Friday, September 28, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday #41

If anyone is familiar with fanfiction, you may know what a sonfic is. It's a piece of writing inspired by a song or group of songs, and can include song lyrics in between paragraphs. For this Flash Fiction Friday, pick a song that inspires you and write a story about it! (Song lyrics will not count towards word count.) Please be sure to credit the song title and artist!

Winner will be announced on SUNDAY 9/30 after 12 pm! SUNDAY 10/7 after 12 pm! Happy writing!

September Pass or Pages Entry #5

pass or pages query contest

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. Our gratitude to all authors, especially those who participated in this round of Pass or Pages. The only path to success is by trying. Bravo to those entered.

Entry 5: The Untouchable


I am writing [KP1] to you because of your request for diverse YA retellings. My novel The Untouchable [KP2] is a contemporary YA fantasy and retelling of India’s most famous epic, The Ramayana. It is complete at 76,000 words and was one of the winners in the PNWA 2017 writing contest. [WJ1]

[WJ2] In India, Hindus and Muslims aren’t supposed to get along, but a Hindu teen and his Muslim best friend are about to face the King of Rakshasas. Only the strength of their friendship can prevent the destruction of everything they love. [KP3]

Vikram is an eighteen-year-old Hindu boy who hears strange voices and is in love with a girl from a higher caste. The only person who understands and accepts him is his best friend Aziz, a six-foot-tall, Star Wars-obsessed Muslim.

Vikram is an untouchable, a caste so reviled their very touch is considered spiritually polluting. But Aziz is a Muslim and doesn’t give a damn. Vikram isn’t even allowed near the girl he loves. It’s the way India works—caste, religion, and money define you.

[WJ3] As Vikram scours the trash for parts to put together a bicycle for his little sister, [KP4] he learns his village is about to be flooded to make a new dam. They will all become refugees. While praying to save his sister and the girl he loves, he hears a voice. The goddess of the river is willing to give Vikram the power to stop the dam from being built, but he’ll have to pay a high price. The power will turn him into a true untouchable—an invisible shell will grow around him making him at once invulnerable and someone who can’t be loved. No one will be able to touch him or embrace him again. Yet Vikram accepts this and enlists Aziz to help him save the village. [KP5]

Stopping the dam proves to be more difficult than Vikram ever imagined. Standing against him is Sanjay Kapoor, India’s most prominent corporate giant, who turns out to be Ravana King of Rakshasas. Vikram finds that India doesn’t only have a million gods, it also has a million hidden demons, and they’re all on Kapoor’s side, fighting to flood Vikram’s world entirely.

Now to save his sister and rescue the girl he loves, Vikram must rely on the friendship of his Muslim friend [KP6] and open himself to the voices he’s struggled to silence.

[WJ4] Readers who enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s American Gods or loved the movie Slumdog Millionaire will appreciate The Untouchable for the exploration of contemporary India and its rich traditions of gods and legends come to life. [KP7]

My previous publications include short fiction in The Penmen Review and the nonfiction book The Top 30 Problems in Emergency Medicine [WJ5]. I was born in India and grew up in Milwaukee. I still remember the time I spent in my father’s village in India, and this is where the novel is set. My best friend growing up was a Muslim kid down the street, and that friendship helped form me. Thank you for your time. [SH1]


Kelly Peterson's Notes:
[KP1] - I just looked at the length of this query and am a bit worried that it will deter quite a few agents.
[KP2] Should be capitalized.
[KP3] This is really telling and sounds like a summary of your entire query. Do we need this? Can we jump right to the query instead?
[KP4] Is this clause needed?
[KP5] Can you condense some of this paragraph? It’s long, especially when one of the larger pitfalls/tension building conflicts is in the next paragraph.
[KP6] How does Aziz play into this story?
[KP7] Combine with biography paragraph after it.

Saritza Hernandez's Notes:
[SH1] - This is a fantastic query, if a little on the long side. Definitely intriguing premise and I love that it’s #OwnVoices.

Weronika Janczuk's Notes:
[WJ1] - Rephrase this paragraph for ease of reading. Suggestion: My 76,000-word contemporary YA fantasy, THE UNTOUCHABLE,  retells India’s most famous epic, The Ramayana. The manuscript won the PNWA 2017 contest.
[WJ2] - Cut this paragraph
[WJ3] - The next three paragraphs have too much detail. You need to find a way to sum up all of this, with a clear tension/plot arc, in one paragraph—as short and compact as possible. The purpose of the query is to incite a thirst in the reader to learn more after an introduction conceptually; this weighs with too much detail and context, which a writer reserves for the novel itself to build out.
[WJ4] - Rephrase this paragraph. Suggestion: With its exploration of contemporary India and rich traditions of gods and legends, THE UNTOUCHABLES is Neil Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS meets Slumdog Millionaire.
[WJ5] - From which publisher? What year?

First 250 words

As if you were on fire from within. The moon lives in the lining of your skin.


Chapter 1

I was supposed to hate Aziz like a mongoose hates a snake, circling with teeth bared, trapped in an endless staredown. And that’s how it would have been, if Aziz hadn’t told me to stick gum in my ears and I hadn’t been stupid enough to do it.

