Mentors Alex Brown & Justine Pucella Winans

alexbrownwrites.com
@gravity_fail09

justinepucellawinans.com
@JustinePWinans

AGENT
Alex:
Hannah Fergesen (KT Literary)
Justine: Jordan Hamessley (New Leaf Literary)

WRITES
Alex:
Horror, Contemporary
Justine: Contemporary, Contemporary Fantasy, Mystery/Thriller

BOOKS
Alex:
THE GATHERING DARK (2022) Page Street
Justine:
BIANCA TORRE IS AFRAID OF EVERYTHING (2023) Clarion/Harper

BIO

Alex Brown is a YA Horror writer and is no stranger to horror in all forms, as she was the Showrunner’s Assistant on Supernatural and Netflix’s upcoming Resident Evil TV. Alex is the co-creator of The Bridge, an audiodrama serial podcast that has over 1,000,000 downloads to date. She was one of the inaugural winners of the SCBWI’s On-the-Verge Emerging Voices Award, was a Tu Books New Visions Award finalist, and was a Tin House YA ’21 Workshop Scholar. Alex will have a short story in Tori Bovalino’s THE GATHERING DARK: AN ANTHOLOGY OF FOLK HORROR (Page Street, Fall 2022).

Justine Pucella Winans is a queer and nonbinary writer who resides in Los Angeles with their husband and orange tabby cat. Their debut novel, BIANCA TORRE IS AFRAID OF EVERYTHING, is slated to release Winter 2023 from Clarion Teen. When not writing, they try their best at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, read an alarming amount of manga, and try to make pasta even a fourth as good as their nonna’s.

PUBLISHING BACKGROUND

Alex: My publishing journey has been a wild, weird ride full of lots of self-doubt and hundreds of rejections—but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It took me seven years and six manuscripts and one podcast to get an agent.

I started writing with the intent to be published in early 2011. It took me until the summer of 2012 to finish my first book, and after that I did a silly thing (purely in retrospect, at the time I thought it was genius), and I queried my first book without a lot of revision. At the time, I didn’t really understand the fine art of revision, and I was young, and had always been called a “good writer” so I figured it couldn’t be that hard. And then, when my first book didn’t get any requests, I finally learned that it was even more difficult than I made it out to be. I immersed myself in blog posts, online writing classes, SCBWI conferences and workshops, and swapping work with others in an attempt to sharpen my story skills.

Using what I learned from books, TV shows, and movies, as well as the craft resources I listed above, I finally began to understand what made a good story. I wrote my second manuscript and submitted it to be considered for the SCBWI’s inaugural On-The-Verge Emerging Voices award and wound up being selected as one of the first recipients for the award. After that, my young, impressionable self totally thought I was set and that everything would fall into place then and there. But it didn’t. And I’ve never been happier to be wrong.

After that book, I went on to query three more manuscripts. I got into Pitch Wars as an Alternate in 2014 (back when they did those) and got some agent requests in the showcase. But, like every time I queried, I’d get full requests and no offers of rep.

I applied for Round 5 of AMM and got in (YAY!) and finally started to enjoy writing again! Years of stacking up rejections led me to write things that I didn’t particularly like but thought had a good chance of selling. After being selected as a mentee, I figured out that writing for other people wasn’t getting me anywhere. I needed to write for myself, first and foremost. Tell the stories I wanted to tell and put my best foot forward.

Around that time, my now-agent, Hannah Fergesen, signed me for an audiodrama podcast that I co-created with one of their clients. We had a good working relationship and rapport. In the summer of 2019, I pitched an anthology idea to them, and they offered representation! Hannah had always been at the top of my query list, and I was so excited when we had a great call. After speaking to more of their clients I knew that Hannah would be the best champion for my work, and I happily accepted their offer of rep.

Currently, I’m on sub with a YA Horror-Comedy and a YA Horror anthology. I have a short story forthcoming in Tori Bovalino’s YA Folk Horror anthology, THE GATHERING DARK, which will be released in Fall 2022!

