Friday, July 24, 2015

#YayYA Entry #8

Name: Allison Diekhoff

Twitter Handle: @allisondiekhoff

Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Alternate History

Title: Shelved

35-Word pitch: 
NANCY DREW/PLEASANTVILLE/Cold War Era. When a girl’s home is evacuated due to an atomic attack, she must choose between risking her family’s lives, or living with the guilt of knowing she might have stopped it.

First 500: 

Summer, 1958

Even though I'm expecting it, I shoot straight up in the air when the sirens wail to life from the towers on Main Street. It's dark--the middle of the night--and the sound pipes in through my open bedroom window along with the sickly sweet aroma of grass and wilting lilac. It's the first time I've ever heard them at nighttime. It takes a minute before my bedroom door flies open and my parents run in wearing their nightclothes. My mother hugs her pillow to her chest and my father sits down on the bed beside me, putting his hand on my knee. I look at him, excited but fearful. What if this doesn't work?

"Okay, let's remain calm," my father instructs, while the sirens drone up and back down again in sorrowful crescendos and decrescendos. "We know what to do."

But, does my mother know what to do?

My father looks at my bare neck and says, as calmly as possible, "Penny, where is your pill?"

I go to my dresser and remove the silver ball chain necklace from the top drawer. My name and address are stamped on a metal tag, which hangs on the chain alongside a metal capsule containing a single, blue pill. It clinks in what would normally be a pleasing way when I put it around my neck.

"Good girl," he praises, and my mother, still clutching her pillow, paces the room with her hair in curlers. One is falling out. She decides to sit down on top of my hope chest at the foot of the bed. She and my father lock eyes in silent communication.

This is not a normal air raid siren. The sound of the police megaphone confirms it while red, flashing lights illuminate the neighborhood and the walls of my room. "This is the police," it blares, as the car creeps slowly up and down the cul-de-sac.

"The President has initiated the Mandate Order. Everyone must take your medications at five in the morning. I repeat, all persons must take their prescriptions by five-o-clock this morning. If you have opted out of Life Protection, stay on your property. Do not interfere with the Life Security Agency or the evacuation process. Discretionary force will be used. Stay in your homes or your shelters!"

The car turns off of our street and moves further up into the Horizon neighborhood to wake those who may have somehow slept through the sirens that continue to howl all over Stratford.

It's difficult to believe that all of this began only a few short weeks ago. What's even harder to believe, is that it will all be over in just one more week's time, one way or another. Everything I've ever known and loved could be destroyed with the splitting of a nucleus; my lifelong home, Jimmy's family business which our future depends on, the street I grew up on, the school I came of age in, everything.




REVISION:

Name: Allison Diekhoff
Twitter Handle: @allisondiekhoff
Genre: YA Alternate History
Title: Shelved

35-Word pitch: When eighteen-year-old Penelope’s hometown is evacuated during an atomic attack, she must choose between exposing her family’s secret and risking their lives, or living with the guilt of knowing she might have stopped the bomb.

First 500: 

Summer, 1958

Even though I'm expecting it, when the sirens wail to life from the towers on Main Street, the sound threatens to break me. It seeps in through my open bedroom window along with the sickly sweet aroma of grass and Mr. Anderson’s wilting lilacs next door. It's the first time I've heard them this late. This isn’t a normal air raid siren, but only a handful of us know that.

It only takes seconds before my bedroom door flies open, my parents rushing in. Like me, they’re already dressed. My mother hugs a pillow to her chest and my father sits down on the bed beside me, placing his hand on my knee.

"Okay, let's remain calm," he instructs. "We know what to do."

He’s right—just a few short hours ago, my mother was training us to slow our pulses—but the way she’s clutching that pillow makes me wonder if we can pull this off.

My father looks at my bare neck, and I know what he’s thinking. "Penelope, where is your pill?" he asks, his authoritative voice forcing me to focus.

I go to my dresser and stare reluctantly at the necklace in the top drawer. I should have had it on already, but I hate the feel of it against my skin. I put it on and the metal identification tag--my name, address, and birthday-- jingles eerily against the silver charm concealing a single, blue pill. I’m so tense I could kill a gnat in mid-air.

