Monday, June 1, 2015

QK Round 1: FORGET YOU, STALIN versus FIGHTING THE SOUTH

Entry Nickname: Forget YouStalin, We're Outta Here
Title: Night Witch
Word Count: 115,000
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction

Query:

Nadya’s whole existence is engineered to deceive. Her Motherland itself, the Soviet Union of Stalin’s era, is misery disguised as a means to glory. Her marriage to Party functionary Peter was born of blackmail. Even her studies in aerial navigation, as seriously as she takes them, serve only to occupy her time with something interesting. No one would dare wage war on the mighty Soviets.

In June of 1941, the illusion is blown wide open. The Nazi war machine quickly swallows up vast areas of land and millions of men, including Nadya’s beloved brother. Nadya does not stand passively by, weeping and watching her entire world crumble. Instead, she puts her studies to use and joins the elite “Night Witches”, an air regiment made up almost entirely of women, as a navigator. For the next four years, coping with loss after devastating loss, two things keep her alive: her skills in the air, and her love for Nikolai, factory worker turned front-line soldier, whom she met before the war began.

But freedom, too, is an illusion. After Nadya discovers some heinous truths about her husband, she flees for her life, with Nikolai. In a nation so oppressed by paranoia, the Leader’s death is not enough to promise the freedom these hardened war veterans seek. Nadya is under no illusions about what it will take to earn it, and she prepares herself to turn her back on the Motherland that betrayed her, after she so bravely defended it.   

First 250 Words

Moscow, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. September 1940

The tall man with the shock of sandy hair apologized for stepping on my foot, when it really hadn’t been more than a bumping of toes. I smiled and assured him it was all right, and took a seat on the metro across from him. It had been a very good day. At Osoaviachim, the flight navigation training school, I’d done very well on an exam, earning an unsmiling but appreciative nod from the hard-faced instructor. These good days, full of accomplishment and progress, were typical since I was accepted to Osoaviachim.

So it happened that a little grin remained as I caught the eye of the sandy-haired man again. When he returned my smile, I noticed his eyes. Bright, gemlike blue, with corners that crinkled upward at me. My own smile broadened. Something in my chest tightened. My heart sped up. I held his gaze for a moment before looking away and trying not to fidget my fingers.

The train slowed; he stood. “I hope I didn’t injure your foot too badly.” His voice was deep, masculine, smooth as silk. A Don Juan, I thought, but not a contemptible one.

“Not at all, Comrade.” I was very much enjoying flirting ever so benignly with this man, looking at him askance and allowing the corners of my mouth to curve up.

His blue, blue eyes sparked. “Have a pleasant evening.”
       
I watched his back as the train moved off, until I couldn’t see him any more.


