Friday, January 31, 2014

Olympic Countdown: 6 Days

Welcome back to Gail's Completely Biased and Non-Expert Opinions on the US Olympic figure skating team! (This is where you shout and whistle and throw confetti. Or applaud politely.)

Earlier this week, I talked about the ladies' team, so check that out if you missed it. As of today there are SIX days left until the Olympics! So I'm going to jump to the men's team.


Based upon results from last year's World Championships, the US qualified only two guys for Sochi. Evan Lysacek (2010 Olympic gold medalist) withdrew from Nationals because of injury (which made me quite him!) The field was wide open at Nationals, and there were probably 5-6 guys who could've placed in the top two and been named to the Olympic team.  In the end, it was...

Jeremy Abbott
photo used under a
Creative Commons License,
attributed to David W. Carmichael
Jeremy Abbott took first place by skating two amazing programs. Jeremy is one of those skaters who, when he's on, he's ON. He's got everything he needs to win gold in Sochi, but he can't let the mental game get to him. See, skating is just as much about the mind games as it is the athleticism and artistic ability. It is SO easy to let that little, doubting, insecure voice in the back of your head get too loud. Jeremy has the great record (he's a four-time National champion, including 2010 when he also went to the Olympics and placed 9th) and tons of international competitive experience. He's been steadily improving all season, which is exactly what he should be doing. I absolutely love his skating, and hope he brings it all to the Olympics.

Jason Brown
photo used under a
Creative Commons License,
attributed to David W. Carmichael

Jason Brown took second at Nationals. There is nothing you can't love about him. (Excuse me while I put on my Mom hat.) He's so gosh-darned cute! Look at that smile and that ponytail. And did you hear him sing Disney tunes on the backstage feed at Nationals? I want to adopt him and bake him cookies. (Mom hat off.) Jason has great jumps (but not the quad, yet, which could hold him back at the Olympics) and tons of potential. He's crazy flexible, doing split jumps and half-Biellmanns. And he has this performance energy that crowds eat up. Seriously. If you don't believe me, watch this video (and watch to the very end to see his super adorable reaction to his scores):

Stayed tuned for my completely biased and non-expert opinions on the US pairs team...

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Olympic Countdown: 9 days

I'm going to try something a little new and different on the blog. Since DON'T FALL DOWN is about a figure skater who dreams of the Olympics, I thought it would be fun to talk about skating once in a while.

And since the Sochi Winter Olympics are fast approaching....I hereby give you Gail's completely biased and non-expert opinion on the US Figure Skating team!


So this was a REALLY interesting year at Nationals. Normally, the US Figure Skating selection committee sends the ladies who have placed one-two-three at Nationals. However, they've always reserved the right to replace one of the top three with another skater who has proven herself through a "body of work". In the past, they've invoked this rule in order to send a skater who was injured and unable to compete at Nationals to the Olympics.

But this year was different, as I'll talk about below.

Gracie Gold
photo used under a
Creative Commons License;
attributed to David W. Carmichael
Gracie Gold, an 18 year old who placed first at Nationals, earned a well-deserved spot on the team. Gracie shook things up this season by not only switching coaches, but also changing her short program just a couple of months before Nationals. She did well at Worlds last year, and she has a solid triple-triple jump combination, which is kind of a must these days for top-ranked women.

Polina Edmunds, who is 15 and just barely age-eligible for the Olympic team, took second at Nationals and earned herself a spot to Sochi. Polina is fun and technically amazing (her jumps are just WOW)! She also has a triple-triple combination, but tends to be a bit rougher on the artistic side. She's like the US's answer to Russia's Julia Lipnitskaya (who is also very young and a fabulous jumper). Polina has very little senior-level international competition experience (so little that I can't even find a creative commons photo of her to use!), but what an opportunity for her to go the Olympics!

And here's where it got interesting...

Mirai Nagasu
photo used under a
Creative Commons
License; attributed to
David W. Carmichael

Ashley Wagner
photo used under a Creative
Commons License; attributed to Luu
Third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu (who competed and did very well in the 2010 Olympics) was not named to the Olympic team. Instead, the committee chose fourth-place Ashley Wagner (who had just barely missed making the 2010 team). Mirai skated great programs in both parts of the competition, while Ashley made small mistakes in each program.

So, why did they pick Ashley over Mirai?

This is the "body of work" thing. See, Ashley's been steadily improving since 2010. She won the National title in 2012 and 2013. She placed fourth at Worlds last year, and was the only US lady who qualified for fall's Grand Prix Final. She's proven she can compete with the likes of Mao Asana and Kim Yu-Na (who are, arguably, the top contenders for the Olympic gold medal).

