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

Monday, December 31, 2012

An Alternative to War?

It’s a thing I do on my personal blog. It all started because I needed a topic for Thursdays I tend to get these random thoughts that then somehow become story ideas. They begin as “what if” questions. Some become full-fledged stories. Some sit around and wait for the right combination of factors before they turn into something. And some go nowhere.

So, while you’re all celebrating the new year and getting ready to settle back in to January, I thought I’d offer up some of my favorite questions. The “rules” are simple. Let the question take you where it takes you. Ponder it. Reject it. Qualify it.

Answer it. Don’t answer it. (And if it turns into a story for you, I expect a “thank you” in the acknowledgments.;))

What if we didn’t fight wars? What if we solved international disputes with a sporting contest? (What that sporting contest would be is open to your interpretation.)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Poetry Submission #2

Well Done on the first submission! YAY! And now we have a second submission! Even better. 
So again. I'll be doing my impressions. And we can go from there. 

There’s an angle, twisted sideways, crawling slowly up the rill.
And a softish spot of anger dying up there on the hill.
I can see the twisted corners of an odd, un-useful place,
or the gracious whim of someone who created this whole place.
This first stanza I had a hard time with only because I kept flipping back and forth between almost getting what you were saying and then thinking I was missing it entirely. And I think what my problem is is the quick shift between describing physical things using emotional verbs. (ex...the second line) I do like the cadence. I'm just not sure yet what it's about...

It’s odd to look at something that really doesn’t care,
or climb the angled mountain without the will to dare.
I can look up at the billows of the water down below,
and cry into the mirror at someone I don’t know.
Still not sure what, or who, is climbing  the mountain? I can feel the frustration of the speaker though. And for some reason I'm feeling a very remote lonely vibe. Kinda like Mt. Olympus. The Gods look down and are lonely in there all knowing-ness...

The place I see around me is a glorious tangled dream,
and I wander as I wonder along the color stream.
It’s odd to think of nothing, and to wonder ever where
the dream will turn a corner and the dreamer cease to care. 
Now I'm questioning if the speaker is even awake? I like the image of the last line though. Very well put.

But the dreamer is the angle, and the colors, and the dream,
and the edges of reality are hardly ever seen.
I climb along the angles, and the twisted, glorious lines,
the colors tucked inside the cracks and wrapped around the vines,
and I wonder if there’s someone in that odd familiar space,
around a corner, seeing me, but not my real face.
Hmmm. Was it all a dream? Were we supposed to know? I like the cadence. Until that last line. It needs another half beat. There's some good imagery in this. But it left me with an overall feeling of...Huh? Um? Bit confused about what it was about? 
And again. I'm not a poetry expert...
How about our readers! Thoughts? Impressions? Comments? Feel free to join in! And go back to the first one and share your thoughts on that one as well!

PS...I'm not sure why the typeface it coming out all wanky...I can't seem to fix it no matter what I do.  *&%@( blogger... BAH!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Poetry Submission #1

You have all been spared the scaryness of reading any of my desperate attempts at squishing words together to form this poetry stuff! We have a submission! Whee!  Ok...so...now what?

I'm leaving the main "Critique" up to our readers. But I'm going to post my "Impressions". Mainly because this is how I read poetry. This is why I enjoy it. How it leaves me. The lines that stay..."Two Roads diverged in a wood and I -- I took the one less traveled by." (Robert Frost) Has always struck me as very mournful. Lonely. Emily Dickinson is one of my absolute favorite. She has such a way with a turn of phrase. "Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me." Hysterical!

Anyway. This is how I read poetry.  

black as hell

my lover's eyes are black;
black as night
black as crow
black as ice
black as sin
black as patent leather
glistening under the pale moonlight
I like how you're showing us the way life looks back and white sometimes, in moonlight. All color gone. And the different levels of black.

my lover's hair is black;
black as coal
black as jet
black as cat
black as pitch
black as the cold depths
of the deep, dark sea
Again. Beautiful comparisons. But for some reason my mind automatically read that last line as "Dangerous sea"

my lover's skin is black;
black as ink
black as space
black as tar
black as onyx
black as a beetle's carapace
shimmering under a red, hot sun
These comparisons make him seem more dangerous somehow. There seems to be an underlying hum of "something is going to go very very wrong here"

I think he knows
When he touches me
What I've done
To hold him,
Keep him,
Tie him to me
And there it is...Good twist! YOU'VE done something wrong. 

but his soul is as black as mine
he does not care
to mention the fact
he does not dare
to break the spell
that binds us both
and keeps us
in this
Very satisfying ending. I like that evil is satisfied with evil. And to maintain their desire they know it needs to be. The end justifying the means. An age old question.

Now it's Your Turn! Do we have any Pro Poets out there? Anybody that wants to join in feel free to do so!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


...It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.
On this platform of peace, we can create a language
to translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.
At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ

Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices to celebrate the promise of
~ Maya Angelou
Poetry. Gah. For years I didn't understand the draw. And to be honest. It's still not my favorite means of communication. But there are some Poets that can definitely get their point across without making me want to dig my eyes out with a spoon. 
Maya Angelou is one of them. I wasn't really on board with her work, I will admit, until I had the great good fortune to hear her READ it aloud. It was like a light went on. Ohhhhhhh! Duh! Now, admittedly, Ms. Angelou has one of the most lyrically soothing voices in recent history. But still. I don't think that's why I suddenly understood what I was missing about reading poetry. She gave it rhythm. She gave the words feeling. She enunciated the lines as though she was reading a passage of prose. It didn't feel like poetry. 
 Which was what I was doing wrong. I was saying to myself. "AH! This is poetry! Must be sing-song. And rhyme-y. And MEANINGFUL!" Sometimes a daisy is JUST a flower. Not a signifier of a *ahem* women's left elbow. If you get my meaning...
 I know that yes. There is poetry out there like that. Where every other word is couched in deep hidden meaning and you have to slog through it to get at what the author was trying to tell you. But really. Why? I could never understand why poets have to be so...vague. But that is for another rant!
For now. Lets concentrate on our own poetry! What types do you write? I am by no means an expert. But I'm sure that amongst our followers there will be those that can help! If you would like...send your poetry to our submission e-mail. unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com. We'll just have some fun commenting and talking about poetry for the next few days. 
If I don't get any submissions I Promise to post some of my college work. Now. Do we really want that? 
No we don't.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

And To You!


