Wednesday, July 25, 2012

PAGE CRITIQUE: YA fantasy


Announcement: Due to continued busy-ness in my life as well as an admitted fit of blogging fatigue, after this I will be posting ONLY on the 1st and 3rd WEDNESDAYS of each month. I hope to connect with you all still, throughout the month. 

Today's excerpt for critique is from Kelly Walker's YA fantasy novel, Cornerstone. Please add your helpful feedback below. Currently my critique queue is empty! So send your 250-word excerpts to artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com if you'd like a critique. Paste it into the email; no attachments please.

THE EXCERPT
Prologue

Mostly she didn't want to see. But she couldn't help looking through the worn floorboards above her. The older children often came under here to play hide and seek and other childish games. But they weren't playing now. Crouched in the small space below the kitchens, Mairi held the children tightly in the folds of her dress. “Quiet” she mouthed at them. Silently, she prayed they would understand. She tried to cover their faces, to bury them in her dirty linen apron so they wouldn't see their mother above. If she was right, no child should see this. Her own daughter clung tightly to her side.

Desperate words came from above. “No, please... No!” The last word came out as a strangled scream. Trembling, the children stayed quiet.

There were two men upstairs. Men who clearly didn't belong here. They had ridden over the hill with the morning sun. Two small dots moving purposefully closer, closer still. As soon as her mistress had seen them coming, a stillness had come over her. She didn't know how, but Mairi thought it was almost as if she had known why they came. As they closed the distance to the house, Mairi could see they were dressed all in brown, with heavy cloaks hanging loose around their shoulders. Their clothes wore the dust of many days travel. Their faces set, steeled against the task before them. Deftly leaping off his horse, the taller of the men strode toward her.

MY CRITIQUE
1. First Impressions. Since this is YA, I expected the main character to be a teen. As I read, I reminded myself this was a Prologue, so the age of the character could be younger or older than that. I tried to pin the age down. The third sentence says "older children," and I thought that might mean older than the MC. So I thought perhaps she was very young, a flashback or memory from the rest of the novel. Yet when the children huddled in her dress folds, she sounded older/teen-like, and finally with the last sentence in the first paragraph, I realized she was old enough to have a child.

2. Clarity. Some parts were puzzling or not quite clear to me. I got snagged on the second sentence, wondering how she could see through the worn floorboards. Worn, to me, indicates wear and tear, not something transparent or with spaces between. The setting was ambiguous to me; were they in a cellar or basement? Also, initially, I wondered why older children would play hide-and-seek, as opposed to younger children.

3. Telling adverbs. There are quite a few adverbs--which usually tell instead of show--in this short excerpt: mostly, tightly, silently, tightly, clearly, purposefully, deftly. It's best to use adverbs sparingly, and try to use stronger verbs in their place. Especially with "clung tightly." Clinging in itself indicates a tightness, so the adverb "tightly" isn't necessary.

4. Starting point, tense, and order of events. The action seemed to start at one point of danger, with the men already there confronting the mistress, and then the story apparently backed up to tell how the intruders got there. And since the third paragraph is written with tenses like: "Mairi could see" rather than "Mairi had seen," then I began to wonder if it really was a backflash after all. If it is indeed a backflash, I questioned whether that the best order. Could/should this Prologue begin with the men arriving rather than showing Mairi's huddling with the children?

5. Density of paragraphs. There are fairly solid blocks of paragraphs here. White space is inviting to a reader, and paragraphing can actually amp up the drama to a scene by drawing it out visually. For instance, when Mairi mouthed "Quiet," to the children, that seemed a natural place to begin a new paragraph.

6. Possessive needed. Their clothes wore the dust of many days travel. Should be days' travel, as in travel belonging to or pertaining to many days.

Kudos
The way this is written, there is a very nice sense of tension and danger. I also like the protectiveness of Mairi's character, even though I know she will not be the novel's main character. I like her name, too, being a fan of more unusual names. The scene is engaging--I would like to find out what happens next, to see who these men are, why they are confronting Mairi's mistress, and the ultimate fate of Mairi and the children.

YOUR TURN
What can you add to this feedback?
What is your stand on Prologues--to use or not to use? Does this one work well here?
Would've you preferred the scene started as the men arrived, before Mairi huddled with the children--or do you think the order is fine as written?
How often do YOU blog? Are you feeling fatigued?


