Posts Tagged writers

WNDMG Wednesday – Guest Post – Gail Villanueva: The Pitch Wars Culture of Giving Back

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around
We Need Diverse MG Logo

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

The Pitch Wars Culture of Giving Back

by Gail D. Villanueva

I never thought I’d be a published author. I’ve always wanted to be one, but I never thought I’d actually be one.

You see, I live in a country where access to books is a privilege, not a right. In the Philippines, poverty, crime, and natural disasters are greater concerns over libraries. That’s not to say we don’t have books. We do. But the local publishing industry here is so not the same as it is in the US. There are few publishers and even fewer writing organizations. Mentorship is limited to a chosen few.

So, you can understand why being a published author was a seemingly unattainable dream for me. I just didn’t have access to resources to become one. Still, I wrote a book—a book that featured a main character who looked like me.

I have a technical background, so the Web was my go-to place for resources. Somehow, my aimless browsing landed me on the Twitter account of a sweet, kind soul named Brenda Drake. Reading through her tweets, I learned about this project she founded—Pitch Wars.

Pitch Wars Logo


Pitch Wars

As a newbie writer, Pitch Wars was everything I needed. It was (and still is) a mentoring program that would help me elevate my writing and had (and still has) an online showcase at the end where agents get to look at my entry. But as a Filipino author living in the Philippines, I didn’t think I was good enough. I didn’t think Americans would care about my story. After all, there were hardly any Filipinos featured in the books US publishers published.

My husband convinced me I didn’t have anything to lose if I tried. It wasn’t like I was expecting to be accepted anyway. The main Pitch Wars program was closed to submissions at that time. But as soon as a side event opened for subs, I applied.

To my surprise, I was selected for Pitch Madness. I had some agent interest, but none of them panned out. Still, it was the first time I felt that maybe, I wasn’t so bad a writer, that my story might be worth telling. Best of all, I became part of an amazing community. It made joining a Pitch Wars event super worth it.

I ended up shelving that book and wrote a new one. I found more people online who became my friends and mentors. I eventually signed with a rockstar agent who helped me further elevate my writing. She found my middle-grade debut a home with Scholastic, where I learned more from the team.

My Fate According to the Butterfly Cover

My writing career was, and continues to be, built on a foundation of mentoring and learning. I don’t think I’d be able to get where I am now without these generous people who helped me along the way. Giving back to the community that made me was the only way to go. So, I mentored in various programs, but Pitch Wars was my fave. Before long, I got to level up my giving-back and showcased my 20+ web design and development experience by becoming the Technology Director of Pitch Wars when the committee was formed.

Pitch Wars is a diverse group of wonderful individuals coming from wide-ranging backgrounds, cultures, and marginalization. Every one of us is shaped by our experiences as different human beings. Every mentor, every committee volunteer, every mentee.

((Like reading about Pitch Wars authors? Read this interview with Adrianna Cuevas!)) 

I think it goes without saying why such diversity is important. For starters, it addresses the need for voices traditionally not heard to be heard, and for the traditionally invisible to be seen. Varying backgrounds bring about perspectives that a lone one cannot. These multiple perspectives help in making sound decisions, may it be in writing books, mentoring authors, or running Pitch Wars.

Not gonna lie, making choices as a committee for such a visible organization isn’t easy. Our volunteers are constantly faced with the reality that we can’t please everybody. But every effort we put into them is so worth it. Because that means we get to create a safe space for mentors and mentees. We get to help mentors help writers, who may one day publish a book that will make a reader who’s like them feel seen. A book that will become a lifeline to a reader who needs one. A book that will remind a reader that they matter.

Pitch Wars is just one path—it’s not the only path—to publication. I’m totally biased when I say this, but Pitch Wars is an awesome path. It’s a path where you can have fun while learning from a great community driven to continue the cycle of giving back. And I’m truly grateful to be a part of it.



Want to Know More About Pitch Wars?

The 2021 Pitch Wars Wish List blog hop launches Saturday, September 11, 2021. The blog hop highlights the Pitch Wars mentors and what they’re looking for. Learn more at, and stay up to date by following @PitchWars on Twitter.



Gail Villanueva Author Photo

Gail D. Villanueva is the Pitch Wars Technology Director and the author of Sugar And Spite (Scholastic, 2021). Her debut novel, My Fate According to the Butterfly (Scholastic, 2019), was named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, an Amazon Best Book of the Month Editor’s Pick, and a NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People. Born and based in the Philippines, Gail’s daily routine includes running a web design company with her husband while trying to keep up with the shenanigans of their many pets—dogs, ducks, turtles, cats, and random birds they befriend in the backyard. Learn more at

Sugar and Spite Cover


Find Gail Online







50 Writing Prompts

If you struggle to come up with ideas or you find yourself hitting roadblocks in your writing, prompts can be a good way to get unstuck. Read each prompt and free write, letting your imagination take you to strange and unusual places. Don’t censor your thoughts. Just keep the pen to paper and let it flow.

