writing, Writing Contests

July 2015 Critique Blog Hop

Because Michele Hauk is a genius, she’s started a really exciting and very useful critique blog hop. Basically, you post your query and first 250 words, get critiqued by other writers (hello y’all!) and do some critiquing of your own (which is extremely helpful for everyone involved).

So, without further ado, here is my entry for the 2015 Critique Blog Hop:

Title: BEWARE OF BOLTON MANOR

Name: Amelia Creed

Genre: NA Romantic Suspense

Word Count: 70K

Query:

Junior estate agent, Olivia Abate, the walking cautionary tale for fresh starts, has one goal – to get the Bolton Manor listing before her dolt of a coworker. Their unethical rivalry takes a grim turn when the old woman who owns the property suffers a mental breakdown, and Olivia must spend a week at the manor if she wants a signed contract and the coveted promotion.

Ignoring her hesitation, Olivia deals with quaint guests fond of collecting serial killer memorabilia, perpetually hung-over nieces, and apathetic servants, one rehearsed smile at a time. Her only escape is the dry-humored heir of the estate, Thomas Bolton, who appears to be as starved for companionship as the manor is for renovation. His odd disdain for newcomers and Olivia’s fear of gaining an unjust advantage barely keep them from crossing the professional line.

Her moral dilemma vanishes along with her coworker, and Olivia faces the gut-wrenching possibility that she might lose not only her career and the promise of an uncommon relationship, but also her life.

BEWARE OF BOLTON MANOR is complete at 70,000 words and is a standalone novel with series potential.

250:

The faux leather on the backseat was peeling off and Olivia Abate’s best stockings already had two holes in them. Served her right for cheaping out on her last shopping trip and fidgeting since she had jumped into the cab. The driver’s road manners didn’t help either.

“Is there any possible way we could go faster?” she asked. The driver looked at her in his rear-view mirror, using his tongue to clean the remnants of his lunch from his teeth. Olivia pretended she didn’t notice. “Or find a shortcut?”

“No can do, Miss. We’re on the shortest road and I ain’t keen on getting a flat tire,” the driver said.

Olivia nodded and looked over her shoulder in the rear window, biting the inside of her cheek. Still no sign of another car. That could only mean two things – either her coworker had gotten lost on the muddy roads or he had already arrived at the manor. Or maybe he had given up on the challenge altogether.

Gazing down at the single sheet of paper in her file, marked ‘Bolton Manor – potential listing’, Olivia tried to find some sort of detail that could give her an advantage. Apart from specifying the size of the domain, the number of rooms and adjacent dwellings, such as the boat house, and the current owner, there wasn’t much written down. Not even a picture of the estate.

And for a junior estate agent, such as Olivia, that meant trouble; taxing, exciting, and career-defining trouble.

Thank you to all the writers who will take the time to critique my work. You guys are awesome for doing this and for having the courage to put your work out there and receive feedback.

And have an awesome day!

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13 thoughts on “July 2015 Critique Blog Hop”

  1. Hello! Thank you for the feedback on my blog post; hope I can give as useful feedback.

    Query: Overall, I think you set up most of your elements brilliantly, with some wonderfully written lines like your opening sentence and the first sentence of the second paragraph. But, I felt like the query got weaker toward the end. I just feel like the transition between the stakes within her job jump rather abruptly to life-or-death stakes. I feel like there should be some more set up for that – maybe mention some suspicious activity. Then, I don’t get the connection between the coworker’s kidnapping and Olivia’s life being at risk. Did the kidnapper make it clear that she was next, or they’d kill her if she got involved? I think spending more time on the suspense plot will really help. Also, this is mostly because NA is huge on the romance, I’d like one more sentence about Olivia and Thomas, something about how if they do get together, and how their relationship plays into the life-or-death stakes.

    250: Honestly I think your 250 is great. Your opening line is fabulous — it gives instant characterization, and I think sets a really cool tone for the novel. You balanced dialogue and action well, and used detail well. The one line I might consider revising is that last one. The phrase “and for a junior estate agent, such as Olivia” reads awkwardly, and feels weak compared to the rest of the very strong opening page.

    Overall, great job! I wish you the best of luck with your writing endeavors.
    ~ Carlyn Greenwald

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to critique my work and I do hope my feedback was useful to you as well.

      I agree, the query gets weaker towards the end and I’ve been trying so hard to come up with something to join the last two paragraphs seamlessly. No luck so far:)). I’ve been getting mixed reviews about the suspense part – I originally included more, but then people said I should focus on the romance. I’m still a bit unsure.

