Monday, November 16, 2015

#PitchWars Critique: SUFFER THE CHILDREN

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.


My 42,000-word novel word count isn't long enough to be called a novel, technically - refer to this awesome word count post from agent Jennifer Laughran "Suffer the Children" is the opening volume in a series it's extremely difficult to launch a series as a debut. You're better off having a standalone with series potential. Also, given that your word count is very well, particular for your genre, I'm guessing all the volumes could be collapsed into one. called "Voiceless Screaming." This thrilling story of speculative fiction with mild flavors of fantasy and science fiction was inspired by Frank Peretti's "This Present Darkness" and the Discworld series by the late Terry Pratchett.

Lux is a high-ranking employee of The Agency, a mysterious group with subversive goals led by an enigmatic lots of adjectives at work here person only referred to as "The Caller." Lux lost her partner Michael over 45 years ago to a religious zealot, Father. Lux has not dealt with her feelings for her former partner, or her anger at Father. Because you queried me as a PitchWars mentor, and I only accept YA, I assume this is a YA story? But you're opening your query with a character that is over 45?

Micah Solomon is the 13-year-old child of Father, the religious leader of the Frontier. Father commands a small contingent of Hybrid Children - acolytes that develop a hive mentality to the priest shortly after indoctrination. But what does this actually mean in terms of the story? Father wants to bring Micah completely into his errant punctuation 'flock. Father does not tolerate dissent, and commands absolute obedience. There is also this strange behavior with his eyes. His glow red, and after initiation to his cult, the Hybrid Children possess one blue eye that sometimes glow. Why? Father's Frontier is a dark and creepy place, where horrible acts are still regarded as negative only because people try to look away from Father's wrath. I don't understand what that sentence is trying to say.

Voiceless Screaming follows both Lux and Micah as they learns the truth behind father, what his plans are. comma not period and his eventual change into someone known as The Gattler. "Voiceless Screaming" is told by two narrators: Gattler opens every chapter, and the Agents (Mick and The Rookie) relates the events. So neither one of the characters that you introduced in the query is a narrator? Who are these people? At the end of "Suffer the Children," Micah finds himself in the real world So we weren't in the real world before?, which creates a whole new series of questions with few precious answers. Lux will come to grips with her past, and in Micah, will find a new lease on life.

Diversity is a concern of mine, but it is not germane to this specific story, but will be introduced later.  Not relevant - you need to sell what's on the plate now in this story, not what might be coming up. Micah is Jewish by way of his birth mother Elthea. Many characters in the story are white, but a majority of the important cast members are non-European in ethnicity. Confused on this point if it isn't set in our world in the first place. Another factor that is not germane, but important to me, is that Micah is asexual and does not experience aesthetic or romantic attraction in conventional ways.

"Suffer the Children" has elements of violence towards the innocent, thrilling races against time, and makes a person ask a basic question: who are my real friends? Which doesn't come across in the above query at all. I really have no idea what the plot is, except that there is a bad guy who sometimes has red eyes, he wants Micah in his group, and there's an older woman who is angry with him. I don't know what's at stake for anyone.

I am submitting both the Prologue and the first chapter. The latter alone certainly helps build the world, it is best supplemented by the Prologue. Prologues generally are considered a no-no in publishing.

1st Page:

She relied on the bartender to keep the vodka coming. Again, if this is YA, you probably can't open in a bar. The bar was probably 3 spell out years overdue for revarnishing, and the woman pouring drinks didn’t know the difference between Glenfidditch, Maker’s Mark, and Jack, but she who is she? loved this bar. She was there when the building inspector wanted to condemn the place and the owner – a stout ‘gentleman’ in his late 70s – offered said inspector a bottle on Balvenie 21 as a ‘gift’ to ignore the structural problems. She still loved this bar.

She spent years in this place. Sooner or later the bartender Janet would ask her why she never seemed to age a day, or could down thousands of dollars in booze and not keel over.

Noticing that the customer finished a bottle of Smirnoff again, this is loaded with alcohol already. If this is YA, that's not happening  and dropped another $45, Janet prepared another bottle. Grabbing the cash next to it – more than enough to pay for another bottle and tip, she was quickly losing her patience with her most reliable customer. “Ya know ya ain’t gonna find yer answer in this bottle of vodka.” Up until this moment, the Lux loved this bar. Ok so Lux is "she?" We needed to know this sooner. Lots of echoes of "bottle" here and also the repeated concept of her loving this bar - again, if this is YA, it's not working.

The woman looked up at Janet and tucked a lock of blonde hair behind her ear. “If not this one, then I’ll find it in the next one.” She was not in the mood to talk – part of why she used to love this bar. Janet originally tried asking her questions when she first came there, but when she didn’t reply but kept overpaying for medium-tier vodka, she left this visitor why not "her"? alone. That was almost 15 years ago. An errant thought crossed her mind; she could feel her boss’ influence. She tried to push that out. A futile effort on her part.

Is this the prologue or the first chapter? Either way, if this is a YA (and I assume it is since you sent it to me as a YA PitchWars mentor, then you aren't going to get anywhere opening in a bar with a 50+ protagonist. 


Em-Musing said...

It always helps me when I see your notes. I go back to my query and see if I can improve it.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Good to hear! That's what the blog is for :)