Monday, April 5, 2021

An Interview with Pitch Wars alum Lina Chern

Hey all you cool cats and kittens –

Your good pal Katrina here. Read on for an interview with Pitch Wars alum (and my newest agency sibling) Lina Chern!


In a nutshell, what is Pitch Wars?

Pitch Wars is part contest, part writing mentorship program. If you have a novel you've banged on until you're sick of looking at it, but haven't snagged an agent (and want to), Pitch Wars may be for you! You submit a query for your finished novel manuscript to four possible mentors (or mentor teams), who are usually just writers like you but with a bit more experience (i.e. have an agent, or have published books, etc.) If you get plucked from the pool of hopefuls, your prize is to work your butt off for three months, revising your novel with your mentors' help. When that's done, you can participate in an agent showcase, where agents flip through all the entries (a short pitch and the novel intro). If they like what they see, they will request to see more. I'd love to say "and the rest will be history," but it's important to remember that you're not guaranteed an agent through Pitch Wars -- it's just a very intense and fun leg up in the process.


What was your experience with the contest? Even though you came out the other end with an agent (!!) is there anything looking back you would have done differently?

I had a terrific experience with Pitch Wars. My mentors Kristen Lepionka and Ernie Chiara were well suited for me in every way -- in personality, communication style, and writing style. Their comments were spot on, and making the revisions was a pleasure, even if I had to struggle through an upside-down, pandemic-ridden schedule to make them. Some of my favorite memories are of all three of us working together in a live document, hammering on some small but stubborn piece of writing, and watching it write itself. It reminded me of playing with a ouija board when I was a kid -- no one thinks they're moving the planchette, but something mysteriously perfect emerges anyway.

I don't think I would have done anything differently because there was no time to do anything differently. I pretty much just put my head down and worked.


Is this the only pitch contest you've participated in?

I participated in Pit Mad several times before applying for Pitch Wars. I probably would have jumped on Pitch Wars sooner, but it didn't line up timing-wise with when I thought I was ready, and for that I am eternally grateful. Which is a great segue to the next question.


Do you have any advice for beginning writers eyeballing pitch contests with a twitchy submit finger?

It is really, really tough to know when your novel is ready to submit to something as selective as an agent or a contest. It was especially tough for me because I am a perfectionistic curmudgeon who likes to hole up and write by myself without showing my work to anyone ever. I don't recommend this. You don't need to bring in a critique partner every time you change your font, but there definitely comes a point when you're just too close to your own work to see its flaws. When you think you might be there, bring in a reader who knows what they're doing, preferably has some familiarity with publishing, and won't pull any punches. Don't go to your mom, who loves (or hates) everything you do. Don't go to your friends who may love to read but won't read with the kind of critical eye you need. If you can afford a professional such as a developmental editor or a query-reader, that may be an option. Try to make some connections through social media, or writing groups. Get some good eyes on your manuscript before you hit that submit button -- you'll be glad you did, but probably not until a lot later, when you look back in horror at what you thought was "ready."


What is your writing routine like? Plotter? Pantser? Do you write in small spurts or in long stretches?

I take plotting to an extreme. It's not enough for me to simply write an outline. I have to fill pages and pages with tiny, handwritten, stream-of-consciousness notes about what the story is and where it's going, before I even get to the outlining stage. Basically, I have to trick my brain into thinking I'm just journaling -- not writing, nope, nothing to see here -- so it doesn't freeze up on me. Then, once the story gets going and I'm motivated to continue, it's too late for my brain to complain. Sucker! Falls for it every time. Until the next time I have to do it. 

I tend to write in small spurts because that's what my home life allows these days. When there's no global health crisis and my kids are at school I tend to write for longer stretches.


What is something you think is unique to the genre you write? Is it what drew you to writing?

I dunno. I'm going to raise some eyebrows here, but I'm actually no more interested in mystery / crime fiction (the genre of my now-agented Pitch Wars novel) than I am in any other genre. I grew up reading speculative fiction, and currently read pretty much anything -- crime / mystery / suspense, sff, "literary" fiction, poetry. I landed on crime fiction as a writer because one day I discovered Elmore Leonard, and knew that THIS was what I wanted to write. It wasn't the crime-specific elements that hooked me, though; it was the voice, the style -- that simple, funny, conversational tone that is somehow simultaneously light and substantial. Any novel can be written that way, regardless of genre. And as a matter of fact, suspense novels that lean too hard on plot mechanics tend to lose me quickly. If the voice doesn't grab me right away, I'm out.


What is that one piece of writing--book, poem, screenplay, anything--that makes your insides go all twisty because you wish you'd written it (or as well as the person who wrote it)?

I have dozens of these, but a recent one is Erin Morgenstern's THE NIGHT CIRCUS. I had to read it twice -- once for the excitement of the story, once for the craft lesson. It is literally about magic, but to me, its real magic is how much it accomplishes with how little. It builds such a stunningly rich, visual, imaginative world, from language that is actually quite simple. Like, 9 times out of 10, when something is wet, she calls it wet. When something is red she calls it red. Often, writing that misses the mark does so because it's trying too hard to sound fancy, or literary, or just generally like MORE than it is. This book is a testament to "less is more." Also, I love books that are slyly about creativity and art when they are actually about something else.


What is your biggest writing "flaw?" The one thing you can guarantee will show up in your zero draft no matter how many times your critique partners have pointed it out?

I tend to get annoyingly clever when I'm faced with the difficulty of writing something genuine, which is always.


What is the worst part of writing?

Hmm. That's a tough one. It took me a long time to figure out my own writing process enough to enjoy it, but now that I have, I kind of love all of it. I love the compulsive pre-writing, the outlining, the revising, the obsessive thinking about the story even when I'm not in front of a computer or a notebook, the typing one-handed on my phone while I'm stirring pasta because I HAVE TO GET THIS IDEA DOWN RIGHT NOW. I mean, it's all difficult and challenging and all that, and I still face a ton of the anxiety that kept me from doing it for so long, but I feel like I have ways of controlling that part now (i.e. being nice to myself and not insisting on perfection every single time).


What is the best?

I can see I answered these two questions all wrong. See above? But also: I like the feeling of looking at a passage I wrote and thinking wow, I don't remember writing that, but whoever wrote it nailed it.


Lina Chern’s mystery novel HOT STREAK was selected for the 2020 Pitch Wars mentorship program. Other work has been featured in the Bellingham Review, Rhino, Black Fox Literary Magazine, the Coil and Mystery Weekly. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two children. Find her on Twitter @ChernLina.

1 comment:

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

I totally agree with this take on Elmore Leonard! Also I'm super jelly you got to work with Kristen. I love her Roxane Weary novels.

Blogger Template by Designer Blogs