Brianne Johnson of Writers House!!
Not only did Brianne pick a winner, she picked A LOT of runners up! And folks, when I say a lot, I mean it. Here. Let me show you.
The winner of a FULL REQUEST is...
Francesca Zappia's ALEXYTHIMIA!
Pitch: Alexandra Ridgemont is a paranoid schizophrenic whose biggest concern is worrying about than what’s real and what’s not—until the rumored-to-be-possessed scoreboard in her high school gymnasium starts talking, and not just to her.
And here's what Brianne had to say: LOVE the idea of such an unreliable protagonist! I also find it relatively rare to feature a formally diagnosed mentally-ill character.
Here are Brianne's 5 runners-up, who each won a FIRST 50 PAGES REQUEST!! And read on to see what Brianne had to say about each one!
Title: A PLACE TO CALL HOME
Genre: Middle Grade
Pitch: Twelve-year-old Stacey Graham is not happy when she finds out that the only person willing to take her and her younger siblings in after the deaths of their mother and beloved “Granny” is their uncle Percy, who lives in the back of his funeral home.
Brianne: I think this could be a really interesting opportunity to see kids confronted with death so frankly. Everyone has a moment in their childhoods where they really comprehend what death is and I think this should be written a bit more about for kids.
Title: GOLDEN BOYS
Genre: YA historical fiction
Pitch: When a 15-year-old Chinese girl kills a Missouri landowner in self-defense, she and a runaway slave disguise themselves as young men and seek their freedom in the frontier with a band of cowboys.
Brianne: This sounds like a good old-fashioned adventure story. Love the idea of a Chinese protagonist in the Wild West—I feel like that was a really challenging time for new immigrants. An intriguing set-up.
Title: Here Comes the Sun
Genre: YA Contemporary
Pitch: Amid the great castles and cathedrals of England, a high school senior loses her best friend to sluts, falls for a Beatles fanatic who's heart belongs to a tattooed-covered felon back in Chicago, and gets felt up by a Dungeons and Dragons freak.
Brianne: Sounds very voice-y, and I’m a sucker for a strong, weird, alterna-girl character.
4. andimjulie *NOTE: Brianne's already considering this one
Title: THE SYMPTOMS OF OUR SHADOWS
Genre: YA Contemporary
Pitch: When sixteen-year-old former ballerina, Alice, learned she was terminally ill she made a list of things to do and people to ruin–– all her scores were settled, until she went into remission.
Brianne: This just sounds really different and refreshing to me. Usually (and rightfully so) terminally-ill characters are set up as undisputed victims. I like the sound of one with a bitchy streak and some scores to settle.
Title: The Savage Days and Nights of Orion Marx
Genre: MG Adventure
Pitch: 12-year-old Orion Marx has five days to journey from Brooklyn to San Francisco to save his uncle and reverse his growth accelerator invention, but he’ll need a lot more than the bug spray to fend off mosquitoes larger than pigeons if he has any chance of surviving in this deadly new world.
Brianne: I love a road-trip story…and kid inventors!
And now for Brianne's honorable mentions!!! Each one can send a QUERY LETTER and the FIRST FIVE PAGES!!
Title: A SINGLE FEATHER
Genre: YA fantasy
Pitch: Chief Mamo is tempted to abandon his island’s caste system to be with the carefree girl he loves, but when a power hungry foreigner threatens the livelihood of his people, Mamo must decide between duty and love.
Brianne: Great set-up for a story, but not a great pitch. “Must decide between duty and love” sounds a bit clichéd.
Genre: MG contemporary fantasy
Pitch: When Mina's magic doesn't come in on her thirteenth birthday, she finds she's not a witch but was switched at birth, a discovery that leads her on a life-changing adventure to find the real witch.
Brianne: Seems like an original take on a popular theme. Like that the kid finds out that she’s NOT magical. Pitch could be more developed, but idea is interesting.
Title: PLANTED (I CAN WATER MYSELF)
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Pitch: A humanlike girl with a strange affinity to plants arrives on earth to save our garden from invasion, but her airborne immunization plan to protect us from alien infestation requires pollinating with a teenage human male within five days before she grows eighteen-days-old and her spore sack explodes.
Brianne: Love the title, and points for originality! Kind of Douglas-Adamsy. I almost don’t believe that this is a real story that’s been written—it seems like a parody to me.
