Friday, June 29, 2012

Lesser Known Editing Marks

Some of you may have seen this image bouncing around Facebook and Twitter, but I thought it was worth another chuckle.

I think I saw some of those z-z-z-z-z's in the copy edit mark-up of THE CAGED GRAVES!  Well, actually, it was a politely worded note in the margin: Is there a reason we need to know this? But same thing, right?

My editor also needed a symbol like this:

That means: "Where'd this furniture come from?"  Apparently, I'm not very good at keeping track of furniture. A dresser becomes a dressing table and then turns into a writing desk.  A stool becomes a chair and then switches back.

What editing symbol needs to be invented for YOUR manuscript?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Congratulations, Krystalyn Drown!

Woo-hoo!  I am THRILLED to announce that one of my critique partners, Krystalyn Drown has sold a manuscript to Entranced Publishing:

We are happy to announce the acquisition of Krystalyn Drown's YA novel, Spirit World, under our Blush imprint.

Awesome news, huh?  Here is Krystalyn's pitch for SPIRIT WORLD:

Riesa Adair can hear the dead, but somewhere between her summer in a mental institution and her stepfather’s attempt at an exorcism, she learned to keep quiet about it. But just because she denies the voices, it doesn’t mean they’ve gone away.

When her unique talents attract the attention of a powerful Spirit, her daily battles for sanity turn into a war for her soul. Riesa’s newfound ability to shift between worlds is exactly what he needs to break through to the human world, and gain control of it. With her best friend held as bait in the Spirit’s dungeon, and the Spirit himself growing closer to her each day, Riesa’s choice becomes clear. She must learn to embrace her abilities, or risk losing herself, her loved ones, and her world.

It all happened very fast for her -- submission, the offer -- and no sooner had she signed the contract than she had a publicity/cover art questionnaire to fill out.  

Please head over to Krystalyn's blog, See the Stars, to congratulate her!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Using The Emotional Thesaurus in a Classroom

Teaching is sometimes like that game where you throw Velcro balls at a Velcro target. Sometimes the ball sticks, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Teaching anything in the last week of the school year is dicey, and so when I decided to bring The Emotion Thesaurus by AngelaAckerman and Becca Puglisi on the fourth-to-the-last day of school and share it with my writing class, I wasn’t expecting much.

However, my fifth grade students thought it was a really neat idea, and they loved hearing me list the physical descriptions that went with certain emotions.  I made the thesaurus accessible and asked them to write a confrontational scene between two characters.  They were to include dialogue and physical description.

Some of the Velcro balls fell to the ground.  One student produced something that made me think he must have been in the bathroom when I gave the instructions.  Others made a half-hearted attempt and wrote a scene that used one description taken from the thesaurus. (This is called humoring the teacher and waiting for the clock to run out.)

But here’s a Velcro ball that not only stuck – it landed dead center in the bull’s eye.  This scene was written by Andy, a fifth grade boy, using The Emotion Thesaurus – and Andy did something pretty rare: He made me feel proud on the fourth-to-the-last day of school.

“Snap!” goes Will’s knuckles.
Man, are my muscles tightening.  Now he looks like he’s going to punch me.  I say, “What did I do to you?”
Will says, “You lied to me about something really important.”
Now I’m sweating like crazy and shaking. He is balling up his hand into a fist, ready to punch me.  Trembling, I say, “What are you going to do to me?”
With strength in his voice, he says, “You don’t want to know what I’m going to do to you.”  I flinch when he cracks his neck.  Now I’m looking for an escape.  Will says, “There is no escape for you.”
Now I’m blinking like a mad man who has just lost. I plead, “Please have mercy on me, Will.”
Will angrily says, “Why did you lie to me?”
I say weakly, “Because if you knew the truth, you would have got yourself killed.”

OMG – right?  Not only did Andy know how to use the thesaurus, he knew how to leave his readers hanging! 

I can’t wait to use The Emotion Thesaurus next year, starting from the beginning of the year when the kids are fresh.  And I’m definitely hanging onto Andy’s scene as an example!

Do you have YOUR copy of The Emotion Thesaurus?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Facing the Ugly

Last week, I worked through the copy-edits on THE CAGED GRAVES and mailed the manuscript back to the publisher.  I know there's still proof-reading to go, but this is one step closer to FINISHED! It was so exciting to see the book worked over to the point where it's shiny and polished and elegant!