He nods as I sit back down, and my mother, still with that pillow, is now pacing the room. She sits back down on top of my hope chest at the foot of the bed, and my parents lock eyes in silent communication.
A police megaphone booms and red, flashing lights illuminate the neighborhood and the walls of my room. "This is the police," it blares, as the car creeps slowly up and down our cul-de-sac.

"The President has initiated the Mandate Order. Everyone must take your medications at five in the morning. I repeat, all persons must take their prescriptions by five-o-clock this morning. If you have opted out of Life Protection, stay on your property. Do not interfere with the Life Security Agency or the evacuation process. Discretionary force will be used. Stay in your homes or your shelters!"

The car turns off of our street and moves further up into the Horizon neighborhood to wake those who may have somehow slept through the sirens still howling all over Stratford.

It's difficult to believe that this all began just a few short weeks ago. It’s even harder to believe that it’ll all be over in just one week's time, one way or another. Everything I've ever known and loved could be destroyed with the splitting of a nucleus; our entire town—population 701—my lifelong home, the street I grew up on, everything. Unless we can stop the bomb.

39 comments:

  1. Hi Allison!

    Remember all my comments are subjective so if anything I say doesn't work for YOUR story, feel free to throw them out the window. Thanks again for entering!


    Wow, I LOVE your premise. As a history geek, alternate history has always fascinated me. This is obviously meant to be a very exciting scene, and I think you could amplify the energy and apprehension. It's often said that the anticipation of action, not the action itself, is what builds intensity. The best way to do this, I believe, is by cutting unnecessary phrases and wordage, and focusing on the moment at hand.

    For example, "But, does my mother know what to do?" This line feels out of place and I'm not sure why she's thinking it.

    Also, beware of filtering! I often have trouble with this myself. "I'm expecting it," "My father looks," "she decides," etc. You'll especially want to avoid it as this is first person. Watch for too many adverbs and for repeating words.

    The only other comment I have is, how old is Penny? Her parents treat her more like she's MG-age, and the voice leans in that direction, too. But I noticed that you put the year at the top, so I'm guessing there's a time jump and this scene takes place earlier on than the rest of the story, which is fine. This scene doesn't feel like a prologue to me in the least.

    For your pitch, it looks good. You have clear stakes. I'd reconsider your comps though: one is MG and the other is a film. You want at least one of them to be YA. Comps are really hard to nail, I know from experience, but if you're going to use them you really do want to get the right one.

    Otherwise, I enjoyed this and it's the type of book I'd devour in an afternoon. :D

    Happy Writing!

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    1. Hi Rachel, I replied in the wrong place before so I'm not sure if you would have seen it. I'm hoping this one makes it to you. :-)

      Thank you, Rachel!

      I've already made some revisions based on your feedback. :-) Penny is eighteen, (one of the revisions I added). Do you have any suggestions for making it sound more YA versus Middle Grade? I have to admit, I feel better knowing it may sound younger rather than older.

      As for comps, I have struggled with this for a long time. The Nancy Drew comp is more of the Nancy Drew Files when they made her eighteen and gave her more romantic plot lines. I can't think of a YA with a retro/50s feel. I've toyed with calling it a "pre-dystopia" since I think readers who like Dystopia will like this story. Someone suggest I use "Teen Agent Carter" as a comp, but that's still not a book. Suggestions welcome!

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    2. You're most welcome and no problem :D I feel like the way her parents interact with her feels more MG. I think the best thing you can do is picture Penny as an 18yo and also as a 12yo... the interaction in the scene feels more 12 than 18. She'd probably be a bit more independent and ready to express her concern for her mom's reaction. Teens are much more active in emergency situations, even if only mentally in their thought processes, than MG kids, who are more likely to freeze up and mechanically follow their parents' instructions. I say this as someone who has been stuck in a storefront during a tornado siren warning with a number of families: the teenagers were assuring the younger kids, helping their parents track the storm on mobile devices, and even trying to help analyze the sky, while the under-twelves followed their elders' instructions, asked a few questions, and huddled in the back room we put them in.

      If you've ever seen Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, which I'm sure you have, think of Susan's reactions to the air raid sequence as opposed to Lucy's. Lucy follows Susan's lead, while Susan, though obeying her mother, actively reacts to the situation.

