Friday, February 7, 2014

SVS Alternate 1: REMEMBER, Adult Historical Fiction

I'm very happy to have the opportunity to announce my two alternates. I spent many moments frozen in front of the computer debating on my last three choices and wishing I had a few more spots. Any love you can show to these two entries will be greatly appreciated.

And to help with that I'm providing a CRITIQUE WORKSHOP. Through the month of February, I will run a workshop for those who entered Sun versus Snow and provide feedback to the two alternates by leaving a comment on both of them. Please notice I'm not saying I will post everyone who comments, just as many as I can. Twenty or thirty I can handle, one hundred not so much.

Whether this works will depend totally on you. Obviously the more people who return to leave feedback, the more successful and helpful the workshop will become. You have to give to get, in other words. Please don't drop out after your entry is posted. Stick with the workshop until the end in consideration of those who commented on your entry. If the comments drop off to slim and none, I will end the workshop.

To sum up: Comment on both alternates. Leave your entry's TITLE and AGE CATEGORY (so I can find it) at the end of your comments. Come back and leave feedback for others once the workshop starts. Stick around to the end.

Alternate 1:

Title: REMEMBER
Genre: Adult Fiction/Historical Fiction
Word Count: 75,000

My Main Character is most uncomfortable with:   Katya: The snow was the nail in the coffin of our starving village. I’ve watched it cover more dead bodies than I care to remember. It wasn’t until the warm sun came out and melted the blanket of ignorant bliss that we realized the full devastation. The sun revealed pain and loss, but with it comes the new life of spring and summer, and a new chance of survival.  And, through my great granddaughter Summer, I may finally have a chance at rectifying the wrongs of my past. 
  
*The name Summer is completely coincidental, yet quite appropriate for this contest. 

Query:  When she was only fifteen, nearly everyone Katya loved perished during Stalin’s brutal efforts to decimate her people in order to recreate a new Communist Ukraine.  It was a terrifying time full of suffering and betrayal.  Mothers helplessly watched their children starve, whole families were deported to Siberia, and whispers of cannibalism were more than just rumors.  Katya’s survival is a testament to her strength, but now, in the twilight of her life, the survivor’s guilt she has silently born for decades has come back to haunt her.

Summer never anticipated moving in with her aging great-grandmother right after graduating college, but when Katya’s health begins to fail, caretaking duties fall to the unemployed and unattached Summer.  Their renewed relationship compels the old woman to do something she swore she’d never do: rip open the scars of her youth and tell her deepest secrets.  Hearing this confession awakens something profound in Summer that neither women fully understand, but may be Katya’s only chance at the forgiveness she has spent a lifetime yearning for.  


First 250 Words:  
Ukraine, January 1930
Our descent into complete desolation was designed to be a gradual one. Little by little, the Party picked away at us until we had almost nothing and no idea of how we ended up that way.  It was not that we willingly let them take all of our food or deport our friends and family to Siberia.  But in a way, we did.  We said nothing. Our silence was our acquiescence. Our fear was our motivation. If we spoke up, if we resisted, our fate would be sealed as well as if we had pulled the trigger ourselves.  It was not an easy choice, but self-preservation almost always prevails.

It took me some time to comprehend that truth.  When the Party first really hurt my family, I was young and na├»ve enough to believe I could do something to stop the Communist machine.  My mother had sent my sister and me to bring a basket full of soup and bread to my sick aunt.  The path between our homes was one we had walked so many times before.  This time, we never reached our destination.

When the first shot rang out, the basket slipped from my fingers and spilled to the ground, forgotten as I raced towards my aunt’s house.  My older sister yelled out my name behind me, but it was barely a whisper in my ear.  All I could hear was my cousin Sasha screaming.  

21 comments:

  1. Wow, this sounds like an awesome premise, but your query as it stands right now remains a little vague. I think you can take out "It was a terrifying time full of suffering and betrayal. Mothers helplessly watched their children starve, whole families were deported to Siberia, and whispers of cannibalism were more than just rumors" and put something in that specifically tells us how her story endures during this time. How it reads now is a struggle for everyone, but we're not reading about everyone, we want to know about Katya.

