Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Didn't See That Coming

I think that’s the finest compliment an author can get from a reader: I didn’t see that coming.

Surprising the reader is not easy. First, you have to give the reader a sense of where you’re heading – without being so predictable they stop reading – then pull the rug out from under them at a critical moment.

I was reminded of this when one of my CP’s, Krystalyn Drown, pointed out that in the latest chapter of my WIP, my protagonist jumped to some correct conclusions awfully easily.  He made assumptions based on little evidence that turned out to be correct.  And her comment made me think that my interests might be better served if the protag made assumptions that turned out to be wrong – especially if I let the reader think he was right, and then surprised them later.

A few years back, I was working on my short story, Necromancer, with Mike Katz, who was editing the story for an anthology.  I needed to revise the ending, and Mike suggested two alternate ways to conclude the story -- A and B.  I decided to re-write Necromancer using ending B, after totally rejecting ending A.  Pleased by the results, I emailed Mike the new draft only to have him send it right back. “That’s good,” he said. “Now, revise it again so that readers think you’re heading for ending A and then surprise them at the last minute with ending B.”  My jaw dropped. It was brilliant. And I was rewarded when readers of the final version told me, again and again, “I didn’t see that coming.”

Have you pulled the rug out from under your readers lately?

BTW: That creepy guy in the picture is the cover image for Necromancer, and a cool side note to this story is that the set designers of the TV show 30 Rock purchased the rights from the artist to use it in the background set of an episode … only, they never did. Rats. But I have a copy hanging in my house, where it occasionally freaks out visitors and makes people think I’m into the occult.  They didn’t see it coming!

Monday, May 28, 2012

I Remember ...

In honor of Memorial Day, I would like to re-visit a guest post written by my brother-in-law Larry O'Donnell last year.  He sent it to me on the afternoon of Memorial Day. It went up late, and I don't think many people saw it.

This post is in memory of the crew and passengers of a UH-60 Blackhawk, nicknamed “Goat”.

Memorial Day by Larry O'Donnell

In November 2003, I was assigned to a Homeland Security detail in Iraq.  My agents and I had many missions there, too numerous to cite.  One assignment took me and another agent to Mosul, where we attempted to assist General Petraeus and his command, the 101st Airborne Division.  This work required us to fly by helicopter to three different border crossings with three different countries, Turkey, Syria, and Iran.  We flew in “Goat” three or four times out of about a dozen flights in late October into November.
The troopers of the 101st are a special breed of Amercan soldiers and their motivation and professionalism are topnotch.  This statement is not made lightly by a Marine.  These men and women show the same level of mission focus as their forebears, the Battling Bastards of Bastogne.  If you saw the Spielberg series “Band of Brothers” you got a flavor of what I mean.
On November 7, 2003, my agent and I boarded “Goat” for my return to Baghdad.  As we waited for the flight of two Blackhawks to load, we were called aside by the crew chief.  He told us that the Judge Advocate General of the Army and his staff required our seats on the UH-60 and we would get a special flight later, direct to Baghdad.  I recall being disappointed by the delay but a special flight just to get us back was a unique compliment.  We took our gear back to the 101st Headquarters. 
A couple of hours later we went up to the operations center to see the status of our flight.  It was apparent that something was going on.  There was no banter or chatter among the soldiers.  We found out a minute later that “Goat” had been shot down outside of Tikrit.  There were no survivors.  My associate and I were the last people to personally interact with the crew. 
So I take some time on Memorial Day and Veterans Day to remember them.  It could have been a completely different outcome for me.
The fallen 101st soldiers were:  CAPT Benedict Smith, CW3 Kyron Kennedy, SSGT Paul Neff, SSGT Scott Rose.  The JAG personnel were CWO5 Sharon Swartworth and SGTMAJ Cornell Gilmore.  God bless them and their families.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Dim Light at the End of the Tunnel

Two weeks from today, I will be enjoying the first day of my summer vacation.

Today, I was supposed to be at school. Not teaching, but in professional development meetings. Instead, I'm home with my third sinus infection of the year.  I'm not sure that's better than a day of meetings, but I suppose I might get a nap out of it -- if I can manage to breathe while lying down.

Right now, the light at the end of the tunnel is looking kind of dim.  But I know what's waiting for me at the other end -- and it's this:

My writing spot on the brick patio under my deck, next to my goldfish pond.

