Monday, May 29, 2017

May Pass Or Pages Entry 1

It's feedback reveal time for Pass or Pages, the query contest run at here Operation Awesome. We hope you'll find tips to benefit your own work and query letters. Copious thanks to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. We give obeisance to all authors, especially those who participated in this round of Pass or Pages. The only path to success is by trying, the surest path to failure is to not try. Bravo to those entered.



I believe you will be interested in my YA contemporary novel, LOVING THE DAMNED. This novel is complete at 80,000 words and has a modern-day spin on The Scarlet Letter.

When incoming Sophomore[LC1][LO1], Pearl Hildebrant’s, brother shoots four students and then kills himself, Pearl, [LC2]is left to face the guilt, rejection, and grief of the tragedy. Now, surrounded by the victim’s families and friends and consumed by her own loneliness, Pearl must choose to face her brother’s homicidal choice. [WA1][LO2] Confront his metaphorical ghost and the victims he left grieving, or be destroyed in the wake of his actions?[LO3]

Andrew and Jennifer, two victims of the shooting, return to school after a summer of bitter loss. Pearl becomes the target of their anger, but as their hatred begins to tear apart their personal lives, they [WA2] feel hopelessly lost.[LO4]

It all comes to a head when the three peers enroll in Miss Stacie’s English class. Here, the lesson plan is unique. Miss Stacie’s goal is for her students to do more than read stories, she hopes they will learn to rewrite their own. [WA3][LO5]

If you would like to consider LOVING THE DAMNED, I’d be happy to forward the partial or complete manuscript to you.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


Whitley's Notes:
[WA1]: I’m not sure what this means. Is the other option to just ignore? Or are you saying she has to decide how to face his choice? Also, “choose ... choice” is really awkward wording.
[WA2]: Is the “they” in the later part of this sentence still just Andrew and Jennifer, or Pearl as well?
[WA3]: I understand the reasoning for including this, but Ms. Stacie and her class are the vehicle of the plot, not the motivating factor. The query letter needs to be about the protagonist, which sounds to me to be Pearl. This means she needs to be the active character in the pitch. Right now, she is the indirect object of the 2nd paragraph, and is entirely absent from the third.

Laura's Notes:
[LC1]: First flag. There is no need to capitalize someone’s grade level.
[LC2]: At this point I would stop reading. A more concise way to present the story and cast would be to lose the extraneous information (grade level, last name, etc) and get to the snappy hook.

Lorin's Notes:
[LO1]: Might be less awkward to use her age rather than year in school.
[LO2]: Redundant. Also, “homicidal choice” feels awkward to me and somehow diminishes the power of what he did. Perhaps because it backs away from the tragedy in using technical feeling language. Maybe something more along the lines of, "Pearl is forced to face her brother’s tragic actions (or deeds).”
[LO3]: I’m not sure that feels like much of a choice. Generally, we’re always going to choose the option that’s NOT being destroyed. Also, it feels like we could use something more concrete and dramatic here, a specific, observable end toward which she’s driving. Some tangible goal that serves as the narrative thrust of the novel.
[LO4]: I’d recommend sticking with the perspective of one character—your central protagonist—throughout. This doesn’t really tell us much, and it puts Pearl in passive/victim mode without suggesting her resolve to take charge of her life in some way.
[LO5]: Nice. Could give us something more suggestive of a powerful climax, an important choice Pearl will have to make (on a concrete rather than emotional level), or something big at stake in the personal or public worlds of the story. Needs a little more “oomph” here at the end.

First 250 words:

I sat cross-legged under my school desk. My long body stiff under the short, cramped, enclosure of my metal desk[LC1]. I stared impatiently at the clock; it’s[LC2] hand ticking an agonizingly slow pace across its blank face. I watched an hour pass by while having a mandatory school lockdown. [WA1] As hard as ninth grade Pre-calculus was, counting the ancient wads of gum stuck just inches above my head, while being uncomfortably hunched on the rough, dirty carpet was far worse. [WA2][LO1]

“Pearl!” A hoarse whisper from my best friend Audrey interrupted my thoughts. She was folded up under the desk next to mine, looking worried. “What’s going on?”[WA3] she mouthed. I shrugged my slender shoulders feeling a sudden pit empty my stomach. Could something bad really have happened? [WA4][LO2]

A crackling sound spat from the intercom as our principal’s voice filled the room, [WA5] “Students,” there was a pause[LO3] and something that sounded like a faint sob. Is Mrs. Lancastar crying? “Please gather your things and make your way to the front doors. Your parents will be waiting.” Another deafening silence suffocated the empty space in the room as we all listened intently, “There’s been a shooting at Clairmont High. If you believe in God, send him a prayer.”

My mind froze, I felt like I was going to be sick. I glanced at Audrey’s shaking shoulders and her hands over her face and I knew her thoughts without her saying them. Both her sister and my brother attended Clairmont High School.[LO4]


Whitley's Notes:
[WA1]: Filtering.
[WA2]: It’s hard to connect to Pearl in this page. She’s so annoyed about having to be on the carpet, when they don’t currently know what’s going on. For all they know, the shooter could be in the middle school.
[WA3]: If it’s been an hour, why is Audrey just now asking this?
[WA4]: Why causes this sudden shift in Pearl’s demeanor/attitude? Is it just Audrey suddenly being concerned? Was no one concerned or scared before?
[WA5]: It’s a bit too convenient for me that the principal immediate comes on the PA to answer Audrey’s question

Laura's Notes:
[LC1]: This is not a complete sentence. As this could be a writing style or voice technique, I would continue reading just in case.
[LC2]: “It’s” means “it is” or “it has.” “Its” is possessive. I would stop reading here.

Lorin's Notes:
[LO1]: This feels a bit low energy for what would presumably be a compelling/anxiety-inducing circumstance. Would recommend digging deeper into the anxiety and intrigue, bringing us closer to Pearl’s point of view, so we’re feeling and experiencing this moment rather than having it simply narrated to us.
[LO2]: From a POV perspective, it feels clunky for her to make mention of her “long body” or “slender shoulders.” These phrases come across as information you’d like the reader to have rather than as a natural part of Pearl’s thought process in the moment. She’d not likely think about her body here.
[LO3]: A “pause” doesn’t really tell us much of anything. What’s happening in that moment. E.g., “Students…” For a moment only her quick breath filled the air, followed by a faint sob.”
[LO4]: Compelling circumstances, but before I’d ask for more, I’d want to:
1. Feel more of the character’s emotional state;
2. Would want the level of expression to be sharpened;
3. And I’d also ask the writer to consider starting the story after the brother’s act of violence has already occurred, so that you could a) build a little early tension/mystery around what, precisely, happened, and b) dig more fully into Pearl’s character, outlook, and desires here. Thanks for braving the contest!


Whitley: PASS 
Laura: PASS
Lorin: PASS


Raimey Gallant said...

Because I'm seeing perspectives from multiple agents, this is one of the most useful query and first page feedback posts I've read.

Kara Reynolds said...

You should check out our previous rounds, too, then! Glad you found it helpful.

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