Monday, February 16, 2015

Sun vs. Snow Critique Blog Hop

Michelle Hauck and Amy Trueblood  are hosting a Sun vs. Snow Critique Blog Hop for anyone interested in polishing their  pitch and first page for upcoming contests. Since my pitch is not stellar and I entered my query and first page into Pitch Plus One, I thought getting some feedback on the first page would be a great way to polish it in case I get into the next round (and for querying next month).

To play along, make a post on your blog with your 35 word pitch and first 250 words, and then go to this link to put a link to your post for the other entrants. Everyone will crit five entries before and five entries after their own post. For more info, go to Amy's site or Michelle's site. So here's my pitch and first page, slightly tweaked since posting:

MG contemporary
41,000 words


With her beer-guzzling dad in work release, a shy tween can finally socialize; his return pits her desire for friends against her fear of humiliation. 

Revised Pitch:

With her embarrassing alcoholic father in jail, a shy tween can finally socialize, but when he returns claiming he’s sober, she must decide whether to trust him or revert to her safe hermit status.


     I slouch in my seat, avoiding Mr. Henderson’s eyes as though that will make me invisible. Today he is cheerful and chirpy and enjoying himself way too much. He leans on a corner of his desk in front of the class, randomly assigning partners for our oral history reports.

     “Sam Flores, your partner is—” His broad chest expands in a dramatic pause while the round white clock on the wall behind him ticks away the seconds.

      The suspense holds my lungs hostage. My fingers clench the edge of my chair hard enough to hurt. Sam is a good student, but so cute he’d make my tongue trip me into a huge puddle of embarrassment.

     Mr. Henderson calls on someone else. My deep sigh is part relief, part disappointment.

     Someone who likes to talk would be a good partner—the more my partner says, the less I’ll need to say. Maybe no one would notice my nerves turning me to stone.

     “Serena O’Hara, you and Katie Bell will work on women of the Revolutionary War.”

      Katie’s blue eyes radiate satisfaction, as though we got the best topic. I should be happy to get someone so smart. But she’ll want to spend hours making sure we are way over-prepared. Katie also moved into my neighborhood over the summer. What if she expects to meet outside of school? For a second my heart 
clenches, ready to bolt. We can’t. Not at my house.

     I take a deep breath. Relax. We can always meet at the library, or something.

Questions: Does the reworked pitch show more that my MC is afraid her dad will embarrass her in front of others so when he's gone she'll make some friends, but when he gets back, she'll feel pressured to withdraw from them to avoid giving him the chance to embarrass her? Does this page show that my MC is shy and nervous about attracting attention?


  1. As a shy girl I can really relate to this. I still love people who talk a lot so I don't have to. You have some great lines like "The suspense holds my lungs hostage". Nice work.

    1. The pitch is full of good information. I didn't hear the stakes clearly though. you might need more than 'pitts her desire for a social life against humiliation'. Even if its something like her mind or heart staying in-tact. I wondered in the first 250 if your MC really is shy or if she's just hiding? If she doesn't want people around because of her dad, she might not describe herself as shy. She might think she's the life of the party if only her drunken father hadn't resigned her to life in the shadows to make sure his bad habits didn't suffer for her sake. Just a thought. The suspense is good and the description of her feelings for the guy are awesome. Good Job.

    2. Thanks for your comments, Jenny and Traci. My MC really is shy, made more introverted by the shame she feels about her dad.

  2. For the pitch, just a couple of nitpicky suggestions:

    With her beer-guzzling dad in work release, [a] shy tween risks joining the crowd[. H]is return pits her desire for a social life against her fear of humiliation.

    First 250 reads really well and I agree you have some great turns of phrase. Ends at just the right juncture, too! In one or two places I wanted more specific detail (Sam is cute - can you define this more concretely in a few words? Can she see him from where she's sitting? Is she pointedly not looking at him? Katie's eyes light up - a bit of a cliché, is there some other body language that might convey the same sentiment? Sitting up straighter, beaming...?) A couple of other details didn't quite follow from their surroundings and seemed misplaced (Mr. Henderson's bodybuilder chest - evocative, but not sure it goes together with the pause; maybe move to the first paragraph, have him fold his arms over it or something? Katie moving into her neighbourhood over the summer seems unrelated to the other thoughts in the paragraph). A couple other minor points that jumped out at me: Sam needs a topic too; repetition between "deep sigh" and "deep breath" - maybe rephrase one of them.

    Hope this is helpful!

    1. Amelinda,

      You made some great points for polishing my excerpt. I've tweaked it already! Thanks for your attention to details.

  3. Thanks for sharing this with me! I hope my comments are useful. Let me know if you have any questions. Leave a comment on my blog:

    Pitch: So, why would she (BTW what’s her name?) risk joining the crowd right when her dad gets released? I can’t easily infer a motivation, so you might consider directly stating one. Is her desire for a social life new? Why? I think you might want to be clearer about the obstacles your MC will face.

