Saturday, May 9, 2015

#YayYA Critique Party: Entry #8

Name: Sheena Boekweg

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

Title: The Waxling

35-Word pitch: To save his mother's life, Blake vows to steal the magic heart of a wax girl. But Sarah, the living Waxling, steals his heart instead. Now Blake must choose between breaking vows and breaking hearts.

First 500: Sallow for strength. Beeswax for intelligence. Clay for humanity. Three drops of blood from the creature’s Maker. Take what cannot be and turn it into what has always been. Pour the mixture into a death mask, freshly cast. Leave the emotion in the plaster, the tears that came before the final blow, the fear, and the heartbreak. But remove all blood so none but the Maker will influence the wax.

            There’s a plant, culled back for the few, which blooms only once in sixteen years. Four seeds survive the blooming. Two are planted back to the earth. One is saved in case the first seed fails, and the last is the soul seed. Carve the incantation into the soul seed with the knife used to take the life. Beware the blood.
            When the wax body is formed, but before it has solidified, place the soul seed into the Waxling’s chest where the heart should be and sing the words of the incantation.

My life for life.
My song for Singers.
My Wish for all.
My heart for none.
            The Waxling will sing the words along with you. Be strong, its fresh cast voice has much screaming in it.
~The Lifebringer’s Manual, page 10

Chapter One
My mom’s advice I’d just broken rang through my ears.
Don’t bring attention to yourself.
I railed against Henry’s arm wrapped tight around my stomach and swung my fists, inches away from the greasy face that deserved a good punch. Julius touched me.
Watch out for the Wicked.
He mocked my whole life, my clothes, and my family. He made fun of Henry for having a thing for someone who looks like a twelve year-old girl.
The Wicked will kill you first. They always kill the Protector first.
He touched me.
No one can know who you are.
I stopped swearing and shouting and fighting against Henry. His arm around my stomach loosened. Julius and his friends at the back of the bus kept laughing, their silk ties flapping with the movement. Every seat on the bus filled with people watching me, soft smiles and outright humor lacing all their faces. I tugged my dress down and brushed back some of the hair that had come out of my braid before sharing a glance with Henry. The anger in his eyes matched mine. Together we stalked down the aisle of the bus that had stopped when I had swung my first punch. Violence was not tolerated at Gladespeak Prep. Not from a girl anyway.
My too loose shirt brushed against where he touched me. If Julius tries something again, I will kill him.
“Ari, wait.” A voice behind me stopped us short. Someone just said my name.
I turned.
No one knew my real name.  No one. I was registered under a different name at school, and no one poked further or tried to get to know me. I was just the odd girl with the polygamist runaway hair and the angry scowl.

Name: Sheena Boekweg

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

Title: The Waxling

35-Word pitch: To save his mother's life, Blake vows to steal the magic heart of a wax girl. But Sarah, the living Waxling, steals his heart instead. Now Blake must choose between breaking vows and breaking hearts.

First 500: 
            My mom gave good advice.  Excellent life saving advice. And I just ignored the crap out of it.
Don’t bring attention to yourself.
My throat was raw from swearing words I’ve only ever thought before as I swung my fists wildly. My best friend Henry had his arm wrapped around my stomach, his arm steady but not tight, the way you’d hold a bird. But I wasn’t going to fly away. I was going to kill someone. I was more shark than a bird. Something with snapping teeth. Julius touched me.
Watch out for the Wicked.
He mocked my whole life, my clothes, and my family. He made fun of Henry for having a thing for someone who looks like a twelve year-old girl. Julius laughed once, a barking false laugh, but he didn’t fool me. A flicker of fear was in his eyes as a trickle of blood seeped from his nose. “You’ll pay for that, Bedsheet,” he said as he wiped his index finger over his top lip. My fingernails dug into my palms.
The Wicked will kill you first. They always kill the Protector first.
He touched me. He called me Bedsheet-- something flat, something he could own.
No one can know who you are.
Henry released me, like you would a dog, but I didn’t attack. Julius was a jackwipe, but he wasn’t my real enemy.
I just…needed somewhere for my fists to land.
Julius and his friends at the back of the bus kept laughing, their silk ties flapping with the movement. Every seat on the bus was filled with people watching me, soft smiles and outright humor lacing most of their faces, but I could tell some of them were jealous that I got to be the one who punched Julius. I could also tell some of them were afraid.
Of me.
I tugged my dress down and brushed back some of the hair that had come out of my braid before sharing a glance with Henry. The anger in his eyes matched mine.  He adjusted his glasses and put his warm hand on my back. "Let's just go." Together we walked down the aisle of the bus that had stopped when I had swung my first punch. The ground shook beneath every step, like this sticky floor was a dock on the ocean.
My too loose shirt brushed against where he touched me. If Julius tried something again, I would kill him.
“Ari, wait.” A voice behind me stopped us short. A chill ran up the back of my neck. Someone just said my name.
I turned.
No one at Gladespeak Prep knew my real name.  No one other than Henry. I was registered under a different name, and no one poked further or tried to get to know me. I was just the odd girl with the polygamist runaway hair and the stay-away-from-me scowl.
            The owner of the voice was a teenage boy. 


