Wednesday, September 27, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: THE FREEDOM DREAMERS


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.

Query:

In 1968, sixteen-year-old Jill Collins is reeling from the death of her mother, and she hasn’t seen her father in years. With no reason to stay in her sleepy Maryland town, she boards a bus to pursue her dream of acting in a Broadway musical. Arriving in New York, she runs into a group of young, long-haired “freaks,” led by the charismatic Lee and his flower-child girlfriend, Tina. Jill has never seen anything like their color and vibrancy, and she’s irresistibly drawn to them—especially to Eric, a sexy dropout on the verge of draft eligibility. Great so far!

The whole tribe settles into a Lower East Side walkup, where Jill’s days become a dizzying blur of drugs, free love, and hedonism. At first she basks in her newfound sense of belonging, but life isn’t all peace and flowers: the specter of Vietnam is ever-present, and the risk-taking comes at a tragic price for some of her friends. Specifics here. A YA novel that features "drugs, free love and hedonism" in a positive way needs to have the specific blowback of that very present, so you'll need to illustrate what the balance is here in the query.

After reconnecting with her former neighbor Suzanne, Jill sheds her hippie identity in favor of a more conservative lifestyle. Shallow but well-meaning, Suzanne pushes Jill to refocus on her Broadway ambitions and to contact her long-absent father. Careening between two worlds, Jill must decide what is most important in life: following her dreams of stardom or standing up for a cause with the friends she loves.

THE FREEDOM DREAMERS is a 46,000-word YA novel that captures the energy of the turbulent ’60s: the music, the experimentation, the fear of the draft, and the hippie tribal culture’s seductive offer of total freedom and acceptance. It would appeal to fans of Sarvenaz Tash’s THREE DAY SUMMER  or Janet Nichols Lynch’s MY BEAUTIFUL HIPPIE.

Right now this is a well-written query, but my concern comes in with there not seeming to be a lot of plot. She experiments with free love, then swings back the other way, and has an identity issue as a result. That's fine, but we need to see what exactly is at stake here. You mention Vietnam, but not the specific role it plays in the book. You say "standing up for a cause," which I assume is Vietnam, but I don't see how a Broadway career would exclude her from protesting Vietnam. In order for these "two worlds" to appear vastly different from one another, you're going to have to illustrate that. Otherwise the choice doesn't seem like it has to be made in the first place. Also, I'm afraid that you're word count is a bit slim. I don't know if 46k is enough space to build the complex world of 1960 NYC, or to illustrate the changes that have to take effect in order to transform rural country girl into a free love hippie, then transform again.

I have a master’s degree in English, specializing in rhetoric and composition. I worked as a professional editor for more than ten years, and my short stories have won awards from the Atlanta Writers Club. I’ve included the first page of THE FREEDOM DREAMERS below and would love to send you the complete manuscript if you are interested. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

1st Page:

Manhattan, 1968

I stepped off the bus perhaps a bit too slowly, and the little old lady behind me gave me an impatient shove with her pocketbook and muttered, “Hurry up, damn it!” Which just goes to show that everything in this world can be disappointing—even cute little grannies. I moved out of her huffy way and turned to take one final look at the silver-sided Greyhound bus as its doors closed and it rumbled away down the street. The ride from Hartzville, Maryland, to New York City had taken six hours, and my legs were cramped from sitting so long. So far, so good.

I jammed my hand into the pocket of my jeans—“So unladylike,” my mother would have said—and felt for the one hundred thirty-seven dollars that was all I had left after the bus fare. I had no idea how long that money would last me in New York. I needed to find a cheap place to stay tonight, and then tomorrow I’d start looking for a job. Anything would do, to begin with; maybe I could be a waitress or something. I’d make some money, find an apartment with a roommate or two, and then . . .
But it was probably better not to go on thinking in terms of “and then.”

I hadn’t eaten all day, so my first priority was to get some food. Fainting from hunger on the sidewalk would not be a good start to my new life. I spotted a cheap-looking little diner, settled my duffel bag more comfortably on my shoulder, and headed off in that direction.

As I walked, I looked curiously at all the people crowding the sidewalk around me, who seemed to be all different sizes, shapes, and colors from what I was used to. No one looked back at me. Everyone seemed to be in a huge hurry, pushing their way around everyone else or stepping off the curbs in front of oncoming cabs, which then blared their horns angrily. It was so noisy and chaotic compared to the quiet suburb where I’d lived all my life. But then, wasn’t the excitement of the big city what I had run away to experience? Only, right now, I couldn’t tell if my racing heartbeat was due to excitement or just plain terror.

Good fish out of water opening. The text is fine, punch up the query to get more of the actual conflict into it.

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