Friday, December 30, 2011

Highlights of 2011

I can’t believe the year’s gone already! Was it really a year ago I sat down to write my recap of 2010?  And could this year be anywhere near as exciting as the last one? Yes, it could, as it turns out. It was a year of learning ... and a lot of waiting ... and growing professionally, I think.

First of all, I had the pleasure of working with my agent Sara Crowe in 2011.  She was my brand new agent last December, and after a year of working with her I am impressed by her upbeat, positive approach --  and awed by her keen eye for editorial comments.  Every time I submit a manuscript to Sara and she sends back comments, my response is: “Wow. That’s brilliant -- and do-able -- and perfect!”

Of course, a big highlight of 2011 was when Sara sold THE CAGED GRAVES to Dinah Stevenson of Clarion!  I look forward to all the pre-publication business that is to come in 2012 – editorial letters, revisions, editing, more editing, and did I mention editing?  Believe it or not, I love editing!  I don’t have an official publication date yet, although Goodreads says 2013 and who am I to question Goodreads?

WE HEAR THE DEAD may have been published last year, but it continued to pick up good reviews this year.  I attended two YA panels as an author – which was a thrill! – at Drexel University’s Week of Writing and the Lititz Kid Lit Festival. (Say that last one 5x fast.)  And I had the excitement of seeing my own book on the shelf at my school’s Scholastic Book Fair last May. 

I finished the first draft of my Tesla-punk manuscript this year, plus several subsequent drafts, and I have my fingers crossed that 2012 will bring good news for this story.  There were times I despaired of ever finishing it, and this manuscript proved to me that getting to the end of the first draft is always my biggest hurdle. If I can produce even a stinker of a first draft, then I can transform the story into anything I want it to be during revisions.  I hope to keep that in mind as I work on my next WIP, which I began this year  -- (and which is already giving me some trouble.)

In February, Marcy Hatch approached me about a new blog feature – First Impressions -- and in March we began our monthly first page critiques.  I’ve learned a lot just writing them, and I’ve met a lot of new writers, to boot. (Plus, I hope the critiques have been useful ...)

Finally, this recap wouldn’t be complete without my trip to Hollywood for dinner with my producer.  Okay – the trip to Hollywood was a family vacation, and she isn’t “my” personal producer.  But Amy Green is the producer who purchased a film option for WE HEAR THE DEAD and collaborated with me on the screenplay.  I loved meeting her for dinner to discuss the latest developments and future plans, and who knows – maybe the “Highlights of 2012” will contain some good news in that realm! Fingers crossed!

Happy New Years, everyone – and wishing everybody a successful 2012!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gina Review: Top Five Series to Read

Today I bring you Gina's Christmas gift to me: a guest blog post on her 5 most favorite series of books to read. Interestingly enough, Harry Potter isn't on there ...

Top Five Series to Read  by Gina Salerni

1.   Everlost Series: Neal Shusterman- Two kids are killed in a car crash and are transported to Everlost, a world of the dead. Only kids are here and they are just like any living people.  Along their journey they will meet monsters, slip inside of the living, and become the most important people in all of Everlost.

2.   Airborn Series: Kenneth Oppel- Matt works on an airship and one day, he meets a passenger on his ship, her name is Kate. Kate and Matt are so different in background but love the sky. So when they both share the knowledge of an amazing creature in the sky, they’ll do anything to find it.

3.   Worst Case Scenario- Are you going hiking in the woods? Climbing Mt. Everest? Need help boosting a bad grade? Then check out the Worst Case Scenario Series. They give you step by step instructions (with a dash of humor) to prepare and carry out these things. They also include some multiple choice questions to see if you know about some random facts!

4.   Septimus Heap: Angie Sage- Septimus Heap is in the young army until he realizes he has magical powers-which aren’t unusual around there. Septimus will rise to the third most important person in the land. Although, being the Apprentice of the Extra-Ordinary Wizard isn’t all fun and games.  Septimus will have to protect the princess, face evil wizards, and travel in time.

