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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » THE KABBALIST, Urban Fantasy (Page 1)

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Author Topic: THE KABBALIST, Urban Fantasy
History
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There is a demon loose in Boston, and Rabbi Cane has to stop him. As the body count rises, his friends, his enemies, and the police are saying it's his fault. Cane fears they may be right.

1st draft (excluding glossary) = 108,000 words

The title of this volume (I anticipate 5 in all), is THE FOUNDATION OF THE KINGDOM. In them, we will follow the life and exploits of Rabbi (unordained) Jacob Cane, Jewish occultist, physician, and paranormal investigator. Each volume will deal with his professional and personal challenges: the smart and beautiful Boston Detetctive Akako Olafson, her irascible boss Lieutenant Sean Callahan, the head of the Boston crime syndicate Thomas Assini, false messiahs, and a variety of angelic and mazzilkim/shedim (i.e. demonic) beings associated with sequentially higher emanations (and attributes) of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.

The title THE FOUNDATION OF THE KINGDOM refers to the two lowest of these ten emanations, not only as spiritual/mystical realms but also as reflected in human behavior as in: "While real human actions are the "Foundation" (Yesod) of this universe/Kingdom (Malchut), these actions must accompany the conscious intention of compassion. Compassionate actions are often impossible without "Faith" (Emunah), meaning to trust that God always supports compassionate actions even when God seems hidden. Ultimately, it is necessary to also show compassion toward oneself in order to share compassion toward others."

The following are the 13 lines that begin the first chapter. My question: Would this subject matter be of any interest to you?

quote:
Saturday, Shabbos, July 25th

When you find a severed head in your mailbox, you can be pretty sure you’re in for a bad day.
When it starts speaking to you, you can be certain.
Rabbi Isaac Levinson called me. On Shabbos. This indicated how seriously he was upset.
I was at home, a 5-story brownstone in an old shadowed section of Boston's Beacon Hill. I'd been leaning back in my office chair, eyes closed, with the third volume of Matt's new translation of The Zohar resting upon my chest. The shy touch of a warm July breeze flitted through the open casement windows. These windows stretched from floor to ceiling but the sun could never be seen directly through them.


Respectfully,
History

[This message has been edited by History (edited August 19, 2010).]


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KoDe Nichols
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A couple things, I like the first two lines, though there are some puncuation issues, possibly. (I'm never quite sure with commas) I think many people will not understand enough about jewish culture to understand some of the references, (IE: The import of Shabbos, What "The Zohar" is.)

I also think that, while the first three lines are great and catch my interest, I quickly lose it again with the rather boring scene described in the next paragraph. I understand that you're trying to illustrate the suddeness and the measure of the change, between extraordinary and plain, but perhaps more needs to be done to hook before this can be done without losing anything.

Also, I want to know, if its Jewish, will there be any Golems?


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Osiris
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Uh oh, I live in Boston... That right there makes the subject matter interesting to me. But off course the scenario in itself is quite interesting, especially since I know little about Jewish mysticism (thought I've heard there is a connection to Sufi mysticism, which I do know something about).

Anyway, the first 3 lines are a great hook for the reader. I'm not sure if it is intentional that they be separated into 3 physical lines, but I don't think you need to do that.

You might consider replacing certain with "absolutely certain." This is because you are drawing a distinction between finding a head in your mailbox and finding a talking head in your mailbox. The juxtaposition between "pretty sure" and "certain" will work better if the terms seem "further" apart from each other. Does that make sense?

quote:
I'd been leaning back in my office chair, eyes closed, with the third volume of Matt's new translation of The Zohar resting upon my chest.
I might be wrong but this sounds like passive voice with the "I'd been...". Also, I dont know if many readers will know what the Zohar is, maybe you can explain it in the narrative without taking too much space.

quote:
. The shy touch of a warm July breeze flitted through the open casement windows.
This is a pretty description. I like it.

quote:
These windows stretched from floor to ceiling but the sun could never be seen directly through them.
I think you can cut this to be honest. It seems like a description that does little for you, in fact it detracts a bit from the mood set by the previous sentence.

By the end of your first 13, I would still read. I don't feel I've "wiggled" off the hook at this point, but I hope you get back to the severed head soon because you'll lose me if you don't.


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History
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KoDe Nichols and Osiris,
Thank you both for your feedback.

1) It is a challenge to find the right balance between providing an explanation in story for every Hebrew (or Yiddish) word or reference or leaving definitions to a Glossary [which is included at the end of the novel].

In these 13 lines, I chose the latter for both. Where I deemed it essential to the in-story events, I do provide a concise translation or definition. Otherwise, much like Elvish in Tolkien or the use of Lammas and other Christian references in Katherine Kurtz Deryni books, I let them ride and leave it to the reader if they wish to check the Glossary.

As you have kindly done, I hope to have similar feedback from my proofreaders to help me select where I've guessed right and where I've guessed wrong on this issue.

2) All the esoteric Jewish texts I mention in the book are real, the most common and central text is The Zohar ("The Book of Radiance"), is a mystical commentary on Hebrew Scripture. You can find Matt's translation on Amazon.com >smile<.
http://www.amazon.com/Zohar-Pritzker-Vol-1/dp/0804747474/ref=pd_sim_b_1

3) I appreciate the fine tuning regarding "certain" and "absolutely certain" and the issue of tense in "I'd been" vs. "I was."

4) I concur with the need to both efficiently (yet effectively) set the scene and maintain the pace/flow of the story. I permit more with a novel than a short story, but... your points are well-taken.
Oh, and we get back to the mystery of the head 4 lines later. >smile<

Thank you for taking the time to comment.

[This message has been edited by History (edited August 19, 2010).]


