Friday, July 12, 2019

Friday Fricassee

Hello, friends!

Some of you have been reading this blog since its inception (11 years ago).

Some of you have come aboard recently, knowing only bits and pieces of my story.

All of you are part of the wonderful community of writers that is such a lifeblood to those of us who are blessed to be part of it.

It's less than 2 months from the release of my debut novel, and even now it's still hard, sometimes, to comprehend that this is my life. When I opened Blogger and created Miss Snark's First Victim in April, 2008, I was nursing a 7-month-old and homeschooling 4 older children. I was also almost 3 years into trying to find an agent (and it would take me another 2.5 years to actually land one).

Now my youngest is turning 12 next month (seriously, what??) and I'm spending a portion of my work day on marketing and publicity for Stormrise. How can that be?

Dorky as this may sound, I've got one of my galleys on display in a metal book holder in a bookcase. I stare at it, marveling all over again at the beautiful artwork and overwhelmed to know that this is my book. Not someone else's.

Every day, I'm thankful. For every Goodreads add. Every excited BookTuber. Every 4- or 5-star review. Every squeal about dragons. Every gorgeous book photo on Instagram. Every mention. Every "like". Every everything.

As if all this weren't enough, my editor recently brought up the cover for my next book (Fall 2020) and her concept for it. AND I LOVE HER IDEA SO MUCH. So here I am, already so excited for September 10 while heaping more excitement on top of that.

I may just explode one day in a shower of lilacs and melted chocolate and dragonbreath, and everyone will have to step over me and move along.

Thank you for being part of this incredible journey.

AND!

It so happens that Tor Teen and I both chose the same week to run an ARC giveaway--and they both end on Saturday.







Keep writing! Keep dreaming! Keep reading stories that make you laugh and think and cry and shudder and groan and grin and ponder and cackle and yell and squeal and sigh. And take all that and let it infuse your breathing and thinking and creating and living, and oh, what JOY there will be in your own creations.

Have a magical weekend!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Pitch for the Win: The Critiques!

Dearest writerly ones!

Pull out your notebook and pen; today you get to sit back and read the thoughtful (and in some cases, quite detailed) critiques of our winning first pages. While it's true that all critique is subjective, it's also true that reading what experienced writers have to say ups our game, giving us things to think about that we can keep in mind when doing our own writing.

Enjoy! And one more huge thank you to our participating authors.

Critique by Nancy Bilyeau: The Atonement of Louis Godbout

TITLE: The Atonement of Louis Godbout
GENRE: Historical
ENTRY: #20

The pitch:

Lower Canada, 1838. The revolt against British rule FAILED (for quicker meaning):/is in tatters/. Louis Godbout, THIS IS UNCLEAR, HE IS HALF FRENCH, HALF-CREE GENETICALLY OR IS HE A MAN TRAPPED BETWEEN THOSE TWO WORLDS EMOTIONALLY?:/a loner caught in a no-man's land between French and Cree, is banished to the penal colony of Australia I'D CUT THIS, IT MUDDIES HIS CHARACTER IN THIS SHORT A DESCRIPTION: /for a rebellion he didn't believe in/. In exile he finds comradeship; in humiliation, dignity. Inspired by the courage of a Huguenot/Londoner convict woman, THIS IS TOO VAGUE FOR A PITCH, IS THERE A CLEARER NARRATIVE LINE, DOES HE FALL IN LOVE, DOES SHE HELP HIM FIND PEACE OR BELONGING OR SAVE HIS LIFE? /he wrestles with the meaning of home, identity and belonging/. Based on true events.

On a low-skied Sunday morning, the 25th CUT:/day/ of February 1838, Louis Godbout gave his cabin door a nudge. He could feel the weight of a snowdrift on the other side. As the door crack widened INSERT COMMA the chink of a new day SHOWED ITSELF:/ began to show itself/: a DELETE:/glimpse of/ leaden landscape blasted by an overnight blizzard. VERY NICE IMAGERY: Crystals from the advancing drift spilled over the threshold like salt from a bag.

Merde, I hope I can get out of here.

FIX REPETITION OF 'DOOR' AND TIGHTEN:/He shut the door and went through to the door at the rear of the cabin. Out back, in the lee of the storm, it was clear.

DON'T NEED THIS ONE: Bien.

Today, for once, he wouldn't have to dig himself out.

He put on his toque and capelot and stepped DELETE:/out/ into the open. The air was muted after the fresh PICK ANOTHER WORD:/dump/ of overnight snow. NICE HISTORICAL DETAIL:/His snowshoes, great platters of wood and webbed hide, hung from a hook outside the back door/. He lashed them to his moccasins, pulled a pair of WOOL?:/woolen/ mitts over his hands and set out from the cabin toward Châteauguay.

NOT SURE THIS IS WORKING. PLUS YOU ALREADY SAID 'LOW-SKIED' IN FIRST SENTENCE:/The land looked close to the sky, as if the white-crusted fields had been leavened and baked in an oven/. He headed for the western bank of the Châteauguay River, his shoes stamping giant prints across the virgin snowfield. This late in winter his racquettes were like one with his body, NICE DESCRIPTION: as if his feet had sent out new growths of sinew and bone. Gross and clumsy that they were, the shoes let him skim over the deep powder like a snowshoe hare.



The writing in your selection is full of evocative description. I could feel the weight of the snow against the door, and see the sky outside the cabin. I very much enjoyed the scene you set.

I would consider weaving in more of Louis's internal struggle. I think we need to read more than his reaction to the weather, shoes, and the countryside, as lovely as the writing is. Is he setting out with dread, with anticipation? Is he overly confident? Suggesting the possibility of conflict soon to come would bait the reader's hook and make her or him eager to keep going.

I made notes in your pitch, to help clarify the meaning. I would make less internal the core struggle of Louis once he is in Australia. Readers (and prospective agents and editors) need to know if this is a historical novel about a man finding the meaning in his life, surviving against difficult odds, or finding love and acceptance from another person. (Ideally, all three :). Finding the meaning of concepts such as identity might not be making the best case for your book in a pitch, though that is definitely a powerful theme for the book itself. You say in the middle of the pitch that he's a loner, is the emotional journey of the novel one that ends with him learning to love and trust another person? A more specific arc would be great to tease out.

For a comparison of a 19th century-set story of a person thrust in a new place with epic overtones, I would take a look at Lauren Willig's new novel, "Summer Country."

Best of luck with your book, which is set in a very interesting time and place and with a strong premise.

Critique by Rosaria Munda: Orphaned Skies

TITLE: ORPHANED SKIES
GENRE: YA Science Fiction
ENTRY: #9

With the Stingray invasion escalating, fighter pilot Juniper Crew must decide between becoming a Legacy and avenging her past, or defending the people she swore to protect and saving her future.

I LOVE FIGHTER PILOTS AND I LOVE LARGER POLITICAL DRAMA EXPLORED THROUGH INTIMATE PERSONAL CONFLICT! BRING IT.

Worlds around her would explode if she touched the spinning orb and stole a life back from the Reaper. But since that life belonged to her best friend, nothing else mattered. I THINK THIS PARAGRAPH MIGHT BE MORE CONFUSING THAN YOU NEED IT TO BE. IS REAPER A WORLDBUILDING ELEMENT OR JUST A FIGURATIVE REFERENCE? WHAT IS SHE TRYING TO DO? IS HER FRIEND INSIDE THE ORB OR IS ORB THE TANDEM SPACESHIP REAGAN IS FLYING?

Juniper Crew accelerated, chasing Reagan’s egg-shaped vessel in an oblong orbit over Earth’s northern hemisphere, the duo mere minutes away from completing their ninety-ninth mission FOR WHOM? IMPERIAL OR REBEL? IS IT A TRAINING MISSION? IS IT FOR A WAR EFFORT? GIVE A BIT MORE HERE AND IN THE NEXT PARA TO SET STAKES. She just needed to find and destroy the traitors badge. And for Crew, admittedly a little trigger-happy, destroying was the best part. I LOVE THE JOYFUL ENERGY CREW BRINGS TO HER FLYING!

Purple curls twisted at the base of her skull, WHY ARE HER PURPLE CURLS RELEVANT RIGHT NOW? ARE THEY DRENCHED IN SWEAT BECAUSE THE SHIP IS HEATING UP? ETC. WEAVE THEM INTO THE ACTION the graft gripping her shoulder blades and burning down through her fingertips. Energy flowed across her mind more than concrete words or commands. Her A16 Encryption fell into Reagan’s slipstream and drafted off the speeding escort egg. I'M OF THE BELIEF THAT IF YOU'RE NAMING IT, THAT NAME SHOULD ADVANCE THE WORLDBUILDING IN SOME WAY. A16 ENCRYPTION DOESN'T TELL ME ANYTHING ABOUT HER OR HER WORLD--BUT E.G. "IMPERIAL A16 ENCRYPTION" DOES, OR JUST "SPYSHIP" IF IT'S RECON, ETC. CONSIDER PLAYING WITH THIS!

The depth of true black surrounded her, yet the lull of empty space competed with the bubbling excitement inside. So close. This mission and then one more. Once she completed a hundred, she’d be free. I'D TRY GIVING US MORE HERE AND SEE HOW IT WORKS. FREE FROM WHAT? WHY? YOU COULD TEASE A BIT ABOUT EITHER OR HER PAST OR HER FUTURE—THAT PAST SHE IS GOING TO HAVE TO CHOOSE WHETHER TO AVENGE; THAT FUTURE THAT SHE IS STRIVING TOWARD?

Crew cradled the craft’s nose, edging it closer to her escort. The egg jerked and picked up speed. I WOULD CUT THIS BECAUSE IT DIDN'T ADVANCE THE ACTION OR BUILD CHARACTER. She opened comms. “See it yet, Reagan?”

“Got a visual on my right.” The ear-plant crackled. “Optical only though.” HOW IS OPTICAL DIFFERENT FROM VISUAL?

Spurred by the confirmation, the Encryption surged forward and broke the artificial horizon. Unadulterated white rays blasted through the slanted stealth canopy and Crew’s skin tingled with a warmth that didn’t exist. I DON’T THINK YOU CAN FEEL SOMETHING THAT DOESN’T EXIST. REPHRASE? The visor auto tinted and the flush of her arms settled into their usual prickle, hairs raised on end and the singe of copper running through her veins. I APPRECIATE THAT YOU'RE TRYING TO AVOID "BLOOD TINGLING IN HER VEINS" HERE, BUT BEWARE SYNONYMS THAT FEEL FORCED!

“We have it!” A new voice broke through.

Critique by Rosaria Munda: Temple Beyond the Sea

TITLE: Temple Beyond the Sea
GENRE: Fantasy
ENTRY: #21

Pitch: Iphi was flown here by Artemis long ago, to serve as a priestess in the temple. She can barely tolerate the thought of human sacrifice, but only enemies of the land will be slain.

Her brother Orestes has avenged a murder in their household, but is driven out by the Furies—monstrous flying creatures.

Sister and brother have never met, but when Orestes is washed up on the shore of the temple, what will happen? NOTE ON THE PITCH: I WAS ORIGINALLY DRAWN TO THIS ONE BECAUSE I LOVE THE ORESTEIA MYTHS. BUT I THINK IF I DIDN'T KNOW THE REFERENCE, I WOULDN'T HAVE REALIZED WHAT WAS GOING ON. DON'T BURY THE LEAD ABOUT WHAT IPHI WILL BE ASKED TO DO TO ORESTES--THAT IS YOUR PITCH. TRY SOMETHING MORE LIKE, "WHEN IPHI IS RESCUED FROM HUMAN SACRIFICE BY ARTEMIS, SHE IS TRAINED TO COMMIT HUMAN SACRIFICES HERSELF IN ARTEMIS'S NAME--UNTIL THE DAY SHE LEARNS HER NEXT VICTIM WILL BE HER OWN BROTHER, ORESTES."

