So excited that The Last Place You Look will be published in the U.K. by Faber & Faber! The U.K. edition releases in July in paperback, and it has this cool, moody cover. The latticework on the pergola actually looks rather like the house I grew up in, which is a cool coincidence. Especially since the suburb where a lot of the action in the book takes place is based on the town where my parents live. Except for the murdery parts!
It's here! It's here! This cover gives me chills, and it's MINE. So many thanks to the designers at St. Martin's for putting together such an arresting image. I feel like it captures the vibe of the book perfectly, and those eye will hopefully follow people all over the bookstore.
Hi! I’m Kristen, and I'm a Pitch Wars mentor in the adult category, interested in mystery/suspense, literary fiction, and women's fiction. If that sounds like you, read on!
First of all, I’m glad you’re thinking about entering Pitch Wars. It’s a total game changer--I know this because I was a mentee last year. 4 days after the contest, I signed with the fantastic Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, and she sold the first two books of my mystery series to St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books earlier this year. None of this would have happened without Pitch Wars! I’m so thrilled that this year I get to help another emerging writer along this path.
I always joke that I grew up in a public library—but it’s only kind of a joke. I was at the library all the time when I was a kid, and I read everything I could get my hands on. I was that weird sixth grader reading John Grisham books on the school bus. I knew I wanted to write novels about as soon as I started reading them, and when I would go on trips with my parents, I would often take notes on locations, for “research.” Honestly, not much has changed. I still read nonstop, I’ve written five novels, and I am knee-deep in the sixth.
Here’s a bit more on me, in alphabetized list form*: cat owner, graphic designer, fluent in sarcasm, INFJ, Mac user, Ohioan, queer lady, Team Oxford Comma, whiskey drinker, world traveler.
I’ve done a lot of critiquing, and I am most effective at character development, dialogue, setting, overall structure, plot untangling, and identifying even the smallest inconsistencies in all of the above. I have a sharp eye for typos, so I’ll definitely spot them, but I won’t hold them against you. Because when you’ve written upwards of 80,000 words, there are bound to be some typos. The only real deal breaker for me is voice. I want a manuscript with personality for days. Everything else, even a crazy messy plot, can be fixed during Pitch Wars, but a strong voice and a solid concept need to be there to begin with.
So what exactly does Pitch Wars entail? A LOT of work. Last year, my mentor (ultimate plot wizard Kellye Garrett) basically said, “I love your MS! We gotta change everything.” We blew up the center of the plot and I rewrote the first two-thirds. So, I’ll be looking for a mentee who is open to making changes, even big changes, if necessary. If you think your manuscript is perfect already, or if you have a long list of things you absolutely will not change about it, no matter the reason, then I may not be the girl for you. I want to work with someone open-minded, someone humble and cool and, preferably, someone who will get my obscure music references**. A good sense of humor is important. But most importantly, I want a mentee who is willing to work hard. Otherwise, this amazing opportunity won’t help you. That being said, it’s supposed to be fun. And it will be! Inside jokes galore!
OK, now we’re onto the really fun stuff: my wish list! Show me your dark side, guys. Specifically…
- MYSTERY! This is what I write, and what I read most too. I’ll also include all related subgenres: crime, noir, suspense, upmarket suspense, thriller, procedural, etc. I love it all. I tend to favor stories with urban settings, badass female characters, diversity, twisty but realistic plots, snappy dialogue, sexual tension, and edge-of-my-seat suspense. I’m not squeamish when it comes to violence, language, sex, or creepy subject matter. I usually gravitate towards the hardboiled end of mystery, but that’s not to say I don’t love a smart cozy too.
- LITERARY FICTION! I’m ready to see some smart, gorgeous lit fic. If it’s strange, experimental and/or gritty in some way, I’m there! Give me your troubled characters, family secrets, sly descriptions of creepy Nebraska motels, etc. Literary fiction that flirts with fantasy, magical realism, ghost stories, or twisted, modern fairy tales = yes please.
