First Impact: Dead Reckoning by Aline Carriere

Time for another First Impact critique. Remember, if you share your thoughts in the comments, you are eligible to win a 10-page critique from Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Your critique doesn't have to be long, just useful!

If you want your material critiqued, send it to Details here.

Thank you to Aline for submitting the first page of her erotic historical adventure novel, Dead Reckoning. (Don't worry if erotic isn't your thing -- it isn't mine either, but the page below is totally PG).

Keep in mind all this is just my opinion. If it doesn't feel right to you, ignore it. Any in-line comments are to the right, overall thoughts at the end.

First Page
(Author's Note: The reference to Flint from "Treasure Island" is intentional as "Treasure Island" is an integral part of the book.) 

The pirates found Anne below and roughly brought dragged [or some stronger verb] her to the deck of the ship. They pawed at her and pulled at her clothes; her hair unraveled and fell in golden curls on her shoulders. When she pushed their hands away, others took their place.

“Here comes Flint,” one of the men said and they stopped their jostling. “Look what we found below, Cap’n.” The men parted and revealed Anne disheveled, confused and trembling.

“Where is Captain Cole?” she demanded. Flint glared at her with piercing green eyes and she looked down. No sooner had she done so, he He lifted her chin with his hand and forced her to confront him. Flint was a name even she had heard whispered in fear – a pirate who was a curse to the civilized world and a legend among pirates. She fought to meet his stare. She did not want to appear weak, but her body betrayed her. She could not stop from shaking and tears formed in her eyes. She sensed his command and strength and in horror realized he was her only hope.

A couple phrases here made me
question whose POV we're in.
“Your Captain and those of the crew who would not join us are dead.” Flint took in the struggle within her and dropped his hand. She did not look down, but rather at the men around her as though to challenge them.
What mess is he talking about?

“Gregor, take her to the great cabin,” Flint said, “and the rest of you sort this mess before I get my whip.” He walked past her without looking at her again.

In the last sentence, I just think the
humor hits better if 'considerably'
is applied only to the second one.
Anne Davis, newly turned eighteen, was had been a passenger bound from Boston to Bristol aboard the Merrilee on a glorious April day in 17 – with a cargo of molasses, spirits and rum. She had been on her way to meet her fiancé for the first time across the ocean;, an arrangement she looked forward to with dread and hope, and which had now been replaced with considerably more dread and considerably less hope.

Adam's Thoughts
If I read erotic novels, I would absolutely keep reading this. It's well written, with voice, tension, and two great characters from the start. We learn a lot about Anne even before the final paragraph, just in the way she responds to Flint with both fear and attempted challenge, and in how "even she" had heard Flint's name.

And Flint, too, is an interesting character. He steps onto the stage with authority, but shows a hint of compassion as he sees her fear and chooses to drop his hand. It's such a tiny gesture, but it speaks a lot.

I honestly don't have a lot to say about this. The only thing is I'd be careful of sticking inside Anne's POV. There were just a couple of phrases here and there that threw me out of her head for a moment: when the men "revealed" Anne in para. 2, and then in para. 4 when Flint takes in her struggle (made me wonder how she knew he was doing that) and again when looks at the crew "as though" to challenge them (doesn't she know whether she's challenging them or not? I'd say something like "in a weak attempt at challenging them" or something).

But that's me being nit-picky. You really did a great job with this, Aline, as far as I'm concerned.

What do the rest of you think?

In Favor of Drawing Maps

You guys know I love maps. And though I sometimes resort to quick and dirty tricks to make one, mostly my maps are a labor of love -- one I spend way too many hours on.

It may surprise you, then, that I almost never draw them.

I know, right? I'm willing to draw cheap puns, but not a map for my beloved world. What I usually do is find a map generator that lets me specify parameters and hit the random button a bunch of times until I find something I like. (If that's your style, btw, this program might suit you just fine).

