Red Pencil Thursday

Red Pencil Thursday

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Part of being a writer is also being able to write about yourself. My Red Pencil Thursday volunteer sent such an entertaining bio, I thought I’d lead off with that for a change.

Bio: Juliana Haygert is Wonder Woman, Cheetara, Elektra, Buffy, Phoebe, Cornelia, Mai, She-ra, Rose, a blood elf shadow priest, and other various characters from comics, TV series, movies, books and games she likes. Most of all, she is a writer. Her heroines are like the ones cited above. She also writes about the heroes who drive them crazy—and occasionally hot. At the moment, Juliana is writing and tweaking her many manuscripts, getting them ready for submission.

Gypsy Heart (may change)

Mia: And even if you don’t change the title, your publisher may. Not that this title isn’t a good one, but it’s important to realize that authors lose control over the title process once they sign a contract with a NY house. However, I like this title. The word “Heart” tells me it’s romance and “Gypsy” indicates a roving spirit. If this is true to your story, your title has done its job. A title is your first hook, your first promise to the reader of what kind of book they’re getting. We can’t bait and switch here.

Juliana:Before finishing a MS, I change the title about 3 or 4 times. I understand the title may be changed after a signed contract, and I’m okay with it.

This story has romantic elements and the MC is basically a roving spirit—for now, I believe it’s a good tittle =)

Only a crazy person would spread out a blanket in the backyard to have a picnic with her plants. Well, my mother was crazy, then, why not?

Mia: I think you’re need to substitute so for then in the last sentence. Well, my mother was crazy, so why not?

Juliana: Did I forget to mention English is my second language? I still struggle a little with grammar, that’s why I usually hire an editor to proofread my MS before any submission. Conjunctions confuse me sometimes and don’t get me started about prepositions … they are in all my nightmares!

Mia: I’m in awe of you! One of my favorite writers is Sherry Thomas–another non-native English speaker.

I crossed my arms and observed her for a few minutes. My mother rested sandwiches around the blanket, offered them to each shrub, and laughed out loud as if she had just heard a very funny joke. Then, she flipped her long black curls, untangling them from the thick gold hoops on her ears, and sang to them with her squeaky voice, her arms opened toward the warm sun.

I cringed and turned away, deciding it was time for me to pretend I didn’t see her crazy stunts—like I’d been doing for all my life.

Mia: Emotion is the strongest hook a writer can set and since you’re in first person POV, it’s a very short step into the secret life of your protagonist’s mind and heart. How does she feel? Ashamed? Resigned? Anguished? Powerless? What’s keeping her from acting instead of ignoring  her mother’s distressing behavior?

Juliana: Here I’m trying not to give away much of her relationship with her mother (which is far from easy). The next scene has another argument between them. Yes, she is ashamed of her mother’s insanity, but I’m not sure I should gush out about it just yet.

That’s when a thick cloud I hadn’t seen hovering in the sky blocked the sun and a cold wind blew on my back. I turned back and gasped. The plants around the backyard shook and recoiled, the blanket flew away and all the while, my mother remained seated over her bare feet, disregarding the imminent storm, her eyes closed and her palms pressed together in front of her chest. She was into her praying/meditating position.

Mia: Seated over her bare feet made me pause. I’m not sure what you’re trying to convey so it pulled me out of the scene. My Prime Directive of Prose is: First, be clear. Don’t make the reader wonder what you mean.

Juliana: My intention is to show her mother meditating through the storm (she is actually reading into the storm, like a powerful gypsy, but that’s something the reader will learn later) and how Mirella thinks her action is insane.

The wind came again, stronger this time, carrying the smell of flowers and rain, and I stepped toward my mother. She didn’t like to be bothered while meditating, but she could do that in our living room instead of in a heavy rain.

Mia: Love the smell of flowers and rain. You could punch it up even more by naming a specific type of flower. Specific nouns and descriptive verbs are the life’s blood of vibrant writing. That said, you might want to reconsider stepped. It seems tentative in the face of an oncoming storm.

