Jun 1, 2015

QK Round 1: Orphan Red v. Rustic Roots Burn Holes

Entry Nickname: Orphan Red
Title: Callback
Word count: 90,000
Genre: Women's Fiction

Query:

Aspiring actress Claire Dowler is looking for a fresh start after separating from her husband and moving home to teach drama at her old high school in Virginia, but it’s fair to say it has not gone as planned. She’s accidentally cast a real-life orphan, Kimmy Ralstin, in the lead role of the musical “Annie,” and Kimmy’s parents are furious. Claire also has adopted a pit bull in the hopes of turning him into a stage star in the role of Annie’s dog Sandy, and her mother is ready to throw them both out. Claire must save the production and her job, while training her dog, navigating a new romance and figuring out why a new guidance counselor seems to have an old ax to grind.

First 250:

In the teacher’s lounge, illustrious leaders sit with their homemade lasagna leftovers or Cobb salads, and arrange their tables and chairs in one big U-shape, so that no one is ever left out. Conversations are earnest, with everyone sharing ideas about how to engage students, waving their forks in the air as they prove a point. It’s why students are never allowed into the lounge – this feeling of camaraderie might be tainted by the selfishness exhibited by a high schooler.

This is what I thought until I became a teacher.

It didn’t take me long to realize the high school I am now working at is the same high school from where I graduated. The only difference is that instead of sitting with drama queens at lunchtime, I’m now sitting with faculty queens that love drama. The difference is subtle.

The lounge may not be a utopia, but it is still a safe place, or at least a room where you can be among allies. High school teachers are always at war with someone: An administrator, a parent, a student, their own child who pretends to not know them in the hallway. The lounge is the place to regroup. Whether you are the aggressor or the victim, Russia or Poland, it’s important to remember there are other foot soldiers on your side.

“Remember,” I told myself as I stared at the lounge door. “Pretend you’re Stalin, but, you know, friendly and cute.”

V.

Entry Nickname: Rustic Roots Burn Holes
Title: American Honey
Word count: 77k
Genre: Upmarket Women’s Fiction

Query:

American Honey is two stories intertwined about coming-of-age, leaving your past behind, and then recapturing it. I’ve been told this is a book that’s both commercial and intelligent, a work that will appeal to readers of book club/upmarket women’s fiction.

Unlike her controlling and image obsessed mama, Sandy Jo has a fun, upbeat, and quirky personality. She believes in the good of people, mostly. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons she escaped her Texas hometown 1,628 miles away to move to New York. But somehow, at only 25 years old, she’s gotten lost. When a good friend brings Sandy Jo back to Texas to visit a favorite childhood ranch, she tries to recapture a time when she and her teenage friends lived life and confronted death and raw sexuality. However, a surprise visit from Sandy Jo’s mama compels her to address family secrets, reclaim her life, and decide if a cowboy is worth her career.

Authors that have influenced my writing include Meg Wolitzer (The Interestings) for her characterization of uncomfortable events that occur when you’re young; Rebecca Wells (Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood) for her mother/daughter struggles revealing how you can still love someone when they’re awful; and Stephen King (The Body) who inspired me to write my own coming of age journey—about young girls/one boy in pursuit of fun come across a series of issues from sex, abuse, death, friendship, and love. American Honey also explores similar themes as the movie Sweet Home Alabama, escaping, and ultimately returning to, your roots.

First 250:

“It’s a known fact that people have two choices in life, to stick with what’s good or get movin,” I told Mrs. Charles Huntt, III, reciting this advice to my mama as if it were my own.

Mundane mind games, like calling Mama by her proper name, Mrs. Charles Huntt, III, kept me sane as we ever so slowly passed mile marker 109, making our way to Red Retriever Ranch. Titles were of the utmost importance to a Southern woman like Mama, and the formality lets me pretend that we weren’t related, as she told me no for hundredth time.

 “Is that so, Honey JoJo?” Mrs. Charles Huntt, III said dramatically. Mama turned her head back at me when she hadn’t heard a timely response.

