Wednesday, March 30, 2016

March Pass or Pages Entry #3

Welcome to our feedback reveal for Pass Or Pages. In this contest, randomly chosen entries were critiqued by our agent panel. We hope it will give everyone a sense of what is going on in an agent's head as they read queries and first pages. We're so grateful to the members of the agent panel who gave their time to provide feedback on these entries. We'd also like to thank the entrants. It's hard to put yourself out there. Thanks for being brave!


Entry #3: WE BURN TOO BRIGHT

QUERY

Wella Scotland believes her relationship with her best friend is indestructible—until the night he holds a knife to her throat and disappears, [CP1] proving all things can be destroyed. [PK1]

Ten months later, Wella is desperate to forget what Finn did and the lingering question of why it happened. The truth is a black abyss she’s not willing to explore, and to protect herself from wading too deep into its murky shadows, [PK2] she pretends Finn never hurt her while convincing her father and therapist she doesn't need him. [WA1] But when Wella finds the missing knife from that night, the darkness lying below abruptly swallows her. A drastic, but unsuccessful attempt to release her pain results in an ultimatum—get better of her father will force her to move away. [CP2][PK3]

There to pull Wella in a positive direction is Tuskman Soulkeeper, self-proclaimed pirate of the underworld, [CP3] who declares it’s his mission to save her. Wella isn’t sure if Tusk is well-meaning or crazy, but since he won’t leave her alone, she uses his presence as proof that her mental health is improving. [CP4] Tusk persuades Wella to find Finn so she might understand what happened between them, but their search leads to a unsettling discovery that places more blame on Wella than Finn. [CP5]

Guilt-ridden, Wella abandons her search, but Tusk insists they keep going, even as his own wounds of loss begin to split open. [CP6][PK4] When Wella must step in to save Tusk from the grip of his painful past, she learns it’s possible to move forward despite the mistakes she’s made. With this new perspective, Wella must decide to let Finn go and live with the consequences of her actions, or find him and risk the pain of knowing he may never want to be in her life again. [CP7]

WE BURN TOO BRIGHT is a YA contemporary novel told from Wella’s perspective and interspersed with letters from Finn; it is complete at 99,000 words.
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Carrie's notes:
[CP1] Does he threaten her in some way or just hold a knife to her throat?
[CP2] This description seems slightly melodramatic. If the experience left her with PTSD or another deep-scarring issue, let us know, otherwise I'm not sure why she isn't just upset/angry/confused. [CP3] This suddenly brings a fantasy element to the story that I wasn't expecting. I would find a way to say upfront that this is YA fantasy instead of leaving it to the end.
[CP4] Why would this be a sign her mental health is improving?
[CP5] You don't want to give everything away here, but this is too open-ended and confusing
[CP6] Clarify what this means
[CP7] This part is intriguing!

Peter's notes:
[PK1] Great tension -- but the imagery is a little unclear. Does he hold a knife to her throat and then disappears? Also, I'm not sure we need "proving all things can be destroyed."
[PK2] "The truth is a black abyss she's not willing to explore, and to protect herself from wading too deep into its murky shadows" -- you can delete this and get to the next bit faster -- queries need to be concise, and this doesn't really add much that we didn't get from the previous sentence.
[PK3] Lots of imagery in this paragraph, but the actual details of the story feel a little too abstract. Give us more of a concrete sense of what happens.
[PK4] awkward phrasing

Whitley's notes:
[WA1] Doesn't need Finn? Her father/therapist? Not clear.
[WA2] Wait, I thought this was a contemporary, not a fantasy. Between the personified darkness and this character, this isn't reading like a realistic contemporary.


FIRST 250

Drowning is often quick and unspectacular. 

Finn left that quote for me in one of our hiding spots years ago. [PK1] An innocent scrap of torn notebook paper rolled up tight and stuffed inside the hollow of a chestnut tree. I laughed after reading the random mix of small and capital letters; it was the exact sort of chilling sentence he envied for not having written it himself. [CP1] It wasn’t the first quote or nearly the last I found, but of them all, it’s the one that roars when my thoughts accidentally stumble into last summer and the terrible thing he did. [CP2][WA1] Without warning, the memory triggers a slow sort of air compression, then the ground dissolves beneath my feet, water rushes up, and I’m suddenly underneath Juniper’s granite waves, [CP3] arms chopping inside a strangling mist of silver bubbles, a gulp of briny salt water sloshing between my teeth, tasting of slime and seaweed. Unlike the quote, that drowning—the one inside my head—never feels quick. It never feels unspectacular. [PK2]

As I leave Lola’s Pizza and cross over Main Street, I touch the gray head of a parking meter, grind the soles of my sneakers into the ground with every footfall. Small actions to root myself in the present moment, hold my thoughts from drifting into the previous summer, the last night I saw Finn. It’s past midnight and I’ve already cashed out at Lola’s, but Lucky had a slew of last minute deliveries, so I wait for her to finish. [CP4]
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Carrie's notes:
[CP1] I'm not sure what this means.
[CP2] This is also a bit confusing to read.
[CP3] What are Juniper's granite waves?
[CP4] This paragraph is great!
[CP] There are moments of good writing here, but in general, there needs to be more clarification and focus in the query and sample. It's hard to really understand what this story will be about or get more than a vague idea of the premise, which makes it hard for me to know whether or not I'm interested. PASS.

Peter's notes:
[PK1] Love these first two sentences -- great, immediate tension and I immediately wanted to know more.
[PK2] I think you are trying to force too much up front -- you have to ground us in the scene... in the here-and-now... much faster so that we can get our bearings. 
PASS. This sounds intriguing, but the opening didn't quite grab me enough and the query felt a little over-written.

Whitley's notes:
[WA1] I love this bit, but the effect falls apart right after. There's just too much descriptive language right at the beginning, which makes it heavy and hard to really get into.


RESULTS


Carrie Pestritto: PASS
Peter Knapp: PASS
Whitley Abell: PASS

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