I wanted to introduce you all to my fabulous #PitchWars mentee, the beautiful and talented, Kacey Vanderkarr. When I first read her manuscript, I stayed up until 1 am and ugly-cried at the end. Her story is a beautiful, chaotic tornado—it sucks you in and won’t let you go until the very end. I was so honored to be able to help Kacey with LIFE EXPECTANCY MAY VARY and I can’t wait until the agents have a chance to check it out.
So Kacey, please introduce yourself and tell us how you started writing?
I started writing about ten years ago on a break from college. I wrote my first manuscript, a 100,000-word monstrosity, in four weeks. I fell in love with the freedom and creativity. Over the past ten years, I’ve honed my skills into something significantly more palatable than my first attempt. But I’ve always loved reading and writing. I was the kid with her nose in a book at the dinner table. My mother would yell at me for reading there—something I promised never to do to my own kid. (He’s almost 10. He LOVES reading.)
Tell us about your writing process. Are there any special things you need when you’re writing, like music, snacks, a special location?
The most exciting thing happened to me recently—I got an office!! While I can write just about anywhere, I prefer a sort of “contained chaos.” I like a little bit of distraction, music, the weirdos like me who hang out at coffee shops, and lots and lots of coffee.
What was the inspiration for your #PitchWars manuscript?
LIFE EXPECTANCY MAY VARY (previously titled Hiding Hudson) was inspired by the song Self-Conclusion by The Spill Canvas. It also explores some experiences I’ve had with suicide and the aftereffects of losing someone too soon.
Your manuscript focuses on Huntington’s Disease. How did you research this illness and why do you think this is an important story to tell?
Huntington’s Disease is such a horrible, horrible illness, and relatively unknown. When I started planning the story, I knew I needed something fatal, genetic, and progressively debilitating. HD fit my vision perfectly. I asked around to find out if anyone knew someone who had HD who would be willing to talk to me. That’s how I found Michelle, an aunt of a friend, who lost her entire family (husband, daughter, and son) to the disease. We talked for hours while I scribbled notes. It was truly a humbling experience and this manuscript would not be the same without her.
Because I lucked out in the friend department, I also have a friend, Mary, who is a genetic counselor. She was kind enough to pull medical journals for me as well as tons of articles and research. I loved weeding through all this information. It was more than just statistics and numbers, it was firsthand accounts full of emotions and fears. It helped put into perspective the cataclysmic nature of HD and just how far the ripples reach.
Your story is told through the POV of 18-year-old Hudson Trent, who is this beautiful, sad, overlooked boy. I fell in love with him the first time I read your manuscript. How did you come up with his character and voice?
Much like the journey Hudson goes on to see himself clearly, it was also a journey for me to find Hudson’s voice. I think when you are living with someone who is ill, your own wants and needs fall by the wayside. Your relevance begins and ends with your loved one’s illness and you become a spectator in your own life. For Hudson, he’s been dealing with HD for so long that he’s shut off to his emotions. I wanted him to awaken throughout the story and realize he doesn’t have to be a spectator, he’s allowed to participate and have needs and wants. I think this feeling of living outside your own life is so universal, even to those who aren’t sick. We get so trapped in our own routines that we forget we’re supposed to be living, too. I hope people can see a bit of themselves in Hudson.
Why did you enter #PitchWars?
Last year I took the Story Genius course with Lisa Cron and Jennie Nash. That’s where I met my book coach, Julie Artz. From the onset, Julie encouraged me to finish the manuscript in time for Pitch Wars.
My ultimate goal has always been to get an agent for my work. Pitch Wars is an amazing community and I think it takes me one step closer to my goal.
How did you feel when you knew you’d been selected as a mentee (Go #TeamVictoryFleet!)?
Excited. Nervous. Justified. I felt like my hard work finally paid off in a tangible way. The wait time between submission and announcement was brutal and there was so much imposter syndrome that went on. It was surreal to see my name on the list, and beside Katherine’s! She was my #1 pick for mentor and I’m thrilled to work with her.
Do you have any advice for other writers thinking about entering Pitch Wars or other similar writing contests?
Do it. The answer is always no if you don’t try. And Pitch Wars is a great community. There will always be somebody better at writing and those are the people you need to surround yourself with. Find yourself a great critique partner, never give up, and always give back.
And now for the speed round:
Sweet or salty? Both.
Tea or coffee? COFFEE! ALL THE COFFEE.
Cabin by the lake or cute loft downtown? Cabin, definitely.
Book or movie? Book.
Superman or Batman? When given a choice, always choose Batman.
Favorite song? Konstantine by Something Corporate.
If you had to pick one color to describe yourself, what would it be? Purple.
Describe yourself in high school in one word. Tall.