An unselfish wish made on the horn of a unicorn will come true. Our wish? To support the writing community by giving constructive tips and criticism through submissions. Check out the submissions tab for more information. We can survive the crucible of fire together.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Day Three - Hooks

Some of these hook lines are famous. Others rather obscure. A few are tongue in cheek with little or no work on my part. Several are genuine lines to crit.

Submit from 20 words to 40 – 50 or whatever best suits your hook. Just remember, more words do not a hook make.
Submit to unicornbellsubmissions.gmail.com

Hook #15

“ I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one. Or at least as close as we’re going to get.”

A famous book that I hadn't read until last year, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Hook #14

I tossed my backpack in a corner of the studio and high-fived Rodney on his way out. “Hey, Kitty, thanks again for taking the midnight shift,” he said. 

He’d started playing some third-generation grunge band that made my hackles rise, but I smiled anyway.

A delightful surprise, Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn. This continues as the 'Kitty' series. 

Hook #13

“All I ask is that you pick up your sh*t so you don’t leave your bedroom looking like it was used for a gang bang. Also, sorry that your girlfriend dumped you.”


I was laughing so hard while reading this book, the hubby nearly performed CPR on me. Sh*t My Dad Says - Justin Halpern

Hook #12

The hill people and the Mexicans arrived on the same day.

A fantastic book written by a well-established author, A Painted House by John Grisham

Hook #11

There is one mirror in my house. It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs. Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair.


YAY, someone guessed. Divergent by Veronica Roth

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Day Two - Hooks



Some of these hook lines are famous. Others rather obscure. A few are tongue in cheek with little or no work on my part. Several are genuine lines to crit.

Submit from 20 words to 40 – 50 or whatever best suits your hook. Just remember, more words do not a hook make. 

Submit to unicornbellsubmissions.gmail.com

Hook #10

I’d been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.

The famous first line to a famous first book of the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, Dead Until Dark. TV show is True Blood.

Hook #9

I hadn't enjoyed a hangover since my University days with Vicki and Grey, and this one wasn't any different.

Hook #8

I sat packed into the back of a hummer with a bunch of Army guys. The convoy I’d joined currently headed to a compound where a local school was located. The air inside the cab was stale and charged with a nervous energy.

Hook #7

Before the car pulled into the driveway I knew whoever was inside had a hold on me.
“Is that a new one?” Greg slid off the trunk of my car and started stretching for our run.
“Guess so.” I shrugged. 
The car pulled along the sidewalk and the man driving got out.

Hook #6

Statistics show that most mortals sell their souls for five reasons: sex, money, power, revenge, and love. In that order.

Debut novel of Richelle Mead. Succubus Blues.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Say it. Out Loud. "Hook."


Some of these hook lines are famous. Others rather obscure. A few are tongue in cheek with little or no work on my part. Several are genuine lines to crit.
Changing horses in midstream. A woman’s prerogative. Fickle: thy name is woman.
I subtly changed the rules from 20 words to 40 – 50. Submit whatever best suits your hook. Just remember, more words do not a hook make. 

Submit to unicornbellsubmissions.gmail.com

Hook #5

I didn’t realize he was a werewolf at first. My nose isn’t at its best when surrounded by axle grease and burnt oil – and it’s not like there are a lot a stray werewolves running around


A great series and author.

Moon Called - Patricia Briggs, the Mercy Thompson series

Hook #4

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. 

You guessed it.

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

Hook #3

He had always intended to come back, to see the island. Again. But the opportunity had never quite presented itself. 

One of my favorite books and movies.

Summer of '42 - Herman Raucher

Hook #2

My life began the day I turned eighteen and fell off a planet for the first time. Up until then I hadn't started living--I had just existed.

Hooks #1


Thunder rumbled as I touched the wire-panel fence, some twenty seconds after the flash of lightning. Figuring five seconds per mile, I thought I was safe from a shock. But I was wrong.

It took me all of 1 minute to blurb this out. - Huntress

Monday, January 28, 2013

Self-Published: Doing it Right


Deadly by nature. Possessive by instinct. These darkly beautiful gargoyles must hide the secret of their existence in today's world…while protecting the ones they love from an ancient evil.


I am wary of new authors and investigate thoroughly. For an odd and fateful reason I fell into Valor by Taylor Longford without reading the sample chapter, back cover, or reviews.

By all that is Holy, I hit the jackpot

MacKenzie opens a crate sent by her ‘step-person’ (love that btw) and finds a life-size statue of a young man. A gorgeous man. While she eyes the realistic sculpture, MacKenzie is unaware that the stature looking back. He is a gargoyle who turned himself to stone hundreds of years before and awaits only the touch of sunlight to return to flesh again.

