Saturday, December 26, 2015


Name: Rachel Stevenson (@whatshewrote)
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Title: The Waterfront Girls

Pitch: Blackbeard’s ghost fleet threatens modern Charleston again. Skateboarder Shalayla and her girlfriends agree to help quiet businessman Guy prevent a blockade, but as descendants of Blackbeard’s rival, only their blood will satisfy the dead pirate.

First 500: 

Charleston smiles. Charleston nods when you pass it. Shalayla smiled and nodded now at weaving tourists. Buttercream pastel Rainbow Row skipped behind her back.
            The gray-suited white guy wasn’t a tourist. Shalayla never saw him before. Didn’t matter. Nice view, she knew him, and he believed in pirate ghosts. He believed in the two-hundred-year old finger dangling off her throat.
His path wobbled as he skimmed the sights behind marching palmettos, glinting blue sunglasses, and his Starbucks cup. A car slowed as he wandered into the street, and he dashed to the curve, hand saluting an apology. He spotted her. His steps spread. His coffee’s shadow, visible through recycled paper thanks to morning sun, bounced in his grasp. Didn’t look like a nutcase. That complicated things.
Shalayla pulled her cap’s sweaty rim further over her eyes and leaned her back on bubblegum pink wall, stretching crossed legs and balancing, sitting on her skateboard.
            “Hi,” said Guy Allamby Bonnet. He stood over her, his shadow tangling with the pink house’s, and offered a hand. Probably to help her up. Shalayla shook it. He pocketed his fingers awkwardly. “Um. Thanks for meeting me.”
            “No problem. Don’t know why it couldn’t be at the candy shop, though.”
            “It’d take too long.” Guy Allamby Bonnet ran a hand over his day’s worth of white man stubble. “Miss…”
            “Shalayla, but sure as heck you don’t call me Shay, Mister Bonnet.”
            “Sounds good, if you call me Guy. My grandpa’s house is not far from here, but I figured the pink house was an easy meeting place.”
            “That’s fine.” Shalayla stood, slinging her board over her shoulder and ignoring his offered white hand again. “There’s one thing you gotta know though.”
            “I’ll pay you want you want.”
            “Not that.” Shalayla flung her orange braids behind her. “I’ve got friends. Four of them.”
            “Oh, right. You mentioned Julia.”
            “They’re in on this, and they will be the whole time, or no deal.”
            Guy shifted on his leg and sampled his coffee. “Okay, deal. Now let’s go.”
            He gestured for her to go first. Her skateboard’s silhouette swayed back and forth under her sauntering feet. Together they walked in I-just-met you silence under the palmettos, past a kissing selfie couple, Confederate flags, praline shops leaking cinnamon-sugared steam into the street. The Waterfront parted the buildings framing the streets like a curtain just ahead, but they turned into a gravel driveway.
Shalayla leaned on her skateboard as Guy fiddled with the custom iron fence, its bars a-swirl with pineapple patterns. Above them rose a Greek revivalist mansion, its white pillars and bubbling porches poised and polished.
“Ah ha.” Guy swung the gate open and let her in first. Gravel ground under Shalayla’s converses.
            “So this is your granddad’s house?” she asked. The words were half out of her wire-corested mouth when something fluttered in an upper window. A curtain. A face. Shalayla paused and Guy passed her and rocking chairs to the door.
            “Yeah,” he said, scrubbing his feet on a scuffed Gamecocks welcome mat. The kind you buy at Walmart in the back of the store, where everything is motor oil reek and bike racks


  1. Hi Rachel,

    I think your pitch is great – succinct and full of stakes. The only thing I don’t know, from either your pitch or your first 500, is your character’s age. The story line feels MG, but I’m not sure.

    Your first 500 delivers on the promise of your pitch by introducing your main characters, your setting, and the concept of pirate ghosts (plus a mysterious agreement between Shalayla and Guy.) Your opening is full of atmosphere and character! I can picture both Shalayla and Guy vividly, as well as the city around them. You let your character’s personalities shine through with phrases like “Didn’t look like a nutcase. That complicated things.”

    “Two hundred year old finger dangling off her throat” is delightfully creepy!

    You have a lot of wonderful descriptive language; I especially like “praline shops leaking cinnamon-sugared steam” and “its bars a-swirl with pineapple patterns.” Occasionally, I think you might overload your phrases, though. I didn’t understand what “bubbling porches” meant, and I was confused by the phrase “his path wobbled as he skimmed the sights behind marching palmettos, glinting blue sunglasses, and his Starbucks cup.” I get the idea that he’s looking through sunglasses, and behind trees, but I’m not sure where the cup comes in. Is he holding it in front of his face?

    Your second paragraph confused me a little. I think “never saw him before” should be “had never seen him before” to keep with the tense in the rest of your entry. Between the “never saw him before” and “she knew him,” I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to think Shalayla was already acquainted with Guy, or not. I also couldn’t tell if “nice view” meant he was handsome, or if she was talking about the street where they were meeting.

    You refer to Guy’s whiteness three times. The first couple of times work well with the rest of your description, but “his offered white hand” probably isn’t necessary.

    Because I’m not familiar with Charleston, the phrase “buttercream pastel Rainbow Row skipped behind her back” confused me, and I had to Google it. It’s a beautiful street, and a couple more descriptive words could more vividly set the scene for your reader without being overly expository.

