Saturday, June 25, 2016

Summer '16 YayYA Entry #16: HAXAHAVEN

Name: Sasha Smith (@sashasmish)

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Title: Haxahaven


New York, 1911, 17-year-old seamstress Frances Hallowell is sent to a school for witches, disguised as a tuberculosis sanitorium, after accidentally murdering her predatory boss.



 1910

The man in the bowler hat smelled distinctly of death.
His hands had been washed clean in the polluted waters of the Hudson, but still, death clung to his coat the way clouds of cheap perfume used to, in the dance halls he had visited when he was a younger man. Sour factory smoke burned his nose, but still, still, he could smell the way the boy’s last moments hung on him.
The boy did not beg.
He hated it when they begged.
The woman’s heels clicked on the cobblestones as she approached him.
            “Is it done?” She asked him, narrowed eyes looking at the moon hanging low over the city.
            “Yes, Ma’am.”
            “Did he say anything about the girl?”
            “Only her name. Right before he sank.”
            “Well then.” She sniffed, pulling an envelope out of her beaded handbag.
The man took it without a word. It was the middle of the night, but his work was just beginning. His brothers were waiting for him.
The woman walked away in the direction from which she came.
            42 blocks away, a girl was asleep in her bed, unaware her life had just been inalterably changed.
            And somewhere on a street corner in Lower Manhattan, the Sons of St. Druon felt the magic stirring.

1911

Ch. 1

Mr. Hues’ visits are easily the worst part of my life these days, and really, he should be proud because the competition is impressive.
The way his ham-hock face leers down at me, and how his gaze lingers on my backside when I rise from my station to get a new bolt of fabric, the way I’m expected to smile and gaze at him with adoration. It’s enough to make me want to vomit. 
            Mr. Hues has stopped into our dressmaking shop, his dressmaking shop, today for one of his favorite “surprise inspections.” He does this a few times a month, always under the guise of responsibility and involvement with his business ventures, but, really, he relishes the opportunity to bask in our gratitude. To remind us how much we owe him, to demand thanks for the opportunity he has provided us. Never mind that it is the twelve of us here who do all the work and ship the profits off neatly to him at the end of every week.
Mr. Hues loves to tell us not to do things by halves, to dedicate ourselves fully to all that we do. When it comes to contributing to my misery, he follows his own advice.
At least in my ice-cold apartment, when I’m driven to eating a nothing but a crusty heel of bread for dinner, I don’t have to pretend to be happy about it.

At least when I miss William so badly I fear my chest will crack open with the pain of it, I’m not forced to wear a smile on my face.

12 comments:

  1. That pitch is so full of awesome.
    Brilliant first line.
    Brilliant first paragraph
    Ok wow. I loved all of this so so so much. I want to read the whole thing NOW!
    The only thing I can say is a tiny bit of tightening in the words here and there to make it stronger. I’ve put suggestions in brackets:

    Mr. Hues’ visits are easily the worst part of my life (CUT these days)
    The way his (CUT ham-hock) face leers
    I’m expected to smile (CUT and gaze) at him (CUT with adoration. It’s enough to make me want to vomit.
    Mr. Hues has stopped into our dressmaking shop, his dressmaking shop, today for one of his favorite “surprise inspections.” He does this a few times a month, always under the guise of (CHANGE responsible) (CUT and) involvement (CHANGE with to in) his business (CUT ventures),
    I’m driven to eating (CUT a) nothing but a crusty heel of bread for dinner, I don’t have to pretend to be happy about it.

    At least when I miss William so badly I fear my chest will crack open with the pain of it, I’m not forced to (CUT wear a) smile (CUT on my face).

    Good luck!

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  2. Pitch: This is like Mary Poppins—practically perfect! My only question is…how do you accidentally *murder* someone? Murder is, by definition, premeditated. Which means the MC either straight up murdered him because he’s a sicko, or she accidentally *killed* him in self defense when he was being a sicko.

    500:

    Stellar first line. “The man in the bowling hat” (reader thinks: la dee da, nice, a bowler hat) “smelled distinctly” (probably musty, dude’s wearing a bowler hat) “…of death” (oh snap!)

    Fantastic, fantastic, this is very clean and easy to read. My first pause comes here:
    “The man took it without a word. It was the middle of the night, but his work was just beginning. His brothers were waiting for him.
    The woman walked away in the direction from which she came.”