Justine: It took me nine manuscripts and two coming outs to get an agent. Over a period of six or seven years! We don’t talk about my first two manuscripts. My third manuscript got me into Pitch Wars 2014, which did not have a HEA—I was a closeted seventeen-year-old who was too embarrassed to write my truth, so to be fair, it wasn’t really a book that defined me. I explored my sexuality in fanfiction (which should never see the light of day) but didn’t in my other writing.

It wasn’t until I came out as bisexual in a college Shakespeare class (after an excellent rendition of Romeo’s balcony monologue) that I started to really explore what I was going through in my writing. And realize that writing with a sense of humor was much more my style. Unfortunately, it took me a lot longer to realize that books can’t just be awkward and funny gay vibes (although…), and I didn’t really write a plot until my eighth manuscript.

My own gender exploration came along with my ninth manuscript, which was the first time I really wrote something that felt like it encompassed a lot of me, my experience, and what I want to share with others. It was this manuscript that got me multiple offers (through cold querying! Query letters are my favorite!) and led me to sign with my agent.

This was the manuscript of my ex-birder, genderqueer heart, BIANCA TORRE IS AFRAID OF EVERYTHING, and will be published in 2023 by Clarion/HarperCollins (which is exactly ten years since I wrote my first query). It was a long journey, but I’m so glad I gained all the experience and connections I did, not only to share with others through programs like these, but to fully appreciate my growth and all that is to come!

EXPERIENCE

Alex: I was a mentor for Rounds 7 and 8 of AMM, and am currently a 2021 Pitch Wars mentor! I had an awesome experience working with my mentees to make their manuscripts shine!

I’ve attended Futurescapes, Rainbow Weekend, and the Tin House YA ‘21 Workshop and also bring a different perspective to storytelling, as I work in TV and have been around lots of smart and awesome writers as they plot out whole seasons of shows!

I am extremely passionate about finding new, diverse voices and helping to bring them a seat at the proverbial table.

Justine: I was a mentor in AMM Round 8 to two fabulous mentees (one of whom is now a mentor for Round 9!!!) and had the best experience shaping their manuscripts and still keeping in touch as they progress through their publishing journeys. I am also a Pitch Wars mentor for the 2021 season, where I gained another incredible mentee with a gorgeous manuscript. All of my mentorship experiences have been extremely rewarding, and I am so excited to meet our R9 mentee!

My creative writing skills have developed through workshops, college classes, and various critiquing and beta-reading of work by friends. Some workshops I’ve done in the past few years are Futurescapes (2018) and Rainbow Weekend Intensive (2020). I’ve critiqued manuscripts for a variety of authors, many of whom have gone on to get agents and/or deals.

One of my major strengths lies in pitching and the business side of looking at things. I currently work at a talent agency, have been an intern at a literary agency for a year, and also worked for a book scout. My query skills have really sharpened, and I’ve helped edit query packages for a variety of writers, in addition to my personal experience in querying multiple books and working on pitches for submission.

 

OVERVIEW

Alex: Why do I want to mentor? For clout. Wait, that’s not right. For the money? Justine’s telling me that’s not a thing. I’m just kidding, what I’m really in it for is the chance to have another person to send pictures of my handsome cat to. And Justine’s handsome cat. They’re both super pretty and our future mentee better be ready for them!!!

On a more serious note, I just really love stories and writers and collaborating with people to help them write the best version of their book! Revising is scary (and publishing is, too), but I think it’s better if you can find people who will root for you and support you–and also give you reality checks when your anxiety is getting the better of you.

Justine: I love my previous mentorship experiences and really find value in being a resource and a friend for other writers, especially because I didn’t really have any of that when I was first starting out. Basically, I strive to be the mentor that I didn’t have, and especially want to use my experience to assist other writers and prevent them from making the array of mistakes I did at the beginning. Having a support system is so huge in this industry, and it isn’t always easy to make it happen, which is why I love programs and communities like AMM. (It is a great way for us awkward introverts to make friends).

