Post-SVS Critique Workshop

The fabulous hosts of last month’s pitching competition Sun Versus Snow, Michelle Hauck and Amy Trueblood, are offering this great critique hop for the next week or so. (Details here.)

So, rip me (my entry, that is) up. And thank you vastly for your time! 🙂

~

Query: *edited*

Grand-maman’s inconsiderate passing leaves Boulangerie Herriot one apron vacant, and fifteen-year-old Flavie is supposed to fill it. But when her dad bribes her into kneading dough overtime in return for a summer holiday for her little brother, the custard curdles. Flavie steals the ginger and declares civil war. If she can’t break her dad, she’ll be quitting school at sixteen and folding pastry full-time.

A half-baked sabotage attempt and a posse of toads in the water-tank later, the Boulangerie is sued for sub-par hygiene. With the kitchens shut for the duration of the law suit, saboteur Flavie is exiled to her uncle’s farm on some remote island still bunker-dotted from its occupation (and near-starvation) in World War II. The idea: she cultivates her very own gastronomic appreciation and returns to town imbued with the family’s ten-generation-long devotion to bread. More helpfully, Flavie discovers that her dad isn’t the tyrant he seems, and that the freedom of France depends on affordable comestibles—specifically, on small private bakeries.

Her dad needs all the help Flavie can give him to stop the corporations monopolising the people’s bread. And if the welfare of the populace doesn’t stir her senses (because let’s face it, Flavie doesn’t care for politics), the thought of her brother’s culinary dreams going sunny side down might be enough to brave those kitchens again.

MORE LOVELY THAN A CABBAGE PATCH is a Young Adult Contemporary novel complete at 56,000 words. It takes place in the lush Parisian countryside and on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. (Can anyone think of any comps?)

~

First 250: *edited*

The bus heaved with rain of the April kind, the don’t-think-about-summer-quite-yet kind. Flavie pressed her hot cheek to the juddering glass expanse and shut her eyes.

It had been good for Boulangerie business, catering for Grand-maman’s funeral that morning. One guest, reassuringly epicurean despite the presence of a corpse, had complimented the cucumber and cream-cheese sandwiches—the perfect middle finger for all those times Grand-maman had badmouthed Flavie’s cream-cheese.

“Yo. Flavie. Are you blanking me? I’ve said your name twenty times!”

Flavie dragged her eyelids open. Jacques Durant perched on the bar skirting the luggage rack across the aisle. He’d donned his sardonic voice, nasal over the diesel engine’s cough-and-splutter.

“Sorry, didn’t see you.”

“What’s up, have you lost your raison d’être?”

She pulled a smile. “The opposite, I guess.”

Even Oncle E had flown over from his English farm on his English island to celebrate Grand-maman’s demise. It seemed he owed a duty to the mother who’d cast him off—if only to bury her.

Flavie would’ve told Jacques everything if she minded his not knowing.

“Good day?” he asked.

After the funeral she’d gone back to school. Last lesson had been awful. Some hush-voiced teacher must’ve told the class, “You must be good to Flavie. Flavie is bereaved. You must unite to help her through her time of trouble.” So they said nothing and shrank from her silence. So she smiled at their pity.

“Pretty good.”

~

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21 thoughts on “Post-SVS Critique Workshop

  1. Well, I read the query three times trying to figure things out. I doubt most agents would read past the first paragraph, but that’s okay. You want the agent that gets this on the first try. Stupid me took a while, but an agent that connects right away (and took French instead of Spanish) is going to love this. You show a lot of style and voice.
    First 250: Having dealt with 6000+ students (young adults) in my teaching career I’m more worried that your targeted audience is not sophisticated enough to catch on. Some dumbing down may be in order in the beginning in order not to lose your reader. Beautiful first paragraph, but will they get it? Probably not. That said, I wouldn’t change a thing. Your writing is lovely. You raise the standard back up. Bravo.

