Monday, September 10, 2012

Pitch Polish #80


Title: THE CARNELIAN LEGACY
Genre: NA Speculative Romance
Word Count: 87,000

Query:

After her father dies, all eighteen-year-old Marisa MacCallum wants to do is get as far away as possible from their hick Oregon town. A parallel universe was not what she had in mind.

She rides into the woods but loses her way during a freak storm and meets Darian Fiore, an arrogant young man on a diplomatic mission. Learning she has entered a dangerous parallel dimension called Carnelia, Marisa must locate a scientist from Earth who may have the means to send her back home. She convinces Darian to act as her guide and joins him on a risky journey to negotiate peace with his cousin and archenemy Savino. Falling in love is the last thing she needs.

Discovering Darian is locked into an arranged marriage with a dead princess, Marisa’s heart shatters. When the charming Savino becomes enamored with Marisa and demands her as his bride in exchange for peace, she is forced to make an impossible choice: marry the enemy of the man she loves or attempt to return to Earth and become the cause for war.

Fighting for the right to choose her own fate, Marisa is caught in the crossfire between two noblemen battling for control over Carnelia. Her only chance of escaping a dark future depends on uncovering the secret of an ancient legacy in time – one that will use all means possible to draw her deeper into its world.

First 150:

            Marisa MacCallum wiped the tears blurring her vision, refusing to accept her father was gone. His bright blue eyes and infectious grin still lingered in her mind. She glanced up at Uncle Al standing next to her. He could never take the place of her father, but he was all she had left. The autumn foliage surrounding the gravesite reminded her of her eighteenth birthday only two weeks away but after everything that had happened, a big celebration was the last thing she wanted.
            The minute the service was over Marisa hurried ahead of the group headed towards the parking lot, anxious to avoid irritating comments from her father’s co-workers. She slid into the passenger’s seat of the Land Rover and sighed. Uncle Al and Mark had stopped to chat with Mrs. Finchley. She wanted to get out of there and go home.



13 comments:

Jayme said...

LOVE the hook! And the conflict makes MY heart shatter. If I read this on the backflap of a book, I would be racing for checkout (or possibly reading awkwardly in the aisle).

Also, I think you’ve been peeking at my manuscript. I have characters named McCallum and Feore. :)

I would suggest tightening the second and third paragraphs to get to the action more quickly. Also, it seems unlikely Marisa would accept the parallel dimension without proof, so if there’s some way to toss that out there it might help. For example:

She rides into the woods, loses her way during a freak storm, and lands smack in the lap of Darian Fiore. He’s arrogant and [another adj – rude? sarcastic?], the last person Marisa would want as a guide. But when she looks up and sees electricity crackling in the sky [obviously this will change depending on your manuscript], she realizes she’s entered a dangerous parallel dimension called Carnelia. And this arrogant, rude diplomat may be her best chance at finding the only scientist who can send her back home. [I’m not sure you need to specify he’s from Earth]

In return for Darian’s help, she joins his risky journey to negotiate peace with his cousin and archenemy, Savino. But, when she discovers Darian is locked into an arranged marriage with a dead princess, the greatest risk might be to her heart. Falling for Darian wasn’t part of the plan. Neither was having Savino fall for her. When Savino demands her hand in marriage in exchange for peace, she faces an impossible choice: marry the enemy of the man she loves or attempt to return to Earth and become the cause for war.

Obviously, this is rough, but hopefully it gives you somewhere to start. Personally, I’d cut the last paragraph. Ending on Marisa’s choice seems stronger to me, but that’s just my opinion.

Also, I’d suggest shifting the focus of your first 150 a bit. Instead of focusing on tears and the autumn gravesite, I’d focus more on the people in Marisa’s life, especially if you can juxtapose them in some way that makes her decision to ride off into the woods more sympathetic/believable. Maybe something like:

“It was only two weeks until Marisa MacCallum’s eighteenth birthday, but she didn’t want a big celebration like all her friends. All she wanted was her dad back. His bright blue eyes, his infection grin, the way he always used to call her princess. [Obviously that may not be accurate, just a placeholder for something you can dream up]
Now, all she had was Uncle Al with his hard eyes business-like demeanor. [Again, maybe not accurate. Just trying to paint a picture]. Even now, the day of his brother’s funeral, he insisted on stopping to chat with Mrs. Finchley about wills and bargain headstones. It made Marisa sick.
She wanted to get out of here and go home. But it wasn’t home anymore. Not without dad.