That title came off a bit more rude then I meant it to be!

What I MEANT was 'Tis the Season...and am totally not going to have a whole lot of time to Post anything of worth here even though it is my week.


I Am interested in knowing what people do for their Holiday Traditions.

Just go ahead and post in the comment section.

What do you look forward to the Absolute MOST in this time of year? The food? The Music? The Family? The Chaos? The Crappy Movies on TV? For it all to end and normalcy to return? *I hear ya!*

Tell me!

When I was going to culinary school and it wasn't feasible to get home for the 3 days they gave us off for Christmas Break...we had an Orphans Christmas. And honestly...it was one of the best I can remember! We simply hung out. Watched movies. Drank (crappy) wine. Made amazing food. (It was culinary school after all!) And generally de-stressed.

Now...the traditions seem to be a lot of running about. Time schedules. Parties that we must attend. Not a whole lot of chillaxen. Oh the pitfalls of being an adult.

So tell us all at UB what's going on with you and yours these next couple of days!

And I hope that you and your family have a very safe and joyful holiday season.

(I will be posting Wednesday, for sure. I'm thinking the subject might be poetry. Not sure yet! ...so check back then!!)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Last crit of the week

The writer says: Just some back story, MC has been sent to a new foster home after some trouble and is fleeing an abusive boyfriend, Luke.  The man she sees in the store has been showing up in her dreams along with her ex.

Four hours of high school monotony before lunch and I was free, well free to go grocery shopping. Armed with the list I’d ripped from the door I headed for the store.  The parking lot at the Red Apple Grocery was busier than I’d expected this early in the day. A chilly drizzle left a mist on the windshield.  I pulled my hood over my head and made a run for the door.

Basket in hand, I made my way through the store collecting the items from the list plus a few of my own.   My stomach growled, I was starving, and craved the Diet Pop sitting in my basket.  I was dying for a shot of caffeine.  As I dreamed of downing a cold cola a warm tingle traveled through my core.

The soft words of a hushed whisper tickled my mind, You are here.

The words were warm, a welcome feeling from the coldness of the kids at school. Standing on my toes I searched over the magazine rack and scoured the aisles.  It had been so clear, so precise.  It had to be him.

I think you mean contrast, or something like that?

 The guy from my dream.

When I found the source I almost didn’t recognize him. He wasn’t dressed as a Native American warrior and more importantly he wasn’t in my dreams.  He was standing in front of me—at the Red Apple Market dressed in jeans and a t-shirt just like every other high school guy.  His proximity made it nearly impossible to function. If I could have created a coherent thought I may have asked myself how he could go from my dream straight into the aisle of a grocery store but my brain waves had come to a complete stop.  His jet black hair, pulled back in a sleek ponytail, his skin—pale and smooth, his high cheek bones making his face sharp with angles, had me completely paralyzed.

I was afraid to speak, to move, fearing he would disappear.  His caramel eyes entranced me, sparkling as he locked them to mine.

A warmth ignited in my stomach, the heat of a blush started up my neck.

You are here.  The words vibrated inside my head.  The assurance from my dream flowed through me.

Holy crap!  was the only thought I had.  Not very eloquent.

Maybe it got lost in the copy/pasting, but you might want to use italics (or something) to set apart the thoughts from the narrative.

RRRRRRRR!...The vibration in my pocket jerked me out of the trance I’d fallen into. Flustered, I dropped my gaze. Removing my phone from my pocket, the glowing screen announced the name that haunted me.


Heh. Nice grammar in a text? On second thought -- she's still feeding him, though she's in a foster home?

“Dammit.”  I jammed the phone back into my pocket. This was not happening. I wouldn’t let it.  “Not now!” I cringed.

The hair on my arms stood on end as the dread of Luke’s possible appearance cursed through me.  Regaining some composure I raised my eyes to look at Dream Guy again.  But he was gone.  I whipped my head around wondering if was I searching for Luke, or Dream Guy. Maybe I hadn’t really seen him.  Maybe I was hallucinating, dreaming while I stood in the check-out line at the local grocery.

I capitalized Dream Guy because you're using it as a name. Otherwise, I'd expect a my in front of it, or something. Also: interesting use of cursed -- I see what you mean, I think. She had a feeling of unpleasant inevitability? It might trip some readers up.

The cashier repeated her familiar script, “How are you today, paper or plastic?”

Ah, so we are, in fact, dreaming in the checkout line? 

“Uhh, good, thanks…plastic?” I hurried my words in the hope of hurrying her actions.

Nice observation. I do that, too.

I restrained myself from frantically grabbing my items and stuffing them into the bags.  I had to get out of the store.  Prove to myself he was real.  To prove I was not CRAZY!

How will getting out prove that?

Could she be any slower?

Her thoughts sliced through me causing me to cringe.  Looks like she used a lawn mower to cut her hair.

...? Maybe you've already established that our narrator's psychic. But how is the haircut relevant?

“Your hair isn’t so great either.”  I left her with her mouth hanging open.

With an echoing crack I smacked straight into a pole.

A little more, here, to be sure I know she's walking/leaving.

“Crap,” came out before I could suppress the jolt.

I dropped my bags, grabbed my head, and staggered back. Muffins broke free and rolled into the parking lot like misshapen balls. The Diet Soda careening behind.

We're out in the parking lot already? And there are poles out there? Needs some more specifics.

“Are you okay?” a woman asked, although her thoughts weren’t quite as considerate.

“Yeah.”  Was all I could muster as I rubbed my head with the butt of my hand. I was an idiot, there was no denying it.  At least I wasn’t bleeding.

“I think these are yours.”  A gravelly voice broke through my self-deprecation.

“Oh God,” I whispered.  I couldn’t look up.  I couldn’t know he saw me run into a pole. But I also couldn’t stand there.  If it was him he’d think I was mental.  I could only pray it wasn’t him.  Even through my watering eyes it was clear. He stood before me, holding my muffins and a stray can of soda.  He was even more beautiful close-up, like a super model but better.  Not a blemish of any kind on his face.  It was like looking at a statue, without the dull look of stone.   It was as if he glowed from the inside.  I stood in a daze, at a loss to find words needed to answer such a simple question as,Were those my muffins?”  He probably thought I couldn’t speak English.  Feeling the blood rushing to my cheeks again, all I could do was stand and stare like an idiot.

