First Impact: HARD TRUTHS by Anonymous

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where we take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, and more. You want to make an impact right from the start. We're here to help you do that.

If you'd like to submit your first impact material, send it to Details here.

This week we have a query for an upper middle-grade fantasy called HARD TRUTHS. My overall thoughts are at the end. As always, this is just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

Not sure what a "peacekeeping"
dragon is, but otherwise okay.
Fourteen year old Reyna longs for more in her life. High tea behind higher castle walls isn’t enough. But she gets more than she bargained for at an annual festival where she becomes bonded, by blood and magic, to a peacekeeping dragon.

Last paragraph makes it sounds
like she doesn't want to have a
dragon. Now she's determined to
be the best Dragoneer.
Fiercely proud, Reyna is determined to become a great Dragoneer, even though she lacks any useful skills. Seriously - any useful skills. Etiquette and embroidery don’t exactly prepare you for endurance and espionage.

I'm a bit confused here. Don't know
what his scheme is or why the
dragons are in the way.
Her father, however, has different plans. His nefarious scheme will lead to the death of the peacekeeping dragons that stand in the way of a war to expand his kingdom. He will let nothing, not even the safety of his own daughter, stand in his way.

Not sure about "be a good person,"
but I'm glad to see a choice :-)
Confronted with the truth Reyna must choose to either be a good daughter or be a good person. Maybe if she were any good at being a Dragoneer maybe the choice wouldn’t be so hard.

Hyphenate "50,000-word".
DRAGONEER: HARD TRUTHS is a 50,000-word upper middle-grade fantasy.

I am a member of SCBWI and have written commercial scripts. HARD TRUTHS is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Adam's Thoughts
If Reyna ends up being the queen, her name might be too on the nose ;-)

Overall, this is pretty good. It's clear and easy to read, with just a hint of voice.

I would like a little more voice, if possible, but it's not critical. Part of me also wants to know more about Dragoneers and their peacekeeping dragons, but that might clutter the query.

What I'd really like is to better understand Reyna's father's plan and (therefore) the choice she has to make. What makes her father's scheme nefarious? (The query says, but it's not as clear as it could be). What does it mean for Reyna to be a good daughter? Does she kill her own dragon? What does it mean for her to be a good person?

I think it's close, because I get the feeling from the query that you have answers to these questions; they're just not coming across yet. I'd request pages, but I think this query could be even stronger.

What do the rest of you guys think?

Three Kickstarters I Would Throw All My Money At

1. A successor to Crusader: No Remorse. This game destroyed an entire quarter of my second year in college. Oh, man, but it was a good quarter.

You play an elite super-soldier, trained by a dystopian government that you spend the entire game betraying and fighting against. Technically, it's an action game, but it's a smart action game. You have to decide which weapons you will bring with you on each mission (of those you can afford). You can either sneak through missions or blast your way through them. And because what you bring with you is limited, you have to figure out how to conserve your ammo or find some more during the mission.

And the story is just cool. The government you served betrayed you, but the resistance you join in the beginning doesn't like you much either. So you have to prove yourself to them by undertaking increasingly dangerous missions. And then, of course, there's secret dystopian weapons projects, double agents, betrayal, and even a full-on dark night of the soul before you have to decide to get off your butt and save the world.

2. A successor to Chrono Trigger. I'm not gonna lie, I'm a fan of JRPGs (technically, I'm a fan of all RPGs, but JRPGs comprised most of my childhood, so...). And Chrono Trigger was probably the best. It had everything I loved about Final Fantasy (I), Crystalis, and Secret of Mana plus: time travel.

And not just time travel -- where you go to different eras the same way you take your airship to different islands -- but time travel that mattered. Plant a seed in the past, collect magic fruit in the future. Tell your robot companion to spend the next four hundred years restoring a forest, then travel forward to see the results. All the while trying to stop a giant alien parasite that crashed to Earth millions of years ago, awoke in 1999, and created a post-apocalyptic world for the remainder of time.

Or not. Cuz, you know, you can change things.

3. The reanimation of Tony Jay. Or, you know, at least his voice.

Obviously I'm not thinking about this very hard, because this is all nostalgia, but what would you Kickstart?

First Impact: THE FIRE LOTUS (First Page) by Renee Ahdieh

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where we take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, and more. You want to make an impact right from the start. We're here to help you do that.

If you'd like to submit your first impact material, send it to Details here.

This week we have the first page for THE FIRE LOTUS, the YA urban fantasy from Renee Ahdieh, whose query we critiqued last weekMy overall thoughts are at the end. As always, this is all just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

First Page
The storm was closing in on the family of five.

