A #DVpit Success Story: Interview with Sarah Elkins and NineStar Press

Sarah and NineStar, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on your partnership! To start, Sarah, I’d love to know more about your book and why you wrote it.

SARAH: Psychic Underground: The Facility is probably, the fifth or sixth attempt of mine to write a story that used a reworked version of a character I wrote about when I was a kid. I really wanted to do a story with the core of this old character and include all the weird stuff I enjoy. Body horror has fascinated me, but I wanted to approach it from a perspective of it being normal for some of the characters which resulted in including shape-shifters who can copy other people rather than turn into animals or were-creatures. Psychics have always fascinated me too and so I wanted to include them but I didn't want every psychic to have the exact same powers or strength of powers. I had tried writing several different stories that focused on each of the things I enjoyed but doing so resulted in changes to the main character so that she no longer had the core that I felt defined that character as 'Neila.' Most of those stories just didn't work. They were all missing something, but I wasn't sure what. I got about 100 pages into a draft for one version and realized there was a ton of story to be told before those events that would likely change that story a ton. Then I tried writing a sort of prequel that was DNA-RW published by Sparkler Monthly in 2014. While I was working on that I realized that, I had a new character who lived in a world that Neila would work well in. It was a sort of sign to myself I was beginning to figure out how to make a story with Neila work, but still had a ways to go.

As my arm got worse (the elbow tendons in my dominant arm began to ossify in 2014 but that's a body horror story for another day) I had to stop working on comics. About that time I decided to combine all the parts for the different stories that didn't quite work on their own into one book set in the same world as DNA-RW before the events of that story. I thought, "What if Neila had all these psychic powers but then something was her 'flying snowman' of sorts that she just couldn't accept as being possible despite living in a world where she expected the supernatural to be normal?" So I folded in the reincarnation part from a different story that has also not worked on its own. I hit the ground running and had a blast, which really got my mind off the terrible pain in my arm.

So, in part, I wrote it because it was a problem I'd been trying to solve for years, a puzzle that I wanted to piece together, and in part I wrote it because it helped me escape from my physical problems at the time and deal with stress. (I typed a lot with just my left hand, if you were wondering.) I wanted the hero to be asexual, like me, and be multifaceted. She does her best to put on a front of confidence and trudge forward even when things go to hell. I didn't want her to be alone in her adventure and I really didn't want the people she teamed up with to be a load of vanilla people who wound up in the lab so the members of the Psychic Underground are diverse and queer. They've all got their own backstories, powers, and personalities. It's the story I needed to read and gave me something constructive to focus on when I was going through a bad time, so I wrote it. There are a lot of reasons I wrote it, I hope I did a good job. I really worry I could have done better. It still amazes me that people are interested in it.

NineStar, what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?

NINESTAR: Well, when I first read the blurb and info on the story, I was hit by the diversity of characters and I knew I needed to assess this one. Sarah brings those characters to life in the pages of her manuscript in a unique tale that I found mesmerizing.

Sarah, how did you prepare this manuscript for submission? Do you work with outlines, schedules, or deadlines? Do you have critique partners and beta readers?

SARAH: A few friends I know from working in comics as well as friends I met on a music streaming site worked as beta readers since draft 1 of the book. They gave me input on where story beats missed, where things were too slow, and where different terms could be used. They asked questions that helped me fix things and smooth out kinks. I learned a ton from them and owe them the world! I had been pitching it to agents since I finished the second draft, because pitching it also gave me something to do when my arm was messed up in 2015 while I wrote on a different book to distract myself. I kept rewriting Psychic Underground: The Facility pretty regularly to try to get it to be the best version of the story I could manage. I had just gotten rejected a few more times and decided to stop counting when I tweeted the write up under the #DVpit hashtag. I almost didn't pitch this one for #DVpit since I was pretty disheartened at all the rejections but I thought, "You know what? I may as well try. Maybe someone will like it and if they don't I'll keep noodling on it." I was so excited by Ninestar Press's interest after #DVpit that I finished a fifth rewrite of the book before submitting it.

And how was the #DVpit experience for you, overall? Expectations? Doubts? Disappointments?

