Wednesday, September 27, 2017


I LOVE being a mentor for PitchWars. BUT there is one bad part - having to choose just one manuscript to mentor when there are so many with so much potential.

And so, wanting to give something back to those who chose Mindy McGinnis and myself as one of the mentor teams to submit to, we decided to offer first page and query critiques on our blogs. 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 for anyone out there looking for personalized feedback, I also offer manuscript critique services which you can find more out about here.  

Dear ,
LIKE BIRDS UNDER THE CITY SKY is a 54,000 word young adult novel with slight I'd cut that one word. If there are sf elements but you're not saying it is a sf novel, then slight is implied. science fiction elements. It might appeals to fans of More Happy Than Not and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
Seventeen-year-old Micah can deal with being homeless. Like the birds, he trusts God will provide him with food and clothing. I feel like this is an odd belief and you might want to elaborate a bit more here. Like does he get food and clothing. Also how long has he been homeless? However, he has a harder time dealing with armed thugs following him around the city.
The thugs want to use Micah to get Charlie, his hacker boyfriend who escaped from Robo.Me, a shell corporation that does black ops for the CIA. WOH!! So much information here. It's a bit much to take in within just one sentence. Maybe intro Charlie in the above paragraph. Or maybe give Charlie his own paragraph, since he seems to have quite the backstory. Micah will die before giving up Charlie’s location, but he isn’t ready to meet his maker yet since he’s not really sure how The Almighty feels about the sex he and Charlie enjoy. Thankfully, he loses the thugs in a warren of drug-smuggling tunnels. He loses them... how exactly?
While Charlie works on a virus that will wipe out Robo.Me servers and all the information they hold about him, what information specifically? Micah uses his dumpster diving skills What dumpster diving skills? is this how he gets food and clothing? would be helpful to mention this earlier. and the contacts he made through community service to gather intel. Gather what sort of intel? About who? Not sure how this helps. Their plan requires more sins than Micah would like, What sins exactly dumpster diving is not a sin? but if they don’t stop Robo.Me Micah will be killed (probably burn in hell) and Charlie will be pressed into service as a cyber-assassin. How do they know this is what will happen? Also how will erasing the servers help Charlie get away - won't the people hunting for him still know who he is and why they want him?

This novel was inspired by both my own struggle with identity and religion, and by witnessing other LGTBQA+ people hold onto their faith without compromising their identity, even when the church rejected them. This is great! I won second place in Women on Writing’s Winter 2016 Flash Fiction Contest. My YA fiction was published in Youth Imagination and Spaceports & Spidersilk. My short fiction for adults has appeared in dozens of publications including Helios Quarterly, Theme of Absence, and Alternative Truths. Nice bio.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I’ve included


Life as a vagrant isn’t as bad as I once imagined, but it’s far from glamorous. I’m free, I’m alive, and no one is telling me who I can love and who I can’t, but sometimes I feel like the city is swallowing me whole. Skyscrapers, flashing lights, cars, and herds of people surround me. I can barely see the sky through the haze of humanity that is clogging these streets. just a suggestion to help eliminate wordiness My chest tightens, I force myself to take a deep breath, and keep pushing through the crowds.
I miss open spaces: cornfields, lakes, and rolling hills. I’d give almost anything to spend a day in the woods, working my way uphill until I break the tree line and am rewarded with a sweeping view of the Poconos, but going home would mean giving up the one thing I refuse to part with: Charlie period. Nice paragraph.
Charlie is the reason I’m heading uptown today, to scavenge the dumpsters of high-end buildings. He has a long list of items that contain the parts he needs for the computer he is building. At the top of it is a power converter – a device he says will make the energy that comes out of our turbine safe for more than just lights. Safe to power more than just lights? Maybe rework for clarity.
The crowd flows around me, and I fight it like a salmon swimming upstream. salmon upstream is a bit of a cliche. Find some other less used imagery? Some people bump into to me like I’m not even there. I don’t blame the ones who give me a wide berth. Seventeen-year-old boys smell pretty foul when they only shower once a week, especially when the afternoons make it to the nineties and the humidity is high. My jeans are stained from my last excursion in a dumpster and my hoodie has more than one hole. I’m used to being avoided and ignored. If he smells that bad I'm surprised anyone is bumping into him much less brushing against him. 
 I’m not used to being stared at. A man in a loose, gray suit watches from a park bench, tracking my every move like a feral tomcat stalking a rat. I wish this had more voice. Also this city feels pretty generic. Can you give it more specific details?

Monday, September 25, 2017


I LOVE being a mentor for PitchWars. BUT there is one bad part - having to choose just one manuscript to mentor when there are so many with so much potential.

