Since Natalie pointed out the difficulties of judging these entries without an accompanying query, we are going to do something a little different with this week's critique clinic. First, we are going to expand critiques for the top 11 to 25 to include a full page (250 words). Second, we are going to invite those writers to include a query letter as well as the first 250. Our guest critiquers will not be required to critique the queries, but they will take them into consideration while giving their feedback on the novel opening. We also invite any of our guest authors or followers who wish to do so to provide respectful input on the page, the query, or both together.
To participate in the clinic, please add your first page, or your query and first page, along with your name and entry number in the comments below by Monday, July 19 at 6:00 pm. We will recreate them as individual posts and open them for feedback on Tuesday morning, July 20th.
The eligible entries are posted below with Natalie's comments underneath in bold.
#1 Kat Zhang
Adie and I were born into the same body, our souls’ ghostly fingers entwined before we gasped our very first breath. Our first few years were our happiest-then came the worries: the tightness around our parents’ mouths, the frowns lining our kindergarden teacher’s forehead, the question everyone whispered when they thought we couldn’t hear.
Why aren’t they settling?
We tried to form the word in our five-year-old mouth, tasting it on our tongue: Set-Tull-Ling.
NF: The last line did it for me; I worried about having to deal with the “our” voice (possessive first) the whole book
#2 Creepy Query Girl
"How do you punish someone who’s already dead?" Gretchen Grey tightened her grip around an umbrella handle while she waited for her parents to arrive. Her haunted blue eyes examined the London townhouse where she had grown up. Thick green ivy cast shadow around the entrance and spread towards the outer corners, almost reaching the top floor panes.
NF: Interesting, but not sure if this is supernatural or if she’s angry at someone who’s dead; also, “haunted blue eyes” is telling, and telling right up front worries me…
My hope of living a normal life in Lindenville faded faster than my fifteen dollar jeans the moment I got to the school bus stop. How could anything be normal after you hear you’re living with a dead girl?
"That’s Laura’s house--you don’t belong there."
I stared at the tall blonde who’d launched herself at me.
NF: Last sentence did it for me; realized this wasn’t the book I’d thought it was! Thought it was a ghost story, but sounds like she’s just moved into the dead girl’s house. Not sure what other hook there might be.
Amidst the never-ending fires and screams of defiant terror, Abby collapsed to the ground - feet twisting inward, eyes unwilling to stay open, and desperately wishing to pass out. Exhausted from the chase, tired of the hiding. For fifteen years, she had never felt her stomach cave in from hunger like it did now; even the stench of death and decay rooted beneath her skin as if it were her own that was blackened with Consumption. Everything had changed so quickly, yet this life of fear and confusion was all she could remember now.
NF: Well-written, but at the same time, very intense; if first few sentences are this packed with adjectives, how is the rest of the book?
The challenge began like all the rest, although the dead corpse-look was different. Ana wished she could ignore it, pretend it didn’t exist, but that never worked. She could feel them.
The patter of loafers rounded the corner of the math wing.
NF: How does she know they’re loafers? Having q’s upfront (not just about what happens) worries me.
#29 Leah Odze Epstein
The day my parents tricked Rachel into signing herself into the ‘Program,’ they tricked me, too, bringing me with them as a decoy. I should have known something was off when my father called a family meeting the night before. The last time we had a family meeting, my father told us our mom needed to go to the hospital for a little while so she could stop drinking. That was five years ago, when I was nine and Rachel was twelve, and I still thought a sister was someone you followed around.
NF: Worried that the drinking/rehab is the only hook here; good opening, but if this is just about a recovery, not enough bang.
Ellyssa, a.k.a. Subject 62, sprinted through the dark alley after escaping from her long-term captors who she’d thought of as family for eighteen years. Not a family in the traditional sense, but family nevertheless.
The sirens piercing the night an hour earlier had finally faded, but she still didn’t stop. Pumping her legs harder, she carried onward with the messenger bag thumping against her right thigh.
NF: Sounds very “Dark Angel,” which I love, BUT, I’ve had quite a few queries like this, so not the most original.
***#31 Holly Dodson
Mandy Samkirk had no warning of the life-changing events about to unfold; only the lingering worry from a recurring dream that nagged at her thoughts.
She could still feel the shadow of evil that hung like an impenetrable cloud in the sky, the smell of decay. Cries for help echoed through her mind with panic so thick it was palpable. She squeezed her eyes shut to block the memory out; the cool kitchen counter beneath her arms anchored her to reality.
NF: Worried about the dream sequence; I really don’t like prolonged dream sequences, and this sounds like it hangs on the dream part quite a bit.
#41 Valerie Kemp
I died before I was even born.
It was April 13th, not a Friday, but it might as well have been. My mom was in labor with me as my parents’ car raced down the two-lane wooded road that passes for a highway in our part of Michigan. A thunderstorm raged, blotting out the last of the sunset.
NF: I’d thought it was heading into a more supernatural realm, but sounds like it’s just one of those catchy descriptions to introduce the character, and I don’t have a good feel for any hook right now.