  2. There’s a lot to love here. The voice is solid, the story engaging, and I get a real and solid sense of Flavie and what’s at stake for her. I wonder about the larger, national stakes though. The freedom of France is great and all but for a kid that age I would imagine disappointing and damaging her relationship with her father, her brother and ruining their family livelihood would be a lot more personal. As for the excerpt itself, I liked it overall. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on between her and Jacques, but that could be a lack of familiarity with the slang you’re using. I don’t know. Also the second to last sentences both start with the word so and it was sort of awkward. I see what you’re trying to do, but it’s not quite working for me. Is there a way you could merge those sentences and keep the point-counterpoint you’re going for there?

    • You’re absolutely right about the stakes, and fortunately the story itself does stress the personal side more – I’ll definitely try and reflect that in the query. Thank you very much for the great feedback! 🙂

  3. The voice in both pieces is very strong. You have a great sense of Flavie and it shows. Your writing flows beautifully as well, and there weren’t major snags in the prose. The only overall hesitation I had was the sophistication of Flavie’s motivations and thoughts. She reads a bit mature for a fifteen-year-old, especially in the stakes of the query.

    In specifics, the query works the tone exceptionally well. I got a good sense of the story, too, once I was in the meat of it, and the prose read smoothly throughout. The first paragraph threw me, as well, though. It has the possibility of narrowing your story and reducing the potential for communicating universal themes from the jump. You might confound a few agents, and will have to decide whether the heavy baking jargon is worthwhile. The stakes, also, could be more clear as they relate to Flavie. Right now, they’re fairly broad and external, especially for a teenager. It might stand to use some addition of how these motivations impact her directly.

    The first 250 established the voice really well. I get a good feel of who Flavie is and how she feels about her grandmother’s death. The writing is clean and sets the scene with ease, so anything I say about the prose is a nit-pick, really.

    Starting off, I hit the one hiccup in the prose that made me pause. They’re the very first words, which is why I mention it. “The windows down the public bus” felt slightly clunky to my eye. Maybe it’s me, so others might not agree.

    Flavie has a fairly sophisticated mindset, judging by the narration. Whether it’s a bit much for a 15-year-old, I couldn’t say for certain, since I’m not around many teens anymore and read primarily in adult genres. I get the gist of the conversation with the boy. It’s not entirely clear-cut, maybe for the banter, which seems a bit mature, or the interjections of family insights into a chat between kids. The text flows and does its job well, so this is just a minor quibble, especially if it’s introduced that Flavie has had to take on mature responsibilities, and developed a more grown-up outlook because of it.

    Overall, you’ve established the story and main character exceptionally well.

    • Many thanks for your detailed feedback and edits! I’m especially glad you picked up on the clunky first line; I’d been having trouble with that myself. And I’ll be working on how the query stakes stack up (personal going at the top). Thanks again, 🙂

  4. Query: The Query Letter didn’t work for me. Too many baking references and to me it seemed too gimmicky.

    First 250: Once I read the pages I enjoyed it very much. If I was going off the query alone I probably wouldn’t have read the pages, but I am glad I did. I think you write well and good description. Only too areas that threw me off a bit. The first sentence is very clumpy and hard to read. It seems like it is missing a word or two. I don’t know what but just something. The only other area I had issue with is Jacques dialogue seems too stiff. One the other hand I love Flavie and I think she is a character I could follow through three hundred pages. Also I don’t think she is too mature. I work with teenagers and have for 15 years. There are smart, mature teenagers out there and that is your audience, so I disagree with the others that she is too mature.

