Monday, September 18, 2017

Son Of A Pitch #10: THE MAGIC WITHIN

Son Of A Pitch #10

Title: THE MAGIC WITHIN
Category and Genre: YA CONTEMPORARY WITH ELEMENTS OF MAGIC
Word Count: 73,000

Query:
When introverted albino teen Ana Samuels moves to a tiny town in the rainy PNW, she expects to be wet, lonely, and miserable—and she is. What she doesn't expect is to fall for James, an adorably awkward deaf boy, or to find an enchanted violin in her attic, one that offers her a mysterious gift if she can play it. As an accomplished fiddle player, Ana is convinced this will be easy: play the violin, receive the gift, fix her life—too bad the damn thing shocks the hell out of her every time she tries.

Instead of trying to fit in at her new school, Ana focuses all her attention on trying to play the violin. Each failed attempt drives her obsession. Her previously perfect grades take a nosedive, and her blossoming romance with James threatens to crumble. Then the side effects begin. If Ana waits too long between attempts, she experiences severe headaches and bouts of inexplicable itching, which are relieved only by touching the violin again. Now she's trapped. She can't play, but she can't stop trying. As Ana's obsession continues to grow, her grasp on reality wavers. And if that's not bad enough, Ana discovers the magical offer has a rapidly approaching expiration date. She must hurry and find a way to endure the magic long enough to play before time runs out, or the violin's gift won't be all she loses.


First 250 Words: 
Sweat dripped down the back of my neck beneath the weight of my blue curls. I swear it was hot enough to melt the lips off a chicken. A vision of a plump hen with liquefying lips flitted through my mind. I smiled at the ridiculous image. Clearly, the desert sun had finally fricasseed my brain.
I slid deeper into the shade of our old willow tree, careful to keep my pale, melanin-free skin under cover. As far as I could determine, the only positive feature of our impending move to the rainy and miserable Pacific Northwest was the promise of cooler temperatures.
After spending the morning helping my parents do a final sweep of our house, searching through closets and empty rooms for forgotten items, I'd escaped outside. Despite the heat, I needed to get away from the memories that pulled at me from every corner. 
I leaned against the tree and opened my book, trying to lose myself in the magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. I read for a few minutes, then the words began to dance and blur. The world around me hushed and became silent.
#
I’m sitting on a dirty, wooden floor. A dim light filters in through the two stained glass windows at each end of the long narrow room. Thick wooden beams run overhead. There is a roof, but no actual ceiling.
The air is cool and musty with a hint of something more unpleasant. It catches at the back of my throat and I sneeze.

18 comments:

  1. Before I get started, I’d like to preface my feedback with the disclaimer that what you do with your query and first page is totally up to you. Take what’s useful from my suggestions, and ditch the rest as you see fit.
    Query:

    I like the query, but I feel like it leaves me with more questions than answers. It has two story lines but there doesn’t feel like they are connected. I mention it because the novel is pretty short (even YA contemporary is typically 65K and that doesn’t usually also have the fantastical elements to explain). If they are completely disparate, then it’s fine, but if they are connected, I’d like to see more of a connection in the query letter.
    I’m also worried that this is going to be one of those “cure the disabled person” stories because we have a violin that’s magical and a deaf boyfriend. If that isn’t the case, maybe mention the conflict of learning to love someone who can’t share such an important part of her life, or mention how he shares that part of her life. This feels like a big piece of their puzzle that’s missing especially since there’s a magical violin in the picture. Again, feel free to ignore this if none of it plays into your story.

    First 250:

    I always laugh at the chicken lips anything, so I hope you were trying to infuse some humor there.
    When you talk about the desert and the Pacific Northwest, I want some details. I’ve lived in both, and they’re WAY more diverse than seems reasonable. Sometimes, for instance, the deserts of the Southwest are so dry that you can have sweat dripping on your face, and lips so dry they’ve split, so when the sweat hits your lips, it burns from the salt (no joke), and it can be so humid (I’m looking at you Phoenix) that even the wind doesn’t evaporate the sweat off the skin. It’s like walking through a shower portion of a locker room. Willows only last near water sources, and all the other trees are cottonwoods and pines (Albuquerque, phoenix, Tucson—though, in Tucson it’s probably a palo verde tree—and everything else isn’t tall enough to call a tree). In short, without some real details here, I’m worried this character is in a dreamt up desert. But, I digress, I only pick on this because of my time in these regions (I did all of my graduate studies in the Southwest across these deserts), but if it’s important to your story, firm it up and support it with some details. Lawns are common in Phoenix—verboten in Albuquerque—etc. and a Willow as part of a lawn is possible in the desert, but I miss the detail of the lawn (and in Albuquerque, talk about the ever present goat’s head weed). I only mention this because the US Southwest is not a monolith and has many different flavors depending on where someone is.

    I’m also worried about a scene change before we’ve hit the end of the first 250 words. Consider grounding your reader somewhere before letting your MC drift into another world. To be clear, this is personal preference. I like to understand a character before I have other POVs given to me. It makes me concerned that the start isn’t in the right spot.
    Just my two pennies, feel free to disregard as you see fit.

    If you have any questions, or want any clarification about my statements here, feel free to drop me a line.



    ReplyDelete
  2. #TeamRarity Kathy dropping by! My comments are my opinions only. Please take what helps and ignore the rest.

    CONTEMPORARY WITH ELEMENTS OF MAGIC... So, Magical Realism?

    When introverted albino teen (age?) Ana Samuels moves to a tiny town in the rainy PNW (Might want to spell it out, just in case...or give us a state?), she expects to be wet, lonely, and miserable—and she is. (But she doesn't want to be...right? What does she want? What does she dream of?) What she doesn't expect is to fall for James, an adorably awkward deaf boy, or to find an enchanted violin in her attic, one that offers her (offers her how? Is there a note?) a mysterious gift if she can play it. (OMG this is awesome! MAGIC VIOLIN YES!) As an accomplished fiddle player (Oh! Well that makes it easier), Ana is convinced this will be easy: play the violin, receive the gift, fix her life (why does she think the gift will fix her life...she doesn't know what it is, right?)—too bad the damn thing shocks the hell out of her every time she tries. (Dude. NICE!)

    Instead of trying to fit in at her new school, Ana focuses all her attention on trying to play the violin. Each failed attempt drives her obsession. Her previously perfect grades take a nosedive, and her blossoming romance with James threatens to crumble. (Is this romance a big part of the story? How does it connect to the violin?) Then the side effects begin. If Ana waits too long between attempts, she experiences severe headaches and bouts of inexplicable itching, which are relieved only by touching the violin again. (Which shocks her?) Now she's trapped. She can't play, but she can't stop trying. As Ana's obsession continues to grow, her grasp on reality wavers (How? What happens?). And if that's not bad enough, Ana discovers the magical offer has a rapidly approaching expiration date (How does she discover this?). She must hurry and find a way to endure the magic (Endure the pain of shocks?) long enough to play before time runs out, or the violin's gift won't be all she loses. (Too vague...what else will she lose?)
    I am intrigued! However...what does she want? What does she think will happen when she plays the violin...what does she want to happen? What is driving her to play? What is the gift? Has she just assumed it will be one thing...the thing she wants? Does she ever fear it won't be what she wants? Is she so desperate to get the gift, that it in the end doesn't matter what it is? Then it just becomes an obsession? How does the obsession theme fit into the story? How is James involved?


