Saturday, October 30, 2021

And The Winner Is…

I’m getting this post in later than expected thanks to a fun family stargazing excursion tonight, but… here’s the news you’ve all been waiting for!

After another tense week of voting, I sat down to tally the results, and… found myself running into technical difficulties. As a result, I (frustratingly enough) can’t give the exact final vote count, but I CAN still pronounce a winner—and say that, as far as I could tell, the margin of victory was EXTREMELY narrow. (In fact, if I counted only the votes off social media and not the blog, it was literally 1 point different!)

The winner of this year’s pumpkin carving contest is…

Pumpkin B!

It was a fierce battle, but ultimately the beast from the watery depths gained the upper hand over the creatures of flame.

And along with that knowledge, I can share: I carved this one! I’m pretty thrilled with how it turned out, honestly. It was a tough one, and I really thought the kraken would fall out several times during carving (those tentacles are DELICATE!)—but ultimately, it all worked out beautifully.

Until next year, friends!

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Time To Vote In The 15th Annual Baldwin Pumpkin Carving Contest!

 The days are getting shorter, the weather’s turning colder, and the streets are lined with ghosts and ghoulies—which means it’s officially time for…

The 15th annual Baldwin Pumpkin Carving Contest!

A tradition that predates our marriage, the contest began in October 2007, when Mahon and I were “just friends” and all our unexpressed need for flirtation came out as extreme competitiveness. For fifteen Halloweens, we’ve kept this tradition alive despite equipment malfunctions, bitter defeats, and the fact that honestly, neither of us really loves carving pumpkins. 😂 Every year we talk about maybe skipping it, but we can never bear to let all ten of our very ardent fans down!

This year the stakes are higher than ever, as both of us have brought new tools to the table. Folks, this is a pumpkin carving contest like you’ve never seen it before! A few quick ground rules before we get to the voting:

1. Sadly, 8 year old Kitty is barred from the contest again this year. She’s not quite yet to the point of carving without help—plus, we all know for sure that if Kitty’s pumpkin can easily be identified she’ll sweep the contest without question, since everyone loves her best. 😂 Soon , though, we think she’ll be ready to enter!

2. Only one vote per person. You can cast a vote through or embedded poll, vote via the comments on this post, or vote on one of the official social media voting posts (there will be one each on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter). If you cast an anonymous vote in the comments please sign it, as we won’t count unsigned anonymous votes.

3. All photography and descriptions are by me. Because I did all the photography, Mahon took charge of all the special effects (fire and water). So while you can see his arm in one pumpkin’s photos, that doesn’t mean it’s his pumpkin. 😉 (He’s in the background controlling the water of the other competitor.)

4. If you know—or have a guess—who carved which pumpkin, DON’T TELL! The secret is part of the fun.

I’ll close voting on Saturday the 30th by 9pm Pacific Time.

Without further ado—the pumpkins, my dear witches and werewolves!

Our theme this year was “mythical creatures.”

Important note: Both of these contenders are shown to their best advantage via video. However, I've been having trouble correctly embedding videos this year, particularly on mobile view. If you don't see a video pop up below the pictures for each entry, there will be a direct link to Youtube where you can view the videos.

First up, Pumpkin A, titled “Fighting Fire With Fire”

(If you can't see a video above, click here.)

This year’s Pumpkin A is a scene of fire, fury, and ferociousness, as two creatures of flame—a dragon and a phoenix—fight it out for Halloween supremacy. With intricate carving and a truly out-of-the-gourd vision, Carver A has created a landscape that cannot help but ignite the imagination. The scene shows a scorching showdown between Fawkes the Phoenix, sent by the forces of good to steal a precious artifact from an evil dragon, and the dragon herself, determined to protect her hoard. Candles alone were not enough for Carver A this year—instead, they’ve incorporated multiple forms of fire to create a truly explosive vista. Particularly noteworthy are the incredible details the carver has included, such as the delicate feathers on the phoenix’s outstretched wings, the flames carved into the pumpkin base… and, of course, the blowtorch-created jet of flame streaming from the dragon’s mouth. Who will win this blazing battle? Only time—and your vote—can tell.

