9.03.2006

3rd SR Crapometer #56

Dear Miss Snark:

Please consider representing FIRST, DO NO HARM, a fantasy novel set in a world reminiscent of the eastern Mediterranean of antiquity. The novel is complete at 95,000 words.

Aithne, an apprentice healer, knows that her inability to do magic means she will never become a master healer or even a fully functioning member of gypsy society. Still, she manages to cope until the day a simmering regional conflict erupts and she fails to save the life of her best friend's husband. As the Islands descend into all-out war, Aithne and those she loves react in very different ways. Aithne's husband opts to take the gypsy children to safety; her best friend shuns Aithne and vows to take magical revenge on her husband's killers;
and Aithne's mentor is drawn into a life he hoped never to see again. Aithne herself faces a paradox: to save lives, she must learn to kill. (there's your lead)

I am an editor with [non-fiction press] and have been a slush pile reader for [small SFF press].
(oh dear dog, I know your pain)

Thank you for considering my novel. The first 550 words are enclosed for your perusal.

All the best,

[name]



Aithne knelt in the bow of the little wooden boat, squinting in the glare of the whitewashed clay walls of the City on either side of the canal. Behind her, Breanainn's oars creaked in the rhythm he had kept up since they left the gypsy coast. Amid the multilingual babble of
the market on the quays, she could barely hear Jarlath and Ruari rowing behind. Was it louder than usual?

"On the right!" she shouted, pointing to an empty iron ring on the canal wall. Breanainn angled the boat towards the wall. As he dragged his oars in the murky water, Jarlath's boat came around them and stopped, the two boats bow-to-bow next to the ring.

"I'll go first," said Ruari, clambering into the bow of Jarlath's boat. She pointed at the neatly coiled bow rope and said a few words. The end of the rope lifted into the air. Aithne tried not to watch as Ruari flicked her fingers, sending the rope towards the ring, through
the hole, and back into Ruari's palm. Ruari tied the knot by hand, then said the binding spell. That done, she turned and busied herself with the weavings she had brought for Market Day.

Breanainn and Jarlath were equally busy, pulling the shade cloths off the fish they and the other gypsy men had caught that morning, neither one looking at Aithne. She took her own rope in hand, stared intently at the ring an armspan away, and threw. The rope fell short, splashing into the water. Aithne gritted her teeth and hauled the brine-sodden rope back in. She took a deep breath and then threw again. This time it went through. Breannain gave a single stroke with his oars; Aithne grabbed the loose end out of the water, pulled the boat to the ring, and tied the rope as tightly as she could.

Without looking at anyone, she busied herself with her healer's bag. Ruari hopped out of her boat onto the quay and reached down to her. But Aithne scrambled onto the quay on her own, laid a rug down on the stones, and silently began to put out her herbs.

"He was a little far," said Ruari, shifting from foot to foot.

"No, he wasn't," Aithne answered. "Just leave it."

Ruari hesitated, but finally turned to reach down into her boat for her weavings.

Aithne finished with the herbs and plopped down behind them, cross-legged. At least he hadn't tried to help. Sometimes he added just a little magic to whatever she was doing so she wouldn't fall short. "I can do it without magic," she would say, glaring. "But I
hate to see you struggle," he would answer. It had taken him years of marriage to begin to see that she would rather struggle.

Shaking off her thoughts, Aithne looked around at the City houses. Bright curtains fluttered in the breeze, while window boxes overflowed with fragrant flowers from the Islands, the Kemar delta, and places farther still. But the market babble was louder than usual, anxious,
almost frenetic. Suddenly she realized something she hadn't noticed at the time: the guards at the City gate had been scanning the horizon instead of watching the boats enter the canal.

A cold dread crept over her. It must have begun. Something was happening with the Kemari.

Ok, here's our first example of "I just didn't connect with the writing".
I don't connect with this. It's not bad writing. There are no obvious orange genitalia (this is an in-joke - in case you haven't been reading all the entries). It's not awash in adjectives.
There's some inpending doom. There's the hint of conflict. What's not to like? Dunno..it's just not for me.

I'd send it back with a form letter but this is one of those that there really isn't anything helpful to say.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

I continue to be amazed at the number of fantasy submissions. Are there more fantasy writers than readers?

BradyDale said...

When did the weird fantasy world names start and is there any overall logic to them? This, I have always wondered. I used to read fantasy a lot. Weis & Hickman, David Eddings, Terry Pratchett, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. That lot. Never got it.

Anonymous said...

This scene sets up who the characters are very nicely, but it doesn't draw the reader into the story. This is a bland beginning. The last line is where things look to start getting interesting (even though I worry that there's a lump of backstory creeping in for a pounce attack).

