Writing, promotion, tips, and opinion. Pour a cuppa your favorite poison and join in.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On Common Ground - first page critique

David said I could choose so I picked the completed novel and this is the first page (I hope!) I got from his blog. My comments are in purple:

Grace leaned back against the door to the coffee shop and smiled up into the sunshine, sipping her hot vanilla cream mocha. A day off after a long week pulling extra duty alone. Her partner was on vacation with his pregnant wife. He'd gotten married the year before. She smiled, remembering the ceremony. It had been a nice one, and he and his new wife had gotten more toasters and towels than they'd ever need. The best joke of the wedding presents was that her partner didn't even eat toast. She paused on the corner, debating how to spend her pleasant and well-deserved morning off.

The sound of hurried footsteps caught her attention and she turned to watch a boy run headlong across the traffic toward her, seemingly (seemingly is a very vague word. Do you want to be vague here or more specific? Just asking.) heedless of the danger he was throwing himself into. He couldn't be more than twelve, and looked something between frightened and determined. She heard a whisper (who?) in her ear and looked to her left. A sedan was pulling out into the street from the side road. The driver, too busy talking on his cellphone to pay attention to his driving, hadn't seen the boy. With no time to think, she stepped off the curb and threw her coffee cup at the windshield of the oncoming car. (I admit I was a little confused by where exactly Grace was standing and had to go back and read it through again. But that's just me.)The Styrofoam cup burst on contact and splashed the brown steamy liquid across the glass, catching the immediate and brake-squealing attention of the driver, who stared in shock through the vanilla mocha residue as Grace grabbed the startled boy by the lapels of his jacket and jerked him back to safety on the street corner. She looked into his face, holding him firmly by his jacket. He had brown eyes and a mass of curly hair. His cheeks were smudged with dirt and there was a scrape against one jaw.

“What's wrong with you? Why were you running across the street like that?”

“There's a lady! She's in danger! They're gonna kill her!” Love this! Makes me want to know more, like who's the lady and why does someone want to kill her?

Grace stared into his face and hesitated only long enough to mentally check whether she had brought her sidearm and badge with her when she left the house this morning. She had. Now I'm sensing there's a lot more to Grace than I first guessed. She's no pansy.

“Show me where.”

The boy nodded and turned back across the street, glancing back every few steps to make sure she was still following him. They sprinted down the street and took a right at Hawthorne, stopping halfway down the block at an alleyway. Good pacing.

“Down there?” The boy nodded and pointed to the back of the alley, where it turned at the end of the building and continued on into the between places, the area behind the stores that held the trashcans for collection, among other things. “Go call 911.”

Grace pulled her revolver and headed down the alley, slowing where it turned and the air grew darker, danker. The garbage that inhabited this back alley gave the air in it a permanent stain of mildew and rot. She stepped slowly down the alley, checking behind the large dumpsters as she reached them. She began to wish she had asked the boy how far down the alley she needed to go. Ahead she saw the break in the walls that signaled another entrance corridor like the one she had used to get back here. Love the atmosphere created in this last paragraph; the stink of the garbage, the closeness of it, the corners...where anything might be lurking/waiting.

Overall, not much to crit, really; I was pulled in by the end of this first page, wanted to know more about Grace, who carries a badge and a gun and likes vanilla mochas, and the boy who's worried about a un-named lady that's going to get killed (by whom?). Great beginning. 

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

query #2 - Sendek revised

Alright, I've tweaked it a bit from the last time. :)

Dear _____,

Talia Shannon dreams of scaled demons attacking, hunting, and burning her world. These prophetic dreams leave her sore and wasted, but each morning the twin suns rise to heal her and erase any evidence of her injuries.

Determined to find a way to survive the coming invasion without revealing the magical source of her information, Talia searches for scientific proof of extraterrestrial life. Her work leaves no time for personal relationships, but Landry Sutton isn’t looking for a friend. He’s looking for a spy and Talia fits his profile. ooh! I like this!

Near one of the moons, the Draguman, a human dragon hybrid created in Sendek’s past, have returned from exile. Smarter and stronger than ever, they plan to wipe out their creators and claim Sendek for their own. As a direct descendant of the mage who created the Draguman, Talia is the key to their destruction—if she can trust the magic coursing through her veins. I almost want this last sentence in a paragraph of its own and maybe add in something about how she comes to work with Landry.

When science fails to protect her way of life, magic becomes the only hope.

SENDEK is a complete science fantasy novel of approximately 87,000 words available at your request. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Now for all you followers, especially those who saw this query last time, please comment and feel free to agree or disagree with my comments! And remember, the more people who critique the more helpful we are :)
I'll be back tomorrow to check in...

query #1

This is my query is for a YA fantasy I wrote called Fairy Tail. By all means comment and suggest away. As soon as I get one of your submissions I'll post it. Like immediately.

Dear Agent;

The game is afoot; after years of war, the Seelie Court and the Unseelie Court have merged. But in this game the pieces are mortal ones; it is the fairies who move them, manipulate them for their own amusement. And while Callista arranges an alliance between two neighboring kingdoms, gifting the heirs with Love and Happiness, her rival, Matisse, hatches a plan to switch her own daughter for the Princess of Ghent and wed a fairy to the mortal Prince of Rhodes.

