Alec and Jennifer, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on your partnership! To start, Alec, I’d love to know more about your book and why you wrote it.
Alec: Thank you, Beth! And thank you for all the work you’ve done with #DVpit.
I play a lot of video games and I wanted to write something that featured a heads-up display like you see in most games. I combined that with a short story I wrote in college about an assassin and ended up with an organization that uses cybernetically enhanced teenagers as hitmen and spies. It started as a side project, purely for fun, but I got so into it that I scrapped the other novel and threw myself into this one. That original draft is almost unrecognizable to what it is now, but each draft has added more depth and allowed me to vent some of my own anxiety and depression, explore my own identity, and address some of my concerns over the current political climate in America.
Jennifer, what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?
Jennifer: It was the incredible voice and the relationships between the characters. While I love the cool, and eerily relevant, near-future SF world Alec has built, I am always a sucker for great voice, and this has one of the best I’ve come across in a long time. Like the mc Phoenix (Nix), I have Anxiety and PTSD and I relate so much to this character that is otherwise nothing like me. His experiences are so poignant, and it’s very intense. There’s also this amazing thread throughout that showcases the love we have for our chosen family, and an unforgettable and incredibly sweet love-story between the mc and his best friend, too. Everyone in this book fights so hard for the people that they love, and they made me want to fight for them, too!
Alec, how did you prepare this manuscript for submission? Do you work with outlines, schedules, or deadlines? Do you have critique partners and beta readers?
Alec: The ending of a story usually comes to me first, along with a few major events somewhere in the middle. I’m very character-driven in my writing, so the characters definitely dictate how they want to fill in the gaps. I’ve always been a pantser, but I’ve started outlining recently to keep myself on track.
I’m also a part of a group of awesome writers called the Sommies who have always pushed me through word wars and chapter swapping. Two of my Sommie friends, Rosiee and Marisa, were the driving force behind getting this manuscript ready. They read from beginning to end, helped me with my query and synopsis, and pushed me to participate in #DVpit in the first place.
And how was the #DVpit experience for you, overall? Expectations? Doubts? Disappointments?
Alec: #DVpit was amazing. I was at work for most of the active hours and didn’t get to send out very many pitches, but those I did got so much more attention than I was expecting. I couldn’t believe people were actually interested! It was a major boost of confidence and it led me to Jennifer, so I have no complaints.
How was the experience for you, Jennifer?
Jennifer: I adore #DVpit. Before this experience, I have to say, I thought I did a pretty decent of job saying, “Hey marginalized writers, I’m here! I want to read your work!”, but I realized I must not have been as visible or doing enough work in that regard because there are so many stories I wasn’t getting that I would have loved to see. I’m glad to be a bit more visible now as I continue to participate in #DVpit, and I will do my best to continue to be open to #ownvoices year-round. And, of course, it’s through #DVpit that I’ve connected with several amazing clients that I don’t think I would have otherwise, so I am eternally grateful.
Alec, did you receive pitch help or tips? Any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to future participants?
Alec: I haven’t been very active on Twitter since my embarrassing college days, so I wouldn’t have even known about #DVpit if it weren’t for Rosiee and Marisa. They refused to let me skip out on it, read my pitches, and even wrote some of their own for me. I went with two pitches that I posted twice each. I’d suggest getting a friend who knows nothing about your book to read your pitches and see if it sparks interest, as well as someone who has read the book to see if it hits the right points.
And Jennifer, do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?
Jennifer: I’m going to repeat this from the earlier interview for #DVpit because it very much holds for what I look for in a pitch: I like to see character+stakes+unique element. I personally think having comparison titles is risky because I have to like both titles and also believe you can achieve that blend, but others seem to really like it! For me, it takes away valuable space that could be dedicated to infusing those elements listed above with your unique voice. With that said, I highly recommend having several different pitches that highlight different aspects of your story. You never know what might hook an agent!
Tell us about The Call, Alec!
Alec: I got the email from Jennifer asking for a phone call while I was at work, and I may have jumped around a little (a lot) in the break room. But after the initial excitement passed, I was so nervous! I have a hard time with phone calls in general, and this one had me so nervous I was shaking. But Jennifer was great; she answered just about all of the questions I had before I even had to ask them and the revision ideas she had were so perfect, I had to restrain myself from getting to work on them right away. I knew I wanted to work with her before the call even ended. My book became so much stronger just from talking to her, and each suggestion she and her partner Ben have given since then has been spot on.
Give us the pitch that hooked your agent!
Alec: “Teen-hitman Phoenix would kill for the boy he loves, but his next assignment may force him to die for him instead #DVpit #SF #YA #LGBT”
Jennifer, what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?
Jennifer: Character! Stakes! Unique Element! It’s all here. I immediately know who the main character is and the stakes are so clear and heartbreaking. The unique element of a teen hitman intrigued me right away. How did he become a hitman at such a young age? Why would this assignment put his life at odds with his love? It opens so many questions! This is a stellar pitch.
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?
Jennifer: I’m very passionate about championing #ownvoices and stories from marginalized individuals. I would love to see more of this especially in the speculative realm with an extra call out for more middle grade. Check out my bio for more of my wishlist!
Warm congratulations to Alec and Jennifer for finding each other! I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next. Follow them on Twitter so you can do the same!
Alec Graziadei (@AlecAcec) was born in Buffalo, New York and raised on video games and Sabres hockey. He studied English and Anthropology first at Wells College before completing his degree in Liberal Studies at Medaille College. He now lives in Wisconsin, where there are still plenty of video games, but not enough hockey.
Jennifer Azantian (@jenazantian) founded Azantian Literary in 2014 where she focuses primarily, though not exclusively, on fiction with a speculative twist for middle grade, YA, and adult readers. Of particular interest are stories that explore meaningful human interactions against fantastic backdrops, contemporary stories about love, friendship, or familial bonds, underrepresented voices, obscure retold fairy tales, quirky middle grade, modernized mythologies, psychological horror, literary science fiction, historical fantasy, magical realism, space operas, hopeful futures, internally consistent epic fantasy, and spooky stories for younger readers. Website: azantianlitagency.com.