I thought drawing a map would feel artificial. Like it wouldn't look like a map, or it would be too obvious that I created geographical features just to support my story. I thought I needed a map to be given to me, to "discover" the world in a more natural way.

So I would spend hours and hours searching for a generator and clicking "Generate Random Map" until I found one I thought I could work with. Not realizing that I knew what I wanted to work with the whole time and could've sketched it up in a few minutes.

I honestly thought I was saving myself time. The truth (that I'm only now seeing) is that I was afraid of doing it wrong.

When you draw your own map:
  • It's faster.
  • You get exactly what you want.
  • You're reminded just how big a world really is.
 And as for doing it wrong? It's really hard:
  • It doesn't have to be pretty, just good enough for you to write from.
  • You don't have to be able to draw a straight line. In fact, you shouldn't ever.
  • You get to revise.
Let me say that again: YOU GET TO REVISE. My fear of doing it wrong? It's exactly the same fear I have every time I start a first draft. As writers, we know revision is not a bad thing; it's the only thing.

I don't know why I thought map-making was any different.

Have you ever made your own maps? How did you go about it, and what would you do differently next time?

Avenger Pigeons

These guys came out of a very odd conversation between me and Susan Quinn. Something about a way to get paper copies of her books past Thailand's Swiss cheese postal system -- like armored carrier pigeons.

You've seen Avengers, right? If not, why the heck not?

And if you have, can you please tell Authoress why she needs to see it? (And whether she really needs to see all the movies leading up to it. I vote no, provided she gives me twenty minutes to explain the origins of the four main characters.)

First Impact: The Eyelet Dove by Lindsay Kitson

Time for another First Impact critique. Remember you are eligible to win a 10-page critique from Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, if you share your thoughts in the comments. Your critique doesn't have to be long, just useful!

If you want your material critiqued, send it to Details here.

Thank you to Lindsay for submitting the back cover copy of her Dieselpunk novel, The Eyelet Dove.

Keep in mind all this is just my opinion. If it doesn't feel right to you, ignore it. Any in-line comments are to the right, overall thoughts at the end.

Back Cover Copy
I love the elements here, but I feel
like this opening could be trimmed.
Avalice’s impoverished middle class grows restless with the indulgences and warmongering of their King and nobles in their flying fortresses and chateaus in the sky.

This feels like backstory, so I'm now
wondering if all these details really
have to be here.
Ten years ago, Etienne formed the Machinists union, and wrote a book, The Manifesto Machina, about the equality of all people. When the King ordered the disbandment of his union, they refused and the king had them slaughtered, Etienne thrown in prison, and every known copy of The Manifesto Machina burned.

Now Etienne is on a conditional release, serving in the military as an engineer. But when cheaply printed copies of The Manifesto Machina are distributed in the capitol, he’s the first one everyone suspects. The Admiral tries to keep him from the firing squad, but by the time Etienne finds out who reprinted his book, he realizes he can’t turn his back on his beliefs, and joins them.

I know these will connect (I can see
it down there), but this feels like a
whole new story to me. It's a little
Meanwhile, on the Dreadnaught Omnipotent, a flying aircraft carrier, Claire dreams of being Avalice’s first female fighter pilot. But when her dream comes true, she finds herself embroiled in intrigue surrounding the Admiral’s prodigal bastard son, ace pilot Michel. When Michel is suspected of murdering a nobleman, Claire is caught in the middle, trying to uncover Michel’s true motives.

Here it feels like it unravels a bit.
It's good and exciting, but I think it
loses focus a little.
While Etienne stirs up a revolution, the King gets word of a saboteur planted on the Omnipotent, known only as the Eyelet Dove, with a mission to cripple the military when Etienne’s rebels attack. The Admiral must find and arrest the Eyelet Dove before he has a chance to act, and when Avalines take up arms against Avalines, Claire's loyalty will be tested.