But before either fairy's plan can reach fruition a medallion sends Lyra, the true Princess of Ghent, on a search for her own identity, a search that will draw her away from the only home she's known. Along the way she’ll stumble into Faerie where she’ll meet Calix – a recluse content with the occasional mortal seduction – then to Rhodes where she’ll masquerade as a servant to Prince Xander, and finally to Ghent and the sister she never knew she had.

Meanwhile, her sister Phaedra has known all along who she is and what is expected of her but when she meets Lyra the idea of being Queen is suddenly not nearly as appealing as being someone else. For these sisters, the truth may be the only thing that will save them from the machinations of Faerie and from Matisse, who will not be so kind as to send Lyra away in a basket this time, at least, not in one piece.

Fairy Tail is complete at 97,000 words and would likely appeal to fans of Melissa Marr, Patricia A. McKillip, and Robin McKinley.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Calling for submissions

I'd love to post some more queries or a first page for critiquing this week. Care to submit? If so email me: marcy@tidewater.net and put unicorn bell in the subject line. Let me know if you want to be anonymous. If not, provide me with the name you would like to be known as and a link to your blog/website. Likewise, please link back to this blog.

You can also still enter the contest to win Donald Maass' The Breakout Novelist. All you have to do is:
  1. Comment here.
  2. Link to Unicorn Bell from your blog and/or Twitter account.
  3. Be a Follower if you aren’t already

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tools and a Contest

A butter knife can turn screws and I’ve use a screwdriver as a pry bar.

One time, I whacked a molehill into submission with a pry bar. Call it my Caddyshack moment, me beating the moving dirt where the mole was hiding (laughing), hair flying around my head like a wild woman. And I missed. The. Mole. But I digress.
My point? To get the job done, use the tools that are on hand.

Writers see a crowded mall as inspiration. They note human reactions such as facial expressions or hand gestures and put them to creative use in their WIP. Scrutinizing total strangers works pretty darn good too; at least until your suspicious behavior attracts attention. Then people point at you and call the cops.
Physical inspiration, the observation of the world around us, is invaluable. But one tool gave me another kind of inspiration that should be on the desk of any serious writer.

Easy and fun to read, this book details the craft of writing, how to form a cohesive story, what the literary agent/publisher wants in a book. The newest edition has worksheets that guide the writer through the needle’s eye of composing a brilliant novel.

My copy has dog-eared pages with tabbed, marked up, and highlighted sections throughout. Or in other words, much used.

Contest anyone?

For a copy all your own:
  1. Comment here.
  2. Link to Unicorn Bell from your blog and/or Twitter account.
  3. Be a Follower if you aren’t already
The contest will run until 5pm CST June 30. I will announce the winner chosen by Random.org on July 1.
Happy Weekend to all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

#3 Faerie Wings

Title: Faerie Wings
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Today I watched my best friend say 'I do' to a girl wearing a high school cap and gown over her wedding dress. She thought it was cute. The rest of us knew it for what it was—a bid for even more attention.

The worst part was that I had to smile and pretend I was happy about the whole thing. She’d had the nerve to ask me to be her maid of honor.

I pulled my graduation cap off and tossed it on the table. Kevin owed me big time.

I grew restless while they danced with the rest of our graduating class. The music drummed inside my head and all I could think of was getting out. The new bride must have felt the power of my glare, because she sailed off the dance floor to sit by me.

Jessie plunked down beside me. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Headache.” I tapped my temple.

“Whatever. Look, if you need some air feel free to take a walk. We don’t really need you for anything now.” She smirked at me and it took all I had not to smack her.

I watched her return to the dance floor. With the arrival of the bride, the music kicked in with a furry while Kevin melded himself to her side and the crowd cheered. The bass reverberated in my heart and I fled out the back door of the reception hall.

#2 The Rapier

Title: The Rapier
Genre: Urban Fantasy

When I was a kid, I found a human skull. But that isn’t the bad part. It’s the nightmares and the screaming. And the longevity. After fifteen years, it should be ancient history.

Not counting the original owner, only one other person knew about the skull.

But he too is dead.

On some distant level, I knew it was only the dream, as familiar a place as the shape of my nose in the mirror. But in my nightmares, it wasn’t my face reflected in the night-darkened pool or my boots walking through the dry leaves. The hands holding the weapons know the caress of the iron. And my belly flutters with the familiar dread of the hunted.

The emotions are the same; desperation and the acceptance of things left undone. And my screams when utter failure is all I can expect…

And waking up in my bed.

With a groan, I slumped back for a moment, and then sat up to fight my way out of the twisted, damp sheets.

Just when I think it is all behind me, the stupid dreams, the yelling…

I brushed the hair away from my face, grimaced when I saw my hand still trembled and clenched it into a fist. With a muttered oath, I pulled my legs from the rumpled sheets, made the bed properly and padded to the kitchen.

Eva, my sometimes-roommate, sat at the table cradling a cup of caffeine in one hand, a newspaper spread open in front of her.

#1 Amber

Title: Amber
Genre: Fantasy

I knew before I looked that I shouldn’t. And I knew as soon as I had that I would wish I hadn’t. But I thought that if one was determined enough, if one possessed enough strength of will, one could somehow force the stone to show the truth, the future that would be. I was so certain. But as soon as I looked I knew how impossible such an idea was.

The stone is cool to the touch at first, surprisingly so. I am expecting heat, thinking of everything I’ve been told and all I’ve read. There is always the fire. And then in a moment I feel the heat, a tingling in my fingertips. I am looking at the stone and it’s bright, its surface glossy, like colored glass with dark striations. It’s heavy, too, but not so heavy I cannot pick it up. It is the loveliest thing I ever seen.