      I think if you fix this details you're golden :D

      Delete
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  4. Hi, Ali! :) I'm Laura, entry 007 (just like my secret agent number, LOL). Feel free to disregard my comments or take them on board.

    "I look at him, excited but fearful. What if this doesn't work?" If you keep this, explain it. At first I thought they had made the alarms go off. Needs explaining. Otherwise, I really like your entry. I hope to find it in Pitch Wars. Rachel pointed out some good comments too. Mention your MC's age and maybe add some 'emotional imagery', like, how does she feel when she wakes up with a start? Is she shaking? Is she feeling weak, strong, scared? Is she sweating? Does her heart beat funny? Just a line or two would be great.

    Otherwise, I think it's a great entry and I'd read this in a heartbeat.
    As for your question, I would not pitch it as pre-dystopia, agents are shying away from dystopic stories, whereas Teen Agent Carter could be great. I've seen many tweets from agents who watch that show.

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    1. Thanks for the awesome advice, Laura! :-)

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  5. Hi Allison,
    Firstly the idea is fantastic. Who hasn't thought about it? Everyone has thought about it.
    I like the details born of setting this at night, the pillow is great, but opening with her waking up is tough. If she could already be awake for some reason that would be better.
    In the first paragraph I have trouble with the sounding piping in the window, it conjured ideas of the siren right outside and I know that isn't what you meant. I also have trouble with nightime, it feels like a juvenile word, something said to a little kid. I know you use night in the previous line so maybe look at that carefully between the two.
    In the next line you don't need "it takes a minute" it detracts from the stronger rest of the sentence.
    The "okay let's remain calm" is stilted and awkward. The "we know what to do" is much better. Unless the dad is trying to talk to the mom who is clearly freaking out.
    In that same paragraph the decrescendos is too similar to crescendo, think about a different word choice like diminuendo.
    In the next paragraph "as calmly as possible" doesn't need to be there. You've already showed us how calm he is keeping himself, although he is nervous, this is telling.
    In the next paragraph the "hangs on the chain alongside" could just be hangs alongside.
    The "she decides to sit" could just be she sits, more active and strong.
    The "just one more week's time" could be just one more week, or one week's time. All of it together gets clunky.
    I like the last line a lot, the list is powerful. The only issue is that "the street I grew up on" and "my lifelong home" feel too similar, maybe the neighborhood I grew up in. I do like the structure of the sentence, the order of the places from personal to more general.
    This is a really strong start to your story, honestly my biggest concern is that she is waking up. I really want to read the rest and know what the little blue pill does.
    Jacqueline Eberli

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    1. Hi Jacqueline,

      Thanks for your critique!

      You bring up a great point. Originally, I had her waking up, but since that's a big turn off to agents I rewrote it so she is actually already awake and anticipating the siren. I think I need to re-work it a little to make that clearer.

      Delete
  6. I forgot to add that I'm #6
    Sorry about that.
    Jacqueline Eberli

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  7. Hi Allison! Let me see if I can show you a different way of approaching your piece. Hopefully it'll be illuminating!

    From the top!

    Genre: Stick with one. Alt-History is sufficient. Leave it there. If it was modern with an Alt-History you'd call it something else. The presumption is that Alt-Hist is in the history itself.

    Pitch: Dump the comps. All they're telling me is that it's set in the 50s and you can do that in a lot fewer words. Use the Pitch to introduce your character, what kind of problem she's facing, and how the story will be told. With a 35 word, use her name and age, make her as much of a real person with a clear problem as you can manage. This means wants that go contrary to reality or reality that is contrary to ideal. But the more concrete you can be about what makes this story different the better off you are!

    First 500:

    I'm going to echo Rachel, but I'm going to take it the other way. Your voice feels much more like an adult reminiscing about childhood. MG and Adult have a lot more tonal overlap than YA does either of the two. With YA you want to avoid having your MC sound childish or being treated younger than they are without clear emotions attached to it.

    If you want to consider re-casting this as MG, you don't need to make the character that much younger, MG reads up. If you want to keep it this tone, explore the possibility of marketing it as Adult instead. Voice, more than age of the character, is the determining factor for YA vs Adult and her worrying about her married life with a boy is a voice closer to Adult than YA.

