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5 Reasons to Consider #PitchWars if You’re on the Fence

Hey, you. I see you sitting there (I can’t actually see you, that would be creepy), wondering if #PitchWars is for you. You have a manuscript you’ve been working on, and a publishing dream. Do you enter the fray, hoping you’ll snag one of the mentors (or co-mentor duos), and maybe, just maybe, an agent? Or, should you sit it out and see how you feel about it next year?

There are plenty of reasons to sit it out, and many of them are valid: you don’t have a finished manuscript; you don’t have a finished manuscript; you don’t have a finished…I think you get where I’m going here.

“But, still,” you say, finished manuscript staring at you from your hard drive. <-If this is you, read on, writer!

I was just like you once. I had a finished manuscript. I had a dream. (Now I have a bunch more finished manuscripts, and more dreams…funny how those things multiply like plot bunnies). I’ve gone from being a #PitchWars hopeful to being a co-mentor with the fabulous Diana Gallagher (who was my mentor in 2014). And while there are reasons to step back and let #PitchWars pass you by, here are five reasons why you should give it a go.

  1. The worst that can happen is no.’No’ hurts, and it sucks, and it makes you feel like the kid that’s never picked for dodge ball. But a ‘no’ isn’t the end of the world. Your writing career won’t come to a crashing halt. Your hopes of landing an agent or a six-figure contract with a Big Important publisher aren’t completely dashed. This is just one opportunity to get there, and sometimes it helps to get used to ‘no’ because there will be an awful lot of them on your journey.

    Way back in 2013, I was on the fence about entering. But for whatever reason, I drafted up a query and decided to hit send. Spoiler alert: I got no requests. The worst that happened was no.

  2. Practice putting your work (and yourself) out there.Ultimately, if your goal is to have your work published, you should to get used to the idea of showing other people (especially strangers) your work. This is scary, because words are personal. But it’s also necessary if you’re longing for that coveted end cap display at Barnes and Noble. No one can read your words (which is the dream, right?) if you don’t share them.
  3. Kick in the pants to get your stuff done.Unless you’re on contract, and have a defined schedule to publication, writing is mostly an open-ended endeavor as far as timelines go. This can be tricky if you’re prone to procrastination, or maybe the problem is you get to the 3/4 mark, and it languishes.

    Setting personal goals and “due dates” can help keep your projects on track. It can give you something to work toward. August 2, 2017 is a great day to keep in mind. That’s when the #PitchWars submission window opens. It’s a little under 2 months away (based on the date of this post), so if you’ve been procrastinating or languishing, you now have an end goal to get you back on track.

  4. Learning what works and what doesn’tThere are so many different learning opportunities in #PitchWars, I could go on for days.

    If you don’t make it in: You’ll be testing out your query to see if it resonates. You’ll be seeing if your sample pages make a reader sit up and take notice. Many mentors generously offer some short feedback on why they passed (if they offer, take them up on it!). Follow the Twitter feed to see what common issues were so you can spruce up your writing.

    If you do make it in: You’ll be able to get a different perspective on your manuscript. You’ll have a mentor who has faced many of the challenges you’re facing. You’ll learn how to take critiques and suggestions, and decide what works for you and your story.

    Whatever happens, the important thing is that you will learn.

  5. CommunityThis is probably the most important reason to participate in #PitchWars, which is why I saved it for last. I have met so many fantastic through this contest. In 2013, I got passed over by the mentors, BUT I met one of my critique partners and a bunch of writing buddies who I still count as active supporters. In 2014, I ended up as an alternate, so I gained a fantastic mentor who has become an amazing critique partner and friend (and now co-mentor!!!!).

    Writing is a pretty solitary endeavor most of the time, but it’s fantastic to have a solid support system to help prop you up when the going gets tough and to be there to celebrate with you when you record a win. #PitchWars is a great way to build your network and connect with people who get what you’re going through. You can interact on the hashtag to find CPs, beta readers, or even agent advice.