A hard shove from behind followed by a half-hearted, “Excuse me,” pushed me a step closer, breaking my daze.

“Uh,” I stammered. “Yeah, thanks.”  I grabbed the muffins.

“No problem.” He cocked his head before he turned and walked away.

He had an unfamiliar accent, the cadence of which drew me in.  Almost as if his simple words were poetry.  I felt my heart melting.  As much as I knew I shouldn’t, there was something about him, a connection.  A cosmic pull?  Wasn’t that what they called it in trashy romance novels?

“Come back!” I wanted to scream.  “Who are you?”

Might want to leave the quotes off and italicize these, since she didn't actually scream them.

My pocket vibrated as another call came through.

“Stop.” Frustration filled my voice as I realized I’d said the words out loud?

Frustration can only fill her voice if she keeps talking, though...

He stopped, turned, and looked back at me.

“Uh, I was just…I …oh, I wasn’t talking to you.  Sorry.”  I dropped my head and prayed the earth would swallow me.

He shrugged, then continued into the parking lot.

I stood frozen, watching while he climbed into a big black truck.

A few moments of confusion, but overall: good job! 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fourth Crit: The Word

The writer says: It's from a WIP called THE WORD, a YA paranormal romance (?) set in the Regency era. 1) Does the modern-sounding voice distract from the story, 2) Are the flashbacks jarring? Should I try to incorporate them another way? 3) Thoughts on the characters? 

Word around the house is that Mr. Weston suggested he return to London immediately that he might begin preparations for the wedding; but Mr. Kingsley refused, insisting that he stay a while longer, as he had only just arrived, and George would be sorely disappointed if he left so soon.   That night he writes a letter to his parents and friends in London, telling them of the good news and assuring everyone that he'll be home in a fortnight.   I know because I'm serving tea in the parlor, where he, George, and Harriett have gathered for the evening, Mr. and Mrs. Kingsley having gone off to bed.

After he seals the letters and tucks them away, he picks up a book, settling back in his chair while Harriett watches him from across the room.   Meanwhile George examines a clock with feigned interest, but it's all very plain that they're waiting for Mr. Weston to put down his reading.   He doesn't, and after a few minutes of strained silence, Harriett huffs and rises to her feet.

"Do tell me, Mr. Weston, are you always this dull?   Go on like this and I may have second thoughts about marrying you."

He doesn't even look up from his book.   "Why am I dull, darling?"

I start at the word.   A tea cup tumbles from my tray and shatters on the floor.   Darling.   It doesn't sit right with me, but I pretend not to notice and begin to sweep up the mess.

"You and your…your…"   Harriett waves at the novel, "…your  book.   Why don't you play cards with George and me?"

"No, thank you, dear."

"Hmph!"   She places her hand on her lip and pouts, but her eyes still maintain their twinkle.   "My husband will  not  spend his evenings  reading, when he could be doing something useful!   Like…like…How about you watch me perform on the pianoforte?"

I do my best to stifle a laugh, but it comes out a snort anyway.   Only Weston notices, and when he smiles, I can't help but wonder if he's chuckling at Harriett, or at me.

"Go ahead and play, love.   The beauty of books is that I can listen and read at the same time."

George butts in, for the first time turning away from the clock.   "Come now, Weston.   Play cards with us."   He crosses the room and slips the book right out from between Weston's fingers, snaps it shut and drops it on a mahogany table.

Weston purses his lips, but doesn't say anything as he picks himself up and settles at the card table. George shuffles the deck:   thith-thith-thith-thith…

…The wind beats against the cottage.   Through the thin walls I hear the trees rattle:   thith-thith-thith-thith.   I snuggle against Father's chest, so that his warmth will seep into my bones.   Nearby Mother sews up a hole in a pair of trousers.   Her fingers move rhythmically back and forth, and before long I'm in a trance that shatters only when she sets down her work to answer a knock at the door.

"I am sorry to intrude, Madame, but I am traveling and 'ope zat you might let me stay ze night?"   He speaks with a thick French accent, and later tells us his name is Bernard LaFontaine, and he has traveled all the way from Orleans.

I assume you've already established that her parents ran a boarding-house/inn/whatever? A little transition here from meeting Bernard at the door to feeding him would help -- I assume they invited him in, sat him down somewhere, etc. You want to save his dramatic reveal for later, that's fine, but just a little something so it's clear Mother isn't making him eat while standing in the door. 

Mother hands him a bowl of steaming broth and a crust of bread.   He thanks her, but before he eats he removes his coat, hangs it over a chair, and from his pockets draws a book.   A thin book, easy to hide, with a worn leather binding and stiff, uneven pages of a grayish yellow.   In the candlelight it seems to pulsate words, words, words, until I'm dizzy with words but can't pin any of them down.

Father notices the book, too, but doesn't say anything about it.   "Have you been long in Kent, Monsieur LaFontaine?"

"No, Monsieur.   I 'ave just come from London, actually…"

"Oh, London!   I just can't wait to go.   Do tell me, Charlie, that we'll visit there often once we're married?"   Harriett is again back on her favorite subject, and though I'm tired of hearing about London, her voice draws me out of my stupor.

I've been cleaning up this same teacup for ten minutes now, but nobody has noticed except for maybe Weston.   Every few seconds he glances my way, and when I lift my eyes to his, he doesn't avert his gaze.   Which terrifies me.   I am invisible.   A ghost among gods.   The Kingsleys only see me when they  want  to see me, and that's only to give orders.   But what really scares me is the way he seems to look not so much at me but through me.

As though my mind is an open book, and he just read it.

I swipe up the rest of the mess and rush out of the parlor, the tea service rattling on the tray.   In the hall I slump in the shadows, my back pressed against the wall as my heart drums, so loudly I swear they can hear it in the next room.

"What's wrong with you, Pippa?" I breathe aloud.   A chorus of laughter erupts around the card table.   It rumbles over the carpet, crackling and thunderous…

The card table's crackling and thunderous? On a carpet? Well, maybe, but all the antique card tables I've seen were pretty lightweight things.

