Pitch Wars Success Story with Samantha Rajaram and her mentor, Carrie Callaghan
(This is an archived version of an interview originally posted here at PitchWars.org.)
We’re back with another Pitch Wars Success Story! Please join us in congratulating and celebrating Samantha Rajaram and her mentor, Carrie Callaghan! Samantha signed with Carrie Pestritto at the Laura Dail Literary Agency. We’re so excited for them!
Samanta, tell us about the revision process during Pitch Wars.
It was intense! Carrie was so on top of it, and gave me my edit letter well ahead of the deadline, which was such an act of generosity given my hectic schedule. I woke up every day at 3 or 4AM to work on my revisions during that 10 week period. My rewrite wasn’t as extensive as others’ I’ve heard from, but I ended up creating a new character, reading two books (about scurvy!), and creating some needed subplots.
Please tell us about The Call. We’d love as many juicy details as you’d like to share (e.g. how they contacted you, how you responded, celebrations, emotions, how long you had to wait, anything you’d like to share)!
It was so exciting! I signed with Carrie Pestritto and I really loved her positivity and enthusiasm. She emailed me and we had the call a few days later. Carrie said such incredibly kind things about my manuscript, and she really gets things done. I knew I wanted an agent who was responsive and very knowledgeable about the business side of writing (because I’m not). Carrie is my dream agent and I’m very fortunate. My manuscript THE COMPANY DAUGHTERS is already on submission! I celebrated this huge moment by being very noisy with my kids and then calling my mom to share the news.
How do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?
Pitch Wars was instrumental in my success. Though I was fortunate to have some requests for my full manuscript prior to getting into Pitch Wars, I had a much better manuscript to send those agents afterward. I cannot think of one thing my mentor could have done better—she was so generous, quick, and understood instinctively what I wanted to do with my book. She was just as excited about the showcase results, and even though she was out of the country doing research for her next book, she remained available to me for questions during the showcase period. Brenda also stepped in when I wasn’t hearing about requests due to Carrie C.’s travels to provide reassurance. Other Pitch Wars mentors have also been very helpful when I’ve reached out with questions. Finally (and most importantly), I met some of the loveliest and most supportive friends through Pitch Wars. I check in with a handful of fellow Pitch Wars mentees almost daily. I have a team of critique partners now, and my agent sister, Erin Bledsoe, and I are also close. I cannot imagine going through the querying/submission process without my Pitch Wars family.
Do you have advice for people thinking about entering Pitch Wars?
Do it! Don’t hesitate! It’s been one of the greatest experiences I’ve had—not just for the improvement in my writing, but because of the incredible people I’ve met through this community. But be ready to WORK.
Carrie, tell us about your experience mentoring your mentee.
During the very difficult selection period of Pitch Wars, when we’re reading all the excellent submissions we’ve received, I kept returning to Samantha’s manuscript. Her story called to me, but I was afraid to get my heart set on it because I feared she would get an offer of representation before the mentees were announced! But as I continued reading, I saw clearly how I could help Samantha make her manuscript even more amazing. Once we started working together, Samantha understood exactly what she needed to do. We regularly corresponded about her homework, so to speak, and each time she showed me what she had done, I knew she had nailed it.
We’d love to hear about something amazing your mentee did during Pitch Wars.
Samantha added a beautiful sub-plot that reinforced the main narrative and added plot tension — all perfectly woven in, and in a way I never could have anticipated if I had (foolishly) tried to dictate it to her.
How can mentee hopefuls prepare themselves for Pitch Wars?
Read, read, read. Mentees who are deeply immersed in the genre that they’re writing will be more fluent in the changes they need to make. (This is important regardless of whether or not you’re in Pitch Wars.)
How about some fun questions for Samantha and Carrie.
You only have two hours to finish some edits. Where do you go for quiet time?
Samantha: My kitchen table. It looks horrible—my kids have destroyed it with paint and inscribed things like “fluffy kitty forever” and “I love mom” on its surface. But it’s where I’ve written all my novels over the past 8 years so I’m reluctant to replace it. It’s truly an embarrassing piece of furniture, however.
Carrie: My little writing space (and library) on the second floor next to the kids’ bedroom. And my spouse takes the kids away for those two hours!
What author would you like to spend the day with? What would you do with them?
Samantha: I’d love to talk about writing and history with Amitav Ghosh and Arundhati Roy. Both of these writers made a huge impact on me as I tried to find my voice as an Indian-American writer. They enabled me to imagine the seemingly impossible—myself as a writer. I still cannot believe my good fortune!
Carrie: Hilary Mantel. We would walk around London looking at historical sites and stopping in tea shops for Earl Grey and cakes.
What fictional character would you most like to meet? Why?
Samantha: The mc in Lily King’s *Euphoria* would geek out on anthropology. I love that character and wrote King fan mail after reading her book for the fourth or fifth time.
Carrie: Schmendrick the Magician from The Last Unicorn. We’d sit around the campfire and talk about regret and happiness and how there are no happy endings because stories don’t really end.
What inspired you to start writing?
Samantha: I went through a pretty awful divorce 8 years ago. Writing fiction was an escape from all that. It’s helped me through a lot of struggles since then—child-rearing, health setbacks, and a big career switch from lawyer to educator.
Share with us your writing process (e.g., routines, tools you use, time of day you write, go to inspiration, etc.).
Samantha: I wake up every morning at 5 to write (before my kids wake up), and I hand-write a lot of my work on a legal pad. I get my inspiration from research—I’m often researching for one novel when I come upon some little detail that gets me thinking about another story.
I’m writing historical fiction about largely unknown people in history—people often omitted from the historical record. For example, my Pitch Wars manuscript concerns the little-known policy of trafficking poor women from Holland into the Dutch colony of Batavia (Java, Indonesia) in the early 1600s.
When I’m not writing, I’m raising my three kids as a single parent, and teaching English at Chabot College in Hayward, California. I’m lucky because I love my work—my students knew about my Pitch Wars experience, and they were cheering me on.
Carrie Callaghan is a historical fiction author living in Maryland with her family. Her debut novel, A Light of Her Own, about 17th century painter Judith Leyster, was published by Amberjack in 2018. Her short stories have been published in multiple literary journals around the country, and she is a senior editor with the Washington Independent Review of Books. She loves seasons of all kinds, history, and tea. And books, books, books.