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Friday, July 31, 2015

Kisses from Yesterday - continued...

Today I am continuing to critique the first chapter of Angi Kelly's Adult Urban Fantasy, KISSES FROM YESTERDAY. When we last saw Alexis, she was hearing music...

She grabbed the silver candelabra from the table at the head of the stairs, and tested its weight.
Yep, it’s heavy.  Hit somebody with this, and they won’t get up for a while.
She hurried toward the room, stopping just outside the door.  The melody was beautiful, sorrowful and haunting.  Her heart ached and tears welled up in her eyes as she listened.  The melody made her think of loss, something lost through tragedy.  It brought back memories of her parents, their deaths.  She squeezed her eyes shut, fighting against her tears as she listened for a few more minutes, her hand resting on the doorknob.  Then, she opened her eyes and eased the door open.  Her breath caught in her throat as moonlight streamed in through the skylight, illuminating a man sitting at the piano.
When she saw his face, a sudden calm filled her.  For some reason, she wasn’t afraid of him.  Curiosity raged through her, but no fear.  Some kind of link existed between the two of them, pulling her toward him, and she stepped farther into the room.  The man didn’t seem to notice her as he continued playing his melody.  The moonlight coated his light brown hair with silver.  He was dressed in a dark suit, but in place of a tie, he wore a blue cravat.  She frowned and bit her lip.  He looked vaguely familiar.  He suddenly stopped playing and looked at her.
“Alexis Conrad.  So, we finally meet.  How do you do?”  He crossed his arms over his chest, tilting his head slightly as he studied her.
She raised her eyebrows at him.  How do you do?  A man I feel I know breaks into my house, and one of the first things he says to me is, “How do you do?”  What is wrong with this guy?  Anger flared, warming her skin.
“Who are you and what are you doing in my house?”
“You know who I am, if you’ll think about it.  As for what I’m doing here, I came to you for help.”  Raising his eyebrow, he inclined his head toward her hand.  “I assure you, you have no need of that.”
She glanced at her hand and saw she was still clutching the candelabra.  She set it on the floor and took a deep breath.  She frowned, crossing her arms over her chest.  “My help?  What do you mean?”
“That’s a long story.  Won’t you sit down?  I’ll tell you a little more about this house.”
She hesitated.  She had to be insane to consider sitting down and having a chat with this guy.  She should run to her suite, lock herself in, and call the cops.  But somehow she knew he wouldn’t hurt her.
The ghost of a smile touched his lips, but shadows haunted his eyes.  “Please, Miss Conrad.  I’ve no intention of doing you any harm.  I only wish to talk with you.”
Something in his voice, something lost and lonely, called out to her.  Before she knew what she was doing, she pulled one of the chairs closer to him.  As she sat down, he smiled gratefully.
“Thank you.  I haven’t had companionship in quite some time.”
Alexis smiled and fiddled with the sleeve of her robe, twisting the fabric around her finger.  “I can’t imagine why.”
His face darkened.  “Oh, there are many reasons, which I will reveal to you shortly.  Now, Miss Conrad—”
“Please.  Call me Alexis,” she said, hoping her invitation would prompt him to introduce himself.
“Very well.  Alexis.  Forgive me, but I must wait until I’ve told you a little more about this house before I reveal my name to you.  Do you know who that young woman is?”  He gestured to the painting.
Her heart lurched painfully, as it did every time she looked at the similar face, and she shook her head.  “No.  I think she is one of my ancestors.”
“Yes, she is, although not a direct ancestor.  You look very much like her.  That young woman is Rebecca Eugenia Carrington.  She was a beautiful and astonishing young woman.  Her portrait hangs there because she was quite accomplished at the piano and this room was hers, where she played for friends and family alike.”
His gaze turned inward, thoughtful.  After a moment, it returned to her.
“You’ve already heard much of the story about the tragedy that befell poor Rebecca, have you not?”
“Yes.”  Her voice was soft, barely above a whisper.  “It was quite tragic.  I was also told her fiancé was so overcome with grief he committed suicide in her room.”
“That’s not true!”  He sprang to his feet, startling her.  His eyes were wide.  The muscle in his cheek twitched, as if he were clenching and unclenching his jaw.


My thoughts: My first thought is that the dialogue between Alexia and piano man could be improved. One thing I find when I re-read my dialogue is that I often have extra words or phrases that don't quite jibe with the rest. For example, in this bit, piano man says he needs her help:
“My help?  What do you mean?”
“That’s a long story.  Won’t you sit down?  I’ll tell you a little more about this house.”
To me, that's not what should follow here. What should follow is him telling her how/why he needs her help. I assume that the reason has to do with the history surrounding Rebecca and shortly that turns out to be so. I'd consider cutting this sentence. My second thought is, Yay! A ghost! At least, I'm pretty sure he's a ghost. He didn't offer her his hand and I think that's why. Must read on to confirm...

Readers, any thoughts or comments for Angi?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Kisses from Yesterday - continued...

Today I am continuing to critique the first chapter of Angi Kelly's Adult Urban Fantasy, KISSES FROM YESTERDAY. When we last saw Alexis, she'd discovered a portrait of a woman who likes like her...

