Monday, September 18, 2017

Son Of A Pitch # 2: SENESTRE

Son Of A Pitch #2:

Title: SENESTRE
Category and Genre: Adult Fantasy
Word Count: 93,000

Query: 
Ten-year-old bastard Maleficent (renamed Senestre for this retelling) is painfully aware that she should never have been born. Her mother is hell-bent on revenge against the Vesii who abducted her when she was just a teen. If Senestre can’t prove herself valuable to her mother’s quest, she won’t live to turn eleven. When Senestre’s gift for magic flares to life during her testing ritual, she escapes death at her mother’s hands only to find herself embroiled in a convoluted plot against her will.

As she grows, so do her powers. Soon she surpasses all the other Wise Women in her village in both strength and skill. Hungry for more, she secretly learns the spells that are reserved for male magicians, hoping the knowledge will keep her safe—maybe even earn her mother’s love. But all the magical power she possesses isn’t enough to protect her mother and sisters from the brutality of life in the village. When her mother dies at the hands of a lecherous warrior, sixteen-year-old Senestre dedicates herself to vengeance in her mother’s name.

Blinded by hate, she sets in motion a tangled plot that she does not fully understand. Determined to prove her worth, she carries out her mother’s strange last wish and curses an unknown baby girl to die. Only when she comes face to face with Aurora on the princess’ sixteenth birthday will her mother’s plot—and its price—become clear.


First 250 Words:

My eyes darted to the bedroom window. The sun hung halfway below the horizon—I’d almost run out of time. “Please help me. You know how awful the testing is.”

My fingers tightened around the lump of hard brown bread I held out to my half-sisters. Rhea and Starling eyed the bribe from the corner where they crouched, swallowing as hunger made their mouths water. I swallowed too—I’d scrimped the bread from my own meager dinner.

“All I’m asking is if you’re up first, wake me. That’s it. I know I can’t get out of the testing tomorrow, but maybe I can avoid being scared awake.” I shivered. “That’s the worst part.”

I took a step forward and stretched my hand out further, emboldened at a hint of a sympathetic nod from little Starling. Fabric rustled behind me. I froze.

Wren darted into the room and snatched the bread from me. Clutching her prize to her chest, she glared at Rhea, the only one of our sisters large enough to challenge her. But Rhea suddenly found the sunflower-colored braid circling Starling’s head fascinating. Wren relaxed. She raised the chunk of bread to her mouth and tore off a bite.

My own mouth watered. The others watched as intently as a flock of birds hoping for crumbs. I should have known none of them would brave the Woman’s wrath for me. Unless I could come up with another plan, I’d have an empty belly followed by a terrifying morning.

9 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.

    I like your query letter. I see some plot concerns that crop up, for instance, it seems like Senestre should know more about the curse and make it based on more than obedience to her mother. I don’t like when it’s happenstance that drives the plot, so it’d be nice if the things that happen in the novel are the direct result of the protagonists choices and desires or the villain who is actively trying to stop them.
    One odd concern was that this book sounded very YA until the last sentence.

    First 250:
    I have nothing to add. This is great. Maybe don’t have her eyes dart to the window. It always makes me think her eyes grew legs and are running for the window.

    I really liked this and would absolutely read on.
    If you have any questions, or want any clarification about my statements here, feel free to drop me a line.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi! Kathy from #TeamRarity here! My comments are my opinions only. Take what helps you make your words better and forget the rest. It's your show.

    Ten-year-old bastard Maleficent (renamed Senestre for this retelling) (so, her name is Maleficent, nicknamed Senestre? Or Senestre is based on Maleficent? Why mention Maleficent at all? Just use Senestre.) is painfully aware that she should never have been born. Her mother is hell-bent on revenge against the Vesii who abducted her when she was just a teen. If Senestre can’t prove herself valuable to her mother’s quest, she won’t live to turn eleven. When Senestre’s gift for magic flares to life during her testing ritual, she escapes death at her mother’s hands only to find herself embroiled in a convoluted plot against her will.

    As she grows, so do her powers. Soon she surpasses all the other Wise Women in her village in both strength and skill. Hungry for more, she secretly learns the spells that are reserved for male magicians, hoping the knowledge will keep her safe—maybe even earn her mother’s love. But all the magical power she possesses isn’t enough to protect her mother and sisters from the brutality of life in the village (what brutality?). When her mother dies at the hands of a lecherous warrior, sixteen-year-old Senestre dedicates herself to vengeance in her mother’s name.