Juliana: Alright, will add a specific flower and revise stepped.

A bolt of lightning flashed right above us and my heart leaped to my throat. My mother shot up and turned to me.

“We need to go,” she whispered, her hazel eyes wide and grave.

“What?” I asked as she came to me. “There’s a storm coming. If it’s not urgent, I’d wait till the storm is over if I were you.”

Mia: I don’t understand her reaction. Of course they need to go. Your heroine was about to shepherd her mother into the house. She ought to agree with her mother and hustle her inside.

Juliana: Perhaps I wasn’t clear. When her mother says “we need to go” for the first time, Mirella thinks it’s like “let’s go to the mall,” but she doesn’t want to go out in a storm.

She shook her head and held my shoulders. “No, Mirella. We need to go. Now.”

The meaning of her words hit me and I staggered back. “Again? I don’t want to move again!”

Mia: You’ve hit on the universal fear of the unknown, something we can all relate to. This makes it easier for us to identify with your heroine. Good job.

Juliana: Thanks =)

“We must.” She pulled me inside the house and locked the door.

Mia: Still think Mirella ought to be the one moving them into the house at this point. We want the protagonist to be the mover, the pro-active one. She’s being a tad passive here.

Juliana: I understand. I was trying to convey her shock and how she couldn’t think through it, so her mother pushed her inside. I’ll revise that.

I watched her as she opened drawers and cabinets and closets, looked for stuff, grabbed bags and boxes and threw whatever she found in them.

“Why?” I asked.

She froze and sighed, avoiding my inquisitive eyes. “Because,” she said in a small voice.

“No, no. That’s shit and I won’t buy that anymore.”

Mia: I wouldn’t buy it the first time, especially since her mother seems a little loony. What are they, in witness protection or something? Don’t let your characters engage in one word arguments. We need more info than that provides.

Juliana: Mirella doesn’t know what they are running from, but her mother does. Later, the reader will know too. The reason Mirella puts up with her mother is because she doesn’t want to leave her mother alone being as insane as Mirella thinks she is.

Mia: There’s a time to tease and a time to lay it out there for the readers. You want us to feel comfortable about stepping into Mirella’s shoes. Staying with a mother who needs her is a noble thing. Don’t be quite so coy about how she feels about it.

“Mirella! Watch your mouth!”

Mia: Heather Osborn, editor for Samhain, says every time you use an exclamation point, you kill a kitten. She might be exaggerating a bit, but you get the point. Save this for when the house is on fire or there’s blood… lots of blood.

Juliana: Yes, well, to be honest, my first drafts are filled with exclamation points. But then, when I revise and edit, I cut most out. Since I didn’t revise this one yet, there will be some extra exclamation points that won’t be kept on the second draft.

Was she really arguing about my words when she wanted me to throw away the life we’d been building for the last two years? We had moved seven times in my twenty years and I was just tired of it, especially since she avoided explaining why we always had to move.

Mia: I thought Mirella was about 15 because of her passivity. And at 20, she really doesn’t need to go with her mother unless she’s worried for her safety and sanity.

Juliana: Yes, that’s why Mirella didn’t ditch her mother yet. Because of her unreliable sanity. She can’t turn into a b*tch and abandon her mother just like that.

“I’m not a kid anymore, Mom.” And I had just sounded like one. “I don’t want to move. If you do, then you can leave.”

Her jaw dropped to the floor and her hand rested over her heart. “Please, Mirella, don’t do this.” She sat down on a kitchen chair. “We must leave.”

Mia: A jaw dropping to the floor is not only an exaggeration, it’s an overused one. See if you can think of another way to convey her surprise.

Juliana: Will do =)

“Then give me a good reason.”

“I … I can’t,” my mother whispered. She placed her hands over the table and stared out the window at the flickering coming from the clouds. “You just have to trust me, like you always have.”

Mia: Placed her hands over the table seems a little odd. Is she trying to levitate it? Is she still in a quasi-meditative state? What are you trying to convey here?

