Day 41 (Part 1): Pitch Wars Query & 1st Page Workshop with mentors Naomi Hughes and Kellye Garrett
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 Naomi Hughes …
Naomi Hughes has been a freelance editor for a little over three years, as well as occasionally serving as an Assistant Editor over at Entangled Publishing. She’s also a YA/MG writer herself and loves to hide sneaky fandom references (Doctor Who! Pacific Rim! Sherlock!) in her quirky speculative fiction stories. She lives in the rural South with her husband, daughter, and a border collie named after a character from Avatar: The Last Airbender. You can follow her on Twitter at @NaomiLHughes.
Naomi’s Query Critique…
AGE CATEGORY: Adult
Dear Pitch Wars Query Mentor,
Izzy Rodriguez’s life is unraveling fast. [This isn’t the strongest opening sentence; it feels similar to the very common “Xyz character was normal until” opening in that it could describe pretty much any main character from any story. Try getting us immediately into the specifics of her conflict instead by starting out with something like “When x happens, Izzy Rodriguez must do y.”] She will soon lose her job and her mentor, and may be forced into servitude. To save her freedom, Izzy must campaign to become the next leader of the moon base. [This feels like a potentially super cool premise! However, it’s not clear why exactly campaigning is her only alternative to forced servitude, so I’m left a little confused as a reader. To make this feel like a snappier logline type of opening, try shortening it into one streamlined sentence that gives us a succinct overview of the conflict before you go into more depth below–otherwise, it feels like this is simply the beginning of your story rather than its logline, which is where the confusion results. A good logline might be something along the lines of “Locked in a heated political race on a desolate moon base, Izzy Rodriguez must win leadership of her colony–or be forced into servitude when its current leader, her boss, is euthanized.”]
The young assistant for Presider Barbara Graham, Izzy loves working for the Presider, helping her with colony meetings and legislation. But Barbara’s son, Matthew, an outspoken critic of his mother, is pushing core values activism. Cut off from Earth, Lunar Base Three hangs on by maintaining a strict society and limiting its population. When Matthew and his wife become pregnant, their unborn child exceeds the population the colony can sustain. Barbara, as the oldest colonist, must be euthanized.
Izzy runs against Matthew during the special election, and the race grows heated and tight. When the healthy baby arrives, Barbara fulfills her legal obligation and dies. Fighting explodes between rival political factions. Izzy must stop the violence [why is she the only one who can stop the violence? How exactly can she stop it? What’s at risk for her personally, more than for anyone else?] before her opponents shove her into airless oblivion. [Is there any goal she wants and is striving toward, rather than just something unpleasant that she’s trying to avoid? That would go a long way toward making your story and particularly its stakes feel stronger and more unique and personal. What would it mean to her to become the Presider, beyond simply not being forced into servitude?]
To write LUNAR BASE LOST (89,000 words, Adult SCI-FI), I drew inspiration from the novels by George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Sinclair Lewis, Aldous Huxley, and others. The LORD OF THE FLIES meets THE HANDMAID’S TALE on the moon. [Okay, that last sentence is basically the best pitch ever, just take all my money right now please and thank you. If you ever pitch this story during a Twitter pitch fest, I highly recommend using these comps!]
A produced and nationally award-winning playwright, I am a former Playwright-in-Residence at the Tony award-winning Utah Shakespearean Festival. I am also a 2008 recipient of a Sloan Foundation Science / Ensemble Studio Theatre play development grant. In 2013 my business ethics and history book, HR PIONEERS, was published by North Star Press. But I’ve always wanted to write novels. My first novel, BROTHER’S KEEPER, was a semi-finalist in the YA! 2015 Competition sponsored by Authors.me; it was one of 18 novels selected from 250 submissions. I’ve fallen in love with the freedom of the art form, and I am brainstorming ideas for my next project.
I hope we have the opportunity to work together.
[Wow, what a story! This feels both fascinating and troubling in a way that makes me want to know more, which means you’ve done a good job with the query. I do, however, wish the story felt more personal to Izzy herself. I’m not really sure what she wants as a person and why this story could only be told with her at its center–what makes her worthy of being the main character, rather than anyone else? Right now, the query makes her feel like a window through which we watch the story play out, rather than an active player whose motivations drive her to act upon the plot as much as or more than the plot acts on her. That’s not to say that her role as “window/observer with a minimal role” would be automatically bad–there is certainly a place for those stories, especially in what feels like a fairly epic sci-fi with an underlying political commentary–but if that description doesn’t accurately represent your story, I recommend you reframe this to focus more tightly on Izzy.]
Next up we have . . .
Pitch Wars Mentor Kellye Garrett . . .
Kellye Garrett spent eight years working in Hollywood, including a stint writing for Cold Case. A former magazine editor, she holds a BS in magazine writing from Florida A&M and an MFA in screenwriting from USC’s famed film school. She now works for a leading media company and brainstorms ways to commit murder for her novels. She writes the Detective by Day mystery series for Midnight Ink. The first book, Hollywood Homicide, was a 2014 Pitch Wars manuscript. It will be out in August 2017.
Kellye’s upcoming release …
Actress Dayna Anderson takes on the deadliest role of her life: Homicide Detective
Dayna Anderson doesn’t set out to solve a murder. All the semi-famous, mega-broke black actress wants is to help her parents keep their house. After witnessing a deadly hit-and-run, she figures pursuing the fifteen-grand reward isn’t the craziest thing a Hollywood actress has done for some cash.