    Blinded by hate, she sets in motion a tangled plot that she does not fully understand (how does she not understand?). Determined to prove her worth (to whom?), she carries out her mother’s strange last wish and curses an unknown baby girl to die. Only when she comes face to face with Aurora on the princess’ sixteenth birthday will her mother’s plot—and its price—become clear. (NEAT! Is this linked to the initial plot by the mom with the Vasii? WHAT IS THE PRICE?!?!?!)

    Feels like different parts and I'm not sure how they all connect. At 11, she's trying to prove her worth to her mom by being useful in her mom's quest to get revenge on the Vesii...what happened to being tangled in a plot she couldn't escape?
    Then she's older and gaining power...even learning magic only men do...hoping the power will keep her safe, from what? And can't keep her mom and sisters safe, but her mom was out for revenge before, I thought she had power? Then her mom is killed and she decides to do what her mom can't? Deliver a curse? Is she still trying to earn her mom's love even after she's gone? Is this need for her mom's love driving her through the ms? Why perform a curse she doesn't understand? Especially when she has so much power, probably more than her mother did. Then the story ends sixteen years after that? It feels disconnected. I feel lost. Maybe it's just me. What is the main story? Sorry I'm asking so many questions, I'm just really interested.
    And this is adult? Feels YA...Though I wonder about the whole brutality of life in the village and how that can be adult...

    ReplyDelete
  3. First 250 Words:

    My eyes (*gaze?) darted to the bedroom window. The sun hung halfway below the horizon—I’d almost run out of time. “Please help me. You know how awful the testing is.” (Nice tension! I am intrigued.)

    My fingers tightened around the lump of hard brown bread I held out to my half-sisters. Rhea and Starling eyed the bribe from the corner where they crouched, swallowing as hunger made their mouths water. I swallowed too—I’d scrimped the bread from my own meager dinner.

    “All I’m asking is if you’re up first, wake me. That’s it. I know I can’t get out of the testing tomorrow, but maybe I can avoid being scared awake.” I shivered. “That’s the worst part.” (Scared awake...testing...OH!)

    I took a step forward and stretched my hand out further, emboldened at a hint of a sympathetic nod from little Starling. Fabric rustled behind me. I froze.

    Wren darted into the room and snatched the bread from me. Clutching her prize to her chest, she glared at Rhea, the only one of our sisters large enough to challenge her. But Rhea suddenly found the sunflower-colored braid circling Starling’s head fascinating. Wren relaxed. She raised the chunk of bread to her mouth and tore off a bite.

    My own mouth watered. The others watched as intently as a flock of birds hoping for crumbs. I should have known none of them would brave the Woman’s (woman? I thought Wren was her sister, a kid?) wrath for me. Unless I could come up with another plan, I’d have an empty belly followed by a terrifying morning.

    Well...I'M IN! This is a great beginning. I love it. I feel for this kid. I'd love tiny details to set the scene. Sights, sounds, smells. But mostly I was involved with the girls.
    Thanks for sharing your writing!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks, Kathy and Rena. I'm definitely going to work on the query some more, and tweak the 250 a smidge. I've had a hard time with the query because there's a huge plot twist when she meets Aurora that makes some other things fall into place and make sense. But I don't want to give the twist away in the query. The main theme is really her lifelong drive to win her mother's love and what she'll sacrifice to earn it. I'll try to drill it down to that even more, since that theme ties everything together.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Crits from Cari:

    Title: SENESTRE
    Category and Genre: Adult Fantasy
    Word Count: 93,000
    (Just a note: I have an issue calling this Adult Fantasy, when it’s clearly YA. Your MC is at first ten y/o, then 16. Unless this deals with adult themes, sex, and language, I’m not sure why it isn’t classified as a YA)
    Query:
    Ten-year-old bastard Maleficent (renamed Senestre for this retelling) (I wouldn’t say this here. In your final paragraph, where you talk about the book title, word count, etc… you can say this is a Maleficent retelling) is painfully aware that she should never have been born. Her mother is hell-bent on revenge against the Vesii (who are the Vesii? Giving me this name doesn’t tell me anything, and is just confusing.) who abducted her (Why? What was the conflict? Keep it short.) when she was just a teen. If Senestre can’t prove herself valuable to her mother’s quest, she won’t live to turn eleven. When Senestre’s gift for magic flares to life during her testing ritual, she escapes death at her mother’s hands only to find herself embroiled in a convoluted plot against her will.

