2017 Pitch Wars wish list

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Welcome to my Pitch Wars wish list! This is an awesome community, and I’m excited to be back and mentoring again in the adult category.

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Obligatory Pitch Wars GIF 😉

My official bio: E.B. Wheeler grew up in Georgia and California. She majored in history with an English minor and earned graduate degrees in history and landscape architecture from Utah State University. She’s the award-winning author of The Haunting of Springett Hall, Born to Treason (a 2016 Whitney award finalist), and No Peace with the Dawn, as well as several short stories, magazine articles, and scripts for educational software programs. She was a 2014 Pitch Wars alternate, and she’s represented by Abigail Samoun of Red Fox Literary. In addition to writing, she consults about historic preservation and teaches history at Utah State University.

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Like an agent, you want a mentor who clicks with you, so here’s a little more about me: I’m married with two kids, ages 5 and 8. We have a mini mini-farm with gardens, rabbits, chickens, a cat, and a keeshond. I love Indian food and cheesecake. I’m a Mormon. I have a rare neurological condition called Brown-Sequard syndrome from a spinal cord injury, so I’m own voices for disabilities. My favorite color is burgundy. My favorite historical periods are the Renaissance/early modern era, and the 1800s through World War I.

Books

Some of the books/authors I read over and over are Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Secret Garden, Jane Eyre, the Lord of the Rings, The Queen’s Thief series, and Terry Pratchett. I think Steven Brust is a unappreciated creative genius. I don’t get a lot of time to watch TV, but some shows I’ve enjoyed include The West Wing, Stargate: SG-1, My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the BBC’s Merlin (though I found the last season disappointing).

My critiquing style: For the person I select, we’ll go through your manuscript at least a couple of times, first for plot and character arcs, and then for fine tuning to bring out the best in your book. I’m honest in my critiques, but not crushing. I expect you to be open to feedback, but, ultimately, it’s your vision, and we can brainstorm together on trouble spots.

My critiquing strengths: I’m good at spotting sagging plot and character arcs and eliminating inconsistencies in both, ratcheting up the tension and stakes. I’ll also help you tighten up your language–make every word matter and cut the stuff that doesn’t add anything. Not sure if you have enough historical detail, or too much? I’m your girl. I’ve worked writing scripts, so I’m good with dialogue too.

Things I love in a book:

  • History! I’m a history geek, and I’m looking specifically for historical fiction, historical fantasy, or books that jump back and forth between past and present.
  • Interesting characters who feel like real people (text in red). Bonus points if one of them has a disability that affects them but doesn’t define them.
  • Realistic emotions – give me the whole range: laughing, crying, scared, excited – but I prefer an overall optimistic/hopeful tone, at least in the ending.
  • Strong voice and gorgeous (but not purple/distracting) prose
  • Wit and/or humor. I don’t expect to be laughing through the whole book, but I love clever dialogue and funny situations.
  • A good love story. That can mean romance, but also love between parent and child, siblings, friends, etc. Code Name Verity was beautiful and it’s all about friendship.
  • A little bit of mystery (Gothic romances are my guilty pleasure)
  • New insights into the world or the human condition

What I don’t love:

  • Books that put down or stereotype any ethnicity, religion, etc. Individual characters can have prejudices, but the general tone of the book should not be derogatory
  • On-screen rape or child abuse. If it’s a necessary part of the story and it happens off-stage or is not graphic, I can deal with it, but I can’t “watch” it happen.
  • Ditto with extremely graphic violence. I can handle blood and death, but I can’t do detailed murder scenes, or battle scenes that get down to the nitty-gritty of individual organs. If you’re describing someone’s squishy entrails, I may barf on your manuscript. 🙂
  • Graphic sex. I like my romances on the “sweet” side (though kissing is great!), and if sex scenes are necessary, I prefer them closed door. I don’t expect a sexless world, I just don’t need to see it happen.
  • Historical settings or characters that aren’t really historical. If Wikipedia was your only research source, it’s probably not historical enough for my tastes. Likewise if your historical character is abnormally “enlightened” for his or her time period – really just a modern person stuck in a historical setting (unless they really ARE a modern person stuck in a historical setting 🙂 ).