Again, those are just my suggestions. I’m not sure how they foot with the rest of your manuscript. But I’m absolutely enamored with the conflict you’ve set up. Please, keep me posted if you grab an agent/publisher, and I’d love your feedback on my query: #5, The Only Infinite.

Lara Schiffbauer said...

The query clips along at a good pace and definitely makes me curious. The arranged marriage with a dead princess definitely piques my curiousity!

Your 150 words are really well written and definitely make me feel empathy for Marisa. The only sentence that seemed out of place to me was the line about the autumn foliage reminding her of her birthday. Maybe you could get the info about her age and birthday coming up in a different way, or maybe a little later in chapter.

This sounds like a fascinating story!

Rebecca Enzor said...

"Discovering Darian is locked into an arranged marriage with a dead princess." I have no idea how this would work. Does he still have to marry her if she's dead? Cause I would think that would make the arrangement null and void, unless there's some paranormal ghost stuff going on (which would be quite interesting!).

I am curious if the war in the parallel universe would have any effect on Earth? That would make the stakes even bigger, although abandoning the man you love to die in a different universe than the one you're in is pretty big in general :P

And I agree with Jayme on cutting the last paragraph. The legacy thing comes out of nowhere and doesn't make much sense to me. I like the choice between leaving behind the man she loves to die in a war, or staying and marrying his enemy to keep him safe.

And I liked the 150 words - it says a lot about her character that she wants to leave asap and doesn't want any kind words about her loss.

Thanks for critiquing my pitch, and good luck next week!

Meagan said...

After her father dies, ... in mind. --> You've given us a good start to work with! It's not always necessary to include details like her father's death, but if you want to stick with it, I'd suggest tightening the sentence up. Maybe offering a look at what she's getting into, rather than just the parallel universe.

Such as, "Eighteen-year-old Marisa MacCallum wanted to get far away from her hick Oregon town, but she didn't expect to start a war in a parallel universe."

(Better in present tense, obviously, and it's not apparent if she did start the war or not. But going with expectations/reality could still work.)

She rides ... diplomatic mission. ---> good introduction, though leading with arrogant makes me wonder later why she falls for him.

Learning she has ... Carnelia --> You mention the freak storm, but I'm kind of lost as to why this brought her to a parallel dimesnion.

Marisa must locate ... Savino. --> I think that you can combined these ideas into a shorter sentence somehow.

Falling ... needs. --> this sentence flops around like a fish out of water. Where did falling in love come from? We don't have a set-up for that.

Discovering Darian is... heart shatters. --> This is sad, but I'm wondering if you could omit the Marisa/Darian love story and focus on something else? That they grow close, or even that his arrogance doesn't deter her from warming up to him?

When the charming ... become the cause for war. --> Now that you've introduced this, I'm swayed into thinking you could cut a large chunk of what came before and introduce this as the plot. These are more captivating stakes for Marisa than her journey to get home, and her falling in love with Darian.

Fighting ... deeper into its world. --> You've set this up to be an extra set of stakes, I think. So when I finish, I pull these specific strands from the query:


eighteen-year-old Marisa MacCallum wants get away as possible from Oregon town
entered a dangerous parallel dimension called Carnelia
meets Darian Fiore
Marisa must locate a scientist to send her back home --> this is what i think of as the backstory / first arc.

convinces Darian and joins him on a journey to negotiate peace
falls
Darian is locked into an arranged marriage
Savino enamored with Marisa demands her as his bride in exchange for peace,
choose marriage or attempt to return to Earth and become the cause for war. --> this is what i'm taking away as the *real* story

Marisa is caught in the crossfire
only chance of escaping depends on uncovering the secret of an ancient legacy in time that will draw her deeper into its world. --> this, i'm not sure. it feels tacked on at the end, and i'm wondering if it is a third arc, or if this was intended to be the story

I haven't read your MS, so I don't want to step all over your toes and tell you "THIS IS THE STORY!" but what I'm saying is that's what sounded the most engaging and what you spent the most time on. If that's the case, focus on that. You introduce three different sets of stakes, and if you can't find a way to wrap them up together, maybe focus on one.

