First Impact: MIST OF KAVALA by Carolyn Abiad

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

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

Remember, anyone who leaves a critique in the comments is eligible to win a 15-page critique from INCARNATE author, Jodi Meadows. Your critique doesn't have to be long, just useful.

This week we have a sci-fi query from Carolyn Abiad. Thanks for submitting, Carolyn! My inline comments are to the side, with overall thoughts at the end. Everything here is just my opinion. As always, your mileage may vary.

Dear Mr. (agent),

The 2nd sentence feels misleading to
me. I'm sure he feels responsible, but
I wouldn't say he is.
In the biodome of Kavala, fifteen-year-old Taner is a pacifist who worships the goddess Tyche, like the rest of his outcast family. No one suspects he’s responsible for his father’s violent death. The Shadowcloak’s fatal shot was meant for Taner, who was pocketing the thief’s artifact.

I like the term mods in this sense.
A mix of guilt and vengeance drives Taner to defy his creed and secretly train to fight the Shadowcloaks. He activates the artifact, hoping to find the thieves, but what he discovers is not a portal or a passage. The artifact mods things, literally changes them. Taner mods his weapon, an auto-aim scope appears out of thin air, and the action alerts Tyche’s rival god, Mithra.
I'm having trouble tracking which
god is which here.
Mithra’s Elite Guards give Taner a choice: follow Tyche from his prison cell, or use his instinctive military skills to capture Shadowcloaks with the Guard.

Whoops, you lost me here. This
sounds like a cool reveal, but in the
query you might need to keep it
At Guard boot camp, Taner follows a raiding thief into the Shadowcloak dome, and discovers nothing he knows is solid. Biodomes are holographic, driven by Mithra’s exploitive codes. Mods are part of the fight to control reality. And the Shadowcloaks once followed Tyche.

Clear stakes. Good.
If Taner doesn't stop Mithra’s manipulation, the Shadowcloaks and everyone he loves in Kavala will be destroyed.
Linking to your website is great, but
I doubt agents will be interested in
the background of your book.
MIST OF KAVALA is a 59,000-word YA science fiction novel. Kavala’s world rules draw on Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing games, the mods that plague them, and the ancient military cult of Mithra. More information about the mythology in the book can be found at carolynsnowabiad (dot) com.

I believe you might like my YA sci-fi, MIST OF KAVALA (because).

Thank you for your consideration of my work.

Carolyn Snow Abiad
Women’s National Book Association
- Charlotte Membership Chair
SCBWI Member

Adam's Thoughts
This sounds like a cool world with a clear plot. I haven't actually played an MMORPG since 1989, but as a gamer I would totally read this.

I do think the query gets a bit confusing when it comes to the gods of the world. Part of that is I didn't realize the gods were actual characters until Mithra was introduced (usually gods are non-participants in a story), so I wasn't paying attention.

Actually, you might be able to skip mentioning Tyche entirely just to simplify it. Something like: "When a thief kills Taner's father, Taner leaves his family's pacifist religion, secretly training to fight the Shadowcloaks." But better, you know?

I like that even though the story is based on MMORPGs, it doesn't feel like a game-turned-novel. And who knows? You might find an agent who likes MMORPGs as well.

What do the rest of you guys think?

It's Okay to Write Slow

J. K. Rowling took five years to write the first Harry Potter.

It's okay to write slow.

Those of us who take a year or more to draft a novel are tempted to believe we're doing something wrong. Like we're too lazy, managing our time wrong, editing our words too much, or (God forbid) not meant to be writers at all. Some of those things might be true, but slow writing doesn't prove it.

(Terry Pratchett wrote his first novel at 400 words a day.)

You might be climbing a learning curve. My first novel took me 5 years to draft, 2 to edit. My second took me two years total. It's still slow, but I'm getting better. You will too. That's what practice does.

(The Harry Potter series took an average of 2 years per book to write.)

You might be a planner. Natalie Whipple can tell you that fast drafts don't mean finished products. They need a lot of editing after they're "done." Not that slow drafts are perfect, but sometimes slow can mean cleaner.

(George R. R. Martin took 6 years to finish the latest Song of Ice and Fire book. I still bought it.)

You might be unpublished. There are really only two reasons you have to write fast: (1) you signed a contract with a deadline or (2) you write to put food on the table. The rest of us have the freedom to write at whatever pace we want, learning as we go.

(Susanna Clarke took 10 years to finish her debut novel, which won some awards and got optioned for a lot of money.)