- WOMEN’S FICTION! I’d love to see complicated/dysfunctional relationships, clever or dark humor, and feminist themes in my women’s fiction.
Also, bonus points for LGBTQ+ stories! I really want to see these. I would especially love to see a lesbian psychological thriller a la Memento, so if you have this? Maybe submit it just to me, kthanks.
I don’t want:
- Anything that isn’t Adult
- High fantasy or science fiction
Here are some favorites for an example of what I like:
AN INVISIBLE SIGN OF MY OWN by Aimee Bender
BROKEN MONSTERS by Lauren Beukes
A SEAHORSE YEAR by Stacey D’Erasmo
THE DRIFTLESS AREA by Tom Drury
A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan
THE SECRET PLACE by Tana French
WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? By Maria Semple
THE HUMANITY PROJECT by Jean Thompson
THE QUICK AND THE DEAD by Joy Williams
TL;DR I like: dry humor, experimental story-telling, genre-bending, danger of any kind (be it physical or emotional), fantasy elements in a rational world, mysterious plots (even in non-mystery stories), whiskey****, and writing that slyly taps into human truth instead of beating you over the head with its themes.
If your To Be Read pile looks anything like the above list, we'll probably get along, even if your MS isn't quiiiiiite in one of the genres I mention above. If you have a question about what types of stories I'll consider, feel free to ask me on Twitter @kmlwrites
What can you expect from me? An edit letter (or edit email conversation) shortly after mentees are announced, guidance, cheerleading, and support during your revision process, pitch/query letter help, and hopefully time for a round of line edits at the end. I’ll be available to you by email or Gchat (not a big phone call person), and trust me, I’m just as excited about Pitch Wars as you are.
I know choosing which mentors to sub to is a major decision, and I hope you’ll consider me! Again, I’m beyond excited to be a part of this awesome community, and I can’t wait to see your words.
P.S. my letter for the scavenger hunt is....Y!
*I love alphabetized lists. And footnotes.
**I’m kidding about the obscure music references***
****That has nothing to do with my Pitch Wars wishlist. I just like whiskey.
Thrilled to have a short story forthcoming in the next issue of Black Elephant. It's a pretty old story that I've always had a soft spot for, so I gave it a new coat of paint and found it a home. Black Elephant is a new publication with a slick, minimalist feel and a great logo (I'm a graphic designer by trade, so I can't stop noticing stuff like that.)
I'm a cat lady, as any glance at my Instagram will tell you. After the recent rainbow-bridge-crossing of our beloved 18 year old kitty Starfish, we adopted this guy last week. Named, of course, for Robert B. Parker's iconic detective, Spenser is 8 months old, super playful, and basically the best. I will keep the cat pictures to a minimum here, but his name makes him quite relevant to a mystery writer's blog, yes?
The novel centers largely on the happenings of a small, wealthy suburb of Columbus called Belmont. If you’re familiar with the city at all, you’ll know that Belmont is not a real place—for reasons that become clear when you read what happens, I didn’t want to malign the reputation of any of our actual suburbs. But Columbus itself is an undeniably real, vivid place, and during the course of her investigation, she visits many undeniably real businesses here in town. Most of them are in her neighborhood (and my former neighborhood), Olde Town East.
Scotch + Chinese food…a match made in heaven? Wing’s is a Chinese restaurant with a truly killer Scotch list. I’ve never patronized the restaurant side of the business, only the bar, but it’s worth a trip out to the east side just to take in their offerings.
Every city has a good hot dog shop. I think it’s some kind of rule. Dirty Franks is ours: a teeny, tiny restaurant on Fourth Street where, more often than not, you’ll have to sit on a stranger’s lap in the three-by-three foot waiting area until your table is ready. But it’s worth it, because they make inventive, tasty food (think hot dogs with mango chutney), play only local music, and serve a $3 cocktail made with whiskey and orange soda (a Buckaroo Banzai, named after the weird 80s sci-fi movie) that is both trashy and amazing. I’m partial to a veggie dog with sriracha cream cheese and Fritos, a dog of my own invention. My dream is that someday, I’ll order it so often that they actually put it on the menu.
