Sunday, September 17, 2017

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Passerotti Rev 2

Name: Katie Passerotti 
Genre: YA Dark Fantasy
Title: Warmaker

200 Word Pitch: 

Eighteen year-old Jennica is desperate to escape her life as a mercenary. Although she revels in the cruelty and suffering she inflicts on others, she knows her brutal way of life is wrong. When the opportunity arises to escape the blood contract binding her to this way of life, Jennica takes it.  Accompanied by her familiar, a wolf summoned by blood magic, Jennica searches for the Shadow Saint. His ancient power is the only hope she has of freeing herself before the blood contract claims her life.  

Wesley, a newly coronated king of a peaceful country, allies himself with Jennica as a political safeguard. He knows that whoever finds the Shadow Saint and claims his power will be capable of bringing war and chaos to the four kingdoms. Adamant about finding a peaceful solution, Wesley's principles are at odds with everything Jennica represents.

As they search, Jennica uncovers the terrible truth about her violent nature--a truth that threatens to destroy the peace Wesley has worked to maintain. When the past she’s trying to outrun catches up, Jennica must make a choice that will either lead the kingdoms into war or destroy her chance at earning redemption for her crimes.


Jennica shoved her captive forward. He stumbled, his body twisting in an attempt to stop his forward momentum. The man collapsed into the thick mud of the stable yard, a whimper escaping from his gagged mouth.

When he made no attempt to stand, she turned her face to the dark clouds stifling the mid-morning sun. Thick, cold rain drops hit against her skin, running down her neck and under her collar. Pressing her lips together, Jennica breathed through her nose.

She glanced sideways at William. His coat clung to his lanky frame and water dripped from his dark hair. Her associate grabbed the man's arm and hauled him to his feet. The prisoner’s dark green doublet was soaked and his pants were covered in mud. Shivering, his gaze darted between them.

William smiled impishly at her and pulled the gag from the man’s mouth. “Tell us again why you don’t belong here.”  

The prisoner opened his mouth to speak.

Jennica grabbed his collar and pressed the tip of her knife to his cheek. “One word and I’ll cut your tongue out.”  

The man swallowed, his eyes wide. William’s raucous laughter sliced through her.

“What is it about this one that’s gotten under your skin?”  he pulled the prisoner from her grasp and started across the stable yard.

Jennica’s gaze narrowed as she trailed after them, the mud sucking at her boots. The prisoner wasn’t the sort of mark she usually went after. Most were criminals in their own right, not a principled businessman. “I’m tired of listening to him whine about his family.”

Jennica pulled open a door and William guided the man inside. She followed, a grey wolf slipping in beside her.

The wolf stepped closer to William and shook, sending water droplets flying from his thick pelt.

"Keep your damn mutt away from me," William growled, aiming a kick at the wolf's side.

Nakama dodged and snapped his jaws.

Jennica's fingers curled around the hilt of one of her knives. Her familiar was a reflection of her and he was all she had left.

Her hand skimmed the wolf's head as he maneuvered past her in the narrow hall. You should have bit him, she spoke silently to the familiar.

And that would have caused more trouble for you, Nakama responded.

Jennica brushed back her hood as a spark of warmth kindled in her chest, pushing against her darkness. Her familiar was right. The blood contract she'd signed trapped her into serving Matthew, but it didn’t protect her from his wrath

She took several steps down the hall before realizing William wasn't following. Jennica looked over her shoulder, raising an eyebrow. She wanted to be done with this business, to be done with this man who reminded her so keenly of what she'd lost.

William gave the man a gentle push. "Surely you can handle him from here? You don't need me to keep him subdued, do you?"

Jennica whirled, her fingers tightening into fists. "You're the one who nearly let him escape."

"And I'm the one who caught him." He placed a hand over the man's wounded shoulder and squeezed. The prisoner winced, his knees trembling.

"If you were any good at doing your job, you wouldn't have needed to put an arrow in him," Jennica snapped. She backtracked and grabbed the prisoner's arm.

William shrugged and gave a mocking grin as he started in the opposite direction.

Wind and rain rattled against the windows as she guided the prisoner through the narrow halls toward Matthew's study. Each step distanced her from who she was, who she wanted to be again. She welcomed the dark thoughts that slithered through her; cold detachment was all that kept her conscience from sinking its teeth into her.

The door to Matthew's study was open and she guided the man through, pausing to close it before continuing towards the desk at the far end of the room. Matthew stood as they approached, his lips curling as he took in the man's soiled clothing.

Jennica dug her fingers into the tender flesh of the man's wounded shoulder. He moaned and collapsed, his knees striking the stone floor with a satisfying crack.