My book looked like this:

But then I had to turn back to my WIP, and it looked like this:

Unformed. Messy. Ugly.

I wanted to hide my face and run away.

It's hard to remember that THE CAGED GRAVES once looked like that.  In fact, it would be easy to convince myself that it NEVER looked like that and this manuscript I'm working on is a colossal failure.

Anybody who's been around my blog for awhile knows I'm a pantster. And that I hate first drafts. Outlining doesn't help. My characters refuse to follow orders.

But I love revision. (Even when I moan and whine about them, I love revisions.)  Because revisions are what turn the Gangers (Doctor Who, Season 6) into Jean Harlow and Clark Gable.

First drafts are allowed to be ugly and unformed. And sometimes one of the hardest things to do is face the ugly and keep working at it, especially after you've spent time hanging out with elegance.

What does your WIP look like right now?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dealing with Your Inner Crybaby

Yes, I am blood kin to this face.
I know I'm not the only writer who suffers from confidence issues -- because I read about this on everybody else's blog, too. There are times when the path seems too hard, too steep, too twisty, and I don't feel up to the challenge.  I end up whining a lot to myself, putting myself down, and making up excuses why this (no matter what this is) is never going to work.

One of my strategies for dealing with the problem is writing all my complaints down, no matter how whiny they sound.  Then, a more rational part of my brain responds to each and every complaint.  After awhile, Inner Crybaby looks pretty silly, even to me.

Here's my latest batch:

This WIP is a horrible mess.  My world-building is sketchy and inconsistent.
That's what Drafts 2-5 are for: finding all the inconsistencies and working them out. You had the same problem with tangled clues in CG and technical details in V. You worked them out in later drafts.

I'm not used to writing stories like this.  I should never have attempted a new genre.
Because no one ever improved their craft by trying something new, right?

The word count is out of control. It's a bloated monster.
Then it's a good thing you know how to wield a delete key.  There's plenty of things that will need to be cut, and you may even have learned a thing or two from your Clarion editor on the matter.

I was crazy to set the climax in a famous location I've never seen in person.
That's why your darling husband is taking you there this summer. Give him a big kiss.

What if I get there and discover events can't possibly take place as planned?
Change your plan to fit the place.

I don't have the expertise to pull off an armed showdown between the good guys and the bad guys.
You've got a retired federal officer on Phone-a-Friend.  Larry offered to help.  He just wants a map, photos, and a run-down of resources on both sides.  He'll plot a tactical solution AND help you with all the gun stuff.

But it's gonna be hard!!!!
Ah, now that's the real problem, isn't it.  The truth comes out.

My Crybaby List always ends this way.  I want it to be easy.  And it's never going to be easy.  But it might be manageable.

Do you have something to add to the Crybaby List?  Make your complaint in the comment section, and I'll respond with Rational Brain!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Interview: February Grace

Occasionally, I promise to beta-read people's manuscripts for one reason or another -- a swap, a contest prize, or just as a favor. In October 2011, I had an unusual situation occur where 5 people redeemed my promise all at once.  February Grace was the last of the five that month, and rather guiltily, I told her I would get to her 50 pages as soon as I could, but it wouldn't be very soon.  So I read the other four and was feeling a little burned out on reading manuscripts (and anxious to return to my own writing) when I finally opened my Kindle to read Bru's manuscript.

I remember thinking, "Thank heavens, it's only 50 pages."  Two hours later, I was left gasping: "Is that it?  Is that all I've got???"  I emailed Bru at once, saying, "Please send next 50 asap."  But Bru was not well and didn't have any more pages ready.  I had to wait a long time to read the rest of GODSPEED, but you don't have to wait at all!  And today I'm welcoming Bru to my blog for an interview.

  1. Bru, what was the inspiration behind this story?
I’ve always loved classic romances like Jane Eyre, and the whole Victorian era setting, so I guess the idea of wanting to write a story like this has been with me since I was about fifteen or sixteen.

The actual inspiration for GODSPEED happened completely out of the blue- or I should say out of the dark in the middle of the night.  I was at home recovering from surgery (I had fifteen surgeries between April 2009 and March 2011) and my pain medication wore off. I woke up, just paralyzed by the pain I was in, and I tried to focus on something, anything that would take my mind off of it long enough to allow me to start to move.

