Welcome to the Pitch Wars wishlist of Ian Barnes. This year I’m mentoring Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. If you’re not writing something with swords, lasers, or magic (or magical laser-swords), sorry, your mentor is in another castle. If you’re here, you have excellent taste in randomly clicking on blog hop names. Unless you sought me out on purpose, in which case:
For the uninitiated, Pitch Wars is a mentorship program where an experienced writer helps an unagented writer edit and refine their manuscript. Think of it like an in-depth, one-sided critique partner relationship. Pitch Wars is … intense. Full of friendship forming and lesson learning. Like an 80’s movie montage sequence but with less synth music and more writerly angst. The ideal mentee is someone willing to take full advantage of this opportunity, because, if you let it, it’ll change your life. I wrote a slightly more detailed blog post about Pitch Wars and what to expect from it last year, which you can peruse if interested.
Before going any further: WARNING! This post contains swearing, bad jokes, dumb gifs, and possibly butts. Often combined. So, maybe NSFW.
Still here? Fuck yeah!
Who Is This Joker?
I’m a computer engineer-turned-technical writer, and a lover of all things fantasy, sarcasm, and video game-related. Bonus points if they’re combined. I write urban and epic fantasy, and dabble in cyberpunk. Again, often combined. I’m a two-time former mentee, first in 2016 working with JC Nelson on a cyberpunk-fantasy mashup, then again in 2017 with Michelle Hauck and Carrie Callaghan on an epic fantasy. I mentored in 2018 with my CP and pal Laura Lashley, and this year I’m flying solo. My superpower is the ability to derail any conversation and dive into a sea of nonsense at the drop of a hat (as anyone who spends more than two minutes talking with me can attest). I’m represented by Matt Bialer of Sanford J Greenburger Associates.
The Wishlist (AKA, The Real Reason You’re Here)
Give me the three F’s: fun, fantastical, and fucking rad.
Something clever and quirky with amazing worldbuilding, a plot that keeps me flipping pages ever faster, and nerve-wracking stakes for characters I care about. That’s what I’m after, and it’s what I’ll kick ass mentoring. Just make sure you crack a joke every now and then.
Now, the caveat here is plot and characters must take center stage, not the humor. That its own genre. Jokes should enhance the plot, not be the plot. An engaging story comes first.
Above all else: I love complex, broken characters. Give me assholes trying their best. Characters doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, or the right thing for the wrong reasons.
For specific tropes, I’ve a weakness for stories with villain protagonists, not-so-imaginary friends, necromancy, and anything involving some lost, ancient civilization (bonus points if it was an advanced civ that vanished mysteriously). Stories dealing with religions (preferably fictitious ones, ala most anything Brandon Sanderson writes) or flawed deities are also surefire attention-grabbers. JRPGs were a foundational part of my childhood and remain a favorite, so if you’ve got a ragtag group of miscreants off on a quest to kick their god in the balls for fucking the world up, I’d be all over that.
Structure-wise, if you’ve got frame story shenanigans going on, high-five! Relevant prologues and epilogues (key word being relevant)? Gimme. Third-person present tense? Hell yeah! I know some find it awkward, but I think it’s engaging. Also a fan of any flavor of first-person and the always reliable third-past. However, I like my third to be of a more limited nature (ie. narration tied to the POV characters) rather than the omniscient sort.
Regarding the fantasy vs sci-fi conundrum: Magic is my wheelhouse and my go-to, but I do love me a good space opera. That in mind, the further from fantasy you go, the cleverer and more badass your story needs to be. If you’ve written a space opera that shares a genepool with Guardians of the Galaxy or Firefly, I’m all in. If you’ve written a stoic-faced Saving Space Cadet Ryan-esque gritty military SF, sorry, that’s not my (space) jam.
As a quick note: I’m not a romance writer. If your SFF plot is primarily a will they, won’t they scenario, sending to me is a recipe for heartbreak.
Absolutely give me stories with relationships and romance, makin’ out and fightin’ and make-out-fightin’. I want another John and Aeryn to root for! Another Olivia and Peter! Alucard and Rhy! Got a story with two wizards who desperately want to smooch but can’t because their union will destroy the world? That’s the good shit right there. As with humor, romance simply shouldn’t be the main driving force of the story.