To be a priestess, the walk had to be flawless—the smooth heel-to-toe motion beneath the woolen robe that would soon be spattered with blood. Iphi had practiced this walk for two years AND knew it was perfect, knew the ceremonial dagger at her waist was not bouncing from the motion. Her slippered feet continued their smooth whisper on the stone floor of the temple, taking her through the darkness to the sunlight that shone past the linteled doorway, where the sacrifices waited outside. I LIKE HOW OTHERWORLDLY THIS SETTING ALREADY IS.

She paused at the entrance, heavy stonework on either side marking her as a stranger to the scents of life and fresh air. Iphi made the pause purposeful, foreboding. She had no need to blink from the sudden change in light —the deep purple of the veil that hung in front of her eyes shielded her. The whiteness of her face would sharply contrast against the darkness of those same eyes, dimly glimpsed through the veil. Arms outstretched, she stood ready to receive the sacrifices lying on the altar. Any supplicant standing in line with the doorway would have seen her framed by darkness. I'M NOT SURE THIS PARAGRAPH IS DOING ANYTHING THE FIRST PARAGRAPH DIDN'T DO. CUT, SHORTEN, OR GIVE MORE INTERIORITY? HOW DOES SHE FEEL ABOUT HER CURRENT SITUATION?

And further on, in the interior of the temple, hints of the image of Artemis herself showed—a pale statue in the same posture, lit by hungry flames. HOW DOES IPHI FEEL ABOUT ARTEMIS? THE GODDESS THAT RESCUED HER, BUT HAS HER LOCKED UP DOING HUMAN SACRIFICES FOR THE LAST FEW YEARS? A FEW MORE WORDS TO TEASE US WITH WHO THIS PERSON IS ON THE INSIDE AS WELL AS ON THE OUTSIDE.

The pause also gave Iphi time to contemplate this, the last phase of her training. She would ascend to the priesthood by performing human sacrifice. The dagger rested easily against her waist. HOW DOES SHE FEEL ABOUT HUMAN SACRIFICES? ABOUT ASCENDING TO THE PRIESTHOOD?

Critique by Peter Adam Salomon: Deep Summer

TITLE: Deep Summer
GENRE: YA Southern Gothic
ENTRY: #4

Dread sinks in my gut as County Bridge E appears ahead, stretching across Lake Walker like a rusted steel spine. THIS IS YOUR FIRST LINE. 'RUSTED STEEL SPINE' SHOWS THIS BRIDGE PERFECTLY, WHICH IS COMPLETELY AT ODDS WITH 'DREAD SINKS IN MY GUT' TELLING US HOW SHE'S FEELING. THE FIRST LINE ISN'T QUITE AS IMPORTANT AS ALL THE BOOKS SAY IT IS, BUT IT'S REALLY CLOSE. SHOW US HER DREAD. SHOW IT SINKING IN THE LAKE (TO TIE IT INTO THE LATER PARAGRAPHS). GIVE US THE POWER OF THE 'RUSTED STEEL SPINE' OF A BRIDGE AS YOU PREPARE US FOR THE FINAL LINE OF THIS PARAGRAPH (WHICH, YES, LIKELY MEANS ADDING A LINE OR TWO TO DRAW OUT THE TENSION BEFORE THAT KILLER LAST LINE): At least this time, I don't see a dead girl on it. LOVE THAT. JUST SET IT UP A LITTLE BIT MORE TO WRING EVERY OUNCE OUT OF THAT. THINK OF THAT PARAGRAPH (AND EVERY PARAGRAPH/SCENE/CHAPTER/NOVEL) AS A SCREWDRIVER AND THE READER AS THE SCREW. ONE LITTLE TWIST OF A FIRST SENTENCE AND ONE MASSIVE TURN OF A SECOND SENTENCE DOESN'T TEND TO BE THE BEST METHOD TO DRIVE THE SCREW HOME. SLOW, STEADY, CONSTANTLY INCREASING THE DREAD. INCREASE THE TENSION, SLOWLY TURNING THAT SCREW LIKE A MASTER CARPENTER.

I pull over before reaching the bridge and cut my Jeep's engine. TRY TO LIMIT 'PROCESS' SENTENCES WHEN POSSIBLE (AND SOMETIMES IT'S SIMPLY NOT POSSIBLE TO ELIMINATE THEM). THEY'RE JUST MOVING PIECES AROUND AND ADD LITTLE TO THE STORY, BUT THEY'RE NECESSARY. SO, FOR INSTANCE, YOU MIGHT QUESTION IF 'AND CUT MY JEEP'S ENGINE' IS NEEDED OR IF THE READER WILL UNDERSTAND THE IMPLICATION THAT SHE'S TURNED OFF THE CAR. IE: 'I PULL OVER BEFORE REACHING THE BRIDGE,' WHICH COULD THEN COMBINE WITH THE NEXT SENTENCE TO PROVIDE 'WEATHER' AS A CHARACTER TO THE STORY WITH THE 'JUNE HEAT' STRANGLING THE AC. YOU THEN SHOW THE WEATHER/HEAT SO WELL WITH THE SWIMMING LINE, MAKE SURE YOU CARRY THAT SHOW/DON'T TELL THROUGH THE STORY WHEN IT COMES TO THE HEAT (WITHOUT OVERDOING IT, WHICH, TO BE HONEST, I DID WITH MY FIRST NOVEL). June heat strangles the final wisps of AC. Within seconds I feel like I'm swimming. I kick open the door before the car becomes a pressure cooker, and the soles of my Nikes brush over the weeds growing up against Shadburn Highway. THIS IS A GOOD EXAMPLE OF A GOOD LINE THAT IS LIKELY NOT NECESSARY. THE READER WILL KNOW SHE EXITS THE CAR, NO NEED TO SHOW US HOW. YOU'VE ALREADY SET UP THE HEAT SO ANOTHER MENTION IMMEDIATELY ISN'T HELPING, IT'S OVERKILL. DO WE NEED TO KNOW WHAT KIND OF SHOES SHE HAS ON? AND UNLESS IT'S CHECKHOV'S GUN AND THOSE WEEDS ARE GOING TO SHOW UP SOMEWHERE ALONG THE LINE AS SOMETHING IMPORTANT, GIVING THEM SPACE ON PAGE ONE ISKIND OF POINTLESS. IF YOU READ THIS PARAGRAPH WITHOUT THAT SENTENCE (WHICH TAKES UP PARTS OF THREE LINES, THE PARAGRAPH BECOMES LEANER, AND CLEANER, WHICH IS TREMENDOUSLY HELPFUL. It's been a full year since the accident. A lot can change-has changed-in that time, but apparently not the tire marks Griffin's Mustang left on the sunbaked asphalt. THOSE FINAL TWO LINES ARE LOVELY, AND HAVE SO MUCH WONDERFUL MYSTERY TO THEM. JUST THOSE LINES ALONE MAKE ME WANT TO TURN THE PAGE. TANGENTIAL QUESTION: IS SUNBAKED ONE WORD? HYPHEN? OR IS THAT ONE OF THOSE PERSONAL PREFERENCE DECISIONS? OUR HOST WOULD KNOW, I'M SURE…

I slide from the Jeep and grab my phone before shutting the door. AS I SAID, PROCESS SENTENCES. SHE ALREADY KICKED THE DOOR OPEN AND GOT OUT ONCE. DID SHE GET BACK IN THE CAR? DID SHE RUB HER NIKES ON THE WEEDS AND THEN SIT BACK DOWN. BETTER TO REMOVE AS MANY OF THESE AS POSSIBLE TO AVOID REPETITIVE ACTIONS. ALSO, NOTE TO SELF FOR YOU: READ THROUGH LOOKING AT ACTIONS, MAKE SURE THEY'RE NEEDED, PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE, ONLY DONE ONCE, AND MEANINGFUL. I take one step toward the bridge-two, three-and flex my scarred hand, working the tendons like my physical therapist taught me to in order to keep my fingers from stiffening. NUMBER THE STEPS IS LIKELY NOT NEEDED AND WITH LONG-ISH SENTENCES LIKE THIS THEY CAN ADD TO READER CONFUSION. YOU WANT TO MAKE SURE YOUR SENTENCES ARE EASY TO FOLLOW AND DON'T MAKE THE READER HAVE TO RE-READ SOMETHING. 'IN ORDER TO' IS, LIKE THE WORD 'THAT' GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT (AND OUR HOST IS GOING TO KILL ME FOR THIS) BUT I DON'T REALLY CARE IF EVERY LITTLE THING IS GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT IF IT DOESN'T READ/SOUND GOOD. PERHAPS THAT'S THE POET IN ME (OK, YES, IT'S DEFINITELY THE POET IN ME), BUT 'TAUGHT ME TO KEEP MY FINGERS FROM STIFFENING' SIMPLY READS BETTER THAN 'TAUGHT ME TO IN ORDER TO KEEP MY FINGERS FROM STIFFENING.' AGAIN, THAT'S GOING TO BE PERSONAL PREFERENCE, BUT I DO RECALL A BOOK SOON TO BE PUBLISHED THAT I WAS LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE THE CHANGE TO BETA READ AND THE AUTHOR, WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS USED THE WORD 'THAT' OVER 1200 TIMES IN A 300 PAGE BOOK. EVERY ONE OF THOSE 1200+ TIMES WAS GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT. ALSO, I WANTED TO SCREAM AT HAVING TO READ THEM ALL AND WHEN I HIGHLIGHTED THEM ALL IT LOOKED FAINTLY RIDICULOUS. SO, BEING GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT IS IMPORTANT. SO IS NOT MAKING THE READER SEE THE SAME WORD OVER 1200 TIMES. SORRY, BACK TO THE SENTENCE, I LOVE HOW YOU'RE SLOWLY INTRODUCING THINGS BY SHOWING US, WITH A HINT OF TELLING SPRINKLED IN. Lake Walker sits at the bottom of the valley, calm, deep, and probably hot as broth already. ANOTHER HEAT REFERENCE ISN'T NEEDED, THOUGH IT'S A GOOD LINE YOU'LL WANT TO SAVE FOR LATER USE IN THE STORY WHEN NEEDED. ALSO, THIS SHOULD LIKELY BE A NEW PARAGRAPH AS YOU TURN FROM HER HAND TO A BIT OF DESCRIPTION OF THE SETTING. AS YOU'RE ABOUT TO BRING IN THE VISUAL OF 'RED' I'M GLAD YOU DIDN'T COLOR THE LAKE OR THE VALLEY BUT YOU'RE WELCOME TO ADD A BIT MORE OF SIGHT/SMELL/TEXTURE/ETC SO YOU'RE SHOWING THE READER ALL THE SENSES RESPONDING TO THE AREA. A rim of Georgia red clay separates the tree line from the receding waters. Drought's been going on for a year now, and I've never seen the reservoir this drained. If it gets any worse, I wonder what secrets will be revealed? TOO OBVIOUS. I KNOW IT'S EASY TO DO BUT RHETORICAL QUESTIONS ARE USUALLY BEST ELIMINATED. I UNDERSTAND EXACTLY WHAT YOU'RE GOING FOR WITH THIS ONE, BUT IT'S STILL BETTER TO REWORD THIS SO YOU'RE NOT HAVING THE READER HIT OVER THE HEAD WITH 'MYSTERY' IN BIG CAPITAL LETTERS. YOU WANT SOMETHING MORE AKIN TO 'It's been a full year since the accident. A lot can change-has changed-in that time, but apparently not the tire marks Griffin's Mustang left on the sunbaked asphalt.' BUT FOR THE LAKE RATHER THAN THE ROAD IF THE FACT THAT THE LAKE IS DRAINING MIGHT REVEAL SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO THE STORY, OTHERWISE THIS FALLS INTO CHEKHOV'S GUN TERRITORY AGAIN.

