Welcome to our first-page critiques! These critiques are meant to give 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 800 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!
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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 Mackenzie Walton.
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Author A described this manuscript as “an MMMM, paranormal/fantasy retelling” of a classic fairy tale, featuring shifters.
Thoroughly wet, beyond thoroughly pissed off, I loped down the long, narrow hallway leading from Soundstage 12 to a private rear entrance to Harry’s Behind the Scenes Bar, Baths & Grill. Given the few doors opening into the hall, and despite several odd jogs, there was a directness which bespoke planning and cooperation, not architectural serendipity. I long ago decided the hallway was owned by my fucking employers, given there was no trace of Harry’s magick until you reached the supersized floor mat in front of the BB&G door.
And since the fucking owners of Fairy Tale Videos, L.P., and the fucking director, and fucking crew, should never the fuck have let what fucking happened happen on the set, I left abundant proof of my passage. Very large, very wet paw prints, and three areas of spattered floor, walls and ceiling where I’d shaken my dripping fur. Just past the first turn, where the light was out—amazing what you can do in half-form with a quick stretch up, a clink of claws around a bulb and a twist—for the longest shake, then halfway, and the final and least-splattering, just before the floor mat marking the official start of the BB&G.
I refrained from marking the hall with a leg-hike along the way. Not as territory-marking, since I had no pack rights or land rights, but as a blatant notice to all shifters: Here Passeth a Pissed-Off Wolf.
I refrained because of Harry.
With the way humans keep inventing smaller and smaller cameras, there could’ve been dozens covering the hallway, and I wouldn’t have seen them, or even smelled them if a good scent suppressant was used. The gods know Harry can afford the best of both. But since Harry always knows what goes on inside and outside of the BB&G, I suspect he has the magickal equivalent of all those CCTV cameras you see in the Brit TV shows set in London.
Harry’s a dragon whose temperament could never be mistaken for Santa’s, and he always knows who’s naughty and nice before allowing them in his establishment. Shifters inherently fall at the far end of the naughty part of the spectrum, some of us spilling well into the downright nasty part beyond that, but since we make up a significant percent of his customer base, he can’t just ban us all without losing a lot of money. Dragons dislike losing money even more than Scrooge before the Christmas ghosts.
I don’t really believe the rumors Harry has enough magick to keep a draconic eye and ear on his customers as far away as our damned homes, but still, it’s wise to be prudent off-premises. Those of us who are wolf-smart make sure we say no words or do any deeds which could be interpreted as disparaging or being disrespectful about dragons, hoards, hoarding, Harry or the BB&G. Anywhere. Even if we think we’re being funny.
Wiping each of my paws on the mat as much as possible was both courteous and prudent, since not making the attempt might be the minor naughty which got me banned from the bar long enough to make me grovel for a reduction in sentence. The closest alternative bar is more than two miles away and caters to a mixed shifter-human crowd, but going there requires human form, cleanliness, clothes and no sex on the premises.
Harry doesn’t care about your choice for the first unless when shifted your size or mass could affect the structural integrity of the building which is, rather than merely contains, the BB&G. Dragons have to worry about things like that, since the smallest is the size of an average house. The oldest are far larger, and though I’ve never seen Harry shifted, I wouldn’t be damn-all surprised if he took up a full city block. Or what remained of a city block if he shifted in the middle of one.
He has extensive bathing, steam and sauna facilities to ensure as much of the second as possible—at least on arrival. After that…what happens, happens.
He doesn’t care at all about the third.
And if you have sex in any of the many, many areas of the building where sex is permitted—about ninety-seven point three percent, according to my personal calculations in trying them out—his only mandate is you make a reasonable effort to clean up any mess before you leave. The various darkrooms are the only exception. Of course, what Harry means by “reasonable effort” is notifying the staff and paying the clean-up fee. It’s a modest flat fee, and undoubtedly profitable given the sheer volume of mess humans, shifters, and other magickal beings make when doing any of the five things permitted on the premises: drinking, dining, bathing, socializing, and sex.
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Well, good job, author, because you’ve definitely caught my attention. Something big has obviously just happened to our wolfish narrator—he’s soaking wet and pissed off, and it all involves a soundstage and film crew—and I definitely want to know what. Making a reader immediately invested in seeing a payoff is a great hook, and it’s totally working for me here.
I also like the little world-building details we get as the narrator travels from the site of the Incident to the bar. We know what kind of wolf shifter he is from his dog-like habit off shaking off the water and that he’s even considering scent-marking—this wolf man leans more wolf than man, at least in his fur skin—and that this world has different kinds of shifters, as well as other magical creatures. There’s a magical industry of sorts in this bar/bathhouse/grill and maybe in the video enterprise as well, which implies a quirkier kind of paranormal world.
These details are dropped with a breezy sort of casualness I like, and makes me like the narrator as well. His voice seems fun and a touch salty, even when he’s angry, so I want to get to know him more. I can definitely see myself enjoying a whole novel with this narrator at the helm.
Things hit of a speed bump of sorts when the narrator gets distracted by talking about Harry and his BB&G. We’re getting a lot of info here, which slows down the faster clip established in the first few paragraphs. On a practical level, I’m also wondering why the narrator is suddenly so interested in telling us all about Harry when moments ago he was so angry about his situation that he was considering peeing on the wall just to let everyone know.
And frankly, I’m much more interested in the wolf and whatever’s befallen him than hearing about a character we haven’t met yet. More than half of the opening is devoted to describing Harry and his business, but he’s not our hero, so I’m impatient to get back to the action at hand. This information may well be important, but it could also be doled out in smaller portions as the scene continues, hopefully when the narrator has actually encountered Harry and is in the bar itself.
Looking at the nuts and bolts of the writing itself, there are a handful of awkward phrases throughout, but nothing too major. But I rarely hold this against authors when it comes to opening scenes. The opening is usually the part of the book that’s been tinkered with the most, so some awkwardness is a natural side effect. Overall, though, I’d urge the author to revise with an eye for streamlining and making the most of the strong first-person voice.
Would I keep reading? Yes. The writing is strong enough to make me want to read on.
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