Last year most of my full requests were for historical mysteries or mysteries that jump between past and present, so I guess I have a soft spot for those, but I like all kinds of historical fiction:

  • Upmarket historical fiction–the kind of books you might read in book club – either set in the past, or moving back and forth between past and present (The Help, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Shape of Mercy)
  • Historical fantasy (Tim Power’s The Anubis Gates, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Patricia’s Wrede’s A Matter of Magic)
  • Retellings of myths, legends, folktales, and classics (Tim Power’s The Drawing of the Dark, Steven Brust’s The Phoenix Guards)
  • Historical mystery – either set in the past or with modern people trying to solve a historical mystery
  • Clean historical romance. I love a good love story, but I’m also kind of picky about them. There has to be something keeping the characters apart besides a misunderstanding that could be cleared up with a five minute conversation, and I like to see both of the main characters grow. “Enemies-to-lovers” is my favorite romance trope – love that chemistry!

I’m not the greatest Tweeter, but I’ll try to hop on every evening to answer questions until the submission window closes. Also, I usually try to follow other writers back, but I’ll wait until after the mentees are announced to avoid any mixed messages.

Last year I tried (and failed) to get feedback to everyone who submitted to me. This year, for the sake of my sanity, I’m only going to giving feedback to those I request pages from, unless I have a specific suggestion for something I read but don’t request.

Best of luck to everyone entering Pitch Wars!

 

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“Pearl Harbor and More” spotlight

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My thoughts on the book:

I was invited to review Pearl Harbor and More, and I was immediately drawn to the concept. We are approaching the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and I love the idea of telling stories set all over the world about how this single event changes so many lives. I think we often view big historical events in terms of a progression of given causes and effects, so it’s easy to forget that those effects were not a given at the time, and that they impacted various people in different ways that may not have made it into the history books.

I am an American, for instance, examines the reactions of Caucasian and Japanese Americans in California to the bombing. Instead of documenting the end result of the bombing in California–the removal and internment of thousands of people of Japanese decent–it looks at the immediate, personal consequences of the far-off event: war hysteria, an upswelling of anti-Japanese sentiment, fear among those who remembered WWI, and an uneasiness in Japanese Americans, who might not have known what was coming, but understood that their lives had just been changed forever.

I Am An American
by Robyn Hobusch Echols:
 
The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the next day the President of United States calls for a declaration of war on Japan. For the families of two Livingston, California, USA high school seniors, Ellen Okita, a first generation American who lives in the Yamato Colony composed of about 100 families of Japanese descent, and Flo Kaufmann, whose father is a first generation American in his family, the war hits home fast and brings unforeseen changes.

Excerpt:
December 8, 1941
Carl Kaufmann turned off the radio, stunned by the news report the family had just finished hearing. They had already heard the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor over in Hawaii. All the big battleships and cruisers had been attacked, all in flames, four of them sunk. Half the airplanes on the islands had been damaged or destroyed. It was not known how many Americans had lost their lives or been injured, but it was in the thousands.

This night the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in an impassioned speech, had asked Congress to declare war on Japan and Germany.

Carl turned to his wife sitting on the couch to gauge her reaction. He knew she wouldn’t take it well. She knew what it meant for their family. Their sons would go to war – if not tomorrow, soon. Both Arnie and John had registered for the draft. Already, in anticipation that the United States would join in the conflict in Europe, the term of enlistment for draftees had been raised from twelve months to thirty months. Carl was right. Alice sat as if in a stupor, her slender body shaking.

Carl surveyed the room to see how his children took the news. Arnie – still at the university in Davis taking his classes – was missing. John, with his dark hair and eyes like his mother, sat slouched in his chair, his ankle crossed at the top of his opposite knee, his index finger tapping his lips. The jiggling of his foot gave away his
nervousness. Flo sat next to her mother, her head resting on Alice’s shoulder. Her eyes watered with tears threatening to be shed. But it was his youngest son, who looked the most like his younger self, who worried Carl the most.

Hugh took action first by jumping from his seat. He paced the floor, his fists clenched. He turned to his father, his yell revealing his anguished feelings. “Those dirty Japs! Those dirty, dirty Japs! How dare they come in and bomb our harbor like that. I mean, we didn’t do anything to them. Our ships and our people were just minding their own business and then those Japs send in all those planes and torpedoes and shoot the place up. Why? Because they want war? Well, you heard our president. They got war.”

Carl spoke calmly, hoping to settle Hugh down. “I know it’s bad, Hugh. I don’t know what brought things on, but yelling like this won’t help. It’s only upsetting your mother and sister. Please sit back down.”

“Yeah? Well, maybe they should be upset. Look at your own daughter, being friends with that Jap girl. She’s the enemy and now her people have bombed Pearl Harbor.”