And so, wanting to give something back to those who chose Mindy McGinnis and myself as one of the mentor teams to submit to, we decided to offer first page and query critiques on our blogs. 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 for anyone out there looking for personalized feedback, I also offer manuscript critique services which you can find more out about here.  


When sixteen-year-old Inya’s parents divorce, the only way to save the mother she loves is to destroy the father who abandoned her. This sentence is too vague to have any effect. How specifically does she save the mother she loves? How specifically does she destroy her father?

As next in line to rule her country, Inya Sorstrand is well schooled in secrets and intrigue. Again, specifics are better. What sort of secrets and intrigue? But her plotting goes terribly wrong when she defies and humiliates her powerful father, Lord Orwen. Still not specific enough. What plotting are you talking about? How does it go wrong? How does she defy and humiliate her father? It's the difference between: "I had the worst day ever today" and "My breakfast was burnt, my dog got hit by a car, I was late to school, forgot my homework, missed lunch, got dumped by my boyfriend, and cried so hard my eyes swelled closed." Which of those sentences gives you a better sense of that person's day? With his subjects rioting in the streets, he’s enraged by disloyalty at home and disinherits Inya for his mistress’s unborn child. Okay, why are his subjects rioting in the street - is it related to Inya humiliating her father? Also the "for his" construct doesn't work for me. I had to read it twice. Maybe instead, "disinherits Inya with the intention of making his mistress's unborn child next in line to the throne.

Banished to the slums with her equally defiant mother, Inya sheds her old identity and learns to survive the mean streets with help from a pack of misfits. Would love to know more about these misfits... but okay as is. But when the riots turn violent, riots already sort of implies violence. Maybe call them protests? the whole city is caught between rebel firebombs and Orwen’s tyrannical justice. With her mother, her new friends, and her own life threatened on every side, Inya must bring her father down and she has just the weapon to do it: the very secrets and intrigue she learned at his knee. Again would be helpful to know what these secrets are. Also how does dad not see this coming? But using her secrets risks revealing her true identity and if her father doesn’t string her up for treason, the rebels, thirsty for privileged blood, just might do it for him.Great final sentence - very clearly lays out what's at stake.

THE STATUE SAYS SPRING is an 82,000 YA historical fantasy set in an invented non-magical world (think Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’strilogy or Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince). Good comps! No bio paragraph?

First page:

The pillory not sure if this a word most peopel would be familiar with was always mobbed in the day. If Inya wanted to help Papa Gregor, she had to sneak off after curfew. Stopping only to collect her bag of supplies, what supplies? coat, and eyeglasses, she tiptoed past her mother—asleep at last—down to the kitchen door, and out into the night.

The Brimmen sea wind was an icy slap to the face so she pulled her long, lank hair over her ears. If it's windy wouldn't that just blow her hair around? It didn’t help. Why was it so cold tonight, of all nights? It was mid-September, but it felt like February, and Papa Gregor was in the pillory—his head and hands locked in a wooden frame—with only a thin shirt for warmth. He’d be frozen half to death and powerless even to scratch his nose.

“Ikshik,” Inya cursed as she scurried past the Basilica's blood-red gates. Maybe he was frozen to death. Her own hands were already numb. Cursing again, she blew on her tingling fingers, and sped up. Gregor Hansa had always been there for her and she loved him dearly, like a grandfather. He’d smuggled her salacious books, not sure if salacious is the best word choice here. are these x-rated books we're talking about? I mean that's cool and open-minded, but doesn't exactly say grandfatherly taught her to ride boy-fashion, praised every accomplishment in her sixteen years of life. Inya knew he was innocent, she knew he’d never turn traitor. Innocent of what specifically? By all rights, she should already be wrapping him in a blanket. But her mother had guessed she’d sneak out, and sat up in her room to stop her.

Passing the barracks, Inya slowed to a creep and hugged the shadows. Thunder rumbled, the clouds broke and rain fell hard, stinging skin and echoing off cobblestone. In the distance, the Basilica bell rang: clang, clang, clang, clang. Four o’clock, later than she’d hoped. Then the bell rang once more. Five o’clock! Ikshik! Curfew ended at six. She’d never find the courage to help Papa Gregor with an angry mob watching, not when they’d already stoned a poor woman to death for defending her pilloried husband. Overall the writing here is good, although there are a few parts where I'd like a bit more detail.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

PitchWars Critique - RED MOUNTAIN

I LOVE being a mentor for PitchWars. BUT there is one bad part - having to choose just one manuscript to mentor when there are so many with so much potential.

