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First Page: Unnamed Hispanic Paranormal

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I always knew there were different worlds alongside my own:   places of angels or demons.   But this feeling went away over time.   It had long gone by the time I turned twenty and struggled home from work on the bus – with two tote bags of groceries and a pair of platform sandals rubbing blisters on my heels – only to find an intruder in my apartment.

My keys jingled in the lock.   I nudged the door open with my knee.   The tote bags slipped from my hands and thudded to the threadbare carpet.   The smell of bruised celery wafted up.   My stuff lay strewn all over the place:   paperbacks, clothes, cosmetics, jewelry, shoes, dolls, shot-glasses from my state-by-state collection, and glossy fashion magazines.   Someone had overturned the crappy couch I’d bought for five bucks at a yard sale.   I let out a little scream and groped for my cell phone clipped to my belt.

Then I saw the symbols glowing everywhere.   They looked like runes made of red light.

A huge one glowed from the depths of my hall mirror.   Smaller ones shifted over the dusty planes of the sliding glass doors that led to the balcony.   Many jumbles of letters lay across the mess of stuff covering my carpet.   The runes looked like Phoenician or something – not that I would know.   My cell phone slipped from my hand.   I shrank away as a rune lifted from the near wall and drifted towards me.

Then a shadow moved at the corner of my eye.   Instinct made me jump forward.

Someone slammed my apartment door.   I stood trapped inside, facing a bulky shape over my spilled groceries.

He looked like a big man, over six feet tall.   But then he also looked like a shadow-wrapped slab of stone.   I couldn’t get my eyes to focus on him.   He lunged for me, and I ran for the kitchen.   My fright-stiff hands pawed at the drawer by the sink.   The butcher knives inside rattled.

A thick hand closed over my shoulder – and several things happened at once.   Ice-cold raced down my left arm.   My vision shorted out into black-and-white.   He spun me around to face him, and I slammed my right palm up under his chin.   I’d always thought I’d scream and run in a crisis.

But I attacked him, and he staggered.   Again my hands moved apart from my brain.   I smashed him again under the chin.   His head shot back, and he fell.   Suddenly I could see in color again.   The intruder lay at my feet, his neck twisted at an unnatural angle.

I started shaking so hard I couldn’t stand up.   I gripped the counter and shimmied past him.   He wasn’t breathing.   He looked dead.   I lifted my gaze across the wreckage of my apartment to the closed door.   My tote bags sagged against the wall.   A milk carton had burst, soaking my carpet.   I looked back at the intruder.   I still couldn’t get my eyes to focus on him.   It felt like looking through smoke; my eyes began to water.

I heard own voice whispering:   "Oh, my God.   Mi Dios.   Madre del Dios!   I’m in trouble.   I’m in trouble."

***

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26 Comments

  1. Kristen
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 06:07:00

    What’s a hispanic paranormal?

    ReplyReply

  2. Leah
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 06:25:54

    The writing is a little awkward in places, which keeps the page from being as suspenseful as you’d like. I’m short on time, and I know that others will point these spots out in greater detail.

    My big problem comes when she goes further inside after she sees the figure. Maybe she should be pushed by unseen hands, or trip over her groceries. I’ve found that I end up being more aggressive in scary situations than I imagine, but this is a little hard for me to swallow. I think most people would step back. In fact, if she lives in an urban area, where crime is more common than, say, Teenytown, Indiana, wouldn’t she be savvy enough to step out of her apt, close the door and call the cops?

    Gotta get the kids up. Keep writing!

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  3. Gina
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 07:23:39

    What's a hispanic paranormal?

    I was wondering the same thing. Paranormal is my favorite genre and the characters are a plethora of diversity but I’ve never heard of one specifically categorized as hispanic. To be honest that need to declare a specific ethnicity would turn me off the book right away.

    In the wonderful world of romantic reading I don’t think there should be a place for segregation and by declaring this an “hispanic paranormal” the writer purposely segregates the book, diminishing her audience dramatically.

