Friday, November 29, 2013

(2) Adult Steampunk Fantasy: THE NINE

TITLE: The Nine
GENRE: Adult Steampunk Fantasy

When orphan courier Rowena Downshire carries a book that transcribes the lives of the nine unsuspecting souls whose actions will determine humanity's deliverance or doom, she becomes a target in an ambitious nobleman's conspiracy to derail divine judgment. Hunted by murderous minions seeking the book's pages -- and her silence -- Rowena’s survival depends upon her wits and her alliance with two strangers as ruthless as her enemies: men whose troubled pasts and shadowy loyalties will be tested when Rowena’s name appears among The Nine.

Rowena Downshire fixed the lanyani with her best glare, ignoring the stack of coin it had placed in her palm. She knew by weight it was three sovereigns shy, difference enough in clink to earn a solid whack of Ivor’s hawthorn. The lanyani, its wooden face as rutted as old oak, blinked at her with white, irisless eyes.

“You’re short,” Rowena said, loudly and slowly, translating to half-wit. “The deal was sixteen. I en’t come two miles getting chewed to bits to leave with less than what’s due.”

She hadn’t let go of the vervet’s cage yet, either, though she wished the little beast would stop worrying at her hand under the shearling cover. The lanyani leaned for the cage, willow-whip hands sweeping wide.

Rowena danced backward, out from under the gypsy’s fringed tent and out of its reach. She ignored the curse of a costermonger whose foot she trod, though she did look up at him just to be sure he wasn’t a Constable. He spat by her boot before lifting his barrow of soft, waxy apples and wheeling off to some other corner of the Shipman’s Bazaar.

Rowena turned back to the lanyani.

“Three more clink, or no little rat,” she said. Slowly, she edged back under the tent, the little rectangular cage clutched against her chest.


  1. The concept for this one gives me chills, the good kind! Love the detailed descriptions, the sense we get of your character in just one page. Beautifully done!

  2. I love steampunk. What troubles me is I get no sense the story is going to include it here. The fantasy, I get, just not the steampunk part of it.

    I like the story set-up, good voice, tension reasonable, but consider adding some small detail that says steampunk right away. Flips up her goggles, listens for the buzz of some weird device, or...?

  3. I think your log line could use a little tightening (do we need to know she's an orphan or that a nobleman is involved -- it might be enough to know bad people are hunting her), but other than that it was good at catching my interest with the last line.

    It struck me as more of a fantasy piece than steampunk in this selection, so I'm not sure if that's something you'll want to look into tweaking (like, an agent or editor specifically looking for steampunk might not go much further if they feel you're not emphasizing that enough). But the writing was very fluid, even with several words I wasn't familiar with -- they just added to the atmosphere, I think, and Rowena's dialogue and speech pattern helped establish a sense of character pretty quickly.

  4. It may be that my eyes are tired, but I had to read through your logline twice; it's very packed. And I feel your pain! But I think anything you can do to tighten it, do it. Is orphan necessary? Can you say that the minions seek the book, or do they have to seek the pages? A few such tweaks might help.

    The voice here is great, I am totally engaged. It doesn't feel steampunk yet, but it's only the opening; right now I'll take your word for it. Though I do wonder, as a more general question: if your book is borderline a fairly distinctive genre, is there a pro/con scenario to pitching it as such? If, say, your novel has some steampunk elements, but doesn't quite fit perfectly into that category, is there an advantage to pitching it as steampunk vs. more general fantasy?

  5. While long, the pitch is nicely worded with a lot of pertinent detail. If you have need for a shorter pitch at some point, I think this could be reduced, but it set a lot up in an efficient way, so great job!

    I don't know what a lanyani is but other than that I really liked this! I don't mind that the first page doesn't scream steampunk with references to goggles and airships. The writing overall is strong so I hope you get bids from the agents!

  6. I love Rowena's voice, and the tone of the narration - tough, no-nonsense, vivid, and earthy, which I'm guessing would be good descriptors of your MC, as well. Love that. The tone and ease of the writing - how you wrote it, not that's it's an easy read! - is enough to keep me reading, and I'm already a little charmed by Rowena.