“Yes, everyone thought the Beatles were good, but they broke up last year,” I told her raising my eyebrows, feeling quite knowledgeable.

“Well I hope you know what’s good then,” Mrs. Charles Huntt, III said as she raised her arm up and planted it aggressively across the wagon bench seat, fixed on Daddy’s headrest, as though she would trap me inside this car forever if she could. Her eyes were telling me I couldn’t possibly know what good was, but I knew. Good was the feeling that I’d almost arrived. This good had started bubbling up inside me and was begging to burst open. But I knew my mama, and she would do just about anything to not let that happen.

21 comments :

  1. Judges, reply here with your comments and votes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Orphan Red:

      I worry that the "returning home after a divorce" trope is a bit overdone, but this is a great spin on it. Your query is much too short. Usually, the "meat" of a query should be about 250 words. That gives you plenty of space to show us what sets this story apart from similar books. Also, I'm extremely confused as to how a "real-life orphan" has parents. If I'm an agent, you pretty much lose me right there because I got distracted wondering if you know what an orphan is or if you're always so careless in word choice. Expand the query dramatically. Tell me about this love interest, explain what's at stake if Claire fails in juggling all these balls in the air, and what happens if she fails.

      There's an extra "that" in your first sentence. There are also a lot of to be verbs on this first page. Changing those would really punch up the voice on her first page. Little mistakes like on the first page that make me worry that the entire MS isn't polished and ready for the agents.

      Rustic Roots Burn Holes:

      Never waste query space telling me what the book is about. Trust your reader to glean the themes from your description of the plot (and trust your own abilities to convey it). Also, I don't care even a teeny bit what other people have told you about the book. This isn't information that belongs in a query. Your query is 263 words, and only 117 of them are about the plot, which is what I want to know. It doesn't matter at this point who influenced your work. Cut the first and third paragraph entirely if this gets to Round 2. You can include comp titles in a query to agents, but it should be a sentence or two, not an entire paragraph. Also, when you mention your own coming of age, it sets my spide-y sense tingling and I start to worry that this is really a memoir disguised as fiction. Share your personal experiences with agents on the Call, not in the query letter.

      What I can see of the story sounds interesting, but there's just not enough of it. Check out QueryShark to get an idea of standard query format and what agents want to see. It will make a huge difference.

      There's a typo in the second paragraph of your first 250. I've read that sentence four times, and I don't get it. You also typically want to avoid adverbs, especially in dialogue tags. I'm also super confused, because you told me that this is two intertwined stories, but you didn't mention it's one story in two timelines, and there's nothing in the query to hint that it's set in the 1960s. So when I read the first page, I worry that your story starts in the wrong place (or the query does). I also don't really understand the need to say "Mrs. Charles Huntt, III" every time the character is named. I think there are a lot of places this can be more polished and trimmed to give us more of the main character on the first page and set up the scene. Right now, I feel like I know a lot about the mother, and nothing about Sandy Jo (I don't even get her name on the first page).

      VICTORY TO ORPHAN RED, primarily for concept.

      Delete
    2. VICTORY TO ORPHAN RED

      Here's why: I liked the concept and the voice came though. I think you must mean foster parents not parents because orphans have no parents. Your query is way too short, give us more details. The words, gone as planned don't tell us anything, how did she plan it to go? I love the idealistic vision she had of the teacher's lounge. Good voice in the 250. Good luck!

      RUSTIC ROOTS

      I was intrigued about two timelines but confused because you spent too much time talking about what others thought of the story instead of telling us about the story. You don't need to put in what authors have inspired you, save that for your offer call. It should be stated in the query that this takes place in the 1970s, give us more hints about the time frame in the 250 other than the comment about The Beatles. Tell us more about both women. Is this a dual POV? If so, mention it in the query. Good luck!

      Delete
    3. ORPHAN RED:

      I don't share (the otherwise brilliant) YoSaffBridg's concern about the orphan having parents. You could perhaps change the terminology, there, but the comic is, after all, called "Little Orphan Annie", and did not change its name because Daddy Warbucks adopted her. I presume the orphan you're referring to is someone who lost her parents but was adopted. But see if others had a problem with this. On the other hand, I do echo everyone's concerns that this query is just a little too short. It's excellent, just expand.