And so, wanting to give something back to those who chose Mindy McGinnis and myself as one of the mentor teams to submit to, we decided to offer first page and query critiques on our blogs. 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 for anyone out there looking for personalized feedback, I also offer manuscript critique services which you can find more out about here.


Red Mountain is a contemporary story that mixes Nez Perce Native American lore and history with the modern-day tradition of high school students painting letters on the sides of mountains found in small towns across the west. Okay, this is an interesting start. I like this info, but wonder if you might work it into the query later on instead of leading with it.

Sixteen-year-old Leia Soot wants nothing more than to be invisible comma something she was able to do with ease in Seattle, Clearly the invisible thing is not meant literally but I wasn't sure at first if this was paranormal or contemporary. Maybe a different word might work better? but impossible since moving to Salubria I know where Seattle is but not Salubria, maybe give a state to help readers place it? — population five hundred. Of course, it doesn’t help that her grandfather runs around town half-naked raving about curses like a bad televangelist. Ha. Nice funny detail.

So when four out of the five founding families suffer the loss of a child from freak accidents, the spotlight points Maybe "falls on" instead of points? to the one person predicting these deaths — Grandfather.

In order to vindicate her grandfather and save the town, she I'd use her name here, just to remind us what it is. must partner with the next potential victim, her nemesis Isaac Stevens, who would rather serve her father an eviction notice than admit to his feelings for her. Leia races against the clock, unraveling the secrets behind the curse hidden within a secret treaty signed by the native people and the original settlers in 1872. Along the way, she discovers her true self and that laying down your life for another, even an enemy, isn’t as hard as watching those you love sacrifice themselves for you. Hmm... this last sentence is a little long and lacking in specifics so it starts to feel like word soup by the end. Maybe break it up and a bit and try to use some more specific details so it doesn't feel like greeting card platitudes.

Red Mountain is a 65,000 word contemporary YA with speculative elements that could be described as Beautiful Creatures meets The Love That Split the World with a splash of Pride and Prejudice. Ok, I like this.

My short stories have been featured in Go Read Your Lunch, The Urban Liaison, and The Idaho Magazine. I am also a contributing member of the Idaho Writers Guild and SCBWI. Nice!

YA Contemporary with speculative elements

Page 1:
This wasn’t my real life. This was the place between. Or maybe the place forgotten. I like the voice in this opening.
My dad said Salubria was a nice place to visit, not live. And yet my new postal address stated otherwise. Well her postal address doesn't say anything about how nice it is to live anywhere. I like what you're trying to do here, but I think you need to rework it so it makes a bit more sense.
I slouched in the hard seat hiding behind an angry mullet, ringed with a sure tell sign the guy had showered and smashed his ball cap on low to his ears. love the specificity here but it sounds like the mullet is on her head. Just the addition of "guy with an angry mullet" would help clarify. The scent of soap was a nice change to his usual sweat-mixed-with-alfalfa cologne. He slumped in at would be better here. In makes it sound like he's sitting inside it - not behind his desk as low as his broad shoulders would let him as Dr. Camarillo droned on about the gold rush and its effect on the Idaho territories. Oh. She's at school. For some reason I assumed she was in a vehicle. Maybe make this more clear sooner.
“March 4, 1863, the territory of Idaho was organized and incorporated into the United States.” Dr. Camarillo’s bald spot bobbed as he scrawled the date with a nub of white chalk.
I tuned out the teacher as I wrote a few lines of a poem I’d been working on. Writing prose, especially poetry, had become a therapy of sorts, even if I sucked at it. I aced researching and composing school papers, back when I enjoyed attending class. School used to be important. When we lived in Seattle, I cared. I wondered when I would start to think of school as an important thing again. It was hard to be excited about the same classes I took in eighth grade. So the school here is way behind where it should be? But aren't there state standards? I think you're spending too much time saying the same thing in different ways (she doesn't like school but she used to before she moved) without giving us enough specific details of what school looks like here in her new town. Dr. Camarillo, the school history teacher, and father to my friend Claire offered to create a college credit course based on the classroom material he taught during mandatory eleventh-grade history. I agreed, but the idea I was stuck here until I left for college seemed unfathomable. 
“With gold found in the new territories, settlers flooded to the west, squatting on the natives’ land designated by the treaty of 1855. The Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla Tribes gave up over 6.4 million acres in what is now northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington.” Dr. Camarillo’s lecture reached a crescendo. This does not feel like a crescendo. It feels like a boring recitation of facts with no stories of specific people to enliven it or make it feel more real. For a first page this doesn't grab me as hard as I'd like it to. Overall, the voice here is a good but it could be a little sharper and more precise.