Most of my writer-blogger friends are expecting to lose writing time over the summer because their kids will be home.  Me -- I will gain writing time because I'm sending your kids home. Tag! You're it!

All kidding aside, it makes me a little sad because I know some of my blogging friends will be taking a summer hiatus for that very reason ... just when I finally have time to blog more.  It's like arriving at the party late.  I bust in the door, saying, "Phew ... I finally got here!"  And then I look around and discover everybody has already left.

So, tell me, friends. Will you still be here for the summer?  I hope so, because I've got my eye on that light  at the end of the tunnel.

It's keeping me sane.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Curses, Foiled Again: A Guest Post

Last week's post on cursing inspired a complimentary piece by my brother-in-law and sometime guest poster, Larry O'Donnell.  Retired from 32 years in law enforcement (including Customs and the Secret Service), Larry has joined the ranks of us writers and has this to say about swear words:

In my two WIPs all of my characters use words not for use on prime time network TV.  I write a lot of dialog and it just would go flat or be unfreakingbelieveable.  Let’s face it, expletives are part of the language and can really be useful to emphasize a point.  In real life they come fast and furious when emotion is high.
            My late mother once informed me that my first recognizable word was “sh***”.  She pled guilty to having used the word around me when no one else was around, presuming I would not hear or repeat it.  It is a useful word and, like its companion f***, is one of the more versatile words known in English.   It is or has forms that are a noun, a verb, adjective, expletive, and adverb.  George Carlin did a routine on it.  
            I was always amused when Snidely Whiplash would say “Curses” or “Curses, foiled again.”  Those of you who remember Dudley, Nell, and Snidely never heard profanity on the TV back then. 
            During a particularly difficult boat chase one night, my crewman was knocked off his feet a couple of times and had the radar unit smack him in the head while trying to make a radio call to our task force Blue Lightning Operations Command Center (BLOCC).   His first sentence after they acknowledged the call sign was “F***, F***, we’re in pursuit, F***, F***, it’s bad, real F***ing bad.” 
            BLOCC’s response was classier- “676, say your position, course, and describe the subject vessel. We got the F***ing bad part.”
            All I could say when I watched the suspects’ boat break in two and sink was “Sh**.”  As I watched through night vision goggles, I saw three guys go into the water without life jackets.  Our vessel had lost both engines to bullets, and we were about three hundred yards away, dead in the water.  When BLOCC asked for an update on the status, my crewman looked at me and said “Well?”  I said they were F***ed.  He passed that news on verbatim.
            I recall saying “Sh**, that was close.” on many occasions and more than a few times, “Sh**, that was F***ing close.”.
            Law enforcement is rife with profanity, probably more than needed.  What they don’t show on Law and Order is that lawyers curse more than cops.  Thirty-two years in military and law enforcement and I have to say lawyers are the most profane group of folks I’ve ever observed.
            Since both my WIPs are law enforcement oriented tales, there is profanity.  If I was writing about a researcher in the Vatican, I would probably avoid cursing, except for a bit under the character’s breath.
            All the above having been said, it will likely be an editor who will ultimately decide what sh** needs to come out and if the profanity is inf***ingappropriate or f***ing right on target.
            That’s about all I f***ing have to say except that I have always thought it is likely that my last word is going to be “sh**” too.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What I Learned from The Walking Dead

During Spring Break in April, I started working on my new WIP and wrote 15k in that week alone.  I might have written more … if I hadn’t spent so many hours watching The Walking Dead on Netflix and Amazon streaming.

It wasn’t wasted time, though, as far as my writing went.  I learned a lesson – something I probably should have known already, but it was a good reminder.

If you want your audience to root for an unlikely character, set their expectations low … and then surprise them.

Daryl Dixon is definitely not the type of character that I would normally like.  I can’t call him a diamond-in-the-rough, because I doubt there’s diamond quality there.  He’s such a marble-mouth, you can barely understand him when he speaks. He’s a loner and not particularly good-looking – although it’s pretty cool when he shoots that crossbow.  So, why did he become my favorite character on the show?

Because he was a surprise.  The audience was set up to hate him.  We meet his brother Merle first – a drug dealing, foul-mouthed, racist maniac who is such a loose cannon that the other characters are forced to leave him handcuffed on a rooftop when they flee from the walking dead. (Merle saws off his own hand to escape, and it gives me shivers to think he’s still out there somewhere.)  When Rick (the main protagonist) expresses regret about leaving Merle behind, he’s told no one will miss the guy … except his brother Daryl.