My palm gives a phantom throb, and the sensation of water pouring into my lungs makes my chest burn. IS 'MY PALM GIVES A PHANTOM THROB, AND' NECESSARY HERE? OR WOULD THE SENTENCE BE STRONGER WITHOUT IT. For one moment of panic, DON'T TELL US SHE'S PANICKING ONE SENTENCE AFTER YOU SHOW US SHE'S PANICKING. ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU'VE SHOWN IT WITH HER CHEST ACTUALLY BURNING. SHOW IT MORE. Griffin's terrified face flashes in front of me, as if gurgling up through the depths. His flesh gives way to rot as he begs me to help him. THIS MIGHT WORK BETTER AS ONE SENTENCE TO GIVE IT BETTER FLOW: 'Griffin's terrified face flashes in front of me, gurgling up through the depths, flesh giving way to rot as he begs me to help him' FROM THERE YOU CAN WORK ON ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT TO CHANGE. ASK YOURSELF IF 'TERRIFIED' IS NEEDED. OR IF 'IN FRONT OF ME' IS NEEDED, SINCE YOU THEN HAVE 'BEGS ME' AND REPEATING WORDS IS SOMETHING EVERY AUTHOR SHOULD BE AWARE OF, ESPECIALLY IN THE SAME SENTENCE AND THE SAME PARAGRAPH.

I back away, drawing quick, painful breaths. I didn't come here to get pulled under by another memory from that night. My therapist encouraged this harebrained plan, saying I might find healing in the waters. But it isn't healing I need-it's answers. SOMETIMES, ESPECIALLY IN FIRST PERSON POV, IT'S DIFFICULT TO AVOID CONSECUTIVE SENTENCES STARTING WITH 'I' BUT KEEP AN EYE OUT AND TRY TO ELIMINATE ANY SENTENCES IN THE SAME PARAGRAPH THAT START WITH THE SAME WORD, NO MATTER WHAT THE WORD IS. IN THE SAME VEIN, YOU WOULDN'T WANT TO START EVERY PARAGRAPH WITH THE SAME WORD (ESPECIALLY ON THE SAME PAGE). MINOR TECHNICALITIES THAT EDITING IS FOR. AGAIN, IS 'HAREBRAINED' ONE WORD OR TWO? HYPHEN? I LOVE THE WAY YOU SET THINGS UP THAT MAKES THE READER WANT TO TURN THE PAGE.

Dread sinks in my gut as County Bridge E appears ahead, stretching across Lake Walker like a rusted steel spine. THIS IS YOUR FIRST LINE. 'RUSTED STEEL SPINE' SHOWS THIS BRIDGE PERFECTLY, WHICH IS COMPLETELY AT ODDS WITH 'DREAD SINKS IN MY GUT' TELLING US HOW SHE'S FEELING. THE FIRST LINE ISN'T QUITE AS IMPORTANT AS ALL THE BOOKS SAY IT IS, BUT IT'S REALLY CLOSE. SHOW US HER DREAD. SHOW IT SINKING IN THE LAKE (TO TIE IT INTO THE LATER PARAGRAPHS). GIVE US THE POWER OF THE 'RUSTED STEEL SPINE' OF A BRIDGE AS YOU PREPARE US FOR THE FINAL LINE OF THIS PARAGRAPH (WHICH, YES, LIKELY MEANS ADDING A LINE OR TWO TO DRAW OUT THE TENSION BEFORE THAT KILLER LAST LINE): At least this time, I don't see a dead girl on it. LOVE THAT. JUST SET IT UP A LITTLE BIT MORE TO WRING EVERY OUNCE OUT OF THAT. THINK OF THAT PARAGRAPH (AND EVERY PARAGRAPH/SCENE/CHAPTER/NOVEL) AS A SCREWDRIVER AND THE READER AS THE SCREW. ONE LITTLE TWIST OF A FIRST SENTENCE AND ONE MASSIVE TURN OF A SECOND SENTENCE DOESN'T TEND TO BE THE BEST METHOD TO DRIVE THE SCREW HOME. SLOW, STEADY, CONSTANTLY INCREASING THE DREAD. INCREASE THE TENSION, SLOWLY TURNING THAT SCREW LIKE A MASTER CARPENTER.

I pull over before reaching the bridge and cut my Jeep's engine. TRY TO LIMIT 'PROCESS' SENTENCES WHEN POSSIBLE (AND SOMETIMES IT'S SIMPLY NOT POSSIBLE TO ELIMINATE THEM). THEY'RE JUST MOVING PIECES AROUND AND ADD LITTLE TO THE STORY, BUT THEY'RE NECESSARY. SO, FOR INSTANCE, YOU MIGHT QUESTION IF 'AND CUT MY JEEP'S ENGINE' IS NEEDED OR IF THE READER WILL UNDERSTAND THE IMPLICATION THAT SHE'S TURNED OFF THE CAR. IE: 'I PULL OVER BEFORE REACHING THE BRIDGE,' WHICH COULD THEN COMBINE WITH THE NEXT SENTENCE TO PROVIDE 'WEATHER' AS A CHARACTER TO THE STORY WITH THE 'JUNE HEAT' STRANGLING THE AC. YOU THEN SHOW THE WEATHER/HEAT SO WELL WITH THE SWIMMING LINE, MAKE SURE YOU CARRY THAT SHOW/DON'T TELL THROUGH THE STORY WHEN IT COMES TO THE HEAT (WITHOUT OVERDOING IT, WHICH, TO BE HONEST, I DID WITH MY FIRST NOVEL). June heat strangles the final wisps of AC. Within seconds I feel like I'm swimming. I kick open the door before the car becomes a pressure cooker, and the soles of my Nikes brush over the weeds growing up against Shadburn Highway. THIS IS A GOOD EXAMPLE OF A GOOD LINE THAT IS LIKELY NOT NECESSARY. THE READER WILL KNOW SHE EXITS THE CAR, NO NEED TO SHOW US HOW. YOU'VE ALREADY SET UP THE HEAT SO ANOTHER MENTION IMMEDIATELY ISN'T HELPING, IT'S OVERKILL. DO WE NEED TO KNOW WHAT KIND OF SHOES SHE HAS ON? AND UNLESS IT'S CHECKHOV'S GUN AND THOSE WEEDS ARE GOING TO SHOW UP SOMEWHERE ALONG THE LINE AS SOMETHING IMPORTANT, GIVING THEM SPACE ON PAGE ONE ISKIND OF POINTLESS. IF YOU READ THIS PARAGRAPH WITHOUT THAT SENTENCE (WHICH TAKES UP PARTS OF THREE LINES, THE PARAGRAPH BECOMES LEANER, AND CLEANER, WHICH IS TREMENDOUSLY HELPFUL. It's been a full year since the accident. A lot can change-has changed-in that time, but apparently not the tire marks Griffin's Mustang left on the sunbaked asphalt. THOSE FINAL TWO LINES ARE LOVELY, AND HAVE SO MUCH WONDERFUL MYSTERY TO THEM. JUST THOSE LINES ALONE MAKE ME WANT TO TURN THE PAGE. TANGENTIAL QUESTION: IS SUNBAKED ONE WORD? HYPHEN? OR IS THAT ONE OF THOSE PERSONAL PREFERENCE DECISIONS? OUR HOST WOULD KNOW, I'M SURE…

I slide from the Jeep and grab my phone before shutting the door. AS I SAID, PROCESS SENTENCES. SHE ALREADY KICKED THE DOOR OPEN AND GOT OUT ONCE. DID SHE GET BACK IN THE CAR? DID SHE RUB HER NIKES ON THE WEEDS AND THEN SIT BACK DOWN. BETTER TO REMOVE AS MANY OF THESE AS POSSIBLE TO AVOID REPETITIVE ACTIONS. ALSO, NOTE TO SELF FOR YOU: READ THROUGH LOOKING AT ACTIONS, MAKE SURE THEY'RE NEEDED, PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE, ONLY DONE ONCE, AND MEANINGFUL. I take one step toward the bridge-two, three-and flex my scarred hand, working the tendons like my physical therapist taught me to in order to keep my fingers from stiffening. NUMBER THE STEPS IS LIKELY NOT NEEDED AND WITH LONG-ISH SENTENCES LIKE THIS THEY CAN ADD TO READER CONFUSION. YOU WANT TO MAKE SURE YOUR SENTENCES ARE EASY TO FOLLOW AND DON'T MAKE THE READER HAVE TO RE-READ SOMETHING. 'IN ORDER TO' IS, LIKE THE WORD 'THAT' GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT (AND OUR HOST IS GOING TO KILL ME FOR THIS) BUT I DON'T REALLY CARE IF EVERY LITTLE THING IS GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT IF IT DOESN'T READ/SOUND GOOD. PERHAPS THAT'S THE POET IN ME (OK, YES, IT'S DEFINITELY THE POET IN ME), BUT 'TAUGHT ME TO KEEP MY FINGERS FROM STIFFENING' SIMPLY READS BETTER THAN 'TAUGHT ME TO IN ORDER TO KEEP MY FINGERS FROM STIFFENING.' AGAIN, THAT'S GOING TO BE PERSONAL PREFERENCE, BUT I DO RECALL A BOOK SOON TO BE PUBLISHED THAT I WAS LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE THE CHANGE TO BETA READ AND THE AUTHOR, WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS USED THE WORD 'THAT' OVER 1200 TIMES IN A 300 PAGE BOOK. EVERY ONE OF THOSE 1200+ TIMES WAS GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT. ALSO, I WANTED TO SCREAM AT HAVING TO READ THEM ALL AND WHEN I HIGHLIGHTED THEM ALL IT LOOKED FAINTLY RIDICULOUS. SO, BEING GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT IS IMPORTANT. SO IS NOT MAKING THE READER SEE THE SAME WORD OVER 1200 TIMES. SORRY, BACK TO THE SENTENCE, I LOVE HOW YOU'RE SLOWLY INTRODUCING THINGS BY SHOWING US, WITH A HINT OF TELLING SPRINKLED IN. Lake Walker sits at the bottom of the valley, calm, deep, and probably hot as broth already. ANOTHER HEAT REFERENCE ISN'T NEEDED, THOUGH IT'S A GOOD LINE YOU'LL WANT TO SAVE FOR LATER USE IN THE STORY WHEN NEEDED. ALSO, THIS SHOULD LIKELY BE A NEW PARAGRAPH AS YOU TURN FROM HER HAND TO A BIT OF DESCRIPTION OF THE SETTING. AS YOU'RE ABOUT TO BRING IN THE VISUAL OF 'RED' I'M GLAD YOU DIDN'T COLOR THE LAKE OR THE VALLEY BUT YOU'RE WELCOME TO ADD A BIT MORE OF SIGHT/SMELL/TEXTURE/ETC SO YOU'RE SHOWING THE READER ALL THE SENSES RESPONDING TO THE AREA. A rim of Georgia red clay separates the tree line from the receding waters. Drought's been going on for a year now, and I've never seen the reservoir this drained. If it gets any worse, I wonder what secrets will be revealed? TOO OBVIOUS. I KNOW IT'S EASY TO DO BUT RHETORICAL QUESTIONS ARE USUALLY BEST ELIMINATED. I UNDERSTAND EXACTLY WHAT YOU'RE GOING FOR WITH THIS ONE, BUT IT'S STILL BETTER TO REWORD THIS SO YOU'RE NOT HAVING THE READER HIT OVER THE HEAD WITH 'MYSTERY' IN BIG CAPITAL LETTERS. YOU WANT SOMETHING MORE AKIN TO 'It's been a full year since the accident. A lot can change-has changed-in that time, but apparently not the tire marks Griffin's Mustang left on the sunbaked asphalt.' BUT FOR THE LAKE RATHER THAN THE ROAD IF THE FACT THAT THE LAKE IS DRAINING MIGHT REVEAL SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO THE STORY, OTHERWISE THIS FALLS INTO CHEKHOV'S GUN TERRITORY AGAIN.

