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Day 6 (Part 2) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Denise Williams and Charish Reid

Thursday, 3 September 2020  |  Posted by Stephanie Scott

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 Denise Williams and Charish Reid

Denise Williams

Denise Williams wrote her first book in the 2nd grade. ‘I Hate You’ and its sequel, ‘I Still Hate You,’ featured a tough, funny heroine, a quirky hero, witty banter, and a dragon. Minus the dragons, these are still the books she likes to write. After penning those early works, she finished second grade and eventually earned a PhD in education. After growing up a military brat around the world and across the country, Denise now lives in Iowa with her husband, son, and two ornery shih-tzus who think they own the house. Her day job in education administration involves her ideal mix of people, spreadsheets, planning, and teaching. How To Fail At Flirting, out December 1, 2020 from Berkley, is her debut novel.

Website | Twitter |Facebook | Goodreads

Denise’s Upcoming Release

How to Fail at Flirting

When her flailing department lands on the university’s chopping block, Professor Naya Turner’s friends convince her to shed her frumpy cardigan for an evening on the town. For one night her focus will stray from her demanding job and she’ll tackle a new kind of to-do list.  When she meets a charming stranger in town on business, Jake presents the perfect opportunity to check off the rest of the items on her list. Let a guy buy her a drink. Check. Try something new. Check. A no-strings-attached hook-up. Check…almost.

Jake makes her laugh and challenges Naya to rebuild her confidence, which was left toppled by her abusive ex-boyfriend. Soon she’s flirting with the chance at a more serious romantic relationship—except nothing can be that easy. The complicated strings around her dating Jake might destroy her career.

Naya has two options. She can protect her professional reputation and return to her old life or she can flirt with the unknown and stay with the person who makes her feel like she’s finally living again.

Buy How to Fail at Flirting

Charish Reid

Charish Reid is a fan of sexy books and disaster films. When she’s not grading papers or prepping lessons for college freshmen, she enjoys writing romances that celebrate quirky black women who deserve HEAs. Charish currently lives in Sweden, with her husband, avoiding most forms of exercise.

Website | Twitter | Instagram 

Charish’s Recent Release

Hearts on HoldProfessor Victoria Reese knows an uphill battle when she sees one. Convincing her narrow-minded colleagues at the elite Pembroke University to back a partnership with the local library is a fight she saw coming and already has a plan for. What she didn’t see coming? The wildly hot librarian who makes it clear books aren’t the only thing he’d like to handle.

When a tightly wound, sexy-as-hell professor proposes a partnership between his library and her university, children’s department head John Donovan is all for it. He knows his tattoos and easygoing attitude aren’t quite what she expected, but the unmistakable heat between them is difficult to resist.

And then there’s the intriguing late fee on her record. For the Duke’s Convenience… A late fee and a sexy romance novel? There’s more to Dr. Reese than she’s letting on.

John might like to tease her about her late fee, but when he teases her in other ways, Victoria is helpless to resist. Mixing business with pleasure—and oh, it is pleasure—always comes with risks, but maybe a little casual fun between the sheets is just what Victoria needs.

Buy Hearts on Hold

Denise and Charish’s critique . . .

Category: Romantic Suspense


Dear Pitch Wars Mentor,

Complete at 89,000 words, TITLE is romantic suspense that will appeal to readers of any novel that takes place in remote areas, and who likes solving clues along with the main character, and root for her when danger strikes. [I think this last sentence can be punched up a bit. Currently, it’s not unique to this story.  There’s a lot of exciting things about the manuscript that could make it stand out. What about something like “…is a romantic suspense that takes you to the edge of the world and back. COMP meets COMP? You could also move that up so it reads “ITTLE is COMP meets COMP, a romantic suspense that…]

At twenty-seven, [Is her age significant? If not, perhaps another descriptor could be included to set up the character. Perpetual planner, Sydney or Careful Sydney–something here could give us a hint into her normal world.] Sydney York made [the rest of the paragraph is in present tense] the most impulsive decision of her life. Determined to make good [consider fulfill or realize instead for the sake of flow] on her late father’s dream, she charters a boat and sets sail in [perhaps “to” instead of “in”. In makes it sounds like she originated there] the South Pacific to scatter his ashes. The adventure of her lifetime soon comes to an end when the captain crashes sailboat [Perhaps consider “the sailboat crashes” unless the captain did this intentionally] onto a remote island during a storm. Sydney survives, but the captain is lost at sea.

