First Impact: THE LEGACY OF THE EYE (first page) by Patricia Moussatche

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.

Remember, anyone who offers their comments this month is eligible for either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me.

This week we have the first page of a sci-fi novel from Patricia Moussatche. Some of you may remember critiquing the query for this one. My overall thoughts are at the end. As always, this is all just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

UPDATE: Patricia has a revised version of the first paragraph in the comments.

First Page
Chapter 1--Proposal

Catrine blinked as her eyes adjusted to the brightness outside the school building. She should have worn a hat. She glanced at David, who had closed the heavy wood door behind them. Her best friend’s smile was as bright as the afternoon light. This was the first time either of them had left the school since their enrollment at the age of two. They were both eighteen now, but David looked ready to conquer the galaxy.

“Maybe we should go over your speech one more time,” she said.

His smile dimmed. “We went over it five times on the way here.”

“Four. And you’re still forgetting to mention that the tutors will be traveling to the pupil’s home planet. That’s the whole point of the proposal.”

“Do you want to give the speech?”

Her inside twisted in knots. “No.”

"Then stop fretting. If the council hadn’t liked our idea, they wouldn’t have requested an audience.”

“They probably read the proposal once. You’ve read it a dozen times and you still forget some of the details. I should have made you write it.”

David's smile returned. “Then it wouldn’t have been perfect.”

Or written at all, she thought.

Adam's Thoughts
I've actually read an earlier version of this (Patricia was one of the lucky winners of the 20-page critique). So keep in mind that I have more of the backstory in my head than a new reader might.

I really like the banter between them. It feels natural, shows off the characters (especially Catrine), gives useful information without being obvious about it, and it even makes me smile in a couple of places.

I'm less certain about the opening paragraph. It feels slower and less interesting to me. I don't think it should be cut necessarily, because it grounds us, but it didn't shine for me like the dialog did.

What do the rest of you guys think?

Torment Concept Art

Hey, if you're interested in that game I'm working on, we've got some concept art up.

This first shot is a work-in-progress picture of The Bloom, a literally living city, with tendrils creeping through other dimensions. The concept artist who did this is one of my (new) favorite artists ever. His name's Chang Yuan, and you can see more of his work here.

This next shot is one of the weapons in the game. Our setting is kind of a Dying Earth setting, where the highly advanced technology of the past becomes the scavenged weapons and magic of the future. Some of you might know this is exactly the kind of setting I love to work in.

So listen, I'm not gonna post every single tidbit of the game here. If you want to follow news about it, you might try liking the game's Facebook page, or else following my Twitter feed or Brian Fargo's (being the leader of inXile, whose Torment-related tweets I pass on).

I will for sure let you know when the Kickstarter goes off, so don't worry about that. Otherwise, I'll try to stick to writerly posts in general. Today, though, I just wanted to share with you the pretty.

Kickstarter, Self-Publishing, and Video Games

You've all heard of the literary self-publishing revolution. (Heck, some of you are on the barricades). What you might not know is there is a similar revolution going on in video and board games. It has to do with Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects. Anyone with an idea for a book, a movie, a game, a technology, or whatever can launch a project page and see if people are interested in funding their project. Authors have used it to self-publish: to fund cover artists and editors, and to see if there's a market for what they want to write before they write it.

We all know why authors self-publish: because breaking into the Big 6 is freaking hard, especially if you write for what is essentially a niche audience. Turns out the same thing is true in games.

Video games, in particular, have their own Big Publishers -- companies with the connections and resources to develop triple-A titles for the major gaming consoles. I don't even know how an independent developer would sign on with them. You'd probably have to prove you have a significant platform first, or else develop a Halo clone or something else they know will work. (Sound familiar?).

But not everybody wants to make Halo.* A number of developers have been using Kickstarter to pitch the games they always loved, and to see if enough people feel the same. You may have even heard of some of the biggest ones:

* Nothing against Halo, of course. There are some very talented folks making those games.

Double Fine Adventure was a Kickstarter campaign by developer Tim Schafer, maker of some of my favorite games of all time: the Monkey Island games, Grim Fandango, and Day of the Tentacle. Last March he asked for $400,000 to make a new adventure game -- something big publishers haven't wanted for decades. He got $3.3 million and kickstarted a revolution (see what I did there?).

A month later, inXile entertainment (starring my former and current boss) pitched a sequel to a very old post-apocalyptic RPG. Wasteland 2 got running with nearly $3,000,000.

Project: Eternity is the brain child of Obsidian Entertainment, home of most of my former coworkers. They asked if people wanted to see a spiritual successor to the old Infinity Engine games like Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment. Seventy-four thousand people said, "YES!"

