Wednesday, July 27, 2016

July Pass Or Pages Entry #3

Time for our favorite part of Pass Or Pages, the feedback reveals! We hope that everyone following along will get something out of these reveals that they can apply to their own writing. I did!
We are so grateful to our agent panel for critiquing these entries. We would also like to give a shout-out to the authors for being brave and willing to improve.
Final note: with 4 agents on the panel, we have trimmed down some of their comments to keep the posts from being overwhelming.

Entry #3: BUGSY'S MOLL


When gangster Bugsy Siegel is offed by the bosses for skimming cash from the Flamingo Casino, his partner—and mistress—Virginia Hill is shielded[PN1]. But it ain’t[AS1] because she’s clean-handed.[AS2][MJ1]

She, in fact, isn’t quite sure why her life is spared[PN2]. Though she guesses it’s because she’s threatened to make public her journal[MJ2], should anything ugly befall her. For in her journal, are the secrets of her associates—secrets that could be used to put the shake on fellows, secrets that could land guys in the clink, or send them to sizzle, secrets that could turn others into packages on the ocean floor.

When anonymous boxes of cash mysteriously begin showing up on Virginia’s front step, it can only be “hush money” she reasons—the Mob’s attempt to keep her from releasing her journal. She’s agreeable. After all, free money would allow her to abandon the rackets, and truth be told, she’s been pining for the prosaic: ironing boards, diaper changes, meatloaf dinners. Bankrolled and retired, there’s no looking back for two decades. But then out of the blue, Virginia’s former foe, Meyer Lansky, the mobster known to be loyal to Bugsy’s wife, appears. And quickly it becomes clear the hush money was never meant to keep Virginia quiet, but to silence her. Permanently.[DB1][PN3]

From the Mafia backrooms of the Chicago World Fair, and the grit of Depression-era New York City, to the flag-waving patriotism of wartime Hollywood, and on to budding Las Vegas[MJ3][PN4], Virginia evolves from a wounded teen into the Syndicate’s Cinderella, and ultimately into their pawn.[AS3]

Written in the wisecracking voice of Virginia[AS4], BUGSY’S MOLL is the true story imagined[MJ4] of an historic anti-hero from society’s edge. With scandal and vice as a backdrop similar to Karen Abbott’s SIN IN THE SECOND CITY, it reveals the inner-most fears, doubts, and emotions of the protagonist as candidly as Paula McLain’s THE PARIS WIFE[PN5]. Complete at 95,000 words, BUGSY’S MOLL is my first novel.[DB2]Thank you so much for your consideration.


Andrea's Notes:
[AS1] I suggest using "isn't " instead (I find "ain't" to be distracting, and I don't think it adds enough to put it in), but this could simply be a matter of preference.
[AS2] Great--I'm intrigued.
[AS3] Great. Gives us a good sense of the scope of the novel without bogging us down with too much detail.
[AS4] I suggest leaving this out--let readers come to the decision about the tone of the manuscript for themselves.

Melissa's Notes:
[MJ1] Shielded reads odd. And the “ain't” is an immedate turn off. Don’t write in the tone of a character.
[MJ2] A little dull. Is it because of the journal—just use that if it’s the case. And keep synopsis to two paragraphs. It’s a little much.
[MJ3] Way too wordy.
[MJ4] It’s a TRUE STORY of an imagined character? Well that’s not even possible. I’d stop reading here because I would feel you didn’t know what you’re writing about.

Danielle's Notes:
[DB1] Don’t bury the lede! This is the important part because it gets to the central conflict. You want to get to this point quickly.
[DB2] In query letters, I often think that less is more. I just want the quick and dirty description so you really don’t want more than two paragraphs of plot. Who is the main character? What is the central conflict? When/where does the story take place? Etc. I think you’re trying to cover too much ground here. Your final paragraph (the one that starts with “Written in…”) is the strongest, I think. It gives me exactly the information I need in an efficient way.

Patricia's Notes:
[PN1] Note the use of passive voice in this opening: “is offed,” “is shielded.” When possible, use active verbs – it will make your query more dynamic!
[PN2] Instead: “She isn’t sure why he spares her life.” In general, eliminate passive voice, streamline sentences and cut extra words. Wordiness in a query makes me assume the book will have similar issues, which makes me wary.
[PN3] There’s a lot packed into this paragraph, and I don’t think you need all of it. As in previous notes, cut unnecessary filler words (“truth be told”), see if there are any details you don’t need and cut them (do you need all the ways she’s pining for the prosaic?), and break up long paragraphs into shorter ones.
[PN4] Not sure you need to name all these cities – consider limiting to 2-3.
[PN5] Great comps!

First 250:

SECTION I: August 1933, Chicago


Even before the Chicago Outfit accepted me into its folds, the rackets were a part of me. Always would be. Just like the loneliness that refused to budge from its perch on my shoulder. But my path didn’t become clear to me until I was seventeen, the day I served cannelloni to Greasy Thumb’s wife at the San Carlo Italian Village.[AS1][PN1]

She looked like the sun in a yellow linen, wide-shouldered bolero jacket, her blond, frizzy hair, a ring of light.[MJ1] As she sipped a coffee cup of Chardonnay, I waited, pad in hand, for her to order. But rather than study the menu, she gave me the once-over. Being eyed gave me the jitters, but it wouldn’t help my tip to raise a squawk. Instead I smoothed the ruffles of my apron, tugged the pink scalloped collar of my uniform, chewed the end of my pen.

Finally, “I’m Alma Guzik,” she spat.[MJ2] “Married to Jake Guzik. ‘Greasy Thumb.’ You’re familiar with him, right?” She said it like an accusation, as though just knowing Jake Guzik was a low-down thing in itself. Perhaps it was. A chubby-faced, pin-striped tough guy with a handkerchief exploding out of his pocket and wise-cracks out of his slack-jawed mouth, word around the restaurant was he ran a string of cathouses throughout Chicago.[AS2]

“Yes, I suppose I’ve seen him around.”

She kicked out the chair opposite her with a yellow empire sandal, and motioned for me to sit.[AS3]


Andrea's Notes:
Great opening. It establishes the Victoria as a sympathetic protagonist and creates a great sense of tension.
[AS2] The word-choice feels highly authentic to the era.
[AS3] I would love to take a look at the manuscript. Please feel free to send it as a word document to with "OperationAwesome" in the subject line.

Melissa's Notes:
[MJ1] Pay attention to punctuation. The comma after "jacket" should be a semi-colon, and there shouldn't be a comma between "hair" and "a".
[MJ2] Spat is not a great dialogue tag. Also, you describe her tone in next sentence. We get it.

Danielle's Notes:
You have a nice voice and I like the sense I’m already getting of your character. There’s a lot here to like! Make sure you don’t sacrifice clean writing for personality, though. I am intrigued by this one, but it needs a copy edit, which would have to happen before the agent stage. Sadly, that makes this a PASS.   

Patricia's Notes:
[PN1] As with the last entry, a telling voice opening – I would stop here.


Andrea Somberg: PAGES!
Melissa Jeglinski: PASS
Danielle Burby: PASS
Patricia Nelson: PASS

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