Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Sun Vs. Snow Critique Workshop Entry

(Thanks to the amazing Michelle Hauck and Amy Trueblood for hosting this amazing workshop. Also, a huge thank you to everyone who takes their time to leave amazing feedback here. The link to join with a blog post of your own -- including your query and first 250 words -- is open until February 21st, so come check out this post to add your link, join in, and leave feedback for each other!)

Title: THE MIRRORMASTERS

Genre: YA fantasy

Word Count: 98,000


REVISED QUERY:

Dear Amazing Agent,


Leah Ellis never knew why she was abandoned on the beach at two years old. That is, until her life takes a bizarre turn when she begins seeing images in mirrors she can’t explain--cloaked figures using powers that manifest like lightning bolts, or flash-frozen beaches on another world beneath a purple sky.

She practices mirror-gazing, driven to understand these images and their possible connection to her forgotten past, and discovers a wild, boundless power coursing through her veins. Soon, she learns to control what the mirror shows her.

When new neighbors move in, Leah is shocked that they're dead ringers for the people in her visions. According to Brian, with the gorgeous ice-blue eyes, and his father, she is a MirrorMaster--an alien with a gift that lets her travel through mirrors, even to worlds light years away. Her birth parents sent them to take her back to her homeworld of Jantyr.

But Leah’s long-lost birth sister activated an ancient device to trigger a cataclysm on Jantyr as a bid to consolidate her own power. Leah must return to Jantyr, master her newfound ability in order to disable the device, and thwart her sister’s plans. Otherwise, the destruction will consume the entire galaxy, including Earth and everyone she loves.

THE MIRRORMASTERS is a 98,000-word fantasy for young adults. I have earned a graduate degree in Psychology from Widener University and work at a local residential facility serving autistic children and teens. My short story, "Unfinished," was published online on author Samantha Mabry's website, Flash Paranormal Fiction. My short science fiction/apocalyptic story, “Defying the Darkness,” is published through Novelty Fiction. Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Warmest Regards,


Lora Palmer


REVISED FIRST 250:

Every single year on this date, June 15th, strange things happened. Mysterious pulses of light flickered in the forest. Not-quite-solid figures appeared in the cemetery one second and disappeared the next. All day, I couldn’t shake the intuition that this year would bring something much worse than the usual weirdness, much worse than the usual gibes about how it began thirteen years ago, the same night my parents found me abandoned on the beach.

“Let’s watch something light—not a horror movie,” I said.

“Leah, Leah, Leah.” My brother David shook his head and scooted closer to my best friend, Kara, on their loveseat. They shared a conspiratorial grin. “Don’t tell me you want to watch some lame comedy when we can have a slasher fest. Besides, it’s tradition.”

A shiver raced down my spine at the mental image the idea conjured, one of chilling music, strangled sobs and hitching breaths, followed by screams silenced. Tonight also marked the town tragedy of the 1870s, when strangers murdered the Stanford twins, the mayor’s daughters. Of course David would insist we do something scary to commemorate the anniversary.

“Come on!” I shot him a pleading look. “I’m sure you breezed through exams, but I took three AP finals this week and fielded a million alien jokes today. I deserve a break from crazy.”

“Just go out to the cemetery with us,” Kara said, her eyes sparkling. “We won’t do anything risky, I promise.”

Sure. Why wait for trouble to find us when we can seek it out and bring it right here?

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this with me! I hope my comments are useful. Let me know if you have any questions. Leave a comment on my blog: https://kamerhesthebestthingsince.wordpress.com/

    Query:
    + “dead ringers for the people in her visions”—you mean the people in the mirror?
    + “her birth parents sent them to take her from Earth”—I’m wondering (1) why did the new neighbors/aliens bother to purchase and move into a new home. Why not just snatch Leah, get back on their alien spaceship, and get on with it, and (2) why didn’t her parents come for her themselves…not their day to carpool?
    + okay, despite my smart-ass comments—sorry, it’s a default setting—I really love this concept! Mirrors and far-away planets and hot aliens…YAY! But I am wondering how the whole mirror thing works off-world. And how much of the novel will be on Earth vs. on Jantyr?
    + Is the ancient device related to the mirror-gazing at all? ‘Cuz it does seem like it should be…
    + I’m also wondering if Leah significantly “refuses the call”…because she is described as being content with her life as is. So what would her stakes be in going to save her birth planet? Does her mirror-gazing addiction put her in some kind of trouble to the extent that she needs to go to Jantyr for other reasons besides the obvious, self-sacrificing one?