Alexis stumbled back, and almost tripped over her own feet.  Then, she frowned as she studied the portrait more closely.
Not me, after all.  I’ve been watching too many horror movies.  She rolled her eyes.
The young woman’s face was a little fuller, but other than that, they could have been twins.  Dizziness swept through her and Alexis closed her eyes to steady herself.  After a moment, the dizziness passed, and she looked at the painting again.  She thought it was only natural there was some resemblance between the two of them.  They were related.
“Who were you?” She said aloud, as if expecting an answer.  Curiosity filled her, and she wondered what the young woman had been like.
She opened the door on the other side of the room, and another corridor stretched before her.  The south wing.  Closing the door, she left the room, pausing to glance back at the painting.  Through the skylight, she saw darkness was falling, so she decided to save the rest of her explorations for later.  She went back to her car and slid behind the wheel, tapping her fingernails as she gazed toward the cemetery she had seen when she arrived at the estate.  She wondered which of her ancestors were buried there.  She would definitely explore the cemetery and research the names she found there to discover where they fit in her family tree.  Or rather, where she fit in theirs.  She was tired of not belonging anywhere, but maybe this house would give her the stability and belonging she so desperately wanted.  Maybe she could belong here.  With another sigh, she started her car.
Time to meet the caretaker.
* * * *
The past two weeks had been busy.  She had moved and started settling into her new home, and had found surrogate parents in Albert and Amanda Jenkins.  They welcomed her with open arms and seemed to have adopted her as one of their own.  Their dinner that evening had been wonderful.
Alexis returned home full of Amanda’s excellent cooking, tired and overflowing with happiness.  She had quickly bonded with the Jenkins’ children and their grandchildren.  She hadn’t enjoyed herself like that since before her parents passed away.  She had made lifelong friends in the Jenkins family, and a warm, contented glow filled her.
A tingling sensation drifted across the back of her neck as she walked into her sitting room.  Goosebumps spread across her arms.  She looked around.  Was that something in the corner?  No, just a shadow.  She shook her head as she walked into the bathroom.
“New house jitters.”  She frowned, trying to convince herself that was what it was.  It had been happening a lot lately, this feeling of being watched.  It was something to be expected when someone moved into an old house, but it was really creepy.  Especially when she thought about the story Albert had told her about the deaths of Rebecca Carrington and Jonathan Crestwood, which had taken place in Rosedawn.  Rebecca had been brutally attacked a few days before her wedding to Jonathan was to have taken place and had died two days after the date of what would have been the happy event.  Sometime after her death, Jonathan had committed suicide on Rebecca’s bed, which was still covered with the bloody sheets she had died on.  After Jonathan’s death, the family hadn’t even changed the sheets on the bed before locking the room up.
“Maybe it’s the ghost of Rebecca.  Maybe she doesn’t like me being in her house.”  She grabbed a towel and set it on the marble counter.  Then, she stripped off her clothes and stepped into the tub.  She stood under the spray, relishing the way the water relaxed her tired muscles and soothed away the stresses of the day.
As she soaped her body, she decided she would go to the kitchen for something to drink, and then she’d curl up in bed with a good book until sleep overtook her.  She rinsed off the suds, and turned off the water.  She dried off, slipped into her robe and headed for the kitchen.
The faint notes of a piano greeted her when she reached the stairs.  Her heart skipped a beat as she turned and looked down the corridor.
The music room!


My thoughts:  My first thought is that even though darkness was falling I would've wanted to explore the whole house - assuming there was electricity of course! My second thought is that I'm not wild about the transition between her checking the house out and two weeks later. I'm fine with time passing but I think there's a better way to do it. I was also bothered by her sudden bonding with the Jenkins family. Maybe it's because we don't actually meet them or maybe I got the sense it happened too fast. The transition between that and her getting the tingling sensation is also a little jarring but I like that we're getting back to the house and all that's in it. What makes her think that Rebecca might not like her in the house? Can't wait to see who's playing piano...

Readers, any thoughts or comments for Angi?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Kisses from Yesterday - continued...

Today I am continuing to critique the first chapter of Angi Kelly's Adult Urban Fantasy, KISSES FROM YESTERDAY. I have included the last paragraph from yesterday for the sake of continuity.  

