Tuesday, April 28, 2009

#12 1000 Words

TITLE: thus far untitled
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

She was waiting for him at the bar when he came in for work. This surprised him; he knew her well enough – he prided himself on thoroughly researching his prey – but he did not think she knew him beyond a name and a face.

He shrugged off his coat and bundled it under the bar. “What can I get for you tonight, Phoebe?” he asked with a well-practiced smile. “It is Phoebe, right?”

“Nothing. I want to be sober tonight –”

“How about a Coke, then?”

“I want to talk to you,” she said.

“Sure – but make it quick. I've got a job to do, after all.” His smile did not falter, though the set of her jaw did not bode well.

“All right then.” She flipped her hair out of her face – though it was lank and dull and generally unfit for flipping. “I'm onto you.”

His heart skipped a beat, without fail. “Well?” he prompted.

“You're a vampire.”

He laughed in her face. “I get that all the time, you know. It comes of being stringy and pale and not getting out much. Look, my day job is in IT. Is that all, or do you want the Coke?”

Phoebe crossed her arms on the countertop and waited as he made up several patrons' orders. He attempted to, but couldn't, ignore her; she had parked herself on the stool and clearly refused to leave until he heard her out. He finished up the first round of drinks, wiped his hands on a dishtowel, and asked with a huff, “What, still here?”

“Yeah. I told you, I've got to talk to you.” She lowered her voice and added, “I know you're a vampire, Duane – I've checked.”

“You've... checked.” He raised an eyebrow, hoping she wouldn't catch on to the dishrag twisting between his fingers under the bar top.

“Yep.” She pulled a small, round object out of her purse – a pocket mirror. “And I can prove it.”

Before she could so much as blink, he lunged across the countertop and snatched the compact from her hand. “What do you want?” he snapped, all semblance of civility vanishing.

“I want you to turn me,” she said, unfazed.

Duane leaned forwards, his face just inches from hers, so she could smell the blood on his breath and see his needle-sharp canines peeking out from behind his lips. “You have no idea what you're asking,” he growled.

“I think I have some idea, Duane. Whatever you might think, I'm not some naïve twit who reads trashy vampire romance. I've done my homework.”

He raised his fist – clenched around the rag and mirror – and squeezed. “You don't know the half of it, mortal.” Shards of glass littered the wooden countertop between them. To her credit, she did not flinch.

“You don't know me.”

He tossed the dishtowel behind him, the mangled mirror frame clinking against the floor. Leaning back, he bared his teeth in a feral grin, like a wolf regarding a particularly reckless fawn. “And if I say no?”

Phoebe placed her palms flat on the bar top and in a hard voice, said, “Turn me, Duane, or I'll out you. I mean it.”

“Careful there, Phoebe,” he said, quirking an eyebrow and carelessly pouring someone another beer. “The last person to threaten me didn't survive to carry out the threat.”

“I'll do it right here, right now. I've got another mirror in my pocket.”

Even in the dim lighting, she could see his eyes darken – they were now pitch black – and his canines lengthen, like cat's claws unsheathed. He was no longer smiling. “We'll talk. Later. I've got a job to do,” he said. “Now get out.”

“I'll be seeing you later, then,” she said, hopping off the barstool. He turned away from her, and did not see her settle down in the far corner of the room.

Phoebe waited until the last patron had stumbled drunkenly from the bar; she approached as he was locking up. “I know you're there,” he said without looking away from the register.

“I know you do. You're a vampire, after all.” She pulled out the stool directly across from him and sat down. “You mind turning up the light? You can see in the dark, but I can't. Not yet, anyways.”

The lamp overhead turned on with a half-hearted sputter. Duane got a proper feel for her without the dim, multicolored lights and the overpowering stench of smoke that came with the customers – and she was a right mess. She was thin – too thin, by human standards – with dark hollows under her eyes and a faint sheen of cold sweat he could smell from a mile away; she looked ready to topple over from sheer exhaustion, holding herself together and upright by force of will alone. It's too soon, he thought, recalling the first time he'd fed on her, a mere eight months ago. It doesn't usually go this fast.