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DerekBalsam
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History,

I liked what I read. I attempted to read neither the other critiques nor your own preface, just your text proper.

My 2 shekalim:

-Not sure you need the near redundancy of both Shabbos and Saturday in the header. Your readers will likely understand when the Sabbath is. I have long heard the advice that our audience knows a lot more than we give them credit for. And if not, they can look it up.

-Re: 'The shy touch of a warm July breeze flitted through the open casement windows. These windows stretched from floor to ceiling but the sun could never be seen directly through them.' Beautiful first sentence, and wonderful everyday detail in the second. I think you may not need both, though. It seems that you could combine them, or perhaps save one for later. I'd hate to lose the bit about the sun not seen.

-Is that supposed to be a line or paragraph break after the first full sentence (about the head)? I think it would flow much better without a break.

This sounds like a book I'd want to read. So far.


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JSchuler
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I really like this, and would read on.

There are a couple nits. I'm not sure if going into the particular translation of The Zohar is the best way to go. You never know, you might get readers subconsciously complaining that Matt's translation is too liberal or too literal or whatever. There's also the old saw that "I've suffered for my craft, and now you will too." If the translation isn't really important, you might want to lose it.

Plus, less knowledgeable readers might not expect there to be an actual, real world translation by someone with the last name of "Matt," and may think Matt is one of your MC's friends, expecting to be introduced to him latter on.

The last line of description is out of place. He has his eyes closed, so there's really no way for his senses to be experiencing the height of the window. Thus, it snaps me out of the POV.


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Meredith
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  • Do not add an adverb (absolutely) unless you really, really need it.
  • I'd been is not passive voice, although I was is more direct and possibly preferable.
  • This is a novel, you have time to set up the scene. You don't have to hook in the first 13 lines like you do with a short story. Readers expect the story to take a little longer to develop. For a novel, the sense of the author's voice and the sense of an interesting character to follow are both good hooks.

It's not the sort of novel that would grab me, but I think you've got a good start, here.


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Delli
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quote:
I think many people will not understand enough about jewish culture to understand some of the references, (IE: The import of Shabbos, What "The Zohar" is.)

Does the reader really need to understand though?

I know nothing about Jewish culture at all - but from the first lines of this story I picked up that Shabbos is an important day, so important in fact, that a Rabbi would not normally call on this day. I also feel if The Zohar was a book that was a big part of the rest of the story (and not just used as a prop in a scene) that I would pick it up elsewhere and would get the gist of it. I don't have to know the book in real life to get that it is important do I? I'd feel as if I were missing out though, if a chapter title was mentioned and I was expected to know what was in that chapter.

I liked it History. As others have said - the first three lines capture my attention. I have no real critiquing to add - but I'm not very good at that anyway Good luck!


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WouldBe
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I'd read on. I didn't know much about Middle Earth when I read LoTR , but I read on. You'll have to decide the audience you're aiming at to determine how much water to carry for the reader. It seems from this short bit that you have a reasonable balance for a general audience.

Nits/ideas:
For tense parallelism in the first two sentences, I suggest "When it speaks to you...."

a five-story brownstone

I think most will get the on Shabbos reference, but the 'this indicated...upset' sentence could be improved, maybe something like, 'On holy Shabbos, of all days.'

Regarding reading the Zohar: you could add a brief clause that indicated what you were reading or why, thereby tweaking Jewish and non-Jewish readers however you wished to tweak them. '...of The Zohar resting upon my chest, thinking about the passage on....'

Good luck with it.


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History
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Good Shabbos! >smile<

Thank you all for your feedback and encouragement.


Respectfully,
History


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bemused
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If you haven't read it, you might want to take a look at Chabon's Yiddish Policeman's Union. It is an alternate history detective story that nicely balances the use of Yiddish without giving explanations all the time and maintains readability.
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History
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Thank you.
I actually found The Yiddish Policeman's Union difficult to get into; but once in, a well-realized world.

Yes. I agree. Mr. Chabon does not expain his Yiddish or his Hebrew, but I found its use at times like an inside joke.
If you know that shofer is a ram's horn used in ancient times as communication (and in modern times only for the Jewish High Holy day services), you may get a kick out of the use of "shoyfer" as a brand name for a cell phone. If you do not know Hebrew or Yiddish, the words may momentarily interrupt your flow of reading but the sentences make sense without understanding these words.

I've attempted to be less obtuse, and have the advantage of writing a first-person narrative. Thus, where needed, I can define words, and even translate sentences. For example:

quote:
"Du kannst nicht auf meinem rucken pishen unt mir sagen class es regen ist! [You can't pee on my back and tell me it's rain!]"

>smile<

Just started to do my 1st rewrite. Oy! Zol Got min helfen! [May God help me]. >smile<

Respectfully,
History

[This message has been edited by History (edited August 24, 2010).]


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EP Kaplan
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As a practicing Jew who also wrote a story or two about a Kabbalist wizard (no, mine didn't have any golems.... yet) I'd be interested just based on reading the title on the cover, so to speak.
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History
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Erev tov, EP Kaplan,

Over the decades, I have also been drawn (intrigued by the subject matter and the rarity) to sf & fantasy by or about Jews and Judaism, as well as the mythology within ancient (and modern) Jewish folklore.

Sturgeon's Law was again proven, of course. Jews are just like everyone else, as the old adage goes, only moreso. >smile<

However, I chose the Jewish/Yiddish and mystical elements in THE FOUNDATION OF THE KINGDOM as merely a framework on which to paint the canvas of my story. The story is for general consumption as an urban fantasy, thriller, and mystery, concerning the conflicts faced by and between my characters. You need know nothing of Jews or Judaism or the Kabbalah to, hopefully, enjoy it.