My palm gives a phantom throb, and the sensation of water pouring into my lungs makes my chest burn. IS 'MY PALM GIVES A PHANTOM THROB, AND' NECESSARY HERE? OR WOULD THE SENTENCE BE STRONGER WITHOUT IT. For one moment of panic, DON'T TELL US SHE'S PANICKING ONE SENTENCE AFTER YOU SHOW US SHE'S PANICKING. ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU'VE SHOWN IT WITH HER CHEST ACTUALLY BURNING. SHOW IT MORE. Griffin's terrified face flashes in front of me, as if gurgling up through the depths. His flesh gives way to rot as he begs me to help him. THIS MIGHT WORK BETTER AS ONE SENTENCE TO GIVE IT BETTER FLOW: 'Griffin's terrified face flashes in front of me, gurgling up through the depths, flesh giving way to rot as he begs me to help him' FROM THERE YOU CAN WORK ON ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT TO CHANGE. ASK YOURSELF IF 'TERRIFIED' IS NEEDED. OR IF 'IN FRONT OF ME' IS NEEDED, SINCE YOU THEN HAVE 'BEGS ME' AND REPEATING WORDS IS SOMETHING EVERY AUTHOR SHOULD BE AWARE OF, ESPECIALLY IN THE SAME SENTENCE AND THE SAME PARAGRAPH.

I back away, drawing quick, painful breaths. I didn't come here to get pulled under by another memory from that night. My therapist encouraged this harebrained plan, saying I might find healing in the waters. But it isn't healing I need-it's answers. SOMETIMES, ESPECIALLY IN FIRST PERSON POV, IT'S DIFFICULT TO AVOID CONSECUTIVE SENTENCES STARTING WITH 'I' BUT KEEP AN EYE OUT AND TRY TO ELIMINATE ANY SENTENCES IN THE SAME PARAGRAPH THAT START WITH THE SAME WORD, NO MATTER WHAT THE WORD IS. IN THE SAME VEIN, YOU WOULDN'T WANT TO START EVERY PARAGRAPH WITH THE SAME WORD (ESPECIALLY ON THE SAME PAGE). MINOR TECHNICALITIES THAT EDITING IS FOR. AGAIN, IS 'HAREBRAINED' ONE WORD OR TWO? HYPHEN? I LOVE THE WAY YOU SET THINGS UP THAT MAKES THE READER WANT TO TURN THE PAGE.

Critique by Adam Heine: Dragon Girl

TITLE: Dragon Girl
GENRE: Fantasy
ENTRY: #23

Pitch: Dragons disappeared a long time ago. When they wake from a 150 year hibernation they release magic into a world that has forgotten magic existed. One dragon’s magic pushes him to expose their existence to humans. One girl is ridiculed for believing that dragons are intelligent creatures instead of plague-ridden beasts. Both struggle to control their new magical powers and break free from the bonds of family oppression to save dragons from extinction, again.

Day 1. After the Long Sleep

Dragons didn’t dream.

But Gregor was trapped in a world that couldn’t possibly be real.

The human, Jason had told him all about dreams. Human minds needed them to store their memories. Dragons, with their six minds, stored and analyzed information continuously. Only Seers had visions, and they were rare. [THERE ARE INTRIGUING HINTS OF THE WORLD HERE THAT MAKE ME WANT TO KNOW MORE. HOWEVER, I FIRST WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT GREGOR AND THIS WORLD HE’S TRAPPED IN. I WANT TO *CARE* ABOUT GREGOR BEFORE I CAN CARE ABOUT THE WORLD.]

Gregor caught a warm thermal and flew through an impossibly brilliant blue sky. In the distance lurked cirrus clouds, black instead of white. Faint rainbows rippled through the wisps, making them appear more fluid than mist. [THE ITALICS MAKE IT SEEM LIKE THIS IS A VISION OR A FLASHBACK—SOMETHING DIFFERENT FROM GREGOR’S MUSINGS IN THE PREVIOUS PARAGRAPH. THAT CAN BE CONFUSING FOR THE READER AT THE BEGINNING OF A NOVEL.]

It wasn’t a vision. The smooth glide of wind over his wings felt all too real, but his last memory was of entering the lake containing the Source of Magic, along with the rest of his coven. They all slept at the bottom of the lake.

His knowledge made no difference, he couldn’t break his mind free to see the real world.

Nutmeg, a human spice, filled his nostrils. His power trying to tell him something important.

He tilted his left wing to follow the scent. Ever since his power had manifested a year ago, shortly after he turned sixteen, his sense of smell became his guide. Sometimes it warned him of danger, and other times it led him to safety.

He’d followed the tantalizing scent of lilac to the Source of Magic when his coven searched for a way to survive the plague. A hundred and twenty-seven dragons had followed him.

He still hoped he’d done the right thing.

EDITORIAL

I love the world this is setting up, and the writing is clean and strong. My one major critique is in my second comment above. Starting a novel is a tricky thing, because the reader doesn’t know a thing about your characters, your story, or your world. It’s even trickier in fantasy where you have to convey how your world differs from the normal world without infodumping and losing reader interest entirely.

You’ve done a great job not infodumping (my first comment above is more a warning than a critique). Now, you need to make sure that you ground the reader before switching up the time or scene. As written, it’s unclear whether Gregor is remembering something that happened to get him where he is now or whether it’s action that IS happening now, and that can be hard for the reader to track.

I will say that, if I were an agent, I would still eat this up. Good job and good luck! --

Critique by Adam Heine: All the Time in the World

TITLE: All the Time in the World
GENRE: YA Sci-fi
ENTRY: #6

Pitch: Seventeen-year-old Derek has only two goals in life: play major league baseball and marry his best friend, Corinne. When a spacetime glitch pulls his future kids into the present, he learns he didn’t marry Corinne, but his abrasive, STEM rival, Michelle. Now forced to play house with a girl he hates, Derek slowly grows more attached to his imperfect family, prompting him to choose between the life he envisioned and the life he never saw coming.

Derek Lyttle’s daughter, Deirdre has all the time in the world.

Sometimes, it’s a terrible burden.

They say time is a relative concept, used to push the world along, a measurement of self-worth and importance. Deirdre closes her eyes, feeling the clock at work.

April 3rd, 2029. 7:20 pm.

She has a day planner, a watch, an alarm clock, a daily routine, all tools to keep her life in order.

Except time isn’t natural. Animals don’t use planners. Trees don’t wear watches. Fish don’t celebrate New Year’s Eve. Only humans chart the days ahead, which means they recognize someday, printed on a distant calendar, that their lives will end, and they’ll be gone.

But the question will remain: Did they make the time count? [I LIKE THE INSIGHTS ON TIME SO FAR, BUT THIS ONE FEELS LIKE TOO MUCH. IT FEELS LIKE STATING THE THEME OF THE NOVEL BEFORE WE EVEN KNOW WHO OR WHAT THE NOVEL IS ABOUT.]

Deirdre thinks about her mother, a woman who uses her time well. There’s rarely a moment where Michelle Lyttle hasn’t locked herself in the drafty basement, beneath the light fixtures that blink and buzz, welding panels together, so her employer’s exploratory rover can withstand Mars’ frigid temperatures without cracking. [AT FIRST, I THOUGHT THIS WAS SET ON MARS. A MENTION OF SETTING EARLIER ON WOULD HELP THIS.]

Michelle [IT FEELS WEIRD TO BE “IN” DEIRDRE’S HEAD YET HAVE HER MENTALLY REFER TO HER MOTHER BY HER FIRST NAME.] says being a good engineer requires hard work and vision. But to be a great engineer, you need perseverance. And time.

Which is why Michelle keeps busy, making dinner for her family but never eating, foregoing date night with her husband to install new wheel cylinders in her model, skipping movie marathons with her children and meteor showers beneath the Oregon sky.

EDITORIAL LETTER

I like the writing, and I love the insights on time. I would read on, but there are two things that would make me skeptical while doing so.

The first is that both the pitch and the opening line led me to believe this story would be about Derek. As a result, it was confusing to realize that we were in Dierdre’s head instead. That small amount of confusion can often be enough for an agent or reader to drop a book in favor of the dozens of other options they have to get through in a busy day.

The second is that we learn very little about Dierdre on this page. We learn a couple of things in a few one-line paragraphs (be careful with those, by the way; it’s real easy to overuse them, as I think you may be doing here), but the rest of it is just Dierdre musing about time and then her mother. If we’re in Dierdre’s head, we should know more about her as soon as possible—what are her goals, her struggles, and why does she have all the time in the world? If the story’s not about her, then maybe we shouldn’t be in her head.

As I said, though, I would read on. There’s a lot of promise here, and based on the pitch, I’m curious about where it will go.

Critique by Adam Heine: Flying Ships and Shadows Sweep

TITLE: Flying Ships and Shadows Sweep
GENRE: MG Fantasy (steampunk)
ENTRY: #25

Shumisha is the Izan’s chimney sweep. She helps the mates gather shadows to fuel the magical engine driving their flying ship.

When Shumisha realizes that the captain traps human shadows, she decides to do everything in her power to free them. People without their shadows vanish into thin air. The problem is she can’t touch tangible things or talk to people. In fact, she’s a shadow herself.


The sailors had gathered around on the upper deck of the Izan, Morocco’s most feared airship. They sorted the shadows they had stolen. The yawing of the ship, tilted by a new cargo [YAW IS HORIZONTAL ROTATION AROUND A VERTICAL AXIS, NOT TILTING. I THINK YOU MEAN ROLL. IN AN AIRSHIP-BASED NOVEL, YOU’VE GOT TO GET THAT KIND OF DETAIL RIGHT.], warned Shumisha of their arrival. The commotion meant only one thing: sailors getting ready to drag the shadows to the furnace and start the magical engine. Argh, no one had come to fetch her. She shook her head. How could they trap shadows without her magical powers? The men’s boots clanked on the turtle shell shaped roof covering the third deck with much force than necessary. Still, they dragged something heavy above her head [THIS IS THE FIRST STRONG CLUE THAT SHUMISHA IS NOT WITH THE SAILORS, BUT THE SECOND SENTENCE IMPLIES THAT SHE IS THERE (BECAUSE SHE “SEES” WHAT THEY’RE DOING. CONSEQUENTLY, IT’S CONFUSING WHERE THE PROTAGONIST IS IN RELATION TO EVERYTHING ELSE.], something unusually heavy. What for all the sailing seas were they up to? [I LIKE THIS BIT OF SLANG (I MEAN, I WOULD). NOTE THAT IT IMPLIES SAILING ON THE SEAS, NOT IN THE SKIES. HOPEFULLY, THAT’S INTENTIONAL.] Their curses reached her ears as the words spiraled down the three decks.

“Too scrawny,” said Captain Hasraban. “Throw it overboard.”

A dark shape passed in front of the first deck’s porthole, near Shumisha. These shadows were more trouble than they had signed up for.

Thankfully, the poor shadow would survive the few hundred feet drop that separated the Izan from the desert town beneath. Unfortunately, it would wander endlessly in the desert with only a slight chance of finding its owner.

