Red Pencil Thursday
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And now to our volunteer’s all important first 500 words:
Quantum Investigation Division
Mia: Ok, you’ve intrigued me. You’re using an alphabet soup designation reminiscent of CSI, NCIS, etc, but with a twist. When constructing a title, it’s good to use something that seems a little familiar. It sets a tone and is your first hook.
CJ Ragsdale: Thank you! I was thinking something along the lines of the X-Files, so I thought the Q made a good starting letter.
“Who’s he?” Gillian Cooper gazed through the one-way glass observation window at the guy in jeans and a solid gray t-shirt sagging in a chair. He needs a haircut, she thought, staring at a medium-length strand of dark hair that fell over his eye.
Mia: Generally speaking we don’t need to say our characters gazed. If we’re in their POV, just describe what they see and readers will follow. How about:
“Who’s he?” Gillian Cooper asked. The guy in jeans and a solid gray t-shirt on the other side of the one-way glass sagged in a chair. He needs a haircut, she thought, as a medium-length strand of dark hair fell over his eye.
CJ: I’m really glad you told me that. It’s something I’ve never heard before. Guess that’s why it’s good to have an editor.
Jarod Spektor clenched his jaw in his best “official” look. At six-foot-three, the older man towered over her, but she did not fear him one bit. “That’s Dillon Cayce,” he said. “He’s the best psychic in the country.”
Mia: Ok, you’ve introduced 3 characters in 2 paragraphs and we know quite a bit about them. Brava!
CJ: Once again, thanks!
“Psychic?” She lowered an eyebrow at Spektor. “Since when does the FBI employ psychics?”
“We don’t. He’s been contracted by the Secret Service.” Now both her eyebrows shot up. “The CIA found him. They’re experts at this kind of thing. They ran every test you can imagine—Zener cards, remote viewing, ESP tests. You name it, he passed it with flying colors. Blew his competition out of the water.”
Mia: A little too much eyebrow wiggling for me. It sort of pulled me out of the narrative, but let’s see what the rest of the RPT gang thinks.
CJ: Yeah, I have a tendency to write what I see in my mind as far as facial expressions. I’m not sure how to break myself of that. I’ve been trying to write more metaphorically instead of literally.
“I’m getting to it, Cooper. The president requested we find someone like him. He’s got a . . . problem–in the White House, and we needed to use unorthodox means to solve it.”
Mia: Psychics and politics. You’re sucking me in. However, a quick word about your character’s names. You have Cooper and Cayce—both beginning with a hard “C”. Tolkien got away with Eomer and Eowyn, but I try very hard not to have two main characters whose names both start with the same sound. It’s less confusing for readers.
CJ: Okay, I will consider that.
Cooper waited, and then said, “Well? Spill it.”
Spektor sighed. “It’s a ghost. The President thinks he’s being haunted.”
Mia: I love it! There are 3 ghosts in Plaid Tidings, my most recent release. Characters who are corporeally challenged are great fun.
CJ: I will have to check that out. My style is realistic paranormal, which is why I tried to incorporate quantum physics.
“Ha!” Cooper covered her mouth. She had not meant to scoff so loudly–it was not professional to laugh at the Commander in Chief.
Mia: You need hyphens in Commander-in-Chief.
“Don’t be so quick to dismiss,” Spektor said, rolling his eyes toward her. “Ghosts have been reported in the White House many, many times in the past—-by reputable people such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, going all the way back to Abraham Lincoln’s wife, who claimed she saw the ghost of Andrew Jackson.”
Mia: Only one “many” please. Repetition of a word usually dilutes its effectiveness.
CJ: Sounds about right.
“So, what—-the president gets a little spooked at some noises in the middle of the night and we have to investigate it? This is how they spend our taxes?”
“It’s not just the president. The first lady also reported seeing Abraham Lincoln standing in the Blue Room as clear as day. And they both said they felt like they were being electrocuted at times-—it’s causing some real psychological stress.” Spektor put his hands on his hips. “At the very least, we have to convince the big guy that everything is okay-—we need him focused on running the country.”
Mia: So the ghost is Abe Lincoln? That’s an interesting choice for a poltergeist, but there’s no connection between him and electrocution. Should there be a relationship between the ghost and the phenomenon POTUS & FLOTUS are experiencing? And wouldn’t Spektor call the president POTUS instead of “the big guy?”
CJ: I do establish a link between them later. And I’m not sure, that sounds about right, but as I have never worked in such a position, I was guessing that someone so close to the president would have a more cozy term of endearment. There’s a lot in my story that would be better if I could interview a secret service agent first-hand.
Mia: The Secret Service has a code name for each person they protect, but your characters aren’t Secret Service. POTUS stands for President of the Unites States and is commonly used by government types. Likewise FLOTUS (First Lady…) NO ONE get cozy with the president, even if they’ve known him/her forever. It’s part of respecting the office.
Cooper folded her arms. “So why am I here?”
“We need you to make sure this guy is not a con man. Ever hear of Jeanne Dixon?”
Mia: You have a logic problem here. Spektor has already named Cayce the best psychic in the country. You need to qualify his previous pronouncement if he doesn’t believe Cayce is legit.
CJ: Okay, this is what I was trying to explain in the following paragraphs. The psychics who worked with Reagan were supposedly really good, but there was speculation that they used their powers in corrupt ways to influence the president and his wife, even influencing Reagan’s policy choices. That’s the kind of corruption the secret service would be trying to prevent here.
“Wasn’t she a famous psychic?”
“Yeah–she advised many famous people, including several presidents. Don’t get me wrong—she was probably the real deal. Even predicted the assassination of J.F.K. years before he became president.”
Cooper felt the corner of her mouth involuntarily curl into a smirk. Spektor continued. “But she became a problem when she made way too many important decisions for high level players. Had the Reagans wrapped around her little finger, until they started using a different woman—-an astrologer named Joan Quigley.”
Mia: All this is great research about the role psychics have played in past administrations, but it’s starting to sound like an info-dump. Is there a way for you to salt all this in later on? I’m anxious for the story to move forward. I’d like Cooper on the other side of the glass confronting Cayce directly, not getting a mini-lecture from her boss.
CJ: I got the same impression. So I did try to break it up a little more here (after I submitted it to you), but I probably still need to chip at it a little more even now.
Mia: This story has a great premise and I’d love to see where you take it. Good luck!
CJ: Thanks! Hopefully I will find a publisher soon (after making the fabulous revisions you suggested, of course), and then you will be able to find out where it goes. Thank you for taking the time to review it.
Mia: You mentioned in your email a projected word count of 12,000. This makes QuID a short story, not a novella. Generally, publishers are looking for at least 25K for a novella, 80-90K for a novel. Mysteries are sometimes in the 60K range. I’d encourage you to expand this to at least novella length. I’m not sure what the market is like for shorter works.
C.J. Ragsdale is a behavior analyst with training in behavior science and behavior management. Previously an attorney, she also has a bachelor’s degree in environmental chemistry. She brings her prior experiences into her works, which consist of a middle-grade science fiction novel and a series of short stories in the genre of paranormal with a touch of romance, both unpublished as yet. Find CJ at http://cjragsdale.blogspot.
Red Pencil Thursday really only works when YOU share your thoughts too. Now’s your chance to help out CJ with comments, suggestions and encouragement. I hope you’ll take a minute to weigh in with your opinions. We value them!
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