This one is a good choice when Dirty Franks is too crowded and all the strangers’ laps are taken (it’s right down the block), but it’s also awesome in its own right. They make the best brussels sprouts I’ve ever had.
Patisserie on Oak Street
This one’s out of business, alas. But white African sweet potato tart was truly, truly amazing.
Their pesto is amazing, and so is their beer selection.
Across the street from Yellow Brick, this is a cute little bakery/café with many enchanting pastries (including vegan ones) on their menu. They have a nice patio for when the weather is good (which, honestly, isn’t often in the Midwest…but occasionally).
Next to the Angry Baker, this one is a newer bar in a cool old space. There’s an awesome pressed-tin ceiling to gaze at when you’re tired of staring into your whiskey glass for answers.
Coolest bookstore ever. Instead of a big rectangle full of parallel shelves, the Book Loft has thirty-two twisty rooms and hallways. You can lose yourself for hours and may need assistance getting out of here, which is the best kind of problem to have.
I can’t write without music. It helps me concentrate, keeps me inspired, and makes the words come easier. It’s not as simple as just turning on the radio, though: depending on what I’m writing, I need very specific music to listen to. The real trick is figuring out what each project wants to be written to. At times, I’ll put on music, spend hours typing and deleting the same paragraph, and then realize that the music is somehow wrong for whatever I’m trying to write. Conversely, sometimes the music I’m listening to will take a scene in another direction, or even show up in the scene itself. This is an assortment of the music I was listening to while writing and editing the manuscript, including some of the songs Roxane herself listens to during her investigation.
The important news is that I'm moving over to this site now, and the greatest hits of the old one are coming with me. The greatest hit, I mean: the Chicago Fire drinking game, updated in April 2016 to reflect the Season 4 cast.
My love of Chicago Fire runs deep. It may not sweep the awards circuit, and it probably won't endure into the future as a paragon of excellence in television, but maybe it should: this show is 100% pure entertainment. It knows exactly what it is—forty-two minutes of beautiful people, sexual tension, personal drama, and acute rescue-related suspense—and it rocks the hell out of it. To watch Chicago Fire, you have to suspend a fair bit of disbelief and stop asking why would he/she do that? (the answer is, I think, only because the script said to) and does it really work that way? (probably not but look! An explosion!) and why does Jesse Spencer ("Matt Casey") play every scene with shifty-eyed secrecy? (no one knows), but once you let go of the logic of the regular world, you will be free to soak up the magic that is this show. It's fun to watch, it looks like it's fun to make, and it is reliably engaging. So reliable, in fact, that I think it lends itself well to a drinking game:
TAKE A DRINK IF…
Someone says "ambo"
A personal conversation is interrupted by the alarm
A meal is interrupted by the alarm
Dawson's quick thinking saves the day
Boden broods silently in his office
Mills mentions his dad
Brett has a romantic entanglement
Dawson & Casey gaze meaningfully at each other
Someone mentions Severide's treacherous father, Benny
Casey talks about a construction job
Any character is questioned by police
Otis brings up his podcast
Pouch the Dog appears on screen
Connie glares at someone
Severide is shirtless
TAKE 2 DRINKS IF…
Anyone else is shirtless
A Molly's-related venture suffers a financial setback
Jaws of Life are used
Anyone confusingly refers to Otis or Mouch as Brian or Randy (is that what their names are? I don't know)
There is a fistfight of any kind
Someone mentions alcohol prep pads
"Call out!" or "Report!"
FINISH OFF YOUR DRINK IF…
People are trapped in an elevator
A victim has been impaled on a piece of rebar or other metallic object
A victim has been trapped in a piece of industrial equipment
A car hangs dangerously off a precipice, such as a parking garage roof or an overpass
One of the firefighters or paramedics has to be rescued in a dramatic fashion
Anyone is taken hostage