By chance, did you ever find an audience for your stories of a "Kabbalist wizard"?

Respectfully,
History

[This message has been edited by History (edited August 25, 2010).]


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Lionhunter
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quote:

Saturday, Shabbos, July 25th

When you find a severed head in your mailbox, you can be pretty sure you’re in for a bad day.
When it starts speaking to you, you can be certain.
Rabbi Isaac Levinson called me. On Shabbos. This indicated how seriously he was upset.
I was at home, a 5-story brownstone in an old shadowed section of Boston's Beacon Hill. I'd been leaning back in my office chair, eyes closed, with the third volume of Matt's new translation of The Zohar resting upon my chest. The shy touch of a warm July breeze flitted through the open casement windows. These windows stretched from floor to ceiling but the sun could never be seen directly through them.


Found this thread while reading your crit for another ss. I like it. The first 2 sentences act as a great hook. The 3rd sentence is good, but i feel like the first 2 sentence's idea and the 3rd's idea don't mesh well, one after the other, but this is extreme nitpicking, i mean the only downside is that the 3rd sentence loses some of it's vitality, if that makes any sense. You're giving out a specific problem at first, then continue with more general one.
I don't mind the Hebrew references. In fact, i find them interesting. I'm always interested in reading foreign ideas and concepts. Drop Saturday. Shabbos is enough. Any reader which likes your style will pick up what it means.


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History
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Lionhunter,
I greatly appreciate your critique.

I also like the hook.
It is designed as an unexpected slap to the face.

The third and fourth sentences, and the paragraph that follows these first thirteen lines, begin to fill-in the background [permitting you a moment to understand who slapped you and why >smile<]. This is my intorduction to the speaker, my Kabbalist physician and private investigator, and his friend retired Rabbi Levinson who discovers the head -- the event that initates the next 107,500 words of story.

Admittedly, the stunned inhale that comes after being slapped is a pause in the action. I can only hope it is a pregnant pause that provides depth and color as the action commences.

Referencing "Shabbos" alone versus clarifying it is Shabbos day, Saturday, has been a point of contention among my few test readers. Please note that the Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown Friday evening. The Hebrew "day" is sundown to sundown contrary to what most of my potential readers assume. The majority of the non-Jews who read this assumed Shabbos = Saturday; while the majority of the Jews found the clarification that the story begins on Saturday helpful.
Go figure.

The feedback so far has been generally positive. Thus, I've decided to stock up on Mylanta and Excedrin and attempt to find an agent and/or publisher [whom I, with affection, in my trepidation, think of as Mewlips]. From all I've read, here and elsewhere, this is a long thorny road with huge potholes that usually goes nowhere or..., as J.R.R. Tolkein wrote:

...Beyond the Merlock mountains, a long and lonely road,
Through the spider-shadows and marsh of Tode,
And through the woods of hanging trees and the gallows-weed,
You go to find the Mewlips -- and the Mewlips feed.

--The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Houghton Mifflin.

>smile<

Thanks again for your comments and consideration.

Respectfully,
History

[This message has been edited by History (edited October 15, 2010).]


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DevinAethnen
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The problem I have with your first 13 is that you haven't really started the story yet. You call it a "pause in the action," but actually, not one action has occurred in real time yet -- the talking head is still just a description, not an action. To sum it up: you intrigued me with an interesting image, but then you told me that somebody called (rather than *showing* me the phone call) and bored me with a descriptive passage.

The thing is, there is no need to "pause" at all. Instead of having descriptive passages, you should integrate the setting into the real-time story. That way, we learn some details of the setting while simultaneously allowing action to progress. Here's an example that I made up:

"Rabbi Isaac Levinson's phone call surprised me out of a half-sleep. I bolted up from my office chair, sending the third volume of Matt's new translation of the Zohar flying off my chest to land precariously on the sill of one of the open casement windows.

I fumbled to save the book with one hand and answer the phone with the other. 'Jacob Cane, paranormal investigator,' I said and stifled a groan as the book began a five-story fall to the grass outside my Brownstone.

'Jacob! I just received a ... worrisome package.'

'It would *have* to be worrisome for you to call on Shabbos.'"


I don't mean for you to use the examples I made up, I am just trying to show you what I mean.

[This message has been edited by DevinAethnen (edited October 15, 2010).]


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History
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Thanks for the input, Devin.

Respectfully,
History


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LDWriter2
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quote:

Saturday, Shabbos, July 25th
When you find a severed head in your mailbox, you can be pretty sure you’re in for a bad day.
When it starts speaking to you, you can be certain.
Rabbi Isaac Levinson called me. On Shabbos. This indicated how seriously he was upset.
I was at home, a 5-story brownstone in an old shadowed section of Boston's Beacon Hill. I'd been leaning back in my office chair, eyes closed, with the third volume of Matt's new translation of The Zohar resting upon my chest. The shy touch of a warm July breeze flitted through the open casement windows. These windows stretched from floor to ceiling but the sun could never be seen directly through them.

Sounds good. The first two lines remind me of Harry Dresden by Jim Butcher. I can hear(read) him say something almost just like that.

The Shabbos reference seems almost out of the blue even with the severed head comment. I wasn't sure, the severed head was from Rabbi Levinson ?

The rest of it seems a bit too involved for an opening. The third volume etc. seems a too complicated. Even the second window reference seems too much. I can see why you would want them and maybe if you could do all that quicker it would work better.

Thanks for the information you provided it helps. But does OLafson have to be beautiful? Your description sounds more like a soap opera or one of those romantic UF's that's the rage these days. And irascible ????