    I think your story sounds interesting, but I'm not feeling very anchored in the events. You've thrown me right into the middle of the scenario and there's a father talking down to his daughter and a daughter that's clinically describing the events happening around her. If you're hoping to give more of a YA feel, use words that are more "loaded" that is, give your MC a clear emotional reaction to the people and things she's describing as she describes them.

    At one point you say "It clinks in what would normally be a pleasing way when I put it around my neck." This makes me ask, well, if it's not making her feel that way this time how IS it making her feel, which made me realise how distant the MC felt from the events. Don't hesitate to get us way down deep in her psyche if you're aiming for a YA market.

    You can ask Rachel and Kosoko about my history of making them re-think the markets of their stories based on voice and scope. It is in no way meant to be an insult because I love all categories of stories. The business side has very clear distinctions among them and if you're looking for publication knowing where your story fits will help you market your book more effectively. That's all this is!

    I hope I've been able to provide anything useful in my critique. It's very much meant to get you thinking about it. My hope is that, even if you decide to stay exactly as you are doing it intentionally. Explaining and describing things that you understand the choices behind is significantly easier than something that just spewed from your fingers!

    Best of luck!

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    1. Thanks for your critique, Lana! :-)

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  8. 35-Word pitch: NANCY DREW/PLEASANTVILLE/Cold War Era. When a girl’s home is evacuated due to an atomic attack, she must choose between risking her family’s lives, or living with the guilt of knowing she might have stopped it.

    My take on the pitch. The comps take too much room, IMO. I'd lose Nancy Drew/ and cold war era. Maybe Pleasantville meets the atomic bomb, or YA Agent Carter.(as 007 Laura suggested)
    However the next sentence works for me. I'd name her, and possibly give her an age, but it definitely hooks.

    500:
    Okay, it
    s possibly I can't be biased, because I adore this. You had me at the pill, and the manditory medicine taking. It's just cool. Seriously seriously cool..
    I do want to know her name. I do want to know more of her thought process. Right now I feel like she could be a robot. Which would be awesome. (although I'd suggest comping Small Wonder instead of Nancy Drew) I'd like to dig in a tech more to her voice and fear. Call them Mom and dad(or Mother and Father), not Her mother, and Her father.
    I went back up to reread it, and I'm hooked again by the first line. Why does she know the siren's are coming. Super cool!

    Anyway, you hooked me.

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    1. Thank you, Sheena! She is not a robot. I agree though, that would be pretty cool!

      Thanks for your advice!

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  9. Hi Allison, Kiernan at #4 here. I agree with others that your comps take up too much room in your pitch and don't necessarily illuminate your story. I love the suggestion of Teen Agent Carter as a descriptor! The second sentence works well, with the conflict and stakes clear.

    You have an intriguing start here, especially the whole Mandate Order/Life Protection concept, which I love. There was some great setting up of the family dynamic, but also a few parts that made me pause – like the line “does my mother know what to do?” (I wasn’t clear if the mother was just freaked out, or not fully briefed on the planning), or when her father says “good girl” like she’s a small child.

    I liked your last paragraph, the only phrase that didn’t quite fit for me was “Jimmy’s family business which our future depends on” which is much longer and more specific than the other things your MC lists. Perhaps that might be better saved for a future reference?

    I love lots of your phrasing, like the “sickly sweet aroma of grass and wilting lilac,” but I thought “sorrowful crescendos and decrescendos” was little awkward. It’s the “decrescendos” that keeps getting me, though I don’t have a better suggestion on the tip of my tongue!

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    1. Hi Kiernan,

      I love that you suggested diminuendos! I'm a music person, so I got a kick out of that.

      Thanks for all of the awesome advice!

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  10. Hi there :) This is Maddie from entry three.

    Pitch:

    -"When a girl’s home is evacuated due to an atomic attack, she must choose between risking her family’s lives, or living with the guilt of knowing she might have stopped it."- The premise is interesting and very awesome. The "living with the guilt of knowing she might have stopped it" line confused me? I want to know how she could've stopped it or maybe the smallest details that hint at how she could've done this.