    I want to wrap this post up by urging you to embrace the possibilities! #PitchWars is fantastic, and I am so grateful to be a co-mentor for the 2017 contest. Brenda Drake is unbelievable for organizing it. Please check out her website to learn more and support her!

    If you want to reach out to me, please do! The comments are open below, and you can always find me on Twitter @KatrinaEmmel or shoot me an email at: katrinaemmelwrites @ (without the spaces).

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Tenacity of the Shrew

I’ve always been stubborn. It’s my parents’ fault. They named me Katrina after Katherina Minola in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew because she was headstrong, and willful, and occasionally obstinate to a fault. I’m sure there was a time or two over the years, when in the midst of teenage angst they might have rather had a Bianca under the roof, but I’m glad I inherited some of the tenacity of my namesake.

In seventh grade, I had a math teacher who thought that independent learning was the way to teach pre-pre-algebra (that’s the best description I can come up with). She handed out these worksheets with letters and numbers, and somehow we were supposed to work at our own pace to figure it out. I’d never struggled with math before, but I just couldn’t grasp how it was supposed to work on my own. I needed someone to show me the steps and explain it first.

I remember, very clearly, the day she pulled me aside, and showed me all the red marks on my worksheets. “Katrina,” she said. “Math isn’t for you. I think maybe you should work on figuring out how to count change, because you’ll probably end up working at McDonald’s.” I was all of 12 or 13, and all I could get out of it was that she thought I was stupid. It was crushing.

I know I cried. Instead of helping me figure it out, she’d already decided I was bound for failure. How dare she?

I was fortunate that my parents were supportive and I’m a determined sort, but I wonder how many other girls were sidelined by a similar incident–would-be doctor’s or engineers choosing a different path because of a short-sighted teacher.

Once I’d gone through a box of Kleenex and had my mom, a math teacher, help me figure it out, I decided that I wasn’t about to let some old, cranky lady dictate my future. I was going to do well in math just to show her I was more capable than she could even imagine. I took pre-Algebra the next year, and then Algebra after that. I went to summer camp at Mt. Holyoke College for math. Then, I took Algebra II and Geometry, pre-Calculus and Calculus. I was determined to be good at math.

You’d think that would be enough, but it wasn’t. That teacher also had a sign on her wall that said: “Good enough is not good enough.” Clearly, I had to go all the way to show her. I majored in Biochemistry in college, but there were plenty of math classes sprinkled in. It got to the point that it wasn’t so much about proving to her that I could do it, I wanted to prove to myself that I could go farther than even I thought possible. I enrolled in a Master’s program, and then I had to know: did I have it in me to get a Ph.D.?

Ten years ago today (!!!), I proved to myself–and the world–and my seventh grade math teacher, that yes, I did indeed have what it takes. I put on my puffy black gown and mortarboard, and officially became Doctor Katrina.

Thankfully, over the years, I’ve had plenty of supportive, helpful, caring teachers who encouraged me and nurtured me. And that darn Shakespearean stubborn streak to fall back on when the going got tough.

So, hey, seventh grade math teacher: what do you have to say about me now?


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The Route Less Traveled

I grew up in the age when directions were scrawled on hand-written slips of paper or consisted of “when you get to the stop sign, turn right at the old barn and continue until you reach the wooden bridge over the creek.” Before GPS systems were the directional methods of choice (Note: I am not THAT old…GPS systems haven’t been at our beck-and-call for too long).

I learned to read maps at an early age. My mom wasn’t much of a navigator, so as the eldest child, the role fell to me, and before TomTom and Garmin and built-in factory-installed fancy-pants systems, I was the voice in the car saying, “Take the next exit and keep right.”

Map reading is a good skill to have, and it’s a shame that soon we’ll be so reliant on the GPS on our phones and in our cars that we won’t really know where anything is. It’s a different kind of being lost…knowing exactly where you are by the little dot on the screen, but having no idea where you are at the same time.

