Welcome to the July Query & 1st Page Workshop with some of our PitchWars mentors. We selected many wonderful writers from a drawing held in June to participate in the workshop. Each mentor has graciously critiqued either a query or first page for two writers. The writers are anonymous and the titles/genres are hidden. Follow along all month to view the critiques. We welcome comments and further suggestions, but please keep them kind and respectful.
Here are the next two mentors and their critiques …
Nazarea is a YA writer. A self-professed geek. A mom (3 beautiful girls) and wife. A unabashed book addict. She likes chocolate and tequila, good times and laughter, weekends with family and times spent at the beach or the mountains. She’s a cynic with a romantic streak, sarcastic to a fault. She’s also the blog tour specialist at InkSlingerPR, and the founder of Writer’s Road. She’s represented by Michelle Johnson of Inklings Literary.
Nazarea’s books …
The World Without a Future
She was born the day the world ended…
Nurrin has lived her entire life with zombies—trapped behind walls meant to keep them safe. She’s mostly happy there. But when a zombie horde breach the walls of her Haven, she has to trust her brother, Collin, and his best friend to keep her alive.
He just wants his past to die…
Finn O’Malley has given up on voicing warnings that are ignored. No one cares that the zombies are changing. Now all that matters is keeping Collin and Nurrin safe from what’s outside the walls of a Haven. But when Nurrin’s best friend picks up a contact infection, he agrees to get the medicine needed to save his life. Forced together, relying on each other in a strange Haven, zombies aren’t the most dangerous thing they’re facing.
In their world, only one thing remains true: everything ends in blood.
The Horde Without End
It was supposed to be over…
Returning from Haven 18 was supposed to be the end. But nothing is ever easy—and in a world full of zombies, finding the missing is next to impossible. There are breadcrumbs. Tiny clues. But what are a few tiny clues in a world of the dead?
Nurrin is desperate to find her brother, but that will mean trusting Finn O’Malley. A man shrouded in secrets, who kills as easily as breathing. And the more she learns about him, the more questions she has. But she has learned one thing—the zombies are changing. Adapting. And this time, the Haven walls won’t keep them out.
Nazarea’s critiques …
Critique #41 – Query:
Witches in Oriane are born with two sparkling gemstones, or Witch Stones, in their palm Why? I’m sure this is important—we even find that out in the next sentence. But this isn’t a strong hook. 14 year old Rossi was born with only one. A dull diamond. So this is more of a hook, and should be where you start. I would restructure a little—like this: 14 year old Rossi was born with a dull diamond in her palm—not the usual two sparkling Witch Stones. Usually, these stones control an elemental power unique to that witch. But Rossi’s element is lightning and harvesting lightning with one stone was harder than convincing her troll to take a bath. One tiny mistake and she’d be fried like chicken. The tense this part is a little slippery—go through to fix that. Was should be is, she’d should be she’ll.
In spite of Rossi’s best effort to avoid it, a lightning bolt seeks her out. Not only does she survive the strike with her eyebrows
in tact intact, she finds the bolt’s power to be amazing. Her you have a double space here eyesight is sharper, her confidence multiplies, and her skin‘s new glow attracts her longtime crush. But the baker’s son isn’t the only one to take notice. You have three typos in this sentence. Go through for that.
Something sinister is lurking in the shadows of her mountains. Something that wants to steal her witch stone, and her life, for the dark craft. Rossi must learn to control her lightning and fast. You don’t need the second paragraph. You spend several sentences on her description, which we don’t need. I have no idea what the stakes are or what the actual plot is. That’s a problem. After she attracts the lightning bolt, we lose the plot line. What happens to Rossi, and what are the obstacles? Why does the one stone matter? That’s what needs to go in this query.
Witch Stone is an upper middle grade fantasy complete at 75,000 words and should appeal to fans of Keeper of the Lost Cities and The Wizard of Dark Street.
I am an SCBWI member and belong to a local critique group in Northwest Arkansas.
Thank you for your time! I like the bare bones and I want to like the book. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough of a grasp of it to decide that. I would love to see you rework to show your plot. Good luck!!!
Critique #42 – First Page:
They say that in the first week of Prohibition, all the birds in New Atlantis died. Great flocks of pigeons flung themselves against the Dome until their shattered bodies littered the pavement and their feathers snowed down in drifts of white and grey. Songbirds smashed against the bars of their gilded cages until their yellow throats no longer piped sweet songs. In menageries, colorful tropical birds wasted away, macaws and lorikeets and trezomars wilting like so many faded bouquets. This is gorgeous and evocative. I would caution you about using terms that could be misconstrued without explanation (Prohibition/New Atlantis) but it works. Just be sure you explain them soon.
And finally, when the sunset skies seemed empty of any flying thing, the bats fluttered out from beneath eaves and rocks and caves, filling the air with the whisper of their leathery wings. They gathered in black clouds over the city, blotting out the stars and casting shadows on the moon. And in the morning, when frightened citizens ventured at last from their homes, nothing remained of that great black flock. Not a single pointed ear nor webbed wing was ever found. The bats were gone, and no one knew where they went. Very nice imagery. Love it.
I don’t know if what they say is true. The Triumvirate declared Prohibition the year I was born, so I don’t remember a time when the trees in Century Park rustled with a thousand wings and birdcalls echoed off the Dome. I don’t remember a time before gas suffused our atmosphere to keep us safe and sane. I don’t remember anything from before.
