In case you've wandered here by accident, let me warn you that you've stumbled into an online critique group. Every Thursday (for as long as I have willing victims . . . Ooops! make that volunteers!) I pull out the red pencil and slash and burn through someone's WIP. Today the someone is Janet Louise Campbell. My comments are in red. Janet's responses are italicized in purple. Please feel free to add your own comments at the end of this post.
by Janet Louise Campbell
Lots of great novels have a person's name in the title. The Great Gatsy and Angela's Ashes come immediately to mind. Part of a title's function is to indicate what sort of story we'll be reading. The question I have after reading this title is 'Is this a romance?' And bear in mind I'll be looking for Macy to show up pretty quickly.Yes, Macy will be showing up in Chapter 1. I chose the title for various reasons. Macy’s father owns a bakery named…Macy’s Place, of course. After his death, she will have many choices to make about this bakery. And Macy is quite lost, still looking to find her place in life. Being a romance, her journey is about finding out where she belongs…and with whom!
“A vida vem em ondas como o mar.”
Life comes in waves like the sea.
-Brazilian poet Vinicius de Moraes
I adore having a poetic little post-it before the beginning of a chapter. That's why I had quotes from Mlle. LaTour's Memoirs in Vexing the Viscount. But I wrote that fictious courtesan's memoirs, so there was no problem excerpting it. If Mr. Moraes' work is not in public domain, you will need to obtain permission from him, or his publisher to use it.
Yes, I did consider this. I hope to use it but know I may have to give it up!
An exotic setting, if this is a romance. Personally, I applaud you. I love unique settings. But generally speaking, the romance market wants American settings for contemporary and English ones for historical. Choosing something else is a potential problem, but if an editor falls in love with the manuscript, they'll work something out. However, be aware you may have given an editor/agent a reason to say no just with your setting.
Great point. I have always written whatever story is in my heart, regardless of what an editor might think. And while I do start (and end) in Brazil, the majority of the story happens on Cape Cod. By the end of the prologue, the reader will realize this character is leaving for America.
No problem then.
Leandro Cabral da Rosa wedged the untouched bottle of milk into the back pocket of his jeans and cradled his infant son against his chest. António continued to cry, refusing to be pacified. It was as if he already knew.
Oh, good hook. Something bad is about to happen. Beautifully telegraphed.
“Ele ainda chora?” Leandro’s mother asked from the doorway.
I like books that sprinkle in a flavor of another culture or language, but if you do it, make sure we can figure out what's been said from the context. I have no idea what the mother asked here. You don't want to confuse your reader or worse, make her feel stupid and left out of what's happening. I would prefer to see the question in English, with maybe a Portugese endearment tossed in. You've set me in Tiradentes. I figure they're speaking Portugese without being shown.
Yes, I’ll definitely clarify this!
If this means yes, have him nod. If it means something else, you need to give your reader someway to figure it out. But be aware this early in the story, she may decide it's too much work.
Flavia wiped her hands on a faded green apron as she entered, and Leandro could smell the savory aromas of the roasting meat, rice, and beans she was preparing for lunch.
Excellent inclusion of other senses besides sight and hearing. My critique partner from Seattle is always encouraging me to make sure she can smell the scene.
I once read an interview with an author who said she made sure to use all 5 senses in every scene. It’s often a challenge, but I try my best.
“He misses his mother,” Flavia continued in Portuguese. Her head barely reached Leandro’s chest, and she had to reach up to take her grandson into her arms.
“Gabriela was never uma mãe to my son.” Leandro stretched his arms and shoulders.
Again, be wary of using too much foreign vocabulary, but this time, I'm guessing that means 'mama'. If that's not what it means, I'd advise cutting it. But even if I guessed correctly, you slowed me down with it. Not what you want. If you use foreign words be sure to underline them in your manuscript so they will be italicized in the final print.
“No, but he does not know this. He cries for what he has lost. For what he will soon lose again.”
At only fifty-one, Flavia had long dark hair already streaked with gray. Her face, with its deep-set wrinkles, was somehow more inviting, somehow wiser, thanks to those etchings whittled over the years by life. By worry. By heartache. Her eyes were dark but loving, knowing eyes that had seen little of the world but experienced much of life.
Sharply drawn characterization. In just a few sentences, I know who Flavia is.