    As for the portion about Summer, what specifically awakens in her from Katya's stories? We need a little more to go on, what are the stakes of her changes? What is Summer like now that is going to change upon Katya's confession? Those are what you need to hook the reader/agent.

    Also, your query is your first intro to an agent/editor. It has to be as active and full of voice as your first 250. It's a sample of your writing style to hook them. So try and strike out passive sentences like "was". For example your first sentence can be tightened..."At fifteen, Katya lost nearly everyone she loved during Stalin’s brutal efforts to decimate her people in order to recreate a new Communist Ukraine."

    Your 250: The story sounds very intriguing. But the start of your story needs to pack more punch. This goes along with what I mentioned about the query, the writing needs tightening. Slice and dice those passive "was" sentences and pull the reader into the story. Your first 250 must captivate and set the tone for the rest of the book. You've got a serious situation going on you're trying to pull your reader into, show us what is going on, pull us in. You want us in the story feeling everything with your MC.

    This sounds like an amazing story and I love the grandmother/grandchild relationship and the sharing of past lives and memories. This could really sing. Just needs some tightening! Good luck to you!!

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  2. Sorry forgot to leave my entry. I'm CLANDESTINE CHAOS_NA SF/F_TEAMSUN #11

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  3. REMEMBER sounds like a great story! I agree with Janet's suggestion on the 1st sentence of your query. Later in the query, you have: ...tell her deepest secrets. Hearing this confession" I could be wrong, but it seems awkward to me switching from the plural "secrets" to singular "confession." I love your last paragraph of your 250, it definitely has me wanting to read more! Good luck!

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  4. Hi, author of REMEMBER! Mentor Sarah Marsh from Team Snow here. And gosh, this story sounds gorgeous!

    Query: You've already been given great advice about the first sentence and about showing the stakes for Summer here. In my opinion, you handled the dual POVs beautifully, having one paragraph from Katya's pov and one from Summer's. My only comment there would be that if the novel is only told from Summer's pov, for instance, you might rethink having your first paragraph focus solely on Katya. One other thing I noticed while reading the query is that I didn't get a strong sense of the setting. Is Katya now living in the US with her great-granddaughter? Or does Summer live in the Ukraine? Also, there's a little grammar to be fixed-- "neither women fully understand" should be "neither woman fully understands." That said, this is such an intriguing setup and I would read on!

    First 250: I agree with the feedback Janet left above about your opening needing to pack more punch, and I think one way to accomplish that might be by starting with the last paragraph of your first 250. Opening with, "When the first shot rang out, the basket slipped..." would be quite powerful and attention-grabbing, and as you take us through this tense memory, you can start to slip in some of the details from your initial two paragraphs. Hope that makes sense!

    Wishing you the best of luck in the query trenches :)

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  5. Hi, I'm Vicki Lemp Weavil, one of the TEAM SNOW mentors.

    I love the concept of your story! I have a few comments that might make your query & first 250 words stand out a bit more:

    Query:
    There is a lot of backstory in the query. I realize that a major aspect of the book is Katya's story, but I think you should play around with making Summer the POV for the query, especially since this is obviously a book told via "remembrances." Also, the query is very wordy and tends to feel like a synopsis.

    I actually believe you could start the query with the SECOND paragraph -- but tighten that up and make it more active. Example:

    HOOK LINE -- Something about Summer and Katya and the sharing of the past. "Summer Lastname never knew that her existence hinged on the courage and tenacity of her great-grandmother Katya -- until she hears the story of Katya's life under Stalin's brutal conquest of the Ukraine. (Okay, that's not very good, but maybe it gives you an idea? Give us a quick snapshot of the essence of the book -- something that will grab the reader and also tell them the key aspect of the novel).

    Then jump into a revised version of your second paragraph, weaving in a bit more info. about Katya than you have now:

    "When recent college grad Summer moves in to care for Katya, their renewed relationship, etc...."