“Why?” he asked her, though he suspected he already knew. “Why do you want this?” His tone said, If you don't read trashy vampire romance, you'd better have a damned good reason.

For all her easy confidence, she hesitated, lips parted, poised on the brink of a response. Finally, she said, “You won't tell anyone, will you?”

“One secret for another. I suppose that's fair,” he replied. “Give me the mirror.”

Phoebe slipped it from her jeans pocket – it was a little square one this time, without a cover – and placed it face-down on the countertop. Duane ground it into the wooden surface with the heel of his hand, until the largest sliver of glass was no bigger than an ant. “You were saying?” he asked when he was through.

“I...” Phoebe took a deep, rattling breath. “I'm HIV positive. I don't want to die.”


  1. It seems that all the italics have been lost in transit. (I use italics for unvoiced thoughts.) There might be other formatting issues, too.

    Thank you for critiquing.

    ~Aethyr, Author #12

  2. Dear Aethyr,

    Sorry about the formatting troubles. I don't think it read much differently though; I don't see too many direct thoughts and I didn't get confused.

    Phoebe seems like my kind of girl--strong willed and focused. I think she could be interesting. Duane is not reavealed here much. I had some POV issues with this--I wasn't sure if you were going for an omni POV, or if you were just going for a close third person. Either way, there are some abrupt POV switches that leave me feeling as if I'm head-hopping, so either your omni needs smoothing, or you have to pick a POV and stick to it for the scene.

    I also think you should be aware that there are a lot of well used elements crammed into just a 1000 words here. Vampires are very popular right now; so are women who want them to turn them. And frankly the HIV thing--well, it's not original at all. I think if you know your book has elements of the 'vampire romance' it won't save it to point that out in the opening. Trying to do something different with the elements will. I'm just not sure the opening you have here will set you apart from other vampire novels, romance or not.

    There's very little in the way of setting here. You use only your sense of sight, and describe almost nothing. Worse, you have Duane showing of his teeth and strength in what I assume is a crowded bar. Phoebe doesn't need to out him--he'll do that himself if he continues.

    I was also confused as to whether you shifted timelines between the first and second scenes. I think you did because you mention eight months. However, the way you ended the first and began the second doesn't prepare the reader for such a great timeshift, and it literally left me spinning. You'll have to find a way to properly end the first part, and a way to clue the reader into the timeshift immediately if you want to keep readers from jumping ship.

    Overall, you could do worse than write and urban fantasy about vampires. Those sell. But what you have to work on most for me is eliminating the cliches, settling on a POV approach and giving me something in a scene besides pretty typical dialogue. Your story could have stood out a lot more if you'd decided to either stick with Duane's heightened senses, or Phoebe's pain-wracked existence. Let the character's inform the piece more; focus less on action and more on development and you might have something here.

  3. I don't read vampire novels of any kind (can't stand them) so I don't know if you have a "been there done that" kind of book...although all books have been there done that....but I digress. I think you have a good story going...the opening is a bit clunky but could be tightened. Overall, this is good.

  4. I have not read any vampire novels except the first 3 of the Twilight series (don't plan on reading the last one.) I have just begun Bram Stoker's Dracula. So from that perspective, I actually chuckled at the line about vampire romance and was intrigued by the HIV bit.

    Aside from all that- the writing was very clear. I got everything even without the italics. I was interested in both of these characters. I saw them, the setting, all of it very clearly. I liked it.

    (I actually find unvoiced thoughts in italics to be a bit annoying. Its not in first person so just write what she's thinking- you are the all knowing narrator. It really only makes sense to me when a character is mind speaking like the dragon in Eragon. But that's just my opinion.)

  5. I like that opening gave us some sense of the vampire- he prided himself on thoroughly researching his prey- but I think you need to be careful about the setting. I imagine agents have seen a lot of "girl, vampire, and bar " openings. Maybe she calls him in to fix her computer instead?

    POV: I think the omni-view can work well here. It can be a good device when there are super-natural, paranormal or aliens involved, but it's not used a lot these days so some people may find it distracting.