Monday, September 18, 2017

PitchWars Critique - THE CINDER KNIGHT

I LOVE being a mentor for PitchWars. BUT there is one bad part - having to choose just one manuscript to mentor when there are so many with so much potential.

And so, wanting to give something back to those who chose Mindy McGinnis and myself as one of the mentor teams to submit to, we decided to offer first page and query critiques on our blogs. 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 for anyone out there looking for personalized feedback, I also offer manuscript critique services which you can find more out about here.  

Dear ___________(insert agent name),

Due to ___________ (insert reason for querying this specific agent), I thought you would be interested in my novel THE CINDER KNIGHT, a YA action-adventure retelling of Cinderella I'd put a period here and then put the rest of this sentence on it's own, otherwise it gets a bit unwieldy. wherein an abused servant boy seeks to earn his knighthood by accepting a mission offered to him by an undercover princess, You could even put another period here, and make this next part it's own sentence, especially since reading it I wasn't immediately certain whose skills it was referring to. whose skills with a blade are rivaled only by her skills of deception. A standalone novel with series potential complete at 80,000 words, THE CINDER KNIGHT will appeal to young adults of any gender I'd cut the any gender bit, I know you're saying it will have universal appeal, but I think your comps are really good and you don't need to go further than that. who love Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles, Redwine’s The Shadow Queen, or the film Stardust.

At eighteen, Elliot Cendrilon’s only hope of reprieve from a life of servitude to his abusive stepfather is secretly sparring in the Woodland Games to save enough winnings to buy his freedom. But after nearly three years undefeated—and with his prize now finally within reach—an armored newcomer arrives whose skills far exceed Elliot’s own. This feels a little overly wordy in some places, but overall is good.

But The sentence before this also started w but. I'd cut the but. this new adversary hides more than one secret beneath his helmet: not only is he a she, but she is the princess and the sole heir to the Mittelan throne. I'd chop this into 2 or even 3 sentences. 

Princess Chara has no interest in the Woodland Games or its prize. She entered the Games in search of a champion Wait... she's entering the games to find a champion even though her skills are better than the guy who's won this thing for the past 3 years straight? Logic-wise this doesn't make sense to me.  to help her win the war against Norrfalt, relieving her from the marriage alliance ordered upon her by the power-hungry Grand Duke. Taking on a false identity, Chara tricks Elliot into escorting her on her foolhearted is this a word? quest, period. but when a lethal rebellion pits them against one another, the pair may never again cross swords as allies.  

Unless they can join forces, Elliot’s last chance at freedom from a lifetime in service will be gone, Chara will become the new king’s powerless wife, and Mittelan will lose its independence forever. Great! Very clear what's at stake here.

As a Creative Writing graduate from Valparaiso University, I have enjoyed time working in marketing as well as exploring writing fiction for young adults. I am currently a fiction and freelance writer in Eastern Tennessee. Thank you again for your time and consideration of my work. Great bio to finish it up!




“Elliot! Get in here, boy! The fire is dying!” His voice pealed from the cottage window, cutting through the silent evening frost. This feels a little overly wordy, which I noticed in your query as well. It's a problem I struggle with as well (I also like overly long sentences too - maybe that goes hand in hand with wordiness). I feel like the voice pealing, then also cutting through the silent (is frost ever not silent?) is just a bit over the top and feels like it's trying to hard. I was almost eighteen, yet my stepfather still called me boy
I had split enough wood to get us through the night, so I gathered the pieces into the fabric carrier and started towards the house. My hands were sticky with sap, but I wouldn’t bother trying to scrub it off when I'd be out chopping again at first light.
“What does it even matter?” Raymond whined to his father as I hauled the heavy load across the undecorated feels odd to mention this - how should it be decorated? living room and dumped it into the broken Almorian trunk we used as a wood box. “We stand no chance of conscription. Let the commoners kill one another off. Our countries will only be stronger for it.”
“You fool,” Silas snipped, “under Norrfalt rule, we have no guarantee we would retain our business, our exemptions, or even our title. Would you like a job as a scullery maid? Or to be conscripted and sent to the front lines like the other boys your age?”
Lucas, Silas’ younger son, didn’t weigh in on his father and brother’s conversation. Nor did I. I knew better than to speak up when it came to matters of politics. Or any matter, really. If I wanted to keep away from the end of Silas’s belt, I listened and remained silent. But even that wasn’t always enough. The web of scars on my back proved that.
Instead, I focused on building the fire while Silas continued lecturing his sons on the border war as they retired from the sitting room to their bedrooms upstairs. I followed them up with an armful of firewood. I tended to the fire in the bedroom that my stepbrothers shared as both boys lounged in their beds, pretending I did not exist.  
Overall, the writing here is good. I would attempt to vary the lengths of your sentences a bit more. Mostly, for me, this lacks the kind of voice that I want in first person to immediately pull me in. I don't get much of a sense how your MC feels about all that's going on around him. Is he resigned? Too tired to care? Burning angry beneath the actions he's carrying out? Also, while it makes sense for Cinderella to stay on as a maid in her family's home, it makes less sense for a boy who has more options in the world and more freedom to strike out on his own. I can't help but wonder why he's there putting up with that at 18 or why he'd worry about his stepfather's belt when he's strong enough to split and carry wood and could probably take his stepfather in a fight. These questions may get answered as the story goes on, but you need to get to them quickly if they are already bothering me on page one. If readers don't buy into the world of the story they may not get past that first page.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