“He has all the family he needs with three generations living under this roof.” Leandro offered his mother the bottle of milk. “And Carlos’s family so cl—”
“I saw the books,” she interrupted quietly, pressing the nipple to António’s lips.
Your dialogue rings so true. That's just how a mother would broach a thorny subject, blurting it out before she could call the words back. I'm a little confused though because it seems she's asking if he's going somewhere when she already knows he's leaving from the "For what he will soon lose again” comment earlier. Make sure there are no logic holes in your story.
Great catch! I missed that.
The English books Leandro had studied in school. The language he hadn’t spoken in almost twenty years. He nodded, unwilling, unable, to look her in the eye.
“I lost your father and your brother to that place. And now you will go also.”
Ok, now we're getting to the conflict. You might want to remove the parts that indicate the mother knows the decision has been made earlier. Otherwise, she's just nagging not reasoning with Leandro.
“Yes, father is gone, but Samuel—”
“Nossa Senhora! Samuel and his obsession with America. He is the same as his father.”
Don't know what Nossa Senhora means other than that she's disgusted with Leandro. Give me more context so I can puzzle it out if you want to leave it in.
“I cannot believe that.”
António finally stopped crying and accepted the milk Flavia prodded into his tiny mouth. He quietly suckled, as if listening to a conversation that would have great impact on his future.
Remove as if, because he is listening whether he understands it or not.
Interesting suggestion. I guess I have trouble considering an infant really listening but I guess he is.
“He will be released soon, Mamãe.”
You've thrown out a lot of names and male characters in a short time. We have Samuel, his father, Leandro's father and brother, even Antonio as possible candidates for the He in this sentence. And released from what? Prison? Be specific.
I like Mamãe. There's a word I can read right through with no trouble. You give the flavor without confusion.
“You do not know this, Leandro.”
He caressed his son’s tiny bare feet, feeling the hollow anguish of leaving deep inside his gut. Separation. The fate of so many Brazilian families.
Love the tiny feet. Beautiful detail that lets us feel his loss. We respond to heroes who feel this deeply.
I really enjoyed writing about a Latin male. They dance with passion. Sing. Feel deeply. They are often strong and male without having to prove it with machismo. I hate to generalize but this has been the case with so many that I have met on my trips to Brazil. Maybe that’s why I also married one!
“And António? What of your son?”
“I am doing this for meu filho. And for you and Samuel and Eliana.”
I think you should say him instead of meu filho. We already know they're speaking Portugese. You don't need that here. This is the prologue. You want your reader to rip through to the 1st chapter, not get bogged down.
I will definitely be cutting some of the Portuguese. I can see how too much will confuse and slow down the pace.
“This is what your father once said to me.”
Leandro spun around and stared hard into her eyes. “I am not him.”
“I am sorry,” she whispered, nodding slowly. “You are not. And will never be.”
“I work and work, but our money has no value. Still we have nothing. The wealthy and the corrupt have everything. You see the money that is coming here from America. The jobs. The new houses. The cars. Two more classes have emerged in our society. Those with family in America and those without.”
Clear motivation for our hero. He wants to provide for those he loves. I like it.
“I do not need a new car or a new house.”
“You need to live.”
Janet, you've constructed a moving opening here. The agony of Leandro's decision to leave is palpable as is his mother's sorrow over losing yet another of her men to America. Your choice of details is deft and vivid. There's some seriously good writing here. However, I want you to think long and hard about the amount of Portugese you've included. I recommend no more than 2 phrases and only if you can give enough context to make clear what the words mean. Does chapter one start with Leandro in America? If so, I think you're onto something. Have you submitted this to any contests?
Thank you so much! This is truly a book from my heart. I have only submitted to the Golden Heart. My agent has already read this novel, and I am working on her suggested revisions!
My Red Pencil Thursday guest author is Janet Louise Campbell. Janet inherited her mother’s love of books and her father’s Scottish tenacity. An avid traveler, she has lived in Mexico, explored Europe, and driven across America in a convertible. Janet enjoys reading and writing, photography and skiing, and hiking with her 100-pound yellow Lab, Jake. In 2007, she married Sergio, her own Brazilian hero. She lives on Cape Cod where she is at work on her third novel, MACY’S PLACE.
And now it is your turn! What advice do you have for Janet?
A great beginning, and a great critique. Diana, I agree with everything you said and can't think of anything to add. Janet, if you make Diana's suggested changes, I'd want to read this book. You've hooked me.