    As she grows, so do her powers. Soon she surpasses all the other Wise Women in her village in both strength and skill. Hungry for more, she secretly learns the spells that are reserved for male magicians, hoping the knowledge will keep her safe—maybe even earn her mother’s love. But all the magical power she possesses isn’t enough to protect her mother and sisters from the brutality of life in the village. When her mother dies at the hands of a lecherous warrior, sixteen-year-old Senestre dedicates herself to vengeance in her mother’s name.

    Blinded by hate, she sets in motion a tangled plot that she does not fully understand (and I don’t fully understand what this means. I’d cut it and get the next sentence where you say exactly what happens.). Determined to prove her worth, she carries out her mother’s strange last wish and curses an unknown baby girl to die. Only when she comes face to face with Aurora on the princess’ sixteenth birthday will her mother’s plot—and its price—become clear. (Love this!)


    First 250 Words:

    My eyes darted to the bedroom window. The sun hung halfway below the horizon—I’d almost run out of time. “Please help me. You know how awful the testing is.” (Who is speaking? To whom?)

    My fingers tightened around the lump of hard brown bread I held out to my half-sisters. Rhea and Starling eyed the bribe from the corner where they crouched, swallowing as hunger made their mouths water. I swallowed too—I’d scrimped the bread from my own meager dinner.

    “All I’m asking is if you’re up first, wake me. That’s it. I know I can’t get out of the testing tomorrow, but maybe I can avoid being scared awake.” I shivered. “That’s the worst part.”

    I took a step forward and stretched my hand out further, emboldened at a hint of a sympathetic nod from little Starling. Fabric rustled behind me. I froze.

    Wren darted into the room and snatched the bread from me. Clutching her prize to her chest, she glared at Rhea, the only one of our sisters large enough to challenge her. But Rhea suddenly found the sunflower-colored braid circling Starling’s head fascinating. Wren relaxed. She raised the chunk of bread to her mouth and tore off a bite.

    My own mouth watered. The others watched as intently as a flock of birds hoping for crumbs. I should have known none of them would brave the Woman’s (who is the Woman? If it’s the mother, just say that. It really gives more of a feel for why they’re living the way they do) wrath for me. Unless I could come up with another plan, I’d have an empty belly followed by a terrifying morning.
    (this is a good start. Sets the scene for how abused the girls are. I’d add some more sensory intakes to really ground the reader in the scene. How does the air smell? Where are they, and what kind of stark furnishings are around? If she’s hungry, how does that feel in her body? Overall, good start. Best of luck!)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Interesting but I'm curious why it's been marketed as adult fantasy and not YA.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Okay, LOTS of questions to get to discussing! Thanks for all the feedback, first off.

    The naming issue is probably the quickest to address. This is a loose retelling of Sleeping Beauty. It sticks closer to the Grimm & Perrault versions than the Disney one, and Disney came up with the idea of naming her Maleficent. So I assume that name for that character is under copyright, first off. Senestre is a play off the Latin roots of the name. In my standard query, the sentence clarifying that Maleficent is the MC, but renamed to Senestre, does come in the final paragraph with the WC & comps. Since we left that para out of these queries, I moved it up to the 1st para instead, which does sound more awkward, I know. Since her name isn't used in the opening 250, only her nickname, I suppose I could cut that bit out of this version of the query.

    The Woman is their mom; that's made very clear soon after this scene, along with the reason the MC refuses to think of her as "mom." Basically, the mom is suffering from PTSD from repeated physical and sexual abuse, and she's not a pleasant person to be around, to put it mildly. She hates the kids, and especially the MC, because she takes after her father the most. The mom and kids have a terrible, messed up relationship.

    The big question is the age category. I've hashed it over many times. I'll list off my reasoning for marketing it as adult and not YA, and I'm definitely open to any feedback as to whether you think I should keep it A or change it to YA.

