There are several of pitch events for authors, so I thought I’d give “Son of a Pitch” a try. I am posting my query and the first 250 words of No Rest for the Wicked for critique, so feel free to leave me comments. (Spoilers galore!)
<— To leave comments, use the link on the left.
Title: No Rest for the Wicked
Genre: Historical, supernatural suspense
Word Count: 35,000
Query (no salutation, bio, or comparisons, and updated 2/15 after feedback):
Vi thought her days of grifting and dealing with the dead were over when she left Peter eating steam on a Chicago train platform. No one west of the Mississippi should know she sees ghosts, but a dead stranger still shows up at her doorstep. Transparent hat in hand, he begs her to recover his buried gold to pay his debt and save a life. What should be an easy buck turns into racing horses, cheating at cards, and tangling with bandits, all before lunch.
Once she figures out who tipped off the ghost, Vi must face the past she thought she’d buried. Peter reveals himself post-mortem to warn her of enemies bent on luring her back to New Orleans and willing to kill to get what they want. Neither distance nor death has tamed Peter’s love, and he’s determined to do whatever it takes to keep her safe. Vi may play the “damsel in distress” for a con, but she won’t let herself be rescued if she can earn his forgiveness and help him cross over. She may have broken his heart, but she’ll atone for the only deception she’s ever regretted—even if it kills her.
NO REST FOR THE WICKED is a suspense novella featuring humor, romance, and supernatural elements. In the series, Mistress of None, fans of gaslight fantasy and uppity women will love following Vi from shore to shore in 1870’s America.
First 250 Words of the MS (updated after initial feedback):
Viola Thorne couldn’t pinpoint the reason she preferred to bathe by moonlight. Perhaps it was the quiet chirps of the crickets, or the splash of stars above her head, but something about the nights here at the end of the world called out to her.
Steam rose off the water, eddying around her head and shoulders while the rest of her luxuriated in the gentle currents. A half-empty bottle of whiskey sat near a waxed paper parcel on the rim of her soaking niche. She reached inside and pulled out a fragrant hunk of soap. This was the last of what she’d brought from back East, and there was no telling when she’d be able to get more, but Vi worked the bubbles through her hair and scalp with gusto. The smell of lilacs rose from the lather to combat the reek of rotten eggs. She breathed it deep into her lungs as she closed her eyes against the tide of foam.
A gentle sensation as light and dangerous as hornet wings fluttered on the back of her neck and slowed her hands. Miles away from anywhere anyone might possibly want to go, she should have been safe from prying eyes even in daylight. Unwilling to let the peeping Tom know she was on to him, Vi went back to washing her hair, listening for the whisper of cloth as the infiltrator approached. If it came down to it, she could always reach out with her other sense, but only as a last resort.
Back to front comment, sorry. 🙂 I love the first 250 words. Not much happens yet your language evokes this striking image. The only thing that threw me was the last sentence, it sounded a little out of narrative somehow.
The query goes into too much detail. The first paragraph, minus the last sentence, and then a general idea of the overall story might work better.
It’s definitely a good read, this isn’t my genre at all and I’m still intrigued!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for reading 🙂 I’m glad you like the opening. “Not my genre but I like it anyway” is pretty much the best compliment I can get!
I worry that taking out that sentence about racing horses, etc would make it sound like there isn’t any action, and there is a LOT of action. Do you think if there are only two items in my “list” rather than three it wouldn’t feel too detailed?
I am hoping with the most intense passion possible that this is a Southern Gothic. I love love LOVE the writing style here. You clearly know what you’re doing, because your prose are tight, concise, and so well written. I was also super surprised to read how much you get done in such a short amount of words. Is it considered a novella at this length? and if so are you advertising it as one?
In terms of the query I really enjoyed the first paragraph, but the second one threw me a bit. The introduction of the alias may just muddle things. I know too many names can really throw a query. Not that three is make or break, but it seems like something where just saying ‘her’ would suffice.
I also just wanted to say I love the fact that she uses ‘cons’ and schemes and such. There is something very American Gods about it and that just brings all sorts of positive and intriguing vibes to the query’s reader.
Either way! I cannot wait to see where this goes! Thanks so much for allowing us to workshop it today!
Thanks so much for reading! The series starts in the Sacramento area, book 2 is the Transcontinental RR, book 3 is a riverboat, and books 4-6 will be set in New Orleans. So there will definitely be some Southern Gothic in there!
That’s interesting that you brought up the line about the alias, because that was a new addition. Someone else had given feedback that “if Vi is so successful she got to retire, why would they be looking for her?” So I was trying to show it isn’t actually Vi they want, but someone she was pretending to be. I will probably end up taking it back out now that you mention it, because I thought it was stronger without it, too. Thanks again!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Oh yeah, and yes, anything under 50k is considered a novella. I sat down to write one book, but with the shift of location every 35k or so, it felt more like episodes in a serial than one book. So I broke the story up, and it may be as many as 12 installments depending on reader interest
LikeLiked by 1 person
Forgot to mention, American Gods is one of my all-time my favorite books. You have no idea how happy it makes me to hear you get the same vibe! My dream as a writer is for Neil Gaiman to read something I write some day and not hate it. I don’t need him to love it, but I could die happy if I got a “Hm. That’s pretty good” out of him!