PitchWars Critique - SCARLET'S MOON

I LOVE being a mentor for PitchWars. BUT there is one bad part - having to choose just one manuscript to mentor when there are so many with so much potential.

And so, wanting to give something back to those who chose Mindy McGinnis and myself as one of the mentor teams to submit to, we decided to offer first page and query critiques on our blogs. 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 for anyone out there looking for personalized feedback, I also offer manuscript critique services which you can find more out about here.  


Word count 55,601 Okay, so while it is nice to have this information at the top, it's better to include it as part of a sentence. For example: SCARLET'S MOON, a young adult supernatural novel, is complete at 55,000 words.
Little Red Riding Hood is all grown up and hungry for blood in this smart and sassy retelling with vampires. Okay, I like the retelling and that you've mixed vampires in. But I think we need just a little bit more here. Is she herself a vampire. Always be as specific as possible.
What if there was more to the story of Little Red Riding Hood than anyone knew? What if the wolf was not a random attack, but carefully planned? Generally speaking hypothetical questions are a big no-no in queries. 
Scarlet Ryder faces danger, intrigue and her own past in Scarlet's Moon, the first in the Blood-Cloak series. I'd cut this entire sentence. It's too vague. As a young child, Scarlet's family was killed, leaving her an orphan in Victorian England. A week before her 21st birthday, WOH! 21 is too old for YA! Can you age her down? 17. Even 18 would probably be okay. Scarlet learns a deep and frightening secret about her family that sets her on the path to her destiny as a vampire queen. You need to tell us the secret or not mention it. This is not the time to be coy. The last thing the werewolves want is Scarlet alive to bring order to the chaos of the vampire clans. Huh? Where are these werewolves suddenly coming from? Scarlet finds herself drawn into the hidden world of vampires, espionage, murder, and the ancient war between the vampires and werewolves. On top of it all, Scarlet is juggling new romances and her adoptive father is hot on the trail of Jack the Ripper, adding to her fear and uncertainty. Okay, this is all over the place. You mention Scarlet becoming a vampire queen, then a war with werewolves, and then a romance and adoptive father and Jack the Ripper. What you don't mention is how all of this ties together.
Supernatural suspense, mystery, romance, and a little historical fiction await in this fractured fairy tale re-imagined. No. Pick a genre. Were would this fit on the shelf. I'd say historical fantasy. Or fairy-tale retelling.
Ashley L. Hunt has been published in eight anthologies, including Forgotten Places, Devil's Armory, Barbarian Crowns, For The Love of Leelah, JEApers Creepers, Caleuche Chronicles, 13 Bites Vol. III, and Plan 559 From Outer Space Mk. II. Good bio! 
The complete manuscript is available upon request; the first chapter is enclosed to be read at your leisure. Not sure about the "read at your leisure" thing - agents are not reading at their leisure - it's their job. This comes off a little snotty, although I  don't think that's your intention. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Chapter 1. The Road to Grandmother's House

 Dead leaves scrambled over the old forest road, scraping across the hard dirt like fingernails desperate to escape from a coffin. This first sentence seems to be trying too hard. I'd pick either the scrambling over the forest road bit or the fingernails across the coffin, but both feels like too much. Young Scarlet Ryder skipped among those leaves, stomping on the strays and kicking her sturdy boots through the piles where they gathered. The bold eight year old girl had lived in the small village near the woods all her life. Despite the whispers of her neighbors and the tales from the other children, she had never been afraid of the shortcut to the town on the other side. She enjoyed traversing the old wood road alone. Good character introduction. Has fairy tale feel, but is distant - doesn't make me really care about Scarlet.

On that particular autumn day, Scarlet was on a quest of significant importance. A quest that would change her entire life forever. She had been charged to deliver a basket of honey cakes to her grandmother. But is it really that important to deliver honey cakes?