    ReplyReply

  4. joanne
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 07:49:42

    There’s so much good ‘stuff’ here but I can’t decide whether I like this page or not —- I think that’s because your mc can’t decide on anything either.

    She believes in other-world creatures or not? Does she see a solid form or a shadow? She can’t focus but she sees him clearly enough to hit his chin… twice? She can’t stand up but shimmies past him? She twisted his neck? When, with the hit to the chin? She doesn’t know anything about runes but recognizes them as such right away? She doesn’t know who or what he is/was but she knows she’s in trouble? Why is she still in the apartment after the attacker is down?

    I don’t know why it doesn’t work for me as it is now, but there’s good writing on that page if only you will decide for sure what you want your character to see and feel.

    Thank you and much good luck!

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  5. Courtney Milan
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 07:53:37

    Okay, you’re definitely starting with action, which is a good thing, and you did a pretty good job with the fight scene. I could follow it all the way through, even though there’s paranormal stuff going on which sometimes confuses these things. Great job with that!

    I do think there’s a bit of subtle stuff you could clean up with the writing. I don’t want to go into huge detail, because there are other people who can do a better job (“job” being the operative name). But the big one that popped out for me almost instantly is this: I think you do little things that constantly undercut your writing and the effect that you have on the reader. I’m just going to point out a couple:

    I always knew there were different worlds alongside my own: places of angels or demons. But this feeling went away over time. It had long gone by the time I turned twenty. . . .

    Okay — I love that first line. It makes me wonder: How has she always known? It’s a different thing to know, and to have such certainty: to always know . . . well, that’s powerful. Next line: This feeling went away. Immediately, knowledge has been downgraded to feeling. And always has been downgraded to once. You can’t say you always knew something that you’ve stopped believing by the time you turned twenty, and so in the first three sentences, you’ve made me not trust your narration.

    Or take something like: “The runes looked like Phoenician or something – not that I would know.” You’ve already conveyed uncertainty with “looked like” and “or something”; adding the “not that I would know” just undercuts your narrator, and turns it into, “Gee, reader, I’m just telling you what I was thinking, not that you should trust my observations.” If you’re trying to convey, “She wasn’t sure what the runes came from,” then don’t set the reader up to trust her with a specific diagnosis of “Phoenician.” Find a layman’s term for them–call them chicken scratch, or toddler writing or something that says “I don’t recognize this.” Or if they are, in fact, Phoenician, and she does somehow know, let her recognize it with that same center of her brain that has “always known” about angels and demons.

    But as it is, you’re sending the reader really mixed messages about the narrator, and I’m not sure that’s what you intended to do. Even if the reader *shouldn’t* trust your narrator, you should want them to do so at least at first. Especially if the reader shouldn’t trust your narrator. :)

    ReplyReply

  6. Barb Ferrer
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 08:55:14

    My first instinct, just reading through it, is that the Spanish at the end reads like something that was thrown through a translator, rather than something that someone would be saying. I could be wrong, of course– colloquialisms differ between all the Spanish-speaking cultures.

    Beyond that, I think Courtney nailed most everything I was thinking with respect to the page. Started out strong, but you’re left with mixed messages.

    And like Kristen, I’m curious about what, specifically, makes this a Hispanic paranormal? If the rest of the story delves into some of the myths and legends that surround the indigenous cultures of Latin America, that could be really fascinating, since there’s really not a lot of that out there to my knowledge. However, “maybe Phoenician” doesn’t really seem to suggest it’s going that direction. I could be way wrong, though. Especially since it’s based on only one page.

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  7. shenan
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 09:28:39

    —–I always knew there were different worlds alongside my own: places of angels or demons. But this feeling went away over time. It had long gone by the time I turned twenty and struggled home from work on the bus – with two tote bags of groceries and a pair of platform sandals rubbing blisters on my heels – only to find an intruder in my apartment.

    Maybe it’s just me, but ending the above paragraph with a mention of her finding an intruder in her apartment and then taking another four paragraphs to bring him onstage gives the story a herky-jerky feel. Like with what another poster mentioned about the “always knew” and “this feeling went away over time” and “had long gone.”