5.    Vordak the Incomprehensible: Vordak the Incomprehensible- Read these books to find out how to rule the world and raise a terrifying army. Vordak will give you step-by-step directions to rule the world, including picking a name, costumes, and constructing extremely slow-acting yet diabolically clever death traps. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Maybe Christmas Doesn't Come From a Store

Dr. Seuss was right of course. We all know it, even if we did scramble to make sure all our store-bought presents arrived on time and were wrapped by Christmas Eve.  But some of the most thoughtful gifts don't come from a store.

One of my students gave me an ornament hand-painted by his mother to match the cover of my book.  I was reduced to tears.

My daughter Gina wrote me a guest blog post, which I will post on Wednesday.

And my other daughter Gabrielle painstakingly learned (by ear) the theme for the eleventh Doctor Who (Matt Smith) and played it on her viola for me Christmas morning.

I feel very lucky.
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, or any other holiday you celebrate ... and wishing you a good New Year's to come!

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Holiday Greeting Card for You

Happy Holidays to all my blogging friends!

If I haven't been to your blog this week, please forgive me. This is the longest teaching week of the year, and the children's minds are GONE.  I may have taught the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Declaration of Independence this week, but I doubt anyone was paying attention. If I survive until 1:30pm today, it might be a Christmas miracle.

And in the evenings, in between wrapping presents, attending Christmas concerts, and licking envelopes, I've been furiously writing, writing, writing.

This is my Christmas card to you all ... a year of my life.
And yes, that IS my hand on Will Smith's knee.  No, he didn't object ...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Slice of Salerni Life 2011

I've been doing family skits as a Christmas newsletter since 2002, when the girls were ages 2 and 5.  It's just a yearly peek inside the Salerni house, and here's the most recent:

A SLICE OF SALERNI LIFE 2011 (The Tenth Edition)
DINNER (Reprised)

The Doctor: (cue dramatic music) There's one thing you never put in a trap—if you're smart, if you value your continued existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow—there's one thing you never EVER put in a trap ... ME.

Dianne: Turn off the TV and come to dinner! (Sorcia scrambles over to the table, feet slipping cartoon style on the hardwood floor.)  Not you! You’ve already eaten a slab of raw chicken big enough to have been Foghorn Leghorn.

Bob: So, I hear DINNER is the topic of this year’s newsletter.  Didn’t you already do that?

Dianne: Seven years ago, yes. But a lot’s changed since then.

Gina: What’s this speck on my chicken?

Dianne: Well, not Gina.  Gina hasn’t changed a bit.

Bob: It’s a flavor particle. Eat it.

Gina:  What KIND of flavor particle?

Dianne: Parsley. Now eat it.  The girls have really grown up since I wrote that skit in 2004.

Gabbey: BRRRWAAAAAP! (lets out a spectacular burp)

Gina: (admiringly) Nice!

Dianne: Although I still think they might never be fit for boys to take out to eat on a date.

Gabbey: You should be grateful I know better than to do that in public.

Dianne: They’ve got Doctor Who on the TV instead of Kim Possible. That’s a plus.

Bob: I kind of miss Dr. Drakken, actually, but Doctor Who can be fun, too – especially since Gabbey doesn’t sob at the sight of Daleks anymore.

Gabbey: Give me a break, Dad. I was FOUR.

Dianne: You were ten.

Gabbey: (bends head over dinner and mutters) Daleks are scary.

Gina: OH NO! The juice from my chicken is touching my broccoli. Aaaaaahhhh! (Stuffs napkin under plate to tilt it. The juice runs back toward the chicken.)

Bob: Life was simpler back in 2004 – now we’re hard pressed just to keep up with band and orchestra concerts, play practice, Thanksgiving Day parades, Robotics …

Dianne: Ah, but if you took a bike ride with Gina back then, she was strapped into a seat on your bike. Now she’s matching your pace on 10 mile bike rides through White Clay Creek Park.