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History
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Hi, LD.
Thank you for very much for your comments.

Yes. I drew some inspiration from Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden, and I have read the first four books of his series. However, I've enjoyed tales of paranormal investigators (Thomas Carnaki, Luciius Leffing, Lord Darcy, etc.) for decades before their reinvention by modern urban fantasists. Similarly, for decades I have thought of crafting stories and novels (and have made many false starts) incorporating the legends and folklore (and ethics) associated with Jewish mysticism.

The Shabbos reference establishes both the day the story commences as well as the protagonist's point of reference.
He is a rabbi after all. >smile<

The novel takes place over a period of one week, Saturday to Friday, Shabbos to the day after Tish B'Av -- the holy day commemorating the loss and destruction of G-d's Holy Temples in Jerusalem and many other tragedies that befell the Jewish people down the centuries. This is the day when Heaven and Earth are at their greatest separation, and the sitra ahra (the other side, the demonic shells/realms) are nearest to our material world.

Rabbi Levinson is the secondary character who discovers the head of the story's opening line in his mailbox, and he calls Cane to investigate -- particularly as the head belongs to yet another rabbi, and a close friend of Cane's.

You are the second to suggest removing or lessening the descriptive world-setting elements of the following paragraphs, and I am considering this -- primarily because of my uncertainty if agents/publishers are similarly desireable of "action, action, action" to mesmerize the thriller junkies. Most submission guidelines I have read desire only the first five pages of the manuscript be submitted, and as much as I personally enjoy a bit of world-building and, well, foreplay, as a means of raising dramatic tension, I understand many readers are of the slam-bam variety.

I don't know, though. I'm not a cheap date. >smile<
Patience has its virtues. I recognize this may be my age talking, and my personal preference in regard to the stories I enjoy reading, as well as writing. And my test readers of the entire novel have not made the same complaint you mention -- yet. I'll definitely consider this, however.

My Orginal Post introduction was, admittedly, my first attempt at a back-cover blurb / query paragraph, briefly introducing the plot and character conflicts for my protagonist Jacob Cane. He does (and I as well) find Detective "Ace" Olafson beautiful, though no fashion model, and she and Cane do share a sexual tension that complicates their task in solving the mystery and stopping the demon. Ace's boss Detective Sean Callahan is easily provoked to anger (i.e. "irascible") and doesn't like Cane, and he especially doesn't like Ace with Cane.

Beyond striving for a captivating external conflict [mystery and murder and crime and discovering and stopping a demon from literally raising Hell], and including a twist on the urban fantasy genre [incorporating facets derived from the actual texts and beliefs of Jewish esoteric writings and legend], my goal is to simultaneously create characters who strive to resolve personal conflicts -- ones to which my readers can relate.

We all have our demons.

I hope to post a sample query letter for Forum Member critique soon. I would appreciate you checking back and telling me what you think.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

[This message has been edited by History (edited October 18, 2010).]


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LDWriter2
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quote:

Hi, LD.
Thank you for very much for your comments.
Yes. I drew some inspiration from Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden, and I have read the first four books of his series. However, I've enjoyed tales of paranormal investigators (Thomas Carnaki, Luciius Leffing, Lord Darcy, etc.) for decades before their reinvention by modern urban fantasists.

Lord Darcy I have read and enjoyed. The writers who tried to take over stories about him did only passingly well. But the other two I don't recall. I may have read one or two stories but not enough to recall them.

quote:

Similarly, for decades I have thought of crafting stories and novels (and have made many false starts) incorporating the legends and folklore (and ethics) associated with Jewish mysticism.

I have read a couple of shorts dealing with Jewish mysticism but it sounds like your novel would be more complete.

quote:
The novel takes place over a period of one week, Saturday to Friday, Shabbos to the day after Tish B'Av -- the holy day commemorating the loss and destruction of G-d's Holy Temples in Jerusalem and many other tragedies that befell the Jewish people down the centuries. This is the day when Heaven and Earth are at their greatest separation, and the sitra ahra (the other side, the demonic shells/realms) are nearest to our material world.

That's not very long but at the same time it would work and it would fit with your plot line.

quote:

Rabbi Levinson is the secondary character who discovers the head of the story's opening line in his mailbox, and he calls Cane to investigate -- particularly as the head belongs to yet another rabbi, and a close friend of Cane's.

I think you need to make that clearer sooner. It could be just me but I missed who the MC is I think. Or is the story from Levinson's POV?

quote:

You are the second to suggest removing or lessening the descriptive world-setting elements of the following paragraphs, and I am considering this -- primarily because of my uncertainty if agents/publishers are similarly desireable of "action, action, action" to mesmerize the thriller junkies.

Actually, I meant move it not delete it. Spread it out a bit more. I mean a bit. There are plenty of world-settings as involved as yours but I don't think the opening is a good place for all that. And I disagree with the comments about thriller junkies. There are such readers of course but do they read UF? I read a lot of it lately and even though usually there is plenty of action there are plenty of scenes dealing with world-settings and inter-personal relationships etc. also. Sometimes the books start with no action, well no physical action, one started with the MC trying to dig out a partially eaten human body while she gave the readers a lesson on what she learned at the police academy about skinned bears and humans.

quote:

My Orginal Post introduction was, admittedly, my first attempt at a back-cover blurb / query paragraph, briefly introducing the plot and character conflicts for my protagonist Jacob Cane. He does (and I as well) find Detective "Ace" Olafson beautiful, though no fashion model, and she and Cane do share a sexual tension that complicates their task in solving the mystery and stopping the demon. Ace's boss Detective Sean Callahan is easily provoked to anger (i.e. "irascible") and doesn't like Cane, and he especially doesn't like Ace with Cane.