      I like 250, although the for me the weakest part of it was the opening paragraph. I REALLY don't like that it's written in the present tense, which felt a little wooden to my ear, and made me cast doubt on your writing. You save it (somewhat) with the reveal, but I'm not sure the tense change is worth the risk. But, zippy and fun overall. I like.

      RUSTIC ROOTS

      First, cut the first paragraph. And never say 'what you've been told' about your own book. Just start with the second. I like the query from that point, but there are some odd details in it that seem out of place. For example, "But somehow, at only 25 years old, [Sandy Jo] had gotten lost. -- is strange because, isn't young people getting lost in NYC a trope, anyway? Also: "she tries to recapture a time when she and her teenage friends lived life and confronted death" felt odd, because why do you want to try to recapture a time in which you confronted death? I'm Sandy Jo, can't, incidentally, just that we don't get it from the query. I'd cut all the comp authors, and focus on disentangling that sentence with the extra space. There's a lot of plot squashed into one paragraph there.

      The prose is interesting, and I like the relationship between Mama and Sandy Jo. I also like Sandy Jo's voice, and I could see following her around for novel. But I feel like the prose is tad overwritten. There's too much telling here, and I think the scene would play stronger with about half of the editorializing. I'd love to see how you would revise this for the next round, because I think holds promise.

      I can only pick one, however, and my vote is for ORPHAN RED.

      Delete
    4. In the previous vote my sentence should read: "I'm NOT SAYING Sandy Jo can't try to recapture a time she confronted death, incidentally, just that we don't get why she would from the query." *evil blogstpot comment systems* *grumble, grumble*

      Delete
    5. Orphan - the query is definitely too short and has a lot of room to expand. The addition of "adopted" next to parents would help with the confusion about the orphan. Also just a really picky point, but the term "guidance counselor" is outdated by about 10 years-- use school counselor. The 250 does a great job of showing the fear of starting in a new place, something everyone can relate to. I love the idea of reading about a play production and there's a lot of realistic conflict happening.

      Rustic -

      Most of your query is unnecessary. Don't tell us what the book is about, show us. Trust that your readers will pick up on the themes themselves. In a solid query, it will be obvious. I -think- I like this concept but it's not clear exactly what the stakes are. I found the 250 somewhat confusing as well, it seems like you're trying to jump right into the action, which is awesome, but I'm left scratching my head.

      VICTORY TO ORPHAN

      Delete
    6. Orphan Red:
      Query: I'm stymied by how a real-life orphan can have parents that get upset. Is there a typo? Spend more time on the guidance counselor with an axe to grind. That sounds interesting and I didn't get enough info. Here's your subjectivity: in my job, I have to deal with children and adults who've been bitten or mauled by pit bulls. I know that there are pit bulls who don't, but not the ones I come across. I can't imagine a school system that would allow children to be exposed to one. Subjectivity!
      250: Cute. Very cute. I like the faculty lounge flipped on its head. I like the look at the teachers as they really are. Your job for improvement: punch up the first sentence. It matters. A lot.

      Rustic Roots:
      Query: Your query needs work. Only the middle paragraph belongs in your query. Do not tell agents in a query letter what kind of book you've written. That first paragraph should be something like, "I'm seeking representation for American Honey, my women's fiction novel complete at ____ words." And that's it. Then get into the meat of your story, which should read like the back copy on a paperback. That part should be two paragraphs: the first should get across your main character and the conflict, and the second should be about the stakes (if your main character doesn't do X, then this terrible Y will happen). Include a quick comp in your last paragraph that also includes your bio, but do not tell the agent why you wrote the book, or what influenced you.
      250:
      Calling Mama by her full name is cute once. Three times gets a little too much. You change tenses from past to present to past. Check that. I'm not sure where the Beatles come into it, or how that response makes sense in your dialogue. It does have a quirky voice, not too different from Rebecca Wells in tone.

      Because it's closer to ready,
      VICTORY TO ORPHAN RED

      Delete
    7. Query Matchup:

      The query is the weak point in both of these entries, to my way of reading.

