First Impact: A QUESTION OF FAITH by Nicole Zoltack

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where I take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, etc. You want to make an impact right from the start. We're here to help you do that.

If you'd like to submit your first impact material, send it to Details here.

Thank you so much for your submissions and critiques in October. Through randomology, I have determined that the critiquer who wins a 15-page critique from Jodi Meadows is Fiction Writer!! Send me an e-mail, and I'll put you in contact with Jodi right away.

November's prize will be winner's choice: either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me. Anyone who offers their comments on First Impact posts in November is eligible.

This week we have a YA paranormal query from Nicole Zoltack. Thank you, Nicole! My inline comments are to the side, with overall thoughts at the end. Everything here is just my opinion. As always, your mileage may vary.

This first line is nice, but I feel like
the rest of the paragraph wanders a
bit. Could we skip tracking down the
witches and go straight to the truth?
Fifteen-year-old Crystal Miller isn’t a Bible thumper, but how can she not believe in God when He answers nearly all of her prayers? Learning her birthmother sought the help of witches to conceive her shakes her previously unwavering faith. Since curiosity isn't a sin, she tracks down the witches and learns she's the incarnation of magic. Supposedly, that makes her the only person whose magical potential is limitless.

BIG paragraph. Better break it up.

I don't understand how this is
nonsense. She gets whatever she
asks for, right? Sounds cool to me.

I think you can trim this paragraph.
It flows, but it feels more synopsis
than query, and I'm not clear on why
certain events are happening.
Crystal can’t believe her birthmother fell for such nonsense and vows to forget about magic, but when her boyfriend’s mom is seriously injured, she’s tempted to do more than just pray. Surely God won’t mind if she’s using magic to help people. After her boyfriend's mother miraculously recovers, Crystal doesn't know who saved her. Despite worrying her magic will damn her to Hell or, worse, that she doesn’t even have a soul to condemn, she sets out to master her power. Unfortunately, flying and playing with fireballs attracts dangerous attention. When a witch hunter captures her boyfriend and shamans snatch her aunt in an effort to control her, Crystal can no longer ignore who she really is. But she’s still new to magic and if she can't figure out what she's capable of, forget about saving those she loves--she just might start the apocalypse.

A QUESTION OF FAITH is an 87,000-word YA paranormal novel with series potential.

I am the author of a fantasy romance trilogy, Kingdom of Arnhem - Woman of Honor (2009), Knight of Glory (2010), and Champion of Valor (2011) published with Desert Breeze Publishing. Fifteen of my short works have appeared in various anthologies, including Mertales by Wyvern Publications, and many collections by Pill Hill Press, with one more to be published next year, as well as another novel from Desert Breeze Publishing.

Nicole Zoltack
~Where Fantasy and Love Take Flight~
The Kingdom of Arnhem trilogy: Woman of Honor, Knight of Glory, and Champion of Valor
Available from DBP ~ Amazon ~ ARe ~ B&N

Adam's Thoughts
I like the opening line. It made me smile and got me intrigued. 

But I think I interpreted it wrong. I thought that God answering nearly all her prayers was actually her magic powers manifesting. But Crystal's later conflict between her powers and God got me confused.

Does God really answer all her prayers? I'm having my own faith crisis right now wondering if I believe that or if it sounds like fantasy (and wondering what it says about me that my first thought was that was part of the fantasy). If God does answer her prayers (and it's not magic), I think this might raise the same question with other people, which distracts from your story.

If it's not really God (if it is her magical abilities manifesting), then I feel like her inner conflict of staying faithful vs. using her powers is a false one. They're the same thing. Shouldn't that be her inner conflict (i.e. are these powers from God or have I been believing a lie my whole life)?

The story sounds cool, but I'm not sure I'm clear on the central conflict. It's sad (and like I said, crisis-inducing) that I let this one phrase confuse me so much. I wonder if it's just me. What did the rest of you guys think when you read this one?


Steve MC said...