“Nothing will keep things quiet like gum,” Aziz said. At ten, [KP1] he was a mess of curly hair and sharp-eyed intensity. He took a pre-chewed piece out of his mouth and handed it over. “Make sure to stick it in deep.” We were the same age, but Aziz already towered over me, and had more confidence than he had a right to. [WJ1]

I rolled the minty-smelling mess in my fingers. “You’re sure this will work?” I asked, trying to push past my hesitation. In India, Hindus and Muslims kick the hell out of each other or at least glare across the village and dream about it. But I was tired of being hunted, and would take even a Muslim’s advice to escape. India has millions of gods. [KP2] I didn’t want their voices in my head any longer.

We’d come out to the riverbank as the sun rose so no one would see us together, but the world was awake early. A thousand birds called in the trees, and the chant of women’s prayers in the temple reached us. [WJ2] [WJ3] [SH1]


Kelly Peterson's Notes:
[KP1] - Is this a flashback or is this the age for the story?
[KP2] Why did the focus suddenly switch to Gods? I’m not sure I’m following this thought process.

Saritza Hernandez's Notes:
[SH1] - Love this sample! I would definitely request more pages of this one.

Weronika Janczuk's Notes:
[WJ1] - These first two paragraphs are all v. good and tight, and I love the voice and promise of humor here. I think the scene structure breaks a little bit, problematically, after this excerpt; see my comments on the remainder of this below.
[WJ2] - Following from my comments above: You start the scene building out one particular tension arc, which reads well—I am curious to know now what will happen with the gum stuck in ears. Then you launch into a mention of the differences between Hindus and Muslims, and veer off onto another conversation—the direct link to which isn’t clear to me. Why this detail, now? What does the gum have to do with escaping? And then you backtrack into the history of this scene without doing anything to follow-up on the tension established in the first part, and your tension entirely breaks. As a reader, I am annoyed. This could use work, but you have a great starting point at the top of the scene.
Be thinking about plot and pacing, especially with regards to scene structure--the way that you begin, move through, and end individual scenes: A huge part of the journey to publication, as well as career-building, requires a constant perfection of one's craft.

Also be thinking about the compactness of your query and your pages:

[WJ3] - When this writer feels like the manuscript is ready for an agent to read, I’d be happy to consider a query mentioning a request for it and the first ten pages.


Kelly Peterson: PASS I like this concept, but I think your beginning needs to change a bit, andyour story arc needs to be a bit clearer and condensed in your query. For your beginning, establish your character and who they are NOW, then dive into more of a flashback. This way your readers are grounded in your character first so that they don’t feel quite as lost and know exactly when you’re flashing back to tell a story. If you want to edit, I’d be happy to take a look again, though!
Saritza Hernandez: PAGES
Weronika Janczuk: PAGES

Thursday, September 27, 2018

September Pass or Pages Entry #4

pass or pages query contest

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. Our gratitude to all authors, especially those who participated in this round of Pass or Pages. The only path to success is by trying. Bravo to those entered.

Entry 4: The Curse of the Moon Spirit


Sold to pay off her family’s debt, misfortune plagues seventeen-year-old Mitsuko. She'll do anything to prevent her sister from succumbing to the same fate. Praying to the Moon Spirit, Tsukiyomi, for help, she receives his offer: her eternal servitude for the safety of her sister. [KP1]

Desperate, she agrees to his terms and leaves her family behind. As Tsukiyomi showers her with gifts—and his advances [KP2]—Mitsuko soon finds herself falling for him. But a curse set on Tsukiyomi threatens to end what Mitsuko is starting to crave, and the death of the deity will destroy more than just her world. Only she can find a cure [KP3] for her love before his death disrupts the balance of heaven, plunging the earth into chaos.

Thank you for taking the time to look over my pitch for my 65,000 word YA Japanese Fantasy Romance [WJ1] [KP4], THE CURSE OF THE MOON SPIRIT. [SH1]


Kelly Peterson's Notes:
[KP1] - Is this after she’s sold to pay off her debt? So if she’s sold and belongs to another, how does she then sell her soul/servitude to someone else?
[KP2] This seems to be a more adult word for unwanted flirting to me. Is it possible to play this word down just a bit to “flirting” or something of the sort that insinuates the sexuality while not making it seem like unwanted attention.
[KP3] Is this a chosen one trope? What would the cure be, exactly? Why is she the only one who can find it?
[KP4] This information would probably be better up front at the beginning of your pitch. 

Saritza Hernandez's Notes:
[SH1] - I like this premise a lot. I hope the sample delivers.

Weronika Janczuk's Notes:
[WJ1] - Figure out what exactly you want to communicate here—is it Japan? Japanese stories, or mythology? Also: I would encourage you to read EAST by Edith Pattou, especially to look at the very beginning part of that novel for some clarity on scene structure for yourself, per the feedback below; I think it needs work.

First 250 words

The first hint of trouble came when Father summoned us inside before the sweltering August sun had a chance to set. [WJ1] Father didn't like work to go unfinished around the farm, especially right before harvest. Dusty from replanting red beans, my sister and I took turns patting each other down outside our ramshackle little house. I leaned a hand against the large shutter attached to the yellowing walls of our house, yanking it back [KP1] as a piece of the cracked wood sliced the skin on my finger.

“Ouch.” I sucked away the pain. Another splinter. Mother patiently removed each with the same attentive care she gave our teetering house, keeping all her children and worn out home clean if not structurally sound.

Our older brother, Yasahiro strode past us, already having gotten most of the dirt from his clothes. I gave my little sister a final pat and waved away the dust cloud. My throat burned in anticipation of cool well water that I would soon have once Father delivered his news.

“You’re good-go on," I said.

