Wednesday, November 18, 2015

PitchWars Critique - SPEAK OF THE DEAD

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.

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 Mentor,

I'm very excited to enter Pitch Wars! Thanks so much to Brenda Drake and all of the talented mentors for offering up their time and expertise for writers. Please consider my 68,000 word YA contemporary- magical realism manuscript, SPEAK OF THE DEAD.
Great start!

The moment Cyan Welles told her best friend that she could talk to dead people, she was branded the town freak. Years later, the townspeople still cross themselves when they see her, and kids still love to torture her. Even Cyan's father blames her for ruining the family name and driving her mom to suicide. The thing is, though, Cyan Welles does talk to the dead. Inside the Welles Family Funeral Home, her life-like sketches of the dearly departed request death wishes. So is she talking to ghosts or she's talking to the sketches that come to life? This isn't super clear - also this really differentiates this story from your typical sees ghost type thing so I'd put this as the top of this paragraph. And Cyan fulfills them.

When the town's local celebrity and largest philanthropist passes away, his portrait's death wish requests that Cyan befriend his grandson, local golden boy Miller Scott, and show him what's important in life. For the first time, Cyan wants to decline a death wish. How can she slip through senior year with the lowest profile possible if she hangs out with the star of Beach View High?
Great complication! 

Ultimately, Cyan can't resist helping the boy who once came to her rescue as a child. She's also seriously curious about his sudden interest in her. As the pair grow closer, secrets surface—the truth behind Miller's grandparents raising him, her sketches, his not-so-accidental car crash, and her not-so-dead mother— intertwining both of their families' past and present. Once her gift is outted for real and not just as Beach View's number one gossip topic, Cyan must decide whether she's strong enough to finally embrace her spectacular power or leave it for dead. 

This manuscript does have two LGBTQ characters. There is potential for a sequel. Thank you for your time. 

Overall this query is really strong. Great job!


            The big sleep isn't what everyone thinks, there's a lot more talking involved. Or singing. I open my eyes to an a cappella chorus of Green Day's "Wake Me Up When September Ends." Even though it's still too dark, I can practically see the music wafting from the sketches inside my trunk. Wrapping my pillow around my head, I nudge Bella, my calico cat, from her favorite spot. This totally ticks her off, but I still can't block out Mr. Rutledge's deep baritone. Beach View's deceased choral director thinks he grew a sense of humor over night. I glance at the digital clock on my night stand. Crap. I like this opening but I think you're throwing one too many things at as really fast. We have music. And sketches. And dead choral director. If I hadn't just read the query I'm not sure I'd be able to piece together what all was happening here.
            "Hello? I said say - you're in present tense, right?, Six-ten wake up, not five-thirty," I grumble into my pillow. The singing grows louder with each verse. If I don't do something, they'll wake up Gran and even worse, Dad. So other people can hear the singing/talking sketches as well? Tossing off my comforter, I crawl to the foot of my bed and bang my fist on the trunk lid. 
             "So not funny, you guys."
            Their laughter abruptly stops with a loud knock and I freeze on all fours. The bedroom door flies open. My six-foot plus dad takes up the entire doorway, but that's not what people notice first about him. It's those icy blue eyes that sucker punch the breath right out of you.
            A quick tug at his cufflink and he says, "There will be a very important client delivery today." Those cold eyes narrow on me suddenly, like he's just noticing my position. "What are you doing?"
            "Nothing." I lean back on my heels.
            Thomas Welles eyes my trunk with disgust, and speaks through gritted teeth. "Those pictures. For God's sake Cyan, we run a funeral home, not a séance show."
            Riiight. Our little beach town would love to throw a stake burning party and take my family down if one, Beach View didn't need us so much, and two, we lived in Salem circa 1692.  It's kind of sad, really. If my dad knew I could actually do what this town gossips about me, this sentence reads a bit awkwardly Thomas Welles would find a way to monetize my bizarre gift. Maybe then he'd look at me with something besides hatred a more nuanced word than hatred here?. Surveying my room for more proof of crazy, he frowns at Bella who hasn't stopped meowing since he showed up. Perfect.
So you have great voice in this first page, but I feel like I want to be settled into the world a bit better so I know exactly what is happening here with the ghostly talking sketches. It's a really great and unique concept but right now I don't feel like you're completely selling it to me because as a reader I can't quite visualize how it all works. Overall, though, you have a solid query and a first page that with some tweaks can be equally strong.

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