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.
Avi’s dad whispers a secret the day he dies of cancer: he was a knight in another world called Turia, and all his fantastical bedtime stories were true.
Avi soon discovers that her witty, flannel-wearing, very-much-from-our-world mother was something out of a fairytale – and that she’s been lying about it for 14 spell out the number years. Despite distrusting Turia and its veiled danger, Avi’s mother allows her to go to high school in both worlds, as long as she keeps everything a secret. Wait - so there's a high school in this fantasy world with knights? You might want to world build a little more here in the query.
Avi thinks she understands what she’s getting in to. She hasn’t tense? counted on Turian girls being laced up, primped, and silent though – something she’s never been good at. She hasn’t tense? counted on hearing the screams of a dragon attack, or that the king may have her head if he finds out she touched the White Hart, never mind she didn’t know it was forbidden.
Corsets and murderous dragons are the least of her worries as she begins her double life, however. The school’s stable hand attacks her, but he also sees her touch the White Hart. With a magic even the sorcerers only whisper of, he seals both secrets inside Avi’s bones – she keeps his secret, and he keeps hers. As a sinister plot unfolds, Avi is faced with a choice: stay silent and belong in her father’s world, or speak up and risk losing everything – including her head.
Mourning clothes make my skin itch.
I’m probably supposed to be focusing on other things right now but all I can think about is how my throat prickles from this high lace collar and that salmon tartlets are disgusting.
He always said blue was my color. Never black.
Stephen appears next to me, looking almost as uncomfortable in his suit and tie as I am in this ridiculous dress. We silently watch people drift around the room, their hushed voices like hollow wind.
“He would have hated this,” I finally mutter as I try not to glare at the caterers in black suits, carrying around trays of appetizers like this is a cocktail party.
“I know,” Stephen says quietly. After another second of silence, he adds, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” I turn my frown down to my shoes. It’s your parents’, I want to say, but that’s not fair. This is how the Harfords mourn, I guess - in style. And four months late. There's a lot going on here - "it's your parents" fault at first made me think her father's death was their fault. Upon re-reading I see it's the style of the wake that is the problem - clarity is needed. And why is the funeral four months later? This needs addressed, I think.
A woman I’ve never seen before touches me on the shoulder, her face lined with all kinds of fake concern. “You’re Avalona, aren’t you?”
I stare at her blankly for a moment and my collar suddenly feels like a noose.
“Excuse me,” I manage to get out before I all but run out of the room. Stephen lets me go.
I can’t do this.
I can’t fake nice to some woman I’ve never met about someone she never knew. Not that I’m sure I knew him anymore, either.
I stumble into the back entry room, where the Harfords OK so Stephen is the Harford and his family is hosting the wake? This is a bit confusing because we don't know enough to draw these conclusions just from context without stopping and checking things - which pulls the reader out of the story always make us take off our muddy shoes. I fumble to unfasten the lace at my throat, my hands shaking as I try to calm down. My dress crinkles under me as I sit, taking one steadying breath after another.
I blink at my Keds, shoved in the corner, who look about as forlorn as I feel. I had to change into heels that make my toes ache once we arrived at this awful luncheon.
I say he would have hated this, but maybe he was lying about that too. Maybe he did prefer fancy finger foods to campfires and worn jeans. Maybe he lied about everything.
My hands tighten on my purse like I’m trying to strangle it. I can feel the dagger inside as it all bubbles up in me like I’m a kettle, finally ready to sing - or explode.
I think about walking back into that room of stuffy people and black coats and sympathetic smiles and I feel panicky, like some dreadful beast is closing in on me. I need to scream, need to run, need to get out of here.
I need to know.
I kick my heeled shoes off and pull on my Keds. They feel weird over tights as I slip out the back door.
I could go home and change - it’s only two houses down - but I’m afraid I’ll lose my nerve. I half run to the wrought-iron gate that leads from the Harford’s back yard to the forest behind our houses, pulling out the worn paper map.
Yes, I think we need clarity on why the funeral is four months late, why Stephen's family is hosting the luncheon and not her own, etc. Otherwise we're working with patchwork to figure out what's going on, and that's distracting for a reader - especially on the first page.