She left the kitchen and decided to explore the main upstairs first, and save the two wings for another time.  She paused on the staircase as a tickling sensation crept across the back of her neck.  Her heart constricted and she took a deep breath.  She turned around and looked back down into the foyer, expecting to see someone watching her, but there was no one.  She looked back up to the top of the stairs, where old family portraits hung on the wall, and she laughed nervously.
“Well, that’s who’s watching you, silly.  Everyone knows creepy old portraits always seem to watch you.”
She studied the faces of her ancestors, who looked back at her from their portraits as though judging her.  Shivering slightly at those disapproving stares, she continued down the corridor and entered the first room she came to.
The room was another office.  On her right was a large hearth with a painting of an older man hanging above the mantle.  He held himself with the self-assurance of one who knew who and what he was, who had no doubt about his place in life.  A small brass nameplate at the base of the portrait identified him as Thomas Carrington.  She recognized the name as one Mark had mentioned as her ancestor and the last of the family to actually live in the house.  She sighed, wishing his confidence had carried down through the generations to her.  She was still trying to find her place in life.
“Well met, Thomas Carrington.”
Two large wing-back chairs sat in front of the fireplace, with a small, ornately-carved table between them.  A brandy snifter sat on the table, evaporation marks indicating the glass had contained liquid when the family departed.
She pulled out one of the unmarked books in the bookcase, carefully turning the brittle pages.  A ledger.  As she put it back, a thick, leather-bound book caught her attention, and she pulled it out.  It was a journal, written in the bold strokes of a man’s script.
This might be interesting to read.  Maybe it can shed some light on why I never knew about our connection to this place.
She set it on the desk, and then sat in the chair.  Opening the top drawer, she saw the general clutter she expected to find in a desk drawer.  As she started to close the drawer, a red ribbon caught her attention.  Frowning, she pulled it out and discovered the ribbon was looped through a small brass key.
“Well, now.  I wonder what you unlock.”
In another drawer, she found an old scrapbook-type photo album, which she also set on the desk.  A quick inspection of the other three drawers revealed nothing of importance.  She tucked the key into her pocket, and grabbed the album and journal as she left the room.  The next four rooms turned out to be a cloakroom, and guest bedrooms.
The door at the end of the corridor opened into a parlor.  A domed skylight let in the waning light from outside.  A piano sat in front of the windows, close to the hearth.  A sideboard with linen napkins, china dishes and silver utensils arranged neatly sat against the wall to her left.  She frowned.
Were the Carringtons preparing to entertain when they left so quickly?  And why did they leave?  She wondered if she would be able to find out what had happened to make the family abandon their home so quickly and leave almost everything behind.
A portrait hung over the mantle, a young woman seated at the piano in this very room.  She was beautiful, with red hair swept up on top of her head, ringlets framing the edges of her face.  Her expression hinted at an aristocratic haughtiness, and yet there was also much love and kindness in her expression.  Innocence radiated from her.  The gown the young woman was wearing was a rich hue of green, with a beautiful garnet brooch placed between her breasts.  Something about the painting tugged at the edges of Alexis’s mind, teasing her, but she couldn’t quite place her finger on it.  Her eyes were drawn back to the face of the young woman.  It was somehow familiar to her.  Once again, she regarded the green eyes, the heart-shaped face, and then she gasped.  The young woman in the portrait was her!
My thoughts:  "She studied the faces of her ancestors, who looked back at her from their portraits as though judging her.  Shivering slightly at those disapproving stares, she continued down the corridor and entered the first room she came to." Why does she think they're judging her? Is it because of their expressions or because of how she feels? Either way, maybe the description of their disapproving faces should come before her thought that they're judging her. 
I like how the impression of Carrington as knowing his place contrasts with Alexis' feeling of still trying to find hers, and the way she addresses him. I am also curious as to how the house has come to her. Have her parents died recently? Someone else in the family? I'll be interested to find out.
Finally: "The young woman in the portrait was her!" If I saw a portrait that looked exactly like me I think I'd recognize it immediately, unless there were obvious differences like eye color or hair color, then it might take me longer. Also, is the portrait her, or does it merely look like her? An important distinction though not one that needs to be revealed yet...

Readers, what did you think of this second bit of chapter one? Any thoughts or suggestions for Angi? I'll be back tomorrow with another installment :)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Kisses from Yesterday - continued...

Yesterday I critiqued the Prologue of Angi Kelly's Adult Urban Fantasy, KISSES FROM YESTERDAY. Today I'm critiquing the beginning of Chapter One...

Chapter 1

Nashville, Georgia
Present Day

How do you live somewhere most of your life and not know the local haunted house belongs to your family?  Alexis wished she could ask her parents that question.
She opened the door and felt around for the light switch, hoping Mark Walker hadn’t been misinformed when he said Rosedawn had electricity.  She found the switch and gasped when the interior of the house sprang into view.  A chandelier hung overhead, revealing a wide foyer.  In a parlor to her right, a huge oil painting hung over the mantle, a portrait of a young woman standing in front of the very fireplace over which it hung.
In front of Alexis and to the right was a staircase with steps that curved up to the landing.  The ceiling was vaulted, and a balcony encompassed the second floor, leaving the center open.  She crossed the room to a doorway near the staircase, and went inside.  It was an office with an old roll-top desk against one wall, and a bookcase filled with books lined another.  She ran her hand over the wood of the desk, admiring the intricate details carved into it, and then she slid the top up.  Papers were scattered on its surface as though someone had just left the room.  She picked up a piece of paper that was crackly, brittle.  She lightly traced her finger over the writing, marveling at the old style.  It was a letter.  Her eyes were drawn to the inkblot near the middle of the page.  The writer never finished it.
“I thought the house would be empty, but this looks as though someone just stepped outside.” [Are these Alexis’ thoughts or did she just say this out loud? Just asking.]
She placed the paper back on the desk and left the room.  As she explored the downstairs area, she found a breezeway and followed it to an enormous kitchen.  Her mouth gaping open, she turned around in circles, trying to take it all in at once.  It was a harmonious blend of history and the modern day.  Set into the wall to her left was a huge stone fireplace, still containing the cauldron one might expect to see in a castle in medieval Europe.  The old semi-circular ovens used by the original inhabitants of the house were also still there, but their modern counterparts were set into the opposite wall.  A large island counter with two ranges dominated the center of the room, with copper pots and pans hanging over it.
“This is huge.  You could prepare a meal for an army in here.” [For some reason her speaking her thoughts out loud is jarring to me] 
A century and a half and the house looked as if the previous owners would return any minute.  The house was a moment frozen in time.  What would that moment tell her about its inhabitants?
“It seems so odd to realize no one has lived here for such a long time.  The way it looks, you’d think someone had just stepped outside.  I could move in right away.  Mark told me the caretaker and his wife have kept the house up inside and out, but he didn’t tell me about all the stuff left behind.”
She left the kitchen and decided to explore the main upstairs first, and save the two wings for another time.  She paused on the staircase as a tickling sensation crept across the back of her neck.  Her heart constricted and she took a deep breath.  She turned around and looked back down into the foyer, expecting to see someone watching her, but there was no one.  She looked back up to the top of the stairs, where old family portraits hung on the wall, and she laughed nervously.