We expect Daryl to be just like Merle. Maybe even worse.  But he’s not, and every act of decency from Daryl makes us like him a little more.  He rescues T-dog from the undead, and later produces the antibiotics that save T-dog’s life. He’s the last to give up looking for the child Sophia when she’s lost in the woods, and the first to sit by Carol’s side when her daughter is discovered undead.

In a way, he reminds me of Sawyer from Lost, although Sawyer had more charm – and I don’t want to see Daryl with his shirt off.

But it was a great reminder for me, and perhaps useful for my WIP.  Once you’ve trained your reader to have low regard for a character, that character has great potential to surprise and delight the reader later on. Use it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Interview: E.C. Myers

When I met E.C. Myers at Elisa Ludwig's launch party for PRETTY CROOKED, he shared the elevator pitch for his upcoming novel, and I thought I might enjoy it.  I didn't know I was going to finish it within 24 hours and then go into withdrawal.  In fact, I wasn't even halfway through the novel when I started thinking of interview questions for him. Science fiction fans, sit up and take notice. FAIR COIN is a roller coaster ride of a YA sci fi novel that's a little bit THE MONKEY'S PAW and a little bit QUANTUM LEAP and a little bit THE GREEN FUTURES OF TYCHO.

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Ephraim Scott is horrified when he comes home from school and finds his mother unconscious at the kitchen table, clutching a bottle of pills. The reason for her suicide attempt is even more dis­turbing: she thought she'd identified Ephraim's body at the hospital that day.

Among his dead double's belongings, Ephraim finds a strange coin--a coin that grants wishes when he flips it. With a flick of his thumb, he can turn his alcoholic mother into a model parent and catch the eye of the girl he's liked since second grade. But the coin doesn't always change things for the better. And a bad flip can destroy other people's lives as easily as it rebuilds his own. The coin could give Ephraim everything he's ever wanted--if he learns to control its power before his luck runs out.

1.      What was the inspiration for FAIR COIN?

I don’t know what, if anything, triggered the idea, but it began as a scene playing in my mind: A boy tossed a coin into a fountain and made a wish, then a ripple spread from the fountain, changing the world around him to make his wish come true. It took a long while for me to develop a story from that visual prompt; I scribbled it down in a notebook and focused on other stories. But every now and then I’d find myself thinking about that idea again and I’d add a few more details about the characters and the coin, until one day I had enough pieces to sit down and attempt writing the novel.

2.      Which authors have influenced your writing?  What books are your stand-by favorites, that you’ll never tire of reading?

Probably every book I read influences my writing in some way, but authors like William Sleator, John Bellairs, Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis, E. Nesbit, and Rod Serling had big impacts on the types of stories I want to tell and how I tell them. Some contemporary YA authors whose work inspires me include Scott Westerfeld, John Green, Philip Reeve, and Maureen Johnson—all masters of world building, plot, complex characterization, and witty dialogue.

I don’t have much time to reread my favorite books—there are so many new books to experience!—but I like to revisit the Chronicles of Narnia, Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Robert C. O’Brien’s The Silver Crown, Sleator’s Interstellar Pig and Singularity, and Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.
3.      You have a fairly long list of published short works listed on your website! In what genres have you written? Do you have a favorite short story?

I tend to favor slipstream fantasy and science fiction, which are what I most like to read, but I’ve also tried writing horror, erotica, and “literary” contemporary fiction, with varying degrees of success. My favorite short story is a fantasy titled “Collection Day” that has yet to be published. Another favorite, “My Father’s Eyes”, is a science fiction story that appeared in an indie magazine called Sybil’s Garage a couple of years ago.
4.      I was impressed by the complexity of FAIR COIN’s plot, which kept me guessing all the way through.  Did you plot the story out completely before writing the first draft – or did you fly by the seat of your pants? How many drafts did it take you to get it exactly right – and did you make any drastic changes along the way?

Thank you! I usually don’t outline stories, but before starting a draft I do know the major plot points and scenes. With Fair Coin, I basically made things up as I connected the dots -- (Yay! Another pantster, says Dianne) -- which was a great way to keep me interested and moving forward, because I wanted to find out what happened next too. I let the characters and the plot develop fairly organically until I have a complete draft, then I review what my subconscious created, decide what’s worth keeping, figure out what it all means, and try to make it look like I planned it that way from the very beginning. (Ha! Me too!)