Yuki’s tired face stretched into a smile, “Thanks, we better hurry, don’t want Father to yell at us more than he probably already is.” [KP2]

Biting my tongue, I nodded. Nothing can keep Father from his favorite pastime.

“You go in, I’ll just be a minute.”

“Alright.” [KP3]

She hurried inside leaving me to stare at the shabby straw-woven mat we used as a door. [SH1]


Kelly Peterson's Notes:
[KP1] - Yanking it back into place? Is it falling off? Or is she yanking it towards her, as if ripping it off the wall?
[KP2] - Is this a younger sister or older sister? She sounds older by the way she’s speaking here.
[KP3] - There’s no physicality here to help the readers figure out how the characters are feeling, reacting, etc.. 

Saritza Hernandez's Notes:
[SH1] - This is strong writing. I’d definitely request more pages to read based on this sample.

Weronika Janczuk's Notes:
[WJ1] - I would everything after this and start later into the scene—all of it reads like unnecessary detail, especially following your first sentence, which sets up the reader for a v. profound and intense and tense scene (what is the trouble?), but the rest of this first set of 250 words completely deflates the promise of tension.
Be thinking about plot and pacing, especially with regards to scene structure--the way that you begin, move through, and end individual scenes: A huge part of the journey to publication, as well as career-building, requires a constant perfection of one's craft.

Also be thinking about the compactness of your query and your pages:


Kelly Peterson: PASS  I think you have such promise with your writing if edited to include more of our senses and world building, but the 65k word count for a fantasy worries me a bit. I’d be sorry to say it didn’t quite grab my attention enough in order to request more at this time.
Saritza Hernandez: PAGES
Weronika Janczuk: PASS 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday #40 WINNER!

Congratulations to ELISE SCOTT (@buttonjar1) for a gritty, descriptive Flash Fiction Friday win! You're awesome! :)

September Pass or Pages Entry #3

pass or pages query contest

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. Our gratitude to all authors, especially those who participated in this round of Pass or Pages. The only path to success is by trying. Bravo to those entered.

Entry 3: The Pendragon's Son


Seventeen-year-old half-Spanish Prince Vael doesn’t believe fate has the last word, mainly because he has the power to alter it. So when his surly half-brother Mordred arrives at the castle, haunted by the prophecy that he’ll destroy Camelot, Vael defies his superstitious kingdom by taking Mordred as his squire. [WJ1] After years with only swords and tomes as companions, Vael’s tired of being alone, separated from his peers by his mixed heritage and strange ability. He finally finds a true friend in his hot-blooded half-brother—a boy even more familiar with rejection and loneliness than he is. [KP1]

Vael vows to rewrite his brother’s fate, but his dangerous gift has a hefty cost. He can save a life [KP2] only if one is lost—a lesson Vael learns [KP3] when saving a close friend results in another being fatally stabbed.

[WJ2] When Mordred’s sorceress mother steals Camelot’s greatest defense and frames Mordred to ensure he won’t stray from his destiny, Vael’s [KP4] run out of time for doubts.

Though Vael pursues the sorceress to clear his brother’s name, her alluring apprentice, [KP5] Nimue, entangles him in her own devious game—one that draws him in like a moth to a flame. [KP6] She might hold the key to understanding Vael’s unstable powers. If she doesn’t kill him first.

With the sorceress’ traps ensnaring Camelot and Mordred, Vael must convince Nimue to help him stop the prophecy. If not, he’ll either have to watch his father and kingdom fall, or kill his only friend—his brother. [KP7]

Complete at 95,000 words, THE PENDRAGON’S SON is a standalone #ownvoices YA [WJ3] Fantasy with series potential. An excerpt from this manuscript received the Superior Award from the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) Creative Writing Contest and the ACSI Regional Creative Writing Festival. I was a finalist in Pitch America 2016 and Author Mentor Match 2017, and was chosen by Kelly Hopkins as an unofficial mentee in PitchWars 2016.

Thank you for your time and consideration. [SH1]


Kelly Peterson's Notes:
[KP1] - I feel like this could be moved up. This seems more like a small problem/sub-plot that’s then solved by his half-brother becoming his squire. So, if it is in that order, these sentences would do better going before it’s stated that Mordred becomes his squire.
[KP2] Is Mordred fated to die? How would he be saving Mordred’s life, exactly? Or is it someone else’s life?
[KP3] Learned or learns? Does this happen during the story or before? If it’s during, should this sentence be switched so that we don’t know the outcome/lesson before we know the cause?
[KP4] …Vael has…”
[KP5] Is this meant to be “his” apprentice? The ownership of this pronoun is referring back to Vael.
[KP6] Is this sentence needed? Also, it’s an odd flow because it’s the only sentence in the query that rhymes.
[KP7] Do you need both descriptions for him? I feel like this might be more powerful of an ending if you just call Mordred his brother. 

Saritza Hernandez's Notes:
[SH1] - This is a really interesting premise and a good query.

Weronika Janczuk's Notes:
[WJ1] - Cut the rest of this paragraph.
[WJ2] - This paragraph and the two following read like way too much detail, and you never follow-up on—or build out a complete arc for—the tension that you propose in the foundational part of your pitch. This entire part of the query needs to be reworked and made more compact.
[WJ3] - Don't capitalize the genre.

First 250 words

As I hurried down the castle’s vast stone corridor to meet my half-brother for the first time, his name echoed around me, uttered like a curse: Mordred.