VERSUS

Entry NicknameFighting the South
Title: The First in the Sun
Word count: 72K
Genre: Realistic YA
 Query:  
Two teen girls, separated by more than forty years and decades of racism, learn how intoxicating first love can be—and how dangerous, especially when that new romance is an interracial relationship in Mississippi.  
In 1995, Morgan’s father leaves her family, and she deals in the best way she knows how: binge drinking and cutting. But when Miss Eugenia, Morgan’s elderly neighbor and long-time family friend, takes her to the local theatre to keep her out of trouble, Morgan meets Sam, a popular guy from the richest school in Jackson. As their chemistry heats up, Morgan’s friends bully her for dating someone who is black, and she finds unexpected comfort in Miss Eugenia when she reveals her own teenage interracial romance. While Morgan is still trying to rebuild after her dad’s abandonment, the hostility towards her and Sam grows, culminating in a brutal attack.  
In 1952, seventeen-year-old Genie, the young Miss Eugenia, has it all. With a mayor for a father, she’s part of Jackson’s elite, and nothing is off-limits. That is, nothing except the freedom to make decisions without her controlling mother. But when Genie falls in love with Terry, the son of her family’s help, their relationship shows her that not only do her parents control her choices, but so does a society that disapproves of black and white people being friends, much less dating. As the two secretly meet at night, they plot to escape Mississippi, and they are close to leaving when the unexpected happens—Genie is pregnant. When their actions are revealed, Genie must choose between her parents or Terry and their newborn child. 
First 250 words: 
When the back door hit its frame with the tenderness of a rifle shot, Morgan catapulted up from the floor. The room was spinning, and her mouth was dry. Her head felt like a guitar had been smashed over it. She regretted every sip, gulp, and chug of the cheap vodka and orange juice she drank last night to celebrate Sarah’s sixteenth birthday.  
“Hon, you still here?” her mom yelled from the kitchen. 
Morgan glanced at her watch. 7:29 
Shit. 
Her mom knocked on the door. 
“Just a second,” Morgan said, lifting her hand over her mouth to see if she reeked of alcohol. 
She launched over to the mirror, its frame still decorated with My Little Pony and Fraggle Rock stickers placed there a million years ago.  She attacked the smears of mascara under her eyes with a tissue and sprayed herself with Calvin Klein’s “One” six or seven times.  
Her mom couldn’t bust her for sneaking out. She’d lose her only chance to get enrolled in the acting classes at the swanky local theatre. After she’d begged to attend for months, her mom offered a deal: If Morgan would stop sneaking out to drink, especially with the hot older guys Jason and Billy, and would stop cutting her skin with a razor, then she could take the lessons.  
After she took real acting classes, not just the ones at her high school, Morgan knew she’d be discovered somehow and land on Broadway. 
When her mom knocked again, Morgan took a deep breath and opened the door.

23 comments:

  1. This space reserved for judge feedback and votes. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Forget You, Stalin, We're Outta Here

      [word count might be considered a bit high for a debut novel]

      Query:
      I really like this opening phrase “engineered to deceive” but I’m not sure the items that follow necessarily qualify as “deceptions.” My two main comments would be: 1) I think if Nikolai plays a major role in the story then he should play a more prominent part in the query (as it stands, he’s sort of dropped in out of nowhere towards the end); 2) the stakes and hook need to be more specific. Lines like “is under no illusions about what it will take to earn it” are too cliché and generic to really catch the reader’s attention. What exactly will it take to earn it? Tell the reader that, as explicitly as possible. In a query, the unique details of your story are your greatest asset.

      First 250 Words:
      I had to read the first paragraph several times in order to take in all the information. We go from the bumping to mention of the flight school to how she did on an exam to the reaction from her instructor to what kind of days she’s been having. It’s a lot to cram into only 92 words. The reader doesn’t have to know everything about her at once. The rest, I thought, was very nice writing. It flowed well, was playful. Bring that tone and pacing up into the beginning and it will start much stronger IMO.


      Fighting the South

      Query:
      I really like this premise and can see a lot of strengths in what the book intends to do (that is, by intertwining two similar stories). Having said that, the way they’re presented here feels very much like two separate stories, though perhaps this is indeed the best/only way to make them clear. That being the case, however, I have to say that the second one grabbed my attention far more than the first; both the stakes and the hook were much stronger (in fact, there really isn’t a hook presented in the first one, just the indication of an attack). Also, in the first story, is the main issue her relationship with her father or her relationship with her boyfriend? Both can be part of the story, but probably only one should be the focus of the query (obviously the boyfriend).

      First 250 Words:
      The first half drew me in and felt very immediate, but the second half slips into a lot of “telling” and the reader gets deluged with details, names, etc. It’s enough in this first page that we know that she’s hungover and that she doesn’t want to get caught. The other details can come out more slowly, giving the narrative time to breath. Right now it feels rushed.

      *****

      Wow, another hard choice. I spent a lot of time pondering this decision. Both have interesting premise and strong writing (in places). At the same time, both are suffering a bit from unclear query details (IMO) and too much information crammed into the first page (in places). But if I had to base my choice on which one I’d pick up to read right now (mostly based on voice), it would be VICTORY TO FORGET YOU, STALIN, WE'RE OUTTA HERE!

      Delete
    2. Forget You, Stalin, We're Outta Here

      My first note is on your word count. It's a little on the high side.