I did four drafts before I thought it was good enough to query agents with, then I worked with my agent on another draft and still another with my editor. The biggest changes happened between the first and second draft—the original ending was completely different and minor characters got much bigger roles. Between drafts three and four, I deleted the first few pages, and in the final draft, I jettisoned a minor subplot that still wasn’t working.

5.      Which character – good, bad, or in-between – was the most fun to write?  Were there any characters who surprised you?

Nathan was the most fun, because he gave me the freedom to be as goofy and irreverent as I wanted. Mary Morales surprised me the most; she was just supposed to be a minor character, but she kind of hit it off with Ephraim, so I had to find more for her and her sister to do. And they ended up being way more important to the story in later drafts.
6.      What else would you like to tell us about FAIR COIN?

Just that Fair Coin wouldn’t exist in its current form, or perhaps even at all, if I hadn’t had unflagging support and smart advice from my talented family, friends, writing group, beta readers, agent, and editor, as well as occasional encouraging words from near strangers on the internet. To write a book and stick with it until publication, you need people who believe in it and you—sometimes more than you do yourself. I love this novel, not just because it was my first and because it proves that hard work and persistence are rewarded, but because so many people I love and respect had a hand in its success.

Now that the book is out there, I appreciate everyone who takes a chance on a new author and reads it, reviews it, recommends it, or tells me that they enjoyed it. And thanks to you and everyone else who has given me the opportunity to talk about Fair Coin and myself in a public space like this. One of the things that made me want to become a writer was the wonderful, supportive literary community, and I feel so lucky to be a part of it.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, E.C.! I'll leave everybody with the trailer for FAIR COIN ...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


As a historical fiction author, I haven’t had to worry too much about using swear words in my writing.  If a character peppers his speech with an occasional “damn” or “hell” in a 19th century setting,  that was plenty of cursing for the context, and shocking besides.


“Now what the devil does that mean?” asked Mr. Duesler.
“Bill, your language!” whispered his wife.

When writing my “Tesla-punk” manuscript (set in 1908), I invented my own curses. The apprentices in Tesla’s research lab take the names of scientists in vain with expletives like:

·         Bell’s Balls
·         Great Bob Fulton’s Left Nut
·         Well, I’ll be Darwin’s Monkey Uncle
·         Aristotle’s Great Hairy Ass
·         Giordano Bruno on a Toasting Fork  (look him up)

I’m not sure if those expletives will survive to the final version, or whether they will be deemed too corny to live. But I had fun writing them, so they served their purpose.

But now I’m working on a story with a contemporary setting, and for the first time I have to decide where I draw the line in cursing. Believe me, I’ve heard plenty of real teens, so I know how they fling the F-word around.  I don’t want to use that one, however, and even when I used the SH-word, I was uncomfortable and took it out.

However, I’m pretty sure the character I wrote about on Friday wouldn’t holler “Aristotle’s Great Hairy Ass!” when things don’t go his way.

For all you writers out there – how do you handle swearing? Where do you draw the line?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Random Act of Kindness BLITZ!

A smile. An encouraging word. A thoughtful gesture. Each day people interact with us, help, and make our day a bit brighter and full. This is especially true in the Writing Community

Take a second to think about writers you know, like the critique partner who works with you to improve your manuscript. The writing friend who listens, supports and keeps you strong when times are tough. The author who generously offers council, advice and inspiration when asked.

Kindness ROCKS!

To commemorate the release of their book The Emotion Thesaurus, Becca and Angela at The Bookshelf Muse are hosting a TITANIC Random Act Of Kindness BLITZ. And because KINDNESS is contagious, I'm participating too!

I'd like to give a shout-out to my critique partners, Marcy Hatch and Krystalyn Drown, who read my awful first drafts chapter-by-chapter as I write them -- no matter if they appear 1 day apart or 6 weeks apart.  I'm not sure I'd keep going if Marcy didn't nudge me with emails asking when the next chapter is coming. And if Krystalyn didn't ask the hard questions that send me back to the drawing board, I'd never discover the plot potential brewing under the surface that I've been too lazy to breach.