There was a clock on the wall, a favorite of mine. It’s black and has three faces. They all tick in unison, and I focused on the sound of their ticking and then the sound of my heartbeat and I just had this wild story idea come to me— it isn’t the story Godspeed turned out to be exactly; it was originally much darker— but it did generate ideas and quotes that turned up in the novel at the end. I grabbed the notebook where we were keeping a log of all my medications at the time and jotted some things down without even looking, and then somehow I fell back to sleep. That is how the story came to be.

  1. Which character spoke most clearly to you and wanted/needed to be heard the most?
Oh, this is such a hard question! I think of course if forced to choose one I would have to say Godspeed himself. He was the one who kept me up nights when I was unable to work on the novel. He was misunderstood; I knew that, and his story and the reasons behind his actions needed to be fully explained.

He and Lilibet are the two that I felt I would be failing most if I gave up and didn’t finish the book, and you know there were times of chaos in my life I didn’t think I could. You were so encouraging to me so many times, and I truly do thank you for that, Dianne.

  1. Did any character surprise you by turning out to be different than the way you first conceived him/her?
Oh they ALL surprised me. I started writing the book from Penn’s perspective, and in third person. I was thousands of words in when I realized—and I swear I heard the sound of car brakes being applied and tires squealing in my head at the time— that this wasn’t right. There was another voice, a louder voice, and she needed to tell the story. In first person! A shock to me because aside from a short story or two I had never written or wanted to write from that perspective.  I realized early on this story needed one voice to tell it, and that voice turned out to be Abigail’s.

  1. Was the story outlined before you wrote? Or did you pantster it with no more than a story arc in your head?
I can’t work from an outline. My mind just doesn’t respond to them. They are like to-do lists and I can’t feel creative trying to work to a to-do list. I know it works for a lot of people and I respect that entirely but it’s not how my brain is wired.

I didn’t even have a complete arc in my head as I wrote it, and it took me almost two years to write it, longer than I’ve ever worked on any other project before. I wrote, I think, three different endings. Then suddenly I understood something about one of the characters so clearly, and I knew exactly how the plot should turn, and end. So yeah, put me down for “Team Pantster”.

  1. What else would you like to tell us about GODSPEED?
That the closest I can label as far as genre goes is ‘literary romance with steampunk embellishment’.  It is a hybrid, but I believe it is one that works.

It is at its heart a romance of course and there is some cool gadgetry but the secondary characters are key to plot and the whole of the book. They have strong voices that mean so much to me, each one of them, and I just want them to be heard.  I want them to be heard on behalf of those in our real life, modern world who cannot articulate what it is like to live with such challenges.

In the end my dearest hope is that these characters will make people stop and think, and perhaps see those that they meet in the course of everyday life a little bit differently. I find myself thinking now of that old quote of much debated origin: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Thank you so much Dianne for hosting me today!

You are very welcome!  I can heartily recommend GODSPEED as a lovely romance with steampunk embellishment, and I firmly suggest you add February Grace's blog, Pitch Slapped, to your reading list.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Competition -- And Why It Leaves Me Cold

Out of the water and onto the bike.
This past weekend, my 12 year old daughter ran her first triathlon.  It was a spur of the moment thing.  My husband has done a few triathlons for his own amusement, fitness, and sense of personal accomplishment.  He heard about a local kids’ event and asked Gina if she wanted to try it.

It wasn’t until they arrived that my husband realized 90% of the kids participating had been in a 12-week training course to prepare for the event.  Ooops.  But you know what?  Gina did fine. She had fun and finished solidly in the middle of the group.

Most of the parents present that day were cheerful and friendly.  They were there for fun.  They cheered on all the kids, clapped as the contestants finished each event, and shouted “Way to go! Good job! Keep it up! Looking good!” at their own kids and everyone else’s.  The only parents who did not behave that way were … can you guess? … parents of the kids expected to finish in the top twenty.

The real competitors.

These parents did not clap for other children.  They didn’t even clap for their own.  They stood to the side, keeping their eyes peeled for that one custom wetsuit or elite racing bike. As their children finished each event, they didn’t shout encouragement; they shouted critiques: “You blew that dismount! Next time, push harder at the end!”  My daughter recalls running beside a girl who was clearly exhausted in the final leg and hearing her mother scream, “What are you doing? Pass that girl!” (meaning Gina)

If that’s what competition means, I want no part. 

I’ve got 300+ followers on this blog, and most of you are other writers.  If you think about it, you guys are my competitors.  If you’re published, your book competes with mine.  If you’re querying or on submission, you might end up in competition with me for the attention of agents and editors – and the money available at a publishing house for acquisitions. Your book might end up next to mine on a shelf in the store, and readers will have to choose between us.

