Meant to be a sneak peek into a Carina editor’s brain, and critiqued by a different editor each time, we’re going to post these critiques 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, 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 still 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 Freelance Editor John Jacobson.
The First Page
This was submitted by the author as a first meet scene.
Author A described this manuscript as “A first time meet of Reuben and Lane, true mates in a world of shifters, vampires, fairies, male pregnancy, and self-discovery in a world where a rare hybrid is about to be thrust into the limelight more than he expected. Join me with Lane learning about his fairy/vampire hybrid heritage as he navigates his rise to fame with his vampire mate Reuben.”
I was excited to dive into the scene because I secretly loved male pregnancy (aka mpreg) fanfiction when I was a teen. It’s hard to make work “logically” but when done well, it can be a fun trope.
“I’m not sparkly, I’m glittery with style. Fairies are the sparkly ones.” He smiled, eye’s glowing, if not glittering, red. At least, the part about red eyes of a vampire was right. I sighed. I looked at Rueben and asked.
“What happens now?”
A glint to his glittering red eyes formed and I knew instantly what he was thinking. No question at all. My groin tightened at the thought of him taking me, desiring me enough that he lost his vampirical mind. Lust slammed into me and I throbbed, my mostly hard cock going full hard and then some. I was so hard that my dick pressed against my jeans’ zipper probably leaving an impression on it. I just knew my violet eyes started glittering with their own inner light my secret revealing itself as his lips came closer to my own.
He whispered lustfully, “Fairy.”
I answered breathlessly and just as lustful, “Yes.”
And he kissed me like I had never been kissed before. We pressed together still clothed, mouths moving together in a tale as old as time. Wait. Why am I thinking about cheesy Disney lines? I closed my eyes and surrendered to his embrace glad to not be thinking at all anymore. Lips parted and we both nibbled and bit. His incisors dropped enough for me to feel the points, mine doing a smaller drop but just as pointed. Did I mention I’m half vampire too? Yeah, the best… or worst of both worlds, depending upon who you talked to. For my parents, the answer was both. Trying not to dwell on that sadness when I had a hot vampire in my arms was in my immediate future. I mentally put that pain away to concentrate on the rush of teeth and lips over mine.
The rush continued, and I felt a bond begin to form. Oh crap. I had heard that a fairy could feel a bond start to form as it happened but didn’t think it would apply to me since I was half-fairy.
I pulled from him physically hurting when I removed my lips from his. A slight nick from our fangs pinched each other as we separated. I instinctively licked the drop left on my bottom lip.
“We have to stop.” I whispered, no breath at all. Panicked, I tried to step away. Strong arms I hadn’t noticed were wrapped around me tightened, not letting me pull from him. He nuzzled my neck, inhaling deeply, then looked up to my face.
“We don’t. I know what’s happening. It’s normal for mates to know at first kiss.” He smirked no surprise in his expression. I looked a little more expecting him to be abhorred about bonding with a fairy, and a half-fairy at that. Not that he knew that yet. There was nothing but lust, acceptance, and a small knowing smirk. No disgust. Then I caught with what he said.
“Wait. Mates?!” We’re mates? I figured I would have to mate with a female even though I preferred males. That’s what I was taught growing up in the fairy compound since that was the only way to have children. I loved children. A little disappointed that I wouldn’t have any, it seemed I had a few things to research. More than a few, actually.
His smirk grew to a big smile his fangs– still showing and a little red on one of them. The smile softened his angled face, red eyes deepening to almost a burgundy and sparkled, no glittered, more so than before. We went from merely handsome to gorgeous.
“Fairies and Vampires know when they feel a bond start they can be a potential mate. The true-mate bond– for when the bond a destined mate, while rare, do happen– your fangs drop when you kiss in addition to the bond and the instant lust upon meeting.” He licked his fang and his eyes grew wide.
Desire and lust surged between us, a painful need driving through me. My own fangs throbbed with his words. My knees went week and I was only standing because he was holding me in his arms. A pained moan ripped from my throat and I closed my eyes to try to break through all the emotions and need battering me.
“Oh shit! You’re a vampire too?” Shock flashed, then his face set into determination. “Oh, this is bad. You are about to go into heat and we haven’t finished bonding yet. How is it that you don’t know this?” Concern and a little fear was peppered in his voice.
From the beginning, I liked the humor of the manuscript and the direction that humor was going in. Opening with a line like, “I’m not sparkly. I’m glittery with style…” sets a fair expectation that the story is going to play with tropes and snark, all of which I enjoy when I’m reading. Almost immediately after that line, I felt the writing start to fall away a bit with the “eye’s glowing if not glittering, red” bit. Part of that is the inaccurate use of a possessive (it should just be the plural “eyes”) and part of that it’s a staggering shift into a stream-of-consciousness narrative style ala Bridget Jones, Sophie Kinsella, and the like.
I actually really enjoy humorous first person, but then we get to the next paragraph which falls into a lot of tropes regarding people with male bodies that are sexually attracted to someone. It’s a fated mate story, so I’m willing to forgive that some here, but the descriptions such as the erection leaving an impression on the zipper were just anatomically incorrect and more uncomfortable than anything. Zippers are metallic and very uncomfortable!
As the narrative continues throughout the scene, it gives the impression that it’s trying to do too many things at once without refining them into a consistent voice. We have a Disney reference, then a self-aware “Why am I thinking about cheesy Disney lines?” right after, neither of which “hit” well in the sex scene. It also has me ask why Disney is the same when mythological creatures exist. It could work, but it’s worth noting that hefty pop culture references can just as easily remind the reader that they’re reading about a fictional world. There’s a fine balance between references sinking the reader deeper into the world and throwing the reader out of it.
Not only that, but there’s a tendency to use the first-person narration to do a lot of quick-hit world building. “That’s what I was taught growing up in the fairy compound” and “I heard that a fairy could feel a bond start to form” are lines that read as authorial-inserts rather than as natural extensions of the characters mind. Those sorts of lines also get used at the end. Especially during a first-meet scene, it’s important to remember that the world can be revealed slowly. We as readers use these paranormal rules to signal the larger consequences of the conflict, but that can build over the first few chapters. It’s also hard because in first person, world building needs to come naturally through the interactions because these characters are deeply immersed in their psyches.
What makes me conflicted is that I like all of the elements of the story. I’m a fan of m/m and paranormal stories. I think the male pregnancy element when it gets introduced later offers some juicy potential for conflict and character development, and it’s a high-heat book which usually works in my favor. I think the rules you set are intriguing and also have a lot of potential. I would question why a paranormal world with fated mates and male pregnancy has cisheterosexual sex ed as the default, and would require that to have some pretty strong depth if it occurs since m/m often overemphasizes tragic elements of homophobia for conflict.
All of those elements are interesting, but I think they’re fighting the writing style, the voice, and the pacing here. I would recommend that there be a clear decision on how strong the first-person POV is and how funny or serious the narrative is trying to be, then making sure that the narrative follows that. I would also recommend getting to know your world, through drafting or through brainstorming outside of the draft, and then asking how these first-person characters would authentically think and talk having lived in that world as their normal. Writing from that space can help make your story more immersive and help you figure out how conflict will play out organically so your authorial hand doesn’t show itself too directly for readers.
Would I keep reading? Because of my varying reactions, I would not keep reading.
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