But what starts as simply trying to remember a speeding car soon blossoms into a full-on investigation. As Dayna digs deeper into the victim’s life, she wants more than just reward money. She’s determined to find the poor woman’s killer too. When she connects the accident to a notorious Hollywood crime spree, Dayna chases down leads at paparazzi hot spots, celeb homes and movie premieres. She loves every second—until someone tries to kill her.
And there are no second takes in real life.
Pre-order links . . .
Enter to win one of two signed ARCs of HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE here!
Kellye’s First Page Critique…
“Yeah, gimme those menthols.”
“Nah, to your right – yeah those right there.”
Lucia hated when the forced a smile as she rang up the woman’s order. The evening rush-hour rush hour hit and the store quickly filled with tired, irritable customers. She forced a smile as she rang up the woman’s order. This woman, a regular named Tammy, had to be around 65 years old. She always reeked of stale smoke, had the skin of an 80-year-old, and her deep, raspy voice grated Lucia’s ears. The last thing her worn little body needed was another pack of smokes, but giving advice wasn’t Lucia’s job. No, Lucia raked in a whopping $8.15 an hour to run the cash register at a brand new gas station on the big highway that ran through town.
(Bumped on the rush line, since it seems like we’re already mid-rush hour when we open. The highlighted “She always reeked…” makes me wonder whose thoughts these are. Are we in a close third POV here? I tweaked a bit including combining the two paragraphs to fix both concerns. Also, would love to be more specific with the gas station and highway. Give us names. Otherwise, I fear that it seems too much like telling versus organic to the story.)
Every time she drove to work she contemplated driving right past the station and riding that road to freedom. In her dreams, it led to a promised land, a place of milk, honey, and money. (Ha ha. Tell Lucia I’ll meet her there!) She knew the In reality, the road actually led to Saginaw, then to Flint, Pontiac, and finally Detroit. None of those cities offered any sort of milk, honey, or money. (I actually think it’s stronger if you don’t repeat the phrase. Too hard core to say something like “None of those cities offered anything at all.”?)
That realization, of places worse than where she was now, kept her from driving out of town. It kept her tied to the register and the myriad poor souls who came for the discounted cigarettes and two-for-a-dollar pops and candy bars. (I’m getting a really good sense of Lucia and her circumstances just from these early paragraphs!)
“Ya know,” the older woman started as she dug through her oversized purse for her wallet. “There’s a point where you gotta decide—…” (I’d make this a dash. The ellipses makes it seem like she’s trailing off and so I was confused by the next couple of paragraphs. Also think you need something to jar us like the car jars them. Doesn’t have to be Bam but would like something. As is, it’s written almost too casual.)
For a moment it seemed as if they were frozen in time. Lucia, Tammy, and everyone in line who’d grumbled about the wait now looked toward the entrance, their faces brightly lit by the yellow glow of headlights. Lucia, Tammy, and everyone in line who’d grumbled about the wait. Now they looked toward the entrance, their faces brightly lit by the yellow glow of oncoming headlights. (Small tweak with breaking up the sentence but it might help with the urgency here. Also, wondering if there is stronger word than “looked,” which is also too casual.)
People fled in all directions as the front of the station disappeared in an explosion of glass and debris. Lucia instinctively dove behind the counter next to the XX as far away as possible and covered her head, terrified by screams of her customers, the sounds of crunching metal, and a roaring engine.(Can we add a bit more description and details like where exactly she dove? It’s such a great moment that I think it needs to play out a bit more. Give us details. Tell us someone screamed, what Lucia guesses the crunching metal may be, etc.)
Determining the car had finally come to a rest, Lucia slowly rose and examined the situation. Among the wreckage There were bodies. Some groaned and cried, while others lay still and quiet. Smoke and exhaust burned her eyes and made her retch and cough. Lucia felt a sense of dread as she surveyed the scene and immediately recognized the vehicle.
It was an old blue Taurus, well past its prime and long ready for the junkyard. She spied something spray-painted in bright red across the hood, but from her peripheral vision Lucia saw Tammy and immediately redirected her attention. (Bumped on this a bit. Felt jarring to go from her recognizing the vehicle to moving towards Tammy. I get if you’d like to keep a sense of mystery but I’d like for it to be a bit more organic. As is, it feels almost like you’re purposefully not telling us.)
The woman’s tired, old body, was crumpled like a rag doll (a bit of a cliché. Can you describe it differently?), limbs splayed and blood seeping from her right pant leg. Without further hesitation, Lucia rummaged under the debris for a minute before finding her purse and the First Aid kit beneath the counter. She dug for her phone and then dialed 911 before scrambling over the rubble toward Tammy. (Love that you introduced Tammy and had it pay off here.)
Thank you so much for letting me read this. You did an amazing job of setting up Lucia’s circumstances and dropping us off smack dab in the middle of the action. I instantly felt for her and literally was like “Oh crap, what is going on?”
My biggest notes here are about pacing and setting the scene. You have such an amazing opening that you want to have her feel like we’re right there with her, our hearts need to be pounding just as much as Lucia’s. The key is in the details, sharing small bits and moments that feel specific to this accident
In terms of pacing, you have a few cases of unnecessary phrases that only serve to slow down the pace. You don’t need to tell us things like “without further hesitation” and that she “immediately redirected her attention.” Just have her do it. You want this to move fast for us as readers so, again, we’re as invested as possible.
Overall, this is a great start. Hopefully, my tweaks helped. If you have any questions, please let me know.
Thank you, Naomi and Kellye, 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.