The vaulted doorway of the Great Hall loomed ahead, hewn from stone older than the ages. Squaring my shoulders and forcing my spine straight as a sword, I marched toward the raised dais, careful to keep my pace steady―calm and collected as a Prince of Camelot should be. At least I hoped I looked that way. Sometimes it felt like the kingdom still saw me as the timid yet overly emotional boy, [KP1] who worshiped the ground his father walked on―but those days were long gone. My muscles strained as my legs urged me forward. Every step was too fast, yet the dais still seemed far away. [KP2]

Armored knights filled either side of the high-ceilinged hall. I passed them and focused straight ahead on the three thrones. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t block out the poisonous words infusing the room, burning my ears.

“How is that bastard Mordred still alive?” a knight to my right sneered.

“Vermin never dies easy,” another said. [WJ1]

I bit my tongue, not for the first time that day. Such disrespect, all because of an unreliable prophecy. But superstition had formed the kingdom’s unstable foundation, supporting a castle built of large egos, fear, and barely-muted hostility.

My boots clipped against the scuffed stones. No point in arguing with them. I’d be wasting my breath. [SH1]


Kelly Peterson's Notes:
[KP1] - Would this be how he would describe himself or think about how he’s being seen? In YA, would this be the voice he uses to think? It sounds so much older than YA to me.
[KP2] I still don’t have a solid idea of where exactly this prince is, and why he’s rushing. What’s around him? Where is he going, exactly? Are there people around him? Is that why he has to straighten and why his brother’s voice is echoing around him?

Saritza Hernandez's Notes:
[SH1] - I’m not a fan of first-person (even in YA) so I’d likely pass on this but the premise is interesting and it can likely connect with another agent.

Weronika Janczuk's Notes:
[WJ1] - Everything before this is all detail that reads like it can be integrated later. I think the writer here can either begin later into this scene, the moment that a clearer action-based tension begins, in context of the immediate scene, or restructure this entire scene in order to immediately place the reader onto a clear tension arc. Remember also to show rather than tell; telling actively kills tension.



The name echoed around me, like a curse spit from teeth, down the corridor. My robes caught between my legs as I rushed.

“How is that bastard still alive?” a knight to my right sneered.

“Vermin never dies easy,” another said.

The words caught in my stomach, and their poison infused the throne room. My half-brother bore an imperial reputation, and I could not avoid it.

Be thinking about plot and pacing, especially with regards to scene structure--the way that you begin, move through, and end individual scenes: A huge part of the journey to publication, as well as career-building, requires a constant perfection of one's craft.

Also be thinking about the compactness of your query and your pages:


Kelly Peterson: PASS: Though this starts in decent action, the voice to me just doesn’t sound YA. It sounds much more adult to me than a teenager. This might do better as a younger 20-something main character’s voice, in the same vein as a slightly older Reign or The Crown.
Saritza Hernandez: PASS 
Weronika Janczuk: PASS 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

September Pass Or Pages Entry #2

pass or pages query contest

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. Our gratitude to all authors, especially those who participated in this round of Pass or Pages. The only path to success is by trying. Bravo to those entered.

Entry 2: Poison


My 80,000-word YA fantasy novel, POISON, is an [WJ1] African Snow White story [KP1] meets the Lion King. [KP2] [SH1]

[WJ2] Fifteen-year-old Princess Kala—who would rather hunt than marry and become queen—learns her stepmother, Queen Machawi, has cursed her to die by her sixteenth birthday. So she flees the palace in search of a rare, red poison [KP3] that will break the curse.

[WJ3] Along the way, [KP4] she barely escapes frequent, near-fatal accidents and animal attacks due to the curse. She learns [KP5] that Machawi is heavily taxing, enslaving, and killing their people. She also develops [KP6] her magical ability to communicate with spirits through song and dance, but accidentally causes natural disasters whenever she tries to cast big spells. Still, through her magic, she befriends several animals that help her.

To complicate matters, she falls for Adofu, a cocky but charming, young warrior prince from a rival kingdom, who reluctantly agrees to be her guide. [KP7] When she loses her magic fetish, [KP8] [SH1] Kala loses her ability to do magic as well. To save herself and her kingdom, she must believe in herself, regain her magical powers, and choose between destiny and true love. [WJ4] [KP9] [SH1]


Kelly Peterson's Notes:
[KP1] - Retelling might be a better word choice here?
[KP2] Can you also be more specific? What parts of Snow White are you pulling from? What parts of The Lion King are you pulling from?
[KP3] Red poison to kill her stepmother? Why is this red poison the hidden gem?
[KP4] I feel like you can find a stronger wording for this. This phrase is quite passive. Make sure your query writing is ACTIVE and showcase the excitement and tension within your characters’ journeys.
[KP5] Slightly repetitive phrasing here, and is there a stronger phrase or verb you can use to initiate tension and action?
[KP6] Stronger word choice here, as well as repetitive sentence structure.
[KP7] This automatically creates a somewhat romantic tension and a want to read on. Can this sentence be moved up? Does he become her guide towards the beginning as she goes on her journey?
[KP8] Fetish? I think there can be a better word choice here. This insinuates sexual fetishes, which you don’t really want to refer to in this type of story.
[KP9] I don’t quite see the set-up for this in your query. Is it possible to elaborate a bit more on these two aspects and what she would have to choose between, specifically?

Saritza Hernandez's Notes:
[SH1] - You have my attention.
[SH2] I wouldn’t use this word in a YA query.
[SH3] This query is too “telling” in voice but the premise is interesting so I would read the sample but it’s likely the sample is as passive-voice riddled as the query.