Author, you've obviously got skill, good characters and a good world built, you just need to get us into the action faster. That's the only flaw I see. Your book isn't so long that I fear it's succumbing to "big fat fantasy" (BFF) syndrome, but this leisurely start is in keeping with BFF books. That won't necessarily kill its chances, but it doesn't help either.

Anonymous said...

I'm not connecting either, though you have an interesting premise that could work.

The names bother me, all very alien, very how-the-heck do you say it? At least you resisted the lure of the ever-exotic (and annoying) apostrophed na'me. Perhaps the alien/fantasy names are creating an unintentional barrier.

Try reading some of Lois Bujold's fantasy titles to see how she connects a reader to the characters. She's a dang good teacher for that sort of thing.

Gabriele C. said...

A few too many 'then' and other weasel words, and the 'busying with something' is not a phrase that conveys any image or information (and you have it three times). The POV is mostly remote for a limited third.

Since I'm in an edit mood today anyway, I gave this a shot, just for fun.


Aithne knelt in the bow of the wooden boat, squinting in the glare of the whitewashed clay walls of the City on either side of the canal. The multilingual babble of the market on the quays seemed louder than usual. Behind her, Breanainn's oars creaked in the comforting. rhythm he had kept up since they left the gypsy coast, but she could barely hear Jarlath and Ruari rowing the other boat. It is nothing, she told herself, you are not used to the noise, that's all.

To the right, a space opened between the moored boats. "There!" Aithne pointed to an empty iron ring on the canal wall. Breanainn angled the boat towards the wall. Jarlath's boat came around them and stopped, the two boats bow-to-bow next to the ring.

"I'll go first." Ruari clambered into the bow of Jarlath's boat. She pointed at the neatly coiled bow rope and said a few words. The end of the rope lifted into the air. Aithne tried not to watch as Ruari flicked her fingers, sending the rope towards the ring, through the hole, and back into Ruari's palm. Ruari tied the knot by hand, said the binding spell, turned and wrapped up the weavings she had brought for Market Day.

Breanainn and Jarlath pulled the shade cloths off the fish they had caught that morning. Aithne knew they avoided watching her. She took her own rope in hand, stared intently at the ring an armspan away and threw. The rope fell short, splashing into the water. Aithne gritted her teeth and hauled the brine-sodden rope back in. She took a deep breath and threw again. This time it went through. Breannain gave a single stroke with his oars; Aithne grabbed the loose end out of the water, pulled the boat to the ring, and tied the rope as tightly as she could.

Without looking at anyone, she checked the contents of her healer's bag. Ruari hopped out of her boat onto the quay and reached down to her. But Aithne scrambled onto the quay on her own, laid a rug down on the stones, and began to put out her herbs.

"He was a little far," said Ruari, shifting.

"No, he wasn't," Aithne answered. "Just leave it."

Ruari hesitated, but finally turned to reach down into her boat for her weavings.

Aithne finished with the herbs and plopped cross-legged down behind them. At least Breanainn hadn't tried to help and add a little magic as he often did. She could do things without magic. "But I hate to see you struggle," he would say. It had taken him years of marriage to begin to understand that she would rather struggle.

Shaking off her thoughts, Aithne looked around at the City houses. Bright curtains fluttered in the breeze, window boxes overflowed with fragrant flowers from the Islands, the Kemar delta, and places farther still. The market babble was louder than usual, anxious, almost frenetic. She realized something she hadn't noticed before; the guards at the City gate had been scanning the horizon instead of watching the boats enter the canal.

A cold dread crept over her. It must have begun. Something was happening with the Kemari.

acd said...

"First Do No Harm" is the title of a movie about a kid with seizures, starring Meryl Streep as his mom.

FYI.

BuffySquirrel said...

FWIW, I really liked this. I love it when an author manages to make the use of magic seem like an everyday part of life. Also, there's conflict built in right from the start, with Aithne's awareness of what might almost seem a disability, in her world.

I think it would help to name Breanainn again in the ninth paragraph, because otherwise "he" feels like it lacks an antecedent. I had to go back and check that, no, Ruari is female.

Gabriele C. said...

Btw, I love the names. I'm not fond of Fitz and King Shrewd, give me something with several syllables any day.

Michele said...

I love the setting and the first few paragraphs. Some of this first page seemed to drag until that last paragraph.... but I'd probably read on, especially if it picked up.

overdog said...

I was confused as to who the "he" was in the end. Aithne's husband, I assume, but I believe Ruari's a woman, so...? That could use a bit of cleaning up. When the names are unfamiliar it's a good idea to be extra to be clear about a character's gender.