By rights, we ought to bashing each other down. 

But I have never seen any such thing – at least not among the writers I’ve encountered.  Experienced authors I met while publishing WHTD referred me to their own agents.  Every week, I see blogging authors enthusiastically promoting each other’s releases.  We give query critiques to one another and offer pitch contests on our blogs.  And I am proud to be a part of this group.

I know it’s not all like that. I’ve heard about “review wars” between authors on Amazon.  Heck, I even had to leave Amazon Vine because the reviewers were sabotaging each other’s review rankings. (Really? Yes, really.)

Anyway, that kind of competition leaves me cold, and I just wanted to end this week cheering all of you on.  Whether you are drafting, revising, querying, submitting, publishing, reviewing, promoting, or plotting out your next project … Way to go!  Looking good! Keep up the good work! 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Copy Edits!!

Guess what's come back to me?

This manuscript feels like a boomerang. Every time I send it off, it comes right back (in a big 4lb package). I suppose it feels that way because nothing happened for 6 months after the book was purchased, and then everything happened in quick succession. (With my last book, the whole process was more spread out.)

I've been through two rounds of editorial revisions, and now this is the copy-editing stage.

My biggest worry? Reading the copy-editor's brown pencil notations.  I hope my bifocals are up to the job, because I left my lighted magnifying glass in my desk at school and I really don't want to go back for it.

The coolest thing so far?  There's been a page added since I last saw the manuscript.  The copyright page. LOOK!

And the best thing about reviewing the copy edits by hand on paper?  I'll have to get off the laptop and sit at a well-lighted table.  Good for my sore shoulder and unhappy left arm. (*)

* Amended -- My shoulder actually hurts more after sitting hunched over the manuscript at the kitchen table for a few hours than it does when using the laptop on the couch.  FYI.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Never Surrender Blogfest

“Never surrender, never give up!” ~ Commander Peter Quincy Taggart, played by Jason Nesmith, (played by Tim Allen) in Galaxy Quest

Welcome to Elana Johnson’s Never Surrender Blogfest ~ a salute to never giving up, no matter how much rejection you face. And it’s also a celebration for the release of Elana’s new book SURRENDER.

I won’t claim that my search for an agent was as long and fraught with rejection as some.  But it had its moments.  I only started looking for an agent a few months before my first book, WE HEAR THE DEAD, was released because … well, because I was given bad advice about not needing an agent and was dumb enough to believe it.  But by early 2010 I had learned that, no matter how wonderful an editor and a publisher might be, every writer needs someone looking out for his or her interests. 

I was lucky enough to have referrals from other authors I met while launching WHTD.  Over the course of eight months, two different agents for whom I had referrals read my manuscript and requested a Revise and Resubmit.  In each case, I revised as requested and was then turned down.  Each of these rejections was devastating in its own way, and yet my manuscript was stronger, thanks to the feedback.

There were also plenty of rejections from other agents: “Not for me.”  “I didn’t connect with your MC.” “I just don’t like your style.”  Not to mention radio silence. Whenever I had specific feedback, I revised and tweaked and fiddled with the manuscript so that every time I had a request, I was sending an improved version.  I also came to a revelation regarding my query and realized I was hiding the most interesting characteristic of my main character.  Just because it was a secret in the book didn’t mean I had to keep it secret from potential agents!  *slap head*

My revised query got me more requests, and by this time it was late 2010.  My first book was out, and I’d received some unhappy news from my publisher.  It had been a sad, glum fall. One Sunday afternoon in December, I sent out a pair of queries and received two full requests before the evening was over.  Promising—but I knew better than to get my hopes up.

That Tuesday afternoon, less than 48 hours later, I heard back from one of the agents.  She loved my writing; she loved my main character – she didn’t like my plot.  She thought I’d taken a really good idea and gone in the wrong direction with it.  She suggested a Revise and Resubmit and offered detailed editorial notes if I gave her an exclusive – but this would be a total re-write, throwing out most of the characters and the bulk of the plot.  We exchanged a few emails, and I was torn. I didn’t want to miss an opportunity, and yet I’d already been through two R&Rs without success.  She was telling me that I’d messed up the story. I shed a few tears.

That evening, I mulled over my response while driving one of my daughters to an evening activity.  When I got home and opened my email (still undecided), I had a new message waiting from the other agent I’d queried that Sunday.  Sara Crowe was brief: She’d started my manuscript on her way home from work that afternoon and couldn’t put it down. Could we talk later that week?