  1. I like the evocative and sinister cast of the opening, but you may encounter some resistance to it; my Twitter feed is full of advice against using prologues. I also found I had trouble reorienting myself to the school world in chapter one. Maybe start right in at chapter one and quote this information later?

    If you keep it, you could include more specifics here. E.g. “There’s a plant” – given that this is a manual, I think you need to name it (unless it’s nameless, in which case there might be instructions on where to find it). “Take what cannot be and turn it into what has always been” might work better as a piece of incantation than as an instruction. References to blood are awesomely spooky, but vague. Removing blood from plaster sounds like a tricky proposition, for instance; is “Beware the blood” referring to the same blood as in the previous paragraph, and is the warning here for the same reason (to avoid its influence)?

    Picky points: I’d say “and sing the incantation” and “will sing with you” instead “and sing the words of the incantation” and “will sing the words along with you.” I’d strike “much” as well and stick with “screaming” on its own. (More awesome spookiness!)

    For the first chapter: Ari’s anger comes through nice and strong in her actions, so I’d avoid describing her scowl as “angry” ("scowl" says it all). Is there some way to communicate Henry’s feelings here besides “the anger in his eyes”?

    I wonder if you might let the action described in the first few paragraphs play out in real time as your opening - i.e. with dialogue - instead of having Ari summarize what happened and what was said. That would still make for an opening full of tension and conflict. I’d also suggest sticking with just the first piece of advice, which seems the most relevant to the situation at hand, and leave the rest for later. I’m also not sure where Blake and Sarah (from the pitch) come into this, since neither is mentioned in this opening. Is Sarah the name Ari goes by (to take a guess)? If so, dialogue could make this clear.

    Hope this is helpful!

  2. The opening is lovely, lyrical, super interesting. . . and unfortunately probably something that either needs to be cut or moved. I want to know what this is about, but I also think that with the bits of internal dialogue you have throughout the second section, you might not need it and it might actually be more interesting/sinister if you didn't start the story with the instructions on how to make a waxling.

    Onto Ari's section. First thing, the pitch is all about Blake and Sarah but neither are on the page here unless Sarah and Ari are the same person which could be since you establish that she has another name. I'd be more explicit about this if you can.

    The first line reads a bit awkwardly. It's a tricky thing to convey, going against a parent's wishes/ advice. Maybe something more like. "Mom's advice echoed in my ears. Good advice. Important advice. Ignored advice." Or something like that. In your own voice, of course.

    It took me two reads to realize what was going on. I thought Henry and Julius were in on it together and that Ari was fighting off two boys. I get it now, Henry is trying to hold her back from punching Julius again. This may be just be my own lack of close reading, but maybe you can bring that just a bit more forward. Maybe describe how it felt to punch Julius. Maybe have Henry tell her to stop. This might be a good place to insert her pseudonym for clarification.

    The description of the bus and the kids on it is great. I wonder if you can get deeper with her physicality. Is she hot, cold. She's very concerned about Julius touching here, obviously. Did he hurt her or just invade her personal space?
    I like the flapping ties a lot.

    You do slip into present tense when Ari is thinking about killing Jullius. Just watch for that.

    I do like the idea of her hair being polygamist, though I'm not sure what it means. Also, I think she can just scowl and drop the angry since angry scowling is kind of redundant. I hope this helps and good luck.

  3. OK, starting from the top!

    Genre: Contemp Fantasy sounds like it'll work but you'll want to weave a couple elements in the pitch to help confirm it for the judges.

    Pitch: Consider an anchoring word for Blake that shows us he's a modern Earthling teen. Stuff like honor student, Iowan, aspiring astronaut will help show what kind of character he is in a very few words and orient the reader to it being a modern era tale set in our world.