    This part -- I think you want to clarify: "Hearing this confession awakens something profound in Summer that neither women fully understand, but may be Katya’s only chance at the forgiveness she has spent a lifetime yearning for." I understand the stakes for Katya (forgiveness, peace, etc.) but not for Summer. Try to give a more clear picture of how and why Summer resonates with Katya's story so much. Does she need to forgive someone (or many people) as well? What is her conflict or goal? I think we have to care about Summer and sense the stakes for her as well as for Katya, especially since she appears to be a major character.

    I love the idea of the great-grandmother telling her life story to the younger family member, but I don't really have a sense of the major stakes in the book -- will telling the story help Summer as well as Katya? What would NOT telling it mean for both? Is there a desire for vengeance vs forgiveness? Things like that.

    The first 250 Words:

    I agree that this also needs tightening. I would suggest that you consider starting with: "When the first shot rang out..." Now, THAT gets my attention. You can weave some of the necessary background info. into following paragraphs. But the shot, dropping the basket, the girls screaming... THAT's a beginning that grabs the reader and makes them say -- "What is happening? What is going to happen?"

    Consider:

    "When the first shot rang out, the basket slipped from my fingers and spilled to the ground, forgotten as I raced towards my aunt’s house. My older sister yelled out my name behind me, but it was barely a whisper in my ear. All I could hear was my cousin Sasha screaming.

    It wasn't supposed to be like this. It was just another day in my village of ____ in the Ukraine. Even though we shivered beneath the shadow of Stalinist's Communist Party, our descent into complete desolation was a gradual one. Little by little, the Party chiseled away at our lives, until we had nothing and no idea of how we ended up that way. We didn't willingly let them take all of our food or deport our friends and family to Siberia. We simply said nothing. If we spoke up, if we resisted, our fate would be sealed as if we had pulled the trigger ourselves.

    On the day the shots rang out, my mother had sent my sister and me with a basket full of soup and bread for my sick aunt. The path between our homes was one we had walked so many times before. This time, we never reached our destination."

    Just some ideas. I hope they help. Good luck with future querying and your entire publication journey!

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  6. I am definitely definitely intrigued! I would love to read about this particular point in history. As the query stands now, I wanted to know how the story would be presented to me. I get that it's going to be told in a series of flashbacks, but I might play around with introducing Summer and then Katya, since the "present" of the story is the framework. I love your opening. It's pretty clear from both the query and your opening that you can really write. I don't have any advice on the opening, although I definitely say I want to read more! Yay!

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  7. I'm with everyone else - this sounds wonderful.
    I agree with all the other thoughts re: tightening and strengthening the query, and perhaps these small things might disappear as you rework. For what it's worth, though, these were the questions as I read the query: Katya' has lived with survivor's guilt all her life -- so it can't come back to haunt her, no? It haunts her still?
    In the second paragraph, you use Summers name twice in the same sentence - a bit awkward. Maybe as you incorporate other suggestions this will go away - Vicki Weavil had a great fix for that.Also - you refer to a renewed relationship, but we don't get the idea that they erver had one, so maybe a quick extra few words to establish that. Not everyone is lucky enough to spend a lot of time with great grandparents, so it's not a foregone conclusion that they Lived together? Spent summers?
    First 250: LOVE it. I echo the other suggestions in that you could start with the first shot ringing out - very powerful. But also powerful is your line about "silence was our acquiescence, fear a motivator" etc. Maybe a way to work that in later?
    Good luck!

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  8. Sorry, didn't add my info. My entry to #sunvssnow was called EXQUISITE SENSES.

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    Replies
    1. EXQUISITE SENSES
      YA Speculative/Thriller

      Delete
  9. A great tease of things to come, but we need specifics for the query. Don't hold back. Don't give the end, but build it up. Katya wanted to go to her grave with her secrets with what happened during the Stalin era in the concentration camp she suffered for five years (?? i'm making stuff up here), but when her great grand daughter butts into her life and constantly probes (or whatever it is she does) then Katya decides what? (her great grand daughter is too spoiled? what exactly? why break and tell?) and why? Because she finally concludes some secrets shouldn't go to her grave after all?