    A couple of nitpicks:
    - You introduce a LOT of new terms/ideas in this brief section. As a brand-new reader, I don't know what a lanyani, vervet, or costemonger are. You do give me an idea about the vervet ("little rat"), which is perfect, but because I'm trying to figure out what the other two are, as well as who Ivor is, what his hawthorn does, and where/when in this world we are, it's a little overwhelming. I'm spending more time trying to understand terms than sink into the story.
    - I agree with the others; the logline is a bit too packed. I also totally sympathize! I had to read it a few times, though, to understand it, so a little tightening up would really help.

  7. I'm on board with other commenters on several points.

    I found the logline a bit on the long side and wonder if all of the detail was necessary.

    I also encountered a number of words or phrases that were unfamiliar and that took a bit of back and forth before I could guess from context (e.g., lanyani, vervet (which I would take to be a monkey, but which she calls a rat, so now I'm not sure), "translating to half-wit" (does this mean she's switching dialect/language?), costermonger, etc), which, you know, to a great extent simply shows my own ignorance. But what it suggests to me is that if I want to work my way through this book, I'm probably going to have a dictionary beside me for much of it (which is less of a criticism and more of a "I'm just saying" sort of thing).

    Having said that, the writing strikes me as especially confident and I have no doubt that this author knows what they're doing and what story they're telling. It may simply not be quite my thing.

    Still, I will say that the overall plot as stated and the idea of this book and the nine souls thing is extremely cool. It might just be enough to make me reach for the dictionary anyway :-).

    Best of luck with it!

  8. Similar to others, I felt the writing was strong but too many unfamiliar terms were taking me out of the story. Too many times I had to stop and go "huh?" that it broke the spell. I know it is hard to build a fantasy world but sometimes it is easier to just keep a rat a rat and save the world-building for more important things?

  9. It's clear that this world is going to be very vividly imagined and layered. I love the terms you are using, my only suggestion is that it is a lot for the reader to take in all at once. The paragraph beginning "Rowena danced backward" threw me a little as I was trying to figure out who the costermonger was and then the additional threat of the Constable was introduced. Then she went back into the tent. Could this paragraph be cut?

    Overall, I am intrigued by this world. The writing is beautiful. Based on this very short sample, I'm sure there would be a limitless amount of unique and fantastical elements. I would keep reading! Good luck and best wishes!

  10. I like the logline a lot, actually. It could be a little more concise, but it didn't raise any red flags to me.

    The writing is great, and I can see glimmers of the unique world that you've created. The only thing that I see a problem with is that there are a lot of unknown words (places, people, beings, etc.) in the first 250, so it could easily confuse your reader.

    Great job and good luck!

  11. I love the premise, and if you pull it off, it should make for a very interesting read. The log line could be tightened, or broken down into 3 or 4 shorter sentences. The two sentences were a mouthful.

    I thought the page does a decent job of setting up the story. I have a good sense of place, and the MC's character and abilities. She did come off a bit generic, in that I know she's a woman because her name is Rowena, but if you had said 'Robert' Downshire, it would have worked as well. I could have believed this was a man, so perhaps add something that makes her specifically a woman.

    Since a vervet is a monkey, I wondered why she called it a rat, which will be confusing for those who don't know what a vervet is.

    I had never heard the word costermonger before, but got that he must be a fruit or apple seller since his wheelbarrow was full of apples, so I think there's context to help with that.

    You might capitalize the l in Lanyani, to set it apart as a different species, like you would Italian, Spaniard, Englishman. And you might uncapitalize Constable.

    Overall, I thought it was a nice intro to both the story and her world.

    Good luck!

  12. I don't know that fantasy readers would be troubled with the new and different words. I thought you did a good job giving clues. She's in a gypsy tent, for example, so I have a good idea what the lanyani does even though he is an unfamiliar species.

    I think you are creating a rich world with interesting characters. I know Rowena has some concern regarding constables, so that gives a peek at her attitude toward the government. I'm curious to know if she'll get the lanyani to pay up and why she needed to make this uncomfortable journey to sell this caged creature.

    My one suggestion is to first give readers the action to which Rowena reacts. In the line "She ignored the curse of a costermonger whose foot she trod," that's reversed. We know her reaction before we know what she's reacting to. It dampens the effect, I think. (She's ignoring a curse and we don't even realize it's directed at her until later in the sentence. If you say she landed on the hard leather of a boot, or whatever, then readers will get that she's about to receive some kind of reaction and we can feel with her the bother of this complication and the disdain for his curses, even the momentary concern he might be a constable.)