    Now, the fantasy side. You use "wax girl" and "Waxling" as if we know these words, and while, yes, I comprehend that there is such a thing as wax and could see how it could form a girl, I don't know what YOU mean by these words. Is she a doll? Is she a structure like the Butter Queens of the Midwest State Fairs? Is she in Madame Tussaud's? We haven't read the story so we don't have any context yet. Focus on bringing the reader in rather than describing.

    Then the horrible word I hate the most "Stakes" the issue at hand is I have no idea what vows he's taken, so why do I care if he breaks them? I dont' know what a Waxling is, so why is it bad if he falls in love with her? These are the kinds of questions that you're trying to keep me from asking with your stakes. You might want to take a step back further in the plot elements and focus on the story and leave the stakes of "Mom's life vs Falling In Love" as implied. They're strong enough if I feel more confident about the rest of what's going on.

    Text: I admit it, I'm one of those people agents tell you about. I skip the prologues. Almost every single time. The more it looks like poetry, the more I skip it (I admit, I even skip the poetry inline of the story!) So, I read this backwards. I started with Chapter One to see if it stands alone and then went back to your Prologue. It's lovely and poetic and seems to describe the creation of a gollum, but I still probably wouldn't regret skipping it. So take that with the grain of salt.

    Now, for the chapter, this is the challenge that you'll face in contests, your pitch doesn't match your POV character. You've got me invested in Blake and Sarah, so who is Ari? This does matter, in a competition with literally hundreds of quality entries, you have to be tight and in sync, sell the reader on the story they're picking up and flipping to, not the one they'll get to eventually if they stick with you.

    The others do a much better job of line notes, but I'll say this: I got that the first italics were Ari's mom's advice, but it wasn't as clear for the rest of the italics. They may be something his mom would say, but not necessarily a mom would say. And I'll second that the first line reads awkward.

    Hope this has been of any help at all! Best of luck!

    -Lana (@muliebris)

  4. First, I think your pitch is totally on point. Love it!

    I don't normally like opening with passages from books, but it does help move the world building along, and the tone is well developed. Also, I feel like there are a lot of characters introduced in the first few lines. I'm wondering if they all need to be there right then.

  5. Sheeeena :),

    Things I’m liking:

    1) Chapter One starts right in the action! Hooray! Stuff is happening right off the bat.

    2) I can already catch a glimpse of Henry and Ari’s relationship right from the start based on their physicality—glancing at each other, him holding her back. Whether he’s a brother, good friend, or boyfriend, I can tell she trusts him.

    3) Oh my gosh. “Polygamist runaway hair”. I just love that description so much.

    Things to consider when revising:

    1) The beginning sentences of chapter one leave me a bit lost. There’s a lot going on, and Ari is reacting very powerfully, and I don’t know what she’s reacting to or where she is until several paragraphs later.

    2) “Julius touched her”… Maybe you explain this later in the chapter, but the reader doesn’t really have any indication as to if he brushed by her, hurt her, inappropriately assaulted her, or bumped her shoulder in passing. I would consider including that so we know how to gauge Ari’s character. She’s either assertively defending herself or blowing up for no reason.

    Contemporary with fantasy sounds super cool! It seems like the world is super well developed!

  6. Hi!

    I think you have a very interesting premise, but it kind of threw me off once I got to the first 500. In your pitch, you name 2 people: Blake and Sarah. When I start reading, all of a sudden, I'm seeing things from Ari's point of view. Though I do like that name, I don't quite understand where she came from. Maybe clarify that so it's clearer.

    First 500: I really enjoyed what you have going on here. But it was a rough transition from what seemed like magical instructions to an incident on the school bus. In fact, it took me two-three reads to comprehend initially that Ari was being harassed on the school bus. Additionally, I'm confused by "He touched me". Who is he? Is that Julius or Henry? I think you have the foundation of a very good opening, and with a little work it'll be great. Good job!

  7. This is not your fault, but what bothers me about your pitch is that it's so similar to one I just read on another entry (that one was breaking laws or breaking hearts, I believe) which makes me worry that "broken X or broken heart" is cliché, which would work against you, even though it actually sounds good in YOUR pitch - does that make sense? I'm not typically a fan of romance, but I'm intrigued by what a Living Waxling is and the fact that he's set to steal her heart (literally) so I'd pick this up off a bookstore shelf which is definitely saying a lot considering my feelings about the genres of romance and fantasy (two of my least favorites).