    When she was only fifteen, nearly everyone Katya loved perished during Stalin’s brutal efforts to decimate [[her people--DO HER PEOPLE HAVE A NAME? in order to recreate a new Communist Ukraine. [[It was a terrifying time full of suffering and betrayal.--YOUR FIRST SENTENCE TELLS US PEOPLE DIED. THIS SENTENCE DOESN'T ADVANCE THE PLOT. [[[Mothers helplessly watched their children starve, whole families were deported to Siberia, and whispers of cannibalism were more than just rumors.---IF YOU WANT THE CANNIBALISM MENTIONED, DO IT WHEN TAKING DIRECTLY ABOUT KATYA'S FAMILY. NOT TO SOUND HARSH BUT THESE 'MOTHERS' AREN'T THE MAIN CHARACTER OF YOUR BOOK. WE WANT *PLOT* INFO. Katya’s survival [[WE NEED TO KNOW HOW LONG SHE SUFFERED THE CAMPS/EXILE/WHATEVER IT IS SHE HAD TO ENDURE.is a testament to her strength, but now, in the twilight of her life--I WANT AN EXACT AGE. NOW AT 70/80? 90?, the survivor’s guilt she has silently born for decades has come back to haunt her IN WHAT WAY?.

    Summer never anticipated moving (WHAT *DID* SHE LOSE? TELL US. SUMMER HOPED TO DIVE INTO HER DREAM LAW FIRM JOB (WHAT? LET US KNOW THE *TRUE*/*REAL* SACRIFICE. AND WHY IS IT HER? AND NOT HER MOTHER OR HER COUSIN'S MOTHER? WHY SUMMER? in with her aging great-grandmother right after graduating college, but when Katya’s health begins to fail, caretaking duties fall to the unemployed and unattached Summer. WHY? WHAT'S THE YEAR? Their renewed relationship compels the old woman to do something she swore she’d never do: rip open the scars of her youth and tell her deepest secrets. Hearing this confession awakens something profound in Summer that neither women--WOMAN?? fully understand[[INSERT S]]], but may be Katya’s only chance at the forgiveness (FOR WHAT?) she has spent a lifetime yearning for.

    Good luck with this!

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  10. Hi: This is Marty, I’m Team Snow #12.

    Like Janet said above, Wow! I know this is a story I'd enjoy reading. Others have given you great ideas to tighten up your writing, so I won’t go there.

    For your first 250: I think the backstory should wait until we’ve gotten to know who the MC is, even a tiny bit. I suggest you start with these 2 lines:

    “My mother had sent my sister and me to bring a basket full of soup and bread to my sick aunt. The path between our homes was one we had walked (I suggest removing the “had” in both sentences) so many times before.”

    I think you should leave off the foreshadowing third line, only because it’s better to show us this than tell us, and if you tell us what happens, you deflate the impact of what’s coming next.

    Then jump right into your third paragraph: “When the first shot rang out, the basket slipped from my fingers and spilled to the ground, forgotten as I raced towards my aunt’s house. My older sister yelled out my name behind me, but it was barely a whisper in my ear. All I could hear was my cousin Sasha screaming.” If you started your book this way, you’ve have me turning the page!

    It would be easy enough to weave some of the information for why she’s scared as it applies.

    For your query: Janet and the other critiques nailed this as well: Write this from Katya’s perspective, with her voice and emotion, and the reader won’t be able to resist following her story. You could rewrite the first paragraph from Katya, and the second from Summer’s pov, to show the reader that your story is told in memories, flitting from the past to the present.

    All the best with this!

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  11. I love books with two voices and two stories that weave together so really like the sound of this. I agree with Janet about wanting Katya's story, not the nation's - any neccessary historical context can be added in to her storyline. Best wishes
    Gina

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  12. Hello author of REMEMBER! I'm one of the mentors and hope to help a little with getting your awesome story and pages query ready!

