Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Page Critique: Star Calvin

NOTE: Be sure to check out the drawing giveaway on Dear-Editor.com! Details and link on my sidebar for your chance at a FULL manuscript critique with a former editor. [giveaway expired January 31, 2011]

Today's post features a first-page excerpt sent to me for critique. This is taken from a YA novel.

THE EXCERPT

“Summer! Star Calvin is passing out sample CD’s for free right now in the quad.” Mandy’s braces gleam under the florescent cafeteria lights.

Lucky for me, I got my braces off in the middle of last semester. I’ve been practically metal free the entire tenth grade. Perfect smile, except for the fact it was sort of a waste since I really don’t bother twisting my lips in that particular direction.

“I don’t want a CD.” OK, so maybe I secretly do, but not because it even remotely comes close to what the world classifies as singing. More like some mutant cat gasping for air. She’s a total train wreck in front of the mike but she’s Star Calvin daughter of some wannabe music mogul here in Hollywood and soon I suspect she’ll be topping the charts worldwide. It just goes that way for her. Captain of the cheer squad? Check. Tenth grade class rep? Check. Cute quarter back boyfriend? Check. (Make that two jock-bots that are vying for her stray affections. I hear there’s some turf war ready to break out any second. Personally? I hope it gets ugly.) Lead singer of a band of her own making? Of course. What would the Shooting Stars be without Star and her amazing ability to lure the audience into the fantasy that she can actually sing?

I snatch the CD from Mandy. “What’s the name of this? Sounds of Star dying?”

“Shush!” Mandy’s dark spiral curls dance around her shoulders.


THE CRITIQUE

“Summer! Star Calvin is passing out sample CD’s for free right now in the quad.” Mandy’s braces gleam under the florescent cafeteria lights.

First Thoughts
1. I like the detail of Mandy's braces gleaming in the lights. I like the name Star Calvin, although I wasn't sure initially if it was the name of a person, a group, band, or what. The braces sentence also does a nice double duty in letting the reader know the setting, since cafeteria usually means a school. I wasn't sure what a quad is in a school (I'm only familiar with it as a college dorm room set-up), but I get the general idea from context.
2. According to oxforddictionaries.com, florescent is a common misspelling for fluorescent. Don't ask me why Word is not flagging it as incorrect as I write this blog in a document.
3. Beware of using italics too much. Personally, I'd omit the italics on "free" in the opening and leave it on "dying" near the end. If Star is passing CDs out, free is sorta implied, so "free" wouldn't need an emphasis. Not sure about italicizing Star Calvin; the italics are awfully close together, however.
Starting with Dialogue
There seems to be an unwritten "rule" about not starting novels with dialogue. This is not to say one can NEVER do it--famous writers have done it, and pulled it off well. It's just that it's apparently difficult to do well, and agents' and editors' eyebrows go quirking up when writers begin with dialogue. The main reason it's advised against is that the reader is dropped into a scene mid-action, without knowing who the characters are, if the character is someone worth caring about, who's speaking, or what's going on. This can be disconcerting or confusing.
Introducing an MC
There's almost an inherent assumption by readers that the first character they encounter is the main character. Here that would be Mandy, and she is not the MC. This may throw readers off.

Lucky for me, I got my braces off in the middle of last semester. I’ve been practically metal free the entire tenth grade. Perfect smile, except for the fact it was sort of a waste since I really don’t bother twisting my lips in that particular direction.

Wording
1. The phrase "in the middle of" seems unnecessary. If it's not crucial to the plot, this info could be easily omitted. Last semester is specific enough.
2. Watch out for qualifiers like "practically." I mean, was she metal-free or not? Perhaps the idea is more practically the entire tenth grade rather than practically metal-free, in which case the word needs to be moved, to after "free." I'm thinking metal-free would be hyphenated.
3. I got snagged on the use of the word "twisting" when referring to a smile. To me, twisting sounds more like a smirk or a sneer rather than a true cheery smile. Perhaps another verb could be used here, such as moving, slanting, or arranging? (like: Arranging my lips into that particular formation). I dunno; it could just be me.
Story Flow, Info
Having this paragraph in between the lines of dialogue works for Summer's reflection, but it does break up the dialogue and story flow. This might not be good, especially this close to the opening. I do like the "metal-free" sentiment, and that sentence reveals her age and grade nicely without being too info-y.