Bob: It’s true I don’t miss the toddler/pre-school days much. We couldn’t have taken them ziplining on Catalina Island. And we certainly wouldn’t have dared bring them along to meet a film producer for dinner in Hollywood …

Gabbey: CHA-A-ANGE PLA-CES! (Gina and Gabbey grab their plates and dash around to new seats at the table. Dianne and Bob hang onto their plates and refuse to move.)

Dianne: We’ve got the Alice in Wonderland play to thank for that. I should be grateful that was well after the Hollywood visit.

Bob: And they’re pretty good natured when we drag them along on your book research – to coal mines and abandoned cemeteries.

Dianne: True. Gabbey even got out of the car last time we visited the caged graves.

Gabbey: Yes, I looked at your creepy graves!  You know, while you’re making fun of us in the Christmas skit, you might want to remember that seven years from NOW, we won’t be here eating dinner with you. We’ll be away in college.

Gina: Yeah.  You’ll be sitting here alone and sad without your lovely daughters.

Bob: (looks at Dianne) I’m thinking champagne … on a Caribbean island.

Dianne: Before-dinner cocktails on a cruise ship, somewhere between Italy and Greece.

Gabbey: Except you’ll have two of us in college, so you’ll be POOR.

Bob: Touché.

Dianne: She’s right. It’ll be TV dinners in front of Doctor Who for us, Bob.

Gina: (pushes green specks aside on her plate) I’m not eating these suspicious flavor particles. Can’t be too careful. Gabbey’s been reading your poison book again, Mom.

Gabbey: So, I like to poison people.  Fictionally. Sue me.

Dianne: Darling daughters, both of them.

Bob: Wouldn’t trade ‘em.

Monday, December 19, 2011

This Is Not What I Intended to Write

I attempted to write two or three different blog posts yesterday and didn't get more than a few sentences into any of them before deleting.  I was thinking of just posting "I got nothin' for ya" and being done with it, when I remembered this little piece.

I wrote it in high school -- in 1983, folks -- where it was published in our school literary magazine. Its title:


"I think I have to go write now," I said, excusing myself with the best -- oh the very bestest -- of intentions.

Clever notions spilled out of my favorite pen and danced across the page -- but no Swan Lake, this -- more like the Disco Duck with a sore foot.  My bright idea went jump, jump, jump down the paper giggling, "Here I am! Here I am!"

"Come back here, you little rascal!" I growled, one hand swooping like a bird of prey. But it wriggled away, clambering up the bookshelves, the little son-of-a --

My initiative squealed, making a break across the desk, and belly-flopped over the edge.  My pen pursued my patience, but it was running along the arm of the turntable, and when it fell, the speed of the record spun it off against the wall. It made an interesting drip on the wallpaper, and my good-will went down for the third time in my orange juice with a piteous gurgle.

Dejected, beaten, a tad perturbed, I drooped my head toward the desk.  There -- lo and behold -- I discovered my opening line sitting splat at the head of the paper, sticking its tongue out at me.  I lunged for the vile little creature, and my pen flipped backwards over my fingers and into the air.

It couldn't have come down yet, because I haven't found it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Deja Vu: Seances = 19th C Twitter

While I was promoting WE HEAR THE DEAD in the early months of 2010, I had a startling revelation about the role played by séances in the 19th century. Too bad I only had 5 blog followers at the time …

Thanks to the Déjà Vu Blogfest – The Day of the Do-Over – I get to share it again!

While working on a guest post for my blog tour, trying to explain why abolitionists and suffragettes endorsed the Fox sisters’ séances, it suddenly hit me: Seances were the 19th century’s version of Twitter!

Picture it -- People receiving brief, cryptic messages sent by faceless entities from a far away place. That pretty much describes both a séance and Twitter, doesn’t it?

While I was writing the Fox sisters’ story in WE HEAR THE DEAD, I struggled to find an explanation for why intelligent and educated people like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Frederick Douglass supported something that was just a clever hoax. Were they really taken in? Eventually I came to the conclusion that – just like today – people endorse things that benefit them.