Next we have Pumpkin B, titled—what else? “Release The Kraken!”

(If you can't see the two videos above, follow these links:
Video 1, nighttime
Video 2, daylight)

Throughout mythology, few cryptids loom quite so large in our imaginations as the kraken. This monstrous denizen of the deep has haunted the nightmares of sailors for hundreds of years, stalked across the pages of our books and the frames of our television screens—and now, it is unleashed in all its glory on this year’s Pumpkin B. The carver of Pumpkin B has used two gourds to achieve their vision—the sea beast, glorious and grim, lifting its tentacles to pull down the unwary pirate ship into the depths of the abyss. To truly represent the kraken’s might and power, Carver B has harnessed the powers of both fire and water—observe the fountain in the background. Zoom in on the photo and you’ll even see that the kraken has tiny suckers on the undersides of its tentacles! Truly, this fell creature has set its sights not only on the doomed pirates above… but also on your vote.

Time to cast your vote!

Voting closes in the evening on Saturday, October 30th.

And, of course, while 8-year-old Kitty isn’t eligible for the contest this year, we wanted to be sure to show off her pumpkin. (For those asking when she’ll be allowed to enter: She has to get to the point where a) she’s carving them herself instead of having Daddy carve the pumpkins she’s designed, and b) her designs aren’t so easily distinguished from ours. Right now if we let her enter everyone would be able to identify her pumpkin and she’d sweep the contest because everyone likes her best!) 

Titled “Creatures In The Moonlight,” its haunting vista shows a phoenix, a pegasus, and a dragon, all suspended under a glowing orange harvest moon. Because her parents both incorporated elements into their designs, Kitty decided that her element was going to be "Earth," represented by the artistic dusting of dirt on the lower rim of the pumpkin. Her creation is topped off by the cutest little miniature pumpkin you ever did see, adding an extra dollop of artistic flare. 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

2021 Pitch Wars Wish List!

(For a plain text version of this post without GIFs and images, click here.)

Image description: Two white women with brown hair, 
Cindy Baldwin and Amanda Rawson Hill, pose together
wearing watermelon-patterned sunglasses.

Welcome to the wish list for #TeamMascaraTracks! 

(That’s Amanda Rawson Hill and Cindy Baldwin.) Sit down and draw up a chair. We've got chocolate, funny homeschool anecdotes, and—of course—a bookshelf chock full of crying books.

First off, a little about us:

Amanda Rawson Hill: I grew up in Southwest Wyoming with a library right out my back gate. I was one of those “gifted” kids. Smart, overachiever, played a couple instruments, speech and debate. You know the type. I never dreamed of being a writer until after I had kids! I got my degree in Chemistry and now live in Central California with my husband and four kids. I’m the author of the middle grade novel The Three Rules of Everyday Magic (Boyds Mill/Kane) and the picture book You’ll Find Me (Magination Press), with more MGs and PBs to come in 2022 and 2023.