Juliana: Hmm, I have this “need” to put dialogue tags … too many of them. Perhaps that one would be one cut on a revised draft. I was trying to convey her exhaustion, her disappointment in having to argue with her daughter about this delicate subject.

Trust was a very complicated factor. She was the one who taught me, who showed me, that I should never trust anyone one hundred percent. So far, I had trusted my mother, but each day she proved more unreliable, more insane with her teas and herbs and plants and motherly sixth sense.

“It’s not that simple anymore,” I finally said.

Mia: I feel like the conversation between mother and daughter is going around in a vicious little circle, and a well-worn one at that. If this is the time Mirella is going to jump the track, she needs to do so more quickly. I definitely want to know more, but I think there are opportunities for you to tighten this section and give us more within these first 500 words. Keep writing. ;-)

Juliana: No, Mirella doesn’t jump the track. She feels bad for thinking about abandoning her insane mother and stays. Just after this part, the storm gets worse and they flee together.

Thanks for this opportunity, Mia =) Critiques are always welcomed, and one coming from you is an honor!


If you’d like to learn more about Juliana you can find her at,, and Now it’s your turn to weigh in on this excerpt. How can Juliana make this opening better?

16 thoughts on “Red Pencil Thursday

  1. Maurine H says:

    Hi, Juliana,
    I enjoyed reading your beginning. Thank you for sharing. I was a little surprised that English was your second language; I thought you had a pretty good command of it.
    I agree with what others have said, but have a few comments, too. “My mother rested sandwiches around the blanket, . . .” threw me for a moment because of the use of “rested.” I’m not sure what you mean. You might consider a different verb–placed, positioned, arranged, or another, depending on the impression of the mother you want to make.
    With a title like “Gypsy Heart” I wasn’t bothered by the long black curls and gold hoops. If she actually is a gypsy, you might want to leave it. Sometimes using stereotypes (with a few twists) help in describing our characters. If “gypsy” is a symbol of her moving all the time, you might want to play against the stereotype and make her a straight blonde or redhead and wear something different (or have a tattoo!–sorry, kittens–saying Home Sweet Home).
    “That’s when a thick cloud I hadn’t seen hovering in the sky blocked the sun and a cold wind blew on my back. I turned back and gasped.”
    IMHO, you could delete “That’s when.” Fiction is written in sequence as it happens, so if you just say what happened the reader understands that it happened then, eliminating the need for “that’s when.” You could tighten these two sentences to eliminate the “back” echo. Maybe something like: A thick cloud I hadn’t noticed before blocked the sun and a cold wind blew on my back. I gasped.
    The cold wind blowing on her back made me shiver and to me, foreshadowed unpleasant things to come.
    During their one-word exchange would be a good time to infuse a little suspense into the story. Instead of her mother just saying “Because” she could say, “Because he’ll find us.” Or “Because of the curse.” Or “Because time is running out.” Or “Because (whatever hints at the reason her mother feels the need to move again).”
    I’m curious what genre this is or was it mentioned and I missed it? Anyway, I enjoyed reading it and would read on to see why the mother always moves, what the gypsy heart is. Thank you for sharing and I wish you good luck with it.

    1. Ugh, forgot to mention the genre LOL
      It’s Urban Fantasy =)

      And thanks for your suggestions =)

  2. Jody Lebel says:

    I want to love Mirella but I just can’t. I like her crazy mom though. If mom has been crazy for as long as Mirella can remember, couldn’t she be concerned, sometimes exasperated, sometimes embarrassed but always love her anyway? A girl that doesn’t love her mother is hard for the reader to care about. Mirella doesn’t have to be an angel; she could show frustration at mom throwing a few things in bags and expecting to just move on. It takes a long time to pack and move a home. If Mirella want to take a stand and not move this time, that’s okay, but she’s got to be more tender with her mom.
    I’d like more details. What is mom wearing? Are her clothes matching, colorful, raggedy? What about their home? I know it’s just the first 500 words, but I need a better picture.
    I was told by a very successful author to NEVER use exclamation points. They are the sign of a beginner writer and editors see them right off.
    With all that said, I liked the story. I’m intrigued with mom and her inner sense. I’d keep reading if only Mirella would give her mom a hug…lol.