Mirai, on the other hand, has had a rougher four years since 2010. Despite placing fourth at the 2010 Olympics, she hasn't done as well at Nationals or at international competitions since then. When you add to that the fact that she doesn't currently have a coach, it starts to make sense why the committee chose Ashley instead.

It's not particularly fair, and I can't even imagine how Mirai feels about the entire thing. Then again, how heartbreaking would it have been for Ashley -- after working so hard to build her career over four years and helping the US to earn three spots at these Olympics -- to just barely miss the team for the second time? As a friend of mine said on Twitter, I wish we could just send four women to Sochi!

Stay tuned for my equally biased and non-expert thoughts on the men's team...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Introducing my PitchWars people...and how I chose them

PitchWars starts tomorrow! I can't believe it's almost here. I'm nearly chewing my fingernails in excitement for the agents to see the entries from my mentee and alternates. Team Chocolate Truffles is SO talented and amazing and just everything!

I received upwards of 60 queries for PitchWars. And there wasn't a single dud among them. Not a one that made me cringe and think, This person really shouldn't be writing. Talk about an eye-opener. When I was entering contests, I had no clue how steep the competition was. Being on the other side made me feel a heck of a lot better about all of those times I'd entered contests and didn't get picked. Because it was tough, guys! I read every single query and attached pages. And by the time I got through them all, I'd identified 16 as top choices.


Yeah, it was NOT an easy decision. And this, folks, is where that subjectivity thing comes in. You know, why agents request from some awesome queries but not from other equally awesome queries? That.

Add to that what the PitchWars agents are looking for, and I was finally able to narrow down my sixteen to end up with three.

So, who did I end up picking? And why?

I'm glad you asked...

My mentee is the absolutely hilarious Abby Cooper. (You can visit her blog here and find her on Twitter here.)  The moment I read the query and first few pages for her contemporary MG STICKS AND STONES, I knew. I mean, I didn't KNOW know, but I immediately requested more because I had to see if the manuscript continued to be as funny and voicey and just completely amazing as the first few pages had been. And it was! As I mentioned in my PitchWars bio, I'm a sucker for something that makes me laugh. This did, and it had a main character who was SO relatable, plus a unique concept, and did I mention the voice? Abby's manuscript has that knock-you-down, make-you-forget-what-you're-doing kind of voice. As I debated my top 16 choices, hers jumped out really early as the frontrunner. And now for the subjectivity thing: it's what I write. Not the exact same, obviously, since we don't share a brain or anything, but if Abby's book were published, I would use it as a comp title for my work. I didn't go into this thinking I'd pick someone who wrote in a similar manner as I do, but you write what you write for a reason -- because you love to read it.

My first alternate is Pat Martinez. (You can visit her blog here and find her on Twitter here.) Pat's entry was for a MG historical called MIMI LOST AND FOUND, set in World War II Paris. I had two historicals in my top choices, and both were so different (voice and setting-wise) and SO good. This was one of them. Pat's writing has this lovely, lyrical quality. It's completely different from how I write, and I absolutely love it. The book has a concept that fascinated me right away (and it's based on something that actually exists!). That's all I can say without giving too much away. You'll just have to read Pat's entry tomorrow to find out more. :) Pat's query was somewhere near the top of my PitchWars inbox, and it stuck with me as I read through the other 60-odd queries. Hers is probably my most subjective pick. She hit upon two things that are personal to me (and that I didn't mention in my bio post, and that aren't really public knowledge): 1) I love all things France. I did a study abroad in Paris in college, and minored in French., and 2) One of her supporting characters is Armenian. I'm one-quarter Armenian, and grew up with a fabulously vowel-laden Armenian last name.  And these are exactly the kinds of things that might strike agents when you query them. You have no idea if there's something in your query or pages that an agent can personally identify with.

My second alternate is Amy Kinzer. (You can visit her blog here and find her on Twitter here.) Amy's book, THE INVISIBLE GIRL, is a heartfelt and compelling contemporary MG. Amy's writing has a wonderful literary quality, and yet it's very readable and full of emotion. The concept is intriguing and timely. This was an entry that haunted me, and one that I couldn't let go of as I tried to whittle down my top choices. I requested more pages, and I found myself disappointed when I'd reach the end -- not disappointed because I felt let down, but because there wasn't more to read! So what was subjective about this entry? Amy's writing, and her subject matter, reminded me of one a critique partner's writing. As I read, I couldn't help thinking how much my CP would love this manuscript. And while my CP is not an agent, if I'm thinking about how much someone else would love something I'm reading, chances are more people would love it agenty-people.

So there you have it. I can't wait for everyone to see these entries tomorrow! Check back then for links to Abby's, Pat's, and Amy's entries...