Short Scene Critique: The Accidental Psychic and the Skeptic Cop

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Meant to be a sneak peek into a Carina editor’s brain, and critiqued by a different editor each time, these critiques will be posted twice a month as long as authors are willing to let us use their work and people remain interested.

The idea here is to give you a quick insight into how we might look at a manuscript as it comes across our desks on submission. We’ll strive to be critical but not mean. Because it’s only about 600 words, two pages at the most, the amount of feedback is necessarily limited–we don’t have access to more than a couple of pages!

We asked authors to submit one of four types of scenes: an action scene, a sex scene, the black moment or the first meeting between protagonists. 

It’s important to note that this manuscript was submitted specifically for the purpose of critique on the blog, we do not/will not use random submissions so no worries we’re going to pull your piece out of our submissions inbox and critique it.

The next opportunity to submit a piece for critique will be open in 2019, so please watch the blog or our newsletter for more.

This month’s editor providing critique is Carina Press Freelance Editor Carrie Lofty.

* * *

First Meet

This was submitted by the author as the first meet between the hero and heroine.

Author A included a query from which I pulled these elements: “Fairly ordinary woman Melanie Sue James discovers at age 33 that she has psychic powers she doesn’t yet understand or control. Her second psychic event occurs when she meets Zane Hudson, a detective who thinks he’s already solved the case of a multiple murderer. Melanie informs him that Zane has the wrong man is custody.” She reveals that information in this first meet, during which Zane concludes Melanie must know more than she’s letting on.

Author A indicates that this is a 44K-word paranormal romantic suspense, the first in a series of three featuring the same couple.

Melanie

“You didn’t catch the right guy,” I whispered. I couldn’t break away from our shared gaze. Something about those startling green eyes of his held me. I wanted to stay lost in his steadfast regard. “There’s already another one. She’s…he hurt her. So much. He put her in the ravine. You know which one–same as the third. He thinks he’s so clever. You didn’t nab him. Idiot. He pointed you towards some guy named Jepson. He’s amused you don’t find the clues he leaves for you.”

That’s how I found myself transported against my will in a police car to “headquarters,” and given a nice seat in the interrogation room.

I rubbed the back of my head, finding a lump that had to be a souvenir of my strange faint as Detective Hudson entered. He carried stack of files under one arm and a glass of water in his free hand.

He set the water before me. “You’re pale and shocky, but don’t think I’m going to go easy on you because you don’t feel good. I’m going to read you your rights.”

I listened, mute and horrified, as he Mirandized me. “I don’t understand what’s going on.”

“Do you understand your rights?” he prompted.

“Yes. That I understand. I’m under arrest.

He dropped the files onto the table and took the seat opposite mine. “Not yet. I have questions. Depending on how you answer, I will determine if charges are warranted. I want anything relevant you tell me to be admissible in a court of law. That’s why I read you your rights.”

“Uh-huh.” I took a small sip of water. My stomach still roiled from the forced car ride.

“Do you wish to have an attorney present?”

“I have nothing to hide, detective. No. No attorney.” Besides which, how would I pay one worth having? Mundane people like me don’t keep any sort of legal team on retainer.

“Let’s start with your full name.”

“Melanie Sue James. Melanie.”

“Address?”

“Thirty-six ten West Third.”

“Right across from the fire station.”

I gave a nod. “Yes.”

“Rather noisy, isn’t it?”

“Sometimes. I couldn’t find any rentals in my price range near the police station.”

“Why would you want to live near here?” He squinted my direction. His perplexion surprised me as much as the realization I could, uh, sense it.

“Who wouldn’t want to live with police officers nearby when they live downtown? Quick response time. Why am I here?”

Hudson’s eyebrows veed at the bridge of his nose. “Really? You want to go with that?”

“You think I’m faking my bewilderment?”

He drummed his fingers against the table. “Do you remember what you said to me at the diner?”

“‘You caught the wrong guy.'”

“How would you know that unless you’re involved?”

“I’d like that answered myself. When I tried to push your hand away, I got a jolt. It was like I could see through this guy’s eyes. It was creepy.” My nausea threatened to overwhelm me, so I took several slow, deep breaths in an effort to calm my stomach. After a few seconds, my stomach settled.

“You some kind of psychic?”

“I’m beginning to wonder. I’m an administrative assistant to Mr. White at the credit union. He might tell you I can anticipate his needs before he knows what he’s after, but that’s only because I keep a formidable database that’s the envy of all the officers at the credit union.”

