Pitch Wars! If Wishes Were Lists, This Would be Mine

Here’s a link to a Google Docs version of my wish list https://docs.google.com/document/d/180lmDfD8vBJrCrlX9SgroV0MK3wKFuEUdqt7flia1OA/edit?usp=sharing

Pitch Wars? What’s Pitch Wars?

Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns (the mentors) each choose one aspiring author (the mentee) to spend three months with, revising their manuscript. It begins in September with mentee submissions. It ends in February with an Agent Showcase, where agents can read a pitch/first page and can request to read more.

Okay, But Who Are You?

I’m a physician by day, a crime novelist and podcast host by night! I’ve published five mystery novels (the Gethsemane Brown series) and a short story (“Love’s Labor,” in This Time for Sure) to date and I’m agented by Paula Munier of Talcott Notch. My first novel, Murder in G Major, was published in 2016. The first episode of my podcast, The Cozy Corner with Alexia Gordon, aired in 2019. Even after all this time, I still remember the authors who mentored me with gratitude and affection. I couldn’t have accomplished all that I have without their support. I want to pay them back by helping others. I believe that what helps one, helps all.

And You Want What?

That’s what you really want to know, isn’t it? What am I looking for in a manuscript? Adult* crime fiction. Nothing against MG, YA, NA crime fiction, or any other genre. They just aren’t my thing. (Happily, there are lots of other Pitch Wars mentors who are looking for exactly those things.) Within the broad category of adult crime fiction, I’m open to almost (almost) anything. (*”Adult” doesn’t mean the protagonist has to be over-21. It means the target audience must be.)

Such as? Splendid Specifics, Please

  • Strong, competent, confident women. Bring on the Amazons and Valkyries/shield maidens! “Capable” is a complement.
  • Female villains. Women are as capable of evil as men. And they don’t need a tragic backstory to “excuse” their dastardly deeds. I’m fine with female characters who do bad things because they enjoy power or wealth or because they just DGAF.
  • Protagonists who are from marginalized communities, written by people from those communites.
  • Ghosts. I love a good ghost story, especially if the story involves a crime.
  • Retellings or reimagining of myths and legends, especially myths and legends originating in Black American, Latin American, African, Asian, and Indigenous cultures, retold by members of those communities.
  • Genre blenders**, as long as a crime is the major element. A murder can occur in outer space as well as on Earth and a dragon can be an arsonist (or arson investigator). Also see my comment, above, about ghosts. (**I’m not a romance fan, but…See “Room for Negotiation,” below.)
  • Vibrant settings that function as characters. Think Southern Gothic, English village, urban noir, rural noir. I love a story that not only transports me to its setting but convinces me that it couldn’t happen anyplace else but there.
  • Strong plots. I know “character-driven” is all the rage, but I’m greedy and want it all: a strong sense of place, well-crafted characters, AND well-crafted plots. A bunch of fabulous people in a generic place not doing much of anything is my definition of a the literary equivalent of a cocktail party. (Not a fan of cocktail parties.)
  • Black joy. Being Black (or Brown) is not a never-ending trauma. Black and Brown people laugh as well as cry. We celebrate as well as mourn. We have hopes and dreams as well as anxieties and fears. We have heroes as well as villains and, yes, we have fun.

Anything You Don’t Want?


  • Stereotypes.
  • Weak, helpless women who always have to be rescued. Women who don’t play an active role in the story. Female characters who are nothing more than window dressing. Female characters who are ninnies.
  • Black and Brown characters who only come from broken familes and crime-ridden, dysfunctional backgrounds. Black and Brown people have stable familes, decent jobs, good educations, and well-adjusted children, too. Some of us even live in the suburbs. Not that all BIPOC characters have to be upper class and Ivy League but they do need to represent the full range of human experience to grab my interest. A story that only portrays Black and Brown people as a hopeless, downtrodden, ever-suffering underclass, is not the story for me. That goes double if the BIPOC characters only exist to a) be saved, b) help a non-BIPOC character “find” themselves. Triple for Black or Brown trauma porn. (P.S. Black and Brown people are not trying to make other people love them. I’m not interested in stories that suggest they are.)
  • Speaking of characters who “find” themselves, I have ZERO interest in stories that imply a woman must suffer abuse or assault in order to “become the woman she was meant to be.” Abuse and assault are not self-actualization tools. Nor are they entertainment. Nor are they an excuse for a male character to be an avenging hero. Also, I have ZERO interest in graphic sexual violence.
  • Characters who are nothing more than a litany of dysfunctions. Flawed characters are fine. No one is perfect and no one likes anyone who thinks that they are. But there’s a limit. If the flaws overshadow the story or are just loaded on to a character because “damaged heroes” are trendy, I’m going to pass. What’s the line between believably flawed and unbelievable train wreck? If a character has so much baggage that I find myself stopping every few pages to yell, “Get some therapy already,” “Take a pill,” or “How do you manage to cross the street without a chaperone?” then the baggage is too overdone for my taste.
  • In the same vein as “walking train wreck,” I don’t care for characters that fall under the heading “too stupid to live.” (TSTL. It’s a thing.) Granted, characters often have to make poor , or at least questionable, decisions to move the plot along. Poor communication and impulsivity occur in real life as often as they do in fiction. But, again, there’s a limit on how clueless a character, especially the protagonist, can be and still be believable. I don’t have an official limit to the number of eyerolls per page, but if I’m rolling my eyes so hard I sprain something, I’m not going to be able to read the rest of the story.
  • I’m not into graphic sex in stories, nor am I into heavy romantic themes. I believe in the effective use of “fade to black” and I’d rather read about people saving the world than making cow eyes at each other.