And then I see.

I see a deep dark cave lit by what light filters in, warm and sunny in the morning when the sun shines straight on, and eerie blue when the moon is full. There are markings on the walls, scratches and lines that mean nothing to me. Yet I know they mean something.

And deeper still the cavern, illuminated by fire, and I can see the flames wavering like tiny thin dancers. The flames form a circle and within it I can the see the stone; the Amber Stone. And I know it is as it was. Before.

I remember the tale, the tale of the five brothers and the one who went into the fire after the stone. Had he looked at it when he clutched it to him? Surely he must have. But what had he seen? Had he seen the truth? Or had he only seen maybes?

The tingling in my fingers becomes more intense and the image of the fire and the cave and the stone is suddenly replaced with multiple images, like memories, except that none of these things have happened yet and I know these are all just possibilities, future maybes. All I am seeing is this-is-where-you’ll-be, maybe. Anything I do or don’t do from that moment on will determine my future.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pick-a-Page Submissions

Do you have a First Page, dialogue, narrative, that needs a critical eye? How about the last page of your MS? Does it need a little spit and polish?

Submit 250 words, anywhere in your manuscript.

The call for submissions begins today and ends Tuesday, June 21 @ 5 pm, CST.

Introduce the scene if it is not the first page.

Email submissions to cdcoff(at)gmail(dot)com.

My generic rules:

  • Must be a follower of the blog to submit and critique other’s work.
  • Civility is paramount. Be polite.
  • Submissions should include Title, Genre, and Name. Note; the names WILL BE DELETED before I post.
  • Critique the submissions in the comment section.
  • If you wish to revise and post edited submission, do so in the comments section. But remember, you will lose your anonymity at that point.
  • Be prepared to back up your crits, btw. Research is the key.
  • Agented, Unagented, Completed or Work In Progress manuscripts

 After deleting your name, I will post the submission for critiquing by our members.

 If you submit for critiquing, please be prepared to crit others. Now what did I just say? Critique other submissions. Yes, I thought that’s what I heard.

Please comment on your blog and give Unicorn Bell a shout out. The more participants we have, the better the crits.

Okay *cracking knuckles* let’s get to it.

Submit your 250 word anywhere in your manuscript to cdcoff(at)gmail(dot)com.

Friday, June 17, 2011


The Tiny Contest has a winner, chosen by Random.org.

Send the first chapter or ten pages of your manuscript for a thorough critique to beccoff(at)nwmo(dot)net.
Congrats to her and to all who give and receive critiques.
Truly, this writing community continually amazes me. Not just this site but other blogs and websites as well. As teachers and coaches, generous with their time and expertise, these folks leave me humbled.
Good job!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Critique Partner

I cannot say this enough: A Beta or critique partner is beyond price.

The best partner tells you gently in the firm tones of a friend and teacher that your beloved manuscript sucks.
Think of them like a tool that fine-tunes an instrument, carves the finishing scroll on a wooden plaque, that last brush-stroke of a painting.

Without them, your MS is incomplete because you can never look at your manuscript with an objective eye.
To those who submitted this week, look at the ones who critiqued your work. Is there someone who you believe would make a good match for your style? If so, go to their website, see what they have done and accomplished.

If they have potential and seem a good fit, contact them, see if they feel the same.
I sure will.


Tomorrow I will announce the winner of the Tiny Contest.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

#6 Unnamed WIP

Title: Unnamed WIP
Genre: YA sci-fi

Elina hid from her mother in the tall blue-green grass. But she couldn’t escape her mother’s voice. Now it called for her from opposite sides of the field. She sat up just enough to peak over the grass. Sure enough, message bots glided around the field, but her mother still stood by the house.

She sunk to the ground and continued to count the clouds. All she wanted was five minutes of peace. She knew something had happened, but the wars on other planets didn’t mean much to an eleven year old.

“Elina, come to the house now!” Her father’s voice joined her mother’s.

She jerked up and looked toward the house. Her mother was gone, but her father stood with his hands on his hips glaring at her.

“Coming.” She yelled back as she slipped her shoes on and ran to him. “Why are you home so early?”

“Come inside quickly.” He stepped into the darkness of the house.

Elina chewed on her bottom lip and followed. She immediately focused on the man hugging her mother. The tall redhead could only be one person. Her favorite uncle back from the stars.

“Uncle Murph!” Elina moved to hug him but stopped when she saw her mother’s tear streaked face contorted into a mass of wrinkles she never knew her mother had.

“You have to go with your Uncle. He’ll explain everything on the way.” Her mother pulled her into an embrace, squeezing too tightly.

#5 Orbital Shifts

Title: Orbital Shifts
Genre: Hard Science Fiction

The clientele of the Afterburner chatted and took little notice of a new face at the door, but gave the four bar occupants wide berth and kept to the tables. Shen took the zero gravity perch at the end of the bamboo-topped bar, hooking his ankles under one bar, folding his knees over the other. Barkeep glanced up and nodded, then risked a sidelong look at the other four.

Tanner Sheppard surveyed his new neighbor, silent. On his other side, his three companions laughed at the comedy sketch on the screen behind the bar, rocking on their perches.

“Came back, then,” Tanner commented.