We stared at one another for several tense minutes before I added, “You might have someone dust the sign at the end of the road to the ravine. Maybe the officers you sent to look for the girl could? I think the killer touched it.”

“How do you know I’ve sent officers to the ravine?”

“I watch too many police procedurals. Why wouldn’t you? You don’t think you got the right guy. I can see it in your eyes. I think maybe you were rushed to close the investigation before you’re ready. Office politics, I suppose? The killings stopped after you arrested that Jepson guy? I don’t know your reasons. Don’t care. But from where I sit, you’re too conscientious about your job to ignore my crackpot tip.”

“You’ve never had any sort of psychic event before?”

I hesitated. “I had a dream last night. You were in it as a Secret Service agent. Movie quality–weirdest thing ever. All centered around a check. Oddly, set in the very office in which I work.”

Hudson sat back, arms folded over his chest as he digested my rather cryptic story. “So, Ms. James, is this killer your boyfriend? You hoping for some sort of deal for yourself? How involved are you in the kidnappings and killings? What role do you play, exactly?”

* * *

The Critique

To start, let me say that sometimes the first meet in a romantic suspense with a police procedure vibe can be tricky. First meets can have a plot-based “victim with law enforcement” or “suspect with law enforcement” purpose, which can overwhelm romantic elements that need to catch the readers’ attention and encourage them to keep turning pages.

I see that point of concern in this scene. Aside from the mention of green eyes, there is little else to provide a physical description of Zane. Examining him seems especially relevant considering that Melanie’s first psychic incident was a dream about this specific man, who (to my understanding) she’d never met before. Some incredulity would be warranted. I wonder if she would question her recollection of the dream in the face of her trauma, perhaps intently assessing him to compare who she’s seeing in person versus who she dreamed about.

Beyond the physical, as a romance reader, I’d like to have a hint about why Melanie finds him (at least a little) intriguing. A 33-year-old woman has met a lot of men, even if she doesn’t have an extensive romantic history. Perhaps particularly if Melanie has had a sparse love life, I’d be curious why Zane catches her attention. What kind of vibe does he give off: disdainful, caring, caustic, detached, etc.? For example, “You some kind of psychic?” isn’t tagged with anything about his delivery or mannerisms. Does he seem to believe her, or is that a sarcastic question? I can’t get a read on his personality, which makes this exchange feel a little perfunctory, rather than offering the first spark of an eventual romance.

It could be that, because this is intended as the first of three books in a series featuring the same couple, an instant attraction isn’t warranted. They could have a rather slow-burn romantic arc. However, even with that set-up, the hint that this is going to be a different, fascinating, possibly significant person in Melanie’s life will keep romance readers engaged for the long haul.

The psychic element is a somewhat hazy, which could very well be attributed to the fact we’re dropped into the middle of the book’s opening moments. We don’t know what happened before Melanie meets Zane. A description of what she saw/envisioned and how she reacted is not present here. That said, if this is an unedited sample, I was left confused by the abruptness of the opening paragraphs. They stare into each other’s eyes, she winds up in a cop car, and then she’s in an interrogation room with a bump on her head. Even if these events have already been addressed, the issue of a deeper point-of-view–such as getting a glimpse of Melanie’s impressions of Zane–remains. She’s in a cop car! She’s in a police station! These are probably new events to her, but I don’t get a sense of how she’s feeling. The straightforward nature of the writing suggests little emotion to me; I filled in the blanks in my imagination, assuming that she must be very calm. That may not be what was intended.

Our in-the-moment clues to the extent of her psychic powers are a little hazy too, especially because what she refers to could be explained by non-supernatural means–and she does so. For example, this passage: “He squinted my direction. His perplexion surprised me as much as the realization I could, uh, sense it.” Yet his question and his squint seem sufficient enough to lead almost anyone to conclude Zane is perplexed. She relates information about how she could anticipate her boss’s needs, but how that could be because she keeps a great database. These two incidences are (I think) meant to convey hints about her burgeoning power. Is she genuinely contradicting herself and trying to rationalize what’s going on, or is she beginning to understand the scope of what’s changed inside her?

From a technical standpoint I wanted to know if she is technically in police custody. Is she free to go, or is she being detained? I’m not an expert by any means, but a cursory internet search revealed that only those who are actually being detained are read their Miranda rights. Also, the rights themselves indicate that an attorney (a public defender) will be assigned if a person cannot afford one. This passage seems a little forced as a result: “Besides which, how would I pay one worth having? Mundane people like me don’t keep any sort of legal team on retainer.” I read it as a quick peek at the ordinariness of her life, but there may be other, more technically accurate and emotionally engaging ways to indicate that to readers.