The Greystone Series details the adventures of a pack of young gargoyles from 13th century England. After being trapped between the walls of an old building, they're unearthed eight hundred years later and shipped to the United States. Ms. Longford continues the series with Dare and Reason. Folks, this is a keeper.

The tone of the books range from lighthearted and fun to a bit on the dark side, depending on the different characters and their personalities, YA paranormal with – IMHO – a bit of New Adult as well and romance that goes from sweet to smokin' in zero point 5 seconds.

Valor is Ms. Longford’s debut novel and she is working on the fourth in the series, Defiance. She is self-published, a monumentally difficult but ultimately rewarding road to take. In her words:

“I decided to self pub rather than try any of the other routes like a traditional or small publishing house. Basically, I heard of Amanda Hocking's success and was encouraged to try and ‘make it on my own’.”

I highly recommend this series. Ms. Longford does not disappoint. Her characters and Voice are unique, easily the best I've read in a while. Check out Valor on Amazon and GoodReads. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hook Me, A Call for Submissions




Exercise your creative juices this week with hook lines. 

Make something up on the fly or use the first couple of sentences of your current mss. Whatever pickles you tink.

In the comments section, tell us if each submission hooked you. Can you tell the genre from the first line or whether it is YA or adult?

Starting Tuesday, I’ll post each submission separately. 

In among the hooky lines of our followers (and moderators!), I’m also throwing in a few established authors, some famous and some not so much.

Send your hook to unicornbellsubmissions.gmail.com.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Unusual characters

Okay, he's not my very favorite character but he was definitely my most favorite character to write. Who am I talking about, you might ask? None other than Vathek, the imp, from my novel GRIMOIRE.

I found Vathek in an Eighteenth Century Romance of the same name, which begins thusly: “Vathek, ninth caliph of the race of the Abassides, was the son of Motassem, and the grandson of Haroun al Raschid.” A description follows of his table which was “continually covered with the most exquisite dainties,” his garden of rarities, a hall of music, and a “Palace of Perfumes.”

Basically he’s a guy that has it all until a mysterious stranger shows up who has the most magical merchandise, like knives that cut by themselves, slippers with spontaneous springs, and a certain sabre with gems arranged in something akin to letters. It is this item that Vathek desires, and, of course, it all goes downhill from there and Vathek comes to a bad end.

After which I thought, who better to be cursed into an imp than this guy? Here's an excerpt (Arlen has just spoken the words to Summon Vathek):



     A wet, popping sound made her snap her head around and a second later a creature appeared; a small black thing the size of a teapot with a long, smooth barbed tail. It had no hair whatsoever and bright amber eyes.
     Arlen threw herself back in her chair, fingers curling tight around the arms, eyes wide .
     The thing looked at her, blinking, then slowly turned its head, bright eyes taking in the room first, then the witchlight hanging above the desk, and finally back to Arlen, who had scooted her chair back against the wall. Its mouth curved into a small smile and she could see tiny pointy teeth, sharp as knives.
 

Who's one of your favorite unusual characters? Care to share a little excerpt?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

cunning craft


 

Here's what another of my favorites has to say about characters: "Begin with a character who wants something, and you're off to a good start."*

Think about that for a second and then consider a few characters you know. Like Harry Potter. What did he want? Wasn't it his wanting that made the whole story? Or think about Frodo wanting to get rid of the ring, or Kvothe wanting to learn the name of the wind. This is where stories begin, with characters wanting something. It might be as simple as getting out of their boring town and away from their boring lives or as difficult and complex as defeating the Dark Lord who murdered their parents.

Now, think about your characters. Think about what they want more than anything and how they plan on getting it. Then think about how you're going to make it difficult for them to achieve their goal. What obstacles will they have to overcome? What sacrifices will they have to make? And will it all be worth it in the end?




* from By Cunning & Craft, by Peter Selgin.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

critical factors

I was reading my Writer's Digest Magazine last night, and once again came across a superb article about why some novels become successful and others don't. Culprit number one, according to Donald Maass, is timid voices. "A snappy premise and meaty plot can hook us and keep us reading but cannot by themselves work that magic. It takes something extra: voice." Further, "voice in a novel is not the author's thoughts or vocabulary but the sum total of what her characters observe, think, feel and express in their own unique ways."

The fix is easy. Write your characters with strong voices. Let them speak in their own words and tell the story.

(Which is exactly what I've been doing with my latest wip! I know, great minds think alike, right? Me and Don? We are so on the same page when it comes to characters. It's scary.)

Anyway. Moving on. Culprit number two, according to Maass, is untested characters. If they don't do anything then what was the point? How compelling is it to read about a character who doesn't react? The best characters act bravely even though they're scared, jump to defend their principles and rise to face their deepest fears. They come out the other side, changed different, and so do we for reading about them.