    First 250:
    - Really feeling the first paragraph 
    - I’m a little thrown by the MC noticing her teacher’s “bodybuilder chest”...
    - “Someone who likes to talk would be a good partner”—on first reading, I was assuming she meant “a - good partner [for Sam.]” I’m not sure how you would clarify, but…
    - Why are her nerves turning her to stone?
    - By the time we get to Katie, I’m left wondering why the whole moment with Sam Flores was even mentioned.
    - The conflict with Katie—the whole meeting at the MC’s house thing—is really relatable, but isn’t it also easily surmountable as far as obstacles go? Can’t the MC just suggest they meet at Katie’s house? Then that’s more or less what the MC thinks in the last line and the conflict in these first 250 feels like a little bit of false suspense. Hmm…
    - Also, if she’s so shy and introverted (as the first 250 convince the reader so well), what on earth would ever make her want to join the crowd, especially if her father possibly humiliating her complicates the risk even more. It sounds like good conflict, but without clear motivation and stakes on your MC’s part, I’m not sure I believe it.
    - Despite that, I like the MC already—and I’ve barely glimpsed her. So, that’s awesome!

    1. Thanks for your comments. I'm glad you picked up on the introversion of my MC. I hope my tweaked pitch makes more sense-she's not wanting to join the crowd so much as make a few friends while Dad is gone, but he does return, deepening her dilemma.

  4. I enjoyed the pitch and first 250. I agree with others in saying that the obstacle Dad presents to her social life could be stated more clearly, more specifically. Loved the first 250 because Serena is so relatable, and we get a good sense of her thoughts and feelings already. You do have some fantastic turns of phrase there, too. Best of luck with this! :)

  5. Thanks, Lora, for your encouraging comments!

  6. Hi Melissa! Thanks for letting me read you work! I love MG!!!

    I don't really have anything to add. The tone and voice are excellent. You did a good job of putting us in the scene and with a lot of feeling. Such a hard age!

    I am #40 if you would like to give me your thoughts.

  7. This story is sweet and Serena is very relatable. From the first page, I got that she's shy, but if her dad is the only reason she doesn't make friends, maybe she should be more enthusiastic about getting a her longing for making friends.

    Also, I didn't learn her name until the very end. Is there a way to introduce more of Serena early, age, clothes, etc? Kids like to know right away who they're supposed to be rooting for. Maybe she gets assigned to Sam first, then the teacher changes his mind and re-assigns her to Katie?

  8. #48 here!

    Pitch: I'm not sure what "work release" is. And to answer your concern, I don't connect her fear humiliation with her dad.

    250: I like your start, but it's not particularly grabby to me. Her emotion comes in waves, first the suspense at Sam Flores and then her fear about meeting at her house. That makes me give those two things equal weight in my mind, which is probably not what you're going for, since this fear of her dad humiliating her is messing up her life. What happens after this 250? Does she continue her day as usual or does she expand more about the fear?

    Since her fear of avoiding home is your hook, I wonder if you should start there immediately? The fear of assigning partners in class is a common place to start (I started my last book with it, hah!), so you need your hook (or voice, or character) immediately to set your story apart from others. Maybe start with Katie and her working on the assignment, and asking if she can go to her house, and Serena freaking out about it?

  9. Pitch: I can relate to the scenario you've pictured.
    I would qualify beer-guzzling with something else, as sometimes alcoholics are very social. Maybe "embarrassing" or some synonym of impaired maybe. I suggest socialize is too formal-maybe "she can finally be herself" and the same for humiliation-maybe "not have to hide."
    First 250 (Version 2):
    I love the classroom scenario.
    Perhaps her goal can be clarified if Katie turns to her and says, "OK, so were meeting at your house Saturday." Something very pointed and bossy like that to make Serena squirm. And maybe she has no choice but to say yes (or she panics and says yes-because she does want to have a friend)and then she thinks," Am I really about to have my first friend over?" Show she's really scared but hopeful too. And that closes out the scene. Then we really know what Serena wants and what the conflict will be.
    I love the premise! Good luck with it!

  10. Thanks Angela, Dianna, Karrie, and Shauna for your comments. I will post a revised pitch to see if whether I can make it more clear.

  11. Trying this again with Google instead of Wordpress...My comment from 2 days ago was never posted :( I'll try to recreate my thoughts from the first read-through.
    -It's not completely clear how her dad affects her social life so much. Is there a way to make this clearer? Maybe specify how she has to take care of him, or if he has an anger problem, etc.
    -Love "beer-guzzling"
    Revised Pitch:
    -It's not completely clear why not trusting him means she returns to a hermit status. I personally liked "beer-guzzling" better.
    -After reading your comment at the bottom of your post, I feel like being worried about her dad embarrassing could be made stronger. Is there another way to frame it so that the stakes seem bigger?
    First 250:
    -On my second read, I immediately remembered Sam, loving him the first time, and wanting to see more. The fact that his name stuck with me after a few days shows the great impression your first 250 made on me!
    -Nothing but love for your first 250. Love "eyes radiate satisfaction"+ "suspense holds my lungs hostage."
    -Your characters are so alive after just a few words. I'm so fascinated by Sam and want to know more about him and see more between him and and your MC. Your MC's shyness is so clear, yet she's very interesting and layered.

  12. Woohoo! Google worked! I'm #46 at
    Best of luck, Melissa!