      And you’re totally right about that last phrase. No matter how many times I’ve read it, it didn’t pop out, but now that you’ve pointed it out, I can totally see it.

      Thank you!

      Like

  2. Overall, I liked this query a lot. I’d read this book, and I don’t read a lot of romance.

    Query,

    I didn’t get the ‘walking cautionary tale for fresh starts’ phrase. Does this mean she’s had a lot of second chances and failed? Can something more concrete replace it. “After having her car repossessed… After losing the last three jobs…? This may just be a construction I’m not getting. You’ll note that I am neither young nor British. And I’m guessing the book is (from estate agent/road manners.)

    I’d smooth the transition between the mental breakdown and Olivia spending a week at the manor. Maybe along the lines of “suffers a mental breakdown and demands Olivia spend a week…”.

    I like the stakes, but is there a more clear statement of them. Unless she X she WILL lose not only… What is the MC going to do in this story? Solve the murder?

    First 250:
    This is a question, not a suggestion. Are borrowed words italicized in manuscripts? e.g. faux? I don’t know the answer.

    The driver’s road manners have an effect on her stockings? Seems like we lost a step where she’s aggravated.

    “Olivia nodded and looked over her shoulder in the rear window, biting the inside of her cheek.” Seemed like it could be shortened to looked and bit.

    I’d lose the ‘Or maybe he had given up on the challenge’. It tends to lower the stakes on the first page instead of winding them up.

    I wonder if the contents of the file could be chopped into shorter sentences to up the tension and set up a contrast with your last sentence –
    “…could giver her an advantage. The domain was x sq. feet and had y baths. The sheet mentioned adjacent dwellings. With her luck, the boat house was a pile of rotted timber. It named the old woman who owned the place. There wasn’t even a picture of the estate.”

    That last paragraph is a gem. That’s the line that would make me turn the page and keep reading.

    Apologies in advance if I’m too blunt. Sounds like a winner.

    Good Luck
    D

    Like

    1. Hello, hello. Thank you so much for taking the time to critique my work. And you weren’t too blunt, I totally get everything you said and will take it into consideration. I can tighten it up a lot.

      As for italicizing the words – I have no clue what the general rule is (I’m guessing if you really want to emphasize the fact that a person is using a foreign word, then yes), but faux has entered the English vocabulary and I don’t think many people believe it to be foreign at the moment. I also think italicizing is a matter of writer preference – I’ve seen works where banal words are italicized, just because.

      Thank you so very much:D

      Like

  3. Hi!

    I think your query is really strong up until the ending. Paragraphs 2 and 3 don’t connect seamlessly and I want a bit more detail about what the stakes are. When/how/why is her co-worker kidnapped–things you can’t answer but a little more detail since would be great since people vanishing was never mentioned before. Is someone coming after her next? Why? Why does she matter?

    Your 250 is really strong. I’d sub in her coworker’s name in place of just ‘coworker’ which reads a little stiff. I agree with the other comment about the last line. It’s telling and I think we can gather Olivia is the junior estate agent.

    Best of luck!! 🙂

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to critique. Yeah, I agree with you, I’m still trying to figure out how to connect the query paragraphs *sigh* And no matter how many times I’ve read the first 250, it never even crossed my mind to replace ‘coworker’, but you’re so right. She wouldn’t call him that.

      Thank you so much!

      Like

  4. Okay, so I have to be in a different mindset to critique queries versus sample pages so I’m going to come back and do the first 250 later on, okay? So here we go.

    Oooh. I like the title. Very Gothic. And it’s romantic suspense. Hmmm…modernizing the Gothic genre? I hope so.

    You don’t need that first comma after the word “agent.”

    “…the walking cautionary tale for fresh starts…”
    OOOH. I like this. Need to explain it just a bit – did something bad happen to her? – but I like how it’s phrased.

    Why is their rivalry unethical? Are they doing morally wrong things to get at each other? You might want to say what’s so unethical about it. There are plenty of great professional rivalries that still show the rival as a dolt (love that word) w/o devolving into moral issues. For one thing, if Olivia isn’t doing anything wrong but the dolt is, why hasn’t she reported him? And if she’s doing wrong things, this makes her less sympathetic.

    Good way of showing in first paragraph what Olivia wants and what she has to do to get it. But what’s so grim about the old lady having a mental breakdown? I mean, it sucks for the old lady, but how does that affect Olivia in a way that warrants the word grim? Since this is suspense, I’d be expecting suspicion of foul play or murder or someone gaslighting the poor old biddy. Which as a reader I hope does not happen because poor old lady but as a critiquer/writer, I’m like, “Oooh.”

