and difficult to tease apart in a single blog post, but I think it’s very important for fantasy writers to be aware of the contemporary politics of the countries and cultures that we draw inspiration from, not just the histories.

Interior, Dohány Street Synagogue, Budapest

Because I drew so heavily on pre-Christian Hungarian mythology, it was crucial for me to also include Jews in my book. In my books very earliest incarnation, there were no Jews, in part because I didn’t think it would be relatable or marketable. I’m very appreciative to authors like Naomi Novik, Victoria Lee, and Rena Rossner for changing my mind about that, and I’ll be forever grateful for my mentor, Isabel Davis, for encouraging me. Jews have long been a feature of fantasy books – but we are dwarves and goblins, hook-nosed mythic creatures who hoard gold or are defined by oppression or diaspora. Not people with a rich and storied history, not characters with nuance and dignity. Woodsman‘s main character, Évike, is a patrilineal Jew who starts the book isolated from her Jewish heritage, and estranged by her home village for her paternity. It’s an inextricable, intrinsic part of her character, just as Jews are inextricably part of Hungarian history. At the Dohány Street Synagogue museum, there is a carving of a menorah that dates back to the first century CE, discovered in modern-day Hungary – proof that Jews lived in the Carpathian basin even earlier than “ethnic” Hungarians.

Tombstone carving of a menorah, Dohány Street Synagogue museum, Budapest

If I had simply written a book about pagans and Christians, drawing on this fraught, brutal part of Hungarian history, my book may, itself, have been appropriated by Hungarian ethnonationalists to use as a validation, or propaganda – the noble pagans fighting against the violent, globalizing power of Christians! It’s a narrative that far-right parties might have loved. The truth is that Hungary was violently converted to Christianity, and that much of pagan culture and history was wiped out in the process, but also that pre-Christian mythology was integrated in some ways with the newly emerging Christian Hungarian state, as national symbols that define Hungary to this day. The statue of the turul still sits at the gate of Buda castle.

Turul statue, exterior Buda castle, Budapest

It’s just as important to be aware of contemporary politics as it is to understand history; these two things are indivisible. The inclusion of Jews in my book is a message to Hungarian ethnonationalists, and European ethnonationalists as a whole, and even to a fantasy canon that tries to erase or stereotype us: we have always been here. We will always be here.