You might have a life. Maybe you have a full-time job, a family, and an X-Box. Kids are a full-time job on their own (I know, I have ten) and worth more than a publishing contract. Not that you shouldn't go for the contract too, but if you're sacrificing writing speed to play Guitar Hero with your daughter, I call that a win.

There are reasons writing can take a long time, many of them good.

Live life. Write slow.

(remixed from a guest post I did for Natalie Whipple)

5 Tips for Using a Foreign Language Without Sounding Like a Prat

Foreign languages are hard to use in fiction. Probably because most of us don't use them in real life. Here are some tips for helping the reader get that foreignness is happening, without feeling hit over the head by it.

1) USE LANGUAGE TO BE UNDERSTOOD. First and foremost, the purpose of speaking is to communicate ideas. So if a character is fluent in both English and Thai (say), but her listeners understand only English, she won't toss Thai words into her speech. If someone did that in real life, we'd think they were just showing off their knowledge. And (big surprise) that's how it comes off to the reader too -- like the author is showing off some language they picked up on their trip around the world.

2) THINK LIKE THE CHARACTER. If the character isn't fluent in English, then there will be words for which their native language comes to mind. Such a character may correct herself, which not only sounds natural, but gives you a natural way to translate what she says:
"Come on! We have to hurry to catch the rotfai. The train."
If her listeners are also bilingual, she wouldn't correct herself at all (this is called code-switching; it happens in our house a lot). In this case, you'd have to provide the translation some other way, either through direct telling or (better yet) through context -- assuming you need the translation at all.
She clapped her hands. "Children, our guests will be here soon. Gep your toys. Reoreo!"

3) DON'T MAKE THE READER READ UNINTELLIGIBLE GIBBERISH. What if you've got a character who only speaks Thai? Is it cool to drop a whole string of Thai on the reader then? Take a look at this example and see what you think:
The door flew open with a bang. Four masked men ran in, guns pointed at Bernice and her family. "Lukkheun!" one of them shouted. "Lukkheun diawnii!" She didn't know what they were saying, just put her hands on her head and sobbed. "Tah mai lukkheun diaw ja ying kah man. Ow mai! OW MAI!"
This isn't bad until that last sentence. Shoot, I speak Thai, and even I got bored parsing it. And if you don't speak Thai, you'd get no meaning from it at all. Let's revise it so it still conveys foreignness and Bernice's terror, without forcing the reader to slog through a bunch of meaningless phonetics:
The door flew open with a bang. Four masked men ran in, guns pointed at Bernice and her family. "Lukkheun!" One put a gun barrel to her temple, shouting in a language she didn't understand. She didn't know what to do. She put her hands on her head and sobbed, but it only made him scream louder. What did he want from her?

4) PUT FOREIGN WORDS IN ITALICS. This goes along with not making the reader work. Italics signal the reader that these are words they don't necessarily have to know (also that they're not typos). This even goes for words that you think everybody should know.* A good rule of thumb: if it's not in the English dictionary, italicize it. For example:
"You're hungry? No problema, I'll pick up some burritos."
* I've noticed this problem especially with Californians (like me) who assume everyone took Spanish in high school (like me). Also with British authors and French. Guys, I'm American, I don't speak French.

5) USE FOREIGN ACCENTS SPARINGLY. You've probably read stories where a character's foreign accent was annoying or really hard to read. It's hard to do right, but the general rule is: be subtle. Imply the accent rather than hit the reader over the head with it.

TO SUM UP, if you're using foreign languages in your fiction:
  1. Don't do it just to show off.
  2. Be intentional; think like the character.
  3. Be subtle.
Got any other tips? Annoyances with how some authors handle it? Tell us about it in the comments.

(remixed from an older post)

First Impact: FATHER'S DAY by Hilary Swann

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

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

Remember, anyone who leaves a critique in the comments is eligible to win a 15-page critique from INCARNATE author, Jodi Meadows. Your critique doesn't have to be long, just useful.

We have a short one this week: a picture book query from Hilary Swann. My inline comments are to the side, with overall thoughts at the end. Everything here is just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

I think even with such small word
counts, you're still supposed to
round to the nearest hundred.
Mia wants to celebrate Father's Day, but with two moms and no dad she doesn't quite know how. When her mom suggests making the day special, Mia has brunch, goes ice skating, and meets other families: some with dads and some without. Father's Day is story about embracing your family no matter what shape or size. It is 567 600 words.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

Adam's Thoughts
I have to start by saying I haven't seen a lot of picture book queries. I believe you usually submit the entire manuscript along with the query, and so the query is more like a cover letter. Mary Kole over at seems to agree with me.

