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Day 3 (Part 2): Pitch Wars Query and First Page Workshop with mentors Gail Villanueva, Isabelle Adris, and Leigh Mar

Thursday, 11 May 2017  |  Posted by Heather Cashman


Welcome to our Query and 1st Page Workshop with some of our amazing Pitch Wars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected writers to participate in our query and first page workshops. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query or 500 word opening from our lucky winners. We’ll be posting four critiques per day (except weekends) through July 7. Our hope is that these samples will help shine up your query and first page and that you’ll get to know some of our wonderful Pitch Wars mentors. We appreciate our mentors for giving up their time to do the critiques. If you have something encouraging to add, feel free to comment below. Please keep all comments tasteful. We will delete any inappropriate or hurtful ones.

 First up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor Leigh Mar …

Leigh Mar ?

Leigh Mar is a marketing and communications professional and a young adult author represented by Elana Roth Parker at Laura Dail Literary Agency. She’s a former Pitch Wars mentee (class ’15) turned mentor. Leigh loves to travel (both in reality and through fiction), has an excellent sense of direction, and only ever gets lost on the internet. Twitter: Twitter | tumblr

Leigh’s Query Critique . . .

[Leigh’s comments]

Leigh’s suggestions for content.

Dear Pitch Wars Query Mentor,

Maggie Morris spent every night in her childhood by her bedroom window, waiting for a flying boy who never came. [This initial phrasing tripped me up a bit, I kept wanting to read it in present tense, consider rearranging so we know Maggie is now 18 and thinking back to her childhood. Suggested rework to try to pull all those need-to-know details upfront]: Eighteen-year-old Maggie Morris spent every night in of her childhood by her bedroom window, waiting for Peter–the flying boy from grandmother Wendy’s stories. Now eighteen and at the cusp of her society debut, Maggie is disappointed that Peter never came and dismayed to learn becoming an adult isn’t the adventure she hoped for [preach!]. Corsets pinch and afternoon teas bore [I love this line! Concise, brings great voice to the query which is tough to do]. Far worse, her mother is determined to marry her off to a chauvinistic marquess who sees her only as a pretty prize to be won. But just Aas Maggie wonders is questioning if real love [true love? I think the phrase gives more of a fairy tale vibe] is as much a myth as her beloved fairy-tales, Peter arrives. [The only other thing I’d like to work into this intro paragraph is what era the story takes place in. It sound like it could be anywhere from Victorian London to the 1920’s/30’s? Or maybe it’s an alternate modern-day society?]

Once in Neverland [Let’s transition a little more here, explain how we jump from paragraph 1 to Neverland. Suggested: Peter whisks Maggie away to Neverland where…] she discovers life on the island is wildly different from her grandmother’s stories [Note: When I got to hear I backtracked to mention that Wendy was her grandmother in the first para]. The Lost Boys are long gone [love the phrasing here too], victims of a mysterious tribe of Shadow Eaters. After so many trips to the real world, Peter is no longer a little boy, though his childish antics often leave her in peril [Suggest switching the order here – start with Peter sentence, then Lost Boys sentence, since we’ve already “met” Peter]. Captain Hartfield isn’t a pirate at all but a handsome, hooked naval officer [yessss] with a hook for a hand. He [Hartfield? Or Peter] appreciates Maggie’s curious mind and hunger [thirst?] for knowledge [if this is a key trait of Maggie’s maybe work in to intro para? Could be a good add on to the “…only as a pretty prize to be won” line, a la “only as a pretty prize to be won, not as an inquisitive scholar? Researcher? Aspiring scientist? Name the quality that feeds into this thirst for knowledge descriptor]. They fall in love but their life together is threatened when the King of the Shadow Eaters fixes his attention on Maggie. [let’s reframe this to clarify the stakes] But when the King of the Shadow Eaters fixes his attention on Maggie, her new relationship with [Hartfield?] is ___ [What’s the threat? What does the King want? To take her away in order to hurt Hartfield? To kill her? To use her mind? To have her for his own? Get a little specific if you can]

[See notes here, then suggested rework below] After the King’s attack, Peter steals Maggie back to London where she learns a dark family secret [How does the secret change things for Maggie? How does this up the stakes in the story?] Unable to return to Hartfield, Maggie must outwit the portentous advances of her would-be fiancé and navigate her mother’s ambitious schemes. [Unable to return sort of makes it seem like the story is over here? I want hope that she’ll return! Is she still trying to? I would combine these two sentences (below) and fill in the blank after “unless.”]

To protect Maggie from the King, Peter returns her to London where Maggie once again finds herself dodging the portentous advances of her would-be fiancé and navigating her mother’s ambitious schemes. But when she discovers a dark family secret, she realizes she may never be able to return to Hartfield..UNLESS _____ ???

Complete at 99,316,000 words [round word counts to the nearest thousand], my debut YA novel, Grasping at Shadows GRASPING AT SHADOWS [MS titles go in all caps] is a YA reimagining of Peter Pan similar to Once Upon a Time [Italics] meets and Downton Abbey [Italics] and that will appeal to fans of Robin McKinley’s Beauty [All caps] and Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty. [All caps]

I have a BFA in Theatre Design and Production from the University of Michigan—where I took as many British history classes as I could—and have stage-managed more productions of Peter Pan than I’ll readily admit to. [Great bio line – concise, shows your relevant expertise, and personable!]

Thank you for your time and consideration.

This sounds like a really fun re-imagining of the Peter Pan world! I love how you’ve put a fresh spin on this well-known story by carrying it on to the next generation. I also love the voice that shows through in this query. My main suggestions are to get a little more specific with some of the stakes that drive this story (I can tell they are there! Just pull them out a bit more in the query). Good luck in the query fields and/or Pitch Wars this year!