Shumisha shook her head. The captain has gone mad!

She crouched in the semi-darkness of the staircase, wishing Moroccans would take more naps and keep their shadows tucked inside their homes during the hot parts of the day. That way, Captain Hasraban’s sailors wouldn’t steal from them.

EDITORIAL LETTER

There are intriguing bits of the world presented here. “What for all the sailing seas,” for example, or the brief explanation of what happens to the shadow that had been dropped. And the second-to-last sentence is a GREAT example of how to drop world-building hints without infodumping.

That said, there are some issues I see. As implied by one my comments above, there are confusing grounding issues. It’s difficult for the reader to tell where the protagonist is in relation to everything else, and the second sentence feels like a point-of-view error along with sentences like “These shadows were more trouble than they had signed up for.” (Is she thinking this on behalf of the sailors or is this meant to be an omniscient POV?) The end result is unfortunate confusion for the reader.

It also feels to me like there is sometimes TOO much dropped about the world. Most of it is fine—great even!—but world-building is a tricky balance. You have to treat it with a light hand and trust that your reader, even a middle-grade reader, will put the pieces together. (Putting the pieces together is one of the great joys of fantasy/sci-fi readers, in fact!)

For example, I feel the last sentence is telling a bit too much. The reader can figure this out (and most readers want to). On the opposite side, the line “How could they trap shadows without her magical powers?” feels like not enough information to me—it adds confusion that is not cleared up quickly enough (though it might be cleared up on the next page and isn’t so bad). In this case, I would say something like “How did they manage to trap shadows without her?” without mentioning magical powers, and then the magical powers can come up later. I’d also probably call them something less generic than “magical powers.”

See? Tricky balance. (And I’m sure other readers would even disagree with me!) But hopefully some of this is helpful. Good luck!

Critique by Erin Beaty: Truth in the Treetops

TITLE: Truth in the Treetops
GENRE: YA Contemporary
ENTRY: #12

Pitch:

For Gabby, a dedicated, but sometimes obsessive cross-country runner, junior year is her time to shine. College recruiters. Scholarships. Besting her impossibly skinny rivals. But eerie encounters in the woods the summer before school starts and CJ, a cute guy with the same quirky taste in music—just might put a wrench in her plans. See, CJ has a secret and it’s connected to what’s going on in the woods. And to Gabby.

GOOD: IMMEDIATELY UNDERSTAND GABBY, USE OF 3 EXAMPLES, TASTE IN MUSIC AS A CONNECTION, VERY COMPACT AND CLEAR

IF THERE’S A SIMPLE/EASY WAY TO GIVE AN EXAMPLE OR ELEMENT OF THE EERIE ENCOUNTERS, THAT WOULD BE MORE INTRIGUING.

I’M NOT USUALLY A CONTEMPORARY PERSON, BUT AS A PARENT AND AS A FORMER TEEN, I’VE BEEN IN THE THICK OF CROSS-COUNTRY AND COLLEGE STUFF, SO IT GOT ME.

Sweltering heat bakes my skin as I shuffle along the narrow path, the hot breeze offering no relief. BIT OF ADJECTIVE OVERLOAD I uncap my water bottle and chug the last drop of tepid liquid. SMALL THING, BUT YOU CAN’T CHUG A DROP OF WATER. Eight miles at cross-country practice and now this. DOES “THIS” REFER TO THE HEAT OR THE WATER? Ugh!

Through the bushes and tall, leafy oaks, I follow the slight descent of the hill, my throat dry, sweat trickling down my back. Would someone please dump a bucket of ice water on my head already?

“Hey, what’s the rush, Gabs?” Asha asks, jogging to keep up DO YOU MEAN CATCH UP? SHUFFLING TO ME DOESN’T MEAN FAST “Slow down.”

“Sorry, it’s just so freakin hot. The A/C in my house is calling us.”

Asha exhales a loud sigh. A SIGH IS AN EXHALATION SO PICK ONE TO DESCRIBE “Yeah, I hear it.”

I keep moving, the tall prickly grass clawing at my bare legs and leaves from low-hanging oaks clutching my ponytail. WAIT, IS SHE IN THE WOODS? I HAD ASSUMED THAT BASED ON THE PITCH AND THE PATH BUT SUDDENLY THERE’S GRASS, WHICH I DON’T ASSOCIATE WITH A FOREST I WE, BECAUSE ASHA IS WITH GABBY AND YOU ALSO BEGAN THE LAST SENTENCE WITH I reach the clearing, the forest widening before me and that’s when it hits. A bone-rattling chill that skitters down my spine and settles in my gut. Okay, that’s weird. Really weird.

Shivering, I stop in my tracks. I THINK HER STOPPING SHOULD COME BEFORE THE “WEIRD” THOUGHT A blistering August day in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and out of nowhere, it’s like I have the flu.

I glance skyward, expecting what, I don’t know. But there’s only a thatched canopy of leaves fluttering in the breeze. The hot August breeze. YOU JUST SAID THAT IT WAS AUGUST ABOVE

Asha stops STOPS IS REPEATED VERB, BUT ASHA PAUSING CAN BE DEDUCTED BY READER, reaches out and touches my arm. “REACHING” IS A FILTER VERB AND UNNECESSARY, PLUS IF TOUCH IS THE FIRST AND ONLY VERB, THE ACTION IS MORE SUDDEN, WHICH IS PROBABLY WHAT YOU WANT IF IT STARTLES GABBY “Gabs, you okay? Geez, you have goosebumps all over.”

“Yeah, no. I’m freezing,” I say, my teeth chattering. “I got this crazy chill out of nowhere.” REPEAT OF “OUT OF NOWHERE” I sigh. NOT SURE SIGHING IS THE RIGHT THING HERE “It must be the heat. I’m delirious.” THE MOM IN ME JUST SCREAMED “HEAT STROKE!!!” LOL

HELLO SUSAN! THANKS FOR LETTING ME READ THIS. I DON’T NORMALLY CRITIQUE THIS WAY AND WITH ALL CAPS SO IT LOOKS LIKE I’M YELLING EVERY FEW WORDS HERE, BUT I’M NOT, REALLY.

-OKAY, SO I’M BIG ON SEEKING AND DESTROYING REPETITION WHEN IT COMES TO WORDS USED. TRY NOT TO HAVE PEOPLE SIGH OR STOP, ETC., MORE THAN ONCE PER PAGE (“SAID” IS AN EXCEPTION BECAUSE IT’S INVISIBLE). NORMALLY I WOULD JUST HIGHLIGHT REPEATED WORDS OR PHRASES RATHER THAN SHOUT AT THEM IN-LINE.

-PAY ATTENTION WORDS AND PHRASES THAT SLOW DOWN OR DILUTE THE ACTION.

-I KNOW THIS IS ONLY 250 WORDS AND THAT’S SO, SO LITTLE TO GET ANYTHING IN, AND YOU WANT TO HIT ME WITH SOMETHING ACTUALLY HAPPENING, BUT I’D LIKE TO HAVE BETTER/CLEARER DESCRIPTION OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND ALSO OF GABBY AND ASHA. THEY ARE COMPLETELY BLANK SO FAR AND THEY NEED TO HAVE IMMEDIATE FEATURES- GIVE ME COLORS OF HAIR AND EYES, MENTION CLOTHING, BUT DON’T OVERLOAD, EITHER (DON’T WORRY, I STRUGGLE WITH THIS A LOT). IT FEELS A BIT RUSHED OVERALL. SET THE SCENE AND THE CHARACTERS BEFORE THE BIG SHIVER- WE WANT IT SOON, BUT IT DOESN’T NEED TO BE ON THE FIRST OR EVEN SECOND PAGE. EASE THE READER INTO THE WORLD AND MAKE THEM COMFORTABLE AND CONNECTED TO THE SCENE, THEN THE BANG HAS MUCH MORE OF AN IMPACT.

-I GET THAT GABBY IS WALKING TO HER HOUSE FROM SCHOOL, BUT GOING THROUGH WOODS TO GET HOME IS NOT SOMETHING THAT IS THAT COMMON FOR A HIGH SCHOOLER (AT LEAST IN MOST PLACES I’VE LIVED), SO YOU MIGHT WANT TO EXPLAIN THE FOREST IN RELATION TO HER HOUSE AND WHY SHE’S CUTTING THROUGH THE WOODS INSTEAD OF DRIVING HOME OR SOMETHING. HOPEFULLY MUCH OF THAT INFO IS COMING SHORTLY, THOUGH.

-IN PLACES WHERE YOU HAVE 3 OR MORE ADJECTIVES IN A SENTENCE, STRIVE TO FIND NOUNS THAT ENCOMPASS THE ADJECTIVE. SAME WITH COMBINING ADVERB-VERB PAIRING WITH A STRONGER VERB (THIS IS JUST GENERAL ADVICE, YOU AREN’T ADJECTIVE CRAZY)

NIT-PICKY STUFF, THOUGH. OVERALL, THIS SEEMS LIKE A GOOD SCENE TO BEGIN YOUR STORY WITH. GABBY HAS IMMEDIATE VOICE, AND ADDING DESCRIPTIONS AS SHE WOULD SEE AND EXPERIENCE THEM WILL MAKE IT EVEN STRONGER. I’M STILL VERY CURIOUS ABOUT THE PREMISE OF THE STORY. BEST OF LUCK!

Critique by Alice Loweecey: Killer Competition

TITLE: Killer Competition--A Killer Dogz Mystery
GENRE: Cozy Mystery

I stared at my pristine white bathtub debating to bath bomb or not to bath bomb. My best friend and now business partner had insisted on rectifying the situation when I'd confessed to never partaking in the craze. She'd bought out half the selection Wal-Mart had on offer.

NOTE: CAUSE AND EFFECT ARE REVERSED IN THE SECOND SENTENCE. "WHEN I'D CONFESSED TO NEVER PARTAKING IN THE CRAZE, MY BEST FRIEND AND BUSINESS PARTNER BOUGHT OUT HALF OF WAL-MART'S SELECTION FOR ME TO TRY."

A knock on the bathroom door was followed by the one sentence that brought sheer terror to our entire neighborhood.

"Mrs. Rogers wants to talk to you." MY ELDEST DAUGHTER'S VOICE DRIPPED WITH BOREDOM. (SOMETHING LIKE THIS, SO WE'RE NOT WONDERING WHO'S TALKING, THUS DISTRACTING US FROM THE STORY.)

Placing the bath bomb on the vanity, I wondered what offense the kids or I could have done to incur the wrath of our next door neighbor. I opened the bathroom door and found my oldest sitting on the edge of my bed, twisting a strand of Auburn, for today, hair. ("AUBURN" ISN'T CAPPED.)

"Where's the phone?"

"Sorry, she's on the porch, not the phone."

Ignoring the smirk on her face, I grabbed the fuzziest robe I had ever owned and stuffed myself into it, covering my pajamas. "Just great," I muttered.

Dropping the strand of hair, she offered to send, "the wicked witch" on her way.

"Hailey Ann Harrison, stop calling her that." Even if it was true, I couldn't risk such impolite behavior making its way back to my parents. I shuddered at the thought of their reactions. (THIS SENTENCE COULD IMPLY THAT THE MC ONLY CARES ABOUT HER PARENTS' REACTION TO HER DAUGHTERS' SNARK, NOT THAT HER DAUGHTER IS BEING SNARKY. IS THAT THE INTENTION? OR DOES THE MC SIMPLY NOT WANT THE NASTY NEIGHBOR TO HEAR?)

