Entry 4: CRIME AND PREJUDICE
Lenore's[TDM1] hand shakes as she sells her mom's last pair of Louboutin heels to pay the mortgage. Papa[US1] probably gambled away his paycheck. She gnaws on a bent paperclip, regretting she can't wear the shoes to her quinceañera. Her stomach knots as she debates telling her mom of this sacrifice[SS1] during her next inmate visitation. The girl mom killed will never celebrate a fifteenth birthday. Check the doors and windows are locked, the stove is off, and no one is hiding in the tub. Force a smile or the family will fall apart and more friends will abandon her. Papa's former fame as a Hispanic NFL player means their downward spiral is national news. Lenore rubs her[SS2] serenity prayer bracelet when she's accepted to a summer school program for gifted young writers, a chance to repair her life.[JH1][TDM2][KP1]
Lenore longs for her stories to help others with incarcerated family members. If other students discover her writing goals they might mock her, calling her Jailbird Junior. Writing is how she wants to make a positive name for herself and earn a bright future, instead of suffocating in her parents’ dark shadows. If she can win the program’s prize money, maybe she can keep their home[KP2]. If not, her papa is moving them, and Lenore would attend the school of the girl her mom killed[JH2][KP3]. Only white boys have won in the past, thanks to the summer program’s racist associate dean[TDM3]. Lenore must find the courage to know which circumstances she can change and which she needs to accept[SS3][KP4] in CRIME AND PREJUDICE, a 65k-word YA[JH3]. Fans of STANDING AGAINST THE WIND[KP5] will find a similarly mature and anxious teen character who must take control of her life for an educational opportunity.
[US1] Sorry, I don’t like this at all. This is not even a “rel” query, and the present tense summary feel is off putting, IMO.
[KP1] Interesting so far, but this is being told as if it’s written in the book and in a single moment. Does all of this happen in a single moment? We want to know her stakes a bit more, as well as her motivation, and not from the POV of her brain as she thinks. Pull yourself out just a bit while keeping her voice, and then work towards rewriting this pitch! =)
[KP2] There’s some good stakes! This paragraph is much clearer.
[KP3] Why would her father papa move them there? Financial reasons? Wouldn’t he try to keep her out of harms way by avoiding that school? Does he see the danger? Does he care? Does he not care? How can we use this as an opportunity to showcase her relationship with her father?
[KP4] Awesome, but there’s a lot more stakes in this than simply know what she can change. What if she doesn’t make the money and loses? What if she ends up at the school where her mom murdered that girl? What if she never writes again? Etc.
[KP5] Italicize, rather than capitalize! Capitalization is for unpublished works. Who is Standing Against the Wind written by?
[SS1] While I appreciate the attempt to allow the reader to see the writing style in the query by writing it in a narrative-type manner, it actually caused the point to get lost for her. There are details in here that are irrelevant to the story, and others that needed to stand out. By couching in story language, I can’t get a good enough idea of the conflict. For example, while the information about selling her mom’s last pair of expensive shoes, and her father’s gambling help paint the picture of money loss and consequence, the sentence about the paperclip doesn’t add to objective of relaying the story.
[SS2] Unnecessary detail that’s taking up valuable space where you could be telling the reader about your story and getting to the point of the conflict.
[SS3] I would have stopped reading prior to getting to this part. This is an important piece of the story and it is buried and lost inside the query. Condensing this piece, picking out the pertinent details and highlighting this part of the story will make the story pop better when read.
[JH1] This doesn’t really give me the details of the plot. It feels more like the opening paragraph versus a query letter. I think the important details (mom in jail for murder?, Hispanic NFL player father with a gambling problem could be the focus, accepted to a summer school program for gifted young writers. Could also mention Lenore’s age.
[JH2] Here are the stakes buried in the paragraph.
[JH3] Consider adding in the genre of YA, like contemporary so the agent knows 100% the genre.
[TDM1] Start with title/genre/word count!
[TDM2] This paragraph is confusing. It keeps piling on details to the point that I’m not quite sure what I should be focusing on – Lenore’s financial situation, the reveal about her mother being in jail for murder, the detail about people hiding in the tub, the fact that her father used to be an NFL player…I would ask yourself what the most important things we need to know about Lenore are to start off with, and restructure from there.
[TDM3] This paragraph is similarly jumbled. What’s at stake – winning the prize money despite the program being headed by a racist, and that if she loses Lenore will have to go to the school her mother’s victim attended – is buried beneath the details about Lenore’s writing and her worries about being made fun of. I would dig deeper into the stakes here, and tell us more about the program itself.
First 250 Words
Fan-freaking-tastic. Once again, I’m assigned to the group with three students who mistakenly think a C is a good grade. I suck on a bent paperclip as David reads the instructions out loud.
“We start by electing a group leader to divide the work up evenly. Wait, how does that divide up the work?”
“The leader assigns tasks. It doesn’t matter,” I tell David. His attention has already drifted away.
If not for last year’s incident, I wouldn’t be stuck in this class with him. As I spin my serenity bracelet, I whisper a plan to the group. “I’ll do the work. You placate the teacher.”
I point my bent paperclip at him. “I refuse to let you three bring down my grade point average again. Our score's going to be in the high 90’s this time. Just sit there looking like you're being useful.”
“Yes, Mrs. Schwartz?” The eighth-grade[KP6] English Composition teacher[TDM4] curls her finger, summoning me to follow her to her desk.
“The purpose of group work is so that you’ll learn to function in a company someday. We all have to be able to work with peers we don’t like sometimes. What would you do if this was your job and those three students were your only coworkers?”
I grind my teeth.
“Answer me, Lenore.”
“Superior products thrive. I’d quit this company because three-fourths of the employees don’t care enough to produce a decent product, much less a superior one.[SS4][JH4][TDM5][KP7]
[KP6] Eighth grade is actually 13-14 years old, which puts this manuscript at Upper MG-Lower YA, but 14 is usually not considered YA and is actually considered a bit of a “no-man’s land.” I’d suggest upping your MC age to 15!
[KP7] WOW. BURN. Hahah, I love your voice in this, though. Your pitch definitely needs work and I think it would be really helpful to raise the age just a bit in order to fit this squarely into YA range as a debut author, but your pages are still nice and voice-y, pulling your readers in. If you can modify your pitch and raise the age, I’d love to see this one day!
[SS4] I like how the author uses a mixture of narrative and dialogue to show setting, convey the issue at hand, and convey some characterization.
[JH4] Interesting opening. I was able to get a good sense of Lenore. Is Lenore is eighth grade? Her dialogue feels a little older than an eighth grader.
[TDM4] 8th grade is a little young for a YA protagonist – that’s usually more in the middle grade space.
[TDM5] I don’t have a ton of feedback on this opening – I think it in general gives a pretty strong sense of who Lenore is as a narrator. What I’m reading here doesn’t really match up with what I was expecting based on the query, though, which leaves me confused.
Uwe Stender: Pass
Kelly Peterson: Pass for now
Shannon Snow: Pass
Jennifer Herrington: Pass
Torie Doherty Munro: Pass