“I don’t want a CD.” OK, so maybe I secretly do, but not because it even remotely comes close to what the world classifies as singing. More like some mutant cat gasping for air. She’s a total train wreck in front of the mike but she’s Star Calvin daughter of some wannabe music mogul here in Hollywood and soon I suspect she’ll be topping the charts worldwide. It just goes that way for her. Captain of the cheer squad? Check. Tenth grade class rep? Check. Cute quarter back boyfriend? Check. (Make that two jock-bots that are vying for her stray affections. I hear there’s some turf war ready to break out any second. Personally? I hope it gets ugly.) Lead singer of a band of her own making? Of course. What would the Shooting Stars be without Star and her amazing ability to lure the audience into the fantasy that she can actually sing?

Length, Clarity, and Gender
1. This paragraph has a nice chatty voice for Summer's inner thoughts, although it's a bit long of a paragraph that could perhaps be condensed or split into two. Although YA novels admittedly have longer paragraphs than MG.
2. The "it" in the second sentence was confusing to me. At first I thought she meant a CD in general, so I wasn't sure why any/all CDs would sound like a mutant cat. Could just be me.
3. Also, I was a little thrown off because I thought Star Calvin was a GUY these 2 girls were oozing over (well, Mandy at least is blatantly oozing), and this paragraph reveals Star is a female. So when this paragraph said "she" was a train wreck in front of the mike, I thought it was referring to the friend Mandy.
Little Things
1. Totally love the mutant cat gasping for air bit! Very nice. (That's actually more than a "little thing"!)
2. A comma would be good after mike for sentence clarity since that's a long sentence, or put one after Calvin. Or both.
3. Quarterback is one word.
4. Jock-bots (which is a clever idea) are probably a who instead of a that, unless their robotic nature is being emphasized. Perhaps better yet, omit "that are" completely.
5. Nice sentiment on the "Personally? I hope it gets ugly" which shows Summer's character and voice.
6. Sometimes I see parentheses in novels and I find it slightly odd; it's done I suppose. Just make sure you don't overdo them.

I snatch the CD from Mandy. “What’s the name of this? Sounds of Star dying?”
“Shush!” Mandy’s dark spiral curls dance around her shoulders.

Confuddlements
1. I was a bit surprised to find Mandy had a CD in her hand for Summer to snatch. I had assumed Mandy wanted to go over and get one with Summer, and that's why she mentioned it in the opening lines.
2. I'm not sure why Mandy's curls are dancing…it almost sounds like they're doing it on their own--as if they're alive. Is she bouncing around? Did she move her head?
Kudos
Dialogue tags aren't overused in this excerpt, which is a good thing. I like the humor here in Summer's internal thoughts as well as in the characters' interchange. This piece has a catchy, lively voice that is good for light teen/YA reading. Star Calvin is a great character name. Conflict is introduced early, as Summer's wistful jealousy toward the dubiously talented yet ever-popular Star Calvin.

YOUR TURN
Can you add any other helpful comments to this critique?
Have you ever started out a novel with dialogue--and did anyone advise you NOT to?
Do you ever use parentheses in your novels?
Like me, do you find yourself overusing italics?
And whew!--thorough critiques like this make for very long posts. Are you skimming, and should I try to condense this info?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Page Critique: Prehistoric YA (+ Awards)

Today's post features a first-page excerpt sent to me for critique. This is taken from a YA Prehistoric-Fantasy novel entitled The Last of Her Kind.

THE EXCERPT
I shadow the teenage boys deep into the caverns and hide in the crevices to watch. I dare not to breathe as they scrape the cave walls smooth with sharp flints. They run their stubby black stained fingers over the walls, smoothing them before they draw. It makes me laugh to see Muhuli steal all the charcoal sticks, the ones he’s taken from the hearth fires, so the boys are forced to beg him for charcoal before they draw. Just like Muhuli to be bullish with everyone.

Muhuli is the pimply boy who drools over me. Every chance the brute gets, he pins me against the cave wall. I smack him with my fists to free myself, but he just laughs like a hyena and does it again. “Mate me Mecha,” Muhuli says licking his lips and rotating his fat outstretched tongue, “You know you want me!”

I’m tempted to rip his tongue out, but Muhuli would only think this gesture was cute and fondle me again. “Muhuli, if I wanted you, you’d be another man.” But there he stands looking down at his wide, splayed feet with that empty look in his boiled, uncomprehending eyes. By the time he gets it, I’m long gone. I’d rather jump off a cliff than mate with Muhuli. He’s got that oily way of sticking to you like globs of animal fat. The more you try to wipe it off, the more is spreads all over you.

The boys step back and study the shape of the wall, memorizing its curves and contours. Their sketches of gored bison, lion attacks, and dueling bucks appear as if the animals are charging towards them, causing lots of laughter and jabbing in the ribs.

