Wednesday, October 4, 2017

#PitchWars Critique: BLUFF, RAISE, FOLD

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.


My novel is The Godfather meets Mean Girls in Las Vegas with magic. An 89,000 word Young Adult Urban Fantasy, BLUFF, RAISE, FOLD will appeal to fans of Six of Crows and The Curse Workers series. I really like your mashup and comp titles, but I always advise to put word count and comps at the bottom of the query, and use your hook to get an agent's attention. Everyone who is querying has a word count, title, and comp titles. Start with what makes you different.

Seventeen-year-old Sierra Redstone would kill to rule the Redstone clan—a family of sorcerers secretly ruling Las Vegas. With her ability to shrivel people into raisins, she’s a shoo-in for the throne. Unfortunately, her Machiavellian grandfather doesn’t see it that way and instead appoints her bastard cousin. I think your opening para here is great, especially with her having such an original power. However, I don't know if using Machiavellian will 1) make sense to many people 2) have that much of an impact on the query.

Undaunted, Sierra turns to her clan’s enemy for help. Why? Is this pure jealousy or is she in danger from the cousin? It seems odd that she would immediately turn to their enemy. Constance teaches her forbidden magic but the old woman has her own agenda. Sierra knows she shouldn’t trust her mentor, yet her time with Constance forces her to question who her enemies truly are and whether blood is enough to make a family.

Determined to rule the conniving sorcerers but longing to join the sages are Constance's people the sages? who oppose them, Sierra must pick a side. If she betrays Constance, she gains the power she always craved. If she betrays her clan, she earns the acceptance she didn’t know she needed. Either way, she’s a target in the centuries-long war between sorcerers and sages.

I think the question here is - what are the bigger stakes? Is it all just about who Sierra decides to side with? Is there a larger question of who is bad and who is good? And, as I said before, why would her enemy be who she goes to for help? And, I think we need to know more about how the setting of Las Vegas plays into the story.

My short story and flash fiction are published in the UAA Anthology: Obvious Things. I was the Vice President of the Utah Valley Writers and a contestant in Pitch Madness 2017. I grew up in the U.S. Air Force, dabbled in martial arts, and studied psychology. So I can imitate several American accents, put you in a headlock, and diagnose your personality disorders… all at once. That's cute, but unless the novel is written with that kind of voice, I don't know if I would end this way. Also, since the query isn't written with humor, I don't know if the bio should be.

1st Page:

I snatched the keys from the valet’s fingers and strode into the cobblestone courtyard. Another servant opened the door to my burnt-orange Aston Martin and I sighed with pleasure. Ah, Las Vegas, I missed you.

My family estate rested high in the mountains, so I had a commanding view of the city spread out in the valley below. In the morning haze, I could barely make out the tall spire of the Stratosphere on one end of the Strip and the gold towers of the Mandalay Bay Hotel on the other end. The rest of my hometown fit neatly into never-ending squares full of houses, offices, schools—the stuff tourists didn’t bother with.

My family bothered with it. All of it. This was our city to defend, both from rival sorcerer clans abroad and from sages lurking within our borders.

Halfway between standing and sitting, I noticed a classic black limo with silver trim turning off the driveway that led to the garage. I straightened to get a better look as it pulled into the courtyard and rolled to a stop directly in front of me.

The backseat window rolled down, revealing Grandfather’s ruddy face. He leaned one arm out and grinned. “Sierra, my girl, want to play hooky?”

It was the first day of school. I had a million things to catch up on after spending the whole summer in the high desert with no phone. My friends expected me to meet them before class to talk business.
For Grandfather, I’d ditch them all.

I ran the short distance, yanked open the door, then paused. Grandfather’s usual bodyguards sat on the row facing me. Wedged tightly between them sat a short woman with a brown sack over her head and handcuffs on her wrists. Her white business suit had sweat stains around the armpits and the heel of her left shoe was broken. I wondered if that meant she had fought back.

Your first page is great! I like what you've got here. 


Laura M Henriksen said...

Many thanks for the feedback!

Mindy McGinnis said...

You're welcome, best of luck with your writing!