There seems to be a lot of sexual tension in UF. Not all but most have some. Later in Dresden's tales he gets into that with his cop friend. The series I have already referenced has a lot of the between the female MC and her boss. But I think the author blows it later when another character comes back in the same book I referenced.


quote:

Beyond striving for a captivating external conflict [mystery and murder and crime and discovering and stopping a demon from literally raising Hell], and including a twist on the urban fantasy genre [incorporating facets derived from the actual texts and beliefs of Jewish esoteric writings and legend], my goal is to simultaneously create characters who strive to resolve personal conflicts -- ones to which my readers can relate.

Sounds complicated but doable



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History
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Hi, LD,
quote:
Lord Darcy I have read and enjoyed. The writers who tried to take over stories about him did only passingly well. But the other two I don't recall. I may have read one or two stories but not enough to recall them.

I'm just showing my age.
William Hope Hodgson (author of The House on the Borderlands and The Night Land -- both which should be in any fantasy lover's collection), wrote stories of Thomas Carnaki, the Ghost-finder. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnacki

Joseph Payne Brennan is the author of Lucius Leffing stories for Weird Tales and Alfred Hitchcock magazine. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventures_of_Lucius_Leffing

Brian Lumley (author of the Necroscope series) is another whose Lovecraftian wizard/investigator Titus Crow is an inspiration. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titus_Crow

quote:
I have read a couple of shorts dealing with Jewish mysticism but it sounds like your novel would be more complete.


I've incorporated some Kaballah but there is far too much to draw upon to be "complete" in a single novel -- which is why I find this fun. And I also briefly touch on Norse and Christian mysticism as well, for in the world of The Kabbalist all equally are realized through the creative Will of Man.
quote:
It could be just me but I missed who the MC is I think. Or is the story from Levinson's POV?

Cane is the MC. On line 18-19 (after the 13 you have), Levinson calls Cane to tell him of his discovery. Thus the hook in lines 1 and 2 are Cane's recollection in the retelling of the story that is the novel. It is a device I find used quite frequently, particularly by Jim Butcher in the openings of his Harry Dresden novels.
quote:
Actually, I meant move it not delete it. Spread it out a bit more. I mean a bit. There are plenty of world-settings as involved as yours but I don't think the opening is a good place for all that. ..

I will consider it. Thank you.
quote:
There seems to be a lot of sexual tension in UF. Not all but most have some. Later in Dresden's tales he gets into that with his cop friend. The series I have already referenced has a lot of the between the female MC and her boss. But I think the author blows it later when another character comes back in the same book I referenced.

I also belief sexual tension is part of life and thus an important part of a human story. However, I do not like it explicit nor forced into the story (as some have complained of the later Patricia Brigg's Anita Blake novels).
quote:
Sounds complicated but doable

I believe it is not only "doable" but a requirement.
If you have noticed in submission guidelines to markets such as Isaac Asimov's and The Magazine of Fantasy & SF, they all emphasize "character-oriented" stories.
Unless one's characters have flaws and recognizeable personal conflicts for the reader to emphasize, the story has no heart.

Thanks agian for your comments.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

[This message has been edited by History (edited October 19, 2010).]


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DevinAethnen
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I am thinking that maybe you misinterpreted what I was trying to say. You wrote to LDWriter2,

quote:
You are the second to suggest removing or lessening the descriptive world-setting elements of the following paragraphs....[A]s much as I personally enjoy a bit of world-building and, well, foreplay, as a means of raising dramatic tension, I understand many readers are of the slam-bam variety.


I personally despise slam-bam stories. When I was talking about "action" in my previous post, I meant it in the broadest possible sense of a character doing something. In my opinion, the protagonist should do more than merely exist in the first page of a book. He could be snoring, or whistling, or anything really.

I agree 100% with LDWriter2: "Actually, I meant move [the descriptive stuff] not delete it. Spread it out a bit more." What I was trying to do was to show you a means of spreading it out, in which you tell about the setting using the character's movements through it, rather than freezing time to a standstill to tell us about things existing. I picked answering the phone in my example because you had already mentioned the phone call's existence, but if your intention is to build more tension by putting off the plot action, maybe he could be lighting a cigar by his windows instead.

I hope I make more sense this time around.


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History
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Thank you, Devin.
I appreciate the expansion of your prior critique. Very helpful.

By the way, I am tickled at how we, in the prior posts in this thread, can write thousands of words about just 116 of them (in my first 13 lines).

I hope I'll have the opportunity one day to see what you all may think of the remaining 107,900 words.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob


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Amanda1199
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I LOVE your opening.

<quote>When you find a severed head in your mailbox, you can be pretty sure you’re in for a bad day.
When it starts speaking to you, you can be certain.
Rabbi Isaac Levinson called me. On Shabbos. This indicated how seriously he was upset. </quote>

It grabbed me instantly. What I particularly liked is that it has just enough details "Rabbi, Shabbos" to add flavor, tell me it's a mystery/thriller and the character has a very specific background.

When you get to the next part:

<quote>I was at home, a 5-story brownstone in an old shadowed section of Boston's Beacon Hill. I'd been leaning back in my office chair, eyes closed, with the third volume of Matt's new translation of The Zohar resting upon my chest. The shy touch of a warm July breeze flitted through the open casement windows. These windows stretched from floor to ceiling but the sun could never be seen directly through them.</quote>

It begins to slow down. I think I would have preferred to keep going straight into the action - why is there a servered head? It's talking to you?! Really? What did is say?! And what did the Rabbi say? I don't mind the jewish words - I think they add flavor and curiousity to the story, even if I don't know what they mean at this point in time. But the problem (for me) arose when you started discussing setting. I would have been more inclined to continue reading had you kept going directly from your opening into action, then maybe peppering your setting throughout, but get me into it first. (Please note that I have an extremely short attention span though!)

