Monday, September 11, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: KILLERS

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.


When Katie’s stepfather murders her mother and Katie shoots him dead, she and her half-sister Rosa are forced to live with their grandmother in Nowhere, Maine—as far away from San Diego as possible, where there is nothing but blueberries, ocean and snow. Great hook... then it wanders. Break at the statement that she shot him, then rephrase about the move. Where everything is uglier. Especially the girls in her new high school, who say killer shirt You want to italicize or put in quotes what they say when she walks by. Katie knows they aren’t talking about her t-shirt, they’re talking about her: she’s a killer now. Her sister Rosa seems okay with the transition, until all of a sudden she isn’t. Why? We need to know that. 

Their grandmother, May, searches for the identity of Katie’s father, and for the reason her daughter (their mom? might want to rephrase) ran away from home and never came back. When Rosa is faced with the same danger that drove her mother away, they all learn what they are capable of, and ultimately, what makes up a family. I think we need to know that danger is in order to understand the plot of the book.

Complete at 88,000 words, Killers is told from the alternating perspectives of Katie, Rosa and May, and addresses loss, bullying and grooming/sexual abuse. This gives us some indication of what may have driven mother away, but come out and say it in the query and what the ramifications are for the plot.

My short fiction won the WOW! Flash fiction Contest and the Binnacle Ultrashort Competition, and has been published in such magazines as Green Mountains Review, PANK, Hobart, Vestal Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Black Heart Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, Liquid Imagination, and The Legendary. Originally from Maine, I now live in southern Vermont with my husband and three daughters, where I volunteer with the Brattleboro Literary Festival.

Great bio! Congratulations on the short fiction publications - those are nothing to shrug at!

1st Page:

Nana flits about us like a bird protecting her nest, which is pointless—there is no saving us now. The dark took over the moment I picked up the gun. This is a little bit vague "the dark" - it carries allusions that she wasn't in control when she acted. It was heavier than I imagined, and surprisingly cold; I always thought it would be hot with power. I catch Nana staring at me, and I think she must know about the dark, how it’s still right there, itching under my skin. Maybe if she stares at me long enough we could go backward. I could pick up the gun faster and Mama would still be here. We wouldn’t be leaving San Diego for Nowhere, Maine, with a grandmother who thinks there is something left to protect. Hmm... okay, not bad at all. Introducing "the dark" is not a bad idea, because it shows that the MC is considering elements of herself that she may not be completely comfortable with. But the fact that she says the dark "took over" in the second line implies that it is still in control, not "itching under skin" - which implies containment. Do some rephrasing.

A day late and a peso short, Emilio would say, if I hadn’t killed him. Great line.

Rosa and I have never flown before. Neither had Mama. I want to tell her it’s cramped and just a little scary, not exciting like we’d imagined. She would have liked the cart that fits perfectly in the aisle and she would have watched the woman with the long fingernails that served us drinks. She would have elbowed me and whispered, “Didn’t know planes had waitresses.” Then she would have thought for a second and said, “Must be hard to get dressed with those talons.” Now Mama will never be served drinks on a plane by a dragon-fingered waitress. Now she’ll never fly.

Rosa sleeps on my shoulder, her braid hanging tired over her shoulder. A freed curl covers her eye and I tuck it away from her face and pull the blanket up to her chin. I can feel Nana watching me. I want to say it’s the least I can do, Why would she feel defensive about exhibiting care towards her sister? but instead I lean my head against the plastic wall of the plane and let the vibrations run down through my body.

“You must be tired,” Nana says quietly.

I don’t look at her. “I don’t think I can sleep,” I say.

“Do you need some Advil?” Nana asks.

I shrug into the airplane. Like Advil can fix any of this. Like anything can.

This is not a bad opening at all, and the query is quite good. Maybe more of an indication that Nana was a stranger to them until now?


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