“Can’t tell me you’re surprised.” Shen looked over the bottled spirits locked in a glass cupboard behind the bar, and told the barkeep, “Rickey. Refill for him, too.”

Tanner looked at the puddle clinging inside his squeeze-shot bottle and finished it off. “Buying me a drink? Sure about that?” he asked.

“Got no reason to shoot me, that I know of,” Shen said.

Then Julia laughed at something on the screen and threw herself into Tanner’s shoulder. She pulled her drink off its tether to the bar and sucked it dry. “Another one here,” she shouted at the barkeep, and tossed it. In the zero gee, the bottle bounced off the back counter and flew across the seating area, spinning. The three laughed at that too.

“First chuck to buy me a drink for shooting my father. What’s it to you?”

#4 Of Wishes Made

Title: Of Wishes Made
Genre: YA urban fantasy

He felt restless, out of sorts. It smacked of prescience and he didn’t like it. Perhaps a new body would help but this one still had its uses. In any case, the skin he wore wasn’t the cause. Today a stroll through the mall would prove a distraction, a time-killer. And since he wasn’t hungry, he’d kill time and nothing else.

The mall buzzed with activity but the people ignored the predator in their midst. Kids towed their harried parents by the hand. Teens braided through them, celebrating the end of the school year. No one took note of the twenty-something man that strolled the terrazzo floor with the crowd. Without thought, they avoided him and did not look at his face.

Idly, he sorted the humans, good and bad. Making lists, a proverbial Santa Claus. A very bad Santa.

He laughed behind his hand. Window-shopping. That’s what he was doing. Like a human.

A mob of younglings passed him with their crow-like calls. They played a game of keep-away, tossing a parcel between them.

He stopped to watch. No one bumped him.

The mall bristled with capitalism. Sunglasses, vacation brochures, and kaleidoscope colors of yellows and red shouted of the hot days to come. A legless torso wearing a neon-colored bikini stood on a mock beach.

Irony in action, he thought. Kentucky was about as far from the seashore as the moon. The smells of summer, of salt and roses, came from the hobby store with its potpourris and candles.

#3 Day 10K

Title: Day 10K
Genre: Science Fiction

Shushan’s eyes scanned the skies for the ship that had come to help their world, help prevent the collapse of their civilization.

She failed to spot it. Try harder.

Shushan was now fourteen in Earth years --not the stiflingly normal years of this world she had grown up in -- and could afford to risk getting yelled at. She jumped onto the steel ladder and gazed up at the clouds as she grasped the cold rungs. No one had said it was against policy to climb the housing for the emergency generator on this, her last day working here before all the banks collapsed.

She reached the top of the funny, cinder blocky little building her bank had thrown together in the parking lot in case the power failed tomorrow, and flung her backpack off. She peered at the nearby windows of her workplace, and failed to see any angry gestures for her to climb down.

She spread her arms, exultant. “Hah!” Shushan knew her world was turning -- turning into something with endless horizons and scintillating challenges that beckoned her to climb higher and higher. She was ready to burst out of everything that was known and comfortable, just as her own body had practically burst out of her old clothing in the past year and demanded things like a larger denim jacket and rougher roads to ride on.

But if the banks did fail, depositors would stampede here tomorrow, pounding the bank’s windows for their money.

#2 Thinking of You

Title: Thinking of You
Genre: Paranormal

The Enclosure stood solitary and alone. Waving grass went on forever, only broken by the long road connecting the Enclosure to the rest of the world. It was an almost peaceful scene but it left a nasty taste in my mouth. It was going to be extremely difficult to move across without being spotted. And they knew it. Not that I was worried about the sentries placed around the building; they were easy enough to fool. I grinned over at the watchmen closest to us. They smiled back from their Jeep. No, it was the sensors and cameras that I was worried about.

My gaze drifted back toward the Enclosure. There had to be a way to get inside. I glanced back at the Jeep. [I wonder if…] “Look,” Tass’s voice broke through my concentration.

My eyes followed her pointing finger. A delivery truck was coming down the road. About the size of a semi,and probably packed with food. The idiots running this place didn’t have the sense to grow their own food. [Or cover their tracks. I wonder if anyone else has ever found them by tracking their food shipments.]

Ground flying under my feet, I started to run. My body reacted instantly, knowing the plan before I did. That truck was our way in. I needed on it. It was as simple as that.

My legs stretched; the muscles pulling taunt. It felt wonderful after squatting in the grass for so long, trying to stay hidden.

#1 Persona (Staying Alive Series #1)

Title: Persona, Staying Alive Series
Genre: YA dystopian paranormal romance

Cell block two; chamber six; inmate Black; check. Running down the list Bethany Warner prepares for her nightly rounds. Out of all the inmates at this institution, Black was her least favorite. She didn’t know if his viral doses were stronger, but his mood and antics were always up and down. Black, Marshall Black, was one of the original twenty experiments. And lately, he has grown unmanageable. Not that any of the others could be controlled either, but he’s worse.

About five years ago a scientist and an army general decided to play around with people’s dna strands. Who would give them the clearance or a patent for this sort thing she didn’t know. Not that Bethany thought of herself any better than them,being a nurse for the facility, but it still feels wrong to her. After the last time young men and woman got shipped oversees the military was tired of losing more and more of them. Around this time a Doctor Peter Fletcher was experimenting with wild wolves and how they’re dna was very unique enough for him to change its layers.