People were quick to believe messages sent from Heaven, but, of course, as with Twitter, one can never be really certain of the sender’s true identity. 19th century Senator John Calhoun was a staunch (even rabid) advocate of slavery. Yet, after his death, Calhoun’s spirit (@johncalhoun if you please) visited the Fox sisters’ séances, claiming he’d been enlightened by the Truth in the afterlife and recanting his former position!

Stanton, Mott, Douglass, and other reformers knew exactly what they were doing when they endorsed the Fox sisters. They had a message they wanted to spread, and the Fox sisters, abolitionists and fledgling feminists themselves, were more than happy to cooperate. As @benjaminfranklin said in one of their séances, “Great changes are on the horizon!”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hunting Anachronisms

It’s hunting season! But a gun is not my weapon of choice – and neither is that book on the right, although it was the first thing I bought for the job.
When you write historical fiction, it takes a lot of effort to get the details right. And believe me, I try to do my homework, even in the first draft. I tend to focus on plot and setting: Can Verity take a train to Catawissa in 1867? (Yes.) Would doctors coming out of the Civil War understand the importance of washing their hands and instruments in preventing infection? (The open-minded ones were just beginning to realize.) How does one quickly empty the cylinders in a Civil War era revolver? (My brother-in-law Larry is my #1 go-to man for all weapons-related questions.) What books might Nate have on his reading shelf? (Dr. Kane’s Arctic Explorations was a must!)
Harder to pin down is the actual word usage of the time period – phrases, expressions, figures-of-speech.
And, um, I make mistakes.
To carry a torch for someone – that’s safe, right? Torches are old. Caveman old. But the phrase is not. It’s actually a reference from an obscure Broadway song, dated 1927.
To keep track of someone or something – 1883.
To hightail it – 1885.
Once I start looking, they're everywhere.
When I was first asked by my editor at Clarion to eliminate anachronistic language in THE CAGED GRAVES, I wanted to find a good resource to help me. That book I bought – Eric Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English – weighs 5lbs, 3.75 ounces, is printed in miniscule type, and has a bunch of pages bound out of order. And in spite of its 1400 pages, most of the words and phrases I’ve tried to look up … aren’t in there! No wonder it was ex-libris!
I’ve actually found to be a fairly helpful resource. It has word history listings for quite a number of phrases. Krystalyn Drown also shared this resource at ipl2.
If all of the resources above fail me and I can’t date something, then I just remove the questionable phrase.
There’s always another way to say it.
Have YOU used any anachronisms today?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Guest Post: Of Men and Cats

Today I have my brother-in-law Larry O'Donnell here with a guest post. (No, that's not him on the right.) I'm pretty sure I know what activity he was doing when he conceived and composed this little essay ...

Of Men and Cats -- Larry O'Donnell

I find cats to be curious critters. They have been worshipped in some cultures and vilified in others. Blofeld came off as a creepy Bond villain with a fancy cat in his lap. There are lots of references to cats in the Bond flicks, but I won’t go there.

I am medically diagnosed with an allergy to cats, their dander, saliva, and general presence. So, when I volunteer to clean the cats’ litter boxes for my wife, it is a real token of my affection. The cats know about my allergy, some sort of sensor they have. They swarm me and rub up against me. I usually pay the price of a stuffy nose and itchy eyes and throat.

Many folks assert that cats are lazy and lie around doing nothing all day. This is totally wrong. They do something all day and it goes in the litter box, or on the floor if their aim fails. They only eat and drink so they can continue to fill the litter boxes.

We have four cats, three of advanced age and one with just a few years on him. There are three pans full of kitty litter. They are full of other stuff too, and that’s where I come in with my opposable thumbs.

The cats use the pans even as I’m cleaning them. Of course, since I’m there, the cat doesn’t cover up his work; he just leaves it for me to deal with it. There is nothing quite like fresh cat scat. I saw a fly land on one. He jumped off, went a few hops and then threw up. Even my stuffy nose fails to protect me from the smell. I gag along with the fly.

