Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May Pass Or Pages Entry 3

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.







Entry 3: LIKE BIRDS UNDER THE CITY SKY


Query:


I am seeking representation for a[LC1] Like Birds Under the City Sky, a 52,000 word [WA1], contemporary [WA2] young adult novel, which blends elements of literary fiction [WA3]  with cyberpunk thriller and appeals to readers who enjoy Valiant, Wire Walker, and Agents of Shield.

Fearing Micah’s [LO1] fanatic mother will convince him homosexulity[LC2] is a sin, Charlie, an 18-year-old hacker, declines his acceptance to MIT.[LC3][LO2] Hoping to financially support Micah and himself, Charlie takes a research and development job he was offered by government contractor who served in the air-force with his father. Micah plans to move in with Charlie as soon as he can get away from his mother, but once Charlie leaves, Micah doesn’t hear from him. Fearing Charlie never loved him, Micah begins to fall for his mother’s doctrine.[LC4][WA4][LO3]

Instead of developing technology for a government contractor, Charlie finds himself cut off from the outside world, using his inventions [WA5] to kill. He tries to resist “The Boss,” but is tortured until he complies. Eventually, he manages to escape and find Micah. [LO4]

Together, the two boys head for New York City, where they hide among the millions of people already living there [WA6]. Finally away from his parent’s influence, Micah is free to make his own decisions about what his faith is and who he loves [WA7] while Charlie attempts to virtually scrub his identity from electronic records. They need to take stop Charlie’s former employer from hunting them, but as homeless teens with no supportive family, they have very few resources to work with.[LO5]



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Whitley's Notes:
[WA1]: This is quite a low word count for a book that includes sci-fi and thriller elements
[WA2]: I feel like this should be called “speculative” or “realistic sci-fi”. Contemporary always gives me entirely realistic vibes 
[WA3]: Maybe “contemporary romance” instead of “literary fition”?
[WA4]: Because you’re trying to introduce two protagonists and plotlines at once, this paragraph feels very muddled. Instead, I’d use one paragraph for Charlie only, and one for Micah only.
[WA5]: Wait, is he an inventor? Or a hacker? These stand out in my mind as two different things, so I’m stuggling to ground myself in what kind of work Charlie would be doing.
[WA6]: The second half of this sentence feels unnecessary
[WA7]: But by going to NYC, Micah already made the latter choice, didn’t he? 


Laura's Notes:
[LC1]: Whoops!
[LC2]: Spelling error.
[LC3]: This sentence is confusing. Is Micah’s mother convincing Micah or Charlie? And why would someone’s mother’s ability to convince someone homosexuality is a sin be a factor into declining an acceptance at MIT?
[LC4]: I’ll admit, I continued reading the query to make more sense of it, but I couldn’t. Who is telling this story? Micah or Charlie? I would stop here.


Lorin's Notes:
[LO1]: Friend? Boyfriend?
[LO2]: I’m not sure I get how these are connected ideas. Also, this motivation feels a bit vague and arbitrary. He doesn’t really know this will be a problem but is willing to make a major life decision based on his assumption, it seems.
[LO3]: Given his concern for Micah, why wouldn’t Charlie take him along?
[LO4]: This feels like such a different story and genre than what you presented above, and it’s treated in such a glancing way. You might reorganize all of this and give the more dramatic aspects more breathing room on the page.
[LO5]: From my perspective, it feels as though this is the real purpose of the story—their efforts to stop Charlie’s employee from doing something awful, beyond just hunting them. Might develop this aspect more fully and consolidate the relationship ones.


First 250 words:


The decaying burgers and broken glass are putrid briars keeping me from the dumpster’s treasure. The stench makes me want to puke, but defeat is an old enemy to whom I refuse to yield.[LC1][LO1]

Months on the street have left my clothing tattered. I’m bleeding from a dozen scratches, but I can’t think about bacteria. I just have to keep digging and filling my totes with items Charlie and I can use, eat or sell.

It isn’t an ideal way to survive, and certainly not a sanitary one, but it it’s better than letting my parents make me be someone I’m not. It’s better than seeing Charlie in government custody.[LO2] It’s a life where I’m accepted, even if it is by people I would have avoided in my old life.

A flash of neon catches my eye. I edge closer to it, gingerly moving fast-food wrappings until I can reach the fabric. I pull, discovering a heavy sweatshirt covered in blue and green triangles. I have no need for such an item now, but it will be a blessing if Charlie and I are still hiding in the city when winter freezes the North East.[LO3]

I place the sweatshirt in my bag along with a mug that promised coffee was the source of all happiness, a TV remote and a hair dryer. I doubt the last two items function, but Charlie will deconstruct them and use them for parts. He always seems to need more wires, circuits and plastic. [WA1][LO4]



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Whitley's Notes:
[WA1]: Is the story told in a now/then fashion? If it’s told chronologically and this is the beginning, then the query feels entirely like back story. The pitch should be centered in the story’s “now”.


Laura's Notes:
[LC1]: While utilizing the senses to capture a reader’s attention and hook them into the story is generally a good thing (when not overdone), shocking the reader with vomit lines at the very beginning can be a huge turn-off. I would stop here.


Lorin's Notes:
[LO1]: Voice feels a bit stiff to pull me into the piece. Might you reframe it more fully around what Micah wants instead of what’s standing in his way? Something specific and unexpected? That might coax us into the story more effectively.
[LO2]: Isn’t he eighteen?
[LO3]: I’m afraid this all feels a bit remote and objective. I want to FEEL more of Micah’s character emerging on the page. Would love more emotion and intent from him.
[LO4]: I wonder if you might try reworking this so that Micah and Charlie are in the scene, working together to find something of specific importance to them? I’d love to experience their relationship and rapport right away, and I think the scene would be livelier if rendered with more dialogue, observable action, and tension, rather than just exposition, which feels a bit low-key.


Results:


Whitley: PASS 
Laura: PASS
Lorin: PASS 

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