    To me, a better start would be to drop the mention of other worlds and the intruder. Start out with a normal day. A day where nothing stranger happens than those blisters on her heels. That way when she opens the door to her apartment, the reader gets a bit of a jolt. The way you have it set up, you’ve twice telegraphed that something weird/unusual is coming. Then when something weird does happen, you go off on a detailed description of the contents of the heroine’s home.

    ——My keys jingled in the lock. I nudged the door open with my knee. The tote bags slipped from my hands and thudded to the threadbare carpet. The smell of bruised celery wafted up.

    Having the tote slip from her hands with no explanation doesn’t work for me. And the bit with the bruised celery doesn’t work either. Even without it taking away from what comes next. First, that she smells the celery, bruised or otherwise, seems a stretch. (Especially over the stronger smell of the milk we later see has spilled.) Then I think about how I have no idea what the difference in smell is between bruised and unbruised celery. IS there a difference? Even before that, I stopped to wonder why she dropped her tote bags. Was she too tired after a long day at work to have strength enough to make it all the way to the kitchen before she dropped them? Does it have something to do with that intruder in her apartment that we haven’t been introduced to yet? What?

    Plus, the rhythm of those first few sentences reads clunky to me. “My keys jingled. I nudged the door. My bags slipped. Smell wafted.” It’s like a shopping list of what happened next.

    —–My stuff lay strewn all over the place: paperbacks, clothes, cosmetics, jewelry, shoes, dolls, shot-glasses from my state-by-state collection, and glossy fashion magazines. Someone had overturned the crappy couch I’d bought for five bucks at a yard sale. I let out a little scream and groped for my cell phone clipped to my belt.

    The scream coming at the end of a long list of the heroine’s possessions again seems herky-jerky. Like she maybe took a while to get around to screaming. And while I like how you described her couch, it seems out of place that she would be thinking of where she’d bought it and how much it cost just then.

    —–Then I saw the symbols glowing everywhere. They looked like runes made of red light.

    Why did it take her so long to notice the symbols? She takes detailed note of her couch and scattered shot glasses, but doesn’t notice glowing symbols everywhere? Or did they not start glowing until after she’d screamed?

    —A huge one glowed from the depths of my hall mirror. Smaller ones shifted over the dusty planes of the sliding glass doors that led to the balcony. Many jumbles of letters lay across the mess of stuff covering my carpet. The runes looked like Phoenician or something – not that I would know.

    Why would she think the runes were Phoenician if she apparently has no idea what Phoenician runes look like? And again, she stops to consider unimportant details at a time when she should be reacting.

    —-Then a shadow moved at the corner of my eye. Instinct made me jump forward.

    Jump forward towards the shadow or away? To me, it reads like she is jumping towards the shadow. (Well, she’d pretty much have to jump towards him, given that she is apparently standing right inside the front door of her apartment. Actually, having gone back to check, she never made it inside. Last we saw, she’d just opened her door. No mention was made of her stepping inside the apartment.) Now me, if I think I see an intruder, I’m going to jump away from him. Way away. Like down the street away.

    As for the shadow — is it a shadow? A dimly seen shape? An intruder? The living room curtains fluttering in the breeze and casting a shadow? What?

    —–Someone slammed my apartment door. I stood trapped inside, facing a bulky shape over my spilled groceries.

    Is it a shape or a shadow? Is it in the corner of her eye or standing right in front of her?

    How is she trapped by a closed door? Unless she has reason to think the mysterious someone who closed her door also locked it in some way that made it impossible for her to open the door, she wasn’t anymore trapped with the door closed than she was with it open. (It would just take her a bit longer to get out of the apartment if she had to open the door.) Not to mention, how is the door closing with her standing either in the hallway of her apartment building (as the writing suggests) or just inside the apartment? If the door can close behind her, she has to have made it at least three feet into the apartment, thus giving the door clearance enough to swing shut.