My thoughts: How do you live somewhere most of your life and not know the local haunted house belongs to your family? What a perfect way to connect the past with the present and make the prologue relevant. Nicely done. Bonus? There's a haunted house and I love a haunted house story! The description of the house was also excellent and I got a vivid picture in my mind of that entry. The only thing that bothered me was Alexis talking out loud to herself. I may be alone in this and if so, readers, do speak up! But I think I would try to incorporate Alexis words into her observations, have her think that the kitchen is large enough to feed an army and how odd it was that no one had lived in the house for so long, and that she could move in right away if she wanted...You get the idea. But, again, that's just me and maybe Alexis is the sort of person who talks out loud to herself. Regardless, I can't wait to see what else Alexis is going to find :)

Readers, I hope you'll chime in on this first part of Chapter One, KISSES FROM YESTERDAY. Tomorrow, I'll be back with more.

Monday, July 27, 2015

First Chapter Critique - Kisses From Yesterday

This week I have a first chapter crit for you all, which I will post over the course of this week. A big thank you to Angi Kelly who submitted the prologue and first chapter of her Adult Urban Fantasy, KISSES FROM YESTERDAY.


Nashville, Georgia
Mists swirled up from the ground as early morning fog blanketed the area, hiding most of the house from view.  Dew fell on leaves—eerie, heavy plops in the silence of predawn.  Smoke curled from the chimneys as the smell of cooking permeated the land and the house itself seemed to stretch as the first streaks of dawn brightened the sky.  Saria’s heart was heavy as she trudged through the dew-laden grass, the water in her bucket sloshing against its sides.  A sense of foreboding rippled through her, prickling the hairs on her arms and the back of her neck.  She paused, looking up at the house, studying it to try to locate the cause of her unease, but nothing stood out.  Still, something was wrong.  She felt it, a heaviness that weighed on her skin.
The death of Rebecca had placed an oppressive air over the plantation that was still felt by everyone, but this…this was different.  Saria raised her eyes to the roof and gasped.  A black aura hovered over the house like a low storm cloud, covering the upper floors.  She closed her eyes against the sight as a shiver coursed through her.  Others might sense it in an abstract way, but Saria knew she was one of only a few who would actually see it.  She opened her eyes, looked back up at the aura and muttered a prayer as she hurried into the house.
She gave her bucket to Callie and frowned.  “Have you seen Mama Elsey?”
Callie nodded, glanced over her shoulder and turned back to Saria, her voice little more than a whisper.  “Prowlin’ the house.  Prayin’.  She got her powder with her.”
Saria widened her eyes and her heart thumped against her ribs.  For Mama Elsey to have her powder with her could only mean she knew about the aura.  It also meant she knew something was terribly wrong and was trying to protect those within the house.  She turned away from Callie and headed for the stairs.
Screams shattered the stillness, echoing through the house.  Saria’s heart froze in mid-beat.  A second scream set her heart into a frenzied gallop and she ran up the stairs.
Miss Rebecca’s room!
Ice formed in the pit of her stomach and spread outward, freezing her blood and making her feel as if she was running through molasses.  She almost tripped over her skirts when she saw the crowd gathered outside Miss Rebecca’s room, but she caught herself on the wall.  She pushed herself away and walked slowly toward the others.  Mama Elsey stepped toward her, her hands outstretched.
“No, chile.  You doan needs ta see this.”
Saria pushed her hands away and brushed past her.  “No, Mama.  I do need to see.  You know I’ll never believe it if I don’t.”
She pushed past the others crowded into the doorway.  Just as the blood pooled on the bedroom floor and soaked into the bed, Saria felt the blood drain from her face and pool in her feet.  Tears streamed down her cheeks as she closed her eyes against the grisly sight.  An anguished cry tore from her as she crumpled to the floor.  She felt separated from her body as she knelt, barely feeling the strong hands that gripped her shoulders.  She swallowed against the bile in her throat and tried to take a deep breath, but the air in her lungs had rushed out, and she couldn’t draw in enough breath to fill them again.
She opened her eyes and caught the dark gaze of Mama Elsey.  The black pupils seemed to widen and swirl, drawing her in as she struggled to breathe.  They were like black whirlpools, sucking at her mind, drowning her.  They seemed to widen even more, swallowing her as the darkness claimed her.
My thoughts: First I'll address the issue of the prologue, which as we all know many people do not care for, including agents and editors. I am not any of those people. I was raised on prologues so I'm okay with them as long as they're necessary. I have a great prologue for one of my novels but no matter how many times I try to reinsert it the story reads better starting from chapter one. So. A prologue must be necessary and make the story richer for being there.
That said I like this prologue. I did a little editing in that first paragraph because at first the house was mostly hidden and then it stretched, which seemed at odds. I might revise to show the fog lifting enough to see the house or maybe have the fog envelope the house but that's just my opinion. The question here is whether the house is important. If it is, I might have it enveloped or framed by the fog, if not, I'd shorten up the whole description but keep the fog and mist and dew falling on leaves. The atmosphere is perfect.
Other things I loved about this prologue: It's historical and I love history. It will be interesting to see how this history plays a part in the story. Mama Elsey and her powders. What kind of powders? I want to know, and who is Mama Elsey? The end. OMG! Who died in Rebecca's room?
 I definitely want to know what's going to happen next.
What about you, dear readers? Any thoughts on this prologue or prologues in general? Any helpful suggestions/comments for Angi? 