    1. Hey Jody,
      Well, I wasn’t trying to pass as if Mirella hates her mother, because she doesn’t. In fact, at the next scene, after an argument between them, Mirella defends her mother from another rude people. During the story, she is always defending her mother … in the end, their relationship is much better, as you may expect.
      As far as details … since they are leaving this house, I decided not to dwell too much on describing, especially since the focus isn’t in the house, and rather on what is happening to them … and, that’s only the first 500 words. There is a little more to this scene.
      Thanks for the suggestions! I’ll look into it. =)

  3. Barbara Britton says:

    Hi Juliana,
    I think you have an interesting story here. I agree with the other comments that have been made–the “back” echo and tweaking the “flee the storm” scene so the reader gets a clearer picture of what’s going on between mother and daughter.
    I have to agree with Mia, that due to Mirella’s passivity, I did not picture her as twenty, more like a teenager. When she said “shit” I was stunned as I felt she was a young girl–helpless. Amp your twenty-year-old up a bit in the opening scene.
    Also, the mom uses her hands a lot. Show us her personality in what she does, something new and fresh.
    The “trust” paragraph seemed a little telling to me. You could show the mom dinking with her herbs and teas and show Mirella’s inner turmoil at leaving again, especially since she has done it so often and now she is an adult and really doesn’t have to except for the goodness in her heart.
    Hint at what you’re holding back and it will intrigue the reader, but not confuse them.
    Good job.

    1. Thanks =)
      I already took notes of your suggestions and I’ll look into it =)

  4. I’m intrigued and want to keep reading. Um, but I do think the black curls & gold hoops is kind of cliche for a gypsy… maybe scale back a tiny bit, give her something unexpected? That said, it’s minor.
    And, if the mother ‘shot up’ with the wind & lightning storm happening, I think she should ‘say’ more than ‘whisper,’ or at least loudly whisper – weather = noise, & a whisper won’t be heard.
    But I liked it very very much! Thanks for sharing, and you’re very brave.

    1. Mia says:

      One of the things I love about RPT is the fact that everyone brings something different to the table. Your insights are spot on, Pamela!

    2. Yes, I guess the writing classes where instructor says whispering is more effective than shouting when angry stuck in my mind … but, true, through a storm, she wouldn’t be heard only whispering …
      Thanks for your input =)

  5. Serena Bell says:

    You set up a lot of good unknowns & tension and I want to read more. (I just deleted the exclamation point there, since I’m over my lifetime quota and hadn’t realized the damage I’d done to the kitty population.)

    I do think you could simplify the interchange between mother and daughter to make it clearer that the daughter wants to get them inside out of the storm and the mother wants to get them on the road. One possibility that occurred to me: What if the daughter tugs the mother towards the house at first sign of thunder/lightning, and then is shocked that mother goes so willingly, and then as soon as they get inside, mother begins throwing things into suitcase and daughter sees that her intention is to hit the road? I think pairing reactions with physical actions might help clarify what each means by “go.”

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Great suggestions, Serena.

    2. Like Mia, I like your suggestions, thanks!

      I’ll revise it and see if it works better =)

  6. Ashlyn Chase says:

    Hi there!

    First of all, I love this! (Sorry about the kitten, Mia.) I’m Mia’s critique partner and I agree with most of what she said except for a couple of things. I think you explained her feeling toward her mother well and SHOWED it instead of telling, with one word–cringed. I wouldn’t add to that.

    Next…here’s a repeated word that could be eliminated if rewritten. …wind blew on my back. I turned back and…

    My daughter would love this too. I’m sure she thinks I’m a little insane. (grin) I want to read more.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Good catch on the word echo, Ash.

    2. Hi Ashlyn =)

      Glad you like it … and thanks for finding the word echo. I had not noticed it yet. That’s why a new pair of eyes is always welcomed =)

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