But that doesn't mean the query isn't important. This looks really short, but I have to admit, I like this concept and would read this.

The only thing I think you could add is a little more meat about the middle. Does she have brunch and go ice skating by herself? Does she do anything with the other families? Don't go crazy, because I think this already does its job: entice the agent or editor to read on.

What do the rest of you guys think? Would you read this?


I'm in a mountain village (this one), and far away from my computer. So here's a picture of a cat.

I love the internet.

First Impact: GRIMOIRE by Marcy

Time for another First Impact critique. Remember, anyone who leaves a critique in the comments is eligible to win a 15-page critique from author Jodi Meadows.

And this feature can only continue with your submissions! If you have a query letter, first page, or even back cover blurb you'd like critiqued, send it to Details here.

Thank you, Marcy, for letting us take a look at your YA Historical Paranormal. As always, this is just my opinion. You are welcome to disagree.

Chapter One ~ February 1805

The last sentence threw me off on my
first read. I think the problem is the
first sentences are a bit misleading.
It was a fine day for a sale, brisk but sunny; -- a good day for traveling, as evidenced by the crowd in the lane. Most came to buy. Some came out of curiosity. But none of them noticed her sitting in the hall, left with nothing but a single trunk.

I love this paragraph. Great voice.
Great emotion. Totally draws me in.
Arlen watched them, blinking back furious tears, winding her fingers together so tight it hurt. She itched to slap their hands away from whatever they touched, snatch back what they'd bought. How dare they? These were her things!

Except they weren't.

Not anymore.

How long ago did this happen? How
fresh is her pain?

This last sentence is a bit awkward.
It had been an accident according to the coroner. Her parents, coming home from a dinner party in nearby Saxton Greene, were killed when their carriage careened into the pond at the entrance to the property. They were found with their driver all frozen and stiff the next morning when one of the kitchen maids walked in from the village.

And according to Mr. P. T. James Esquire, Ssolicitor to her father's estate, there was no money, therefore, nothing to bequest bequeath. In fact, the estate's debts were such that everything would have to be sold.

Now all the pretty things her parents had collected, the baubles and crystal lamps, the paintings in their gilt frames, the plants in the conservatory - even the lovely gown she was supposed to wear for her coming out ball - were walking out in the hands of strangers.

It was all she could do not to scream.

Adam's Thoughts
What a horrible day for Arlen. This is such a great start -- I'm feeling Arlen's pain and wondering what the heck is going to happen to her (does she become Batman? Please tell me she becomes Batman).

The only major thing I want to say about this is about the opening paragraph. It feels tricksy to me, but not in a good way. I like the irony of it -- that it's a nice day for a sale, but the sale totally sucks. But I don't like feeling like I was tricked into believing one thing, when the story's about another.

I also noticed a lot of little errors here and there -- misplaced commas, bad capitals, misused semicolons, etc. Not so much that I think you can't write (you obviously can, and well), but enough that I noticed.

On the one hand, I understand you shouldn't have to worry about these things until the meat of the story is polished. I get that.

On the other hand, I consider them to be our katas. Ultimately, we should be so familiar with them we don't even think about them anymore. We just do it right. I say this for everyone, myself included. Learn to care :-)

What do you guys think about this piece? Does the opening paragraph work for you? If not, how would you fix it?

MSFV's Logline Critiques, Revision Round

The entries have been posted for Miss Snark's First Victim's Logline Critique Revision Round.* Each one you critique will earn you an entry toward October's First Impact prize: a 15-page critique from Jodi Meadows, author of INCARNATE.

A logline is one or two sentences that answers the question, "What's the book about?" To critique them, you just need to say whether it sounds interesting and why or why not.

And a big welcome to the logline authors! If I messed something up, shoot me an e-mail. I hope the critiques you get here will be useful (they should be; we have some very talented readers). And [plug] if you ever need a query or first page critique, feel free to send those in as well [/plug].

* Blog feed subscribers may have to click over to the blog to read them.

Logline Revision Critiques #26

TITLE: My Sister's Dating a Serial Killer
GENRE: YA Thriller
Original critique on MSFV

High school's a bummer for sixteen-year-old Cameo "Cammie" Carter who must stop her eighteen-year-old sister from dating a serial killer. The only way is to get hard evidence on him, but if Cammie doesn't hurry, the killer might just put her and her sister on his To Do Murder List.