Tomorrow I will back with the first part of Chapter One.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Character Development

Character Development

I’ve seen a lot of stories where the story was good, but the characters were flat.  The protagonist is beautiful or handsome and seems to have no flaws.  The antagonist is inherently evil with no redeeming qualities simply because the author needs a villain.  Okay, sometimes the latter works, but usually only when you’re dealing with an entity of some type.  But humans are different.  We’re a psychologically messy and complex breed of animal.  Even the best of us have dark sides.  Geez, even the angels from the Bible have dark sides (really dark sides).  After all, Lucifer was an angel before he screwed up and was cast out of Heaven.

Characters need layers.  We don’t need to see every layer, but scenes should be written with those layers in mind.  You want to make the characters live and breathe for the readers.  You don’t have to drown us in the details, but let us inside the character’s head from time to time.  After all, ninety-nine percent of the time, we’re in that character’s POV, so we’re supposed to be in their head.  We’re supposed to hear the voices in their head when those voices are talking about the scene.

You know what I’m talking about.  When you’re arguing with someone, you’re not just listening to what they’re saying and not reacting at all.  You’re listening, and you might be thinking what a jerk this person is, or you might be in shock or disbelief this person could actually believe the words coming out of their mouth.  You’re likely to be thinking of what you’re going to say next, but you’re not likely to be staring at that person and listening to what they’re saying with drool running down your chin.  Your mind’s not going to be one big blank as they rant and rave and call you an ignorant idiot for the tenth time in two minutes.

So when we listen for those voices in the character’s head and we hear nothing but crickets chirping, it freezes us out.  Now, if the character’s mind is wandering and they’re wondering if the pants they have on makes their butt look big, no, we don’t need to see that.  Unless it somehow pertains to the scene—and I doubt that whether or not the pants make her butt look big is going to be relevant—it’s not something we need to see.  If, on the other hand, she’s fighting the urge to choke him if he calls her an ignorant idiot one more time, that might be relevant (sort of like in Hancock, when Hancock tells someone to call him a certain ugly name one more time, or when Mary tells Hancock to call her crazy one more time.  If these were written scenes, wouldn’t you just love to know what was going on in their heads at those moments?).

Just let us into the character’s head from time to time, show us what they’re thinking or feeling.  Give us opportunities to figure out what makes them tick.  Some writers think letting the readers inside the character’s head means using internal dialogue, but the same can be accomplished in narration or a combination of both.  Just remember to show us instead of telling us, and make sure you don’t slow the pace of the story.  Don’t drag on for three pages as your MC agonizes over all the reasons why she shouldn’t or can’t do this or that.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Relying on Spell Check and Grammar Check

Relying on Spell Check and Grammar Check

No matter what program you use, it likely has one or both of these functions.  However, while both are good things to have, please don’t rely on them.  Spell check can’t tell you that you should have used their instead of they’re.  It can’t tell you that you’ve transposed words.  I’ve even seen cases where the grammar function suggested an author replace “a unicorn” with “an unicorn”, simply because unicorn starts with a vowel, but “an unicorn” is incorrect.  Not only does “a vs. and” rely on whether the word starts with a vowel or not, it also relies on what sound the first letter makes.  Hence, “an hour” instead of “a hour”, “a unicorn” instead of “an unicorn”.  Make sure you read your manuscript during revisions.

And please, do not use global replace or replace all unless you’re absolutely certain the word you’re replacing isn’t part of another word.  We don’t really think about it until something draws our attention to it, but so many of our smaller words are contained within larger ones.  For example, say you’re writing a short story where your only character is female.  You decide to make her a guy.  You use replace all to change her to him.  Whoops!  Now all of the chickens on his farm no longer have feathers.  They now have feathims.  This can make for interesting reading, but it’s not a good idea.

In one manuscript I received, I sent the author an R&R because she had a really good story with some minor issues.  One thing I noticed was an odd use of the word “willow”.

Willow breath...

Willow brook...

I finally realized the author probably meant to use the word “shallow”, but since this was in an original world, I decided to mention it in my R&R.  It could have easily been a situation where the people in her world used “willow” in this fashion.  When the author responded to the R&R email, she knew exactly what had happened.  She had been using formal language in an earlier version of the manuscript and decided to make the language less formal to keep the dialogue from being stilted.  She did a replace all on the word “shall”, changing it to “will”.  Hence, “willow breath”.  Darn shame, too.  I kinda liked the unique usage of “willow”!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Watch the video.  It's funny!