When you say "I was at home...I'd been leaning back..." it becomes passive. You just told me there was a severed head in the mailbox that was speaking to you and I'm looking for excitement now. The phrase "...shy touch of a warm July..." doesn't seem in alignment for the thrill I want to feel by diving into the situation of the severed head and the Rabbi calling you on Sabbos - something he apparently would never do unless the situation was dire. My feeling would be that I am interested at those first three lines....then I want you to UP that interest even more by hooking me by saturating me in the situation of these three very exciting things you just told me - a severed head in your mailbox, it's speaking to you, and the Rabbi is involved. Throw me into it and you've got me.



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History
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I've appended a List of Characters and a Glossary to the Manuscript, the latter particularly as reference to Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, and particularly Yiddish words as well as Kabbalistic terms, etc. E.g. To differentiate a siddur (prayerbook) from a seder (the Passover festival meal where is retold the story of Exodus).

I've striven to have non-English words and phrases understood via the context of the sentences where they first occur within the manuscript. The Glossary provides a bit more information for those who may have interest, and to refresh the reader's knowledge of their meaning if the word(s) occurs again.

My questions are:

1) Are Glossaries and List of Characters good or not good to provide?

2) Are they to be included in the Manuscript Word Count? Or does one Word Count only the text of the story itself?

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

[This message has been edited by History (edited December 19, 2010).]


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MattLeo
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Well, Dr. Bob, you have my attention. My story is *also* set in Boston and does at one point involve a copy of the Zohar!

A list of characters is neither here nor there as far as I'm concerned, but generally if the reader *needs* one, you have a work that is too complicated for some readers and may be turned down by some publishers who don't deal in difficult stories. That said such lists are often helpful in mysteries where you need to keep track of everyone's affiliations and associations.

If the list is going into the manuscript, I'd guess it belongs in the word count, because one of the things we want to know from the word count is how many pages its going to run.

I don't think it is necessary to explain in a summary or query the Kabbalistic significance of the title except as it comes up in the story. It would be nice to be accurate for the entertainment of Googling nitpickers, but again you may be suggesting your manuscript is more complicated than some would find entertaining. Speaking of nitpicking, aren't casement windows an unusual architectural detail on Beacon Hill? And when I hear "brownstone", I think "Back Bay" rather than "Beacon Hill", where I'd expect to see brick. But then again when I hear hooves, I think "unicorn", so I'm not always the best person to listen to on such details.

As far as the opening is concerned, it is nicely composed. I'm not a huge fan of bombastic hooks, but the hook is a good one The trouble is fitting them into the following bit of story. It's po-tay-to/po-tah-to kind of disagreement to have, but I'd kind of like the third paragraph ("Rabbi ... upset.") as the lead. It gives the ironic understatement a bit more room to breathe.

[This message has been edited by MattLeo (edited December 19, 2010).]


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PB&Jenny
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quote:
... To differentiate a siddur (prayerbook) from a seder (the Passover festival mean where is retold the story of Exodus).

I'm pretty sure you meant to say 'festival meal', here, Doc. Just checking.


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History
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>chuckle<

Yes.
I see I still need proofreaders.
Thank you.

Dr. Bob


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History
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P.S. Thank you very much for your feedback, MattLeo.
I'm intrigued that your novel has reference to The Zohar.
I greatly enjoy the first line "hooks" used by Jim Butcher in his Dresden Files novels and short stories. I use it here in homage.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

FYI:
http://www.featurepics.com/online/Beacon-Hill-732249.aspx
http://www.featurepics.com/online/Boston-Brownstones-691863.aspx
http://www.planetware.com/picture/boston-beacon-hill-us-ma445.htm

[This message has been edited by History (edited December 19, 2010).]


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MattLeo
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I did something similar at one point -- I did a month by month breakdown of major world events from 1935 to 1937. It was a very useful exercise in getting a feel for the times I wanted to satirize. Later on I took it out because it wasn't strictly necessary for the reader to learn my opinion of the era from anything but the story.

I'd definitely put a glossary in. Living in a major northeast city it's probably easy to forget how little most Americans know about Judaism. I'd wager the majority of non-Jews would have no inkling of the distinctions between the "Tanakh" and the "Talmud"; have no idea what a "Midrash" is. Probably most think Hebrew is the exclusive language of Jewish religious thought, although ironically most Christians probably aren't aware that Jesus spoke Aramaic and that the Gospels were written in Greek. I'd bet at least a quarter of the non-Jews in America think that all orthodox Jews are Hasidic.


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LDWriter2
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I'm not sure if I have commented on this newest version of the opening but it seems to be your best.

As to a glossary and list of characters. Some writers use them, usually not in the first book of a series but even that has been known to happen. So its not something all that strange.

I have no idea if you would include them in the word count. I would think they would be like a preface. Someone will probably come around and say either way.


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MattLeo
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Dr. Bob --

It looks to me like all the "brownstones" in your pictures are actually brick townhouses -- if we want to be technically correct the buildings pictured in Louisburg Square might best be called "rowhouses", but that gives entirely the wrong impression. With their six stories and luxurious appointments these are effectively "town houses".

I suspect in some places like New York where similar dwellings are usually faced with sandstone, the term "brownstone" has become synonymous with the attached townhouse. I'm not saying there aren't any brownstone faced buildings at all within the geographic pale of Beacon Hill, but I can't recall ever seeing any. The platonic ideal of Beacon Hill is a brick facade with granite steps in which one of those iron boot scraping thingies has been set. Calling those houses "browstones" is like saying you waited "on line" instead of "in line", or calling a "sub sandwich" a "hero" or "tonic" "soda pop". That makes your narrator sound like a New Yorker (which maybe he is).