Logline Revision Critiques #25

TITLE: Jennifer Strange
GENRE: YA Paranormal Horror
Original critique on MSFV

Fifteen-year-old Ghost Hunter Marcus must protect his family from a soul-eating wraith but his only hope is Jennifer Strange who doesn't believe she can touch ghosts.

Logline Revision Critiques #24

TITLE: The Wanderers
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Clouds of dead souls are filling the skies of Erion. When a ruthless scientist professes to have found a solution, Rhanee travels back in time to find a way to free the dead before he succeeds and claims ultimate power as his reward.

Logline Revision Critiques #23

TITLE: Artashad
GENRE: Historical

When exiled Prince Tiridates hears how his people suffer under Persian occupation, he convinces the Romans to send a liberating force to Armenia. The Roman warlords have their own motives, and the Persians will violently defend their claim, but if Tiridates must achieve the throne or his nation will cease to exist.

Logline Revision Critiques #22

GENRE: YA Fantasy
Original critique on MSFV

When an army of ancient monsters threatens to overrun her country, 17-year-old fugitive, Zee, joins the army to win a reprieve from her death sentence, only to discover that she is the key to awakening the centuries-old goddesses the monsters are fighting to free.

Logline Revision Critiques #21

TITLE: Amongst
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy
Original critique on MSFV

No one has ever left Verandale…at least not with their body still wrapped around their soul.
But thirteen year-old Enoch believes he has discovered a way to escape.

Logline Revision Critiques #20

TITLE: Twenty-Four Hour Boy
GENRE: Contemporary Middle Grade
Original critique on MSFV

Up all night, every night, ten-year old gadget-maker Hunter Harris is happy with his freakish lifestyle. Unfortunately, when Hunter reports a strange light and noises in the night and then a murder next door his parents question his sanity and Hunter has to prove that he was telling the truth or risk losing his secret life forever.

Logline Revision Critiques #19

Indentured servant Kiel Reaux has one goal: deliver a spell-stone to his boss, the Baron of Old Town, and earn his freedom before his chains become a noose. But when the delivery goes balls up, and lands him in the hands of slavers, Kiel is sold to a priestess who promises him freedom if he escorts her through a murderous magical jungle. Caught between the deadly jungle and the equally deadly Baron who’s tired of waiting for his spell-stone, freedom becomes the least of Kiel’s problems. Freedom means nothing if he’s dead.

Logline Revision Critiques #18

TITLE:  Listening In The Snow
GENRE: Middle Grade Fiction
In the deep of a dark Vermont winter, eleven-year-old Nathan Hayes, a shy stutterer, breaks into the long-abandoned Specter house, willing to brave its legendary ghosts in order to find the magic charm he believes will bring his mother home.

Logline Revision Critiques #17

TITLE: The Duct Tape, Cereal Box Knight
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy
Original critique on MSFV

When an oversized eleven-year-old with a penchant for creative recycling unites two halves of an oyster shell, he unwittingly sets off a chain reaction of storms that threaten to flood the world. To stop the catastrophe, he'll have to slay a sinister dragon who bears more than a passing resemblance to the school bully he fears.

Logline Revision Critiques #16

TITLE: The Disappointment Country
GENRE: Adventure/thriller
Never dare someone who runs on one leg. When idealistic outdoorsman Cutter overcomes his amputation to build an “adventure ranch” in remote Colorado, a vengeful former mentor with a war-crimes secret schemes to take it over to hide a mercenary training operation. Cutter must survive wildfire set by a beautiful pawn and a midnight mountain bike chase to save Double Dare Ranch.

Logline Revision Critiques #15

GENRE: YA Fantasy

Lori Gibbs can fly, a rare gift, so her power-hungry parents register her in Easten's Talent Show. If she impresses the judges, her parents earn the opportunity to serve on the ruling Council of Easten. If Lori fails, she'll hang.

Logline Revision Critiques #14

TITLE: Vitro/Vivo
GENRE: Sci-Fi dystopia

When Vitro geneticist Drei stumbles across a conspiracy to eradicate her City's life-saving genetic material, she is forced to flee the City before she can find out who is behind the conspiracy or how to stop them. In order to survive the wild lands outside and find a way back in, she must forge a reluctant partnership with Jag, one of the violent, superstitious Vivos, as they discover it is not only Drei's people who are in danger of extinction.