Grammatical Errors

It doesn’t cross my eyes any if you have a few instances where you used double quotations when you should have used singles and vice versa, or if you have the occasional homophone confusion.  It happens, and they’re an easy enough fix.  However, if your manuscript is so riddled with errors I’m starting to think you believe:

The exclamation mark is the standard way to punctuate a sentence...

A rose is a flour and flower is what you coat chicken with before you fry it...

That single quotations are the standard for dialogue (unless you’re a British-English author.  I know that’s one of the ways you do it across the pond.)...

That it’s perfectly fine to do this!?!? or this!!!!...


And that you seem to have never cracked open a dictionary to check for spelling or meaning...

I’m probably going to reject it.  For example, literally.  While the dictionary does list a figurative meaning for the word now, it originally meant something actually happened.  So if your character says, “My head literally exploded”, you’d better get a mop, because you have a mess to clean up.  Ick.  And if their head literally exploded, how are we even discussing the matter with them?  Unless it’s from the POV of a dead character.  And while that’s been done quite well, it’s a very hard POV to pull off.  The word has been incorrectly used so much in daily language that even the dictionary has been infected.

And yes, I’m guilty of this.  I talk like that.  My head has literally exploded.  My heart has literally stopped.  I’ve literally been scared to death.  So how did I make this post?  I’m literally a ghost speaking to you from beyond the grave, that’s how.  *grin*  The word should actually be figuratively.

My head exploded, figuratively speaking.

But, since the dictionary now gives a figurative definition for literally, I suppose we’re stuck with it and will just have to suck it up and move on.  *sigh*  But there are other words authors misuse because they think the words mean something else.  It’s not uncommon, so I have no problem telling the author I don’t think they want to use that word there.  But when the author uses a lot of words incorrectly, that’s when I wonder if they’ve ever checked the definitions.  It’s easy to read a word in the context of one sentence and get the wrong impression, but you don’t want to consistently identify soup as gruel.  They’re similar, but not the same thing.

It’s easy to overlook a few of these instances, because the mind glosses over things and sees what it wants to, like the difference between reign and rein.  But, if you have a lot of these mistakes throughout the manuscript, you want to clear them up before submitting.  This is even worse if your query and synopsis contain a lot of these errors.

One additional remark about extra punctuation and all caps for emphasis.  Sometimes you do see it in books published by one of the Big Six, and that’s okay.  One, the “rules” of publishing change from time to time.  What was acceptable five years ago might not be acceptable now, and what’s acceptable now might not be acceptable in five years.  Two, it could also come down to the house style guidelines and requirements of the individual publisher.  If you really want to write, “YOOOOUUUUUU!!!!!!”, I’m likely to suggest changing it to “Yoooouuuuuu!” because several houses tell you not to use all caps for emphasis, and not to use multiple punctuation.  You’re better off not doing it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Your Manuscript Isn’t Ready

This is probably the number one issue I see.  Ninety-nine percent of these manuscripts are rejected.  They’re often riddled with grammatical errors, plot holes, continuity issues, and character development issues.  Some of these are evident in the submission, which is summarily rejected.  Others don’t show these issues until somewhere between chapters two and six, although occasionally you might not see it fall apart until half-way through.  Why am I so specific in saying between chapters two and six?  Because the majority of fulls I rejected for simply falling apart usually did so around those chapters, depending on the length of the book and the chapters.  Like other editors and agents that have commented on this issue, I believe there’s a very simple explanation.  I think it comes from workshopping the query, synopsis, and first few chapters until they shine, and then the author submitting the manuscript without applying what they learned to the rest of the novel.  This was always a disappointment.

However, I will admit this.  I had one manuscript that had a lot of issues.  In spite of the issues, the story itself was wonderful and compelling, and I wanted it.  I put that manuscript through three R&Rs before contracting it, and of course we still had edits after that.  (And before anyone asks—NO, it was not Carol’s.  *grin*)  Would I do that again?  Maybe, maybe not, but I can tell you it would have to be an amazing story in spite of the flaws.  Not just good or even great, but amazing.  I can also tell you this situation was the exception to the rule.  It’s very rare for an editor to do something like this because detailed R&Rs like the ones I sent out for that manuscript take a lot of time.

So my advice in this area is to make sure you revise your manuscript.  Send it out to betas, and if you workshop the first chapter or the first few chapters, make sure you apply what you’ve learned—or revisions you’ve made—to the rest of the manuscript.  There’s nothing stranger than reading a manuscript and learning that when Carla was a child, her mother died.  Then, Carla goes home somewhere around chapter five or six and sits down to a family dinner…complete with Mom.  And no, it wasn’t Mom’s spirit or a step-mother or anything like that.  Mom wasn’t dead in the original draft.  She died because of workshopping suggestions for some reason or another, and the family dinner scene wasn’t revised to reflect this.  Make sure your manuscript doesn’t fall apart because you revised the first few chapters and neglected the rest of it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Editors Who Write

When I tell people I’m an editor and they know I also write, somehow they’re under the impression my own writing wouldn’t need editing.  I can tell you that is false.  Even an editor needs an editor.  A person can learn to self-edit quite well.  I’ve seen plenty of evidence supporting this in the manuscripts I’ve received, both as an editor for Musa Publishing and in my freelance capacity.  I’ve had manuscripts that were pretty much grammatically clean except for the odd misspelling or occasional homophone confusion.  Most of the work I had to do on those manuscripts concerned things like character development, suggesting rephrasing for flow or clarity, or perhaps dealing with continuity issues.  I’ve also seen manuscripts that suggest the author either doesn’t have the first clue about self-editing, or they don’t even attempt it.