On a whim, he and a long time friend of his General Dixon Hetch began they’re plan. Actually, the way the story goes it all happened accidentally. Apparently, Fletcher’s assistant was trying to free a live specimen, only the plan backfired on him. The wolf attacked him, and it would have killed him too but a guard came in with a gun and shot it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

First Page Critiques

And a tiny contest.

The call for submissions begins today and ends Tuesday, June 14 @ 5 pm, CST.

First Page
250 word count

Email submissions to cdcoff(at)gmail(dot)com.

My rules:

  • Must be a follower of the blog to submit and critique other’s work.
  • Civility is paramount. Be polite. Be overly polite even.
  • Submissions should include Title, Genre, and Name. Note; the names WILL BE DELETED before I post.
  • Critique the submissions in the comment section.
  • If you wish to revise and post edited submission, do so in the comments section. But remember, you will lose your anonymity at that point.
  • Be prepared to back up your crits, btw. Research is the key.
  • Agented, Unagented, Completed or Work In Progress manuscripts

After deleting your name, I will post the submission for critiquing by our members.

If you submit for critiquing, please be prepared to crit others.

As for the Tiny Contest, I will critique the first ten pages of one submitter. Random.org will choose the winner.

Please comment on your blog and give Unicorn Bell a shout out. The more participants we have, the better the crits.

Okay *cracking knuckles* let’s get to it.

Submit your 250 word First Page to cdcoff(at)gmail(dot)com.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Is it Summertime?--How to handle critique

I think it must be. We only had one submission for critiques this week! I hope everyone is traveling and soaking up the sun. That's my plan starting on Monday.

I did want to finish my thoughts on critiques today while it's fresh in my mind. This is my only rule:

It's all subjective!

Ten people can read the exact same scene and it will be some random configuration of

or hate it

What's a writer to do?

1. Remember your vision for the story. What do you want to accomplish? What emotions, thoughts, changes do you want to invoke in people with your writing? What makes the story resonate the most with you?

2. Look at the comments that were offered--specifically questions asked. What do the questions reveal?

   a. Is the reader asking the question you want them to be asking at this time? Do you answer it later in the WIP in a timely and crucial moment?

   b. Is the reader asking the wrong question entirely? Look to see where they might have been misled and fix it so they start asking the right question.

   c. Is the reader asking about something that you thought you already explained? You may need to beef up a sentence or two to clarify and make sure the reader doesn't miss important details.

   d. Is the reader asking about something you thought was obvious so you never explained it? This one is a bit tougher. As writer's it's all in our heads so it is obvious to us. But we are also told not to lay everything out in excruciating detail as if our readers are stupid. I would seek for second and third opinions on these kinds of questions.

Example: I had an adult female and a teen female beta read Sendek (over a year ago). The teen asked very different questions and I realized most of them were simply because she didn't have the same years of experience to understand the context. So, although she enjoyed the story, she didn't get a lot of the motivations. Sendek is not YA and none of the adults had a problem understanding so I didn't make any changes.

and finally...

   e. Are they asking a question you never considered? Some of my best scenes came about because someone asked a question that burned itself into my head. I became obsessed with finding the answer and it improved my story in a way I could not have done alone.

3. Now that you have all these comments, questions and typos pointed out, work through your WIP and make the changes you feel best fit your goals. You don't have to get bent out of shape about a comment because you are still in charge

This is your story. 

As long as you remember that critiques are one person's opinion you can use them to your advantage.

Find someone who would be your target audience for the best feedback. Those are the ones that will matter most, but anyone can spark your imagination with questions. These are just a few ways that a good critique partner (or 3) can take your writing and your story to the next level.

Question for You: Would you rather find a critique partner now or after the summer is over?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fearful Critiques #1

Vesper's Call
336 Words

I've reworked this several times already, but something just seems off about it still. I can't quite capture the anguish and helplessness, and I'm not sure I managed to portray the psychological transformation from mother and doctor back into assassin.

This scene is toward the beginning. So far, there's been a bombing while Kallen is on the way to lunch. She is a trauma surgeon, so she works her way through injured people back to the hospital. After a while, her twin daughters are brought in, but one is already dead and the other dies in her arms. In her peoples' traditions, she burns the bodies at sea. Before this piece, we get a small hint that she was an assassin, but nothing big. Any advice would be much appreciated. Thank you!

Long after the last of the ash had descended below the water, the lone woman trudged slowly back up the dunes, ignoring the sand between her bare toes and the wind knotting her red-blond hair. The hem of her battered and bloody scrubs tore how did they tear?, but she didn’t even notice. She mounted the steps and entered the cozy, fortified cottage that had been home to the small family for the past four years. Wispy memories surfaced, became tangible, touchable, the voices of the past drowning her in familiarity, in joy, in misery. I love this sentence. I can see her looking around and seeing the past.  Sweet little voices stabbed her ears; soft little fingers raked sharply over her skin; saintly little faces burned her eyes. I understand what you are trying to accomplish here, but the contrasting words felt forced to me. It might work if you just choose one set. Also, consider showing us a real memory instead of telling us what she's experiencing. Perhaps show the girls kneeling at the table making something for their mom, or giggling over a game. Let us experience the joy so the pain is all the more real for us too. It was all real and all imaginary; concrete but incorporeal. It was too much and not enough. LOVE THIS LINE.