Room For Negotiation

  • While I don’t actively seek out profanity, I’m not opposed to it.
  • Cozy and traditional/classic mysteries are my favorites, but I’ll consider noir and thrillers, too, especially if they’re set in the suburbs. We all know there’s some twisted stuff going on behind those cookie cutter-perfect McMansion facades.
  • I’ll consider manuscripts with graphic, non-sexual violence, as long as it’s not gratuitous. It also has to fit the sub-genre. Cozies, by definition, do not contain graphic violence.
  • I have no age limit when it comes to fictional crime victims–bad things do happen to children–but I’d prefer it if not all of the victims were women.
  • Ambiguous endings and Miserable Ever After are fine with me. I’m okay with Happily Ever After, too.
  • **About Romance–as I mentioned above, I’m not a fan. I love Casablanca for the bromance between Rick and Louis and the noble self-sacrifice. Another one of my favorite movies is The Peacemaker, where the main characters save the world before they go on a date. Add to that list The Replacement Killers, where the romance remains “almost.” However, I know that most of the world loves a good love story. I also know you’re telling a story for that world. I prefer that the romance in a story be secondary to the crime-solving. By the way, an AroAce protagonist would be a special kind of awesome.

So, What’s All This Mean?

It means that, at the end of the day, the story is YOUR story. I have preferences but they’re just that, preferences. Other mentors have different preferences. I see myself as a cheerleading coach. I’ll help you tell the story that you want to tell in the best way possible but I won’t try to change your story. If you want to write about unicorns, I’ll help you write well-crafted unicorns. I won’t try to make you write about sharks.

I separate the story from the craft. I appreciate a well-written manuscript even if the subject matter isn’t something that would end up in my TBR pile. I’d actually rather read a brilliant example of craft about a topic that I’m not crazy about than a poorly written example of a subject I love. Not that I expect my mentee’s manuscript to be perfect. After all, if it was perfect, why would they need Pitch Wars?

I prefer email communication but I can do Zoom, too.

Links to other mentors’ wish lists, and the Pitch Wars site, are below.

Pitch Wars 2021 Adult Mentors’ Wish Lists

  1. Anna Kaling (Accepts NA)
  2. Ian Barnes (Accepts NA)
  3. Jackson Ford
  4. Jake Nicholls (Accepts NA)
  5. Jesse Q. Sutanto and Grace Shim
  6. Charish Reid and Denise Williams
  7. Saara El-Arifi (Accepts NA)
  8. Rosie Danan and Ruby Barrett (Accepts NA)
  9. Carolyne Topdjian
  10. Falon Ballard and Brooke Abrams
  11. Mary Keliikoa (Accepts NA)
  12. E.A. Aymar
  13. Amanda Elliot (Accepts NA)
  14. Kelly Siskind
  15. Vaishnavi Patel and Sarah Mughal (Accepts NA)
  16. Mary Ann Marlowe and Laura Elizabeth (Accepts NA)
  17. Mia P. Manansala (Accepts NA)
  18. Peggy Rothschild (Accepts NA)
  19. Natalka Burian
  20. Courtney Kae and Jenny L. Howe (Accepts NA)
  21. Rochelle Karina (Accepts NA)
  22. Swati Hegde (Accepts NA)
  23. Nanci Schwartz and LL Montez
  24. Paris Wynters
  25. Hudson Lin
  26. Sarah Remy (Accepts NA)
  27. AM Kvita (Accepts NA)
  28. Heather Van Fleet and Jessica Calla (Accepts NA)
  29. Melissa Colasanti (Accepts NA)
  30. J.A. Crawford (Accepts NA)
  31. Michella S. Domenici
  32. Yvette Yun and Marith Zoli (Accepts NA)
  33. Sari Coritz and Rosalie M Lin (Accepts NA)
  34. Stephenie Magister and Noreen (Accepts NA)
  35. Regina Black and Nikki Payne (Accepts NA)
  36. Farah Heron and Namrata Patel
  37. Alicia Thompson and Amy Lea (Accepts NA)
  38. Lyn Liao Butler
  39. Preslaysa Williams (Accepts NA)
  40. Keena Roberts and Molly Steen (Accepts NA)
  41. Alexandria Bellefleur (Accepts NA)
  42. Samantha Rajaram
  43. Ashley Winstead
  44. Clay Harmon (Accepts NA)
  45. Rob Hart
  46. Cole Nagamatsu and Sequoia Nagamatsu
  47. N.E. Davenport (Accepts NA)
  48. Katherine Lim
  49. Alexia Gordon
  50. Cynthia Pelayo (Accepts NA)

Click here to view all Pitch Wars 2021 Mentors’ Wish Lists. To view the wish lists by genre, visit this link.

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