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

NEVER SURRENDER: Elana Johnson



I'm baaaack to the blogosphere! I've moved to California and trying to adjust to 103 degree weather. It's like walking around in an oven. No wonder everyone has A/C here!

Today Elana Johnson is my cyberguest. Her debut novel POSSESSION has now been followed by the release of its companion/sequel, SURRENDER. Let's help her celebrate!

About SURRENDER: 
Raine has always been a good girl. She lives by the rules in Freedom. After all, they are her father’s rules: He’s the Director. It’s because of him that Raine is willing to use her talent—a power so dangerous, no one else is allowed to know about it. Not even her roommate, Vi. 

All of that changes when Raine falls for Gunner. Raine’s got every reason in the world to stay away from Gunn, but she just can’t. Especially when she discovers his connection to Vi’s boyfriend, Zenn. Raine has never known anyone as heavily brainwashed as Vi. Raine’s father expects her to spy on Vi and report back to him. But Raine is beginning to wonder what Vi knows that her father is so anxious to keep hidden, and what might happen if she helps Vi remember it. She’s even starting to suspect Vi’s secrets might involve Freedom’s newest prisoner, the rebel Jag Barque.... 

So! Let's ask Elana some questions about these books and her writing.

POSSESSION
1. For this book you snagged an awesome blurb from James Dashner, who wrote THE MAZE RUNNER. How did you manage to do that? 
Well, James lives here in Utah, and he’s the nicest person on the planet. So I emailed him and asked, and he said yes! Then he gave me a superb blurb. (Oh my heck! Did you see what I did there?? That’s a RHYME.)

2. My fave bit of tech was the silver cube Vi used that caused whatever food she requested to materialize. If you had such a cube, what 3 foods would you wish to appear? 
Oh, this is too easy. 1. Bacon. 2. Pepperoni pizza. 3. Cheese—harvati with dill, please.

3. Surprisingly, as happily-ever-after as I usually am, the sad ending didn't bother me. I knew a companion book would follow, plus I thought what happened was very apt for the dystopian society and plot. Do you think dystopian books are almost required to end on a less-than-happy note, as part of the genre?  
Hmmm, I’m not sure. I’ve read plenty of dystopians that still wrap themselves up neatly in a nice, red bow. POSSESSION doesn’t do that. It’s not that there can’t be a happy ending, it’s just that there’s not right now. 

I think most other dystopians end on a high note, sort of like “Now we know what’s wrong with our society, so let’s take ‘em down!” kind of battle cry. Those novels have hope. POSSESSION is different in that way too. 

SURRENDER
1. Big burning question. How do you pronounce Raine--is the "e" silent and pronounced like rain or Ray-een, or is it pronounced like Rainy? 
It’s “rain” like the water that falls from the sky.

2. What was the most challenging part of writing SURRENDER? (Any scenes or aspects of writing this particular book, or in writing a companion book in general.)
This is going to sound lame, but the hardest part about writing SURRENDER was deciding if it would be dual-narrated or not. I’m a big believer in telling the right story, the way it needs to be told. I couldn’t decide if this was Raine’s story, and therefore she should narrate it, or if it was Gunner’s and he should.

In the end, I tried doing just Raine. And then just Gunn. And then both of them, and I realized that while their stories intermingle, they also deviate, and by using both of them to tell the story, I could give readers a much broader picture of what’s going on in the world. 

So I did that. 

GENERAL QUESTIONS
1. Why do you like writing dystopian sci-fi? Do you think you'll wander off to another genre after this, and if yes, what would you like to switch to?
I love writing dysotopian/sci fi because of the cool stuff I can do with gadgets and technology. I also like making up my own world and rules for the society. I don’t have to play by anyone else’s definition of the world, you know? 

And I’ll definitely wander off to other genres, but it’ll be more like a march. I’ve written a YA contemporary (in verse, no less!), as well as a YA fantasy. 

Never Surrendering: My (Carol's) Story
Never surrendering is definitely a story of my own writing path. After 15 novels, 11 total years of writing, and many years of attending SCBWI conferences, at last I acquired an agent in April 2011, Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown Literary. She's awesome, and helping me take my writing to a new level.

YOUR TURN
Have you read POSSESSION? 
Do you generally like to read series or companion novels? Why or why not?
If YOU had a magic food cube that would make any food materialize, what 3 things would you wish for? (and no, it doesn't have to be a balanced meal!)