Day 26 (Part 1): Pitch Wars Query & 1st Page Workshop with mentors, J.C. Nelson & Jenni L. Walsh

Day 26 (Part 1): Pitch Wars Query & 1st Page Workshop with mentors, J.C. Nelson & Jenni L. Walsh

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Welcome to our Query and 1st Page Workshop with some of our amazing Pitch Wars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected writers to participate in our query and first page workshops. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a query or 500 word opening from our lucky winners. We’ll be posting four critiques per day (except weekends) through July 7. Our hope is that these samples will help shine up your query and first page and that you’ll get to know some of our wonderful Pitch Wars mentors. We appreciate our mentors for giving up their time to do the critiques. If you have something encouraging to add, feel free to comment below. Please keep all comments tasteful. We will delete any inappropriate or hurtful ones.

First up we have …

Pitch Wars Mentor, J.C. Nelson …

ReburialistsCoverWebsite | Twitter

Hey, I’m a 40-something author living in the rainy Pacific Northwest, with an ark’s worth of animals and four kids I love.

 

The Reburialists by J.C. Nelson

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes

Burying the dead is easy. Keeping them down is difficult.

At the Bureau of Special Investigations, agents encounter all sorts of paranormal evils. So for Agent Brynner Carson, driving a stake through a rampaging three-week-old corpse is par for the course. Except this cadaver is different. It’s talking—and it has a message about his father, Heinrich.

The reanimated stiff delivers an ultimatum written in bloody hieroglyphics, and BSI Senior Analyst Grace Roberts is called in to translate. It seems that Heinrich Carson stole the heart of Ra-Ame, the long-dead god of the Re-Animus. She wants it back. The only problem is Heinrich took the secret of its location to his grave.

With the arrival of Ra-Ame looming and her undead army wreaking havoc, Brynner and Grace must race to find the key to stopping her. It’s a race they can’t afford to lose, but then again, it’s just another day on the job . . .

 

J.C. Nelson’s Query  Critique . . .

AGE CATEGORY: New Adult
GENRE: Thriller

Dear Ms. Agent,

Lucia, a small town girl dreaming of how to escape her mundane life, is at her job as a gas station clerk when a car crashes through the storefront, narrowly missing her but mowing over her patrons. As the dust settles and emergency crews arrive, she realizes her former high school sweetheart and drug-addicted ex-boyfriend is dead in the driver’s seat. It’s up to Lucia and her lover Reece, a locally assigned state trooper, to bring the killers to justice and release their small town from a deadly web of vicious enemies.

Trading her boring rural existence for a life full of travel and adventure with her lover Reece is all Lucia can ever think about until tragedy strikes. The event quickly catapults Lucia and her small town into the heat of a roiling battle between law enforcement and a savage drug syndicate. Before they know it, Lucia and Reece are entangled in a mystery bigger than either of them imagined possible. Even a small, rural Michigan town can harbor dark and dangerous secrets.

Weaving elements of mystery, action, and romance, DESECRATE THE DARKNESS arrives at its twisted conclusion in 85,000 words.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Best Regards,

 

Hi – JC here, and what follows is my critique of your query.  First off, thanks for sharing the critique. I’m going to go through it bit by bit in a moment, but first, some general impressions – this reads thriller, to me, at least from the query, so if that’s what you consider your novel to be, spot on.

Now, in any query, I want to see a few key things: Who (is the main protagonist). What (they want) and Who/What (is against them). You’ve done well here at avoiding the traditional pitfall of “Can they figure out who has done what?” and I applaud that. Let’s look at your query in depth, keeping in mind I haven’t read the actual story, and don’t know if this completely reflects it or not.

Lucia, a small town girl dreaming of how to escape her mundane life, is at her job as a gas station clerk when a car crashes through the storefront, narrowly missing her but mowing over her patrons. As the dust settles and emergency crews arrive, she realizes her former high school sweetheart and drug-addicted ex-boyfriend is dead in the driver’s seat.

What I like about this – it gives me the who—and a glimpse of the inciting incident. But one thing about it stands out, and that’s that it is telling me a bit of the opening story—something that will almost certainly be in the opening pages.  If I were rewriting your query, I’d be tempted to leave that bit in the pages, and wind up with something like:

Lucia dreams of escaping her small town life and dead-end gas station job, but when her ex-boyfriend crashes into the gas pumps, the victim of a murder, she finds more excitement than she bargained for.

Why? Well, we’re going to see the crash soon enough, we’ll find out that he’s a drug addicted high school sweetheart and so on. I’ve selected some adjectives I hope deliver a good picture.

NEXT:

It’s up to Lucia and her lover Reece, a locally assigned state trooper, to bring the killers to justice and release their small town from a deadly web of vicious enemies. 

I like this in that it continues the who and tells us what their primary conflict is going to be. I’d make a few edits, but not much

It’s up to Lucia, and Reese, a state trooper investigating the accident, to bring the killers to justice and release her town from the hold of vicious enemies.