Many of these prompts have you writing about yourself and your reactions. The reason for that is to help you explore your own emotions and experiences. One of the most important skills as a writer is being able to get in touch with your character’s emotions. Writing from your own life helps you explore many different feelings and motivations. Once you’ve done that, you can transfer those deep feelings to your characters.

Next take these prompts and write them using a character of your choice. Choose characters who will respond differently than you would. That will help you explore a range of emotions and reactions.

Keep your writing prompts in a notebook. After you finish each one, circle or highlight lovely turns of phrase, good descriptions, or raw emotions. (You can also do that on the computer.) Next time you get stuck in your writing, flip through the notebook/computer files and glance at the highlighted parts. Often those small bits can spark a story idea. And whenever a prompt inspires a story, go with it.

To create your own writing prompts, use index cards or small pieces of paper. On 9 index cards, write types of people that interest you (student, artist, explorer, princess, etc.). On 9 more, write strong and unusual verbs. On the next 9, come up with positive and negative character traits or quirks. Another 9 can contain settings, and on the final 9, jot down villains you wouldn’t want to meet (these can range from monsters and creatures to humans or aliens). Shuffle each pile, keeping them facedown. Then use the five cards you select to create a story. Reuse them regularly and expand the piles as new ideas strike you.

If you’d like more writing prompts, check out to get new weekly prompts in a variety of genres. Here’s the link for children’s writing, but you can use the drop-down menu to select other categories: Happy writing!

Now take out your notebook and get started:

Write about waking up one morning in a totally different place than where you went to bed.

Close your eyes, open a dictionary or a random book, and put your finger on the page. Jot down the word your finger is pointing to. Do it 3 times, and then combine those three words in a story.

One thing I’ve never told anyone is . . .

Create a character who’s the complete opposite of you – physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, etc. Then give this character a challenge or problem. How would they solve it?

Think of the meanest, cruelest character. Then write a story that transforms that person.

If I could do anything_______________, I’d ______________________________________.

Recall a favorite smell. Close your eyes and reminisce about the scent and taste. Experience it fully. Try to describe it fully. What does it remind you of? Write about a time when you smelled this.

Your character is at a Haunted Hayride or a Funhouse. All of a sudden, one of the props becomes real. What happens and what do the characters do?

You walk into a schoolroom and there’s an alien (or another strange creature) in place of the teacher.

If you could give a speech to the whole world, what would you like to tell everyone?

Strand your character on an island alone. As they explore their surroundings, what do they find? Items from past inhabitants? Unusual plants and creatures? Other inhabitants?

It’s 3 a.m. Someone knocks at the door. What do you do? Describe your feelings. Who is it? What do they want?

With your eyes closed, point to a place on a globe or map. Find out a little more about that spot and write a story about someone who lives there.

You’re locked in a room with a ticking bomb. Now what?

You are given a new identity and sent to a new location. Who are you now? What do you regret leaving behind? How do you adjust to your new life?

You’ve just been given a hundred thousand dollars but you can’t spend it on yourself. How would you use that money? How does it make you feel to do this, and how do others react to what you’ve done?

You’ve been recruited for a top-secret spy mission. Where have you been sent, and what dangers do you encounter?

Pick a color. Describe how it makes you feel and why. Explore all the places you’d find this color. Think of one place you’d never find it, then change it to your color and describe how people react.

One day, time starts running backward. What happens?

Choose an emotion you struggle to control. Write about what life would be like if you gave it free rein? What if everyone around you did? Now write about a world devoid of that emotion. You don’t have it, and neither does anyone else.

Your town is being invaded. They’re after one person. Who is that person? And why have these invaders come?

Pick any object in the room. Make it come alive, and write about life from its point of view.

A little child’s life is in danger. You are the only one who can save this child. How do you react? What’s happening around you, and who can you trust? How do you keep this child safe?

What was the most important lesson you ever learned? Create obstacles and problems that will show a character that lesson.

My most embarrassing moment was . . .

A message in a bottle washes up on shore. Who is it from? And what do you do about it?

If you could spend time with anyone (dead or alive), who would you choose and what would you do and talk about?

As the clock hands reached midnight . . .

You exchange bodies with someone. How do each of you experience your new life?

If I could relive one day in my life, I’d choose . . .

You wake up to find your house filled with animals. What do you do?

You can choose one superpower. What is it, and how will you use it?

What would you do if you had no fear?

You’ve gotten in trouble for something you didn’t do. What now?

Describe a magical kingdom under the sea.

You turn into a tree. What is your life like now?

You’re floating on a cloud high above the world. How does it feel? What do you see?