But the last and best is culprit number three (Overly Interior or Exterior stories), which really hit home: "Certain story patterns are pretty much guaranteed to lead to fiction of underwhelming force," especially novels heavy with "delay, suffering, and being stuck." Fiction of underwhelming force is, of course, the last thing we want. The way to rectify this, Maass says, is to give interior stories "more dramatic outward events; by the same token, dramatic outward events need to create a more devastating interior impact."

Yeah. I had to underline that last part. Brilliant, right? Especially the devastating part.

And if that doesn't get you all fired up to write something then I'll give you a last gem I found, a question to ponder. Ask yourself, what's the biggest thing your protagonist could possibly do, but can't? By the end of the story, have her do it.

Hmm. I think I might.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Name that Personality



    A big thanks to Patricia who submitted this excerpt from her manuscript, LEGACY OF THE EYE. Some of you may remember her first page and recognize these two characters. The question is, can you tell their personality types? I think I can guess Catrine's but David is harder since this is from her pov. What do you think?

 "We should split up the research. You take the first whorl and I'll take the second." David sat at the desk closer to the door and powered up the computing unit.
     Catrine sat at the other desk, but her mind was not on the work. She could not stop wondering what was wrong with David. After reading the same passage four times, she got up and walked back to the board on the wall. Based on the list she had made the week before, she added labels to the dots and circled the five on her current list of potential planets to send tutors. She also crossed out the ten she was certain were not governed by a hereditary rule. Then David groaned and her mind crash-landed back on Demia.
     "How can you find all the books for a specific planet?" David's chair scraped the wood floor as he thrust it away from the desk.
     "You do a keyword search..." Catrine was confused. She had learned to do this kind of research eight years ago--and David had been the one who taught her.
     "But how do you know you are getting all the books?"
     "Because they are all indexed in the system and the search algorithm is designed to retrieve them." Catrine could see the color creeping up his neck, but she could not understand what was upsetting him.
     "What if someone deleted a book? How would you know?"
     "Why would anyone do that?"
     "I don't know!"
     David's chair toppled over as he stood in haste and they both reached for it at the same time. Catrine's hand brushed against David's skin. The hairs on her arm prickled and her heart rate quickened. The flurry of sensations that enveloped her was as strong as when David had kissed her amidst the lilies. Heat spread through her body. She was aware of how close he was, and how alone they were. She heard David take a deep breath, before he stepped away from her as if from fire.

Monday, January 21, 2013

It all goes to character


For me, character trumps plot 90% of the time. If I like a character, I'll follow them a lot of places I wouldn't otherwise and one way to make me love a character is to make them real and believable. Today I'm going to offer something can help all of us craft better characters, and then I'll be taking some submissions so we can play a little game called guess that personality.

These are the four personality types: 

Sanguine

The sanguine character is basically impulsive and pleasure-seeking; sanguine people are sociable and charismatic. They like social situations, enjoy making new friends and they tend to be boisterous.  However, some alone time is crucial for those of this temperament. Sanguine can also mean sensitive, compassionate and romantic. They can also be creative and have been know to daydream. Sanguine personalities generally struggle with following through, are chronically late, and tend to be forgetful and sometimes a little sarcastic. Often, when they pursue a new hobby, they lose interest as soon as it ceases to be engaging or fun. Above all, they are people persons. They are talkative and not shy. Sanguines generally have an almost shameless nature, certain that what they are doing is right. They have no lack of confidence.


Choleric

The choleric character is aggressive, energetic, and passionate, and will try to instill these traits in those around them. They are also ambitious and leader-like, and can dominate people of other temperaments, especially phlegmatic types. Many great charismatic military and political figures were choleric. They like to be in charge. However, cholerics also tend to be either highly disorganized or highly organized. No in-between setups, only one extreme to another. As well as being leader-like and assertive, cholerics also fall into deep and sudden depression. Essentially, they are very much prone to mood swings.


Melancholic

The melancholic character is an introvert [hmm, let's see if these traits look familiar to anyone...] and basically thoughtful. Sometimes they are seen as overly pondering and considerate, worrying when they don't need to. They are often highly creative in activities such as poetry and art and can become so preoccupied with what they're doing that they forget to think of others. They also tend to think too much about the tragedy and cruelty of the world. They are also perfectionists, self-reliant and independent.

 Phlegmatic

The phlegmatic character is fundamentally relaxed and quiet, ranging from warmly attentive to lazily sluggish. These people tend to be content with themselves and are kind. They are accepting and affectionate. They may be receptive and shy and usually prefer stability to uncertainty and change. They are consistent, relaxed, calm, rational, curious, and observant, qualities that make them good administrators. They can also be passive-aggressive. 

Now, knowing this, I want you to go to your character and find a scene where you are trying to show the reader about him or her. Ask yourself which personality does your character most inhabit? Does the scene show that? Can you revise to do so? 