    —He looked like a big man, over six feet tall. But then he also looked like a shadow-wrapped slab of stone. I couldn’t get my eyes to focus on him.

    This doesn’t make sense. How can she describe the shadow/shape/man/stone if her eyes can’t focus on him? And how can he look like two different things at the same time? Not to mention, why can’t she focus on him?

    —- He lunged for me, and I ran for the kitchen.

    She was standing right by her apartment door. Why not run out into the hall, screaming for help? Or at least try to get out of the apartment. And unless her kitchen opens right off the front hallway, wouldn’t she have to run past the intruder to get to her kitchen?

    —-My fright-stiff hands pawed at the drawer by the sink.

    I don’t know what the Gods of Good Writing say about body parts acting independently of the person they’re attached to, but that sort of thing always gives me pause. Did her hands paw through the drawer? Or did SHE paw through the drawers with fright-stiff hands?

    —-The butcher knives inside rattled.

    She has a whole drawer of butcher knives? No other kind of knives in there?

    —-A thick hand closed over my shoulder – and several things happened at once. Ice-cold raced down my left arm. My vision shorted out into black-and-white. He spun me around to face him, and I slammed my right palm up under his chin. I’d always thought I’d scream and run in a crisis.

    A bit nit-picky here — the list above didn’t happen at once but in quick succession. Unless she hit the intruder even as he was spinning her, which would mean she was one heck of a contortionist.

    —But I attacked him, and he staggered. Again my hands moved apart from my brain. I smashed him again under the chin. His head shot back, and he fell. Suddenly I could see in color again.

    Again the heroine stops the action to consider small details. I don’t know what the deal is with the color going in and out in her vision, but it seems odd that she’d notice that in the midst of being attacked.

    —- The intruder lay at my feet, his neck twisted at an unnatural angle.

    How in the world could even a trained assassin break someone’s neck by simply clipping him a good one under the chin? Most assassins (on TV anyway) break a neck with a sharp twist. How delicate is this bulky intruder??

    —-I started shaking so hard I couldn’t stand up. I gripped the counter and shimmied past him.

    She can’t stand up, yet she not only remains standing, she shimmies?

    —-He wasn’t breathing. He looked dead.

    Well, if he isn’t breathing, I’d say he would look fairly well dead. Although I think that broken neck should have clued the heroine in first thing.

    —-I lifted my gaze across the wreckage of my apartment to the closed door. My tote bags sagged against the wall. A milk carton had burst, soaking my carpet. I looked back at the intruder. I still couldn’t get my eyes to focus on him. It felt like looking through smoke; my eyes began to water.

    Again the heroine focuses on mundane details. (What about the runes? Are they still there and glowing?) And still it doesn’t make sense that she can’t focus on the intruder. How then can she tell his neck is at an odd angle or that he isn’t breathing and looks dead?

    —I heard own voice whispering: “Oh, my God. Mi Dios. Madre del Dios! I’m in trouble. I’m in trouble.”

    Again with the action taking place independent of the person in charge. Does SHE whisper? Or is her voice acting on its own?

    Why does she think she’s in trouble? Someone broke into her apartment, she hit him after he attacked her, and he falls down dead. Sounds to me like the cops would be clapping her on the back, not in handcuffs.

    Despite the above nitpicks, I like the setup to the story. And I’m curious about the unanswered questions. If I were into paranormals, I’d keep reading.

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  8. JulieLeto
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 09:32:10

    As a Latina writer, the first question that popped into my mind is “what is a Hispanic paranormal?” A paranormal that only Hispanics can read? I’m supposing this is the Latina equivalent of African-American (not that only African Americans can read them…but that’s what happens a lot of the time because of where they are placed in the bookstore and you’re setting your self up to limit your audience, which is never a good thing.) Loose that right away if it is in your query letter, etc. The fact that your character is Latina/Hispanic is great, but a paranormal is a paranormal.

    And the rest–what Barb said. And Courtney.

