Monday, August 28, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: RED LETTER LAW

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. Echoes are highlighted in blue.


On Mars in 2038, people are selling other people. Maybe people are for sale to avoid the people echo? Fifteen-year-old Lonnie Freeman finds this stupid. Hmm.... I don't know if stupid is a good word to use here. Maybe something a little more strongly condemning? After losing a Mars-ton of money due to dust storms, her mom and stepdad sign up Lonnie and her sister Chelle for the indentured servitude program. They say the girls will have enough to eat, and it’s only two Mars years—that is, 45 months. Lonnie knows it’s nothing more than diet slavery. Fewer calories, less guilt, but it’s still bad for you. Again, I think the wording here is a little light, considering the subject. Comparing indentured servitude to dieting comes off as not treating the subject matter with the proper weight.

After Chelle runs away to Earth, maybe escapes? I'm assuming she can't technically run to Earth Lonnie is bought by a rich family and tasked with caring for a pair of three-year-old twins. The family also includes Amir, a fellow teenager who becomes Lonnie’s friend. In spite of herself, she doesn’t hate it there. She doesn’t feel like a slave. But everything changes when Amir’s classmate rapes Lonnie, claiming he wants to “borrow” her from Amir. Shit. Yeah, you definitely want to make sure you are treating this with appropriate wording, and right now the tone up to here is pretty light.

Amir is infuriated and throws the rapist out of the house. So we know how Amir feels about her rape... how does Lonnie feel? To make matters worse, Lonnie learns that the rape of servants is common. It’s a well-kept secret, as most servants are afraid to do or say anything about it. Plagued by panic attacks, Lonnie wants nothing more than justice. The rapist’s father makes a threat: if anyone goes to the police, he and his son will claim Amir was complicit. Amir is undaunted, but his parents close ranks. Despite Amir’s supportive attitude, Lonnie’s friendship with him is strained by the realization that she’s much more trapped than she ever thought. In order to get justice, she must free herself as the rapist’s family seeks to silence her. Okay good. Again, if you look back over this you can see how the tone of this query changes from the beginning to the end. I think, given the subject matter, it needs to be consistent throughout. Also, I think you need more information about how she might free herself, and through what methods the family is seeking to silence her.

RED LETTER LAW is a 70,000-word young adult space opera that will appeal to fans of RED RISING and THE INVENTION OF WINGS. It is an #ownvoices novel with an African American protagonist. I wrote it because as a black woman, I sometimes feel left out of the feminist narrative. I am an editorial intern with Filles Vertes Publishing. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Great bio and comp titles.

1st Page:

"You forgot the tampons?" Red dust flies up toward me as my shovel pierces the dry, cracked ground. For its diligence, the shovel is rewarded with a hard stamp from my jelly boot-clad foot. I love your opening line. Honestly. Then we go into what I find to be over description. Red dust is one descriptor of the ground is enough to set the scene and to tell us she's digging, but then the next sentence tells us more about digging, and what she's wearing. It's essentially a useless sentence, and it's your second one. Cut it.

"Gosh, Lonnie," Rochelle says. "You don't have to take it out on the ground. I'm sorry."

Six, seven, eight. I count the eyelets on my boot to calm myself down. These boots are usually my favorite, since they're clear, allowing me to show off my socks. Today's socks are patterned to look like a cloudy blue sky, which starkly contrasts the perpetually dreary sky above me. Gosh, I miss the blue planet.

Given what I know about her from the query, I think maybe she's dealing with some form of panic attack, hence the eyelet counting. But, a reader won't have that insight. Right now I don't understand what she's upset about (no tampons? Digging?) or why she's counting her eyelets. 

"Apology accepted," I say, finally looking up, "but we have to go back to the store."

"Lonnie, we can't. Mom said not to use any more solar."

"Chelle," I articulate carefully, "we need to go back to the store."

She purses her lips to one side. She's going to cave, because I'm right. You don't hunker down for a storm without the essentials. I'd like to think her agreement has something to do with me putting my foot down, but I can't intimidate her. I may be two inches taller and twelve pounds heavier than her -- thirty-two pounds on Earth -- but she's still the big sister, and she knows it.

"Let's finish this first," she says. "Then, if there's time, we can walk or rent a velo."

Now she's speaking my language.

"A velo? Can I drive?"


"Good, 'cause the way you pedal, we'll be lucky to get halfway down the street before the dust storm--"

"Dig, Lonnie."

Not bad. I think you've done a good job of setting the scene. It's pretty clear we're on Mars, that solar is a form of payment, a velo is transportation, as well as the girls' relationship to each other. However, what I don't know is why they're digging, and what for. Do they have to? Is this a job? Is it forced? What are they looking for, or are they just digging a hole or a trench? What is this storm that's coming? Dust? Lightning. 

Overall this is a good first page. You've a done great job of setting scene and establishing a lot of world-building through show and not tell, which is fantastic. But I would say talk less about the clear boots at the outset and more about the act of digging, and what this incoming storm might be.

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