Authors are told on a regular basis to get feedback from beta readers, and that is usually a vital step in the process of editing your manuscript. A problem arises when those beta readers are not competent enough to critique a manuscript (or unwilling to say what they think). In this case, positive feedback from beta readers is actually a negative, leading the author to think they’ve got a good manuscript when there might actually be fundamental problems they need to address. This author is getting constant rejection from agents, despite having glowing feedback from beta readers, and he’s wondering what’s wrong.
Title: The Power of Dusk
Genre: New Adult – Suspense
Language: US English
Synopsis: Morgan strives to escape life with his alcoholic father. New friends AVA and JONATHAN provide affection and guidance. As their bond deepens, he learns the siblings have a dark secret. When a threat becomes too great, Morgan must conquer his fears and alter his plans for the future to survive.
Morgan bit his lip to taste the blood. It hurt like hell but calmed him.
The jolt of pain shattered his concentration, dissolving the haze of random thoughts about God and life. He touched his lip and admired the blood’s dark red color. Then he sucked his fingertip clean and sat on the bed.
He ate stale cereal straight out of the nearly empty box. Not because he liked the brittle, tasteless cereal without milk. Not because he was eccentric or lactose intolerant. He ate it because there wasn’t any milk in the refrigerator. Until the start of his senior year of high school, he wouldn’t have milk to drink daily.
So, on a warm June morning, Morgan realized he needed to earn money to feed himself.
The lack of food was his father’s fault. Detached, irresponsible, and neglectful, Frederick Fischer wasted money and time at the local bar every night of the week.
Morgan tossed the empty cereal box on the bed. A red and swollen mosquito bite on his left shoulder begged for attention. The itch was unbearable. He pressed the edge of a fingernail into his skin. Marking the bump with an X provided temporary relief.
Fighting mosquitoes was a frequent burden. Without air conditioning, the windows in the stuffy house were constantly open. The scrap of paper taped over a hole in the worn window screen hung by one corner. While Morgan reattached the tape, a muddy, white pickup pulled into the driveway. The dented truck squealed to a stop, and the driver honked the horn three times.
Morgan darted to his father’s bedroom. The stench of alcohol and body odor assaulted his nostrils. Dirty clothes, Playboy magazines, and beer bottles littered the floor.
Frederick was asleep, having stumbled through the front door and passing out as soon as he climbed into bed. The late return home was as routine as Morgan waking his father in the morning. Frederick relied on the ritual. Morgan resented the responsibility.
“Dad,” he shouted. Physical movement or a verbal response didn’t occur. Morgan imagined the undertaking was like trying to resurrect a corpse. He questioned the miracle it would take to resurrect the attentive and loving man his father used to be.
The horn of the truck disrupted the silence.
Agitated, Morgan kicked his foot against the mattress. “Dad. It’s time to wake up. You gotta go to work, or they’ll fire you.”
The urge to yell, “Wake up, you drunk son of a bitch” was tempting. But he resisted. He expressed irritation with increased volume. “It’s time to go to work.”
“Damn it,” his father grunted. “I heard you.”
“Okay, I’m gonna tell them you’re on your way.” He hesitated in the doorway.
“All right.” Frederick squinted bloodshot eyes at his son. “See. I’m up.”
As usual, the driver was irritated to see Morgan, not Frederick, walk out of the house. “You’re out here in your underwear?”
“Boxers. They’re practically shorts.” Morgan eyed the obnoxious driver with disdain and pressed a fingernail into a spot on his arm.
A male passenger chuckled. The driver jabbed the horn out of frustration. “Damn it, boy. Go tell your father to get his ass out here. We gotta get to work.”
Morgan walked inside to the bathroom. The sound of running water was a good sign. “They said to hurry.”
Back in his room, he listened for Frederick’s footsteps and the slam of the front door. Once the pickup sped away, he searched for clean clothes. After dressing in jeans and a white tank top, Morgan walked to the kitchen. While he ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, he boiled water for instant coffee.
While removing peanut butter from the roof of his mouth with his tongue, he noticed the time. Ten after eight o’clock. He dashed to the bathroom and splashed water on his face. As he brushed his teeth, he stared at the blue eyes that reminded him of his mother. He spat the toothpaste at the cracked mirror. “Fuck you, Colby, Pennsylvania.” Then he rinsed his mouth, turned off the gas stove and raced out the front door.
Colby, Pennsylvania was an unexceptional small town on the southern border of the Lackawanna River Valley. The Pocono Mountains overlooked tall, brick, steeple churches and gingerbread-style Victorian houses. Colby had been an industrial township of steel and lumber production. The iron ore dwindled several years into the twentieth century. Businesses and much of the population moved elsewhere. Still, the ghosts of prosperity remained in the form of abandoned factories and warehouses.