Experts recommend that people do not even use accents in a novel, or - if they do, to do so sparingly, and to show via grammatical constructs how the character uses langugage.
There are some YA books my children read that were written by people whose native language was not English or who were writing about their native culture, and they are all in English, except for a very few words.
One of these was: Far From the Mango Grove - which, like yours, is a novel about Latin/South American famliies and life - (Can't remember the author, a woman). But I do remember being hooked into the life and the culture in English, but seeing the culture through the eyes of the non-English speaking families.
People simply will not read a book that has non-English words they don't understand, n'est-ce pas?
A friend of mine has an entire series of mystery novels with German on every page. He was told to change that. He did not. He did not sell.
Another story, a memoir, When I was Kyoko - by a Massachusetts woman from Korea whose riveting memoir of life in Korea under Japanese Occupation - also brings out the flavor, pain and reality but in English.
I do identify. I had a Polish stepmother growing up so I heard Polish, French, German and Russsian a lot growing up. Probably why I became an ESL tutor.
If you showed us the characters without using Portuguese - or to use very limited Portuguese such as a single word going through the character's mind, with why that word is going through that character's mind and what it means - then it draws the reader into the scene without stopping the reader.
I think you are doing an excellent job on this, it is very beautifully written. Very beautifully.
About the title... I would pick up the book, just based on the title, but I would want to know in the first parpagraph or front inside cover or back cover 'What is Macy's Place? Who or What is Macy?'
If you could convey some sort of transition or difficulty in the title - that would be compelling. "Far From the Mango Grove" and "When I was Kyoko" both convey in the title itself that there were difficult transitions, which compels a reader to pick up the book.
A lot of people will immediately identifiy it with the department store, then they will get confused with the Portuguese. A lot of people have some knowledge of some basic Spanish words, but not with French, German or Portuguese, and most people find these languages intidimidating, if they do not know them.
A really beautiful write. I don't know if you read Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude' - he was once a darling of literature but has fallen out of favor - we could really see and feel and hear the characters, even though his intricate story-telling pattern was difficult.
-I'm Kathryn, but this will show up as Kate.
Wow. Janet, I often think there are two types 'reads'. In one you are outside the story, visualizing the larger picture, approaching the characters and learning to care about them a little bit at a time.
And then there are the stories that deliver immediate intimacy. You feel the weight of the baby against the hero's chest, visualize the hairs on his tanned arms. You deliver this intimacy. Besides the quick fix of less foreign language, it's beautiful. And best of all, it leaves me wondering all sorts of things about who and why, but I really WANT to know, because I already care about the hero. Great job!
I agree. Janet has some compelling characters and that's what hooks a reader more than anything.
Kate--Brilliant comments. You're so right. Syntax is the way to show an accent, not unconventional spelling.
Now, as a Regency author, I do toss in a bit of French because the educated characters I write about would have been fluent in French even though they're English. It was a bit of skitzo since the Brits and the French were frequently at war, but the ton regularly peppered their speech with bits of French, like on dits and your n'est-ce pas?. Regency readers expect this, so it would be odd if they weren't there.
Gillian--I think you've hit the nail squarely. By giving us a sharply drawn hero, Janet has created the best possible hook--a character we can care about.
I don't know why, but I couldn't post a comment on your blog. I tried repeatedly and even went to another blog to see if I had a problem. I didn't so I tried yours again and couldn't post a comment.
I totally agreed with you about the Portugese. I wouldn't buy a book with so much foreign language in it.
Thanks for letting me know about the problem with commenting, Sandy. I copied and pasted your comment and posted it anonymously.
I'm not set to moderate comments, so there must have been a problem with your sign in. If it happens again, please try the anonymous button and let me know if it works.
I just loved the image you gave of the father and baby. I immediately thought of the black and white posters, one sees in stores. I got goosebumps over the baby feet.
You are good with descriptions. I visualised the mother. I saw a Mediterranean woman in a kitchen.
The language did distract me a little. The odd word to give it 'flavour' is great. I am one who would have to log on to find out what it meant.
The storyline sounds interesting, good luck with it Janet.
Emily gave good advice...as always.
Thanks, Glynis! I'm looking forward to sharing your work with the gang next week.
Thank you everyone! I am sorry I am so delayed in responding. I wasn't able to join you all on Thursday. And thank you Emily for taking the time to give me some fabulous advice!
Janet Louise Campbell
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