I walked down the hall and sighed before opening the front door. (DOES SHE ONLY NEED TO SIGH, OR DOES SHE NEED TO "GIRD HER LOINS"? A scowl on her (IN THIS INSTANCE I'D USE "MRS. ROGERS" HERE TO KEEP US FIRMLY WITH THE MC AND THE EVIL NEIGHBOR AND AWAY FROM THE DAUGHTER.) face was the norm, I'd come to learn but her normally hairspray lacquered hair stuck out at odd angles as if even her hair was angry with me. (THIS IS A GOOD LINE.)

OVERALL NOTES: THIS IS A CATCHY OPENING. I HAVE SYMPATHY FOR THE MC. I'M ENJOYING HER VOICE AND THE TOUCHES OF HUMOR. YOU ESTABLISHED THE MC HAS HER OWN BUSINESS AND IS POSSIBLY A SINGLE MOTHER WITHOUT DISTRACTING FROM THE SCENE. THE STORY IS LIGHT WITHOUT BEING FLUFFY. I WOULD KEEP READING THIS. GOOD LUCK!

Critique by Alice Loweecey: Lethal Injection

TITLE:Lethal Injection
GENRE:Cozy Mystery
ENTRY: #3

When beloved science professor John Briggs from Northwest Chicago State is murdered the police suspect his colleagues. Biology secretary Hallie Peters, determined to protect her department, in-vestigates on her own. She discovers the victim's history of sexual assault and blackmail, finds the murderer, uncovers unsavory truths about colleagues, is nearly killed, and befriends the homicide detective. This book blends campus mystery with an urban setting for a unique spin on the popular college cozies.

NOTES: TECHNICALLY THIS ISN'T A BLURB BECAUSE IT REVEALS THE ENDING. ALSO, THE FINAL LINE ISN'T NECESSARY. A BLURB WILL INDICATE THE SPIN WITHOUT ACTUALLY DESCRIBING IT.

ALSO, THE BLURB SHOULD FOCUS ON YOUR MC, NOT THE MURDER VICTIM. RE-CAST THIS FOCUSING ON HALLIE.

"We got it!" cried Briggs, his tall, lanky form bursting through the office door.

"The grant?" asked Hallie, the biology department secretary.

NOTE: ASSUMING BRIGGS IS GANKED BY CHAPTER 2 OR 3, THIS FIRST PAGE NEEDS TO BE RECAST FROM HALLIE'S POV. SHE'S THE MC. YOU NEED TO EN-GAGE THE READER WITH HER ASAP.

THUS (AS A QUICK EXAMPLE): THE BIOLOGY DEPARTMENT OF NORTHWESTERN CHICAGO STATE UNIVERSITY WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF ITS ANNUAL MAY CHA-OS. HALLIE PETERS GLARED AT THE "WORLD'S GREATEST ADMIN" NAMEPLATE ON HER DESK AND WONDERED FOR THE UMPTEENTH TIME IF BAGGING GRO-CERIES WOULD BE LESS STRESSFUL.

THAT'S SILLY AND MIGHT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH YOUR CHARACTER'S MOTIVATION, BUT IT FOCUSES THE READER IMMEDIATELY ON THE MC. "The whole thing!"

NOTE: WHILE EXCLAMATION POINTS ARE FROWNED ON IN PROSE, A FEW ARE ACCEPTABLE IN DIALOGUE-A VERY FEW. HAVE THE CHARACTERS' BODY LANGUAGE AND ACTIONS CONVEY THEIR EMOTION. FOR EXAMPLE: BRIGGS CAN APPEAR IN THE DOORWAY AND FLING THE GRANT PAPERS UP LIKE CON-FETTI. IF HE THEN SAYS, "WE GOT IT" WITH A GRIN ON HIS FACE, THE EXCITE-MENT IS CONVEYED BY THE ACTION.

"Wow," said Hallie, surprised and pleased. Dr. John Briggs was a the genetics professor in the Biology Department at Northwestern Chicago State University. "I thought they were going to cut it back."

He shook his head. "It looked that way for a while. Some evaluators on the board felt a commuter university didn't warrant that much sophisticated equipment. But with our recent spate of research grants, we'll...," He tented his fingers and rocked on his heels, enormously satisfied. Hallie smiled.

"Anyway, we need to have a celebration," he continued. "Get some champagne and some munchies. We'll meet in Lab 202 after last class this Thursday afternoon. Make sure everyone shows up! I'm going to let the Dean know." He saluted, winked, and was off. Hallie smiled again, but she didn't have long to think after he left before a student showed up looking for an application to take the Masters Examination. It was the last requirement for the MS candidates. The student, Jamie Solotkin, had taken it once and not passed; he had two tries left. Jamie was a perfect example of the "C's get degrees" type of student, but he was a hard worker and had a positive attitude. Hallie liked Jamie and really wanted him to pass; if he didn't she was pretty sure he wouldn't be able to pass the final time with all the additional pressure.

NOTE: THERE NEEDS TO BE A COMPELLING REASON TO INTRODUCE A THIRD CHARACTER ON THE FIRST PAGE. DOES THIS STUDENT PLAY A MAJOR ROLE? IF SO, LET US KNOW WITHIN THESE 250 WORDS.

FOR EXAMPLE: "BRIGGS LEFT AND THE DEPARTMENT'S ETERNAL PROBLEM STUDENT APPEARED IN THE DOORWAY WITH HIS SHEEPISH SMILE AND PUPPY-DOG EYES. HALLIE LIKED JAMIE SOLOTKIN, BUT HE HAD ONLY ONE MORE CHANCE TO PASS THE MASTERS CANDIDATE EXAM."

SEE HOW I SHIFTED THE SCENE A BIT TO KEEP THE FOCUS MORE ON HALLIE? BUT AGAIN UNLESS THIS CHARACTER IS A MAJOR PLAYER, KEEP HIM OFF PAGE ONE.

OVERALL, THIS HAS POTENTIAL. THE COLLEGE SETTING ISN'T WIDELY USED, SO THERE'S A NICHE TO FILL. I SUGGEST GIVING US A STRONGER REASON TO ROOT FOR THE MC IN THIS FIRST PAGE. SINCE BRIGGS IS SCUM, DOES HE COME ON TO HER A LOT AND DOES SHE HAVE TO CONTINUALLY REPULSE HIM? THAT COULD HAPPED ON THIS PAGE. OR DOES SHE CARRY A TORCH FOR HIM BUT HE ONLY FLIRTS? OR DOES SHE ALREADY SUSPECT HE'S "OFF"? MAKE HER DO SOME-THING MORE IN CHARACTER HERE TO GET THE READER IN HER COURT. GOOD LUCK!

Critique by Alice Loweecey: The Case of the Cat Crazy Lady

TITLE: The Case of the Cat Crazy Lady: A Rainbow Gardens Pet Mystery
GENRE: Cozy Mystery

NOTE: COZIES ARE KNOWN FOR "PUN" TITLES. I KEEP READING THE TITLE AS "CRAZY CAT LADY." I SUGGEST CHANGING THE TITLE TO THE STANDARD PHRASE.

Pitch: After Buttercup Bend's "Cat Crazy Lady," (SAME HERE: "CRAZY CAT LADY") Maggie Broom, is smothered to death in her home, Cathy Carter is stunned to learn that the animal shelter and pet cemetery she co-owns with her brother Doug is the recipient of the bulk of Maggie's estate. Sheriff Miller is convinced Maggie's estranged brother and sister are guilty of murder, but Cathy and her reporter friend, Nancy, set out to prove him wrong.

NOTE: THE PITCH IS RATHER CONVOLUTED. YOU HAVE A LOT OF NAMES IN THIS SHORT SPACE. WHEN YOU'RE READY TO QUERY THIS, FOCUS ON THE MC AND USE "THE SHERIFF" AND SUCH DESIGNATIONS FOR OTHER CHARACTERS.

Cathy stood before the tiny tombstone, a bouquet of spring flowers clutched in her hands. She bent down, tears in her eyes. Reading the inscription proved difficult. "Here lies Floppy, be-loved cat of Catherine Carter. Until we meet again on Rainbow Bridge. 2003-2015." NOTE: THIS IS WORDY. YOU ACHIEVE SYMPATHY FOR THE MC WITH HER DEAD CAT, BUT YOUR FIRST PARAGRAPH IS VALUABLE TERRITORY. DON'T CLOG IT WITH THE LONG TOMBSTONE INSCRIPTION.

Placing the flowers in front of the stone, she wiped her eyes with a tissue she fetched from the pocket of her blue cardigan. Growing up with cats and dogs and now being part owner of a pet cemetery, Cathy was familiar with the deep pain of losing a special animal friend. (I'D DELETE THIS SENTENCE AND WORK IT IN A LITTLE LATER. KEEP THE FIRST PAGE MOV-ING.) The handsome gray and white cat she'd had since the age of twelve left special pawprints on her heart. She would never forget Floppy. (THE "PAWPRINTS" LINE IS SUFFICIENT. THE LAST SENTENCE IS REDUNDANT) Hearing a low rustle. (THIS NEEDS A COMMA AND "SHE" SHOULDN'T BE CAPPED.) She glanced behind to see Oliver, the elderly Siamese she adopted two years ago after his ninety-year old owner passed away. (THIS INFO CAN BE MOVED TO SMOOTH THINGS OUT; SEE NEXT LINE.)

Oliver(, HER ELDERLY SIAMESE FOSTER,) approached on his cocoa paws meowing a loud call for attention. It echoed through the quiet cemetery. Cathy patted his head as he rubbed against her calf feeling his touch through the legs of her jeans.

"What are you doing out here, Oliver?" She was sure she'd closed the door behind her of the small house she shared with her grandmother. Cathy's question was answered by Gran whom she hadn't noticed standing on the patio with a watering can in her hands.

(NEW PARAGRAPH) "Catherine," the old woman called (COMMA) waving. She still wore her long nightgown but had put on gardening shoes. (WHY IS GRAN WEARING A NIGHTGOWN AND BOOTS IN PUBLIC? IS SHE A TOUCH SENILE? IF SHE IS, TELL US AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.) "I let out Oliver for some fresh air. I wanted to water the flowers. I hope we didn't startle you."

OVERALL THOUGHTS: THIS ESTABLISHES A SYMPATHETIC MC AND HITS THE FLUFFY PET POINT THAT IS BIG IN COZIES. HOWEVER, THE WRITING COULD USE TIGHTENING UP. A COZY DOESN'T REQUIRE A LOT OF ACTION AT THE BE-GINNING, BUT I SUGGEST SOMETHING ELSE TO ENGAGE THE READER. PERHAPS THE CAT COULD RUN THROUGH THE FLOWERS AND MAKE GRAN SHRIEK? OR A DOG COULD SNAP ITS LEASH AND CHASE THE CAT, AND THE MC COULD RE-MEMBER WHY SHE PREFERS CATS TO DOGS AS SHE'S DEALING WITH MINOR CHAOS AND THE DOG'S OWNER. WHATEVER IS BEST FOR THE CHARACTER. THIS HAS POTENTIAL. GOOD LUCK WITH IT.

Critique by Holly Bodger: The Bea Team

TTITLE: THE BEA TEAM
GENRE: YA Contemporary
ENTRY:  #30

Seventeen-year-old Bea serves up Southern fried dishes to win a food truck competition. But falling for a competitor was never on the menu. The stress of the romance and competing stir up Bull, her bulimia voice. Now it'll take the perfect recipe not only to become the winning chef, but also keep her girlfriend, and defeat Bull.

[THIS IS MISSING THE MOTIVATION. WHY DOES SHE NEED TO WIN THIS COMPETITION? I WOULD ALSO PREFER THAT YOU TELL US WHAT INCITES THIS GOAL BUT IT'S NOT COMPLETELY NECESSARY. FINALLY, I'M CONFUSED AS TO HOW WINNING WILL HELP HER KEEP HER GIRLFRIEND SINCE SHE'S HER COMPETITION.]

