Here's what Grace said...
The few problems I had with entries seemed to all fall into the same categories. They were mislabeled - the content of the excerpt didn't fit with the description in the heading. I could see a predictable plot line. Too much telling. Beautiful description, but it wasn't clear - I had to reread it to understand it.
The ones that I loved all had characters I could immediately sense - their voices leapt off the page and grabbed me instantly. One of the things about reading such short excerpts was that I didn't get the plot spelled out for me. I didn't know at all what was going to happen, but I wanted to know because the writing was immediately absorbing and had impact.
The nice part about reading first pages was that it was a bit of a guessing game. Sentences resonated with me, voices captivated me, and plot strands hinted at stories that would mesmerize me. I have no idea what each of the full stories contain but I'm wildly guessing based on how wonderful the writing was. I'm guessing, and it's thrilling to think of what these might turn out to be. Based on my imagination while I read these, I can imagine each of these holding everything I'd love to read in a manuscript.
Thank y'all so much for allowing me to read these. It's been a true privilege, and I would love to hear from any of you.
(Note: the runner-ups are in no particular order.)
My first choice was titled The Gaslight Alibis by Krystal Sutherland.
THE GASLIGHT ALIBIS
YA Psychological Thriller
The letters have been arriving for two months. Every Friday morning, hand delivered, no postmark. I have seen their deliverer only once, a man in a black coat cinched at the waist, his face obscured by a wide brim hat. For twenty minutes I watched him watch my house from the street, hands in his pockets. He might have looked casual if it hadn’t been three o’clock in the morning. That was four weeks ago. I learned to stop watching for him after that.
This morning I do what I’ve been doing every Friday since the letters started. I rise with the sun. I don’t remember having slept, but there are black webs of nothingness in my memory where time passed without my knowledge, so I must have. The morning is crisp, early springtime not yet able to shift winter’s chill. A dark blue bathrobe is laid across the end of my bed. I pull it on, shivering, and make my way into the hall. My hand is closed around the screwdriver hidden in the robe's front pocket. Just in case he is waiting.
At the front door I pull on a pair of leather boots, unlaced, and head outside. The lawn is dipped in ice. It looks like little splinters of glass, painful to walk across. But at least the sun is starting to feel warm again, when it hits your skin, instead of pale and watery.
Grace again ...
First off, I love the title. I don't know what it means yet, but I know it's important. It's intriguing - it gives me a sense of the story. What's the significance of the gaslights? There are multiple alibis in there somewhere, so something suspenseful has to happen.
"The letters have been arriving for two months." Immediate. The letters are important. The timing is important. The impact of this sentence for me was similar to the first line of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I'm immediately intrigued.
The description of the man in the hat who delivered the letter four weeks ago is perfect - it's descriptive, not bogged down in details. I can picture him in my head, surrounded by intrigue and darkness. It's clear enough for me to immediately understand what I'm picturing and sets the mood perfectly.
Certain diction and descriptions grab me. "I rise with the sun." "Black webs of nothingness." "The morning is crisp..." Certain lines balance out the entry with the tension and confusion that a YA Psychological Thriller positively DEMANDS. What I liked about this entry was that, if it hadn't been labeled, I would have known what it was. It's crafted so well - character, writing, and tension blend together perfectly to give me a taste of what the manuscript is like but it's not overwhelming.
Overall, I am a sucker for mood. If you can take a few words and it's instantly atmospheric, I'm intrigued. There are enough details to make it seem so realistic but not random - they seem perfectly picked for the character and the plot. Now this is a manuscript that I would love to read more of, and I hope I get the chance to do so.
My second choice is Heritage Blade: Awakening by L.L. McKinney.
HERITAGE BLADE: AWAKENING
YA Urban Fantasy
Killing was one of those things that grew easier with time, that and tight rope walking. While one didn’t have anything to do with the other, at fifteen Jay had grown skilled at both. Balanced on the balls of his feet, he raced along the length of a power line, pivoted when he reached a pole, and leapt to a nearby building. Overhead the autumn moon shone bright, slicing through the darkness cast across the roof as he searched for signs of his prey.
He shoved strands of white hair from his face, tightened his grip on the sword at his hip, and stalked forward. The wind lashed out with bitter cold, cutting through the leather he wore from head to toe. October in Chicago—arctic. His boots crunched against loose gravel. No point in trying to be quiet, he wasn’t the one hiding.
Something moved the slightest bit in the shadow of a ventilation shaft. He locked gazes with a pair of yellow, pupil-less eyes. Gotchya, he smirked.
Caught, the creature bounded toward the end of the building. Jay took off after it. His steps thudded against the concrete, mirroring the pounding of his heart. Ahead, claws flashed and raked against the roof, kicking up loose bits of stone. The howling panted hard and heavy around a warning growl as it threw a glare over its shoulder, baring a mouth full of gleaming fangs.
A shiver chased a thrill the length of Jay’s spine.
Grace again ...
This is an excellent entry. It's very cinematic - I have this image of Jay leaping across buildings and dancing along phone lines, hiding in the shadows. It's one of those stories that I could immediately get into reading.
The first sentence is shocking. That one sentence gives us a huge insight into the plot and Jay's character - he's a killer. He's been doing it for a while. He's agile. Those few details allow me to picture him immediately, little details webbing out into more of an idea in my head of who he is, despite there only being a few words. The white hair and sword give us a sense that there is something fantastical about him and made me incredibly interested in who he is.
The pacing is really one of the most remarkable parts about this entry for me. The beginning plunges us into Jay's character and gives us a feel for his elegance. He's an elegant killer. He's stalking something, and that fact is immediately evident and exciting. But the single use of the "There." in the entry slows it down to where I'm hyper-aware of the atmosphere in the MS. Something important is happening. That "There." is wonderfully placed.
