Thursday, March 31, 2016

March Pass Or Pages Entry #4

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!



When 14-year-old Vanessa Montgomery’s best friend abruptly drops her and manipulates the rest of their peer group to follow, Vanessa [CP1] is paralyzed by anxiety and turns to restrictive eating for a sense of control. [CP2] Dangerously underweight [WA1] after a hellish semester of brutal social isolation, Vanessa transfers to a new high school to save herself and start over.

Vanessa wants to be “fine”. But her past haunts her. [CP3] The summer before sophomore year, Vanessa embarks on a weeklong leadership camp, in an effort to “get back to Old Me”. [PK1] Although even simple social interactions are nerve-wracking at first, the tentative friendship she begins to develop with Rochelle gives Vanessa hope. But she is fearful that if Rochelle learns her secret, she’ll abandon her too. [CP4] Before she can truly move on and learn to trust again, Vanessa must face her inner demons. But if the truth about what happened last year stays buried underneath layers of self-protection, [PK2] Vanessa risks being held prisoner to her anxiety and spending the rest of high school as an outsider lost in transition. [CP5][PK3][WA2]
Carrie's notes:
[CP1] Replace with "she"
[CP2] This sounds too technical. Instead, I would show more of her emotions/reactions here. For instance, "With no idea why it happened and now paranoid that everything else in her life could go the same way, only one thing seems left under her control: her eating. With her only sense of power coming from restricting her meal portions, after a hellish semester of isolation..."
[CP3] Is it her past haunting her, or being unable to let go of her paranoia and the disease she has developed?
[CP4] Is she not still drastically underweight?
[CP5] I would say the most serious part of what Vanessa is going through is her battling her psychological demons and overcoming her anorexia. The idea of staying an outsider doesn't seem to compare, and makes the focus of the story much different from what I anticipated.

Peter's notes:
[PK1] Not sure we need this in quotes, just say, "in an effort to get back to her old self."
[PK2] A little unclear to me what this is referring to -- is it referring to being dropped by her friends and her eating disorder, or did some third thing happen that will be revealed to the reader later in the story?
[PK3] I'm not sure there's anything in this pitch that make this feel like a story I haven't read before.

Whitley's notes:
[WA1] Isolation = weight loss? I'm not making that logical leap with you
[WA2] This query is vague... secrets, past, demons. Nothing really demands that I request


“Are you sure you’re going to be okay here by yourself?” 

“I’ll be fine, Mom.” I know she’s asking because of everything that happened last year. I really wish she’d stop. I wish everyone would stop. I don’t know how many times I have to tell them I’m fine. 

I give Mom a hug good-bye and close the car door. I see about a dozen other kids gathered in the parking lot to wait for the bus, huddled in groups a few yards away. I smile at a few who look my way, but take a spot by myself on a nearby bench. Of course, as soon as I sit down, I can’t help but worry that they’re talking about me, and thinking about what a loser I am for sitting here alone. I take a deep breath and tell myself to stop being such a freak. No one’s talking about you, Vanessa, I say to myself. Those days are over. Everything is okay now. [CP1]

A low, thin layer of fog hangs overhead, and the air is misty: typical weather for a northwest Washington morning, even in the summertime. It’s not particularly cold outside, but I still can’t help but shiver. The doctor says that’s one of the side effects of being underweight: I’m constantly cold. I take a deep breath and look around, catching a glimpse of my reflection in the window. The girl I see is perfectly normal-looking, with long blonde hair that reaches almost to her waist.
Carrie's notes:
[CP1] Can you show this instead of just telling?
[CP] The writing in the sample is very good, but after the issues I had with the query I'm not 100% sure how the story is going to unfold. I'd be willing to take a look at a synopsis and the first 50 pages of it to see, though! Please email them to me at carrie (at) prospectagency (dot) com, with the subject OPERATION AWESOME and the query pasted in the body of the email. Thanks!

Peter's notes:
[PK1] PASS. The interior narration is reading a bit forced -- it doesn't feel like you are subtly showing us Vanessa's anxiety but instead force-feeding it to us through interior narration. Use her actions and the scene to give more nuance to her anxiety so that we feel it alongside her.

Whitley's notes:
[WA1] Reflection to intro MC's appearance is overly common. I'd cut it at "I'm constantly cold" and move on into the action of the scene, if that is what indeed comes next.


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

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