"Scarlet, Listen to me. This is important,” her mother insisted as she tied the girl’s red wool hood, "Go directly to your grandmothers and under no circumstances are you to go anywhere else. Stay on the path. "

"I shan't mother. I know the way," Scarlet promised, "I won't leave the path. " I feel like if you are doing a retelling of a fairy tale you really need to do quite a bit of remixing and reimagining to make it feel fresh and new. This feels like it hews just a bit too closely to the original.

And she didn't... until she found the flowers. Small white, vibrant flowers like the ones her grandmother loved dearly, the flowers Grandmother always gathered. There was a small clump growing just off the path. Without the slightest hesitation, Scarlet stepped into the still green grass and gathered great handfuls of these white flowers. Just a way to eliminate wordiness.

"Well, well, well, little one. What brings such a small child into the wood alone?" an unfamiliar voice queried. Scarlet shot straight up looking for the source of this question.

A man was standing a stone’s throw away, leaning by a tree. He had broad shoulders and flaming eyes. Eyes like a wolf... dark, menacing, and ravenous. The unknown man circled Scarlet. Curiously, he never came within the ring of flowers Rather he edged around patch closely. His gleaming teeth brought a shiver to Scarlet's spine. Yet his smile remained friendly.

Instinctively, Scarlet retreated into the middle of the flower patch. The stranger’s menacing eyes shone darkly in the artificial twilight beneath the trees. Their eyes locked. An eerie stillness fell over the forest. Time seemed to stop, and all Scarlet could hear was her own breath. The distant cry of a bird broke the spell and Scarlet bolted, her feet flying for the road that now seemed miles away. Hard, pounding footfalls told the young girl she was pursued. Wide-eyed and panting, Scarlet ran down the road, too afraid to look back. Cloak billowing out behind her, lungs burning, and her poor little legs begging for a rest, Scarlet saw the most welcome sight she could imagine: Grandmother’s house at the end of town. With an extra burst of speed born of desperation, Scarlet flew to the wooden house. She ran through the heavy door, thumping it closed behind her, locking the scary man outside. Only to find
herself in a much more horrific scenario. Nice action here. It definitely picks up nicely! 

 In the waking world, a door slammed two floors below, jarring twenty year old Scarlet awake. She pushed aside her delicate white curtains and looked out the dark window to the muddy, cobble stoned streets of London. And nice cut from past Scarlet to present Scarlet. 

Monday, September 11, 2017


I LOVE being a mentor for PitchWars. BUT there is one bad part - having to choose just one manuscript to mentor when there are so many with so much potential.

And so, wanting to give something back to those who chose Mindy McGinnis and myself as one of the mentor teams to submit to, we decided to offer first page and query critiques on our blogs. 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 for anyone out there looking for personalized feedback, I also offer manuscript critique services which you can find more out about here.  

Dear mentor,

For years, Lesa has spoken with no one but her violent father. Okay, this is interesting but I think it needs more. First her age. As simple as: For years, sixteen year old Lesa has spoken... My other problem is that it seems impossible that she's spoken with no one else and I think you need to fill in a bit more details bc this is an odd situation. Do they live in the middle of nowhere? Does he forbid her from leaving the house? Does she leave the house but stay on mute unless she's speaking to her father? Be more specific. Every day, he reiterates that she must never leave him. Lesa knows her father’s temper is driven by loneliness and fears comma here her own loneliness will make her just like him. Violent, smothering, and unloved. Okay, you could cut some of this and instead focus on the questions I mentioned above. Simply, "Lesa fears she will become like her father: violent, smothering, and unloved."

Then, at seventeen, Lesa becomes an “Outcast,” one of hundreds of people to spontaneously acquire a superpower. Lesa renames herself Chaos, hoping to distance herself from her father. But it isn’t long until Chaos accidentally kills a man with her new power. WOAH! I feel like you skipped a lot of details here! So suddenly she's talking to other people, I assume? And what specifically is her superpower - I feel like that's a really important detail that you just skip over. And HOW does she accidentally kill a man?

Chaos believes her only chance at redemption is to find her mother, who left years ago. If Chaos can convince her mother to love her, then she won’t be lonely like her father anymore. But traveling is dangerous. Outcasts are hated by the public, hunted down by researchers, and easy to identify on sight. To go means risking of capture and life-long experimentation. I know what you mean by life-long experimentation but it reads here as if she will be forced to do the experiments, not be the subject of them. Not to go means having no way to prove she isn’t a monster. Hmm... I'm not really grabbed by this dilemma, probably because I am not sold on the whole "finding her mother will bring redemption" plot point. 

CHAOS: AFTER MONSTERS, BEFORE HEROES is a YA speculative fiction novel with 75,000 words. It will appeal to readers of Marie Lu’s The Young Elites and fans of X-Men. Good although Young Elites kinda is like X-Men already... I wonder if another comp might work better.

