Friday, November 30, 2012

(54) YA Steampunk: Bad Company

TITLE: Bad Company
GENRE: YA Steampunk

Spying for President Grover Cleveland in San Francisco is seventeen-year-old Jesse James’s top priority until an alluring sleuth named Scarlett foils his mission and swindles his heart.

“Don’t move.” I lifted the brass bow to my bare chest and shoulder, my focus trained on the apple balanced on Henri’s head.

With shirt sleeves rolled up and scrawny arms poking out, Henri trembled like a winter bare tree in a gale wind. He pressed his back against the stable wall and swallowed.

“You sure Katya fixed the power increments, non?” he asked, his dark hair falling in his eyes.

“I’m sure.” I took a deep breath and drew the string of flexible, coil-like electrum taught.

“Jesse. Arrete!” Henri bobbed and the apple disappeared into a pile of straw. Annoyed, I eased the string to resting position.

“The kinks have been ironed out,” I said.

The sixteen-year-old Parisian snatched up the fallen apple but glanced at the practice bull’s-eye with its scorched edges and large holes everywhere but the center mark. “Why am I target practice? Shouldn’t le petite Russe be holding the apple?”

I tilted my head past the curve of the bow, following the sight-line my knuckles created. “She’s researching a lead.”

“What about your shoulder?”


With the electrum string pulled back, the Akasha in the quiver thrummed against my bare spine. My fingers released the string just as my mother called from the stable door.

“Jesse James Whitedove!”

The Akasha arrow - a shot of pure energy - went wild, hitting somewhere in the loft. Henri crumpled to his knees, crossing himself and calling on saints I’d never heard of.


  1. While the writing here is solid, I found the whole situation to be slightly unbelievable. There's no good reason (that I can see in this opening at least) for him to risk someone's life on target practice. Doing so doesn't make me want to root for the character.

  2. Love the premise!

    Now for the nitpicky stuff...

    But Jesse James was an outlaw, wasn't he?

    Not sure alluring works for YA; maybe hot or gorgeous?

    Maybe a bit more scene setting so we know where we are and who's with us? I want to know and like the MC first, before somebody gets hurt.

    Not sure what non means in the Katya sentence.

    Because the logline mentions Scarlet as ultra-important, maybe start with their first meeting? Just an iadea...

  3. whoops, my last word should be idea!

  4. This is a fun opening scene, and I'd definitely read on, but a few things pulled me out of the narrative.

    'Non?' sounds odd, 'oui?' might be better. 'The sixteen-year-old Parisian' sounds clunky, he wouldn't think that, it's clear Henri is French or French-speaking and we can guess he's a similar age to the MC, so I don't think you need it. It should be 'la petite Russe' not 'le'.

    Also, there feels like just slightly too much stuff crammed in here. I think it's enough to get to know Jesse and Henri, if it were me I'd leave the mentions of his shoulder and Katya (is she la petite Russe?) out, that way we could learn a little more about Jesse and/ or his world instead and get inside his head a touch more. Just my two cents.

    Good luck!

  5. I loved it! I thought your hook was well-written, short and snappy. The phrase, "swindles his heart," really jumped out and me.

    And I enjoyed the excerpt. I like the situation and what it says about this character and his friend's relationship. It's fun and has an undeniable recklessness that makes me intriguied to know more about Jesse. And I love that he gets called inside by his mother lol. I'd definitely read more.

    Ninja Girl

  6. I'm not huge into steampunk, but I'm really intrigued by this one. Love the idea of the MC spying for Pres Cleveland, and I like his devil-may-care attitude (which promises a lot of fun and adventure!).

    I also think you could drop the description of Henri as a "sixteen-year-old Parisian." It doesn't flow naturally in the first-person narration. We can guess Henri is a teenager from the "scrawny arms" description earlier, and his use of French gives away his nationality.

    Good luck!!

  7. Love this one.

    "Bad Company," and "Jesse James," feel a little overdone, but it's not that big a deal. Titles and character names can always be changed.