SARAH: My expectations were that no one would respond to my posts but that may have just been because the story had been passed over so many times. I was surprised two different publishers liked my #DVpits for my two books. I felt a bit overwhelmed, and still do, so I only managed to submit this story to Ninestar instead of also submitting the other book to the other publisher. I wish I was a bit more brave. Maybe I can work up the courage to do something with that other novel? I was absolutely ecstatic to hear that Ninestar was interested in stories with asexual characters since I am asexual and mostly write asexual leads. That made my heart swim happy little circles.

How was the experience for you, NineStar?

NINESTAR: This is our second year participating in #DVpit. It has been an amazing event for us, and we feel so humbled to be able to help such deserving authors be heard. So if I had to pick a few short words, I’d say an honor.

Sarah, did you receive pitch help? Any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to future participants?

SARAH: I read up on how to pitch online. It can be hard to write a pitch and a logline for your story, especially when it combines so many elements like this one does. Again, I hope I did a good job. In the end, all you can do is try your best and go for it. Also be polite and understanding that the people you pitch are getting tons of pitches regularly. They may also have lots of other stuff going on in their lives so don't take a rejection personally, even if it's a bummer.

And NineStar, do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?

NINESTAR: Think about some of the most important parts of your story and really utilize the appropriate hashtags. The hashtags are so important and can tell a lot about the story in a few short characters. For this story in particular, Sarah used #asexual, and as a LGBTQA+ publisher, we are always looking to provide point of views from various identities. I knew immediately that this story was something that could interest us, and it enticed me to really pay attention to the full pitch. In sum: use what the Twitter makers gave ya… or you know, just use hashtags.

Tell us about The Call, Sarah!

SARAH: I was extra nervous because I'm genophobic and Ninestar Press publishes some steamy romance books. I worried my story and myself would be out of place but they assured me that not only are they looking for stories with Ace characters but Aces work for Ninestar Press. That, actually made me tear up a bit to hear but in a good way. It was extra heartwarming to feel like there was a place that understood me and my work and that I belonged. When I got the offer for publication I had to catch my breath after pumping my fists and walking around the house in a bit of a daze. I think every sentence in my reply emails was marked with an exclamation point...in fact most of them still are. I'm still super excited!

Sarah, what has the editing/publication process been like since #DVpit? Any news you can share about the book at this point? Publication date, cover, blurbs…?

SARAH: It's still a bit early in the process so I am eagerly awaiting to continue on edits for the book and seeing a cover, etc. Psychic Underground: The Facility is expected to be out in January of 2018 which is the month Nikola Tesla passed away, which kinda blew my mind since the book deals with a reincarnation of Tesla. I take that coincidence as a good sign.

Give us the pitch that hooked your publisher!

SARAH: “Neila had problems before landing in a secret government lab that studies psychics. Can she survive a test subject uprising? #Asexual #DVpit”

NineStar what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?

NINESTAR: As previously mentioned, the tag for asexuality was important. Once I read the rest of the pitch, I was intrigued. I knew right off it wasn’t a standard contemporary, and then you add in the element of a “secret government lab” and suddenly I want to know more. The pitch gave me a taste of the content, but left me wanting more.

What else are you looking for these days? Is there anything specific on your wishlist that you’re hoping to find, maybe at the next #DVpit?

NINESTAR: We are always looking for new, fresh stories and, of course, ideas and narratives that are seen in mainstream fiction but with characters throughout the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Right now, we are especially looking for Science Fiction space operas, epic Fantasy tales, imaginative Paranormal/Horror.

Warm congratulations to Sarah and the team at NineStar Press for finding each other! I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next. Follow them on Twitter so you can do the same!

Sarah Elkins (@NeilaK20) is a freelance comic artist and writer who's recovering from a bad case of chronic ossifying tennis elbow. She enjoys reading biographies about Nikola Tesla, writing about asexuals kicking butt, and drawing art. She's working to focus more on writing since it's easier for her to do given her arm condition but she still pays her bills by producing art when her arm allows her to do so without terrible pain. She lives in Texas with her family, two dogs, and one cat.

Click here to find out more about the team at NineStar Press.