I hope this helped. Sorry if I confused you.

Tamara said...

Great set up in the query. I agree if I read it as a back cover, I'd want to read it see how is going to work out! Your first 150 stalled a little bit for me. Opening with the mc wanting to leave the funeral of her father was a kind of emotional yo/yo and I couldn't get a handle on the tone for your story. I think I wanted more emotion and/or understanding of her father and their relationship. I wanted to keep reading though, especially to get to that alternate universe :)

Sarah J Schmitt said...

Query:

After her father dies, (FROM WHAT? PERHAPS IF WE KNOW THIS, IT WILL EXPLAIN WHY SHE WANTS TO GET AWAY.) all eighteen-year-old Marisa MacCallum wants to do is get as far away as possible from their hick Oregon town. (WHO IS THEIR? IF IT WAS JUST HER AND HER DAD, IT SHOULD BE HER HICK OREGON TOWN.) A parallel universe was FURTHER THAN she had in mind.

AFTER LOSING her way IN a freak storm, SHEmeets Darian Fiore, an arrogant young man on a diplomatic mission.(FROM WHERE? WHEN I HEAR DIPLOMATIC MISSION, I THINK STATE DEPARTMENT. IS HE GOING TO OR COMING FROM CAMELIA?) Learning she has entered a dangerous parallel dimension called Carnelia, Marisa must locate a scientist from Earth who may have the means to send her back home. She convinces Darian to act as her guide and joins him on a risky journey to negotiate peace with his cousin and archenemy Savino (THIS PARAGRAPH IS JUMBLED. FIRST YOU TALK ABOUT DARIAN, THEN A SCIENTIST, THEN DARIAN AGAIN. I WOULD REPHRASE IT TO SAY SOMETHING LIKE THIS: MARISA CONVINCES DARIAN TO TAKE HER ALONG ON HIS RISKY JOURNEY TO BROKER PEACE BETWEEN HIS LAND AND A RIVAL WHO (INSERT WHAT THEY ARE THREATENING). SHE HOPES, WITH HIS HELP, TO FIND A FABLED SCIENTIST FROM HER TIMELINE (OR WHAT EVER PHRASE YOU WOULD USE) WHO SUPPOSEDLY HAS THE POWER TO SEND HER HOME.) . Falling in love is the last thing she needs, BUT HE IS PROMISED TO ANOTHER. (OKAY, ABOUT HER BEING DEAD… IF SHE’S DEAD, WHY DOES IT MATTER THAT HE’S GOT AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE? SHE’S DEAD… SHOULDN’T THAT MAKE HIM FREE?)

When the charming Savino becomes enamored with Marisa and demands her as his bride in exchange for peace, she is forced to make an impossible choice: marry the enemy of the man she loves or attempt to return to Earth and become the cause for war. (THIS QUERY DOESN’T SHOW ME WHY SHE WOULD BE WILLING TO CONSIDER GIVING UP HER LIFE… SHE LIKES A GUY SHE CAN’T HAVE… WHY STICK AROUND. IT’S NOT HER PROBLEM… UNLESS OF COURSE SHE’S ALSO FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE PEOPLE IN HIS LAND OR DARIAN HAS GIVEN HER HOPE THAT HE CAN ESCAPE THE ARRANGEMENT. Her only chance of escaping a dark future depends on uncovering the secret of an ancient legacy in time – one that will use all means possible to draw her deeper into its world. (THIS IS VAGUE… GIVE A LITTLE MORE DETAIL ABOUT THE ANCIENT LEGACY, IF YOU CAN.)

COMMENTS: I think you have a really interesting premise, but I don’t think you are able to get that across clearly in your query letter. Remember, every story is about three things: the character’s GOAL, their MOTIVATION for wanting the goal and what CONFLICTS get in their way of achieving their goals. This might help you frame your pitch a little better.