Weronika Janczuk's Notes:
[WJ1] - This is a wonderful pitch.
[WJ2] - Rework this paragraph. Suggestion: When Queen Machawi, has cursed fifteen-year-old Princess Kala her to die by her sixteenth birthday,. So Kala she flees the palace in search of a rare, red poison that will break the curse. (The other details don't seem to be necessary and contribute nothing to the tension arc.)
[WJ3] - This doesn’t contribute to a plot or tension arc—it’s a lot of unnecessary detail. I would suggest cutting all of this.
[WJ4] - All of this needs to be re-worked. The query gives us no sign of a clear plot or tension arc—how does the story evolve, change, and tend toward a particular climax? What is the stake, here, and how is Kala going to fight against that which threatens her in an immediate sense?

First 250 words

I stalked across the cracked, red savanna hunting bush rats, bow in hand. My charmed amulet buzzed under my wrap dress, warning of danger. I halted mid-step. [KP1] A few paces ahead, a lioness crouched in the brown elephant grass that reached above my head. She snarled, eyes fixed on me, ears flattened.

As usual, I’d buried myself in deep dung, so to speak.

I tensed my legs to flee, but my feet refused to move. Slipping an arrow from my quiver, I nocked the arrow and took aim. Flies buzzed around me. One landed on my cheek, tickling my skin, but I didn’t flinch.

The lioness’s golden coat gleamed, giving off a musky odor. Her ribs expanded and contracted, [KP2] and life force radiated from her sleek body. My palms grew sticky under the sweltering sun, but I hesitated to shoot such a spectacular creature unless I had to.

Instead, I tried casting a soothing spell on her [KP3]—though in past attempts I’d been pecked by an ostrich, kicked by a zebra, and bitten by a python. I needed to improve if I wanted to pass my initiation into the magician’s cult tomorrow.

Lowering my bow, I touched my ivory charm [KP4] of a woman holding a child and gazed into the lion’s yellow eyes, rocking from foot-to-foot in rhythm with her flicking tail. Humming a made-up tune, I reached my spirit out to hers and imagined a strip of light flowing from my hand to her head, attaching us. [WJ1] [SH1]


Kelly Peterson's Notes:
[KP1] - The difficult part with this opening sentence is that it’s very telling, and works towards quickly changing to showing, but we don’t have any of the atmosphere or world building yet to relate the descriptions and what’s happening. Is there a better way to show that your MC is hunting?
[KP2] This is good, “showing” description. It leaves a really nice picture in your readers’ minds!
[KP3] This is a bit telling. Can we go into the spell casting, rather than stating what your MC’s about to do?
[KP4] Holding a bow and arrow (which your character is doing) is usually a two handed job, and you don’t really want to hold a bow by the string. In order to touch the charm, they’d first have to put the arrow away so they could have one hand free!

Saritza Hernandez's Notes:
[SH1] - Unfortunately, this would be a pass for me as well despite loving the premise. The sample is riddled with passive voice.

Weronika Janczuk's Notes:
[WJ1] - These 250 words don’t work—the writer attempts to build out tension by telling us about a small conflict here, the encounter of the main character with the lioness, but rather than build tension, the scene falls v. flat. The entire scene needs a clearer (re)structuring.

I am also concerned that the writer is choosing to build out tension with a scene that isn’t necessary for the story; this reads like content that is being used to build out the world, instead of build out the actual plot or tension arc that is necessary to capture the minds of readers. World-building details in the first 50 pages should be totally minimal, and included only where essential, on the most part; the focus needs to be on sparking to life an interest in the character, an attachment to that character, in context of some kind of tension felt or shown, be that caused by things interior or exterior.

Be thinking about plot and pacing, especially with regards to scene structure--the way that you begin, move through, and end individual scenes: A huge part of the journey to publication, as well as career-building, requires a constant perfection of one's craft. Also be thinking about the compactness of your query and your pages:


Kelly Peterson: PAGES: I love this concept! With more clarity in the query and an editing round to make sure you’re SHOWING and not telling, I’d definitely be open to looking at some pages! When you’re ready, feel free to send your query, synopsis, and first 15 pages to me at
Saritza Hernandez: PASS 
Weronika Janczuk: PASS 

Monday, September 24, 2018

September Pass Or Pages Entry #1

pass or pages query contest

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. Our gratitude to all authors, especially those who participated in this round of Pass or Pages. The only path to success is by trying. Bravo to those entered.

Entry 1: Perfect Monsters


Fifteen-year-old Thirteen [SH1] [KP1] will do anything to get away from the scientists who engineered her human hybrid [KP2] body, even when it means a one-way trip to the planet Olympia. So, she stows away on a ship taking a test flight to the planet. [WJ1] The last crew that landed there is assumed dead, which is fine with Thirteen. Humans like to send heroes to kill monsters, and she looks too much like Medusa for them to comfortably live with her. But her need for food and supplies forces her to find the human ship [KP3]...which isn’t as abandoned as she’d hoped. [SH2]

Sixteen-year-old Ace is a Perfect, the culmination of a millennium of thoughtful human breeding. His job, besides looking perfect, is to keep the ship-dwellers [KP4] happy until their bodies can adjust to Olympia’s harmful atmosphere. [WJ2] It’s as close as he’ll ever get to his childhood dream of being a hero, and he takes his duty seriously, until he accidentally ejects himself from the ship. A strange green girl with tentacles for hair fishes him out of the water, and he believes the venom in her sting is the key to acclimating the rest of his crew to Olympia. Unfortunately, she’s okay with his crew being stuck on the ship forever. [KP5]

Despite growing up on different planets, Thirteen and Ace both spent their childhoods cooped up indoors. [KP6] Liberation [KP7] is almost as exhilarating as their growing feelings for each other. But they aren’t as free as they think. They were both created for a purpose and their creators are determined to see them fulfil that purpose, even if it means they both end up dead.