    I think winter bare should be winter-bare, but it's just a matter of taste.

    Otherwise, this is awesome! Best of luck to you.

  8. I think the back-and-forth between the characters is really fun. I would just say that sometimes your sentence structure is overly complicated and hard to follow. For ex: "...snatched up the fallen apple but glanced at the practice bull’s-eye with its scorched edges ..." Seems like it'll be a fun story, though.

  9. I had to come back to comment. After reading this several hours ago, this was the story, out of dozens that stuck in my head. I have to admit that the technical stuff I kinda skimmed over, I got the drift that it was steampunk and I didn't need all the details of the bow.

    Per comments earlier about the French. I thought it fine. But I have French sprinkled throughout one of my manuscripts too, so maybe that's why?

    Anyway, the William Tell image with reluctant friend and power-blasting bow/arrow stuck in my head and I had to tell you!

  10. I enjoyed the steampunk elements introduced thus far. I also like the pacing and balance between dialog and action.

    My first question was why the MC would be using a live person + apple for target practice when there are inanimate practice targets. And why Henri doesn't ask this first, then ask why it isn't someone else.

    It'd be a great chance to show the MC's mode of reasoning and ability to talk Henri into this.

    I'd read on to see if these questions are answered later.

  11. You may want to have your characters a bit more solidly grounded. I had to read it twice to realize 'the sixteen-year-old Parisian' was Henri, and in my mind a whole crowd of people was watching this.

    The logline's intriguing. How'd a teen get a job like that?

  12. Intriguing but a bit overwritten - and "taught" instead of "taut" pretty well stopped me cold.

  13. I love the logline--I'm pulled in by the story idea.

    I wish this opening showed a little more from Jesse's head; his internal thoughts. I know it's early, but just a little sentence or two of reflection to give context what he thinks of this situation. I think the mention of Henri's age feels a little awkward, there might be a better way to show age than simply state it. The voice sounds appropriate for the type of story, and I would definitely keep reading to see what happens.

  14. Like others, I felt confused with why he was using Henri for target practice. If there is a reason, it might work best to state that right away so the reader doesn't think badly of Jesse.

    I'm curious to know how Scarlett swindles his heart.

    Good luck in the auction!

  15. We need a pretty valid reason that Henri is being used for target practice. What makes him stay there? Why doesn't he just run? Does the MC have no regard for Henri's well being, and if so, why not?

    I loved the dialogue. I think even if you gave ONE solid bullseye with the rest of the misses I'd have an easier time buying the set up. The premise/hook is intriguing, so work on this first page. I think you have something special here.

  16. I like the idea of this as a steampunk novel, but I’m afraid that your opening lines aren’t selling it quite yet. What’s lacking for me here is atmosphere. If we’re talking Grover Cleveland, then we’re talking historical, but I don’t feel that. This could be modern day, or even set in the future, and I’m not sure that I’d know the difference.

    And there’s a hyper awareness of everything that makes it feel inauthentic. The brass bow instead of the bow. Does it matter that it’s brass? Does it matter enough that Jesse would be telling us, unless specifically in his narration? The same goes for “coil-like electrum” and this is what’s driving the gripes about your sixteen-year-old Parisian. As editors and agents, we say we want you to be detailed. We want you to be specific. But there is detail that makes something seem visceral and there’s detail that is awkwardly self-conscious, in that it is you telling the reader exactly how they are supposed to understand something. That takes them out of your world and is a reminder that this is something that someone has written. And you don’t want that.

    The difference lies in what you’ve done with your paragraph in which Henri looks at the target. Looking at the target full of scorch marks where everywhere but the bullseye has been hit, doesn’t inspire much confidence in Jesse’s shot or the readiness of this apparatus. But you didn’t tell us that. You lay all of the pieces out for the reader to draw the conclusion. That’s what you should be aiming for. Bring us along on your journey. Let our minds do some of the work. Then, you’ll have an engaged audience eager to see what you dole out next, and what’s lying just around the corner.