To thank Marcy and Krystalyn, I'm going to recommend you follow their blogs, if you don't already. Also, each of them participate in an auxiliary blog. Marcy is one of the bloggers at The Unicorn Bell, which offers critiques, and Krystalyn is one of the writers at Fiction Femme Fatale, which specializes in flash fiction.

I am pretty sure that both Marcy and Krystalyn would love a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus for their own writing (as would I), but we've been asked not to give those away as gifts. Becca and Angela want to keep this a celebration. They're not looking for a chart rush. So, I'm sending both my fabulous critique partners a $10 Amazon gift certificate -- just to say thanks for all the countless hours of reading, responding, and patting my head.  How they spend it is totally up to them. :D

Do you know someone special that you'd like to acknowledge? Don't be shy--come join us and celebrate! Send them an email, give them a shout out, or show your appreciation in another way. Kindness makes the world go round. :)

Becca and Angela have a special RAOK gift waiting for you as well, so hop on over to The Bookshelf Muse to pick it up.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Our little condo on Jack Frost Mt.
The last two weeks at my house were real humdingers.  My husband was traveling for work, which left me solo to handle chauffeuring the daughters to and from their various events -- including night rehearsals for the local high school musical.  Twice, I had to unexpectedly take off work (which means writing substitute plans) to take one of my daughters to the doctor.

When my husband came home, he told me to get the heck out of Dodge for awhile. He sent me to our Pocono Mountain house, since it wasn't rented that weekend. It took some gentle prodding to get me to go. Believe it or not, we've had the house six years and I've never gone there by myself.
Frequent backyard visitors

So I went.  I can't say it was really a writing retreat.  If I'd had some chapters I was burning to write, I probably would've refused to go, holed up in the basement, and spent the weekend attached to my laptop. Instead of writing, I needed some think time, because I was a little bit stuck.

The Lehigh River
Last year, when I participated in that "Write Every Day or Pay" event, I learned that flogging myself to write every day was not good for me.  I already write almost every day, including days when I really ought to stop, rest, and think.

I enjoyed my retreat, and I worked out a few things in my head for my WIP. I also watched a movie alone, went out to eat alone, hiked down to the Lehigh River ... and did a little kitchen maintenance in the house. (ie: scrubbed the pots that tenants had left blackened and burned)

I hung out on this bench a long time.
And now that I know how relaxing it is to go up to the mountains on my own, I plan to slip away more often.

When's the last time you had some alone time?

Monday, May 7, 2012


Our third First Impressions for the month of May comes to us from Terry Lynn Johnson.  It’s a middle grade adventure with a working title of THE GAME WARDEN’S DAUGHTER.

Grandpa was the one who found me on the day Dad went missing. Of course it was Grandpa. No one else in my family really knows where I go.
The day had started with me hanging high over the water from a spindly sapling, trying to get Dig's line untangled. Again. For a genius, the boy cannot fish for his life. He catches rocks, stumps, trees, my ear — actually, let's not talk about the ear incident. 
"If this branch breaks, I'm doomed." Note to self: never say that again when I'm dangling over an ice-cold brook trout creek.
Next thing you know, I'm falling, my life is flashing — all eleven years of it. I'm short, squat, frizzy-haired and loud. It's not a pretty thing to watch, so thank god it was a quick drop. And then I plunged into Prawn Creek.
The water was just slightly warmer than solid ice, so that was good because it softened the landing. My head went under and water rushed over my ears, frigid and stabby. Panicked, I kicked for the surface, gulping a noisy breath when I came up.
"Kiera, you have to get out of the water!" Dig hopped up and down. "You'll get hypothermia."
I mentioned Dig was a genius, sort of why I hang around him. I'm hoping maybe some of that will rub off on me. But geniuses can actually be annoying.
Grabbing at roots and rocks, I scrambled out, water streaming off me. The autumn breeze smacked me in the face and I began to shiver.
"You have to take your wet clothes off," Dig said, without a hint of recognizing that might be awkward. We’re both in sixth grade, but he’s a typical brainiac - advanced in some ways, but so behind in others.
 "In the time it will take us to get home, the conduction may drop your core temperature below 35 degrees."
"Seriously, could you be any more freaky?" I was alarmed at how quickly my fingers were losing feeling. Dig was right, of course.
There was an emergency space blanket in the saddlebag of my quad. I peeled out of my sopping clothes, then wrapped myself in the blanket. It was silver. And crinkly.
Dig offered his coat, but since he's sized like a twig, I couldn't even fit both arms in it and still drive the quad. Which I had to do because Dig is horrifyingly incapable of driving it without putting everyone's life at risk. Trust me on that point.
So I ended up wearing the jacket like a cape with it flapping out behind me as we sped down the trail back home. Did I mention I was draped in a silver blanket? Wearing my helmet with star stickers? And that's where we met Grandpa Morris coming toward us on his quad.
 "Curses. I'm so busted."