      Query: I love the opening line, but don't really understand how it relates to the rest of the paragraph. I'm also curious what kind of blackmail we're talking about here. I think the second paragraph really picks up nicely, but the first one is bogged down. I also get the sense that Nikolai is going to play an important role in the story. That being said, his mention is very brief in the second paragraph. Overall I'm not really sure what the hook is, and the stakes are vague. Does your book focus more on the war? Is it more about her relationship? What is she really trying to accomplish?

      250: The first paragraph seems to jump around a little, from the man to the flight school, and then back in the next paragraph. Generally, the writing was decent, but it felt lacking in voice and at times felt stiff. There wasn't really anything that drew me in, and made me want to read more. I think that a married woman flirting with a man who is not her husband in the opening did make me curious about the character, but I think there might be a better opening that could make this entry stronger.

      *****

      Fighting the South

      Query: I'm not a big fan of the opening sentence here. I'd much rather see you jump right into the meat of the story than tell me about the theme. Overall, I'm really intrigued by the story, but I'm wondering if there's a way that you can interweave the two storylines a little better. I'm especially interested in Eugenia's story, and I think there may be something you can do to amp up the stakes and the interest in Morgan's. However, I think you need to clarify the stakes on Eugenia's story. I'm not sure why her being pregnant would influence whether or not they leave together. Unless they're concerned about supporting and raising a child? My only other thought here is whether you might take the last sentence of Morgan's paragraph, and add a wrap-up paragraph at the end starting with that, and letting us know what the ultimate stakes are for the story in the present. (Depending on your story structure).

      250: Really like the opening sentence here, but the second sentence slips into passive rather than active (The room spun, and her mouth ran dry.) I think there's a little too much info dump about her acting classes, the theatre, older guys, cutting, etc. (Also, I'm wondering if her Mom's deal is a bit of an under-reaction to her cutting problem?) My suggestion would be to save some of that stuff for later and let us get a little more into the story before you give us all of that.

      *****

      This was definitely a tough one for me, but VICTORY TO FIGHTING THE SOUTH.

      Delete
    3. Princess of LlamasJune 2, 2015 at 2:12 AM

      FORGET YOU STALIN: I think this query serves its purpose of letting us know Nadya, though it can be cleaner. Instead of “Nadya does not stand passively by” consider stronger language, “Nadya refuses to watch her world crumble. She becomes a navigator for the “Night Witches,” an elite air regiment . . .” Also, the conflict is a bit vague. Instead of turning her back on Motherland or “no illusions about what it will take to earn it,” it would help to define what it will take to earn her freedom. What exactly does Nadya have to do and what is the risk if she fails/gets caught?

      I like the 250. I’d suggest reading through to omit unnecessary words and being repetitive. There’s a lot of smiling and curving of facial features.

      FIGHTING THE SOUTH: For the query, I’d get rid of the first paragraph. It reads as a thesis sentence, not a strong hook. As for the rest, I understand you have to get into both stories, but I’m not sure this is the best way to do it. You point out in Morgan’s part that their lives intersect. Perhaps you could stop that paragraph at “. . . finds unexpected comfort in Miss Eugenia.” and then go into Genie’s story, “Turns out Miss Eugenia faced her own fight over thirty-three years earlier . . .” Granted, this needs work, but I hope you see where I’m going. Overall, I think if you can find a way to blend the stories together, your query will be stronger.

      For the first 250, I think you start in a good place. We get a sense of Morgan, and it’s written well. The only thing that tripped me up is a nit-pick. If she reeks of alcohol, she’d know it. She wouldn’t have to test her breath. What she’s looking for is any lingering effect/hint of odor, which to me is inconsistent with “reeked.”

      So once again, this is tough. Two original concepts, two great 250s . . . but I think one’s query is a bit further along, and for that reason, victory to FORGET YOU STALIN.

      Delete
    4. Forget You, Stalin: This sounds like a really fascinating story, and the little I know of the Night Witches mean I’d love to read a book about them. I think your query is a little overlong and could be made a bit smoother and punchier, though. The first line made me think your MC was going to be a spy, but then there isn’t anything like that. The final paragraph took me a couple of readings to understand and could be clarified and made pithier – tell us exactly what she has to do to win her freedom. It’s also all just a little dry – could we get a bit more of your MC’s personality in there? Because it sounds like she’s pretty kickass, I’d love more of her voice.

