Monday, February 10, 2014

Critique Workshop #2: CLANDESTINE CHAOS

Category/Genre: NA Science Fiction/Fantasy
Word count: 77,000


Pre-med student Kadence Murphy’s sole mission in life: get out of college and into scrubs. Struggling with a hormone-surged roomie, a two-timing almost boyfriend, and financial aid problems, the only thing keeping her from shivving someone is her part-time job in the campus library. She discovers a cryptic book that opens a portal as it entwines the storyline with her reality.

Kadence drops into Captain Jeremiah Colt’s lap, interrupting his latest effort to redeem his floundering business. Now stuck on a dysfunctional transport-ship, Kadence learns she’s in an alternate version of 2013 where Earth collapsed as a result of a global meltdown from Y2K. The survivors took to the skies in an attempt to colonize and sustain human-life on other planets.

Colt itches to dump her aggravating hide on the first planet they come to. Kadence can’t last five minutes in his presence without the driving need to stab him with a spoon. A fierce attraction lies beneath their bickering, making Kadence rethink her quest to get home. But a mutinous crew member has other plans, none of which include Kadence, and he isn’t above murder to get rid of her.

CLANDESTINE CHAOS is a New Adult Space Opera that will appeal to fans of Firefly, Outlander and Somewhere in Time.
First 250 words:

Nothing made Kadence hulk-out faster than someone pulling her from a good book. A stack of periodicals dropped on the counter in front of her. The resounding thud echoed through the hollows between the checkered tile floor and vaulted wooden-beam ceiling.

She slammed her book shut, forcing a smile as she bit her tongue and clenched a fist behind the counter. Channeling imaginary powers, she shot lasers at Seth through narrowed eyes that reduced him to his skivvies. If only.

“Kadence, rockin’ the sexy librarian look again.” He leaned on the counter. Sandy-blond hair swept across his face as he inched his way into her personal space.

Holding back the urge to high-five him in the face, she blew out a hard breath. “Seth, why must you irritate me so?”

“One day I’ll break down your walls. You coming to the study session tonight? I hear Campbell’s finals are killer.”

Shelly would be in the dorm humping Felix like a rabbit, and Kadence held no desire to use her roommate as a case study in anatomy. “Yeah, I’ll be there.” She scanned the last of the items and pushed the stack of medical journals towards him.

“Awesome, see you tonight.” He winked, slinging his backpack over his shoulder as he walked off.

She reached for her book with grabby hands, but found only a bare counter. “Shit,” she said, louder than intended, as the library occupants frowned in her general direction. She clasped a hand over her lips and took off after him.


  1. Interesting premise - I love portal stories, especially when the portal is a book. That said, I have read (as I am sure you have too) that the market is filled with portal stories these days, so the bar is set pretty high. That said, I think you can do it!!
    Here are my suggestions:

    Interesting details but too much synopsis! The key elements to grab us with are the hook - her book portal to another world which is an alt version of our own, and the stakes - what will happen if she can't get back to her own world?
    I think we need to know a little snippet about why the crew is mutinous, why Colt is murderous, and whether a mutual attraction enough to keep Kadence from wanting to go home. What does she actually want?
    Also I am not sure a word like "shivving" translates. I know it's part of Kadence's voice (which you illustrate well) but I would consider finding another word for the query.
    First 250:
    Again, I really enjoyed Kadence's voice, but I think some of it may be overkill. The first two paragraphs are wordy - I think you're better served getting to the tension between her and Sean faster.
    When he asks her if she'll be at study session, I'd have her answer right away - then you can tell us why she doesn't want to be in her room. I would cut "grabby hands" - again, just a thought about making your writing leaner and tighter.
    I hope I get to see this in print one day - good luck!

  2. Great premise. I thought your query had great character and conflict. Kadence's voice comes through, especially when she wants to stab him with a spoon. It matches the high-five in the face she contemplates in the first page. In the query, the last sentence of the first paragraph read a bit awkward to me. Also, I got a bit confused when you introduced Shelly and Felix in the middle of the dialogue with Seth. Maybe trim the comment down and don't name the roommate until later.

    Good luck!