Logline Revision Critiques #13

TITLE: Flint
GENRE: YA Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic
Original critique on MSFV

In the plague-decimated shell of America, Bekka has no one but her younger sister, who has been inexplicably abducted by the military settlement scouts responsible for her father’s murder six years ago. When one scout returns, claiming she’s had a change of heart, Bekka is sure she’s lying. But accepting the scout's help might be the only way for Bekka to bring her sister home.

Logline Revision Critiques #12

TITLE: The Sculptor
GENRE: Suspense Thriller
Original critique on MSFV

An American graduate student in Rome is targeted by a serial killer, The Sculptor, as the prized masterpiece in his growing collection of plastered victims. After uncovering the family secrets that draws him to her, she ultimately must rely on those secrets to turn the tables on The Sculptor in a terrifying confrontation.

Logline Revision Critiques #11

TITLE: Havoc's Knot
GENRE: YA Epic Fantasy
Logline: Jake had no idea a trip to the local museum would transform him from wallflower to warrior. When he accidentally takes the place of another boy, he also takes on a prophecy not intended for him. Now he must defeat the wolf king if he ever wants to see home again, or keep the people he loves alive.

Logline Revision Critiques #10

TITLE: Unwritten
GENRE: Contemporary Romance

Singer/songwriter Katherine Hayes has worked hard to achieve superstar status, and to guard a tragic secret from her past. When her estranged mother launches a smear campaign that threatens everything, Kate finds unlikely refuge with college professor Josh Randall, a man who sees through her defenses but is unwilling to take chances with his own heart. Now, Kate must overcome her traumatic past to repair her reputation and fight for her chance at love.

Logline Revision Critiques #9

GENRE: Humorous Paranormal
Original critique on MSFV

NOOKS & GRANNIES reveals childhood friends Keegan and Amelia as the late-bloomers they are--accepting their respective quirks and his homosexuality--while coping with ghostly whispers and levitating objects in Keegan's grandmother’s house. Comfortable with their misfit status, they now must learn how to react when two young men come along to shake up their mostly reclusive lives.

Logline Revision Critiques #8

TITLE: Through the Edgewood
GENRE: MG Fantasy Adventure
Original critique on MSFV

When 11 year-old Izzy's little sister is kidnapped by a faerie queen, she teams up with a band of orphan Changelings to rescue her. If Izzy fails, both her sister and the Changelings will end up as ingredients in the queen's youth elixir.

Logline Revision Critiques #7

TITLE: Beyond Chains and Stars

When twins Chosi and Juhan are stolen from their home world and sold into slavery, they vow to return home. But with Chosi in the gladiator arena and her brother sold into political intrigue, keeping that vow might kill them.

Logline Revision Critiques #6

TITLE: Elemental Fire
GENRE: Upper MG Fantasy
Original critique on MSFV

Revised logline:
Grieving fourteen-year-old Brook discovers a gate to another world and inadvertently carries the gate key to the hub world of Tirasvara. Merrick, a stranded madman, seeks the key to control travel between Tirasvara and parallel Earths. Merrick’s plans would destroy all existing gates. If Brook doesn’t return it to her own world, while fighting the temptation use the key to flee to a world where her mother still lives, she’ll cause the same destruction.

Alternate format:
When fourteen-year-old Brook follows her physicist father though a gate to the world of Tirasvara, she discovers a plot to alter the physical laws governing travel between parallel worlds. If she can’t stop a madman determined to control access to all worlds, physical disasters will reverberate through her world and destroy her gateway home.

Logline Revision Critiques #5

TITLE: Dias de los Muertos: Days of the Dead
GENRE: Middle Grade

Thirteen-year-old Fortunato is left as the reluctant head of his dysfunctional family when his abusive father dies. After finding a 500-year-old journal, Fortunato learns of an ancient Aztec curse that threatens to destroy him and the rest of his family. Can he pacify the ghost of a murdered Aztec woman by replacing the artifact his ancestor stole, or will the death curse that has haunted his family for centuries claim Fortunato as well?

Logline Revision Critiques #4

TITLE: The Withering of Amblethorn
GENRE: YA Science Fiction
Original critique on MSFV

The girls of an exclusive New England school are disappearing only to be returned aged beyond recognition. When authorities brush the case aside two unlikely friends, school outcast Vera and social butterfly Peyton, team up to figure out who-or what- is behind it.

Logline Revision Critiques #3

Title: Running Down the Dragon
Genre: Adult Thriller/Fantasy

Thalia Drake of the U.S. Military's elite shapeshifter forces, and the world's last dragon, must stop a serial killer whose ultimate goal is exterminating shapeshifters. But stopping him means exposing the deadly secret she's hidden for thousands of years - her true identity.