Finally I carry the bag of sh…er waste up to the dumpster and dispose of it. Good job, unless the bag breaks. Even County HAZMAT refuses to respond to this type of mess. They jump all over nerve gas or anhydrous ammonia but draw the line at cat waste.

Sometimes I have to give two of the cats their insulin shots. (My wife asks me to “shoot the cats.” I grin and she says, “Not that way.” My smile fades and I get the syringes.) One cat comes out and says, “Shoot me up, I’m jonesin’ here.” The other one, who weighs in at about 20 pounds, flees under some furniture. There, he puts up a defense like the Russians at Stalingrad. I usually get scratched or bitten. Occasionally, I get the insulin. No problem, I just drink a quart of orange juice and eat four Milky Way bars.

Cats are strange creatures. They seem to always have a facial expression that says, “What’s in it for me?” Call one and he runs away. Shoo one and he comes to you. I don’t understand cats but they do provide me with a means to demonstrate my affection for my wife.

Friday, December 9, 2011

How Do You Know When NOT to Jump Ship?

Last week, I came across two blog posts discussing troublesome WIPS and how to know when it’s time to give up on them.
Meredith Moore wrote about falling out of love with your book. Sometime you need a break, (Remember Ross and Rachel? “We were on a break!”) and when you come back to the story, everything is fresh and appealing again. Then again, sometimes it’s not.
Kristen Lippert Martin likened giving up on a book to bailing out of the Tour de France, when they strip off your number and write ABANDONED next to your name on the team roster. She hates quitting and makes no bones about it.
I quit sometimes. I admit it. During the past year, I worked on three new projects. At some point or other, I quit on all of them – walked away, took a break, and (just like Ross) amused myself some other way. After all, I’ve got a full time job, two busy children, a husband, a blog … My time is precious to me, and if a project’s doomed then I’m not going down with the ship. I’m going to take my life preserver and jump.
For two of the projects, walking away was a relief. The characters quickly faded from my mind and never bothered me again. Their ships sank faster than the Titanic while I paddled happily away.
The third project was a science fiction story featuring Tesla and Edison. When I got stuck on that one, I set it aside and started making notes for a different project.
Around that time, I discovered the TV show The Big Bang Theory. (Yeah, I was a few seasons behind, but that’s what Netflix is for.) And every time I watched the show, the opening credits hit me like a blow. It was the sequence of old photographs of inventions and scientists that got to me. I cringed. My heart hurt. I felt GUILTY. I felt LONGING. I WANTED to write about my turn-of-the-century apprentices in Tesla’s lab and their budding scientific discovery.
The Big Bang Theory (or the opening credits, anyway) sent me back to the story. I figured out what was wrong with it and started a brand new draft.
Several months and three rounds of revision later, I had a manuscript worthy of showing to my agent. And now when I watch TBBT, I sing along and love every second of the credits.
How do you know when NOT to jump ship? You’ll know.
Something – even the strangest thing – will send you back.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

First Impressions #31

Our third selection for First Impressions in the month of December is another NaNo project. (Looks like some awesome stuff came out of November this year!) This is a middle grade fantasy by Elizabeth Prats called CRYSTAL MILK.

It has always been her story. I’m just there, living on the outskirts.

But she changed my life.


Footsteps pounded the cobbled pavement behind me. Not good at all. A trail of marinara sauce leaked down my chin as a long piece of melted cheese flapped across my face with each step. I practically choked trying to bite the last bit of cheese while running. I darted into an alley and snorted when the cheese, covered in marinara, went up my nose. It burned! I muffled the sound with a hand over my nose. I couldn’t let them hear me. Distracted, my black t-shirt caught against a nail beside a fire escape. It tore but I didn’t stop, couldn’t stop. The footsteps became louder. So loud. Much too loud. They rattled my eardrums. I bit my lip and chanced a look back. Adjusting my eyes, I stared into the darkness. Blinking I could see through the darkness. Shadows followed, large shadows that ran across the walls. Witches.