    First 500 Words:

    -I really like how the opening draws readers in right away. This is the perfect opening and makes me nervous and tense. Honestly, this is very clean and well-written already :)
    -"The car turns off of our street"- I think you can remove "of" and just keep "off." It sounds a wee bit awkward here.
    -"But, does my mother know what to do?"- I think the comma after "but" is unnecessary. Maybe you can rephrase it like this: "But----does my mother know what to do?"
    -"Everything I've ever known and loved could be destroyed with the splitting of a nucleus; my lifelong home, Jimmy's family business which our future depends on, the street I grew up on, the school I came of age in, everything."- This line is really, really awesome and I hope is never changed :)

    Overall:

    Great premise and lovely opening!

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  11. Hi Ali!
    This looks cooooooooooooolllll! The pitch is awesome! Except Nanch Frew threw me off a little. for some reason, that just doesn't seem to fit.
    The sirens indicated at first that there was a bombing about to happen. In fact, until the police showed up, that's exactly what I thought was going on. So they have sirens when to take medicine? What is the pill for? How come there's only one If she's prescribed to it?
    I didn't quite get what her dad meant by... We know what to do.... And her mom not knowing what to do through me off as well because he next thing he says is do you have your pill?
    The chain threw me off some too. You described it having a ball on it and then a tag and a pill in a case? If you straighten that out it might be a little less distracting.
    The only other thing is... I want to know her age and I want to connect more through that.
    I hope this helps in someway!
    -Grace #10

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    1. Great comments, Grace! Thank you! :-)

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  12. Hello Ali!

    This sounds wonderful, and something I would read. I just have a few comments, otherwise, I think this is well written!

    Pitch: My only suggestion for comps is lose them. As others have said, it takes up room. And I would also mention the girl's name and age as well. This helps the reader instantly picture what your story is about and who the MC will be front and center for the next 300 pages.

    First 500:

    Even though I'm expecting it, I shoot straight up in the air when the sirens wail to life from the towers on Main Street. It's dark--the middle of the night--and the sound pipes in through my open bedroom window along with the sickly sweet aroma of grass and wilting lilac. It's the first time I've ever heard them at nighttime. [The first sentence feels flat and telly and i would also refrain from opening your story with your MC waking up to sirens. Also, I think the second sentence where you say 'It's dark--the middle of the night', is also redundant. And I would maybe cut out ' It's the first time I've ever heard them at nighttime.]

    "Okay, let's remain calm," my father instructs, while the sirens drone up and back down again in sorrowful crescendos and decrescendos. "We know what to do." [I'd cut the 'Okay'. I do like the words your used for the sounds of the sirens, but for some reason, it hard on the eyes, and it seems redundant.]

    But, does my mother know what to do? [I think you could cut this without losing anything.]

    "Good girl," he praises, and my mother, still clutching her pillow, paces the room with her hair in curlers. One is falling out. She decides to sit down on top of my hope chest at the foot of the bed. She and my father lock eyes in silent communication. [When I read 'Good girl' I instantly thought he was talking to a dog. It's something we say to our two Golden Doodles all the time. Probably why I did think of it. I think just saying 'Good' is sufficient. It also makes Penny sound younger than YA.]

    "The President has initiated the Mandate Order. Everyone must take your medications at five in the morning. I repeat, all persons must take their prescriptions by five-o-clock this morning. If you have opted out of Life Protection, stay on your property. Do not interfere with the Life Security Agency or the evacuation process. Discretionary force will be used. Stay in your homes or your shelters!" [Ohhh, this sounds so interesting! I must read more!!!]

    Everything I've ever known and loved could be destroyed with the splitting of a nucleus; my lifelong home, Jimmy's family business which our future depends on, the street I grew up on, the school I came of age in, everything. [This is good. It shows us what she has to lose! And it seems like a lot, which is important. We need tense moments and you've got them!]

    Awesome job! I enjoyed reading this and good luck!

    Monica M. Hoffman





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    1. Thanks for the awesome comments, Monica! :-)

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  13. Sorry these comments are so late - hope they might still be helpful!

    Pitch: I was also thrown a bit by the question of how exactly she would "stop it" - meaning the atomic attack, right? Maybe if you remove the comps you might have room to clarify this a bit.

    First 500: I'm immediately curious about what's going on here. Nice swift setup with lots of interesting questions. A few thoughts to add:

    Maybe bump the idea of it not being a "normal" air raid siren right to the beginning. The police presence "confirms" it - what is it that sets it apart otherwise? Does it sound different, or is it just that they know what's going on this time?