      First page: This is a nicely written, clear first page, but it’s more about the man than your MC. It’s confusing to start your first sentence with ‘The tall man with the shock of sandy hair...’ because I expect him to be the protagonist then am thrown when he’s not. I’d consider opening with a paragraph or two about your MC and her thinking about her flight school and herself or the world etc, before going onto her meeting this man. It’s also a touch dry, I’d quite like some sensory details: what the train looks like, how it rattles beneath her legs, what’s out the window, etc. You’ve chosen an interesting setting, bring it alive for us.

      Fighting the South: This sounds great! I really wouldn’t change much, except I think I’d swap round the two MC’s paragraphs and have Genie first, because then we can see how she links into Morgan’s life, and her story comes first.

      First page: This is a pretty good first page introducing your MC, especially the first paragraph, although I feel like you’ve crammed in a little bit too much info, I’d take things just a little slower, and infuse a bit more personality into the rest of it. The para beginning ‘Her mom...’ reads a little too much like summary for me.

      First, I’d suggest tweaking the first line to make it snappier: ‘The back door slammed with the tenderness of a rifle shot and Morgan catapulted up from the floor.’ (I love ‘tenderness of a rifle shot’.) The line about her cutting herself seems thrown in in too blasé a way for something serious, compared to hangovers and childish stickers. I wonder if you should bring it up a bit later instead, perhaps when you (as I expect you will) talk about her father leaving.

      This is tough, these both sound like fascinating stories. By a whisker, VICTORY TO FIGHTING THE SOUTH.

      Delete
    5. Hot Lunch is a major fan of these historicals.

      FORGET YOU STALIN:

      The word count borders in that gray area. Given it's historical, you could be fine. I would still suggest taking a look at subplots to see if any can be pared down, or if any scenes can be pared down or omitted, especially if they are not advancing the story. Closer to 100k would be most preferable if you're querying.

      I almost like the query starting with the second paragraph. This line is money: "The Nazi war machine quickly swallows up vast areas of land and millions of men, including Nadya’s beloved brother." I'm in. Sold.

      The opening page drew me in. The last line ends with a great image, but I wonder if you can rephrase to end on a power word ("until I couldn’t see him any more" lacks a little punch).

      THE FIRST IN THE SUN

      So intriguing. This is a great concept, but I'm left with two major questions after reading the query: 1) how do these two girls' lives intersect?
      2) why does the modern aspect happen 20 years ago in 1995?

      This idea of parallel stories is great. I think you need to show how the two characters relate within your query, otherwise it feels like two separate stories. Make sure that connection is there, either intro or end with it.

      The 1995 era threw me a bit. This is your story and you'll need to stand by your choices, but I do think this will be an aspect agents or editors will question. Why does it need to be set in 1995 vs present day.

      With the first page, I immediately get a feel for the setting and the story problem. I agree with the comment that maybe too much detail with the mention of cutting. Eluding to it could set up a little mystery with something like, "Mom didn't know the real reason she drank." And you could show the character rubbing her wrists or thinking something further that doesn't spell it out but hints. Just a thought. Personally, I think it's better to show too much and scale back than to start too slow, so overall great work!

      Both of these hold so much promise.

      VICTORY TO: FORGET YOU, STALIN

      Delete
    6. Second title should be Fighting the South. I wrote the nickname by accident.

      Delete
    7. No, Hot Lunch is confused. Hot Lunch is going to take a break now.

      Delete
    8. Forget You, Stalin, We're Outta Here

      Query:
      I love this premise. You could probably cut it a bit. I'd take a hard look at the third paragraph. They almost all seem like ending sentences that you made into a paragraph. Also I think "heinous truths" is a bit vague. I think specifity (or at least a taste) would go a long way there. You also have a lot of N's here
      Nadya
      Nazi
      Night Witches
      Nikolai

      You can't change Nazi for obvious reasons, but consider varying your names a bit. Also...her marriage was "born of blackmail." This is an interesting detail, but the rest of the query doesn't seem to really acknowledge it. Is it something big? Or is it just that any minor infraction in those days could lead to blackmail? All in all though, I like the query, it conveys your premise. You could fine tune it more, focus on the larger premise, and don't get too bogged down in details.