I inhale the celery and onion [THAT'S] mixed with crabmeat and fried to a honey brown. The spices from Bea's Bite, my own creation [TELLING], add just the right zest and kick. Perfect. They're [THE 'THEY' HERE IS REFERRING TO THE SPICES. IS THAT WHAT YOU MEAN?] arranged on Nana's pink flower-patterned platter. I've set the table with the coordinating dishes as well-salad and dinner plates, sterling silverware, and the white linen napkins, the whole works. Normally Nana's china is reserved for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and when Daddy was alive, my parents' anniversary, but tonight I'm breaking the rules and hoping Momma won't mind.

She should be home in a few minutes. I go into the kitchen and get the salad and pitcher of sweet tea to carry to the table. After I set the bowl and pitcher down, there's only one thing left. I pick up the envelope with the same delicacy as if it's a sleeping baby [MAKE SURE SHE HAS A SLEEPING BABY IN HER LIFE IF YOU'RE USING THIS METAPHOR] and set it in between the two plates.

The manila envelope came this afternoon after six long months of waiting. I wanted to rip it open at the mailbox, but decided I didn't want to read the letter alone. Whatever news it's delivering needs a proper meal. Everything in life is better with a proper meal. [IS THIS HER BELIEF OR HER MOMMA'S? IF IT'S SOMETHING HER MOMMA OR DADDY TAUGHT HER, TELL US THIS].

The day I learned to ride a bike, Daddy and I made lasagna with homemade garlic sticks. He showed me how to make noodles. Closing my eyes, I can still hear his laughter when I rolled the first batch too thick, and he said I was destined to be like Julia Child.

[I REALLY LIKE THIS. THE ONLY THING THAT'S MISSING IS SOME KIND OF HINT AT THE BULIMIA. THE OPENING IS ALL ABOUT INTRODUCING YOUR MAIN CHARACTER SO IF THIS IS HER FLAW, I WANT AT LEAST A HINT ABOUT IT IN THE FIRST FEW PAGES. IT WOULD ALSO BE NICE TO GET A TAD MORE EMOTION ABOUT THE ENVELOPE. IS SHE NERVOUS? EXCITED? TOTALLY FREAKING OUT?]

Critique by Holly Bodger: Aloha

Title: ALOHA
Genre: YA Contemporary
Entry number #17

The Pitch:

Look up the word survivor and you'll find Honor Washington's photo. She's survived being raped, two counts of justifiable homicide and the indifference of her hoarding mother. But what might kill her is the dream she's after, because in order to achieve it, she's made her town's worse enemy her new best friend. [I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHAT THIS DREAM IS SINCE THIS IS HER GOAL AND WHAT WILL SUSTAIN THE STORY]

I killed my first person [I FIND THIS USE OF PERSON A LITTLE DETACHED] at age twelve. I aimed my dad's Glock, drew in a breath to steady my hands and pulled the trigger. The bullet hit dead center in the back of Tony Pendrick's head. His body rolled off my mother and thudded to the floor.

The police were astonished at my accuracy considering Pendrick [HAD] just raped me. [THIS IS ALSO VERY DETACHED. I WOULD BE VERY CAREFUL DOING THIS WITH RAPE. IT MAKES IT SEEM LIKE IT'S NO BIG DEAL AND YOUR READERS WILL NOT BE ABLE TO CONNECT WITH THAT BELIEF]

I killed my second person five years later.

A 9 mm slug between his eyes.

"Nice shot, Honor," Police Chief Washington said.

I knelt beside him on the sidewalk and pressed my shirt over the massive hole in his stomach. "Don't talk." [I'M CONFUSED HERE. IF SHE SHOT HIM BETWEEN THE EYES, WHY IS SHE PRESSING ON A HOLE IN HIS STOMACH?]

Bystanders moved around us. "I've called 911."

"Here's a blanket."

"Hang in there, Chief. You'll be okay." [I'VE READ THIS A FEW TIMES NOW AND I THINK MAYBE CHIEF HAS BEEN SHOT TOO BUT I REALLY DON'T KNOW WHAT THIS HAS TO DO WITH THE SECOND PERSON SHE KILLED SINCE IT'S NOT HIM. I THINK YOU NEED TO CONNECT THE DOTS MORE. DID THE 2ND GUY SHOOT CHIEF AFTER SHE SHOT HIM? YOU HAVE TO TELL US THIS].

"Rich? Where's Rich?" Chief Washington asked.

The deputy crowded in next to me. "Right here, sir. Everything's going to be fine."

"Cal?" "Cal Smite is dead, sir. He's done terrorizing people."

"Make sure the report gets written up right. Make sure they know Honor fired in self-defense."

"We've got witnesses, sir. We'll take care of it."

[I'M HAVING TROUBLE KEEPING UP WITH ALL THIS DIALOGUE. IS ANY OF IT HERS OR ARE THESE ALL DIFFERENT PEOPLE SPEAKING TO OTHER DIFFERENT PEOPLE? I THINK YOU NEED TO TAG IT A LITTLE SO WE KNOW WHO IS TALKING TO WHO.]

"Stop talking," I said. I pressed harder on his wound. Blood spurted out from under my shirt and covered my hands.

Chief Washington grabbed Rich's shirt. "Your word, Rich. No charges. No dragging Honor's name through the press. You keep an eye out too. You understand? You'll be in charge now."

Rich squeezed the chief's shoulder. "Yes, sir…Dwayne. I promise. Don't worry."

Chief Washington gasped like a fish out of water. His eyes were losing

[THIS KIND OF SCENE IS A GOOD WAY TO CONNECT THE READER WITH YOUR MAIN CHARACTER. UNFORTUNATELY, IT'S ALL BACK STORY AND YOU DON'T WANT TO START WITH BACKSTORY. FIND A WAY TO GIVE US ACTION IN HER CURRENT STATE AND THEN WEAVE IN THIS BACKSTORY WHEN IT MATTERS. ALSO, TRY TO BE CAREFUL HOW MANY CHARACTERS YOU INTRODUCE ON THE FIRST PAGE. I THINK THERE ARE 7 HERE WHICH IS A LOT TO REMEMBER IN ONE PAGE.]

Critique by Holly Bodger: The Nine Deaths of Mr. Wiggles

Title: The Nine Deaths of Mr. Wiggles
Genre: YA Short Story Humor Entry #36

The pitch: Thane is a Grim Reaper cursed to faint at the sight of blood - causing him to fail at his job. He currently hunts after the soul of one elusive cat named Mr. Wiggles. Thane needs this soul in hopes of defeating his curse or else he will be stuck on bug duty for eternity.  

The Beginning

Crap, thought Thane. In the recent years [YOU SAY IT'S BEEN 100 YEARS LATER SO I'M CONFUSED WHAT IS DIFFERENT FOR THE LAST FEW YEARS], that one word summarized his career, relationships, and his life. It defined his current day. The word perfectly described the substance which smothered his face too. He pushed himself off the ground, feeling the brown muck fall off in gooey clumps and unto his clothes. At least it was not fresh and warm. [I LIKE THIS OPENING BUT I THINK THE ORDER IS WRONG. YOU WANT TO GIVE THE READER THE SENSATION BEFORE THE THOUGHT. GIVE US THE FEELING OF THE WARM MUCK AND THEN HAVE HIM THINK ABOUT HOW THIS MUCK REPRESENTS HIS CAREER].

Blah. [I THINK YOU PROBABLY WANT SOMETHING MORE LIKE YUCK OR BLUCK HERE]

He couldn't help but throw up [I LIKE THAT YOU HAVE A CHARACTER WHO CAN HANDLE DEATH BUT NOT POOP BUT I THINK YOU NEED TO POINT OUT THAT IRONY HERE SOMEHOW]. Even with bile and a cow's mud pie [I WOULD SAY MANURE HERE. PEOPLE DON'T GENERALLY USE POLITE METAPHORS IN THEIR OWN HEAD LIKE THIS…TEENS DEFINTELY DON'T] covering him, he would finish this job. The success of this task would wash away any shame or failures. It would help redeem him. He straightened himself, took a few deep breaths and looked at the hay piles and chickens in the poorly lit mow area of the barn. The little pussy [CHANGE THIS WORD. IT MEANS SOMETHING VERY DIFFERENT IN NORTH AMERICA!] got away. Again. This was the second time it ran away. His current job required him to hunt after a strong soul of a young cat. Though today, his feline prey seemed luckier than hell. Thane would do anything to get his hands on the cat's luck [IS THIS HIS MOTIVATION FOR THE ENTIRE STORY? IF SO, I THINK WE NEED A LITTLE MORE INFORMATION ON WHY HE WANTS IT]. He would be willing to find out if this cat's paw held more luck than the rabbit's foot tied to Thane's belt. The rabbit's foot had been in efficient today.

Thane swore he [HE'D] stay on this farm until he caught and permanently sliced with his scythe the ties of the cat's soul to the body. Failure of harvesting souls filled his last hundred years. He used to be one of the more successful reapers for centuries. He had started the whole hooded garb and not showing your face to your victims. It would horrify people to their deaths who weren't even on the list to die yet. He put awe into artists to draw him as the universal symbol of reapers. Now, he was the lowest rank reaper, his design mocked as a cheap Halloween costume. His pride made him wear it year-round. Fashion always come back in style he would say.

He searched the red barn and its pens for the brown and yellow striped cat. [I THINK THIS LINE NEEDS TO COME A LOT EARLIER (LIKE WHEN HE'S SEARCHING THE HAY PILES). THE READER NEEDS TO KNOW WHAT HE'S LOOKING FOR BEFORE HE THINKS ABOUT HIS STRUGGLE TO FIND IT] The animals remained silent and nothing shifted in the rafters above. His target could not have gone far.

I REALLY LIKE THIS STORY BUT HAVE A COUPLE OVERALL CONCERNS:

1) IT SOUNDS A LITTLE MORE ADULT THAN YA, PROBABLY BECAUSE THE MAIN CHARACTER HAS A CAREER AND RELATIONSHIPS. YOU MIGHT NEED TO FIND A WAY TO SHOW US HIS REAL AGE SO WE SEE THAT IT'S TEEN. THE VOICE SOUNDS YOUNG ENOUGH SO I THINK THIS IS JUST A MATTER OF TELLING US HE'S A TEEN WHO HAS BEEN ALIVE FOR A FEW HUNDRED YEARS (OR WHATEVER THE CASE MAY BE).

2) IF THE MAIN GOAL OF THIS ENTIRE STORY IS TO CATCH THE CAT, YOU CAN'T HAVE IT ALREADY EXIST ON PAGE ONE. THIS GOAL HAS TO BE INCITED AFTER THE SETUP (NORMALLY ABOUT 10-15% IN).

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Pitch for the Win: WINNERS

First of all, thank you to everyone who entered! Readers, please keep your critiques coming, as these are so helpful regardless of whether or not an entry is chosen by one of our participating authors.

I randomly assigned our 8 authors a number, and they were then able to choose their favorites in the order of their numbers. The exciting part is that, after we had our 8 winners, several of the authors came back and requested to see more! So we actually have more than 8 winners.