We’ll find out Reese is her lover soon enough. We already know it’s a small town, and I’m not sure deadly web adds anything (but since you’ve read your whole book, you might know better)

Trading her boring rural existence for a life full of travel and adventure with her lover Reece is all Lucia can ever think about until tragedy strikes. The event quickly catapults Lucia and her small town into the heat of a roiling battle between law enforcement and a savage drug syndicate. Before they know it, Lucia and Reece are entangled in a mystery bigger than either of them imagined possible. Even a small, rural Michigan town can harbor dark and dangerous secrets.

Ok, here we’ve gone just a bit off the rails. The first part you already told us, and the second could probably belong in the previous paragraph. I would almost be tempted to cut the entire paragraph, and blend it with the previous. See, we already know about Lucia. We know about Reese. If you kept the previous paragraph, we’d know Reese was her lover (but I doubt that’s essential to resolving the conflict) AND we know they’re entangled. The information that we didn’t have from before is that it’s a drug syndicate, and that last sentence is a solid hook. Well done on that.

If I blended the new facts with the old ones, we’d have:

from the grip of a savage drug syndicate. Lucia’s dreamed of adventure and mystery, but even a small, rural Michigan town can harbor dark and dangerous secrets. 

 Your next bit is near perfect – it has all the right information and nothing additional. Clean, concise, and to the point. Well done here.

Weaving elements of mystery, action, and romance, DESECRATE THE DARKNESS arrives at its twisted conclusion in 85,000 words. 

The key thing to keep in mind here is that the best queries give us a good idea of why we want to read the novel, and maybe, just a tad of flavor. As long as the agent moves on to the pages, it’s mission accomplished. 

Thanks!

JC.

 

Next up we have . . .

Pitch Wars Mentor, Jenni L. Walsh …

Jenni 1

Website | Twitter

Jenni L. Walsh spent her early years chasing around cats, dogs, and chickens in Philadelphia’s countryside, before dividing time between a soccer field and a classroom at Villanova University. She put her marketing degree to good use as an advertising copywriter, zip-code hopping with her husband to DC, NYC, NJ, and not surprisingly, back to Philly. There, Jenni’s passion for words continued, adding author to her resume. She now balances her laptop with a kid on each hip, and a four-legged child at her feet.

For the mamas, Becoming Bonnie is her debut novel that tells the untold story of how church-going Bonnelyn Parker becomes half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo during the 1920s. The sequel Being Bonnie will be released in the summer of 2018.

For the kiddos, the Brave Like Me series is her middle grade debut that features true stories from heroic women who, at a young age, accomplished daring feats of perseverance and bravery.

Jenni’s most recent release . . .

Jenni 2Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

About the book …

From debut historical novelist Jenni L. Walsh comes the untold story of how wholesome Bonnelyn Parker became half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo.

The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family’s poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas’s newest speakeasy, Doc’s.

Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, and embraces it—perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling—Bonnie tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. What she doesn’t know is that her life—like her country—is headed for a crash.

She’s about to meet Clyde Barrow.

Few details are known about Bonnie’s life prior to meeting her infamous partner. In Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh shows a young woman promised the American dream and given the Great Depression, and offers a compelling account of why she fell so hard for a convicted felon—and turned to crime herself.

 

Jenni’s First Page Critique . . .

AGE CATEGORY: YA

GENRE: Fantasy

 

1 Two Eyes

Simeon, who went by Simon, knew that shadows could be fearsome things. He had read enough stories and seen enough movies. He had had enough dreams. But until that night, Simon had not known that shadows could live.

[One thing I personally like at the beginning of a novel is to be grounded in the setting, especially in fantasy. I’m a very visual reader, and this beginning is a lot of telling. I’d be more interested in seeing those shadows alive and Simon’s reaction to it. Another thing to consider is that when I saw the mention of ‘shadow’ I thought paranormal more so than fantasy. But that could just be a ‘me thing.’]

Most people who knew Simon would not have been surprised to hear his shadowy tale at the end of that Monday in May. After all, Simon was known for seeing things. His overactive runaway train of thought had gotten him in trouble often enough.

[This paragraph is unfortunately additional ‘telling.’ Why not show this conversation? Did he tell his closest friend? Did he tell a lot of people? Do the other kids see him as strange? Or are they accepting of him? Through dialogue and his friends’ reactions, we can get a better sense of Simon. Dialogue can also be used to help fill in some of that backstory of him having “seen things” in the past. For example, someone could simply say, “again?” in reference to him seeing things. I’m also confused why he’d wait until the end of the day?]

But Simon would not be there to tell.

[Ah, I actually misread and thought this conversation happened, but you were foreshadowing a conversation that doesn’t happen. I’m going to keep my comment despite my oversight, because the fact that the first two paragraphs are mostly telling is still in tact.]

Not in New England. Not that night.

Sitting in his desk, just before third period, Simon did not yet notice any shadows. He saw only a girl’s face. His charcoal pencil shuffled back and forth across the parchment page, casting lines to catch the details of her stare.