Her lungs burned; too many breaths, too little oxygen. Suffocating, drowning, buried alive—hands reached out of the floor. Accusations, past sins, failures, shortcomings, they all reached out to trip her, kill her. She tripped and stumbled and was dragged down, but slowly, eventually, made her way to the rooftop terrace. There is so much going on here that I don't know what to focus on. Burned, suffocating, drowning, buried, accusations, sins, failures, shortcomings. It's telling as well. See my notes below for my suggestion of how to fix this paragraph. She crawled on torn-up hands and knees what happened to her hands and knees? Was she also in the explosion? closer to the sky, now tainted red with I suggest saying like since it isn't actually their blood in the sky the blood of her daughters. Slowly, painfully, as if moving through mud, all three things convey the same thought. she pulled herself to unsteady feet. Then, of course, there was only one thing left to do.

Head thrown back, arms flung wide, she screamed.

Breath after breath was drawn into clenching lungs, to be let out again, on its way serrating Is this really possible? Or do you just mean bruised? I don't know I'm just asking. vocal chords. The violence of the sound, of the act, was nowhere near enough to satiate the vengeful spirits of the dead and the blood-hunger within. I like the primeval feel to this, but it's getting buried in all the talk about damaged vocal chords. This is the important part in my mind. It merely uncovered the simmering, seething anger and hate that had been meticulously buried years ago. LOVE THIS! It merely...gave me chills. This is where I start to feel the change coming. I don't think you need the next sentences at all. It smothered the motherly gentility and the doctoral concern. It brought center and purpose.

Sometime in the passing hour she screamed for a solid hour?, the time it took to injure vocal chords enough to hinder usage, overkill on the vocal chords again. Dr. Kallen Phoebe died…and from the ashes, Vesper Phoenix, harbinger of the end, was reborn. LOVE THIS!
Quick note: After my initial reading, I was confused about a few things so I asked the author some questions in order to put the scene in context--that's where the second set up paragraph came from. Before digging into someone's work ask questions to learn what it is you are looking at and what the author may need from you. 

Thank you so much for sharing your scene with us. Please remember that all my questions and thoughts are simply my opinion and are subject to the fact that this is only a small look into your WIP. Reading what came before may have changed my thoughts on some of these things. Please use what is useful to you and toss out the rest.

Alright, there is a lot of great imagery in this selection. I think, for me anyway, what isn't working is that I feel distanced from the MC. Psychologically she's probably in shock, but as readers we want to feel everything with the MC. If she feels nothing, we feel nothing. Kallen is experiencing a lot of pain, but she has distanced herself from it, and the reader too.

Simplify. I got bogged down in all the description--which was excellent, but there was just too much of it. Close your eyes and put yourself in Kallen's place. You are standing by the water, the ashes of your daughters have settled and floated away from you forever. Would you wait to walk through the house and climb the stairs to the roof to scream?

I think I would sink to my knees in the sand, dig my hands in as deep as I could in an effort to root myself and let it all out. Heaving sobs into the void left by their death. I would scream, tears streaming down my face as I remembered my sweet girls. You can still show us a memory here as easily as in the house. Perhaps the girls playing in the waves or building a sand castle?

When the voice and tears are all used up you hit your transition from Doctor to assassin again with the best parts of the last two paragraphs.

All in all I can see where you are going and it's going to be awesome! There is mystery here about how she escaped the world of being an assassin in the first place, conflict that she is now running back to it for revenge. I don't know the details of the bombing, but I can feel that after this moment in time Vesper Phoenix is going to be walking death for anyone that gets in her way. And I LOVE that!

You are really close here, just simplify all the descriptions and pick those that best show the reader what Kallen is feeling emotionally and physically. Let us smell the dying embers mixed with the ocean air, feel the breeze carrying parts of her daughters out to sea or to the shore, basically immerse us in the senses. I think adding a few of these will bring it all together for you.

Links to check out:
Bookshelf Muse Sadness/Grief
Bookshelf Muse Physical and Emotional Pain

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How to Give a Good Critique--the Sandwich Method

The submissions window is now open. 

You can send up to 350 words of ANY scene that you know something isn't working, but you just can't figure out what. This can be from a finished or unfinished WIP. Submit to charity.bradford@gmail.com and include Fearful Critique in the subject line.

Please include:
Name (will be removed before posting)
Genre/Word count

Brief intro or question you would like us to look at while reading.

Then your 350 word submission.

Mmmm, hungry?
Yummy subs and constructive criticism. Surprisingly, they have a lot in common. Soft bread, meat, cheese, and other complimentary elements bring together flavors that satisfy. This is what we all crave with critiques that we receive. The best way to get these kind of critiques is by learning how to give them.

The sandwich method of critiquing breaks down as follows:
  • Soft bread--Say something nice--first overall impression (if it was positive), what you liked, etc.
  • Meat--Constructive comments that are meant to help and improve, not tear down.
  • Lettuce, Tomato, Condiment of choice--comments that point out the phrases and sentences that you just loved!
  • Soft bread--Say something else nice and encouraging.

The key is the nice things have to be sincere. And there is always something nice you can find in any writing. Here's how I do it.

1. Read the whole selection to get a feel for the writing and the scene.

2. Make note of anything that jumps out at you
a. phrases you love
b. things that pull you out of the story

3. Read it a second time and look for the details
a. excessive use of adverbs, adjectives, etc
b. confusing passages
c. POV slips
d. verb confusion, passive voice
e. spots where telling can be replaced with showing
f. spots that hook you, cause you to ask questions, see the setting clearly, or feel emotion, etc.

