by Amy Fitzgerald, Associate Editorial Director, Carolrhoda Novels
Amy: Dawn, tell me about the “gong show for authors” that led to you discovering M. G.
Dawn: Every year at the DFW Writer’s Conference, there’s a gong show, where query letters or pitches are anonymously submitted to be read aloud to agents and editors. The rules state to only hit the gong if the pitch is not working. Once the gong is struck three times, the agents and editors discuss what was working and what wasn’t working.
Needless to say, the majority of the pitches don’t get read aloud in their entirety. Yet, in 2014, the year I was on that panel, M. G.’s pitch was read and it was amazing. Not even one agent or editor hit the gong. M.G. was given high fives once he was asked to identify himself in the audience. He seemed to be in shock, but was also smiling from ear to ear.
When it was my turn to discuss why I didn’t hit the gong and why I believed the pitch was good, I asked to see the book. Which led to all the other agents asking to see the book! M. G. introduced himself afterwards, and I gave him my business card. I ended up being the lucky agent who gets to work with him.
Amy: M. G., how long had you been writing at that point, and how did you prepare for the gong show?
M. G.: I’d been writing off and on for eighteen years, and writing middle grade for five years. I paid attention to the previous year’s gong show, read up on query tips, and wrote a lot of drafts.
Amy: What was the experience like for you?
M. G.: The gong show was intense. The panel relentlessly gonged the first several queries; none survived. When the host began reading mine, I braced for the worst. Line after line, I could feel a buildup of energy from the crowd and the panel. Before I knew it, the host read the last line and held up my query. The crowd exploded with cheers, and I was shocked, almost frozen, until my writing friends told me to stand and bow. Incredible!
My query’s success gave me hope that my Old West/card game/mythology/adventure mashup could make it. At that point, I had to finish it.
Amy: Dawn, what stood out to you about the pitch?
Dawn: I really liked Shuffle Jones, who clearly had lots of spunk. And I liked that the book was set in the Wild West, which is a particular obsession of mine. The pitch in its entirety told me that this would be a book I couldn’t put down. And when I did see the book 3.5 years later, my suspicions were confirmed!
Amy: Both of you—what’s your favorite scene, line, or character in the final book?
Dawn: I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but let’s just say that Shuffle’s journey to the West was something that made this book so personally special for me. He’s a kid with lots of heart and lots of smart.
M. G.: Hold on to your hat, I’m gonna answer them all. My favorite scene is the one with the pig.
My favorite lines are the ones I think are funny, of which there are plenty. Ha! But if I were to choose a line that illustrates my writing journey with Cardslinger, it’s one that I wrote during our revision process. “Dad had taught him that each culture had their own mythologies, making their stories special, but no matter how different the gods, the monsters, and the heroes were, mythology was a tapestry of a collective world. We’re all human—unique and equal, Dad would say.”
I can’t choose just one character. Fine—it’s the sassy little girl called Angel. Okay, not really, but she’s great, isn’t she?