New Agent Contest – Critique Blog Hop

Recently, I participated in Michelle Hauck’s (http://www.michelle4laughs.blogspot.com/) #NewAgent Twitter contest designed to bring aspiring authors together with literary agents who are new to the industry. Although I didn’t move beyond the first round, I made new connections with other writers, and received some very encouraging comments from one of the team coaches. All in all, a positive experience, so thanks to my fellow competitors, contest host Michelle Hauck, the team coaches (Laura Heffernan, Dan Koboldt, Natasha Raulerson, Wade Albert White and Max Wirestone) and the participating agents.

In a continuing effort to improve my work, my contest entry is below for your feedback.

Thanks, y’all,
JAG

Title: Electric Freedom
Word count: 112,000
Genre: Adult Science Fiction

Query:

Certain individuals divide society. Whether they were born with the ability to fly, vanish from sight or manipulate the fundamental forces of reality, they differ from the rest of us in profound ways. The scientifically-disposed call them “Hyperhumans”, and view them as the frontier of humanity’s limitless potential. Those more inclined to believe in a higher power refer to these unique few as “Anointed”: mortal manifestations of God’s might, majesty and mercy.

Alex Anastos is not inclined to believe in a higher power. His innate ability to manipulate electricity has never struck him as “divine”, probably because his inability to control his talents has driven him to isolate himself from human contact, hiding out in a studio apartment and a work-at-home telemarketing job. So it’s a shocker when his invisible life gets noticed by world-famous industrialist Dr. Martin Reiss. Dr. Reiss believes Alex might be one of the most powerful people on the planet, and invites him to join a team of Hyperhuman Investigators: bonafide superheroes licensed to protect Marathon City from threats microscopic to megalithic.

But if Alex is going to have any prayer of making the leap from shut-in to savior, he’ll have to withstand a toxic relationship with his would-be mentor, and avoid getting pulped into a stain by a gargantuan teammate who knows too much about his past. And his new beginning will still come to a dead-end if they can’t prevent Anubis – an Anointed zealot and terrorist who’s not only every bit as powerful, but also a decade more experienced – from executing history’s greatest prison break and unleashing an unstoppable army.

First 250 Words:

800 feet below, the Okeanos River waited patiently to claim Alex Anastos.

It could afford to be patient. Falling from this height, its surface would be as merciful as concrete.

Not that he was in any condition to fight back. Less than a sliver of moonlight penetrated his swollen left eye; his fractured ribs seared with each faltering breath; lifting an arm to shoulder height was an Olympian feat – even if impact weren’t a death sentence, drowning was a guarantee.

Still…sputtering out before he’d made it halfway through his twenties hardly seemed fair. Didn’t he deserve at least a failed marriage, a corporate downsizing, a middle-aged meltdown? Even unhappy endings felt like fairy tales now that the river was only half as far away.

That was when the “ifs” came. What if the accident had never happened? What if the riot had never happened?

And the “if” he could have controlled: what if he’d never walked into that diner?

_____

Alex scoured the diner for an escape.

Even at 2 AM, The Golden Mile bordered on a capacity crowd, and exit strategies became exponentially more difficult when you had to account for innocent bystanders that could get caught in a crossfire. Having zero clue what you were doing didn’t help either.

He hadn’t paid the two newest arrivals any attention at first, not until the Voice started its buzzing. Normally, it started small, like a fly divebombing his ear.

The Voice was no fly tonight. Tonight, it was a swarm of them so dense everything else went mute.

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13 thoughts on “New Agent Contest – Critique Blog Hop

  1. Hi Jag.
    I was taking a look at this, debating about whether to participate and just had to comment. First, your query: I know this may not be entirely helpful, and usually I’m pretty balanced in my critiques, but in my opinion, this query is excellent. I want to read this book.

    First 250:
    When starting a sentence, I believe you have to write numbers (e.g., Eight-hundred feet). I think your writing is excellent and captivating. The concern I have here is that opening is a bit of a prologue, which is frowned upon in general. Why not start with the diner?
    I really hope for the opportunity to read more one day. I think your writing is excellent, and I’m quite surprised you weren’t selected for NewAgent.
    Best of luck to you.
    I will be putting mine up on my blog later today. Please stop by.
    Thanks!
    JR

    Liked by 2 people

    • First off, wow! Thank you very much! I wrestle with whether or not I actually have any clue what I’m doing on the writing front relatively frequently, so the validation and the kind words are definitely appreciated.

      It’s interesting that you mentioned starting in the diner. The novel originally did start in the diner, but I was concerned that I wasn’t doing enough to grab readers’ (or agents’) immediate attention. So I added the prologue (which is actually a stand-alone “chapter” in the novel, but the New Agent contest instructions included a direction to leave out chapter titles). I’ve gone back and forth on that point more than once, and I’ll definitely have to consider whether or not to keep the prologue.