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  9. Anon
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 09:33:02

    I think there’s a good story in there, but a couple of things prevent me from loving it.

    First, I think the writing style is very choppy and basic. The sentences aren’t flowing smoothly. Instead, they read more like a list. First this, then this, then this.

    Second, the Hispanic thing. As a Latina, I’m not getting Latina vibes off of this anywhere. Color, heat and humidity, scent, sound. The walk home from the bus stop was a great place to set the scene for a Hispanic neighborhood (if that’s where she is) but it was a blank. The scent of cumin, chiles, and overripe mango should certainly overpower “bruised celery.”

    I’m not certain I’d limit myself by marketing it as a “Hispanic paranormal,” but instead call it paranormal and let the Hispanic aspect be a fresh, fun surprise.

    Nonetheless, I’d be interested in reading more because I think there might be a great, fun plot there.

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  10. Jill Sorenson
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 10:22:04

    Native speakers can correct me if I’m wrong, but I hear “Dios mio” a lot more than “mi Dios” (as an exclaimation). Having her say “My God” first also seems unnecessary. Trust the reader to understand your meaning by context, not translation.

    I agree that it seems odd that she enters the apartment at all. And the door slamming shut is a little too convenient? If she noticed the disarray/odd writing as she was walking in, and the man advanced on her before she could retreat, I’d find this scene more believable.

    I like the action and the physicality on the page, and find the paranormal details interesting. The opening line is nice. Good job and good luck!

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  11. K. Z. Snow
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 10:58:08

    My biggest suggestion would be adding some variety to the sentence structure. Paragraphs full of simple declarative sentences soon make me feel as if I’m listening to a high school marching band.

    Other than that, I think the writing is solid and the first page, catchy. I’m not bothered by any lack of distinctly Hispanic flavor. Hell, it’s only the first page!

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  12. Fae
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 11:24:23

    I got hung up on two things more than anything…make that three.

    One. If she wouldn’t know they’re Phoenician, then why is she saying they look like they are. Either she knows what Phoenician runes look like or she doesn’t. And if she doesn’t, well..see what I’m saying? You’re having narrative slip into her pov because you seem to want the reader to know they’re Phonecian even though your character wouldn’t have that knowledge. If your POV character doesn’t have a piece of knowledge, then you have to find another way to share that information with the reader.

    Two. Does bruised celery even have a scent? I mean, celery is 90% water, it barely has a scent at all. Surely she has something more interesting in her grocery bags that she could smell that wouldn’t make people go “Huh? What does bruised celery smell like?” and throw them out of the story. Fruit, spices, a jar that spills open. Anything, and as said above this is a good place to throw some Hispanic flavor into the story.

    Three. “Oh, my God. Mi Dios. Madre del Dios! I'm in trouble. I'm in trouble.” Hello, department of redundancy department. I get she’s shaken up, but three ways to say “OMG!” and the repeated “I’m in trouble.” seem so jarring, it made me literally wrinkle my nose and go “What” out loud. Not the reaction i think you’re going for.

    There’s some good stuff there, but those 3 things would have me putting the book immediately back on the shelf and unlikely to pick up another by you.

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  13. theo
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 11:57:28

    What others said, yes, but the thing that turned me off from being something I’d consider reading is this:

    I let out a little scream and groped for my cell phone clipped to my belt.

    Rather than immediately exiting the apartment for her own safety, *then* grabbing her cell phone (or doing those actions simultaneously) she stands inside the apartment to call.

    She reminds me of the horror movie characters who always run *up* the stairs. Where can you go from there? Her actions just struck me as a TSTL moment.

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  14. Mireya
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 12:31:03

    The Spanish is all WRONG.

    Mi Dios. = wrong. Dios mio is the proper phrase

    Madre del Dios! = wrong. Direct translation from Mother of God. We would say Madre mia or Virgen Santa or even an expleetive like carajo.

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  15. DS
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 12:51:10

    The Phoenician alphabet and the Runic alphabet are two separate systems. Both are pre-Christian so I’m not sure why the earlier mention of angels or demons.