PERFECT MONSTERS is a 98,000-word YA [WJ3] Science Fiction that will also appeal to fans of [WJ4] ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. [KP8]


Kelly Peterson's Notes:
[KP1]Having her name/ID be right next to her age is slightly jarring to read. Maybe considering separating them a bit in the sentence.
[KP2] Human hybrid with what? I’m assuming technology? Though I see later that she seems to look like medusa with tentacles, so what is she a hybrid of, exactly?
[KP3] I’m confused here. Does she not have supplies on the test flight? Are there any other humans or hybrids on the test flight with her? Why wouldn’t people assume a crash landing would burn the entire ship and not leave supplies behind? Did the last ship crash land, or are they just presumed dead due to lack of communication?
[KP4] The same ship dwellers that everyone assumes are dead? Why do they seem to be living happily when they don’t have communication with their previous world and are assumed dead?
[KP5] This should be your big tension point here, building off this problem towards a solution.
[KP6] This seems like unnecessary information.
[KP7] Why are we talking about liberation here? Does Ace want to be free too? Wouldn’t that mean they don’t get the needed supplies from Ace’s ship?
[KP8] How so? How do the two relate?

Saritza Hernandez's Notes:
[SH1]This confused me at first read. I thought it was a typo and had to re-read it to get the gist of it. I’d suggest changing her name so it’s not confusing. I don’t see a reason for the name in the query nor the sample and with brothers who are named for what they are, Taurus and Wolf, it seems odd that she’d not be named Medusa despite her hair not being made of snakes.
[SH2] - If it’s a suicide mission, why is she looking for food and supplies?

Weronika Janczuk's Notes:
[WJ1] - Cut the rest of the paragraph after this. The details there are (a) unnecessary and (b) hard for an agent to wrap their mind around without reading the actual text; in other words, there are too many story-specific details included.
[WJ2] - The rest of the query after this point doesn't work. What the writer needs to do here, in a third paragraph, is to offer a v. compact pitch about the ways in which these two worlds meet—and to demonstrate the clear plot arc that will be the focal point of the novel.
[WJ3] - Science fiction is not capitalized. Add the word "novel" after the genre.
[WJ4] - Include the author's name.

First 250 words

Taurus’s shadow loomed down the dim corridor, [KP1] the curved horn stretching toward my bare feet. I shifted the color of my skin to match the gray interior walls of Prometheus Labs. Normally, I took pity on my nearsighted brother and let him find me, but not today. [KP2] This time I wanted to feel as cold as the stone walls that surrounded me. And nothing else.

If I were really the monster the scientists said I was, the halls would be littered with silent statues that couldn’t hurt us. But I was only a genetically engineered facsimile of Medusa. Instead of snakes, my hair consisted of two long, stinging squid tentacles and eight useless squid arms, or squarms. My human face couldn’t turn anyone to stone and my paralyzing squid toxins were useless because the scientists always wore safety suits. [KP3]

Taurus grunted and then clomped down the hall, swinging his massive horned head back and forth. He was as bull-headed as any minotaur should be, but instead of hunting to kill, he wanted to help me feel better, even when that was impossible. Prometheus Labs created us to test the space program without endangering human life. He and my other brother, Wolf, were scheduled to go on a deadly one-way trip through space, leaving me alone to wonder if they survived. Hiding wouldn’t keep anyone from leaving, but it would save me the pain of looking into their eyes, knowing it would be the last time. [WJ1] [SH1] [KP4]


Kelly Peterson's Notes:
[KP1]Opening with his name makes it seem as though he’s the main character telling this scene for a second. Possible rewording could make this a stronger opening without insinuating a different MC.
[KP2] Is Taurus hunting her? Are they playing a game? Did he run after her because she was upset? Or is it just proper for her to make herself known to her friend who can’t see well?
[KP3] I’m not sure this is necessarily needed here. I think this paragraph could be separated a bit and placed into a few more natural occurences of this information throughout the first few pages.
[KP4] Good way to build that tension and immediately relate your reader to the character! 

Saritza Hernandez's Notes:
[SH1]I liked this sample but the query doesn’t give me enough of a conflict beyond their creators coming after them. Maybe specify in the query what they were created for (especially Thirteen). Despite the interesting premise, I’d pass on this.

Weronika Janczuk's Notes:
[WJ1] - These 250 words don’t work at all—there is way too much world-building and characterization here that doesn’t actively contribute to a strong tension or plot arc. I would encourage the writer here to fully re-imagine the entire scene, and to start within a clearer action arc (whether that action is exterior or interior). In other words, these 250 words tell us a lot—but they do v. little to show and structure the context for the unfolding story, and do v. little to invest the reader in the character or the unfolding story. Be thinking about plot and pacing, especially with regards to scene structure--the way that you begin, move through, and end individual scenes: A huge part of the journey to publication, as well as career-building, requires a constant perfection of one's craft. Also be thinking about the compactness of your query and your pages:


Kelly Peterson: PASS: Your writing seems to be decently strong, but I’m not quite sure of the story arc from your query. There’s a few questions I’d like answered, as well as clearer stakes and tension within your query so that I’d know what I’m requesting. Keep going, though! You have so much potential!
Saritza Hernandez: PASS 
Weronika Janczuk: PASS 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Challenge and Giveaway for the #TackleTBR Read-a-Thon

Tackle Your TBR Readathon 2018 #TackleTBR
Tackle Your To-be-Read Read-a-thon 2018

Today's challenge:

Name a Book with Retold Fairy Tales, Folktales, Myths | or name a Diverse Book

This round of Pass or Pages, our query contest, the genre choice was retellings of myths, legends, folktales, or fairy tales with diverse characters. (Results of the contest will appear starting on Monday.)

