Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On The Block Concession Crit #4

GENRE: Adult Urban Fantasy

A California woman wants to sell her newly inherited brownstone, but the building and its ghost have other plans.

Mottled yellow leaves drooped from tree limbs like tears waiting to fall. I watched them from the cab, willing them to drop, but they wouldn't budge. The car turned down a narrow cobblestone street. My stomach twisted. Everything happened too fast. I couldn't process what transpired. How do I mourn a family member I didn't know, one I never even knew existed? A heavy lump settled in my stomach when the car stopped.

I paid the fare, hoping I tipped correctly. "Thank you. Have a nice day."

"You too, Miss."

Standing on the sidewalk with luggage in hand, I tracked the taxi as it made a u-turn, drove back down the street, and disappeared around the corner. There was nothing left to do but get on with it. My hand tightened on the suitcase handle while I surveyed the homes on the street. Identical brownstones lined both sides, each three stories high with skinny black shutters. Wrought iron rails led up stairs to tall, wooden doors. A toy car sat on the steps across the street, a package leaned against a door, a rake stuck out of a pile of leaves the next building over. Signs of daily life and family were everywhere except on the brownstone in front of me. It not only looked different, it felt different—lonely, almost lost.

I double-checked the address before heading toward the stairs. My pace slowed the closer I came to the building. Was this mystery aunt evil?


  1. FWIW: I've been working on a stronger pitch: A California gardener wants to sell her newly inherited brownstone, but the building and its ghost have other plans. The ghost insists she's a witch with ancient Celtic magic—and that a soul-eater wants her dead.

  2. This has an interesting premise! I do think you should open with the paragraph 'Standing on the sidewalk'. It's so strong and well-written. Really drew me in. It said so much about the street and how it differed so much from her aunt's brownstone. And loved this line: There was nothing left to do but get on with it.

    Then, I'd add a few details about why she was there and how difficult it's been to process so quickly.

    Right now, the first paragraph seems a bit forced with description, and the dialogue with the cab driver doesn't add anything.

    You're a strong writer! I think it just takes a bit of cutting and rearranging to be a more effective first page.

    DurangoWriter (author Mandy Mikulencak)

    1. Thanks DW! The dialog was added after a crit (that included an agent) that wanted to know something physical about the MC.

  3. I fully agree with Durango Writer: Start with 'Standing...' (the one thing I'd keep from the current opening paragraph is 'How do I mourn a family member I didn't know, one I never even knew existed?' though I might rework it to make the sentence flow better. Perhaps breaking it up into two sentences). There's no reason to include the taxi unless that particular taxi and driver show up again. If not, there's no reason to make that the second character the reader meets. Plus the first chapter is a little over the top description and unnecessary. You can weave that kind of description in later if needed.

    That last line 'was this mystery aunt evil?' might be a touch too 'spot-on'/obvious...plus it's a little 'telling' whereas since she's supposed to know nothing about this mystery aunt, why would she jump to 'evil' as opposed to 'eccentric' or 'odd' or just 'mysterious'? What's mysterious about the building? How it's making the unknown woman feel? Then you need to show up how it's making her feel...using all five senses....you've covered sight really well.
    Finally, in your comment you added a line to the pitch/logline...I'm not sure that line is helping. I love the one simple straightforward line you have originally. Do you know how difficult it is to get a novel down to one line you can use as a pitch??? And you did it! Really well...though 'California' isn't really needed, is it?

    It's a ghost story/haunted house story...I LOVE it :)

    1. Thanks Peter. I worried the pitch was to little as is, so thanks for pointing out short is okay.

      The aunt wasn't evil. The next line continues the MCs speculations. Maybe they should be switched around—though if I cut the first graph it would shift up the 250, even if I add back the lines suggested.

      Lots to think on!

  4. I like the premise of your novel. I would rethink the drooping leaves, wishing for them to fall. You wouldn't care about leaves when you're so nervous, speeding toward this possibly frightening PE son in the cab. Plus I don't think "budge" is quite right. I enjoyed the description of the street otherwise and what makes this house different than the others. Maybe use a more tantalizing word than evil? Otherwise you're there.
    Nancy Bilyeau

    1. Thanks Nancy. I was "trying" to go for her distracting herself, but I see how it might have missed the mark. :)

      Will rethink those words too!

  5. Cut the first three paragraphs (which meander a bit, especially the first). Start with "Standing on the sidewalk with luggage in hand," and I guarantee you agents will read on.

    But your momentum ends with a thud with "Was this mystery aunt evil?" Cut it. You've just gone from an intriguing story to a comic-book tone, and the rest of your writing is too strong for this.

    I'd want to read on, regardless.

  6. I think the story begins here: There was nothing to do but get on with it. (Great line).

    I want to 'see' the mysteriousness of the house; not just the signs that it's abandoned.

  7. Ooh, ghosts! The excerpt gives such a great sense of eerie trepidation as the main character approaches the house. Really nice writing. I agree with everyone who said to start with the 'Standing on the sidewalk' paragraph. I would definitely read on!