August 3, 2011

sneak peek for chroniker city!

WriteOnCon is coming up quickly! I participated last year and learned a lot, so I hope this year proves to be just as enlightening. I know I’ve been a bit quiet about my novel in progress Chroniker City, so I thought I’d share a bit with you! It makes sense. I’m sharing my pitch and my first five pages in the WriteOnCon forums, so I figured I should share them here too. I would love to hear your thoughts—comments, criticism, and suggestions.

And I know that I’ve said that I want to self-publish… That’s still true, but in the right situation, I would still traditionally publish. It just depends. This conference (free, by the way) may just provide me with a traditional publishing opportunity. And it might not. We’ll see.

So here is my pitch/query for Chroniker City, as well as the first five pages. Enjoy!

It’s 1881, the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Chroniker City, the global hub of technological advancement in the modern world. Based off the coast of Wales, the city is home to the most prestigious polytechnic university worldwide, a center of mechanical ingenuity teaching everything from clockwork mechanics and thermodynamics to electromagnetism and electricity. 

Petra Wade, self-taught clockwork engineer, dreams of one day becoming a member of the Guild, an elite group of inventors and innovators who envision a future fueled by technology, but her ambitions will only come to fruition if she can find a way into the illustrious university—an institution reserved for men only. When she meets Emmerich Goss, an accomplished engineer newly recruited into the Guild, Petra discovers that he needs help building a top-secret, government-sanctioned automaton, and she is just the girl to help him.

Together, they craft the clockwork giant, and as the deadline for its completion nears, Petra finds that she can love more than gears and mainsprings.

CHRONIKER CITY is a young adult steampunk romance, complete at 80,000 words, with series potential.

Chapter One
(First Five Pages)

A ticker is more than its function, more than the parts that shape it. The gears, pinions, and springs, they make the machine tick, but deeper than that—beyond the spindles and bearings, beyond the weights and levers—a ticker is truth.

Petra Wade was a ticker engineer—or, she wanted to be. She wasn’t trained in mechanics. The most experience she had was studying with Mr. Stricket after her shift at the pawn shop. If God had wanted to give her a chance, he wouldn’t have made her a girl. Girls couldn’t study mechanics. Girls couldn’t be engineers. And no matter how hard Petra wished she wasn’t a girl, she still woke up every morning, put on her shop skirt and apron, and spent a good hour sewing patches onto her siblings’ clothes. The rest of the day, she spent sweeping dirt from one side of the pawn shop to the other.

Every day that she stood outside the gleaming walls of the university instead of within reminded her that she was inferior, unworthy, insignificant. She knew she had talent enough to compete with the best of the engineers, but the Guild would never allow a girl to study mechanics. The world of tickers was the world of men. But Petra Wade had the integrity of a ticker in her heart. She strived for perfection, for optimal efficiency. The only way she would ever achieve status as a worthy engineer was with a slip of gold edged paper stamped with the Guild seal and signed by the university Vice-Chancellor. That was all she needed.

With a set of her brother’s pants and her hair twisted up in a hat, she marched up the university steps.
Students milled about the door, discussing pitch circles and circumferential velocities. Petra’s skin quivered when she passed over the threshold. The rich scent of paraffin and gasoline replaced the salty outside air. The floor pulsed with the jarring oscillations of the subcity below, the steady hum of perfectly fitted gears vibrating within her bones. Her fingers twitched toward the screwdriver in her pocket. From the foyer, she saw the cluttered mess of schematics that papered the walls of the main workshop. Columns of unused gears stood at attention in the far corner, waiting for an engineer to fix them to a train. Levers rocked, and cranks spun, driving gears and sliders. Steam whistled through pipes. Blowlamps hissed and sputtered over metal joints. The workshop sang an engineer’s lullaby.

Petra grinned. She belonged here.

To her left and right, lift gates stood closed before clusters of students, the lights above the doors flashing while the lifts sped up and down the shaft. The foyer stretched upward into an arched ceiling at least five stories above the ground floor, brass so polished it gleamed like gold. The lift shafts went further, all the way to the tops of the north and east towers. Stairs curved over the entrance to the main workshop, reaching for the first of the upper workshops, and catwalks lined the walls at each floor, meeting the lift doors.

She strolled toward the only desk in the entry hall, careful to exercise the male swagger her brother had taught her. A weedy sort of man sat behind the desk, annotating a printed letter. His hair was thin and graying, barely covering his freckled scalp.