I’m still a big fan of physical maps. Poring over streets and roads and landmarks, plotting out the best route to take: not based on traffic or time or distance, but the experience that’ll get you from Point A to Point Z, and all the points in between. I’ll admit sometimes I get a bit overzealous with the route (just ask my husband about that one time in Paris), but it’s comforting to me to be able to hold the map in my hands –not worried about cell signals or satellite feeds or punching into into a screen that only accepts 1 in 3 pokes of the finger (I’m looking at you crappy Chrysler navigation system). Reading maps and plotting my own course has worked great for me 99.9% of the time. Until yesterday. Yesterday, I succumbed to what can only be called Super Crappy Printed Map Rendering.

There were many problems with this particular map I was using: 1) it’s not to scale but doesn’t indicate that anywhere; 2) certain areas of the map are conveniently cut-and-spliced out of correct orientation to fit on the page, but which direction is north is indicated; 3) roads are mis-labelled (or completely missing). Basically, it’s a disaster of black ink on white paper.

Being relatively new to the area, I didn’t catch issues 2 or 3, and 1 didn’t seem like that big a deal. So, I glanced at the parks and rec provided map, found the field where my son will have his first soccer practice in a few weeks, and decided to scope it out on the way back from the grocery store. What a mistake!

I took the streets labelled on the map and ended up in the urban home development version of the Hotel California. I’ve never seen so many unmarked dead-end roads and cul-de-sacs in my life. It made me wonder if the street planners and map makers had an inside joke going on: let’s not mark anything and see how people fare.

Eventually we found our way out of the subdivision corn maze without ever finding a park of any kind. Since I wasn’t aware of map issues 2 & 3, I couldn’t get over just how badly my navigation skills were slipping. Had I lost my sense of direction? My memory?

I might have tried using my in-car navigation system to find it, but I hadn’t written the exact address down, and as it was, I wasn’t in the mood to spend the time trying to key it into the unit. Plus, I had frozen food in my trunk and it was hot out. All good reasons to head home and pull up Google maps.

Turns out, I needed to drive down a street that wasn’t even on the Super Crappy Printed Map Rendering and take a right to turn onto a road that actually goes East-West (not North-South!). Though I admit to feeling vindicated that I haven’t lost my map reading abilities, it made me wonder if anyone else has noticed the issues with the map I used or if they even care. Am I the last of a dying breed of people who prefer holding a map to a computerized voice who spouts “recalculating…recalculating…” when you don’t follow the programmed route?

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Embroidered Baby Quilt

I started working on a 12-panel embroidered quilt project (my very first quilt project!) in 2012, and I finally finished it up last night! It only took 4 years! The theme of the quilt is what I like to refer to as “Bugs in Ball Jars,” though the official Jack Dempsey Needle Art name is “Creatures in Jars.”

I loved the stamped block designs, but wasn’t wild about the colors suggested. They seemed too drab for a baby blanket, so except for the floss I used for the jars (pewter grey and turquoise), I used scrap floss I’d saved from previous projects. In spite of a three-year delay from start-to-finish on the embroidery, it didn’t actually take that long for me to finish all the panels since I worked most of it in a simple outline stitch, with the occasional satin stitch added in for parts I wanted filled in. Instead of cutting each block out of the larger fabric first, I kept them in 4-by-4 panels to make it easier to work with a hoop. Once the embroidery was complete, I used a rotary cutter to trim the panels to size.


Cutting the Blocks

The original quilt pattern used two tones of dark green material for the backing and stripping around the blocks, but I wanted to liven it up a bit and give it a bit more color. I chose to go with a nature-inspired color palette, with pale green, blue, brown, and yellow stripping, and a complimentary paler yellow backing. I wasn’t entirely confident my fabric selections would work since I was going “rogue” with the pattern, but I went with my gut.

After cutting the stripping to the appropriate lengths, I did a test lay-out to see how everything would look when positioned in the proper place.