Logline Revision Critiques #2

Genre: YA steampunk fantasy

Seventeen-year-old Enne Alfero must find her lost mother in the shadow world before she loses herself in casino royales, hot street lords, and an unbreakable vow to work as an assassin that pits her against the city's politicians in a deadly game for her life.

Logline Revision Critiques #1

Genre: YA
Original critique on MSFV

Seventeen year-old Ivy Chapel is an archangel with amnesia.
William and Lucian, long time enemies, are both sent to retrieve the gift Ivy guards, the healing power for all mankind.
One wants her heart. One wants her soul. Will she be able to survive them both and save the world?

First Impact: The Legacy of the Eye, by Patricia Moussatche

Before we get to our First Impact critique, I need to announce that on Friday, Author's Echo is hosting revised versions of Authoress's Round One Logline Critiques. That means two things for you:
  1. More chances to win this month's First Impact prize. All critiques offered to these logline revisions will be entered for the monthly prize.
  2. There will be a deluge of posts on Friday (e-mail subscribers, I'm so, so sorry).
Remember, anyone who shares their thoughts in the comments of this post, and the logline revisions on Friday, will be eligible to win a 15-page critique from Jodi Meadows, author of INCARNATE. Each post you critique is another chance to win.

We always need more stuff to critique, so if you would like to submit your query/first page/etc, send it to Details here.

This week we have a sci-fi query from Patricia Moussatche. My inline comments are to the side, with overall thoughts at the end. And remember, this is just one guy's opinion. Your mileage may vary.

This is a lot of setup. I think you can
just put "they're a team" after the
first sentence and cut all but the last.

"Diligence to write down ideas" feels
like a lame ability next to David's.
David and Catrine, top graduates from the Academy of Demia, are more than friends and schoolmates. David has brilliant ideas and Catrine has the diligence to write them down. Catrine is shy, so David gives their thoughts a strong voice. When David’s temper flares, it is always Catrine who calms him down. They are a team. At least until the day he kisses her.
Woah, this paragraph raises a lot of
world-building questions. How does
the throne have authority if it doesn't
exist? What has David accomplished?
How does the throne represent
hypocrisy? What kind of hypocrisy?

That day, David notices a tiny tattoo hidden beneath her hair that marks Catrine as next in line for a hereditary throne that should not even exist on their planet. Will his own accomplishments count for naught when the next ruler is chosen? And how can he love her if she represents the hypocrisy of the utopian society he always believed in?

More questions: What turmoil? How
is his gov't deceitful? Why is David
the only one who can make Demia
prosper? Where's home and who's
luring him there? And most
importantly: what's the bait?
When David discovers his parents are conspiring to make him king of Demia--a position that does not exist--by marrying him to Catrine, he is sure his leadership skills can be better employed bringing peace to the turmoil at the other end of the galaxy. He does not want to be part of a deceitful government, but can Demia prosper without him? And how long can he evade those who are determined to lure him home? The bait might just be more than he can resist.

I'm betting your work deals with
science fact, not fiction ;-)
THE LEGACY OF THE EYE, complete at 85,000 words, is science fiction with romantic elements and was inspired by Plato’s Republic. I also work with science fiction in test tubes at [where I work].

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Patricia Moussatche

Adam's Thoughts
World-building is so, so, so, so, so hard to get across clearly -- decuply so in a query. The trick in a query is to stay 100% focused on what matters: the main character, his goal, his conflict, and what terrible choice he must make. Don't hint at anything you can't explain, and don't explain anything you don't absolutely have to.

This query actually does feel focused on the main storyline, but it hints at a bunch of things we don't understand. You either need to explain things, or even better, cut the bits that raise questions.

For example, instead of saying "a hereditary throne that should not exist," go straight to what's sinister about it. "She's marked as the next Queen Poobah. The Poobahs were supposed to have been removed from power centuries ago, but they've been ruling the utopian Demia from the shadows. Now David's parents are conspiring to make him the next King."

Or instead of explaining it, skip his relationship with Catrine and the tattoo, and go straight to David's parents conspiring to marry him to Demia's next shadow ruler. Then explain why this is a bad thing (stakes) and why just saying no is not an option (sadistic choice).

Anyway, that's just my idea. What do the rest of you think?