Editors who are also writers need an editor just as much as any other writer.  Sure, they may be good at self-editing, but like any other writer, they’re also often too close to the story to see certain things.  For example, motivation.  What motivates this character to do or say the things they do, or react a certain way?  In my current manuscript I had an early scene where two characters were interacting with each other.  My beta made a comment along the lines of, “She’s got a chip on her shoulder about something, doesn’t she?”  That was a bit of a shock, because I hadn’t intended for her to come across that way.  When I looked back at her interaction with the other character, I saw what my beta meant.  I knew why my character was responding the way she was, but the readers wouldn’t.  They didn’t know her yet, not like I did, and it’s likely other readers would have perceived her the same way.  I wanted her to come across as feisty (she is a redhead, after all!), but it wasn’t working at that particular moment.  Needless to say, I corrected the issue.

What does this have to do with mistakes I see in submissions?  Everything.  My point is all writers make mistakes, even writers who happen to be editors.  Obviously, not every writer makes the same types of mistakes, and not every writer makes the same number of mistakes.  Tomorrow I’m going to start listing some of the most common mistakes I’ve seen in manuscripts.  And yes, I’ve made these mistakes myself, but I try to get rid of them during revisions.

Please note that while I have used examples from actual manuscripts and submissions, including my own work, the examples are kept as non-specific as possible to avoid embarrassing the author.  (There are no quoted passages!)  My goal is not to embarrass or ridicule anyone.  In the course of writing, we all make mistakes that make us cringe when we’re called out on them.  These mistakes do not in any way reflect on the story as a whole, or on the quality of the entire manuscript.  Writers learn from the mistakes and triumphs of other writers, which is one of the reasons we’re encouraged to read all we can.  The examples I share are merely intended to illustrate a point.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Few Last Thoughts and a 2-Star Review

Recently, the writing group I'm a part of on Facebook was talking about a specific review on a book. It was an out there, 1-star review that said, "I hate my EX." While quite amusing, it did spark a conversation on what reviews authors like to see. One point that was brought up was important enough that I thought I'd address it here.

Remember the author has no control over the quality of printed books or the shipping times. The only time they have control is if they're shipping out the books themselves. However, in a marketplace such as Amazon, that's rarely the case. Most independent authors choose to use Amazon's CreateSpace to handle the printing and Amazon to handle the shipping. If the book you receive is of inferior quality, then feel free to mention it in the review. However, and this is important, please do not knock stars off the review because of this. Please rate the book based on the story and the author's ability to write.

I'll admit that idea is backwards, because most of the time we write reviews on products specifically aimed at quality and how well it does what it was meant to do. For example, a bathroom scale. We would review how accurate it is, how it looks, how well it stands up to use, etc. Books are a different animal. What they are "meant to do" is sweep us off to another land, another time, another whatever and let us experience the world through another viewpoint. And that is what we want to review. How well did the author do?

With that in mind, here's the one and only 2-star review I've written and posted publicly. The author did a smashing job writing and editing, but in my opinion, missed with the story line itself.

Brandye Dui-Erâth was born under a blood red moon and in the midst of a fire that claimed his parents’ lives while leaving him untouched. Because of these auspicious beginnings, no one trusted him, not even when his grandfather came to claim him in order to raise him and took him to another town. The story of his birth seemed to follow him wherever he went.
Brandye grew up on his grandfather’s tales of a Darkness that claimed the rest of the world, leaving Consolation as the only place where Light still prevailed. Coupled with a curiosity about the world around him, fostered by his grandfather, Brandye grew up in a time when Darkness began to creep across the final bastion of light.

Having found only friends in a single family that didn’t look down upon him and the circumstances of his birth, Brandye grew and became a young man in charge of his destiny.

My Opinion:

I have just done what I swore I’d never do; which is post a 2-star review. I normally keep these silent and contact the author directly. However, this is a different case entirely. The story itself is well-written and there are almost no errors in the manuscript itself. That is impressive. And for many, this book may be great. I read all 250+ pages of it just fine.

As a writer, I’m well aware of the need to create an elaborate back story for characters, especially the main character, in order to be able to show a rich and complete character to the reader. Unfortunately, in my opinion, that’s all this book was. It was the intricate back story that tells us what made Brandye what he is. I kept waiting for the story to fully develop and things to happen. While there are great scenes in the book where I thought, “Here we go, there’s the story,” it would fall short and back up a bit. Those great areas could easily have been worked into a different book as flashbacks, or something similar, so we could see what happened to make Brandye the way he was. When this book ended, I thought, “Now we reach what should have been the first book.”

Do not get me wrong. This entire book was well-written. That is the reason why I’m leaving a 2-star review for the first time. There are plenty of people out there that may very well disagree with me and believe this made a terrific first book to what appears will be a great series. I will admit that I’m intrigued and would be willing to read the second book to see what happens next. There are so many ways this could go from the end point that I’m fascinated to see what will happen.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Grave Beginnings Review

Here's a review I did awhile back. The author was looking for feedback on his cover, and I liked it and his blurb so much I immediately went out and bought it. You should head out to Amazon and read a few more of the reviews for this book. You'll see all kinds to give you an idea of some fairly good and creative reviews.