Well, this is an interesting beginning in that it simultaneously gets my heart racing and makes me laugh. The main character seems to be in deadly peril, and yet she (he?) is apparently slobbering marinara sauce and cheese from some hastily eaten pasta meal. Or was it pizza? The stringy bits of cheese make me think PIZZA, whereas marinara sauce makes me think SPAGHETTI. Maybe pick one or the other? Anyway, I love the contrasting moods presented here.

I’d like to see this paragraph broken up for better effect. I find that shorter paragraphs tend to rev up the tension a bit and help emphasize the key elements of the scene – the pounding footsteps, the alley, the shirt caught on a nail, and the sloppy sauce. Otherwise all these wonderful details can get lost in the long paragraph.

I also have a few small editing suggestions. I’d rewrite the third sentence to say: A trail of marinara sauce leaked down my chin, and a long piece of melted cheese flapped across my face with each step. For some reason, I think it reads more smoothly that way. Also, the main character is distracted, not the t-shirt, so the subject of that sentence needs to be changed or the adjective inserted a different way. Finally, these sentences -- Adjusting my eyes, I stared into the darkness. Blinking I could see through the darkness. – can be merged into one. Blinking to adjust my eyes, I stared into the darkness.

Otherwise, great job! I would definitely want to keep reading from this point. Why are witches chasing this character? And did she get to finish that marinara before she had to get up and run? LOL! Thanks, Elizabeth, for sharing your page with us. You can visit Elizabeth at her blog, Dorm Room Dreamer, and be sure to stop by Mainewords to read Marcy Hatch’s thoughts on this same page.

Monday, December 5, 2011

First Impressions #30

Our second First Impressions for December is a middle grade science-fiction/fantasy novel by Fiona Claire entitled FINDING OUT. Like the last First Impression, this is a NaNo project and a first draft.

I might be dead. If I am, it’s a shame because I didn’t say good-bye to anybody, not Dad (if he even cares anymore) or Mrs. K or anybody. But I don’t feel anything and I don’t see anything or hear anything, so . . . Doesn’t that mean I’m dead?

The last thing I remember was running, like I always do when things get too awful. And it had been a totally awful, horrible, crappy Friday. So, when I got home from school, I didn’t eat the snack Mrs. K had left out for me, or take my medicine, or even change my school uniform. I just ran outside. The air felt cool on my face as I raced across our back yard and into the wild maze of bushes and trees that we called the ‘back lot.’

It was a good place to be alone, and I made a b-line for the secret fort I’d created as a little kid. About four summers ago, when I was just eight, I’d worked hard cutting back bushes and vines to make a sort of tunnel that led directly to Headquarters.

The problem was, now it was all overgrown. I couldn’t even get a few feet down the path without the branches cutting and slashing at me. Had it really been that long since I was back here to check the place out? It must have been over a year, at least, since before . . . well . . . before a lot of things.

I ran back inside and got my pocket knife to cut back some of the bushes. Emmaline was just hanging out in her web in my bedroom window.

“Hey girl,” I whispered to her, “Wanna go for a walk?”

There’s a deceptively large amount of information packed into a short amount of space on this page. (Very neatly done, btw!) By the end of the passage, I know something bad is about to happen to the MC, so that she (he?) thinks she might be dead. (A lot of information is given, but not the gender of the speaker – however, my gut instinct is this is a girl.)

I also know she lives with a distant and seemingly uncaring father and Mrs. K (a housekeeper?); she attends a private school (the uniform), and has some kind of medical condition (the medicine she didn’t take). A year ago, something happened that caused her to stop visiting her fort.

AND she either has a pet spider – or a magical spider that lives in her room. She talks to the spider, but the spider doesn’t talk back (yet), so I’ll withhold judgment on the magical part.

There were a few things I questioned. If she hasn’t been out to this fort in a year or more, why does she make a beeline (not b-line, btw) for it now, after a Friday so crappy she doesn’t eat her snack or take her medicine? I also thought if the path was so overgrown she couldn’t make it to the fort, she’d need gardening shears, not a penknife from her room.

