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Pitch Wars Mentor Spotlight: Kelli Newby


Kelli Newby is co-mentoring for the first time alongside Mary Ann Marlowe. In addition to writing, Kelli is an English Professor, teaching composition, dramatic lit, fantasy lit, and fantasy writing.

This year marks Mary Ann Marlowe's third time mentoring Pitch Wars (she was also a mentee in 2014!). Her debut novel, SOME KIND OF MAGIC released to great reviews earlier this year, and her second book, A CRAZY KIND OF LOVE, will be out in December.

And now for the Q&A!

Hi, Kelli, and welcome! As a playwright and a novelist, how do you decide which story ideas are meant for the theatre and which are better as books?

What genre I write in has more to do with the situation rather than the idea. For me, the joy of fiction is getting lost in my imagination, so when I want to work alone, I write novels. On the other hand, the joy of theatre is collaboration. I prefer to write plays as part of a team or company—usually with a particular performance place and time in mind.

In your work as an English Professor, you teach composition, dramatic lit, fantasy lit, and fantasy writing. Is there one ‘golden rule’ in writing that you always try to instill in your students?

Read—deeply, consciously, and joyfully. Read things that comfort you and read things that challenge you. Read things that teach you about your own experience and things that put you in other people’s shoes. If you’re a writer, read once for the fun of it, then read it again to figure out how it works.

What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?

This varies for me from protagonist to protagonist. The book I’ve been working on for the past year is about a character who’s learning to take control of her own life, so the challenge is making sure she’s driving the plot and has agency because her natural inclination is to let others make decisions for her. I have another character who’s very “act first, think never” so the challenge of her book is building a plot out of all the drama and chaos she creates.

You were a mentee in Pitch Wars 2016, and this year you’ll be mentoring! Having been on both sides of the fence, what advice would you give the mentee hopefuls for 2017?

I was actually a PW alternate in 2014 as well, so I’ve been part of the community for three years—which means I’m extra excited about my promotion to mentor. On that note, my biggest piece of advice is to stay focused on community. Make friends. Find CPs.

There are amazing success stories in PitchWars—but then there are a lot of people like me who didn’t get an agent, shelved the book, etc. I still won PitchWars both times, though, because I found awesome people who dust me off and cheer me on when I want to give up.

Bonus? You don’t have to be chosen as a mentee to win the best part of the contest. Go on the feed and make friends!

What qualities will you and Mary Ann be looking for in a mentee?

This is all new to me, but I suppose it will be a combination of a book that gets me excited and a person who is excited to do the work. Someone who will go back and forth with me about ideas, then dig in and work independently. If they understand my dry sense of humor, that’s a bonus.

What advice do you have for writers who may be attempting a major revision for the first time?

I’ve done three big R&Rs for agents, and I was in Pitch Wars twice, so I give this advice from a place of experience. Basically, know the heart of your story—why you wrote it and why you love it. It will help you sort out what’s worth fighting for from what you can (and should) cut/change. Also, when you’re in the middle of the revision and feel like you’ve lost your way, you’ll have that True North to lead you through.

What are you reading, or otherwise currently obsessed with?

N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy. I’ve read/listened to The Fifth Season three times this year, and I can’t get it out of my head. When the third book comes out in August—well, don’t expect to hear from me until I’ve read it.

And lastly, what’s your latest WIP?

I’m just finishing (another) huge revision to my PW2016 book. I pitched it to my agent as Jennifer Weiner meets FANGIRL when a corporate lawyer discovers the path out of heartbreak in a fantasy novel—written by the woman her fiancé ran off with.

For those entering Pitch Wars 2017, be sure to check out Kelli and Mary Ann's MENTOR WISHLIST HERE!

And, as always,


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