Agent Boot Camp

I pushed the SEND button with my first 10-pages this morning. It’s the second time I’ve done this Writers Digest boot camp. Getting feedback from an industry professional is invaluable and money well-spent.

I anticipate the “I can’t sell this kind of story” comment since the market is flooded with urban/contemporary fantasies. But I believe my story is different and stands apart from the typical fare. Why? Because my story is plot is a treasure hunt, a cross between National Treasure/Raiders of the Lost Ark and Angels and Demons.

I’ll come back and give an update about the feedback I receive. So please stay tuned.


AND THE RESULTS ARE IN:
I received four valuable pieces of feedback from Paula Munier, Senior Literary Agent & Content Strategist at Talcott Notch Literary.

The First Scene
The first page is confusing. We don’t know where she is–on a plane, at the office, in a meeting, at her house? All of these settings are referenced, but none is established. You need to ground every scene in setting and point of view in the opening lines of the scene.

I cringed when I first read this comment. Why? Because most of my chapters start with setting. I lost my way by focusing on making a thematic statement. My understanding is the opening sentence of a novel should be about your theme. It’s the only time it is explicitly mentioned. The good news is learning that starting chapters with setting is agent-approved. At least for Paula anyway.

This opening is confusing and boring–nothing of importance really happens until the Councillor shows up and even then most of that conversation is just a poor excuse for backstory and info dumping.

Ouch, this one hurt. But after letting it fester for a bit, I better understand the importance of balance. Based on feedback from my critique partners and beta readers, I added more worldbuilding. They told me there wasn’t enough for them to understand the created world. Likewise, I received feedback that the readers didn’t know what was at stake. Why was restoring Absolute Power to the Society so important? Hence, the backstory. While they liked this updated reiteration better, the agent accused me of info dumping (the worst criticism for a writer other than “show, don’t tell”).

After much reflection, I concluded that the balance is subjective. Readers want more whereas agents/publishers want less. While I’m a little unsure about which party gets preference, I like to think there’s a sweet spot where everyone is happy.

You need to cut this scene by at least 50 percent. Focus on the Councillor telling her they need her, her balking because of her parents’ death at the Vice Lord’s hands and the grandfather magick pulling her back in. Then get her on to the mission. THAT’S when the story really begins.

And that’s exactly what I did, but only 30%. Some of the backstory could not be cut because it plays a major role in the story. It isn’t revealed until the end, but it’s an ah-ha moment for the reader. A question raised early on finally gets answered and completes the big picture.

USP
This genre can be a tough sell these days as the market is glutted so a strong USP is very important. USP stands for Unique Selling Proposition. That is, what makes your story unique. What sets your story apart from the others of its ilk? What are your comps? How can you articulate your USP in your pitch? How soon in your story do you make the USP clear in your story?

There it is: the anticipated “I can’t sell this type of story.”

My USP is National Treasure/Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Angels and Demons with magick. Easy enough. What wasn’t easy was integrating it into the story narrative. I managed to get it done in Chapter 1, but it sort of felt like it was author-placed to me.

The good news was the agent thought it sounded a fun project and love it. 

Tired Tropes
Because this is an over-published area, and the tropes are tired, you have to find a way to make your story different, to set it apart from all the other stories like it out there. The sooner you get to the main action, the better. And the sooner you show us how you reinvent those tropes for your story, the better. Especially the magick.

More comments about a tough sell, but the door seems to be cracked if I reinvent the tropes I use. In particular, the magick (my purposeful spelling). Some of my magick is mundane: mind control, telepathic communication, etc. Yet part of it is different, but I’ll keep it under wraps for now.

Line Edit
You could use a good line edit.

  • Fix all typos, misspellings, missing words, grammatical errors, incorrect formatting, etc.
  • Murder all your darlings. This basically means that whenever you come to a sentence that you are inordinately proud of, you need to cut it. Or as Elmore Leonard liked to say, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
  • Go through and eliminate all redundancies, cliches, repetitions, etc. Aim to trim by 20 percent. That will help pick up the pacing.
  • For example, you should rework cliched lines like this one: I huffed a laugh of indignation and rolled my eyes.

I was a little surprised by this feedback. Admittedly, my submission was rougher than I normally present for review. The changes that I mentioned above had been added, but I didn’t get to do the usual 15-20 edits required to meet my own personal standard. So I’m kind of okay with this feedback. Just don’t like to hear it.

I disagree with the typos/misspellings. It’s the easiest part of editing/proofreading, and Word does it for you. Plus my other tools include spellcheck. I rechecked the submission afterwards, but 3 different checks found no typos/misspellings. I’m passing on the comment and moving on.

The cliché part might be a stretch for me because I use cliches in my everyday conversations. I know, but don’t roll your eyes at me. Likewise, I have a penchant for using fragmented sentences. I love the emphasis and tension they add to the narrative. Albeit, I use them judiciously because they break the rules.

The biggest take away (not included in this feedback) was to hire a professional copyeditor to review the first 50 pages. I thought it was a good idea because I have some doubts about some of my grammar usage.

Overall, the agent said my writing was solid and voice was strong. She thought I was a good writer. For me, this is the most valuable feedback.

I revised Chapter 1 accordingly and expected final comments back by July 6.

Earth’s Bounty

One of the most challenging parts of writing The Venerable Dawn: Ascension are composing the magick verses. I’m not a poet by any stretch of the imagination. Yet the verses are poetic in nature. Recently, I penned my favorite.

