Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On The Block Concession Crit #3

TITLE: The Nine Graves of Geraldine Grey
GENRE: MG Fantasy

A young girl tasked with helping souls from a Louisiana cemetery pass to the other side must fight a powerful witch for control over the gate to the underworld.

In the backwoods of Louisiana, where the trees are draped in Spanish moss and mist rises from the swamps, there is a grand old house called La Maison des Fantômes. It is a mysterious house, cobwebbed and covered in ivy. Its columns are French, its gardens English, and just beyond it, where the alligators rest in the oak grove, is the oldest graveyard in all of Louisiana. Its keeper is Geraldine Grey.

If you ever saw Geraldine, the first thing you would notice was that she was a Very Serious child. At twelve, she had already mastered the stern calmness of a professor, and was prone to carrying exactly three books in her satchel at all times. Her curly black hair fell just to her shoulders, and her elbows and knees were knobbier than the branches on an old elm tree. Her most important features, however, were her eyes, which were eerie white, except for the faint black ring separating her pupils.

Geraldine’s eyes were important, because they were what allowed her to see ghosts.

Bonsoir, Mister Thompson,” Geraldine greeted the groundskeeper when she arrived at the graveyard that evening – bonsoir, of course, meaning good evening in French.

The bad-tempered old ghost did not agree with this salutation. “I don’t see what’s so good about it,” he grouched as he rose from his grave and stretched. His bones rattled from the movement. Mister Thompson was as gaunt and bony in death as he had been in life.


  1. I don't read fantasy but I'd read this one! Love the concept. And clearly, you're a strong writer.

    I like the details you weave in effortless. The first line is a winner.

    My critiques:
    1. Too many sentences in first graph beginning with it is or its. Would be quite easy to change it up. For example: The mysterious house is cobwebbed and covered in Ivy. OR Geraldine Grey is its keeper.

    2. The last line of the 2nd paragraph and the 3rd could be combined to be more effective. For example:
    Her most important feature, however, were her eyes. Eerie white, except for the faint black ring separating her pupils, they allowed her to see ghosts.

    3. I don't think you need to explain to the reader what bonsoir means. It's too on the nose. The groundskeeper already explains it by saying "I don't see what's so good about it."

    I found myself wanting to read beyond the excerpt!

    DurangoWriter (author Mandy Mikulencak)

  2. This is lovely! I love the voice, and I'd totally read on. The first paragraph has a lot of 'it's, so try and do a little rearranging. And I think you can cut " bonsoir, of course, meaning good evening in French", that is understood from the context.

  3. I really like this concept. And I love the description of Mr. Thompson and his characterization. I want to see more of this in the opening paragraphs. You can do a bit of rearranging so there isn't so much exposition describing the scene. Move the part with Mr. Thompson to the first paragraph and then describe a bit of the cemetery. I wanted to see what happened next!

  4. Oh, yes, cranky old ghosts! Give me more.

    I like the rhythm of the opening paragraph. (Which will make you *headdesk* because I see that other critters aren't as fond of it.)

    A little tightening will help overall (after the book is finished I suggest a pass for extraneous words).

    For example: ...and was prone to carrying exactly three books in her satchel at all times.

    To keep with your characterization of her, "and was prone to carrying" could be tightened to "and carried".

    Much good luck with this. I would read on immediately.

  5. You almost lost me at "there is a grand old house ..." because passive openings like this are almost always verboten - but something made me kept reading. Maybe the rhythm, the reference to Louisiana (which makes me think of voodoo and supernatural and southern). And I like it. A lot.

    If you're a first-time novelist, you might not want to try this opening paragraph on agents because their overworked eyeballs would likely recoil instinctively from the passive, staccato style without realizing that it's intentional. I'd probably trim it, keeping as much of the style as possible, and get to the second paragraph faster.

    But if there were a published book - it's dead on. I so want to read the rest of it.

  6. Love the first paragraph. The writing feels very timeless and Southern, and I really enjoy the feeling it invokes. I would not explain the French except in how the 'listener' responds. And Mr. Thompson's bones drew me from the story ... I don't equate a ghost with something solid.

  7. I'm going to preface this by saying that I'm not usually one for an omniscient narrator (I'm mostly drawn to more modern-sounding, very close POVs), but you're doing something right with this because you pulled me in, omniscient narrator and all! :) You've definitely got a timeless, MG voice that is VERY hard to pull off. (Seriously, this narration style is super hard to do well.) And I think that's because while it is distant, it doesn't feel distant. If that makes any sense at all. Plus, it's creepy! Anyhow, my two cents here is to start with the second paragraph. That one is much stronger than your first paragraph, and you can always cut and add pieces of that first paragraph in as we follow Geraldine in this first chapter. And while usually starting with a bunch of description is a no-go, I think it works here because Geraldine's description is lively and voicey. I don't think you need to define the French -- it's only one word and the reader can approximate what it means from the context. I think removing that first paragraph will also help because you can then get to her conversation with Mr. Thompson faster. Best of luck with this!!!
    -author Gail Nall

  8. Wow! The logline is perfect, and the opening is beautifully written and definitely makes me want to keep reading. So atmospheric, and I can almost hear a movie voice-over reading the first few paragraphs. Minor quibble: the word 'mysterious' in the first paragraph to describe the house feels a little on-the-nose. Can you use a different word here, maybe something that describes the house physically (two-story, decrepit, etc.) without using a word that describes how someone would react emotionally to seeing the house (feeling that it's mysterious)?

  9. Really great writing. The "Geraldine's eyes" line was my favourite, and I love how you set it apart from the other paragraphs for impact.

    Everyone else said this, but it occurred to me as I was reading it as well, so I'll echo that you shouldn't need to explain what "bonsoir" means. Even those that don't know the word can guess what it means based on the context, and the line that comes after it will confirm their guess.

    I don't like the name of the house, La Maison des Fantômes. It seems really obvious, and why does the house even have a name? If there's a reason it's named, I would introduce the reason.

    I love the title. Alliteration is a cliche for a reason...it works!