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Day 9 (Part 3) of the Pitch Wars Mentor Workshops with Sari Coritz and Rosalie Lin

Monday, 6 September 2021  |  Posted by Stephanie Scott

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 Sari Coritz and Rosalie Lin

Sari Coritz is a Jewish American writer from Southern Arizona. She writes about the desert, curses and monsters from folklore and her imagination in her fantasy works. She was a PitchWars mentee in 2020 and found her agent Rena Rossner of DH Literary through the showcase. When she’s not writing, she’s a mediocre gardener, devoted cat mom and casual jewelry maker.

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Rosalie LinRosalie M. Lin is a second-generation Chinese-American immigrant who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the most recent decade of her life, she graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Comparative Literature, moonlighted as a pole-dancer in two Beijing nightclubs, tried and failed to get into medical school, and dropped out of a biology PhD program—before seriously pursuing her original dream of becoming a published author. These days, she works in the biotech industry by day and stays up way too late writing. She is an avid dancer and K-pop fan with many, many pets.

Rosalie was a 2020 Pitch Wars mentee. Previously, she attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2012.

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Sari and Rosalie’s critique

Category: New Adult: Literary Fiction


Dear {Agent},

When Frank launches his supposedly earnest club (it isn’t, but don’t tell his classmates) [“supposedly” and the parenthetical
“(it isn’t, but don’t tell his classmates)” convey the same thought, so I would cut 1 of the 2, probably the parenthetical since this is already a fairly lengthy sentence.] dedicated to philosophy and “becoming a good person,”  he didn’t expect it to take the school by storm. [While this intro sentence is voicy, I also find it a bit confusing. I’m not sure what “becoming a good person” is supposed to convey–I get the sense it’s supposed to be sarcastic, however as a reader wanting to be hooked, I’d rather know concretely what this means. Small note: the verb tenses for “launches” and “didn’t” don’t match] He certainly didn’t expect to simultaneously become a cult leader, political kingpin, and budding entrepreneur. [This sentence certainly packs a punch–however it feels very distant from the inciting incident, which I was hoping to be hooked by. I’m wondering, how does launching the club escalate to these three things? In other words, what is the inciting incident?]

Frank originally sets out to prove high school students can become something more than victims of the bell schedule, after one of his peers offhandedly dares him to prove his idealism [idealism regarding what?–we understand you don’t want to five too much away, but we need more detail than this to hook us as readers] has a foundation in reality. [This sentence repeats the same information in the first paragraph. In the interest of word count, we recommend cutting it]Frank makes the naïve assumption that when faced with a satirized version of their moral faults, his classmates will see the light and become mature. [This sentence is also vague. What are satirized faults? We need a clearer picture of what’s being done here] He goes as far as to model his club after the Third Wave to hammer home the irony; surprisingly, his classmates obediently fall in line. [Explain what the Third Wave is. Furthermore, how does Frank model his club after the Third Wave? Does he write a manifesto or hold a meeting? More details would help us develop a clearer picture. This also makes Frank more active, which we want to see in a query.]

But as the club expands in power [how does a club expand in power? power means diff things in diff contexts. is it monetary power? social capital?], Frank finds himself absorbed in his new role, pitting his friends against each other, selling his peers celery juice as part of a bizarre anti-vaping campaign [This sentence is certainly intriguing, however we continue to be confused. How does selling his peers celery juice or petting his friends against each other tie into the Third Wave model, and how do these 3 things relate to self-improvement?], and gradually learning that self-improvement is not the instantaneous process he hoped it was. 

When the club succeeds in turning his high school into a grim dystopia [what makes it a dystopia? So far, we have Frank pitting his friends against each other and selling his friends celery juice as part of an anti-vaping campaign. While these things are certainly chaotic, they don’t really paint a picture for a grim dystopia], Frank must confront if this is “success” how he originally hoped [I am still unclear what is “success” for Frank]—or if at the end, his mistake was assuming that he and his classmates could ever change [what was he hoping to change them to?].

{Title} is a literary fiction novel of 185000 words. [A word-count of 185k is high, especially for literary fiction, which tends to run much shorter than this. We also think this might make sense as a YA contemporary since the protagonists are in high school and the style is voicey. However, it’s hard to say without reading the novel. This is an instance where including a few comps would really help ground the genre] I am an educator with over two decades of experience teaching across fields of STEM; in my spare time, I cook, garden, and take care of my cat.[we love cats!]

First page:

Heller High School stood proudly in a bourgeois residential district about half an hour south of San Francisco, where among streets of flowerbeds and faux Gothic facades a remarkably modern building was situated across a major road, helpfully insulated from the surrounding community. [the first part of this sentence, “Heller High School stood proudly[…] states the same info as the last part of the sentence, “a remarkably modern building was situated[…]. We suggest making the opening sentence more concise]Next to the street were a few grassy fields at ground level [generally fields are at ground level], which were just a bit too marshy for common use besides a few people playing with their dogs early in the morning. A roughly paved path, not unlike a bike trail, wound between one of these fields and the athletic track, which was situated on an ivy platform; the groundskeepers had long ago abandoned the fight to keep the terrain surrounding it, and many of the facilities on the far corners of the campus, free from that green menace. The path twisted and turned slightly as it gained elevation, as the entire campus was built on a slope, a slight one just enough to let despondent students stare out windows and dream of freedom in the city below. When the path passed the chain-link fence and gate that too many PE students recognized intimately, the final destination became more clear: a set of concrete steps that led to one of the many entrances into the school proper. [Opening a novel with an atmospheric setting of the scene is great idea. However, I can’t say I was hooked by this atmosphere–

To the right lay a flat expanse of gray with a basketball court that was rarely used and a shed that only a few truly understood. These were somewhat of a backyard for the theater, which one could enter if they took the side staircase up a level and then acquired a copy of the key. [This paragraph is slightly more interesting, but we think you might be starting in the wrong place? Literary doesn’t always have the most active start, but it should draw the reader in by getting right into the themes and heart of what the book will be about. Maybe consider narrowing in on Frank right away? The book seems to be asking a fundamental question about goodness, and we wonder if it might help to see that at the top of things, rather than just the normal suburban decay]

Thank you, Sari and Rosalie, 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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