Welcome to the July Query & 1st Page Workshop with some of our PitchWars mentors. We selected many wonderful writers from a drawing held in June to participate in the workshop. Each mentor has graciously critiqued either a query or first page for two writers. The writers are anonymous and the titles/genres are hidden. Follow along all month to view the critiques. We welcome comments and further suggestions, but please keep them kind and respectful.
Here are the next two mentors and their critiques …
Jaye Robin Brown
Jaye Robin Brown, or Jro to her friends, lives and writes in the mountains north of Asheville, North Carolina. When not writing, you can find her in the art room of the high school where she teaches, or chilling on her fourteen acre farm.
Her debut young adult novel, NO PLACE TO FALL, comes out December 9, 2014 from Harper Teen. It’s about dreams, singing, friendship, love, betrayal, family, and mistakes. It’s also a love song to small town girls and mountain music, both of which shape the area that Jaye now calls home.
Signed pre-orders are available from Malaprops bookstore in Asheville, NC. http://www.malaprops.com/book/9780062270993
Jaye’s critiques …
Critique #9 – Query:
Just another day in Purgatory (Not sure this line is needed, I found it a bit confusing, think it’s better to jump into the “what” of the story, or turn it into a full sentence, “For Del, every day is just another…..”)
Del (depending on what you do above, this may need to change to she) hates her job ferrying souls from Purgatory to Heaven–she deserves to be an angel, but she was unable to control her earthly vices when she lived. (Think you should have a period after Heaven, lose the double dash (and em dashes are joined, on a Mac it’s shift+option+dash) The next bit is an opportunity for voice. How does Del say she deserves to be an angel? Is she sassy? Can we hear that? Also what specific earthly vice or vices was she unable to control – be more specific. This will give us an insight into her character and is an opportunity to snag the reader.) Now she’s stuck with the consequences, until Archangel Gabriel offers her a chance to investigate mysterious deaths of pure souls. (Maybe here is a chance to reference the universe imploding?) If she can find out who’s behind the deaths, she might have a shot at her angelic dream (and saving the universe?). (can you be more specific about this angelic dream – what exactly would she gain – think of one or two well-placed sensorial details – also an opportunity to show us what matters to your character)
Sounds simple enough The job sounds simple enough, except she’s accompanied by Reece, a Lust Temptor from Hell. No, seriously. He works for “the other side,” and he’s really good at his job. (which is what? – I can guess, but specificity is always the way to go.) All dark-Irish sexuality, Reece has decided his next conquest is going to be Del. So now she’s got to find a killer–who may be a Dark Prince of Hell (why is this bad? I don’t know what a Dark Prince of Hell is- also correct your double dashes to em dashes)–and keep her pride at bay (so is her pride why she’s in Purgatory? This is a nice circular reference, if you’d named it in the first paragraph, though I still think pride is sort of vague – maybe in that first paragraph you can speak to some chaos or problem her pride caused?) While avoiding , all while avoiding the temptation presented by Reece. And all before the imbalance of souls causes the universe to implode. (This stake seems to be introduced too late in the query to bring it up cold – is it connected to the Archangel’s request? Or the Dark Prince of Hell? Is it necessary for the query? Without, her main objective seems to be leaving Purgatory for Heaven with the problem of romance in the way. With it, the story seems to be more complex – I bounced back up to the paragraph above to show where you might address it if you choose to keep these stakes in the query) Right. Just another day in Purgatory.
Follow up with a short paragraph about your writing life, is there anything that makes you the person to write this story, and thank you’s. (If this is an Austin re-imagining, then I’d note that in the query as well)
Overall, I like the query, short and compact, which is my preference, you just need to focus on the specifics without adding too much to the overall length. Good luck!
Critique #10 – First Page:
A clamor of rooks exploded up through the treetops, almost drowning out the woman’s scream. (I think the woman’s scream should come in the next paragraph. I would end the first sentence at treetops. Short and powerful. Though I would join this shortened sentence to the next paragraph where we meet our MC)
Morgan put his heels to Arnicus’ flanks and the big grey quickened its (I would assign the horse a gender pronoun or “big grey stallion/gelding/mare” plus “his/her”) pace along the narrow forest trail. The raucous cries of the rooks died away in the distance (maybe “as they flew off” rather than “in the distance” so we see the birds’ action) and a watchful silence took the woods, broken only by the thud of Arnicus’ hooves on the summer-dry earth (nice detail). (here maybe add a sentence about Morgan listening to see if he heard the scream again, which would lead us nicely into the next paragraph.)