THE CRITIQUE
I shadow the teenage boys deep into the caverns and hide in the crevices to watch. I dare not to breathe as they scrape the cave walls smooth with sharp flints. They run their stubby black stained fingers over the walls, smoothing them before they draw. It makes me laugh to see Muhuli steal all the charcoal sticks, the ones he’s taken from the hearth fires, so the boys are forced to beg him for charcoal before they draw. Just like Muhuli to be bullish with everyone.
First Thoughts
The first sentence introduces a sense of conflict right away. The reader is caught up, wondering…hide in the crevices to watch WHAT? She's sneaking around, so something is up.
Little Things
1. I'm not sure "to" is needed in "dare not to breathe." Dare not breathe may be enough.
2. I'm wondering how the boys are seeing if they are deep into the caverns. Do they have torches or other forms of light? Obviously, the girl doesn't have a light, in order to keep her secrecy.

3. Black-stained should be hyphenated; this prevents it from sounding like their fingers can be described three ways: stubby, black, and stained. A comma after stubby would also help cl
arify.4. In that same sentence, "them" is ambiguous or misleading. FINGERS is the subject of the sentence, not the walls, so it sounds like they are smoothing their fingers instead of the walls as intended. Rewording might be good for clarity.
5. Her laughing clashes a bit with her reaction (disgust, loathing) to Muhuli in the next paragraphs. Unless she's laughing in scorn rather than genuine amusement; it's hard to tell which, here.


Muhuli is the pimply boy who drools over me. Every chance the brute gets, he pins me against the cave wall. I smack him with my fists to free myself, but he just laughs like a hyena and does it again. “Mate me Mecha,” Muhuli says licking his lips and rotating his fat outstretched tongue, “You know you want me!”
Character Names
It's always good to vary the names of characters so they don't all start with the same letter; these two names sound close to each other, and may be difficult for the reader to keep straight. Muhuli also sounds more tropical island-y than caveman, but that could just be me.
Clarity of Timing & Tense
1. I'm unsure about the phrase "does it again"--does what, pin her against the wall? She's smacking him to free herself, but I'm getting the impression it's NOT working because he just laughs. So if she's still pinned, how can he "do it again"? This phrase could easily be omitted, in my opinion. Just end the sentence with him laughing like a hyena.
2. When the dialogue began, I almost wasn't sure if it was happening in real time, rather than her past reflection. That could be partly because of the wording used. Perhaps say: Muhuli always says, licking his lips.

Miscellaneous
1. Commas would help for clarity after "Mate me" and "says."
2. Fat is repeated for the tongue as well as the globs of fat. Perhaps change one of these? Maybe a thick tongue rather than a fat one?

3. If a comma is used in the last sentence, You would not be capped. If a period is used, it would be capped.


I’m tempted to rip his tongue out, but Muhuli would only think this gesture was cute and fondle me again. “Muhuli, if I wanted you, you’d be another man.” But there he stands looking down at his wide, splayed feet with that empty look in his boiled, uncomprehending eyes. By the time he gets it, I’m long gone. I’d rather jump off a cliff than mate with Muhuli. He’s got that oily way of sticking to you like globs of animal fat. The more you try to wipe it off, the more is spreads all over you.
Wording
1. Mecha wouldn't actually be able to rip his tongue out--and he wouldn't truly think that was cute if she were able. I think if it was reworded to say "to TRY TO rip his tongue out" it might work better. She would try (and fail), and Muhuli would definitely think it's "cute" that she tried grabbing his tongue.
2. The word "but" is used 3 times in this excerpt, and 2 are too close together. This word is overused by a LOT of writers. Including me, I confess.

3. I like the adjectives "wide, splayed" and "boiled, uncomprehending," but there seems to be a few too many of them, and the construction is similar (two adjectives, separated by a comma). Perhaps omit one? I'd choose to omit splayed, though it's an interesting word.

4. On the last line, is "is" simply a typo for "it"? The more it spreads all over you? Alternately, it could be worded: "the more it gets spread all over you" or "the more it's/it is spread all over you." Seems to flow better with any of those changes. I like the comparison between Muhuli and the animal fat.


The boys step back and study the shape of the wall, memorizing its curves and contours. Their sketches of gored bison, lion attacks, and dueling bucks appear as if the animals are charging towards them, causing lots of laughter and jabbing in the ribs.
I'm a little surprised the boys have the artistic ability to make the animals look as though they are charging toward them, which would probably include the use of foreshortening or shading. I'm also a bit confused in that the walls seemed blank in the beginning paragraph, as well as in the first sentence here, and yet there are animals sketched by the last sentence. Perhaps clarify, here.