So, for today's #TackleTBR challenge, the Operation Awesome team would like you to name either a book that is a retelling of a myth, legend, folktale, or fairy tale OR name a book with a diverse main character.
(Both is also good.)

Cinder by Marissa Meyer is a retelling of Cinderella with a "second-class citizen" main character.

The diverse book movement recognizes all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. #WeNeedDiverseBooks


What myth, legend, folktale, or fairy tale is retold in the book you picked?
In what ways are the main characters in the book diverse?

The prize
Open to anyone who Amazon can ship this to.
You do not have to take part in #TackleTBR to play. However, there is an extra entry to readathon participants.
We will NOT save or use the Rafflecopter information given beyond this Rafflcopter Giveaway.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Good luck and happy reading!

Flash Fiction Friday #40

We're gonna switch it up this week. I recently had to evacuate because of Hurricane Florence, so, today's prompt is going to be The End of the World. What's some apocalypse imagery that you can come up with in 50 words or less? Leave your story in the comments down below!

Winner will be announced on Sunday, 9/23 after 12 pm! Happy writing!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Dear OAbby: Why is there no fiction category for older adults?

Dear OAbby,

As a person of somewhat advanced years, I'm wondering why there is no fiction category for older adults.  There are any number of categories for children's books (middle-grade, picture books, early readers, YA), but then there is just this great expanse of fiction called 'adult'.  Why isn't there a category for us older adults?

Aged Reader

Dear Aged Reader,

You're right.  There are a lot of different categories that sit under the banner of children's books and none once you hit the adult market.  That's because children are learning to read, and these categories are helpful in identifying both the reading level of the book, and the content.  Someone who is reading early readers is likely around six to eight years old and not totally confident with reading yet. Therefore both the language used in the book, and the subject matter, will be targeted toward people of this age group.

Adult books are targeted toward people who can read and rather than being categorized by age group, are cateogrized by genre (mystery, sci-fi, historical fiction, romance etc).  There are certainly books within any one of these genres that feature older characters and their struggles and concerns, but these books are not specifically targeted only at readers of more advance years.  Just as books about characters in their thirties aren't targeted only at readers in this age group.  It is expected that adults will have developed their tastes and have preferences already for the kind of books they read.

That said, the population in the western world is aging, and the number of older readers is growing.  Publishers are taking note of this, and romance readers especially will find there is an increase in the number of 'second-chance' romance novels featuring characters of more advanced years available.  A number of books featuring older protagonists have featured on bestseller lists in recent years too (A Man Called Ove, The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared to name a couple).  A quick look at Goodreads shows there are a number of lists featuring books with more mature protagonists.

So to answer your question more succinctly, no, there is no category for older readers, but there are certainly books out there that feature older characters and storylines that will resonate with an older audience.  It just might take a bit of searching within your preferred genre to find them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Tracey Carisch's Operation Awesome Debut Author Spotlight and Emerging First Book

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Excess Baggage: One Family's Around-the-World Search for Balance by Tracey Carisch

1- Your book is described as the spiritual journey of Eat Pray Love – and the comical mishaps of National Lampoon’s Vacation. Can you give us an example of what happened on the trip to relate those two extremely different titles?

Nomadic world travel is an inherently soul-searching experience, and yet when you do it with children it can get a little ludicrous at times. For instance, Southeast Asia was one of the most spiritually enlightening parts of our trip for me. I established a yoga practice, started meditating regularly, tried veganism, and began finding answers to some of the questions I’d been pondering for most of my adult life. Yet, I still had to teach a 5-year-old how to use the bathroom without flushing toilet paper, tuck my kids into bed under mosquito nets, and keep my kids from being bounced out of the high speed, open-air tuk tuks that served as our primary form of transportation. Every day brought this surreal, sometimes comical combination of self development and mild insanity.

2- Would you please, in 160 characters or less, give a #WriteTip ?

Experience #nanowrimo this year. It will jumpstart your writing habit and get you writing every single day.

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

Time. Having the time to put toward the writing process introduced me to a creative side I didn’t know I had. I left my career so our family could go on this journey, so with this extra time on my hands I started a travel blog. My husband took most of the photography on it, and I shared our experiences. Then, it just started growing from there. Our following grew and our travels created things to write. , which left me focused on homeschooling our girls, planning our travel, and finding ways for us to volunteer in the towns we visited. I set up a travel blog to keep our family and friends back home updated, and it took off.

4- There are 7 continents: Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe and Australia/Oceania. You went to 6 continents. Which one didn't you visit?

We didn’t make it to Antarctica. With three kids in tow, it was a little too remote and way to expensive. Maybe someday.
Siem Reap, Cambodia. Tracey Carisch's Operation Awesome Debut Author Spotlight and Emerging First Book

5- Have other cultures been integratedinto your life after your journey?

