Meet Pitch Wars mentor Dawn Ius, a short-story author, novelist, screenwriter, professional editor, and communications specialist. She is co-founder and senior editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Assistant Managing Editor of the International Thriller Writers’ e-zine, The Big Thrill, and the author of ten educational graphic novels published by the Alberta Canola Producers Commission.
Dawn also writes young adult thriller and paranormal fiction under the last name DALTON. Her short story, THREAD OF THE PAST was included in the SPIRITED anthology (Leap Books, 2012), and her novel, KILLER’S INSTINCT (Leap Books, 2013), co-written with Judith Graves, was nominated for the Silver Falchion award. As well, her short story DRUNK was published in an Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired anthology, FALLING FOR ALICE, April 2015, by Vine Leaves Press.
When she’s not slaying fictional monsters, she’s geeking out over fairy tales, Jack Bauer, Halloween, sports cars, and all things that go bump in the night. Dawn lives in Alberta, Canada, with her husband, Jeff, and their giant English Mastiff, Roarke.
Your latest book, OVERDRIVE, is a young adult novel about pulling off a big car heist. Are you very knowledgeable about cars or did you have to do a lot of research for the book?
When I was 16, my stepfather had a ’69 Camaro that I desperately wanted drive—but it was a standard. The deal was, if I took my driver’s test on a stick shift, he’d let me behind the wheel. So, I did—and the day after I got my license, he had to sell the car. I only drove it once, but it was enough to give me an appreciation (obsession?) for old sports / muscle cars. I AM the girl that drags her friends to car shows, or drools over the ’67 Mustang at the end of our street. I’m also the girl who isn’t afraid to shout out the window “nice car!” when something catches my eye—which might be somewhat embarrassing for my husband.
Writing OVERDRIVE was truly a labor of love—a combination of all my favorite things. But…I realized fairly quickly that I didn’t know everything (especially how to hotwire a car) and so I did extensive and very specific research about each of the cars in the book. And, I had an amazing copy editor who also loves cars, and caught some important things I’d missed. I feel fairly confident that a muscle car expert wouldn’t challenge too much of what I wrote.
Are you a big fan of car shows and movies like The Fast & The Furious?
Oh yes. I’m usually first in line at the theatre for those movies. But I also love Drive, Gone in 60 Seconds, and all of the Oceans 11 films (I love a great heist!) When I was young, my favorite show was Knight Rider—if I ever own a Trans Am (ha) I’d totally name it Kitt. Currently, I have a 2009 RX-8, named Anne after “my” Anne Boleyn in Anne & Henry.
You also write educational graphic novels. What’s the biggest challenge in writing a graphic novel compared to novels?
Toning down the description! I work with a very understanding illustrator, who doesn’t get offended when I give him a script with way too much text. I sometimes forget that he’s allowed to (and should!) interpret a scene or character without me shoving my vision down his throat. After 16 books, we’re now great at compromise, and I actually love handing him a script and seeing how he translates it into art. (He’s incredibly talented.) It’s surprising how in sync we are sometimes.
Let’s talk about your contemporary young adult book Anne and Henry. I love historical fiction and books about the Tudors. What inspired you to place the love affair between King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in a modern high school?
My stepdad (again) was a huge Anne Boleyn fan, to the point where my mom was a little jealous. So, I grew up hearing about Anne, and became fascinated by her relationship with King Henry. But so many stories have been written about the Tudors that I couldn’t think of an original angle—except to make it contemporary…in a U.S. high school.
It was a tricky book to write, but I had so much fun with it. I’m going back to history with my third book. LIZZIE (out April 10, 2018 from Simon Pulse) is a contemporary YA retelling of the Lizzie Borden hatchet murders. I really enjoy weaving historic facts into a modern setting, and I’m excited to see how this book is received—it’s still such a talked about mystery!
With all the different genres and age groups you write in, do you ever have trouble switching between them?
Yes. And no. There are certainly days I am more in the “mood” to write one genre or age category over the other, such as after writing a few chapters of LIZZIE, needing to shift gears into something “lighter.” But if I’m on deadline, I’m pretty good at wiping the slate clean and getting into the zone of whichever project needs my attention.
As a professional editor, what made you decide you wanted to get involved in Pitch Wars?
I’ve been really lucky to have a number of great mentors in my writing career. Bestselling authors who have taken time to guide me, give me pep talks in times of writerly doubt, and provide emotional support at every stage of my publishing journey. I know how hard it can be out there—and I want to help, the way I was helped. Pitch Wars is an incredible contest that gives me a great outlet in which to do that. Last year, I was blessed with an amazing mentee—Kimberley Gabriel is not only talented, but one of the hardest working and most generous people I know. I couldn’t be prouder of her, and I’m honored to have been part of her journey so far. Working with her was one of the most rewarding experiences of my writing life. (Also, her book is brilliant!)
Do you have a specific method for picking your mentee and sorting through your Pitch Wars submissions?
I really pay attention to the first five pages. It doesn’t need to be perfect (I rewrote the first chapter of Anne & Henry about a dozen times before it even got to my editor) but I’m looking for a voice that grabs me, a cliffhanger ending that begs me to turn the page, and professionalism. A few typos, grammar glitches, etc. aren’t cause for concern, but I want—at least for Pitch Wars—to work with writers who understand the basics of craft. (Bonus points if they’ve read Stephen King’s memoir, ON WRITING.)
Have any advice to Pitch Wars mentee hopefuls on tackling revisions?
Breathe. Editorial notes can be daunting, especially when they’re attached to a deadline. Once you go through the suggestions, you can start to create a plan—the overarching issues to address, the gaps to fill, the sections to delete, the character development to flush out, etc. As soon as you have a plan, you can go through the manuscript methodically and without (as much) emotion.
Revisions are actually my favorite part of the process. I turn in some embarrassingly rough drafts, but through revision, the book really starts to come alive, and there is no more magical feeling. But to get there…you have to breathe. If I can help my mentee do even that, it’s a skill that will help them through the publishing trenches.
Want to know more about Dawn? Visit her website.
Gone in Sixty Seconds meets Heist Society in this edgy novel about a crack team of teenage criminals on a mission to learn to trust, build a life, and steal a wish list of exotic cars.
Jules Parish has screwed up.
After three years of boosting cars, she got caught. She’s too good to get caught, but she let her (ex)-boyfriend talk her into a questionable job. And now she and her little sister, Emma, will be kicked out of their foster home, left to survive on the unforgiving streets of Las Vegas alone.
Eccentric, wealthy Roger Montgomery wants to open up his mansion to Jules and Emma. The only catch? Jules must steal seven of the rarest, most valuable muscle cars in the world…in seven weeks. Even worse, she’s forced to put her trust in three complete strangers to help her do it.
First there’s Chelsea, the gorgeous redhead with a sharp tongue and love for picking locks. Then there’s Mat, who hasn’t met a system he couldn’t hack. And finally there’s the impossibly sexy car thief Nick, whose bad attitude and mysterious past drive Jules crazy.
With nothing in common and everything to lose, can Jules and her amateur crew pull off what could be the biggest car heist in history? Or will things spin out of control faster than a Nevada dust devil?