Also, the handsome cat pictures. Absolutely. Will definitely be sending those as motivation!

Both: We’re looking to mentor an author from a traditionally underrepresented background. We’d especially love to see submissions from BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and disabled writers!

When it comes to the genres we’re mentoring (Mystery/Thriller and Horror), we’re not picky! We’re looking for everything under those two genres!

MENTORING GENRES
Young Adult

  • Mystery/Thriller
  • Horror

Any subcategories in the genres above are great!!!

 

WE WILL PROVIDE:

  • Edit Letter (Big Picture developmental feedback)
  • Line edit (dropping notes into a Word Document)
  • Skype or phone call
  • Freestyle in chat

WORKING STYLE
We’re here to be your cheerleaders, support system, and *changes voice to sound like Dom Toretto* your family. We’re very collaborative, and want to work with you to find the best version of your vision for your story. We see this as a team of three people and two cats (the two of us, our handsome cats, and YOU!), and are both very responsive communicators and are always down for a brainstorming session (we have the white board prepped).

We will start with a call/live chat/etc to get on the same page and really nail your vision of the book along with what our editorial ideas are. At that point, we’ll send over an edit letter with developmental edits and larger changes. (Although we are still available during the revision process!) The next step will be to go through line edits and smaller changes. Luckily, we are roommates, so it is very easy to be on the same page and you won’t have to worry about conflicting notes! At that point, we can discuss next steps in your publishing career and help you through the querying process!

Ideally, we aim to keep a relationship that lasts past you getting an agent, as our cats are extremely clingy and will like you from Day 1. In addition, we are very flexible when it comes to accommodations and timelines, so our mentoring style will reflect what the best and most helpful style is for you as an individual.

IDEAL MENTEE
Loves cats and the Fast and Furious franchise.

Just kidding, but that is certainly a bonus. Basically, we are looking for a mentee who is eager to improve their book and willing to put in the work but still have fun! As mentioned, we are very flexible, but would love someone open to communicate and collaborate! (And–you guessed it–receive pictures of our handsome cats.)

SEND US:

These are things we definitely hope to see, but are certainly not limited to. If you have a Mystery/Thriller or Horror and you think we would be a good fit, please submit! We are happy to be surprised by what we fall in love with!

Mystery/Thriller:

  • Cozy Mysteries
  • Bonus points if there’s a crime-solving cat (and puns)
  • Tense Thrillers
  • Pull us in from the first page and don’t let us go until the end!

Horror:

  • Comedic Horror
  • Give us all the tropes/subversion of common horror tropes!
  • Cryptids/Legends/Lore
  • Something that feels like SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK or ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?

General Things We Love to See:

  • GAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYY
  • Character-Driven and Voicey
  • Sense of humor
  • Cross-genre stories–is it a horror or mystery that kind of sounds like a contemporary? Send it! Is it intense and full of thrills but also makes us laugh? SEND IT!

DO NOT SEND US:

These are requests for our mental health, so please take that into consideration before submitting. We are not saying these topics cannot be covered in good ways, but we are not the right mentors for them. Thanks!

  • Domestic Abuse/Violence
  • Sexual Assault
  • Pet dies (unless they return as cute ghost)
  • Suicide

FAVES

Mystery/Thriller:
-Knives Out
-Only Murders in the Building!! (Hulu)
-Searching (John Cho!!!!)
-Chasing Tails by BASHI (Webtoon)
-You (Netflix series)
-ACE OF SPADES by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
-Panic (Amazon series)
-Alice in Borderland (Netflix series)
-THE VALLEY AND THE FLOOD by Rebecca Mahoney

Horror:
-Scream
-Freaky
-Happy Death Day
-THE LUMINOUS DEAD by Caitlin Starling
-RULES FOR VANISHING by Kate Alice Marshall
-Fear Street (Netflix series)
-THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS by Stephen Graham Jones
-THE DEAD AND THE DARK by Courtney Gould
-The Exorcist (TV series–it’s on Hulu, watch it!!!-Alex)
-Another (manga series)