Monday, September 10, 2012

Pitch Polish #47

A QUESTION OF FAITH
YA Paranormal
88,000 words

Query:

Almost sixteen-year-old Crystal Miller is the religious one out of her friends. After all, God answers nearly all of her prayers. At least, that's what she thought until she learns her birth mother sought the help of witches to conceive her. Curiosity isn't a sin so she tracks down the witches and demands answers only to learn she's the incarnation of magic--the only person whose magical potential is limitless. All along, she's been answering her own prayers.

Crystal worries her magic will damn her to Hell, or worse yet, that she doesn't even have a soul, but when her boyfriend's mom is seriously hurt in a car accident, she both prays and tries to magically heal her. Unsure whether she or God saved her, Crystal's curiosity grows and she attempts to master her power. But flying and playing with fireballs attracts dangerous attention. When a witch hunter captures her boyfriend and shamans snatch her aunt, Crystal tires to use her powers to save them, but every time her emotions run amuck, her magic goes haywire. If she can't learn to control her powers, forget about saving those she loves--she just might start the apocalypse.

First 150 Words:

I never saw the attics stairs down before.
The attic door was always secured and padlocked, but now the stairs hang out into the hallway like a lolling tongue in a particularly dark and dusty mouth.
Something heavy bangs above my head, and I jump. What on earth is Mom doing up there?
Eager to learn what secrets the attic contains, I ascend the steps until blackness clouds my vision as a trash bag plowed into me. Thankfully, despite its large size, the bag is rather light.
"Crystal! What are you doing up here?" Mom asks.
I blink, surprised by Mom's sharp tone. After picking up the trash bag, I descend the steps. "I wanted to see—"
"Since you're here, can you take these bags down to the living room for me?" Mom's smile looks forced as she climbs down to stand beside me.
"But…"
Mom hands me another bag, then lifts the steps, closes up the attic and padlocks it before I can even glimpse inside it.

17 comments:

Anabel González said...

Hi!

I'm going to make some comments about you submission. I wanted to remember you this is only my opinion and that I might be wrong.

First in your query you say: "When a witch hunter captures her boyfriend and shamans snatch her aunt, Crystal tires ( here I think you want to say tries) to use her powers to save them, but every time her emotions run amuck, her magic goes haywire. "

The rest of the query and first words seems perfect for me.

Nicole Zoltack said...

You're right - that should be tried. Thanks for pointing that out!

Nicole Zoltack said...

I've been tweaking and playing around. This version is a little long but I think it has more voice. Do you like this one or the original better?


For soon-to-be sixteen-year-old Crystal Miller, church has always been her place of solace. She's not a bible thumper, despite what her friend Vince says, but how can she not believe in God when He answers nearly all of her prayers. At least, that's what she thought until she learns her birth mother sought the help of witches to conceive her. Curiosity isn't a sin so she tracks down the witches and demands answers only to learn she's the incarnation of magic--the only person whose magical potential is limitless. All along, she's been answering her own prayers.

Crystal worries her magic will damn her to Hell, or worse yet, that she doesn't even have a soul, but shortly after she and Vince start dating and his mom is seriously injured in a car accident, she both prays and tries to magically heal her. Unsure whether she or God saved her, Crystal's curiosity grows as she attempts to master her power.

But flying and playing with fireballs attracts dangerous attention. A witch hunter is after her, and shamans and witches want to use her to end a centuries-old war between the two magical races. When the witch hunter captures Vince and shamans snatch her aunt to force her out into the open, Crystal can no longer hide who she really is. She tries to use her powers to save them, but every time her emotions run amuck, she can't control her magic. If Crystal can't figure out what she's capable of, forget about saving those she loves and ending the war--she just might start the apocalypse.

Angela Brown said...

The one submitted for the pitch reads as a tighter version. I think the one thing that made me pause is the destinction that Crystal is almost sixteen. Is there something significant that occurs when she turns sixteen that makes it necessary to point out that she's close to this age? Otherwise, it can be removed to tighten things further. It will also remove the expectation that something significant should occur when she does turn sixteen.

For the first 150, it think it's set in present tense. But the first line has a past tense feel. It may not be necessary to have the first line since the line that follows emphasizes in a show-no-tell fashion how this is the first time Crystal has seen the attic door open.

Nicole Zoltack said...

The reason why I put that she's almost sixteen is because people had made comments before that fifteen is a little young for YA.

I do like the idea of starting with the second sentence. Thanks for your feedback!

PatEsden said...

Your new query does solve a problem I had with the original. It's clear from the 150 that this is set in the modern world--that wasn't clear in the first query. The term Bible thumper solved that querstion for me. I think Bible has a capital 'B', maybe?

In the 150 the word 'clouds' feels like a slow movement compared the the bag 'plowing' into her. I think changing 'cloud' would help stengthen the 150.

