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Hi there, thanks for stopping by! Welcome to my Pitch Wars wish list. If you’re new to the community and wondering what all the buzz is about…

 

Quick and dirty: Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each and guide them through a manuscript revision process over a three-month period. It ends with a Showcase where agents can browse a pitch + first page and can request to read more. Be sure to check out the program’s official website for full info!

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Author headshot of Carolyne Topdjian
Dry Roses and Diary pages scattered with teacup on top
Dry Roses and Diary pages scattered with teacup on top

WHO

A bit about me

My debut novel, THE HITMAN’S DAUGHTER, is a gothic mystery and will be out in early January by Agora/Polis Books. In addition, I’ve published short fiction in literary magazines, and scholarly essays on posthumanism, surrealism, and feminist body politics — topics that influence my storytelling.

 

When it comes to fiction, I love braided narratives with deep layers, ambiguous endings, and atmospheric settings — settings that breathe and become characters in their own right. Visceral prose and world building are two of my strengths.

I studied creative writing at the Humber School of Writers and have a PhD in Social and Political Thought from York University. Currently, I’m a college professor in Toronto, Canada. I have years of experience teaching a diverse population of adults and love doing it — especially when it’s about writing. 

 

Long story short, I nerd out when it comes to connecting and working with other writers. In fact, this is my third time mentoring for Pitch Wars, and I’m a former mentee myself! (Side note: you may be interested in my recent post on lessons learned through Pitch Wars.)

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what

#1

wish list details

Okay skim-readers, this one is for you: 

Please consider both my “wants” and my “DON’T wants” listed further below.

 

I’m mentoring in the ADULT category this year, accepting fiction in the genres of:

 

  1. Crime/Mystery — traditional, gothic, or historical combinations

  2. Thriller/Suspense

  3. Magical Realism/Fabulism

 

Literary fiction that includes any elements of the genres listed above are also welcome, as are modern retellings of classic gothic horror; (if you’re wondering what counts as classic gothic horror, check out The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson from 1959 or The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux from 1910). I also love stories that can be categorized as feminist noir.

 

As frequently found in these genres, here is a list of tropes and themes I love:

 

  • Trapped settings or locked rooms; could be a garden maze or an old sailboat or an off-grid cabin in the woods—either way, if your cast of characters has no chance of escape with a killer on the loose, yes please! 

 

  • Revisiting scarred childhood friendships or small towns with dark secrets; hook me with a good, twisty whodunit like The Dry by Jane Harper or In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware.

 

  • Ghosts in the attic, (or the wine cellar or the bell tower or the … you get the idea); whether real or imagined, give me all the hauntings! I’d be excited to read an eerie blending of dream and reality similar to the one found in Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

 

  • Feminist femme fatales: I’m talking about chain-smoking, unapologetic bad girls who wear five-inch stilettos on Sundays and wield their sinister baggage like a sharpened butcher knife.

 

  • Atmospheric settings: as per either the southern or northern gothic tradition, feel free to transport me to your candlelit manors, private reform schools, wooded lake resorts, remote vacation destinations, old graveyards surrounded by wrought iron fences and fog…

 

  • Folklore, allegories, or fairy tales for adults: for example, I’m a fan of films like Midsommar or Pan’s Labyrinth and love to read similar, suspenseful folklore woven into novels. On the lighter side of magical realism, fabulism, and/or fairy tales, think of stories by Neil Gaiman or Chocolat by Joanne Harris.

 

  • Dysfunctional families with secrets—and not just broken ones; I love reading about strong family bonds, too! Bonus if relationships are filtered through the lens of heartfelt fabulism like any novel by Sarah Addison Allen or Jess Kidd; or think of the friendship between Marta and Harlan in Knives Out.

 

  • Romantic subplots; I’m not requesting genre romance, however, I love to champion romantic tension as an added layer when it’s not the main story conflict; can be M/M, F/F, F/M…

 

  • Social outcasts, wallflowers, underdogs, or unlikely heroes as protagonists; be it subtly or overtly, I similarly welcome stories that smash the patriarchy and its toxic support systems—homophobia, transphobia, racism, xenophobia, etc.

 

 

To help guide you further, here’s a selection of 10 novels — old and recent faves of mine — that include elements I’ve listed above (in no particular order):

 

  • The Guest List by Lucy Foley

  • A Deadly Fortune by Stacie Murphy

  • White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

  • Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

  • Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

  • The Return by Rachel Harrison

  • Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

  • Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

  • Girls of Brackenhill by Kate Moretti

  • The Woods by Vanessa Savage

what

#2

...not for me

There are amazing mentors this year accepting things that I’m not. As you only get four entries/mentor choices, this list includes what NOT to send me, since I won’t be the best fit for stories that include the following: 

 

  • Political thrillers; e.g., plots involving militaries, spies, the Interpol, etc. 

 

  • Vampires, werewolves, or zombies (mentors who are requesting urban fantasy are better suited for these)

 

  • Rape, on- or off-page; in general, stories of sexual abuse/trauma are not for me 

 

  • Sexual assault/abuse of children; plots involving pedophilia or child trafficking 

 

  • Complete hopelessness and despair. It’s okay to make me sad on and off over the course of your story. I appreciate bittersweet or unsettling endings; but if I need multiple tissue boxes while reading—or if I’m left with a morbid, depressing conclusion, I’m probably not the best mentor for you. 

 

 

Questions on anything I mention? I’m happy to provide additional “wish” details. Feel free to tag me in a tweet @TopdjianC and I’ll do my best to clarify. 

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blue door with text "this door is blocked"
blue door with text "this door is blocked"
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desk with lamp, books, and clock on top and leaning sign "ever tried, ever failed, no matter, try again, fail again, fail better"
Fairy Lights on open book
Fairy Lights on open book

HOW

my mentoring approach

As my mentee, you can expect to receive my direct, honest critique on your novel via a detailed edit letter, in-line comments, and ongoing communication over the course of the Pitch Wars program. Depending on the shape of your manuscript, (not to mention your query letter and pitch), there’s a good chance my feedback will cover both your macro and micro writing habits. 

 

I’ll offer at least two rounds of revisions on your manuscript, along with tips and consults into the publishing industry. We’ll also roll up our sleeves and dig into the pitching and querying process. Each time, I’ll guide you on what you’re nailing and more so, what aspects you need to improve to get your story spic and span for agents’ eyes.

 

We’ll not only go over what needs revising, but we’ll discuss craft and methods for improvements. This will be a two-way conversation. I’ll ask you plenty of questions to get a better sense of your vision. Speaking of which, email will be our primary method for relaying feedback with an optional Zoom chat to brainstorm over “meatier” subjects. If the idea of being live on screen makes you break out into hives, no problemo. We can stick to written contact, DMs or whatever you prefer. 

 

Either way, once I know what you’re hoping to achieve, expect homework. I’ll ask you to read. I’ll challenge you to write and revise and revise some more. Hopefully, this is why you’re here: to win, to work, to grow. And, future mentee, I couldn’t be more thrilled to help you achieve your dream. 

 

Good luck everyone! Thanks again for visiting. I’ll be rooting for you, in my Pitch Wars inbox and beyond!

Scroll inside the box below for links to browse another Adult mentor's wish list.