Summary: Kudos
The verbs here are nicely active, the opening lines contain conflict, and the details are vivid and effective even though some of them are disgusting, such as the fat tongue and the glob wiping. I like Mecha's spunk and ability to stick up for herself, and found it amusing that she's teasing Muhuli in an intellectual way that takes him a while to figure out. Duh!

************************

AWARDS
Believe it or not, I've been given yet another blog award--TWO of them, in fact! A big thank you to Alexia Chamberlynn (click to visit) who gave me The Fair Dinkum (good buddy) Award. And a likewise big thank you to Margo Kelly (click to visit) who gave me The Stylish Blogger Award.


As per the rules, some new things about me:
1. I wore braces for 3 1/2 years--but not until I was 39 years old
2. I live in a (non-trailer-trash) mobilehome park in southern Oregon
3. I'm a middle child…yes, the stories are all true about middle children *grin*
4. My mom lives only 1 block away; we quilt together
5. I have a BA in Studio Arts from Pacific University, OR, but I do more writing than artwork these days. The artwork I do lately involves designing webpages, blogs, or logos rather than drawings or paintings.

As per the rules, I'm passing these award on to some new friends. Go forth and meet them! Award Winners: Choose whichever award you like better! You're all stylish bloggers as well as bloggy buddies, so it's up to you.

1. Liz Davis at Novel Moments
2. Patti Nielson at Patti Nielson
3. Paul Joseph at Paul Joseph
4. Michelle Merrill at Perfecting the Craft
5. Katie at Southern Scrawl

YOUR TURN
Can you add any other helpful comments to the above critique?
Do you think the subject matter of this novel is "suitable" for YA, or would it be objectionable to some readers? If not objectionable as is, would it be if it got MORE violent or explicit?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Giveaway WINNERS + Award

ANNOUNCING!
Courtesy of random.org, the 5 winners of my 100-follower giveaway are:

1. Jennie Bailey
2. Kim Kasch
3. Cinette Santangelo
4. Talei Loto
5. T. Anne Adams

Congratulations, and many thanks to all who entered. I will have a chapter critique giveaway when I reach 150, so stay tuned for more chances, ya'll!

WINNERS:
Write to me at artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com and list your top 3 choices for prizes, with #1 being the prize you most want. Include your mailing address if you want books or ornaments. (For prizes I have only ONE of, I will use random.org if more than one person chooses the same #1.)

The Prize Choices: free chapter critiques, gardening animal ornaments, fox and Santa ornaments, Junction 2020 book, Incarceron book, Dark Life book.


VERSATILE BLOGGER AWARD
Thanks to Donea Lee, I've been awarded a NEW version of the Versatile Blogger Award!
Visit her blog HERE.

As per the rules, I will list 7 things about me, and pass the award on to 7 others.

Since I'm running out of new tidbits about myself due to receiving awards in fairly rapid succession, I've been forced to get creative. I'm listing loglines from 7 of my YA novels (all of which are permanently shelved and chalked up to practice):

1. AS IF BY LIGHTNING (light fantasy/magical realism).
When Lynzee has a close encounter with a bolt of lightning during a summer storm, she is catapulted back to 1969 into the 16-year-old body of a dull spinster she has met in the present day, and finds challenges as well as a startling romance.
2. THE TWIN SUNS OF INNIS (light fantasy)
Upon finding a rare monkey-like creature called a ferm, 17-year-old Niesha sets out to return the creature to its natural habitat, only to find herself ensnared in a sinister plot (involving stinging rodents called leevils) to overthrow the royal city of Sernish.
3. SEAL MOON (light fantasy/magical realism)
Thirteen-year-old Marina loves the ocean, and is secure in her adoption by a middle-aged couple despite her peculiar origins of being a foundling on the beach; she never dreams what those past events and other future events will reveal--that she is a seal changeling. (Translated: selkie, but written before I knew about the concept of selkies.)
4. SHATTERED REFLECTION (contemporary)
Spending the summer near Sacramento while her parents work a temporary job, Danica discovers a budding romance that seems to hold much promise until the night of the town fair, when she discovers her new boyfriend has unknowingly and simultaneously asked another girl to be his date: the twin sister she never knew she had.
5. THE MAZE (light fantasy, actually my one and only MG novel)
Sierra and her pesky younger brother Nathan climb over the neighbor's wall in order to investigate a mysterious hedge maze, and encounter a labyrinth filled with magical and terrifying things--including the sister she's always wanted, and a very real Minotaur.
6. SALTWATER REVENGE (contemporary)
When Karleen must spend the summer at her aunt and uncle's in the town where her younger brother drowned six years ago, she must face her fears of the ocean, and in doing so discovers a staggering truth: her brother has instead been kidnapped and held by a man who is imprisoning kids in his basement.
7. THE THIRTEENTH PRINCESS (historical-ish; specific location invented)
In nineteenth-century America, Mellia is kidnapped and shipped to be a slave in the palace on the East Indian island of Dhambari; she struggles to escape the stark cruelty there, and her life becomes acquainted and intertwined with the life of the Raja's thirteenth daughter.