On to the sub-genres and the Wants and Don’t Wants!
As noted, I love me a good space opera. Anything irreverent and fun with heart, like Farscape, Firefly, or Killjoys. I adore Star Trek, but I veer toward the Wars side of the Star scale when it comes to mentoring. Wrote a Doctor Who-esque time-and-space romp? Gimme. Cyberpunk, steampunk, or any of the assorted -punk genres? Cover me in neon, brass tubes, or your -punk decor of choice and let’s go.
Did you write that Saving Space Cadet Ryan book I mentioned? Yeah, I don’t want it. Military SFF isn’t what I’m best equipped to help. Same goes for hard SF with the plot reliant on actual science. For the record, this is the proper amount of science:
All of it. If you’ve got magic, I want it. High, epic, urban, contemporary, dark, sci-fantasy, whatever. (Oh hell yes, send me sci-fantasy.) That said, there’s a few things I like more than others.
First and foremost, I would love to sink my teeth into an epic fantasy this year. I love reading it, I love writing it, I love trying to project my consciousness out into the void to merge with the concept of it on a spiritual level and ascend to a higher plane of existence populated by sassy dragons, jittery elves, drunk gods, and mage-ennui. So … yeah. Gimme all that epic nonsense.
But wait, there’s more! Did you write a fun urban or contemporary fantasy? Fling it my way! Got characters jumping in and out of portals like Aperture Science designed a Stargate into Narnia? Yuuup. Wrote an adult Stranger Things or the next Ghostbusters? Yes, please. Got some Lovecraftian eldritch madness going on (minus his purple prose and raging racism), ala Hellboy? Yessss. Superheroes that give the Doom Patrol competition for the “Most Emotionally Fucked Up” award? Right this way, good sir, madam, or non-binary individual.
Now the bad news. I’m not your guy for historical fantasy, especially if it leans heavily into the history element. I enjoy it, but I’m not well-versed enough to feel confident mentoring that genre. (Note: This does not include second-world fantasy inspired by historical eras, as that stuff’s great.) Same for magical realism or straight-up horror. Soft/low fantasy’s also less intriguing to me.
AND NOW FOR THE FINE PRINT
– You need to pass something along the lines of the Mako Mori or Bechdel Tests to not make me roll my eyes into another dimension.
– I’d love to see books from writers with diverse backgrounds. Give me stories that reflect the breadth and variety of cultures and people I see around me every day, not whitewashed, anglocentric SFF setting #457145.
– Not a fan of gore for gore’s sake (particularly body horror). Some is fine, but I much prefer my horror be of the psychological variety.
– Please no explicit sex scenes on page one (or erotica in general). You need to ease a fella into that stuff (or go with my personal favorite, ye olde “fade to black”). At least give me some character development or a stiff drink first.
– Word Count: Adult SFF has a great deal of leeway as a debut. Pitch Wars, unfortunately, is limited by time constraints. You’ve got—*checks notes, blinks*—three months to revise your manuscript. That may seem like a long time, but it isn’t. If you lob a 200k book at my head, well, first I’m gonna duck because ow, but then I’m likely to pass simply because there’s not time to tackle a beast that size. 150k is roughly the top end of manageable. I’ll make a higher count work if the story sinks its teeth into me and won’t let go, just know it’s an uphill battle through the inbox trenches.
All this said, in case I haven’t made it clear enough, I’ll consider almost anything appropriately glib and fun in speculative fiction.
Give me the worldbuilding of Sanderson, the humor of Butcher, and the prose of Schwab, all wrapped up in a page-turning plot with characters I can root for from start to finish. I’ll help that story shine with the face-melting force of the Ark of the Covenant. Have you written something like that?
Some Favorite Stories Across Mediums (ie. Here, Let Me Help You Out With Comp Titles I Love):
The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes, Good Omens by Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett, Zeroes by Chuck Wendig, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, Vicious by VE Schwab, The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, The Nightside series by Simon R Green, Hellboy/BPRD by Mike Mignola, The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin, Running with the Demon by Terry Brooks, Feed by Mira Grant, Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
The Dark Knight, The Last Jedi, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy, Stardust, The Matrix, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Deadpool
Angel, Farscape, Doom Patrol, Pushing Daisies, Fringe, Killjoys, Supernatural, Deep Space Nine, Firefly, Jessica Jones, Stranger Things, The Good Place, My Hero Academia, RWBY, The Venture Bros, Doctor Who, Critical Role, Into The Badlands
Final Fantasy VI (the best one, and I’ll fight anyone who claims otherwise), Chrono Trigger, Mass Effect 2, Baldur’s Gate II, Dragon Age II, Alan Wake, Dark Souls, Dishonored, Persona 5, God of War 2018, Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Why You Should Choose Me
Because I’m awesome. Wait, that’s not a good reason? Fine.
