Photograph of Juliet McDaniel by Dianna Gonzalez.
I recently shared the news my fiction manuscript was selected as the Book Winner in Launch Pad’s 6th Annual Prose Writing Competition. But, as if that wasn’t so much more than enough, I was also picked as one of three Mentorship Prize Winners. What does that mean? It means, dear writers, I now have a mentor who’s already been where I’m hoping to go. Author and screenwriter Juliet McDaniel chose me to be her mentee. Writers, I want to introduce you to Ms. McDaniel. I also want to introduce you to her novel, Mr. and Mrs. American Pie. Not only is it an immensely enjoyable read, it is a perfect example of two things I find myself talking to my writing clients about often—agency and cause-and-effect trajectory.
Juliet McDaniel writes “stories about messy, complicated women who’ve seen some shit”—we are a match made in heaven. Juliet’s novel Mr. and Mrs. American Pie was the Top Comedy winner of Launch Pad’s 2016 Manuscript Competition. As a result, Juliet landed representation, and her novel Mr. and Mrs. American Pie was published and optioned for television by Laura Dern’s production company. It will soon be streaming on Apple TV+.
Juliet is a screenwriter with a “strong fiction background” who became a novelist, too. In an interview with Deborah Kalb, she talked about how she came up with the idea for Mr. and Mrs. American Pie and about the differences between writing a screenplay and writing a novel: “In a screenplay, the writer needs to provide moments that allow the actors to bring depth to their characters. In a novel, it’s 100 percent the responsibility to bring the reader right inside the heads of the characters.” This, writers.
Having Juliet McDaniel as my mentor has been the very best part of participating in the Launch Pad Prose Writing Competition for me. She has been supportive, nurturing, and generous with her time and knowledge. She’s been there for me. She’s let me know what to expect, has helped me figure out my next steps, and has been open and honest when I have questions. When a TV studio exec asked for a “general meeting” with me, Juliet explained what that meant and told me what I needed to know to prepare for the meeting. When a “literary manager” asked for a meeting, she explained what that was, too, and let me know what kinds of things I should consider. I feel so grateful to Launch Pad for introducing us, and also, those meeting requests? All a result of the Launch Pad competition. And I’m forever thankful to Juliet McDaniel—she has helped me see that something that once felt like a pipe dream is a very real possibility for me.
You still have time to read Mr. and Mrs. American Pie before the TV series starts streaming. The novel is charming, hilarious, and moving. Juliet’s protagonist Maxine is confident and retains her agency in the face of overwhelming odds. For writers, this novel is an excellent example of agency and cause-and-effect trajectory—Maxine’s choices and actions drive the novel forward in the best way. Maxine is over the top, the kind of person who actually does and says all the things we secretly wish we could. She’s what my grandmother would call “something else.” A few chapters in, I thought, who in the world could possibly play Maxine? It’s an impossible task—no one could capture Maxine. So I looked it up on IMDB. Ah, yes. Perfect. I cannot wait to see Kristin Wiig bring Maxine to life.
Launch Pad’s 7th Annual Prose Writing Competition is open now. If you have a short story or a novel with cinematic potential, consider entering. Even if I hadn’t won, I would have considered it worth the entry fee for the incredible, insightful, and actionable feedback I got from Launch Pad’s readers. And for prose writers, competitions like these are an outside-the-box way of getting not only the attention of literary agents but getting film and television industry eyes on your manuscript.