      In Orphan Red's case, it's too short and doesn't end in a way that shows how these disparate conflicts which could make it seem like an ongoing network drama are, in fact, a centralized plot with a centralized thing at stake: in this case, MC's ability to take command of her life again and start over, despite all this stuff. On the detail level, I suggest clarifying that the real-life orphan has been adopted, or saying that her parents are mad could puzzle your reader. There's probably not a need to name-drop for that character, but if there's a hostile guidance counselor out to get the MC (huzzah! an antagonist!), THAT character needs a name, and we need to dwell on what may be up there a bit more. Give us a sense of as much concrete struggle as possible and THEN tell us about how it's really just getting in the way of the most important thing: starting over.

      Rustic Roots, too much of your query is telling us stuff about the book's market placement, your inspiration, etc., and not enough is really about character and conflict. You could do without almost everything in the first and final paragraphs. Now, part of this is my personal perspective (I much prefer queries that dive into character and story, because isn't that what should engage us right away, if we were browsing in a book store?), but is there real harm in waiting until AFTER you've drawn us into your story concept to start talking about its comps and such? As for what people have told you about your own work -- that it's literary and commercial, fire and ice, tasty and less filling, whatever -- that matters very little here. Unless you can say it won an award, was a finalist in something, that chapters of it have appeared in magazine X or Y, those are subjective claims that won't by themselves alter how your prospective agent will read. Let the work speak for itself.

      250 Matchup:
      Based on the 250 (because I find both queries problematic enough, they don't help me make a call), I find myself comparing clarity of voice, strength of persona, and the sense of tension as "action."

      Given that, ORPHAN RED is the winning entry. The interior monologue of our MC makes clear where we are (teacher's lounge) and how it's a tense place that has failed to live up to her expectations. The Poland or Russia touch is interesting, and gives us a sense that this is a character with some brains in her head and snark to spare.

      Roots' entry is working to parley the banter between Mama and MC as the engaging influence, and uses dialogue well to indicate setting (if the Beatles just broke up, we know we're not in 2015). But other than the amorphous sense that The Good is not a thing the MC feels she can count on or that Mama will allow, there's not a strong sense of conflict just yet, or at least, not a conflict that invites investment immediately (for me). That's a big thought and feeling to lay on the reader, and it hasn't been earned yet. If Mama is the destroyer of what the MC feels is good in her life ... well, hell! Let's get her destroying something and THEN make that claim. I feel a bit as if the cart has come before the horse; that, or the MC is not a reliable judge of Mama's actual feelings and intentions.

      Again:
      VICTORY TO ORPHAN RED

      Delete
    8. Orphan Red:

      The real-life orphan part tripped me up when it immediately switched to her parents, and while I understand she must be adopted, I think reworking this will help the flow and keep the reader from pausing. And why are the parents mad? Do they not know their daughter is auditioning? Annie would be a great role to land.

      The meat of your story seems more with the guidance counselor but the query doesn’t reflect that. I like the chaos you’ve created for Claire, and that she’s not pining for her ex, but the focus of the query should get more into the dirty details of the real issue the counselor has with her.

      I get what you were doing with the first section in the 250, but at first read, it put me off until I got to the line, “This is what I thought until I became a teacher.” Then it pulled away again. Consider having the reader sit with her in the middle of a drama-filled lounge as she chews on a soggy sandwich while listening to the guidance counselor make some snarky comment about her food habits. Something to put us in the action and show us her world rather than her telling us teachers are as dramatic as high schoolers. Perhaps her heart racing as she prepares to push the door open? Maybe start with the dreaded sensation of going into the teachers’ lounge, then show us why.

      Rustic Roots Burn Holes:

      Cut the entire first section. Don’t tell us it’s a coming-of-age book, and certainly not what people (who might be your mother) have told you this book is.

      I don’t think it’s that uncommon for a 25-year-old to feel lost, but I could be wrong. I’d like more clarity on this. What happened? Did the city chew her up? Give me details about what broke her. I’m glad she has a friend to turn to, but where’d the cowboy come from? She has to decide whether he’s worth her career, but I don’t know a thing about him or why he’s important. Dig a little deeper to pull out the real conflict.