Flo sat up straight, her mouth agape in shock at Hugh’s accusation. She quickly found her voice. “Hugh, that’s not fair. Ellen was born here. She’s an American, just like we are. She and her family have nothing to do with Japan going to war with us.”

“Doesn’t make any difference. They’re all Japs. You can tell by looking at them.

About PEARL HARBOR AND MORE

Stories of WWII: December 1941:
 

 

On December 7th 1941, a pivotal event took place that changed the face of World War II. Hundreds of Japanese fighter planes carried out a devastating surprise attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. By December 11th, the United States was at
war with the Axis Powers in the Pacific and European theaters. World War II raged for almost another four years, but the entry of the world’s greatest economy into the conflict profoundly influenced its course.

This wide-ranging collection of eight stories by a diverse group of authors, who write wartime fiction, commemorates the 75th
anniversary of the Battle of Pearl Harbor. Few people’s lives were unaffected in some way by that fateful day and these stories reflect this. Some of them are set at Pearl Harbor itself, in other parts of the United States and in Singapore. Other stories take place in Europe: occupied France, Germany and Northern Ireland. They explore the experiences of U.S. servicemen and women, a German Jew, Japanese Americans, a French countess, an Ulster Home Guard, and many others.

We hope readers will enjoy our salute to the people and the events of this momentous era.

Available at the following online
booksellers:

 Amazon USA  |  Amazon UK  |  Amazon CA  |  Amazon DE  |  Amazon AU

Nook  |  iTunes  |  Kobo  |  !Indigo  |  Books2Read

About Robyn Hobusch Echols:

 
Robyn currently lives with her husband in
California, USA, near the “Gateway to Yosemite.” She is a member of Women Writing the West, and American Night Writers Association. She enjoys any kind
of history including family history. When she is not piecing together novel plots, she pieces together quilt blocks.
 
Robyn also write historical western romance under the pen name of Zina Abbott.

Connect with Robyn Hobusch Echols:
Website   |  Facebook   |  Pinterest  |  Goodreads   | 

Summer Book Trek 2016

I’m joining the 2016 Summer Book Trek, a reading challenge that gives away daily prizes in July. My not-hard-and-fast goal is to read:

Beyond the Rising Tide by Sarah Beard (again–I got to read an ARC and loved it!) X
Courting Cassandry by Joyce DiPastena
Loving Lucianna by Joyce DiPastena X
The Cenote by Chelsea Dyreng X
By the Stars
by Lindsay Ferguson
Forever and Forever by Josi Kilpack
The Spider and the Sparrow by A.L. Sowards X
Gladly Beyond by Nichole Van X
The Land of Look Behind by Aaron Blaylock X
My Loving Vigil Keeping by Carla Kelly X
The Librarian Shoots a Gun by Amber Gilchrist X
A Breach of Promise by Anne Perry

My book, Born to Treason is one of the sponsoring books/potential prizes, and the ebook will be on sale for $2.99 for the first week of July (the 1st through the 8th). The more books you read, the more chances you have to win, so if you’re looking for some fun summer reading, click here to check out the Summer Book Trek.

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Authors United Against Child Slavery

This is one of those things no one wants to think about, but that it’s important not to ignore. Operation Underground Railroad is an amazing group working to end child sex slavery (see their inspiring, heart-breaking story here), and Authors United Against Child Slavery is working to raise money to support them. Authors are donating books (and if you’re an author you can sign up to help), so anyone who donates at least $20 gets a free book. Please visit their site, spread the word, and do what you can to support the people working to end an unspeakable evil that often goes unnoticed right under our noses.

How I met my agent

I’m super excited to announce that I’m now represented by the wonderful Abigail Samoun of Red Fox Literary! I’m really looking forward to working with her to shine up my manuscripts and find them great homes, and I’m already hard at work on the first round of revisions.

Now, for the traditional, “How I met my agent” story. I found Abi (or, she found me), in #PitchMas, a pre-Christmas Twitter pitch party where authors tweet a short pitch and agents can favorite it if they’d like to see more. My Twitter pitch was, “Ballgowns. Calling cards. Hellhounds. It’s shockingly difficult to be a proper Victorian lady when the monsters are real. #PitchMas #YA.” I sent my query and first three chapters, and she requested the full manuscript a couple of weeks later. A couple of weeks after that, she emailed me about some revisions she wanted to see. As we talked about the changes and the manuscript, she decided she would like to represent it. Given her enthusiasm about the story, her great suggestions for strengthening it, and how well we clicked, saying yes was a no-brainer. 🙂

For my author friends, I want to add that this is a manuscript I spent a couple of years writing and revising (learning a lot along the way), and I was querying and refining it for a year before Abi picked it up. It gets discouraging at times, but keep working and learning and trying! Never give up, never surrender!