    As far as the flow of the story:
    On first read, I though we jumped ahead in time halfway through the piece. The first paragraph does say that Phoebe was the vamp's prey, but only on the second read did I figure out that he'd already been feeding on her.

    Overall, I liked the writing.

    Hope this helps.

  6. I had a little trouble staying connected to the characters. I felt distant from them both. Maybe I'm just not a fan of a distant POV? I would vote for getting much more into Duane's head.

    The HIV thing did interest me. I would be interested to find out how that plays out. I've read a few vampire books but not enough to know if it's already been done.

  7. Okay, let me start by saying I am immediately intrigued and dying to read more. This is GOOD. And the premise is seriously interesting, and I want to read more. You hooked me.

    I think the problem that others are having with the writing is the same as I am having... it's a lot of pronouns and getting kind of confusing from one person to another.

    For example:
    “Sure – but make it quick. I've got a job to do, after all.” His smile did not falter, though the set of her jaw did not bode well.
    I had to read this a couple of times and make sure I had assigned the different feelings to each of the characters.

    I think the issue might even be with each of them finding their own voice, and the heavy use of pronouns before thoroughly establishing them as characters.

    Please don't misunderstand me though... I am hooked and would still read more, so the faults I find are small!

  8. I'm not sure I'm buying a vampire who's threatened by a compact mirror. Although this is an interesting start, I'm afraid it sounds quite familiar...the themes of 'turn me,' 'vampire hiding among humans,' etc. Also, HIV is not the death-sentence it once was, so I'd want to know if Phoebe was sick (AIDS), or unable to take the medications to prevent the onset of AIDS, etc. Then again, if you don't want to die, regardless of the reason, then vampirism would be the way to go. Thanks for sharing this!

  9. The omniPOV is confusing. My suggestion: go with one perspective, or, use two perspectives, but separate them into clearly identifiable sections - this is the procedure I use in my writing.

    I love, love, love the very last sentence.

    Some thoughts about her HIV status: when does the novel take place? Most people with HIV live very long lives due to the current drug regimens. If the story is taking place 'today', then why isn't she on a regimen? Can she not afford one? Do you explain this fairly early in the novel? Does HIV, in some way, affect vampires? Does it compromise the vampire somehow?

    The last sentence alone intrigues me.

  10. Writing: nothing snagged me or tripped me up.
    Premise: Before I comment, I enjoy urban fantasy, but stay away from the vamps. The 'turn me because I'm going to die' intrigued me, but again i don't know how common that take is in the vamp-genre.
    Pacing: I felt it began with the "Turn me" line. Up to that point, I was drifting and not tied to the characters.
    Dialog and Voice: Was one of your stronger sections.

    Great points: vamp's humor, intrigue in the last line would make me turn the page

    Bottom line, when the two were sparring in their dialog, I liked it a lot. The rest didn't cause me difficulty; it just didn't grab at me. Your last setup tension though would have made me go to the next page though!

    This is my first 1000 to crit, but overall i enjoyed it. thank you for sharing.

  11. Trust me when I say I am your target audience for this. I would very much like to read more and I would like to know more about Duane. What does he look like? What is he wearing. The sooner I get the movie in my head, the sooner I can’t put it down.

  12. Thanks a bunch for critiquing; it's just the kick in the pants I needed to keep going!

    Just a thought: Is there some sort of preconception that this is Paranormal Romance? At this point, I don't plan on having the two ever get together.


  13. Aethry- to answer your question- yes, I had that thought just a small wondering of hmmm, will these two get together?

    I think that's a good reaction whether they do or not. It meant I cared enough to wonder. But its very early in the story, so it's not like I expected it.

    Another thought I had was- hmm, is it bad for vampires to feed off HIV humans (since he said he'd fed off her already).

  14. Hmmm, I'm having trouble deciding if I like this a little or more than that. It has some appeal, the aids, who's really the prey (I think that's what I like most), but the overuse of dashes distracted me. For example, "She pulled a small, round object out of her purse – a pocket mirror." I'd just say "She pulled a pocket mirror out of her purse." Simple and to the point.