    Good Luck,

    Eric

    • Thank you for the feedback! Simplifying the query is going to be at the top of my edit-list, and I agree about the clumpy first line and stiff dialogue.
      I’m so glad you don’t think my MC is too mature. Because I AM a teenager, and we teens prefer our maturity and intelligence to be overestimated than under.
      Thanks again. 🙂

      • Know this was a long time ago and you’ve probably changed it anyway, but just want to throw my two cents in as your CP 😉 It’s just – the query is too gimmicky for me, too. I think it’s a subjectivity thing, that’s the problem; and that’s why I’m telling you because I know the concept is great, and I’m sad I wasn’t able to love it or follow exactly the plot. The flowery prose overshadows the sense of the query. Also, you don’t think you’re putting too much plot in? The conflict in the first paragraph is resolved in the second paragraph – and that irks something in me.
        🙂

  5. Grand-maman’s inconsiderate passing leaves Boulangerie Herriot one apron vacant, and fifteen-year-old Flavie (is all rolled out to fill it – I don’t understand this turn of phrase). But when her dad (bribes – delete – too strong – ‘has’ maybe instead as parents just simply make us do things we don’t want don’t they ;)) her into kneading dough overtime in return for a summer holiday for her little brother, the custard curdles (cute). Flavie steals the ginger ( I see what you’re trying to do here – but I don’t think this is the place to invent colloquialisms – it makes you stop and go huh? which you don’t want) and declares civil war ( I think this sentence can just be deleted). If she can’t break her dad, she’ll be quitting school at sixteen and folding pastry full-time.

    Half-a-sabotage (Or how about “A half-baked sabotage attempt – since it’s about a boulangerie) attempt and a posse of toads in the water-tank later, the Boulangerie is sued for sub-par hygiene. With the kitchens shut for the duration of the ( add ‘law’ – I didn’t get it with ‘suit’ here on it’s own) suit, saboteur Flavie is exiled to her uncle’s farm on (delete – some) (a) remote island still bunker-dotted from its occupation (and near-starvation) in World War Two (use roman numerals here). The idea: she cultivates her very own gastronomic appreciation and returns to town imbued with the ten-generation-long Herriot devotion to bread (this sentence is awkward and difficult to follow – as a French person I didn’t get the reference to Herriot etc.). More helpfully, Flavie discovers that her dad isn’t the tyrannous toque blanche he wears (don’t get this reference- how is a white toque (or as Americans say “ski hat” Tyrannous??), and that the freedom of France depends on affordable comestibles—specifically, on small private bakeries. (How is France’s freedom dependent on small private bakeries – it doesn’t come through)
    I found the previous paragraph confusing – I’m fluent in both French and English and still didn’t understand the referents. Sometimes simpler word choices are better for the sake of clarity.

    (Her -delete)( Flavie’s) dad needs all the help (delete-Flavie) (she) can give him to stop the corporations monopolising the people’s bread. And if the welfare of the populace doesn’t stir her senses (because let’s face it, Flavie doesn’t care for politics), the thought of her brother’s culinary dreams going sunny side down might be enough to brave those kitchens again.

    MORE LOVELY THAN A CABBAGE PATCH (not sure about the Title) is a Young Adult Contemporary novel complete at 56,000 words. It takes place in the lush Parisian countryside and on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. (Can anyone think of any comps?)

    You do a good job with clever language and conveying voice – but it burden’s down the query to such a degree that I couldn’t follow – what are the stakes? Balance voice and clarity and you’ll have a winner here.
    ~

    First 250: *slightly edited*

    The bus heaved with rain of the April kind, the don’t-think-about-summer-quite-yet kind. Flavie pressed her hot cheek to the (cool) juddering windows and shut her eyes.

    It had been good for Boulangerie business, catering for Grand-maman’s funeral that morning (this makes me not sympathize with her – thinking about her grandmother’s death as being good for business). One guest, reassuringly food-loving despite the presence of a corpse (clever but cold – if it wasn’t someone that she knew i’d get it – but it’s her grandmother), had complimented the cucumber and cream-cheese sandwiches—the perfect middle finger for all those times Grand-maman had badmouthed Flavie’s cream-cheese (oh okay – we aren’t enamoured with gran).

    “You. Flavie. Are you blanking (is this in place of a swear word?) me? I’m only going to say your name twenty times more. (this sentence feels off – he wants to say it 20 more times? When you say are you “blanking” me – I’m not sure if he’s referring to her zoning out or if it’s in place of a swear word and then he says he’s going to say her name 20 more times – so it isn’t clear)”

    * How about: “Yo. Flavie. Are you kidding me? I’ve like said your name twenty times already!”