My sister lived in an apartment on the cheap side of Beacon Hill when she was an ICU nurse at Mass General, so I'm reasonably familiar with the neighborhood. I suspect the brick on Beacon Hill largely comes from claypits on the banks of the Mystic River -- a fact the rabbi may wish to recall if he ever needs to make a Golem.

Brick is the basic building material of the Back Bay as well, but brownstone facing is common there. There's several fine examples across the street from the Goethe Institute.

Anyhow, it sounds like a fine start.

Your Nabob of Nit,

--Matt


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History
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Hi, LD.
Thank you. The manuscript and query are ready for submission. I believe I need first await copyright permissions for a few quotes I would like to use, and in the meanwhile I'll tighten up the synopsis.

Matt,
I admire your fastidious and insightful mind. All I can share is my protagonist is a Yankee's fan. However, my family is from the North Shore and I went to BU Medical School when it was the only oasis between the Combat Zone and Roxbury.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob
Maven Bubbemeyseh

[This message has been edited by History (edited December 20, 2010).]


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MattLeo
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A Yankee's fan in Boston? How intriguing. In a way, that means he's got a taste of what it feels like to be a gentile...
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Reziac
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I'm reminded of Friday the Rabbi Slept Late
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friday_the_Rabbi_Slept_Late
for you young'uns who don't go back that far
Jewish culture makes a very enjoyable background flavour.

[This message has been edited by Reziac (edited December 22, 2010).]


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History
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In my query letter I've similarly suggested The Kabbalist could be considered the imagined result of the supposition: "What if Harry Kellerman had authored Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden?"
Both were influences.

The only "demons" Rabbi Small had to be fight were the members of the Temple Board.

Yet while Rabbi Cane battles with mazzilkim (qliphotic denizens and powers), he lacks Rabbi Small's self-mastery over his "personal demons." Unlike Rabbi Small, Cane has not the famed patience nor the humility of Hillel.

Thanks for your comment.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob


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Josephine Kait
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quote:
Saturday, Shabbos, July 25th
When you find a severed head in your mailbox, you can be pretty sure you’re in for a bad day.
When it starts speaking to you, you can be certain.
Rabbi Isaac Levinson called me. On Shabbos. This indicated how seriously he was upset.
I was at home, a 5-story brownstone in an old shadowed section of Boston's Beacon Hill. I'd been leaning back in my office chair, eyes closed, with the third volume of Matt's new translation of The Zohar resting upon my chest. The shy touch of a warm July breeze flitted through the open casement windows. These windows stretched from floor to ceiling but the sun could never be seen directly through them.

I like the “Saturday, Shabbos,…”

I love the first two lines. They put me immediately in the mode for a detective story. They almost feel like bullet points or, with the date, like a police officer’s report.

I would tweak the third line as follows: “Rabbi Isaac Levinson immediately called me, on Shabbos, an indication of how seriously he was upset.”

The next sentence is fine (as I am uninformed regarding Boston’s architecture).

Transitioning from “I was at home…” to “leaning back in my office chair” made me shuffle for a moment before realigning on “home office” as the correct setting, so maybe a tweak is called for there. The “third volume of Matt's new translation of The Zohar” could just as well be “Lord Vod’s fifth translation of the Roth book of spells,” no disrespect intended, but both are completely outside my experience and I will trust you as the author to tell me what I need to know about it, when it matters.

The next sentence is my absolute favorite, beautifully crafted. Bravo.

You could actually do something similar with the last sentence with the sun as the personified subject, perhaps being thwarted the same easy entry…

The first sentence of the next paragraph would defiantly need to bring you back though, to the immediacy of the phone call, the upset Rabbi friend, and the talking severed head.

--

The hook is quite effective. If this had been a teaser “read the first page online” of a published book, I would now be trying to locate a copy to purchase. As is, I will simply ask to read more and offer my thoughts and opinions as payment. I also find myself hoping for Golems.

-Jo


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Reziac
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Looking at this thread again for some reason... I like the initial structure. I also use that sort of physically breaking up the lines (both sentence fragments and very short paragraphs) to cause the reader a bit of haltage, or to emphasize "WTF?" The whole idea is to NOT have "flow", but rather to MAKE a stop-and-look. This can be essential to the pacing of a scene, and getting the reader's attention on the right elements.

I think you have the sense of that here.


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melindabrasher
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I haven't read all the other posts, so I may be repeating.

Loved the first two lines. My only issue is that it sets a rather comic tone. I'm not sure if you're going to carry that through the whole book or not. If you're not, you're misleading the reader.

The transition to the narrator sitting in his apartment is rather jolting. I'm not sure who found the head, him or his friend (assuming the friend, but it's kinda weird to switch viewpoints like that). I also think the description of the apartment is a little dull for a first page.

Line edit:
I would suggest "how seriously upset he was" as smoother.


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History
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Thanks, Reziac.

Yes. That is exactly the intent.

I (strive to) utilize word choice, sentence structure, and paragraph length to direct the pace of the story.

The short sentence paragraph causes a momentary pause, and emphasis, to draw the reader's attention. I find it particularly effective in a first person narrative.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob


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History
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Thanks for your post, melindabrasher.

I don't believe life is either wholly comedy or wholly tragedy.
For my Rabbi protagonist, life can be a holy, or unholy, terror (quite literally) or surprisingly, and unexpectedly, wonderful.