First 150:

Marisa MacCallum wiped the tears blurring her vision, refusing to accept her father was gone. His bright blue eyes and infectious grin still lingered in her mind. She glanced up at Uncle Al standing next to her. He could never take the place of her father, but he was all she had left. The autumn foliage surrounding the gravesite reminded her of her eighteenth birthday only two weeks away but after everything that had happened, a big celebration was the last thing she wanted. (WHY WOULD FOLIAGE REMIND HER OF HER BIRTHDAY… THIS SEEMS LIKE YOU JUST THREW IT IN SO YOU COULD SAY SHE’S ALMOST 18.)

The minute the service was over Marisa hurried ahead of the group headed towards the parking lot, anxious to avoid irritating comments from her father’s co-workers. She slid into the passenger’s seat of the Land Rover and sighed. Uncle Al and Mark had stopped to chat with Mrs. Finchley. She wanted to get out of there and go home.

COMMENTS: Because you kicked off with a lot of description rather than insight into Marisa, I wasn’t able to get a strong hole on her voice, what she wants. I get that she wants to leave, but make me feel the heartbreak. Tell me how her dad died. Make me root for her. You have the potential to have an amazing hook, but it’s not there… not yet, but I think you can get it there!

cstuarthardwick said...


You have a strong hook, but I would just say “to get far away” and leave out the “as possible”. The extra words only weaken what is a powerful hook.

Similarly, my opinion is that the query contains a little too much detail. What do I know though? I have certainly read longer, and more detailed queries that worked, but I think you could benefit my focusing on the big picture: what happens to the MC. You have a lot of names and places that strike me as distracting in a query. Then you are a bit vague elsewhere (a dark future).

Having said that, it's definitely a balancing act.

Here are my notes on the first 150. It strikes me as strong, but in need of further polishing. I would read on.

Marisa MacCallum wiped away her tearsthe tears blurring her vision, unwillingrefusing to accept her father was gone. His bright blue eyes and infectious grin still lingered in her mind(something seems missing here). She glanced up at Uncle Al standing next to her. He could never take the place of her father, but he was all she had left.

(para)The autumn foliage surrounding the gravesite reminded her that thatof her eighteenth birthday was only two weeks away[COMMA] but after everything that had happened, a big celebration was the last thing she wanted.
            The minute the service was over sheMarisa hurried ahead of the group headed towards the parking lot, eageranxious(anxious means fearful) to avoid irritating comments from her father’s co-workers. She slid into the passenger’s seat of the Land Rover and sighed. Uncle Al and Mark had stopped to chat with Mrs. Finchley. She wanted to get out of there and go home.


Incidentally, I'm looking for a beta buddy. Check out my blog and let me know if interested.

theemptypen said...

I like your opening paragraph, but I wonder if her father’s death is important to the rest of the query. If you start with the second paragraph, you jump right into the story.

When I read the third paragraph, I thought your query was finished. Both the 3rd and 4th paragraphs feel like wrap ups. Next to each other, they read like you couldn’t decide between them and so you added them both. There is different information in each, so I wonder if there is a way to combine them to better convey all the action.

The secret is thrown in at the end and I want to know more about it…up until that mention it seems like the journey to the cousin’s and falling in love were a bulk of the book with the impossible choice coming at the end….but now there’s a secret to uncover? That sounds like it could take up quite a bit of the book.

Some questions:
How is she fighting for her rights? Physical battle or verbally?

The scientist from Earth? Do people cross over a lot? Marisa doesn’t seem too hard pressed to find him.

Parallel universes, dead princess marriages, battles over the kingdom, love triangles…it sounds like a fun story. Good luck!

#81 (thanks for your comments!)

Creepy Query Girl said...

It feels like this query jumps around a little more than it has to. I love the 'parallel universe was not what she had in mind' sentence but then you take us out of that them with the getting lost on a stormy night and meeting Darian. I'd concentrate first on Carnelia and what makes it a parellel universe. Then introduce Darian and her chances of getting home. the 'Falling in love' is kind of dropped out of no where. i'd get into it gradually, stating how close she and Damian become during their journey together. The paragraph about the Darian-Savino-Marisa love triangle could be reduced in the synopsis-like details and give us a better glimpse into what makes the characters endearing. HTH!

