Friday, February 13, 2015

The Sun is Still Shining Pitch Critique Blog Hop Entry

If you have trouble leaving a comment you can email your feedback krista.snapdragon@gmail.com

Title: XAVIER HOWELL AND THE MYSTERIOUS BLACK SPACESHIP
Genre: MG Science Fiction Adventure
Word Count: 48,000

35 Word Pitch:

Twelve year-old Xavier Howell has a knack for making things go awry on colossal scale. Other than that he's just an ordinary kid on an average outer world colony … as far as he knows.

Query:

Dear [Ms./Mr.] [Name], Illustrious-Agent-Type-Person

Twelve year-old Xavier Howell has a knack for making things go awry on colossal scale. Like the time his beetle trap science fair project experiment turned into a minefield of exploding dung bombs. Other than that he's just an ordinary kid on an average outer world colony … at least as far as he knows.

Everything changes when a mysterious black spaceship shows up and fries the colony to a crisp (think "burnt pancake"). Then the puzzle box Xavier's mother gave him before she died opens and plays a holographic message. That's how Xavier learns about the microchip in his head that "The Man" will do anything to get his hands on.

With a band of eclectic sidekicks that includes a quirky professor, a robot with multiple personalities, and a girl super genius—Xavier must escape the Mysterious Black Spaceship, discover his own amazing talents, and solve his mother's riddles to unlock the microchip.

All while using is super impressive and not dorky at all ninja moves to dodge giant-man-eating-plant-thingys.

Xavier Howell and the Mysterious Black Spaceship is the first book in a humorous middle grade science fiction adventure series (in which many things explode including poo, goo, and airlocks) told in 40,000 of Xavier's uniquely eccentric words. It is peppered with tidbits I've picked up through my experience as a software engineer, science fiction and fantasy geek, and a book nerd.

Like Xavier I had to come to realize that the things I thought were my most dismal led to my greatest triumphs. We are all more than we think we are.

Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon,

Krista Wayment

First 250 words:

I thought to myself: Self, that’s not supposed to happen—just as the second dung bomb exploded. As the smelly, sticky, brownish-green substance flew through the air like shrapnel; I knew somewhere I'd made a slight miscalculation. Taking a moment as I crouched in one of the wheat fields that surrounded the colony on Kevin 5, I reviewed the parameters of my little experiment.

The traps consisted of plastic trays that held a chemical Mr. Finch, the colony's bug guy, assured me would be poisonous to the black bellied grain beetle. The trays were covered by a heap of cow dung to attract said beetles (again according to the illustrious Mr. Finch). Perhaps I should've consulted the colony chemist, too.

The third beetle-trap-turned-dung-bomb exploded.

"Xavier Howell!"

I cringed. I didn't recognize the voice, the colony was small but not that small, but its tone was certainly familiar. My reputation had preceded me. Turning around slowly, I came face to knees with one of the grain farmers. I couldn't remember the man’s name, but I might've been distracted by the fact that he was covered—from head to toe—in dung.

"Yes, sir?" Why does my voice always crack at times like these?

His angry reply was cut off by the fourth and final explosion. The trap I'd proudly dubbed ‘The Hotel’ went out in a blaze of glory, spewing forth a cloud of brown and a jet of yellow flames. The wave of brown speckles struck the farmer's back and then fell lightly on my face.

12 comments:

  1. Okay, here goes again :)
    pitch - I like how you immediately characterize the MC and he's definitely likable. One point - try giving an example of what he did. Like - 12 yo Xavier has a knack for making things go awry, like the dung bombs that wrecked the chemistry lab.
    You could delete 'colossal scale' as the example shows it.
    Query - loved it. The voice is awesome. Only issue, I couldn't relate to 'The Man'. He hadn't been mention earlier or since, yet the MC seemed to know him.
    250 - loved, loved the humor. 2 things - You could take out 'I thought to myself' and put his thought in italics to avoid the filter. Be careful with the number of I in the first paragraph.
    Thanks for the read.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Query:
    Great hook/first part of your intro. Felt like I got to know character and setting.

    If you were submitting this to an agent/editor, I’d suggest putting the title in the body in ALL CAPS and include the word count in a more succinct way. Also, some agents love seeing voice in a query and others not, so be sure to do some research on people before you query them.

    I’d leave out the realization line and also the description of yourself as software engineer, etc. and put in only something about your writing experience. Do you have anything published? Are you part of any nationally recognized writer’s orgs like SCBWI?

    First 250:
    I’d like to know where he is before the bomb goes off. Can you tell us about the field before the end of the paragraph?

    Otherwise it’s a fun beginning, especially for a MG novel. :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I like your premise for this MG. It strikes me almost like Douglass Adams for middle schoolers. Very cool.