    Why are there guests in the house? Is the manor a bed-and-breakfast or something?

    “…one rehearsed smile at a time.”
    I like this line. 🙂

    Since you mention Thomas’s disdain keeping Olivia from tapping his heirship’s ostensibly handsome self, is he a jerk? Please don’t make him a jerk. Jerky guys suck. Please don’t let his douche-baggery be a reason for them to not be together. As a premise point, that’s very weak. I read a LOT of romances (mostly inspirational) and mentored under a romance novelist when I was in school for a full calendar year. I know we see it a lot in YA but it’s a trend that many agents say needs to die (preferably in a moldy hole, killed with fire). The conflict of interest regarding Olivia’s job is a MUCH better, stronger reason. It shows she has good judgment and reinforces that she values her job. I realize the brooding, Byronic hero is a thing in romantic suspense, but guys can be Byronic w/o being jerks and Byronic tendencies don’t need to interfere w/ the relationship to a major extent (short of “I’m so tortured, I don’t deserve you, I have too many demons”).

    Anyway, sorry, tangent. Point is, his “disdain for newcomers” doesn’t serve as a good reason for them not to get together. It also contradicts him being starved for companionship.

    The paragraph beginning with “Her moral dilemma vanishes…” doesn’t make sense to me. Just because her coworker disappears doesn’t mean sleeping w/ the smexy heir isn’t a conflict of interest/against the rules. And how does her coworker disappear? Is he murdered? Does he go missing? I mean, she’s only there for a week so him being missing for like, 48 hours isn’t that much of a high stake.

    I really feel like you need to up the stakes her to make it truly suspenseful. Olivia’s personal/professional stakes are fine (better than fine, actually. Kudos), but the old lady’s breakdown smacks of sinister, yet is apparently innocuous. Olivia’s rival is “unethical” but you never say how or why she hasn’t stopped him yet. The guests are freaky, but why are they even there in the first place? Thomas may be this novel’s Tom-Hiddleston-from-Crimson-Peak (sexy hero who may be a bad guy) but he comes across as a conflicted (and not in a good way) jerk. Oh, and why is his disdain odd? Is it expressed oddly?

    And then all of a sudden Olivia’s life is in danger and it’s sort of like, “Wait…how did that happen? What did I miss?” You also don’t really explain why her career is in jeopardy since she’s not making it w/ His Heirship or what is so uncommon about her potential relationship w/ the guy. And I get why the risk of death could be gut-wrenching (same w/ her career) but she’s known the guy less than a week so why would his loss be so devastating?

    I know that trimming queries because they’re too long is a thing writers have to do because we need to only include the salient details, but I follow a lot of agents on twitter, and one thing they also complain about is getting queries that are too vague. This is a bit vague. I would read this as a consumer if I saw it on the shelf, but agents are a lot pickier than readers. Some questions need to be answered IN the query that aren’t. And since this is a single-title romance, although for NA, since you’ve got such a layered storyline told in a traditional manner, 70K might not be enough. And I’m not sure how you’d turn this story into a series unless Olivia doesn’t get w/ Thomas (whom your query has compelled me to ship already so go you).

    I’ll be back to look over the first 250 later. I really do like this (and the title makes my inner Gothic lit lover squee). I would totally read it. Maybe even buy it. And I’m usually broke so this means much.

    Like

    1. Woooooow. Woooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow.Your comments are some of the best I’ve received. Very, very in depth. Thank you so, so much.

      Now, a lil’ bit of explaining. This is the first time someone has pointed out that Thomas might come off as a jerk in the query – and thank you so very much. I haven’t even considered it, but now that I think of it, you might be right. I’ll look over it – for a few hours, as always *sigh* – and try to eradicate that possibility.

      Spoiler alert – he’s not a jerk. I’m actually totally against the hero in romance novels being a total asshole to the heroine and her somehow falling head over heels for him anyway. Hate it. The thing with him is that he’s so protective of his grandmother and he’s seen a lot of people trying to take advantage of her and her condition, so he’s always a bit weary of people coming to the manor. The main reason I put that in there is to show a bit of a transition, from the awkward stages of their interaction to the more comfortable zone. *Maybe I should include that in the query:)))

      And yeeeeeeeeeeees. It’s supposed to be a Gothic romance, you’re the first one to point that out:D. I actually finished this baby before I even knew what Crimson Peak was and I have to say, I’m a lil’ scared now. I might change the character’s name, just to be sure – though though aside from the name and the fact that the action takes place in a huge house, there is absolutely no resemblance to del Toro’s project.