Books I Read: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Title: The Lightning Thief
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: MG Fantasy
Published: 2005
My Content Rating: PG for action scenes
Cliffhanger Ending: No

Summer after 6th grade, Percy Jackson learns that the Greek gods are real, alive, and one of them is his father. Oh, and half the Greek pantheon is trying to kill him because they think he stole Zeus's master lightning bolt. So, not the best summer of his life.

What I loved about this book (in list form, cuz I'm feeling lazy today):
  • It's funny.
  • Exciting action.
  • The plot is nice and twisty, even after seeing the movie.
  • Speaking of which, it is much better than the movie.*
  • The world-building is pretty clever.**
The only thing I didn't like so much was the scenes at Camp Half-Blood felt too much like Harry Potter to me (it didn't help that the brave, muggle-raised protagonist befriended the school's camp's smartest girl). But once they got on their quest, that didn't bother me so much.

I'm not a "Greek mythology! Love it!" kind of guy (I prefer Eastern mythology, which I'm less familiar with). But if you are gonna revisit the Greek stories, Rick Riordan figured out a really great way to do it.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

* Seriously, it was like Hollywood used all the boring, irrelevant parts and cut all the interesting stuff that made sense.

** The only problem I had with the world-building was how demigods were all dyslexic because they're "genetically predisposed" to read ancient Greek. It's the language geek in me. Sorry, Rick.

Talking About the Ninjas (Next Big Thing)

I don't do tags very often, but (a) I like talking about my WIPs and (b) I'll do pretty much anything the beloved Authoress asks.

So today I'm talking about ninjas of the post-apocalyptic kind.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

1) What is the working title of your book?
The Word doc is titled The Con of War, but I'm not sure I like it. So on the internet I use the more descriptive Post-Apocalyptic, Dragon-Riding Ninjas (with Mechs!).

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
I actually had six half-formed ideas and asked people which sounded cooler. Overwhelmingly, the response was, "Do them all!"

3) What genre does your book fall under?
YA Science Fantasy (post-apocalyptic, obvs.)

4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I don't know about actual actors, but my wife and I were watching a lot of So You Think You Can Dance when I planned this story. So in my head, the young con-artist is Dominic, his techy sister is Katee, and the ninja is Emo Billy.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
An assassin, on the run from his clan, must work with a young con-artist to keep the kingdom from slipping into civil war and anarchy.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My agent is eagerly waiting for me to finish revising this thing.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? May we see an intro?
It took me 4 months, which is the fastest I've ever drafted anything. I'm paying for it in revisions though.

Believe it or not, the story starts with the weather:
It was cloudy the day Kai killed his god. He'd expected earthquakes, blood rain, darkness at the very least, but the day his god died—and the day they would execute Kai for killing him—looked the same as any other. As if it were not a god who had died, but a man.
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The world of Catherine Fisher's INCARCERON felt similar to me (far future tech mixed with a fantasy feel). And I learned from Holly Black's WHITE CAT when I was planning the cons.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Honestly, I just threw in as many cool things as I could while still making sense. But the con-artist's struggles to trust and be trusted definitely comes from experiences with my own kids and attachment issues.

10) What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
Krista Van Dolzer once called it, "A steampunk Inception with ninjas!" She hasn't actually read it yet, but I'm counting that as an official blurb.

The rules demand I tag 5 people, so here are some of the people whose works-in-progress I am most interested in. Some of them have already posted their answers, so check them out:

Krista Van Dolzer
Matthew MacNish
Myrna Foster
Daisy Carter
Melodie Wright

Message for the tagged authors and interested others:

Rules of The Next Big Thing:

*Use this format for your post
*Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
*Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

What is your working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? May we see an intro?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged. Be sure to line up your five people in advance.

First Impact: MG Fantasy from Kristen Wixted

First off, I have to thank Matt MacNish for promoting this feature and single-handedly filling up October with submissions. You should thank him too, because until those submissions came in, there wasn't going to be a prize this month (and it's a good prize; keep reading).

Second, the winner of September's prize -- $10 for Amazon/B&N or a 20-page crit from me -- is PATCHI! Please contact me and let me know which prize you want.

And thank all of you for your thoughts. keep them coming. The authors always tell me how much they appreciate it.

Lastly, I have a special prize for October: a 15-page critique from the amazing and talented Jodi Meadows! To win, leave a critique on any First Impact post this month. Purchasing a copy of Jodi's fantastic INCARNATE won't improve your chances, but it will keep you good company and cure acne (maybe). Plus! Dragons!

Somebody stop me. We have a critique to do.