All I know is this: in my short life, I have never seen a bird and I have never dreamed a dream.
Until tonight. Dude. I’ve got nothing. This is very tight and very readable. The voice is great. Check the use of unfamiliar terms, or explain them soon. Aside from that—I want to read more!! 🙂
E.M. Caines aka Ella Caines
Ella Martin is a prep school survivor and a Southern California native. She writes books about spunky teenagers who are way cooler than she ever was, and she totally believes in love and happy endings. She likes sunny places and is terrified of snowy winters, so she now lives in Florida with her husband and son.
Now out Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up? by Ella Caines
If only fairy tales warned “happily ever after” only happens with the right guy…
15-year-old Bianca learns the hard way when she falls for Dante, the hottest guy in her class, who turns out to be anything but charming. And it doesn’t help that Tim, a long-time crush and her brother’s best friend, still makes her head fuzzy. Bianca has to ask: WILL THE REAL PRINCE CHARMING PLEASE STAND UP?
Ella’s critiques …
Warning: The following critique contains adult content.
Critique #43 – First Page:
The only thing better than a shot of tequila, is taking that shot while some girl slips her dainty little fingers underneath my waistband and grabs a hold of my dick. I’m standing in a crowd of
nearly about a hundred people so I should probably care about this obscene PDA, but I don’t. In fact, I’d be more than happy to flip up the hem of her sundress and take her from behind right here if it wouldn’t cause such a scene. I honestly really wouldn’t care about that either, but I get the feeling she would.
The party is raging at the summer kick-off bonfire, and the heat licks across my face
even though I’m at least ten feet away. I curl my bare toes in the sand as I slide my hand down her back and grab a fistful of her ass. And what a fine ass it is.
She moans as my fingers knead into her, like my fingers are the best things she’s ever felt. I stifle the urge to roll my eyes. It’s just an ass rub babe, calm the fuck down. Fake it until you make it—the motto of every girl I’ve ever stumbled across, and I’ve done more than my fair share of stumbling.
Just to test my theory, I give her another squeeze and she doesn’t disappoint. I wrap my fingers around her wrist and pull her off me.
“What the fuck, Luke?” She knows my name, but I can’t remember hers.
Interesting first sentence.
The adverbs in the first paragraph break up the rhythm for me. I don’t think they are necessary. If “nearly” is changed to “about” and “honestly really” is deleted from the last sentence, it flows better.
Just out of curiosity, if a girl is reaching into a guy’s pants to grab a hold of his dick, what makes him think she would be upset if he had sex with her in the middle of a crowd? It doesn’t feel congruent.
Ten feet from a bonfire isn’t terribly far away unless he’s standing on the edge of the crowd. But the first paragraph makes it sound like he’s surrounded by people.
“I curl my bare toes in the sand” <– I like this.
So, I’m trying to picture this scene. She must be standing in front of him, her hand down his pants. He grabs her, and she only moans but doesn’t reciprocate the touch by gripping him harder or anything? Does she push herself into him? I understand he senses the falseness of her reaction, and I like how that’s shown, there’s something missing in this exchange. The choreography is off. And what happened to his shot glass?
The word “fuck” appears twice within 56 words. I’m not a prude, but I do think less is more, and I think “fuck” is one of those words that can deliver a punch when used sparingly.
I like the last sentence.
Final thoughts: The pacing is good, and I like the imagery, but there were too many inconsistencies for me to connect with the character.
Critique #44 – First Page:
Dr. Ben Spencer kept his most important theory to himself: to survive the present, resurrect the past. He tested it only once a year, by himself and whenever possible, with whiskey.
Ben reached for the only drawer that locked in his shoddy wooden desk. Most professors’ office hours were over, including his, and the halls of Stony Brook University’s Life Sciences building were at last free of undergrads panicked about spring finals. Ben was alone, and it would stay that way.
His annual ritual could begin.
The cheap wood scraped and groaned as Ben slid the now unlocked desk drawer open. He reached for the first of three objects waiting for him. It began as it must, with Glenlivet 18. Gripping the bottom of the cool glass with one hand, he swirled around what was left. The next item needed no ceremony. He sat the chipped tumbler beside the bottle.
Returning to the drawer, his fingers trembled against the metal edge of a picture frame. The regret woke then, stretching its talons to scrape his stomach lining and roil along his esophagus, seizing his throat. He placed the photo at the center of the desk among stacks of ungraded papers, focusing on the pain. Pain was the most important part of this day. Pain was more than remembering who he’d once been, it was a warning he could never be that man again.
Initial thoughts: I’m interested. I’d like to keep reading.
The first paragraph seems wonky to me. I don’t know if it’s missing a comma (“…by himself and, whenever possible, with…”), but if it is missing a comma, then “It began as it must, with Glenlivet 18” doesn’t make sense. He either must have whiskey or only have it when possible. And if it’s not missing a comma, then it reads funny.
I love the last paragraph. The metaphors are great.
Final thoughts: I like this sample. The pacing is good, and I’m curious to know what was in the picture frame, what Dr. Spencer regretted.
Thank you, Nazarea and Ella, for your critiques. Everyone, come back tomorrow for the next round of critiques!