Why am I telling you this? Well, partially because it's fascinating to me. Anything that makes it easier to fund, create, and distribute creativity is awesome, in my opinion.

But also to show that independent publishing is not strictly a book thing. In the last year, there have been seven million-dollar video game projects on Kickstarter, dozens of smaller ones, and who knows how many hundreds of similar board games, RPGs, and other things.

And just like in the book world, I think the way to look at self-publishing is not as a challenge to publishers, but more like filling holes that publishers leave unfilled. Three million dollars sounds like a lot, but when triple-A budgets regularly hit 30 or 40 million, you can understand why EA and Microsoft might not be interested in a niche RPG.

In the same way, ten thousand book sales might not interest a publisher used to selling books in the hundreds of thousands, but to the self-published author, those ten thousand sales are game changing.

Whatever. I just like where the future is going. I'm excited to see what happens next.

What about you? Have you ever backed (or launched!) a Kickstarter? What do you think about the platform.

First Impact: CHRYSALIS by Melissa Grebeleski

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where we take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, etc. 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.

Remember, anyone who offers their comments this month is eligible for either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me. I will draw a winner for January in just a few days, so get commenting.

This week we have a query for a YA fantasy. My inline comments are to the side, with overall thoughts at the end. As always, this is all just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

UPDATE (1/31, 9 AM): Melissa has posted a revised version of her query in the comments. Take a look and let her know what you think.

How can an archangel be seventeen?
Seventeen year-old Ivy Chapel, an archangel with amnesia, unknowingly possesses the healing power for all mankind. While trying to remember her past, Ivy must guard her heart and soul against the enemies standing in her way.

I'd move this to the top or the bottom
of the query.
I am searching for representation for my completed 107,074-word 107,000-word young adult novel, titled Chrysalis. The book is about a girl discovering the incredible truth about her destiny. The story entwines love, loyalty, betrayal and sacrifice.

Long paragraph. Maybe split it up.

At first I thought this meant that
archangels have parents.

If she wasn't returned, does that
Lucifer's rebellion is over?

Lucian feels like he comes out of the
blue to me. And his secrets are too
vague for me to follow.
Fairy tales and folklore. T, that’s what it sounds like to Ivy. Who would ever believe that she’s an archangel with amnesia, let alone the sole guardian of God’s power to heal everything for all mankind? One person does—her parents’ new tenant, handsome and arrogant William. He tells Ivy the strangest story about an angel being hidden on Earth in the form of a baby, a child forced by her spiritual parents to remain human until the rebellion of Lucifer ended, making it safe for her to come home. But something went terribly wrong. Ivy was never returned to heaven and now that she’s all grown up she finds herself the target of every demonic being. After two attempts on her life, Ivy realizes there might be more to William’s story and that truth can be far stranger than fiction. Her new boyfriend, Lucian, is charming and sophisticated. But there’s something about him she can’t quite figure out. As she slowly regains her spiritual abilities, Ivy finds herself caught between love and loyalty. William and Lucian hold the secrets of her past and the outcome of her future. One wants her heart. One wants her soul. Will she be able to survive them both and save the world?

Chrysalis is my first novel. I’m a stay at home mother and have been writing privately for friends and family for many years.

It's up to you whether you want to
write a sequel for a story that hasn't
sold, but as far as the query goes,
just say it has series potential.
Although Chrysalis stands alone as a novel, I have started on its sequel ideas for a sequel. I look forward to the opportunity to send you a few chapters, or the entire manuscript, of Chrysalis at your request. The finished manuscript is available on request. Please feel free to contact me using the email address. Please know that I have submitted queries to other agencies. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Adam's Thoughts
I think there's an intriguing story here (if you're not sick of angel stories, which I'm not; but I've heard agents tire of it in the past so watch out). But I think it gets lost behind what looks to me like an amateur query (sorry).

Lots of these problems are structural and easily fixed. For example:
  • The logline paragraph that repeats information stated later in the query. I've talked about this before.
  • Citing word count down to the exact word (generally round to the neareast thousand).
  • Telling what the story's about instead of letting the query show it (e.g. "[It's] about a girl discovering the incredible truth," etc).
  • Big Block of Text.
  • Superfluous information in the conclusion paragraph (mostly stuff that agents assume is true).
Fix all of that, and this will already look a lot better. Now let's talk about the meat of the query.

I like the concept of a teenager who doesn't realize she's really an archangel (and it makes a lot more sense than a 17-year-old archangel :-). That's your hook. And I guess William's arrival and the attempts on her life are the inciting incident.

But then the query gets a bit vague. It brings up a character that sounds like he's always been there, but feels like he came out of nowhere. And this character has a secret, but we don't get to know what it is.