    One other thing. I’m about as tired of angels/demons/succubi/incubi as I am of vampires and werewolves. It has to be a really interesting story that grabs me fast or I’ll pass over it– put the book back on the shelf or delete the sample off my Kindle and go to the next one.

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  16. Barb Ferrer
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 14:05:56

    Madre del Dios! = wrong. Direct translation from Mother of God. We would say Madre mia or Virgen Santa or even an expleetive like carajo.

    Well, if we’re going to get really picky, Madre del Dios is technically Mother of the God, which sticks out like a sore thumb to me, as does the lack of the inverted exclamation point. And as I said before, I hesitate to use the royal “we” in saying how it should be said. My grandma did use Madre de Dios as well as virgen santisima and any number of colorful combinations. Then, of course, she’d trot off to Confession and ask forgiveness for blaspheming. But then again, that was simply a case of my Cuban grandma. My Venezuelan cousins have completely different expletives and colloquialisms from me.

    I will confess, however, I’ve never heard anyone say Mi Dios– it’s always been Dios mío.

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  17. Julia Sullivan
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 14:49:02

    It had long gone by the time I turned twenty and struggled home from work on the bus

    This is a bad sentence. Even if you mean “it was my twentieth birthday, and I struggled home from work on the bus” it’s not a good sentence. What I suspect you mean is “I knew about the other worlds when I was a child, but had long forgotten about them by the time I was twenty. One evening, when I struggled home from work on the bus, I arrived at my apartment to find an intruder…”

    The runes looked like Phoenician

    As others have said, either it’s the Phoenician alphabet or it’s runes. If you’re going to call them “runes”, they’re not Phoenician letters. If they’re Phoenician letters, don’t call them “runes”.

    And as others have said, don’t write a paranormal with a Latina heroine if you don’t speak and write Spanish fluently yourself (unless your plot point is that your protag is Latina but doesn’t know Spanish, in which case she wouldn’t swear to herself in ungrammatical, unidiomatic Spanish).

    And the “break assailant’s neck with one or two perfectly placed blows under the chin” is such an action-movie cliche. It’s pretty hard to believe when Bruce Willis or Colin Farrell does it–when a flustered twenty-year-old woman who’s coming in from shopping does it, the mind boggles.

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  18. KristieJ
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 18:06:37

    Sorry but I couldn’t get past the bruised celery part. I got stuck thinking – wait a minute! Celery doesn’t have much of a smell and it certainly wouldn’t waft up.

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  19. AnneD
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 19:23:36

    I must be the only person (besides the author) who thinks celery has a smell :)

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  20. Kathleen MacIver
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 19:33:37

    I was struck by the strange idea of bruised celery having a smell, too…but the other thing that kept hitting me that no one mentioned, was the frequency of the word “looked.” Especially, “looked like.” This is definitely a phrase that you need to highlight throughout your manuscript and see how many you can get rid of. There will be some that should be kept…but alternatives will be stronger and more vivid writing, most of the times. Just make sure you don’t replace them with “was/were” or “seemed like.” :-)

    For example:
    “He looked like a big man, over six feet tall. But then he also looked like a shadow-wrapped slab of stone.”

    …could be more vividly written as…
    “A six-foot-tall shadow loomed over me.”

    There’s no “looked like” in there, it’s much more concise, and it’s also more vivid and powerful… using almost entirely words that are already there. I didn’t add the slab of stone part, because stone and shadow are so opposite that you pretty much need to pick one or the other.

    You definitely have a really fantastic scene to start a story with, though! Keep writing!

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  21. JoB
    Feb 28, 2009 @ 21:18:21

    – In terms of structure and organization …
    I come away from the first couple paragraphs wanting just a smidgen more followup on the one-line teaser.

