Monday, October 9, 2017

PitchWars Critique - THE LAST EXIT


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 [Agent]:

At sixteen, Birk Bellamy is starting over yet again with his fifth foster family. Kicked out of every foster home he’s been in, he wants to bury his past bury his past is a cliche and also not specific enough to tell me anything and be left the hell alone. But rumors of his past indiscretions What sort of indiscretions are we talking about here? Again, can you be more specific? result in unwanted attention from the kids at his new school. Worse, the drunk driver who killed his parents is paroled, resurrecting his crushing pain I'd cut the second half of this sentence - we get why having the person who killed his parents out of jail sucks. He copes with his turmoil through secrecy, isolation, and the occasional fistfight, always looking for the exit. what does "looking for the exit" mean? What specifically does he want?

While deep in the woods, Birk meets fourteen-year-old Philip “Frip” Thorndale hiding in a ramshackle cabin. Birk wants nothing to do with him, but Frip earns Birk’s trust and draws Birk into his crisis. Frip’s parents give him an illegal drug that keeps him alive but causes extraordinary side effects, and they are on the run from the FBI. Frip and his parents got separated, and Frip is running out of his medicine. He must find his parents and the safe place to which they were fleeing. Risking arrest and exposure of his emotional vulnerabilities, the phrasing here reads really awkwardly. Maybe just cut it.  Birk agrees to help him.

The FBI learns of Birk’s contact with Frip, and they pressure Birk to turn Frip in. When Birk stonewalls the agents, they threaten the few things that hold Birk together, what specifically??? and his tightly wound life unravels how? Specifically?. As Frip’s condition worsens, Birk must choose between protecting Frip’s fragile life or his own—but, with his past, he’s not certain he can succeed at either. I'm not sure you've established why his past makes him believe he can't succeed. 

THE LAST EXIT is a Young Adult contemporary novel, is this just contemporary? The bit with the drug that causes extraordinary side effects feels like some paranormal or magical realism has been thrown in here too. 81,000 words. A lifelong Midwesterner, I am an attorney and writer in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Some moments you capture; others capture you. That afternoon, I was the prisoner.
     “I’m going to puke,” I said.
     “Well, don’t,” said Mrs. Wu, my social worker. “Not here on the front porch. We don’t want that again.” She glanced at me, gauging my puke propensity, and checked her phone again. “Your new foster parents might not be as understanding about it as your last ones.” Seems kind cold. Not like he can control throwing up.
     Gripping my two suitcases, I breathed through the queasiness. I was so sick of beginnings and endings. My fourth foster family had recently kicked me out, and the group home the agency sent me to after that had rejected me, too. Beginnings and endings sucked equally, and they made me so sick.
     I’ll find a way out of this. I’ll find the exit. And without the gun. I feel like this sentence is taking me out of the moment, which is interesting and has high enough stakes that you don't need to add anything more quite yet.
     Mrs. Wu looked sideways at me again, taking in my black t-shirt, torn black jeans, and old Doc Martens.
     “You could have dressed better, Birk.” She rang the doorbell.
     “I tucked in my goddamned shirt,” I muttered.
     “Let’s try to have a more positive attitude.” Mrs. Wu primped her hair and adjusted her skirt. “And please brush your hair out of your eyes.”
     I scowled, shook my hair a little, getting it more in my eyes, and waited, the nausea rising in me.
    “And Birk—”
     “I know.”
     Don’t get angry. Stay in control. Don’t go dark again. This is a pretty solid first page. It feels like you're starting at a good place. I wanted a bit more voice wise - just a bit more flavor on the page and more time inside your MC's head because this guy seems like he's been through a lot and it doesn't feel like you've completely dug all the way into this character.

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