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Day 3 (Part 2) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Sofiya Pasternack

Tuesday, 31 August 2021  |  Posted by Rochelle Karina

Welcome to the Pitch Wars Workshops with some of our amazing past and 2021 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 is a mental health professional, the highly-distractible author of Jewish MG and YA fantasy, and prone to oversharing gross medical stories. She enjoys speaking to crowds about writing and mental health. She does not enjoy running but she does it anyway. She is actually a gremlin in a bad wig.

Her debut novel ANYA AND THE DRAGON won the Sydney Taylor Book Award Honor for Middle Grade, and her follow-up ANYA AND THE NIGHTINGALE won the STBA Honor for Middle Grade, was a National Jewish Book Award Finalist, and was selected as a BookRiot Best Children’s Book of 2020!

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads

Sofiya’s recent release, ANYA AND THE NIGHTINGALE …

Anya and the NightingaleThe adventure continues in this exciting sequel to Anya and the Dragon; 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?

Indiebound | Bookshop.org | Books2Read

Sofiya’s critique . . .

Category: Middle Grade: Contemporary Fantasy


Dear Agent,

Mahina Waiamau never thought she’d be asked to wake a goddess. Especially not with her grandma as a sidekick [Aaahhhhh I LOVE having grandma there as a sidekick! Having read the whole query and coming through a second time, I guess I don’t understand how Pele can be asleep but also sending Mahina visions].

Mahina’s convinced meeting Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, was all a dream. While surfing, Pele ‘gifts’ Mahina a vision of lava destroying her home. She reluctantly joins her grandma in their salt-rusted truck, if only to keep an eye on the old lady. [This paragraph is kind of all over the place. In almost all cases, arranging events in chronological order is your best bet! Like this:

While [Mahima is] surfing, Pele ‘gifts’ her a vision of lava destroying her home. [Good thing it was just a dream… right? But when Mahina tells her grandma about her crazy dream, Grandma is convinced it was real. And] when a giant, man-eating moʻo crashes their search, Mahina realizes that Pele is not the only being from Hawaiian mythology that is real. What other characters could crawl from her late grandpa’s [I think bringing up grandpa earlier would be good. Insert this mention into the paragraph introducing the “dream” of Pele!] stories into the real world? 

Mahina and her grandma must work through their shared grief [I’m assuming grief related to losing her grandpa, but since we don’t know how long ago he passed, I could be way off], collect three mythical objects, and awaken Pele. If they don’t, Kona town and half of Hawaiʻi Island will be buried in fifty feet of lava.

They could warn everyone and evacuate, but who’d believe a twelve-year old and an old lady? [Delete this. The above paragraph’s ending is stronger.]

TITLE, 85,000 words, is an upper middle grade fantasy with series potential. It will appeal to fans of Tehlor Kay Mejia’s Paola Santiago and the River of Tears [put book titles in all caps]. It features a Native Hawaiian protagonist and is written by a Native Hawaiian author.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

[This is an interesting query! Something I like to see in queries is a sense of the character’s passions and goals, and then how those passions and goals are being challenged by the story. For example, Mahima’s ultimate quest is to collect mythical objects and wake Pele to prevent volcanic destruction. How does this quest stand at odds to Mahima’s goals, beliefs, passions, etc? How is it an emotional hurdle for her? How is it difficult? End your query with a challenge—Mahima must give up trinkets of her grandpa’s in order to obtain the items she needs to wake Pele, for example—that makes me wonder how on earth she’s going to overcome and be victorious, and I’ll HAVE to read the book to find out!]

First page:

Hawaiʻi wasn’t supposed to be this cold.

Mahina Waiamau shoved her fingertips into the ridiculously small pockets of her hand-me-down sweater. She glared at the silver-gray sky which threatened a rainstorm. Of course, the rain would start as soon as the teachers took everyone an inconvenient distance from the school bus.

This was why she hated Hilo-side. It was always too cold, too wet, and too cloudy.

A classmate shoved past Mahina, marching along with the stream of students through the narrow walkway between the school bus and a tour bus. Images of giant pink hibiscus flowers sat beneath large tinted windows as if the tourists needed a reminder that they were in Hawaiʻi and on vacation.

“Make sure you stay with your assigned buddy,” a parent chaperone shouted from the end of the bus. Mahina had no idea which of her classmates that particular parent belonged to. Honestly, she didn’t care as long as they left her alone. 

Mrs. Hee, Mahina’s social studies teacher, lifted an orange flag and led the group across the parking lot. She didn’t lead them toward the warm and dry Kilauea Visitor Center. Instead, she walked toward a grass field with only a few trees to block the wind. 

Mahina trudged off the pavement and brushed her fingers along a moss-covered branch of a gray tree. The squishy flakes sloughed off in little clumps and drifted to the ground.

A pair of shiny leather hiking boots flattened the moss almost instantly.

“Watch it,” Mahina said, scowling at the perpetrator.

[This first look at Mahina is interesting! But I’d love to see her get excited about something. She just seems very cynical and grumpy about everything. Granted, it’s just the first page, but it’s a whole first page of grumpiness about literally everything. Include something she likes! Even just for a second!]

Thank you, Sofiya, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2021 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more. 

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