Now, send that scene to us/me (unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com) and I'll post it and let's see if we can guess which personality type your character is. Keep submissions to around 300 words. Ready? Go!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Guess the Brand #7

Here's how to play. Look at the screen shot and post in the comments what you learned about the author from this blog.


And the link: Spirit Called

Guess the Brand #6

Here's how to play. Look at the screen shot and post in the comments what you learned about the author from this blog.


And the link: Angie Schilaty

Guess the Brand #5

Here's how to play. Look at the screen shot and post in the comments what you learned about the author from this blog.


And the link: From the Desk of Laura Stephenson

Guess the Brand #4

Here's how to play. Look at the screen shot and post in the comments what you learned about the author from this blog.


And the link to the blog: Halfworld

Guess the Brand #3

Here's how to play. Look at the screen shot and post in the comments what you learned about the author from this blog.


And the link to the blog: Eclectic

Guess the Brand #2

Here's how to play. Look at the screen shot and post in the comments what you learned about the author from this blog.


And the link to the website: My Middle Years

Guess the Brand #1

This is a great first example! Thanks for sharing. I'm going to add what I learned in the comments instead of the post.

Here's how to play. Look at the screen shot and post in the comments what you learned about the author from the blog.


Here's the Link for the Blog Civil War Horror

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Guessing Game

We could spend some time talking about other online venues--twitter, facebook, writer's forums, etc, but I'd rather play a little game.

How about we check out a few of your blogs? Here's how it will work:

  1. You post a link to your blog and nothing else. Not your name, nothing.
  2. I'll visit your blog and post a "snapshot" of your blog tomorrow (we can post as many as want to play).
  3. Everyone looks at the blog and comments on what they think your "brand" is just from looking at your blog.

Do you want to play?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Profile/Author Picture

Today you're going to get a mini rant from me.

Sorry.

Especially since this particular pet peeve of mine is perpetuated by some of my dearest blogger friends.

Here it is.

For the love of Pete (whoever he may be) please use a picture of yourself as your profile picture. You may  not need a professional author photo yet, but if you want people to remember you attached to your name, please, please, please...post a current picture.

For example. Our fearless leader Carol, AKA Huntress remained 2 Separate People! in my mind for over a year! For some reason she has issues posting a picture of herself (I think she's beautiful by the way.). Hey, we all wish we were younger, thinner, had longer/shorter/straighter/curlier hair, etc.

Take a chance and trust people with a picture of you and your real name or the name you want to be known by. Do you really want to build a brand like this:

PookieBear22

Yeah, it's cute, but it makes it hard to connect your blog/twitter/facebook/stories to you. 

Pick a head shot or at least a picture from the waist up where its close enough that people will recognize you if they pass you in the grocery store. Smile or be mysterious. Just don't pick your nose. Not for the picture anyway. Then use the same picture EVERYWHERE. This is now part of your brand. 

Q4U: If you don't use a head shot, what are you afraid of? I really want to know. 

But how do I take a good picture? Here are some great links:

5 Tips for Taking a Good Author Photo by ebookpublishinghq. This post had me laughing out loud. My favorite is the reference to a romance writer's photo. Made me think about switching genres, but don't tell my hubby!
5 Tips for Taking a Great Author Photo by Voices from the Heart mentions some of the cliched photo poses.
9 Suggestions for Taking Better Head Shots by Michael Hyatt, author of Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World (Thomas Nelson). Enough said.
Look Great in Your Author Photo by The Review Review has a long list of things, including how to hide a double chin. What about that extra 30 lbs?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Blogger Market

Okay, just remember, by not asking questions, this is what you signed up for.

:)

Blogging is a great way to market yourself, but are you doing it effectively? I think this boils down to what your goals are (doesn't everything?!) For the sake of simplicity, let's say your goal is to be searchable in search engines in relation to books, writing, and hopefully one day YOUR book.

You need to blog about the things you want to be associated with. Sounds simple enough, but it's not. For instance, when I started blogging I thought that meant I had to write about WRITING every time I blogged. While some of those posts were fairly informative and hopefully helpful to someone, I was new and there were lots of better writing blogs out there. I just rehashed what I was learning.

The bottom line--I was putting up mediocre posts that didn't feel like me. I was trying to sound all official and intelligent. (not that I'm stupid, but I'm a little more relaxed and conversational)

Your blog should really reflect YOU. Blogging will quickly drain you of all energy and desire to continue posting unless you make it about what's important to you. In my case that's more about building relationships and having conversations.

Here are some things I've found that keep me reading other blogs.

They share:
  • personal stories about their writing
  • story bits to entice me
  • what they are learning about writing and publishing
  • news about good things in other writer's lives (such as signing a contract)
  • fun pictures (often with no relation to writing)
  • Ask me questions that get me thinking
The point is they mix it up. Every day is a little different. 