"I expected you back last night." Matthew's assessing gaze turned to her. Dark hair framed an intelligent face and he was impeccably dressed, looking more a noble than the charlatan he was. He prowled around the massive mahogany desk with animal grace.

Jennica unbuttoned her coat, peeling it away from her lithe frame as she strode towards the hearth. Her familiar trailed after her and settled near the fire. She stepped nearer to the flames, appreciating the warmth as it traveled across her skin, soothing her annoyance.  

"Blame Will," she shrugged.

Matthew's attention returned to the prisoner, his pale blue eyes colder than the wind outside. "Do you know why you're here?"

The man swallowed and shook his head, his gaze flicking to Jennica.

"Your brother-in-law wants you dead. Something about taking over the shares you own in a shipping company."

The man blanched. "He wouldn't--"

"But he does."

Jennica untied a leather purse from her belt and tossed it to Matthew. "His brother in-law's payment."

Matthew caught it and weighed it in his palm. "However, it seemed only fair to offer you the chance to outbid him."

Jennica raised her eyebrows. Matthew didn't need the wealth. What could the prisoner possibly offer that would justify this ruse?

The man's expression glimmered with hope. "Name your price. Anything."

"What do you have to offer me?" A quiet smile tugged at Matthew's lips.

Jennica bit back a warning. The man didn't know Matthew well enough to recognize the malice in his eyes. To know that the kinder he became, the more cruel his intentions.

"I can give you double whatever he paid."

"It's going to take more than money. What else?"

The man licked his lips. "I have ships."

"How many?" Matthew considered.

"Fif-fifteen. I'll sign them over to you."

Jennica raised an eyebrow and glanced sideways at Nakama. When did Matthew decide to take up piracy?

Why not? Her familiar's voice rumbled through her like thunder. It would be a step up for him.
Jennica's lips twitched. Matthew was many things and none of them good. She didn't like not knowing what he was up to.

The man hesitated, as though realizing the flaws in his bargain. He could return to his family and if he were lucky, he could rebuild. He would be alive, but penniless. He squeezed his eyes shut, perhaps wishing he would open them and this would all be a bad dream.

"Or, if you'd rather, I'll allow Jennica to finish what she started." Matthew gestured in her direction.

In a heartbeat, Jennica was behind the man. She grabbed his hair, pulling his head back, and pressed the edge of her knife to his throat. His pulse hammered against her wrist. Rich brown eyes, filled with terror, stared up at her.

"No." His voice was frantic. "The ships are yours."

Matthew smirked. "Jennica."

She hauled the man to his feet and sliced the cords that bound his hands. He shrank from her touch and fled to the desk, taking the paper and quill Matthew offered.

Jennica returned the knife to her belt and crossed her arms. If Matthew had wanted the man's ships, she could have obtained them without having to drag this fool back with her.


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  3. first things first
    The introduction of the telepathic wolf had moved back again into awkwardness. It is not standard experience for an animal to be able to communicate telepathically with a human, and so such an event must be introduced clearly. You seem to be trying to present it casually, perhaps hoping that will increase acceptance. But, for me, it does the opposite.
    so, below is a suggested solution

    Jennica pulled open a door and William guided the man inside. She followed, a grey wolf slipping in beside her. She ran her hand along her familiar's soft fur. "I missed you Nakama,badly."[italics]Especially with Will to deal with every day[ italics], she added silently.
    [italics] I missed you too — badly[italics], Nakama responded in kind.

    The wolf stepped closer to William and shook, sending water droplets flying from his thick pelt.

    "Keep your damn mutt away from me," William growled, aiming a kick at the Nakama's side.

    Nakama dodged and snapped his jaws.

    Her hand skimmed the wolf's head as he maneuvered past her in the narrow hall. [italics]You should have bit him [italics].

    [italics]And that would have caused more trouble for you,[italics], her familiar responded as he trotted on ahead her.

    Jennica pushed back her hood as a spark of warmth kindled in her chest, pushing against her darkness. Nakama was right.

    Secondly, I glad you've removed the obvious 'Jen's not a bad person' text, but it still needs a bit of work. I think it can be achieved with very little, but through her reactions - a grimace when WILL needlessly and therefore cruelly squeezes the prisoners shoulder (as opposed to when she did it for a reason). All you really need to do is show Jen as been slightly less cruel than those around her. That'll do, for a first chapter. You can't really have it both ways - a credible strong female character, who, before we get a chance to revel in her non-standard kick-assism, is already been diluted by 'I'm really a victim of circumstances' counter point.
    This idea, that MC must be 'rootable' for in the first few seconds is MG territory, not YA upwards, im(h)o).

