Wednesday, May 29, 2019

May 2019 Pass Or Pages Entry #3

Time for the Pass Or Pages feedback reveals! We're so thankful to our agent panel for taking the time to critique these entries. Shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week. You are awesome!

Entry #3: AMERIKAA


Please consider my 100,000-word historical fiction novel, AMERIKAA. Told from multiple points-of-view with interwoven story lines, it encapsulates the lives of generations of women descended from Jacob Wolf, a poor Pennsylvania German farmer who purportedly played the fiddle for George Washington during the Revolutionary War.  

The story opens in modern-day Brooklyn, New York, with Jennifer as she prepares to move to Canada. While she is packing up her apartment she comes across a family heirloom, given to her by her mother Linda. The binder contains a series of old letters written by relatives spanning the early years of the Revolutionary War.

The letters, which appear as mini-chapters throughout the book, share the secrets and unique experiences of Jacob Wolf and his fiancĂ©e Christina Koenig during the war. Jacob was a remarkable fiddle player but illiterate farmer and member of the Northampton County Pennsylvania Flying Camp who narrowly missed the Battle of Brooklyn and brought supplies to George Washington and the continental army during the Valley Forge winter encampment. Christina was educated, joined the war efforts as a camp follower and went with the famed gingerbread baker, Christopher Ludwick on a secret mission to infiltrate the enemy Hessian soldiers. Back home in Bethlehem, she helped nurse the Marquis de Lafayette as he recovered from a leg wound.   

The remainder of the story follows the lives of the daughters, mothers, and grandmothers in chapters that move generation by generation backwards through time until they reconnect with a now elderly Jacob Wolf. Each vignette provides a window into the issues faced by Western Pennsylvania women of their time.
– 1984, When Linda takes her mother Dorothy to the hospital, Jennifer, Linda’s young daughter must stay in her Great-Grandma Helen’s house, and feels pressure to be pretty rather than smart. 
– 1968, Linda gets accepted to college, but discovers she is pregnant by her boyfriend who has been drafted to the Vietnam war. She wants an illegal abortion and is helped by her mother Dorothy and their church pastor.
– 1949, Dorothy, who was crippled by polio as a child, wants to get engaged, but is thwarted by her mother Helen who does not want her to marry a disabled farmer.
– 1921, Helen wants to join the Daughters of the American Revolution and enlists the help of her Grandmother Rachel whose Grandfather played fiddle for George Washington. Yet as much as Helen wants to conform to social norms, she is also seduced by her friend Ruth, who opens the door to exciting new experiences and relationships.
– 1890, With the blessing of her mother Rachel, Eva travels to Pittsburgh to see her childhood friend Pinky, known to the rest of the world as Nellie Bly, who is nearing the end of her race around the world.
– 1871, Rachel finds herself suddenly without income and expecting her ninth child after her young husband’s unexpected death. She must turn to her father George for help.
– 1838, Sarah, the pregnant servant on George Wolf’s farm, is told she should consider herself lucky after she is forced to become his next wife after his previous wife dies in childbirth. [KU1] [AT1]

The story concludes in a log cabin on a farm in Armstrong County with an elderly Jacob and Christina Wolf [KU2] and Jonathan Koenig, Christina’s brother, discussing their applications for military pensions and reminiscing about their youth. Jacob plays the fiddle for his grandchildren. [KU3]


Katelyn's Notes: 
[KU1] My concern with all these different stories is how well they are woven together since connecting this many women and story lines can be difficult to pull off. I’d be afraid it would feel more like an anthology especially since there doesn’t seem to be any overall plot or stakes that encompasses these stories other than the women being related.
[KU2] One of my concerns about how the stories get interwoven together is whether the mini chapters about Jacob are interesting enough to make this a satisfying ending to all the stories or if it only loosely pulls everything together.
[KU3] Overall this is a very long one nearing 600 words and that alone would cause me to skim if this landed in my inbox. Most queries in my inbox are between 250-350 words.

Ann's Notes: 
[AT1] Might try to summarize these details.

First 250 words:

Chapter One
Brooklyn, New York

Moving to Canada had been a fever dream for American liberals since the 2016 election, so Jennifer’s brownstone Brooklyn friends thought she was kidding when she announced that she and her family were moving to Toronto. She and her husband Adam both had great jobs, although she was on maternity leave after giving birth to the twins. They owned their co-op on a tree-lined street within a half-decent school district, near a park and their synagogue. Despite their enviable middle-class New York City life, Jennifer and Adam saw headlines about white nationalism and xenophobia cross the screens of their phones, causing anxiety and fear that the United States was becoming an untenable place to raise a Jewish family.

When Jennifer went to college, she left the rural Pennsylvania town where her Lutheran family had lived for over a century, moved to New York and converted to Judaism. Still, she was the last person anyone expected to pull up roots and flee the United States. Her ancestors arrived on wooden ships through the Port of Philadelphia while it was under the rule of Great Britain. According to family lore she had a relative who played fiddle for George Washington during the Revolutionary War, another who was a childhood friends with Nellie Bly, and Amelia Earhart’s Grandfather had been the pastor of the church her relatives attended. Her family’s story spanned the entire duration of the history of the United States. [KU1] [AT1]


Katelyn's Notes:
[KU1] This sample reads more like a biography than a novel. You are doing a lot of telling instead of showing. Cut down the backstory and focus on the present.

Ann's Notes: 
[AT1] Would suggest the opening does more showing and less telling.


Katelyn: PASS 
Ann: PASS 

1 comment:

Tony Laplume said...

The premise is fodder, however exhaustively it's detailed, for standard historical fiction. I mentioned Emma Donoghue in another Pass or Pages comment. This outline reminds me of Homegoing, one of my favorite recent novels. The first 250 words, however, feel like more outlining. I'd suggest going back and writing in first-person. As it is, we suddenly are thrust into someone's very contemporary political views, and they end up feeling like the author's. That doesn't really need to happen in a story like this. You can even still pull this off. But not in the first 250 words. Let the characters breathe a little. Let them stew. Especially if they're going to be reflecting back on a distance ancestor. I'd also recommend renaming the characters. They all sound like generic 20th/21st century women. You want to ground us in history? Give us interesting names.