I hold a BA in writing and have short fiction published in Literary Orphans and Strangelet journal. Thank you for your time and consideration. Nice!
First Page

The girl touched her head to the chair's high back and hissed when the icy metal touched a bit of bare scalp. Her skin was raw where she'd torn out some of her hair that morning. The girl glanced past the concrete walls to the bleary orange ground lights that lit her feet. Seeing the lights, she tried to imagine the sun. She'd only ever seen its halo behind tall black buildings. Okay, I feel like you are throwing a lot of details but I can't quite see where this girl is. I also feel like you could linger a bit more on the detail about the raw scalp and how that happened. Overall, I'm not sure this is a first paragraph that would really grab me. There's good specific details but it hops around so much I can't really focus on one thing. Also, "the girl" feels so distant. Is there a reason not to name her? 
A guard came in through the door. He observed the girl without speaking. Yet, she heard his voice: At least she isn't trying to gouge out her own eyes. The words matched the whispery chatter that had fogged her mind since it happened. She squeezed her eyes shut, felt her irises humming against her eyelids. This last sentence is really nice!
The guard stuck a cigarette between his lips and flicked his lighter three times before the flame sprung. The smell of gas livened the air. He retrieved a clipboard from the wall. The girl heard his unspoken voice again as he estimated her height and weight and age. Then, the guard peered down to write, is she watching him - can she see him? Can we get some mental picture of what he looks like? and a picture showed in the girl's mind of herself as the guard had seen her. She had the look of someone small. Her hair was scraggly, ripped. The colors in her irises swirled: purple and pink flecked with gold. This feels like a cheat - her seeing how she looks through his eyes. Almost like a character looking in mirror on first page which is generally a cliche and thus a no-no.
The girl snapped her face away. She didn't like the look of herself, how he saw her. But the picture showed in her mind whether she looked at him or not. She tried to adjust her expression. Yet no matter how she widened or narrowed her eyes, the guard saw a girl who wanted to kill him and couldn't. Why does he think she wants to kill him?
But that wasn't what she wanted. It wasn't. It wasn't.
"What's your name?" the guard asked. His voice echoed aloud, startling her. When she didn't answer, the guard approached and kicked her chair over. Her head struck the floor. The pain was hot and sudden and turned the voices in her mind into woozy murmurs. Then, the guard kneeled so close that his voice--his thoughts--screeched like a mechanical bird. I think you need to be more firmly in the girl's POV. Even though it's not first person, we are still experiencing the story through her eyes in this bit here, but there are points where it seems to be swing toward the guard. Let us into her head a bit more and even more importantly - her feelings! Is she scared? Desperate? Numb? Otherwise, I think the pacing is good and overall you chose a good place to start you story.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

PitchWars Critique - AETHERIAN

I LOVE being a mentor for PitchWars. BUT there is one bad part - having to choose just one manuscript to mentor when there are so many with so much potential.

And so, wanting to give something back to those who chose Mindy McGinnis and myself as one of the mentor teams to submit to, we decided to offer first page and query critiques on our blogs. 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 for anyone out there looking for personalized feedback, I also offer manuscript critique services which you can find more out about here.  


Dear Kate,

Genna Burnstaff is good at being tough. I think you're going for a voice thing here, but with it being the first sentence of the query it just reads as a mistake. She's survived four older brothers and being the weird kid with grandparents for parents. She can take a soccer ball to the face and come back fighting. She doesn't scare easy – but she's scared of whatever is causing her dreams. Okay, I think this is a good set-up, but it could be a lot tighter. First I'd get rid of that first sentence. Maybe start instead with: Genna Burnstaff has survived four older brothers who {insert specific horrifying and hilarious detail here}. She's made it through being the weird kid at {insert specific occasion here} with {specific detail here about grandparents - gray haired, stoop backed, hard of hearing} grandparents for parents. She can even take a soccer back to the face and come back fighting. In short, she doesn't scare easy and she certainly isn't afraid of a couple bad dreams. Except... she kinda is.

It starts with Hal, showing up after years of absentee fatherhood, planning to move her up to New York with him and his new bride. Okay, I think you need to tie the dreams in since that's where you left us in the last paragraph. Something like: The dreams begin when her absentee father, Hal, shows up with his new bride and insists on relocating Ginna to New York. Hal maybe something about how he's a stranger to her? Or something more specific about why she can't handle him? and the snobby private school he sends her to are more than she wants to handle. But And instead of but might work better here. then there's Thera. She can't call NYC another world, anymore, because Thera actually is one. Okay, this whole Thera transition is NOT working for me. I would not put it in this paragraph but try to work it in below when you talk about the dreams.