    The deleted posts were same as this, but more typos etc

  4. Hi Katie!

    I know how difficult it is to get so much feedback from so many different people, and I applaud you for working through multiple revisions of this opening! In the end, you have to take the advice that resonates with you and your gut. Good job these past three weeks, and I wish you the very best with this project!


    Your pitch is well written, but I don't connect with it in an emotional way.

    I get the feeling this pitch might be too vague. I think you have great conflict here, but we aren't getting at the heart of it. What is the terrible secret of her nature? What decision does she have to make? These might be things you might not want to reveal right away -- I'm not sure because I don't know your story -- but I think the query needs to appeal to the reader on a basic emotional level -- and I'm not getting that here because your plot is so complicated. I think it needs to be stripped away to an emotional struggle that we can understand.

    Perhaps you can do this by provide us with more information. Why is she desperate to escape the mercenary life if she revels in the cruelty? *Why* does she revel in it? If it's because of the secret of her violent nature, as you suggest later, maybe say something in this first paragraph about how she doesn't understand or about how her mind knows it's wrong but the urge for cruelty is irresistible and rises suddenly but swiftly. Or whatever it is.

    The next sentence... "When the opportunity rises.. Jennica takes it" is also confusing. This makes it sound like Jennica has already escaped the blood contract, although the rest of the query makes it sound like she is on a quest to do so.

    Finally I would like to know more about what this blood contract is, how it binds her, or how it can claim her life.

    I know that this might be too much info to provide in a query - but you have to give us enough to understand -- otherwise the situation and conflict loses all drama.

    Pages: I'm not exactly sure what you were trying to accomplish with this revision. Perhaps you were responding to other people's notes and not mine, and that's absolutely fine. The only thing I will say is that I'm still not empathizing with her. If you don't want to give her glimmers of kindness, that's fine, but at least take us fully into her dark nature, to try and create empathy that way. I think you can do this with a lot more showing and deep, deep POV. Show exactly how it feels to have this blood lust or whatever it is rising in her. What are the visceral reactions in her body as she is inflicting this cruelty? Take us fully into the moment.

    1. Thank you so much for all your feedback, I truly appreciate it. In this revision I was trying to hit the "telling" aspect of my pages and turn it into showing. I'm still trying to find a balance to her "unlikable" side that fits naturally into the first five pages and haven't yet hit on anything that I'm happy with. So I figured if I could at least fix up the craft aspect of it, it would still be progress.

      Thank you again for all of your help, I've definitely got some great tools to help me move forward with revisions.

  5. Hi!
    Every time I read it, it gets better. So great job on revising! I know how hard that can be.
    I loved this: Jennica’s gaze narrowed as she trailed after them, the mud sucking at her boots. The prisoner wasn’t the sort of mark she usually went after. Most were criminals in their own right, not a principled businessman. “I’m tired of listening to him whine about his family.”
    It's a great bit of tension -- having her outward answer and internal dialogue in conflict. Don't be afraid to keep it that deep.
    I like the details you added with Wesley, it showed his character a bit more, though I still didn't know if he was supposed to contribute more.
    The pitch! The second paragraph confused me because I didn't follow who this ruler was or how he connected to her. I want it more viscerally connected if that makes sense, otherwise is he even necessary? IDK he may be! Also the end was a bit too vague. Be as specific as possible with the ultimate decision she faces.

    1. Thanks! I wasn't really sure what to do with my pitch, so I just grabbed my query letter and got rid of enough sentences to fit into the 200 word limit of the pitch. there is definitely stuff I need to make clearer and will put your suggestions to good use!

      I really appreciate your help these past weeks, thanks so much!

  6. liking the comment above

    Show exactly how it feels to have this blood lust or whatever it is rising in her. What are the visceral reactions in her body as she is inflicting this cruelty? Take us fully into the moment.

    it might be your 'way out'

  7. Hi Katie,

    Wow, lots of changes here! I love the added detail, and the lines Lisa pointed out above caught my attention too. In fact, I think they're the best portion of the passage. I also agreed with Pintip's advice about the pitch-- I wanted more specifics and less hinting-- common query advice says not to spoil the story, but you're veering so far away from that that you can be much more specific to hook us without it being spoilers. Also, I wanted a more clear internal conflict/emotional struggle for the heroine that we could connect to in the pitch.
    Finally, about the pages, I'm still siding with the prisoner rather than the heroine here. If she's magically required to be cruel through a curse or something like that, I think a better way to show that would be to see her fighting it-- like it's a symptom of a sickness and she's trying to force it back, but can't, and she's horrified and grieved at herself when she can't. That way we see both sides of her right away, to let us know something is coming. But if she really is that cruel and brutal a person, such that she revels in inflicting pain and suffering on them like the pitch says, then most readers won't stick around to read about her. Showing a character as flawed and forced into a bad situation takes a lot of careful work, but it can definitely be done-- unfortunately what she shows us here leans toward unforgivable villain territory, if she enjoys causing other people pain. So Maybe what you're trying to set her up as just needs to be more clear to the reader! Some of this is tough to know without having read more than this short passage, and it's your book, so I wish you all the best moving forward!