Without further ado:

1. ADAM HEINE chose:

#25 Flying Ships and Shadow Sweeps

and also

#6 All the Time in the World
#23 Dragon Girl

2. ERIN BEATY chose:

#12 Truth in the Treetops

3. NANCY BILYEAU chose:

#20 The Atonement of Louis Godbout

4.  ROSARIA MUNDA chose:

#21 Temple Beyond the Sea

and also

#9 Orphaned Skies

5. PETER SALOMON chose:

#4 Deep Summer

6. SARAH AHIERS chose:

#34 Being More Than OCD

7.   ALICE LOWEECEY chose:

#28 The Case of the Cat Crazy Lady

and also

#1 Killer Competition--A Killer Dogz Mystery
#3 Lethal Injection
#29 Jeweled to Death

8. HOLLY BODGER chose:

#30 The Bea Team

and also

#17 Aloha
#36 The Nine Deaths of Mr. Wiggles

And there you have it! I'd also like to point out that a couple of our authors asked for extras that someone else had already requested. All that to say--our entrants did a great job of hooking our authors!

IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR THE WINNERS: Please email me RIGHT AWAY at facelesswords@gmail.com, and I will give you submission instructions. Failure to submit your first page in a timely manner may result in your forfeiting the critique.

Congratulations, everyone! And huge thanks to our lovely authors.

(To read more about them all, go HERE.)




Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Pitch for the Win -- Critique Guidelines

Here they are-- 38 pitches for a quite diverse group of stories! When you leave your feedback, remember that it's most useful to tell people WHY something isn't working. The pitch should grab our attention and let us know what the conflict is.

Guidelines for Critique on MSFV:
  • Please leave your critique for each entry in the comment box for that entry.
  • Please choose a screen name to sign your comments. The screen name DOES NOT have to be your real name; however, it needs to be an identifiable name.  ("Anonymous" is not a name.)
  • Critiques should be honest but kind, helpful but sensitive.
  • Critiques that attack the writer or are couched in unkind words will be deleted.*
  • ENTRANTS: As your way of "giving back", please critique a minimum of 3 other entries.

*I can't possibly read every comment.  If you ever see a comment that is truly snarky, please email me.  I count on your help.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Pitch for the Win #38 - MG Historical

TITLE: The Beatles Fan
GENRE: MG Historical Fiction

THE BEATLES FAN, is a coming of age story, about a Jewish boy living in the 1960’s who learns a family secret. It drives him to search for his brother with a little help from his friends and his love of The Beatles. Gordon Cohen’s running away is fueled by the desire to have a brother to look up to. But also, to know how his father had a son, and just left him.

Pitch for the Win #37 - Fantasy

TITLE: Windcaller
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

A woman of the noble caste acquires illicit powers and takes on a secret identity in order to bring rain to the starving peoples of the Aridlands. She finds herself falling in love with a proud man of the oppressed caste, but revealing her true identity would destroy any hope of her quest succeeding.

Pitch for the Win #36 - YA Humor

TITLE: The Nine Deaths of Mr. Wiggles
GENRE: YA Short Story Humor

Thane is a Grim reaper cursed to faint at the sight of blood – causing him to fail at his job. His partner, Erlik doesn’t help because his dating time with Karma only occurs when Thane faints. The three immortals chase the lives of one cat, Mr. Wiggles.

Pitch for the Win #35 - Memoir

TITLE: Family Matter: A Memoir of the Brain and a Family Rewired
GENRE: Adult Memoir

As the youngest of nine, I used real and inflated illnesses to stand out. But, when unexplained seizures surged through my body, I told no one.

At 22 I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. Later, when a stroke destroyed my father’s mind and body, I wondered how I had avoided the same fate. I needed to change too. I would always be the baby, but I didn’t have to act like one.

Pitch for the Win #34 - YA Mystery

TITLE: Being More than OCD
GENRE: YA Mystery

When OCD Jenna attends a film site, she interrupts the director's murder. He picks her to star opposite his gorgeous son in his new film. She must become a dynamite actor before the murderer returns and ruins her and her film debut.

Pitch for the Win #33 - YA Fantasy

TITLE: THE WOODLANDS HEIR
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Elwyn’s magic burns down her beloved magical woodlands in the faerieland, Elhaim. An irritatingly handsome half-fae sullenly agrees to help her control the magic and restore the forest. He brings her to his island and she realizes soon after that it wasn’t a coincidence she met him.

Pitch for the Win #32 - YA Fantasy

TITLE: The Seven Strings
GENRE: YA Fantasy

To free her sister from a Traitor’s prison, sixteen-year-old Eva must free herself first—by taking back her soul.

In a brutal experiment, her captors rip her soul out using a sinister black knife.

She learns she must destroy the black knife and get her soul back before she can return to her sister, but she doesn’t know where to look or how to do it, and if she fails, she’ll be lost forever, disappearing into nothingness.

Pitch for the Win #31 - MG Fantasy

TITLE: Hope of Glimmer
GENRE: MG Fantasy

On a quest to rekindle the sun by finding and returning the One SunDrop to the sky, Hope Gander of Glimmer is challenged to test the strength of her own power to dream and her belief in herself, her family, and her friends. Mutated creatures, dead and dying villages, a terrible IceMarsh, leaders determined to maintain their power at all costs, and the wrath of an evil entity are huge obstacles along the way.

Pitch for the Win #30 - YA Contemporary

TITLE: The Bea Team
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Seventeen-year-old Bea serves up Southern fried dishes to win a food truck competition. But falling for a competitor was never on the menu. The stress of the romance and competing stir up Bull, her bulimia voice. Now it’ll take the perfect recipe not only to become the winning chef, but also keep her girlfriend, and defeat Bull.

Pitch for the Win #29 - Cozy Mystery

TITLE: Jeweled to Death
GENRE: Adult Cozy Mystery

When the drunk driver that killed her mother ends up dead, Cassandra and her sisters are the prime suspects.
With the hot Sheriff’s attention focusing on her, Cassie reluctantly agrees to let her former classmate turned handsome lawyer help her. Desperate to clear her family name, Cassie searches for a determined killer that has put her next on his/her to do list.

Pitch for the Win #28 - Cozy Mystery

TITLE: The Case of the Cat Crazy Lady
GENRE: Adult Cozy Mystery (1st of series)

After Buttercup Bend's "Cat Crazy Lady," Maggie Broom, is smothered to death in her home, Cathy Carter is stunned to learn that the animal shelter and pet cemetery she co-owns with her brother Doug is the recipient of the bulk of Maggie's estate. Sheriff Miller is convinced Maggie's estranged brother and sister are guilty of  the murder, but Cathy and her reporter friend, Nancy Meyers, set out to prove him wrong.

Pitch for the Win #27 - Historical Fantasy

TITLE: Mourn Their Courage
GENRE: Adult Historical Fantasy

When a hungry ghost kills Liu Jie's children, he concludes he's an unfit leader. Then he's thrown into a war he can't win against a creature that seeks to consume the empire and cannot be killed.

Set in the Xing empire, where ghosts are guides and heroes are traitors, MOURN THEIR COURAGE is a 100k-word novel based on the same popular Chinese folklore used in Ken Liu's "Grace of Kings."

Pitch for the Win #26 - MG SF

TITLE: Violet Ray and The Magnetic Pole Reversal
GENRE: MG Science Fiction

When invaders capture 11-year old Violet's guardian, Cat Ion, she must use all of her inventions and create a plan to rescue him without exposing her identity as a genetic marvel, at the risk of losing her island home, or even her life.

Pitch for the Win #25 - MG Fantasy (Steampunk)

TITLE: Flying Ships and Shadow Sweeps
GENRE: MG Fantasy (steampunk)

Shumisha is a ship’s chimney sweep. She helps the mates gather shadows to fuel the magical engine driving their flying ship.

When Shumisha realizes that the captain has decided to trap human shadows, she decides to do everything in her power to free them. People without their shadows vanish into thin air. Her family will disappear. The problem is she can’t touch tangible things or talk to people. In fact, she’s a shadow herself.

Pitch for the Win #24 - YA Mystery

TITLE: Wish I Was Here
GENRE: YA Mystery

When Ana’s genius best friend Isaac hands her a pill he made that will turn her invisible, she swallows it to avoid being kidnapped along with him. Now she must rescue him before he’s forced to create another pill for the highest evil bidder. If she doesn’t find him for the antidote within a week, she’ll remain invisible forever.

Pitch for the Win #23 - YA Fantasy

TITLE: Dragon Girl
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Dragons disappeared a long time ago. When they wake from a 150 year hibernation they release magic into a world that has forgotten magic existed. One dragon’s magic pushes him to expose their existence to humans. One girl is ridiculed for believing that dragons are intelligent creatures instead of plague-ridden beasts. Both struggle to control their new magical powers and break free from the bonds of family oppression to save dragons from extinction, again.

Pitch for the Win #22 - Urban Fantasy

TITLE: Wolf Fighter
GENRE: Adult Urban Fantasy

When you read Wolf Fighter, you walk the mean streets of an 88,000-word quest for the elusive HEA with butt-kicking along the way. Think, if Buffy were the B story. Think, Spiderman II with ghosts.
Think, Ghost Whisperer who more than whispers. When Rodney sleeps with a ghost, she comes back to life.  He’s clueless, easily accepting that woman are cold and he’s their IT boy.  Then he meets Marissa.

Pitch for the Win #21 - Fantasy

TITLE: Temple Beyond the Sea
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

Iphi was flown here by Artemis long ago, to serve as a priestess in the temple. She can barely tolerate the thought of human sacrifice, but only enemies of the land will be slain.
Her brother Orestes has avenged a murder in their household, but is driven out by the Furies--momstrous flying creatures.
Sister and brother have never met, but when Orestes is washed up on the shore of the temple, what will happen?

Pitch for the Win #20 - Historical

TITLE: The Atonement of Louis Godbout
GENRE: Adult Historical Fiction

Lower Canada, 1838. The revolt against British rule is in tatters. Louis Godbout, a loner caught in a no-man’s land between French and Cree, is banished to the penal colony of Australia for a rebellion he didn’t believe in. In exile he finds comradeship; in humiliation, dignity. Inspired by the dignity and courage of a Huguenot/Londoner convict woman, he wrestles with the meaning of home, identity and belonging. Based on true events.

Pitch for the Win #19 - MG Contemporary Fantasy

TITLE: Twenty-five Sundays
GENRE: MG Contemporary with Fantastical Elements

Twenty-Five Sundays is about twelve-year-old Ali whose father falls apart after her mother is deployed. As Ali takes responsibility for keeping her dad and her parents’ marriage intact, her memories come to life with a message that she must understand or lose everything she loves most.

Pitch for the Win #18 - Fantasy

TITLE: The Unchosen
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

With her memories gone, all Fia wants to do is survive on Earth when an old lover arrives in town and pulls her away into a world of magic where boats can fly, people can throw fire, and almost everyone wants her dead.

Pitch for the Win #17 - YA Contemporary

TITLE: Aloha
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Look up the word survivor and you’ll find Honor Washington’s photo. She’s survived being raped, two counts of justifiable homicide and the indifference of her hoarding mother. But what might kill her is the dream she’s after, because in order to achieve it, she’s made her town’s worst enemy her new best friend.

Pitch for the Win #16 - Fantasy

TITLE: Persephone's Waltz
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

Holy Maiden Ysabel has four months left to live. When she stops the assassination of Dark Lord Kaine, a trans man leading a rebel army, he takes it upon himself to rescue her from becoming a human sacrifice—by kidnapping her. Hades X Persephone meets the humor of Terry Pratchett and the world-building of N.K. Jemisin.

Pitch for the Win #15 - MG Contemporary

TITLE: The Legacy Project
GENRE: MG Contemporary

All May wants is to win the sixth grade Legacy Project and use the prize money to buy her dream telescope. But that seems impossible when her subject, the most ordinary man in town, 100-year-old Mr. Bailey, dies after one interview. But when May finds a note in his pocket at the funeral, she discovers that maybe he isn’t so boring after all.