Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On The Block Concession Crit #7

TITLE: June Plumay, Teenage Curse Inspector
GENRE: YA Science Fiction, Contemporary

June Plumay wants to be a licensed curse inspector like her Pop, then she can investigate his murder. That means playing by the council’s rules: no giving the stink-eye to school bullies, hiding her hex-smithing from her new family, and – most importantly -- No Investigating On Her Own.

June handed her father the wheat flour and the jar of frosted melancholy. He set them down on the counter next to the big copper bowl, and checked the splattered and much abused recipe. The words were beautiful calligraphy torn from an ancient manuscript written by a Welsh monk who liked cats, and whiskey, and cursing the Romans.

While her father whispered a powerful grace over the eggs, June closed her eyes, ran her hands over her head in a benediction, and pretended she was taking a shower in a waterfall. She needed to perform this ritual before she touched her phone, or it would get zapped by her tainted blood.
Her father considered almost anything electronic an abomination, and would not allow her to buy another phone if she destroyed this one. It had taken all of her money doing odd jobs for Sour Ann, babysitting, and fixing Cancer Jack’s skateboard just to replace her first phone.

“Cinnamon.” He wagged his fingers impatiently.

“Just a minute, boss. I need tunes.” It was not easy to select a playlist that fit the mood. It was a late Saturday morning in the Fall, her favorite time of year, when she felt most comfortable in her skin, and all her clothes fit right.

The aroma of bacon and lazy sunlight lingered in the kitchen, and she could still taste buttery pancakes from breakfast. So, comfortably full and pleased with the universe, June helped her father brew concoctions of dreadful potency.


  1. Well, I really like this. I love the title, and would pick it up on that alone. And I really love the opening. I love the little world building details, like Sour Ann and frosted melancholy. And I really love that she's going to be investigating her dad's murder (though, I already like her dad, so I'm kind of sad by that)

    My only real question is, why is this categorized as Science Fiction? I don't see any sort of technology in this opening (or even in the logline.) Everything screams fantasy to me and so if it IS actually sci-fi, I would try to get some of what makes it sci-fi in this opening so others aren't also confused and think you don't know what you're talking about.

  2. I really enjoyed this as well. But I, too, think this sounds like fantasy and not sci-fi.

    Great details and some lovely language throughout. And you build suspense in several ways including her tainted blood, why her clothes fit tight, etc.

    I think you should probably ground readers a little bit so they're not confused by what's going on in this alternative world.

    For example, could you spell out it's a recipe for a potion of some kind? Or add something to that effect?

    The next paragraph introduces eggs. At first I thought the father was saying grace over THEIR breakfast and not adding the eggs to the potion. Even a quick fix like: Her father whispered a powerful grace over the eggs before adding them to the something-something mixture. June took the opportunity to close her eyes...

    There's enough here that I want to continue reading! Good job.

    DurangoWriter (author Mandy Mikulencak)

  3. Great opening! Everything in there contributes to making the world seem warm and delightfully weird. I also love the title. My only quibble is with the logline. We see what June wants and what she has to do to get it, but are those things really standing in her way? It reads like a list of things she has to do, rather than the barriers to getting what she wants. Consider adding a bit more of the stakes here. What's stopping June from playing by the Council's rules to get what she wants?

  4. The pitch confused me. She wants to be an inspector more than investigating on her own? What are the perks of being licensed?

    This reads like fantasy.

    The excerpt is wonderful! I got a little miffed when she'd already eaten breakfast though. I thought that's what they were preparing.

  5. I like this crazy first paragraph with its frosted melancholy and the cursing Welsh monk (but am bored by the calligraphy and alarmed by the torn ancient manuscript).

    But I think you should start with the second paragraph. Or painfully trim the first paragraph down to one, far blander sentence. The first is too odd and too risky (you want to sell this, right?).

    Because we want it sold. We want to pick this up in the library or bookstore. We want to read it.

    I want to see how a book ends that starts out with frosted melancholy.

  6. Love this. It has great voice. There are little places to smooth and clarify, but the quirkiness is oh so appealing :-)

  7. Whoo, boy! I loved this. I really enjoyed how everyday things like wheat flour, phones, and playlists juxtaposed against frosted melancholy, tainted blood, and Sour Ann. I liked how somehow the setting felt medieval and contemporary at the same time. So much to like. I agree with many of the other commenters that this reads more as fantasy than sci fi, though, and the logline threw me a bit, too. . .it isn't as fun/poetic/beautifully written as your opening scene.

  8. Love this. The names are the best: Sour Ann, Cancer Jack.

    My favourite line is "The words were beautiful calligraphy". I like your double use of "and" at the end.

    The text is funny but it feels almost unintentional...I'm not sure if I like the subtlety of it or if I wish it was a bit more up front. It's clever enough that it makes me think you could commit to the humour a bit more. Like, her name is June and her favourite season is Fall...clever enough to be funny but the subtlety might be lost on some readers. I did smile at "powerful grace over the eggs."

    I would remove the comma from "comfortable in her skin, and all her clothes fit right". The two thoughts are connected enough that I think it flows better without the comma.

  9. Thank you all for your time and critique.

  10. I thought this was great. It's smart and clever. Good worldbuilding, lovely language, great characters right off the bat.

    It may, however, go on too long, at the expense of plot. Try to get a goal and inciting incident on the page, that way we get an idea of where this is going. What are they making? Why are they making it? Answering those two questions could be enough. Don't give up on it.