What he expresses is Jewish angst (n. transcendent emotion in that it combines the unbearable anguish of life with the hopes of overcoming this seemingly impossible situation), often released, in humor. Cane is not being flippant; he is merely being himself, and the reader is privy to his thoughts. If the reader (as you suggest) feels he or she is being misled that Cane is trying to be a comedian or his story is a comedy, he/she will be dissuaded of this as they read on.

[FYI: this angst is distinct from "dark humor," such as expressed, for example, by Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, for dark humor lacks compassion and is often intentionally cruel.]

I believe the characters we create need be complexly human, and be people with whom the reader can identify--regardless is they exist in a fantasy setting. This is what I strive to create. But there is only so much that can be conveyed in the first 13 lines of a 108,000 word manuscript.

You may be correct that the opening hook is so startling that the transition to the peaceful Sabbath morning Cane was enjoying just moments before may seem a precipitous drop in pacing. It is by no means an original storytelling device, but it is purposeful, and in the next paragraph, Cane receives the phone call where he learns of the head in the mailbox.

I have had a few test readers suggest that the pace of the first chapter should be faster, and others who, having been hooked, enjoyed "settling in" to the story. Some Forum Members are exchanging the first chapters of their novels for critical comment, and I look forward to their thoughts and suggestions on this point.

And I appreciate the time you have taken to share yours.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob


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bobbyshane
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I like the concept and the hook quite well.

The line

-Rabbi Isaac Levinson called me. On Shabbos. This indicated how seriously he was upset.-

hit me strange. The last sentence gives me pause. Maybe something like:

-When Rabbi Isaac Levinson called me, on Shabbos no less, I knew he was seriously upset.-

Probably could be done better than that but you get the idea, I suppose.

But overall very interesting. I would definitely read on. Let me know if you ever want anyone to crit. I'd definitely give a couple chapters a read and go from there.


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Reziac
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I do grok the "Jewish angst" thing... very appropriate, and I got it precisely from the opener.

I like your description of the MC in contrast to Rabbi Small.


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History
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Dear bobbyshane,
Thank you for your kind comments and critique.

The line in question, as last revised, reads:
"Rabbi Isaac Levinson called me on Shabbos. This indicated how seriously he was upset."

The intent is to emphasize that on the Sabbath, observant Jews do not do "work", including use of a cellphone. The only exception to this Sabbath Law is when life is at stake. Thus, Cane knew something important was occurring when Rabbi Levinson calls him.

Attempting to emphasize "on Shabbos", by making it a separate partial sentence, was overkill; and I concur it does not scan well. Thus I made the change that I believe/hope is an improvement.

The beginning chapters of THE KABBALIST are ones that I fear need the most work, and would most benefit from critique. They were the first fiction I had written in, well, decades.

Thus, I am participating in the Writers Chapter Exchange here at Hatrack ( http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum2/HTML/000233.html ) in hope to get feedback on what does and does not work, and (hopefully) suggestions on how to improve the opening chapters.

**I would very much appreciate your (or any willing Hatrack menber's) comments and feedback. **

THE KABBALIST: THE FOUNDATION OF THE KINGDOM consists of 108,000 words (excluding the Glossary, etc.) divided into 18 chapters (that so happens to be a mystical number in Jewish numerology that means "Life").

**If you, or anyone, are interested in reading more of the novel, please email me and let me know what amount you would like to read.**


Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

P.S. Thank you very much for your comments as well, Reziac. I also need to refine the Query letter/pitch for THE KABBALIST. I do not feel it is the best it could be. And I was afraid the reference to Harry Kellerman's Rabbi Small would be unknown to many.

[This message has been edited by History (edited February 09, 2011).]


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bobbyshane
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hmm. is the Writers Chapter Exchange an open thing or is it too late to get involved? I'd be tempted to do that. I saw the post for it. Would it be too late to join you guys on there?
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History
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I don't believe so, but post and ask.

In any case, if you'd like me to critique a chapter, I will be glad to do so. My turnaround time varies dependent on my workload, the length of the chapter, and if it has been proofread/spellchecked--but I can usually return it within a week.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob


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YNRedef
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I hope this reply finds you well. I didn't get to read every reply. I enjoyed what I read. I saw others comment which I would have said, but I did not want to be overly repetitious.
I was wondering if you had a specific crowd you were catering to? I affiliate myself with the religious crowd so I was wondering if that was what you were going for, or were you trying to reach the public eye (I'm going for more of a public viewing).
I really enjoyed reading the beginning. All the best!

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History
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YNRedef,
Thank you for your post and kind comments.

My intended audience is the general market, particularly those who enjoy urban fantasy.

As shared above,I was in part inspired by Jim Butcher's popular THE DRESDEN FILES, as well as by Harry Kellerman's RABBI SMALL MYSTERIES, as well as paranormal investigator series of earlier days.

Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah) has long been an interest of mine, and I feel it provides, if not original, at least an intriguing pseudo-fantasy element that may appeal to many.

You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy bagels and cream cheese, nor a good kosher brisket. Kapish?

However, those of a religious inclination may find the Jewish elements in the tale, including mystical ones (e.g. a visit to the supernal worlds and their denizens), of interest. All are based on actual Kabbalistic teachings, suppositions, and texts.

Those who like crime and a murder mystery will find this present as well.

Those who like unrequited romance (not necessarily, but not excluding, sex) and interesting character relationships will hopefully not be disappointed.

Then there is the fantasy adventure and action, spell-magic, gunfire and swords, subterranean caverns, and gay bar.

I think there is a kitchen sink in there, somewhere, as well.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

[This message has been edited by History (edited February 12, 2011).]


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Reziac
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Over 10,000 words (so far) just to discuss 13 lines.

Where can you find another investment with that kind of payback?



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