Next up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentors Gail Villanueva and Isabelle Adrid …

Gail Villanueva is a Filipina author based in the Philippines. She runs a design studio with her husband in the outskirts of Manila, but also does freelance copywriting on the side. When not in front of her computer coding a website or writing a story, you’ll find her in the gail&isabellebackyard, playing with four dogs, five ducks, a chicken, a turtle, and a cat. Gail writes upmarket MG, both historical and contemporary, and with elements of magic. Her fiction is represented by Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media Group.

Find Gail: Twitter | Website

Isabelle Adrid is a YA author who writes contemporary fiction with speculative elements. She is also an avid reader of MG books. She was born and raised in San Diego, and she currently resides in the Philippines. When she’s not writing or reading books, you’ll find her binge-watching TV shows, movies, and Korean dramas. Her work is represented by Kimberly Brower of Brower Literary and Management.

Find Isabelle: TwitterWebsite

Gail and Isabelle’s First Page Critique . . .

Age Category: Middle Grade

Genre: Fantasy based on Middle Eastern Legend

Chapter One

I inherited wealth and enemies. [This is a great first line] My earliest memories are of my dear father, the Sultan of India, putting me on his lap and confiding his dreams for my reign. His lap, draped in brocaded silk, was slippery, and only his firm arms prevented me from sliding off his robe onto the thick Kashmiri rug. He dreamt of prosperity in the form of well-fed armies, glorious battles, and libraries full of scrolls, books, and maps for all who could read. I drank in his dreams, shared over cups of cardamom-spiced tea and sweets that replaced themselves upon his magic platter. [This is nice and we love the worldbuilding, but we suggest finding another word for “dream,” since you use it three times in this paragraph and once in the next. It becomes redundant and obvious to the reader.]

Everyone reminded me that I, Hussain Jafri, would be the future Sultan. It was my father’s dream, and an understandable one. But I did not share it. [We’re wondering, why doesn’t Hussain share this dream?] I dreamt of riding my favorite stallion, Kaladhar, throughout all of India, meeting strangers face to face, sharing local dishes, and learning the regional songs.[We like this, but it might be stronger if you introduce Kaladhar a different way. Instead of telling the reader, it could be stronger if you “show” it.]

I loved singing, despite my father’s disapproval. [This is something that can be shown later as well. Plus, we’re not sure how this is relates to the current narrative. The general flow of words could be smoother.] As my voice soared, my spirit burst free as a bird above the jungle canopy, though according to my younger brothers, Ali and Ahmed, my voice registered somewhere between that of a hyena and a wild boar.[Absolutely love this line. “Between that of a hyena and a wild boar.”]

When I could free myself from my tutors, I discarded my royal turban for a common scarf and snuck out of our hillside fort. The guards on the oft unused Eastern Gate assisted my escape. By the age of eight I had befriended them with sweets from the royal kitchen.[We like it, but we feel like there might be too much backstory.] My father always taught the value of loyal guards, though I doubt he would approve of my use of such loyalty to escape the walls unattended. But beyond the walls, I could be one with my Rajasthani people. They shared meals with me and merely laughed if a monkey stole my bread.[At this point, we feel that everything sounds very tell-y. We suggest adding more action and dialogue, so the reader can stay invested in the story.]

Now that I was ten and skilled with my bow, the guards allowed me to ride Kaladhar[We like Kaladhar, but since he seems pretty important in the story, maybe it would be stronger to “show” the reader how important he is.] through the gate regularly. Kaladhar, whose name meant One Who Demonstrates Different Phases Like the Moon, was really only moody when tigers roamed too close. And that warning was fine with me. I loved big cats, but I preferred a long distance relationship.[Change “long distance relationship.” It doesn’t fit well with the narrative and it doesn’t sound like something a kid would say.]

I risked being noticed as royalty on Kaladhar, given his high breeding, but he was my friend and we kept each other safe. The royal Kathiawar [There might be too many details/names being thrown in the first few pages. Could this be explained later?] breed, derived from the northern Arabian horses, had protected my ancestors for centuries.  Even uneducated villagers could recognize a Kathiawar, with their distinctive curved ears tips that formed an oval over their head.

Usually, Kaladhar and I travelled downhill through the forest of palms and Neem trees while monkeys dropped leaves on our heads and parrots called out their warnings [You might want to consider separating this into two sentences]. Sweet ripening fruits and elephant dung scented [You can find a better word to use–instead of “scented”] the damp air. A small clearing, hidden off the path from passing merchants and religious pilgrims, lay to the left in a small hallow. There, I would sit astride my grey stallion and sing to my heart’s content, waving my arms like a drunken stork. [We love the overall voice and what you’re doing, but we’re having a hard time imagining the phrase “waving my arms like a drunken stork.” We suggest finding a more appropriate object/animal to use in the simile.]

While the first page tells us about who Hussain is, you might want to consider revealing the backstory as the narrative moves along. This way, your beginning isn’t overwhelmed with info, and you’ll have room to entice readers with the conflict. Your first line already sets this up quite well (like we said, we totally love your first line). It made us curious about Hussain’s enemies, and can be a great starting point for giving a glimpse of what his main struggle will be.

Overall, we find the voice appropriate for MG and the genre. There’s an almost ethereal feel to it, which is great in setting the atmosphere of a fantasy world.

Thank you, Leigh, Gail, and Isabelle, for your critiques!

Interested in more critiques? We’ll be posting critiques through the first part of July. Hope you’ll read on. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 19 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 2.


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