    The hook works but is vague. (Of course, I am just as frustrated with everyone else about how to make it precise in 35 freaking words). But something along the lines of "Xavier has a knack for [specific harm done to specific person]". From the novel description it looks like a lot of things will go wrong, but the pick the big one or the main one and leave it at that.

    The query letter is well-written, although there is some "editorializing" about how you wrote the book, etc., that can probably be cut out. I.e. this line:
    "
    Like Xavier I had to come to realize that the things I thought were my most dismal led to my greatest triumphs. We are all more than we think we are. "
    That sounds more like you being interviewed about the book then just trying to sell the book to an agent. All the advice I've read about queries is to remove any information that isn't strictly about the novel or elements of your background that show writing experience. Just my $0.02 though, I haven't published a book yet so I'm definitely no expert.

    On the 250 words, I like the tone and voice. I think you could probably make it a bit clearer--its the first page and set in another world, so the situation has to be simple for the reader to follow. Its moving a bit fast for 250 words... maybe just narrate the explosion of the first dung bomb.

    Also a few phrases which didn't quite fit the tone of the novel:

    "I reviewed the parameters of my little experiment. " Parameters is a bit of a complicated word for the genre. Also, the preceding clause is a bit long for a dependent clause in a sentence.

    "Yes, sir?" Why does my voice always crack at times like these? Two back to back questions, one said out loud and one not, is a bit confusing for the first 250 words. I would suggest changing the second sentence to a declarative statement.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Pitch: Twelve year-old Xavier Howell has a knack for making things go awry on colossal scale. (Otherwise he's) just an ordinary kid on an average outer world colony … as far as he knows.
    Query:

    Dear [Ms./Mr.] [Name], Illustrious-Agent-Type-Person

    Twelve year-old Xavier Howell has a knack for making things go awry on colossal scale. Like the time his beetle trap science fair project experiment turned into a minefield of exploding dung bombs. Other than that he's just an ordinary kid on an average outer world colony … {deleted} as far as he knows.

    Everything changes when a mysterious black spaceship shows up and fries the colony to a crisp (think "burnt pancake"). (Why is Xavier not burnt?) Then (I personally dislike sentences that start with Then ... Maybe start with what he was doing - e.g. hiding under the ... as these two sentences feel disconnected) the puzzle box Xavier's mother gave him before she died opens and plays a holographic message. That's how Xavier learns about the microchip in his head that "The Man" will do anything to get his hands on.

    With a band of eclectic sidekicks that includes a quirky professor, a robot with multiple personalities, and a girl super genius— (I think you could delete the first sentence of this paragraph - generally, i've been told, agents don't care to hear about secondary characters in queries) Xavier must escape the Mysterious Black Spaceship (is he on the spaceship now?), discover his own amazing talents, and solve his mother's riddles to unlock the microchip.

    All while using is super impressive and not dorky at all ninja moves to dodge giant-man-eating-plant-thingys. (why is this a new paragraph?)

    Xavier Howell and the Mysterious Black Spaceship is the first book in a humorous middle grade science fiction adventure series (in which many things explode including poo, goo, and airlocks) told in 40,000 of Xavier's uniquely eccentric words. It is peppered with tidbits I've picked up through my experience as a software engineer, science fiction and fantasy geek, and a book nerd. (Great bio)

    Like Xavier I had to come to realize that the things I thought were my most dismal led to my greatest triumphs. We are all more than we think we are.

    Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon,

    Krista Wayment

    I have to say that I love your character's name (my oldest son is an Xavier). I think overall this query is very strong.

    I love the start of your 250

    In this paragraph: The traps consisted of plastic trays that held a chemical Mr. Finch, the colony's bug guy, assured me would be poisonous to the black bellied grain beetle. The trays were covered by a heap of cow dung to attract said beetles (again according to the illustrious Mr. Finch). Perhaps I should've consulted the colony chemist, too.

    Could you start with "The trays were covered" it would lend more context as I was sure what the traps had to do with the first paragraph until I got to this sentence.

    The next several paragraphs are great.
    Here: His angry reply was cut off by the fourth and final explosion.. I feel that you could delete 'angry' as it feels like head jumping.
    Terrific first 250 overall.
    I was hoping you could come back to my blog as I wanted some clarification on some of the feedback you had provided. Thanks Krista and best of luck. I think you've got something really good here.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Sorry... I noticed an error in my feedback...in the paragraph that starts with "Could you start"... my feedback was supposed to be "I wasn't sure.." not "I was sure". Sorry for the confusion

    ReplyDelete
  6. Your pitch and query are great, but like the other commenters, I'd suggest you lose a lot of the bio. As for the excerpt, the first line took me three reads to really parse so you might want to simplify and just state the internal monologue without the tag. As for the rest, the voice is funny and has a lot of potential to be great though I do think you need to give us a better sense of how Xavier is feeling about this stuff to attach the reader to the action. I he embarrassed, amused, fearful, bewildered. Inject that into the story and you might really have something here.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Love the sound of this book, and the voice of your MC!

