Monday, October 2, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: AZORIA

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.


17-year-old Johanna dreaded her summer fated to help Gramps at the diner. It meant long hours with zero beach time and no umbrella in her drink. But when a booming pillar of light crashes into the sea, and the Angel of Death (known as Nefro) asks for her help, she's got way more problems than snotty customers. The first two sentences in this query are in past tense, which makes it less dynamic. Then the next two sentences are in present tense, which is confusing.

Nefro warns her that a war is brewing between the angels of life and Death. Death is capitalized but not life? But before Johanna faces all this angel drama, she must tap into her angelic past self to reawaken as a leader of the Angels of Life. But the Angels of Death will stop at nothing to keep her from regaining her powers. I feel like a lot of this has to be unpacked in order to be understood. So she was an angel in a past life, and needs to regain her powers to become a leader now? It's in there, but it might need to be clarified a little more. 

Meanwhile, training with Nefro's no picnic. Johanna must learn to control her burgeoning powers, fend off a dangerous spy, and deal with her growing affection for the mysterious boy. Because Nefro is clearly hiding something about their past. Reclaiming the centuries old-secret might be enough to kill her, but if she flees from the truth, the precarious balance between life and death will be shattered into chaos. What centuries old secret? Confused.

When Nefro is kidnapped by the very angels of Death he used to lead, Johanna must decide between her duty, and her feelings. To save the boy who has broken her heart twice, or claim her place as leader of the Angels of life and saving the universe. So, Nefro no longer leads them? I feel like this needs to be said earlier since he's part of the group that she's supposedly leading against, yet he's training her. Definitely confusing. Also, why is the fate of the universe at stake here?

AZORIA is a young adult fantasy novel and is completed at 90,000 words. Technically it's not fantasy, since it's got one foot in the contemporary world. I think urban fantasy is a more accurate tag, but I understand why you'd try to avoid it.

Right now the query needs clarification on points mentioned above. We've got Death vs. Life, with some Romeo & Juliet style love story going on, reincarnation, power reclamation, and "chosen one" aspects, none of which bring anything new to the table. What is it about this story that is different from others that have these same themes? 

1st Page:

The first rule of being a waitress: smile. And keep smiling. Even if all you want to do is punch someone in the face. That snooty couple giving me looks at Table Seven are at the top of my list. Followed by those surfer dudes at Table Nine checking me out. Voice is good. One thing to consider in terms of the query as well is that the diner and the contemporary side of the setting is completely dropped after the first line. Is that an accurate representation of the novel itself?

"Young lady, how many times do I have to tell you?" Gramps pulls his mouth into a smile. "See? We have customers and they don't want to see a sourpuss serving them."

I grimace, showing teeth. "Like this?"

He nods, returning my freak smile with a genuine one. "Much better,” he says sarcastically. “Now get this drink over to that lady over there." He hands me a cup of coffee, and gestures to a woman in office apparel, sitting under a bad Mona Lisa print. “And remember…” Gramps flashes me his teeth.

Yeah, right. Like faking a smile is gonna get me more tips, or bring them back to dump more money in the place. But I came here to help Gramps over the summer, so I do my best to grin and bear it.

“Hey blue-eyes! Can I get them digits?” shouts one of the douchebags at table nine. Unless these guys are from the 1940's and hitting on her, this dialogue isn't ringing very true.

Grrr. I can do this. I carefully make my way to the table with the lady in a red dress and blazer, a vast difference from the bikinis and swimsuits every other customer seems to be wearing. She's yapping on the phone and clacking away at her laptop.

"Here’s your coffee, miss." I “smile”' but she  shooes me away without sparing a look.


I put the coffee down and turn to go, but she pauses. "Excuse me?" Finally looking up from her phone, she points to the cup. "I ordered a coffee. It's supposed to be served hot, not cold. How hard is that?”

Not as cold as your tone. I roll my eyes, then turn back and smile. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize. I'll get you another one." I grab the cup. “Go get you some nice hot poison," I mumble under my breath.

The only thing I'll add is that right now every single person in the diner is being a major asshole. I know waitressing is a thankless job, but this feels like overkill. 

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