…A flash of light, and he's only a silhouette in the doorway.   I begin to tremble, but Father hushes me and rubs my arms, until I'm still and safe in his embrace.   Mother waves for LaFontaine to come inside, but he just stands at the threshold, his hat in his hands despite the oncoming rain.

Maybe you should mention the storm more clearly in the first part of the flashback. You mentioned wind, but that doesn't necessarily mean a thunderstorm, to me.

Highlight: this pronoun is risky, because the actual antecedent is Weston... but I think the context is clear enough that it's not Weston... Judgement call, for you. :)

"You should know, Madame, zat I am a cursed man."   He whispers it, but the wind picks up the words and carries them to my little ears.

Mother glances at Father, and he takes over.   "Nonsense!   Cursed or not, we couldn't turn away a traveler, and definitely not when there's a storm on the way."

"I'm serious, Monsieur.   I'm a cursed man…"

I try to shake away their voices, but they stick, loud and heavy.   So clear my parents and Monsieur LaFontaine might have been in the next room, talking over tea and biscuits.

"What's happening to me?"   These are fancies fit for nightmares.   Memories only able to slip into my mind when unconscious takes over and my fortifications crumble.   Always I've managed to push them from my head by thinking of other things:   my work, my books.   Happier memories, like Father's lessons or my afternoons with Jonathan.   Not particularly easy, but it works.   Usually.   So why now?

I had no problems with the voice up until here -- it's somewhat antiquated, but not overbearingly so, and I think it works. (caveat: I don't read Regency, and I understand it's a demanding genre.) The unconscious is, of course, a Freudian concept that post-dates the Regency. The highlighted part sounds especially modern, to me, in its word choice and pacing.

Chairs scrape across the parlor floor, reminding me of my duties.   Soon Harriett will retire, and I'll have to help her make ready for bed.   I rush the tea service back to the kitchen, all the while praying that the memories don't get worse.

Are the flashbacks jarring: a little, but given the context I think they ought to be jarring. Just be careful with the pronouns and rigorously consistent with those ellipses. 

Thoughts on the characters: well, LaFontaine sounds interesting. :) Pippa, it depends on how seriously she takes the "ghost among gods" idea -- it's not one I would find endearing. Everyone in the parlor sounds kinda dull to me, but we didn't meet them very much. Weston comes off a bit predatory. 

As indicated by my general lack of complaining, I think this is pretty good!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Third crit: The Legacy of the Eye

The writer says: Here is the opening of my novel, The Legacy of the Eye. I would like to know if the start feels too slow and if I still have show vs. tell problems.

"Cat, we're stepping into our future and you're not even paying attention."

Catrine’s hand halted, palm pressed against the cool surface of the heavy wood door. She raised her eyebrows at David and made no further motion to exit the main building of the Academy.

Green highlights, throughout: vagueness and/or weak verbs. These are things that would read better if they were more specific and/or more active.

"Our future doesn't start for another couple of weeks," she said.

They were allowed to leave the school that day because the council had granted them an audience. Graduation was still two weeks away.

"You're wrong. This is it. Today we make history." David pushed the door open and the mid-afternoon light rushed into the hall.

She chuckled. "We should wait until the council approves the Tutor Program before we celebrate."

"Why would they reject it? You wrote a great proposal. The argumentation is flawless."

"Just because you couldn't find any faults, doesn't mean the council won't."

Show vs. tell in dialogue -- this dialogue is okay, but it doesn't sound like real people talking. Cat and David both know why they're going to this meeting, what was in the proposal, and when graduation is. Why would they talk about it, then, unless there were lingering questions or problems? They're only saying these things so the reader knows them.

How often do you turn to a friend and say "Today I make history," -- and not mean it as a joke? (it can be a good joke, admittedly)

This kind of narrative dialogue turns up a lot in TV shows. CSI is especially guilty, since they have to explain procedures and logical connections to the viewers. But real people do not talk like that. 

May I suggest explaining the proposal in the narrative -- and keep it very short, because you can explain more once we get to the meeting. Plus, it's not actually that important. Lead with drama: Cat's fears about the proposal, graduation, her attraction to David, or whatever's appropriate. Another problem with narrative dialogue is that it's low on emotions. Low emotions = "slow start". 

They walked toward the front gates of the Academy. The wooden bars stood wide open and seemed more decorative than a true barrier to their exit. Catrine’s eyes were still adjusting to the brightness, but they took in the novelty of her surroundings. This was the first time either student had left the school since their enrollment at the age of two. They were both eighteen now, but Catrine did not feel as ready to conquer the galaxy as David was. Her insides were twisted in knots. She had eaten hardly anything all day. But she would not let her nervousness show--not even to her best friend.

Yellow highlight: this is the only "tell" in the narration that you might want to "show" instead.

"You're fretting too much," David said. "Everyone in the department loved our idea to teach the rest of the galaxy and the council will too."

After this, the dialogue gets considerably better. 

Deep down, Catrine knew they were as ready as they could ever be. She had spent weeks writing the proposal and they had prepared David's speech with great care. But it was such an ambitious project...

"I'm just glad you will be the one doing all the talking," she said.

Their dark gray tunics and slacks sparkled in the afternoon light. The uniform designated them as students from the Governance Department, but no one prevented them from exiting the Academy grounds even though they were unsupervised. David had managed to convince their instructors there was no need for a chaperone. He thought the lack of one would increase their chances of successfully defending the proposal. Catrine had not argued with him, but she had made sure she had clear instructions on how to get to the government building. The last thing they needed was to get lost on the way.

Sparkled? How?

"Wow! I've never seen so many flowers in one place," David said as he stepped through the archway and out of the Academy grounds.

Catrine followed him toward the flowers. The bright colors on the other side of the entranceway grabbed her attention like David's raised voice in the quiet reading room. She inhaled deeply. The floral tones drifting from the garden gave the air a sweeter scent.

"Now we know why everyone talks so much about the Center Gardens," she said. "The directions say to go around it."

"We have time. Let's walk through the park."

"We don't want to be late..."

"Then don't waste time arguing." David grabbed her hand and led her down the footpath closest to them.

