First Impact: THE ANKULEN by Kendra E. Ardnek

It's been a while, but we have 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 back cover copy for a fantasy by Kendra Ardnek (I see what you did there) called THE ANKULEN. My overall thoughts are at the end. As always, this is just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

Back Cover
When she was seven, Jen had an amazing imagination - one she could make real. Then her parents adopted Chris. He disappeared a few weeks later - and with him went her imagination. But when her adopted brother Chris disappeared, her imagination went with him.

Eight years later, he reappears and makes a startling revelation. He was her imaginary friend. Indeed, she has an entire imaginary world - and it still exists!

That's a mouthful :-)

The world-building is confusing me
here a little. See my thoughts below.
But it's dying - eaten by a horrid creature called the Polystoikhedron. She must find her Ankulen - the special bracelet that brought her imagination to life in the first place, and fight for her world. She's willing to fight.

But is she willing to die?

I'm assuming these are two versions
you want me to critique.
Or ...

Not a fan of this opening sentence.

Why is she wishing it now? Also it
seems odd that what she's worried
about is her imagination, not her
probably-kidnapped brother.
Stuck outside until her notebook shows signs of a story, Jen makes a wish that the adopted brother who disappeared when she was seven, shows back up and tell her what happened to her imagination. Which disappeared the same day. Of course, she never expected him to actually do so.

How did she not know she had this
bracelet? Wouldn't she have noticed
it ALSO disappeared the same day
Chris did?

I don't understand her 2nd task.
Turns out, he was actually her imaginary friend, and she had an Ankulen, a special bracelet that brings imagination to life. With her imagination in reach, there are only three things she needs to do to get it back: find the Ankulen, find her missing memories of building her imagination, and fight off the Polystoikhedron, a hydra-like monster that has been making a feast of her imagination in her absence.

All in a day's work, you know?

Adam's Thoughts
I like the concept, but I don't know if I'd read the book based on this back-cover copy. It raises a lot of questions for me in a not-good way, which makes me wonder if the author has thought the implications of everything through.

Here's the thing. As soon as I read that her imagination became real, I immediately begin thinking what *I* would do with that kind of power. I'm willing to grant a lot of leeway because she's seven at the time, but still, I'd expect unicorns and dragons and princesses in castles. Or SOMETHING totally fantastic that doesn't belong in this world. (And that's not even counting things like infinite candy/pizza/video games ;-).

But then what does it mean that it became real? Could her parents and other people see this stuff? If so, wouldn't that have freaked everybody out? And if not, what does "real" mean? Was it a world she went to? Did anybody believe her? Because the opening makes it sound like it was really, definitely real -- especially since her parents could presumably see Chris. But then why is she the only one who notices when it goes away?

Two other overall comments: (1) this feels like Middle Grade, though the submission labeled it as simply "fantasy." That probably doesn't matter for the back cover, but it's something you might want to know as you seek out your target audience. (2) This feels a LOT like The Never-Ending Story. That's not necessarily a bad thing (as I said, I like the concept), but I do think your back-cover copy could add something to distinguish it from that classic.

What do the rest of you guys think?

Dead Boys, Invisible Girls, and Teens That Can't Read Minds

I apologize for the blog silence. I'm deep in the drafting tunnels of a certain science fantasy novella and/or role-playing game. I'll resurface once I get this novella worked out. Until then, please see the last part of the official blog schedule.

But I'm sending this missive via miner's canary* because there are three very important books I need to tell you about. All of them are cool, written by exceedingly cool people, and I think I'm in the acknowledgements of two of them (which ones? You'll just have to read them to find out!).

* Please send the canary back, by the way. The air in these tunnels is starting to smell funny.

Jack of Hearts by Ricardo Bare
Jack lost someone, causing a deep pain he could no longer endure. Most boys would take their own life. Jack gave his heart to the Lady of Twilight and has become her heartless assassin. Now he feels nothing, even as he does the Lady's bidding in hunting a thieving wizard.

But when he meets a beautiful girl trapped in a mirror, something stirs inside of him. A shadow of what he used to be. He wonders if he made the right decision after all, but getting his heart back from the witch will prove more difficult than any mission he's been on.

Jack of Hearts, is Ricardo's debut novel that came out just a couple weeks ago. He is one of my most awesome critique partners, and also happens to be the lead designer of the critically acclaimed stealth action/adventure game Dishonored, released last year. Check this book out, folks.

Transparent by Natalie Whipple
Touted as X-Men meets Godfather. Fiona McClean was born invisible, which makes her the perfect daughter for Vegas's biggest crime lord. But when her father pushes her too far, she goes on the run and tries to live a normal life in a small town far from her father's reach. Far, but not far enough. When her father tracks her down, she has to decide how far she'll go to protect the people she loves.

Transparent is Natalie's debut (that doesn't actually come out until next week, but you can pre-order it now). She's a good friend of mine, and it's been both heartbreaking and exhilarating to watch her journey to publication these last few years. She is (as I've said) hugely imaginative, and it shows in her ideas. She is also part of our writing team for Torment, which makes her and Torment extra awesome. 

Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn
Kiera is a zero, a non-reader in a world where everybody can read minds. Until the day she accidentally control's her best friend's mind and discovers she's an entirely different kind of freak: a mindjacker. It turns out she's not the only one, and she's soon drawn into an underworld that she never suspected existed.

As it happens, this was Susan's debut as well. Yes, okay, this book came out two years ago, AND I've already talked about it. But I'm bringing it to your attention now because Open Minds is, now and forever, free to download.

So what are you waiting for?

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?