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Brian over at Descent into Slushland recently tagged us to write a “the next big thing” post.  He wrote a great post about his WIP, “The Key to Eden,” setting the bar awfully high for us to follow.  But, since we’re going to enter the Pitch Wars contest, we decided to give this a shot first.  Here goes…

What is the working title of your book?

We’ve been calling it MYSTIC COOKING, which is also the name of our main character’s restaurant.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

HEIDI: From Kati’s fabulous head.

KATI: Why thank you.  I can’t take all the credit, though – I was actually inspired by an episode of the anime “Slayers Next.” It’s a filler episode where the main characters want to eat dragon cuisine, and I started thinking that a story about a chef who specializes in cuisine made from mystical creatures could be really interesting.  Meanwhile, I had another idea for a story where steampunk scientists would be warring with gangster elves, and it was Heidi’s idea to combine the two of them together.

HEIDI: After Kati heard my brilliant suggestion, she came up with probably her best idea yet – that we should write the book together.   😉 And just like that, “Mystic Cooking” was born.

What genre does your book fall under?

YA fantasy.

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Ah, and here’s where it got tricky.  We both have a newfound respect for casting directors – tough job! But first up, playing the part of our main character, LAILU LOGANBERRY, is Katie Leung. You’ll know her as Cho Chang from the 4th and 5th Harry Potter movies:

Sixteen-year-old Lailu isn’t what you’d call “beautiful,” but usually that doesn’t bother her, since she knows the most important things in life are cooking and cooking some more.  Short and muscular from years of hunting dangerous prey like kraken, saber cats, and dragons, Lailu usually wears her hair in two low pigtails, and she’s most at home behind her steam-powered stove or out hunting in the wild.  She tends towards grumpiness and is a hard person to get close to; Lailu only has a handful of friends, and she absolutely hates having to rely on other people for anything.

The people in Lailu’s home village have asian features, although Lailu’s mother is a foreigner, so we wanted someone who looked mixed.  We chose Katie Leung because she’s cute, but not strikingly pretty, with an innocent face.  In spite of her grouchiness, Lailu is very innocent when it comes to relationships with other people, and we felt like Leung would be able to convey that.

Next up is Lailu’s best friend, HANNAH MARTINI.  Hannah is one of those girls who walks into a room, and all conversation stops as people turn to look at her.  She comes from the same village as Lailu, and her lovely exotic features really stand out in the capitol.  A bit of an eccentric, Hannah has a fondness for shiny hair pieces and uneven hem lines.  She is a very loyal friend, although her own personal demons catch up to her, threatening to bring both her and Lailu down.

We had a very hard time settling on someone for this role, but for now we’re “casting” Park Min Young, a korean actress most known for korean dramas and modeling.  She looks the part, at least; very beautiful, with a bit of a mischievous smile and lots of confidence, she looks like she’s very aware of the effect her looks have on others, but is still a nice person.

Lailu’s old school rival, GREGORIAN LA SILVIAN, aka “Greg,” decides to open his own restaurant on the same day as Lailu’s.  Being from a well-connected, very wealthy family has its advantages, and Greg’s restaurant is right in the center of the best area of town while Lailu’s is off near the edge of the city, right up against the Elf Gang’s turf. Greg is one of those people who is always confident.  A bit of a prankster, he enjoys teasing Lailu, but would be ready to lend a hand if she could only bring herself to ask him for help.  Too bad she’d rather die.

We chose Darren Criss to play this part: he’s confident and good looking without being extraordinarily handsome, and seems like he would play the part of the spoiled aristocrat well, while still conveying those qualities that make Greg likable: his hard work, love of cooking, and genuine fondness for Lailu.

Now, on to the villain! MR. BOSS (Call me “Victor,”) is an unscrupulous loan shark with two great ambitions: to live forever and to be the most powerful man in the lower city.  He lends Lailu the money she needs to open up her restaurant, and then proceeds to turn Mystic Cooking into his own personal hang out spot, bringing along his free-loading cronies and generally spoiling Lailu’s chances of success.  When a business deal with the king’s executioner goes sour, Mr. Boss turns on Lailu, demanding repayment much sooner.  Lailu is faced with a difficult choice: find some way to get the money, or be a slave for Mr. Boss.

We chose Jack Nicholson for this part.  True, he doesn’t look exactly how we imagined Mr. Boss to look, but his ability to play the part of crazy and still intimidating would be perfect.  As Mr. Boss’ attempts at immortality lead him down a less than savory path, he becomes more and more unhinged.  No one pulls off “unhinged” better than Nicholson.

And speaking of the king’s executioner, ELISTER THE BLOODY is a terrifying man, but his cold, murderous heart is carefully hidden under layers of sophistication and polite manners.  He wants nothing to do with Mr. Boss, who he considers vermin, but he does have a strange interest in Lailu.  Maybe it’s just her fine cuisine?

We both instantly agreed on this one: Anthony Stewart Head.  He’s a versatile actor, very british, very well-mannered, and yet…he is very scary when he goes dark.  We think he would be a perfect Elister, all polite civility until the moment he cuts you into pieces.