#43 Angela Ackerman (YA)
When Mom and Dad started throwing around the D word, I never imagined an old folk’s home would become my Post Divorce Relocation. I mean as far as top choices go, it’s right up there with a land fill. The kids at my old school would say this is karma and I had it coming. And, if I’m honest about it, maybe they’re right.
NF: I really love this, but I’m worried the old folks home is the only (but certainly unique!) angle.
We stood side by side in the dark, me holding a pack of matches, my best friend holding the gas can.
"Burn it." Finn’s voice was soft in the eerie nighttime silence, but full of edgy anticipation. With his face hidden in shadow under the hood of his team sweatshirt, he stared straight ahead at the school van spotlighted under the tall parking lot light.
NF: Last sentence did it; I’d been hoping for something a little edgier, maybe an arsonist book, than just a damaging school property/maybe on a dare thing.
#73 Angela Ackerman (MG)
Not many people look down at a dead goldfish and wonder if that’s how they looked the day they died. Then again, I suppose not many people drown and then come back to life, either.
Only four days after The Accident, I ended up crammed around a toilet with Mom, Dad and my little brother to attend Gingersnap’s funeral. Mom had told me that Derek would understand if I wanted to skip his fish's send off, which was exactly why I'd insisted on a front row seat.
NF: His stubbornness makes him un-likeable for me here; interesting set-up, but if I don’t love the character…
#86 Alison Wells
First off, I just want to say that I did not invite the aliens to drop into my backyard. At least not on purpose. So it's not like Ty and I were prepared to deal with the situation. Under the circumstances, I think we handled the whole thing pretty well.
NF: Sounds really fun, but the longer the “story intro” goes on, it turns me off; I really wanted to hop in!
#97 Annie McElfresh
Life lines. Most people think of them as options game show contestants use to help themselves win a million dollars or something else just as equally lame. Me? I know different.
NF: The “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” reference sort of dated it for me, and I wasn’t really sure how life lines would be intriguing.
#100 girl jordyn
In seventh grade math they taught us that a triangle is the sturdiest shape,
stronger than rectangles or pentagons or anything else. And that made sense to me. I understood, almost instinctively, what we spent multiple class periods on; I knew that three points were stronger than two, that the third corner gave the shape an added strength it wouldn’t otherwise have. That third corner, I knew, was needed.
NF: I’ve been holding on hoping that this is going to end up as a really cool metaphor, but it’s taking a while, which cues me that the pacing for the book might be a little too slow…
Entries will be critiqued by the following guest authors:
- Riley Carney is seventeen years old and has written seven MG/YA novels. The first book of the five-book Reign of the Elements Series,The Fire Stone, was released January 2010, and the second book, The Water Stone, will be released August 2010. Riley is passionate about promoting global literacy through the nonprofit corporation that she founded because she believes that the way to help children break the cycle of poverty and exploitation is through literacy.
- Lisa Green is not a demon, ghost, vampire, fairy or shape-shifter*. She has, however, enjoyed reading and writing about them since the age of seven. Her short stories and poems have been featured in several online magazines and her manuscripts are represented by the amazing Rubin Pfeffer of East-West Literary.
- Barrie Summy writes a humorous tween/teen mystery series for Random House. Her books include I SO DON'T DO MYSTERIES, I SO DON'T DO SPOOKY, the just-released I SO DON'T DO MAKEUP and the upcoming I SO DON'T DO FAMOUS. She lives in San Diego with her husband, four chatty children, a dog named Dorothy, two veiled chameleons and 83 chameleon eggs. She is addicted to the internet and licorice.
- When Cole Gibsen isn't writing she can be found shaking her booty in a zumba class, picking off her nail polish, or drinking straight from the jug (when no one is looking). Cole's debut YA paranormal, Katana, is due out from Flux in spring, 2012.
- Maurissa Guibord is a YA author whose debut novel, Warped will be published in January, 2011 from Delacorte. Warped is a romantic fantasy about a girl, an ancient unicorn tapestry and the threads of fate that bind them together.
- Suzanne Young currently lives in Portland, Oregon where she uses the rainy weather as an excuse to stay inside and write obsessively. She is the author of THE NAUGHTY LIST series (Razorbill/Penguin) and the upcoming A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL (Balzer & Bray, Summer 2011), its sequel (Summer 2012) and DELINQUENTS (Razorbill/Penguin, Fall 2011)
- Tahereh a.k.a. T.H. Mafi works as a graphic designer. Her blog Grab a Pen consistently entertains the masses. She writes YA novels and is represented by the ever-fabulous Amy Tipton of Signature Literary Agency.
- Leah Crichton resides near the majestic Canadian Rockies with her husband, three children and two pets. With a teacher for a mother and a writer for a father, she had two choices: succeed or die trying. By day she manipulates geophysical data, but at night she dives head first into the different places created inside her mind because a lot of interesting people live there. Her YA debut novel "Amaranthine" will be released in November of 2010 by Canonbridge LLC
Martina & Marissa