    1. Thank you so much! I truly appreciate all of your feedback over the past weeks.
      I'll work on being more specific in my query, I feel like I run into the problem of not being able to explain when I'm more specific because some of the info doesn't make sense without some more world building, but I will continue to tease it out and hopefully get it right eventually.

      I'm working on the making her more "likable" bit and am just really strugglign with making it happen naturally within the first five pages. it definitely happens before the end of the first chapter, but I haven't come up with a way to put it in the first five pages that I'm happy with yet. I will continue to address this.

      Thank you so much!

  8. This was a great query. I love relationships between opposites so I was fascinated by the Jennica-Wesley dynamic. Overall it was strong and hit all the elements in needed to.

    The line “Although she revels in the cruelty and suffering she inflicts on others, she knows her brutal way of life is wrong” struck me as contradictory even though I knew what you meant. Perhaps it would read smoother as something like: “Although part of her revels in the cruelty and suffering she inflicts on others, she hates what she is becoming.”

    For the very last line, I wasn’t completely certain if Jennica was making a choice between these two outcomes or if both were just possible risks from her choices. It wasn’t clear how they were mutually exclusive.

    Your revisions are great. I liked the question you added “What is it about this one that’s gotten under your skin?” This is a great way of showing that Jennica is uncomfortable going after someone who’s not a criminal. Also, it allows you to showcase the divergence between that she has moral principles, but her instinctive reaction is still to get violent. From your query, I can tell this dynamic will be a big part of her character. I think you’ve done well capturing the balance between writing an anti-heroine and still making her sympathetic. Of course, I did notice not everyone above agrees. Personally, I think some of this is a “mileage will vary” thing. For some people, the fact that you have a heroine who on some level revels in cruelty will be a deal breaker. For me, I enjoy dark characters and twisted psychological explorations. I’d really like to read this book. It sounds right up my alley.

    Thanks for all your feedback during the workshop. I got a lot of good advice out of doing this.

    1. Thank you!! I'll work on smoothing out the lines you mentioned and hopefully be able to strike a balance that will satisfy a more diverse range of readers.

      I loved reading your pages too! This workshop has been tough, but a lot of fun

  9. P.S. I just wanted to add that I really like that Jennica (the woman) is the violent one and Wesley (the man) is the pacifist. It's a reversal of how the genders usually are in the opposites attract or love redeems stories. Cool!

  10. Anyway, final comment (for today, lol)

    I think the general consensus is that Jen must be shown to have a redeeming quality of some kind. Yes, it would be impossible to have a thoroughly nasty MC without any redeeming features.

    So, it's really a question of how, and how much.

    To me, as I think others mentioned, reveal her disquiet through her actions, a grimace, a pause, a look away. Not too much, just enough to signal that she's a little uncomfortable in her role, but not so much that it dilutes the awesomeness of a having a dark ruthless female character.

    This is DARK fantasy YA after all. folks want light, they go elsewhere (like my stuff, lol)

    I, like Katherine would pay ACTUAL money to see a dark kick-ass female character take control of her life, and her path to redemption, if done in a careful and convincing way.

    Best of luck, either ways.

    1. Thank you so much for all of your feedback over the past few weeks. I've definitely struggled with some things, but overall I think I'm headed in the right direction. Hopefully I'll find that balance and it will all come together!

      Thanks again!

  11. Hi Katie,

    This is a strong query. A few thoughts. First, it's unclear in the first paragraph why the blood contract is dangerous to her (it had seemed that the reason she wanted out was b/c of the way of life, not because it was killing her). It's also unclear what the Shadow Saint has to do with this blood contract, specifically. Then, in paragraph two, I was surprised to learn that a peaceful king would know someone like Jennica. Either clarify how they already know each other, or that they meet and then he allies himself. That seems like a small thing, but right now their worlds are colliding in a way that feels random. Finally, in the third paragraph, I'd like to see you punch up the volume a bit--right now it's reading a little vague and underwhelming. I'd also like Wesley to play a larger role, especially if there's some kind of relationship between the two. Ultimately, I'm not feeling as invested in these characters as I'd like, so it would be great if you could find a way to make them feel a bit more real--who they are, what they want, what they fear, etc., so that I care more about whether they succeed or fail.