      Cut the entire last section as well. An agent isn’t going to care who people compare your work to. They want to know about the plot, and you can use this space to expand on what’s happening in your story.

      I wasn’t drawn in with your first 250. Work on the dialogue tags, and consider a new starting point. I want to know what she’s excited about, what’s making that good feeling bubble up inside her.

      Victory goes to: ORPHAN RED

      Delete
    9. Note: For round 1 since there's so many entries, I'm judging based on the query only!


      ORPHAN RED

      You've got a really long opening sentence that has a lot of info in it. You might consider breaking it up a bit so that it flows better.

      Also, if Kimmy is a real-life orphan, how are her PARENTS furious? Adoptive parents? Foster parents? Biological parents that put her up for adoption?


      -vs-


      RUSTIC ROOTS BURN HOLES

      I think the city-meets-country and returning-to-your-roots concepts both hold a lot of appeal for many readers; this story seems like it could be very relatable.

      Try not to start the query out with "[Title] is..." Just jump right into it! And unless it's a publishing profession who's okay with you naming him/her, I'd also cut the part about "I've been told this is a book..." SHOW the agent where this would fit, don't tell them!

      Also, it seems that you have a LOT going on in this story (which is good!) but to keep the query from feeling 'cluttered' with problems/issues/struggles, you might want to determine what the MAJOR conflict is and build the query from there.



      Victory to... ORPHAN RED!

      Delete
  2. fellow kombatant 34June 1, 2015 at 7:38 AM

    Orphan Red... I too find this to be a compelling concept. Have you seen the TV show Bunheads? Reminds me a bit of that. My biggest stumble was the orphan who has parents... if I were an agent, I think I might stop trusting your narrative voice right that. Fix that, though, and I'd be quite intrigued.

    Rustic Roots... I get turned off when you mention what others have told you about the book, and again when you describe the authors who have influenced your writing. Show, don't tell, and I'll be more intrigued. Due to the age and life stage of your MC, I almost wonder if this would fit better as NA than as Adult. Also, since deciding whether or not she wants to leave her job is set up as the stakes, I think we need to know at least a little bit about what this job is in the query. There's definitely promise here. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Orphan Red -
    You may want to trim/divide the opening sentence of the query as it is a bit long. The 2nd line made me laugh in an 'Oh no!' sort of way (well done!), but the latter part of it was confusing -- with the mention of 'Kimmy's parent's' since Kimmy's an orphan. The query is quite short -- perhaps you can give us an idea of Clair's age and expand a bit on the stakes? In the first 250, I got what you were trying to say, but you might want to rephrase the following line 'It didn't take me long to realize...' as it initially sounds as if she didn't recognize her old school -- rather than she didn't anticipate lunch time would be so similar as a staffer as to when she was a student. I enjoyed the voice and humor of the excerpt.

    Rustic Roots -
    I think you'd be better off cutting the 'I've been told' line of the query -- as well as the last paragraph listing literary influences -- and give us more of the story line. I was surprised in the opening 250 to realize it was 1960 since the query didn't set this up. I suggest trimming out 'dramatically' in the mother's speech tag and allowing the dialogue and action to convey tone. The 'feeling quite knowledgeable' line made me think Honey is teenager here and this is possibly a flashback, but I'm not sure. The mother-daughter relationship offers rich territory.

    ReplyDelete
  4. ORPHAN RED - I like the idea of a high school drama told from a teacher's point of view! Query: I find the idea of a guidance counselor with an old axe to grind way more interesting than the challenges of training a pit bull, so I'd flesh that bit out an give it higher billing. Your query is short, so you have plenty of room to do that. 250: The opening has a bit of a "it was all a dream" feeling to it to me - here's a description of the teacher's lounge, but it turns out that's not how it actually is. I also feel there's a disconnect between audience and voice - the "teachers as illustrious leaders" descriptor seems more like something a child would perceive.