      Thanks for your feedback! I’m off to check out your blog right now.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Jag – happy to help. I do like that first bit – quite a lot – it’s super tricky isn’t it? Trying to figure out what to listen to and what to ignore. I hope to read more from you in the future. Great work!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Start in the diner! Start in the diner! Super compelling. So dude is standing above the river, waiting to jump. But we don’t know anything about him. Why do we care? Feels like a gimmick. Let me chant it again: start in the diner!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for your feedback. While I haven’t officially decided to cut the prologue, based on feedback I’ve gotten, I am leaning toward starting in the diner. Thanks again for taking the time to provide your input.

        Like

  2. I read your query and first 250 words, and while I was going to start this critique by saying that I’m not a fan of the genre (still true though), I must say, the story just keeps flashing inside my head and I’ve got to say, I’m already hooked and would love to read it!

    While I usually hate most prologues, I do love yours, and it’s short enough to not make readers “linger” into something that isn’t the actual start, but on the other hand, does hook from the getgo – the combination of your query and first 250 words, including that prologue, is what really hooks me, and I think that this may be one of the few exceptions that a prologue really works well here 🙂

    Basically, no critiques on my part since I love the query and first 250 words!

    Good luck with your manuscript! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much! One of the things I was shooting for was to make a superhero story that people who aren’t necessarily superhero fans could still enjoy. Your comments make me think I might be on the right track. : )

      Like

  3. I love super-humans, and I tend to be overcritical of their stories.

    That having been said…

    HOOKED! HOOKED HOOKED HOOKED!!! From your first sentence to the last! I want this damn book! The subtle, snarky humor. Defying the overwhelming.. You got me. I can’t say a *thing* about the first 250, other than “Holy Crap!”

    Now, in my opinion, the query needs some of that Wizz-Bang tone. It builds to a strong climax, but I feel it will only do the writing justice when that first sentence of your query is as *PA-PAYOW!* as the first line of your text. I do love the mention of peoples’ religious reaction to Hyperhumans, (it’s rare in superhuman stories to see religion as more than silly zealotry, so I appreciate that your query suggests a deviation from that cliche, even if it turns out to be a theme in the novel) and since that does come back in the query with the revelation of Anubis, I think it overshadows the scientific community’s take on things. Perhaps if you lift us up on high with the vision of miraculous Anointed people, and then bring us down from that with Alex’s less-than-Theistic views of his troublesome ability, we can slide into the Science-Hero team idea without ever feeling “ho-hum” about scientists teaming up with super humans.

    Overall, Exciting! A novel I definitely want to read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks a lot for the compliments! I get where you’re coming from about the query. It was tough trying to strike that balance between giving the information a reader (agent) needs, but still keeping it interesting and engaging. I’ll definitely see what I can do to incorporate a more balanced portrayal of science versus religion.

      On a side note, it’s important to me that I show both the good and bad sides of faith in the novel, so hopefully I’m able to avoid portraying only zealotry.

      Like

  4. Right off the bat I’m not sure what “Certain individuals divide society” is supposed to mean. It doesn’t quite make sense. I realize what you mean after reading further, but I shouldn’t have to stop and think, “Oh, I get it.” I should know immediately, or I might not keep reading.
    The rest of your first paragraph reads a bit like a text book. All you are doing is reciting information to me, and it isn’t exciting. The rest of your query is much more engaging. Begin with Alex. Tell me who he is, and in one or two sentences sum up the info in paragraph 1 by telling me that Alex is one of these special people.
    Why is the relationship with his would-be mentor toxic? With this sentence, you’ve introduced a conflict, but it came out of nowhere, so again, I’m confused.
    I think the rest of your query is pretty solid. You’ve introduced your conflicts and described the stakes.

    I’m going to suggest that you start with the diner. It isn’t that the scene before it isn’t good, it’s just not good enough to be the first thing someone reads. There is too much introspection and too much description. There is so much introspection that I’m not quite sure what’s happening, and as of yet, I’m not invested enough in the story to want to read further to find out.
    I do think you should include this part elsewhere, if you can. It’s a good scene, just not a good first scene (at least in my opinion.) I like the part about the patient river, and I like Alex’s thoughts about how he should at least get to have a failed marriage, etc.
    I think you should start with the diner because this is something we can all easily understand and picture. Right from the start action is happening: he’s walking into a diner. There are people in the diner, so that leaves more potential for action. I’m also intrigued as to why he’s contemplating exit strategies. This section is a sold beginning, and makes me want to keep reading.

    Hope that helps! Good luck to you!

    Like

    • Thanks for the feedback. As I mentioned, I’ve gone back and forth on whether to start with the diner or not, and I’ll consider your comments as I continue to move through the querying process.

      Like

    • Everything this person says! Excellent writing, excellent story, but could use a little work to make it really shine.

      I think the key is to get to Anubis faster in the query. Seems like a lot of set up and all the good stuff gets crammed in that last paragraph.

      My other comment about starting in the diner is above–I had a past project that started smack dab in the middle of action and I got agent feedback that I needed to slow down, show readers why we cared.

      The conflict is immediately apparent in the diner scene. In the river scene, it seems like you’re cramming a lot of backstory down our throats.

      Like

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