Tuesday, November 22, 2016

November Pass Or Pages Entry #2

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.



When making a choice between saving a life and rescuing his neighbors’ crops, 12-year-old Tau[CG2] accidentally sets fire to his African village.[CG3] He loses all hope of gaining acceptance among the villagers who consider his deafness a sign of dangerous unintelligence. Only his brother, Sam, shields him from abuse and encourages the villagers to give Tau another chance. When Sam is taken by a child trafficker[RP1], Tau will risk anything to find him.

With only one clue left behind—a burlap bag with a mysterious symbol—Tau follows their tire tracks to the nearby city of Bamako, Mali.[CG4] He loses the trail and finds himself lost and afraid until he meets Koowa, a Hard-of-Hearing girl with albinism. She not only introduces him to Deaf culture, she secures his job in a candy shop. While he’s working in the store, a matching burlap sack filled with cocoa beans arrives with the supply shipment. He discovers the darker side of chocolate and, more importantly, Sam’s location: a cocoa plantation south of Mali.

Koowa agrees to help Tau rescue his brother, but in sight of their goal they are stopped by the border patrol. Stranded, they realize abduction by the same child trafficker who took Sam is their only ticket into Cote d’Ivoire—a place where children go to never return.[CG5]

THE BITTERNESS OF COCOA BEANS is an Upper Middle-Grade Contemporary complete at 35,000 words [RP2] [CG6]. The tone is similar to The Bitter Side of Sweet but maintains a focus on Deaf culture like the TV show Switched at Birth.[CG7]

Rebecca's Notes: 
[RP1] There’s a lot of plot in this first paragraph: a life in danger, a burned-down village, Tau’s deafness and child traffickers. It wouldn’t stop me from reading on, but I would be confused about the pacing of the manuscript.
[RP2] This word count is low for upper MG, especially when you’re talking about all of these really big and weighty plot elements, so again, I would be worried about the pacing here, and whether the MS had time to appropriately address everything, so I would be wary going in.

Also, here’s something I would want to know: are any aspects of this story Own Voices? If not, what research was done, and what credentials does the author have? I would want at least a short paragraph on that to have confidence. Without this information, I would have trouble reading forward.

Clelia's Notes:
[CG1] I like this title. It’s sensory, a little mysterious and compelling.
[CG2] Solid opening line of the paragraph pitch.
[CG3] I would start with a more introductory paragraph that includes the information from your final paragraph plus a one line pitch . This will provide the necessary context for the agent and also capture her attention with the big selling points (hooks) of the book.
[CG4] Interesting setting.
[CG5] Wow! Sounds like a very thrilling, high-stakes book.
[CG6] This word count is more appropriate for lower middle grade. I would have expected at least 50K for this book. A too low word count can be a red flag to an agent or editor that the book isn’t as developed as it should be.
[CG7] In your bio, I’d be interested in seeing the author’s connection to Mali and the research he/she did to make this book as authentic as possible.

First 250:

Tau’s hand trembled as he brought a match to the cornstalk.

I’m in control, he reminded himself. [CG1]

He lit the edges of a few leaves until they curled away, taking the flames with them. Burning season made him nervous. Always did.

I’m in control, he reminded himself. He flicked the withered match into the blaze and backed away. Small embers grew into a billowing fire, engulfing the stems and creeping along the field.

A light breeze tickled his neck and sent a shiver across his shoulders. Tau hurried several paces to his tree where he could sense an unexpected wind. He jumped for the larger branch and slipped, a finger width too short. So unlike his older brother. His older brother Sam could’ve climbed to the top of the tree in two leaps.

But at only twelve years old, Tau started from the bottom. He slung his arm around the first limb in reach, hoisting himself up higher and higher.

From where he perched, Tau watched the fire steadily consume the field and wrap its long fingers around the next row of cornstalks. The warmth from the flames acknowledged his work well done, but his heart still ached in protest. Only the bare stems proved his usefulness during that dry, African summer. Now their ash would feed the hungry soil. A soundless laugh pushed his chest. It was almost funny. He’d harvested the cobs and picked out the dry kernels to plant next year. Like him, the cornstalks couldn’t use their ears. And he was punishing them for it.[CG2]

Clelia's Notes:
[CG1] A small change in order, but I think it makes your opening stronger, more dramatic.
[CG2] Compelling first pages and solidly written. My one thought is that the voice sounds very American from these 250 words, and not necessarily like a boy from Mali. I would be interested in seeing more of this—50 pages would be great. Please check out my submission guidelines at www.martinlit.com.

Rebecca Podos: PASS
Clelia Gore: PAGES

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