Anonymous said...

This was mine. I admit to being disappointed that Miss Snark didn't have anything helpful to say (her words, though I certainly felt that way too), but at least I escaped evisceration! Obviously I need to work on the "zing" factor and the more-action-up-front factor. Miss Snark, you must feel like a broken record by now! Thank you very much for taking the time to do this and offering your honest opinion.

Thanks also to the commenters, for your varying and helpful viewpoints. More comments are very welcome.

- #56

Virginia Miss said...

Good job, author, I'd keep reading. I like the premise, the names, the setting, the two levels of conflict, inner (frustration with lack of magic) and outer (sense of impending danger in that last line).

Anonymous said...

anon #1: There are a lot of fantasy readers, too!

writtenwyrdd said...

As an SFF fan, I have to say I wanted to like this, but I too suffered an emotional disconnect. The scene is very well described, and I get a lot of background from the writing. My suggestion is for this particular piece, it needs more conflict.

If, for example, you had the husband actually use magic to help and pissed the wife off thereby, you'd have more overt conflict.

However, I agreed with Miss Snark, it just didn't do it for me.

zornhau said...

Interesting. From the letter, it's obvious that this is a novel with powerful themes. But the opening made my eyes glaze over - it was all set up. Nothing really happened. No obvious conflict.

Beth said...

The problem I found with the writing sample is this: it opens with action, but to us, it's meaningless action. No conflict or tension. Lots of stuff about rowing and then tying off the boat, but none of it's interesting. It doesn't contain any story.

Maybe it's just me, but I want Story from the first line.

Rick said...

Anonymous Author - remember that Miss Snark doesn't do SF/F, so her non-connecting may simply reflect her tastes. (Presumably she represents the genres she likes to read, and generally feels comfortable with.)

That said, it wasn't quite pulling me in either, and I'm not quite sure why. Gabriele's tightening advice might help!

Also - and this wouldn't matter if I pulled the book itself off the shelf - but there are a couple oddities in the cover letter.

"Eastern Mediterranean" and "antiquity" imply a Greek flavor. The Venice-like city of canals is fine with that, but Aithne and Breanainn are both distinctly Irish-sounding names. Logically it shouldn't matter, since this is a different world anyway, but it is slightly jarring - the flavor of the names should match the flavor of the setting.

Also, gypsies are a real people, the Romany, and even in a purely connotative sense evoke an image of wagons and campfires, not fishermen. So this too is a bit puzzling and jarring.

Manic Mom said...

I love that you've now made "orange genetalia" a buzz phrase for Miss Snark!

Jo Bourne said...

There's so much good with this ...
but I come away with less connection to the protagonist than I need.

Maybe some internals. Maybe some adjectives of feeling ...

Anonymous said...

It could do with a little more zing, but it's good and I would definitely keep reading.

I agree with others who said that the names are a problem - if they're ALL unfamiliar names AND we have no reference for which is male and female (even if you tell us; names which are not clearly masculine or feminine means you don't have any point of reference to attach them to). Fantasy writers seem to do this a lot; just remember that the reader has to work hard to keep them straight.

Good luck with your revisions on this! I'm sure you'll see success with it sometime.

Catja (green_knight) said...

My eyes glazed over, and I'm the target audience. I'm fine with the names, but there are too many of them, and they come up on me before I've created a mental picture of them. (Barbara Hambly in Stranger at the Wedding introduces a whole bunch - but she does it paragraph by paragraph, giving each a distinctive voice and habits.)

The action means nothing. The business with the ropes and the spells isn't bad - it's quite telling, really - but we don't need the internal comments about how this fits into the lifestyle of Aithne - the glare, and the helpless shrug from her husband should be enough. 'Show don't tell' applies here, too.

The story starts with the guards watching the horizon rather than the boats. There's your moment of change. Who caught the fish is irrelevant - you need maybe a paragraph or two to imply normality (here we are, happily bickering and preparing for the market) before she notices that Something Is Amiss. I'm interested in what happens next.

The synopsis left me pretty cold, though. The use of 'Gypsy' and a fantastic setting creates a dissonance for me. Having to learn to kill is not unusual for violent societies - so I disagree with Miss Snark that that would be the hook. What is the story about? Aithne defending her homeland? Aithne convincing people of her worth?

Dayle A. Dermatis said...

Rick, you beat me to the comment about the names sounding Irish. If this is supposed to be a Mediterranean-inspired world, make sure all the details relate to that. (I love the idea of a non-western European-based fantasy world, but I'm going to put the book down if the world-building isn't solid.)