Notice I didn't mention an amazing background and layout. These things are important, however a lot of people read in google reader and don't see those things anyway. My only suggestion for this area is pick something you like that's related to your theme. 

I write scifi and fantasy, so I picked a star background.
When I blog, I try and stay in my general area of interest. I review scifi and fantasy books. Yes, occasionally I wander off into other territories, and that's fine. However, I want the people who might eventually read my book to find my blog and invest themselves in my life. This makes it more likely they'll buy or at least read and review my book on Goodreads and Amazon. So I try to share science fiction related stuff. 

Such as these cool real science things. 

So, open your blog. Look at it and pretend you've never seen it before. 

Who does your blog say YOU are?

Jody Hedlund posted today about What fiction writers should blog about. Check it out!

Monday, January 14, 2013

What's Your Brand?

I think mine is Ghirardelli or Olive Garden.

Eh, yeah. Well, anyway.

When is the best time to start marketing yourself or creating your brand?

Now. Right now this very moment. You may not realize it, but you've actually been working on it for a while now. The real question is whether or not you are presenting yourself in the best way possible.

Have you Googled yourself?

Take a moment and try it. I'll wait.

What came up? Did YOU show up in that list? Was it the kind of stuff that made you look like a writer? Or at least a semi-intelligent human being? (And yes, I know that's hypocritical coming from the ninny who posted THIS.)

"We are all merchants." Sam Walton. 

As writers we are merchants. We sell ourselves as well as our novels. It takes time to make our presence known to the world. Every post, comment, social network account, etc. leaves one more mark on the web that says

I was here!

The best way to do it is by simply being you. This means you don't have to do it all. Unless you have a cloning  machine like the Ninja Captain.

This week I'd like to talk about things you can do now to build your personal brand. What do you want to talk about? Ask questions and let's start a dialogue. Otherwise you'll be subjected to my discombobulated ramblings. ;)

First Page Critique - Thinking of You


My week on Unicorn Bell is almost up, technically, it's already up, except for on the West Coast. :) I enjoyed posting my feedback for our volunteers, and I have two more left who submitted before I closed for submissions for the week. So, to make room for Charity to begin her weekly posts, I'm moving my last two submissions to my personal blog, sharonbayliss.blogspot.com, on Monday and Tuesday. I hope to see you there!

And without further ado, the first page of Thinking Of You.

---

Title: THINKING OF YOU
Genre: YA/NA light sci fi


To save them.

The Enclosure stood alone as if other buildings were afraid of catching its disease.
Cool. The too still air gave it away, highlighting the absence of those locked inside. I'm not sure what that second sentence means. Smooth walls, windowless until the top floor, covered up the ominous feel as well as makeup on a dead person. I really like this analogy, but smooth windowless walls don't really seem to fit the analogy of being "make-up". That just sounds like a basic description of a place. I would think "Make-up" would be like paint or landscaping or decorations they used to try and make it look nice.

A sea of waving grass went all the way to the cityscape just visible in the distance, a narrow road to the Enclosure the only thing brave enough to break through it. And the two of us. Crouching so our borrowed white uniforms wouldn’t be seen. Watching and waiting.

Aside from those sentences that weren't clear to me, this is a great start. It's a fantastic image with strong visual descriptions, just make sure those descriptions are concrete so the reader isn't guessing what they're supposed to see.

“Rebbsie. Look.” Tass pointed, indicating a box truck puttering down the road. The food shipment. Monitoring the Department’s records had paid off. Boarding the truck far enough away from the building would keep the eye level cameras that bordered the road from seeing us. It was our way in. Our first step in saving the last living members of our species, the Controllers or Trols for short. Their name for us, but we had no other. This last sentence feels like it's missing something. I know you probably don't want to go into too much detail here, but I think it would be helpful to replace "their" with a more solid description. Who is "their"?

My body erupted into motion, knowing the plan before I did. Ground flew under my feet as I ran. My legs stretched, the muscles pulling taut. It felt wonderful after squatting in the grass for so long. Strands of my dark hair flew in my face and I shook my head, trying to clear my field of vision. The pouch that hung from my neck thumped against my chest. Without looking, I knew Tass was behind me just as, without me telling her, she knew what my plan was. This last sentence was awkward to me. I understand what you mean, but I had to read it twice.

We were going to hitch a ride.

An intriguing start! As I mentioned earlier, you have some strong imagery and you do a great job of keeping the reader in the immediate scene. The immediacy draws me in, and I would certainly keep reading.
---

Now it's your turn! Please provide your feedback in comments:

Title: THINKING OF YOU
Genre: YA/NA light sci fi



To save them.