The first thing that popped out at me was verb tense. In the first two paragraphs alone, I see past, past perfect, and present.  Although I’ve personally never written in present tense, I think that would be the right choice for this story.  It would bring an immediacy to Kiera’s situation that is almost, but not quite here in its current form. Besides, I think Kiera's voice rings out most clearly in the sentences that are already in present tense.
I like the reference to the missing dad in the first line, especially if the title remains THE GAME WARDEN’S DAUGHTER. It sets up a key relationship and an inciting incident in just a few simple words. (Let’s try it in present tense though: Grandpa is the one who finds me on the day Dad goes missing. Does that work? Readers, what do you think?)
When Kiera falls and her life flashes before her eyes, we don’t get a glimpse of her life. We get a physical description:  I'm short, squat, frizzy-haired and loud.  Wouldn’t she glimpse experiences instead of appearance?
This sentence confused me a bit: The water was just slightly warmer than solid ice, so that was good because it softened the landing.  I think I know what you mean, but I wonder if it could be restated: At least the water isn’t frozen, so my landing is softer than it might have been.  (I put it in present tense, too, to see how it sounded.)
Finally, Dig doesn’t sound much like a genius until he starts talking about conduction and core temperature.  In fact, his first line of dialogue is kind of a “well, duh” moment, so I suggest delaying the lines about his braininess, whether it will rub off, and how annoying it can be until after he starts calculating the rate at which her body temperature will drop (instead of doing anything useful to help her). It would fit much better there, and Kiera would be understandably annoyed!
Terry, thanks for sharing! I would certainly turn the page to find out what news Kiera's grandfather is bringing her. I hope my readers will chime in with their thoughts, and don’t forget Marcy Hatch will be critiquing this same page at Mainewords today.  Terry is the author of DOGSLED DREAMS and ICE DOGS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013) and you can find her at her blog.

Friday, May 4, 2012

First Impressions: LOVESENSE

Our second First Impressions post for May comes from Robin Hall, and it’s a YA magical realism story with a working title of LOVESENSE.

Some people can smell an artesian cheese and know to the minute how old it is, how it was made, and when it will spoil. I’m not one of those people. But give me a photo of a couple, and I can tell you those very same things. I’ll know how they’ve aged—if they’re a month-old cheddar, or a block of aged parmesan—and when the relationship will go sour. I’d much rather look at those pictures and see what the rest of the world sees: two people in love. But I’m not that lucky.
That’s why I often regret my part-time job as the ice cream/photo counter girl at Alfred’s Drug Store. But in a town as small as Sparrow, a seventeen-year-old doesn’t have a lot of options. Worse than the uniforms, with their straight-legged pants (awful for my curvy legs) and the Peter Pan-collared shirts with their attached red vests, are the photos I print on my Saturday morning shifts.
Right now I’m tapping my trainers against the photo processor and trying to make three-hundred prints of Mary Brighton and her fiancé without seeing their smiling faces. It’s hard to find a good place to look. Watching the empty store is depressing now that a Rite Aid opened in Hickory, so I’m taking advantage of our windows and checking out the Little League game across the street. Not that I can see much for all the trees, but then, that’s one thing I love about living in the foothills of the Appalachians. Green is everywhere. 