Rhiann Wynn-Nolet said...

Hello there, I love witchy paranormal things too so I thought I'd take a stab (eek!) at your pitch. Feel free to come slice mine to ribbons(#50).
150 First (because I like to work backwards). I agree - take out the first line.
I think "from" would work better than "in" a dusty mouth - because the tongue is not in the mouth, it's lolling out.
as a trash bag plowed into me - you've jumped to past tense when everything else is present
I ascend the steps until blackness clouds my vision - so is her mom working up there in complete darkness? this seems odd.
I blink, surprised by Mom's sharp tone. (If it's always been locked why is she surprised that her Mom is using a sharp tone?)
I like the sense of mystery with the attic-it makes me want to know what's up there :-)
Query (I'm not very good at these myself so take what I say with a grain of salt or three)
the religious one out of her friends- would "among" be better than "out of"?
birth mother is generally spelled birthmother (I worked in adoption and have adopted kids)
Curiosity isn't a sin so she tracks down the witches (how would a nice church-going girl go about this? You make it sound very easy) How does she even discover this about her birthmother?
A girl answering her own prayers (unwittingly using magic)? FABULOUS Premise!!!
Crystal's curiosity grows and she attempts to master her power.(2nd use of curiosity)
her magic goes haywire (I think we need clarification here, what actually happens, give an example, your last line hints at it but doesn't say WHAT KIND of an apocalypse - natural disasters, war, nuclear devestation...).
Good luck!

Liana Brooks said...

Comma after sin.

I'd rephrase ... "It turns out she'd been answering her own prayers all along." or something similar. A little more attitude and voice.

First sentence of the second paragraph is confusing. It might help if she had a specific religious fear or something to quote... does she still believe in God if she believes in magic? Which gods or gods?

The last sentence is slightly off, it's on the right track, but pulling punches.

--- First 150 ---

attic's or attic stairs

*twitch* I don't love first person present but it seems to be a thing in YA right now. Look for an agent who loves it.

"can even get a glimpse" It could work as you have it, but I noticed a missing get

--- Overall ---

The premise sounds interesting, but the query doesn't tell me much about Crystal except in a fact-sheet sort of way. I don't get much idea of what her personality is like or what your Voice is like.

The opening is interesting, not my favorite tense, but it's okay. I might add a reference to a sense of smell if the attic has one different from the rest of the house, but that's it.

Good luck!
- L

Adriana Ryan said...

Hey Nicole!

What a neato premise! :) Here's my $.02.


Almost sixteen-year-old (MAYBE JUST SAY SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD?) Crystal Miller is the religious one out of her friends. After all, (YOU CAN TAKE OUT "AFTER ALL," I THINK. SERVES AS A QUALIFIER FOR NO GOOD PURPOSE) God answers nearly all of her prayers. At least, that's what she thought until she learns her birth mother sought the help of witches to conceive her. Curiosity isn't a sin (HAHA, LOVE THIS) so she tracks down the witches and demands answers only to learn she's the incarnation (SHOULD IT BE INCARNATION WITH A CAPITAL I?) of magic--the only person whose magical potential is limitless. All along, she's been answering her own prayers. (OOH, POWERFUL.)

Crystal worries her magic will damn her to Hell, or worse yet, that she doesn't even have a soul, but when her boyfriend's mom is seriously hurt in a car accident, she both prays and tries to magically heal her. (<---THIS IS A LONG SENTENCE--YOU CAN PROBABLY BREAK IT INTO TWO) Unsure whether she or God saved her, Crystal's curiosity grows and she attempts to master her power. But flying and playing with fireballs attracts dangerous attention. When a witch hunter captures her boyfriend and shamans snatch her aunt, Crystal tires (TRIES) to use her powers to save them, but every time her emotions run amuck, her magic goes haywire (<--- AGAIN, REALLY LONG SENTENCE). If she can't learn to control her powers, forget about saving those she loves--she just might start the apocalypse. (GREAT ENDING!)

Love this premise, Nicole. :) Hope my comments helped a little. Good luck!

Sarah J Schmitt said...

REVISED QUERY:

For soon-to-be sixteen-year-old Crystal Miller, church has always been her place of solace. Why no just say she's fifteen? Is the sixteenth birthday unusually special that you need to stress this? She's not a bible thumper, despite what her friend Vince says, but how can she not believe in God when He answers nearly all of her prayers. At least, that's what she thinks until she discovers her birth mother sought the help of witches to conceive her. Determined to know why her mother would commit such heresy, she tracks down the witches and demands answers only to learn she's the incarnation of magic--the only person whose magical potential is limitless. Is she the only incarnation or have there been others in the past? All along, she's been answering her own prayers.