Test Layout

Once I was happy with the layout, I pinned and stitched the panels into columns. I then sewed the green stripping to the central column before sewing the outer columns into place.


Making Sure the Panels Align

The next step was to sew on the outer stripping border to complete the quilt top. Once that was done, I started tracing my quilting pattern onto the stripping with a washable fabric marker. I used two different templates: one that I cut out of a cardboard piece for the smaller stripping pieces to use as a stencil; and another that I placed under the material and traced through on the outer borders. I wanted to go with a vine design to stick with the quilt theme, which in hindsight wasn’t the best idea since this was my first attempt at quilting and swirls aren’t the easiest pattern to deal with.


Quilt Pattern Transfer

I did do a quick test block on scrap fabric, with some batting, to make sure I had the tension set up okay and practice with the swirly vine pattern. NOTE: Machine quilting a small scrap is A LOT easier than working with a toddler-sized quilt.


Pattern Test Scrap

The next step was to lay the backing material wrong side up, place the batting on it, and then lay the quilt top down. I hand-basted the pieces together so they wouldn’t shift, working from the center out. And then, I started quilting my design, starting from the middle and working my way out.

I wish I could say things went smoothly, but they didn’t. The bobbin tension kept going wonky on me, the basting didn’t entirely stop the fabric from shifting, and the machine ceased up and needed some TLC.

Once the quilting was complete, I decided to bind the edges by folding the backing to the front to give it a bit more dimension. I used a 3/4″ double-fold that I stitched to the top using a blanket stitch on my machine. About halfway around, my needle broke. I replaced the needle and finished up, and I’m mostly pleased with the end result (as long as I don’t look at the back).


Final Quilt after Washing

I’m thankful I got some good advice from my mom on pulling this together, and I can’t wait to start my next quilting project. Thanks to Aunt Becky, I know exactly where to look for fabric deals, and with the project books Aunt Pat gave me, I’ll have plenty of ideas to get my creative juices flowing.


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DIY: Converting a Shoe Rack to a Bookcase

I’ve been having the hardest time finding bookcases to organize the mountains of books in our house. Most of the ones I find are either cheaply constructed and likely to sag under the weight of our tomes, or are priced far more than I want to spend. I’ve taken to scouring resale shops, hoping to find something magical and reasonably priced that will fit the bill.

This past Tuesday, my 4-year-0old and I stopped into the local Goodwill, and came across an old wooden shoe rack that was in dusty, but good condition. I thought maybe, maybe it could be a bookcase, but I wasn’t sure. I wandered around the rest of the furniture section, while I thought about whether or not it was worth the $19 price tag. It was sturdy. Unfinished. It had potential. And it would be perfect for storing my son’s board books. I drifted back and gave it another look.


The Unfinished Shoe Rack

“Do you think it would make you a good bookcase?” I asked my son.

He grinned. “Can we paint it purple?”

I was sold.

We bought the shoe rack, and stopped by the arts and crafts store on the way home to pick up supplies. Spray paint would have been easier, but my son wanted to help, so I picked up some acrylic hobby paint, foam brushes, and a clear, non-yellowing varnish to give it some durability. With some coupons, it cost us just under $10 for supplies.

My son helped me apply two coats of the DecoArt Americana Dioxazine Purple paint he selected, and then I applied two coats of gloss varnish.

The paint job wasn’t perfect since it was his first time trying to paint furniture, but it didn’t matter. The minute he saw the finished result, he gave me a huge hug. “I love it, Mom!”


It took about 12 hours to dry completely, and then we moved it to his room to load it up with books. The shelves aren’t large enough to handle the tall books, but they’re perfect for board books and anything around the size of a Little Golden Book. As he gets older, it should work great for paperbacks and some hardcovers.


Shoe rack bookcase


It turns out Pinterest has a ton of ideas on how to turn a bookcase into a shoe rack, but nothing about converting a shoe rack to a bookcase. The good news is that it’s easy enough to do, though, with a little paint and time (and help, if you can get it). And for less than $30…I think it’s great.

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