    As for the pages, I love an unlikeable female character! Jennica is tough and interesting, and who doesn't love a wolf companion?! However, I think you can do a bit more with her interiority to round her out. Maybe more warmth toward Nakama? Something to make us relate to her that doesn't undermine who and what she is. I'd also like it if we could have a bit more of an establishing shot in the first page to let us know where she is and where she's come from--it takes quite a while to find out they're at someone's house, and that they've been traveling for a while. It also wasn't clear at first that she's been traveling with William. I just assumed she had brought him the captive at first, since she essentially throws the man at William's feet and then looks at him ("She glanced sideways at William").

    Once we get inside, the tension really ramps up. I loved Matthew--he's terrifying--and it was fascinating to see the way Jennica obeyed him while simultaneously questioning him in her interiority/communication with Nakama. Were I to keep reading, I'd hope to see more of that questioning, perhaps a hint of sympathy for the captive only because we still have to see a bit of humanity in her to relate. But I would definitely keep reading.

    And now, a few nitpicks: William does a lot of smiling and grinning, etc. Watch out for that. Jennica digs her fingers into the captive's wounds twice--feels like overkill.

    Whenever you're ready to query, I'd love to keep reading. Please send me a query (body of the email) and your first 50 pages (attached) to with First 5 Pages Workshop Request in the subj line :)

    Lauren Spieller
    TriadaUS Literary Agency

    1. Lauren,
      Thank you so much! I really appreciate your insight into my first pages and will incorporate your suggestions into my query and pages.

      And thank you for the request, I'll send my query and pages along as soon as they're ready.

      Thank you!

  12. I think your query would open stronger if you bring in the reason why Jennica is a mercenary in the opening line “Trapped in a blood contract, life as a mercenary is the only existence eighteen-year-old Jennica has ever known.” Is the Shadow Saint the ‘opportunity’ referenced in the third line? If so I would think about switching that order. Also confused exactly how his power frees her from the blood contract, and that leads into another question of what exactly is a blood contract/how does it work/who bound her in the first place?

    It’s so difficult with queries because if you don’t write information the best way, it can lead a reader to spiral off into these questions and get more confused!

    Moving to the second paragraph, I think you can flesh out Wesley more – right now he’s just a name in this query. Also flesh out exactly how he comes to ally with Jennica – does he hire her?

    Lastly, I would definitely remove “Although she revels in the cruelty and suffering she inflicts on others, she knows her brutal way of life is wrong.” The statements here are just too polar opposite to make sense.

    But I love the premise of the query and I think this story is great!

    1. Thank you for your comments!

      Yes, there are some confusing elements in my query and I really struggle with trying to be specific, but not being able to explain the world building aspects that would answer several of your questions. I'll keep plugging away at it and hopefully find a concise way of doing it. I like the suggestion about reordering the info.


  13. Hey!

    So your pitch sounds really good. I like that Jennica wants more in life than to be this hardened, brutal "bounty hunter" type. I also really like the sound of the Shadow Saint. My suggestions are pretty small =)

    You used the word "blood" in three sentences in a row on your first paragraph. I know blood is a really hard word to substitute, but in general, you want to avoid using words multiple times in a row, especially words that stick out like that.

    Secondly, the ending is kind of vague, especially the parts about Jennica's past and this terrible truth. A pitch is different from the blurb you see on the back of books. From what I've read, you're not really supposed to hint. I could be wrong (I know there's a lot of disagreement about certain topics in the writing world), but it's something to look into.

    Your pages are great, as always! The changes you've made have definitely tightened things up, and it's a pacey sort of read. Jennica is the kind of heroine that will stick out in your mind.

    Best of luck with writing,

    1. Hello, thank you so much for your feedback.
      I'll work on tightening up the language in my pitch/query. I've really appreciated your feedback over the past weeks!

  14. Jennica is a very complicated character. She both revels in cruelty and longs to escape it, which seems somewhat contradictory. Real humans do have contradictions in our nature, but this means you'll have to work extra hard to make the readers believe in Jennica and her motivations.

    Your pages are very well done. I've enjoyed seeing them grow and develop, and I really like the dialogue between her and her familiar. I think that's my favorite part of this.

    It was great getting to read this through the workshop, and best wishes for the future!

    1. Thanks! The familiar is definitely a strong selling point, LOL. I think I manage to explain the complicated nature sufficiently, just not in the first 5 pages, its, as you noted, a very complex thing. I'm definitely working to figure out a way to hint at it more strongly in the first five pages though!
      Thanks again for all of your feedback, I really appreciate it.