Crystal worries her magic will damn her to Hell, or worse yet, that she doesn't even have a soul to condemn. But when a friends mom is seriously injured in a car accident, she uses both prayer and magic to her. Unsure whether she or God saved her, Crystal's curiosity grows as she attempts to master her power. How is she aware of the difference. Before she thought her "wishes" were answered by God, but now she's doing both... does she know how?

But her attempts at flying and playing with fireballs doesn't go unnoticed. A witch hunter is after her, and shamans and witches want to use her to end a centuries-old war between the two magical races. When each side captures someone close to her, in an effortto force her out into the open, or to join them? Crystal can no longer ignore who she really is. If Crystal can't figure out what she's capable of, forget about saving those she loves and ending the war--she just might start the apocalypse. Nice line!

Sarah J Schmitt said...

Here's your First 150... Apparently I write too much!

150 First Words

I never saw the attics stairs down before. Delete this line and start with the next. The unsecured attic door delivers about the same hook as the attic stairs being down.

The attic door was always secured and padlocked, but now the stairs hang down into the hallway like a lolling tongue in a particularly dark and dusty mouth.

Something heavy bangs above my head, and I jump. What on earth is she doing up there?

Eager to learn what secrets the attic contains, I ascend the steps until blackness clouds my vision as a trash bag plowed into me. Is it the back the blocks the light or is there simply no shadow or faint light and she can't see? I wasn't sure if she ran into the bag because of the light issue or the other way around. Thankfully, despite its large size, the bag is rather light. Why is it light? Is it suspended from the ceiling? Hanging over the side of the entry?

"Crystal! What are you doing up here?" Mom asks. Is she startled? annoyed? out of breath? Does she spin around? Eye her daughter with suspicion?

I blink, surprised by Mom's sharp tone. In reference to earlier comment, I guess I would like to be shown how she reacted than told how.After picking up the trash bag, I descend the steps. "I wanted to see—"

"Since you're here, can you take these bags down to the living room for me?" Mom's smile looks forced as she climbs down to stand beside me. This transition feels disjointed. Maybe if you have the mom cover up something or flip off the light or rush her back down the steps, or even toss the bags at her to block her from whatever it is her mom is doing, it would add to the tension.

"But…"

Mom hands me another bag, then lifts the steps, closes up the attic and padlocks it before I can even glimpse inside it.

Overall comments: I think this is a good start. I reviewed your submission much like I would with my own critique group and we have been known to draw blood from time to time. The story line is good, as is the word length. Good luck this week and let me know if you revise again... I'll take another whack at is. ;)

Marian Librarian said...



Almost sixteen-year-old Crystal Miller is the religious one out of her friends. (I agree with others, unless her coming sixteenth birthday is important to the plot, I would leave out the “almost.”)

After all, God answers nearly all of her prayers. At least, that's what she thought until she learns her birth mother sought the help of witches to conceive her. (I don’t hate the “after all” but the sentence is very similarly structured to the one after it. Maybe something along the lines of “God has answered nearly all of her prayers for as long as she can remember” or combine it with the first: “Sixteen-year-old Crystal Miller is the religious one out of all her friends; God seems to answer nearly all of her prayers.)

Curiosity isn't a sin so she tracks down the witches and demands answers only to learn she's the incarnation of magic--the only person whose magical potential is limitless. (something about this sentence, particularly what I underlined, is clunky to me, probably because there is so much happening in this sentence I feel it can be broken up. Also, I agree that there’s probably a lot more to “tracks down the witches” than Googling them, so maybe touch on that in the first sentence and then talk about the big revelation in a completely different sentence) All along, she's been answering her own prayers.

Crystal worries her magic will damn her to Hell, or worse yet, that she doesn't even have a soul, but when her boyfriend's mom is seriously hurt in a car accident, she both prays and tries to magically heal her. (I agree that this it a huge sentence that can be broken up instead of spliced together with a comma)
Unsure whether she or God saved her, Crystal's curiosity (agree with previous poster that one should be careful about using this twice) grows and she attempts to master her power. But flying and playing with fireballs attracts dangerous attention. (Starting a sentence with “but” is one of those things that they tell us to not to do in school, then as creative writers we’re told we shouldn’t stick with the rules so we do anyway. It really does make for a weaker sentence, though, and I think this should be combined with the previous sentence.) When a witch hunter captures her boyfriend and shamans snatch her aunt, Crystal tires to use her powers to save them, but every time her emotions run amuck, her magic goes haywire. (I think the wonky thing with this sentence is that the first half is about specific instances-when her boyfriend and aunt are captured- and the second have is about “everytime” she uses her powers emotionally. I would either make them agree-when they’re captured, her emotions make her powers go haywire- or separate the sentences. ) If she can't learn to control her powers, forget about saving those she loves--she just might start the apocalypse. (This sentence is excellent about giving us the stakes. I’m not crazy about the “forget about saving those she loves” section however, because I think it starts out the sentence with two dependent clauses)

Intriguing concept!