Petra cleared her throat.

“One moment,” he said without looking up. The weedy man continued to scribble into the cramped space at the bottom of the letter. He at last capped the pen and put the letter aside.

Petra cleared her throat again and spoke in the deepest voice she could muster. “I’m here to apply for the upcoming term.”

“Are you a returning student?”


The weedy man reached across the desk and snatched a blank application file. “Name.”

“Wade. Solomon Wade.”

“Date of birth.”

“March twenty-second, eighteen-sixty-six.”

“Former institution.”


The scratching of his pen stopped.

Petra stiffened. Solomon said they’d accept anyone from Eton. She checked the hair around her hat, widened her stance, and tried to look indifferent. The weedy man bent over and dug through a drawer of files. She relaxed when he thumbed through the tabs, mumbling the names of institutions. “Here it is.” He slapped the folder on the desk and flipped to the back pages. “Vonstaden, Waddington, Whitton… interesting.” He scanned a few more pages, closed the file, and clasped his fingers over the folder. “No Wade.”

“Sorry?” Her voice cracked.

“I have a list of every student who requested a transfer to the university from Eton, and there is no Solomon Wade on that list.”

“There must have been a misfile. Check again,” she demanded. She wouldn’t let that stick of a man tell her she couldn’t attend the university because her name wasn’t on a stupid list.

The weedy man raised an eyebrow and ran his finger down the list of names again. When he reached the bottom, he smirked. “Eton has enrolled no student by the name of Solomon Wade in the last five years.” The weedy man sneered. A gold tooth flashed in the corner of his mouth.

Petra chewed on the inside of her left cheek and absentmindedly twisted the winding stem on her pocket watch. Her throat constricted. She and Solomon hadn’t planned for this. “So, I’m not from Eton,” she blurted out.

“I think that’s the first true thing you’ve said.”

“You can’t stop me from applying.”

“I have no desire to prevent worthy engineers from applying. As a non-transfer student, I will need your registration of birth, a transcript of records from your former institution, a seal of approval from the Guild of Engineers, and your tuition fees for the first term. Do you think you can manage that before September?”

Petra cleared her throat. “Of course.”

The weedy man took Petra’s application file and balled it up in his fist. He flashed his gold tooth and tossed the paper into the bin behind his desk. The prat.

Had she been more flippant, she would have given him the two-fingered salute. Instead, Petra swiveled and stalked toward the door. Humiliation burned at the corner of her eyes. The vibration beneath the floor nauseated her. The smell of oil suffocated her. The clacking and shrilling of the machinery rattled her brain. She had to get out.

She shoved through a group of students and stumbled over a discarded knapsack. Petra clattered to the ground. Her pocket watch and screwdriver skated across the polished floor. When she reached for the watch chain, her hat fell from her head, and a long braid plopped over her shoulder.

“Why, it’s a girl,” said one of the boys behind her.

Haughty laughter echoed through the chamber, attacking Petra from all sides. She scrambled to her feet and snatched her things off the floor. She stuffed the screwdriver back into her pants pocket and jammed the hat on her head. When she made for the pocket watch, the laughter hushed.

A whale of a man crouched in front of her, reaching for the timepiece. His fat pinched and his bones creaked, like an old, cumbersome machine running without oil. His thick fingers closed around the brass case, snapping it shut. When he stood, the boys around the foyer snapped to attention and saluted. Petra stared.

The polished brass pin on his coat pocket brandished the Guild seal, a working planetary gear system. The largest of the gears had been painted, marking this blubbery man as the university Vice-Chancellor, Hugh Lyndon. His dark blonde hair, strictly parted down the side had a silvery sheen about it. A crease ran down the center of his forehead. He looked like a man who frowned often, as he now frowned at Petra. The reflection on his round glasses obscured his eyes, but she felt the scrutiny.

Lyndon ran his stubby finger across the ornate C that decorated the front of the case.

“At ease, gentlemen,” he said. His voice was deep and gravelly, and though he spoke quietly, his voice carried through the hall.

The room relaxed, but the boys did not move. They stared on at the pair of them. Lyndon flipped the watch open. The glare on his glasses shifted, and his eyes—a dull brown—flickered from the watch to Petra. She gathered to her full height, raising her chin in defiance.