A terrorist hijacks the plane you’re on. What does the terrorist want? How do the passengers react? Where does the plane end up?

You suddenly shrink to two inches tall. How does the world look now?

Your best friend isn’t who you think they are. Who are they? How did you find out? And what will you do now?

If I were in charge of the world, I’d . . .

Describe life through the eyes of an animal.

You find yourself in your pet’s body, and your pet is living in yours. What now?

You have a day where everything goes wrong, but it all turns out right.

You’re granted three wishes.

Float down a drain.

You wake in a bug’s body. Explore life from this new point of view.

You’re transported back in time. Where do you go? What happens and how do you feel?

The funniest thing that ever happened to me is . . .

Hold a small object in your hand and write about how it feels, what it’s used for, where it came from. Now let it take you on an adventure.

You’re lost at sea. How do you feel? What do you see around you? What do you wish for most?

SPINDLEFISH AND STARS: Interview + Giveaway

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Christiane M. Andrews, author of the new middle-grade novel, Spindlefish and Stars, which debuts tomorrow (09/22/2020) and has already received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. Take a look, and don’t forget to click on the Rafflecopter for a chance to win a copy (U.S. only).



Clothilde has lived her whole life in the shadows with her (sometimes) thieving and (always) ailing father. But when he fails to meet her one morning, sending her instead a mysterious ticket of half-paffage, Clo finds herself journeying across the sea to reunite with him. The ticket, however, leaves her on a sunless island inhabited only by creaking fishermen, a rumpled old woman, a piggish cat, and a moon-cheeked boy named Cary.

Clo is quickly locked away and made to spend her days in unnerving chores with the island’s extraordinary fish, while the old woman sits nearby weaving an endless gray tapestry. Frustrated and aching with the loss of her father, Clo must unravel the mysteries of the island and all that’s hidden in the vast tapestry’s threads — secrets both exquisite and terrible. And she must decide how much of herself to give up in order to save those she thought she’d lost forever.



Congratulations and welcome, Chistiane!

Thanks so much for inviting me to chat with the Mixed-Up Files!


Glad to have you. I’d love to hear about your inspiration for Spindlefish and Stars?

This will sound strange, but it was a picture of a stargazy pie, with the fish heads poking up through a crust of pastry stars. I had never seen one before and, at the time, I knew nothing of its Cornish tradition, but I was so struck by it, I started imagining a story around it. I had an image of a girl traveling to an island to visit a long-lost relative and being served this dish, and this image propelled the whole tale forward. Even though the books working title for the longest time was Stargazy,” the pie itself never made it into the draft—it just didn’t fit!—but the fish and stars became the center of the novel.

When I began, I wasnt necessarily intending to reimagine any myths, but as the story evolved, turning to myth allowed me to develop the ideas I wanted to explore in the text. Readers will see that the book isnt an exact retelling of any particular tale (nor do readers need to know any particular tales in order to follow the story), but several different myths do inspire key elements of Spindlefish and Stars.

Were you always interested in mythology?

Yes and no. In school, I always looked forward to units on myth—I enjoyed learning about ancient gods and goddesses, and later, reading Homer and Ovid and Virgil—but I was never head-over-heels devoted to the myths themselves. I have, though, always loved retellings and seeing how the threads of the original tales are carried and reworked across the centuries—whether in painting or sculpture or music or poetry or prose—and Ive loved seeing these works in dialogue with each other. Audens poem Musée des Beaux Arts,” for example, which considers Breughel’s painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (which references the myth of Daedalus and Icarus) is one of my favorites. (And both Audens poem and Breughels painting helped inspire some of the material and themes of Spindlefish and Stars.)

As a teacher, too, Ive loved working with retellings or texts that rely on key references to tales: its exciting to see students discover how a piece of literature can open up for them when they consider the interplay between the two works!



What kind of research did you have to do for Spindlefish and Stars? Did it involve travel?

I wish it had involved travel! Alas, no—while Spindlefish and Stars relied on memories of travel, I took no additional journeys for the purpose of writing this book.

During high school, I lived on the coast in Downeast Maine, and for a number of summers now, my family and I have been taking camping trips in various quiet areas of Atlantic Canada and Québec, so I did draw on these salty, gray ocean experiences when imagining Clos journey to the island. Most of the research, though, was of the bookish kind. I reread the source material for the myths that made their way into Spindlefish and Stars and then also the relevant retellings.

While Im a little familiar with the fiber crafts referenced in the text, I also reviewed as much as I could about spinning and weaving (and watched a number of videos about tapestry creation: for those interested, I highly recommend those about the Gobelins Manufactory!). And though the book is set in an imaginary past, I wanted to make sure that I didnt breach its general era, so I spent a fair amount of time double-checking that items I referenced (or key terms I wanted to use in the text) existed then.