I know the ins and outs of SFF. I’m amazing at worldbuilding, character backstories and dialogue, big picture plot, and zooming in on pacing issues. Also got a keen eye for the line-by-line (sentence flow, readability, nitpicky line edits, etc). I can easily see when your characters aren’t behaving the way they should, and when you’ve gone soft and really need to make them suffer more. Suffering builds character!
When it comes to pointing out and fixing problems, I’ll never say “You must do X” but will offer in-depth analysis for why it might be a pretty good idea. I also don’t expect a mentee to take every suggestion as the written-in-stone, be-all-end-all truth. If you think I’m full of shit because I suggest killing off your protagonist’s beloved differential equations professor via dinosaur-riding wizard-ninjas, that’s cool. Maybe their presence is a fundamental block that shapes the character’s emotional arc and I somehow missed it. I’m not omniscient (yet), I miss things (occasionally). As long as you’ve got reasons for pushing back against ideas, I’m more than willing to hear them. End of the day, it’s your book. I’m just here to help make it as shiny and chrome as possible.
Plus, this entire thing is likely to involve lots of gifs and pictures of my cat, both of dubious motivational quality.
Double-plus, I’m a two-time former PW mentee with three previous mentors. If you do the math, that’s four mentors worth of wisdom for the price of one! You’d be a fool to pass that up. A FOOL! That, and it means I’ve been in your shoes and know with excruciating clarity how tough this whole process can be.
Triple-plus, I’m fun. That’ll make all the darling-killing and angst-revising (slightly) more bearable. Maybe.
Wait, that’s also not a good reason?
Anyway. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something on the list or haven’t clarified well enough, but I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you have. Best way to reach me is via Twitter at @imbarnes or simply commenting on this post.
Good luck in the weeks to come!
– – – – –
- Paris Wynters
- Kathleen Barber (Accepts NA)
- Ian Barnes
- Mary Ann Marlowe (Accepts NA)
- Elizabeth Little
- Hayley Stone and Erin A. Tidwell
- Gwynne Jackson (Accepts NA)
- Maxym M. Martineau (Accepts NA)
- Katie Golding (Accepts NA)
- Ava Reid and Rachel Morris (Accepts NA)
- Carolyne Topdjian
- Natalka Burian
- Tim Akers
- Alex Segura
- Michelle Hauck and Carrie Callaghan (Accepts NA)
- Laura Brown (Accepts NA)
- Mia P. Manansala and Kellye Garrett (Accepts NA)
- Kerbie Addis and Ren Hutchings (Accepts NA)
- Susan Bishop Crispell (Accepts NA)
- Kelly Siskind and Heather Van Fleet (Accepts NA)
- Janet Walden-West and Anne Raven (Accepts NA)
- Kate Lansing (Accepts NA)
- Kristen Lepionka and Ernie Chiara
- Alexa Martin and Suzanne Park (Accepts NA)
- Gia de Cadenet (Accepts NA)
- Rob Hart
- Layne Fargo and Halley Sutton
- Michael Chorost (Accepts NA)
- Sarah Remy (Accepts NA)
- Nicole Glover (Accepts NA)
- Farah Heron (Accepts NA)
- Samantha Rajaram
- Keena Roberts (Accepts NA)
- Rebecca Enzor (Accepts NA)
- Matthew Quinn Martin (Accepts NA)
- Denny S. Bryce (Accepts NA)
- Meryl Wilsner and Rosie Danan (Accepts NA)
- P.J. Vernon and Kelly J. Ford (Accepts NA)
- Gladys Quinn (Accepts NA)
- Diana A. Hicks (Accepts NA)
- Damyanti Biswas
- Stephen Morgan (Accepts NA)