His smirk and confidence makes him standout. Strong details make him similar enough to many characters in YA to lead me to guess about the storyline and what he may be like, but the interesting ones make him different enough to where I want to know who he is, because he seems different from the usual protagonist in a book like this.
The creature makes me think that it leans towards City of Bones territory - fascinating creatures and action, confident and interesting characters that make it wholly unique. The last line is really what gets me - how excited Jay is for the chase. It really rounds out the tiny taste of his character that I got in the MS and I want to know what happens next. That's really the most important part.
The writing and character enhance the plot. I was only given a little sliver of what this MS has in store but I really really want to read it now.
My third choice is Speciation by Andrea Jackson.
YA Sci Fi
Six — minutes I am late.
I hesitate, but that only makes it worse.
I quickly place my hand on the pad that scans my fingerprints, unlocking the door, but also starting the timer, telling them what he and I already know: this is my fault. A smothering feeling of unease, invisible snowflakes in the form of discomfort will fill every corner, every crack, every wide-open space. And if I wanted to, I could stretch out my tongue and taste apprehension.
Thirty — extra minutes we have to stay now because I was late.
Five hundred and forty-three — days since the last time this happened.
Taking a deep breath, I walk quickly in the room careful not to make eye contact or look in his direction, but I can feel the heat of his eyes on me. I know what he wants. I will have to look at him eventually. The door slides shut, trapping me with tension.
I understand numbers, they are logical, rational, safe…perfect for collecting.
Five — how old I was when I came here.
Seven o'clock — when I am required to be in the room with LE4XI7.
Two — the amount of friends I have.
0.0000001 — the percent of people who are like me.
EWH17 — the virus that did what it was supposed to: end world hunger — just not the way they thought.
LE4XI8 — what is tattooed on the inside of the wrist of my right arm. It’s my identification; it’s my name.
The numbers stay with me, filed away, ready to use at a moments notice.
Grace again ...
The structure attracts me. This MS is different. The character thinks differently and so his/her thoughts are organized in a different order that intrigues me. The 1st person, present tense perspective fits this manuscript well and I immediately get the sense that this character spends a lot of time in his/her head, but it's not telling. Andrea does an excellent job of this balance.
The writing is very clear, but there are a few lines that appear to be very poetic. I'm very poetry-minded, and I loved that because it hinted at a voice. The character's voice is already unique because of his/her fascination with the numbers. I get a sense of the character because of the structure. Strive to enhance the character through little details like that - little things like structure can do so much to create an atmosphere and memorable voice.
I can feel the character's tension when he/she enters the room, the routine that is still a little uncomfortable for him/her. The world/organization hints at a sterile, controlled environment. I can guess at certain points of the world and plot. Everything is clear, but subtly infused with a voice.
I want to know what happens. I want to know what type of world identifies people by numbers, or whether it's just wherever the character happens to be. I want to know why numbers are so comforting and why the character might need to find solace in them. This manuscript was very attractive to me, and I would really love the chance to read it.
And a note from Matt ...
Sometimes I hate blogging. This entry in particular has very unique and brilliant formatting. I bet if it was setup properly, in Word, or even better, InDesign, it would look amazing. Sadly, the nature of a blog post screws that up a bit. Luckily, this story was strong enough, and Grace's eye keen enough, for her to see through that.
THE WINNER IS...
ALL THAT REMAINS
When I was seven, I told my mother I wanted to be a courtesan. I didn’t know what it meant, but courtesans owned all the beautiful things I could imagine: dresses and makeup and half-masks. My oldest brother Rafeo said they spent their nights at balls and parties entertaining the nobles.
Rafeo was only trying to protect my innocence, but his explanation simply encouraged me. I wanted their life of beauty and luxury and not one of blood and death.
Mother had not been happy. My confession was more proof I wasn’t the daughter she wanted, that I wasn’t the proud Saldana girl-child she felt she deserved. After that, I stopped telling my mother what I found beautiful, like gold filigree dresses and feather half-masks, and instead focused on things she found beautiful: knives and poisons and masks crafted from bone.
It was the first time I’d wished I had a different family.
Now, I squatted quietly on the roof of a bordello, cloak pulled around my body, bone-mask secured against my face. Below me, a man stumbled across the flagstone street like a drunkard.
The man bumped into a water barrel. He dunked his head and shook his hair like a dog, the water flashing in the light of the sweet-smelling oil lanterns outside the bordello.
Of course, courtesans didn’t actually live that life of beauty and romance. There was darkness in their world, too. Even if it was concealed by rouge and paints.
Grace again ...
Where do I even start with this manuscript? I love everything about it. There are little details that create such an incredible atmosphere for me within the first few sentences. Writers should strive to create the most atmosphere with the fewest sentences and this manuscript does that in a way that's magnificent.
We get a lot of information within the first few paragraphs, but so few of it is telling. It's beautifully interspersed with actions and memories. It's one of those excerpts where you can immediately feel the backstory and history buried behind each word, and the effect is stunning. I wonder who the character is and what her fascination with courtesans is. I want to know what the blood and beauty is and why it intersects. It does such a gorgeous job of hinting at elements that might come into play.
We get a sense of what the plot might hold later, but the later half of the excerpt leaves us with questions about the character's current situation - why a bone mask? It sounds frightful and haunting in a way that hints at glamour. The little details make an eclectic mix of a mood that is both opulent and laced with tension.
. . .
Thank you so much to everyone that entered! Grace will be in touch with the winner in the coming days.
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Brenda Drake Writes…Under the Influence of Coffee
Brenda Drake hosted Editor Brent Taylor. The winner received a $100 voucher to use towards any of his editorial services.
Random Notes from Holly Bodger
Holly Bodger hosted Editor Julie Daly. The winner received a full manuscript critique.