I'm passing the award on to these blogs I've recently discovered. Go forth and visit!

1. Amy Keuser at A.B. Keuser
2. M.J.A. Ware at The Missing Word
3. Abby Minard at Above Water
4. Michael Winchell at Beanstalks & Bookends
5. Brigitte at Brimagination
6. Chris Phillips at Slushpile Savant
7. Kimberly at Meetings with My Muse

YOUR TURN
If you're not a giveaway winner, what would've been YOUR first choice prize?
Do you have time to go visit the blogs I've passed the award on to?
Which of my 7 shelved novels sound the most interesting to read?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

YAY! 100 Followers Giveaway

Many thanks to the new followers who have stopped by lately and added their tiny shiny faces to my blogroll. I appreciate each and every one of you, bloggy buddies! What a great way to start out 2011. I have now reached 100 FOLLOWERS, so celebrate with me!


Feel free to copy/use this badge for your own celebration when you hit 100 followers. Or email me at artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com, and I can change the number to the one you're celebrating and send it to you. I can change the overall size, too.

For my giveaway celebration, FIVE WINNERS will receive their choice of:

1. A free, private chapter critique from me, 20 pages max (double-spaced, 12 point). I'm most familiar with MG or YA, and tend to do annoyingly thorough line-by-line critiques.

2. This adorable pair of animal decorations/ornaments. Notice the cute li'l spades!


3. A lovely pair of ornaments, a fox and Santa's sleigh, for next year's Christmas.


4. Junction 2020, my paperback POD novel.

New Year's Eve, 2019. Mari Stratton arrives at Stefanie Anders' New Year's party with her brother Randall and her hearing-impaired friend Lauren. Tony Rodriguez joins them when a collecting game begins in the fields outside prior to the New Year's countdown. When midnight strikes, Mari and the four others are propelled by a violent green storm into a confusing landscape where ruthless riders on horseback hunt them down. This bizarre alternate world features the things Mari adores as well as the things she fears the most. She must navigate this landscape, develop courage, and help figure out how to get back to the real world. This novel is the first in a five-part series but is complete and can be read by itself. Grade 6 Up.


5. Incarceron, Book 1 by Catherine Fisher, hardcover.


Finn is a 17-year old prisoner of Incarceron. He knows nothing about his heritage except for vague memories, and he is determined to escape the prison fashioned centuries ago as a solution to the chaos mankind created. Legend claims only one man has ever escaped, Sapphique. Claudia, the warden's daughter, also longs for escape--from a father who frightens her and from betrothal to an insipid prince. Finn and Claudia each discover a crystal key and are amazed to find that they can communicate with each other. As their trust in one another builds, each pledges to help the other. Grade 7 Up.

6. Dark Life by Kat Falls, hardcover.


In this futuristic tale, 15-year-old Ty has spent his whole life in a deep-sea colony. His family and the other pioneers provide fish and other food for the Commonwealth citizens who live aboveground in stacked cities following earthquakes and tsunamis that destroyed much of the Earth. The pioneers chafe under the harsh rule of the Commonwealth, a situation made worse when the subsea dwellers are ordered to capture a gang of terrorizing pirates. Ty is swept up in the hunt when Gemma, a "Topsider" orphan, comes to his community to search for her missing brother--who may have ties to the pirates. Grade 6-10.

To enter, do 3 simple things:
1. Become a follower if you're not one already
2. Leave a comment on THIS POST so I know you want to enter
3. Enter by Tuesday, January 11, 2011, by midnight PST

Six winners will be chosen randomly and announced on Wednesday, January 12, 2011.

GOOD LUCK!!

Your Turn: Blogging
Have you reached 100 followers, and did you/will you have a celebration? how about 200 or 500?
When someone follows you, do you visit their blog and/or follow them?
Do you reply to blog comments, or does a busy schedule prevent you from doing that?
Do you agree that comment moderation (approving a comment before it can be posted) deters comments?