Adam's Thoughts
I have a confession. When you said, "the Dreadnaught Omnipotent, a flying aircraft carrier," I said, "Oh HECK yes!"

Yeah, so, I'm easy.

There is a lot of cool stuff here. It sounds like a really solid story that I absolutely would read. I think the only thing it really needs is a little trimming and a little focus.

The trimming comes in deciding which plot points to talk about and which to summarize. For example, the entire 2nd paragraph could be summarized by introducing Etienne in the 3rd paragraph as "former revolutionary Etienne." The trick is deciding what's important enough to stick in here. It's hard to say without having read your story, but as a guideline: (1) Get to the main plot as soon as possible (no backstory, if you can help it) and (2) no history of characters who are not the main character.

Which brings me to the focus. Claire's sadistic choice is the one we're left with at the end, which makes me feel like she's the main character. If Etienne is also a main character, then sure: he can have a full paragraph (though I'd like it if they were connected more). But if his revolution is just the foil for Claire's story, then Etienne doesn't need to be mentioned at all.

Finally, I felt like that last paragraph lost focus a little. To be more specific, it talked about what "the Admiral" must do, for example, when the Admiral is not a character we care about. And it doesn't tell us why Claire's loyalty will be tested, which lessens the impact of the choice.

But as I said, if I had read this as-is, I probably would've peeked at the opening pages. This really does sound like something I'd enjoy.

What's your opinion, guys? How could this be improved?

Speculative Fiction: A Diagram

Following up our conversation a couple weeks ago, I present Adam Heine's Official Definition of Speculative Fiction:

1. Speculative Fiction is an umbrella term covering everything that is either science fiction or fantasy.

2. Science Fiction and Fantasy are the two main branches of speculative fiction. Sometimes they overlap.

3. Horror is fiction intended to frighten or scare. It could be sci-fi, fantasy, both, or neither.

4. Magical Realism is not sci-fi, but to quote Terry Pratchett, it's "like a polite way of saying you write fantasy."

5. Everything Else -- paranormal, utopian, dystopian, superhero, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, alternate history, urban fantasy, weird fiction, supernatural, and all of the -punks -- is a sub-genre of sci-fi/fantasy.

Among other things, this means there is no speculative fiction that is not either sci-fi or fantasy. You will be very hard-pressed to convince me otherwise.

Here, I made a diagram to help.

Why Your World is Boring


I'm always surprised when someone who loves fantasy tells me they haven't read The Lord of the Rings. I mean, this book is fantasy. And it's awesome! Why have so many people not read it?

I'll give you three reasons: world-building infodumps, plot-stopping songs, and unintelligible languages.

Listen, I know these are what make LotR what it is. I KNOW. But you have to understand that for a first-time reader -- someone who is totally unfamiliar with Middle Earth -- these parts are boring.

Tolkien loved his world -- and rightfully so; it's amazing. But the truth is that if Tolkien tried to pitch it today as his debut novel, he'd be told to cut the word count in half, split the story into smaller parts (oh wait), and for Pete's sake use a 'k' instead of a hard 'c' in your fantasy names!


Many of us who write fantasy fell in love with it because of books like Tolkien's. We created our own worlds, with new races and cultures and politics and histories and languages. We wrote a story in that world.

But you know what happened? Our story became more about the world than the story. And it was boring.

Now we're full grown authors. We know about character and conflict. We're good with pacing and tension. But every once in a while, we start our story off with an infodump prologue, or we toss a 70-line poem into our story "to flesh out the world."

People don't want to read about your world. They want interesting characters to root for. They want a compelling plot. Give them these things and only then will they listen to whatever you've got to say about the history of the Sidhe (or why it's pronounced 'she').

Readers that love your characters will love your world, not the other way around.

What about you? Did you get into fantasy because of Tolkien? Where do you stand on stuff like this:

Go on, John Ronald. Tell me why this was necessary.