    Some thoughts on the query:

    I love, love the voice of your MC throughout this. There were a few instances though where I felt the voice added a little over-many adjectives for a query. I think you could strike the phrases "science fair project" and "not dorky at all" as they basically repeat other descriptors.

    I too was confused about the mention of "The Man" and the mention of the MC's mother dying made me wonder how well that part of the plot would fit with the humorous tone. I couldn't picture him maintaining it after the death of his mum ... Does she have to die? Could she be trapped in an adult high-security sector of the mysterious black spaceship?

    I agree that the realization line should be struck. I do think that its okay for your bio to mention things other than writing experience (esp if this would be your first published work). I'd also include any college degrees you have, even if its not an MFA.

    The first 250 are great. I do think that the MC is sometimes a little overly precocious with his vocab. I do really have a soft spot for smarty MG protags, and I think others would too :) Still, phrases likes "the traps consisted of" "to attract said beetles" and "its tone was certainly familiar" and "illustrious" could maybe be toned down just a little? I really want to see the kid in him and his phrasing too.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Pitch: Twelve year-old Xavier Howell has a knack for making things go awry on colossal scale. <<<I WONDER IF YOU COULD DELETE "ON COLOSSAL SCALE." I KEEP THINKING IT'S MISSING A WORD, AND I'M NOT SURE IT'S NEEDED.) Other than that he's just an ordinary kid on an average outer world colony … as far as he knows. <<<I MIGHT SWITCH THIS AROUND. "AS FAR AS HE KNOWS, HE'S JUST AN ORDINARY KID IN AN OUTER WORLD COLONY. BUT HE DOESN'T KNOW EVERYTHING." OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT. IF YOU CUT A FEW WORDS, AND REARRANGE A FEW OTHERS, I THINK YOU HAVE ROOM FOR THIS LAST PART.

    Query: Twelve year-old Xavier Howell has a knack for making things go awry on colossal scale. Like the time his beetle trap science fair project experiment turned into a minefield of exploding dung bombs. Other than that he's just an ordinary kid on an average outer world colony … at least as far as he knows. <<<I'D RE-DO THIS WHOLE PARAGRAPH. I'D START WITH SOMETHING MORE "HOOKY" AND LESS LIKE MY PITCH. YOU HAVE MORE ROOM HERE. THIS SHOULD BE MORE PIZAZZY. SOMETHING LIKE, "FOR TWELVE-YEAR-OLD XAVIER HOWELL, COVERING A GRAIN FARMER WITH DUNG BOMBS IS AN EVERYDAY OCCURRENCE. NOT THAT HE TRIES TO DO THAT--THINGS HAVE A WAY OF EXPLODING WHEN HE'S AROUND."

    Everything changes <<I'D DELETE THESE TWO WORDS. when a mysterious black spaceship shows up and fries the colony to a crisp (think "burnt pancake"). Then the puzzle box Xavier's mother gave him before she died opens and plays a holographic message. <<<I'D COMBINE THESE TWO SENTENCES. "WHEN A MYSTERIOUS BLACK SPACESHIP SHOWS UP AND FRIES THE COLONY TO A BURNT PANCAKE, XAVIER'S PUZZLE BOX OPENS AND PLAYS A HOLOGRAPHIC MESSAGE." That's how Xavier learns about the microchip in his head that "The Man" will do anything to get his hands on. <<<HERE I'D CUT "THE MAN" AND FOCUS ON THE MESSAGE AND THE MICROCHIP. DOES HIS MOTHER TELL HIM ABOUT IT? THAT'S WHERE I'D PUT THE BIT ABOUT HIS MOTHER BEING DEAD. DID THAT JUST HAPPEN? OR HAS SHE BEEN GONE FOR A WHILE?

    With a band of eclectic sidekicks that includes a quirky professor, a robot with multiple personalities, (<<<LOVE!!) and a girl super genius—Xavier must escape the Mysterious Black Spaceship, discover his own amazing talents, <<WHICH ARE? SOMETHING TO DO WITH BLOWING THINGS UP? HIS AFFINITY FOR HAVING THINGS GO WRONG? I WANT SOMETHING MORE SPECIFIC HERE.) and solve his mother's riddles to unlock the microchip. <<<THIS CONFUSED ME. IT NEEDS TO BE UNLOCKED? OR REMOVED? CAN IT EVEN BE REMOVED? I THOUGHT "THE MAN" WANTED IT, SO IT SEEMS LIKE IT CAN BE. EITHER WAY, I'D BE CLEAR ABOUT WHAT HE'S DOING WITH THE MICROCHIP, AND WHY.

