1. It makes you smarter and keeps your brain healthy.
Neurogenesis (growing new brain cells) can be stimulated by reading. More importantly, while activities like running and sex can also make new brain cells, using those new brain cells is necessary to keep them alive—it’s a case of use it or lose it, which running and sex can’t do. So, if you want to stay mentally flexible and healthy, learning, novel experiences, and reading are vital, long term. Reading also improves your memory!
2. It makes you more empathetic.
Studies have shown that people who read more fiction are more empathic towards others. This is probably because fiction allows us to ‘get into the head’ of other people more easily and see things from their perspective. We also, hopefully, read stories from the perspectives of people with different ethnicities, genders, and ages to us. So, we learn to think of everyone around us as having the same depth of thought, feeling and destiny as we do.
3. It reduces stress.
Reading for just six minutes can be enough to significantly reduce stress levels in the body. Studies suggest it works better than listening to music, drinking tea or even going for a walk. This is probably because it forces your mind to be occupied with something other than stressful thoughts. Less stress can lower your blood pressure, reduce weight gain, lower your risk of cancer, help you sleep better and improve your relationships with others.
4. It broadens your horizons and interests.
Reading exposes you to places, hobbies and ideas you never would have experienced otherwise. A good book may encourage you to go on a holiday, take up a new hobby or meet new people. It also allows you to learn about events and aspects of society you are unable to experience first-hand. What it is like to fight in a war, lose a child, be transsexual or a person of colour. You might be inspired to take up dancing or archery or even the best hobby of all: writing.
5. Its great fun!
Let’s face it, reading is fun. And ‘fun’ is an excellent reason to do things. You deserve to be happy and entertained and I personally believe reading is the best form of entertainment there is. Go forth, read more!
Born in 1985, Zaide is a shy Australian writer who spends an unhealthy amount of time reading thrillers and watching horror movies. She also loves cats and aquariums, and lives in a house dominated by both.
When she isn’t writing, Zaide is studying a Bachelor of Psychology—with a particular interest in the sociological effects of the internet on interpersonal communications, learning and information processing. Zaide’s other interests include cooking, rock climbing, gardening, web design, photography and video gaming. You can visit her website at www.zaidebishop.com
Meant to be a sneak peek into a Carina editor’s brain, and critiqued by a different editor each month, we’re going to post these first-page critiques monthly as long as authors are willing to let us use their work and people remain interested.
The idea here is to give you a quick insight into how we might look at a manuscript as it comes across our desks on submission. We’ll strive to be critical but not mean. Because it’s only one page, the amount of feedback is necessarily limited—we don’t have access to more than one page!
It’s important to note that this manuscript was submitted specifically for the purpose of first-page critique on the blog, we do not/will not use random submissions so no worries we’re going to pull your piece out of slush and critique it.
The next opportunity to submit a piece for critique will be later this summer, so please watch the blog or our newsletter for more.
This month’s editor providing critique is Carina Press Senior Editor Kerri Buckley.
The First Page
Author A described this manuscript as “a romance novel between a witch and a witch hunter. They are unaware of each other role [sic] until a pivotal moment, where they must examine their own values and determine if love does conquer all.”
1705: A small village outside of Salem…
Mary Billington clung to the shadows of the trees as the sun slowly awoke, warming the cool air in the forest and every creature in it. She stopped for a moment as she caught a sun ray through the branches. It was magical to feel such warmth, yet see her breath flowing like a mythical creature out of her body and into the air. Fall was her favourite time of year, the cold mixed with bursts of warmth covering her like a soft wool blanket. She knew mustn’t indulge in the morning’s pleasures while her dear sister lay sickly, however she could not resist the woods and its charms.
This was the only time of the day where Mary could do her work safely. She clutched her red wool cloak close to her body, partly to cover the soot on her dress, and partly to keep the cold air at bay. The color made her feel different; it was a bold choice that she dare not wear in public and kept hidden for her secret trips into the woods. Many considered red to be the devil’s color but for Mary it represented life.