    This feels rushed. I feel like there should be more here, something to slow down the scene just a touch more before moving on to: “Forty two blocks away…”

    (Sidenote: Write out numbers at the beginning of sentences)

    Ham-hock face. Fantastic!

    I don’t have much to say with yours. This is wonderfully done. You convey important information, just enough, in a natural way, and the pacing is good.

    Great job, I’ll try not to be too jealous when multiple agents offer you rep.

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  3. Pitch: Nice pitch. Clear, concise, and the premise is interesting too. I also love your title. I'm guessing Haxahaven is the school for witches? The only thing I would change is add an "In" at the front to make it "In New York, 1911..." to make it flow smoother.

    500 words: Here are some things I noticed/thought

    "The man in the bowler hat smelled distinctly of death."--Love this. It's short, snappy, and sets the atmosphere immediately. I'm intrigued. I also love the alliteration with distinctly/death.

    "His hands had been washed clean in the polluted waters of the Hudson, but still, death clung to his coat the way clouds of cheap perfume used to, in the dance halls he had visited when he was a younger man."--this is long, and I think you could reword it to make it simpler. Like: "His hands had been washed clean in the polluted waters of the Hudson, but death still clung to his coat the way clouds of cheap perfume used to in the dance halls he had visited when he was a younger man.

    "And somewhere on a street corner in Lower Manhattan, the Sons of St. Druon felt the magic stirring."--Love this too. It invokes a very vivid, mysterious feeling.

    "Mr. Hues’ visits are easily the worst part of my life these days, and really, he should be proud because the competition is impressive."--nice, funny, I like your heroine's voice.

    "When it comes to contributing to my misery, he follows his own advice."--ha!

    "At least when I miss William so badly I fear my chest will crack open with the pain of it"--good description.

    Final thoughts: TBH, there's really not that much to say. This is really good, and I definitely want to read on. I do wonder, however, why you chose to write the prologue in such a different way than the rest, in POV, tense, as well as voice. (The prologue feels distant and mysterious, while chapter one is more direct and the character's sass shows through.) But I'm sure you have a good reason for it, even if I did find it a bit jarring myself. Both are very well-written, and I wish you the best of luck in Pitchwars or the query trenches--not that I expect you'll need it.

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  4. Hello,

    Loved the opening line! I will say, the prologue being in a different POV and being so short kind of threw me off. That could definitely be a me thing - but is there a way to make the transition a bit smoother?

    Overall, loved that the character's personality comes through so quickly. There are some extra words that can be cut to make your prose tighter but this would make me read on.

    Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Gonna focus just on your pitch:

    It's well written and strong, but rather than explaining backstory with the second half, consider focusing forward on what she'll face. I'm not normally one of those people who screams about stakes, but in this case it's stronger to signpost the conflict of the plot than the backstory.

    Hope that helps!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Charis M. EllisonJune 29, 2016 at 9:39 PM

    Pitch--you definitely have my full attention! I do wonder if it might read a little smoother with the information rearranged--'After accidentally murdering her predatory boss, seventeen year old seamstress Frances Hallowell is sent to a school for witches disguised as a tuberculosis sanitorium'?

    Pages--I love your opening. I'd cut 'clean' from the second sentence, personally, because it feels like unintentional humor in conjuction with 'polluted waters' and distracted me from the otherwise fantastic sinister atmosphere.

    The shift into first person really caught me off guard! that was a bit of a jolt, although I don't know how you'd make it smoother.

    I think that this is really great--you could tighten it up just a bit with some really small-scale trimming--for instance you could cut 'today' out of 'Mr. Hues has stopped into our dressmaking shop, his dressmaking shop, today for one of his favorite “surprise inspections.”' Or 'really he relishes basking in our gratitude'. Just small-scale polishing.

    The voice is really strong and the opening is intriguing and engaging, if I skimmed this first page in a bookstore I'd definitely want to read more!

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  7. Agree with Charis on the pitch, great parts, but maybe rearrange :)

    As for the writing, I also agree with what folks have written above, there's a strong voice here and some wonderful descriptions. The opening line of both the prologue and the first chapter are both spot-on openers and maybe the best writing in the first 500, which is awesome.