The Enclosure stood alone as if other buildings were afraid of catching its disease. The too still air gave it away, highlighting the absence of those locked inside. Smooth walls, windowless until the top floor, covered up the ominous feel as well as makeup on a dead person.

A sea of waving grass went all the way to the cityscape just visible in the distance, a narrow road to the Enclosure the only thing brave enough to break through it. And the two of us. Crouching so our borrowed white uniforms wouldn’t be seen. Watching and waiting.

“Rebbsie. Look.” Tass pointed, indicating a box truck puttering down the road. The food shipment. Monitoring the Department’s records had paid off. Boarding the truck far enough away from the building would keep the eye level cameras that bordered the road from seeing us. It was our way in. Our first step in saving the last living members of our species, the Controllers or Trols for short. Their name for us, but we had no other.

My body erupted into motion, knowing the plan before I did. Ground flew under my feet as I ran. My legs stretched, the muscles pulling taut. It felt wonderful after squatting in the grass for so long. Strands of my dark hair flew in my face and I shook my head, trying to clear my field of vision. The pouch that hung from my neck thumped against my chest. Without looking, I knew Tass was behind me just as, without me telling her, she knew what my plan was.

We were going to hitch a ride.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Query & First Page Critique - Deceptive Cadence

I have another query and first page with all my comments all over it. Let her know what you think too.

---

Dear (Agent Name)


Would you like to go back several years with the knowledge that you have and redo events which you regret? Some agents are really irked by rhetorical questions in a query, especially as an opener. In any case, I think you could have a stronger hook anyway. Cadence's husband and toddler daughter die. That's powerful and enticing. You already feel bad for her. I don't think you need much else as a hook, just start where the story starts. That was the question Cadence’s guardian angel asked her when her husband and toddler daughter died. If this happened during your story (and not before the book begins) it should be present tense, as all parts of a query pitch. Bereaved by the loss,  This seems obvious enough to me that you may not need this. Cadence eagerly accepts, knowing she can go back and prevent their deaths.

She is shot shoots back in time to her fourteen-year-old self, and faces high school all over again. She is determined to do everything better, including preventing the loss of her best friend and not dating any of her original boyfriends while she focuses on her future husband who she won’t meet for several years.

But then James Gordon crosses her path. While she is now perpetually single, the bad boy pursues her in this new timeline. He threatens to disrupt everything that is to come, and distract her from her original goal: to save her future family.

Deceptive Cadence is a Contemporary NA/YA crossover running at 85,000. So, how old is Cadence when her husband and toddler daughter die? I think that's pretty important to mention since having a husband and child is out of the norm for the NA/YA genre. If you didn't say "NA" I would assume she was in her late twenties or early thirties, so if she's not, definitely say so. Is she a New Adult who goes back in time to become a Young Adult? Wow, that really is a "crossover", if I ever heard of one. lol It seems like the PERFECT premise to market to 30 something women who read young adult! ;)

Your query is strong. The conflict is clearly laid out and the MC's challenge is something I care about from the beginning. I can also sense a lot of opportunity for conflict and plot opportunities between the lines. Well done! I don't think much needs to be changed except the beginning.
First page:

A steady beep brought me out of my unconsciousness. My eyes felt heavy and I struggled it was a struggle to open them. There was a I smelled the distinct aroma of cleaning products. My most recent editing for The Charge was extensive "was" removal. So, I'm sensitive to it. :) My brain switched on as I realized where I was. I forced my eyes open and the beeping sped up. The walls were white in the hospital room, and directly across from me was a closed bathroom door. To my left was a brown couch under a window – which was covered by blinds – and to my right was a tan leather armchair. I was completely alone. I panicked. Where was my family? My husband? My eighteen-month-old daughter? 

I tried to sit up but my whole body writhed with pain. I moaned, and a second later a nurse, dressed in aqua scrubs, burst into the room. “It’s all right, just don’t move,” she said in a soothing voice.

I wanted to ask a million questions, but I couldn’t seem to form any words. She gently pressed me back onto the bed and checked me over. I watched her, as she avoided looking directly into my eye. I followed her movements which was when I became aware of the cast on my arm. My right leg was bound and raised in a sling and appeared to have large bolts sticking out of my thigh. “What happened?” I finally managed to utter.

The nurse slowed. “You have a fractured femur, ulna and radius. You also sustained substantial head trauma which is why you’ve been unconscious for the past few days.”

“Few days?” I groaned. “What day is it?”

“Thursday.”

“But how? The last thing I remember was... was...” I didn’t actually know. The Monday was a haze. I’d come home from university and found my husband had cooked dinner and our daughter was bathed and in her pajamas. It was such a wonderful surprise and I’d kissed him, feeling as if I’d never be happier. We’d sat and ate together, enjoying our family time. Our little girl rambled about this and that, while my husband told me about his day.

“There was an earthquake,” the nurse told me.