With mornings like this, she could run off and be on her own and not think about the responsibilities that lay waiting for her when she returned. The sun on her face made her breathe deeper and these breaths made her feel more alive. The woods would always hold her secrets – there was no need to hide her lust for herbs and leaves and her love of healing people. She would pick suitable herbs and place whatever she could find into the secret pocket sewn carefully in the hem of her petticoat.
Carefully observing all the wilderness had to offer, the brightness of a rose bush in full bloom quickly caught her eye. Had she not had her guard down she may have wondered why these roses were in bloom in the fall; instead she wasted no time as she carefully plucked each petal off, and then rolled them up in a lettuce leaf. She was long overdue for a fresh batch of Rose water.
* * *
I don’t think the author did this project justice when positioning it. “A witch and a witch hunter” doesn’t clearly indicate that we’re going to be reading in the historical realm (there are tons of contemporary witches running amok in my inbox these days) and the awkward grammar error in place did not give me warm fuzzies going into this. Plus, the conflict as described is pretty bland—“they must examine their own values” doesn’t sound like we’re in for an exciting, high-stakes story.
All that said, this is a first page critique, not a pitch critique. And I was very pleasantly surprised by this first page! The writing is lush but accessible, with Author A’s word choices and sentence structure immediately letting me know she’s operating in the historical genre…even if there hadn’t been a date stamp, lol.
In the first paragraph, I’d recommend Author A backtrack and edit for overuse of metaphor and simile. A little is fantastic but too much is too much, and the combination of the sun awakening, Mary’s breath flowing like a mythical creature, and warmth covering her like a soft wool blanket in such a condensed block of text adds up to overwriting. Author A also seems to go on and on about the temperature/season when a well-placed line (or two—I’ll give you two, Author A) would certainly do. I’d also like to see if the bit about her sick sister could be bumped down, perhaps to paragraph three, so that it’s not interrupting our lovely, atmospheric introduction.
I’d also like Author A to turn an eye toward avoiding repetition. It’s not conceptual, here, but rather individual words. See “creature” 2x in paragraph one, and “lay” is used to describe both her sick sister (graph one) and the responsibilities waiting for her (graph three). Small fixes like this can make a big difference throughout a novel but especially in the very first pages, when you’re trying to entice your reader to continue.
I have very few comments on paragraph two. Right off the bat, we’re being shown how Mary must hide her trade/abilities, rather than told, and that makes all the difference. And Author A has done a very solid job of letting us know just what kind of woman Mary is via the description of how she feels about that red cloak. Well done.
Paragraph three builds on what we already know, which is perfect. Her work involves herbs and healing people! Got it. And the sense of urgency around hiding the spoils of her hunt is further emphasized with the mention of a mysterious petticoat pocket. I like it!
I did stumble a bit with paragraph four, mainly because Author A chose to insert a bit of speculation into the voice: “Had she not had her guard down…” Beyond the fact that I don’t understand why her guard is down (or how that would impact noticing/not noticing something like roses blooming out of season), I find this narrative shift distracting. It’s pretty clear to me that we’re being set up for something later, that those rose petals are going to spell t-r-o-u-b-l-e in some way. But I’d encourage the author to play with different ways of doing this, to find one that doesn’t interrupt the story’s flow quite so abruptly.
Would I keep reading? Yes.
Do you have questions about my feedback or the First-Page Critique program? Your turn to add constructive feedback for the author in the comments section! Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Authors entering their work for critique can choose to have the blog post comments open or closed. Comments are open, so please utilize them to ask questions or to offer your own critique, but please remember to offer useful criticism. Comments will be moderated and deleted if not deemed to be useful or appropriate.
I have always loved dragons. They’re beautiful, mysterious, wondrous creatures. And there are so many different kinds, from European to Asian, and lots of different ones within those subsets. They breathe fire, they can fly, they’ve got scales. What’s not to love?
Add in shifting and mating and male/male romance, and suddenly they go from awesome to incendiary!
Top Five Things Best Things About Writing Dragon Shifters
5. They’re tough so anything goes. As a writer of BDSM, I love being able to let dragon shifters play hard without many of the physical repercussions a human lover would have, especially as the human soulmates in the Dragon Soul series become stronger so they can take more.