    First off, the tone and subject matter is very dark. Yes, YA can be dark. But it's definitely targeted more at older teens at the least. It's not a story I'd personally feel comfortable handing off to any teens I know under 16. (But also most of the teens I know well are Mormon, so my POV on what is appropriate may be a little off, I know.)
    Second, the story follows Senestre from age 10-16, which is when her mom dies and she vows to cast the curse just like her mom always wanted to carry out her mom's revenge. Then the story continues, with the MC age 16, a quick stop in her 20s, and then the final quarter is when she comes to curse Aurora. Aurora is 16, and Senestre is now 32. So the story spans a large portion of her life. I wasn't sure if that would appeal to teenage readers. (But on the flipside, I might have the same problem with the first half and adult readers, although plenty of adults read YA, so...hopefully not?)
    Lastly, the theme, which is the main reason I ended up picking adult. Senestre spends her formative years hating her mom, but wishing that her mother would love her, wishing that things could be different. Then she's given this insane task, to curse Aurora, and it's the only thing her mom ever wanted, the only thing she ever asked her for. Senestre is so starved for love that she'll do anything for her mom's approval, even though it's posthumous. And through some twists and turns, she discovers what her mom really wanted her to do and why, and she ends up making this huge, unimaginable sacrifice, because at heart she's still that broken little girl who wants to make her mom happy. She won't be able to be content with herself until she's proven that she was worthy of her mother's love, if mom had been capable of love. It's kind of a women's fiction theme delivered via fantasy.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I've reworked the query a bit. Any thoughts?

    Ten-year-old bastard Maleficent is painfully aware that she should never have been born. Her mother is hell-bent on revenge against the marauding villagers who abducted her when she was just a teen. If Senestre can’t prove herself valuable to her mother’s quest, she won’t live to turn eleven. When Senestre’s gift for magic flares to life during her testing ritual, she escapes death at her mother’s hands only to find herself a pawn in a convoluted plot that relies on her magic.

    As she grows, so do her powers. Hungry for more, Senestre secretly learns the spells that are reserved for male magicians, hoping the knowledge will be enough to earn her mother’s love. But all the magical power she possesses isn’t enough to protect her mother and sisters from the brutality of life in the village. When her mother dies at the hands of a lecherous warrior, sixteen-year-old Senestre pledges to carry out her mother's plan, no matter how strange it seems.

    Blinded by hate and determined to prove her worth, she carries out her mother’s bizarre last wish and curses a stranger's baby girl to die. Senestre thinks she's willing to sacrifice anything to prove that she was worth loving. Until she comes face to face with Aurora on the princess’ sixteenth birthday and her mother’s real plot—and its price—becomes clear.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Ten-year-old bastard Maleficent(, nicknamed Senestre,) is painfully aware that she should never have been born. Her mother is hell-bent on revenge against the marauding villagers who abducted her (I keep thinking this refers to Senestre...Her mother, having been abducted by marauding villagers as a teen... then give us how she treats Senestre, how Senestre feels about her, keep this in Senestre's POV and not as much as backstory. We should learn what she wants...her mother's love? What is going to drive her through the story?) when she was just a teen. If Senestre (This added name/name change throws me. Add it in at the beginning?) can’t prove herself valuable to her mother’s quest (for revenge), she won’t live to turn eleven. When Senestre’s gift for magic flares to life during her testing ritual, she escapes death at her mother’s hands (only to find herself a pawn in a convoluted plot that relies on her magic. This is vague...and then going into the next para, which has nothing to do with this plot, leaves me hanging and confused. Maybe end with something about now that she has magic, she is valuable...or maybe she is finally worthy of love?)

    As she grows, so do her powers. Hungry for more, Senestre secretly learns the spells that are reserved for male magicians, hoping the knowledge will be enough to earn her mother’s love. (But all the magical power she possesses isn’t enough to protect her mother and sisters from the brutality of life in the village. I question the necessity of this last sentence.) When her mother dies at the hands of a lecherous warrior, sixteen-year-old Senestre pledges to carry out her mother's plan (because she's angry? because she still wants to prove herself?), no matter how strange it seems.

    Blinded by hate and determined to prove her worth, she (*carries out her mother’s bizarre last wish and...not needed) curses a stranger's baby girl to die. (And she feels...what?) Senestre thinks she's willing to sacrifice anything to prove that she was worth loving. Until she comes face to face with Aurora on the princess’ sixteenth birthday and her mother’s real plot—and its price—becomes clear. (That is intriguing!)

    The YA vs adult question. I realized when I read the query the first time that Senestre ended up in her thirties...think about how much of the book takes place when she's an adult...and think about the main character arc. This seems to be a book about finding oneself, proving oneself...which is a YA theme. And yes, YA can handle dark. I don't know this ms as well as you, so I can't say. Is it written with a lot of conflicting emotions, with a lot of internal thoughts? That would lend it to YA as well. It will appeal to both categories, but you can't market it as both, so choose the one you feel it best fits. I think if she starts as a kid and most of the book is with her as a teen, then YA, the readers will follow her into adulthood to see how it concludes, and the emotions at the end will all link to when she was a kid...the prove her worth, that she's lovable.

    ReplyDelete

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