July Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentors … Charlie Holmberg & Kate Karyus Quinn!

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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 …

 

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Charlie Holmberg

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Homegrown in Salt Lake City, Charlie was raised a Trekkie with three sisters who also have boy names. She writes fantasy novels and does freelance editing on the side. She’s a proud BYU alumna, plays the ukulele, and owns too many pairs of glasses.

TPM cover

Release date: September 1, 2014. Published with 47North.

You can preorder it now! Amazon

 

Charlie’s critiques …

Critique #13 – First Page:

The only thing reeking worse than my mojo-bag was the team on the field, and that was sayin’ (I’m all for dialect, but limit it to dialogue.) something considering our rusted scrap-heap of a ‘football stadium’ (Note: only use single quotation marks if you’re quoting something within a quote.) sat in the middle of a salt marsh. Some called it ‘character,’ but Mama always said about Caledonia: she hadn’t seen so many half-collapsed and boarded-up buildings since she’d fled Tehran in ‘79.

I wrestled my pecan-sized mojo-bag from my pocket and crinkled my nose. High John the Conqueror root, graveyard dirt, and powdered sulfur all wrapped up in a red flannel package and charged in whiskey. Nana said it was like bug spray against evil spirits, but it really warded off anyone with a nose. (Love the culture preview we get with this mojo bag!)

The bleachers groaned as I stretched against the railing and debated letting my mojo-‘ball-and-chain’ slip right then and there (Behind the bleachers?). At the last second (The last second of his debate, or is he letting the charm precariously dangle from his fingers?), my younger brother, Nathan, reeled me back and snatched the charm away.

“Adam! You can’t do that.”

I frowned. “How am I supposed to keep my girlfriend if I smell like armpit and alcohol?”

“You know it’s for protection.”

He scratched his right arm the way he always did when overworking his geek braincells brain cells. Red lines ran like plant roots from his palm to his chest—a lasting memento from the time he’d been struck by lightning. (Interesting!) And while I knew he hadn’t been totally deep fried, he insisted that without Nana’s prompt ‘raising of Lazarus act,’ I’d be an only child. ‘The scratch’ was also his way of guilting me into being a good little soldier. (You’ve got great voice set up here, and the “soldier” bit makes me wonder even more about this family.)

 

Critique #14 – Query:

Jinxx didn’t meant mean to cause (Try a stronger verb. Even something like “create” packs more of a punch.) a miracle. (Good opening line.) The lynch mob was chasing her and she didn’t have time to think. (Make active—take out the “was”. She didn’t have time to think with the lynch mob chasing her.) The spell just came out…and almost killed her. (Catchy first paragraph!)

When she started to secretly study with a great magician two years before, she had only two problems: catching her crutches (?) in the barn while feeding the stupid cows; and not knowing what to talk about with girls who don’t even know what prime numbers are. (This paragraph is hard to follow and honestly doesn’t add to the query. I’d cut it.)

Now, she’s trying to recover from lighting the valley like a sun. With pilgrims overwhelming the village, soldiers taking over, (Can you be more specific than “taking over”? I assume these are government soldiers, not foreign ones. Are they being deployed to specifically deal with pilgrims, is the king/ruler trying to keep his country in line? Something like soldiers taking the law into their own hands, soldiers beating down vocal citizens, or soldiers barricading the ports can help us see the story without using a lot of words.) and every religious sect in town claiming the miracle as their own, civil war is brewing.

Jinxx knows where this ends: she was trapped in a massacre before. (Interesting, but it raises a lot of questions.) She can’t allow another tragedy. (Was she the cause of the massacre? What role did she play in it?) But her mentor won’t let her do anything. He keeps her locked away most of the time—for her own good, of course. (Try combining the last two-three sentences and throwing in some concrete details to perk interest. For example, She can’t allow another tragedy, but preventing it will be impossible unless she can escape her mentor’s glass-box prison. Or, Jinxx knows she can keep the country from tearing itself apart, but her mentor keeps her locked up for reasons he won’t explain.) When a musket is fired in the crowd, Jinxx can’t hold back any only (“any more”?). (So it’s a musket shot that gets Jinxx to act? Why that and not the lynching or the brewing? What about that shot is important? Telling us not only clarifies the catalyst, but it can also pique interest and connect us to Jinxx.)