    ‘I always knew there were different worlds alongside my own: places of angels or demons. Sister Annunciata of Virgen de Guadalupe Parochial School and my hard-headed Anglo father convinced me otherwise. By the time I was twelve, I stopped seeing neon auras and glowing sulfur spider webs.

    or …

    ‘I had always known there were different worlds alongside my own: places of angels or demons. Nowadays, I ignored anything glowing and uncanny that peeked around the edges of reality. Safer that way. ‘

    .
    – LAlso loking at the structuring of that opening, it occurs to me you might start the action right on the doorsill, rather than mention the bus ride home. The bus is a little dogleg of scene that we have to ‘picture’ without any assistance.
    There are lots of reasons to go with ‘unity of scene’, not least of which is that it saves a bunch of description activity.

    .
    – When we do open our description … you’ve done a fine job of calling on all the senses. The next step would be to show the interaction between character and description.

    What I mean …

    Lookit this line:

    ‘My stuff lay strewn all over the place: paperbacks, clothes, cosmetics, jewelry, shoes, dolls, shot-glasses from my state-by-state collection, and glossy fashion magazines. ‘

    This feels just a little unnatural. There’s a sense of a ‘shopping list’ of items with equal priority, equal screen time, equal emphasis. We don’t see the scene through the filter of the character.

    It might feel more natural if the character became aware of different parts of the scene in some logical order. So show us the order the character sees stuff. We need to get a sense of the character’s focus on what’s important. And in every case, in this moment of shock, we need to see or think about the immediate here-and-now of the scene.

    One typical approach in describing such a scene would be the three-stage presentation of —
    1) one close, immediate, small detail,
    2) a quick, shocked, general view, all of it specific, all limited to what is in sight and sound. No memories. No speculation,
    3) then back to a single significant visual to finish up. This is frequently a symbolic and theme-ish object.

    .
    Here’s a three-stepper.

    *****
    She juggled tote bags and my keys and opened the door. She had an hour to roast the chicken. I’ll use fresh cilantro and lime. I am so tired of —

    She stepped on something sharp and felt it crunch. The terracotta lamp was broken ion the floor in the foyer. Curves of blue and yellow and brown pottery spread over the white tile.

    She looked up.

    Her apartment was a field of destruction –torn paper, sharp glass, glinting triangles of mirror, tumbled couch pillows, feathers. The Watkins Dictionary of Magic, torn neatly and horrifyingly in half, lay face-down in a glow of red light.

    A solid, glowing symbol hovered … ‘
    *******
    at which point you start talking about those runes because by golly that’s what the character would be seeing from the getgo.

    .
    – Finally, as others have said, you need to vary sentence structure a bit more. Straightforward, simple uncomplicated sentences delight me. But you have to have longer, more complex sentences too, to let those short ones do their proper work of emphasis and contrast.

    A huge one glowed from the depths of my hall mirror. Smaller ones shifted over the dusty planes of the sliding glass doors that led to the balcony. Many jumbles of letters lay across the mess of stuff covering my carpet. The runes looked like Phoenician or something – not that I would know. My cell phone slipped from my hand. I shrank away as a rune lifted from the near wall and drifted towards me.

    Let’s say the most important part of that paragraph is I shrank away as a rune lifted from the near wall and drifted towards me.

    We put that most important part in a short sentence.
    A rune drifted toward me.

    The slightly less vital and shocking stuff in the paragraph is cast in slightly longer, more complex sentences. This lets the last, short, vitally important sentence stand out.

    Figures glowed in every reflective surface — in the depths of the mirrors, from the glass balcony doors, in crazy glints from the chaos that jumbled the living room. Swirls and harsh lines painted every surface. They could have been Sanskrit or Phoenician or Runes … or Martian for all she knew. The cell phone slipped from her hand and she shrank back.
    A rune drifted toward her.

    .
    – If it is important that this character is Hispanic, it might be worth folding in some indications of this.

    Anywhere will do.
    Fr’instance, take —

    I always knew there were different worlds alongside my own: places of angels or demons.

    (I like this line very much, btw. I would not mess with it. )

    Using this as an example though … the ;value added’ might go something like …
    I always knew there were worlds alongside my own: palaces of the angels of the holy Virgin’; caves of the feathered Azteca demons.