      Thank you for the comments! 😀 Made my day.

      Like

  5. Don’t worry about comparisons to Crimson Peak. It’s a Gothic romance so the big scary house is sort of a requirement. And I don’t actually know the hero’s name in the film, just who plays him (Tom Hiddleston, so handsome!) so don’t worry about that.

    Yeah, his “disdain” should probably be something more like wariness. Disdain = disgust, arrogance, potentially loathing. Not non-jerky hero traits.

    Like

  6. Hi Amelia,

    Thanks for your comments. Hopefully, I can be of help, as well.

    The query is a mixed bag for me. The voice comes through loud and clear. I get a great sense of Olivia’s personality and expect a fun, breezy read with wickedly clever touches in turn of phrase and (one hopes) lots of witty asides. I also get a general sense of the main story arc.

    That said, I found myself a bit lost at times and felt like a few situations either needed clarification or risk coming across as a logic gap.

    In P1:
    “walking cautionary tale for fresh starts” is an interesting turn of phrase and sounds like great word jazz, but suggests that Olivia’s life would caution someone to not start over. Is that the gist? Since this introduces the MC, something more clear and concise might give a better immediate picture without making an agent have to wonder.

    I believe goal should be followed by a colon, rather than a dash.

    DOLT! I love this little gem of a punchy hit!

    What about the rivalry is unethical, and why is the potential client’s breadown grim (besldes possibly losing the contract)?

    The last part confounds me a bit, and since it’s central to the premise, seems important to karmically underline any issues. Why would the owner’s breakdown necessitate Olivia to stay at the Manor? Would the old woman not need a doctor’s help, rather than an estate agent lurking around? And, if her mental state is at question, wouldn’t any contracts signed be considered null (as she is not competent to conduct business)?

    In P2:
    The earlier question relates, but why would she deal with the guests, if she isn’t professionally or legally connected to the Manor?

    I love the descriptive aspect of this 1st sentence. It lends so much character to the Manor and Olivia’s voice, and makes me expect a dodgier and more morbid version of Fawlty Towers.

    The part about Thomas gives a good impression of a quiet, somewhat awkward guy who I would hope to be a source of wry comments on the weird goings-on.

    Love “starved for companionship as the manor is for renovation” Nice concise but revealing character summary.

    The vibe jumps straight into a moral quandary that suggests romantic hijinks, but comes a bit out of nowhere. Also, with the unethical rivalry earlier, plus a woman who’d loom like a vulture over a crazy old woman, unjust advantage doesn’t seem like a big problem for Olivia. If she’s hanging around to swoop in on (whatever relation), wouldn’t Thomas have some issues with Olivia in that regard? Or, if he’s the heir, could he not have legal means to take over? The professional line seems a more potent issue, as it relates to her image.

    In P3:
    The turns of phrase don’t do a lot of favors in this paragraph, where Olivia’s situation, choice, and stakes should be as clear as possible. It’s a bummer, because the laguage reads with nice bouncy prose, but with your writing style, you should have a few great pithy lines that can rock the voice and still sell the close.

    The other note in this paragraph is that the threat comes out of nowhere and is not defined. We know what’s at stake,which also feels like a lot of stakes stacked up, but the why is pretty murky.

    The 250:
    Your voice is really great. I have so little to say about this but YEP.

    A few really minor quibbles:
    The narrative of the driver’s action should probably be separate from Olivia’s dialog.

    “Two things” should probably be followed by a colon.

    “Coworker” sounds a bit odd for Olivia to say, since she knows their name.

    Contractions can help prose to read smoother.

    “For a junior estate agent, such as Olivia” feels a touch heavy-handed.

    Overall, you’ve got such great voice and breezy, engaging prose. The story sounds like a fun dark adventure with a tickle of old-school Gothic creepiness. You should get a lot of interest.

    Good luck with it!

    Like

    1. Thank you so much!

      Your comments are really in-depth and I’m sure to keep them in mind when going through revisions.

      And btw, because I posted my comments on your work before I got a chance to browse your website – I really like it. While I don’t write about this particular subculture, I quite enjoy looking through photos and reading work that incorporates it. I love the ‘creepy’ badass vibe you got going on. Kudos, my fellow writer, kudos.

      Thank you once again!

      Like

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