Cindy Baldwin: As a kid, my favorite things to do were either explore the woods behind my North Carolina home, dreaming of fairies and hidden castles, or curl up with a book to read stories that filled my imagination with wonder and magic.
These days, I live in Portland, Oregon with my husband and daughter. I’m disabled and chronically ill, and I write a lot about the importance of authentic and respectful representation of disability in kidlit; my own books also all touch on disability in different ways. I’m also the critically acclaimed author of middle grade novels Where the Watermelons Grow, Beginners Welcome, and The Stars of Whistling Ridge (all with HarperCollins/Quill Tree Books). 
We met back in Pitch Wars 2015, where we were both mentees. In the six years since we met, we have:
  • Signed with the same agent
  • Both had debut books published in the same year
  • Published 5 books between us—and written a LOT more!
  • Had one baby (Amanda)
  • Been on international TV (Cindy)
  • Taught a bunch of classes at writing conferences
  • Homeschooled our kids
  • Shared a whole lot of tears, laughter, and commiseration
These days, we’re child-raising, book-writing, fast-talking, emotion-loving BFFs. We don’t shy away from total sincerity and talking about feelings. We love big and we love hard. Cindy is Anne Shirley. (She once really did end up stranded in a river, clinging to bridge pilings, and had to be rescued. It's a long story.) Amanda is Leslie Knope. Together, we head up #TeamMascaraTracks! 
Image description: A GIF of Leslie Knope, a white woman with blonde hair
wearing a blazer, saying something excitedly. The caption reads “Are you ready?”

As mentors, we are hands-on and editorial. We love helping our mentees dig deep into their stories, and aren’t afraid to ask for big revisions—but we are also very hands-on and always willing to help break a big task down. We love taking on work that’s imperfect, but has a strong heart, and helping the author to really make the story shine. We are not the people to submit to if you aren’t ready to get your hands dirty and make big changes if that’s what the story calls for! However, we promise we’ll be there every step along the way.
Our past mentees include stellar authors like Kit Rosewater (The Derby Daredevils series), Remy Lai (Pie in the Sky), and Cory Leonardo (The Simple Art of Flying). Almost all of our past mentees have gone on to sign with agents and get book deals (including authors Karen S. Chow and Stacy Nockowitz, who will both debut in 2022!). 
While we can't promise requests, agents, or book deals, we can promise care, attention, and endless cheerleading. We’ve become close friends with our past mentees, and still regularly keep in touch. We’ve advised our mentees through not only revisions and the Pitch Wars agent round, but also things like:
  • Deciding between multiple agent offers
  • Navigating agent breakups
  • Dealing with querying beyond the contest
  • Handling nerves while on submission
  • Navigating the debut experience, “second book syndrome,” and other ups and downs of a publishing career
  • Learning how to use Twitter GIFs (come on—it’s an important PW skill!)
If that sounds like what you are looking for in a mentor, then let’s go on to what you really want to know!
Image description: A GIF of Michael from the Good Place, a white man with white hair
and black-framed glasses wearing a grey suit, reading a strip of ticker tape.
The caption reads “Okay, here we go.”

Our Wish List
Our favorite genres are MG contemporary, Magical Realism (both true magical realism—which comes from traditionally marginalized communities and is aware of the Latinx traditions from which it draws—and literary contemporary with elements of magic), and 20th-century historical

Within those genres we are particularly looking for stories usually labeled, quiet, character driven, heartfelt, and literary

We’re not the best mentors for a book whose focus could be described as “comedic and quirky.” We love books that incorporate humor—but we’re after FLORA AND ULYSSES, not DIARY OF A WIMPY KID. We love stories that revolved around big, hard, real-world problems.

If somebody has ever said, “Wow, isn’t that a little heavy for MG?”—we want it. If somebody has ever said, “This is really sad!"—we want it. We want to feel something. We want to bawl our eyes out. We want to see beautiful, powerful prose or poetry. We want books that exemplify the Madeleine L’Engle quote “If the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” We want books that tackle tough subjects in a hopeful and life-affirming way. We want big philosophical ideas handled with the grace, wisdom and innocence of this age group.

We are not interested in sci fi or fantasy, and likely won’t read excerpts that are sent to us in those genres. If you’re not sure whether your manuscript would be considered “fantasy” or “contemporary with magical elements,” feel free to Tweet us! Our list of comp titles, below, will also help clarify what we’re looking for.

When it comes to historical fiction, we are NOT the right mentors for stories where the history or world-building plays a larger role than the character’s arc. If you have the next THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE, please send it our way! But if you write historical fiction in which the period details are as important as the character arc, we’re probably not the right mentors for it.

