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, Hayley Stone …
Hayley Stone is a writer, editor, and poet from California. She is best known for her adult sci-fi novel, MACHINATIONS, which was chosen as one of Amazon’s Best Sci-fi & Fantasy Books for 2016, and her cult hit, MAKE ME NO GRAVE, a weird western. Her short fiction has appeared in Fireside Fiction, Apex Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, and various anthologies, while her speculative poetry is widely available online.
Hayley’s recent release …
⭐ AN AUDIBLE #1 BESTSELLER ⭐
Marshal Apostle Richardson faces off against bloodthirsty outlaws, flesh witches, ruthless vigilantes, and more in this gritty, magical re-imagining of the Old West.
Almena Guillory, better known as the Grizzly Queen of the West, has done plenty to warrant the noose, but U.S. Marshal Apostle Richardson enforces the law, he doesn’t decide it. When a posse tries to lynch Almena ahead of her trial, Apostle refuses their form of expedited justice—and receives a bullet for his trouble. Almena spares him through the use of dangerous flesh magic but escapes soon after saving him.
Weeks later, Apostle fears the outlaw queen has returned to her old ways when she’s spotted terrorizing Kansas with a new gang in tow. When cornered, however, Almena makes a convincing case for her innocence and proposes a plan to take the real bandits down.
Working with a known killer opens Apostle up to all sorts of trouble, not the least being his own growing attraction toward the roguish woman. Turning Almena away from vengeance may be out of the question, but if he doesn’t try, she’ll wind up right where the law wants her: at the end of a rope.
And if Apostle isn’t careful, he’ll end up joining her.
If you like Red Dead Redemption and Lila Bowen’s Wake of Vultures, you’ll love this gun-blazing weird western.
Hayley’s first page critique . . .
Adult: Speculative Fiction/Mystery
For Andrew Zivos, the events that transformed snow into a synonym of death and loss began the day his home, the port town of Feshizvenn, saw the white flakes fall out of the sky for the first time. [I like the mystery presented in this opening line, but the POV feels very distant here, bordering on omniscient, which is challenging to do well when the story involves a mystery; mysteries, by their nature, rely on withholding information from the reader. Instead, I recommend a closer third-person POV for this opening, utilizing objective correlative (as you do in the following paragraph) to make the snow feel ominous without outright telling us it is.]
The gentle snowfall in tandem with the marine breeze carried a chill throughout the room. Twin candles illuminated Andrew’s desk while he wrote inventory details using his typewriter. [The note about Andrew using a typewriter feels a little clunky. Unless there is a reason to point out his use of what to us would be considered outdated technology, it draws attention to itself needlessly. Alternately, another option would be to utilize his experience with the typewriter to convey something about the character—is he at ease with the machine and quickly getting through his work like an old professional? Or is he perhaps fighting a key that always sticks, that he keeps meaning to replace, but never does? Little details can convey a lot of subtle information.] Normally, at this time of morning, it would have been sunlight that brightened the place, but today only the gray of clouds came through the damp windows. [The damp windows are a nice sensory detail.]
Someone knocked on his door.
“Store’s not open yet,” shouted Andrew, not moving from his chair. He needed to get this done. They still had a healthy stock of cod and oysters, but everything else had run out. Perfect timing to run low on inventory, really. With the snow, things would get more difficult. [What things? And difficult in what ways? This is the perfect opportunity to elaborate on the world/setting. Be specific.]
Someone knocked, again. [Is it more insistent? Remember what you are building toward in the scene and make sure each moment adds to that sense of suspense.]
Andrew reclined in his chair and took a deep breath, prepared to yell Go away! But then the sound of people shouting on the streets made him jump. He looked out his window. A group of at least a dozen people ran toward the docks. The knocking continued.
Andrew’s heart raced and he smiled. [This moment threw me out of the story. It feels at odds with the tension of the opening sentence and everything else that has come before now, especially people running suddenly in the street (which, to me, would imply danger). Consider how you might rework this opening to have the tone of the narration better reflect Andrew’s internal experience. If he is anticipating good news, for instance, give us some indication of it.] He blew out his candles, grabbed his frock coat, and ran for the door. Outside, a kid in his late teens was waiting with a frown on his face and his arms crossed. “About time.”
“Yeah, yeah. Sorry. Is it time already?”
“They came back earlier. Could be the snow, I dunno.”
“Right. Go on.” Andrew locked the store’s door. “I’ll be right there.” [I like how the dialogue here reads casually, conveying information while avoiding straying into “As You Know, Bob” territory.
Overall, this first page definitely has me wanting to read on. I’m eager to find out who has come back and what the significance of their early return could be!]