Wednesday, February 1, 2012

First Impressions: THE 49TH PARALLEL


Today I’m bringing you a First Impression of PK Hrezo’s manuscript, a YA thriller titled THE 49TH PARALLEL.

Mom says I’m my father’s daughter.

She says I’d be willing to put my well-being on the line for anyone. She doesn’t mean it in the good way. Dad was a firefighter and made a career out of getting people out of trouble. There’s even a memorial for him, along with the other firefighters who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.

He was a hero. All I am is a dare-taker who can’t even keep herself out of trouble, much less anyone else. That’s what Mom means. It’s what got me here in the most boring town in upper state New York for the summer, working in the public library. It was that, or change bed pans for old people in the retirement home—and I’m not about to work around human defecation all day. Besides, I like books. And I like them even more when my friends back in Manhattan can’t see me reading them.

Returning two books back to the cultural arts section, I roll the book cart down the aisle and across the faded brown parquet floor to the American History section. It’s quiet up here tonight, my first night closing alone, and I have to admit this big old place is kind of creepy. The third level skirts the transparent railing that surrounds the center staircase to the first level. From up here, you can see all the way down to the atrium floor, where the moonlight from the glass ceiling spills in like silvery rain.

It’s an impressive building for a suburban library outside Syracuse. Uncle Geoffrey says it was built back in the early 1960s for university students who lived off campus. Pre-internet days, back when libraries were the only place to study. Now it’s more of a landmark than anything else. Still, college kids trickle in for somewhere quiet to read. And it’s definitely quiet.

At the far end of the American History section I follow the decimal numbers to return a navy blue hardback book that looks like it hasn’t been read in years. It’s heavy and smells like my uncle’s basement: musty and old. The American Revolution is embossed across the front in pale gold. I scan the numbers on the binding again. It belongs on the very top shelf where I can’t reach without the ladder. Stepping back down the aisle, I snag the nearest shelf ladder and roll it over.

Glass rattles at the far atrium windows. It startles me, making me freeze in my tracks. Scanning the network of window panes over my head, beyond the shelves, I spy a couple of pigeons fluttering away, off the stone ledge outside. I’m such a dork. I’m from Manhattan—there’s no excuse for me being this jumpy. I’ve seen people mugged at gunpoint inside my very own apartment building, for Pete’s sake!


Being a huge fan of gothic mysteries, I have no objection to starting off a story in a creepy library, but in this case, I think I’m more intrigued by what this narrator did to get herself banished from Manhattan for the summer. Her father was a fire-fighter and a 9/11 hero who sacrificed his life trying to help others. Our narrator is like her father, but not in a good way, since she “put her well-being” on the line as part of a foolish dare.  With an opening like that, I found it hard to turn my attention to the library.

One suggestion I have is to intersperse the back story that landed her here with the description of the library itself in alternating paragraphs.  Maybe replay bits of dialogue between this girl and her mother, or include some comment by Uncle Geoffrey (with whom I assume she’s staying) about how working at this library will keep her out of x, y, and z sorts of trouble.

I’d also drop the paragraph giving the history of this building (for now) and work on conveying more of a creepy mood in the library itself. Give us more shadows, a bit of a chill, echoes and creaks as she rolls her cart around the third level balcony.

Overall, I think what I want most from this page is a little more building of mood and tone – a sense that exciting and surprising things are about to happen to a girl already prone to jumping in first and thinking about consequences later.

Thanks for sharing, PK! Be sure to check out Marcy Hatch’s critique of this same page on Mainewords today and visit PK Hrezo at her blog: My Fiction Addiction.

16 comments:

  1. I agree--intersperse that backstory instead of in the first two paragraphs. I like the set up, but I think it needs a little rearranging.

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  2. Yep, that was my feedback exactly. When a story starts out with the narrator telling me a bunch of stuff up front, I start to worry that the whole book will be telling. I'd rather be shown the truth about the character and the interactions she's talking about. In addition, with that beginning, I expected the story to actually start with her in the middle of some dangerous stunt--but then she's working in a library? It was a little jarring. That being said--ok, you got me. I'm intrigued! This beginning simply needs some rearranging and re-crafting, and you'll really have something, because the set-up has me hooked, and I want to know what happens!