    RUSTIC ROOTS BURN HOLES - Query: I'm intrigued and there's a lot I want to know about Sandy Jo. Why did she move away - what was it about believing in the good of people that took her to New York? In what sense is she lost? What's the draw of the ranch? Fortunately, you have lots of room to expand on this, as the second paragraph of your query is the real meat of it. In fact, I'd axe (or at least greatly trim down) paragraphs 1 and 3, which don't tell me anything about the book that wouldn't be better conveyed by showing. (eg, everyone can find someone to describe their book as both commercial and intelligent; that's a filler sentence.) 250: Fantastic voice - I can feel the Texas heat as I read. Such a fantastic voice, in fact, that if you could infuse your query with even just a bit of it, it would really stand out. My main criticism is of the dialogue tags: for instance, I'm having trouble imagining how someone could say "Is that so?" *dramatically*. A description of the mother's posture or voice, for instance, could clear that up and also strengthen the exchange.

    ReplyDelete
  5. ORPHAN RED – AT first I was turned off my the concept. It isn’t your fault though, I don’t generally like retellings of my favorite childhood stories unless they are done extremely well. Having said that I read the sample pages and enjoyed them quite a bit. I loved this line: “The only difference is that instead of sitting with drama queens at lunchtime, I’m now sitting with faculty queens that love drama.”

    As far as the query goes I was confused about why the orphan had parents. If you could clear that up it would help. Also, another place where you could smooth the paragraph out/expand a little is when we learn about their adopted pitbull. It felt thrown in there without a real connection, although I do know the original story with Annie’s dog Sandy it felt like an abrupt transition.

    RUSTIC BOOTS BURN HOLES – First of all GREAT voice! That pulled me in right away. I’ll start with the query on this one… Overall, I think you have some easy fixes to consider. I think clarifying that this story is told in two time frames is something that you could easily add in and would help to clarify further how the story is structured. I’d try and make some of the details of the query a bit more specific. For example I’d like to know why/how specifically this 25 year old got lost. It’s different for everyone. I’d also suggest specifying what type of death and raw sexuality we’re in for. Love the last line of the second paragraph: “However, a surprise visit from Sandy Jo’s mama compels her to address family secrets, reclaim her life, and decide if a cowboy is worth her career.” Nice work.

    Okay, writing sample! Loved the voice, as I said before. That kept me reading and wanting to learn more about the characters. I think you do a great job of showing the struggle Sandy Jo has with her mama in this opening scene. I love that it opens right in the middle of the action too. I also liked this description of how Sandy Jo feels: “This good had started bubbling up inside me and was begging to burst open.” Great work.

    Good luck to you both!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Orphan Red - I'm a bit confused by the query. How can someone be an orphan if they have parents? I also feel it's a little too short. While the dog aspect sounds cute, I'd want to read a sentence or two about the new romance and the guidance counselor.
    The first 250 were good. I just wish we had heard the character's voice a bit more in because from the last sentence she sounds like she would be a likeable character.


    Rustic Roots Burn Holes - I think it would be better to get rid of the first paragraph entirely. The query needs to be about the book, not what you have been told about it. I don't think you need the last paragraph, either. Comparisons only help if you tell us what sets your book apart from them, and I don't see that. Your second paragraph is the only part that tells us about the book itself. You tell us that it's two intertwined stories - how are they intertwined?
    I was confused by your 250 because there was nothing in your query to suggest the story was taking place in the 1970s. That's very important. Also, I would only use the full name Mrs. Charles Huntt, III the first two times she is mentioned. I think I know why you did it (to show the importance of using proper names) but if you do it too much I'm afraid you'll lose the reader.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Orphan Red -
    The premise sounds awesome, and I'll say I kind of appreciate the shorter length. If there is something to fix, I agree with the posters that say you should have a sentence or two about the guidance counselor and the new romance, just to make sure everything is really clear. Also, I'd clear up the bit about the orphan with parents. Maybe make it clear that they're the orphans' adopted parents? As for the 250, I'm mixed, because on one hand, I do really like that contrast between what the MC thought teaching would be like, but I feel like it should start with more action, maybe nearer to the line about being Stalin. That was hilarious.