Meet Vincent Graves. Who is he? He’s not 100% sure himself. All he knows is he died under “strange and mysterious circumstances” awhile back. Now, his soul is bounced back into newly deceased bodies whose previous owners also died under “strange and mysterious circumstances.” He learned real quick that meant the same as “supernatural.” He has bounced in and out of so many people, he’s not even sure who he was anymore, however, he at least gets to retain some of the memories and skills of the people he’s inhabited.

His job is to figure out what killed the person whose body he is now occupying and put an end to it. To aid him in this, he keeps a journal of each thing he encounters. Since he can’t take it with him when he switches bodies, he hands it off to his caretaker. At the beginning of every job, he enters the nearest church, grabs his journal and receives a snazzy countdown tattoo. He has yet to fail in his job, but there’s always a first time for everything.

This go-around, Vincent ends up in the body of Norman Smith, who was once the curator of the American Museum of Natural History. As he goes around trying to figure out what killed Norman, he has a run in with the FBI and meets Special Agent Camilla Ortiz. She turns out to be a rather interesting woman.

Honestly, I don’t want to give anything away. Virdi has a fun style of writing and the entire book was enjoyable from beginning to end. The idea is a great one and he obviously had fun writing Vincent Graves. It has a definite feel of Jim Butcher, reminiscent of the Dresden Files. I will admit I enjoyed this more than the Dresden Files books. Okay, that might be blasphemy to some, but hey! A girl has the right to her opinion.  There might have been a few sneaky bits tucked in from a few TV shows, but I can’t prove that. I found the sense of humor that ran through the entire book great.

Virdi uses some harsh language here and there, but considering what Vincent goes through? It’s understandable. He also has a thing for ellipses (…) and periodically using periods in odd places to emphasize something. For example, “Stop. Moving. Right. Now.” That kind of thing. So if that drives you insane, you’ve been warned.  There are a few editing issues here and there, but those can be fixed over time. Personally? I can’t wait for the next book to come out.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Importance of Being a Reviewer

Until the beginning of 2015, I had never written a book review anywhere. Not that I didn’t read books, but it never occurred to me to write a review. I did contact an author directly once to let him know the family loved his books, but that’s it. It wasn’t until recently I realized how important those reviews really were.

I began A Drop of Ink Reviews because of a group of writers I hang out with on Facebook. Their number one complaint was how readers wouldn't leave reviews for their books. I figured becoming a reviewer would be a good way to give back to the authors who spend endless hours honing their craft so I can have a few hours of enjoyment. I have found writing reviews to be quite enjoyable and it's fun to share my opinion with everyone. :-)

You might be looking at your screen right now telling me, “I don’t know how to review.” This is where I tell you, “It’s easy!” Think of it this way. You just read a terrific book and you want to tell your best friend that she (or he) needs to read it. That person will look at you and ask, “Why?” That’s exactly what the book buyer is asking. Why should they buy this book? Why should they spend their valuable time reading it? All you are doing is taking a few minutes to go out and say why someone should or should not read this book. 

What are some things you can mention in a review?


Well, some good tips are to mention if there are a lot of errors in the book. This is especially important if the book is independently published. The standard is to ignore up to about 5 minor errors. After that, mention them. 

Did you particularly love or hate a certain character? Were you upset when the book was over? Other readers LOVE to know your reaction to a book. 

You don’t need to be long and gushy in a review, unless you really loved the book and want everyone to know. You don’t need to write an essay paper about a book you read in your spare time. A simple “I liked it because X, Y, and Z” is enough. 

What you should NEVER do in a book review is leave spoilers! Don’t tell other readers how the book ends. That’s just cruel. They want to take that adventure on their own, so let them. My personal ‘rule’on this one is to only include details that can easily be read in the sample you can download from Amazon or approximately halfway through chapter 2. That way, you know for sure you’re not giving anything away. I have said I didn’t like an ending in a review before, but I didn't give away why I didn’t like the ending. 

What if you didn’t like the book? Should you leave a review?


That’s entirely up to you. I have given a book a 2-star review once. I tend to speak directly with the author when I had a major problem with their book. I'll admit that option is easier for me since I'm asked specifically by the author to review the book. However, you can definitely tell others why you didn’t like it. It very well could be what you didn’t like is something another reader DOES like. Maybe a book had too many “scenes” you didn’t like or there was too much cursing or any other number of things that other readers might not be concerned with. 

Authors don't mind bad reviews, as long as they contain constructive criticism about what it was exactly the reader didn't like. There's usually a concrete reason why we didn't like a book. So if you can pinpoint that reason and share it, then it's a 'good' negative review. Some reasons might include the number of errors being too much, there were too many plot holes, the characters just didn't engage you, etc. Any one of those reasons is perfectly legitimate and gives the author a good idea of what to look for in the future. Don't bash the author for no good reason. Those reviews don't help the author or another reader.

All of this applies to traditionally published books as well. During a ‘break’ from independent works, I dove into books I’ve read time and time again in the past. This year, I decided I’d finally review them. I was honestly shocked to find out this NYT bestselling author only had 65 reviews on one of her books and it had been out for years. Trust me, your review counts no matter who wrote the book or how it was published.

So take a deep breath and go review that book you just read. It’s not as hard as you think and won’t take you very long. Probably a lot less time than it took me to write this blog post. ;-)