As summer sets, Gaia offers her bounty,
Ripe fruit as black as night, sweet as mulberries.
But beware. Like the queen’s apple, eternal rest certain,
Unless tempered by the light of fauna, uniquely singular,
And the milk from the fruit on the pregnant vines.

Tell me what do you think. Yes, no, maybe?



Follow me for more updates about progress of The Venerable Dawn.

Book Research: The Sphinx and The Art of Seduction

Research for my most recent submission to my critique group included the Sphinx and the art of seduction. Let’s talk about the Sphinx first and save salacious discussion for later.

THE SPHINX
First, the correct spelling of the monolith standing guard over the Great Pyramids of Giza is S-P-H-I-N-X. Someone who shall not be named kept spelling it “sphynx” which is not the same as the Sphinx. A sphynx is a hairless cat. The Sphinx in Egypt is a mythical creature with the head of a human and a lion’s body.

The internet is full of information about the Sphinx, but I was more interested the monument’s little-known facts. Some of its secrets and mysteries. The first is the underground tunnels and chambers. They can be accessed at five points: a hole in the top of the head, another in its back, one at ground level at the end of the monument, a crud doorway on its north side, and a hole between its paws behind the dream stela. Fringe speculation suggests another access point under the Sphinx’s ear, but it has been debunked. It’s actually a fitting used to affix a beard, the remnants of which were found near the paws. Sadly, the underground world of the Sphinx has been excavated more than once and doesn’t hold any more secrets or mysteries. And unlike the Great Pyramids, visitors cannot venture into these tunnels and chambers.

Tunnels and Chambers inside the Sphinx

What’s the dream stela, you ask? It is a rectangular stele (an upright slab similar to a gravestone). According to archeologists, the Sphinx’s stela is about a dream Thutmose IV had as he rested in the shade of the monument. At the time, the Sphinx was covered in sand up to its shoulder, and it promised to make Thutmose ruler of Egypt if he clears the sand away. Thutmose did, and he became king.

The most interesting facts are the Sphinx’s riddles. In Greek mythology, the Sphinx guarded the entrance to the city of Thebes. She would ask travelers a riddle to allow them passage into the city. Anyone who could not answer it was devoured by her. The first riddle: which is the creature that has one voice but has four feet in the morning, two feet in the afternoon, and three feet at night? The answer: Man, who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two feet as an adult, and then uses a cane in old age. Oedipus solved this riddle, and according to the myth, the Sphinx killed herself. There’s a second riddle: There are two sisters; one gives birth to the other, who in turn gives birth to the first. Who are they? The answer is “day and night.” Technically, the riddles aren’t connected to the Egyptian Sphinx, but they are still really cool.

Now for the fun stuff…


THE ART OF SEDUCTION
Bad boy antagonist, Damion is a master of seduction, a purveyor of sensuality. I, on the other hand, am not so proficient at the art. I needed a little help to make his actions and dialogue fit his persona and stumbled upon Robert Greene’s book, The Art of Seduction. Who knew there were nine types of seducers? Not me, so a little bit about each of them for future reference:

The Siren plays on the notion that men are always searching for new experiences and adventures. Her calm, unhurried demeanor combined with a dazzling appearance instantly captures man’s attention. There’s a danger about her. She makes him pursue her, always a bit out of his reach. You know, men like the chase.

The Rake is a man who incessantly pursues a woman by showing her ardent devotion. He seems to be madly in love with her and uses words and language to show his devotion. Like the Siren, there’s a sense of mystery about him. He uses his reputation as a lady’s man and recklessly in love to his advantage. Every woman wants him, but she’s the only one who has him.

The Ideal Lover is a fantasy lover who makes himself irresistible to a woman by giving her what seems to be missing in her life. Think Casanova, who presented himself as the epitome of what a woman desires. Or Madame de Pompadour, who become the adventure that King Louis XV needed in his life. Your homework is to google both of these characters to enrich yourself.

The Dandy offers the kind of forbidden freedom that most people can only dream of but never achieve. A non-traditionalist, a dandy often relies on insolence to attract the opposite sex. But a male dandy is not aggressive. He’s sophisticated and graceful. A metrosexual man. A woman dandy has masculine qualities in her appearance and attire. Examples include Rudolph Valentino, Marlene Dietrich, and Lou von Salome. as prototypical examples of male and female dandies. All of them seduced a large number of people using their ability to break conventions and represent an almost forbidden freedom. More homework for you.

The Natural has an irresistible innocence about him. He’s impish, vulnerable and defenseless, open and spontaneous, traits that make the object of her desire lower his guard. His persona, a refreshing experience in contrast to the daily seriousness of adult life. Greene’s example of this type is Charlie Chaplin. Who do you think is a more contemporary Natural?

Charlie Chaplin, circa 1920

The Coquette plays with emotions. By alternating between unexplained warmth and coldness, he creates tension with anticipation. A sense of insecurity, not knowing what is coming next. A bit narcissistic by making his target relentlessly pursue him until she reaches the point of no return. Then he pulls her back in with a show of warmth and attention.

The Charismatic is self-sufficient and driven. He uses his powerful personality and his way with words to sway emotions. His target looks to him to save her. He seduces her by creating contradictions like cruelty and kindness, power and vulnerability, etc. I admit I fall for charisma because I’m a romantic at heart.

The Star is a fascinating creature with a larger-than-life persona. He appeals to his target’s attraction to the strange and mythical while playing up his human qualities at the same time. Jack Kennedy is a classic example of this type of seducer.

John Fitzgerald KENNEDY. 1952.

Now you have your homework assignment. Let’s have some fun and post your answers (thoughts and questions, too) in the Comments.