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 Kelly Siskind …
A small-town girl at heart, Kelly moved from the city to enjoy the charm of northern Ontario. When she’s not out hiking with her husband or home devouring books, you can find her, notepad in hand, scribbling down one of the many plot bunnies bouncing around in her head. Her novels have been published internationally.
Kelly’s recent release
Some people would call Clementine Abernathy a criminal. She considers herself a modern day Robin Hood, who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. Not exactly on the up-and-up, but she knows what it’s like to lose everything. Her latest heist involves swiping a priceless Van Gogh from its owner, who’s supposed to be an egotistical trust-fund brat.
Turns out Jack David is a sexy, kind-hearted man…and Clementine is in trouble. Falling for her mark would make her the World’s Dumbest Conwoman, but Jack is charmingly persistent, always singing sweet songs in her ear.
And that earth-shattering kiss? She never stood a chance.
Now she’s imagining a fresh start with this dashing man, but that means telling Jack about her past. And other nefarious sorts are after the same painting. Too soon, Clementine learns what it means to risk it all for love.
Kelly’s critique . . .
Category: Adult Commercial Fiction
Up to her Rolex in debt [Brilliant voice in this opener. That simple description of “Rolex” tells a ton about your MC out of the gate.], Victoria Naylor inherits her estranged mother’s small-town Texas restaurant. The downside? The valet shotguns beers on the clock [I had to stop and read this line twice. Something about the “valet” and “shotguns” didn’t process right away. I assume by valet, you mean valet parking. If so, this threw me because it’s a small-town restaurant. I wouldn’t associate valet with small-town. And although “shotgun” is a fun voice-y word, it’s momentarily confusing and leaves me trying to figure out who has a shotgun. The last thing you want is to stop up an agent, even for a second.], the chef conspires with her imaginary friend, and the egotistical assistant manager wants to stab a Texas-sized steak knife [love!] into Victoria’s back. If she could fire them, she would. The problem is, the staffers are her stunningly [I’d rethink this word choice. “Grossly” might be more fitting than “stunningly.”] incompetent siblings and their many offspring—a perpetual family reunion from hell. [This last line totally hooks me. Sets up a fun setting with lots of potential shenanigans.]
What starts off as disastrous takes a turn for the domestically [I don’t see how “domestically” describes these incidents. Consider rewording.] weird as Victoria and her siblings come together to reinvent their dead [The word “late” might ring better here, rather than “dead.”] mother’s struggling restaurant. However, the shakeup within the daily operations sparks a chain reaction of incidents: a break-in, a driverless car crash, and a nosy cop with an agenda pokes [“Poking” flows better than “poke in this instance. I’d also consider shortening that part to: and a nosy cop poking around. Nosy implies having an agenda of sorts, without the other agenda] around. [Maybe add a short Segway here, like this short line: Even worse? Without it, the shock of a killing feels abrupt.]When a former cook attacks Victoria, her brother kills him with a wine bottle blow to the head. In the midst of this [This…what? This terrifying drama… These disturbing events… Add a word or two to describe how your MC is feeling about this situation], the family uncovers a startling truth: their mother, oven mitts deep in criminal dealings, used the restaurant as her base of operations. [I love what this last line insinuates. It adds a great plot twist. But it initially sounds like they’ve actually discovered their mother. With the talk of imaginary friends above and “weird” happenings, I first thought she was possibly a ghost. Also, a lot of this paragraph emphasizes the family’s troubles and mishaps, but they don’t shine a light on how they impact your MC emotionally. A tough but important part of a query is making the reader care about your main character. Consider wording the line as more of a direct discovery with some added personal implications. Example: Victoria uncovers a startling truth: her mother was apparently a criminal mastermind, oven-mitts deep in trouble with the XXX gang. Now Victoria’s brother is xyz, she’s facing possible xyz, and she might lose xyz.]
Navigating through layers of treachery, Victoria must bring the family together, before their mother’s legacy tears them [and her life] apart. [That part I added (and her life) might not apply to your story. I’m just suggesting you add more of a personal impact to your stakes, so we worry more for your MC, however that fits into your story. Also, this story sounds like a blast!]
TITLE, complete at 90,000 words, is a darkly humorous mainstream novel that blends the chaotic family dynamic of THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU with the spirit of Elmore Leonard. It was recently selected as a finalist for The Writers’ League of Texas 2020 manuscript contest.
The question was, how fucked. [Love!]
The red Audi was parked in front of Victoria’s restaurant. [I’d consider fleshing this line out. “The red Audi” is vague. I’d add a deeper connection between that car and the MC to ground us in the shock and worry of the moment, with a bit of backstory attached. Like: Any other red Audi parked in front of Victoria’s restaurant wouldn’t have her xyz. But the last time she saw that particular automobile xyz.]
There was a chance she wasn’t completely fucked, maybe only half fucked. She’d gladly take three-quarters fucked if it spared her from being one-hundred-percent fucked. No matter how she looked at it, that red Audi meant the moment she went inside she was at the very least some kind of fucked. [Killer opener. Hooked me instantly. Packed with voice and has me super curious about what’s going on.]
She pulled on the handle of the metal-framed door and stepped into Down Home Suey, her latest work-in-progress: an Asian-American southern fusion-themed restaurant. Rustic wood-paneled walls offset by checkered tablecloths and linens and softly lit with bamboo nest light pendants [This last part of the description gets a bit longwinded—and linens and softly lit, etc. I’d consider describing a few key elements instead of trying to paint the whole picture, since it doesn’t impact the story at this point.] shouldn’t have worked. But it did. Normally, the harmonious aroma of fried chicken and ginger would greet her, but she barely smelled anything [maybe amp up the voice here and lead better into the next line with something like: but all she smelled was trouble], and the ambiance did little to settle her nerves. All she could think about was the fuckedness. [I would lose this last line. The joke, which was awesome, feels finished at this point. This takes it to the point of losing the great humor you started with, and the sentiment is already implied with the line prior.]
Absent were sounds of waitstaff chatter, the clinking of cutlery during side work [It’s not clear to me what you mean by “side work.” I’m not familiar with the term.], the bustling movement of anyone in the front of the house. Everything was on pause, including her entire staff, who watched as she cruised through the dining room. Her assistant manager, John, a wiry man sporting a yellow tie and black slacks, peeked out of the kitchen, then power-walked over to her, frantically stealing glances behind him.
“Good morning, John,” Victoria said, [no comma needed between said and an adverb] warily. [Also, we know she’s wary at this point. Maybe add more physical reaction instead. Is she sweating? Feeling clammy while she’s trying to become a superhero and see through the walls into the back?]
“Oh my God, we have trouble.”
John’s hands quivered as he performed an adult version of a pee-pee dance [I’m not sure how I feel about this description. It’s cute, but also maybe too “cute.” I’d consider choosing another description.]. “Can you believe they parked it right out in the front? I’ve tried to calm the staff down. Oh, I hate that red car.” [That last line of dialogue reads stiff, like an unnecessary ad-on. I’d rework it.]
Aside from some tweaking here and there, this start is strong and fun and has me wanting to read more. Great writing and great job.