    Here are my notes in parenthesis for your

    QUERY:
    When she was only fifteen, nearly everyone Katya loved perished during Stalin’s brutal efforts to decimate her people in order to recreate a new Communist Ukraine. (Who is the MC? Is this a dual POV story? Since your first paragraph introduces Katya, and the second intros Summer--I would make sure you make it clear that the POVs will be alternating, and if it's Summer's POV--start with her in the query. The way you have the query set up and the pages makes it a little confusing. Hope that makes sense!)
    It was a terrifying time full of suffering and betrayal. Mothers helplessly watched their children starve, whole families were deported to Siberia, and whispers of cannibalism were more than just rumors. Katya’s survival is a testament to her strength, but now, in the twilight of her life, the survivor’s guilt she has silently born for decades has come back to haunt her. (These are pretty words, but I would tighten it into one sentence that you use after introducing Katya as Summer's grandmother.)

    Summer never anticipated moving in with her aging great-grandmother right after graduating college, but when Katya’s health begins to fail, caretaking duties fall to the unemployed and unattached Summer. (What was Summer's life like--where was she heading until her plans were thwarted? this might be a better starting point for your query) Their renewed relationship compels the old woman to do something she swore she’d never do: rip open the scars of her youth and tell her deepest secrets. Hearing this confession awakens something profound in Summer that neither women fully understand, but may be Katya’s only chance at the forgiveness she has spent a lifetime yearning for.

    So, I love that this story is about Summer and her grandmother but I'm also very intrigued by what else is going on for both of them. If it's more than Summer listening to her grandmother's story, I think you should weave that into your query as well in order to show a parallel to how the story affects them in the present and how their new relationship will affect their lives. As in, does Summer have anything else going on once she gets to her grandmother's--a break up, parent issues, other relationships, future plans? How will this affect the grandmother's relationships in her last days?

    FIRST 250:

    I think your words here are great and that you can use the other mentors' crits to help with those BUT, this is just my opinion, I think you should start with present day and Summer's life. Maybe her on her way to her grandma's or her getting the call to go. that way you are introducing us to a main character and then we can meet the grandmother as learn about her in a more organic way than everything being told to us right off the bat. I hope this makes sense.

    You have a beautiful story and I will be rooting for you! Please keep us posted--wish you the best of luck on this!

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  13. Wow! This sounds like a wonderful book! I am curious to see what happens next. Best of luck with this!

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  14. Hi, author of REMEMBER! This is the author of Team Snow #10, here, trying to pay forward (since I cannot really pay back) the awesome feedback I got during the contest. Hope some of this is of use!

    Query: I think your premise is great--intriguing and with the potential to be super powerful. I don't think your query is yet doing it justice. I feel like I want to know a little bit more about whose story it really is--Summer's, Katya's, or is it truly both of theirs? Right now, I feel like the query offers just a taste of both of them, but not quite enough for me to really connect with either of them. It's hard for me to judge from the query whether the story is primarily Katya's--and the stakes involve her coming to terms with her past and being at peace with herself--or if Summer stands to gain/lose something from her relationship with her great-grandmother and hearing the truth about her past. If it's mostly Katya's stories, and Summer is only there as a vehicle for Katya's growth, I would like to see a bit more on Katya and less on Summer. If there is a present-day storyline that's occurring, and Summer has some stake in what's happening, I'd like to know exactly what she faces. It's hinted that she faces something (as you say something in Summer is awakened by her great-grandmother's stories), but I think this would be much stronger if you gave more specifics about exactly how Summer is changed by the experience.

    First 250: Honestly, I think others have already given great advice here, and I don't think I have much to add. I was fine with where you chose to start, but I do see how it might be stronger--more of a hook--to start with the gunshot.

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  15. I really can't find anything to change in the query or 250. The impression I get is that this is more Katya's story. And I can feel the pain and suffering she went through in your sentences. Best of luck and I hope this book is published soon!

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  16. You've received wonderful feedback. I love historical fiction and your query drew me in. I think if you left out the second sentence in the first paragraph it wouldn't sound so much like a history lesson coming from the narrator rather than the voice of Summer.

    I agree with whoever said to start with the shot! Such a dramatic scene. You can filter in the back story after you bring in the tension of what is happening on the way to the aunt's house.