[Here we go, you’re putting the reader into a scene. This is good. Can you start with a scene? Maybe it’s the scene where he sees the shadows? Or maybe he’s in class and you work in the details from the night before and show he’s still unsettled by the shadows as he’s remembering it. I also think you have room to bring this scene more to life and allow the reader to visualize the sketch.]

“You should keep hand wipes in that bag of yours, lead finger.”

The familiar voice slid along with the rest of Melon into the desk to his right. Closing his sketchbook, Simon turned to Melon. Uneven layers of brownish hair stuck out in sharp angles around purple-rimmed glasses.

She was not the girl that he had been drawing.

“Then I couldn’t annoy you,” he said, wiggling smudged fingers at her before rubbing his hands carelessly across his jeans. New black and gray streaks smeared into the old.

Her hazel eyes rolled. “Impwad.”

Grinning, Simon rewound the band holding back his own black tangle of hair, and pointed a finger at her. “Master Impwad.”

Another roll.

At the bell, Simon opened a folder sprouting loose but accusatory corners of crinkled paper, and pulled out the blank sheets due that day.

Hmmm. Not good. Somehow, he had overlooked pre-algebra in his weekend itinerary.

[I’m curious what he did over the weekend. Adding those details could help build his character and give readers a sense of who he is.]

And not for the first time.

His priorities rarely aligned with everyone else’s expectations. No more than his mismatched eyes, painted dual shades by heterochromia iridium, and his ambiguous skin-tone, colored midway between that of his Jewish Italian American mother and his Haitian African American father, jived with the more monochrome pattern of his peers.

[I had to google heterochromia iridium, ha. I’m not entirely sure you need the medical term here, unless it’s significant to your story. Just the mention of mismatched eyes was enough to interest me. And I’m curious how his classmates/friends react to this unique trait.]

Simon began scribbling solutions. Three rows of students buffered him from the front of the class where Mr. Khan patrolled the smart board.

One problem done.

[I’d clarify that you are referring to the “math” problem here. At first I thought he scribbled all the solutions and he was saying that the problem of not completing his homework was now no longer an issue. Then as I kept reading I realized you were referring to 11 individual math problems as part of his homework.]

The hum of seventh-grade chatter swelled.

[What caused the chatter to swell? Also, the mention of seventh grade stopped me, being your novel is marked as being YA. A seventh grader is typically 12 or 13, so based solely on age middle grade novels typically feature that age range.]

“Quiet, folks, or you’ll exchange papers,” Mr. Khan said.

Two done.

The hive gave a collective groan.

Three done. Nine to go.

“Mr. Wilcomb.”

Sticklebats. Simon lifted his head. “Yes, Mr. Khan.”

“Since you’re working so hard at the problems, perhaps you’d like to demonstrate how to solve one. Come up, and bring your work.”

So much for the buffer.

Several minutes and two successfully solved problems later, Simon returned to his seat. Melon fired a familiar look of smug disapproval at him, so Simon angled his body away from her, toward the wall of windows.

[I think you have room to quickly expound on how else she’s disapproved of him. For example: As he returned to his seat, Melon shook her head at him. She’s been known to do that, like when he xyz or when he xyz. But Simon <fill in the blank about why he does these things>]

Wind shuddered the windows, and furtive clouds slunk over Orton Woods—his woods—just beyond the schoolyard. There, a giant sycamore—his sycamore—jutted from the prickled spires of other trees.

If I’m correct, your novel is contemporary fantasy? But, I’ll be honest, that I mostly get the fantasy part through the fact you’ve categorized it as such. Think of Harry Potter. From the first page, the fact the novel is fantasy is speckled throughout, with the most obvious mention being “a cat reading a map.” Besides the mention of shadows being alive, I don’t get a sense that your world is any different from our “normal” world, and like I mentioned, the use of “shadow” makes me think paranormal more than fantasy. Also, the idea of the shadows is mentioned in the first few paragraphs, but then falls off. As a reader, I’d love a stronger foundation of what the shadows are and how Simon feels about them. If they make him nervous, I’d like to see that element carried throughout the first scene(s). If it’s old hat to him, fully show that. You have a quick pace to your writing, which is good, but I think the quickness also gives you room to expound. Then, take another look if you intend for your novel to be middle grade or young adult. Age isn’t everything, content also plays a factor, but I do see agents/editors who expect middle grade or young adult to align with certain ages. Keep going! Your main character definitely intrigues me, but I feel like that itch has only been slightly scratched.

Thank you, J.C. and Jenni, for your critiques!

Interested in more critiques? We’ll be posting critiques through the first part of July. Hope you’ll read on. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts July 19 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening on August 2nd.

Author: Heather Cashman

With a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry, the lab reports always lacked the fantastical element Heather's imagination demands. Hypotheses turned into taglines and novels, so she's going back to college for a Creative Writing degree. Her novels range from Epic Fantasy to Contemporary Speculative Fiction, she dabbles in picture books, and is currently seeking representation. ~Member SCBWI

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