There was no good reason that a woman, screaming or otherwise, should be out here in the middle of nowhere. But that didn’t matter—what mattered was that she was in trouble. And, Morgan acknowledged as he loosened his sword in its sheath, he had never been one to shy away from trouble. No soldier was, or he didn’t stay a soldier for long. (These second two sentences feel telling. Can you show us how Morgan never shies away from trouble rather than telling us? Also I’d like a sense of who Morgan is, this might be a good place for it, without telling, of course.)
An odd rumbling thrumming suddenly shook the forest in rhythmic vibration. It sounded a bit like a heavily laden cart rumbling down one of Caerfaen’s cobbled streets. But out here in the forest there were no cobbles, and certainly not much room to maneuver any kind of cart or wagon. Puzzled (can you show us puzzled and is this the right word? Puzzled doesn’t convey a sense of urgency), Morgan rode on in search of the mysterious screaming woman. (I feel like this paragraph takes me out of the immediacy of him looking for the woman – maybe this paragraph should be flipped with the one below)
Reason cautioned that the scream might be part of a trap designed to lure an unwary rider into an ambush. Possible, but not likely; it (maybe “the woman’s cries” , more specific than “it”) had sounded too terrified not to be genuine. Still, there was no point in rushing in blindly to whatever situation awaited him. Morgan strained senses sharpened over countless forest patrols, trying to catch any hint of lurking danger.(this last sentence is confusing, think you have a missing word or typo).
I like the feeling of action and urgency in the first part of this piece. My suggestion would be to keep that for a bit longer before introducing additional elements (such as the thrumming). First pages should give us a sense for genre (I’m guessing fantasy), the MC (the horseman and soldier, but I want a bit more), the setting (some potentially dangerous woods), tone and voice. How your MC responds in this descriptive situation is going to relate to both voice and tone, so it’s important to show us rather than tell us. But this is a very solid start on what seems to be a story promising intrigue and adventure! Good luck!
Kara Leigh Miller
Kara is a multi-genre published author, and an avid reader with eclectic tastes that range from the tame to the taboo. She combines her knowledge and prior editing experience with a passion for the written word and a love of all things romance. She’s excited to help her fellow authors recognize their dreams of publication and is thrilled about working toward that goal as Managing Editor at Anaiah Press. Currently residing in Upstate New York, Kara spends her free time with her husband, kids, and pets – she has a weakness for cats and Pit Bulls.
When not stuck in the editing or writing caves, you can find Kara on her website (www.karaleighmiller.com), Twitter (www.twitter.com/KaraLeighMille1), and on Facebook: (www.facebook.com/AuthorKaraLeighMiller). She loves to interact, so stop by and say hi!
ICE GOLD by Kara Leigh Miller
Colton Campbell thrives on the fast paced, adrenaline rushed lifestyle of being an Olympic hockey player. Despite Brenna Jessup’s abhorrence for the games and the athletes, she’s hand-picked as the official photographer for the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. When a faux pas by Brenna almost costs Colton his career, she owes him. Too bad for her, Colton doesn’t want apologies — he wants retribution! And he knows just how to get it — and her — in the process.
Kara Leigh’s critiques …
Critique #11 – First Page:
I can do this. (I like this! This is a good opening line that raises questions in readers’ minds. It makes them want to continue reading.)
“God, look at the freak show,” a girl said as I walked by.
Don’t think. Walk. One foot in front of the other. I kept my
eyes gaze down and wiped sweaty palms on my black leggings. My stomach churned, threatening to expel the Cheerios I had for breakfast. My boots echoed through the unfamiliar hallway as I searched for the classroom listed on my schedule. First Hour: Study Hall: Room: Library. I blew a strand of hair out of my eyes. Every time I looked up, I saw the world through a curtain of purple bangs. (This is a really neat way to show her physical attributes without simply dropping them in like facts during the narrative.) Dark kohl liner I put on with a shaky hand this morning ringed my eyes, and I rubbed at an itch on my right one. A smudge of black on my finger told me I probably looked like a deranged raccoon now.
A bubble of hot anxiety pushed against my chest. You’re not dying. It’ll pass like it always does. I fingered my necklace, the sharp points of the Star of David dug into my palm as I walked. A tiny brown Buddha bounced next to the silver cross and the Virgin Mary charm made tiny clicks. I prayed to all four. (These are all great little details, and I’m intrigued by the fact she prays to four different religions. I would definitely keep reading to find out why.) Please don’t let me pass out. But the bubble swelled. A door off to the side partially open beckoned. (This sentence is awkward. I suggest a rewrite. Maybe: A partially opened door off to the side beckoned me.) I raced to it. I have to get out. Now.