I snapped back into focus. “But, we don’t live near a fault line.”

The nurse dropped her eyes. “It was a freak incident. Your leg was crushed under a ceiling beam and your arm broke when you hit the floor.”


Great first scene! It helps that I have a husband and small children, but I'm definitely scared for her. I would read on in a heart beat. In fact, I was a little disappointed when the brief excerpt ended. :)
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Your turn! Please provide your feedback for Deceptive Cadence in comments.

Dear (Agent Name)

Would you like to go back several years with the knowledge that you have and redo events which you regret? That was the question Cadence’s guardian angel asked her when her husband and toddler daughter died. Bereaved by the loss, Cadence eagerly accepts, knowing she can go back and prevent their deaths.

She is shot back in time to her fourteen-year-old self, and faces high school all over again. She is determined to do everything better, including preventing the loss of her best friend and not dating any of her original boyfriends while she focuses on her future husband who she won’t meet for several years.

But then James Gordon crosses her path. While she is now perpetually single, the bad boy pursues her in this new timeline. He threatens to disrupt everything that is to come, and distract her from her original goal: to save her future family.

Deceptive Cadence is a Contemporary NA/YA crossover running at 85,000.

First page:


A steady beep brought me out of my unconsciousness. My eyes felt heavy and it was a struggle to open them. There was a distinct aroma of cleaning products. My brain switched on as I realized where I was. I forced my eyes open and the beeping sped up. The walls were white in the hospital room, and directly across from me was a closed bathroom door. To my left was a brown couch under a window – which was covered by blinds – and to my right was a tan leather armchair. I was completely alone. I panicked. Where was my family? My husband? My eighteen-month-old daughter?

I tried to sit up but my whole body writhed with pain. I moaned, and a second later a nurse, dressed in aqua scrubs, burst into the room. “It’s all right, just don’t move,” she said in a soothing voice.

I wanted to ask a million questions, but I couldn’t seem to form any words. She gently pressed me back onto the bed and checked me over. I watched her, as she avoided looking directly into my eye. I followed her movements which was when I became aware of the cast on my arm. My right leg was bound and raised in a sling and appeared to have large bolts sticking out of my thigh. “What happened?” I finally managed to utter.

The nurse slowed. “You have a fractured femur, ulna and radius. You also sustained substantial head trauma which is why you’ve been unconscious for the past few days.”

“Few days?” I groaned. “What day is it?”

“Thursday.”

“But how? The last thing I remember was... was...” I didn’t actually know. The Monday was a haze. I’d come home from university and found my husband had cooked dinner and our daughter was bathed and in her pajamas. It was such a wonderful surprise and I’d kissed him, feeling as if I’d never be happier. We’d sat and ate together, enjoying our family time. Our little girl rambled about this and that, while my husband told me about his day.

“There was an earthquake,” the nurse told me.

I snapped back into focus. “But, we don’t live near a fault line.”

The nurse dropped her eyes. “It was a freak incident. Your leg was crushed under a ceiling beam and your arm broke when you hit the floor.”

Query & First Page Critique - 1000 Sleepless Nights

Thanks to another lovely volunteer, I have feedback for the New Adult Contemporary, 1000 Sleepless Nights.

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At nineteen, prodigy Emme Sawyer flew through her undergrad work and was well on her way to becoming a doctor when the money ran out. Drawn in by the promise of a free education, she joins the Navy. Earning the title of Hospital Corpsman, Emme  and deploys to Afghanistan.

With the front lines blurred, Emme fights side by side with the Marines.   Even though she's assigned to hospital work, Emme ignores the danger and Ignoring the danger she runs into the fire fight to treat the wounded. Soon it becomes apparent that sometimes being smart isn’t enough and bullets don’t care if you’re a girl.

Emme struggles with the brutality she sees and shuts off her emotions, focusing on what she does best…keeping her men safe. Soon she develops feelings for her commanding officer. Feelings she doesn’t want and isn’t supposed to have for a member of her team. When her commanding officer reciprocates, Emme learns that you can’t choose when and where love finds you. After Emme is shipped home, her life crumbles. Faced with the nightmares of her deployment and unresolved feelings for her commanding officer, Emme must choose to move forward in a world she no longer feels a part of or find a way to return to the man she left behind. or figure out how to get back to the men she left behind I don't know if that change is accurate, but saying she wants to return to the officer is more symmetrical. It rounds out the two main conflicts you mention in the query and then summarize nicely at the end - her trauma from the front lines and her feelings for her commanding officer.

1000 Sleepless Nights is a Contemporary New Adult novel at 65,000 words.
I LOVE your title.

Thank You for your concsideration,

Typo in that line. :)

I think this is a great query. It sounds like a unique and timely story that people would be interested in. The basics of the plot and primary conflict are well-illustrated, and you do a good job at showing the strength and courage of your MC. I care about her, and only within the space of 300 words of less, which can be tough to do.