THE FORTY-SEVEN WORDS OF THE BROKEN GIRL is a 99,000 word young-adult fantasy novel set in a Napoleonic world.

I’ve taken a master class with Arthur A. Levine Books editor Cheryl Klein, and attend conferences and conventions as often as time and budget allow. I published several shorts in the now-defunct (I’d leave off “now-defunct”; whether it is or isn’t, you’re discrediting yourself!) web-magazine, Ruthie’s Club (ital).

 

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Kate Karyus Quinn

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Kate is a young adult author of creepy paranormal tinged novels. Her debut novel, ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE, was published by Harperteen in 2013. (DON’T YOU) FORGET ABOUT ME, also with HarperTeen, came out this past June. She lives in Buffalo, NY (which she considers one of the best places ever – GO BILLS!) with her husband, two children, and two comically mismatched dogs (a teeny cocker spaniel and an oversized Great Dane/St. Bernard).

Another Little Piece Cover

Amazon

ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE
HarperTeen – Now Available Wherever Books Are Sold

 

don't you forget about me

Amazon

(DON’T YOU) FORGET ABOUT ME
HarperTeen June 10th, 2014

Kate’s critiques …

Critique #15 – Query:

When a volleyball disintegrates in Honey Wilson’s hands, life goes from okay to downright impossible I like this as an opening line, and the image of the volleyball disintegrating in her hands is great – I can see it. However, I wanted maybe a bit more about her before life beyond it just being “okay”. What about it was simply okay? DETNOGIRL: THE SUPERPOWER MELTDOWN is a 28,000 word middle-grade fantasy about juggling middle school with the worst superpower in the world Okay, so the title makes me pause. It is DETNO as in short for detonate? It doesn’t really roll off the tongue. In fact, it sort of stops my reading flow when I see it and my brain wants to flip it around to DENTO… which I think is denture product. Maybe not. This could just be a me thing, so feel free to disregard. 😉

Also, does she blow things up or do they disintegrate – they are really two totally different things and give me two completely different mental images. The word count is also a smidge on the low side for middle grade. I do love the line about juggling middle school with a superpower – although, I am not sure that I’m convinced her superpower is the worst in the world (although I can see how the MC might think this, so…).

Having the power of disintegration is ruining Honey’s life. When things start becoming dust in her hands, Honey is transferred to the highly publicized Why do I need this detail? Seems unnecessary since it has no bearing on the plot you discuss here. Or if it is important tell me why. Hidden Hill Jr./Sr. High where she is supposed to learn to control her newfound power. Instead,everything is disintegrating: her grades, her style, her social life, mechanical pencils, and other people’s superpowers. Cute last line. I love the specificity in “mechanical pencils” would love more of that. Also, maybe some mention of leaving friends behind might be nice just to keep us a little more grounded in the MC’s real life too? Also, is it a boarding school, does she have to leave her parents? Also, when you talk about things disintegrating in her hands, I immediately wonder if she can touch people or if her ability is Rogue-ish and she has to always be careful to keep her hands to herself.  Finally, notice all the highlighted “disintegrates”. I think two is your limit on forms of that word, so maybe haul out the good old thesaurus and find some alternatives.

Just when Honey begins to pick up the pieces of her grades and social life, students and staff are being injured with their own abilities. This feels like too much of a repeat of the previous sentence, without adding any really new information. You already in that previous sentence touched on her disintergrating other student’s superpowers, maybe build on that instead? Honey is convinced that she’s the cause. Because? Seems like a bit of a leap, maybe a bit more info. regarding exactly how her powers work might help. Now she must harness her villainous powers before someone else gets hurt – or worse. Good last line – nicely establishes the stakes. Although, again, a bit more specific detail might help. Why are her powers villainous? Also can you tie this back into having to survive middle school – just to remind us this is a kid and beyond taking care of the superpowers, she also needs to graduate from seventh grade or whatever.

BIO? It’s not 100% necessary, but it’s always nice to have that one line, saying you’re an SCBWI member or whatever. Just something. Anything to be like, “Hey, I’m a person.” Personally,I always felt really awkward with my own bio, so I kept it super short just mentioning my degrees (in theatre and film production) and a short story publication. It was a two sentence paragraph, but it did the job.