And, happily, I landed with Sara, who loved my story enough to work through revisions after signing me.  But as a Never Surrender twist to this tale – that manuscript was not the first one she sold for me.  THE CAGED GRAVES was the second manuscript I sent to Sara, but the first one she sold.  The original manuscript? It’s been recently revised again, and we have not surrendered yet.

The lesson: Keep writing, and no matter how much you love the ms you’re querying, write another one.  Not everything happens when you want it to happen or in the order you think it’s going to happen.  But everything happens the way it’s supposed to.

Oh, and go watch Galaxy Quest.

You can find the other blogs participating in the Never Surrender Blogfest HERE.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Summer Goals 2012

Today is the first day of my summer vacation.  FINALLY!!!!
I have a few goals for this summer I’d like to share.

1.      Finish the first draft of my WIP, GRUNSDAY.  I’m not sure how long this is going to take and especially not sure how I’m going to pull off the climax I have in mind.  I may have to adjust my expectations, but I’ll figure it out as I go.  That’s the joy of being a pantster. The next chapter is often a surprise.  The other part of being a pantster is ending every first draft with a laundry list of changes needed to clean up the mistakes I made along the way.  So, I usually roll from draft one directly into draft two. I don’t expect to get that done this summer, but I hope I’ll be looking for beta readers for draft two sometime in the fall.

2.      Take a mine tour in the Pocono Mountains.  I have an incomplete draft of a historical fiction story in which an archeologist’s daughter makes surprising discoveries in a Pennsylvania mine in the early 1900’s.  I started the draft too late in the fall to take a tour of an actual mine, and I want to remedy that this summer.

3.      Determine the fate of PORTAL. Lack of the mine tour was not the only problem I had with the manuscript mentioned above, which I laid aside after getting 55k words into it.  One of the things I need to do this summer is review the draft, figure out where I went wrong, and determine whether it needs revisions, a complete re-write, or to be trunked entirely.

Sorcia (right) and friend, Houston
4.      Get some exercise. I can’t sit in front of the laptop all day.  Well, I can, but I shouldn’t.  I’ve got the pool, and I’ve got the dog – who loves to walk in the White Clay Creek Preserve.  So I need to get off my butt and get moving.

5.      Refuse to ride the emotional roller coaster.  This goal may be the most important one of all.  Last summer, I was on submission, and I took every rejection hard.  In fact, it was worse being off for the summer while it was happening, because I didn’t have a full teaching day and 60 students to distract me.  There was plenty of time to wallow in misery.  But by the end of the summer, THE CAGED GRAVES sold to Clarion, acquired by the perfect editor for it.  In retrospect, all that angst was a horrible waste of my mind, my heart, and my summer.  This time, I hope to handle all publishing related news – good or bad – with more equanimity.

What are your goals for the summer?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

First Impressions: THE DESIREE

Our third First Impressions post for June comes from PK Hrezo.  Her new WIP is YA magical realism and titled THE DESIREE.

In the not so distant future ….
            It’s hard to believe I’m standing in front of it again, after all these years. The same scarlet script still forms the words, The Desiree, and adorns the old theatre entrance with a promise of elegance. My chest swells. For me, it goes much deeper than a slice of cinema decadence. I know the secrets she holds. Secrets I never understood until just before Stevie left.
The once white lightbulbs encircling the marquee are now caked with dust, the empty space inside, bereft of words. Directly below it, drawn black shades hide a deserted box office booth, its windows greasy with city grime. None of it shines like it should—like it did when I was a child. But that will be fixed.  
            “Daddy, aren’t we going in?” Chantal asks, hugging her chest. Her iridescent purse is hooked over her right arm in the same fashion all the young girls wear these days, camouflaged by its reflection of her yellow vinyl dress.
            I stoop to her eye level and brush a ginger curl from her cherub face. “Patience, butterfly. I needed a good look at her from the outside, too. I’ll bet we can have it polished in no time, don’t you think? Did you notice the gilt framework around the box office booth—it’s the original artistry from 1931. Impressive, really. She left it in much better condition than I’d hoped. Not that I ever doubted she would. ”
            Chantal’s big hazel eyes glaze over in boredom. “I’m tired of standing here. You said I could climb to the projector room, and get popcorn.”
            A glossy silver and white shuttle pulls to the curb behind us in a swoosh of air, stopping a few yards away. Its doors open like giant mechanical lips and a slew of passengers step off the streamlined machine. They scatter toward the other buildings, none of them interested in an old downtown theatre dwarfed between the sleek modern buildings of the time. The intel-ogram advertisement from the side of the shuttle hones in on us, zooming right up to our faces, her image grinning like a game show hostess.