    All while using is super impressive and not dorky at all ninja moves to dodge giant-man-eating-plant-thingys. <<I THINK THIS IS AN ADD-ON THAT IS UNNECESSARY. IT'S NOT MORE DANGEROUS THAN ANYTHING ELSE HE'S DOING. EITHER INCORPORATE IT ABOVE, OR DELETE.

    The first 250: I really liked the pages! I thought they were great, showed great voice and character. Good job!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks everyone for the great feedback.

    ReplyDelete
  10. 35 Word Pitch:

    Twelve year-old Xavier Howell has a knack for making things go awry on colossal scale. Other than that he's just an ordinary kid on an average outer world colony … as far as he knows (I don’t like this. I can see that you’re trying to be mysterious, but since I don’t have even a hint of what the mystery is, I’m not hooked).

    Query:

    Dear [Ms./Mr.] [Name], Illustrious-Agent-Type-Person

    Twelve year-old Xavier Howell has a knack for making things go awry on colossal scale. Like the time his beetle trap science fair project experiment turned into a minefield of exploding dung bombs. Other than that he's just an ordinary kid on an average outer world colony … at least as far as he knows (I would cut everything after the …).

    Everything changes when a mysterious black spaceship shows up and fries the colony to a crisp (think "burnt pancake"). Then the puzzle box Xavier's mother gave him before she died opens and plays a holographic message. That's how Xavier learns about the microchip in his head that "The Man" will do anything to get his hands on.

    With a band of eclectic sidekicks that includes a quirky professor, a robot with multiple personalities, and a girl super genius—Xavier must escape the Mysterious Black Spaceship, discover his own amazing talents, and solve his mother's riddles to unlock the microchip.

    All while using is super impressive and not dorky at all ninja moves to dodge giant-man-eating-plant-thingys. (I don’t really read MG, but I would have more specifics in these last two paragraphs, since I’m not really sure what the story is)

    Xavier Howell and the Mysterious Black Spaceship is the first book in a humorous middle grade science fiction adventure series (in which many things explode including poo, goo, and airlocks) told in 40,000 of Xavier's uniquely eccentric words. It is peppered with tidbits I've picked up through my experience as a software engineer, science fiction and fantasy geek, and a book nerd.

    Like Xavier I had to come to realize that the things I thought were my most dismal led to my greatest triumphs. We are all more than we think we are. (What’s the purpose of the sentence? It seems random and unrelated to querying)

    Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon,

    Krista Wayment

    First 250 words:

    I thought to myself: Self, that’s not supposed to happen—just as the second dung bomb exploded. As the smelly, sticky, brownish-green substance flew through the air like shrapnel; I knew somewhere I'd made a slight miscalculation. Taking a moment as I crouched in one of the wheat fields that surrounded the colony on Kevin 5, I reviewed the parameters of my little experiment.

    The traps consisted of plastic trays that held a chemical Mr. Finch, the colony's bug guy, assured me would be poisonous to the black bellied grain beetle. The trays were covered by a heap of cow dung to attract said beetles (again according to the illustrious Mr. Finch). Perhaps I should've consulted the colony chemist, too.

    The third beetle-trap-turned-dung-bomb exploded.

    "Xavier Howell!"

    I cringed. I didn't recognize the voice, the colony was small but not that small, but its tone was certainly familiar. My reputation had preceded me. Turning around slowly, I came face to knees with one of the grain farmers. I couldn't remember the man’s name, but I might've been distracted by the fact that he was covered—from head to toe—in dung.

    "Yes, sir?" Why does my voice always crack at times like these?

    His angry reply was cut off by the fourth and final explosion. The trap I'd proudly dubbed ‘The Hotel’ went out in a blaze of glory, spewing forth a cloud of brown and a jet of yellow flames. The wave of brown speckles struck the farmer's back and then fell lightly on my face. (Interesting beginning. The voice is good and I’m intrigued enough to read more)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi there, I don't read MG but I like Xavier already. Liz Isaacson has said everything about the second paragraph, which would tighten it up greatly.
    Does his mother have to die? If yes, how does this affect him, as this seems quite light hearted overall.
    First 250; his phrasing is sophisticated, maybe he's a true geek, but look for simpler words without losing the sense of it (eg illustrious; he's a science person, would he use this?)
    Second paragraph, How about moving the clauses around, to move into active voice rather than passive.
    "Mr Finch, the colony's bug expert, had assured me that the chemical in the traps would be poisonous to the black bellied grain beetle."
    I think this reads more fluently. Then, which parameters is he reviewing? The amount of poison/size of dung heap/triggering load/number of traps etc etc? if he has this thought it needs to follow through, otherwise strike it here, and consider putting it into a reflective section.
    Xavier's voice is attractive, best of luck with this!

    ReplyDelete