Some things we especially love to see:
  • Diverse characters and plots, particularly written by authors with lived experience of the race, religion, sexuality, or disability they’re writing about
  • Characters influenced by faith but not in a faith-based story
  • Homeschooling or other unique life paths
  • Unique structures and formats (including letters, verse, and graphic novels)
  • Chronic illness and disability written by disabled authors
  • Verse! (We realize we said that above, but please. We're nuts for verse! Send us your verse!)
  • Bittersweet endings
  • Anything involving the ocean
  • Strong, vibrant settings
  • Science incorporated in a beautiful, meaningful way
  • Books that incorporate current events, particularly those that focus on the often-untold stories of marginalized people, written by authors with lived experience (IE: we want your stories about living through climate change disasters with a disability; your stories about immigration and the refugee experience; your stories about LGBT kids grappling with the legislative attacks of the last few years, etc)
  • Books set in countries that don't get as much MG screentime (please, send us the next AMAL UNBOUND!)
If any of these could be a comp title…grabby hands!
Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri
While I Was Away by Waka T. Brown
The Vanderbeekers series by Karina Yan Glaser
Up For Air and other books by Laurie Morrison
From the Desk of Zoe Washington, Janae Marks
Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos
What Stars Are Made Of by Sarah Allen
When Stars Are Scattered by Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson
Front Desk, Kelly Yang
Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble, Anna Meriano
Amal Unbound, Aisha Saeed
The Night Diary, Veera Hiranandani
Anything by Kate Dicamillo, Sharon Draper, Lynda Mulally Hunt, or Sharon Creech
Paper Wishes, Lois Sepahban
The Key to Extraordinary or A Snicker of Magic, Natalie Lloyd
The War That Saved My Life and The War I Finally Won, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Amina's Voice, Hena Kahn
Forget Me Not, Ellie Terry
Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles, Shari Green
Echo, Pam Muñoz Ryan

And, of course, reading our books will give you a good idea of what we love in middle grade!

Things We Probably Don’t Want
  • Animal protagonists
  • Sports stories (There are other mentors LOOKING for this. We just don’t love it. Sorry.)
  • Historical fiction from earlier than the 1900s.
  • Anything more plot-driven than character-driven.
  • Anything that could be described with the word "adventure," especially combined with "fantasy." Unless your character's adventure is lived out largely in their own head (a la Bridge to Terabithia or Some Kind of Happiness—SEND US THOSE!), we are just not the best mentors for that! Really, if your query contains words like epic, journey, battle, quest…you should probably not send it to us.

What Will Really Draw Us In?

Voice and beautiful writing are probably the number one thing that draws us to a manuscript—though a great hook doesn't hurt. We can help you change everything else… but the voice reigns supreme.

If you’ve read through this and think we’re your kindred spirits, send your MG our way! We can’t wait to read your work. Putting it out there is such an act of courage and vulnerability. We promise to treat your entry with the respect and love that creativity deserves. We feel so honored by every person who decides to share their story with us. We are excited to meet you and your characters.

Image description: A GIF of Diana Barry (a white girl with curly black hair, 
wearing a blue pinafore) and Anne Shirley (a red-headed white girl wearing a grey apron)
holding hands and smiling as they walk toward the camera.

Pitch Wars 2021 Middle Grade Mentors' Wish Lists
  1. Tracy Badua
  2. Eric Bell
  3. Julie Artz
  4. Shannon A. Thompson and Sandra Proudman
  5. George Jreije and LQ Nguyen
  6. Darlene P. Campos
  7. Rebecca Petruck
  8. Graci Kim and Karah Sutton
  9. Shakirah Bourne
  10. Kim Long and Jennifer L. Brown
  11. Adrianna Cuevas and Sarah Kapit
  12. Sylvia Liu
  13. Cindy Baldwin and Amanda Rawson Hill
  14. Erin Teagan
  15. A.J. Sass and Nicole Melleby

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