First-Page Critique: The Accidental Psychic and the Skeptic Cop

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With these critiques, we’re aiming 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!

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.

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


The First Page

This was submitted by the author as the opening scene. The author provided no information as to subgenre, length or set-up for the scene.

“No great mind has existed without a touch of madness.” – Aristotle

Walker Spite
Walker opened his apartment door, watching as the acned pizza delivery girl gave him the once over. Her expression revealed she looked troubled by what she saw. She handed him the pizza. “Double pepperoni, double cheese,” she said, seemingly trying to sound cheerful. But he knew she could see inside his apartment. He knew she was disquieted. Disquiet. His favorite word. The Latin prefix “dis” had a reversing force on the word it came before.

“Why do you live like a monk if you have this kind of credit card?” She held up his exclusive black credit card before swiping it.

His silence was punctuated by an ambulance wailing in the distance. And then a short splatter of taxi cabs honking vengefully. He might as well chit-chat. He needed to blend in.

“Because I’m a holy man.” This was a lie. The only thing he worshipped was how to bend things to your will. How to control the uncontrollable. Even after he’d been forced to leave his alternate persona, White Cube, behind ten months ago, he still held on to these beliefs.

“You know you can pay for this online, right?” she babbled nervously. “No one really pays this way anymore.”

He didn’t bother responding. He knew. But he had to refrain from using the internet. Otherwise he got lost in its possibility. And it violated his agreement with the FBI.

She handed him his credit card, which he grabbed too eagerly. She took a step back in surprise. He inhaled the smell of pepperoni and promptly shut the door without any further useless conversation.

He took a bite of pizza. The heat seared the roof of his mouth. He’d be tasting the blistering singe for days. He dropped the slice back into the box and walked into his palatial, although shabbily decorated, living room. He didn’t believe in decorating anymore, but it wasn’t as if he couldn’t afford it. 

Once he put the box on top of the other old boxes, he plopped down on the tattered brown couch and clicked on the TV. It was a rerun of a morning show. A group of four women with their vapid morning cheerfulness and vacant questions and perky coffee mugs sat around a table. The audience howled for the next guest.

And there he was. Osric. Fucking. Blackwood.

After the repugnant applause died down, the ladies “got to business.”

“Now we have to ask,” said the one in the pink turtleneck and the statement hair, “why did you turn down the offer from Chicago’s Finest Firefighter film?”

The audience groaned like a bunch of children, indicating their disappointment, he supposed.

“To be honest, I’m afraid of fire,” Osric said, relaxed, sitting back.

Rage swarmed through Walker in a big white burst. His hands shook. His body shook. Knees trembling, he collapsed back on the couch. At first, he resisted. He’d tried these ten months and didn’t want the effort to go to waste, especially because the FBI had told him the first months of restraint were the hardest. His hands no longer itched for the dark net like they had. And then he remembered how powerful he’d felt at his white desk, typing on his white computer, slipping through the dark digital terrainof the dark net, a playground and lucrative marketplace for all wicked deeds. It felt like a balloon popped in his stomach, a strong wet snapping sensation.

And then he resigned; he disintegrated into the fury. There could be peace in rage. It gave him order and discipline. It was uncomplicated. Pure. The spasms subsided, and he rested his head against a torn brown cushion, his hair matted with perspiration.

Osric must die. But, first, Osric must suffer.

The voices had returned. Just as Walker would return to the dark net. He would embody his online persona White Cube. He would make Osric Blackwood weep and bleed and sweat and cry out for his dead mother, cry out for her, cry out for her, cry out for her, cry out for her, cry out for her. He would watch as the life evaporated from Osric’s useless body, his putrid blue eyes fading into oblivion, two lifeless petri dishes, just waiting for the bugs to swim in them with no lids to blink the flies away. White Cube’s hot ionic anger engulfed him completely. But it didn’t feel like anger at all. It felt like power.

Madness was like a child standing frightened and frozen on the high dive at a pool. Sometimes all you needed was a little nudge. And once you were falling, you knew you were home.


The Critique

Because the author didn’t provide information about their manuscript, I’ve read this in the true spirit of an opening scene critique: does this work without any context?

Unfortunately, I’ll have to make some guesses to proceed, some of which may likely be incorrect, but I hope that my reasoning will be beneficial even so.