    First 250:
    + Would it be possible to move the shiver-sending action to the front of your first sentence? It might prove a punchier opening line.
    + I like starting with the scary movie—sets a good tone.
    + Sorry…HS teacher here…AP tests are given first half of May worldwide, no exceptions. Leah would not have taken three AP exams around June 15th. I wouldn’t have mentioned it if not for the fact that some of your teen readers will know this too.
    + “I’m sure you breezed…break from crazy.”—I didn’t get the connection between the comedy vs. slasher flick debate and “a break from crazy.” I think I can infer…but the connection could be clearer. Maybe just add something to the dialogue that draws the connecting line more clearly.
    + Wait—weird things happen every year on June 15th? But the query suggests her life pre-mirror-gazing is pretty mundane… Did I get it wrong?
    + There’s four characters in this first 250. Now, I’m not one to point fingers when it comes to a lot of characters…but is there a way to do David and Kara in a separate scene from the ponderings about Jenny? Not like in a different chapter or anything, maybe just a different location…maybe she’s moving around the house—from the living room where they’re watching the movie to the kitchen where she’s getting something to eat or something. Just to get some “distance” (pun intended) between the characters.
    + I’m not sure your first 250 words lives up to the awesomeness that is your story’s concept. It makes me wonder what else happens in the first 10+ pages…if maybe you’re not starting your story in the right place. I could be wrong though. I’ll be anxious to hear what others say.
    Good Luck and Happy Writing!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Awesome concept. Thanks for letting me read.

    QUERY: Not sure you need the line about the mirror gazing being addictive-seemed kind of superfluous for a query. Brian and his father . . . the neighbors? Not totally clear. That's all I got . . . the rest is great.

    250 words:
    I was expecting something a little more out-of-this-world, after that query. Don't get me wrong, I know you gotta introduce characters, but I expected to see her right in front of the mirror or something. I also agree with the comment above that your query makes it sound as if her life has been mundane and you mention all the weirdness on June 15th? Hmmmm. . . . I like that you established that Leah's not into gore and she's pretty bright if she's taking three APs, but I wonder, too, if there is another place that you might want to start?

    All that said, very cool premise and your writing is solid. Good luck!

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  3. kamerhe and Erin, thank you both so much for all your helpful feedback! You've both given me a lot to think about. This story has been through a million and one revisions as far as the beginning goes, and it is tough to try to find a beginning that grounds the reader in Leah's world vs. gets into the fun otherwordly elements. I'll see what I can do about tweaking the query so it doesn't seem that life is so mundane first. Yeah, there is the slight weirdness every year, though the terrifying images in her mirror cross the line into bizarre territory :). Leah does end up in front of the mirror within the first five pages, though :).

    kamerhe, thank you so much for all your great questions on the query. Yeah, her birth parents don't have the same ability she does, and they are in a position of leadership, so basically they sent Brian's father to find Leah and bring her home, not thinking it would take more than a quick search. He was their best tracker. Yes, he and Brian are dead ringers for the people Leah saw in the mirror. Maybe I could clarify that by saying mirror-vision. The mirror-gazing thing is related to the device, as it's a power that lets her find and use that device. Hopefully a hint of that comes through clearly enough in the query. Oh, and Leah does partly want to refuse the call because it means leaving behind everyone and everything she knows and loves--but at the same time, she wants to meet her birth family and stop this device. Because if she doesn't, the stakes are that Earth will be destroyed, too.

    Ohh, and thank you for saying that about the AP exams! I meant finals in her AP classes, so that's a quick but important fix. I could have Leah say she's sure David breezed through his exams but she's had 3 AP finals. I'll see about the ending of the first 250 so that we don't also have Jenny.

    Erin, I'll see what I can do to clarify about Brian and his father somehow, and I'll take another look at the line about mirror-gazing being addictive--especially since the next line gives a flavor of what drives her to practice.

    Thanks again for all your awesome feedback!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Query: All four paras are very interesting, but they seem disconnected. Too many subplots. Try stripping it down to the main plot. (ex. neighbors moving in, is that important?)

    First page: It feels like you started the book twice...first with the movie scene, then with "Every single year...".

    Even though I love the scary movie bit, I'm not sure it added anything to the story. Plus, isn't that how most scary movies start? with kids watching a scary movie?

    sorry for the tough love...you have a great concept here and the writing is solid. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Query: Solid premise! But there is a lot you can cut out from the query to get it down to the most important grabby elements. Lines that come off as repetitive because its meaning is already understood (for example: " she hadn't thought much about it over the years"), or tightening the wording (for example: "that it's kind of addictive") will make a big difference.

    Specific comments below:

    Leah Ellis never knew why she was found [delete "found"] abandoned on the beach at two years old.

    Content with her adoptive family and small town life, she hadn't thought much about it over the years. [cut this second part and combine this with next sentence]

    That is, until her life takes a bizarre turn when she begins seeing images in mirrors she can’t explain--cloaked figures using powers that manifest like lightning bolts, or flash-frozen beaches on another world beneath a purple sky.

    She practices mirror-gazing, driven to understand these images and their possible connection to her forgotten past, and discovers that it’s kind of addictive ["becomes addicted to its wild..." is a more active way to express this]

    with its wild, boundless power coursing through her veins. [how does seeing images make power course through her veins? Is it a feeling it gives her?]