    Rustic Roots Burn Holes - I'm a bit lost with the query. I found the first and last paragraphs unnecessary, and you can use that space to talk more about the book's plot. You mention two intertwining stories, but you only mention one character's story in the query. Be sure to mention both stories that will be intertwined. Now, about the 250, the voice is definitely strong, and stands out, but I don't know, I found it a bit over the top. Or, at least distracting, to where I didn't quite follow the exchange between the MC and her mother. I did like how you told us what year it was by the Beatles reference, but it would have been nice to know that this is partially set in the 1970s in the query. It would've been another good hook.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Orphan Red: Yes, what others have said about the orphan having parents. That kind of jumps out immediately. Also not sure why the parents would be furious? It would be good to expand on that a bit. Claire has a lot of problems to face - which makes for a good story - but the query itself is much too short.

    The first 250 sets the scene nicely, but the voice starts to sound more like a history teacher than a drama teacher.

    Rustic Roots: I would begin the query at the second paragraph. I also believe the second paragraph has room to answer the questions of why and how Sandy Jo got where she is. I'm not sure where the two intertwining stories are.

    I liked the voice in the first 250, but in such a short frame, I think you might stick to calling her either Mama or Mrs Charles Huntt III, to keep consistency. I didn't realize what era the story was set in until you mention the Beatles and the sort of car they were in. That sets the tone nicely.

    Best of luck to both entries! -Yvette

    ReplyDelete
  9. ORPHAN- First let me say that I really like the premise of this. Many divorce stories seem to be the same: woman is upset, goes to beach to find herself and meets man, etc...this seems quirky and different. I agree your query could tell a little more. I actually thought things got juicy and interesting in the last sentence about the guidance counselor. I would love to see more about that. I'm a little confused by the parents being upset about her casting a real life orphan. Not because she's an orphan (I assume she's their adopted or foster parents?) but because in HS when someone auditions for a role they usually want the lead and I'm trying to figure out the reason they would be upset about it. I think it's a good start, just needs to be flushed out some more. As for the 250, I like that she compares what she thought about teachers before becoming one, but maybe the execution is a bit confusing. I was also confused by the line about her realizing she was teaching at the same HS she went to. Literally? Or is she just comparing? If it's literally the same, wouldn't she know that when applying for the job? I also love the Stalin line and it shows her trepidation and the voice really shines through. Maybe this would be a good place to start.

    RUSTIC- I agree with the others that the majority of the query should focus on the story and stakes rather than who influenced you to write or what others think. That information isn't relative in a query. I actually think the last lines about family secrets and the cowboy are where things get really interesting. The previous sentences kind of had me skimming through to see the meat of the story. I like the voice of the 250 and you do well at showing her roots through dialect. However, between the "mama's" and the formal name, it tends to be redundant at times and actually has me losing interest. I think the first paragraph isn't as interesting as the second and maybe that would be a good place to start. I like this concept as well and I think the story sounds really interesting and fun. I think the query could better reflect that.

    Both of these sound like good reads to me, good luck!

    ReplyDelete


  10. RED: Interesting concept! I always like stories about going back to your roots and starting over. I’d like to see your query broken up into shorter paragraphs. I think it would help to know about why I should like Claire. I can relate to feeling like everything that can go wrong is, but I need to know why I’m rooting for Claire. I’d include some detail about the new romance, as I’m guessing that’s an important part of the plot. Is the new romance good for her or a rebound? Do we like this guy? Also, is Claire still an aspiring actress? Seems to me she may have given up if she’s going back to her hometown (unless there are acting opportunities in VA I’m not aware of!).

    In your 250, I like the abrupt change and the line “This is what I thought until I became a teacher.” You totally had me – I was screaming THAT’S NOT WHAT IT’S LIKE! But I also wonder…do any adults really believe that’s what it’s like to be a teacher? I may have thought that way as a kid and teen, and I do know a few teachers, including my sister, but I’m well aware that’s not the reality for teachers even though I’ve never taught. I’d like to see more action in your start; I think your last line is your best, and maybe the place to start.