I like the premise of this beginning and the promise of mysteries and secrets to be uncovered in The Desiree.  The narrator is an adult, so I’m predicting that the main part of the story will include either a flashback or some kind of magical return to his younger years.  Just a guess, of course.

I think the first paragraph needs some restructuring.  The first sentence includes two uses of the word it, neither with a clear referent.  There are much stronger words used elsewhere in that paragraph that could be rearranged into a flashier opening sentence – something that combines the visual impact of the theater with the emotion it evokes in the narrator.

I would also cut the lines where the narrator talks about the gilt framework being original artistry from 1931. Chantal isn’t interested, and I’m afraid the readers won't be invested enough to care yet.  There’s a place for this information, but I don’t think it’s the first page. Instead, perhaps the conversation between Chantal and her father could reflect how they see the theater with different eyes.  He sees its former glory, but Chantal is disappointed by how old and run-down it is.

In fact – what if the entire opening revolved around that disparity? The narrator stands in front of the The Desiree, remembering her in all her glory, and then Chantal breaks into his thoughts to complain that the lightbulbs are broken, the marquee is blank, and the windows are all covered in greasy dirt.  Perhaps she isn’t sure she even wants to go inside until he bribes her with the promise of climbing to the projector room?  Just a thought.

Thanks, PK, for sharing the first page of another one of your manuscripts!  Please visit PK at her blog, and also stop by Mainewords to see Marcy’s take on the same page.

Monday, June 4, 2012

First Impressions: PRAIRIE DOG TOWN

The second First Impressions for June is a picture book submission -- our first!  Cheryl Lawton Malone is sharing the beginning of her book, PRAIRIE DOG TOWN, targeted for ages 4-8.   Since the first page of a picture book wouldn’t give us much of a sample, Cheryl is sharing her first 300+ words. Asterisks mark the page divisions.

Under a sunburnt sky, below a long sandy field, lay a town of prairie dog families. Now, the prairie dog mothers all loved their babies, and the prairie dog fathers all loved their burrows. But what the prairie dog babies loved most of all was listening to stories.
Especially, one baby named Angel. Angel loved hearing stories about the earth above.
“Tell me about the sky,” he said to his aunt.
“It’s bigger than this whole burrow,” she said, again.
Angel’s eyes opened wide, wondering how anything could be that big.
“Tell me about the trees,” Angel said to another aunt.
“They’re taller than all our burrows stacked together,” she said, again.
Angel twitched his nose, trying to imagine something so tall.
“And the plains,” he said to a third.
“Are longer than all of the tunnels in Prairie Dog Town, end to end,” they said together.
“The desert is so fun,” said a fourth. “You’ll love it!”
One day, Angel couldn’t wait any longer. When his mother wasn’t looking, he raced to the end of the tunnel and stuck out his head.
“Is that the …?” he said, staring up at the vast blue space.
An eagle swooped down and snatched Angel up in his talons.
“Oh my,” Angel said, feeling the pinch of the eagle’s claws. “The sky may be big, but it hurts.”
The eagle flew to a patch of high ground and landed in a tall pine tree.
“Is this a …?” Angel said, twisting with excitement.
The eagle loosened his talons in surprise.
Down, down, down, Angel fell.
Until THUMP, he landed in bank of snow.
“Goodness,” Angel said, shivering. “The trees may be tall, but they’re very cold.”
Angel shook his coat, and started walking. Downhill. After a while, he came to a plain filled with waving blue grass.

I love the first sentence as a way to set the scene, and I’d like to see a little more of that world building on the first page.  It seems like we ought to be telescoping inward, from the sky to the prairie to the burrow.  Perhaps a descriptive sentence about the burrow between the opening line and the next one would do it.

The introduction to our protagonist -- Especially, one baby named Angel – is a fragment.  This definitely needs to be a complete sentence, and I think Angel deserves more than one sentence introducing him.  Cheryl might want to add a description that includes a distinctive physical trait (like a bent whisker or a curly tail) or maybe just a mention of his insatiable curiosity.