  8. Ugh, my whole critique was erased when the website refreshed again :-[

    Anyway, my biggest critique of the excerpt is clarity. Henry? Julius? Who are they? Where are Blake and Sarah? Who is Ari? Until the last line, I thought she was a boy because that's a popular male name where I live. I was also thrown by "polygamous runaway hair" - what does that mean? It's an interesting description but I feel like it gets lost because it's not clear what that means - the hair of a polygamous runaway? Or runaway hair that marries many other hairs?

    As I said in my above comment, I like the pitch and the concept, but aside from the pre-chapter one opening here it doesn't feel like I'm reading the book described by the pitch. I'm sure it is this way in the book for a reason, so maybe it's the pitch that needs an edit? If Ari is a main character, we need to know in the pitch, but if not, maybe she isn't the best POV to initially feature? Just my thoughts. Best of luck!

  9. Hey Sheena!

    Very cool, creepy concept. I like it! Like others have said, I think having the first POV of the book be from a character not mentioned in the pitch is a problem. Ari must be important if you're starting this way--can you tell us why? And if she's not all that important, then maybe this isn't where your story really starts.

    As for the prologue debate I feel your pain! (Well…if you're having any pain.) I have a similar issue in my own MS and waffle quite a bit. I personally didn't mind having to prolong the action for a bit because I sensed that this was important for the world you were creating. One option might be to make it super short--just give a taste and explain the rest later. It might help with those impatient readers!

    I love how feisty Ari is, and the fact that you start in the middle of the action with that first chapter. I would just take another look at blocking in some places. I got lost as to where characters were in moments. There were also a couple clunky language things in there: "My mom’s advice I’d just broken," felt a little odd at first read, for example. But overall I think you've got a really great start here! Nicely done!


  10. Good Morning Sheena!

    Oh man, I am sooo torn as I've read more of your first 500 without the incantation and it was awesome with the skull jeans and the tense moments of the boy, the ipod and him knowing her real name and when Henry and Ari getting off the bus. Having said that, I love the excerpt you added a lot, but I also know the nono's we were getting for prologues/foreshadowing in pitch slam so I'm worried they might go after you for having it be front and center.

    I know why you start in with Ari and not Sarah and Blake and your 250 word pitch covers it so well that your leaving it out in the 35 word pitch didn't bother me at all, but if I didn't know why then it would confuse me a bit.
    It's hard to critique correctly as I am fond of your story but for this particular maybe find a way to add Ari into the pitch because she is an important person in the story and perhaps cut the passage and keep up the scene on the bus and add her thinking about the rules for a waxling on the walk home maybe?

    also, maybe allude to Henry's arm's holding her tightly first when Ari is trying to fight Julius in a way that people know for sure he's trying to prevent her from kicking his booty :)

  11. Hi Sheena!!

    I'm going to crit your entry thoroughly, but remember that all advice is subjective in the art world and you are more than welcome to burn mine if it's totally opposite of what you think is best for YOUR story! :D

    Okay first I want you to know that I LOVE YOUR TITLE. I LOVE YOUR CONCEPT. It's still a little vague to me BUT that said this is exactly what kind of book I would like to read. It sort of reminds me of Plain Kate. Anyways, that said, let's see...

    Most of the former commenters took the words out of my mouth. I personally would love to see useful prologues come back into vogue. Most people will tell you to cut it, but I think that if you can keep it a LITTLE shorter and a LITTLE more informative, keep it. It's your book :D

    I think my biggest problem with the 500 (I love the relationship between Henry and Ari, BTW), is that it doesn't start with the characters in the pitch, unless Ari IS Sarah.Also, I echo Molly's sentiments about the "he touched her." We don't really know what that means.

    Now for myself, well-versed in fantasy and a writer of it, decided that Ari IS Sarah, and when she says "he touched me" she means he's either trying to take her wax heart or grabbed near it, putting it and therefore her life in jeopardy somehow. I could be wrong, and if I am no problem, I tend to develop theories as I read XD But if I'm right, then make this clear somehow. I might have got it but an agent staying awake on caffeine and skimming through the day's four hundred and fiftieth query is not going to even try to make that connection if it's too vague. Just a thought :D

    Otherwise, I like the voice. I think it fits the concept beautifully.

    Yay for you!! :D

  12. In your pitch, the first question I have is “But why does Blake need to steal the heart of a wax girl so his mom can live?” I like the premise and the “breaking vows and breaking hearts” is catchy (so good on you), but it’s the WHY that I feel like I get tripped up on and maybe that’s because I just don’t know enough about this world yet. Also, I feel like your story should start with the main character (Blake)—I know a few others in the comments shared this thought as well. I get it if there are side characters that need introduced and are important, but I think the protagonist should drive the story.