Welcome to the first day of high school, Zoey. Congratulations, you made it
for a whole ten minutes.
This is a strong opening page in that you’ve done a great job showing the readers Zoey’s emotions and nerves. However, I felt it focused a bit too much on the physical descriptions/reactions she’s having. I would have liked to see a bit more action, maybe even some dialogue.
Critique #12 – Query:
Isadora was at the park with her young son when he wandered away, and she set out after him — that’s the last she can recall. (Wow! Way to come out swinging. Lol. This is a great, attention grabbing first line for a query!)
Left to mourn her only child, she endlessly waits for her husband Sebastian to come home, though he has no intention of returning. Instead, he’s left their Pacific Northwest city to bury his past in Amsterdam and a beautiful woman named Marien. (This whole paragraph feels a bit wordy and jumbled. I also feel there is some missing information here. The query jumps from a missing child to memory loss to an absent husband. Where was Sebastian when the child went missing? When did Sebastian leave? Before or after the child went missing? If the last thing Isadora remembers is going after her child, how does she even remember her husband? This paragraph needs some work. Because I don’t know the answers to these questions, I’m going to make them up so I can give you an example of how to tighten this section up a bit. EX: As if having to mourn her only child isn’t hard enough, Isadora is now faced with having to mourn her husband, Sebastian, too. Unable to handle the grief, or his own dark past, Sebastian leaves their Pacific Northwest city to lose himself in Amsterdam, and a beautiful woman named Marien.)
To help Isadora make sense of Sebastian’s departure from her life
after their son’s death, (this tidbit of information should be in the above paragraph) she consults with the odd yet sympathetic, Dr. Jonas Krueger, for hypnosis. When Isadora arrives at his office, neither of them realize the Doctor, now offering to help her, was involved in not only her son’s death, but in Isadora’s as well. (Whoa! Didn’t see that coming. Lol. This seems like a big plot twist. Are you sure this is something you want to give away in a query letter? The purpose of a query is to tease and entice, not give away all the secrets of the plot. I think, if worded correctly, you can hint at this without actually saying it. ) You see, Isadora has unfinished business that keeps her here and unable to understand that she’s dead ,too. (This is repetitive. We already know she’s dead.) As the Doctor guides Isadora into her subconscious and toward the events leading up to her death, he’s forced to face his own guilt, whether or not either of them are ready.
Under hypnosis, Isadora recounts her relationship with the man who shaped her: a touching coming-of-age love story that matures into the trials of her marriage to Sebastian, an enigmatic and beguiling artist. (I would merge this paragraph with the one below.)
After waking, she travels to Amsterdam to find Sebastian, who she discovers revealed a painful secret to her in the days leading up to her death. (Hypnosis didn’t help her remember this?) It’s a secret Isadora believes holds the key she needs to move on. But, as she digs deeper into her memory and Sebastian’s new life in Amsterdam, nothing is quite as it seems.
LOVE, LITTLE BIRD is an 90,000 word literary novel with elements of magical realism. A story of forgiveness, redemption and enduring love, it will appeal to readers of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones and Janet Fitch’s White Oleander.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
The premise of your story is great! And if I saw this as a blurb on the back of a book, I’d definitely pick it up and read it J From an editor’s standpoint, it put me through a range of emotions. I loved the opening sentence. It drew me right it. If I’d seen that as a Twitter pitch, I’d be favoriting it so fast it would make my head spin, but anyway, back to the actual query letter. I was extremely disappointed when I read Isadora was dead. I felt deflated, like the big plot twist had just been spoiled for me. And honestly, if this query landed in my inbox, I probably wouldn’t read the manuscript. I feel like, why should I? I already know the big secret – the main character is dead! Yeah, I’m a little intrigued to find out why the doctor was involved in both her and the child’s death, but I’m not sure I’m curious enough to read a full 90k word novel to find out. The best advice I can give you is to cut all mention of Isadora’s death from the query. Hint at the fact she has a big secret, but don’t tell what it is. Make the agent/editor read your book to find out.
Also, and maybe you just chose to omit this because of the nature of this contest, but be sure to include a paragraph about you, the author. Do you have any publications to date? Won any contests? Belong to any writing organizations? How can I get in touch with you? We want to know a little about you as well as about your book.
Thank you, Jaye and Kara Leigh, for your critiques. Everyone, come back tomorrow for the next round of critiques!