First Meet Critique: Perfect Timing

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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, two pages at the most, the amount of feedback is necessarily limited—we don’t have access to more than a couple of pages!

New as of March 1, 2018: instead of first-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 Senior Editor Kerri Buckley.

* * *

The Scene

This was submitted by the author as a first meet.

Author A described this manuscript as “a contemporary romance with sizzling chemistry and comical banter.” They add, “In a fast-paced world full of choices and actions, timing is everything. But is there such a thing as perfect timing, when the stars align and everything falls into place? Or do we take action and make the present work with our own perfect timing?”

 

I adjust the gaudy crown on my head that looks like it came from Burger King. Knowing my friend Janine who eats there once a week, it probably did. She and my other friend Claire thought it’d be funny for me to wear this tonight in celebration of all I’ve accomplished.

Admittedly, I’ve accomplished quite a bit at 28 years old. I may have taken the scenic route to get here, but I did it.

I’m now a licensed chiropractor in the state of Texas.

And I have a Burger King crown to prove it.

As I take another sip of my vodka tonic, I bump into yet another sweaty stranger. I’m about to flip him off for stepping on my foot, but when my gaze meets his blue eyes, I stop myself.

“Hi,” I say instead, forgetting that I was upset he stepped on my new Steve Madden pumps.

He smiles, and my face flushes. It’s a friendly smile, not the fake or threatening kind like on Dexter. “What’s the story here?” I follow his finger pointing to the top of my head, but as I do so, I let me head fall back. I almost lose my paper crown, and when I reach up to grab it, he’s already got ahold of it.

And I hit him in the nose in the process.

“I’m so sorry!” I repeat several times while he chuckles.

“And here I thought I was being a gentleman.” He shrugs, but then winks to show that he’s kidding. “Can’t believe your reward is a clean uppercut to the nose.”

Warm smile and a sense of humor? Yes please.

I cover my face in my hands. “Once again, I’m sorry. If you can’t tell, I may have had a few drinks. A good thing, too, so maybe I won’t remember assaulting a perfectly hot guy at the club.”

“I’m hot, huh?”

I debate whether to throw another uppercut and run away, but my drunken mind from alcohol and achieving one of my life goals has me floating on air. Too high to reconsider my words, so I own them. And because I’m invincible, I even take them one step further. “Fucking hot.”

He throws his head back and laughs like I’m Sheldon and gave him the year’s best bazinga. The carefree bellow of his laugh makes me smile too. “I’m Malana.”

“Callen.”

As we talk more, he puts one hand on my hip while the other holds his drink. We sway to the music, and as he leans in to talk, I inhale his foresty cologne resembling the Mahogany Teakwood candles from Bath and Body Works. With each whiff, I start thinking maybe it was a good thing Janine and Claire dragged me out here tonight.

“What’s your flaw?” I have to ask because so far he’s given every right answer, made every right move like an expert chess player. He’s not overpowering, keeping half a foot of distance between us. Even an hour into our conversation, he has yet to put his second hand on my hip although his glass is empty.

“My flaw?”

“Yeah. Is that even in your vocabulary?”

He grins down at me while I look up at him through my fake lashes that Claire convinced me were a good idea. “We all have flaws.” He pulls me close then and breaks eye contact as though it’s the end of the conversation.

My heart beats erratically against my chest, especially when his firm arm wraps around my waist. He still doesn’t move his hand to my ass because he’s a gentleman, remember? It’s not in a sensual way that he holds me, but my heart flutters nonetheless.

I look at him once more, chancing a break in my poker face. I take a deep breath and his fresh scent makes my knees go weak. “Tell me your flaw. I need to know it so I won’t be tempted to ask you for a ride home.” My voice is raspy and meek, just like my composure. But the eight drinks I’ve had and lack of sleep don’t allow me to care.

He leans down to whisper in my ear, resting his left hand on the side of my face. “You’re a pretty girl.” He smiles once more, but this time it’s not a warm one. It’s one of apology, and maybe even pain.

For a second, I wonder if my jab at his nose has suddenly affected him. But as he steps back and let’s his hand fall, I see it.

His glimmering flaw.

His wedding band.

 

The Critique

This opens on a very funny visual, which is almost always a good thing. Our heroine celebrating her accomplishments by cutting loose and wearing a goofy crown in a bar/club environment, and that actually says a lot about her. I kind of get Malana, right off the bat. Well done.

From there we’re off and running almost immediately, with our hero and heroine running into each other (literally) on the very next beat. Great! No dawdling. I like that.

But…on that next beat. I wonder if it’s a bit too fast. It’s meant to be a very humorous moment, I think, but it feels rushed. She just bonked him in the nose! Is there blood? Did he recoil? Did she feel/hear the crush of bone? Instead the actual incident—the contact–is somewhat glossed over, with focus shifting to Malana’s dialogue (and, in there, to how much she’s had to drink). This feels like a lost opportunity. It’s so fast that the funny doesn’t have time to land.

One general note: I happen to be familiar with Dexter, The Big Bang Theory, and the mahogany and teakwood candles from Bath and Body Works, but I doubt everyone who reads this is going to be. Author A may want to rethink those references and use markers that aren’t entirely reliant on pop culture (which, remember, gets dated very quickly—aren’t you a bit removed from the story when you come across a reference to, oh, Britney Spears, for example?) or steeped so firmly in the present.

Back to our hero and heroine interacting. While I like Malana’s use of “what’s your flaw” to pivot their interaction around to the semi-serious, it currently feels a little bit like it’s coming out of nowhere. I think this is related to what I cited above: the story is just moving too fast at points. We’re not fully introduced to the chemistry between them before she’s looking for a way to poke holes in it, to disbelieve. So again, the impact isn’t quite there.

Where the impact is is on those last lines, when Malana discovers Callen’s wedding band. This is high drama, and a very, very effective way to end a scene/chapter. Author A has reeled us in. We want to know what comes next, and that’s the sign of a job well done.

Would I keep reading? Yes, for a bit. I’d like to see Callen’s POV, to understand what’s going on here and identify what I’m in for before deciding whether or not to proceed. Modern day marriage of convenience? Okay. Sick/dying wife? Less okay but I’d probably still keep reading. Full-on cheating? So totally not my jam.

Do you have questions about my feedback or the short scene critique program? Email generalinquiries@www.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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