Ok, that's a trick title for this post because I am Mia Marlowe. It's my new pen name for my upcoming books with Kensington publishing. I'm under contract for 3 novels and a novella. The Mia books are a little different from Emily's since I'm adding a sparkle of magic to the stories.
This is from the rough draft of my novella for IMPROPER GENTLEMEN, an anthology with Diane Whiteside and Maggie Robinson. Eliza Knight, who is a professional critiquer, has given this the once over for me. Her comments are in red and my responses are in purple. I'd love to hear what you think too, so please leave a comment!
IMPROPER GENTLEMEN ~ A Knack for Trouble
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on.”--Shakespeare, The Tempest
Royal Navy Docks, Bermuda
If ever there was a night to be blessed by the Knack, it was this one. Aidan Danaher didn’t use it often, but his gift of being able to misdirect a mind certainly came in handy as he stolen past one guard after another. No one saw him leave the ship or enter the British fortress through a dry man-sized drain in the sea wall.
This was a nice opening hook, I’m definitely intrigued! I want to know what the Knack is! One thought though, I was under the impression since we’re at the docks that the Knack was a ship, and then after we realize he has gift for mind manipulation, I realized it meant his power. “Stolen” should be “stole” or have the he before it “he’d stolen”.
Oh! I hadn't thought about the possible confusion with a ship name for the Knack. I need to be more clear. Would it help for it not to capitalized? The stolen happened when I Xed the 'd and didn't alter my verb. I need to be careful when I make changes that everything in the sentence still works. Good catch!
It had been a simple matter to climb up the masonry and iron of the Commissioner’s House. He knew where every finger and toe hold was. He’d helped build the blasted thing, after all, and cursed every stone of it.
I wonder if you’d consider starting this paragraph with a stronger word? Maybe: “Climbing up the masonry and iron of the Commissioner’s House had been a simple matter.” I know starting with an “ing” is not necessary strong, but it is stronger than “It had been.”
Hmmm... let me think about that. I try to avoid "ing" when I can.
But not this night.
Because something exciting is happening!
Aidan ducked from the wide second floor veranda into the tall open window, leaving the balmy Bermudian night behind. The thick-walled house was cool and kissed by a soft breeze. A far cry from the airless convict ship tied up down at the wharf.
So he’s a bad boy? Intriguing! This is also a great way to show us our scenery, I feel like I can see it, feel the air on my skin. I wonder, is there a candle lit or a fire? Or a sliver or full moon? What is the lighting like?
Good idea and it shouldn't take more than a sentence. With a novella, my challenge is always to keep the manscript trim enough to fit into the 30-35K word count restraints. Descriptions seem like a logical place to go lean, but I also don't want to shortchange my reader's experience. It's a delicate balance.
Rosalinde was there, waiting just inside her window as she promised she’d be. She was just as he’d dreamed, her long chestnut hair unbound, flowing over her virginal nightshift like a wanton mantle. Her bare toes peeped from beneath her lacy hem, curling with nervousness.
I like the contrast of wanton and virginal—and we can see she is more virginal, with the curling of her toes. “was there, waiting” is passive, suggest saying something a little more active like, “Rosalinde stood just inside her window as she’d promised.” Also, since “just” was used in the previous sentence, try to get rid of it. “She was exactly as he’d dreamed…”
Once I get the manuscript finished, I hit the "find" function to look for my bugaboos: just, almost, even, very, still--little filler words that become my writer's tick. Thanks for catching these.
“We must be quiet,” she whispered.
Do their gazes met? Show us their longing for each other.
Oh, yes! I need to establish a stronger connection here.
Aidan caught both her fidgety hands and brought them to his lips for a kiss. “Aye, lass. Quiet as ever we can.”
I like their dialogue, its sensual and filled with promise.
He wasn’t keen on being strung up by His Majesty’s Royal Navy for this night’s work. But one look at her wide eyes and trembling mouth convinced him she just might be worth it.
Aidan bent to kiss her, tasting her lips with gentleness, careful not to spook her.
I like seeing his gentle side.
Fair warning, it doesn't last long. Their passion ignites white-hot in another page.
For months, they’d danced around this moment. As elected leader of the Irish convicts building the public works at Royal Dock, he’d been ushered in weekly to see the commissioner, Rosalinde’s father, to air grievances or suggest improvements that would speed the work. Commissioner Burke had warmed to him, thanks to the Knack, and when Rosalinde needed a groom for her new Thoroughbred gelding, Aidan was taken off the grueling chain gang hauling stone and put to work in the stables.
Previously, the Knack had both words underlined, I would keep it consistent. Also, this last sentence is pretty long—and has a passive “had”. I think you could break it up, maybe like this: “Commissioner Burke warmed to him, thanks to the Knack. When Rosalinde needed a groom for her new Thoroughbred gelding…”
The way the manuscript is formatted, I have to underline the words I want italicized for the typesetter. I think I should go just with the Knack itself italicized without the "the." But either way, you're right. It has to be uniform. Oh, yes, I tend to have sentences that waffle on from one clause to the next, blossoming into virtual paragraphs on their own. I always have to go back and chop them up later.
He had as easy a way with horseflesh as he did with people, so it was a simple matter to convince Rosalinde he could help her refine her dressage technique. She never realized the wicked beast’s princely manners were due more to Aidan’s Knack than to her improved riding skills.
I like this, it gives us little more information about his power.
The beginning of a story is such a tricky time. There's so much groundwork to lay in such an short amount of space. I'm hoping to tease my readers a bit here so they'll wonder what Aidan can actually do with the Knack.
He stole a kiss from Rose within a few days. In a few weeks, she allowed him to caress her breasts through her stiff riding habit. They drove each other mad by inches, a little more daring each day. Always in danger of discovery, always with only moments to savor their sweet wickedness.
Did she kiss him back and allow this because she wanted him, or did he use his gift on her? Show us, maybe with even just one sentence, that they liked each other for more than just physical pleasure also—gives us motivation for an upscale virginal girl in her time to give her body to him. You're right. Even though we're in his POV, I need to make her motivations clear. It's not enough to tell the reader having him in her room was her idea, we need to know why. And no, he didn't "knack" her, though she tempts him sorely. Aidan's smart enough to know love isn't love if it isn't freely given.
This night was her idea, but a lady might change her mind at the last moment.
I liked this here for emphasis.
I find separating something out like this does work. The trick is not to do it too often.
Her lips were sweet.
And now we're at our 500 word limit.
Thanks for letting me swap places with you, Emily! (Mia for this story, please!) I can’t wait to read the rest of this story when it comes out! You have a great premise here and a unique a fresh hook—convict in love with the Commissioner’s daughter! Love it! There is bound to be ALL sorts of conflict to try and keep these two apart. I’m excited to see how you pull them through it all.
Thank you for your thoughtful critique, Eliza. It's hard to overestimate the value of a second (or third!) pair of eyes.
Mia's bio: Well, it's pretty much the same as Emily's except that Mia is the one who'll be writing for Kensington Brava, adding a dash of paranormal elements to her historicals. Watch for her debut in May 2011 with TOUCH OF A THIEF, followed by IMPROPER GENTLEMEN in July 2011. To find out more about Mia, please visit
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