The way I took it was that she grew up thinking God must be answering her prayers, since they all come true, and that's all she's been taught to believe could do that.

Then she finds out how she came to be, and it's only her usual way of thinking and moral compass that makes her wonder, "Surely God won’t mind if she’s using magic to help people." She hasn't fully embraced her own abilities yet, or understood the fullness of her responsibility in what's occurred.

So then she's left without her connection with God, and even doubts she has a soul, and has to both find a way to help her family while at the same time build a moral foundation to work from.

That's a huge load to put on someone, and full of drama and discovery.

For the rest of it, it's all presented very clearly, and the only problem I had was with the apocalypse, since it's not explained how she might connect to it, and is a huge jump from the more close conflict with saving her family.

Sarah Ahiers said...

I'm with what Maine said. Though, after reading your comments, Adam, i started to wonder if God actually was answering her prayers or if it's actually been her magic all along and she's been attributing it to God.
I don't know, though, if that needs to be talked about in the query.
I really love this idea. For me, the conflict was clear, and strong - a crisis of faith is a strong conflict to rest a novel on.
I'd definitely pick this up.

Good luck nicole!

Patchi said...

I like the premise a lot. My interpretation was that she grew up believing God was answering her prayers when in fact it was her magic doing the trick. So now her morals are in conflict because she doesn't want to see herself as a god nor does she want to see herself as evil--she's using magic to help people, right?

I got confused with the flying and fireballs. These didn't sound like helping people. Does she decide to play with magic and find out her true potential? Does her boyfriend play a role in this? Is that how she might start the apocalypse?

The internal conflict is clear, the plot not so much.

Matthew MacNish said...

All the most important points have been made, so I just want to add:

I get the impression Crystal was the result of a sort of immaculate (or im-magic-ulate) conception. In the sense that like Jesus, she had no father. Only, instead of God being her father, it was magic.

Is that right? If so, that's pretty awesome, and I think you should clarify it in your query.

AuthorVanessaShields said...

I'm a bit confused...Where is Crystal's birth mother? I feel like what's missing for me is the relationship between Crystal and her mother...did her mother not tell her about her choice to use magic to birth Crystal? And she must love her boyfriend a lot to use her powers for his mother...
Also, it seems like there is a parallel being made between 'believing in God' and 'magic'. Is this your intention? Are her magical powers equal to 'God's' powers - and that's what Crystal must deal with? And, if she has such faith in God, is her struggle then to figure out a way to still believe in him and trust His power even if her own power is equal to his?
And why doesn't Crystal know who saved her boyfriend's mom? Was there any reason it would have been anyone else but Crystal?
I guess I'm just having a hard time understanding the lines you're making between magic and faith/religion/spirituality.
Also, if she believes she could be damned to she not still faithful to God and all in that realm? Including Hell?
Congratulations on all your publications thus far! I'm sure this story will be another success..!

Victoria Dixon said...

Several great comments and I really liked the premise here. The only thing that caught my attention in the query was that she was playing around with fireballs and flying. It sounds like she's embraced her heritage, but it's only until these other events happen that she can't ignore who she is. I think just removing the fireballs and flying might clarify that issue. Also, I have to agree, it's a big jump from family and personal crisis of faith to Armageddon. One sentence can bridge that gap if it's the right sentence. :) Good luck. This sounds GREAT and like something I'd love to read.

The Dieselpunkette said...

Adam articulated the issues I had with it pretty well - the fact that the titular conflict seems like it could potentially be trumped up, and the obvious resolution would be Crystal realizing that magic isn't evil, all things are created by god and are gift from god, etc. I feel like there's a lot of potential for the story to be really preachy, which turns me off, or for religions to be portrayed stereoptypically. It's not clear whether these witches are representatives of wicca, or if we're talking halloween hags, but if it's the latter, wiccans find the use of the term 'witch' to mean evil hag very offensive. As a wiccan, I guess I kept reading, looking for a hint that Crystal is going to learn more about what witches really are, and that they're not what she first assumed, but that promise seemed to be missing.