Wednesday, September 20, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: IT ONLY HURTS WHEN I'M DEAD

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.


In what was supposed to be Charlie's first night alone--truly alone--with his boyfriend, Joe, Charlie gets chased out of the house by Joe's cultist family. It might be best to explain why he's chased out. Because of his sexuality is implied, but I think clarification is necessary. He’s then rescued by a pack of werewolves in a night so surreal that he can't quite believe any of it actually happened. Because these two things are so disparate, you need something stronger here than "can't quite believe..." and with more of a teen voice. Something like WTF?, if that fits the voice of the novel.

Joe may be a cultist or a victim. I'd rephrase as "cult member" To find out, Charlie turns to the one person he's spent years avoiding--Joe's never-quite-ex-girlfriend Augustina. Together, they discover that the wolfling pack is a supernatural police force. And that Joe's family is willing to murder children in order to resurrect their father. Whose father? The way this is stated it sounds like the father of the wolves, but that can't be right because the wolves saved Charlie from the cult. And how do those things tie together? The wolves are police force, okay, but why does the cult have their attention? Are they trying to stop this "father" from being resurrected? And why? Right now what you have here only implies these things - you need to specifically state them.

To help the wolves, and rescue Joe sounds like they've decided that he's a victim, then?, they must first access the magic deep inside of themselves. Augustina is a natural wizard, but a lifetime in the closet blocks Charlie. Not even a werewolf's bite can change him. To unlock his magic he must pass through the underworld. Why? What he becomes puts everyone at risk. This is a tease, which doesn't work in a query. What does he become and what effect does it have on the plot?

Right now you need to draw things together a little more than they are. Are Charlie and Augustina working with the wolves side by side? Or are they two separate groups sharing the same goal, but not conspiring? 

It Only Hurts When I'm Dead is where The Howling meets Portlandia. It was inspired by my love of a good horror story, and the native Oregon philosophy to take nothing too seriously. I hope it will appeal to readers who like the humor of Me Speak Pretty One Day and the suspense of Sunshine. It is complete at 96,000 words.

I think the mashup and comp titles here are great. If this is an #OwnVoices story, you'll want to mention that. The only thing I'll add is that 96k is pretty long for a debut novel, especially for one that is humorous. I'd take a really hard look at what you've got and shave off as much as 25k.

Currently a Boston resident, my short story "Contra Dance" appeared in The Louisville Review.

Nice bio!

1st Page:

Charlie jogged into the dark night, gravel skittering beneath his shoes, excitement rising with every step. A porch light gleamed ahead of him, but otherwise Joe's house was dark. The driveway stood empty. But that was all part of the scam. They'd made up a story of camping with the Alden family so they could spend a weekend together--alone--and never leave the bedroom, if possible. This is fine, but immediately raises the question of their story. The problem isn't that they have a story to explain their absence (fine), but that they don't have a story to explain their presence... they're alone at Joe's house - which is what they're actually trying to cover. What you need to explain here to the reader is the absence of Joe's family, but Joe still being present. (Or honestly, just skip that bit. He's home alone. It happens).

He ran up the porch steps and slammed into the door. Because it was locked. For a second, heart racing in his chest, he thought Joe had bailed on him. But then he heard shuffling inside the house. The door cracked open. A hand flashed out and yanked him inside. Joe slammed him against a wall, kissing hard before the door even shut.

Alone. Together. No parents to keep quiet for. No siblings to avoid. Charlie had staid stayed over at least a dozen times before, but always slept on the floor because Joe was so scared. Of consummating or of being caught? This would be the first night truly together. Joe was all raw, uninhibited passion, so hot he was on fire. No more modest pecks. No more fleeting kisses before running off like a beaten dog. This was the real Joe, kissing with such intensity that it made Charlie giggle. He couldn't help himself.

Yeah again - the family that has been preventing this action is gone. Explaining that is what needs to happen. Is the Alden family mentioned in the first para Joe's family? So are they camping? So the excuse about camping is Charlie's excuse to be absent from his home, but what is Joe's excuse for not being along with his family camping? Anyway, as you can see, there's a lot of confusion mixed up in this. Might be better to drop the idea of them setting up a scam in the first place, and just leave it that there was an opportunity.

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