  13. I agree with some of the previous comments that this reads as more fantasy than steampunk to me. Also, the log line did have a lot to digest! I had to read it slowly :)

    But, I do really like the premise. I'm definitely intrigued by the fact that she has to rely on two men who may be unsavory and may not be loyal to her. That sets up a great tension (and perhaps a love interest or two? ;-) )

    One nitpick, I get that sometimes coin without the "s" is plural, but it reads sort of funny to me.

  14. I agree with some of the previous comments that this reads as more fantasy than steampunk to me. Also, the log line did have a lot to digest! I had to read it slowly :)

    But, I do really like the premise. I'm definitely intrigued by the fact that she has to rely on two men who may be unsavory and may not be loyal to her. That sets up a great tension (and perhaps a love interest or two? ;-) )

    One nitpick, I get that sometimes coin without the "s" is plural, but it reads sort of funny to me.

  15. This logline really intrigues me and I love the MC's name. The only phrase I paused on was "transcribes the lives," seemed a little poetic for a logline perhaps.

    I haven't read steampunk before, so have no reference, but I love this. Enough description that I know what's going on, and enough new that I want to read more to find out what a lanyani is--some kind of half human or robot. The world feels very real to me, without forcing backstory or unnecesary facts that take me out of the moment. I trust that will all come in when needed. I also love the slang of the world. My one suggestion is in this sentence:

    "“Three more clink, or no little rat,” she said. Slowly, she edged back under the tent, the little rectangular cage clutched against her chest."

    to change it to:

    “Three more clink, or no little rat,” she said, clutching the rectangular cage against her chest as she edged back under the tent."

    I'd read on for sure. Good luck.

  16. I'm onboard with Kimberly and Liz. Well done, overall. Maybe a few minor, itsy-bitsy tweeks, but heck, the explanations could be in the two-hundred-fifty-first word, so I'd call myself a patient reader and read on to see how it unfolds.

  17. Overly complex logline. I think you may want to tighten it a bit, to really focus on the three key elements—goal, motivation, conflict. You have all this information in there, but the ‘extra’ details make it difficult to focus on these key hooks.

    From the sample, I think you could go deeper into the character’s head. There’s a lot of fantastical elements introduced without definition. This makes it difficult for a reader to follow along—especially when we’re expecting a steampunk. Is this the inciting incident? This had me wondering if the story is starting in the right place. Here, you’re introducing her role as courier, but I feel like there may be a stronger way to do so—one that allows us to really understand the world she’s in. Don’t be afraid to go deeper into your character’s POV—to really draw out the subtext and layers for the world and character that you want to establish from the start of the story. Otherwise, your readers will be spending a lot of time wondering what the significance of this interraction is—what the definition of the world is—as we only know what your character tells us. It’s risky to have a reader wondering so much from the start.

    With that said, I think this premise is fascinating and I’d definitely want to read more.

  18. After reading your very beautiful entry, I mostly wonder two things.

    1. How can I be so daft to not know so many terms you included in your 250?

    2. Is Rowena going to receive her 3 clink?

    Your skill with written descriptions is excellent and even though some unfamiliar words slowed me up, I think I'd like this book.

    However, I don't like my own ignorance flaunted, so I may get frustrated if the beginning of the story doesn't ease me into the new world a bit more gently.

    You definitely are very skilled and have already created a unique voice with Rowena, so I would read on a while.

    Good luck!

  19. Love the writing in this post. It's clear that you are a confident and talented writer.

    I agree with the rest of the group: the unique terms in the first 250 words are difficult to digest. I think it could be easily strengthened with a quick reference connecting the term to the item in a way the reader can understand.

    The log line is beautiful but dense. I love the second sentence but wonder if it could be stripped down.

    Great start and good luck!

  20. I love it when a science fiction or fantasy story is as rich with imagination as this! I am so intrigued by the half-wit and the lanyani and "a wooden face as rutted as old oak, blinked at her with white, irisless eyes."

    And then in the midst of this, to be dealing with something as "old world" as sovereigns. ;)

    I know enough about steampunk to realize that it slips its way in. You are not always hit on the head with it on first page. So I am dying to see where the steampunk comes in.

    Sorry I cannot keep reading.

    Nancy Bilyeau