Would I keep reading? Unless the opening moments of the manuscript answer some of the questions I’ve posed and offer more insight into Melanie’s point-of-view, I don’t think I would keep reading. For me, the passage does not have the depth of (potential) feeling that makes a first meet so pivotal and compelling.

Do you have questions about my feedback or the First-Page Critique program? Your turn to add constructive feedback for the author in the comments section! Or email generalinquiries@carinapress.com.

Comments are open, so please utilize them to ask questions or to offer your own critique, but please remember to offer useful criticism. Comments will be moderated and deleted if not deemed to be useful or appropriate.

Top 12 Things the Carina Press Team Loves about the Holiday Season!

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by the Carina Press team

The holiday season is fast approaching, and if you love the holidays as much as we do, we know you’ll agree that this is the best time of the year.

This year we thought it would be fun for you to get to know our team and what we love about the holidays. Everything from the food and curling up with a great book and cup of hot chocolate to finding that perfect gift for a loved one, baking cookies and eating way too much food.

Here are 12 of our favorite holiday things from the Carina Press team!

 

Watching Classic Holiday Movies

“Every year I rewatch old holiday favorites like Home Alone, The Santa Clause and Scrooged. It’s nostalgic since I grew up watching these movies and the season wouldn’t be complete without these classics.” —Stephanie DeFreitas, Assistant Product Manager, Carina Press

 

Spending Time with Old Friends!

“My absolute favorite part of the holidays actually takes place a week or two before Christmas with my group of friends from college. We meet up at the same NYC apartment every year—pajamas on, first thing in the morning, and have a huge breakfast before we exchange handmade gifts. It started with just six of us 15 years ago in a crappy apartment in Ohio. We’re a group of over thirty now, with spouses and kids added, and it’s just the most wonderful kind of chaos.” —Kerri Buckley, Senior Editor, Carina Press

 

The Lights

“When the days in December get shorter and shorter, I love seeing twinkle lights everywhere; they give everything a happy glow and are especially pretty when it inevitably snows too early.” —Stephanie Doig, Associate Editor, Carina Press

(more…)

5 Helpful Writing Tips You Need To Create An Amazing Story

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As 2018 comes to an end, Carina Press is looking back on a fantastic year. One of our favorite things to do is post fun and helpful writing tips from our talented authors. We’ve rounded up top 5 follower favorite writing tips that will get you all the way to inspired! Enjoy  #amwriting

(more…)

Introducing Carina Adores, a trope-driven LGBTQ+ contemporary romance line, now open for submissions!

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Today we are excited to share a new line that’s been in the works for months, and one we’ve been eager to reveal and get started reading submissions for!

Carina Press is pleased to announce our trope-based LGBTQ+ contemporary romance line, Carina Adores. We invite everyone to head over to our submissions guidelines page here for all the details about what the line is, what we’re looking for, and how to submit. But for this post, we thought it would be fun to share a behind-the-scenes look at how this idea came to be.

It all started one day, long ago, in Toronto. Our entire editorial team had gathered in the snowy wilds of Canada…

Gif: woman dancing in front of a maple leaf

That will be the first and last gif, I promise! I just can’t resist a Robin Sparkles reference. 😊

Every two years or so, we get all the freelance and in-house editors together for an editor retreat—a week of strategy meetings and brainstorming. Because our editorial team members are based in many different places, seeing each other in person is a rare and wonderful occasion!

On this particular day, we had been through about three days of hard work—going over processes, discussing upcoming strategy, and of course talking about the latest romance novels we’d fallen in love with. Your typical romance editor stuff. But this day was about brainstorming—an idea free-for-all.

If you’ve never participated in a brainstorming session, it’s a bit like improv (only less terrifying). There are no “no’s” allowed—only “yes and”s. Every idea has potential, and everyone should feel comfortable putting ideas forward. So: picture eight editors sitting around a conference room table in Toronto, surrounded by notebooks and post-it notes, amped up on junk food and coffee, and ready to talk romance, and you get the idea.

Someone (I don’t remember who, so we all get credit!) started a conversation about tropes, and how so many of our favourite romances, classic and new, were trope-based. Tropes sometimes get a bad rap in mainstream popular culture, but we romance readers know how amazing they are—and how they can be both comforting and groundbreaking, depending on how the author uses them.