I pared it down a little to take out some extra words and phrases that cluttered it up a little, in my opinion. However, none of the changes I suggested are super critical.


First page:

The brochure at the recruiting office offered a way to pay off my school loans and finish my degree. I didn’t realize it came with a one way ticket to hell, but now that seemed to be exactly where I was. There’s a lot of speculation on what hell looks like. Watch the tense, you shift to present in that last sentence. If anyone asked me, I’d tell them to hop a plane to the Middle East. I’d been in Afghanistan for close to a year. Currently,  I suggest that you take out all this backstory. All of that information is important, and you might want to weave it into the narrative throughout the first 10 pages so we know what's going on, but it's too much too soon. I'd like to get straight to the immediate scene.
I sat packed into the back of a hummer with a bunch of Army guys. The convoy I’d joined was headed headed to a compound where a local school was located. The air inside the cab was stale and charged with a nervous energy. The temperature was stifling. The desert was a consistent 120 degrees whether it was day or night. Is that accurate? The deserts I'm familiar with have extreme temperature changes between day and night. If I'm wrong, ignore me, it just struck me as odd.
  We kept the windows rolled up due to the possibility of hitting an IED, improvised explosive device, but more importantly to keep the fine grains of sand from filling the truck. At this point I was seriously thinking a little sand wouldn’t hurt. You've got quite a few "was"s in the first paragraph. Perhaps you can find some stronger action verbs to use.

“Good to have you, Doc,” the Sergeant said over his shoulder.

Before I could answer the interpreter started rattling off a frantic string of guttural sounds. Afghanistan had at least thirty-four languages. I had basics medical terms in two, but the faster he spoke the more his words sounded like he was clearing the phlegm out of his throat.

“Hey man slow down I can’t understand you,” the Sergeant said. “There’s a road block ahead.” A voice on the radio cut through the chaos. The line of hummers stopped and waited for their next directive. The drivers amazed me at their ability to kept an equal distance between the vehicles at all times. It was like synchronized swimming except with vehicles.


Except for the backstory at the beginning, this is a really strong start! I'd certainly keep reading.

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Now it's your turn! What do you think? I've pasted the uninterrupted version here:

At nineteen, prodigy Emme Sawyer flew through her undergrad work and was well on her way to becoming a doctor when the money ran out. Drawn in by the promise of a free education, she joins the Navy. Earning the title of Hospital Corpsman, Emme deploys to Afghanistan.

With the front lines blurred, Emme fights side by side with the Marines. Ignoring the danger she runs into the fire fight to treat the wounded. Soon it becomes apparent that sometimes being smart isn’t enough and bullets don’t care if you’re a girl.

Emme struggles with the brutality she sees and shuts off her emotions, focusing on what she does best…keeping her men safe. Soon she develops feelings for her commanding officer. Feelings she doesn’t want and isn’t supposed to have for a member of her team. When her commanding officer reciprocates, Emme learns that you can’t choose when and where love finds you. After Emme is shipped home, her life crumbles. Faced with the nightmares of her deployment and unresolved feelings for her commanding officer, Emme must choose to move forward in a world she no longer feels a part of or figure out how to get back to the men she left behind.
1000 Sleepless Nights is a Contemporary New Adult novel at 65,000 words.

Thank You for your concideration,


First page:

The brochure at the recruiting office offered a way to pay off my school loans and finish my degree. I didn’t realize it came with a one way ticket to hell, but now that seemed to be exactly where I was. There’s a lot of speculation on what hell looks like. If anyone asked me, I’d tell them to hop a plane to the Middle East. I’d been in Afghanistan for close to a year. Currently, I sat packed into the back of a hummer with a bunch of Army guys. The convoy I’d joined was headed to a compound where a local school was located. The air inside the cab was stale and charged with a nervous energy. The temperature was stifling. The desert was a consistent 120 degrees whether it was day or night. We kept the windows rolled up due to the possibility of hitting an IED, improvised explosive device, but more importantly to keep the fine grains of sand from filling the truck. At this point I was seriously thinking a little sand wouldn’t hurt.

“Good to have you, Doc,” the Sergeant said over his shoulder.

Before I could answer the interpreter started rattling off a frantic string of guttural sounds. Afghanistan had at least thirty-four languages. I had basics medical terms in two, but the faster he spoke the more his words sounded like he was clearing the phlegm out of his throat.

“Hey man slow down I can’t understand you,” the Sergeant said. “There’s a road block ahead.” A voice on the radio cut through the chaos. The line of hummers stopped and waited for their next directive. The drivers amazed me at their ability to kept an equal distance between the vehicles at all times. It was like synchronized swimming except with vehicles.