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Day 28 (Part 1) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Matthew Quinn Martin

Sunday, 22 September 2019  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

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, Matthew Quinn Martin … 

Matthew Quinn Martin is the author of the NIGHTLIFE series (Pocket Star/Simon & Schuster) and the co-writer of the produced feature films SLINGSHOT and BEING (as well as several more in various stages of development). He teaches creative writing at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

Matthew’s recent release …

Three amazing horror tales in one chilling bundle…the only thing you won’t fear is the price!

Enter a world where the streets crawl with unimaginable demons, and a monster can lurk behind every friendly face. Matthew Quinn Martin first terrified horror fans with Nightlife, the captivating story of two unlikely monster hunters determined to save the city of New Harbor from the Night Angels—bloodthirsty creatures that feed on the forgotten. Jack Jackson and Beth Becker are among the few who can see these creatures for what they really are, but as they hunt the creatures, a mysterious organization known only as The Division is hunting them.

In the novella Hazardous Material, we get a glimpse of The Division’s origins and aims when a young man stumbles onto a long-abandoned video arcade—which three decades ago was the site of the largest mass shooting in New York history—and unwittingly uncovers a relic of unimaginable power and mind-altering terror.

And in the never-before-released As the Worm Turns, Jack and Beth are back, along with their faithful dog, Blood. For months they’ve been keeping just one step ahead of The Division, whose enigmatic leader has been pursuing them with the single-minded obsession to capture them by any means necessary. But as Jack and Beth continue their quest to rid the world of the creatures once and for all, they find themselves facing off against something even more terrifying than the Night Angels––something that could hold the key to humanity’s salvation…or its doom.

Simon & Schuster | Amazon | Barnes & NobleGoodreads | eBooks

Matthew’s query critique . . .

Adult: Historical Fiction; Women’s Fiction

Dear Mentor,

New York City, [Are we starting at Bellevue? If so, I’d front load that. It’s a good hook.]  1926: Nurse Althea Anderson devotes herself to her patients despite the long hours, low pay, and male doctors’ skepticism. [Maybe make this concrete? Instead of general mistreatment, perhaps a “last straw” moment. Again, the more hooks you have up front the better your odds.]  But when she’s forced to make a choice between a baby’s life and medical convention [What convention, exactly?], she delves into Coney Island’s sideshows and plunges her orderly life into chaos. [The shift from “saving a child” to “personal turmoil” kind of the lets the air out a bit.]

Poughkeepsie, 1951: Stella Wright is tired. She’s tired of her job teaching students with special needs, she’s tired of fighting with her husband, and she’s tired of missing her mom. [This section doesn’t pack quite the punch as the first one.] In an effort to escape her grief and guilt, Stella returns to her childhood home and finds a letter [Can this be more active? The “call to adventure” moment is always tricky to pull off, and simply “finding” something can sometimes come off as a plot-contrivance. If she’s fulfilling the “fish out of water” role here, this is doubly important.] casting her entire identity into question. Who is Stella Wright? What was Stella’s mother hiding? And who will Stella become? [You don’t need this litany of questions here. You covered it well enough with the declarative sentence.]

Traveling from the chaos of Bellevue Hospital to the incongruity [This is a very Latinate word choice and I don’t think it’s doing you any favors. Most people reading this query are going to be totally unaware of the history of Luna Park. However, the first hit on a Google search will yield a picture a marquees that reads “Born Alive with their Heads Grown Together”…complete with an illustration of just that. Don’t hold any of this back. Not only is it a very compelling piece of history, its relative obscurity gives you an edge in piquing interest.] of Luna Park’s incubator wards, STELLA STAR [I think you can do better with the title. I don’t know if the double invocation of “star” is an allusion to the above mentioned conjoined “mirror” twins. But even if it is, it kind of falls flat. That said, if your book gets published, the publisher will happily change your title if they don’t like it.]  follows two women through events that test not only their bravery [How?] but their values. [What values? Not everybody values the same things. Good opportunity to demonstrate internal friction and essential drama. Don’t let it slip past] Decades apart, Althea and Stella will confront questions of dishonesty, disobedience, and disability. Exploring non-biological family relationships and independence in the style of Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours, STELLA STAR is an engaging narrative that will inspire hours of book club debate. [I’d omit this last section. Not the comp. The comp is fine. The “will inspire hours” part. It’s a close cousin to the “sure to be a bestseller” tag that is best avoided]

Though STELLA STAR will be my debut novel, I have spent my entire life reading and writing. [I’d omit this section. You’d be hard pressed to find a writer who isn’t a live long reader, etc. In addition, cold as it may sound, while this might be your first novel, there is no guarantee it will be your debut. It could end up at the bottom of the sock drawer like a lot of the work of nearly every single mentor on this blog…yours truly, no exception] I am currently an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University double majoring in Elementary Education and Language & Literacy Studies with a minor in Special Education. My experience at a special education preschool particularly has guided me in writing this novel, as Stella is a special education teacher (though the experience was vastly different in 1950). [Honestly, unless you have substantial experience in this field, I’d omit this entire section.]  I am eager to break into the literary world and hope you find yourself equally eager to work with me in doing so! [Losing exclamation points is always a good idea. But, again, you’d be hard pressed to find an aspiring writer who isn’t eager to break in. So you might want to lose the whole thing and focus on the MS. You only get so much room here. Make every word count.]

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


[Writer’s Name]

[OK. This has a lot of potential and I think I will likely garner a fair amount of interest. I, for one, am curious to see how it develops. As far as the query goes, right now it reads a bit too much like “flap copy.”

I’d suggest offering more concrete specifics about how the novel itself is constructed, how the “nesting doll” structure serves the parallel narratives, more details about the plot itself and less about how the scenario affects the (assuming dual) MCs on an vague emotional level.

I’d also recommend spilling a little more ink on the two time periods themselves. 1951 in particular, which at the moment sounds a bit too contemporary…or at the very least, not quite as stifling as the early 50s might have been to a member of (I’m guessing) the silent generation.

Best of Luck


Thank you, Matthew, 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. 

Filed: Workshops

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