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  3. First 250 Words:
    Sweat dripped down the back of my neck beneath the weight of my blue curls. I swear it was hot enough to melt the lips off a chicken. A vision of a plump hen with liquefying lips flitted through my mind. I smiled at the ridiculous image. Clearly, the desert sun had finally fricasseed my brain.
    I slid deeper into the shade of our old willow tree, careful to keep my pale, melanin-free skin under cover. As far as I could determine, the only positive feature of our impending move to the rainy and miserable Pacific Northwest was the promise of cooler temperatures.
    After spending the morning helping my parents do a final sweep of our house, searching through closets and empty rooms for forgotten items, I'd escaped outside. (So they're moving soon? Packing up everything?) Despite the heat, I needed to get away from the memories that pulled at me from every corner. (Bad memories? Like what? Let us know the mc.)
    I leaned against the tree and opened my book, trying to lose myself in the magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. I read for a few minutes, then the words began to dance and blur. The world around me hushed and became silent.
    #
    I’m sitting on a dirty, wooden floor. (Okay...what happened? She asleep and dreaming? Is this a vision? Did she transport herself? If it is the same mc...let us go with her...how the world changes from one thing to the other, her reaction, is this normal? Is she scared? Has she seen the place before?) A dim light filters in through the two stained glass windows at each end of the long narrow room. Thick wooden beams run overhead. There is a roof, but no actual ceiling.
    The air is cool and musty with a hint of something more unpleasant (Like what? "Something" only frustrates me...let me know to be scared or nervous, let me know what is bothering her, put a name to it, even if it's one she makes up. I need a bit of emotion, a hint as to what might be coming.) It catches at the back of my throat and I sneeze.

    I am intrigued, but a bit confused with the scene break...is it the same mc or a different one?
    I don't feel like I know the mc much. You set up the scene, the tree, the heat...you gave us that she is moving, so change and drama is coming, but not a lot of emotion. How does she feel about the move...it'll be cooler, but what else? I need the emotion to connect to the character.
    Hope that helped.
    Thanks for sharing your words!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you to both of you for your comments. I posted this shortened version of my query because I felt the original was too wordy. Even though that one garnered me 2 partials and a full request from my first 6 queries. I can see this one's not working at all. Time to revisit and make some big changes. The MC is sitting outside trying not to feel sad about her pending move, the next page describes this. I had hoped her description of where she was moving to: wet and miserable, and the only good thing about the move being the weather, indicated her mood sufficiently. I can see now it doesn't. The scene break isn't actually a scene break, so perhaps I should remove that #. It is just the MC having a strange vision of herself in an attic with a violin on the floor in front of her. While she experiences this vision, which is very short, she's not sure what to think. Then her BFF arrives and pulls her from the vision and she has to decide whether to share this with her, which she does. Her friend reassures her this is only a stress reaction and has a logical explanation for every part of this vision. The book actually opens with a 255 word prologue with the violin's creator. I decided not to include the prologue because I only had 250 words. I admit to being very confused and depressed right now. But I appreciate all your comments so much. Off to revise now.

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    Replies
    1. You do you. You do your ms the way you need to. Don't worry about us and our whatevers. Go with what feels right. These are your words, your story. And some things didn't work for us, so now you know, and it's two people not a million. You got this. Let your creative brain work it out, because it will. *hugs*

      Delete
  5. This is amazing! Your query hooks me immediately. The only thing, I'd give us a hint what "grasp on reality wavers" means.

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  6. Crit from Cari:

    Title: THE MAGIC WITHIN
    Category and Genre: YA CONTEMPORARY WITH ELEMENTS OF MAGIC
    Word Count: 73,000

    Query:
    When introverted albino teen Ana Samuels moves to a tiny town in the rainy PNW ( I wouldn’t abreviate here, because not everyone will know what this is), she expects to be wet, lonely, and miserable—and she is. What she doesn't expect is to fall for James, an adorably awkward deaf boy, or to find an enchanted violin in her attic, one that offers her a mysterious gift if she can play it (I love this set-up. You’ve managed to fit in the diversity in the story, as well as tell me exactly what kind of story to expect). As an accomplished fiddle player, Ana is convinced this will be easy: play the violin, receive the gift, fix her life—too bad the damn thing shocks the hell out of her every time she tries.

    Instead of trying to fit in at her new school, Ana focuses all her attention on trying to play the violin. Each failed attempt drives her obsession. Her previously perfect grades take a nosedive, and her blossoming romance with James threatens to crumble. Then the side effects begin. If Ana waits too long between attempts, she experiences severe headaches and bouts of inexplicable itching, which are relieved only by touching the violin again. Now she's trapped. She can't play, but she can't stop trying.(well written, and I’m sucked in, wanting to know more.) (I’d start a new paragraph here) As Ana's obsession continues to grow, her grasp on reality wavers. And if that's not bad enough, ( To make matters worse, …)Ana discovers the magical offer has a rapidly approaching expiration date. She must hurry and find a way to endure the magic long enough to play before time runs out, or the violin's gift won't be all she loses. (Yay! Stakes, without saying too much, I know what they are. This is so good. Well done)