The island has only one inhabitant—the irresistibly witty [this is a great descriptor–this could also be  a space to set up Hunter’s character against Sydney (like if he’s brooding and she’s bubbly or he’s mysterious, etc.)] Hunter Holden, who has taken up residence there [How long has he been there?] for reasons he refuses to say. His own boat, and only method of escape from the island was damaged in the storm. All Sydney wants is to find a way back home. Hunter wants to keep to himself. Neither wants to fall for the other. But weeks turn into months, and what starts as a cautious flirtation grows into lust, or maybe even love, and Sydney begins to uncover the mystery of the island, Hunter’s past and why he lives there. [We recommend building up the stakes in this paragraph. Why does she need to get home/what danger is looming? If this is told in dual POV, perhaps a hint at the stakes for Hunter. Do they have to work together to survive? Presumably he lives there so would have some mechanisms of getting what he needs and reaching the outside world–why can’t that happen?]

When Sydney returns alone to the USA [This italicized text gives great emphasis but it’s a big jump from the previous paragraph and the emphasis is confusing], Hunter’s past catches up with her—or, rather, the people who were after him are now after her. Stretched to the brink, [What stretched her?] Sydney must decide if Hunter is worth protecting and face jail, or should she run and hide just like Hunter did. [We’re not sure I got law enforcement vibes from people being after him. Is there a hint to give earlier to imply that he is running form the law? A little more about Hunter would be helpful to set this up. Additionally, all the stakes and conflict is really centered in this last paragraph so including a touch more of that above would be helpful.]

First page:

Sweat ran down my back, [This is a great sensory detail–since we’re in first person POV, maybe a bit more descriptive?] sweat ran down my spine, not from hot tropical air [Consider replacing tropical with South Pacific and then omitting the next sentence to keep the story moving as it begins] , but from the realization that I was lost in the ocean, on a sailboat, with a drunkard for a captain [fantastic place to start the book! Put the reader in media res]. I should have known better than to just up and sail in the South Pacific. This was my father’s life dream, not mine, but there I was. I tried to focus, tried to remember that every difficulty could be turned into a learning opportunity, but it didn’t work. The only real wisdom I got out of this situation was to a) not trust strangers, and b) next time, don’t be so cheap. That was, of course, if there was a next time. [This is excellent and we love that you started it in the water].

By noon, I’d turned this piece-of-shit boat inside out, searching, both above deck and below. [Consider starting us in the action here instead of a summary. Something like “I slammed the drawer shut and looked around at the mess. I’d turned….”] Twice. And still I couldn’t find my handheld GPS and satellite phone. Leaving the galley a total mess, I headed up to the lounge, frustrated and scared.[Consider showing the frustration and fear–it might be more powerful and can work well in first person POV.]  Bambi, a small-framed woman with skin so leathery, I’d bet she’d never touched anything marked with an SPF in her life, was resting on a chair near the helm. [We recommend making clear that Bambi is the captain]. Her head bobbed side to side, lolling with the boat’s movement. Her right arm hung down, while the other was curled inside her jacket.

“Bambi.” I yelled. “Open your eyes.” She didn’t flinch. “Where is the Garmin I bought? And the satellite phone?” I took her by the shoulders with a force I didn’t realize I had. She mumbled something incoherent and seemed to attempt to open her eyes. “Did you sell them?” I asked.

She squinted at me. “Hi, Sydney,” she said, with a crooked smile. Her breath reeked of alcohol. Hiring a drunk as the captain would be my luck. “Whatcha want, babe?” she slurred, pulling a nearly empty bottle from under her shirt. I grabbed it out of her hand, almost pulling Bambi out of her seat along with it.

“What is this?” I said, making a big show of checking the label on the bottle as if I didn’t know what it was. “Where did you get it?” A month after we’d sailed from Australia, I’d learned that Bambi was a not-so-recovered alcoholic. [This is a great hook to keep readers turning the page].

Thank you, Denise and Charish, for the critique! We are showcasing three mentor critiques each day leading up to the Pitch Wars 2020 submission window, so make sure to read the other two critiques for today and come back tomorrow for more. 

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