Nicole Zoltack said...

Thank you all so much for your helpful feedback! How this for the pitch?

Fifteen-year-old Crystal Miller isn’t a Bible thumper, but how can she not believe in God when He answers nearly all of her prayers. At least, that's what she thinks until she discovers her birthmother sought the help of witches to conceive her. Curiosity isn't a sin, so she tracks down the witches, only to learn she's the incarnation of magic--the only person ever whose magical potential is limitless. Supposedly, she's been answering her own prayers.

Crystal can’t believe her birthmother fell for such nonsense and vows to forget about magic. After her boyfriend’s mom is seriously injured in a car accident, Crystal both prays and tries to magically heal her. She attempts to master her power despite worrying her magic will damn her to Hell, or worse yet, that she doesn’t even have a soul to condemn.

Flying and playing with fireballs attracts dangerous attention. A witch hunter is after her, and shamans and witches want to use her to end a centuries-old war between the two magical races. When the witch hunter captures her boyfriend and shamans snatch her aunt in an effort to control her, Crystal can no longer ignore who she really is. She tries to use her powers to save them but can't control her magic. If Crystal can't figure out what she's capable of, forget about saving those she loves and ending the war--she just might start the apocalypse.

Rich Knight said...

This is a good query. But this line seems a little abrupt to me: "ut flying and playing with fireballs attracts dangerous attention." It kind of comes out of nowhere. That said, I like the spiritual (Or lack thereof) angle. That's pretty cool.

Jayme said...

Hey, Nicole!

I really love the internal conflict you’ve set up here. And the tension in your first pages is superb!

You need a question mark after your first sentence: “Fifteen-year-old Crystal Miller isn’t a Bible thumper, but how can she not believe in God when He answers nearly all of her prayers(?)”

Otherwise, I would just tighten a little. Maybe something like: “Then she discovers her birthmother sought the help of witches to conceive her. Curiosity isn't a sin, so she tracks down the witches and learns she's the incarnation of magic. Supposedly, that makes her the only person whose magical potential is limitless.” (I like the “supposedly” in front of “the only person…limitless” because in the next paragraph she’s still obviously not buying it)

“Crystal can’t believe her birthmother fell for such nonsense and vows to forget about magic. But when her boyfriend’s mom is seriously injured, she’s tempted to do a little more than pray. After all, God won’t mind if she’s using her magic to help people, right? And the better she understands it, the more people she can help.” (I’m not sure if this is accurate, but it seems like one way for her to reconcile her faith with her magic, so flinging fireballs in the next paragraph doesn’t seem so out of character)

“She sets out to master her power despite worrying her magic will damn her to Hell or, worse, that she doesn’t even have a soul to condemn. But flying and playing with fireballs attracts dangerous attention. (I’d cut the first sentence about the witch hunter/shamans. It feels repetitive) When a witch hunter captures her boyfriend and shamans snatch her aunt in an effort to control her, Crystal can no longer ignore who she really is. But she’s still new to magic and if she messes up saving those she loves will be the least of her worries – because she might just start the apocalypse.”

As an aside, I like that you cut Vince back out of the query. For now, calling him “her boyfriend” gives us everything we need to know.

I hope that helps! Thanks for your feedback on my query. And feel free to tweet me if you’d like me to look at a new revision. :)

Nicole Zoltack said...

Thank you so much, Jamye! You really helped me to tighten things. I was afraid it was getting too long - that's why I cut back on Vince.

Newest version:


Fifteen-year-old Crystal Miller isn’t a Bible thumper, but how can she not believe in God when He answers nearly all of her prayers? Learning her birthmother sought the help of witches to conceive her shakes her previously unwavering faith. Curiosity isn't a sin, so she tracks down the witches and learns she's the incarnation of magic. Supposedly, that makes her the only person whose magical potential is limitless.

Crystal can’t believe her birthmother fell for such nonsense and vows to forget about magic. But when her boyfriend’s mom is seriously injured, she’s tempted to do more than just pray. Surely God won’t mind if she’s using magic to help people.

After her boyfriend's mother miraculously recovers, Crystal doesn't know who saved her. Despite worrying her magic will damn her to Hell or, worse, that she doesn’t even have a soul to condemn, she sets out to master her power. Unfortunately, flying and playing with fireballs attracts dangerous attention. When a witch hunter captures her boyfriend and shamans snatch her aunt in an effort to control her, Crystal can no longer ignore who she really is. But she’s still new to magic and if she can't figure out what she's capable of, forget about saving those she loves--she just might start the apocalypse.

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