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April 2017

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whatever happens

I got my review. HOLY SH*T, I got it!!

That grinding noise you hear? That's me trying to get my big fat ego-inflated head through the door.

Yesterday I posted a short story on the same site. The reviewer compared me to Harper Lee. *thud*

And now this. I'll post it under a cut, so the casual friend who isn't as absorbed by me as I am won't have their flist crowded. Because it is longish. :)


Critique for Redhand
==========
Dear Kathy

Please find your critique below. I think there's no doubt of your talent, and I can forward this to the site's affiliated agents when you are ready. Martyn Bedford commented that "you (and this novel) have definite publishing potential, but it is a fantasy novel, and our particular agents may not go for that genre, but we can sound them out." It's a good chance to get different agents acquainted with your work. You deserve an opportunity from your peer and professional feedback and I hope this will be forthcoming.

Best wishes

Edward Smith
Development Manager
http://www.YouWriteOn.com


Redhand (an extract)
by Kathy Ann Trueman

critique: Martyn Bedford

* * * * *

Introduction

I approached this critique with some trepidation because: (a) fantasy is a genre so overloaded with wannabe writers that it's tough for anyone to make his/her work stand out from the rest, and (b) many aspiring fantasy writers are actually just fantasy readers who love the genre so much they think they can write it . . . when, too often, they can't. This feeling of apprehension mounted when I started reading the synopsis and wondered if Redhand was going to be a derivative mish-mash of other fantasy writers' concepts, with Naia as a hybrid of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lyra (the heroine of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy). So imagine my relief when I read the sample chapter - they're terrific! Terrific is a lazy critical term, I know, and I will try to flesh out the appraisal more intelligently, below, but I just wanted to make the point that as I read this extract I was thinking: "This is terrific." This readerly response, as opposed to a writerly one, is important and valid of course because successful publication hinges on pleasing readers more than it does on pleasing critics and fellow writers - although it's nice to please them all, if you can. It should be pointed out, in this regard, that in "winning" this critical appraisal your extract is already highly regarded by fellow writers and readers on the YouWriteOn website, many of whom won't be fantasy fans. So, as I detail in the appraisal to follow, you have good cause to be upbeat about this novel-in-progress. I will also try to pick out some of the (remarkably few) concerns I have.

Appraisal

(Chapter 1)
In this chapter, and throughout the excerpt, the prose is consistently tight and cohesive. If I had the scope to produce a line-by-line editing critique, you would find very few, if any, annotations on the text. There is barely a word out of place or a clumsily constructed sentence. And, with fluency, you achieve an effective balance of action, description, reflection and dialogue to keep the scene moving while grounding it in place and character. Naia's interiority is well done, taking us inside her thought-processes and perceptions - introducing us to her as our protagonist - without impeding the dramatic flow of what is a compelling opening scene. Similarly, and succinctly, you reveal the relationship dynamic between her and Enath, so that when Enath is killed the emotional impact on Naia is felt by the reader. Also impressive is the way in which you give us clues to the "alternate world" you've created in this novel, without weighing the dramatisation down with clumsy exposition (a common failing in aspirant fantasy writing). All in all, then, Chapter 1 is a real page-turner - not just the build-up to the release of the demon and the release itself and Enath's death, but in the immediate aftermath when Naia is shockingly left by herself. It does what an opening scene in this type of novel should do: gets the main plotline up and running, and introduces the heroine.
I do have one query, though, which I shall also raise further down - why must it be Naia who goes after the demon? (apart from the fact that she's your heroine, and you need her to!) As I say, I'll elaborate on this point in due course.