In 1997, most residents had lived in town for decades. Because Colby never recaptured its former splendor, the divide between financial stability and economic hardship widened. The railroad tracks served as a borderline between the nice homes on the east side of town and the unkempt homes on the west side, commonly known as “Cardboard Valley” because of the many boarded-up, vacant houses.
The town had created wealthy families courtesy of industry. Morgan, the offspring of such a family, had experienced life on both sides of the railroad tracks. His great-grandparents had done well in Colby as the owners of a small textile company. They had built a large white Colonial home referred to as the “Fischer House” at the end of Ridge Street. When the textile company had burned to the ground in 1964, and after the family had moved to a modest home, everyone still called it Fischer House.
Morgan knew the family legacy by heart. They were members of Colby’s elite due to their prosperous business. However, in 1997, the Fischer name was no longer associated with success.
Cars drove through the streets on an active weekday morning. Occasionally, someone waved hello. Morgan casually waved in return, embarrassed that someone saw him walking to Lancaster Orchards. The orchard his family owned when his mother was alive. The orchard Frederick sold after his parents died. The orchard Frederick worked at before turning to alcohol following the death of his wife.
Editorial comment: There’s no one single thing that sticks out like a sore thumb with this submission, but there are several issues I would have expected competent beta readers to have picked up on. The first few lines are intriguing. We wonder, why is Max biting his lip hard enough to draw blood? Why does he need to calm himself? The third line, however, throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the works. We’re told in the second line that biting his lip calms him down. But the third line says that it “shattered his concentration” and goes on to say that his previous mind state was a “haze of random thoughts about God and life“. All these statements seem to be contradictory. If he’s in a “haze of random thoughts”, he’s not concentrating, and neither does he sound like someone who needs to calm down. So the first three lines leave me at a bit of a loss as to what his actual mental state is. Instead of wanting to read on to find out why he needed to calm down, I’m now wanting to read on merely to find out which of these multiple scenarios (he was concentrating on something, he was frantic about something, or he was in a bit of a daze thinking vague thoughts about God and life) is true. This isn’t optimal.
The next potential misstep is perhaps the following paragraph, when he eats “stale cereal”, that’s “brittle and tasteless”. What particular cereal isn’t mentioned, but most cereal, fruit loops, or cheerios or cornflakes or whatever, are crunchy by design, so get soft when they’re stale. If I was a beta reader, I’d at least query which cereal you meant.
The two sentences beginning “Not” that follow this, aren’t sentences, and they should be joined to the previous sentence with commas: “…empty box, not because…milk, or because…” It’s fair to say that this might be beyond the remit of a beta reader to point out because a beta reader shouldn’t be correcting grammar and spelling, though it’s useful if they can. But then, thinking about those lines, he doesn’t eat the cereal, “because there wasn’t any milk in the refrigerator,” as some kind of alternative to milk. He eats it dry because there isn’t any milk to eat it with.
There follows an odd foreshadowing sentence about the fact that he wouldn’t get milk to drink on a daily basis until his senior year. That sounds like a very old-fashioned “it would be five years before he saw his home again” kind of narrator intrusion. That’s at odds with the voice of the rest of the piece, which is modern close PoV, or at least, it is up until the next paragraph.
Here suddenly, the voice of the piece changes from this reasonably modern close third person PoV, to a narrator, telling us at length about the failings of his father.
This entire short paragraph is pure “telling”, and so totally unnecessary because you show perfectly well how badly his father is fulfilling his duties as parent in subsequent paragraphs, when Morgan is running around the house trying to get his hungover father out of bed for work. A good beta reader should point out that you can delete this entire paragraph and lose absolutely nothing of the story.
These are all small details that you might think inconsequential because you can see, you know, as author, the direction this story is going to take. But coming to your world as an outsider, all of these things would throw me a little. I’d begin to wonder if the author truly knew his craft, and whether this book was worth continuing with, or purchasing or, if I was a real agent, taking on for representation as something that’s going to make me a lot of money.
There are encouraging signs for your talent as a writer. Why is it that driving an “x” into a mosquito bite with a thumbnail gives us some, albeit temporary, relief? That’s exactly the kind of “flash of recognition” detail that marks out good writing. The premise of the opening scene is a good one. We can all sympathize with a child trying to cope with a failing parent. I can’t see, from here, how your book develops, and it might be that it’s a great story. All I can tell you is that from my impression of the beginning of the book, it needs substantial self-editing to make me want to read further. My concern for this particular submission is that decent beta readers should have also pointed most of these problems out.
Thanks for posting.