We got to talking about how so many of the classic trope-based stories were heterosexual romances, and how the male/male romances we’d read with strong tropes were some of our favourites. Why weren’t we doing more of them? Why weren’t we doing more of them and expanding the concept beyond male/male to be more truly inclusive LGBTQ+?

And with that, an idea was born.

Carina Press has always published LGBTQ+ romance; since our launch in 2010, LGBTQ+ romance has been a key part of our catalogue. But we had never done anything quite like this before—specifically trope-based LGBTQ+ stories, at a shorter length, with the majority of the story’s focus on the romantic build and all the feels that go along with it. Everyone at that table was thrilled with the idea, and eager to get working.

I won’t bore you with the details of how we planned for and prepared to announce Carina Adores, but we are happy to say that as of today, we are officially open to submissions on proposal, with an eye to launching our first books in early 2020.

Click here for more details, and, if you have additional questions after reading the information page, you are welcome to email us at Submissions@CarinaPress.com.

Last, a special thank you to everyone involved in working to help create this line, including our marketing team. A special thank you to our freelance editors who gave feedback, insight, advice, and word-smithing, and to the group of authors we asked to review our idea before we made it public. We appreciate all of you!

 

Short Scene Critique: Forever Knight

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Meant to be a sneak peek into a Carina editor’s brain, and critiqued by a different editor each time, these critiques are posted twice a month.

The idea here is to give you a quick insight into how we might look at a manuscript as it comes across our desks on submission. We’ll strive to be critical but not mean. Because it’s only about 600 words, 2 pages at the most, the amount of feedback is necessarily limited—we don’t have access to more than a couple of pages!

We asked authors to submit one of four types of scenes: an action scene, a sex scene, the black moment or the first meeting between protagonists. This opportunity was limited to 400-800 words, but it provides both authors and those following these critiques with an opportunity to see editorial feedback deeper into a book.

It’s important to note that this manuscript was submitted specifically for the purpose of critique on the blog, we do not/will not use random submissions so no worries we’re going to pull your piece out of our submissions inbox and critique it.

The next opportunity to submit a piece for critique will be open soon, so please watch the blog or our newsletter for more.

This month’s editor providing critique is Carina Press Senior Editor Kerri Buckley.

 

The Short Scene

This was submitted by the author as a first meet scene between Renn, a dinner theater stunt jouster in the prime of his career, and Gabrielle, the newly-returned daughter of the man who owns the venue.

Author A described this manuscript as a romantic suspense, in which the heroine “fears falling for [the hero’s] charm as her mother had fallen for her father’s.”

* * *

Renn St. John loved his job. After three years of it, he still got an adrenalin rush every time he suited up for a show.

At least he had until Jack Varga, the owner of The Joust, had put him in charge of the dinner theatre in his absence. Only the Head Knight hated it more. With seniority, Dugan had thought he should be boss.

Renn trudged through the sand toward where Dugan and his horse hugged the arena wall, the knight clearly sweet-talking the serving wench laying out dinnerware for tonight’s show. Thick, black hair fell over her shoulder where her peasant blouse costume bared a lovely expanse of skin.

Dugan had a discerning eye…which wreaked havoc among the younger female staff as evidenced by the high turnover rate among wenches. Something Renn intended to head off with this latest hire.

Unencumbered by his show armor, Renn vaulted easily onto the ledge separating spectators from jousters. The serving wench turned from Dugan to him and, her heavy mane slipping back off her shoulder and exposing her face, he amended girl to woman. Deep brown eyes regarded him without humor. This wasn’t the usual college co-ed hire.

Though he sensed this woman could handle herself, he gave a nod in Dugan’s direction. “I should warn you, fair maiden, Dugan here has a way with the ladies, ladies being the operative word.”

Her dark eyes appraised him. “And you, do you likewise have a way with the ladies?”

Dugan’s horse nuzzled Renn’s shoulder. “I fear I have more of a way with horses.”

Dugan snorted.

Giving the horse’s ear a scratch, Renn met Dugan’s gaze. “Shouldn’t you be riding Tuck around the arena, familiarizing him to the routine?”

Dugan held Renn’s gaze a couple seconds too long. Challenge duly noted. Saluting, the Head Knight heeled the horse away from the wall.

Renn turned his attention back to the raven–haired beauty, half expecting her to have gone on about her job of setting out faux-pewter plates and mugs. Instead, he found her watching Dugan put Tuck through his paces.