We definitely still feel the impact of the cultures we visited throughout our travel. One of the most noticeable, daily differences is the way we approach food. For so much of the trip we got used to the ritual of a daily trip to open-air markets to buy food.

6- What's your Twitter handle, and do you have two or three writer friends on there to shout-out to for #WriterWednesday ?

My handle is @traceycarisch
Other authors: Vicki Lesage @vickilesage
Brooke Warner @brooke_warner

7- Would you share a picture with us of your book in an iconic location?


8- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

Right now I’m waiting for the next inspiration to take ahold of me. I’d like to write another book, possibly one expanding on how the lessons of international travel and how they integrated back into modern American life. I also have ideas for a novel someday down the road.

9- Did any of the places you went know you were writing about your travel, and did anyone have any memorable feelings about it?

Yes, in fact, in some places we became locally known as “the American family”. Friends we made followed our blog and sometimes shared posts on local web site and Facebook pages. We were even featured in the local newspapers several times.

10- What is your favorite book by someone else, what's the author's Twitter handle, and what do you love most about that book? #FridayReads book recommendation time!

Author name: @AnitaDiamant
Title:The Red Tent
Love because:

I loved the author’s concept that the lives of the women noted in our civilization’s early history could have been misrepresented to fit the masculine influence and perspective of the day.

11- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

Leslie Lindsay is a reviewer who has expressed her love for my memoir. In her review she said, “I laughed (a lot), I got tearful, I felt excited and terrified...seriously, Excess Baggage hit on every emotion.”

12- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Editing my memoir helped me really learn the mechanics of the writing craft as I worked to create an easy, conversational flow to the book. I would put it aside for a couple weeks and then come back and read with fresh set of eyes. This helped me find the spots that didn’t flow or stories that needed some rewording to be as funny or meaningful as possible.

13- What was the best and worst cuisine you had while abroad?

We had a lot of great food and most of it was very basic and simple in its preparation. Whole grilled Hake fish in Croatia, Kokoda ceviche in Fiji, and granadilla fruit in Peru were our favorites. The fried crickets of Thailand were probably the least favorite of the trip, especially for our daughters.
Bolivian Salt Flats. Tracey Carisch's Operation Awesome Debut Author Spotlight and Emerging First Book

14- Did you plan all of your trip, or did you just "wing" parts of it?

We did not plan out our trip prior to leaving the United States. In the beginning, we were usually scheduled about a month out. We’d know where we were going to be and had housing lined up. However, by the time we got to the last 6 months of the journey, we’d gotten very comfortable with winging it. Some days we didn’t know exactly where we were staying that night until we were checking into a hotel with a vacancy.

15- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to benefit hundreds of other authors or readers potentially?

A simple, affordable process for developing audio books would make many great books more accessible to the population that needs (or simply prefers) a listening option.

16- Did you stay only in well-known chain hotels, stay with friends, or something else?

We stayed primarily in vacation rental homes, and a few hotels here and there. While in Ethiopia we stayed in the volunteer guest house of the organization we were working with. We stayed with family for a month in Andorra, and lived with good friends while we were in Fiji. Primarily, we would find a place on Homeaway, contact the owner, and work out an arrangement for a month-long stay.

17- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

I want fun, easy reads that will also be thought-provoking and inspiring. I love books that give me a fun escape, while also leaving me feel like I’ve learned something new about myself or the world.

18- Were there any strong feelings from extended family members about you and your family being gone for so long?

Yes. This decision we made to take our daughters around the world was a difficult thing for our parents to understand in the beginning. With the stories in the media, world travel can look like very scary and dangerous to many people, particularly my parents who hadn’t really done any international travel. It was a point of growth for me to move forward on something when I knew people I loved disapproved of it.
Granada, Nicaragua. Tracey Carisch's Operation Awesome Debut Author Spotlight and Emerging First Book

19- Did you learn any unusual legends or explore any mystical creatures while on your travels?

We stayed in Skibbereen, Ireland for about 6 weeks, which is the town associated with the legend of The King with Donkey Ears. It was a new story we’d never heard before. Our daughters loved it and kept asking our local friends to tell the story again and again.

20- How will you measure your publishing performance?

I’m a professional speaker, so I really enjoy connecting with audiences on topics I love. I will be measuring success of this book by the new connections I make around the world and the presentations I get to deliver to different groups.

21- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

I went the small, hybrid press route. As a first-time, unknown author, this was a great way for me to get my work out there but yet still have access to the traditional distribution process bookstores use.

22- What's the best book marketing strategy you've come across?

I’m really enjoying focusing on Podcasts. They provide a great connection to very specific audiences.

23- Did different size charts ever come up as an issue, such as when buying new shoes or clothing for the family?

Yes, it did, particularly with pants. We had to try on a lot of them the first time we needed a wardrobe overhaul.
Northern Thailand. Tracey Carisch's Operation Awesome Debut Author Spotlight and Emerging First Book

24- What is one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

Where in the world would they love to visit and what’s holding them back from making it happen.

25- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

In her breakthrough book Excess Baggage, Tracey Carisch brings the reader an enlightening memoir that’s part Eat, Pray, Love and part National Lampoon's Vacation. Funny, fast-paced, and adventurous while also deep and thought-provoking, this inspiring book will be a great read for everyone trying to keep up in the modern rat race.
Instagram: @traceycarisch
Twitter: @traceycarisch
In the van, taken in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Tracey Carisch's Operation Awesome Debut Author Spotlight and Emerging First Book

Excess Baggage: One Family's Around-the-World Search for Balance by Tracey Carisch