After Genna begins experiencing traumatic episodes that leave her physically damaged What exactly does physically damaged mean? Be more specific - let me see and imagine the damage? Is she black and blue? Does she have broken bones? Bleeding? Missing eyes? and screaming in her sleep, her brothers reluctantly explain the family trait: a pull to another world that she can neither resist nor control. A pull to another world is not a family trait. I'd reword this. Submerged in new and different world? Missing word here?, Genna finds herself in a war to hold on to the girl in the mirror and to survive the unwanted gifts in her blood. This last bit is mush. What does it mean to hold onto the girl in the mirror? What are the unwanted gifts in her blood and what specifically must she survive? I honestly feel like you wasted way too much time in the first paragraph and then rushed this one which really feels like the meat of your plot.

AETHERIAN is a blend of epic and contemporary fantasy, intended for a YA audience. It is complete at 116,000 words. It would appeal to fans of {insert title of similar YA book published within last five years} and {insert title of another similar YA book}

I am a first-time novelist with an English degree, a couple of Philosophy degrees and a CV full of disreputable jobs (like 'bookseller' and 'writing consultant') to my name.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


First Page

I didn't want to look in the book. Waking up was bad enough without that. This doesn't grab me. I don't know what book she is talking about much less why she doesn't want to look. I don't know why waking up is bad. I'd cut.

The 7:00 am sunlight was weak and gray and yet somehow still too much for my sleep-starved eyes. I leaned on the vanity table – one of Granna's landmarks I don't know if this is the best word here that this room was female territory – and took in the damage.

My eyes were so red-rimmed and dark-shadowed that their odd gray-brown color looked just brown. That felt like a robbery. My weird eyes were my favorite. I glanced up reflexively at the picture in the corner of the mirror. The lovely face laughed back at me, elegant in the artistic black-and-white shot. Apparently I got my eyes from her. A main character looking in a mirror as a way to describe him or herself is a cliche that it's better to avoid. Is the color of the MC's eyes really something you want on the first page? Is this the thing that grabs a reader and makes them want to keep reading?
Not that I would know. That picture was all I'd ever seen of my dead mother. This is good stuff! Tell me more about this!

My gaze wandered down to the little brown Moleskine book on the cluttered surface in front of me. It wasn't one of the pretty diaries Granna bought for me. The things I wrote didn't seem to belong in one of those. It was plain and battered and ordinary, which felt right. You have to tell me more. I'm just not getting enough detail to draw me into the world of the story.

I didn't want to look. Look at what? The moleskin book?

So I got dressed, reminding myself that Blake the Genius had brought Jonathan White home from football practice last night, on top of everybody else. What does this mean, "On top of everybody else"? Physically on top? Or in addition to all the other people Blake brought home? Also who is Blake and who is Jonathan? With all the brothers mysteriously mysterious how? home this weekend, that meant Jon would be sleeping on the couch why? does he not have a room? Where is he home from? and that meant I wasn't about to wander out there in my PJ's. My dark-coppery hair – too dark for red, too red for brown again, the color of her hair - like her eyes - is not something that makes me think "wow tell me more" – was tangled and impossible, so I wrangled it into a ponytail and hoped for the best. My too-pale skin already looked sickly with the early morning and interrupted sleep, so it wasn't like I was going to be winning any awards today anyway.
I glanced at the clock – 7:15. I didn't have long. Closing my eyes I took a single even breath. When I listened I could already hear Granna creating masterpieces in the kitchen.
My eyes turned back to the brown book. I didn't want to open it. I didn't – but I couldn't not look. It had been happening too much lately. I needed to see if there were more words.
I flipped it open quickly, like ripping a Band-Aid, and glanced through the pages, looking for new scribbles. My stomach sank. The page I'd numbered 43 had been blank yesterday. Today it wasn't.
He warned me – I knew – God help me, I knew. But I loved him. And now . . . such a burden of blood. I pray you can forgive me.

I squeezed my eyes shut. Dammit. Like that wasn't cryptic or melodramatic or anything. Who the crap writes that? My breath wasn't steady. I did, was the answer. I wrote that crap.
Not that I ever remembered it. But the leaky pen I intentionally kept next to the book had left its telltale smear on my middle finger, so it had to be me. My fists clenched and unclenched instinctively. Okay, this is interesting. She's writing something at night and it's creepy and she doesn't remember doing it. But you spend the whole page teasing this reveal - but you don't give enough details or hints to draw me in. And why tease anyway? This is the good stuff. Lead with it. Have her fling back the covers and immediately go to the book.