4. They fly! What a wonderful thing for them, and an even better thing for their lovers. I love writing a first time flying together scene almost as much as a first time making love scene.
3. Dragons, on the whole, are long-lived, so they can be rich, they can already have a ton of life experience, they can be loners and growly, as that fits a long-lived dragon like personality, and I love being able to write grumbly, growly dudes. Especially if they’re demons or dragons and the like. They’re not human, so you can let loose on their personalities.
2. You can make up your own rules because they are mythical creatures. Not only can you play fast and loose with the dragon mythos, but these are shifters so there are no rules set in stone.
1. They’re beautiful creatures – both as dragons and in their human forms.
Seduced by the Tide was even more fun to write than Branded by Flames, the first in the series. I hope you enjoy it!
Best-selling author Sean Michael is a maple leaf–loving Canadian who spends hours hiding out in used book stores. With far more ideas than time, Sean keeps several documents open at all times. From romance to fantasy, paranormal and sci-fi, Sean is limited only by the need for sleep—and the periodic Beaver Tail.
Sean fantasizes about one day retiring on a secluded island populated entirely by horseshoe crabs after inventing a brain-to-computer dictation system. Until then, Sean will continue to write the old-fashioned way.
Starlets just get it all, don’t they? Free designer clothes, holidays in exotic locations and the hottest, toughest men offering their protection and laser-sharp focus. Not that I’m jealous or anything!
All right I’m well jell. That’s probably why I had to write a bodyguard hero in Princess Brat. Adrienne’s not a starlet, but thanks to some poorly chosen words she’s got herself into a real mess. Enter Dieter, war veteran, bodyguard and – unbeknownst to our bratty heroine – super-strict daddy dom. (Oh no, Adrienne, someone’s bottom is about to get sooooo pink!)
In celebration of bodyguards everywhere, here’s my list of the hottest real-life bodyguards around. I feel safer already.
Kristen Stewart’s bodyguard
The clipped beard. The lean body. The professional but super-sweet attentiveness. *swoon* No wonder he has his own Facebook following.
Jennifer Lawrence’s bodyguard
Carrying a tiny dog only makes him look EVEN MORE MANLY and about 1000x more adorable!
Kylie Jenner’s bodyguard
Hot dayum, walking around with him would make me feel safe. So very, very safe. No wonder Miss Jenner looks pleased.
Julia Gillard’s bodyguard
If you’re not Australian you probably have no idea who Julia Gillard is, so let me explain – she’s Australia’s former prime minister, and one glorious day she was rushed (safely) from an event in the arms of this determined personal security officer. Hearts (and knickers) all over the nation melted.
Holly Valance’s bodyguard
All right so I’m cheating! Liam Neeson isn’t really available for hire (wails!) But Valance was essentially playing herself in Taken, so a girl can dream. I love Bryan Mills. His gravelly “I will find you and I will kill you” speech is my happy place.
Have I got you primed and ready for some more hot bodyguard action in your life? I hope so! Princess Brat is available now.
Brianna Hale couldn’t live without her notebook and an assortment of glitter pens, and when she’s not writing she can usually be found with a book, fighting video game monsters and aliens or attending the theatre. She believes that pink and empowerment aren’t mutually exclusive, and everyday adventures are possible. Brianna lives in London and you can find her online on Twitter and Instagram.
Michelle Dayton, Emma Sinclair, and Ainslie Paton, Authors of Caught in the Act: A Jewel Heist Anthology talk about illegal acts and other shenanigans authors get up to
1) Have you ever done anything illegal?
Michelle: Me? Do something illegal? Never. (wink, wink)
Emma: Absolutely not. I’m a good girl. ;)
Ainslie: Oh, so I’m the bad girl. I once took a metal shank into a prison. Not on purpose. I was visiting a friend and it was holding my hair up and even though I walked through the metal detector and was visually inspected going in, no one picked it up. My incarcerated friend did and was panicked. Quickest visit ever. Also, tailgating at boom gates to avoid paying, but who doesn’t do that.
2) If there were no consequences what devious act would you commit and why?
Michelle: Like Jess, my heroine in Strange Tango, I’m a bit of an IT geek. If there were no consequences, I’d hack into everything I could think of and get my hands on all sorts of confidential information. Never know when it would come in handy.
