Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2020 mentors. From a lottery drawing, we selected writers to receive a query and first page critique from one of our mentors. We’ll be posting some of the critiques leading up to the Pitch Wars submission window. Our hope is that these samples will help you in shining up your query and first page.
We appreciate our mentors for generously dedicating 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 Sofiya Pasternack
Sofiya Pasternack grew up surrounded by goats, and as an adult pets the neighbor’s goats through the fence even though she probably shouldn’t. When she’s not working at the hospital, she can be found enjoying Utah’s wild places, teaching her kids to make challah, and defending nice dragons. She should definitely be studying right now. Her debut middle grade fantasy, ANYA AND THE DRAGON, was awarded the Sydney Taylor Book Award Honor for Middle Grade. The sequel, ANYA AND THE NIGHTINGALE, will be out November 10th, 2020!
Sofiya’s recent release, ANYA AND THE DRAGON
The adventure continues in this exciting sequel to Anya and the Dragon in which a dangerous monster lurks beneath the city and only Anya can keep him from taking her friends’ magic—and their lives. Perfect for fans of The Girl Who Drank the Moon.
It’s been a year since a violent Viking terrorized the small village of Zmeyreka and Anya and her foolish friend Ivan saved a friendly dragon from being sacrificed for his magic.
But things still aren’t safe in the kingdom of Kievan Rus’.
After embarking on a journey to bring her papa home from war, Anya discovers a powerful forest creature terrorizing travelers. But she soon learns that he’s not the monster the kingdom should fear. There’s an even greater evil that lurks under the city.
Can Anya stop the monster, save her papa, and find her way home? Or will the secrets of Kiev leave Anya and her friends trapped beneath the city forever?
Sofiya’s critique . . .
Category: Middle Grade Fantasy
TITLE is a middle grade fantasy complete at 49,000 words, pitched as . It is the concept of Snow White infused with African folklore[,] and will appeal to fans of Ronald L. Smith and Tracey Baptiste. [I really like this opening! Tightening it up could be helpful, but the ‘Snow White meets African folklore’ comp is great!]
Twelve-year-old Kisima loves her nocturnal river village—where all the houses are on stilts, and the pathways are lit by glowing purple flowers [this is a great visual opening—love it!]—but her village doesn’t love her back. Thanks to the large birthmark on her face, her people believe she’s cursed to bring misfortune wherever she goes. [Aww sad. How does Kisimia feel about this? Especially learning in the next paragraph that beauty can be deadly. And I’d like to see Chobo mentioned up here to set up what makes her special, since she plays a larger role in the query later.]
And her village knows its fair share of misfortune; their days are plagued by vicious sun wokas—golems made of sticks and dirt and light [include here what makes these golems so vicious or dangerous]. Their only protection from the sun wokas is the fayah witch—a glowing sprite gifted with witchcraft— [I removed the description of the fayah witch, because I think the idea of what a witch is will be fairly intuitive, and her being a glowing sprite doesn’t seem to be relevant to the rest of the query] but she has a price. Each year, the village must surrender their most beautiful child, never to be seen again. [Great setup for a conflict!]
When her Kisima’s best friend, Chobo, is chosen by the fayah witch, Kisima secretly transfers Chobo’s ash mark to her hand and accepts the role as this year’s chosen child. Chobo joins Kisima on her journey, but they don’t expect the fayah witch to attack and drain Chobo’s beauty. Kisima wounds the witch and uncovers a horrible truth: the fayah witch is turning the surrendered children into sun walkers [what is a sun walker? Is this the same as the wokas?]. Chobo’s transformation is incomplete; she still has her heart, which glows a bright blue in her chest. [I removed the bit about Chobo because it’s not necessary to the stakes, which are great!] To save her friend, and her entire village, Kisima must venture into the light and face the fayah witch once again.
[Overall: This was such a cute and intriguing query with a great hook! There were some questions I had after I read the query, and I noted all those instances with my comments.
“On the island of Kibwe, there is only one village, built on stilts over a sacred river.” I pointed to the green circle I’d embroidered on my folk cloth. Bioluminescent fibers I collected from a swamp reed gave the thread a subtle glow against the tan woven fabric. The stitches for the river glowed too, a bright lightning strike blue, but I couldn’t bring myself to weave life into any of their brown huts. “The village has only one name,” I continued. “Home.” I said the last word in a whisper, finishing my practice presentation. [I had to read this a couple of times to get a good visual in my head of what was going on. Now that I have it, I really love that she’s practicing her presentation (and now I understand later mentions of a showcase), but what’s going on isn’t immediately apparent.]
Mama Busa lifted my chin. She traced the edges of the large birthmark—stretching from my forehead to the center of my left cheek—with her thumb. “My beautiful Kisima. That village may not be a home for us, but this hut has all we need. I don’t know why you keep trying to force them to like you. I like you. [Awww so sweet! I love Mama Busa!]” A coy smile flickered across her face. “Even though you kick when you sleep.”
I giggled. “You’re the one who kicks, Mama Busa. I woke up on the bare floor last day. And you stole the sheet too.”
“You’re, without a doubt, Home’s most skilled young weaver [this is a strange thing to say after Kisima’s last comment without some kind of other segue].” Mama Busa wrapped her thick arms around my shoulders. “Take that laugh and that stunning folk cloth to the Darklight showcase and Elder Kemi would be a fool not to acknowledge your talent.”
The word [“]fool[“] made my skin prickle. Folk cloths told the stories of our people[,] and the tapestries made for Darklight were smaller so they could be worn to the ceremony. My delicate threads told the history of Kibwe—how the fayah witch took pity on our people and offered them protection from [horrifying/terrifying/violent/etc] sun wokas who woke only in the light [to destroy our crops/steal our puppies/etc]. It showed the price of her kindness [OOOOOO I love this setup] and the calm that made it worth it. But it also showed the jungle spirits, and how our people had relied on them before the sun wokas had shown up.
[Great start! See above comments for my thoughts on clarity. But overall this is a sweet scene between the protagonist and someone important in her life (mom, grandma?), and it’s a nice setup of the world and the person who will eventually become the antagonist.]