Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

Team Sun Alternate 2: THE NINE – Adult Steampunk Fantasy February 5, 2014

Filed under: Blog,contest — chasingthecrazies @ 7:02 am
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Category/Genre: Adult Steampunk Fantasy

Word count: 122,000

My main character is most uncomfortable with:   

A straw bed in a warehouse loft en’t much for coziness, but Rowena’ll take its wintry nights a damn sight sooner than its summer heat.  When the cold creeps down, the coal furnaces light up, and any folk with half a head for the Creator’s science can tell you warm air rises.

It’s heat that promises trouble.  A million sweaty souls clogging the cobbled streets, full of bad temper.  Bump into some cove, even innocent-like, and you’ll earn an earful.  And if you lighten his pockets?  Well.  Takes a fool to strike a man’s tinder on a day like that.


After seven years as a black-market courier, thirteen-year-old Rowena Downshire has carried danger under her tattered coat dozens of times. But when her next burden is a book that writes itself, Rowena’s filthy hands hazard more than a constable’s cuffs.

They carry the fate of humanity.

Corma is a city of iron and steam, its sooty streets a maze Rowena runs for a smuggler who pays her in beatings as often as sovereigns.  For years, she’s struggled to settle the debt that condemned her mother to Oldtemple prison, praying against Reason for a bit of clink, and a lot of luck.

A different fortune finds Rowena when a harried scholar thrusts his research text into her hands, desperate to evade the killers pursuing its secrets.  This book records the lives of the Nine:  the true subjects of the Creator’s Grand Experiment, the unsuspecting souls whose actions will determine humanity’s deliverance or doom.  Access to such a valuable asset entangles Rowena in a ruthless nobleman’s scheme to derail divine judgment.  Now a witness to a dangerous conspiracy, her final wage may be the sharpened steel slipped in her back.

To survive, Rowena must find allies.  Cracking the courage to put herself in another’s hands proves harder than jimmying the locks of Oldtemple – yet suspicion is a luxury she can no longer afford.

Not when the noose readied for Rowena will do more than tie up a loose end.


First 250 words:

Rowena fixed the lanyani with her best glare, ignoring the stack of coin it had placed in her palm.  She knew by weight it was three sovereigns shy, difference enough in clink to earn a solid whack of Ivor’s hawthorn.  The lanyani, its wooden face as rutted as old oak, blinked at her with white, irisless eyes.

“You’re short,” Rowena said, loudly and slowly, translating to half-wit.  “The deal was sixteen.  I en’t come two miles getting chewed to bits to leave with less than what’s due.”

She hadn’t let go of the monkey-rat’s cage yet, either, though she wished the little beast would stop worrying at her hand under the shearling cover.  The lanyani leaned for the cage, willow-whip hands sweeping wide.

Rowena danced backward, away from the gypsy’s fringed tent and its reach.  She trod the foot of a costermonger behind her and ignored his curse, though she did look up at him just to be sure he wasn’t a constable.  He spat on her boot before lifting his barrow of soft, waxy apples and wheeling off to some other corner of the Shipman’s Bazaar.

Rowena turned back to the lanyani.

“Three more clink, or no little rat,” she said.  Slowly, she edged back under the tent, the little rectangular cage clutched against her chest.

The lanyani stared its reply.  The long drought of the summer and the cold air of autumn had left it brittle and slow, the curled remnants of a once-leafy pate drifting to the ground with every movement.


11 Responses to “Team Sun Alternate 2: THE NINE – Adult Steampunk Fantasy”

  1. CC Dowling Says:

    Love this, but you already know I do 😉

    I’m totally Team Nine!

    Query is sharp and 250 are very interesting, immediately submerging me into the world you’ve created.

    Knock em dead!

  2. RobL Says:

    You can put me in the ‘I love it!’ camp!

    The first 250 is stellar. Crisp, clean, but full of atmosphere. Brilliant. I don’t think I’d change that at all.

    The query’s also good, and I especially like the twist at the end. I think, as others have said, you could cut out elements of paras 3 and 4, and spend a little more time on the rest of it, which is where I think the real info about stakes and so on lies.

    Good luck. I’m sure you’re going to do well with this!

  3. I have to say, I really have no comments. I think the query is stellar — it does a fabulous job of giving the tone and feel of the manuscript through your language and your details. And your first 250 is also really great. I wish I had some feedback but really, all I can say is that I think this will be a sure thing for an agent out there!

    In terms of word count, I’d do a little research. I don’t read a lot of steampunk but I can imagine that it’s a little high. But that said, it might not be. Or maybe it can be divided into two books?

  4. Um, I freaking LOVE this. Fantastic voice, really. The only thing I’m left wanting in the query (whether you tighten it up or not) is another character. Does Rowena find a possible ally? I always feel like adding another character to the mix also adds to the stakes because it’s not just Rowena, the fate of humanity (which is big, lol), but also makes it personal for her. I’m sure she doesn’t go through the book alone. So who is she with? Also, this is labeled as Adult Steampunk, but all we get to see is 13-year-old Rowena–another reason I’d love to see who else is involved. But she’s a pretty kickass sounding heroine already. 🙂

    I thought the first 250 were fabulous. Excellent voice. I really loved it. I agree on word count, even with it being fantasy, it’s still pretty hefty.