“You’re new,” Renn said.

“I am,” she said without taking her eyes off horse and rider. “And that’s a Quarter Horse.”

“That it is,” Renn answered, puffing with pride. It’d been his suggestion to use the fast-off-the-mark breed for the jousting part of the show.

“An American made breed in a medieval period setting.” She arched an eyebrow at him. “A bit anachronistic isn’t it?”

He grinned. “You haven’t seen a Quarter Horse run a joust yet, have you?”

“That’s not the point,” she said, not a hint of amusement in her tone.

“Ah, but it is,” he said, determined to get a smile out of those ripe lips glossed a deep burgundy. “Quarter Horses hit full speed in three strides. Makes for quite a show.”

Bracing dinnerware tray to her hip, she faced him. “I know how speedy a Quarter Horse is in a sprint. That doesn’t make him any more suitable a mount for a medieval knight than would a Shetland pony.”

Going for humor, he retorted, “Actually, as old a breed as Shetland ponies are, who’s to say they weren’t used by a medieval knight or two?”

She scowled and continued laying out plates and cups.

“Some of those knights of old could be rather small,” he called after her, rising to his feet and striding the ledge after her.

“If you’re trying to impress me with your wit, save it for some naïve girl,” she said without a glance.

“I’m not trying to impress, just get a smile out of you.”

“I’ll smile for the patrons I serve tonight during the performance.”

“That’d be my performance,” he said. “The one where I dazzle our patrons with a lightning fast gallop toward the point of a lance…aseat a Quarter Horse.”

She huffed and moved to the second tier of tables.

“They won’t give a fig what I’m riding,” he said, raising his voice, pivoting on the narrow ledge to keep up with her.

“Quarter Horses are anachronistic,” she repeated, slapping down a mug.

What was this woman’s problem? Was she some history teacher who’d lost her job due to budget cuts? Maybe an historian unable to find a job in her field?

“Look, lady, we’re just about having fun here.”

She wheeled at him, the mugs on her tray swaying. “Fun. That’s the be all and end all with you guys, isn’t it?”

The vehemence of her question drew him up. “You got a problem with fun?”

“When it gets in the way of responsibility, I do.”

He wanted to ask her why she thought fun and responsibility were mutually exclusive. What came out was, “Maybe The Joust isn’t a good fit for you.”

 

The Critique

Points right off the bat for the unusual, superfun setting. The Joust seems like an interesting microcosm, one ripe for soap operatic shenanigans, and I’m here for it. Renn in his knight costume and Gabrielle in her wench dress really sets the mood and paints a very vivid picture. And the series potential! This feels new and different and I was intrigued immediately.

I like that Author A has gone for an enemies-to-lovers setup, too. It’s my current favorite.  I also like that Renn’s first act is chivalrous (at least in spirit)—he knows the Head Knight is a cad, and he’s tired of it. It’s very…knightly.

What ends up happening, of course, is that Gabrielle can more than hold her own. And through her dialogue and actions, we start to get more of an understanding of Renn’s characterization. I can’t say I’m an enormous fan at this point in time!

Amending girl to womanstriding after her on a ledge… noting that he’d like to “get a smile out of” her. These aren’t my favorite hero behaviors to begin with, though I can be pressed to give a bit of a pass if we’re gearing up for some major grovel and hero-growth down the line. It’s wondering about what’s behind her vehemence when it comes to Quarter Horses (Was she some history teacher who’d lost her job due to budget cuts? Maybe an historian unable to find a job in her field?), though, that’s a major turn off. It reads like simmering misogyny, and compiled with what else we see of Renn in this scene, it’s a big red flag for me.

This guy is a bit of a jerk, and I’m just not sure I’m primed to root for him–or for this first meet to work out–based on what I’ve seen here.

 

Would I keep reading?

Yes, because I think Gabrielle is pretty great and I want to see how she puts Renn in his place and/if Renn is redeemed or how his character grows and develops.

I am also bit confused about the romantic suspense element. The query letter doesn’t hint at a suspense arc, but Author A specified the genre fit when submitting.

Do you have questions about my feedback or the Critique program? Your turn to add constructive feedback for the author in the comments section! Or email generalinquiries@carinapress.com.]

Authors entering their work for critique can choose to have the blog post comments open or closed. Comments are open, so please utilize them to ask questions or to offer your own critique, but please remember to offer useful criticism. Comments will be moderated and deleted if not deemed to be useful or appropriate.

 

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