    Good luck. I will read this in a heartbeat when it gets published.

    Barbara - Amanda Hardy's Tea Party. MG Historical Fiction

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  17. Crap! Sorry, I never posted my comment here. I hate iPhones sometimes. Let's try this again... (btw I am the author of YA Fantasy Ragnor's Bane...)

    I really liked this story. As somebody with a Polish background, I was really curious to know more about this period and got really excited when I read this entry.

    So of course now all the good stuff has already been said, so let me see if there is anything to add.

    Your query was definitely too much history - and hey, I like history, but I want to know about Summer and Katya. (As the others have noted.)

    Martha's way of rewriting the 250 is brilliant. My original comment had suggested something to that effect - starting with action. I'm really guilty of wanting to have some back story as well, or to start not directly with the character, but it's not usually a good decision.

    However, my only warning with this is that I had no idea Summer was a main character with the 250 words as they are now. If Summer is, in fact, our MC, you need to start with her and not with Katya. If you're doing one of those every other chapter POV things, that's fine, but if Summer is the one you want us to care about more, you MUST start with her.

    I will be honest I didn't even realize she was that important until my second reading of your query. Is she just a reader? Is there anything that will change in her life because of Katya's story? If not, don't take this the wrong way, but why even have her in it? Show me impact in your query and your 250 words. What is the connecting thread of their relationship? Show me. We readers want to know. :)

    Anyway, I definitely want to read this story when it's published! I'll keep an eye out for you on all bookshelves, haha!

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  18. Hi!

    I like to critique before reading anyone else's comments (so that no one sways me), so I apologize if anything I say has been said before.


    Query:
    The first sentence of the query is very wordy. I expected a period or semicolon about halfway through. Can this be more concise or separated into two parts?

    The first sentence of the second paragraph is confusing. I felt lost with the sudden switch from Katya to Summer because there was no transition. Can this be worded in a way that makes each character's situation clearer?

    In the last sentence: "neither" is a singular term, thus it should be "that neither woman fully understands"

    I get the impression from the query and genre that this story switches back and forth between the past and present. I think that's a great way to immerse the reader in history while simultaneously connecting to them through the present.

    First 250:
    I love the first sentence! You definitely have my attention from the start.

    Minor note in the last paragraph: "toward" is preferred over "towards" in American English (and it gives the prose a crisper feel)

    I realize the general rule is that a manuscript should start with action instead of telling. But I must say, I think you've broken that rule beautifully. I love how I already feel immersed in your story with the way you’ve set the scene. The image of the basket spilling out on the ground is almost poetic. You haven’t even described what anything looks like but somehow I can picture it perfectly (and for some reason the color red shows up a lot! Perhaps because of the gun shot?).

    Conclusion:
    I’m a little worried about the strength of your query, but I love your writing in the first 250 and I would definitely keep reading for that reason alone.

    Best of luck,
    Heather (LOVE IS FAKE, YOU KNOW)

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  19. I love the compelling gravitas with which you invest both the query and the first 250!

    I think in the query, I would love to hear a little less about the historical context (some is definitely great) and more about Katya and Summer. Maybe you could reframe the general historical background details to be specific to what Katya and her family went through, with the implication of how this fit into the broader picture. I also would love a little more about Summer -- the query seems to imply that she's very important to the story, but as is, I don't get a great feel for her in the query -- unemployed and just done with college makes her a blank slate. I want some sense of who she is, so she's not just a receptacle for the far more vivid drama of her grandmother's story.

    For the first 250, I also have mixed feelings about the general opening talking about the Party picking away slowly at Katya's family in broad terms. On the one hand, the writing is strong, and it does get across the slow slide very clearly. On the other hand, it might give me a more immediate connection if you threw in some details that were specific to Katya and her family in that general description -- maybe just a couple phrases giving specific-to-her-experience examples, like specific people they deported or some detail about taking the food instead of just all of it, etc.

    Basically, the more sharply you can draw the personal pain of the characters, the more closely I'll identify with them! And I definitely want to know a little more about Summer.

    This looks like a really moving and well-written story! Good luck with it!

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