  3. I love the idea of what if Y2K had happened. In the query when you describe Kadence falling into Colt's lap, I'm not sure that descriptive term quite works for me. I imagined her literally falling into his lap and if that is the way it happens in the story then that is terrific. If not I'd be really looking forward to that scene and if I missed out on it, I'd be sad. Also maybe a little less about the relationship and more about the guy who wants to murder her.
    Good luck!

  4. You have great voice, but like Heather, portal stories are everywhere (heck, I even have a couple on my hard drive!), and that makes them really hard to get out into the world. One way that I've seen portal stories work well in literature is that the choices of the MC really need to dictate the story. So you can bring that out in the query, and show us how this is different from other portal stories. Good luck!

  5. This seems in pretty good shape to me. I would mention in the query I don’t get a good sense of Kadence’s motivation after she lands in the alternate universe. It may only be a desire to get home, but it should be there some place. Or perhaps she also desires to close this portal because our reality is so much better? Then the first sentence of the 3rd paragraph in the query seems to be in the wrong POV. Try to keep it with Kadence with something like: Her host itches to dump Kadence on the first planet they come to. You've got good voice here, but don't fear to make it stronger by carrying some of her crabbiness from the 250 into the query.

    In the first 250 I would just suggest changing ‘him’ to ‘Seth’ in the last sentence.

  6. LOVE the voice here! Awesome!!!

    I feel like the transition to cryptic book and mystic portal in the first paragraph of the query is a little abrupt. Maybe you could move that down to the beginning of the second paragraph, or else start with "But then" or some other phrase to help make the transition?

    You seem really fond of hyphens -- I think you can replace many of them with a space (transport ship, human life, Hulk out, etc). If that's a trend in your book, you might want to do a search on hyphens and make the judgment call on which ones to get rid of.

    You could probably tighten the query a bit, too... I think we don't need all the world details, when the query is generally more character and voice driven -- just a hint at it is fine, especially if you can keep it in voice. The more you can let your fiesty, funny voice come through in the query, the better!

    Good luck! This looks like a really fun book!

  7. Query:

    The last sentence of the first paragraph feels very out of place. I had to stop and think for a second because of the sudden change in topic. I recommend coming up with a transition into this very important part of the query.

    This: “Now stuck on a dysfunctional transport-ship, Kadence learns she’s in an alternate version of 2013 where Earth collapsed as a result of a global meltdown from Y2K. The survivors took to the skies in an attempt to colonize and sustain human-life on other planets.” – I love love love this premise! This sounds fantastic! I really did not expect something like that after reading about Kadence’s college life.

    Last sentence: Did you seriously just say that this will appeal to fans of Firefly AND Somewhere in Time? I’m bowing down to you for finding a way to mix them. Kudos all around.

    First 250:

    Great first sentence! I would imagine that most readers will be able to relate to it :-P.

    This is an adorable beginning. I love the humor and tone. I already feel connected to Kadence from this excerpt and I can’t wait to find out what happens next! I would definitely keep reading. You’ve quickly jumped to my metaphorical shortlist.

    Best of luck!


  8. Remove all sharp objects! : ) I enjoyed the voice in this pieces and the way you have translated it to the query. The MC is edgy and has angst, making the voice sing. You might not need as much of it, but I'd have to read more of the piece to see how it's paced throughout. That frustration/attraction thing is appealing, and lends itself nicely to the character the voice sets up. This piece gives you a strong sense of the MC.

    I wanted to know more about the mutiny and the alternate world. Why does someone want her dead?

    I agree with the naming of the other characters in the first 250. I was a bit throw by them. I also agree about removing the "grabby hands." It didn't seem to match the nature of the edgy MC.

    Good luck,
    Shawn (DARKENWEAR)

  9. This sounds awesome!! I'm not a big fan of Sci Fi, but I would totally read this. The query drew me in and the first 250 shows Kadence's voice wonderfully! The imagery is great and I feel like I understand her just from those first words. I would like to know a little more of what motivates Kadence while she's in this alternate future in the query. I don't think there's much else to say though...this is great!

    Good luck!

    Charyse (GRAVEL GHOST)