“Your watch is slow,” he said.

“I hadn’t noticed, sir,” she replied coolly. She held her hand out to receive the watch.

Lyndon shut the case and again ran his finger along the C. He dangled the timepiece in front of Petra’s face by its chain, the gears and wheels ticking beneath the clear glass. His eyes locked with hers, regarding her with an air of superiority. He searched for something—fear, subordination. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. He might have been high and mighty Vice-Chancellor of the university, but Petra wasn’t one to bow down to snobbery. Lyndon was lucky she had been civil at all.

---end of sample---


  1. You writing sample is really well done. I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing. :)

  2. I like it for the most part, but the second and third paragraphs are not sitting well with me. I know that you want to get in some exposition, but it sounds too clunky to me, especially bunched all together.

    "Petra Wade was a ticker engineer—or, she wanted to be."

    Isn't this sort of introduction becoming a tad trite? You might want to consider conveying this thought a different way.

    "Girls couldn’t study mechanics. Girls couldn’t be engineers."

    I'd strongly recommend cutting these two sentences. We receive this information much more efficiently in the following paragraph.

    "Every day that she stood outside the gleaming walls of the university instead of within reminded her that she was inferior, unworthy, insignificant."

    Don't you think that we grasp this bit already from the context?

    "The world of tickers was the world of men."

    Once again, redundant.

    "The only way she would ever achieve status as a worthy engineer was with a slip of gold edged paper stamped with the Guild seal and signed by the university Vice-Chancellor."

    I think we get this information more effectively in the dialogue, so it's not really needed here.

    Like I said, other than those two paragraphs (which are hardly awful, but still sending up red flags to this old editor), I really like it so far.

  3. Thank you Cherie ;)

    Marcus, as always, you manage to find my overwriting and eradicate it like a swarm of cockroaches... with a flamethrower.

  4. I love your query, it works well and makes me interested in the story. You could probably cut the first paragraph though and jump straight to Petra.

    As for the sample pages, it got interesting once Petra tries to get into the university. You can probably cut all that exposition at the start (as it didn't pull me in at all) and work in the information throughout the text. Try starting from here: "With a set of her brother’s pants and her hair twisted up in a hat, [Petra] marched up the university steps."

  5. Thanks for the comments Jo. I hadn't thought of starting the story there. I'll definitely take that into consideration once I start revisions. :)

  6. I love that you're brave enough to risk sharing with us! And I like the historical fiction. Since we all have our opinions, here's mine: I would start with the figure walking up the steps to the door, describing in detail the "male". Then with the quiver of her [small] hand on the door (or something), reveal that's she's a girl. Once we are intrigued with the why of her disguise, we'll be more willing to learn about tickers. Just a thought. I'd love to read this when you're ready.

  7. Thanks Mary :) Your suggestion would be great, except my story is in a deep third person POV. I think it would feel weird to start in an omniscient POV and hone in to deep 3rd. My opinion of your opinion ;) Thanks for reading, and for the comment! If all goes as planned, CHRONIKER CITY will be out in October, once I've had a good crack at revisions. :)

  8. Your first paragraph seems to be an omniscient narrator making an observation, though. I suppose you could make it a thought in Petra's head, or perhaps even an epigraph by some famous fictional person.

  9. Hrm. Maybe the first paragraph would serve better as a logline... ?

  10. Brooke, I think you have a great query, and for the sample pages, I agree wholeheartedly with what the Jo (thegracefuldoe) said. I DID enjoy reading the beginning, but the action definitely picks up once she goes to the university, then it flew.

    And I think starting with her twisting her hair up to be a man as she goes up those steps would be wonderful.

    You have a great eye for detail and your characters and setting came to life for me. I've been really curious about what you're writing. Thanks for sharing! :-)

  11. The one thing that seems to be unanimous: my first three paragraphs need fixing. ;)

    I like Marcus' idea of having the first paragraph be an epigraph by a fictional famous person. That makes perfect sense to me.

    As for starting the story with her going up the stairs. I think it is possible, but I really hate dropping readers in the middle of action without any build up. What do you think of incorporating action into the first few paragraphs?

    Susan, I'm so glad that the characters and setting came alive for you! That is a HUGE compliment. I hope your curiosity is temporarily sated. Soon, very soon, I hope to have it finished and available for purchase. I'll probably have a contest and give away a few copies as well. :)