    BOOTS: You’ve probably been told this a lot already, but the info you have in your first paragraph should go at the end of your query. I’d also cut the “I’ve been told” stuff; just identify your genre. You’re the expert on your novel! Your story sounds interesting in the query, but instead of telling me who influenced you, I’d love to hear more about Sandy Jo, what happened to make her feel so lost, and what the stakes are. What are the family secrets, and what will happen if they’re let out of the closet?

    In your first 250, you’ve got a bit of scenery description but I’d like to know more about where they are. What can Sandy Jo see around her? What does it smell like? What is her mom wearing? I think you could improve this scene by showing rather than telling; for example instead of telling me about the importance of formality, show it.

    ReplyDelete


  11. RED: Interesting concept! I always like stories about going back to your roots and starting over. I’d like to see your query broken up into shorter paragraphs. I think it would help to know about why I should like Claire. I can relate to feeling like everything that can go wrong is, but I need to know why I’m rooting for Claire. I’d include some detail about the new romance, as I’m guessing that’s an important part of the plot. Is the new romance good for her or a rebound? Do we like this guy? Also, is Claire still an aspiring actress? Seems to me she may have given up if she’s going back to her hometown (unless there are acting opportunities in VA I’m not aware of!).

    In your 250, I like the abrupt change and the line “This is what I thought until I became a teacher.” You totally had me – I was screaming THAT’S NOT WHAT IT’S LIKE! But I also wonder…do any adults really believe that’s what it’s like to be a teacher? I may have thought that way as a kid and teen, and I do know a few teachers, including my sister, but I’m well aware that’s not the reality for teachers even though I’ve never taught. I’d like to see more action in your start; I think your last line is your best, and maybe the place to start.

    BOOTS: You’ve probably been told this a lot already, but the info you have in your first paragraph should go at the end of your query. I’d also cut the “I’ve been told” stuff; just identify your genre. You’re the expert on your novel! Your story sounds interesting in the query, but instead of telling me who influenced you, I’d love to hear more about Sandy Jo, what happened to make her feel so lost, and what the stakes are. What are the family secrets, and what will happen if they’re let out of the closet?

    In your first 250, you’ve got a bit of scenery description but I’d like to know more about where they are. What can Sandy Jo see around her? What does it smell like? What is her mom wearing? I think you could improve this scene by showing rather than telling; for example instead of telling me about the importance of formality, show it.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Orphan - Query - You have a lot of good stuff in this query: What Claire wants, what stands in her way. But what happens if Claire doesn't save the production or her job? What does she have to lose? I would keep everything you have there, but do a little rearranging. Break it into three nice flowing paragraphs. And elaborate on the new romance and the guidance counselor.
    Is the aspiring actress necessary? Only if it matters to the story. The first sentence could be two or three sentences.

    250 - I love this scene, and I already like Claire. Well done. Just a couple little suggestions, nothing major. "The lounge may not be a utopia, but it is still. . ." could be, "The lounge may not be a utopia, but it's still. . ." The "it's" rolls off the tongue better, and keeps the sentence flowing a little better. Watch for other places like this in the MS. And personally, I would rather this, “Remember,” I told myself as I stared at the lounge door. “Pretend you’re Stalin, but, you know, friendly and cute.” be this, "Remember," I told myself, staring at the lounge door, "pretend you're Stalin. . ."

    Overall, sounds good.


    Rustic - Query - By now you've heard enough about the first and last paragraphs, but I will say, you have some good things going in that middle paragraph. You do a good job setting up the potential for high-tension scenes in your book. If you're frustrated with writing the query, trust me, I feel ya. Keep plugging at it!

    250 - Great voice. The words flow with a southern draw. I like the tension between the mother and daughter. Advice: you might want to switch the first and second paragraphs. Start with the second paragraph. Then, the dialogue will flow quite nicely. When they pass the mile marker, throw in some scenery. Flat Desert? Hilly? Hot?

    Overall, I'd keep plugging at this story. There's a huge market for heart-warming Southern tales.

    ReplyDelete