Thursday, August 26, 2010

14 Pitch Entry #11: Marilyn Peake

Title: Mermaid in the Summer of Burning Water


Genre: YA Fantasy

As fires lick the floor of heaven and turtles burn in the dark of night, three teenagers sneak past the military guards and find an unconscious mermaid washed up onshore. Coated in seaweed and the black crude of the recent oil disaster, she’s barely breathing. As the teens touch her shimmering scales, their senses intensify. Over the next few days, they develop the ability to see a web of connections among events. They gradually understand some rather troubling events within their families, including a father's spiraling descent into alcoholism when his fishing business is ruined by the oil spill. Able to see beyond the immediate, they recognize tendrils reaching out from the past, sources of addiction and violence that occurred long before they were born. When the mermaid awakens, she offers them a chance of redemption.

14 comments:

  1. This is confusing and vague. All you say is that they can see "a web of connections among events" and "troubling events within their families". You don't introduce the main characters. I have no idea how old the MC is or if it's a guy or a girl. And what do you mean by redemption? Maybe start with a character and explain it from their point of view.

    I do like that this is about mermaids and not vampires. I think it will offer a fresh breath of air.

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  2. Well first off, I love mermaids! Good concept esp in light of recent events.
    "As the fires lick the floor of heaven" is really strong!Love it.

    However, the turles burning in the dark while evoking strong imagery also had me going What?!
    Maybe a different sea creature that is trapped by the sea, because when I first read that I thought of the turtles being on land.
    I would also take out "...sneak past the military guards..." and go straight to "find an unconscious mermaid..."

    And to evoke some further mystery I would just say the mermaid's presence seems to intensify their senses...

    Also you say events but only give one example as the father's alcoholism which I think you could just possibly leave out or give another event. I would also put "Now" in front of "...able to see beyond the immediate..." just so it reads more fluid and take out "they recognize tendrils reaching out from the past", kind of redundant and tendrils reads awkward. I would go straight to..."sources of addiction..."

    Hope this helps! Good luck Marilyn!!

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  3. I love the idea of this book! I think it could use some streamlining though, and some reorganization of what's going on within the pitch.

    I'd actually change the title too. Even just leaving it as 'The Summer of Burning Water' would work for me but as it is, it feels long and a little melodramatic.

    Here's a simple reworking of the pitch, broken up into several paragraphs instead of one large one. Just some ideas.

    'As oil-fueled fires lick the floor of heaven, three teens stumble across an unconscious mermaid washed ashore. Smothered in suffocating crude from the recent oil spill she's barely alive. Simply being near her awakens within the teens an ability to see connections in the world around them otherwise hidden from human sight.

    Over the next few days as they care for the mermaid they're forced to look at their own families and the troubling events going on within them. They also find that they're capable of seeing beyond immediate circumstances, into the past, to events occurring before their own births. Events beyond their control. Until the mermaid awakens from her oil-induced coma and offers them a chance at redemption.'

    I'm no expert but hopefully you can glean useful information from my feedback. And I really do find the premise interesting. Keep at it!

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  4. I like the poetic/lyrical sound of the first sentence, but I'm not sure what it means. Is it literal? Are they in the real world, or is this a fantasy world? Also, as has been commented, we can't tell who the main character is/are; saying "three teenagers" makes it sound distant and vague. Perhaps if you said their names, it would feel more personal (tho I know--there are 3 of them, lotsa info).

    I like mermaids too! and it sound like this mermaid is more unusual than what one would usually think, with some sort of powers. I am a little concerned about the mermaid offering them redemption at the end--the main characters need to be the one to solve the dilemmas of the story, so I hope they are involved more than this makes it sound.

    You say: "Over the next few days, they develop the ability to see a web of connections among events. They gradually understand some rather troubling events within their families, including a father's spiraling descent into alcoholism." The first sentence here is pretty general, and the first part of the second one seems to echo the first sentence; perhaps combining these two lines would tighten it. The next line about seeing beyond the immediate doesn't seem to add much info either (still vague/general). The mermaid awakens to offer THEM a chance at redemption?--this sounds like the kids are the ones with the addiction and violence problems. If they are, more specifics and clarification are needed (if not...why isn't the conflict of the novel about them?) Or is their conflict learning to deal with the addictions and violence of other people?

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  5. How in the world have you managed to write this book about the oil spill so fast? Is it coincidental? Either way I love it. As usual I seem to be running against the crowd. I don't really need specific about the characters to understand how this event is reshaping their lives. For me it makes the story all the more intriguing. When you write the mermaid offers them redemption, my interpretation is that the teens get the chance to change the fate of their world by acting on what she tells them. Again I love it, love it, love it. Good luck!

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  6. Okay, hope this feedback is helpful for you...

    The imagery in the first sentence is lovely. HOWEVER, it is confusing and we don't want anyone confused by this query. Since I had no concept ahead of time that this had to do with ocean or mermaid I was thinking - 'heaven? Angels?' and then 'burning turtles?' Whoa. As soon as I got past that I figured it out and said, "OH." But the trouble is that an agent might throw it down before that point. I did like A. Grey's example of "As oil-fueled fires lick the floor of heaven, three teens stumble across an unconscious mermaid washed ashore." Then you can still keep the imagery, but avoid confusion.

    You absolutely DO have to tell us then who the MCs are. It's great that you have such an amazing concept and are bringing in the oil disaster, but concept doesn't sell it on its own. You need a teen that feels like a real teen and I want that to come through in this query.

    Now that we have a name (or two or three), instead of "Over the next few days, they develop the ability to see a web of connections among events." make that a little more concrete. Then: "They gradually understand some rather troubling events within their families..." get to the specifics like the father's trouble and avoid this first part. Now we can find out whose father it is and so on.

