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Day 13 (Part 2) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Nicole Melleby

Saturday, 7 September 2019  |  Posted by Rochelle Karina

Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2019 mentors. From a lottery drawing, we selected writers to receive a query or first page critique from one of our mentors. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query or first page from our lucky winners. We’ll be posting some of the critiques leading up to the submission window. Our hope is that these samples will help you all get an idea on how to shine up your query and first page.

We appreciate our mentors for giving their time to do the critiques. If you have something encouraging to add, feel free to comment below. Please keep all comments tasteful. Our comments are set to moderate, and we will delete any inappropriate or hurtful ones before approving them.

Next up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor, Nicole Melleby … 

Nicole Melleby is a born-and-bred Jersey girl with a passion for storytelling. She studied creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and currently teaches creative writing and literature courses with a handful of local universities. Her debut novel, HURRICANE SEASON earned three starred reviews and was awarded the Skipping Stones Honor Award for exceptional contribution to multicultural and ecological awareness in children’s literature. Her second novel, IN THE ROLE OF BRIE HUTCHENS… will be released Spring 2020. When she’s not writing, Nicole can be found browsing the shelves at her local comic shop or watching soap operas with a cup of tea.

Website | Twitter

Nicole’s latest release …

For Fig’s dad, hurricane season brings the music.
For Fig, hurricane season brings the possibility of disaster.

Fig, a sixth grader, loves her dad and the home they share in a beachside town. She does not love the long months of hurricane season. Her father, a once-renowned piano player, sometimes goes looking for the music in the middle of a storm. Hurricane months bring unpredictable good and bad days. More than anything, Fig wants to see the world through her father’s eyes, so she takes an art class to experience life as an artist does. Then Fig’s dad shows up at school, confused and looking for her. Not only does the class not bring Fig closer to understanding him, it brings social services to their door.

As the walls start to fall around her, Fig is sure it’s up to her alone to solve her father’s problems and protect her family’s privacy. But with the help of her best friend, a cute girl at the library, and a surprisingly kind new neighbor, Fig learns she isn’t as alone as she once thought . . . and begins to compose her own definition of family.

Nicole Melleby’s Hurricane Season is a radiant and tender novel about taking risks and facing danger, about friendship and art, and about growing up and coming out. And more than anything else, it is a story about love—both its limits and its incredible healing power.

Amazon | Barnes & NobleIndieBound

Nicole’s (query or first page) critique . . .

Dear Ms.       ,

[some personal line from the agent’s mswl or website about what looking for] [Just remember to keep this nice and brief!]

I am seeking representation for my novel, …, [a] contemporary middle grade fiction [omit “fiction” – it’s implied in the genre] complete at 30,000 words. While the subject matter covers similar territory [what territory, specifically? This would be important for the agent to note early on. Are you referring to themes, voice, or plot, or something entirely different?] as Lynda Mullally Hunt’s Fish in a Tree, my story,told in a sassier voice and with a literary bent, [Maybe make this more active? Reword to the something like “While the subject matter covers similar territory as Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a Tree, … is told in a sassier, [somewhat older] voice with a literary bent.] is aimed at the upper range of the middle grade audience. [Rather than including this last bit of information, you can achieve the same thing by including the “somewhat older” as I’ve suggested above.]

On the eve of the first day of eighth grade, thirteen year-old Layla has a pretty good idea of what’s in store for her – another year of awkward social situations, mediocre grades, and teachers who praise her good behavior but find her academic performance lacking. Layla feels certain she’s capable of more, but each time she tries to read or write, the words on the page dance and spin, changing partners and leaving her to sit on the sidelines. [Nice insight into character here.] Her mother, a nurse working night shifts to keep the family afloat, is too overwhelmed to notice. And her father, whose last contribution before he abandoned the family was to name her Layla, has reappeared but been declared off-limits by her mom.

This year will be different in ways that Layla couldn’t have predicted. Her English teacher, Mr. McCarthy, new to the school, senses her potential. When he pushes her, she almost rises to the challenge before committing a desperate and futile act of vandalism that nearly costs her what she has gained. [To what purpose does Layla do this? So far, you’ve laid the foundation that 1) Layla wants to do better in school, she’s been barred from seeing her dad, and her mom is too busy to see her struggles. Does Layla’s action here align with any of these story aspects? If not, what’s the rationale?] When Layla agrees to let her best friend Liza take the fall for her, their relationship is put to the test. Layla must rely on the guidance of her older brother and the affection of the sweet boy next door to reclaim her footing.

[Overall, I see a lot of compelling and dynamic obstacles that Layla must face. It’s very multi-layered, and in many ways accurate of the middle grade experience. What I’m missing is the cohesive element(s) that draw(s) all of these points together. Further, the way that you’ve presented all of the events / aspects to the story doesn’t make it clear for me what I should REALLY be focusing on. What is the DRIVING point of the story? Does Layla just need to survive the eighth grade? Does she desperately want / need a relationship with her dad? Is the idea of a potentially undiagnosed learning issues (the possible dyslexia you’ve alluded to here) a major point in the story? I’m confident that you know all of these answers and then some, but the answers do not come across here.]

[Before providing the agent with information about you, I would recommend concluding the body of your query with a sort of summative note. Think something along the lines of, “…” is a story about X, Y, Z.” Within this conclusion, you can address what the specific themes and highlights of the novel are.]

… is my first children’s book. My debut novel, , was published by She Writes Press in November, 2018, and has been named a finalist in the Outstanding Debut category by the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. I hold B.A. and J.D. degrees from Yale, and I have studied fiction and writing for young people at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. My personal essays and short stories have been published online, and can be found at my website at Web address.

Please find pasted below the first ten pages of the manuscript. 

[I always recommend thanking agents for their time; it never hurts!] I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Web address [Since you have your website noted above, it could come off as a little self-indulgent to reference it here again, especially in such close proximity to the other reference].

Thank you, Nicole, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2019 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more. 

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