She knew better than to argue with him--especially considering she wanted to stroll among the flowers just as much. Catrine noticed flowers of different colors planted in sequence and she wondered if the colors represented the diverse departments of the Academy. The path in front of them started by a simple two-tiered stone pool and bowl adorned solely with the letter W three times around its circumference and led toward the larger fountain they could see farther ahead. The violet beds on either side were in different shades of blue, dark-colored at first then lighter the deeper into the park they walked. The fragrance of the flowers, on the other hand, intensified toward the middle of the Center Gardens.

Did you mean to hint at David being violent?

The perfume in the air stirred Catrine's empty stomach and she soon regretted their route. She squeezed David's hand for support when her step faltered and he halted.

"What's wrong?" he asked. "You look pale."

"I should have eaten more for lunch."

"Let me help you to the fountain. You can splash some cool water on your face."

He slipped his arm around her waist and her heart rate doubled its pace. Catrine took a deep breath to clear her head, but the cloying smell only made her dizzier. She staggered the next few steps towards the lilies that surrounded the fountain, leaning on David for support. She needed to get away from the perfume of the flowers, so she buried her face in his chest to mask the scent.

He enveloped her in a hug, his hand gently stroking her back. "Relax, Cat. You're just stressed about the proposal defense. Everything will be fine."

His voice was low and soothing. When she looked up, David was smiling at her. She wanted to thank him for being there, so she rose to her toes to give him a kiss. But instead of the friendly peck on the cheek they had often exchanged, their mouths joined in an embrace that did not let go.

Catrine tasted the sweetness of the lilies on his soft lips. It mingled with the alluring smells around her and the enchanting melody of trickling water coming from the fountains in the park. The kiss that had started as endearing gathered intensity like the scent of the flowers throughout their stroll in the garden. Catrine interlaced her fingers with the hair at the nape of David's neck and pulled him even closer. His hand reached under her tunic and seemed to burn the skin it touched.

Then David broke off the kiss gasping for breath and stepped back. "We don't have time for this. We're going to be late."

Neither of them seem particularly disconcerted by this passing flash of lust... so I have to assume this has been going on for a while? If it hasn't, you're passing up a gold mine of conflict and reader hooks. 

Catrine had no time to process what had happened. David grabbed her hand and dragged her through the violet bed, heading northeast. The sea of flowers they trampled changed from blue to purple to magenta. When they reached the path between the red-colored gerbera daisies, David followed it to the government complex. The four-story building was built of timber, but shined in the light of day due to its many windows. It was very similar to the Academy one that faced the park.

Highlight: kinda awkward wording, there. Past tense of shine is shone.

David had not looked at Catrine during his rush to leave the garden, but he had not let go of her either. When they reached the front door, he gave her hand one last squeeze before releasing it.

"Relax," he said.

Catrine was still trying to catch her breath, but she noticed David's back straighten and she mimicked his posture. Then she entered the main government building a couple of steps behind him, at a much slower pace than her heart rate.

To answer your questions directly: yes, it's a kinda slow start because you're not tapping the emotions I suspect are here. Your show vs. tell ratio is fine, in the narrative. I already talked about the dialogue. On the whole, I think all you need is to shift the focus a little bit. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Second Crit: Glory Road

The writer says: I need to know if the world building is strong enough, and whether you’d read on. Any other critiques would be helpful.  The story is called GloryRoad.

Bar studied the waste from a distance, the edge where the peasants tried to burn back the purple vegetation blurred and indistinct. Magenta crept over the black, an almost visible advance.

There are a bunch of contradictions in the first few paragraphs, so I'm going to sound mean and snarky here. You say it's a waste, but then you say there's all this vegetation. A jungle, in fact. To me, a waste is more like a desert, so throughout this I was having to remind myself that you meant a jungle. Then you use two colors as nouns, and I don't know what you're referring to. The vegetation's purple, so it's not that... magenta light? magenta water? Is magenta a thing? And what's black?

A distance away a peasant team worked, silent and grim, the only sound the axes and saws cutting a swath through the vegetation. He wasn’t sure of the reason, although he could guess. They worked in teams, one team resting while the other cleared a space deeper into the alien jungle.

You told us Bar is at a distance. Yards? Miles? Paint some more picture for me -- the landscape, the time of day, the people... Also, you said they were burning back the vegetation, and now you say they're cutting it down. 

They wouldn’t go to all this work to push the waste back—they had that process well rehearsed, as ineffective as it might be. There must be someone trapped behind the edge. They'd penetrated perhaps eighty meters into the edge, an odd shaped bulge into the wasteland border.

The first team kept their weapons ready, eyes never stopping.

They're not actually resting, then.

As quickly as the vegetation was cleared, a third team dragged it away to toss it on the smoldering pile. It burned sluggishly.

OK, but when you say they're "burning back the purple vegetation" I'm picturing the controlled burns they do in parks...

One of Bar’s sisters had a lemon tree in her garden, perhaps the last one in the human lands, and this smell was enough like the scent of lemon to call up the comparison. Few of these ever would have smelled that, let alone tasted the acrid fruit.

He's far away, yet he can smell... the smoke?

A shout went up and the teams surged forward, guiding a handful of exhausted farmers from the waste edge.

These are two complex actions -- surging forward, and guiding out survivors. Be more specific.

The wasteland had grown to encompass another farm, the people trapped behind the line. A straggle of cows and sheep, accompanied by dogs, burst from the purple boundary and spread out into the green human lands.

If the jungle grows fast enough to trap people, wouldn't it be creeping as we speak? And yet you said earlier that people don't bother to fight it unless someone's trapped? If getting trapped is dangerous enough to require rescuing, how does anyone sleep at night with this stuff crawling around?

Bar heard a shout behind him, and the ratchet of a crossbow as his patrol team came up behind him along the ledge.

The farmers heard the shout, but knew enough to go on alert toward the wasteland edge rather than away.

Be more specific about what the farmers do.

Bar ran, his patrol behind him. Whatever was about to happen he would be too late to either stop it or help. The crossbow was a short-range weapon, but deadly within its limits.

So why is he running? Also: what do they have with a longer range than a crossbow, if that's considered short-range? Why aren't they carrying that instead?

Along the edge where purple and green mixed the peasants drew back in a staggered line, bows coming up, swords and knives ready.

