Friday, 27 June 2014 00:00

Mentor's critique - Waking Anastasia

There are several basics in a romance that readers, editors and publishers all look for:

1 characters we really want to spend time with, and come to care for;

2 a story that keeps us turning the pages;

3 a world that we can lose ourselves in;

4 a resolution that convinces us we have been reading a story of true love.

Waking Anastasia introduces an engaging character in Anastasia. Tim, you use dialogue well in this intimate but awkward scene where Jerry wakes to find an attractive teenage ghost sitting on the end of his bed. You subtly convey that the younger and more vulnerable speaker in fact has more poise and flexibility than the older one. Ana is eager to talk, while Jerry is intent on action: in this case, making his morning cup of coffee. We even get the blend and cup size! The situation is a profoundly disturbing one for Anastasia. She has appeared just once to Jerry, the previous night, when her spirit was released for a few minutes from a bloodstained copy of William Blake’s poems. Jerry, baffled and self-preoccupied, is slow to consider Ana’s point of view, and takes refuge in day-to-day life, which is typical of his behaviour in the novel. Only gradually does his love for Anastasia develop his compassion towards others.

I chose this extract because it features major aspects of your love story. Anastasia, trapped in limbo, is essentially a passive character, while Jerry, preoccupied by his new job as a radio station manager, propels the action. Your writing is confident, fluent and unforced, and the pace is very well handled. Contemporary life in Victoria and Vancouver is convincingly sketched. The focus is on the two main characters rather than the setting, but the world we see is consistent and believable. 

Tim, in the basics 1, 2 and 3 above, your novel has considerable strengths. It is competently put together, your characters are individual, there is enough interest to keep the reader turning the pages and you suspend our disbelief right from the first, an essential feat when writing a ghost story! If this is a first novel there’s no doubt that you show promise as a writer and have done a creditable job with Waking Anastasia/

Its most appealing and enduring element is Anastasia herself. In your hands she has a purity and innocence that are quite unsentimental. In some ways she is reminiscent of Anne Frank—surrounded by carnage and terror in the last years of her short life, she yet has the sense of wonder and trust in humanity that belong to an adolescent who has known love in her childhood and looks forward to being fulfilled as a woman. Ana has tenderness, emotional understanding and a love of family and home. Since she is partly spirit and partly tied to earth through the book, her situation is touching for the reader. Her reactions to it are even more so. Her attempts to act as she used to in life evoke our sympathy, yet she’s not self-preoccupied: she mourns her family and shows instinctive concern for Jerry as soon as she senses he is unwell (the crippling headaches). Her appeal is such that I recommend you allow her to remain sweet sixteen and reduce Jerry’s age to twenty (he certainly acts as though he’s barely out of adolescence!), thus creating a love story that would appeal to both adults and young adults.

My strongest recommendation is reserved for aspect 4. In your construction of this novel you’re encouraging the reader to ask: where is this love story going, and how can Jerry and Anastasia have a ‘future’ when she is a ghost, and moreover mysteriously tied to the book of Blake poems? In response, I’m inclined to think you need a final resolution more in tune with your two main characters. Without giving away your plot to our readers here, I’d like to make a simple suggestion: that you look at Jerry’s qualifications as a lover and develop them more consistently, right to the last page. For instance, we will first see his capacity for tenderness in the scene at the Empress Ballroom. The fairy-tale scene of the ball that you evoke, the detailed descriptions of the couple’s clothes, the effect they create when they walk in together, would all seem hackneyed in another novel, but such is the reader's belief in Anastasia that we are bound to be caught up in the magic. If we can feel the same level of sympathy for Jerry you will have created a more powerful love story. Thank you for letting me read it.

Additional Info

  • Written by: Timothy Reynolds
  • Country: Canada
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