Not sure why this paragraph is
separated from the previous one.
In the distance, a grumble of thunder gave a final warning.

“Hurry! Wrap everything up!” the mother urged.

I'm used to YA being 3rd-person
limited, so this detached viewpoint
threw me.
Two teenaged girls packed away the remnants of a picnic. Their father discarded the trash while their mother shook a blanket in the air to dislodge the lingering crumbs from its surface.

“Please, don’t throw away the silverware, Jia!”

“I won’t, Mom!” Jia yelled. Under her breath, she added, “Chill out,” she continued under her breath.

“Where’s your brother?”

Jia shrugged and started lugging a cooler towards the parking lot. Droplets of rain began to splash on the hot asphalt. Wisps of coiling steam rose in their wake.

Tolls? The thunder?
The echoing tolls rolled closer as grey clouds swirled above and the horizon hissed with a charge of menace. Wet moss and bitter earth perfumed the air, leaving behind a metallic tang as an afterthought.

“Quick! Use ‘ominous’ in a sentence!” Jia joked to her sister Minar.

“Such a Nerd Queen. Help me with this friggin’ basket or I will go ominous on you.”

“Yeah, not quite, Mini. It just lacks that sense of impending doom,” Jia said with a chuckle. “By the way, have you seen Daniel?”

“I saw him a few minutes ago; behind that big tree over there. He was still practicing with his bow and arrows.”

Jia sighed and held up her right fist. Minar mirrored the gesture without a word.

One, two, three . . . shoot.

Minar’s rock smashed with triumph into Jia’s scissors.

“Yeah, buddy. I guess fortune does favor the—what was it? The bold?” Minar teased.

Mirth, even though she lost?
“In this case, I think you mean ‘the wicked.’ As in, downright twisted.” Jia’s green eyes sparkled with mirth.

“You wish.”

Mindful of their mother’s ever-watchful gaze, Jia quickly gave her twin the finger before traipsing the distance to the large oak tree.

Adam's Thoughts
For me, the main problem I have here is I don't feel connected to Jia at all. I think you did a great job making the scene feel ominous (and I think I like that you even lampshade it in the dialog (warning: TV Tropes link)), and I thought the dialog between Jia and Minar was fun. But I didn't understand why Jia was so flippant about a threatening situation.

For me, part of the problem is understanding what point of view we're in. I'm used to YA being 3rd person limited, meaning we get focused attention on one character's thoughts and feelings. That doesn't mean you have to do it that way, of course, but for me, it's a little jarring that the narrator clearly feels the scene is ominous, but Jia doesn't. I kind of expect one or the other to mention that fact.

For example, if this were 3rd person limited, then we'd see the storm from Jia's point of view. Stuff along the lines of, "In the distance, a grumble of thunder gave a final warning. Jia snorted in reply."

If it were 3rd person omniscient, however, I'd expect the narrator to point out the fact that Jia either didn't know or didn't care about the threat. Something like, "Jia shrugged and started lugging a cooler towards the parking lot, oblivious to the looming storm."

So that's my advice: be aware of what POV you're using and who your narrator is (whether omniscient or in Jia's head). There's a lot of fun writing here, but foundational things like that can lost your reader's trust.

What do the rest of you guys think?

First Impact: THE FIRE LOTUS by Renee Ahdieh

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where we take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, and more. You want to make an impact right from the start. We're here to help you do that.

If you'd like to submit your first impact material, send it to firstimpactAE@gmail.comDetails here. 

This week we have the query for THE FIRE LOTUS, a YA urban fantasy from Renee Ahdieh. My overall thoughts are at the end. As always, this is all just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

Nice hook.

Jia Ryan was supposed to start college in three weeks, not get struck by a bolt of lightning and die in front of her family.

I like the voice, but there's a lot of
stuff going on here all of a sudden.
Simplified sentence structures might
What’s more, she’s pretty sure she wasn’t meant to wake up in a lab days later with a scientist hovering over her, welcoming her into the world of the living dead.  Yeah, and that’s not even calling to question the irritatingly serene genie nearby.  Or his strange request that she take up arms in their ongoing struggle against reanimated corpses held under the sway of a powerful sorcerer.  Right.  Not so much, Master Yoda.

After all, this isn’t her fight.  She’s only eighteen, for crying out loud.

I feel like the questions are getting
to be a little much. Just my opinion.
Wait.  She gets to train in a slew of martial arts?  Learn how to wield a katana?  And, hold the phone, somebody probably should have mentioned that the young samurai teaching her is darkly enigmatic and sexier than sin.