4. Write the review using the sandwich method. Phrase things in a positive way so the author doesn't feel like you are attacking them personally or their story. It's hard enough to hear something isn't working without feeling picked on.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dealing with the Fear

Let's talk about fear in conjunction with critiques. My guess is that since you're here, you know how important it is to get other people's eyes on your MS to catch typos, technical and grammatical mistakes, plot holes, character inconsistencies, etc.

In the beginning of my journey I felt it would be great to find a local critique group that I could meet with on a regular basis and talk about our books. There wasn't one to be found in my area. Not a free one anyway. I tried to start one. There's not enough time to tell you what a bust that was!

I knew other people swapped chapters by email, but the thought of sending an electronic copy of my MS to someone I only knew online terrified me.

What if they stole my idea and finished something better--faster than me--and sold it to an agent before I could? There were a few other fears, such as:
  • what if they hate it?
  • what if they love it?
  • what if they tell me its utter trash?
  • what if they laugh at me?
  • what if they never write me back?
  • what if I hate the chapters they send to me?
And many others. Fear convinced me that I couldn't find online critique partners. So I gave up.

Last October I participated in a free online conference hosted by a small publisher. (The Muse Writers Online Conference will be Oct 3-9 of this year.) They have classes on just about every aspect of the publishing world and you get the opportunity to pitch to small publishers.

Pitching was/is another huge fear with me, but I took advantage of the opportunity. It was a wonderful (and terrifying) experience. And I learned from it. I also received a partial and a full request. Let me share with you an email I received afterward.

The owners were very  nice and listed a few items I could work on. And then there was this.
For me, Charity, I suggest you expand your use of a critique partner or even a group. The more people (with critiquing experience) who get their eyes on your book, the more potential you will have for growth.
I believe this is true for all of us. Let's deal with our fears this week so we can start trying out critique partners.

For today, tell me what your greatest fear is about swapping chapters.

Tomorrow we will talk about HOW to give an honest but kind critique. I'll also open up my email box for submissions. You can send up to 350 words of ANY scene that you know something isn't working, but you just can't figure out what. This can be from a finished or unfinished WIP. Submit to charity.bradford@gmail.com and include Fearful Critique in the subject line.

Please include:
Name (will be removed before posting)
Genre/Word count

Brief intro or question you would like us to look at while reading.

350 word submission.

Wednesday the submissions will go up on this site with my critique and be open for your critiques. Think of it as an audition for your future crit partners.

Thursday we will talk about how to deal with the critiques we've received. 

Friday I'll call for people who would like to try swapping first chapters and match you up.

Sound like a plan? Let's do this!

Friday, June 3, 2011

two for friday

Our third and fourth queries come from Tara and Misty. My comments are in purple. 

Here is Tara's Query for her scifi thriller:

[Intro, how I know/heard of you (the agent), etc.] 

In 2080 pop travel, laser teleportation, has revolutionized transportation. I absolutely love the idea of traveling in a different way – especially if it’s faster, but if this is scifi I wonder if laser travel is remotely possible? Just asking…scifi geeks can be a picky lot.

Private investigator J. L. Cooper would rather fly. I wonder if there could be a tiny bit more about Cooper here, something to make us like him, root for him. Why would he rather fly? Is that important to the story? Does he have any character traits we might find endearing?

Cooper's latest client is a desperate character who claims pop travel made his boss disappear. During his investigation, Cooper comes across a slew of similar missing person cases with excessive pop travel as the glaring connection. Cooper must brave his aversion to people and pop travel to investigate the bustling Atlanta Transport Center, a pop travel hub. There he discovers a body and evidence of a deadly pop travel flaw. After his client has a fatal accident and his secretary is kidnapped, Cooper decides he must go directly to the source, the Creator of pop travel, to get resolution. I might name the Creator – especially if the Creator is Cooper’s nemesis. 

Mr. Cooper’s activities draw the attention of the FBI causing them to hone in on him. They send attractive, charming Agent Geri Harper to get close to Mr. Cooper and retrieve the evidence. He makes lame attempts to dissuade her, but she sticks with him. I might reword this like this: “Meanwhile, the FBI gets wind of Cooper’s activities and send Agent Geri Harper to get close to him and retrieve the evidence.” I’d also consider naming the evidence. What is it evidence of? And why is the FBI so eager to get their hands on it?

I would want a transitional phrase inserted here, something that shows/tells how/why Cooper and Geri join forces. Together Cooper and Geri confront the Creator who surprises them with plans of his own. And I wonder if this last line might have more punch if it was by itself, like this; “But the Creator has a plan of his own.” 

Pop Travel is complete at 70,000 words.

Thank you for your time.

Tara Tyler

Lastly, I have to say that this sounds like a really fun and futuristic tale. Now, I hope the rest of you will comment and help Tara out with her query. But remember…be kind and be helpful.