    "shoot straight up in the air" tripped me up a bit. For some reason I found this hard to picture except in literal terms. Is there some way to describe how this feels in a more immediate way? I like the idea of clarifying here that she's been awake and waiting for this to happen, which is intriguingly at odds with what you'd think would be an unexpected event.

    I don't think her dad's slightly patronizing tone is necessarily a problem - it might be a good marker for their relationship, actually - but I wonder if you could show her reacting to it. Does she resent it? Is he maybe trying to reassure himself as much as anyone else? I also wondered why her mom wouldn't know what to do if she and her dad both do.

    You could have the police render "five in the morning" as "oh-five-hundred hours" for a more military flavour.

    The last paragraph fell a little flat for me; "could be destroyed" is pretty abstract, as are the places she's mentioning. Can you pull in some concrete images to anchor these? Has your MC maybe seen propaganda or anything depicting nuclear destruction, for example, that could be on her mind here?

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  14. Sorry these comments are so late - hope they might still be helpful!

    Pitch: I was also thrown a bit by the question of how exactly she would "stop it" - meaning the atomic attack, right? Maybe if you remove the comps you might have room to clarify this a bit.

    First 500: I'm immediately curious about what's going on here. Nice swift setup with lots of interesting questions. A few thoughts to add:

    Maybe bump the idea of it not being a "normal" air raid siren right to the beginning. The police presence "confirms" it - what is it that sets it apart otherwise? Does it sound different, or is it just that they know what's going on this time?

    "shoot straight up in the air" tripped me up a bit. For some reason I found this hard to picture except in literal terms. Is there some way to describe how this feels in a more immediate way? I like the idea of clarifying here that she's been awake and waiting for this to happen, which is intriguingly at odds with what you'd think would be an unexpected event.

    I don't think her dad's slightly patronizing tone is necessarily a problem - it might be a good marker for their relationship, actually - but I wonder if you could show her reacting to it. Does she resent it? Is he maybe trying to reassure himself as much as anyone else? I also wondered why her mom wouldn't know what to do if she and her dad both do.

    You could have the police render "five in the morning" as "oh-five-hundred hours" for a more military flavour.

    The last paragraph fell a little flat for me; "could be destroyed" is pretty abstract, as are the places she's mentioning. Can you pull in some concrete images to anchor these? Has your MC maybe seen propaganda or anything depicting nuclear destruction, for example, that could be on her mind here?

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    1. Hi Amelinda! Don't worry about being "late" because you're still within the critique window. ;-)

      Thank you for the comments and suggestions--I especially love the idea of using military time, and you've given me some things to consider for my next draft. :-)

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  15. Hiya Ali :)

    I agree with the rest about freeing up some extra words by ditching the comps. Your hook is interesting enough and it gives space for us to know her name, just another way to feel connected to your MC.

    500
    ooo I love the whole alt reality take on the atomic era. My fav movies n stuff are disaster movies, whether it be force of nature or people destroying stuff, so I'm already down. Especially the way you mention you want it pre-dystopian. Super cool.

    I feel a bit removed from the character's voice only because she sounds (in my head) older than YA but her dad talks to her like she's MG so it confuses me. If you could mess around and pull one down and up the other to meet in the middle then I think it would work better.

    Other than that, I'm very curious about the pill. That alone was enough to make me want to make more. I like the way you build up the tension with the police giving the warning over the megaphone and the despair she feels in the end when she's thinking about what she could lose.

    I can't wait to see what your revisions look like and I would totally enjoy reading a story like this. You've got a cool thing going on.

    :)
    Css

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  16. *make me want to *read* more.* Sorry, it's past my bedtime and I'm sick :)

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  17. Hi Allison! This is Jen, entry #9.

    35-Word pitch: I think you can take out “Cold War Era” because that’s clear from the content of your pitch/your comps. And you should add the name and age of your protagonist to your pitch. Also I’m not totally clear what your protagonist is stopping. The atomic attack? The “evacuated due to” part is what makes it unclear. I would reword to take that part out and focus on the attack itself. Finally, I’m super interested to know how your protagonist might be able to stop an atomic attack. Can you give us a taste of how she does so? Magic? Some other special skill?