Genre: YA Horror
Pitch: Thirteen year old Gabe, twelve year old Alexis, nine year old Kylar, and their two year old sister, Nahlani need to make their way from their house to their grandparents house forty miles away, but to survive they need to trek through the zombie ridden roads that await them.
Brianne: Great set-up for a story, but not a great pitch.
Lauri JB Corkum
Title: The Titanic Caper
Genre: MG Mystery
Pitch: When twelve-year-old Savannah James visits a traveling Titanic exhibit, she finds herself thrust into a web of intrigue after witnessing the theft of an antique pocket watch inscribed with a mysterious engraving.
Brianne: Need at least one telling detail about Savannah to know that she could carry the plot. She would need to be a very strong and original protagonist.
Title: The Charge
Genre: YA Alternate History
Pitch: Warren never lets bullies mess with his little brother, no matter how big or bad, so when the King of the Texas Empire kidnaps his brother, he embarks into a still-wild West to save him.
Brianne: Love the idea of an alternative reality, but wish there were a few more interesting details here to pull the reader in.
Title: Valley of Green and Gold
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Pitch: Gold may sparkle and shine but it also has the power to destroy, as Nora learns when it’s discovered near her California home in 1848.
Brianne: Great setting idea, but vague. Need more about Nora and her conflict.
MAJOR CONGRATS to everyone!!! Please send your materials to firstname.lastname@example.org!!
Now, in case you haven't noticed how supermegaawesome Brianne is, here's our interview with her!
1) You mention in your Publisher's Marketplace profile that you'd live in Hogwarts if you could (so would I!). Which house would you like to be sorted into that isn't Gryffindor?
I’m definitely going to have to go with Ravenclaw, which honors creativity, individuality, and wisdom—what better qualities exist for stories?
2) You also mention that you're seeking "exciting, high-concept, gobble-down-in-one-sitting YA novels that keep me up way past my bedtime". Which published YA novels have you read recently that fit this description?
Well, my absolute favorite YA book of all time is Francesca Lia Block’s WEETZIE BAT collection, DANGEROUS ANGELS. I loved that all of Block’s characters deal with the same universal issues as we all do, but in their own luminous, tinged-with-magical-realism way. When I read DA I feel like it makes me view the world in a different and more beautiful light. And, of course, the writing is so gorgeous you want to bask in it like a sunbeam.
The last book that made me cry was Sharon Creech’s WALK TWO MOONS, which is definitely a one-sitting kind of story. It’s a very wise and lovely book and you should all read it immediately.
I wish I could say that I’ve been keeping up more with brand-new YA, but the truth is that I’ve been reading for work every chance I get. I do think it’s important to keep up with the market, but also feel like it’s a bit dangerous to follow trends too closely. It separates you a bit from the stories you truly want to tell, and I worry that people talk themselves out of their own weird and wonderful ideas because they think it “won’t be marketable enough.” Whenever I see a book pitched to me as “Twilight meets Harry Potter”, or something along those lines, I get pretty suspicious. I just doubt that something THAT “marketable” can truly come from a person’s heart.
3) Your slush pile wish list includes middle grade fiction and picture books. What makes these stories awesome to you?
I always say “get ‘em while they’re young!” J in a world filled with instant access to video games and YouTube clips, it’s more important than ever to get kids reading at a young age. Reading helps children develop not only imagination, but their attention spans. I want to find stories that will fully engage kids where they are in their lives and show them that reading is a wonderful way to spend their time. I really love whimsicality in young books. Kids are so imaginative, and I’m trying to find stories that speak to that.
4) Any tips for writers struggling with their one-line pitches?
Read them out loud and make sure it flows! I think people get caught up in wanting to relay too much about the story—the one-line pitch should indeed give you a taste of what the book is about, but more than anything else, it should intrigue the reader and activate their curiosity. It should also give you a taste of the writing itself. Make sure it’s not too cluttered.
5) Do you have any exciting client/agency news to share?
Just that I’m incredibly proud of Writers House this year—our clients won the Newbery, and the Printz, the Caldecott Honor, and many other amazing awards this year. I feel incredibly lucky to be surrounded by people who are helping to midwife such incredible books into the world. It makes me more determined (and encouraged!) than ever to find a Newbery-worthy story some day.
Thanks so much to Brianne for being our February Mystery Agent!! And don't forget: tomorrow we have a brand new one!!
See you then :)