(Chapter 2)
Having grabbed us by the throat in your opening chapter, you skilfully shift focus and ease off the pace in Chapter 2 - introducing a couple of the novel's other significant characters and showing us Naia in her domestic context, developing and deepening her for us. The Uru section at the start of this chapter is nicely intriguing - we are fascinated by this bear-cum-spirit-guide and curious to find out where he fits into Naia's story. However, I would suggest making the Uru section a stand-alone chapter in its own right, albeit a brief one. It feels semi-detached and disjointed, tacked on to the front of a chapter in which Jil is the main focus and viewpoint perspective. Separate them out, I would say.
As for Jil, he provides us with a useful perspective on Naia to add to what we've seen of her for ourselves in Chapter 1 - and, of course, in seeing her through his eyes we not only get a better sense of Naia herself, but an insight into Jil's character and his relationship to Naia. Importantly, we see Naia with her husband and baby, showing us a different dimension to her and letting us see what she will be leaving behind, and what she stands to lose, when she goes off in pursuit of the demon, as we assume she will. And then, after rightly allowing a more reflective tone and pace for a few pages, you give the plot a timely twist right at the end of the chapter, when Jil returns from the river to witness the arrival of the wounded refugees from the demon-inspired attack. Any reader would be keen to read on, at this point, to find out what happens next.
There is a point of concern, however. Early in the Jil section, there's the line: "Now that Naia was the shaman and no longer a mere apprentice . . ." When I read this, I wondered: Is Naia shaman now merely by virtue of Enath's death, or has she continued and completed her apprenticeship under someone else's guidance? How has she become shaman by ability as well as by status? Also, has a period of time elapsed since Enath's death (if so, how long?), or does Chapter 2 follow on more or less immediately from Chapter 1, time wise? Some of this is clarified a few paragraphs further down the page, and other aspects are touched on later in the extract but, even so, I found it an initial point of confusion and even by the end of the sample chapters I'm still not entirely clear about Naia's accession to shaman. I'd suggest looking at all of this and making tweaks here and there, where necessary.

(Chapter 3)
To revisit my earlier query, when Gard learns that Naia is to set off on her quest to track down and bind the demon, why doesn't he ask her why it has to be her that does it? Any husband, particularly one with a young baby, would surely ask this. I would. (Not that my wife often goes off hunting demons, but you know what I mean.) I have to say I found the dialogue exchange between Gard and Naia somewhat stilted in places, unrealistically formal given that they are husband and wife - also a little expositional, in places, with the sense that they were addressing information to the reader as much as to one another. Of course, they are, but the trick is to make it seem entirely naturalistic. And we begin the exchange aware that it is being witnessed, and recounted to us, by Jil - but he soon falls away as a filtering perspective and we lose a sense of him as secret observer, or as the narrative viewpoint. This exchange was the only point in the whole four chapters where I felt the writing was anything less than consistently assured.
Having said that, the chapter is still effective in progressing the plot and in foregrounding Naia's divided motivation - torn between loyalty to husband, baby and her own people and the responsibility, the compulsion, to do her duty as shaman.

(Chapter 4)
While I feel that Jil is well introduced and characterized in Chapters 2 through 4, and you go inside his head to good effect, I'd take care not to make him too grovelling in his devotion to Naia. He needs to be grateful (to the point of unswerving loyalty) but not pitiful or snivellingly servile, I would say. Ninety-five per cent of the time, you keep him the right side of this divide, but in one or two places he just edges over into excess. Once again, this chapter keeps the plot ticking along nicely and further develops the characterization of Naia, Jil and Uru, as individuals, while also setting up the dynamics of their inter-relationships - the components of the clan, falling into place nicely. The three-way exchange between them as they set off is very funny and brilliantly handled. On this point, I would say that these touches of humour are, and will be, a necessarily lighter counterpoint to some of the darker material you will no doubt be dealing with along the way. By the end of Chapter 4, though, I'm beginning to feel that we've been in Jil's narrative viewpoint (and away from Naia's) long enough - arguably too long - given that we're at the beginning of a novel in which Naia is our heroine. More of this below.