  5. I recently finished the Cold Magic trilogy by Kate Elliott and this has a similar feel!

    I find that the first 250 stands out to me much more than the query. The first page has a voice and tough attitude that stand out, but I’m afraid the query is lacking that voice.

    I’m confused by the age thing in the query. It says she’s thirteen but the genre is adult. Does the thirteen refer to her age at the time she became a smuggler or her current age? Consider leaving that out.

    ‘Carry the fate of humanity’ is just too cliché to me to be a strong hook. More specific detail here might work better.

    I’d also like better detail on the good side of the stakes. I understand that failure means hanging but what happens if she succeeds? What does it mean to be part of the Nine?

    Consider something like this to put that attitude into the query: After seven years as a black-market courier, thirteen-year-old Rowena Downshire has carried danger under her tattered coat dozens of times. She takes no guff from human or lanyani.

    Good luck!

  6. Ooooh! I’m totally digging this! Very cool.

    Query: This is well done, but a little lengthy. Also, I needed to read it a couple of times to ‘get it’. So simplifying it, however you are able, will definitely be beneficial. And I agree with Ava in regard to letting us in on Rowena’s immediate obstacles. Love the voice showing through in this.

    Like others have mentioned, the word count might be iffy. As someone who attempted querying a pretty long ms, it can be tough. But it’s adult fantasy and kind of falls into a gray area.

    250: Oh, the voice is so wonderful! It’s unique and engaging. Total nitpick…should lanyani be capitalized? I wasn’t sure at first what she was referring to and it’s still a little confusing. I’m assuming it’s a sort of species or creature, but a little more clarification would be nice since we are entering the world you’ve created. And speaking of your world, I’m already getting a feel for it even based on this short excerpt and I definitely want to venture deeper!

    Thanks so much for sharing! Good luck! 🙂

  7. I wanted to take a moment to thank all the mentors who came BACK, after already giving so much time to Team Sun, to give their thoughts and encouragement once again. I really appreciate your time! I’m looking forward to tinkering with my query using your insights!

  8. […] Read more: Team Sun Alternate 2: The Nine – Adult Steampunk Fantasy […]

  9. Both the query and the opening captured my attention immediately. The voice and writing are striking and original, and the opening packs a lot into 250 words – dialogue, character, setting and action. It’s impressive!

    I really liked the query, but I got a little lost in the longer paragraph – it’s not clear what the conflict is or how precisely Rowena becomes involved. But this may be a personal thing, and the unique-sounding plot makes me want to read more!

    The word count’s a bit long even for an adult book, but like Ava said above, as it’s fantasy, you have more leeway.

    Best of luck with the contest! 🙂

  10. Ava Jae Says:

    Wow! I’m really impressed. I noticed right away that everything you’ve shared is chock full of wonderful voice, which is absolutely fantastic. Your excerpt is beautifully written—not only do you have conflict right off the bat, but the voice is incredibly strong and you’ve got some beautiful imagery.

    As for the word count, I think because you’re dealing with Adult Fantasy, you can probably get away with a 122k word count. However, you may want to think about bringing it closer to 100k—longer books are harder to sell for debut authors, though definitely not impossible. Keeping that in mind, I don’t think it’ll be impossible for you if you don’t do cuts, as Adult Fantasies in particular get some leeway with longer word counts.

    Now your query. I’m a little torn, because I understand Liz’s comment about there being a lot of detail about the setting, but I didn’t feel like it was too much, especially after reading your excerpt. What I really want to know, however, is what Rowena’s immediate obstacle is. You hint that she’s in danger after getting her hands on the book, but from who? Divine judgement? The ruthless noble? What is the immediate danger she faces that puts her life at risk right away? Right now you hint at it with the noose and sharpened steel bit, but I’m not 100% sure who exactly is after her. I suspect it’s the ruthless noble, but right now it’s just a tad bit nebulous.

    Otherwise, I think everything here is excellent. I absolutely adore the dialogue, and the voice, and your details are beautiful, and the story itself sounds really exciting. I wish you all the best!

  11. Liz Fichera Says:

    Whoa. This one sounds dark and creepy. I’m intrigued to learn about this little girl!

    First, the query. I think it started off well (the first three lines promises an interesting hook). But then after that, it read more like a synopsis. Too much detail about the setting. Focus on the hook and the stakes. For example, I’d get rid of the third and fourth paragraphs and work on fine-tuning and tightening the rest to really showcase your manuscript.

    The excerpt shows beautiful writing. It’s very visual in terms of setting and I like how it opens with action.

    Lastly, word count: 122k? You might want to really think about getting that below 100K.

    Thanks for sharing your writing with us! Best of luck to you!

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