      250 words:
      The writing style is fine, but...does this interaction with a sandy haired man matter? If not...why are we seeing it? Also, if you can find a better way of explaining what the Osoaviachim is, that'd be a good plan. No one thinks to themselves "the flight navigation school" like that, because the character already knows it. Perhaps the man could inquire after her uniform? Impressed that a woman was accepted? Or that one as beautiful as her (I'm assuming here) would be interested in flying? As sexist as that is...it's Moscow in the 1940's...so it exists. Nadya has the ability to show that by defying convention in a society that prizes that above all.


      ------
      Fighting the South

      Query:
      Interesting premise. Your first paragraph needs some work. While it later becomes clear what you mean by "forty years and decades of racism" you should rephrase this as both are measurements of time. Also...for a hot second I thought the 2 teen girls fell in love with one another.
      - 1995 section: I'd say you've got a little too much detail here. You should pair it down. Maybe just hint that they fear of an attack. No need to tell us the climax. You’ve got a lot of names here in total, and many start with M. So I had to kind of really work to keep it all straight in my head.
      - 1952 section: Same as above. You tell a bit too much of the plot. No need to do so. Just give us the basic premise and a strong idea of the stakes.

      I think if you cut back the 2 paragraphs explaining the 2 stories, you could add a final paragraph that shows how they interact, and then leave us with a solid hook about what your novel explores. Which appears to be the fact that in small towns, change isn't easy, especially when it comes to Race.
      Also, why 1995 and 1952? I feel like you'd be better with 1952 and 1992 just for symmetry.


      250 words:
      I'm completely confused by what you mean with "When the back door hit its frame with the tenderness of a rifle shot" the door hit its frame? Meaning it was closed? slammed? I gather the door made a loud (at least to Morgan) noise, but this is an odd way to describe it. Also, her mom knocks on the door later, is the door open or closed?

      The deal referenced makes sense, but it's a total infodump and not particularly cleverly disguised. I'd rather see Morgan's mother survey her and Morgan express to us exactly what she's looking for and how it makes her feel.
      I do think you manage to defeat the cliché of waking up and looking at a mirror for the most part. However...be aware...it's a cliché so you have to make sure it's really good. Agents hate it when things start with a cliché. If you want to avoid it further, how creepy would it be if she woke up to find her mother checking for new razor marks?

      ---------------------

      This is a hard call, I like both pitches (flaws and all) but for me...victory goes to "Forget You, Stalin, We're Outta Here" by a single point.

      Delete
    9. Note: For round 1 since there's so many entries, I'm judging based on the query only!


      FORGET YOU, STALIN

      Great premise. It's a really interesting time in history, and Nadya seems like she'd be a really intriguing character to follow.

      I did have to read through the first paragraph twice to figure out what was going on; it was unclear to me whether Nadya KNEW that all of these things were illusions and lies. Obviously, from later in the query, we know that she's buying into it at the time, but the wording leaves it open.


      -vs-


      FIGHTING THE SOUTH

      Really interesing; I love the idea of exploring the girls' similar circumstances in two different points in history.

      I found the query very clear and concise; the characters and their conflicts are very compelling.

      One minor thing: if she was 17 in 1952, then in 1995, Eugenia would be 57 -- not exactly what I'd consider "elderly." Maybe use "middle-aged" instead?




      Victory to... FIGHTING THE SOUTH!

      Delete
  2. Fighting the South: Very realistic! Good query and this seems like an excellent story!

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  3. Forget you, Stalin: I was a bit confused by the query.

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  5. FORGET-I think the last paragraph of the query should state the conflict's choice's more clearly, or at least frame it better. She is choosing Nikolai and freedom over her husband and the Soviet Union, right? Seems like a good vs. bad choice so where is the conflict? I assume that escaping with Nikolai may be risky, and her life is probably at risk, but you don't state that. In the 250, it's unclear whether Nadya is perhaps flirting with her future husband or with Nikolai or a stranger as we don't know whether she is married yet. Just on the 250, I would assume she is a young single woman.

