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.”
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.”
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 woman… striding 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.
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