Monday, September 7, 2015

PitchWars Critique - SNOWMAKER

PitchWars is at its heart about the writing community. And even though at the end of the day Mindy McGinnis and I were only able to choose two mentees, we still wanted a way to give feedback to the many many many others who had been kind enough to share their work with us. Our decision to do this via our blogs, rather than a private email, is so that (hopefully!) everyone can learn a little bit from this feedback.

And I'm happy to say that quite a few people have been generous enough to take us up on this offer! So, through November, Mindy and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Make sure to look for them on both of our blogs as we'll be posting totally different critiques.

And for anyone out there looking for personalized feedback, I am now offering manuscript critique services which you can find out more about here. You'll see my comments in red.

Dear PitchWars Mentors,

I hope you will consider mentoring me for #PitchWars 2015. Complete at
52,000 words, SNOWMAKER is a post-apocalyptic novel for young adults.
This is great format wise, my only concern are these three words:
POST-APOCALYPTIC NOVEL. This is a very hard sell right
now.

After the moon split, extreme tidal waves and mass flooding destroyed
most of Earth’s habitable areas. Sixteen years later, Anza Perez lives
with her family on the Island of Colorado where they farm, hunt and
scavenge to survive. Every day, whether she is flipping old cars to
siphon gasoline, weeding endless rows of potatoes or searching through
moldy demolished houses for items useful in their survival, she stares
at the remainder moon in the sky and wants to know why the world-wide
destruction happened on the exact day she was born. This query so far
is so well written. The world is set-up. The main character is 
introduced. It's perfect... except. The thing that concerned me in 
the first paragraph (post-apocalyptic novel!) is even more of a 
concern now that I'm getting story details and it feels a little too
similar to other things out there on the market. Specifically the 
moon bit is almost exactly like events that kick off the brilliant 
series of books by Susan Beth Pfeffer that start with 

Anza is a curious teen who always asks one too many questions in
difficult conversations, nicknames those she loves best and inherited
from her father an incredible mechanical aptitude. As the youngest
sibling, she is also tired of being overprotected and treated like a
baby by her entire family. This paragraph should be cut. It tells us a bit 
about Anza but doesn't do anything to tell us about the main
conflict in the story. You want to keep queries as tight as possible
which means cutting anything and everything extraneous.

When a forest fire threatens their home, crops and orchards, Anza and
her father use a stolen military weather-controlling device called the
SnowMaker to create a torrential rainstorm to try and douse the
approaching flames. But the artificial storm attracts the attention of
those men who originally built the device. When they return to reclaim
the SnowMaker, Anza must use her technical skills and ingenuity to
defend her home and family against the ferocious weather war they
launch. I was with you up until the final sentence when I ended up having
too many questions. Like when the men come from the device, 
why not just say, "Here ya go. thanks!" I'm not sure how this 
sets off a "weather war" or - even more importantly what a 
weather war would look like. And yet despite being muddled
THIS right here is the part of your story I find most intriguing
because it feels the most original and like something I haven't seen
before. I'd recast the query to focus on this and make it much more
clear exactly how this weather war works and what it threatens to
take away from Anza, because the last thing I'm missing is the 
sentence that says, "If Anza doesn't stop do _____ and _____ to
stop the weather war then she'll lose ___ and ____." 

Readers who enjoy books like NOT A DROP TO DRINK (Mindy McGinnis) and
Z FOR ZACHARIAH (Robert C. O’Brien) will also be entertained by
SNOWMAKER. YES! You've done your homework. Great comps.

I am a freelance writer in Colorado and love hiking, volleyball, jelly
beans and home-made guacamole. Recently, my short horror story “Double
Yellow” received an honorable mention from Glimmer Train and Molotov
Cocktail’s Flash Fury Contest (July 2015). I am willing to work hard
during the editing and revising process and can’t wait to hear your
ideas. Great bio as well! Nicely done.

Thank you for your participation in PitchWars and for your consideration,

Holly Collingwood
CollingwoodWriting.com
Twitter: @WriteColl


SnowMaker - Chapter 1 - Scavengers

Anza gave one tire of the overturned car a spin and felt the rotten
rubber chafe against her hand. “We’re going to have to get it rocking
before it will flip,” she said as she examined the black streaks left
on her fingers. Nice first paragraph. You give us a little taste of the 
world right in the first sentence with the rotten rubber.
Exhilarated by the challenge, she spit into her hands and rubbed them
together. “Everyone find a good grip somewhere?” she asked her
friends. Their palms left sweaty, spitty marks on the car’s faded red
paint as the three girls tried out different places. “Now, push with
your shoulders. But don’t let it fall on you when it comes back down.”

“We know, Anza, we know,” Britt said.

“Ready? Okay, start it rocking.”

Anza knew from experience if they tried to siphon gas when the car was
upside down, it would spill all over the ground the moment they
unscrewed the gas cap. Then they would have to begin searching all
over again for a car that was not marked with an ‘X.’
Really great job of showing instead of telling here. But again,
I'm reading and the broken world with kids as scavengers, just
feels so familiar and like it's been done so many times.

Flinging her long braid over her shoulder, Anza and her friends slowly
started rocking it. The rusty car gained a little momentum with each
push. Rocking back and forth, its roof creaked and groaned as the
three girls strained. “Harder,” Anza groaned. And finally, like a
stubborn turtle, it flopped over and landed on its rotten tires. Great!
When the only tire that had any air left in it popped like gunfire as it
hit the ground, all three girls screamed and covered their ears in
surprise. And then Anza, Britt and Jess screamed again in success.

“Burn out, Marco, we could do it,” Anza boasted to her older brother
who had been watching doubtfully a dozen feet away. “Bring that gas
can over here, you lazy grump.” Her dark eyes glowed triumphantly.

Marco grunted nonchalantly with his hands on his hips, “I’m actually
slightly impressed. Only slightly though.” Then he thrust the gas can
and siphon tube at Anza. “Your turn, Bebita.”

Anza narrowed her eyes at the familiar nickname. “You know I hate
being called that. I’m not a baby anymore. By the way Mr. Seriously
Annoying, have you ever seen a baby strong enough to flip a car?” She
grabbed the gas can and turned away from him, “Now let’s see how much
gas we can get out of this thing.” The four scavengers had found this
little car resting on its roof in a lonely cul-de-sac. Each of the
other cars on the street already had Xs on them, signifying they had
already been drained and since they still needed about a dozen gallons
to meet their gas goal for the day, the girls thought this little red
car was their best option.

Disagreeing, Marco had refused to help.

Anza tucked a reckless curl behind her ear and tried to unscrew the
gas cap, but it was corroded in place. She kicked a rock and glared.
All that work to flip the car, and then the gas cap was stuck. 

This is so well written! The pacing, the characters, the way you set the 
scene is all really well done. If I hadn't already read so many books
that were similar I'd be all over this. But because this is such well
tread literary ground, I think you really need to do something
really different and original to stand out when writing post-apoc. It's
not a YA novel, but STATION ELEVEN is a great example of a post-
apoc novel that felt really fresh and original. Or alternately focus less
on the post-apoc elements and make this book more about the 
'weather war' stuff.

Best of luck and thank you for sharing!

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