First Impact: The Show Must Not Go On by J. Kaitlin Adams

Time for another First Impact critique. But first: July's winner, who gets to choose between $10 for Amazon/B&N OR a 20-page critique from me, iiiiiiiis . . . Stephanie Scott! Congratulations, Stephanie.

And for August, we have a special prize: a 10-page critique from my agent, Tricia Lawrence! To be eligible, all you have to do is share your thoughts in the comments of any First Impact post this month. Your critique doesn't have to be long, just useful!

If you want your material critiqued, send it to Details here.

Thank you to Kaitlin for submitting the first page of her YA fantasy. Keep in mind all this is just my opinion. If it doesn't feel right to you, ignore it.

Any in-line comments are to the right, overall thoughts at the end.

Opening Page
Right from the start, I'm interested
in this strange relationship she has
with her parents. Nice.
My talent was about the only thing that made my parents happy. And But in my sixteen years of experience, I had learned their happiness usually ended in my suffering. So when they called my name for dinner, their voices high and excited, a hard knot formed in the pit of my stomach. I walked into the kitchen where they sat at the table, holding hands and smiling. The knot in my stomach grew.

“Lori,” Mom said, “sit down.”

I stayed where I was. Our best silver platters were piled high with fish, chicken, and rice. Fruit and rolls topped our porcelain bowls. And our crystal pitchers were filled to the brim with tea. Eating well was not rare for us. Eating for a family of ten was. I had spent the past five hours outside, practicing my talent, unaware Mom was cooking such a feast.

“Your mother and I,” Dad said, “have decided-”

This felt a little strange to me, since
she had just called Lori down to talk
(presumably). Maybe if she just called
her for dinner at first, instead?
“Wait until after dinner,” Mom said.


“She’ll need a full stomach. It’ll be a lot to take in.”

Dad squeezed Mom’s hand and grinned. “Right. Sit down and eat up, Lori.”

Not sure how I feel about this simile.
I like that she's relating her value
to something in the scene, but then it
breaks when the fish's parents are
brought up.
I hadn’t seen Dad that happy in ages. Any appetite I had had left, disappeared. I sat, and after they filled their plates with food, I didn’t touch any of it. They exchanged a glance. It wasn’t like the food was poisoned. If I died, my talent would die with me, and then I’d be about as valuable as the platter of dead fish were to their parents. I just figured the longer I took to finish dinner, the longer I could prolong put off what they were about to tell me.

Minor nitpick: In the last paragraph
it sounds like she's not going to eat
at all. This almost feels like giving
in to me (even though I know it's not).

I put a couple of bites of fish and a roll on my plate. Even after my parents had eaten all their food, I still had most of the fish and half a roll left on mine. They watched me, their hands still eintertwined, hardly able to control the twitching of their lips. Mom’s free fingers drummed the table. Every few minutes or so, Dad sighed, as if that would hurry me along.

I pinched off a piece of my roll, about the size of my fingernail. I looked at it, turned it over, smelled it-

This made me laugh out loud.

“EAT!” Dad yelled.

Adam's Thoughts
There's a lot of interesting stuff here: a wry voice, a strange relationship between Lori and her parents, a mysterious talent, and an even more mysterious announcement.

The voice really drew me in. It's not just Lori's snark about her situation -- I've seen that before -- but also the almost comical actions of her parents that make me like them (even though they somehow make the protagonist suffer).

My only real complaint about this is that even after 370 words (yes, I do count -- if people start going overboard regularly, I'm going to have to cut them off ;-), I still don't know what any of the mysteries are. Not that I want everything explained up front, but I feel like we could get there sooner, or at least get some hints here and there, like a puzzle to solve.

But it's really hard to say, because this is only the first page, and for all I know everything is answered in the next line. But hey, the sooner you can hook the reader with your cool gimmick, the better, right?

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

NOTE: Kaitlin has a revised version in the comments. You are welcome to critique either one.