Every time Bar saw the wasteland creatures there was something new. The first emerged from the back of the area where human saws had encroached on the alien wasteland, more than twice as tall as any man. Its nose was broad and flat, its body visibly that of a browser attracted by the scent of the cut vegetation.

You need to be more specific in describing the critter. Just for amusement, I'm going to assume it's a moose.

Bar winced. He would need to make sure the peasant councils were reminded to burn the edge as they cut. Just because it was a browser did not make it any less dangerous. If hungry enough, it would come out into the human lands for the cut stems and branches.

That doesn't sound dangerous.

Behind it others appeared, some obviously predatory but ignoring the herbivores around them. They crowded shoulder to shoulder and stared out into the open human lands as if surprised to find space there.

What does "obviously predatory" mean?

The humans held their fire, backing away one careful step at a time.

Keeper Bar and his ten slowed, moved cautiously into a position where they could support as they got closer.

So your statement that they wouldn't arrive in time was wrong.

A wasteland creature near the back of the pack reared up onto its hind legs with a roar, leaving the visibly unarmored underbelly vulnerable, and one of the peasants took the shot.

The thing screamed as the arrow sank in, and Bar shook his head. Only the eyes were vulnerable.

If the arrow sank in, then obviously the underbelly is vulnerable. What did you really mean?

Its scream became a howl of rage, and it spat the arrow back at the humans much faster than it had emerged from the bow. One of the humans fell, but because the bolt hadn’t been shot from a bow it hit him flat, across the head. He fell back.

So, these critters aren't dangerous unless you attack them... so why should I worry about these idiots getting hurt? They deserve it for provoking them. 

Neat trick, taking in an arrow from your belly and spitting it out your mouth. You should describe that more. 

The wasteland force surged forward, jostling each other, tusks, hooves, claws and teeth visible even on forms which held no other similarity to anything in the human lands. Too many to kill, and if the peasants killed one it would only start a feeding frenzy. The Keepers had learned that long ago.

A feeding frenzy of herbivores doesn't sound all that dangerous. Also, you refer to them as animals -- but they sure aren't acting like animals. 

“Fall back!” Bar shouted, and strode forward. “Fall back!”

The humans heard it. A few began to retreat as ordered, pulling others with them until they clearly stood on the human side of the charred and denuded wasteland edge.

The animals slowed as they approached that edge, which Bar had not expected. One snorted and shook its heavy head, backing away as if trying to get away from some unbearable stench. Others skittered sideways, crowding toward one side of the open space, away from something Bar could not see.

Bar’s people moved up in support—not too close. It took Bar a moment to see the one human shape which remained at the edge, but it didn’t attempt to move out into the human lands. It took a single step into the sunlight and raised a hand, not toward the humans but toward the animals massed at the edge.

If it's human, give it a gender.

The animals backed away, some now staring longingly toward the purple jungle.

Why don't they leave?

A woman alone, she stood between the enraged animals and seemed to push them back as she walked forward, one careful step at a time until they broke and ran, back into the magenta forest.

Magenta, not purple? Another contradiction.

Only then did she turn to face the humans, who stirred uneasily and surged toward the stranger.

“Shaper!” someone screamed, and with a howl of rage the humans went after her.

When Bar looked again, she had vanished.

Why did he look away? Wouldn't he keep a close eye on someone acting strangely? 

Is the world-building strong enough: well, I don't have a clear enough picture of what's going on to answer that. Not the sequence of events -- I mean the context: why these things are happening, why they're important, why the things these people do are reasonable and logical. Plus, you frequently contradict yourself in the details. Therefore, I'm not sure what you know, or don't know, about your world.

Would I keep reading? No. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

First crit of the week

A writer bravely throws this scene under my red pen:

A man’s hand reached out from the smoky-plated mirror and caressed River’s cheek. The dark pink nails glowed against her pale skin. A rusted manacle chain dangled from his fist, clinking softly as the open cuff slapped around her arm. River was trapped like an animal trapped in a cage. Her lips trembled, but she would not cry. Crying would only prove she was weak. Instead, she would make him suffer, but how? A sudden impulse spurred her thoughts into actions and her hand darted to the free-swinging manacle and she slapped the open end of the shackles onto his wrist, clicking it shut. She heard a startled gasp escape from his mouth and felt the jerk on her hand as he instantly drew his arm away. Too late, he seemed to realize what she had done. His arm was shackled to River’s wrist.

You win the first crit by putting up an interesting image that caught my eye as I was copy/pasting all the submissions into Blogger. However: if he's caressing her cheek, how is he also holding a manacle chain in his fist? I would assume a caress is delivered with an open hand. Or is there a second hand involved?  Second: she took the manacle away from him? Easily? Not real smart to hand somebody a manacle while you're reaching through a magic mirror, is it... but then you say that now he's shackled to her. So... now I'm confused about the shackle. Maybe there was a previous scene and your readers knew she was already half shackled, and why half of it would be left open for her to play with, but if there wasn't then you need to be clearer about the starting situation and how River managed this. 

On the whole, a good start. The highlighted phrase is a bit of wordiness I think you don't need. How about: On impulse, her hand darted...

 “You—!” he exclaimed, his voice between surprise and outrage. Again, he pulled his arm back, jerking against the chain, and River’s hand went with him. “What have you done? You loony girl. Do you think I do not have a key for these chains?"

She caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror, and immediately stopped her fluttering eyes. Unprepared for his response, she cocked her eyes upwards and spied a key hanging from a hook. She snatched the key and slipped it down the bodice of her dress.  Immediately she felt her face grow hot and her mirror image proved her cheeks now flamed red.

“You are a mad woman!” Who said this?

The voice from the mirror was calm, deliberate, almost detached. “What possessed you to do something as childish as that? What were you thinking?”

River paused for a moment, struggling to sort her thoughts.

Is this really happening? No, it can’t be. Mirrors can’t talk. It must be a memory, but whose? Where am I in this memory?

If somebody remembers a mirror talking, then mirrors must be able to talk. Is there a reason that River wouldn't know that..? is it weird...?

She drew in a deep breath and tried to recall the time and place. Oh, yes. This wasn’t her memory. There was a convict onboard a ship. The poor girl had been sold into slavery but she escaped and River had been asked to erase the memory to protect the runaway slave. Thank goodness she remembered, but River had no choice but to follow along until the memory played itself out.