Okay.  This might not totally suck.

As she settles into her new role as an undead warrior, Jia soon learns that the aforementioned baddie sorcerer intends to unleash the full brunt of his mind-controlling blood sorcery onto mankind.  Once she begins to grasp that the idyllic world she existed in for eighteen years is being threatened, there’s no going back.

This is now her fight.

THE FIRE LOTUS is an 80,000-word work of YA urban fantasy with series potential.

Adam's Thoughts
This is pretty good. I love the voice, and there's a clear conflict here. There's no sadistic choice like I keep harping on, but I think the mentions of samurai and undead warriors sufficiently distracted me from that fact ;-)

One thing to be careful of is to make sure the voice doesn't get in the way. It's a great voice, like I said, but there were a couple of times I felt it was a bit too much. Now that's totally just my opinion; others might feel differently. And really, it's just a nitpick.

And if you did have a sadistic choice to build up to at the end, I think this might be perfect.

But that's just me. What do the rest of you guys think?

7 More Things You Never Wanted to Know

A follow-up to this post.

Cardboard people freak me out.

Most days, I sit down at the piano to plunk out the Pirates of the Caribbean theme. Also, I cannot pull out my guitar without playing "The Ballad of Serenity" at least once.

When I count things slowly, I always end up saying "two-WHOOO" like that owl from the Tootsie Roll commercial.

In 6th grade, I spent an entire church service drawing the map of Bowser's Castle from Super Mario Bros 3.

I have seen every single episode of So You Think You Can Dance.

Surf Ninjas is awesome, and you cannot convince me otherwise.

I am pathetic when I get sick. If my wife is to be believed (and she's very smart, so I do), I am so pathetic that it makes the times I wasn't sick seem even more pathetic than they were at the time. So basically, my patheticness transcends the space-time continuum.

Tell me something about you.

First Impact Update

First, the randomly chosen winner from among March's critiquers is . . . . . KayC! Please e-mail me to let me know whether you'd like the 20-page critique from me or the $10 gift certificate from Amazon or B&N.

Second, as you may have noticed, there have been no First Impact posts for a while. This is not due to my over-busyness, but rather due to the fact that we have run out of First Impact submissions.

Honestly, no submissions is okay with me (see the aforementioned over-busyness), though I will continue to publicly critique any submissions that trickle in.

I think I will not, however, be continuing the monthly prizes. For one, there's really only a few faithful of you who've been critiquing anyway, and I tend to end up handing out prizes to the same people over and over ;-) But two, offering prizes doesn't make as much sense if we're only critiquing things once a month or so.

I do hope that you faithful will continue to critique things if and when future First Impact posts come up. I know most of you do it because you're awesome, not because the prizes are awesome. And for that I thank you.

Final Torment Info

So the Torment Kickstarter is in the last week of its campaign. We've raised over $3.25M, but we hope to raise even more to make this game bigger and better, to make a game that truly lives up to the Torment tradition.

So this is the last you'll hear me plug it, but I wanted to bring to your attention a couple of things, including one bit of news that hasn't made it to the Kickstarter page.

Bit #1: Pat Rothfuss is on our writing team. I know, right? MIND. BLOWN. It might even be part of my job to review Pat's areas which, if I remember correctly, is one of the signs of the apocalypse.

Bit #2: Natalie Whipple is on our writing team. I know that's not as big as Pat (which is one of the main reasons this hasn't hit our Kickstarter page), but though this announcement might not excite the internet at large, for me this is HUGE.

I've been following Natalie's career since way back when she won one of Nathan Bransford's 1st Paragraph Contests, and since then I've been lucky enough to critique a few of her novels. I even got to read the first chapter of her upcoming "X-Men meets Godfather" debut, TRANSPARENT. Guys, it would not be a mistake to pre-order that.

Natalie is hugely imaginative, and she brings a cool, new perspective to the Torment team that I'm really excited about. Seriously, I cannot wait to work with this team and see what we come up with.

If you want to help the project, you can still do so. I, personally, would really appreciate it, considering the bigger this game gets, the bigger my job gets and the better I can support my family :-) We've added new tiers and rewards since the Kickstarter began, and you can see them all here. Some of the new rewards are additional novellas and a digital comic book (which it sounds like I might be co-writing :-).

I know not all of you are gamers but are still interested in supporting us, or maybe in reading the novella I'm going to write. Well, you can get certain rewards -- like the digital novella compilation -- without even getting the game. Information on how to get these "add-ons" is here.

I still cannot believe the series of events that has led me here. It's like the weirdest road to publishing ever, but I ain't complaining :-)