How did you come up with such unique characters?

Hmm. Good question! I know some authors prepare questionnaires to help discover their characters or write out back story, but my main characters came to me mostly as they were once I had the idea for the story. I knew Clo, from living a fairly isolated life, would be strong and self-confident but also a bit prickly and, at least at the start, without a fully developed sense of empathy; I knew I wanted Cary to be the softer, gentler counterpart to this. Myths and folk and fairy tales dont always develop character fully, and since I was writing with these traditions at the forefront of my mind, I had to work against the tendency to leave the characters too dry,” something I also refined further in revisions with my amazing editors, Deirdre Jones and Pam Gruber.

The islanders, though, are slightly different: with these characters, I was concerned with making them not-exactly-human; I wanted them to seem almost as though they were themselves crafted by something or someone. So their characteristics come from the material they seem made from—parchment or clay or dried apples.

What would you like readers to come away with after reading the novel?

I hope first and foremost that they are swept up by the story: I think all authors, especially those who write for children, want their readers to fall in love with the tale theyre being told! I hope, too, that Spindlefish and Stars piques their curiosity about mythology and inspires their own art or retellings. Though I dont think readers need to come away with a lesson, necessarily, I do hope they see the main character developing empathy and, like her, come to recognize that even small acts of kindness can affect others’ lives profoundly—as profoundly as any magic” she encounters on her journey.

What were some of your favorite books when you were a middle-grade reader, and did any of them inspire you to write or influence your choice of subject matter?

I devoured books as a MG reader, so its hard to pick favorites, but I particularly adored Susan Coopers The Dark is Rising series and Madeleine LEngles A Wrinkle in Time. Im certain these texts influenced Spindlefish and Stars, especially in that they provided, very early on, a model for how childrens fantasy can be used to explore subjects that are sometimes too sharp in realistic fiction—questions about the nature of good and evil or of sorrow and loss, for example. Im sure I was influenced as well by the way Susan Cooper interwove her story with Arthurian legends.

I think, too, what Ive admired about these particular works—aside from their artistry and craft—is how layered they are, how they make themselves available to different readers at different levels. I believe my father may have first read A Wrinkle in Time to me when I was six, and though I absolutely didnt notice then LEngles references to Einsteins theories or how Camazotz-required-conformity reflected social-political concerns of the time (!), the story of a girl traveling across time and space in search of her father was still accessible to me, and the more challenging ideas were still waiting for me in the texts when I read them on my own later. I like the idea of childrens books accompanying readers as they grow, offering ideas that perhaps the youngest readers will only sense, but then, on a later rereading, come to understand more fully. When I was writing Spindlefish and Stars, I tried to keep the younger readers in mind—the ones who might not see everything—and give them enough to hold onto so the text would still be enjoyable. But it was important to me as well to write for older readers, to give them more to think about and offer them details they might only notice on close reading or rereading so the text could keep opening up for them.



Can you give our readers who are also writers a tip that has been useful to you?

I would encourage writers to give themselves time to experiment—not just with the words they put on the page, but with how they put them down. Some writers find having a daily word count crucial; others talk about they write the first draft as quickly as possible so they can see the story as a whole, and only once its complete, do they start editing. Unfortunately, neither of these work for me, though I wish they did! Ive come to accept that Im more of a tortoise than a hare as a writer, and that—though it may not be as efficient—its better for me to edit and revise as I go. I may end a day with fewer words than I began with, but Im still moving forward in the book! The point is, there is no single way to write or even medium thats most effective. I write on a laptop, but I outline plot and problem-solve longhand…writers should allow themselves the space and time to discover what works best for them.

How can teachers use your novel?

In my mind, at least, Spindlefish and Stars works well for students on the older side of MG, which I know can sometimes be a challenging space for teachers to fill (with some MG feeling too young for these readers, and some YA a little too mature). It would make a good companion to a mythology unit, where teachers can ask students to trace the original myths and see how they are transformed in this text. I would encourage students as well to craft their own retellings so that they can see how malleable and how universal these tales are—how they speak to truths about the human condition. Many of the key themes Spindlefish and Stars explores—the balance of joy and sorrow in the world, the role of art in our lives, the tension between fate and free will—have all been topics that have sparked enthusiastic and rewarding discussions with my own students, so I hope teachers will find the same in their own classrooms.

Thanks so much for such thoughtful answers!

Here’s more about Christiane. And don’t forget to click below for a chance to win a copy of Spindlefish and Stars!

Christiane M. Andrews grew up in rural New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine, on the edges of mountains and woods and fields and sometimes even the sea. A writing and literature instructor, she lives with her husband and son and a small clutch of animals on an old New Hampshire hilltop farm. Spindlefish and Stars is her first novel.

Read more about Christiane at her website.

Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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