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Day Thirteen of July’s First Page Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentors … Kara Leigh Miller & Max Wirestone

Friday, 17 July 2015  |  Posted by Nikki Roberti

B 1st page workshop

Welcome to July’s First Page Workshop with some of our past and present PitchWars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected many wonderful writers to participate in the workshop. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a first page for one lucky writer. The writers are anonymous. Follow along all month to view the first page critiques. We welcome comments and further suggestions, but please keep them kind and respectful.

Here are the next two mentors and their critiques …

Kara Leigh Miller_Author PicKara Leigh Miller

Website | Twitter | Facebook

Kara lives in Upstate New York with her husband, three kids, three dogs, and three cats. When she’s not busy writing romance novels that leave readers swooning, she’s spending time with her family or attending one of her many writers groups. An active member of The Romance Writers of America and the CNY Writers Haven, Kara is also Managing Editor for Anaiah Press’ Surge and Romance Imprints. She absolutely loves to hear from her fans and fellow authors, so feel free to drop her a line anytime!

About Kara’s Book…


He’s fighting to forget his past while she struggles to remember hers…

Doctor Josh Parker lives with guilt about his wife’s death every day.

He believes himself incapable of ever loving again, but when a mysterious woman arrives in the Emergency Room, brutally beaten and left for dead, he starts to feel something he hasn’t felt in far too long: hope.

Alessandra Matthews has no memory of the events that led to her being hospitalized. Worse, she has no idea who hurt her or why. Although she’s uncertain of who she is, she is fully aware of one thing—she’s falling for her doctor.

Sometimes, what you don’t know can kill you…

As Josh and Alessa work to solve the mystery surrounding her past, she soon realizes just how much danger she’s really in, but Josh refuses to let her face the darkness of her memories alone. With each of them struggling to put their pasts behind them, theirs is a DANGEROUS LOVE.





Kara’s first page critique …

Smoke and sulfur billow up my nose from the frothy mess and stink of demon death. (Dig deeper here. HOW does it smell? Let your readers experience it, too.) The torrential downpour I’d created, by blowing up my spaceship in the atmosphere, (Aw, why don’t we get to see this?) dissolves the army of demons sent by Hell to kill me. This is a fantastically dark opening! 🙂 It certainly makes me want to keep reading, which is good.

I spread my arms, and tilt my face to Jupiter, the gas giant forever looming above Callisto’s horizon, like I’d done countless times when I was human during a mid-summer rainstorm, and wait my turn to die. This sentence is very long, and I had to re-read it a couple times to understand what you were trying to convey. I’d suggest cutting the part I crossed out. I don’t think we need to have that tidbit of information at this point, and it detracts from the impact of the main character waiting to die.

Nothing happens.

Well, not nothing. Thunderclouds sound their victory over Hell. Rain slices across my skin like razor blades. (Nice description!) It burns like a son of a bitch. More like, granddaughter of Lucifer. Maybe that’s why I’m not dissolving with the rest of them.

Damn. Even as a demon, I’m not normal. (Ha! I love this line. It says so much in so few words.)

I plop down on the wooden dock hovering over the lake. The last of the dying horde sizzle into muddy ash. Rain thuds against the coating of grime creating a barrier over the top of the water. My clawed feet and segmented tail (Okay, wait. I’m confused. Above she referenced ‘when she was human’ then she said ‘granddaughter of Lucifer’ which I took to literally mean she was Lucifer’s granddaughter. Is she not? How did she go from being human to being a demon? If she is Lucifer’s granddaughter, then I find this description is a tad cliché. I know it’s true to how Lucifer has been pictured, which is actually more of a caricature than anything. And it would stand to reason that his granddaughter would get his genes passed down. But, Lucifer is an angel who fell from Heaven for the sin of Pride. He’s supposedly very beautiful. So unless he mated with a true demon, (but then the whole ‘once human’ thing still doesn’t make sense) this description doesn’t feel genuine. Personally, as a reader who consumes a lot of angel / demon stories, I’m going to have a hard time taking this character seriously with this image of her in my mind. Sorry 🙁 Of course, this is just the first page, so her looks and parentage may be more fully described later in the book. And I’m probably way over thinking this. Lol. But still, I’m confused by who she truly is.) dangle inches above the turbid pool. Gripping the side of the dock, I force splinters into my palms, anything to distract me from the pain in my heart. (Now this is interesting… Great foreshadowing of impending conflict.)

The rocky hillside surrounding me, expanding out from the lake like a stadium, sparkles in hues of purple and yellow in the fading light. The metal ore and exposed crystals glimmer like earth-bound stars. Tall, evergreen trees stand sentinel, casting distorted shadows across the valley. You’ve done a great job building the suspense and planting questions in my mind, but slipping into setting description here is losing me. I’d suggest reworking this to keep the momentum going. Confession: I’m a skim reader, and when I read for pleasure, I totally skim over sections like this. I know, it’s not a good thing to do, but I also know I’m not alone. The last thing you’d want is for an agent / editor to “get bored” and stop reading. There’s certainly a place for descriptions, but I’m not sure your first page is it.

If only those trees had been soldiers instead. Can you end with something stronger? More of a hook? I’m not sure this line would compel me to turn the page.