And now…the free-loading cronies.  Mr. Boss’ most loyal and by far the most frightening of his followers is GREAGER MCHACKNEY, otherwise referred to simply as “the Butcher.” He’s the main muscle man, and the one who Lailu is most afraid of; removing limbs from people is one of his hobbies, and he’s quick to do any of the dirty work Mr. Boss requires.

After a lot of thought, we settled on Alan Tudyk, because he doesn’t look all that scary at first, but much like Anthony Stewart Head, when it’s time for him to go dark he does so with alarming intensity.

Another one of Mr. Boss’ lackeys is RYON. Whereas the Butcher’s loyalty is unquestioned, Lailu has trouble figuring out Ryon’s game – he doesn’t seem very interested in helping out Mr. Boss, and spends an inordinate amount of time following her around and trying to turn her into his own personal spy.  He also winks way too much.  Lailu knows never to trust a man who can close one eye at a time, and she resolves not to lower her guard around Ryon.  Still, when Hannah’s troubles start to boil over, Lailu actually entertains the idea of trusting him.  Maybe.

This was another quick choice for us – Zac Efron.  Ryon has smiling gray-blue eyes in an otherwise nice but not particularly remarkable face.  He also looks almost ageless, and can go from winking mischievous lackey to serious spy in the blink of an eye.  Zac Efron seems like he would be able to pull that off, and he has the eyes for it.

We have a few more characters we found actors for, but this is probably a good stopping point.  So, moving on to the next question…

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

In a world where elven gangsters feud with steampunk scientists, the youngest master chef to graduate from the Academy in over three hundred years is not about to let anything get in the way of her ultimate dream: opening a high-class restaurant that specializes in cooking mystical beasts.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

HEIDI: Well, that is a good question…we’d prefer to be represented by an agency.  After all, having a good agent on your side opens up all sorts of doors, and aside from the connections, it would be great to have someone as vested in MYSTIC COOKING as the two of us.

KATI: That being said, we’re still weighing all our options.  Who knows? Maybe self publishing will be the way to go.  But I think for now we’re going to try to go the traditional route and see what happens.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

KATI: That depends on what you’d call the first draft.  Someone, and I’m not naming any names here, decided to throw in a bunch of random plot twists, and we had to sort those out in later drafts before we could write an ending tying everything together.

HEIDI: Kati’s a plotter and I’m a pantser, so while she had the main plot all carefully worked out, whenever it was my turn I’d just kind of run with it.  Still, I think we can both agree it’s better this way.  Right? Right?

KATI: …I suppose…

HEIDI: Heh heh…I knew you’d come ’round.  😉  Aside from the ending, it took us about three months to get the rest of the first draft finished, although we were both editing as we went along, so it was more of a second or third draft by the time we stopped.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

KATI: Right now it seems like most YA fantasy is dark.  There’s a lot of dystopian stories and grittier fantasies, whereas MYSTIC COOKING is much more light-hearted.  We purposely created characters that are a little over the top, and we try not to take ourselves or our story too seriously, keeping a light, almost playful tone throughout.  To me, it feels most like Patricia C. Wrede’s “Dealing with Dragons” series.

HEIDI: I recently read Gail Carriger’s “Parasol Protectorate” series, and while that’s not YA, her tone reminded me a little of what we’re going for – steampunk elements with over-the-top characters.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

HEIDI: I’m a huge fan of strong female protagonists, especially in YA.  Ever since I picked up the first Alanna book in Tamora Pierce’s “Lioness Quartet” series, I’ve wanted to create a character as driven to succeed against the odds as Alanna was.  While Lailu doesn’t have to pretend to be a boy, she does have to overcome many obstacles, such as her lack of experience, her poverty, and her inability to trust others.

I think it’s tough when you’re growing up for everyone, but girls especially get so many mixed messages about how they should be one way or another, how they need to look a certain way, how they’re nothing unless they’re dating the right boy.  I might be exaggerating a little bit, but I’ve found that kind of mentality repeated in many books, and I wanted to write about a female character who has her own goals, who works hard, and who doesn’t need a man to succeed.  I still love a little romance, but I don’t want it to be my main character’s focus.  She’s a complete person just as she is.

KATI: Hmm, not sure what to add to that.  Alanna was a personal hero for me, too, as well as Daine.  One reason Heidi and I were able to write this story together was because we both had the same vision of Lailu, and the same desire to write something fun and a little quirky.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s the first part in a potential four-book series.  We have the main plot as well as a lot of the side plots already figured out for all subsequent books, and we’re really looking forward to seeing Lailu grow and develop as a character throughout them.  Hopefully you will, too!

And in the interest of keeping this going…

We’re tagging Michael over at Edgecountry – we met him at a Writer’s Conference and would love to see a post like this about his WIP.

We’re also tagging Moonstonemaiden – we love her blog and want to know what she’s currently working on.

So there you have it.  Thanks for sticking with us through this super long post, and for those of you also entering Pitchwars, good luck! The deadline is December 5th!