    FIGHTING-This sounds interesting, but your query only connects the two stories by that first sentence. I assume Miss Eugenia's story is told to help Morgan make decisions about her own situation, especially since the story starts with Morgan's POV. Perhaps Morgan's modern day choices somehow help Miss Eugenia to have some resolution to her own story, though. Either way, I wonder if you can draw a clearer connection between the stories at the end of the query-how does the main climax of one girl's story affect the other's. In the 250, limit the names: how important are Sarah, Jason, and Billy? Since none of them are in the scene, their names aren't essential yet, especially the boys. I don't know that a teen would use the word "swanky." The cutting is mentioned so briefly here I almost missed it, but I wonder if you should wait until you can delve into the reasons she cuts before you boldly state that she does. I do think the voice on this page is strong.

    ReplyDelete
  6. FORGET YOU STALIN
    Your query is a good overview, however I'm wondering where we will feel the most? Is this a story of her time and the fight for freedom in the Night Witches group? Or is this a story about the innocence and belief in good only to be brought down the reality of that time? It is intriguing, however I'm wondering in the large scope, where we will focus most or narrow in on a bit more? The first 250 show a woman's innocence and seems like it is a year before the story really kicks off, so perhaps it is the build up.

    FIGHTING THE SOUTH
    This is a really interesting premise featuring two different time frames battling with similar race tensions. I'm curious how they both play in together more? I can understand the stories separately, and was particularly interested in the 1952 version, but I'd love to better understand how it all fits together.

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  7. STALIN: Sounds like a fascinating story. I don't know much about life in the USSR in that time period.

    Query: I'm not sure about the first sentence. It makes me think that Nadya must belong to a very important family, or even that she's going to be a spy, but why these things are a huge deception (rather than unfortunate circumstances) isn't explained. Then, I'm not sure what illusion is blown open. I think I know what you mean, but you could be meaning the illusion that the USSR is immune to invasion, or Nadya's deceptions, or both. I'd cut the sentence about her not standing passively by–you're about to show that. I'm surprised by her love for Nikolai that's existed since before the war–THAT helps me make more sense of her life as a deception–so can he be in the opening paragraph?
    Is it possible to say what heinous truth she discovers? Or maybe change it to "the heinous truth." "Some heinous truths" seems a little awkward. I think the sentences of the last paragraph could be more personal to Nadya. Also--the word "illusion" is used twice.

    First 250-I like the voice. Strongly written. Is this her meeting Nikolai? If so, I'd definitely mention him right away in the query.

    SOUTH: Great query. I think some of the sentences are too long, though. It might read more easily if they were split up a bit. Also, maybe I'm just tired–but I read it twice before I made the connection between the stories. For someone reading quickly, could you say young Miss Eugenia (Genie) instead of starting with the nickname?

    First 250-wow, such a raw opening. I mean that in a good way. I love the Fraggle Rock stickers. I wonder about the expletive on the first page–it's not that it bothers me, but it seriously might turn off some readers and especially parents buying books for their teens. Of course, with drinking and cutting, maybe that last point is moot. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Two intriguing concepts.

    Stalin: (Love that nickname, by the way.) For me the query would be stronger without most of the first paragraph. I don't quite get the deception angle. But once you get to what happens when war breaks out, it's truly fascinating and I'd like to know what happens to her. The query contains great writing but not enough specifics. How does she get away from her husband? What, specifically are the stakes.

    First 250: I love that you open with her first meeting with the man she loves, and that she's already in flight school. (Which might be why I think you don't need the first paragraph of the query.) I'm assuming from the query that she's already married? Working that in somewhere would give the opening a bit more intrigue. Of course, it's only 250 words. You might have that info in word #251!

    South: This is an evergreen story. Love the idea of the two teen girls, each falling for someone of another race 40 years apart. From the query, I believe this novel would be very deep and moving. I had a bit of trouble making the connection between the two stories. Does Eugenie counsel Morgan based on her experience? Does Morgan's experience stir Genie's memories?