    Also, why does he object to her wanting to become a vampire? I don't read this genre so perhaps I just don't understand.

    I'm confused with the sections below. Did he know where she was or not? Or did he know she was still there but just not where? Is this even necessary?
    He turned away from her, and did not see her settle down in the far corner of the room.

    Phoebe waited until the last patron had stumbled drunkenly from the bar; she approached as he was locking up. “I know you're there,” he said without looking away from the register.

    My other significant point is why would she give away her one bargaining chip when she tells him why she wants to be turned? She had something on him but now that seems to be negated by what he holds over her.

    Overall I liked the style of this and would keep reading a bit more to see where it went. Good luck!

    "His heart skipped a beat, without fail." That doesn't make sense to me.

  15. I found myself tightening this as I read along, which isn't something one wants, but the good news is most of it is purely mechnical, easy, checklist stuff like killing the passive voice and exchaning a few terms for less-stilted ones, and at the end I enjoyed the short exchange where she confides her reasons.

    Has potential, but you'll want to take aim a hard eye toward anything extraneous.

  16. There was enough here to draw me in. Like many others I struggled with the persistent POV changes. Pick a character and stick with them (at least for the scene).

    Please bear in mind that what follows is opinion only provided for your consideration, and has to do with plot. I think you should be following Phoebe's POV, and the story should center on her.

    I think it's a mistake to reveal Duane as a vampire. Drop subtle clues. Make the reader wonder why a dying girl is trying to start a relationship with someone she has nothing in common with, and who has little interest in her. Make the revelation a few chapters in (or even later). She should have to work for it.

    Others have pointed out that HIV is no longer a death sentence. CF and Huntington's are. Consider changing her illness. Maybe start by introducing Phoebe going through her drug regime. It's a hint to us that she's not well, and it lets the reader know what the stakess are. Show us she's funny and plucky, make us like her. When people ask if she's bitter about dying so young, have her insist she doesn't plan on dying. Then show her stalking the bar tender and make us wonder why.

    Again just ideas.

    Good luck.

  17. This reminded me of a Saturday Night Live sketch where James Woods was a vampire and just as he was about to bite his victim, he pulled out a card of questions to find out if she was likely to have HIV. So, I was wondering about a Vampire tasting HIV blood, but then, he's immortal, so, no problem. But I also think that HIV isn't exactly a death sentence. Hasn't Magic Johnson had it for a couple decades? Maybe you need something more urgent.

    As far as being compelled to read further, I'd have to say no. I liked the scene in the bar, but I would need more of a hint of story to read on - does Phoebe have important things she needs to do?

    Also, the mention of his having fed on her 8 months ago threw me off. Wouldn't she remember that? That would put a whole different slant on their first conversation - I know you're a vampire, I have the scars to prove it. Also, now that they are alone, what's to stop him from killing her instead of turning her?

    Good luck!

  18. The only part that really grabbed me was when he leaned in aggressively. Then I realized he was in a possibly crowded bar, and the illusion of the story faded too quickly. The idea that she would "out" him didn't play well enough, because there'd be little (based on what is here) that she could threaten him with. I'm also concerned that the premise (even with the HIV twist) is a bit overdone. The writing isn't bad, but its hard to really get a feel for either character. And the hook to know more (for me anyway) didn't really happen until the last sentence, when she declares her reason. My advice would be to take the intensity you used to create the tension he builds while leaning towards her, and spread it around to the rest of the story. You have the ability, you just need to find that impacting voice earlier on and keep it throughout.

  19. I have 2 points with this: I guess it's old fashioned, but what I learned from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, vampires ARE dead. Three days after they die from the vamp feeding on them, a demon takes over their body. And they smell bad, and are cold and don't have a heartbeat.

    But the vamp rules have changed, apparently. Okay.

    You might make me believe if you decided whose story this is. If it's the vamp's, boring. If the girl's, wow. I could stand to read the rest. I think I'd like to see the vampire physically deteriorating from AIDS, flesh dropping off, teeth crumbling, getting uglier and uglier, and he can't die.

    Yeah, guess I don't care much for vampires.