Welcome to the feedback reveals for the first round of Pass Or Pages in 2018! Many thanks to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. Props to the authors who were brave enough to submit. We hope everyone learns something new this week!
Entry # 1: ADLER ADVENTURES: THE PURPLE LAKE
Arabella Adler, a sixteen-year-old with a chronic illness [MF1], has had a strained relationship with Nana, her paternal grandmother, since her father died three years ago.[LM1] When Nana tells Arabella that her father may be alive, Arabella decides she has nothing to lose. She must find him and uncover the answers to all her questions. [LM2][KA1]
Her quest for answers transports her to Tipoua. [LM3][MF2] In a world where wolves speak to humans and elements of Cherokee oral history are prominent, there is more to do than discover her father’s fate. Someone is trying to control this new world via the Purple Lake, a place where animals go to heal wounds. She is killing anyone that defies her, humans and animals alike. Arabella is promised that if she helps fight the Evil Witch, she will be brought to her father. [LM4][KA2]
Arabella has a fierce connection with water, which gives her great strength and the ability to save countless lives. But in the wrong hands, this Power of Creation could become a Power of Destruction. Learning to manage her illness in a new world, making new friends, and falling in love, Arabella is hellbent on saving Tipoua. [LM5] And with help from many people, animals, and ancient mermaids, she could succeed. [MF3] After all, saving the world is a team endeavor. [KA3]
But when Arabella discovers the identity of Tipoua’s oppressor- someone unimaginable- [LM6][MF4] and the depth of her powers, Arabella will have to decide between her dream family reunion and preserving life and culture in Tipoua. [KA4]
MARK OF THE THIEF by Jennifer A. Nielsen meets elemental magic and a flawed heroine like in A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING by Jessica Cluess. ADLER ADVENTURES: THE PURPLE LAKE in which a diverse group of people and animals of all kinds must work together to achieve one common goal against slavery, cowardice, and dark magic [KA5] is complete at around 74,000 words and would work well as a stand-alone novel or the first in a series.
[KA1]: Why is this? I don’t know much about Arabella other than her chronic illness, which isn’t really a character trait. I would save that for when you mention it later (her having to manage it in a new world does sound interesting!) and instead here underline why she feels like she has nothing to lose, why her questions are so desperate, why she feels that SHE must go find her father.
[KA2]: This feels very generic “fantasy world + savior protagonist” to me, unfortunately. I’m definitely intrigued by the elements that have gone into your worldbuilding, but without more of Arabella’s particular personality coming through, I don’t have enough to make me feel invested in seeing how this situation turns out.
[KA3]: This does sound interesting, but also, I still don’t really see why Arabella is so personally tied to saving this world. Perhaps picking one side character she had a close connection with to tease here would help?
[KA4]: Ah, so this is a common problem I see in queries. I’m guessing this happens pretty far into the book? But the query should be ending max 20% of the way through your book’s plot—I want to feel propelled to read the entire book to find out what happens next, not sense I can read the last 10 pages and get the gist.
[KA5]: Awkwardly worded.Moe's Notes:
[MF1]: So I was looking to see how her illness effects her and didn’t see it in the query. I know there’s a line later about having to learn how to manage her illness but if you’re going to open your query with a mention of an illness, I would assume it’s important.
[MF2]: How does it? Is this a portal fantasy? Is it some other way? Is it somewhere here on Earth or elsewhere?
[MF3]: Honestly, I’m struggling a lot here where I feel like this is more a collection of bullet points about what happens rather than giving me a good feel for the story. The most effective query letters are the ones that have voice in them and I don’t see that here. Also, I admit, I’d rather have a better sense of what’s going on and who she meets to give me a sense of the stakes. So many fantasy novels are about saving the world so what makes yours stand out?
[MF4]: Who? I know you’re trying to make this sound mysterious and have me want to request more because I’m curious, but it’s honestly more frustrating than intriguing.
[LM1]: The paternal grandmother is sort of implied by the mention of Arabella’s father. This is a lot of information for a first sentence, so I’d look at tightening it up and removing excess info.
[LM2]: What does her father being alive have to do with her having nothing to lose? I would nix that and give us more personal motivation. Maybe she’s asking why her dad abandoned her, or why he faked her death. I’d like something a little more compelling and less clichéd feeling.
[LM3]: The first paragraph made me think I was reading a contemporary, now I’m in a portal fantasy. How does a search for answers lead her to a new world and what does this have to do with her father?
[LM4]: What does your character want? What is at stake for her?
[LM5]: Why though? I’ve been given nothing so far to show me this.
[LM6]: Remember this is a pitch to an agent, not back cover copy, so I don’t need the no-spoiler version.
The day the hummingbirds showed up was the weirdest day of my life. [LM1][KA1]
“Follow the hummingbirds, Arabella,” Nana told me. So that’s what I did. I still hadn’t decided whether I would carry out her plan, [LM2] but I had to be prepared. [MF1] Back at Nana’s, I packed an oversized drawstring bag of essentials, all in plastic bags, just in case: my cell phone, a hair brush, tooth brush, a full water bottle, blanket, make up, two changes of clothes, and my thyroid pills. [LM3]
Driving in Dad’s ‘99 Dodge Intrepid, which was older than me at sixteen years old, [LM4] I followed them away from Nana’s three-bedroom, one bath, half-brick, half-vinyl ranch, [LM5] and past all the other half-brick, half-vinyl ranches in her development. I drove as close as possible to the twelve dots. The tiny birds were only visible because they flew as a flock, directly in front of my windshield.
The roads they brought me down were familiar. I drove them multiple [LM6] times over the past three years. My palms were slippery with sweat on the steering wheel as we approached the group home my mom lived in. If Nana was right, [MF2] and these birds led me to find my dad, a man I thought was dead for three years, would I see Mom again? [LM7]
[KA1]: This falls a little flat for me. “Weirdest” is just a bit weak for the opening to a big adventure.Moe's Notes:
[MF1]: Prepared for what? I feel like we’re missing a scene here. I love your opening line but I want more here. Someone telling you to follow hummingbirds – I don’t know if I would do it without question. So she doesn’t know if she’d do it, but she’s still packing.
[MF2]: Wait what? Nana didn’t say anything to her.
[MF3]: Is she in the car driving past? I’m really struggling with your blocking here. Overall, I feel like through all of this you’re telling me the setting and what’s going on here rather than showing it and I’m just not drawn in to your world. Especially since we are in her head, I want to hear more of her thought processes rather than just describing everything she’s seeing.
[LM1]: This style of opening sentence doesn’t work for me. It immediately makes me think this book will be written in a memoir style where your MC is narrating to me. Just put me in the action.
[LM2]: What plan?
[LM3]: I’m already lost. I have no idea why she’s packing.
[LM4]: This isn’t necessary and reads awkward.
[LM5]: I think you mean ranch house, or rancher? I’m reading this as a farm, which doesn’t make sense in context.
[LM6]: Use a stronger word that evokes more emotion from the sentence.
[LM7]: You’re jumping way ahead and given me nothing to follow you here. I’m feeling totally lost at this point.
Kurestin: PAGES! Please email the first 50 pages to kurestin@psliterary.