Emma: If I could have one super power, I’d want to be invisible, so I think I’d want to be a spy of some kind. I want to know secrets. Maybe plant cameras around so I could satisfy my voyeur fantasies (not those kind of fantasies, I’m just nosy).
Ainslie: Who wrote these questions? I’m feeling devious towards them. I would never pay for parking. And I’d move money that wasn’t mine around so people who had too much shared with people who didn’t.
3) What naughty thing have you been caught in the act of?
Michelle: I often write on my lunch hour at the office. One day my boss popped in for a quick debrief. He looked at my screen before I could close my document. Let’s just say I wasn’t writing a PG scene at that moment. His eyes almost popped out of his head.
Emma: I’m too good to get caught.
Ainslie: I lie to my mother. All the time. And then I tell other people all about it in a blog. (http://ainsliepaton.com.au/the-mum-missives/)
4) What’s your favorite punishment to dish out and to whom?
Michelle: Ooh, the silent treatment. It’s diabolical – and I can do it for days. To whom? Co-workers, my poor husband … really anyone who pisses me off.
Emma: I’m a fan of the long con. Making people think that everything is fine, until the perfect moment for revenge. I’m patient. As for whom, well, I have an ex…
Ainslie: Do ugly stuff unto me and all your worst traits and deeds end up in a book. Lots of old bosses have shown up as antagonists.
5) What inspired you to write a jewel heist story?
Michelle: I just love sexy capers like The Thomas Crowne Affair or Moonlighting or Suzanne Enoch’s Samantha Jellicoe series … I figured, why not try writing my own?
Emma: I like the idea of making the “bad guy” lovable. People can do bad things without being bad people. And they still need love (and hot sex).
Ainslie: I’d just completed a series called Sidelined, angsty love affairs set in a Silicon Valley startup, and I was in the mood to write a story that was shorter, lighter and pure fun. I also wanted to explore writing a heroine who I think is kick-ass, but readers might find unlikeable. We’ll see.
6) What illegal act are the characters in your story doing?
Michelle: Adam is a professional jewel thief and his goal is to steal $25 million in diamonds from a smuggler. Jess is trying to reclaim her life and reputation and is willing to break the law with her laptop.
Emma: Is it really considered stealing if the diamond technically should belong to you?
Ainslie: They cheat, steal, use multiple identities, impersonate, money launder, move stolen goods and fail to co-operate with authorities and that’s before breakfast.
7) Are your characters ‘bad hombres’ or simply misunderstood?
Michelle: Ha! Misunderstood, definitely. Adam is definitely a professional thief, but he has his own brand of integrity, he’s intensely loyal, and he only steals from assholes. Before the story begins, Jess is the quintessential “good girl”, but working with Adam teaches her respect for the gray areas of life.
Emma: Neither, really, but the characters in Rough Edges are closer to misunderstood than actually being a bad.
Ainslie: Cleve and Aria—bad to their hombre bones. But in a good (so long as your morals are flexible) way.
8) In one sentence tell us why we should read your story?
Michelle: Strange Tango is for you if you like diamonds, witty repartee, and hot sex? (If you say no, I won’t believe you.)
Emma: Diamonds and hot sex? Why wouldn’t you read Rough Edges?
Ainslie: Hoodwinked Hearts is a tortured reunion of two long lost and wronged lovers with a side of glamour, suspense, danger, incarceration, and skullduggery. Also, the heroine is a punk.
9) What are you working on next?
Michelle: Jess and Adam’s story will continue, yay! I’m working on two sequel novellas to Strange Tango. I’m also wrapping up a fun, super-sexy contemporary romance that begins with a one-night stand.
Emma: I’m a sucker for fairy tales, so every time I’m between projects, or don’t really know what to write next, I go back to putting a new spin on some of my favorite fairy tales.
Ainslie: I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Oh, all right. Working on book two of Love Trials. Book 1, The Love Experiment comes out with Carina in October. It’s about two newspaper reporters thrown together to do a love experiment for a story.
Get this sexy anthology here and read it now!