Thanks for sharing your query and first 250 with us! I really like the idea of a supernatural historical piece. Is this an era in which you had a strong background prior to writing this, or did you have to do a bunch of organic research for this novella? I love period pieces. That’s why I ask 🙂
Anyway, the first paragraph of your query makes for a solid start. We get into character and the action right away. My favorite line of it, though, has to be the final one: that they get into all of this before lunch. What a way to tell an agent that this will be fast-paced! This is a perfect example of a show rather than a tell. Good work.
I did start to drift a bit when reading the second paragraph. I think it may be due to the amount of detail included, but it also seems to jump around a bit. Perhaps that’s just how it reads, though. The first sentence does a great job of introducing us to what we should expect, but I have a hard time connecting one event to the next as I keep reading. I think some rephrasing or tightening might help a reader see the connective tissue a bit more. I’d also avoid using quotes around “damsel in distress” and probably “Annabelle” as well. Context clues readers into the quotes in those lines already, I think.
For your first 250–great language. I can tell right off the bat that you’re a writer with a strong mental image for what you’re hoping to convey. Not only that, but you do so via strong language that avoids becoming purple prose. Very nice. A pleasure to see that sort of thing, honestly.
I do think that the first 250 may need to be tightened up, though. The final line of what we get to see for this pitch-athon does clue readers into an imminent event, but perhaps that can be moved up into the third paragraph–the point at which I found myself drifting despite the well written nature of it.
All in all, you’ve got a great start here. With some focus on the second paragraph of your pitch and some tightening in the first 250, you should be in good shape! And thanks for the feedback on mine as well.
Thank you so much for your detailed feedback! I have been writing/researching about Steampunk and the 19th c for about 4 years, and I lived in the area where the book takes place so, yes, I had a lot of background before I started. 🙂
Sometimes, I feel like I was born revising this $%^&*( query! haha. That second paragraph has been worked over so many times, I’m not surprised it still needs work.
I wish I could have included one more line in the first 250 words, because it would really do a lot to establish the supernatural bit. It is: If it came down to it, she could always reach out with her other sense, but only as a last resort.
I think you are right, for the sake of this specific contest I should play with it a bit to pack more into my 250 words 🙂
FYI, I updated the query and first 250 words if you were interested in seeing it 🙂
I just reread it. Last paragraph definitely lands more now! Introduces some good suspense to urge readers onward 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
Query – I was confused. First, it seemed like she had killed Pete. then, Pete sends the ghost. Frankly, the prospector ghost sounds way more interesting than romantic ghost.
Since I haven’t read your story, it’s hard to say whether you should cut Pete out altogether, but if you NEED to include him, start the query from prospector ghost and then lead to Pete
250 words – Fantastic! I would read
Thanks for reading and leaving feedback 🙂 Vi didn’t kill Peter, “eating steam” just means she left him behind. He was her partner in crime during her con artist days. Peter is in fact 100% central to the arc of the series, the prospector is actually a one-story wonder. haha. I’m planning to start posting some excerpts soon if you are interested is reading more 🙂 Thanks again!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yeah, I’d like to read.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Also, if you feel like critting an adult thriller – https://jayperinwordpress.wordpress.com/2017/02/13/first-blog-post/
Nicely Done! The query reads beautifully and the first 250 were engaging.
The only flaw I found in the query was the sentence “Peter reveals himself post-mortem to warn her of enemies bent on luring her back to New Orleans and willing to kill for it.” The “it” is both ungrammatical and unclear. What is it referring to? If it’s her power, would they be able to take it? Would they just be killing her to silence her power? Room for some clarity here.
The only other comment I have is potentially a naïve one: why a novella? There’s tremendous potential for a full novel here (you list it as a series, in fact), so why go with a model where it’s much more difficult to sell a book?
Anyway, best of luck to you in the contest. This looks awesome!
If you have the time/inclination here’s my pitch
Thanks for your feedback. 🙂 The “it” refers to the first half of the sentence, “bent on luring her back to New Orleans”, ie they are willing to kill to get her back to New Orleans (proven by Peter being dead because he wouldn’t talk).
To answer why a novella, and in danger of sounding kooky, it is that length it needed to be. I sat down to write a novel, but realized that with Vi changing location once every 35k, and the themes emerging and resolving, it really felt like distinct stories. On the practical side of things, I assume that I won’t be the .01% of writers who get a publishing contract, so if I self-pub I will have more publishing creds faster by doing a long series of short books rather than vice versa. I actually never intended to try to get this series published but figured what the hell, I’d give it a try 🙂 Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment!
I like it!
I will admit the “willing to kill for it” left me a tad confused, but I see where you explained what “it” is, and it makes sense now. But I would suggest revising that to make the “it” clearer.
The 250 was really good. You definitely set the atmosphere, the mood, and I could smell the lilac soap! 🙂
Thanks for your feedback. I’ll give “it” a think 😉 I originally had: willing to kill to get what they want” but then the whole sentence got long. Maybe I should use “willing to kill to get her”? I’m so glad you like my opening!
Wow, wonderful weblog layout! How lengthy have you been running a blog for? you made running a blog look easy. The overall look of your website is fantastic, as smartly as the content!
Thanks 🙂 I’ve been blogging since 2013, but I started this particular site about 18 months ago when I moved my Steampunk articles over to http://www.SteampunkJournal.org.