    I was confused by the stakes in the second story: If Genie is already planning to leave with her lover when she finds out she's pregnant, then she has already made the choice to leave her parents.

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  9. This is such an amazing match-up! Here are my two cents, for what they're worth:

    FORGET: I've been obsessed with The Americans lately, and anyone who enjoys that show will enjoy this I think. Female pilots and communist disillusionment? Sign me up! Your query is solid and interested me, though your first 250, while interesting, didn't draw me in as much as I'd hoped. Is this man she's flirting with going to be her husband? Is she married? There could be a hint more of some stakes to make this more un-put-down-able :)

    FIGHTING: This gave me Perfect Chemistry vibes right from the start, which is awesome. Plus, I'm always down for intertwining storylines. I did find myself wondering if the two storylines had any impact on one another--do they raise the stakes for each other, or just share commonalities? If there is some of the former, that would be great to work in :) Your first 250 were fun and definitely filled with voice, though I did find some of the name-checking a bit intrusive (even if I was like "hey, I had that!"). Also, there's a good deal of telling her backstory, which I think could potentially be shown through weaving into the rest of the chapter.

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  10. Forget you, Stalin.

    I love the premise. It’s a great, lost bit of history to work with and a perspective we don’t often get to see. The query expresses the non-stop drama of the time period and the stakes; it has a gorgeous through line. That said, I found it over-worded in places. I’d take out “as seriously as she takes them” and “whom she met before the war began”. Those are both awkwardly inserted extra information that you don’t need. (It’s a given that she takes her studies seriously, if she doesn’t, the plane crashes.) I’d also take out “after she so bravely defended it”. Ending on the words “the Motherland that betrayed her” nicely echoes the use of “deceive” and “Motherland” in the first two sentences of the query.

    The problem with the 250 is that it’s not what I’m expecting – or wanting – based on the query. You’ve got this great time period that I want to see to brought to life. What I get is a meet cute on the metro. Excepting the mention of the Osoaviachim, it could have happened any time in the last hundred years. That’s fine, universal, but not what I want to be convinced of at the beginning. I’d like to see her get that good exam grade and see the instructor’s stern façade break a little. Or see her fighting with her husband about communist/Stalinist politics. As in the query I’m distracted by bits of writing that I’m not sure need to be there. “I was very much enjoying flirting ever so benignly with this man, looking at him askance…” If you take out “flirting ever so benignly with this man,” what you’re left we with is more suggestive. We know what they’re flirting by the way she looks askance and smiles and the “benign” we can learn later in other ways. It’s historical fiction so it can be longer, but at 115 K you’ve got room to cut, and I say this as a very wordy writer who’s had to learn to cut.

    Fighting the South

    I really like how the query is organized to show the POVs, and it’s a premise with lots of potential for drama. What I’d like to see is a little bit more characterization of Sam and Terry, not about their conditions, but about themselves. First loves are notable for being our first intellectual equals, with added intimacy, and in this case it feel important to give them their due as human beings (and knowing them better also heightens the stakes).

    I like the voice of the 250 a lot, a lot. The explanation of Morgan’s agreement with her mom feels a little too expository. I’d love to see it laid out in a conversation between the two of them, or as a written agreement pinned to Morgan’s mirror, rather than as internal dialogue in Morgan’s head. The internal dialogue gets even more problematic when you say things like “especially with the hot older guys Jason and Billy”. I don’t think Morgan would think about it that way (she probably just thinks of them as “Jason and Billy”), so it reads like the author rather than the character speaking.

    Critique, which I know looms large, aside I’d love to read both these books!

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  11. Forget You, Stalin: Great concept! I’m completely intrigued by the idea, and the setting sounds interesting. This is definitely a book I’d pick up! In the query, I was a bit confused to find out that Nadya has a husband – at first I assumed that was Nikolai. It’d be helpful to know how the husband fits into the story before finding out that she discovers some heinous truths about him. I also think it would help to break up the paragraphs to make your query easier to read. In your first 250, I like the description of the characters but would love to know more about the setting. What does Nadya see around her? What does it smell like? What’s she wearing?