And the biggest question for me, what happened to this girl to make her think she might be dead? The last thing she remembers was running … and the scene starts with her running to her fort … so I expected I was going to find out right away. Then she turns around and goes back to her room. I was disappointed by this detour, but I assume the author knows exactly what she’s doing and the spider Emmaline is crucial to what happens next.

One thing is certain, the story certainly has my attention! Fiona, thanks for sharing your page with us!

You can find Fiona at her blog Ageless Druids. Also, be sure to stop by Mainewords for Marcy Hatch’s critique of this same page.

Friday, December 2, 2011

First Impressions #29

As NaNo projects come to a close, a lot of writers are taking a breath and stepping back to look at their new creations. That’s why I’m excited to share this First Impression of FIX YOUR LIFE! by Judy Mintz. This is Judy’s NaNo work, which she describes as magical realism, or possibly outright fantasy.

“Move the bus! Move the bus!”

The crowd had gathered early to see what the crew of the reality show, Fix Your Life!, had done to our house in the week they’d had it under wraps. As the bus revved its engine, the volume increased.

“Move the bus! Move the bus!”

The over-sized bus began to roll lethargically away for the big reveal, and the crowd grew more frenzied. Then, as one, the chant became a collective gasp, followed by a cacophony of dismay.

Dexter, the host of the show, yanked my blindfold off and said, “Ta da!” He danced in front of me like a deranged elf, darting from one side to another so fast that I had trouble taking in what was across the road. Then I saw it. It was the same house we’d moved out of a week ago, but in much, much worse shape.

I whipped around to find the rest of my family, but there was no one else there. Not my family, not a crowd, no one. Even the bus had disappeared.

“Come on! It’s so cool. I know you’re going to love what we’ve done,” Dexter cackled. He grabbed me by the upper arm and dragged me across the street. His grip was unnecessarily tight. I could feel his long fingernails digging into my flesh. I stumbled across, trying to keep my feet heading forward while twisting the rest of me into a pretzel to look behind at the empty lot that had been chock-full of people moments before. Where did they all go?

My foot hit the curb and I would have gone splat if Dexter hadn’t had such a vise-like grip on me. “Watch your step, little lady. Watch your step.”

I’ll start with small editing items. First, I’d avoid putting commas around the title of the show Fix Your Life! because the exclamation point and the comma together look strange. You can probably just drop the words reality show, since that’s implied by the situation.

As for these lines: He danced in front of me like a deranged elf, darting from one side to another so fast that I had trouble taking in what was across the road. Then I saw it. It was the same house we’d moved out of a week ago, but in much, much worse shape. I absolutely LOVE the description of Dexter as a deranged elf! I’d eliminate the word that after the words so fast, and avoid using the word it at the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next.

Moving on to bigger things, I definitely wanted a better description of what the narrator sees when the blindfold comes off – something more than in much, much worse shape. Unless, of course, this is a dream, and from the sudden unexplained disappearance of the crowd, I guess it might be.

When the crowd gasps in dismay, it made me wonder if the story takes place in a dystopian setting, where a television show can wreck your house if they want to, and you can’t do anything about it. That would be an awesomely chilling world! But the subsequent events -- the way the crowd and the bus all vanish at once -- made me think the main character is dreaming.

If this IS a dream beginning, I’d caution Judy to think it over carefully. Starting with a dream is a device that’s been over-used to the point of becoming a “no-no” for querying writers. I’m not saying you can’t do it (and do it well!) – just be sure your dream beginning is effective enough to make it stand out among others.

And if this isn’t a dream beginning, where did all the people go?!?! What kind of creepy power does Dexter have?! I'm rather hoping this is real, because if it is, Dexter must be one sinister TV host!

Thanks, Judy, for sharing your first page with us! You can find Judy at her blog Everywhere I Go – and don’t forget to stop by Mainewords for Marcy Hatch’s take on this same beginning!