Disclaimer: This is all just my opinion. Feel free to ignore it. Overall comments at the end.

First Page
I like this opening. But unless kids
do get locked away in this story, I'd
snip that bit. Get to the point.
Not all attics are full of shadows, spider webs, and ugly hatboxes dotted with evidence of unwelcome creatures; those are the kind of attics where children get locked away. Some attics smell like lavender soap, are strewn with treasures, and if the right child should come in at the right moment, are full of possibility.

I was initially confused, as "diaries"
are different from ships' logs.

Love the voice at the end.
The treasures in Aunt Tibby’s attic were mostly old diaries. Crooked, nearly toppling stacks of antique journals and ships’ logs covered the wooden floorboards and wide shelves, because the museum had run out of room and Aunt Tibby wasn’t about to throw them away. Heavens no.

This snipped bit slows things down, I
think. And it's info you can give later.
Somewhere, in one of the piles of antique leather and cloth-covered books was a particular diary that Eve, Aunt Tibby’s grand-niece, couldn’t wait to find. It was the key to her questions, because now that she was eleven she had lots of questions, about her Mama.

Good description (all of this is, btw),
but now that we have a goal (Mama),
I immediately want to know more. I
think some of this could be snipped
to get us there faster.
So for months, every time she visited her great aunt on Martha’s Vineyard, Eve put on her favorite old jeans and sweatshirt—clothes that she would never be allowed to wear at home in New York City—and she scoured. She searched. She investigated, explored, and rummaged around in the attic. She flipped through yellowed books, she tossed aside threadbare scarves and feathered hats so she could get at more old books. One time, to reach a pile of diaries that was off in a corner, she was even forced to pick up, with two reluctant fingers, a ratty, blonde wig and fling it aside.

Adam's Thoughts
I don't have a lot to say except to elaborate on my comments there. The voice, and especially the descriptions, are really good. I get the feeling I'm about to step into a mystery or possibly an adventure.

My only real complaint is at the end, and honestly that could be just because it's cut off as a first page. If the very next line was like, "Her mama had died when she was little . . . " or else, "Then one day she found it," I probably wouldn't have a problem with the length of that last paragraph at all.

So I'm just being nitpicky, really, because I don't know how much longer I have to wait to get to the meat. This first page is enticing (that's why I want the meat!), and though I do see occasional tangents that slow things down, they're not so bad that I wouldn't keep going.

What do the rest of you think?

World-Building and the Problem With Quidditch

On Friday, I talked about making up fictional games for your world: take a real-world game and alter it slightly: to suit your world, to make it unique, and (if you're like me) to make an actual game that might be fun to play.

Today we're looking at an example: Harry Potter's Quidditch.

Quidditch is essentially basketball on broomsticks -- with six goals instead of two, extra balls that hurt/distract the players, and the snitch to determine the end of the game. It's a good concept and it totally suits the world. And it's a testament to the books that even though this central game is fundamentally unbalanced, hardly anybody seems to notice.

But yes, it's unbalanced.

The problem is the point value of the snitch. Every goal in Quidditch is worth 10 points, but whoever grabs the snitch simultaneously ends the game and earns 150 points -- 15 goals. The overall effect is that regular goals don't matter.

Unless one team is down by more than 15 goals, right? Then they wouldn't want to get the snitch. There's tension!

Well, yeah, but when does that ever happen? Have you seen a professional soccer game go 16-0? An NFL game with a 112-point gap? Even in the NBA, all-time comeback records don't go much higher than a 16 goal gap. The best strategy to win Quidditch would be to make everyone a keeper until the snitch shows up. Nobody would do that (because it's boring), but any team that did would always win.*

So why does Quidditch work? For the following reasons:
  • The protagonist is the seeker. Can you imagine if Harry was the one making meaningless goals, while some minor character caught the snitch and won the game?
  • Quidditch wins and losses are not plot critical. If Harry had to win a Quidditch game to save his life, I would be a lot more mad at his team for not being smarter about gaming the system.
  • Something else is almost always going on -- like someone's trying to kill Harry or something, so we're invested in something other than the match.
These are good things to keep in mind if you're making your own fictional game. The more the plot focuses on the game, the more that game has to hold up under scrutiny.

And don't bother playing Quidditch in real life. It's not as interesting as it looks (unless you change the rules, of course).

* Though in the books, Quidditch teams are ranked by points scored, not games won. This fixes the brokenness for a tournament, but it makes individual games less interesting, and makes it almost impossible to have a true championship game.