18 January 2014

Pitch Wars Team Magic Spotlight: Naomi Milliner

The agent round of Pitch Wars is almost upon us, and I can't wait to introduce the fabulous Team Magic manuscripts to the world! These fabulous folks can really write, and I've been blown away by both the quality of their work, and the level of commitment my fabulous Team Magic people have put into polishing up their manuscripts over the past several weeks. But it's not time to reveal their pitches yet. You'll have to wait a few more days for the magic. In the meantime, I'd like to introduce you to the amazing members of Team Magic. 

Today, we're talking with my mentee, Naomi Milliner.
Naomi served as Critique Coordinator for her local SCBWI region for over 6 years, and also created and ran the Authors Book Club (ABC) series for local writers and illustrators to meet in-between conferences and discuss the creative process. She has reviewed hundreds of screenplays and children's books; worked as Program & Events Coordinator for Children’s Literature; and been part of the Women’s National Book Association’s Great Group Reads Committee for the past five years. Naomi writes middle grade and YA fiction, screenplays, and really good grocery lists.

In my Pitch Wars Mentor Bio, I said: "if you can make me laugh and cry in the same manuscript, you’re golden." In her query, Naomi promised that her manuscript would, in fact, make me both laugh and cry. Her confidence intrigued me and made me want to read further, to see if she could deliver on such a bold claim. And she totally did. Within her first five pages, she had me laughing and crying... and laughing so hard that I cried. I knew almost immediately that I had to have her on Team Magic, and I can't wait to share her amazing novel: SUPER JAKE, NOT-SO-SUPER FREDDY, AND ME, THE KING OF CHAOS

What inspired you to write this novel?

I wrote the first version of this book two months after my son Jake died. I wrote it so his brothers, 7 and 11 at the time, would remember him, and the loving, creative ways they played with, and helped, him. I wrote it in the hopes that it would be cathartic, or therapeutic, for me. I wrote it so Jake might inspire, or touch, other people. And maybe, most of all, so he will be remembered, even though he was only here for a short time. 

Why did you want to go through the torture be a contestant in Pitch Wars?

I first heard about Brenda Drake and the amazing opportunities she offers through Pitch Wars and Pitch Madness last March, and was immediately intrigued. I also read Linda Budzinski’s excellent blog on her extremely positive experience with Pitch Wars, which sealed the deal. I think anyone with a finished manuscript should take a deep breath, cross a few fingers, and give these contests a whirl. Who knows what could happen? 

What was your favorite book of 2013? Which book are you most excited to read in 2014?
Only one? That’s like choosing a favorite child (assuming you have more than one, that is. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy. I hope). I’m going to cheat and name two: NOW I’LL TELL YOU EVERYTHING, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, fellow Marylander. Phyllis is one of my all-time favorite writers – I’ve even been lucky enough to meet her several times – and her ALICE books are one of my all-time favorite series, so I could hardly wait to find out what happens to Alice from college through age 60! The other book is PERFECT ESCAPE by Jennifer Brown. Besides being an excellent read, it shares one of the major themes of SUPER JAKE, so it resonated very deeply.

As for what book I’m most excited to read this year? That’s easy: TWELVE STEPS by my magical mentor, Veronica Bartles (and no, she did NOT bribe me to say that).

Awww... Thanks, Naomi. That's so sweet! *slips the agreed-upon bribe under the table stealthily* 

Why do books play such an important role in your book?
For my hero, Ethan, reading – like magic –  is a way to escape the sometimes overwhelming challenges of his complicated life, and also to spend rare quality time with his mom. He especially enjoys series with magical components, like HARRY POTTER and T. A. Barron’s LOST YEARS OF MERLIN. While pretty much everyone on the planet (possibly on Mars as well) is familiar with Harry, I suspect fewer may know about the MERLIN series. My sons and I spent many a wonderful night reading those books out loud, and I would love to get other readers to check them out. 

I also include books for younger readers, like PETER RABBIT and GOOD NIGHT, MOON, because they provide further opportunities for Ethan and his younger brother, Freddy, to bond with Jake.

We’re all about magic and positive thinking here on Team Magic. Tell us about your most magical experience of 2013 (other than being picked for Pitch Wars, of course).

Last winter I attended my mother’s burial at Arlington Cemetery. It was a brutally cold day and I stood there, shivering along with the rest of the attendees. As emotionally wrenching, and wretched, as that was, after the service concluded, the funeral “party” moved a few feet over – to my father’s grave (he had died 16 months earlier). 

It was overwhelming; it was all too much. I was on the verge of falling apart when the sky opened up and snow sprinkled down on us. I looked at my brother and we knew, without saying, it was Dad letting us know he and Mom were together and everything was okay. The snow lasted through the first prayer, then stopped as swiftly as it had begun. But it was enough. 

In fact, it was downright magical.

Wow! That sounds amazing. Thank you so much for stopping by, Naomi! It's been great working with you, and I can't wait to share your manuscript with the world next week! I expect great things from you. :)


  1. Naomi is a fabulous writer and person. I'm so glad she got this chance to shine. What a lovely interview.

    1. I love Naomi! And she is such a talented writer. I'm blown away by her manuscript every time I read it. :)