    I would echo Kit's thoughts with the suggestions of some word cuts, your overall writing is solid, which means you're not in the "gut it" or "rebuild it" phase but in the "sharpening and scalpel" section of editing which is encouraging.

    The only thing I'd point out is trying to keep a consistent word order in the last two sentences when you're listing things...At least when I'm in my ice cold apartment lines up with At least when I miss William. Currently the when is located in different spots.

    I would've kept reading this. Good job.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I love your pitch. It captures an unusual flavor to your story right away. Here’s a super-picky comment on it: you use a lot of commas. I’d change to “1911:” and drop the comma after witches.

    Nice opening! For the first sentence: I suggest you drop distinctly, it’s a more powerful sentence without that. The double repetition of “still” also seems unnecessary.

    The description in your first paragraph is peculiar: I can smell the scene vividly but I can’t see it. I don’t know what the characters look like or where they are. I’d like a little more to set the scene. Overall it feels rushed, like you wanted to get to the first chapter already.

    The first sentence for chapter one is great. The rest of the section is also strong and makes me want to read more.

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  9. Hi Sasha!!!

    Okay for the pitch, put the part about her killing her boss before the stuff about the witches and it will read smoother... But that's literally all I found wrong so awesome job!

    For the 500: your voice seems pretty strong in the opening part and it's a good scene except, the book has to be open (or should be) in the main character's POV with an exciting or sad scene or something like that. Otherwise, we are left distracted by the people in the prologue part and can't focus on the main character or even connect with them. So, you should probably cut the head-hopping prologue and just stick to chapter one as the beginning. Also, one last thing, all we have in the first section of the first chapter is a lengthy description of this creepy boss and nothing about the main character. You do a lot of telling and not showing sooooo.... Show us the main character working and intsead of describing that other stuff, show it happening and give us a first hand look at her reactions and thoughts and etc.
    With tightening up and a little rearranging... And of course, your strong voice, you can easily have a hooking opening that will leave people wanting for more even more then they already do!
    Hope this helps!
    -Bethany (#12 and co-host)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Wow. Your pitch grabbed me - I was excited to read your first 500 words. In many of the classes I have taken, they have recommended not having a prologue. I think in your case it is so well done and makes me want to know more. Reminds of JJ Abrams style - start with something big and then show how it all happened afterwards. You may get some feedback to not include as it's not told in the same POV as your chapter 1. I think it works. I enjoyed the first chapter but I think you could do more showing than telling and I didn't get a sense of the protagonist - their voice. YOu could continue the story is the same POV as the prologue. I think if you looked at it through the lens of showing your will have Avery powerful first chapter. YOu want the first line of chapter one to hook your readers. Maybe it could start with action - something that happens showing what type of boss he is instead of telling. Best of luck.

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  11. Hi, Sasha! Very few YA historical fantasy are this good. I loved reading it.

    Pitch: Very good job in it. In just 35 words, you introduced us to the protagonist, and revealed the conflicts and stakes. Well done.

    500 words: Thank you for not using unnecessary prologues. A lot of prologues are so unnecessary that I could just skip it completely and still miss nothing. Yours foreshadowed and hooked us in so good job.

    In the prologue, it should be "a woman heel's" instead of "the woman's heel's" since this is the introduction time.

    I really enjoyed the prologue. Mostly because of its mystifying, foggy writing style. It all evaporated as soon as the first chapter began. Our MC is very sassy and has no filter. Hopefully she filters her comments. And you spent way too much time in describing the boss when you could've showed that. The boss making surprise visit and annoying our MC when she's working. Her sassy thoughts coming in. Showing that will get us diving in for more.

    Otherwise you've got great voice, awesome concept and premise. Best of luck with revisions!

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  12. Hi!!

    Remember that all crits are subjective and that you are welcome to use or dismiss mine as you see fit for your story! Thanks for entering #YayYA!

    Pitch: This is a fantastic pitch.

    First 500:

    As well-written as it is, you're going to have to dump the prologue. It's very vague, and I know prologues usually are, but they're also universally disliked by agents who want to get smack into your MC's story.

    Speaking of, your MC has a solid voice and you set up her world nicely. I'd like a little more sensory description to really, I don't know, drown your readers in the historical setting. Otherwise, I have little to say. Good job!!

    ReplyDelete