Monday, September 7, 2015

#PitchWars Critique - JACK OF ROSES

My PitchWars mentor-partner Kate Karyus Quinn and I agree that we didn't read a single query that was bad - nor did we read any first pages that were unsalvageable. And honestly with as many submissions as we had, we were surprised at the quality of them. Which is why we decided to offer query and first page critiques on our blogs to everyone who submitted to us.

Quite a few people have taken us up on the offer. Through November, Kate and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Any writer can learn from these - not just the author of the material being critiqued. You'll see my comments in green.


When seventeen-year-old musician Townes Ransom sneaks out to a music festival to compete in a marquee open mic, a confrontation with Americana superstar India Lee leads to Townes’ discovery that their whose? His or hers? music is imbued with a pure and powerful kind of fire actual physical fire, or is this a metaphor? Not only that, it’s addictive to the ancient beasts of the Circle, still as hungry today for the music that only humans can make as they were when the continents were young.   This just made a pretty big leap from contemporary sounding to magical elements.

Groomed from birth to have a place in the Circle’s hierarchy and unable to believe that Townes knows nothing about it or the true nature of his talents, India pegs him as a liar, a rival, and quite possibly an idiot. An onstage showdown the same incident mentioned above? between them attracts both of the Circle’s warring factions to the festival, and when the deadly Riser faction decides that India’s family is gaming them why would they think this?, the two are drawn into the Circle’s escalating power struggle. Why would Townes be dragged into this?

Forced into a shaky alliance why?, Townes and India’s search for safety and a fabled mandolin that India believes she’s born to play–unless the Risers find it first–sends them road-tripping to New Orleans. Townes is all in, fascinated by this new world of folk legends come to life and also by the fierce and troubled India Lee. It’s all great, until the dying starts. Then, as the casualties climb, who is dying? Townes must question everything he thinks he knows–about family, friendship, and what girls want–and come to grips with the soaring costs of his musical legacy.

Based on the premise that America’s mythology hides in our music, JACK OF ROSES reads like a YA collision of “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Almost Famous,” and would appeal to fans of Maggie Stiefvater’s RAVEN BOYS series. Great comp titles and good philosophy of what the book is about here.

Overall this query feels heavy. There's a lot of information being thrown here, but not much explanation. What is the Circle? What are these beasts? True monsters? Humans with powers? Who is the enemy here? In the query they come off as faceless bad guys. What are the two factions fighting over, and what does the mandolin have to do with any of it?

Also, I'd get the magical elements out of the way in the first line. The jump leaves me going, Wait - what? Not a good place to be. 

Chapter One

Townes Ransom hoisted his guitar higher and pushed through the crowd. He glanced over his shoulder. Hill was still behind him, flashing a conspiratorial grin, and Townes grinned back. There’d be hell to pay for being here, kind of a lot of hell actually, but that wouldn’t happen until Sunday. Today was Friday.

So far, the good omens kept coming. Even if the cover story about camping in the state park some twenty miles down the Blue Ridge Parkway were to fall apart now, who cared? Here at the RootsStock music festival, lost in a sea of people, they were unfindable. Unfindable from who? Going to catch hell from who? Parents? And now, this magical discovery: if he held his guitar case up high and in front of him, it carved a path through the festival crowd like the bow of his personal ship instead of being only an arm-wrenching anchor. If people jumped to the conclusion that either he or the guitar were expected somewhere up front, and then were so kind as to edge back and let him pass by, well, who was he to turn down that kind of luck? There were side effects, too–curious glances, and ripples of  “Who’s that?” whispers that brushed over him like fingertips on his shoulders. These were followed in short order by muffled snorts of laughter from Hill, who knew the sad but truthful answer to that question:  Nobody.

Great opening. I'd definitely keep reading. There's good voice here! Some of your sentences are longish, and a bit verbiose, but I think it works for voice.

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