    First 250 Words:
    Sweat dripped down the back of my neck beneath the weight of my blue curls. I swear it was hot enough to melt the lips off a chicken. A vision of a plump hen with liquefying lips flitted through my mind. I smiled at the ridiculous image. Clearly, the desert sun had finally fricasseed my brain. (Nice way to paint the setting while giving us voice.)
    I slid deeper into the shade of our old willow tree (Willow tree? In the desert?), careful to keep my pale, melanin-free skin under cover. As far as I could determine, the only positive feature of our impending move to the rainy and miserable Pacific Northwest was the promise of cooler temperatures.
    After spending the morning helping my parents do a final sweep of our house, searching through closets and empty rooms for forgotten items, I'd escaped outside. Despite the heat, I needed to get away from the memories that pulled at me from every corner. (What memories? Maybe this is an opportunity to say something about the character, and her past?)
    I leaned against the tree and opened my book, trying to lose myself in the magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. I read for a few minutes, then the words began to dance and blur. The world around me hushed and became silent. (If she’s going into a trance or dream, make this more clear because I’m not entirely sure.)
    #
    I’m sitting on a dirty, wooden floor. A dim light filters in through the two stained glass windows at each end of the long narrow room. Thick wooden beams run overhead. There is a roof, but no actual ceiling.
    The air is cool and musty with a hint of something more unpleasant. It catches at the back of my throat and I sneeze.
    (I’m presuming it’s on purpose, but this is present tense, and the above is in past. I’m sure there’s a reason, and it’s okay for me not to know right now, but it’s off putting a little, and makes me wonder.

    Overall, I really really love this concept. And the writing is strong to match. Best of luck to you!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Cari. I appreciate your feedback! The dream vision sequence was supposed to be written in italics and I used present tense to show that it was happening in real time, like dialogue, but now I'm not sure if that was a good idea. Will research other options.

      Delete
  7. Thank you all so much for your comments. Will post my updated query and first 250 once I'm done editing

    ReplyDelete
  8. Revised query, based on everyone's wonderful feedback:

    Fifteen-year-old Ana Samuels is not excited about moving to a tiny town in the rainy Pacific Northwest where she's convinced her albinism will turn her into a stare magnet. Especially when it means leaving her best and only friend, Clara. Ana's plans for survival include keeping to the shadows at her new performing arts school.

    Falling for James, a hearing-impaired redhead, is not part of those plans. Neither is finding an old violin in her attic—much less one that shoots electric shocks and blue flames when she touches it. Sensations no one but Ana can see or feel. A note tucked inside the case promises that whoever can endure the magic long enough to play will receive a gift. Willing to try anything to fix her loneliness, Ana is determined to play. Unfortunately, even a ten second touch sends her flying. When each attempt fails miserably, Ana decides to give up. But the violin refuses to let her go, delivering headaches, bouts of itching, symptoms only relieved by touching the violin again. Now she's trapped. She can't play but she can't stop trying. As Ana's obsession grows and the magical side effects chip away at her sanity, her blossoming romance with James is threatened, her friendship with Clara crumbles, and her grades plummet.

    When she begins to suspect her mother is seriously ill, Ana realizes it's her mother who needs the gift. Miraculously, James believes her fantastical story and together the two misfits attempt to unravel the mystery of the violin's hold over Ana. In the process, they discover the magical offer is about to end. Ana faces an impossible decision. Play—and risk the potentially deadly magic in order to receive the gift—or refuse, and not only continue her descent into madness, but lose her chance at saving her mother.

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  11. Revised 250

    By midday it was hot enough to melt the lips off a chicken. Sweat dripped down my neck. Gross. I lifted up the heavy weight of my blue curls to cool my skin. A vision of a plump hen with liquefying lips flitted through my brain. Clearly, despite my hat—big enough to cover the entire state of New Mexico—the desert sun had finally fricasseed my brain.