I like how Angel asks his aunts for stories about the world above, but I do have a hard time picturing how burrows could be stacked.  I also suggest that the phrases said to a third and said a fourth include the word aunt.

Now, when Angel gets snatched -- An eagle swooped down and snatched Angel up in his talons. – I feel that there should be a more dramatic and extended description OR there ought to be no description at all and the accompanying illustration should speak for itself.

Finally, I love Angel’s reactions to his adventure  -- “The sky may be big, but it hurts.” and “The trees may be tall, but they’re very cold.” Very cute, indeed! I would suggest Cheryl make it more clear why the eagle dropped him and watch out for unnecessary fragments such as Downhill.

Thanks, Cheryl, for sharing your picture book story with us!  I’m sure readers will have their own suggestions, and be sure to stop by Mainewords for Marcy Hatch’s critique of the same selection.  You can find Cheryl on Facebook.

Friday, June 1, 2012

First Impressions: REALM 17

This First Impression excerpt for June comes to us from Christine Danek (whom, unlike most of my blogging friends, I have actually met in person!)  This is a YA paranormal titled REALM 17.

Colored light stretches across the floor of the landing. I look up to see the same angel with her arms spread, her yellow hair flowing, and rainbow colored glass surrounding her form. I know I’m dead, but really, do they have to remind me at every turn.?
Death is a strange beast. You hear so many theories onabout what it’s like on the other side. Then you hear about those people who died for like a minute, and then came back from the dead claiming they heard angels, saw a white light, and felt calm and peaceful.
            It’s totally not true.
Realm 17 has been nothing but one big bore-fest except for this part of my day. For six months, I’ve repeated this routine. I scoot back onto the window seat and adjust a button on my white oxford shirt. Each follicle of hair hurts because I’ve tied it back in a ponytail every day. You know--the rules.
            Students pass by all wearing the same thing--white shirt, black skirt or pants, and black shoes. They walk up the steps to class in one heaping mass of spirits. Then I see him.
He comes up from the bottom floor, taking each step just like the others, but slows on the landing, glancing at me. A black curl falls over his left eye and is accompanied with a smile creeping up his cheek--typical hot boy in sea of monotony, and I like it. He turns and follows the others to class.
“Becca.” Kat waves her fingers in front of my view.
I look at her, hoping that my narrowed eyes give a hint of disappointment. “You’re totally ruining my day.”

The opening lines really engaged me. I made a few editing suggestions in red, but other than that, Christine has given us a great visual with that stained glass angel, as well as a taste of her MC’s voice: I know I’m dead, but really, do they have to remind me at every turn?

The name Realm 17 is also appealing. It calls to mind questions about Realms 1-16, not to mention Realms 18 and above, if they exist.  Immediately I want to know more about the setting and what brought the MC to this place (besides dying, that is).

Which is why I’m not sure Becca should tell us Realm 17 is a bore-fest, because if it is, we might lose interest in reading about it.  Furthermore, I’m uncertain about Asher.  It's too soon to tell whether he is the love interest or merely a passing fancy, but my personal preference is not to meet the love interest on page one – and perhaps not even in the first chapter. I’d rather get to know the MC first and see the love interest get a flashier entrance. A while back, Georgia McBride wrote an interesting post on why the love interest shouldn’t be introduced too early

If Asher is a passing fancy (or one of a parade of hotties Becca watches each morning), then his first page appearance is on firmer ground. After all, the first time we meet Romeo Montague, he’s obsessing over Rosalind, a girl he will soon forget.  Thus, Romeo’s impulsiveness (not to mention fickleness and lack of self-restraint) is quickly revealed, since everybody knows the play isn’t called Romeo and Rosalind.

I once took an online workshop with an agent in which he explained the two things he looked for in a YA first page: voice and conflict.  He wanted to get a taste of the MC’s voice and a strong hint of the main conflict.  Following his guidelines, I’d suggest that Christine might want to hold off on Asher and use the first page to continue exploring Becca and this school full of dead teens, since I assume Realm 17 will be the source of the conflict in the novel.  Even in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare introduces the Montague-Capulet feud before Romeo and his soon-to-be-ex crush.

What do the readers think?  To crush on the first page – or not crush? That is the question.  No, wait. That’s the wrong Shakespeare play. 

Christine, thanks for sharing the first page of your newest project!  If you don’t know Christine, please check out her blog.  And don’t forget to stop by Mainewords for Marcy Hatch’s critique of the same page.