Posted in Great Middle Grade Reads, Pitchwars, Teacher Resources, Writing

Mentor Wishlist for Pitchwars ’17!

OMGoodness, it’s Pitchwars time! Writers, welcome.  I am thrilled to be a PW ’17 mentor for MG, and I’m so glad you stopped by! Good luck to everyone. 😊

BIO:  I’m a teacher and writer in Southwestern PA. My teaching career has taken me from public secondary schools to small private settings, and I’ve taught most grade levels from 2nd to 12th along the way. My most recent teaching “gig” was Language Arts, 5th through 8th grades, at a small Catholic school.

I decided to be a pitchwarsmg2bimageteacher by the time I was a middle grader, but I knew I wanted to be a writer a lot earlier than that. Instead of earning my permanent teaching certification credits in some education-related field, I went rogue and earned a Master’s Degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. I learned how to structure and produce book-length works in popular genres at Seton Hill, but my favorite part of the program was the revision work we did in email Peer Critique groups and small group in-person critique settings.

Several of my creative non-fiction essays, literary non-fiction, and craft articles got picked up for publication after grad school, but my book goals got a little sidetracked with teaching, directing high school and middle school theatre, and having kids. Pitchwars ’15 was my incentive to start trying again—I finished my WIP and submitted! Then several mentors requested my manuscript to read—what a thrill! Then I got in—instant terror!

200But my awesome mentor Rebecca Wells quickly made me remember what I loved so much about peer critiquing in grad school: that revision is happily addicting, and that improving your story one sentence at a time brings a fulfillment to the writer that few other working processes can achieve.

I had over a dozen agent requests in the week after entries went live, and I later found my agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin at Trident Media, as a result of that agent-finding process.

So! Hopefully at least some part of my writing path resounds with yours. I think there are a lot of parallels between writing fiction and producing a piece of theatre for the stage (as there are counterparts between many artistic forms), but the biggest one is also my favorite advice: trust the process. Everyone’s process is different—doesn’t matter if it’s taken you a while to come this far! Be proud that you are here, and working toward what you want.

Come follow me on Twitter–  @JennBrisendine   and Instagram — JennBrisendineWrites .


–I’m seeking upper MG historicals with or without elements of magic; time periods during the Fall of Rome, Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Restoration would be of special interest.

–I’m also seeking upper contemporary or historical realistic MG that takes place in interesting geographical locations (islands? polar regions? deserts?) that play a strong role in the book. Ecological/Environmental elements would be great to see.

–Upper MG mystery built on strong characterization would be great.

–Upper MG set in small or alternative school settings or having to do with theater would be good too.

–I love good use of literary techniques in the writing— sincere and organic prose that zings.

–I like interesting POV mixes and teachable books.

200wHere are some reads I’ve enjoyed lately and what I liked about them.

Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan – mix of 1st and 3rd POV, present and past tense works really well here.

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes – more recent historical event combined with elements of magic for the win.

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes – interior monologue is well done and imagery sticks with you.

Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin – Voice and emotional “grippiness” here are standouts; interesting and original historical setting.

The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley – kind of an unrelenting realism here that makes you keep reading.

My favorite writers include Rebecca Stead, Lemony Snickett, and Christopher Paul Curtis.

My favorites to teach include Bud, Not Buddy; Number the Stars; Maniac Magee; Holes; Fever 1793; Ninth Ward; and The Westing Game.

I’m probably NOT the best MG mentor for:

–high fantasy;

–animal stories;

–younger MG stories;

–sports stories;

–fairy tale or legend/folktale retellings;

–bathroom or lunch table humor.

Okay! So… good luck, and don’t stress about prepping your submission! Remember, it’s a process…and time and hard work will help you arrive.

If you get lost along the way, the Pitchwars site can offer guidance.

And don’t forget to stop by #Pitchwars on Twitter.

Can’t wait to see what I get in the inbox…and thank you for considering me as a potential mentor for your MG work for PW ’17.

Have fun on the rest of the blog hop!





































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Posted in How-to Guides, Writing

By the Book, Chapter Three: A Profile of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King

Every time I pick up Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King, it’s like drinking a hot tea with honey when you have a scratchy throat. Soothing and helpful. There’s no snarkiness here, just wisdom and common sense advice told in a clear and friendly tone. There are even little cartoons by George Booth to keep you smiling as you slash and burn pieces of your manuscript.

My copy is literally yellow with age and use. Assigned reading in the early semesters of my fiction writing program ten years ago, this one stays within reach on my desk, with  dogeared and paper-clipped sections for quick reference. Loaded with examples, the authors never talk down to the writer or say anything discouraging, and they keep quiet on the slim chances we all have of fiction publication. Consequently, the soothing part is just being allowed to go in to your work and revise the heck out of it, based on their recommendations. There’s a tighter focus on what to do and how to do it because they leave reality checks and opinions to the Noah Lukemans of writing guides and inspiring words and tones to the Anne Lamotts. Just last night, flipping through the guide for some tidbits to mention in this post, I reviewed the chapter “Easy Beats” and realized I better edit (again) the dialogue in the second half of my novel to get rid of the extraneous beats. I’m forever having characters sigh or nod their heads or take off or put on their glasses, because I don’t want them just standing there awkwardly; but Self-Editing says no, let the dialogue “crackle” with its own tension, keep the beats to a minimum, don’t slow the pace too much. And I trust this book, so it’s back I go with the delete key at the ready.

Oh, and if you don’t know the term “beat,” don’t even worry. Not only do the authors explain every term at the beginnings of chapters, they do it in such a painless way that you never feel amateurish or inexperienced. Beats are the physical activities character pursue as they talk and move in a scene, you read. Ohhh, yeah, your writer head thinks. I have those. And if you have too many, like me, you read the rest of the chapter for pointers on making beats more worth their while, and then you go revise.

Other chapters detail breaking up dialogue and interior monologue for better pacing, editing out repetition, resisting the urge to explain every little thing, and one of my favorites, making your writing more sophisticated. This has to do with eliminating the overuse of exclamation marks, italics for emphasis, and -ly adverbs, as well as keeping a tight leash on metaphors when the action or reveals need to take center stage (ooh, I need to be reminded of that last one a lot). The authors are flat out solving the mystery here on how to have a writing style, because once you rise to a higher level of sophistication in your writing, your voice can start to show. Voice is  an elusive enough thing for writers. Thank goodness Self-Editing can help you clear away the obstructions in your voice’s path, and allow you a chance of honing it.

One more note on the soothing effect of this guide: it’s one of the few I’ve seen that offers actual suggested answers to the end-of-chapter writing exercises. What a great way to douse any Inexperienced Writer Panic. Sip this book, and get back to work.