First up, I like the idea of a dark web addict—someone who was powerful and excited by his role within an exclusive, dangerous environment. The loss of that power and excitement mean that Walker’s new role as a “regular” or retired FBI guy is deeply unsatisfactory. He has stacks of pizza boxes and watches daytime TV. This is clearly a man adrift. Be careful that, if he is the hero, Walker comes across as more interesting that the average unemployed guy alone in his apartment. Is he wronged and tortured or is this sloth or petulance? It’s hard to tell.

The moment of change happens when Walker sees a person named Osric on TV. Here’s where I have to make a few logic leaps: Osric is popular, seems to be in entertainment, and his “I’m afraid of fire” line must be so deceptive that it sets off Walker and threatens to ruin whatever self-control he has managed these ten months.

I appreciate a paranormal or suspense that starts off quickly. However, without much context, I can’t tell if this is too quick. As it stands, we see brief glimpse of the person who sets off Walker’s rage. The reader needs to be grounded regarding the relationship between Walker, Osric, the voices, and the dark web. Some of it can be delayed—especially because readers who enjoy PNR and suspense are pretty willing to give a world some time to build—but at the moment, Walker’s reaction seems over-the-top in relation to what’s happened. Grounding the reader in these moments can be as basic as Inago Montoya: “You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Walker is ready to do some serious damage, but why? Make that known very soon and we can get on board for whatever’s next.

The voice here is hard to pin down. Details about Walker’s home are sparse, perhaps because we’re being asked by the author to give it some time. Maybe the existing details are placeholders that will make more sense when we know more about Walker’s circumstances. For the moment, we know he’s wealthy enough to decorate but chooses not to, which again goes back to his current state of mind. Is he tortured or petulant?

Then the language changes considerably. Some imagery is really evocative: “…like a balloon popped in his stomach, a strong wet snapping sensation.” Comparing Osric’s eyes to petri dishes is a bold metaphor. The sentence structure here (multiple contractions instead of commas) and the repetitions are also bold: “He would make Osric Blackwood weep and bleed and sweat and cry out for his dead mother, cry out for her, cry out for her, cry out for her, cry out for her, cry out for her.”

I can only assume that the language changes because Walker has snapped. I like it. It woke me up from the more humdrum pizza dialogue. But how does the change in language dovetail with the events at hand? Does this become the new narrative style or does it remain limited to Walker’s new, unleashed POV? I would need to see more, I think, to decide whether the language—like Walker’s reaction to Osric—is over-the-top too.

“But it didn’t feel like anger at all. It felt like power.” I responded to this. It’s blunt and tense. And, as with the shift into much more descriptive language, it provides us a look into a fractured mind. There’s good material here to work with, giving us a first taste of his true personality. However, the paragraph that ends this submission loses POV:

Madness was like a child standing frightened and frozen on the high dive at a pool. Sometimes all you needed was a little nudge. And once you were falling, you knew you were home.

The simile about madness is distancing because it sounds like an authorial voice, not Walker’s voice. The use of second person is also distancing. In pretty much all situations, I suggest paring back on broad, up-on-high omniscient descriptions. Deep point-of-view from a main character gives us a window into both personality and worldbuilding.

With the sample as it stands, we can’t begin to know what the romance will be. It could very well be m/m, with Osric is an enemy-to-lover. However, knowing the details of its potential romantic arc isn’t as essential as getting us on firm ground with Walker. Then the story can take us wherever his very, very angry self feels compelled to go.

Would I keep reading? Yes, if only to give it time to see what happens next. But some of my concerns about worldbuilding and language would need to be addressed fairly quickly.


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.

One thought on “First-Page Critique: The Accidental Psychic and the Skeptic Cop”

  1. Maurine says:

    Maybe because I read a lot of romantic suspense and mysteries, I thought Walker was more of a bad guy who had made an agreement with the FBI not to go on the Internet as a condition of a lesser sentence or probation, not that he was a regular or retired FBI agent. A lot of mysteries/romantic suspenses start with the villain’s POV. Who Walker actually is might be something the author would want to make clear right from the start. I did like the element of the dark web though, and this sounds like with a little more clarity it could be a fascinating read.

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