If you are interested in DETNOGIRL, I’d be happy to send you the completed manuscript. Per your submission guidelines, I have pasted the first three chapters below. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Okay, there is A LOT of red here. However, despite that, I actually think this is a query with a ton of potential. Also, I really love LOVE superhero based novels, so it’s possible I got a little too excited about wanting to know more more more about the story, the world, and your MC. Good luck with this one – I hope to see it on my bookshelf someday… but, you know, with maybe a different title. 😉



Critique #16 – First Page:

Bzzp. Bzzp.

The insistent buzz emanated from the phone stashed in my purse. I looked across the candlelit table at my maybe-boyfriend, Christian, offering an apologetic smile.

Bzzzp.

Bzzzzp.

I glared at my clutch. All I wanted was a goddamn steak. Hee. I know that feeling. Apparently that was too much to ask.

“Just answer it.” Christian’s lips curled downward, tarnishing his handsome face. Soo Christian feels a bit like a generic douchebag from central casting. Is he meant to come across that way? And if so, why is she with him? “I know the hospital’s needs are more important than dinner with me.”

And I knew he was pissed. Again.

Not that I blamed him. I’d lost count of the number of times the “hospital” had interrupted our plans since we’d started dating four months ago. Again. Why is she with this guy for four months. Understand I do not. I either need something good about him OR else something from her to explain why she puts up with this whiner. It makes me not like the heroine for putting up with him and excusing his whiney behavior.

“Sorry.” I pulled my phone out to read the incoming text message.

X SQUAD DISPATCH: 8:51 PM; ERADICATOR 793. TARGET: LANDON STRIKER. SPECIES: VUKO. LOCATION: HADE ST. AND DELGADO PL.

Fucking parasites always found a way to ruin a perfectly decent evening. LOL.

“Yep, it’s from Dr. Flores,” I lied.

Sipping my wine, the black currant and tobacco flavors danced smoothly across my tongue. Nice details. The X Squad never sent an order unless it was urgent, and that meant the second meal ruined with Christian this week alone.

A tuxedo clad server whisked by carrying plates of sizzling steaks and potatoes drenched in butter. My mouth watered and my stomach groaned. Okay, she seems way more into the steak than Christian. Not that I blame her, those sizzling buttery steaks are insanely good. But this MC does know she doesn’t need a man to go to a steakhouse, right?

I suppressed a sigh. Time to dish out another lie in a long string of necessary fabrications. It’s not like I could say, “Sorry, Christian, I know you don’t realize that disease-ridden abominations exist to annihilate humans, but they do. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go kill one.”

This is a very funny final line! It’s probably enough to make me turn the page and keep reading, BUT with the caveat that things better get a whole lot more interesting and FAST, because the thing is, there’s nothing wrong with this scene and the writing itself is strong, but the whole thing just feels a bit too generic and like something I have seen countless times before in TV, movies, and books.

I think if we got more of a sense of the MC’s voice – similar to what we get in that final line, then it would work a lot better and be that much stronger. Right now, though, your MC feels a little cardboard. I want a sense of how she feels about Christian besides vaguely guilty. I want to know how she feels about her job of killing disease-ridden abominations, besides annoyance over missing dinner. Most of all, make the scene so strong and interesting that I want to turn the page and see what happens next… even if you withheld that amazing last-line kicker for another three pages.

The girl who secretly kicks ass is one of my favorite tropes, so this is totally the type of book I would pick up. But… it has to feel like something I haven’t read before. With just a bit
of tweaking, I think this first page could be just as kick ass as your heroine!

Thank you, Charlie and Kate, for your critiques. Everyone, come back tomorrow for the next round of critiques!

Author: Brenda Drake

Author of TOUCHING FATE (Entangled Teen Crave, October 13, 2015) and THIEF OF LIES: a Library Jumpers novel (Entangled Teen, January 5, 2016), host of #PitchWars, #PitchMadness, and #PitMad, fueled by coffee and Goldfish crackers (but not together), and represented by Peter Knapp with The Park Literary Group.

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you, Charlie. I’m embarrassed that I rushed that revised version out so quickly and didn’t see the obvious errors, but those aside, you’ve given me some great insights into how to convert my novel better in query form.

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