    Fighting the South: I’m intrigued by the story. I found the first line of the query a bit confusing; it was hard for me to determine whether they’re learning these lessons at the same time or separately until I got further into the query. I think your second paragraph would be a stronger place to start. It may also help to clarify that the story is told from two POV (if that is, in fact, the case). I really liked your first 250 words. I work with teenagers who’ve had alcohol abuse problems, and your description rang true. I think you could make it even more believable by having Morgan pop a few breath mints or use some eye drops for red eye. Also, I love the contrast between the trouble she’s getting into, yet still having the childish décor in her bedroom. Fantastic start!

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  12. Forget You, Stalin

    Query

    Typo
    she flees for her life with Nikolai
    Skip the comma here.

    I love this concept. I think you have a wonderful premise and the opportunity to really execute on this one. There's got to be a market of readers for this book. I think your query does a nice job communicating the threat and the characters.

    250
    You've referenced the Osoaviachim once. May not be necessary to say twice.

    It's a good cute meet and a good start to your story.

    Fighting the South

    Query
    Read and loved this one at The Writer's Voice. What a wonderful concept. I'd leave out ", the young Miss Eugenia," as it needlessly complicates your sentence.

    250
    I haven't got one comment on this 250 that isn't praise. Perfect 250, IMO.

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  13. FORGET YOU, STALIN: (a little worried about the high word count -- agents generally don't want books over 100,000 words)

    QUERY: Really intriguing and well done. I like the atmospheric and literary feel so much. Just a few nit picks: commas go inside quotations marks, so it should be Night Witches," How would you feel about changing this sentence? "...stand passively by, but puts her studies..." skipping the weeping and watching thing? It might read better, and I don't think you need it. Also, you could delete "as a navigator" which would make that sentence not so clunky. Finally, her husband's "heinous" things is too vague -- can you be a little more detailed?

    250: Really love these. Only have a few nit picks. "fidget my fingers" doesn't really make sense. You can just delete "my fingers." Also I think his eyes should just crinkle upward. Not "at me." (unless you love it -- it's your book!) And do his eyes spark or sparkle? Really, really like this. Congrats and good luck!

    FIGHTING THE SOUTH: Great stuff! Congrats.

    QUERY: This is well-written, but I'm not sure where the book is going, especially in Morgan's case. What are the goal and impending conflict that she can work toward/against? It's just kind of vague, like a summary. In the whole query we need to feel like they're both working toward something.

    250: Only two nit picks because this is fantastic. :) It should just be "catapulted from the floor." Not "up" from the floor. Also, I think you can delete the "somehow" after "discovered" toward the very end. Other than that I really don't have anything to say! Great job and good luck!

    This is a hard pick. I wish I didn't have to choose (I'm sure you do, too). Sigh. I've already changed my pick a couple of times. Augh.

    Victory to: FORGET YOU STALIN

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  14. Stalin: Query - Wow that a unique premise! I can honestly say I've never read anything that resembles anything close to this. Awesome. I really liked the voice here too. My biggest concern is that the stakes are a tad vague for me. What does "turning her back" on the motherland entail? Is she going to spy for the enemy? Be a double agent? Wanted that sentence to be more specific.

    First 250 - I was glad the voice of the query matched the first 250. I like this anonymous flirting. I felt it might be the start of something. I have to agree with an above comment about there being so much info in such short amount of space. Maybe work in the flight school a little more. Like maybe she can adjust her school uniform or the gentleman compliments something about her. Or he notices her outfit, something like that. I think the minor info dump about takes away from the beauty of that sweet scene.

    South Query - I'm SUPER into this story. Sounds like something I'd read in a heartbeat. But it seems like there's two stories here, not one. I couldn't figure out which is the heart of the novel. Or if the story goes between the past/present. I have to say the second story pulls at me more. I want to read that story. now.

    First 250 - Be wary of starting a story with a character waking up, even if its from a hangover. It's pretty cliche. Maybe just start with her having her cover her tracks. It's already there :-) That said, I really love the descriptions and pace.

    Good luck to you both!

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