    Flavie dragged her eyelids open. Jacques Durant (was) perched on the bar skirting the luggage rack across the aisle. (He’d donned his sardonic voice, nasal over the diesel engine’s cough-splutter. – put this as an action tag on the dialogue)

    “Sorry, didn’t see you.”

    “What’s up, has your raison d’être come to tragedy?” (this sentence feels awkward “come to tragedy”)

    She pulled a smile. “The opposite, I guess.”

    Even Oncle E had flown over from his English farm on his English island to celebrate Grand-maman’s demise. It seemed he owed a duty to the mother who’d cast him off—if only to bury her.(good paragraph)

    Flavie would’ve told Jacques everything if she minded his not knowing.

    “Good day?” he asked.

    Last lesson had been awful (What is she referring to here?). Some hush-voiced teacher must’ve told the class, “You must be good to Flavie. Flavie is bereaved. You must unite to help her through her time of trouble.” So they said nothing and shrank from her silence. So she smiled at their pity.
    (Is she surmising this happened because this guy is being nice – if so – it isn’t clear).

    “Pretty good.”

    You convey voice Flavie’s voice very well. Good job.

  6. I had to read the query twice to get it. I would guess most agents won’t get past the first paragraph because of the overuse of baking references. Also, I don’t know about referring to someone’s death as inconsiderate. Made me think your MC is a brat. The rest of the query is fine and I got hooked. You have a good premise here and the writing is solid.

    • Forgot to comment on the comps….It’s hard to recommend comps without reading your book, but as I went through it, I thought of “Like water for chocolate”, “Chocolat” and “A Good year”. Check those out and see if a blend of any of these match your story.

      • Thank you for your time! I’ll be chopping – erm, curtailing – the baking references for sure. Thanks for the comp suggestions, too. I know Chocolat, and I’ll check the others out. 🙂

  7. First off, you’re 17! Wow!!! You are very talented. Keep up the good work.
    The first time I read your query, I was left scratching my head. After I read it a second time, it started to come together for me and I understood your plot. Maybe I was being dull. 🙂
    I agree with the other comments that it could be simplified, maybe take out some of the clever prose.
    I really enjoy your voice and Flavie sounds like a lot of fun. For me, the transition between “Good Day?” he asked…and…The last lesson…got me turned around. It took a few more passes to figure out that she was thinking back to her day at school.
    Otherwise, you did a good job. Best wishes on this!

  8. Hi!

    You’ve got a fun idea, but I had some confusion about the query. It would be better not to mention so many characters.

    Boulangerie Herriot – is this the bakery? I thought it was the name of a character. Maybe itc. or also insert Flavie’s last name.

    her dad bribes her into kneading dough overtime in return for a summer holiday for her little brother, the custard curdles. – literally curdles? Why would she work so her brother could have a vacation and not herself?

    Flavie steals the ginger and declares civil war. If she can’t break her dad, she’ll be quitting school at sixteen and folding pastry full-time. – What does she need to break her dad of? I’m not understanding the stakes.

    Too much info. You can tell us she forces her father’s bakery to close, then goes to the country and discovers bread and then get into the “people’s bread” which seems to be your main plot.

    The freedom of France depends on affordable comestibles—specifically, on small private bakeries. – Are they in France? Be clear with this in the first few lines rather than state at the end of your query.

    Your 250 words seemed good, but try to have someone else read them aloud for you and you’ll probably hear where things aren’t smooth.

    Hope this helps. 🙂

  9. I like the humor in your query, and your voice shines through in it and the first 250. Like some others have said, you may need to bring down some of the vocabulary a notch or two. Not that the YA audience is dumb, but many will not understand some of the terms you use. I would recommend changing some, but if there are terms you’ll use again and again in the book, explain what they are the first time you use them and then feel free to use them as often as you like.

    Hope this helps!

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