Highlight: the runaway slave, or River?

“I refuse to let you take me below this God-forsaken ship with the common criminals housed there. I do not belong there any more than you belong there. If I go, you go,” she said as she pinched her lips together.

The man lost his speech and River could tell he tried his best not to smile, as the reality of what she had done settled in. Half-comical. Half-dreadful. Completely crazy. As usual.

River glared into his eyes. She would make sure he did not win without a fight. Yanking her arm to her waist, the man fell completely out of the looking glass.

Just a thought: you could put the "River glared..." paragraph before she says "I refuse..." Also: how about a little description of this guy?

“Give me the key back,” he demanded, extending his free hand toward her, palm up. “Give me that key or I’ll rip that dress right off your body and retrieve it myself.”

That's very polite of him. She's a prisoner, sold into slavery (according to the memory) -- why's he being polite to her, and not immediately beating her down and ripping her clothes off?

River shook her head and stamped her foot on the floor.  “I will not return the key peaceably. I refuse to go below with the other convicts. I do not belong there.” River said.

The man narrowed his eyes and gritted his teeth. He reached out and grabbed the eyelet of River’s collar, but as he yanked the material, River stepped back and he fell against the frame of the mirror. A pink light flashed, and suddenly, River stood alone.

The two hundred year old memory dissipated like fog on a cold night, as if written in the Memory Book with invisible ink.

The runaway slave was 200+ years old? Okay. I'm left wondering: does this mean River succeeded in erasing this memory? I hope you explain that ASAP. Because you said that she was just following along -- so everything she did is what the slave did? How does that erase a memory? Or was it just the last bit of struggle that broke the pattern?

On the whole, this was a decent scene. It could use a little more place-setting: I don't know if this happened in a prison, on the slave ship, or somewhere else. Sketching in the surroundings some more would clear that up.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

L's critting week!

In a display of perfect co-ordination, you all have sent me exactly the right number of submissions: five. I'm impressed. You rock!

So I'm going to close submissions for this week, because I'm heading out of town Wednesday night and  I don't think I could handle more than five crits. Some of these posts may come to you from lovely Portland, Maine as I do the obligatory tech support on my parents' computer... how many of us have to do that, show of hands...? :)

And since I won't see you all again until next year: have a safe and happy December!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Rumble. Day Five and *big* News

Rules For Da Rumble: Leave a comment with your day’s totals in the categories that apply. You have twenty-four hours starting....NOW.

My totals:
Wip - 0
Revision – 5 pages
Posts – 2
Comments on other blogs – 15

Thursday’s Question and Answer. Is there one established author who drives your muse, whose books you purchase without reading the reviews or back cover?

My evil plan worked. You gave me new authors to cruise. Thanks.
Jim Butcher is my one and only. Haven’t turned away from anything he’s written.

No question today due to Big Developments. I hope my fellow moderators won’t mind a personal note.
Messy Magic in the Making

It took me over a year to call myself A Writer. Now I can add the label Published Author to that moniker.

I signed with Musa Publishing, a small pub in Ohio, for my urban fantasy, The Magic Withheld.

Confetti anyone?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rumble. Day Four

Rules For Da Rumble: Leave a comment with your day’s totals in the categories that apply. You have twenty-four hours starting....NOW.

My totals:
Wip - 0
Revision – 13 pages
Posts – 1
Comments on other blogs – 5

Wednesday’s Question and my answer. What is your beloved genre and what other genre would you like to try?

I worship Fantasy, all flavors, but a storyline blossomed after hearing a line from a movie, Unforgiven. 
And there was nothing on the marker to explain to Mrs. Feathers why her only daughter had married a known thief and murderer, a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition.
No magic, no dragons, no vampires. Writers: can you 'see' the story here in these few words?

Thursday’s Question. Is there one established author who drives your muse, whose books you purchase without reading the reviews or back cover?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rumble. Day Three

Rules For Da Rumble: Leave a comment with your day’s totals in the categories that apply. You have twenty-four hours starting....NOW.

My totals:
Wip - Zip
Revision – none
Posts – nadda
Comments on other blogs – Goose Egg

You guys are blowing me away with totals. I’m girding my loins a little tighter today.

Tuesday’s question and my answer: What has helped you the most in writing technique since beginning this career?

Just starting out, when the ‘to be’ verb was an enigma, books such as The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman inspired me. They carried me through grammar, how to start a page, and formatting.

Wednesday’s Question. This is a two-parter. 

We read and write in our favorite genres.  What is your beloved genre and what other genre would you like to try? 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Rumble. Day Two

Rules For Da Rumble: Leave a comment with your day’s totals in the categories that apply. You have twenty-four hours starting....NOW.

My totals for Monday:
Wip - Zip
Revision – none
Posts – 1
Comments on other blogs – 20 plus since I’m participating in Cheers Alex Cavanaugh Blogfest

Monday’s question and my answer. What do you want most from being a published author? Money, fame, or recognition as a writer?

I want recognition as a writer most. Fame as in ‘hey, I've seen her face on a book jacket’ is a close second.

Question for the day. What has helped you the most in writing technique since beginning this career?

  • Self-help books like On Writing by Stephen King
  • Webinars or writers workshops
  • Blog sites such as Grammar Girl
  • Or do you use the works of published writers as examples


Monday, December 10, 2012

Rumble. Day One

Rules For Da Rumble: Leave a comment with your day’s totals in the categories that apply. You have twenty-four hours starting....NOW.

My totals:

Wip – 211 word count
Revision – none
Posts – 1
Comments on other blogs – 4

Question for the day. What do you want most from being a published author? Money, fame, or recognition as a writer?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Be ready for next week!

I'll be back. And I'm going to invite you to send something in for critting. Yup, L's going to crit. It's been a long time.

To be different from other critting weeks, I'm going to ask you to go long -- send me a whole scene, beginning to end. Let's put the cap somewhere around 1k -1.5k so we can really see what's going on.

Would you like a macro-level crit of character, motivations, world-building? Shall I get out the red pen and murder your sentences individually? I could do both, even. I am at your disposal.

If you want to get a jump on this, send your scene to unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com and title it "For L."

Let's Rumble

Or call it a friendly contest. Let’s spend the week in motivational mode starting with a Challenge.