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  3. Yep, I was worried about this being jarring. Good advice! Now to figure out how to rearrange it.
    Thanks for having me Dianne!

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  4. I completely agree with what has already been said, but I'll also add that there were a couple of descriptions that had me confused as to what type of person she actually is.
    It could just be me, but I'm assuming she's pretty tough, having grown up watching people getting mugged outside her own building and taking dares that can obviously get her banished for the summer. That being said, I couldn't imagine that type of teenager saying 'for Pete's sake!', or using the words "human defecation" instead of simply saying "elbow-deep in crap" (for example). :)
    BUT. If you did some rearranging, and we got more of a feel for her character by following the advice from previous commenters and elaborating on how, exactly, she came to be there, I'd possibly connect with her more.
    I did love the line, "And I like them even more when my friends back in Manhattan can’t see me reading them." A closet nerd? That's very endearing. :D
    Aside from that, I thought it was beautifully written, and you've certainly built up some intrigue. I'd definitely keep reading. :)

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  5. Love the idea of a mysterious library! And the hints about the MC's daredevil character. I agree it might be best to save some of the history of the building until we're a little more invested in the action of the here and now. Otherwise, good start. :)

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  6. Thanks, yall! I am open to any suggestions/feedback you may have, so let'er rip! :)

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  7. Just wondering if you've been/live in upstate NY? B/c no one would actually say "upper state" New York, I'm fairly certain (having lived there for 6 years!). Everyone says "upstate New York." Just wanted to let you know! Interesting storyline here!

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  8. You had my full interest until the paragraph that starts with "rolling the cart..." I wanted to hear more about why she's not in Manhattan, I guess that echoes the other comments.

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  9. Oh, PK, I LOVE this! I was so going along with you and SO bummed when I couldn't read more. The library is wonderful and creepy and please don't lose it - yeah, yeah, okay, Dianne is right, intersperse w/paragraphs about what got her here. But I love this. And I have to know NOW - Is she going to a parallel dimension? Is she? Is she? Pleeease tell me.

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  10. I agree with Jaime and Sarah--I think the story start in the middle of her carting the books around. Later we find out why she's there. And also, I agree with changing the terms a little to make them more teen-centric.

    I do find the character interesting already though! I'd read on.

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  11. I've got nothing to add. Everyone's already said it. I'm curious was she did to end up shelving books in the creepy library.

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  12. So cool that I get to read some of PK's stuff. Anyway, I agree with several of the others who say the story should start in the library then flash back or layer in some of the backstory.

    Good stuff, though!

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  13. Thanks for all the great comments. I've been putting them to good use. Can I get in for a redux??? lol ;)

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  14. The trouble with showing up late to one of these critiques is everyone else has already done such a bang-up job of it, the party's over before I even get here. But I'll still add my two cents.

    The opening makes me care about this young lady, about the loss of her father, and about how it influenced her to be such a risk taker. And it makes me wonder what she did to get her an exiled, presumably away from her "bad influence" friends.

    However, I have to agree that the use of the expression "human defecation" just doesn't ring true for what I'd expect a teenager to say. Also, the paragraphs beginning with "It's an impressive ..." and "At the far end ..." water down the mood you were trying to create. Even though the writing within those paragraphs is strong, I think the overall impact of this page would be stronger without them.

    Great writing, and I would definitely continue reading.

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  15. Good suggestions. When I read the paragraph about the building's history, my thought was, "Why put that here in the beginning?" It took me out of the story.

    Fun voice.

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  16. PK, I'm not surprised her dad was a firefighter ;) And the fact that he died on 9/11 adds a whole other layer that I'd love to read about.

    Awesome first line, imho. And the other comments about leaving the wee bit of backstory until later is great advice.

    The mood of the library is totally creepy cool! Awesome job.

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