General observations and conclusion

I'll set out my concerns in the form of questions, some of which I've raised in the chapter-by-chapter analysis: Why must it be Naia? There are other shamans in this land, and many wizards, who surely could take on this task (and with greater likelihood of success than Naia, who has only just graduated from apprentice to shaman. Naia may feel partly responsible for this demon's release, given that she and Enath were attempting a re-binding when it occurred, and she may feel the need to avenge Enath's death (or at least complete the re-binding which Enath died trying to effect). I can understand Naia's motivation to take on the job herself - but we need to see that there is some practical or other reason why it must be her, and no-one else in the land, and why she would be allowed to do it in their stead. Otherwise, we might suspect that it's her task because the novel requires it. Also, why hasn't the fact that a demon is on the loose been discovered before the point of the attack we hear about in this extract? This may in part arise from the confusion about how much time has passed since Enath's death, but I get the sense that the demon has been on the loose for a little while, at least, and surely he would have been active in that time and his presence would have become manifest to people and to the authorities, or to shamans and wizards? And wouldn't Naia have reported the fact that the demon was on the loose, even if at that stage she felt unwilling and unqualified to be the one to track it down and re-bind it? And to repeat an earlier point, how has Naia become a shaman? Was it an automatic succession after Enath's death? (If so, how has she developed her shamanistic skills to the extent that she seems to have done within her community? If not, who took over the role of teaching her?) These are the main questions I have. Some of them are partly addressed in this excerpt, and it may be that fuller explanations follow in the chapters to come - but I would argue that you might want to consider resolving these elements more fully in the opening four chapters as they are a potential source of confusion and/or doubt for a reader (for this reader, anyway) at a vital early stage in the novel. Finally, and as I've noted at the end of my thoughts on Chapter 4, I want to flag up a concern over narrative viewpoint. I'm not sure whether you plan to alternate point-of-view (PoV) between Naia, Jil, Uru and Isom (which would be fine, of course, and a good way of unfolding this narrative) but I would suggest that it is Naia's story, primarily, and that - even within a shared, multiple-PoV narrative - her viewpoint should be the dominant one. It may be that this is what you intend, but I have to raise the issue at this stage because, in the first four chapters, Jil is the dominant PoV. Having been introduced to Naia in the opening chapter, and having identified her as our heroine, we are expecting this to be her story, dominated by her viewpoint, and three chapters of Jil PoV are a somewhat disconcerting length of time away from Naia's perspective.
These concerns apart (and they would be relatively easily and quickly dealt with, I think), can I conclude by reiterating how much I enjoyed this extract and by restating how good it is. Despite my misgivings as I began the synopsis, this novel isn't shaping up to be at all derivative, on the basis of these early chapters. Far from it. Both in its premise, and in your treatment of the material, it strikes me as original and unusual (while being recognisably true to its genre) and sufficiently distinctive to stand out from the mass of aspirants' fantasy novels which thump on to agents' and publishers' desks each week. It also has the advantage of being impressively well-written, and well characterized. In particular, your alternate world is not only brilliantly imagined and evoked but is woven into the fabric of the storytelling seamlessly, and with a lightness of touch that is often absent in the less successful fantasy novels, where the imagined world is allowed to dominate and derail the fundamentals of good narrative (character and plot). I wish you the best of luck with it.
===============
And that's it. *faints*

The points he brings out are valid, and also not brought out by other reviewers, so now I'm excited about doing another rewrite. Wheeee!

Comments

Congrats!!!

I'm so happy for you Kat!! That is such an awesome review! And by a professional no less!

I am definitely going to be looking for this book in my local bookstore in the future!! Keep up the great work!
Wow, wow, WOW!!! *HUGSHUGS* This is so fantastic. Congratulations! I seriously couldn't be happier for you. Of course, I always knew you had the talent. Now, of course, I really must get off my ass and create cover art worthy of your tale.

You better believe your book will get it's due at BN!
Wow, that's awesome!

Overall a very encoruaging review and the points made are critiques, not slams. And that's good. Much more helpful for a direction in those cases.

I have read part of the story and have enjoyed it. I wish you all the best!

(Anonymous)

Not a suprise

And richly deserved. I know it's great to hear a professional say it, but we've known it for some time. You Are Good.
Dale City Guy.
This is terrific, Kat. Congratulations! I enjoyed reading this review; I like the way he words his concerns as questions for you to consider rather than outright criticism, and his complimentary observations on your writing in general are spot on, IMO.

Oh, I can NOT wait to see this published. I can then point it out in the bookstore and say, "I know the author personally! She's a DOB, like me, you know." *giggle*

Many hugs. If you hadn't got this kind of a review, I'd have been very surprised, not to mention pissed off. ^^
WOOOOO!

Now that *is* a glowing review, coming from someone who sees so many of these things every day. Congratulations to pieces!!

And if you're interested, I do have some ideas about how to address some of the concerns.

Your loving and serving editor,

TN
I know I'm late in seeing this post, and I will admit I didn't read the entire critique, just the beginning, but it already sounded very positive to me. It's nice to get positive feedback, but for someone like you who cares about developing as a writer detailed critique like this is essential. And the fact that the person sounded so positive about most of it is great. I'm really excited for you!

(Anonymous)

Great going Kathy! Your friends all knew you were talented. And to think, I knew you when. Cumberland daisy.