    Tiny grammatical things: “Dashed to the curve” – do you mean “curb”? I think you want a hyphen between “met” and “you” when talking about “I-just-met-you silence,” and when you say “I’ll pay you want you want,” I think you mean “WHAT you want.” “Converses” should be capitalized as a brand name. “Wire-corested” should be “corseted.”

    This sounds like a fantastic story!

    Hope some of this is helpful.
    Karen (#4)

  2. Hi Rachel!

    I have to second Karen's concern that I have no sense of what age this character is. I'm guessing she is African-American, but all the mention of buttercream and bubblegum pink and candy shops makes me feel like she is around twelve years old. I know that these descriptions have to do with the scenery and are not necessarily tied to her character, but imagining her hanging out in this kind of place makes me feel like she's still fairly child-like in her preferences. On the other hand, if she's thinking about people in terms of whether they are a nut-case or not, and also is wearing a severed finger around her neck, this seems to imply that she's a bit older.

    Just a quick note before I forget: is the candy shop going to be important at all, or is it just a random place she mentions? If it is at all important to her character, I would suggest making it something more specific, like "the Taffy joint" or "Charlie's Sweets". Since they are passing a praline place and this whole boardwalk seems full of sweets and scents, it seems like she is thinking of something very specific when she refers to the candy shop.

    I would also capitalize "Converse" and keep it singular (but that's just my intuition?), maybe state what color they are: "her periwinkle Converse".

    I like the fact that you are trying something different here stylistically with Shalayla's voice, which is much different than the brooding, highly-gifted-but-awkward loner we often see in YA (not gonna lie, my protagonist for In Darkness Divided is the epitome of gifted awkward loner =P)

    I will be honest, though, and say that the first three paragraphs were confusing to me. First we have big, beautiful Charleston, SC (what a great first line!). But then we switch to an oblique description of some random man. Okay, intriguing. Pirate stuff. Severed fingers, cool. Then the third paragraph is kind of a mish-mash of the previous two - mixing description of Charleston with the encounter between this man and the protagonist.

    But at the end of three paragraphs, I feel a little confused. Paragraph four, with the very clear image of the skateboard and sweaty cap is the first time in this story I feel like I'm grounded in something. Severed finger was seriously intriguing, yet it disappears for the rest of the 500 words. I'll admit to not being a huge fan of description (and this is just my own flaw as a reader, the reason I had such trouble getting through Lord of the Rings). For me, all I care about is character. I know other readers like to have a sense of place, sensory details, scenery. Ideally, one should have a balance, but at the end of these 500 words I feel like I have an amazing description of the Charleston boardwalk, but I'm left kind of confused about who these two characters are and what they're up to.

    Is Shayla kind of a punk, or is she just crafty? Are her friends in it to protect her, or because they're all after something similar? What is it they are after, exactly? How did she get mixed up in this business? Where is her family? Do they know about this? And this Guy - what's his deal? Is he shy? Nervous? Troubled? Absent-minded? Shifty? Well-traveled, treasure-hunter, lore-collector? How old is he? How is it that she has never seen him before, but she "knew him"?

    Obviously, not all of these questions could possibly be answered in 500 words, but I feel like at least some of them should, especially the basics of "what kind of person is this"?


      You and I both noticed the overload of people introduced in the first 500 of "One of Us is Lying", but even in that small space of time, we had a distinct sense of who each person was - the superstar baseball player, the troublemaker, the good girl nerd that somehow got framed into serving detention, etc. Here, the setting is vibrant, beautiful. And I have a sense that you are being deliberately minimal with the information you give to heighten the mystery. But I think you could give us a little bit more insight into what makes these two characters tic. Your very last paragraph here is about two sentences devoted solely to the welcome mat, which, yes, says something about Guy.... or about his grandpa, but I want something juicier than that!

      To conclude, your pitch and the mystery that you are building up to is really fascinating and this is definitely a story I'd want to read more of! =)

  3. Hi Rachel! Thanks once again for hosting a great critique party!

    Pitch: What a fantastic premise! The only thing I’d note is that I’m not totally clear on who exactly the rival’s descendants are. Shalayla and her friends? Shalayla and Guy? All of them?

    First 500: I love the immediate impressions of place and character you give us here through little details – a hot, sunny morning, Shalayla’s no-nonsense independence, Guy’s awkward, reserved politeness. I think Karen put it really well, though, when she mentioned that your details are sometimes overloaded. I found I had to stop, re-read, and take a moment to puzzle through what I was “looking at,” particularly in the first three paragraphs. When I got there, I liked the picture – e.g. she doesn’t know Guy, but has corresponded with and is expecting him; the sun is shining through the coffee cup so you can see its contents sloshing around – but it felt like a lot of effort as a reader to put it together. You’re clearly aiming for expressive and unusual verbs, metaphors, and modifiers, which is excellent, but they’re sometimes sacrificing clarity. There were a couple of times where the unusual word choice just didn’t quite hit the mark for me – e.g. shadows meld pretty seamlessly, so I scratched my head a little at “tangled”; not sure what you mean by “bubbling” porches; is “wire-corseted” a reference to braces? I think I’d strike the “wide lens” on the city in the opening lines altogether and just start with “The grey-suited white guy…”

    I really enjoyed the tension between the two personalities and the clear sense that we’re coming into the middle of something interesting; I’d definitely want to read on and see how it develops!

    Hope this is helpful!