    Again, "Able to see beyond the immediate, they recognize tendrils reaching out from the past, sources of addiction and violence that occurred long before they were born." is a beautiful line, but I'm not sure it is necessary. Be specific. And your final line is good, except I would add how this chance at redemption has a consequence for them. What do they stand to lose? That's a very important question and should be very clear.

    Your writing is lovely and I get a clear view of the prose I am in for if I read this book. I love the concept. I just want more clarity on character. Best of luck!

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  7. As fires lick the floor of heaven and turtles burn in the dark of night, (I had to read that a couple times to figure out what you meant.) three teenagers sneak past the military guards and find an unconscious mermaid washed up onshore.

    Coated in seaweed and the black crude of the recent oil disaster, she’s barely breathing. As the teens touch her shimmering scales, their senses intensify. Over the next few days, they develop the ability to see a web of connections among events. (what does that mean?)

    They gradually understand some rather troubling events within their families (what?), including a father's spiraling descent into alcoholism when his fishing business is ruined by the oil spill. (what does this mean? they need extrasensory perception to figure out their dad's an alcoholic? you're getting lost in your words.)

    Able to see beyond the immediate, they recognize tendrils reaching out from the past, (how?) sources of addiction and violence that occurred long before they were born. (what does this mean?) When the mermaid awakens, she offers them a chance of redemption. (what kind of redemption? Redemption from what?)

    I'm not sure what your story is. Kids find a mermaid and get ESP, can see the history of evil or something, and then the mermaid offers them something? What's the conflict and the stakes? And who's the main character? I'd like to attach to one of them.

    That said, the writing is pretty.

    Good luck!

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  8. A lot of people have mentioned that first sentence, which was my main stumbling block in this pitch, so I won't go into it too much. This might be personal opinion, so others may disagree with me. But I have a hard time with extremely poetic language in pitches and queries, because in such a short space I want concrete facts about character, plot, and setting.

    So in the interest of learning more concrete details, I wanted to know more specifics about this. You talk about how these kids develop their abilities but very little about the actual plot of the story. We also don’t get any names. I’m assuming one of them is the main character--why not talk about him or her in the pitch? As it is, it all sounds a bit vague right now, and makes it difficult for me to grab onto anything.

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  9. Thank you so much, everyone! All your suggestions were extremely helpful. I'm going to buckle down right now and begin writing a query letter with much more detail for the later phase of this contest.

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  10. Just wanted to peek in and say thanks for the comments on my entry Marilyn.

    I really like the concept you have going of integrating mermaids with a modern crisis. Really gripping actually.
    I did get a bit lost halfway through. I think there is material you could cut out and replace with more meaningful, plot driven stuff. It sounds like you're on the right road. Good luck with it.

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  11. As fires lick the floor of heaven and turtles burn in the dark of night[[poor turtles]], three teenagers sneak past the military guards and find an unconscious mermaid washed up onshore [[not sure what the first half of the sentence has to do with the second half]].
    Coated in seaweed and the black crude of the recent oil disaster, she’s barely breathing. As the teens touch her shimmering scales, their senses intensify [[I like this!]]
    ((Over the next few days, they develop the ability to see a web of connections among events. They gradually understand some rather troubling events within their families, including a father's spiraling descent into alcoholism when his fishing business is ruined by the oil spill.)) <- a little too vague
    Able to see beyond the immediate, they recognize tendrils reaching out from the past, sources of addiction and violence that occurred long before they were born. [[I like this sentence though ]]
    When the mermaid awakens, she offers them a chance of redemption.

    I like the premise of the tale and the imagery you're trying to evoke. But I feel that the pitch is a little vague and could use some more details (names, ages, any other powers that come with the heightened senses, etc).
    And I'm a little lost at what the burning world has to do with the mystical mermaid and redemption through discovery of their pasts. While the story is interesting, the pitch has to balance intrigue with substance.

    Good luck!

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  12. Overall, this reads somewhat literary and poetic. There's a kind of ethereal quality that leaves a lot of questions--and you don't want a query to have too many questions.

    The very first sentence sounds visually dynamic, but I had no idea what it meant until I read through the query. As I understand it, agents go through queries at warp speed. The unclear, vague nature may have caused them to discontinue before reaching the end.

    Consider a beginning something like this:

    Coated in seaweed and the black crude of the recent oil disaster, a mermaid lies barely breathing...

    At this point, name and provide ages of the teens and that they find her. Be specific and not vague about what happens as result of this discovery. What are the stakes and conflict? What do you mean she offers them redemption?

    "ablity to see a web of connections between events" Do you mean they acquire some sort of super powers?

    You used a "ripped from the headlines" element that's good, but you have to tighten and clarify. All the best with this.

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  13. Thank you so much for all the new critiques. I was delighted to find them here today! As a result of everyone's suggestions, I added a lot more detail about plot and characters in my logline and query.

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  14. I reworked my pitch using everyone's advice. How does this sound?...

    In the dead of night, a deepwater oil rig explodes. Workers fall from the platform, the sky bursts into continuous flame, and the stars are obliterated from view. Military personnel are sent in to keep reporters and neighbors away. By morning, oil coats the sea, fish float on the surface, birds are marinated in black crude and basted in the hot summer sun. Dispersants are dumped into the water, and a mermaid washes up onshore.

    Three local teenagers – Shrimp, Raine and Noah – sneak onto the beach one night. Finding the mermaid facedown in the sand unconscious, they try to roll her over. As the mixture of oil, dispersant and the natural coating on her scales soaks into their fingertips, they experience a heightening of all their senses. Over the next few days, they see and hear things they never noticed before, symptoms of deeply buried family secrets, including the accidental death of a twin. When the mermaid awakens, she offers the teenagers a chance to heal their families and bring the oil company to justice.

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