Now, you don't necessarily need to tell us the secret, but the way this is written now, not knowing the secrets makes her sadistic choice meaningless to us. She has to choose between "love and loyalty," but who's love? And loyalty to whom? "One wants her heart. One wants her soul." But which is which? And why?

This is where you need to get specific. If we don't understand the protagonist's choice, then we can't care, no matter how much we want to. What makes a choice really sadistic is when the reader understands what goes into the choice, and they still have no idea what they would choose if it were them.

That's my opinion, anyway. What do the rest of you guys think?

First Impact: RACHEL ON FIRE by Vanessa Shields

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where we take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, etc. 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.

Remember, anyone who offers their comments this month is eligible for either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me.

This week we have a logline and first page for a YA Contemporary from Vanessa Shields. My inline comments are to the side, with overall thoughts at the end. As always, this is all just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

The bit about him killing his parents
hooked me. I wonder if that couldn't
come sooner.

I'm less sure about the last line.
On the bus out of town, it takes one kiss with Tom to ignite sixteen-year-old Rachel’s love. She’s ready to uncover the truth about Tom, the blue-eyed loner, who is rumored to have killed his parents in a house fire. Through a series of fiery firsts that uncover Tom’s scarred story, Rachel falls courageously in love. True love is real.

First Page
I was following this until the last
line. Then I felt out of the loop. Why
does she feel like something's up?

I watched my older brother Alex fidgeting with his university acceptance letter. He was speechless, for once. In fact, we all found ourselves happily silenced. My parents took a sip of their coffees. Then my mom put her hand on my dad’s shoulder. Suddenly, I felt so far out of the loop I couldn’t even see it.
“That’s great. Really great,” my dad said. He looked at my mom. We all looked at my mom. “Actually, we’ve got some news for you guys, too.”
A bad feeling in my guts stood at attention.
“We’re selling the house,” my mom said. A little sob slipped out of her mouth, which she quickly covered with her hand.
“What?!” I barely had enough breath to say the word.
“We don’t need to live in this big, old thing with Alex going off to school,” my mom said.
“Hey, Rachel, it’ll be okay,” Alex jumped in.
“Will it?” I glared at my mom. I couldn’t believe what my ears were hearing.
“Did you know about this?” I looked at Alex. His eyes found my mom’s, and then he nodded. Guilt shaded my family’s faces a bright hue of red. I pointed at them dramatically.  
“You all knew about this! How could you not tell me?” I was shouting. I wanted to run out of the room, but my legs were concrete heavy.
“We should have told you Rachel,” my dad said.
            I still felt like there was part of the loop that wasn’t being revealed.

Adam's Thoughts
I'm intrigued by the mystery, but I feel a little disconnected from the character. Nothing stands out to me as "wrong," but I think it's a combination of little things:
  • The sentence in the first paragraph where she feels out of the loop, but I don't even know what signals she picked up on that made her feel that way. I'm still trying to get grounded in these characters and the acceptance letter and what that means.
  • I think there's something lacking in her reaction to the news. Plenty of emotions are shown, but why is this so bad for her? What does this house mean for her? (Part of this might just be me: I don't personally identify with the issue because I've never felt that way about a house.)
  • It also might be that nobody else seems to have any emotions (with the exception of when her mom covers her sob -- that part's great).
  • Like the first "loop" sentence, I'm not sure what signals she's picking up on to make her think they're hiding more from her.
I'd read on, for sure, but if nothing changed, eventually the characters would be having All The Problems, and I would be like, "So?" And you don't want that.

What do the rest of you guys think?

Attention Blog Readers

I'm officially lowering my commitment to this blog, for obvious reasons. I will keep up the First Impact posts as long as I have submissions, and I'll post other things when I've got the time/inclination. But I need to give myself the freedom to back off my M/W/F schedule.

The new official schedule is "One to Three Times a Week and If I Miss a Week I'm Sorry." I highly recommend the RSS feed or an e-mail subscription if you are one of those who still checks websites on specific days.

I don't even need to read the comments to know you understand. I know you guys, and you are AWESOME. Three posts a week isn't even really hectic, but it does weigh on me as One More Thing. And when I've got too many Things weighing on me, the harder-but-more-important ones (like writing or playing games with my kids) get skipped.

And yes, playing games with my kids is hard. They have no attention span, so I have to triple mine to compensate.

Secret Hobbies

Name both these movies, and you win my eternal esteem.
Cross-posted from Anthdrawlogy's Heat week.

I am not a dancer, not by any twisted aerial of the imagination. But I do watch a lot of dance media: Shall We Dance, You Got Served, Stomp the Yard, all four Step Up movies, every single episode of So You Think You Can Dance...

I'm not sure how this happened (I married a dancer), but I regret nothing. Some of these guys are fricking superheroes with what they can do.

So what's your secret hobby?