Anonymous said...

This sounds promising! Since it takes place in an alternate reality, will her father show up? That might be too obvious, but it would make her decision to go home either harder (if Dad is nice) or easy (if alternate Dad is a jerk).

I like the opening hook. It could be one sentence instead of two if you want, but I don’t think it makes much of a difference.

The Wizard of Oz stuff is fine, but you mention she wants to find a scientist from earth (the Wizard?) and then that isn’t mentioned again. I’d suggest either delete the mention of him or mention him a second time so that he is more connected to what is going on.

Why would war begin if she returned to earth?

I don’t think the last paragraph of your query works all that well because it is filled with generalities and, I’m sorry to say, some clichés. The first sentence has a few clichés (choice VS fate, caught in the crossfire, two noblemen fighting for control) and the second sentence is vague. You want to end with a reaction of, “Well I must read more! Send it now!” instead of, “Yeah, I can see where this is going.” I’d re-work this paragraph.

The opening 150 words are fine, but I wish you gave us more of an image of the grave. Something specific and detailed—something that would tell us what her father meant or what she would have to do now that he was gone.

Like I said, this is promising! Good luck and thank you for reviewing my query!

-Craig #76

robbiemacniven said...

Hey there, firstly thanks for the crit on my own entry, least I can do is try and return to favour.
First off, I love the title of the book and the name “Carnelia” in general. The pitch section seems fairly flawless. At the start of the second paragraph I found the opening “She rides into the woods…” slightly jarring. Could probably just run with “During a freak storm she loses her way and…” Probably just a stylistic choice though. The conflict you set up between the two nobles is intriguing, I think that’ll be a definite factor in drawing the reader in.
The opening of the story sample is powerful, I can’t find any faults except on a couple of occasions with the wording. I think the last sentence could be chopped into two – “…only two weeks away. After everything…” it comes across as a bit punchier then. Likewise possibly the last sentence could be shorted to “She wanted to go home” – going home implies getting out of there anyway.
These minor points aside I thought it was well delivered, good luck with the rest of GUTGAA and see you around : )

Kay Kauffman said...

Query:

I love the first paragraph of the query - it really grabbed my attention, which is good. But after that, both the query and my attention seemed to wander a bit. It felt like you were trying to pack a whole lot of detail into an itty-bitty space and it didn't quite work. The middle two paragraphs in particular feel like they could have been stretched out more. The sentences that make up the first paragraph don't really mesh well together and it pulled me out of the query as I read. So did the mention of an arranged marriage to a dead princess - how would that work?

I think if you can narrow down the query a little bit, and you've had some good suggestions there, you'll have a winner. Your premise is very interesting and sounds like something I'd love to read.

150:

He could never take the place of her father, but he was all she had left.
As someone who grew up without a mother but with a somewhat overbearing aunt, this line piqued my curiosity. Has Uncle Al tried to take her father's place? Why would she be thinking this? Teenagers, especially 17-year-olds, think they know it all and can take care of themselves, so unless he's given her a reason to think that he's trying to replace her father, maybe say something like, "Now that her father was gone, he was all she had left."

Tammy said...

Hey there, firstly thanks for the crit on my own entry, least I can do is try and return to favour. First off, I love the title of the book and the name “Carnelia” in general. The pitch section seems fairly flawless. At the start of the second paragraph I found the opening “She rides into the woods…” slightly jarring. Could probably just run with “During a freak storm she loses her way and…” Probably just a stylistic choice though. The conflict you set up between the two nobles is intriguing, I think that’ll be a definite factor in drawing the reader in. The opening of the story sample is powerful, I can’t find any faults except on a couple of occasions with the wording. I think the last sentence could be chopped into two – “…only two weeks away. After everything…” it comes across as a bit punchier then. Likewise possibly the last sentence could be shorted to “She wanted to go home” – going home implies getting out of there anyway. These minor points aside I thought it was well delivered, good luck with the rest of GUTGAA and see you around : )