“Battle!” – Archangel Michael in Michael

This is a down month for some publishers and agents. Many close for the holidays and use the time to catch up on slush piles and submissions.

It is our chance to finish the manuscript, post on our blogs, or begin that new project.

All we need is to get around to it.

Here is your Round Tuit 
so no more excuses.

To that end, I challenge everyone to record their totals daily. Whether it is word count on their wip, edited pages of a completed novel, posts on their blogs or comments on others, this is your week to brag. Or get goosed.

Every morning, I’ll post my numbers for the previous day:
  • WIP word count –
  • Revisions pages –
  • Posts on personal blog –
  • Comments on friends’ blogs –

You have twenty-four hours to comment with your totals. Whether it is all four (Zowie) or only one category, this is the time to gird your loins and get serious about that manuscript.

We begin tomorrow. Bring your steely-eyed, gritted teeth mode and settle in for a double helping of Determination. Cuz Sistahs and Bros, we are WRITERS.

…and someone might tell me what ‘gird your loins’ means and if it hurts much.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Of Oak and Dragons

Our final crit of the week comes from Huntress' Urban Fantasy, Of Oak and Dragons. She wants to know if this first page draws the reader into turning the page. Is it confusing or does the change in tense work? 

     When I found the skull, (for some reason I want you to write it this way: Id didn't tell anyone when I found the skull.) I didn’t tell anyone. Not because I was scared or shocked. I was six after all and stuff like that only fueled my imagination.
     My dad thought I hadn’t seen it. (seen or found?) He’d have been sick with fear if he’d known. But coming face to face with a skull – so to speak - wasn’t the problem.
     It was after that day. The dreams. Of being the hunted and worse.
     The screaming.
     Not counting the original owner, only my dad knew about the skull.
     But he died soon after and couldn’t help me.

     (I assume that this is many years after the finding of the skull. If so I think I want to know how long after. Like maybe say: Fifteen years later it isn't my face reflected in the pool...) It isn’t my face reflected in the pool of rainwater or my boots walking through the dry leaves. The hands that caress the iron weapons and trace the molded grips are long-fingered. Callused, not soft like my hands.
Movement from my left makes my belly flutter. They are hunting me.
     They are here.
     The emotions are the same, of desperation and regret. Of defeat and unmet purpose. And my screams when utter failure is all I can expect… I wonder if italicizing might help make it clear that this is a dream...or is it a memory?
     …and waking in my bed.
     With a groan, I fought my way out of the twisted, damp sheets.
     Once again, the dreams had returned crushing my hope that I had seen the last of them. An irritation now that I was in college and on my own. (I hope he(?) has his own place...just sayin' )When I was a kid, sleepovers were nonexistent. One scream-fest was all it took to seal my fate with school friends. Looks of ‘there goes a crazy person’ followed me until I graduated from high school. Saluting them with a mental middle finger helped me to cope.

I think this IS an intriguing first page. It's also got voice and the two combined would make me read on. And I saw the reference to college in the last paragraph but I still want it noted when we are once we move into the future. I like clear transitions. But that's just me so I do hope everyone will chime in and offer their opinion as well.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mirror Mirror

You have all been saved by Lauren from my review of Skyfall (which wasn't going to be favorable). Here is her first page of MIRROR MIRROR. My comments will be in purple and I hope you will offer yours :)

Under Maerset's control, the little bird hovered for a few moments high over the village. In her tower, the witch saw the village from far above, as a bird might see, and spoke the charm which froze the image. Awesome spell.

High in the sky, a piece of glass flicked away from the mirror the bird held. Instead of falling, it hung there, turning ever so slightly, but with the flat surface facing the ground. Notice the active verbs?

Maerset carefully transferred the image to a small hand-held mirror and released the charm so that the tiny piece of glass fell. On the ground, it would be taken for a grain of sand, although brighter and flatter than most. Its use as a focus was done.

The witch took up the mirror and placed it with the hundreds of others lining every wall and shelf in her tower room.

This peaceful time in the countryside was ideal for her purposes. No one was watching for animals that behaved strangely, no one expecting that a weed would be dangerous. There was more than one reason that these people distrusted unexpected plants in the place they called their own. The fields were scoured bare, nothing but tame grain disturbing the soil. This seems to interrupt the narrative. I think there's a better place for this. 

At her tower window she heard a squeak, the little bird speaking to her. She held out her hand for the mirror and it dropped it on the windowsill, staring at her from mistrusting eyes.

"You have done your chore," Maerset said quietly, "and you have your reward." She stepped to the side of the room, where a wire cage hung. Even the bars of the cage were mirrored, reflecting a scene far different than the sparsely furnished tower.

Inside the cage was another bird, this one looking dull and drab, perched forlornly on a bar and watching her mate hopelessly. The witch opened the cage and put a hand in, wrapping it around the bird carefully, pinioning its wings. She held it close for a moment, crooning, then turned and walked to the largest mirror in the room. Standing before it, she gestured, muttered something, and the glass no longer imprisoned the scene in the mirror. A forest stretched before them, and she opened her hand, releasing the female bird into the wilderness.

Quickly, as if he expected his promised reward to be torn from him, the male bird followed.

A moment later the mirror was only a mirror, and Maerset turned away from the view of the empty room. Years, it had been, since she had been able to see her reflection in any mirror. Every mirror in the room, instead of pointing her own face accusingly back at her, was a gateway to somewhere else. That is so cool. Reminds me of an old Star Trek episode.

Each animal that invaded her domain she had managed to coax, cajole or blackmail into carrying a bit of mirror to another place. There were palaces in her collection, tiny villages and even a dragon's den. That had been her one failure, thinking that the dragon could be forced. It had merely taken her bit of mirror back to its home, where it watched her from time to time as if it found her antics fascinating.

Okay. Except for that one paragraph, which just seemed out of place more than anything else, I love this opening. I love the magic that's being done, I love the way it's described, and I'm interested in this witch and what she's doing (Is she trapped in the tower?) and why? I'm also impressed with the active verbs being used which tend to show and the brief but vivid descriptions. I want to know more about this world, find out what's going to happen next.

But. What do YOU think? Did this opening work for you? Did it hook you like it did me or ...what? Do tell.