    ReplyReply

  22. Mischa
    Mar 01, 2009 @ 02:08:40

    The celery I grew in my garden last summer was bright green and had a very strong scent especially when crushed or cut. However, most people probably get their celery from the grocery store and most of the time that type has almost no scent at all. Unless the main character just came home from a farmers market, it is probably best to change the scent to something more widely recognized as Hispanic. Fresh cilantro, maybe.

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  23. LindaR
    Mar 01, 2009 @ 14:00:06

    Sorry I’m late to the party! I almost sliced my finger off Friday night while chopping carrots for soup, and it’s slow going on the typing. Hence, I will be brief.

    For me, this is a case of bad writing/maybe good story. You just need to do the work now: read it, rewrite it, repeat.

    Who was it who said everything Lillian Hellman writes is a lie, even “the” and “an”?

    That’s funny, but it makes the point that even the “little” words mean something. I think it would be useful for you to go through this again and think about what every word means, and whether that is the word you want.

    A technical suggestion: think about time/chronology. I was in the apartment at one point and then thrown back to the door.

    Good luck with this, and I do apologize for not being able to do more. These first pages help me so much; I hope my comments help the authors too.

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  24. azteclady
    Mar 01, 2009 @ 14:55:18

    Adding my voice to the “what’s a hispanic paranormal? how is it different than any other paranormal? why would anyone want to narrow a book’s potential audience with such a qualifier?” chorus.

    But if one is set on writing a hispanic whatever, please get the Spanish right. Chose a region or dialect (as pointed out by several people above, there are a myriad different variants of Spanish, even within the same country, let alone a continent or the world) and have someone who speaks *that* variant fluently proof your manuscript.

    Further, while I have used ¡madre de Dios! (not “del“–as Barb Ferrer said, that’s not grammatically correct) as an occasional exclamation, I agree that ¡Dios mío! is much more frequently used in all the Spanish speaking places I’ve lived in or visited (several areas of Mexico, Caracas and the foothills of the Andes in Venezuela, Puerto Rico).

    But frankly, if I were to utter an expletive in such circumstances, it would be something much more visceral–carajo comes to mind, even though it’s milder than what I have been known to say if surprised or scared.

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  25. Maura
    Mar 01, 2009 @ 16:21:39

    The whole second paragraph loses me with the repetitive, short, choppy sentences, and it took me a few tries to read onward only to see that the short, blunt sentences continue throughout. “My keys jingled in the lock. I nudged the door open with my knee. The tote bags slipped from my hands and thudded to the threadbare carpet. The smell of bruised celery wafted up.” This doesn’t give me any sense of immediacy or voice, and when followed by the oddly lengthy description of the narrator’s tchotchkes, it gives me even more pause. She can’t bring any emotion to the realization that she’s been burgled, but she can stop to take inventory of her quirky possessions?

    Those short, choppy little sentences only get worse for me as this goes on. I started shaking so hard I couldn't stand up. I gripped the counter and shimmied past him. He wasn't breathing. He looked dead. I lifted my gaze across the wreckage of my apartment to the closed door. My tote bags sagged against the wall. A milk carton had burst, soaking my carpet. I looked back at the intruder. I still couldn't get my eyes to focus on him. It felt like looking through smoke; my eyes began to water. There should be a huge emotional factor here; she’s coming down from her fight-or-flight adrenalin rush. Instead, she’s taking the scene to bullet points. I don’t get anything from her except a vague sense of clinical detachment.

    Based on the writing style, I probably would not read this one further. If you can sort out exactly what you mean by “Hispanic paranormal,” and give a sense of voice and place, there might be the germ of something good here, but based on this page, I’m not hooked.

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  26. Julia Sullivan
    Mar 01, 2009 @ 16:39:28

    Who was it who said everything Lillian Hellman writes is a lie, even “the” and “an”?

    Mary McCarthy. It is one of the greatest snarky comments ever.

    ReplyReply

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