    Soon, she learns to control what the mirror shows her.

    When new neighbors move in, Leah is shocked that they're dead ringers for the people in her visions. According to Brian, with the gorgeous ice-blue eyes, and his father, [delete the mention of Brian and his father unless they are bigger characters. "They reveal to her" is enough for here]

    she is a MirrorMaster--an alien with a gift that lets her travel through mirrors, even to worlds light years away. [do all the MirrorMasters have this gift?]

    Her birth parents sent them to take her from Earth [delete "from Earth"]

    back to her homeworld of Jantyr, a planet she doesn’t remember. They’ve searched for her ever since she disappeared.

    But Leah’s long-lost birth sister, a sorceress, [her being a sorceress doesn't really add anything here]

    activated an ancient device to trigger a cataclysm on Jantyr as a bid to consolidate her own power. [consolidate how?]

    Leah must return to Jantyr, master her newfound ability [in order to locate and wield crystals that will - DELETE this] disable the device, and thwart her sister’s plans. Otherwise, the destruction will consume the entire galaxy, including Earth and everyone she loves.

    First 250: I like where you've started. I like the anniversary of a "weird day", but I'm not sure Jenny being an hour late is enough for concern. (Maybe because my friends are perpetually late). Maybe you explain this further in the rest of the chapter, so I won't comment on it too much.

    I think you can spend some more time on the June 15th thing. Strange things happening to whom? Or in the city they live in? Did they personally see these lights in the forest and things in the cemetary? Or maybe start there, which is more unique than a slasher movie they're watching (that ultimately won't have anything to do with the bigger plot)?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi there, #43 from the Blog Hop chiming in.

    Haven't seen an alien premise quite like this before, so I like it. Perhaps the magic could be downplayed in favor of the sci-fi elements.

    Query: I agree with the above comments about streamlining/cutting unnecessary words. I've made some suggestions for eliminating words in [ ] and adding words in ( ).


    Leah Ellis never knew why she was [found] abandoned on the beach at two years old. Content with her adoptive family and small town life, she hadn't thought much about it over the years. That is, until her life takes a bizarre turn when she begins seeing images in mirrors she can’t explain--cloaked figures using powers that manifest like lightning bolts, or flash-frozen beaches on another world beneath a purple sky.

    She practices mirror-gazing, driven to understand these images and their possible connection to her forgotten past, and discovers [that it’s kind of addictive with its] (a) wild, boundless power coursing through her veins. Soon, she learns to control what the mirror shows her.

    When new neighbors move in, Leah is shocked that they're dead ringers for the people in her visions. According to Brian, with the gorgeous ice-blue eyes, and his father, she is a MirrorMaster--an alien with a gift that lets her travel through mirrors, even to worlds light years away. [Her birth parents sent them to take her from Earth back to her homeworld of Jantyr, a planet she doesn’t remember. They’ve searched for her ever since she disappeared.] (Brian's mission is to take her back to Jantyr, where she was born.)

    But Leah’s long-lost birth sister[, a sorceress,] activated an ancient device to trigger a cataclysm on Jantyr [as a bid to consolidate her own power]. Leah must return to Jantyr, (and) master her newfound ability in order to [locate and wield crystals that will] disable the device, and thwart her sister’s plans. Otherwise, the destruction will consume the entire galaxy, including Earth and everyone she loves.

    250: Not sure about your choice of opening scene-the first sentence is actually a teaser that I've seen frowned on because it isn't "real." What's more interesting is the fact that she's noticed June 15 always has strange things happening-that could be played up more instead of the horror movie-and that Jenny doesn't show. None of these characters are essential to your query, except as the loved ones she will have to save, but I assume that the weirdness will play a part in her being an alien so that should be built up because otherwise the first page doesn't relate very much to your premise. Maybe to foreshadow better that that is the turn your story will take, you could have a comment by one of your characters related to it. For maybe an obvious over the top instance, if David said something like, "What kind of alien are you that you don't want to watch a horror movie?"

    Overall, though I like the concept and think you have some great ideas to work with.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi Lora,

    I posted a critique 3 days ago but it never showed. I think blogspot has trouble with my wordpress login so I'm trying Google. I'll try to recreate my thoughts from the first read-through and add some thoughts from the second read-through.
    Query:
    -I was really drawn in by the third paragraph. I think the first 2 paragraphs are backstory heavy, and cutting that to get to the excitement in paragraph 3 could draw the reader in more. You can also use this extra space to expand more on the stakes - why are the crystals so important, why is Leah so important, and more details about the destruction of the galaxy.
    First 250:
    Love the fifth paragraph. I think it's awesome you got to what makes Leah special so quickly -- it's so hard to do in the first 250. I'm intrigued and want to know more. I do agree with Melissa about the opening scene/teaser comment since agents seem to shy away from this.
    Hope this posts! Best of luck!
    Gloria #46 https://gloriachao.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/sun-vs-snow-blog-hop/

    ReplyDelete