First Impact: HUNTED by Jessica Hutchison

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where we 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.

Remember, anyone who offers their comments this month is eligible for either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me.

This week we have a query letter for a YA urban fantasy. My inline comments are to the side, with overall thoughts at the end. As always, this is all just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

A one-sentence logline? I'm wary :-)
Zuza always thought superheroes were cool until she became one.

Oh! You went right on with the plot
instead of backing up. Great!

A lot of great voice here.
Now when her evil step-mother asks her to pass the salt, she can launch it at her head without lifting a finger. And then there's the healing. H: her regeneration power rivals a salamander's. It's that awesome.

Just some suggestions here. Reword
them to taste and, you know, accuracy.
But not everything's that coolit's not as cool as it sounds. She seriously has to worry about bounty hunters from other dimensions tracking her down and tossing her through a portal to the Phantom Zone.

The family issues here feel like
first world problems to me. Focus on
the story.
It's just one more complication in an already complicated life. She's got a weird Latvian name (thanks Dad) and a pregnant step-mother determined to replace Zuza with her own spawn. That would be more than enough to handle, but now there's Raven, the intense guy with lethal eyes and a habit of punching people who try to kiss her. Somehow he's the only one who gets that she's in trouble. That she needs help. Problem is, she's having trouble deciding whose side he's on. And when she learns her superpowers are about as stable as a Russian nuclear power plant, she knows she's almost out of time.

The query shows Zuza's character.
You don't need to tell it.

This highlighted bit is exactly how
to write about yourself (if you're
going to do that).
FINDING ZUZA is an urban fantasy for young adults complete at 96,000 words. It takes a curly-headed, dramatic Felicity-like character and puts her into the fast-paced action and romantic suspense of a Cassandra Clare novel. I've published a few short stories, one titled Lazarus in the short story anthology Bicycle Love (Breakaway Books, 2004). Currently, I teach agriculture-related courses at a small university where driving tractors, shearing sheep and tapping maples are all on the syllabus.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Jessica Hutchison
[address, email, blog address]

Adam's Thoughts
There is a lot of Great here. The voice and the story sound solid enough that you could probably get requests with this as is. But I bet we can make it better.

For me, the threads start to fray in the last plot paragraph ("It's just one more complication..."). Up to that point, I'm totally hooked by the character and conflict, and all I need is to know the stakes -- what she has to do and why it matters. But instead I get dumped back into family matters (which, to be honest, sound a little whiny to me considering she's got telekinesis and healing factor).

Introduce Raven for sure, but be more clear about the trouble Zuza's in. The bounty hunter paragraph makes it sound like it's an ongoing problem, rather than something new and deadly that she needs help with.

Where I really got interested again was how her powers were unstable. That's a great hook and I want to know more about it. What does she need to do before her time runs out? That's what I'm unclear on: her goal.

Those are my thoughts. What do the rest of you guys think?


R.S. Bohn said...

The instability of her superhero powers -- which mirrors the rampant instability of every teenager, everywhere -- is what hooked me, too. Raven sounds like an interesting character, not the obvious love interest nor bad guy. And bounty hunters are always cool.

But I'm a bit unsure what the plot really is here. I would guess it's a "save the world" plotline, but I'm not sure. I'd suggest clarifying that.

I really like this, and I could see it becoming a series of books in which Zuza and Raven sidestep each other in an increasingly complicated relationship (letting the tension play out) while each book, Zuza must contend with some evilness, some nefarious plot to end the world/enslave us all. Throw in some humorous moments and side stories, such as with the stepmother, and it could be a real gem.

Good stuff here.

R.S. Bohn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurie Gienapp said...

I love the similes... her healing powers rival a salamander's... her powers are as stable as a Russian nuke plant....
I'm confused by the reference to people trying to kiss her.. it seems out of place in the query. Everything else points to her powers (awesome, yet unstable)... and I assume that the bounty hunters are after her, due to her superpowers... again - the brief reference to the kiss, seems out of place.

Sarah Ahiers said...

Yep i'm with Adam!
The query starts off strong, but you seem to lose the thread at the end. In that last paragraph, i would suggest really focusing on the choice she has to make and the consequences (ie, teh stakes that adam mentioned) instead of talking about the family drama. IF you really want to include the family drama bits, then i would consider moving them up to the first or second paragraph.

Hope that helps and good luck!

Unknown said...

Wow, all your comments are so right on! Thanks so much to Adam and all the other commenters. I will take these to heart - wish me luck! :)

Matthew MacNish said...

I was OOO yesterday, so I missed this, but I think you've got a lot of great advice here.

Oh, and for a second I got really excited when I though Raven said Revan.