This sounds like an interesting premise – a girl who can sense the nature/quality of love in other people’s relationships.  I can see how that would be an awkward thing to know about people, especially when you can’t tell them you know, and I also imagine it might sour you on love itself. When you look at people “in love” and know exactly how long it’s going to last (or not), what kind of expectations would you have for your own romance?
Now, I’m not the kind of person who thinks you should jam everything about your premise on the first page, or even in the first chapter.  I like to see things unfold a little at a time.  That said, however, I do wish this first page focused more on the engagement photo she’s trying not to look at and less on her uniform or what she sees out the window.  It doesn’t have to reveal what she knows about Mary Brighton and her fiancé this early, but I’d like the scene as a whole to focus on those photos shooting out of the machine. I know she’s trying to avoid looking at them, but they should loom large and tempting in the passage.
There are also a couple phrases I would suggest tweaking.  The word aged appears twice in the fourth sentence; I would swap one with a synonym. Also, the phrase my part-time job as the ice cream/photo counter girl at Alfred’s Drug Store tripped me up. I had to stop and read it a couple times.  Ice cream/photo counter is a strange combination, but even if you have a reason for pairing those two services, the sentence might be re-worked a little bit for a smoother feel.
Thanks for sharing your page, Robin!  I hope this was helpful. You can read Marcy Hatch’s critique of the same page at Mainewords, and please say hello to Robin at her blog.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

First Impressions: THE KEY COLLECTIVE

Welcome, May! (Summer vacation is coming -- I can feel it on the horizon ... yippee!)

Today, I’m bringing you a First Impression from Alicia Willette-Cook – a steampunk novel titled THE KEY COLLECTIVE.

 She found the key under his bed.  Not that she was looking.  She didn’t even know the guy. Why would she be looking under his bed, for crying out loud.  Assignations are odd like that.  One minute you’re locked in the most intimate of embraces, the next you’re crawling around on his floor, ass in the air, looking for your sock.  Instead you find this key. It was just a key.  Nothing special about it.  But when her fingers touched it she automatically grasped it, glanced over her shoulder and hid it in her fist like a child sneaking away with stolen candy.
           Twenty minutes, money exchanged, and an awkward hug/cheek kiss good-bye she was finally able to get a good look at her stolen treasure. She leaned against a battered guard rail under a flickering florescent light in the building’s basement parking garage, and slowly unfurled her tightly clasped fist.
           The weird pinkish yellow light seemed to be absorbed by the thick brass key cupped in her hand, giving it an odd greenish color.  It was about three inches long, fairly freshly cut, or rather, not used much. She felt the raw edges scrape over her callused fingertips as she twisted it around and around.  There weren't any distinguishing markings on it but she couldn’t seem to put it away, turning it over and over in her chilled fingers. Anoria raked her long, tangled hair out of her eyes and hunched her shoulders deeper into her threadbare navy pea coat.  Idly, her fingers twisted the key around again, rubbing it between the thumb and forefinger of her left hand. What was that groove in the head? She brought the key closer to her eyes, moving directly under the unsteady light.
           In the pocket of her coat her cell buzzed. Startled, she jumped and almost dropped the key on the damp pavement.  “Goddamn it!” She muttered halfheartedly, “What the hell can you possibly want at this time of night, Braedon?” She shoved the key deep in her pocket and wrenched the phone out, flipping it open. Text message.  Sender Blocked.  “What the hell…?”  Curious, she hit the open key.  Two words blipped onto the screen.

Look Up.  

Well this was an interesting beginning! At first I thought this was a one night stand, but then payment is casually mentioned, making the situation very different. Ahem. Interesting indeed. I definitely want to know more about Anoria!
I think my biggest overall comment is that a lot of words could be trimmed. Personally, I am a big over-writer.  I flood my first drafts with multiple adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases – not to mention entire sentences and paragraphs that don’t need to be there. Then I spend the next 3-4 drafts taking them out.
This narration would be more effective with less words, I think. For example, when Anoria stops to examine the key in the garage, I suggest focusing more on the key and less on her gestures and description of her hair and clothing. Whenever you use more than one adjective, consider if you really need all of them. Does it have to be a threadbare navy pea coat? Could threadbare or navy be dropped? Although you want the reader to visualize the scene, you want to hook them with the action more.
I liked this sentence in the first paragraph: One minute you’re locked in the most intimate of embraces, the next you’re crawling around on his floor, ass in the air, looking for your sock.  But I would be careful about slipping into second person. It could be re-written as: One minute she was locked in the most intimate of embraces, the next she was crawling around on his floor, ass in the air, looking for her sock.
Overall, I was intrigued by this first page – the situation, the voice, the character – and definitely the text message!  Who wouldn’t turn the page after that?
Thanks for sharing, Alicia! You can read Marcy Hatch’s critique of this same page at Mainewords, and be sure to say hello to Alicia at her blog Saffron Wine.

Photo by Patrick Callaghan