League of Utah Writer’s Conference 2014

I had a great time at the League of Utah Writer’s Conference last weekend in Layton. I visited with old and new writing friends, had good talks with an editor and an agent, survived a harrowing game of Werewolf, and picked up several awards for my writing, including first place prizes in the categories of media article, spiritual essay, and creative non-fiction, and second place for flash fiction! I will be posting at least some of those pieces here on the blog in upcoming months.

My favorite moment in the workshops was when Daniel Coleman took on Alexander Gordon Smith in mock battle during Christine Haggerty‘s class on fight scenes. There were many other great presenters, and I’m an obsessive note taker, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite writing tips:

First, from Alexander Gordon Smith (whom you should talk to if you ever get the chance–it surprises me how upbeat and cheerful most horror writers are) on pacing and characters. He suggests that books are like living things, with their own physiology, especially their own pulse. Just like people, it’s important for their pulse to vary, sometimes speeding up to keep things exciting, sometimes slowing to allow for rest. His first rule of writing is to know your characters inside and out and let them drive the story. Immerse yourself in their point of view and try to see everything as they do, capturing all five senses. Let your sentence structure reflect their experience (i.e. fast, short, choppy, versus pleasantly slow and relaxed).

On a related note, Bradley Beaulieu spoke about story tension. He demonstrated how a good story has tension on every page, but that the tension should vary in intensity and in type. Types of tension can include unresolved questions/mysteries, romantic suspense, action, danger, interpersonal conflict, emotional issues (loneliness, homesickness, etc.), moral dilemmas, political drama, failed personal expectations, flawed social systems, etc. Constant high tension (like peril and action scenes) will make most readers numb or tire them out. Low tension (like unresolved questions) is more long-term and tends to be the thing that keeps readers turning pages for the whole story. When one type of tension slackens (i.e., an argument comes to an end), a new type of tension should increase (the character feels guilty for the terrible things she said to her sister). Varying light tension (romantic) with dark tension (danger) makes both feel sharper. Resolving tension/conflict too quickly leaves readers feeling cheated, but dragging it on too long makes them frustrated–it’s a balancing act and requires practice. He recommended not worrying about these things during the rough draft, so the story can flow naturally, but paying attention to them when revising.

Nathan Croft presented on the elusive topic of voice (the writer’s unique style of storytelling). He believes voice is ultimately your own passion showing through in the context of the story. He warned against waiting for your voice to come to you–instead, you have to seek it out, such as by studying it in books you enjoy, by experimenting with writing styles and techniques, and by paying attention to your own emotions as you write, your own personality (i.e., outgoing versus reserved) and the things that inspire you, like music, art, nature, etc.

These were just a few of the great presenters, but they were the ones that gave me the most food for thought. Something they all agreed on was that writing is an ongoing journey. Keep writing, keeping learning, keep having fun! I’m excited now to jump back into my current work in progress and apply these ideas.

An eye for detail

I’ve been swapping chapters and talking story with some of the other historical fiction writers from Pitch Wars. One of them, Gwen C. Katz, drew this to illustrate a scene in the first chapter of my Victorian ghost story, Within the Sickle’s Compass; or, The Haunting of Springett Hall:

Lucy

Trust a historical fiction writer to catch the details, right down to the black-on-black embroidery on Sir Edmund’s waistcoat. 🙂

Of course, I’ve noticed that the artist-writers I know have a knack for detail and description. I have a theory that they’re so used to studying and capturing detail that they know just how to convey it to readers. Gwen’s writing was no exception–it provided me with very clear mental images. Since details are especially important to setting the scene in historical fiction, I spend a lot of time studying literature and artifacts from the time period I’m writing about, and I try to keep a strong mental picture of the setting my characters are moving through. I’ll admit to being jealous of my artist-writer friends for whom that process seems to be second nature.

You can see more of Gwen’s work, and a little about her historical fiction, Among the Red Stars (about the “Night Witches,” Russian women who flew biplanes against the Nazis in WWII), at her deviantART web page here.