Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Drop the Needle #24

GENRE: Adult Steampunk Fantasy

Bess has fled her abusive smuggler employer, choosing a barely-better life as courtesan to a manipulative nobleman. She’s unexpectedly encountered a former delivery client with cause to report discovering her to her former employer.

“Madam, a word,” The Alchemist set his pipe beside the till. “There are some instructions for your medicine.” He began scratching on a pad of paper.

Regenzi nudged Bess back with a reassuring smile and stayed just outside the threshold, searching about the pockets of his frock coat for his cigarette case. The bell rang as the door closed between them.

Bess stepped up to the high counter. The Alchemist pushed the pad and pen aside. The pipe smoldering by his elbow smelled of marjoram and fennel.

“The philter is nothing more than distilled water and some ginger tonic,” he said. “And you’re not a hysteric, in any case.”

Bess tried to look at him squarely. “I know.”

He snorted and looked toward the front window. Regenzi stood under the awning, wreathed by fog and cigarette smoke.

“Stay with that one and we’ll see how long your nerves last,” The old man folded the note and offered it between two fingers. “I have a customer in Oldtemple Down who keeps a ladies’ garment shop. She complains how hard it is to find a good clerk.”

Bess turned the paper over in her hands. Through its ecru fiber, she saw the digits of an address written in a tight, precise hand.

“Thank you,” she murmured. She slipped the note into her bodice.

“Your lover has need of rather dangerous things. Be mindful what that might mean for you.”

And then he turned, shrugging past the heavy curtain behind the till, quite as if she were already gone.


  1. Okay, I'm not entirely sure what's going on here - is the Alchemist the former client? Who is Regenzi? - but I assume that would be more clear in context. In any case, nice job! There is a sense of well-thought, intricate worldbuilding just from this short passage. The little details and descriptions are evocative of something familiarish but not quite from real history. I'd like to know how the address will help Bess. Good luck!

  2. Hmmm I agree that after reading this passage, I have many questions that would probably be answered in the context: If he's her former boss' client, why does he give her an address? It wasn't clear to me if they recognized each other except that you mentioned it (again, could be somewhere else). Should she trust him? Is he trying to help or harm her? I view these questions as good because they make me read on. I'm intrigued. Just make sure that in the wider context there aren't too many questions that the reader doesn't know what's going on.

  3. I like this a lot. Though I haven't read much steampunk, to me something about the voice and the sense of the place feels just right for a story set in that world.

    But I see a couple of punctuation errors in the dialogue -- actually, the same error twice: in the first sentence it should be a period after 'word' and later, after 'how long your nerves last' there should also be a period. (In both instances the sentence that follows, describing the old man's actions, isn't a speech tag.)

    Also, I'm not quite sure about the quite in the last line. ;) Clearly you don't actually need it, but I'm guessing you felt it added something in terms of the voice. I'm curious to see if others feel it would be better to leave it out.

  4. I'm curious. I'd love to read more! The only spot that threw me was the second paragraph, when Regenzi pushed Bess back. I saw that as pushing her behind him, but apparently you meant pushing her back inside the shop. Easy fix. :-) Good luck with the story!

  5. I really like the voice in this, very steampunkesque. :) I agree with Chris on the nudged back because action wise, I couldn't tell which direction she was being moved. I also didn't get right away that Regenzi and the alchemist are 2 different people. At first, the door closing between them makes me think she and the alchemist are on opposite sides of the closed door.

    This confusion is the result of starting out in omniscient POV. We don't know we're in Bess's head until she "tried" to look at him squarely. In this case, "tried" is a filter word. Either she does or she doesn't, there is no try (a nod to Yoda).

    Watch the filter words as in "began scratching" when you can simply have him scratching.

    Regenzi stood under the awning, wreathed by... It appears the awning is wreathed by fog and smoke.

    I get no sense of Bess feeling or thinking during this exchange. She observes, but doesn't react mentally or emotionally. I think you'll have a richer scene if you get more inside her skin and tell the story from her POV. How does she feel about this medicine? Is she worried how it will affect her? Does she hope it makes her well? The way it stands now, she doesn't appear to care what it does.

    Good luck with this!

  6. While I had no trouble working out the characters, it did take me a moment to visualize where everyone was. I think the sentence where Regenzi "stayed just outside the threshold" threw me. In my head I had Bess standing at the counter watching the alchemist set his pipe aside. Then I couldn't work out what Regenzi was nudging her toward, or where he was relative to the alchemist and the counter. Easy one to clarify - just give me a little more description.

    I also didn't get any emotion from this scene - either from Bess or the alchemist. Some facial expression from the alchemist and some internal thoughts on what Bess is thinking and feeling would help here.

    The dialogue flowed well and gave me just enough information to make me curious, without telling too much.

  7. I didn't get this at all the first time I read it, and that's probably due to being dropped in the middle of it. After a second and third read, I started getting the sense of it, and the more I read it, the more I liked it.

    There are extraneous words you could cut. Parg 1 try - He scratched on a pad of paper. If he starts, or begins, then you have to say if he continued and finished.

    Parg 3 - do we really need to know what the pipe smells like, since it doesn't add anything to the scene? And if you keep it, perhaps say 'the TOBACCO in the pipe.

    Parg 5 - Bess tried . . . Tried is like began. If she tries, then you have to tell us if she succeeded or not . Just say she looked squarely etc.

    Parg 8 - you could cut 'she saw.' You don't need 'she saw or felt or heard' because it's assumed she saw it, since she's the MC.

    WHat's missing is what Bess feels and thinks about what is happening to her. Does she want to be with Regenzi? Is she grateful for the help the Alchemist is giving, or does she think he should mind his own business? Is she touched by his gesture? Does it matter to her? Those things would lend more to the scene than the smell of his pipe.