This is certainly an engaging first page. Personally, I’m a sucker for demons (and angels) so I’m intrigued already for that reason alone. You start by setting a very dark, ominous scene and it drew me right in. With that said, it’s also telling. Why don’t we get dropped right into the action of her fighting these demons? Or seeing her blowing up her spaceship? While the opening is strong, I think it could be stronger. Even if you don’t want to show the battle, I’d suggest engaging the senses more. Let the readers really experience the smells and sounds and sights. Also, I didn’t really get a feel for her as a character. I don’t even know her name. What’s she feeling? Is she injured from the battle? I got a sense of melancholy toward the end, which generally doesn’t fit with the actions / emotions of a battle. It’s cool because it’s definitely not expected, but I’d like to feel a tad more connected to the main character. You’re on the right track and your descriptions really are fantastic. I think with a little tightening, this could be stellar first page : I’d certainly keep reading!


maxMax Wirestone

Website | Twitter

Max Wirestone is a librarian in a small New Hampshire town.  His first book, the geek-themed mystery THE UNFORTUNATE DECISIONS OF DAHLIA MOSS will be published in hardcover  (and audio) in October.  He is a currently at work on his second Dahlia book, a fantasy inspired by IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD, a “parenting noir” novella, and a machine that will somehow create more hours in his day.




About Max’s book …

51HxKyBIRSL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The odds of Dahlia successfully navigating adulthood are 3,720 to 1. But never tell her the odds.

Meet Dahlia Moss, the reigning queen of unfortunate decision-making in the St. Louis area. Unemployed broke, and on her last bowl of ramen, she’s not living her best life. But that’s all about to change.

Before Dahlia can make her life any messier on her own she’s offered a job. A job that she’s woefully under-qualified for. A job that will lead her to a murder, an MMORPG, and possibly a fella (or two?).

Turns out unfortunate decisions abound, and she’s just the girl to deal with them.





Max’s first page critique …

Katie woke feeling out of sorts. This is not the strongest opening sentence, for a number of reasons. First, the MC waking up is a cliché you’ll want to avoid, and secondly, it’s a little dry. A sense of foreboding hovered over her like a dark, turbulent storm cloud. A cliché again, two in two sentences. Not surprising, considering she’d been struck by lightning, blasted through a black hole, and hurtled into strange, unknown dimensions. And here we have a cute idea—but I’m not sure that it justified the languid opening.

“That was one wild and crazy dream,” she murmured, nestling back under the soft, fluffy white covers. This is a very leisurely opening. Why does the book open here? Who is Katie? Why do we care about her?

She rested for a while longer, shaking off the dream, waking up gradually, in her own time, as she’d had the luxury of doing every day since her layoff from the bank six months ago. In her own time, indeed. All of this seems like preamble–

Rolling to her side, Katie stretched, rubbed her eyes and peered outside the window where dawn emerged in a slow unison with her awaking. A brilliant orange ball emerged from the horizon. Blinking her eyes open, Katie watched in awe as it enlarged, moved closer and then lifted into the sky, leaving bursts of orange, purple and yellow in its wake. As it climbed, the ball transformed from orange to bright yellow, ultimately securing its position high up in the deep blue sky.

This is a very peculiar and removed description of a sunrise; I’m wondering why it’s written in such an unusual way, and also, still, what is the significance of this scene.

Nature enveloped her in its magnificence. It was kind of like motorcycle riding, being up close and personal with Mother Nature, but this was even grander. Katie felt like a resident in the clouds, stimulated by all of the colors working synergistically with her senses.

I’ve peeked ahead to the subsequent paragraph, and so I see where we’re going now. But I still feel like this paragraph is overwritten; you’re laying it on pretty thick here.

She sat up, rubbed her eyes and leaned toward the window to take a closer look. What Katie saw was astonishing, beyond belief. Her oversized soft bed was not a bed at all – she was sitting on a big white puffy cloud, floating leisurely across the serene blue sky. The breathtaking sunrise she’d seemingly observed through her window had just taken place all around her.

And your reveal. I see what you were going for, but I’m still honestly a little skeptical. The way you’ve structured these reveals on Katie (and the reader) feel very forced. And aside from that, why not just begin with what the story is about?

Why wasn’t she afraid?

Instead, she felt fabulous—physically and emotionally…and experienced a sense of peace she hadn’t known in a very long time.

She’s an angel, I’m guessing? But I’m not intrigued so much as I am annoyed that you’re keeping the story from me.

I’ll just go with the flow. It was something she’d been trying to do more of since her layoff.

So Katie sat. And floated. As her cloud drifted along, it occasionally passed other clouds. She hummed along with the song in her head and then in harmony with birds singing their morning melody.

A few minutes or a few days later (she wasn’t sure as things here were so unfamiliar), Katie contemplated her situation. Running a hand through her long hair, it all came tumbling back. The motorcycle ride, Cunningham Falls, the accident.

“What’s going on?” she asked as uncertainty gripped her. “Where am I?”


There are some problems with this 250. First of all, it seems incredibly written around a particular reveal, and is really putting all your eggs in one basket. I question this strategy because if an agent has read your query immediately before this, as would be the case, they will already know the reveal and it will have no power, even if executed perfectly. (Or, in the case of a reader, they’ve picked up your book and seen Angel Katie on the cover.)

And I’m not sure this idea is perfectly executed. If you want to keep the reveal, you need to spin it out much more quickly. Watching someone we don’t know wake up isn’t exciting, regardless of the circumstances.

I’d refocus the 250 so that it’s less about surprising the reader, and more about establishing the main character. I can’t tell you much about Katie, right now except possibly that she’s a slow riser. Something about a layoff, and a job at a bank, but’s all so vague. Give me a solid idea to hang onto and to root for.


Thank you, Kara and Max, for your critiques. Interested in more first page critiques? Come back tomorrow for our next two critiques by Pitch Wars mentors, and while you’re here, check out our June posts for our mentors’ query critiques.  And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts August 2 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening August 17.

Want a critique or books from our Pitch Wars mentors, some awesome authors, agents, and editors? We have an auction going on to help one of our mentors save her home. There’s critique, signed books, and other items to bid on. Go here to view all the donations and make a bid. 

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