    I slid deeper into the shade of our old Desert Willow, careful to keep my pale, melanin-free skin under cover. As far as I could determine, the only positive feature of our impending move to the rainy and miserable Pacific Northwest was the promise of cooler temperatures.

    After spending the morning helping my parents do a final sweep of our house, searching through closets and empty rooms for forgotten items, I'd escaped outside. Despite the heat, I needed to get away from the bittersweet memories of my childhood that tugged at my heart from every corner of our house.

    I leaned against the tree and opened my book, trying to lose myself in the magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. I read for a few minutes, then the words began to dance and blur. The world around me hushed and became silent. Then our yard disappeared in a smoky haze as I slipped into an odd vision.

    ( This vision should be in italics to indicate it is happening in real time, like dialogue.)
    I’m sitting on a dirty, wooden floor. A dim light filters in through the two stained glass windows at each end of the long narrow room.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Fifteen-year-old Ana Samuels is not excited about moving to a tiny town in the rainy Pacific Northwest where she's convinced her albinism will turn her into a stare magnet. Especially when it means leaving her best and only friend, Clara. Ana's plans for survival include keeping to the shadows at her new performing arts school. (great character set up!)

    Falling for James, a hearing-impaired redhead, is not part of those plans. Neither is finding an old violin in her attic—much less one that shoots electric shocks and blue flames when she touches it. (OH BLUE FLAMES TOO?!!?) Sensations no one but Ana can see or feel. A note tucked inside the case promises that whoever can endure the magic long enough to play will receive a gift. (NICE!) Willing to try anything to fix her loneliness, Ana is determined to play. (So she thinks the gift will give her a friend?) Unfortunately, even a ten second touch sends her flying. When each attempt fails miserably, Ana decides to give up. But the violin refuses to let her go, delivering headaches, bouts of itching, symptoms only relieved by touching the violin again. Now she's trapped. She can't play but she can't stop trying. As Ana's obsession grows and the magical side effects chip away at her sanity, her blossoming romance with James is threatened, her friendship with Clara crumbles, and her grades plummet. (Good conflict!)

    When she begins to suspect her mother is seriously ill, Ana realizes it's her mother who needs the gift. Miraculously, James believes her fantastical story and together the two misfits attempt to unravel the mystery of the violin's hold over Ana. In the process, they discover the magical offer is about to end. Ana faces an impossible decision. Play—and risk the potentially deadly magic in order to receive the gift—or refuse, and not only continue her descent into madness, but lose her chance at saving her mother. (Good stakes! This is much clearer!)

    ReplyDelete
  13. By midday it was hot enough to melt the lips off a chicken. (That is too funny!) Sweat dripped down my neck. Gross. I lifted up the heavy weight of my blue curls to cool my skin. (A bit abrupt between the thoughts here, transition into the vision of liquefying lips...LOL!) A vision of a plump hen with liquefying lips flitted through my brain. Clearly, despite my hat—big enough to cover the entire state of New Mexico—the desert sun had finally fricasseed my brain. (HAHA!)

    I slid deeper into the shade of our old Desert Willow, careful to keep my pale, melanin-free skin under cover. As far as I could determine, the only positive feature of our impending move to the rainy and miserable Pacific Northwest was the promise of cooler temperatures.

    After spending the morning helping my parents do a final sweep of our house, searching through closets and empty rooms for forgotten items, I'd escaped outside. Despite the heat, I needed to get away from the bittersweet memories of my childhood that tugged at my heart from every corner of our house. (Moving is hard.)

    I leaned against the tree and opened my book, trying to lose myself in the magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. I read for a few minutes, then the words began to dance and blur. The world around me hushed and became silent. Then our yard disappeared in a smoky haze as I slipped into an odd vision. (She knows what it is, so I think she's had them before...hmmmm...interesting.)

    ( This vision should be in italics to indicate it is happening in real time, like dialogue.)
    I’m sitting on a dirty, wooden floor. A dim light filters in through the two stained glass windows at each end of the long narrow room. (I am really interested in the vision! Does she have them all the time? What does it mean? Those questions would keep me reading. I do love the concept, as someone who played the violin for nine years, a magic violin would be awesome. Great work!)

    ReplyDelete

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