Next is Misty's query for her YA High Fantasy:Last but not least I want to reiterate that my purple comments/suggestions are just a single person's opinion. Ultimately it's up the author to decide what works and what doesn't. But the more comments Misty gets from you the better her query will be so please, do add your two cents. Just remember to be helpful, and kind :)

Seventeen-year-old Sloan Reynolds got a new destiny for her birthday that doesn’t include dating or finishing her senior year—an entire realm is awaiting her return, including a king who would prefer she didn’t survive the trip home. ORACLE is a 77,000-word young adult high fantasy. I would probably put the word count at the end of the query.
Sloan has her first vision and passes it off as a simple bout of déjà vu. But when a group of bounty hunting warlocks appear at the steakhouse where she works, Sloan is tossed into a world she never knew existed. Literally.
After reading through the first two paragraphs a few times I want to combine them, maybe like this: When seventeen year old Sloan Reynolds has a vision of _____, she passes it off as déjà vu. But when a group of bounty hunting warlocks appear at the steakhouse where she works, Sloan is tossed into a world she never knew existed and before she knows it she's got a whole new destiny, and this one doesn't include dating or finishing her senior year. Instead, she finds an entire realm awaiting her return, including a king who would prefer she didn’t survive the trip home. 
Dragged through a portal by the guy she’s been crushing on, Sloan finds herself in a realm where people use magic instead of electricity, and dragons instead of cars. Sloan learns she’s the last living member of an ancient oracle bloodline, her crush is really an exiled prince, and her best friend has known all along that their (who? Sloan and...?) entire past is a well orchestrated lie. Now she must come to terms with living in a strange new land, dealing with unharnessed powers, and knowing a king wants her dead for a vision that killed her entire family and would unseat him from his throne.
This last bit is a little confusing. When did her family get killed? Before the story starts? I'd make this clear.
As Sloan comes to terms with her new destiny, she discovers that she’s not just the target for one king, but two. A fallen kingdom on the other side of the realm seeks revenge, (for what?) and its dark king thinks Sloan is the key, or rather, their future child. Now this dark king is the one Sloan must fight to escape and risks falling into the waiting arms of their (again, be clear who they are) common enemy to do it. So she has two enemies? But who are her allies?

I think this sounds like a very interesting tale but a few things could make it even more enticing to an agent. If Sloan is an orphan I'd say so - orphans are always interesting - and I'd also make more mention of her visions as it sounds like these may be important - unharnessed powers perhaps? I'd also like to know if she's in this alone, or if the exiled prince/crush and her best friend are going to help her out.

And if you want more of your queries critiqued, send them along to: marcy@tidewater.net with 'unicorn bell query' in the subject line and we can play this game again next month - unless you'd rather do something else? 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

query #2

Here is Huntress' query - her FIRST query she wants you to know - for her fantasy, Rapier:

Dear Ms.

As a first time author, I am submitting a fantasy novel for your examination. I probably wouldn’t mention being a first time author. The fact that I’m not listing any publishing credits will clue the agent in on that fact and there’s no need to highlight the fact.

As a life-long enthusiast of fantasy, I am delighted the current market seems very hungry for books about the supernatural and paranormal. I’d  probably kill this, too; it’s unnecessary.

In your posting, you expressed interest in a strong heroine. I’d be more specific about the posting but I’d definitely include this as agents like to know you’re paying attention to what they want. I believe this woman is prepared to square her jaw and take on the world. I'd cut this but maybe insert it somewhere else in the query. In fact, I might start out my query with this first sentence and then move on to ‘Dragons have walked…’

My synopsis follows: This is a query letter, not a synopsis so I’d lose this.
Dragons have walked in the midst of human kind for thousands of years, their stolen human bodies blending in with the populace. I like this idea of dragons stealing human bodies; it’s intriguing and it begs the question: can they revert to dragon form? They have always been opposed by the Masters, men who have bonded in symbiotic partnership with a supernatural,  living? sword, the Rapier. Not sure if this added word works or not since I don’t know the whole story…

But Only this time, the new Master is not what the Dragon was expecting. This time, the Rapier has bonded with a woman.

When Lee hears the voice in her head telling her she is now the Master of a black and gold Rapier, she wonders why she should listen, especially when the tall black-eyed handsome stranger suddenly appears at her door. I’m not sure if I like this paragraph. I do like the first sentence but …hmm, maybe this instead: “When Lee hears the voice in her head telling her she’s now the Master of the Rapier, she ignores it – until a stranger suddenly appears at her door wanting to kill her.”

And the Rapier must adjust to the growing interest Lee has for the Dragon that has come to kill her. I’d cut this because I think ending on a more interesting note as above might pique an agent’s curiosity more. Instead, I’d probably try to wrap it up: Now Lee is going to have to figure out who to trust, a dragon or a sword. ‘Course, I don’t really like that either but obviously the story is about Lee trying to live with this new gift and finding her place in a world she might not be familiar with. Here’s where I might mention her strengths.

This is the first of an intended four novels. It is approximately 91,500 words with the title of, “Rapier”. I am currently writing the second novel and editing the outlines of the third and fourth novels. Thank you very much for your time and the opportunity of submitting a fantasy manuscript. The last thing I'll say is that I've heard it's difficult to get a fantasy series published unless it is very very good - think Rothfuss and Martin. I might consider trying to make book one stand alone with the possibility of more.


So now it's your turn. What do you think of this query? How could it be better? And if yopu would like your query critiqued, send it with 'unicorn bell query' in the subject line to : marcy@tidewater.net. I'd also like to know whether you're finding this helpful or whether you'd like something else critiqued. First page, perhaps? A scene you're having trouble with? Inquiring minds want to know. Really! And don't forget, the above purple comments are one person's opinion. Ultimately the author has to make the final decision about what works best.