    First 500: Great first line! My only quibble is I’m not clear what you mean by “shoot straight up in the air”. Is she jumping? Was she previously lying down?

    Make sure you replace your dashes with em-dashes.

    You can delete “in” from “pipes in through”.

    I love the mention of the aroma coming in through the window.

    I would replace “nighttime” with “night” to get rid of the double use of “time” in one sentence.

    I’m very interested in what the “this” is in “what if this doesn’t work?” so good job! I’m definitely hooked! Curious about the detail of the mother hugging a pillow, though. It seems sort of a childish thing to do, which makes me wonder about her character and the family dynamic. Again, very intriguing and I definitely want to read on.

    "Okay, let's remain calm," feels a like awkward. Like not something someone would actually say.

    I think the following line would be stronger without “and decrescendos.”

    I think you could restructure the paragraph which starts “This is not a normal air raid siren.” I’d like to see the evidence of it not being normal before your protag makes that assumption. Show us Penny hearing the megaphone first, and then have her realize that it’s not normal.

    Super intrigued by the mandatory taking of medication!

    I like how you’re starting to show us the world and the stakes in your last paragraph. It feels very natural and organic, so good job! The only change I would make would be to clarify who Jimmy is. Her brother? Her best friend? Her boyfriend?

    All in all, you have a lot of good stuff in this first 500!

    Also, I want to mention that I disagree with the previous poster about having your character wake up. What agents don’t want is characters waking up in the morning and going about their normal routine, getting ready for school and looking in the mirror, etc. etc. This is clearly not the same thing. What you have here is a Hunger Games waking-up opening. We know immediately that something is wrong, something is different, and THAT is the thing you want to aim for regardless of what you’re protagonist is doing. Just something to consider.

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  18. OOOOO I love love your revision :) It's super smooth now. If you're ever looking for another beta let me know. I'd totally be down :)

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  19. Wow! Your revision is spot on! It reads smooth, and focused! Wonderful job and i can tell you worked hard on this! Good luck with Pitch Wars, and keep in touch!

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  20. You've started with a well detailed scene of panic. I can feel the intensity. There are a few tweaks I think you could make to goad a faster heart rate. I thought the first sentence was a bit awkward. You have your opening dependent clause too far removed from its parent. I think it would be cool if your started the story with this sentence " This isn’t a normal air raid siren, but only a handful of us know that." I think that would ratchet the intensity right from the start. It pointed, powerful and nearly says everything you need to say to get our attention. You speak of the scents in your first paragraph, I think they distract from the intensity. Much of the rest is a good kind of tense, but I do feel you may be trying to cram in too much information for the first 500.

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  21. Revision Critique:

    Allison, this looks awesome. Everything reads smoothly, we get a really evocative sense of your MC's hometown, and you start right out with a really tense moment. Also, what is going on with this family? They're clearly not everything they seem, and I want to know more! Honestly, there's nothing I'd suggest changing. This is a fantastic opening. Best of luck with Pitch Wars!

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  22. Hi Allison, I didn't read your first excerpt, but what I'm reading now look great. I'm very interested in the medications and the pill and the bomb...and I'd keep reading in a heartbeat. I believe this opening is going to get you recognized for Pitch Wars, and I'm looking forward to seeing this in print. Great job!

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  23. Hi Allison!

    This pitch is a lot stronger, but you've slipped into vague, that means you're trying to tease too much of the story. Pull it back a lot farther, just try to tease the first plot point. Your pitch doesn't have to represent the whole story, just enough to get someone to start reading your pages. If you read book blurbs they're mostly about the first 50-70 pages. The same can be true of your pitch and still have it be powerful. Usually it's more powerful because you can give away that twist a little if you need to!

    Best of luck!

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  24. Hi Allison!

    This looks AMAZING!!! the revision is better then the original and the way it left off I wanted to know more. Especially about the pill and the bombing and most of all why they can't leave home!
    Your the pitch is a little confusing.... This is a treat opening!
    Hope to see you in PitchWars!!
    (#10)

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  25. Hi Ali,
    I dug this idea before, and now I love it even more. The revision is fantastic and I can't wait to read more. The additional mysterious details are exciting. Well done!
    Jacqueline #6

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