    Overall, your first 500 words are definitely interesting! I agree with some of the others who say that you might want to scrap the manual section at the beginning—or work it in later into the story in bits and pieces. I like the bus fight scene—I think because we’ve either all been there as a kid, or witnessed the kid being bullied. Also, Gladespeak Prep? GREAT name. I’m curious to know what rules these kids live by and what has happened to bring them to where they are today!

  13. I like the Prologue (Though it does feel like a prologue more like a prologuella) And, I don't mind not understanding completely what's going on. Why is this story focused on Ari? I don't know. And, I care. I care enough to find out. The writing does not distract. Maybe 'rang in my ears' might be cliché, but whatever.

  14. First off--I like your pitch. I'm not a reader of fantasy but you had me wanted to know more. I think because its contemporary, it makes it an easier read for me. I was a little confused about when the characters mentioned in your pitch would come into play, but I'm sure you have a reason for starting where you did. 500 words isn't enough to tell us. I totally get that.

    To prologue or not too prologue--It was interesting but I thought maybe it could wait until later as well. I love the scene on the bus and I thought it made for a more interesting place to start. More non-fantasy readers might go on if you started with the bus scene. I'll mention a couple of points, even though I know they have been covered. I want to know how Julius touched her. Did he lay a finger on her as she passed by? Did he hit her? I'm assuming he is the wicked one that her mom is referring to and Ari is the protector? Maybe I'm all off. You have me wanting to know more, which is great!

    Overall, a great premise.

  15. Great changes here! You've really strengthened the voice and given it an edge; her outrage and isolation is much more palpable. Something with snapping teeth, stay-away-from-me scowl - awesome!

    My additional quibbles:

    One point of both grammar and clarification - if you're narrating in the past tense, things that happened in the narrative's past should be rendered in...pluperfect, I think it's called? So "I just ignored the crap out of it" becomes "I had just ignored the crap out of it" - "Julius touched me" becomes "Julius had touched me" - "He mocked my whole life" becomes "He'd mocked my whole life."

    Another very minor tweak of punctuation/format that might give you more emphasis: "He'd touched me. He'd *groped* me, and then..." (asterisks noting italics).

    One image that jarred a little bit: "Henry released me, like you would a dog" I see what you're going for here, but given her outrage at the ownership implied in "bedsheet," I don't know if this quite fits (unless she's mad at him for this too). Can you detail his actions, maybe, to communicate this? Letting her go slowly, giving her a warning look...?

    Still think I'd recommend using only the immediately relevant piece of her mom's advice for now and work the others in later as we get more context.

  16. So I love the changes. You beefed up the voice and the blocking and it really shows. I bet losing the prologue was a tough thing, but I do think it strengthens the first page if only for the fact that it's a lot less jarring. I do think that you need to find some way to tie the pitch to the page because they are about entirely different characters, but I think I said that in my earlier feedback.

    The sentence about going down the aisle of the bus that had stopped is really the only wording thing that's sticking out to me. It's kind of clunky and awkward. Maybe instead you can show the bus starting again as the fight breaks up. I do wonder where the adults are that she can get away with punching Julius without anyone noticing? No bus monitor? Is the driver entirely checked out a la the driver on the Simpsons with his headphones. Just a thought. You could show the bus shuddering back to life as they move. It might actually add some movement to whoever it is calling her actual name.

    Oh and the lines of advice from the mom are great. Much, much more in focus and hookish. Good luck and I hope this helps.

  17. I kind of liked that spell opening :( But I'm not an agent or publisher, or even a YA. Everything else is good. Maybe, with "Swing fists wildly" Wildly is not necessary. But, it is not distracting either.

  18. I like the reworked intro here. And I definitely get more from your second pitch by way of the story (and I love a good love story, which this sounds like MAYBE it could be?) Though again, some slight confusion that none of the characters in your pitch SEEM to be in the first 500--but maybe that's because we don't know anyone's real names yet? (the Sarah is Ari line of thought?)

    Two minor things in the reworked text: I think life saving should maybe be hyphenated? (I told you it was minor!) and a small area I got hung up was where you put the sentence "Julius touched me." I feel like, if this is the "bully" of the scene, that action right there deserves it's own line for more impact. Also, "touched me" feels like a rather minor thing to have happened for someone to go full out giving someone a bloody nose for. Any chance you could punch up the description? Did he flick her ear? Do something more menacing to her that would suddenly have her friend holding her back from throwing another punch?

    LOVED the "way you'd hold a bird" line. Nice descriptor there!